Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Red Shoe Diaries #2 : 2009 Carying Place 5K

10 year old Halee Enderle flying to the finish (isn't that a great picture?)
Pictures by Shannon Johnstone

Both Shannon and I were fortunate to recover quickly from our marathons, so we decided to do a 5K this past weekend . There were many races to choose from. We could have done the “Baby 5K” where I’m sure I would have put Bobby Mack and his pathetic 14:33 finishing time to shame. But that race was early in the morning, so instead we decided to sleep in and do The Carying Place 5K in the afternoon.

This was a second opportunity to test out the “Red Shoe Theory”, so I again wore my new pair of Brooks Launch, even though they hurt my feet. To recap the Theory (which is actually a hypothesis, but let’s not get too technical):

“In any 5K, the guy with the red shoes will win”.

This has been refined somewhat since the last race.

1. Red shoes do not make you run faster.
2. They seem to make everyone else run slower.
3. Red shoes trump fluorescent green shoes.

It seems that the Theory is a self fulfilling prophecy. Everyone believes that the guy with the Red Shoes will win. They think: “Anyone wearing such ridiculously flashy shoes must be really fast. There is no way I can keep up with that guy.” So they don’t even try. Not realizing that, at least in my case, the guy with the red shoes is actually struggling with a mediocre pace.

Roque and I, battling it out, in this "pre-enactment"
We got there a little early and did a warm-up lap around Bond Park, where we met a guy who introduced himself as “Rocky” (Roque). He had on some plain white shoes, but said he had just done a 5K in 18:16. This was much faster than I have ever done a 5K, so Roque would be a good test for the Red Shoe Theory. Shannon took our picture warming up, telling us to pretend to be racing to the finish.

There was another guy there who also had red shoes. So what happens when 2 guys have red shoes? Do they cancel each other out? This was answered before the race even started.

- The other guys shoes were quite stylish, a deep shade of red with hints of white and silver. Almost reasonable.
- My shoes looked clownish in comparison, bright red with gaudy orange laces.
It was no contest. Mine were far more silly looking, and therefore trumped his.

A massive crowd of 26 people gathered at the start. "Runners... set... go!"
A tall skinny guy in black shoes, and a preteen girl sprinted out far ahead. Both of them slowed fairly quickly and I caught up to them. After a half mile, I passed the skinny guy and took the lead and that seemed to deflate him. I was thinking that the Red Shoe Theory was once again proving true when I heard footsteps behind me. It was Roque. I couldn't believe it. Didn't he see my ridiculous shoes? Didn't he realize how fast I appeared? Apparently not, because he ran right past me.
I picked up the pace one notch from uncomfortable to miserable, just to keep him in sight. The course was 3 times around a loop of trails through the park. The entire second lap I followed Roque about 30 feet behind, unable to get any closer. On the start of the third he slowed down a little, and managed to get in front of him. Surely, the flashy shoes passing him would break his spirit.
But no, he was unimpressed, and he ran past me again. I followed him through the woods for the last time, thinking that the shoes had failed, and it was up to me now. I had almost nothing left, so I waited until a short downhill hoping for a gravity assist. I cranked my feet as fast as they would go and got past him. We made a sharp right turn to a 100 meter dash to the finish.
I heard him still behind me so I picked it up to a full sprint. He picked it up too. Somehow, with the finish line so close, I managed to kick it up another gear. The alarms were going off in my stomach "Warning! Vomit imminent!", and my vision went dim. When I crossed the finish it sounded like he was right next to me. And, in fact, this is from the results:

291 ROQUE ADAME M 27 HOPE MILLS NC 19:45 6:22

Yep. The exact same time. In reality, Roque was faster because he started further back and not right at the start line like I did. Yet, somehow the race coordinators, possibly swayed by the pretentious red shoes, awarded 1st place to me. For overall winner, I got a very generous gift certificate to Maximillians, a restaurant in Cary.

So there you have it. The "Red Shoe Theory" remains intact, with 3 new added principles:

1. When put against another red pair, the gaudier pair wins
2. Some people are unimpressed by your flashy red shoes
3. You don't even need the fastest time to win.

Oh, and I almost forgot. Despite just doing a hilly marathon, Shannon took 1st place for women in 22:48 (while running with her camera, of course). The rest of her pictures are here.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

2009 Nike Women's Marathon

Shannon ran the Nike Women's Marathon in San Francisco this past Sunday with her old running friend Denise. Despite the brutal hills (see the previous elevation profiles), they finished together in 3:47:55. Here is her visual race report:

2009 Detroit Half Marathon Deaths

I ran the Detroit Marathon last Sunday morning. It wasn’t until that evening that I heard the sad news that 3 people died running the half.
The autopsies were inconclusive, and the results of some more extensive tests are not due for a few weeks. The fact that there were 3 deaths in one race has attracted attention, and generated a lot of uninformed opinions and even conspiracy theories.
There were especially a lot of dumb comments on this article in the nytimes

Let me paraphrase some of the things I have read:
1. “This proves that marathons are bad for you.” Really? Despite the fact that they were not even running a marathon?
2. “The causes of the deaths are because of unfit people attempting to run races they are not properly trained for.” Actually I think these guys were pretty fit. At least one of them had done multiple marathons.
3. “Because they all died within 16 minutes of each other they must have been poisoned.” Almost all cases of sudden deaths in races seem to happen at (or near) the end of the race, which is the case here. So it just means they happened to be finishing around the same time.

My guess is that these 3 men had some rare, hard to detect heart conditions (which are described here) and the deaths were just random chance. I read that the chance of dying in a marathon is about 1 in 100,000.( For a half marathon I would guess the odds would be even less.) But this does not mean that the deaths will be spread out evenly, and that if 100,000 people ran a marathon exactly 1 would drop dead. No, randomness means events may be spread far apart or come in bunches. For example the last death in the Detroit marathon was in 1994, 15 years ago.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Comparing marathon elevation profiles

In 6 days I will be doing the Detroit Marathon with my sister Monique, and Shannon will be doing the Nike Womens Marathon with her friend Denise. Shannon likes to obsess about hills, so she asked me to put together a comparison of elevation profiles so she has an idea of what to expect in San Francisco.
So I compared the Nike and Detroit marathons to others we have done, Umstead, Bayshore and New York. I threw in Boston which we will be doing next year. I got these from MapMyRun.com, and carefully put them at the same scale (1 pixel for every 5 feet)

I thought I would post this for others who like to obsess. Enjoy.

Comparing the elevation profiles of:
  • The Umstead Marathon (in Raleigh, NC)
  • The Nike Women's Marathon (in San Francisco)
  • The Detroit Marathon (Had to add in the tunnel and bridge)
  • The Bayshore Marathon (in Traverse City, MI)
  • The New York Marathon (Might not have the bridges)
  • The Boston Marathon
  • Grandfather Mountain Marathon (Boone, NC)

Click on the image below to get the full size picture.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Red Shoe Theory - Paws for Life 5K

I have done a lot of 5Ks, and this year I started to notice a trend. Whenever I showed up to a 5K race and someone was wearing flashy red or orange shoes, they would end up winning. I speculated that red shoes somehow guarantee victory in a 5K. I call it “The Red Shoe Theory”.

I tested my new theory first when we did the Purple Elephant 5K. As I was sizing up the competition, I saw a lot of skinny, fast looking teenagers, but it was an older and heavier guy that I anticipated would win. He had an unbeatable edge: bright orange shoes.
In that race I was in the lead with a mile to go, when his orange shoes blew by my dirty gray Sauconys, just as I predicted.

Then, a few weeks ago I was at the Athletes’ Foot, taking back a pair of size 12 Mizunos that were too big, which I had previously exchanged for a pair of size 12 Sacuonys’ that were too small. At that point, I was sick of trying on shoes and told the guy to bring me anything. He came out with red shoes with glowing orange laces. I knew I had to have them.

Shannon and I signed up for the Paws For Life 5K in Wake Forest because she volunteers for the animal shelter that the race benefits. I looked up the winning times for the Paws 5K for the last 4 years, and they were all much faster than I was capable of. Even if I had a perfect run on the hilly course, I would still be minutes behind the winner. So I was excited to test my Red Shoe Theory: would my new flashy red and orange shoes somehow magically carry me to an improbable victory?

When we showed up at the race on Saturday morning I took a look around at the other participants, and there were no other red shoes there, probably because they were all down in Raleigh running the Autism 5K. I did spot one skinny guy with fluorescent green Nikes, and my heart sank. Does fluorescent green trump red?

The race started with a “go” and we took off down the street, following a big SUV. One guy raced well ahead but I didn’t worry about him and his dull white Asics. The first half of the race was downhill, so I focused on turning my feet over as fast as they would go, following the SUV. My new red shoes did not feel magical. In fact, despite resting all week, I was really struggling to keep my normal pace and my feet were killing me. My left foot felt like it was swelling up.

The roads were not closed to traffic, so I had to weave back and forth to avoid cars. When I reached the halfway point I was in the lead, but the course turned sharply up a big hill. There, I slowed to a crawl gasping for air, as my Garmin said I was doing an 8 minute mile. I cursed my new red shoes that were not magically lifting me up the hill, and instead were making me do all the work. I trudged along the rest of the way, not looking back, but assuming that at any moment either some one would pass me or I would drop dead of a heart attack.

Neither happened, however, and I finished first in a sluggish 19:26, setting a new course record for the slowest winning time. I broke the previous mark of mediocrity, 18:47, by a whopping 39 seconds. The shoes definitely did not make me fast, but somehow, inexplicably, I won.

So the "Red Shoe Theory" was once again confirmed: red shoes in a 5K guarantee victory. Click here for The Red Shoe Theory - Part 2

Shannon took a bunch of pictures of the event, and those are here.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Off Course: 2009 Triple Lakes Trail Race

Start of the marathon and 40 miler.


"What? No!", I said to my Garmin GPS watch as I was running down the trail, at about mile 4 of the Triple Lakes half marathon.


I have run a lot of trail races, and there have been many times when I almost took a wrong turn, or doubted that I was on the right trail. So, although I have never actually gotten lost, I decided to try the "course" feature of my watch, which will guide you along a pre-recorded route. I put in the track from last years race, and felt reassured that I wouldn't get lost.
As you run, it has a neat little map of the trail ahead and an arrow showing where you are. Unfortunately, because I had my head down staring at this, I missed the big yellow arrows on the trees and ran down the wrong trail.


"Mother-&^%$!!! %$^%-damn-*^$%#* moron!!!".
Yes, I had gotten lost because of my GPS watch.


And now the damn thing was rubbing it in. I considered taking it off and throwing it in the lake, but it got lucky as I came back out onto the right trail. The little detour only set me back a few places, so I sped up to try to make up for it. But my legs were dead from the Salem Lake 30K last Saturday. I struggled the last 3 miles, ending up 2 minutes slower than last year.

Don't know his name, but it is a great picture.

Shannon took a bunch more pictures, which are here. And here (for the artful versions):

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