Thursday, September 30, 2010

Quad Cities Marathon 2010

So last Sunday had disaster written all over it. I had registered and committed to doing the Quad Cities Marathon, that however was not the disastrous part since this was my 5th marathon the experience was not new to me. But several things did make it a gamble. This was my first marathon in the two years since I had knee surgery, I had originally planned to do the Des Moines Marathon but had cut my training short by 3 weeks because frankly I was pressed for time to get the long runs in. Speaking of long runs it turned out the longest training run I did was 16 miles and I walked part of that, I had also only ran three days a week to try and keep my knee in good shape. I had been mountain biking the other days. So although I knew I would finish, when and how tired I would be was a big old question mark.

So I got up at about 0430 Sunday morning and drove the 100 miles to Moline Il. I arrived at 0630 for a 0730 start. I found the check-in table and grabbed my swag bag, which included my number,timing chip, and coveted t-shirt. I continued to hydrate with one of the two 32 ounce Gatorades I had purchused at a convenience store on the way down. I had finished the other on the drive. The Quad Cities for those that don't know consists of Moline, IL.,Rock Island, Il., Davenport, Ia. and Bettendorf, Ia. The start line of the marathon would be in Moline but the race itself would go through all 4 cities.

Because of my apprehension about my training I decided to hang with a pace group something I had never really done before. I found the guy holding the sign indicating he would be running a 10:52 per mile pace which equated to a 4hr and 45 min marathon. I thought I could handle that pace. The gentleman acting as Pacer was named Paul W.  Paul had completed 26 other marathons and 3 ultra-marathons and was 54 years old. A good pacer must be congenial, conversational and above all stay on pace. Paul was all of these. Before the race started I hit the Porto Potty again and removed my hat for our national anthem. The race with started with the firing of a civil war cannon and off we went. Our pace group had about 10 people to start but more on that later.

The first two miles of the race were flat through the downtown area of Moline, we then turned north and crossed the mighty Mississippi river for the first time crossing over on the interstate bridge which the authorities had blocked one north bound lane. Paul kept up a constant stream of banter as we crossed over the river. It was a very eerie feeling when the bridge started to sway and bounce in rhythm with the thousands of pounding feet. Coming off the bridge we were in Bettendorf, Iowa and we encountered the first of a few hills on the route this started about mile 5 and continued for a mile or so then we took a right and made a 3 mile circuit of Bettendorf. I marveled how fast the first 5 miles had flown by as we talked and kept our steady pace. Paul was very good and announced our splits every mile, he would announce our actual time versus our goal time and we were generally no more than 3-4 seconds one way or the other. At about the 10 mile mark we started heading west along the river as we crossed into Davenport, Iowa, we had gained a little on our pace and Paul was actually disappointed that we were now averaging 37 seconds faster than out goal. He vowed to slow the pace down and keep that 37 second cushion for the rest of the race. He managed to do this by the way.

At mile 12 we once again crossed the Mississippi this time heading south, we had lost about 1/2 our pace group with 2 forging ahead and 3 falling behind. This time we were in Rock Island IL. and in no time we crossed back over half the river and we were on the US Army Rock Island Arsenal, which was actually on an island. This is were I first noticed I was starting to get fatigued but it wasn't an overwhelming fatigue and I was still keeping up with Paul no problem. It was on this island between miles 13 and 19 where we just ground out the miles and got into the rhythm of the race. I got a little nostalgic as I passed the officers quarters and saw the same style nameplates,quarters and street names I had seen on a dozen other military posts. Paul was an engineer by trade and was doing math in his head as he calculated how much time we had left and what our splits would be. Me being me I started to tease him and called him the "numbers guy."
 Here are some Paulism's that were uttered during the race:

"Age is a moving target." "Connect your head to your heart." and "One time I pissed blood when I finished a race."

That last one is funny I don't care who you are. So anyway as we left the Island we crossed the 20 mile mark and the real second half of the race began. It is after mile twenty when it becomes mind over matter. As luck would have it mile 20-23 were along a deserted bike trail between the river and some warehouses. No scenery and all the bands and spectators from earlier in the race had decided to congregate elsewhere. This was the loneliest part of the race for me as we were down to myself, two other guys and Paul in our pace groups. No one was doing much talking. At mile 23 we emerged back onto the street we had started on in Moline but we had to run away from the finish at first. The last 3.1 miles were an out and back course along this road and as I saw the faster runners heading my way towards the finish I kept reminding myself there was only a 5K left to the end. So we slogged along and as we rounded the turn to run the last 1.5 miles or so back to the finish I noticed I was the only runner from our original pace group that was still hanging with Paul. As we made the turn he said" If you have any energy it won't hurt my feelings if you want to go ahead." I told him " I am already using it." In reality I had decided that I had begun the race with Paul and I would finish with him.

So we made it back downtown to the cheering crowds with myself and Paul crossed the finish line together in 4 hours 44 minutes and 17 seconds about a perfect a race as could have been run. I discovered when I got back home and looked at my logs that this qualified as my third fastest marathon time. I want to thank Paul though because of his course management, steady pace, forcing us to walk at water breaks, forcing us to take water, I finished this race feeling better than I ever had at the finish of a marathon. Following a pace group was definitely worth it.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Wrong Place Wrong Time

            We pulled up below the military crest of the small hillock and dismounted our vehicles as quietly as possible. It was just before end evening nautical twilight (EENT) and we were switching out split teams at our hide location. My half of the Special Forces team had arrived to relieve our compadres who had been on site the last 24 hours harassing Iraqi armored forces with airstrikes and relaying back intelligence to the Joint Special Operations Task Force (JSOTF). Once our in-brief was over and we took over security, my junior Weapons Sergeant relayed to me a funny story about how earlier in the day a B2 bomber had requested to deploy some unexpended ordinance (bombs) and was wondering if anyone in the area had a target of opportunity. The Air Force Combat Controller that was attached to our team had already plotted the coordinates of one of the larger bunkers that were occupying the ridgeline across the valley from our location. He gave the coordinates to the aircraft and told them to have at it. To everyone’s surprise and amusement shortly after that, what looked like an entire platoon of Iraqi soldiers exited the bunker and lined up dress right dress on the hillside beside the bunker. Well it wasn’t to long before that hillside was lit up like the Fourth of July with the ground shaking concussions and shrapnel of some 1000 pound bombs. After the dust cleared my junior Weapon’s Sergeant told me all they could see was a red stain on the side of the hill. Bad day to take a smoke break!!! Morbid but still funny.

He also told me that they had observed what appeared to be a small pickup truck moving around the valley and in and out of the Iraqi lines unimpeded all day. At one point the guys thought the occupants of this vehicle might have taken a few shots at them but they couldn’t confirm as it was too far away for effective fire. Just as the other half of the team was loading their gear into the vehicle to head back to our patrol base one of the guys whispered that they had spotted the pickup again and it was heading our way. We watched through our optics for awhile to see if it would turn but it was obvious that its current route would take it right directly through our location. Instantly a hasty plan was formulated, the split team members that had been leaving would conduct a hasty ambush while I and the other half of the team would remain where we were and support by fire.
Quickly they grabbed the squad automatic weapon and their rifles and moved perpendicular to the projected route of the pickup. Watching through binoculars in the fading light I saw them emplace the ambush and as the truck drew nearer I trained my own M4 on the cab. Everyone was at a high state of alertness when the vehicle suddenly stopped and one of the occupants got out to relieve himself. He was followed shortly by two of his buddies. They about shit themselves when our senior Weapons Sergeant and our interpreter popped up from the side of  the road and told them to drop their weapons and get face down on the ground. They were quickly flex cuffed using the flex cuffs we all carried in our gear and frog marched over to my position. The three were dressed in typical Iraqi Kurd garments and where armed with AK-47 rifles. After a few questions from our interpreter that mainly resulted in denials from the prisoners we blindfolded them with cravats from the M5 medical bag and loaded them in one of our vehicles. It was decided I would take them back to base camp and one of the Peshmerga that was accompanying us would drive their vehicle.
Myself and the split team we had relieved made the bumpy ten kilometer trip back to Klaw Kut with the prisoners in the back of our vehicle, blindfolded and eating the dust kicked up by the back tires. Once we arrived at the patrol base about midnight we rousted our Team Leader and briefed him on the situation. Our Communications Sergeant sent a situation report back to the AOB (Company HQ) informing them we had captured some prisoners, meanwhile our Team Leader conducted a hasty field interrogation with the help of our interpreter. He individually brought the prisoners into a small room, unblind folded them, and gave them food and water as he asked them what they had been doing. They were obviously scared shitless and once the blind folds were off they gave one word answers and kept their eyes glued to the M4 rifles we carried loosely in our hands.
Not getting much out of them the decision was made to transport them back to the AOB and eventually to turn them over to the Military Police. Unfortunately the closest MP was somewhere south close to Baghdad but that wasn’t our problem. As we exited the small room we heard a commotion and some yelling. We saw that in the darkness a small crowd had gathered around our team and the other two prisoners who had been standing outside. Word travels fast, (telephone, telegraph, tell a Kurd) and what looked like all the village elders had surrounded our prisoners and were yelling at them and shaking their fists and shoes in their faces. My guys were trying to calm them down but not speaking much Kurdish they were having no luck.
Our interpreter finally figured out that these individuals were known to the villagers, and in fact in it was alleged they were former Peshmerga that had defected a few weeks before. Peshmerga or not we were very suspicious at their ability to drive freely through the Iraqi lines. The prisoners claimed it was all a mistake and they were just some poor Peshmerga that had gotten separated from their unit in no man’s land. Discretion the better part of valor we replaced the blindfolds and loaded them in the vehicles once again. The last I saw of them as our Team Leader drove them away to the AOB, they were sitting in the back of the Land Rover being chased by children who were hurling small rocks and shoes at them. Deserters,defectors, or just plain bad navigators these guys had definitely showed up at the wrong place at the wrong time.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Extracurricular Activities #2: High School Sports Official

A few weeks ago I posted about how sometimes in addition to my regular job I also volunteer as an Emergency Medical Technician at a rural ambulance service. In addition to this activity I also do another quite regularly. I am a High School Sports Official for the Iowa High School Athletic Association. I officiate 3 sports pretty much keeping me busy year round. I officiate Football, Wrestling, and Baseball. To become a registered official in Iowa you have to pass a written rules test and pay your dues. Most officials also belong to some kind of officials association. I belong to the Cedar Rapids Area Officials Association (Football), The Iowa City Area Officials Association ( Baseball, Football), and the Eastern Iowa Wrestling Officials Association (Wrestling). These associations mentor officials, provide training, and generally assign lower level contests Junior Varsity and below. Varsity contests are arranged between the official and the host school and an official needs to get a reputation and get his or her name out there for a few years to get these contests..

Wrestling was the sport I started officiating first and it is my favorite sport. Not really a surprise but it is also the only sport in High School that I participated in at the Varsity level. The state I grew up in and currently live in is one of the hotbeds of Collegiate style (Folkstyle) Wrestling. The University of Iowa Hawkeyes have won the last 3 NCAA Wrestling Championships and are second all time in number of national championships won. People in this state take their wrestling serious and it is as popular as any of the "revenue" sports like football or basketball. I started officiating wrestling shortly after I got out of the military. I was attending the state AAU youth championships as a spectator and I approached one of the officials and asked how I could become one. He gave me a phone number and the rest is history. Wrestling is unique among the sports I officiate. It is the only sport where the official is solo. An official has to live and die with his call, there is no one to confer with and no one to blame but himself if a call is blown. Officiating wrestling can be exciting but the pressure is incredible. Alone on the mat in a crowded gymnasium with the crowd almost on top of you, an official must be quick, athletic and knowledgeable if he is expecting to do a good job. The nuances of the sport and the changes in control can be quite intimidating at first. I have been officiating wrestling for 6 years from Varsity level to youth.

Football is the sport I started officiating second. One of the guys who mentored me as a wrestling official suggested I give it a try. I did and I liked it. I started out my first year doing Junior Varsity contests and below working all the positions on 3,4, and occasionally 5 man crews. My second year I was invited to join a Varsity crew as a Back Judge. I really enjoy the camaraderie of football officiating. It is sometimes like your officiating crew is the 3rd team on the field. We really work together as a unit to get the call right and to look sharp. Our goal is to administer the game fairly by the rules but to go unnoticed while doing it. It is a great compliment to be told you did a good job even by the losing coach. Football Friday nights in Iowa are electric as they are in all parts of the country. Marching bands are playing, the crowd is in to it, and the kids are hustling on the field. Officiating a well played football game can be very satisfying, on the other hand a bad game or one with a lot of poor sportsmanship can be very tedious. As a Back Judge on my varsity crew I don't throw a lot of flags but when I have to they are generally game changers. Pass interference calls mostly and the penalties for that infraction both ways are very punitive. 15 yards and a loss of down or an automatic first down depending on who committed the foul. You have to make sure those calls are correct. I have been officiating football for 5 years from Varsity level to youth.

Baseball is the johhny come lately. I started umpiring baseball to round out the year and because I really like watching baseball. Baseball has a culture all its own, it is the only sport where it is acceptable for the coach to come on the field of play and argue a call with the umpire.They tone it down quite a bit in High School but a certain amount of showmanship is still tolerated. I like behind the plate but working the bases is all right as well. Nothing beats being behind the plate on a nice summer evening calling balls and strikes. Baseball is the sport I really have to study both because the rules are very complicated and because I actually never really played baseball beyond little league. I believe I have made myself into a pretty decent umpire however and I pride myself that my strike zone is consistent. I have been officiating Baseball for 4 years from Varsity to youth.

I like officiating and like anything else I would like to be the best I can be. I want to possibly " white hat" at the Varsity level in football someday and I would love to officiate at the college level in all sports. Both of those things are going to require hard work and a little luck. being at the right place at the right time helps. At the end of the day I just enjoy being involved in the competition, and hope in some small way I am contributing to the positive development of the student-athlete.

Monday, September 6, 2010

New Bo Fest Half Marathon 2010

The Inaugural New Bo Fest Half Marathon was the first half marathon held in my hometown in about 15 years I think. Despite just finishing a mountain bike race the weekend before I wasn't going to miss a chance to be in on the first running of a race right here in the local area. So the race as the name suggests started in the New Bohemia area of Cedar Rapids. This area is still struggling mightily to recover from the flood of 2008 and almost every building except the one we started at, which happened to be a bar, was boarded up or closed. It is sad really, the point of the festival is to showcase the area and maybe get people to visit but it may take a few more years to make that happen. The race had about 300 entrants so it was small, I expect it will grow larger as the word gets out. This first year was pretty minimalist, entrants got a t-shirt and a goodie bag which is normal but the t-shirt was the same for finishers and volunteers and no finishers medals were handed out. I did like the fact though that the t-shirt was a cotton blend and not one of those tech shirts most races are found of handing out. When I run a race I want to wear the shirt and those tech shirts just don't really lend themselves to everyday wear, I much prefer a cotton shirt.

I met a fellow wrestling official who was also running the race and we chatted before the start, he mentioned this was his first half marathon and he was shooting for under 2 hours. I mentioned that I felt like crap from working outside the whole day prior and was using this as a training run for my upcoming marathon. Just prior to the start we told each other good luck and I moved to my normal place at the back of the starting pack. A local news personality started the race with a rather quick "ready, set, go" and we were off!!! I started out at an easy jog fully intending to get the most out of my money and run the race at training pace or slower.

The first mile was easy along city streets then we headed out of town along the river, it was shortly after this first mile that I saw my friend just ahead so I got up beside him and we talked a little more, it was about then when I remembered that I had been gabbing and forgot to hit the porto potty pre-race. So when I saw an inviting group of trees I headed into the bush to do my business. He kept running of course. When I was done I happened to be at the base of what was the start of a group of fairly steep but short hills between miles 2 and 4. Something I have noticed is that when I run I usually pass a lot of people on hills. They catch up later but I guess all that road marching just made me strong on uphills. So I powered up this hill and eventually caught up with my friend and with a wave and a few words I passed him. I was feeling pretty good and holding a steady pace through mile 4.

Mile 5-7 was fairly flat and along a country road, I continued to hold a steady pace but I could feel the heat start to rise as the day progressed. At race start it had been overcast and fairly cool but now the sun was out. Water stops were about every mile or mile and a half and the even had a GU station at mile 6. I had to stop somewhere in this stretch and tighten my knee brace up as the velcro was coming loose. At mile 7 we got off the hard surface road and hit the Sac and Fox trail as the course started turning back towards the start.

The trail was a little rough at first, it was showing the effects of the heavy rains we had experienced a few days before and rocks and sticks were everywhere. I turned my ankle slightly on one of the rocks but for the most part the sandy/dirt surface of the trail felt better than the pavement had. This part of the race was the most tedious and it is also where I think I lost some time. It was harder to run in the sandy soil and also running through the woods along the river it was hard to see ahead and behind. It felt unlike a race and more like I was running on my own. I could see people up ahead but no one behind. This went on for 3-4 miles while I tried to maintain a pace with really no references. Miles were not marked and there were no water stops on the trail.

At mile 10 we popped out of the woods and hit the pavement back into town, back along the first 3 miles of the course. Up one more very steep hill ( thanks music guy that was the perfect place for your motivational tunes) and it was fairly flat until the end. I continued to try and maintain a steady pace even with all the jack rabbits behind me speeding up and passing me in the last mile. It is a personal point of pride with me I don't sprint at the end to beat someone, people who do irritate me because it means they have to much energy left. At least that is what I think. Turning the corner I saw the finish line ahead and steadily ran on through.

I looked at my time and I had missed my PR by about 6 minutes. I had lost a lot of time on the trail but still it was a good steady pace and I was satisfied with my time. I grabbed a Kolache, banana, and some Gatorade and went back to the finish to see if my buddy was coming in. I waited about 30 minutes and never saw him. When I got to my car his truck was gone. Since I know he didn't pass me I must have missed him when I got my food and drink. All in all it was a good race, they will be posting results later today.