In Iowa

I’ve been in Iowa for the past few days. I flew out here on Wednesday to attend to what I suppose is meant when someone uses the term “family crisis.” My beloved 93-year-old grandmother suffered a stroke a little under two weeks ago and she was aiming to slip from this mortal coil, or so it seemed. She’d been in a great deal of pain and discomfort, with reduced capacity in key areas (can’t walk, can’t swallow, double vision in one eye). She raised her hand for the “no extraordinary measures” option and stopped taking water and food on Monday.

But you know what? My grandmother may be one of the few people I’ll ever know who left a hospice facility alive. She looked like she was fading on Thursday morning, and we were all getting prepared to say goodbye sometime during the coming days or weeks. I was even working on a draft of her obit. Then, in the afternoon, she perked up and began talking about wanting to fight on. From heartbreak to hope in the space of a few hours — Thursday probably ranks up there as one of the worst and best days of my life.

Now she’s out of hospice and back in the hospital rehab unit, taking food and water through a tube, as well as starting to manage food by mouth. She handled her first round of physical therapy yesterday like a trouper. Her sense of humor is intact, as is her fighting spirit. She has lots of hurdles in front of her: first, to learn to swallow, stand and walk so she can get out of the hospital. Next, weeks or months of work in the skilled nursing area of her retirement home. Then, if that goes well, a move over to assisted living. She even has an outside shot at getting back into her apartment.

I am in awe at her ability to survive.

I head back home tomorrow, but will probably make another trip out in May or June to cheer her on (and up).

Since this is a running blog, some obligatory running stuff is in order: I didn’t run for three days post-marathon, which seemed to be the perfect thing to do. On Thursday I did four miles at 10:30 on the motel treadmill, then five miles at 10:00 on Friday. Yesterday the entire exercise room was put out of commission until sometime next week due to a broken door.

So I headed out onto the streets of Cedar Rapids into 20 mph winds (I’m used to it!) and horizontal sleet. It ended up being a fantastic run. I hammered out six miles, despite the wind, for an average of 8:30 per mile. I’m running in my new Saucony Fastwitch 3’s and they are hands down the best running shoes I’ve ever worn. They weigh 6 ounces and make me feel like Gete Wami. Finished up the run at 7:50 (the tailwind helped on the way back), pleasantly relaxed and ready for the whatever the day had in store, which was good news all around, as it turned out.

I love running here. Cornfields, sky and flatness yield expansive vistas like this. The city is more or less a grid, with lots of major avenues, so it’s difficult for even me to get lost. And I rarely see other runners, so I get to feel like a local curiosity for an hour or so.

The weather is similar today (actually, colder at 20 degrees with the windchill), but I’ll head out for the same run in a few minutes.

More Marathon: A volunteer’s perspective

Nice blog post from blogger Pigtails Flying, on the experience of volunteering at the More race on Sunday.

My 15 minutes of fame

I made the “leader gallery” page for the More event. Here’s the link. (Scroll down to see yours truly.)

It looks like NYRR figured out that the initial results were bad due to some marathoners running a shorter course (through no fault of their own). There are no photos of those people, and we’re in shown on the gallery page in the order Jonathan saw us come through. The net? I was actually tenth in the marathon.

I should also add…

I qualified for the Boston Marathon today, with about 18 minutes to spare. It’s funny how your perspective shifts when your goals change. It seems almost incidental now, whereas last year it was my grand goal.

I won’t say what my next grand goal is. But it’s ambitious.

As for the near future, I’m hoping to run sub-1:37:00 in the Long Branch Half in a month.

Race Report: 2008 More Marathon

“The man who sticks to his plan will become what he used to want to be.”
— James Richardson

The short version
The good: I finished in 3:32:20.
The bad: I was way off the 3:24:00 time that I trained for, and unfortunately couldn’t even make my outside goal of breaking 3:30:00.
The ugly: A bracing, steady headwind on the west side for a two mile stretch. Times five!

Overall, the race today was a success. I have mixed feelings about it, though. If I take the long view and compare this race to last year’s, it was like night and day. Observe:

  • I managed to shave nearly 24 minutes off last year’s time
  • I ran negative splits and, for the most part, very even paces
  • I did not “hit the wall” or otherwise have any really bad patches
  • I ran strong and was relaxed throughout
  • I could function much better post-race

And yet, I’m still disappointed. I came in with a net time of 3:32:20. But I trained for a 3:24:00 and all recent racing activity indicated that I could probably approach that. At the very least, I was on track to go sub-3:30:00.

I’m never happy with my finishing times. I suppose this is probably the biggest factor in why I’ll continue to work to improve.

The long version
So what happened?

One word: Wind.

Man, was it windy today! I knew all those races and long, marathon-pace runs were on windy days for some sort of cosmic reason! I’m actually glad I did so much hard racing and training in heavy winds, because I don’t think I would have fared nearly as well today (mentally or physically) without having had that experience.

Basically, there was a 20 mph headwind from the north, pummeling us all the way up the west side of the park. So for around 10 miles total of the race, I was running straight into wind, and it was like being pushed around by a gorilla. Very draining.

As soon as I hit mile 2 of the race, I knew the wind was going to be a problem. And I’m sitting here second-guessing myself, primarily because I was very conservative for the first half. Which is what you’re supposed to be. I hung back on the pace and took some miles at 8:00 rather than the planned 7:50. I like to think that that conservatism helped me pick it up much later in the race, when I was running more like a 7:35. (It probably prevented me from blowing up, which a couple of people I passed did around miles 20-22.) But I can’t help but wonder if I would have gotten sub-3:30:00 had I been more aggressive in the first half.

You can’t pick your race weather and I was grateful that it wasn’t raining. The temperature was perfect, too. I was comfortable in shorts and a tech tee, and I only needed my improvised, disposable “sock gloves” for the first three miles.

The start
The race was HUGE. I mean massively huge. There were close to 6,000 half marathoners. I think there were around 4,800 last year. I barely saw any full marathoners at the start. (It turns out that there were 152 of us this year, compared to 154 last.)

Like last year, I started about six rows back from the front. It was utter craziness in the first mile, with people sprinting around me. I always find this really funny, because I see the same people dying later on, in a few miles. Oh, wait. I used to do that…

Early miles
I took the first six miles very slow, at an 8:00 pace. I felt great, like I had springs in my legs. I also felt very light on my feet. I knew this feeling would not last, so I appreciated it while it did.

Jonathan saw me at mile 6 and said I looked “tentative.” What he saw was concern: I’d picked up the pace to 7:30 for that mile — a downhill along “Museum Mile” — and was wrestling with worry that I’d just made a huge mistake and was burning glycogen like crazy. I slowed down again right after I saw him. As I passed him, he told me that I was in 10th place. It was a great confidence booster and motivated me to pick up the pace later on.

The next six miles felt very easy, with the exception of the two mile windy stretch. The oddest thing is that, when I look at my splits going over the big hills on the north side of the park, I was easily cruising over them. The hills somehow blocked the wind, it seems. So now I know I’m good at running hills.

I picked things up again along Museum Mile for mile 12. Jonathan saw me again and said later that I looked very good: fluid, strong, in control. I continued with a faster pace through the halfway point, although I had to again slow down for the windy stretch.

Mid-race no man’s land
At mile 15, I made the turn along the 102nd St. transverse, where I passed my first fellow marathoner. I was starting to test the pace, although since my watch started to act erratically, I don’t actually know how fast I was running. The distance/pacing data gathered after that mile is pretty much worthless, unfortunately. I was shooting for a 7:40 pace for the next few miles, and I think I managed it. My calves were also starting to complain at this point. I ignored their pleas and ran on.

I passed Jonathan again at mile 17. This part of the race was a debacle from a course management standpoint. NYRR had some guy who was either dyslexic or ill-informed giving directions right before the turn. He was telling people the opposite of what they were supposed to do: “Half marathoners go to the right, marathoners go to the left.” I nearly collided with a confused half marathoner.

I also see in the preliminary results that there were a few of people who got top spots in the marathon and their recent racing histories on and don’t support their finishing times. I suspect they followed Opposite Man’s directions and ran a short course. I hope this marathon wasn’t important to them, because they only ran about 22 miles of it!

Miles 18 and 19 were more horrible headwind, and I was basically just waiting to see when or if I would fall apart. Right after the second trip along the 102nd St. transverse, I passed two more marathoners. I thought at the time that this put me in sixth place, but later realized that they were probably on their first inside loop, whereas I was on my second.

By this point, my calves had gotten with the program and the pain had migrated northward to my hamstrings. I spared them no pity. “Work with me, hammies. We trained all those miles together. Are you going to feeb out on me now?” Hamstrings got on board soon thereafter.

Final miles
At the start of mile 22 I didn’t show any signs of implosion so I decided to again try to pick up the pace. Only four more miles, right? For the last few miles, I have no clue how fast I was running since my watch was not working anymore. It was dropping GPS reception and telling me I was running insanely fast paces (3:32 pace?). So I ignored the watch and ran by feel for the rest of the race. I don’t think I looked at it again after that.

Wind and hills. Wind and hills. All of miles 22 and 23 were wind and hills. I just kept telling myself that this was the last really bad stretch and I’d be done in less than 25 minutes.

I spotted Jonathan again at mile 25. He says I looked like a different creature from the people surrounding me. I was flying by both runners and walkers, probably running about a 7:30 pace. I should add that my thighs were now approaching a state of exquisite ache. I told them to just shut the hell up.

The finish
The last mile and a bit was a gauntlet. I ended up racing outside of the roped off area (put there to keep race participants from getting too close to the horse-drawn carriages). By doing so I was forcing regular park runners to go around me, because the marathon course was totally clogged with walkers. I’m sure I looked like a crazy woman; they got out of my way. I would have had to have slowed to probably a 9:00+ minute mile to get through the walkers had I followed the rules and stayed on the course. As we rounded the bottom of the park, the course opened up again to cones and it was a lot easier to navigate.

I passed the 26 mile marker and there was the finish up ahead. Up a hill. God, NYRR is a cruel mistress when it comes to course design. Up a hill and straight into a headwind. Still, I ran as fast as I could toward that clock. I wasn’t happy that it read 3:32 and change, but I had stopped thinking about my original goals at that point and just wanted to focus on finishing strong.

Jonathan had dashed across the park after he saw me at mile 25 and met me at the finish. I got my finisher’s medal, picked up my bag and scarfed down the food I’d packed. Carol Farrell, who came in just a few minutes behind me, came up and introduced herself and we chatted for a few minutes. She’s 51 and an amazing runner. It sounds like she races a lot, which would explain why she’s so fast.

Then Jonathan and I headed over to the stage for the awards ceremony to see the winners.

In the half, the master elite team of Susan Loken and Jody Hawkins won the relay. Caitlin Tormey was the overall winner, and she and Gordon Bakoulis were second in the relay. Loken and Tormey are both running in the Womens Olympic Marathon Trials later this month.

In the full, the winner was Stephanie Hodge, a solid sub-3:00:00 marathoner. Second was Susie Meyers-Kennedy (coached by Loken), and third was Kelly Keeler-Ramacier, an Olympic trials qualifier from Minnesota. Jonathan said Keeler-Ramacier had a really weird form when he spotted her, which was later explained by the fact that she was apparently battling leg cramps.

What I learned
1. With proper training, correct fueling and conservative pacing, you can avoid The Wall.
2. When it’s windy, you just have to accept it and adjust your strategy.
3. The More is not a race in which to seek a personal record. At least not until they completely separate the races, which will probably never happen.
4. It’s beneficial to know the course ahead of time so you don’t end up getting sent off course and, say, running a 22 mile marathon.

Present condition
I forced myself to take a 10 minute ice bath when I got in. The last thing you want to do after running a race in the cold is jump into a tub of cold water, but I’m certain my legs will thank me tomorrow and Tuesday.

After a small stack of pancakes I passed out on the couch for 45 minutes. I’ve had about two liters of water, yet I still have a mild headache. A blister has enveloped almost my entire big toe on my left foot, and I have a few other doozies elsewhere on various toes. And I have slightly achy thighs and calves when I stand up, sit down or tackle stairs. Other than that, I feel fine.

Champagne, wine, filet mignon, cake and ice cream await me. I will not be counting calories today.

Next up…the Steamtown Marathon in October!

Day of reckoning

Well, here goes nothin’…


I don’t know which is the slower unit of time: a minute spent waiting for the marathon, or a minute spent running the marathon.

Tapering is now officially driving me crazy. I didn’t run today. I’ve previously taken a total of three days off from running since late November, none of them voluntary. It was always because there was something wrong with me. Today, I’m not running, but there’s nothing wrong with me.

And that’s good. Yes, that’s good.

The weather report looks pretty good — temps in the 40s, overcast, and not horribly windy on Sunday morning. I’ll just check it again now.

Yep. It’s the same forecast as five minutes ago. I’ll look again in five minutes.