Monday, January 20, 2014

Crystal Cruise Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 9; 3rd Edition 
32.9 miles run in 2014 races
Race: Crystal Cruise Marathon
Place: South Pacific
Miles from home: Many, many
Weather: 70s-80s; humid

I have been planning my first cruise for many months now as I was invited to be a special Guest Lecturer on Crystal Cruise Lines. As part of the trip, I had worked with the cruise on a number of ideas on how to help make this one of the healthiest cruises out there. If you have ever spent any time on a ship you can understand how many variables there can be which keep people from sticking to a health plan.

One of the main attractions of this cruise was its stop on Easter Island. The idea of running the Easter Island marathon course as a solo participant was one of our ideas on how to get people to test their boundaries.  However, from the beginning of the cruise, weather around Easter Island had left the water rather choppy.  As such, until we actually got to the island we would not know when we would land and even if we did land, which port it would be. Planning an excursion and all the things to go with running 26.2 miles was nearly impossible. Therefore, we decided to go with one of the alternate plans which was to run a marathon distance around the ship itself. While no one would be joining me for the full distance, many signed up to run a few miles at least.

With the cruise ship having a promenade deck on the 7th level equaling .27 of a mile, in order to complete a marathon distance, I would need to run 97.1 laps. I didn’t realize until my first run on the ship at sea two days prior how difficult that would be.

Traveling at 20 knots with a constant 15 knot headwind, I would definitely be in for an adventure.  I had done two different test runs on the ship to try and gain a feel for how to handle the curveballs ahead. Each run has presented difference challenges.

On one day the boat moved a little more side to side; the other it rocked more forward and backward. The former would pitch me around like a drunken sailor; the latter would give me a feeling of weightlessness for a few seconds before pitching me up a sudden uphill.  I wasn’t sure which was worse. Throw in the 388 hairpin turns with a variety of obstacles at your feet and head (if you are over 6 feet tall), a few dozen other runners and well, I knew this was going to be tough.

Because of my duties on the ship as a speaker, we tentatively scheduled my run for the first Saturday of the cruise. On Friday evening, I got the OK from the Captain to undertake the excursion as it looked like it would be the calmest day at sea we would have. I planned to start around 7 a.m. as I hoped to avoid as the heat of the day but also wanted some sunlight to see the deck underfoot. I forgot that the deck is constantly lit and I could have started much earlier. Alas.

As I readied myself for the run in the morning, the temperature was warmer than I would liked but not horrific. The wind was again blowing steadily at 15 knots at least, almost directly in my face on the right side of the ship. I had been very curious about what my GPS would measure my movement to be on this run but it became a null point. We had entered an area the captain had called a “dead zone” and not only were we receiving no satellite for the internet or television, we definitely weren’t getting any GPS signal for watches.  No matter. With countless other fellow cruiseateers onboard I would have no shortage of people counting laps, taking pictures, and cheering me on.

Moments before we started, I decided to grab another towel to help wipe off sweat. This put me down on the level roughly 3 minutes past seven, the stated starting time. Karl, a passenger on board from Germany, mentioned I was late. His punctuality was greatly appreciated and created a big laugh. Other fellow passengers, Lark and Lynn, were there to start with me as well. It was nice to know I would not be doing this endeavor completely alone. We counted down and started running.

There is no “world record” per se for the fastest 26.2 miles run on a cruise ship, or at least one recognized by Guinness. Nor did I particularly care for making sure the defacto gatherer of existing records knew I was trying to run the fastest time ever for such a distance. However, I did want to know what I should be shooting for and the fastest time I could find was 3:40. I knew if I ran 2:00 per lap I would finish right around 3:15. If I could do that, I would be ecstatic.

The first mile or so was spent just getting used to the way the ship was rocking that morning. It would definitely change throughout the three-plus hours of running but getting my sea legs under me at the start was most important. It was supposedly only 70 degrees but it felt much hotter than that already.

Right off the bat I knew this run would be challenging because at no point would I be able to really just zone out. I was going to have to be constantly in the moment watching for all the obstacles which could pop up. Before too long I surpassed 25 laps which was now the furthest I had ever run on the ship. Even though that was a only hair shy of just seven miles, it was a nice barrier to break. Another mile later and the first third of the run would be essentially done.

My nutrition rationale was going to fall in line with many of the timed races I have done around short courses. I have found that when drinks are made available to you very frequently, you tend not to take them in at all, always thinking the next half mile is when you will grab a drink. So after the first five miles, I knew I had to make sure I was getting something every three miles to begin with, moving on down to one mile near the end.

Throughout the day, numerous members of the cruise came out to cheer me on. I found out later even more were sitting in their staterooms with stopwatches clocking each of my laps.  I was a human version of NASCAR for some of these folks. Even the ship’s officers made a point to stick their heads out every once in a while. It was, of course, completely unplanned. Without a doubt three major officers of the ship just happened to be sauntering outside together at the same time. (I wish there was a sarcasm font.)

Around the halfway point I needed a shirt change. I was drenched and simply sopping. I did it so quickly, while swigging a drink at my aid station, that people who were used to watching for one shirt said they missed me on a go around.  I guess the big ears and 6’1’’ frame was not enough of a giveaway.

Somewhere in the latter teens I got a kick out of seemingly nowhere. Instead of the laps being around 2 minutes or so, they were 10-15 seconds faster. That means my miles sped up anywhere from 40-60 seconds. I joked that this was where they must have mis-measured the course.

But just as quickly as I picked up the pace, I realized I needed to slow down.  In fact, already once I had stopped for about two minutes to simply rest and take in fluids. While I would have been ecstatic with a 3:15, my brain had told my legs to try and shoot for 3:10. That had worked for the first hour. However, I knew with the sun beating down it would be a battle I would lose if I continued to fight it. So slow down I did with about five miles left. Other runners who were out on the deck would ask me how far I had run or if I was going to be done soon.  Most of the questions, I couldn't answer in the short millisecond that I had to comprehend what they said, think of an answer and say it before I passed them. Even when I was resting, while I tried to be friendly, I was mostly just trying to recover as quickly as possible. But after a small break, lots of fluids and a severe toweling off, I was back on the case. The clock was still running after all.

Finally, with about three miles to go, I really began to feel the weight of the effort. My laps were slowing exponentially or at least they felt like they were. More and more people were beginning to exercise and enjoy the beautiful day which meant more and more things for me to worry about. My ability to stabilize myself against the rocking waves and avoid other passengers was getting harder to do. Next thing I knew I had one mile left.

Four laps around the ship, after you have already done 93, should be a piece of cake. But each one stretched on forever. I simply wanted to be done.Soon I had cut that distance in half and had basically half of a mile to go. In most marathons, you could see the finishline from this point and would be zeroing in on it. Here, I could see the finishline all day long; I just knew it wasn’t the finish until I had passed it 97 times.

With one lap to go I knew I would exceed most of my expectations for the day. More importantly, as I would learn later, I would inspire many others to reach for their own new goals. In fact, one passenger logged 100 laps over the course of the entire day simply because he wanted to say he had traversed further than I had. Another went for her first double-digit-mile run in years.Throughout the rest of the cruise I heard more and more stories of people deciding to balance the cushy lifestyle of this cruise with a small burst of furious activity. All because I ran a 3:14 marathon on a cruise ship.

At the conclusion of one of my speeches on the ship, I was asked if I felt like I was missing out on life because of my "obsession" with running.  As a huge proponent of taking days off and thinking that running streaks are for those who are just itching to be injured, I laughed inwardly that I would be the one considered obsessed with running. However, I put it more succinctly when I stated that that the only reason I was on this cruise, steaming toward both Easter Island and eventually Tahiti, was because 8 years ago I decided to “give up my life” for a year and challenge myself. As little time as the amount of running I do on a daily basis takes up total, I have to say the trade-in value has worked out greatly in my favor.

And I have the fastest known time ever for running 26.2 miles on ship at sea to boot.  Not bad.


Mark Newman said...

Well done sir

Unknown said...

Great job

Heather Price said...

What I love most is the people you inspired to challenge themselves. Not bad record, either.

R.L. Bynum said...

Nice work! Trust me. Even if you could have got a satellite signal on your watch, it wouldn't have helped. Just take a look at the Garmin readings I got from a short run on a Carnival cruise ship in May 2012.

Unknown said...

Hi Dane,

Nice job running a marathon on a cruise ship in 3:14. I've never even run one that last on land. I do understand how tough it can be running a marathon on a cruise ship. I have run 26.2 or more (38 being my longest) on 23 different Royal Caribbean ships. The wind can be very tough, sometimes running into a wall and then to be whipped down the deck at break neck speed. And the Alaskan cruises and North Atlantic crossings the temps can be down to freezing or below. Not too many people walking around who can say they have done a marathon on the ocean. Congratulations, belatedly!