Friday, December 03, 2010

This Beats the Treadmill Any Day

After three morning "dreadmill" workouts this week, I noticed that it was actually getting light out about 15 minutes into my workout, I said to myself, "enough of this sh#t".

Last night I came home from work and laid out my running gear, headlamp and reflective gear. I was determined to get back outside.

I woke up at 5:45AM went downstairs and put on my gear, long sleeve shirt, shorts, gloves, reflective vest hat and headlamp and headed out into the pre-dawn morning.

Brrrr, chilly, I didn't anticipate it was only going to be in the 20's, too late to put on tights now, I gotta run, I can't go back inside to change, that will be a motivation killer. I continued to the end of my drive way determined to not let the cold stop me.

I started my watch and went up the road in the darkness, a few cars came by and must have seen my headlamp and reflective gear, giving me a wide passage. Every time someone comes by and acknowledges me on the road like that, I give them a small wave of thanks or a thumbs up. I figure there's a good chance they'll see me on another day and remember that I appreciated their courtesy and continue the relationship of a shared respect.

One more corner and I was on a beautiful country road with a lot less traffic, the sun was coming up and everything looked spectacular, the fields were frosted and the distant mountains were of a purple silhouette with the warm orange glow of the rising sun behind them. I wished I had my camera.

I climbed a hill and my heavy breath passed my face like clouds from an old steam train. The deer just looked up and starred as their jaws went side to side munching their breakfast vittles. I returned the stare, we seemed to share a peaceful moment together and I crested the hill. 

Another 1/2 mile and passed over a bridge with a creek running with cool fall waters, up one more hill bathed in the morning sun, the thermals from the fields felt like a warm blanket wrapping around my legs.

Last stretch before I reach my driveway, the sun is up and folks are on their way to work, I pick it up and sprint my way home and stop my watch, close to a PR but who cares? I feel invigorated and energized, my thighs are bright red as the pumping blood warmed the surface of my skin.

All I can think is "This beats the treadmill any day".

Hartford Marathon Race Report: 10.09.10

So Hartford was going to be my first marathon in six years. I had finally started running more regularly and had dropped a significant amount of weight over the last year and a half. My run times in the early season were increasingly better than the year before, I ran several half marathons and a hilly 30k (18.3 miles), but the marathon was another beast, mileage that had been uncharted for over six years
I had been doing long runs every weekend and a number of 1/2 marathons in preparation, I was feeling pretty confident but as judgment day got closer my confidence began to falter. Every ache and pain revealed itself by screaming for my attention. I was determined to taper and not overdo my training before the big day.

The weekend before the marathon I did a 50 mile bike ride figuring it would give me one last good effort without beating up on my body too badly. Then I was cutting the lawn and it appeared that I had gotten bitten by a spider (or something) my shoulder muscle knotted up and my neck and shoulders were covered in an itchy rash -- great, just what I needed.

The last few weeks of training were pretty bad weather-wise, I do the majority of my training in the morning and the loss of sunlight plus the clouds left some pretty miserable morning conditions. When it was not raining I would go out wearing enough reflective gear and headlamps that I looked like a character from that old movie "Tron". I felt pretty silly but I was reasonably sure the cars that fly down my road were able to see me in the darkness.

The weather really took it's toll during my taper as I only ran a handful of times those last two weeks, I started to feel pretty unhealthy, with the rash on my shoulder and so few late training runs I was starting to doubt my fitness for 26.2

Since The Hartford Marathon is on a Saturday, I took the Friday off from work and drove to my parents house which is just 20 minutes outside Hartford and an easy drive at that. We dropped off the dog and our bags at about 3:00 PM and headed in to Hartford for The Marathon Expo to pick up my race number and rehearse the next morning's drive in.

We picked up my number at The XL Center (formerly known as The Hartford Civic Center) and perused the expo which was nothing like what I remember from the many NYC Marathon Expos with tons of free stuff and runners from all nations chattering in languages I don't understand.

Returned to my folks house with my number (255) and all I needed now was a good carbo-loading and a good night's rest. Which remarkably I managed. I had feared that the bed I'm not used to would leave me tossing and turning and waking up stiff and unrested.

The alarm went off at 5:00AM, still dark.

Went downstairs and got dressed and ate my pre-race breakfast, had some weak coffee and headed in to Hartford.

We drove in darkness to the parking lot across from the train station which turned out to be a great choice as I was able to use the facilities there rather than waiting in line for a port-a-potty that had been used by dozens of runners before me (and dozens more waiting impatiently for me to finish my business). After my 2nd trip to the facilities I came out and the sun had come up, it was a beautiful morning with clear crisp sky and comfortable conditions (which worried me that it was going to get warm).

The parking lot was only 2 blocks away from Bushnell park which was the start and finish of the marathon. We walked past the finish line and The Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch to the baggage check. Everything seemed so logistically easy, none of that madness of NYC, I could walk without hundreds of people trying to do the same thing.

It was now 7:30 and only a 1/2hr to the start so Janine and I walked over to the starting line. The race offers a 5k a 1/2 marathon and a marathon that all start at the same time, only the 5k is on another street, the 1/2 and the marathon start together.

Now my pre-race plan was to run the 1st 6 miles 20 to 30 seconds slower than my normal race pace. Then I would pick it up and slowly whittle away at that deficit for the next 13 miles and give it whatever was left for the last 10k. I had planned on the congestion at the start to help me set the slower pace, from previous marathon experiences it's taken me several minutes to get to the starting line and once crossing the start, having incredibly slow 1st miles due to congestion. This race was different.

I was over the starting line in less than 15 seconds and at running pace in less than a minute, wait this isn't right, where's all the crowd congestion? Because of the warm morning there was no need to navigate through discarded clothing and the path was clear. I was running smoothly without anything to hinder my progress. I thought with the 1/2 marathoners and full marathon runners I would have plenty of "breaking mechanisms" to keep my pace down at the start.

The first two miles were over in 16:33 - uh oh, too fast.. I should be running 8:45's. But I couldn't slow down, I started too fast, the next few miles continues at just over 8 minute miles, way too fast, I knew this was not part of my plan, but I felt pretty good and was finally running my marathon after over 860 miles of training runs and countless workout and recovery days. I was in my first marathon in 6 years, let's see what I've got, maybe I can pull off a surprise performance.

My optimistic goal was a 3:45:00 but realistically I figured I'd be closer to a 3:50:00 -- I was pretty sure of what my performance would be as that's only a 5 minute window. But was it possible? Could I get down under a 3:40:00 marathon? I felt like I might be able to do it - at least after 10 miles my pace was averaging out at 8:14 per mile.

I saw my Janine as I crossed one of the bridges, how did I see her? I don't know, I just knew she was there (and she was hiding her face behind a camera) supporting me. I stopped and gave her a kiss. Back to the marathon...

I was drinking enough and enjoying the run, the course was well marked and the crowds were great in the city, but now we were heading out of the city to the suburbs and was getting warmer, my thighs were starting to burn a bit, uh - oh, this isn't good. Can this be dehydration, the days off or am I just going too fast and feeling the muscle damage. I suspected it was the speed, I normally feel dehydration in my calves, I popped a couple of ibuprofen hoping it would go away. Still unable to really slow it down.

My half marathon time was 1:48:52, that's down to an 8:19 pace... still not slow enough and that's around what I've been doing for 1/2 marathons during the season, could I do that back to back? Unlikely, this could be tough.

I continued the run through the country side, felt the burn of the hills and got to a long stretch on the course that was an out and back. The turn around was at mile 18, going out was interesting because at first there wasn't anyone coming back the other way, I thought gosh this is pretty good, there aren't tons of runners that look like "I should be able to beat" coming the other way, then I saw the leaders and then the 1st of the women, then the street got a little more populated with runners.

I couldn't wait to get to that mile 18 turn-around.

Finally, I think I see where runners are no longer going up the road, but turning around, yes FINALLY, the turn-around, now it's just back to Hartford!

Two more files and I was at another milestone, mile 20 - I got there 2:49:44, pace dropped to 8:30 and thighs are burning.

I need a gel pack.

They told us there would be Hammer Gels "On Demand", that the bike riders would have them.. but where were the bike riders?

I need a gel, ok now I was cranky, Gatorade is fine but I need a gel and water - then I saw a bike going the other way, I called for him to bring me a gel, but now I was between water stations so I needed to carry it till the next water stop where I slurped it down with two cups of water - back out to finish this thing - only 10k to go - I could do this!

But this was no-man's land, I haven't run this far in six years, what was I in for after mile 21? My legs were burning, it was pretty warm out and not a cloud in the sky - then it happened, the voices behind my got loud, I realized it was the 3:40:00 pace group, they caught me!

Well, that's disappointing, but ok, I didn't really think I could sustain that pace - reality was setting in. I would have to keep tough to make my goal time of 3:45:00.

The miles were passing slower now, oh did I mention, might right foot had been numb for almost the whole run? I could wiggle my toes and my left foot felt fine, but for some reason my foot was numb, not tingly and pain full, just kind of dead and it wouldn't work itself out. Around mile 22 I stopped and loosened my laces, which seemed to help the tiny-est bit but didn't fix it.

I continued think if I could do this l drank at every aide stop at mile at 23 I though, just over 5k to go and that's the distance of my shortest training run, I imagined myself going out on those short training runs, how quickly I got home and how I felt like I had barely done a workout - but that was then, this is now, a totally different reality. This hurt, I've run 23 miles and now have 3.2 miles to go. I could do little more than look ahead for aid stations or mile markers, each one it's own reward.

Ugg, the voices are back, the 3:45:00 pace group is passing me, I can't hang with them either. But I'm hanging on, they drop out of sight ever so slowly, damn, if I had only managed my pace better, I might be able to hang with them.

Finally I can see the city of Hartford, I think "gosh this is a little city", it just sprang up after that last corner, it's like OZ, all I have to do is get to the city and it will be over.

Now people are stopping all over the road. They are cramping up, I suspect they are suffering from dehydration and their calves are locking up on them. My calves are fine, but my thighs are on fire. Take me to see the Wizard! Click Click

I pass under an overpass and pass a guy who was way out in front of me, I recognized him on the out and back earlier, then another and another, I feel pretty good now. I think to myself, just don't stop and you will catch all those people who let themselves stop, I pass more people walking, OK this is promising. This is where I can really gut it out and finish ahead of a lot of folks who have been in my group throughout the run.

A couple of shady streets and back out into the sun and there's an on ramp, a small up hill that leads to the bridge (another up hill) over the river, then it's just down off the bridge and into the city. The park (Oz) can't be far

As I come down the bridge more people are walking, I'm thinking how can they walk here? It's 26 miles of running for over 3.5 hrs and now you're gonna walk... this is it! Finish strong!

A guy stops to walk right in front of me, I take two steps and I'm right behind him and shout some words of encouragement "C'mon man... 26 miles, don't stop now", which I don't know if they were really meant for him or for me. He started running again, I never stopped.

I saw my wife again, just before I got to the park, how did I know she was there? I just did.

Now it's around a corner and into the park. There's the Soldiers and Sailors arch - woo hoo! I'm gonna do this!

Under the arch and I see the finish, no teasing us with another quarter mile before the finish, I could see it! I could read the clock, go for it, I can't let that clock reach 3:50:00.

I heard my name from the announcer after I crossed the line. The race clock said 3:49:something -- I don't remember, but I beat 3:50 and I had a few seconds less for chip time - I looked at my watch and it said 3:49:06 (later the official results said 3:49:02).

Some guy put a silver-Mylar blanket around me... didn't need it - too hot, got a drink from the water fountain and proceed to get my finisher's medal. A nice peace of hardware depicting the S&S Memorial arch. I lowered my head and let the volunteer put it around my neck. Nice!

Another volunteer gave me a banana and another a Hartford Marathon Finisher water bottle.

I heard someone calling my name, I looked up and it was Janine congratulating me on finishing my 1st marathon in six years. We headed into the park for a free beer and a hot dog (ok we each had two) to celebrate my return from retirement.

It was good to be back.

Overall: 592nd of 2187

Male: 464th of 1367
M45-49: 81st of 215