An Inconvenient Possibility

Running a marathon is a bourgeois thing to do. Let’s face it – people working two jobs to keep a roof over their head and food on the table aren’t thinking they need to spend hours every week running to nowhere to get some sense of accomplishment. They are apparently likely to drive by and yell, “run Forrest!” as one random gentleman did just this very morning.  I recently had the misfortune of running by a young man who was so offended that someone was running for exercise (or whatever it was I was doing) that he felt obliged to yell at me as long as I was in earshot.  I get it. Running is a pretty ridiculous thing to do.  It has, like most ridiculous things tend to do, placed me at a strange sort of nexus of the universe.

You see, the marathon I have been training for – the Marine Corps Marathon – winds through Washington DC and specifically through many areas impacted by the current government shutdown. The race organizers have been monitoring the shutdown and have now announced that a final decision will be made by October 19 and that decision could be to cancel the race. Of course my immediate reaction was to pout. Then I regrouped and tried to figure out how to run a different marathon if MCM is cancelled. Then I got pissed off because that was going to be very difficult. You see, even though marathons are bourgeois and elitist, they are also very popular at least relative to their supply. MCM sold out in a matter if hours. Any marathon coming up in the next few weeks will have sold out long ago. So I pouted some more, realized I was being an elitist turd, and got over it.

So how does any of this put me at the nexus of the universe?  Well, as we have seen so far, the plight of the people does not seem to impact political decisions but personal impact on politicians does. Sequestration continued as it was originally set in motion until it personally impacted people in the government and the “business types” who fund them.  As soon as flights started being delayed or cancelled, suddenly there was plenty of money for the TSA and air traffic controllers.

This is where I have placed my misguided petty hope that I will get to run in MCM – that just one person in congress is running in or is related to and/or schtupping someone who is running in MCM. That is all it would take – just one person out of the 30,000 people currently in a panic about their marathon hopes to also have a voice in congress. I’m not saying that would be enough to end the government’s shutdown or prevent it from defaulting on its debt, but it would be enough to make sure MCM happens.

So here I sit with my best hope of running my marathon (a clearly selfish activity) is for the selfishness of at least one politician to outweigh his or her political convictions. Sadly this is probably more likely than the government shutdown ending by the 19th.

15th Annual Miracle Miles 15k

This race was a bit of an afterthought. I needed to run 10 at marathon pace this weekend so when I saw this race I figured 9.3 was close enough. I’ve done this race 2 of the last 3 years and it is one of the few long races in Orlando so it’s one I like to do.

The last two were pretty hot so I was nervous about the weather, but today was about as lovely as you could ask for in FL in September.  The humidity wasn’t too bad and even as the sun came up, there was no sense of scorching heat blazing down on you. I’m sure finishing 10+ min faster helped too, but even after the race the weather seemed nice.

After a wonderful 40th birthday party last night followed by a not-so-good night’s sleep, I wasn’t sure about how I would do.  I really wanted to hit my 8:11 target pace and knew that would get me close to 1:15, but if it felt too hard I was ready to back off and make this a training run. 

I got a great parking space not too far from the start but still outside the route so I wouldn’t get stuck after.  I warmed up by running to Lake Eola and watched the sunrise over the lake as I finished my 0.7 to make an even 10 for the day.  Between the cooler weather, nerves, and somewhat fresh legs things seemed to be going well and I locked in my pace at 8:10 without too much effort. I watched the start of the 5k and then was one of the first people at the starting line and found a good spot near the 8:00 pace marker.

The start was pretty good. Even though they had us come forward to the starting line to fill in the space, there wasn’t a log jam and I was able to lock in my pace. 

The first few miles were uneventful. We did a quick lap around a block downtown before heading up Orange to Kaley. Kaley was right into the sun and then around 2.75 I think someone puked and another guy almost tripped over a cone. I checked my pace at the mile markers and was staying around 8:05.  I was feeling really good finishing mile 3 and started to work on my strategy: keep it easy and on schedule through the halfway point and maybe pick it up after that.  For the first 4-5 miles I was racing the clock but after that I was racing people.

My pace didn’t really pick up much in miles 6-7 but I was still going strong while some others were withering. It was a great feeling to be passing people this year after bonking big time last year and feeling like everyone passed me. In spite of moving up in the pack, mile 6 was the slowest as I got ready for the last 5k.

The last few miles I pushed a bit. I felt like I was at about a 7:55 pace but I guess after 6 miles 8:00 feels like 7:55 (and yes I can tell the difference).

I knew with 1.5 left I was home free. I knew I could push harder but for some reason I chickened out. Maybe because the few people who passed me were still in reach, I just kept cruising to the last half mile. Then I started picking up the pace. With about 600m left I passed Ray from my running group and gave him an awkward high-five-fist-bump and tried to get him to come with me on my kick as I ran by. When I got past mile 9 and to the last 400m I knew I had one hell of a kick in me.  As I turned the corner to the home stretch I took off. There was a “young guy” I caught up with and said something like “Come on! Let’s get ’em!”  He tried to hang with me (and failed) as we weaved through the finishers. I finished in typical fashion – pumping my fists and woohooing.  I crossed the line, whooped and hollered some more, grabbed my medal (probably a bit aggressively) and before I knew it had caught my breath. I found my kick partner and we fist-bumped. He looked rough. One of the volunteers asked if he was ok.  According to Garmin I hit a 4:35 max pace on my kick. I believe it. I was hauling much ass.

After the race, I ran into Ray again and 2 ladies from my group and one of the guys who hasn’t run with us for a while (he kicked my ass).

Statistically, this was a great race for me. Finished in 1:15:03, 24 of 103 in my new age group, 133 of 707 men, and 186 of 1761 overall.  Beat my previous PR by over 12 minutes.

Splits: 8:06, 8:09, 8:05, 8:11, 8:08, 8:12, 8:02, 8:01, 7:51, 6:32 (0.35)

Why Boston Matters

As yesterday’s tragedy is reviewed in excruciating detail, I wanted to try to give my non-running friends some perspective. Yes, the Boston Marathon is run on “Patriots Day”. Yes, yesterday was “Tax Day”. Yes, the marathon was a worldwide event with lots of spectators. For people who have no concept of what it is like to run a marathon, they must all seem the same. I’m sure you realize Boston is important the same way you know the Masters, Wimbledon, and the Daytona 500 are important. But the Boston Marathon is different.

On March 27 I registered for the Marine Corps Marathon. It will be my second marathon. The first was the 2011 Disney Marathon. I had only been running a few years and I knew nothing about the sport. I just knew I could run that race as long as I paid my money and registered before it was full.

Every year, more and more people are running marathons. The Marine Corps Marathon filled up in less than 3 hours last year. That’s how I remember the exact date when I registered – the only day you can register. I sat at my computer at 11:59 watching the second hand and poised to click refresh on my web browser. I battled an overloaded web site for an hour and fifteen minutes before I finally got in. That still doesn’t come close to what it takes to get to run Boston. It doesn’t even scratch the surface.

You see, running is a very inclusive sport. To run in most races, you usually just have to pay your money and sign up in time. For most marathons, you have about 6 hours to finish (14 minute per mile pace which is really a brisk walk).

Boston is different. It is THE marathon. Unlike other Marathons, there is a “qualifying standard”. That means to even have a chance to enter, you must complete a qualifying marathon under the required time within 18 months of the race. If you are a woman and over the age of 80, that means 5 hours and 25 minutes. I am in the second fastest group – men 35-39. My Boston qualifying time (BQ time) is 3:10. That is a 7:14 per mile pace. To put that in perspective, 1,675 men in the 34-39 age range started the 2013 Disney marathon – a certified BQ course. 26 finished under the official BQ limit of 3:10:59. Stephane Boehm of Nice, France finished 27th – ahead of 1,648 men his age, 153rd of 20,734 total finishers and failed to qualify for Boston by 50 seconds (less than 2 seconds per mile). My fastest 5k (3.1 mile) race to date was 22:37 or a 7:16 pace. If I could run that pace for 26.2 miles (which I cannot) I would have finished just behind Stephane and still would not have qualified for Boston.

I don’t know if Stephane Boehm had any intention of entering the 2014 Boston Marathon but I guarantee that countless others who failed to finish the Disney and many other races around the world within the BQ standard were devastated. To complete a marathon takes months of training. Most training plans last 16-18 weeks and assume you can run 10 miles or so before you even start. To qualify for Boston can take YEARS of running 40-50 miles a week including running 20 miles or more at least once before each race. You will wear out countless pairs of shoes, run through minor injuries, and rehab major ones. You will be chased by dogs, taunted by teenagers in passing cars, get rained on, trip and fall over a crack in the sidewalk, spend a fortune on Gatorade and gel (semi-liquid sugar packets), convince your closest family members and friends that you are a lunatic, and strain your relationship with your significant other. And you still might not get in. You see starting in 2013 it wasn’t enough to just meet the BQ standard and then be one of the first to sign up. The faster you ran the better your chance of getting a spot. 

THAT is what is particularly disturbing to runners about the bombing in Boston. This was not just a sporting event. The spectators killed and injured were not just fans. They were also family members and friends. They were the people who supported the runners through what is probably the toughest amateur qualification process in the world. Many people dream of running a marathon, but many of those who have dream of running Boston. They put post-its with their BQ time on their mirror and memorize their mile split times and get a “BQ” tattoo when they qualify. It is a lifelong pursuit. THAT is what was attacked for runners – the living embodiment of a dream.

So I will apologize collectively for us if we seem to be taking this very personally. We are a bit “off” to begin with, you know. However, hopefully you have a little bit better view into our crazy world and how it is now particularly crazy, sad, and broken.

Galen Rupp – Perfect 10k?

After reading “That Pre Thing” in the latest “Runner’s World”, I had the inevitable response – I wanted to race. I wanted to push myself to see what my guts could get me that my training couldn’t. With no races on my schedule, I did the next best thing – I watched other people race on YouTube. I started with the David Rudisha 800m world record in London. I wasn’t watching Rudisha. I was watching Nick Symmonds. After reading the RW article, I wanted to see him overachieve and PR. I wasn’t a fan during the Olympics. The word “douche” was more likely than “idol” to come to mind. After reading the article, though, I have a lot of respect for him and what he is trying to do for competitive running in the US.

So after watching Symmonds come from last to finish fifth against the best in the world, I switched to my favorite race of the Olympics – Mo Farah’s win in the 10,000. After watching the last three laps as pure motivation and entertainment, I found another version with the full race and watched about the last 6-7 laps. That’s where I noticed something. I might not have noticed, but while I was browsing YouTube I found a video that talked about how slow the Olympic 10,000 was and specifically Galen Rupp’s silver medal time. The guy in the video was talking about how the strategy is different when you are racing to win and not necessarily trying to set a world record. So when I was watching more of the 10,000, I found myself watching Rupp and what he was doing. After a few laps it was very obvious – he wasn’t racing to win, he was racing to medal. From the time I started watching he was in fourth place – not third, not fifth. He was running as slow as he could without losing a shot at the bronze. Behind him, Mo Farah was racing to win. He was running his own race. With the field bunched up, he could pick his pace and his spot. Clearly he felt he could out kick the field. As Farah started his kick for the last 400m, I think he knew the race was his to lose. It was a 400m race he was going to run from the front. Rupp stayed in fourth. Don’t get me wrong, the lead pack was accelerating and so was Rupp. He was still in the shoulder of the third place runner, but he didn’t make a move until the last 200m. His tactics obviously paid off, he passed the would-be bronze and silver medalists as the field spread out across the finish.

So why do I think this was a perfect race for Rupp? I am sure he wanted to win as much as anyone and he didn’t win. Maybe he thought he could catch Farah in the last 200, but I doubt it. What his tactics said to me is, “Don’t come this far and not go home with a medal!” It was possibly the most disciplined race I have ever seen (granted I haven’t watched many races that closely). His challenge was also obvious – pass as many of the greatest runners in the world in the last 200m without letting any of them pass you. I’m not sure you can win a race without racing to win. I’m pretty sure you can fail to medal by trying to win. I think Rupp wanted a medal, any medal, and silver was the perfect result.

Have I Arrived?

When I ran my first 5k, the winner ran it in 19:xx. I remember thinking, “I could do that!” Almost 4 years later and I realize two things: that time won’t win a lot of 5ks, and it is pretty fast for a guy my age. Now, after two excellent rounds of half marathon training with increasing pace, breaking 20:00 might be possible. “Might.”

I’m still a running newbie. I only have a handful of races under my belt. The two most notable are my two half marathons. Before the first one, I don’t think I ever ran 13.1 without stopping for a walk break. The only full I ran I walked through all the water stops. Now as I near my third half, I have broken 2:00, came close to 1:55, and now I’m targeting 1:52.

Most importantly, I feel like I’ve turned a corner. My goal when I started training last summer was to get faster but easier (if that makes sense). Up to that point I had gotten all of my pace through guts. Every mile was like a tempo run or harder. Speed work was at a blistering pace. Injuries of course followed. I got faster, but never felt like I could really hold onto that speed. After I ran the Wine and Dine in 2011, I thought I could hold onto that 9:00 pace for long runs and build from there. I was very disappointed when I found out that was the peak of my training and not a permanent change.

So what is different this time? Part experience and part attitude. The two go hand-in-hand. Experience tells me there is a difference between peaking for a race and long-term improvement. That led to an attitude this time to shoot for long-term improvement. The bottom line is, instead of sticking to my training plan to try to get to my target pace, I went after every run as an opportunity to build my pace. I wasn’t following someone else’s schedule hoping to reach my goal. I was running every run with a purpose. 

So when I ran this last Wine and Dine in 1:55:40, I wasn’t at all disappointed that I missed 1:55 by 40 seconds. Quite the opposite – I crossed the finish line pumping my fists and whooping and hollering because I knew the results weren’t a peak, but a permanent change. 

I still had my doubts though. When I signed up for the upcoming Disney half, I thought I would probably just hang on. I thought 1:55 was possible but probably not any significant improvement. I thought, “Maybe I’ll get some good pictures with the characters this time.” After all, most of my training would be interrupted by Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years.

That wasn’t the case. The “interruptions” turned into great weather and extra time. My training philosophy continued and so did my improvement. The measuring stick I used for my last round of training (pace in speed work and tempo runs) confirmed my improvement. This all culminated in what is probably a perfect workout this morning.

My plan called for a six-mile tempo run and while my new philosophy may not be driven by the plan, the plan still works. So I set out for a two-mile warmup, three hard miles, and then one mile recovery. My goal for my warmup was race pace (8:30). I managed that for the first mile then dropped down to around 9:00 to save gas for the tempo section. The next three miles were like so many before – just the “right” pace. A pace I could hold for that distance but not much more. I managed the run while running, making sure to stay relaxed and not over exert even at a “faster” pace. I knew the last mile would be tough and had to push a bit at the end to get under 8:00, but was not completely gassed either. Another workout in the bag. Another measurement of my progress. Another positive reinforcement of my training.

So will I break 20:00 for a 5k this year? Who knows? I’d be happy with 20:40 for sure. Will I break 1:52 a week from tomorrow? Possibly. The bottom line is, I don’t care. I love running again and not just running faster. I love running with my wife and my new friends from my running groups. I love long runs by myself, speed work in miserable heat, and tempo runs on cold misty mornings. 

I think about the quote from John F. Kennedy a lot when I run: “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” I definitely run because it is hard, but I enjoy it so much when it is easy. After the 2011 Disney full, my wife got me “Run Less, Run Faster”. I have loved (mostly) using the Furman FIRST plan. I’ve loved running 3 days a week and still improving. Now maybe it’s time for me to write a book: “Run Faster, Easier.”

Disaster Averted

As I sat at the kitchen table this morning getting ready for my run, I picked up my phone and surfed the Internet. I quickly realized that I was delaying my run, not because I didn’t want it to start but because I didn’t want it to end. This was my last workout at the end of 18 weeks of training for this year’s Wine and Dine half. It was 18 grouling weeks through a typical hot and humid FL summer. I ran through injury and heat and came out stronger.

The weather was perfect. 50 degrees with a slight breeze. I walked to the front of my neighborhood, stretched, and found my favorite Indie Soup Runner podcast. I started running before I started my watch. My legs just started going before my brain kicked in.

I was cruising along at quick but comfortable pace thinking about how perfectly every was going on this last run before my race. Then SMACK! Reality hit me in the face in the form of a crack in the sidewalk. My toe hit in just the perfect spot (perfectly WRONG!). Before I knew what happened my palms were hitting the ground. I quickly spotted the grass next to me, tucked my left shoulder, and rolled onto the ground. As I fell, 18 weeks of running flashed before my eyes. I imagined a broken wrist, torn ACLU, broken leg, skinned knees, but escaped them all, finished my roll, bounced up, and resumed my run.

I had run the same stretch of pavement at least a hundred times without incident. I haven’t even almost tripped while running in over a year. I have run through stretches of near total darkness and done trail runs through rough terrain and didn’t have a significant stumble. Then my toe meets one crack and it could have been disaster.

Thank God! Disaster averted!

Great run. Easy 8:38 pace. Dialed in my race pace for Saturday. I’m going to stick with 8:45 for as long as I can and if I speed up, so be it.