Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Next "Odyssey"

"I will endure it, keeping a stubborn spirit inside me, for already I have suffered much and done much hard work on the waves and in the fighting. So let this adventure follow." -- Odysseus

"First and foremost," I began, "There is an open farting policy in Van 1."  There were looks of relief, looks of horror and looks of confusion.  "Come on people, someone could die if we try to hold that in."

Let me back up.

Surely you know that if there is anything that is going to pull one out of the Boston Marathon hang over, it must be a race of epic proportions.  Still...

Even in November when the idea was first presented to me, I had my doubts.  A 200 mile relay just 12 days after running Boston?  At first I declined.  I said I'd be happy to support the team and be a driver.  But the memories of doing the Ragnar Relay came to the surface, not all at once, but piece by piece.  

Maybe it was the camaraderie with my team and vanmates.  Could have been the strange discussions at 6:00 in the morning, getting woken up by elementary school girls thinking we were a gang of homeless man sleeping on their soccer field, then there were the sloppy joes instead of sleep at a church in the middle of nowhere, Maryland.

So it wasn't just one thing, rather the collective memories and accomplishments that I, that we, endured over 32 hours of running from Cumberland, MD to Washington, D.C.  Of course the answer became a resounding "yes!"

For Ragnar, we were team "Got the Runs."  I've teamed up with my fabulous co-captain Sarah Finding Fit from that team to bring together "The Most Interesting Team in the World."   

Like running itself, the idea of the relay draws mixed reactions from people.  These are generally the same people who criticize the general concept of paying money to sign up for a race.  "So, let me get this straight," they'll start.  "You're going to pay to run?"

"Well, no, but, I guess yes, yes I'm going to pay but you get this t-shirt and other people are with you, and to cross the finish line, it's just well, there's nothing like it."  

Similarly, "So, let me get this're going to drive two hours to Gettysburg...then run back?  WHY!?"


For many reasons then, not just one, tomorrow, I'll pile into a van with four of my closest friends.  We'll follow another van with six others and we'll turn around and we'll run all the way back home.  From Gettysburg to D.C., we'll run.  We won't sleep.  Most won't shower.  We'll gorge ourselves on peanut butter sandwiches.  Beef jerky will be as good as sex!  We'll probably get cranky.  We'll question why we're doing it.  We'll insist that we finish. We'll fart! And in the end, we'll all cross the line together.

Come along our Odyssey starting Friday morning at 11:15 a.m. by following us on Twitter:
Van 1: @onthebusrunning  
Van 2: @sarahfindingfit

Keep running my friends.

'For if I wait out the uncomfortable night by the river, I fear that the female dew and the evil frost together will be too much for my damaged strength, I am so exhausted and in the morning a chilly wind will blow from the river; but if I go up the slope and into the shadowy forest, and lie down to sleep among the dense bushes, even if the chill and weariness let me be, and a sweet sleep comes upon me, I fear I may become spoil and prey to the wild animals.’ --Odysseus

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Beer is in the Fridge

Of all the race wisdom one can collect over the years, the gem I found is one that never changes, is never subject to interpretation, and you won't find experts debating it: Always have good beer in the fridge.

Life is better with a little (or a lot) of Chimay
For this runner, it's Chimay all the way.  Whether it's after a weekend long run, a hard interval session, or *gasp* going dry three weeks out from the big race, I take comfort in knowing that there's a tall glass bottle filled with my favorite brew waiting to be pried open at the finish.

And when you've deprived yourself of it?  When it's been staring you in the face every time you open the fridge?  It tastes all the sweeter when you finally tip your head back and that sweet sweet fermented nectar hits the back of your *ahem* where were we....

This past week following Boston, i.e. the week of gluttony, I've kicked back and enjoyed a nice beverage with each meal or simply sat on our deck after work sipping along with the sundown.  Sometimes my Boston medal clangs against my chest. Sometimes it just rests on the table.  Either way, it's always nearby.  

The week after a marathon, I indulge every impulse...and there are many.  Life is a cabaret?  Nay.  Life is a buffet!  

My appetite cravings swing faster than the pregnant woman's in my office.  One day it's burritos, the next day it's brownie sundaes, others buffalo wings.  And the beautiful part is that I can order these dishes without a hint of guilt.  Where I'd normally pause and think, Hmmm, how long is my run today? What time do I have to get up tomorrow?  I order at will.  "More anything?" the flight attendant asks on an episode of Seinfeld.  "More everything!" he replies.

Of course, after a couple meals like this, it becomes abundantly clear why I decide to healthy.  There's the lethargy the next day, the stomach aches, the indigestion...the self-loathing.  "I'm sooooo FAAAT!" I moan at my wife as I size up the food she has left on her plate.  A stray bowl of rice is almost near the line of demarcation on our table.  My shrimp pad thai is long gone and I am the mayor of the clean plate club.  "Are you going to eat that rice?"  I ask, my fork already headed for the bowl.  I've timed this so that she has to answer just as she's taken a bite.

"I might!" she grumbles, mouth full, eyes shooting daggers at me. 
"Ok, ok," I say.  "You just weren't paying any attention to it."
"That's because I'm eating other things," she says.

I order dessert.

Sure, the appetite is still there.  The miles?  They are not.

And so it was this in mind that I took to my "recovery road" today, a.k.a. the Cross County Trail, and trotted out two tenuous miles along the soft and forgiving trail and two miles back.  Thunderstorms bloomed in my rearview mirror while driving to the trail and I thought my easy run could become a race against the swelling clouds.  

Mattie came with me, reluctant at first, until I let her set the pace, knowing she'd take it easy in the unseasonably warm April weather.  

The first strides felt awkward and stiff, like the Tinman awakening, falafel rumbling around in my stomach like a shoe in the dryer.  But the rhythm came back to me, and soon Mattie and I were flying over the beaten path.  Every once and a while a pain would crop up in a hip joint, knee, or IT band, just to remind me of what I'd put them through last week.  I'd wince, back the pace off if need be, but continue on until it ironed itself out.

I thought about all the indulgences over the past week and how I'd "earned" them.  I think the first couple weeks following a marathon can be tricky.  On one hand, you don't want to lose all that training you've accrued over the many miles and months leading up to the race.  On the other, you've accrued all those miles over the many months and you just want to rest.  

I lean more toward the first.  While the time off has been nice, I have this feeling of, "I'm only getting started," I think as I shovel in another piece of pizza in my mouth.  I would call it antsy.  My Uncle called it "hungry," and that's probably more accurate.

Fortunately that's the case, because while one adventure came to an end last Monday, another Odyssey is about to begin on Friday.  Stay tuned. 

If the expression leading up to a race is, "The hay is in the barn," then almost certainly following the race, the expression is, "The beer is in the fridge."

Cheers, everyone.  

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Boston Redux - Part II

When the winter was at its coldest and the gray, January days swelled with the threat of snow and despair, I pounded out tenths of a mile on the treadmill.  I stared at the reflection of the broken runner in front of me and dreamt of the warmer mid-April day when I might fly once again down Route 135...

...and here I was.  The anticipation to the Boston gun builds like the slow yet steady clanking of a roller coaster cranking toward its apex.  Then, all it once, you're released into the thrilling void, left to fend for yourself, unsure of what may come around the next bend.  We rocketed out of the chute to the roar of the Hopkinton residents, the great send off.  I find it hard to stay locked into a race plan so early with so many screaming people cheering for you.  You can't ignore the outstretched arms of the little kids lining the choked roadway, and find yourself slapping their small palms as you go by.

Then it's back to business.  In that first mile, my goal is simply to survive, not get entirely swept up in the adrenaline and just flow in the crowd of runners to a controlled pace.  The articles, the podcasts, the blogs, they all caution against going out too fast, and go on to relay the suicide tales of those who have made this fatal flaw.  

I was content to move through the crowd and limit the darting and dodging through other runners.  Before I knew it, I'd come upon the first mile marker.  I checked my watch to see a controlled 7:30.  The running crowd began to stretch out and I found myself with some more room.  Time to go to work, I thought with visions of my 1:23:35 tune up half and 93:29 10 miler just two weeks ago rising in my head.  I felt the turnover come and began to ride my own wave.

Mile 2 I checked the split and was happy to see that 6:35 still felt as easy as that 7:30.  And here, I began working my way over to the left side of the road to hit the first water station.  The roadway choked again and it became a bad highway merge scenario. I managed to grab the last cup of water at the stop, gulped two sips down my dry throat and carried on.

"Good job, Florida!" I heard as I came through 5K.  "Looking good, Florida, keep it up."  I glanced from side-to-side looking for my fellow Gator fan but saw no one with any Florida gear on.  Then, a couple kids looked right at me and said, "Yeah!  Come on Florida."  That's when I remembered that I had "Florida" in big block letters on the front of my singlet.  In races past, I never did the "write your name on your bib or shirt" to have spectators single you out...but dammit, it works!  For the remainder of the race, I was serenaded by the crowds as "Florida."

Nearing mile 5 a fogginess began to settle into my head.  This feeling is one I feared most, because it's the same one that plagued me at last year's race and didn't disappear until the Newton Hills.  I can't pinpoint why I get it, and why I get it at Boston.  Could it be the five hour lag between waking up and running?  Fueling issue? Lethargy?  I still can't say, but this is where the battle began.  Mile 5.  21.2 miles yet to go.

I strode confidently through 10K knowing that I'd be sending off my first athlete alert to those following me.  Then it was 1.8 miles to seeing my mother-in-law and her friend.  I reasoned with myself that I had to keep it together to look good running by them.

Coming through the mile 8 water station, I chugged ahead and began scanning the crowd.  I saw them before they saw me: A giant purple sign that said "B-R-A-D" on it.  "Ladies!" I yelled.  They snapped to attention and started screaming for me.  I whooped and blew a kiss at them.  It was enough to carry me through an unsteady 10 miles.  

I'd vowed not to look at my watch until the half but wanted to get a quick glimpse of my 10 mile split: 68 and change.  Still on sub-three hour pace but feeling every step of it.  The next check point was the half way mark.  The rationalization continued, Get to the half and reevaluate.  We can start going easy through the water stations if need be.  Just get to the half.  

The landscape opens here when you approach Wellesley.  Large trees dot the green fields.  Then you can hear it.  It's faint at first but grows stronger every meter.  First there's one, then a couple, then a group.  Before you realize it, you're awash in the screams of Wellesley girls.  "Kisses for Runners!" say the signs or something to that effect.  It's hard not to smile going through.  The adrenaline drops in and the turnover comes a little easier.  And just as quickly as it came on, the screams begin to fade over your shoulder and the downtown Wellesley crowd, thick in number, doesn't seem nearly as loud as where you just came.

Always love the walking photo.
Through the half, I still felt terrible.  I wanted to walk.  I looked at my watch: 1:28 through half.  I could walk the rest of the way, I thought.  Still, I continued on, less than three miles from Newton where the race really begins.

At mile 14, I took my first walk break through the water station.  I decided I could live water station to water station since they were at each mile.  I walked by an aid station and heard, "How we doin' Florida?"
"We're fine.  Just frustrated," I said back, trying to sound as conscious as possible.
"Ok, keep at it."

Then I went by a couple of girls holding a bowl of oranges.  "You look like you could use an orange, Florida."
"Thanks," I said, sucking down the wedge.
"All right," I heard behind me.  "The first runner to take one!"

At each mile where I walked, I could hear, "Come ON Florida," and that spurred me on once again.

When I hit mile 16, I dug in and vowed to run each of the Newton hills.  I came up onto my toes and picked my way up each hill and it was here that the fog began to lift...but the damage had been done.  I still couldn't find a rhythm and now my body bore the brunt of those 16 early miles downhill.

At mile 18, I walked through the water station and saw my cousin and her husband on the side.  "Brad!" they shouted.  I flushed with embarrassment.  "What's up guys?"
"How are you?" they asked.
"Well, I feel like shit.  But, hey, only 8 miles to go."
I chatted for a moment longer then willed myself on to at least good for them as I disappeared down the hill.

Twenty is usually my last milestone.  But at Boston, that milestone is one mile later...and that's the mile 21, the top of Heartbreak Hill.  Hill four of four, I said to myself and set off up Heartbreak.  Similar to running by family, it's hard to walk when you have thousands of people cheering you, willing you, up this Hill of Hills.  The BC kids were rabid on the sidewalks.  I buried my head and kept putting one foot in front of the other.  Arms pump, legs churn.  Arms pump, legs churn. Nice and smooth now, nice and smooth now, I repeated.  And at long last, the work was over and I passed under the "Heartbreak Arch" and descended toward the city.

Near 23, I got my first glimpse of the Prudential building, which disappeared just as suddenly.  When I ran, I focused on my form, trying to be as efficient as possible.  It seemed the simplest, easiest concept to wrap my head around at that moment.  I remembered all the form drills I took on over the summer.  

"Nice and smooth, Florida," I kept hearing.  If only they knew how bad it hurt.  I was like a duck: cool above the surface, but paddling my legs like mad beneath.  I managed a breathy "Thanks" or an errant hand wave to acknowledge.  

One mile to go.  The end is near.
At the Citgo sign, the sign I'd waited for since we first pulled into our hotel, I didn't bother walking through the water station.  I just wanted it to be over.  The crowd was thick now.  I was running on automatic, retreated inside of myself for cover.  I was aware the race was happening but somehow removed as well.  The pain in my hips was deep.  A stabbing pain in my quads with every footfall.  It can all be over soon.

Then the right turn on Hereford street.  I powered up the last hill.  The roar of the crowd crescendoing.

Left turn on Boylston.  The finish in sight.  Go if you've got it, I said and hammered the last 600m.  I saw my father-in-law's hand go up first, then pointed at my wife and blew her a kiss.  So long to get back to her.  My face grimaced uncontrollably and I felt the tears filling my eyes.  I tried to maintain the icy cool composure on the surface but it was rippling behind my sunglasses.  The tears mixed with the sweat running down my sticky face.  

The finish line arch reeled me in.  Somewhere I saw the 26 mile sign and thought, One lap the track. was over.

I crossed the line of my second Boston Marathon in 3:20:21.  The tears came in earnest now and I did nothing to wipe them away.  There was nothing to hide for anymore.  Rather, I just kept moving forward, the living dead, jamming my fingers into my hips to relieve the pain.  The agony, at least, went away.

When I reached my wife and father-in-law, they helped me to the curb.  I sat down and changed out of my father's cross country singlet, having added 26.2 more sweaty miles to it.  Then I slipped my arms through that brand new Boston jacket.

I mentioned last year after Boston that I began this blog to chronicle my journey to the start (and finish line) of the Boston marathon.  It's since become so much more.  I want to extend my sincerest thanks to all who have joined me on this journey, friends old and new, at every and any point.  The support I got on race day and the months leading up to it are what carried me through those hills and those miles.  I hope you'll stay on the bus with me....

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Boston Redux - Part I

The airport buzzed.  It was Saturday at noon when Mrs. Onthebusrunning and I made our way to the only open seats left at our gate.  Boston Marathon jackets dotted the throng of waiting passengers.  I recognized the bright teal and yellow from last year and had to squint to read the sewn on years of Boston's past from others.  Running shoes in various stages of breakdown were tied to the outside of bags and massage sticks poked out of backpacks.  Some recounted past races while others whispered their fears about running the infamous route from Hopkinton to Boylston for the first time.  Legs bounced and hands fidgeted, the result (at least for myself) of too many days tapering.  There was no denying was Boston Marathon weekend.

The airplane ride is only the prelude, however.  Because once you set foot in Boston, the city is positively awash in marathon spirit.  It's as if a wiry, willowy tribe has descended upon the city, set to devour, not only the asphalt with clean, clipped strides, but also Boston's ration of pasta.

It's one of the few times in my life I've felt like a celebrity.  I wore some piece of Boston paraphernalia wherever we went.  Strangers stopped to ask if I was running the race.  I've never shaken the hands of so many strangers nor heard the words, "You runnin' Monday?  The marathon?  More power to ya!" repeated so often.  It reinforces that it's one thing to run a's another to run Boston.

This year, our hotel was situated AT the Citgo sign, i.e. the one mile to go marker of the race.  Each time we walked outside, I glanced up and thought, God, I can't wait to see you on Monday.

On Sunday, we made it over to the expo to pick up my race packet.  When I held that red bib in my hand, I knew then it was real.  It was that Quentin Cassidy moment when he says, "Huh, I guess they really ARE going to have us run this thing."  *gulp*  

But we didn't linger long before heading back to the hotel to rest up.  After a pasta dinner with some friends, we returned to the room and I began my pre-race ritual: pack up the post-race backpack, set out the shoes, watch, sunglasses, shorts and the oatmeal packet in its bowl.  I had the added task of calling room service for a "pot of hot water at 5:00 a.m." since there was no coffee maker in the room.  "Yes, I'd like to make oatmeal before the MARATHON I'm running in the morning," I justified to the one unimpressed person in Boston.  Lastly, I laid my jersey out on the bed, smoothed out any of the wrinkles, then placed my bib just so before pinning it on.  Lights out at 10:00.

I didn't sleep much, or at least it didn't feel like it.  I woke up several times sure that it was wake up time, only to realize that I still had three hours to sleep.

At 5:00, the alarm went off and I popped out of bed.  By 5:45, I was out the door and on my way to the T station.  I met several other runners on the platform, and we used one another to find our way to Park Street to load the busses to Hopkinton.  No one spoke, rather we traded knowing nods of what we had been through to get there...and what we were about to take on.

The sun began to rise and burned off some of the chill in the air.  The wind blew around us and I heard the first talk of a tail wind.  There was something sadistic and counter-intuitive about all of us cueing up to board these buses, to carry us out 26.2 miles only to run the whole way back.

There was no trace of the nerves I felt last year.  Not yet.  The routine was ingrained.  I was a veteran.  I slung my big green bag over my shoulder, thankful to have brought it with me this year.  Last year, I didn't want to check a bag and spent the majority of my time at athlete's village trying to ward off hypothermia.  

I boarded the bus and was careful to select a seat that didn't include the wheel well this year.  Then...I fell asleep.

When we arrived in Hopkinton, I shook the cobwebs from my head and walked under the "Athlete's Village" arch and behind the school.  I was amazed at how many people were already there at 7:15.  The field resembled an assembly area for a small army.  Stations doled out food and supplies.  Some runners unfurled sleeping bags and blankets and promptly fell asleep.  Others played cards, read magazines, or chatted up those around them.  I found an open spot in the sun, pulled out my hotel towel, plugged in headphones and tipped my head back.  I watched wisps of stray clouds swirl overhead.  I planned to read this year but got wrapped up in both a podcast and those clouds.  Before I knew it, I was asleep again.   

8:00.  Two hours to race time.  I pulled out a bagel and some peanut butter, and quickly scarfed it before laying back down.  When I opened my eyes again, my clear spot was invaded by other "soldiers."    The loudspeaker boomed that wave 1 runners would begin getting called to the starting line at 9:10.  

I shivered with the wind blowing around us despite the extra layers I'd brought.  Hope that tailwind makes it worth it.  I made one last trip to the porta-potty then began the slow walk to the start line.  Before handing my bag up into my bus to have it transported back to Boston, I shed my outer layers and braced for the chilling wind.  I felt like I'd just jumped into the deep end of the pool in April, it was so cold.

I trotted off to the start as my warmup.  The start line for Boston is actually 3/4 of a mile from the Athlete's Village, perfect distance for a warmup jog.  The street was choked with runners and Hopkinton residents there to cheer.  I pulled off next to a church, found a tree...and began my dynamic warmup.  In my head, I had foggy visions of a sub-three hour marathon still in my head.  Could I still pull it off?  Had I really trained enough for it?  

I entered my corral with a slight flutter in my stomach.  The sky was cloudless, one of those crisp New England days, washed by the wind.  The sun beat down on my nearly bare shoulders.  I took in the crowd, both the runners and the spectators.  The spectators after all are what truly make Boston special.  To think that all these people came out to watch 25,000 people run down their street is humbling.  I thought of the most important person waiting for me 26.2 miles away at the finish.

Then the gun.  

The dam had broke and bodies flowed down the steep drop at the start.  As my stomach continued to flutter, a thought came to me from back on my second attempt at 14 miles with my training partner.  We were smack in the middle of the Key Bridge, the Potomac below us, and the nation's capital stretched out over our shoulder.  We were doing an out and back along the C&O canal when I said to him, "Here's the new plan.  I just want to get to Boston.  I don't care how fast I run.  I just want to do Boston for the experience, come what may...."

Then, I passed under the starting arch, clicked my watch, and began my second journey, worry free, from Hopkinton to Boston.

Check in tomorrow for Part II to find out what nickname I earned along the course, why I resembled a duck, and what eventually brought me to tears.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Getting to the Line -- Part II

"Regardless of the day's results, all of us who take on the unique journey of covering the 26.2 trying miles to Boylston Street can all say we partook in history."  -- Ryan Hall

At the top of Heartbreak Hill, it sunk in that I would finish my first Boston Marathon.  I remember doing my best to slide down the backside of that “hill of hills” and still look strong amidst the overwhelming smell of grilling burgers and cheap beer (a.k.a. the aroma of spring college days) emanating from the BC students lining the course.  Looking at my watch, though, I knew my goal to go sub-three hours was out of reach.  
I’d been humbled by the course I sacrificed a year of my life to run.  All those miles in the Virginia humidity, over snow-covered trails and blizzard-beaten sidewalks, early mornings in darkness, and afternoons spent running for my life against thunderstorms.  I tried to draw on my rolodex of “adversity runs,” but all I could do was, as the Running Times’ Scott Douglas said, “soldier on.”
As I fought to regain my stride down the backside of the hill that, for better or worse defines, this Marathon, I vowed to dig in over those last five.  Instead of crumbling over the torturous miles between 21 and 26.2 and “just finishing,” I decided I needed to win that part of the course so that I could make it back on the bus to Hopkinton in 2011.  
When I tell people that, they look at me funny.  “It sounds awful,” they say.  And then cue the witty original lines, “Huh, I only run when someone’s chasing me, he, he, he.” And so on.  
But, no.  I wanted to suffer again, man up and take the pain. Sometimes when we find ourselves in the darkest places, when you simply want to give up because you know it will get easier, we learn the most about ourselves and just what we can endure.  And it makes us stronger.
This year’s Boston seems somewhat tainted given the rate at which it filled up.  Even Boston has its controversy, I suppose.  But it’s still Boston, and I still had to suffer through 26.2 miles to make it back here like everyone else, to take on the course that so many famous footsteps have clipped for more than 100 years.  What I didn’t know was that those 26.2 miles were only the beginning. 
Boston is classified as the measuring stick for us mortals, the non-elites as we try to attain that elusive “BQ.”  I remember walking around the expo of my first marathon back in 2004 and seeing those Boston jackets and how out of reached they seemed.  Back then, I could barely hold 10 minute/mile pace and covered the Philadelphia Marathon course in 4:22.
Having tasted Boston once, though, I wanted another crack at the course that nearly broke me.  At so many points beginning last December, I could have quit, packed it in, signed up for another marathon...but to give up Boston?  I held on to every glimmer of hope that my recovery gave me. 
So instead of calling on moments from my training to pull me through a race, I reversed the process.  I used my Boston race -- slapping hands with the four- year-old outside Hopkinton who yelled, “You’re all awesome,” hearing the Wellesley scream tunnel approaching, going to work on the Newton Hills -- to get me through my training runs. 
Along the Boston course, the crowd never disappears, rather it thins in certain parts.  But once you make the final turn onto Boylston street, the noise gathers like a wave before it comes crashing down over you.  You squint to see the finish line and know you’re almost there.  It’s a tunnel of noise amplified by the high buildings.  It doesn’t oppress, though.  Rather, it summons the last ounces of courage and adrenaline that reside somewhere in the recesses of your depleted body and drops in to produce one last charge to the finish.  
When I crossed, the pain came over me all at once.  We were the walking dead.  A guy next to me looked over and said, “Man, I just missed qualifying for next year.”  I knew I’d made it with a minute and change to spare.  But I grabbed his shoulder and said, “Yeah, but...we just ran Boston.”  He beamed from his tired eyes.  
And so, here I am.  On the eve of my second Boston marathon.  It’s not how I intended to get here.  I tempered expectations and time goals. But for all the dark days, the ragged nights, and the glimmers of hope, I’ve somehow managed to cobble this together and earn the chance to get back on the bus.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Getting to the Line - Part I

Our friends began to arrive at the house one-by-one, couple-by-couple on New Years Eve.  They swung race bags from their wrists and donned layers of past race shirts, warmup pants, winter hats, and gloves, things that would soon be shed at the start.  I greeted them all and tried my hardest not to look stung by the concerned look that broke across their faces when they saw me.  I traded my race day garb -- those same hats and gloves, the rituals, the nerves -- for a pair of jeans and a sweater.  It was not the New Years Eve I’d envisioned.  It was certainly not the 2010 send off, or the kickoff to my Boston Training Plan I’d imagined.  I was injured.  And I was lost.
* * *
When the “marathon regret” began to seep in after signing up for the 2004 Philadelphia Marathon, I sought advice from anyone and everyone who’d completed the 26.2 miles.  But it was a friend’s dad who said to me, “The hardest part about a marathon is getting to the starting line.”
Toeing the line that cloudy and cold November morning, I realize now that I had taken those words for granted.
Though my blog is called “On the Bus Running...,” the metaphor I often choose to associate with my training is one of a ship sailing.  Each race is a new port of call.  And the waters between each destination can be smooth.   Some days my skiff elides over the glassy surface as I catch a current or a strong breeze that pulls me along with little effort, and we fly.  Others come with white caps or deep swells, where I can only lash myself down and ride out the peaks and troughs, hoping to come out unscathed when it’s all over.
When I crossed the line at the 2010 Boston Marathon, I vowed to return in 364 days: stronger, smarter, ready to sail the course that humbled me.  And I enjoyed a summer of sunny days and calm waters.   All the summer miles.  The endless loops around the track.  The dark, humid morning miles.  The thick afternoons on the heels of a thunderstorm. The strides at the end of workouts when I already looked as though I’d jumped into the pool.  I stayed at sea through those humid Virginia months, waiting to pick my spot to dock.  The first breakthrough came in October when I lowered my 5K PR by 63 seconds.  Two weeks later, I returned to the roads and went sub-60 minutes at the Army Ten Miler.
Emboldened by my success, I raced weekend after weekend.  Fall runs, Turkey Trots, Jingle all the Ways, I signed up for all of them.  I thought I was invincible.  But my times started to reflect my mortality.  Clouds began to gather on the horizon and darken the sky.  The storm moved toward me and brought a chilling wind to let me know that the weather had turned for good.
The winter brought rough seas and a torrent of unending storms, dark days, and darker nights.  
I rested for days at a time.  I consulted my Uncle and dad for coaching advice.  Could I put together a training plan in 14 weeks? In 12 weeks? In 10 weeks?
I went to the doctor who told me nothing was wrong, only overuse.  So I’d try and run, but instead I suffered through two miles at a time on the treadmill.  All the while, Boston hung in the air.  I watched with dread as the weeks wasted away on my training calendar.  ”0s” where “10s” and “12s” should have been in my training log. ”2s” where “16s” should go on the weekends.  
I caught one week where I experienced that brief moment in the Perfect Storm where the eye passes over the lost boat, the clouds part and the sun pours through the opening for one brief, hope shedding second...before getting swallowed up again.  I kicked my training into full gear, going from 10 miles a week to 41 miles a week...only to be hobbled a week later and back in the doctor’s office.  “Why did you think you could do 41 miles?” he asked.
“Because I’m stupid?” I replied.  He smirked, manipulating my knee.  
“I have to tell you,” he said, his voice reassuring, “There’s nothing structurally wrong.  Let’s work on a plan to get you to the line.”
“Get me to the line.”  Those magic words, once so simple, now seemed to hang in the ether.  I laid awake at night thinking about canceling my plane reservations to Boston.  I thought about not being able to slide my arms through a 2011 Boston jacket at the finish line when the medal clangs proudly against my chest.  Will I ever even be able to run pain free again?  With each run, I could only think about the injury:  Was that it? Did I tweak something? Can I continue?  So many questions.  Not many answers.
It used to be so simple: go run the miles, check off the box on your program for 16 weeks, and show up to run.  Not this time.  
So, under doctor’s orders, I ran easy every other day, then started upping the mileage on the weekends.  There’ve been weights, and bands, and stretching, and lots and lots of ice.  
There’ve been sleepless nights after setbacks and ginger steps in the morning, waiting for the pain to come.  
Then one morning, the pain suddenly wasn’t there.  I trotted away from my house without a second thought about it coming back.  It’s as though the sun melted away and the clouds and left a clean palette of blue sky.  
Somehow I knew it had gone for good.  And just as the days began getting longer and the bite left the air, so too did I begin to emerge from that cold storm and set sail for smoother seas.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Race Week OCD

One week to Boston. More broadly, one week to any big race. The work has been done. “The hay’s in the barn,” as they say. A few short runs remain on the calendar with some strides for good measure to keep the legs sharp. But the most stressful part of race week, I find, is not the race’s not getting sick.

Doorknobs are suspicious. Every sneeze warrants a head-tilt: where did it come from? Who was it? Did we share a drink? Come within five feet of one another? Are they coughing?

Two weeks ago, one of my co-workers came by my office, and in our every day morning exchange, she happened to slip in, “I just woke up with a little sore throat.”

(Cue the horror movie music)

I fought to keep a straight face as one does when they see someone kick a puppy or have just taken a strong pull on some brown liquor. I tried not to let the alarm, the utter terror, come through in my eyes. “Oh? Umm. Oh. Ok, well, have a good morning.” Be cool. Be cool. I thought as I took a mental inventory of our medicine cabinet. Maintain…and go get some Cold-eeze at lunch.

Later that day I needed to borrow a pencil from one of my friends (I know, who uses pencils, anymore?). “I don’t have one,” my friend said. “But I bet she does,” nodding to my co-worker’s cubicle. I lowered my voice.

“She’s sick.” But I didn’t lower it enough.

“Hey! I heard that!” she called.

“Sorry!” I said. “It’s just, you know, Boston is so close and…”

“I’m sure I’ll be fine,” she said.

(nervous laughter) “Ok.”

I popped a Cold-eeze and lathered my hands in Purell.

Everything seemed to be going fine. Her plague cold came and went. Later in the week, I passed up a seat on the metro because of a stray Kleenex nearby. Then, this past Friday, Mrs. Onthebusrunning and I were meeting some people out at restaurant. It required meeting new people. No big deal. Except that that meant shaking a lot of new hands. Jesus, I sound like Felix Unger.

When I woke up Saturday morning, I felt it. A slight abnormality in my throat. I summoned up some spit and swallowed hard. Yep, no doubt about it: there’s a sore spot.

I didn’t say anything to my wife. Not right away. I went right for the hot beverage. No luck. I popped a Cold-eeze and the rationalizing began: Ok, it’s Saturday. I’m usually sick for, what, a week? I’m better by next Saturday and that’s two days to get ready for the race.

“Why are you taking that?” she asked.

“I have a tickle in my throat.”

“I bet you’re fine.”

Later that day while out running errands, she suggested we get some pho for lunch. Good, good, I thought. That’ll be good on my throat. And not only did it feel ok, but I also got my sodium content for the next week so no worries about hyponatremia while hydrating for the race.

Then it came back.

We went to bed that night and I knew that the morning would be the tell-tale sign. If I woke up and it was worse, I was definitely sick. If it stayed the same or got better, maybe it was just allergies or a miracle.

I slept through the night and woke up at 8:00 to do what I didn’t get to do before Cherry Blossom. That’s when I remembered. I took a hard swallow, the only true test. Nothing. No pain. Just a regular swallow. I was so excited, relieved, thankful that I woke myself up completely and couldn’t get back to sleep.

I took to the trails yesterday afternoon with renewed hope and got to thinking about it again. I remembered being at the restaurant Friday night and thinking how tasty the chicken sandwich I’d ordered was, how crunchy the grilled bread was, but how you paid the price for eating it as…the…Gatorade hit a cut…in…my…mouth. The bread! The stupid bread probably cut the back of my throat. I’ll be damned, I thought.

I rested easy last night. Seven days to race and…who sneezed?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Cherry Blossom 10 Miler Redux

The porta-potty line went on.  And on. And on.  I glanced at my watch.  Only 20 minutes to the start.  This was not looking good.  Mrs. Onthebusrunning and I were impatiently waiting, shivering even, with two of our friends (getting ready to take on their first 10 mile race) in the never ending and never moving porta-potty line.  

The National Anthem went up behind us.  The wheelchair race start came and went.  7:35.  Five minutes to race start. One, two, 10, 12, 17 people still ahead of me.  I looked at my watch one last time, then back at our friends.  "I'm out.  Good luck, guys."

And with that, I trotted off toward the starting line of my first Cherry Blossom 10 miler.  The last "major" D.C. race left to tick off my resume.

Months ago, when we entered the lottery for Cherry Blossom, I had no expectations of getting in.  I figured we could enter and if we got in, great, and if not, well, Boston was only two weeks away...somehow I'd survive.  But of course we got in.  And that sent a shockwave through the "Holzwart Distance Project" coaching staff.  Unbeknownst to me, my dad and Uncle were having behind-the-scenes conversations about my racing so much so close to Boston.

The Cherry Blossom Gang
Following my tuneup half marathon just eight days prior to Cherry Blossom, I too began to draw on their angst.  After several phone calls, I decided to take two days rest, get an easy run in, then take work off on Friday to get a 16-miler in (my last long run before Boston) and use the Cherry Blossom to push the pace and mimic the last 10 miles of the marathon.

I got through the 16 on a hilly out and back that had me questioning just what the hell was I thinking running 10 miles on Sunday.  

So, I trotted up that short hill to the starting line, short warmup, no dynamic stretching, and simply hoping for the best.  

The book on Cherry Blossom is that it's a flat, fast course that -- as the name suggests -- features the Cherry Blossom-lined D.C. streets.  At worst, I thought, it was a chance to take in the pink-petaled trees without the hassle of fighting the tourist invasion and enjoy a nice Sunday run.  Best laid plans...

At the gun, I got swept up in the opening surge and did my best to work my way to the perimeter of the crowd.  As the adrenaline began to wear off from everyone else, I was starting to find my stride about a half mile in and became increasingly frustrated with those who hadn't.  At one mile, I finally had some breathing room and set out comfortably across the Memorial Bridge.  I took a quick glance at my watch to gauge pace: 6:35.  So much for easy.

Coming across the bridge, the elite men were already working their way back across the river.  I searched for my running partner Rohan who had other ideas in mind beyond a leisurely Sunday stroll.  He sought the elusive sub-60 10 miler time.  I hoped not to see Rohan up with the elites, blowing up from the start, and was relieved when he was no where to be seen.

Back in the city, the groove continued as we made our way out and back along the Potomac river, the Kennedy Center to our left.  It was here that I saw Rohan and we exchanged a quick point of acknowledgement and knowing glance.  He looked strong.

What I found frustrating about Cherry Blossom was that for the first 5 miles, the course doubles back on itself quite a bit with three out and backs.  I felt myself counting down to mile 6 where we'd take on the dreaded Haine's Point loop that Marine Corps Marathoners known as no man's land.  

At mile 5, I was still waiting for the fatigue from last week's effort and Friday's long run to kick in, but instead I felt myself surging.  It was also here that my bladder surged and I remembered that I still hadn't used the bathroom before the race.  Do I pull off and go?  I thought.  Do I just go while running?  Then we came to a water station and I thought,  Ooooh, gatorade.  And then I was fine.  

Just beyond mile 5 with the Jefferson Memorial to our right, a pack of tourists decided they had to cross the street at that moment and, like a panicked squirrel, stop in the middle of the road.  Even in a road race you can't escape the tourists during the spring.

I rounded Haine's Point and saw the Washington Monument poking above the skyline in the distance.  Ok, that's where we're going, I told myself.  At mile 8, the fatigue settled in.  This is where it got me in the Army Ten Miler in the fall and I remember going to the well at mile 9 to get my own sub-60...but this was a different race.  

When mile 9 came up, I locked onto a runner ahead of me and let him pull me to the finish.  The Monument rose higher and higher as the crowds came back.  One final hill to go, I pushed repeating, Strong legs, strong legs, strong legs, with each stride.  I crested the hill and saw the finish.  "Let's get this over with," I muttered and unleashed whatever kick I had left.  Click!  I brought my hands to my head for a moment before glancing at my watch: 63:30.  

Rohan joins the sub-60 club.
Then I came upon Rohan.  "Did you do it?" I asked.
"I did it," he said.  "59:50.  I wanted to retire from running for good at mile 8...but I did it."

We cheered on the rest of our friends after that and relished the sun beating down on our cooling bodies.

With a few days to reflect on the race, the only word that comes to mind is: unremarkable.  I found myself largely ignoring the Cherry Blossoms and was working inside my head too much to even appreciate the course.  I'm glad that I ran it and can check it off my list, but given the choice between the Army Ten Miler and Cherry Blossom, I'd "choose [Army] any day of the week and twice on Tuesdays," as Lt. Weinberg said in A Few Good Men.

And once I grabbed my bottle of water, I finally got to use the bathroom.  There wasn't even a line.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...