Friday, November 27, 2015

The twenty-sixth mile was the crucible...

My friend, work mate and running buddy Leah was in her twenty-first mile in her attempt to break four hours in the marathon at last month's MCM as we slogged our way over the Potomac on the Fourteenth Street Bridge towards Virginia.  I was running with her the last seven miles to give her support and at the top of the span, the last uphill until the nasty quarter-mile hill leading up to the Iwo Jima Statue at the race's end, I had settled into my own groove after two miles of matching her stride for stride, and it was time to get down to work and throw down five more nine-minute miles to help her try to attain her goal of 3:59, which requires a 9:09 pace.

I moved slightly ahead of her and ran nines by feel, and we steadily moved past other runners.  My head swiveled around on a stick as I looked back to see where Leah was, and she was always five yards back, doggedly following.  We turned left off the bridge and burned through the Crystal City out and back, with Leah ingesting an orange slice and drinking some water but eschewing taking any more of the energy-inducing jellied sports beans that she clutched in a bag in her right hand throughout the race; she had complained of stomach unrest but fortunately not shown its effects in her steady smooth stride.

We passed by runners that I had noticed passing by me many minutes before Leah arrived at MP 19, where I jumped in with her, but there was no sight of the four-hour pace group which I had seen pass by eight minutes ahead of her.  Perhaps she couldn't break four hours today, I thought, but she was going to be close and establish a huge PR of forty or fifty minutes.  Still, I didn't know what her actual (chip) time for the race was, as I surmised that she had started many minutes late.

Leah faltered noticeably as we ran the last mile, dropping back twenty or thirty yards a few times due to obvious mind-numbing fatigue, and I had to circle back once or twice to get closer to her in support, but she revived the last half-mile due to her pure grit, and at the bottom of the final hill, with a quarter-mile to go, I dropped away.  She was greatly encouraged and uplifted at that point by running past a circle of cheering friends and, with this last bit of a little help from her friends, Leah toughed out the last steep incline and finished at . . . 3:59:05.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving

I woke up at 3 a.m. yesterday for my 7:25 a.m. flight and got up and went out for a 4-mile run, there wouldn't be time for it later.  It was a bracing (it was cold), slowish (I didn't want to stumble in the dark) jaunt around the 'hood and down the W&OD Trail to Arlington and back, a mind-clearing shamble and the full moon really helped with my mood and my seeing.

Two days earlier I had found a last-minute $118 round trip fare to Denver from National Airport; I had always heard fantastic bargains could be had if you had the nerve to wait until the eleventh hour and fifty-eighth minute, and now I'm a believer.  The flight was efficient, we were crammed in like sardines and we made DIA ahead of schedule, and I was at my sister's house before noon.

After I borrowed her car and went out to do some work, I returned and we had a delicious dinner she made of cod with cumin sauce, and we spent a nice evening together.  It's cold in Denver but that's not unusual, and snow is expected, which is also characteristic enough.

A traditional holiday fare at Buca di Beppo in Broomfield was found through the magic of Google (I typed in "Denver restaurants open Thanksgiving 2016" and found at least 28), and it's wonderful to be with family on this day of thanksgiving.  I would wish this for anyone.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

One year ago...

A year ago, as Thanksgiving approached, I had a chance encounter on a public street with the mother of my three children, none of whom has spoken to me, or any Lamberton, in over seven years. They were ripped away from us extra-judicially by their mother, Sharon Rogers Lightbourne, who engaged in parental alienation syndrome ("PAS") and overbore their wills as minors, given her dominant position with them in terms of time of physical custody, since the Plain-Jane visitation the court imposed gave them to her 81% of the time.

My lawyer wryly characterized the sexist attitude of the domestic law court in Virginia as Mother Knows Best.  Oh, the untold number of secret visits to psychologists my three sons were subjected to in those hours, unbeknownst to me, which induced in their juvenile brains a frenzy of excitement and side-taking as they were caught up in the adult drama of a couple splitting asunder, expensively and publicly (lotsa hearings, lotsa costs)!

When I encountered Sharon a year ago just before our national day of thanks, I asked her five questions about each child.  Is he alive?  Is he well?  Is he married?  Does he have children?  Where does he live?

I received in return only stony silence, a true glimpse into her cold, flinty heart, because those are things that any parent would tell the other parent, no matter what.  JJ&D, I'll have Thanksgiving dinner with your Aunt Melissa this year, give us a call or stop by, she's in the book.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

On to the infamous bridge

I jumped into the MCM at MP 19 when I spotted my running buddy Leah, she of the 4:51 PR, to pace her during her last 7 miles in her quixotic quest to break 4 hours with very minimal training. That would necessitate a 9:09 pace.

As I settled into running alongside Leah, I told her I was going to sprint ahead 50 yards so that I could get in front of her far enough to stop and turn and get an action shot of her running towards me that would "take" on a digital camera, and since she'd just run 19 miles, she shouldn't speed up to follow me.  She nodded in agreement and I ran ahead and turned, but as I brought my camera up she was still practically right behind me.  I got the shot but I thought to myself that she appeared fresh enough after 19 miles to be able to do a short burst of speed work, and I wondered just what her possibilities were for a 3:59 marathon.

In any case, I now started running alongside her and we conversed for two miles, and she discoursed readily enough and didn't seem either excessively fatigued or particularly out of breath.  We ran at what I thought were 9-minute miles and she kept up with me well enough, with me continuously going literally from side to side of the course to find a space to dart through clumps of runners, what I call sideways running on crowded courses, which seemed odd to be necessary at such a far distance from the start line.

The MCM is a huge race, with many scores of thousands of runners, but to still be sideways running twenty miles into a race suggested that for whatever reason, Leah was among the slowpokes of the race, because with the oddball exception of solitary runners blazing by us occasionally at a fast pace, we were steadily moving up amongst the racers and we steadily started passing runners I recognized as having passed by me while I waited for Leah before she came by.  We turned left at 14th Street and started over the long bridge over the Potomac, which represented a major uphill for the weary runners in their twentieth mile as the Pentagon on the Virginia shore comes into sight off to the right.  I now assumed a path breaking spot five yards in front of Leah and she doggedly followed wherever I went as we worked our way through runners at about a nine-minute pace, with me wondering how close she actually was to the magic four hour mark, knowing as I did that the four-hour pace group was still several minutes ahead of us.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Seven More Miles.

Early on the morning of the Marine Corps Marathon, I lay in bed figuring out what time my running buddy Leah might be passing by milepost 19 if everything went just right for her in her quest to break four hours.  That requires a 9:09 pace so I figured that nineteen 8:30 miles, if she passed the start line right when the race started at 8 a.m., would have her running by Seventh Street on Jefferson Avenue in the District on the Mall at the earliest at about 10:42 a.m.
At 10:35 that morning I was in running clothes at the agreed upon spot on the Mall at the nineteenth mile marker of the race, anxiously scanning the faces of an endless stream of runners going by.  It's hard to pick out an individual runner in such conditions because you can't stand in the roadway and let them stream around you, you have to pick one curb or the other and watch the entire street from the side.

The four hour pace group went by, a little clump of about thirty runners following two runners holding up signs saying 4:00.  No Leah, and as the minutes passed, I began to worry that I'd missed her.
It had been raining earlier but it was now dry and the day was heating up, with the temperature climbing through the fifties and the humidity starting to rise.  I discarded a cotton t-shirt I'd been wearing to keep warm while I waited but I was still overdressed with a long sleeve running shirt and a light vest.
About eight minutes after the four hour pace group went by I spotted Leah, running steadily at a good pace, by herself amongst a horde of runners.  She looked good for someone who had just run nineteen miles, but then she still had seven miles to go.

I jumped into the race and fell in beside her.  For me it was showtime, because for weeks at noon I'd been practicing running six-milers at what I perceived to be a nine-minute per mile pace.

I had practiced running fifty-four minute six-milers diligently because I sure didn't want to let Leah down and falter as the miles rolled by at a nine-minute pace and perhaps have to drop out earlier than at the last quarter-mile-to-go spot at the base of the last hill rising to the MCM finish line at the Iwo Jima statue in Arlington.  I lied a little to Leah right off the bat by telling her that the four-hour pace group was only about four minutes ahead of her, but she seemed completely uninterested in that and we didn't discuss it further.

I didn't want to discourage her by making it seem like the four-hour group was too far ahead to catch but she knew something that I didn't, that because of the crush of people at the start, she didn't even pass the start line until twenty minutes into the race.  And Leah knows that the steady pace wins the race.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Time for a change.

To my three sons, from your Dad.
At 12 noon on Veteran's Day I was at the Lost Dog Cafe in Westover for lunch, as is my custom on holidays, where I ordered an Italian pizza pie.  I ate it with pleasure and had plenty left over to take home.

I also ordered two beers.  I could have ordered one, or two, more if necessary.

It was a solitary lunch where I stared at an empty chair.  I actually didn't enjoy it all that much, although the pizza was delicious and my beer was refreshing.

Jimmy, Johnny and Danny, let's flip this decade-long attempt at making myself available to you on its ear.  Suppose you start going there to have lunch at noon on holidays, and maybe I'll come by and we can start catching up and making a new familial relationship a day at a time.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Leading up to the MCM.

The build up:  My running buddy Leah, she of the 4:51 marathon PR, wanted to break four hours at this year's MCM.  With eight weeks of training.

But do not believe that Leah cannot do what she sets out to do.  For long runs during those weeks I think she ran a 14, a 16, an 18, a 20 and a 14, and then she pretty much took the last three weeks off.

Resting her legs, she said, which indeed does have value when near a marathon.  She did run a six-miler with me early in the week leading up to it and I ran it hard, because I had been practicing my six-milers for weeks leading up to me jumping in with her during the last six miles of the marathon to help her out.

She had no problem keeping up, I was the one who had a problem keeping up with her.  We ran a slow three miler later in the week, and I told her to do a couple of fast miles on Friday and that I'd see her at MP 19 on Sunday.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

"It takes time to tell the Lord about her two sons in battle."

My Grandmother wrote a weekly column for the local newspaper in the small town in Minnesota where she lived.  During the early forties, everybody's young sons were overseas fighting either the Nazis or the Japanese empire, and both of Grandmother Gretch's two boys were so engaged, both Marines.  Each of them saw heavy, desperate action, and she occasionally recorded her thoughts or her fears for their safety in her otherwise light-hearted column.

Her oldest son, my uncle Harry, a teenager when he enlisted, was an officer commanding the anti-aircraft batteries aboard a heavy cruiser with Halsey's Fifth Fleet.  He earned the Bronze Star for meritorious service during a day of hellish combat of ships versus planes as he and a sister ship accompanied a gravely wounded aircraft carrier limping out of range of land-based aircraft at about three knots after a fast-carrier task force strike upon Tokyo the preceding day.  The rest of the fleet sailed out of harm's way during the night.

Her youngest son, my father, a teenager when he enlisted, was a radioman at two of the most ferocious land battles in the Pacific.  The brutality and bloodletting of the second one, Okinawa, is the reason why we dropped the atomic bomb on Japan to force it to surrender rather than face a projected million American casualties in an invasion of Japan.  He was 20 years old when the war ended, a wisp of a deadly fighting man who tipped the scales at 120 pounds.

Here's how Grandmother Gretch, a keen observer, described troubled people coming spontaneously into church on June 6, 1944 to pray for the safety of their loved ones, most of whom were barely out of their teens.  It starts off with her observation in the third person of an "older woman," who really was herself:

"Near us an older woman with a coat thrown over her house dress slipped to her knees and rested her head against the back of the next pew.  She knelt for a long time, oblivious of the hymn, and her body sagged a little.  It takes time to tell the Lord about her two sons in battle.

"Up ahead knelt a woman in a beautifully tailored suit and a hat that was perfection.  Her hands clapsed and unclasped, clapsed and unclasped through the whole service.  Her only son is in the thick of it.

"Two grave-faced fathers whose boys are in it, and dangerously, sat together and bowed their heads.  A couple whose only son has just left these shores sat anxious-faced, and when they rose to sing their hands touched when they held the hymn book together.

"A very young bride whose husband is in it came in with her face white and her eyes frightened.  Like a lost child she sat as close to her mother as she could.  On her feet were frivolous, high-heeled scarlet slippers that one felt she had worn to keep up her morale.  There is something very reassuring and gay about red slippers, even more so than a flowery new hat.  A girl in a shabby gray coat sat stiffly upright and kept ducking her head to wipe her eyes.  Both of her brothers are in Europe.

"Many people were there who had no sons in it, and they seemed anxious, compassionate.  It was as though they were humbly eager to do what they could by the comfort of their presence and their prayers.  A thing that shocked us was that we saw no young men between about 17 and 35.  How blessed a thing it will be to have them back."

By Gretchen Leicht Lamberton, excerpted from "D-Day",  appearing in Reflections and Recipes by the Casual Observer, Gretchen L. Lamberton, c1966 by the Leicht Press, Winona, Minnesota.

Monday, November 9, 2015

She wanted to break 4 hours, how?

A year ago my running buddy Leah had commanded me to run the last 6 miles of her 2015 Marine Corps Marathon ("MCM") with her, which I forgot about till she reminded me of her demand sometime earlier this fall.  I had forgotten about it because she really hadn't been training for a marathon, she only started to train seriously for it about eight weeks out.

She seemed to think she could go from a 4:51 marathon PR to a 3:59 marathon merely by wishing it.  But let me tell you something about Leah, she's incredible.

She's also fast, faster than me now, and steady too.  I taught her to crave hills on runs, and now she regularly smokes me on any uphill we find and take.

Of course I hate being showed up by a person I have been mentoring in running, but she is a determined, no-nonsense runner and she once told me, in the middle of last year's HM when she coldly went on ahead of me mid-race to finish four minutes ahead after we had supported each other for the entire first half, "I'm in it to win it."  I knew last month that she was thinking she could do a 3:59 marathon with inadequate training, and if she asked me to jump in and run with her to shepherd her home those last 6 miles at this year's MCM, well, I wasn't going to be the person who let her down and caused her to do a 4:01!

Sunday, November 8, 2015

The 4.01K Race.

Prudential put on a 4.01K race at RFK yesterday morning, a 2 1/2 mile romp around the parking lots at the stadium in essence.  It was designed to highlight the looming (or occurring) retirement crisis in America where nobody has enough money to be able to actually stop working, except maybe the one percenters.

It was free, and you could create a team.  I created a team called January Ninth, which refers to the last day of the federal leave year this year.  I even activated my race wrist band on-line and printed off my bar code to bring with me to the race check-in.

But it was raining yesterday morning, and no work running buddies were going to come anyway.  So I didn't drive all the way across town to go to the race site.

But I did design a 4.01K race course in my head that left from my driveway and finished there.  Actually, since I was now the race director of this alternate run, I took note of the rain and reduced the course from a 4.01K to a 2.005K course, or a hairsbreadth over 1.2 miles.  Choosing to lay out the course as my standard neighborhood mile with two extra blocks thrown in, I lined up in the rain and off I went.

I ran pretty hard, since I was cold and getting wet, and I got into the run and was working it, just like in the old days of the last decade.  Soon my breathing became less ragged, I was focusing on turnover and I reached the halfway point of my little 2.005K course at the point where my mile run intersects briefly with the W&OD Trail.

Why not make it the real race distance of about 2.5 miles, I thought.  The MP 7 marker was down the trail about a quarter mile, and if I went past it to MP 7.5, turned around that and came back to here, that would add the extra 1.2 miles I needed to turn my 1 1/4 mile run into a 2.5 mile run.  Obviously my math was fuzzy, since in actuality I was adding about 1.5 miles instead of the necessary 1.2 miles, but it made sense to me at the time as I was redesigning the course on the fly.

It felt good to be going down the trail at speed.  I felt like I was doing 8-minute miles, or more probably about 8:10s.

Soon I was turning around MP 7.5 and then I was approaching the spot again where I had mentally reconfigured the race course to make it the appropriate distance.  My time running seemed to belie the pace I thought I was running at, because I was taking too long to be at this late spot in the race, so I picked it up a little more.  Down the last long straight block I could see the finish line stretching across my driveway and I sprinted the last 100 yards to bring the race home in 24:52.

Hmm.  A 9:59 pace, if the course was truly 4.01K.  I know I ran way faster than that so I decided the course was long, way long.

What a clown the race director was, I thought, to lay out such an obviously long course.  But I was pleased with my first-place showing.  And don't you know, in this virtual race, I was also DFL!

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Or better yet, put it in a bottle for me.

My running buddy Leah had set her goal at a sub-4-hour marathon, which would be besting her PR by, oh, about 52 minutes.  All right then!

Twelve weeks before the event, the MCM, she wanted to do an 8-mile run at noontime on the Mall as she started to ramp up for it.  We couldn't finish the run and had to walk much of the seventh mile.  (Leah training for the MCM.)

This didn't bode to well for running a marathon in eleven weeks with plans to smash your PR by increasing your previous-best marathon pace by over 2 minutes per mile, but she did have some medical issues which were cleared up through the power of Western medical magic although she lost another couple of weeks of training while her RX took effect.  I want a bottle of those pills.

We still ran at work, our normal six miles, and she reported her weekend long runs to me, sometimes doing them with her husband who is faster than her.  Still, I was concerned about her ability to even finish the race without crashing and burning as her weekend long runs as the race approached went something like this towards the end--14 miles; 16 miles; 18 miles; 20 miles; 14 miles; 10 miles; race weekend.  (Leah at her pre-race dinner party at her house, an event for runners only and which doubled as her law school reunion.)