Tuesday, November 18, 2008


Seems like the recovery is going well from NYC as I head into my third post-race week. I ended last week with 55 miles after a nice run along Phoneline Trail in Sabino Canyon with some friends. Unfortunately I caught my toe on a rock and nearly took a header on the downhill, and the resulting save tweaked my groin muscle a bit. As a result I'm holding off on adding any strides or short bursts of speed until I'm not feeling stiff and sore there.

I've gone from plain-vanilla easy runs daily to incorporating slightly faster paces either every other or every third day, and the leg turnover seems to be returning somewhat. Altogether, I can't complain.

Sorry for the lack of posts, but the gallery I work for has a show this week so my free time has been severely curtailed. I'm also behind on catching up on several of the runner blogs I check, but I'm happy to see Eric's orange face now has some new entries next to it. Welcome back Sundog, we've all missed you.

8 miles, 52 minutes, 6:34 pace
Sleep: 6hr 6/10
Legs: 7/10 still a tweak in the groin
Weather: 63 degrees

6 miles, 42 minutes, 6:58 pace
Sleep: 5h 4/10
Legs: 6/10 groin tight and sore
Weather: 60 degrees

10 miles, 1h30m, Very hilly Phoneline Trail run with friends
Strained my groin a bit when I almost fell after catching a rock with my toe

8 miles, 53m, 6:40 pace
Legs: 8/10 Felt great

9 miles, 1h02m, 6:59 pace

8 miles, 53 minutes, around 6:40 pace
Sleep: 7h 8/10
Legs: 7/10 Just a little heavy but ready to move
Weather: 45 degrees

11/12/08, 6.2 miles in 43 minutes with the Running Shop Gang

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Love Letter to Greg Crowther and Great Runs

This post started as a comment on Greg Crowther's blog, but it quickly grew into a post of its own. I've admired the guy for as long as I've read him, so this post is for him.

Since I stumbled onto your blog a few years ago I've been a fan of your writing and your running. I've enjoyed reading about you becoming a father as much as I have enjoyed reading about your best races and your relentless training. With this being said, I was bummed while checking the results for your race this past weekend, and I wish it had gone better.

Between this post and the more recent one, I would have to agree that you're temporarily burnt out. I think you might be wandering in the gray twilight of stage 4.5, which is a damning place to be (check the second link for context). Heading into this summer I felt like I was wedged firmly in this space after two failed attempts at a marathon PR and a lackluster early racing season which culminated in yet again blowing my two chances to PR at 5K. I quit blogging for a few months after realizing I never wanted to write another crappy race report again.

What seemed to help drag me out of the funk was a bit of a change of focus and the schmaltzy self-help mantra, "Never another starting line". Bear with me here.

I know from your posts that winning isn't enough, which is certainly one of the attributes of a champion (I truly feel you are a champion Greg). What might be worth analyzing is why running a PR or a fast time IS good enough. Now I'm going to add my favorite fortune to the schmaltz (yes, I actually pulled this from a fortune cookie and yes I've mentioned it before). "The greatest effort isn't concerned with the results".

My guess is that even while you are a fierce competitor, glancing at the finishing clock while breaking the tape isn't what you remember about the great races. Instead, I bet you remember and savor the feeling of really running well on those days more than the eventual outcome. I mean the feeling of just KILLING it, turning the screw at the critical time and finding more in the legs to give, or fighting back with courage against overwhelming fatigue and holding firm in your resolve. I'm talking about finding and lingering in that elusive place where so much joy and so much pain intertwine, when you are truly giving your best effort naturally without any second guessing.

Certainly the thrill of competition can bring out a great run, and a great time or placing can cement it in time, but as always the real battle is with the man in the mirror. Without a starting line or a finishing clock, where do true competitors find the motivation to continue running? What made us fall in love with it and what keeps us in love even while slipping into the inevitable "winding down" of age that John L. Parker describes so well?

Finding that thing inside us that keeps us searching for that next great run seems to be the important thing. I'm sure it's there for you and for me, maybe at some 5K a few weeks down the road, or perhaps on some familiar trail, far from any starting line. The value of the greatest effort is slowly supplanting the value of the next PR, though both are quite sweet when they arrive.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Week That (Barely) Was

Mo: Off
Tu: Off
We: 6 (sore and stiff)
Th: 4 (see line above)
Fr: 5
Sa: 8
Su: Off
Total: 23 whopping miles in 4 sessions

I took the kids to see my folks in Mesa on Saturday night, and in their traditional fashion they took far too long to fall asleep and woke up at 4:30. This behavior was enough for me to at least blame Sunday's zero on them.

This week is off to a good start with an easy 8 miles yesterday and an easy 6 this morning. I'm still leaving the Garmin at home and just running by feel with a stopwatch, but I can tell I'm starting to move over the road at a faster pace than last week's crawls. The right calf muscle is still gripping the bone a bit too fiercely, but I find I'm noticing it about five minutes later on each run when compared to the run before it. Today I only thought about it at 40 minutes in, so I'm guessing it will be gone altogether in a few days. The adductors, abductors, hamstrings and quads are all still a little sore, but they seem to be coming along nicely. One toenail gone, which is unexpectedly good news. I love those Asics Gel Ohanas.

I'm still committed to going easy through the end of this week and into next week, but I'm starting to think a bit about the upcoming 5K cross-country Turkey Trot on November 27. Since my folks are camping for Thanksgiving instead of cooking, I need to land second place in the 30-39 age group in order to secure a pumpkin pie (Kiera hates pumpkin almost as much as she hates making pies). It would also be nice to knock out a PR for the course here, but with all the uphills, cornering and sprinting on grass it will be a challenge given my usual condition in the month after a marathon.

11/11/08, 6-ish miles in 43 minutes

11/10/08, 8-ish miles in 56 minutes

Saturday, November 08, 2008


After two full days off I've gotten back to some running. I'm taking these days as they come, and I've taken off the Garmin for a few weeks in an effort to run easily by feel without minding the paces. The quads are still tight and sore, and the calf muscles are taking awhile to forgive me. So far no strange or abnormal pain, which is always a good sign. It's been fun slowing down and getting up with the kids for a change with the shorter runs. Thanks for all the great comments on the race, I've enjoyed reading them.

8-ish miles, 58 minutes, a bit less sore

5-ish miles, 38 minutes, right calf is mighty tight

4-ish miles, 30 minutes, ran too much yesterday

6.2 miles with the gang, 43 minutes, A bit too fast and too hard for the first day back

11/4/08, Big Zero

11/3/08, Big traveling zero

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Mike the Liar

In the days leading up to the race last weekend I told Kiera that I was planning on really enjoying the New York trip, as this would be the last time I would be doing something like this. What I meant was the whole dedicated build-up; Four to six months of focused training geared towards a single goal to the exclusion of other pursuits and races. I talked about how it's just too time consuming and expensive to travel to a big race, and how the satisfaction I get from a marathon isn't really any different than how I feel after any 5 or 10K race. I meant all of it too...and then I ran the NYC marathon.

New York is an incredibly exciting place. Even before we got into a cab at the JFK airport we were making plans to join Abdi Abdirahman for dinner in Manhattan. Abdi is a fellow Tucsonan who finished 6th at NYC, and he's a three time Olympian to boot. While we live in the same town, I'd never met him before so it was a kick to dine with him.

Walking back from Abdi's hotel took us past Radio City Music Hall, NBC Studios and Rockefeller Center before we found Grand Central Station for the subway ride home. Just stumbling upon all these landmarks was mindblowing, and worth the blister I ended up getting (the only one for the whole weekend though, so no complaints).

Saturday started with a run along the Hudson River with Lucas and Jason. While the wind and the warm temperatures concerned me, the legs just felt electric and ready to go. The trip afterwards to the expo was a bit scattered as we ended up missing a bus after getting stuck in our own elevator and then missed the next one when we figured out we needed quarters to ride instead of dollar bills. The free shuttle to the expo found us after much more walking, and thankfully lunch and the the trip back home were uneventful. Want to find a good restaurant in Manhattan? Walk one block.

Saturday night found the rest of the gang going out to eat while I stayed home and ate pasta with Catlow, our friend who missed running the marathon due to some leg issues but who served as our official map-reader, navigator, and photographer (and in my case chef as well).

Sunday morning's ferry ride to Staten Island was beautiful and calm. We took Ian's advice and switched from a 5am bus ride from Manhattan to the ferry, and it was a great decision. As the Statue of Liberty passed by I listened to Wilco's "Either Way" with my feet up on a bench, pondering the morning ahead. Again, I felt like I had electricity moving through me, and even with the wind I was very excited about the day ahead.

I already wrote about the race, but the rest of the trip was just as fun. The officials shuttle you out of the park fairly quickly after the marathon, so our group met up on 82nd Street west of the park. At the suggestion of our New York friend Peter we hit a diner called E.J.'s, where I was able to put a check-mark next to my usual post-marathon wish list: Cheeseburger, fries, at least 40 ounces Dr. Pepper and a cup of coffee (had to settle for Pepsi but oh well). From there it was off to the Parlour, a bar-restaurant nearby which was hosting a post-race party for the Central Park track club that Peter belongs to. I drank my two beers and watched the one-hour recap on the big screen TV, talking all the time with both old and new friends. Pure happiness.

After a bus-ride back to the apartment we headed out to Greenwich Village for the best pizza I've ever had. Joe's Pizza on Bleeker Street is the place folks. Here we met back up with Jason, so all four of our runners were back together for a celebratory meal with friends and family. We drank our pitchers of beer and relived the good and bad moments of the race, and all of us seemed to want to give it another try someday. Toss in some gelato from Grom down the street afterwards and you have a perfect post-race evening.

Yes, I still need to tell Kiera I was lying. This trip and the company I enjoyed will be something I will always remember. It's not just another 5K or 10K- it's the New York City Marathon!

Toby, Me and Jason at the finish

Monday, November 03, 2008

No More Ghosts

If you haven't already, you really should run the New York City marathon. I think this is my 12th marathon, and I can say without hesitation that the race and the city are unforgettable.

With this being said, enjoying this race was the absolutely the furthest thing from my mind as I crouched in the porta-john at mile 14. This was the third time I'd done the knee-knocking sprint to the side of the road during the past 5 miles, so by now I was good at throwing the door open and getting on with it. "I'm sh**ting my race away", I shouted at the brown door in front of me. I stayed in longer this time than the last two abrupt trips, as I desperately wanted this to be the last time. A PR was by all accounts slipping away, my stomach felt like hell and I couldn't keep any calories down.

The pre-race fesitivities started with a scare when the announcement sounded that the race had closed the first wave corrals and was now staging the second wave. We were handing our bags to the UPS truck at the time, which was at least a quarter mile from where we needed to be, and the follow-up announcement made it clear that we were now relegated to the second wave. I'd seen this movie before last October when I was stuck in wave 2 at Twin Cities, and there was no way I was going to go through that nightmare again. Unfortunately, there were probably 1000 people milling about in the space between us (Lucas was with me) and the staging area, so we were forced to bump our way through what seemed like half of the race's participants en route to the tail end of our corral. Thankfully when we showed our bibs to the guards at the gate they waved us in. From there we worked to the front and ran into Ian, which was a nice surprise.

Staring ahead at the supports for the Verrazano-Narrows bridge and feeling the cold headwind blowing into the field gave me chills, and I couldn't wait to get started. I was going to get down to business quick, with my effort-based split plan in hand (actually it was glued to my Garmin thanks to Kiera's scrap-book talents). My planned 6:27 was 6:27 for mile 1, my planned 5:38 (big downhill) was a 5:37 for 2, and the 5:49 and 5:42 came in at 5:39 and 5:48. I was on it. I didn't feel great, and the headwind was really pushing against me, but the crowds and the atmosphere made up for it. It was going to be hard work, but I was going to make it my day.

Unfortunately, the stomach started to give me trouble the next mile, and while I kept hitting the splits, I put off the gel at mile 7 until mile 8. When I took it, I knew it was a mistake. Unfortunately the G.I. distress I'd had since Thursday afternoon hadn't disappeared yet, and the pepto caplets I took Saturday night had kept me from my usual pre-race,(ahem), ritual Sunday morning. In hindsight I should have waited until Sunday morning to take the pepto, but I was worried by then it would be too late to do any good. Suddenly the problem was urgent, and it was very close to being very ugly.

One quick side-trip to the john is no big deal, so I did what I had to do and made sure to not look at my split for that mile in an effort to stay positive and to keep thinking one mile at a time. Unfortunately, a sip of gatorade at mile 9 rubbed me the wrong way, and the cycle repeated itself.

Two trips to the john is in fact a big deal. I was now starting to panic and I could feel the heart rate creeping up with the same effort. Just like the first time, I tried to claw back just a few seconds a quarter or so, slowly dialing down the pace as I went to try to get back on schedule. Things again settled down a bit, and a glance at the big clock showed 1:18:15 or so at the half, though now we were on our way up yet another bridge. Maybe I'll just take another sip of gatorade... The next thing I know I'm at mile 14 where this post begins, shouting at the door of the porta-john.

As I sprint back out on the course and hear the door snap shut behind me, I make the plan: Forget micro-managing the splits, don't even look at them until you reach the tape. No more liquid, as it's just putting me on the toilet. Forget the gels. Push it to the red-line and hold the gear, and do what you're trained to do.

The moment of truth came on the Queensborough bridge. This comes at mile 16, and it's a steady, uphill grind run in silence (no spectators allowed). I'm generally good on hills, and thankfully the angle of the bridge took us out of the headwind. I was rolling by runners like they were standing still, all the while thinking about Mystery Coach's advice to keep an even keel until mile 16. Somehow tossing out the split collecting and focusing solely on effort made things feel easier, even though I could tell by my stride and cadence that I was on pace.

Just as the bridge finally tilts downward, runners are funneled down a quick 180 degree turn onto 5th Avenue and the lights come on...

It's a wall of people, screaming their hearts out for every runner. I instinctively give a little wave and the eruption doubles. This roar continues for miles, and I'm just rolling now. 5:53, 5:56, 5:53, 6:01, 5:52. I hit the park and dig in on the uphill mile 23 for a 5:52, and the calf muscles start to give. All of the sudden I can't drive quite as far forward with the knees because of this, but I make do. 6:11, 6:04, 6:03, then a mad dash for the last .2 for a 2:37:08. It's a meager PR, but I'm proud of myself for making the right decision at the right time, and for making the best of a bad situation. I gave it my absolute best. No ghosts.

Special thanks to Mystery Coach for the plan that made it all possible.