Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Monster Mash / Atlantic City Marathon Double

If you read my previous post about my road trip to Ironman Wisconsin, I hinted at having something a bit crazy planned for my next state highpoint. Well, after I decided to try and do a marathon in every state (roughly the time of number 3), I started looking for fall marathons, particularly anything within reasonable proximity of a state highpoint I hadn't done yet. I wound up focusing on Delaware, since it's a super easy highpoint and it's something of an outlier on a map of completed highpoints, being surrounded by states I've already done. I found two marathons quite close, the Monster Mash Marathon in Dover, DE, and the Atlantic City Marathon (New Jersey). I wasn't sure which I wanted to do, and then I realized since Dover is on a Saturday and AC the next day, it would be possible to do both in one trip. I floated the idea in my head for a while, ran it by my running coach, put it out to my Facebook friends, and essentially couldn't come with any reason NOT to do a double. I figured if I can finish an Ironman, there shouldn't be any reason I couldn't do marathons on consecutive days. So the weekend of October 18-19 added two tick marks each to three state lists- marathons, highpoints, and Capitols (bringing me to 7, 42+DC, and 32 respectively).

I didn't really do much of anything special to train for the double. Not that I ever do anything normal, but for the most part my training was fairly typical for a marathon. Actually, no. It was more like: Recover from Ironman Wisconsin ✓. Torture test ✓. Good to go ✓. The torture test was two weeks before the marathons, wherein I ran four separate times over the weekend (Saturday and Sunday morning and evening, 6-12 miles each time) for a total of 32 miles. It went fairly typically of my long runs- start too fast, walk/run the later miles- but the good thing was that some of the miles Sunday evening were sub-9 minutes. Instead of a sensible rest the weekend before the races, I volunteered for the city's bike-share program during the Austin City Limits festival, riding the bikes about a half mile and then running back, 20-odd times.

On Thursday, October 16, I flew to Washington, DC after work. It was after midnight when I arrived, but at least I was at Reagan and it was a short drive to my hotel once I got my rental car. I couldn't get to sleep until 1:30, woke up a few times in the night, and was more or less awake from 5:30 Friday morning. I went out for breakfast; as I was on my way to my appointment to tour the US Capitol I swung back by the hotel to check on the car. What had seemed a great free spot on the street behind the hotel was now a nightmare. My first clue was that mine was the only car on that side of the street. As I got close I found the parking ticket. Apparently that side of the street is no parking during rush hour, something I was unable to discern from the signage the night before. I got in the car to look for another spot, but there was nothing nearby. I started driving around the area, but this was Capitol Hill and everything was special-access or blocked by armed guards. I was so frazzled. Every traffic light was red. Every radio station was horrible. I made no progress, saw not one legitimate parking spot, got all turned around. My nerves were shot, something I absolutely did not need the day before a marathon. I gave up on visiting the Capitol, by that point it was too late to get there and through security on time for my appointment anyway. I finally got back to my hotel, parked out front for two minutes to grab my stuff and check out. When I finally got to the Maryland line and was out of Washington, I breathed a sigh of relief.
My first stop was in Annapolis, which was in stark contrast to DC. Annapolis at least seemed to be relatively quiet and quaint. I found a parking spot on the street about half a block from the Capitol, and there was even time left on the meter. The Capitol is not particularly grandiose, but it is quite historic, being the oldest state Capitol still in legislative use, and having served as the nation's Capitol in 1783 and 1784. The feature of the building that stood out the most to me is that Benjamin Franklin designed the original lightning rod. From Annapolis, it was across the Chesapeake Bay into Delaware and on to Dover.
Downtown Dover was even more quaint and friendly than Annapolis. I found a parking spot that was free for 2 hours. I walked over to the Capitol, past the Supreme Court and the old Capitol. I didn't find the building that impressive- a formal Georgian brick building dating from 1933, but the people were sure nice. The place was nearly deserted so I got a private tour from a docent. We walked on the floor of the Senate and House, and he got the guard to open up the governor's ceremonial office. I took quick tours of the old Capitol and the Biggs art museum in the complex and then had some pizza for lunch and went to my motel. Almost right after I checked in I took a nap; it was brief but better than nothing. I went over to packet pickup at the NASCAR track, site of the start, first mile, and finish. I knew it was going to be a small low-key race when the signage leading to packet pickup just said "Special Event." They had a Google Earth flyover of the course playing, and frankly it looked like a pretty boring course. I took a picture of Miles the Monster, the track mascot who holds a full-size stock car model, and headed back to the motel. I had dinner at the Italian place next door. It was okay, not like I was expecting anything special, but my waitress was cute and recognized my Ironman Texas shirt and said she was from Houston and knew people who had done Ironman. I took almost half my dinner and bread back to the room with me, thinking I might get hungry later; I never wound up eating any of it. I did a bit of work and went to bed at 9.

I did not sleep well. There were lots of noises to disturb me- people in the hall, traffic on the street, but the worst was the two cars that pulled up at midnight with their stereos thumping horrible music at ludicrous volume. I was up for good about 5am and had a bagel with peanut butter and a Dr Pepper for breakfast. The motel was booked and wouldn't let me keep my room long enough to take a shower after I finished the race, so I checked out before heading over. It was a cool morning, but not really cold. It was cool enough that I wanted to wait as long as possible to take off my jacket, but not so cold I was worried about wearing a short-sleeve shirt. I thought there was supposed to be a bag drop, but I never found it. I left my jacket in the car and carried the key with me, only slightly less convenient since the car was less than 100 meters from the finish line. A little before the 7am start time, the race director got everyone gathered in front of Miles and led us onto the track, which is where the race actually started. I lined up in the first third of the few hundred participants. After the national anthem came the starting gun, and we started the first mile going around the track. Even down as low as possible, there was a pretty vicious slant, with some relief possible along the straightaway, where the barriers weren't as tight to the track. After passing the start area again, we turned and went up and off the track. The next few miles were along nice tree-lined residential streets leading downtown. The course made a swing past the Capitol, marking the third marathon I've done that passed that state's Capitol. Once we were away from downtown, the course got rather boring. Most of it was past flat fields, along the side of a road (not closed to traffic). Crowd support went from good at the start, rather thin through downtown, to next to nil the rest of the course. There were a few here and there, but it was the same few again and again (I'm pretty sure I wasn't hallucinating seeing the same guy 4 times). I didn't do a formal survey, but I swear I saw more cops, firemen, and people with the barricade company directing traffic along the course than I did spectators. There weren't even that many volunteers- there were several spots along the course with a sign for an aid station, but there was no aid station. Between miles 10 and 20 the aid stations were only every two miles, something I was definitely not expecting. At mile 10 the course went down a crappy, super crowned road for 2 miles almost to Delaware Bay before turning back. I don't like running on a slanted surface, and this road was bad. I ran in the middle of the road, the flattest part, as much as possible, making room for other runners as needed. I took my first real walk break at the far end, and again when we returned to regular town roads. I only had a couple decent miles after that before going to a walk a mile/jog a mile "strategy" at mile 16. I probably could have pushed myself to go a little faster, but I wanted to save something in my legs for the next marathon. Whereas my usual marathon walk pace is leisurely, in the 18-minute range, this time I tried to walk more deliberately and stay closer to a 15-minute pace. At mile 24 I started a run for the finish, which lasted until the road started uphill to an overpass. I said "screw that" and walked until I was at the top of the overpass and ran the last 0.2 miles to the finish line. I arrived to the cheers of literally ones of people. I had the misfortune of arriving as the marathon awards were being handed out in front of Miles, so most participants, spectators, announcer, and the photographer were away from the finish line. There was one volunteer handing out medals and maybe 10 spectators, most likely waiting for their runner. It was far from a spectacular race, but my 4:46:04 is my third-quickest marathon, for what it's worth.
After finishing I went to the line for a massage, as I had figured that would be the best course of action for back-to-back marathons. However I soon gave up in favor of my foam roller, and getting in calories seemed higher priority. I went to the car for my protein drink along with my jacket and phone. I hung around the finish area for a little while. Since there wasn't a photographer to capture my glorious finish, I had the finish line volunteer (an Ironman, we chatted) snap some shots of a recreation finish. After awards, the race director took the mic for random brief interviews, the most notable being of an Austin guy for whom this was his 100th marathon, and a woman I had seen on course who completed her 139th. There was really nothing else to do there, so I headed off. Fortunately the race had made arrangements with the YMCA to let racers use their showers. I didn't have a towel, but I made do; it was still a pretty satisfying shower. Before leaving town I had lunch at Governors Cafe, a nice old house/coffee shop/restaurant. I figured as long as I was in the mid-Atlantic I should have crab cakes. I left Dover for the northern edge of the state, where the highpoint is. At 447 feet above mean sea level, Delaware has the second-lowest state highpoint (Florida being the lowest). It wasn't the easiest thing to find, even being on the side of a small road. I drove straight past the sign, which faces perpendicular to the road, the first time. I parked and walked around and snapped photos. I got a woman walking her dog to take a picture of me in front of the sign. As I was wandering around, a car pulled off the road and asked if I was a highpointer, as the driver is. We had a little chat before going our separate ways. I drove on to Atlantic City, arriving in enough time to get my packet, but too late for a t-shirt in my size. There was a decent little expo going on, it's just too bad I had to go through a smoky casino to get there. I grabbed an okay slice of pizza before going on and checking into my hotel. I had been booked into a place closer to the expo and start/finish line, but it closed a few months before and I got switched to a sister casino further away. Once I got to my room I didn't leave until the next morning, spending the couple hours I was awake getting prepped, stretching and rolling, checking in with the rest of the world, and munching on chips and snacks. I slept much better that night once the music died down at 10. The hotel was quieter, and I was quite tired after two nights of poor sleep plus a marathon. I did wake up a couple times, but that always happens to me in hotels.

I woke around 6 Sunday morning and once again had Dr Pepper and peanut butter on a bagel for breakfast. I checked out just past 7, they wouldn't let me keep the room until after my expected finish time unless I paid for another night. I drove over to Bally’s, where the start line was, rather than walk an extra mile. The parking garage was rather full by the time I got there, and had to go all the way to the top before I found a spot. When I got out of the car, there was a fierce cold wind blowing. I had intended to wear a short-sleeve t-shirt (actually the Monster Mash t-shirt from the previous day since I only brought one short-sleeve tech shirt with me), but made a last-minute change into a long-sleeve tech tee. I thought it would be warmer than necessary if I was running, but I was pretty sure I wouldn't be running the whole race, and I made the bet I would want some more warmth for those later slow miles. I dropped my bag and popped up onto the boardwalk to the start area. It was a larger field than Saturday’s but still not huge, a few thousand people. It was very low-key, there weren't any designated corrals, which was good because the queues for the port-o-potties were effectively in the staging area. It was a bit chaotic and a busy area; I would definitely suggest they rethink that arrangement. Things were a little more organized as everyone got ready to go for the 8am start. I lined up just behind the 4:30 pacer, which put me across the start mat about 2 minutes after the gun went off.
I started slowly along with the folks around me, feeling stiff but not bad. As I warmed up my legs felt better and I sped up. I knew I couldn't maintain the 9:30 pace I worked up to for the whole race, but I figured I would go with it as long as it was working. I worked my way up through the crowd, eventually passing the 4:20 pacer before the 10k mat. Crossing the 10k mark in just under an hour was a good feeling, because I knew that I just had to average 15 minutes per mile for the last 20 miles in order to finish before the official 6-hour limit. Sub-6 hours was really my only time goal, not just for the course limit but it would also be better than my best Ironman marathon time to date. Just past the 7-mile mark, I walked for the first time through an aid station. I knew that once I slowed down I wouldn't be able to get back to a 9:30 pace, so I delayed it as long as I could. I ran off and on for a while, largely as I was “incentivized” to do so. When we were back on the boardwalk I ran for a while with a woman who commented on my Ironman t-shirt; she had done some Iron-distance triathlons including Challenge Atlantic City. There was a woman with the 4:25 pace group I tried to follow, but couldn't keep up. I have said before I tend to run my best chasing a good-looking woman, but it wasn't working this time. After mile 10, I spent more time walking than running, and my "running" pace was a 12-minute mile. My legs didn't feel great at any point, but by mile 18 they hurt like hell. I took a bunch of ibuprofen, but I really needed something a lot stronger. It was reminiscent of an Ironman, so I knew at the very least I could keep going. I did try to walk with purpose, not just walk to keep moving. When the course got back onto the boardwalk at mile 23, it was such a relief to go from hard pavement to compliant boards I tried to run to the finish (BTW, every marathon should finish on a boardwalk). That didn't really work at first, but I did manage to run for the finish from two miles out, working up to a 10-minute pace for at least the last 100 meters. And there was much rejoicing. Well, at least there was an announcer and a photographer for the finish this time. My time of 5:45:02 was almost an hour longer than the previous day's much more of a positive split than I wanted, but I got it done.
I don't have reliable data, but I think the Atlantic City marathon had less elevation gain/loss than Dover overall (both being very flat), but it was concentrated in just a few points such as a ramp up to an overpass, down into and back out of a GPS-wrecking tunnel, and the 8-10 feet between boardwalk level and street level. These ramp sections were nice in a way, since they gave some vantage to better see the number of runners. One of the psychological low points of the race for me was on the boardwalk during the middle miles, seeing the half marathon runners coming back. At first, it was the half race leaders, and that was cool; as I got closer to the turnaround the runners were more and more ordinary; then I was past it and there were far fewer people around me. Compared to Dover, AC was a lot better staffed in terms of aid stations and course marshals. There still wasn't much of a crowd other than at the start. However, there was a radio station out with their van blasting music out along the marathon-only portion of the course. In the final miles coming back up the boardwalk, most of the people strolling around were either completely unaware or uninterested in the race going on. One other random observation- the boards in the Ventnor area (I wasn't exactly searching for Monopoly names, but that one was hard to miss) were less securely fastened and therefore springier than the ones in Atlantic City proper. I should also give a shout-out to the racer who gave me half of his honey stinger, at a point where I was aching and exhausted and feeling a little hungry. It was an especially nice gesture, and one I probably didn't sufficiently acknowledge at the time. Thanks, man.
The finisher's area wasn't particularly exciting. There were a bunch of people recovering and rehydrating. There was free beer, but it tasted terrible to me and I only had three sips before tossing it. The Italian ice was much more palatable. I finished it on my way to the car after picking up my gear bag. I got in the car, all sweaty and nasty from the race, and headed out of town. I had intended to go to Trenton, NJ for one more Capitol, but I missed a turn and it was getting later in the afternoon. I just kept going to Philadelphia, where I had a different little detour in mind. I figured being a stair racer, I couldn't go through Philadelphia without a stop at the "Rocky steps" at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. And since there aren't that many steps compared to any stair race, after back-to-back marathons seemed the most appropriate time to run up them. For an appropriately epic selfie, I put on both finisher medals and ran (more like hobbled) up to the museum. Since I was parked in the quasi-legal "run up the stairs" zone out front, I only stayed for a couple minutes before hopping in the car and continuing on to Washington. When I got in, in my addled state I went to the hotel my parents (who had come up to see me) were staying at instead of my hotel. Mass confusion ensued and it was after 8pm before it was all sorted out and I was in my hotel. My parents went and picked up some food since it was kind of late to go out to dinner and we ate in the hotel lobby. I slept quite well that night. We met up again Monday morning and had breakfast at Whole Foods. I ate almost a pound from the hot bar, and could have very easily gone back to sleep afterward.
Instead we visited some of the tourist sites. We went to the Washington Monument, but they didn't have any tickets left for the day. I had contacted my representative to get tickets to tour the White House, but he couldn't get me in. We went through the Smithsonian zone, with short visits of the American, Natural History, Air & Space, and Native American museums. My mom went back to the hotel while my dad and I continued to the Department of Labor, skirting the US Capitol on the way. Labor doesn't have some great exhibit or tour or anything, we wanted to see the murals painted by our artist friend Jack Beal, who died about a year ago. I had never seen them in person after having heard about them and seen pictures for as long as I can remember (they were installed in 1977, before I was born and before my parents even knew Jack and his wife Sondra). There was a bit of security rigamarole to get in to see them up close (they hang in the lobby area, visible from the entrance), but it was so nice to finally see them. From Labor we went to the National Art Gallery/National Portrait Gallery, where two more of Jack's paintings were on display. It was 5 o'clock when we got back to the hotel and I barely had a chance to sit down and rest my tired legs before we went to dinner a couple blocks away. It was an excellent meal, I had a huge delicious portion of pork shank, and some dessert on top, why not? I said goodbye to my parents and went to bed and played on the computer until 11pm. I slept well again and was up at 7:30. I checked out and headed to Fort Reno Park, the highest point in the district (though at 409 feet it's not as high as the top of the Washington Monument). There was quite a bit of traffic getting over there, enough that I started to worry about my flight at 11. When I did get to the park, it wasn't nearly what I had imagined based on the pictures I had seen and the fact that it is managed by the National Park Service. In the middle of the park, at the highest elevation, sits an old building and communications equipment inside a fence. I walked all the way around the fence but never found the survey marker that is supposed to be outside, possibly marking the original highpoint before construction leveled off the top. I set my camera on the fence for a couple photos and called it good, eager to get going to not be late. I got in a rush and missed any gas station to fill up the rental car before turning it in; I'm not sure what that cost me. As luck would have it, everything at the airport went smoothly and I was through security in plenty of time. I got some proper food (having only eaten leftover snacks all morning) and got on my plane. It seemed like we were all on board and ready to go before the posted time, but there was a wait to get in the air for some reason. No problems there, I had a brief layover at DFW where I had just enough time for a sandwich before boarding my flight home. I arrived home around 3pm, sorted through various junk, took a nap at 5, then went out for a steak dinner.
I had a sedentary recovery week, only running once before going up to Dallas to run up stairs. I'll leave what happened after that for my next post.
After this weekend, I qualified to enter the Marathon Maniacs as Maniac #9936 at the "Iridium" level. It's the first time I've been excited to receive an email with the greeting "Hi Maniac."

1 comment:

Zack said...

You, sir, are a machine