Tagged in: Marathon

Charleston Salmon Run Coast Course

Inaugural Charleston Salmon Run Race Report

There are distinct advantages to running small, new races in little towns. The organizers are genuinely happy you’re there. Small towns and business centers are excited to showcase their uniqueness and encourage future visits. You may find screaming cheering sections during one mile and complete solitude during another. And to top it all off, for those of us who couldn’t be more average, you might just rattle off the run of your life and finish very high in the final results. The inaugural 2017 Charleston Salmon Run featured all of this and more.

The race would take place in a tiny wedge on the Oregon Coast called Charleston. The somewhat larger metropolitan area is known as Coos Bay. Race organizers offered a free race entry with proof of local overnight stay, so we stayed at The Mill Casino and Hotel. There was a shuttle to the race and back, but we drove, as it was more convenient since the shuttle didn’t run very frequently. I picked up my race packet the evening before the race, and was greeted by some overwhelmingly happy volunteers who were obviously thrilled to meet the runners. Their excitement was infectious and gave me a good feeling heading into race day. They presented me with a sweatshirt, a pin, and something called “the key to the city” that could be worn as a wristband. If you were wearing this, several local businesses were offering discounts on all sorts of things.

The night before the race, I noticed that the zipper pocket on the back of my running shorts had torn away from the rest of the fabric, leaving a huge hole in the seat of my shorts. Thanks to my wife Julie for using the hotel room sewing kit to get me all patched up before the race and making sure nobody got an unwanted show.

Calm before the storm. And some pretty decent carpeting. #raceforthetrails #charlestonsalmonrun

A post shared by Phil Krooswyk (@raceforthetrails) on

Loud music was pumping at the start/finish line as runners began to gather. There would be a marathon, half marathon, 10k and 1 mile walk. I counted approximately 40 runners at the start, before a young man sang the best rendition of the national anthem I’ve ever heard at a race. A quick countdown later, the race was underway and we rounded the first turn and started uphill. This race featured between 2,000 and 2,200 feet of elevation gain and loss, depending on which mapping tool you use.

Charleston Salmon Run Start/Finish Line

Living in Bend now, I mostly trained for this race at altitudes from 4,000 to 7,000 feet. I was curious to see whether my hill training at higher altitude would pay off with this race being very close to sea level. I had my answer when after a couple minutes of running uphill during the first couple miles, I was breathing comfortably and running easy. The first major turn of the race wasn’t marked and the man directing traffic was encouraging runners to stay straight. Fortunately, one of the other runners knew better and redirected everyone on the course. Many had to run about 1/4 mile to get back on course. Beyond that, the course was well marked and individual mile markers were helpfully posted at each mile.

The hills continued up and down for the first 7 miles. The course featured a couple long out-and-back stretches. The first 7 miles would bring runners into a backwoods area dotted with trailers and lawns, which seemingly doubled as junkyards. There were occasional views of vast valleys, and a few cheering folks came out to the road from their homes, but there were just as many scowls and dogs barking angrily. I soon noticed that there were pilot cars on the road getting traffic in and out of their homes. The runners were all on one side of the road and locals were not enjoying the idea of having to wait for someone to come fetch them before they could leave their driveways. I’m not sure where the miscommunication between locals and the race organizers happened, but this wasn’t the last sign of locals unimpressed with the race.

I chatted with a local runner who pointed out his property and grumbled about some recent thefts by “tweakers” who were trespassing on personal property and how the local police had no choice but to continually turn them back out into the community. We chatted for a couple miles and then went back to focusing on our individual races. Around mile 6, I started noticing occasional marathon leaders coming back from the first turnaround. Before I knew it, I was at the turnaround point myself. I realized that I was now in 9th place.

I hadn’t brought much food with me. A GU packet and a couple waffles were in my pocket at the start. I intended to pick up my handheld and additional nutrition from my wife at the halfway point, which I thought was back at the Start/Finish line. I was wrong and I ate the last of my nutrition as I turned to start the next big out-and-back at mile 14. My wife and I texted a couple times before I lost cell coverage. I was trying to tell her not to worry about it and I’d figure it out, but my messages never went through.

There were only a couple aid stations that offered food, but it turned out to be enough to get me through. Most of the aid stations just featured water, although a couple had Gatorade and at least one was offering bananas and Chex mix. Realizing that I would be short on nutrition for the second half of the race, I decided to slow my pace from low 9-minute miles to mid 10-minute miles. By mile 15, I was back to 10th place overall.

The half marathon was well underway and followed the same path as the second half of the marathon. At first I was concerned about how busy the roads would be with people at various paces, but I eventually enjoyed the opportunity to focus on a runner up ahead and reel them in slowly.

This is about the same time I saw a coyote pop out of the woods. We stopped and stared at each other from about 10 feet away. I waited for half marathoner to catch up for a minute before I moved ahead again. I’ve had such terrible luck with dogs on my runs this year, I wasn’t taking a chance.

Charleston Salmon Run Coyote

The distractions of overtaking various half marathoners and the coyote confrontation took my mind off my stomach, which was rumbling by the time I hit 17 miles.

Around mile 18, the leader of the marathon was working his way back toward me again. We gave each other a high five and a few words of encouragement. I still had a tiny out and back to do on a side path where the race planner had added in some extra mileage. I ran down the hill to a parking loop, grabbed some water at the aid station and headed back out. The hill felt much, much bigger on the way out. I looked at a half marathoner moving slowly on the hill and put my head down to begin catching her. The hill took a lot out of me and I wouldn’t complete the pass until nearly 1/2 mile down the main road again.

The out-and-back loop gave me an opportunity to see if other marathoners were gaining on me. Indeed, I saw 3 orange bibs, all less than a mile behind me. I maintained my effort for the time being. I knew that if I pushed too hard, I wouldn’t have anything left for the finish. Unfortunately, the loop also meant that I wouldn’t know how many marathoners were still in front of me or how far out. Back on the main road, I enjoyed the distraction of dozens of barking sea lions who made a hilarious racket.

More and more half marathoners and marathoners clogged the road as we moved in both directions. Many runners were on both sides of the road now, leading to traffic snarls and some angry driver confrontations with other drivers and pilot car drivers. I tried to block out these distractions and maintain my comfortable pace. I arrived at the turnaround point, grabbed another cup of water, and walked for about 1/10th of a mile while psyching myself up for the return trip. I looked around and saw a man with a marathon bib about 250 feet behind me. I started running again.

My return run was largely uneventful for the first few miles. Aside from some half marathoners blaring music from their phones, which I always find a little strange, my mind was fairly quiet and my body felt great. Around mile 22, I stopped to drink two cups of Gatorade. On the next hill, I moved slowly and saved my energy for the last couple miles. Nearing the top of the hill, I heard the footsteps of the man with the marathon bib. He caught up to me and I quickened my pace. I had a hunch that he had used a lot of energy trying to catch me on the last hill, so I hung right with him. After about 1/4 mile of running silently side-by-side, he dropped way off the pace and I carried the pace into the final miles of the race.

My wife was waiting for me with 2.5 miles to go. She hadn’t gotten my texts and despite having a badly sprained ankle, she did her best to get me some nutrition for the final miles of the race. I grabbed a waffle and ate half of it and put the rest in my pocket. Just a little food would carry me now.

Charleston Salmon Run 3 Miles to Go

Just past mile 24, two women marathoners caught me as I ran on a flat portion of the course. My energy was flagging and I was eager for the race to be over. I wasn’t feeling nearly as competitive as I had earlier and I watched the women easily pass me and move around a corner and out of sight.

I rounded a bend in the road and headed up the last big hill of the course. My head was down as I just focused on the task at hand. Around halfway up the hill, I realized that the women were no longer running, but walking the hill. My trailrunning and hiking background has granted me terrific uphill speed when power hiking. Recognizing my opportunity, I switched my gait and began to gain on the women quickly. I passed them and as soon as the road began to flatten, I put the pedal down again.

What followed was a gradual downhill that would become more steep as we approached the finish line. The final 1/10th of a mile was a flat sprint to the finish line. I was about 3/4 mile from the finish when the women caught me on the downhill. There was no way I could keep up with them on the rolling downhill, but I knew that my weight and long legs would help me as the road became steeper, and I bided my time.

With 1/4 mile to go, I made my move. I allowed gravity to carry me down the steep road and even though it was painful on my feet and joints, I opened up my stride and pushed as hard as I could. The three of us reached the final turn at the same time and I had all the momentum. I sped along for the next hundred feet, only glancing back once to see if my pass had worked. I realized quickly that I could ease up and cross the line at a comfortable pace. I crossed the line in 4:13:52, good enough for 10th overall and 6th male.

Charleston Salmon Run Top 10

I exchanged congratulatory high fives with the women who crossed the line just behind me, received my medal and a bottle of water, declined a baggie of donuts (kind of strange, but whatever), and shared a bench with a young Portland half marathoner named Devin. Before long, the aggressive effort late in the race caught up with me and I had to lay down for nearly 20 minutes to settle my stomach. My wife found me and gave me a balled up coat to rest my head on and in a little while I was ready to shuffle my way to the car and head back to the hotel.

Tomorrow’s the victory lap. #raceforthetrails #charlestonsalmonrun

A post shared by Phil Krooswyk (@raceforthetrails) on

My overall impression of the race is that it was an interesting, difficult course, organized by passionate people who really wanted to showcase their town and do something fun. The medals featured a nice design, the second half of the course was pretty, and the hills required strategy. The young men wearing hats emblazoned with a red W were very friendly and supportive while manning the aid stations. There were some strange conflicts with the locals though. In the coffee shop next to the Start/Finish line, an elderly man was griping about being woken up by the pounding music. Another local woman complained that she had great difficulty getting to her office to open up for the morning (never mind the fact that she was complaining in a coffee shop and not in her office…). Finally, the pilot car program seemed to be a failure. Multiple times, I saw pilot cars nose-to-nose, steeped in confusion and wondering how to give one another the right of way. Locals griped throughout the race and took to Facebook as well. I don’t know if these are organizational issues or simply oversensitive locals who love to complain. Either way, the race brought an influx of money to an area that doesn’t see many visitors, and I’m surprised that so many of the locals seemed so upset to be mildly inconvenienced for a few hours. The behavior of the random, angry locals is enough to discourage me from wanting to visit this area again. I feel bad saying that because the race organizers were some of the nicest people I’ve ever had the pleasure of dealing with at a race.

Here’s hoping they’re able to work with the locals to get the whole town on board with this race in the future. I don’t know if it’s possible. There’s just no pleasing some people, but I’ll be curious to see if this race is repeated in the future or it’s a one-and-done. Check out the Strava GPS to see the full details of the course.

Chicago Marathon Medal

2015 Chicago Marathon Race Report

Nothing in the real world is as beautiful as the illusions of a person about to lose consciousness.

– Haruki Murakami, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

I was at mile 10 when I realized my body wasn’t accepting any nutrition. No gels. No water. Nothing. The morning had been warmer than expected and race officials had been warning all runners for a week to be sure to take in plenty of fluids. At mile 6, I started feeling the heat of the day and decided to take a cup of Gatorade at an aid station. I never drink it, but it seemed like the right thing to do at the time. At mile 8, I took another. It would be the last thing I kept down for many miles.

Chicago is my hometown. When I moved to Portland and started running longer distances, I harbored a dream that I would one day return to Chicago, blast through the marathon, and lay down a personal record in front of all my friends and family. Fireworks would explode overhead, millions of spectators would cheer, and Deena Kastor would lay a kiss on my cheek at the finish line and tell me how inspired my race was. The course is flat, the weather is generally conducive to fast running, and the excitement of the crowd propels runners to greatness. When I got into the race via the lottery, I was stoked. This was going to be a glorious day.

I arrived in town several days before the race. I still work remotely for an office in Chicago, so it was nice to work amongst people for a few days. I enjoyed a couple of group runs with office friends and felt that my taper was going well. I didn’t sleep well leading up to the race, but I still felt relatively well-rested. Staying at other people’s homes, you never know what to expect. I was able to relax and enjoy my time back in Chicago during the week. The Cubs were in the playoffs, the weather was great, and it was fun to see so many familiar faces.

The morning of the race, I wasn’t hungry. I had some water and a gel, but no coffee or anything of real substance. My wife accompanied me to the starting line where I handed off my jacket and separated for the day, confident that we would be celebrating a great success together in a few short hours. She would be corralling our family and friends and organizing places to cheer and meet up afterward. I would be running the race of my life.

I found my corral easily and approached the 3:45 pace group. I was confident that I would run a sub-4 hour marathon. I had been training well, I was feeling fast, and I was totally healthy. Slowly but surely, the race started and each corral inched closer to the starting line. I was keeping my emotions in check; feeling very cool, calm, and ready.

I found myself cruising through the first mile. I was taking it easy and settling into my pace. Around 1 mile in, I spotted my wife and her friend cheering me on. I’m still not sure how I managed to see them. In the sea of millions of people, they stuck out and I was elated to spot them so quickly. Enjoying my pace and tooling around the city, I felt relaxed and comfortable. Eventually, I realized that I had outpaced the 3:45 crew and I had jumped to the 3:40 pace group. I wasn’t concerned yet. I wasn’t breathing heavy, I felt totally comfortable, and I have a history of going out quickly and trying to hold on in these races. I promised myself that I would walk a couple of aid stations down the stretch and that would allow the 3:45 group to catch up to me eventually. Still feeling great, I put the first hour behind with a smile.

Then, the Gatorade. I had convinced myself at some point in the first 6 miles that I would do well to combat the coming heat with some electrolytes. Never mind that the Gu gels I brought along had electrolytes and that I was still moving comfortably. I thought that if I hydrated with this stuff early, I could just sip water down the stretch. I was mistaken.

At the mile 12 aid station, I rushed to a portable toilet off to the side of the course. Everything I had ingested for the last hour was coming back up. I barely made it into the toilet. I don’t enjoy throwing up. I rarely do it. I never puke while running. This was an uncomfortable, rare occurrence that I couldn’t explain. I got it together, calmed myself down, and headed for the aid station. A man there refilled my handheld water bottle for me and I looked up just in time to see the 3:45 pace group turning the corner about 100 feet in front of me. For a split second, I felt relief that I was still on pace to hit my goal.

Then a funny thing happened. I tried to accelerate to rejoin my pace group, but my body wouldn’t do it. The adventure in the portable toilet had taken so much out of me, that my energy was totally sapped. I wasn’t about to try eating anything just yet, but I had to try something. I took a sip off my water bottle and realized it was coming right back up. I had no choice. I started walking. Every time I tried to run, the water was trying to rise up out of my stomach again. After about 100 steps, I was able to get moving again. I turned the corner and heard a mess of people screaming my name. I looked over to see more than half a dozen friends cheering me on. I mustered a wave and a half smile. I was determined to press on, but my dreams of the day were fading fast.

I was still tailing my original pace group when I crossed the halfway checkpoint. My friend back in Portland was following along with my race. I recently bought a Garmin watch that syncs with my phone. A text came through from my friend saying, “Wow 3:45! good job!” That was followed by another text that said, “oh, that’s your estimated time. keep going!” Despite the well wishes and good intentions, I knew I was in trouble. I had hit a new kind of wall. I had slammed into it at full speed and without the ability to take on nutrition of any kind, I had no way to recover.

Philip Krooswyk Chicago Marathon

I went through my options in my head while I headed west toward the United Center area turnaround. I could quit. “Sure, that’s always an option,” I thought. “Fly 2,000 miles just to quit the race you’ve been training all year for.” I could fire up the Jeff Galloway method. Wouldn’t that be a fun way to move for the next 13 miles? Just walk a mile, run a mile, walk a mile, run a mile. “With any luck, you’ll finish around 4pm.” Not an option. So then, shuffle to the finish? “Shuffle to the finish.”

I was able to keep my sights on the 3:45 pace group for most of the westward section. I think I lost them around mile 15. I was walking through an aid station and considering drinking some water at mile 16 when the 3:50 pace group passed me by. They didn’t just slowly move past me. It felt like they were sprinting. I could feel wind coming off of them as they blew past me. I felt like I was standing still. I found some shade to run in for the next mile or two and was able to keep a close eye on this group. Eventually, I succumbed to my roaring stomach and drank some water.

At mile 17, I saw my family for the first time. They were cheering and screaming my name as I plodded through Greektown. They had made signs and it was like a vision. They’ve never seen me race before and the excitement of that moment carried me the next mile as I finally felt my energy coming back to me.

Phil Chicago Marathon Family

Each time I drank, I had to walk for almost a quarter of a mile before I was able to safely run again without vomiting. At mile 18, I made the bold choice to drink while I was running. Within 20 steps, I found myself holding on to a dumpster in an alley, throwing up behind it. I didn’t even make it to a portable toilet this time. I felt blackness surrounding me and I could barely stand. It took me a minute to compose myself. I was sure that I would black out at any moment. I slowly walked back to the road, seeing stars. I gradually picked up speed. And soon, I was at a slow trot. Pushing once again for the finish line.

At mile 19, I watched helplessly as the 3:55 pace group whizzed past and disappeared from sight. It took less than 5 minutes for them to sneak past me and vanish. In the next few miles, the 4 hour pace group would catch me and pass me. At this point, I was in a race with myself. My personal best is 4:11 in the marathon. I was losing confidence that I could still beat that number, but I had to try.

At mile 22, I made a deal with myself. No more water. No more nutrition of any kind. I was going to finish this race on guts. I wouldn’t walk again. I wouldn’t let negative thoughts into my head. And I was going to finish this race with some semblance of pride. I picked up my feet, I started driving my quads more, and for the first time in many miles, I started to hear the crowd again. At this point, it was about the experience of running in Chicago. It was about seeing my hometown from different angles; gaining new perspectives.

The crowd was incredible. The volunteers were encouraging and hard-working. The sky was beautiful. The roads were clean and smooth. And as I pushed through these last 4 miles, I felt reinvigorated. It was difficult. I was digging deeper than ever before. I focused on my breathing. “One step at a time” became my everlasting mantra. And as I turned the final corner and hit the last uphill before the finish line, I knew I was in trouble again. I was pushing so hard and so determined, that I had stopped paying any attention to what was happening in my body. At this point, it was impossible to ignore.

I finished the race, I received my medal, I found a shady spot in the grass, and I collapsed.

I’m not sure how long I was there for. I was awakened by my phone vibrating. I answered to hear my wife asking where we could meet up. I thought I was in a public area, but I must have still been in a secure post-race spot. We agreed on a meeting point about 300 yards away and I told her I would need some time to gather myself before meeting them.

Probably 20 minutes later, I started stumbling toward them. Every few steps, I stopped to keep from vomiting. Eventually, I was overcome, but I made it to a portable toilet. I felt a crack in my chest this time. This was the most violent experience I’ve ever had in a port-a-potty and not one I’d like to repeat anytime soon. As I stood there, my phone vibrated again. I answered and said I’d be out shortly. I composed myself, wandered out and started stumbling for the exit. For a second, I saw medical personnel keeping a close eye on me. Just about the time they were starting to move in my direction, a man 25 feet away collapsed and they sprinted to him.

Phil Chicago Marathon Finisher

I made it to the exit fine and within 100 feet, I started feeling better. By the time I found my family and friends, I was feeling great. My strength was coming back, my stomach had settled down, and there were no signs of the issues that had plagued me all day. My wife handed me a coconut water, I posed for photos with everyone, and we jumped on the Brown Line to head back to the apartment. The rest of the day was easy. I spent it hanging out in the city, enjoying time with family and friends, eating everything I saw and generally feeling great.

My final time was 4:14:32. Not my best attempt, but better than my worst marathon finish by more than a minute. I was disappointed that I missed all of my goals, but proud of my overall effort. This was the worst adversity I’ve faced during a race. My takeaways are pretty simple. Eat something for breakfast. I wasn’t hungry, but even a handful of cereal would have made a difference. Don’t eat anything on race day you haven’t tried during training. I usually don’t drink electrolyte drinks. The Gatorade was so sweet, I knew almost immediately that it was a bad idea for me. I should have stuck with water. I might still have had nausea issues, but I can’t imagine they would have been that severe.

Phil Chicago Marathon Finisher Medal

As for the marathon itself, it was a wonderful time. The expo was great, the city is amazing, the race officials were helpful, and the volunteers were incredible. I doubt that I’ll ever experience another feeling that rivals being cheered on by millions of spectators. Running in front of my friends and family was a special bonus that I didn’t take for granted. As satisfied as I am, I’m excited for my next venture. I’m transitioning to trail and endurance racing. I’ll be toeing the line at my first 50k in less than 24 hours. Writing about Chicago in the lead-up to this next race has been cathartic. I’ve trained well, I’ve worked hard, and now it’s time to correct the mistakes I’ve made previously.

Tomorrow morning, I’ll be eating something for breakfast.

SF Marathon Medal

2015 San Francisco Marathon Race Report

When you first start running, you tend to think small. Maybe running around the block is your goal. Perhaps running an entire mile without stopping to walk. Eventually, you start to think a little bigger. Maybe you train for that first 5k. Maybe a 10k. And for some people, that is enough. But there are those ambitious enough to start eyeing a half marathon. And if that goes well, the possibility of a full marathon comes into view. At some point, you get comfortable on long runs. You find a rhythm and pace that feels like cruising and you realize that distance is no longer the challenge. Your new enemy is time. There are so many great races out there; so many incredible places to see. Deciding on a race can be overwhelming. But there are those destinations that make the decision easier. Places so spectacular to visit that they top the list of any vacation plans, let alone a destination marathon. San Francisco easily fits that mold.

My personal relationship with running can likely be characterized as obsessive. Nothing clears my head at the end of a workday like a hilly 10k. No weekend is complete without at least a half marathon training run. If I’m exploring a new trail, cruising along a river, or tackling technical trail to find an expansive mountain view, even better. But when injuries crop up that prevent me from running, I’m nothing short of distraught. I feel aimless. I get cranky. That’s the position I found myself in two short weeks ago.

I stepped off a bar stool and my right leg locked up at the knee. The pain was excruciating. I could barely ride my bicycle home that evening. Six months ago, I had put the San Francisco Marathon on my calendar. Now it was 9 days away and I could barely walk. I was fortunate to get an appointment with my physical therapist, who rubbed, massaged, poked, prodded and beat on my leg until I was able to perform various exercises satisfactorily. I felt mildly better after the appointment and improved greatly over the following days. Once I had my confidence back, I was able to continue with my taper week running, although I missed out on an 8-miler that would have been my last somewhat long fitness run before the race. I asked my PT for a couple sentences on just what in the heck happened to me.

Your tibia/fibula joint was “jammed”, likely due to a mild strength imbalance in your hip extensors. The speed work increased the demand on these muscles and the stability of the joint causing it to get “sticky” and when you put your foot down quickly, the joint stuck, or jammed, and as a result, you also got a muscle spasm of the popliteus/plantaris, the muscles that unlock the knee from extension. When you increase the output demands on your body, the mildest imbalances can get highlighted and cause “alignment” issues.

Right. So that hurts about as badly as it sounds. On the bright side, by the time the race rolled around, I had no lingering effects and I was excited to get out there and set a new marathon record for myself. Even though San Francisco features double the elevation gain of the Portland Marathon, I am a much stronger runner than I was ten months ago for my first marathon. I felt that I had every reason to be optimistic.

My wife and I arrived in San Francisco Saturday, one day before the race. We headed to the expo to pick up my race bib and various other swag. We got settled into our SoMa AirBnB and went out to The Flying Pig for dinner. If you happen to be gluten intolerant, you should seek this gem out for everything from breakfast to late night fare. The food was fantastic. Because my wave 3 start would leave the starting line at 5:42am, we decided to turn in early. Unfortunately, our home for the night turned out to be a door-slamming factory of some type. I estimate that I slept less than an hour all night. On the bright side, I didn’t need my alarm because I was already awake.

We ordered an Uber and rode to the starting line for a few quick photos before I headed to my corral. The weather was very mild and the temperature was comfortable in the low 60s. There was some issue with the audio technology and nobody could hear the emcee barking out instructions near the starting line. Before we knew it, our wave was being shuffled to the front. A quick countdown and we were off. We left the starting line right on time, while it was still dark outside.

SF Marathon Phil Krooswyk

I was a little disappointed at mile 1 that the darkness and fog prevented a view of Coit Tower. I didn’t dwell on it too much, as I knew there would be many landmarks still to come. I made quick work of the first 2.5 miles, passing Fisherman’s Wharf, Fort Mason and the first aid station at a 7’28” pace. Unfortunately, my smartphone GPS had failed me. I had no idea how fast I was going. My goal pace was in the neighborhood of 9’40” per mile. According to my Nike+ feedback, I was hovering close to 9’30” per mile and I was feeling confident. Soon, I found myself buzzing through Crissy Field on the way to the first real climb of the day. A guy behind me tripped and fell flat out. Fortunately, he had a handheld bottle and he slid on that for a few feet, dragging his legs behind him. He quickly gathered himself up and moved on. Close call.

SF Marathon Golden Gate Phil Krooswyk

From the Presidio, I passed through mile 5 and up to the Golden Gate Bridge. The sun was up now, but the fog showed no signs of lifting. The bridge looked like a haunting goliath waiting to destroy my pace, but up I went. The elevation gain here wasn’t as bad as I thought. I pulled out my GoPro and shot several videos while crossing over the bridge. I was happy to see that Alcatraz was in plan view from the bridge. Once across, I hit the aid station for a package of Gu Chomps and hustled back out to recross the bridge. While crossing the bridge for the second time, I heard my GPS announce that I was at mile 9.75. This was curious, because I was staring at the Mile 9 course marker. I knew my GPS was way off now, but it seemed to be swinging wildly from underestimating my distance to overestimating it. I had no idea what my actual pace was. I started listening for my total time and measuring that against the miles I had already covered. I’m not great at math in my head. Particularly when hurtling through San Francisco at breakneck speed trying to avoid other runners and stay vertical on wet pavement and metal beams that hold the bridge together. By mile 11, I figured out that I must be under 8’30” per mile. I started to relax a little bit on the hills.

SF Marathon Phil Krooswyk Park

Between miles 10-13, the course featured a great deal of vertical climb heading into Golden Gate Park. My wife had planned to meet me at the halfway point, but because my pace was so far ahead of expectations, I got there before her Uber arrived. She called me and we agreed to meet up at mile 16. I continued on my way through the park. I was excited to see the bison paddock and was still feeling strong around mile 15. That’s when I noticed a curiously familiar pain building up in my right leg. My tibia injury was back. At first I jostled the leg while running, hoping to just pop it loose. By the time I reached my wife, I was in agony. There would be no quick fix on this run.

All this time, I had been carrying a whole lot of gear. I had a portable charger for my phone. My phone battery had barely survived the previous marathon and I didn’t want to take any chances. I removed that and handed it to my wife. I also unloaded the GoPro. I wasn’t in any mood to shoot additional video. Finally, I got rid of my sunglasses. Had I taken any time to view a weather report before the race, I never would have taken them along. Down to only the essentials, I hobbled toward the last ten miles of the race.

By mile 17, my pace had risen to 9’09” per mile. I didn’t know it at the time. All I knew was that each step was proving very painful. I was also hungry. I can only eat so many Gu gels. My wife had offered me a Picky Bar, but I was craving real food. Bacon and eggs. Maybe some pancakes. Something. I entered Haight-Ashbury during the breakfast hour and the smells caused my stomach to rumble. I swallowed another Gu gel and did the best I could to ignore the aromas.

SF Marathon Phil Krooswyk Haight Ashbury

From here on in, I walked the aid stations and alternated between water and electrolyte drinks. I was surprised by how much of the second half of the course was uphill. I knew that miles 15 through 17 were tough, but 18 through 20 didn’t seem any easier. Frustrated and in pain, my pace continued to rise. By mile 23.5, my pace was up to 9’32” per mile. I actually stopped at one point to eat a gel and rest my leg, but the pain became worse. I tried to walk for a stretch. The pain decreased at first, then increased. As painful as it was to run, it was the only way to consistently keep the pain down. Somewhere near the end of mile 24, a man held out a tray of watermelon. I scooped up a block of it and hungrily destroyed it. It was the coldest, most delicious thing I could imagine at that moment. Only one aid station had cold beverages, and that was very early on. I had run out of water in my handheld bottle around mile 20. There were plenty of aid stations, but I was still running low on fluids. I don’t know that I was ever in danger of overheating, but I tend to be wary of that sort of thing.

One thing that made this race even more difficult was a lack of mile markers. After mile 19, I didn’t see a single marker. With my GPS acting screwy and no idea of my actual pace, I became totally frustrated. During long races and big efforts, it’s easy to go to dark places mentally. Every race is an opportunity to practice your response to these dark places. I had shared my Nike+ run on Facebook and I was receiving cheers every time someone liked my post or commented on it. I was glad I shared. Some of those cheers were the reminders that snapped me back to reality. I told myself to live in the moment, take one step at a time, and just get this done.

Finally, at mile 25, I arrived at AT&T Ballpark. I had run here one time previously when I visited San Francisco in 2014. The familiarity of it was encouraging and I felt a bit of confidence for the first time in many miles. Maybe I was delirious from pain and lack of nutrients. It didn’t matter. I perked up a little and would run from here on in. No more walking. Perhaps it was hobbling. Or stumbling. It didn’t matter. Running is moving forward. Good enough.

SF Marathon Phil Krooswyk ATandT Park

Just past the aid station at mile 25.5, a man behind me tripped and fell. I stopped at first to help him up. I saw his head raise and then slowly drop back down. It was immediately apparent that he was unconscious. Several other runners and spectators were already surrounding him screaming for a doctor and running toward the aid station for help. Realizing there was nothing I could do, I moved on. It’s a frightening thing to see. I had seen this twice in the Portland Marathon as well. People falling and knocking themselves out. Just three days before the race, a friend bragged to me that she thought she could finish a marathon, no problem. She isn’t a runner, but she claims to be in decent shape and doesn’t see what the big deal is. I immediately thought of her when I saw this man fall. He was in great shape. But things go wrong. Maybe his nutrition was off. Maybe he was dehydrated. Maybe he did everything right, but just happened to catch his toe on a manhole cover. Whatever the issue, marathons are not to be taken lightly. Don’t ever let anybody tell you otherwise. Marathons are a test of will. They push you further than you ever thought you could go and they will destroy you if you don’t respect them. I encourage everyone to try one someday, but prepare yourself physically and mentally for one of the toughest challenges of your life. Pulling myself back together, I turned for home.

SF Marathon Phil Krooswyk Home Stretch

As I passed under the Bay Bridge, I finally saw the finish line. I could have cried. I was passed frequently in the final quarter mile by runners who saved something for that last home stretch. Unfortunately, I had nothing left. I just kept my pace and crossed the line safely, happy to be done. I shut off my GPS and headed back to the AirBnB. We had to check out in an hour. Later on, I checked my official time on the marathon website. I finished in 4 hours and 15 minutes with a pace of 9’46” per mile, 4 minutes slower than my Portland Marathon time.

SF Marathon PK Finish Line

I was so depressed with my leg situation and my finish time, that I didn’t even take the time to enjoy finishing the marathon. It wasn’t until several days later that I started to appreciate the effort. My wife and I spent a couple days recuperating in Napa. I found a hot tub at the hotel and in less than 10 minutes, my leg pain disappeared. Apparently, bubbles are the key. Either way, I will be seeing my PT again very soon.

Now, I set my sights on the Chicago Marathon in October. Chicago has virtually no elevation change. And I have plenty of time to heal before then. I suppose I better get to it. I really want that marathon personal best. Training begins now.

Enjoy some of the GoPro video and sights from the marathon in the video below.

Portland Marathon Finish Line 2014

Portland Marathon Race Report

I’ve been meaning to write up a race report for the Portland Marathon for a while now. This was my first marathon. I ran it on October 5, 2014. It was the hottest Portland Marathon on record. I came in with the hope of finishing in 4:20:00 or less. I wound up finishing the race in 4:12:34 with a pace of 9:37/mile.

The entire event was a great experience. The signup, expo, and organization were all top notch. At no point was I confused about where to go or what to do. My wife was able to meet me at my starting corral before the race for last minute nutrition and clothing discards. I was nervous as I approached the starting line, but I settled myself down with the mental reminder that I was about to enjoy four solid hours of running. I get excited for a nice, long run. I can’t be the only one, right?

One of the early highlights for me was running through Chinatown. The drummers and dragons put on a great display and the sights and sounds charged me up. I felt like I was cruising and not crowded at all in the first mile or two. In fact, my only problem was my attire. I had lost a considerable amount of weight during my marathon training and my shorts were much too baggy. I took 10 Gu gels with me and it took all of 100 feet for me to realize that my pockets weren’t going to support my nutrition. I wound up holding several of the gels in each hand for much of the race. I have since purchased new shorts.

My proudest, if not smartest, achievement of the race is that I never walked. The lead up to the St. John’s Bridge around mile 15 is a tough hill and nearly everyone else was walking it. I probably should have saved the energy, but I made an agreement with myself before the race to run the entire thing. Part of me feels that walking at least part of that hill briskly could have saved me from the wall I hit a few miles later. By mile 18, I was struggling and my pace was falling off with each minute. Despite the wonderful cheer squads and Widmer Bros. beer crew pushing me on, I was fading fast. The sun was beating down by this time and I found myself bouncing from one side of the street to the other, trying to find shady spots on the road. In the end, I wandered around so much and took so many corners poorly, I ran a half mile more than the expected 26.2. Lesson learned. Run straight and watch those tangents on the corners.

With each of the last few turns coming back through downtown, I expected to see the finish line. I had my heart broken again and again. By the time I finally saw the finish line, I didn’t have the energy for a big final push and I stammered across the finish line exhausted, but elated.

My wife and friends kept tabs on me throughout the race and met me at the finish line. I used Nike+ during the race to track my progress. I also paired Nike+ with Facebook so my friends and family could cheer me on during the race. Nike+ doesn’t always get rave reviews, but I appreciated the cheering feature very much as the surprise crowd noise and cowbells got me through some dark moments. I used my wife’s photos and videos to put together a video of the event below. All things considered, I’m thrilled with this race and highly recommend the Portland Marathon to first timers and veterans alike.