Monday, October 25, 2010

Lack of Commitment Makes For Wonderful Result

RACE: LIRRC Haslett Hambletonian 10 Miler
DATE: Sunday, October 24, 2010
DISTANCE: 10 Miler
LOCATION: Eisenhower State Park, East Meadow, NY
COURSE:  4 Loops inside the park


After straining my right hamstring during yesterday's Niketown run, thanks to my hot-dogging and overextending my strides, I didn't think I would be doing more than just cheering Karen on.  On top of that, I wasn't dressed warm enough either, and I woke up totally congested as well.

Tricia came over at 7am sharp to watch the kids, and we made our way out to Eisenhower State Park, home of the Long Island Road Runners Club, and home to weekly races, race or shine.  I think Karen finally found a place where we could race, even if NYRR has nothing on their calendar.  

From the moment we parked, I was amused by the turn-out.  First thing was actually finding the place to register.  I joked that finding the registration booth was the race itself.  I was reluctant to sign up but I did, because I started taking note and I don't think there was even 50 people there.  Not that I'm a medal whore or anything (well, yes I am, actually), but I figured if I just ran a normal race that I could potentially place.  There were a lot of people who had graying hair like myself, so I figured it was still going to be competitive in my age group.

The Long Island Road Runner's Club touts being the oldest running club in Long Island.  I really admire there "down home" way of doing things.  They have a little modest clubhouse, not much unlike ours (Forest Park Road Runners), that is so small that it's actually a shed to store their stuff in.  They had bagels, cream cheese, butter, coffee, hot chocolate, and water.  For such a small race, and for an entry fee that's $8 ($5 if you were a member), I was pretty impressed by the simplicity of it all.  No corral nazis, no myriad of bags to have to look for to place or get your bag, no waiting on a long line for the bathroom.  And most importantly....a great chance to feel free and open to run relaxed without feeling like one's going to get trampled.

The pre-race entertainment was hysterical. Essentially, it consisted of a radio playing music from CBS-FM, the golden oldies station.  I had to go to the bathroom right behind the radio pictured below.  Nothing like dropping the deuce while listening to "Under My Thumb" by the Rolling Stones.

I consolidated Karen's stuff into my bag, putting her's back in our car.  The baggage check for my bag was in
 the smallest baggest check ever (below).  Bathrooms were just behind it too:

The line up for the race was funny as well.  I was able to actually count with my finger the number of people that were here.  The course consisted of an array of twists and turns and loops all within Eisenhower State Park.  Having done the Long Island Marathon several times, seeing the wooden-staked fencing reminded me of my last mile hustles at those races.  

This was the finish line for the Haslett Hambletonian (sounds like a horse race, right?)

The race started, and we were on our way.  My strategy for today would be to keep my strides as short as necessary in order to further aggravate my nagging right hamstring.  I also was planning on going slow, as there was no need to push myself.  The fastest 10 mile run I had ever clocked in my life was when I did the Long Beach 10 Mile run back in 1984.  I was 19 years old and I did the run in 1:03:36 seconds.  However, that was from a different life.  My real PR was achieved back on January 22, 2006 when I did a 1:23:38 at the NYRR Frostbite 10 miler.   I didn't think I would have much trouble besting this record since that was set at an 8:21 pace, and I had just done a Half marathon a month before in a pace of just over 7:30. 

I quickly found myself starting out way too fast (what else is new?). My garmin hit the mile mark nearly 6/10ths sooner than the marker the club had posted, as I did the first mile in 7:20:50.  For  I posted an extra 10 seconds, but all in all, it was way too fast. 

I was in the top 20 after mile 1, and in the top 10 after the 2nd mile.  We had to do four 2.5 mile repeats, and after the first "lap", I was sitting fairly pretty except the all of the people in front of me were men who looked like they were in my age group.  How did I know?  Most were either balding a/o graying.  The competitive DNA in me was rising through, forcing me to want to go faster instead of slower.  What added to this was my hamstring.  It was actually feeling better.  It's amazing what a good-feel run can do for a person.

Around mile 4, I had passed a three people, a woman who was possibly leading her gender, an older guy around my age (yes!) and a very young kid with a number on.  As I looked later on, I didn't see him as a finisher as there was no one under 14, and he couldn't have been more than 10, to be honest.  Yet, it took me 4 miles to catch up!

There was a younger fellow, tall and he looked in his 30's at best who was slowing up.  I finally passed him, but I couldn't dust him.  Eventually, he ran his race as he passed me back.  In a way, I was grateful, because I feared I was going to get lost, and he seemed like he knew this course fairly well.  This might have been the first time ever that I felt glad someone passed in front of me!

The repitiion of the loops, coupled with not having had any thing of substance to eat, started affecting my stomach.  I had a PowerGel in my inside shorts pocket, but out of site was out of mind for me, as I forgot all about it.  The weather was great, even if a bit humid.  Nothing like a cool wind, and it reminded me about the dastardly weather at the Chicago Marathon.

Thoughts of that tried to derail my run.  Having just seen the remake of the Karate Kid the night before, I decided to use Jackie Chan's words of wisdom to help me with this potential derailment. 

"Clear your mind.  Focus on focusing better!"

I have to admit that the same inner calm that exists when you run such a low-pressure race like this, can also prove to be your undoing if your mind is cluttered with antiproductive thoughts as well.  The rattling is a lot louder in your head, if there are no people around to cheer you on, for instance.

There was a guy that who was running ahead of me for quite some time.  He was slowing down, and so did I.  I could have easily passed him, and after the race I learned that he was far more hurt then I was, so I give him credit for doing the race at all.  I didn't pass him right away though.  I was afraid because I couldn't see anyone in front of him, and I didn't want to get lost on the course!

I finally did pass him, and there was a turn coming up that looked confusing.  The signs were there, but I didn't have my reading glasses on, so focusing (not the Jackie Chan way, but the eyeball way) was somewhat daunting.   I turned my head as I ran, and actually got advice from him, and kept on running.  Nice guy and Charles Crowe was his name.

Some guy named Mike Lorusso (yes the race was small enough that I can afford to produce the names!), was gaining ground on me around mile 8-9.  I tried as hard as I could to hold him off, but my only non-sub 8 minute mile (mile 7) proved too costly.  He had gotten ahead of me, and as we we coming to the end, I was sprinting posting a 7:36, but he actually gained ground.  When I crossed, I shook his hand and congratulated him on his great finish.

But before that happened....
Unbelievable, isn't it?  I won in my age category!   Well, not that unbelievable considering a field size of 37, lol!

Still it felt great, and it was the first time since 1985 that I came in first place in any age group.

I was headed to the bathroom after a well-deserved PR posting and victory run, when I saw Karen.  She actually stopped, walked over to me, said she was afraid of getting lost on the course and headed into the bathroom.  Yahhh!!!! Something like that would drive me nuts!  I could never jump off the course to go into the bathroom, not with 2 miles to go (although it happened for the first time a few races back this year).

I sat on a park bench near the finish, enjoying a bagel with cream cheese, and fraternizing with some of the other runners that had already finished.  But, now it was Karen's turn to finish.  I walked over to the race director by the finish line, and asked if any females in the 40-44 age group had finished yet.  The answer was a resounding no, which meant that she still had a "shot" to win in her group.  For her, this would be the first time ever in her life. 

No other woman, since the time that I took note of her age group, had crossed the finish line, and suddenly, I see a woman in the distance.  ....

It was Karen! 
Though I yelled out loud the fact that she was going to win in her age group, it didn't register.

She crossed, and as they starting putting the medal around her, she still thought that perhaps every finisher got a medal. Finally, it sank in

We both relaxed for awhile and before finally leaving we saw the results posted on the side of the shed..

It was astounding that I came in 8th.  However, it was nearly as astounding that only 37 of the 52 people that I counted actually finished too, lol!

In the end nothing is what it seems.  I had been so fervently commited for months on end to do amazing in a race as large as the Chicago Marathon, only to succumb to the weather, and today,  I had no vested commitment in even running, let alone racing, and here I stood, with a 1st place medal around my neck.  I realize it was a very teeny tiny field, but I still shattered my PR, and 10 miles is 10 miles.  In the end, my lack of commitment, did indeed make for a wonderful result today.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Niketown: Carefree and lots of fun.

This morning I got up and took the train to 59th street to run with the Niketown runners.  It's not a real club, just a bunch of people like myself gathering together for a common cause.  To run.  One of the things I like about the Niketown club is that they give you free gatorade and you are in their store looking around.
Another thing I like is that when they plan out a run, they really plan it out.  Take a look:
 They spare no expense showing you where you are going to run.  It's just a shame that the Nike+ devices cause so many problems, and that their online tool does not allow you to correct issues on their online interface, because it is a very nice and clean interface.
After a few minutes we all went outside and did stretching exercises right outside and in front of Niketown on 57th between Madison & 5th.

           Hey, that's my hand with my wedding band on it!  Sorry, ladies, guess you know by now that I'm taken anyway!

We started running up 1st avenue.  The pacers from Nike are very young and very friendly.  They also don't wait around at red lights either, and will run right through them if it's safe (no cars around).  With this strategy, and expectedly, the front runners quickly separated from the rest of those that would stop at lights. 
I didn't stop at the lights either, lol.

My Garmin is acting up.   The auto pause went on and stayed on for the majority of the run.  Very frustrating.
What was that about the Nike+ I was complaining about again??

I ran with my Nano this time.  Yeah, anti-social, I know it.

Instead of doing the full 8 miles, I actually came back down (from 124th) and just ran around until I got to my house, about 6 miles later.

My right hammy is tweeking a bit.  I will need to be careful for tomorrow's mystery race that I will be doing in the morning in Eisenhower State park.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Foiled by Farenheit: 2010 Chicago Marathon Race Report

Race: Chicago Marathon
Date: October 10, 2010 @ 7:30am
Location: Chicago, Illinois
Weather: Bright Sunshine, 69-85 degrees
Bib Number:

The wake-up service, hotel room alarm clock, and my iPhone all went off at 4:45am. I got up and immediately got in to take a hot shower (part of my normal ritual). This was followed by getting my battle-gear on which this year constituted a patriotic red, white and blue theme, with even blue reflector sunglasses. I applied my Glide, Vaseline, affixed my name to my number, wrote inspirational things via a Sharpie on my arms, packed my bag and started drinking my energy drinks, as did Karen (sans the Sharpie). I went downstairs to see what the “marathon buffet table” being comp’d by the hotel was. It wasn’t anything extraordinary, but it was nice that they offered it.

It was still fairly dark when we headed over to the park, as an endless sea of runners that are usually seen heading to a start of a marathon, where massing along Michigian Avenue. It felt just like the New York Marathon. Except warmer.

Typically in Fort Wadsworth, I’m looking for every scrap of clothing to keep warm. It was the opposite here. Ever since the 2007 tragedy, the Chicago Marathon race officials instituted a 4-color weather alert system to inform runners of the status and possible dangers associated with the weather that they were running in. Green means good. Yellow means run with caution. Red means your screwed and Black means the race is stopped (like in 2007). Well, it was Green because it was 69 at 7am. A useless status since the height of the race for most wouldn’t be until maybe 11a-12p. Who cares what the status regarding the time when you’re not even racing yet, right?

Bathroom and baggage was a little confusing to me, since this was my first race here. I actually made my way through to the bathroom line, and when I came out I realized I was the only runner with my bag still unchecked. I asked an official, who mentioned where it was. And it turned out that I had to leave the seeded corral area and walk about ½ mile to baggage. The corral closes at 7:15am, so by the time I checked my bag and noticed it was 7:08, I started running back . By the time I got back to the entrance to the seeded area, it was mobbed with Johnny-Come-Lately’s and now I was just an ordinary guppy in a sea of fish, as they say.

The corral was already closed when I got there, and I had to jump over the fence to get in, but made my way to the right spot, and waited anxiously for what was something that I had been training for nearly 8 months. Looking back, I will never put so much into a race again. The self-imposed stress I made on myself was just too great to bear and too high a risk that it would negatively impact my race performance too.

I made sure to line up on the left hand side.

Oh, Oh Say Can you See….. the National Anthem was just about finished. It was time to put up or shut up. I even had a piece of paper in my pocket to refer to regarding my race which read;

“Great moments... are born from great opportunity. And that's what I have here, today.

That's what you've earned here today. One race. If I had raced to qualify for the Boston Marathon the last nine times, I would never have qualified, whereas many others have. But not this race. Not today. Not this time. Today, I race for everything. Today, I run with those that will qualify. Today, I will keep pace with them. And today, I will qualify because I can! Today, I AM the greatest runner in the world. I was born to be a runner. I was born to be here today. This is my time. The time of “just falling short” is done. It’s over. I'm sick and tired of hearing about what a great accomplishment it is to just finish a marathon, while others are achieving the dream to run the ultimate marathon in Boston. Screw 'it. THIS IS MY TIME!

And now, it’s about damn time, that I go out there and take it”

I didn’t hear the horn blow, but I knew we started, because the 38,132 runners just started to roar in approval.

There was no breeze and the temperature felt like it was 70 already.

The first mile was a challenge because we were all packed together like sardines as we ran. This was not like it is in New York. However, unlike New York, the runners were considerate enough not to throw their unwantables onto the field. I think I only saw one sweatshirt on the ground, and that’s about it. This is the advantage of being in a seeded corral (Corral C) where there’s only about five-thousand runners in front of you (all serious runners) and not in the Open Corral where the remaining thirty-four thousand runners, many casual joggers not racing for time necessarily, were. However, because the race emptied out immediately onto city streets, unlike NYC where you have a two-mile stretch along the Verrazano to help distance runners from one another, the course was packed for a long time (but more on that later).

Another challenge with the first mile, and this was something I had feared, based on my research, was that we would go into a tunnel for nearly a third of a mile. As a result, I had expected the Garmin to screw up, and it did, but not the way I expected it to. I later asked Karen, and she confirmed that it happened on her watch to, but instead of the watch losing signal right away, it actually added .67 of a mile to my accumulated mileage, and mile lapped me well before the first mile marker came about. Shortly afterwards, it lost signal. I was now totally lost as to where I was from a mileage perspective, and I hadn’t even left Grant Park. Note to self? Don’t start the watch until you get to the Mile 1 marker, and just remember to add the first mile manually from the clock time as you cross the start to the time you get to Mile 1.

I immediately manually hit the lap button at Mile 1. It appeared I had done that first mile in 8:05, but who knows if my watch had actually stopped or not while in the tunnel. When you run in a tunnel, you can’t be looking at anything other than where your feet are landing, or you could wind up having far more serious health issues otherwise…. ;-)

The first water station was around Mile 1.5. The next one wouldn’t be until a little after Mile 3. Karen was somewhat critical that there should be water at every mile, but considering that there are no water stops on the Verrazano, and not until around the 2.5 mile mark in New York, I had no issue with this. In fact, while I typically drink water at every stop, I usually don’t much until Mile 3 anyway. Though today would be a different story.

The crowds in the city were amazing. They were loud, and at some points, I actually had to turn off my Nano, just to appreciate the insanity that was going on. It was nothing unlike New York, and I love the New York City Marathon (if you haven’t already guessed it with my soon-to-be 9th NY this November).

Some of the people were holding signs up, but not all were regarding the runners. I saw a few Christian-signs touting “If you have sin, the result is death”, or “To be reborn you must accept Jesus.” The first sign kind of made me feel a little bad. I mean, who here is without sin, and the last thing you need to hear is that you’re gonna die, when it’s already warm and you have like 23 miles to go.

The temperatures after 4 miles was already just that. Warm. Despite working on taking the shortest cuts around the turns, with my handy turn-by-turn chart that I created (see my previous 2 blogs ago), I was already scrapping it, in favor of staying where the shade where the buildings are. But my running was already getting sloppy, as the warm weather was taking hold. Even early on, I was straying to left to get water, then thought I was on the wrong side, so I corrected to go to the right. As it turned out, I should have stayed on my left. Most runners wouldn’t give a shit about this, but I was still holding on to this belief that I had a chance to qualify for Boston, despite the weather.

And despite the weather, I actually was holding pace to qualify for Boston. In fact, I had run sub-8 miles for Miles 2,3,4,5,6. But there was a big difference in the way I was feeling today as opposed to Newport Liberty. Whereas, I was feeling phenomenal then, I was doing all possible to “hold on”. The weather was giving me a beating. It was past 9am and regardless of what the temperature was, the level of fatigue in me was beginning to show. It might have been the weather, or perhaps the fact that I was running faster than I should to run away from the sun. And that’s ironic, because for the first ten kilometers I was annoyed that I hadn’t banked enough time under 8 minutes to buffer for the second half. The crowd of runners were so densely packed that it was nearly impossible to make any clear and aggressive moves. I wasn’t the only one that felt that way either, as one runner got annoyed at me for getting to close to him a couple of times.

By the time we exited the park after the 10k point headed up to Addison for the turnaround, the sun was beating down off the lake very hard. I was grateful finally to head away from the open sun, making the left down Broadway Street, but by then, the damage was done, only I still didn’t know it.

Miles 8, 9, 10, 11 were all southbound miles. Generally, it was coming back the way we came except we took a whole new set of streets (Broadway, Clark, Sedgwick, Wells, Orleans and Franklin) to get towards the halfway mark. As we kept heading south, my thirst was getting more and more unquenchable, the sun and heat more unbearable, and my bladder more undesirable.

And yet, I did these miles in 7:51, 7:49, 7:45 and 7:56. I was entering Mile 12, and I was about 90 seconds ahead of halfpace or 3 full minutes ahead for full Boston qualifying.

Something was not right with me. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but at the risk of passing out, I actually had to pull over to the side. I don’t think I’ve ever done this in a race before, but here I was more concerned now with my health than with any silly qualifying time. This happened after I crossed over the bridge, and got to the 20k mark on Franklin Street. I had just finished looking at my watch which had read 1:38:15. I went on to the sidewalk for a brief moment, and held onto some high fence from some business on the street. I felt very embarrassed because I think I might have been the first person all around my field that had stopped, but I had to. My bladder felt like it was going to bust, and I felt like I was going to black out. The feeling finally passed, and like a trooper, I went right back onto the course to pick up where I had left off. Maybe I was running too fast, because my watch said I did my 13th Mile in 8:03, yet I could’ve sworn I was there for nearly a minute. I do remember stressing out over the fact that I needed to get a good first half under my belt. I also remember drinking wherever I could for fear of fatigue, which really was gripping me (not the fatigue so much as the fear of it, perhaps?). Lessons learned? Never again will I stress out over a time for another race. From now on, I'll just focus on the race that I am doing.

I really thought I had believed this, but it’s funny what a person says they believe in, and what they actually do sometimes.

As we all headed west on Adams Street, away from the main loop section of Chicago, the crowd was insanely boisterous and inspiring. Now as I look on the course map, we had passed through the US Trutst, and Bank of America cheerzones. Oh! And I thought they were cheering for me! Just kidding. Despite that, and despite another impressive Mile split where I finished my 14th mile in 8 minutes flat, I never bothered to think how happy I should’ve been. This was probably because the crowd, the time, and everything else positive was quickly being peeled away from my psyche as to make more room for my inner-defenses ‘shields-up’ policy that was already under heavy attack by the mother of all mothers, Mother Nature.

Finally, I started seeing other runners suffering from the heat. Not that it made me feel any better, but at least I was starting to believe that there wasn’t anything more to my situation than just a rise on the oven dial.

Now, the next ten miles are as painful to write about as they were to run. I have spent the better part of a year doing long distance runs of more than a half-marathon, making my absolute collapse extremely perplexing. It would be too simplistic to suggest that the only reason was the weather, but it was. I had been ahead of the 3:30 pacers for the first half of the marathon, and by the second half, I was actually catching up to 3:20 and even 3:10 pacers. Not because I was getting faster, but because there were just as many runners as me, having one hell of a nightmare on the road.

We were broiling. While I realize that drinking a cup of water cools your organs and makes you feel better than dumping water over your head, I had to do both. My skin was burning up. I actually felt chills from time to time. My sunglasses went off my visor and right onto my face whenever the sun was hitting me. After awhile I just left them on my eyes. The sun basked and baked me for the last solid 10 miles.

Karen’s friend’s husband, Oren, had warned me about the “lifelessness” between Miles 16 and 18. This was the area around Little Italy, University Village, and the Illinois Medical District. There were fewer fans cheering us on, smaller buildings, providing little or no shade, and no entertainment around (unless you are a sadistic bastard, and found overheated runners that were sitting along the sidelines entertaining). Within 3 mile splits (Mile 14-17), I went from an 8:36 to a 9:02 to a 10:35. I hadn’t started cramping, but the heat beat me down so, that I caved, and actually started to fully stop at the rest stations along Jackson Blvd. and again on Taylor Street.

All humble candidates running for office concede before the election is officially over. For me it was the 30K mark. I went from looking to qualify to Boston, to beating my PR, to just finishing regardless of time, in a very quick hurry. Self-preservation was the only thing I could think of now. It wasn’t because it was less stressful than competing for time, it was because I couldn’t muster handling anything else. It was easily 80 degrees by now, and I felt the way people do when they are at a beach, and think they might be sunburned, but are not quite sure. I had just made a left onto Ashland Avenue having recorded another 10+ minute mile. Good for many, but disastrous for me. I guess this is what happens when you start to walk here and there.

I would say that until Mile 25, that most of those miles were just a blur of disaster and leave it at that. The exception was that I amazingly found my friend Marco, at the onset of Mile 19. He was looking in about as bad a shape as I, but seeing him lifted my spirits enough to post a sub-10 minute Mile 19. That would quickly fade however, as Mile 20, which is highly regarded by many marathoners as the Rubicon of fatigue, did me in as well. A 10:36 split, and I wasn’t even done yet.

I had passed on by Marco, but before Mile 20, he passed me again. Everytime we saw one another it was a cheerful moment, but besides that, there was little else to cheer about, except for the one-off saintly souls spraying water from fire hydrants at us all. Earlier on I had stayed away from these hydrant-loving sprayers because I didn’t want to blister from wet sneakers. And now? I didn’t give a rat’s ass anymore, frankly. About the only thing I was interested in were the bananas they were giving out. A+++ to the race directors for this idea. Not even the NYC Marathon course has this, but should, especially on scorcher days like this.

By now, I was no longer seeing so many runners as I saw walkers. Even worse, were those who were just laid out flat on their backs being tended to at medical stations, or even a few that weren’t near one, and were being tended to by other runners. No one ever said a marathon was an easy thing. And despite all this recent glamour about “Ooooh, I’m going to run a marathon too!”, a marathon is a grueling event even under the best of circumstances.

My GU Energy belt was nearly empty already. And my endurolytes seemed to be almost gone. I had taken only 1 salt packet, because to be honest, my mind wasn’t all there.

I met and passed Marco again between 21-22, and I remember getting into a running groove again. At this point having done Mile 22 in 9:29 was an achievement of amazing calculations.

We continued to run south with the Dan Ryan Expressway on our left. It was a most disinteresting place. It kind of reminded me of the Bronx, except actual humans lived here, and it seemed void of crime. We finally went over the highway, zig-zagging our way around Comiskey Park, along 33rd, State and 35th Streets, and I saw perhaps the most amazing sign of the entire race right before we made our left to go onto Michigan Avenue. It was an electronic billboard that read Home of The LaSalle, and it had a date and temperature reading update. The temperature? Ninety-four degrees. Personally, I think it was wrong. Wrong because it was probably closer to 84 than 94, and wrong to have something like this flash up on the board. But later on, as I would find out from a fellow runner who finished in 3 hours and 20 minutes, that he too saw another sign from a bank that had said 92 degrees. Thinking I might not believe it, he actually pulled out his phone, that he had taken with him on his race, and snapped up the photo. He was right!

After I saw my sign, I felt like ‘Trashcan’ in the book, The Stand by Steven King as I howled laughing out loud, like some kind of a deranged lunatic. That was the only highlight after just having posted my worst mile (11:10) ever perhaps as a runner.

And I thought I had it rough.  God Bless everyone that came out today to do this "broiler" run!

Yet that did little to motivate me. Even though I was still within reach of a PR, it was unrealistic to think I would do much better. Hence, even with the Nike+ Cheerzone at the end of the 24th mile, I did nothing more than post another plus 10 mile split (Mile 24: 10:21). And as we finally passed the area where Marco, Kitty, Karen and I had started running, and were familiar with, I did even worse, posting a 10:58. I was out of gas, man. I could hear the echoes of Flava Flav singing “I ain’t got nuttin’ for ya man!” ringing through my ears, and it wasn’t even playing on my nano or at the cheerzone.

Once we passed the “1 mile to go” sign, things started to finally look up, and that was only because I was only to happy to get this race over with already. Feelings of anger and resentment over the weather were pretty much subdued for most of the race, as I didn’t want to over-react and risk not even finishing. But now, I knew I could smell the finish line, and that was all I could think about. Anger.

“Fuck You Mother Nature!”

How I wasn’t yanked off the course for violating one of it bazillion policies I don’t know. But I actually said that with my left fist raised in defiance.

“Fuck You Mother Nature!”
There. I said it again. But I didn’t care. This weather robbed from me, what I thought I was coming here for.

“Fuck You Mother Nature!”

Again, for a third time, I yelled this out as I was actually picking up some really good speed to the point that I no longer felt cramping, which I forgot to mention, I had started getting around mile 22.

“Fuck You Mother Nature!”

For a fourth and last time. I could psycho-analyze bullshit all of you and say that I was really mad at myself, and that I should have done this or that or the other, but the truth is that even if I had played the ignoramus card, and went into the race blissfully ignorant of the weather conditions so as to keep me calm all week long?…It STILL wouldn’t have mattered. Nobody did better today. And for that reason all four of my epithets that I screamed as I sprinted were righteously justified. A little insane for sure, but righteously justified.

As such I completed Mile 26 in 9:05, my first sub-10 mile since Mile 22 when I last saw Marco, and my fastest since Mile 16, when everything went to hell.

The last two-tenths was at hand. Make a right on Roosevelt Road. Or as the Chicagoan’s call, “Mount Roosevelt” for it’s incredibly steep 10 foot rise. I am being absolutely sarcastic, of course, but compared to the rest of the course, it is the steepest rise of the entire route.

I will replace all these "PROOF" photos once my order come in!

Not too long after that, I could see Columbus Drive and the finish line. I will say this about the finish, despite the emotional grade A, that I’ve always attributed the finish to the NYC Marathon, I think I like this finish better. Why? BECAUSE IT’S DOWNHILL!!!!!

I crossed the finish line. I was weak and the sun felt even stronger. I also felt like I was going to throw up, though I doubt if anything would/could come up. They started to give out Gatorade and all the goodies, and then I saw people giving out mylar. Are you kidding me??? Oh, wait, I get it now….I am a baked potato, so why not wrap me in foil to finish cooking me. LOL. Actually, I took one. Not for blowing, but for showing, as they say.

I hobbled my way over and was showering my affection (seriously) to all of those that were on hand at the finish helping us. Another big huge plus, were the ice chests with bags of ice at the finish. Again, NYC, listen up, if you ever get a hot race, you need to do this as well!!!! I took a bag, placed it on my head and walked on over to get my bag and rest awhile, but not before I took some immodest shots of me over by the picture taking area.

I could end this story right now (and perhaps I should already it’s freaking long enough already, isn’t it?) by telling you that despite my goal-time failure that I still loved this course, and would like to do this again next year, but Karen had not yet finished, and I was getting worried.

Soon after, I got to my rest area, I saw them change out the status alert from YELLOW-Moderate, to RED-High Alert. This was of great concern to me, because Karen, being the slower runner and all, was being roasted even more than me. I had set up the Athlete Tracker to keep an eye out for where Karen was on the course. I did the same for Marco, Kitty, Pauline, and Sandy. I received texts from Sandy, Pauline and Karen (in that order) when they crossed the 30k (18.6 mile mark), and then the FINISH for Sandy and then Pauline. But nothing from Karen. I was really concerned because I could already see that she was struggling based on her 30k split. I started making my way to the family reunion area, Chicago does not have anything like NYC does. It’s basically a free-for-all. NYC is much more organized. As they have lettered areas as to where to meet.

She finally made it to the finish, and was wearing her medal like I was when I finally found her past the Chicago Fire Dept’s massive red water sprinkler cannon in the park.. Just like me, she was disappointed with her time, but by now, I was less disappointed and more relieved that we both had survived this ordeal. In the end, I finished with a time of 3:53:46, my second best marathon ever. But even if it had been my worst finish ever, with a day like it was, this had to be the best damned medal we’ve ever earned.

Unofficially there’s a 40 second discrepancy between my Garmin’s time and the unofficial Bank of America time, thus, my watch might have auto-paused while in the tunnel.

Overall: Finished 6818 out of 36159 finishers , top 18.8% (17.8% of all 38,132 who started)
Men: Finished 5165 out of 19973 men, top 25.8%
Age Group: Finished 629 out of 2417, top 26% (interesting, I actually did better against other groups, mostly younger, than in my own. Shows you what heat will do to younger people, I guess)

On our Delta shuttle flight back to LaGuardia we met a lot of people who had also run. A nice man from Yorkshire (near Scotland) sitting in the same row across the aisle, had mentioned about the Shamrock Marathon in Virginia Beach in March being a Boston qualifier and very flat too.
All of the people, including him, that we spoke to, nobody was happy with their time. Everybody had their own horror stories to tell as well.

The New York City Marathon countdown has begun. 27 days and counting.

See what a masochist I am?

Monday, October 11, 2010

Nervolocity - A Story about Nerves....or...The 2010 Chicago Marathon weekend.

On January 31st of this year, I ran in the Miami Marathon. It was the first time I did a marathon outside of New York, and the first time that I didn’t wait a whole year to do one (NYC Marathon was just 3 months earlier). Though the course was pretty flat, with a start time of 6:15am, the humidity was bad (as expected). I still managed to break 4 hours for the second time in ever, and in a row.

The day after I vowed I would best my record of NYC, and I signed up for the Chicago Marathon.

The Chicago course is one of the flattest courses around and is usually the race for where most runners get and keep their PR.

That’s provided that the temperatures are in the mid-50’s.

Like any obsessive runner (and those last two words are redundant), I started checking the 10 day forecast on Weather.Com. as soon as October 10 was 10 days out. 54 was the low, and 62 the high. It seemed that the Gods were with me as they were at the Newport Liberty run a few days earlier.

But apparently, these “Gods” don’t believe in taking the Delta Shuttle, Amtrak or even a Greyhound Bus west of Jersey City.

As each day grew closer, the forecast’s mercury continued to rise, along with my mercurial behavior. For as much as I hate hills, winds, people walking across the race course, and Fox news, the heat is my Achilles heel. It is my Nemesis, or in the ‘Star Trek’ world, Kirk’s ‘Klingon’.

My trepidation over what was happening, made me even stop blogging. I tried inspirational therapy by watching movies like Over The Edge, Miracle (1980 US Hockey), Rudy, Men of Honor, and Spirit of the Marathon over the last week. It was of little or no use. I was more worried about this race than any other in my life. And perhaps, that too, had played a role in my own outcome yesterday (Marathon Sunday).

I had met up with Marco and Kitty the previous Saturday (Oct. 3rd) for a 10 mile run along the West Side Highway. The temps were in the mid-50’s. Marco was still happy about the Chicago forecast, but I on the otherhand was already noticing an ominous pattern regarding the Chicago temperature of the days before the race, and how those temps, which were initially in the mid to upper 50’s, were being ratcheted up as that particular day drew closer. It was modified to the upper 60’s, which is not a killer, but not optimal if one is racing for 26.2 miles and beyond.

Previous to my run with Marco & Kitty, and previous to the Newport Liberty race, I had done six, 20+ mile training runs over the previous 7 weeks, and my recovery time afterwards, wasn’t even within days, but within hours of my runs. My training for this race was at an all-time high. And this past Saturday (Oct 3rd) was no different. It was such a nice day, that I even ran across the park, to catch up with Karen, who did the last mile of the Great Gallop Half Marathon in Central Park. Yes, life looked bright…and COOL back then, didn’t it?

My, how easily is pride replaceable.

On Mon. Oct 4th, the projected low for Chicago for 10/10, was 57. The high? 67.
On Tues. Oct 5th, the projected low for Chicago for 10/10, was 59. The high? 69.
On Wednesday, I met up with Marco & Kitty at RoadRunners School, and now even Marco began to realize it might be a little warm but nice.
On Wed., October 5th, the projected low for Chicago for 10/10 was 64. The high? 74.

The hottest marathon I had ever run in was my first ever marathon, the 1984 NYC Marathon. The high temps there was 78 degrees. Several hundred people were hospitalized, and a poor Frenchman collapsed halfway up the Queensboro Bridge, only to die a few short hours later.

Friday Morning, and before we headed to the airport, Chicago’s forecast was now reporting a high of 85 degrees farenheit.

I wish I could say that I remained cool, but for someone as hyperactive as I am, it takes a lot for me to go to bed at night and NOT think about these things. My dreams of posting a Boston-qualifying 3:30:59 seemed to be evaporating hurriedly. Of course, the body does what the mind can take, but I was not expecting a repeat of the 2007 Chicago Marathon, for which I didn’t participate but had heard of the two who had died, and the over 600 that went to area hospitals before the race director, Cary Pinkowski, shut the race down after 3 hours (first time ever?), due to the heat and humidity.

We took the CTA from the airport, which was a lot of fun actually, and arrived at the Hotel Burnham, around noon time. The Burnham was a really beautiful boutique Hotel that I had picked through some research I did on Tripadvisor (love that site). It’s in the heart of Chicago’s best area, right on the corner of Washington and State. The Chicago Theatre was just a block up, and the view we had from our 12th floor corner mini-suite (which we got comp’d to, after we booked a pair of massages for later on that night) was breathtaking. In one direction, all the beautiful tall buildings, and the Chicago theatre, and in the other, a stunning peak of the Millenium exhibit in Grant Park, just a few blocks down.

The other wonderful thing about Chicago is how nice their people are, and I’ll get to that in a moment, but it’s easy to see why my father loves Chicago so much.

Check-in wasn’t until 3, so we decided to walk to the Hilton on S. Michigian Avenue to get to the Marathon Expo at the McCormick Center a few miles south. It was about a mile walk, and I could feel the heat. Karen stopped at Caribou’s to get an iced coffee. Meanwhile, I was trying to keep the negative comments to myself, but my nerves over this unfortunate reality, were already at an all-time high. Instead, I just played with Facebook on my iPhone.

Once inside the expo, we did our “needful” getting our race packet which included a really beautiful technical running shirt, and a bunch of paraphernalia, for which, looked interesting, but will probably be dumping today like I do all the time.

The Expo itself was larger than NYC, however I would say it was around the same amount of booths, making it look a little bit more spread out.

I told Karen I didn’t want to stay too long there and tire my feet out, but like a kid in a candy shop, I just kept taking all the free samples of this, that and the other. Speaking of which, I was starving by now, so I found this little pizza stand inside the expo. One slice of deep dish and one soda? Ten dollars! Yes, Chicago is just as expensive as New York, perhaps even worse with their eleven percent city tax.

We got back to the hotel, heard about the complimentary wine hour starting at 5pm (yum), and checked in. Our porter, a tall, middle-aged, seasoned veteran, named Reggie, came up with our bags, and began telling us about our room. He was about the nicest and most professional bellhop that I have ever met.

After he left, we rested a bit, went down for our wine (yes!) and came back up just in time to meet up with our masseuses who were waiting in the hall, but had already set up their tables in both the bedroom and living areas of our room. I don’t even recall who it was that handled me, but she gave me one of the best massages I have ever had.

After they left, Karen went to get some stuff at the CVS down on the corner, while I ordered from a local pizzeria nearby. I needed my sleep, so after I finished eating (and digesting – a little), I went to the bedroom. Karen stayed in the living room to watch Law and Order.

I looked at the forecast and it said a low of 72 and high of 86 now for Sunday. Despite all of the calming things that we had just done, I was freaking out all over again. I really feel bad when I asked Karen if she could watch L&O on Hulu off her mac, but the light coming through the French doors were really affecting my ability to sleep.

I already had my “I-overslept-and-missed-the-start-of-my-marathon” nightmare a couple of days earlier (I know, I am a nut job), but now I couldn’t even sleep at all. Poor me? Poor Karen. Yet that’s when Karen really came to bat for me, and handed me two Ambiens to help me to sleep.

They say never to do something you’ve never done before, especially when so close to a big race, but I was desperate. I think I would have gone completely sleepless otherwise.
I took the sleeping agent, and sure enough I fell out only minutes later. To tell you the truth, I don’t even remember when I went under. No wonder why people get addicted to this stuff!
The next morning I woke up, and after about 8 hours, I just couldn’t stay in bed anymore.
Karen came to, and we both went to the B&B diner just down the street where I had some pretty scrumptious buttermilk pancakes, bacon, and white toast with but-tahhh.

From there we took a cab, and headed south to where Mile 24 of the race was to meet Kitty and Marco. We arrived at about 11:30am to simulate the heat, and the four of us ran north on Michigian towards Grant Park and the finish line. Looking at the maps now, Grant, Burnham, Hyde and Jackson parks along Lake Michigian are all connected. One could run 10 miles in each direction without even stepping foot on a city street. However, we just wanted to run the last 2.2 miles of the race course to get a feel for the geography and climate.
It was warm yet there was a breeze from the Lake. However, it was not a cool one.
After we finished, we saw how the race setup was being handled. It looked very cool.

After we got back, Karen went to the gym inside the hotel, while Kitty came with me to see if I had any Endurolytes left. Unfortunately, I left the bottle back at home, but we went to GNC and found some other high-energy, potassium-rich supplements as well as a Vita-Coco (Coconut water) which was really good. Still, I made the mistake of not eating lunch, as I opted to get a haircut instead. I figured I didn’t want too much hair on my head that would keep me even hotter than necessary.

The whole haircut thing was a disaster. I went to a salon called Kiva inside of Macy’s. First mistake. Never go to a “salon” if you are pressed for time. Go to a barber instead (if you’re a dude, of course). Oh, the hair came out nice and all, but the hairdresser took forever. I wasn’t sure whether I was getting a haircut or getting an ice sculpture instead. Second mistake? Make sure your debit card works before using. Especially if it’s the only form of payment you have at your disposal. This started one of my famous “Alex” moments. Karen was texting me, to see if I was done yet. She was probably fretting, since we were supposed to be at her girlfriends’ house in Wrigleyville by 3:30pm and it was already 3pm.

After I finished, I walked to the front, where I swiped my debit card, that I had recently received. Rejected. What? I tried it again. No good. I gave the card to the cashier, where she punched the numbers in. Again, it said to contact the bank. Looking at the phone, I see that the energy level is down to 5%. I called Karen, but she did not answer. My wallet was also in the hotel and along with my now-useless card that I had activated a week ago, I only had 10 dollars in my pocket. I called Karen back. Still no answer. I left her a voicemail. My phone was down to 3% (out of 100% energy) now. At this point, I texted Karen. “Come to Macy’s – my bank card doesn’t work, and I don’t have money to pay!!!”


“It’s at Macy’s across the street. 5th floor. Kiva Salon.”


“If you don’t come I will go to jail”.

Of course, I was a bit over the top with my last comment but since my iPhone was about to die in seconds, I figured why not go out with a Text-bang?

After Karen showed up and posted my fashion bail, we went to get a gift downstairs. The cashier was so nice, that he actually walked out with us to show us where the subway was.

It was nice seeing Karen finally reconnecting with her friend after 10 years. I spoke to her husband who was also running the next day, and had done it four times already. He was doing it to take in the fun and not for time. I have to admit, I was a little envious of this, but was hoping to qualify here, to be able to do the same in New York.

After we left, we went directly to Volare’s for dinner. There we met up with Pauline, Sandy and her boyfriend. It was crowded, and we didn’t even start eating until 7:30pm when we were there prompty for our 6:15pm reservation. The food and the company was great, so it made up for it fairly easily.

We got back to the hotel at about nine and made it our immediate business to start staging for our race in 10 hours. As we laid in bed, I knew I wasn’t going to sleep much. Sure enough, it was already about eleven, when I made the pre-game time decision to take one Ambien. It worked. And before long, I was waking up for the BIG ONE……(to be continued)