Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Baltimore Marathon

The first thing I have to mention is that this was my first marathon race!  Prior to this event I had done the distance twice before as practice, but had never participated in a full marathon race.  At this point in my racing career I have done a few 5k's, 10k's, 10 milers and 11 half marathons.

The Baltimore Running Festival is a huge event in Baltimore and has amazing support from volunteers and the city in general.  Although I do think some of the motorists were getting annoyed at all the road closures.  The event offers a run for everyone across a wide range of abilities.  They have a 5k, Half, and Full marathon option as well as Kids Fun Runs.  The time limit for the Marathon this year was the standard 7 hours, but since the Half shares the last half of the marathon route, they were provided a full 5 and a half hours to complete, which is great for runners that may be slower or are attempting their first half marathon.  Overall there were over 24,000 runners participating in the various events, and we all raised over a million dollars for local charities.

The Baltimore Running Festival also partners with the Frederick Running Festival and the Baltimore 10 Miler and offers some fun incentives if you run all three like the King Crab Challenge which I did this year, or the Maryland Double if you do the Half Marathon in Frederick and at least the Half Marathon in Baltimore.

This year if you completed the King Crab Challenge you were awarded a medal holder with four crab claws for you to hang (from left to right) your Frederick Half, Baltimore 10 Miler, Baltimore Full/Half and Maryland Double medals.

King Crab Challenge Medal Holder

Close-up of King Crab Challenge Medal Holder

The Baltimore Marathon Medal (left) and the Maryland Double Medal (right)

This was the 15th anniversary of the Baltimore Running Festival so they went all out with the event this year, including ordering specially designed medals to represent Maryland's love of crabs, the 15th year, and Baltimore's nickname of "charm city".  The Marathon medal uses a crab mallet as the number "1", has a dangling charm of a crab in the "5", and is surrounded by crab claws.  Very cool, and substantial medal.  The Half Marathon medal was very similar in look, but was slightly smaller than the Marathon medal and didn't have the dangling charm.

Baltimore Marathon 15th Anniversary Medal

The Marathon started "on time" exactly at 8am.  The wheel chair division started a few minutes earlier to give them a head start, and then 4,000 marathon runners (event was sold out) were released into the streets of Baltimore.  In addition, there were 1,500 teams (also sold out) of 4 doing the marathon as a "relay" event.  Again, a great way for a beginner runner to get involved, and challenge themselves with a distance that might be more appropriate but yet experience all the excitement of a race environment.

Starting Line for the Full Marathon

After the marathon runners were released, the 5k event was held at 8:20am.  There is a 1 hour time limit for this event so that they can get the half marathon runners out the door.  The half marathon started exactly at 9:45am and was released in 5 waves based on projected pace.  There was a delay of approximately 3 minutes between each wave.   This was great considering the half marathon event was also sold out and had 11,000 runners.

One thing I didn't expect was all the hills.  I went to undergraduate school at Towson University and spent time at the Inner Harbor and Fells Point, but I haven't run much in Baltimore and for some reason I just figure the area around the Inner Harbor was flat.  Not so much as it turns out.

The first half of the Marathon runs North after starting near Camden Yards (Orioles Stadium) and you make your way to the Baltimore Zoo.  The first 3 miles are basically up hill until you turn into the zoo and catch a break with some nice descents and some happy zoo animals out to great you along with way along with their keepers.  One of the critters was a young penguin who looked very content at just watching us go by.  Of course there also had to be some ravens out there as well given this is Baltimore Ravens territory, not to mention the home of Edgar Allan Poe.

Baltimore Marathon Strava Map

After coming out of the zoo, the course heads East as you pass Johns Hopkins University, then South back down toward the Harbor.  This is mostly downhill at this point as you make your way along the Inner Harbor and around the Under Armour World Headquarters.  As you work your way back to mile marker 13 you run past the half marathon starting line where I could see runners preparing to leave.

Giving the Marathon runners a full 1 hour and 45 minute head start is as great idea for the competitive runners so they can get ahead of the half marathon runners.  I am not "that fast", so while I got there before everyone had left, the first wave or two were already on their way.  While we do join the Half Marathon runners, the first three miles are still slightly different.  The Marathon makes it's way along the harbor through Fells Point, and then heads North to Patterson Park.  We join the Half Marathon runners at the South East corner of the park (approximately mile 15.8), but the Marathon runners have their "own lane" for at least a half mile still in order to prepare to merge.  I have included the half marathon map as well so you can see the merge point highlighted with the blue arrow.

Baltimore Half Marathon Strava Map
After merging with the Half Marathon runners we share the remaining parts of the course make our way uphill for about 3 and a half miles to Lake Montebello.  Going around the lake is nice and flat and gives you a break before heading up hill yet again as you make your way West for about a mile and a half before heading South again back towards the Inner Harbor for the last 3 and a half miles which again is mostly down hill and very welcome at this point.

Overall, the elevation gain for the Marathon was a surprising 991 feet according to Strava.  I have included the elevation profile for reference.  For the Half Marathon runners the elevation gain is approximately 538 feet.

Baltimore Marathon Elevation Profile from Strava

The spectators for this event were amazing.  Not only were their a lot of people along the entire course, but they were full of energy.  Some were playing loud music to boost our energy levels, dancing in the streets, wearing costumes, holding signs and even handing out candy.  There were even a few beer stops long the way.  At one point the ground was littered with Swedish Fish, it almost looked like some kind of natural catastrophe took place.  Too bad I couldn't have stopped to take a photo.

There were plenty of water stops and several stations had Gu, Chews and even potato chips along the way to the help the various runners refuel.  Most of the water stop stations (perhaps all of them) also had port-o-potties as well.

At the end of the event after working your way down the runners chute, you received your medal, had water and gatorade available, were presented with a photo opportunity, and then made your way down the food line.  They had bananas, chips, oranges, bars, bagels and additional Gatorade available.  The one downside was once you left this area for runners only, you could not re-enter.  I left to get my King Crab Challenge Medal and Holder and to look for additional food options (unfortunately I had no cash, only a debit card, and all food vendors were cash only), then realized I couldn't get back in to meet my wife who was doing the Half Marathon.  I would also have liked to grab another water given I couldn't buy anything in the village area.

I tried not to go into this event with a preset time goal, but of course I did, I am competitive with myself that way.  I ended up setting a PR of 4:00:05 according to Strava and a chip time of 4:01:06.  I would have liked to come in under 4 hours, but with the elevation gain and this being my first full marathon event I just need to be satisfied with the effort.  It took several half marathons for me to settle into my 1:44:24 PR so I am sure the marathon time will continue to come down as I do more of them and get more comfortable with that distance, and better at managing my energy levels and pace.

Overall this was an amazing event.  I highly recommend folks look at the Baltimore Running Festival as well as the Frederick Running Festival for Half and Full Marathon options.  For the Baltimore event there is no race day packet pickup so if you aren't local, staying in a local hotel Friday night to get your race packet and then running the next morning is the best bet.  If you are local, I didn't have any issue with traffic or parking.  Traffic was well managed the morning of the event, just make sure you give yourself enough time to arrive and get there at least an hour before the full marathon start if that is your event, or just before 8AM if you are running the half marathon.

Friday, October 16, 2015

DC Ragnar Relay

If you have never heard of the Ragnar Relay series before, they are 12 person teams that work together to run about 200 miles.  My journey took me on the DC Ragnar Relay which started in Cumberland, MD and traveled about 200 Miles to Washington, DC.  You can see the details on the route, the runner legs and other great information on their website.

There are various ways you can pull your teams together, and there are various locations throughout the US in which to participate.  If you go with the full 12 person team, the team is broken up into 2 teams of 6 each in their own van.  Van 1 does the first three legs, then passes off to Van 2 while Van 1 rests.  This "leap frogging" continues until all 36 legs have been completed.  If you can only find 5 other friends to run with you, you have two options.  You can have the Ragnar staff pair you up with another "6 pack" to create a full team, or you can go all out and do the distance yourselves as part of an "Ultra Ragnar" team.

While Van 1 had to go to the starting line the night before the race since we had an 8:30am start time, we were able to follow later in the afternoon since we wouldn't start until around 2pm or so.  Once we got to the Van exchange point (Leg 7) we had access to the mandatory safety video/briefing, port a potties, and tents of merchandise, gear and giveaways.

Our starting location for our safety gear check and safety video as well as our first run

Seeing all the vans decorated in various themes was great.  I am sure there would have been more variety if the weather had cooperated and it wasn't such a downpour.  Vans had christmas lights strung up in them, designs and names written over the outside, mottos, and of course Ragnar provided temporary stickers of inspiration.

A inspirational van sticker

I was runner number 8.  Since we were a full 12 person team, I would run legs 8, 20 and 32 and would be in van 2.  While I didn't actually add up the elevations and distances for all the various runners, it seems as though I had the most elevation gain, or at least one of the top two.  Overall I would climb around 2,000 feet over my three runs in just over 20 total miles.

My first leg started North of a small town called Little Orleans, MD at around 3:30pm.  I would run just over 6.5 miles and climb just under 1,000 feet (Sideling Mountain).  What is cool for me is that I used to drive this exact route with my parents as a young child on my way from New Jersey/Maryland to my Grandparents house outside of Cumberland, MD.  I always thought the climb was impressive and fondly remember the "hairpin" turn at the top of the mountain.  Especially during bad weather and snow.  Being able to actually run this same route was cool.

A view of the mountain I was about to concur on Leg 8

According to the Ragnar rules for the race, this leg had no van support.  Some my van mates couldn't follow me along the route, jumping ahead, to provide water or other assistance.  The route did have one water stop setup by the Ragnar volunteers because of this limitation of van support.  The distances I was running didn't really require a lot of stuff to carry, but I did always have two Gu's with me along with my Skratch Matcha and Lemon hydration.

DC Ragnar Relay Leg 8 Strava Map

Since the course runs by my house (literally) I had my wife pick me up at the end of Leg 8 and drive me home. I was able to change cloths in the car, did I mention it was in the low 50s and pouring rain, then get a shower.  We went out to dinner, I packed for the next day and tried to get some sleep before my van picked me up again right before 1am.  I took off on Leg 20 around 2:45am

Leg 20 took me from the shopping center in Middletown, MD over Braddock Mountain to Route 340 for the next exchange.  According to Strava that was about 6.8 miles and just under 500 feet of elevation.  Since I live near by I had run this twice in the month leading up to the Ragnar to practice and get familiar with the route.  Of course running it in the middle of the night in the pouring rain was a unique experience.

DC Ragnar Relay Leg 20 Strava Map

As with my first leg, I had my wife meet me at the end of this leg so I could quickly change clothes into my running gear for my last leg and grab my bag for the trip home and my other supplies for the rest of the day.  The vans get crowded with the supplies for 6 team members, so this allowed me to have a minimum amount of stuff with me for the rest of the journey.

The rain continued and the so did the legs.  My team did a great job of getting things done and really pushed themselves along the course in the less than ideal weather conditions.  In fact, the rain had been going for so long prior and during the race that Leg 23 was cancelled due to fear of flooding.  After Leg 24 was completed we got to the next major exchange where Van 1 would be getting ready to start their last 6 legs and we would be on our break.  While we were in the middle of transition we were approached by a Ragnar volunteer that informed us we were allowed to get an early start on our last legs if we wanted too instead of waiting for Van 1 to finish.  This offer was being made due to the cold and rainy weather so teams could finish earlier in DC.

After a quick discussion we decided to take them up on this offer and quickly drove to our starting point at Leg 30.  My last leg took me from South West Bethesda to North West Arlington.  According to Strava it was a total of 6.9 miles and about 530 feet of elevation gain.  I was concerned about the Capital Crescent Trail and C&O canal portions because of all the rain.

Here is a shot of me from the Ragnar photographers as I head out on my last leg.  The rain had finally stopped and you only got wet at this point from wind shaking the water off the surrounding trees.

Shot of me heading out on my last leg

I expected large amounts of mud and puddles. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the Capital Crescent Trail was paved.  The C&O canal was messy, but manageable with some carefully chosen steps.  The ascent off the C&O back to paved roads was almost straight up.  After already running through the night, I had to take a few walking steps and take a few deep breaths before I could push up that incline (according to Strava over 30% grade).

DC Ragnar Relay Leg 32 Strava Map

At this point I was done and could support the remaining runners on my team and relax as we made our way to DC for the finish line and festivities at the Navy Yard.  As we walked to the finish line area we passed the final one mile marker for the last leg of the race.  Each leg had these markers so we knew we were almost done our leg, so they became a beacon of hope.

The final mile maker for the DC Ragnar Relay

Once we got to the finishing area I took advantage of the merchandise tent and picked up a Ragnar jacket.  I figured I deserved it as a wearable memento.  Once our final runner arrived we all ran across the finish line together (which is customary), received our medals, and then headed over to the photo booth.  The Ragnar medals are huge and heavy.  A testament to the work involved in earning one of them for sure.  Additionally, if you turn them over each one is unique and can be assembled together as a puzzle.

As I put on Twitter, 12 runners, 12 medals, 1 goal
What an amazing experience.  I only knew one of my fellow van mates at the start of this adventure but ended up really enjoying the company of everyone.  Hopefully I as just as easy to get along with and get to know.

All 12 members of team "We Run Better Than the Government"

Would I do this again?  I think so. Better weather would be helpful as would a larger van, but overall an amazing experience.  Would be cool to run all the legs as part of a Ragnar race and make the complete trip, but that would take 11 more years.  Oh boy.

I will wrap this up with a link to a short video that shows some highlights from the 2015 DC Ragnar Relay.  I think it really captures the scenery, the comradery and the weather.  Enjoy!

Monday, October 5, 2015

Perfect 10

The Perfect 10 is a 10k or 10 Miler (runners choice at registration) that is organized by PR (Potomac River) Running.  It is held in Reston Virginia and starts/ends at the South Lakes High School.  Runners in both the 10k or the 10 Miler will receive a technical short sleeve shirt and a finishers medal (same medal for all runners).

All runners start at the same time and follow the same course for the first 6 miles at which point the 10k runners peel off into the high school and finish on the track while the 10 miler runners continue on another loop around the school and finish on the track as well.

As with all PR events, it is extremely well run and staffed.  There are plenty of food and beverage options at the end of the race, and free high resolution photos of the event on posted on the PR Running's Flickr page.

The routes are full of rolling hills and there are some great views of the lakes around Southern Reston.  After the start, the roads are open to traffic, but for the most part intersections are well staffed with volunteers and police to keep the runners safe.  There are a few entrances to development communities and apartments that aren't staffed, but in general I have found the residents to be reasonable as they wait.  However, this year I did have one driver get out fairly aggressively in front of me.  I had to slow down a lot and still could have slapped the back of his car.  But, this isn't a PR Running or event issue in my opinion.

The 10 miler makes two loops around Reston as you can see from the image below.  The roads are full of rolling hills which end up adding up to about 380 feet of elevation gain according to Strava.

Perfect 10, 10 Miler Strava Map
The 10k makes a single loop around Reston with a total elevation gain coming in right around 240 feet.  As I indicated earlier, and as you can see from the map, the 10k and 10 Miler share the route for the first 6+ miles.

Perfect 10, 10k Strava Map
There are water stops throughout the course, but if I had one complaint about the event it would be that they were positioned too far apart, at least for me.  At one point along the course I believe it was just over 3 miles between water stops.  I would prefer to see water station at least every 2 to 2.5 miles.  I believe it was like that the prior year for this event, so I am not sure why that changed.

Overall this is a great event and actually one of my favorite PR Running events in the year.  By late September the air is starting to cool down and the humidity is finally starting to wane.  The hills make this a fun and somewhat challenging course.  Given all that the 10 miler makes for a great half or full marathon trainer for the Fall.