Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Tempo Tuesday: Really Positive Run

With everything going on in our lives recently, I've backed off the unrelenting pressure I usually put on my running and training.  My focus has been primarily on my family, course, but also on staying healthy, getting fit again, and dropping a few pounds that stress ... and not paying attention to my diet, have added.

However, I have tried to maintain some semblance of a running program, and today was a really good Tempo Run for me based on where I'm at right now.  Here are the splits ...

8:28   8:08    6:38    6:26    6:34    6:28    6:38    6:24    6:17    8:24    8:30 (2  mile warm up & cool down)

Right now it looks like our next race will be the Indianapolis Monumental Half-Marathon at the beginning of October.  So maybe if my legs hold up, I lose a little race weight, and I continue running well, I'll have a good race there, but for now, it just feels good to be moving fairly quickly again!
... be great today!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Signs Of Life

Papa J and sweet Savannah at my son's wedding this weekend
Successful training for a race has always been about my ability to focus.  Well okay, there's also quite a bit of physical ability and development that goes into it as well.  But if my mind isn't right, I'm literally half the runner I can be.  If I'm not completely locked into the pace, the speed, the endurance, the recovery, etc ... I'm simply spinning my wheels.

Most of you are aware by now that my wife recently lost both of her parents within the short span of 18 days.  And while as each day passes, she is beginning to heal, there is still a mountain of grief she is processing.  It's simply going to take a lot of time.

The toughest thing for me through the entire ordeal has been feeling helpless while the woman I love is in tremendous pain.  I want to somehow lift this heaviness from her, but I can't.  And it's affected everything in our lives.

As with many of us, running has always been somewhat therapeutic for me.  It provides a temporary break from reality, and usually helps me clear my head.  When we first began to deal with the failing health of my wife's parents, I was at the peak of my marathon training.  I think for a long time I thought I could just "power through" the training, in spite of all the mounting distractions around us.  And I maintained my schedule fairly regularly until their health became increasingly worse, Michael's emotions began to roller-coaster, and unfortunately death seemed eminent.  And when they passed, I obviously knew that training and racing for the rest of the year would definitely take a back seat.  And I'm 100% okay with that.  Running and racing is just a hobby.  It's gardening, record collecting, or tinkering with an old car ... just a hobby.  Nothing more.

Really good picture I got of Ryder at his mom & dad's wedding rehearsal,
the lighting was perfect and he looks like a little man!
But while running is only a "hobby", it's probably important for both of us to try to get back to a somewhat regular schedule.  Not that we are trying to force the events of this Fall out of our minds ... of course not ... but probably the sooner we can begin doing some of the things we enjoy, the better.  So with that in mind, I think what I'm going to do is cancel my Wichita Prairie Fire Half-Marathon, and change from the full to half at the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon.  Indy's still about six weeks away and I might be able to put together a solid race by then.

So this morning, I began an attempt to focus on a race again.  I ran a fairly solid 10 mile Tempo Run with 7 miles at a 6:30/pace.  It didn't feel great, but it was nice to get the legs turning over again.  And it was a positive step in the right direction.

Michael loved her parents deeply, and the sudden loss of both of them will weigh on her for a while.  But she has my unwavering love and support, and she'll get through this because she's an incredibly strong and amazing person.  And I'm sure before too long, she'll be running a race in their honor.  And maybe slowly but surely, I'll regain the focus necessary to run well also.  Today was a good beginning.
... be great today! 

Saturday, September 20, 2014

My Son's Getting Married Today ... Where Does The Time Go?

My son, Gage, will marry Sarah this evening at 5:00 pm.  That seems a little surreal to say.  And all morning during my run all I could think about was how fast he grew up into the man he is today.

His path has not always been easy, and just like his father, he's not perfect.  But he's as genuine as they come, with a tender heart who would give you the shirt off his back.  He's become a great father to his son, Ryder, and I'm sure he'll be a good husband as well.  Deep down, he's just a really good man.

I love this guy, and like most parents, I would do anything for him.  He has my heart and all I want for him is happiness.  He deserves it.  We all deserve it.  And today, when he's standing there in his rented tuxedo, I hope he takes in every second of how special this day is.  He's finally marrying the woman he loves, and the mother of his child.  We're all so very excited for them both.  But even though he's starting the next chapter of his life, and everyone looks at him as a good father, hard worker, and continually maturing adult ... I see is the little boy I used to play catch with in the back yard.  Where does the time go?  I love you Gage.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

I Can't Slay This Giant

The view from Michael's parent's house in New Mexico, Sierra Blanca
Of all the characters in the Bible, I've always related the most to David.  No, I'm not a king.  And as far as I know there aren't statues or paintings of me.  But we share similarities.  David ... athletic.  Me ... check.  David ... musician.  Me ... yep.  David ... flawed, but a man after God's own heart.  Me ... definitely flawed, and working on the latter.  And while I'm not a conquering warrior like David, I certainly have plenty of fight in me, especially when it comes to running.  Whether it be sickness, aching muscles, 100 and 0 degree days, whatever, I've always just battled through it, and usually accomplished the goal.  But in the passing of both of Michael's parents within 18 days of each other, I might have finally met my match.

Most of the readers of this blog follow either my wife, Michael, or me on Facebook.  So it's probably not news that we lost Michael's mother on August 28th, and then 18 days later, her father passed away as well.  They both had been sick for a while so it wasn't completely unexpected.  However, they were only 65 and 67 respectfully, and obviously the proximity of the two events was, and still is, very emotionally difficult on my wife.  Immensely compounding both, were geography and schedules.

The geography part of the equation goes like this ... I got the call about Michael's mother while in Idaho for a marathon.  Michael and her sisters immediately flew to New Mexico to be with their father.  We had the funeral for her mother in New Mexico because her father was too fragile to travel to Kentucky, where she was laid to rest a few days later.  We live in Missouri.  The only scheduling challenge was me being in Idaho to run a marathon.  After receiving the news, I had basically decided not to run it.  However, the night before the race, they had still not officially decided when and where the funeral for her mother was going to be.  I literally didn't know if I was going to fly back to Missouri, or re-route to New Mexico or Kentucky.  And since I was already in Idaho, with the race taking place in a few short hours, we decided that I should go ahead and run it, and then return home, where I then traveled to New Mexico to finally be with my grieving wife.

The passing of her father was a little less complicated as far as the miles, however, it wasn't without challenges. When we got the call about his passing, we were both in Kansas City and immediately traveled to New Mexico to tie up a few loose ends before flying him to Kentucky to be buried with his wife.  The scheduling issue with his passing is that my son is getting married on Saturday - which meant I would have to miss his funeral, and Michael would potentially have to miss her step-son's wedding.  But actually, at this point it looks like Michael will be able to catch a flight from Kentucky back to KC, just in time for the wedding.  So she will literally lay her father to rest on Friday, and then somehow try to celebrate my son's wedding on Saturday.  Probably an impossible task to ask of anyone.

Here's the deal ... we're both emotionally spent and physically tired.  Michael is obviously mourning the loss of both of her parents in a uniquely short time frame.  And while I wasn't especially close to either James Lee or Margaret, it literally kills me to see my wife carrying this burden.  Making the matter cruelly worse is the distance that has separated us during both deaths.  That's something I almost can't bear.  It's not supposed to be like this.  I'm supposed to be by her side.

I've tried to get a run in here or there to simply clear my head and keep "moving forward".  But it's been almost impossible.  I trained hard all summer and wanted to run my fastest marathon and half-marathon in the Fall.  I felt like if I could keep myself sharp, good races might still be in the cards.  But I spent 15 hours on the road, four separate times over the past three weeks, and twice this week alone.  That not only eliminates running the day of the trip, but needless to say, your legs just don't feel like running the next day after no movement the entire day before.  I had a pretty good run this past Saturday, but it was much slower than it needs to be to race well in the Fall.  My heart is just not in it right now.  Every time I try to ramp up to race pace, there's simply no motivation there.  So as a result, I'll probably end up backing out of the Prairie Fire Half-Marathon in October.  Michael and I will still run the Indy Marathon in November since we've already registered, but at this point, it will just be for fun with no major finish time goal in  mind.  My year of racing has been effectively shut down, but of course, in the grand scheme of things it's simply not important.

As a boy, David gathered five smooth stones and slung one of them from his sling-shot and slayed Goliath, the giant of the Philistine army.  I've had many "Goliaths" that I've slayed in my running career.  At times I felt like I was unstoppable.  But watching my wife experience this pain and loss has taken much more of an emotional toll on me than I ever thought it would.  Sure, not being able to run the races is disappointing ... especially since I felt like I was in the best running shape of my life.  But no amount of training or racing will ever take the place of real life, or being by the side of the ones you love.  Michael and I will do our best to celebrate my son and his bride on Saturday, but it will definitely be with heavy hearts.  And undoubtedly after a while, we'll both get back to training.  But for now, this "giant" simply got the best of me.

Monday, September 1, 2014

2014 Pocatello Marathon Review

2014 15th Annual Portneuf Medical Pocatello Marathon
Saturday, August 30, 2014
Pocatello, Idaho
29th Marathon Completed
Runners: 346 (195 Male, 151 Female)
Start Time: 6:15 am
Course: Starting line 6,070 ft in mountains, which drops 1,500 ft over the first 13 miles, then flat and rolling on the second half ... first half scenic, second half not a lot to look at, finishes at 4,600 ft
Weather: 55 degrees at start, 65 degrees at finish, 72% humidity,
6 mph WSW wind
SWAG: Black Adidas gear bag, long-sleeve moisture wicking shirt, and sack of potatoes
Race Organization: Very good
Crowd Support: None until the finish line
Volunteer Support: Great, very encouraging
Water Stops: Not enough and could have been organized a little better
Food: BBQ, homemade deserts, and general post race fare
Age: 45
Finishing Time: 3:26:51
Average Pace: 7:54
Place: 42nd/346 Overall, 9th/32 45-49 AG

Total Experience ... 1  2  3  4  5

Writing a completely comprehensive & objective review of the 15th Annual Pocatello Marathon might be a little difficult for me right now.  Quite frankly, I wish I’d never ran it, at least not under the circumstances.  As I sit here a few days after the race, I can tell you it was probably the third or fourth least favorite race I've ever ran.  But several variables undoubtedly skew that assessment.  I ran poorly.  The altitude killed me. But obviously more than anything, the passing of my wife’s mother only two days before the race left me thinking about nothing but being by Michael’s side.  The last place I wanted to be was a million miles away from her, waiting to run some dumb race, while she was grieving.  I’ll spare you the details, but getting to her in a timely manner would have been logistically impossible.  And since I was in Idaho already, we made the decision for me to go ahead and run.
Getting to Pocatello, Idaho is not easy.  The most direct route, if flying, is to land in Salt Lake City, Utah, and then drive North for about 2-1/2 hours.  The drive isn’t bad though.  Interstate 15 takes you along the East side of The Great Salt Lake, the West ridge of Cache National Forest, and through Indian Rocks State Park as you near Pocatello.  The mountains along the way are nothing like the beautiful Rocky Mountains, but rather brown and somewhat treeless.  However, the changes in elevation make for interesting viewing.  Plus, if you’re up for a little jaunt off the highway, the trek also takes you only 45-minutes from Preston, Idaho, of course better known world-wide as the filming location of one of, if not maybe the greatest, films of all-time … “Napoleon Dynamite”.  And in case you’re wondering, the single best line of the movie is when Uncle Rico says to Kip, “How much you wanna make bet I can throw a football over them mountains?”

There are several flowers along the roadside on the drive to Pocatello on Interstate 15

Original sign from the old Chief Theater
Once you arrive in Pocatello, you find a wonderfully quaint and historic small town located near the Portneuf River, along the Oregon Trail.  Known as “The Gateway To The Northwest”, the town was named after Chief Pocatello, who granted the passage of the first railroads across Fort Hall Indian Reservation during the Western Gold Rush.  It was also a key location for early fur trading and commerce, and currently home to Idaho State University.  Just Southeast of town, adjacent to Rapid Creek in the Bannock Mountain Range, lies the Portneuf Gap.  This green valley in the midst of the mountains is a path into Pocatello, and is also where the first half of the marathon is ran, thus the marathon’s nickname “Running The Gap”.  Downtown Pocatello is filled with shops and restaurants in the “Old Town” area, as well as Holt Arena at Idaho State University, the nation’s only indoor college football stadium.

One of my big disappointments with the race is that the course took runners nowhere near downtown Pocatello.  After the first 13 miles of the run, as you make your way out of the Portneuf Gap, there's nothing left but a long, boring stretch of asphalt featuring dirt hills, trailer parks, and auto body shops on Old Highway 91.  Frankly it's one of least scenic stretches of a marathon I've ever ran.  And just as you enter Pocatello, the race simply ends at the zoo.  In my opinion the race organizers do themselves a disservice by not showcasing their wonderful city.  It would have been nice to run down some of the tree-lined streets.  And frankly, it would have made the second half of the race much more enjoyable.  But obviously the primary focus of the run is the Portneuf Gap, which is beautiful indeed.

Beautiful downtown and historic  Pocatello, Idaho

top left: State of Chief Pocatello, top right: Brief introduction you get to Pocatello's Finest when you turn the wrong way down a one-way street, 
bottom left: Idaho State University sign, bottom right: Artwork outside the City Council Building (I think)

Holt Arena at Idaho State University - the nation's only indoor college football arena

Race shirt and gear bag from 2014 Pocatello Marathon
A couple of weeks before the race, I found out my friend Bobby from North Carolina was also running Pocatello.   We met through the blog, at the Myrtle Beach Marathon, a few years ago.  We’re both huge baseball fans, and he’s an amazing runner that actually ran 13 marathons in 12 months in 2012.  He’s also trying to complete 50 marathons in 50 States – I think he has about 40 States under his belt.  Hanging out with Bobby for a few days really helped pass the time and keep my mind off of everything going on.  We had a great time catching up, tracking down local restaurants, and even made the short 45 minute drive North of Pocatello, to Idaho Falls, to watch the Kansas City Royals Rookie League team, the Idaho Falls Chukars, the night before the race.

All things considered, the trip was enjoyable.  But I always miss Michael when I'm somewhere new like this without her.  And considering what she was going through, I couldn't stop thinking about her.  I just wanted to get home.

Packet Pick-Up
The packet pick-up and Expo were both very small, as expected for a 350 person marathon.  They were held at the Clarion Inn, which was also the host hotel, and the site of shuttle bus pick-up and drop-off, before and after the race.  Runners checked in at a Ball Room adjacent to the lobby, and then could visit the chlorine-scented Expo, basically held on the deck of the hotel's indoor pool.  All participants received a small black Adidas gym bag, pre-labeled with our bib numbers, to be used as gear check bags the next morning at the starting line.  I thought pre-labeling the bags on a laminated tag with our name, address, and bib numbers was a very nice thought out detail.  Runners also had the opportunity, as advertised, to grab a bag of real Idaho potatoes - appropriate!  I grabbed one, but left it behind so I didn't have to take it with me on the plane.  The extra 5 lbs would have probably been another $75 from Delta or something.

All runners also received a long-sleeved red with blue screen-print moisture wicking shirt.  Due to my art and design background, I’m always way too critical on race shirts.  But it seems that most are designed by folks with absolutely no eye for design, and this one was no different.  I loved the logo, but blue print on a dark red shirt is really tough to see.  Plus, I think I got a defective shirt with an incomplete screening of the lettering, because it looks a little blurry, and fuzzy around the edges. But it wasn't a big deal ... I mean all I need is another race shirt, right?

Pocatello Marathon Expo held in the pool area of the Clarion Inn, with complimentary potatoes ... of course!
The folks at packet pick-up and the Expo were very friendly and offered information about the race.  We even received information about the Shuttle Bus from a sweet little 4-year old girl, helping her parents hand out race bibs.  I also visited for a moment with the 3:10 pacer.  Most notably, the folks I talked to warned about the 6,000 ft elevation at the start, and the extreme downhill during the first half of the race. I think they also had a pre-race dinner available for purchase, but I didn't attend that.

The Gateway To The Northwest ... Pocatello, Idaho
The Race
I woke up at 3:15 am Mountain Time to shower, gather my gear, and be at the bus stop by 5:00 am.  I texted Michael and told her “the LAST thing I wanna do today is run a race – I just wanna get this over with and get home – I can’t focus on anything but you” … and that couldn't be more true.  My mind was completely focused on my wife and her pain, and not at all on the looming 26.2 miles ... probably not the best approach to an endurance event that demands my full attention.  But I knew I was in pretty good shape, and I’d practiced this drill several times before, so I felt like I should at least be able to “phone in” a 3:20 … but I was quickly reminded that a marathon demands your complete attention.

The Shuttle Buses to the starting line were well organized and lined up right outside the Clarion, and left promptly at 5:10 am, just as they said they would.  I sat with Bobby and we chatted about the race, and other downhill events we’d ran.  Earlier in the week, the weather forecast had indicated it would be about 50 degrees with a light wind.  And from everything I read, it would be about 45 degrees at the starting line.  But on race morning, it was actually about 55 degrees at the starting line.  It wasn’t a huge change, just a little warmer than I’d planned on, but had no effect on the run.

UPS Truck parked in front of the barn waiting to take runner gear to the finish line at the start of the race
As the Chartered Bus pulled up to the starting area in complete darkness, a short trail leading up to a spot-lighted small barn, livestock corrals, and about 15 port-a-potties came into view.  There were also a couple of runners taking pictures with a horse, a few others sitting on an old tractor tire, the typical pre-marathon music playing over a PA system, and small farm dog running around greeting everyone.  When Bobby and I first arrived, there were only a handful of runners milling around, but the other buses soon followed and the small farm-foyer became more crowed.  The only place to sit was on the ground, which we did, to get off of our feet for a bit before the run.

"Runner's Corral" at the start of the 2014 Pocatello Marathon. Pun.
With only a few minutes remaining before the 6:15 am start time, I dropped my gear bag in the UPS truck parked directly in front of the barn doors, and then began some light warm-up jogging.  The Race Director made a few announcements again warning about the downhill nature of the course, and also said that after the singing of the National Anthem, he would wait one minute and then start the race.  I was about 200 meters from the back of the lined up runners when the National Anthem concluded, and thought to myself, “Okay, I’ve got about a minute to get to the front of the line!”  But at that moment, the Race Director announced, “Okay, here we go ... 3 … 2 … 1, GO!”  What the heck?  It was no big deal because it was a small race, but usually I like starting up front so I don’t have to dodge runners at the outset.  Oh well, we were off and running!

With the morning sky just barely beginning to illuminate the silhouette of the mountain tops that overlooked the Portneuf Gap, we began down the steep decline.  And I mean the steepest I've ever ran in a race.  Even though I was well aware that the course dropped about 1,500 ft during the first half, I simply wasn’t prepared for the intense pitch of the descent.  The path was completely paved, but there were a few stretches, that if covered with gravel or chat, I swear you could have slid down without moving your legs.  At points it felt like I was running down a stairwell, trying to brake my speed to avoid going out too fast.  Bobby and I didn’t start the race together, but I caught up to him at about mile 4.  We chatted for a few minutes, both surprised and somewhat lamenting the fact, that there had literally been no point over the first 4 miles where course leveled off, even a little.  And that would pretty much be the case for the next nine miles.  Actually at about mile 7 there was a short inclined out and back, but it couldn’t have been much more than a half mile, and then it was back to the seemingly never ending descent.

Starting area at the Pocatello Marathon in the dark, at a barn, at 6,070 ft of elevation
I’ve ran a few races that came out of the mountains with a net downhill for the first half, but in all of those marathons, there were some rolling hills and several flat stretches to break up the quad-crushing descent.  But not Pocatello.  It was 13 miles of pure pounding, and my quads were beginning to notice.  I felt like I managed my pace really well in the Portneuf Gap, and went out much slower than I’d planned.  Even though my finish time had become completely secondary, the last thing I wanted to do was burn up my legs and crash during those last few miles.

2014 Pocatello Marathon Elevation Chart ... 1,500 ft descent in the first 13 miles, with a rolling hills the rest of the way
But even though I was running fairly free and easy, the few times I tried to speed up to my training paces, I really seemed to struggle.  Looking back I know it was the elevation.  It's just tough for a flat-lander to show up in the mountains and run without noticing the effects of the altitude.  I wasn’t really breathing that hard in the thin air, but my chest felt incredibly tight, and my legs were getting heavy really early in the race.  I’ve ran enough other races at elevation to be well aware that altitude was beginning to have an adverse effect on me on Saturday.  At any other marathon, were I was focused and locked in, I might have been able to fight through it.  But at Pocatello, the 6,000 ft start, and 4,500 ft finish had it’s way with me.

As we finally made our way out of “The Gap” at about mile 13, we leveled off for a while and I began hitting my training paces.  We passed a handful of runners who were lined up for the start of the Half-Marathon and they cheered as we passed, which was really up-lifting.  I kept an eye out for the timing mat at the half-way point, which in an email from the Race Director a week prior, had indicated would be there, but it wasn’t.  Neither were the other two promised split timing mats.  Because of their non-existence at the race, anyone trying to track runners on-line had no idea where they were.  Again, it wasn’t a big deal, but it would have been nice to have.

One of last really pretty views before we started the long, straight, and boring stretch on Old Highway 91
But what was a big deal, and a huge “fail” for the race in my opinion, was the lack of traffic management, and the infrequency of the water-stops.  The race is ran basically ran on a point-to-point paved county road, which until the last few miles had no law enforcement, no cones, and no traffic management what-so-ever.  Runners were all over the place on the road coming down the mountain, migrating from side to side, lane to lane, as they tried to run the tangents.  As a result, cars and trucks traveling the same road had to navigate in and out of the runners.  Pretty much every vehicle passed respectfully and at a manageable speed, but more than once my focus was broken from trying to get through a marathon, to a passing automobile.  In my opinion this was dangerous, poorly planned, and completely unacceptable for a race that has been running for 15 years.  I don't think it would unreasonable to expect cones, I mean we were literally running in lanes of highway that had no shoulder.

As far as the water-stops, they were all well manned by friendly and eager volunteers who did a great job.  Their kindness and motivational words did not go unnoticed.  But I don’t think we saw the first stop until mile 3, and the second at mile 6.  Considering the thin, dry air, I felt like 1.5 to 2 mile increments would have been better, but toward the end of the race they came a little more frequently.  Plus, even though the volunteers were great, the organization was a little loose.  I skipped on of the stops toward the end because all the 10K'ers and Half-Marathoner's seemed to be confusing the volunteers, and I didn't want to wait for water.

It's not all happy, happy, happy and level, flat ground after you come out of the Portneuf Gap.  Because at mile 15, you're greeted by a two mile stretch of  gradual 100 ft incline that just seems to go on forever.  As marathoners, most of us have a point in a race when we know whether it's going to be "our day" or not.  Mile 18 is always that point for me. And after burning most of my remaining energy on the two-mile hill, I definitely knew it wasn't going to be mine.  And I thought to myself, "How much you wanna make a bet I can run a bad marathon in them mountains?"  Actually, the only thing I was thinking is how hard it was to breath, how heavy my legs felt, and how much I wanted to be with my wife.  The situation only got worse at mile 21, where you encounter another 100 ft climb over the next mile.  Normally, these hills wouldn't have taken such a toll, but my quads were toast at that point and I didn't have much left.

I went into the race mistakenly thinking I needed a 3:20 to qualify for Boston again.  I have no idea how I did that.  But I forgot that since I turned 45 last year, the required time for me now was actually 3:25.  As I pushed through to mile 21, I started doing the infamous runner math in my head, trying to calculate exactly how slow I could run and still make my mistaken 3:20 cutoff.  But when I hit mile 22, it seemed it was going to be out of reach and I began walking ... a lot.  And if you read my blog on a regular basis, you know that if I'm not going to hit my time goal in a race ... I have "A LOT OF QUIT IN ME!"  I mean, what does the finishing time really matter at that point.  So I walked.  And walked.  And walked.  And finally finished with a 3:26:51.  Later in the day I looked up the Boston Qualifying time for my age, and was pretty frustrated.  I COULD have pushed it for a 3:25, oh well.  The failure to qualify for Boston aside, it was a complete disaster of a race considering that I thought I should be around 3:05 ... but the worst was yet to come.

Actually snapped this picture from on of the laptops they had set up
in the finisher area to retrieve finish times ... just before disaster set in
I crossed the finish line, thanked the volunteer for my medal, grabbed a bottle of water, and then went over to the festival area to lie down for minute.  My heart was beating really fast.  After about 15 minutes, I got up and went to find my race results on a bank of laptops that were set up in the results tent.  People were trading high-fives and hugs, and the scent of BBQ and music playing filled the celebratory post-race air.  I needed to eat something, but I was feeling worse and worse and the thought of putting food in my body wasn't a good one.  At about that point, my chest really started tightening up, my head started spinning ... and for only the second time ever in my life from running ... I walked over near a chain-link fence and threw up.  Of course at the end of the race there's not much left on your stomach, so it was a mostly Roctane Island Nector GU, and dry heaving.  I slowly gathered myself, walked over to a Hertz rental truck and sat down on its tailgate for minute, sweating profusely ... and then suddenly threw up again.  My dehydrated and race-weary abdominal muscles cramped with each convulsion.  Something definitely wasn't right.

I looked around and saw the Charter Bus that was to take us back to the host hotel, about a quarter mile away down the street.  It might as well have been five miles to me, because I had serious doubts if I could make it there.  When I finally did, I drug myself aboard and waited for the other runners to fill out the shuttle.  Just as the bus started moving, I got really dizzy, started a cold sweat again, and thought I was going to throw in the cushioned seat.  This was about an hour after I finished running at this point.  I desperately looked toward the back of the bus for an on-board restroom, but was able to keep everything inside my body until we got to the hotel ... where I went inside and threw up again.  I eventually made it to my rental car, parked outside the host hotel, and back to my room at Hampton Inn, about a mile away.  When I got to Hampton, the housekeeping lady was finishing up in my room.  I quickly tipped her and asked her to leave because I was going to be sick again, which she did, and I was.

The only picture I was able to get of the finish area, while fighting off post-race nausea from the altitude, presumably
I fell asleep for about a half hour at that point, but was unceremoniously awakened by my right foot cramping, which it often does after a long run.  Bobby had texted me to check on me and we made plans to grab something to eat.  I still felt horrible.  I grabbed a shower, and met him at a breakfast place, but I could only eat a few bites.  After that, he headed to Salt Lake City, and I went back to my room to crash again.  At this point my assumption is that the stomach issues were from the altitude, but it could have been poor fueling as well.  Either way, I don't want to go through that at the end of a marathon again.

Sun setting over the Bannock Mountain Range near Pocatello, Idaho
I wish my time in Pocatello would have been under different circumstances.  Not because I didn't finish with the time I intended, but because I needed to be near my wife.  I can't help but think if things were different, my point of view on the race would most likely be much different.  Pocatello is a good small race, and helped me check one more State off the map.  And if I'm honest with myself, it's kind of encouraging that my fitness has increased to where a "disaster race" still almost qualified me for me Boston.  But unfortunately, when I think back to it years from now, I won't remember much about the people, the course, the altitude, or the town ... all I'll remember is how much I wanted to be by my wife's side instead of running a marathon.
... be great today!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Actually, Our Fortunes Have Turned

Margaret Conley, RIP

A few hours ago, while sitting in Kansas City International Airport waiting to fly to my marathon this weekend, I wrote a tongue & cheek blog post about my recent good fortune and the hope that it would continue.  But in the cruelest twists of fate, when I landed a short time later at the Salt Lake City Airport, Michael called and told me that her mother had passed away.

Michael's mother, Margaret, had been ill for some time and fought an ongoing battle of multiple issues.  She had been admitted to the hospital last night, but we obviously didn't realize how serious the situation was.  Michael was, of course, very upset and I felt helpless being so far away, especially for something as meaningless as a race.  However, one of her sisters lives in our town so she was able to get with her.

With out a doubt the furthest thing from my mind right now is a silly race.  Michael and her family are my only concern.  The timing for something like this is never ideal, but it couldn't have been much worse for Michael and me right now.  Not because my marathon is obviously up in the air, there will of course be other races - but because logistically this thing is a nightmare.  Michael's parents are in New Mexico, most of the rest of her family is in Kentucky, we live in Missouri, her other sister lives in California, and I'm currently in Idaho.  So there are obviously a world of details to sort through.  But for now, I would really appreciate your thoughts and prayers for Michael and her family.  Margaret was a kind and loving mother, and she'll undoubtedly be missed.

Hope My Fortune Doesn't Run Out

Michael & me with the Royals mascott, Sluggerrr!  Yep, two grown adults with a fake lion
If things don't change, I'm gonna burn up all my good fortune.  Ya know how they say, "Bad things happen in bunches!" ... well my friends, I regret to inform you that I'm actually on a bit of a winning streak.  Not that that's a bad thing, I'm just afraid I might be burning up all my lucky charms before race day, Saturday in Pocatello.

It actually started a few months ago with my marathon training.  In a word, it went ... GREAT!!!  Frankly, I can't remember such a fast and healthy cycle.  So much so, that at 45 years old, I set PR's in my last two tune-up races.

Then more recently, on Tuesday night - which was the first night of  my vacation - Michael and I were at the Kansas City Royals' game, watching them lose 1-0 in the bottom of the ninth inning.  It didn't look good for the Boys In Blue, but after a base hit by Alcides Escobar, Alex Gordon stepped to the plate and a hit a game winning home run.  I've literally been to hundreds of Royals games over the years never seen that happen until now.  Truly AMAZING!!!  And I can't help but believe it's because I was there ... ostensibly a walking rabbit's foot!

And finally, today at lunch I order a sandwich at Panera for lunch.  The girl behind the counter ran my telephone number to get my rewards points, and wouldn't ya know it ... I get a FREE SANDWICH!!!  No charge!!!  I mean what are the odds?

I'm tellin' ya, these are all signs of either a really good race on Saturday ... or a big fat end to my recent positive Karma.  I hope it's the former.  Truth be told, I feel pretty good about the race.  Other than  a slightly tight right groin (which is 100% related to a tight hamstring)  I feel pretty good.  I'm about 5 pounds heavier than I wanted be, but that's not a huge issue.  And my mental approach to this race is fairly  healthy as well.  I'm just trying not to build it up in my mind.  Sure I want to run well, but my primary focus this fall is on the Wichita Half and Indy Full in October and November.  So if I don't PR at this race, it's not the end of the world.

 So we'll see how it goes.  The main goal is to come of this race healthy.  I really don't think I can run a sub 3-hour race right now.  But who knows ... if I cross the finish line and my time begins with a "2", that just might be my walk-off shot in the bottom of the ninth.  And maybe I'll just hang it up after that and go out a winner.  Have a great weekend!
... be great today!  

Saturday, August 23, 2014

The Tapering Conundrum

Yep, just sitting around tapering ... not running ...
tossing an orange in the air
A quick Google search on "Marathon Tapering" will reveal about a million different articles on the subject ... and probably just as many different opinions.  I've read (and probably tried) everything from "don't run at all two weeks before the race", to "treat it like every other week in training and run your tail off".  The best approach is probably found somewhere in the middle, right?

The conventional wisdom has been to drastically cut your mileage about 10-14 days before the big race, to heal up, conserve energy, and  build glycogen stores - which all sounds very logical.  But I would bet that every set of eyes reading this post has one or more horror stories about how this process adversely affected their race.  And count me among that contingent.  There have been several marathons where I felt like I was killing it in training, then the taper period rolled around and my body went into a weird lull, and I didn't run my best race.

The flip side of this coin is not tapering at all, which I've also tried for a couple of races.  I've actually ran marathons after running a 20 miler the weekend before, and training full tilt until two days before the race.  I wouldn't recommend this approach. My strategy was to treat the race like any other training run, with a few miles tacked onto the end.  But on most of these occasions, I stood at the starting line exhausted before the the clock ever started.   For me, there is just something about race day that takes a lot more energy, even if I'm not running all out.

So what do we do with this tricky two weeks before the race?  For recent races, I've definitely leaned more toward the "maximum rest/minimal running" approach.  In fact it's what I'm doing for my upcoming marathon ... but I'm just not sure this produces the best results.  I know drastically cutting the weekly mileage while trying to maintain the intensity is the most commonly held pre-marathon practice.  But I've never been a full believer in the reasoning.  There are just so many traditional approaches changing in the world of marathon training, and I wonder if this one doesn't need revamped as well.  For example, not long ago runners would fast the week before a race, now that seems crazy.  So where is written in stone that we must break so drastically from our training during taper, that it feels like we've actually lost fitness by the time the race rolls around.

Fairly traditional taper period with reduction in mileage two weeks before the marathon
The chart I've created above plots the long runs for what would be a fairly typical 20 week period before a marathon for me.  As shown, I usually try to gradually build my mileage until about four weeks before the race, and then start gradually backing it down.  The main thing I've always noticed ... and really struggled with ... about marathon training, is feeling and running my best about six weeks before the marathon.  Whether it's perceived or real, I essentially always peak too soon.  Everything after that seems to be desperately trying to maintain the fitness until race day.  Combine that with two weeks immediately before the race where I really throttle down, and I've rarely ever feel like I'm at my fittest on the morning of the race.  I'm like a piece of fruit that while still edible, was at my ripest a few days prior.

I understand the philosophy behind the taper period.  Believe me, I've studied it like it was my job.  But I just don't fully buy into the notion that as we're motoring along in our training, and hitting on all cylinders ... we basically just shut it down.  And then, after being somewhat dormant for 10-14 days ... almost completely from a "cold start" ... we open the throttle full bore and run longer and harder than we have in a long time.  That just doesn't really make sense.  It would be similar to studying for a huge test for a months, taking two weeks of vacation while barely cracking a book, and then showing up on test day expecting total recall and 100% clarity.  I really don't think most of us would produce our highest possible score, and similarly, I just don't believe that we haven't lost a little bit of fitness during the taper period.  Not to mention the endless mind games this little running vacation plays on our confidence.

Tapering approach I'm thinking about trying that moves the two week taper period to earlier in the training
So, something I've been toying around with, although I haven't had the guts to try yet, is completely changing where the two week rest period occurs before the marathon.  The distances aren't exact, but as you can see in the second chart, the reduction in mileage would happen about 4-5 weeks prior to race day, as opposed to directly adjacent to it.  Then, I would slowly ramp back up for a couple weeks, hopefully peaking on the morning of the marathon morning.  My thought process behind it is still giving my legs a couple of weeks to recover from the mileage during training, as with a typical taper, but then sort of "priming" the engine for a couple of weeks instead of just starting "cold".  The plan would be to log back-to-back 10-12 mile runs in weeks 16 & 17.  Then on refreshed legs, I would theoretically begin building again in weeks 18 & 19 with runs of 16-18 miles.  Finally, I would finish with a strong 26.2 in week 20.  Sound crazy?  Eh, might be.  Plus, I still need to vet it a little more to determine if there's any actual science behind the approach, instead of just my personal experience. Obviously, the most apparent risk with this plan would be fatigue on race day.  But my theory is that weeks 18 & 19 would essentially become the "warm up" laps for the marathon.

The main thing I think I've learned about marathon training tapering is to simply listen to my body.  Right now I feel like I'm in a really good place for the race next weekend.  I'm strong, healthy, a little overweight, but pretty confident about running in Idaho.  But I've had success in two recent marathons by taking a lot of time off before the race, so I'm going to stick with that approach for now.  But  I would love to hear everyone's thoughts on why they do or do not taper.  It seems like it's different for almost every runner.  Have a great weekend!
... be great today