Archive for the ‘Ramblings Off Topic’ category

talk like a pirate day

September 17, 2014

grammar+pirate_18f834_5072218In case you didn’t know, today is International Talk Like a Pirate Day. Make of that what you will. When our reading group took two wonderful years to work our way through Moby Dick, one of our meetings happened to be on International Talk Like a Pirate Day. I made mention of it and received a collected “Meh!” from the group. (There are no pirates in Moby Dick.)

 

Plaza 10K 2014 recap

September 17, 2014

Plaza kit

I had a great run over the weekend. For the second year in a row, I ran the Plaza 10K. Here is my account from last year. I did even better this year, beating my time by nearly four minutes. It’s a 10K PR for me, which is always nice.

We’ve had a spate of cooler weather around here lately, with nightly lows actually dipping under 40 degrees. That’s just about perfect running weather (as long as it doesn’t rain), but just as I had to get acclimated to the summer heat, I needed to do the same with this cool, and it’s come so fast that I haven’t done that. I watched the weather reports through the week, and Sunday was looking good. Anticipating a chilly start, though, I had my wife scavenge in her basement hoard for a throwaway jacket I could wear in the start corral until I had run far enuf to get the engine warm. Then I could cast the jacket to the side of the road and run like the wind without it. (These cast offs are generally collected by the race organizers and donated to charity.) She found a nice fleece jacket that my son had worn in middle school and, astonishing as it may sound, the thing fit me and was even a bit large. Throwaway jacket achieved.

You see most of my kit in the photo above. I’m still wearing my summer white hat, though it’s getting time to switch to my winter black. Not shown are the compression shirt and shorts I wore as a base layer. I wanted the added warmth they would provide (and hoped I wouldn’t regret them later) as well as the chafing protection (no need to go into detail). You see that I wore my Olathe Running Club shirt. I do that in part to represent the club at these events, but I did it specifically this time since I was to run with the woman in the club who is in charge of the club-branded gear. I figured she would show up with one of the new shirts on and I had better do the best I could with my older version.

I had told my wife that she did not need to be my support crew this time. It’s only a six-mile run, which wasn’t going to destroy me the way a half would, so I could get myself there and back on my own. Plus, our youngest son and his wife were moving into their new house over the weekend, and she (and my truck) needed to be available if called. (They weren’t.)

When I rose on Sunday morning (a few minutes before the 4:15 alarm was to go off) I let our little dog out the back door and stepped outside myself (with far less on than I would run in later). It was clearly not below 40 degrees, and when I checked the temp online later, I found it was actually 53 degrees: perfect! And so I went in and began my ritual/routine of getting ready for a race. Mostly that involved getting dressed very slowly and going over my gear check again and again. I checked for last-minute emails from the race (none), brushed and flossed, fretted, walked about, ate a banana, then left an hour and a half before gun time to make the half-hour drive (in the dark) to the start at the swanky Country Club Plaza District. Since I got there too early to stand around in the cold, I drove the course just to see if there were any surprises. (When I ran my first half marathon, there was a quarter mile stretch where we had to run across freshly chewed up pavement. That was not fun.) There were no surprises, and though I was by no means the first one to arrive, I still got a great parking space close to the start and then sauntered over there to look for my running partner and other friends from the club that I knew would be there.

I wandered for a long time before we met up, and then we stood around in the chill and listened to the usual announcements and such. We saw some familiar faces and chatted aimlessly as we waited. About fifteen minutes before gun time, I told my friend (let’s call her ChrisAnn) that I wanted to do a short warm-up run around the block and that I’d meet her in our pace section of the corral. The trip around the block took me close to where I had parked, and I made the spontaneous decision to throw away my throwaway jacket in my car. It was warm enuf that I didn’t really need it by then, and I would regret losing it unnecessarily, especially with a full marathon coming up next month in Oregon and a half marathon coming up in Kansas in November. Throwaway ditched, I continued around the block and looked for my friend in her Volt yellow jersey (which was not branded with our club name). Eventually, of course, I found her. I should tell you about ChrisAnn. She had run the Plaza 10K last year. We had started out together, but she had lost me in the first quarter mile and I never saw her again. It turned out she had finished something like fifteen minutes before I had. She’d had a head cold then, and she said she had run so fast simply because she wanted the race to be over! This year, she asked me to run with her to pace her. She hadn’t been training much (for various reason) and didn’t want to burn out by running too fast too soon. So would I please run with her and keep her in check? (You see what this means, of course. She needed a slower runner to set the pace for her. Sigh!)

There was so much chatter among the waiting runners around us that the national anthem was nearly over before I heard even a snatch of it. I whipped off my cap, and most of the people around me noticed and did the same or put their hands over their hearts. Soon after this, we heard the starting horn, but as these things go, it was more than five minutes before we people at the back of the pack were even moving forward, much less running. I started my watch, it grabbed some satellites, and we shuffled toward the start. As we crossed the starting mats, I switch on my run counter, and we were off.

I had been talking to myself all week (all summer, all year) about this run. I had been telling myself positive things, confidence-boosting things. It was only six (point two) miles. Easy. I’d done this many, many times. I was rested, fueled, and ready. The weather was perfect. The kit was shaken down. The boy could do it, and now was the time. The trouble was that I had done such a fine job with this run last year that I knew I had to have a fine run this time or I would be a complete and utter failure to all of humanity and the running community in particular. (Sometimes it’s no fun being me.) So I had set myself an unreasonable standard, and I was worried sick about it. Yet I’d had a year of training and tangible improvement since the prior run. I had newish shoes on. I had a running partner, which tends to make these things easier (don’t ask me how). Plus, she had asked me to run with her. And in any case, we were underway.

And doing well. We were trying to maintain a slow pace to save our energy for the long haul. (You run six miles and tell me it doesn’t take management!) And we were chatting. I’ve run with ChrisAnn a number of times on club runs, and we know about each other’s families, work, running ambitions, and the like. But we hadn’t run together in a while, so we had some catching up to do. Plus, a fine chatter helps distract from the inevitable agony of running long distances. The course pretty much runs along Brush Creek, so we went west first on the south side of the creek (really more like a small, very picturesque river) then turned around and headed east for a much longer distance on the north side of the creek. People were passing us, but we were passing others, including many who had already succumbed to walking within the first quarter mile. We’d both run the course the year before, and I had driven it that morning, so there were no surprises in store. Thus we could chat and visit and talk about other runners. (Not as many tutus this run as I’ve seen in the past, but colorful clothing was common.) We each asked the other how we were doing. I knew that ChrisAnn wanted to stay at a moderate pace, and just as when I’m driving on the highway, I tend to get going too fast. When I’m running I usually burn out and can’t sustain it. When I’m driving . . . But we were both doing well.

Which is not to say my body didn’t want to stop this foolishness right now! It was telling me very clearly that it did not like being used in this way. It’s usually my lungs that are the last to join the party, and they weren’t disappointing me this time. I had intended to have a good run (as I already mentioned), but I also had another plan with this run. I wanted to pay attention to my thoughts and feelings and moods and motivations. I wanted to watch how I mentally powered through the difficult parts and how to recognize the moments when I felt I could run forever. (It happens.) I wanted to get a sense of what my mental make up was during a challenging run because, well, I have a full marathon coming up in less than a month! I’m going to need to rely on the 90% mental part of running then.

What I found was that there is a huge difference between wanting to stop and needing to stop. And there is a huge reserve within me that I am able to call upon when the running gets tough and the goal is still a long way off. Yes, I wanted to stop. I wanted to take a walking break. But I wanted — more — to keep going to the end and show myself that I have it in me. (Note, I ran the entire distance of the Vancouver USA half marathon in June. But these are lessons that need constant reinforcing.)

ChrisAnn, however, was struggling. Around mile four she had to begin walking breaks. This is an honorable solution to the rigors of running, and I’ve certainly relied on them on many of my long runs. I had no disrespect for her choice, but it did present a problem for me. I wanted/needed to keep running. The solution was as easy as it was obvious. I ran zigzag. I ran in circles around her. I even ran backwards! (More jiggling to that than I expected but kind of fun.) I ran about until she could pick up her pace and I could slot in beside her. We repeated this a few times for most of the rest of the run. ChrisAnn was managing her run as well as she could, and I was maintaining my role as running partner as I could. (Note: There was a selfish quality to this. I’ve done a 5K and a half marathon that did not record the proper distance on my running watch. I blame solar flares. Or bad karma. I worried that the same would happen with this 10K. So if I managed to add a little distance to the route by my zigging and zagging, that would help ensure that when I crossed the finish line, I would have 6.2 miles on my watch, which Nike would then recognize, and the world would be in order again.)

We were eating up the miles. The route from about mile 4.5 gave us a good view of the tall buildings near the finish. They looked impossibly far away, but, of course, they weren’t. I kept my eyes on the ground before my feet and played wingman for ChrisAnn. By this point she didn’t respond to my chatter. She was concentrating on managing her run, and I recognized the signs from my own run of the Kansas City Half Marathon nearly a year before when my wingman, Todd, chatted with me until he recognized that I was beat and just called out mile markers, hills, and other hazards to a man who was ready to die and ready to run.

We kept at it, keeping pace with each other, calling out the curiously contradictory paces and distances on our watches, and otherwise pushing, pushing, pushing.

The last quarter mile of this run (and of the Trolley Run) is the most glorious in the city. It comes back into the Country Club Plaza, downhill all the way, with screaming crowds on each side and the finish arch within view and getting closer. Unfortunately, ChrisAnn needed to walk one last time. She urged me to go on without her, and since I still had some gas in the tank, I did. I picked up my pace, darting past people who were running along at a nice clip themselves. I dug deep to find a good finish in my legs and lungs, and though I think I may have started too early to begin my kick to the finish, I kept at it. I came in to the finish as fast as I could, and I even remembered to close my gasping mouth so I’d look fabulous in the finish photo.

And then it was done. I had run the entire 6.2 miles, and I had run them well. (And it wasn’t lost on me that in a few weeks I’m going to need to complete this run again only I’ll also need to add another 20 miles to it.) I had the sensor clipped from my shoe. And I accepted what you see below.

Plaza blingThe medals for these runs are getting bigger every year. Honking bigger. I’m not sure what I think of that. I wore it for the rest of the morning (including to breakfast, dammit!), but now it will hang on a wall and compete for attention with the others I’ve been accumulating.

ChrisAnn came in behind me only about a minute and a half later. We found each other in the crowded finish chute and pushed our way through the sweaty humanity to the chocolate milk and Chinese food (!) vendors waiting for us. So did everyone else, and once we collected our rightful chow, we found a quiet wall to fall against and slide to the ground where we ate and talked and rehashed our runs and talked about future runs and more or less settled down. It happened that the man who was delivering the cases of chocolate milk to the nearby booth happened to pass right before us, and after a couple of passes I realized I could ask him directly for some tasty milk. He obliged us. And then he obliged us again. We rested. We finished sweating. We started to get a little chilled from the still-cool morning. And then we decided we’d had enuf of the run and that it was time to go. ChrisAnn had to go into work (on a Sunday), and I still had that possible obligation to help my son move into his new house. So we sauntered out of the area. We considered briefly getting a printout of our times, but the line was long, and the info was already online, so we didn’t. We parted and made our ways to our homes.

So it was a great, great run for me. Yes, if I hadn’t zigged and zagged to keep pace with ChrisAnn, I might have had an even better finish time, but a) that’s not what a wingman does, and b) I might not have run the entire distance at all if I didn’t have the accountability of a witness (and friend) beside me the entire way.

I have a small 5K coming up in two weeks. Then I board a plane and fly to Portland to face the hardest run of my life. But I’m going to relish today’s run for a while first.

 

in other news

August 8, 2014

I’ve mentioned this in a couple of places, but in case you haven’t heard, I’m going to become a grandfather in January. My daughter and her husband have a baby boy in the works. If they’ve chosen a name, they’re not sharing it yet. She’s told us to expect the name to be “non-traditional.”

They live in Brooklyn, currently in a tiny, fifth-floor walk up apartment, but apparently their bid on a hundred-year-old brownstone was accepted and now they’re waiting on the usual inspection and what not to take the next step.

I see a lot of New York trips in my future. Better save my pennies.

or I could bore you . . .

July 23, 2014

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.

love, love, love

June 5, 2014

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.

the Liebster Award

May 26, 2014

So, I hate these kinds of things. I’m really pretty much a private person, and receiving the Liebster Award (from Donna Everhart — thank you so very much, sweetie pie!) means I now have to spill my guts and put them on display for everyone (or at least the five or six people who read this humble blog) to dissect and chuckle over. Sheesh!

The way this torment works is that I am supposed to provide eleven random facts about myself and then answer the eleven questions that Donna Everhart (thank you so very much, sweetie pie!) has posed. I’m also supposed to nominate other bloggers for this prestigious award, but I’m not going to do that to them. Sorry if I’ve destroyed the chain mail magic.

So, the stuff about me:

  1. I was born in Kansas City and raised in St. Louis. My four children were born in St. Louis and raised in Kansas City.
  2. I’ve been to Vancouver, Canada and the Bahamas. Oh yeah, and Kenya. (My son was serving in the Peace Corps there and held me to a flip promise I’d made that I would visit him.) But that’s as far as I’ve ever been from the United States. I’d like to change that, but someday never comes.
  3. I will have been married 34 years next month. We managed to have our four children (a girl and three boys) within the first four years (and one month) of our wedding day. The “third” child was a set of twins.
  4. As a child, I was religious and even considered making it my life’s work, but I am now about as far from that as a person can be. Amen!
  5. I used to weigh a lot more than I do now. A lot more! In fact, I’ve lost so much weight that I’m nearly half the man I used to be. (My story “Travel Light” is based on unfortunate fact.) Old acquaintances have quite literally not recognized me. Now I run half marathons (one coming up this weekend) and have the same waist as I did in high school. No one is more surprised by this than I am.
  6. I don’t seem to have any allergies aside from shellfish (but we won’t go into the unpleasant — and nearly instantaneous — consequences of eating that). I don’t get poison ivy or pollen sneezing fits or that kind of thing.
  7. I have a bachelor’s degree in business administration and a master’s degree in professional writing. The former seems pointless in retrospect and the latter was only for me. I certainly don’t want to write for “the man.” I did write more than sixty feature articles for newspapers and magazines as a freelancer, some of which you can still find online, but I don’t anymore. I also parlayed that master’s degree into a part-time teaching job at the local community college. It was remedial English composition. The pay was lousy, the workload was tremendous, and the warm fuzzies were too infrequent.
  8. My favorite movie, at least based on number of viewings, is Field of Dreams. The fact that I’m writing a cycle of Fathers and Sons stories makes perfect sense in light of this. (If you’ve seen that movie, you know what I mean.)
  9. I have another blog, one that I’ve kept for more than nine years, but I’m not going to tell you what it is.
  10. “Paul Lamb” is a pen name. Most of you know my given name.
  11. I’ve been told that I’m made of schmooze, that I’m pleasingly flirtatious, and that I make people feel good about themselves. Secretly, though, I am shy and extremely lacking in confidence. Also, I can hold a grudge at Olympic levels.

Dear Donna Everhart has supplied the following questions for me to answer (thank you so very much, sweetie pie!):

1. What are your five favorite books?

This is problematic because I think such a list can change over time. If I had to pick today — and it seems I do since I must answer this question — they would be,

  • The Ghost Writer, by Philip Roth – I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve read this, but I suspect it’s near thirty, and every time I find something new in it.
  • Moby Dick – Natch! I’ve read this only three times, which is like saying I’ve barely read it at all. The latest of those readings was with my monthly discussion group, and we took two years to work our way through it.
  • Walden – Again, obvious. I think I’ve read this one thrice as well. It’s a quote factory, to be sure, but there is still a lot of insight and just plain quirkiness to it.
  • The Adventures and Misadventures of Maqroll, by Alvaro Mutis – I’ve always had an interest in Latin American magical realism, and though this doesn’t quite fit in that category, the character Maqroll doesn’t quite fit in any category either, which is why I like him.
  • The Sea, The Sea, by Iris Murdoch – It’s her retelling of The Tempest and while it is interesting on its own, this was the first of her novels I had ever read. I was introduced to her philosophical style and characters as well as peoples’ lives very unlike my own. I’ve since read all of her novels and some of her nonfiction (though most of that is way over my head).

2. What are you most afraid of?

Regret. Not monsters. Not Republicans. Not getting hit by a car when I’m out running. Not disease. Regret. The road not taken. The lack of courage to act when I should have. The missed opportunity. The unspoken word. And the ensuing, searing, lifelong regret. (Also, the Liebster Award.)

3. If you could pick one, which would it be? A week on an beautiful tropical island by yourself with just the essentials – or – a week in Vegas with ten of your closest friends and anything you want.

Since I can’t have what I want (don’t ask!), and since Las Vegas has no appeal to me (though at least one frighteningly talented writer has come from there), and since I don’t think I even have ten friends, I would certainly pick the tropical island and the essentials. I sit and muse a lot. I like quiet and solitude. I could be happy for a week, alone on a beautiful tropical island. That was an easy question.

4. Your favorite food?

Well, this has probably changed in light of point 5 above. But it has consistently been a big plate of spaghetti with marinara sauce. In fact, my wife’s marinara sauce was one of the things that made me fall in love with her. I don’t eat this way much anymore unless I’m carb loading for a big run. And since I happen to have a big run coming this weekend, it’s spaghetti time!

5. When did you know you wanted to be . . . <fill in the blank>

An office drone in a cube farm? I never wanted to be that, but it pays the bills and I can very easily walk away from it at the end of the day. A writer? As far back as I can remember. I was writing stories as a lad. Dreaming stories as a teen. Practicing my craft as a young married man. And realizing it in my modest way now. I had a brief flirtation with becoming a medical doctor, but fortunately for my potential patients, that never happened. (My son is a doctor, however.)

6. If you could have one “do over” what would it be?

This relates to my whole musing on regret above. I think I’ve made pretty good life choices based on my modest abilities and drive. But there have been a few jobs that I never would have taken if I’d known what they would do to the rest of my life. I am still haunted by the memory of a certain person I worked for thirty years ago who had absolutely everything wrong about life and absolute assurance that she was right. And at the time she was getting a degree in counseling so she could “help” people! I have tried and tried to work her into a story — as a way to exorcise her from my memory — but it’s never worked. I would never have taken that job if I could have such a do over. One or two other jobs were stinkers but probably built character or some other edifying thing. Otherwise, I might have chosen to begin running sooner in my life, but I’m sure I’m getting boring about that.

7. There’s a tornado warning and you only have five minutes to get your sh– together.  What do you grab?

My laptop. My glasses. Some clean underwear.

8. What’s the most difficult decision you’ve ever made?

So far? Letting go of my children. Letting them make adult choices (ones that I would not have made) and not objecting or resisting or counseling otherwise (unless asked). This really is the hardest part of parenting, which has been the hardest job of my life. But that’s only so far. Perhaps some tough choices lie ahead.

9. You’ve just received “The Call,” from your agent.  What would you do immediately after that call?

Sit quietly and savor the immensity of it, the validation of my effort and dreaming. As I said above, I can sit and muse with the best of them, and I’m sure that’s what I would do. Soon after, I would buy myself an expensive Mont Blanc fountain pen — with blue ink, of course — that I would use for signing the contracts that would come my way. It’s an indulgence I’ve promised myself when that day comes. No, I wouldn’t party, and I wouldn’t even announce my good news for a while here on the blog or among my friends. (Few of my day-to-day friends even know I’m a writer, and I want to keep it that way.) No, I would savor it selfishly.

10. Tell us your strangest habit.  (hopefully, nothing gross)

This is a tough one. I suppose if something is a habit, you’re not always aware that you’re subject to it. I can’t think of anything mortifying or embarrassing or even humbling. I honestly can’t. I’m an early-to-bed, early-to-rise kind of guy. I try to eat a handful of pecan halves before I run. I tap a set of chimes each time I go down the stairs in my house. But those seem more like behavior patterns than habits. I really don’t know the answer to this one.

11. What is your most embarrassing moment ever?

Another tough one. I tend to lead such a conventional outward life, and I’m secretive to the point of obsession about most personal things, that I don’t think I have much opportunity for epic embarrassing moments. My adult son walked into my bedroom just has I had emerged naked from the shower the other day, but that’s hardly embarrassing (and it’s the kind of thing the characters in my Fathers and Sons stories are completely comfortable with). I can remember thinking I was so clever by driving on the shoulder of the road rather that wait in traffic and then slamming into the side of someone’s car I didn’t see coming. I’ve gotten some facts wrong and not known it when I’ve pontificated on certain subjects before. I actually said out loud once that I was thinking of a career change and becoming a doctor to much (as it turns out valid) skepticism. But if there have been any pie-in-the-face, wet-my-pants embarrassing moments in my life, I seem to have repressed them quite effectively.

And so that is it. The Liebster Award seems more like a penance or punishment than an award. Thank you so very much Donna Everhart. As I said, I’m not going to inflict this on anyone else. And I suspect I’ve revealed nothing earth shaking about myself, mostly because I’m secretly just a very conventional guy. Sigh!

 

Rock the Parkway 2014 ~ recap

April 13, 2014

Rock the Parkway

CAUTION: Long post full of self aggrandizement.

I don’t think I was being too coy about the struggle I had completing my first half marathon last fall. I recounted it in two posts: here and here. It was tough. More than tough. And so it was with considerable anxiety that I signed up for Rock the Parkway, another half marathon here in Kansas City. But I knew I had to do it.

Of course I was full of fret and anxiety in all of the months leading up to RTP. I had “bonked” on the earlier half; I had run out of fuel and had to run on little more than determination and the muscles my body apparently had to consume to keep me going. It was the hardest, most grueling thing I had ever done (and that includes the calculus course I took in college). Yet I was going to attempt to do it again.

So I spoke to as many of my running friends as I could — those who would listen anyway — and asked what went wrong before and what I could do right this time. The bottom line was that I had likely fueled inadequately for that last run. I hadn’t eaten properly in the days before, hadn’t kept my body sufficiently hydrated in advance, and hadn’t consumed enuf energy during the actual run to sustain my effort.

And so I set about correcting all of that for this run. In the week before I had been slamming bottles of Gatorade (lemon-lime G2) each day. I had two pasta dinners on days when I generally never ate dinner at all. And I organized plenty of GU (chocolate outrage and salted caramel) and energy bites (Honey Stingers and ShotBloks) to carry with me on the run. I was determined to get my glycogen and electrolyte levels as elevated as I could in preparation. (I barely know what I’m talking about.)

And I watched the weather report. Early in the week, the forecast called for a chance of rain and possibly thunderstorms on Saturday. But unlike when I’m planning a trip to my little cabin in the Ozarks, as the week progressed, the threat of rain diminished. By Thursday, all chance of rain was removed from the forecast and the temps were expected to rise into the upper 70s. Maybe a little hot for a long run, but pretty close to ideal, at least to me. I decided to do without the long sleeve shirt and risk being a little cold at the start. That would correct itself once I got moving. And I would wear a cap because the sun was expected to be out and likely in my face both directions of the run.

The Parkway of Rock the Parkway is Ward Parkway, a pretty, divided boulevard that runs through some very nice neighborhoods and terminates at the Plaza, Kansas City’s upscale shopping and dining district. The course would take us north on the Parkway (more or less uphill until mile four despite what they say), then around a beautiful urban park, taking us back to the other side of Ward Parkway for the return (which is correspondingly — and blessedly — more or less downhill).

I slept well on the night before, though I remember having a dream about being unable to find the timing chip I needed to add to my shoe. I woke before the alarm and decided not to fight for any more sleep. I let the dogs out, drank another bottle of Gatorade, got online to surf a bit and reduce my anxiety, and slowly dressed myself in the kit you see in the photo above. (After a winter of layers and long clothes and hats and gloves, it’s nice to travel light once again!) About two hours before the run was to start, I swallowed three Advil and ate the entire packet of ShotBloks. I also ate two slices of bread with peanut butter on them and a banana. All that was left to do was to drive the few miles to the start where I could wait and fret.

The temperature was already 60 degrees when I arrived. I knew I would not be cold as I waited. Just shivering with fear. I met with some of my running friends, but with more than 6,000 runners at the event, I didn’t hang around and instead wandered over to my starting corral. I had reported my expected finish time based on my performance at that earlier half, and that put me at the back of the pack, which was fine. That meant there would be fewer people to pass me since most were already in front of me. (See how I think these things through?)

Being at the back of the pack (of 6,000) meant that even though the race started at 7:30, I would not be starting until at least twenty minutes later. The start of the course headed south for a short distance and then turned and ran up the other side of the Parkway. So as I stood there, waiting to start, I could see hundreds and hundreds of runners already underway, across the boulevard just to my left. Well, that was fine. I knew I had only one runner I needed to pay attention to.

The shuffling eventually got my wave to the start. I started my watch and hoped it could grab some satellites before we were ushered across the starting mats. And though I always worry that this won’t happen, it always does happen. I crossed the mats at a trot and settled in, knowing I had a great deal of time and distance I had to manage.

I was determined not to look at my watch as I ran, and by that I actually mean not to look at the pace reported on my watch. Generally one of two things happens when I do this. Either I am disappointed that I’m not running fast enuf, or I’m instantly exhausted because I see I am running too fast. Rather, I intended just to run at the pace my legs and lungs (and determination) set and do that for as long as I could (preferably 13.1 miles). I did occasionally look at the distance my watch reported, and by the first third of a mile, I was already hot. There was nothing I could do about that, no clothes I could shed or water I could spray on my face, so I just pressed on.

I was laden with GU. I had four packs of this energy gel pinned to the waistband of my running shorts. I also had a packet of Honey Stingers in the tiny back pocket of my skimpy running shorts. And I vowed to grab a cup of Gatorade and a second cup of water at each of the aid stations along the course. I intended to stay hydrated and nourished this time. My plan to was suck down a GU at miles 2, 4, 8, and 10. I would snarf down the Honey Stingers at mile 6. I hoped that regular infusions like this would satisfy my long-term energy needs. (On that half I ran last fall, I had only eaten some ShotBloks at mile 9, much too late to restore the lost energy in time.)

And so I ran my plan. The first four miles of this run are pretty much one long uphill adventure. There are some level spots, and two or three places where you go downhill briefly (only to recapture that elevation soon after), but for the most part, it is uphill. At the top of that hill is a very nice fountain in the middle of the parkway. (You can sort of see it on my bib and medal in the photo below.) This is, of course, where the photographers sit and wait for the runners to pass. It’s very photogenic: your smiling face with the fountain in the background. Except that you’ve just run four miles uphill. Now I’ll grant that for many (and perhaps most) of the runners on this course, four gradual uphill miles at the start are not much at all. They arrive at the fountain looking fresh and frisky, and they probably look fine in their photos. Me, on the other hand, not so much. I think I saw most of the paparazzi, and I did my best not to look too frumpled and frazzled. I tried not to gasp as I passed. I don’t know if I succeeded. In fact, I don’t know if they took any shots of me at all. The pack was still a little dense at this point, and I may have been lost in the crowd.

But onward. After this point, the course was mostly level. I was mostly tired, and I was already negotiating with myself about where I would allow myself to stop or walk or somehow rest. I knew that the highest point on the course was around mile 7, and I thought that if I achieved that, I had really earned a break. But then I remembered that I had made it to mile 8 on that earlier half marathon before stopping, so I thought maybe that would be a more respectable point. Whatever, it seemed like it had to be done.

I had been running on the far right of the roadway most of the time. This left plenty of space for the swifter runners to pass me without breaking a sweat. I noticed around mile three, however, that my right hip was beginning to send me messages of complaint. The camber in the road meant that my right foot was striking just a tiny bit lower on the ground than my left, and I think my hip was trying to make that clear to me. So I changed my route a bit. I moved to the left side of the road to give my hip a break. I realize that might seem like high-level thinking for someone in the grueling early miles of a road race, but the fact is I had experienced this before and worked out the solution then. I hadn’t anticipated this happening, but I also realized that the benefit of those three Advil I had taken early in the morning was probably gone by then. Regardless, the plan worked.

Until it didn’t. At mile 6, my left knee began to register its complaint. Apparently the lower footfalls on the left were now wreaking their havoc on my body. Worse, mile 6 was exactly where my left knee had begun to bother me on that earlier half marathon, and that was a sign that my IT band had had enuf. But I was on the run, and more importantly, I was still running at mile 6, not having taken one of the breaks I allowed myself, so it was back to the right side of the road. This seemed to work, more or less. The ache in the left knee diminished, and the ache in the right hip did not return. I figured that if it did, I would just run down the middle of the road where there was no slope either direction. And some of the time I did that.

In the meantime, I was devouring my GU on schedule and drinking the Gatorade and water offered at the aid stations. I had those aches, but what I didn’t have was fatigue. I was apparently keeping myself fueled properly. Mile 7 was a chore. The biggest hill on the run hit there. Many people were walking this hill, but I was determined not to. Yes, I was tired. Yes, my brain was telling me what an idiot I was. But I was determined to reach mile 8. The trouble was that despite my corrective efforts, my left knee was still hurting. At that point I was just over half way; I had a lot of distance yet to cover with a knee that didn’t seem like it was going to cooperate. So I made a regrettable but unavoidable decision. I walked two hundred feet to give my knee a break.

I had realized after I topped the hill in mile 7 that I had the energy and the mental fortitude to run the entire 13.1 miles. What I didn’t have was a left knee that was on board for this. So although running the entire distance would have been a great personal achievement, I knew that I had to leave that for the next time. In the end, I only walked about two hundred feet. It was such a short distance that the slower pace barely registered on the pace chart for the run (after I plugged in my watch and downloaded the adventure). And then I was running again.

At mile 9, I was back on Ward Parkway again (having looped around that urban park), and the route from this point was mostly flat and generally downhill, with a few climbs thrown in that mirrored those on the earlier part of the Parkway because, well, we were running along it again. And that seemed to be enuf. I ran. I kept running. I passed the mile markers. I ate the last of my GU at mile 10. I hit all of the Gatorade and water stations. (And, yes, I always did ask if they had Bud Light. “Next station,” they’d say.) And I kept running.

We passed through some very nice neighborhoods, but they were lost on me. I was deep inside myself. Concentrating. Pushing. Ignoring. Running. I was far behind all of my running friends, many of whom were already likely finished. I was alone on the course, surrounded by hundreds of other runners, but no less alone. I could only call on myself for help. Except at mile 11. It was there that I spotted one of my friends from the running club. She was sidelined with an injury but was working as a course monitor (which meant blocking one of the side streets so we delirious runners didn’t accidentally turn down it, and that actually happens more than you might imagine). Seeing her at that point in the long run was exactly what I needed. I felt a kind of emotional recharge that buoyed me for the rest of the run.

The last mile is literally downhill. Not a steep downhill, but a consistent downhill. Because I was fueled (apparently) I was able to coax a little more speed out of my legs. At least that’s how it felt. It felt as though I was running faster and harder, and that I was able to sustain it for a last mile. (And when I downloaded the run later, my watch confirmed that I had.)

I came pelting down that last little bit before the finish arch, running like I knew what I was doing. I thought that some of my friends might be on the sideline to cheer me on, but if they were, I never saw or heard them. It didn’t matter. It was all about me at that moment. I pushed and pressed and ran and ran, and then I crossed the finish mats and it was all done. 13.1 miles, and nearly every inch of it run by my legs and lungs.

I switched off my watch as I crossed the mats, and I fell into a staggering walk, suddenly limping because my left knee asserted itself again. Maybe I exaggerated the limp. Maybe I didn’t. I don’t know. I think I was more pooped by that last quarter-mile push than by any failure of my running mechanism. I stopped at the man who would clip the chip from my shoe and nearly fell over when I tried to lift my foot. He graciously told me to leave my foot on the ground and he would remove the tag that way. Then I greedily accepted the bottle of water someone offered me. And then I stepped up to the man who hung a medal around my neck.

RTP

It was a good run. I had been fearing a repeat of my first half marathon, but I ran my plan and seemed to have conquered myself. (I beat my last half marathon time by 8 minutes!) Clearly I need to do some exercises to strengthen that knee. (A day later, my left IT band is tight and still pretty angry with me.) And somehow I need to wrap my poor brain around the fact that I must do twice this distance in October when I run a full marathon in Portland.

But all of that was for later. At the moment there was chocolate milk to be drunk. And a foam roller to be pressed to my flesh. And a hot epsom salts bath to take.

And I need to start preparing for my next half marathon, just over two months away. The boy is insane.

 


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