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?