Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Boston bound

It's been awhile since my last post. As far as what I have been up to, Kelly and I were out in San Francisco a couple weeks ago for her to run the Nike Women's Marathon. I can not say enough about how well she ran. It has been three years since she ran her last marathon (in San Francisco as well) and in this outing she bested her last time by 20 minutes. And true to form she did it while smiling the entire time. Also, not to be forgotten, she raised nearly $4,500 for the fight against blood related cancers (I had one and they are nasty things to fight), thanks to the kind donations of many of you.

One of the many cool things we did in San Francisco was attend the Leukemia and Lymphona Team in Training pre-race dinner. At this celebration we witnessed awesome talks by both John Benoit Samuelson and John "The Penguin" Bingham. Both were tons of fun to watch and in John Bingham's case, hilarious. I found the entire weekend, and especially the dinner, very emotional. Kelly and I ran our first marathon through Team in Training in 2003. We raised over $12,000 and ran the Dublin (Ireland) Marathon, for all those people we know who had fought or were fighting cancer and to celebrate my successful completion of six months of chemo merely six months before. Team in Training is a great organization, and for any of you out there considering running your first marathon or are looking for a way to honor a loved one's or friend's battle with cancer, let me say two things: anyone can run a marathon and TNT is a great way to do it.

As for my running, I have logged nearly as few miles on my running shoes the last few weeks as I have words in this blog. Each year after my last fall marathon I take the time as a rest period. I usually decrease my miles, especially my weekend miles (which time is then spent being lazy with my kids), up my beer intake, and start planning on paper the next year's races.

I have decided a few things over this time.

1. I will run Boston. This will be my third Boston during my almost six years of running marathons. I secured my hotel reservations today and will make a long weekend of the marathon. What a great way to celebrate a 10th wedding anniversary.

2. I will throw my name in the lottery for the Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 Mile Run. This is run in my home state of Virginia. I missed the sign up last year because it filled up in an hour. Now I will try my luck in the lottery. If I do get in, it will mean quite a tough winter of long running since this race is held in May.

3. If my duties are still requested and required, I will head out to California once more to pace my buddy Jamie Anderson for the Western States 100. This time I will do a much more rigorous rain dance to ward off any wild fires that might threaten the race.

4. And I am pretty sure I will run for the third straight time in the Vermont 100.

After that I will rest, unless the Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 Mile run lottery falls through for me. Then I will try and seek out another 100 with the ultimate goal of running two 100 milers next year. I should also mention that my hope is that Kelly will choose to run the Pineland 25K and another fall marathon. I will let you know about that later.

Signing off. And don't forget to vote on Tuesday! You know for who!

Monday, October 6, 2008

The Humbling: My 5th Straight Maine Marathon

First off, let me start with some incoherent mumblings about why I subject myself to the "humbling of the marathon"? Why do I jump into this epic distance year after year, arguably under-prepared, knowing full well that I will suffer? While running distance does awaken senses that otherwise lay dormant in day to day life and the struggle of finishing does make me appreciate my time on this rotating orb even more, I really don't have a good answer for this one. When I feel like a have a good answer it is fleeting and doesn't seem to capture the essence of the reason very well. Maybe this is why I keep running these things, to figure out why I am running them...

So, as even the least astute of you could have guessed, I once more tried my hand at the marathon distance on Sunday at the Maine Marathon and came out on the other side having achieved my goal but in no way without pain. Having said that, I had a rollicking good time, running with new friends from Atayne while wearing one of their fantastically performing running shirts as well as having the pleasure of seeing another friend complete in fine fashion his first marathon.

Let's rewind. Reminiscent of last year, I did not commit to run the marathon until the day before. On Saturday, Kelly, Quinn, and I headed down to Portland and the marathon expo to sign me up. Kelly was already committed to volunteering all day on Sunday, so she wasn't running. I had thought well enough ahead, unlike last year, to not commit to a Saturday morning full of start line set-up with the race director (which totally left my legs cooked during last year's race). So my legs were pretty fresh, too fresh actually from too little training the prior three weeks due to sickness, injury, and travel. But enough with the alibis. Oh yeah, there is one more. Saturday morning I awoke with a cold which left me doubting my ability to hit my goal of qualifying for Boston, and hardly to even run the required 26.2 miles to not be listed as a DNF (aka couldn't finish). The conversation on the way to sign up Saturday went something like this:

Kelly: "Are you gonna run?"
Me: "I don't know. I really want to but I feel terrible and there is no way I can win (!!) the race in this condition."
Kelly: "So what are you gonna do?"
Me: "If I don't race can it will probably save us over $100 including race fees and babysitting during the race. I can then put this money to better use, like getting an iPhone!"
Banker (I mean Kelly): You are not getting an iPhone.
Me: Should I race?
Kelly: I can't answer that for you.

And this dialogue went on the entire trip to Portland (I only asked once about the iPhone) and even into the expo where I proceeded walk around looking for inspiration and motivation for an hour before committing to race. This time was not lost, however, as I chatted with good friends and even met the good people of Atayne, including Rebecca (who seemed to really run the show), Paige, and Mike (who was described as the "sugar daddy" of the operation...I am guessing this has to do with money...I should have asked him about an iPhone). All very nice people whose mission it is to save us from ourselves by cleaning things up and dressing us in nice, clean, environmentally appropriate (meaning less harmful to the mother ship) clothing. And having worn their stuff on Sunday, I give it two thumbs up for wicking ability and for keeping itself looking sharp and crisp during my entire trip around Portland.

Anyhow, I did sign up with about a half an hour left in the expo. On the way home we got some healthy grub from O'Naturals, I dropped Kelly and the kids off at the Cumberland Pumpkin Festival, and I went home and consumed as many freshly picked apples as my stomach would take to help ward off my sniffles.

The apples apparently worked. Also, the fact that I got a few hours more than my standard 5-6 hours of snooze time probably didn't hurt. I awoke a couple hours before the race feeling pretty good but not entirely out of the woods, downed a couple pills, and then headed to the race to get ready for the day. We arrived at 7 AM for our volunteer prep at the Atayne tent (Kelly worked from 7:30 - 2:30 while I joined her at her water stop around noon), our babysitter met us, and then Kelly headed out to do her work. I stayed behind and met Jeremy (check out Sunday's article about him in the Maine Sunday Telegram), the founder of Atayne and native Mainer, who is now living in my home state of Virginia. I was planning on joining Jeremy and his buddy Mark for the 26.2 miles, or as long as we could stay together. Having never run with either of these guys, I had no idea of what to expect. Jeremy apparently had been training hard, and had a marathon PR (destroyed by end of the day) of around 3:23, while Mark was playing it humbly saying he would be happy to hang on with a finishing time around 3:15.

As we lined up, both Jeremy and Mark donned their game faces and iPod headphones, leaving me wondering how this whole thing was going to play out. I had never run with anyone wearing headphones (I am not against them, it just isn't something I use on race day), so I really wasn't sure of the etiquette like do I try to talk to them during the race of just leave them along. (As a side note, I never did ask them about their respective soundtracks. If either of them read this, what were you listening to?) Anyhow, maybe I should have paid more attention to all the pages that Runner's World and Running Times (mirror images of each other now that Rodale bought them) fills with iPod related stuff, but as the race started the iPod thing was no issue as both guys seemed to hear me just fine.

Many of you who have run many miles with me know that I am a talkative runner, hopefully respectfully so and not to the point of being annoying. Well, there was very little rumblings out of me on Sunday as the cannon propelled us to a first mile split of 7:25 which progressively got quicker to a 6:50 by mile 4 and then settled in to an average of about 7:00/mile until the latter stage of the race. All in all the pace was pretty consistent with some mile below and others just above this average pace, but much better than the 7:17 required to hit a Boston Qualifying (BQ) time of 3:10 for the youngest of runners. I had learned just a couple days earlier that my BQ time was now 3:15 since on race day in 2009 I will be 35 years of age. These extra five minutes would prove fortuitous as I paid for these quick early miles over the last 10K.

The three of us, Jeremy, Mark and I, got along swimmingly as we progressed from Portland through Falmouth, Cumberland, and then Yarmouth. Mark had a tendency to surge forward at points (which could be indicative of smoother pacing on his part) but we always tended to come back together. At the half way spot we were all together with a split time of roughly 1:33, well on pace for a sub-3:10. The trip home is a little tough with a few good uphills but overall a net descent which for me left my quads absolutely destroyed. There is one hill around mile 17 which rises only a couple hundred feet but completely squashed me on Sunday. After that hill things seemed to disintegrate for me. Mark pulled ahead of Jeremy and me while we slowed our cadence trying to save our legs for the top. At the top Jeremy was in much better shape than I was. Shortly after that he kept up his pace while I fell off mine enough to lose touch with him but keep him in my field of vision.

My splits from mile 19 on are very telling. Other than seeing Kelly, Riley (who apparently was the star water stop person of the day), and Quinn at the Mile 23.1 water stop and Jamie and Heather hollering encouragement (thanks guys) somewhere around mile 18-19, the last 7-8 miles were torture. After the 7:00 average pace we had held through mile 18, I slowed slightly to a 7:14 pace in mile 19 and the hemorrhaging started there. The following are my respective splits from Miles 20-26: 7:18, 7:46, 7:33(!), 7:53, 8:06, 8:05, 8:59(!!). The last 0.2 miles was run at a respectable pace of 7:30 for the adoring crowds that always gather at the finish lines of these things. In my mind during these last few miles I was witnessing a bloodbath of epic proportions. I was cursing myself for getting into this mess, constantly asking myself why I didn't commit to harder training, while at the same time I was entertaining the conflicting emotions of relief and happiness that I was almost done.

During the last few miles I lost sight of Jeremy but could see Mark only a few hundred yards in front. He was stopping intermittently to stretch out the cramps that were dogging him and I even resorted to a couple walking breaks to stretch out my legs (hence the 8:59 in the 26th mile). In the end, Jeremy busted his PR by over 13 minutes to finish just over 3:09 while Mark came in at just under 3:13 (just shy of a BQ which I am sure he will get next time around if he really wants it) and I finished about 30 seconds behind Mark. So we all got what we wanted: Jeremy and I BQ'd while Mark beat his 3:15 goal. All in all a pretty good day. But next time I will train better! I promise. This is what I said after last year's Maine Marathon debacle but I mean it this time.

Finally, I want to thank Jeremy, Mike, Rebecca, Paige, and the rest of the Atayne team and volunteers for all they did to clean up our race course and training grounds. They left Maine a better place than they found it, which is what all of us should aspire to do daily. Cheers.