Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Winter Plans

The soreness is gone and now the Philadelphia marathon is nothing but a pleasant memory for me (though, looking at the proofs doesn't evoke a pleasant memory). Having a week to think about it, I am happy with what I did and the time I did it in. I had a great time training with friends during the summer and fall and having Steve come down here for the race. Those good times are the things I'll remember most.

So what are my winter plans? I am starting to think of bringing my gym membership home with me. I currently belong to a gym but mainly use it for racquetball and swimming. Occasionally, I will use the treadmill, especially in February when I have set a goal for a half-marathon and the snow is just too deep to get a good, long run in. I hardly use the weights though I know I need to do some weight training.

Why don't I go to the gym more often? My commute is my biggest time-eater and, in truth, it's hard to go out again when you get home (and, no, I can't stop on the way home, either). So, I have a plan to try to get more toned (stop laughing, no, stop laughing, now!). Of course, every year I have the same type of plan but I think it will be different this time around. My wife and I are seriously thinking of investing in a treadmill. And, that's the way we think about it. It is an investment in ourselves. Granted, that may be a way to justify it but our biggest fear is that we buy something that becomes an expensive clothes hanger. But, we both like to run so it's a small leap of faith that we will use it in the coming years.

I'm also looking into barbells. Not full bench press kind of stuff. Just enough to build my arms a bit. I've read on many occasions the need to build your arms and mid-section in order to sustain form on long runs. I'm not going after the Governor Arnold look and, really, I'm not going for any kind of look. I just think it's going to be more important to maintain my strength through the upcoming years.

Now comes the part I'm kind of embarrassed to talk about it. I am seriously looking at the (and, I think it's called this) the Ab-Lounge. I have lower back problems and this device looks like it could help in stretching me out. It also looks it would help me do crunches more comfortably. I'm not big on things advertised on TV or on the shopping channels. But, I have seen and tried it out in sporting good stores. If anyone has ever tried it before and has stories, good or bad, let me know.

There is an underlying reason to all of this. Steve and I have mutual friends that possibly can get me into the Boston marathon. How? Sponsors have a certain amount of exemptions handed to them to get people they know in the marathon without having to qualify (that's how Michelle Wie gets into men's golf tournaments). I have enough confidence now in my marathon training that I feel I run Boston without embarassing myself too much. There is no guarantee that it will happen. And, I would only ask this favor once. I know there will be some people who will say I don't deserve to get in. That's true. But, if you were in the same position as me, wouldn't you?

If anything, it will keep me motivated for the winter. I probably won't know until early next year. But, I find having a carrot dangling in front of me is the best way to keep my competitive juices flowing.

Note: To listen to Steve's take on the Philadelphia marathon, go to his website http://www.steverunner.com/.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Focusing on the Balloon (Phila Marathon report)

No, it's not a German soldier surrendering at the Battle of the Bulge it's me between mile 25-26. (thanks Kevin Madden)
I hurt myself today
To see if I still feel
I focus on the pain
The only thing that's real
--Nine Inch Nails
Since I was a kid, I would always be nervous about the anticipation of an event. Not just nervous. I mean, pain in the stomach, puking my guts out type of nervous. After Steve and I got our race pack on Saturday at Temple University, we decided to drive around the marathon course. It was pretty easy to follow as it looked like someone drove their car in wet blue paint and followed the course leaving blue tire marks along the way.
As we made our way around the course, it occured to me that we are going to be running from the Delaware River over to the Manayunk section of the city. I mean, that's far. That's really far. The last half of the race was down Kelly Drive to Manayunk and then back again. Many times I've run this section as part of the Philadelphia Distance Run. And, now, Saturday night, I that's all I was thinking as I tried to sleep that night.
I've run marathons before but this time I knew the course well. I got up at 3:45a after just cat napping all night. I had my blueberry pancakes. Steve had his fajita chicken. We left the house around 4:45a and got down to Center City about an hour later.
The forecast was for snow showers and rain for most of the morning. I went back and forth trying to figure out what would be most comfortable to wear. Steve suggested wearing long pants as it was a bit windy and definitely cold. I went with a short sleeve shirt and my Tyvek jacket. No, I changed my mind. I'll go with the long sleeve shirt. And, my hat. Can't forget my hat as I don't want to be too miserable if it rains.
In previous marathons, one of my biggest problems, at the start of the race, is the number of visits to the port-a-john at the start of the race. I stopped drinking fluids on the way down. When we got to the Art Museum area, Steve and I got in line for the bathroom, went, and got back in line again. I felt like I wouldn't have this problem again for the race.
We said our good-byes and good lucks as we went our separate ways looking for our pace groups. I ran with Mike, who was the leader of the 5:00 pace group. Nice guy. Very vocal. Great cheerleader. Mike would run with a stick in his hand with balloons tied to them, with the words '5:00 pace group' written on them. My strategy was to just follow the balloons. I was not going to try to outrun the balloons. I was just going to focus on the balloons.
In line, Kelly, from my Wednesday night running group, found me and started the race with me. I was grateful to talk with someone at the beginning and thought, this is just another Sunday long run. The gun went off. We were heading out.
Kelly and I talked for the first 5 minutes of the race. But, I was doing Galloway, so after the 5 minutes, it was time for me to walk. So, I wished Kelly good luck and started to walk. And, the balloons kept on getting further away. I was getting nervous. But, I had to stick with my strategy. I was just going to have to catch up with the balloons after my walk break.
On a steady pace, I did catch up. And, everytime I stopped and walked, I would see the balloons again go off into the distance. After awhile, I finally got the confidence that I could run the race this way and stuck with my strategy.
I drank from the first water stop. And, yes, I had to stop afterwards to get 'rid' of it. So, I hurried and did what I had to do and caught up with the balloons again. The second water stop, the same thing. But, this was going up South Street. And, there was no place to go. I started to cramp up really bad to the point where I almost stopped running. This was only three miles into the race but I had to go. I dashed into a local restaurant where the patrons were having their breakfast watching the race. I asked where the bathrooms were. I was told upstairs. So, I headed up and felt relief right away.
Back on the course, I knew I was far behind the balloons but I couldn't sprint to find them. I had 23 miles to go. I would catch up. (I also told myself not to drink at the next water stops until I got thirsty.)
Finally, I did catch up with my pace group and I was starting to get into a rhythm. At this point, it was about 7 miles into the race as the course lead through Drexel University, University of Pennsylvania, past Philadelphia Zoo, Memorial Hall and through the Belmont Plateau of the Fairmont Park. At about mile 10, I started getting a massive headache. Now what? Was I dehydrating now? I took off my hat for awhile and notice it went away. It was cold so put my hat back on. And, started getting the headache again. So, for the rest of the race, I literally held my hat in my hand.
The first part of the race had half-marathoners and marathoners running together. We headed to the Art Museum for the half-marathoners to finish. As we enter Eakins Oval, there were signs leading to the halfers finish and for the marathoners to continue. It was a bit cruel to watch people to finish when I knew I was only halfway done. I was still with Mike and the 5 hour crowd. I crossed the halfway point at 2:25. I was going to break 5:00 hours.
For the next 7 miles down Kelly Drive, I kept up the pace. Since this part was an out and back, I had a chance to cheer Steve on as we was shooting for a sub-4:00 marathon. I went into Manayunk and declined the offer of a beer from the crowd (though tempted). I got to mile 20, ran the turnaround and that's when it started to fall apart.
First, it was mental. I knew what was ahead. And, I DIDN'T want to run back. I hit mile 21 at almost exactly 4 hours. Five miles in an hour. I can still do it! But, my walkbreaks were getting longer. And, the pace group was getting further in the distance. This time, I wasn't catching up to them.
The physical breakdown started at mile 23. My hips were hurting through most of the second half of the race. My groin area started to cramp up along with the side of my knees. At this point, walking was more painful than running. So, I shuffled along. I saw Kevin and Ed on their bikes and they started cheering me on. My legs, back, hips were in so much pain. But, I was so close.
There is something about crowds at the end of a race that is inspirational. You don't know them, they don't know you but they cheer you on anyway. And, something inside of you, doesn't want to disappoint them. I ran, shuffled, drug myself the last mile. Going into Eakins Oval, once again, I saw the finish line. When I cross it, I can stop. I crossed it with a time of 5:04:28. Yes, disappointed that I didn't break 5 hours but on a cold, windy day, I managed to set a PR.
In writing this, I have no regrets on how I trained. I do question sometimes whether it makes sense for me to enter marathons. Steve and I agreed, with many other races, you can get a way with doing some things wrong, and still have a good race. The marathon will not allow that. But, I know my limitations with this race. I don't shoot for 4:30 and be bitterly disappointed that I'm not even close. Five hours is reasonable for me. I'm almost there. I need to find what minor adjustments I need to make in order to shave off that 4:29 from my PR. And, that's the beauty of it right there. It gives me yet another goal in life that I want to achieve.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

On your marks, get set........

The panic is setting in. That person next to me is coughing. I'm sure they have the flu. I know I will be sick by the end of the week. Do I run? For how long? What if I step in a pothole and twist my ankle? What if I don't run? I know all that training will go down the drain! Can I eat that? Can I eat anything? I know if I eat that it will make me sick. What if I can't sleep? What if my alarm doesn't go off? What if I don't set the alarm? What if there is a massive power failure the night before and my alarm doesn't go off? Just like in Seinfield. It can happen. AAAGGGGHHHHH!

Yes, folks, it's the week before the marathon!

My tapering has been spotty at best but that's ok. I ran a little bit last week and will run a little bit this week. The forecast is looking pretty good so far with highs in the upper 40s/lower 50s (F). One of the things I'm doing different is hydrating more this week. In past races, I have done most of my hydrating the morning of the race. For various reasons, that wasn't the smartest approach (ok, one of the various reasons is I kept stopping at the nearest tree/port-a-john/concealed area to 'discharge' at the beginning of each race.) Now, I'm drinking more fluids during this week and, by race time, will be properly hydrated. (Though my one hour commute home is killing me!)

The plan for the weekend, for all who care, is for Steve (aka Steve Runner) to come down to my house Saturday around noonish (he has to do some miles before heading down). Once he has arrived, we will be heading down to the expo, which is at Temple University this year. I need to pick up some gels, look for RaceReady shorts, and see if they are selling any Tyvex jackets. (I saw on Steve's bulletin board thingy they might sell them at Home Depot for a lot less money. Hmmmm.)

We will probably have an early dinner and then maybe have a blueberry (or pumpkin) ale for a nightcap. Bed early as wake up call will be 4:00a.

Sunday, MARATHON DAY! Breakfast will be blueberry pancakes for me (no, I'm not dumping in the blueberry ale into the mix). Steve has told me he will be eating a chicken breast (interesting choice for a 4a meal). I hope to leave the house before 5a and be down at the Art Museum area around 6:15a-6:30a.

Both Steve and I are signing up for the pace teams--Steve for the 4 hour team and I'm running with the 5 hour team. I think I mentioned before that I did this at Disney marathon and they were spot on with their time. If Steve can hang with them, I think he will do his sub-4:00. Me? I'll do my best.

I'm hoping to meet up with people from my running group down there. We will be hanging by the fountains across from the Art Museum at the beginning of the race. It would be nice to start out with someone. Also, I found out that a friend of mine from grammar school is going to be on the look out for us as well.

At the end of the race, Steve and I are planning to meet either at the Rocky statue by the Art Museum or under the letter P at the family meeting section. We will have to see what will have easier access after the race. So, if you see a goofy looking guy with a Boston Red Sox hat hanging out at either of these two spots about 4 hours after the race, that's Steve. I'm the incoherent, falling over, gasping for air guy that shows up about an hour later.

In all seriousness, I'm feeling good about this race. Nervous? Yeah, just a bit. For all the reasons mentioned at the beginning of this blog. But, I know I can do it. I've done it before. There is a buzz at work about this race. It's my hometown race after all. And, I'm really looking forward it.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Practice? We're talking about Practice!

There is one day, on a marathon schedule that I hate. It's the two weeks before the race. It's the end of the training/beginning of the taper. It's the twenty miler. I hate the twenty miler. And, the twenty miler was yesterday.

Yesterday was a beautiful fall day in Bucks County. A little nip in the air but perfect to go for a run. But I was out there reluctant as a kid going out with mom to get new clothes for the school year.

The first 16-miler in the training schedule doesn't bother me. I get kind of excited thinking about my upcoming marathon. The 18-miler starts to play with my mind a bit, but, hey, it's only two more miles than the 16-miler. But, the twenty? Oh, the twenty! I'm out there for twenty miles (~ 4 hours) and nobody cares! (Except Kelly and Eric, my running partners yesterday). No medals, no glory, just pain! Yes, I know it's what I need to do for the marathon. I need to run this distance. I know I need to train for this distance (and, some will argue, that I didn't go far enough). But, I will admit, I don't like to train for an event, I like the event itself.

About 5 years ago, Allen Iverson, the star point guard for the Philadelphia 76ers, held a press conference after the season concluded and the Sixers were eliminated from the playoffs. The coach, Larry Brown, questioned Iverson's commitment to practice all year long. There was no denying his commitment to the game. He put his heart and soul out on the floor everytime. Iverson was asked about the coach's statements. Iverson went on a rant about not understanding (and I'm paraphrasing here) how the MVP of the league (himself) could make the team better during practice. It was only the game that matters. Not practice. 'Practice. We're talking about practice!'

As a fan, I cringed watching that news conference, as I couldn't understand how a multi-million dollar star player didn't 'get it' why he might be even better if he showed up to practice once in awhile. But, deep down, I knew what he meant. I never did like practice either.

As a kid growing up, I was a pretty good athlete. I was tall, fast, with good reflexes. I was not the star on the teams I played for but, most times, was in the starting lineup. I had some natural ability that, truthfully, I didn't have to work hard to maintain. (A collective 'Oh, brother!' is heard from my former classmates at St. John's) But, that's my point. I had the talent to be in the game but not the drive and desire to excel in the game. I still believe that, if I worked harder and put my heart and soul in practice (training), I could have been good enough to play a sport in college. Not be on scholarship. But, play college sports (even if it was riding the bench for Whatsamatta U.).

Now, running the dreaded twenty miler doesn't exactly put me up there on the list of favorites to win the Philadelphia marathon. But, it does help my confidence to reach the elusive sub-5 hour barrier (btw, long distance running would NOT have been something I would have pursued nor would have been good at in college or any other time in my life). I know I had to be out there yesterday. I know. Don't remind me. I'll be grateful in the event that I did it. I'm sure it will help me achieve my goal. Doesn't mean I have to like it. Let the tapering begin!

Notes: Absolutely heartbreaking news about the death of Ryan Shay during the U.S. Olympic men's marathon trials in NYC over this past weekend. Condolences go out to his family and friends. The long range forecast for Philadelphia marathon is rainy, cold and windy. It is two weeks away and there is a very good chance this forecast will change but.... And, surprisingly, the marathon is sold out! I say surprisingly as I remember people telling me in the past they would wait a few days before the race to sign up to check on the weather forecast.

And, please, is there a limit to how many times we have to read an article about how back-of-the-packers have ruined the marathon? http://www.salon.com/mwt/feature/2007/11/03/marathon/

ARRRGGGGHHH! Can these guys just go away? Please? Not name-dropping here but I have spoken to Bill Rodgers, Frank Shorter, and Deena Kastor and, you know what? They encouraged me. They didn't knock me down. They weren't elitist of the sport and they know what running is all about. And, frankly, I would rather listen to the Olympians than this idiot.

In closing, the Penguin's wife response to the article: