Wednesday, July 28, 2010

the big day

other stuff

one of my favorite things to do in life is to stand amongst hundreds or even thousands of runners waiting for the starting gun to go off. with something as big as a marathon you can bet the nerves on most people are a little sensitive. i know my nerves were getting the best of me, i could hardly stand still while waiting for that life changing moment to happen. that moment when you begin your journey to test your body, test your will, and to explore the unknown. everyone seems to have a different way to deal with it. no matter what race i am at, there are always groups of people that somehow know each other. i can hear their conversations and laughter floating around the quite morning air, it sounds as if they are at a party. i just liked the noise, hearing other people talk when i'm nervous kind of helps me to relax. from looking around i could tell that there were a couple of us that had no poker face...we clearly looked nervous. i know i did, but i could spot others as well. one girl in particular. she was staring straight ahead into the distant starting gate sporting a glad garbage bag. quietly she stood alone, she wasn't looking around like me, she knew what she was there for...she already had on her race face.

i too had on my race face... in fact i think i woke up with it on. i hardly got any sleep that night. i woke up 30 minutes before my wake up call. before i went to bed i had all my race stuff laid out on the hotel table, so by the time i got the wake up call, i was dressed numbered and hydrated. all i needed was a ride to the starting line. that's when my wonderful supportive family stepped it up a notch. my wife was up at 4am (scheduled wake up call) and just before we left the hotel we drug my 19 year old out the door with us so he could help her navigate the streets of san francisco. he was all groggily with messed up hair and totally incomprehensible..."huh.. what?.... where are we going?" i told him to just get in the van he had to help his mom. i couldn't understand a word he said until he dropped me off and said, "good luck dad!"

i had them drop me off a little early so i could jog to the start. i felt ok, but my left calf was kind of hurting me. it wasn't an inflammation type of pain, it was a stiff nerve pinching kind of pain. i tried to ignore it but it had me worried. i got to the starting area and kind of just wandered around. the main thing i was looking for was the latrine. the lines were short, but they moved ever so slowly. i went from being early to almost being late just from standing in one line. i had no problem getting to my wave.

the race

the count down began, the gun went off and the crowd oozed across the starting line into the dimly lit street of the embarcadero. i had no idea how fast or slow i was running i just wanted the pain in my calf to go away. i had 16 weeks to plan this race, and 16 weeks to come up with a race strategy, but there i was in the first mile still trying to figure out how fast i should go. i finally decided to just let my body decide. so i continued on my slow pace.... there went the 3:20 girl, and soon the 3:30 guy was about to pass me. i didn't care too much, because at one point i wanted to run a 3:30 for this race and 3:30 is still a boston qualifying time for me. cold and stiff, and in some pain i shuffled along. my god i was only at mile 4! then finally something happened to me on the hill just before the golden gate bridge. i started feeling alive, i could tell everyone breathing extra hard and slowing down to get up the hill. i was hardly breathing, the sea level air was flowing in and out of my lungs with zero effort. memories of my lovely hills that i trained on day after day were entering my head. this hill felt trivial in comparison... i ran up this hill at a faster pace than i had been running the flats of the early miles. i had been warned about running the hills too quickly, but my body wanted to go.

funny, after this hill there was no more pain... i felt light, fast and more importantly it all felt effortless. i checked my pace and i was about 7:30/mile. it was a little fast but i promised myself i'd slow down soon.... as i crossed the bridge my brain was deep into race mode. i suddenly had a thought; here i was running one of the most beautiful marathons in the country, and i am only going to remember looking at the ground in front of me? i lifted up my head and looked around me, i stared up into the towers of the fog covered golden gate. it looked so beautiful from underneath. i even ran backwards for a brief moment so i could see the density of faces running across the bridge. it was truly beautiful. i think i recorded my slowest mile as i ran across the bridge, but i am so glad that i did, because this memory will be something i remember for the rest of my life.

i had the word DAD sharpied across the back of my right hand to remind me of my dad. my dad used to love watching me run and when i was a kid he drove me to almost all of my races. all except the san francisco marathon that i did when i was 17. he died from leukemia 20 years ago, but i wanted him here with me on this run, since he missed the first one. whenever i felt tired or unmotivated i looked at my hand and suddenly felt strong again.

when i crossed back over the bridge i met up with stephen. stephen was 45 years old and started up a conversation with me. just some random conversation about the race, the weather, where we were from ....pretty standard stuff. he was the only person i talked to outside my family the entire time i was in san francisco. i don't talk much i guess.... stephen finally said, "well you're a lot faster than me, so i'm going to let you go" ..we said our goodbyes and off i went.

at this point i was feeling better than any run i had done leading up to this race. around mile 10 my son alex came riding up next to me on his bike. he asked how i was feeling, i told him i was doing great so far but it was early. he said the rest of the family was up around the corner and then he drifted off. it was so cool to see him there and to have a semi-normal conversation with someone i am close to. as i turned the corner, the family was there armed with cameras... yelling "go!!!!" i had to control myself because it was still way too early to go all out. i told myself that mile 18 would be when i put the hammer down. i later changed it to mile 20, and i am glad that i did.

when mile 20 arrived i was still feeling good but fatigue was clearing getting the better of me. my pace was still fast enough but i could tell that i was losing form. i tried to correct it a little and i think i did. however the course turned into a downhill-hell and trying to keep form with a tired body is something for the gods. and speaking of god, oh my god these down hills sucked! i could not handle it.... i almost walked at one point, but just as i was about to i looked at my hand, and then chose to speed it up instead.

despite feeling like shit on my last four miles i managed to throw together some pretty fast miles. i did find myself looking at my hand almost every 100 meters. after what seemed like forever, i found myself in the last two tenths of a mile. stomp stomp stomp i could feel myself pounding the pavement as i approached the finish line. i couldn't adjust anything at this point, my body had evolved to this degenerative position and it was taking me home. i guess it wasn't broke so i didn't try to fix it.

as i crossed the finish line i could not believe my time. it was almost exactly the same as it was when i was 17 years old. 3:12:50. i still have a difficult time comprehending it. perhaps it's my inexperience with marathoning or perhaps it's my ignorance about running in general, but i had no idea i could run this fast. it was a difficult hilly course, and perhaps it was suited just for me.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

open letter to dad

dear dad,

i just felt like saying hi to you today. although i always think of you, these past few months have been quite special. i'm training for a marathon again, just like the old days ... i know. you didn't get to see my first marathon for some reason. i have been trying to remember why i didn't invite anyone to watch me run, but all i can think of, was that i was just way too modest. i think i didn't want to turn it into a "big deal." however, i am running the same race again, and this time it will be a big deal. my wife and three boys will all be there to watch and i would like you to attend as well.

although i didn't see it at the time, you were always my biggest supporter. you rarely missed an event no matter what. i remember you once stayed out drinking till three am on the night before my big race. i thought for sure you were going to miss my 8am race... but you showed. you sat there in the back row of the stadium with your sun glasses on... watching every lap of my 10000 meters. at the time i was disappointed that you showed up in your condition, but looking back now ... i'm just glad you were there. i know how important it is to be there for your kids. i try to never miss an event as well.

you were my biggest inspiration. you didn't run or cycle or do any sports for that matter. but you were incredibly healthy and fit. you treated work as your sport. you tried to teach me that, but i was too young to understand. i wanted to do fun stuff, not dig a foundation by hand.... who does that? dad, you were amazingly strong and determined... right up until the very end.

you always taught me to enjoy working hard. you taught me to appreciate sweating. how good it felt to let your body flush out all the toxins. i remember when we used to see someone running along the side of the road, you would say, "look at that guy just running hard...sweating, that's where it's at!" i love running in the heat. every time i do, i hear your voice in my head...and i push a little harder.

so, dad.... i know i didn't have to invite you. i know you'll be up there cheering me on. but i just wanted to let you know.... i love you, and this one is for you.

your son

Sunday, April 11, 2010

sunday sunday ..... sunday

i got a little lost on the way to the event. i just forgot the street name as i got closer and closer. i think what happened, was i drove past a street name that looked a little familiar, followed by another familiar looking street. completely lost and only one hour before the start. i pulled over and brought up the iphone and tried to get my bearings. the reception was horrible and my patience was nonexistent. after a couple attempts i finally found the race website and it was stupid flash filled popup hell. finally i found a stick frame drawing of the course with a street name, etched sideways. good enough for me, but valuable time was slipping away.

there were no lines for the registration table, but i had a bit of anxiety going on, combined with a little chill in the air, i could barely fill out the form. by the time i was entered there was only 25 minutes left... ugh. i was planning to pre-run the course, but there was no time now. i hardly had time to do anything. i just shuffled around a little bit hoping to warm up. it was probably close to 40 degrees f, but i really need to be sweating before the start. it would be nice if i had gotten my heart rate up too.

i stood at the starting line just a few rows back and started to look around. one guy was wearing racing flats, which were the ones i was going to buy yesterday. another guy had on some vibram five fingers...and no one was wearing tights but me. my tights were not your ordinary run of the mil tights, these were my compression tights, or as i like to call them, my "bionic" tights.

the starting gun was a fire engine horn, that kind of surprised some people for some reason. maybe they were expecting a gun shot. i guess it's like if you are expecting to drink beer or soda, and it turns out to be water instead... kind of shocking, believe me.

we started out and within a hundred yards i was in the lead with some guy. this was extremely confusing for me. i decided to not run with my garmin, because i was just going to go by the people yelling out the time at the mile markers. so i had no idea how fast i was going, but i know that i am experienced enough to run within my limits. but soon i was in the lead by myself... i began doubting my "great" pace-setting skills. oh shit was i just an adrenalin starter? was i really feeling this good to be dropping the entire field? i couldn't see how everyone was doing because they were all behind me. i decided to not care and to run as controlled as i could. finally we approached the mile mark and there was no one there shouting out the time. crap.

right after the mile mark two guys passed me, and one guy looked at his watch and told the other guy, "that was a 6:05".

i couldn't hear very well, but that was a little too slow for me. i needed to be doing 5:50's. but i was still a little confused, and more tired than usual. running in the front is a little more stressful... or maybe just being confused is what was stressful.

one of the guys told the other guy he was going to take off now...and zip he was off. i tried to step it up a bit but i could only catch the guy that was left behind. i could see the other guy getting further and further away at each turn. i think i dropped off but it really felt like i was pushing it. mile two approached and right after mile two, another guy passed me. this guy was not as good as the other. for some reason i was content to just let him go even though he was not that much faster. in fact the distance between us never changed the whole last mile.

i didn't want anyone to pass me at mile three.. so i kind of went as hard as i could... i didn't know where anyone was, but when i turned the final corner i could see that the next guy was pretty far behind. at least he was far enough to not out sprint me.

so i finished third over all and i was the first of the masters runners. and frank shorter announced my name as i finished the race. it was a good day. i finished very strong compared to my last 5k. i feel like i could have gone another mile at that pace. i didn't improve my time today, but i did learn some stuff.

#1 print out a map of where the race is, you never know how good cell reception will be. plus trying to zoom in and out of an iphone while driving can be dangerous.

#2 run with a gps if you have one otherwise use a stop watch. trying to run from perceived effort can be dangerous. especially if you not feeling well, or are tired, or not properly warmed up. it takes a lot of effort to warm up, and trying to do it in a race will make you feel like you are exerting more effort than usual.

#3 warm up! always warm up.

#4 do some speed work leo... can't get fast just running slowly.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

new shoes

so today was kind of an interesting day. i had planned to ride my bike as kind of a recovery ride from yesterday's 14 mile run commute. i ended up not riding today, because i spent the day shopping for running shoes. i had been planning to buy a pair of shoes to help in my marathon training, but after yesterday's run the need became more urgent.

i made a small discovery last night while i was running from work. i was running with my old racing flats. my good old racing flats. i loved those things, i used to wear them all the time. i felt so fast in them, but they are some 15 years old now and probably beyond their prime. what was interesting about them was that while i was running last night i had no ankle pain.

recently all my shoes give me ankle pain. i have some pretty beefy shoes, with lots of support. all of these shoes have big flat heels with reinforcement on the outside of the heel for pronators. i neither pronate, or suponate for that matter, but it's often difficult to find cheap shoes that have neutral support. the past few years i have just been running very sporadically, and couldn't justify buying expensive running shoes. however, i had no problem dishing out the cash for cycling shoes, or anything to help out my cycling. i found it difficult to spend top dollar on my secondary sport (running). so i would buy clearance running shoes at dick's sporting goods.

granted i do have some pretty tiny ankles, in fact i can connect my thumb and index finger around them. running with shoes that have support are kind of jarring to my little ankles. if the road is perfectly flat there is only a slight jarring when i step on a crack, a rock, or something uneven. unfortunately most of the places i run are not flat or smooth and after an easy run i can feel soreness in my ankles and lower shins. interestingly after a fast run i feel less pain than slow runs. this makes sense since i am more on my toes for the faster stuff and do less heel striking.

so there you have it i am a heel striker, but do i have much choice? as big and reinforced as most shoes are you almost have to run tip toe to avoid heel strikes. it's kind of like trying to walk tip toes with high heels on (not that i have ever tried that).

does this mean that i am a minimalist? yes but i have always been a minimalist, i just never thought about it. all my favorite shoes have been support-less, light, and small heeled. i even run barefooted before and after track workouts. i am not an advocate for full time minimalism. mostly because i think sometimes you just want to shuffle along. most of us have runs when we are tired and the legs feel like lead, and we just need to get out doors and clear our heads.

bottom line... i don't know, but this seems to work for me, at least right now. perhaps next week, next month or next year i will have a new discovery.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

please get off the course

about 27 years ago i was a young crazy 17 year old. not crazy in the sense that most 17 were at the time. i wasn't getting into trouble or doing drugs, or anything remotely close to that. i was a runner. i was very shy and had very few friends. i was a huge fan of the great american distance runner alberto salazar. i knew nothing about marathons...all i knew was that alberto made them look so easy, and don't know what all the fuss was about.

i had just started running regularly in march and wanted to run a marathon in april. thank god my friend talked me out of it, and suggested that i try a half marathon instead. i took his advice and ran the half. i finished in a pretty good time for me and right away set my sights on the marathon. luckily in california there were some pretty good marathons to choose from including the one next on the calender which happened to be the san franscisco marathon. back then we didn't have the internet to help us find marathons all around world, just our local fleet feet. they had a big pamphlet stand at the entrance of their store where i would spend most of my time just looking for upcoming races.

i don't remember altering my training other than i ran a couple 20 plus milers before the marathon. the day before the race i had no plan on how i was going to get to the race. i didn't preregister, and i didn't even carbo load. it was only that night when i ask my brother if he could take me to the race, and he said that he would. come to think of it i don't remember telling my mom or dad that i was going to run a marathon.

that morning my brother drove me to san fransciso to the starting line. i gave him the map, and said i should be back here in about 3 hours. and off i went to the starting line. i decided to not register, because i just didn't have the money.

i had to go to the bathroom so many times, i stood in the porta-potty line about two times, before i just had to line up. i wish i had stood in line one more time. the gun went off, and i was stuck in a crowd of people just forced to walk. finally there was enough room to jog...and eventually there was enough room to pass people. i had just started getting into my own pace when i saw the porta-potties at the three mile point. i quickly jumped off the coarse and stood in line for a second. i quickly lost my patience and ran behind the over pass and relieved myself. i wasn't the only dude.

back in the race, i don't remember many things but a couple. i remember seeing the golden gate bridge in the distance that was at mile 16 i think. then i remember coming back into the city and running just outside china town somewhere around mile 20. the last thing i remember was running up market st. ( i think it was market street, could have been mission st.) toward the moscone center. i was so happy i made it through the wall, through the hills, i was alive, i was happy, i was still running. i was so tired but i saw the finishing banners ahead, and i tried to give it every last bit i had in me. i could see the finish shoots. there were tons of people cheering. it was so colorful. i ran right up to the finishing shoot, and then it happened. one of the coarse officials stepped in front of me and stopped me just short of the finish line (maybe 100ft). "off the course sir!...please get off the course" and he escorted me into the crowd. i was heart broken. i had no one to blame but myself. the time that i was about to get was 3:12 and some change.

it still kind of bothers me to this day. i wish i had gotten a t-shirt, a finishing medal, official photo, and age group trophy (i checked the results and i would have won the 17 y/o).. i had nothing but my dog eared pamphlet. the marathon isn't about swag, it isn't about time, it isn't about telling friends coworkers or your grand kids... it's about finishing! and finish... i didn't. for all intents and purposes i did finish, but something in me knows that i did not cross that line, and if you don't cross the line, you don't finish.

so here i am 27 years later, in pretty good shape ( not 3:12 shape), and last week i signed up for the san fransisco marathon.

note: i've only run one marathon since that day...the california international marathon (2:51)...i was 18 years old.

let the training begin.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

another one of my long runs

this last weekend i was planning on taking it easy. i had a few difficult training weeks in succession and i wanted to have another hard week this week. saturday morning i resisted the urge to do something, actually it wasn't too difficult since i was kind of tired from the days before. sunday i planned to do the same. i woke up at a casual time and as i walked out to the family room the sun greeted me through the large glass doors. "what a nice day to sit on the porch and drink some warm beverage", i thought to myself.

i kind of sat around waiting for myself to do something... then ziggy seized the moment. he first started out whining. he then followed that with some light barking. when that didn't work he moved on to pulling me. since he doesn't actually have opposable thumbs, he does this thing where he kind of curls his paw, and grips it around my leg and pulls. it's pretty annoying and impossible to ignore. i wasn't sure what ziggy and i were going to do together, so i just put on running clothes just in case.

#running tip
never put on running clothes unless you mean it.

decided to just go down to the lake and turn around for a total of two miles. as we ran across the gravel road and up to the trail head, we both felt pretty good. i could tell ziggy was having a blast because he kept biting his leash and shaking it... it wasn't even attached to him. we got out to the one mile point and it kind of felt like we didn't do anything yet. so we skipped the lake and headed the other direction toward county road 10. i put ziggy back on the leash at this point because i didn't want him to get hit by any cars. he didn't care, and to be honest, i don't think he could even tell the difference. we were up to mile three at this point, and i was still feeling pretty good. i could tell ziggy was getting a little tired. every time he gets tired he runs right next to my feet and stops exploring (he gets pretty serious). we turned around at four miles because i was worried about my little buddy.

we made it back home and ziggy looked a little pooped. he was still happy and jumping around trying to bite his leash but he had no trouble going back into the house and calling it a day.

i was still feeling pretty good and wasn't ready to call it a day. i wanted to do at least a couple more miles so i could hit double digits.

i took off down the street, not knowing where i was going.... i got a mile out and then two... then three. next thing i know i'm out in the middle of nowhere committed to a 16 mile run. at this point i kind of wished that i drank some water back when i dropped ziggy off.

#running tip
drink some water on a 16 mile run. you won't regret it.

i was heading back to my neighborhood and looking at my gps... it wasn't going to be 16 miles. by the time i got to my house it was only 15.1 miles. crap. so i passed my house and kept running down the street. i took a few random turns in and around the block and as i looked at my gps it read 16.2 miles! i stopped immediately and walked the remaining 100 yards back to my house.

i was really tired. i drank some water and protein shake... ate a little, took a long hot shower, then fell quietly asleep.

it was a good day.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

the run commute

this past week i brought back the run to work after an absence of almost four years. i wanted to run monday wednesday and friday, but mother nature stepped in and gave us snow on friday. the snow actually wasn't the show stopper per say, but i ended up getting a "snow day" at work so i didn't have to go.

on the days that i did run, i parked my car about 6 miles from work in northglen. not the best neighbor hood to leave my car in, but my car is fully insured and i can't be worrying about these things. i ran with my "blow fish" camelbak, loaded with most of the stuff i needed for work.

i love running to work. i love trying to limit the number of things i bring to work. i love showing up to work full of endorphins. most of all... i love all the running miles i get in with out making too much of an effort.