Monday, May 26, 2008

Post Race in Ottawa!

I spent the early evening at the casual hotel restaurant and bar, hungry and thirsty yet again. And soon I was accidentally folded into the elites (a term I now finally understand) at the invitation of the Russian-born 32-year-old Aigars Fadejevs. He speaks Latvian, German, Russian, some English and some Spanish. Spanglish became the most effective language across the larger group, including an American.

Striking, pas
sionate, colorful, Aigars tells the story of how in the picture to the left he wins the silver medal in the men's 50Km race walk for his home country of Latvia. "This moment," the intensity punctuated by the veins on his neck and the severity of his enunciation with a thick Russian accent, "was like magic. I was the first person in Latvian history to ever win a medal for my country." Aigars is larger than life, and all the energy in the room goes to him, as he gestures in grandiose motions and speaks excitedly about his three times to the Olympics. He was here in Canada just three weeks off of the Vienna Marathon, where he missed his Beijing qualifying time by 15 seconds. Today, he was minutes off, where he lost it in the last 4Km. "I just did not have enough strength today [coming so quickly off of Vienna]."

He set a world record in the 15Km (race walking) distance, and nearly set a world record in a 50Km race, where he was disqualified at 49Km. That, and another similar DQ, made him give in to his Russian coach's pleading to give running a shot. In less than a year of training, he was able to accomplish a 2:18 marathon.

Why does he run now you ask? With intensity that pierces through you, and wild flashes in his eyes, he'll tell you, "Because I love to run! Remember this: I love to run! I am free!" Reflecting o
n his Beijing miss this year, he says, "Everytime you lose something, you learn something."

Within the group, Constantino Leon (left), 34, from Peru was the only one to have made it to Beijing. 17th overall i
n Ottawa, his finishing time was 2:17:41. As it happens, Constantino was sharing a room with Aigars. He is quiet, reserved, reflective and simple, he managed a half smile when Aigars called him, "Campeon del mundo!"

As he began to open up a bit, he shared some funny stories of Peru, and talked of the life there. He is very humble, and it is clear life has not come easily to him.

Abderrahime Bouramdan (pictured right), 30, from Morocco also stopped by. He took #2 in Boston this year, behind Cheruiyot with a time of 2:09:04. He won Ottawa in 2006 and also took second behind Cheruiyot in 2007 here. He did not run this weekend; he didn't have to qualify for Beijing. He c
ame over to me and we chatted for a time, and he asked whether I'd run today.

Now, let me tell you, really, I am proud of my 4:04, but I really didn't want to talk about my marathoning in front of this group. I managed to squeak out my time honestly, and note that I was on track to finish in my goal time of 3:50 (which is still mas despacio in this group, can we please talk about something else!?) until about 30 Km. He asked why that time, and I explained that I wanted to qualify for Boston. "Why Boston? It is such a hard course." Umm.. well... I must come up with a better answer than the one I gave to Abderrahime.

There was also the American, Jonathan Little, 26, whose goal was to finish the first half in 69 minutes (which he did). And he spoke surprisingly good Spanish, often negotiating the conversation with maturity over Aigars' sometimes rapid, high-energy antics.

A few others came and went, and it was finally time for me to turn in. It was a long day, and I earned my rest!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

You've Come A Long Way, Baby!

Chip Time: 4:04:39 for a total distance of 27.22 according to my Garmin (yes, that's 27--not a typo). We'll just cut to the chase if that's all you want to know. But, there is a story here, and honestly, at this moment, I'm not even disappointed that I didn't reach my goal time(s). This was not easy--but, of course, marathons never are.

I didn't sleep much after about 2 AM. I tried, dozed here and there, but by 4:45, I turned off all my alarms, realizing I didn't need them. Starbucks was a little late opening due to computer problems, but by 5:15 AM, I was back up in my room, with coffee and a croissant happily munching and trying to figure out the best time to head over. I hit the lobby about 6 AM, and waited for more runners to appear.

The Kenyans arrived a bit after this, and when they headed out the door, I did too. I figured (a) they knew when to leave, and (b) they knew where to go. This was a 15 minute walk. But, shortly into the walk they went straight when the map said turn right, and although all the other athletes followed them, I turned right. A good decision on my part, I made it directly to Athletes Village in about 15 minutes and didn't see the elites until I was back at the hotel several hours later.

There were corrals, one for the elites (empty), one for the sub-3:00 with a few folks. I stood by the corral and was sure to take them all in. They certainly looked fast and hopeful. I peered into the next corral, for those targeting a 3:00 to 3:30 finishing time. Same thing, but some more normal looking people, still mostly men. 3:30 to 4:00 was my corral, yellow, and I slipped in. It was the first crowded corral, and I took a spot towards the back and waited. The Canadian National Anthem was played, the wheelchair race began, and then it was time for us. The sunshine was indeed brilliant, and I was secretly glad I slathered myself with sunscreen before 5 AM. No gun, but it was time to move, and I mostly walked to the starting line and eased into a comfortable jog.

My first mile was in 8:49, perfect. I had a pace band (in Km) that I picked up during the expo, as the markings on the course were all in Km. So, I didn't have a good reference on distance elapsed in terms of miles. I felt great, the run was easy. I told myself repeatedly to slow down and relax, and I did. I wanted to be as close to 1:55 at the half as possible. Things went well, and the miles flew by. I ingested three rounds of fuel by the half, which was right on schedule at 1:54 and change. I couldn't believe how great I felt, how easy the pace was, and how much different this was than my last marathon at Lewis and Clark, when I knew I was done at the half. I told myself before the race, I'd know at the half if I could pull off the 3:50 or not.

I told myself here, now, yes, I was going to make it. I'd sailed through the hills of Gatineau, and was none the worse for wear. There was a bit of an incline for the bridge at the halfway point, and I did realize that my miles were much higher than the Km translated. I was already a half mile more than 13.1 miles at the halfway point.

The morning, which started off at 50 degrees F and bright, was heating up quickly and I could feel it. Although I was perfectly on target, even a few seconds ahead by 25K, here was my first inkling that I was in trouble. Right past the 25K sign, intense nausea seized me firmly, and never let go for the rest of the race. I felt a bolus rise to my throat, and although I never gave in, I couldn't shake it. I walked a bit, tried to soothe myself, and by 30K, although still within reach of 3:50:59 if I'd been feeling well, I realized it was game over for me today.

By this point, there were two serious problems in addition to the nausea. I was very hot and very thirsty. Although I'd downed two cups of Gatorade at the previous stop (whenever that was), it wasn't enough. I knew it then, and I definitely knew it now. And a new pain had begun, my diaphragm was cramping very severely. I was fighting it, but each breath was a struggle, and felt like a knife was hitting me below the solar plexus. I let go of even the 3:55:59 goal at this point, even though it was technically within reach.

I did try to jog in most of the rest, stopping for a walk at each water station, and a few more walks, trying to do things like, walk for a count of 15, run for 30 at least... but I was slowing down and caring less, even with single digit K's left. It was hard when I knew by the K's (but, interestingly not by my Garmin) that even 4:00:59 was out of reach. I tried hard with 4K to go, but it was all I could do to not to be sick. And as the crowds thickened (as the half marathon joined the marathoners), more and more people would dash across the runners, and more runners would come to an abrupt halt in front of me and it was all I could do not to have an unintended collision. (Note to myself and all other runners: please look behind you or move to the side before you decide to walk.)

I hit 26.2 miles on my Garmin with 3:56 and change elapsed. But, there was almost 2K left to go. I realized the circuitous route had also taken its toll, and with several dozen turns and twists and snakelike paths, my actual distance would be considerably longer than 27 miles. I did at least smile to myself and think, "Wow, had this been a normal route, maybe I could have even broken 4 hours even feeling like crap." And at that thought, in spite of the ongoing struggle, I smiled.

My hamstrings were hurting, my feet were sore, my quads had begun talking to me, but this was all normal marathon misery and expected. I'd hoped to take some Ibuprofen at 16 miles, but with my stomach the way it was, I never did. My energy was depleted, my nausea wouldn't stop and the cramping of the diaphragm wouldn't let up, and then I saw the 750m to go. I thought about the 800m repeats, even the 200m repeats I'd done in training, and I figured I could at least pick it up and run for show to the finish. And that's exactly what I did. I pasted on a grin as I crossed the finish line (gotta look good for the picture!). I knew many miles before it wasn't going to be close to my goal, and I was already over that by now. I was finished, and it was over. And now, to find my way back to the hotel.

What was a brisk 15 minute walk to the starting line was a 45 minute journey back. Never was I so glad to be handed my hotel key at a front desk, and never did a shower feel better. And now, having had my first Ibuprofen, a monstrous burger, a cold beer, I don't really feel too bad. And my kidneys are back online. Yeah, I'm sore, but I felt worse after my first two marathons.

I've already talked to several of you--thanks for the texts, phone calls and emails! Funny, some of you sound much more disappointed than I am at the moment. My oldest son especially sounded really crushed. Please know that I am not crushed; I had a great race, and a great time here in Ottawa. There are no regrets. I love the city and the people, and I learned a lot about myself and the marathon in my time here. And all of that can be leveraged for a better marathon next time. And, for the record, I did cut 12 minutes, 13 seconds off my previous best for a new PR (on an arguably more difficult course and race day).

I do reserve the right to make up my mind on whether to do another marathon. It never sounds like a good idea right after you just finished one. But, I'm signed up for Chicago, and I'm pretty sure I'll forget the marathon misery in a few short days and be ready to train even harder. Ciao for now, and thanks everyone!

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Bienvenue à Ottawa!

"Bonne soir," I was softly greeted by the customs officer at the Ottawa Airport. French dominates English, especially in Gatineau.

Ottawa and Gatineau are full of spectacular views, all of which I managed to soak in on a two hour tour of the course on the top level of a double decker bus. In spite of having to duck and get smacked by tree branches on multiple occasions, this was a wonderful way to spend the morning. The parliament buildings (as you see here) are visible from my hotel (I took this picture literally hanging out of the bus).

There are a few hills on the course, notably, the two I remember most are around 7.5 Km and again at about 32 Km. The rest seems mostly flat and quite lovely, with a few gentle hills here and there, especially early on. It has been very windy today, and I'm hoping it's a bit calmer tomorrow.

I visited the expo, which was quite crowded after the tour, and ended up grabbing a bus to come back to the hotel. I have dozens of pictures, and can't wait to look through them all. Wish I were here for a few more days to fully take in the city!

I slept well, I'm feeling well, and ready to race. The elites are staying here, and I see them all over the place. Quiet, humble but obviously vying for the top spot tomorrow, it is clear who they are and why they are here. One marathon compatriot inquired of one of these on the elevator, "So, are you going for #1 tomorrow?" to which he smiled, revealing such bright white teeth, and shyly noted that he indeed was. I just may have shared an elevator ride with the winner of tomorrow's race.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Brilliant Sunshine

Keeping in mind that I spent months training in the extended Midwest winter through freezing rain, snow, sleet, cold rain, wind and sub 35 degree temperatures, one might realize that this weather report would make me a bit... say, apprehensive? Did the author actually have to use the word, "Brilliant?" I mean, was he looking for extra credit in a creative writing class? I'm thinking "Sunny," might have captured it without taking me all the way over the edge.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

So, Are You Ready For Ottawa?

It's replaced, "Hi, how are you?" as a greeting, and it's not just me asking myself. I'm feeling roller-coaster, hill-drop butterflies every time I think about the race. A good sign--I am taking this race seriously--and clearly have a healthy respect for the marathon distance.

A few weeks ago, I'd decided it was worth running. My training hasn't been perfect, I did lose some time a few months ago due to flu. I had imagined I'd be running even more and harder than I am. But, my training has been honest and dedicated. I have run every run to the best of my ability. I can look myself in the eye in the mirror and say, "Yes, you did do the very best you could do with what you were dealt." I have no regrets. I have missed nothing. And I have cut myself no slack. I poured myself into this commitment, and I have seen it through to the letter.

But, still, I didn't think that it was enough. I would run this marathon, and I most certainly would have a PR. A sub-4:00 marathon, even, seems doable. But 3:50? I was pretty sure this was out of my league... this time around. And I regularly convicted myself of falling short of that goal, articulating that I couldn't quite do THAT, in those little conversations that I have with myself. Sure, a PR, but not 3:50.

Then, and old friend asked me that same question. "So, are you ready for Ottawa?" And suddenly the conversation turned to my goals and I was asked, "What is your marathon PR?" (It's 4:16:52.) Doesn't take a math whiz to figure out I'm talking about chopping off a large block of time totaling 26 minutes. Helpfully, just in case I couldn't do the math (anyone who runs marathons for fun should be suspected of reasoning and logic deficiencies), this dear friend pointed out that is one minute per mile less than I have ever run a marathon.

Which of course, did something interesting. I suddenly found myself defending all of the reasons why I could actually do this. How hard I've been training, how my training has been focused on this goal. And then I got to thinking, maybe I can? And since I've felt really good these last few weeks, and I am healthy, strong and injury-free, things are really coming together. Even the first weather report I've seen for Ottawa, CA couldn't be more ideal for a marathon (Thanks, Rick for the accuweather link!):

And that thought... changed everything. Suddenly, I put myself on the hook to run a 3:50 in this race. Which is why I'm a nervous wreck now.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

The Anatomy of a Burro

I have a new running bud, and his name is Fred.
I hear him grumbling while I get out of bed.

He's got really big ears, but not enough zest.

In fact, he'd rather cuddle up and take a nice rest.

Just hate to tell you Gary, but you've been replaced.

I would have called for help this morning, but you'd already raced.

My burro, he's cute, but an annoying little fellow

He doesn't want to go, and gives a soft bellow:

"You could cost yourself training... in just one mistake,"
Vince already said this, I know what's at stake.

Just ten little miles, we'll run them from here.

Only five at race pace, there's nothing to fear.

We step out the door, my burro and I

I'm very determined, but Fred just asks, "Why?"

My first few
steps, ugh, I'm all out of gas.
Just pushing and pulling and dragging my

Burro, come on, let's focus on three

Just get warme
d up and I promise we'll see.

The faster pace doesn't start until mile four

If you're still too tired, I won't push it anymore.

Vince said if we felt really much too fatigued

That it really wasn't necessary for the mile
s of speed.

It's a pretty, cool day and I just want to run

Release all my stress and have a little fun.

The week has been rough, much more than I thought.

That's 80 plus hours, and many calls where I've fought.

And Fred keeps complaining; I've got to leave him behind.
And past mile two my legs begin to unwind.

It's in mile three that I really feel better

And consider following the training plan right to the letter.

Sometimes, if you're primed, you can bail out a bad run

And leave that fuzzy burro sitting on his bum.

And that's just what I did, at the end of mile three.

I said to my Fred, "Good-bye and God-speed."

I'm feeling great; I plan for one mile at a tim
Each mile is better; my plan is sublime.

There are hills, there is wind, but I shake it all off.

Keep going strong, at my burrow I scoff.

"Fred, you know, you had me at first.

But only the warm up miles were the worst.

I'm feeling strong now, and ready to go.

Some running bud you are, always wanting to whoa."

And the miles fly by--four, five and six;
I can't believe it, seven, eight and it's bliss.

A few times I peeked to see if Fred followed.

I shouldn't have worried, in self-pity he wallowed.

I looked most closely with three miles to go,

for that's where I parked him, my little burro.

But my last race pace mile was the best one I'd had yet

I finished the hard part, with plenty energy left.

I slowed to a jog for the last two to cool down

and off in the distance, Fred looked up with a frown.

As I caught up to him for that last little bit

and picked up his rope, for now I wouldn't quit.

Fred seemed complacent to jog along side

And I found myself swelling with a new sense of pride.

I wasn't even tired, no not anymore.
Fred's gait was slow, but I had more in store.

And that last little stretch, less than a mile remained

The pace didn't matter,
as my mental game gained.

"Fred, I don't want to drag you up this last little hill,

but don't put it past me, if I have to, I will.

And that's how it ended, my last training long run

And I hope you enjoyed this little tale that I've spun.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Cool Runners I Know, Episode 3: Gary "Runner" Walker

Gary "Runner" (I don't even call him Gary Walker anymore), my best running pal, who always manages to put up with me, keep up with me and outrun me more often than not was kind enough to grant me the first peek at his 2008 Lincoln Marathon Race Report! But, before I let you read that--a quick note to Gary: Thanks for inspiring me, always willing to hear my next crazy training theory, admire shoes that no one else would care about, never being late and no matter what, wearing one more layer than "dress the runner" recommended.

GARY'S RACE REPORT 2008 Lincoln Marathon
We stayed in the downtown Holiday Inn, a good location close to restaurants, entertainment and the start line. The area reminded me of Wesport. However, this particular weekend the hotel was packed, not just with runners, but there was a wedding, a different wedding’s reception, and the reunion for St Mary’s Class of '61–right across the hall from me on the 16th floor! It’s really amazing how poorly you sleep in a
hotel room–the AC cycling, the noisy conversations in the hall and the room next door, and the motorcycles with no mufflers blaring through downtown at 2am!

The race was pretty well organized, lots of water and Gatorade stops, and enough GU to feed an army. There were plenty of cheerful volunteers at the aid stations and fan support was better than I expected, primarily around the first half of the course. Also, the whole police force must have been out to control traffic and impatient drivers, and good medical support was provided.

The expo was small but well stocked, with packet pick up conveniently located near the exit. We finished in time to hear Dean Karnazes talk, which was interesting. What an amaz
ing runner he is.

As far as the actual race goes, there were two main hills, neither as big as Broadway in the KC Hospital Hill run, but they were enough to provide challenge for an old guy with cramping calves and a flaring IT Band. The weather was beautiful, starting at 40 degrees and warming to 65 by 11:30…clear and sunny…and direct enough to burn a bald pate. I promised myself to use sunblock on future runs where there was a c
hance of sun.

I started with Dave, keeping up with his 9:
15 pace, but I walked through the water stops, only to have to try to catch up--Dave ran through the water stops. He now has the title of Super Dave the Marathon Champ! I lost Dave around mile 4, but tried to keep up the pace. As it turns out I probably went out too fast.

Miles 6 and 7 were the worst as all runners for both the half and full were routed along a bike path (paved) that was about 3 runners wide…passing was nearly impossible, but some bold souls did step into the wet grass, oblivious to the possibility of uneven terrain hiding under the un-mowed tufts. This pretty much locked me in place in the pack for 20 minutes. Then the course took a righ
t turn and started up a hill, not bad, just a long, steady pull. At about mile 8 point something, both calves started to cramp, although they never went into full “Charlie-horse” type cramps, they were on the verge from that point until the end. My pace slowed and before the turn-off for the half, my IT Band started to get tight and threatened to stop me. This is a classic “syndrome” for me…the training goes well, but on race day, the IT Band flares up. Even our last 20-mile training run was fantastic, no issues. And calf cramps never have been an issue. But go figure, I try to push it and “boom goes the ITB.”

I seriously contemplated calling it quits at the turn off for the half, but talked myself out of it…”don’t be a wimp,” “you told everyone you were doing a MARATHON,” and other positive self talk…so I continued to slog it out, requiring 7 stops to stretch either the ITB or calves (sometimes both). Oh, and for a little more delay, throw in a port-a-john break – guess I was fully hydrated and then some! After the half marathoners turn off, the course seemed nearly empty--I think only one sixth of the 6,000 entrants were doing the full marathon. The last 13.1 was an out and back, which seemed to take forever to get to the turn around. The route went by the Lincoln Zoo (nice aroma), and Holmes Lake (refreshing breeze). Also, the out-n-back was done mostly on a single lane of roadway. Runners heading each direction shared half the lane making it rather tight sometimes. However this arrangement did allow the “mortals” to get a glimpse of the leaders which we never would have otherwise.

The last 6 miles for me consisted of run, walk, stop & stretch, run, get fluids and walk, repeat. I don’t recall exactly where, but once at a water station and once by a bicycle-mounted support-staffer, I was asked specifically and more than once on each occasion, “are you okay?” “are you sure you’re okay?” Hey, I appreciate the concern, but aside from feeling worse than I ever had in my life, I am fine damn it! I will finish this run even if I have to crawl…okay?

At mile 24 the said it looked like I still might have a chance at beating Oprah, my marathon nemesis. I tried to run for longer periods and tried to pick up the pace. Mile 25 had a slight incline to it, but that gave way at mile 26 to a slight downhill. I crossed the finish line at 4:29:40…bettering my previous marathon finish time by 38 minutes (improvement is good!), but still Oprah’s 4:29:20 taunts me.

After the race we watched for John Sheppard and Verna Troutman, but saw neither. Dave and I both got in for a free massage, which were really pretty good. Then it was a half mile walk to the hotel for a quick shower and check out. At this point I was delirious, starving and “significantly” disappointed by the leg issues. We stopped at for a gourmet burger and drink, I even had fries! I’m not a Burger King fan, but it was DELICIOUS! While at BK, I heard from Alex who was asking about our finish times and the whole experience. I bluntly informed her that I didn’t know why I would put myself through this again, and that I would NEVER do another marathon. I’m sure I sounded like I belonged in a car seat with a pacifier in my mouth--waaaaa! What a whiner I was--sorry Alex; but seriously--thanks for being a good running bud and asking!!

Dave drove and I slept--for at least an hour--and woke up feeling quite a bit more human.

It’s been two days since the finish and my left knee is starting to feel normal again, the nail-through-the-knee sensation is dissipating. My calves are still sore…but overall I can honestly say that I don’t feel anywhere near as bad as I did after my first marathon. Who knows, after a little more recovery time, I might get crazy enough to “consider” another--just to beat Oprah.

Well, Gary, I sure hope so! I'm counting on dragging you through at least one more someday. You are a 4 hour marathoner in my mind. And you can definitely beat Oprah! I'll be posting a racing pic of Gary soon.. as soon as he sends me one! (Note: The Badge picture will tide us over, Gary, but send along a race pic ASAP! Bonus points for one with "Super Dave Marathon Champ" and John "Ouch at mile 20" Sheppard with your race medals!).