Sunday, February 22, 2009

Exceeding Expectations: The A1a Half Marathon

Today, I learned that impending disaster can turn unexpectedly into positive results. Why? I don't know, but it happened to me at the A1a Half Marathon on Sunday.

The A1a Half Marathon is a hometown race that I had signed up for a year ago based on discounted early race fees. As several of my running friends were not running this event for various reasons, I wasn't too excited or focused on this half marathon. I had gone to a Miami Heat game during the day on Saturday. That evening was spent with some none running friends drinking some wine and eating dolphin they had caught fishing that day. While the fish was delicious, it was far different from the usual pre-race pasta feed. We talked with our friends late into the evening. By the time I got home, arranged my running gear and turned in for the night, it was past 11PM. Not the best for my planned 4:30AM wake up. My sleep that night was not the best either. I suppose it wasn't any worse than a pre-marathon's night's sleep, but I awoke feeling a bit out of sorts.

Cool weather in the mid 60s and a slight breeze bode well for a good start. My situation at the race starting area, however, was like being involved in a train wreck. The parking lot near the start, which is normally maned by a fee collector for major events, had no attendants. Instead, everyone had to stand in an enormous line waiting to use the pay machine for a parking slip to put in the window of our cars. After waiting in line to pay for parking for what seemed like 45 minutes and still a good half hour from being able to use the parking toll machine , I hear the race officials announce that the wheel chair division will start in 5 minutes. I abandon the line, risking a $25 parking ticket.

I head into the corrals without time to make a port-a-potty stop...and I feel like I have to go. I find some friends and we wait for the start. We wait some more. It turns out that the race officials decided to delay the start by 15 minutes for a train to pass which crosses the course. "Oh good," I think, "I can get to the potties and back before the start." I bolt over to the port-a-potties and duck into one. No toilet papar and a very wet seat. No thank you! I find a cleaner potty. Unfortunately, I get no luck in getting my system started. After sitting for 5 minutes with no results, I decide its best to get back to my corral before the starting gun is fired.

I resign myself to a bad race and start asking some friends who I've met up with what pace they plan to run. 8 minute miles? Sounds good to me. That would equate to a 1:45, which I think may be wildly optimistic given my morning so far. One of these friends I'm with, Jana, is usually a pretty fast runner. However, she feels under trained for the race. Her hedging is not helping my doubting psyche. I decide that running with this group is probably the best I can do. I hope not to blow up and end up off this 1:45 target, which feels like a stretch goal.

Once the gun goes off, however, I break ahead of this running group. I later learn the group splintered from the start. I just go by feel and I seem to feel OK. I hit the first mile marker with a 7:30 mile. I think I may be buying trouble, but there is no going back. I run mile 2 in a similar time of 7:30. I know I'm out too fast. I slow things down a bit and settle into the 7:45 to 7:50 pace range. As I pass from Las Olas to A1a I see injured buddy John and friend Tracy and high five them on the way by.

As I head up A1a, I figure I'll try to stick to a 7:50 mile pace until I start to bleed pace and drop into the 8:00 to 8:30 range. However, the 7:50 pace never seems to wear me out. I must have either gotten good speed work the week before on my race pace runs or I'm more rested from the 2 week training hiatus. "Best not to over-analyse during the race," I think, "Just keep going until your pace naturally drops." It never does. I keep the 7:50ish pace and come in strong for a 1:41 finish.

Bill at around mile 12

Our really fast friends, Keith and Jen, take age group places. Jana had the trouble keeping pace that she expected, but finishes respectably in 1:46. Our friend Carrie, doing her last event before heading out to New Zealand for her first full Ironman, comes in at 2:04. Fast bicyclist, first time half marathoner, Tony comes in around 2:10. Injured buddy John is at the finish to take pictures as we cross the line. Injured wife Salome took all the pictures in this blog entry. Everyone was in good spirits and glad to be done before the temperatures start creaping into the upper 70s. We headed to the food area to munch on bananas, cookies and muffins. We've earned a little indulgence.

Tony, Carrie & Bill at the finish area

Why was I able to sustain a sub 8 minute pace when I've dropped pace after the 10K mark in my last several marathons? I'm not sure. Perhaps it was simply not going in with great expectations, allowing me to run a more controlled and even pace. Maybe it was simply good weather. I'm not sure I care about the reason. The result was good and I never did receive a parking ticket. I think I'll just enjoy the result and let it be.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Why We Run

OK, we've all had several days to feel bad for injured buddy John. My wife Salome has also been sidelined with a foot injury. We were joined in Miami by several of the JFR running group, but no one seems to be signed up for the next big local event: the Ala Half Marathon. I check in with several more running buddies. They too are not running. The list of friends running this event looks short. Next, I receive an e-mail Thursday morning from the ING Miami Marathon promoters asking me to complete a survey about my experience in running the Miami Half Marathon. Completing the survey made me think about the reasons we run.

Some people run to raise funds for charities. Some run to lose weight. Some run to have a goal to focus their training on. As for me, I run for fun. Both for the social aspect of training and the event itself. Road races and triathlons are somewhat like attending a music festival or a party. It's enjoyable training with other people. It's a fun social event going to an expo. It's fun chatting before the event as we all get a little keyed up to start. It's fun having small talk with other competitors on the course. It's fun hanging out post race talking about everyone's race experience. So, while there can be pain and discomfort during a road race or triathlon, it's like going to a party. You get to hang out with your friends and meet some new people that have similar interests as you. You also know that most everyone you interact with is a "can do" type person. They pretty much all have interesting stories to tell and race experiences to share.

To do any endurance event requires planning and dedication to training. You learn there are no short cuts to getting ready for an event. If you do short change yourself in training, there is usually a price to pay during the event. Thus, we end up doing at least base training year round and get geared up for major events. That base training keeps us fit and feeling well. Our bodies are more tone. We are a bit more careful about what we eat and how much sleep we are getting. The regular training creates good habits that make us feel better physically and mentally. We are better for it.

The events themselves are the payoff for all the good work we do in training. It's the party after finals. Its the party CPAs have at the end of tax season. We've put in weeks of effort; now its time for some fun. If the event is long enough, we get a medal as a party favor like reminder of the event. We get to hang out with old friends and meet new ones. Like at most parties: the more friend that are in attendance, the more fun the experience.

As I geared up for this event, I train alone. No buddy runs; no meeting up with other athletes. Solo training, being less of a social event, isn't that fun. It's work without the comradery of fellow workers. I've had to force myself to train for A1a. I had a 10 mile run scheduled for Wednesday night. Coming off a night of insomnia, I was not looking forward to the run. However, by the time I hit my turn around point, I hit my stride. I ran the return 5 miles at race pace. I felt great. I knew I'd put in good miles that will pay dividends on Sunday.

Friday morning was my last run before Sunday's event. I thought about a treadmill speed workout, but its was a cool 61 degrees out. How could I not run along the beach? I ran my 10K route. The sun was out and a cool breeze made it the nicest conditions one could ask for to run. I experienced the pure joy of running that I think is primordial in us as a species. I wave good morning to one of my church's priests, Father Spiro, as I pass by the St. Bart's coffee shop. He's at the cafe's outdoor seating area many mornings with his second congregation of coffee drinkers and sun worshipers. His presence there always gives me a little boost as I know a friend will be there to wave to as I pass by. Yes, even a solo training run can be a social event as we say good morning to other runners and friends we come across on our run.

So, while a lot of my friends and my wife will be missing out, I'll be at the starting line of the A1a Half Marathon at 6 AM this Sunday. I know a few of my buddies will be there. To you, I say: "I'll see you at the Expo or the starting line." As for my running buddies that will not or can not run this event, my sentiment will be like the postcard: "Having a great time. Wish you were here!"

Friday, February 13, 2009

Down, But Hopefully Not Out

Well, here it is. I finally got to see the orthopedist today, Dr. George Caldwell (see bio excerpt below). Bottom line -- I have a torn gastroc nemeus (a/k/a calf muscle). He said if I were a normal 16 yr. old (I don't think I've ever been normal although I was once 16), this would probably heal in about 3 weeks. For every decade over 16, it usually takes about another 1 week to heal. So it looks like I'll have another 6 weeks of winter. Wait a second, I think I just confused that with Ground Hog day. I meant it looks like I'll be wearing "the boot" and using the crutches for another 5 to 6 weeks (I already have 12 days of recovery under my belt but I really can't give myself full "time-served" for those 12 days since I broke all the rules of recovery and didn't use the boot or the crutches). I'll also be going to physical therapy during this time.

My promise to myself is that I will wear the boot and I will use the crutches so I don't prolong or unnecessarily extend my time on the sidelines. I encourage all of you to help keep me honest by abusing me to the fullest extent possible if you catch me cheating.

Looking forward to eventually getting back in the water, out on the road riding, and back into my
running shoes with the hope of still being able to participate in the Arizona Ironman on November 22. And yes, I also hope to once again try my hand (and calf) at snowboarding again next year!!!

Thanks to you all for your kind words and well wishes.


Dr. George L. Caldwell, Jr. is Co-Medical Director of Sports Medicine at Broward Health Broward General Medical Center, orthopedic surgeon and team physician for South Florida’s major league teams. He is Chief Team Physician for the Miami Dolphins, physician for the Florida Marlins and consultant for the Baltimore Orioles.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

I'm Back in the Saddle Again

Well, not in the bicycle saddle yet, but back in the training saddle. After two weeks of scheduled down time and a busy weekend running the Taverna at our church's Greek Festival, I finally got out for a run last night. I had planned on a 10K run, but it felt so good to run again that I made it a 10 miler. I think I need to schedule planned down time more often. The sense of pure joy in running returned to my legs, heart and head. I don't know if I'll be race ready for the A1a Half Marathon in a little under 2 weeks, but it doesn't matter. I'm surrounded by the walking wounded with my wife and training partner both on crutches. I've also got buddy Wayne in Anchorage coming back from his triple by-pass. With all this, I'm happy to be able to simply get out and run.

We await the doctor's report on John's leg injury. He's getting an MRI this week. He's clearly out for A1a, most likely out for the Miami International Triathlon in mid-March, and who knows whether he's back in shape for St. Anthony's Triathlon in April. John, next time we commit to a full ironman, no snowboarding for you. Here's hoping it's a minor injury and he is able to get back in training soon.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

I'm Down

I'm down (I'm really down). I'm down (Down on the ground). I'm down (I'm really down). How can you laugh when you know I'm down? (How can you laugh) When you know I'm down? "I'm Down" - The Beatles

The 2 weeks following the Miami Half Marathon were weeks I scheduled for down time from training. I had too many major events over the last several months requiring constant training: the Berlin Marathon in September, the Miami Man Half Ironman in November, followed by the Vegas Marathon in December and the Disney Marathon in early January. As I stated in my last entry, I had no business running the half in Miami but had a commitment to pace another runner in. I felt like the old joke that goes "I just flew in from the West Coast and, boy, are my arms tired." There is a reason you are supposed to cycle down after major events. Too many events strung together and you end up tired and feeling over-trained. Thus, I planned for 2 weeks of rest and relaxation to recharge the batteries after Miami. Things never work out as planned.

My son John came home from a school trip to Washington, DC where he and his high school buddies do what high school kids do when they are on an away trip. They burn the candle at both ends and in the middle for good measure. They got up a 3 AM to go stand on the national mall at 5AM, so they could stand in freezing cold weather for 8 hours to watch the inauguration. Witnessing an historic event, but pushing the body's resistance to the limit. On the plane ride home that Friday, he comes down with a cold that he graciously passes along to everyone in the family. Fortunately for me, I manage to not pick up the cold until the Wednesday after Miami.

Thus, instead of a restful and relaxing downtime in the training cycle, I'm down. I'm really down...with this cold. The last 4 days, I've felt like a slug. I guess I'm getting the recovery time I need, but I feel a jipped. I was looking forward to a vacation like rest.

Training buddy John is no better off having scheduled an actual vacation. Off to Winter Park, Colorado to give snowboarding a try, he's down. No, I mean, he's down (he's really down). He's down (down on the ground). How can you laugh, when you know he's down? OK, you can laugh a little, but not too much. Apparently, being a really good skier does not translate automatically to being a really good snowboarder. Or maybe it does, but John needs to work on his tumbling skills. John is fine, but it sounds like he may need a little down time to heal bruised muscles...and ego. Looking on the bright side: our training cycles are in sync.