My 2013 Race Calendar:
Wednesday, May 30, 2012
Friday, March 30, 2012
In February, one did: I ran in a track meet.
I didn’t come to running until after college. It was an inexpensive way to get some exercise. I was even older when I finally started running races. That didn’t happen until I was a couple of trips around the sun from 30. So, I never ran track. Oh, I suffered through my share of Presidential Fitness Tests, and I recall slogging through 4 laps on a track riddled with side stitches and scuffling heels (my own on both counts), but a “track race” was a foreign concept.
When I finally did start pinning a number to my shirt almost 10 years ago, it was never for an event shorter than a 5K, and always on the paved roads through a city neighborhood. My muddy life as a trail runner came still later when I discovered marathons and ultras. It wasn’t that I was opposed to racing around a track, it’s just that events like that seemed unavailable to me. Track meets were where the professional runners went; where the “fast” people ran.
On February 9th, I rode the subway all the way up to 168th street, found my way to the Armory, and upstairs to the arena. There were four events scheduled for the night and I was there to run the Mile. If that went well, I would try the 800 Meters, too. (800m is just shy of a half-mile.) I found the registration table, paid my $20 and was given a neon orange wrist band to wear for the night to show that I was signed in and official. (There were no bib numbers.)
I had no idea what to expect, either from the event or from the competition, though one look around the arena confirmed a suspicion: the vast majority of the runners present were from local clubs and college track teams. These were the “fast” folks; people who ran fast and had always run fast; men and women alike, of all ages.
Not only that, but in the hour before the meet, the track was still being used by the professional runners who were in town for the Millrose Games, a national track meet to be held at the Armory that weekend. LaShawn Merritt, the world champion and 2008 Olympic gold medalist in the 400 Meters, was actually on the track, 30 feet away from me, doing easy laps and working out some kinks with his coach. (I scurried to get my shoes on and get into the outer lanes for a warm-up jog just so I could say I’d run on the same track with him – a personal obligation I believe I have now fulfilled.) All of this was pretty cool, but also a bit intimidating.
After my little warm-up, I spied a couple of older guys who were talking with each other and seemed a little bit more like me – meaning “average”. I walked over, said hello, and immediately outed myself as a track novice. I wondered if they might have any advice. They both laughed and said, “Just run down the track and turn left,” but their friendly demeanor put me more at ease. I settled in to an empty spot on a set of bleachers and waited for my friends Melissa and Lynn to arrive – my walking, smiling, four-legged comfort zone.
Thursday Nights at the Armory is not an “official” race. They don’t declare winners, no prizes are given and there are no “finals”. During each event, everyone gets to run a single heat. Runners are expected to seed themselves according to their expected finishing times and the “fastest” heats run first. Afterwards, everyone simply gets a recorded time. I knew before I got there that I would be one of the slowest runners on the track, but I really expected to see a few more regular, average, mid-pack types, like myself. I worried that my stated goal of “not finishing last,” might be seriously threatened.
Melissa was along for moral support, and also to do me a great favor: to video me running both my races. I’ve never really seen myself run before. I’ve seen lots of photographs, of course, but the only video I’d watched was of me running past a stationary camera for a few seconds on a large marathon course. Nice as a keepsake, but not a good way to review how I move.
The women’s mile was the first event of the evening, to be followed by the men’s mile. While the women ran their heats, a crowd of more than 100 men formed in the infield in the middle of the track. A grizzled, older man in a while polo shirt, with a head of short-cropped, wiry, white hair was orchestrating the heat assignments. In his hands and pockets was a supply of different colored popsicle sticks, each hue bundled with a rubber band.
This Little Sergeant wore a look of short-tempered exasperation, and his expression rarely changed. He would take a look around at us and then declare what the estimated finish times for the next heat should be. Then the runners expecting to run at that pace were to line up at the front of the group and the Little Sergeant would dole out roughly a dozen matching-color popsicle sticks, first come, first served. No popsicle stick and you were not allowed to join the heat. I couldn’t help but be amused by this character as I watched him bark sharp instructions and handle the press of tense, eager runners. His answers to questions were often earlier statements that he repeated word for word, but slower and with slightly more bark.
The problem was, the arena was blaring British pop/rock music from all its speakers and though the Little Sergeant had been given a little megaphone, he had decided not to bother with that annoying little contraption. Most of the group of 100+ men gathered around for their heat assignments were having a difficult time hearing anything he had to say.
This resulted in a bit a kerfuffle before the 1st men’s heat could be run. There was one man in particular who apparently had missed out on a popsicle for the that 1st (fastest) heat, but, angry that he had not been given a spot and insistent that he deserved one, he tried to line up with the men in the 1st heat anyway. When the starter judge collected popsicles and this fellow was found without one, the runner, and, I assume, his coach, made quite a stink about it and the heat had to be held up for over a minute while the Head Judge and the Little Sergeant were summoned for an official decision. Result? The ruffled runner was told he would not be allowed in the first heat and would have to wait for the second. I really didn’t understand why any of this mattered so much, and I found it ironic when the pouty runner also failed to win the 2nd, slower heat even though he was so determined that he belonged with the first, fastest group.
As for myself, I didn’t really know what finish time to expect. I just knew that it would be slower than nearly everyone else present, and so I just needed to wait until the very last heat was assigned and jump in with those guys. My best-ever 5K race pace was 6:55 per mile, but that was almost 2 years ago. I once ran a 6:40 mile to start off a 5K and a 6:30 mile on a steep downhill to lead off another. I hadn’t done any kind of speed work in months and my legs hadn’t really started to feel spry again after last fall’s marathon season. What kind of mile time would I run? I really had no idea. I figured I’d cover the first lap, see how I felt, see what the time clock told me, and then race it out from there.
My heat – the last heat, the slowest heat – was the 8th of the night. The Little Sergeant didn’t even have popsicle sticks left over for us (though no one was starting any kerfuffles about deserving to be in our heat, anyway). There were 18 of us in the group and by the time we got to toe the line we’d been milling about and waiting for more than 45 minutes. There were so many of us in the heat that there didn’t seem to be enough room on the actual start line. I politely gathered in behind the first row of men, but the Start Judge noticed that there were several us in back and directed the men in front to squeeze in and allow all of us to, literally, toe the line.
Then the judge gave us an, “On your marks,” and blew the starter pistol.
I mostly wanted to stay out of everyone else’s way in those early laps. I didn’t want to be the cause of a pile-up. So, I wound up running in the 2nd lane for much of those first few loops. The Armory track is a 200m lap and we had to make 8 circuits, plus a little extra, to measure a full mile. I covered the first 200 in 45 seconds, decided that felt pretty good, and tried to settle in. On the second lap, those of us in the back of the pack had distinguished ourselves from the men in the front and we began to find out places amongst each other.
I sat there until the 5th lap when two things happened. Most importantly, my legs finally started to get loose and feel the blood flowing in with oxygen. I run marathons; I’m used to having a couple of miles just to get loose! At about the same time, one of the runners who had been behind me got a head of steam of his own and moved around and past me on the back stretch. I mentally hooked onto him and let him “pull” me around past my friend in the yellow shirt. From there until the finish, I was out and running on my own, tucked behind no one, pushing myself along.
It was on my 6th loop that the leaders in the heat began to lap me. This did not surprise or discourage me. I had expected it. I did my best on the straight-aways to move over to the 2nd lane to let them go by inside, but I was getting too tired to give up that inside lane on the turns. If those guys were so speedy, then they could handle passing on the outside. It wasn’t my fault they fell into the last heat with us snails.
I didn’t hear the bell ringing to note that the leaders were beginning their final lap, but one of the judges was standing in an outside lane at the finish line counting off each runner’s laps. As I came through for the end of my sixth lap, (yes, after the leaders got the bell at the end of their 7th) he looked at me and put down two fingers. I flashed him two of my own so he’d know I knew where I was. I was still overly polite on my 7th lap, clearing to the 2nd lane to let faster runners go by on their bell lap. But for my final lap, I finally had the track to myself, and I was feeling better and better, so I opened it up a little and tried to give a good kick on my last loop. Lynn and Melissa both said they could see me moving faster. The race clock clicked over to “6:20” as I crossed the line. That was 74 seconds behind the winner of my heat, but still, easily, the fastest mile I have ever run.
And – AND – I beat four other men in my heat, including my friend in the yellow shirt and the guy who’d gone past me back in that 5th lap. I also recorded a faster time than two of the men in the previous heat. I had the 100th best time out of 106 runners. I’m sure you mathematicians out there have already figured out: I Did Not Finish Last!
I was also extremely pleased to have run a nice, even pace throughout the race. My lap splits looked like this:
Lap 1 – 45.7
Lap 2 – 46.5
Lap 4 – 49.0
Lap 5 – 48.9
Lap 6 – 48.5
Lap 7 – 48.6
Lap 8 – 44.2
I went upstairs to catch my breath
To my surprise, while the Little Sergeant was trying to fill only the 6th heat, he ran out of runners. He had only 7 runners and he needed more, but no one was stepping up to take a slot. There were still a group of men standing around, but I thought, maybe there were all prepping for another event. The Little Sergeant looked right at me and said, “are you gonna run with this group?” I shrugged my shoulders and said, “I guess I am.” He was still handing out popsicle sticks to the heat groups and I got a skinny yellow one to hang onto.
The shorter race meant the heats were running more quickly, and by the time I got my stick, it was nearly time to line up in the waiting area beside the track. It was then when I turned around and saw that there were two more heats filling up behind me. What had I gotten myself into? Who was I going to be running with? I signaled up to Lynn & Melissa that I was not going to be in the last heat after all and to look for me in the 6th. And then the officials were calling us to line up on the track.
Thanks to my amazing (yes, “amazing”) friend, Melissa, I can show you the video of the race (don’t worry, it’s only about 3 minutes – Oh, and you can see the Little Sergeant in the white polo with the white hair at the start line before my heat begins):
After the gun, I quickly and efficiently fell to the back of the pack, but I wasn’t bothered by it. I was more focused on hitting my splits. I completed the first lap in 42 seconds and knew I was in business. I locked in and pushed on the second lap and came by the clock again as it clicked over to 1:27. Then I noticed the next guy ahead of me on the track, who once had put 20 or 30 meters on me, had started to come back. It was like he’d burned out on the first 400m and had run out of gas. I was careful not to try and speed up to chase him down, but instead focused on maintaining my own pace. I was really just out there to run against the clock. He came back to me anyway and as I came around the 2nd turn, on my 3rd lap, I passed him easily. I thought this was kind of exciting.
I tried to kick it out for my final lap like I had in the Mile, but my legs never started to feel loose like they had in that first event and I couldn’t summon much. I didn’t slow down, though, either. As I entered the back stretch, I peeked over my should at the runner I had passed and could see that he’d started to gain on me again. Now I really wanted to be able to blast it out to the finish line, but I couldn’t find any more speed in my legs. In his last 100 meters he turned on the jets and sprinted past me with about 40 meters to go and beat me to the line by one second. But when I looked at the clock for my own finish, I saw that it read “2:58”, just under my 3 minute goal. It was a little bit crappy for that kid to totally phone in the second half of his race only to burn me right before the finish – what kind of race was he running, exactly? – but once again, my splits were nice and steady, and I did hit my time goal.
I scurried back up to the balcony to sit with Lynn & Melissa, and to watch the last two heats – I needed to see the finish times for the rest of the runners. All the runners in the 7th heat were faster than 2:40, but there were 2 men in the final heat who failed to crack 3 minutes. So, even though I was last in my heat, I was not the slowest man in my event. Once again, I Did Not Finish Last! (It’s a silly goal, perhaps, but itwas a very important moral victory.)
Watching myself in the video, I’m mostly struck by how slow I look. I have to say again, I ran both of those events faster than any race I’ve ever run in my whole life. Out on the track, during each race, it felt to me like the arena was streaking past. I felt my hair blowing back even in the indoor stadium. But in the video I look like a bicycle among motorbikes.
There are things I’m happy to see: my gait is smooth, my leg turnover is nice and quick, my posture is relaxed and perfectly erect. It’s my stride length that doesn’t compare to most of the other people on the track. It’s a little short, but then again, so are my legs (by comparison). But I can flatter myself as say that Michael Johnson ran with a similar posture and succeeded with an incredible turnover rate and impressively consistent splits. (Right?)
After the 800, Lynn and Melissa and I hung out in the balcony and watched the last two events, the women’s and men’s 3000m. I could have run one more race, but decided it was wise to quit while I was ahead. Lynn and I debated if she might have been able to keep up with the slowest women in the 3000. She thought no, and I thought maybe yes, but I was brimming with optimism by that point in the night. As I headed home, after sharing one more round of hugs with my friends, I decided I’d have to try one of these little track meets again sometime. Maybe I'd even tran for one.
Oh, and I’d be lying if I said it was less than a week before I finally pulled that neon orange wrist band off my arm. I just didn’t get tired of feeling it under my shirt sleeves.
Friday, March 23, 2012
I’ve been neglecting my little blog for the last nine months. But it’s never been far from my mind. There has been a lot of news – a lot of new adventures – in the last 240 days. Dozens of times I sat down at the computer to type out a post, but each time my narrative dwindled to a stop mid-stream. I found that my purpose had dwindled, my fire had dimmed. The problem, though, wasn’t at the typewriter. It was the running itself. My passion for the run, though far from dead, was no longer the bonfire it once had been. I was feeling some burnout.
2011 turned out to be an uneventful running year for me. I failed to finish the Burning River 100 at the end of July; my 3rd DNF in 3 tries at the 100-Mile distance. I slogged through the Chicago and NYC Marathons with finish times that weren’t “bad”, but were more than 20 minutes slower than my best. I did get to tack on another ultra, the Knickerbocker 60K in Central Park, but even there, after a decent start, I faded badly in the later miles, and had to be content with the moral victory of crossing the finish line.
It was a lull year for my running, in almost every way. I don’t know if the burnout led to the lull, or if the lull set off the burnout, but either way, it was a frustrating year. This mirrored a difficult year for me professionally, as well, and there was an accumulative affect.
There was good news, however. My personal life was soaring.
At the end of 2010, I met a woman who changed my life and the relationship flourished last year. But she was in New York; I was in Chicago. Last fall we corrected that problem and, after 10 years in the Windy City, I moved to Brooklyn, New York. Things have been going great for Jen and I ever since.
I’m also pleased to report that my running (because this is a running blog – the personal stuff is for Facebook) has rebounded in 2012, and with a vengeance. A new city has brought a lot of new opportunities, new places, new races.
2011 was the year of my running lull. I wanted 2012 to be my return to speed. I rededicated myself to my training schedule. I plotted a careful build-up from the beginning of January through to a goal marathon in the Poconos in May. I started doing speed work and weekly tempo runs again. In early February, I even ran in the first track meet of my life, competing in the mile and the 800 meters, distances I have never raced before (and I did not finish last in either event).
I have also benefitted from the inherent pleasures of exploring a new city via running. And there are a LOT of places to run in New York. Back in November I purchased my first GPS watch and it has freed me to run whenever and wherever I feel like. (I have learned that it is a flawed tool, but its benefits far outweigh its drawbacks.)
Finally, I’m lucky that my new “day job” is an active one that is not only fun, but also has me walking 4 to 5 miles each weekday, a subtle enhancement to my training schedule. (And the four-legged company I keep at work makes for very pleasant company.)
All of this has led to some very encouraging early returns. I ran the NYC Half Marathon this past Sunday morning, and, though I expected good results based on recent training runs, I surprised myself by cutting six and a half minutes off my previous PR from five years ago. I finished in 1:39:15, a 7:35 minute-per-mile pace, and one I held from the very first mile to the very last. I was disappointed to see the finish line, because I wanted to keep running.
This represents a major turnaround from last year, and it has me wondering if big things are possible when I run the “Run for the Red” Poconos Marathon on May 20th. There are several race equivalency calculators around on the internet, and several suggest that if you are able to run a 1:39 half-marathon (and you have done a proper training build-up), you should be in shape to run a 3:30 marathon. My current marathon PR is a 3:44. Factor in that the “Run for the Red” features a 1400 foot elevation drop from start to finish line (yes, I choose the race on purpose because of that), and a very fast race time could be in the making for me.
So: That’s where I’ve been, that’s why I’ve been gone, and that’s what I think I might be on the cusp of in the coming months. I’ll probably back-track a little in the next few posts because there are still a few things I want to talk about in more detail, but for now, the important thing is I feel the fires burning once again, and there’s more to come.
Thursday, July 28, 2011
It bothers me. It nags at me. I feel a twinge every time I talk to someone about my two previous DNFs. (Did Not Finish) It’s something I should be able to do. Yet I have not.
I think a fear of failure is a normal thing for a human being, but I don’t think it is simply failure that we fear. I think what really scares us is witnessed failure. Falling on your ass when you’re at home alone is one thing. Biting the dirt in the middle of your local Target is something else entirely.
I don’t really get much of an audience at a race, but I am surrounded by my peers, and the results live here online for the rest of time. I think I have handled my losses well. Even when I have failed to finish, I have still, often, accomplished something that I am proud of. But this will be my third attempt at this distance. There are people traveling in from 4 states specifically to support me at this race. I want very much to finish - and still I may not. I can't say that would be an easy thing to deal with.
But this really is the very simple, utter truth: It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey. And the only way I could truly fail would be to not even try. Just by crossing the starting line, I will have already won. Not only the satisfaction of the effort, but a profound contentment at the knowledge that so many people care enough – and care enough about me – to show up and help me do it, or to send me thoughtful well-wishes from afar. It’s kind of like what old Scrooge found out that fictional Christmas Day: You can possess all the things in the world, but you’re only rich if you have friends and love.
I have every intention of finishing this race this weekend – I Am Not Talented, But I Am Stubborn – but even if for some reason I do not, I still feel like a lucky man.
Now let’s DO this thing.
Sunday, July 24, 2011
Not me. I get by with a little help from my friends. I enjoy the luxury of a support crew. I like the idea of having a pacer, someone to run with me in the wee small hours late on the course.
But it’s one thing for me to drag my own butt all the way out to a race three states from home and spend a weekend working my way from aid station to aid station along a 100 mile course. It’s something else entirely to ask a small group of people to trek out there with me to sit out in the woods for 30 hours just to help me limp through it all. If I finish, I get a nice little award from the race director, a permanent record of my accomplishment to show off to my grandchildren (or you fine folks). The people who come with me just to carry me through it? Well, they mostly just get a sweaty hug from me, and my eternal gratitude, and, you know, hopefully not a sunburn or too many bug bites.
So, yeah, I’m pretty humbled to have friends willing to do that for me.
My team for this year’s Burning River 100 is coming together. I got confirmation this week from two friends in the Cleveland area who are both in to pace me for chunks of those last 40 miles. That brings my crew total to five. Five gracious, generous people who are going to show up and help out of the goodness of their hearts. That = a bounty of riches.
This is who they are:
THE LOCAL YOKELS:
I first met Sean & Amy at the 2009 installment of Burning River. Sean and I ran a big chunk of the first 50 miles together, shared a lot of stories along the way, and got to know each other about as well as any two people can who meet during a race. Amy was supposed to be running the race with him, but had to change her plans in the weeks before because of a foot injury. Instead, she insisted that Sean still run, crewed for him during the race… And Sean repaid her by popping The Question at the finish line. (She did say ‘Yes.’)
They passed through Chicago last fall and stayed over with me for the weekend. Sunday morning they convinced me to come out and run a little race with them, and we all did a brisk little half-marathon together. They will both spend a chunk of time pacing me overnight at Burning River this time. Sean will take me from around mile 62 to mile 75. (Sean will also be pacing a second runner, later on the course, after he has dropped me off at 75.) Amy is planning to take me the last 12 miles of the course. More than the pacing help, they have also offered up their home for all of us to stay at during race weekend. Have I mentioned that they are awesome? You meet a lot of great people in the ultrarunning world, but they are two of the best.
THE JEET KUNE DO MAN:
I met Ryan while on a little show tour four years ago. He worked on the house management staff for the theatre, and was assigned to drive our touring van that spring. It was during that little show that I ran my first ultramarathon and, soon, my first 50-miler (much to the amazement of everyone on the tour). Ryan’s dad was a runner and he inherited the habit from him, but his first obsession was martial arts. Jeet Kune Do is the style that Bruce Lee developed. His goal was to create a martial art practice that would exist outside of parameters and limitations – an idea that will fully apply to running 100 miles.
Ryan will be driving out from Chicago during the day on Saturday and will do about 15 miles with me overnight, bridging the miles between Sean & Amy. He was famous on our tour, four years ago, for starting us out each and every morning with a new ‘Chuck Norris’ joke. I'll be looking forward to sharing some quality time with Ryan -- and to hearing a few of those jokes.
My girlfriend, Jennifer, is flying out from New York to play crew for me out on the course. This will be her first time at an Ultra and the first time she’ll see me in a race. As a runner, your crew is just vital. It’s a lot like a pit crew at a NASCAR race: the driver pulls into the pit, and his crew does a full service job on the car (and the driver) while he just sits there waiting for them to finish so he can go back out and race more laps. The pit stop has to be brief and furious, but without that pit crew, neither the driver nor the car will finish the race. Stretch all that out over a 30 hour event, and remember than my crew will only be seeing me for a few minutes at a time every 2 or 3 hours. That’s it. They get to an aid station, wait two hours for me to get there, then I arrive, grab some food, maybe a couple of supplies and a few minutes later, I’m gone, and the crew heads to the next station to wait some more.
But I can’t do it without them. Having a good crew means there is so much less for me to have to think about. It means so much. Not least is the moral support of having my beautiful girlfriend out there in the woods urging me on. I’ll be looking forward to seeing here every 5 or 6 miles. (As an added bonus, Jen is a licensed massage therapist. At some point, those skills will be a gift.)
Finally, my sister, Heather, is returning, once again, to run this little show and keep everything together. She was with me for my first 100-mile attempt at Burning River in ’09. She came all the way out to San Diego with me to try again last June. I DNF’d them both, but she is almost as determined as I am to get me to the finish line this time. We’ve both learn a lot over the last two years. Hopefully, that applied knowledge and some stubborn sibling will-power will see us through.
Heather really is a perfect crew chief. She’s a professional stage manager, she’s used to making decisions, she’s not bashful about asking other people for what she needs, and she's willing to step in and step up whenever the situation calls for it. Plus, she’s, you know, my sister, so she loves me and worries about me is unafraid to coddle me or push me as she sees fit. These trials and errors the last two years have been as much hers as mine, and I’m very glad she’ll be back out there with me one more time. I'm also glad that Jen will out there with her, so she won’t be alone. I think, between the two of them, they might even have a little fun with it all.
As for me, my job is simple: Just keep moving forward, get myself from aid station to aid station, and never forget to say thank you thank you thank you to the incredible people who are volunteering just to help me do this silly thing.
Thank you, guys.
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
I don’t think this particular issue is one that most runners have to fret about too much. At a 10K or a half marathon the primary concern in simply hydration, and a little salt intake. Marathoners have to give it a little thought, but for most people a good sports drink and a few carb-rich gel packs along the way do the trick. (That’s how it works for me, anyway.)
The caloric playing field will be very different at the Burning River 100-Miler next weekend. I fully expect to be out on the course for 28 hours. I’ll be burning off and discarding calories at a steady clip for the entirety of that time, and replacing those calories will be crucial. It doesn’t matter how well you’ve trained your body to physically handle the distance, if you don’t properly fuel the engine you’ll wind up stranded on the side of the road.
I say I haven’t “mastered” this process, but I haven’t been bad at it. I do eat during long races. Ultras always offer well-stocked aid stations at regular intervals and I have taken advantage. But a specific plan for calorie replacement? No. I will attempt to correct that oversight next weekend.
Research says there is a limit to how many calories your body can process in an hour, whether you’re in the middle of a race or not. Over-eating could result in stomach or digestion problems that would sink my race the same as not eating enough. I’ll be aiming for an intake of 300 to 350 calories each hour.
In the first half, I’ll aim for liquid calories, because the body processes them much more quickly – sports drink, energy gels (at 90 calories per pack), maybe watermelon, if it’s out on the course again this year. Every time I see my crew, I’ll be drinking a bottle of Ensure, a nutritional supplement drink intended for the elderly that also happens to be great for ultra-runners (230 calories per 8oz. bottle, plus protein).
As the race goes on, I’ll begin to focus a little more on solid foods. After 12 hours of the race, it’s just nice to actually eat something. Bananas (150 calories each), salted potatoes (130 calories), PB&J (250 calories) are also somewhat easy to eat and very useful out on the course. I may also take in chicken noodle soup, oatmeal, pretzels, potato chips, and other food commonly found at the overnight aid stations. I’ll also take regular salt tablets (and maybe even a few doses of aspirin) along the way.
Hopefully my crew and I will be able to track my food intake during the race with a clipboard and a log sheet. If it looks like I’m running low, they’ll be able to push me to eat more. The biggest eating sin I usually commit is not eating enough, because I don’t “feel” hungry. So when it’s offered, I tend to say “no” when I should say “yes.” With the log my crew won’t have to take me at my word that I’m feeling fine, and perhaps can help keep me from being stubborn.
I’ve read advice from more than one ultrarunner saying the only way to run a good 100-miler – or any ultra – is to eat, eat, eat. You have a good training build-up, take in the proper calories on race day, and you will finish your race. Sunny Blende, an aptly named sports nutrition scientist, has been quoted defining an ultramarathon thusly: “It’s an eating and drinking contest, with a little exercise and scenery thrown in.” I intend to operate on that theory on the 30th & 31st.
Tuesday, July 19, 2011
I consider these broadcasts extremely addictive, and get sucked in by them every time I catch a glimpse while flipping channels. No matter how many times I have seen each year’s 90 minute special, I watch it full through to the end and cry and bawl as each runner struggles, triumphs, or fails. They capture so very well what it is like for us "normal" people who take a shot at one of those ultra-endurance events, and I’ve been through all of it: The highs and the lows, the overwhelming heat, the solitude of the after-dark, the pressure of the clock, the failure of a DNF, and the deep, extraordinary satisfaction of a completed race.
There was a short segment at the beginning of coverage for the ’10 championship that focused on those “age-groupers” as they waited in the quiet morning before the race, sitting silently with solemn expressions, steeped in anticipation, trying to control anxiety. The camera lingers on them in half-time speed, the dim light of pre-dawn lining their huddled bodies with a distance glow, and the voiceover poses the question you can see on each of their faces: “Is this possible? Can I do this?”
It’s the question on my mind, too. No matter what you’ve done, no matter how you’ve prepared, you still have to go out and run that race, on that day, and sometime the distance, the course, the weather... sometimes they beat you. Sometimes it’s not possible. The image of the previously omnipotent Paula Radcliffe weeping in pain and frustration on the side of the road in Greece in 2004 is indelibly etched in my mind. Four years later, in China, Deena Kastor was felled by a broken foot just 3.5 miles into her marathon. In 2009, Scott Jurek DNF’d at the Western States 100 only 48 miles into the race – an event he not only finished by won 7 times in a row between 1999 and 2005 (he set the course record in 2004). His quote after the race? "I went to the well, and the well was just dry." And then, of course, there are my own, personal race failures from the last two years...
The fact of that question – Can I Do This? – was clear on those Age-Groupers faces in Kona, and it gave me goose bumps. It is always a legitimate question, and you won’t have to look too closely to see it on my face in the next two weeks, either.
But having the question in mind is one thing. Defining my own answer for it is something else. You know what answer I intend to submit.
Monday, July 18, 2011
So it is with great concern that I peruse the forecast for the coming week. My date at the Burning River 100 still won’t happen until the end of the following week, but for now the entire Midwest is set for a serious heat wave that will last, at least, the next 7 days.
I am lucky the race is scheduled for the following weekend and not this next. Weather.com currently forecasts a high in Cuyahoga Falls, OH, on Saturday the 23rd of 91, with rain, which means high humidity. Just three days later, on Tuesday the 26th, the high is forecast to drop to 81. I can only hope that trend continues into race weekend on the 30th and 31st.
I plainly recall the growing dread I felt in October 2007 when each morning I checked the heat predictions for Chicago Marathon race day, and each day the temperature forecast went higher and higher and higher and still higher. You can see your quality race performance slipping further and further away, totally out of your control. I trained for, and expected run a 3:45 marathon that year. My final time was 4:48. I’m trying not to think what effect similar heat could have on my 100-mile attempt.
I’m not panicking. I choose to think that we’re getting this super hot week now, because a cooler, more temperate week is destined to follow for us on race weekend. That, and I also remind myself that it IS a thing beyond my control. I’ll get in my final training miles, try to enjoy my taper weeks, and keep my mind as bright as possible, doing my best to ignore the darker (hotter) peripherals. With any luck the title of this race won't become any more apropos.
Sunday, July 17, 2011
The latest bump in the road was a little more than just a bump. While playing softball two Wednesdays ago, I had to dive back into 2nd base, and somehow managed to slam my left big toe into the infield dirt. It hurt instantly, but not enough to keep me from playing the rest of the game. The next morning, though, I woke to find it badly bruised and swollen, and I worried that I had broken it.
Just over 3 weeks before Burning River and I was afraid I’d broken my big toe. An unmitigated disaster.
But it seemed impossible. I couldn’t have hit the ground that hard. And I was wearing cleats, with their stiff foot beds, and spikes. I’ve stubbed my bare toe on the coffee table harder than that and not broken anything. But the pain the next morning was unavoidable and it was difficult to walk on it.
My father was a dentist and oral surgeon, and he’s always my first source for general medical advice. We talked over the phone, and based on my descriptions, we both agree that it likely is not broken, but only very badly bruised. We plot a schedule of icings and ibuprofen and decide that will we know inside of a week if it really is broken or not.
In spite of the positive diagnoses, the condition of my toe meant I had to skip out on my final planned training race. I was supposed to head up to Wisconsin that Saturday for a 50-mile race. It would have been a very hot race on a less than easy course, but finishing that race, no matter my finish time, would have been a great, final confidence booster before Burning River. Instead, I had to wait nearly a week before I could run on my toe again. Valuable training time lost just when I should have been at the peak of my build-up.
It’s been 11 days now since my injury. I’m running again, and planning to throw down one more 20-mile training run in the next couple of days, but it’s just 2 weeks ‘til BR100 and I’m left wondering again if I’ve been able to do enough to be ready.
Monday, May 2, 2011
Though not unheard of, it actually is a small miracle, as the majority of applicants do not get a slot via the lottery. This year, Mary Wittenberg, the race director for the New York Road Runners (who host the event), stated they had received nearly 100,000 lottery applicants and that only 1 in 10 would receive a lottery slot.
The entrants field has been capped at 40,000 runners this year (a 5,000 increase since I ran the race in 2007), so clearly, many of the runners will get a slot in the race by other means, and there are, in fact, a number of ways to earn a guaranteed entry to the event. Some meet qualifying times at previous marathons (which are a bit more stringent than the Boston qualifying times, but also not elite standards. Men under age 40 must have run a sub-3-hour marathon time, for example). Some earn entry by being NYRR club members and running at least 9 other events hosted by the NYRR during the year (and by paying all those dues and race entry fees). You can also be a carry-over from a cancelled entry the previous year, or have run at least 15 NYCMs, and there are other less common ways of guaranteeing entry.
Perhaps the biggest group of entrants, though, other than the lottery winners, are the charity runners. If you’re willing to commit to raising a large sum of money for a charity sponsored by the race, you get a guaranteed spot. Many runners who don’t get a lottery slot, then become a charity runner, instead.
There’s also one other way to get a guaranteed entry, and that’s to enter the lottery and fail to get a spot three years in a row. In the fourth year, they move you to the front of the line and give you an automatic spot in the race. That is exactly what I imagined I’d do in 2007 when I first submitted a lottery entry. Imagine my great surprise that year when I wound up winning a slot in the race on my very first try!
I had to rearrange some of my plans for November that year, but it turned out to be an incredible trip, because the NYRR hosted the Men’s Olympic Marathon Trials in Central Park the day before the regular marathon, and I got to be there in the park to see Ryan Hall and Dathan Ritzenhein and Brian Sell each run amazing races to earn spots on the U.S. Olympic team in Beijing.
The marathon itself, on the next day was incredible. The sheer logistics of getting down to Fort Wadsworth on Staten Island before the race were not so fun, and the mass of people in the holding areas there was not easy to navigate, but once the race itself began, it really was extraordinary.
The start of the race on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge is truly majestic and from the top of the bridge you can see all the way across the bay to your destination in the Park in Manhattan. It was the first time I had run a marathon that was a point to point course, and it was kind of awesome to see the full distance spread out in front of you from the top of the Bridge in that first mile. It was my 4th road-based marathon, and I ran a 4:03, which was short of my sub-4-hour goal, but still, a PR for me at the time.
The logistics and the cost of the event were so rough, that I knew I wasn’t eager to go back and run it right away, but the course and the race were so exhilarating that I promised I would be back.
And now it looks like 2011 will mark my return.
This January I decided to take my second crack at the lottery, and this past Wednesday (April 27th) was the lottery drawing for this year’s event. I wore my 2007 Finishers hat all day for luck, and sure enough, that evening when I typed in my name, the word “Accepted” popped up underneath!
There was a little payment snafu with my credit card that temporarily had my status turned back to “Not Accepted” on Thursday, and I was on pins and needles for a few days waiting to see if the NYRR would be able and willing to sort it out, but I got an e-mail last night letting me know that all was clear and I was officially, and finally, IN for 2011.
I love the Chicago Marathon and I have run some other, great, smaller marathons elsewhere in the country, but nothing in my experience compares to the NYCM. If you run marathons, you really do owe it to yourself to try to run New York just once in your life.
So, it’s going to be a busy year! I don’t have a lot of “speed” goals this year, but I do have a lot of “finishing” goals, most importantly at the Burning River 100 Mile in July. At some point in the next 7 months, I will run my 30th marathon or ultra. And I’ll wrap up my running year with a return to the NYCM in November. It remains to be seen if I’ll try to run it hard or just go back to enjoy the experience again, but either way, I’ll be looking forward to it. I expect to have a lot to celebrate this November 6th.