Sunday, November 24, 2013

Rock 'n' Roll Las Vegas Half Marathon, 2013

Me and Barry at the Expo
Rock 'n' Roll Vegas was my second of back-to-back Rock 'n' Roll events, coming just three weeks after the half marathon in Los Angeles.  I was looking forward to the Vegas race for several reasons.  First, it was on the legendary Las Vegas Strip which promised to be an exciting place to run.  Second, it was a night race, so there was sure to be glitz and glitter.  And most of all, we had about twelve people from our school and families participating, so it was going to be a fun weekend all around.

The big challenge for me with Rock 'n' Roll Vegas was planning my nutrition around a night race.  Since most races start early on a Sunday morning, I'm used to doing my main carb-loading on Friday night and then having smaller, high-carb meals on Saturday.  This time, with the race scheduled for 4:30 on Sunday afternoon, I did most of my heavy eating on Saturday morning (hello, IHOP), and then again for a late lunch at Buca di Beppo that afternoon.  It worked out fine, as I had no issues during the run.

We checked in to the Excalibur and Saturday around noon, and my sister Katy and her husband Barry picked me and Theresa up to go to the race expo.  Katy and Barry live in Vegas, and this was to be Barry's first half marathon.  Katy was "along for the ride" this time, but we're going to talk her in to signing up for one of these things before too long.  The expo was nothing out of the ordinary, but very well-organized with lots of opportunities to spend money.  Barry, having completely caught the running bug, signed up for Rock 'n' Roll Arizona in January, so he and I will be running that one together.

Saturday night, we met up with the rest of our school folks for dinner at Margaritaville.  One of the main advantages of a night race is that you don't have to worry about getting to bed at a reasonable hour the night before.  Most of our group also ran Rock 'n' Roll L.A., but we did have two first-time half marathoners besides Barry, third grade teachers Lora and Amorette.  We had a great time hanging out with everyone, and headed back to the hotel.

With such a large group, we had to come up with a plan to meet up after the race, so we chose a spot about 200 yards from the finish line which turned out to be right in front of Treasure Island hotel and casino.  Several non-running family members were with us on the trip, so they would stake out an area for the rest of us to meet at once we finished.  What could possibly go wrong?

On to the race itself.
Team Cottonwood in the starting village.

Our group met in the start village for a few team pictures, we listened to a bit of the pre-race concert featuring the All-American Rejects, and then headed off to our starting corrals.  This was a huge event with over 20,000 runners entered, so our group was spread out among the thirty-six corrals.  I was in Corral 8, Theresa was in 18. 

For the first three miles, the course was so crowded that I couldn't settle into a comfortable rhythm.  To make matters worse, a "runner" who decided to start in an early corral even though she had no intention of running at the pace required to be in that corral accidentally knocked my water bottle off of my fuel belt.  This wasn't a huge problem but now instead of hydrating on the run, I'd be forced to deal with the water stations on the course which were undoubtedly going to be jammed up.  On the plus side, running on The Strip was awesome.  Lots of spectators, on-course bands, and just the overall excitement and sparkle of the Flamingo, Caesar's Palace, the Mirage, and all the other landmark casinos made this the most energy-packed race I've been in to date. 

By about mile five, the field had spread out somewhat so it wasn't as difficult to work my way around other runners.  One notable exception was somewhere around mile six where I saw two women running side by side in front of me.  They were running along the right curb, as was I, and there was a cluster of other runners to their left.  My only option (other than to simply slow down) was to gently nudge my way between them.  Well, the nudge turned out to not be as gentle as I intended (no one fell, but there was contact) and to make matters worse, just as I'd forced my way up the middle, I saw one of the official Marathonfoto photographers capturing the moment for posterity.  Check out the 18th-20th pictures at the following link:

At mile eight, the course turned off The Strip and into a very dark and sort of scary neighborhood,
and looped back around to The Strip again for the final three miles.  Given this was my first night race and the final three miles were a gradual uphill stretch, I hadn't figured that I'd have a shot at a PR, but I did want to come in under two hours.  As I turned back onto The Strip, I checked my Garmin and saw that I would be able to do that with room to spare.  As I approached the finish line, I saw our group of spectators right where we'd planned for them to be, one of whom was holding up a "Go Coyotes!" sign (we're the Cottonwood Coyotes).  I crossed the line with a time of 1:58:57.  I'm perfectly happy with that.

I got my medal, had my official photo taken, picked up a chocolate milk and a bag of pretzels, and started walking through the finishing chute to the gear check to get my bag.  Most races, this is a fairly quick process but here in Vegas it took forever.  Much, much longer than usual, so it took almost half an hour for me to get my stuff and then work my way back to where our team had planned to meet.  I finally made it, and watched the rest of our runners complete the course.  Since it was such a long trek back to our meeting place, as the last few of us finished, the rest of us headed back to meet them.  We ended up splitting up (it just got too crazy out there) and said we'd see each other at work on Tuesday.  That's right, we all took Monday off.

All three of our first-timers completed the race and did a fantastic job.  I'm particularly proud of my brother-in-law Barry, who has been training hard for this for several months.  He's just going to get faster and faster, and I'm looking forward to running many more events with him.  And of course, we're always trying to recruit more runners at work, so hopefully our group will continue to grow.

Moving forward, I've got a 5K coming up in December, but the main focus between now and New Year's is building my weekly mileage and increasing my long runs in preparation for the Surf City Marathon in February.  Before that, I have two half marathons in January.

The fun never stops.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Rock 'n' Roll Los Angeles Half Marathon, 2013

Our Team, L to R: Theresa, Michelle, Rebecca, Renee, Staci, Katherine, Lorena, Rachel, Tina, and me.  We need more guys.
After being mildly disappointed with my performance at the Long Beach International City Bank Half Marathon, I was looking forward to Rock 'n' Roll L.A., my first race in the popular Rock 'n' Roll Marathon Series.  During the last two weeks of training for this race, I focused on two things: lowering my arms to reduce tension in my shoulders and improve my running efficiency, and to run at an even pace for a longer time.  At Long Beach, I knocked out a couple 7:30 miles early in the race, but I paid for it during the last three miles.  This time around, the plan was to run as close to 8:45 per mile as I could, which would get me to my race goal of 1:55:00.  After a couple training runs where I concentrated on my arm swing, I saw that it made a huge difference.  I was running 8:30 miles without expending much additional energy.

We had a lot of our school's staff members and friends running Rock 'n' Roll L.A., so there was a lot of excitement building in the week leading into the race.  On Saturday, Theresa, her co-worker Tina, and I drove out to the race expo at the Los Angeles Convention Center.  We got our bibs and shirts, and browsed the many booths.  We got hooked on Dave's Killer Bread (look for it at your local Vons store), checked out the medals from a few upcoming races, and stocked up on gels and other goodies.

The race started at 7:30 on Sunday morning, so in order to get to Staples Center with time to find
parking and warm up, we woke up at around 3:30 in the morning.  We picked Tina and her husband up at 4 or so, and made the hour-plus drive to L.A.  We'd prepaid for our parking, so there was no issue finding a spot, and since we were early, not much traffic to deal with.  I turned in my bag at the gear check, where we met up with the rest of our team.  In all, there were ten of us running in the race, with several family members there as our cheering squad.  At about 7:15, we headed to our various starting corrals.

I'd estimated my finishing time at 1:55, which had me starting in Corral 4.  As I waited for the gun, I reminded myself to concentrate on consistency.  No 7:30 miles this time around, just keep it comfortable and save my energy.  Moments later, my corral was released to start, and we were off.

Theresa coming to the finish line.
The weather was cool and overcast, and a bit foggy.  The starting line was at Staples Center (home of the Lakers, Kings, and yeah, I guess the Clippers).  During the first mile, I once again encountered what is quickly becoming a pet peeve of mine.  Several people were walking already!  The whole point of starting runners in corrals is so the field gets spread out and so faster runners don't have to navigate around slower ones.  There aren't race officials who check for these things, but it's a matter of etiquette that apparently some people have no interest in following.  Seriously, if you're planning to walk the entire race, start in the back.  I ditched my disposable arm warmers (tube socks with the toes cut off) around the first mile marker and checked my pace.  8:33 for the first mile.

The course took us around the legendary Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum (site of the first Super Bowl, the 1984 Summer Olympics, and home of the USC Trojans), and back up Figueroa past Staples Center again at mile six.  Mile seven was the first uphill stretch, a gradual climb leading to a right turn into a tunnel.  I sucked down a mandarin orange GU gel at mile seven, downed some water from my fuel belt (I'd decided to forego the water stations in favor of maintaining a consistent pace) and enjoyed the band rocking out alongside the course.  This is a hallmark of the Rock 'n' Roll series . . . live bands every couple miles or so.  It's great for maintaining the energy along the route, along with the spectators.  Miles eight and nine were mostly downhill, and I took a peek at my Garmin at the nine mile marker.  1:17 and change, which was minute and a half or so under the pace I'd need to reach my goal.  I was right on target, and still feeling really good.  No fatigue, no soreness.

Then came the bridge.

Mile ten was a pretty significant uphill, a bridge crossing the Los Angeles River.  I knew this was
Early in the race.

coming, which is why I'd tried to build up a bit of a cushion on my goal pace.  I maintained my level of effort, not trying to speed up, but also concentrating on keeping my form under control.  We went up to the peak of the bridge, slightly past the crest to the turn-around, and back down.  Mile ten turned out to be a 9:16, which would prove to be my slowest of the race, but I knew I'd be able to make up for it on the downhill side.  Going back down the bridge, I saw one of our teachers, Michelle, heading up.  We high-fived as we passed each other.

During miles eleven and twelve, I looked for the rest of our team going the other way.  I saw Rachel as a approached the mile twelve marker, then Staci as she came out of the tunnel.  As I reached the end of that tunnel (going the other way), I saw Theresa, looking strong.  This was her first half marathon, and I was more excited for her than anything.  I exited the tunnel for the final mile, which was a straight downhill shot to the finish line.  I was right on pace, so I turned it on the best I could, and as I came to the finish, I saw our support crew off to the right.  One final push, and I crossed the line . . .

1:54:28.  Boo-yah.

I collected my medal (a very-cool Halloween-themed piece of hardware), posed for the official finisher's photo, and downed a chocolate milk.  I then walked back up the course to where our crew was waiting, and I watched for the rest of our team.  Being a Halloween race, there were runners in all sorts of costumes.  In no particular order, I saw:

A giant squirrel.
A taco.
Several bananas (there's ALWAYS a banana).
Various Superheroes.
Fred Flintstone.

And many, many more.

Everyone on our team finished, and Theresa completed the race under her goal time.  I'm so proud of her . . . awesomeness!

For me, it was great to have my preparation pay off, and now I've experienced first-hand the importance of keeping an even pace.  Lesson learned.  And hats off to the Rock 'n' Roll Marathon Series, this was a fantastic event, well-run and plenty of support.  Can't wait to run another one.

Which is perfect, because our team is doing Rock 'n' Roll Las Vegas next month!

See you then.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Two-Event Weekend

After a summer of training, a bout with a minor injury, and weeks of anticipation, my fall racing schedule kicked off with a bang (how's that for a mixed metaphor?) this past weekend as I participated in two separate events.  Since one was a 5K and the other was a half marathon, I didn't think it was going to be too problematic as opposed to, say, running a half marathon on Saturday and a full marathon on Sunday.  I know people who have done that, and they're idiots.  Or maybe they're just extremely fit and dedicated runners who don't know the meaning of the word "fail."  Decide for yourself.

Here's the recap.

SPOOKTACULAR 5K:  San Dimas, Ca. 10/12/13

Theresa and I signed up to run this one together, well, kind of.  Initially this event was scheduled for Sunday, October 20th, so when we initially registered, my plan was to bust out a 5K PR and call it a day.  But the race ended up getting rescheduled to the 12th, so I didn't want to take a chance on wearing myself out the day before a half marathon.  Instead, Theresa and I ran pretty much side-by-side and she beat me by two seconds.  Ladies first, I always say.  This was a really small event, comparatively speaking, with only a few hundred runners total in the 5K, 10K, and half marathon.  That being said, however, it was one of the most enjoyable and well-organized races I've been a part of.  We arrived at Bonelli Park in San Dimas about an hour before the start, checked out some of the vendor booths, and mingled with the other runners, several of whom were dressed in Halloween costumes.  My personal favorites were the jellyfish (big styrofoam domes wrapped in cellophane with streamers hanging down all around) and the father-daughter tandem dressed as a Ghostbuster and the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man.  That one seemed somewhat lacking in foresight, because the Stay-Puft outfit did not do a lot for the guy from an aerodynamic standpoint.  Looked cool, though.

The course was simply gorgeous.  We ran alongside a shimmering lake, across the dam, and along a tree-lined path that made up the 3.1 mile "out-and-back" course.  It was somewhat hilly, but nothing too troublesome.  I ran this one strictly to enjoy the morning and run with Theresa, and that made it a great run, free from the pressure of breaking a PR or hitting a time goal.  Theresa finished 4th in her age group, coming in at 37:34, I was two seconds behind at 37:36.  We got our medals (REALLY cool Halloween-themed bling), scarfed down the post-race goodies, and headed for part two of the weekends festivities.

Long Beach, Ca.  10/13/13

The Long Beach Marathon and Half Marathon is part of the Beach Cities Challenge, a three-race
Bobby and me at the starting line, ready to go.
trilogy that gives runners the chance to earn an enormous bonus medal the size of a pie plate (that's how they advertise it).  You can complete the challenge in any order, but the three races must be run consecutively.  I did the Orange County Marathon last May, and I'm already signed up for the Surf City Marathon in February, so Long Beach is race number two in the series for me.  The course promised to be wonderful . . . a pass by the Queen Mary, a three-mile stretch along the beach, fabulous weather, and it completely lived up to these expectations.

We went to the expo on Saturday afternoon and as is the custom (it might be a law, I'm not sure) we spent way more money than we should have.  Theresa got a massage and a couple tech shirts, I picked up a running belt with a zipper so I don't lose my keys while running (again) and a bunch of CLIF Bars (banana nut bread flavor, thank you very much), among other assorted goodies.  We then headed to Chili's for lunch (pasta), followed by hotel check-in, and a relaxing afternoon.  My brother Bobby and his fiance (first time I've referred to her as that . . . they're very recently engaged) arrived later that afternoon.  Bobby and I were signed up for the race, Theresa and Amy were there for moral support and photo ops.

After a light dinner (Subway), I hit the sack early so I could be up around 4:30 to go through my pre-race routine.  The start time for the half marathon was 7:30, so I needed time to eat something, hydrate, take care of "business" and loosen up a little bit.  Also, we had about a six-mile drive from the hotel to the starting area, and we didn't want to risk getting snarled in traffic or some other unforeseen snafu.

Things went according to plan, so we arrived at the start around 6:15, just in time to see the start of the full marathon and the bike tour.

And then it was showtime.

In large events such as this one, runners are grouped into "waves" or "corrals" based on their estimated finishing times, with the Kenyans at the front and the walk-runners at the back (this is not how it's worded on the registration form, but you get my drift).  This is so slow runners don't end up getting trampled and elite athletes don't get a PR screwed up by tripping over some guy in a banana costume and trust me, there's ALWAYS some guy in a banana costume.  Bobby and I estimated our finishing times as 1:55, which put us in Wave 3.

I basically started the Long Beach Half with a four-level goal.  First, and least realistically, I hoped to run a 1:50.  I figured that if I felt strong and conditions were perfect, I'd have an outside shot at this.  To be honest, I had no rational data to support this goal, but whatever.  It was there.  If that didn't work out, then 1:55 would be perfectly acceptable, and I was pretty confident I could make that happen.  But if not, well, then I'd have to settle for breaking my PR of 1:57:04, set at the San Diego Half Marathon in March.  And if, for whatever reason, I failed at that . . . anything under two hours would have to do.

Sometimes I tend to over-think these things.

Right at the start I made my usual mistake, taking off at a faster pace than I ever run outside of race day.  I know better, yet I always talk myself into busting it early and trying to survive late.  One of these days I'll run a smarter race, but today was not going to be that day.  I ran the first mile in 7:32.  Along the way, I passed two ladies who were walking.  Now, I'm certainly not judging anyone, we all go at our own pace, but if you're not even planning to run the first mile, what estimated time did you put on the registration form that got you starting in Wave 1 or Wave 2?  Seems discourteous to me, but what do I know?  Just before the first mile marker, I saw Theresa and Amy off to the right.  I swung by for a quick high-five and continued on.  The weather was perfect.  Low 60's, slightly overcast, so the first five or six miles were fast and comfortable.  I hit the 10K split at around 52 minutes and there were Theresa and Amy again.  It was really great to see them at a couple different points along the course.  Miles eight through ten were right along the beach, absolutely beautiful, but this is where I started to feel it a little bit.  I don't know if it was because I'd started too fast, or maybe a residual effect from running the 5K the day before, but I suddenly felt a little sluggish.  I'd gone out faster than Bobby so I'd been ahead of him to this point, but right around mile eight is where he caught up to me.  We ran a mile or so together, but at the next water station he moved out ahead and I didn't see him again until after I finished.  He ran a great race, certainly a smarter one than I did.

At mile ten the course doubled back, going down Ocean Blvd.  Lots of spectators offered encouragement, but I was getting passed like crazy.  My pace for miles eleven and twelve was over ten minutes per.  Checking my Garmin, I saw that I was going to have to step it up to even break the two hour mark.  Thankfully the last half mile or so was a slight downhill, so I turned it on the best I could and crossed the finish line with a time of 1:59:53.  Couldn't have cut it much closer than that.

Bobby waited in the finishers' area for me, so after getting our medals (they're awesome . . . my favorite so far) and snacks, we posed for a few pictures.  It's a lot of fun running these things with my little brother.  Or in this case, behind him.

So all in all it was a little bit of a disappointment in that I was really confident that I could PR and maybe even break 1:55 and it didn't work out that way.  With several more races coming up, I'll have a chance to redeem myself and run more intelligently, especially during those first few miles.  Rock and Roll Los Angeles is coming up on October 27th, so I'll give it another shot then.

What a fun weekend, though. 

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Hesperia Days 5K

And the fall running season has officially begun. 

The Hesperia Days 5K is a small (some would say "tiny") local event that is part of a community celebration that includes a parade, fireworks, and other events.  I don't know if we have a Pie Eating Contest, but even if we did there's no way I'd enter it.  Too many carbs, and after reading Stephen King's "The Body" featuring a set piece revolving around a kid named Lardass Hogan and his revenge upon those who wronged him, I don't think I could hold down a blueberry pie anyway.  Several members of our school's unofficial running team entered the 5K.  Now, when I say "small local event," what I mean is there is no official timing chip and (this is the truly disappointing part) no finisher's medal.  They do give medals for the top three finishers in each age group, but that's not the same thing, especially for those of us who are either too slow or too young to have a shot at winning one.  But medal or no medal, it's still a fun event and an opportunity to run with the folks in our hometown.

Besides, I did have a PR to think about.

The 5K is the only distance I don't have an "official" personal record for.  I've run 10Ks, half marathons, and a marathon, so those PRs are covered.  My best 5K that I've run in training is 24:47, so that's what I was shooting for.  I was also trying out a new piece of equipment which I borrowed from Theresa.  Specifically, an elastic "belt" that's sort of like a pouch.  There as cuts in it for you to slip in your phone, credit card, money, keys, pretty much whatever you'd need to have with you while you run (or didn't have anywhere else to leave it).  In my case, I slipped in my phone and car keys.

The course was about as simple as it gets, just down Main Street and back, basically.  Slight downhill for the first half, slight uphill for the second half.  I started at a fast pace (for me), about 7:10 per mile.  Music blaring through the earbuds, nice cool weather, perfect conditions.  After about half a mile, I felt around my waist and noticed my keys were gone.  The belt had failed, and failed miserably.  Okay, it's more likely that I didn't tuck my keys back far enough from the opening, but still.  So I just half a mile into the race, I abandoned my pursuit of a PR  and turned around to go look for my keys.

Yeah, SURE I did.

Actually, I pressed forward, assuming that someone would find my keys and turn them in to a race volunteer, and I would just go claim them at the check-in table after the race.  I guess there was also the possibility that someone would find my keys, wander around the parking lot clicking the unlock button and drive away with my car (and my wallet that was left in the glove compartment . . . and speaking of that, do you know anyone who actually keeps gloves in their glove compartment?  It should be called the "random crap compartment," if you ask me).  But impending car theft did not occur to me as I raced downhill toward the halfway point.

I hit the two mile mark in 15:14.  The rest of the course was uphill, so I wasn't expecting to match my initial pace, but I knew I had a great chance to beat my personal record.  I kept an eye out for my keys as I headed the opposite way on Main, but to no avail. 

Coming to the finish line, I saw that I was going to hit a PR (though not by much).  My time (according to my Garmin, because as I said, there was no chip timing for this race) was 24:34.  I drank some water, and then went back and walked the first part of the course looking for my keys.  No luck.  I asked at the check in table, and I was told that a police officer had found some keys and left his business card in case someone reported a set missing.  Long story short, the officer had my keys and met me at the corner of Main and E.  Disaster (okay, inconvenience) averted.

And now the training continues.  Three weeks from now is my first "two event" weekend.  Theresa and I will be running the Spooktacular 5K in San Dimas, Ca. on Saturday, October 12 and then we head to Long Beach where my brother Bobby and I will run the Long Beach Half Marathon.

I'm not wearing the belt, that's for sure.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Summer Doldrums

Okay, so it's been almost two months since my last event, the poorly-organized, insanely hot and humid Pasadena Half Marathon.  I took a little time off after that, and then of course shut it down completely a couple weeks ago to deal with what I believe was tendinitis in my left foot.  Now I'm all healed up and back in the groove, training hard for a very busy fall season.  I had entered a local event, the Hangar Half Marathon, but that race has been canceled for "reasons beyond our control."  This is the same race director who canceled his last race as well.  Fool me once, shame on you, etc. etc.

Beach Cities medal.  The Holy Grail.
So my next event is a very local and very small 5K, coming up on September 21.  I don't think it's even officially timed, and there's no finishers' medal.  Just a t-shirt and a run, hanging out with some of my school people and other friends.  Nothing wrong with any of that, of course.  Then comes a slightly bigger 5K on October 12, which Theresa and I entered specifically for the very cool, Halloween-themed skull medal.  That race kicks off my very first two-event weekend, as we're going right from the 5K to the expo for the much larger Long Beach International  City Bank Marathon & Half Marathon.  I'm running the half, and Theresa is just going along for support this time.  We're staying overnight in Long Beach, and the race is bright and early on Sunday, October 13.  This race will be the second in a three-race trilogy called the Beach Cities Challenge.  Runners who complete a major race (half or full) at the OC Marathon, Long Beach Marathon, and Surf City Marathon earn a special "Beach Cities Challenge" medal which looks like something Flava Flav would wear if he were into distance running.  I've already run OC, and I'm signed up for the full Surf City Marathon on Super Bowl Sunday.

Must have mega-medal.

So it's full-training mode for pretty much the next six months or so with events every few weeks.  In addition to those above, I'm also doing the Rock 'N' Roll events in Los Angeles and Las Vegas, a New Year's half marathon, and the 2014 San Diego Half Marathon.

You knew I was crazy already, right?

In other news, my brother-in-law Barry sent me a pair of Injinji toe socks last week, and I immediately ordered three more pairs.  They feel kind of weird at first, but once you get used to them, they're pretty comfortable.  Of course, being the fashion diva that I am, I've also picked up a few more outfits and a great pair of ASICS Gel-Nimbus 15's.

Don't judge me.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

But I'm No Doctor

I guess it was bound to happen sooner or later.  For almost a year, I've been slamming my feet into pavement for hours on end, so it's not too surprising that it looks as though I've suffered my first running injury.  Thankfully it doesn't seem serious, but to be on the safe side I'm shutting it down for about a week and limiting myself to non-impact gym workouts.

Here's what happened, as far as I can tell.

Last Sunday, I went on my weekly "long run," which was eight miles at this stage of my training for the Long Beach Half Marathon coming up in October.  Everything went as normal, I finished the run, did some light stretching, and went on about the day.  No pain, nothing.  The next morning I was also fine, aside from the usual soreness, but after lunch I noticed an increasing pain on the top of my left foot, to the point that I couldn't walk without a limp.  I iced it that evening, and did some online amateur podiatrist-type diagnostics.  My biggest fear was that I'd suffered a stress fracture, which would keep me out of action for around two months.  The articles I read said that stress fractures are accompanied by redness, swelling and/or bruising.  I had none of those symptoms, so I more or less eliminated that possibility.  An interesting test for stress fractures, I learned, involves a tuning fork.  Apparently, if you ring a tuning fork, touch it to the bones of your foot, and then erupt in a blood-curdling scream because your foot feels like it exploded, it means you have a stress fracture.

Alas, I do not own a tuning fork.

After icing the foot and elevating it overnight, the pain seemed to have disappeared on Tuesday.  Relieved, I headed down to San Diego on a business trip, where I planned to get in a couple training runs in the evening.  I love San Diego, and it's a great place to run.  Well, midday on Wednesday, without warning, the pain returned.  Not as bad as it had been on Monday, so I decided to go ahead and do a four-miler with a few of our teachers.  It was gorgeous.  Perfect weather, a well-paved bike path to the beach, and if you disregard the homeless camp where we saw an interesting "couple," it was a very nice run.  Of course, running on a slight injury tends to make it a not-so-slight injury, so my foot was screaming the rest of the night.  I took a few Advil, wrapped my foot in ice, and did some more free-lance doctoring.

I stumbled across something called "Plantar Fasciitis," which in addition to containing too many i's and sounding like a band of Communist farmers, is a pretty nasty foot injury that can sideline runners for weeks.  But PI usually shows up in the heel, so I wasn't worried about that either.

Which brings us to foot extensor tendonitis.  This is an inflammation of the tendons that connect the muscles of the lower leg to the toes.  Of everything I read, this seems like the most likely injury unless it's something more minor such as a tweaked foot muscle (that's the medical term).  The treatment for most foot injuries is condensed into the acronym RICE which does not, unfortunately, stand for "rapid ice cream eating."  What it does stand for is "Rest - Ice - Compression - Elevation."  So that's what I've been doing.  As I write this on Saturday, I have been pain-free for three days (I woke up Thursday without any pain and it hasn't returned).  The temptation, of course, is to go ahead with my long run tomorrow and hope for the best.  But I'm not going to do that.  I'm just going to keep icing it, hit the gym, and not run again until Wednesday which will be a week since the last run.

Hoping for the best!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Running the Golden Gate

This weekend, Theresa and I went to San Francisco to visit my brother and his wife.  We love the city, and this was a great opportunity to not only hang out with family and go to my first SF Giants game, but also to go on a run across the Golden Gate Bridge.  When planning the trip, I wasn't sure if runners/pedestrians were even allowed on the bridge, but not only is it permitted, the bridge and surrounding area make for a great run and the whole "course" is very runner-friendly.

We drove down to Crissy Field and parked, which was far easier and more secure than we thought it would be.  I'm not sure if it's just because the America's Cup was going on, but there were parking attendants in the lot to keep an eye on vehicles.  There were porta-potties available, and the running path is clean and well-maintained.  Theresa and I set off on a 10K run with no intention of worrying about our pace or finishing time.  We just wanted to enjoy the morning and have a great running experience.

The course is clearly marked with signs to the bridge, so a couple miles in we started winding our way up.  The hills weren't incredibly treacherous, but then again, we were going at a pretty relaxed pace to begin with.  The weather was cool and foggy -- we couldn't even see the top of the bridge, but it was a comfortable day for running.  Once we got to the bridge itself, the pedestrian lane was fairly crowded with walkers, moms-and-strollers, and sight-seers.  We did a bit of dodging to avoid collisions, but all in all it was a fabulous run.  We finished in about an hour and fifteen minutes, including our photo opportunities.

As I've mentioned before, it's easy to get caught up in official events, specialized training plans, and paranoia over improving race times, but every so often it's a good idea to go out and run with no expectations beyond having a good time.  We did that in San Francisco this weekend, and it was one of the best runs we've been on yet.

That said, I'm absolutely going to enter the SF Marathon next year.

Here are some pictures from our morning:

Ready to start!

Theresa winding her way up.

Monday, July 1, 2013

2013 Pasadena Half Marathon

Pre-race.  It was "only" about 80 degrees at this point.
So there I was, all ready for a summer of casual runs just to keep in shape, knowing that I didn't have to worry about training for another official event until the Hangar Half Marathon in September, when Theresa said to me, "I'm kind of in the mood to do another race, is there anything coming up?"  In our home, I'm usually the one signing up for event after event and I sometimes feel like I'm just dragging Theresa along for the ride. So whenever she makes the first move (I'm still talking about running, kids), I am most certainly going to be supportive and jump on her bandwagon.  So I went online and signed us up for the Pasadena Half Marathon (me) and the Pasadena 5K (her).

Checking out the half marathon course map and elevation profile, I saw that the middle of the route goes right around the Rose Bowl, which is a very nice but also very hilly area of Pasadena.  Also, and this is a key point here, since the OC Marathon in May I haven't been in "training mode."  I've been in "hey, let's put in a few miles a week after the sun goes down just to keep in shape" mode.  As if all that wasn't enough, the temperature's been in the mid-to-high really friggin' hots around here lately, and the race day forecast was calling for more of the same.

My expectations for Sunday were not especially high, is what I'm saying.

Theresa and I volunteered to work the check in booth for a local 5K run on Saturday morning, after which we headed to Pasadena for the race expo where we picked up our shirts, bib numbers, and goodie bag.  Since Pasadena is only about an hour from home, we decided to make two separate drives over the weekend instead of getting a hotel room.  For our recent events we discovered that even when we stayed near the race location, we still had to get up around 3:30 in the morning to eat
Post-race, tired but happy.
breakfast and prepare.  This being the case, if we're only about an hour or so from an event, it makes just as much sense to wake up at the same time, eat breakfast, and then just drive to the race.  Saves us a few bucks.  After the expo, we drove the half-marathon course (or as much of it as we could before getting hopelessly lost).  The hills don't seem too terrible, and there's a lot of shady streets so I figured that would provide some relief from the heat.

We got up at about 4:00 Sunday morning and I had my usual pre-race breakfast of a CLIF Bar and half a Gatorade G2 (orange).  We arrived at Pasadena City College at about 5:45 (start time for the half marathon was 6:30, the 5K started at 7) where I filled the bottles on my fuel belt and took care of last minute "business."  Normally for a half marathon I don't wear the belt because there's always plenty of water stations on the course.  But given the extreme heat, and because I'd heard horror stories about this particular event in the past as far as running out of water, I thought it would be better if I didn't leave hydration to chance.

The gun sounded at 6:30, and the temperature was already 80 degrees. The first couple miles down Colorado Boulevard were shady, because the sun hadn't yet risen above the buildings.  We crossed and re-crossed a bridge around mile three, and I was averaging about nine minutes per mile.  I knew I would only get slower as the heat increased, so at this point I already knew that a PR and probably a sub-2 hour finish were out the window.  This actually helped me because it took the pressure off.  I made sure to hydrate regularly and didn't push myself beyond a semi-comfortable pace.  Miles four and five were downhill into the Rose Bowl complex, followed by a three-mile "out and back" loop around the stadium.  Miles six and seven were the toughest stretch for me because there was no shade, and the temperature was now pushing 90.  My pace dropped to about 10:30 per mile, and I walked through one support station to take extra water and refill my bottle.  This gave me a bit of a boost, which I needed for the one significant hill on the course which came at mile ten as we left the Rose Bowl.

The last three miles were actually not terrible as they passed through shaded neighborhoods and were mostly downhill.  I picked up the pace a little bit and although I knew I wasn't going to come in under two hours, I set a goal of 2:10.  Not great, but respectable.  At about mile eleven, I ran by a home where the owner was out front with his garden hose spraying the runners as we passed.  Very refreshing!  With about a mile to go, I made the final turn back onto Colorado Boulevard and began
I'm so proud of Theresa . . . she's awesome.
looking for Theresa among the spectators.  I missed her during the OC Marathon, and I wasn't going to let that happen again.  With about 300 yards to go, I saw the crowd, had rockin' music going on the iPod, and I went full-out.  I saw Theresa alongside the road, and I ran over to give her a high-five.  I crossed the line with a time of 2:08:51.  This put me in the top third of the field overall, and about the same in my age group.  I collected my medal, got a bottle of water, and met up with Theresa who, as it turns out, totally rocked the 5K.  She finished sixth in her age group, which consisted of about seventy runners.  My sweetie kicks butt!

After we got home, we found out that six runners from the event were hospitalized with heat-related illnesses and several others had to be treated on-site.  Pretty scary, and it just goes to reinforce how important hydration is, not only during the race, but in the days prior.  If you wait until race day to start drinking your water and sports drinks, it's probably too late.  I made sure to keep my water bottle handy all day Friday and Saturday, and I think that's why I didn't have any issues.  In fact, I felt better after this race than I did after the San Diego Half in March, or the OC in May.  No cramping, no blisters, not even much soreness.

So here's what I learned from this event:

1. Hydration begins the week before a race, not the day of.
2. There's a time to go for PR's and milestones, and a time to run smart and enjoy the day.  Extreme heat needs to be respected.
3. Don't lollygag, though, because they might run out of medals (this happened, and boy were there some angry finishers).

Next up, the Hangar Half Marathon in September.  In the meantime, I'm going to take a week or so off from running, and then begin training mode all over again.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Ontario Mills June 10K: I'm Like Joe Nemechek in Asics

Back: Barry, Bobby, Christian Okoye, me.  Front: Katherine, Rachel, Renee, and Theresa
I think I've said this before, but I'm starting to view running in competition the same way I view NASCAR.  The field starts with a certain number of racers, but only a relatively small percentage have any chance whatsoever of actually winning.  Some hope to make the top twenty, for example, others look to set personal records, and others still are just praying that they don't wreck or blow an engine and have to drag their sorry behinds to the garage (I'm looking at YOU, Joe Nemechek).  But over the course of a NASCAR season, only about a third of the drivers record victories.

In running events, the odds are even worse.  About 25,000 people enter the Boston Marathon every year, and of those, I'd guess less than 50 have a legitimate shot at crossing the line first.  Everyone else is just out there Nemecheking it.

All of this is a roundabout way of telling you that I don't have a chance in hell of ever winning a marathon, half-marathon, 10K, 5K, 2XL, three-legged mud run or 100-meter bunny hop.  So the results of the June 2013 running of the prestigious Ontario Mills - Christian Okoye Foundation 10K were somewhat of a surprise to me.

No, I didn't win.

I did, however, finish in the top twenty in a field of about 140.  Nineteenth, to be precise.  I will
definitely take that.

My goal for this race was first to beat my personal 10K record of 51:10.  Additionally, I was really hoping to come in under the fifty-minute mark.  In training, I haven't even gotten under 55, but as we've discussed, official events always inspire us to go faster than we do in training.  So yeah, I thought I had a decent shot.

As is often the case, we had a few of my family members and co-workers participating as well.  My wife Theresa, brother-in-law Barry, brother Bobby, and teachers Renee and Katherine were all running their first 10K's, and everyone had their own personal goals.

With my lofty goal in mind, I knew that I'd have to take off fast and maintain that pace for as long as possible.  That strategy would definitely spell doom in a marathon or even a half, but I knew that I could go strong for 6.2 miles without risking a catastrophe.  Would it be strong enough, was the question.  Right out of the gate, there was a concern because the 5K race started at the same time, and the 5K starting line was about 100 yards AHEAD of the 10K line.  So immediately, we were navigating our way around baby strollers, casual walkers, and a mom who stopped to tie her five-year old daughter's shoe in the middle of the course.  Even so, I managed to do the first mile in 7:13, a personal best.

The course was flat, the weather was perfect, so I kept close to that pace through the halfway point, where my 5K split was right around 24 minutes flat.  That's when I saw something I never thought I'd see in the middle of a race.  Right there, in the road, there was a fairly large pile of what my brother Bobby later dubbed "hobo poop."  Now, we obviously had no idea where the offending number two had originated, but I would hope that it wasn't from one of the runners in front of me.  Sure, we've all answered the call of nature in a convenient porta-potty or (yeah, I'll admit it) an unsuspecting hedge, but right there in the street?  What made it even worse is that there were plenty of more private options in the vicinity.  I have no clue what would inspire anyone to take such a public poop.  Shocked but un-slowed,, I dodged the doo-doo and continued on.

Nemechek gets pushed to the garage.  Again.
I knew I was making decent time, but when I checked my Garmin at the five mile mark, the time was right around 41:20.  I'll save you the math, that left me 8:40 to do the last 1.2 miles.  Not impossible, but I'd have to haul.  I came around the last turn, and with about 100 yards to go, I saw the official clock in the distance.  It read 49:45.  Fifteen seconds to run about 100 yards?  I'm no sprinter, but I turned on the booster jets (okay, Cessna engines) and brought it home.

Official time -- 50:09.  A little disappointing, but it was still a PR.  All in all, a successful morning.  As I said at the top, that time was good for 19th overall and sixth in my age group.  Bobby crossed the line a couple minutes later, clocking in at 52:43 (27th overall).  Theresa finished in 1:09:07 (her goal was 1:30, which she destroyed . . . I'm so proud of her), and the rest of our group either improved on previous times or came in faster than their goal.

It's great to have such awesome people to do these things with.

We collected our medals, and scarfed down breakfast at Denny's.

Now that the summer is here, I've got a long stretch until my next event, the Hangar Half Marathon in Apple Valley, Ca. in September.  I might not do too many long runs in the desert heat (it's about 105 today, for example), but I plan on logging 20-25 miles a week.  Come fall, though, it's back to the training schedule because we've got lots of races on the calendar.

Stay tuned!

Friday, May 24, 2013

Put Away the X-Box, Kids, Running is Fun Too

Sometimes minutes-per-mile just aren't important.
Now that summer's coming, my event schedule is thinning out quite a bit.  I was going to add "just like my hair," but let's face it, that ship sailed a long time ago.  I have the Ontario Mills 10K for the Christian Okoye Foundation coming up in a couple weeks, but after that there's nothing on my calendar until the fall.  Then it gets crazy.

The point, in case you were wondering, is that ever since I started running last September, I've only been focused on preparing for specific events and following somewhat rigid training schedules.  But now I don't "have to" run sixteen miles on Sunday mornings, and I don't "have to" log 35-40 miles a week to get ready for a half-marathon or a marathon.  Now I'm just running to keep fit, and to make sure I don't have to start from scratch when next fall's "Half Marathon Mania" comes around.

While I'm not following a specific program for the summer, I do have a general idea of what I want to accomplish.  My goal is to run at least four nights (yes, nights . . . it gets really hot here in the SoCal High Desert) a week with a total mileage of about twenty.  If the mood strikes, I might do longer runs, but probably not more than the half marathon distance.  So far, I'm really enjoying this plan.  I'm not really worried about my pace, my finishing time, or all the "pressure" that goes with getting ready for an event.  Now it's more about running comfortably and enjoying the experience.  Running around the lake as the sun goes down is a very peaceful and relaxing way to end my day.  To make a long story short (if it's possible at this point), I'm loving every mile of it.

Probably not how Derek Jeter or Peyton Manning spent their childhood.
Now we're going to shift gears and talk about something unrelated to running, but it keeps with the overall theme of health and fitness.

Just the other day, we had our school's annual Staff vs. Sixth Graders Softball Game, or as we like to call it, "Teaching our students how to lose gracefully."  As expected, the staff won by a score of 29-18 even without the assistance of softball legends like Jim "Suldog" Sullivan, Ron Johnson, or anyone by the name of Atton.

Most of you won't understand that last part, but it's okay.  I'm confident it will reach the intended targets.

The reason I bring up our softball game is that every year, I'm more and more alarmed by the overwhelming lack of athletic ability in our sixth grade students.  We have about 150 sixth graders at our school, and I'm not exaggerating in the least when I tell you that only about 10-15 of them had the first clue about how to play softball.  They were holding the bat with their hands reversed or separated, standing directly on home plate while batting, and were missing slow-pitch style pitches by several feet.  Not to mention having no idea how to run the bases, particularly evident in the number of double plays the staff was able to turn on simple pop ups.

Nowadays, this kid is the exception not the rule.
This is not meant to put down our students.  They're doing the best they can, and it was a really fun morning all around.  But when I was a kid (yes, I'm sounding more and more like my father with each passing year), it seemed like three out of four guys in my sixth grade class were involved in Little League or other organized sports.  The kids that COULDN'T hit or throw (or make a lay-up, or run a button-hook-and-roll) were the exceptions.  Somewhere along the line, it seems to have flipped around, and now it's only a handful of kids who you'd consider to be good athletes.

The knee-jerk answer would be to blame it on video games, and assume that fewer kids are signing up for Little League, and more kids are planting themselves in front of the television with a PlayStation and a bag of Cheetos.  But it has to be more than that, doesn't it?  Back in my day (hello again, Dad), we'd always be talking sports in the junior high cafeteria.  How the Jets were doing, whether or not Reggie Jackson was really as big a douche as he seemed to be, or whatever was current in the pre-ESPN era.  Not so common anymore, and I can't really put my finger on why.  I'd love to hear your thoughts.

On the bright side, though, we're implementing a running program at our school next year called The 100-Mile Club.  Kids earn prizes for completing 25, 50, 75, and 100 miles over the course of the school year by running at recess, before school, and as part of an after-school club.  It looks like a ton of fun, and the kids are already excited about it.

It might not help them become better hitters, but it will get them in shape.  And you have to start somewhere.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Revlon 5K for Women's Cancer, Los Angeles

Theresa and I with our medals after the run.
In the aftermath of last week's Orange County Marathon, I decided to take a week off from training.  No running at all, no gym, and while I didn't run out and raid In-N-Out Burger, I didn't exactly stick to a rigid diet program.  Plus, the blisters on both insteps continued to burn and throb.  It was so bad during the week that I actually wore tennis shoes to work . . . without socks.  By Friday I was feeling a little better but I was fully prepared to walk some of the 5K if I had to.  No point mangling my feet any further.

Fortunately, this was a charity event with more of an emphasis on fundraising, solidarity, and supporting a cause than on split times and personal records.  We received our race bibs in the mail, but there was no official timing on the race.  Theresa and I were both entered in the event, and we took the opportunity to run together and make a fun morning of it. 

The drive to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum took about 90 minutes, no traffic since it was about 7:00 on Saturday morning.  Or, I should say, no traffic until we got off the freeway.  The last two miles before the Coliseum were gridlocked, and it took a lot longer than it should've to get into the parking lot.  Once there, though, we were able to pick up our shirts and get to the starting mob without any trouble.

The race was hosted by Halle Berry and Andy Garcia, so we got a quick glimpse of them during the starting line ceremonies.  Looking around, we saw lots of teams supporting friends and family members with cancer.  Maybe there's something I'm not aware of, but I a lot of the team names centered around some sort of veiled profanity.  I'm no prude, and I understand the spirit, but team names such as "Uck-fay" and "Cuck Fancer" come off -- to me, anyway -- as being a little bit tacky.  "Tough Titties" okay, that one's kind of cute, but the others?  Not so much.

So Halle, Andy, and a couple other minor celebs kicked off the event and the thong of runners and walkers and strollers began surging down Figueroa Street.  The pre-race information said that the "runners" would start at 8:45 and the "walkers" would start at 9:00, but that rule was universally disregarded.  So those of us who'd chosen to run (slowly, in my case), had to weave our way through the walkers, strollers, and stander-stillers.  In an official race this would've been immensely frustrating, but in this setting it was only mildly inconvenient.  I'm sure the woman I elbowed understands.

I'm kidding, of course.
You can sort of see Andy Garcia on the stage, in the light shirt and hat right above the red star.

And now for the Moment of Irony.

As you may recall, in my training and preparation for the San Diego Half Marathon and the OC Marathon, I spent a lot of time worrying about having to use the facilities during the race.  I focused on diet, made sure to do what I needed to do pre-race, and in both of those races it worked like a charm.  In fact, not only did I not have to poop during the races, I didn't have to poop for a few days afterward.  But now, less than two miles into a charity 5K, I found myself in desperate need of a toilet.  I started scanning the bushes alongside Adams St.  Considered an alleyway.  And then, up ahead and to the right, I spotted my salvation.


The deed done, Theresa and I completed the 5K (actually it was 3.5 miles -- told you this was unofficial), crossing the finish line inside the Coliseum together.  We received our medals, had a water and some fruit, and headed home.

My feet survived, so now I can focus on gym training while they finish healing, and then it's back to the training runs.  My next event is the Ontario Mills 10K on June 8, so I'll mainly be doing 5 and 10K training runs until then.  The weather is getting hot, and with no half marathons on the immediate horizon, I'm going to focus on diet and fitness for a while.

Which is a good thing -- I'm feeling kind of blah and pudgy this week, so it's a great time to re-focus.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

I'm Number 841: The 2013 Orange County Marathon

A few months ago, I wrote a piece questioning the existence of a mythical "wall" that runners (allegedly) encounter when running a marathon.  I went on and on about how with proper training and nutrition, it's not that difficult to reduce or eliminate the effects of the hypothetical wall.  I based these bold statements not on my extensive six-month career as an endurance athlete during which I've run three official events and no marathons, but instead on a couple articles I read on the Internet.

What can I say, research is not my forte.

So it is with a bit of sheepishness and trepidation that I tell you that on May 5, 2013 at approximately mile 22 of the Orange County Marathon, I hit "the wall" like Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez's helmet hit the hind region of his own offensive lineman on the Historic Butt Fumble of 2012.

Hard, is what I'm saying.

But let's start at the beginning, shall we?

I focused on nutrition for the week leading up to the marathon, culminating in the traditional pasta dinner on Friday night.  Olive Garden, to be precise.  On Saturday, Theresa and I drove down to Newport Beach for the race expo.  We got there just in time to see the Kids Run the OC event.  It was great to see the kids going all-out, including an amazing little girl who ran the race with a walking cast on her leg.

Saturday was incredibly windy in the OC, which had me a little bit worried.  The forecast for Sunday was cloudy and cool, with the wind conditions relatively calm, but that was a little hard for me to believe while standing out there in a wind tunnel.  I try not to spend much time worrying about things out of my control, but the thought of running twenty-six miles in a stiff gale didn't put me at ease.

I checked in, picked up my race bib and shirt, and we browsed  the various booths.  I bought a couple event shirts, and got a medal rack from the Heavy Medalz booth to display Theresa's and my race bling.  As most runners will tell you, it's all about the medals. 

We spent the rest of Saturday relaxing at the hotel, and then met up with our friends who were running the half marathon on Sunday.  All three ladies -- Renee, Michelle, and Rebecca -- were getting ready for their first half marathons so it was going to be a huge day for all of us, and we were all sharing the same pre-race jitters.  Specifically, what should we eat to make sure we don't run into "gastro-intestinal disaster" during our races.

I had a salad, in case you were wondering.

I got to sleep reasonably early, and woke up on Sunday at the crack of dark.  The start time for the
marathon was 5:30, so I got up at 4:00.  I had a small breakfast that consisted of a Clif Bar and half a bottle of Gatorade, hit the restroom, and suited up.  ASICS Gel-Nimbuses, shorts, Brooks shirt, and disposable arm warmers (tube socks with the toes cut off), and a Boston Red Sox cap.  Theresa dropped me at the starting line at 5:00, and I did some light stretching.  And then it was "go" time.

The weather was perfect.  Overcast and cool, with very little wind.  The first six miles of the course were downhill, through an upscale beachfront neighborhood.  Even at this early hour, there were spectators lining the street offering encouragement and support.  I tried to hold my pace back to save energy for later, but with the downhills and adrenaline, I hit the 10K split in 54:50 (8:50/mi pace).  Faster than I'd planned on, but it was comfortable.  I was right with the 4-hour pace group and although I knew I'd never maintain that pace, it was good to be hanging with them at the 10K mark.

Mile seven featured the only real significant hill on the course, and it wasn't really that daunting.  About a quarter mile or so, and not real steep.  At the top of the hill we passed through a natural wildlife preserve, and that's when something very weird and surreal happened.  I was going along at a good pace, and off to the left I saw a coyote trot out from the woods.  He darted across the road and starting running on the sidewalk alongside me.  After about twenty-five yards, he cut left, re-crossed the street, and went right back where he came from.  What makes this weird is that my school's mascot is the coyote, and I'd dedicated the marathon to one of our Down Syndrome students.  I took the appearance of the coyote as a sign that our staff and students were with me on this adventure, and it was inspiring.

The next couple miles passed through a small park and then another residential area.  Families were out on their lawns holding various signs.  Some of my favorites:



Getting a "low five" from Saige.
"GO GO GO!"  (This one was funny because the lady holding it was standing in front of the porta-potties.  I don't know if that was intentional, but it made me laugh.)

In front of one home, I noticed a family with two young boys, maybe eight and ten years old, who were holding skateboards.  I decided to have a little fun with them.  As I approached, I looked at the younger boy and called out, "You, right there, I'll give you fifty bucks for the skateboard!"  The family chucked, but before the kid could say anything, I heard a runner behind me yell, "I'LL GIVE YOU SEVENTY-FIVE!"

Runner humor.

Up to this point I was running right through the water/Gatorade stations.  I was wearing my fuel belt, so I was relying on my own supplies for as long as I could.  I knew that if I ran out, I could always use the support stations later in the race.  Every two miles, I alternated between taking Gatorade or taking a GU energy gel and water.  It worked in training, no sense changing the strategy on race day.

Once we got to the half marathon split (I was right at the 2-hour mark and still staying with the 4-hour pace group), the course got kind of, well, boring isn't the right word but it's the first one that comes to mind.  A very long straight-away with a couple minor hills (freeway overpasses, mainly), a section through a performing arts center, a pass through a high school campus, and a stretch through a mall parking lot and we were at mile 18.  I felt my pace slowing, and the 4-hour pace group disappeared ahead of me.  Around mile 19, the 4:10 pace group passed me.  I wasn't really worried, because my goal all along had been 4:30, so I knew that if I got to mile 20 at the 3:15 mark or so I'd be able to hit my target.

At mile 20 or so, we made a turn onto a bike path that ran alongside a dry riverbed.  This is where the trouble really began.

It started out with a couple hotspots on my feet, which were undoubtedly becoming blisters.  One on the ball of my right foot, and one on each instep.  I also felt a cramp tightening in my right hamstring.  And right around mile 22, my legs basically told me they had better things to do than run a stupid marathon.

It wasn't pain, exactly, it was just a general unwillingness to keep running.  Not in my mind, not in my desire, but in my legs.  They just wanted to stop.  So we worked out a compromise.  I'd let them walk through the water stations while I rehydrated, but then they would have to promise to start running again when I asked them to.  They griped about it a little, but eventually we reached an agreement.  I'd hit mile 20 at 3:11, so I knew I had a pretty safe cushion that would allow me to do what I needed to do to survive while still reaching my goal.

So that's what we did.  We walked through the stations, had some water, and then started running
again.  Of course, the mile markers seemed to be getting farther apart.

Crossing the finish line.
At mile 23, we left the bike path and went into another neighborhood.  A family had set up a table with orange slices and small pretzels.  I grabbed a handful of pretzels, thanked the nice people, and popped a few of them (the pretzels) into my mouth.  I chewed.  And chewed.  And chewed.

I absolutely could not summon the saliva necessary to get them down.  With no remorse whatsoever, I hocked a pretzel-loogie onto Tanager Road.

Mile 24 -- walked through the water station, stopped by the porta-potty to take a quick whiz, and ran on.

At mile 25, I got a bit of a second (or sixth) wind and picked up the pace slightly, but let's be honest, we're talking about 12-minute miles now.  Two more turns would take me back to the Orange County Fairgrounds and the finish line.  Pain was no longer an option.  We're running the rest of this the best we can.

Right before marker 26, I saw my friend Matt, who despite telling me for weeks that he wouldn't be able to make it to the race, was right there with his five-year old daughter Saige.  Saige stepped off the curb and held out her hand for a low five.  This gave me one last burst around the final turn, where I then saw Renee, Michelle, Rebecca, and other friends cheering me on.  I didn't see Theresa with them (it turned out that she was directly across the street from them, but somehow I missed her), but I knew she was there somewhere.  Further along, my brother Bobby (who'd just PR'd the half-marathon) cheered me on with my niece Sammi and Bobby's girlfriend Amy.

Then the finish line was in sight.  As I approached, I couldn't help but think back on my training, my buddy Sam (the student I'd dedicated the race to), and about how -- just sixteen months ago -- I was a three-hundred pound couch potato who could barely walk up a flight of stairs without getting short of breath.

And now . . . this.

As I hit the line, I looked at my Garmin watch for the time.


As I write this on Monday evening, my calves are sore, my right hammy is untangling itself, and my feet feel like I just stuck them in a food processor.

And I feel fantastic.

Other race details:

Overall Place: 841 of 1884
Men: 596 of 1156
Age Group: 77 of 147

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Final Preparations

Rock and roll all night, and marathon every day.
 "I want to do everything. I want to be the president, I want to learn Tae Kwan Do, I want to climb mountains. I'm always bugged by the notion that I can't do everything."  - Gene Simmons

"What doesn't kill us makes us stronger."  - Friedrich Nietzsche and Kelly Clarkson

In one week, I will be in Newport Beach, California, running my first marathon.  I've been training for this event since last September, back when I couldn't even go three miles without taking breaks to walk and catch my breath.  In the months since then, I've managed to get in to the best shape of my life, and I've proven to myself that I'm fully capable of meeting this enormous challenge.

So why the hell am I so nervous about it?

I'm not really worried about finishing the race.  I'm crossing that finish line even if I have to crawl on all fours to do it.  But I've done 26.2 mile training runs before, so it's not exactly breaking new ground.  All the articles and books I've read, and advice I've gotten from experienced runners tells me that I should go into the OC Marathon without having any specific goals as far as a finishing time.  "Just make it to the end," is the conventional wisdom.  Up until a month ago, I was in full agreement with this.  Five hours, six hours, whatever, as long as I get to the end before they shut down the course.  But I just can't accept that, for whatever reason.  My goal now is 4:30, but to be completely honest, I'll be happy with anything under five hours.  My personal record for a training marathon is 4:46:57, so I'd really like to come in under that as well.  We'll see how it goes, though.  The weather conditions are supposed to be fantastic, and the course doesn't seem extraordinarily rough.  One decent-sized hill between miles six and seven, and some smaller ones late in the race, but nothing that seems more daunting than Washington Street in the San Diego Half from March.

If this doesn't make you run, what will?
I'm also a little nervous about the other details -- hydration, nutrition, having to take a poop, stuff like that.  I'm going by the book on what I eat and when, and it seemed to work for the half marathon, so I'm crossing my fingers.  As far as race strategy, I'm going to make sure to hold back a little early in the race.  A common rookie mistake is to get caught up in the excitement of the event and tear out of the starting blocks like Usain Bolt.  This leads to a dramatic crash and burn later on, often causing noobs to drop out of the race entirely.  I'm going to keep my pace at around ten minutes per mile until about the halfway point, and see how I'm feeling from there.  I've done the math, and if I can get to mile sixteen or seventeen at a 10-minute pace, I can slow down to 11-minutes per mile from there and still come in at around 4:30.

Of course, since the race starts at 5:30 in the morning, I can stop for breakfast, take a nap, have a nice lunch, and then stroll to the finish line and finish at 4:30.  In the afternoon.


I've already started getting my stuff together for race day.  I bought a pair of white tube socks and cut off the toes to make a handy pair of disposable arm warmers.  Got my Boston Red Sox hat to wear in honor of the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing.  And of course I've created my iPod Marathon Playlist.  What I've decided to do is dedicate each one of the twenty-six miles to various special people in my life, and for each person's mile, I'll be listening to music based on their favorite performers or some other connection that I've made.  For example, mile 25 is for my father,  and I'll be listening to KISS for that mile.  Not that my dad is particularly fond of Gene and Paul and the boys -- far from it -- but I'm a full-fledged member of the KISS Army and I'll never forget Dad's shouts of "TURN THAT CRAP DOWN!" during my teenage years.

I'm expecting mile 21 to be a quick one, as I'll be doing my best to hurry through the "Kelly Clarkson Mile" for my sister Katy.

My two brothers, Eric and Bobby, get miles 22 and 23, accompanied by The Jam and Depeche Mode, respectively.

Mom, mile 24 is all yours.  "Limelight," "Fly by Night," and "YYZ."

Dan and Doug of Hoobastank.  So now you know.

What, isn't everyone's mother a Rush fan?

Barry has the Beatles, the awesome Cottonwood Elementary staff gets the Rocky soundtrack, and so on and so on.

Of course, I'll be starting and ending the marathon for my amazing and incredibly patient and supportive wife Theresa.  John Mayer for the first mile, Hoobastank (what do you mean "who the hell are they?") for the last mile.

I figure that by divvying up the course like this, it'll be tougher to bail out.  "Can't quit on Dad's
mile," for example.

We'll be driving down to Newport on Saturday morning, going to the Race Expo to get my goodie bag and check out the various booths, and then hitting the sack early.  Like I said, the race starts at 5:30 and as anyone who knows me will tell you, I'm definitely not a morning person.

So here goes.  The next time you hear from me, it'll be with a full recap.

Wish me luck.

I may not survive a mile with Kelly Clarkson.


Monday, April 22, 2013

My Left Foot

 "My toes are all squished.  During an operation, they had to take nerves out."  - Steven Tyler

"My feet are dogs."  - Rudolf Nureyev

With the Orange County Marathon less than two weeks away, I've started to taper my training so I'm reasonably rested and ready on race day.  On Sunday (4/21), I ran 12 miles, and from there it's going to be mostly 5K and 10K training runs between now and the marathon.  I've also modified my diet somewhat, increasing my protein and good carbs while eliminating sodas, most fats, and pretty much everything else.  It's going to be a lot of cereal, bagels, turkey subs on wheat, and chicken-rice bowls for a while.

Meanwhile, my left foot looks like something that you'd find in a butcher shop.

I'm not injured, per se, but my new pair of ASICS Gel-Nimbus 14 running shoes seems to cause a nasty blister on the instep of my left foot.  I'd never had an issue with blisters until the San Diego Half Marathon, where I first developed the wound in question.  I wore my ASICS in that race and they'd only had about fifteen miles on them -- a rookie mistake, and I knew better -- and I assumed that the problem was due to running a half marathon in poorly-broken-in shoes.  So after the race, I went back to my Brooks Glycerins, and the blister went away.  Well, I've since retired the Brooks, and switched back to the ASICS pair, and lo and behold, the blister returned in precisely the same spot.  This presents a problem because if it's indeed these particular shoes that are causing the blister, I don't have much time to break in a new pair before I run the marathon in twelve days.  I ordered a pair of Saucony Kinvara 3's that should be arriving any minute, and I know these will work because I've run in them before, but still . . . best case scenario, I'll be running in Kinvaras with thirty or so miles on them.  Not optimum conditions.  Of course, I could take my chances with the ASICS and maybe cover the tender area of my foot with duct tape as I did yesterday for my 12-mile training run with only minimal discomfort . . . decisions, decisions.  If I had to run the marathon tomorrow, I'm sure I could do it.  But let's just say I'm glad I don't have to run the marathon tomorrow.
Not my toe, just a reasonable facsimile.

And it's not just the blister.  The pinky toe on my left foot has lost its nail, and the second toe (whatever the one next to the big toe is called -- my index toe?) is truly a sight to behold.  I considered including a picture of it here, but then my better judgement kicked in and I decided to spare you the horror.  Basically, the tip is puffed up and calloused over, the nail is surrounded by swollen skin, and the rest is slightly misshapen.  It more or less looks like the Great Gazoo from The Flintstones.

Foot issues aside, though, the reality is setting in.  Less than two weeks from now, I'll be running in my very first official marathon, an endeavor that would've been completely laughable fourteen months ago when my weight was right around 300 pounds.  I'm excited, and also a little nervous.  Originally I had no thoughts of setting a goal time, and even now I'll be happy just to finish.  But I can't help myself . . . I'll consider anything under five hours a victory, and I seriously think I have a shot at 4:30.  But given what I know about myself and about the course, here's my prediction (you heard it here first, folks):


I'd be more than happy with that, to be honest.