I haven't written much about running this year. After last year's first full marathon, which I finished (yay) but failed in my goals on (by 1/2 hour), I've of course kept running. I figured this year I'd just shoot for a half-marathon. Full marathons basically eat your life up during the long months of training. Halves are much more manageable.

My first 1/2, 2 years ago in Asheville, was also my first organized race. I did it in 1:55:18 (8:48/mi.), which was great since I was just happy to have accomplished it. The 1/2 marathon split during my full marathon

last year was basically the same, 1:55:something. That time I was just focused on the increased mileage, so didn't think at all about speed.

This year, I just wanted to run a 1/2 and beat 1:55:18. I didn't much care by how much. About 6 weeks ago, a friend called and mentioned he was running a half marathon in San Jose. As it turned out, I had planned to be in CA on vacation during that time and hadn't registered for any races yet. So I signed up. Running in my home town, right by my old neighborhood and old haunts, would be great. The problem--he has always run faster than me and was shooting for 1:45. Aggressively, he was hoping for 1:40 to beat his personal record. 1:45 would be a record for me, as it's almost a minute faster per mile than I was used to running!

I immediately changed my training and focused on timing myself (I never did) and getting my speed up.

So yesterday we ran the San Jose Rock 'n' Roll marathon. Great weather, running through parts of San Jose I knew well but never ran through, lots of live music, supportive family and friends, and a solid runner and friend at my side helped. It was a great run. We pushed each other and I finished at 1:39:27 (7:36/mi.), faster than we'd even hoped.

My chip time was almost 30 secs faster, as I didn't start with the elite runners.

I still maintain that just about anyone can train to a half-marathon in a year or two. My first run was 3.5 years ago, all of one measly huffing-and-puffing mile. If I can do it, so can you.

Pace Is the Trick

I had three goals in mind when attempting this past Sunday's Cape Cod Marathon:

  1. Optimistic: Finish under 4 hours.
  2. I'd be pleased: Finish under 4:30.
  3. Realistic: Because of my recent injuries, simply to finish upright and not have to bail and take the van back to the start.

So Sunday I woke up at 5:30 to the sound of very heavy rain and winds. Updated forecasts called for the Falmouth, MA area to clear up in the early morning. I could only hope as I downed a glass of water and a Pop-Tart and got ready. At 6am we drove down to Falmouth, a 1.5 hour drive from where we were staying. Along the way I picked up a coffee at race sponsor Dunkin' Donuts and ate half a banana. Got lost for a few minutes. As we approached Falmouth, either it had never rained as much as Eastham, or it had cleared much earlier--it was cloudy but the rain was gone. Whew!

We arrived at the highschool that was the race headquarters with 45 minutes to race time. I stretched out and walked over to the starting line. There were 1200 marathon participants and another 200 relay team members. And at 8:30, we were off.

I felt really good at the start and tried to keep from going out too fast. I felt like I was running slower than usual, but the 1mi. mark had me at just under 9 minutes, which was my training speed for mid-distances. A couple of ladies in front of me looked much more experienced and so were probably better paced, so I decided to just run with them. I knew I could do the first half at 9 minute miles, minimally. Ends up they were from Palo Alto CA, near my hometown of San Jose. That was a nice coincidence.

I was warned that the back half of the race was very hilly, and was prepared to slow down during it. I was not prepared for the first half to have many long, gradual uphills as well. As we rounded the coast, the beach was misty, and the views were fantastic the whole way. This race was counted as one of the top 10 most scenic marathons in the country by some racing magazine or other. I believe it. The fall colors were a great distraction.

At mile 10 I had to hit a port-a-potty so lost my Palo Alto pace-runners, but I still felt fantastic--my knee showed no sign of bothering me yet. I passed the half at 1:57, basically the same pace I did my half-marathon last year, but with 2 minutes of restroom time out. I was pleased. Had the race been flat, I might've made it just after 4 hours, maybe 4:10. But the "real" hills began just after the half. Until mile 13 the course was thoroughly enjoyable. After, the work began. Around mile 15, a guy behind me wretched something horrible. I didn't turn back to look.

The "rolling" hills rolled on until mile 21 or so. By around mile 16 I could tell they were really taking it out of me. I took to running maybe half way up, then walking the crests of each hill. I took particular care to maintain good running form--a main focus of my post-injury training.

I kept my thoughts positive as much as possible, though the pain was dominating. I thought about what finishing would feel like, but I would not know until later that mile 22 would be my top-of-the-mountain moment. I was thoroughly exhausted from the hills, and was walking the crest of one of the last rises. The sun had just broken out and it was a very nice clear day. On my left, a very nice lighthouse, on the right, waves crashing on the rocky coast. At the top, a man was playing a bagpipe. This was funny at first; I think of two things when I hear bagpipes: first, I think of cats being shoved into meat grinders, then I think of funerals. I felt like the first and ready for the second! Still, as I rounded the lighthouse it all coalesced into an amazing moment of clarity, one of those sublime moments where all is right with the world. My Scientologist friends would call it a state of being "clear," if I had any Scientologist friends. After savoring it for a minute or two, I dove back into the final leg of the race.

Those last 4 miles were just surviving, and were broken up into sections of alternating brisk walking and more jogging, as I developed a stitch in my side. My knee never reared its ugly head. As I picked up for a last push into the finishing area and crossed the finish line, I realized that finishing wasn't the best part. I was too exhausted to bask in it.

L: 8:15am, still waking up C: about mile 16 or so, still alive R: 1pm, ready for bed again

L: 8:15am, still waking up C: about mile 16 or so, still alive R: 1pm, ready for bed again

I finished the race in 4:27, spent the next half hour cooling down, stretching, and trying to stave off post-race nausea, then showered and tried as best I could to return to homeostasis. It was very difficult to eat for a couple hours but I managed some bread and a little complimentary clam chowder.

Thanks for your patience in reading about this running stuff. It's time for a week off of running. If you missed some entries and want to read back, click the "running" link at the bottom of this post.

Final Thoughts

As I head off to attempt my marathon this weekend, I figured I'd give some final thoughts before the run. I suppose there is a 1:50,000 chance that they might be my final thoughts, period, given that approximate rate of sudden death during a marathon.

I spoke with two friends of mine who also run, after my last post on the topic. They both shared one common theme of advice: stop stressing out. One advised that as my training was already equal to or superior to what he'd done, allowing him to complete his first marathon, that I should be confident that if my knee holds up I'll survive. Further, to focus on anything and everything good and non-painful during the run, to counteract the pain and exhaustion and self-defeating thoughts that inevitably arise.

The other honed in on a personal struggle I've held in every area of my life: enjoying the ride. I have always been more goal-oriented than process-oriented. By this I mean that I work specifically to the end of, for instance, creating a good painting. If I'm unhappy with the end-product, the process of creating it is tainted by that unhappiness. It's not that I don't enjoy painting itself--I do--but I suppose I don't paint for painting's sake. I paint for the sake of creating finished paintings. I myself want to see and enjoy the finished product, and that drives my efforts.

The same is true in other areas of my life: even in cooking, where some people relish the actions of creating a meal, I cook for the explicit goal of enjoying the meal that will be produced. Ancillary benefits of the process of cooking are appreciated to the extent that they naturally arise, but I don't seek to savor the aromas, the chopping, the stirring. Ditto going for a walk. Ditto reading a book--I do that for the purpose of gaining the information stored therein, or to find out what happens in a narrative. You can extrapolate further.

I say it's been a struggle, and the precise reason is because I honestly notice the good to be found in the journey, and often I tell myself I should enjoy the moment, the now, the fleeting experience that buries itself into the past before you can blink. I'm normally very good at identifying aspects of myself that need change, and then changing them over time. So perhaps I'll get to do so on this point, too.

Normally I say that I like rain, but as it is probably going to be rainy and cold on race day, I'll have the irony of trying to enjoy what I say I enjoy, all the while being very damp and unhappy that it is raining.

So putting the two pieces of advice together is a good place to start. Running for 4-5 hours for the goal of finishing seems like a disproportionate pain-to-benefit ratio. If I don't make the point of enjoying the run itself as much as possible, I won't survive.

Lord willing, I'll have some good news regarding the run in a few days, and we can move on to other topics again.

the Agony of de Feet

A few months ago, I posted about my signing up for the Cape Cod Marathon at the end of this month. From roughly June through now I have been ramping up the mileage in preparation for the race. I haven't talked much about it, but with the race in a few short weeks, let's catch up.

What the heck was I thinking?

I'll start with the good--I'm in the best shape of my life, with all the perks that comes with. I'll probably never be 6'2" and ~186lbs. again. I imagine I'll still be 6'2" for awhile, though. Running, particularly long-distance running, really does a lot to increase your mental discipline, focus, and simple ability to put up with pain. I'll likely reap the rewards of that psychological toughening for years, and it's already made a difference in other areas of life. As well, there is a grand confidence-booster in having pushed yourself beyond what you thought possible.

Now with that out of the way....

I've never attempted anything this difficult, and doubt I'll try it again. I don't know that I'd recommend it to others.

Half-marathons I'd recommend to anyone, but going from 13 to 26 miles is not twice as hard, it's exponentially more difficult. Even up until about mile 16-18, things are ok. Once you hit "the wall" around that point, it is sheer jaw-clenching effort to continue. But that could also just be because this is my first marathon. If I tried another, It'd probably be easier. After all, half-marathons are now the stuff of training days when once they seemed out-of-reach.

Marathon training takes huge amounts of time. Not even counting warm-up/cool down and stretching, I run at about a 9-minute mile. So, an average training week might have you running for ~6 hours, plus all the other associated activites. Long runs can add and last 3-4 hours, plus those other items, plus taking you out from exhaustion for a couple hours after. Something has to give when you train for marathons. I ended up cutting out videogame time and watching fewer movies.

Marathon training season is either in the dead of winter or of summer. Neither is very fun in most places, but in NYC it sucked. High humidity and high temperatures are far less than optimal and can, at times, be dangerous to run in for long periods of time. I am NOT a morning person, but in the grip of summer, it was not unusual to find me awake at 5am to get a long run in and be back before 9am, when the mercury was already climbing. "Boo-hoo," some of you say, who get up at 5am normally. Sure. The equivalent then is you waking up at 1am to run, then going to work.

Marathon training is expensive. Good running shoes, on sale, can be found for about $70. They will last you ~4 months while training. Running shirts and underwear (yes, underwear), marathon fees, gel packs/exercise nutrition...these things add up. Plus, you will eat a lot more than usual. That should go in the perk paragraph up top, but eating more than usual day-by-day costs money.

Marathon training is dangerous. If you're lucky to have traffic-free trails, it's far less dangerous. I did, thankfully. However, long-distance running is also very hard on the body. You will be inclined to not take seriously the advice to do lots of stretches. In my case, in August I pulled my right hamstring. I backed off on mileage for a couple weeks, stretched more, and was able to run through that. In early September I started developing Plantar Fasciitis on my left foot. I cut out most of the stiff hill work I was doing, replacing that mileage with more flat mileage, and that went away.

And back...but I didn't quite make it. Then, I developed "runner's knee," or ITB pain--pain that hits when you run, on the outside of your knee. It started suddenly at the end of Sept., at the beginning of a 6-mile, everyday run. It was minor and didn't get worse, and I finished the run. 2 days later I had a scheduled 23 mile long-run--my longest run before the race. I ran from the foot of the Washington Bridge down to Battery Park and intended to run all the way back. About mile 12 the pain began to reassert itself and by mile 14 or so I had to stop running. I walked briskly and intended to do so most of the way home, and then the pain started bothering enough that I stopped and cabbed it home. I was devastated. All that work, just over a month to go, and now this injury. I was faced with the realization that bailing on my marathon might be a reality.

I took 8 days off and introduced just about every measure known to man to help my knee heal, which continue. I then tried a 4-mile run, and though the pain was greatly reduced from even the first bout, it was still there throughout the run. More panic. I bought a one-month membership at the local gym to get off my knee and try to keep up my training, focusing on stationary bike, which is completely painless. A few days later I added treadmill with its even and absorbent surface. So far so good, I'm back up to 8 miles without pain.

But there are just under 3 weeks left, and I never got past successfully running 21 miles. And I almost fainted after completing that. 5 more miles on top of that, with compromised training? I am doing everything I can to continue and at least finish. If I bail, I almost certainly will need to try again next year--I do not take failure well.

I'm giving it my all to do my run and finish well. I just don't know what will be. I'll report back in a few weeks.