Monday, December 20, 2010

Merely a Weekly Update

Another week, another decent accumulation of miles.  Last week turned out like this:
  • Monday - 5 miles, easy/recovery
  • Tuesday - 8 miles, progression run
  • Wednesday - 11 miles in frigid conditions
  • Thursday - AM: 6.5+ miles on trails; PM: 4M slow on the treadmill in Nike Free Runs
  • Friday - 10.3+ moderate miles
  • Saturday - 7 gorgeous trail miles
  • Sunday - 17.3 hilly miles at an 8:10 average pace, with some fast miles dropped in from miles 10-15
The week's total was a bit over 69 miles, and I'm especially proud of not adding that extra mile to get to 70.  Since this is only "base building", these are mostly easy miles, though my easy paces seem faster while my heart rate is back in line with where I thought it should be. Also, the hips - while reminding me not to take them for granted - seem to be faring much better on the hills.  Saturday and Sunday involved lots of climbing, and my hips held up fine (though I didn't exactly push it up the hills). 

My last 3 weeks have been 59, 63 and 69 miles, and I feel better than I did when I was stuck in the 40's.  That's an encouraging sign as I say goodbye to 2010, a pretty disappointing running year in a number of ways.  A "Year In review" post may soon follow.

Now, I need to figure out how to put together my quality workouts for a 12-week marathon buildup that has me peaking at the exact right time, say April 18, 2011, with the hopes of running a decent marathon for the first time since May 2009.

Oh, and it might merit mention that I signed up for my first official ultra, a small 50K (or 50++K, as it's billed) in mid-February.  Details to follow on that upcoming adventure.

Thanks for reading, and Happy Holidays, whatever you do or don't celebrate.

Cheers, ESG/Ron

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Groovy Training Week, Baby

Today's post title is best imagined in the voice of Mike Myers' hilarious fictional spy Austin Powers, in an attempt to reference with cleverness my return to the 60's, as in miles per week.  After logging 59 miles on the week leading up to my birthday on Sunday, December 5th, I managed a hair under 63 miles this week, on six running days.

Here's how the week took shape:
  • Monday - 30 mins elliptical, weights, stretch and core (could have run, but decided not to push it after Sunday's 18 miles)
  • Tuesday - 7-mile progression run; last 3 miles = 7:15 / 7:16 / 6:42
  • Wednesday - ~8.8 miles in unpleasant cold & wind
  • Thursday - 10.5 miles in nearly unbearable conditions, made bearable by having company
  • Friday - 8 miles pretty easy
  • Saturday - AM: 8+ miles easy in Vermont; PM: 5.3 miles to get my car from the shop
  • Sunday - 15 miles in a cold, constant rain/freezing rain, with much questionable footing and being soaked through to the bone
The best thing is that I actually feel pretty good, with some slight hip soreness/tightness, but not bad at all.  The plan for this week is to bump up the mileage a bit, and maybe throw in a 20-minute tempo session somewhere in the mix.

Looking ahead, I'm looking at a 12-week formal buildup to Boston, with a possible 50K race in February and a half-marathon tuneup in March.  I expect to run between 65 and 80 miles per week, with hopefully more/better quality than I was able to string together in advance of my two goal marathons in 2010.  Right now, here's how I envision 2011 in running, month-by month:
  • JANUARY - Base-builiding
  • FEBRUARY - 50K somewhere warmer than here
  • MARCH - Tune-up half-marathon
  • MAY - Tough Mudder New England
  • JUNE - Higher mileage/longer runs
  • JULY - Be a pacer again at the Vermont 100 Mile Endurance Run
  • AUGUST/SEPTEMBER - Run my first official ultramarathon, hopefully a 50-miler somewhere within driving distance of home; Reach the Beach, probably with a new co-ed team
  • OCTOBER - Marathon Training
  • NOVEMBER - If all stars align, a sub-3:00 marathon attempt at either Outer Banks or Philadelphia
  • DECEMBER - Bask in the glory of being a sub-3:00 marathoner and continue base-building
Looking at the year in those terms, it all seems quite manageable.  Of course, that list fails to include training, recovery and that little thing we often call "life".  Speaking of which, mine has seemed rather complicated lately, for reasons that are far too personal and raw to delve into here.  I trust that 2011 will provide me with all sorts of answers: about the kind of runner I can be, about the course my life will take, about the kind of man I am and want to be/become.  I'm looking forward to learning at least some of the answers to those most pressing questions. The journey is bound to be gripping . . . feel free to come along for the ride, my virtual friends.

Thanks for reading.

Cheers, ESG

Friday, December 3, 2010

Becoming an Ultra Groupie: JFK 50-Miler Crew/Pacing Report

The weekend of November 19-21 began with an offhanded comment to Mrs. ESG on Sunday, November 14th.  I mentioned that I had two friends doing the JFK 50-miler, and that at least one of those friends would be going it alone and could certainly use some help.  To my pleasant surprise, Mrs. ESG said, "You should go," and once I made sure that I heard her correctly and that she was serious, I hastily contacted my friends Joe and Amy about my availability to help them out, made travel arrangements and got psyched up to take part in one of the country's most storied ultra-running events.

This year marked the 48th running of the race, which is the largest ultra-distance run in the country, with about 1000 runners.  Some people refer to it as the "road marathon" of ultras, in terms of organization and course support.  I found it to be a very interesting - and mostly accessible - event.


After touching base with Joe and Amy, it was clear that Amy was pretty well set on course support, but that Joe could use some help.  I flew to Baltimore mid-day Friday, rented a car and headed to my hotel in Hagerstown. My flight was slightly delayed, and I ended up running out of time to get in my own run.

I met Joe at the "Expo", which was really just a few JFK 50-Miler t-shirts and fleeces around the indoor pool of the Clarion Hotel in Hagerstown.  There was a ragtag assembly of runners and their crews, with everything from the lean and chiseled to the pear-shaped.  The longer I linger around the sport of running, the more I learn that runners come in all shapes and sizes, and that one of the greatest things about the sport is that it has room for everyone and their individual goals, not just within the sport as a whole, but within most running events themselves.  20-handicap golfers don't get to play at The Masters; go-kart drivers don't get to jump into NASCAR events; and, flag football players don't get to play a few downs in the Super Bowl.  But in running, the elites and the rest of us line up at the same line, cover the same course, and can rightfully claim the same sense of accomplishment.

Having forgotten his bag, I followed Joe back to his hotel, got his stuff and returned to my hotel to chill out and prepare for a fun-filled day of crewing and running.  I had hoped to have dinner at an Afghan Restaurant in Hagerstown, only to find that it was closed when I got there at around 7:30.  What kind of restaurant closes at 7:00 p.m. on Friday?  An Afghan one, apparently.  After driving around downtown Hagerstown (mindful of the "No Cruising" signs, I found a nice little bistro-type restaurant, where I had a delicious Thai-style salmon and a Yuengling draft. 


After fueling up on the hotel's complimentary - yet underwhelming - breakfast, it was time to find my way to Aid Station at Mile 15.5, where the runners make the transition from an historic section of the Appalachian Trail to the C&O Canal Towpath, for 26.3 miles of flat, lovely, painfully monotonous running.  Following the directions to the Aid Station proved tricky, and resulted in being loudly berated by a large pickup-truck-driving property owner for having traversed his lawn to try to find a place to park.  Once the concerns about being shot subsided, I found where to the leave the car and made my way to aid station/viewing area.

There was a decent-sized crowd, and runners were streaming through, though they hardly seemed like elite ultrarunners.  It turns out that runners sporting orange race numbers had been granted a 2-hour "head start", in order to be sure to make it through the race's multiple checkpoints under the allotted cutoff times.  That explained everything.

What followed was a parade of mixed characters, including an older guy in a classic, tattered gray Members Only jacket, a guy who appeared to have simply stumbled out of the woods after living there for an extended period of time, and a couple of runners with bloodied faces from spills sustained on the rugged Appalachian Trail.  When one guy came by with a bandage on his cheek and a streak of fresh blood running down his face, I turned to my friend Bryan (Amy's husband and crew chief) and said, "That's why they don't allow shaving on the course."

I was "on alert" by 9:00 am, as Joe thought he could have been at the aid station by then.  Of course, the overall leader came through at about 8:55, so Joe may have been a bit overly-optimistic about the pacing of the early stage.  Sometime around 9:30, Joe blew through like a man on a mission.  I gave him his fresh bottle of Heed and he was on his way to the towpath.  He did not break stride for more than a couple of seconds, and I waited for Amy to come through.  She was a few minutes behind, running with her friend Matt.  In contrast to Joe, they stopped, ate, offered warm greetings and otherwise seemed to be in good spirits.  When they left, so did I, trying to find my way to Mile 27, aka, the Antietam Aid Station.

Following the race-issued directions to the Mile 27 aid station/crew area was not difficult, except for the fact that the final bridge - just a few hundred yards from the parking area - was under construction.  I parked near a business and tried to walk across the bridge, but was quickly thwarted by the foreman.  He was gruff at first, but ended up being very helpful by instructing me and another wayward crew staffer as to how to get around the river to the aid station.  A number of twisting, turning, up-and-down roads later, I was at the parking area.  Nearly everyone else had apparently gotten the "Bridge Out" memo.  I found a spot to wait and watch for Joe, called home and then realized that it was likely to be a while before he came along.  I wandered to a lovely spot down by the river and just basked in the moment of being in nature, doing something I very much enjoy doing, surrounded by people who seemed to share that joy.

I found Bryan again and we waited together.  Joe came through still looking good; Amy was not far behind, but she had dropped Matt by then.  Interestingly, Joe had waffled about whether he wanted my company for the last 12 miles, but when I asked him if he wanted me to run with him, he yelled, "Yes, please!!" as he took off along the ever-flat towpath trail.  Bryan waited for Matt and another friend, and I left  in search of the Mile 38 aid station, known as Taylor's Landing.

MILES 38-50

Arriving at the Mile 38 aid station area with time to spare, I changed into my running garb and hung out in the car for a while.  The parking area was at the bottom of a hill next to the charming Spriggs Delight Goat Farm, and a little boy was having quite the conversation with some of the farm's featured livestock.

I tried to stretch and warm up.  The temperature was probably in the high-50's, but it would drop when the sun ducked behind passing clouds and the wind picked up.  I bounced around trying to stay loose and warm (wearing only a sleeveless shirt and shorts).  When Joe finally rolled in, it appeared that the runner I'd seen previously had been body-snatched.  The strong stride had turned into a shuffle.  I handed him his bottle and started to run slowly alongside him.  The first words out of his mouth did not bode well for the remaining 12 miles: "I gotta walk for a minute," he grumbled, and so I stopped my watch until we actually started running.

Reading the situation to figure out what Joe needed, I tried to get him to eat at the aid station.  He was not interested, and - despite my relative inexperience with ultramarathons - I knew this was a sign of trouble.  I let Joe walk for a bit, then prodded to him to resume running (the first of many times).  Joe did a somewhat tragically hilarious impersonation of Redd Foxx.  With a sideways-leaning shuffle, he declared "This is the big one! You hear that, Elizabeth? I'm coming to join ya, honey!"  We caught up to a fit-looking young redheaded woman, and chatted with her briefly.  She was experiencing a "bad patch", and I tried to talk her through it.  As we were chatting, Amy came by with Bryan, looking like she was out for a few minutes of picking daisies on a lazy summer afternoon.  She slowed down long enough to say hello, but acknowledged that she was "in a groove" and that she should thus "roll with it."  The redhead's competitive edge kicked in, and she took off with Amy.  As I learned later, the redhead did not necessarily "play well with others".

Joe and I were on our own for a bit, mixing stretches of running with stretches of walking.  A number of people passed us, and we pulled into the next aid station.  Joe still wasn't eating, and I did not know how to help him with that.

After about 3.5 miles on the towpath, we took a hard right onto the road, for the final 8+ "gently rolling" road miles.  The first climb on the road was formidable, and we encountered a runner on his cell phone.  I overheard him tell the other person that he'd be finishing in just over 8 hours.  When he hung up, I said, "Really, 8 hours?" and he replied, "Yeah, just need to do 10-minute miles, and we'll break 8:10."  I tried to use that to encourage Joe, and he perked up a bit.  However, this and all remaining instances of "perking up" were generally short-lived.

The next few miles were all about trying to find anything to help Joe keep moving forward.  While we negotiated walking up hills and through aid stations, his running pace was actually pretty good for being in the final few miles of 50-mile race.  A strong downhill runner generally, Joe was getting down into the mid-9-minute range when he was running.

With about 3 or so miles left, we pulled through another aid station, and I told Joe he needed some final nourishment.  He barked, "I know, I know!", and I explained that I was just looking out for him.  We loped along for a couple of minutes before Joe said, "Sorry for being such a drama queen back there."  I just laughed and explained that I understood, and that I was not taking anything personally at this late stage.

We trudged along, until we saw the "2 Miles to Go" sign.  Joe was hurting, but he was hanging tough.  Then we made it to the "1 Mile" sign, and it was clear that he would be able to finish.  I continued to brush off all cheers towards me, constantly saying, "Not me . . . him," as well-wishers and volunteers said, "Good job", or "Looking strong".

Finally, after more than two hours together, we came up on the finish line.  I sprinted away from Joe and went around, so that he would have the moment to himself.  There were a couple of large trucks obscuring the finish from the back side, so I missed him crossing the line, but saw him stumbling around afterwards.  He seemed happy, but dazed and quite wobbly.  In the meantime, I saw Amy, who was shivering on the ground, having slowed down herself late in the race.  Still, she finished 10 minutes ahead of Joe and was 10th overall female.  Impressive!  Joe managed a 24-minute PR, despite the late-race fade.  I consider it a stellar performance, even if he might not be of a similar mind.


Amy was cold and could not find Bryan, so I gave her my jacket and tried to find Bryan and, for that matter, Joe.  After some searching, I found Joe in the gym of the school by the finish line, and he looked terrible.  He said he was feeling sick, and was ghostly pale.  He disappeared to the men's room, and I checked on him a while later.  He was still not well, so I searched high and low for some ginger ale for him.  Eventually, after some gentle coaxing, he agreed to go to the medical area, where he was able to lie down for a spell, take some IV fluids, and otherwise get his wits about him.

For my part, I was famished, and finally was convinced that it would be okay to eat some of the delicious food provided by Moe's for runners.  There seemed to be no lack of nourishment, and pacers are runners, too, right?

The gym was an interesting scene, full of exhausted, happy, folks gingerly limping their way around with their medals gleaming on their torsos.  I did hear a number of versions of, "Boy, did that suck!" and similar variants, but overall it was an atmosphere of achievement and shared triumph.

I left Joe to go back the hotel, where I saw a second consecutive glorious sunset . . . notwithstanding the prosaic highway framing the bottom of the otherwise beautiful scene.  It was a memorable close to a memorable day, for sure.

On Sunday, I drove to the towpath, where I ran 5.5 miles towards the north/northwest before turning around and heading back to the area by the aqueduct where I started.  It was a crisp morning, and it was a lovely run, with the final mile fast as I tried to chase down a runner who stayed just ahead of me.  Despite running close to a 6:00 pace at the end, I still finished behind.


My sister is a psychologist of some public renown, and I posed to her the following:

What does it say about my mental health that I spent over two hours running with a guy who was suffering miserably, then milled about amidst shuffling runners complaining how much their race had sucked, and all I could think about was whether I'd be doing the race in 2011 or 2012?

She replied that that likely encapsulates everything about my psyche which could use some work, but I'm seriously wondering why I'm so drawn to these ultra-runs.  One factor I've realized is that running - and particularly running longer and longer - helps slow down my overactive, unrelenting brain.  Another is that I very much enjoy the experience of pushing to my limits, knowing that almost by definition, each time we reach a current limit (real or perceived), we actually move the line for the next time.  Despite the occasional racing/training plateau, running is a series of steps towards self-improvement, self-realization and towards knowing and understanding our place in the world.  Choosing to run 50 mostly lovely miles with 1000 like-minded folks only reinforces everything that's great about running, at least in my opinion.  It's living life the way we were meant to live it, in motion, with others, striving for more and better.  I hope to be a part of that again soon, and often.

Thanks for reading. -ESG/Ron

Sunday, November 14, 2010

"Feelin' All Right, Oh Yeah": Post-Manchester Week #1

Having survived the Manchester pacing experience despite the inauspicious buildup, a funny thing seems to have happened.  I feel like I've "come out the other side" of the weirdness of the past few weeks, at least in terms of the that hard-to-define physical feeling of simply being a bit "off".  While things aren't 100% normal (whatever that may mean), it's as if my system needed a long run - say, 26.2 miles at about 8:23/mile pace - to find its equilibrium.

Here's how the week looked:
  • Monday - 30 mins recumbent bike, very little resistance
  • Tuesday - 30 mins recumbent bike; light weights, stretching and core
  • Wednesday - 4.9 miles easy
  • Thursday - 5.2 miles on trails
  • Friday - 5.9 miles
  • Saturday - 5.25 miles on trails
  • Sunday - 12.25 miles, with about 5 on trails
All my mileage was "easy", with an average pace for the week of about 9:00/mile.  That's actually pretty good considering the trail mileage.  Most importantly (to me) is that I feel good overall.  I've vowed to get my base mileage back up to ~60 miles per week, but will not run anything fast unless and until all residual soreness is gone.  I paid dearly for pushing the pace on that 10-mile run on October 24th, and do not plan to make that mistake again.

This week, I expect to be around 50 miles, though it's already shaping up to be a busy one.  Aren't they all, though?

There's some personal stuff that's really gnawing at me, and I'm going to need to deal with it.  Details are not really appropriate for the blog, but I will share that I've been doing a lot of soul-searching, about religion/spirituality, priorities, connection, meaning, love, etc.  Of course, such reflection generates multitudinous questions but precious few answers, at least early on in the search.  So, once again, the lessons of running are instructive: patience, discipline, hard work . . . .  Knowing when to push and when to back off, though, may be the key to figuring out what twists and turns my life will take going forward.

Thanks for reading. -ESG/Ron

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Five Down, None to Go - A Manchester City Marathon Pacing Report

“Adopt the pace of nature; her secret is patience.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Today's post title refers to the fact that on November 7, 2010, I ran my fifth marathon of the year, and that I blissfully have no more such races on my schedule until April 18, 2011.  I raced twice (Boston and Chicago), paced twice (Burlington, VT and Manchester) and ran one fundraising/beautiful course/two-marathons-in-six-days-for-the-heck-of-it (Big Sur).  Manchester 2010 also marked my tenth official marathon, so it was nice to move into double-digits on that front.

The lead-up to this year's pacing effort was inauspicious.  Initially, it seemed that my Chicago recovery was going very well, until I ran a 10-miler too fast on October 24th, feeling "off" ever since.  I'd had a simple easy 8-miler where I almost passed out at Mile 6 or so, and have had stomach issues, a chronically elevated heart rate and swollen lymph nodes.  So, I guess I've been fighting something, but let's just say that I was not feeling particularly strong or confident about leading the 3:40 pace group this year.  The good news in that regard, though, is that my friend Joe from Maine agreed to pace with me (officially), and my friend Pete - the author of the acclaimed Runblogger site - fresh off his first BQ, also agreed to keep me company for the duration.

Joe came up on Saturday.  We hung out, drank lots of water, ate a nice pasta dinner and just got into a pretty mellow zone.  As both a dedicated runner and avid gardener, he was an excellent guest, able to swing between conversations of interest to me and to my wife.  After a quiet evening, we retired pretty early, while relishing the fact that we would gain an hour's sleep thanks to the end of Daylight Savings Time.

As usual, I slept pretty fitfully, especially since I wasn't entirely sure that the clocks which should adjust from EDT to EST automatically would in fact come through.  So I ended up waking up early and cross-referencing several clocks.  The ones which were supposed to auto-update did, and by 5:15, I was making coffee in anticipation of an 8:50 marathon start.

Joe and I took separate cars to Manchester, and I swung by to pick up my friend Nate, who was looking to drop down from ultramarathons to a "shorter" race and get himself a Boston Qualifier.

It was a brisk morning, with temps just above freezing early on.  The wind was calm early, but that wouldn't last.  Figuring out how to dress, and what layers to drop when was challenging.  I realized that most of my marathons have been on warm to hot days.

I had to do some fast talking to get Joe and Nate into the YMCA as "guests of the Marathon organizers", but managed to do so.  After chilling out at the Y, Joe, Nate and I headed to the start area at about 8:30.  I wished Nate good luck and Joe and I sought out the 3:40 pace signs and found our way to the proper area of the start corral.  Pete joined us in short order, and a small group formed in our general vicinity.  I yelled, "Get your 3:40 here!  Guaranteed Boston qualifiers for women under 35!" to drum up interest.  Not sure it was especially effective.

I removed my hat for the national anthem, watched a passenger jet fly over downtown Manchester, and felt that final spike of adrenaline as the announcer counted down.  As with so many races, though, despite being completely primed for it, the actual start caught me slightly off guard.

Miles 1-5
 1 - 8:27
 2 - 8:33
 3 - 8:16
 4 - 8:28
 5 - 8:22

As with every marathon, there's a settling-in process when pacing.  I tried to find a rhythm, make a few wisecracks, and generally get into the right zone for the task ahead.  Less than half a mile into the race, I saw that my watch displayed an average  pace of 8:23 (aka, the correct overall pace for a 3:40 marathon) and I loudly declared that I had done my job and would be dropping out shortly, since the group now knew what 8:23/mile pace felt like. That brought some mild guffaws.  Since no one believed me, we forged on.

At about Mile 2, I saw TJ Stevens, the Manchester Police officer who accompanied me during my 40 at 40 mile run in December 2008.  I sped up to greet him, but let him take off when it was clear that he was running too fast for the pace group.

The wind was moderate, but carrying a large, light sign was pretty challenging.  Pete took the sign from me after the first mile, and I debated about whether and when to ditch my long-sleeve shirt.  Somewhere in Mile 3, the shirt came off, leaving me resplendent in my god-awful goldenrod pacer's singlet and Moeben bamboo fiber arm sleeves.

I was trying to keep things light, but few runners were close enough to engage in any meaningful dialogue.  One woman and I started chatting, as she asked me about prior pacing experience, while not-so-subtly questioning whether I was taking the group out to fast.  As the conversation unfolded, I learned that she had run the Vermont-100 this year, and we both wanted to hear about the other's experience.  That lasted a little while, and she dropped back.

As the splits above indicate, the first few miles have some ups and downs.  I was trying to stay steady on effort, and was pleased that despite all my recent physical woes, I felt relatively smooth and relaxed.

Miles 6-10
 6 - 8:18
 7 - 9:18 [pit stop]
 8 - 7:19 [catching up]
 9 - 8:11
10 - 8:16

This part of the race was fun (except for an unceremonious pit stop just after the 10K timing mat).  My stomach did it's unfortunate "thing" and I had to use a port-a-potty.  After being scolded by a race volunteer for veering off the course (it's not my fault that's where they put the damned bathroom), I waited in a short line, did what I had to do, and ran nearly 2 miles at under 7:00 pace to catch up to Joe and Pete.

I saw many familiar faces, both running and spectating, and it was great to be part of the local running community.  Several runners questioned why the 3:40 pacer was tearing through the field, so I kept having to yell, "Catching up", or "Made a pit stop" so that no one would be confused about what the heck was happening.  I also passed a pair of gents running in Boston race shirts and kilts.  I said hello in a poor Scottish accent and saw Joe and Pete in the distance.

Seeing Joe's ugly singlet and Pete's neon orange Saucony arm sleeves was a sight for sore eyes, as the brisk pace was a bit of a shock to my system.  It also seemed that the two of them had pushed the pace a bit in my absence, and were well ahead of the target split when we hit the 8-mile mark.  We settled back into a nice rhythm and were on our way.  Joe seemed to have identified a couple of attractive young women who were seeking their Boston qualifying standard, and he seemed intent to go "the extra mile" to see that they would get it.  I sought to stay close to the customized splits as calculated by the brilliant Greg Maclin, available at his Web site,

Miles 11-15
11 - 8:13
12 - 8:35
13 - 7:55
14 - 8:23
15 - 8:30

More rolling terrain, punctuated by the course's longest downhill from 12-13 that's a wonderful treat for the half-marathoners. A couple of half-marathoners asked how far to the finish; I told them, and they took off.  I steeled myself for the difficulty of turning right for an additional 13.2 miles just as the half-marathoners turned left for their last 0.1 mile.  The Manchester course loses much of its charm in the second half.  Few runners remain; traffic abounds; the crowds thin to almost nothing.  It's an enhanced mental test.

Early in the second half, I was chatting with an older guy from Wichita, Kansas, seeking an it's-a-small-world moment by asking if he knows my friend Meredith.  He doesn't, but wouldn't that have been something?  Another older guy names Francis asks whether I'm going to get him to Boston.  I told him it's really up to him, but I'd be glad to keep company en route to his sub-3:40.

At this point, the kilted runners are holding steady, a nice young guy from Cleveland was with me stride-for-stride and a few more folks seem to be holding together loosely as an ad hoc 3:40 entourage. The second half was off to a decent start.

Miles 16-20

16 - 8:19
17+18 - 16:57
19 - 8:28
20 - 8:24

These miles are always challenging in a marathon, and Sunday was no exception.  The temps never rose much, the wind picked up and swirled around, and my hands got - and stayed - cold.  At about Mile 16, I spilled some water down my front, and the wet singlet made me shiver. 

Mile 17 takes runner onto Louis Street.  Last year I thought of my then ailing father, Louis Abramson, during that stretch.  This year, I dedicated that part to his memory.  A lot can happen in a year, or maybe just one thing that changes a lot of others.

After running along a sidewalk parallel to a big road, we turned and embarked upon the toughest climb of the course, a long, steady grind up towards to St. Anselm's College (where Pete, incidentally, teaches).  Much like last year, this stretch claimed its fair share of marathoners.

At around Mile 19, I came up again on TJ and his flag.  We chatted for a minute, noting that the 40-mile run seemed to have been about a hundred years ago, not less than two.  He was slowing down, and I needed to hold pace, so I said goodbye.  Shortly after that, my friend Dan (the awesome guy who ran 10 post-marathon miles with me as I did 38 miles last year) came by on his bike.  He's always so positive, that it gave me a nice boost to see him, even if only briefly.

Miles 21-26.2

21 - 8:10
22 - 8:23
23 - 8:57
24 - 9:15 [mile marker off]
25+26 - 15:31
0.2 2:20

Matt from Cleveland started hurting somewhere in the 21st mile, complaining of his knee "locking up".  It was tough to let him fall back, but a pacer does not have the luxury of tending to the marathon wounded.  Whatever  group we had had thinned by this point, with the Kilt Brothers holding steady, and occasional runners trying to stay with us as we approached and passed them.  At this point, my quads were speaking up, not in an acute way, but enough so that the steep downhills coming out of St. Anselm's were rather unpleasant.  Pete was hurting, too, having realized that his Brooks racing flats were too little shoes for Manchester's hilly course.

The last few miles in Manchester are not especially hilly, but they bring multiple turns through sparsely spectated neighborhoods.  I asked one guy who magically appeared by my side at around Mile 22 how he was doing.  He replied breathlessly, "I've been trying to catch you for miles," and held steady for the rest of race.  He had quite a fan club in the final miles, and it was energizing to see that development so late in the race.  That said, it was still a slog to get from Mile 22 or so to Mile 24+, where the course takes runners over a pedestrian bridge spanning the Merrimack River and into range of the finish.  The 24-mile marker was off by a good 0.10 mile, which is torture at that late stage.  I was monitoring my average pace to make sure that I did not drift off the pace at a critical time.  Coming off the bridge, runners have to negotiate the worst marathon course feature I've yet to encounter, a corkscrew-shaped/hairpin turn which needs to be re-routed yesterday.  Joe, not one to complain about much, yelled, "This is bullshit!" as he made the awful change of direction, to the left, then the right, then the left again.  I cannot imagine how the fast runners managed it at 6:00+/- pace.

Having circled behind the baseball stadium (where , we took the last uphill, able to see and hear the finish line, but knowing that we had one more loop of about a mile left in order to be done.  we passed more struggling runners, as the finish neared.  One major goal of this marathon for me was to get as close as possible to the 3:40 goal without going over.  Joe, Pete and the kilts were a little ways ahead.  I looked at my watch, mindful of keeping it close.  I slowed, then accelerated, and when I turned left onto Elm Street, with about 0.1 to go, I started jogging.  I eyeballed the finish, looked at my watch, and picked up the pace again.  A guy on my left seemed shocked, and started sprinting to pass me.  I surged and then slowed down, trying to time it just right.  The guy went ahead, and I crossed the line while stopping my watch, which read 3:39:59.  The long-frozen grimace on my face turned into a satisfied smile, though I was cold, tired and hungry.  My official time was one second faster, darn it all.

I also learned that Nate had smashed his BQ time, with a 3:15:xx time, good for 31st place overall.  Kudos to him.


After the race, Joe, Pete and I went in search of food.  There was hot soup, and Joe the Vegetarian enjoyed some tomato bisque, while I downed some lukewarm chicken noodle.  We lingered around for a bit, covered in Mylar blankets.  Thanks to my rubbery legs, I nearly tripped on a root in Veterans Park, and a race volunteer and I had a good-natured laugh about that.  Joe and I received a warm thanks from a woman who'd fallen off and finished in about 3:45.  We said good-by to Pete and headed back to the Y for a hot shower, as Joe had to hit the road to get back to Maine for his daughter's high school play.

I was extremely chilled, to the point that I toweled off in the sauna in order to get warm.  That helped.  We had some mini-drama when Joe misplaced his car key, but after 15 minutes of intense searching, we found it.  He was on his way, and I headed home to have some down time, as my wife and the kids were all off in different directions.  I took a nice long Endurasoak bath, ate some salty food, and drank an Arrogant Bastard Ale.

As usual, pacing was a rewarding experience, and it is with mixed feelings that I continue to realize that I may be better-suited to this task than to running quality races for myself.  After the concerns and weirdness of the weeks in between Chicago and Manchester, I was glad to get this race done, and finish on target.  I'm looking forward to some running/racing down time, and am applying to join the Manchester City Marathon organizing committee/board to do what I can to help make the race even better.

Thanks, as always, for reading.


Monday, October 25, 2010

Buoyed by Faith

Now that my third full year as a marathon runner is coming to a close, I've realized that the time following a goal race serves not just as a time to recover from the physical tolls of training and racing, but also allows a window for reflection of a more personal and profound nature.  I have realized that in some of the deeper recesses of my consciousness, I was prepared for another running disaster - or at least major disappointment - in Chicago this year.  The race was far from a disappointment, and the take-away for me has been feeling re-energized, hopeful and motivated to keep training so that I get more out of running.  I'm sure that a major marathon breakthrough awaits me, as soon as I get past the nagging hip issues.  As I've said to a couple of running friends recently, "I just want running to love me back."  And while it's wonderful to feel that sense of  joy return to this all-too-important relationship (between running and me, that is), what I did not count on was feeling more happy and hopeful about other aspects of life, too.

While it's only been two weeks since the Chicago Marathon, 10-10-10 has taken on a transcendent significance in my life.  Since my return, I feel better about my roles as husband, father, lawyer/business owner, brother, son, friend, coach, etc.  In a word, I feel happy and more grounded.  And a huge part of that happiness is attributable to having a renewed sense of faith . . . in people, in the world, in grace and - ultimately - in myself.  And while my religious views - such as they are - continue to contain a healthy dose of humanist skepticism, I am buoyed by the knowledge that there is certainly some force greater than anything we can even begin to grasp which guides so much of the beauty, symmetry and grace which we see in the world.  I don't have a lot of answers, but I know that fact to be as true as anything else I know in this life.

Well, I wasn't necessarily expecting this entry to venture that far into that realm, so let's get to the running-related stuff, stat!

Post-Chicago recovery week #2:
  • Monday - 5.8M on trails, easy
  • Tuesday - XT: elliptical, heavy weights, core, hips and stretching
  • Wednesday - 8M, easy to moderate; played a full-field soccer scrimmage with my son's U-10 team
  • Thursday - 6M, easy to moderate in the Nike Free runs (in lieu of barefoot mileage this week)
  • Friday - XT: elliptical, plyometrics and stretching/foam rolling
  • Saturday - 6.75M, moderate, mostly trails
  • Sunday - 10M, "trial run" for the race to be staged by my running club in 2011; plan was to lock in 8:23 pace in preparation for the Manchester Marathon pacing gig on November 7th, but I strayed from that and averaged about 7:45/mile (which felt good)
Total of 36+ miles for the week, with some "quality" unintentionally thrown in on Sunday's run.  I have neglected the hip exercises a bit, but feel pretty good overall, despite my hip flexors being a tad sore late in the week (likely a result of playing soccer with the boys on Wednesday).  Still, I'm looking forward to topping 50 miles this week, then dialing it down again before Manchester.

Thanks for reading.


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Return of the Blog-monster

This will be a short post.  I am a stock-taking phase, mostly about running, but to some extent about my life, particularly about the relationships which most matter.  This blog does not venture into the deepest darkest parts of my existence (just be thankful, dear readers), but in terms of running, I've spent a lot of time comparing last year's bonanza of excellent running results to this year's clear dearth of same.  While focusing on training, racing, diet, etc., I seemed to overlook one not insignificant thing: this blog.

So, I declare (which you may take alternatively as "warn") that I will resume at least weekly posts, summarizing my training.  That very exercise helped me spot trends, process things and generally take a good look at training as a whole.  While I may have had valid reasons to get away from that practice this year, I do not believe that it has served me well.

Continue to ignore as much of my drivel as you'd like, but got lactate? will soon return to being the training log/runner's journal which I originally conceived it to be.

Thanks for reading. -ESG

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

It Ain't the Heat . . . It's the Humility - Chicago 2010 Race Report

The title of this post comes from one of the true maestros of pithy, malapropistic English coinages, the one and only Yogi Berra.  It perfectly captures my experience at Chicago 10-10-10, where I might have run my best marathon to date, while nonetheless falling 19 seconds short of a new PR (personal record).

So, out the usual sense of consideration for my dear readers, I'll jump to the end first: I ran the 2010 Chicago marathon in 3:18:00, exactly 22 minutes better than my 2008 effort in similar conditions.  Now, onto the narrative portion of our episode.


As many of my running friends know, Chicago and I have a bit of a love-hate relationship.  I lost my marathoning virginity in the Windy City in 2007, when temperatures reached nearly 90 degrees and all sorts of chaos resulted, not even counting my own 4:03 marathon debut.  I returned in 2008, thinking that lightning couldn't possibly strike twice.  I was right, as temps only reached about 84 degrees, and I broke down with cramps a full 5 miles later than the year before.

In 2009, I decided that Chicago and I should take a break from each other, maybe see other people/races, and I skipped the party.  Runners were treated to perfect, traditional fall weather.  The course record fell, Boston qualifiers abounded and many a new PR was set.

The symmetry of the 10-10-10 date was difficult to ignore, as was the pull of so many virtual friends making Chicago 2010 their fall goal marathon.  I backed off my plan to pace at NYC, signed up and did what I could to get ready.  The woes of the training cycle are chronicled in prior posts, or - more accurately - in the dearth of prior posts over the past few months.

I left very early on Friday, and spent the morning with my friend Paul, his lovely wife Tiffany and their daughter Isla. See pic below.

Paul picked me up, we went for an easy 4-mile run, washed up and then went to the Expo.  We met up with other friends from the RWOL Sub-3:20 Thread, including Chris, Stevi, Nick and Walter.

The energy was good.  I've gotten kind of "expoed out" at this point in my running life, since I don't need anything and hate paying full price for whatever I do need (or want).  I saw a line forming for Dean Karnazes' signing at The North Face booth, so I high-tailed it in the other direction. I bought my kids t-shirts, sampled some drinks and energy food and got ready to go to my hotel.  Paul picked up two more friends at the expo, so I ended up riding in the hatch of Paul's SUV, where I was delivered to my hotel along with my own luggage.

I checked in and tried to get some rest in advance of a busy evening.  I met my friend Meredith at the Art Institute, before joining her for a reception for those who'd run to raise money for the American Cancer Society.  Let's just say that it was not an easy evening for her, but she is a paragon of grace in the recent wake of having lost her husband to cancer.  She is 30 years old.

Meredith joined me and my friends (and prior years' hosts) David and Louise for a delicious Chinese dinner, and it was wonderful to see them, catch up, hear inside scoop about Chicago politics from two natives and just reconnect with people I like so much.  After dinner, Meredith and I cruised around looking for dessert.  We ended up at Leonides Chocolate Cafe, ordering Belgian chocolates and gelato.  While scoping out the gelato flavors, I found a crisp $100 bill tucked into the trim of the ice cream case.  What a stroke of luck, I thought.  I looked around to see if anyone appeared to be looking for it, keeping a watch out until the place closed.  No one seemed to be searching for a lost Benjamin Franklin, so I consulted with Meredith and my own conscience, and kept it.

So, I made it back to my hotel and was ready to crawl into bed (after all, I'd gotten up at 3:45 am to get to the airport), only to toss and turn all night thanks to a noisy hotel ventilation system.  This is a major blemish on an otherwise great weekend, so I will move on here.  Suffice it to say, I'm still tired . . . and miffed.

Saturday was slated to be another busy day, with periods of mellowness scheduled into the program.  I had breakfast with Dan, his wife Stacy and Charlie, more RWOL friends.  We ate at a wonderful hip Mexican place called Xoco, where the breakfast empanadas, churros and coffee were excellent.  I then ran 3 easy miles with David (at least I could continue that routine from years past) and saw his kids before meeting Amy for lunch with the Team Reeve people.

The afternoon brought some down time in my still-noisy hotel room, before meeting my childhood friend Marc and his wife (who's my sister's cousin-in-law) Nicole for dinner.  I managed to consume half of a gloriously ginormous pasta plate at Francesca's and even drank a beer, amending my prior taper practice of going alcohol-free for my taper.  It may have helped.  With Nicole and I yawning at about 7:45, Marc deposited me back at my hotel, where I went through the joyously tedious process of laying everything out for the race.  From head to toe (plus "accessories"):
  • Hat
  • Sunglasses
  • Singlet
  • Bib
  • Shorts (went with pretty short RaceReady shorts)
  • Zensah compression sleeves
  • Wright socks
  • Mizuno Wave Ronins, with orthotics
  • Gels - Accelerade and Gu Roctane
  • Sunscreen
  • Body Glide
  • 3:10 pace tattoo (which would not stick and would have been useless anyway)
  • Sharpie, to write my name on my arm
I got breakfast organized, and finally got in bed about 10:30.  I didn't sleep well again, awaiting the 5:00 am alarm.



After my poor night's sleep, I was ready to get up and prepare for the race.  The hotel room mini-fridge froze my pre-purchased Starbucks Venti, which ended up tasting terrible after defrosting/reheating in the microwave.  I ate a plain bagel with cream cheese, a yogurt parfait with fruit and granola and a banana.  I drank lots of water and Gatorade.  I went to the bathroom. Repeatedly.

Once I was dressed, Body Glided and sufficiently fueled/hydrated, I made my way over to the start.  The masses were en route, with runners coming in all shapes and sizes.  As I headed east towards Millennium Park, the sunrise silhouetted the Art Institute.  It was a beautiful - if already overly balmy - start to the day.

I meandered through the chain-link maze and found the Bank of America Customer Upgrade Tent.  My little gold wristband allowed me access to a private area, and - most critically - open port-a-potties.  I took advantage of them, and headed over towards the seeded corral entrance at about 7:00 am.  The lines were forming, but the mass was moving steadily.  Marathon security officers did not mess around, though, refusing entry to anyone without a proper bib.

In short order, I had found the front left corner of the B Corral, and did some light stretching just outside the area where the wheelchair racers awaited their call to the start.  I got a friendly greeting from the Team Achilles lady whom I'd met at the Reeve Foundation luncheon while I kept an eye out for Amy and Matt.  I spotted Amy, and then Matt was upon us.  We were resplendent in our coordinated Endurasoak singlets.
Amy griped about her dead watch, and I asked her to write my RWOL name (ESG) on my arm.  She mocked my skinny upper arm before drawing a smiley face on my right biceps.  I'd written RON on my left arm, and the letters were plenty big, thank-you-very-much!

The national anthem played and it was just about that time, the moment where all the anticipation, nervousness, sacrifice, doubt and excitement funnel together to create the hard-to-articulate feeling that keeps so many of us coming back to the marathon again and again.  For a split second, it truly feels like anything is possible, and that greatness lies just a few not-so-short miles away.

Miles 1-5

1. 7:16
2. 7:18
3. 7:17
4. 7:08
5. 7:17

One of the truisms of running the Chicago Marathon is that the first mile is a bit of a pacing nightmare.  Those of us with an unhealthy codependent relationship with our GPS watch suffer the most, as the signal goes wacky as soon as we head into the first tunnel, and does not get much better with all the tall buildings around.  I went by feel, trying not to waste too much energy weaving around other runners.  Amy and Matt stayed close, and we hit the first mile marker while 7:15 was on my watch.  Perfect pace for a 3:10 marathon, but I was not feeling good.  I asked Amy for a swig from her water bottle, as I had that familiar adrenaline-fueled cottonmouth feeling.  That helped, and I tried to settle into the pace.

It didn't take long for me to realize that sub-7:15/mile pace was not realistic.  While the early temps were not oppressive, the humidity was another story.  I was sweating a lot, and I felt like I was working too hard too early.  Thinking about what lay ahead, I quietly let Amy and Matt go at around the 5K mark, and I dialed down the pace towards the end of the fifth mile.

I never really felt "right" or comfortable early on.  I needed to pee, and my stomach was a tad rumbly.  Fortunately, that was about to change.

Miles 6-10

6.  7:32
7.  7:14
8.  7:30
9.  7:23
10. 7:21

I wanted to stay in the 7:25/mile range, so Mile 6 was a little slow.  I was trying to stay relaxed, mind my form, shake out my arms every so often, etc.  I took my first gel (Accelerade) at around the 50-minute mark, and took 3 Endurolytes capsules at one hour in (after having taken 4 before the start) as cramp insurance.  The temperature was rising, but with the humidity falling somewhat and a fair amount of shade, it was relatively comfortable.  I was trying to soak in the atmosphere, the crowds, other runners.  Occasionally, I'd ask a fellow runner how he/she was feeling. One woman said she was hoping to break 3:20, and I gently warned her that she was out a bit fast for that.  She thanked me and dropped back some.  I ran with a nice guy from Denver named Dwayne; we were on again/off again for a good long while.

This section of the race felt "right", where it seemed like my feet, legs, hips, lungs, heart and mind were well synchronized in terms of effort and ability given the conditions.  My new goal became to break 3:15.

Miles 11-15

11. 7:24
12. 7:25
13. 7:27
HALF -  1:36:26
14.  7:29
15. 7:25

This was probably the best stretch of the race in terms of thinking about what I wanted to do, and executing it almost flawlessly.  Towards the end of Mile 11, the typical left foot pain began to bother me (it may be a neuroma).  It was a nuisance, but I trusted from prior races that it would not worsen, and reminded myself that a marathon is not exactly a comfort-seeking endeavor.  I should also mention that when things first began to go from moderately challenging to more difficult, my mind wandered to the plight of the Chilean miners who've been trapped over 2000 feet below the earth's surface for over two months.  What would they give for the opportunity to run a marathon, no matter how warm a day?, I thought.  While not a magic bullet, it helped keep me from descending into my own hole of self-pity, which - as every runner knows - can ruin a race in a flash.

I took a non-caffeinated Gu Roctane (pineapple) at around 1:30 into the race, not wanting to risk GI problems for the umpteenth time in recent races.  It went down fine.

When I saw the split for the half (1:36+), I started thinking about my goal again, and decided that a 1:40 second half (about a 3.5-minute positive split) would get me a nice new PR.  Knowing that 7:39/mile is 1:40 half-marathon pace, I strove to keep the miles at or under 7:30 for as long as I could.  The little bit of time banking was to allow for what I deemed the inevitable fade.  It almost worked.

Miles 16-20

16. 7:29
17. 7:33
18. 7:27
19. 7:32
20. 7:41

OK, the heat was on the rise, but the plan seemed to be working.  I clicked off the desired pace and - for only the second time in marathon "career" - hit the 20-mile mark feeling functional and relatively in control.  I passed the spot where I fell apart in 2007, and pondered how it feels like I'm a completely different person now.  As a runner, I suppose I am.

Still, these miles required intense focus.  I thought about how sweet a new PR would be, on the streets of my first marathon, the place which almost appears to have a personal vendetta against me as far as marathon weather is concerned.  The thoughts in my head were mostly positive, encouraging, hopeful. I took more Endurolytes and a third gel (Accelerade again).  I never broke stride, not for one instant.

Around Mile 20, a bank thermometer read 81F.  As I passed it, I literally gave it the finger.
Miles 21-Finish

21. 7:50
22. 7:45
23. 7:56
24. 8:07
25. 8:17
26. 8:10
0.2. 1:36 (<7:20 pace)

Mile 21 did not feel any different than the few miles which preceded it, but I suspect that sensing that a PR was well within reach caused me to lose concentration.  I got a few seconds back in Mile 22, but that's when the little hip niggles which I'd been ignoring started to speak up a tad more loudly.  That all-too-familiar tightness began, and I had to force myself to try to keep pace.  I was getting the better of the hip issue until late in Mile 23, when my right calf - despite all the Endurolytes and the Zensah sleeves - sounded the cramp-announcing trumpet in the form of hard, painful twinges.  I tried altering my stride.  Nope.  I tried speeding up.  Nope.  I drank more Gatorade at the aid stations. Nope.  I thought about stopping to stretch it, but decided I was not going to stop running, no matter what.

I reached the point where I had merely 5K left, and the wheels were threatening to come off.  I must declare, however, that I simply decided that that would not happen.  I pushed the pace as much as I could, knowing that I had more reserves, more energy, more fitness to give.  But try as I did, I could not get under 8:10/mile pace.  I knew that the PR would be close, and that if I could not get under 8:00 pace, I was not going to make it.

Mile 25 seemed eternal; Mile 26 only slightly less so.  The crowds were wonderful.  Some runners were walking, some staggering.  Some passed me with strong, smooth strides.

With 800 meters and one "hill" to go, I knew a new PR was gone, but a 3:17:xx would at least be a "push" for me.  I gave what I had left, and crossed the line in jeopardy of going into a full lower-body spasm.  I pressed the stop button on my watch, which read 3:18:00; my second consecutive round finishing time in Chicago (in 2008, I clocked 3:40:00).

Gatorade Recovery Drink (G3), water, banana, medal.  I asked two volunteers to loosen my laces.  I said no thanks to the space blanket, as I feared I might actually begin to roast if I put one on.  I was done.  Now, I needed to see my friends.


I bumped into some RWOL/Facebook friends in the finish area.  My friend Dan got his first BQ.  Woo-hoo!  Nick did not get his sub-3:00, but did PR.  Some guys were disappointed; others were thrilled with their unexpectedly fast times.  I was sort of numb.  No euphoria.  Not elated.  Not sad or disappointed.  With a little rehydration and honest reflection, I realized that I could not have asked for much more of myself on a tough day coming on the heels of a mediocre training cycle.

The finish line beer did not taste good to me, and I milled around looking for other friends.  I was dying to know how Meredith did, but could not find her.  I was hot, sore, tired and covered with a sheen of salt.  So I made the trek back to my hotel, which now seemed much farther away than it did just a few hours ago.

I started looking up friends' times, with a few surprises.  It was no surprise when I learned that Meredith did it: she broke 3 hours.  The most amazing part of the story, though, is that she needed to run her fastest mile in Mile 26, a blazing 6:37 to get herself a 2:59:49 finish.  She is - simply stated - an inspiring human being.

In the couple hours after the race, I was sort of cranky and physically uncomfortable.  I knew I needed to eat and drink, but didn't have much appetite.  Some salt-&-vinegar chips and oatmeal chocolate chip cookies at a sandwich chain called Potbelly's were like manna from heaven.  I started to feel better, and couldn't help but be buoyed by Meredith's beaming smile.

I tried to rest in the hotel, but ended up watching TV through Netflix on my netbook computer.  It was nice to be off my feet, at least.

For dinner, I met up with a former co-worker, Katia, who recently moved to Chicago, and we joined the RWOL 3:20 crew at Sweetwater Grill for dinner.  I put some more faces to the virtual identities, and can honestly say that I could see myself being close friends with these folks if we lived closer to one another.  We laughed a lot, ate a lot and drank a little.  I applied the $100 windfall to the bar tab, which seemed like the right thing to do, karmically speaking.

Chicago remains a bit of an untamed beast to me, but at least this time I held on for the entire ride.  And, lest I forget this not insignificant detail, the feeling that I have more better marathons in me fuels the desire to keep training and pushing.  That, and gaining some much needed perspective on what really matters in life, courtesy of Meredith.  So, at the end of the day, the Chicago 2010 Marathon Story is not about the heat, it's really about the resulting humility.

Thanks for reading.


Sunday, October 3, 2010

Here We Go Again

With one week to go before I take another crack at running a decent marathon in the wonderful city of Chicago, I can take solace that I've run a lot more than I have blogged in recent months.  Truth be told, I've started and left unfinished at least three blog entries in the past month, mostly because they seemed to lack clarity, and bordered on being whiny musings about how my running life is so unfair.  Yeah, maybe I should see how much sympathy I get from some of my refugee clients, or perhaps I'll find a shoulder to cry on the next time I bump into an amputee or wheelchair athlete at a race.  Seriously, your faithful scribe might have been lacking a modicum of perspective on where running fits in, both in terms of my own life, and the world beyond me.

While my training and racing since Boston/Big Sur has been full of ups and downs, my primary complaint is that I feel like I'm on a plateau.  After all, a roller coaster is much more exciting than one of the kiddie rides that does slow elliptical loops on a flat track, right?

Since I last wrote a race report - regarding the pleasant surprise of a 19:02 5K in early August  - I've had two more race experiences.  The first was an abominable half-marathon on Labor Day weekend, where I set out to see if I could hold 6:40 pace, learned after about 4.5 miles that I could not, went into a dark mental place, and ran an embarrassing 1:34+.  The second was the always-fun Reach the Beach Relay, where I ran about 22 miles in three legs at an average pace of 7:06/mile, including 1500 feet of elevation gain.  The hips did not particularly relish the uphill segments at race pace, but it was nonetheless an unqualified success (which carried clear training benefits).  Apart from those two races, I've had good runs and bad runs, workouts I've nailed, and those on which I've bailed (I'd go on, but the temptation to channel the late Johnnie Cochran is just too great).

My coach likes to use the word "sinusoidal" to describe these ups and downs.  I had always viewed marathon training as a slow build which culminates in standing at a metaphorical cliff, looking down and then taking a few steps back for the 2-3 week taper which all distance runners seem to abhor. Since it hasn't felt that way this time around, I've turned to numbers for consolation that a new PR awaits me in Chicago.  Even including the week I took off from running after the VT-100, since July 1st I've averaged about 63 miles per week before the taper.  Since crossing the finish line in Chicago on October 12, 2008, I will have run about 4500 miles when I toe the line next week.  My "easy" run pace is faster at a lower average heart rate then it was when I qualified for Boston in May 2009.  Put simply, I'm in much better aerobic shape than I have ever been.  The great unknown is whether my hips will hold up for 26.2 miles at "marathon pace", which naturally begs the question of what that pace is (or should be).

So, unlike prior to Boston, when I held my goal close to the vest, I'll proclaim the following: I will settle into a 7:10/mile pace as soon as I can at Chicago, with the goal of breaking 3:10.  When I went through the customary process of agonizing about what the appropriate goal should be, basically torn between going for an aggressive PR or simply cautiously pacing towards a modest one, my coach helped me with the following sage advice, sent in response to my question about tempering optimism with realism when it comes to setting a goal time:
Tempering optimism is never useful while modifying expectations is sometimes necessary, so you're looking at two different beasts. The problem here isn't your fitness being an unknown quantity, at least in regard to the broad range it needs to fall in for you to run "only" 3:10. The problem is not knowing if your body is going to cooperate that day. I don't see you going there and struggling to a 3:XX finish of any sort. I see you pacing off a nice 3:08ish marathon with "minimal" true difficulty or being knocked out of the box altogether with the hip thing. There's still enough time to determine whether it's more likely than not that the hips will acquiesce and this weekend [meaning Reach the Beach] will be a real test--one that, if "passed," will tip things very heavily in favor of being able to head to Chicago with relatively few concerns.

So yes--think about the race as if you were healthy and looking to run a PR and that's it. You have no control over what the hips offer or don't on race day and it's not in your head. You don't need the usual psych pep talk to talk you out of self-doubt; you know the score and just need a favorable day. SO even if you consider yourself neurotic at baseline, this is really a separate issue.
If he'd done nothing more than offer me that missive at a critical training juncture, the money I've paid would have been well-spent.  It is thus in that spirit that I proceed to Chicago, secure that 7:10/mile (aka, a 3:08:xx marathon) is not at all unreasonable, and the hips will either allow it or not.

So, with a goal in place, I've tried not to get too obsessed with the usual race-related details: shoes, apparel, nutrition, weather, travel issues, weekend plans, etc.  I've had mixed success with that. ;-)

With 4 very busy days between now and my 6:00 am Friday flight to Chicago, I am looking forward to a highly memorable race weekend, involving time with very good friends (old and new) and a slightly-more-than-3-hour jaunt through the streets of one of the world's great cities.

Thanks for reading. -ESG/Ron

Monday, August 16, 2010

Back on Track?

Last week, I ran my 4th or 5th Cigna 5K in Manchester, NH.  I had to skip the race last year because we were on vacation, and - after my so-so Beach to Beacon effort - I did not have particularly high expectations for this year's event (though I did expect to improve on my 20:3x course PR).

Cigna is definitely an "event" race in New Hampshire.  It's the state's largest road race.  The prize money - including time and CR bonuses - draws a deep field, including stateside Kenyans who come year-after-year in order to put a few dollars in their pocket as they do a summer road-racing tour.

The overall strength of the field means little to me, as I simply wanted to run a decent race, with no real notion of what that might mean at this point in my training.  And so it was that I approached last Thursday's race with no real plan or expectations.

I'd had a miserably tough 8-mile run on Tuesday, feeling every one of the 31 miles I'd run the prior weekend.  Wednesday's 5-miler with a couple of pickups felt marginally better.

On Thursday, I got to the Y early and met up with my friend Steve.  We set out for an easy warm-up along most of the course, before changing into our racing shoes and setting out on our own for some strides and final warm-up.  I timed my final stretch so that I'd finish about 10 minutes before the gun went off, forcing me to work my way through the assembled masses in order to find a spot a few rows behind the fastest runners.  I saw some friends, chatted about goals (i.e., made my excuses) and waited for the gun (fired with no warning, a racing-related pet peeve).

I tried to settle into pace to hit the first mile split in about 6:10, with the idea that I'd see how my legs felt and adjust accordingly.  Early in the race, I saw a former colleague (an accomplished lifelong endurance athlete) turn and say, "Do NOT let me beat you!"  I told him to stay out of my head, and focused on running my race.  I was feeling pretty good before the one-mile mark, and my split was 6:12.  A good start.

Not long after the mile mark, the race takes a hard left turn.  I took a swig of water at the aid station, which helps alleviate the awful cottonmouth I get in every 5K, likely the result of the adrenaline burst when I take off at the start.  While Mile 1 is a slight uphill, Mile 2 gives the climb back with a couple of gentle downhill sections.  I tried to take advantage of them by quickening my turnover, and I found myself moving up through field.  Second mile split was 6:04.

Somewhere in the second mile, my watch got wet, and the screen toggled itself to the Heart Rate screen.  I could only see the display showing my HR at 177-180, and decided to let it be rather than fiddle with it to get it back to the usual display of elapsed time/distance/lap pace.  One young guy yelled from behind me, "Sir, time?"  I shrugged my shoulders and he offered a sarcastic "Thanks."  I explained the HR screen and sped up. 

My former colleague remained just ahead and to my right, and thought about when and how to make a move on him.  I knew if he noticed me, he'd respond, so I tried to stay tucked in with other runners, but the little group's pace did not pick up quickly enough for my purposes.  I tried to surge, but didn't seem to gain any measurable ground.  I passed a very fit-looking woman, and tried to encourage her to push harder.  She appeared to be running out of steam.  At this point, my only focus was to keep the old guy in sight and try to make a move close to the finish.

The race takes a hard left with about 0.25-mile to go, up a short, steep hill (which I've dubbed "Mount Vomit" thanks to 2 consecutive years of seeing evidence of such on the side of the road there), where the 3-mile mark awaits just past the top, with a straight shot to the finish.  I made the left turn, started cranking the legs for all I was worth, and passed a few people on the hill.  The former colleague - always a strong climber - stayed the same distance ahead.  I saw the clock at Mile 3 reading 18:3x (not knowing exactly how far back I'd started in terms of my chip time) and for the first time realized that I might break 19 minutes for the second time in my running life.  I pushed it and saw the finish clock turn past 19:00, still unaware of the net difference in my time. 

I crossed the line, stopped my watch and worked my way to the finish area.  My watch read 19:03, with a final mile of 6:08 and a 5:07 (!) pace for the final 0.1+-mile.  Official time was actually 19:02, and though I bemoaned the lousy 3 seconds I needed to get an 18:xx time, I could not complain about a surprisingly fast finish, 90-second course PR and a sign that I may be back on track in terms of training and racing.

For his part, the older colleague ran 18:58.  My friend Steve hung in for his first post-collegiate sub-17:00, clocking a 16:54 and finishing in the Top 50 of this very competitive race.

At this point, I'm looking to get the weekly mileage back up into the 70's (after hovering around 60 for the past few weeks), with a focus on LT/tempo runs.  We'll see how this all plays out when it matters, on 10/10/10 in my third stab at the Chicago Marathon.

Thanks for reading. -ESG/Ron

Monday, August 9, 2010

That Wasn't Such a Beach, After All

As befits the duality of time, last year's Beach to Beacon disappointment seems simultaneously recent yet long ago.  The feeling of knowing that the 2009 race failed to reflect my own perceived fitness and progress as a runner was probably the most significant low in an otherwise very positive running year.  Coming into B2B 2010, my personal running landscape looked very different.

2009 was a breakout year for me, with the coveted BQ in May preceding PRs at every distance.  The 1:30 half-marathon fell in October.  The 19:00 5K fell in December.  I did another fundraiser and paced a marathon group along the way.

2010 has turned out quite differently so far, starting with what seemed like a stellar training cycle (72+ mpw for 13 weeks pre-Boston) yielding an unexpectedly poor Boston performance and my first non-PR marathon since taking up the pursuit in 2007. Then came the fun which was Big Sur, along with pacing at Burlington and a couple of underwhelming 5Ks thrown in for good measure.  The undisputed highlight of the year was the Vermont 100 pacing experience, but my own racing has been lackluster at best.

Fast forward to goal-setting for this year's B2B.  Despite maintaining decent base mileage, I have run precious little "quality" (aka, speed work) since I started tapering for Boston in early April.  So, even after what seemed like an encouraging recent uptick in my ability to log some faster running (fueled by a decent track session - 6 x 800m at about an average pace of 6:20/mile - last Tuesday), I scaled back my realistic goals for what has turned out to be my only annual 10K.  So, the goals for the day became to break 41:00 or, at the very least, get a new PR for the 10K distance.

The pre-race preparations were the polar opposite of last year.  The family and I arrived in Portland early Friday evening, staying with wonderful friends who live just a few miles from Cape Elizabeth.  I picked up my bib and shirt, had a wonderful meal and got to bed at a reasonable hour.  I left the house at 6:20 am on Saturday, and still had to negotiate traffic, an elevated drawbridge, race-related logistics and a couple of wrong turns.  Yet, I found the parking area I wanted and met my friend Joe to do a couple of warm-up miles.  The bathroom lines moved quickly, and I found myself lining up between the 6:00 and 7:00 pace signs.

At 8:10 am, we were off and running.  My running coach Kevin calls B2B a "sinusoidal" course, and in terms of my splits year-after-year, it appears that he's right.  I started the initial downhill stretch fast, too fast really, and dialed it back.  By the half-mile mark, though, I knew that holding a sub-6:30 pace was simply not going to work on this day, so I switched from focusing on time/pace to focusing on effort.  It was an uncharacteristically smart and disciplined move on my part, and paid off.  The splits looked like this:
  1. 6:38
  2. 6:56
  3. 6:33
  4. 6:50
  5. 6:33
  6. 6:48 + 1:13 for final 0.2+
Final chip time = 41:33, for exactly a 30-second improvement from last year.  Given the state of my hips these days, it was probably about as good a race as I could have run, given the rolling course which requires regular "gear shifting".  My friend Joe deserves a hearty congratulations for 1+-minute PR, coming in at 39:54 and getting the 40-minute monkey off his back.  He's a bona fide threat to break 3 hours at his fall marathon.

The best part of this year's race was that our wonderful hostess - a Cape Elizabeth native - brought my family to the race, and I heard my son screaming as we turned into Fort Williams, with about 0.4 miles (and one final hill) to go.  I gave him a fist pump and my wife snapped this photo (my daughter took a better one, but we can't seem to get it off her camera):

I'm actually wearing the brand new Endurasoak singlet, as provided by my friends and business associates Amy & Bryan Lane.  Also, I wore the Mizuno Wave Mushas with my orthotics, but ended up with blisters on both arches, making the post-race cool-down not very fun.

After the race, Joe and I ran a couple of easy miles, looked for my family, and then ran most of the course in reverse back to the start area parking.  It was a gorgeous summer day, with a new PR, a total of about 15 miles, family time and the company of a good guy and runner.  Can't ask for much more than that.

I added 16 easy miles on Sunday, and feel like I may be back on track in terms of my marathon training for Chicago, though the time goal will be scaled back from 3 hours to 3:10.  The next few weeks will determine how realistic that goal turns out to be.

Thanks, as always, for reading.

Cheers, ESG/Ron

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Witness to History: Vermont-100 Pacer's Report

As some of my running friends know, I have done two unsanctioned "ultra" runs (meaning anything longer than the marathon distance), both of which were private events designed to raise money for different causes.  I've also been an official "goal time" pacer at two road marathons.  With that background, and seeming to have spent more and more time with ultramarathoners recently, I decided to volunteer to be a pacer at this year's Vermont 100 Endurance Run.

"Pacer Central", or Be Careful What You Ask For

One becomes a pacer in one of two ways: either by arranging to pace a friend/acquaintance, or by volunteering with the race's Pacer Coordinator.  In my case, I offered to pace my friend Nate, who declined for reasons of which I'm still suspicious, but who ended up spraining his ankle and not running the VT-100 this year.  Knowing no other registered runners, I sent the Pacer Coordinator (a great guy named John) a message, providing a brief "running resume" and awaiting an assignment.

The response from John was interesting:
I have a guy who wants to run the race in the 16-17 hr range and wants a pacer, and I have runners who are much slower. Let me know if you want a steady run 9-10 min miles with the 16 hr guy (he wants to be pushed but you will still walk the hills probably), or do you want a more leisurely approach? I have people who will end up walking the last 30 miles also. Let me know what works for you and I will pair you up with a runner.
Bear in mind that last year's winning time was 16 hours and 30 minutes.  I consulted my ultrarunner friends about whether I'd be able to handle 30 miles at that pace on some pretty rugged/hilly terrain.  I also checked in with my coach about it.  The choice was between a hard effort with someone looking to be very competitive, or what would turn into a long hike, mostly at night, on dirt roads and woods' trails.

So, with more than a bit of trepidation, I signed up to pace the faster runner.  Little did I know that this "guy" would actually turn out to be Kami Semick, a two-time world champion ultrarunner based in Oregon, sponsored The North Face endurance athlete and 2009 Ultrarunning Magazine Runner of the Year.  While not a "guy", there seem to be few, if any, tougher ultrarunning competitors anywhere in the world.

Kami and I connected via e-mail, and spoke on the phone.  After a crystal-clear accounting of the mediocrity of my running ability, I included the following summary:
So, if you're not feeling particularly choosy about your pacer's experience, course knowledge or even about whether he/she would be the kind of person you'd like to spend those last 5 or so hours with, I'm your guy.
From the start, Kami seemed extremely nice and personable, very encouraging and confident about my ability to do the job.  She sent me a box with a bunch of excellent The North Face gear.  As for my friends who know anything about competitive ultrarunning, they reacted with incredulity, saying things like, "I can't believe Kami chose you as a her pacer,"  or in the case of my friend Joe, simply "OMG!"  I replied that she didn't exactly "choose" me; she got stuck with me based on an apparently very short list of candidates.  Some of my friends seemed to making friendly wagers on when exactly she would drop me during those final 30 miles (I said not before 25; they posited 20 tops).  Given the unknown territory into which I was about to venture, coupled with the irritating hip problems I've been experiencing recently, I was legitimately concerned about coming through for Kami when she needed me.

As race date neared, though, I got nervous, but also realized that I would either be able to keep up with Kami, or I wouldn't.  The history of ultramarathons, especially 100-milers, is peppered with stories of pacers being left behind.  It means the runner is having a great race.  There'd be no shame in that.  Or so I told myself.

It All Starts at 10 Bears

Given the logistics of putting on a 100-mile footrace and potential for confusion, each aid station in Vermont gets a name in addition to a mileage mark designation.  Mile 70 brings runners into an aid station called Camp 10 Bears, and requires a medical check, consisting of a weigh-in and quick visual observation of each runner.

Kami's projection would get her to 10 Bears at about 3:20 p.m. on Saturday, meaning she would have been running for 11 hours and 20 minutes at that point.  Having gotten to Silver Meadow (aka, Race Central/HQ) at about 12:15, I set up camp and found Nate, who'd nobly decided to volunteer in light of his injured ankle.  I got my running gear on and drank and drank Gatorade and water, given that the sun was beating down, with temps in the high 80's.  I was a sweaty mess simply from the tent set-up.

Nate drove my car and we arrived at 10 Bears at about 1:30 p.m., looking to get a sense of the scene and to be ready in case Kami was ahead of schedule.  10 Bears also serves as a checkpoint at Mile 47 of the race, and there were many runners coming through at that point.  It was difficult to contemplate that they were not yet halfway done.

I found John the Pacer Coordinator, and he scared me right off the bat by uttering 5 simple words: "Kami's killin' it out there!"  I gulped and gave him a look, and he clapped me on the shoulder.  Nate and his friend Jeff helped me relax with encouraging psych-up talk.  I watched the 47-milers come through, many of them looking haggard, hurting, covered in sweat, dirt and - in at least a couple of cases - blood.  I watched people collapse on Red Cross cots.  I saw people protest as they were pulled from the race, or were forced to drop out.  This one little spot in the middle of rural Vermont was now a simmering cauldron of human drame and emotion.

After feeling like we were cutting it close, I found Kami's husband (and sole crew member) Tyson, made our introductions and gave him some of my gear for later.  Then, I waited.

The male leader - and eventual winner - came barreling down the dirt road into 10 Bears, waving his handheld water bottles and yelling, "FILL THESE WITH ICE! NOW!!!"  He jumped on the scale and was off in a flash.  After what seemed like a long gap, four more runners - all male - came through 10 Bears.  They were clustered much more closely together.

Very soon after seeing the fifth man come through, all the waiting and anticipation ended.  Wearing a bright blue and white The North Face top, tanned and sculpted beyond belief, Kami came into 10 Bears, looking strong and determined.  I introduced myself to her just before she weighed in, gave Tyson some specific instructions regarding hydration and nutrition and made an in-shoe adjustment relating to some kinesio-tape that was bothering her arch (the vestige of a twisted ankle from a couple of weeks back).

In what seemed like a flash, we were off.

Chasing a Record

Kami came to the Vermont 100 with a simple, yet formidable, mission: break the women's course record of 16:52.  It thus became my job to help her do it.  When she arrived at 10 Bears, she was about 20 minutes ahead of her own projections, based upon a goal finish time of 16:30 (aka, 9:54/mile for 100 miles).

Miles 71-80

The start out of 10 Bears involves a short stretch of runnable dirt road, followed by a long uphill trail in the woods and on lovely old country/carriage roads.  I let Kami set the pace, and we chatted for a bit, just getting to know each other.  She told me that she "was really looking forward to picking you up."  I told her that I do not hear that from women very often, which provoked one of the few mid-race smiles I'd see on this day.

Quickly, I noticed that Kami would walk anything too steep, then would walk/run smaller hills, breaking them up into manageable segments.  I made mental notes of her approach all the while.

Several miles into our time together, we came upon the fifth place runner, who had clearly hit a tough patch.  We greeted Chris, Kami asked him if he wanted to run with us, and he joined us for a brief stint, before falling back again.  As he faded, I asked Kami if I should go back and check on him.  She said that'd be fine as long as I could catch back up to her quickly.  So, I ran a few hundred yards back (downhill on the trail), checked in with Chris, who thanked me warmly and said he'd be fine (though he was hurting, he still finished in the Top 10).  Then I ran pretty hard back up the trail to catch Kami, the first of many times I would end up doing that.

At about Mile 75, there was a small aid station.  I learned that describing an aid station in this part of the world as being in front of a farm with a large barn, horses and a pickup truck, was like telling people when I lived in Atlanta to turn at the intersection with the Waffle House and the Baptist Church.  It just wasn't specific enough to be helpful.  This was the first and only time I would need to relieve myself on the course, and I very nearly ended my ultra pacing debut by electrocuting myself on the farm's fence.  I realized my near-catastrophic error just in time.  Catching back up to Kami - who was robotically efficient at every aid station - I shared the story, and she asked me whether that really happens.  I made it clear that I was not inclined to test the theory.

Also, somewhere before the red, white and blue decorated aid station called West Winds/Spirit of 76, I committed a huge pacer faux pas, misconstruing a course marker.  Fortunately, Kami caught it in time, and we stayed on course.  I felt badly about making such a dumb mistake, but it all evened out a couple of miles later, when I told Kami to take a hard right, and she went out to the road instead of keeping to the trail just before the road.  It worked out fine, and we were back in karmic balance.

We breezed through West Winds, where we saw Tyson. Kami did her thing, getting a new bottle, taking in nutrition and getting more ice to keep cool.  Though it was now late afternoon, the air was still warm and muggy, and sweat poured off of us both in buckets.

The next few miles were relatively uneventful, and Kami asked me to let her know when we hit Mile 80. Our overall pace for the first 10 of the last 30 miles was pretty slow, averaging about 12:00 per mile.  that pace would not cut it in terms of the course record, so I knew we'd need to pick it up.  The key became to take advantage of any and all runnable sections, and I fell in tune with Kami in that regard.

Miles 81-90

This is where we got down to business.   While her outward countenance did not change much, Kami became less chatty. It was clear that the day's effort, the heat, the sheer enormity of the undertaking, were all starting to catch up with her.  I asked her how things "felt", physically and otherwise.   She said, "If you don't talk about it, it's not real."  I got the hint and stopped asking.

Now, I want to be clear that my trepidation about pacing Kami was not fueled in any way by false modesty.  I was genuinely concerned about whether I would be able to stay on my feet - mostly running and remaining coherent - for what I expected to be about 5 hours.  Somewhere around the 3-hour mark of my joining the fun, I started to feel tired.  Trouble was, we still had about 14 miles to go at that point.

In about Mile 84, we passed another runner, a guy named Mike who's known as The Fuitarian.  He was seemingly incredulous that he was starting to fade, with an ambitious sub-16:00 goal in what would be his first completed 100-miler (he'd dropped out of Western States, I believe, just a few weeks earlier). He ended up finishing 5th, but expressed his disappointment to me the next morning.

After passing the Fruit Guy, we ran by a house with a long driveway and two barking dogs.  I was about 20 yards ahead of Kami, and noticed the dogs come running down the driveway.  I figured they were contained by an electric fence, and that they'd stop at the property line.  Right after I passed the end of the driveway, I  heard a nervous, "Uh . . . Ron!" from behind me, only to see a German Shepherd barking pretty intimidatingly at Kami, with a Black Lab barking a little less menacingly.  I turned around, ran towards them, and screamed, "No! Go!", with an exaggerated arm gesture.  The dogs stopped barking and Kami started running.  Finally, I was useful.

Kami was fighting a out of nausea, but Mile 88.6 brought us to Bill's, where the aid station is literally in Bill's barn.  Kami had her last weigh-in here, she ate some ginger (and I had some, too) and I ditched my shirt and heart rate monitor with my friend Nate, as I was soaked and couldn't stand the weight, not to mention the smell, any longer.  Again, I caught up with Kami and we were off.

At this point, there was no idle chatter.  Zero.  I figured out how to keep walking graciously each time she needed to pee (a very good sign that late in a hot race).  Somewhere around Mile 85, Kami had told me to keep in front of her, and that's where I stayed.  She asked me to let her know when we hit Mile 90.  We covered Miles 81-90 about 12 minutes faster than we had the previous 10 miles.  Though the end was in sight, getting the course record (and finishing before dark) was far from a sure thing. 

Miles 91-Finish

It's not easy to describe the experience of the final 10 miles of 100-mile race.  Presumably, many reasons lead people to push themselves to the horizons of their perceived limits, not knowing - like Columbus - whether they'll fall off the edge or just keep sailing until they discover unexplored territories.  One rarely sees a human being - at least in our more technological and "comfortized" world - stripped so bare, where life is about basic needs and the simple premise of continuing to move forward, towards a clearly defined, but ever-elusive goal.

Well, the last 10 miles were not easy for me, and I can only imagine how Kami must have felt.  The most amazing thing was how she continued to approach everything the same way.  Walk the uphills hard, push on the flats and downhills; fly through the aid stations.  Still, I could sense her growing fatigue, as I heard her shuffling feet start to kick rocks and sticks along the roads and trails.  I reminded her to be careful in the woods, which weren't especially technical, but with the light starting to fade, and 90+ miles in her legs, any single step could easily betray her.

We/I had one momentary panic at about Mile 91, where there was a left-right turn that was unmarked.  I ran ahead, looked around and sad, "There are no arrows! What the . . .?"  Kami calmly told me to look around to the right (uphill, of course), and there was the sight we sought: a yellow pie plate with a "C" written in marker, aka, a "confidence" plate.  It was the only apparent marking lapse in my 30 miles on the course.

With that mini-drama behind us, we soon caught the third-place runner, who simply acknowledged - with surprisingly little bitterness - that he was out of steam.  The irony - as I learned later - was that his pacer's last name was "Walker".  That just couldn't be a good sign.  He ended up finishing 25 minutes behind Kami.

We hit a small aid station at around Mile 92, and then trudged along to the last "major" aid station, Polly's at Mile 95+.  There, we had a mix-up relating to our headlamps, but in another example of the cooperative spirit of the sport, another runner's crew gave Kami his headlamp, while I waited for Tyson to get mine from the car.  I traded my sunglasses for a headlamp and a flashlight, and had to pick up the pace substantially to catch back up to Kami.    According  to my watch, I ran about 7:00 flat pace to catch back up.  I took it as a good sign that Kami was moving so well at that point.

Shortly after I caught back up to her, I felt myself fading.  I had pain in my outer left foot, my hips were reaching their limit, and I envied the guys drinking beers and playing horseshoes more than words could say.  Still, when - referring to the course record - Kami said, "It's going to be close," I told her to relax, stay steady and that the terrain would decide whether she'd get the record.  We were going to run everything we could, controlling only what we could control.  She asked for updates at each mile.  I gave them to her.

We ran through a huge field, on the road, in the woods, up and down.  At about mile 97.5, we passed the guy who was hanging glo-sticks on trees in the woods in order to guide the runners and riders who would be navigating those sections in the dark.  I turned on my lights and tried to warn Kami about any rocks, roots or fallen trees.

At about Mile 98, we entered a small clearing and saw a magical sunset, riven with fiery pinks, purples and oranges.  It was astonishing enough that when I pointed it out, Kami managed a "Pretty."  Later that mile, as we went back into the woods, I saw a huge porcupine on the trail.  I slowed down, warned Kami, and waited for the creature to give us some room.  I waved Kami on, just as the bugger was coming back towards us, but we ran and did not look back.

We reached the "One Mile to Go" sign, and I almost cried with joy.  However, we couldn't go on auto-pilot just yet.  The sun was rapidly descending, and the glow of the Silver Meadow race HQ/finish line area was visible, but the course takes a final loop around the area, which often accounts for runners getting lost with less than a mile to go, requiring that they retrace their steps and get back on the course so as to finish "officially".  One pacer told me later that his runner finished in 24:03 after losing 5 minutes to getting lost in this area.  Fortunately, we did not veer off course.

With a quarter-mile to go, I pointed to Kami to run ahead of me.  She said that I should run in next to her, so I fell in beside her, but slowed as I saw the finish line.  Kami crossed a few steps before I did, and I came up next to her and made a grand bowing gesture, of the "I'm-Not-Worthy" variety.  It was not theater; simply stated, I'm not.

Her final time: 16 hours, 42 minutes and 32 seconds, a new women's course record by 10 minutes, and an astonishing feat on a hot July day.  The race had one of its lowest sub-30-hour finishing rates, with only 55% of the registered runners making it in time.

Post-Finish Reflections and Recollections

After the finish, I saw Nate, who offered warm congratulations.  I was tired, and my foot and hips were screaming at me.  I felt dehydrated and almost completely spent.  Had the race been much longer, I suspect that Kami would likely have dropped me, as some friends and other runners figured she would do considerably earlier than that.

For her part, Kami was gracious as she was whisked away for photos and interviews.  She forced some smiles (unlike me; see photo) and handled the mini-flurry of attention like the seasoned professional which she is.  I sat on the ground wondering why and how anyone could actually pull of such an amazing feat of endurance.  Days later, I'm still pondering that.

A few minutes after finishing, the collective attention of those gathered in the area turned towards the unmistakable sounds of a runner heaving.  Perhaps inevitably, it set Kami off, who had her own such episode in rapid succession.  After that, she, Tyson and I chatted for a bit, but she made it clear that she needed to get out of there, returning to their hotel so that she could shower and at least try to get some rest.

I gave Kami a package of Endurasoak to aid her recovery, and we agreed to see each other at the brunch and awards ceremony the next morning.

After lingering around for a bit, I got some food, which had almost miraculous restorative effects, chatted with other runners, pacers, volunteers, crew, spectators, etc.  Everyone seemed to have an interesting story to tell, and of course almost everyone was rapt to hear about Kami's course record.

Shuffling back to my tent in the dark, dodging horse droppings all the while, I managed to towel off and change into dry clothes.  I found my cooler with a few very good cold beers, which I ended up sharing with various random folks.  I returned to the finish line area to watch others come in, though from 9-11 pm or so, more horses than runners arrived.  I then made my way to my tent for the final time that night, and tried to get some sleep.  My hip flexors would seized up each time I rolled over in a certain way, and the winds picked up intensely as a thunderstorm system passed through the area.  It was not the most restful night.

I got up at around 7:00 and returned to the finish area to watch more people finish.  I just clapped and whistled for each one, truly amazed and humbled by the accomplishment, whether it took them 16 or nearly 30 hours to cover the distance.

In terms of my own feelings about participating full-bore in such an epic test, I think that I know two things for sure: (1) I will almost certainly run my first official ultra-marathon next year, and (2) It will NOT be a 100-miler.  Of course, I did inexplicably subscribe to Ultrarunner magazine within 24 hours of finishing, so maybe I'm already incurably infected with the ultra bug.  Stay tuned.

Thanks for reading. -ESG