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.


Tuesday, April 16, 2013


I've never liked Boston very much.  After all, I grew up in New Jersey as a die-hard New York Yankee fan.  Hating the Red Sox is practically encoded in my DNA.  Can't stand the Patriots, either.  And while I do have the occasional hankering for New England clam chowder, it's pretty safe to say that I've always viewed the city of Boston and their funny-talking populace with -- at best -- an apathetic disregard.

On April 15, 2013, that changed in a matter of fifteen seconds.

Last September, I began running.  It happened a little at a time, step by step, mile by mile, and before too long I was completely hooked.  I participated in a few official races, trained regularly, and in a short period of time I considered myself to be an actual "runner."  I found the running community to be engaging and friendly -- both in real life and in the Internet world.  I discovered some great stories about legendary marathoners like Bart Yasso, Dean Karnazes and Kara Goucher, and of course I learned about the Holy Grail of marathoning:

The Boston Marathon.

The Boston Marathon is the only major sporting event in the world where everyday Joes can participate alongside (okay, behind) world champions.  It would be like your local softball team filling out an application and then getting to play against the Chicago Cubs.  Actually, no, your local softball team could probably beat the Cubs.  Let's say the Texas Rangers.  I'd love to run Boston myself, but I'll never make the qualifying time of 3:25 or so for a guy my age.  I suppose if I can maintain my current level of speed and endurance until I'm 75 I'd make the cut then, but realistically it's out of my reach.

But the pageantry, the prestige, and the history have always made Boston the pinnacle of distance running.  And now someone had the audacity to try to tarnish that.  And by "try," I of course mean "failed."  I've seen the resolve of runners, the passion of Bostonians, the enduring spirit of Americans, and after we grieve, we cry, we remember, and we rebuild, the Boston Marathon will come back stronger than ever, with the memories of those who suffered yesterday fresh in our minds and hearts. 

We may slow down for a few steps, but we'll keep on running.  In America, there is no finish line.

On a final note, I'll be running my first marathon in just a couple weeks.  If you happen to be in Newport Beach or Costa Mesa, California on May 5, maybe you'll stop by and watch for me.

I'll be the guy in the Red Sox hat.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Taming the Quit Monster

Quit Monsters.  We all have one.
"The good Lord gave you a body that can stand most anything.  It's the mind you have to convince."  - Vince Lombardi

"Ninety percent of this game is half mental."  - Yogi Berra

Here's an experience that's common to pretty much everybody.  You're driving on a major highway when all of a sudden you really need to use the restroom.  You look for an off-ramp but alas, you just passed one and the next is coming up in four miles.  Frantically, you look for billboards advertising a Denny's, or a gas station, something to let you know relief is just moments away.  You're now bouncing up and down in the driver's seat, zooming along at 80 miles per hour, praying to the Patron Saint of Bladder Control for the ability to clench long enough to reach your destination.  Then, and not a moment too soon, you reach the next exit and there's a 7-Eleven beckoning at the first intersection.  You screech into the parking lot, fling open the car door not even bothering to take the keys out of the ignition, and dash to the bathroom.  The minute you get to the toilet . . . WOOOSH!  Victory.  And it's a good thing, because you're absolutely certain that you couldn't have held it one more second.

Running is a lot like that.

I should probably elaborate.  As I've increased the distance of my daily runs, I've noticed a strange phenomenon.  No matter what my mileage target is for that day, when I come to the end, I almost always feel like I couldn't have gone one more mile.  When I set out on a six-mile run, by the last mile I'm practically wiped out and ready to quit.  On the other hand, if I'm doing a 15-miler on a Sunday morning, mile six isn't even a blip on the radar.  It's all one big mind game.

So far, this concept has been among the most important things I've learned about marathon training.  For the most part, your legs will keep going as long as you need them to.  Your mind, however, will do everything in its power to talk them out of it.  Developing your mental toughness is just as important as building your physical endurance, if not more.  And the only way to do that is to find your preconceived limits and break through them.

My first run, back in September, was three miles and even at that I ended up walking some of it.  The thought of running a 10K was laughable, never mind a full marathon.  Before long, though, I was able to knock down one perceived barrier after another.  Running three miles without a walking break.  Then four.  Then a 10K.  Before long, the half-marathon distance -- a ridiculous pipe dream at the outset -- was not only attainable, it wasn't even that difficult.

The mind plays a significant role in the short term as well.  For me, there's a point of every run where the Quit Monster rears his ugly head and says, "Hey!  You're tired!  Time to quit.  Home is just around that next corner, make a left and we'll call it a day."  But instead I'll turn right and take another lap around the lake.  It's a promise I've made to myself, whatever my mileage goal is for the day, I absolutely will not (barring injury) quit until I've gone the distance.  In the battle of mind vs. body, I won't allow the mind to be the one to throw in the towel.

Don't get me wrong.  Quit Monsters can be pretty persuasive.

Mine, in fact, is a complete pain in the ass.  "Hey, you know what?" he'll ask.  "It's really windy outside today.  No point dealing with that, whaddaya say we take the day off and take a nap?  Rest days are important too, right?"  Or maybe, "Don't forget, man, there's a hockey game on at six.  It's already four-thirty, so instead of ten miles let's just do five today and five more . . . sometime in September."  Or, on his most dastardly of days, "Dude, let's just go out for pizza."

I hate him.  Plus, he hogs all the pepperoni.

Over time, though, we've developed a sort of grudging acceptance of each other.  Long runs have become give-and-take negotiations.  Let us take you through a sixteen-mile training run.

MILES 1-3: Generally, I take off on my own at around seven o'clock Sunday mornings.  This is a good thing, because the Quit Monster doesn't even get out of bed until seven-thirty.  So I'm about three miles into the run, loosened up and hitting my rhythm, before QM even knows we're out the door.  Once he realizes it, he's usually pretty cranky.

"Aw, man, we're doing THIS crap again?"

"You got it," I say.  "And you know, it wouldn't kill you to be a little more supportive."

"Bite me."

Like I said.  Cranky.

MILES 4-6: Since he missed out on his morning coffee, my Quit Monster fall back asleep for a few miles and allows me to enjoy the music on my iPod and the crisp morning air.  These are usually my fastest miles of the run, and the most comfortable.  I'm warmed up, pounding on all cylinders, and feeling great.

MILE 6-8:  Quit Monster wakes up (again), and he's groggy.  "Dude, how far have we gone?"

"Six miles," I reply.  "And we're going sixteen today, so don't even start up with me."

"Sixteen?!?  Who do you think you are, Bart Yabbo?"
It's YASSO.  Bart YASSO.

"Yasso.  It's Bart Yasso."

"Whatever.  Sixteen miles is crazy.  SIX miles, now, that's a nice, even 10K.  I can see you're getting tired, let's just pack it in.  I'll buy you breakfast."

The thing is, at this point of the run, I frequently start to listen.  I don't know what it is, but the seven-mile mark is where I usually have to fight through the first mental barrier of the day.  I always do, but it's there almost every week.  I can't explain it.

"Sounds tempting," I say, "but we said sixteen."

"I don't recall that conversation."

Quit Monsters have selective memory.

MILES 9-13:  Having won my first real argument with QM, we get along just fine for the next stretch.  My pace is steady, legs are feeling good, he'll occasionally try to throw me off by whispering, "Hmmm.  I bet you have to take a leak right now, don't you?"  But for the most part, he's accepted the fact that he's not going to talk me out of my sixteen miles today.  Sometimes we even have profound conversations.

"So tell me, why do you work so hard to get me to quit running?  I enjoy it.  It's good for me."

"It's my nature, man, I live to talk people out of things.  You want encouragement, call Anthony Robbins."

"Isn't that a downer for you, though?  Trying to get in people's way when they're trying to better themselves?"

"Nah, not a downer at all.  When you quit, I win.  This is all just a game for me, doesn't impact my life in any way at all."

"That's kind of sad, Q.  Wouldn't you feel better if you could make some kind of positive difference in the world?"

He mulls this over for a minute, and I can tell I've made a breakthrough.

"How would I do that?" he asks.  "Seriously, I'm a QUIT Monster.  It's just who I am."

Please, someone make them quit.
"Well, how about this?  Instead of bugging me about doing something I enjoy, why not hook up with someone who needs to quit doing something that's bad for him.  Like, I don't know, abusing drugs.  Or hey, here's an idea.  What about latching on to the Kardashian sisters and get them to quit making stupid reality shows?"

"You know, Chris, you might just be onto something there."

MILES 14-16:  Quit Monster checks out for the day, knowing he's not going to get to me with only three miles to go.  I can feel my legs getting heavier, my pace slowing, but we're past the point of no return now.  I hit the sixteen-mile mark about a half mile from my house, the perfect distance to walk and stretch my legs.

Until next week.  When it starts all over again.

For a guy named "Quit Monster," he's pretty persistent.

Orange County Marathon
Newport Beach, Ca.
May 5, 2013