Sunday, December 30, 2007

Back in the U.S.

"Hey, Dad, this is David. I'm back in the US."

With that simple greeting on the phone on Friday afternoon, a huge weight lifted from our family's collective shoulders. My oldest son was back from his second (and final) tour in Iraq, a 15 month time away from his wife, three kids and the rest of the family that was truly an ultra-marathon.

His wife Susan was there to greet him at Fort Carson in Colorado Springs. The two of them will spend about a week there enjoying much-deserved and much-needed time alone. He will be released for 30 days of block leave on Sunday, January 6, when they will drive back here. On January 8, we'll celebrate Christmas. And what a celebration that will be.

It has been good to talk to both David and Susan in the last day or so. As my wife put it "They have their happy voices back." I've been amazed and encouraged by the maturity and depth with which the two of them have handled this challenging phase of their lives.

Along with Susan's parents and a few other helpers, we are taking care of their kids while they are gone. Lemme tell you, the effort of a full day on Saturday caring for twin boys who are not quite 4 and their 18 month old little sister was enough to rival any 20 mile training run with hills and heat. There is a good reason most babies are born to people in their 20s!

Plans for David will have him back in Colroado for a few weeks in February to finalize paperwork and then he will be honorably discharged, having fulfilled his Army contract, with a year extra included due to this deployment. Building on his experience as a Medic, he'll be going back to school and getting a Physicians Assistant degree over the next 2-3 years.

It's great to have him back. Rejoice with our family. Everyone persevered.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas Day, 2007

Christmas has been awkward for me for a number of years now. My Dad died late on Christmas Eve in 1993 and remembering the loss of one so close to me has often dampened my spirits. The previous two Christmases have been particularly difficult, though I don’t know why.

This year was different. I thought a lot about Dad, even had a wonderful dream a couple nights ago about both him and Mom (she died in 2001). I was grateful for them both, knowing the true gifts they gave me and my three sisters can never be taken away. Two specific things probably helped the more positive spirit.

First, Gretchen and I shifted our shopping attention this year and focused on gifts to charities we believe do a good job of addressing issues of poverty. The Heifer Project, Compassion International, and BOGO Solar Powered Light are three we found compelling. We gave money we normally spend on gifts to each of them in honor of a number of family members. It was a cool to see their reactions when we told them of the gift. We don’t need more stuff; many others do. We’re trying to connect with groups delivering help effectively.

Our spirit was also buoyed with news our son David is on his way home from Iraq, having completed his (extended) 2nd tour of duty. He is in Kuwait at the moment and should be back with his wife at his home base in Colorado Springs in two days time. He’ll be here with us on January 8, which is when we’ll truly celebrate Christmas.

I’m also thankful for you, this diverse collection of people who like to run, write about running, comment about running and see how running connects us as people. Thank you for being a more-significant-than-you-might-think part of my life. I truly appreciate it.

So, at the end of Christmas Day, 2007, I simply say thank you. And, from the bottom of my heart, I wish you a very Merry Christmas.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Photos and Funnies from Rocket City

ORN: 8.7 miles, 1:30:59 w/ 5K in 24:57, 7:58/mile

Two weeks ago, we ran in awful heat and humidity in Huntsville. A week ago, I ran in a snowstorm here in West Lafayette. Today, I ran in shorts and a long sleeve T shirt. Gotta love the winter time.

I’m back on a schedule of marathon prep and today’s workout called for 9 miles total, including a 5K time trial. I did an easy 2 mile warm up, then did the 5K. I managed to run steadily, clicking the miles off in 7:55, 8:06, 7:59 and 0:54 (at a 7:04 pace). I beat the 25:15 target time by 17 seconds. That was encouraging. On the remaining 4 miles of the workout the right knee got sore below the kneecap, the same thing that shortened last week’s 8 miler. That was a little discouraging. Yet, I think it will resolve with some rest, ice and Vitamin I.

Here are a few final odds and ends from the Rocket City Marathon, goofy things that don’t really have a category and in no particular order but things that make running fun.

Low Level Market Research. David posted this picture of the pre-race banter in the starting pack. You can see we lined up correctly at the 4:15-4:30 area. Darrell (on the left in the Marathon Maniac shirt) chatted with Wes while David (arms crossed in yellow shirt) contemplatively conversed with Michele. I sat on the asphalt doing my nearly-forgotten ITB stretch. It was fascinating what happened, acoustically speaking, when I sat down. The banter kind of faded and I was in my own little world. It reminded me of being in San Antonio and going from street level down to the River Walk. Everything changed. In the midst of this private world, I did a quick market survey of shoe brands. Dominating the choice seemed to be Asics, with Brooks in second place. Others were adidas and a few Nikes. Why do I remember or notice things like this?? I don’t know…but there you have it. And thanks, David, for providing visual proof!!

At Least She Had All Her Teeth. I mentioned before that one of my favorite things about traveling in the south is eating at Waffle House. I was not disappointed on this trip, having lunch south of Nashville on the trip down and breakfast just north of Huntsville on the trip home. At lunch, I had a new vocabularic experience, in that I have never heard the words “sweetie pie” and “Diet Coke” used in the same sentence, as in “Would you like a refill on that Diet Coke, sweetie pie?”

Did You Ask Your Brother First? You overhear all sorts of conversations during a long race but this one was a bit much. Two ladies were talking away as I eased past them. While in earshot, one of them made an emphatic, loud statement that “My brother’s sperm are just SO weak!” TMI ladies, TMI.

Never Be an Old Dog. I so enjoyed being with so many marathoners for this trip. I learned two very useful things as well. The night before the race, when I first met David, I noticed he has small numbers on the back of his shoes, not unlike the dots I put on mine to label each pair. We got talking about shoe rotation and he shared with me his system for breaking in new shoes and safely extending the life of old shoes. It made a lot of sense and I’m using it now. Later that night, Darrell told me of his habit of always bringing toe nail clippers to races so he can clip off the plastic tie thingies they give you to hook the chip to your shoe. Yeah, I can obsess about that level of detail too. Thanks guys!

Odd Technique, but it Worked. I ran with and near the fellow in the blue shirt (#734) for much of the first 18 miles of the race. I worried a bit about him, as his form wasn’t that good, he looked to be overheating in the long sleeves and he just seemed to be struggling. I lost contact with him as I faded around mile 20. But, around mile 22, I saw him in the yard of a house, flat on his back, his legs propped straight up on the trunk of a large tree, his hands extended over his head. I walked up in the yard to check on him. I asked him how he was feeling. He opened his eyes, gave me a big smile and said “Oh, I am just seeking to regain my energy!” He assured me he’d be OK, so I went on. I did stop and ask a volunteer at an intersection within sight of the tree to keep an eye on him. I really didn’t think he was going to make it. Well, around mile 24, as I kept struggling on, you guessed it, he passed me. The lower part of the back of his shirt was muddy from laying at the base of the tree. He was still running with rough form but moving way better than I was. He proceeded beat me by a full 12 minutes and 10 spots in our age group. I’m starting to look at trees in a whole new way now.

What Time is it Anyway? Late Saturday night, Darrell and I worked out the schedule for Sunday morning to get him to the airport and me on my way home in time. We agreed to try to leave the hotel at 7:00am. I woke up early, showered and dressed. Darrell was still asleep and I didn’t bother him, feeling compassion for his Pacific Time zone internal clock. I worked some email and enjoyed the dark of the room. But, at a little past 7, I quietly greeted him, suggesting we might get going. He asked what time it was and I told him. He looked puzzled then laughed. It seemed he had left his watch in stopwatch mode overnight, not time mode. Since he had run a 4:07 marathon, he thought it was still just after 4 in the morning. This has already become a fun story in our household. Gretchen will comment, on those mornings when it’s hard to wake up, “Gee, isn’t it still 4:07?”

It was a great weekend. Thanks for listening. And persevere, with or without a tree to lean on.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Analyzing the Rocket City Marathon

ORN: 8.6 miles, 1:37:11, 4R/1W then 1/1, 11:18/mile

I’ve done a lot of thinking and analyzing following last Saturday’s Rocket City Marathon. When I crossed the finish line and during the two hours immediately after the race, I truly wondered why on earth I was even attempting marathons. I felt I had done horribly, was deluding myself, wasting tremendous amounts of money, looking like a fool to my family, bringing shame on the sport of running and causing disgrace to America. Well, with the exception of the last item, I did feel all the rest. I was exhausted, nauseous, quivering, barely able to walk and pretty fed up with myself.

By the time I had showered, attended the awards ceremony and headed out to dinner with Darrell, Wes and Dee Dee, I was more myself. Chicken fingers and 6 Diet Cokes helped restore the physical balance. I slept well, felt little if any soreness the next morning and drove home feeling fine.

The nagging question remained, though. Why did I feel so rotten over the last four miles of the race and the immediate aftermath? And why was I so disappointed, mentally and emotionally, in my 4:56 time???

My analytical side went to work on the 9 hour drive home (which should have been 7+ hours, except for a large slowdown for a car accident and downpours south of Louisville, making me sing this old song; but I digress). This quest for a root cause problem led to two new strategies for 2008. I invite your opinions.

Fundamentally, I felt so rotten because I went out too quickly given the 65-70 degree temperatures and 90%+ humidity on race day. I felt fine through 15.5 miles when the early pace caught up with me. At 13.5 miles, I felt quite fine, even hamming it up for the race photographer.

But why did I go out so quickly?

I was intent on running a 4:15 marathon and had been for months. Once I worked though my ITB issues last spring, I set my sights specifically on hitting 4:15 in Rocket City. I had shaped all my training and mental preparation to hit that time on that day. So, when the day arrived, I did not even consider modifying the goal. You can see the yellow pace band David gave me on my left wrist. I was into it. It was what I HAD to do. Darrell even picked up the so called “game face” I had on that day and decided to run his own race. Darrell's one perceptive guy!

So why did I cling so tightly to that time?

Part of it is personality. It’s no surprise to anyone reading this blog for a while; I’m rather goal oriented. This can be a positive thing, but it has its dark side as well. I also realized I felt like I only had one shot at the 4:15. After all, this was the target race. Like a starving man seated before a big plate of food, I had little poise or discretion in the moment.

As a result, I stubbornly clung to the target time, ignoring the reality of the day’s weather. Dumb, in retrospect, but very real. There is nothing wrong with planning, nothing wrong with setting goals. Yet I need to hold these goals with a light grip and with a long term view.

So, I’ve landed on a couple of new strategies for 2008.

First, I changed my goal. It is “Run the best race conditions allow.”

With this as a goal, I avoid foolishly holding on to a particular target time while still seeking some level of achievement. “Conditions” speak to three parameters. First, the weather. Running in the Midwest means uncertainty about temperature, humidly and precipitation. I’m foolish to think I can rise above that. I learned that in spades in August 2006 in Parkersburg, June 2007 in South Bend and once more at Rocket City. Second is my training condition. If I’m using a race as a long training run, I can account for that. If I’m coming off an injury, I can account for that. Third, is my health. If I catch a bad cold four days before the race, there is no point in seeking to PR.

Putting this together gives me, it seems, a richer, fuller topography in which to decide how to run a certain race. It particularly gives me the framework to recognize those rare days when all conditions align and I should do nothing less than hammer hard for the full distance.

My second change is to make the marathon more common. Right now, I’ve penciled in four marathons in 2008, each of which fits my rough criteria of location, cost, interest and timing. I’ll describe them more in a future post. I’m pretty pumped to take four shots at 26.2 in the new year.

I think the basic training plan I used is sound. I say that because I’ve had no negative physical aftermaths of the marathon last week. Very, very little soreness, I went up and down stairs pain-free all week. I ran three miles on Tuesday and Thursday with no problem. I did 8.6 today (in the snow!) and felt fine for five, and just a few “comments” from my right knee over the rest of the run. So, I’m thinking if I stick with the training plan, adjust my thinking as above, it could work.

Thanks for listening to my ruminations. I do welcome your comments, positive or negative, on my approach. I learn a lot from all of you, for which I am thankful!


Sunday, December 09, 2007

Race Report: Rocket City Marathon

ORN: 26.2 miles, 4:56:12, R/W various, 11:20/mile

Quick Summary

The Rocket City Marathon was a fantastically well-run race, exceeding my expectations. I had a wonderful experience with friends. And my own performance really stunk.

The first 16 miles went very well, the wheels came off the wagon over the next and I was reduced to a miserable shuffle for the last five. I felt really rotten at the end, the worst of any of my marathons.

I did recover after the race and have much to ponder. As I’ve said before, the marathon is a great teacher; I’ve just been schooled.

All the Gory Details


I left the house Friday morning with an inch of fresh snow on the driveway. During the 7.5 hour drive, I got to a very different land! From lead-grey winter skies with slush on the ground, I came to blue skies and upper 60s; what a treat!

I met Darrell at the hotel and it was truly great to see my running pal again. We immediately started gabbing and it never stopped all weekend. I grabbed my packet at the expo and we joined up with other runners for a very easy 2 mile run through some of the historic neighborhoods of Huntsville Alabama. The tour was a lot of fun and got a view of the “Old South” in many ways. And, after three days of long-distance car driving, the very easy run felt great on my legs.

We went to the group spaghetti meal and met up with Wes and Dee Dee who had just arrived from Atlanta. The conversation level jumped up another couple of notches, then ratcheted up further when we were joined at our table by a pair of triatheletes who live very near them in Atlanta, plus some grizzled veteran runners from Boulder, Colorado. The food was good, the people were great and we had an excellent speaker in Jeff Galloway, who actually ran the marathon. I had a chance to talk with Jeff a bit and I have much more to say about him. Later, David walked over from another hotel and the five of us had a great time chatting in the hotel lobby. David is a cool guy, a sincere, self-effacing man of significant substance.

Race Day—early

In what was probably a harbinger of the day to come, I woke up around 4am with, shall we say, some “intestinal distress.” It finally resolved but I was awake for good. Not wanting to bother Darrell, I pulled on some clothes and slipped out of the room. I found several other insomniac marathoners in the lobby; we had instant empathy! I then walked outside to view the finish line. I always like to have some idea of exactly how the ordeal is going to end. It also turned out to be a great source of merriment for Darrell, me scouting the finish line in the pre-dawn darkness.

As I walked around, I realized I was perfectly comfortable being outside at 4:15am on December 8 wearing shorts and a T shirt. What was the temperature going to be like by late morning, in the last few miles?? For about the 10th time, I changed my plan of what I was going to wear, shifting to the very lightest of the 8 shirts I had brought along.

Breakfast was two packs of instant oatmeal, a diet Coke for the caffeine (I hate coffee) and a bottle of Gatorade. I wondered, in retrospect, how wise this was. Race time finally rolled around but since the start line was just outside the front door of the hotel, we sauntered down around 7:30am and had plenty of time to be part of the 8am start.

In the pack, we met David again and met Lana and Michele for the first time. It was great to meet more fellow running bloggers. We chatted a bit but then heard the National Anthem, then the gun, and off we went.

The Good

I started out with Wes, as we both hoped to run a 4:15 race and had agreed on a 9/1 run/walk ratio. Darrell stayed with us until the first walk break, as well as two of the guys we met the night before from Boulder. Wes and I then had a nice time through mile 4. I needed the port-o-potty, Wes went on and I thought we’d reconnect. However, I missed him a mile or so later but he let me go on, noting I appeared to be in a “zone.” I’m not sure how much of a “zone” it was, but the first 15 miles did go consistently, all coming in at 9:40, plus or minus. I felt fine and was enjoying the run.

The first point of concern came around mile 12 when I felt a hot spot on the ball of my right foot and a corresponding “less than cool” spot on my left. I have never had blisters with my current sock/shoe combination but now I had one forming. I knew I had to deal with it. Fortunately, there was a first-aid station at mile 14. I swooped in asked for some tape and covered the blisters. The left foot was fine the rest of the way; the right foot was reasonable. I was thankful for the great folks at the station.

At mile 15, we reached the far end of the course and turned to work our way back to the finish. I was only a minute behind pace for 4:15 at this point, even with the foot repair stop.

The Bad

Going towards the turn around point, we were running into a mild breeze. It felt good in the muggy morning. When we turned, that breeze was now at our back and, in effect, we were running with no movement of air. It quickly took a toll. I sensed my heart rate creeping up, noted many other folks starting to walk. The trip back was going to be a lot harder.

I rolled back to a 5/1 run/walk ratio and held that for a couple of miles which checked in around 10:45. Yet the grind was on. Modifying the ratio to 3/1 seemed to work so I held that pattern through mile 22. I knew the 4:15 was gone, as well as a 4:30. Yet I was moving and seemed to be not much different than other runners around me.

The Ugly

The day’s temperature continued to rise. The humidity rose as well, yielding some intermittent light drizzle mixed in with the heavy cloud cover and thick air. It was taking a toll. Coming up the one moderate hill in the entire course just past the mile 21 marker, I found I was struggling with the 3/1 ratio. I relented and cut back to run a minute, walk a minute.

This slow pace gave me much time to think. I was passed repeatedly by people who were shuffling as I was, yet going faster. The last four miles all came in at 15 minutes even; I felt as if I was an embarrassment to the world of marathoning. I know it is hardly all about me; yet the mind plays funny games when fatigue sets in.

It took a full hour to cover the last 4.2 miles. Mercifully, the final 0.2 was on a gentle downhill slope, from which I could clearly see the finish line, the crowd, the flags and hear the enthusiastic announcer. He seemed to get everyone’s name and hometown announced. It was a rush to my tired mind to hear my name too. I saw Dee Dee smiling and waving and kept running over the line. It was over, just barely beating the 5 hour mark.

Immediate Post Race

The organizers had a marvelous system whereby each and every runner had someone walk with them through the chip removal, medal placing and food area. In so doing, they could see the condition of each finisher. I’m not sure what I looked like at this point; the lady who walked me along looked like my mother when she asked me if I had a fever or not; she knew I did and didn’t really believe my protestations to the contrary. Yet, this lady was not my Mom! I told her I just wanted to walk, so she congratulated me and let me gimp away.

I hobbled around the parking lot, working back to the spot I had seen Dee Dee. I really and truly wanted to see Wes come in. This was his first marathon and I wanted to help make it a big event for him. I chatted with her for a few minutes when I started to get foot cramps and felt nauseous. Dee Dee, acting as another surrogate Mom, urged me to head inside and sit down.

I tottered inside, feeling worse as I went. I grabbed some Gatorade and a pile of salty crackers and asked the organizers where I could simply sit. I couldn’t imagine even making the walk to the elevator and up to our room. I finally plopped down and just had to sit for nearly a half hour to collect myself. The nauseous feeling continued; I feared eating anything. I felt chilled, shaky and my feet were cramping. I remembered this feeling however; I had exactly the same problem after the St. Louis Marathon 18 months ago. That memory was a relief; I knew the feeling would pass with time; I only needed to wait it out.

Eventually, I decided to head back to my room. On the way through the crowd, Darrell spotted me. He had rocked his run and, as a friend will do, was looking all over for me. He helped me to our room and let me get into a cool bath. That seemed to help. I cooled down, started eating salty crackers and drinking water. Conditions improved.

By evening, I was feeling much better. We went to dinner with Wes and Dee Dee, recapping all the day’s events. After we wished the two of them a safe drive back to Atlanta, Darrell and I walked a mile or two in a nearby park which also felt good. On Sunday morning, I took Darrell to the airport and then made the drive home.

The Summary

It was a marvelous weekend. On the drive home, I figured out much of what happened and how I think I can approach future races. I laid out my goals for 2008. I analyzed much about Jeff Galloway and his methods. I’ll leave each of for future posts; it would be cruel and unusual to ask you to read further. Pictures will also follow.

Persevere. I was reduced to that and that alone in the last four miles on Saturday. And it was enough.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

From Snow to Sunshine

ORN: 3 Miles, all run`

Today's last run before the marathon came in our first snowfall of the season. 2 inches on the ground, 3 more coming, so we are told. It is so neat to run in the snow, early in the morning. Much of the fun is imagining what the drivers of the few cars out before 6am are thinking about the crazy man running in the snow.

The weather for the marathon looks to be quite different from what I ran in this morning. Probably in the low 50s at the start and could be close to 70 by the end. Hydration becomes a bigger issue. I have so many shirts packed, it is silly. I guess that is half the fun.

Off to Des Moines later today, on to Huntsville on Friday. Stay tuned for reports.


Saturday, December 01, 2007

One Week to Go

ORN: 8 miles total, with 5.1 at 47:24, R9/W1, 9:17/mile.

Last week of the taper to the race I’ve been shooting for since June. And the predictable taper madness is in full swing.

Today’s run was 8 miles over the same course Darrell and I ran in our matching orange shirts on April 22. That was a week before Darrell ran the Eugene Marathon. If it’s good enough for him, it’s good enough for me. I did a 3 mile warm up then intended to run the last 5 at the same rhythm I’ll use next Saturday. Ha. I was running without my Garmin, not because mine bonked but because one of my grandsons got hold of it last week and, fascinated by the numbers, the screen and the beeps, left it on and ran the battery down. So, without the ability to feel my pace, I ran what I thought was a slow run. Not so, as you can see above. My target is 9:43 miles next week. Today I ran 9:06, 9:38, 9:51 (for 1.1 miles), 9:16 and 9:32. Oh my. And this was in tights in a cold wind, by myself, on a grey miserable day. I really need the pacing help to hold back early. I can tell I’m wound up and ready to go. Mental focus to slow down the first 10 miles will be key next week if I’m to have any hope of hanging on for the last 5.

Like David and Michele, I’m watching the forecast for race day. At this point, it has morphed to a low of 42, heading to 63, with a 60% chance of rain. This warmth (and possible wetness) really changes what I am planning on taking. At this point, I’ll probably take most of my stuff and make a wet vs. dry decision on race morning.

I just found out I have a business trip which will have me driving to scenic Des Moines, Iowa on Wednesday, getting back late Thursday, then in the car early Friday to Huntsville. So, a lot of time on the road this week. Hoping to touch base with Hillary, Rudy, Mitt and Barack while I’m in Iowa…I’m sure they’ll be interested in my opinion.

Darrell, Wes and I are planning on going to the Friday night pasta feed at the Holiday Inn in Huntsville. If any of the rest of you would like to connect there, I’d sure enjoy it! Send a note to joeely618 at yahoo dot com and we’ll set it up.

Persevere. Even on taper week.