Monday, December 29, 2008

A Bang, Not a Whimper

That's how I'd like to go out (running-wise) in 2008. Looking back on the year, it's been rewarding, challenging, humbling and certainly memorable. I've had some triumphs and experienced my share of disappointments. I've been hurt, gotten better and been hurt again. I will have logged nearly 2000 miles (those injuries took care of the 2008 in 2008 goal), and run in about 20 different pairs of shoes (counting training, racing and trail shoes). I've run in heat, wind, rain and blizzards, through 30+ mph winds and for 2 hours at a time indoors. I've dragged my sciatica-suffering leg along for miles at a time. I've run at 4:00 a.m. and under full moon, on roads, paths, the beach and the woods. I've run up and down more hills than I could ever count, alone and with friends, in races from 5K to marathons, with casual runners and legends of the sport. I've dodged cars and bicycles, seen wildlife and had blood drawn by a friendly dog. And - of course - I turned 40 and ran 40 miles, but if you read this blog, you've already heard about that. ;-) I had my 15 minutes of running-related renown, and - due to my limited talent - it had to be for something other than being fast.

So, what do I have to show for my 2008 running efforts?

Well, for starters, anyone who knows me or meets me know is keenly aware that I am a "runner". My family has internalized my training routine (which tries to minimize disruptions to the schedule except for Sunday mornings).

I set a few PR's this year, though in mostly disappointing fashion, believing that I was in shape to run faster than I did at virtually every distance. I paid dearly for an April 2008 5K time of 19:49, since I did not adjust my training schedule afterwards and ran myself into chronic and painful hip problems which hampered my May marathon buildup and recovery. I still shaved 15 minutes off of my debut marathon time, but it was far less than I had hoped.

Chicago 2008 brought me a new marathon PR (again in the heat), but 3:40 remains a far cry from my running white whale, the elusive 3:20 Boston qualifying time. I will not be taking part in the Boston Marathon as a 40 year-old, since I'll need to try again in May and/or in the fall. I managed a respectable sub-1:36 half-marathon in early November, on windy, hilly course. That was probably my best race of the year. I banged out a sub-27:00 4-miler on Thanksgiving Day, but wasn't happy with my pacing, going out too fast and fading in the second half.

So, in terms of race performances, there were some bright spots, but I think I'll look back on this year more as a base-building period marked by learning how to deal with injuries. I've managed my most consistent period of higher mileage running (ever!) since my last injury in June and seem to be able to withstand more mileage and a bit more intensity than ever before.

So, with 2009 just a blink away, I should probably write down some running goals:
  • Over 2009 miles in 2009
  • 5K - take a stab at sub-19:00
  • 10K - flirt with sub-41:00
  • HM - approach 1:30:00
  • Marathon - qualify for Boston (!) with a sub-3:20:00

Other ideas (not goals) would include running more trail races, consider running an ultra-marathon (probably something to do in the fall if I do qualify for Boston in the spring) and possibly re-connecting with my running club, in terms of training and racing. However, as long as I remain so focused on the marathon distance and all that marathon training involves, I'll have to put other running-related matters on the back-burner.

Oh, and thanks to an RWOL mileage challenge, I have run nearly 60 miles in the last 6 days, and hope to end up with an 8-day personal mileage record by the time December 31st ends.

Happy New Year, dear readers (both of you). Here's to great accomplishments in our running and beyond in 2009.


Monday, December 22, 2008

Touching Down on Snowy Ground

It's been a bit of a whirlwind since the 40-miler two weeks ago. Running has taken a back seat to myriad other responsibilities and obligations. Work has ramped up; the holiday crush has been unrelenting; and I had the pleasure of escaping to London for a few days of sightseeing with my dear wife, and NO KIDS! So, I'm not asking for sympathy, but I am close to deciding not to run the Hyannis Marathon in February.

Before getting into more recent running reports, here are some photos from the 40-miler, taken by my wife at various stages.

When it's all added up, it looks we will have raised about $6,000 for cancer research, short of the pie-in-the-sky goal, but not bad considering the economy and how hard it is to raise funds at this particular time. It's also $6K which Dana Farber didn't have just a few short months ago.

Also, the media coverage ended up being almost ridiculous. All told, there were two front-page, above-the-fold features in two of the area's daily newspapers, another Q & A in one of those papers, a radio interview, several mentions on local Public Radio, a feature in a weekly arts/entertainment paper and a couple of dozen blurbs in papers large and small resulting from the story being picked up by the news wires. It had gotten so that even I was actually getting a little sick of hearing about myself, so I can only imagine how my wife and the rest of the world must have felt.

And so, life returns not so much to normal, but to post-40-holiday-madness-no-big-run-or-other-exciting-event-to-look-forward-to. It's not normal because we're frantic with work and holiday stuff, with Hanukkah and Christmas overlapping this year. The good news is that we'll be staying home on Christmas, always my preference, and will have dinner with close friends on both Christmas Eve and Christmas night.

That photo above is one of my favorites, as it captures the essence of the day (at least the more happy, carefree part of it) very nicely. The fellow carrying the flag stayed with me, but was extremely intentional about letting it be "my" day. I wouldn't have cared one way or the other, as I was just thrilled to be with friends and fellow runners during this personal quest.

And while we had some light snow during the run on December 7th, the Winter Gods have gotten another early start and hammered already. We got about 6+ inches on Friday into Saturday, and - with what seemed like no break really - got another 10+ inches yesterday (Sunday). It came down hard all day long, and we had to shovel many times. Needless to say, it has not made keeping to a training schedule very fun or easy.

The week after the 40-miler was odd, in that my legs felt fine by about Wednesday, but I was what can be described as emotionally spent. That led to minimal running, with a 3+-mile treadmill run on Thursday and nothing else until I got about 6 miles in London, most of that nice and easy along the south bank of the Thames. However, my wife and I walked so much that I feel like I got plenty of exercise, and actually came back weighing less than when I left.

Last week turned out better (if not ideal), with the schedule working out like this:

  • Monday - About 6 miles in London
  • Tuesday - Travel day
  • Wednesday - 6.2 miles on ice and snow
  • Thursday - 8.5 miles on the treadmill, with about 5 miles at tempo pace (between 7:05 and 7:15 per mile)
  • Friday - 4 miles
  • Saturday - 7.5 miles on icy roads; 8:55 average pace
  • Sunday - a little under 11 miles in a bona fide blizzard eyelashes kept freezing, making it hard to see); about 9:35 average pace

So, despite schedule and weather-related challenges (and I neglected to mention the sinus infection that's still dogging me), I logged a respectable 40 miles (and to think that I did that in one shot recently) and will see how the holidays, the weather, work and family (not in that order) conspire from here to year-end. I do hope to rally and put up some good mileage numbers, but if I do it in a day-to-day, more flexible way, that will alleviate some of the stress of being on a pre-race training schedule.


Monday, December 8, 2008

40 at 40 - The Report

It is a number rife with biblical significance. Noah drifted during the deluge for forty days and forty nights. My people wandered in the desert for forty years. Moses was on the mountain for forty days and nights. Jesus' fast lasted forty days. And so on.

For this day, I did not pick the number; the number picked me by virtue of my birth date in 1968. As life often does, events and circumstances unfolded and evolved, ultimately blending together into my decision to run 40 miles on Sunday, December 7, 2008 in memory of my cousin Steven, who died of brain cancer (glioblastoma) in 2005. He was 35. Not having had a 40th birthday of his own, I thought I might mark the occasion for the both of us.

Thanks to a friend who owns a public relations company, I got a mini-blitz of media attention, which has helped greatly with the fundraising effort. Here's a shot that was on the front page of the state's largest newspaper last week:

Of course, as soon as the photographer set up, I could feel my running form start to go, but the shot isn't that bad. It certainly the accompanying mug shot in the online version of the story.


We had a small dinner party with a couple of friends on Friday night (my actual birthday). My wife made two delicious types of pasta, and made enough to feed a military regiment. We laughed and joked and then she unveiled my "other" birthday present (the main one being that we're taking a few days in Europe next week): a long-sleeved technical t-shirt to commemorate the 40/40 run. The front has the name of the run, my cousin's name and the date. The back has a graphic of me in caricature running "over a hill" with a sign that says "Old Fart Crossing" and a cartoon rabbit holding its nose ("old fart", get it?). The caricature - drawn by a friend who is an artist/graphic designer - is dreadful, but it's so spot-on that I can't really complain. It does make me look a bit like Dennis Kucinich, who - for all his virtues - is not generally considered leading man material. Needless to say, we laughed about the design, and we're asking for a $25.00 contribution per shirt, with half of that going to the Dana Farber fundraising effort.

I slept well on Friday night, and my wife let me sleep in until 9:00 on Saturday (cannot remember the last time I'd done that). We had a crazy day Saturday, with all of us running in different directions (which included making a brief appearance at my office's holiday party and attending my daughter's holiday concert), and I was up getting things together and otherwise thinking about every facet of the run (clothes, nutrition, route map, logistics of when & where people were joining, the after-party, etc.) until I turned in at around midnight. It was a restless night, so I got up ahead of my alarm going off at about 5:45 on Sunday morning. I ate some cereal, a bagel with cream cheese, a banana and had my usual two cups of coffee. I re-checked the weather (it was snowing already), adjusted some accessories (hats and gloves), mixed my bottles and started getting dressed.

The first - and perhaps greatest - unexpected blessing of the day involved the area police officer who had called me after reading an article about the run in Thursday's paper. He showed up at my house at about 7:45, and when I asked him how far he planned to run, he said quite matter-of-factly, "The entire distance . . . if that's okay with you." I was shocked, and warned him that few people have spent 7 straight hours with me, and of those who have, I'm sure no one has done it twice. He was quiet and serious and as we set off from my driveway, he took out and unfurled a large U.S. flag, which he carried in his ungloved hands for the ENTIRE day. It was the perfect touch, and - as my wife noted - the image of the flag flapping in the wind with the snow gently falling as four runners set off was very powerful.

So, with months' worth of anticipation, more media coverage than I deserved and a wonderful group of supporters, at 8:05 am EST on December 7, 2008, I started out from my house on a 40-mile odyssey through three towns and many (many!) hills.

The first few miles were free and easy, with my focus being on not going out too fast, keeping a slightly sub-10:00 pace and not getting sucked into going any faster thanks to the sense of exhilaration for the undertaking. The weather forecast was coming true, with light snow and some wind, though it was not as windy as I had feared. We passed a few dogwalkers and newspaper retrievers who asked how far we were going. They just stared when someone would answer "forty miles". Thanks to the U.S. flag-bearer, most traffic gave us respectful glances, an occasional honk of support and - most thankfully - a wide berth.

We picked up more runners at mile 6 and went along happily through some neighborhoods, by the local athletic fields and up towards the first hilly section of the day. My wife passed us just as we were approaching the designated meeting point at mile 12, though a fellow running club member was waiting just before that spot with water, Gatorade and nice poster of encouragement. We met my wife in the parking area of a local ice cream farm (closed for the season), where I tried to eat, drink and did manage to answer nature's call. All the other runners but my stalwart police escort peeled off there.

My new best friend and I climbed the biggest single hill of the day, gaining about 450 feet of elevation in less than a mile. When we got to the top, we were rewarded with a great long downhill dirt road, which was unfortunately icing up such that we had to watch our steps carefully. We reached a little country store just before the 16-mile mark, where some friends had gathered to cheer and the president of my running club - fresh from a root canal - jumped in for the next few miles. We went along one of my favorite roads, a long mostly flat segment with some little rolling hills. I've had some of my best training runs along that road.

As we got to the end of that road, we turned left, climbed another hill and picked up yet another running club member. I was feeling some fatigue, but was buoyed by the knowledge that we'd be at my house soon, for more food and a change of clothes. My Garmin registered 21.9 miles when we reached the house.

It was a treat to meet two of my fellow online posters, "Tattooed Fat Man" and "The Bearded Man". They waited patiently while I did what I had to do. I swapped clothes, gear and shoes as quickly as I could, ignoring the temptation of the guest bed in the room where I was changing. I tried to eat a pb & j sandwich, drink water and Gatorade and otherwise fuel up. Looking back, I probably should have eaten more.

At that point, my boss stopped by and ran the end of his 10-miler with us (about a mile-and-a-half as he headed home). We made our way to next hilly stretch, with a long gradual climb followed by some rolling hills. Another running club member joined us. At one point, I glanced at my watch and it read 26.20 miles covered. We gave a cheer. The gents also serenaded me with a couple of "Happy Birthday" rounds when we went up the hills. They are all better runners than singers.

We saw three people in running garb at an intersection, assuming they were waiting to meet up with us. They came towards us (uphill as we went down). Turns out, it was a trio of lovely (quite lovely) young women, and at least one of my "team" members started to turn around and run in their direction. It was a pleasant momentary distraction.

We approached mile 30, which was at the end of a dead-end street that has my favorite view in town. 360 degrees of mountainous panorama, it was the reward for all the climbing. My wife met us there (with a local reporter in tow), so some more food, drink and stretching. At this point, it was getting tough, and while "only 10 more miles to go" sounded good, I knew I was in for a struggle. The temperature dropped. I had pain in both knees (which never bother me), especially the right. Things started to feel tight and uncomfortable. My feet hurt. My shoulders were sore (and I wasn't even carrying a friggin' flag all day). While I had no real doubt that I would finish, I started to wonder just how much pain and discomfort I was willing to bear. That's where the company and camaraderie - along with all the donations and the memory of my cousin - made all the difference.

At around mile 32, I saw a huge white sign wishing me well in front of one of my fellow runner's home. He was also good enough to let me use his facilities, which was a lifesaver. Apparently, I took long enough that the guys waiting for me worried that I didn't want to get up after sitting down. "Beware the chair" say the ultra-runners. Not sure if that's what they mean.

After the bathroom break, another running club member hopped in for a few miles. He is nationally-ranked in his age-group, that being the 75-79 year-old group. Just another notch of inspiration on the running belt. Amazing. By the way, he had to slow down for me as I was hurting during that stretch.

And so, I found myself at the moment of reckoning, the point where all the talk, the joking, the training, the build-up was coming to a head, where - if you'll pardon my ending this sentence with a preposition - I was about to find out what I'm "made of". The drama of all this might be notable, except that it was all self-imposed. I chose this endeavor; I designed the course; I knew full well that the final miles would be not especially pleasurable. And that was exactly what I wanted.

So, with my right knee hurting more and more, we ran some, walked some, stretched some, averaging 11:00+ minutes per mile. We called out when we had 5 miles to go. We called out when we had 5K to go, and then happened upon a news photographer who shot all sorts of photographs from various angles, even running backwards ahead of us on a very busy road. It's nice to see such dedication in a young professional.

We took the final hill slowly but pretty smoothly, as the blinking yellow light which I've seen on so many runs served as a beacon, a harbinger that the end was near. After passing the 39-mile mark, I saw my oldest daughter on my wife's bike, then my son, then some friends. I smiled. Someone asked me if I would do something like this again. With a little less than a mile to go, I replied somewhat tersely that one wouldn't ask a woman in labor when she plans to have her next child. The questioner got the message.

One of the unfortunate quirks of the course I mapped was that it did not work out so that I could take the final turn and hit 40 miles right at home. Instead, we turned to the left for another quarter-mile or so, and then headed home. With 0.4 mile to go, I paused, took a few breaths and collected myself, trying to get a grip on the bubbling emotions before seeing my friends and family. The aches and pains seemed to vanish, the smoothness returned to my stride and the last time I looked at my watch, we were running at a 7:55/mile pace. There were a bunch of people waiting in the driveway, and I raised my hands and stopped my watch. 40.03 miles, 7 hours, 6 minutes and 59 seconds. Had I had any fluid left in my body, I might have cried.


Here's one of the two photos which appeared on the front page of this morning's paper:

That's me hugging my wife at the end, with a previously unused Chicago Marathon space blanket around me. The other photo is even more compelling, showing a trio of us running with the officer carrying the flag, but I can't find it online.

The after-party was great, as I gave a brief interview to the reporter and let my physical therapist stretch and otherwise check me out. I wanted so badly to delve into some of the delicious food my wife had prepared, but I wasn't very hungry. I did enjoy a hot feta-hummus dip on crackers, with the warm salty flavor really hitting the spot. Some warm mulled apple cider and black bean soup also tasted good after a while.

I re-lived some of the run with those who asked, but tried to change the subject when I could. I'm not sure what's been more tiring: running 40 miles or planning for, orchestrating and managing the whole event. I'd been warned to expect to feel completely exhausted, but to have a lousy night's sleep. The warning was absolutely right.


There's much to reflect on for me about this whole experience, and I will do so here on the theory that very few of you will read down this far. If this gets a bit preachy, I'm sorry.
  • Redefine your limits: The most obvious lesson is that each and every one of us has more reserves, depth of character and potential than we really know. On July 4, 2006, I could barely imagine running a half-marathon. By October 2007, I'd run a marathon. By October 2008, I'd run 3 marathons, and for my 40th birthday, I ran 40 miles. It is not false modesty for me to say that if I can do this, anyone can do it. That is an absolute, immutable truth.
  • One person can make a difference: Another slightly cliched sentiment. This all started with the notion that I wanted to do something "different" to mark my 40th. Running seemed a natural vehicle, but - just like a party or a trip - simply running would have been solely about me and my interests. When I thought about how sad it was that one of my favorite people in the world did not live to see his own fortieth year, the plan essentially wrote itself. I've raised over $5,000 for cancer research, met some wonderful people I might not otherwise have met, and had a chance to feel like I've made a slight difference, not just in the fight against cancer, but in my own community, too.
  • Court discomfort: Having worked with the lowest socioeconomic rung on the U.S. ladder and having lived abroad in a place with its share of abject poverty, I think constantly about the relative privilege into which I was born, in which I was raised and in which I have the good fortune to continue to live. That material comfort - in my opinion - is why obesity is such a problem in this country, and is a factor in creating ever more distance among us. By courting discomfort, pain and sacrifice, I've developed greater perspective than by simply spending time at work (usually on a computer) and/or enjoying my white-collar, middle-class rural/exurban existence. I'm stronger now than I was before, and from that strength grow ever more possibilities.
  • Broaden your own sphere of existence: It was a privilege and a blessing to meet the flag-bearing officer and so many others who reached out to me because of this effort. As my wife aptly pointed out, anything that helps connect us to people we might otherwise not have gotten to know is very good thing. I love my friends, but a self-selecting group is bound to be somewhat limited in its thinking and experience.

So, I sign off feeling tired, but satisfied, coming back down to earth, eager to return to relative anonymity in my community and richer for the experience. Well, that, and I'm pretty sore. Thanks to all (both?) of you who follow this blog and to my RWOL forum-mates and running club teammates for all of the support and encouragement. Thanks most of all, though, to my wife for putting up with this unorthodox mid-life crisis and doing so with her usual grace and good cheer.


Saturday, November 29, 2008

Blood, Sweat, but No Tears . . Yet

As my 40th birthday and the 40-mile run approach, I'm feeling slightly more stressed and burdened than joyful and excited. I don't know if I'm ready to be 40, but I am having that sense of wishing I'd accomplished more by now, both personally and professionally. I'll spare you the self-analytical soul-searching and stick to the topic at hand: running. The last few days have been marked by a disappointing PR in a 4-mile Thanksgiving Day race, a couple of 5-mile recovery/easy runs and a tough 15.5-miler on Sunday.


I ran a two-loop 4-mile race in Maine, billed as a "fast course". During warm-up (where I was feeling cold and tired), my Garmin acted very strange, and told me that I set a new world record by running at about a 2-minute per mile pace. Needless to say, that pace felt very easy, so I ignored the watch and finished my warm-up. I was running the race with my 13 year-old godson, who's an excellent swimmer and very good soccer player, but who hasn't done much running lately. He had no interest in a warm-up (or in running the race, really, but his mom "talked" him into it) and we agreed that - assuming I finished ahead of him - I'd wait for him at the finish.

The race field was large, with close to 1500 runners. I started a little ahead of the middle of the pack, less than 15 seconds behind the front row. The plan was to shoot for something in the low 26:xx range, by going out at 6:40 for the first mile, accelerating to 6:30 pace and holding on to the finish. yet again, I learned about how not knowing the course is a significant disadvantage. The first mile was flat, and I clocked low 6:20's. The second mile had two substantial uphills (a short one and then a long one, totaling probably 2/3 of the mile) and I hit the 2-mile marker in 13:00 flat. Based on how I felt, I knew I was in trouble. I hunkered down and just tried to keep a rhythm, though I slowed notably. I missed the 3-mile marker, but I slogged through the final uphill mile before cresting it for a slight - but very welcome - downhill for the final 0.3 or so, passing a few folks along the way.

There was only gun time, which was over 27:00, but my watch said 26:54, though it came up over 0.2 mile short for the course as a whole (which is attributable to the surrounding downtown buildings). I'll credit myself the faster time and will take the new PR. A bit disappointing to have lost it like that, but a PR is a PR, and now I have more room to improve in my next 4-miler.

Thanksgiving Day was very fun (my favorite holiday), with wiffle-ball golf (a family tradition) and almost 30 people eating together. The kids enjoyed their time with their cousins, and it was nice for all of us to be together. I ate less than I normally do, for no reason other than not being THAT hungry.


Friday's 5-miler was just a plain ol' vanilla run, with a little bit of nice scenery along the Saco River thrown in. It was hilly, but not bad, and started raining pretty hard about a mile in, also not so bad, as I was dressed for it. Still, I was glad to be done and back in a warm dry house afterwards.

On Saturday, we drove home and then I went on another 5-mile recovery run on the trails near my house. It was brisk, but pleasant, about 38 degrees and sunny. I wore a winter UnderArmour-style shirt, shorts and an orange Asics vest, with light gloves and a headband. I got through over 4 miles with nothing more notable than a slight pain from last Sunday's under-the-tongue blister on my left foot, which turned out not to be the blister at all, but the bandage pulling weirdly on my skin.

Then, at about 4.25 miles, a "teenaged" black lab bounds towards me, jumps up and hangs around. I don't know the dog or its people, but the woman assures me the dog is friendly (too friendly, in my estimation). I continue running (as the dog follows me, but finally peels off back to her family), and I feel some pain and wetness on my left leg. You can see why on the right.

It turned out not to be as bad as it looked, but it is still a little tender. I will likely be able to keep the leg. ;-)


So, on Sunday I set out to run 15-16 miles as my last long run before the 40-miler. It was supposed to start snowing at any minute, so I actually got dressed, changed my mind and got into more "precipitation-proof" gear. I left the house at about 9:45 a.m., and I was cold from the outset, thinking I'd warm up. I never did really, and I simply endured the run along some of the first loop I'll do during the 40-miler. I walked the longest, steepest parts of the uphills, and I did drop three faster miles in on a flat stretch, along with a final mile of about 8:10, but the overall totals for the run was 15.5 miles at about a 9:15 pace. By the time I got home, my face was semi-frozen and my fingers hurt. My legs and torso were mostly fine, but I was tired of the wet feeling under my lightweight rain jacket.
No I have to make myself take it easy in the days leading up to the 40-miler. I need to eat well, but not too much. I need to sleep more, but there simply doesn't seem to be enough time. I feel like there's a huge weight on my shoulders (completely self-imposed, of course), exacerbated by the fact that there's been some ramped media coverage of this endeavor in our sleepy little corner of the world. You can see that there has been blood and sweat this past week, and - I'm guessing - tears will be inevitable.
I can also tell that the whole thing is weighing on my wife, who's trying to be supportive of an effort she doesn't completely value (or understand) amidst a hectic pre-holiday schedule that involves a holiday concert by one of our kids, hockey practices and an away game for my wife (she's an assistant coach), a swim meet for all three kids, my office's holiday party and a post-run gathering on Sunday. She's planning to cook at least two big meals, make a cake (or - better yet - Peanut Butter Pie) and otherwise play gracious hostess. I suppose she will extract her vengeance on me at some later time.
This may be my last post as a thirty-something. I'll be in touch again when I'm more mature.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

What a great day!

As I sit here typing this, I have 10 days left before I say good-bye to my thirties and hit the decade where I remember my parents seeming old to me. While there are always things one might have decided to do differently if allowed to pres a magical "rewind" button, I can say that I have precious few regrets. Now I'm focusing on celebrating my 40th via the 40-mile fundraising run (go ahead, cue up the Viagra jokes). I've had some pesky doubts about my physical ability and mental resolve, and have also lamented the somewhat tepid response to my announcements and resultingly modest fundraising However, two separate events conspired to make my spirit soar today.

Last night, my wife drafted her own message to friends and family, inviting them to donate, cheer, run and/or come to an after-run party at our house, whatever shape I'm in. In addition, one of my RWOL forum-mates got hold of an article in our local paper, and he posted it to the Marathon Race Training Forum. The combination of those two acts has resulted in an outpouring of rhetorical and financial support that I could not have imagined, and it has provided more perspective and motivation than I thought possible.

Thanks to being buoyed by all this positive karma, I have no doubt that I will complete this run, and can graphically picture the experience of finishing a 6.5-7-hour run at my home with anywhere from 5 to 50 of my closest friends and family there to share the moment. I know there will likely be some rough spots. I know I'll get fatigued. I'll curse some of the hills (especially later on). Things will hurt. But I also know that I've never done anything like this - and may never get to duplicate the experience - so that I will have this uber-unique memory to cherish for as long as I am graced with being able to recall such experiences. No race, not even Boston, will likely compare to this, and I only hope to be worthy of the largely unjustified praise which has been so graciously heaped upon me.

Seriously, there are so many more people who are braver, face greater adversity, make much larger sacrifices and otherwise do so much more to help others than I am doing here. But - to be honest - I am enjoying my place in all of this, and sometimes it feels so good to do something selfless that it's fair to be called selfish for doing it.

I'll gladly relish my 15 minutes, but the real lesson is that it is not that difficult to channel one's talents and energy (some of us have a lot of the latter, while hurting on the former) into something significant. I may fall short of my audacious $10,000 fundraising goal, but I do know that the Dana Farber Cancer Institute will be at least $2500 ahead of where it was before I started, and that the memory of my beloved cousin Steven now lives on in the minds and hearts of many people who would otherwise never have even heard of him. Can there be many better reasons to do anything?

Oh . . . and on a running note, my first two "coached" workouts have been pleasantly uneventful. I managed to do 10 miles at lunchtime yesterday at an average pace of about 8:50 mile, for over 30 miles in three days with no real pain and minimal fatigue. Today's 6-miler on the treadmill (it was pouring outside) at about the same pace was monotonous. I listened to an interesting discussion of The Great Gatsby on Slate's audio book club podcast. Good stuff, but not exactly inspiring when trying to keep pace. Will do some easy cross-traing tomorrow before racing a 4-miler on Thursday and some easy running Friday and Saturday. I'll do a moderately-paced 15 or so miles on Sunday, then cut back in advance of the 40-miler. Need to save my strength, as I have a sense that it's going to be a tad challenging.


Monday, November 24, 2008

Training Starts Today

As of Sunday, November 23rd, there were thirteen weeks to go until the Hyannis Marathon on February 22, 2009. I am psychologically committed to running it, but am waiting to sign up until I know for sure that the 40-mile birthday run does not mark the end of my running days (am I being a tad melodramatic here? perhaps). Seriously, if I feel that my body and/or spirit are essentially crushed in the wake of the 40-miler (and a subsequent trip to Europe for a few days), then I will pick a different marathon goal, and fully, formally and finally renounce any designs on toeing the line at Boston 2009. (By the way, I learned recently that "toeing" the line comes from the introduction of starting blocks to track events, results in the runners starting on their toes for the first time.)

Though I feel pretty good (though my hips are ever-so-slightly nagging me), I have not been enjoying our recent cold weather (i.e., the beginning of 6-month "snap" called w-i-n-t-e-r). In order to make winter training work, I will need to do a combination of two key things: (1) get used to banging out 6-12 miles on a treadmill, or on a treadmill and indoor track in tandem, and (2) wake up early to get some work done, then take longer lunchtime/mid-day runs in order to use the warmest (or least cold) part of the day.

Take today, for instance. I can't remember the last time I ran on a Monday, but my new coach has me starting off with an easy 10-miler today. It was about 13 degrees this morning at 5 am, but will be in the high-30's by noon. Add in the fact that running in the daylight beats running in the dark almost anytime, and that becomes a no-brainer. Of course, being out of the office for 2 hours in the middle of the day is hardly ideal. Maybe it's time to - ugh! - start bringing my phone with me on my runs so that I can still deal with work stuff. That would be a bit soul-crushing, but may end up being a reasonable accommodation of two competing interests.

Since my last post, I ran 5 easy miles on the treadmill on Friday, 15.5 brutally cold windy miles on Saturday and 4.5 recovery miles on the trails on Sunday. Saturday's run marked the first time I've ever seriously considered stopping short and calling for a ride. At about mile 9+, my face felt like it was painfully frozen and the tips of my fingers were very cold despite wearing warm gloves. I put an extra fleece headband over my UnderArmour balaclava (which started to ice up where the moisture was wicking through) and changed the last part of my course to try to get out of the worst of the wind. I managed to bang out the rest of the mileage, averaging about a 9:20 overall pace. I only hope to get more moderate weather conditions on the day of the 40-miler. Anything above mid-20's with little to no wind (and NO PRECIPITATION) would be okay with me.

Now, time to work so that I can be productive before and after today's 10-miler.


Thursday, November 20, 2008

Attack Run

Perhaps as the mercury dips, the woods - usually such an inviting and gracious host - wish to be left alone for a while. Today, I changed my schedule around so that I could run at the more decent hour of 7:45, after getting the kids off to school. This plan was to serve two purposes: (a) let the temperature rise a bit, and (b) by running in daylight, I could run on trails and save some wear and tear on my body.

When I walked out the door, it had "warmed up" to the high teens, and there was a brisk wind. After about a half-mile, I turned around, stopped back by my house and traded my beanie for a balaclava, so that I would get some protection from the air which was making my face hurt. I knew I wouldn't last 8 miles without getting that added layer.

The balaclava did the trick in terms of staving off facial frostbite, but it didn't help with the frozen to partially frozen ground underfoot. Much of the forest floor felt like pavement, and a few iced over spots gave way as I passed, resulting in some cold and soggy shoes thanks to recent heavy rains. Not fun. Along the pond trail, I noticed that the water's edge had skims of ice. Winter has arrived.

After getting into a bit of a groove despite the morning's obstacles, I ended up taking a major spill on a concealed rock or stump (leaf coverage is very thick). I was lucky to have a soft landing, but I probably skidded 15 feet downhill. Then, after dusting myself off and forging ahead for another mile, I lost my bearings on a part of the trails which I do not run often, and which become ever-less-visible as the trees lose their leaves. I ended up scrambling through a very brambly patch, catching my running pants repeatedly and scraping up my thighs and shins rather admirably.

I ducked out of the woods at just less than 7 miles, and made my way over to the track. There, the wind was whipping around, but the footing was solid, so I did 3 laps with 100-meter strides on the straights, recovering on the curves, before running home for a total of about 8.3 miles at 9:45 pace.

Not perhaps the most fun or relaxing run I've had recently, but it was one of those "character-building" efforts which will serve me well going forward.

I need to run 6 miles before work tomorrow, and it's supposed to be 15 degrees at 5:00 a.m. I think that there's a treadmill with my name on it.


Monday, November 17, 2008

What WAS I thinking?

On Sunday I did my longest-ever training run and ran for about the same amount of time as I did during my first marathon. The run turned out to be 25.5 very hilly miles in just about 4 hours, or roughly a 9:30 pace. All things considered, it wasn't bad, but I was definitely tired in the final 3-4 miles, especially where the final mile included 350+ feet of elevation gain (i.e., one major, killer hill).

Adding to the challenge was that the temperature dropped between 15-20 degrees from the time I went out at 7:30 and when I finished oh-so-many miles and hours later, with the wind picking up substantially as a front moved through.

The good news is that although I got a little tight, nothing really hurt. My new Asics 2140's felt fine for the entire run. I didn't chafe or blister. My hips are slightly sore, but not too bad.

Still, it's not easy to wrap my mind around the fact that I will have another 14.5 miles to go when I reach the same point on December 7th. The 40-miler idea is seeming less and less well-conceived as the date approaches.

Interestingly, I ran the first 11 miles with a friend who's done 13 ultra-marathons, including at least a couple of 100-milers. Not only does he finish, but he places well, very well (top 20 at his last 100-miler). As we set out, I asked him to tell me everything I needed to know to get through the 40-miler. His response: "Just keep going." That's it. Couldn't be much simpler that.

Here's how I'm looking at this:
On December 7, 2008, at the ripe middle age of 40, I will explore the
current limits of my endurance. I'm hoping that that limit is equal or
greater than being able to run 40 miles. If it's not, I can live with the
audaciousness of the attempt. If it is, that will help me start my fifth
decade of life (harsh to put it that way, really) knowing that I still have a
lot of life - and even more "living" - left.

Last night, my wife asked me how I was feeling after the long run. I thought about it and answered that I felt a lot better than almost anyone else would after running that far. We both laughed.

I'm not sure what to do this week, but will likely step the mileage back a bit to recover from Sunday's effort, running maybe 15 or so miles as a long run next weekend, all done at a nice easy pace.


Thursday, November 13, 2008

It's a wild, wild life . . .

I've begun to ramp things up a bit this week, in light of needing to "peak" for the 40-miler on December 7th and given that I have psychologically committed to running the Hyannis Marathon on February 22nd, still seeking that elusive BQ time.

This week has involved the following:
  • Monday - Elliptical / Lift weights / Core / Stretch
  • Tuesday - almost 7 miles
  • Wednesday - 10.5 miles, very early am
  • Thursday - 6 miles on TM (yuck!), with 3 at LT (lactate threshold or tempo) pace, 6:53, 6:53, 6:43

I'll take tomorrow off, run an easy 5 or so on Saturday and then do my first-ever 25-mile training run on Sunday. Right now, that will involve running 10-11 miles to meet my running club mates for our monthly group run (another 15 for me) before having our annual meeting/elections. My friend who's a bona fide ultra-running stud (13 ultras to his credit, including the Western States 100), will join me for at least the first 10 miles, since he's getting over an illness (pneumonia, I think), due at least in part to having pushed himself so hard for so long. Can't believe he's worried about keeping up with me.

The title of this thread comes from a Talking Heads song, and refers to my great Tuesday morning running experience. The kids were off for Veteran's Day, so I was able to go out at the civilized hour of 6:00 rather than at 5:00 or earlier (that was Wednesday, with a 4:55 start time). At almost exactly one mile from home, on a recently closed rural road, a huge MOOSE came out of the woods not more than 50 feet in front of, ambled easily across the road and strolled into a big open field on the other side. After living in New England for 13+ of the past 15+ years, I had never seen a live moose (don't ask), despite dire traffic warnings about their constant presence.

This guy was enormous, maybe 7-8 feet tall, with huge antlers and very dark brown fur. Unlike deer, who are sort of jumpy and make noise in the woods, this guy was quiet and rather graceful for a 2000+-pound behemoth. As I waited for him to pass, I started running again, and I turned back towards him for a final glance. Though his body was facing northwest (away from my direction), his head was turned towards me, clearly regarding me as curiously as I did him.

As one of my colleagues said later, "It's hard to be in a bad mood after starting the day off like that." True.


Sunday, November 9, 2008

Rebounding & Reflecting

This past week was a bit odd running-wise. I was definitely tired after Sunday's effort, and I have been having trouble getting up in the cold, pre-dawn hours to get my runs in. I'm trying to balance recovery with increasing my base, with no real desire or need to run hard just now, but gearing up for the 40-mile run and a possible (likely?) mid-winter marathon BQ attempt, I've been thinking about what running means to me. With nearly two years of consistent running in the bank, running has become as much a part of my identity as my profession, religion, ethnicity, political affiliation (it was a VERY good week for me in that regard), etc. Running is a nearly-tangible presence in my life. It takes up space - quite likely too much space - in my psyche. I review the running I've done and the running I'm about to do almost every night before I fall asleep. I look forward to planning my training and racing schedule more than virtually any other sort of planning. After two years of chasing an ill-defined goal (qualifying for Boston is a big part of it), the vigor and zeal for running generally remain undiminished.

But there are also those times where I examine the costs of running. Financial, yes, but emotional, psychological, physical. The correct question is not whether running has taken a toll on my work and home lives, but how much of a toll it has taken. In what has seemed like a blink of an eye, I now tend to believe that only runners "get" me. Living my real, day-to-day life among mostly non-runners, that presents a bit of a problem. It's as if I am not fluent in the native language of those around, or - perhaps better stated - that I have trouble communicating to them in their tongue. Further anecdotal evidence of this perception lies in the fact that my "virtual" running friends (from Runner's World online) have been incredibly supportive of the 40-mile run and related fundraising effort.

Recently, a guy I've known for along time but of whom I was never especially fond (he was fine really, but his sense of humor got on my nerves occasionally) became an avid runner. Since he first asked me a couple of months ago about getting a GPS watch, I've been all-too-eager to speak with him or exchange e-mails about this or that running minutiae. My running (and some cycling) co-workers are the ones to whose offices I find myself gravitating during the day, just to talk training or racing. I don't care if they are fast or slow, or somewhere in the middle like me, but if they care about running and about improving come race time, I have endless patience to discuss our mutual quests for betterment.

Unfortunately, I have to ration my running exuberance at home. Mrs. ESG is not a big fan of running, rather tolerant but not especially supportive. She's not the rah-rah type to begin with, and to her there's an obsessive, vain frivolity to all this she can't completely hide (not that she always tries).

So, I have arrived at no grand conclusions, other than that running is more than a phase, in that when I try to picture my life without running it's like imagining the loss of a dear, loyal friend. I suppose I could and would forge on, but life would never quite be the same.

Well, that's enough self-reflection, here's a training summary from the week:
  • Monday - elliptical, weights circuit, core & stretching
  • Tuesday - 5+ easy miles, 9:00 pace, average HR 149
  • Wednesday - 6 trail miles, average HR 153
  • Thursday - rest
  • Friday - 5+ miles at about 8:40 pace, average HR 154
  • Saturday - 7 slow trail miles; average HR 150
  • Sunday - 14+ hilly miles; around 9:00 pace, average HR 147

Total mileage for the week, about 37, which isn't bad coming off of a half-marathon PR.

I'm planning to run 25+ miles next weekend, either Saturday or Sunday as a tune-up for the 40-miler. That should end up making next week a 55-mile week or so. After that, I hope to keep my base at 45-50 miles per week, with an effort to get back into the habit of a mid-week medium-long run (10-14 miles). Though I seem to be pretty healthy right now (especially in light of the marathon and half-marathon being 3 weeks apart), I can feel the cumulative fatigue. Somehow I will have balance the need to recover with the desire to train and peak again relatively soon.

As for whether to run the Hyannis marathon on February 22nd, I've decided not to decide yet. I'll see how badly the 40-miler beats me up and how much running I can get in London, and I'll pull the trigger (or not) before Christmas.


Sunday, November 2, 2008

A Little Something for My Troubles

Sunday, November 2, 2008 - With the early morning temperatures in the high-20's and the winds blowing, I drove to my local half-marathon for my second annual post-Chicago Redemption Run (that's not the official name of the race, of course). I had not felt great during the week. I've been feeling somewhat lethargic, not super motivated to run (post-marathon recovery has been a good excuse), and my left hip has been bothering me some.

I had trouble falling asleep last night, was not super-enthusiastic about waking up, and fretted about what the heck to wear. So, I ended up being casual about the pre-race prep, doing less than I have for many a long training run. I ate my breakfast, saw the kids, packed my bag (almost forgetting my Garmin) and taking off wearing layers to keep the cold at bay.

Traffic was light getting into town, and I parked in the same garage as I do every weekday morning. I drank 12 ounces of Accelerade and made my way over to the start. I saw many friendly faces, folks from my running club, colleagues, other people I know from around. I chatted with two guys from Vermont in the bathroom line who were looking to place 1-2 in the half-marathon (there's also a full). They thought 1:18 might do it; they were wrong (by over 10 minutes).

A rather newbie runner whom I've known for a long time asked me a few questions about how warmly to dress and how to approach the hills. It strikes me as funny that anyone would ask me questions about running, but despite my times remaining pretty mediocre, I have become a student of the sport. I know what to do (mostly), even if I don't (or can't) always do it. Deciding to use the throwaway fleece I'd bought at Goodwill with Chicago in mind, I wore a singlet, shorts, gloves, headband and - drum roll - arm warmers. I realized that I've never regretted shedding layers in a race, but have wished I hadn't worn a long-sleeved shirt.

Waiting until the last possible minute, I did a 1.25-mile warm-up loop as close to the race start as possible. I didn't feel great, and worried that my heart rate was too high. I got to the starting area and lined up in the second "wave" of runners. I spotted my marathon coach-to-be, who lined up a ways ahead of me. I said hey and wished him well.

Going into this race, I had three goals: 1:35, 1:37 or 1:39. In any event, I wanted - no I needed - a new PR (personal record). One of my RWOL forum-mates kindly made me a pacing chart to account for the hills in terms of coming up with custom mile splits. I studied it during the week, and was able to approximate it from memory by Friday.

I used the 1:37:00 goal chart. Here is the list of target pace (T) versus actual (A):

-T- -A-
1 7:10 / 6:58

2 7:48 / 7:40

3 7:34 / 7:40

4 7:33 / 7:34

5 7:49 / 7:50

6 6:56 / 6:58

7 7:44 / 7:29

8 7:30 / 7:15

9 7:14 / 7:06

10 7:22 / 7:14

11 7:13 / 7:01

12 7:34 / 7:26

13 6:50 / 6:37

13.1 0:43 / 1:06 (Garmin registered 0.19 mile/6:10 pace)

Finish = 1:35:58 and a new PR (the race had only gun time, so I'm going by my numbers; deal with it!)

When I hit the first mile too fast, I thought I might be in trouble. It was a downhill start, with the pack taking off fast and the old mill buildings creating an all-too-shady wind tunnel. My HR quickly climbed to 170 and beyond, and was at 175 by the middle of the first climb during mile 2. I started to feel like I wasn't about to blow up, and really focused on keeping even effort on each subsequent hill through mile 5. I ditched my fleece at mile 3 (a very good decision) and took a single cup of Gatorade. I stayed smooth and steady on the biggest hill, early in mile 4, and then gulped a gel too quickly before the aid station at mile 5. I gagged a bit, walked for a second and was passed by a friend who should not have been running that fast that early (he finished in little over 1:40).

All this time, I was on very familiar terrain, since I take most of my lunchtime runs on parts of the course. We had a nice half-mile stretch by a lake through a park and were back on some less serious hills in another residential neighborhood. I took one more Gatorade at mile 7 and then bore down on the task at hand: holding this effort as long as I could.

During this stretch, there were some people who passed me, but they always seemed to come back. I chatted a bit when I'd settle next to someone, ask if he/she was doing the half or the full marathon, and then usually pull ahead. One gent who was not very talkative ended up finishing the full marathon in about 3:15. He ran like a metronome, and I was a wee bit envious as I saw him get his BQ time.

At around mile 8, I saw a guy walking. Turns out, I'd seen him in the running store a week or so ago, and he was totally pumped about running his first marathon, said he'd run every inch of the course and was shooting for 3:30. Given that I ran a half-marathon at what would be a 3:12 full pace, he may have gone out a tad too fast. I patted him on the shoulder, told him to re-group and that he could still "do it". Don't know his name, so I can't check his results.

Miles 9-12 were odd in that they seemed to present a duality in time. The mile markers seemed both too close and too far together. It's a tough thing to explain.

After crossing the 11-mile mark, I knew a new PR was well within reach. The last couple of hills were tough, and though it seemed like I was slowing, I still covered the mile at a good clip. Turns out I just had to work harder to keep it going. A fit-looking guy in trail shoes passed me, and I tried to go with him. For the first time on that day, my quads spoke up. As soon as that happened, I started feeling all the little things, like the exaggerated hardness of my left foot pounding the ground, the first-ever race-day chafing I suffered under my right arm (must have missed a spot with the lube), the raw area on my right calf where my left foot rubs when I get tired. Things got harder, but I knew that I could manage until the top of the final hill, just before the 12-mile mark.

After cresting the hill I'd run dozens of times, I saw the "skyline" of our little city, marked most notably by my own office building. I had enough sense to be conscious of trying to run the best possible tangent for a mile, before making the final turn, that terrible fork where the full marathoners bear right, while we half-ers turn left and sprint for the finish. I went downhill as fast as I could reasonably turn my legs over and reached the turn feeling like I had very little left. That feeling made me smile slightly, as that was the goal of the race, to run hard enough that I would not be left with much by way of reserves at the end.

Sadly, there was no one too close to me as I finished, neither ahead or behind, so I looked at my watch and ran as hard as I could to get under 1:36.

I took a space blanket and walked around, seeing some faster friends who'd already finished. They served chili and hot soup, which really hit the spot. I saw more and more friends, stretched, talked about the race, Chicago, the 40-mile fundraiser, etc.

Then I waited to see the marathoners finish, before heading up to the kids' swim meet an hour or so away. For not having had much faith in how things would go, I wouldn't change a thing. Is there a lesson to be learned there?


Monday, October 27, 2008

Run. Race. Recover. Repeat.


It was a busy week in both my running and non-running life. No sooner had I put up my last post about having written off my own participation in the 113th Boston Marathon than a colleague asked me if I was interested in accepting an invitation to run Boston without need for qualifying. I hoped not to have sounded too ungrateful when I said, "Thanks, but no thanks," since I would feel like a fraud if I were to line up in Boston without having met the 3:20 qualifying standard for men aged 40-44.

Facing such a deep philosophical quandary, I posted a poll in the Runner's World forums. While the poll results were along the lines of what I had expected, I was surprised at the compelling content in some of the narrative answers. A few folks made strong arguments for accepting the bid, and using it as motivation to train to run the qualifying time in Boston. As former philosophy student who enjoyed logical theory, it's a strange tautology: to qualify for Boston in Boston. Certainly, it's been done, but I simply wouldn't feel comfortable doing it. I felt like a poser when I went to the Expo before the Boston Marathon this year.

So, I am toying with the following plan. I train for and run the Hyannis Marathon in February 2009 (yes, it could be nasty, but will it be worse marathoning weather than Chicago has been the last two years?). If I run a qualifying time, and Boston registration is full, then I use the invitation. If I don't make it, then I re-group and decide whether to run a Spring marathon or a later fall marathon such as Bay State in Lowell, MA or the Philadelphia Marathon.

We'll see how the BQQ (Boston Qualifying Quest) plays out. Stay tuned . . . .


Well, I've set the date and have worked out most of the logistics for the "Forty at 40" birthday run. Other than celebrating the fact that I've managed four decades on this planet, I'll be raising money for the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston in memory of a cousin of mine who dies from brain cancer (glioblastoma) at age 35. He would have been 40 next year, so it's sort of a joint birthday celebration.

The run will start at my house on December 7th (yes, I know it's Pearl Harbor Day, but there's no connection) at 8:00 a.m. and will likely involve two hilly 20-mile loops through three towns. Friends and family have committed to providing support via donations, encouragement and/or - best of all - running a few (or many) miles with me.

If you want to support this run in any way, please post a comment with the first word "PRIVATE" and your e-mail address and I'll send you more detailed information.


Last week was Week #2 of my post-Chicago Recovery. I let myself run as I felt - mostly - which resulted in only 4 running days. I may have erred on Tuesday by going a bit hard on nearly 7 miles on the half-marathon course where I'll run on November 2nd. My left hip has been a bit sore (not bad) since, so I skipped Wednesday, did an easy 5 on Thursday (in my new Saucony Grid Tangent 3's - nice!) and took Friday off.

On Saturday, I ran into a friend of mine downtown at a local bagel shop. He's in his early 50's now, but he was a hard-core college runner in his day, and ran a 2:42 marathon in the early 1980's. He's still fit, an avid adult league baseball player, who still lifts and runs 3-4 times a week, usually on the treadmill for about 30 minutes. He said he'd love to join me for an easy 5 miles on the trails. We set out a little before noon, and he looked smooth. We chatted a bit for the first mile or two, and then I noticed that he got quiet. Having run with plenty of people who are much faster than I, I knew he was getting winded, so stopped asking him questions and just pointed out highlights of the trails. He stayed about 50 feet or so behind me, and at about 3.5 miles I heard a thud. He'd taken a face-plant thanks to a well-concealed root, but picked himself up and kept plugging along. I slowed down in the last mile, and when we came out of the woods with about 0.4 miles to go, he asked me if we could stop. I told him that we were almost there, but that we could run any pace he wanted. He told me to go ahead, so I did, but he rallied and finished less than 30 seconds behind me. He said it was painful, but now he's motivated to get back in shape. I enjoyed the company, and it's not the worse feeling after a disappointing goal race to know that you're faster than somebody (especially somebody who used to be smokin' fast).

We had a major rainstorm blow through on Saturday night, but it cleared out as quickly as it had moved in. On Sunday, I had a glorious 11-miler in perfect weather, where I opened it for a mile-and-a-half towards the end just to see how I felt in advance of the half-marathon next Sunday. After running almost 9 miles at an 8:35/mile pace (though I was trying to run closer to 9:00/mile), I settled into a comfortably hard pace, running the first mile in 6:58 and the next half-mile at 6:43 pace. My HR held steady (there were some downhill stretches), and it felt good to move fast. Since I'm hoping to average under 7:20/mile on Sunday, it was a nice little test.

This week, I plan to take it easy. Monday was a cross-training day. I'll likely run Tuesday (7-8 miles), Thursday (5-6 miles on the trails at a non-profit board retreat at a luxury mountain resort) and Saturday (3-4 super-easy miles) before letting it all hang out at the half-marathon on Sunday.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Happy Trails to You . . . Until We Meet Again

It was a gorgeous fall weekend in New England, and I've managed to run a total of about 18 miles since last weekend's marathon adventure. The title of this post came to me on Saturday, when I did 5 easy miles on the most technical part of the trail system near my home. It's narrow, rooty, rocky and sloped in parts, so it's a great way to ensure a nice slow pace. I ran a little under 10:00/mile, and enjoyed the sights, smells and sounds of the woods in deep autumn. Other than nearly falling flat on my face due to missing a leaf-concealed stump/root, it was simply bliss to be out there.

I thought about how happy I was to run without any agenda. To just move at whatever pace my body dictated. I thought about not having a time-based goal, not training for something right now, not doing anything more than just feeling cool air on my skin and the movement of my arms and legs. And then I thought of the marathon, not as a sport, but as a challenge, my own personal Everest. To be conquered, in Sir Edmund Hilary's immortal words, "Because it's there." And, finally, my thoughts turned to Boston, and in what seemed like an instant, I came to terms with the fact that I will not be running the Boston Marathon in April 2009. To shift metaphors rather clumsily here, my running Holy Grail remains secreted in its ark, and I will have to continue my quest via smart, hard training and more discipline and commitment.

So, with all of that swirling through my head, I realized that I was happy on the trails, and that my BQ attempt and I will certainly meet again, most likely in the Spring.

On Sunday, I set out in a long-sleeve shirt, light gloves and a headband just in case the wind picked up. It didn't really, and it was just beautiful out there. I wanted to run at least 8 miles, but was prepared to cut it short if my legs felt heavy. At about 8.5 miles, I realized I should head home, since it probably would not help my recovery to go much longer. I logged almost 9.5 miles, at about an 8:45 pace, with an average heart rate of about 145. It's great to be recovering so quickly from Chicago, and I am now very much looking forward to my two upcoming running events.

On November 2, I'll be running a half-marathon, trying to capitalize on my (untapped) marathon fitness and - hopefully - set a new personal best.

On December 7, I'll undertake the 40-mile run for my 40th birthday, in memory of and fundraising for my cousin who died of brain cancer at age 35. More details on that to follow.


Monday, October 13, 2008


Heat. Cramps. Over-exuberance. Hubris. Blisters. Willful blindness.

Can you guess how Chicago went? The good: 3:40 is my new marathon PR. The bad: it is far short of my Boston qualifying standard of 3:20, and rather short of my "acceptable" B goal of 3:30 for this race. The ugly: cramps and blisters ruined the final miles - and my race.

It is tempting to write a long, borderline histrionic race report, aggrandizing my marathon effort as if it were some Odyssean battle of good versus evil. Of course, runner and non-runners alike know that the marathon is really a battle with oneself. We battle our bodies' perceived limitations; we battle the obstacles life throws in our way. We battle inertia, mockery, self-doubt. We battle injuries and time crunches, inadequate rest and competing obligations. We battle and struggle and scratch and claw and sacrifice with the hope that on race day, we will know it was all worth it because we picked a goal time we thought we could run and we actually ran it.

After my third marathon attempt, the battle continues.

Here is my weekend recap/31st Chicago Marathon Race Report. Read at your own risk.


I believe that I have previously acknowledged somewhere herein that I suffer from a (self-diagnosed) mild case of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). I like things to be a certain way, can be rattled when they aren't, and - while I consider myself to be somewhat adventurous - I thrive on routine. I made similar travel plans this year, stayed with the same wonderful friends, got my Saturday haircut at the same barber shop, ate my pre-race pasta dinner at the same place and otherwise fell into comparable patterns from last year's Chicago adventure. By doing things a second time over, I created "traditions".

My trip began inauspiciously when I received an "Orbitz Alert" that my flight would depart a half-hour late. I arrived about a half-hour before the scheduled departure, and was hurried to the gate area, since the plane was actually leaving on time. That meant no time to buy water, a paper or anything, but at least I didn't miss it.

As we boarded, I met another marathoner - easy to spot in a race shirt, Asics running shoes and SmartWool socks - who'd been doing the Pfitz 18-week, 55 mile-per-week plan with the hopes of breaking 4 hours. We chatted a bit and wished each other luck. I found out later that she just missed her goal. Darned heat!

I got to Chicago a little ahead of schedule and made my way to the blue line, to transfer to the red line before hopping on a shuttle to the Marathon Expo. Kid-in-a-candy store is the only way to describe me in a 10,000 square-foot area dedicated to all things running. The centerpiece of course was the Nike booth, official apparel sponsor and purveyor of some very nice gear. I'm not a big fan of Nike in general, given its sweatshop history and the fact that it's muscled its way into sports such as soccer by brandishing gobs of money so as to buy not just celebrity pitchmen and women, but entire national teams and athletic federations. I checked my reservations at the door and bought myself a wonderful (if overpriced) layer, along with a Chicago 2008 t-shirt for each of my 3 kids. The gear blew away what New Balance offered in 2007.

At the Expo, I saw several of the stars of "Spirit of the Marathon", the documentary which I saw last year, and which I saw again on Thursday night before flying out. I also saw Olympian and running wunderkind Ryan Hall signing autographs at the Asics booth. The place was immense, and the only that saved me from spending far more money than I should on things I don't really need was the fact that before long I'd gone into sensory overload. That, and the fact that everything being marked at full retail offended my bargain-seeking sensibilities. I'll likely load up on more gear when the prices drop before the holidays.

The highlight of the Expo, though, was meeting up with some of RW online forummates, known to me previously only by screen names and half-inch avatar photos. I met Screaminzab, 320orbust, LARunner, bird22, dvc2002 (I think that's it). It was very nice to put faces and names to training tips and race times. We laughed and wished each other well.

After the Expo, I finally made it my hosts' home in the Gold Coast area of the city, unpacked, washed up and prepared to go to dinner with my first childhood friend and his wife. We had a wonderful middle eastern meal full of exotic spiced flavors, along with the kind of barely controllable laughter that only people with long common histories can share.

When dinner ended, they dropped me off for the big FE (Forum Encounter) at a pretty lame karaoke bar. I met some more of the "usual suspects", including squirrel1.1, MN RunnerGuy, Chooch262 and some others who mostly post in a different forum. It was fun to hang out for a bit, and at least I got to meet Pace Runner briefly before I headed home. When one isn't drinking and doesn't sing, the options in a karaoke bar are pretty limited. Add to that the cure little young woman who confirmed that she is far closer to my almost 12 year-old daughter's age than she is to mine, and I felt like the old man who needed to go home, take some Metamucil, remove my teeth and go to bed wishing that Johnny Carson was still on the air.


The order of the day was to be mellow. I tried to sleep in, but was up at 7:00 (8:00 my time). I went for coffee and some pretty junkie breakfast food, and met my hosts' at their boys' water polo tournament. It's a rigorous sport to say the least, and I couldn't believe how much energy these boys expended.

I got my haircut. My host D & I took a leisurely 4-mile run through Lincoln Park, on part of the marathon course. I threw in some strides and let D heckle me about how he used to run 35:00 10Ks, sub-2:55 marathons and numerous ultra-marathons by doing nothing more than running around 100 miles per week (15 miles per day M-F, then 30-40 more miles on the weekend). No speedwork; no hydration strategy; no watch or heart rate monitor; no concern for lactate threshold, VO2 max or any other physiological cues.

I ate some lunch, where I ended up talking to a lovely young woman who was studying for the GRE's. She had note cards with vocabulary words, and I was on a roll when she quizzed me, so much so that she asked me to take the test for her. We chatted about school, life, education, work, Israel and the marathon, before I went to the store for fluids and carbs (as great as my hosts are, they don't cook and don't keep a very well-stocked larder). I tried to go to the movies, but the movies were all pretty lame. Call me crazy, but "Momma Mia" and "Pineapple Express" just didn't seem like good pre-race fare. I needed the Steve Prefontaine film festival, but it wasn't happening.

Napping eluded me. I worked my legs over with The Stick, the self massager which caused a secondary baggage screening when I boarded my flight. I tossed and turned until 6:00-ish, before washing up and dressing for dinner at the same Italian place where we ate last year. I ate gnocchis and grilled chicken, along with salad, bread (lots) and water (lots & lots). The 10 year-old boy of the family who'd followed 6 water polo matches with a full soccer game, fell asleep during dinner.


I awoke at about 3:00 am with a full bladder. I awoke at 4:00 with pre-race jitters. I got up a little before 5:00 and started eating, before being able to go to Starbucks in time for it to open at 5:30. As I got there a few minutes early, there were a couple of street guys talking loudly and less-than-elegantly. I also noted many folks, young, hiply dressed, especially women in shockingly short dresses (where were they when I was single?) apparently coming in from quite the night out. I got my and my host's coffee (he offered to drive me to the start, bless his heart), and was on my way back to get dressed. Breakfast was a small bagel with cream cheese, a honey-sweetened Greek-style yogurt a banana and lots of Gatorade and water.

En route to the steps of the Art Institute, D told me that his luxury SUV indicated that it was 67 degrees with 89% humidity. While those numbers may or may not have been accurate, they were certainly close. Unlike in 2007, I wasn't sweating merely standing around, but it was clearly warmer than it should be at 6:30 a.m. on an October Sunday in Chicago.
I made my way through the thickening crowds to the Endurance Pavilion, a restricted access tent for runners who were willing to shell out an additional $75.00 in order to face no waits for the restrooms, extra food and drink, a tent offering shelter/shade, and additional massage tables with little to no post-race waiting. I tried to connect with my RWOL buddy Pace Runner, but she had trouble finding the tent amidst all the hubbub, and I wanted to head to the starting corral, which would be a bit of a walk.
Access to the starting corral (I was in Corral C) was slow, and despite having used the semi-private port-o-lets in the Endurance Pavilion, I still had the urge to go. Some folks were using nearby trees; other had brought disposable bottles for that reason. I held it, hoping the urge would pass after a mile or two.

The announcements began, the national anthem sung, the wheelchair athletes started and then came the official starting gun. It took me well over 4 minutes to reach the starting area. This did not bode well in terms of the crowds in the early miles.

I had a very specific pacing plan, calling for a few "slow" early miles and allowing for a slight fade at the end. This was "the" plan to help me get to Boston. Despite how things played out, I think it was (and is) a sound pacing strategy.
The early miles were crowded. I hit the mile splits manually on my Garmin watch, and the combination of the tall buildings and my own likely zig-zagging put me well over on distance in the early going. Mile one was supposed to be 8:00; I ran it in 8:03. Mile 2 was supposed to be 7:55; I ran it in 8:03.

Below are the splits. Bear in mind that the slow later miles involved walking through aid stations, stretch breaks to deal with cramps and at least one curbside attempt to remove and re-lace my left shoe.

  1. 8:03

  2. 8:03

  3. 7:47

  4. 8:07 (included epic port-a-potty stop of at least 45 seconds)

  5. 7:30

  6. 7:47

  7. 7:37

  8. 7:38

  9. 7:46

  10. 7:37

  11. 7:43

  12. 15:29

  13. [missed the Mile 12 marker]

  14. 7:54

  15. 7:45

  16. 7:52

  17. 8:18 (cramping twinges began)

  18. 9:00 (giving up on any thoughts of Boston; trying to stave off cramps)

  19. 8:23 (getting it back together . . . briefly)

  20. 8:59 (struggling; my stride is a mess now; left foot is both numb and in pain; feeling the blister; bank thermometer read 83 degrees)

  21. 10:20 (dealt with my left shoe for at least 1+ minute)

  22. 9:29 (cramps getting worse, more severe & frequent, and affecting both calves and right hamstring)

  23. 10:19 (2 stretch stops; walked aid stations)

  24. 9:41

  25. 9:51

  26. 8:49 + 1:36 (did not stop running at all, but pushing any harder gave me more crampy twinges; minimal satisfaction out of passing people in the final stages)
Total Garmin-recorded distance was 26.71. Average HR was 164, but it was too high too early, around 171 when I crossed the half-way point in 1:42+. On the one hand, that was an encouraging time because I was running pretty comfortably and in the right "ball park"in terms of pace, while knowing that I had lost time navigating the crowd in the early miles and for the unexpected potty break. However, there was no denying the reality of the moment: I was not going to pick up two-plus minutes as the mercury climbed and I felt that I was working harder than I should have been at that stage.

The last mile reminded me - sadly - of a toned-down version of 2007, with apparently dozens of runners dropping off with cramps, dehydration, heat stroke or sheer exhaustion. All of the people I saw on the ground were receiving some sort of help, so I didn't have to decide about whether to keep running or do the right thing and help a fellow runner in distress.

When I saw the mass ahead of me veering towards the right, I was overjoyed at being so close. When I saw the 26-mile marker, I tried to pick up the pace, knowing that a 3:39-something finish was possibly within reach. According to my watch, despite everything that had happened, I was running close to a 7-minute pace, but it wasn't enough. I missed the 3:30's by the most infinitesimal margin.


I stopped for a "finisher's photo" against the Chicago backdrop after I got my medal, some water, some ice and a cool towel. I had to walk for what seemed like an eternity when the not-very-nice volunteer/security person would not let me through a fence to go back the Endurance Pavilion. I made it into the pavilion area and went to the massage registration table. Two nice women put me on a table, and stretched me out. My hip flexors screamed, but they did a nice job and I think they helped speed up my recovery.

I tried to eat, but nothing was very appealing. I put down a yogurt and an oatmeal cookie, but the thought of drinking a beer made my stomach turn. I was in a haze, chatting with other runners about their race experience and finally made my way to a semi-private changing area so that I could towel off and get into some dry cotton clothes before meeting D who'd volunteered to pick me up this year.

In my post-marathon haze, I did something incredibly bone-headed: I left my relatively new running shoes in the tent, along with my very pricey custom orthotics. I've e-mailed the marathon office, but am not holding out too much hope. I'll have to have my chiropractor fit me for new ones.

After an awesome shower (where I forced myself to stand under cold water for a while in lieu of an ice bath), I rested up during the afternoon. I called some family and friends to express my mixed feelings about a disappointing PR. I watched some trashy television (too embarrassing to state the titles of the movies and shows), nibbled on pretzels and candy, drank a lot of water, and rallied to join my hosts and another old friend for sushi for dinner. It was a great meal which hit the spot.

At this point, I'm going to stop, and will give myself a few days to digest the race, ponder what lessons I can learn and decide what's next. A half-marathon in 3 weeks? The Philadelphia Marathon is 6 weeks? Preparation for my 40-mile birthday run?

I don't know, but - as one well-known runner has observed - "Runs end; running doesn't".

Thanks for reading.


Monday, October 6, 2008

As ready as I've ever been . . .

As I type this, there remain five full days before I will toe the line at the 31st Chicago Marathon. I have firmly resolved to go for my Boston Qualifying time of 3:20. I know that it's certainly within the realm of the achievable, but it will require that everything come together perfectly for me on race day. That includes the weather, my own feeling of well-being, proper nutrition/hydration, smart pacing and having the mental fortitude to push through when things get difficult. As I said in a post in the RW forums, I'm not sure I'm ready to run 3:20, but I know I'm as ready as I've ever been.

The last week was okay running-wise, considering the need to taper and the fact that I got a cold from my son starting last Sunday night after finishing the 17-miler and which only seems to be finishing up with me about now. I ran an easy 6+ on Tuesday, took Wednesday off, did 6 miles with 2 at tempo pace on Thursday, did 5 easy on Friday, 4 on the trails with 6 x 100m strides afterwards. Saturday turned out to be a very active day, with the run followed by my youngest daughter's soccer practice (I'm the Asst. Coach) and then what turned out to be a longer-than-expected hike in the woods on a gorgeous autumn day. The kids made fairy houses, and mostly had a great time, that is until we were about a half-mile from home and the little ones hit their own version of "the wall". I carried my five year-old for most of the return trip.

I ran 13 miles yesterday for my final "long" run. I didn't feel great before I went out, and it was pretty chilly at the start, around 40, I'd say. I tried out the arm warmers which I've owned since last spring, but which I've been too self-conscious to wear. Call me a convert who doesn't care what he looks like at this point. They allowed me to run comfortably in my singlet, much more so than if I'd worn a long-sleeved shirt. I ditched my headband and gloves at about Mile 2, but the arm warmers kept me comfortable all the way through the run.

The first 10 miles were pretty easy, though I'm pleased that that "easy" pace has settled into something along the lines of 8:15/mile or faster, at least on the flats and downhills. There were two major climbs on the run, the first at around Mile 4 (where I held back intentionally to save myself, for the only over-9:00 mile of the day), and another at Mile 10, a nearly mile-long steady climb (ran it in 8:35) which I chose on purpose in order to simulate feeling tired before running the final 3 miles at goal marathon pace. I don't want to overstate how challenging that climb is, but - pardon the possible overshare here - I did note that someone had apparently left his/her breakfast on the shoulder, probably earlier in the morning. It was pretty gross, and a reminder that I too will be flirting with the edge of my abilities and limits on Sunday.

At this point, I'm calling "goal marathon pace" 7:30/mile, which is not what I expect to average for the full distance, but it is the pace that I need to run for at least 8 or so miles in order to have a chance at the BQ. Despite some hills and some wind, the final 3 miles were 7:30, 7:30 (pleased with the precision of the pacing) and 6:56. The last mile is a slight downhill, and I did open it up a bit, but by no means did I give it everything. I ran an easy half-mile cool-down and called it a morning.

My hips (especially my left one, for a change) are slightly sore, and The Stick, a foam roller and a tennis ball have served as my personal massage therapy team. I'll see my chiropractor for the last time pre-race tomorrow and hopefully will be all aligned and only minimally sore.

This week is very busy at work for me, has my wife traveling for her work, has Yom Kippur on Thursday and then it's off to Chicago on Friday morning. The running schedule calls for 5-6 easy miles tomorrow and then 7 with 2 at goal marathon pace (the so-called "dress rehearsal") on Wednesday. I'll likely take Thursday and Friday off completely, and will run 3 easy miles in Chicago on Saturday. Then it's time to focus and see if I can discover the elusive alchemy required to turn a very good training cycle into an even better race performance.

Stay tuned to find out.


Monday, September 29, 2008

Changing Colors, Changing Goals

When I moved to New England over 15 years ago, I described that initial autumn as a time when I first realized that death could be exquisitely beautiful. The vibrancy with which we New Englanders are warned that another long winter is on its way is perhaps a salve for our inevitably dipping spirits. The days get shorter, a constant chill hangs in the air, and the vivid reds, oranges and yellows all-too-quickly turn to shades of dirty brown and gray. But, for the runner, that small window between summer's last lazy days and the freezing ground and falling snow is a self-contained paradise. All the hard miles logged during those hot and humid summer days pay off with a reinvigorated stride that allows us to feel - on a good day - like we might run forever.

As I took my first notable foliage-filled run of the year on Sunday, I thought about how well my training has gone of late. How I was completely naive and baselessly optimistic last year (and then again this spring) as I trained and set marathon goals. My ambition and resolve bordered on hubris, and I was thus twice humbled by the event to which I have dedicated virtually all of my "free" time since early last year. Chicago 2007 threw record heat at me and the almost 35,000 others who toed the line on October 7, 2008. Burlington, Vermont saw my race parallel my training cycle: a solid start followed by me barely hobbling to a sub-par finish.

Then, just as I was recovering from Burlington, I threw my back out when I bent over to pick up a single piece of laundry in late June. That forced upon me a full week of no running, followed by three-plus weeks of feeling like I was dragging my sciatica-hampered left leg along for the ride. Little-by-little, though, as I crafted and executed a more flexible training plan, my endurance and speed started to return. I ran a very slow 10K race in early August. I ran a less slow 5K two weeks later, with another decent 5K effort on a cross-country trail five days after that. All along, I increased my weekly mileage, and then added a sixth running day per week.

With the various setbacks, I decided (i.e., was forced to conclude) that qualifying for the 2009 Boston Marathon (to be run when I'm 40, and for which I need to break 3:20 to get in) was still out of reach, and that I should focus only on making a marked, yet incremental, improvement in Chicago this year. I accepted that reality with relative equanimity and trained so as to put myself in the best possible position to run under 3:35 and take another shot next spring (or fall).

As it has in so many ways, running has taught me another life lesson: that by loosening one's grip on something one desperately covets, one may have a far better chance of actually obtaining it.

When I did my first 20-miler of this training cycle, I followed a coach's advice and had the best long training run of my life. Then, two weeks later, I had an even better 22-miler on even tougher terrain. Now, I think that I might (just might) be able to get that Boston qualifying time, and - even if I fall short - I can do try without blowing up and having yet another colossally disappointing marathon.

Of course, much of this is out of my control, starting with the weather on race day. Cool temperatures will give me a fighting chance. A smart pacing strategy is key, as is proper rest (always tough for me), hydration, nutrition and a lack of race-day surprises. I have to avoid getting hurt between now and October 12th, hope that I suffer no cramps, avoid going out too fast and otherwise pray for a planetary alignment of the highest personal magnitude, so that the offhanded comment I made at my 30th birthday party - that maybe I'd run the Boston Marathon when I was 40 - becomes a prophesy a few months after that fateful day.

Bear in mind that when I said it, I'd never run more than about 6 miles at once, despite playing soccer since I was a kid. Marathoning and space travel were essentially similarly elusive and foreign endeavors in my mind, though I confess to knowing more marathoners than astronauts even then.

So, with Sunday's 17-miler going very well, with the last 5 miles run at or below my new goal marathon pace of 7:38/mile, I will go for it in Chicago. Since I am still working out the pacing strategy, I'll put it up in a few days. I know, not knowing may keep some of you up at night, but try counting mile markers and you'll eventually fall asleep. ;-)

Thanks for reading, and if you have any words of personal experience as you pursued (or are pursuing) your BQ dreams (good or bad as the results may have been), please drop me a line.


Monday, September 22, 2008

The Magic 8-Ball Race Predictor

Much is made in the distance running community about how to translate training progress into a race-day goal. There are myriad calculators to help one predict such things, and the conventional wisdom says to run a shorter race and extrapolate your goal time for the full marathon (allowing for slowing oevr distance). After Saturday's long run - a successful 22-mile out-and-back on a hilly course and into a 10+ mph headwind during the last 10 miles - I tried a new technique: the ever-trusted Magic 8-Ball. Allow me to explain.

I ran 22+ miles in mid-coast Maine, where we were for my wife's cousin's wedding. It was a cool start at 9:00 am, likely in the high-40's/low-50's and very breezy. Just before I left the seaside house we'd rented, I ditched my gloves and arm-warmers (which I've never actually used on a run), deciding I'd warm up soon enough. For the first couple of miles, I was regretting the decision, but sure enough, both my body and air temps climbed soon enough. "Climb" turned out to be one of the operative words of the day.

The route I chose was one I'd driven many times, and part of which I'd run a few times. The kids like it because it's so hilly that there are quite a few "belly-floppers", hills which rise and fall steeply enough that one's stomach rushes upwards on the descent, kind of like being on a roller coaster. See elevation profile below. In 22+ miles, reports that I climbed and descended about 4,000 feet in each direction.

Well, when I got back to the house, I saw that an area with games and toys had a Magic 8-ball, that wonderful prognosticator, offering quasi-cryptic responses to yes-no questions. So, obsessing about my marathon performance while basking in the afterglow of this great run, I asked the 8-ball whether I'd run 3:35 in Chicago. It said that I would not. "3:40", I asked nervously. " "Outlook not so good." So, I gulped and wondered what could go wrong during my taper that will send me to run another disappointing marathon in Chicago. Then I thought of casting aside that negativity, and asked whether I'd break 3:30. "It is certain," came the reply in that little black window. Then I got a bit greedy and asked it whether I should try to qualify for Boston at this year's Chicago. The insidious little device gave me the worst possible answer: "Ask again later", it said, without even a hint of being aware of how cruel it was to string a guy like me along like that.

So, be it resolved that along with my gels, sunglasses, gloves and whatever else I need to carry with me on race-day, I'm thinking of getting a Magic 8-Ball key chain which I can consult mid-race. "Should I get water at the next stop?" A: "All signs point to yes". Should I pick up the pace here? A: "Concentrate and ask again". You get the idea. Scientific? No. But it's probably no less kooky than some other methods of making those on-the-fly decisions.

Seriously, though, I am currently feeling a sense of serenity and preparedness unlike anything I've experienced during my last two marathon build-ups. I have also learned humility and still intend on running a conservative race plan this time around. I keep telling myself that a successful marathon will be one where the last 10K are faster than the first 10K.

I'm actually thrilled to be "tapering", though I have little desire to run less than I have been (except maybe for those mid-week, early morning 10+-milers), especially with the recent lovely fall weather. I just hope to stay healthy, be rested and well-fueled and be sharp so that I can execute a solid race in Chicago. Nice weather wouldn't hurt either.

Stay tuned . . . .