Thursday, June 15, 2017

From 2005 - Bonk Management

Note: My blog was originally posted on AOL's Journal service. Then they ended the service and I lost a ton of blog postings. This one I was able to recover. It originally ran in 2005 but seemed to still be relevant, especially as summer temperatures are peaking in many places around the country. Hope it is valuable.

Yesterday was the infamous Team in Training SF Peninsula's Woodside run. This is a challenging 12 to 20 mile trail run through Woodside, CA and Edgewood Park. It is easy on the knees and joints but has some tough hills. Weather was perfect but for some reason I had a mid-run bonk.

I'm a month away from the the Maui marathon so needless to say this was a bit concerning to me. I've done runs longer than this and have been training on hills a lot this season with no bonking.
Started the run very strong, maintaining a great pace with good cadence and comfortable stride length. Was able to maintain a comfortable conversation and good breathing pattern. Hit the first hill and hammered it, which felt great and recovered quickly on the backside. Kept this pace for the first 10 miles no problem. Downed a HammerGel at this point and powered on. Then the trouble began.
By mile 12 I was hurting. Maintaining pace became a struggle and found myself really slowing down. By the time we entered Edgewood Park I was in full bonk and even the smallest uphill grades forced me to walk. Ugh!
I was mainlining Accelerade at this point, hitting every water stop for more Gatorade and chose to take the second HammerGel a bit early. This helped. My energy recovered a bit, but I couldn't maintain a steady pace until I got out of the park and back onto Canada Road.
The last water stop was a godsend (can't tell you how fantastic it feels to have a cheering group of volunteers encouraging you on when you are feeling this way. Thanks gang!!
After a bit more Gatorade I pulled myself back onto Canada Road and found I was able to get right back into my usual cadence. Stride length wasn’t there but the energy returned my body fell back into the efficient relaxed state and the last 3 miles were a breeze.
So what happened?
I made two mistakes that caused this bad experience:
1. I did not bring a watch.
2. I ate too late.
I’ve found through my training that I function best when I hydrate and eat regularly. I don’t have a set meter for drinking Accelerade but I do eat an energy gel every 40 minutes, whether I‘m hungry or not. This day, I didn’t take my first energy gel until 74 minutes in and it cost me.
The other thing I learned, though, was that I could recover from a bonk. While I certainly did not recover to the level at which I did the first 10 miles, I was able to regain my cadence and finish efficiently.
Big lesson and better learned on a training run than during my goal event.
Go Team!

What better place to be a VIP than LA

The gauntlet of half marathons is over and I’m just two events away from my goal of being the first person to complete the entire 2010 Rock n Roll Marathon Series. The final half marathon was a special one for me thanks to San Francisco 49er great Roger Craig and fantastic Southern California fall weather.
After finishing the Rock n Roll Denver marathon I had just six days to prepare for Rock n Roll Los Angeles and my legs weren’t too thrilled with this news. I’ve been nursing sore quadriceps and an IT band for several weeks and they could have used a bit more rest. I took it easy on them that week choosing short hikes with my dog Scout and brief recovery runs over the usual push before an event. And it paid off.
At a Forrester Research conference, the week prior, I had run into a client who works at the same company as Roger Craig who said that the hall of fame running back had access to VIP passes for this upcoming race and could hook me up. He came through midweek when I got an e-mail from Roger confirming this news.
I had seen the VIP tents and roped off areas at prior Rock n Roll events but had not partaken myself. Guess I wasn’t worthy. I was certainly curious about what special treatment Competitor Group provided to the elite runners, celebrities and other important people it invited into these areas and would find out for myself in four days.
The weekend started early Saturday morning when Reesa and I flew down, picked up our Rental car and immediately got nostalgic. We both had earned our Master’s degrees from USC and met in a class our first year. And had lived for a short while in Manhattan Beach so made that our first destination. It was only around 9am when we arrived so we stopped into an MB institution, The Kettle, for pancakes and omelets. We then walked down to the pier and along the strand as surfing and beach volleyball got underway as they do nearly every day in this fantastic community.
That afternoon we hit a few other LA hot spots, the marathon expo and then took a long nap. It felt good to get off my feet and rest up for the next day’s race. That evening we headed down to West Hollywood for a fantastic vegetarian meal at Hugo’s on Santa Monica Boulevard. Even if you aren’t a veggie, this place is worth visiting. Creative dishes mixing genres and flavors are their specialty. After the dinner we walked down to Barney’s Beanery, another local institution to watch the final game between the San Francisco Giants and Philadelphia Phillies. In a dramatic 9th inning duel, SF’s Brian Wilson put the tying an go-ahead runs on base before striking out the final batter and sending the Giants to their first World Series since 2002. In typical LA fashion the bar grew silent as the umpire signaled the final out. Dodger fans can’t stand the Giants.
We returned to the hotel on a major high, which made turning in early before the race, a bit of a challenge. Plus all that great food from Hugo’s was making us both feel like stuffed ticks (great image, huh?). I don’t know why it is but no matter the race, I can never sleep the night before. I awoke at 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5:24am that morning – six minutes before my alarm. While the race didn’t start until 7:30am, we had to board a bus from downtown to Griffith Park where the race would start an you never know how difficult it will be to get to the start with over 12,000 people going to the same place.
This was the second Rock n Roll event that bused us to the start and as before, Competitor was very much up to the challenge. I got to the corner of Chick Hearn Court and Cherry Street and there were buses lined up four across and ten deep awaiting runners. I got on immediately, the bus quickly filled and we were off. Thirty minutes later we were at the starting corrals. Great organization.
Since I had 90 minutes to burn before the start of the race, I slowly made my way towards the VIP area in hopes of relaxing a bit and maybe getting some coffee. When I arrived and showed my pass I found a nice spread of fruit, bagels, coffee an other drinks awaiting us. And to the right of the food sat Roger. I had seen him at Rock n Roll San Jose Half Marathon and being a rabid football fan, certainly knew what he looked like. So I walked up confidently, introduced myself and thanked him for the hookup. He couldn’t have been a nicer person. He introduced me to two of his children who were also running in the event – their first half marathons – and took me around to meet others including the president of Competitor Group, as if I were an honored dignitary. Thanks, Roger. I will never forget your incredible hospitality.
The other benefit of being a VIP, in LA especially, is being in the same area as the celebrity runners. Having worked in LA and been around actors and other celebrities before I’m not typically one to get start struck but it was nice seeing Jennifer Love Hewitt and Jerry O’Connell among the star runners. I’m a big fan of O’Connell’s new drama series on CBS, The Defenders, and told him so. I ran along side Jerry for a short while during mile two; it was his first half marathon and I think he went out a bit fast as I didn’t see him again after that.
I started the race along side fellow Heavy Medaler Adam [name]. He too was coming off Rock n Roll Denver and so we both viewed this as a recovery run.
About mile 5 I started feeling really strong and left Adam as I picked up the pace. I had done an 8:15 min/mi pace for the first mile or so – part of the recovery run mentality – but felt up to a bit more after loosening the leg muscles.
The course was a net downhill run from Griffith Park, where the Hollywood Sign and Griffith Observatory make their home, down through a few nice LA neighborhoods, along the Sunset strip and into downtown where the race finished in front of the Staple Center, the home of the LA Lakers.
Much of the course was new territory for me, which made it engaging to visit. The Silver Lake district and Echo Park had some nice parks and interestingly architectured homes. There were a few uphill sections along the way which suit me well and helped me to pass several runners who were unaccustomed. With each mile I felt stronger and upped the pace a bit as I progressed. When we hit mile 10 I was doing under 8 min/mi. This turned out to be the first reverse split half marathon of my career, something I wasn’t sure I’d ever achieve. It was an incredible feeling.
I crossed the line at 1:35, stretched my aching muscles, hugged Reesa (who was a little reluctant due to how sweaty I was – can’t blame her), showered then went down to the VIP tent to greet the other finishers. It was at the finish that VIP status took on its meaning. Competitor laid out a fantastic spread. There were organic breakfast burritos for the early finishers, followed by a fantastic lunch with salad, sliders, pasta and fresh fruit plus beer and wine. Nice.
We closed the day by heading over to the outdoor stage where Neon Trees put on an incredible, high energy show. I knew the band only from their biggest hit, Animal but was blown away by some of their other songs. Lead singer, Tyler Glenn was an adrenaline-filled force on stage – at 10:30am, no less!
Thanks Competitor Group for yet another fantastic experience.
Onward to event number 13 – Rock n Roll San Antonio Marathon.

The Relay 2012 - Our Fastest Team Yet

It’s a couple months past our annual rite of passage here in the Bay Area -- The Relay, a 194-mile tour from the Napa wine country down to the beaches of Santa Cruz County -- and I’m relaxing in our Jacuzzi J-325 hot tub reflecting on a fantastic time, new friendships and awesome weather. The Relay, now in its 17th year hosts over 300 teams of 12 runners who take turns running 6-8 mile segments of the course that winds through grape fields, past cow and sheep pastures, up to and over the Golden Gate Bridge, down along Ocean Beach, through the streets of Silicon Valley, up into the Santa Cruz Mountains along the always-nasty Highway 9 and down to an organic strawberry farm at the beach. Whew. 

The beauty of this event comes through its incredible scenery but more so through the bonding all teams get being packed into vans for two days. This year, Jacuzzi returned as our sponsor providing awesome racing shirts, hats and towels (no, they didn’t throw in the hot tub; I had to buy that).

Our running team, Are We There Yet?, is one of the original teams from the very first running of The Relay, which is how we have maintained the elite team number 4. Only one member of our squad this year was from that original team, Rick P; and this was his 14th running. Awesome.
Joining the team this year were a few veterans and long-time SMSers Kent and myself along with veterans from the 2011 team, Christine and John and a passel of rookies: Zach, Jen, Anne, Aram, Travis and Nipun. Just a couple weeks before the event we lost 2011 veteran Steve, to a stress fracture. Recover well, my friend.

We normally start the weekend with a kick-off party at my place the night before the race but this year, due to our new-found blazing speed (yes, Jen and Anne, this means you!) we were given a late Saturday start (1:30pm) so we opted to kick things off Saturday morning with a breakfast meet and greet. Aram grabbed the spatula and whipped up a batch of incredible eggs while Reesa made the coffee and I manned the waffle irons. Meanwhile everyone pitched in to packed sandwiches to sustain us over the two days, decorate our vans and carbo-load.

Around 10am we sent off Van 2 who drove up to Calistoga to sign in and start us along the 25 hour trek.

Day One – Calistoga to San Francisco

Each team loaded up their vans with coolers full of sandwiches, a case each of water and electrolyte drink, fruit, salty snacks and Oreos. Van 1 hit the trails at 1:30pm (our seeded start – yeah, we’re fast). Here’s each runner’s take on each leg (in racing order).We're still awaiting the accounts from a few of our runners. Hopefully seeing their names in "lights" will push them to share their stories!

After Van 1’s successful take-down of the first six legs, Van 2 took over at the Napa Prime Outlets. Kent grabbed the wrist band from a blazing fast Anne and carried our team South through Napa:

Kent: Anne was so fast on the previous leg that I almost missed her at the exchange point.  Our van was just chatting away in the parking lot, when we heard them call out our number.  I had to sprint over to the line just to make sure that Anne didn’t finish alone.  After taking the wrist band, I set out with two other runners on the course.  The heat got to us early and we quickly set into our own paces as we tackled the first hill.  We did a good job in pushing the pace with each other in a little friendly competition.  By the time we made it to the end of the leg, we were all glad to see the next runner’s and to have a chance to grab some more water.

James: As many of you know, I am working on speed this year in hopes of finishing a marathon in under 3 hours, so I took this first leg, which was mostly flat, as a tempo training opportunity. I grabbed the wrist band from Zach and took off like a rocket - too fast (yep, I know) and was panting for breath but quickly gaining on the runner ahead of me. I took the pace down to a more comfortable 6:26/mile by the second turn and tried my best to hold this pace which was a push but manageable. I was able to pass several runners on this leg but was passed like I was standing still by the pro runner from Team Google 1. These guys always finish in the top 3 for the Relay and if this runner was any indication of their strength this year, they were going to win easily. But it was still a let down to be Googled. Anyways, it was a gorgeous early evening and the conditions were perfect for a run. I hit the transition line in 55 minutes. Not a bad time for 8.1 miles.

After the Rymer boys split up leg 12, we arrived at the Cheese Factory near Petaluma and handed the wrist band back to Van 1 who would take us through the evening down to the Golden Gate Bridge

It was an absolutely gorgeous morning for running with the full moon illuminating the whole bay area. Anne and Jen came in all smiles and handed off to Kent as Van 2 took over for the legs that would cover the wee hours of the morning.

Kent: This leg is one of my absolute favorites in The Relay.  It’s an amazing experience to run in San Francisco when it’s completely quiet at 3am.  Not only were the roads deserted, but you could hear the waves crashing on the beach from a few blocks away.  By this time in the morning, it was pretty cold, so I set out as fast I could just to warm up.  By the time I got to the top of the first hill, I settled into a nice pace that kept me going for the next seven miles.  There are some amazing views in San Francisco as you approach the beach from the Cliff House, and the Moon and stars provided plenty of light to take in the views.

James: This leg was a bit hilly and wound its way mostly along Skyline Road. It was labeled as Easy by the Relay crew but was definitely not. I had run this road before and biked it many times but didn’t really recall exactly how much up and down it entailed. I pushed the pace as best I could but needless to say was glad to see Nipun at the end of it.

Nipun and I split leg 24 and I had the honor of passing the wrist band back to Christine who took off like a bandit despite two broken toes and nearly no sleep. How does she do it?

Three hours after arriving at crash pad #2, Van 2 was off, heading toward Highway 9 East of Saratoga to take over for the final push to the finish. Van 1 could start celebrating and that’s exactly what they did - driving down to the Santa Cruz beach to have some beers and margaritas and celebrate seis de Mayo and a massive accomplishment.

Kent:  I was feeling pretty refreshed in the morning after enjoying 20 minutes in James’ Jacuzzi during our break (especially considering that we had only gotten about an hour of sleep.  We awaited Anne at the top of the hill, and I got the privelage of running down the hill after she did all the hard work of running up it.  Since I’m training for another downhill race in the area, I took the time to practice pushing the pace on the road trying to keep my pace under a 7 minute mile.  By the end of the long, windy, and downhill run, my legs were definitely ready for a break.

James: My leg was the second toughest in Van 2. It started out with a nice flat city run in the rising heat but then turned uphill and kept going up for 4 straight miles. I love running hills and took advice from John, who had this leg last year, to take it easy through the town. That helped a ton. By the time I hit the hill I had enough steam left in my legs to power up it and finish with a strong average time.

Kent/John:  I took the last 3 miles of the final leg, and I was glad I didn't have to run the entire thing.  As we turned the corner onto the coast highway (Highway 1), I was greated by some heavy head-winds and some surprising hills for a final leg.  But it was great to see so many other runners and supporters out there with me.  As I turned into the farm where the finish area was staged, I was greated first by Nipun and then by the rest of the team.  It was great to see everyone and be able to cross the finish line together.

We all gathered for finish line pictures, beers, Barbera wine from Jacuzzi Family Winery (thanks!) and lots of hugs and congratulations. Then you could feel the fatigue from two days of running settle in. We climbed back into our vans for the final time and headed home. It was another incredible year and my thanks and love go out to all our runners and volunteers. We finished the race in 25 hours, a top 25% finish and were all winners. You don’t run The Relay to win; you do it for the experience and the friendship.

Tips from a veteran team:
We’re team #4 in The Relay and 16 years of experience has taught us how to do it right. Here’s how to make the most of this incredible event – and the rapidly growing list of other relays across the country. Want to do it like a pro? Heed Rick’s top tips – sage advice from a 13-year veteran.
  • 12 passenger vans: If you are going to cram six increasingly stinky and tired runners into a vehicle for 19-48 hours it’s important to have room to stretch out and catch a few moments of sleep. Minivans might be great for hauling pre-teens to the soccer field but they are torture on aching runner’s muscles. Go for the big daddy, the Ford F-350 12-passenger van. It gives lots of room for stuff, people, food and of course cowbells.
Rick’s top tip: remove the first row of seats in the van. This gives you extra room for runners to get ready for their legs and stretch after a grueling hill climb. It also gives you extra room for the cooler which is much easier to access when it isn’t buried by bags, towels and pillows.
  • Crash pads: when your Van is off, the last thing you want to do is stay in the van. Sadly many teams do just that cramming themselves into inhuman poses trying to get a few hours of shut eye. You can go the outdoor route and pull out sleeping bags to rest at the Van Exchange but they are never quiet and not all that comfortable (plus you gotta cram the bags and tents into your van leaving even less room to stretch out. The Are We There Yet? plan is to coordinate with family or friends who live near the van exchanges to serve as crash pads. Everyone gets a chance to shower, sleep on a bed or couch and fully rest.
Rick’s top tip: Don’t throw anything at the van leader when he wakes up up at O-Dark-30. It is not his fault that the other van is 5 hours ahead of schedule. Sit up and say thank you sir, may I fix you coffee.
  • Plan ahead on when to leave the pad. While each team tries its best to calculate when it will arrive at the next van exchange things never go as planned. Runners hit a high and take off faster than planned, routes get shortened by construction and the blood lust for roadkills results in a PR. The running Van’s responsibility is to call the resting van when they are starting to approach the end of their last legs but cell phone reception is a problem in the hills where the exchanges take place and you can’t miss a hand-off. If you finish a leg and the next van and next runner aren’t there, you gotta keep running.
Rick’s top tip: Plan on leaving the crash pad between 30-60 minutes earlier than you scheduled and ask the running van to call you when their fifth runner is on the course or as soon around that hand-off as they have cell reception.
  • Headlamps and blinking reflectors. The Relay mandates reflective vests and carrying a light when you run at night but we err on the side of greater visibility for the cars on the road and for the runner. As a coach for Team in Training I usually advise runners who have to share the road with bikes and cars to run at traffic as this gives you and the oncoming vehicles equal visibility to each other and equal chance to dive in the bushes if your eyes are more alert than the oncoming driver or rider. But The Relay mandates running with traffic. Since no one wants to be slapped on the back by a cranky old biddy in a two-ton Volvo it’s in your best interest to be as visible as possible and that’s where the blinking red reflector on the back comes in. Looking forward you must carry a flashlight but I find that a handheld breaks up your natural arm swing to hold the beam where you need it, right in front of you. Headlamps are better as they keep the light right where your eyes go so you always have a safe step ahead.
Rick’s top tip: For added visibility, carry the hand-held flashlight anyway, but point it behind you. This gives drivers even more visibility to you. And you can quickly flash it into the woods if you hear scary noises at night. Miriam, no watching scary movies the night before The Relay.
  • Register and reserve your vans early. When I first joined Are We There Yet? for The Relay the even capped the number of teams at 199 (matching the total mileage of the event most years). Now there are well over 300 which means sellouts are inevitable and renting 12-passenger vans from the local rental car agencies can be difficult. The most famous relay is Hood to Coast in Washington and has sold out every year for the past several years. Registration for most relays opens up to a year in advance and rental car companies take reservations that far in advance too. Don’t risk being a minivan moron.
Rick’s top tip: Next year’s vans are already reserved (at the same price). It pays to know people.

  • Recover like a champion. While I missed out on running this year, I’ll be back again until they tell me I can’t (and probably a year or two after that). With nearly 30 marathons, 5 relays and a few ultras under my belt I can tell you that proper recovery is the fastest path back to the trails. My recipe: chocolate milk followed by lots of stretching, a good go on the foam roller, a long soothing shower, and a dip in a Jacuzzi hot tub. At 101 degrees and its jets on full blast there’s little else that beats it for relaxation and recovery. I like to rotate between the seats of my J-325 starting with jets pulsating on my lower back muscles, then to the spine-tingler opposite the foot jet for a nice arch rub, then over to the seat with jets hitting the shoulder blades. Pop open a bottle of Jacuzzi Family Winery’s award-winning Barbera. invite in the wife and a couple other runners and let recovery take over. Sweet.
Run it next year: May 4-5, 2013

Sunday, November 16, 2014

And Athens Makes 50

I’ve been running marathons for the last ten years and with this, the grandaddy of them all, I mark the milestone of 50 races. What better way to mark the occasion than with the event that started it all, The Authentic Athens Marathon. Now all I had to do was have a better finish that the man, Pheidippides, who inaugurated this crazy obsession so many of us have.

For those who have been following my blog posts, or at least their dates of publication, you have undoubtedly noticed a significant lag in postings in 2014. This is because I have been fighting an emotional and physical battle with running this year which had me doubting myself and unwilling to document this year. In fact, I wasn’t sure this day would come as planned because of it. The year 2014 started with a sense of mortality for me, a partial injury that set back my running, put me at risk of potential season-ending surgery and dispelled a false belief I had in myself and the human body. Over the past six years or so, I had been running injury free as I slowly adjusted my body from traditional running shoes to thinner and lighter shoes as preached in the book “Born to Run.” I felt its teachings were a revelation, as I was logging longer and more frequent runs with greater love and appreciation for running. With each success, I took its teachings farther but never to the true barefoot running it spoke of so highly. I had run in Vibrams and even XeroShoes but never for longer than 6 or so miles. Beyond that made my feet hurt and I felt I needed more cushioning. Good thing because a lack of cushioning bit me in the beginning of 2014 as I learned I had slowly eroded away the natural cushioning in my knee and was risking bone-on-bone contact at this point. Make it worse, and my running career was over. 

Every athlete faces the mortality of their athletic career when they push it too hard or too far and I had hit that mark, unknowingly at the end of 2013. I was facing possible knee surgery at this point and that’s what put my Athens milestone at risk.

Eleven years ago, a coworker at Sun Microsystems and I were out for a run in Dallas, Texas, during a business trip when we got to talking about taking running beyond the warm up event to a business trip. She challenged me to take on a half marathon which I accepted in January of that next year. It nearly killed me. I finished that race with a great sense of accomplishment but vowed to train better the next time so the feeling of complete exhaustion didn’t accompany it. 

That led me in late 2003 to join Team in Training and push, not for a half marathon, but the full thing, in Anchorage, Alaska in the spring of 2004. I finished that race like many first-timers do, sore, exhausted and asking when can I do this again? I was a wreck for the next two hours but the following day was ready to take on the next challenge. This turned into a passion bordering on obsession. And that fall, when I turned 40, my great friend Stephanie suggested I make it my goal to run 50 marathons by the time I turned 50. I accepted her challenge knowing it would mean 4 to 5 marathons per year for the next ten years. A lofty goal but I love a challenge. 

Seven years later (three years early), here I was, arriving in Athens, Greece after a two-week business trip in Europe for what would be that lofty milestone. 

Athens was more than a racing milestone for me, it was also the very first place I had come for a beachfront vacation with the women who would a year later become my wife. Reesa and I had met in graduate school and both signed on for a European studies program that summer. I shyly failed to approach her with my admiration during our initial two weeks in London but got up the courage in the capital of romance, Paris. We kissed for the first time along the banks of the Seine - all too poetic - and after the program finished up in Switzerland, traveled together down the boot of Italy and across to Greece. 

Everyone knows the history of the Athens Marathon, so I won’t recite it here. It is for this reason the race serves as a key milestone for so many marathon fanatics like myself. In fact, while touring Delphi, a key historical site in Greece, I shared the bus with a man from the US East Coast who had come for his 100th marathon. 

While it is unlikely the race course is precise to the steps that Pheidippedes took that fateful day the Athenian army beat back the Phonetians, the course does run from the village of Marathon to Athens. What makes it doubly historically significant is the fact that it starts on the track in the Marathon Arena where the marathon flame is lit each year in honor of the sport and finishes on the same track where the 1896 and  2004 Olympic marathons finished. 
For me, this race was an additional milestone in my charitable work for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and its endurance racing program, Team in Training. through ten years with the society I had helped raise over $60,000 in the fight against blood cancers including a $10,000 campaign in 2010 when I ran the entire Rock n Roll Marathon Series. This year would prove especially important however, as my best friend John was hit very close to home by the disease. His young granddaughter (his first) is a beautiful young girl named Liana who just two weeks earlier Reesa and I had met for the first time. John was planning to come to Greece with me to run this historic race but called, in a panic, to let me know that he wouldn’t be able to make the trip because little Liana had been diagnosed with childhood Leukemia

What initially was a personal milestone, quickly turned into a fight for her and all children like her. I had been planning to raise funds for the LLS once again purely in honor of 50 marathons and the role TNT has played in my life but I had a higher calling now. By race day the generosity of so many of my friends, work colleagues and those in our industry had helped us raise over $17,000 in her name. This alone, I knew, would be all the strength I would need to cross that finish line.
Race day started at 6:15 in the morning in front of the Greek Parliament building in downtown Athens. We weren’t running to Marathon but boarding a bus for a half hour ride to the village. I rarely sleep well the night before a marathon but this evening was an exception, so I boarded the bus rested and ready to run. The trip gave me a preview of the course I was see later that morning which proved very fortuitous, because as the kilometers built up, I would pass a building or storefront I had recognized on that bus ride to the start.

We arrived in Marathon about 90 minutes prior to the 9am start time - European marathons tend to start at this much more civilized hour. The start was in a small track and field stadium with Greek flags lining the arena. Off in the corner, high upon a pedestal sat the official Marathon flame, burning in an Olympic-style torch pit. That was my first destination upon exiting the bus so I could get a photo with this important symbol of my favorite sport. Runners ascended the stairs to the flame in pairs so we could take each other’s photos. My partner was a German man who had lived in the US, among many other countries in his work for a large hotel chain. We chatted a while, sharing race stories, then took our pictures, admired the view and returned to the stadium.

Here I found my Team in Training colleagues. Over 70 people had chosen this event as their charitable cause for the year, including yet another runner marking a key milestone of 100 races. We chatted a bit, walked the track and prepared of the race ahead. About an hour later we descended to our corrals and awaited the starting gun. The Greek national anthem played, a prayer for runners was said and then we were off. The race took us first past a park containing a memorial to the fallen soldiers from the battle of Marathon where the Athenians had beaten back the heavily outnumbering Persian army. Presumably it was in there, because you couldn’t see it from the road. Pheidippedes, by the way, hadn’t simply observed the battle and run back to Athens with the news. He had fought in this battle and then run 26 miles. No wonder he collapsed and died (myth/reality?). Such would not be my fate today. I was taking it easy, nursing my knee and would finish, for sure, and walk away proudly.

After the loop around the tomb, we got a chance to see the lead runners who were doubling back to the main road and on towards Athens. I got to this point too late to see the lead men, but saw a pack of women runners with their names on their bibs, instead of numbers. The leaders were African with a few Europeans just behind. 

The course mostly went in a straight line to Athens from Marathon but not a flat one. The first ten kilometers when up and down through low hills before beginning a very long, slow incline that kept climbing, literally, until kilometer 31. From this point on there was nary a downhill, let alone a flat section. I knew this going in and thus prepared myself for what I thought would feel a lot like a Kauai repeat. thankfully it wasn’t nearly as hot or humid as that island day. 

There were about 13,000 marathoners in the Athens race this year, mostly Europeans, which means you heard just about every language along the course. The most common phrase heard was “Bravo” coming from the locals lining the course and between runners.
One of the most courageous runners chose to honor history, literally, as he ran in full Athenian robes with a helmet, shield and sword. I lost him at the finish so never saw if he actually logged the full 42 km in costume; and was glad I wasn’t running next to him as he wielded that sword.

Where Kauai’s climbs and heat had forced me to walk parts of the course, Greece did not. I ran the whole way, stopping only to refill my bottle a couple of times after 26 kms. It was warm, clear and, by the end, hot on race day, despite cloud cover and threats of rain the week prior. Accuweather reported, up until hours before the race, warnings of thundershowers midday on race day. It must be nice to have a job where you can be wrong 100% of the time, for it was clear as a bell from Marathon to Athens that day.
After the long slog, kilometer 31 finally came, bringing with it a level race course that slowly turned downward. We crossed under a gorgeous arched suspension bridge around kilometer 36 and in the distance you could see ancient Athens before us. I was straining from the long climb but had wisely taken the hill easier so I would have energy for these last few miles. At 32 kilometers I began self-talk saying, “just a 10k remains. You can do a 10k in your sleep.” This refrain fell to “just a 7k” and then “just a 5k” and worked its magic on my brain. 

We reached the park before the Olympic Stadium and my legs started to gain much more energy. The crowds grew thick with supporters all yelling “Bravo!” and clapping enthusiastically. As the Olympic Stadium appeared before me I immediate
ly saw flashbacks in my mind of the finish of the Olympic marathon in 2004 that finished on this course. I would be following in their footsteps. When my feet hit the soft track padding, a turbo charger kicked in and I blasted to the finish with all the remaining energy I had. 

Up to this point, I had treated this race like any other, focusing on my form, pace, strength and endurance. But after crossing this historic line the gravity of this accomplishment set in. This wasn’t just another marathon. This was my 50th. I had done it. A ten year goal accomplished. And I felt amazing.

Even better, Liana had been with me the whole time. I ran with her picture clipped to my back so she, in spirit, could experience this incredible race. When the course got tough, I thought of her and her fight against blood cancer. She wasn’t going to give up, so neither was I. My 10 year milestone can’t possibly match up to what she will accomplish in 10 years - a key milestone for cancer survivors that I’m sure she will hit. And with any luck we will eventually arrive at a day in which children like her no longer have to hear what she heard this summer. A world free of cancer is the milestone we all should strive for. 

On to the next 50! 

Friday, November 14, 2014

Kauai Marathon - Hot, Humid, Hills

After deciding to abort on the San Luis Obispo Marathon, it was time to plan its replacement run as I needed to get in another marathon this summer to leave sufficient time to recover and train anew for what would be my 50th marathon - Athens, Greece. There were many great races to choose from and I love making a race event into a vacation, so I concentrated my search on races in August or early September. This would coincide with the time of year Reesa and I normally go on vacation and still leave ample time to prepare for Athens Marathon in November. As I searched the marathon calendar web sites up popped my favorite island destination - Kauai. Its marathon fell at the end of August, right in the sweet spot of my target date range and what could be better than a beach vacation.

I had already completed two Hawaii marathons, the Honolulu Marathon was my second 26.2 and my all time favorite remains to this day, the Maui Marathon. Both are fantastic beachfront races that wind through great little villages, pass fantastic vistas and stay pretty much at sea level throughout the race. Once more like this? Sounds great.

However, Kauai isn’t like the other Hawaiian Islands. It’s beaches are rockier, its cliffs higher and the whole island is basically a sunken mountain. So you have fewer flat areas, much lush greenery and lots and lots of hills. The race would turn out to be much closer to my experience in The Great Barrier Reef Marathon, than other Hawaiian events. 

Thanks to a long endurance break since my last marathon in February and a lot of physical therapy and the hyrulonic acid treatments, my training for this race had mostly gone well. My knee I fear will never be the same. It creaks more now and crunches often when I flex it. And it nearly always hurts at the start of a run. But it quickly seems to get in a groove and leave me alone as I run, which gives me the confidence that I am doing all the right things to avoid injuring it. I had hoped this would all prove true in Kauai.

The week prior to the race, while vacationing on the island was glorious. Warm, dry and clear as a bell. All good things for a vacation; all not so great for a race. I jokingly asked my father-in-law to do a rain dance the night before the race, as Hawaii, like other tropical destinations specializes in humidity and heat, which become serious detriments to a runner by mile 20 or so. His dance must have worked because as I walked to the start line, down came the rain, scattering runners under palm leaves. 

The race starts very early in the morning on the main road in Poipu with local Hawaiian warriors bearing torches and giving a prayer in local language for a great day. Then, after the traditional singing of the national anthem we were off. No beach run here, the Kauai Marathon immediately turns inland and up the road toward Lihue, the largest town on the island. We started climbing, gradually, but almost immediately. After about a mile or so we came to a fantastic stretch of road called the tunnel of trees which is a section of road lined with local trees that form a natural canopy over the road. It’s quite the site to see and as it was still raining lightly, was a nice break from the wetness. From here the race moved along the highway only a short distance before heading into some nice inland neighborhoods. By this point I was running along side a woman who had flown in from Michigan for the race hoping to spend the week following the event with her boyfriend who was stationed on the island as part of his military service. She found out three days prior to the race that he wouldn’t be here, as his unit had been deployed to the Middle East. She would make the most of the trip enjoying the island, she said, but you could see the disappointment behind her eyes. As we were talking, a local Kauai resident ran up alongside us and joined the conversation. He was a transplant from Michigan now living on the island and working in agriculture. He had run this race before and gave us a valuable tip: Take it easy on the first half, as the second has more hills and is tougher. 

I knew the race was going to be hilly but wasn’t really sure how hilly it would be when I signed up. I was sensitive to the hills at the time I selected this event because I knew they might be tougher on my ailing knee. I guess I must have misread the elevation profile or simply carried too much confidence when reading it, because his warnings seems misaligned with my expectations. “At the half way point we’ll start to climb again, and it will keep climbing for the next 8 miles,” he said. Ooh, kay. 

The two Michigan youths were younger and stronger than me today, so I let them go on as I joined other runners passing along. One very cheery runner and her boyfriend came along doing the strides of a half marathoner (feeling good that only a few miles remained). She said hello and we got to chatting, all the while both thinking we had met before. Turned out she owned a small bakery that exhibited at a local farmer’s market three days prior. Reesa had bought cookies from her which were some of the best ginger cookies I had ever eaten. Once I put two-and-two together, I told her of my recognition and love of her baking. She smiled with appreciation and came to the same recognition. Her supportive boyfriend had also been at the farmer’s market and was again being supportive today, as he confessed she had talked him into today’s half marathon. It was clear from his tone that this was the longest he had run and was feeling a bit overwhelmed, but still supportive. Love makes you do strange and wonderful things, i thought. I wished him well through the next mile as we had topped the last hill in the first half and it was all down hill for him from here. For me, however, that long climb lay dead ahead. 

Up to this point, my father-in-law’s rain dance had proven to work but too early in the race. About six miles in the rain clouds cleared it was turning out to be another fabulously gorgeous, clear, sunny day. Normally I’d smile at this but as we full marathoners took the next turn I found myself looking up at a long climb and a full sun overhead. 

Prior to my knee injury I lived for hills. I could climb for days and cherished the pain and challenge that came with them. Today, however, the feeling a shifted to a bit of dread masked with confidence in myself and my training. The hill was indeed as long as the local had said. About six miles in, I was running low on steam and sadly had to walk. I rarely walk during a marathon. Even though many people successfully execute a run-walk method and even do so and turn in better times than mine. I find walking drains my energy and makes restarting a run tough. But this time the heat, humidity and incline got the best of me. Each time the hill leveled off, I returned to running, hoping that at the next incline I’d have the energy to return to a full run but each time, I was beaten back by the heat. I think I walked about five of the final 13 miles. After the big, long hill, the course didn’t go right back down, it went into a pattern of climbs, declines and more climbs for about the next four miles. It wouldn’t relent and fall into a steady decline until nearly one mile to go. While this might sound miserable, the views were spectacular. You couldn’t see the beach that often but the ocean was always in view and the gorgeous mountains, covered in spectacular greenery were ever-present. They don’t call Kauai, The Garden Isle, because it sounds good. As the course wound its way through the hills there were many friendly residents who came out to the road to wish us on. I was running low on water when I came upon a cute young boy who had set up a makeshift water station in front of his house. Good timing and a friendly smile were all I needed to partake of his hospitality. 

The race passes through farmland, cattle ranches, horse country and back down toward the beach. All beautiful and worth the pain. 

As the course finally declined consistently I was eager for the finish line. I had thought it would wind back onto the same road where it started; and where my wife and in-laws would be waiting, but then the course turned from that road and proceeded closer to the beach. A bit confused and worried that it might just climb back up again, the always welcome 25-mile marker made its debut. There wasn’t enough distance to return to the higher road where we started so it must be staying down along the shore here. I was right. The race ran through some pleasant condo complexes and past a few resorts before I began to here music in the distance. I was worn out by this point and looking forward to the finish, which came on a flat road with a view of a sandy beach. I crossed the line, winded and sweating. After getting my medal, I was handed a bottle of water which I immediately lifted over my head and doused myself. Next up were cold, wet rags which went right under my hat, followed by cup after cup of cold water released over my body. After what felt like ten minutes of dousing I was finally feeling cool. That humidity was killer. 

Right across the street from the finish line was the Sheraton beach resort which had a very inviting sandy beach. I immediately walked over and attempted to stand in the waves to give my legs an ice bath. But 26 miles had sapped my strength and the strong Kauai waves took me right off my feet. I didn’t care because the water was cold and comforting, so I battled the waves with what strength remained in my body as the cooling sensation flowed over me. Recovery took a bit longer from this one but it’s hard to argue against the need to play in the waves. 

Victory was tough coming but well worth it as today marked 49 marathons completed.