Saturday, February 11, 2017

Race Report: Conquer the Cove Trail Marathon

'Tis a lesson you should heed: Try, try, try again. If at first you don't succeed, try, try, try again.-- William Edward Hickson

Space, the final frontier. I remember hearing these words every night growing up. Star Trek was one of my favorite shows. It was also the favorite show of my uncle who was the only person in my family interested and obsessed with Sci-Fi. The final frontier that William Shatner aka Captain James T. Kirk alluded to was a journey into the unknown. For me, the unknown was the trail marathon.

At this point I had run 17 marathons in my life. I wasn't nor am I now, a special runner but I am a grizzled marathon veteran. I saw the movement of runners to the trails and I saw all of the obnoxious hashtags and such. Initially I asked myself, "what's all the hubbub?" Then I learned about the serenity of the trail and the oneness with nature. Trail running is also a bit of a challenge. You know how when you are a treadmill rock star and then you venture out to the roads you feel like you are breathing through a store and trotting along with 7 pound ankle weights. Certainly I am overdramatic but it can be a very noticeable difference the first couple of times. The similar feeling holds true as one moves from roads to trails. There are trees and roots and perpetual, subtle climbs into the unknown. Road running encourages the runner to look up and out while those same rules, if applied to trails, will have you on your back or even better, your face.

After one completes as many races as I have and a few marathons you kind of get the gist of what a marathon entails. There are some hills. There are a few rough patches. Undoubtedly, there is a wall hiding in there somewhere. I've put up some stinkers in the past on marathon courses but I'm not typically surprised. Although I sometimes find myself as the smartest guy in the room, I am most certainly the dumbest in the woods. My first trail race was my first trail marathon. I can count the amount of times I've trained on a trail on one hand. I could count it on two hands if I decided to lie to myself. The arrogance of success is a friend to failure.

I would be remiss if I didn't speak of how absolutely beautiful it is to be in the forest. It is so beautiful and green and brown and orange and blue. So many amazing colors sort of became a fantastic distraction. Although I had music as I always have, I took time out to listen to the forest. The sounds of streams and crunching leaves under foot were so intoxicating that I didn't notice that my first mile was 13 minutes... DOH (Homer Simpson voice)

Before I continue, here's little back story to this journey. I booked a hotel in Roanoke, Virginia, where the Conquer the Cove Trail Marathon would take place. Even further back than that was after a year in Atlanta I was moving back to the Northeast. My kids had already gone back but my wife had to stay another month in Atlanta. I had to pack some of our lives into an SUV and go run my 6th marathon of 2016. Here's the kicker, my wife and I had not spent more than 2-3 days apart in 15 years. We were about to spend 30+ days apart. It was too hard and I stayed home in Atlanta with my wife. I forfeited the hotel room, packed the car and planned out my drive to Virginia. I knew that it was crazy but the alternative was unacceptable. The race was like an 8:00 am start so I left my home with enough time to drive through the night and start the race. Good plan right.

I arrived to the race with maybe 20 minutes to spare and I began to change and mentally prepare for a challenge but I was certain of success. I had little sleep, less food and I was cramped in a car for 6 hours or so. When I arrived the race was organized very well and the volunteers were magnificent. I didn't catch all of the race instructions as I was trying to get dressed but I listened to enough to know that I would be guided by pink, plastic strips on trees and branches every tenth or quarter of a mile... YIKES. I'm a city kid.

Within the first quarter mile or so I hit my first climb. After about 1.5 miles I was into a major climb. I saw folks power hiking already. I din't even know what power hiking was at this point. As I reached the top of the climb along roots and mud I enjoyed the views. The I had a steep drop. We ran single file for a little bit with rolling hills. One of the coolest parts was running along what I can only call a cliff that overlooked the rest of the forest. Running on a single track that overlooks acres and acres of woods felt so good. I couldn't stop taking photos. I wouldn't take pictures on the really narrow tracks . It sucked to run through a stream but the hidden coolness was that it was unavoidable. I made the 8.42 mile cutoff so I continued on.

I tried to keep up with groups in order to not be a black man, alone in a Virginia woods. I was unsuccessful in my attempt to do that. I pledged my love to the little pink ribbons on trees and branches and I continued on. Eventually I looked at the time and I realized that I was in danger of missing the 18.54 mile cutoff time. I started to book it through the woods. I even past some limping dude. I saw a pick up and I thought that it was the mile marker. I sprinted towards it. I felt like there had to have been some theme music in the back. Maybe Shaft played. I get to the truck and it's just some people cheering on their friends. I dialed it back and glanced at my watch. I realized that i misread my time and i was dangerously close to missing the cutoff. I picked up the pace again until I reached the foot of the steepest climb in the race. I could no longer run. I had to hike it. Then I walked. One of the race officials gave me the take it easy hand gesture and then moved towards me. I knew why he told me to take it easy. I missed the cutoff by 5 minutes. He took my bib.

This was the greatest physical challenge that I've ever experienced. Emotionally I had nothing left. My dream of 12 marathons in 12 months were dashed.The other final frontier and  the other unknown is the dreaded DNF or Did Not Finish. I even now I struggle with this post. I stopped blogging after this race because I couldn't express my feelings about falling short of a goal. I still can't express how I feel but what's done is done so it's time to move on. Or in this case, what isn't done, isn't done.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Race Report: Horse Capitol Marathon

Don't tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results.--George S. Patton

My 5th marathon of 2016 was going to have an unexpected result. Although this wasn't the halfway point, it was a point where I was in a rhythm of running a marathon a month.

As exciting as it is to run these races, a certain degree of routine creeps in. I don't mean this in a negative way at all. The first marathon was amazing. It was my first marathon of the year. It was the first of 12 for the year. The program that I created was designed to perform at the first one. I assumed that I would manage the rest of the 11 marathons. It had also been a while since my last marathon that ended in the medical tent with an Achilles injury. The cherry on the top of the entire marathon Sundae was the adrenaline.

The 2nd marathon was 2 weeks later so the adrenaline still flowed. I had the ability to silence the naysayers who told me that I couldn't do 2 marathons in 2 weeks and I had to stay in a hotel and I felt like I was in "The Right Stuffl" with a mission to accomplish. Number 3 was a hometown race as I lived in Atlanta at the time. Native marathons enhances the motivation a bit. I literally raced on streets I trained on. The Knoxville Marathon was awesome because I traveled with my entire clan. My 5th marathon, the Horse Capitol Marathon in Lexington, Kentucky, offered no such amenities.

I had to travel to this one but I've done that before. It was an unfamiliar city but not my first unfamiliar marathon city. Now for all of you travel snobs that will fire off comments about every city has its charm, I will caution you that your cries will fall on deaf ears. I arrive in these cities with just enough time to eat, get some rest, run a marathon, and then I get back to my family. I don't explore or soak in the culture. The routine of a marathon a month is like a bouncer in a strip club.

All of that said, I didn't know what to expect. I read that the University of Kentucky is in Lexington. I learned that Lexington has one of the largest LGBT communities so I felt that it was probably a pretty progressive town. The coolest  part however was the horse raising and racing history in Lexington, hence the title of Horse Capitol. One of the selling points of the race was that you wouldn't be out of sight of a horse farm the entire race.

Although the race is the main ingredient of this post, I have to tell you about the race before the race. Before my 2nd marathon I arrived in town too late to pick up my race number. I hate race day pick ups. It interrupts my morning routine and there are countless unpredictable  circumstances. So this time around, I left work even earlier in order to get to the expo in order to arrive on time. So I zoom down the highway but Atlanta on a Friday without traffic is like food without taste. Traffic slowed to a crawl and the ETA my navigation made all sorts of anxiety bubble up like bad Chinese Food. I made it on time but I probably did number 1,2 and 3 on the highway because of stress.

The marathon delivered on all of its descriptions of the beautiful horse farms. I couldn't stop taking pictures of the horses and the farms. It was kind of a double out and back so I knew that I would see many things twice but things looked so good that I took photos early. Like most of the races this year, there was a full and half marathon. After the split, the roads get lonely and all of the runners look like they're straight out of that Nike ad, "There Is No Finish Line".

There were rolling hills but no significant climbs. After the first loop of the course the scenery became repetitive and less intriguing. I became less focused of photos and almost completely focused on the task at hand. I met an older gentleman who used the Jeff Galloway run-walk method. I did it with him for a while but it didn't work for me. After about 5 miles I felt that I could go ahead and run how I feel. I didn't see him again but he was a nice old guy.

All in all I got the job done and another medal for the collection. If you enjoya beautiful scene and you don't mind seeing it twice, then the Lexington, Kentucky, Horse Capitol Marathon might be for you. The expo was tiny but complete at the legendary Fasig-Tipton. The volunteers were great and I have no recollection of a thing that I needed along te course that I couldn't get.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Long Distance Running: Death By A Thousand Cuts

Ideas are easy. It's the execution of ideas that really separates the sheep from the goats.-- Sue Grafton

I know anyone who happens across this title thinks, "what the hell is he talking about?". I may or may not be able to explain the lunacy of my thought process but there is no doubt that I actually know what I am thinking. The title is related to an ancient Chinese torture method of slow, lingering death. One cut does very little but a thousand cuts, as you go from one to ten to a hundred is likely, agonizing. The actual, physical pain can only be matched by the psychological anguish of knowledge that the next cut is imminent. The tortured person may hope that the next cut is the last. Whether it's the one that does the job or stops the cuts, stopping is undoubtedly the wish.

There is a saying that every run has its purpose or a lesson is learned on every run. I believe this wholeheartedly. Whether you learn something about hydration, foot strike, or even mental state on a 2 mile run compared to a 1 mile run, there are myriad takeaways every time you lace them up (side note, I don't ever untie my shoes but it sounds poetic).

As beautiful as every run is for me, there are equally the amount of uncomfortable moments. I run usually at 4am. I usually go to bed at around midnight. Although I function at a high level on 4 hours of sleep, it isn't ideal and I wish that I could sleep in. Most runners I know have a little, nagging, or something or other thing about their body that isn't necessarily painful, nor will it prevent the run but life, and running, would be infinitely more enjoyable. I have this hip deal and a sore back that wakes up with my alarm. It's gone in about an hour but there nonetheless.

So what is the death part exactly in my little analogy? Death, for the runner, is whatever we are after when we run. Some people run for weight loss. Some people run competitively, some folks are free birds and just want to be outside. For me, it's almost an addiction. It's therapeutic. It feels really good within 1/4 mile of my run. So what am I chasing? I'm chasing joy. I'm chasing satisfaction. In order to get that I have to run everyday. When I don't run... It sucks. 18 mile runs during Ramadan... Suck. Running on ice in my non-snow plow as early as 5am As much as it sucks, it feels so amazing. 

One day, any random runner will reach their goal. They will reach the pinnacle of their reason for running. Whatever the reason is for putting on running shoes and scooting, voluntarily into the wilds of the roads, sidewalks and trails will remain elusively private. Once that reason is reached. After that last cut is made. After the fatal cut is delivered. The will to run. The reason you opened the front door in the first place ends. Remember the saying that once the dog catches the rabbit, they can never race again? The same applies to death by a thousand cuts... One cannot die twice.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

My Emotions Come Out In Training, Not The Event

Tears come from the heart and not from the brain.-- Leonardo Da Vinci

I hear all the time about championship teams. Many of them exhibit what seems to be tears of joy upon winning a title. This is easy to believe but many championship teams will also say that they experience a feeling of relief. It doesn't matter which sport or business or even child rearing, when the goal is accomplished, there is an overwhelming feeling of relief. Success is attained through countless hours trying to get there and the expectation of success after such expectation isn't always pure joy.

A great deal of my emotional breakdowns have occurred while I am out on the road in the rain, snow, heat, or hills. The impulse to quit is even stronger in practice because so few people are watching. It is easy to quit because there is less on the line. It is easy to quit because you always have tomorrow... not really. There aren't tons of folks hanging out on the side of the road with clever and witty signs to motivate you. There are no people in the library telling you to keep going if you need to study. Pushing through when there is no stage to stand on is infinitely harder than performing for an audience.

When I cross the finish line I raise my hands and I usually kneel over to finally stop running after 4 hours. Victory is victory but 6 months prior I had to fight through moving form state to state or any number of issues that may arise. At Zero Dark Thirty there are a million thoughts parading through your noggin that will add considerable weight to your journey. Doubt creeps in. You ask yourself why are you doing whatever it is you are doing.

Glory comes in the spotlight but the every day grind of hours in the batting cage, in the library, on the roads, reading stock charts, playing the piano, and working late goes unseen. It actually bothers me a little bit when a new success comes around and folks say that they came out of nowhere. That us highly unlikely. That person probably toiled away in the basement to be at peak condition when they had to take a shot.

When I practice I have to look deep into who I am and where I want to go. One of my favorite athletes of all time, Barry Sanders, never celebrated after a touchdown. Jerry Rice had a belief after a touchdown to behave as though you've been there before. Kawhi Leonard barely pumps a fist. These are all people who are at the very pinnacle of their respective professions. The cramps and throwing up and the drenched tee shirts will squeeze everything out of you. I've pumped my fist more after tough runs in training than I have at the end of marathons.

When I take off from a plateau in practice it is exhilarating. I came home one morning after a 12 mile run which was my best ever and I felt like I won a championship. Kanye West referenced in one of his songs, "...empty bottles of No-Doz..." That is the work he did to win awards and make what many consider to be good music. 3am in a studio or analyzing a company isn't what anyone signed up for so the glorious moments are remembered by the masses but the Glory Getters remember the tears shed in the dark.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Race Report: Covenant Health Knoxville Marathon

It is time for man to mark his goal. It is time for man to plant the germ of his highest hope.-- Friedrich Nietzsche

Knoxville, Tennessee is about 4 hours away from Atlanta give or take a cow or two. Once again I had to hit the road and stay at a hotel. This time was different as I had the family in tow. Knoxville isn't a small town by any stretch but the southern feel was more prevalent here than in Atlanta. Knoxville is also a college town where half of the marathon participants wore University of Tennessee orange. It was slightly difficult to find a hotel room in Knoxville. I am not sure if it was because of the marathon or not but rooms were booked. I had no problems finding a room in Hilton Head so I was in no rush for Knoxville. I learned my lesson.

I parked for free maybe 200-250 yards away from the start for free. That my friends, is awesome. The start was very close to the Sun Sphere and it had enough people to feel like a big race but not so many that you had 50 waves and a 6 hour wait before you could start. I actually really loved the start of this race. There were 5 corrals and the speakers blared with "Rocky Top". I am not a southern boy but I know that song means a ton to Tennesseans. It was enough people for that runners camaraderie feel but I was able to hit my pace by the time I hit a quarter mile.

The University of Tennessee campus is beautiful and it offered a decent amount of fans. There seems to be a lot of things to read but I couldn't because I was a bit preoccupied but I remember seeing many historic statues. The down side to the race was the hills. According to my Nike+ App, the elevation was about 300 feet less than Atlanta. I suffered less but it didn't feel like much less climbing.

There were a few long stretches that were less culturally scenic but that was replaced by some amazingly beautiful homes. They were so appealing that I wanted to take some snapshots. I decided against that because I only remember seeing 4 black folks in the entire race (seriously) and I didn't want to be the one black dude photographing some rich white guy's house. The volunteers (no pun intended) and spectators along the route were terrific in these otherwise quiet neighborhoods. It waste of those things where it felt like they were clapping only for me.

Now the part that sucks. Noelton Drive was this big climb. People literally had signs apologizing for the hill. It was a two part climb and it is a spirit crusher. Despite the torturous climb, there were people with cool signs and words of encouragement. At the top of the hill, after we made a right turn, there was the biggest group of people along the course. That was a nice reward after the total annihilation at the hands of Noelton Rd.

Usually Half-Marathons and Full-Marathons have a pretty early split but this one lasted almost until the Half was complete. After the split the race went through World Fair Park and under the Sun Sphere.
That was super cool but then, like most marathons with a split, you hit no man's land. It turns into this sort of single file deal with one runner every 50 yards. It gets lonely out there.

As the race edged closer to the end the course took runners through this great little downtown area with bars and restaurants with people clapping or giving a thumbs up. There was one more uphill and then a turn to 100,000 seat Neyland Stadium. The approach to the stadium was nothing short of epic. My wife and children were sitting in the stands and cheered me into the stadium that finished on the 50 yard line. Aside from the NYC Marathon, this was the best finish ever.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Physically I'm Done But Runners Are Crazy

I'm convinced that about half of what separates successful entrepreneurs from the unsuccessful ones is perseverance.--Steve Jobs

So I have 2 days until my next marathon. This time I have a 3 hour drive up Interstate 75 to Knoxville, Tennessee for the Covenant Health Knoxville Marathon. It will only be two weeks between my last marathon and the imminent marathon on Sunday. I've done this time frame before so I have some sort of idea what needs to be done to get me from finish line to finish line.

It's easy enough right? Last time I took off 1 day and then I was back on my grind. The beginning of March 20th I had 32 miles for the month. As of the end of March, 11 days later, I have 90.9 miles total. I obviously ran a marathon but I added on significant mileage. When I ran the Publix Georgia Marathon I felt as though I hadn't done enough work in the weeks prior and I suffered because of it. So I was determined to not let that happen again.

This is precisely when Murphy's Law reared its ugly head. Here in Atlanta there is this thing called Yellow Pollen that seems to be straight out of a bad horror movie like, "Attack of the Killer Pollen". I suffered from allergies when I lived in New Jersey but I've never been pimped by pollen before. I guess there is a first time for everything. I also pride myself on never really getting sick. As I write these words I am not yet ready to concede to sickness but I am barely holding on to my record. Finally, I end up with a back sprain to slow me down on the last day of the month when I could have reached 100 miles.

I'm worried now. I am not certain if I can be good enough by Sunday. But let's be clear about 1 thing. I will still start and finish on Sunday, I just won't do very well. I imagine that I will creep along the course with periodic checks on the watch to ensure that I am not embarrassed when I see my kids at the end. There is also an outside chance that I will rise Sunday morning with a little bounce in my legs, fire in my belly, and a mission on my mind.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Race Report: Publix Georgia Marathon

Liberty is the right of every man to be honest, to think and to speak without hypocrisy.--Jose Marti

I live in Atlanta so I thought I had a pretty good handle on the course for the Publix Georgia Marathon last Sunday. I know that I can't go North, South, East, or West outside of my door without hitting some hill within the first 1/4 mile. I have at least 100 runs since I moved down here from New Jersey and by definition, 100 runs, makes you very well versed.

Okay, now for the reality of my third marathon of 2016. The week or so before this marathon I felt as if I hadn't done enough work to be where I was at my last marathon. I had a  34 day lay off and I only had run about 32 miles in March when race day arrived. All of that said, I figured that I had home field advantage. The first marathon I drove race morning about hour and change. My second marathon I drove with traffic, the other commodity native to Atlanta, for 6 hours with enough time to shove a bowl of pasta into my pie hole and guzzle some Gatorade before I had to stretch and sleep. This one was great as far as location. I drove 5 minutes. I was familiar with every turn and every hill.

Unfortunately my home field advantage was ineffective on this day. I arrived right before my wave start and I didn't have to rush or wait forever. The start line was amazing in that it was the Centennial Olympic Park. It was over 9,000 people running through the streets of Atlanta to a pretty big crowd. It was dark when the race started so you really appreciate the volunteers, family members, and other supporters. As amazing as the race start was it wasn't long before I had to gallup over the first hill. Maybe at the first mile we ran into a hill.

The hills rolled consistently throughout the race and mile 7 was a the very top of a relatively steep hill. Mile 7 is where the Half-Marathon and Full Marathon split. The funny part is although experienced runners, like myself, will not get caught up in the pacing of others, you still look at your fellow runners and marvel at their pace so early in a marathon. Little do you know that those speedsters only had to run half of your distance. That was the reason that they all looked like gazelles and I looked like an aardvark.

I had two forms of relief after the split. Every uphill must go down and I ran into an area that I have run no less than 15 times before. Familiarity allows my body to just do what it is trained to do. Just days prior I had taken a little run past the birth home of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the marathon course passed it as well. I didn't want to be demonstrative or pepper in unnecessary histrionics. I stared quietly and deliberately until it was out of sight but there is no way I could just past it sans acknowledgement.

Despite the hills I moved faster than I had in the previous marathon. My 10k, 10-mile, half-marathon and 18-mile times were better. None of these times were faster than my first marathon but I crapped out at mile 17 of that one so I was more than okay with being a little slower. I started to feel my hamstring twinge as my heel kicked. I had to alter my stride so my kick wouldn't cause further discomfort. My times began to rise mile after mile. By mile 21 the wheels had officially come off.

If it wasn't for the endorphins or whatever it is that is the cause of my love for the sport I would have been massively depressed. I knew that I had conceded a PR and resigned myself to simply another finish. Earlier in the race, I saw my wife and kids at mile 16 or so. My wife asked me how I felt and I gave her the hand gesture for so-so. I knew early on that my body would not be able to maintain the pace.

The hills continued and so did I. I walked the major uphills with hopes of stalling the inevitable cramp up. It worked but my time really suffered. That defeatist attitude disappeared when I saw my family again at the finish. No one knows that I suffered through half of the race. They only know that daddy finished another race and as long as they know that I started and they saw me finish the lesson here is taught.