Friday, June 19, 2009

What I learned From the Marathon

Well, my first marathon is over. I finished it. I didn't accomplish the time I wanted, but I completed the race. My goal was 4 hours. I finished in 4:36:15. Not bad, disappointing however at first.
What did I do wrong? I was charged up at the starting line. I've never seen so many people at the start of a race before. I was in corral six and there must have been 20+ corrals. I felt great and out ran the 4 hour pace group and paid for it by mile 14. I recovered some at mile 17 and died a few miles later and struggled through calf cramps, thirst, and old fashioned tiredness. By the time I faked strength crossing the finish line, I was in the medical tent being treated for cramps, dizziness, and de-hydration. What a mess.
What did I learn about running a marathon? First, its not a race. I am not winning any awards so why should I kill myself trying to beat others or set a PR time? Its about finishing. Its about finishing and feeling good. Its about finishing, feeling good, and running without injury. I definitely injured myself during the marathon. By running too quick, I ended up straining my hip-flexor muscle and exacerbating a hernia which required no treatment before I ran and now does. Just great!
Second, don't over train. I ran 20 miles two times and increased my avg. mileage over 50 miles/week. Too much. By the last 2 weeks, I was shot. I struggled with fatigue and leg muscle soreness, not to mention the nagging knee pain above the kneecap. I needed to get an emergency massage to work the knots out of my left leg. If only I would have listened to those who ran before me, and the physician who warned me of possible pitfalls. Follow the training schedule from your coach or the training schedule from Runner's World. I printed both of them out, from my coach and Runner's World, but I didn't really "look" at them. I followed the concept of "run how you feel". That idea may work when running short, but for training for longer distances it may cause you damage when you feel good early. Go slow, its not a race. The best advice I received was from the TNT Binghamton Coach who said, "If you feel comfortable running a marathon then slow down more." That is good advice to follow; run "uncomfortably" slow for the first 10 miles or so and pick up the pace gradually over the next three and lock in for the last half to post a good time or to feel good by the end. When running a marathon, I realize now, the last half is when it really begins.
Third, Do not race. This point cannot be repeated enough. Avoid calling any run "a race." If you're anything like me, there is no way you can ever win a race, not to mention a long race such as a marathon. Leave the winning to those who actually train to win. Draw pearls from them when they talk about running, but don't try to be them. Be yourself. Have fun.
I read in the recent issue of Runner's World that runners ought to run a 5K every week while running only one of them for a fast time each month. My thought would be to run whatever short distance (10 miles or less) you want each weekend and once a month run a 5K for a PR. The 5K is short and fun. It shouldn't kill any of us, who run regularly, to run a 5K fast as a "personal challenge" not a competition against the pack.
Fourth, rest a few weeks after a marathon; its ok. I ran a few days later. It wasn't a good idea. Since San Diego, I have ran about 9miles/week for the last several weeks, but with pain. There are a few schools of thought on resting after a marathon: one says to take a day off from running for every mile ran; a more generous approach is to NOT RUN AT ALL for at least 2 weeks; and the other, and most liberal, is to "return to running short distance if you are comfortable." Which one do you think I followed. The former. I have not healed fully, yet this morning a felt pretty good. I did take 4 ibuprofen before though.
The only time I didn't feel pain is when I loaded up on the ibuprofen, which, according to a the "Rock 'N' Roll Marathon" magazine, "Do not take non-steroidal anti-inflamatories the day before and the day of the race. These otc meds have been shown to be a risk factor for hypoatremia, a serious medical condition that results when there is an abnormally low concentration of sodium in the blood." Great, I was so scared after reading this that I took Tylenol instead on race day. Believe me, Tylenol isn't as good, to me anyway, as ibuprofen for muscle aches that you want to ignore when running. Next time I will risk the "hypoatremia".
I'll bottom line this now. I learned to listen to the advice of those who have run before me. Follow the most draconian advice regarding rest, max 30 days for a marathon. You can survive for a month without running. If you start binge eating from boredom, pay a friend to slap the fork from your hand, lock the fridge, and remove the microwave. In my case, ask your local grocery store to remove peanut M&M's from the shelves. Run don't race. If you're anything like me, "you ain't winning anyway." Just have fun. My biggest thanks is for my friend who helped me discover this most important fact while we ran Paige's Butterfly Run a couple of weeks ago.
See you on the road.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Paige's Butterfly Run 2009

This morning my son Brandon and I travelled into Syracuse and ran, for our 2nd year, Paige's Butterfly Run. This is a race that raises funds for Children's Cancer and Upstate Medical University. This year's race had over 1,000 runners, double from last year.

We met up with several friends of mine from the Lake Effect Run Club and all our running friends. There is something about a race which just brings out the competitive juices. Regardless of the aches and pains I may feel, I always feel well. from the moment I picked up my packet I could feel excitement. Brandon and I ran to the car to drop off our goodie bag and race day tee and returned ready to run.

My former colleague, Mike, came in from Albany to run with his friend Tony. Mike started running a few months ago after losing 32 pounds. I couldn't wait to see him. We even had a picture taken together after the race.

I ran with a friend for the entire race while Brandon ran with his friends and improved his time over 2 minutes from last year; not bad for a kid who does little to no training for races. he likes this one race. I hope I can get him running more often, it would be nice to travel and run a big race with him.

The best part of the race is when we enter the barge canal area. there is a nice paved walk among the trees and the water. We come out in Franklin Square and run back up toward Franklin St. This is the halfway point. A quick stop for some water and the race winds down Park Street and returns passed NiMo and the finish line awaits the speedy, the wearie, an the "glad its over crowd." the most important part of running is not the time, although its fun to compete against yourself and friends, its just the running. By running a 5K race your doing something that most people don't do. That is moving and being motivated to move (run) again.

When I run, I see so many people of different shapes, sizes, and ages. I cannot believe some times who is running. Those who struggle and finish motivate me to persevere to finish and run longer. It is a goal we all share, to defeat the struggle. Running is more mental than physical after a while. In the beginning your legs can go while the mind whines. After running for a year, the legs whine sometimes while the mind perseveres and whispers, "We can go further; keep going." That is what its all about. Running to finish and running to stay fit.

See you on the road.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Rockin & Rollin in San Diego

I flew out to San Diego with the Team In Training for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society early Friday morning after the fund raising was done, and the training "complete". However, like Luke Skywalker, I was improving, but I was "not a marathoner yet.

I was unable to run much for the two weeks prior to the marathon because of over training. I didn't follow the instructions of my coach, experienced friends, and friend physicians who know best (like a good mom always knows). But I didn't listen. I ran 13 hilly miles two Saturdays prior and an additional 10 hilly miles that same Sunday. Guess what? Knee pain shouted from my left knee, my left calf screamed, "no mase" and my right thigh throbbed now and again. The best advice I followed came from my MD friend who DEMANDED, two days before leaving, to go for a massage. She gave me the number of A Touch Above to have Candie give me my first ever massage.

I felt strange going to a massage parlor; oops, today we call them salons or spas or something. Candie brought me to the room where I actually had to take my pants off, weird. I was uncomfortable. the lighting was dim; the earthy sounds were soothing; the "touching and rubbing", in the words of George Costanza, was good. However, there was no "moving" nor "shifting". And there was NO RAYMOND. Thank goodness. Candie worked my left thigh well. The knot came out. Although a little sore, my leg felt much improved. By the time I arrived at the airport Friday morning, the pain was gone.

Well, I arrived at the airport by 4:30 am on Friday morning. I met Maura Donovan first followed by Erin and Lisa. And just before boarding, I met Jackie, from Sacketts Harbor. All four gals are great. Then I met Harland Bigelow. He was my roomie and the coach of the Binghamton contingent for Team In Training. Gretchen and Dawn, I met formally in San Diego while Tim arrived with his wife later that evening in San Diego.

We landed in San Diego before 10:30 am. The plane was actually ahead of schedule. Check in was smooth; we were able to go directly to our rooms, unpack, and meet in the lobby to walk to the convention center for our packet pick up and running expo.

Beside the beautiful weather that greets visitors stepping from their plans, San Diego has another fabulous characteristic-- a large population of homeless. They are every where. they do not hide. The city actually seems to promote homeless living. I like to refer to the homeless of San Diego as urban campers. They carry "top of the line" luggage and back packs. They push well manufactured aluminum carts that carry all their belongings: sleeping bags, pup-tents, buckets, extra clothes, or whatever.

These urban campers are part of the culture there. They just plop down. Many sleep along the marina, camping out next to the aircraft carriers. At least 30 or so urban campers chill out while the city provides them with port-o-potties for added comfort. I think I saw Whopi Goldberg coming out from the plastic blue bowl one cloud covered morning a year ago. However, on this brief stay, I witnessed a homeless/urban camper lounging under a palm tree next to the street car stop while his buddy slept under another tree. Early morning is another time seeing urban campers drinking their morning coffee and reading a novel sitting on a street car platform bench. I really wanted to ask him what he was reading. Maybe it was Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men.

We made it down to the Convention Center and picked up our packets; how exciting. My bib number was 8235. I grabbed my light blue tech tee, the official Rock 'N Roll Marathon San Diego shirt and purchased a cap before entering the EXPO. Wow, all the vendors and all the people. It was incredible. I had one more item to find after buying a hat in the pick up zone, I needed to find the expandable waist fanny pack. There it was! Found it and bought it. I was done making purchases until I saw the HALO.

The Halo is a head band that not only wicks sweat and water away from your face, but it has a rubber seal that prevents any sweat or water from rolling down into your eyes. I had no choice; I pulled out 12 bucks and bought it. The Halo works. During the race, I had no issue wiping sweat from my eyes. My eyes never burned; my vision stayed straight. Even when I poured water over my head to cool down for relief, not one drop of water reached my face. Unbelieveable!

We, Maura, Lisa, Erin, Kim, and I, headed out from the convention center and went to lunch. We ate at a place called Dick's Last Resort. It reminded me of the pld days at the Dinosaur BBQ where the waitresses when the waitresses were nasty. Our waitress referred to me as "high maintenance" because I could not decide what to order and was forced to order last. I asked for the bacon cheeseburger, well done. You'd think I asked for the moon. A well done burger, who'd ever order such a dry piece of meat? I would. There is no way I'm risking some stomach issues two days before the longest run of my life. It was a good burger. I returned to my room and counted that lunch as dinner also. I hit the hay around 10:30 and woke on Saturday, refreshed, near 4 am. I was ready to take on the day.

Saturday was uneventful except for the Inspirartion Dinner. The Inspirartion dinner was just that. We were honored to have John "the Penguin" Bigham as our MC for the evening. he introduced us to a Leukemia Survivor who had raised over $103,000 and was running the race. She spoke to us all about her story. her Story, like so many others began "On a day just like today." She was diagnosed with Leukemia and survived by successful treatment. Two years later her husband was diagnosed with a brain tumor; he too has survived by being in remission. Soon after her husband went into remission, their son was diagnosed with leukemia. her battle contuinues and she wins everyday by caring for her family, running, and raising funds which are desperately needed to promote innovation in the fight against cancer.

I thought about those who supported my run in honor of Jane Spellman and their personal stories regarding friends and family, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters who fought the good fight. Some of them winning and some of them llosing, but loved and missed nonetheless. I would remember those stories as I ran. I would think about the physical pain they endured during and after treatments and the mental stresses they endured during the process. How could I fail them. Being uncomfortable after running 14 miles with an end only 12 miles further is nothing compared to having cancer; nor is it anything comapred to the losses felt by their friends and family. I carried on for them, for you. I finished because I had to, just as you and they had to go the extra mile.

So, What about the race itself? Well it was just like any other day. We all met in Maura's room at 4 am and grabbed a bite to eat. I had some Cytomax, the official drink of the RnR marathon and a half bagel with peanut butter. I do not like eating before a race for reason gastrointestinal. However, I didn't eat during the race either which I probably should have. My friend Maryellen, an experienced runner, TOLD me to eat during the race; she advised a bananna or a protein bar. I don't usually eat during races, and I didn't this time either. The only item I ate was an Otter Pop handed to me from a little boy as I ran past his house while we ran through a San Diego neighborhood. That ice pop gave me a nice boost. I wish there were more.

The race started at Balboa Park. I moved from corral 8 to corral 6 to run with the 4 hour pace group. The gun sounded and off we all went; the marathoners, half marathoners, and the relayers. Approximately 20,000 in all; Over 16,000 running the full marathon as individuals. I stayed with the pace group, which was led by an experienced marathoner from the San Diego Track Club, for a few miles. But I felt good and started to pace ahead of the group. I ran fast through downtown. I didn't realize how quick my pace was until I hit mile 14 and met my first physical challenge although I had slowed some for the group to catch me.

Some highlights of running through the city was meeting up with a man named Jim from Ithaca. We chatted Mets baseball for several miles which helped me forget about the pace group and actually believed that I could finish the race at this pace. Then there were two homeless, urban campers, who were streetside cheering us on. One, a bearded fellow, was yelling out, "Go team." While another, a female camper I remember screaming one early morning last year, was quietly standing alone at a corner. Her eyes cheered us on. I chuckled because I will never forget her from last year; she hadn't changed a bit.

Then there were the smartalicks who stood on the road's edge telling us that we weren't going to make it, that running a marathon is just too hard. By the time I hit mile 14 these charcters didn't make me very happy nor comfortable about finishing the race.

Then I started a conversation with a guy named Ryan from Newport Beach. This was his first ever race, a marathon. Amazing. He too had a goal of 4 hours, but I fell back after running beside him for several miles when I walked through the same water stop where the pace group caught me, passed me, and finished w/out me.

I recall passing the half marathon finish line; it was just a short right turn into a parking lot. The half marathon is not an official race for the San Diego RnR marthon except for members of the Team In Training who elected to run the half. This year was a trial run for the half. In 2010, it will be open to all runners who would like to run a half. Opening up the half to everyone may increase the race size from 20,000 to 25,000. Next year will also see a slight change to the marathon course since the MCRD, where the finish has traditionally been, is going under renovations. Therefore, the finish line will need to be relocated and the route changed.

As we chat about the finish line, that reminds me of the pain I experienced over the last 4 or so miles. I needed water. The Cytomax was not cutting it anymore. The more tired I got, the more disgusting it tasted. My legs ached, my knees were sore, and I was hot. I started walking through the water stops. I drank a little water and then poured a second cup of water over my head. My sneakers were drenched; my feet were wet. I only wanted the agony to end. I ran passed a band that played Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline". I sang along and shouted out the usual chorus associated with the tune. It brought back memories from Shea Stadium where the crowd would always rise shouting out, "so good, so good, so good." I had an extra bounce to my step, for a little while. I needed water. I asked a spectator if she had water. She did. She passed me a stainless thermus of water, and I chugged. I thanked her. She was a life saver. Soon after, around mile 24, I saw another woman who had a large cooler beside her, and I asked her for some ice. She had some. I ran at least a mile chewing on ice. Being refreshed and cooled down at the same time. She, too, was a life saver.

What would any of us do without occaissional help from a friendly stranger. That is what we all were during this campaign for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, helpful strangers. The people who receive our gifts most likely will not know us, but they may receive the benfits of our labor for them. That is true charity. Giving without reward. Thank you again for supporting me and Jane. Toghether we all made a difference even if we don't realize it. Thank you.

As I approached the last mile of the race I was greeted by Maura Donovan from LLS. She asked me, "How are you feeling?"

I replied, "Terrible, I need water."

I continued running and entered the MCRD. The Marines were marching. The last band was playing and encouraging us runners forward. A couple of turns and there was the finish line. Each side of the road lined with cheering fans, shouting, whistling, and clapping. I could see the finish line camera which would be recording the finish line live. I had to look good. I reached down, picked up my pace, ran taller, raised my hands and crossed the line. I made it. Wow! Now I could collapse.

I did just that, visiting the medical tent after getting my marathon medal and a bottle of water. The med tent raised my legs and gave me a fresh bottle of Cytomax to revive my system. Soon after I could walk for a little while to get my hands on some puffins and a foil blanket. and head for the Team In Training tent. On the way I stumbled a few times a required assistance. The last to aid my aching legs were two young ladies who caught me as I stumbled. They balanced me and helped me stretch out my cramped calves until I could walk again. Once I made it back to my feet I found the TNT Tent and received my 26.2 Team In Training Pin, a PBJ, and a couple of MGD64's.

I swore that I would never do this again. Running a marathon is too painful. Yet, by dinner time I decided it would be fun to try again. Next time will be different. I'll follow the advice of those who have gone before me. I will not overtrain, I'll eat better duringthe race, and go slower and increase my pace after the half marker. I guess its like having a baby. The pain is always forgotten once the babe is in your arms. The marathon is just fond memories like the time I actually accepted an icecream stick with vasoline on the tip and licked it a few times thinking it was some form of energy gel. I tossed it because it had no flavor only to hear a shout to another runner from a road side medical tent, "Don't lick the stick." Great. I licked it, but tossed it. Thank goodness I didn't eat it. I found out later what it was. That's funny.

So, if all goes well, I will run again. I hope to run another in the fall and then Disney in January. My only problem is that I currently have a strained hip flexor and a hernia that needs attention. according to my physician who I saw yesterday. Great. I hope this doesn't ruin my plans. I'll find out July 1st after meeting with the surgeon.

See you on the road.