Monday, April 24, 2017

Carmel Marathon: Same race but with better beer

My first Carmel race
Photo credit: Sam Kan

Shadow Race

The Carmel Marathon really began two years ago for me. As I mentioned in a previous blog, the group that I ran with and helped to run in Kuwait was founded by a National Guard unit from Indianapolis (adjoining Carmel). During my time there the KRM put on a shadow race of the Carmel Marathon at our little base. About 40 of us ran a half-marathon and an 8k around the base. The race organizers sent us the shirts and medals from the run.

KRM friends running the dusty base roads in Kuwait
Photo credit: Sam Kan
Sometime in 2016 one of my fellow “dons” of the KRM reached out to the rest of the alumni and suggested that we run the real deal. I have always liked the idea of running races that I did shadow runs of while deployed and I had not yet done Indiana in my lifetime goal of running a marathon in each state. But really, it was a fun opportunity to hang out with some folks who added much levity and sanity to my last deployment.

Finishing the Kuwait edition of the 2015 Carmel Half-Marathon
Photo credit: Sam Kan
I should also mention that the organizers of the race, in particular, the one we worked with were excited about a group of shadow runners coming to do the real race. They gave us VIP bibs and had great chats with us before and after the race.


Training for the real Carmel Marathon was a much different animal than the shadow run – or any of my previous marathons. Since returning from the deployment my wife and I had another child. They are a joy, but. . . they make taking off for two to three-hour long runs a bit more challenging.

Eventually the chaos seems normal
Photo credit: My ever awesome wife
Our first son took fairly reliable epic (2 -3 hours naps) in the afternoon and so getting out on a Sunday afternoon for a long run had been a manageable event. In spite of our efforts to reason with our second child, he did not see our logic of why he should reliably nap at the same time as his brother. So while I managed one or two long runs on Sundays I had to find a more sustainable way.

My wife hit upon the solution of running into work. On Mondays and Tuesdays she worked about a five-minute walk from my office (which happened to have a pretty decent shower). So one Monday I bit the bullet and gave her my computer bag, lunch and a change of clothes to take in. Being the front range and the satellite communities of Boulder, I was able to find a route in that consisted entirely of paved and gravel paths and trails. There was a two-mile stretch of the Denver-Boulder bike path that at times had comically high winds, but it was otherwise a pretty pleasant route.

One long-run route from home to the office

Speedworks also required some tweaking. Previously I had done much of my harder running with the Boulder Track Club. But with my oldest needing to leave for pre-school at around 7:30 the club's 7 am start time became less attractive. Fortunately, our friend group in Lafayette is coming to consist more and more of other folks with young kids so when I asked a nearby friend if he wanted to do a speedwork at 6:30 he came back and said 6 would be even better. I could do that.

Returning to a new location

I arrived at Indianapolis on Friday evening. Since there was a group of us we got two rooms at an Airbnb house. It was a short 15-minute drive to downtown. The really nice thing about doing an Airbnb set-up was that we were able to use the kitchen to make our own awesome pre-race pasta meal. It was a much more relaxing way to do a pre-race dinner than going out to a restaurant.

This crowd fears no glueten
Photo credit: Shane
The Carmel Marathon is Indiana’s second biggest marathon (according to their website) but it is still fairly small compared to bigger city marathons. There were about 600 folks run marathon. When we arrived about an hour before the race parking could still be found within easy walking distance of the start and there were plenty of porta-potties.

All ready to go
Photo credit: Shane
Somehow I had ended up with an “elite” bid given my estimated time of 2:50:00 and so I toed up to the edge of the starting line. The weather was overcast with a 10 – 15 mph wind out of the northeast and the temperature in the mid to high 40’s – overall pretty reasonable weather.

In all our KRM glory
The course started off running through some beautiful neighborhoods. Carmel reminded me of Boulder in that it was wealthy and active as evidenced by the beautiful houses and miles of nice paths. The marathon ran several of its miles off-road along these nice paved paths.

Minor Issues

The course was well marked although I did have some minor complaints. Twice the marathon course departed from the half-marathon course only to rejoin it later. In most small marathons that I have run this would not be an issue because during the second half of the race the person ahead of me was usually out-of-sight and the next person was often minutes behind me. However, around mile 15 I still found myself passing folks who had gone ahead of me a few miles back and being passed by folks who I thought I had put away. Rejoining with the half-marathoners sometimes made it harder to keep track of the competition.

How pleasant to see you again
The other minor compliant I had was that a few short road sections were not completely closed to traffic. There were the usual cases where only one lane was marked off with cones for runners and the other lanes were open – this I was used to. But there were a couple of times when I was running my tangent across what I assumed was a lane entirely for runners when a car came up behind me. The drivers that I saw went slowly and were polite – but were surprising none-the-less.

However the things done well more than made up for these minor issues. The course was well marked, the water stops sufficient and the volunteers friendly.

The plan and the course

Based on my long runs and speedworks I thought I could run close to a 2:50. Choosing a goal pace feels like placing a wager. Too conservative and you finish feeling like you didn’t leave it all on the course. Too fast and the last third of the race can be absolutely miserable. I still think I have a low 2:40 marathon in me; but, my track workouts had indicated that it was probably buried below some kids, sleep and beer.

My plan was to take 3 gels – one at each quarter (roughly 10k) of the 42.2 km distance. Unfortunately, at the 10th kilometer I learned that the two gels I had placed in my back pocket had slipped out (and hopefully went to good use by some other deserving runners). I had one gel in the front pouch of my shorts and decided to save it for the half-marathon marker. Someone told me there was gel along the course by my marathon-brain did not notice it. I instead took a few more Powe-ades at the water stops.

A 2:50 marathon works out to 4:02 kilometers. I prefer kilometers because they go by faster and give you faster feedback if you’re going too fast or slow. About two-thirds of my kilometers were within four seconds (roughly one percent) of my goal pace.

Splits by kilometer
The running coach Mike Faneli told runners “to divide a race into thirds. Run the first part with your head, the middle part with your personality, and the last part with your heart.” My interpretation of this advice was for the first 30k to kept a close eye of my GPS watch. I set it up to take automatic splits at the kilometer marks. I keep in on a screen that shows the time of the current lap, the lap distance and the lap pace. Constant monitoring let me keep a close watch on my pace and quickly corrected going too fast or getting into a lull. There is something that feels a little artificial and less “natural” about this approach – but I like the results.

But at 30k I stopped looking as closely at my watch and did a status check. My legs felt a little tired but still with some pluck in them. So I opened up my pace and started picking folks off. I may have gone all in a little early as some of these folks or other behind me passed me back but overall on the pass vs. passed count (one of my high school coach’s metrics) I only ended up down by two. I came into the final turn and crossed the finish in 2:50:30. My half-marathon split had been 1:25:11 putting my two halves within 10 seconds of each other.

Bringing it home
Photo credit: Sam Kan
My two other friends had done the half and by the time I came back with my gear were waiting in the VIP areas sipping beers and watching the finishers. I joined them as we waited for the last of party. She crossed in the early afternoon and we celebrated a job well done. The race organizer, who had been some great to us, even allowed one of us to put on her finisher’s medal.

Bringing home the team
Photo credit: Dave V
Afterwards we went out and celebrated a good job and tell near-war stories of running in Kuwait. We checked out Upland Brewing in Carmel. They had a good selection of hearty pub food and a surprising number of vegetarian options. I also enjoyed that a lot of their beers were around the five percent range – after Colorado where few self-respecting IPAs are below seven it was nice to be able to try a sampler and let the legs recover.

Fruits of our labor
Photo credit; Shane
And we let ourselves have a good desert a few doors down at the Quirky Feather Confections.

Closing thoughts

While the race went rather well and according to plan, I did learn a good lesson about testing my gear. My long runs had missed the devious escapism of my gel packets because I usually kept these in my water bottle belt. I have long lamented the lack of “hand-warmer” pockets in running shorts but will try to find another pair that at least has a zipper for the rear pocket.

On the other hand, doing my long runs into work and my speedworks early prepared me rather well without cutting too much into family time. My friend’s choice of an Airbnb and cooking dinner in a kitchen the night before also is something I’ll try to repeat.

17 States down, 33 (and DC) to go