Sunday, July 31, 2011

Day is Done

Today I finished my third marathon. It was the most difficult physical challenge I have ever faced. At Mile 21.5 I had to shift from running (barely) to alternating running and walking the rest of the way. It was a hard decision to make, but it enabled me to complete this test, and I am satisfied that I did the absolute best I could.

Here are some memories I will take home with me:

1. Running on the Golden Gate Bridge.

2. Running on the Golden Gate Bridge with a man who has run a marathon in all 50 states (twice). He said I could join the club when I get ten. I have three (once).

3. Seeing a woman who was running for her husband who was killed in Afghanistan. She ran 26.2 miles starting at midnight last night, and THEN ran the marathon with us. She ran by me on the bridge carrying a full size American flag.

4. Watching an older couple cross the street while weaving through hundreds of runners in the second mile of the race. It was like a game of Frogger. They won.

5. Hearing a kid spectator say, "I could run 26 miles, but that last .2 would kill me."

6. The unrelenting hills in Golden Gate Park. When I asked an SFM veteran at the airport about the park she said, "you won't even notice them." Uh, I noticed them.

7. Being a bit of a celebrity for a few minutes. Finishing a marathon entitles you to wear your medal for 24 hours, which encourages everyone to congratulate you and act really nice to you. I believe that this behavior increases exponentially as you age. That's great because I'm not getting any younger.

8. Having a cable car operator say, "nice job, man," to me. I don't know why I think that's cool, but I do.

9. Talking to a guy who qualified to run the Boston Marathon today on this course. Awesome accomplishment.

10. Lying in bed eating half a pizza just like I thought I would 24 hours ago.

11. Going to sleep knowing that the day is done.

Day is done.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Toeing the Line

I'm not quite there yet, but for all intents and purposes I'm on the starting line for the 2011 San Francisco Marathon. At 35,000 feet of cruising altitude I'm on my way to the west coast.

As I left home this morning, Sally reminded me that my training had gone well. Indeed, it had. I missed only a single run of 3 miles, and that happened very early on. I made a couple schedule changes to work around busy weekends, but those went smoothly, too. In the end it went 99.7% well, from a mileage standpoint.

My 53 year-old body held up okay. As I age I have noticed that no two days feel exactly the same way physically. The first few steps out of bed give me an indication of which muscle, bone or joint is going to bark: hip, toe, back, neck, or shoulder. Yes, all gave me a twinge or two over the last 4.5 months of training, but none stopped me and I have no complaints. I am running, and I know that others cannot.

Remarkably, I can only remember one really rainy day during this time around. It was a hot Wednesday morning as I "commuted" to work. That particular route is hard and virtually shade-free so the drizzle kept me cool and comfortable. But, most of the time my training was done in dry, hot conditions. Dry--being a bit of a relative term during a Northern Virginia summer--only means it's not raining. Humidity, though, was almost always my running partner.

As with any long term activity, I did hit a motivational snag or two. I'm good at setting goals and plans and sticking with them, but I'm human, too. There were days where I wanted to turn around and go back home. There was one 20-miler that tanked at 14. There were more than a few days where my stomach wouldn't cooperate.

Am I confident? Well, I absolutely know I will finish unless something out of my control happens. There are variables, of course, to contend with, and big hills on the San Francisco course. Sometimes, you just have an off day. But I can deal with that because so much of the marathon is done before you ever take a step on race day. I'm planning to bring home a medal, but if I somehow don't, well, I'll be okay with that.

Through it all, I had my vision of what it will be like to step on the finish mat and register my time. It's that last step that matters to me, though, not the clock. I will be thinking of Sally at that moment. She is the reason I have done all of the bike rides and runs over the last eighteen years. Her love motivates me, and I hope that these things I do help in some way to secure a healthy life for her long into the future.

I'll meet you at the finish.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

I’m Nervous

The last 2-3 week segment of most marathon training programs is called a “taper.” Essentially, all of the long, hard preparation is over, and it’s time to fully rest up and rejuvenate for the big day by gradually reducing the amount of running you actually do. My goal race is just less than two weeks away, and I’m in the second week of my taper.

Yes, during this time I keep running. My pattern of Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday will continue right up until the last few days before the race. It sounds kind of funny to say that these 30-mile weeks are “resting,” but, comparatively, they are. The daily rhythm is the same, but the length of the dance is shorter.

Man, is this hard to do.

Saucony Men's ProGrid Kinvara 2You work so hard, and then you kind of suddenly stop working so hard. I ran nearly 600 miles in sixteen weeks and only missed three of the 589 miles on my schedule. Still, I wonder if I did enough. Am I ready enough? I ran 12 “easy” miles last Sunday, and, still, I wonder if I’m ready enough. Can I go more than twice that far? Can I run the Hills of San Francisco?

[Note: Pictured above is my brand new “fast shoe.” I won’t be wearing it in the marathon… But maybe on the plane.]

Lots about marathoning is in your head, and the ease of the taper, ironically, is one of the toughest mental challenges. Everybody says this is the right thing to do, but I can’t help but wonder if one more big push wouldn’t make my confidence more firm. Can I ask my body to get in high gear again in two weeks, and will it respond the way I need it to?

But it has been proven over and over that this is the way to go, and it’s also been shown that people that voided the taper paid for it in the end.

So I’m going to continue to rest. It makes me really nervous, but I’m going to rest. When I start the marathon I’ll know that I followed the plan religiously, and when I finish I can evaluate how well the plan worked. It worked well in 2009 (in New York), but in 2010 (Marine Corps Marathon) life got in the way a bit, I rearranged the plan, and I struggled to finish.

Once I get going on July 31, I have a feeling that I will find that the plan has worked just right. A good feeling. 99% sure. With a semblance of doubt. Mostly positive. Cautiously optimistic. Optimistically cautious.

Okay. I’m just a little bit nervous. Par for the course. Let’s go.

Thursday, July 7, 2011


A friend recently asked my wife why I run marathons. She responded by saying that I do it “mostly for the fitness.” Sally’s right, of course, but while Greatest Hits: The Road Less Traveledit is true that fitness is important to me—and I don’t think I could keep doing this without the fitness gain—I think that’s only part of the answer.

I have on my iPod a song by Melissa Ethridge entitled, “I Run for Life.” It’s her ode to those who have suffered from breast cancer, and I believe it’s a regular theme of the various Susan Komen charity walks and runs. Her lyrics capture the other part of Why better than I know how to express it myself.

The chorus of the song goes like this:

I run for hope
I run to feel
I run for the truth for all that is real
I run for your mother, your sister, your wife
I run for you and me my friend
I run for life

When faced with the long term challenge of incurable disease in my family I chose to do the only thing that I thought might help. I raised money, and lots of it, for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society—over $100,000 over time thanks to the undying support of my friends and relations. And I have done that by pushing my body close to its limits for sixteen years of endurance cycling and now two years of marathoning.

But those tangible results are not what it’s all about either. There is more to the words and phrasing above. Somehow I feel that exercising my spirit can raise the spirits of others to a higher place if even only in a very small way. Perhaps if I can get the most out of the gifts I have been given I can make a tiny dent in the world for others. Others who maybe can’t run a mile any longer, but look to find hope and strength in what I can do. When there is no cure, maybe there is hope and maybe I can be a beacon.

I don’t really know if I can or will or have made a difference to anyone, but if there is just a remote chance of achieving that goal I want to be able to say that I did the best I could.

So if you ask me why I am still running I will say that I run for us all.

I run for life.