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.

Race Report: Hilton Head Marathon

Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase.-- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

I was very nervous about running in Hilton Head. No, it wasn't because I only saw 3 other black people. It was because of my marathon history when my wife and kids aren't present. In 2008 I ran the Chicago Marathon. It was my worst marathon ever. I collapsed from heat exhaustion. I didn't eat enough. I didn't sleep enough. In 2015 I ran the New Jersey Marathon. Although I lived in NJ at the time, my wife and kids couldn't make the trip "down the shore". I felt my Achilles twinge in mile 1. I ran okay until mile 13. Then the wheels fell off. It took me 2 hours to get from mile 18 to  the finish. It was another finish in the medical tent.

Once again I knew that the family wouldn't be there. I had all types of weird anxiety all week. I am not typically an anxious person, which is why it is odd to have anxiety. I wondered if I would experience injury or sickness. I felt like a 90 year old woman thinking that everyday is my last and if it isn't it was going to suck because it wasn't as good as yesterday... you know the type. It forced me to obsessively plan for everything. I asked my wife to put a crap load of pasta into a tupperware (probably isn't tupperware brand but it's all tupperware isn't it?) bowl. I checked the weather constantly and I bought hand warmers. I looked at no less than 7 million topographic maps to ensure that I knew the elevation. I... was prepared.

Of course my obsessive planning means nothing to how the world moves. When I "Wazed" the trip, It said 4 hours from my house. I assumed since I work 30 minutes north of home, I would be leaving from home, South Carolina is north of Georgia, that it should take roughly 3 and a half hours to reach Hilton Head. Unfortunately, the trip calls for a southern swing to then go East and finally north again. Factor in the amazing Atlanta traffic and it took me 6 hours to get there. I checked in at around 10:00pm the night before a marathon. I stuffed my face with spaghetti and then I turned in a little after midnight. Next, you guessed it, I woke up late. I figured that I would drive over, grab my number then head back to the hotel and check out. This process took forever.

I started the race 15 mins after the official start. This, is where the bad story ends. There was actually some benefit to running alone opposite the field in an out and back. I found my rhythm sooner without the adrenaline of the start. I was able to pick people off throughout the race because of my late start. Every runner finds some enjoyment passing someone along the course I think.

The course was very flat. Historically I don't like flat surfaces but this was welcome because of the abbreviated wait time between races. Although I had some quiet moments, it wasn't like the last one where I had moments almost completely alone. I only wish I had taken more photos. I felt so good that I didn't even want to stop for photo ops.

I shuffled along nicely admiring the island town of Hilton Head, SC. The course wasn't designed along the boardwalk or water but if you've ever seen a southern island town, you have some appreciation for the trees and other views. The only climb was across a bridge which, had amazing views of the swampy water beneath. The sun hit is perfectly and you feel like you just wanted to stop and admire. Or you wanted to stop because it was the top of the only hill and it required some serious effort.

All in all, although it was 2 minutes slower than 2 weeks ago, it felt so much better. Stay tuned for the Publix Georgia Marathon on March 20, 2016.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Two Days Left

For we choose happiness for itself, and never with a view to anything further; whereas we choose honor, pleasure, intellect... because we believe that through them we shall be made happy.-- Aristotle

The Publix Georgia Marathon will be my biggest marathon to date. It's a different type of excitement for this one. First and foremost it is in the town where I live, right here in Atlanta. I don't have to get into the car and dig in for and hour or 4 hours. I actually plan to take public transportation to the start. There is a different feel when you are on the "home team". I've run 90% of these streets multiple times. There may be a surprise turn or two but my body has seen this movie before.

The other exciting part is the Health and Fitness Expo. I had grown accustomed to huge expo events after running the NYC Marathon 10 times, Chicago once, and New Jersey once. At those things I received huge bags of stuff that although it is largely useless, it is free and part of a major event. The Callaway Gardens and Hilton Head Marathons offered no such accoutrements. To be clear, this is not a knock on the aforementioned marathons, I just report facts. Frankly, I received T-shirts and a few other things in a goodie bag and generally, when I am done at the bigger marathons, what is left after I get rid of stuff is essentially the same amount of items. The bigness however of an expo is amazing.

You get to walk around with folks that will do what you will do in a few days. They have special speakers and it is set up for the runners. I love to walk in and take pictures of stuff. The energy is terrific in a building full of anxious and excited runners.

As much excitement as I have with the anticipation of my third marathon this year, I am subdued by the feel of my body. I am a bit achy everywhere and I haven't run a great deal in March. It is actually unknown, based on feel, what my performance will be Sunday but I know when I finish, I can look myself in the mirror and say to myself... actually, just the ability to look in the mirror after a race is action enough to tell that everything I have to give was just given.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The Beauty of Running

Some people create with words, or with music, or with a brush and paints. I like to make something beautiful when I run. I like to make people stop and say, "I've never seen anyone run like that before." It's more than just a race, it's style. It's doing something better than everyone else. It's being creative.--Steve Prefontaine

I have a choice whether or not I run. But I run because I don't really have a choice. When I wake up in the morning, I look over at my wife and then I get into... the process. I grab the running clothes that I set up on the floor. By set up I mean, threw in the corner of my bedroom. They are clean but there is no reason to keep my running gear well presented for running at 4am. I could probably do this entire thing blindfolded. I rise to my feet because I crawled from my bed, to my phone, across the room. If I leave my phone too close I will not actually wake up to run. I am a heavy sleeper. I can turn off my phone alarm and never realize that I did.

The awesome thing about it is that this is all muscle memory. The clothes, the bathroom, the music, shoes, keys, out the door. In New Jersey, I lived in a house and I walked down the stairs as if, "a man had to do what a man had to do". In Atlanta, I live in a building with a long corridor. I walk down the hallway like the astronauts in "The Right Stuff". Albeit in oddly bright, form fitting clothing. That walk however sets me apart from those in the world that cannot understand why we do what we do.

Running is an activity that one can presumably do every day. The beauty of the run exists in all aspects of the run. The foot strike to the pattern of breathing. A runner's full gait cycle is like a snowflake... no two are alike. There are moments when I feel like I am floating and the run is as effortless as the blink of an eye. There are other times your foot pounding on the ground feels, well, like it's pounding on the ground. Oftentimes I can feel the air moving in and out of my lungs. A runner is very in tune with their body.

Running is also largely based on science. I imagine that all sports are based in scientific findings but it appears as though running is more rooted in science than many other popular sports. Things that make the most sense in football can have zero impact on the outcome of a game. Most of the legendary coaches like Bowerman, Lydiard, Cerutty, and Daniels created a winning formula because of what they were able to do with the human body.

The ad in the 1977 back cover of Runner's World magazine read, "There Is No Finish Line". This ad was taken out by Nike and the thing that really caught my attention wasn't the paragraph on it. It was the picture of a lone runner on a long road to... who knows?

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

I Miss the Streets

'Tis absence however that makes the heart grow fonder.-- Origin Unknown

Since the start of March I have only logged about 13 total miles. For those consistent readers, you all know that 13 miles in 7 days for me is a bit under water. You also know that I am not much for excuses, but in this particular instance, it is all I have to offer; a huge, festering excuse. 

To all of the boo hooers and malingerers that feign injury or tell some story about the 17 kids you have, the 190 hours a week that you have to work, or perhaps the hill that is uphill, both ways, in the snow, year round, barefoot, blah blah blah. I was once told that there are no excuses, only priorities. That phrase rings true for me in the case of running so little as of late.

I run primarily in the very early morning. Everyone in my house is usually asleep. The past couple of days my wife was out of town so my window to run was a lot tighter. There were times where I could have sacrificed spending time with my wide awake children to run for an hour. This is an example of priorities. First and foremost I dedicate my life to my wife and kids, then running. Literally, in that order. Certainly my children would be okay without spending an extra hour with me. I am also relatively certain that I will send my kids screaming to therapy more because of my presence than my absence (just kidding, sort of, not really).

My body feels weird and I haven't had that 60-90 minutes to just exist in my own brain. I love being out there when everyone else is asleep in the world. It makes me feel different. I makes me feel special to know that so few will open the front door and run the streets simply for the love of doing it. Oddly enough, as much as I miss running as much as I do, I miss my wife even more. Even if I had a live in sitter and my running program didn't change I would still not be normal.

I've been a runner for 15 years. I've been with my wife for 14 years. We have undoubtedly built my running career together. Although she has probably run only 20 miles with me since we've been together, each mile she is still beside me. She cheers me on. She pushes me. She tells me when to stop and she tells me that I am awesome when I actually suck. There is no separation between the love of my life and my love for the run.

Tomorrow morning at 5am I will hit the road again. Not only because I have the time but because of the order that will return when my heart lands at Hartsfield-Jackson.