Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Day the Earth Didn’t Stand Still

Among my bucket list items is this one: experience an earthquake. No kidding. Not one that does terrible damage or injures anyone, just one that makes me understand what it feels like for the ground to move under my feet.

I also want to know what I would do in such circumstances. I never really thought this would be me, but George Costanza—yelling “fire” and knocking people down so he could be the first one out of the building—crossed my mind.

[Full Disclosure: At William and Mary, legend had it that you could feel unexplained underground vibrations at the local cemetery if you were there at the right time of night. In the dark we went, and we waited, and we listened, and someone said they felt something, and we all ran away. I never really thought that story was true, nor did I get any sense that something ethereal was afoot, but I ran just like everyone else. Fast.]

virginia-shake-mapAs of two days ago, got earthquake. Been there. Done that. Check.

I live and work on the East Coast, not all all that far from Tuesday’s epicenter in Mineral, Virginia. Sure, I’ve heard locals say that they have felt an earthquake here before, but I don’t think I really believed them because I didn’t experience it myself.

But I felt this one. At first I thought that a truck hit the building. Four stories up, my office overlooks a loading dock. The dumpsters get banged around a lot when they are emptied, but this felt like a big truck banging a big dumpster against the side of the building for what seemed like a big minute. I quickly knew that if it was a truck it would have to be Optimus Prime.

And here is what I did. I went to find my wife. Yes, while the building shook around us all I could only think of one thing to do. I didn’t panic. I didn’t yell, “earthquake!” I didn’t run out of the building. I didn’t station myself in a doorway. I simply found a path to the only thing that matters.

Where was she? Well, the logical and smart side of our marriage wasn’t walking around like I was, but she didn’t appear to be in her office either. And when I called out to see if anyone knew where she was, a familiar voice replied, “I’m under here.” My tall, lanky better half was neatly curled up under her desk and there she stayed until the shuddering stopped. Had there been room for a less-lanky gentleman to join her that’s where I would have been. Instead, I stood in her doorway so I could see her, and waited, too.

I didn’t like the way it felt. If there is anything in the world that you can depend on it seems like the earth as a stable platform is a good candidate. You can count on it. Mostly.

Even after the shaking stopped my legs felt wobbly. Outside in the parking lot where everyone gathered the look of choice was disbelief, not fear. I must have looked that way, too. I would later learn that this earthquake was amazingly widespread. The earth’s plates on the West Coast are more fractured resulting in localized events of greater intensity. Ours was mild, but affected a huge swath of this part of the country. Amazing.

So, if you can’t count on the earth standing still what can you count on?

That’s easy. Look under the desk.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

I Can Do Better

Me in San Francisco, July 2011In my mind, crossing the finish line of a marathon can never be called a failure. To get to that point, there’s just too much energy and effort invested to say that it was wasted on not achieving a time goal.

Running several hundred miles in four months is no small feat, and as I’ve said before, that kind of dedication is in and of itself a huge accomplishment.

A few weeks hence, though, I’m convinced that I can do better than I did in the San Francisco Marathon. When I finished in under their six-hour time limit, it was with just ten minutes to spare. I hit an early wall at Mile 14, and a big one at Mile 21. Only switching to a run/walk plan for the last five miles enabled me to finish. Had I kept trying to run the whole way I think I would actually have been slower and may have missed the time limit.

As I start planning what to do next I am building a four-pronged plan of attack:

  1. Run faster.
  2. Run shorter.
  3. Run lighter.
  4. Run Stronger.

Although it’s true that as you age you inherently slow down—and I have significant experience to prove it—I don’t believe that I should be THIS slow already. I’m an older guy, but when the *much* older guy running next to me has completed over 100 marathons—and is running faster than me—well, there is clearly room for improvement.

Many years ago (about 1990) I ran the Cherry Blossom 10-Miler in 70 minutes, but I’m not going for that pace. I think that I can get to running a 5k or 10k at eight minutes per mile again. I’d be quite satisfied with that, and achieving that goal would give me confidence that I could run a marathon faster—if not quite that fast. I will run faster.

For at least the next 8 months I’m going to concentrate on shorter runs (5k, 10k, 10 miles) up to half marathon distance (13 miles). I jumped right into marathons in 2009 after not having run much for more than fifteen years. By building and solidifying my power and confidence at shorter distances I can achieve more athletically. I will run shorter.

In preparation for San Francisco I didn’t do a good enough job of managing my weight or overall nutrition. I feel into the trap of consuming lots of calories under the assumption that I was burning way more than I was eating. As a result, I will focus on overall fitness for the next fourteen months to see if I can stay strong for more of the marathon than just  the first fourteen miles, which is where I have consistently started to fade. I will run lighter.

My San Francisco plan called for strength training and cross training each of the eighteen weeks, but I largely ignored that after the first third of the program. In hindsight, that was a mistake and cost me dearly during the race. I had the power to climb all of the hills (the first 20 miles), but nothing left when they were done (the last six miles). I will run stronger.

So watch for my progress over the next year as I try to achieve:

  1. 5k in 24:00.
  2. 10k in 50:00.
  3. 10 Miles in 1:30:00
  4. Half Marathon in 2:00:00

After that, I’ll see you at the Chicago Marathon in October 2012.

I can do better. I know it.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Growing Up Fast

Last night I held a “speedwork” session for the soccer team I coach. This practice was not about kicking, shooting, passing or heading. Nope, this was about running. Fast.

Since it’s still vacation season I expected a small turnout, and that’s what I got. Just four girls plus one sister.

It was a beautiful, clear, relatively cool and humidity free, spectacular, late summer evening. Perfect for just about anything—including running on a track. The girls are headed into their U16 season in a new (to them), more competitive, league so fitness, speed, and agility are at an even higher premium.

I was able to find a wealth of drills that I could use to help improve speed with repetition. Some of the exercises were kind of goofy, and it wasn’t immediately obvious how they help. You sort of have to trust that they will.

After stretching, I sent the girls off on a few easy laps. This was the first time I could just watch them run. In fact, when I thought about it, I very rarely just get to watch them do anything. At practice and games, my mind is constantly adjusting, thinking, planning, strategizing, and wondering how to get all of the moving parts into a functional whole. Just watching, and enjoying, is one of the last things I get to do.

Their strides, seemingly effortless and free, were beautiful to behold. Not perfect, but pretty close. Okay, I’m biased by love and I sometimes (often) have a hard time seeing their flaws. But, still, they looked awfully good to me. I can remember when they were ten years old and they ran on short little legs that couldn’t get them very far very quickly. Where did these powerfully athletic young women come from?

Perhaps in comparison I was also thinking about my own heavy gait as opposed to their graceful movement. I don’t care. I could have just stopped then and there and called it a good night, but we had work to do.

In front of the setting sun they stayed focused and did every weird thing that I asked them to do. Hopping on one foot then two, marching with stiff legs, skipping low and high. Falling start. Seated start. Lying start. Almost everything as fast as they could. Few complaints. Plenty of smiles. Camaraderie. Too quickly, we were done.

They finished with three more easy laps. And I watched these beautiful, graceful athletes run again. Proud of them. Proud of their effort. Wishing that they wouldn’t grow up so fast.

Oh, wait, this is speedwork. I want them to grow up fast, but not quickly.