Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Jacksonville Bank Marathon

Apologies in advance for this indulgent, self-congratulatory post but I’m really pleased with my performance in the Jacksonville Bank Marathon this weekend.  I’ve been patting myself on the back so much I think I hurt myself.

To begin with, 10 days before the race I had no idea I would be running.  Since the Marine Corps Marathon I have not done any distance training.  After a brief recovery period I spent my time trying to acclimate to running in huaraches and making improvements to my form.  I had run a lot, but the longest distance I had run was 8 miles.  I guess you can count two 5k’s as speed workouts and the runs in huaraches were as stressful on my legs as long runs.  So it was more than just fun and games even though it didn’t feel like training.

When I got the call offering a position as a pace leader for the race, I immediately ran a 19 mile long run, with no advance preparation, just to give myself the confidence that I was up to the task.  To say that I was pleased with my ability to do this is a huge understatement.

I was up at 3 am for the commute to Jacksonville which meant about 4.5 hours sleep. That’s par for course for me.  Someday I’ll find out if a solid night’s sleep can improve race day performance.

I was assigned to be the 4:45 pace leader.  We were instructed to run even splits and warned not to “bank” time.  This meant averaging about 10:52 per mile, almost a full minute under my usual race pace.  I was confident in my ability to finish the race, but I have to admit I was nervous about trying to run it with that strategy.

It turned out to be an awesome race.  I found that pace very comfortable and never even felt winded during the entire 26.2 miles.  This meant lots of time and energy for conversation and I met some great folks along the way.

I started with a small group of about 6 people and picked up and dropped runners throughout the race.  I had one runner that was with me from the start that stayed with me for over 20 miles, a local runner named Steve who was running his first marathon.  I knew he was starting to struggle by about mile 18 when I heard him start to shuffle his feet.  I encouraged him on and he made it another 2 miles before he dropped back.  I have to admit I suffered a moral dilemma at that point trying to decide whether to hold my pace or help this one runner that had stayed with me for so long.  I slowed down for a bit but eventually continued to run my assigned pace.  I found Steve after the race and he told me he finished right at five hours and was happy with that.

I was pleased to discover that I was running with several people with ultramarathon and trail running experience.  I picked up some good tips and race recommendations including several in Alabama I intend to check out, thanks to Bill from Birmingham.

I finished the race with two runners including a first timer named Chris from Pennsylvania who had not run more than 10 miles in training, on a treadmill no less!  Oh to be young again.


1. Really not many from a runner’s perspective.  There was some confusion behind the scenes for pacers like confused assignments and some of the balloons we were supposed to carry indicating our pace were popped or missing.  I doubt this was anything most of the runners would have noticed.  This didn’t affect my enjoyment of the race in the least.
2. Traffic.  There were a few times late in the race that cars and runners shared the road.  It was just a few vehicles and I never felt endangered.  I was towards the back of the pack though and this might not have been the experience of the runners up front.
3. Hydration.  I find cool weather hydration tricky.  Over hydrating before the race caused me to make several pit stops in the first half of the race.
4. My Garmin died on me.  It’s out of warranty by just 2 months and suddenly the battery life plummeted to about 2.5 hours.  It quit on me just after I passed the midpoint of the race.  The pace band I was wearing combined with the frequent time clocks proved to be invaluable to keep me on track.
5. My bib#:  666.  How unlucky is that!


1. The course itself.  This is promoted as Florida’s Fastest Marathon and I can see why.  There was hardly anything that even this flatlander would consider an incline.  It was mostly run on shady, tree canopied streets through some beautiful neighborhoods.
2. The weather was perfect.  High 40’s for the start and I was comfortable in short sleeves.  The streets were often half in shade and half in sun which made regulating your temperature easy just by moving in and out of the sun.
3. Time clocks at nearly every mile marker were a real luxury and near the end of the race there were clocks at both the full and half marathon mile markers which I presume were offset by about a tenth of a mile.
4. The volunteers were awesome.  The water stops were well staffed by people who seemed to know what they were doing.  The race as a whole was very well organized.
5. My bib#: 666.  I was singled out and cheered for by both spectators and other runners thanks to that number.  It turned out to be a lot of fun and I relished every moment of it.  How lucky is that!

 So how’d I do?

I finished with a chip time of 4:44:12 a mere 48 seconds ahead of my assigned time of 4:45:00 (accomplished without the benefit of my Garmin for half the race – thank you very much!).

My half marathon splits were 2:21:33 and 2:22:39.  I hope the 66 second differential between the first and second half of the race met the race organizer’s expectation for even splits.

Would I do it again?  In a heartbeat!

There is something to be said for reaching the finish line invigorated instead of spent.  Sure my legs were fatigued and I had some of the usual post marathon aches but now, just two days after the race I feel fine.  I also really enjoyed the social aspect of being a pacer.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

How accurate is your GPS?

I was irritated by this article in the NY Times yesterday attacking the accuracy of GPS watches and felt compelled to respond. The reporter apparently believes that Google Maps is the final arbiter of accuracy in measuring distances.

Out of curiosity I compared the distances recorded by my Garmin Forerunner 205 to the certified distances in races I have run this year to test its accuracy.  Here are the results:

(I did exclude one race.  My Garmin measured the Bridge of Lions 5k at 3.0 miles, the one and only time I measured a race shorter than the certified distance. However I received an error during that race caused by exceeding the memory capacity of the watch.  I had never cleared the history, something I routinely do now.)

That’s 99% accuracy in a consumer grade device that cost me $100 and that doesn’t even account for the fact that race directors intentionally lay out race courses a little long to account for potential error.   Nor does it account for the fact that unless you run the course perfectly, rounding turns on the tangents, you will add a few feet of distance with every turn compared to the certified route.  I think that’s pretty impressive.

Based on the simultaneous distance alerts I hear when I run with large groups, I can also confirm that this accuracy is not unique to my watch.

It’s a sad state for modern journalism that reporters routinely rely on Google for research and not much else.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Marathon Pace Wrist Bands

I thought I would share this handy tool I plan to use to help me stay on my target pace (10:52) for the Jacksonville Bank Marathon this weekend.

I long ago figured out that even simple math is beyond my mental capacity once I pass the 20 mile mark in a run.  With a glance at my Garmin I can easily determine stats like my current pace, average pace for the current mile and my average pace for the entire race.  If I'm off target though, I find it very hard to calculate how much I need to speed up or slow down in order to get back on track.

I tried to do exactly that calculation late in the Marine Corps Marathon and ultimately gave up.  I finished the race with a PR which was awesome but just missed the goal I had set for myself and couldn't help but be just a little disappointed.

I would hate to fall short of my responsibility as a pace leader this weekend because of a math error.  This wrist band, courtesy of Marathon Guide, should help.

Thursday, December 8, 2011


Guess who has the honor of a being a pace leader at the Jacksonville Bank Marathon on December 18, 2011.

I am excited, and a little nervous, about the challenge, to maintain a fairly constant pace and complete a marathon in a precise amount of time while at the same time fooling everyone who runs with me into thinking that I actually know what I'm doing. 

So, for the next 10 days I am going to be be completely obsessed with the time 4:45.

I wonder how heavy that little sign is.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A moment in the life . . . .

I glanced up from setting the table on the back porch and caught a glimpse of her in the kitchen window.  She was preparing dinner, head down, focused on her task.  A stray beam of light from the setting sun glistened through her hair.

I couldn’t help but think to myself, “How did I ever get so fortunate?”

My mouth was already watering.  She’d prepared this meal once before and the aroma wafting from the kitchen instantly triggered the memory of the savory dish, panko breaded chicken with a hummus, cilantro and lime sauce served over a bed of wild rice and asparagus.  It was absolutely delicious.

We talked back and forth through the window about our plans for the next evening, a private showing of Spirit of the Marathon for WVR at a local wine bar.

“So does this place serve any food?” she asked.

Oblivious to the looming peril I replied, “I think we’re going to order pizza from the restaurant next door.”

The smack of a spoon against the counter shocked me back to lucidity.

“You runners and your damn carbs!”

. . . .

We so often take for granted the toll our obsession takes on our loved ones.