Posted by: Drew | July 1, 2010

Columbus 10k – Race Report

Has it really been over a year?  Maybe I should do this more often…

Well, how about a race report a bit after the fact?  I haven’t written one in quite some time, as I’ve not really felt like reliving a race for a while.  I crashed and burned at last year’s Monkey, walking in most of the last 5 miles with cramps and malaise.  A weak mind combined with a distinct lack of training is no way to achieve in the marathon.  I still PR’ed by 13 minutes, but not the way I’d have wanted to.

I trained with the local running club for the recent Cap City Half Marathon, and with a coach and a plan I ran the most structured and solid training program I’d ever managed.  I felt incredibly prepared for race day, only to ignore the advice I’d received from everyone and go out too fast.  Running the first two miles well under goal pace proved to be a failed strategy, and I suffered as a result.  I felt like I was in 1:40 shape, and jogged the last 6 miles in for a 1:46.  One of these days, I knew I’d get it right in a race.

On June 6, five weeks after the half marathon, I lined up for the Columbus 10k.  Perhaps this would be the day.  I’d never raced a 10k before, and didn’t really discuss strategy much beforehand.  I decided that I’d approach it in the manner I would a 5k (first third comfortably fast, second third pick it up, and last third hanging on by my fingernails) and hope for the best.  Worst case scenario, I crash and burn like each of my last two big races.  I was hopeful that in learning how to fail, I had also learned how to succeed.

We arrived at the start a bit early, and I actually ran a quarter-mile warm-up jog probably 20 minutes before the start.  I still haven’t quite figured out the best way to do those last-minute preparations, but I’m trying to learn.  I found Matt, a Cbus Pacer buddy from the Saturday morning group runs, and asked him what he was shooting for.  He hemmed and hawed to admit a 48-minute goal time.  I was shooting for sub-47 (7:34/mile pace) myself, and it looked like we silently agreed to run together.  The last few minutes before the gun slipped away, and with an air horn (I don’t really remember) we were off.

A soft, sweeping, curve to the right and an ever so slight downhill made up the first quarter mile.  Matt and I were side by side, and he glanced at his Garmin (I’d run the battery down on mine the night before, so was running kung fu with my Timex Ironman) to tell me we were at 6:30 pace.  A little quick for my goal, and I really didn’t want to do another crash and burn.  Partly for him, but mostly for me, I said, “I figured we’d be a little quick here, we’ll dial it back soon.”  I wanted to believe so bad.  I finally shifted to the appropriate gear just after the half-mile point, and settled into what I thought would be a manageable pace.  A quick check at the mile marker found me to be a little quick (7:25-ish), but not by too much.  Matt was still with me.

The humidity was not quite oppressive, but certainly evident.  And the temperatures were warm enough that the overall feeling was that of stickiness.  Weather more suitable for lounging in the pool or sitting inside in the air conditioning.  But on we ran.  We were methodically reeling in the folks ahead of us, keeping a relatively even pace, and came through mile 2 right around 15 minutes.  Since I had no Garmin with me and the course had been changed slightly only an hour before the start due to some flooding on the course, each mile time is an estimate and further muddled my perception of how things were going.  The mile markers were reported to be about 60 feet beyond the actual lines.  I tried to do math in my head, but calculations suffer when all my blood is in my legs.  Somewhere past the 2.5 mile point, if I remember correctly, Matt said he was going to drop back a bit.  I was still feeling pretty good, so I decided to hang on as long as I could.  Before he left me, he looked down at his watch and said, “just so you know, we’re running 7:20 pace right now,” and then he was gone.  Those were not the words my psyche needed at that point.  I was running a full 14 seconds faster than intended pace, and even though I felt okay, from that point on I kept waiting for the shoe to drop and the crash to come.  It had happened in the marathon at mile 20, it had happened in the half at mile 7.  Where would it come on this day?  In an instant, the race went from being a nice comfortably hard run to a mental exercise where my legs and stomach battled my brain every step to the end.

For me, when the going gets tough in a race, it’s usually quickly followed by some combination of a side-stitch, nausea, general I-want-to-quit-ness, and a little bit of fatigue. What would it be this time?  Matt had unintentionally planted a seed of doubt before he left me, but for the next bit I just plugged on.  It was getting hotter out, but I just kept my eyes focused on those ahead of me and pulling them in.  All pre-race strategy went out the window, and I only worried about hanging on to the pace I was running and passing as many people as possible.  When I reached the mile 3 (+60’) marker, I looked at my watch.  22:40. About a minute off my 5k PR.  This was going to end in a fiery crash, or much better than I’d anticipated.  Not knowing which at the time, my brain went into battle mode.  This is to say, for ten steps I’d be arguing to slow down followed by the next ten steps of telling myself to shut the hell up.  All while still trying to pass as many folks as I could see.

While my brain was occupied with itself, I kept going and kept passing people.  Ahead in the distance I saw a few folks from the Saturday morning crew, and decided I wanted them behind me.  Over the course of the next mile and a half, I made it happen.  There’s really not much else I remember about the middle section of the course but that.  With about two miles to go, we were on the bike trail along the river.  A few rolling hills, but away from the traffic.  I kept slipping past people, except for this one dude with a backwards hat on who was all arms.  I kept passing him on the uphills and he would take it right back on the downhills.  I didn’t like that I couldn’t shake this guy who could out-elbow Bill Laimbeer, but I was running at my limit.

My mental battle continued, and I’d added the beginning of a side-stitch.  At this point, I’m passing mile 5 at around 37-38 minutes.  I knew if I could hang on to the pace, I would obliterate my goal.  I put my legs on notice that they needed to continue doing what they were doing, it was almost over.  Elbows was still there, and I was running out of people to pass and room in which to pass them.

I could see the Broad Street bridge ahead, and knew it was less than a quarter mile to go. There were three guys about 10 yards in front of me, and I picked it up just a little before we started heading up the hill to go over Broad (which we’d cross and then head right back down the other side to the water and the finish line about 150 yards past Broad).  I caught them all and put them behind me with Elbows.  The increased effort heading up the hill had brought my favorite late race companion, sudden and intense nausea.  Forced to choose between holding pace and losing last night’s dinner or slowing just a hair, I opted for slowing. I’m still not comfortable with the idea of vomiting in public, especially with young kids lining the course.  So I pulled back just a little.  Elbows & Crew took back what I’d worked so hard to get with less than 80 yards to go.  I kicked with what I was able to give, gritted my teeth, and strode into the finishing chute.  My coach was the race announcer, so I got my name called as I crossed, but didn’t hear what he’d said for the time.  I was only worried about not letting loose.

Almost done

I crossed the finish line and slowed to the post-chute stagger of those who have raced hard, and slipped behind the running store’s box truck parked next to the river.  I doubled over at water’s edge, and waited for the inevitable.  Thankfully, it never came.  I looked down at my watch to realize I’d forgotten to stop the timer.  Oh, well.  Results would be up later.  I knew I’d raced hard and well.  I went up the amphitheatre steps to collapse next to my wife (all those steps were “fun”), and eventually recovered enough to grab some free pancakes, sausage, and a banana.  Later that afternoon, I discovered that I’d run a 45:37 10k (7:21/mile pace).  Matt finished in 48:53, right around his goal time.  My result was better than I’d expected, even in the heat and humidity.  I am pleased with the effort that went into this race, both the training and my ability to stick to a hard effort and finish strong (last 80 yards notwithstanding).  It felt good to race hard and not crash in a race.  Maybe I learned something, or maybe I got lucky the race wasn’t any longer.  In any event, I’m going to train even more for the next race and see how much further I can push.

Posted by: Drew | May 8, 2009

Capital City Half Marathon

I haven’t written here in a while, but I wanted to share this.

This past weekend, I participated in the Capital City Half Marathon in Columbus, OH. This was my first half marathon since October of 2007, and the first distance race where I felt even close to being adequately trained. That’s not to say that I’m as trained as I could be, but running at least five days a week for most of the last two months is more consistency than I’ve ever had in my running life.

I ran my first half marathon in 1:54:07, and since I hadn’t really raced anything over a 4-miler since then (newsflash: I didn’t race the Monkey) I had no idea how, or if, to set a goal time. I felt that I’d be okay shooting for a new PR, but I like having a more defined target. My first inclination was to try and go sub-1:50 and be happy with whatever happened. I thought it might be a little soft, but was hesitant to set a goal that I had a good chance of failing to achieve. As race day clicked ever closer, I decided that failure to meet a predetermined goal wasn’t the end of the world and that being a wimp in the goal setting process was unforgivable. I had seen too many people I respect set goals and fail to reach them (gloriously, no less) to think that I was above such a thing. I decided to go for broke and try to break 1:45. I thought I had an outside shot at doing so, but it was aggressive enough that I could easily bite the dust in pursuit.

Less than a week from unseasonably warm highs in the mid 80’s, race morning found me enjoying very nice 50 degree temps with a few clouds in the sky. This was good, because I didn’t want to have the built-in excuse of weather if things went badly. Jerry and I made it to the start line just as the national anthem was finishing up and we snuck into the crowd just behind the 2:00 projected finishing sign. The herd shuffled toward the start line, and as I crossed the mat I pressed the start button on my watch and headed out on the journey. Only 13.1 miles to go.

The first half mile was uphill, and this combined with the narrow streets (for the beginning of a 5,000 person run) made for much weaving around people as I tried to maintain a decent enough pace for the start. I figured the first mile or two might be a little slower than goal pace, so I wasn’t surprised when the first mile clicked off at 8:39. Once I got through this crowded section, I knew I could fall into a rhythm and get down to business. The next four miles went as follows: 8:25 / 8:09 / 8:02 / 7:53. Looking back on this five mile section, I can see that I had banked 68 seconds in the wrong direction. But in the heat of the moment (and running by feel, not projected pace/time) all I was thinking about was how I was feeling, and that was good.

Though I wasn’t really racing anyone other than myself, I was comfortable in using those around me to build a little bit of good-natured “race hate” to keep me going. I kept reeling in those in front of me, and feeling a little salty at those that blew by me. I counted at least three times in the first five miles where I would pass a few people running together, and they would state some variation on “that’s okay, we’ll pass most of these people later in the race. They’re going out too fast and they’ll fade, so if we stay consistent we’ll beat ‘em.” There was a small part of me that knew they might be right, but mostly I was thinking that they had no idea what I could do. Interestingly enough, neither did I.

Just after the start of mile 6, we made the right turn onto High Street and the next 2.75 miles were laid directly before me. The high rises of downtown loomed in the distance, and I knew I didn’t get another turn until then. I put my head down and soldiered on. I noticed at about this time that I hadn’t taken any water or Gatorade. I was feeling great, so I hadn’t stopped to this point. The weather was perfect, and I didn’t feel like I needed any replenishment. While I was still owed the time bank over a minute, I wasn’t doing the math correctly and figured I was good to go. But there was a part of me that was fearful of stopping to drink, get my Gu out of my pocket, or do anything but continue to run. I was afraid that if I slowed/stopped, my goal would be cooked. So as each aid station came into view, I slid over to the opposite side of the street to miss ‘Pit Row’ and kept on rolling. It was probably a very dumb thing to do, but I was feeling great and until my body said “no more” I was going to continue to push.

Mile 6 was 8:03 (bit of an uphill to start), then miles 7-9 were knocked off at 7:44 / 7:59 / 7:39 (downhill, good crowd, felt great!). Mile 10 was by far my least favorite on the course, and I ran it in 8:01. Boring scenery, no crowds, and things were pretty thin runner-wise at this point. So back to the math (in retrospect), I still have 33 seconds to shave off to make my 8:00 average. As I was five miles ago, though, my “in-the-moment” calculations had this one in the bag. I’m not sure if I had known the situation if I would have changed anything. I was running as hard as I thought I could get away with at each moment given the time I had left, and if you had told me I needed to make up 11 seconds per mile to hit my goal I probably would have been done right there. I guess I’m thankful that there was enough blood diverted from my brain that I was unable to do simple calculations.

I’d heard from so many that in a half marathon, the first five miles you find a nice pace to run, the next five you pick it up and push a bit, and the last 5k is where you really “race”. Well, here I was with 5k to go and I wasn’t sure what my body was going to allow me to do. Seven days before, I ran a PR 5k in 22:28. I know now that to meet my goal I wouldn’t be able to run too much slower than that and still see 1:44 on the clock when I hit the line. But as I completed mile 10, I just dug into whatever was left and started putting wood on the fire. I never quite got to the point of extreme discomfort, but I’m learning that maybe that’s not the goal of racing. Race to run fast, right?

Mile 11: 7:45 Nice.

Mile 12: 7:48, including a quarter mile of old uneven brick paving and a half mile of the biggest “hill” on the course. Not fun, but still feeling good.

Mile 13: Now I can see Nationwide Arena and know its only one turn to the finishing area. I start to crank it. Some jerk in a car tries to cross the course about 50 feet in front of me. The cop who was blowing a gasket in his general direction got me even more fired up, I keep pushing. We come around the bend and I can see the streets lined with people. It’s all downhill from here. All the guys who had passed me in the last half mile were in sight, and I used gravity and guts to put them behind me. Holy cow, I’ve got a little kick! I can see my wife off to the left right at the Mile 13 marker. 7:24 for the mile: wow!

As I navigate the cheering gauntlet of spectators, I’m locked into the last turn. I hear my wife scream “KICK IT, KICK IT!” My vision is so focused on finishing that Cheryl mentions later that she didn’t think I heard her. I’m not sure I have much left to give, but I slam the pedal to the metal and fly. I turn the last corner, and I can’t even feel the ground. The finish line is further than I feel my kick can carry me, but somehow I just keep floating. I pass under the arch, stop my watch, and look down to see what I earned. The last tenth was at 5:21pace. My fuzzy math was telling me 1:42 to 1:44, but I didn’t think it would be close. Staring up at me from my Garmin was 1:44:45 (later amended to the official time of 1:44:47). It was VERY close, but I did it!

I went back to find Cheryl and Misty, waited for Jerry to come in (he PR’ed by about 20 minutes at 2:02), and continued to cheer on more and more friends (congratulations to Sean, Dino, Bill, and Lisa!).

I set a goal that I felt was on the aggressive side of appropriate, raced like an idiot, and PR’ed by over nine minutes. Man, what a great day. What’s next?

Posted by: Drew | January 19, 2009

2009 goals

I’d put these up late last November as preliminary goals for 2009. I’d like to work through them and see if they still make sense, maybe flesh out some of those that are not as defined, or if I want to add any to the list. In no particular order, here they are (were?):

1. Consistency – become a true 25-30 mpw runner by the end of 1Q, and then go from there.
2. Race more in first half of 2009 at short distances, training appropriately.
3. Sub-22 5k
4. Sub-6 mile
5. Monkey IV
6. Perhaps another fall marathon (Columbus?)

Consistency

The thought process: In the 25-ish months of my semi-consistent running life, I’ve been and felt less than consistent in my training. Even in my periods of training for goal races, I’ve had trouble keeping myself on task. Some weeks, I follow my plans and will hit the 20-30 mpw I laid before me. But in the weeks surrounding the good training, I have too many 7-12 mile weeks. This is something I’d like to fix this year.

I’ve found it difficult to work running around the rest of my activities, especially during the spring and summer when softball games are ever present. I’ve come to realize that this is most likely because my priorities were not with running, but with softball/comfort/laziness/etc. This is all fine, but my priorities have changed. Now, I want to run and do well. So things have to change.

First I have to define the statement “I want to […] do well.” Do well at what? What is running to me? I’m a very competitive person, and I’ve being constantly reminded of this in recent days. My friends and family are repeatedly saying how I go all out for everything and can’t stand to lose. A more apt description from my point of view would be that I work hard enough to be good at something if I think I can be better than others around me. If I see that I cannot easily best my built-in competition (friends and family), I don’t try. That way, if I “lose” I have a handy excuse.

I’ve recently realized that at this point in my running life, running is very much about competition for me. So when I say I want to do well, it’s in the realm of competition, racing, and time trials. It’s not necessarily competing against other individuals, though it certainly can be in the right circumstances. More often than not, it’s competing against myself and striving to be the best I can be and working for personal bests.

I’m coming to realize that until I train properly, I will not improve properly. There is a lot of potential to be realized, and I’m making running a priority as far as activities go. Two to three months of consistent running with little emphasis on increasing volume or intensity should get me into a routine that will set me up for big gains in the future. I realize that I won’t set my world on fire by running 20, 25, or 30 miles per week. Delayed gratification is a very foreign concept to me. I want what I want, and I want it as soon as possible. But I’ve learned that running doesn’t work this way. I may make some gains by training inconsistently, but until I’m willing to put in regular work I won’t come close to being the runner I can be.

Decision: This is a good and necessary goal to have. I know I said that these were in no particular order, but I do feel that if the consistency issue doesn’t go away that the other goals will not be impossible but certainly more difficult to achieve. This one is staying.

Race more

I’m not sure what the magic number is, but seeing as how I’m driven in part by the competition aspect it kind of makes sense. In 2007, I ran in five races. Of those I ran four with the intent on doing as well as possible, one I was a pacer for a friend (and failed in my mission). Last year, I ran in four races. Of those I ran three with the intent on doing as well as possible, one I was a pacer again, and failed again.

This year, I’ve got five races (and one mega-stunt) tentatively planned and would like to consider adding two or three more. On the calendar so far this year:
• Couch Potato 5k – Bowling Green, OH – April 25 (goal: run hard)
• Cap City Half Marathon – Columbus, OH – May 2 (goal: new PR)
• Komen Race for the Cure – Columbus, OH – May 16 (goal: pacer, sub-30)
• Relay for Life – Hilliard, OH – May 30 (18-hour endurance stunt)
• Columbus Marathon – Columbus, OH – October 18 (goal: new PR)
• Harpeth Hills Flying Monkey Marathon – Nashville, TN (goal: new course PR)

I’d like to add a few more 5k’s to the mix and possibly a 10k as well. Perhaps integrated into the late summer / fall marathon training would be fun. In addition to “official” races, I will also schedule a few mile time trials throughout the year, along with some trials at other short distances as well.

It may seem like a lot of racing to some, but it’s what makes it fun for me. I don’t train to lose/maintain weight, for fitness, or for fun (though some training is fun). I train to race. So I’m going to race.

Sub-22 minute 5k

My current race PR is 23:20, and I’ve done 23 flat in a time trial. Both were done off of relatively light (and inconsistent) training. After three months of consistent 25-30 mpw, I’ll be jumping into a truncated 8-week HM training program. I’ll have one 5k race just before my goal HM, but will not likely be going full bore in that race, preferring to save myself for the next weekend. The month of May is full with all kinds of stuff, event-wise, but I’ll probably use this time to put together some sort of 5k training plan with the intent on going for broke some time in July and/or August. I have no idea what the 18-hour endurance event is going to do to me physically; I suppose it’s not impossible that I’ll be ready to go beforehand. But I’m not going to push it.

So why sub-22? I have no idea. It’s completely arbitrary, and it’s a full minute faster than my current personal best. It seems to be doable in that sense, but enough of a leap to make it difficult. I won’t be crushed if I don’t hit this, but I’ll be surprised if I don’t.

Sub-6 minute mile

My current PR is 6:28 set last spring in a time trial. I’m going to give this another go in early/mid April, and see where I have to go from there. If I don’t get it then, I’ll be making the next series of attempts in June-September.

Why sub-6? Again, a mostly arbitrary nice, round number. A 90-second quarter mile is a good hard effort for me at this point, and being able to push through at that pace for four laps and put up with the suffering would be awesome. I think a major key for me in both this goal and the previous is not being afraid to fail.

Fall marathons

As noted above, I’m planning on both the Columbus Marathon in October and the HHFMM in November. The goals for each will be vastly different, though. I’m going to gear my training for the Columbus race in terms of scheduling, with the intent on knocking out a huge PR in my hometown race. My current “PR” is from my first last fall, the HHFMM (4:45:29) and was set on a woeful base. I should be able to crush that time in Columbus. With the fitness base I’ll have coming out of Columbus, I’m hoping that recovering from the October race won’t have too much of a negative effect on the November race, but all I’ll be looking to do in Nashville is break my time from the previous year. If everything goes according to plan this year (HA!), that shouldn’t be a problem. At the very least, I’ll get another nice stroll through the park.

There may be more I’d like to add, but I can’t think of anything right now.

For whatever you might be planning for your 2009, I wish you the best of luck and fortitude to see it through.

See you out there.

-Drew

Posted by: Drew | November 25, 2008

Harpeth Hills Flying Monkey Marathon

So you have fair warning, I haven’t even begun this yet and I have a feeling it’s going to be quite long. So if long reports aren’t for you, here’s the precap: it was awesome.

For the rest of you, here we go:

Late last summer, partway through my training for my first (and only to date) half-marathon, I scheduled a trip to Nashville to run in Percy Warner Park with the race director for the Harpeth Hills Flying Monkey Marathon. As an aspiring runner, I felt it would be criminal to be on vacation two hours away and not run in the park that he won’t stop talking about. So I dragged my buddy Jerry to Nashville on a hot Saturday morning, and Trent took us around the park loop for a nice 11.8 mile jog. That having been the longest run of my life, and I’d never really run on hills (I live in central Ohio): I was physically destroyed after that run. I couldn’t eat for hours after the run due to a lingering feeling of nausea and my legs were sore for at least a few days. But something in my brain clicked after running that course. Trent will tell you it was the “Idiot Switch”, and while I can’t say for certain what it was, I knew I’d have to run that race. For a slowly developing (read: uhh… lazy) flatland runner, this was going to be interesting.

I read as much running material as I could get in my hands. I checked books out of the library, read running magazines of all types, and did my best to absorb the advice of the more accomplished and experienced runners I “knew” online at RunningAhead.com. I was going to be properly trained for this marathon, and make a nice debut. To make the rest of the training story short, I play a lot of softball and this (the excuse) along with a chronic case of laziness (the truth) kept me from training as I had intended. To what extent? I had planned on steadily increasing weekly mileage to a peak in the mid-30’s, getting my long run out to 20 miles at least once, and running regularly 4-5 times per week. This ended up being realized as two weeks in the mid-30’s, with surrounding weeks of less than 10 total miles. My longest two runs prior to the start line were 17.5 and 18 miles. And while some weeks I ran four or five days, other weeks it was two runs.

I was consistently inconsistent, to the point that I could sense the slight apprehension others who knew the situation had in asking me, “are you ready?” In fact, that exact question was thrown around in a little bit of jest by some of my fellow Monkey runners at the pre-race dinner. My answer: yes. My lone goal from the beginning had been to finish the race. To some with more talent or dedication to make their first marathon as competitive as possible, I’m sure this sort of statement is anathema to them. But to me, that’s what it was, and I knew it was attainable. There was something else lurking in regards to this race (no, not flying monkeys, Trent), but I wasn’t sure what it was or if I would figure it out.

Fast forward to race morning. First lesson learned: when looking at the temperature forecast for the day, remember that the high temperature won’t occur until mid-afternoon. At 7:15 AM when I stepped out of my truck, it was simply damn cold. I walked to the tent to pick up my packet containing my bib number and other goodies, and was freezing by the time I got back to my truck to affix my bib and decide how many layers I would leave on my body for the start.

Everyone had said how personalized this marathon was, and when I pulled out my packet, I knew this to be true. The front of my packet had my number and name on it, and on the back of the envelope was carefully scribed: Undertrained. LAME. Personalized, indeed. I suppose if it bothered me, I would have not made my log public. But I was fully exposed to ridicule, and have to admit I laughed a very chilly laugh when I saw those words.

Apparel choices made, I delivered my brownies to the baked goods table, and hid myself in the crowd to await the start. After getting a hug from my mom (special thanks go out to all those that made the trip to watch and support: Cheryl, Mom, Mike, Sandy, Jerry, and Misty. You were more than awesome) I found the crew I knew I would be running with at the start (Pam, Cheryl, and Mike from RunningAhead), and it seemed like in no time we were off (finally, after only about 800 words… sheesh).

Since I knew I was undertrained, and wanted to finish, I figured I’d start slow and go from there. An uphill first mile of 10:05 (I think without any walk breaks) was a little faster than it felt, but not uncomfortable at all. It was quickly tempered by a 12:12 mile two. This felt a little slow, but Mike and I fell into a pretty good rhythm towards the end of this mile and miles three and four averaged just over 11:00 per.

Towards the end of mile four, we embarked on what felt like the first nasty climb. I don’t remember exactly what happened, but the next thing I knew Mike wasn’t beside or behind me any more. I couldn’t see him. We hadn’t signed a pact to stick together or anything, but I felt a little bad about it, especially when Pam jokingly chided me for leaving a man behind when I told her a few minutes later that I’d “lost” Mike. Nonetheless, I had decided late the night before that I was in this for me. I was sure Mike would understand. I had to find out what that lurking question and answer was.

I caught up with Cheryl and Pam in the downhill mile seven. My crew was waiting near the water station just after mile seven, and even though I was still feeling fine it was nice to see familiar faces. I hope I smiled and said the appropriate thanks, but I was just trying to not look too pained each time they saw me. We all grabbed something at the aid station, and I resumed my trek up the hill and back into the heart of the park. Cheryl and Pam took a walk break, and I turned around to yell at them, “I’ll see you when you catch up.” I heard Cheryl say to Pam, “he’s looking good, I don’t think we’re going to catch him.” My spirits boosted by those words, I hoofed it up the hill and ran most of the next ten miles on my own.

As I was going through miles seven through ten, I was trying to remember what was coming up next from my prior experience in the park. I forgot how brutal “Three Mile Hill” is. But I made it up, and as I was scaling the rise (mile 10 or so) the leaders were coming down the hill already finishing their 14th mile. The perfect antidote to having the life sucked out of you on that hill was having three of the guys who were booking down say, “Drew, you’re looking good. Keep working hard.” I hope they know how awesome that can make someone feel, and as a first timer at this distance it was a much needed lift. Thanks, Jeff, Mikey, and Andrew. Around mile 11 I saw the crew again, and ditched my gloves and hat as I was getting a bit warm. Jerry ran the next quarter mile or so with me, and I was on my way. I don’t remember much of the next three miles, but I know saw everyone again just past mile 14 as I rejoined the main drive. I “found” Mike at this intersection, he was with everyone else, taking pictures and wishing good luck. With a few words of encouragement, I was back off again.

Miles 14-18 are mostly a blur to me. I know that sometime in this stretch, I started to feel a slight bit of soreness in my hips and could tell that my hamstrings were not as loose as they were at the start. But no major problems, and I kept on trucking. Up and down the rolling hills I went. The funny thing about every mile (except for the first two or three) to this point was that I was recording the splits on my watch as I always do, but wasn’t even looking down to see what they were. I was impressed with myself that I could eliminate the need to be tied to that data. I’m glad I didn’t in this race, or I might have talked myself into doing something stupid (okay… stupider), like going faster.

At mile 17, I spied Michelle and Eric in my sights. Finally, some folks I knew! Over the course of this mile, I slowly began to reel them in. Step by step, breath by breath, they drew closer. Nearing the end of mile 17, Jerry was awaiting to run down to the stone gates with me. I told him I was a little cold and my fingers felt fat and stiff. He told me, “maybe it’s time for you to HTFU.” Slightly taken aback by his lack of empathy, I glanced down to my right wrist, where my black wristband told me the same thing. Stupid wristband. I sucked it up and kept going. As we neared the bottom of the hill, Michelle caught up with us but Eric was still behind, working out some issues in his quads. The crew was there to cheer me on, and they again provided a much needed lift. I took some peanut butter crackers and turned back to the trees to what I knew was ahead.

Michelle and I talked for a minute or so while we walked, and discussed how things were going to this point. Mile 18 was uphill, turn, uphill, turn, uphill, turn, rinse and repeat. That hill would not die. I finally achieved the sensation of an elephant sitting on my chest somewhere during this climb. And here I was thinking it would never hit me. We finally hit the top, circled Luke Lea (awesome view!), and continued the march. I was now past the point of the longest run of my life. And I knew I was hydrating and pacing well, because I didn’t feel any worse than I had at home after a flat 18 miler.

Michelle and I both seemed to be fighting the same internal battles. Somewhere in that 19-23 stretch, she said to me, “if I’m holding you back, please go ahead.” I told her I was about to tell her the same thing. The walk breaks were becoming slightly more frequent (now up to a minute or so every five or six minutes of running). Slowing to a walk was painful. Starting to run again was painful. The best part of these miles to me, and I swear I’m not making this up, was the running. When we were moving along at that steady pace, I felt very little pain. I just felt the finish line growing ever closer, and I knew I wanted to be there. We crossed mile 20 somewhere around 3:30, and I did happen to glance at my watch then. I knew that unless something crazy happened, I would be finishing this marathon in less than five hours. Despite my best efforts to keep time out of the running equation, I now had something else to keep me moving towards both the finish line and the answers I hoped I’d find there.

The clouds thickened a bit in the sky, the sun kiss was gone, and I was cold. I remember someone saying that they find it tough to determine what to wear in this race because they always get cold in the last six miles, and I was finding this to be true. There were occasional gusts of wind that would bite through the layers and run a chill through me. By this time, all sense of decency had gone out the door, and I was using my shirt to wipe my nose (c’mon, I’m running a marathon, cut me some slack). Every step forward I’m imagining me crossing the finish line. It’s a dream that is so close, but not close enough.

We passed the steeplechase, and I knew the golf course was next. As we rounded a corner, we saw it. The golf course hill. Trent, you are a bastard, just sayin’. And I’m an idiot. I looked at Michelle, she looked at me, we looked back at the wall of asphalt that seemed to go straight up in front of us, and I said, “we’re walking this hill.” We slowed painfully, and started to walk up the hill when I heard screaming and yelling coming from the top. I recognized the silhouette of my crew, and looked bashfully over to Michelle and told her who it was. She calmly stated, “we’re running this hill, aren’t we?” We agreed on running part of the hill, and started dragging our dead legs towards the summit. Two thirds of the way up, we gave in to gravity and temporary exhaustion, and finished the hill with a walk. A few words of encouragement and we were back running again, my family and friends left behind. We would see them next at the finish.

The last three miles I don’t remember a lot about. Three things stick out. The first was a volunteer at a fork in the road. To the right was a nasty uphill climb, to the left was a downhill jaunt. I was so afraid she was going to direct us to the right, that I nearly kissed her when she told us we were going downhill. But that would have wasted energy, and I had little to spare. The next thing I remember was my crew showing up again between mile 25 and 26. They gave one last cheer of encouragement, and those wonderful words of “less than a mile to go, you can do it.” Michelle and I agreed on one more walk break so we could finish strong for the crowd. We took a few seconds to gather up the remaining bits of energy and strength, and headed off to the final destination. As we left the main drive, the final volunteer was sitting bundled up with a dog in her lap, pointing to our left towards the finish field. I asked her if the dog was helping to keep her warm. When she said yes, I asked if I could borrow her dog for the last 0.2 miles. I didn’t stick around long enough for an answer because I’d figured out in my head what the question and answer was that I’d felt was lurking somewhere in this race.

Michelle and I squeezed through the path between the trees, and made it out onto the grass. Boy did that feel good on my feet. I could see the finish line. I could HEAR the finish line. I could hear my wife screaming from almost a quarter mile away. And I’d figured out the question. “Do you want to be a runner?” My pace quickened, from the 10:00-11:00 we’d been running, I was now running hard. I felt Michelle slowly slip behind me, but I knew the answer and had to grab it. I made the final turn at the big pine tree, and broke into whatever sprint was left in my body after 26.1 miles. I hurtled my body towards the finish line. I glanced at the official clock and saw I was going to finish in a time I wouldn’t have believed if you’d told me at 7 AM that morning.

I couldn’t believe how good it felt to run hard and fast. It was amazing. I crossed the finish line at 4:45:29, and I had my answer. Yes, I want to be a runner. (Please note, these characterizations only apply to me and my self-perception. I am not intending to denigrate the efforts of anyone else out there. This day, and this report, was about me and nothing else.) I stumbled over to my waiting family and friends, and took a deep breath to fight back the tears that were bubbling just beneath the surface. Hugs were issued, hands were shook, Trent came over and said something about me being an “undertrained fast idiot”, and I was done.

I am a marathoner.

I changed clothes, got a quick post-race rubdown from the onsite massage therapists (thanks!), got a little to eat, chatted with some of the wonderful people I’d met in the last 24 hours, and in short order started the trek back to our cabin in the middle of nowhere.

I learned a lot from this experience. Among other things, I learned that it can be a lot of fun to put your body into a torture chamber like Percy Warner Park. I learned that mental toughness is easily as necessary as physical toughness. I learned that it was a lot of fun to run with someone like me (Michelle also seems rather quiet and shy, yet tough). I learned that people who are personality opposites of me are also fun to run with, and I learned that the folks who are affiliated with this marathon (from the race director and volunteers to the participants and spectators) are great people who love running.

And most importantly for me: I learned that I am a marathoner, I want to be a better runner, and I can’t wait to do this again.

Posted by: Drew | October 23, 2008

Inconsistency

Cross-posted on my Living Testimonial at Equivita.com.

As the witching hour draws near, I’m determined not to start droning a “woe is me” song like a Gregorian monk on barbiturates. Instead, I’ll complain about my lack of consistency in the hopes that I will shame myself into doing better.

In the last few weeks, I’ve had some good high points (most miles run at one time: 17.5; most miles run in one week: 34), and some maddening low points (nine runs in the now 22 complete days of October, only one of which was more than six miles). I’ve been sick, I’ve been healthy, I’ve been injured. Damn it, I’ve been everything but consistent. The pattern is incredibly frustrating, all the more so in that I realize what I’m doing and still do nothing to fix my situation.

After bouts of pitiful time off, I’ll smartly set out for a four to six mile run, not overextending things. My legs will feel tight, I’ll get pissy, and by the time I’m home I’m swearing at every rock on the sidewalk with complete lack of sanity. The next day, I wake up intent on repeating the process, knowing full well that this run will be better than the preceding. But I cannot get the stiffness and frustration out of my mind, and I tell myself I’ll run every other day. The next day, I intend to go out and run eight easy, but because I haven’t gotten into any pattern of regular pavement pounding, it starts to feel “bad” too soon, and I cut things short. Four again. If it weren’t for the mind numbing number of three mile runs I did all spring and summer, I’d hate the number four more than anything right now.

And then out of nowhere comes that wonderful week I had starting October 6. 6 miles / Softball / 6 miles / Rest x 2 / 4 miles / 17.5 miles. Finally forcing myself out of bed early that Sunday morning, I was out enjoying the cooler weather for over three hours.

Running isn’t always fun. There are some days, be they three mile or fifteen mile runs, that are very enjoyable. And there are some days where every step is a chore. I let the ugly steps cloud my judgement too much. I know that every minute spent running is helping me in some way, I really do. But lately it seems like the knowing isn’t enough.

I think I made an unwise (for me) choice when I set my gold medal goal for this race as finishing. I’m not afraid of the hurt I’m going to endure during and after the race, but the inconsistency of my training because I know finishing is not enough of a challenge for my body has been troubling me more than anything. In my mind I see myself running consistently 5-6 days per week, 30-40 miles per week. And in reality I run 2-4 days per week, 10-30 miles per week. The variability, with little regard for the fair plan I’d established, is shameful to me.

So it is in conclusion, that I submit the following plan for myself for the next four days, including today. 4 miles today, 7 miles Friday, 4 miles Saturday, and 17+ on Sunday. That would be the best four day stretch in my young running career, and I feel it’s still well within the bounds of safety.

The last time I ran four days consecutively? June 18-21.

I’d say wish me luck, but that sounds too much like I’m leaving room for failure. So more appropriately, stop back in a few days and see how much I rocked it.

**Update**

  • Day 1 – 4.3 miles in 42:39
  • Day 2 – 7.45 miles in 1:11:08 in a downpour
  • Day 3 – 4 miles in 37:08
  • Day 4 – 18 miles in 3:12:32
  • Day 5(!) – 4 miles in 39:16
  • Day 6(!!) – 7.2 miles in 1:16:10
  • Day 7(!!!) – 4 miles in 41:56

7 days in a row, a new personal record.  I took off yesterday (the 30th), but I’ll be back out there in a few hours for some more fun.

Posted by: Drew | October 1, 2008

So long, see you just past St. Louis

In an occassionally revived visual representation of how far I’ve run in 2008, here is a map showing my progress:


 

So I’ve made it all the way through Indiana, and now Illinois, and have just now escaped St. Louis to find myself in the small town of Foristell, MO.  This town of 331 acquired it’s very own police force in 1997.

Posted by: Drew | September 10, 2008

Living and mostly well

Cross posted from my living testimonial over at Equivita’s website.

Life has been busy lately, all around.

Work = busy

Running = busy

Other activities = busy

With everything going on, I’ve not made enough time to update my corners of the online world. I last wrote on August 13th about the completion of Phase 1 of my training and some of the highs and lows I’d gone through. In keeping with that theme, here is a rundown of the last three or four weeks.

The Good

There are so many little good things, that I’m feeling very positive. I’m not receiving any negative feedback from my body with the slight increase in mileage, which is a major plus. My last two long runs have been done using a run/walk strategy, which has been interesting. Simply put, I walk the first 90 seconds of each mile, then resume running at a normal pace (whatever feels “easy”) for the remainder of the mile. What I’m finding is that not only are my miles ticking off at a remarkably similar pace to what I was doing before, I’m also not wearing myself down quite as much and I have more energy left at the end of a run. After completing the longest run of my life on Sunday, 14 miles, I had some aches but was not physically spent. I’m thinking that it’s more and more likely that I’ll use some form of this in the marathon.

The “Bad”

A point I made after Phase 1 was that I had not missed or shortened any runs. Sadly, I cannot say the same at this time. Between excessive amounts of softball (some day I’ll learn to say “no”), non-running related injuries, and some neat circumstances (seeing an old teacher of mine out on the trails and stopping to talk for 20 minutes), I’ve missed a few runs or cut some a few miles short. I’m not proud of it, but I’ve been very careful not to let these things take root and last more than one day, and I also don’t let myself get down about the situation. Life happens, and you have to move on. I could easily sulk about a missed run or two, and let it drag me down for a few weeks. But the smarter thing to do is to pick up and get back on track.

Somebody I know stated that if every run you do is training for a certain event, you can get down too easily and it quickly becomes boring and feels like a job. But if you think of each run as a very small part of your entire running life, you don’t feel the pressure and are more free to enjoy yourself. Some days, this line of thinking is very helpful.

The Ugly

When I play softball, I only know one speed. Full. Sometimes, this gets me into situations that a 145 lb man doesn’t need to be in. One of these situations, hypothetically of course, would be trying to tag out a guy running at me full speed. Did I mention that this guy outweighs my by 30+ lbs? Well, I lost that trainwreck and messed up my left arm for a good week. Thankfully, I happened to find myself on an Equivita training table within 48 hours of the collision. The friendly staff (Do you notice how it’s always “friendly” and “helpful” long after the fact, but when you’re laying on that table, those aren’t the first words that come to mind? Interesting…) listened my description of the pain, did some tactile assessment of the situation, and gave me my “prescription” for the next few days. I followed the directions, and within 4-5 days I was feeling back to normal again. I’m thankful that I wasn’t hurt worse than I was, but I’m very glad that I have folks available to me who take a few minutes to help. Some people would go straight to the doctor for an MRI. And while in some cases that’s certainly warranted, this wasn’t one for me. I just hope I don’t get a $1,700 bill from the friendly, helpful staff for their work.

Phase 2 of marathon training is done, and I’m right in the middle of Phase 3. My long run two days ago of 14 miles is the longest distance I’ve ever done. That record will last until this Sunday, when I go for 15. It’s a little over 10 weeks until I sign my life over to the monkeys.

Game on.

Posted by: Drew | July 11, 2008

CAHS 5k – a race report

I’ve done plenty of hard/medium/easy training 5k’s in under 30 minutes, but the only races I’ve done at that distance are the huge Komen races where I run with my buddy.  So while my unofficial 5k PR is 23:00, I know that 30:08 is where it stands officially, and that’s what I wanted to change in this race.

I pulled into the parking lot at the park, and there were dogs everywhere.  It was a run to benefit the local humane society, and leashed dogs could run the course with their owners.  This should be fun.

As I’m walking over to the registration tent, my body reminds me (through sweating) that it’s hot outside.  Hopefully this woudn’t affect my performance.  I had a long weekend out in the sun last week, and I was still recovering from the wicked sunburn.  The course was an out-and-back setup, going around the park, down the Rails to Trails path, and back.  To put it bluntly: no shade.

I got my race number (good ole 61), and waited for the start.  With about ten minutes to go, I took a jog of about a quarter mile to begin the warmup process.  As I was strolling down the path, I noticed that while it wasn’t listed as being humid according to relative humidity (45-ish percent), the air was a bit thick and made deep breathing a chore.  This was not encouraging to me, but I quickly put it out of my head.

The start was imminent, but nobody wanted to toe the starting line.  The MC stated, “we’re starting the race whether you guys are ready or not, about one minute.”  With that, a few of us reluctantly went up to the line.  I’ve never been this close to the start line before, usually I’m a good football field away, or more.  Last night… one foot.  It was slightly intimidating, but nobody else wanted to do it so I thought, “…what the hell?”

The horn went off, and we shot out of the gate.  That first 25 yards was too fast for my blood, so I settled into what felt like a sub-8:00 pace.  Surprisingly, not too many folks passed me.  I was expecting to get trampled by the shy-elites, but only 10 or so people went by in the first half mile, including two women who were running with their dogs.  I wasn’t too excited about this (the dogs beating me), but knew that this was not the point in the race to “win”.  As we exited the park and headed out on the Rails to Trails, I was pleased to see that while the dog ladies had passed me, they were not extending the gap.  They stayed about 20 yards in front of me.  I decided that I would hang tough.

I also noticed that right around these dogs were some guys who looked to be about my age.  I would keep them in my sights as well, and hopefully have the gas to pick off as many competitors as I could.  After what seemed like a lifetime, we passed the one mile marker.  I did not hit my watch, I didn’t want to know.  I was running kung fu.  The heat and sun were taking their toll and making me warm, but I was not breathing hard.  Usually, when the going gets tough, I start breathing in rhythm.  This had not happened yet.  I decided that if I still felt okay, I’d pick up the pace a bit at the turn-around.

As we approached the cones signalling the mid-point, I had begun to close the gap on one of the dog ladies and two of the four guys I was chasing.  I threw a little burst in right before the hairpin and passed one guy, then went by the other guy and one of the dogs just past the turn.  I kept the effort constant, and slowly reeled in the other dog lady (running with two cute pups).  At about 1.75 miles, a younger girl (from the sound of her voice) and I both passed the dogs, her on the left and me through the grass.  The girl (turns out she was 27 with a very young voice) and I were shoulder to shoulder for about a minute, but I dropped her, too.  The other two guys around my age were about 40-50 yards in front of me, with about 1.25 miles to go.  Too much distance for me to worry about just yet.  Keep the effort constant and continue the push.  If they were there for the taking later on, I would do it.

Two miles came, and I hit the watch lap timer this time (I’m weak, I know).  I looked down to see something like 15:39.  I was okay with this, but could pretty much tell that going sub-23 was out.  But I figured I could walk it in and break 30, so I smiled and kept the pressure on.  We left the rail/trail and went back into the park, which meant about 0.5-0.6 miles to go.  To my surprise, I’d significantly closed the gap on the two gents in front of me.  One, Mr. Green Basketball Shorts, struggled up the tiny 8 foot hill on the path, and I used the small downhill to blow by him.  One more guy to go.

This whole time, I’m listening to jangling dog tags in my ears coming from behind me.  The lady with the two pups was close by, and I didn’t want to be beaten by them.  As the heat was sapping my energy, the dogs changed in my mind from cute little puppies to mangy dogs who must be beaten.  I was NOT going to be out-kicked by these mutts if it took everything I had.  With about a quarter-mile to go, I hear their owner tell them they just have a little bit to go, and, “c’mon, lets finish guys!”  I expected them to blow by on my left, but it didn’t happen.  All the while, the last person I can catch is about 10 yards in front of me and is maintaining his distance.

We passed a gazebo which I knew was about 0.15 miles from the finish, and I decided that whatever kick I possessed was going to get used now.  I was breathing heavily now, the effort was catching up to me, and I know that guy had to hear me coming.  I figured he’d fight for his spot, but I rocketed by him easily and sprinted to the finish.  I breasted the imaginary tape at 23:49(!!!!) and staggered to a walk.  Sweat pouring down my face, nausea very present, I walked to the table where they had a few medals left.  The guy at the table asked how old I was, and when I said “30,” he told me I “missed it by one year.”  They only gave awards to the top finisher in each age group.  Oh well, I had my PR and a strong finish.  I was pleased.

I figured that I was somewhere in the top 30-40 overall.  When I looked at the official results this morning, I found that I was 3rd in my age group, finishing 17th overall.  I know not a lot of people showed up (none of the local elites), but wow was I surprised!  Top 10% overall, 16% gender.  No complaints at all, a very fun night.

My official marathon training begins on the 21st.  If you care to view the plan, click here.

Thanks for reading.  See you out there.

(This entry is cross-posted over at my Monkey Training blog – aka the Living Testimonial)

Posted by: Drew | July 7, 2008

Running down I-70

Through 188 days of 2008, I’ve now run 262 miles.  Here is the updated picture of the route:

Since the last update, I’ve made it through Indiana and entered Illinois.  Most recently, I’ve passed through Marshall, IL.

Today’s fun fact: Marshall, a city of 3,771 as of the 2000 census, is the site of the oldest continually operating hotel in Illinois, the Archer House.

Posted by: Drew | July 7, 2008

When will I learn?

Cross posted over at my Equivita / Five Keys Fitness blog.  I’ll have my running mileage path updated later.

 

Some web browsers are set up with Auto-Complete functionality enabled, where if you begin typing something in a particular field (address, phone number, title, etc.) that you’ve typed before, it presents you with the ability to complete the entry with a single click to save you some typing. I find this to be a useful tool when completing entry forms for online purchases, etc. And I’ve recently found it to be an enlightening tool when it comes to my writings.

Last week, I started a private entry in my running log titled “I need a running buddy”. Turns out, I’d made an entry with the exact same wording almost a year, to the day, prior. How odd.

Today, I’m typing the title of this post, “When will I learn?”, and it prepopulated for me. I’m tempted to believe that I’m repeating myself. I’m also tempted to believe that I’m having difficulty learning from life as it passes me by. Both may be true.

What I’m most inclined to take away from the crappy schedule I’ve kept over the past two weeks is that I need a plan and said plan needs to be posted on my refridgerator. Otherwise, I make it too easy for “life” to get in the way and distract me from progressing.

I’m a runner, but I’m also many other things. Balance is not something that I’m noted for acheiving. My typical path in a hobby (aka, things I like) is this:

  1. Introduction by chance
  2. Casual interest blooms into obsession
  3. Obsession manifests itself physically and mentally, and like a flame it’s insatiable consumption eventually marks it’s demise.

I like running, and I don’t want to quit. But I’m deathly afraid that if I let my emotions guide my running rather than reason that I will be done before I know it. This is not something I want to accept, and my goal going forward is to be reasonable.

Why is all of this coming to the fore right now? Who knows. All I know for sure is that I’ve run less than 12 miles in the last 2 weeks, and that’s not going to cut it. The emotional side of my brain is telling me that I need to make up what I’ve missed if I’m to have any chance of doing well in November. I also hear rumblings that attempting to do a marathon with the base (or lack thereof) that I have is stupid.

You know what, I think that “they” are kind of right. But I also don’t care. I’ve stated all along that I have no goal for November 23 other than to show up, have fun, and finish. I don’t need to run the whole thing without stopping. I don’t need to finish under four hours (or even five!). I don’t need to worry about placement, time, the opinions of others, or anything other than what I want to get out of this event. And that’s doing a marathon.

It’s suggested in some circles that doing a marathon just to do it is less than noble. From the standpoint of those people, I understand and accept this statement. But I have to be careful not to let the thoughts of others become my own without reason. I’m not to the point where I can say that I’m suitably trained for really any distance, let alone a race that covers 26.2 miles. I feel comfortable in saying that if you put a gun to my head and said, “run XX miles or you’re a dead man,” that I could do it. But I don’t feel like I’m anywhere near my potential at any distance. For that, I need to exercise patience. Something else of which I’m not noted for possessing massive amounts.

The marathon will come, I will be there, I will finish. It may not be pretty, it will likely hurt, but it will be. There are highs and lows in every cycle, and I wouldn’t call this a high. It will be hard work to get where I need to be, and now is the time to plot the path back to good times.

Did I mention that nine or ten months is a long time to be thinking about a goal race for someone so new to the sport? Sheesh…

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