Sunday, January 31, 2010

2010 Groundhog 5K

A brisk walk as my whole family traipsed out... and we nearly got arrested for crossing the rail road tracks at the wrong spot. I wasn't sure if I should hold my knuckles out to get rapped with a ruler or go put my nose in the corner for ten minutes after that scolding. Arriving very early, we sat around for some time before I started my warm up.

Positioned close to the finish line, we could see our breath and it was quite chilly. I had a hard time warming up quickly enough to strip down to my racing outfit. Finally, during my warm-up I jogged by the countdown clock and it read 3:21 to go to race start. I thought, "Crap! Every nightmare I have of the race starting without me has just come true!" I picked up the pace to get into the sea of runners, and had to fight hard to carve a path past hundreds of runners to get up to where I wanted. I was sure the gun was going to go off any second.

And then we stood there... and stood there.. and stood there. And finally, they started talking. Eventually, the national anthem was played, and I actually sung along for the first time during a pre-race ceremony. No gun, just a, "3-2-1-Go!" and we're off.

It was a chaotic start. There were probably 150 runners in front of me at the start, and it was evident that many belonged up there.. but others did not. So, my initial hope of finding the "right" runners to run with for the first mile didn't really come to fruition. It was such a mix of faster and slower runners and then runners who had gone out too fast slowing at about 2-3 minutes into it I had a hard time finding the "right pace," something I desperately needed without a Garmin.

As I crossed the first mile in 6:56, I realized that one of two things had happened. Either the course was slightly altered, or the mile spot had been moved to a different spot. I've run this course four times now (really, six times, as the two 10Ks were the same course twice), and I'm familiar with the first mile mark, which has been consistent every year. So, I'm not sure if the course was a little different in the first mile, or the marker was moved a bit. But, I'm confident of one of the two.

Deep into mile 2 I was confident of my pace (whatever it was, I had no idea of course), and was just biding my time. Really, the course is pretty boring--but that's the beauty of it. Completely predictable. Warm, dark, flat and many, many turns. Both hairpin turns we were able to see the cyclists leading the winners, and that was very exciting to see. Several times I was able to gain on runners, slip by and hold it.

As we entered into the final mile and the final hairpin turn, I saw Melissa Todd, the female winner, and really I heard her first, grunting loudly. Such a dainty little thing, it was good to know that she was suffering up there in the lead. You go girl!

I was relieved as we crossed mile 3, but had somehow missed mile two, so I really didn't know how I was doing until that point. I realized that sub 22:00 was out of the question... but if I hung in there, I would only miss it by a little. My final time was 22:15, which was enough to win my age group (1 / 108, 40-44F). Not quite my time goal, but, really, not bad for where I am now. I didn't train exclusively for this race for an extended period of time and had plenty working against me. I am satisfied, it was a good run. Definitely, one of my favorite races.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Pre Race Jitters

Yep. It's the night before a race. I feel like I haven't raced in a very long time. Like I don't even know what I am doing.

I'm nervous... it didn't really hit me until I started trying to figure out what I was going to wear. My favorite singlet that looks great at 106# doesn't look so hot at 112#. Whoopsie. I'll keep that in mind for Boston. I have tried on at least twelve combinations in front of a mirror (mistake), settling on a simple Brooks composite that won't draw any attention.

I don't look fast. Not sure why, but I don't. Good that this thing is practically run in the dark. I don't even feel fast.

I need to close my eyes and remind myself I've been running very well. I don't have to look fast to be fast.

But, I am afraid I will be intimidated tomorrow anyway.


Mostly, no matter what happens, I'm planning on this being the kick start into intense training for Boston, to begin Monday. I look forward to that. I've been a slouch so far. The stress in my personal life is overwhelming, and I will seek the solace in the fitness I will be gaining in the next several weeks. I hope I don't make a fool of myself tomorrow. But, dressed all in black, I can safely slink out if my performance is something in the realm of embarrassing.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Banditing: Should You or Shouldn't You?

"Running bandits, or miscreants who enter races without paying, are the sweaty wedding crashers of the running world. They are also the scourge of race directors." --Banditing the Chicago Marathon, Chicago tribune, October 13, 2006

"As far as running as a bandit, I highly recommend it. I respect people that put in the dedicated training and qualify, but there are a lot of people out there who don't have the time. I wouldn't recommend doing one cold, but the level of training necessary isn't too arduous. If you think about it, the average fitness walking pace is about 15 minutes per mile. Translated that comes out to about 6.5 hours... I think most people would be able to cover 26.2 miles if they wanted to. Don't let the hype get to you." --Boston Marathon Report - A bandit's take

Well, should you? Or shouldn't you?

A few years ago, as I was coming into being a runner and hungrily dreaming of my first marathon, I heard that someone close to me "just missed running the Boston last year." All but "the last month of training" was completed, but something fell apart in the last minute travel plans. Duly impressed, of course, I thought that this person had qualified and was robbed of the opportunity. A fair assumption on my part anyway. Recently, I discovered the truth--this person's plan was just to bandit the race. Train, buy a plane ticket, get a hotel room, but not actually qualify (or get in with a charity or some other valid method) just to get in on the biggest and oldest marathon party in the U.S.

This isn't just about banditing for Boston, but Boston is sacred--it is the one race well known for its qualifying times. But also well known for its bandit tradition. Not everyone can line up at Hopkinton, and unlike other world major marathons like Chicago (first come, first serve) or New York (lottery or even more stringent guaranteed entry times than Boston), most people have to qualify to get there. So, if you couldn't make the cut, do you get the crash the party?

Some would argue that the bandits don't really take resources from other runners (carry their own stuff) or that the races plan for them anyway, so there is enough to go around.

I view it as at least pilfering. Not grand theft, surely, but yes, there are reasons race directors have a process for tracking runners. Let's say, the undertrained bandit has a catastrophic event. Without a bib, identification may be hampered should the runner become incapacitated.

Maybe some do carry their own gels and fluid, but I'm certain they all don't. Some take seats on race day provided transportation and create longer lines in porta-potties. And, frankly, much like the White House party crashers, they don't deserve to be there because they weren't invited or didn't follow the attendee process.

The point is, if you are thinking of banditing a race, you shouldn't. If you didn't qualify, don't run it. Instead, if you are trying to reach a minimum qualifying standard, work for it like most of us had to do. Enter other races. Work up to it. Besides, what would it mean to you some years later if you'd bandited your precious Boston, only to eventually qualify for it? It wouldn't be nearly as special to run it with a qualified bib.

If you couldn't get your entry process completed, petition race directors to offer bib transfer or waiting lists (Houston does this). So many of us purchase bibs to run races that many months later no longer make sense for whatever reason and would gladly offload the cost of the bib to another eager participant.

But if you're just too lazy to follow the process or need to get in a supported long run, figure out some other option. Don't crash the marathon if you don't hold a valid bib for it.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Winning Is Not To Those Who Run The Fastest

A response to Ms. Adrienne Wald in "Plodders Have a Place, but Is It in a Marathon?" featured in The New York Times by Juliet Macur on October 22, 2009.

I was relaxing in the tub with the latest issue (#373, January / Februrary 2010) of Running Times, when I read the following QUOTABLE section (page 9):

“It’s a joke to run a marathon by walking every other mile or by finishing in six, seven, eight hours,” said Adrienne Wald, 54, the women’s cross-country coach at the College of New Rochelle, who ran her first marathon in 1984. “It used to be that running a marathon was worth something—there used to be a pride saying that you ran a marathon, but not anymore. Now it’s, ‘How low is the bar?’ ”

Alerted by the quote, I wanted to find the context. Within a few clicks, I found the original article from The New York Times, cited above.

I am fuming and am so disappointed and disheartened with such an attitude, my thoughts catch fire. And I'm really not sure where I sit on Ms. Wald's hierarchy of "deserving" marathon runners. Perhaps I have ruined her running career also, stripped it of worth, depleting any value in her pride of running a marathon with my sluggish times ranging from 4:17 (my first) to 3:38 (my most recent). But regardless of however worthless a marathoner I am in her eyes, I will happily defend the rights of even slower marathoners across the world to toe the starting line--and experience the thrill of crossing it 26.2 miles later.

So, as controversial as this blog entry might be, I am going to vent through a few reasons why everyone should have the right to experience the dream of finishing a marathon: whether it is their first, their last, their only or their slowest.

1. Not all marathon runners are about the time. One of the people I work with on his marathoning explained it this way: "When I ran my first marathon, I was carrying ribbons for people with cancer. I would have crawled to get them across the finish. It was not about the time." As he raised thousands of dollars for cancer research in honor of loved ones, he further explained, "The world class God-gifted athlete is an inspiration--a thing of beauty. An average runner hitting a PR is a success. But, getting from start to finish is to some a life-giving effort."

Just to take the benefits of one well-known fund-raising society, In 2008, Team In Training has had more than 360,000 volunteer participants raise over $850 million to support blood cancer research and patient services for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. The Society uses at least 74 cents of every dollar raised for cancer programs, funding research to find cures to leukemia, Hodgkin's and non-Hodgkin's lymphomas, and myeloma--the blood cancers--as well as assistance with the often overwhelming burdens faced by patients and their families currently fighting blood cancers. Many of those runners are known for their slower times, but yet, perhaps their running and completing a marathon event benefits others more than Ms. Wald's running and completing a marathon.

2. The marathon is big enough for everyone. As long as everyone generally does a good job of estimating their pace, the fast runners, the middle-of-the-packers and the back-of-packers are all well separated from each other. Particularly with the larger races where there are starting corrals, mistakes of where to line-up largely cannot be made. Ms. Wald, the really fast guys (and gals), the top 100 won't even know the rest of us exist. We're frankly not running the "same" race, and no one would mistake us for competing with Deena Kastor, Kara Goucher or Ryan Hall.

3. Local Economy boost. When a city is holding a major marathon event of 10,000 runners or more, everybody wins. The local food, hospitality and retail industries all benefit. People often plan their vacation dollars around prime location events. Large marathons benefit the community economy as a whole.

4. Bigger marathons can give a richer experience. Bring in 10,000, 20,000 or even 40,000 people and you get world-class expos where runners can be exposed to a dream world of running gear, motivational speakers, health products, etc. And the power and the energy of running along with crowds in the hundreds of thousands is so exciting. The more runners you have, the more spectators you have.

5. Inspirational stories. Just because someone completes a slow marathon doesn't mean they will always be--or were--always slow. But, regardless, the stories that people have to tell of their experience in preparing for and overcoming obstacles--even for a slow finish--are positively inspiring. Here are a couple, one I don't know, and one that is very close to me.

Major Phil Packer, who lost the use of his legs in a rocket attack in Iraq last year, finally crossed the London Marathon finish line in thirteen days. He completed his Herculian task - covering the 52,400 steps of the 26.2-mile course at a rate of two miles a day, the maximum distance he was advised to attempt by doctors--to raise a million pounds for the charity Help for Heroes--which provides financial assistance for wounded British servicemen.

From one of the runners I've recently worked with (beginning in August, after he already had a stress fracture), here's a story that hasn't been told.

In his night before the marathon, he wrote to me:

"As a Greek I was raised
with stories of ancient Greece. When Spartan mothers would say their goodbyes to their sons before they went into battle they would give them their shields and say, H TAN H EPI TAS--"Come back with it or upon it." I go in that spirit tomorrow."

And after that race, as he shared his experience and race photo at the start:

"I was the absolute LAST person to cross the start line. I planned it that way so I could savor the moment since it was, in reality, a finish line, if you know what I mean. I was happy when I crossed the finish line, but I cried when I crossed the start line. I don't know if I told you that I am 55 and am a cancer
survivor--diagnosed with stage 4B Hodgkins Disease in 1983 and in remission since 1984. I could never have done this without you. You helped me to win twice today--by starting and finishing. I will always deem the medal to be half yours, if not all yours. I suffered the stress fracture in late June, missed all of July & August, and only had five weeks or so with short runs for the first few weeks and tapering at the end. Into this scenario came your words, 'You CAN finish.' "

I will tell you, I was more moved by his experience, and coming back WITH his shield, and not upon it, than the thing of beauty of an elite marathoner flying over the finish line. I cried
for him and with him at that victory.

And I would never presume to deny anyone the dream of finishing a marathon, whatever their motivation might be.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Dangers of Overdressing for a Cold Run

The forecast combined lows for the next seven days is 4F. And today is New Year's Day. Maybe I don't have any New Year's Resolutions, but that doesn't mean I am not quite determined. I just couldn't face the treadmill yet one more day. Not after yesterday's eleven miles on it.

My general rule is if it's below 28 F, I run indoors. But even though the temp was somewhere between 2 F and 11 F this morning (depending on the t.v. channel), I decided to give outdoors a spin. I am not an experienced cold-weather runner, and I don't like being cold. So, my theory was to just pile the layers on. I only had six miles, so this was something of an experiment. Maybe if I could be mostly comfortable for this run, I'd run more of what is appearing to be a long, cold winter--outdoors, and off the treadmill.

I pulled on two layers of socks, two layers on the bottom, four layers on the top and then a heavy fleece vest. I topped this off with a balaclava and two layers of gloves, one thin, one thick. I figured I should be pretty comfy. I stepped outside, trotted up a long flight of stairs and started out nice and slowly, to get a feel for what it was like to run in such cold.

Surprisingly, I felt comfortable. Warm, even. It seemed quite pleasant, and was surprised that by even a half mile I was not cold. For a moment at that point, I considered unzipping my vest... just to let a little cool in. But it was so cold intellectually, that I decided to wait, and that over-warm feeling never returned.

By the time I'd turned around, my entire back side from shoulders to mid-thigh was feeling quite chilled and my chest was also beginning to feel cold. And rather than feeling more energized, which I usually do once I turn around at that point, I was feeling sluggish, almost "out of it." I didn't immediately equate what was happening to me, but remember thinking that if I didn't perk up, the next three miles were going to be long ones. From here, I usually run a strong negative split. But, I definitely wasn't feeling it.

As I ran along, the cold became almost painful on my body, switching between stinging pain and aching pain. And I remember being surprised that I was getting colder and not warmer. I thought maybe it was because my granny pace was slowing and not getting faster. That must be why I was getting so cold. Oddly, my breathing was shallow and my vision becoming blurry. I wondered if there were smoke in the air. Then, even more oddly, I started to feel less cold as I got closer to home.

At last, I made it to my house, and gingerly made it down the stairs, feeling nauseated and confused--drunk almost. And no, I was sober and asleep by 10:30 PM last night. In the door, heading upstairs to the shower, ascending the stairs was akin to crawling in molasses. As if I were in a dream and my feet were sticking to each step. I unzipped my vest, and it was saturated. I held it puzzled, trying to recall if it snowed or rained on me while I ran. I could not for the life of me recall if it did or did not at the time, though I stood there and tried to think about it. I couldn't quite put my finger on why my fifth layer--a heavy fleece vest was so wet. Each subsequent layer was drenched, and it slowly dawned on me what had happened. It was sweat, yet I never once had the sensation of sweating. I expected all five layers to be bone dry.

I climbed into the shower... not feeling the hot water. Letting it all run out until it was cold again. And my mind was clearing. I thought I might take my temperature after the shower, and fumbled for the thermometer. Finding it, letting it register, it was 96.0F. I can only imagine what it was when I walked in the door, most likely below 95.0F.

The most important valuable lesson here is that I did not realize how cold I was. I never once realized I was sweating early on. Had this run been a few more miles, it would have been quite dangerous. So, while these temperatures can be run comfortably and safely, it is just as dangerous to overdress as it is to underdress.

I will now learn to appropriately dress for my cold runs and recognize the signs and symptoms of hypothermia.

A Reflection on The Girl of Years' Past

Odd that New Year's would come for me with no resolutions. It's not that I am without goals, but those goals aren't resolutions, per se. One of the most common resolutions, of course, is to "lose weight" or "get fit." That's not where my head is for 2010.

This week, I was combing through old photos on an SD card for my daughter and came across some P90X "before" pictures that were three years old. Months before my first marathon. I hardly recognized myself as I peered closely, some twenty pounds heavier than I am today. And the weight was everywhere, not just my belly--I was just... bigger. My arms, my shoulders, my hips, my legs--even my face.

Fast forward to two years later--a little less than a year ago, I remember peering at myself in the mirror where that three-year-old visual was my exact self image. Still. In my mind, I was OK in clothes maybe, but soft and slightly heavier than I should be--the girl from the "before" pictures. Certainly not fast, and I didn't look like a runner. I then truly looked at the girl in the mirror before me, lean, fierce, runner-like, and I wondered who she was. I didn't recognize her and wondered from where she came...

Now, I am on the other side mentally. I have become accustomed to the "runner" me, and I don't recognize the girl of three years ago.

I am all about goals, but no resolutions for me this year.