Friday, March 30, 2007

The National Marathon: Review. Halfway Mark to MP 20.

National Marathon Review: Halfway mark to MP 20. The Hills.

First half review. Although I felt good in the first half of the 2007 National Marathon, I was steadily slipping off my goal of 8-minute miles as I chased after a time of 3:45 (8:35). After four miles I was steadily over eights, and I ran an 8:40 thirteenth mile. In the second half of the race I wouldn't run any mile in under 8:35. The thirteenth mile was up and over the long Frederick Douglass Bridge over the Anacostia River. (All smiles the day before at the Expo. I think I can!) We transitioned during that mile from nice flat waterfront running in SE through pastoral Anacostia Park to running the streets in the District again, heading for a return to the Mall.

A special view. My magic moment in the race came when I saw the Nationals’ new stadium from the bridge, its skeletal steel arising out of the mist along the riverbank like the ribs of a wrecked ship which had been driven upon the shoals. It was spectacular. (The next day. How come there are Russian numbers on my bib?) But in retrospect the telling point was that the climb over the bridge didn’t bother me, at that point. But that was about to change drastically. Up until then, I had been putting miles behind me. But now each new mile was starting to lengthen and acquire an orbit of its own.

(Looking south from the construction zone of the new baseball stadium at the Frederick Douglass Bridge, also known as the South Capitol Street Bridge. The incline didn't seem like much in the thirteenth mile but my perceptions were about to change dramatically.)

My splits.
MP Split Time Notes
1. (8:06) 8:06; 2. (7:45) 15:51; 3. (7:57) 23:49; 4. (9:00) 32:49 Missed the marker; 5. (7:22) 40:11 Short mile; 6. (9:01) 49:12 Missed the marker; 7. (7:22) 56:35 Short mile; 8. (8:14) 1:04:50; 9. (8:33) 1:13:23; 10. (8:04) 1:21:28; 11. (8:38) 1:30:06; 12. (8:28) 1:38:30
13. 8:40 1:47:10 Scenic-The new ballpark
14. 8:35 1:55:46 Momentarily lost
15. 8:42 2:04:28 Tunnel
16. 8:51 2:13:20 Runnin’ the Mall again
17. 8:53 2:22:14 Manifest Destiny
18. 9:49 2:32:03 Uphill grade
19. 9:31 2:41:35 Slogging up the grade
20. 11:04 2:52:39 The Climb
21. 12:12 3:04:51 Missed the marker
22. 7:15 3:12:07 Short mile
23. 8:46 3:20:54
24. 9:15 3:30:09
25. 9:15 3:39:25
26. 9:12 3:48:37
.21. 1:59 (9:04) 3:50:36 (1:22 is 6:30 pace)
3:50:22 (3:50:39) (8:48 pace)

MP 14 (8:35) 1:55:46. Lost. Leaving the bridge I ran northbound on South Capitol Street SW past MP 13. I immediately turned left onto M Street SW and headed back towards the DC waterfront. Although I was retracing in reverse my eighth mile, I didn't know where I was because I rarely run M Street SW and I have never entered it from the south before. Studying the street signs soon oriented me, however, and I passed the halfway mark in 1:48, an 8:15 first-half race pace. That's on pace for a 3:36 marathon but I knew that with how I was slowing down and the hills coming up, I would be lucky to break 3:50. I was now slurping gatorade in addition to water at every water stop, still grabbing the cups on the run. I swallowed my first GU, and it made me feel nauseous for the next mile. I hit the waterfront and turned onto Maine Avenue, passing by the Arena Stage.

A special moment. I reflected upon the last time I had seen a play in its unique theatre, seven years earlier when I had brought my now-21 year old son there to see Howard Sackler's pulitzer-prize winning play The Great White Hope. Then the wearisome memory of five recent years of devastating divorce proceedings that followed soon afterwards passed through my thoughts, instantly sapping my energy. Defending myself against that bitter rip-and-tear litigation financially ruined me and left my children estranged from me. As I ran by I wryly answered my own unstated question-no wonder I run marathons!

(Looking westward at the Arena Stage in SW by the waterfront, where M Street SW swings around to turn into Maine Avenue down about a mile west of the new baseball park.)

MP 15 (8:42) 2:04:28. The Tunnel. We left the waterfront and entered the 9th Street Tunnel, a highway underpass which runs under the Mall. Ever since the first National course went through there, I had wanted to run it. There are sidewalks lining the walls down there. For a long time whenever I drove it I studied it to see if a runner could get through there safely. I finally decided it would be suicidal. So when the opportunity to run it during the race arose, I relished finally running through the dark dank tube. Emerging onto Constitution Avenue, I turned left towards the Potomac River. The short incline leaving the tunnel was the last uphill stretch that I didn't suffer on for the rest of the race.

MP 16 (8:51) 2:13:20. The Mall again. I retraced exactly my third mile along the Mall. Earlier I did this flat section in 7:57 but now my time was almost a minute slower. I went past the Washington Monument and the White House for the third time and passed mile marker 16, the sentinel I had run by in reverse over ninety minutes earlier.

MP 17 (8:53) 2:22:14. The sweep of history. As I veered left to run down Henry Bacon Drive towards the Lincoln Memorial, I glanced right to see the statue of Albert Einstein, seated half-hidden in the bushes. Crowd support here was sparse but vocal, with every spectator clapping and cheering us on. Some called out my number in encouragement. I passed Lincoln and at the Potomac River swung north to head up Rock Creek Park, a deep wooded ravine cutting across the District like a slash mark made by an other-worldly sword.

A special spot. All around me lay two centuries of American history, embodied in visible pantheons and icons. Virginia, home to Presidents and the formerly slave-holding state where two of my three sons were born, lay to my left across the Potomac. The Custis Mansion, Robert E. Lee’s pre-war home, was shining on the hill in Arlington National Cemetery across the way. There the precise, ritualistic sentries were silently patrolling the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers, and there also JFK and RFK lay at rest. The flag atop the Iwo Jima Statue in Arlington was visible, upon whose ebony base were carved the names of the two horrific battles my own father fought in as a young carbine-toting Marine corporal during the Pacific campaign, Peleliu and Okinawa. The Kennedy Center with its cultural triumphs lay directly ahead, with the Watergate and its profound effect upon American history, directly behind it. Within a mile of this point were the Bill of Rights and the Emancipation Proclamation at the Archives. The World War I, World War II, Korean War and Vietnam War Memorials were all nearby. The text of Lincoln’s two greatest speeches was carved into the granite walls of the temple I had just passed. Its marble columns looked out at the Reflecting Pool, over which Martin Luther King, Jr.’s iconic I Have A Dream speech rang during America’s summer of discontent in 1963. The FDR Memorial lay half a mile behind me, with the Jefferson Memorial across the Tidal Basin from it. I was passing by Roosevelt Island which lay in the Potomac, with its huge statue of Teddy Roosevelt upon it. I had just come down the very route the military personnel had traversed along Constitution Avenue on June 8, 1991 during the huge military parade following the First Gulf War. Those soldiers had trod upon the steps taken during the prior century by the victorious Union armies during their two-day military review on May 23-24, 1865 following CSA General Joe Johnston's surrender after Appomattox.

Can you make out all of these heroes marching down Constitution Avenue just before they recede into the mist of time as they resumed their ordinary lives? The sense of history at this spot is palpable. If you haven't already, you should consider running this marathon some year and experience its extraordinary ambience. This is going to become an important marathon.

MP 18 (9:49) 2:32:03. Uh-oh. For the first time ever, I was noticing the uphill grade in Rock Creek Park. It’s not much but it was really slowing me down. I was getting really tired and my muscles were starting to protest, so I popped an advil. Running up this giant creekbed hollow, the long sweep of the incline curving around corners and stretching up straightaways was daunting. No more liquid replenishment taken on the fly. I stopped at a water station and walked through it as I drank a gatorade and ate a GU, washing it down with water. With a groan in my throat and a crick in my step, I got underway again.

MP 19 (9:31) 2:41:35. Beware the id. I shuffled upstream, passing under the towering arched bridges of the roadways above. I started obsessing about the big hill coming up just past MP 19, the Calvert Climb. An exit road, 24th Street, leaves Rock Creek Park to climb up to Calvert Street next to where the long Taft Memorial Bridge allows Connecticut Avenue traffic to pass high above Rock Creek. The climb is perhaps 200 feet of elevation gained in about 200 yards. It's a killer climb in the best of times. I had attended two club hill workouts there and run up the Calvert Climb a dozen times. The night before I had visualized powering up the hill. But as I worked my way up Rock Creek Park towards the Climb, I now feared it. R came running by just then. Fittingly, she coordinates the club hill workouts. We greeted each other and she went past to finish 13 minutes ahead of me. I was passing practically no one by now, and a steady stream of people were passing me.

MP 20 (11:04) 2:52:39. The Climb. There was a water station at the base of the Climb. I knew the hill well but now I was seeing it in a different light. It was huge. It went straight up, like some black diamond slope in Aspen where I’d skied two winters in another life. I stopped and took a gatorade and a water and started walking up it. There were a lot of spectators on the steep slope, urging us on. You know the type, people who slow down to gawk when they pass a car wreck. I finished the liquids and kept walking. I had no pride left. Halfway up I broke into a shuffle for 100 feet, then walked some more. One hundred feet from the top I jogged the rest of the way up, gained the level ground and turned right on Calvert Street. The worst hill was now behind me. I ran across the Duke Ellington Bridge over Rock Creek Park and went up a lesser grade to the end of Calvert Street where I turned left onto Columbia Road in Adams Morgan. The high point of the marathon lay half a mile away. There were lots of vociferous spectators cheering us on in this neighborhood. I hit MP 20 at 2:52, a four minute PR for me and an 8:38 pace for my distance up to this point.

(The Calvert Climb as seen during a rainy hill workout in June, 2006. The photo doesn't do justice to its steepness, but the runners had to gain the elevation of the roadway above, represented by the arched bridge in the picture where Connecticut Avenue crosses Calvert Street, in a few hundred feet during the climb out of Rock Creek Park. This nasty hill came at at MP 19.1 in the National Marathon. That's my friend N. pushing her bike up the hill in the background. She ran a 71 minute ten-miler last year. With her speed, she does me a favor whenever she runs with me.)

Trouble ahead. But my per-mile pace was really breaking down now, to over nine minute miles, and now I had just thrown down an eleven-minute mile. A 3:45 finish was no longer a possibility and I started to doubt my ability to break four hours. Three and a half miles ago I had been running along contemplating the grand sweep of American history and now I was running with my head down, grim-faced, thinking only about finishing and barely seeing anything past a spot eight feet down the road. Periodically I would raise my head to check the horizon. Down the road I could see another hill rising up. I was unfamiliar with the rest of the terrain. I knew from having studied the elevation chart that I was near the "top" of the race now, but there were two miles of rolling hills "up here."

The race within the race. Now that my twenty mile warmup was done, the real race, a 10K run to RFK, was just getting started. It would take me almost fifty-eight minutes to get there, a 9:17 per-mile pace from here.

Next: Hitting the Wall.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The National Marathon: Review. A Nice and Smooth First Half.

National Marathon Review. The first half was nice and smooth...
It’s been three days since I ran the National Marathon. My quads are still on fire, and the toenail on the long toe of my right foot is sore and slowly going from mottled purple to black. Motorists are still outraged over Saturday’s road closures.

My splits.
MP Split Time Notes
1. 8:06 (8:06) Goal–eight minute miles
2. 7:45 (15:51) Downhill
3. 7:57 (23:49) Steady
4. 9:00 (32:49) Missed the marker
5. 7:22 (40:11) Short mile
6. 9:01 (49:12) Missed the marker
7. 7:22 (56:35) Short mile
8. 8:14 (1:04:50) Steady
9. 8:33 (1:13:23) Uphill
10. 8:04 (1:21:28) Competition
11. 8:38 (1:30:06) Bucolic running
12. 8:28 (1:38:30) Bucolic running
13. 8:40 (1:47:10) Very Scenic-The new ballpark
14. 8:35 (1:55:46)
15. 8:42 (2:04:28)
16. 8:51 (2:13:20)
17. 8:53 (2:22:14)
18. 9:49 (2:32:03)
19. 9:31 (2:41:35)
20. 11:04 (2:52:39)
21. 12:12 (3:04:51) Missed the marker.
22. 7:15 (3:12:07) Short mile.
23. 8:46 (3:20:54)
24. 9:15 (3:30:09)
25. 9:15 (3:39:25)
26. 9:12 (3:48:37)
.21. 1:59 (9:04 pace for this bit. 1:36 would require a 7:19 pace.)

The night before. While watching some NCAA tournament basketball I laid out my gear for the marathon. In my waist pouch I put my cell, a throwaway camera, some commemorative quarters and two twenties, my work ID (in case I wanted to use the bathroom when we ran by my building at MP 3), a metro fare card (you never know), two Advils and three GUs (non-caffeine flavor). Because I was worried the pouch was becoming too heavy (it starts bouncing as you run), I didn’t put in my little tube of vaseline. Shortly after midnight I set the alarm for 5 am for the 7 am race start and fell asleep.

An early morning run. I arose by 5:10 am, taped on my nip-guards and dressed in black compression shorts, long baggy shorts with zipper pockets, Asic shoes, socks and a dark blue short sleeve technical shirt. Then I ran around my block in the dark to loosen up. It was warm enough, 46 degrees and getting warmer, but threatening to rain.

Breakfast in the car. I threw my breakfast and my gear bag into the car at 5:55 and drove off. I ate some cantaloupe, two cups of diced fruit in heavy syrup and a banana enroute to RFK, arriving in parking lot 7 by 6:30 am. It had rained during the entire drive.

At RFK. By 6:55 I was on the starting line near the front, wearing a throwaway sweatshirt for warmth. The rain had stopped for good. A friend who was running the half, M, saw me and came over. M. is cool and did a handstand at the Army Ten Miler's finish line after completing it last year. Given the severity of the ATM security regulations (I'll never sign up for that race again), it's a wonder she wasn't thrown into a cell at Guantanamo for violating one of their rules. When the gun went off I tossed my sweatshirt aside and we went out together. (M. training for the National Half on Constitution Avenue by the Mall during the long cold winter.)

The Race. The National course lay entirely within DC this year, unlike last year's course which branched out into Prince Georges County in Maryland. My goals for the race were threefold: break 3:45 (8:35), break 3:50 (8:46) , or break my PR of 3:52:34 (8:52), set in November at New York City.

Miles 1-13.
MP 1–8:06. The time included the seventeen seconds it took us to cross the start line. We ran down darkened East Capitol Street getting our pace established. I told M. I was going to do eight-minute miles as long as I could as I tried for my goal of a time of 3:45 (8:35). M. wanted to break 1:50 (8:24) so she said she’d hang with me as long as she could. She got ahead of me early and I started to feel like I would have to let her go, but then we got settled down into easy running and our ragged breathing normalized.

MP 2–7:45 (15:51). We encountered the first of several inspiring sights, the Capitol Dome straight ahead of us lit up in the dim early morning light. We veered left to Independence Avenue and started down Capitol Hill. I looked for my NYCM running buddy who said she was going to come out to cheer us on, but she got delayed in traffic and I never saw her.

MP 3–7:57 (23:49). We ran past the Capitol to Constitution Avenue and then passed by my work building. M. dropped back a little and soon I was running alone. (M. posted an excellent time of 1:51 for her first Half-Marathon.)

MP 4–9:00 (32:49). Running alongside the Mall, we passed the Washington Monument on our left, another inspiring sight, and the White House on our right. (Two of the historic sites we ran by, the Washington Monument and the Capitol.) We turned for a short distance up Virginia Avenue. I missed mile marker 4 somehow, so I just punched my Timex at 9:00 to keep the number of splits correct. This was flat running in the heart of our nation’s capital, supported by a few spectators clapping in the early morning.

MP 5–7:22 (40:11). This was a "short" mile because I missed the last mile marker. I was running a little over eights here, which is about where I wanted to be. We backtracked on Constitution alongside the Mall and I noticed the large marker signaling MP 16 behind me as I ran by. It was a sentinel telling us that we would be back running this stretch later. I had run this part of the course as a training run half a dozen times recently, getting ready for this race.

MP 6–9:01 (49:12). Three quarters of a mile after we ran by the Washington Monument a second time, we turned off Constitution and went across the Mall southbound on 7th Street towards the DC waterfront. There were a couple of dips and doodles in the road as we ran by L'Enfant Plaza, the first intimation of some hills to come. I missed the mile marker again so I pushed the button on my watch at 9 minutes.

MP 7–7:22 (56:35). Another "short" mile. My friend Bob ran by sans shirt and with a heart monitor strapped around his chest, chasing after his BQ. He had gotten caught up in the back of the pack at the start but he went on to achieve a PR. I waved hello as he departed with a quick glance backwards to see who was calling out to him. We hit the waterfront and turned up M Street. I knew from training runs that the first hill awaited us down M Street.

MP 8–8:14 (1:04:50). We were cruisin’ down M Street. There was lots of new construction down there. It was turning out to be a good day for running, overcast, warm but not hot, slightly humid but not muggy. My glasses had steamed up so I had zipped them away in my trench pocket. That's why I missed some mileposts. The water stops were ample and I was eschewing gatorade so far and grabbing water on the run. However, I was steadily slipping off my desired eight minute pace.

MP 9–8:33 (1:13:23). We ran up the hill on M Street, the equivalent of Capitol Hill which we had run down at MP 2, and then zig-zagged up a couple of side streets until we hit Pennsylvania Avenue. We turned right, away from the Capitol.

MP 10–8:04 (1:21:28). (Running eastbound over the Sousa Bridge and looking southbound down the Anacostia at the bridges we would shortly run under.) We ran down Pennsylvania Avenue and across the John Philip Sousa Bridge over the Anacostia River into SE. I was running near an acquaintance of mine whom I always try to beat. We never speak. He was doing the half. Across the bridge the halfers would split off and turn left (north) to go up Minnesota Avenue towards their finish at RFK, whereas the marathoners would turn right. I pushed a little harder and reached the juncture ahead of him. (My half marathon time would beat his.) Two years ago, before I ramped up my training, I would have killed for a 1:21:28 ten-miler. Now I noted how I was already 88 seconds off an eight-minute pace (1:20:00). Still, I "only" had 16.2 miles to go.

MP 11–8:38 (1:30:06). We were running down a waterfront parkway by the Anacostia which was totally deserted. My friend J. passed me. He is one of those runners who makes beaucoup noise as he runs, one of the grunters and sighers. I can always hear him coming up behind me from a long ways off. We called out greetings. I was running alongside a runner who was busy telling me how he was back from injuries and this marathon would be a test of his fitness. He would either DNF or have a great finishing time, he explained. Then he noted a porta-potty alongside the road and said it was the first one he’d seen for quite awhile. I told him I had seen plenty recently. He asked me where so I pointed them out to him. That tree, that tree and that tree over there, I said. He laughed at my witticism and thus reminded, I ran over and stopped momentarily behind a tree for my only pit stop of the race. Aside from runners, a couple of cops and some course marshals, not a soul was in that pretty riverside park in SE as we ran through it.

MP 12–8:23 (1:38:30). This was further pleasant running along the water on flatlands. I am doing a three-mile race in May along this roadway and I reflected upon strategies for that race as I ran.

MP 13–8:40 (1:47:10). We ran back over the Anacostia on the Frederick Douglass Bridge. Somehow we gained the bridge’s height on a curving access road without seeming to go up too much of a hill. My perceptions would alter dramatically very soon. I kept passing a walker who would thereupon run some more and pass me again. This was maddening, especially since I had to listen the whole time to the patter of another runner who had attached himself to her and was busy trying to pick her up. Approaching the District again on the bridge, I was treated to the majestic sight of the structure of the Nationals' new $611 million baseball stadium arising from the fog along the river. I had never been across this bridge before and I hadn't seen the new stadium construction yet. The steel skeleton was fully up and some bleachers had been already added. I saw the stadium was oriented away from the water and towards the Capitol. It was too misty too see the Capitol from where I was but I hoped there would be a nice view of it from the stadium when the ballpark was done in time for the 2008 season. Studying the new park as I traversed the bridge was preferable to looking down at my feet. The bridge had several long steel grate sections that, at speed, gave a clear view of the river several dozen feet below and seeing the dancing water underneath, sunlight glistening off the eddies and swirls, induced a strong sense of vertigo in me. Once off the bridge, I noted that the halfway mark was coming up. I quickened my pace because I wanted to see if I could run my half faster than the finish time of my friends who were doing the Half. We ran up South Capitol Street and came back to M Street where we turned left. We had just closed a five mile loop over the river and back.

MP 13.1–1:48 (8:15 first half race pace). I ruefully reflected that during my marathon relay race with Bex two weeks earlier, I had hit the Half mark four minutes earlier at 1:44, a significantly faster time. Of course, then I only had a mile and a half remaining. Here I had another 13.1 miles to go, which would take me two hours and two minutes to run for a 9:19 second half race pace. Leaving the race was Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde was about to enter.

Coming up.
Next: From the Halfway Mark to Milepost 20. The Hills Were Waiting...

Sunday, March 25, 2007

The National Marathon: Preview.

How I did. I ran the National Marathon yesterday. The short version is that I PRed by around a minute and a half in about 3:50:40 (8:49). I'll call it my bronze standard. I'll break the race down in more detail later for those who care. But my time benchmarks tell the tale--10 miles 1:21 (8:06), half 1:48 (8:15), 20 miles 2:52 (8:36), and the last 10K or the "second" race within the race, 58 minutes (9:30).

How I wanted to do. My gold standard was to break 3:45. My silver standard was to break the 3:50 barrier. My bronze standard was to PR. My goals cascaded downwards from there--to have my second best time, to break four hours, to have my third best time, not to walk, not to be over five hours, to finish. I call this race management--late in a marathon coming up with a goal that will spur on some greater effort, no matter how briefly.

Background. I ran the NYCM last November and PRed in 3:52:34. That broke my former best time of 3:53:49, set at the WDWM the prior January. I have always considered it incredible that I ran almost four hours then to shave a mere 75 seconds off a running time. Why do we do this? One different choice made along all those 26 miles would have eliminated my PR. Even now I find it nerve-wracking.

(That's me, #16976, on the Queensboro Bridge at around MP 17 in the 2006 NYCM.)

Disappointment. But I was never happy with how I ran the NYCM. The wheels came off at MP 21 and I walked a lot between there and Central Park even though I had the tremendous benefit of a running buddy during those miles (a bandit who shall remain nameless). I would suddenly break into a walk as my buddy continued sweeping people aside to create a passage for us in that perpetually congested race. Thirty yards later my buddy would look around, not see me and double back to find me again. Then s/he would exhort me to break into a trot while offering forth a bribe--a twizzler stick, a Tylenol, a swig of water, a gu.

Thanks to my running buddy! My buddy enabled me to PR that afternoon by running alongside me the last mile on the other side of the barricades lined with spectators in Central Park, whooping and hollering for Peter To Go! And I did go the last half mile, and PRed.

But because of those half dozen instances of walking, I felt like I had let my buddy, myself, and the other people who were there wishing me well, friends who had come up from DC in part due to the race, down. That's what I have carried for the last four months.

The four hour barrier. I didn't break four hours in a marathon until I accomplished this long-standing goal of mine at Disney last year in my tweltfth marathon. Before Disney I had never even broken 4:15, but more serious training led to a progression of lower times in six straight marathons starting with the 4:37:49 I posted three years ago at the Inaugural Potomac River Run Marathon.

What I have learned. I have learned that to break 4 hours in a marathon you need to keep progressing forward all the time during the last ten dreary miles. You can still walk, selectively, but you have to make sure the walking has a purpose. At the NYCM, when I broke into a walk each time, I carefully considered my watch and calculated out, at nine minute miles, the time I had left before I would be beyond the 3:53 I achieved at Disney. When I was "out of time" I finally suspended any further walking and went. Yesterday I walked briefly twice, both on steep uphills, to save the energy I would have expended on those stretches for later.

A former PR. Before my big breakthrough at Disney, my long-standing best time was 4:16 at the 2003 Columbus Marathon. I used to run most of my marathons without any spectator support. I don't think it's a coincidence that I PRed at Columbus where one of my four sisters lives. I was driven to the race by her, I unexpectedly ran by her whole family cheering me on at MP 16, and then I saw them again along with a visiting sister, as planned, at MP 21. I went on to PR by almost 4 minutes despite painful muscle cramps the last two miles which necesitated several kneady stops. (Do I still look happy in this picture at MP 21 in the 2003 Columbus Marathon? Well, happy to see my people, certainly. Picture credit D.)

A new PR. At Disney, trying to somehow find those sixteen minutes I needed to break through four hours, I kept plowing forward. As I shuffled those desolate miles in the early twenties on the course between Animal Kingdom and MGM Studios, I tried to affix myself for 100 yards to every runner who ran by me before I let them go glimmering off into the distance. I never stopped. Suddenly there was the finish at Epcot. It helped that Disney is incredibly flat. (I am #4790 crossing the finish line at the 2006 WDWM with a 3:53:49 net, a PR by over 22 minutes. I lowered this slightly to 3:52:34 at the 2006 NYCM.)

The National Marathon. Yesterday I dropped off my gold standard of breaking 3:45 around MP 17 as I went up Rock Creek Park. I run there often enough and I have never before been bothered by its very slight uphill grade. Yesterday it felt like I was crawling up it. I tossed aside my silver standard of breaking 3:50 around MP 23 during the decline on the long homeward stretch of North Capitol Street because I was no longer capable of executing race strategies. I couldn't pick up my pace to "flow downhill" and let gravity do some work for me. Once I turned onto flat K Street, I only had two and a half extra minutes, so laboriously "banked" in the first half of the race, to spend during the last three miles in trying to achieve my bronze standard of a PR by bringing it home under 3:52:34. If you're plodding along sore and exhausted at 10:30 miles deep into a marathon, it would be easy to slip into three 11:20 miles near the end. And you would never get those 150 seconds back again, ever. That's why they say it's better to have gas in the tank than time in the bank.

Meet Will Support. But running the last half of a marathon is about will, and it can also be about support. Two and a quarter miles from the end, I received a gift from providence. I only had to exercise the will to reach out and seize it. The 3:50 pace group ran by me.

Thank you RBF. I remembered Rich's post about his MCM and how later he regretted letting the 4:00 pace group slip away from him during the last few miles of the race, thus postponing his sought-after accomplishment of breaking four hours until a month later at Dallas. Late in a marathon, a mere moment can separate you from what you have worked so long and hard for and what you come away with.

Thank you Nathan Nudelman. I attached myself to the heels of one of the women leaders of the tiny group. It was put-up or shut-up time. I looked at the faces of everyone in the small band. The three or four men in the group were all in a zone, seeing something other than the street we were running on. The three pace leaders running abreast, all middies at the U.S. Naval Academy, looked a little strained but otherwise they were running easily. What did Hemingway say about pressure? Grace had to be the name of at least one of these heaven sent pacers.

Is four minutes an eternity? I ran with them for over four minutes, tucked up tight in the slight space between two of the pacers because I feared any separation would cause me to fall away and drift again, and I'd lose those 150 seconds I so desperately needed. I was about twenty minutes from the finish and those four minutes I was able to hang with the pace group and suspend my pain and doubt were crucial.

Spectator support. "Peter! Peter!" I looked up. Another providential gift. It was my one spectator for the day, right there at two miles out where I most needed an uplift. Jeanne had come to cheer me and other runners on. She had also snapped a picture. (MP 24 at the 2007 National Marathon. I am #1573 and the women in the red shirts are the 3:50 pace group leaders. Do you see anything but blank gritty determination on every single face? Picture credit Jeanne.)

You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes well, you might find that you get what you need. Somewhere after four minutes I let the pace group go. They had taken me a fifth of the remaining distance to the finish line. That's how I break a marathon down at the very end. I didn't have the strength to keep up with them anymore, or perhaps I didn't have the will to reach out and reclaim a chance at my silver standard. But hanging with them for over half a mile had assured me of my bronze standard. I received what I needed, I did my best, and I carry no regrets away from this race.

Post race tidbits. Bex PRed in the half. Go read her account which undoubtedly shall be forthcoming. Bob, who coaches in my local club's 10K Training Group on Saturdays with Bex, Jeanne, Gary and me, also PRed in the full, way ahead of me. He ran by me with his shirt off and his heart rate monitor on at MP 7 looking very purposeful, never to be seen by me in the race again. Gary also ran the full. It was good to see Jeanne, however fleetingly, out and about cheering runners on after her recent surgery. (The TKG was a little short of coaches yesterday, with Arnetta and Kristin having to do double duty.) The brand new DC mayor ran the marathon in 4:08. Pretty cool, huh? His parents own the first Fleet Feet on the East Coast, and are prominent in the DC running scene. The store is located in Adams Morgan and the course ran within 100 feet of it as the race reached its highest elevation around MP 20. My first pair of running shoes was purchased from there in 2000 while I was shedding 45 pounds in my new running lifestyle. That purchase of Asic Gel Foundation Ones launched my affinity for Asics. The National course was tougher than I expected, more hilly in the second half than I reckoned, although it was nothing like the tough hilly course of last year. This race is a comer.

Friday, March 23, 2007

How Hard Was It?

Just 1 2 Finish went down this week while running outside the State Department building on a trip to DC when he unexpectedly hit a bulging asphalt repair patch on the sidewalk. (The District is full of those.) He's okay.

Encountering the unexpected while running in new places seems to be where many runners get hurt. Things crop up that they're not used to at home.

The hardest I went down was when once I was running in the dark at 5 am during a trip to Denver (7 am my time) on a broad smooth sidewalk alongside a dimly lit deserted highway. My thoughts had just turned from my ragged breathing due to being unaccustomed to the mile-high altitude to thinking, Hey, when I ran by yesterday afternoon, wasn't there a construction zone around here somewhere? That was the instant I hit at speed a roll of woven orange plastic fencing stretched across the sidewalk between two heavy sawhorses. The sidewalk construction site didn't have any dim blinking marker lights like I usually see in my area.

Because the taut plastic barrier I ran into was only three feet high, my legs stopped instantly while my torso kept moving forward and I went down fast in the dark. Bam! I was suddenly on the ground. Fortunately I was still relaxed from being in an easy running mode when I hit the dirt part where the cement had been removed for repair. I sat there in the dark for awhile carefully feeling myself over but nothing was broken. My knuckles were all abraided though and I had nothing to put on them to stop the bleeding until I got back to my sister's house. Is there a lesson here?

Aside from sprains and strains, what's the worst you were hurt while running? What happened?

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Are You Ready?

Are you ready for some running? In a few days I’m going to run the second National Marathon here in DC. Not only is it the second running of the National Marathon, it is the second national marathon as well. The first national marathon collapsed just before its second running in 2003. The race was cancelled a few days beforehand in that post 9-11 scaredy-cat atmosphere due to "security" concerns (security as defined in financial terms, I’ll wager). The company folded its tent and filed for bankruptcy. Most or all runners lost their registration money. Some runners were on planes enroute to the race when the marathon went belly-up. There were howls of outrage over, amongst other things, the fact that the company didn’t even hand out the pre-printed t-shirts before it went out of business.

But runners are a hearty breed and many of the registered runners took to the street on the appointed day and ran the marathon route anyway. The results were actually logged. Hey, it counted.
Last year’s inaugural course went through the District and Prince Georges County, where it picked up some brutal hills. Read Bex’s account of running it. This year the race has returned to entirely within the District. That makes members of the 50-state club happy, who are busy running a marathon in each of the fifty states. Many are purists and insist that each course has to be entirely within the particular locale. Not that runners are obsessed. Now they have a pure District option. (The former race of choice, the MCM, starts and finishes in Virginia. Read Bex’s account of Jeanne running it the first time.)

I don’t feel ready to run it. But that’s what we always say before a marathon. At least there’s no frost or rain or snow in the weekend forecast, unlike a week ago.

LPRM Recap Redux. Two weeks ago Bex and I ran the Lower Potomac River Marathon Two-Person Relay in the Coed Division. Our team was the Tortoise and the Hare. I already told you about my mile splits but I did not tell you where we placed. I said to go read Bex’s account to find out how we did. Well, let me tell you how well my running buddy truly did. (Here's John Piggott airborne as he three-peats at the LPRM in a course record time of 2:33:05. Second place Jonathan Krupa was over seven minutes back.)

We came in first in the Coed Division out of eight teams. We were 5th overall out of 27 teams. Four of the nine men’s teams beat us.

I did leg number one, which is 14.6 miles of flat, scenic vistas with water views. Bex did leg number two, which is 11.6 miles of hills along a non-descript highway.
Our time was 3:34:35. I ran my leg in 1:56:41 and Bex ran her leg in 1:37:54.
(Bex legs it out at Milepost 23. Look at that roadway cant!)

At the time I handed off the sweaty sash (it was plastered around my neck the whole way) I was in second place in the Coed Division, but the leader was five whole minutes ahead of me. Bex ran his counterpart down. (Pretty impressive, huh?)

Bex was much faster than any other female Coed Division runner. Only one second-leg Coed Division runner, a guy, put in a faster time than Bex but we
had enough cushion that he never threatened Bex. Who knows what epic duel might have occurred if he had challenged her at the end?
(Hmmm. Where did Bex park her car?)

She was also faster on her leg, by a lot, than nine of the ten second-leg Women’s Division runners. One woman ran the second leg barely a minute faster than Bex, but she, too, never actually threatened Bex.

Bex ran the second leg faster than five of the nine Men’s Division runners and came within half a minute of the sixth. Six Men’s Division runners were faster than me in the first leg but Bex ran three of those runners’ partners down. She overcame handicaps of three minutes, four minutes and five minutes to pass them. Whew.

(Waiting for Bex at the finish line with my friend from work, G. He was 6th overall in 3:03:54, a PR by 9 minutes!)
In my last post, I revealed how much I wanted a plaque when my sister won one once. Well, now I have a plaque of my very own. Thanks Bex! And good luck in the Half on Saturday. See you at RFK.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

This One's For You

Rich had a nice post about running a 5K with his 15 year old nephew that got me to thinking about running with children. It's great that Rich is introducing the youngster to running. I hope the young man sticks with it. I also notice that Rich beat his nephew handily. You gotta be careful because kids are treacherous.

I once ran a Race For The Cure (RFTC) 5K with my 17 year old nephew. My sister lives in Columbus with her three children and her husband, a college perfesser. She's an artist and a sometimes runner. She has an art show coming up. Maybe I'll tell you more about that later.

I am envious of her because she won a plaque in the one race she has run in her life (other than a couple of RFTCs). It was in 2005 and I was running in a crazy Half-Marathon in the middle of Ohio in the dead of winter called Last Chance For Boston. You run around a mile loop in a deserted industrial park 13 times. There's a marathon, a 10K and a 5K going on at the same time. Around and around everyone goes.

My sister was doing the 5K version of the race. We started together, 1/10 mile behind the official clock. The marathoners and 10Kers were 2/10 mile behind the official clock. The gun went off and this race's version of a staggered start got underway. I bolted out to stay ahead of the surge of fast marathoners and 10K runners coming up behind me. My sister said her greatest fear was that I would lap her before she finished her third loop. Not to worry. She finished in 32:40 and took third in her age group (out of six runners). I didn't pass the clock my fourth time until 34:04. I finished my Half-Marathon in 1:53:08, a PR. I was seventh (out of nine) in my age group. I would have been third in my age group if I had run the 5K and taken home my very own plaque.

My sister's plaque was very handsome. I had never won a plaque. I was filled with jealousy. In some degree, six of the seven deadly sins were at work in me whenever I looked at her plaque. Only sloth seemed to be totally absent.

Anyway, in 2003, I went to run with her family in the Columbus RFTC. My sister took her two younger boys and walked. Her oldest son and I ran it.

The race went swimmingly. I encouraged my nephew to keep running whenever he flagged. I accommodated his pace. I ran ahead and snapped his picture for a keepsake. I waited for him. I put him on track to break 30 minutes.

Near the end, in way of encouragement, I said, Look, Nephew, there's the finish! There's only 200 yards to go.

My nephew looked. He saw the finish banner. He looked at me. A predatory look passed over his face. He took off.

Hey, I cried. I took off after him.

Don't let a teenager hang around you near the end of a race. Put them away long before that. They're fast! Maybe not for long, but in a sprint, they'll beat you. Result, Nephew 28:15 and bragging rights that night, me the big runner in the family 28:18 and pie in the face.

But I got him back. Revenge is a dish best served cold. He visited me that summer. We went running on a four mile out and back. We easily loafed two miles away from the house in about 25 minutes. At the turnaround point I casually asked him if he thought he could beat me back to the house. Sure, he said, his competitive spirit flaring. Our paces quickened. We agreed that whoever lost would cook dinner that night.

The gauntlet thrown down, I asked him, Do you remember the RFTC? He nodded. Well, see ya then, I said, and kicked it into tempo pace. He matched me stride for stride for a few yards and then quickly fell away. I kept the hammer down all the way home.

I was sitting on the porch in a fresh shirt, sipping ice tea, when he finally came running down the street, hot, flushed, his breath labored. He looked positively bedraggled. I called out to him as he pulled up at the driveway and slouched towards the house. Hey Nephew, what's for dinner?

Friday, March 16, 2007

Starting Over Again

You gotta read Not Born To Run's latest post, although you won't find it on her blog. It's called Starting Over, that's what it's about, and you'll find it here. She's a brilliant writer so she describes it much better than I can. But here's what I think about starting over in running as synonymous with life.

Jeanne speaks words of wisdom. I wish her a rapid return to running.

When I started running seven years ago, I was brought to a screeching halt twice by, of all things, tendonitis in a single toe. The layoffs were a year apart. The only remedy each time was six weeks rest. Nothing else helped. (Thank you Dr. Lee.)

I chafed at the inactivity. Since I didn't practice yoga at the time, I did nothing. But when the six weeks was up, I had a hard time getting back to running.

I dreaded going out to start a run. I had gotten away from carving time for a run out of my busy day. I'd lost all my prior fitness. I had to go through that unpleasant feeling of oxygen-deprivation during my first few runs back. I didn't like it anymore. I had to start over.

But you know what those enticements to lethargy were? Excuses. A lack of will and a diminution of self-esteem. I felt like giving up because it was too hard. So what if I returned to being overweight and just sinking down on the couch, shut up in my house alone, to watch TV. Hey, it's March Madness time. A game is on somewhere.

But I got through my doubts and lassitude. I found discipline and exerted patience. I didn't ruin running for myself by being stupid about starting over. I refrained from running impulsively or compulsively at the beginning and re-injuring myself.

I ran once in week seven. I ran twice in week eight. I ran three times in my third week back. By the end of the month I was back to running regularly five times a week and feeling good about myself. I honored my body with a little fitness.

I did this twice, coming back from a forced lay-off. But I only had to come back from a little pain in a solitary toe. Jeanne has to come back from surgery. I know Jeanne and she'll be back better than ever.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

I'm Back

After running in the 2006 New York City Marathon in early November, I took two months off from racing due to burn-out. (Above: Crossing the finish line in Central Park at New York. I'm to the left under the clock in the yellow shirt with blue sleeves.)

I only raced two 3Ks (13:16 & 13:09) for the rest of 2006. I have been struggling to get back into racing shape this year. I am considering doing a marathon in two weeks but feel woefully out of shape. In a marathon relay I did last month, I ran a 9.2 mile leg and struggled to do an 8:26 pace. I finished the race not being able to hold off any late challengers.

Today I did this Marathon Relay in lower MD with Bex to test my readiness. I did the first leg, 14.6 miles, the flat, scenic part down by the Potomac River where it flows into the Chesapeake past St. George Island. Bex did the hills, 11.6 miles of rolling highway peaks and valleys. After doing the Inaugural National Marathon last year, she laughs at hills.

I'm a low-tech guy but I have a new toy. A Timex Ironman watch that records 100 laps. After watching Bex run the MCM last year I was intrigued with her steady pacing. Like clockwork, she recorded the miles on her Ironman watch and made sure they were between 8:40 and 8:50 miles. Result--she broke through the 4-hour barrier in only her second marathon, something which took me twelve tries.

So after six years of racing, I ditched my trusty Armitron, which only told stopwatch time. This morning I was hitting my new Timex watch each mile. Here are the splits--7:40, 7:38, 7:44, 7:51, 7:51, 7:46, 7:56, 7:57, 8:13, 8:02, 8:07, 8:19, 8:13, 8:15, and 5:02 for the last 6/10ths of a mile. I passed the half-marathon point in 1:44:09, which would be a nine second PR for me. I exchanged the baton at 1:56:41. My average pace for the distance was 7:59.5 per mile. It was a good run for me, but boy, was I glad to hand off. Bex motored off down the highway, ran relay people down whose counterparts had run away from me and hid during my leg, and... Aww, I'll let her tell you how we did.

I ran the inaugural running of this race as a marathon in 2005 in 4:19:24. At the time, it was my second best marathon time. In the first photo below, I am running by the water in 2005 in the scenic first part of the race. The views were just as gorgeous today. If you blow the photo up, you can see the Runner's ID tag, about which I spoke a couple of posts ago, hanging off the shoelace of my right shoe. The second photo shows me in 2005 sprinting to the finish line, having only 18 seconds to spare in order to be able to eclipse my then-second best marathon time.

Friday, March 9, 2007

A History of the End of the World

A week ago Wednesday I left on a six-mile run at noon from in front of the Georgetown Law School. (I work in a building nearby.) I ran to the Lincoln Memorial and back again, running up Capitol Hill on the return trip to get in some hillwork. I was gone about 52 minutes, an 8:40 pace, not too bad.

As I ran down Constitution Avenue past the E. Barrett Prettyman U.S. District Courthouse, I saw a large press contingent lounging around out front in the cold, gripped in the throes of ennui. This told me without resort to a radio or the Internet that there still was no verdict in the trial of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, former chief of staff for the Vice President. Scooter was on trial for lying and obstructing the investigation into who illegally outed CIA operative Valerie Plame in 2003.

Plame was exposed in the press and her career destroyed shortly after her husband, former diplomat Joseph Wilson, had poked the bear by stating publicly that "some of the intelligence related to Iraq's nuclear weapons programs was twisted to exaggerate the Iraqi threat." Wilson had dared to criticize the phony WMD bugaboo propounded by the White House that led us to ensnare the cream of our military in the bottomless morass of Iraq, so the crew that "won" the White House "twice" meted out some of their special brand of ham-handed retribution. They retaliated against his wife by outing her, using the press corps as their dupes.

Scooter’s jury had been out for a few days by then. Courthouse convention says that if a jury comes back too fast, or takes too long, it’s bad for the prosecution. At the time of my noontime run, the abbreviated period was over and deliberations weren't stretching out yet, so it still looked like a conviction was possible.

But then last week stretched past the weekend. The jury was out too long. First Florida, then Ohio. Was the administration going to get away with Plamegate too?

And then this week, the denouement. After long and careful deliberation, the jurors’ unanimous judgment of Scooter was guilty, guilty, not guilty, guilty and guilty. Sounds pretty guilty to me. Maybe the system works after all, eventually.

Some jurors wondered why Karl and that great bird hunter, the Vice President, weren’t in the dock alongside the liar, obstructionist and perjurer already there.

How in the world did these people come to Washington?

I have a distant relative who was barely of voting age in 2000. He lived in Florida then. He told me he voted for Dubya but later regretted it because, he said, he had been "misled."

He is now a party animal living in an east coast city. Whenever I see him, I look at him in wonderment because you could say that he is one of only 537 people in the whole world who, by their vote for Dubya in 2000 in closely contested Florida, immeasurably altered American history, probably for the worse. These 537 persons, out of billions in the world, undoubtedly changed world history, maybe catastrophically so. It's possible their votes will lead to the destruction of the personal liberties enjoyed in our great country for the last two and a quarter centuries. They gave us Dubya and his minions, like the Great Bird Hunter, Karl, Scooter and "Quaint" Alberto.

Remember I left on my mid-day run that started this entry from in front of Georgetown Law School? I see its law students walking around practically every weekday. They all pretty much look like they'll make typical lawyers. You know, full of ideals until corrupted by money. Alberto went to Harvard Law and he is different. He gave us torture memos, rendering and indefinite incarceration without access to courts. What in the world do they teach those law students at Harvard?

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

I'm Nobody

I received a distressing email today from a running friend who left me far behind when he fell into the clutches of ultra runners. He puts in 60 to 70 miles per week now to my 20 to 25 miles per week. Now he does marathons as training runs. One Saturday he ran from Iwo Jima to Mount Vernon and back, over 30 miles, just because he felt like it. He didn't take the next day off, either. Next up for him is a hundred miler, no doubt.

I used to be a better runner than him, but now when I encounter him in a race, I just try to hang on within sighting distance of him for the first half. I did beat him by a few seconds last year in a 5K when I ran a 22:45, but then my friend had already run several miles to get there (part of his training routine) and he was running home afterwards. That's the way he trains now. The severe snow storm we had last month, when the government closed, he went to work anyway. He ran there. But he does battle injury issues now, moreso than I do.

Here is part of his email: " tendonitis is to the point the Dr says I'm flirting with a rupture. I'll be taking it one week at a time... . Yesterday a friend of mine collapsed and died in front of the Arlington courthouse at about 10AM but because he had no ID at the time it was last night before his family found out. I need to pick up one of your road ID's."

This is a tragedy that strikes the DC area once or twice every year. Carry an ID when you run! I have an ID tag fastened onto every pair of running shoes I own. Below is the testimonial I wrote last year for the company whose tag I use. I meant every word of it. I like their product but I benefit nothing from promoting it. There are lots of companies selling runners' IDs on the Internet. Google "runners id" or some like phrase and buy an identification system for when you run. You can also go to petsmart and use their store vending machine to create a dogtag to run through your shoelaces. That clinks, though.

Many of us carry no identification when we run. We grab our shoes and head out the door. Free of encumbrances, we run carefree. But we are not responsibility free. Our loved ones need to be informed about our circumstances as soon and as properly as possible if tragedy strikes.

Here in DC, where it’s hot and humid, it seems like practically every summer a tragedy strikes. A solitary runner collapses on a trail during a weekend run and cannot be revived. Who is the runner? Perhaps, like me, the runner lives alone with no family in the area. Often identification of the stricken runner has to wait until the following week when co-workers notice his or her absence.

I have a dozen pairs of running shoes. I have a dozen Runner’s ID tags, one for each pair. They are unobtrusive, virtually weightless and practically noiseless. I don’t know the tag is there. I have never lost one. Each Runner’s ID tag is individualized but they all contain necessary basic information about me, my name and an emergency contact. Beyond that, there is lots of space for creativity with the Runner’s ID tag’s six lines for entry of information.

Each pair of my running shoes has run a marathon. Each Runner’s ID tag, in addition to my basic information, records that race in a different way, with the date, maybe my time, and perhaps the conditions of the race or whether it was an inaugural running or a PR.

I give Runner’s ID tags to running family members and friends as gifts of love, memorialized in a way unique to each person. "Please put it on your running shoe," I say, "for me. Because I care about you and would want to know if anything ever happened to you."

Runner’s ID. With it, I’m somebody. Without it, I’m nobody.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Almost Heaven, West Virginia

I went to Charles Town, West Virginia this past weekend. I did the usual things. Toured a vinyard on the way there. Walked a little ways down the Appalachian Trail. Stayed in a Bed & Breakfast. Visited the Courthouse where John Brown was tried. Trekked out to South Charles Street to view the side yard where he was hanged. (It was a field in 1859. John Brown rode to his execution on a wagon seated atop his coffin.) Lost money on the slots. Won money on the horses.

Whoa, you say. Won money on the horses? Well, yeah. Sort of.

First off, sitting in the Charles Town Slots Casino and feeding an occasional twenty into the poker slot machine for two hours really stunk. Literally. Forget the money I dropped, around half a century note. (That's entertainment, right?) My clothes wound up stinking from all the smoke in the dimly lit gambling warehouse. It seemed like over half of the bleary-eyed people perched on stools in front of blinking, chiming and blinging machines were smoking.

After I developed a headache from the incessant noise in the huge gaming hall, I went into the horse racing parlor. It was filled with acrid smoke too. The bettors in there looked pretty much the same except they were blearily poring over racing programs instead of watching spinning bars and cherries flash by in front of their eyes. But at least you could go outside to the racing track.

I picked up a betting handout and studied it. I shortly realized that I didn't have a clue what it was talking about. Exacta, the Box, the Exacta Box, the Wheel, the Exacta Wheel, the Partial Wheel, the Trifecta, the Superfecta, the Daily Double and more. Variations on permutations. How about an Exacta Partial Wheel with six horses? My headache worsened.

Thankfully I run so I know about win, place or show. I placed a bet for horse number five, whom I'd observed briefly in the lineup area outside, to win, place or show. The ticket cost me six dollars. The cashier said horse number five (I never knew his name) was a favorite in the race.

And they're off! Outside, the horses took a lesiurely lap around the track so the bettors could see them once more and get excited all over again. Then handlers stuffed the horses into the starting gate apparatus, and following a riveting pause, the gates flew open and the racehorses charged out. It was majesty in motion as the thoroughbreds swept around the near turn and thundered down the track. Hooves flashing, they ran by amidst a rising crescendo of sound, like a wave breaking overhead. The noise receded as the horses raced around the far turn and went into the final straightaway. Down the stretch they flew, neck and neck. Horse number five came in third. He showed!

Excitedly, I hurried to the cashier and turned in my ticket. She smiled at my success and took my money out of the drawer. She pushed it across the counter at me. $6.20. My winnings.

Remember I said I'd spent $6.00 on this winning ticket? I stared at the five and one and two thin dimes in my palm.

I'd risked six dollars to win twenty cents. Those two coins represented my earnings for more than half an hour of my time. I carefully pocketed the coins, felt them in my pocket, jingled them. I left the track a winner! Is horse betting fun or what?

Friday, March 2, 2007

But Does It Count?

I finally got my 20 mile run in today. Supposedly I'm doing a marathon later this month. I haven't signed up for it yet, I think I'm secretly hoping it fills up before I register. But I figured it was about time to do my long run.

It's been a tough winter in DC because we had a long cold snap. So it's been hard to throw down a 20-miler. Plus I've been busy. I recently switched divisions at work. I volunteered to direct a weekly running program put on by my club, with the able assistance of Jeanne (she's 2d in command--actually, who am I kidding?), Bex (coach of the gazelles) and others. I organized a small informal running group, TIG (for The Informal Group), that went out on Saturday runs around the DC area.

I had good intentions of doing my long run with TIG. Its participants were training for a Half, so they didn't want to do more than 13 miles or so. I ran to one meeting place beforehand, and got in an 18-miler that way, but that and a 14-mile run were all I had really done since I ran the NYCM in November. Heck, I haven't even run 26 miles total in a week since November.

I had Friday off and it seemed perfect for finally doing a long run. Except my boss at work asked me late Thursday to attend a meeting on a time-sensitive work project on Friday morning with his boss. Even though I like my boss and his boss, I was reluctant to accommodate him because I prefer to do my long runs early in the morning. But I saw an opportunity here.

Okay, I said, I can be here at 10 tomorrow morning, even though it's my day off. Great, said my boss, see you then.

Work is eleven and a half miles away. How fun, and ecological, I thought, to run to work and back. I'll get my run in. I'll attend the meeting. I'll save energy. Everyone will be delighted. So that's what I did.

At 8 this morning I headed out the door. I started running towards DC on the W&OD Trail, a 40-mile long bike path made from a paved-over railroad bed that passes by right behind my house. (For those of you who know the W&OD Trail, my house is the second one west of the bike bridge.)

It was a temperate morning. A few bicycle commuters passed me, and one or two even gave me an audible warning that they were approaching at speed. The miles rolled by. Runners usually use the Memorial Bridge from Arlington National Cemetery to get into the District, but I ran over the Roosevelt Bridge instead, something I'd never tried before. The experiment worked because I didn't get lost or have to cross a roadway full of harried rush-hour commuters. Finally I attained the Mall and ran its length. It was lovely. I charged up Capitol Hill to approximate the hill late in the marathon I'm planning to run and then cut over to my office building near Union Station.

11.8 miles in 1:56:25, counting a comfort break by Roosevelt Island. 9:52 pace, kinda slow so far.

I bought coffee and a banana, changed my running shirt and attended the meeting. It was a good meeting, I thought. One attendee was getting over lingering cold, another had an infection that might be contagious and I was smack dab in the middle of a 20-mile run. We all placed our chairs far apart from one another.

Then I went to my office to measure on gmap how far I'd already run and calculated the pace. I went to the work nurse to ask for some petroleum jelly. She didn't have any so I substituted four bandaids instead. After 90 minutes I was off again to run home. This part of the run was a little tougher. A lot tougher, actually. Running home from work is "uphill" as the Custis Trail in Virginia, which feeds into the W&OD, is hilly, especially going west.

Running down the Mall wasn't quite so nice as it had been earlier. The wind had picked up considerably and was right in my face the whole way. It was sweeping down the east-west lying Mall so strongly that the flags around the Washington Monument were fully unfurled, pointing towards the Capitol like stiff boards. Running by each of the half dozen Metro stops I passed offered strong inducement to call it a 15-mile run and jump aboard public transit.

Passing over the Potomac by the Memorial Bridge, I entered Virginia within thirty minutes. The trail along the river was full of gigantic puddles. I got my shoes wet. I was hungry because the coffee and the banana, plus a Gu, were all that I had eaten. I drank the last of my water and I was thirsty. I tried to decide whether having given blood two days earlier was what was making me excessively tired, or if it was just because I was woefully out of shape.

I hit the sharp hills on the Custis Trail. I started clocking 10 minute miles, then 10:30 miles. Finally I turned onto the W&OD, which thankfully is flatter. Only 5K to go. Revived a little bit, I overtook and passed a bicyclist. (He was only four, with training wheels on his bike, so I guess it doesn't count.)

As I slowly counted off the last three miles to my house, I wondered if I'd even break two hours on the return trip. I abandoned my plan to run up the long steep hill near my house to cap my run. I debated endlessly whether I'd run over the bike bridge or take the flat path underneath it and cross King Street by running across the highway. But since the milepost is posted on the bridge, I ran over it. I checked my pace for the last mile and winced. Over 11:00.

I got to my driveway and stopped. It felt like I'd died and gone to heaven. 1:58:24 for 11.5 miles, 10:18 pace. Yikes. But the 20-miler was done (actually 23.3 miles). I had experienced the fun of running to work and back. How many people can say that?

But does it count as a long run? I had that 90 minute break in there...

Thursday, March 1, 2007

My Virtual 20K Race

What is a virtual race?

That's what I call a "race" I run of a real event that I don't attend due to cost, distance or circumstances. It's a run that I do by myself in a local venue of equivalent distance as the actual event. My "race" starts on the same date and at the same time as the specified program. Later I look up the results and see where I would have placed.

Although it's more than a tempo run, I rarely go at actual "race pace" because when I'm running alone it's hard to force myself to go at that effort for the entire distance. That's why I'm always slower in a virtual race than I would be at the real race. Or at least that's what I tell myself.

I do two or three "virtual races" a year of real races that I wish I were actually running. Although my times are unofficial, of course, and I don't count them for PRs, I do record them in my personal results because my running mindset during them is different from even a hard training run. I call each one the "Virtual [insert name of actual race here]".

Virtual races are fun. They enable me to participate in any race in the world. One rule I have is that I always try to approximate the actual terrain of the race.

For instance, last May 21st, I "went" to Wheeling, WV and "ran" in the Ogden Newspapers 20K Classic. Only I ran it on the last half of the first National Marathon course here in the DC area. This superseded course is devilishly hilly, as I imagine any race in West Virginia must be.

I remember it was already hot on that Sunday morning when I pushed off at 8 am from the "starting line" at the John Philip Sousa Bridge on Pennsylvania Avenue. I ran over the shimmering water of the Anacostia River and turned north at Minnesota Avenue. That was the end of any level running.

Running alone through the blighted streets of SE and on the soulless highways in PG County was depressing. I didn't see one other runner during the entire time and pedestrians seemed surprised to see me running by. Several cars honked and drivers gesticulated at me to get out of the way.

I wilted on the hellacious hills east of the Anacostia, especially the gargantuan one in Fort Dupont. I hit it in my third mile and could barely manage it. As I ground up it, I reflected on my friend Bex's first marathon on the same course two months earlier. I pictured her running up the same hill in the fourteenth mile, alone, hair flying, right knee severely gashed from a fall, with the seven hills of hell on Central Avenue still to come in the last six miles. I wondered if her first marathon had scarred her for life, then I remembered her tremendous resolve and decided, Naww.

An hour later I was on those same infamous hills, only I thankfully reached the "end" of my 20K race on the third hill. I barely shuffled over the imaginary finish line in 1:59:47, a gruesome 9:38 pace. If it hadn't been a "race" I would have quit the run long before that. I gratefully boarded Metro to ride back to my car in the District.

Oh, I placed 402/617 in the Virtual 2006 Ogden Newspapers 20K Classic. Not a good showing at all.