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