Tomorrow is Halloween which makes tonight’s post a perfect fit. Add to that the extra bonus of having the fourth phase of Project Auuuunoooold completed today taking a load of worry off leading to a relaxing night of watching the Cardinals… you have an ideal situation to get the last post of the month knocked out an entire day early (crowd goes wild, ticker tape flies, women tak…err better reel it in). Just wanted to build up a little bit of excitement since this post actually has an element of disappointment to it. Regulars to this site know that October usually brings the final running event of the year and this year was no different. Last Friday the Screaming Pumpkin Marathon Relay took place and our team from last year – Zombies after Rhonda (link here) was in it to win it. A quick summary for those that are not familiar with the particular nuances of this race. It is a prediction race which means you have to determine the time it will take for each of your team’s four loops through the course. That time is then subtracted from midnight to determine when you start the race. Watches and other timing devices are not allowed while running and the first team finishing closest to midnight without going over is declared the winner. Sounds simple right? hope you responded with a resounding NO because that is the only acceptable answer to that question.
Most runners worry about their splits A LOT during a race… and some like myself even fret about it during every training run. There is one big advantage … we are usually wearing watches and/or other timing devices so if one split it slow or fast, you can immediately correct it on the next. Without a watch you feel naked and vulnerable to bonks and over exertion. Zombies after Rhonda is a three person team consisting of Rhonda, Ryan and Myself. Thanks to the R’s, I get to close out my racing season with a half marathon to complete my now standard goal of two a year. Did I mention it was a costume encouraged event?
Last year I went as a runner but Rhonda and Ryan went the extra mile and shamed me. This year I “tried” to go in costume but had some difficulties at the start. I did get my shirt made in time – I took the lead from Rhonda’s outfit “Zombies Don’t Like Fast Food” but added “Unless It’s Rhonda” to keep with our team’s theme. Ryan showed up in a new costume this year – a head to toe skeleton which was just plain awesome!
This year we decided to start at 8:05pm based on the splits from Rhonda, Ryan and my plan to run a 56 minute loop followed by a 60 minute loop. From the IVS Half Marathon Race earlier in the Season (link here), I knew there would be a drop off and based on the cold from last year assumed a about a 4 minute impact. I added around a 3 minute pad due to the number of variables on the course (it is a tough hilly course and the actual surface is very choppy and potholed – difficult during light much less in the dead of night).
ARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR… just lost signal due to the rain on my satellite UNBELIEVABLE
Hit the jump to see how the race turns out
Rhonda took the first leg for us starting at the calculated 8:05 start time.
The picture reminded me about a change this year. Last year they had major issues with the timings. Trust me, short of making the course too long or not having enough water stations, not giving medals at the end of a half marathon, losing timings truly enrage a runner. The cause appeared to be the timing chip itself – since they did not have a good way to attach it to our bodies (and allow for removal and hand off to the next runner) most of us stuck it in our gloves which apparently prevented the readers getting a good signal. This year they opted for batons that had the chip strip inside. Note to race organizers – lose the baton! carrying that piece of plastic around that course is totally annoying not to mention messes with your overall running mechanics – my shoulders hurt the entire next day.
When the time came Ryan prepared to take over. Here he is in full costume!
…. ahhhh satellite signal came back … eesh Cards down big .. crap
I will say that costume looked chilly and I think he was doing his best to stay warm while standing there waiting to head out on his loop. By now the temperature was down in the mid 40s but had a damp feel to it. Here is Rhonda coming in at the end of her loop. Talk about an Iron Woman – she ran a half marathon the weekend before and turned her ankle out on the course but still finished strong! I think next year she is going to opt for a head lamp – this is the second year she has carried her light which must be difficult to keep pointed out ahead to spot any danger areas.
We were still looking good on the prediction front as Ryan headed out on his loop. Ryan was actually just coming off running the full Chicago Marathon two weeks prior – told them I was feeling like a slacker since my last race was the half back in September. Here I am in my new costume. A zombie mask I found at Halloween City that seemed like a perfect idea at the time. It just had a front to it and only attached by one elastic band on the back (see the first picture for a closer look). I had to cut the eye holes out a little bigger and add holes for the nose and mouth to provide efficient breathing. To provide some assurances, a few practice runs through the living room proved it could be taken on and off easily enough allowing me to wear during the start of each loop and then take it off for the actual race in the cemetery (I did mention this race is held in a cemetery didn’t I? spoooooooky).
Guess what!?! when I was doing the test runs.. I didn’t have the headlight on. It wouldn’t fit nicely over the extra thickness and made it difficult to get on just standing there for the picture. Good intentions but for not.. the mask had to go! Besides, I’m scary enough looking as it is — once again going as a runner but this year with a cool shirt
Here comes Ryan at the end of his run. How is this for predictions – he ended ONE SECOND over his expected time. I did notice he had abandoned his full face mask by the end. I asked him how it went and his response was “Rough” . Not what I wanted to hear but to be honest what I had expected – we have both run the IVS Half along with this race so we are both familiar with the three hills and poor footing that has to be conquered on each loop.
So I was off on my two loops to close out the race. The body felt good and pretty stoked to take back the course that owned me in September. No chance of heat exhaustion this year – it was just me against the dark, the cold and the hills. Another aspect of this race is the water stops. One is self serve – you literally have to grab a cup and fill it. The other one is at mid-loop point which serves multiple directions but again you pretty much have to slow down to grab the cup from one or two (mostly one) person manning it. In the first loop I opted off the first station and took a few quick drinks at the other – Mental Note next year I’ll carry my own water so I can take it when the body wants it. One of the bad things about going last along with the temperature usually dropping is the glowsticks that line the course are going out. This makes the course even tougher to navigate and forces you to always keep check that there are sticks on your right (that is how the course is laid out since there are a number of loops that come together at different points on the course). Lose track and you will definitely go off course and once off…best of luck finding your way back. About mile 3 a lady was standing by the side of the trail and asked me if I’d been through the tunnel yet… “nope – that is about another 1 or 1.5 miles ahead” was my quick response as I passed. I heard her mention that she’d already been through it .. not good! .. however, I had other matters to tend to – my pace was feeling good and wanted to see if that could be carried through the first loop (part of that whole taking the course back thingy). The course wasn’t going to go down without a fight – after the third hill was conquered it was time to make the final loop up top before an easy downhill out of the cemetery. In cruise mode, the attention is on breathing and making sure the new running mechanics stay sound .. not so much on the surroundings beyond noting a gravestone here and there or chuckling to myself at the funny headlamps floating through the night. Suddenly my total attention snapped back to the moment when I almost ran smack into the back of large haul trailer. Who the hell puts a huge haul trailer on the side of the road on race night!?! Luckily my headlamp lit up the taillights just in time to allow me to jump to the side (please please please let there be no one watching). Still startled I ended up stepping on the edge of broken pavement a little bit after that and tweaked my ankle. Not wanting to give it a chance to bother me I put it out of my mind and kept running on it – it never flared up and eventually forgot about it until the end of the race. A mile or two later the end of the first loop was in sight and the team indicated I was doing great and rightly assumed I’d beaten my prediction. Time to head out again but this meant the extra gains had to be shed beyond the already accounted for drop in pace.
The second loop was interesting. Not able to opt out of the first water station on the second loop, took the time to self serve a quick drink and started out… but the spidey senses were going off. A glance at the road confirmed my suspicion that I was off course. No problem, I knew where I was suppose to be and quickly corrected – adrenaline always kicks in when you make a mistake so my pace quickened until comfortably back on course. Then at mile 9 the spidey senses kicked on again thanks to seeing two costumed walkers coming at me saying “You’re going the wrong way” (it may have been the exhaustion but it sounded very snarky especially when they followed it up with “The lights are suppose to be on your right side” (snarky snarky snarky). This prompted a bad word (sorry Mom) and turned back in desperation (I did say thank you in the sweetest voice I could muster). This could have turned out very bad but 10 to 15 seconds later I was back on course thankful that I’d run it so many times to know where the error was made – sure enough, the lights there were nearly out). As with the last time my pace picked up to help compensate but now not entirely sure what needed to be done to come in at the right time. Figured it was best to stick with experience and keep the current pace – especially since there was an extra gap to account for so the extra time might help out.
Here is a dark shot of my approach to the finish line. Mainly put this in there to remind me how much better this half felt over the one back in September – if nothing else, there was redemption.
Now for the somewhat disappointing part of the post. We didn’t win… in fact, we went over midnight and there is only me to blame for that. I didn’t get the job done coming in a total of 32 seconds late from my half prediction. Want to guess how much we were over midnight? SIXTEEN SECONDS. I was literally staring at the individual that won it – who was just ahead of me – when they announced he was the winner my heart sank. Not getting lost twice or taking time to get a drink at the self station probably cost us a trophy. All in all, after close to four hours of running we were soooo close. No tiaras and wands for us this year .. nope.. just pumpkies
As a general comment, one odd aspect of this race is how the end shapes up. There are those that are for some reason accelerating during the last few tenths before emerging out of the woods, those that are slowing down for some reason in that span and those like myself that are staying steady under the assumption that their current pace is correct void of any other signals to the contrary. The exhaustion aspect dulls the internal logic but it never fails to bring up an internal debate .. do I go with the accelerators .. maybe hang back with those slowing…an interesting mental game but someone needs to explain the whistles going off near the last drink station about 2 minutes before the end of the race. The right course of action this year would have been to accelerate when the guy who won it all passed me (yes, he was one of them accelerating as we headed up the last few tenths out of the woods), Oh.. and to the lady who was run-walking that I passed early in the last loop .. then showed up ahead of me and had to be passed again only to show up ahead of me AGAIN near the finish only to pass for a third time… hope you don’t hang that medal up anywhere.
I think we gave it a good showing and not sure I’d change anything regarding the start time – that short of difference could be lost or gained anywhere on the course without even knowing it. A big thanks to my teammates for giving it their all this year. One thing for sure, this race has the nicest medals of any race I’ve been in – they look quite stunning on my trophy bar.
Thanks should also go to Linda and Rhonda’s husband Ron. Linda always keeps me grounded when the fretting starts (early in the day), our personal photographer and this year made sure I was nourished and shielded from the wind – she had the great idea to bring the pop-up awning, the propane heater and spaghetti in the crockpot. Mental note – do the same next year but pick up a new awning (ours ended up being broken). Oh, and of course Ron cheered us on and kept my wife company while we were out chasing ghosts.
Thought I’d include the official race times (mainly so I can refer back to them when setting next year’s prediction). Very happy with that 8:18 – would have set a good start in a normal half marathon. That one second off on the second loop is even more impressive.
We were 6th overall and the first team to come in after midnight so definitely in the hunt to the very end. I highlighted Bat Shit Crazy since they were the winners coming in the 59th minute – congratulations but we’re coming for you next year.
…and 2012.. notice anything similar?
Yep, we came in 6th overall last year too. However, we were short of midnight but we were 7.5 minutes off. As my teammates repeatedly told me, we were actually much better than last year. As mentioned they lost my times from last year but Ryan should be ashamed of his 12 second gap in his loop prediction … just kidding of course – two years and his total time off was only 11 seconds .. impressive indeed.
Can’t say it enough times but a BIG THANK YOU to Rhonda and Ryan. Couldn’t do it without them and somehow they give the impression they like torturing themselves out in the cold and treacherous course – must be something wrong with them .. oh wait.. their runners hehehehe (figured I’d channel Ron there)
See you all next year – those pumpkin trophies are as good as ours.