Sunday, October 28, 2007

Reflecting On My Tenth Marathon

Yesterday, I ran my third marathon of 2007 and tenth overall. It was my second fastest ever.

The Lakefront Marathon course is made up of three out-and-back equidistant "loops" (or lines, rather) of 8.73 miles along the Chicago lakefront path. The weather was comfortably cool in the mid-50's most of the race.

This race is actually an ultramarathon with both 50k and 50M distances. The organizers added the marathon distance as a result of the struggles all of us had in Chicago three weeks ago.

As I wrote my last post, I really did not have huge expectations of time going in. I decided I would try to run 3:10 pace and see how my body reacted.

I teamed up with two other guys I met in the early going who were both trying for a 3:10. The first half of the race went as planned, but I could tell I had a stomach issue developing. Disappointing, considering I ran both Chicago and Boston without a stop and followed a somewhat similar diet before hand.

One of the guys, Steve, had ankle trouble and needed to call it quits at about mile 15. The other guy, Lance, continued on with me. We finished the second loop on pace at 17.5 miles, when I felt the undeterrable urge to detour to the port-0-johns.

I knew with this stop, I wouldn't be able to BQ. After about a 2 1/2 min comfort break, I struggled to get my legs back. My body remembered the marathon I ran 20 days prior and simply started to slow up on me. The final 7 miles or so were pretty rough.

My final third leg was a mission to complete the race. For some reason, I felt I needed again to I stop off at a second bathroom, which had no TP, so I drove on. I stopped at an aid station close to mile 21 and indulged in some trail mix with my gatorade, which added more time. Even when I didn't stop, I couldn't put together a mile faster than about 8:15 at this stage.

The marathon is a humbling distance and reminds me every time that both physical and mental preparation are critical. I still do not have the desire to go the 50M or even 50k distance as many out there yesterday were doing. Kudos to the ultra-guys and gals!

As I finished my 10th 26.2M distance, I reflected again on my year and my running. I put in some huge training mileage earlier this summer for me - more than last year - and I couldn't muster anywhere near the marathon I had last October. Frustrating, but that's the way life goes sometimes.

First half: 1:35:10
Second Half: 1:47:41
Finish time: 3:22:51 - 2nd fastest (12:47 off from last year's PR)

I can't be 100% sure, but I think my legs hurt more after yesterday's race than many of my other recent marathons. My quads were beat to hell and it hurt to sit still.

It is somewhat dissatisifying that I didn't have a strong finish in either of these marathons. However, I need to keep positive and realize that I have had an outstanding year. The curveball we were thrown on October 7th happens in life.

Sure, I thought I would PR this year and even have a shot at sub-3, but cirmcustances changed. I went to China for 4 weeks during critical training periods and had a wonderful professional experience. I ran the hottest Chicago Marathon in history. I ran my first Boston Marathon ever in the Nor'easter. How many can say they ran two of the more memorable major marathons in recent history?

I may take a year off from the marathon distance. I've been quite mum about it, but my wife is 13 weeks along in her pregnancy with our first child. Her due date is May 5 and we are thrilled. She does not want me going to Boston as she's concerned she may go early. Plus, I don't feel I earned it this year, so I will not use my 2006 time to get in.

I will rest up over the coming week, then run a couple of holiday 5k's remaining in 2007 and maybe shoot for 2,000 in total mileage for the year.

Right now, I am looking at the St. George Marathon in 2008 to re-set my PR (which could be a challenge, given what I have read about the course). My parents are retired in St. George, Utah and are anxious for me run the race there. It is the same weekend as Chicago so I would need to give that up.

Before making any personal commitments for 2008, I need to finish out my 2007 and reflect in my successes both in and outside of running this year.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Marathon #10, Here I Come

It's fascinating to me how anti-climatic the approach of my tenth marathon has been the past two weeks since I recklessly signed up for it.

Several co-workers approached me the past few days to ask me about the debacle in Chicago that happened 19 days ago. None of them had seen me since I spent two weeks in China right after the race.

After a few words my experiences in China, I nonchalantly mentioned that I was going for another marathon this weekend. "Really?" was a typical response coupled with a puzzled look.

There is really no evidence my body is ready to endure a full marathon right now. I put in a few short run in China before I left. I came back last Sunday and had a reasonably strong 12-miler (7:26 avg, final 2 at BQ pace).

Race organizers have clearly confirmed that this race and its course will be recognized as a Boston Qualifier by the BAA. Now, I may be getting ahead of myself with such talk, but who knows, it could happen tomorrow.

Not the most exciting course, I suppose. Three loops with no spectators. At least I will be looking at the city along the lake.

If nothing else, tomorrow will be a day to celebrate a running milestone. I've decided that completing ten marathons is a big deal. Plus, I have never done three in a year.

It's a modest sign of running longevity and a commitment to the sport. My streak of PR's was broken after five, but that's OK, there's still more success to be had. I think I'll keep at it for a little while longer.

I don't know what kind of time I will run tomorrow, but there is one guarantee I will give: I will finish.

On a separate note, I appear to be on track for a year of two thousand miles total. Wow... it just keeps getting more exciting, doesn't it?

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Returning Home for The Marathon Experiment

It is Saturday noontime in China. I am presently on a flight from Chengdu to Shanghai. In Shanghai, I will connect to take my American Air flight back to Chicago. I will arrive around 4:45 PM on after gaining 13 hours.

I am very excited to be returning home to Chicago and my home in the suburbs. I miss my wife, my cats, my running gear, my bed, my house, my high-speed Internet connectivity, my coffee maker and private stash of Starbucks, my control over my schedule, my Itunes library, my car and my freedom to live in my own space and neighborhood.

I had a very successful and interesting visit in Chengdu during my assignment. The delivery of our final report to our business partners went exceptionally well yesterday. Quite simply, we nailed it. I could feel the genuine praise and appreciation for our team’s work the Chairman was giving, even though I needed an interpreter to understand him.

My experience in China has changed my perspective of the world in a positive way. I found that I am more adventurous, more patient, more understanding, more tolerant and downright wiser in the ways of the world than I was five weeks ago. It is so different in the Far East as compared to our Western lifestyles. The people of Chengdu are very kind. I also recognized how much I love my country and my way of life.

I even managed to recover reasonably well from the marathon. I ran 13 miles last week and added some swimming. I have run 21 so far this week. Two of these runs were 6 and 7 mile runs that were comfortably hard. However, I am not certain on pace since I left the Garmin at home. I plan to do 12-13 tomorrow on familiar terrain to get me to around 34 for this week.

I am signed up for another marathon that takes place in one week. It has been less than two weeks since a very difficult Chicago Marathon. What’s more, I need to turn around for the airport on Monday to fly to the Corporate HQ in Connecticut for four days. I suppose it beats being in China. I will do light mileage before Saturday.

I am calling this upcoming marathon an experiment. It will be a true experiment to see how my body has recovered. In addition, it will be a test as to what degree I was able to maintain my peak running conditioning that I know I had a short four weeks ago.

I honestly do not have a gauge of my current running condition. The Chicago Marathon was an anomaly. A statistical aberration created by extremely rare conditions, so that’s not an indicator. My 20-mile training run two weeks three weeks before was one that would likely line up in the 3:00-3:03 range. However, I have no idea what the difficult, intensively hot and humid Chicago Marathon did to me.

Am I in anywhere near the same shape that I was five weeks ago? We will find out next week. Truthfully, I am not all too worried about it. There is no self-induced pressure for me on this marathon go.

For this upcoming marathon on Saturday, you will hear no talk of a sub-3 attempt from me. I do really want to run a Boston qualifying time, however, and will give it my best shot. If I don’t, however, that’s OK. I will be out there enjoying the Chicago Lakefront with my wife cheering me on. It will be the first time ever that I will have completed two marathons 20 days apart. Most importantly, I am just glad to be getting home to the United States.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

The Iron is Hot

Thanks to all of you who commented on my last post. I think most of you are right... I don't think it was in my heart to cut out of a marathon simply to save myself for a better time. Once you sign up and prepare for marathon, I believe you are emotionally committed to finish. Short of a physical/medical reason, I don't ever plan of dropping out.

I said I was sizing up my next race. I was looking at out-of-state races. However, an unexpected race opportunity came up in the wake of the Chicago Marathon disappointment from last week. It does feel a bit soon, but let's just it's time to strike while the iron is hot, baby!

My next marathon is in exactly two weeks. Call it a bit of an improvised marathon as a result of the difficult conditions at Chicago, but the folks who run the Chicago Ultra have put together a USAT&F Certified Marathon course as part of their 50M/50k race. No, I will not be doing either ultra distance.

This feels like a bit of an experiment, since I never imagined I would try to do this. But I have got to muster a better time in cool conditions given my fitness level. Can I recover quickly enough? We will find out.

Somehow, I am completely underpacked for this 2nd trip to China. I do not have a single polyester running shirt. I have no lined running shorts. I have one pair of cotton gym shorts and a single cotton t-shirt. I packed a pair of my beat-up Nikes, since my Asics from last week's marathon were still soaked from showering in all the drinking water that the later runners missed out on (sorry again, guys!). I didn't even pack the Garmin. (I guess you could say I initially planned to take a break from running this two weeks).

Nonetheless, those meager running clothes will be sufficient to do some recovery/taper running. I just completed a 13-mile week. I traveled and rested through Thursday. I did a decent 8 today.

I also have done a little swimming here at the hotel for recovery. The hotel has a great 25M pool. I realized how much work on swimming I will have to do if and when I go for a triathlon. I did five laps last night in about seven minutes. I am willing to bet I looked like a special ed case. I'll save the swimming lessons for a later date.

It's time to knock out one more work week in China, give a final report to my Chinese colleagues on Friday, then fly back home on Saturday.

This week I will target 34 miles, 22 of which will be here in Chengdu. I cannot wait to hit the Prairie Path for a nice 12-miler next Sunday when I get back. Yet another milestone will be achieved: three marathons in a single year and my TENTH in my lifetime. Bring it!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Is the Chicago Marathon debacle a positive for the sport?

Greetings from China once again. It’s already Thursday early morning here. I had a brutally long journey back to Chengdu (another marathon, you could say) and a full workday yesterday.

I left Chicago quickly on Monday morning and have missed out on the exciting press coverage and the passionate commentary on the aftermath of the race. I finally got a chance peruse some of the editorials and printed comments from people in the Tribune, Detroit Free Press and others on the web.

Some people bashed runners for being so stupid to run in the heat, others have condemned race organizers for lack of preparation, even some more criticized various newspaper columnists for writing opinions that conflicted with their own.

If nothing else, there is a huge amount of interest marathon running now. And I see this as a good thing. I don’t want to underestimate how terribly tragic the loss of a runner was on Sunday. However, while it may be an unpopular view, the Chicago Marathon debacle may have inadvertently raised the profile of the sport.

Why? People know how difficult it is now more than ever. The press coverage has been one massive free commercial for marathon organizers all over the world. This will attract many more newcomers who are goal-setters, challenge-seekers, and those who realize the positive personal impact of achieving such an audacious feat. If it were easy, none of us would do it. And the glory of finishing a difficult marathon, especially in warmer conditions, just became greater.

There will be a Chicago Marathon in 2008. And I’m willing to bet they will sell out the 45,000 entries even faster than they did this year.
I’m not going to give the blow-by-blow detail of my race on Sunday, because frankly it wasn’t that interesting. I used probably seven times the amount of water I normally would (sorry to the other later runners) and slowed it down to walk some on-and-off on the back half.

Minutes after the race, I rested underneath a tree just outside the finishing area. I borrowed a fellow runner’s cell phone to call my wife so we could meet up.

Strangely enough, this guy looked fresh and unfazed by the hot conditions. I commented how these were the most difficult marathon conditions for me out of nine. He said it wasn’t difficult for him, since he cut out after the half point. Apparently, he knew he wasn’t going to make his goal, which was 2:50, so he dropped out.

This made me think. My instinct going into 9 marathons this point has been to (a) run a smart race as fast as possible, and (b) finish, no matter how difficult. Now that I am experienced and high expectations of time, should I start to think differently like this guy did? It’s not about finishing for me anymore. It’s about time for me now.

I realize Sunday’s conditions were quite rare so hopefully a decision on an intentional DNF wouldn’t come up too often in a marathon. But this guy knew he wouldn’t reach his goal at the half, and he knew his body would get beat up trying the second half, so he cut it short. Now, he can make the decision to enter another marathon this weekend or next if he wanted to. Maybe I should have thought about that up front? I would be ready to run the Grand Rapids marathon no problem on Oct 28th.
I am still contemplating my next move. I am fairly disappointed that I did not capitalize on my fitness and run a fast marathon. Here is the list of marathons I am eyeing up.

Huntsville, AL – Dec 8, 2007
Jacksonville – Dec 16, 2007
Phoenix – Jan 13, 2008
Miami – Jan 27, 2008
Austin – Feb 17, 2008
Ft Lauderdale – Feb 17, 2008
Myrtle Beach – Feb 17, 2008
New Orleans – Feb 24, 2008
Virginia Beach – March 16, 2008

I am qualified for Boston 2008 from last year’s Chicago time, but something doesn’t seem “right” about using the same race result twice.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

I survived the Chicago Marathon 2007!

In case you haven't seen the headlines as yet, here are few for your reading enjoyment:

Chicago Marathon Cancelled After 1 Dies And 302 Go To The Hospital
Intense Heat Ends Marathon Prematurely
Chicago Marathon cut off mid-run as heat kills 1, sickens hundreds

BUT... I made it. It was maybe my hardest marathon ever of the nine, but I got through it - barely. Very ironic that I was in my best marathon shape ever to suffer through today.

I finished in 3:32. Note I chose the word "finished", because I cannot say I ran the whole way. I wouldn't have survived. I could have ended up like the poor guy who died after running today. What an absolute tragedy.

There were many who did not even finish, or were not given the option to finish due to the race director's decision to call it.

Half way mark: 1:36 - Second half: 1:56. It was not pretty. I hadn't walked this much on a marathon course since my first in 2001. But I lived to tell.

Time to lick my wounds. Going to sleep now. Will write more later when I arrive in China this week. Did I say I love marathoning???

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Happy Marathon Eve - T-Minus 12 hours - Bib #924

So, it is finally here. Another marathon. My 2nd Chicago and my ninth overall. Wow, I am becoming a veteran. I am excited. It's going to be sweet.

All bets are off for tomorrow with these conditions, so I am not going to be making any predictions. I realize all along that I have been aiming for 2:59, but it doesn't look like Mother Nature agrees that tomorrow is the day to try.

Tomorrow is expected to be the hottest Oct 7th in Chicago history. It will be mid-80's by 10AM with 65-70% humidity. I hate to sound like I am giving up before trying, but we need to be smart as runners and heed to severe conditions (It kills me to say that when I reflect on this solo training run a short 3 weeks ago). I don't want to melt down and struggle to finish.

Anyway, forget the heat, humidity and the anxiety that it brings. I'm going to race smart, listen to my body, do my best and celebrate my ninth marathon. All I can ask of myself is that I give my absolute best and let God decide the outcome.

Did I mention that raised $2,625 for the American Cancer Society with this marathon effort?

I totally believe Al Gore. This Global Warming thing is getting out of hand. The wife doesn't know it yet, but I am already remotely considering a December marathon. Why? Because I'd like some certainty that it will be COOL when I run.

I am looking into the Rocket City Marathon in Huntsville, AL on Dec 8. What, Alabama, you ask? Check out the Marathonguide reviews -- they are all glowing. That's the beauty of marathoning. You can pick an out-of-the-way place, pour your heart out on the concrete and enjoy a new part of America.

By the way, this blog is famous. I was contacted by the editor of Michigan Sports & Fitness magazine about publishing one of my recent posts. For those of you in Michigan, you can see a professionally edited version of this race report in hard print with my by-line if you pick up the mag. Cool! This gives me even more confidence in my writing.

On to 26.2 tomorrow in the visually stunning city of Chicago. Here's another one for the ages. Hope all of you racers run hard, have fun, stay SAFE and enjoy the glory of the moment. Remember: Marathoning is a wonderful way to celebrate life.

I am taking a flight back to China on Monday morning. I'll have a 20-hour trip to write up my race report. Until then, you know how to track the results.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Pre-marathon Thoughts

I just saw the world premiere of The Spirit of the Marathon at the Chicago Film Festival. Pretty inspirational stuff. The director, producers and runners featured in the film were there after to answer audience questions. Great views of Chicago and our local CARA organization.

Do I even want to begin commenting on the weather? It's not worth it.

"Don’t be a hero. These aren’t the conditions for a personal best; finishing in one piece is good enough. " So said an article entitled "Chicago Marathon 2007: This One's Gonna Hurt".

I am bib # 924 out of 45,000 entrants. This is quite a high bib number in such an large, elite-laden field.

Can't think or write now. It's late and I need to sleep.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Back in the USA - Final prep time

I am back in the USA and it feels great. I arrived in Chicago yesterday evening.

I am taking a rest day from both work and running. I ran 90 miles in China during my trip. The best run I had was a 17-miler through the city of Chengdu.

I am beginning my mental preparation for Sunday's race. I have put in the best training in my life for this race. It's going to be a blast.

I feel a sense of anxiety about the race on Sunday. There's a nervous excitement that many of us feel the days leading up to a marathon. It peaks with the thrill of the gun on race morning. It's that thrill that drives us all to continue running. The self-induced internal pressure of wanting to do our best transfoms into glory when we cross that finish line.

I set this ridiculously lofty goal and I am going to chase it with all of my might. Am I ready? Who knows. Doesn't matter. I'm going to give everything I've got. I prepared about as well as I could have.

Below is my race week training schedule:

Monday - Rest
Tuesday - 7 mile recovery
Wed - 7 mile "dress rehearsal" w/2 mile at goal pace (6:51)
Thu - 5 mile recovery
Fri - 4 mile speed (6x100m strides) + recovery
Sat - 2 mile recovery
Sun Oct 7th - CHICAGO MARATHON - GOAL: 2:59:59