Friday, October 15, 2010

What am I doing here?

Here being Mount Desert Island; the reason, the MDI Marathon. Graciously described as a scenic event, with scenic being the runners' euphemism for "hilly"

Here's the race-blurb straight off their website

Our certified 26.2-mile foot race begins in downtown Bar Harbor, where the first mile out is slightly downhill, which will allow runners to warm up before the first hill; a 150-foot climb from mile one to mile three. This incline will carry runners over the ridge between Champlain and Dorr Mountains. Cadillac Mountain, the highest point on the immediate Atlantic Coast at 1,532 feet, will cast its shadow on the early miles of the course.

Route 3 then gives back a downhill sweep from mile three to six where runners meet the sea, and those famous ragged cliffs and headlands at the southeast tip of the Island. The small hill from mile six to seven will not be noticeable because runners will enjoy spectacular scenery along the Hunters Beach Trail.

There is a long, gradual downhill from mile seven to mile nine, then a series of rolling, curving vistas which overlook Seal Harbor, and Cranberry Isles. At mile 10 rolling hills reveal unparalleled scenes, and the village of Northeast Harbor is visible across the ocean. Runners will enter Northeast Harbor, one of six villages along the course --quaint and attractive all-- and reach the halfway mark just beyond the town.

The halfway is also near the mouth of the only true fjord on the Atlantic Coast, lined with the pink granite that makes up most of the area, Somes Sound nearly bisects the entire Island. The second half of the race is literally on the edge of this remarkable topographical marvel.

The low point on the course, will come at mile 16 along the eastern shore of Somes Sound. This is followed by a slight rise to mile 17, and then a sharp incline from 17 to 18, heading up to the cliffs of the interior end of the fjord. Running hills makes for powerful camaraderie. Mile 19 is a giveback downhill, and then the gradual ascent from mile 20 to 25 begins in Somesville, the quintessential New England village.

Mile 25 will be the high point of the course, literally and figuratively, and affording great views. And it will be all downhill from there. The final 1.2 miles to the finish line in charming Southwest Harbor descends; yes, that last 2,000 meters will be all down. But what a sky-high feeling of accomplishment it will bring.

The astute amongst you will have noticed many "climbing" verbs and height-associated nouns (ridge, ascent, climb, high, incline, sharp, cliff, mountain, fjord) that are not exactly balanced by an equal number of "descending" associated words (low, give-back, downhill). It reminds you of that old saw that a good pilot's take-offs should equal the number of landings. Or maybe an Escher print.

They also have a detailed mile-by-mile breakdown where they try to persuade you that climbing is great for building "camaraderie". Never heard it called that before. I love that final line about "accomplishment" too, trying to ice the cake, gild the lily but in truth this course will have grown men crying.

The course-profile isn't quite as bad as I'd remembered, the Boston elevation doesn't quite disappear in comparison when shown to scale. The distribution of hills and climbing looks interesting, with multiple climbs at the beginning followed by some bumps in the middle before finishing off with what appears to be one mother of a climb at the end. I'm thinking North at the CTRR, but after the 20 mile mark, which is when weird things happen in a marathon anyway. To cap it all, the final mile is downhill. Contrary to what non-runners say, all runners know that downhills are bad, and worse towards the end of a marathon. Unless you have perfect form, and even if you do, there's nothing more likely to induce cramps than a long steep downhill. Then again, there's nothing quite cramp-inducing as the last mile of a marathon.

You don't need to be Einstein to realise that happens when you put them together!

I am concerned on a personal level too; my training has not been where it should have been. In terms of miles, I'm middling. It's higher than the last couple of years, but not as high as earlier in the aughties when I was running good autumn marathons .

The volume may be on the low end of normal, but the quality of running is very different. There was a well-intentioned start, some solid long runs starting ten weeks out (week#33), but the trip to the UK was right in the middle of the critical long-run window, where you can see I rocked out a couple of wicked 13 km long-runs! For scale, last week's Valley half is the last bar on the right.

Still, at least I did some a small volume of long runs, if temporally skewed to the left.

I'm banking on the fact the UK trip gave some much needed rest coming into the past month, where I've raced every weekend. I'm not so concerned about this quantity of racing; this is my modus operandi! You see, I'm fundamentally too lazy to train hard so by racing I get the "quality" sessions I'm too bone-idle to do during the week. Besides, doing repeats on the track is boring but racing is fun, even when you're going beyond max revs and giving your legs the Jens pep-talk every couple of minutes.

The MDI organisers tell runners to cool their jets, forget about PBs or BQs, readjust their sights, add 15 minutes to their average marathon time (because that's what they'll do), treat it like a mini-ultra and just enjoy the day.

So that's a >3:25 then!

The very astute will have noticed that 1 x Potteries Marathon, 1 x KVC, 1 x PEI, 1 x Valley, 2 x Ottawa, 2 x Boston and 4 x Bluenose equal twelve, so MDI makes thirteen, lucky thirteen! What could possibly go wrong?

Given the state of my training, the state of my knees and the state of my (apparently triskaidekaphobic) head, following the RD's advice is what I'll do. I am already resigned to doing a PW. If you remember the introspection following my Boston "performance" then you may be worried, but you know, given the course I see no shame in saying "yeah, I did a 3:30 at MDI".

I saw Mark and Ron enjoying the Valley marathon; they were tired and beat but up-beat in their look-out. In the final couple of miles they were almost punch-drunk, what with Mark vaulting every mile-marker and Ron singing a bawdry Scottish drinking song about rum and wenches. I should take a leaf out of their books, kick back and allow myself to enjoy the scenery.

La belle is running too, and I'm sure she's just a big bag of nerves as I am. I don't think she has too much to worry about; she always pulls a good marathon out of the bag. Take Fort Lauderdale earlier this year; entered on a last-minute whim and she ran a time within spitting distance of her PB with only two 20 milers in the bank! She has a good, consistent sense of pace and seems to get better with distance. Most people rock the first ten K and gradually (or exponentially!) fall off after that. She's more likely to have crappy first ten K but rock the last thirty; go figure! Certainly, she's one of the only people I know who can regularly even-split a marathon. Plus, she always finishes with a smile on her face, so she's enjoying it way more than most others. I get the feeling she could just keep on going, while I (and others) are firmly in the "42 200 m and not a metre more" camp!

Still, it's not all about the marathon. There is quite the Nova Scotian contingent going down. With so many familiar faces there it'll likely have a bit of a Boston feel but without the mass commercialism. The word on the street is Leah Jabour was gunning for the ladies win; if she runs as she has been doing, I wouldn't want to bet against that. I'm looking forward to seeing Charles Mandel again too.


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