Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Runners Against Trump (R.A.T.)

When I travel the country giving speeches at races, one of the central themes I speak about is how runners are, as a subset of the population, some of the most warm, caring, and giving individuals. Perhaps this seems to be pandering a bit to the audience given the running shoes most are wearing.  However, I back it up with not only anecdotal stories (and tons of them) but actual evidence. Time and time again, throughout history, runners are the first to accept differences, advocate for change, and push for equality.

Which is why if you are a Trump supporter, the running community wants nothing to do with you.

Before you ask, yes, I have been granted the authority to speak on behalf of all runners. It was bestowed upon me at the last meeting. You weren't there? Must have been at your Ku Klux Klan Trump rally.

In all seriousness, ours is a sport where strides in race relations, gender relations, sexual orientation, etc have been made decades before the general population followed suit. How can you possibly be part of that great history and stand behind a racist, sexist, misogynistic, philandering, opponent of marriage equality?

Runners out other runners for cutting courses in rather meaningless races and police the integrity and honesty of all those who line up on race day with a fervor that is rather shocking to most who don't run. (Often the refrain is "Who cares?  It is just a race!") When Mike Rossi obviously cut the course at the Lehigh Marathon, the community lost their gourds.  When a guy obviously fabricated a run across the country, Sherlockian runners tracked down his story.  It was runners who first called bullshit on Paul Ryan's claim to have run a sub-3 hour marathon. This community does not have room for people who make bald-face lies that are harmful, divisive, and done with zero remorse or accountability.  Let's look at a few of Trump's statements.  (I actually had to triple check to see if these were actual quotes because they just boggle the mind.)

"I watched when the World Trade Center came tumbling down. And I watched in Jersey City, N.J., where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down. Thousands of people were cheering."  LIE

"Don't believe those phony numbers when you hear 4.9 and 5 percent unemployment. The number's probably 28, 29, as high as 35. In fact, I even heard recently 42 percent." LIE

"I'm self-funding my own campaign." LIE

I could honestly give you 20 more examples but it is quite clear that lying doesn't deter Trump's supporters. Neither does calling Mexicans rapists, alluding to wanting to have sex with his daughter, wanting to punch protesters in the face or anything else. How? How is this possible?

A few months ago I tweeted that the difference between any person running a race and Donald Trump was that in a few months, even the slowest runners would still be running and Trump would not. I was wrong. I am not alone in how wrong I was and how baffling it is that people support him. But it is not the random person with horrible views that is the biggest problem. Those people exist in all walks of life. It is the myopic, ignorant fools who follow and raise that random person up to a higher level which frighten me the most.

Which is to say that given everything I have seen in the running world over the past 157 marathons, 15 years and countless miles traveled, there is no room in the running world for those who support Donald Trump. In a community where acceptance (not tolerance - there is a difference), growth, and brotherhood are the common tenets of what makes us all put one foot in front of the other, there is no reason to step backward into Jim Crow, religious persecution, or gender inequality.

As runners we like to hold ourselves to a higher standard. It is time to start backing up those words with actions.

ADDENDUM: This, and my fervent stance against Trump has cost me over $40,000 in salary, partnerships and speaking fees. 

Consider supporting my continue fight to spread the word of ignoring the impossible to people world-wide at my GoFundMe Link.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Alamo Run Fest Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 11; 4th Edition 
65.5 miles runs in 2016 races
Race: Alamo Run Fest 
Place: San Antonio, TX
Miles from home: 2070
Weather: 65; Humid

When I hear other runners talk about running the same race repeatedly, I understand the allure. Familiarity allows for many positives. But as much as I have traveled this country, I have learned how little I have actually seen. Call it the curse of knowing too much. You realize how little you actually know. Case in point, I had never set foot in the city of San Antonio. As such, I had never seen the Alamo.  As a history major, this is almost sacrilege. Yet, I know I travel more than most.

I began looking for races to run in the area a few months back which might allow me to experience That is when I happened upon the Alamo Run Fest.  In only its 4th year, it had already racked up an impressive array of special ties. With a half marathon, 10,000 meter and 5k, there was a race for just about everyone. Normally, a 10,000 meter race means a track event and a 10k means a road race. I thought it was a unique way to differentiate itself from other races. For whatever reason, it sounds more impressive to run 10,000 meters than a 10k.
more than your typical run through the streets.

I chose, however, to take part in the half-marathon. As all races had the nifty finishing touch of ending inside the actual Alamodome, and running past the actual Alamo itself, only the half marathon spent six miles running on the Fort Sam Houston. Given the intense military presence in San Antonio, I knew I couldn’t pass this up unique opportunity.

At the expo itself, where I was working with ASEA to spread the word about this awesome revitalizing product, there were no shortage of military members running the races. In addition, this race has the largest amount of wheelchair racers of any race in Texas. Unfortunately, many wheelchair racers were also veterans. Nothing brings the atrocities of war home quicker than seeing a fellow human mangled and missing limbs from battle. A few minutes with any of these people, and even though they proudly served our country to keep us safe, and you really begin to question your stance on the flippant way in which politicians throw the lives of our men and women around. 

A variety of groups benefiting or raising awareness about injured vets were at the expo and I had the pleasure to have a booth right next to one of them, the Semper Fi Fund. I have often said that just because someone has it worse than you it does not mean your problems are without merit.  But worries about a good race or a new personal record gets a little context when a man is folding a flag with a prosthetic hook next to you with nary a complaint. Also on hand was Team Red, White and Blue who were going to have numerous runners in the next day's race. I had no doubt they would inspire many.

Race Day:

After some initial travel snafus that dominoed into a clusterbomb of epic proportions, I finally had a decent hotel close to the start. This allowed quick access to the race expo and to not have to wake up too early beforehand. My pre-race goal was to get a nice 1:27, hopefully with hard but not too hard of an effort.

If I had looked at the course a little closer, I would have seen it contained a few more hills than ideal to make such an effort possible. When morning broke cloudy, but warm and humid, I knew it might be a bit of a struggle to get the said goal.  But you only get to the finish line by getting to the starting
line.  So me and my bestie Shannon walked down to it.

First Three Miles:

I lined up, as always, a few rows deep. And as we started, as always, I had to dodge no less than a handful of people who obviously have either ignorance or disregard to running etiquette. Any frequent reader of my recaps will notice I mentioned placement issue often. I feel like a broken record but it is a salient point. If you know you are a 8 minute per mile runner, don’t line up with the 6 minute per mile runners. It is inconvenient, potentially dangerous, and, as far as I can tell, demoralizing to have so many people pass you. I hate having people pass me so I can only imagine what is like when hordes stream by.  But, I guess people like to be on the front cover of websites.

I knew the course had more than a fair share of turns and being in front of the pack was essential to make sure I ran all the tangents properly. Never run a step further than you have to is what a seasoned veteran of races told me many years ago. This advice has stuck with me more than virtually anything else. I was a bad student in geometry in high school but when it comes to road races I am a Pythagoras.

We passed the Alamo and I was glad I had been able to visit it the previous day. The remaining mission is so tiny, shockingly so, and we passed it within seconds. I couldn't have possibly appreciated the history without the tour and as it is free there is no excuse for anyone not to take it.

The crowd thinned out a bit soon thereafter and it didn’t seem like there would be any land speed records today. Usually in these races, within a mile, a few men (and less frequently a woman or two) will have already put hundreds of meters between myself and them.  Here, however, that was not the case. In fact, the top two men were the only two to break 1:22 on the course.  Not that I am putting down a 1:16 winning time.  I haven't come close to that yet!

As we approached the 5k mark, I was on pace for a 1:26 or even faster. I felt comfortable and expected to be able to pick it up after I woke up. Almost always I don't even get the engine rolling until the 6th mile.  To feel this good this early was a sign of things to come. I thought.

To Mile Six

Almost immediately after the third mile, the comfortable feeling left me. We went up a sizeable hill ending at mile four. This slowed me a touch but I figured I would roll back into my previous effort.  Runners entered Fort Sam Houston Base at mile four and were immediately rocked out by a Army band playing Are You Gonna Be My Girl by Jet.  Other soldiers were present as well to shout encouraging words.  They were the same lies other spectators tell you: (e.g,  "Looking good!"  and "Great pace!" ) but somehow when a man in camo yells them at you, they carry more weight.

We made a long rectangle mile around what appeared to be fields where soldiers would practice assembling or other like activities.  After completing the rectangle, we then passed within yards of where we entered the base. Seeing a few of the runners behind you was always cool and you could share some “Way to go!”s if you had the energy.

Next, passing under brick arch façade, we twisted our way around a roundabout and through the Quadrangle. The glorious clock tower loomed above us. Then we passed by a pen of about 15 deer.  

Wait. Why were there deer in a pen inside an army base?  They looked like they lived in over sized Snoopy doghouses too. As I ran by they looked up and pranced back and forth near their fence like dogs eager to play. Was I hallucinating? ( I checked later. I wasn't. At least not with regards to the deer.)

The next mile had me back on pace, and maybe even a little faster than expected. I think some of the mile markers were a bit askew but it evened itself out on the next mile.  By now we were fully on the base and it was an eerie feeling. This is an expansive base and there was a whole lot of nobody out and about. It almost felt like we shouldn’t be there. One place you don't want to feel like you shouldn't be is an army base. I kept looking around to make absolutely sure I wasn't straying off onto a firing range or a recruitment center.

Another hill around the 6th mile brought us to the 10k. I had slowed a bit more over this mile than I had expected, even with the hill.  I hoped the marker was a tad off and the next mile would split the difference. The cloudy skies were prevailing but so was the shirt-drenching humidity. Meanwhile the beauty and symmetry of this base was not lost on me, even as I struggled.  So much order and discipline. So much to be admired and thankful for.

Onto Mile 10:

The next two to three miles continued our tour of the base. We saw what I assumed were officers’ quarters and few more open fields. A three-laned artificial track was off to our right and occasionally a solider would zoom by on a golf cart or ATV.  I think they were there solely for us and I hope it didn’t take away from a weekend furlough or whatnot. 

These next three miles were seemingly flat as a pancake. But for whatever reason, as always, I ran poorly on these flat roads. One man had passed me on the hill entering the base and here he stayed about 20 yards in front of me. Since the first shuffling of runners at the beginning, this was the first person who had passed me.  When you are not feeling that good it is wise to use the other runners to see if they are suffering as well or at least not suffering less, especially when you can't tell your pace.

The lone woman in front of me, maybe about 100 yards further, stayed in the exact spot as well. I am not quite sure what it is about completely flat that just wears me out but the next three miles were each far slower than I expected. I could see now it would be rather tough to get the time I was hoping for. Yet in spite of my slow miles, I was holding my ground. I wasn't getting passed and those in front of me weren't pulling away. So I had that going for me, at least. The beautiful IMCOM West building loomed in front of us and a few people milled around cheering for us here as well.  Here we turned back toward the finish and began our process of leaving the base.

Right around the 8.5 mile mark I could hear footsteps for the first time. I told myself that this runner was not going to pass me until the 9th mile at least.  If he wanted it, he was going to have to work for it.  Finally, around mile 9.5 he passed me. Then we hit a nice downhill and I passed him right back.  I have always said, and I am not alone in doing so, if you want to pass someone in a race, do it definitively. Don’t allow them the chance to get back on you. I put a few more feet between us and was feeling good about my stellar racing tactics. I am so good at this. Watch me put on a clinic.

Then two other guys passed me. Well, crap.

I did, however,  fall into their hip pocket.  Using their energy to help me continue my lead on the guy behind me, I surged forward. The last aid station before we exited was lively with volunteers.  They shouted, "Keep Going!"I replied: "I have to or I think they enlist you!"  It made me laugh at least a little bit.

We turned left out of the base for the final three miles.

Heading Home:

Now we were running down the long uphill that we ran up to mile four. I was feeling good and in spite of my miles being slower than I wanted, was gaining on runners in front of me. I mathed it out earlier and realized I was close to the top 20. The pace I was keeping told me I would probably be able to overtake at least a few more runners to make sure I finished even closer to the top 15. Then things changed.

Right before mile 11 I heard the telltale sound of fast wheels and surmised a wheelchair racer was coming up behind me. Sure enough, one came flying by as I marveled at his speed. Then he took the corner way too fast onto Austin Street.

Much to my horror I watched him try to brake, tip over, and then roll out of his wheelchair. I ran over as fast as I could and grabbed the wheelchair as it threatened to continue to tumble away.  I set it upright before dragging it back to the fallen wheeler. Within a few seconds one spectator was there as well. It was a pretty desolate portion of the race as far as crowd support so I wasn’t expecting much help. As the wheeler sat up I could see he had, at the very least, an abrasion on his head. I didn’t know if it was a deep cut or what but I began trying to figure out my options. All I had on was a singlet and I can’t imagine it would do any good to stop the blood. However, before I made that decision, a cyclist who I am guessing was acting as his handler was upon us. I pointed out the head wound and she asked the wheeler if he wanted to continue or move on.  He didn’t answer, perhaps more out of shock than anything else.

I looked around me and was a little surprised no one else had stopped. Granted I was the only one who probably saw the accident, given the tight turn and the building tight on the sidewalk, but runners streamed by. I asked his handler if there was anything I could do. She was already on the radio letting others know what had happened. She said that people who were far more suited to handle the situation would be there in seconds and it would be perfectly fine if I finished my race. (It ends up, I found out later, that the wheeler did get back into his chair and finished the race. I am working desperately to find out who he was so I can tell him how inspirational he was to me.  ADDENDUM:  We connected and he sent me this picture!  Way to go to young Bryan!  17-year old badass.)

With a heavy heart, I stood up, looked at the wheeler and realized I might just be in the way. I didn’t know if I should have helped him into his chair again or whether that would be a disqualification. Or worse, whether that would be insulting to him personally. Given the rush of the unknown I thought it was probably best to heed the handler's words and just move forward.

Running again, I know my time was now irrelevant. But what was relevant was passing every damn runner who had not stopped. Granted most of them were in the 10k but I knew the few who were in the half marathon as well. You get to know people around you when you are running and recognize what they are wearing.  (Which is why when no one saw Mike Rossi, the guy who seemed to run an enormous marathon PR and qualify for Boston, but never appeared in any race photos along the way, you tend to believe his story was false. People remember your shirt. Or your shoes. Or your iPod sticking out of your Spibelt. I remembered the backward hat of the first guy to pass me after I stopped. I would catch him.)

Over the next two miles, as I weaved and dodged through 5k runners who had now joined us (this was the only portion of the race that needed to be improved - there should have been better runner control to allow each set of racers to have their own lane) I passed no less than five half marathoners.  I finally saw the black hat guy. I am sure he is a perfectly amicable chap and may have not seen me helping the wheeler but in my mind he was Public Enemy #1. With a half of a mile to go, I passed him. I looked at him to see if there would be any recognition in his eyes or shame. He didn't meet my gaze.

As we went down and then back up a relatively cruel highway ramp with a quarter of a mile to go, I began to think about how I would find out who the wheeler was who went down. I hadn’t seen his bib number in order to look up his name. We rounded the bend and entered the Alamodome for what was a unique and very cool finish. On any other day I would have been reveling in this fantastic ending.

About ten yards from the finish, however, one of the runners who I had passed in the last half-mile, sprinted from behind me to beat me by two seconds. I am glad he didn’t turn around to shake my hand as I would have had a few choice words about how he could have used that extra energy about two miles back.

I finished in exactly 1:32:00 for 23rd place overall. Far from the time I had hoped for, it still surprisingly won my age group. I also talked to and checked other runners’ times and saw that virtually everyone slowed down in the same miles I had before I stopped at mile eleven.  It was a rather humid day which explain how we would slow by why we all slowed on the same miles is one of those anomalies that will simply leave your head scratching.

I was pleased to take part in an event that definitely has potential to be a top notch one for sure.  San Antonio used to be the Fattest City in America. It is now making strides to be one of the fittest.  Events like the Alamo Run Fest will definitely help it be so.

After the race, I went back to my booth to sign books and talk to those who had seen me wearing my ASEA singlet out on the course.  It is always funny to me the difference runners have in their priorities before and after a race. While many weren’t necessarily that curious about how to recover the day before the race, here, covered in sweat, sore and tired, they were definitely all ears.  I was only happy to fill them in on a product I have used since 2009 to help me get the edge I might not have otherwise.  In addition, this rare opportunity like this to mingle with runners post-race, in such a cool place, allowed me to see people I had met the previous day and hear about their races.  I had a great opportunity to see how they had done and even more importantly got to see my best friend finish her half marathon, just two weeks after attempting the Rocky Raccoon 100 miler in Huntsville. 

On an emotional day for her, she conquered a tough race on a tough day.  Way to go, Shannon!

Now I have a few weeks “off” before I race again in another iconic event: the Gate River Run in Jacksonville, Florida.  It promises to be just as hot and humid but I am hoping I will be in even better shape to tackle it and set a new PR in the 15k.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Desi Who? Let's Try Talking About Linden

Quick, without googling, who was the second female finisher at the 2011 Boston Marathon with a time of 2:22:38? Her time there was the 7th fastest time run by a US woman ever? Hints:

1. She was also the fastest American woman at NYC in 2014.
2. She was also the fastest American woman at Boston (again) in 2015.
3. She has finished 2nd in the Olympic Trials the past two years.

That should be enough for anyone who follows running to answer the original question. But in case you didn't know, the answer is Desi Linden (née Davila.) Yet, you'd be hard pressed to find many stories about her successes in any of the main press. Even delving into the running world, there are many other women who you will see love given to instead of Desi. She doesn't have a pedigree. She doesn't have a flock. She just has oodles of success. But we know why you don't know much about her.

She's not NECESSARILY (and for the love of god please read that with all due mocking emphasis) "pretty."

(And I am using a second parenthetical here to reallllllly get this point across: I do not think Desi is unattractive whatsoever. We clear? Fantastic.Thanks for reading.Go back to the article. Seriously.  Why are you still here?)

And pretty sells. (Sidenote: for Eff's sake, do a Google image search for Desi. Better yet, just look at the picture here. She isn't even on the top of her own name!)

We saw NASCAR trying to push Danica Patrick for years as a gorgeous woman. She was all scantily clad in ads and whatnot. We keep trying to squeeze Serena Williams and Ronda Rousey into dresses and flaunt their "femininity." Just stop. Please. It is embarrassing to everyone involved.

Whether Serena, Ronda, or Desi are pretty should have absolutely positively nothing to do with how they are marketed by Madison Avenue. It does. But it shouldn't. Of course, a physically appealing specimen of either gender is easier to sell than one less physically appealing. However, for men, it is an added bonus, not the entirety of their package. Men, don't HAVE to be good-looking for people to care about them as athletes.  It should be the same for women. I don't care if Serena looks nice on the cover of the ESPN Bodies Issue. Whether Rousey puts on a little black dress and struts around at awards shows has no bearing on her ability as the most dominant female MMA fighter ever. Which brings us back to Desi.

In the past few days since the Olympic Marathon Trials in Los Angeles, two stories on the women's side have grabbed attention: Kara Goucher dropped F-bombs about Alberto Salazar and Shalane Flanagan collapsing in the arms of Amy Cragg at the end of the race. Kara finished 4th in the race.  Shalane finished third. Amy, only mentioned in stories because she caught Shalane in her moment of "sheer exhaustion", won the whole freaking race. And Desi? She was second overall. Again.

If you want to take as second to try and recall what Desi even wore during the race, go right ahead.

The only reason I know what she had on was because I tweeted how black might be a bad choice for a sunny hot marathon. I don't know because of all the articles about her second consecutive silver-medal showing in an Olympic Trials.

Perhaps Desi doesn't seek the attention. Maybe she prefers to be behind the scenes. It is even possible she is a horrible person that no one wants to talk to. I highly doubt any of those are true but I am playing devil's advocate. I almost hope they are the reality and the lack of coverage is not because she is plain-ish. Or god forbid because she is brown. I don't even want to think we still live in an American where those who have even an ounce of dark in their skin will get the shaft. But not mentioning it as a possibility would be folly on my part.

Maybe I am blowing this all out of proportion. Maybe somehow I am just seeing the things I want to see. I say this because it is always nice to pretend I don't know exactly what I am talking about. I think it is called humility. Or bullshit. I have never been good at either.

Here's hoping that over the next few months between now and Rio we get to know a great deal more about Desi and Amy Cragg. Sure, we should learn about Shalane as well if any of the numerous other magazine articles won't suffice.

But diversification of our knowledge of the athletes representing our country is indeed something we should demand. Widespread knowledge amongst most runners of the elites in our sport is already at a premium. We shouldn't bottleneck it more based who looks best in bunhuggers.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Crewing an Ultramarathon

Off the bat, let me say I think I am absolutely horrible at crewing an ultramarathon and my hat goes off to every single person who does it.  Virtually any significant ultramarathoning achievement is done because of the work of many. (I say virtually as there are superhumans like Ian Sharman, who I witnessed at Rocky Raccoon 100 this weekend run seemingly uncrewed and unpaced breezingly to a win in a time of 13:45. I don't think the man paused for a minute for anyone to even crew him if they were there. Just wow all around.)

I have done a few events which needed crewing and I have seen how having a prepared and ready crew can make all the difference. I have also seen how each event needs a vastly different set of rules on how to crew and what to do.  More often than not, the work of a crew is far more complicated than the work of a runner. I won't go as far as to say it is more difficult, but it is one that is challenging for sure.

Take for example this past weekend. I was set to crew my best friend Shannon as she attempted her second 100 mile race. She attempted the Javelina Jundred race two years ago on a day of record temperatures (and surprisingly unstocked aid stations for those temperatures which had been forecasted well in advance.) When she got to the 100k mark, realizing she was chasing cutoffs and would be for the next 30+ miles, she wisely decided her kidneys were more important than a finish and chose to bow out and get a 100k finish. I had attempted to crew her at Javelina but think my efforts to do so weren't very good. Javelina's course was similar to the one at Rocky Raccoon in that it is a multiple loop.  Unlike Javelina, however, with a little effort, even a one-person crew like myself could get around to their runner at multiple locations.

(I don't want to get off the far broader topic here too much but here are a few words about
Rocky Raccoon. Those who think it is an "easy" course because they see the aforementioned Ian Sharman or runner-up Paul Terranova's time are in for a massive shock. Sure there are harder races out there, especially since we are in the phase of running where course are designed to be difficult just for difficult's sake. However, after having now run the vast majority of this course in my own DNF 50 mile attempt here 6 years ago, and having crewed it, I can say it is far from easy.)

Even on a relatively perfect day for running as it was this weekend, the forest at night can get shockingly cold. The roots in the trail get bigger each loop. The new white rock strewn road which I heard was created to help trucks get across for some construction was slippery and unwieldy. The Damnation Loop is lonely and goes on forever. Do not misunderstand me. It is a well-oiled and run race thanks to many hard years of work from Joe and Joyce Prusaitis before selling it off a few years back. But thinking it is easy will have you DNfing at mile 60, believe me.

As such, I was excited to be able to provide help where and when I did. And I realized it was so much more different than running a race (if I hadn't already.) While Shannon fell short of finishing (mile 93) because of hypothermia which fell a few dozen racers during the night, I was still very proud of her achievement. It also got me to thinking about the importance of having a good crew. As such, here are a few things I was able to glean.

1. Be tough and firm but gentle and yielding, all at the same time, every second.  Also be funny and serious. Simultaneously. See how easy that is?

2. Take care of yourself.  The only way you can be of any use to your runner is by making sure you are also fed, hydrated, and rested. Don't eat your runner's favorite food, though, you ingrate.

3. Discuss, discuss, discuss. Ask your runner what they want to eat before the race. They may not have the energy to discuss this with you during the race. Sure, things will change but having an idea of what they might want is paramount to success. Same goes with whether they want you to coddle them, yell at them, talk to them during the run (if you happen to be pacing as well as crewing them) and all pre-race strategy. You will undoubtedly not be able to think of everything which may come up but no amount of talking about what may happen is bad.

4. Allow time. For everything. Whether it is getting to the start, to an aid station, filling bottles or packs or whatever. Chances are high everything will take longer than you think and the last thing you need is to be late somewhere.

5. Cheer and help others. There is a high probability you will have some downtime during your day.  If so, lend a hand to people you don't know. Obviously, don't get in the way and ask before doing so but rarely will anyone turn down another helping hand if they need it.

Besides volunteering there are few ways that allow runners to really give back to the sport they love so much. Taking part in helping someone create a lifetime memory will help you create one yourself.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Icebreaker Indoor Half Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 11; 3rd Edition 
52.4 miles runs in 2016 races
Race: Icebreaker Indoor Half Marathon
Place: Milwaukee, WI
Miles from home: 2055
Weather: 45; Dry; Indoors

With my third straight weekend of racing, and my third straight weekend of very solid weather predictions, I was hoping for a third week of good results. That might have been too much to ask for.

Time and time again when I am asked for advice from newbie runners, after pointing them to the 400-page book sitting in front of me that I wrote so they could refer to said advice whenever they want, I tell them to realize how often running does not go the way you want it.  You do what you can to put yourself in the best position to have a good day on race day and hope that 10% chance of having a good day happens when you are racing.

My goal for this race was to run a solid 1:25ish for the half marathon. When the morning approached, I felt perhaps I could take advantage of the "optimum" conditions and run a solid 1:22 or so.  Then I ran the first lap.

But before I get to my race, let me set the stage for this indoor marathon. Three lanes of hard surface track surrounded the longest speed skating rink in the country. Longer, by two feet, than the rink I had run a four hour timed event to close out my 2011, it was indeed an interesting venue. Time and again I heard people tell me they would get bored or this would drive them out of their mind, even though they had never done anything similar to this. Sure, at first blush, perhaps some would equivocate running 47.5 laps as boring. To which I say, run harder and you will be more concerned with your lungs than your boredom.

Credit: Bill Flaws, Running in the USA
The ice rink itself was kept a very nice 45 degrees or so, pretty perfect for racing. Or one would think. The surface was flat which again lends one to think it is perfect, but I would beg to differ on that. Fortunately, there was an additional lane added to the race as in previous years there were only two lanes for running.  Without a doubt, even three is not enough. That said, people during the race were relatively good with keeping lane one open only for passing, lane two for faster runners, and lane three for slower runners. But like closet space, you can never have too many lanes.

There were two bathrooms right on the west end of the track just a foot or so away from where we were running. This was an extremely nice touch. I never used them, however. There were also a plethora of volunteers there to hand you your water bottle on tables positioned right before the end of each lap. I also never drank a sip of water.

Credit: Bill Flaws, Running in the USA
Laps were on display on a big screen TV right when you passed each lap and if you paid attention you could see what lap you were on and what the lap time was, even if a slew of runners passed over the mat at the same time. (See the picture on the right with me giving some mean side eye to the TV right off screen.) At the end of the straightaway of the first portion of each loop was a huge overhead display of constantly revolving list of runners.  Listed in order of place and also with the number of laps completed, I could count on seeing an update of myself about every two laps at my pace (I would learn later.)

All told, the event was very smoothly run. There was music played for the entirety of the race and an announcer with updates for some of the lead runners as well as when each runner hit five laps to go. Organization-wise I can't really think of anything that could have been done better. Kudos indeed to the race committee, volunteers and all involved.

This leads me to my race.

I positioned myself about three rows back of the three abreast (or so) runners figuring the top ten would be where I would finish.  Given the previous results this would have been relatively correct. However, on this day, there were going to be a slew of fast runners taking part.
Previous night's 5k. Add ten more runners.

There were two half marathons being run with those hoping to run faster times running the 7 a.m. race. I can say unequivocally that I was more than pleased that all 200 of us were not on the same track at the same time.

The clock counted down and away we went.

First 1/4:
1:48, 1:52; 1:51; 1:53; 1:50; 1:53; 1:54; 1:56; 1:52; 1:52; 1:52; 1:54

We ran half of a lap before getting to the timing mat and then I began hitting my watch. Fast goal would be 1:45 per lap. Slow goal would be 1:50. I was not happy to see 1:48. I was even more unhappy when I ran 1:52 on the second lap.

Credit: Bill Flaws, Running in the USA

As lap after lap unfolded I simply could not catch my breath. There were a few chaps in front of me that I was staying right behind so if I was slowing, so were they. But that didn't help me with my breathing.

As I began the third mile I ran a slew of 1:52s and thought perhaps it was just me needing to get the feel for the track and how people would react to being passed. My biggest concern for the race was plowing into someone who inadvertently stepped out into the passing lane (my hand is still broken, by the way.) My second biggest concern was getting plowed into because, as I mentioned, some dudes were flying! (Top 5 guys all ran under 1:20 and the 6th guy missed by one second.)

Fortunately, almost every single person was staying where they needed to be. But I can definitely say the concern for getting run into adds a second or two per lap. Especially when you have a broken hand and every person you pass is on the side of the broken hand!

To the Half: 
1:54; 1:55; 1:54; 1:56; 1:57; 1:54; 1:57; 1:56; 1:58; 1:52; 1:55; 1:53

That string of faster loops did not, however, begat a sudden burst of speed. While by the fourth and fifth miles I was finally seeming to catch my breath, I was not picking up the pace at all. I more or less resigned to running a less than stellar time. Without a doubt, one of the worst things about long distance racing is realizing early on that the day is not yours and still needing to go through the motions for another hour (or two or seven.)

Instead, I decided to simply watch the other runners around me, including those passing me and those I passed. I was still giving all I had; just all I had wasn't very much. Suddenly, I ran off a stream of faster paced loops again. Also, with 6 miles to go, the leading runners had like three to go.That was beyond impressive.

To mile 10: 

1:57; 1:57; 1:54; 1:57; 1:55; 1:54; 1:57; 1:54; 1:55; 1:56; 1:58; 1:55;

But just as quickly and without explanation that the fast loops happened, they went away. I felt as if I was pushing hard but there was no correlation to my time. Undoubtedly, there was some slowing from constantly bobbing and weaving around runners. But that alone couldn't account for the times I was running.

I almost had the disaster I dreaded around the 9th mile as a woman dropped something and decided to stop, turn around and pick it up, all without really looking behind her. Only my Baryshnikov-esque skills kept us from becoming a tangled mess.

What did she drop? A water bottle or gu packet?  Nope. An old-fashioned coin purse. You know, the plastic kind that were last made in 1897. Was she expecting to make a purchase in the middle of the race that required 37 cents? What would that purchase be? A postcard stamp?

After breathing easy for not decapitating a little lady, I actually laughed out loud. Yeah, that's going in the recap, I thought.

Last 5k: 

1:55; 1:55; 2:01; 1:54; 1:58; 1:57; 1:51; 1:50; 1:51; 1:49; 1:44

Throughout the race the lead woman was one lap behind me. Well, she was less than one lap but I never could tell how far.  Whenever I would pass under the big board of runners it would tell me she was always "Me Minus One." But I had a feeling that was probably just a few yards as most. As there was no one else that was that close I kept using that pursuer as my whip to keep me going when I wanted to stop.

A kick to my ego was when I inexplicably ran my first two minute lap.  his lap felt no slower than the 1:55 before it or 1:54 after it.  It really goes to say how much weaving in and out of people can slow one down each lap. Realize that 5 seconds per lap was almost 20 seconds per mile. If one were out on an outside course that amount of change would be easy to discern. Indoors, however, it is different. This was one thing I was quite cognizant of having done a few of these indoor races and wanted to make sure that I would not fall prey to it here. However, it happened and it fired me up.

Another fire under my shoes was when I hit five laps to go and was announced as such. Shortly there after, the announcer said the lead woman was on her final five as well. Throw in the fact that, if my math was correct, I was dangerously close to running over 1:30 and that was all the motivation I needed to pick up the pace.

My lifetime average for 87 half marathons is 1:30:14.  Those 14 seconds bug the heck out of me.  My friend Jay, a fellow lover of numbers, had figured out what I needed to run 1:28:28 in my next 13 halfs to get that average down below 90 minutes. I was not going to do that today but I was going to be damned if I added to it! (Plus, I wanted to pass my buddy David Andrews for a fifth time but just missed doing so. See, now you are in the recap!)

In the final five laps, what also helped was I knew that no one else would be passing me. Being able to, more or less, run unimpeded in lane one meant that I didn't have to juke and jive. As suspected, this made everything so much easier. I figured, even with the breathing problems and everything else being the same, if I had just ran this race solo I would have run the 1:26 I thought might be possible without much trouble. As I mentioned above, for some reason, in spite of sweating profusely, I didn't take a single drink of water. Part of that comes from the fact I couldn't breathe at first. Part was because I didn't want to have to grab a bottle full-stride among other runners. But, mostly, I wasn't thirsty.  It was an odd experience but it wasn't even until this final three miles that it hit me I hadn't imbibed.

When I it the final lap, I saw I had to run roughly a 1:50 to finish under 90 minutes. Not wanting to leave it to chance, I picked it up and ran my fastest lap of the day. Too bad I couldn't have done that for the previous 48.

I finished in 1:29:57 which was good enough for 14th place overall. I stepped off the track and offered congrats to those who had finished and the lead woman who came in about half a minute after me. Then I bolted quickly for my hotel for a quick shower and change to come back and do another book signing. I was sad that I couldn't hang around but my singlet was drenched and beginning to freeze me. The singlet, by the way, was my high school track singlet. I am not sure what made me pull it out of the closet a few days before but I thought it would be fun.

Let's just say this polyester did not breathe very well at all. But I don't look that much worse in it today as I did 22 years ago. I dare say I look a touch better with no beaded necklace and white undershirt.