Monday, October 22, 2012

What's Next

Alright, I'm pretty far enough removed from the Long Beach Marathon that I can look at the future with anticipation once more. The scars are still there, but only if you push down deep enough. It's like a deep bone bruise at this point, nothing visible from the surface.

Anyway, I don't exactly have a lot on my race calendar which is a good thing really. Three runners from the 10s asked me to pace them at the Mission Inn Half Marathon in November. This is the same half marathon I swore I'd never run after the horrible experience last year (the course was 12.4 miles, one of many goofs). But I am willing to swallow my pride and run this race again if it means that I can pace these runners at Mission Inn. That's on Nov. 11, and will probably be my last race of 2012. There is one other possibility - the inaugural Loper Holiday Half on Dec. 2, but I may volunteer at the race again with Mrs. LB and the girls. We had a lot of fun volunteering last year and will have a lot of fun volunteering once more for the race.

Mostly, though, what I have in front of me is time. I have time to get back into it, time to shed some pounds and get into good running shape, to build up my midweek miles, to get some speedwork in, to become a stronger runner for the winter months, which will demand strength from me. I've been tracking my calories now for more than a week and so far so good. Plus I hit the gym for some lifting sessions. I'm not a fan of lifting but I need to have a strong core and be strong overall, and that means more gym time. It may eat into the time and energy I have to run but I think it is worth the sacrifice. Running four miles and getting in some core work and resistance training will do me more good than running seven miles and doing nothing else. At least, that's the way I look at it. The trick though is to get in my seven miles AND the cross training. That's what I'm going to try and build up to. I think I can do it.

So now that the race is in the past, I do think that I've been able to snap out of it and get back on the right track, which is a good thing because I need to learn from my mistakes and atone for them, and that's what I'm trying to do here and now.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Wrapping Up Long Beach

I haven't yet completely closed the book on the Long Beach Marathon. Well, there's one more post that I need to get out of the way - this one. Just wanted to shake out my final thoughts on the race, the event, the course, etc.

- I enjoyed the course. I liked starting on Shoreline Dr and running on a portion of a freeway with traffic shut down. The beach path was enjoyable enough, although it did seem like it went on quite a bit longer than I remembered that stretch in 2010. Once we came on the marathon/half marathon split, the course was still enjoyable enough, and running through Long Beach State was definitely a highlight. The course was mostly flat - there were a few inclines but it was 95 percent flat.

- What I didn't enjoy was the start time. Both the races started at 7 a.m., and that only harms the full marathoners. The sun come out and blaze overhead, and with a lot of marathoners were still on the course at noon it made for tough conditions. What I disliked as well was the finish line atmosphere. It was practically non-existent. I came in at about 12:15 or 12:30, and most of the crowds had cleared and a lot of the stands had already been taken down. It's not that I enjoy crowds but there was little vibe after the race. But that's understandable, since most of the half marathoners had finished their race by 10 a.m. By contrast, only the fast marathoners would have finished by then. A better solution might be to start the full marathon anywhere from 60-90 minutes earlier. Marathoners would probably be better with an earlier start time, accustomed to it anyway, and that way the finish would be much more festive for more runners.

- I was not thrilled with some of the aid stations. The volunteers were helpful enough but the water itself was... sigh. It tasted like tap water. As the sun was hot overhead, tap water was not exactly all that soothing.

- There were quite a few helpful residents/spectators handing out some really great stuff. My favorite - someone had a bowl of cooked potatoes with salt on them. This was at around Mile 25 and, man, did it hit the spot. I actually had passed it by, having tried to grab some but missed, and didn't want to stop, but the guy holding them ran in front of me and I was able to get some anyway. That was pretty awesome.

- Aside from their drinks and food and stuff, the spectators were superb down the stretch and really encouraging. One guy in particular stood out. I'd remembered seeing him early on in the race as he was running shirtless and was covered in tattoos. Combined with a thick beard he stood out. He'd had his shirt on, as well as a medal, and was walking down the middle of the street, probably about a half-mile from the finish. I don't know, just hearing him encourage me and tell me that the worst was over, it just really comforted me and helped give me the boost I needed.

- One funny thing, as Danny had joined me at Mile 20, we did look like an odd couple. Danny was fresh of course and I was a broken-down runner. So when people congratulated us or tried to give us high gives, I welcomed them while he was a bit sheepish. One lady in particular was funny. It was around Mile 22 and she was encouraging runners. She pointed to him and said 'You're looking good!' Um... yeah, it's because he'd only run two miles to my 22.

- Pictures! I have some pictures to share. Dang, so I guess that means I'm not quite done with Long Beach. Ugh. Oh well. I'll put them up later this week.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

A Focused Response

It's not about what happened Sunday.

As poorly as I ran the Long Beach Marathon and as tough it was on me mentally and physically, it's not about that anymore. What matters, what is most important now, is how I respond.

I had the worst experience I've had in any race I've run on Sunday. I was done, gassed, toast, out of energy, wiped out before I got to Mile 15. I somehow trudged forward and made it to Mile 20 and then, with the help of my brother Danny, plugged along until the finish.

While there are some positives to take away from that, what matters more is my approach now and in the days and weeks to come.

I cannot linger on Sunday. I cannot continue to think about all the mistakes I made, both in training and on race day itself. I can't. I'm better than that. I have to move my gaze forward, have to look ahead and not back, and if I look back it's only to prod myself to look forward and focus on what's to come.

I'm not done running marathons, not by a long shot. I'm going to keep running 26.2-milers; how frequently, I don't know, but I'm going to be back out there conquering the distance again. And if I want to do it the right way, I have to respond the right way, and train the right way.

The details are, for the purposes of this post, insignificant. I've thought about how to approach my runs, my exercises and workouts and my overall training regimen, but those details are for another blog post on another day.

Honestly, what I need more than a training plan is focus and a strong determined mindset. The best training plan will fail if the approach is not proper. That goes for professional teams, and it goes for marathoners such as myself.

I've done it before, many times before. I know what it takes to get things done. And I also know what happens when I take half-hearted approaches. I now know what happens too when poor training is mixed with a poor race plan, and I don't want to experience that again.

I need a little bit of the 2008 LB. I was determined, focused, motivated. It's not that I'm not those things anymore, but my outlook on things is different. In some ways, it's natural that it's that way. After all, in 2008 I'd never run anything, at least going into that year. But in 2008 I ran my first 5K, my first Mud Run and my first 10K. Everything was new to me and I had to forge a new outlook on things. That sense of accomplishing things for the first time was what drove me then, and now that I've run marathons and half marathons, have run countless runs of 10-plus miles, that outlook no longer exists.

It's cliche and everything, but it really is harder to stay on top than it is to get there. I'm not on top necessarily, but it is harder to stay at this level I'm at, of running marathons and maintaining a healthy lifestyle, is much more difficult to keep than it was to attain. That has to change. I cannot be satisfied with anything anymore. I have to keep pushing, keep fighting, keep proving myself.

The first obstacle was this post-marathon recovery period. Physically, it was no different than other marathons but mentally it was unique. I felt utterly disappointed with myself, and that's not something I've felt before. I felt embarrassed and ashamed, felt like I let a lot of people down. But what I realize now is that the only way to atone for myself, to make things right, is by my response.

I'm ready for the challenge. Today is the first day in a long time where I feel energetic about my approach to my training. I'm regaining some of those empowering feelings I felt throughout my weight-loss journey and along the path towards my first marathon. It took a horrendous marathon experience to snap me out of it but I do feel much more stronger now than I did just one week ago.

I'm refreshed. I'm refocused and recharged. I'm ready for the challenge.

Nothing is going to stop me.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Long Beach Marathon: A Most Trying 26.2

With achy feet and pained steps, I trudged along. The course demanded as such. I was more than 19 miles into the Long Beach Marathon, and for the last four-plus miles I'd suffered. Fatigue had long set in, and my body was delving deeper into the depths of exhaustion. I yearned for one thing, and when I saw a familiar face approaching me as I slogged forward, I demanded it.

"I need to lie down," I told my brother Danny, who'd agreed to run the last six miles with me. One way or another, I was going to onto the ground. Instead of fate choosing when I'd hit the ground, I opted for this method.

Danny grabbed my hand, helped ease my stiff body onto a slope of grass. As if it were a hammock on a beach, I lay down, closed my eyes, breathed audibly and wondered how I'd gotten to this point.

Much earlier that morning, I had my first ominous sign, although I didn't quite see it that way. I woke up in an unfamiliar room - Danny's living room - saw that it was still dark outside and checked the time. It was 5:40 a.m., a full 40 minutes after I'd intended to wake up. My alarm had failed me, but I was not worried. Close to the start line, I simply got up, got dressed and headed out towards Long Beach.

After parking and finding my way to the start area, I found my friend Kuuipo. We'd trained for this day together, had run 22 and 21 miles together and figured it would be fitting to at least start the race together.

Soon after 7 a.m., we took off. We started fast. I knew better, had warned myself not to, but we got caught up in the excitement of the day. And we were feeling quite strong. Our bodies had responded well in the early going. Our first four miles were each under nine minutes and I was surprised. My legs churned and responded while my body felt no worse for the wear.

We completed our first six miles in under an hour and shaved off some time from the LA Marathon, when Kuuipo and two other running friends had set out on our journey together in March. Kuuipo had wanted to PR and I was game.

The course had taken us out on a wide road, back up on a freeway, around some smaller side streets and out onto a paved beach path. Waves splashed quietly yet forcefully onto an empty beach and a pungent fish odor permeated our path.

Back on city streets at Mile 10, the course quickly split off. The half marathoners had gone in towards the finish line while the full marathoners were only started their path to glory. Around Mile 12, I started feeling something. I was not wearing a Garmin so I was not aware of our pace, but I didn't need a watch to tell me that I was getting tired. I tried to shake it off but my pace was slowing. I was starting to fade.

Worried, I hoped that more water or Gatorade would help, but any nutrients I put in my body were not able to combat that feeling.

Some of the pacers began to fly by. First, the 4:00 pacer, then the 4:15 pacer a little after. I was indeed fading but we were not quite yet at Mile 14 and I was confident that once I got to 20 and once I got to run with Danny that my mind would forget about the pain, mostly, and I'd be able to finish strong. Tiredness led to more tiredness, sore and fatigued muscles taking their toll on me. Soon, Kuuipo was far up ahead and was stopping in order to wait for me. After one corner, she continued and I stopped. I needed a break while she trudged along on her own.

I was at Mile 15 of a marathon, typically a point where I'm still feeling strong, still feeling energy, and yet I was out of gas. Sunny skies overhead and little breeze only added to my quandary but I was done.

I texted my brother, and told him I was fading. I sent the same message to Mrs. LB. Right away, the phone rang. I'd just started listening to music but a conversation was much more preferable. Mrs. LB talked me off the ledge. But my body was only getting worse, the sun overhead only growing more ominous. I walked more than I ran, had to, my body demanded it.

My head was light. I felt woozy. The thought of laying down was at first comforting, then a bit more than that. My body demanded that too, so when I finally met up with Danny, I succumbed.

After a couple of minutes of glorious rest, Danny helped me to my feet. I took a few deep breaths, and then we were off. I half-expected to fall face first onto the asphalt, but surprisingly I felt strong. Maybe not 100 percent but enough to move along the course at a decent rate of speed. More importantly, though, my body was okay with running long stretches of time. In the blink of an eye, we'd reached the Mile 21 marker. We walked a minute and then got right back at it. Between Mile 20 and 21 was the longest stretch I'd run since Mile 13. I took that as a good sign.

After Mile 22, we walked again, but I skipped the walk break at Mile 23. Once we got to Mile 24, my body started to protest once more. I took another break at Mile 25 and then tried to dig deep and find some juice for the last mile. Instead, I pulled out a potentially damaging feeling. My left calf sent a few shots of pain through my leg, and did so loud enough that I had to stop. I let the pain subside and ran again, but again had to stop. This time I stretched it out, at Danny's behest, and then got back on the course. The calf felt much better, but my mind was starting to ache. Mile 26 had to be somewhere up ahead. We'd been on this street far too long and had not been rewarded quite yet with the final mile marker.

With my body breaking down, my mind throbbing, my confidence and self-esteem strewn across Miles 15-20, I was finally rewarded with the final mile marker. Danny ran up ahead to snap some pictures of me as I trudged along the final steps of this marathon-turned-death-march.

I was not in the mood to celebrate, not in the mood to share this experience with anyone but I extended my arms to the side as I approached the finish line nevertheless. Whether it was an enjoyable experience or not, I'd done it. I'd run my eighth marathon. It had taken me 5 hours 10 minutes 34 seconds to do so, but it was done and I had a medal around my neck to prove it.

And one day, I thought, that medal might mean something to me.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Long Beach Survival

Well, I survived. That's the best thing to come out of Sunday's Long Beach Marathon. That, and the medal.

I was hoping to run a strong race, to feel good at the end and to enjoy the day. Instead, I made quite a few mistakes and paid the price.

My finish time: 5:10:34. It's easily the slowest of my marathons. Everything seemed to fall apart after the halfway mark. I ran much too fast in the early going, as I was at the halfway point in 2:02:19. Simple math tells you that it took me more than three hours to finish the second half.

I'm not quite ready to re-visit the whole race so I'm not quite ready to write the race recap, but I will give some of the lowlights highlights of the race:

- I suffered. The biggest problem wasn't necessarily physically... well, muscular I guess you could say. It wasn't that I wasn't pushing myself or that I wasn't running hard because it was too hard. My head felt off. I felt woozy, lightheaded. And I felt that way around Mile 15. I just felt off.

- Like I said, I started too fast. I was on pace for a 4:04 finish, and even by allowing for some slowdown in the second half, I was on pace to threaten my PR. Given that I was under-trained for the race, that was a mistake. I should have gone out conservatively but I met up with a friend before the race and we went with it, ran hard and fast and were pretty happy with ourselves early on. It wasn't meant to be.

- Between Miles 15-20, I walked a lot. Felt like I had to or else my head would get worse. I also talked to Mrs. LB and my brother Danny, who was at Mile 20 set to pace me the last six miles.

- Once I saw Danny, right before the Mile 20 marker, I laid down. Had to. He was ready to run but the first thing I said to him was "I need to lay down." He helped me down onto a patch of grass and I laid there for about two minutes. It was such a relief to do that and when I got up I felt... better isn't the right word... not as bad. I don't know how I was able to do it but I ran most of the rest of the way. I suppose "running" doesn't properly describe it but I was moving forward at a slow rate of speed. I guess I was making up some ground since Danny said that, around Mile 24 or 25, that I was catching up some of the people who he'd seen go by when he was waiting for me. I walked between 20 and the finish of course, but I did so at Mile 21, 22, 24, 25 and 25.5 (when my calf started to protest). Not bad considering I couldn't get through one mile between 15-20 without walking multiple times.

- I felt bad afterward, not the normal I-just-ran-a-marathon-so-my-body-feels-bad bad but a wow-I'm-kinda-embarrassed-with-myself bad. It's taken some time to shake it off, well, haven't shaken it off yet, but I'm going to use this as a learning experience. I have to take pride in the medal, have to take pride in how I did the last six miles, and have to take pride in the fact that I know I will be out there again, conquering the 26.2. That's the great thing about running, there is always a chance for redemption. Always. Maybe I won't redeem myself at Long Beach (part of the problem with this whole race was training for it in the summer heat) but I will redeem myself at the distance. I know that. I guarantee that. This experience ruined the day for me but it won't ruin more days (well, maybe Monday and Tuesday of this week but hopefully not much more beyond that). I can and will learn from this and will come back a stronger person because of it.

- Props to my brother Danny. I can tell you with near certainty that I would not have made it without him. I convinced him to pace me down the stretch, partly because I thought I'd need it (didn't think I'd need it as bad as I did) and partly because I wanted him to experience the final of a marathon. He's the athlete of the family but not a runner. I think it would be fun for him to run a marathon one day. He's busy swimming these days, he took classes and now swims like a fish apparently, so perhaps he'll tackle a triathlon. I'd definitely go out and support him during a triathlon, whether it's to act as his support crew or just to cheer him on. I think that would be exciting.

- I guess the one thing that will stand out for me is that I persevered. I made a lot of mistakes before the race and during the race itself but I made it to the finish. I was cautious when I needed to be, focused on my well-being instead of my time and finished not strong but in better shape than when I was halfway in.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Three Things Thursday: Long Beach Marathon Edition

I have a marathon on Sunday so why not dedicate an entire Three Things Thursday post to it?

1. Race Build-up: Well, it's almost here. And yes, it does feel like I'm running a marathon the weekend. I know eight isn't a ton of marathons but still this isn't my first pony ride, so you'd think by now I'd have developed some things that worked to keep me from feeling anxious or nervous about a marathon. Alas, I'm quite anxious now just a few days away. It's funny though because I know that I'm going to finish the marathon. I know that like I know the sun is coming up tomorrow morning. And yet, I've still got these feelings. Oh well. Physically I feel fine. My foot is still bothering me here and there but not enough to prevent me from running the race or even changing much up. It's mostly a post-run issue. I've unfortunately not been able to run long since my 20-miler so I am kind of worried that will have a negative effect on the race but again not enough to keep me from finishing the race. I know I'm going to finish. There's no way I'm not.

2. Race Strategy: So how will I finish this race? In one piece, hopefully. I want to finish strong. I'll have my brother Danny pacing me down the stretch so that will help, but I will still have to run the miles. Can't get around that. My plan though is for him to keep a 10-minute mile, hopefully a little faster, and for me to just follow along. I want to get into position to run at that pace over the last six miles so taking care of myself the first 20 miles will be important. I don't want to burn out physically or emotionally by, say, Mile 15. I just have to be smart the first few miles, get into a groove and stay there, fend off any mental demons and get to 20 in one piece. If I do that, I'll be fine.

3. Race Goals: My first and foremost goal is to finish. If I'm not going to enjoy my accomplishment then why bother going? I don't want to spend all this time and effort into something and then not enjoy it by setting up and then failing to meet a goal time that may have been too ambitious or unrealistic? I won't, refuse to. Still, there needs to be some sort of time goal I think, to keep me honest. I want to finish in under 4:30. If I do that I'll be happy. I don't think I can PR (4:23:12 is my current PR) but I do think I can run it in under 4:30 - the course is super flat and no issues with the weather either (at least I hope not). If I can get under 4:30 I'll be happy. If I don't, well guess what - I'll add another medal to my medal rack, and that is never a bad thing.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Brotherly Help

I've had quite a bit of memorable experiences throughout my marathons. I would list some of the highlights but this post would be eaten by them, so I will leave it at that.

However, there will be a new experience this Sunday, when I run my eighth marathon. My brother Danny will run the last 6.2 miles with me when I conquer the Long Beach Marathon. I asked him a while ago to pace me down the stretch, not really expecting him to agree but knowing how competitive he is, figured it was worth asking.

And he agreed.

If you are a longtime reader of this blog, you might remember Danny from our little race a few years back. Danny, you see, is the more athletic of the two of us. I will readily admit that. But he is not into running the way I am. He's run some 10Ks and was the one who helped spark my interest in running and helped get me into running in the first place. After I'd dropped my weight, he suggested we run the Camp Pendleton Mud Run in Oct 2008 and the rest is history.

Anyway, he doesn't live too far from Long Beach (I'm staying at his house on Saturday night) and will get down to the 20-mile mark on Sunday morning and we'll run the rest of the race together.

I think this will be fun. Typically, I've struggled to keep it together mentally from about Mile 22ish to Mile 25, maybe not all those miles and maybe not in all races but certainly there have been moments in most of my marathons where I've either questioned my sanity, questioned my ability to finish, cursed myself for wanting to run marathons, regretted my decision to run the race or had some other disparaging thought cross my mind, and that has all come in the 22ish-25 mile range. Once I hit the Mile 25 marker, usually I'm good to go because the finish line is right before me.

So this is where Danny can come in and play the hero. I'm hoping that by having him along for the ride, my mind will be taken off my rapidly-deteriorating body and onto other things. Danny, if you don't know, has traveled all across the world, has visited every continent save for Antarctica... hell, he's been to the Galapagos Islands for cryin' out loud, so I'm hoping to hear some of the travel stories I've not heard, or possibly finally hear from him how much he admires me and how jealous he is that I am the stud of the family and he's second fiddle - I drink his milkshake (bonus points if you get this reference, dear reader).

So in some ways on Sunday I'm looking at it as a 20-mile warm-up run before a 10K with my brother. And things could be much worse, right?

Monday, October 1, 2012

Ambassador Once More

I never thought it was in the bag. Having been part of the San Francisco Marathon's Ambassador team for the 2012 event, I did not feel as if I was going to be picked once more based solely on the basis of that.

So when Monday came and with it the pending announcement that the 2012-13 Ambassador team, I was nervous.

Maybe I hadn't done enough as an Ambassador to merit selection. Maybe there were many more worthy candidates. Perhaps I wasn't Ambassador material this time around. Or maybe they just wanted fresh blood.

Nerves turned into doubt, and eventually I got the email I'd been waiting for.

All those doubts were for nothing. I was indeed chosen to represent the San Francisco Marathon once more.


Here's the official announcement. You'll see my name among the masses. There were 40 Ambassadors selected - 40! - as there were apparently quite a few applicants who were fighting to be involved in the program. I honestly feel humbled and quite proud that my application and my accomplishments stood out from the crowd.

I'm quite looking forward for the event. Yes, it's a ways away but it's not as far away as it could have been. Next year's race will be on June 16, which means my last long run will be on Memorial Day weekend. As of now, I plan on the San Francisco Marathon being my fourth marathon of 2013 which would make it my 12th marathon overall. Wow, how exciting is that??

Anyway, before I get ahead of myself, wanted to let this moment soak in. Gonna revel in this excitement for a little bit before the reality of Sunday hits me. This weekend I will run marathon no. 8, the Long Beach Marathon.

And the best part of that is that I will do so as an official San Francisco Marathon Ambassador.