Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Manchester 2009: A Brush-With-Greatness/Pacing/Fundraising/Ultra-Run Report

How exactly does one describe a week that rolls spending quality time with American running royalty, pacing, fundraising and ultra-marathoning all together into a single stretch of running-related indulgence? In a word? AWESOME.

As I have previously droned on about in these virtual pages, I have decided to do at least one "outside-the-box" running-related fundraiser per year. Last year, it was 40 miles to mark my 40th birthday and raise money for cancer research. This year, it was running 38 miles to mark 38 years of legal services for the poor in New Hampshire. Next April, it will be "Boston 2 Big Sur" to benefit the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation.

BILLY & ME (oh and DANE, too)

Of course, anyone with any sense of karmic balance knows that good things happen to those who do good things. I volunteered to be a pacer for the Manchester City Marathon, and one of the perks of so doing was being invited to the pre-race "VIP" Reception. While I was more of a CIP (Completely Inconsequential Person), I had the privilege of hanging out with none other than Bill Rodgers, a.k.a., "Boston Billy", renowned for winning BOTH the Boston and New York City Marathons 4 times each. The man ran 28 marathons under 2:15, a shocking achievement in the realm of distance running.

Suffice it to say that I had a chance to chat with Bill Rodgers for the better part of two hours last Thursday evening, ending up talking to him alone during the last half-hour. I also met Dane Rauschenberg, a former lawyer who ran 52 marathons in 2006, one each weekend, while working a full-time job. He's written a book, and now makes his living as an author and motivational speaker. It was good to connect with someone who's essentially living my dream (the fact that he's single is no small factor in terms of traveling around the country hitting marathon expos). I enjoyed speaking with Dane on a peer-to-peer sort of basis. Having Bill Rodgers to myself, though - hearing about Rosie Ruiz in Boston in 1980, how friendly he was with Frank Shorter & Greg Meyer, talking about his health and future running plans, even learning how much he likes cheese - was an experience I may never duplicate in my remaining running life. He was even gracious and interested in the fundraising ultra-run, and commented on legal assistance being a great cause.


Choosing to pace a marathon brought about a whole new level of anxiety. No longer did I worry about completing the distance, or about qualifying for Boston or about blowing 4 months of training with a shoddy race performance. No, instead I fretted about running too fast, a sure sign that the apocalypse cannot be far behind. I had a tough time dialing in the 8:45/mile average pace during my recent training runs, but just kept telling myself that, come race-day, I'd rise (or fall, as the case may be) to the occasion.
As befits my dysfunctional relationship with race-day weather (see 3 of my 4 prior marathons and my recent half-marathon at Bay State), Sunday turned out to be a PERFECT day for running a marathon: 40's at the start; low-to mid-50's by finish time. While I appreciated the good weather, I noted that it had to be that good on a day when I wasn't racing. As my wife pointed out, of course I'd find some reason to fault the weather.

I got to Manchester, left my stuff at the YMCA, and went for a 1.8-mile "warm-up" run. Why? Because having settled on doing 38 total miles, I figured that having "only" 10 miles to go after the marathon would seem more manageable than doing nearly 12. I saw some Kenyan-looking types going for an easy jog, and it felt good to get moving. After trying to eat everything I could get my hands on on Friday and Saturday (Halloween made that interesting), I wanted to run already. Here's how the pre-race miles stacked up:
  • 1-8:48
  • 0.85-7:13 (8:33/mi)

Total = 1.85 in 16:01


So, with 1.85 miles down, I headed for the start area, where I found the pacer coordinator, took the 3:50 pace sign and lined up a good ways behind the start. People immediately began to hover around me, and the chattiest Kathy started telling me how she planned to run with the group for the first half, and then leave us behind as she sped up in the second half. When I asked her about her training, she answered by telling me why she had not been able to run much "lately". Not a good sign for a first-time marathoner. She told me she peaked at 30-40 miles per week. I not-so-gently suggested that she not speed up at the half. She huffed and puffed her way up the hills, and I did not see her after the half.

It merits mention that the pacing strategy I chose to follow was to start close to "on pace" (8:45/mile), exert even effort on the hills and plan for a slight fade towards the end. An online running friend makes brilliant customized spreadsheets for various marathons, and he made me one for free since I was volunteering as a pacer (and fundraising). Check out his work at http://www.mymarathonpace.com/.

The first half of Manchester is hilly, but it runs through a nice part of town, with ample crowd support and the half-marathoners making it feel like a nice, big race. I was chatting with my group, telling them stories of races past, checking in with them. We must have had about 15-20 people together for a while, with maybe 6 or so of those staying close to me while keeping the dialogue going.

Below are the mile-by-mile splits, with notable (at least to me) observations for each one.

  • 1-8:46 - Start about 30 seconds after the gun; carrying the big 3:50 Pacer sign for a mile, while finding space for our group to run; the stalwarts are with me; we're chatting (though I remind them to relax and save their energy); I'm answering questions and smiling at the crowd; missed the first mile marker, but the Garmin had us right on pace

  • 2-8:32 - More of the same, settling into a rhythm; I tossed the sign to the side during this mile, which was a bit fast

  • 3-8:35 - Smooth and steady up a short hill; still enjoying the crowd and chatting with my group

  • 4-8:41 - Hitting the first real hill, I tell the group to look up, run tall and relax up the hill

  • 5-8:47 - The biggest hill of the first half, and I see my accountant up ahead; he says hello and realizes he's gone out way too fast for his 4:15 goal time (he ran a full marathon 3 weeks earlier)

  • 6-8:36 - Keeping things steady; the group asks me about my training, PRs, what my goal would have been if I weren't pacing, etc.; we cut through the park where I plan to run most of the extra mileage later in the day

  • 7-8:46 - A couple of hills as we work our way through a nice, supportive neighborhood; pace group is sticking together nicely, with a couple of folks staying close to me and chatting away

  • 8-8:40 -The last significant hill of the first half; everyone seems to be doing well, drinking when they should and keeping it smooth and steady

  • 9-8:32 - Some rolling terrain, but some downhill lets everyone catch their breath; I suggest that they shorten their stride to save the quads for later

  • 10-8:38 (+32 secs in attempt to reset laps to match up with mile markers) - Coming back towards town, with the group hanging strong as we pass some half-marathoners who may have gone out too fast; somewhere in this mile, I notice a brand new pain on the outside of my left foot; it ebbs and flows, but stays with me for the rest of the day

  • 11-8:37 - Getting closer to town; a couple of rolling hills; I tell the official race photographers to take pics of the best-looking pace group around; we'll see if they did ;-)

  • 12-8:36 - Pass the Greek Orthodox church which occasions many remarks about the unfortunate architectural style

  • 13-8:22 - We crest the final small hill of the first half, and I remind the group to relax on the long downhill; I feel a strong headwind for the first (but, sadly, not last) time; Half-marathoners are kicking it in as I ask who in our group wants to bail out now; no one volunteers, so we turn right where the halfers turn left and are on the way to the second half

  • HALF - 1:53:31 [about 40 seconds faster than the projected pace]

  • 14-8:29 - Things changed immediately upon crossing the Merrimack River; the west side of the course has fewer runners (maybe 2/3 of the runners were half-marathoners), more wind and far less crowd support; we take a short, steep climb into a nice neighborhood, and I can sense the group beginning to thin out

  • 15-8:29 - The grind begins here; some members of the group are falling back; there is no traffic control in this part of the race (not much at all for the rest of the race really); things start to get quiet

  • 16-8:36 - Staying focused and steady; talking to those who are with me, I explain that the next mile is dedicated to my ailing father (as we'll be on "Louis Street" for a stretch); I sense some quiet support from the crew

  • 17-8:39 - Working our way along, the group thins out noticeably; there's one guy right on my hip (a guy who last ran a marathon 6 years ago and acknowledged sub-par training for this one) and one woman seeking her Boston qualifying time who's staying a step or two ahead, looking strong

  • 18-8:44 - It's been a long slog to this point, and there's still a lot of running left; I notice that some slight right hip soreness is evolving into actual pain; not sure where this came from or what to do about it

  • 19-9:06 - A very long uphill (pace projection was to do it in 9:00) and we take it smoothly; the BQ woman leaves us to go ahead, while many others drop back; the guy stays with me, and we start picking occasional "stragglers" for stretches along the way; my hip is getting worse; the HS students at the next aid station provide some welcome positive feedback about the tie-dyed arm sleeves

  • 20-9:21 - We turn into St. Anselm's College campus, and my hip becomes unbearably painful, with a shooting stab on each step; I let the group know to go ahead, and I think I will now have to walk the remaining 16 miles to make the 38-mile goal for the day; one of the "new" members of the 3:50 group offers me some topical Biofreeze gel; I stop, apply it, walk briefly and try to stretch and massage the painful spot; it feels remarkably better (still painful, but goes from stabbing pain to dull ache) and I catch back up to what passes for the group at this point

  • 21-8:17 - Trucking along, the major downhill does nothing to help my aching foot and hip; This is a "grin & bear it" mile, where I take my third gel of the day, a caffeinated Gu Roctane I see some friends who just ran the relay and we do the obligatory high-five thing

  • 22-8:47 - While I needed the energy from the Gu. I did not need the ensuing GI chaos; this required a 2-minute port-a-potty stop; according to my watch, I then ran the next mile in about 6:45 to catch back up (again); I found the one guy who'd been steady all along, and stayed with him; at this point, I'm noticing the dejected reactions of the people we're passing when they see my 3:50 Pacer's shirt; must have heard some version of "Oh, sh*t!" close to a couple dozen times in the final 5+ miles

  • 23-8:38 - A very turny, twisty part of the course, but the neigborhood is nice enough and we know we're getting there; my one stalwart is with me stride for stride, and I encourage him as best I can

  • 24-8:43 - We cross the river again over the lovely foot bridge and I know the end is coming up; in this mile, I see a guy walking wearing Vibram Five Fingers (essentially, gloves for one's feet which allow for "barefoot" running); I tell him I like the VFF's and am sorry he's injured; he replies that "sh*t happens"

  • 25-8:43 - Bringing it home, my sole remaining acknowledged "pacee" and I are buoyed by a beautiful spectator who gives us some warm encouragement; he thanks me and tells me he'll drop back in the final mile to run in with his young son in his arms

  • 26-8:32 - A volunteer tells us there's a mile to go (though it's clearly less); I look at my watch and think I'll be cutting it too close if she's right, so I step it up a bit; a guy with a triathlon race shirt apparently decides he doesn't want the 3:50 pacer to pass him, so he goes with me; I try to talk to him, but he acts like we're racing, and ends up fading back with less than a half-mile to go; I see my older two kids up ahead with less than 0.2 miles left, and they run alongside me on the outside of the course barriers; I smile and raise my arms as I approach the finish line

  • FINISH - 3:48:57 (chip time)
Boy, was I glad to be done. The announcer botched my name a couple of times before I crossed the line, but then nicely pointed out that I was the 3:50 pacer who appeared to have done his job properly ("How's that for knowing how to run"?, I heard him say). I got my medal, saw my family and took a planned 10-minute break to eat, stretch, change shirts and shoes and steel myself for the remaining 10 miles. I also saw the woman who'd gone ahead and gotten her BQ. She gave me a hug and asked her husband to take our picture together. The guy who came in just behind (but under 3:50) also thanked me and promised to look me up on LinkedIn.

As I was leaving the finish area, my running club teammate Dan appeared like an angel from heaven, having decided to come just to watch the marathon finish and keep me company during the final 10 miles (AND he gave me a check for the Campaign for Legal Services!). We bid my family adieu and were off on the final chapter of the day's running adventure.


My foot and hip still hurt, but I was able to run fine with Dan chatting away and keeping me company. We ran a couple of miles to a local park in which I often run at lunchtime, which has a 1-mile lakefront path, a perfect way to stay away from traffic on a softer surface. I chose this because a number of friends had said they might "run a mile or two" with me, and I figured this would be easy logistically. It turned out to be a tough slog, especially with the small hills and one particularly bouncy suspension bridge that was sheer torture each time we crossed. After the first lap, one of my best friends - Scott - appeared, and it was great to see him. My family cheered during each lap as we passed by.

I was not in a good place during miles 3-7 of the extra 10, with each step radiating pain and discomfort in my foot and hip. I reminded myself about novelist/marathoner Haruki Murakami's cogent observation: "Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional." It helped to bear that in mind.

After running my 33rd mile of the day, we chatted with a family which asked jokingly whether any of us had run the marathon. The mother was incredulous about the fact that I had and was doing more, and she kept saying, "You don't look like you've run 33 miles", which begged the question of just how one should look at that point. Bloody? Stooped like Quasimodo? Covered in vomit? LOL I was tired and hurting, but had not physically begun to fall apart.

After several of the lakefront laps, I needed to take a 30-second stretch break, but when I stretched my hips, my hamstrings would cramp, and vice-versa. So, I took to pulling/stretching my back and legs by holding onto a park bench. I also drank and ate during those stops, and changed back into the Brooks Launches which I'd worn during the marathon, as the Montrail trail shoes were just too stiff for my aching feet.

Dan, Scott and I rounded the pond for the fifth full lap, and then did a partial lap to leave the 2.4 miles it would take to finish at a local ale house back near the start/finish area. That was the Legal Services' folks' gathering place. Once on the road, Scott said goodbye and I found my stride again (not implying a connection there). As we came back into town, the aches subsided and I was running smoothly again. Dan actually fell back with a half-mile to go (he said he was out of gas, but I suspect he was letting me have my moment), and I finished the final mile running around 7:15/mile pace.

When I saw the sign for the bar, I smiled and raised my arms (I'd just passed the marathon finish line, with the clock showing right around 6 hours). As I arrived at the pub, a guy came straight outside, seemingly to greet me. I thought he was a Legal Services person, but turned out to be just a guy coming out to smoke a butt. He asked me what I was doing, and in his semi-inebriated state, seemed to have trouble processing what I was telling him. Then my wife came outside, to tell me that the other folks were confused about my plans and had left for the park to meet me there.

I changed my clothes, greeted the well-wishers and fellow runners when they arrived and hung out for a while. I drank a lot of water, then forced down a black & tan and some sweet potato fries, and relived some of the day's highlights, both mine and those of other runners. This included everyone from my 2:50 friend (who broke 2:52 on a tough course for a new marathon PR) to a first-time ever runner who ran the half-marathon in around 3 hours.

My wife and younger two kids left to go for the season's inaugural ice skate, while my oldest daughter insisted on staying with me (foregoing her time with her visiting out-of-town "boyfriend", a very moving gesture).

Here are the (somewhat painful) splits from the final 10 miles:

  • 29-9:52
  • 30-10:11
  • 31-10:27 (who's stupid idea was it to run on a hilly lakefront path anyway?)
  • 32-10:49
  • 33-11:03
  • 34-10:47
  • 35-10:45
  • 36-10:35
  • 37-9:56 (feels like heaven to be back on the flat, even sidewalks)
  • 38-8:59

  • TOTAL FOR LAST 10 MILES - 1:42:52

TOTAL RUNNING TIME FOR THE DAY: 5:47:50 for 38.3 miles

AVERAGE PACE = 9:05/mile (approx, not counting brief rest stops)


As with other 2009 running endeavors, Sunday's experience confirmed that I am not the runner I was last year. Consistent, mostly injury-free training has vaulted me to a new level, in terms of speed, endurance and - perhaps most importantly - mental toughness. Selecting a day where all my running was to benefit other people made it that much easier to ride out the rough patches and complete the day's mission(s). Quitting was never an option.

Pacing is something I'll definitely do again, but perhaps a little closer to my actual fitness level (say, 20 minutes slower) and without committing to additional mileage (duh!).

The fundraising aspect was moderately successful. I surpassed the $1000 goal, but by nowhere near the margin I had hoped. It was a lot of work to raise about $1200 (so far), but I have no regrets. I got to do what I love to do on behalf of an organization about which I care a great deal. It's hard to imagine many things surpassing that on the personal satisfaction-meter.

Now, it's time to run easy for a couple of months before focusing on Boston, and next year's kooky running fundraiser: Boston 2 Big Sur, to benefit the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation.

Thanks for hanging in for this topsy-turvy journey.

-ESG (Ron)


Girl In Motion said...

Incredible job by a sweet, tough and exceptionally giving runner. You're amazing. That's all.

BarbBQ said...

Wow, I didn't realize what a slog parts of this were for you. Are you interested in pacing again sometime? Maybe not on a day that you have to run an additional 12 miles?

I didn't see any links for the fundraiser associated with this event - if it's not too late, I'd like to make a donation.

screaminzab said...

Extremely solid effort - not that I'd expect anything less. Great job on a truly selfless 38 mile performance. You are crazy, aren't you?

The Puerto Rican Kenyan said...

Impressive, absolutely impressive!!

Progman2000 said...

Way to go Ron!

I got to meet Bill Rodgers last year at the Philly Marathon expo - he's a character for sure! The fact that my last name is Rogers guarenteed me a full 10 minutes of conversation.

Jess said...

you are my running hero. amazing! i hope i get to meet you in boston.

Anonymous said...

Interesting to see your pacing splits! Clearly you had a tough day, but it sounds like a rewarding one.

Greg said...

What a great job Ron!!! You have the greatest race reports also.. I really admire what you have done with your running... what a great year you have put together!! Congrats my friend.