Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Are The Boston Qualifying Standards Too Easy for Women?

I'd planned to sign up for Boston this year, but didn't see any hurry to do it. The day after registration opened (October 18, 2010), one of my non-runner friends asked me if I were one of the few who had gotten in. I'd completely missed that it had sold out in hours.

Which prompted some interesting discussions with other runners in the following weeks. Boston really shouldn't sell out in hours--on that we all agreed. But, how do you make a correction so that Boston re-emerges as the "People's Olympics" type of event that it once was? While I have some ideas for that (fodder for future posts), the most common theme I heard from other runners was the standards were too easy for women.

It's hard to conclude anything other than, well, I really didn't deserve to qualify because I didn't work that hard for it.
Come to find out, this is a fairly widely held belief: "But there's another possible reason for the surging demand—one that has the potential to kick up a fair amount of controversy. It's the notion that the qualifying standards for women are too soft…. Some running experts say that one way to reduce excess demand for Boston slots would be to stop treating women like the gentler sex." (WSJ, It's Time for Women to Run Faster: Boston's Crowded Marathon Prompts a Gender War; Why Females Get an Extra 30 Minutes)

I'd like to debunk the myth that Boston's qualifying standards are disproportionately too easy on women, and that lowering the women's standards on their own won't solve the Boston entry problem.

More men than women qualify for and run Boston.

In Boston 2010 (the year I ran it), forty-two percent of the finishers were women.

In 2009, the total number of finishers of U.S. marathons and other road races were just about evenly split, men versus women.

If you assume that the same percentage of those who qualified actually run and complete the race, you can draw the simple conclusion, that about twenty percent more men than women qualified for Boston in 2010. Based on the national average of marathon completers versus Boston qualifiers, it actually appears that women may have it harder--even with the 30 minutes of additional time to qualify.

Yes, a 50-54 man has to run 5 minutes faster than an under-39 woman to qualify, but the average winning time of the 50-54M age group is 7:21 faster than the average winning time of the under-39F age group.

Too many women qualifying for Boston simply isn't the problem. Reading through some angry online forums that mostly bash on t
he "easy standards for women," I think IsleRoyaleRunner said it best: "The reason why it's [Boston 2011] anticipated to sell out in a matter of days has little to do with lowering the standard for women. There aren't 10,000 women running between 3:35 and 3:40. All the standards need to be lowered significantly if you want the race to be open past the 1st of the year."

Study after study has shown that the Marathon distance performance gap between men and women is between 11 to 12 percent:

"This is a fascinating result. Women actually do better, relatively speaking, in the shorter events, and the marathon is one of their worst distances compared to men." (Men vs. Women in Sports)

In their examination of performance in sports, women versus men, Astrand and Rodahl state "…In the marathon, women are 12% slower." They elaborate, "The women's running economy was poorer; that is, their oxygen uptake during running at a standard submaximal speed was higher. The heart rate, respiratory exchange ratio, and blood lactate concentration also confirmed that a given running speed resulting in higher physiological strain for the women." (Textbook of work physiology: physiological bases of exercise by Per-Olof Astrand, Kare Rodahl)

Due to key differences between men and women, women are at a distinct disadvantage for running the marathon:

"The marathon is simply not long enough to nullify the physiological advantages that men have in testosterone level, maximal oxygen consumption, and hemoglobin level. Given that over 99% of the energy used in the marathon is produced aerobically, women’s lower hemoglobin level (which mean women can transport less oxygen per unit of blood) is a distinct disadvantage." (Will Women Marathoners Catch the Men? Pfitzinger Lab Reports)

Women's blood carries 11% less oxygen for the same blood volume.

"It's obvious that males frequently achieve better performance times than similarly trained females. Part of the reason for this is that males routinely engage in a perfectly legal, natural form of 'blood doping.' The key male sex hormone - testosterone - promotes the production of haemoglobin, an oxygen-carrying protein found inside red blood cells, and testosterone also increases the concentration of red cells in the blood. The key female hormone - oestrogen - has no such effect. As a result, each litre of male blood contains about 150-160 grams of haemoglobin, compared to only 130-140 grams for females. The bottom line is that each 'male' litre of blood can carry about 11 per cent more oxygen than a similar quantity of female blood.

"Note how closely this 'oxygen gap' parallels the performance gap observed by Seiler and Sailer, who found a male-female performance difference of exactly 11 per cent in the 1980s - and 12 per cent today. Is this just a coincidence, or does the 11-per cent enhancement of blood oxygen in males produce the 11-per cent improvement in running speeds? Since oxygen is needed to furnish most of the energy required for endurance exercise, some scientists have suspected that the 11-per cent oxygen difference is the key factor behind male-female performance variation.

Exercise scientists Stephen Seiler and writer Steven Sailer mention in the May-June edition of the internet publication Sportscience News "two other key female 'deficiencies' - less muscle mass and smaller hearts than men, even after correction for smaller body size." (The Gender Gap 1: Women are getting slower; men are getting faster?)

Conclusion: The qualifying standard differences between men and women are probably about right.
"Running USA, a research center based in Colorado, has collected raw data from nearly 500 marathons across the country that show a median gender difference of about 28 minutes in finishing times."

Personally, I'd vote for lowering the standards across the board--for everyone. Allowing fewer women clearly doesn't solve the problem.

Note: I have added the distribution of male / female finishers for Boston 2010 in the image immediately to the left, for purposes of discussion. If anyone has the full data records of all 22K+ Finishers they'd be willing to share, please DM me in twitter.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Marathon Pace Session on LBTT

When my alarm went off, I nearly couldn't find it to turn it off I was sleeping so deeply. What is it with morning long runs, anyway? How about a nice Saturday Afternoon long run? My will forced my body into action every step of the way, until I realized I was not only really, really tired, but I was also slightly nauseated. By the time I actually pulled into the parking lot, I had to remind myself that how I felt at the beginning of a run historically played no part in how the run was going to go. I've pulled into that very lot feeling like the energizer bunny, and had my worst long run; and I've felt horrible and ended up pulling it off. Let's just see what I had before setting myself up for a predictable self-fulfilling prophecy.

My long-suffering running buddy, Travis, was of course early and waiting. At 34F, he hops out in a T-shirt and shorts looking fresh and comfortable, while I'm in head-to-toe under-armor and have hot hands tucked in my gloves and worried how long it might take to die of hypothermia. I hope it's quick.

The goal: two mile warm-up and eleven at 8:24. The first two miles come with effort. I push the pedal down the instant we hit the third mile, and by the first quarter, we are still averaging above 8:24. This isn't looking good. I press harder, and think to myself, how on earth can I hold this for eleven miles, much less one? But, as we approach the last stretch before we turn around at two-and-a-half, Travis says, "Hey, what's the goal here, 8:00s?" I look at my watch and we've dropped the average for the mile to around 8:16 (making it up a bit), but apparently we're running at 8:00 for the moment. He watches the instant pace; I only watch the overall average for the mile. This is going to work out all right.

Eventually, we find it and I feel really good. We decide after the single break after five miles that we'll go out four and back, no other stops. We think we've planned this four out into the wind and four back with the wind at our backs. At around mile seven, we pass a group of solid runners, and one extends his white-gloved hand out. I'm pumped with how great I feel and decide we're going to high-five. I realize I'm delirious. But I know by now I'm going to kill this run. The high-five seemed appropriate.

Somehow, the wind shifted or we got it wrong and the turn back was into the wind. But, I've locked in the pace and we hold it steady anyway. We surge a bit for the last mile, which ended up being the fastest. Just a bit of extra credit there. At more than fifty miles for the week; and not a thing hurting--things are looking really good for Houston, ten weeks from tomorrow.

Marathon Pace on LBTT Garmin Connect - Details

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Marathon Pace Session at Watkins Mill

When my alarm went off before 5 AM and I'd heard the wind buffet my bedroom windows like a tympanic membrane all night long, I seriously considered canceling. This was going to be a difficult enough run under pristine conditions. My pillow pulled me back and I gave in very briefly. One good thing about having a running buddy counting on you; no one wants to be the first to cancel. Guilt shoved me out of bed against my body's protests.

Seriously, didn't think I was going to have it and told my buddy Travis that at least five times before we got past the warm up miles. If you'd polled me at 2.5 miles into this run, I'd have told you there was no way it was going to happen as designed. It was cold, hilly and extremely gusty / windy. But not thinking I was going to have it wasn't going to stop me from trying. Despite my reservations, we ran better than my goals: 3 mi easy, 3 miles goal 8:24 (actual 8:15, 8:20, 8:14) 1 mi goal pace 7:50 (actual 7:42), 3 miles 8:24 (actual 8:09, 8:24, 8:07).

I'm still in shock I (we, although I had no doubts about Travis' ability) pulled it off; let alone in the conditions! Great run, I'm thrilled!

Watkins Mill Garmin Connect - Details

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Watkins Mill 13 miles

A crisp start to the morning (42F), where I ran most of this run at Watkins Mill State Park with my buddy Travis who ensured I would not be lazy. First three miles were a warm-up, and the goal for the next three was 8:10. We ran 7:57, 8:00 and 8:08. This, despite the fact I'd forgotten how up and down this course was. Sure, there were downhills, but definitely a few uphills we had to push through. I had to really work for that third (sixth overall) mile, with one of the two biggest hills almost at the end of it.

Then, easy two miles, nice recovery, and a goal of repeating three more miles at 8:10. Again, I was struggling with the hills a bit, and managed 7:58, 8:15, 8:21, which were flat, small hill, the two biggest hills, respectively. The way the last mile fell out had precisely the two biggest hills, one at the beginning and one at the end. I didn't have the gas to keep it at that pace with the uphills. It was a good effort and I was still strong, despite the 8:21 pace. In fact, I believe had the mile been flat, I might have beaten the 7:57 first fast mile I'd run.

Then two more miles easy to wrap up the recovery and a total of 13 miles. I'm extremely happy with the effort, especially the fact that this run was by no means flat. Better yet--nothing is bothering me. Topped it off with a crossandwich from Sonic--which I believe might have been the best tasting breakfast sandwich in my entire life. I thought I might have died and gone to heaven.

Watkins Mill Run from Garmin Connect - Details

Saturday, October 23, 2010

LBTT 12 Mi Trail Run

I'm not superstitious. But, I felt like posting that I've been running again after such a deep depression from a string of nagging issues would somehow ruin my good stretch of running. Like, washing my favorite football jersey after a string of victories would somehow wash away the team's chance of success.

Sort of like, show me the runs. I'm not talking about it. I didn't even post my first two weeks back. I'll believe it when I see it.

So here I am, the last two weeks of 40+ mpw behind me, and I'm solid.

Today I chose the LBTT with Rick who also is coming back from a series of nagging issues. The trail was a bit muddy after a steady rain all night, and there was steady wind out of the south. But the temps in the mid-60s and cloud cover felt great, and I was as strong at the end as I could ever hope to be.

My Garmin Details

It feels good to be back running again, with some belief that this is going to continue!

Monday, October 11, 2010

I Didn't Run Chicago Yesterday

I sat there on the exam room table, clutching my x-rays from the urgent care center a few days earlier and dangling my legs which were nowhere near the ground. I felt childlike; small, unimportant and intimidated by my surroundings. Needing guidance, help from someone who was supposed to have my best health care interests in mind.... and not sure I would find it.

My left foot was in a large boxy boot somewhat similar to the picture on the left, covering my toes to my knee. It kind of reminded me of a moon-walking suit. Not that I could really walk. In fact, the reason I'd come to my regular doctor was in hopes he'd either send me to a specialist or let me get some additional testing done to find out why I was in so much pain. My x-rays from a few days earlier indicated nothing was amiss.

He came in, pronouncing my name formally and then sat at looked at my chart. He looked up at me disdainfully, and stated: "Haven't you had a couple stress fractures from running already? It doesn't look like your body agrees with running. Maybe you should consider not running." Well, that was helpful.

I had hoped, at least, to walk out with a plan. Get an MRI, make an appointment with a podiatrist. Receive a suggestion of what might be wrong and how long it might take to heal.

If, it would in fact heal. The fact was, it had been thirteen days. And I was in more pain that I was on day one. I was worried.

After chiding me for running and pointing out further that I was no longer of an age to run and the repeated injuries should be my signal to stop, he poked around where my foot / ankle hurt and said, "I'm not going to send you for an MRI for that. Keep the walking boot. I don't have a better idea."

I limped out; defeated. Swing-thud; swing-thud; swing-thud. I was more depressed than ever. After all, it was a stupid, chain reaction thing. Not an over-use injury, but I simply got caught wearing the wrong shoes and a cascade of issues resulted.

Yesterday, I watched Chicago from afar. I filled my list of runners and hit refresh / reload hundreds of times over a four-and-a-half hour period until my last runner-friend crossed the finish. How I wanted to be there. I was thrilled and overjoyed to see a few people do really well. I actually got chills watching some friends just nail it and get stronger and stronger. It is a gift to be able to have everything line up to execute your marathon strategy, and I celebrated vicariously for several of you as you crossed the finish!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

When To Write It Off

You picked your event months ago. Booked the hotel, the airfare, put in for vacation days from your job. Invested in all the right equipment.

You've trained long hours. You took your event seriously. You might have even raised money through a charitable organization such as World Vision, gaining the support of friends, family and co-workers along the way.

You skipped the late night parties. Eschewed indulgent behaviour on vacation. Maybe you skipped the vacation altogether to focus on your training. You got up when everyone was asleep to get in your workouts.

You were the only one standing around a Saturday afternoon picnic having run more than a dozen miles that day. Every Saturday for the third month in a row.

You passed up the bacon, fried chicken and ice cream.

You dreamed of acceptable, achievable--and dared to hope for the loftiest goals possible. Every workout was a measuring stick against your goal.

And now, you are either forced with a difficult decision; or, quite possibly, it's being made for you. You can't--or shouldn't--show up at the starting line of your event.

For awhile, you might bargain with yourself. OK, well, let's skip Goal A and Goal B, and still be happy with a reasonably dialed down goal C.

As I write this, I struggle with that very decision. Chicago is four weeks from today.

A mere two months ago, diagnosed with a stress fracture, I was so very determined to overcome it for a great race in Chicago. I worked twice as hard, aqua-jogging, cycling, strength training. I put in more hours of training than I would have if I weren't injured. Miraculously, I healed very well and was back to running in five weeks ever hopeful to be there in Chicago. It was harder than I thought to stay fit during this time. Coming back gave me more muscle aches than I expected. It was grueling, but worth it, and I learned a lot about myself in the process. It even led me to my first Century.

I've put in the time. Skipped the parties. Gone to bed early. Prioritized my workouts despite a highly demanding schedule. I've sacrificed to be there on 10-10-10. I want it. I earned it.

My friends are going to be there. Some running buddies are going to be there. My coach, Vince, is even going to do his debut marathon.

My right leg (where I had the tibial stress fracture) is absolutely fine; I had a story-book recovery. But now, faced with an odd and painful tendonitis on the top of my left foot, I have to make a decision. At the very time I must be peaking in mileage and intensity. In one mere week, there is little I can do to improve my fitness.

My foot tells me not to run. But, oh, how important being in Chicago is to me! I'm perfectly OK with dialing down my goals--to a point. I toyed with the idea of starting anyway, and taking a DNF if I just couldn't do it. But after trying that on for a few hours as a fall-back strategy, I realized that I couldn't really live with the mental burden of not at least finishing a race.

Sadly, my foot looks fine. No swelling. No discoloration. No heat. In fact, many movements of stretching and flexing are completely pain free. Simply looking at my foot, you'd have no idea there was something amiss. How can something so ... apparently minor be causing me such problems?

In this self-exploration I also realized there were personal limits in my own mind where I wasn't OK even if I did finish. These limits are different for everyone; and for different reasons. But there were pretty hard set finishing times that were simply not going to be acceptable to me. I decided not to mention what mine were, because I don't want to offend anyone with how slow or fast my cut-off time might seem. The point is, we all have them. And to me, there are certain times that are simply not worth running, and that's a very personal benchmark for myself.

When do you decide not to run in that key event? After you've given everything? The problem for many of us who have been running seriously for a few years is that we actually can run through quite a bit of pain. The most obvious answer to this question is if running is going to seriously aggravate your injury to the point you will have an extended outage from running. Instead of weeks, you are out for months. In some cases (such as stress fractures), running through the pain can actually permanently damage you if the bone breaks all the way through (which can and does happen--see photo to the left--Ouch!).

Another key time not to run is when you find you've altered your gait in pain-avoidance. Running miles and miles like that invites yet another injury cycle to go through. If you find yourself doing this, it's time to consider throwing in the towel.

Sometimes you are willing to take on that risk because a single event is so important to you to complete. You'd take two months off just to be there and finish. And that's where I am right now. My foot says, "don't run." My soul say, "run, you must run." It's a watershed event for me for more reasons than one. I'm at the point if I thought I could finish at my personal minimum goal level, I'd be OK if I had to be carted off the finish line and not run for the rest of the year.

Within the next couple of days, I will be making that decision. I'm either going to run Chicago, or I'm not. Probably by the time you are reading this; it will have been made. But, I am avoiding it just yet. Hanging on to the most tenuous of threads of hope that somehow, by some miracle, my foot will settle down and I can be there in the marathon that I love and for which I have prepared so hard and sacrificed so much.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Summer Breeze 2010 100 mile Course

It was out of complete ignorance I decided to do a biking Century. Sure, a few 10-mile loops here and there, a successful 74 mile ride. This is going to be so easy!

We started right on time, cruising out in a large group. I found comfort in being so close to a lot of other bikers, and enjoyed the excitement, brightly colored jerseys and flashing triangle lights many of the cyclists were wearing. But it was already 75 F when we started, and my early plans to skip the first rest stop at 15 miles were thrown out the window.

I realized a few things rather quickly: This was, in fact, not going to come easily. The 25 mph headwind made the biking exhausting. I was utterly unprepared.

The first stop I realized how necessary the bottle on my bike was. I was expecting cups and gatorade and water (a la marathon style), but the deal was you filled your own bottle. If you wanted Gatorade, you tossed in the powder on the spot. Not a bad idea. I ate a cup of peanut M&Ms.

I spent much of the first 30-ish miles fighting the wind, the hills and the rising temps, yet still feeling reasonably fresh. I was eating and drinking well, but about this point I was utterly alone on a road going straight into a very hilly section, directly into the headwind. I began to panic that I had somehow missed a turn. Nary a single marking of "SB -->" popped up even once on this long stretch, and each hill I thought to myself, "OK, this is the hardest hill I have ever climbed." Only to find another one just as bad or worse a few minutes later. I said this to myself at least ten times on ten different hills.

The second stop around 30 miles, I drank another 40 ounces and ate a half a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

The wind was so strong, I had to pedal to go downhill. There was no coasting or resting. For fifteen miles (from 30 to 45), my concern grew. I hadn't seen a soul in over an hour and had no confirmation I was even on the right course. I searched my brain for a plan B: How do I figure out where I am and if I am on the course? The miles did not come easily, and this was way too early to be so exhausted. My worry grew, but then I hit the sign for the next SAG stop, which was quite busy with other cyclists, and marked the end of the long trek directly into the wind. And then my Garmin 405 battery died (despite being taken off the charger the moment I left), at 44 miles. Ugh. I mentally needed to know how far I had left.

From here on out, while I did occasionally lose sight of other riders for stretches, there were enough "SB-->" sightings that I no longer worried I was off course. Although I would have given anything to see a mark on the road that indicated a half-way point!

Being out of the wind, I started to feel better. In fact, I came in so strong at the mile 68 rest stop, it was the best I'd felt all day. I knew I was going to make it another 32 miles. Somehow. I had begun to pass people (instead of being passed), and never was passed again.

The next stop was the lunch in Raymore, at mile 83. I got off my bike, and suddenly felt quite woozy. This worried me a bit; because I didn't know why I felt like that and had not realized it while I was on the bike. I was well enough hydrated to require a visit to the porta-sans each stop and drinking 40+ oz. per stop (yes, it was THAT hot and sunny). I was eating solid food, and had been taking a few hammergels as well. Also, I'd built up some endurolytes the night before. Seventeen more miles to go. Although I was fully aware of how much I'd underestimated this effort, I also knew I'd finish this thing.

Lunch was delicious, barbecued chicken and beans and all the traditional goodies of orange slices, grapes, bananas and peanut butter sandwiches. I had two helpings of the chicken, as I found I was quite hungry. Feeling better, I took off for the final (and longest) stretch.

Interestingly, I was still riding well. I'd continued to pass people, which surprised me. I passed with caution, as I figured every single person on this century ride was better prepared and better trained than I was. I didn't want to pass someone and annoy them, only to get re-passed as they breezed by to point out I was a complete and UTTER novice. Nonetheless, my strength did not leave me.

At last, I pulled into the parking lot and spotted my car.. and many other cars still there. I eagerly searched for some welcoming committee: ice cold beverages, cold orange slices, live band music, anything. But, no one was there. A few riders came in after me as I put my bike away, and I was glad I'd bothered to pack a cooler in my car and downed yet more Gatorade. Somewhat anti-climactic after finishing my first Century. Nonetheless, I managed a little, "Hell, YES! I did it."

I topped things off when I got home with a 22-minute ice bath. Why 22 minutes you ask? Because I honestly forgot I was in an ice bath while reading a magazine.

The one thing I wished I'd brought more than anything in the world? Lip balm.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Coming Back From The Stress Fracture, Again...

My leg hurt for nine days. And then it stopped. I didn't run a step for five weeks.

In fact, I could honestly say... I hardly missed running at all in those five weeks. Now, for those of you who know me, that sounds unimaginable. I am an addict after all. But, the first week was spent on vacation in Florida with my father and daughter, and after that, my next four weeks were filled with very consistent, endurance-type cross training. My sixth week introduced short runs after my cross training workouts.

Not a day went by that I wasn't doing a workout of some kind for over an hour. And then I picked up road biking, which held an interesting allure for me--allowing me to go for four hours or more. I'd never gone more than 20 miles on a bike. Ever. For the heck of it, I went 35 miles one day, and the next thing I knew, I'd signed up for a century. Between water workouts, biking (and a few other things, like kayaking), I collapsed into bed each night satisfactorily spent. I simply wasn't full of jittery energy wanting to burn it off with a good run.

This Sunday, I will attempt to complete my first biking century (starting from Longview Lake in Missouri). I don't really know what to expect, but I did manage a 74 mile ride without any issues two weeks ago. I'm oddly excited about it--happily nowhere near as stressed as my first marathon, but edgy and wondering, will I make it? Will it be too hot? What will it be like? Did they HAVE to put the bulk of the hills in the last third of the ride? Will peanut butter and jelly sandwiches taste good at mile 80?

And, of course, Chicago is still on the map in six weeks.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Like Ali In The Jungle

It's, not, how you start, it's how you finish,

One-and-two-and-three-and, I grunted out my core exercises and thought about my low point. It wasn't when I actually got the news I had another stress fracture; it was hours later, sitting in my hot parked car, in my hot garage, choking back hot tears hearing all the things I didn't want to hear from Vince about Chicago.. and any other high-mileage plans pretty much for the rest of my natural, running life. One stress fracture, you move on. Two, things have to change.

And it's, not, where you're from, it's where you're at,

It didn't seem to matter I'd done everything right. I've been there. Practically an expert on stress fractures, what to do, what not to do. It's almost embarrassing I did it again. But, I guess it doesn't matter. Here I am now. Tibial stress fracture. In the exact. Same. Spot.

Everybody gets knocked down,
Everybody gets knocked down,
How quick are you gonna' get up?
How quick are you gonna' get up?

Well, sometimes it doesn't seem like everybody. There's no normalizing boxing glove to make sure everyone gets a sucker punch every once in a while. But, that's not the point. What am I going to do about it? Recovery is no big deal, I know the drill. I want this to mean something. Ultimately, my stress fracture in 2008 ended up being such a positive experience, I wouldn't take it back. Even if I could.

Like Ali in the jungle,
Like Nelson in jail,
Like Simpson on the mountain,
With odds like that, they were bound to fail

I actually wanted to spend some time feeling sorry for myself. I waited until evening to have a good cry; I earned it. But it never came. I've had worse odds against me.

Like Hannah in the darkness,
Like Adam's in the dark,
Like Ludwig Van, how I loved that man, well the guy went deaf and didn't give a d---, no...

Twenty-three and, twenty-four and, twenty-five and, yes. I have something to prove. This can be ordinary, or I can try to do something highly improbable. Or anything in between. But, it excites me to think.. maybe I can do something extraordinary here. Maybe this.. could be an example of how to get through a serious injury, without laying down and giving up.

It's, not, where you are, It's where you're going,
Where are you going?

Sensible people would take the time off, come back in a few months and consider a 2011 marathon. Or maybe no more marathon training at all. And, no, I haven't run in fifteen days--don't think I'm doing anything stupid here. Chicago is a mere eleven weeks away. But, I have hit a "maintain fitness" routine that is as challenging--or more so--than my running was going. And I am determined--as if lit by fire--to give this my all: Come out across the finish line in Chicago with a PR, a New York qualifying time, and a healed tibia. My own hat trick through sheer determination.

And it's, not, about the things you've done, it's what you're doing, now,
What are you doing, now?

It's a very, very long shot. Mission impossible, really. But what if I can do it?

Monday, July 5, 2010

Post Holiday Blues

#$@)(-ing great. Marvellous.

I'd been quietly training for the past few weeks, very happy with my progress... avoiding the, "Wow, this feels almost too good to be true..." entry.

Until, it was.

It's been almost two years. I'm wiser this time, though.

I dug through the back of my closet, thinking the F-word more times than I care to count. It's in there somewhere, I know it.

"On the bright side," I pensively thought.. and cursed under my breath, "I live on a lake. It's July. I can do this." And, there it was. Waiting for me.

I kept the original box, I don't know why. I took it out, held it up, yeah.. this is what it's going to be today. And tomorrow. And probably... well, I'm not going there yet.

Now, where's the swimsuit? I'm not doing this in a bikini. Not for an hour. And there it was, under all my running clothes, in the very back, my one piece swim (read: exercise) suit.

I grabbed my kids' boom-box, a towel, a stopwatch, and headed down to the shore. Yes, in the answer to my next question, there was a functioning outlet on the dock. Bonus. This was going to suck for hours on end if I had to do it in silence. I don't listen to the radio, so I found some decent sounding station, tossed the ladder in the water, strapped the purple thing around my waist and started the stop watch.

I looked to my east. This might not last long, and soon, it started to rain. By 11:52 into this gig, it was raining so hard, I couldn't see across the cove. Sheets of rain poured down off the metal dock roof and hammered out the radio on high volume. Perfect. I closed my eyes and kept up the steady rhythm. I imagined myself a drowning cat. I hoped no one was watching.

Surprisingly, this was a great, all-over-body, workout. Note to self: Maybe I should be doing this in the summer even when I'm solid.

Oh, I almost forgot to mention it--my leg is.... hurting. I noticed it now and then Friday-ish, Saturday-ish, nothing problematic. Yesterday (Sunday), it was more evident. By 2.31 miles today, I decided it was best not to push through the pain on the inside of my calf anymore. Oddly, it doesn't hurt on impact (good sign), but does hurt as the foot pronates and is tender to the touch on the lower calf (bad sign).

I saw my doctor today, and we're hoping the insurance company will approve an MRI this week. It will be amazing if they do, since they don't see fit to approve my daughter's emergency appendectomy of a few months ago, but that is another story (I'm bitter). But, I want answers. I can push through the pain, no problem. But, of course, that is the crux of the problem--learning not to push when I really shouldn't. I'm busily trying to convince myself the conservative approach is best.

So, after 2.31 miles on the treadmill, it was 60 minutes of aqua jogging in the lake. We'll see, stay tuned. I'm not about to give up Chicago, just yet. Meanwhile, I'm hoping for a "Get out of jail free" card this time.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Night Flight 5K Race Report

Pre-Race Friday
The way things came together for me on race day were important in my dealing with the very slow time psychologically. This was, in fact, the slowest 5K I've run in a few years. There may be good reasons for that, but I'm not looking for excuses.
Lately, in fact, I've felt more like re-naming my blog "SheRunsSlow," or "Building a Slower Me," because I swear, that's what it feels like.
I was running my strongest ever in mid-March, when I had my unfortunate round with the aliens. I haven't been back there since. But, hey, it's been three months now, time to HTFU.
But, in the back of my mind, there was a nagging worry. My passage into running is more about a second chance on life after a devastating illness that should have by all means claimed me. Although I will manage this for the rest of my life with medication and routine testing by my doctor, there is always the chance things can take another really bad turn. It is a real fear that haunts me daily.
Ironically, Friday was also the day of my annual check-up (oh, how happy I am that this is only yearly now.. it used to be weekly--or more often in the beginning).
I thought about Lance Armstrong and what he had to overcome, as he chronicled in It's Not About the bike (which I read a couple of years ago). What if.... I am getting sick again? I wrote this in my review of the book back then:

And for me, he's captured why I run: "But now I knew exactly why I was riding: if I could continue to pedal a bike, somehow I wouldn't be so sick." "As long as I could move, I was healthy." "Move. If you can still move, you aren't sick."
I embrace this thought daily; the fear of being sick again, regressing, somehow letting my illness take hold of me and pull me back down means that I run almost every day. I panic when I don't run for this very reason. If I can still run, everything is OK. If I can run faster than last month, I'm getting better... not sicker.
Quite frankly, going into Friday night's race, I was getting worried. But after several hours of testing, I walked out a free woman. In the battery of tests, it was determined that I was as healthy as I'd ever been. I was not--in fact--getting sicker. Far from it. My results were excellent.

Now onto the race. It was hot. On the way back from my testing, the car thermometer held steady at 98F for most of the drive. It had cooled only to 85F by race start, and I sweated standing still. My two mile warm up at 8:30 PM left me drenched already.

The Start
We lined up, and it was about 400-500 runners--all donning various glow bracelets, necklaces and the like. I had four myself. I picked a spot about six rows in from the front-runners, not really sure what I'd be running. One woman next to me looked me up and down and edged past me quite certain that she belonged further up front than I did. We traded twice, I finally let her have it. I found this particularly amusing, and promised myself to look up her time later. For the record, she ran a 41:01. Glad she got up close.
We took off right on time (9 PM, just after sunset), and began the out and back course. The first quarter mile was a fairly steep downhill, which worried me as I knew what that meant for the last quarter mile (even with my blonde hair, I could do that math). I let my stride relax and lengthen a bit and got a secure position. Then it was uphill a bit, capped with a hairpin turn and then a sharp turn to the right down Douglas Street (where most of the race took place).

Mile 1
I was counting backwards from 24:00 in my head, as that was my best guess as to what I was going to run. But at the 18:00 to go point, and nary a breeze, I was melting. And the second incline of the race began. Not to overstate the hill, but it was there and I was hot. It peaked just past the one mile point. We passed Dairy Queen. I sincerely thought about dropping out and sitting in the deep freezer.
Nearly to the half way, we had two turns through downtown Lees Summit, and they had quite a bit of music and people out cheering us on. That was definitely a highlight for me.
I was pretty sure at this point (having carefully examined the lead pack while they began their trip back down Douglas) that I was the third female overall. Not to say I was running fast, but I decided I really wanted to hang onto that and was willing to suffer a bit to do so. Third sounds worth mentioning. Fourth... well, not so much.

Mile 2
We turned, and just past the third hill (and mile 2) I could hear an adult male speaking to what seemed like a child behind me, "Ok, you ready? We're going to do it now..." And sure enough, a 30-ish male with a young girl in tow surged past me. Hmmm.. I might get kidded [Thanks, Joe, for the perfect term, "kidded!"]. Was I going to let her get third female? No way. I determined above all else, I would not let her get too far in front of me (though she was adorable) and I would outkick her at the end.
Soon, her coach let her go to hold her own and surged up to start talking to another young boy quite a bit far ahead. I slowly reeled her in, and as we began the fourth ascent to the left I surged past her and decided it was just my moment to hang on. I could her her plodding patter behind me.

The Finish
Another hairpin turn and up that last (fifth) hill. I was miserably hot and out of any energy, but I was not going to lose my position, so I didn't let the hill defeat me. At the crest, I sprinted to the finish line. One of the officials called out my bib number as third female, my family was waiting and told me I was third female, so I was pretty confident of this going into the awards ceremony as I had also come to the same conclusion. My final official time was 24:02, not so fast. But hey, I did it.

Final Results and Wrap-Up
As it turns out, I was also not third female overall. Another woman ran a 22:30 for third place, although I never saw her. I saw 1 (19:33 time) and 2 (20:30). Not sure what happened there we all missed her, but oh well. She also didn't show at the awards ceremony (shame on her ;) ).
I did love how I had to push through, the feeling of the race, the excitement building... and the possibility I might do better than I actually did. I resolved to do this more often, as I think good things can be gained from it. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and actually feel quite sharpened as a result. I have no regrets, despite the slow time.
We are runners. A runner who doesn't race is like a musician who doesn't perform. I've become more resolved for my 2011 goals as a result of this, and I will be running a lot of races--good or bad--I'm going to have a blast!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Night Flight Beckons

I'm doing it. I'm running in a local 5K this Friday Night... partly for fun, partly to get in a good threshold workout situated in the middle of some warm up and cool down miles. I'm pretty sure I'll run 3 miles a lot harder in a 5K race than I would during a workout. And, that's really the point for me right now.

So, in the midst of marathon training, with no speedwork whatsoever, I'm just.. going .. to do it. And I'm going to live with whatever time I run and realize--flat out--I'm not in 5K shape.

I'm hopeful the moon and stars will be out, the luminaries enchanting.. and good fun is had by all. Stay tuned ...

Monday, May 24, 2010

Expectations -or- Why Don't I Run More Races?

It's a funny thing.. there was a time when I signed up for and ran races just for the thrill of it. I didn't care how I did, it didn't mean anything to me. I cherished the experience of a newbie runner, trotting along side 600 or 6,000 other runners somewhere in the middle.. just soaking in the experience, and treasuring the fact that I felt "normal." If someone handed out a flyer at a race for another one next weekend... I'd seriously consider going. "Why not? This running thing is a blast!

Now, races must be carefully planned out. Goals set. Training executed. Race plans carefully crafted. Strategies read and re-read. Past winners' times reviewed. A race is now an "Event!"

Now, sadly I see these signs for local 5Ks or 4 milers, or whatever popping up all over the place. Midnight races, firecracker races, you name it. My kids see the signs, too. "Why don't you run in this race?" And I realize, that if I haven't trained for the event, then, I can't live up to some "personal expectations." So, the race comes and goes. And I don't run in it. And I suddenly think maybe I'm missing out on something. When exactly did this happen?

Wouldn't it be fun if you could register as running a "training run" or a "pacer" or some other designee other than "competitive?" I don't know why it bothers me, but I always think, well, if I just run xyz race in the middle of training for something else, then, it will just be a run. And then I'd be worried when people looked up my time they'd say, "Oh, wow, she was two minutes off her 5K time from last year." Even though they probably wouldn't and this is all in my head...

Somehow, I feel like doing a race "for fun" is just largely out of the question. I'm imprisoned by the fact that every race must have a purpose; a goal. But I do realize worrying about my expectations--or everyone else's (which probably don't even exist)--is really superfluous. I just need to let go of my competitiveness sometimes.

Do any of you who have raced for awhile get hung up on just running in some local races for fun?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

20 Things To Make Your Running Better Right Now!

There are times as runner we may reach a plateau or place of indifference in our running--or at least some of our fresh motivation might wane. I've struggled with that myself off and on over the past training season, I thought about ideas to share to help you refresh, renew.. and run better.. right now!

1. Run with someone a little slower. Make a personal connection with someone who was where you once were. You just might make a difference in your life in sharing some of your successes and how you got there. Besides, running is the coolest hobby on the planet, right? Share it. You just might learn something too.

2. Take Vitamin D. Lately it seems every other health article I read debunks taking vitamin supplements. But yet every one of them seem to conclude that if there is one vitamin worth taking (and I wrote about it a few months ago), it's Vitamin D.

3. Run with someone a little faster. Rather obvious, but don't discount a little pushing of yourself with a slightly faster runner once in a while. I owe several of my running pals for dragging me a bit faster than I wanted to go. Just enough that I could. And I became a better, stronger runner as a result.

4. Record your runs. If you don't write down a little bit about each run, it's hard to know your progress and make decisions about your training. Not every run will be great, and not every run will feel terrible. Write down anything significant: where you ran, the terrain, who you ran with, any important diet changes, time of day, energy level, weather. If you have a lousy run or streak of lousy runs, go back 21 days and read what you've been doing. If you've been pushing too hard, it may be why you are out of energy. If you had a sore throat last week, your body might be fighting something. Most of your "why me" running questions can be answered in your 21-day look-back.

5. Encourage an injured runner. Very few of us have risen to our current running status without a few hard bumps along the way. Injuries, sickness, some preventable, some not, are all part of growing up as a runner. If you know a faithful runner who is injured, they could probably use a boost. Offer to go for a bike ride or coffee or lunch. There's really nothing worse than not being able to run if you are a runner. (See #20.)

6. Fuel your runs. Eat a healthy breakfast with some carbs and some protein. I've been running a few years, and I still sometimes slip out for a run without eating. I just forget to eat, and then at the last minute I'm almost out of time, and so I head out anyway. More often than not, I end up bonking and having a crappy run. Have something quick on hand, but a bagel with peanut butter, or instant oatmeal with some fruit are good, quick choices. If you're struggling with a few extra pounds, pick up Eat This and Not That for some simple swap outs to help you eat better on the run.

7. Read a good book about running. Find a highly motivating book about running. My all time favorite is Once A Runner by John L. Parker. If you've read it recently, give Bart Yasso's My Life On The Run, Christopher McDougall's Born to Run, or Dean Karnazes' 50/50: Secrets I learned Running 50 Marathons in 50 Days a try. Stimulating your mind about inspiring running stories can give you positive reflections while you run.

8. Race a new distance. My first "race" was a 5K, where I became absolutely hooked on running. But, to be fair, my first several 5Ks were taken in with the amazement I could actually run 3.1 miles without stopping and were all about completing the event and surviving the finish line--not dead last. Eventually, I worked my way up to the marathon, where I spend most of my training focus now. Last year, I took on the 5K with some aggressive (for me) goals to actually race this distance as hard as I could and train for it specifically. It broke up my training, made running fiercely interesting again (the training is so different) and ultimately made me a better marathoner.

9. Run at a different time. Always an early morning runner? Give a nice run at sunset a try. Watching the sun slip behind the trees and possibly even the moon rise and feel the heat of the day melt away can be a beautiful experience. Always running when you get home from work? Set out at dawn and watch the sun rise.

10. Skip the Garmin. As disciplined runners, we like to record and measure every step. How fast did I run that loop this time? But sometimes, it's better to just let go. The Garmin (or other training watch / footpod) can be a ruler with which you end up beating yourself. For your easy and recovery days, just go out there and run a familiar route and distance, but don't bring the Garmin. Don't even try to fool yourself that you'll only show elapsed distance, because later you will go and judge yourself on the pace. Remember what got you into running the first time. Enjoy the freedom a couple of times per week.

11. Lose the headphones. Amazing I'd come out with this one, as I am an avid iPod user for most of my training runs. I used to avoid races that didn't allow them. But now, you'd never catch me racing with an iPod, it disrupts my concentration and dilutes the racing and social experience. But every once in a while, go hit a trail in the early morning, or some other interesting route and just listen to the beauty of nature. Hear yourself breathe; your footfalls hit the ground; the birds singing; the breeze whispering. It can not only enrich your run, but enrich your life.

12. Striders. Not to be missed, striders are a great way to introduce some fast running into your training program. As noted in this article from Running Times, "By doing striders, you’ll tend to improve your running technique and posture at all speeds and may improve your running economy." Striders are 20 seconds or so of relaxed running at about 90% speed. Tack them onto the end of an easy run a couple of times per week.

13. Find a new trail. Trails abound in the U.S., and chances are, there's one within driving distance of you. During a recent visit to a Nature Conservatory near my home, I picked up a hiking trails book in the gift shop. I instantly discovered four brand new trails that I never knew existed within a 30 minute drive. I now frequent one of the loops. If you've already scouted out every trail nearby, expand your net. Put together a couple of your best running buds, and go for a longer drive some weekend or Holiday.

14. Run your easy days easy. This is a less obvious fact that I struggled with when I first became serious about running. This Running Tips site said it better than I could: "make your hard days as hard as possible and your easy days as easy as possible." The idea is that if your easy days are taking away from your hard days, you will merely run mediocre every day and not do the work necessary to become faster. It is the hard workouts that make you a faster runner, not the easy ones.

15. Sponsor a charity runner. Surely, one of your running buddies, co-workers, family members or friends will be running a race on behalf of a charity. This is a great opportunity to encourage another runner, and make you feel good about running in the process. Don't just write a check, be interactive. Ask about their training progress. Find out how they did when they finished. Share in their joy when you congratulate them for sticking to a goal, finishing it, and benefiting others in the process.

16. Run More. While this may not apply to everyone, if you are running more than forty percent of your weekly mileage in your long run, or if you are running less than forty miles per week, you could well benefit from running more miles. I am barraged on a daily basis with "run less, run faster" dogma, but as a general rule, if you want to be better at something, you do more of it (to a point of course). Running more miles can increase your fitness and efficiency and improve your form. Pete Pfitzinger covers this topic well, along with some tempered advice on how to safely increase your mileage. Greg McMillan writes about how increasing mileage strategically can help you by Fixing the [Late Marathon] Fade.

17. Volunteer at a local race. Face it--races wouldn't happen if it weren't for volunteers. What better way to stay motivated and get excited about running than handing water, sports drink, etc. out to hundreds if not thousands of runners in a local race? Fast or slow, it's inspiring to watch and help others. And bring your child with you--get them excited about running too.

18. Train Core. OK, I admit it. I'm a runner and I hate strength training. It's just a chore to me, and often find it hard to get motivated to do anything besides run. However, one area I never neglect is my core. I even have a secret sign [maybe some day I'll confess to what it says] printed above my ab bench to remind me how important core is. "The stronger your core, the more solid you are as you hit the ground," explains Jack Daniels, Ph.D., former exercise physiologist for the Nike Farm Team and now with Run SMART (where I train under Vince Sherry). "That reduces your need for unnecessary stabilization, and allows you to be a more economical runner." Check out the rest of this Runner's World article about core strengthening for runners.

19. Listen to your body. Last weekend, I had seven miles on my schedule but within two I found myself distracted, feeling lousy, stressed about finishing in time for my next appointment and generally having a really crappy run. I decided to end the run and go for seven the next day. I was rewarded the following day with one of the best runs I've had in a while--I felt great and celebrated the choice I'd made to listen. Know your body as a runner; trust it. Know the difference between when to push hard--and when to back off. Don't insist on finishing a terrible run just because you are a robot and it's on your schedule.

20. Give thanks that you can run. I saved this one for last because it's all too often we get so hung up on our goals, that we simply forget what a blessing it is to be able to get out there and run. Many of us run because we overcame something else. There's quite possibly a good reason you are a runner, because if you weren't, you'd be something else. Something less. For me, running gave me a new, healthy life I never expected. There was a time when I couldn't read a bed time story to my kids from a chair without being out of breath. And in the past twelve months, I qualified for and completed the Boston Marathon. So, if your running isn't perfect, and you feel like you are in a rut, wondering why you are doing this day after day--stop for a minute. Rejoice that you can run.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

114th Boston Marathon Race Report

When I crossed the finish line of my first marathon in March 2007, I began to dream of someday qualifying for Boston. Nearly three years and many obstacles later, I arrived in Boston as a qualified marathoner for the 114th running of the Boston Marathon.

I endured three days of miserable, dreary, windy, cold rain. I thought it would never end. My hotel room did not have a window, and the last sight I had the night before Marathon Monday was more rain. I couldn't imagine Boston had any other weather, and expected it to be gloomy and raining again in the morning.

But I woke exactly one minute before my alarm, arousing from a dream that I was looking at the downtown Boston skyline with the bluest of skies. I checked the weather online; my prescient dream had come true: it would be bright and sunny at the start. I slathered on sunscreen well before 6 AM. Odd that I have to be up so early for a 10:30 AM race start.

Packing a few snacks and hand warmers tucked in my gloves, I arrived in Boston Common, to begin the trek to the starting line. Conveniently, Patriots' Day is a school holiday in Boston, availing the B.A.A. the use of 500 school busses for this important shuttling of all of the athletes to the start in Hopkinton. Shortly after 6:30 AM, I'd boarded a bus and became part of a magnificent, slow caravan of buses filled with marathon stories of past and present. I looked down at cars, and they looked up at us. They knew why we were there. My anticipation began to build.

I stepped off the bus in Athletes Village at precisely 8:30 AM. I found my way to a large tent providing some cover from the bitter cold. It was evident this was a race favoring the wisdom of past Boston participants. The experienced (or at least well-advised) runners were sitting comfortably on plastic blankets, sleeping bags and blow up pool rafts. I huddled up on the cold wet ground, snacked on a bagel and chips and shivered bitterly.

It was announced there would be an F-15 flyover at 9:50 AM, 10 minutes before the Wave 1 start scheduled for 10 AM. I was in the second corral.. err.. I was supposed to be in the second corral for Wave 2 at 10:30, but we'll get to that in a minute :-). We heard them first, and sure enough, two F-15s zoomed over and it was worth bracing myself outside the tent for even more intense shivering for the few minutes to see them roar by. They crossed the finish line in Boston in four minutes.

I delayed my departure from Athletes Village as long as I thought practical, as I was miserably cold. I didn't want to stand unprotected in the starting corral. So, at 10:05 AM, with a 0.7 mile walk, I joined the traffic flow and headed for the starting line. I consumed my first vanilla Hammergel along the way. Although we were not moving quickly, at first I was not too concerned until I started hearing the countdown to the starting gun. The four last corrals were to the left and mine was to be the second from the front… many corrals down and to the right. Before I'd barely turned the corner I heard 30 seconds to go. I would never make it, I wasn't even close. I quickly darted into the corral on my immediate left, missing the corral seeding that I had earned. I'd had this pre-race nightmare before, my second actual dream to come true for the day. But as I'd rationalized in my dreams past, this was chip timing, so the worst that would happen is I'd have to work my way through the slower runners.

We had run for what seemed like awhile before we finally crossed the start line, and immediately I was struck by how warm it was and I was thirsty. I tossed my gloves and peeled off my arm-warmers. It was well-published that there would be water and Gatorade at every mile and at the finish. I was on the far left of the queue, having weaved through many, many slower runners and waited for the first mile mark, eager for a cool sip. I was simply parched. The first mile came and went, a steep downhill for most of it, and then our first hill. No water. The second mile came and went, again, no water. I began to panic. Then, at last up and beyond, there was water! But, of course, it was on the far right. I began to work my way over, but unlike Chicago where the tables went on forever, these tables were short and by the time I'd gotten to the right, I was past the water station. Uh-oh. I was really, really thirsty. I didn't know what to do, but I figured I was an expert on running dry, so I'd tough it out and hang in there for another two miles. Then, up ahead, there was another table. Oh, if only I'd known somehow it was going to be on both sides! I weaved to the left again, and this time got a huge cup of Gatorade.

I crossed the first 5K, and saw that my Garmin was already way ahead of the mile markers in elapsed distance. I was paying the price in distance for so much weaving. This was my own fault; for missing the start and not knowing in advance about the placement of the water stations. I'll know better next time.

The miles were clicking by easily, and I felt very good. I'd missed most of my splits, and still don't know what they were, but I'd seen a few around the low 8s, which seemed comfy and fine. Since I didn't have a pace band or any particular goal in mind (except, seemingly, break 4 hours and maybe break 3:58 if things went really, really well), I didn't really know what the elapsed time and the mile marks meant. So, I pressed on happily. I planned to do only one thing today: My Best. Whatever that was. I knew I'd "feel" what that was, even if i couldn't define it. I would carefully spend everything I had, and I wouldn't quit.

I took the second gel around the 10K mark in Framingham. That would be my last gel. (I carried three more with me, but they were never to be touched.) I was feeling fantastic. Really, ridiculously good. It was freeing to not worry about my pace and just run what felt right.

At mile 12, I could hear the beginning of the girls of Wellesley College. They delivered as promised! I kept to the left, but soaked in the energy. Majors in kissing were boasted, shrieks abounded in good fun. I saw no evidence of actual marathon-runner kissing, but this section indeed was a highlight of the course.

My half way point time was 1:48:15 I have been told, and I was still feeling really, really good--excited that the first half was behind me, and getting concerned, knowing that in a little over three miles, Newton waited.

Just before mile 15 I felt my stomach churn and cramp. The lower not-so-good kind. I looked urgently for porta-potty, saw two and took a detour. I stopped, but there were already a couple of people standing there and the toilets were occupied. Why, I do not know, but I turned back to running and hoped to find some other porta-potty. Which didn't turn up very quickly, much to my disappointment. This was going to have to be addressed. Soon.

We then began the steep descent into Newton Falls, and for the first time my quads started to hurt and really feel the downhill. As I reach the very bottom, there were four porta-potties to the left and I had no choice. I stopped. And waited. It wasn't too long, they were in a hurry to get back to running, but this whole thing definitely cost me at least two to three minutes.

The door slammed behind me and I took off running the first hill of Newton. Actual bathroom emergency or convenient excuse to rest before the Newton Hills, you decide ;-). The hill begins on a bridge, and it was here the wind really picked up. I could hear it whistling over the river and over the bridge. The gust was so strong, I felt buffeted by it, and even though I'd taken care of business, I was never quite right from here on. I was slightly nauseated, my stomach cramped off and on and I was feeling my quads. I was concerned that the wind would be with us for the rest of the race. More or less it was, but not as bad as it was on that bridge.

The next stretch was hard for me as I kept expecting to see the Fire Station and make the sharp right turn and start up the second hill. It was a longer stretch with a few teaser inclines and I was fooled more than once about the start of the second hill. As a result, with two more major hills to go, this hill was mentally the hardest for me. I took it lightly up the hill, maintaining my foot turnover, but keeping my stride light and easy. I reminded myself not to charge the hills. Many people were walking or going too slow. I passed and was passed on the hills, but my pace was steady and the effort as even as I could make it.

When I had eight miles to go I told myself I could briskly walk it in and make it to the finish in roughly two hours. This was a tempting prospect. I considered it here, and then again at four miles to go.

The third and penultimate hill in Newton was unremarkable. I was waiting for the crown jewel. I hoped my stomach wasn't going to blow. It seemed to be hanging on ok, not great. I saw a few runners off to the side throwing up or stretching out a cramp. I was happy not to be among them and hoped to keep it that way. A real case of "There but for the grace of God go I..."

Mile 20 was demoralizing. My watch read 20.3 at this point and I knew I still had 10K and Heartbreak Hill to go. I wanted to stop. Really. But I knew that wouldn't be "My Best."

And then, there it was. I crossed over Read Street and Heartbreak Hill was waiting for me. A female news reporter about a 100 yards up the hill made a move towards me with her microphone and expectantly asked, "How's it feeling out there today?" What could I say? I lied, feigning more energy than I had, flashed a smile, "It's Awesome!" What would you have said? Somehow, that actually gave me a bit of energy. It was what I needed.

There is only one way to climb Heartbreak Hill… one light running step at a time. I used a little assist from the arms. Altogether, it's really not that bad of a hill. Its location is what makes it unfortunate. I've run steeper hills. I've run longer hills. This hill is cruelly located, seemingly crafted to make it appear and feel three times its actual size. At last, this was behind me and I had not walked one step. The descent into Boston College began and I was overjoyed. I slipped in behind a male runner with a black T-Shirt declaring, "Life Is Simple." I thought, yes, at this moment, life has boiled down to its simplest. Keep going. Don't give up. Do. Your. Best.

By now, though, my quads were done. I never thought I'd actually say this… but I begged for mercy: no more downhills--I pleaded in earnest. Flat was most preferable but up actually hurt less than down at this point. Before the race was over, I'd be granted plenty of all three.

I waited and waited to see the Citgo sign. It had to be coming up soon. Every little rise and fall, I thought it would peek out somewhere. Eventually, it did and I knew it really wasn't that much farther to go.

Somewhere around this point I heard my name shouted, "Alex, Alex!" And I turned and looked. I thought, "Are they calling for me? Or some other Alex?" At last I recognized my co-worker from the Boston Office, Mike, his wife and possibly one other person. I was slightly delirious so forgive me if I don't the third person nailed! What a treat that was!

There is a little hill around the 25 mile point. I was pleased to have it behind me. From the "Mile to go" sign, I began counting backwards from 100 and was sure to spend every penny I had left in my body. I was surprised how much I really had and I poured it out. I looked down at my watch for the first time since the half way point, and it read 3:40. I was shocked. I seriously had no idea this was the kind of pace I was on. I had kissed any hope of a decent time away back in Newton Falls.

The final half mile of the marathon came after a right and left turn, and I could see the finish line and the bleachers up ahead. I remember this finishing charge more than any marathon (or race) I've ever done. My emotions overwhelmed me, as many years of cumulative training and many obstacles overcome came down to this one moment. "You've [expletive deleted] done it. You've earned it, and you've done it." I surged to the finish line, and crossed both mats before I stopped and punched my watch. My chest swelled and I fought back tears. I've heard my final official finishing time was 3:46:34. I haven't looked online yet, but I will soon! I will also post pictures as soon as they are available.

Thanks so much to everyone who has encouraged me through this journey. And if you are reading this, and thinking about trying to qualify for Boston and run it--let me tell you two things: 1) Do it. 2) It's worth it!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Final Thoughts Before Boston

At last, after the adventures of campylobacter, which kept me from peaking; my eight-year-old daughter needing emergency surgery this past weekend, which kept me from topping off my last few runs and required 40+ hours of no sleep and a few pots of coffee; my mind turns to actually preparing for my trip to Boston (rather than crisis management). I enjoyed a perfect racing season for Chicago 2009, but this time, it's been anything but. In fact, I've quipped, "Anything else goes wrong, I won't actually BE at the starting line," in all seriousness.

But that being said, I'm ready to worry about trivial things, like, how do I get to the bus station and what will the weather be? promises warmish sunshine, and promises strong winds throughout the race. I'm merely hoping they'll be out of the west!

The course makes me a bit nervous, with plenty of hills, up AND down:

Unlike other marathons, where I watched my mile splits on a Garmin like a hawk, this time around, I might not even wear it. With the hills and no idea what I'm capable of anymore, it will be impossible for me to do any meaningful pacing. Much like my training of the last month, I will simply run this race by feel. I was pretty sure I hit my marathon pace during my 10-miler yesterday. It felt good; steady; sure; right. I just have no idea what that pace was, but I remember how it felt and will seek it.

What does a Boston success look like for me? Well, surely a finisher's medal so that I can proudly wear (and earn) my Official 114th B.A.A. jacket.

The cut-off time is 4:45 PM. So, I have just a hair over six hours to complete the race. I'm in the second corral, wave 2 (starting at 10:30 AM), so a few minutes will pass before I cross over the starting line. If things are going reasonably well, I'd be very happy to break four hours. For reasons of my own, I'd really like to break 3:58, although based on the travails of the last month, that seems a bit stretchy. The stretchiest goal I could possibly imagine at this point is re-qualifying for Boston AT Boston, which requires for me a 3:50:59 (I ran a 3:38:22 in Chicago last year). Though, that seems unlikely.

Mostly, it's a reflection of what really matters. I've already qualified. This is about the ability to let go and enjoy. Although I am a highly driven and disciplined person; I cannot hold myself to a specific standard.

"Success is not measured by what you accomplish, but by the opposition you have encountered, and the courage with which you have maintained the struggle against overwhelming odds."
~Orison Swett Marden

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Call of Nature Wreaks Havoc on Boston Plans

Today, I'm going to tell you the story of what I've been doing on my unplanned running hiatus and what that's going to mean to me for Boston. May I suggest this entry is not for the feint of heart. If you are disturbed by bodily fluids or the description of them, you might want to go check out someone else's cool running blog, like my two new favorites runwestchester or Law of Inertia where your time will be better spent. Tune in next week when I plan to begin my crawl back to running.

Saturday, 7 AM, I noted some abdominal pain before my run. But, I didn't worry about it too much, and I cranked out my 14 mile workout anyway. I suffered through more pain than I'd like to admit for the last two miles, but it was tolerable in a way that I wasn't going to quit. When I finished I got caught in the cold rain (38F) and wind, became unusually chilled and started shivering. I had to rush my son to the dentist, so didn't get a chance to do anything other than throw on dry clothes for a couple of hours.

When I got home and showered, I began to feel achy; my skin hurt to touch, and my temperature rang in at 102F. I spent the next 30 hours shivering, practicing 10m sprints to the bathroom to sit or kneel, depending on the prioritized urgency, and back down to the floor by the fire (the bed was at a dizzying height). My abdomen wrung itself painfully, and I decided an alien had somehow burrowed inside. I considered naming it. I did not sleep.

By Sunday evening, I was unceremoniously expelled from the house and driven to the ER. Within five minutes, I was a great patient, having puked, given an impromptu stool sample, checked in with a 102 fever and already given up more traditional urine and blood samples. Before too long, they gave me something in the i.v. to sedate the alien living within me, and as if hit with a tranquilizer dart--he stopped writhing before the injection was even finished. He slept for the next eight hours. Eventually, I was told I had the stomach virus that was going around, go home, drink fluids, sign here____, here____ and here____; there's the door.

I didn't sleep much, and within a couple of hours Mr. Alien woke up. As did the fever and all of the other fun involuntary expulsions of fluid. All night long. It was just a virus. I would eventually stop this and get better. But the pain increased its tremor. At last, I did what any strong willed runner and Jack Bauer fan would do. I curled up into a fetal position and screamed in agony. For five hours. My kids came up and shut my door.

Five hours came and went; I ran to the bathroom no less than thirty times. So much for "you'll feel better soon." And then things were about to change dramatically. This time, I went, and eased myself up after emptying my bowels yet AGAIN, and the bowl was filled with blood. Finally! A symptom commensurate with my pain! Unfamiliar with such a shocking symptom (it definitely wasn't on the "get better soon" list), I thought I'm probably going to die.

I tried to call my doctor, but it was 11:45 AM. They were out to lunch and wouldn't return until 1 PM. I laid down and cried. Summoned by the alien daemon in my bowels, I got up again. And more blood. Finally got through to the doctor on call who suggested I either come in "maybe it's hemorrhoids from all that activity down there," or go to the ER again. I'm like, seriously!? Maybe he wasn't listening. This was nothing BUT blood. And a lot of it. I went to the ER.

Most of what happened next I really don't remember, but the next memory I do have is a 4th year medical student (whom I'd met), a doctor (whom I had not met), and two nurses came in. They all looked at me, "Well, the good news is, your results are in from the samples we took last night. You have campylobacter, and it's turned to dysentery." And then the ER doc listens carefully to my gut, chuckles and exclaims, "Wow, listen to those guys banging around in there." So, it wasn't an alien. It was alienS.

More IV drugs, some good ones this time.. and I faded in and out. Everyone left me alone with the lights out. Somehow they knew I wouldn't be needing company. My aliens were quieted. Angels fluttered, harps strummed. I was pain free for hours. Then, it was time to go home.

The good news was, I really wasn't in pain anymore (this was controlled by antispasmodic drugs). The bad news was, I was losing a lot of blood. I actually fell asleep for the longest period in this ordeal, about three hours, and woke up with the distinct sensation of feeling wet. I looked down. Oh, yeah, you betcha. I was soaked in blood. I had fallen asleep on my back, and it just dripped out for three hours. Nothing like a little internal bleeding to keep things interesting.

At that point, having already passed blood well over a dozen times (and who knows how many millions of aliens) in the previous six hours, I thought dying was a real possibility. I got up, put my sheets in the washer and began to tidy the bedroom. If i was going to die, my bedroom would not be embarrassingly messy. When you call 9-1-1 around here, the entire local city government comes by land and by boat and they all cram into your bedroom, no matter how tiny (yes, i know this from personal experience, though not for myself, fortunately).

I continued to "pass blood," which was my new pseudo medical term that had replaced "bowel movement" and "diarrhea." Nothing solid had made it past my stomach in four days. I was actually giving up hope. I didn't want to go back to the ER, I wanted to talk about blood and aliens in my belly and nothing else. I wanted someone tell me this was going to end. At 4 AM I talk to the Dr, and I am to get an early morning appointment (really? have you tried calling to get an appointment at 9 AM when the phones open?).

My doctor listens to the whole story. And proceeds to say, "Well, after some more blood work, we're going to give you a rectal to see if there's any blood in there." Ummmm WTH?! Are you KIDDING me? Did you just listen to ANYTHING I said? He got a fax of all my records from the hospital and proceeded to tell me everything I already knew and told him. Oh brother. Apparently you only needed to read and not listen to graduate from medical school where he went.

And then suddenly, twelve hours later, without warning… the bleeding stopped. I realized I was, in fact, going to live. The aliens had officially lost. And I began to think about what was next. That next is getting ready for Boston. Whatever that meant now.

Originally, I'd hoped that Boston would be a near PR race (after all, I was fitter than I was for Chicago, but of course, the hills make it much tougher). But now with only four weeks to go--and having missed a week already--I know that's no longer on the menu. I will not be capable of any even moderate workouts before the race.

It's one of the more intriguing things about the marathon. To do spectacularly well for yourself, everything must come together. The weather, the course, the travel, your health, your training, your job, your family. And all over time. It is an investment, as this was for me. I'd given up a lot to do my very best in Boston this year. And simply qualifying for Boston was two serious years in the making; more than that of dreaming.

But, while the high ace may have slipped from my hands, I still have other cards I can choose. One of them is to run Boston with significantly curtailed goals. I need to recover and be 100 percent healthy most importantly. But, I can still go out and cruise to a comfy four plus hours.. or whatever I am capable of doing that day. And it's not that I am not taking the marathon seriously. It will be simply the best I can do under the last minute circumstances I am given.

Boston is my celebration race. I will ensure I go and relish the moment for all its worth. I do deserve to be there; I will finish proudly. I qualified handily. I did put in my time for this race. But, as it happens, this year did not come together for me through no fault of my own. Winning does not happen in just one event, but it's in being a winner, and doing what a winner does even when thrown a curve ball. There's always next year, and there's also Chicago in the fall. Boston this year will simply be enjoyed. And I will feel good about it.