Thursday, January 25, 2018

You Don't HAVE to. You GET to.

How many times have you encountered a running friend who, perhaps in the middle of a slump or dealing with an injury, has said they “HAVE to do X miles today”? I readily admit I used to be one of those runners who made it seem like it was a chore to be able to do something so awesome.

To clarify, I use the past tense in describing myself as such not because I never experience the desire to sit on the couch and do nothing. Quite the contrary. As much as I love exercise and feeling the wind whipping around me, I unabashedly can state that if liposuction was free, I would probably run less. There are days I just do not have the same desire to go for a run as I do on others. I will simply bide my time, dressed in my shoes and shorts, just hoping to get another spam email telling me that I need a better mortgage  so I can delete it and shake my fist at the email gods and continue to not actually go running.  Runcrastination, I call it.

But I know one thing for certain, and that is I do not HAVE to run. No, dear sir or madam as the case may be, I GET to run.

The distinct difference between “have to” and “get to” comes from the fact that all around us there are people who would run any chance they could, but because of serious injuries or other circumstances, have been robbed of that blessing. My own father was one of them before he passed away a few years ago. Crippled in a hunting accident before I was born, running was not an option for him. I have no doubt, as much as he jokingly stated that my running feats were a bit on the outlandish side, he would have gladly joined me for one of those jaunts rather than continue to not have the choice to do so.

All around me I see people who have lost limbs in war, have been hit with disease, or have had something else awful fallen upon them who refuse to use that as an excuse not to go for what they want. Watching wheelchair races in a marathon, or people using crutches in one of those obstacle course races or anything else in between is such an invigorating feeling.
I am in no way saying we cannot have bad days and that our own sufferings and troubles need to always be compared to others who have it worse. We are welcome to have our own down moments and lulls of appreciation as to the gifts we have. And while I am writing this in the context of running it can fully be adapted to fit all the myriad of things that we are fortunate enough to do in this world.

However, the next time you think about what workout you “have” to do, or the book you "have" to write, or the children you "have" to take to whatever recital, practice, etc, take just one second to realize how lucky you are that you “get” to do it.

Then go do it.

Friday, January 5, 2018

New Year's Double Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 11; 15th Edition 
191 miles run; 4750m swam in 2017 races
Race: New Year's Double Marathon
Place: Allen, TX
Miles from home: 235
Weather: 25 degrees; windy; cloudy

What a year. And not in a good way.

2017 was tumultuous. For myself and for the vast majority of the world. I can say that much more than usual, this was the year I, I took on as much of the grief and strife of the world as I could bear.  It wasn't fun.

As the days ticked down to the end of the year, even though I had already run and bested the course record for the Salt Flats 50k (but ultimately took 2nd place overall) I had not run a marathon in the entirety of 2017. This meant that if I did not schedule one in December, I would put an end to a streak of qualifying for Boston every year since the first year I did so in 2005.  I have had close calls before, making it by just one second in 2012 at the Mesquite Marathon, the year I came off of a cycling accident and a move to a new home.  This year too was interrupted but by being assaulted by two men, not an accident.  While the District Attorney here in Travis County continues to not even respond to the detective who looked into my case (who himself verbally berated me saying that I somehow was at least at fault for having two homeless men stop my car and attack me, fracturing my face in three place and requiring surgery and pins in my thumb) I have tried my best to get back into running shape.

There were just a few options available to me locally which allowed me to save a few bucks on travel.  But I didn't wait all year to run a marathon in abysmal conditions and most of them showed me weather which was hardly going to be to my liking.  The last chance I had was to run the same marathon I ran last year in Allen, Texas on New Year's Eve.  This was actually supposed to be my 159th and 160th marathons, running on back-to-back days but a severe chafing issue on the first one on New Year's Eve had me deferring to run the half on January 1st of 2017.  So here I was, running the exact same race for my 160th marathon, just 364 days later.  It also left me with no margin for error.  Qualify for Boston here or the streak is over.

The race course is relatively simple.  It is four loops of a twisting and turning course with a pretty cruel double-ramp on one side of a highway leading to an underpass to a single ramp on the other to get across.  Having to traverse this twice on each lap, with other runners coming both ways, is my least favorite part of this course.  But I love loops or repetitive courses more than virtually everyone I know.  Getting rid of the unknown is just something which sits with me well.  Another thing that sits with me is the 25 degree cloudy weather. There was virtually zero chance I would overheat in this weather.

While others were (literally in some cases) dressed like Max in Where the Wild Things Are, I was in a pair of shorts, short sleeve shirt and a light winter cap. As the wind began to whip before we started, I asked the race director if she happened to have a pair of throwaway gloves.  Indeed she did, the stretchy kids gloves you get 3/$1.

Perfect. I was excited and ready to go. And I looked like a bad ass. Apparently, I thought a fight might break out with that Batman stance.

Loop 1:

We took off promptly at the advertised time and a slew of runners went off in front of me.  As there was also a half-marathon being run simultaneously, I couldn't right off tell who was all running what race.  It didn't bother me one bit as I was here to beat only one foe: the clock.

As we headed out for our double circumnavigation of the upper part of Celebration Park before exiting it for a nice straightaway after the cursed ramp, I reminded myself that the mile markers for this course were all a little on the "guideline" side of things. In other words, I would simply remember where I was in relation to points on the course and then use that to gauge how I was doing in relation to the previous loop. Otherwise, a 6:36 followed by a 8:36 mile might be deflating.  I might forget that one mile was a little long and the other a little short.

Regardless, I could tell today was going to be windy. I was chilly but not cold. Nevertheless, I could do without the added effort of fighting wind.

By the time I got to the long straightaway which lead to a small lollipop loop at the end before returning, the leader of the race was already exponentially in front of me. There goes any chance of winning the race, I laughingly thought.  Then I recalled last year how, completely unbeknownst to me, I had passed runner after runner in the last loop to move up from 6th to 2nd overall. But that couldn't happen again, right?

I did like that the return straightaway would be with the wind.  That was nice.  Of course that mean the last half mile before the finish would be into the wind.  That was not nice.

I ended the first loop exactly on pace for a 3:10 marathon and felt solid. I thought it would be a little faster but I also felt I hadn't taken it out all that hard.  Perhaps a negative split would be in the works.

Loop 2:

I was playing cat and mouse with a few runners this loop as they would surge in front of me and then fall back.  I was doing everything in my power to simply stay on a pace that was conservation friendly in case the weather turned. My goal was to keep something in the tank if I needed it to battle the elements. I assumed that these three men were all running the half as they all passed me for good before we began heading back on the loop.

The course is as such that you are always passing someone whether it is in one direction or another. You get to see every single person in the race in some capacity and some people you never seem to lock eyes with and others become your buddy.  I tend to zone out but on this loop I made an effort to sort of say hello to everyone. Then I could go back to zoning out and not feel too bad.

As we approached the end of the loop I saw one of the three guys stop at the halfway point. The other two, however, continued on. They were running the marathon. I would have bet anything that they were done for the day but if they had that sort of energy in their legs, good for them. I would not be trying to match them.

My pace felt a little quicker for this loop but it ended up being about 30 seconds slower.  Not bad for 6.55 miles but I had hoped for more. Now I was on 3:11 pace.  I only needed 3:14:59 to keep the streak alive!

Loop 3:

This time around the park, the wind picked up a little bit more.  In addition, it started to snow. I was extremely pleased with this smattering of white stuff. There had been forecasted a slight chance of precipitation which would have made this a miserable day. But snow? I haven't run in a race where it was actually snowing in...I seriously have no idea.

The footing was a bit dicey in a few sections but there were amazing volunteers out throwing down some salt or other gripping material for the runners. There was a police officer to stop traffic in and out of the park. The aid station workers were very much on point. Speaking of which, because it was cold, and I wasn't doing my normal sweat-ten-gallons dance (I was still sweating generously as the ice crust on my hat told me when I would adjust it) I barely drank a thing. I think I had two glasses of water and one of Gatorade.  Partially by design but partially because every time I came into the aid station it was almost always on the heels of someone much slower who would come to a halt to grab a drink.


Nearing the end of the loop I no longer had any idea what place I was in. I no longer saw a runner or two who I was under the impression were running the marathon but I couldn't tell where they had scampered off to. My loop was unfortunately about two minutes slower than I had hoped which made me a bit flummoxed. It was going to be a tight finish to get this under the wire. I felt relaxed, if tired.  Hungry for a hard finish without feeling spent. After a momentary panic, I figured I had it in the bag.

Loop 4:

Beginning the fourth loop one of the runners who has passed me earlier came into view.  In fact he rapidly came into view.  I wasn't 100% sure whether he was slowing or I was speeding up or if it was a combination of both but I knew I would be passing him in mere yards. Soon I was flying down the south side of the park, with the geese and the ducks frolicking in water that had to be just about half of a degree above freezing.  The air temperature was 25 degrees yet except when the wind blew, I felt wonderful.  Many others did not look the same.

I went through the underpass, which was always a dicey affair (it had flooded earlier in the day and the race had deftly handled that somehow, delaying the 5k earlier by just 15 minutes.)  This time, however, using the mirrors that allow you to see into the tunnel, I saw no one approaching for the first time all day. I turned on the speed and almost ran full tilt into someone who decided to run on the completely wrong side in the pitch black.  My pirouette was not only impressive but should have deducted a minute off of my time simply because I did not blow this young lass up like the ski guy on the Agony of Defeat from ABC's Wild World of Sports.

Down the long straightway I went and around the lollipop.  I passed two guys who I swore were in the marathon but I hadn't seen the last lap.  No mind. Up ahead, as I focused on just running I caught glimpse of the final guy who had passed me in that second loop.  He seemed to be faltering.  I definitely was using him as a gauge to speed up a little but more important to me was the clock. Hitting one of the mile markers where it had routinely taken me 11 minutes to get from there to the finish had me feeling good. No doubt in my mind in my mind I would have a full minute to spare.

Nope. I had 10:30. Oh man, this is going to hurt.

As I ran up the ramp, two gentleman must have heard my belabored breath as they tried to very politely get out of the way.  This, of course, just made me almost run into the back of one of them. I bypassed the aid station grand central station and somehow still grabbed a glass of water.  I didn't need it per se. But I wanted to have just a little bit of wetness in my mouth for the final push.

Within 100 yards I passed the guy in front of me and ran full into the teeth of the wind.  Nice thing about being 185+ lbs is if I get moving and am determined, it takes a hell of a wind to stop me.  I threw myself headlong into it, pumped my arms, and gave it all I had.

With half of a mile to go I knew it was going to be close. At 26 miles, it hadn't gotten any easier. I finally made the last two right angle turns, avoided a little ragamuffin who chose RIGHT THEN to run in front of me, saw the clock ahead and sighed as I finished:


They put a medal around my neck and told me I was second overall. I have no idea how that happened but it was a mirror image of last year. Almost to a stitch. My time was only 8 seconds different than last year. I was wearing the literal same pair of shoes, the same shirt, and the same sunglasses. I don't mean the same kind. I mean the same freaking ones.

If either of these marathons had gone the way I really wanted them, I would say I would wear this outfit more often.  But that was too close for comfort.  Instead, I quickly got in my car and readied for the three hour drive home (after a quick stop for a shower.)

Huge kudos to the race director and all the volunteers for putting together a race in condition that were wonderful for me to run in but undoubtedly not too fun to stand around in. I was so happy they were there so that I could tie a bow on a crappy year and quickly send it to the trash.

Time to hit 2018 running.