Sunday, November 30, 2014

One More Race Report

This will be my last race report for 2014.  And I'm honestly not sure when to expect a race report in 2015.  It is possible that I won't race until the MCVET 5K/10K on Memorial Day weekend. But that is not what this entry is about.  

Yesterday, I ran a half marathon.  On Thanksgiving weekends in 2011, 2012, and 2013, I have now run the entire NCR Trail marathon, the first leg of the 2 person relay, and the anchor leg of the 2 person relay.  As someone said to me yesterday, now that they also have an 8 kilometer run, if I were to run that next year, I would then have the entire circuit of events on the Saturday after Thanskgiving.  We'll see whether I would do that next year.  Not certain.

As for closing out this year, the year I ran an amazing set of races that included 3 personal bests.  One during mararathon training in which I ran a 20 mile race in 2:29:56 (meeting my goal of 2:30), the Philadelphia Marathon in 3:09:49 (meeting my goal of 3:10), and a half marathon leg of a 2-person marathon relay yesterday that I ran in 1:30:47.  Finally meeting my goal of holding the 7:00 pace or better for a half marathon race.  (I note specifically the time in a race because that has mattered for the half marathon and 20 miler. For example, I have much better 20 mile times in marathons at cooler times of year but this was my first 20 mile race on Labor Day weekend in under 2:30 in 4 attempts.  And in the half, I had run a non-race half just under 7:00/mile but never managed that in a race setting.)

The race yesterday may have been a little short of 13.1 for me.  My watch said 13.03.  My relay teammte's watch suggested a little over 13.1.  Regardless, even if I just ran 13, this would still have been a 6:59 pace.  And that was what I was looking for.

The marathon and the relay start at the same time: 8:30.  I accompanied Lauren to the starting line, wished her luck, and saw her off.  Then, I headed back inside to use the warm restroom one last time.  The organizers made an announcement that the buses would be loaded and leaving.  I went and picked up both my bag and Lauren's bag and headed for the bus.  The bus driver then told us that the bus would not actually be leaving until closer to 9 AM.  So, I, along with many others, just sat.

It was not bad to sit.  We had a lot of time for conversation.  Turned out that I had sat across from one of my oldest son's Sunday School teachers (from when he was in 2nd grade and he is now a college freshman).  We eventually included others in the conversation.  We got into a conversation about Boston marathon--registering for it and running it.  The other runner mentioned that he had known people who had run 2:22 and had not gotten in when the registration was purely first come, first served.  I asked if he ran as fast as the people eh hangs out with.   He said, "I only run a 1:08 half."  That would have been everyone else on the bust.  He was part fo the winning relay team, but only "only" ran a 1:11.

In any case, we got out to where the buses parked.  More time to sit.  There was still some snow on the ground there, but it really didn't make a didfference.  

Watching the clock, it eventually got to be about 9:50.  That was 1:20 or so after Laurent had begun and I expected her in under 1:40.  So, I decided to head out.  I walked to the handoff spot, put as much in my bag as possible, and left the bags by the side of the trail.  As we reached 10:05 (1:35 after the start), I took off my last layer other than what I was going to wear to run the race and threw it on top of the two bags that were linked together.  I hoped that Lauren would simply notice and figure it must be mine.  (She did.)

Eventually at 1:38:17 after she crossed the starting line, Lauren crossed the mat for the handoff.  (We think it may have been closer to 13.2 than 13.1.)  In any case, she looked strong.  We touched hands, I yelled where she could find the bags, and then I started.  It was so much easier than two years ago when we had to exchange an ankle strap. This time we only had to tag and go; we each had our own chip and the technology allowed them to combine the chip time information.  

So, I was off and running.  The first 0.15 miles or so goes up to the turn around point and, much like I had twice in the Philadelphia Marathon, I had to do a hard 180.  I did that and then heaeded south.  That would be the direction of most of the rest of the race except for the twists and turns on road back to the Sparks elementary school after we got off the trail later.

I made sure that my watch was on average pace within the mile and found that I was running a bit faster than I should at the start as I passed by the handoff point--this time running on the "southbound" side.  I was at about 6:30.  I needed to slow down a bit.  Fortunately, I did and I was at 6:50 at the end of mile 1.  I was not at all sure I could keep that up, so I ratcheted back a bit.  During that first mile, I had gone past most of the people who were in the group that went through with or immediately before Lauren.  Once I passed that group, I was in the intereesting position of having no one immediately ahead of me.  Lots of runners coming the other way.  But no one to pick off for a while.

We had chosen for me to run second strategically.  Despite having run a marathon six days earlier, I was the stronger runner.  Running the anchor leg meant that (a) I would have the uphills at the end, and (b) I would be passing people in the second half rather than being passed by people.  Much better for the psychology of the run (at least for our team).  The uphills at the end are pretty substantial.  Three years ago when I ran the full marathon, my average per mile time was 7:30, but I ran miles 25 and 26 in 8:24 and 8:49 and struggled through the very end at a 12 minunte pace.  I didn't plan for that to happen this time.

So, I trotted along  The second mile was run at 7:03.  Now, for the first two miles I was quite happy as that put me just under 7:00/mile.  Miles 3 and 4 were then run at 7:01 each.  Couldn't be more on target and creeping up a little was not a problem as I was still just below 7:00/mile.

In mile 5, I finally started to reach people to pass.  I passed three peopel somewhere in the midst of mile 5.  I came through that in 6:53.  It did not seem that much faster and my Garmin 10 has had occasional issues on the NCR trail, so I decided to switch my watch to the total time and use the permanent markers on the course instead of either the mile markers or my watch.  Why was that useful?  It gave me something to do with my brain by doing a little mental math during each mile.

Mile 6 was back to a 6:59.  Again, right on track.  And, in mile 7, I passed three more people and ran a 6:56.  Mile 8, my mind started to wander a bit and I ran a 7:01.  This was where I had to make a choice.

I could run an okay overall time even if I had would run 8:00/mile for the remainder of the race.  But that is not what I wanted at all. That was not what I had come for.

A week earlier, when I was questioning myself toward the end of the race and slowing down, my running friend (and relay partner of two years earlier) came up behind me and reminded me, "This is what you trained for."  A day earlier, in an email exchange, a friend overseas had told me about his decision to push through the races he really wanted.  Just yesterday morning, when Lauren and I spoke about how Jackie had helped me a week earlier, we talked about I could just envision Jackie during the race. 

So, I hunkered down.  I pictured Jackie (and my coach who had developed my 20 week training plan) reminding me of how hard I had worked.  I picured Diarmuid telling me about how I had to want the time.  And I picked up mile 9 coming through in 6:52.  At this point, I was no longer counting individuals one-by-one whom I was passing.  While each one did not make as big of an impression, I had people in my line of sight and that was really all that matters.  

Mile 10 and I had a 6:51.  Too bad it was not a 10 mile race as that would have been a PR there too.  During mile 11, the race goes off teh trail.  At first it is mostly flat or downhill a little still.  I ran mile 11 in 6:52.  Still concentrating.

Then, I had to go into the two miles that had cost me last time.  The key question was wehterh I would be able to overcome that feeling of inability to push through and come in with a PR or just get a good time if I fell apart as I had last time.  Christian Cruetzer was at a water stop telling me to pick it up.  Great to see a familiar face encouraging me. 

Pushing through mile 12--I ran a 7:10.  That was a wonderful feeling.  I had made it up and over the hill and then strong back down.  That was one of the things that really changed this training season--my capacity to return to pushing after an uphill.  

Mile 13--7:06.  Again, I had been able to remind myself of what I had trained for.  I was able ask myself, "How much do you want this?"  And answer "a lot!"  With the fraction of a half after 13 miles, I had a total of 1:30:47.  Passing one marathon runner basically as we came across the line.  I felt bad for him, but I had my best half marathon time by far.  And the happiness of holding the slightly under 7:00 pace.  As you can see, running approxtimately a 6:59 and going no slower than 7:10 is an entirely different outcome than in my marathon three years ago.  And even a different outcome than in my first leg of the marathon two years ago when (on a much less hilly part of the course) I slowd to almost 7:30.  

Biggest lesson--as my boss told me in June--go for the win.  

So many interlinking lessons from one run to the next.

So many lessons from three major PR's.

So many lessons that cross between running and life.

All is good.  

And along the way, I met the woman who won the female race--a 43 year old who had just achieved a five minute PR.  We exchanged stories about doing just that--having approximately 5 minute PR's in our 40's--and it is efinitely fun to hear about someone else having such success.  

Final thought--I end November with 2040 miles.  As long as I can be consistent over the month of December I can hit 2200 miles for the year.  Pretty cool. 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

An Extra Interesting Detail About the Marathon

So, when running this morning (yes, I was out for the fourth day in a row including my PR marathon on day two of the four), I enjoyed very much running with 2 people with whom I’d spent a good bit of time in training for the Philadelphia marathon. I ran 4.75 miles—a combination of a half-mile warm-up, 3 one mile intervals that we did in 7:10 or better each time, ¼ mile between each, and ¾ mile to finish.  During some of the faster intervals we chatted.  During almost all the warm-up, cool down, and rest intervals we chatted.  What I found out was pretty cool.  They had seen me at the half-way point in the race—although I had not seen them.  Then, when they saw me at mile 22 they thought I still looked strong.  (I suppose even a 7:36 is pretty good for most people.)  But I was definitely hurting compared with earlier in the race.  They told me that Jackie went by two “groups” after me.  (Runners tend to cluster.)  They told her to go catch up with me.  She told them she’d been keeping an eye on me.  Then, not long after she caught up with me and the rest of the race I described yesterday.

That put the “team” effort of this marathon into a slightly more complex light.  Not only had I had the benefit of an amazing coach to develop a plan for me.  Not only had I enjoyed training with five different people consistently during the preparation.  Not only had I had the good fortune to be cheered on by people I knew during the race.  Not only had I had the good fortune to be accompanied to the finish line by a great friend.  But I had friends working together to get me to the goal I’d set. 

So, this makes me think even more of what I will remember most about Sunday.  It could be the time.  For example, today I can tell you my exact best time in the 1600 meter run in high school.  4:41 at the Delaware County Track Championships in 1987.  I ran a better race in the qualifying heat for the finals than in the finals.  Will I be able to recite the time I ran 27½  years from now when I am 72.  Probably.  That’ll be part of my glory days story when I’m getting ready to retire from working for pay.  I will probably be able to tell people that I improved by 4:36 over my previous personal best.  I will probably be able to recite my half splits: 1:33:51 and 1:35:48.  But will all those time be all I remember about Sunday?  No.  Will that even be the most important thing I remember about Sunday?  I think not.

What else won’t be the most important?  2000 miles.  Yes, Sunday was the day I went over 2000 miles.  And, yes, since January 1, that has been my goal for the year and a critical part of my virtual pilgrimage.  But at this point, it is almost a secondary after thought.  Having run the most miles ever before this year in 2013 but still being under 1900, I thought I’d be challenged to run 2000 in 2014.  In the end, it wasn’t really challenging at all—other than avoiding injury.  Yes, the symbolism of the city (Truth or Consequences) and the symbolism of the church (Our Lady of Perpetual Help) I reached are both strong.  But that was not the most important thing.

The completion of a goal was important.  I set the goal and reached it.  It might be the most important thing if I had done all the planning myself and made the goal happen myself.  However, while I set the goal, I had a coach who developed a plan and friends who helped me get through.

If not the goal setting and reaching, perhaps I could remember the effort. The major and amazing push at the end.  Important, but still not the main memory.

The friendship that was showed by Jackie that I described yesterday was important.  While I’ve crossed the finish lines with my sons before, that was because I chose to run with them.  I have not run a race with a friend where either I or they chose to stay together the whole time or to make sure to cross the finish line together.  This was unique.  But still not the single most important thing. 

The most important thing I will remember is that the help I received was a gift.  An amazing gift.  A gift I’d like to pass on.  The gift of others caring about me enough to communicate about me and to make my success their goal.  I wish everyone could feel what it means to be given a gift like that.  Why was I lucky enough to have this experience?  Because I have been lucky enough to find a fitness activity that I enjoy and through which I have built many and deep friendships.  Deep friendships are what leads to people wanting to help each other.  And I was lucky enough to have people who wanted to help me.  And that was the most important part of Sunday for me. 

Monday, November 24, 2014

An Epic Race Report: The Story of a Great Way to Leave REALLY Intense Marathon Training

Let me warn you that this is about 5000 words.  

Let me begin with the start of the weekend.

The training plan had me doing one last 3 mile run on Saturday, November 22.  It was a rather cold morning, so I had on an Under Armour shirt  and a windbreaker, gloves, a hat, and running tights.  The run felt effortless other than dealing with the cold. 

Then, I showered and had a quick breakfast (I don’t recall what I had) and took my 15 year old to the zoo for his volunteer work that he does every Saturday.  Came home from that and washed some dishes.  Saw my wife and nine year old off to look at used ski wear.  Packed my bags and went to the Waldorf School for the annual fair where I worked in the children’s shopping room and then drove to my Godmother’s house in Upper Darby.  At two Clif Bars along the way for lunch.  My Godmother lives less than a half mile from the house I lived in longest with my parents.  After a brief greeting (it was just a little past two), she drove me down to the Pennsylvania Convention Center to pick up my race pack.  The drive was horrendous as we got east of 20th street and headed for the convention center. 

I eventually got out about a block ahead of the convention center on 11th (coming from the south) and went in.  I picked up my bib number and my bag, and got some additional cold running gear and a “go belt” that would hold me four gels the next morning.

I knew a number of people who would be at the race the next day but didn’t see anyone I knew at the expo.  That was okay.  I only knew a handful of people and I had not made prior arrangements to see anyone.  I went back outside and waited for my Godmother to come around the block.  Then she took me to Tony Luke’s to grab dinner.  This is a really well known sandwich shop in South Philly.  Some of the characteristics reminded me of the soup Nazi episode on Seinfeld.  At that time of day it wasn’t overly crowded.  So the line was a bit informal.  The cashier asked everyone “What can I do for you, baby?”  Or she used some other term of endearment every time she spoke to a customer.  Then, the sandwiches would get made and a second person would call out names.  She seemed to have only one volume—loud.  I suppose in the summer with the plastic tent that surrounded the place open it would make sense to be loud.  Or if someone were around the corner from the window getting pickles.  My Godmother had ordered two pork and provolone sandwiches with spinach.  She doesn’t like broccoli rabe and I decided not to question the choice although several people pointed out how unusual the choice of spinach seemed. 

We drove back to her house and ate.  The person who had developed my training plan had told me to eat no less than 12 hours before the race.  We were done well before 7 PM.  It was not exactly carb loading, but it was a wonderful and filling sandwich.  This pork sandwich (and the pork was nicely spiced with pepper) was as big as a full sized hoagie.  Then we watched two recorded episode s of Hawaii Five-O and then I went to sleep after taking a picture of “flat runner” with what I would wear the next day laid out on the bed. 

Asleep by 9:30 on Saturday night. Plan to be at the race start by 5:30 the next morning. 

I woke up at 1:50.  Then I woke up again before 3.  Then, finally, I got out of bed at 3:15.  Goal was to eat a little something 4 hours before the race.  I didn’t quite manage that but I had two pieces of toast with margarine at that early hour.  All good.

I then wanted to take a quick “wake me up” shower.  I don’t always do that before a race but it just felt like the thing to do.  My Godmother lives in a house with narrow steps to the upstairs room that have somewhat worn carpet at the edges.  I slipped coming down the steps to take my shower. Where I hit my hip on the step when I fell still hurts more than anything else.  Did it affect me in the race?  I’ll never know.  I did feel it.  But I didn’t let it distract me.

Shower done before 4.  Then hanging until 4:45.  Tried to get everything other than what I had just consumed that was still anywhere in my digestive tract or intestine out. 

Drive downtown.  Incredibly quick.  Drank a half liter of water on the way.  (Check on hydration.)  Dropped off at 22nd and Arch well before 5:30.  No real line at the security check point.  I opened my bad for the security person to look in.  He didn’t even really look but waved me through.

I walked toward Eakins oval.  It was still not 5:30 yet.  I knew where I’d drop off my bag.  I knew where the porta-potties were.  And I tried to relax.  It was cold and the wind started picking up.  Without the wind it was not so bad.  I ran through what I wanted to wear.  Go Belt packed with 4 gels.  Decided not to carry phone.  Didn’t have keys with me anyway.  Decided I could lose the sweatshirt I’d brought. Decided not to lose the sweatpants.  Decided to go with arm warmers, gloves, and hat as planned the night before in my flat runner picture.  All go.

A couple trips to the porta-potty before much line.   (My system was always needed to be cleaned out like that—even as far back as high school track meets.)  Then one last trip at about 6:20.  A little earlier than planned.  But after that the line was incredibly long.  Couldn’t plan to go again.  Would have to take my chances.  Checked my bag at the FARM to FUHR UPS truck.  And headed for the maroon corral. 

When I got to the black corral, I managed to make my way to the front and didn’t see where the break was.  I asked a volunteer (preceding my question with “This is probably a stupid question, but…) and was directed to the right.  I realized it was the first corral but it was incredible to be so close to the start of a 30,000 person race.  My bib number was 607, so I had earned it.

I met up with Saturday Steve from Baltimore.  It was great to see someone I knew.  We exchanged greetings.  It was now 6:45.  Time to consume two gels.  Then I listened to a variety of people from the race.  The MC.  The race director.  The governor elect.  The mayor.  (He was really energetic.)  Then an excellent tenor singing the national anthem.  Next, the wheel racers got a start just before 7 with Rocky  music blaring.

After the wheel racers headed out, it was time for the runners to get ready.  A couple of elite runners started a bit before intended and were called back.  We all waited patiently.  Then, the Rocky trumpets again.  The race began.

I had spent the time in the corral as the race start approached looking for one of my training partners.  I have known Jackie since 2011.  She is the Executive Director of Back on My Feet in Baltimore.  She has held a number of positions within the local branch of the national organization in the time I have known her.  I have known her as my part-time MPH program advisee.  I attended her wedding.  I have seen her develop professionally.  She is an endless source of energy and optimism.  And I had trained with her at least once a week for much of the summer and fall.  She had told me that her main goal was to help to make sure I achieved my goal.  Two years ago she had run an incredible race in Philadelphia.  She did not plan to set a personal best yesterday as that was not her goal for this year.  But I did not see her.  I’d received a text from her earlier offering good luck and saying that she hoped to see me.  But I didn’t see her yet.

Despite not being that far back, it seemed to take forever before the people directly in front of me moved and I could begin jogging and head into a run.  The official timer had me 42 seconds behind the actual race start.  That was a long 42 seconds.  Those of you who read The Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy know that 42 was the answer to life the universe and everything.  It really was yesterday. 

We headed from the area near the Art Museum toward the Delaware.  First mile felt easy enough once I got my pace and I understood that at one point runners could choose which side of a traffic circle to go around.  Time—7:14 down the Ben Franklin Parkway.  My coach had told me to think about trying to run 7:09’s for the first seven miles.  I didn’t let a few seconds in the first mile phase me at all. 

Second mile actually takes you close to the water.  Again, felt effortless which is what the person who had planned my training had told me to look for.  First fun sign—“WORST PARADE EVER”.  Ran a 7:04.  Perfect for a 7:09 average at the two mile point.

The fact that my last bathroom stop before the race was “early” finally caught up to me.  Yes, it was only a little over two miles in, but I was feeling like I was going to have to go at some point so I might as well stop.  There were porta-potties but there were all in use.  So, I did what several other guys were doing and just peed against the wall.  Not pretty—but effective.  And not so different than what happens in Boston. 

That cost about 30-40 seconds, but I ran the rest of mile 3 going down Columbus Boulevard strong and came through with a 7:17.  Didn’t phase me as I felt great.

Mile 4 continued along Columbus, just a block from the riverfront, past some places I’d been for conferences then turned back into the city.  One person said, “mile 4 is just around the corner”.  That was a bogus comment, although I didn’t let the fact that mile 4 was not, in fact, just around the corner phase me.  Time—7:03.  Still feeling effortless. 

Mile 5—I don’t remember much specifically and I ran a 7:07. 

Mile 6—7:11.  That was probably the first time I noticed this one woman I played leap frog with for much of the race.  She ended up coming in a couple of minutes ahead. 

Mile 7—the last of what had been planned as care free miles at the start.  Ran it in 7:00.  I knew that I was playing a dangerous game with speeds that fast.  But it just felt so easy.  20 weeks of training was paying off.  I just had to avoid pushing too hard. 

When mile 7 ends, the course for the first time takes a definite and long upward turn as runners go through University City and head north.  There is a climb of about 100 feet that proceeds pretty gradually but is the entire mile.  I believe it was during mile 8 that I saw Marcus for the first time.  I used to train with Marcus but he is injured right now.  His wife was running.  I was glad to have a friendly face I knew cheering me on as we ran up toward the zoo.  Mile 8 with its climb—7:05.  Surprised myself on that one.   

The start of mile 9.  Time to figure out how to take my first gel on the course.  I peeled off my gloves and pulled whichever of the two gels I reached out of the holder in the Go Belt.  It took me at least half of mile 9 to get the gloves off, get it out, rip the top off, and consume it.  Mile 9 is mostly down with an up at the end.  Cruising at 6:58 based on my Garmin.  Really took advantage of the downhill.  The person who developed my plan had told me to take advantage.  She had spent a lot of time listening to my trials and tribulations of trying to get better results out of marathons and noting how hard it was for me to close.  She didn’t want me to have to crush the end to meet my goal.

On to mile 10 with the gloves back on.  This was another mostly up around the south side of Fairmount Park.  Not much to say other than that I pushed and got 7:13.  Not bad at all.

Mile 11 is largely flat and takes you to the south side of the Schuylkill River. Recovered and ran 6:55.  Strictly too fast but was still feeing awesome.

Miles 12 and 13 are a run mostly along the river and flat although mile 13 does start up toward the Art Museum as the half marathon runners are turning to finish.  I ran each of those in  7:09.  Thought I was hitting my stride.  I noted the half marathon marker on the marathon course as I ran over it for a time.  Knew that I had a really good time.  The official results from today say 1:33:51.  I’ve only had three half marathon races that I race faster than that.  And the one time I ran with Jackie just for kicks to prove I could hold 7:00 for the entire distance. 

So, on into the second half.  The remainder of mile 14 and all through mile 17 was pretty flat.  A slight rolling hill.  Looking at the markers for the miles on the way back.  Wondering when I would see the lead runner coming the other way.  Did see a wheel racer who was cruising the downhill and encouraged all the runners as he went by.  So different from earlier in the race when I’d passed wheel racers going up hills and tried to encourage them.  Those miles went by like clockwork.  14—6:59.  15—7:05.  16—7:05.  17—7:10.

At this point, I had been taking either Gatorade or water with Gatorade more frequently at ever station.  Now, my stomach was starting to slosh.  And I knew there was an odd loop coming and some more hills.  Just trying to focus.

Start of mile 18.  Time for the last gel.  This time, my stomach was continuing to slosh and it was hard to get the gel down.  The one with caffeine had been consumed back at mile 9.  This one had B complex vitamins and electrolytes.  Hoping for the best.  Mile 18 does this odd thing where you cross the Schuylkill, do a loop around a turn around point, and then go back.  What I didn’t realize before hand was that the loop away from the point where I crossed the river was down and then I had to climb back up.  I had been passing people more than being passed from about mile 6 to where I was.  Now, people were starting to pass me.  As I was going back up the hill back toward the river, I heard Jackie yell at my from the downside of the hill.  Excellent!  Maybe she would catch me and we could run the rest of this race together.  I’d wait and see.  Finished mile 18 on the north side of the river—7:22.  Starting to be concerned.

Mile 19 was a continuing run a bit up into Manayunk.  My officla time at 30K suggests that overall I was keeping a 7:09 pace.  Clearly I had bought myself some time early.  The key question now was whether I had tried to bank too much and would just fade as I had done in my previous marathons.  I wasn’t able to regain any speed at this point.  Only lost a little bit as I ran a 7:24.  Wondering where the final turn around was.

So, I turned at the last place where there was a turnaround pole.  I think there were a total of three on the course.  The hill in Manayunk is noticeable but not really that bad.  I heard Jackie call to me again as I was in the earliest art of running back toward downtown.  She was a little closer.  Maybe she would catch me soon.  Mile 20 was completed as I was running back toward the main part of the city—7:34.

 So, now heading a little more down than up along Main Street.  Mile 21 I did get a little back and ran 7:25.  Maybe, just maybe I could still do this.  The woman with whom I’d played leap from most of the day passed me for the last time.  I know her only as Megan.  She was a solid (and more consistent) runner. 

As I completed that mile and headed into mile 22 things began to get a little surreal.  I remembered the Lower Potomac River Marathon when I qualified for Boston.  I had reached a point at which all I focused on was getting under 3:15 (what I needed to qualify for Boston).  While that day I was not running against my friend Rob, I had beaten him in several 20 mile or longer races.  And I thought it would be cool to have a faster Boston Qualifying time than he did.  That didn’t happen that day as I faded but hung on for dear life and it was the only time that the mileage after 26 was run at a sub-7 pace in my 5 previous marathons.  I began to wonder if just getting a personal best would be okay.  If I could just make it.  How much could I slow down and still be okay.

All that was going through my head as I ran mile 22—out of Manayunk and continuing back toward to much sought after finish line.  I was losing it.  I ran a 7:36.

At this point it was a matter of trying to figure out if I had anything left.  I’d passed two people I spent some time this summer training with.  My “surrogate running daughter” for the Father’s Day race and our mutual friend Travis.  They encouraged me and later posted that I looked strong.  I suppose a 7:36 that far into the race might look strong but I wasn’t feeling it there.

Then, I heard that familiar voice—“How are you feeling, Kevin?”  It was Jackie. She had caught up to me.  And she was asking one of the most common questions runners ask each other.  I told her I wasn’t sure what I had left.  I told her I’d felt great early but was paying for it now.  I believe she said something to the effect of, “You’ve got this.  You’ve worked too hard not to get this.”  That was all she needed to say.  But to me it was a reminder.  A reminder that I’d trained harder than ever for 20 weeks.  I’d gotten up at crazy early hours and run the 20 mile race on Labor Day weekend, plus another 20 and another 20 and a 22 and a 24.  She’d run several of those with me.  She’d done track workouts with me.  She’d done progressions and tempos with me.  And not only was it my work at stake it was hers. And it was Shannon’s too.  Shannon had helped me plan for this.  And it was Lauren’s—who had run with me.  And Travis.  And Melissa.  And my friend Joselyn with whom I’d been running since the summer of 2011.  And my family and all that they had to deal with in terms of my running.  Jackie said, “This is what you’ve worked for!”  And we went.

I don’t know where it came from.  But I stabilized what had otherwise been a slide for most of the past five miles and ran a 7:33 for mile 23.  My friend Marcus was there again (he’d ridden his bike).  He gave a big cheer. 

We reached a guy running shirtless with  “VEGAN POWER” written in black on his back.  He asked what was keeping us going and if he could borrow some.  Jackie said sure.  But he didn’t stay with us for long.

Somehow for miles 24 and 25 I ran 7:15 and 7:17.  I don’t know where the energy came from to bring my pace back down more than 15 seconds per mile.  I do know that it is always easier for me to run with someone.  Particularly someone whom I know can run faster than I can.  Particularly someone with whom it is just a joy to run.  Every once in a while Jackie would pull just a little ahead.  Then, I’d come up even with her.  Then she’d pull ahead again.  Never so far as to lose me.  Always making sure that I got pulled along.

Not physically pulled along. That brought back a memory of my first 5K run at a practice in high school at which one of the upper classmen did essentially pull me along physically.  This was all mental. 

As we entered mile 26, I asked her “You don’t mind if I collapse on you when we finish, do you?”  She said, “No, that’s why I’m here.”  We continued on.

Another Penn State sign.  More Back on My Feet cheers.  We passed a couple of local guy who runs with Falls Road.  (Can’t say this was all in the last mile but it was definitely as we approached the end.)  More cheers.  We pushed. I felt just a little off.

Having a Garmin 10 I don’t have all of total time and pace and distance on my watch at the same time.  I kept switching back and forth to reassure myself that there was a chance.  My watch beeped for 26 before the sign.  I’d slipped back to 7:24.

But that was not because of how I was running when we got to the 26 sign.  As soon as I’d seen the sign for 26, whatever I had left got turned on.  My watch had us running 26.36 total.  According to my watch, I ran the 0.36 miles between when it says I ran 26 and the finish line in 2:21.  That is a 6:27 mile pace.  I could see the finish line.  I could tell that we had a sub-3:10 as a possibility.  The finish line was wide open.  There were no chutes.  There was no one to take the bib or any part of it.  No timing chips to rip off.  Just a clear finish line.  I could see the time.   I knew that I was going to get under 3:10 if I just pushed because of what I thought was a 38 second difference between my watch and the race clock. 

For once, I raised my arms above my head in joy as I passed the finish line.  We had done it.  3:09:49.  (Although at the time I thought it was 52.  I’d started my watch at the first place rather than the second where we passed a timing device at the starting line.) 

I didn’t collapse.

I did need help.

Jackie guided me through.  A heat sheet.  (Mylar.)  The medal.  A bottle of water.  A banana.  A Macy’s bag with an OJ and a bad of chips.  A soft pretzel.  And then we got to the broth.

Jackie described what it had done for her after a previous race. Warmth was good.  Salt was golden. 

We ran into Saturday Steve.  He’d had a good race.  We ran into our friend Curt.  He had been aiming for 2:50.  He didn’t get it but he ratcheted back to a 2:54.  He took a picture for us after I claimed my bag with my iPhone in it.

Jackie went back out on the course to find Patrick.  He ran a pretty good race. 

I finally sat on the curb to put warmer clothes on.  Messaged my Godmother.  Walked to 22nad and Chestnut and waited in the sun.

A few other interesting facts.  First, two other fun signs: I thought you said “RUM” and The Pain is Temporary but Internet Race Results are Forever. 

At one point I saw people with a Penn State banner and shouted “We Are”.  The answered with the obligatory “Penn State.”  They had a fair number of members of their club cross country teams there. 

Got a lot of shout outs for my Back on My Feet shirt.  Even saw what looked like a whole cheering section from the Philadelphia group. 

Afterwards, I received many congratulatory comments.  But I really owe this one—as I mentioned—to my immediate family, Jackie, Shannon, my Godmother, Lauren, Travis, Melissa, and Joselyn.  On Joselyn’s FB page, my time came up and she posted “My running partner…Way to go.”

I even would mention my boss.  We talk about how sometimes we try, fail, and fix.  That is what I did after NCR Marathon 2011.  Even after I qualified for Boston in 2012, I tried to fix my fading at the end. Didn’t work at Boston.  This time, I fixed it.  And it worked. And it was amazing.  

Yesterday, I had numerous people who believed I had done everything I needed to in order to achieve the goal. 

Everyone other than me.

Now I believe.

But I mustn’t let it go to my head.  Instead, it is just a sign that I must always work this hard, stay focused, and not settle to achieve goals in life.   

And, despite all the planning I'd done--listening to inspirational Rocky music; thinking about St Sebastian; thinking about how at mile 20 I would reach 2000 miles and the church of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico--I just needed one thing to get me through.  A friend by my side.

I am glad to have reached 2000 miles.  My Truth or Consequence was Truth.  I could reach me goal.  I had reached my goal.  And I will go on reaching goals.  

And seems like the Beatles once had something to say about "Getting by with a little help from my friends." 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Easing into the Marathon

Today’s 4 mile run bought me to 1962.5 for the calendar year.  Slowly closing in on Truth or Consequences, NM, and Our Lady of Perpetual Help church on my virtual pilgrimage.  The pace at which I am approaching has slowed considerably as I taper and prepare for the marathon one week from today.  As I write this at just after 10 AM on a Sunday morning, given the 7 AM start time for the race next week, I expect to be finished almost exactly a week from now—to the minute.  If all goes well, I’ll finish shortly after 10:10.  My 3:10 would get me to 10:10, but, even though I will be in the first corral, I will not necessarily be immediately at the front of the race.  So, I’ll count on finishing a little after 10:10.

A few things since the last time I wrote that make me think of “easing” into the marathon.  First, I had an opportunity to network on Friday morning with a guy who is a fellow runner, a fellow Back on My Feet supporter, and someone who works in the online education industry.  We had a great discussion over coffee before either of us had to be at work first thing on Friday morning.  We were discussing running, blogging, social media, etc., and I commented that I used to journal a lot in high school and I blog a lot now.  And the more I run, the more I write—or at least the more I want to write (I don’t always have the time).  He commented that he thinks that each person should have both a fitness outlet and a creative outlet in their lives.  I realize how blessed I am to have a combination of those two working so closely in sync—since my blogging is mostly inspired by or written in concert with my running.  I really had not thought of it until recently.  What is it that goes on in my brain while I run that completely inspires my writing? I’ll have to see if there is any research on the idea of a strong tie between running (or exercise more generally) and creativity.   I wish I knew more—then I could channel it even better.  And I could use the combination of physical and creative energy to “ease” myself toward the marathon day.  Distractions from pressure.

Second, yesterday’s run was a great final “long” run before the marathon.  I put “long” in quotation marks because 10 miles seems long to just about anyone who is not used to running half marathons or marathons. But yesterday it was just an easy run.  Totally under control.  With miles that started at 8:07 and ended at 7:24.  Not always getting faster from one to the next but definitely negative splits, definitely finished strong, and definitely felt under control.  All of that is reassuring as I try to “ease” into the process of running the marathon next Sunday.  I say, “ease” although most people would not use “ease” or “easy” and marathon in the same sentence because I am trying to go in with a goal but not too intense of a focus on the goal.  If I focus too intensely I am almost certain I will fail as I put so much pressure on myself that I break in some way.  Instead, I am trying to go in “light” and “easy” so that I can just let the race happen, relying on having done all the right stuff to prepare, and see what occurs.  And if I have a friend to share most (if not all) of the race with that will put me one additional step ahead.  The energy that can come from just having someone to run stride for stride with me is pretty amazing sometimes.  No need for chatter.  No need for anything other than presence.

Finally, I received my bib number in an email on Friday evening.  The number is 607.  I looked for spiritual inspiration and found it.  That also helps to set my mind at ease a bit.  So, what did I find?  Well, with the numbers 6 and 7, I went to the first letter to Timothy.  1 Timothy 6:7 reads:

For we brought nothing into the world, just as we shall not be able to take anything out of it.

What does that say to me?  It is a reminder to use my gifts from God (strength, ambition, perseverance, and focus) and to give it my all. Leave nothing on the course.  Make sure that every last ounce of effort goes into the race.  Have no doubt when I’m done that I ran the fastest marathon I could on that day.  I cannot take any of the preparation and apply it to another race.  There are no other time proximal marathons.  I will not have the opportunity to dedicate this much time and effort to a race again any time soon.  I simply must make the most of this opportunity.  I came to running with little other than those gifts I listed—and love.  A love of the people I get in shape so I’ll be here longer for them.  A love of the sport that I share with other runners.  A love of the opportunity to share and gain strength and energy from others’ sharing.  A love that transcends and gives strength and brings peace to runners.  And when I am done, I can’t take anything with me.  Someday there will be no more races.  Someday this will all end.  And that is it.  So, since this may be the last marathon in which I compete with myself for another personal best and another goal I have never achieved before, I recognize that this is the time when I must not plan to take anything forward.  Give it my all.  Achieve.  Triumph. 

Of course, I realize that no matter what comes from running after this I have made an impression on others and I will take the lessons I have learned and the spiritual energy and stories I have accumulated into my future.  I will just not apply of any it to competitive running at this distance and this level any time soon.

So, with ease for the week ahead in mind, I plan to run my best and smartest marathon ever next Sunday.  And take the experience with me for a lifetime of wonder and amazement at the beauty and inspiration of running. 

For anyone interested, you can find the podcast here.