Sunday, September 21, 2008

Philadelphia Distance Run 2008 Report

My goal was to finish under 2 hours. I wanted to prove to myself that last year's race was no fluke. Because I did it once doesn't mean I could do it again. My strategy? Run the first 10 miles between 1:25-1:27. I would feel pretty confident that, whatever happens the next 3 miles, I could pull myself in doing 10 minute miles.

The forecast for the day was warm temps. But, that was more in the afternoon. During the race, it was predicted to be in the 60s. When I was driving down, the thermometer in my car was reading in the upper 40s (F) for an outside temperature. I knew I would regret it but I abandoned my singlet for a short-sleeve shirt. I also abandoned wearing a baseball cap I got from the Falmouth Road Race. It's a great cap with a sweatband built inside but, when I went to put it on, it was giving me a headache.

When I got to the Art Museum, I had planned to meet up with people who I knew. But, with 35 minutes to race time, I decided I really needed to get in the potty line as they were starting to get longer. As it turned out, good decision on my part as I had 5 minutes to spare before the start of the race. As I stood in my corral, waiting for the start, I felt as comfortable as I ever have been at a start of a race like this.

The first mile of the race takes you down the Benjamin Franklin Parkway from the Art Museum into Center City Philadelphia (the picture directly below is a shot of BFP but looking at the Art Museum. The one below that is from Corral 7 at the start of the race).

As I ran the first mile, I didn't feel well. I still had a headache, a bit of a sore throat, my legs were heavy, and I was thirsty. I was really surprised in being thirsty as I'm usually never thirsty during a race. I might be dehydrated in a race but I usually only see signs from other means (cramping, etc.) But, I keep moving.
The next 4 miles is through the urban jungle that is Center City. When you head east on Market Street, you are heading right into a rising sun that fills the street with little shade to hide in. It's at this point that I start to regret not wearing the singlet. You make a right off Market Street and you go past truly one of the treasures of this course, and that is, Independence Hall. (see picture below) People in this area take it for granted. But, I love being in this area of the city and what it represents to America.

Usually at the three mile mark, I can tell how my day is going to be. Last year, I settled in a comfortable pace. This year was different. I was struggling. I was still fighting my headache and my rhythm was off. I don't take fluids at the first water stop (my feeling is it will just make me want to go to the bathroom) but make sure I drink the Cytomax at the next stop. Still, I'm thirsty. But, I keep moving.
The route takes you up BFP again towards the Art Museum. From there, you make a left and head down Martin Luther King Drive. Mile 5 is mismarked as suddenly I'm doing 6 minute miles! (I have to say I wasn't sure at the time but talked to others after the race to confirm this). At mile 7, I'm at the 1 hour mark. My head is pounding even more. I know start telling myself, which becomes my mantra, 'As long as I keep my legs moving, good things will happen.' I think about how TV announcers will say that about running backs playing American football. As long as they keep their legs moving, they will be able to make the plays. So, I keep moving.
Between miles 8 and 9, you go across the Falls Bridge in the East Falls section of the city. From there you make a right down Kelly Drive heading back again to the Art Museum. There is a slight hill to get to the bridge and a slight hill down from the bridge. After the slight hill from the bridge is the mile 9 marker. Every year, I don't know why, my legs will cramp up here. This year being no exception. I slow down to gather myself and try to let the cramps subside. I've come to the conclusion that the headache and sore throat won't be going away anytime soon so I have to deal with it. But, something else happens. At this point of the race, I dread the last 4 miles. This year, I don't think about it. I'm taking it one step at a time. I keep on moving.
I hit the mile 10 marker at a little over 1:27. I downshift. There is no reason to push myself any harder than I have to now. If I do, there is a chance I won't reach my goal of a sub-2 hour time. I just keep moving.
Mile 12 is the last opportunity for water. It's also the toughest part of the course. Where Boathouse Row starts coming into the city is where the sun is at its strongest and the slight but longish hill brings you to the finish. I get past Boathouse Row but the hill continues. The sun is beating down on me. Now, I'm feeling faint. I start to walk but I know I have about a half mile to go to the end. Still, I keep moving.
I get to the crest. Someone in the crowd spots my shirt with my company name and yells encouragement to me. 50 yards from that, someone else from the crowd does the same. I'm energized at mile 13 with only .1 mile to go. I start to sprint to the end.
The last tenth of a mile is a U-turn that heads up towards the Art Museum steps (made famous in the Rockey movies. See the picture at the far bottom.) I notice that the gun time is ticking towards the 2 hour mark. I know its not the chip time but I think about the Doylestown race and want to give everything I have at the end. I keep moving but, this time, as fast as I could. I cross the finish line and look down at my watch. I finished at 1:56:33, a new PR by 17 seconds.
I'm not elated. I'm not anything. Except I am proud of myself. Not because of the PR. But, I achieved my goal of a sub-2 hour half. When I wasn't feeling so good. I did my best when I wasn't feeling my best. I think about my last blog entry that discussed the mind games you play in a race. And, how I didn't give up when I had every reason to do so. I think about a family member who is going through cancer treatments and not giving up. I'm glad I PRed. But, I'm glad more that I kept on moving.

(Picture directly below is the crowd of runners after the finish of the race)

(Notes: After the race, I did complete an additional 3 miles to finish up my scheduled 16 miler for my marathon training. It wasn't pretty and it was about a hour later but I did it. As far as not feeling well during the race, I think my allergies kicked in. I'm not sure why I was so thirsty, as I didn't take any medication for my allergies which can make me thirsty. The only thing I could think of was I ordered pasta from Outback takeout the night before butwound up with some rice dish. It was too late at night to take it back so I ate it figuring it was still carbs. Maybe too much salt in the dish? )

Friday, September 12, 2008

Mind Games

Note: Good luck to anyone running the Philadelphia Distance Run on Sunday. I'll be wearing an orange and white shirt (singlet, probably) with number 7808 starting in Corral 7. I'll be hanging out before and/or after the race by the fountain on the right hand side if you are looking at the Art Museum. If you happen to see me, please say hello!!!!

There is an interesting article in the October 2008 edition of Runner's World. (see link below),7120,s6-238-244--12848-0,00.html

The article talks about the 'science of pacing'. and the fact that, you can train your legs and respitory system, but, with apologies to Bruce Springsteen, 'it's not your lungs this time, it's your heart that holds your fate'.

As I say in the 'About Me' section of this blog, I was a sprinter growing up. 100 and 220 yards. Everything beyond that, was long distance. You gave everything you got in those races. You don't have time to internally check 'how you feel'. You did that after it was over and you were gasping for breath. You didn't have time to think, just do.

Then, in high school, they threw me in a 440. I didn't know how to run it so went out as fast as I could. And died at the end. That was it. I didn't want to do it anymore. So, I walked away from it. It was because, suddenly, I was put in a position that I had to 'think' out there on the track, something I wasn't accustomed to doing.

Fast-forward some 25+ years later, and my first 5k. Now, remember, I have a sprinter's mentality. And, off I went going as fast as I could. I still maintain that most people's best times are one of their FIRST 5ks. Because, most people probably do what I did and go all out. And, experience the pain in doing so. But, your mind remembers all those horrible details and what it feels like. So, you wind up racing and training in 'comfort zones'.

As the article states: 'Perfecting your pacing--trying to run a certain distance in the shortest amount of time possible without falling apart--is a tricky art. That's because even when we watch the clock, we run largely by feel: We decide whether to speed up, slow down, or hold steady based on how much discomfort we think we can handle.' (Fellow Lake Galena runners: how many times have you eased up to save your energy going up the hill past the Nature Center? C'mon. Admit it. We anticipate we need to save that energy.)

I have yet to master this tricky art. There have been many races that I have run based on the splits on my watch and not on how I feel. I should be running this first mile at this time. And, I panic when I'm out too fast and slow down. Because, I'm afraid, I will have my own personal 'energy crisis' at the end of the race. So, I find a comfort zone that I stay in because I'm safe in this place. I will be the first to admit that I am not a confident runner.

But, it has gotten better over the years. I have learn from my mistakes. I have gotten more confident in the longer distances. I have learned that, if I'm ever going to set a new PR in the 5k, I will have to take a leap of faith and step out from that comfort zone and push myself just a little bit harder. I know physically I could do it, but convincing my mind that is a whole different challenge.

The best example, for me, is the Doylestown 5k I did over Memorial Day weekend. I remember, running the last mile in a comfort zone and telling myself that there was no reason not to push harder. So, I did. Only to convince myself that I was foolish in doing so. So, I let up a bit. Only to convince myself again that a PR was in grasp if I finished strong. And, missed it by 1 second. (Note: Yes, arguing with myself during a race may seem peculiar but, safe to say, it was only with myself. Better to do that then with, say, a dog standing on the sideline!)

So, I encourage you to read this article. And, join me coming out of the comfort zone closet. Mind over matter. Stay focus. It's a matter of trust. We can do it!!!! Can't we?

(Notes: This Sunday, September 21, 2008, I will be running the Philadelphia Distance Run (half-marathon). Forecast is for the day to be in the 70s (F) with partly cloudy skies. I intend to make PDR as part of my scheduled 16 miler for that day. Problem is I have committments for the two weekends after that so I would be behind training if I don't do it this way. Maybe not the smartest idea but why waste 13 miles if I don't have to?
I did 8 miles yesterday around Lake Galena as part of my tapering efforts and felt good despite the hot and humid weather around here. It was 1 degree shy of beating the record for high temps for that day.
Congratulations to my Hawaiian running buddy and fellow blogger, Frayed Laces,, as she finished third in her division at the Maui marathon.

RIP--Jerry Reed, who, along with the Flip Wilson, made the phrase, 'When you're hot, you're hot!' so popular in the early 1970's.

Monday, September 8, 2008

The Day That Changed The World

I was sitting in my office waiting on a teleconference call. There were three of us to talk but only two had joined so far. I just started with the company only a few months ago. I was eager to show them my skills. I had just gone through months of unemployment and I knew I was lucky to have a job I liked.

When you are sitting there waiting to start a teleconference, you start to engage in small talk. The woman waiting on the call with me said, 'Did you hear a plane crashed into the World Trade Center?' Thinking that it was a just a small plane, I said, 'No, that's too bad' and continued to wait for the other to join the call. Neither one of us, at the moment, understood how the world's day was unfolding.

The third person got on the call. 'Did you hear about the World Trade Center?' 'Yes,' I replied, 'a plane hit it.' 'No', he said, 'two planes hit them!' What? We immediately ended the call to try to find out more.

Someone came in my office afterwards. 'Did you hear a plane hit the Pentagon?' 'No', I said, 'it was the World Trade Center'. 'A plane hit the World Trade Center, too?!!' None of it made sense. What was going on? We turned on the television and saw visions of the World Trade Center going up in smoke. The person next to me said, 'My God, my parents were going to go up to the skydeck there this afternoon.'

I called my wife. She worked near Independence Hall in Philadelphia. Speculation was that would be one of the targets. I told her to get out but she said she couldn't as they were closing public transportation down. Someone came into my office. 'A plane just crashed near Pittsburgh!' Pittsburgh? Why Pittsburgh? Rumors were swirling that they were going to hit major cities in the US in different time zones when people were starting their day. We were all stunned. We couldn't stop watching the coverage on television. We thought we were watching a movie as we saw the World Trade Center crumble. It can't be? How was this possible?

It wasn't until days later did we find out what happened near Pittsburgh. I worried as I have family out there. You began to hear the stories about United Flight 93. The cell phone calls made during the flight. The people in the plane finding out what happened in Manhattan. The calls to say good-bye to loved ones as they became aware of their fate. And, how the passengers took on the terrorists themselves with the words, 'Let's Roll!'. How many lives did they save that day with their brave act? How many of us could have done that without freezing in our tracks?

When I went out to my uncle's funeral, about a month ago, I stopped by the Flight 93 memorial to pay my respects. Below are some pictures I took while I was there. It is already a national park site. There is a temporary memorial until the permanent one can be built. (Here is a link to find out more about the park and how to donate to build a more permanent memorial. When I spoke with the park ranger there, he said the memorial will be similar to the Vietnam memorial in Washington DC. There will be a path, to the memorial, which was the original flight path leading up to the crash. (Please don't listen to the people that talk about how the crescent shape is a symbol of Islam. If you ever visited the area, it would never occur to you. It is only certain people stirring up something that's not there.) They hope to have the first phase completed in time to dedicate it in September, 2011, the 10th anniversary of the event.

The best way to describe the area around the park is, if you ever visited a Civil War battlefield, it has the same feel. There are only a few houses surrounding the area. The crash site is in the middle of a field surrounded by rolling hills. You can't believe it crashed at the spot that it did. How was it possible that it crashed at such a remote site? And the countless lives that were saved because of it?

Running in Bucks County, you will see park benches and small memorials dedicated to people who lost their lives that day. You see, Bucks County, PA is close enough to New York City to commute. When I run past a memorial that I hadn't seen before, I stop and think about the events that day. And, yet, I find it hard to watch movies about September 11th. My wife has seen the movie Flight 93 but I can't. I don't want to relive that day. And, yet, I want to honor the people that lost their lives. I will never forget.

(The pictures below are of the temporary memorial and the field of the crash. The dot in the middle of the field is an American flag where the crash occurred.)

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

My Definitive 2008 marathon plans (maybe)

Marathon plans recap--for those of you who haven't had a chance to follow along.

In the beginning of this year, Steve (Runner) and I decided to do a fall marathon together. Then, Steve (Runner) got injured and the plans were scraped. So, I decided to aim for the Columbus marathon in October. After all, my wife has a friend out there that we could visit and she could spend hours about hours of quality time with her friend as I'm out there having fun running a marathon. Then I got injured.

Then I got better. And Steve (Runner) got better. So, he wanted to do a marathon together again. He preferred Philadelphia, the Sunday before Thanksgiving. I didn't want to wait that long so I suggest OBX marathon, the beginning of November. He agreed that would be a good possibility. A week later, he contacted me and said, the ankle was still bothering him and, maybe, it would be a good idea if he just did one marathon this year, Bay State. It made sense he didn't push himself and we would wait until next year as we look for a special marathon next year to celebrate my 50 years of existence on this earth. So, by mid-August, I was a man without a marathon. All caught up? Good. I will continue my saga.

The more I thought about it, the more intrigued I was about doing the OBX marathon. ( My biggest hestitation was how much shade there was going to be on the course. I assumed the course would be hugging the shoreline and, last time I checked, there weren't too many flowing palm trees lining the beaches of North Carolina. But, I did some research and it looks like the marathon is not totally run on the shoreline. But, without someone sharing the cost of accomodations, it may be more expensive than I want to pay at this point.

So, I looked to see if there are any other marathons, around the same time, in my general area. Sure enough, there is the Harrisburg marathon ( run on the same day as the OBX marathon. Harrisburg, PA is about a two hour drive from my house. I would just need a one night stay the night before the race and the price of entry ($45) was right. Plus, Melissa, a fellow Blue Dawg, is thinking about running this race as well. It would be nice to relive the marathon with a friend. Still, I love the beach. And going down to the Outer Banks for a long weekend does sound nice. And, I have gone down to NC for business so maybe I can tie that in somehow?

So, as of now, I plan on running a marathon on November 9. I am training to run a November 9 marathon. Which one? Umm, I'm still not sure. Both are smaller marathons. OBX has around 3500 people, Harrisburg has 800 people. 800 people? The Tex-Mex 5k race in North Wales, PA in June had over 1000 people!!! I've only run one small marathon, and that was the Cape Cod marathon, which had around 1500 people. Everything else has been 15,000+ people. So, no matter which one, I will still get pretty lonely out there.

As of now, I am leaning towards Harrisburg. Until I do the math of how much it would cost me to go to OBX. I don't have to make a decision today. (As a matter of fact, if I read this correctly, I can sign up for Harrisburg, the day OF the marathon!!!! Who the heck gets up in the morning and says, 'Hey, nice day! I think I'll run a marathon before raking the leaves!)

So, definitive decision--I will be running a marathon on November 9. I have given myself until October 7 to decide which one.

(Notes: I posted a new poll this week asking 'what is your deciding factor in purchasing a new pair of running shoes?' This was based on a conversation with Melissa when we were running 6 miles around Lake Galena a few Sundays ago. It got me thinking how people choose their running shoes.)