Saturday, October 24, 2009

My first half marathon...

When I woke up this morning and looked at my alarm clock, I was a disappointed. 3:14 am. O.K., that sucks. The race is still 4 hours and 16 minutes away. It is a 15 minute drive from my house. Why am I awake? Why am I thinking about the race? Why can't I go back to sleep? Why did Kathleen comment on my Facebook page that there was going to be a hill at the end of the race?

When my alarm went off at 5:30, I think I had been asleep for about 20 minutes. Not a great way to rest up for my first half marathon. I got out of bed and went out into the living room, and it was still pitch black outside. I got down the box of oatmeal, and made myself some breakfast. I was trying to do everything right. I had drank a full 16 ounces of water when I woke up in the middle of the night.

I was filling my glass up with water at the fridge as I heard a bunch of yelling from outside. Now remember, I live on the 10 floor of my building, and its 5:30 am. It sounded like an argument, or a homeless guy screaming in the wind, or a party. You never know what it's gonna be downtown. I went to the window and looked down to the parking lot. I was about to open the door out to the balcony when something went flying through the air into the darkness below.

What the hell?

I went out on to the deck and realized that the noise was actually coming from the balcony of the unit directly below me. Now, these guys have already earned a little bit of respect. It's 5:30 in the morning, and they are still going strong from the night before. They are so hammered that they are launching full cans of beer from their 9th story balcony at their OWN truck below. This is the best morning ever.

The best part was listening to their college age alcohol induced debate... "No man, you gotta throw it higher to be able to get it that far." "No, you just gotta throw it harder." But my favorite was: "I don't know man, from this high, you might break the window"...

Ya think?

I said "Hey fella's, do me a favor" and they all looked up at me like deer in headlights... "Could you guy's just dial it down a notch, and for sure... no more launching beers at cars."

"Sorry man, but it is our truck" I'm guessing they aren't science majors.

"I know, stop anyways." "There are a million widows that can see you from up here, and someones going to call the cops." and for real... they said "o.k.", and went back inside and closed the door. Things have sure changed since I was a juvenile delinquent...

We were on our way to South Mountain Park where the race starts. We took a left, heading south toward the mountain when I began to suspect something sinister was going on. "are we going uphill?" I asked Jane. "no, it's flat" she replied. About a block later she added, "OK, maybe it is a little bit of an incline" and another block later "ok...we are definitely going uphill. Then in the next block we passed mile marker 11 and we were definitely STILL going uphill. "Sorry baby" she added, "that's gonna suck!" Apparently, the last 2.1 miles are all up hill. Crap!

We got to the start about 20 minutes before the race. There were over 400 people running in the half, and about than 200 running the 5k. I haven't run in any sort of race in almost two years, and that one was the first one since 1995. I was getting more than a little nervous. 13.1 miles, and the last two are all uphill. Welcome to your first half marathon.

Much of the advice I had received prior to the race was the same. 1. Don't come out of the gate to fast. 2. If you're looking to run a certain pace, make your first few miles 20 or 30 seconds slower, and 3. Save yourself some energy for the end of the race. You want to run even splits (Second half of the race at the same pace you run the first half.... hard to do when you are tired), or even run negative splits, where your second half of the race is faster than the first half.

When the gun went off, I was about half way back in the pack. Since I already noted the last two miles of the race are going to be uphill, then it just makes sense that the first two miles are downhill, since this course is a loop. I was shooting for about a 9:20 pace for my first couple of miles. Best laid plans of mice and men... My first two miles were 7:36 and 7:42. It was all down hill, so I was hoping that I had not expended too much energy. I tried to make up for it in miles three and four by running high nines, and I ran 8:09 and 8:56. Crap.

Even though I didn't slow down as much as I was trying to do, It was hard to tell because of the amount of people that were passing me. I was working on my pace, while trying not to stress out about the last two miles, and whether they going to cost me my race. Was I going to be able to keep a 9 minute pace, which is already very hard for me to do, AND keep it up during the uphill portion of the race at the end?

As I passed the 5 mile marker and looked at my watch, I heard a noise from ahead. It was cheering and clapping and yelling, but I wasn't able to see what it was about. Then a figure came from around the corner, running towards me from the other direction. It was the leader of the race. This guy had already reached the turn around point, a little less than 2 miles ahead of me, and was on his way back. I was just passing 5 miles, and he was already at 8. Holy Crap. And to make it even more impressive, he was smiling and waving back to us as he went by. There is just something wrong with that level of talent being all rolled up into one guy, or a least one set of legs, lungs, and determination. I was impressed...

When I reached the turn around, I gave myself a high five. I'm running with 400 other people and I don't even have someone to celebrate a milestone with. It seems a little weird to have this many people around me and to still be that alone. Not one sentence was muttered from start to finish. I said thanks to the people at the water stations a few times, but that was about it. Other than that, I spent the entire run with my internal monologue. Even I get tired of listening to myself after that much time.

After the turn around, my spirits lifted a little bit. I was able to look head on at the people that were behind me in the race. I know that long distance running is really a race against the clock, against myself. But it still felt good to look at some people that were behind me for once, instead of all of the people that had been ahead of me during the first half of the run. Maybe I have a little to much competitiveness in my, by I certainly don't like spending that much time focusing on all of the people that are beating me. It was a nice ego boost to realize I was still doing o.k. in the overall picture of the race, half the people were ahead of me, and half of the people were behind me. I guess that makes me a middle of the pack runner:)

When I passed 8 miles I was thinking "Wow, Do I really have 5 miles to go?" I was still moving along at my goal pace of 9:15, but I could feel myself slowing a bit. It ends up this was my first mile that I ran over my goal pace, but not my last. I didn't run under 9:15 for the rest of the race. Now my biggest concern was, will I be able to stay close enough to my the 9:15 to make up for however much I will eventually and surely slow down climbing the upgrades for the last two miles? My body is already telling my I don't have enough left in the tank to NOT lose time when I hit mile 11, the bottom of the hill.

I reached into my key pocket as I was approaching the water station just before the last turn, and the final 2 miles of the half marathon. I felt like a kid pulling a piece of gummy bear out of a pocket full of sweaty lint. Next time we will do better planning. This time however, I blew it off and threw it in my mouth, chewed it up and swallowed it just as I approached the held out hand with the cup of water... at the beginning of the hill. I shot the water and tossed it in to the garbage as I started up the hill.

I was looking forward and up the street. It was long. You could see the top... it was damn long. I don't do hills. (see "The hills are alive")

I literally have read more about running hills than I have actually run. One of the things I remember most is that they suggest that you pump your arms faster than normal. I haven't read enough to know why, but I thought I would give it a try.

About a quarter of the way up, I realized two things. One, I was tired. Two, I was making pretty good time. I was actually passing more people than their were passing me. Middle of the pack movin' up.

I was coming up on a 25 to 30ish gal that was ahead of me. She was trucking right along, but I was faster. I don't know why, but I felt good. I think it was the fact that I could see the top of the hill. I could see how much longer I would have to keep running. Once I got to the top, it was cross the street to the last dirt trail to the finish line. Most of that was going to be up hill also, but this was the hard part.

I passed her not to long before I hit the top. I was about to give myself another high five when I noticed everyone ahead of me was turning left. I had for gotten that the course turned at the top of the hill. It was probably another half mile till we get to the dirt part of the course, but at least it was flat. Fortunately I wouldn't need much energy to take on this part of the run, which was good because I didn't have any left.

I started doing the math in my head. Wow, it looked like I might make it. I might be finished in less than two hours. It will depend on how long the final dirt trail portion is right before the finish line. It seemed to go pretty quick when I ran down it, but I was full of adrenalin. Not much adrenalin left... As I reached the end of the stretch and everyone was turning right to cross the street, my thoughts of hitting my goal went up in a cloud of blacktop. There in front of me was another long stretch of road, just as long as the first hill I had just finished, heading south along the golf course. I had completely forgotten that I had run down this street. Rather than having just the dirt trail to the finish line left, I still had about a half mile of uphill blacktop road first. Crap.

Have you ever been in a situation like this? I had two goals. The first one was to finish my first half marathon. The second one was to finish it in less than two hours. Right when I started to think I might be able to do it... BAM! Not gonna happen. I figure I will run a 12 to 14 minute mile pace up this hill. I spent everything I had on the last portion. I looked at my watch. I was at 1:54 something. There is no way I am going to finish in the next five minutes. I wanted to quit. I wanted to walk.

I was already surprised at how many people were walking the hill. These were all people that had been ahead of me for 11 miles. These were all people that would have reached that 2 hour goal, if they would have been able to keep running. These were all people that had given it their all, but were out of gas. They, like myself, will all finish the race. They like myself, will not finish in under two hours.

I, unlike them, am not going to frikken walk. No effin way. I am not throwing stones. I am just not willing to do it. No one would care. No one would say a word. There was probably a dozen people walking the hill. You gotta do what you've gotta do. I have to run. I have to try.

The timer said 2 hours two minutes and some odd seconds as I passed. The thing that I concentrated on during that last hill climb was that Jane would be waiting for me at the finish. As I approached there was a crowd of people cheering me on. Jane was there, smiling, yelling and taking pictures. I was finished. They handed me a bottle of water as I crossed the finish line.

As I lay in the ice bath when I got home, wearing a sweat shirt and drinking the cup of coffee with Baileys that Jane had brought in to me, I was happy. I think when I woke up this morning I had another goal that I may have pushed to the back of my mind, be happy with however it worked out. My official time ended up being 2:01:33. If not for the hills, I possibly would have made my time. My goal for the Walt Disney World Marathon in January is under 4 hours. Twice the distance, twice the time. Maybe there won't be any hills.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Hangin' with the home boys... part 2

As we headed out the front door towards the elevator, I asked how far they wanted to run. I was a little worried that it would be farther that I was planning on, since I am going by my training plan for my upcoming marathon in January.

Paul answered that he didn't care, what did I want to run? I told them that my usual loop was a four mile run, or we could go to the next leg, and it would be about seven miles. To that, Pete said "Seven miles, that would be farther than I have ever run in my life."

On the outside, I played it cool. On the inside, I was jumping up and down with a big giant smile on my face. All I was thinking was that no matter what, at least I would be able to match their distance. Even if I come in 10 minutes behind them, at least I will be able to run as far as they do.

I was one cool cucumber... "O.K. Four miles it is"...

We got out of the elevator and walked across the lobby towards the front door. I asked them if we were going to stretch out outside, or had they already done that upstairs while I was changing. Paul said "I read that it doesn't really make much of a difference if you stretch or not. I'm not much of a stretcher." And off he went...

I found out a few things during the course of this run. Pete is probably more at my level as far as running goes, and Paul is nicer than he used to be. When we were growing up, we had a saying. "It doesn't matter who you offend, as long as you get a laugh". Now, you need to understand, these two guys were born funny. I just want to be like them when I grow up.

We don't take the saying seriously when it comes to other people, at least not anymore... But with each other, there have been few limits as to what you could say over the years. It was obvious that Paul passed on several opportunities to have fun at our expense. There were lots of chances for him to make jokes about my breathing, complaining, pace, or pointless banter. I was trying to keep him from paying attention to the pace part. He let it go... Much appreciated. I am pretty sure that by the time my Garmin beeped at me, and Paul asked if that meant we had gone a mile, he was having a hard time hearing the alarm over the sound of mine and Pete's breathing.

As it ends up, Pete has done most of his running up to this point on a treadmill, and I have done most of my running at over a 10 minute pace. I don't think that Paul would call anything over 10 minutes actual running. More like speed walking. Maybe even slow speed walking...

Paul and I were talking throughout most of the run, or at least the first 3 miles. At one point I said that I have a hard time gaging my pace when I am running under 11 minute miles, because I am not used to it. I said that "I know that right now we are running about 10 1/2 minutes.." Paul responded with "We are running just over 9 minutes".

"That's what I'm talking about. I never run this fast, so I have no idea what our pace is. And I'm the guy with the Garmin"... One of these day's I am going to have to learn how to use the light on this damn thing...

We started talking about back in the day when we used to run together. Back when I was faster than Paul. (Sorry, I am a little bitter...) We were talking about the night we ran the Firecracker 5000, and the beers at the starting line. We remembered that my little brother ran that race with us. Well, sort of... We had all been together at the starting line. The beginning of the run was up a gradual slope. When we got to the first turn, my brother was no where to be seen. We assumed that he was (obviously) either up ahead, or had fallen behind. When we got to the end, we wandered over to the pub that we had all agreed upon as our meeting place after the race.

When we walked in, there was my brother Matt sitting at the table waiting for us. He was flushed and wet with sweat. I gave him a high five and said "Nice run Man, how long have you been waiting for us?" He told me "Not to long", and we went on to order drinks. The server brought us our round, and bent over to whisper in my ear. "Your brother told me that you guys bet on the race, and that whoever lost was buying the drinks." And since that was me, she was willing to work for a better tip. She then told me that my brother had been there for about a half hour. No way he could have done that. It was only a 5k.

It ends up that when we hit the first turn of the race, he had already fallen behind, so he said screw it, and took a left instead of a right, and went straight to the bar. He was on his 3rd drink by the time we got here. When he saw us walk through the door, he dipped his hands into his water glass and splashed his face and ran them through his hair.

She got a good tip all right, but my brother is the one that paid it:) Best laid plans...

As we were laughing at the old story, I told them that I have talked more during these few miles than I have during all my runs with Jane combined. She runs with her iPod, so she is always listening to music. I don't run with music, because that is when I think about my blog writing, and I am afraid that music my screw it up, so I don't even want to try it. I might like it... and no more blog.

Pete followed that up with "You guys talk, I'm gonna concentrate on breathing. Obviously I need to run outside more."

At some point before the run I had mentioned that my goal for the upcoming marathon was to break 4 hours, which would be averaging 9:15 minutes per mile. I said that with my average pace for my training runs, it was starting to seem like that may not be a possibility. Towards the end of our run, Paul actually ran across the street away from us, and then crossed coming back to us. He was obviously trying to get in a little extra work while staying with us at our much slower than his usual pace.

He finally said, "Yes, I think you are going to have to do something about your training runs if you want to break 4 hours". That was a very nice way to put it Paul. We may have passed the "It doesn't matter who you offend" theory...

This was the first time in a long time that running had been a social time for me. It was awesome spending time with two of my best friends, while at the same time doing what has become one of our favorite activities. It makes me miss spending more time with old friends. We used to run races together regularly. Back before we all got married and moved away. We need to find a way to spend more time together.

Speaking of spending more time with old friends, we have signed up for the Ragnar Relay Del Sol, here in Phoenix. It goes from Prescott to Mesa this Feb 26th & 27th. We will run a total of over 200 miles in about 24 hours. Each runner will run three times and each run will be from 3 miles to 9 miles each. Little or no sleep. There will be 12 of us on the team. So far we have four of us from Mount Rainier High School, wives, neighbors, friends from work, and one of our old pals from The Greenlake Alehouse. We have space for a few more...

I run my first ever actual half marathon this Saturday, October 24th. It is the 41st Annual ® YMCA Half Marathon, in Phoenix. I am scheduled to run 12 to 14 miles this Saturday as part of my training plan for the Walt Disney World Marathon in January, so the timing is perfect. I will use this race as both a gauge on my time, as well as practice for keeping to my scheduled pace. I will be using drink stations, and trying to not pick up my speed every time someone passes me, as well trying to make my goal time of under 2 hours. These are all things that I never get to work on during my training runs. Wish me luck...

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Friday, October 9, 2009

Hangin' with the home boys...part 1

When I joined the Air Force in 1983, my pal, who also signed up with me, and I started running to get into shape for Basic Training. I was 18 years old, and built like a miniature stick, weighing in at 123 pounds. I was probably close to being in the best shape of my life, before or since. We started out at a couple miles, and worked our way up from there. Do you know how long you had to run on your final long run in Air Force Basic Training in 1983? 1.5 miles. Yes, you read that correctly, 1.5 miles. We started at about a quarter mile run, and spent six weeks of rigorous training to work our way up to a mile and a half...

That was the last time I ran with my pal Pete.

I owned a bar in Seattle in 1994, I was 30 years old, and weighed about 175 pounds. I had a friend of my older brother (the Marathon running brother) describe me as "The Chubby One". You only have to hear that once for it to be burned into your memory forever. For Ev Ver!

I started running the next day. I ran around Greenlake about three or four days a week, and ran in some 5k or another nearly every Saturday. We ran in Beat The Bridge, The St. Patties Day Dash, The Firecracker 5000, the Falls to Gasworks Park Relay race, and a bunch of others. Jane and I started dating when I was at about 158 pounds. Best race ever, Jane and I shooting cans of Guinness at the starting line of the Firecracker 5000 at midnight, and putting in a respectable time. I still remember the blood from the cuts where I put the smashed beer cans in the front pocket of my cargo running shorts during the race. Oh yes, I was the poster child for white trash. That night was the last time I ran with my pal Paul, just over 14 years ago.

That is until last Tuesday. Pete and Paul were in town working on a couple of their rental properties. They are identical twins, two of my best friends, and it has been 14 years since I ran with one, and 26 years since I ran with the other. Jane and I stopped running after the guiness night, and didn't run again until about six months ago. Crap.

In 2009 I was 43 years old. I got an invite to join this online thing called Facebook. I had heard of it. I had made fun of it. I had made fun of my friends that were on it.

I accepted the invite, and my whole world changed. Yes I said it. You can put it in quotes. Facebook changed my life.

I started finding friends from work, from old jobs, from my military time, from high school, you name it. It is bizarre. I have typing conversations daily with people I have not seen in 25 years. Now remember, they have not seen me in 25 years either. The last time alot of these people saw my, I weighed 120 pounds. 140 pounds. 160 pounds. The day I joined Facebook I weighed give or take, somewhere in the neighborhood of two bills. I can't even say it. I have to be cute...

Two bills.

When I accepted the FB invite, I had recently returned from a vacation in Mexico, and like everyone else, I wanted to post pictures from my vacation. I started going through them. Crap. It was a vacation in Mexico on the beach. I am wearing a bathing suit in most of them. Hanging around the pool, walking on the beach, even sitting at the bar.

In other words... Most of these pictures of me, I'm not wearing a shirt!

That shi+ ain't going on Facebook.

As most of you who are Facebook friends of mine already know, I am pretty particular about what pictures of me go on line. Neck up, or with a shirt on. It is like my own personal company policy. No fat pictures on the Internet. Sometimes it's hard to hide it. Some vacations I return from i realize there are no other pictures available, so the standard gets lowered. That is when I started running.

First we started P90X, and I hated it. So I started filling in a couple of the morning workouts with running instead. Soon, I was running more days than I was working out. Next thing I knew, the P90X DVD's were covered in dust, and it was time for me to go out and by some running shoes that were manufactured in this decade... I'm a runner now.

Back to Tuesday night (Man, when I go off on a tangent, it can go on forever...). When Paul called me Monday and said they were in town, the very first words out of my mouth were "Dude, we gotta go for a run!" As we spoke on the phone and caught up on what was going on in each others lives, I found out he had run a 5k on Sunday in Seattle, and ran a 6:50 pace... Crap. I'm not that kinda runner...

When the boys showed up at my place Tuesday night, I was happy as hell to see them, yet a little intimidated about the run. Clearly my average 10 and 11 minute pace runs would bore the crap out of them. This may end up a little humbling. Hell, I write a blog about running. I use the sentence "I am a runner" in almost every story. These guys are going to have expectations that I can't meet. These guys think that I think... Shi+. I have stage fright.