or I could bore you . . .

Posted July 23, 2014 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic, Running

Tags:

with yet another account of yet another race I ran over the weekend. I’ll keep this one short.

I ran the Great Balls of Fire 5K on Sunday morning (just before the last of the polar vortex left and typical Midwestern summer heat resumed). I managed to squeeze nine miles out of this little three-point-one mile run.

The race was held just three miles from my home, so I ran to the race, ran the race, then ran home. Thus nine miles. The warm up to the race helped because I set a new personal record in the 5K by 44 seconds, which is always nice (especially at my advanced age). But with the heat of the day increasing, the run home was not so nice. I darted from shady spot to shady spot.

The race benefits research into testicular cancer. Hence the clever name. At the end, before the awards ceremony, a mother and her 17-year-old son got on the stage to thank us all for coming out. Her son had recently beaten this cancer, and while he smiled through her talk, he must have been squirming miserably inside as his mom told a bunch of strangers in intimate detail all about his testicles and how to do a self examination and things like that.

Rock the Crossroads 2014

Posted July 13, 2014 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Running

Tags:

RTC b4

Some time ago I had decided I wasn’t going to be running 5Ks any longer. It’s just not my distance. I can’t get warmed up enuf in that short distance to turn in a good performance. Or so my thinking went.

I now have three 5Ks on my schedule for the next few months, and I ran one over the weekend that turned out to be my best 5K yet.

This was the fifth year of Rock the Crossroads, but since I’ve only been in the running universe for two years, I’d never been involved with it before. It takes place in downtown Kansas City, in the artsy Crossroads district, and it’s set in the evening so that everyone can party afterward. A friend from my running club had asked me to join the team she was part of. As I said, I wasn’t keen on 5Ks any longer, but I’m always flattered when I’m invited to anything, so I signed up and began fretting right away.

That morning I had joined my running club for our usual Saturday run and put in four miles at a decent pace, which is to say I pushed myself. Thus I was not sure what kind of run I had in my legs and lungs for Saturday evening. I showed up downtown an hour early, which is always prudent for these things, and began wandering the area. Headquarters for the run was a bar/restaurant known for death metal music, and I walked through it, looking for familiar faces but not finding any. I thought about having a beer to get hydrated, but I wondered about the efficacy of that, and I certainly didn’t want to have carbonated liquid sloshing around in my stomach as I ran. Plus, since there was still an hour before the run, I didn’t want to find myself standing in line for the foul portable toilets at gun time.

The heat of the day had collected in the downtown pavement, and the tall buildings were alternately throwing shade and reflecting heat. The reported temp was 90+ degrees at race time, but I think the temperature on the street was higher than that. Fortunately, a breeze was coursing through the streets. Eventually, I spotted my friend and her boyfriend, and then she introduced me to her coworker, who was our team captain. We milled about, visited the toilets (also prudent), and at least one of us (though not me) had a beer. With about ten minutes before gun time, we all began milling toward the start chute, whereupon I was separated from my group, which was fine since we all ran at different paces. The run only had about 1,000 participants, but even so, the chute was noisy, and I think the national anthem was half over before I’d even heard it. I turned on my watch and hoped it would catch some satellites there among the tall buildings. The gun went off and the herd milled toward the starting mats. I did have a satellite signal as I crossed the starting line, and I was off.

“Start slow,” I told myself. “Start slow.” I ran at what felt like a comfortable, sustainable pace, but when I made the mistake of looking at my watch, I saw that I was going faster than my normal average pace. So I tried backing off a bit, but I’ve never been good at this. Or rather, I can slow myself, but I soon unconsciously pick up my pace (which I did, until the one, long hill at the beginning of mile 2).

The course wove through the grid of streets downtown, turns coming every few blocks. The pavement alternated between decent and dangerous. There was one hole in the first mile, right at a turn where everyone was crowding to cut off the corner a bit, that could easily have swallowed a person’s leg halfway up the calf. I was surprised it wasn’t marked or blocked with a cone. But I rounded that turn unscathed and kept going. I thought I had a decent mental picture of the course in my head, but there were a few turns I wasn’t expecting before we completed mile 1 and came upon the first water station.

I used to disdain the water stations, especially on something as short as a 5K. But my tough experience on my first half marathon last fall taught me a hard lesson, and now I nearly always get a drink. Since the heat was intense this evening, I knew I would grab a cup of water as I dashed past. (No, they didn’t have Bud Light, though I did ask.) Then we turned into mile two and the long, long climb of the only hill in this run.

Did I mention the heat? Many, many people were walking up this hill, which was more than a half mile long. I’ve tried to meet hills at a run and to keep running, however slowly, all the way to the top. Only then might I allow myself to stop or take a walking break. I managed to run to the top of this long hill too, but I didn’t give myself a break after that, knowing that the course was almost completely downhill from that point. I just kept going.

Not long after cresting that hill I came to the second water station and gladly accepted the offered cup, managing to splash most of it on my face, which was fine. I’ve run with rain in my face, but on this run, it was my face that was raining from all of the sweat dripping off it. Yet I was sustaining a strong pace (for my ability, natch), and I was sure heat stroke was running right behind me. But if it was, it couldn’t seem to catch me. I could feel the heat, and I could feel the fatigue of a hard run, but I could also feel the strength to keep pushing.

Just before the last turn and the long, flat straightaway to the finish arch, I spotted one of the other runners in our group that evening. He was perhaps fifty feet ahead of me, and I thought if I really tried, I could catch up with him and we could run it in together. So despite being exhausted and not close enuf to the finish to start calling on the reserves, I stepped it up and soon caught up with him. But then something completely foreign and unprecedented happened to me. I decided to be competitive! I decided to pass him without acknowledging him and then drive on as hard as I could to the finish, to come in ahead of him.

And this I did. I was passing many people on the long straightaway, those who had evidently cashed in their energy reserves too soon, but I was also being passed by others who had held their reserves for this glorious, leave-it-all-on-the-course finish. I came in a minute and a half ahead of my friend (as determined by our official times later), but more importantly, I had beaten myself. I had set a new personal record for running a 5K, by four minutes!

So much for not being able to warm up enuf in a short run, I guess.

I got the medal, I got a bottle of water (quickly drained), and I met up with several of our group in the huge party area behind the bar where a live band was shattering the night and beer was flowing. Except that the instructions for buying beer were confusing and I at first had my self stamped as not being allowed any. Any runner could attend the concert for free, but you had to show ID in order to get the special pink bracelet showing you were old enuf to buy beer. Once I figured that out, I presented my ID (I had carried it in the tiny pocket of my skimpy shorts in case I collapsed on the course and had to be taken to the hospital). Then I got a beer. ($7!) But in the meantime, my few friends had disappeared.

RTC bling

The great race had a bittersweet ending. My friend, who had invited me to run it with her, had gone back to her car to get her ID only to find that a window had been smashed in and her purse as well as her boyfriend’s wallet had been stolen. This must have been an audacious thief. My friend had parked her car on the course of the run where the thousand runners passed. And even though most of the runners were finished by the time she made her sad discovery, there were still runners on the course coming in who were passing within feet of her car. There were also runners who had completed the course and were returning to their own cars, many with family members beside them. And, of course, there were volunteers and police at nearly every intersection.

Would I run this race again next year? If I was invited perhaps. But though I looked, I didn’t see another person in the crowd that I knew aside from my one friend. I think this run attracts a different crowd, one that will put the excellent party facilities to good use. I’m more interested in the running itself. But next year is a long way away.

 

scatterbrain

Posted July 8, 2014 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Humble efforts

What to do? Maybe the summer doldrums are playing games with my motivation, sending my directional compass spinning wildly. I continue to pick at my Fathers and Sons stories, ideas for them still pop into my head unbidden, but it’s not happening with the white-hot intensity of earlier months. (Still, that leaves plenty of material to keep me busy.)

At the same time little developments and ideas for an unrelated story I’m calling “Double knot” have been asserting themselves. This story idea — more of a character idea — came to me some months ago, and I copied down my thoughts and notes and revelations as they came in their sudden flurry. And then the urgency seemed to subside for a while. Yet now it is back, suggesting that I take a break from the F&S stuff and give it some love. And maybe I should. Maybe that would be a healthy break. (This story would be about the character in “Travel Light,” though farther down the road of his life.)

And recently, and most unexpectedly, an old plot idea I’d had for a Finnegans novel sort of floated to the surface of my mind and said it was time to get started on that. I think it is only coincidental that the story would involve running, but maybe not. (I have wanted to write a series of cozy mystery novels that are unique in that they do not involve a murder and mostly don’t even involve a crime. There is plenty of evil that people can do that doesn’t involve the law.)

And so my thoughts are all over the place. I’m not sure where to give my attention, and that alone pretty much paralyzes me into doing nothing at all. I’ll get out of these doldrums soon enuf, and then the words and ideas will flow. I think.

perils and promise of procrastination

Posted June 18, 2014 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Fathers and Sons, Humble efforts

I’ve received a flurry of rejection letters lately, which is never fun but is a fact o’life in this kind of ambition. Mostly they’re for various Fathers and Sons stories of mine (though two have been close calls for an independent story, “Been Lonely So Long,” that included some very positive comments from the editors).

This has added to my growing consideration lately that perhaps I should not be submitting these Fathers and Sons stories for publication as one-offs. I do write them as complete in themselves, and they could stand on their own as whole stories. But they are part of a larger universe, which supports and illuminates both the parts and the whole. And since that universe is still under construction, the independent stories just may not be in final form until the whole is in final form. Does that make sense?

For example, a rejection I received last week was for my original Fathers and Sons story, “Death of Superman.” In the chronology of the stories, it takes place near the very end, but in my grand vision of a published collection, it would be the very first story, setting up a tension that would infiltrate each story that followed (going back in time), only being resolved in the revelations of the very last story (which I’m calling “Little Gray Birds”).

I’ve mentioned here before that I had originally written “Death of Superman” as a stand-alone story. I had no idea at the time that a universe of stories would spring from it. (There are twelve of them at the latest count. Some are finished and published while others are still just a collection of notes.) But as the other stories began to flow from it, and as I grew to understand the characters better, I’ve revisited “Superman” and revised it so that it better fit in the whole. One example is the narration. “Superman” is a first-person story. My character David is telling the tale, and it’s a reflective story. The trouble is that David, as he has evolved in the other stories, is not a particularly articulate or insightful man. (He is a good man, though.) And so I had to “dumb down” the quality of his narration from what I had originally written. That’s fine. It’s still a good story, and the fact that David misses so many messages in the course of the story helps allow his epiphanies in later stories.

And other similar things. There are certain tropes and devices that are cropping up in the stories. One example is cotton flannel shirts. They are a sort of uniform between two of the fathers and sons and a symbol of benign rebellion by the third. The title “Little Gray Birds” is itself a reference to a fleeting but important moment in an early story.

But the “Superman” submission that was rejected only last week was submitted nearly a year ago. (Such response time being the subject of a different post.) The story had gone through several revisions in that time, and the one submitted was quite different from the more integrated version now.

My point is that until all of the stories are written, I’m not sure that their influences on each other will be settled and clear. And so if I get them published now, I fear that they will be carved in stone and immutable. Thus an opportunity to better integrate the story will be lost.

That’s lofty and noble, but it’s advice I’m unlikely to heed. Practical Paul says that a published collection is a worthy but possibly overly ambitious dream while actual published stories are tangible and get free beers for the writer. (Never once!) Plus, I’m not sure how “immutable” stories are even after they are published. So I’ll likely continue to submit them even as I wring my hands over their internal influence and integration.

In other news: My legs are still a little wobbly after Sunday’s epic half marathon. I took a run yesterday that was a mess, but I intend to give it a go tomorrow. Gotta get my miles.

Vancouver USA Half Marathon 2014 recap

Posted June 16, 2014 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Running

Tags:

Vancouver USA Half

“Come to Portland for Father’s Day,” my son said. “We’ll run a half marathon together,” he said.

I have to confess that most of this run is lost to me in a blur of delirium, fatigue, rain-spotted glasses, and probably life-saving forgetfulness. But what a run it was! In many ways the best run of my life.

My wife and I had traveled to Portland where my son Adam and his wife, Nina, live for his graduation from residency into “official” doctorhood. (Adam rightly points out that he had been an official doctor since he entered residency, and this is true, but I’m casting about to find an easy way to express this latest gradation, and this is how his program director described it when she conducted the ceremony. Anyway, you get my intent. I hope.)

The ceremony was on Friday night. (Nina’s was the week before. Her parents had come up from LA for that, and our visits overlapped by a day, so we got to visit with them, which is always a warm and enriching time. Adam and Nina now begin fellowships in oncology; Adam’s will be in pediatric oncology.)

But that was on Friday night, and with that accomplished and behind us, the main event looming was the Vancouver USA Half Marathon on Sunday morning. If you read my post about the wicked, wicked Striker Life Half Marathon that I had barely survived two weeks before, you might have a sense of my anxiety going into this one. But I felt rested. I had prepared for this run as well as I knew how. I had experience and training. I had even driven most of the course with Adam and my wife the day before (which is always both a good and bad thing). I would be crossing the starting line with all of the mental toughness (and withering self doubt) I could muster. What was left but to lace up and face the thing?

And so we did on Sunday morning. Adam’s running buddy, Nate, picked us up about an hour and a half before the 9:00 a.m. start; my wife and Nina would make their way later to the chaotic finish area to watch us come blazing in. I was dressed in the kit you see above. I had only picked up that green shirt the week before on National Running Day, and I knew when I saw it that I would be wearing it for this run. (You see my usual long-run gear there, but those three dots on the lower left are Advil in a small plastic bag. My doctor family members had strongly cautioned me against taking those in a potentially dehydrated state.)

Adam, Nate, and I got to the start about an hour early, and that gave me plenty of time to fret. The sky was overcast, and the chance of rain had increased in the forecasts through the week. But having done some running in the rain in recent weeks, I wasn’t concerned about that. The temperature was in the mid-fifties, which left us a little cool as we milled about before the start, but I knew that would change as soon as I got my running engine running. We used the PortaPotties even though we didn’t need to. (This is pretty much standard running advice.) We wandered around the park where the expo was held. The local farmers market was across the street. Booths for both venues were waking up as we waited. Other runners and their support crews were gathering. Airplanes from the nearby Portland airport passed low overhead. The start/finish arch beckoned.

Eventually the time passed and we needed to get ourselves over to the starting corral. There were nearly 2,000 runners doing the half; the nearly 1,000 full marathon runners had started two hours before. We would be let go in three waves, and since Adam and Nate are faster runners than I, they milled up to the second wave. All of the usual formalities of a start were observed, and then the first wave soon took off to conquer the course. After ten minutes, the second wave was let fly. And ten minutes after that, my wave was afoot.

I’d had some problems with my running watch earlier in the week. On Wednesday it took forever to capture a satellite signal, and on my run then it reported that I had run a 2:67 mile. (I’m still waiting on the designated sports authorities to recognize my record-breaking achievement there!) And so I worried that my watch would go wonky for this run. I had done a factory reset of it two days before, but without knowing the reason for its erratic performance (getting wet from my rainy runs? a larger-than-normal solar flare that week?) I worried that it would fail me once again on this run. I did have to try twice to grab some satellites, but seconds before I crossed the starting mat, it did find the signals it needed and I managed to press the START button simultaneous to crossing the mat.

And I was off, elbow to elbow with hundreds of other runners. My ultimate goal was, of course, to finish the half upright. But I had a secondary goal, which was to run at least nine miles without stopping or walking. If I did, that would be the longest continuous distance I had ever gone without taking a break.

Unfortunately, the first three miles of this course were a gradual uphill. “Gradual” makes it sound manageable. “Three miles” makes it sound horrible. A lot of runners I know like running hills because it makes them tougher. But toughness doesn’t come through ease. Three miles of uphill were going to be a challenge for me, especially since the first mile of any run is the worst as my engine warms and my mental toughness battles with my self preservation. (I’ve become a believer in warm-up runs, but with 13.1 miles to deal with, I had decided to hold on to all of my energy and spend it on the actual course, the first couple of miles serving as whatever warm up I would get.)

And yet, I accomplished those first three miles, through some commercial and residential sections of Vancouver, without too much struggle. Mostly I told myself that I had a long way to go and that I couldn’t flame out so pathetically early, but I also kept reminding myself of my nine-mile personal goal. And, of course, once I crested that three mile climb, I had a nice, long stretch of comparatively flat and even downhill running before me.

Vancouver, Washington is a pretty town, or at least the course they selected for us took us through the finer parts. I ran past nicely kept homes, past all kinds of businesses, past lovely parks and community gardens, and along scrupulously clean streets. Part of the course took us into the Fort Vancouver historic site, which had a welcomed downhill stretch past old and well-maintained homes and barracks and beside open meadows that were like parks themselves. Very nice for finishing off the first third of the run.

And I was feeling good. My lungs had gotten over their initial shock at being asked to work so hard (which I knew they would). My legs felt fine, as though they still had a lot of miles in them. Mentally I was doing well, and I was still hopeful that I would hit my nine-mile goal.

But then three things happened.

In the elevation map for the course, there is a spike where we had to climb a hill, run along its crest for a short distance, and then run down the opposite side. (You see that early gradual climb to mile three. Then the wicked spike. And finally a nasty hill right before the finish.)

half-elevation

Having driven the course the day before, I knew I was approaching the spike. It came as a physical challenge so close before my nine-mile personal goal that I felt sure the running gods had done so deliberately to test my faith. I had a long argument with myself as I ascended that spike, saying that I couldn’t stop, that I had to grind up it and not give in. Plenty of other runners were walking up this hill, and that is considered an honorable strategy for managing the rigors of distance running. But as you know, I have no honor. I told myself I had to run up that entire spike or be a quitter forever. And as it turned out, that hill wasn’t so much steep as long, which is much harder.

But the spike itself was only one of the challenges I faced at that point. A second was that the thick blanket of clouds overhead decided that then was a perfect time to begin sending down a mist. I was warm enuf by then, so the mist didn’t make me feel cold, but it did make the pavement below my feet feel slick. Not slippery but slick. I could feel a change in mechanics as I pushed off from each footfall. It was not profoundly different or challenging, but I was only about halfway finished with the run, and now I had this to manage as well.

The third challenge, the worst challenge, was that my left knee was beginning to hurt. Right on time. In two of my past half marathons, my left knee began to hurt at about mile 6, and it was a sign that my IT Band on that leg had had enuf. When that had happened those two times, the only relief I got was to take a walk break. This. Was. Bad. I still had about three miles to go in order to achieve my personal goal (and much farther to finish), and with the rain and the climb, I really feared that I wasn’t going to make it.

(As bad as that Striker Life Half was, my IT Band had not acted up then. That course was flat, and I suspect it was the various hills I had to climb — and descend — on the others that affected my knee.)

My hill tactic is to stop taking in the scenery and just look at the pavement directly before my feet. I pull my cap down so the bill is close to my eyes, and then all I can see is a few feet ahead. Hills and impossible distances don’t seem so bad then; I’m in the moment only, and I manage. So that’s what I did. I narrowed my focus and ground up the hill, doing little more than a fast walking pace. But run on I did.

And then, after an unending grind I was at the top. I knew this because I could feel the change in my legs and lungs. I looked up and saw a course monitor directing us to the road that would then take us down the other side of the spike. A lot of runners like to open up on a downhill stretch, increasing their pace and glorying in the ease of the running. With the slick pavement, and the intermittent mist-turning-to-actual-rain, and with my aching (and increasingly aching) knee, which was sending pain up the outside of my leg, I was not going to start running faster. In fact, running down a hill is usually just as pain inducing for me as running up one, especially with my IT Band in full-on protest.

But I did have two things in my favor. I was approaching my nine-mile personal goal still alive, and I had those three Advil in the tiny back pocket of my skimpy running shorts. I had been faithfully hitting all of the water stations, and I had been eating my GU energy gels according to my schedule (miles 2 and 4, and then at miles 8 and 10). I didn’t think I was dehydrated enuf that the Advil would take out my kidneys. So if it came to that, I would dry swallow them and push on. Eventually, I did exactly that.

It was tough. I had to do some serious self talk to get myself to mile 9 without taking a much needed break. I had to be harsh with myself. I’m surprised that my self could withstand my self. And yet, when I did reach mile 9 without having stopped or walked, when I took a moment to give myself a congratulations, I found that I was still running. I didn’t take this permitted opportunity to stop or to walk. I just kept going.

I was not myself by then, though. I think something approaching actual delirium was descending upon me. I was running with a group of people, and I grew familiar with the colors of their shirts, their bobbing pony tails, the brand of their shoes (it’s a runner thing). But then I would look up, seemingly moments later, and find myself among a completely different group of runners. How did that happen? One woman kept passing me. When the fog cleared briefly, I asked her how that was possible, and she confessed that she was stopping/walking a lot by that point. Apparently I was passing her too. Along here one of the people on the sidelines looked directly at me and said “You can do this, Fred!” Something about her words didn’t seem right. Then I remembered that my name was printed on my bib, and I literally looked down at it to see if Fred was my name. (Turned out it’s not.) My left hand kept striking some annoying thing as I ran. I had no idea what that was and I had to watch one time to see. My hand was striking my hip. I could feel it in my hand and in my hip, but I was not making the connection in my head. Along this stretch the course took us along a promenade beside the awe-inspiring Columbia River. Some part of me knew this and thought I should take in the view, but though I tried, it was lost on me. The rain was coming down then. My legs seemed to be operating on their own will. I’d lost interest in the distance reported by my watch. I was in a bad place.

But I was running. And the pain in my knee was abating. And somewhere around mile 11 I knew that I was going to finish the entire half marathon distance at a run.

In that elevation map above you can see the slight climb near the end. This was back inside the Fort Vancouver Historic Site. I met this hill with renewed determination because I knew I was going to run the whole damned thing. Dammit! This climb was not particularly difficult, though I suspect it was this way because I could no longer feel anything. I was shot. I had the fuel to keep going, and I had the delirium to allow my to ignore reality, but my body was in bad shape. I did know that much at this point. But it was a good, bad shape. I had earned this bad shape. I could be proud of this bad shape. I could relish this bad shape, knowing that it came from effort and accomplishment. And I could chuckle a little because this hill happened to pass close to the stretch we ran when we first entered the Fort at around mile 4. And over there, at mile 4, were a pair of runners still on the outward bound path. Nearly two hours behind me but apparently determined to do it too.

I don’t know much about the last couple of miles. We re-entered downtown Vancouver. The sideline crowds picked up a bit, though this late in the run they had thinned. I was running through tall buildings again. The course turned and one woman told me the end was near. (I tried to figure out the implications of her words.) I dug deep and found some energy to finish well. I picked up my pace. I threw my head back and opened my mouth wide to catch as much oxygen as I could. I ignored reality and begged my legs to keep going. I don’t know if my knee was still hurting then or not. I think I may have been passing people. I think the rain had stopped. And with about a half mile left, I heard my son Adam cheering me from the sideline. He had come out to meet me and run on the sidewalk beside me to the finish. I may have waved to him. I think I did. I was giving it all I had. I was so close to finishing the half marathon at a run the whole way that it was all I could think of. If it was even thinking I was doing by then.

And then I rounded the last turn and saw the finish arch ahead. The most beautiful thing in my tightly focused world.

I crossed the mats. I remember turning off my watch. I ran out my speed. And then, apparently, I staggered. Adam reported that three or four volunteers hurried over to me, and I can remember one man holding me around the shoulders to keep me up. Someone shoved a cup of water into my hand. And then someone put this thing around my neck:

bling Vancouver

Evidently I had run/staggered past the medals and the young woman had to run after me to give it to me. That was nice. After a few minutes, and after telling the man holding me upright that I was okay several times, I began to feel my self returning to my body. I wandered in some direction that I thought was toward the exit, and there was my wife on the other side of the fence. She was joined moments later by Nina and then Adam. And they all said, “Well?”

I didn’t understand at first, but then I realized they wanted to know if I had run my best half. Oh yeah, that. So I looked at the numbers my watch reported, knowing that I didn’t remember the exact time of my best half so far (Rock the Parkway). But the time I had run this one was so much better that I didn’t need the exact times. It looked like I had bested my best by six minutes! (Later confirmation showed nearly a six minute gain. That’s huge for this kind of thing. At least within my humble abilities.)

So I got a PR. And then we staggered to the rehydration area in the park at the start/finish. My bib got me a free entry and a free beverage at the craft beer festival being held there. What a coincidence.

It was a big day and a big deal for me. And without hesitation, I told myself it was time to find another half marathon to run.

love, love, love

Posted June 5, 2014 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic

Tags:

I am happy,” she said, “because only now do I know for certain where he is when he is not at home.”

Spoken by the Widow Nazaret about her deceased husband, reflecting that “he had never belonged to her as much as he did now that he was in the coffin nailed shut with a dozen three-inch nails and two meters under the ground.”

This is my second reading of Love in the Time of Cholera, and this time the book is going to stay on my shelf because I see myself returning to it again in the future.

Striker Life Half Marathon 2014

Posted June 2, 2014 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Running

Tags:

Striker kit

I don’t know where to begin. It was a bad run. I suppose there were several factors that contributed to it, but that doesn’t mitigate the frustration.

I thought I was well rested, well trained, and well experienced. This was my third half marathon after all. My first was horrible. My second was great. And so my third should have been a success, but it wasn’t. Maybe I went into it overconfident. I’ll puzzle over this for a long time.

The run was held at Whiteman Air Force Base in Knob Noster, Missouri, which is about an hour’s drive to the east from my home in the Kansas City suburbs. It’s the home of the Stealth bomber. The entire 13.1 miles would be run within the base, including three miles on the runway that the Stealth bombers use. And there was a very cool finisher’s medal waiting at the end. For the most part it was a flat course, and I can understand now why some runners actually look forward to an occasional hill on these long runs. The weather looked iffy all week, with a chance of thunderstorms for the morning of the run. Plus, the base is very secure — we had to pass through two security checkpoints to get in, and the pins I used to attach my GU to my waistband set off an alarm. (They let me in anyway after I more or less pulled down my shorts to show them what I was packing.) We had to park far from the start and then got bussed the rest of the way in. The clouds ran away and the sun was out in full force. There was no shade in the waiting area. (It was already 70 degrees when I got up at 3:00 that morning.) The band didn’t start playing until just before the start. All portents of the upcoming run.

There were three runs: the half marathon that I would be doing, a 10K, and a 5K. The organizers decided at the last minute to start these separately (good decision, I think), with the half folks going out first. And so we halfers shuffled to the starting chute and waited for an actual gun start. (It was a startling start, with many people jumping in fright when it went off.) I started at the back of the pack since my goal was merely to finish and not break any of my records (either of them). But I did keep myself close to the pacer for the finish time I hoped to achieve. The trouble was that she was going much faster than the pace she was supposed to run. I trotted up to her and asked her why she was going so fast. She looked at her watch and reported that she was going at exactly the right pace. My watch had us running at more than a minute per mile faster. This little inconsistency would present itself twice more on this run. (Update: They posted the official times this morning, and my chip time matched my watch time, suggesting that my watch was correct.)

So regardless of whose watch was right, I was starting out too fast, but it felt okay, so I (foolishly) kept at it.

An early award for everyone on this run was the chance to run past an actual Stealth Bomber on static display outside its hangar. This was at mile two. We didn’t get any closer than a couple hundred feet, and there were two airmen there with rifles to show how serious it all was, but I’m glad they had this display early in the run when I could still focus my eyes and all. Pretty much the route of the half was to get us to the far end of the base so we could then get on the actual runway and fly down it. There were some turns, and the route took us around a fetid pond, through some rough gravel, across freshly mown meadow stubble, and then on a two mile approach to the end of the runway.

Somewhere along here I started falling apart. I think it was at mile 4.4 that I walked for the first time. I’d managed to go twice that distance before walking on my two earlier halfs, and I didn’t like the fact that I needed to give in so soon on this one. Before that, though, I had dutifully sucked down my first pack of GU and grabbed a cup of water and/or Gatorade at each of the stations. The water station at mile 4, however, hinted at what was to come for the rest of the run. They were running low on cups. They even asked runners to give back the cups they drank from so other runners could use them! This is insane. There were fewer than 200 runners doing the half, and by this point, we were well beyond where the 5K and 10K runners had split off, so there shouldn’t have been any pressure for cups. How can you run out of cups at a half marathon?

Another frustrating observation at this point was that my watch was not reporting the same distance as the mile makers on the side of the road. Early in the race, my watch told me I had gone as much as a quarter mile farther than what the mile marker said. Later in the run, I didn’t seem to be going as far as the mile markers reported. I didn’t think too much of this at the time since the markers were placed by hand and were probably intended to be no more than approximate.

The approach to the runway was uphill, and though it wasn’t steep, it was long. I think we probably went for two miles alone on the tarmac just getting to the end of the runway to start our epic three-mile run along it. Officially, the temperature never got above 85 degrees at the base that morning, but out there on the exposed, concrete runway, it sure felt hotter than that. Around this point my hips started to hurt a little. This has happened before, but it’s never been a serious problem. And I wanted to keep it from becoming a problem since I was only about half way done by then. Fortunately, I had slipped three Advil into the tiny back pocket of my running shorts, and I dry-swallowed them then to head off any further aches. (With more than an hour to go, I figured they would have their effect in time.) From that point, I think it became a contest between the Advil and the hard concrete of the runway I was pounding down.

I wish I could say that the runway was a glorious time. It wasn’t. I was alternately walking and running, and it never seemed as though it was going to end. I didn’t realize that this runway actually has a peak in the center. There was a point where the runway filled the horizon. It was all I could see ahead of me, and all I could see was only halfway down the runway. I think that took a lot of spirit out of my run. It just looked endless and despite all of the running I was doing, I never seemed to be getting closer to the end.

Fortunately, there was a water station at the halfway point of the runway. Unfortunately, they had no cups at all. If you wanted a drink at that point, you had two choices. You could put your mouth to the nozzle of the water jug the volunteer had hoisted to his shoulder and suck out some precious water. Or you could get shot in the mouth by a SuperSoaker. I chose the former. Germs, at that point in my misery, were not much of a concern.

That left the second half of the runway to get across. Since it had peaked, there was a slight downhill grade to it, but not enuf to make a difference. The sun beat down. I ate more GU. I finished off my Honey Stingers. I watched for circling vultures in the sky. I alternated between walking short distances and running longer distances. I pressed my thumbs into my hips to show them who was boss. And I finally got to the end, not feeling edified or proud but just wanting to get off that three miles of madness.

Some volunteer offered the helpful information that we only had about five miles left to go. You can imagine how horrific that sounded. Based on my walk/run combo, that meant another hour. Yahoo! I passed another water station, which did have cups, and slopped a bunch of Gatorade over my hands (and watch) and managed to get some in my mouth, and then we were back on familiar ground. Some of the last part of the half was on the same pavement as the first couple of miles. By this time the sweeper bikes were buzzing by constantly, asking us back-of-the-pack runners if we were okay. I know they meant well, but I just wanted to get this thing done. We passed the Stealth Bomber again, and the two armed airmen did not look happy out there in the sun for all of that time. By then, though, I was too blinded by sun and sweat to enjoy the opportunity to see it up close. I just plodded onward.

I could see the finish area off to my left, but the route perversely took us to the right for a couple of miles. At one point a water station (with cups) had someone dressed at Thor jumping around and talking in an Arnold Schwarzenegger accent about pounding our trash for us. What? I was so frustrated and exhausted and sweaty and achy by then that I just rolled my eyes and kept on.

In the last mile they gave us a hill to climb. It wasn’t particularly steep or long, but it wasn’t the kind of thing I wanted to struggle with before the wonderful last quarter mile stretch to the finish. But I did. That last quarter mile was straight and flat, and I could see the finish line, and it was actually getting closer as I ran. So were a lot of people, though, who had already finished their runs and were walking back — along this road — to where the bus would collect them. Most shouted encouragement, and I tried to wave thanks to them, but I was focused on the finish mat that I could see getting closer and closer. And though I didn’t think it was possible, I found some energy within and ran as fast and hard as I could to finish well. I crossed the mats. Turned off my watch. Then staggered and nearly fell to the ground. Several volunteers rushed up to me to ask if I was okay, and I think I was once I managed to catch my breath and stand up straight again.

And then someone did something to me I had completely forgotten would happen. She hung one of these around my neck:

striker medal

By far the coolest medal I have ever collected. My wife met up with me then and forced me to drink the bottle of Gatorade I had brought. We surveyed the goodies spread out for us but they were disappointing: bagels in bags from the grocery store, lots of granola bars, some fruit, and some nasty foil-packed fruit drinks intended for kids. And not a drop of chocolate milk! I passed on all of that. My oldest son (also part of my support crew) appeared, and we wandered around for a bit, but I was ready to go. I checked my watch, fully expecting to be disappointed in the numbers it would report, and I was (though I was only five minutes off from my best half record, so that’s not too bad, and I did three minutes better than my first half), but it said that I had run only 12.87 miles even though a half marathon is supposed to be 13.1 miles. I’m going to go with the thought that the Air Force is better at measuring these things than my Nike watch is, but I’ve never seen this kind of discrepancy between between my measurements and official ones. Hmmmm.

So it’s run and done. I lived to tell the tale, which I just did. I don’t feel too bad (yet). I’ve eaten and showered. And now I’m turning my thoughts to the half marathon I’ll be running in two weeks up in Vancouver, Washington with my doctor son.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.