Wednesday, June 24, 2009

I Packed My Bags Pre-Flight, Zero Hour 6 AM

Man, it's been hot down here in Sunny Florida the last several days. Tri buddies Tony and Carrie did a sprint triathlon in Key Biscayne on Sunday. They both did very respectable 1:13s, but word is the run was hot. Very hot. Pace slowing, heart rate raising hot. On Monday, Tony offers up a 5 miler at 7PM. Should be cool by that time. Monday, however, was record breaking hot. I check the Weather Channel website around 5:30 PM and its showing a heat index of 102 degrees for 7 PM. I e-mail Tony that I'm out. No way am I running in that kind of heat.

Tuesday morning, I go out at 6:45 AM to get the paper and note that it has rained. Its overcast and cool with a nice cloud cover. I get geared up quickly and head out the door for a 5 miler. I must be cashing in some karma chips as I have no right to expect this kind of cool weather. On the return half of my run, I hear distant thunder. I'm hoping its heat lightening. The last mile, it starts to rain. Not heavy, just enough to make me think of Seattle. "Yes, a nice light Seattle rain could be OK during the marathon," I think. After I get home, the rain starts to fall more heavily. It starts to pour and continues to rain and thunder for the next couple of hours. That little window of opportunity was over. Thank you Lord, Thank you Jesus. I'll run 20 red lights in your honor.

This morning was my last pre-marathon run. A not too challenging 5K speed treadmill workout. I only took it down to 7:30 mile pace. Don't want to do anything stupid the couple of days before a race.

As I start gathering gear and checking my paperwork for Seattle, I note that my flight out is at 6:10 AM. What was I thinking? With my wife driving my son to Gainesville the same day, its going to be hard to get her or him to get up early for a 5AM drive to the airport. These must have been the only flights available on my frequent flyer ticket. That, or I'm just an idiot. A rose would smell as sweet, I guess.

I gather together my usual doodads and goodies for Seattle. Race registration, hotel and car confirmations, shoes, goos and power bars. Don't forget the Pedialyte and the Starbucks Double Shot Expresso for pre-race hydration and accelerant. What to wear for the race? I usually over pack race gear to give myself options. Portable speaker set and iPod. Check. Camera. Check. Books for the plane ride. Check. Houston, we've completed our checklist and are "all go" here. Now, if I can just arrange that ride to the airport. Wish me luck. That, and cool weather.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Sleep, Perchance to Dream

As reported this week in the New York Times, new sleep research out of Stanford University suggests that simply getting more sleep can improve athletic performance. In the article, a fitness writer was explained how she felt great and went the fastest she had in weeks on her long run after coming back from a vacation. One possible explanation came to her mind: she had erased her chronic sleep debt on vacation, which made her extremely well rested when she took the run. I can relate.

I have a tendency to being a night owl. I blame this partly on our culture and the network heads in New York. Most of the fun/good stuff happens at night and very often the later, the better. Watch Letterman, Conan, or the Daily Show and you don't get to sleep until around midnight. Go out with friends to a concert or a bar on a Friday or Saturday night and you're getting to bed after midnight or later. The NBA playoffs are finally over. Thank God! There was some truly great basketball this year. Well, maybe not the finals so much, but leading up to them there were some great games: a full 7 game series between my Miami Heat and Atlanta; a Celtics/Bulls overtime fest; Orlando taking Boston at home in game 7; LeBron's game 2 one second three from the top of the key in the series against Orlando. Great basketball, but not good for getting proper sack time. You could watch a game about every night that kept you up to midnight or close to it.

Thus, I'm coming off a bit of a sleep deficit myself. I don't think that sleep deficit helped on my 20 miler last Monday in which I broke from the heat and had to death march the last 3 miles. The next couple of days, I've come down with one of those over-training sniffles/fatigue things. I don't know if its a full blown cold, or just my body protesting running too long in the South Florida heat on too little sleep. OK, let's just call it a cold.

Did I mention, I love a good cup of coffee? I love the smell and taste of a cup of Joe; but have a cup of coffee after the noon hour and I'm up late into the night. It's not a problem when you've got a good book you want to get through; not so good when you've got a early morning training run or ride scheduled. Not to mention the sleepless night we all have before a big endurance event. Not only does the mind keep the body awake thinking of the event, but we get up a 4AM to get ready. Thus, while we make sure to get in all of our scheduled training, we tend to cheat ourselves on sleep.

It reminds me of my experience at the Berlin Marathon last September. I was so excited to be in Berlin, that I didn't get enough sleep before marathon day. I toured around, met and hung out with other marathoners, and basically didn't get enough sack time. My race turned out to be a bit of a struggle to get through. I just made it over the finish line just under 4 hours with literally a few seconds to spare. I had a great time in Berlin, but probably at the cost of a better run time.

Thus, for the next several days, I am going to try to grab some extra sleep. Hopefully, that will help me get over the sniffles and reduce my sleep deficit. Fortunately, I've been to Seattle a couple of times before, so the touring siren song will not be as loud. Buddy John is also very good about chilling the day before a race, so I'll try to follow his good example. I'll also avoid the Starbucks until after the marathon. That's the plan anyway.

On the training front, this quasi-cold put a dampener on my training. I ran 6 miles Wednesday and took the next 3 days off trying to recuperate from the cold. I was supposed to do 10 miles with buddy John Sunday morning, but drank a glass of wine with some visiting friends Saturday night and ended up with a terrible headache. This told me that I was not over this cold, so I bailed on John late Saturday night. I ended up doing a 10K on the treadmill on Sunday. Who knows, maybe this is the proper taper given my situation. It does not make me feel better about abandoning my buddy though. Sorry John. Remember, I now own you a Starbucks at the original store in Seattle.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Home At Last

Well the danger on the rocks is surely past. Still I remain tied to the mast. Could it be that I have found my home at last. Home At Last - Steely Dan

Crazy busy weekend this past three days. I feel like Ulysses on a long voyage with strange happenings and hardships before finally getting home.

It all started off Friday night with a stop at the Seventh Street Wine Company. Wife Salome & I were simply stopping by for one glass before we were to go see our son John MC an American Cancer Society concert at Huizenga Park. Buddy Tony had asked a bunch of us to stop by since it was bar tender Sydney's last night before going away for the summer to Seattle. While I had never met Sydney, I figured I could get some tips on things to do in Seattle after the marathon. Sydney was the equivalent of the witch-goddess Circe, the enchantress who turned half of Ulysses' men into swine after feeding them cheese and wine. While a lovely woman, she didn't seem too keen on offering any insight into the Seattle scene. Instead, she kept pouring all of us the various wines we bought, distracting us from our voyage for the evening. We never did make it out of that wine bar until late that evening. Luckily our son texted Salome to let us know that his MC gig wasn't much of an event due to low turn out. He had fun with his friends that he invited, but it wasn't the big gig we all had hoped it would be. Good thing, as I was feeling like a swine for not showing up.

The next morning was a fishing trip with buddy John on his boat. He had invited three of us dads with our young sons to go fishing for the morning. Thus, Saturday morning was an actual sea voyage. Captain John is a great host for young fisherman. He took us out to the first reef and trailed a chum block to attract reef fish. Now, the fish on the first reef are generally too small to keep. No matter. The kids had a blast casting and catching whatever would bite the squid on the hooks. We dads kept busy cutting bait, setting the hooks and helping the kids get their catch in the boat. Older son John came along as Co-Captain and photographer. Young son Alex was thrilled to catch a yellow tail snapper. I would have been more thrilled if it was big enough to keep and grill. Afterward, we had some of the gang over to our house for burgers, hot dogs and a swim.

After a mid afternoon nap, I get a call from a friend offering two tickets to see Steely Dan that night at the Meizner Park Amphitheater. Coming out of my nap, it felt like a dream. Previously, I was told there was one ticket available. Steely Dan is one of my favorite bands, but I was hesitant to go without Salome who is also a big fan. Luckily, my friend's college age son, Josh, decided to give up his ticket. Problem solved.

If you like jazz and get a chance to see Steely Dan, go. Don't think twice; buy tickets and go see these guys. Walter Becker and Donald Fagen were backed by a very tight jazz band. The horn section included a trumpet, sax, tenner sax and trombone. Becker looked like an old man in shorts, Bermuda shirt, ankle high socks and sneakers, but he rocked that guitar and swayed as he played. Donald Fagen not only sang most of the songs, but he also played a Harmonia, a clarinet like instrument with a keyboard along the side. They played a lot off of Aja, Goucho and Katy Lied. The three backup singers shared some of the lyrical work. All in all, the concert was better than I had any right to expect. It had me itching to go to a jazz festival.

Sunday morning we all went to our church for son John to receive a scholarship from the Greek educational group called AHEPHA. Several high school graduates get scholarship money and the mood was very festive. My wife had mistakenly thought that Sunday was father's day (it next Sunday). She had the kids wish me happy father's day. That afternoon, I called my father to wish him a happy father's day. He thought I was nuts. When he corrected my misconception, I told him that I just wanted to be the first to wish him a happy father's day. We both agreed that its a holiday created to not have fathers feel left out after Mother's Day in May. My feeling was the fishing trip the day before was the best Father's Day gift I could receive. No need for a gift next weekend.

Training buddy John & I had agreed to put off our last 20 miler before the Seattle Marathon until Monday morning. John hates to get up too early for a run; I hate running in the heat. We tossed the starting time around and settled on a 5:30 AM run. The first two hours were lovely. The sun wasn't up at the start and by the time it got too high up in the sky, we were running along a condo shaded area of A1a. I was good until we got to about mile 17. Suddenly, we were out in direct sun at about 8:30 AM. In South Florida, that equates to 90 + degrees of heat. With humidity, it feels like 98 degrees. Suddenly, I'm wilting in the sun and bordering on heat exhaustion. We duck under the beach showers to try to cool off. I have to finish the run as a run/walk death march. I start singing the lyrics to Steely Dan tunes in my head to try to get thought the ordeal. "I see the ditch out in the back they're digging just for my." "Still I remained tied to the mast. Could it be that I have found my home at last?"

I offer for John to go ahead to finish his run. He declines all offers saying, "No one gets left behind." He has that dive buddy/Marine Corps ethic. I think he may also have felt a little guilty knowing I would have chosen to start earlier to avoid the extreme heat. In any event, we finished our 20 miles and cooled off at my house. I was home at last.

Now, its taper time. We cut back on our run distance to be well rested for Seattle on June 27th. The lesson I keep relearning is that even though we pick northern climates to run our summer marathons, we still have to train in the heat of South Florida to get ready. June 15th is a little late in the year to be doing 20 mile runs outside. Hopefully, we are now weather tested and will survive our voyage in Seattle.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Mutually Assured Destruction

After our 17 mile run two weeks ago, buddy John and I were talking to a neighbor of his as we rode up in the elevator of his building. The neighbor asked how far we had run. We told her about the upcoming Seattle Marathon and our long training runs. We explained our long term goal of doing the Arizona Ironman in November. "Whose idea was that?" she wondered. I replied that it isn't a question of one person convincing the other to do these long endurance events, but more of a policy of mutual assured destruction. If I'm going to put my body through the hell of training for these events and risk a death march in the Arizona desert, I'm not going down alone. If I crash and burn, someone is going down with me.

Isn't that how we choose our training buddy? Someone as dedicated (or as foolhardy) as ourselves to sign up for an event, go through the rigours of training, and see the event through from starting gun to finish line. Most of us know Sir Edmund Hillary becoming the first man to reach the summit of Mount Everest. Nine other expeditions had tried before and didn't make it to the summit. People had died trying to get to the summit. Did Sir Hillary attempt this crazy expedition by himself? No way. He teamed up with Sherpa Tenzing Norgay. Could Sir Edmund have made it to the top by himself? Perhaps. But when we attempt a task that is sure to test the limits of our endurance, it somehow helps to have someone else along for the ride (or swim or run for that matter).

Before you finish your first marathon, there is a real doubt in your mind as to whether you will be able to finish the 26.2 mile run. Your longest training run is usually 20 miles. I know I had those doubts in the back of my mind before I ran my first marathon in Athens in November, 2002. I was hedging my bets so much that I signed up for the Miami Marathon scheduled for the following January as a backup in case I didn't finish the Athens Marathon. Or course, I did finished the race. So I convinced my brother to train and run Miami as his first marathon. On the way to the expo, the exchanged refrain was, "I'm not worried about you, I'm worried about me." My brother had the first timer doubts about being able to finish. I was trying to improve on my first marathon time, so I was worried about pushing myself too hard and possibly blowing up. I knew my brother had done the proper training, so I was confident that he could finish. He knew I had run a marathon before, so he was sure I would be fine.

I think that goes to the heart of the buddy system. Having trained together, each buddy knows the other guy (or girl) is properly trained and is capable of completing the endurance event. But these endurance events are long enough that a crash and burn is always possible. The psyche remains a doubting Thomas constantly calculating the risks of problems and failure. Doubt and anxiety about completing an endurance event never goes completely away. The solution? Get your buddy to sign up for the event too.

I'm sure Sir Edmund knew the Sherpa could make it to the summit, but wasn't sure about himself. I'm guessing that either Neil Armstrong or Buzz Aldrin could have done the first moon landing solo, but neither guy wanted to try that crazy landing and takeoff by himself. I can picture Neil Armstrong drinking beers with Buzz one night in a bar in Coco Beach saying, "If I'm risking dying on the moon, you're going down to the surface with me." "What about Mike Collins?" asks Buzz . "That sissy can stay in the Command Module as our support team," replies Neil as he drains his glass. "OK, I'm in."

So, while we joke about the buddy system being a policy of "mutually assured destruction," its really a policy of "mutually assured success." Shared hardship equates to shared success. Knowing our buddy is getting up before dawn for a workout, forces us to get out of our warm beds. Set up a ride or swim with your buddy and you are more likely to make sure you are there on time. The loneliness of the long distance runner is not so lonely when you've got a buddy to share a conversation with along the way.

Doing endurance events teaches us that you can accomplish just about anything you put your mind to achieve. You just need to break a big task down to into managable parts and creat a plan to get the parts accomplished. We can climb Mount Everest, land on the moon, run a marathon or do an ironman event. It just helps to have a buddy crazy enough to be the Sancho Panza to your Don Quixote. See you this weekend for that last 20 mile run, Sancho.

Monday, June 8, 2009

So Long, and Thanks For the Fish!

Son John leaves for college in a couple of weeks, so Wednesday evening we had a farewell party for him and his peeps before they spread out around the country. It was also a bit of a make up party for the headliner band from the graduation party that got shut down. A good time was had by all. The lead singer, Ciara Emauele, has a great voice. Look for her on American Idol one of these years. The band rocked. One of the songs they played was Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall." It was a bit ironic as the song came out about the time I graduated from high school. I guess what goes around, comes around.

Young son Alex's 3rd grade class had a 50's/60's poetry reading. As the kids shouted out after each poem was performed: "Cool, groovy, peace." They finished with a rendition of "If I Had a Hammer." Talk about your throw back tunes. A very nice event. Alex is 9th in from the left in an old long sleeve tie die tee-shirt of mine. I used it for skiing for the last 15 years or so. The sleeves were too long for Alex, so I cut them off. The sacrifices we make for our kids. He loves the shirt, so it has new life.

Our riding leader, Tony was off to Hawks Cove in the Florida Keys for the weekend for his builders association group's annual fishing tournament. So, Saturday morning it was buddy John, Ironman Carrie and me out for a 35 mile ride. Without Tony as our natural lead, we each took turns at the front. However, not being out on a group ride in many weeks, my group riding skills were a bit rusty. We also got to sharpen our tire changing skills by failing to find the sliver of glass that lay hidden under a small flap in Carrie's tire. Three tube changes later and we were on our way.

That night Salome, son John & I got together for dinner on Hollywood Beach with John's classmate, Catherine Ettman, and her parents. The restaurant was an open to the beach. Very lovely, reminding me of restaurants on the Greek Islands. Then, the skies filled with rain clouds and the rain came down for hours. The food was delicious and the conversation interesting. A good thing, because we ended up there for hours waiting for the rain to stop. The rain and lightening made for an even more interesting view of the beach. However, it did make for a late evening. Not intended, as I was scheduled to do an early morning 15 mile run with John on Sunday.

I manage to get up at 5 AM and get to John's by 5:40. The 15 miles were not too bad, but have I mentioned that it has gotten pretty darn humid down here? I can't wait until we get to Seattle for the marathon. The humidity has got to be less than the 90% + we've been experiencing. John's I.T. band started acting up for the second week, so he tells me to go ahead around mile 11. I go off and make sure to not look back and make him feel bad. Little did I know he was stalking me and goes shooting by me around mile 13. The sand bagger.

Later that day, I get a call from Tony saying he's coming back with 30 pounds of fresh Dolphin (the fish, not the mammal). Tony asks me to invite enough people over to eat 30 pounds of fresh fish. Normally, you don't get a positive response to a same day party invitation. But when the last minute invite starts with "Tony's bringing 30 pounds of fresh Dolphin for the grill," you get a much better acceptance rate. So, we ended the weekend with a great fish grill. A couple of bottles of red, many bottles of white, and lots of good company. It was nice having a party for the adults after having to act as supervisor for the last couple of high school parties. We may be older, but we still like to have a good time. Thanks to Tony for the fish and the grill work. Any time you've got the fish, we'll fire up the grill.