Tuesday, December 07, 2004

26.2 Miles To Go

The start, even though there is no pushing to get across the line, is still dense with runners. For the first quarter mile, I'm dodging other runners -- mostly passing them though some, like me, are moving into positions ahead of where we started. The first couple of miles are just some gentle hills. Similar to what I've been training on in Overland Park. I clock the first mile at about 8:40.

By now there is sufficient room to maneuver around runners and I accelerate slightly. My legs feel great and I'm into a good rhythm -- and I don't feel like I'm going too fast. At mile 2 I clock 16:50 -- I'm now at an 8:10 pace. It feels great to me. Of course that won't get me to Boston. For my age, I would need to run 8:00/mile through the entire marathon to qualify (under 3:30:00). As I don't foresee speeding up much, and I'm pretty sure I'm going to be slowing down towards the end, I immediately see my first marathon will not be a qualifying run for Boston (boo hoo -- the important thing is to finish and to feel good -- and under 4 hours would be great).

For the next several miles I even speed up slightly to about an 8:00/mile pace, then slow down slightly again. At mile 13, halfway through the marathon, I clock 1:48:15 -- an average pace of 8:15. Only 3:15 over the Boston qualifying pace. If I were to keep that pace up in the second half, I would complete the course in 3:36:30. But I already know that is not going to happen. I'm beginning to slow down a little bit more. First to an 8:30 pace, then eventually a 9:00/mile pace. But I'm still moving steadily through the race. One by one I pass other runners. The very short woman who seems to be taking 2 steps for every one of mine, and breathing almost that much faster than me as well. I can't believe she can keep that up for an entire marathon. She passes me again, and several minutes later I pass her once more. The tall gray-haired man with "Jim" on his shirt. Make a note to get a name printed on a shirt -- all the spectators are yelling "Go Jim!". The "red shirt/black shorts" I've been following since the first mile. Can't seem to catch up to her, but I stay within eye contact.

By mile 17 or 18 my calves are starting to ache, and by mile 19 my feet hurt as well. The calf pain I'm used to from my long runs, but the foot pain is probably related to my high mileage shoes. Guess I should have gotten the new ones last month and broken them in for the race. Next time. This time I don't care if I get a stress fracture -- I just put it out of my mind. Which is easy because the pain is building everywhere else.

Just before mile 20 we have to run an out-and-back section of the course. They added it to the course when they moved the finish line from the El Conquistador hotel to the Hanley business park -- which thankfully means there is no more uphill finish. But it's still a goofy section of the course and nobody likes watching runners passing them going in the opposite direction. Just before we turn around on the out-and-back section, we hit mile 20. I clock 2:50:00. I've run 20 miles at an 8:30 pace. This time is 30 minutes faster than my best long (20-mile) run. I am also getting seriously tired and can feel myself really slowing down. But I figure I've only got 6 miles and some change to go. Even at a 10:00/mile pace I will comfortably finish under 4 hours. I'm wondering if this is what it feels like to "hit the wall". I'm really feeling exhausted now, but I continue pushing on. I finally pass "red shirt/black shorts". She's looking quite tired as well. I continue at what feels like an 11:00 or 12:00 minute pace for the next couple of miles. They were probably closer to 10:00 miles, they just felt really tough.

Then it happened. My right calf cramped, followed immediately by a muscle in my right foot. I had to stop to stretch the muscles back out, walked a few steps, then resumed running. Wow, that's the first time I've had a leg cramp while I was running. A little while later the left calf cramped. Again I had to stop and stretch it out then continue on again. Each mile seemed to take longer and longer to complete. Then the leg cramps started coming closer and closer together. By mile 25, from all the stopping to stretch out the cramps, "red shirt/black shorts" passed me, "Jim" passed me, and then "short woman breathing fast" passed me. There was absolutely nothing I could do about the cramps. I would run about 100 feet and they would cramp up, making it impossible to continue running without stretching them out. At this point I'm no longer sure I'm going to even get under 4 hours.

In the last mile, as I pass the official photographers, I try to run through the cramping. Those pictures will probably be really interesting! As I run into the Hanley business park, with spectators everywhere cheering, I have to stop and stretch out the cramps about every 50 feet -- including 50 feet from the finish line. As I'm standing, trying to walk as I stretch out the debilitating cramps, I hear my name announced "Kurt Winikka from Overland Park Kansas!" I make a valiant effort to run the last 50 feet and as I reach the finish line I hear and then see my sister-in-law Barbara and her friend cheering me on. As I cross the finish line I stop my timer.

My official chip time is 4:00:01.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Race Day!

It's 4:00 am and I'm up getting dressed for my marathon. I eat a Clif bar, start drinking water, and take my vitamins (don't want to be deficient in anything). I've got my drop bag packed with Gatorade, a power bar, my Clif Shots (energy gels), sunglasses and my old socks. As we step out the door, a huge sigh of relief -- stars! No rain, only a few clouds. And it's 44 degrees in Tucson. Of course, as we start driving North, the temperature starts dropping, and it's 37 degrees at the marathon bus pickup area.

I get a great parking location -- within about 50 meters of the finish line (who wants to walk very far after this kind of race). The buses are loaded and we are heading North toward Oracle. Voices are somewhat subdued. Marathoners sharing previous experiences from around the country. (Have you done Chicago? New York? Have you qualified for Boston?) I listen in on bits of their conversations as I choke down my Power Bar and one of my Gatorades (then no more liquid until just before the start). I'm not a member of this somewhat exclusive group of people who have run 26.2 miles -- yet.

As we reach the starting line, some of us opt to immediately get off the bus and get in line for the "porto-johns". The rest stay on the buses to remain warm. I take the early morning bowel movement as a good sign and spend the rest of the time until the start relaxing and gently stretching. The old socks are working sufficiently to keep my hands warm.

With about five minutes to go until the start, I shed my jacket and warm-up pants, stuff them in my drop bag, grab my remaining Gatorade and hand the drop bag to a volunteer on one of the buses. As I'm downing the Gatorade I realize I've left one of the old socks in my jacket pocket. It's on the bus now. Oh well. I move up to a position about three-quarters of the way back in the pack and wait for the start. We're all wearing timing chips on our shoes so I'm not worried about crossing the starting line immediately at the gun. The race begins and for more than a minute, I'm just walking toward the starting line. As I hit the timing pad on the line I start my own timer.

Rain - *%!$

Saturday afternoon and it's been raining most of the day here in Tucson. Dropped my parents off at the airport early in the morning, then hit the Cracker Barrel for a stack of pancakes before heading down to Tucson. Driving into Tucson I could see the rain moving in. I went straight to the Marathon Expo to pick up my packet and check out the swag. As I was leaving a light sprinkling of rain was starting. Since I wanted to get in a 2-mile jog to loosen up, I headed over to the finish line, changed in the car, and started jogging back along the marathon course. The light sprinkle of rain was becoming more consistent. When I turned around at about 1 mile to head back to the finish line I realized there was also a bit of a stiff breeze. I was now running into a headwind, in a light rain -- and I was cold. This was not supposed to be.

I have had very good luck regarding weather and my training. Extraordinary luck actually. In 18 weeks of preparation, maybe twice I had to run outside in a very light drizzle, and only once in a steady rain. Even when I went to Seattle and Vancouver for a week, every day I was scheduled to run, the weather was great; then it would rain on my days off! My sister Beth in Seattle said,"You know what that means, don't you? You're going to have perfect weather up until the marathon, then it's going to rain on the day of the race."

The week before the race I began watching the weather for Tucson. I didn't like what I saw. Sunny, sunny, sunny, sunny, rain, sunny, sunny, ... Yeah, rain on Sunday. But on Friday, the prediction changed to partly cloudy through the weekend. I was feeling a lot better about this.

And here it is on Saturday and it's raining. All day long. Since it is Tucson, I went with my in-laws to Eegee's for lunch.

Then I realize I forgot to bring my running gloves. You know the ones. That old dirty pair I've been running in for a couple years, wiping snot on them on those cold morning runs. The ones you wear for the beginning of the race, then throw away at one of the early water stations after you don't need them anymore. Wish I had picked up a pair at the Expo, they were only $2. But now I'm driving around Tucson to all the running stores, and all they sell are $5 to $15 (plus) running gloves. No way. Backup plan -- I've got an old pair of socks that I ran in this morning. They'll work.

I'm spending the night at my sister-in-laws house since she's doing the half marathon and we'll drive out together. After a light pasta dinner, I get my stuff ready to go in the morning. It will be an early morning. We've got to get to the buses around 5:00am and I'll have to drop her off at the half marathon pickup area, then go park at the marathon pickup area for my bus. The weather forecast for Sunday says clearing in the early morning, then rain developing later in the day. There is hope. I get a pretty good night's sleep. I'm glad I couldn't hear the raindrops still falling into the night.

Friday, December 03, 2004

The injury

I've known several people who have trained for and run a marathon. All of them developed injuries at some point during their training. It was the thing I feared the most. My objective at the beginning of the year was to lose weight, and to be a physically fit as possible. Once I determined I had lost enough weight to train seriously for a marathon, that goal became my major focus. If I were to become injured, it probably would have led to some amount of depression. But I did everything right.

Early in the year, I cross-trained extensively. Three days a week I would use a stair-climber and a rowing machine (after warming up with a 1 mile jog). Three days a week I would do a modified circuit training cycle. Again, I would warm up with a 1 mile jog, then alternate sets of weights with 0.1 mile jogs. I would finish with a 1 mile cool down. I lost weight. I gained strength.

Mid-year I branched out. I began cycling and occasionally swimming. I trained for and competed in the Kansas City Corporate Challenge triathlon. It was a sprint-distance tri (1/3 mile swim, 9 mile bike, 2.5 mile run). I was running faster and farther.

In August I decided to begin the training for the marathon. The weekend long runs started getting longer. From 8 to 10 to 12. I decided that once I had run a 14 mile long run, I would register for the marathon. Then came the 16, the 18, and finally three 20 mile runs. At each new distance, as I finished I would realize that, yeah, I could do a couple more miles next time. And each time it got easier.

Early in the schedule I did strength training. I ran hills. I continued to do some circuit training (though I would taper that off eventually). After the strength training, I began doing interval workouts at the local high school on Tuesday nights (typically 8 X 800 meter intervals with 400 meter recovery jogs). But I became paranoid that I would injure myself somehow.

Every pain in my foot would be carefully considered, and massaged. I did ice baths after some of my long runs (it really does work!). Until November 16th, the worst I could complain of was that bane of male distance runners -- bleeding nipples (it really, really stings).

Then it happened. Tuesday night interval workout. Two mile warm-up, 8 X 800 intervals, feeling good, I'm on my 2 mile cool-down. As I'm running back to the old van it's night but street lamps illuminate the street and the sidewalk I'm running on. It is unusually warm for Kansas City in mid-November.

I feel my left foot catch on a discontinuity in the sidewalk. Even as I realize I've lost my balance, I realize also that I'm going down. In the brief moment I am airborne, I instinctively turn my body to the side, hoping I can roll with the fall. No such luck on the abrasive concrete. My left shoulder hits first followed immediately by my elbow, left knee and right palm. Then my face hits the concrete.

I roll over onto the grass, hand to my left cheek bone from where most of the pain is emanating. My first thought is "NO! Not this close to the marathon!". I slowly realize nothing is broken or even seriously strained, but I sit there in the grass for several minutes. A woman walking her dog runs over to see if I'm all right. "That was a terrible fall! Do you need anything?". I assure her that I am OK. I rise, begin walking, then slowly jogging back to the van.

Back home I look the injuries over. My face is swelling, my knee is scraped, and my left shoulder looks like a bloody mess. After cleaning the wounds and icing my face for at least an hour, I gingerly ease into bed. It is difficult to get comfortable. I take the next day off from running.

On Thursday I'm scheduled for a tempo run. I feel good enough, but the weather is not so nice so I do the workout on a treadmill. After I'm warmed up I start cranking up the speed. Two minutes into the 7:30 pace my breathing becomes heavy and I become aware of a serious pain in my side. It took two days for me to become aware of the bruised rib I'd received in the fall (presumably from my left arm tucked up against my side when I hit the sidewalk). I can't breath heavily without pain. This is a problem. I compensate for the duration of the workout with faster shallower breathing.

I do an easy run on Friday and take Saturday off. On Sunday I've got a 14 mile run scheduled. By mile 9 or 10, again my ribs are aching. I decide I need two days off -- Monday and Tuesday -- skipping my last interval workout. My plan is to do an easy workout on Wednesday, then a 5K on Thanksgiving.

Wednesday morning we wake up to 7 inches of snow on the ground. OK, three days off will probably do me some good. I'm supposed to be tapering anyway.

Thanksgiving is just too harried. I've taken off four days now. I replan the remainder of my schedule. Friday, I warm up and then do a 5K time trial. I feel only a little sluggish and manage about 7:40 per mile over a hilly 5K course through the neighborhood. Most importantly, though, the pain in my ribs is gone. With relief I run an easy 4 on Saturday, having to hold myself back, and 10 on Sunday, allowing myself a little faster pace.

With a rest day on Monday, a short set of intervals on Tuesday, and an easy 3 on Wednesday, I feel ready to go. Wednesday night I flew to Phoenix to spend a couple days at my parents house. No running Thursday and Friday. On Saturday I'll drive down to Tucson, pick up my packet and jog about 2 miles just to stay loose. I'd like to jog the last mile of the marathon course.

Eighteen weeks of intense training and preparation. One injury, only temporary damage. Ready to go.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Why run a marathon?

Good question. Why would someone voluntarily run 26 miles, 385 yards?

First of all, you have to love running. Running is so much more than the simple act itself. Running is self-improvement. Teaching my body to do new things. Running fast. Running far. Racing. Jogging.

But running can also be meditation. A long run forces you to be in a certain mindset for an hour, or two, or three.

Running is freedom. Like in the movie "The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner". He's not really lonely when he's running (he's lonely when he's around people who want to use him), but he feels the exhilaration of running.

Running is a connection to the earth. Our feet dance along trails and we celebrate our body's physical connection to the ground. No treadmills! I sing the body running.

Running can give you insight into problems. It's not that you run away from problems -- running to escape reality. Running gives you perspective. It clears your mind. Enables you to see things in a new light. I love the time immediately after a good run, as I walk around the neighborhood and stretch a bit. My mind just seems more open to new ideas.

I love running for all these reasons. But it has also been the reward for a year's worth of diligent work at losing weight. Those who know me know how much weight I have lost this year. This marathon is the cherry on top.

Cool shades

Well, I was pretty bummed several weeks ago when I discovered my sunglasses were broken. I had bought the pair of Ironman shades at a Target department store in Phoenix AZ several years ago. They've been through a lot. The mirror-shaded wrap-around lenses worked very well for running, cycling and driving. But three weeks ago I discovered the frame had cracked and broken completely through. I knew I would need new shades for the run this Sunday, but hadn't had a need to buy them immediately (my long runs have been pre-dawn, my track workouts have been in the evenings, and sometimes I'd run at the fitness center at work). I haven't had a real need for new shades until now.

Kudos to Sports Authority. I was checking out their sunglasses and wasn't too keen on the new Ironman wrap-around (kind of big). But the Bolle's! I figured way too expensive. The associate told me the Bolle's were going to be on Sale this weekend -- 50% off. When I asked when that started she told me Sunday. "Too late for me" I told her, "I need them Sunday morning -- I'm running the Tucson Marathon." She hardly hesitated to offer them to me right then at the discount price.

I'll be sporting a wicked pair of red Bolle shades for that marathon finish photo-op!

Fast and far?

That's the plan anyway. Sunday, December 5th, 7:30am, I start running the Tucson Marathon. This is my first marathon and my first run of more than 20 miles. Am I ready? I believe I am. I trained for 18 weeks, and built up to three 20-mile long runs. I know I can finish this thing. The question is "How fast?". I will consider anything under 4 hours to be a good race (considering how far I've come personally this year).

What am I doing now? Resting. And drinking lots of fluids. And getting my carbs (pancakes for breakfast this morning). I've also boosted my vitamin intake this week (Multi, C, E and Omega-3).

More later today.