12 June 2010


OK, so if I don't run a lot, it won't take much to get a "personal record"!

One year after running my first 5k race, I ran the same event again this morning.Last year, my time surprised many people, myself not the least, since I had never run an organized event before. Apparently 24:05 was noteworthy, and ... well, I guess I became committed to running as cross-training.

The return to Run for the STARS had a sense of competition for me. I've now run enough to have a log of distances and times, and most of my running is either 5k or 5 miles. So, I have some sense of what I could do at this race. I would not be on the podium - my age bracket is very competitive, and this race is growing. But could I shave my time? Cut it?

Adding to the fun of the event, daughter Kathryn and her roommates, Lauren and Sheila, signed up for the event. Lauren has been the runner in this apartment, but both Kathryn and Sheila have taken it up just this year. They drove out late last night, slept at the house, and got up eager and jittery to run.

Adding to the challenge of the event, it has been a tough week for my asthma. Complicated, perhaps, by a summer cold, and the humidity, and forgetfulness. Two mornings this week I got all dressed and was in the street before realizing that I had not used my inhaler before heading out. I'm supposed to "puff" 30 minutes before beginning this kind of exertion, and with the timing for work, once I was in the street it was too late to make that up. So ... they were not stellar training runs, and one at least was shorter than I would have liked.

Which raised the specter of not actually being able to complete today's 5, or at least to not manage the time I hoped.

I wanted to break 24 minutes, at least. And was pretty sure I could cut a minute from last year's time. My plan was to run a 7:30 pace, and bring the run in at about 23 minutes. At mile 1, the split clock read 6:57 - which would be off a few seconds from my tag time. OK, so that was faster than it maybe should have been, but I had worked out the math: If I run the first mile in 7 minutes, I can slow down to an 8 minute pace for mile 2, then pick it up to the end.

Split clock at mile 2, just under 14 minutes. Oops, this isn't going right! It should be closer to 15 to work my plan! I slowed a bit (at least, in my head I did), and was really feeling the asthma thing in the humidity. I slowed to a walk and gave myself a 30-second recovery, then returned to what I was sure must be about an 8-minute mile.

It's a funny thing. I have a pretty decent metronome in my head, when I am working on music. It isn't atomic clock accurate or anything like that. But it's always in the ballpark. But when I run? Without a chrono watch, and clear mile markers, I never have a good sense. And so it was today.

The Run for the STARS takes place on a beautiful residential course out from and back to College Church. When I got to Howard St., I pretty much gave up trying to sort out what my pace was. I could hold it steady, whatever it was. Based on my time at 2 miles, and even with my 30-second walk, I was reasonably certain that I would come in under last year's time.

All along the course, though not packed along the way, there are people encouraging and cheering the runners. But from College Avenue and Chase Street the route is packed, with people standing or walking back and forth from the finish line. Mile 3 is pretty much at the bottom of the last little rise in the course, and the finish line beckons from the front of the sanctuary building. One doesn't see the finish line clock really until Washington St. But I wasn't looking for that this year, for some reason. I guess with "D-tags" and my chrono watch, I knew I'd have my time more exactly.

Cross, click, 22:13! Almost 2 minutes off last year's run. (But probably less than that, since last year's race was only gun-to-finish, with a chip marking the finish.) It was the hardest exertion ever in my running. And I'm not sure I will try to better it next year. And even at that, it did not put me near the podium: 3rd place in Men 50-54 was just over 20 minutes!

Official time - 22:15 (there was some trouble with timing today, but I will accept this 2-second difference between the official time and my watch)
Pace - 7:11/mile
Placed 5th of 24 in Men 50-54
Placed 71 of 558 overall
Oh, and if I had this time in the 55-59 group, I would have been on the podium. So, maybe there is something to shoot for next year!

I enjoyed this again this year, and look forward to June 2011. I may not run another 5k between now and then, and I sure don't need to. But this one is on my calendar.

Century One, 2010

The plan is simple: one century per month, with daughter Kathryn, each month of summer. We have loosely defined summer to include May, and September/October are not out of the question - just more difficult to pull off.

So off we were on Saturday, May 30, 6:30am. Kathryn came out on the Metra, with her bike - maybe one of the last easy weekends to do that this summer. The train arrived just after sunset, and we rode the 3 miles home in the gloaming, headlights gleaming. Early to bed and early to rise: we hoped to be on the road no later than 7, and agreed 6:30 was a good goal to shoot for.

No one really sleeps in in this house, so we were up plenty early. Excitement and pre-ride jitters probably helped.A light breakfast, and checking our day bags, and loading up our fuel supplies ... because it's all about the food! The "monster cookies" Karen sent along secured her position as the world's greatest soigneur.

The plan and the route were very simple: 50 miles out, turn around; stay on path/trail and marked bike route. I've ridden this route quite a few times, maybe twice with someone else. It would take us, in fact, through the disaster section of last year's Bike Trip, Interrupted.

We hit the road at 6:30 exactly, on a pleasant morning in a day that was forecast to reach the low 80's. We would have sunshine, and not too much wind. We were on our way before the Illinois Prairie Path, Elgin spur, got too busy, though we would see quite a few runners before we reached the Fox River Trail in Elgin. North of Elgin, we came upon a run in support of World Relief, which was fun to see with so many people out for a good cause and enjoying themselves, everyone in groups.

Our first break was in East Dundee, just shy of 20 miles. Average speed, 13.7mph. (This would be our average speed of record for every stop throughout the day, except our last!) There used to be a really good bakery in East Dundee, which was closed under what seemed to me to be suspicious circumstances. So that gave me the chance to finally stop in at a path-side cafe, where we had some really good muffins. This is obviously a favorite with cyclists, as small groups came and went while we were there, and I'm pretty sure for some of them it had been their destination!

Next stop was to be, and was, the roadside park in Crystal Lake. This is a long, thin, winding garden, really, parallel IL rte 25 at the south end of Crystal Lake. Water, flush toilets, and a gazebo with picnic table make this a stop for me every time I ride this section of path. We re-filled our bottles with fresh cold water, broke open some snack or other, and soon got back on our way. Though this is only about 10 miles beyond East Dundee, it really is worth stopping here. Because just north of town is the most challenging - and the most fun - segment of the trip.

Stearns Woods Park is bowl-shaped with spectacular downhills to the center. Which means, of course, that whether traveling north or south, you will always go uphill to leave the park! On a ride like ours, we got to ride the bowl twice ... "uphill both ways!" Beyond the park, the path runs along railroad tracks still in use, though I don't think I have ever seen a train when I've ridden this stretch. Through McHenry and continuing on north, the beautiful black-top finally gives out at the little spot on the map, Ringwood, IL.

The next section is Dantean: "abandon hope, all ye who enter here." It is along this stretch that Tom and I had our spill last June. It was good to see that this trail has been repaired, though it has hardly been brought up to even basic standards. Where the IPP and other trails are crushed limestone, graded and packed on a regular basis, this segment is primarily gravel and (our nemesis) quite sandy. As in beach sand. But we found it much more navigable than I experienced 11 months earlier.

The odometer was now pushing above 45 miles, and it was time to decide how we were going to decide our point of return. Richmond, IL, is just shy of 50 miles, but has good lunch options, and shade, and we could make up (round out) the 100 miles by adding a loop closer to  home. Or we could ride to the WI border, and also again round out the difference. Kathryn wanted to go 50, then turn around. So we pressed on north of Richmond, as the path became less tended, and at the state line is more like a double-track trail. But it is clear, and is obviously ridden quite a bit. So we pressed on a very short distance until this dumped us out between back yards in Genoa City, WI. We continued to follow the streets and exactly at mile 50 found ourselves at a downtown intersection. Water bottle toasts all around, and we headed back to Richmond for some lunch. 

It was an early lunch, barely 11am. But I think Subway is always timely, on a bike. We got sandwiches, ate in the air conditioned room, used the washrooms, refilled our water bottles with ice cold fountain water, and headed home. It was already well above 80, and would reach 90+ before we got much farther. My bike computer has a thermometer, which I do not begin to imagine is very accurate. But on an asphalt, unshaded section of the return, it did register 104. Yikes! Even subtract 10, and it was plenty warm. But much of the path is canopied by beautiful trees, providing day-long shade, so we had plenty of real relief along the way.

Return trip stops mirrored our way out. Why change up a good thing? We re-hydrated again in Crystal Lake, and 10 miles later, in East Dundee, stopped again. This time for DQ Blizzards. Never was a treat so much anticipated, and yet so hard to finish. I was feeling the effects of the heat. Not to mention that prior to this ride my seasonal miles were a mere 412. I would be adding almost 25% to my seasonal totals. Or, to see it another way, by the end of the day, I would have ridden 20% of my seasonal total. This was way behind where I would normally be on Memorial Day weekend. I have hit 1,000 miles at this point, for several years. But no matter, I was having a great ride with Kathryn.

We checked in with Karen to let her know - we are 20 miles out, and probably 1.5 hours from home. The ride isn't hard, but these were not easy miles for me.We did get home at roughly the time we told Karen, 9 hours and 10 minutes after leaving, with 7 hours and 23 minutes of actual pedaling time. It was Kathryn's first century ever, and far and away my longest ride of the year. A milestone in our riding together, and a stake in the ground for each of us as we look to the summer for cycling.

Next up in our Century Series: a Friday trip, point-to-point, with Karen joining us and the three of us having dinner, then driving back. That will be fun to plan, and I hope fun to ride. We're thinking getting farther into Wisconsin with this one, probably through Lake Geneva. That ride would be much the same, in fact identical for 50 miles. But, we shall see. Onward!

20 May 2010


If you are just visiting this page, let me encourage you to check out a very nice set of photos taken by son Chris, along the Big Sur International Marathon Route. He began the 21-mile walk at milepost 5 of the marathon route, and took some great shots of the course from there to the end. The same photos, with my own captions, and some extras taken by my Karen and Kathryn, are here. To get the race weekend report, start here.

Better yet, since you can never recover the time you might feel is wasted, go read a good book!

My Karen and Kathryn woke up in Chris's apartment in San Jose on Sunday morning, and had a leisurely start to their day and drove to Carmel.(Kathryn's leisurely start included a 3-4 mile run on the lovely Los Gatos Creek Trail.) They staked out a spot along the final stretch and settled in for the long wait to try to see me and then Chris hit the finish line. They arrived there in time to see the first female marathon finisher, so you know they had a long wait ahead of them!

I had assured them that I would be the last of the gang of four to cross the line, and that it could be as much as 30 minutes after the real runners among us. Also, they were looking for my white t-shirt. They kept alert and saw and cheered Todd with his 3:58 finish and - to be fair given the information they had, they probably let their guard down. What they did not know was that the night before Todd had talked me into using his spare shirt, a technical tee that would wear well over the long course. It was the right decision, no doubt about that. But it was red, and that was one strike against the girls identifying me. Also, it turned out I was not 30 minutes behind Todd, but 11. So, again, they are well excused for missing me. And to be fair, I didn't see them either.

I went through the finisher's gate, got my medal, and funneled into the food tent. This was all so well prepared and staffed. I walked out within a minute or two, with a box of food including soup, fruit, bagel, water, and I don't know what else. I found a table to set things on, and phoned Karen. Or, rather, Kathryn, since Karen never has her cell phone on! They were disappointed to learn that they had missed me, but in moments were in the arena and that was my second and greater emotional moment in the day. To see Karen and Kathryn at the end of an amazing effort on a beautiful day ... that was just too much. They kindly watched me and encouraged me while I ate, and then we thought we'd best get back out to see if we can watch Chris cross the finish line.

And, we all 3 missed him! His time (somewhere around 4:58) was astonishing, and since he had started 30 minutes before the marathon gun, he was across the line in hardly any time after me. We had a great connection, and soon Todd found and joined us. In moments, too, Rick and then Adam were through and we created quite a mob. No way I should have got in before Rich - but I've explained already how that happened on the way up Hurricane Point - or Adam. Adam, it was just because he took over 100 photos along the way. Clearly  he did this route the best of us all, for the sheer enjoyment of it!

Free massages for all marathon finishers, so we got our numbers and hung around for that. When we were all through ... and, my, was that a great massage! ... we took our final photos, said our good-byes, and the men headed back to Big Sur to shower and get lunch. While the fam walked to the car, and to an excellent Mexican lunch near where the car was parked. Leisurely, outdoors, and very welcome. Then our own drive back to Big Sur to recover Chris's car. Kathryn stayed with him, while Karen and I headed back to San Jose together, and we managed to arrive at Chris's within moments of each other. A light supper preceded a drive into San Francisco to get Kathryn on a red-eye flight back to Chicago. And then, to bed!

Monday was quiet and relaxed, and it was nearly noon before I attempted the stairs down from the apartment. It was a revelation to find that while the quads were a little sore, I was not debilitated. In fact, to my very great surprise and relief, I had no recovery issues at all. Took a nice walk before supper, and the next day on the flight home only had to stand and stretch a couple of times. I got right back to work, and life pretty much went back to normal.

How do I account for the recovery success? Well, I only think about it because people asked, and assumed I would be miserable. So, here's what I think: a) definitely have to start with acknowledging God's mercy in my fitness and health; b) without question I have to thank "Coach Rich" for good counsel, training runs, etc.; and finally, c) I think I could have pushed harder on this run. I may have survived so well because I didn't work hard enough. And that is perfectly fine with me! Because the point all along was to enjoy the course and the time with others, and that made this first marathon a success in every important way.

15 May 2010

My first 26.2

The music featured along the course was a huge incentive for me to undertake this marathon. Beautiful course, 25th edition, and music. There were something like 24 musical acts along the way. I don't know if some didn't show, or if I just missed them, or if I happened to hit certain acts during their breaks. I missed the bagpipes which I'm pretty sure were listed to be at the starting line. There was at the starting line a local singer with a "Star Spangled Banner" that wasn't too annoying. I've mentioned the Taiko drummers and the legendary/iconic grand piano at the mid-point. But every "act" was appreciated. There was a really fine junior high jazz band - we had (unkindly) wondered if a group like that was put on the course to help us want to move on! But they had a nice clean sound, played in tune, and actually swung a bit. Nice. There was another middle school band, a student string orchestra, a couple of rock bands. Solo synths, Irish flute, folk harps (who - cluelessly? - had out a busker's change bucket! Did they think runners were going to have change to drop in?). Another drumming outfit  near the end, and reggae. Somewhere along mile 24-25 was a small, very fine Gospel group, singing "At the Cross," so well I felt I got church. I nearly stopped to sing with them.

Todd had wanted a picture of the 4 of us with the piano. But as already noted, by then we were each running our own race. I enjoyed the piano as I continued the descent, after noting my 13.1 time of 2:00:12. It was time to get serious now, with Hurricane Point behind me, and enter the long stretch of rolling hills, alone.

Chris and I had tried to estimate when we would find each other along the course. We thought, given our expected paces, probably around mile 17. He started with the 21-milers, at mile 5, at 6:30. With the delayed marathon start, he'd probably be farther along than that. I started to look for him at mile 16, by which time I was making my way around other walkers. Mile 17. Mile 18, and still no Chris. It occurred to me that I could have missed him: aid lines, porta johns, carelessness on my part? By mile 19 I was pretty sure I'd missed him.  But I kept scanning the field of walkers ahead of me. Then, approaching the sign for Mile 20 ... There he was! Hugs, stories, and head shot; we walked through that aid station together before I resumed my pace. "Alone again, naturally."

I don't recall my timing at that point. 3 hours something, at mile 20. The markers along the route were part of the fun, and generally an obvious prompt to check my time. The delight in catching up with Chris made both the marker and my watch secondary and tertiary, I guess. Plus, once I left that aid station I was heading into my longest run ever.

On April 5 I did my longest training run, 21 miles.I had not done a double-digit run since April 10 (12 miles). Race week I did 3 very short efforts, totaling a disappointing 9 miles. Now I was in my test zone, approaching the dreaded "wall" at some unforeseen point just down the road. Would it be in this next mile? Next step? To this point the day had gone well, and I was feeling good, amply fueling and hydrating, and had only once poured water on my head. I was keeping to a 9-minute mile, pretty closely, pretty consistently. It would be what it would be. Maybe Rich and Adam would catch me? I kept an eye forward for Todd.Chris said he thought the 4-hour pace runner had passed just moments before we saw each other.C'est la vie. I was about to enter the longest run of my life and mentally I was gearing up just to finish.

Prior to mile 18 I had slowed to walk just long enough to drink without spilling. After getting Gatorade on me several times, I began to worry about bees! From mile 18 on I was committed to walking all the way through each remaining station. That may have been equal to "walk one minute per mile," but I didn't check it out. It was what it was, and it was necessary. Each station: water/Gatorade OR Gatorade/water. A couple of banana bites. There was another GU station. I began to drink one full water, and pour the second cup over my head. And so I managed from mile 21 to the end.

One foot in front of the other, and the pace kept pretty close to the 9-minute mile. Walk through the stations, keep the liquids coming. I abandoned the banana option after only 2 or 3. Enjoy the music and especially the scenery.

Soon we were entering developed areas, and real spectators were on corners and at curbs. Not many on the southern outskirts of Carmel, but the crowd element kicked in.

Mile 23: the Strawberry Lady, another BSIM legend.Even when I got there (and I know also, later) there were still lots of berries out: topped, cold, and wet. I only took 1, but oh my!

Beaches on the left, the 25-mile marker (angel of death holding the sign "the end is near") ... and the final hill. OK, it's not a big one, and we had fair notice from the course description and video.I was so thankful to know it was coming. While dreaded (how would I feel by this point?) it would have been disheartening to be surprised by it. And there was the crowd - "up and over! and it's all downhill!" Up, over, down, cross the river, and turn ...

There was the finish line. It choked me up. I was actually finishing a marathon! 9 months earlier it wasn't even a vague notion. And here I was finishing 26.2 of the most beautiful miles on a U.S. Highway, ending in a charming California coastal town. And now the street  is lined on both sides, 2 - 3 deep along the barriers. And the occasional shout of my name! This was an awe-inspiring, humbling moment. I choked back tears and cleared my throat. I'm sure I was grinning like an idiot! What a day! It started in the pre-dawn dark in the redwood forest, and ended in the glorious seaside sun in Carmel.

4 hours, 9 minutes and 32 seconds after my right foot hit the start line, it hit the finish line.

11 May 2010

Big Sur 13.1

The first mile was the same mile we had walked up to the starting line. At the top of the drive, in the parking lot to the camp store at Fernwood, were the first of few road-side spectators. Campers, families, and volunteers who cheered us on at the beginning. At this point, mile 1, the pack was pretty tight, and there was a relaxed, non-urgent feel at least among the 4-hour folks. (The elite runners were well on their way, of course.) We would have these little pockets of spectators through the 4 or so miles of redwood forest that lined the start of the course. Where there were cabins, camps, or in one place some kind of connecting road, a small group was there to encourage us onward.

It was during these opening miles that I realized maybe the way to do this event is to be a course marshal or first aid worker. They constantly patrolled the course, the whole distance, on bicycles. Well, if I could be on that road on a bicycle, I would never have prepared to run it, that's for sure!Somewhere in that first mile, a posse of cyclists was straddling their bikes as we went by, and we couldn't help notice that a couple of them were clearly designated "defibrillators." Ha! We hoped they would track us the whole way.

These opening miles went by fast, but we were covering them at about a 9:15 pace - slower than nearly all my training runs. But great fun as the four of us stayed together, navigated the still tight pack, joked with each other and chatted up others around us. The first aid station was at 2.5 miles, still in the forest. By then it was clear I was not going to need my long-sleeved top for long. The trees peter out at about 4 miles, and by then the sun was peaking over the hills, and I was ready to lose the turtleneck altogether. I dropped that at station #2, mile 5 - where the 21-mile walk had begun, which son Chris was doing. Where, I wondered, just now?

I also knew by now that I might have done well to spend just a bit more time in the porta-johns earlier, but the lines here were way too long to stop. And, being shy, a Midwesterner, and a pastor, I was not about to just run off the road and take care of business. Though plenty of runners did ... and not only men! Well, and that was another reason not to, I guess! That waited for the next station, where there were 6 - 8 johns, and only 3 people standing in front of them. I thought, this won't take long. But, as it turns out, it did; nearly 3 minutes, and most of that was waiting. Blasted shy Midwestern pastor scruples!

The volunteers along the way were fantastic. They were ready, eager, attentive and encouraging. Which was important since there were no other spectators once we left the woods. Our bibs had first names printed boldly, so those of us who wore bibs front and high would hear random strangers call our names and cheer us on. Nice! Aid stations had water and Gatorade, or Gatorade and water - it alternated. After the 5-mile mark (station #2) they were about every 1.5 miles. For me, that meant about every 13 minutes I could get something to drink, and from about the 4th station on I took one cup of each as I jogged through the line.

The last 8 stations had fresh fruit (sliced oranges, and banana sections), and 2 of the stations had GU gel. At the first GU station, just before the route reached its lowest elevation - coming up to Mile 9, anticipating the ascent to Hurricane Point - I had my first brain-freeze moment. Buses passed as we approached this station, ferrying Relay runners I assume. (This was the only poorly conceived part of the day: diesel buses creeping past a tight field of runners, with a bank/hill on the right which only served to keep the fume/smell around us all.) Buses past, the next thing was the presence of volunteers holding up something, waving it, and shouting: "Blackberry! Blackberry!" Now, son Chris engineers mobile software for the Blackberry and has written a book on the subject. So I might be forgiven for thinking, "oh that's too bad, someone dropped their Blackberry." And I really thought that. Since I was carrying my much cheaper phone, and I presume many had phones with them if only for the cameras, I thought the relay buses must also be carrying valuables dropped along the way. So, here was someone trying to return it? Yeah, obviously that makes no sense whatsoever. So I was either in a brain freeze, or in the zone. I said to the young man, "hey, you selling that?" He laughed and said, "no, they're free" ... and then I saw that in his hand was GU, and I realized he was hawking his flavor. D'oh! I took it, laughing at myself and shaking my head.

And then I put it all behind me because there were the Taiko drummers, at mile 9+, at 40 feet above sea level, in all their drama and rhythmic might and costume. Beating away to drive us up the longest incline, the steepest grade, to the highest elevation on the course. Hurricane Point.Now the brain had to get back in gear, the training had to kick in, and the legs had to prove what they could do. It would be a climb of nearly 3 miles to get from 40 to 560 feet above sea level, in a section of road that is famous for false summits. The only way I would know for sure that I was at the top was when I saw the 12-mile marker.

And here is where I truly got in the zone.

I was "alone" at this point, in relation to the guys I had spent the night with. My long pit stop put me at least 3 minutes behind Adam, Rich, and Todd. This would have been around mile 6 or so. When I hit the road again, against all that I had read about race day, I picked up the pace to see if I could re-join the guys. At least this stretch was flat, and the day was young, and I was feeling great, and newly-relieved I had nothing to lose. I soon found that I was somewhere among the 4:15 pace group, and at this point we were limited to the left lane, so navigating was tricky. I didn't want to be rude, I was reluctant to run on a shoulder I'd never been on before, and the marshals were pretty strict about using the right lane. I hope I was not too rude, but I ran on looking for the distinctive trio of jerseys that would identify my guys. And somewhere along the way, there was Adam, standing on the shoulder on a little lift of rock and sand, looking back at the approaching field. He had waited for me. Wow. I appreciated that. We went on together, chatting and enjoying the pace. Then he wanted to stop and take a picture. Said he'd catch up, and I should just move on. So I did. This was somewhere before mile 8, and I never saw him again until we all met up in the finishers area.

Adam is an experienced long distance runner, who says he was not well prepared for this marathon. Most of his running these days is on trails. A lot of it is longer than marathon length. But the real reason he finished after me is the 100+ pictures he took that day!

I continued without Adam, had my Blackberry GU incident, and let the Taiko drummers get me in the zone. And I wish I could say more about the ascent to Hurricane Point. I was aware of the mile markers, and noted what turned out to be my 2 slowest miles of the day: from mile 10-11 (a 10-minute mile), and from mile 11-12 (about 9:30 pace). I am aware of other runners, of those who were alternating walking and running, those who were jogging very slowly, others who were enjoying their running partners and chatting all the way, some who looked about ready to stop. Me, I just kept putting one foot in front of the other. I kept my cadence roughly what it had been, and just shortened my stride. I'm not saying it wasn't difficult. This was the hill I dreaded during training - it was the one psychological hurdle that made me question my decision to begin to run in the first place. Where I live in Illinois, there aren't hills like this, and the best I could do in preparation was to make whatever hills I could part of my long runs. So, here I was, one foot in front of the other, repeating as necessary, marking mile 10, and mile 11, and then there I was, at mile 12.

I had made it to the top. This was the pinnacle, literally, of Big Sur. Many stopped to take photos, and to sight see. I should have, except I didn't have a camera, and wasn't with anyone to "share the moment with." Karen and I have pulled off here on our drives, so I guess I may be excused for not being the romantic just then. In fact, I was relieved and elated, and knew that the next mile, though downhill all the way, was actually more potentially dangerous. The course video at the Big Sur site says about the downhill from 12-13, "this is where most of the marathon injuries will happen." O - K.

So after a slow ascent with "baby strides," mile 13 was a recovery mile, with even smaller strides and an only slightly quicker cadence. It was on the downside of Hurricane Point that I came on Rich. He looked hot, tired, and beat. Talk about working your program: he said at about mile 10 (remember, that is just starting the long uphill) Todd egged him on, and he took the bait. And he was wasted. He was struggling to recover, and after he declined my offer of some GU he waved me on to keep up my own pace. Well, Rich has run many marathons, and he is my coach, so ... on I went.

The road continues to wind along the coast, and makes this beautiful descent of over 100 feet in that first mile. Mile 13 is only half-way down the full descent, but it is at the base of the iconic Bixby Bridge. Coming down the hill, we heard the grand piano. As I approached mile 13, he was playing "Bohemian Rhapsody," which I always like and which made me laugh. More on the music later, but the music is another big part of why this race in the first place. And the piano at Bixby Bridge, halfway along the course, is legendary. In all my training, whenever I thought of the piano, I somehow imagined it would be classical. I got "Bohemian Rhapsody." (Todd would later claim that he heard a Mozart opera overture. And he may well have.)

Bixby Bridge. At the dead center of the bridge is the exact center of the marathon course. I checked my watch as I hit the line. 2:00:12 Two hours, 12 seconds of forward motion. (I had stopped my chrono during the potty break). I was on track for a 4-hour marathon.

05 May 2010

Big Sur Underway

April 25 dawned long after Chris and I set out from the little cabin in the woods. It was a mile walk, up to Pfeiffer State Park and the gathering corral/starting line for the marathon. From this same location, Chris would catch a bus to the 5-mile mark, where the 21-mile event was to start. We had to walk along the road, and hadn't taken into account that of course buses would still be moving in both directions - bringing runners to the starting line from as far away as Monterey, and as close as the Fernwood resort, where we had just slept! When I realized that Chris could have shuttled here, he said "well, I needed the warm up." Which struck me as very funny, because he would be walking the 21 miles anyway! A mile walk, to warm up for a 21-mile walk? This could only come from a young man used to walking 6-8 hours every Saturday!

But it was a great warm up for those of us who ran. Except in the pre-dawn dark, with buses coming and going, it might have got the heart going faster than expected. But we made it fine, hugged, shook hands, and parted ways as Chris boarded his shuttle, and I made my way to my first ever marathon start.

It was cool, but not cold. For the start of the race I had picked up a cheap used turtleneck t-shirt, something I could abandon after warming up. I walked to the start line in sweat pants that I really didn't want to just toss, and by the time I walked a mile, and got in among the hundreds already in various lines, it was clear that my first task was to drop my sweats at that truck, and just get that taken care of. Then finish the water bottle I was carrying, and the banana which was the last of my breakfast fuel.

There was a great vibe in the waiting area. We could hear the starting line announcer long before we saw any lights or other runners, and he kept up a steady chatter until after the starting gun. People were standing around all over, but really at this point (not quite 6am) for only two things: food and porta potties. After disposing of everything I wasn't going to start the race with, I got in line for the latter. Good thing I got in line when I did. The johns were lined up on opposite sides of a large parking lot. The lines spanned the lot, alternating direction so that I had to walk all the way to the far john, turn around and face the johns I was headed for. It was impressive how patient everyone was. Some people were obviously there together. Others, like me, apparently alone. Some polite chit-chat; lots of quiet people; all the while the announcer chattering away. I have no idea how long it took to work through the line, but before I made it to my porta destination, runners were already being asked to head even farther up the road, to begin lining up by expected race duration ... obviously with the longer/slower times farthest back.

We had arranged for the 4 of us to meet in the 4-hour group. So I finally made my way there and kept scanning the crowd for Rich, Adam, and Todd. By the time I finally did see them, the race start had already been delayed about 10 minutes. The transportation of all those runners took a bit longer than they expected. There were 5,000 registered runners, they said. But in the end under 3100 were finishers. I don't know how many started, but the organization at this point was the only thing (as far as I could tell) that apparently did not go perfectly. Still, 3-5000 runners is no small organizational challenge!

Finally, people were in place, and things were ready to roll. Some local singer sang the national anthem, and ... was there an actual gun? Funny, I don't remember. But - we were off! From the front of the 4-hour pack, to the actual starting line, took us 2 minutes. Two, easy, cautious, shuffling/jogging minutes during which Todd spoke a memorized scripture acknowledging God's presence and our acknowledgment that our ability to do this comes from God and we were giving it back to him. And as he finished, our feet hit the start line.

And so we were joyfully on our way.

04 May 2010

Getting to Big Sur

I guess the race day really began with our drive away from San Jose. Back Hwy 17 over the Santa Cruz mountains, and to the coast at Santa Cruz - this is a beautiful jaunt, and one we have become accustomed to in the nearly 5 years Chris has lived out there. And I have to say, I have gotten so I can really relax as he comfortably hurtles his Saturn ION over this stretch. Chris is such a relaxed driver, and it's always easier for us flatlanders to have him driving these windy roads. (Not that I don't enjoy driving myself. I do. But others tend, um, not to, so much.)

Our goal was to hit the Marathon Expo in Monterey, at about 5pm, an hour before closing. With this event, there is no race-day registration, because the starting lines (at least the ones we were headed for) are down the course, on a road that closes by 6am. We were enjoying our family day too much to give ourselves more time at the Expo, and knew that in a pinch all we really needed to do was pick up our bib numbers, D tags, and sweats bags. Afterward, upon leaving, we would call the cabin again and let the guys know we were on the way, and pick up some final supper supplies for our pasta dinner there.

Traffic got a little odd south of Santa Cruz, and I started to sweat the timing. Not the registration stop at Portola Plaza, but our arrival for supper! We arrived in downtown Monterey around 5:15, and found an open free parking space, with the odd time limit of 24 minutes. 24 minutes? Just around the block, up the steps, and within about 3 minutes we were picking up our race material. That gave us almost 20 minutes to browse the Expo and then back to the car. Walking down one of the aisles, I saw a familiar face - it's Adam, on the phone it turns out with his wife. Adam was supposed to be at the cabin ... waiting for Italian bread that we were supposed to find and buy! Well, it turns out Todd was also at the Expo, and we ended up connecting for a few minutes while I bought a Big Sur themed technical singlet.

Todd said to the cashier that I should get a senior citizens discount, being a 54 year old first time marathoner. Her quick and cheerful reply: "anyone who can run a marathon doesn't need a senior discount!" Ha!

Chris and I headed down Hwy 1 while Todd and Adam handled the final supper purchase, and we got to see the course from the finish end, the beautiful road we would come back across the next morning. It was breath-taking (it always is) and, for me, intimidating. Seeing it now, with the run in mind, made me really question the validity of my training. Oh well, it's why we were there, and there was no turning back now!

Rich greeted us at the cabin and before long the rest of the food arrived. The 3 guys finished dinner prep, and we enjoyed a simple, fun, conversation-filled meal. I was especially happy to see my friends draw Chris in so immediately and completely. It was obvious Chris was having a good time. The meal lasted through sunset and into dark. It was no sooner over than Todd suggested walking up to the camp store for ice cream! Well, we all went up, but only Todd ate more!

Then it was "home" to bed. The guys had got in on Friday, and had 3 nights in this compact, well-stocked joint. Chris and I got the "living room" - me on the sofa bed, and Chris the better deal with a sleeping bag and camping pad. I mean, a sofa bed in a rental cabin? You can imagine. It was almost decent, but I do think he got the better arrangement. It sure sounded better ... and I should know: I was awake a lot, and I never heard a rustle or a turning over from him.

And so ended my week of jitters, poor sleep, and trying to visualize the course while I lay abed at night. But there we were, with friends, in a redwood forest, together on the eve (not to say, brink) of a great adventure. We were sleeping one mile from the marathon starting line, from which Chris would catch a shuttle to the 21-mile walk start at milepost 5. Just one more sleep till Christmas.

02 May 2010

Big Sur Marathon - the trip

Karen and I had a leisurely morning for final preparations and a reasonably timed flight to San Jose. Good old Southwest Airline, and their convenient non-stop from Midway Airport. Upon arrival we found Fox Car Rental - apparently a regional (CA/AZ) outfit, and I wonder how they'll fare if things in Arizona progress as they seem to be. If you catch my drift.

Probably the only "misstep" of the whole trip was car selection. We had arranged for an intermediate size, and were offered the P T Cruiser. Which we both dislike, and besides they look dumb. Well, for a little more money we could get a Prius? This was our misstep. In reality, the savings in gas usage probably would have offset the relatively insignificant difference in cost. On the other hand, part of our need was to drive 4 adults around comfortably, and since we've never been in a Prius, we declined. Too bad. Instead we got a Jeep SUV model, smallish by SUV standards, but pretty basic too and I'm sure abysmal mileage. But it served, and we were on our way.

First stop - the roasting headquarters of Barefoot Coffee, San Jose. I had read a Tribune article about Intelligentsia Coffee (a Chicago favorite), with a sidebar featuring other local brewers with similar attitudes and commitments. I've brought home coffee from one of the other featured outfits - Stumptown in Portland - and thought it would be fun to get some Barefoot for coming-home presents. It turns out that the roasting facility (basically a house in a common neighborhood) isn't normally a point of purchase for the coffee. If they have some on hand, they'll sell it. But they have a couple of local shops, and they also deal in mail-orders. On Friday, they were without any on hand, but were experimenting with some espresso ... mmm, did it smell great! And while I was getting the lowdown on their coffee, and directions to the closest shop, I enjoyed that experiment. Probably the first non-employee to have it. Yowza!

So, on to Chris's apartment, to the Safeway, and to get supper ready for his return from a long commute. We had a quiet evening staying in, and with the 2-hour difference especially, stayed up way too late. Saturday would be a busy day, and I didn't need one more night of poor sleep before the marathon!

Saturday had a kind of shuffling start, until we checked Kathryn's flight progress and learned they would land about 40 minutes sooner than we had planned. Yikes! So with varying degrees of preparedness, we set off for the San Francisco airport. On our way, we stopped to buy the coffee we had already scoped out. Amazing opportunity and value for the truly addicted (which I am not). With each bag purchased, a free cup of coffee. Whatever was I to do with 5 cups of free coffee, two non-coffee drinkers in the car, and my java-partner-daughter still in the air? OK, I'll take 2 and greet Kath with it. Boy, did that Jeep SUV ever smell good!

The plan was to collect Kathryn at SFO, then get a walking tour of Millbrae - the community Chris hopes to live in next, with train access to SF, the valley, and the East Bay. A shrewd choice, and one he is appropriately patient to work out. Millbrae is a beautiful town, basically built on the side of a hill. It is all uphill from the airport/trains to the interstate 280. We didn't walk the whole elevation, but ... it is steep!

We eschewed an excellent breakfast option in Millbrae, in favor of a drive to the Pacific coast, through Half Moon Bay, to Pescadero. There we like to check out the antique shop, an excellent shop that makes furniture, and have pie (at least) at Duarte's Tavern. For us this time, it was lunch - of course, with olallieberry pie. Mmm ... a King get together is nothing without food.

We continued our drive along the coast, turning back to San Jose from Santa Cruz. Chris and I would soon enough pick up that Highway 1 back in Santa Cruz, and continue down to our Saturday night lodging. And the girls would drive it on Sunday. We got back to the apartment with just enough time finish packing for the night and the marathon, and off we went.

Big Sur International Marathon Finisher

I am no runner ...

But I will keep it up if only to run this course again!

There's a lot more to say, but the bottom line is - I finished in 4 hours, 9 minutes, 33 seconds. And I felt (and continue to feel) great. Thinking that through, I have concluded that at a strictly physical, athletic level, that probably means I could have pushed harder and got a better time. But I am completely at peace with this time, and completely bonkers about having done this event.

The race was one week ago today. At this time last Sunday (4.25.10 - 1:30-ish pm Pacific Daylight Saving Time), we had reconvened in the finishing area, had our post-race food and hydration, and even gotten free massages. We had said our good-byes, and Chris and I were walking off with Kathryn and Karen, to enjoy an excellent Mexican lunch in a nearby shopping area.

On a personal and spiritual level, I have to credit God's mercy and good coaching. Coach Rich took me on as a personal project in this mad scheme to run my first marathon. To run this as my first marathon. And I know that "I am fearfully and wonderfully made," and have always been - always will be - in God's good hands. I've just never thought of myself as an Athlete, and if that label will ever be even close to accurate, that too will be God's blessing. "All the days ordained for me were written in your book, before one of them came to be." So I celebrate a personal accomplishment, and don't think of it too individualistically.

And so I celebrate!

22 April 2010


Off to bed on the night before traveling to California and the Big Sur International Marathon ...

And reflecting on the week behind me, and the race before me. And the training period.

I had hoped to run at 165 pounds. It looks like I'll still be under 170, but with more discipline, I could have made my goal. Even after it was obvious I wasn't going to get down there (and, frankly, didn't need to) all I needed to do this week was eat wisely. But my eating has been kind of obsessive, even as my running has been limited to the 9 miles of the final taper to the race. That's disappointing. I hope it means stored energy for Sunday!

I hoped to get lots of sleep each night this week. But when I have got to bed at a good time, my mind has been racing "to work when body's work's expired" as the Bard might say. I've also been dreaming - literally, dreaming - of the race. So, even when sleeping, maybe not resting as I might wish. But I've also stayed up too late most nights. (Witness the time stamp of this post.)

And now that so many know that I'm off, it's starting to feel like a more exposed enterprise than I thought. (Only myself to blame for that, as with all the above and below!)

So, off to bed. Tomorrow I sleep in San Jose. The next night in Big Sur, among the redwoods. That is, I hope to actually sleep on Saturday night. This thing is pretty compellingly exciting, and how I just hope to run it well and then enjoy it.

Then I can relax ... and sleep!

18 April 2010

Taper. Is that like Let Down?

It's a curious thing. This week had less than half the running miles as last, and an awfully nice bike ride in it. After the long ramp-up to my 18- and 21-mile runs - after the 52.4 miles last week - it was a curious let-down. Tonight I reviewed what I need to do in the next few days, preparatory to Sunday's Big Sur Marathon. 3 miles, followed by 4 miles, followed by 2. Three days of running, lots of rest.

And I find myself strangely out of sorts. I get that these weeks are recovery weeks. They are days to keep the legs going, but lightly; and to let the body build reserves. A respite to prepare physically and psychologically for an all-out effort. And since I've been saying all along "I am not a runner," I should be glad for this turn to the end of marathon prep.

But I miss it, and can feel that I shall miss it this week. I am thankful to have learned over these weeks, that I am really psychologically a cyclist and not a runner. I look forward to some light, but purposeful, bike rides this week. Next week, after spending a couple of extra days in California, I anticipate putting up the running shoes and keeping my bike always ready to roll. But I am already starting to miss running.

I think I've read enough to get the psychology of this. And having done just a little bit of distance cycling, I can anticipate (to some degree anyway) the ups-and-downs I'll go through on Sunday (no pun intended), and the vows to never do something this stupid again. So, I've stopped saying this is the only marathon I'll ever run. And tonight as I look at my lightest running week since before I began my official training, I am beginning to see that these weeks have shaped me in a way I did not expect.

So my goal this week is to keep with the program, eat wisely, pack early, sleep well, and finish the course. Then see what role running plays as I return to the beloved bike.

10 April 2010


I'm sure they have been around for a long time. But it was only after registering for my first marathon that I began to notice the little car stickers - "26.2"  I don't plan to put one on my car after April 25; I don't put stickers on my cars.

This week, though, as I turn the corner into the "tapering" mode of training, was a banner week. It began with a long run on Monday. The longest run of the training program, it was supposed to be on Saturday. Which was the day before Easter, "Holy Saturday," not normally a day I would get out for a supreme exertion. But especially not last Saturday - rehearsals with Easter musicians at 8:30 and 9:30; an extra choir rehearsal at 11:15 for a memorial service we were to sing at Noon. Cemetery duties and the family lunch. No, it was after 3pm when I got home on this truly Holy Saturday, and even if I had been unwise enough to try a run like this, it couldn't have happened.

So, that bumped the 21-miler to Easter Monday. Now, normally, and that means in the best of times, Easter Monday is my first long bike ride of the season. I have a nice 50-mile ride I enjoy as casual solo ride after a busy season and weekend as a church musician. So, it was hard to pass that up in lieu of this essential piece of the training program. I had been told that if I managed the 18-mile run, the marathon was "in the bag." (No one ever put it that way, but it's what they seemed to mean.) But everyone does the 20-mile run before tapering. 20 miles - that is where I can expect "the wall" on race day. I reasoned that if I could do 21, then psychologically I would have run through that wall already.

We'll see how that strategy works on April 25!

So that is how the week began: 21 miles. Now, the tapering period was to begin on Monday or Tuesday and end today with a 12-mile run. Optimally I would have had 2 rest days following Monday. But I pressed on:
Tuesday, rest day
Wednesday, 5 miles
Thursday, 10 miles
Friday, 4.4 miles
Saturday (today), 12 miles
My math makes that a 52.4 mile week - the equivalent of two marathons in 6 days.

So, now tapering begins in earnest. Today was my last double digit run until the Big Sur. And what a nice run. It was the first time all 4 of us friends doing Big Sur, ran together. It was "slow, soft, and flat." Illinois Prairie Path (flat and soft) east from Wheaton, and a 9:12/mile pace. Sunny, warm, and conversational.

I don't expect to see, much less run with, these guys on race day, but with their help, I am beginning to expect to finish and find them and celebrate.

02 April 2010


Today began with a 10-mile run. So, at this point in my training, 10 miles is fairly easy, and this morning was beautiful - about 60 degrees, light southerly breeze, somewhat hazy sun - enough to warrant sun glasses, but not enough to make things hot too soon. For April 2, a truly dandy morning to run.

My run was a nice 5-mile loop, doubled. The last time I ran this particular routine, was September 3. I had planned to see whether I could handle a 10-miler, before registering for Big Sur. But I panicked and registered on opening day, Sept. 1. So this doubled 5-mile loop was, in a sense, moot. Still, I had to do it; my previous longest run had been 8.2 miles. I ran it, went to work, and seemed fine. So this marathon thing was apparently a wrap.

It was fun to run it again today. I wouldn't say I've had a wide array of running routes in the months since. Through the fall I just worked in 5K or 5M runs where I could (more K than M). A week in Florida in November had the least interesting running, but the nicest weather of the season. I started my Training Program right after Christmas, and the early weeks were indoors. Which kind of depressed me. My first 9-mile run on a treadmill (January 9) was my last long run indoors. Man, that was the worst!

The Morton Arboretum has become my long run of choice, for the opportunity to get some variety in the terrain. I've carved out some shorter runs in a nearby neighborhood with "hills." And I still get my shorter runs in my own and a contiguous neighborhood. Anyway, it was fun today to return to the "test tenner" as I approach my last, longest run before the marathon. Nice morning, nice run.

It was "supposed to be" yesterday morning. But I wasted myself on a 14-mile run Wednesday night. Leaving the office at the end of the day, I completed a long loop home. The route included streets and unpaved path; long stretches of flat, and a long though subtle incline; a hilly neighborhood, and a nice shady long hill approaching mile 12. But it was unseasonably hot (upper 70s), and windy, and turned out to be kind of brutal. In a way my worst run yet. I ended with "black toe nail" (another first for me), and with my Karen wondering how long I intend to keep at this. So I took Thursday off, and this morning enjoyed the wisdom of that.

My final approach to Big Sur is about to begin. About 72 hours after today's finish, I will begin a 21-mile run. The last super effort in training. That is on Easter Monday - a day normally devoted to my first long bike ride of the season. So, there will be just a hint of mourning to the run, I'm sure. But from there, I begin to taper off. The last two "long runs" will be 12 and 8 miles, followed my race week, with just a few short runs early on.

Finally, running on the paths today, I found myself enjoying the run, and envying the cyclists who were out. Yes, that is instructive. My compulsions are still on wheels.

28 March 2010

Springing out of Winter

Two Saturdays, Two long runs.
One week ago, March 20, the day we crossed the spring equinox. The morning began with a 17-mile run in the Morton Arboretum ... with snow falling and accumulating on the road.
Yesterday, March 27, the first Saturday of Spring, an 18-mile run in the same park ... cold and sunny, but more sunny than cold. And sunny enough that after a couple of circles I started to shed accessories and layers. I ran the last 3-mile loop in shorts, a long-sleeved light-weight jersey, with my head band providing just a bit of extra coverage around the neck. The breeze, light as it was, was cold! 

I began the run with layers, a head band, and light gloves. The 3-mile loop warmed me up pretty well, but I stayed "bundled" for the 4.5 loop, just to see how the various directions and exposures would be. The wind, light as it was, was still cold (air temperature was right around 40, but the sun was nice). But my hands were cold, and I thought removing the head gear would regulate my warming core temperature. So as I repeated the 3 mile (counter-clockwise, against traffic this time) my gloves and band were tucked into my waist band. Always the careful "traveler." It was clear that I was still going to have to shed something. When I got back to ground zero, I pulled off the tights and left my accessories. At first, it was pretty cool on the legs, but they warmed up reasonably quickly. The zipper on my pullover helped me regulate my torso/core temperature, but that pesky cold wind made me committed to having something over my jersey.

It was something else that made me decide to drop the jersey. My first experience with chafing - if not the nipples proper, at least that general vicinity. I'm still trying to figure that out. I wasn't wearing anything I haven't worn, and I've been running in layers for 2 months. The distance was only 1 more mile, but in any case the sensation kicked in at about mile 13/14. Gotta watch that because I have a bit of running still to do, and don't want to spoil April 25 like this! It wasn't terrible, just uncomfortable. I wasn't bleeding or anything. But I can see how that could happen, and would like to avoid it!

So my last 3-mile loop was in shorts and a light long-sleeved jersey, with the headband providing that neck warmth in the wind. It was a glorious, if tired, circle, on an early Spring Saturday one month before race day.

A word about my training options. A few weeks ago I switched to the Hal Higdon novice training schedule for guidance on my long runs. This week I began a change-over on the week-day runs. I am keeping to the sequence from Dave Kuehls, because the pacing (and the commitment to cross training) works so well for me. But I am taking my distance cues from Higdon. This will build my miles over the next couple of weeks (before tapering), without adding a lot of extra time.

This week's short runs (4.5, 8, 3.5) total somewhere between Kuehls and Higdon. The pace on the first two turned out to be 8:00 miles, surprisingly fast for me, and not what I intended or set out to do, but satisfying. The third was slower by design, 8:42. My 18-mile run averaged out to an 8:40 pace, and was pretty consistent throughout.

And now, onward to my last long run before the Marathon. I will do 21 miles, and am supposed to do that this coming weekend. Which, as it happens to be Easter weekend, and I am Quite Well Occupied all weekend, thank you very much, I am trying to find the right time for it. I am slowly, begrudgingly, realizing that it will almost certainly have to come on Easter Monday ... the day of my annual first long bike ride (50+ miles). Now this marathon training has gotten personal.

14 March 2010

Who Calls that Livin'

Finally hit a 30-mile week! It was my first week to reach 15 on my short runs. Long run Saturday was supposed to be 16, but I only reached 15. Hilly, yes! Cold, not so much. Rainy, lightly so. It was the Morton Arboretum Hills that done me in. But I got in both loops, twice each.

Two of my short runs were a hilly neighborhood close by. It's the Big Sur course hills that keep pushing me now. Not to say the added distance can't undo me. But the hills on race day are what I am preparing for.

All in all, a decent week. Except ... I had to forego cycling this week. And as spring began to suggest itself this week in Chicago, that was especially disappointing. My Monday was scheduled as a rest day, but I had hoped to get in a light spin, even indoors. A scheduled, routine, marathon-anticipating stress test turned out to be my only "cross training." At least I passed it with colors! Friday was truly a "cross training" day as I helped a son move: from a second floor apartment, into a third floor apartment. Lots of stairs and lots of weight. I truly consider this a cross day. Just not the way I might have chosen.

Still, the adventure of helping a son make another good move, to see his life, and to celebrate the good things going on there: Awesome!

Onward into week 12. It has a planned cross day, and a rest day that I think I will use (lightly!) for another easy spin. The miles afoot need to keep building each week. Onward!

06 March 2010

So-called Stamina

Here we are in the "Stamina Phase" of this marathon training. So far, not so good as one would hope.

The major change in this phase is the Wednesday run. Quarter mile intervals are replaced by tempo runs. Week 9 (last week) I ran the requisite 4 miles on Wednesday, but at about 30 seconds faster pace than called for. Well, better than that much slower, I guess!

This week's "tempo run" was to be 6 miles at a pace of 8:45-50. I am also trying to get in some "hills" so I chose to do this run in a nearby neighborhood with an interesting terrain. Around here we'd call it "hilly." My trouble, vis-a-vis the pace, was that after mile 2, I wasn't sure how my distance was doing, so I couldn't monitor the pace. The run ended up being only 5.5 miles, and the pace well over 9 minutes per mile. OK, as far as that goes (I reasoned to myself and my Karen), at least it was hilly. Then I clicked "show elevation" in Map My Run, and was reminded how hilly this part of the state isn't! Oh well.

My other hilly run was the previous Saturday (one week today). I planned a ride from part of a cycling route, and knew I'd get a little terrain. A 6-mile route, which as an out-and-back would give me 12 miles. A 13-mile day on the training schedule, I'd get that last mile in the neighborhood. The run was a nice course. There was still snow crowding the shoulders, so with traffic it wasn't great. But it worked. I got into a neighborhood I hadn't seen (horsies!), and did that loop twice - nice, rolling mile or so each time. But about 2 miles from home my quads started to give out, and I walked about 1/2 mile of those final 2 miles. And didn't put in the 13th mile. So much for stamina.

And these are nothing like the hills we'll see in the Big Sur run. Gotta get out more!

On the plus side, this week Friday I put in my long run. 15 miles (flat miles!) at the end of the afternoon. My longest, and I survived, and this morning feel pretty good.

17 February 2010


Another week with indoor quarter mile intervals. It's so consistent that now it's comical ... mid-week, the sun comes out, it warms a bit, and the track at Wheaton College emerges from the snow. Early in the week, or over the weekend, snow and ice, and on Wednesday (my interval day) - no outdoor track! Oh well ... Now as I begin Week 8, the last week of Phase One/Endurance, I am again looking at my interval workout inside. This week, 16x400. Game face ... on.

Last week it was to be 16, but I shot for 14. And lost track in the shooting. I did 6x400 on the indoor track (a brutal 12/mile oval, flat, with carpet over concrete), then moved to a vacated treadmill. Where I think I did an additional 8x400. The time works out for that to be the case.

But my big change in Week 7 was to change over my long run expectations. Dave Kuehls's training program (4 Months to a 4 Hour Marathon) had me facing a 17-mile run this past Saturday. A goal I wasn't close to, especially since I failed to hit his proposed 13-mile run about a month ago. Well, since then I have reached 13, and lived to tell about it. But as I talked with others, and did some online research, I decided this past week that I will adopt Hal Higdon's long run goals. That meant a 12-mile run this past Saturday. To take the "sting" out of "wimping out" I did 12.2.

Also this week, I had my first complete physical in a couple of years. The surprise was when Dr. said they would do an EKG. I'm sure that was because of this whole training and press toward the Big Sur. That sort of thing is always interesting. But I was bowled over to learn that my resting heart rate is 47bpm. Wow! I've never thought of myself as athletic, but almost this persuades me I could be.

07 February 2010

Half Way?

Week 5 ended last Saturday, with a pleasant sunny (though cold) run with "Coach Rich." Week 5 is sort of recovery week, with 6x400 intervals and an 8-mile run. I left for work on Wednesday without checking my running diary, and did 8 quarter miles instead of 6. But - again (sigh) the workout was on the treadmill, so it might as well be longer. The Saturday run was to be 8 miles. But since I fell short the previous Saturday, and Rich was willing to run with me, I thought I'd go the distance with him.

The distance proposed was the Cream of Wheaton 10K route, twice. 20 kilometers, or just over a half-marathon. I arrived at our meeting spot on time, and as I was pulling on some cold weather gear, realized I hadn't brought good running shoes. In fact, the sneakers I had on I had never run in, and have been using them for at least 2 years as yard/garden shoes. How does one forget the shoes? (To be fair, I've forgotten cycling shoes more than once, when driving to a remote start...)

I decided to give it a shot. If the knee, ankles, etc. started to hurt, I'd just call it a lost weekend, and walk back to the car. But the shoes held up, the body held up, and we did the first 5k pretty well. It was into the 2nd part of the 10k loop that I realized I hadn't taken my exercise asthma inhaler.

I've had exercise-induced asthma for something like 5 years. Easily controlled by a couple of puffs before strenuous exercise, it hasn't been a problem. Then almost 3 years ago I was diagnosed with full-bore bone fide asthma, not apparently seasonal, but also not really fatal. I take 2 asthma meds twice per day, and still use the Albuterol when I exercise. And it's all OK.

But there I was, pressing mile 4 or 5 and thinking: OK, so I forgot this thing, and I have the wrong shoes. But I feel OK, and it's a nice day, a good pace, and I'm with The Coach. However, as we circled back to the start of the frist 10k, I thought ... no, this probably isn't a good idea. I wasn't feeling bad, just cautious. We did the first 5k loop again, and I decided to call it a day and not press my luck. Better safe than sorry. Ended up with 9 miles at an 8:45 pace.

This week (number 6) I pressed ahead in each area, only I again did not remember the goal for the interval workout, and put in only 12 (called for 14). But I did them fast, on a sharper incline, and combined a couple into half-mile efforts. My first "cross" day I missed altogether - all told, not a bad record that only in week 6 has "life" interfered with "training"! To compensate ... and, really, to just be on a bike again ... I put in nearly 2 hours on the bike trainer. That was nice, and reminded me of my first love.

Yesterday I ended week 6 with a successful go at the run I attempted 2 weeks ago. Finished 13.1 miles in 1 hour 57 minutes, for a pace (I think) of 8:54. Broken down thus:
Miles 1 - 3 (laps in my neighborhood) - 9:20 pace
Miles 4 - 5 (adjacent neighborhood) - 9:00 pace
Miles 6 - 11 (2 other contiguous neighborhoods) - about 8:37 pace
Final miles (back in the neighborhood) - 9:30 pace

A bit of, some espresso, a little housework, and a short walk with the dog before bed. And this morning, good to go.

It's literally a half-marathon, but I have no illusions that I am really "half way" to being ready for the Big Sur. Onward!

26 January 2010

Stopping Short

Week 4, one-fourth of the way through the marathon training period. Half-way through the Endurance Phase. Saturday's run was, again, my longest run to date. Not just the longest in this training period, but ever. Unlike last week, it turned out to be a solo run. Also unlike last week, it was unsuccessful in several ways.

The week, with its built-in complications, seemed to work better with some adjustment. So again Monday - instead of the 20-30 minute jog, was on the trainer. Tuesday's run was outside, on the street, in the neighborhood, just as it was getting dark, after work. The neighborhood is not a particularly interesting place to run, but it's good enough up to about 5k. (I have run up to 5m without leaving our little subdivision, but ... well, it's not fun.) And my Wednesday schedule of teaching did not work well for the 12x400 speed intervals; so another workout on the bike. This is how I got 30 miles on the bike this week. Which pleased me no end!

The speed intervals had to come on Thursday. The weather and the timing kept me indoors at the Wheaton College Sports and Rec Center. I know running a track for this workout is better than a treadmill, but I couldn't face 3 miles of sprints on their flat, small, concrete oval. So I set the incline up a bit and ran my quarters at about 2 minutes each, with a 2 minute jog between. It amounted to just over 6 miles for the day, and wore me out enough to feel that I had earned supper. (But not so much I couldn't face a choir rehearsal.) That left me one more cross training day, and another 10 miles on the bike on Friday.

Saturday's run was an experiment in planning my own distance run; an experiment in running in the (light) rain and cold; a mental experiment for endurance. Ultimately it turned out to be less than satisfying. But still, it was my longest run to date. In the end, it proved (if nothing else) the wisdom of planning the long runs as loops, or out-and-back runs. Also, the benefit of running with someone else.

It was to be a 13 mile run, and from about miles 8 - 10, I mentally wrote this blog entry. Today I am writing a very different entry ... My final distance was 11.6 miles. Not bad, really, considering that I am new at this and still have 12 weeks until the marathon. But a failure in terms of endurance/perseverance, and a failure of the mental game. That is a cautionary tale.

I used Map My Ride to figure out how to get 13 miles on safe residential streets (the Prairie Path was still unrunnable then), without being too far from the house should something happen. (I'm pretty cautious, really.) The first 3 miles would be neighborhood laps; from my driveway, 3 times round and on to the egress street to the east. That would put me in the next neighborhood, where I ride hard laps in the spring, when I'm getting used to the road again, on my bike. From a a loopy course there, across a major street into the next neighborhood, and I was able to get 4 additional miles without being more than a mile from my house. Across the major arterial street, and another residential loop, then back across the arterial. Now I'm at 6 miles outside of my own neighborhood, or a total of 9 miles on the run.

This was when I started to feel the burn. My quads had not felt the effects of running since the day before I ran a 5k in June. I didn't expect it, and began to wonder about it. I also - to my discredit - began to wonder how much I had to run to make the day successful. And began to see that planning the end of the run to require a couple of laps in my own neighborhood, was probably not a good idea, endurance-wise speaking.

At 11 miles, then, I was back in the 'hood. Here I stopped for the first time, drank some water, and popped my last "shot block." I had planned this run with hydration and nutrition in mind. With a 6 oz. bottle of water and 3 shot blocks of carbs, I would keep sip every couple of miles, and ingest at miles 3, 7, and 11. That last shot would (ideally) carry me to mile 13. Well, it carried me around the subdivision to my driveway, where I stopped, walked in the house, and called it a morning.

Inside, I got a small orange, a little sport drink, a lot of water. And I stretched. And I took a hot bath and stretched some more. By lunch time, I felt like a failure - surely I could have done another loop and block, to reach 13 miles. Or another loop to reach 12.5? Just like a hard bike ride, it didn't take me long to convince myself that "it wasn't that bad." But to be honest, I have to consider: why did my quads burn on me after all this time?

Was it my speed? I wasn't trying to run fast - quite the contrary - but I averaged one minute faster per mile than the week before with Rich. Too fast, and faster than I expect to run the marathon, by quite a bit. Was it nutrition? Did I eat too little at breakast? The wrong things? Should I have taken something else, or more of what I did take? Should I have drunk more water? Less? Lots of questions. Maybe running the intervals a day closer to the long run ... I could see the wisdom in an extra recovery day between the two most challenging days of the week.

Oh well, this week is a kind of recovery week. The speed intervals are only 8x400. And the long run only 8 miles. Advice I'm getting, and things I see, vary widely as to how soon to build up the long miles, so I'm not freaked out that I didn't hit 13 on Saturday. I will benefit from the humbling. But some lessons learned:
* do what I can to run long with others
* plan a solo long run differently, without such an easy opt-out
* learn more about my personal nutrition needs for running

And ultimately, to consider the long haul ... it is still 12 weeks to April 25! Shake it off, and move on.

17 January 2010

The Routine

This week's training was worked around a head cold, and the first week of teaching after a 5-year hiatus. Given the new course, new material, less than ideal preparation, etc., I had to put the training in 2nd place priority. Make the course work, then see how the training fit in. And the course itself - this is the first time I've held 2 sections during the same term, and that takes some getting used to, also.

My training plan, from 4 Months to a 4-hour Marathon, unfolds in 2 halves: Weeks 1 - 8 the Endurance Phase, and Weeks 9 - 14 the Stamina Phase. Endurance Training, then, looks like this:
Monday - 20-30 minutes, jogging. I'm not entirely sure what "jogging" is supposed to mean, relative to speed or pace. On a treadmill, I set the speed to 6.5 (mph); when I run outdoors, it's like a 27-minute 5k in the neighborhood. I don't know if I should run this faster or slower. I gather the main thing is the time. Other workouts are more specific.
Tuesday - 20-30 minutes, cross training. For me this is on my bike, at this time of year in the basement on a trainer, about the length of an episode of the old TV series "Get Smart." Anything better, you know, and I'd be tempted to stay longer on the bike, which my body already wants to do, so you know why tempt it?
Wednesday - speed intervals, quarter-miles. This is the most interesting workout, in the sense that I would never do this on my own, and would never have thought of it. Along with Saturday's mileage, this is one of only 2 weekly workouts that changes from week to week. Setting a pace faster than I would run a marathon (2:05 - 2:15 minutes per quarter mile), I run a quarter, then have a 2-minute recovery period. Repeat for x times, the number growing from 6 (week 1) to 16 (week 8). This workout changes in the Stamina Phase. My speed workout in Week 2 was on a small indoor track (12-laps = 1 mile); Weeks 1 and 3 were on the treadmill. I wish the outdoor tracks were clear!
Thursday - 20-30 job, or optional Rest Day. Well, I'm feeling well enough so far that I am using this day to get more easy miles in. So far, so good.
Friday - 20-30 minutes, cross training. Again, on the bike.
Saturday - Distance run, at marathon pace (10:40 - 11:20 minutes per mile). The miles build through the Endurance Phase, with a couple of lighter Saturdays thrown in, to a high of 17 miles. During the Stamina Phase, this run will finally hit 24 miles, a couple of weeks before the marathon.

So, that's the plan. This week, a little different!
Mon. - 20-30 minute jog? Well, I was sick, and class started today. So it was cross-training, at home, at night, on my bike with a borrowed trainer since mine broke last week.
Tue. - 20-30 minutes, cross. A lighter day, obligation wise, so though I didn't feel great (and only marginally better than Monday), I ran before going into the office. 5k in the neighborhood. The nice thing about this run? It was my first outdoor workout since December 14! Which means my first during the official training.
Wed. - Quarter mile speed intervals. Ah, but today, teaching and still sick, I took that rest day I normally ignore. C'est bon.
Thu. - 20-30 minute jog? No, today I did the speed intervals on a treadmill. 10x400, jogging (not walking) for the recovery time. This ended up giving me 5.3 miles total without walking. The run portion was fairly brisk - I ended up covering each quarter in under 2 minutes. And it felt good.
Fri. - back on track, with a cross day on the bike.
Sat. - This was my longest run ever, pushing past 10 miles (last run on September 3) but perhaps falling a bit shy of the scheduled 11. Compensating for the distance, I hope, were the Glen Ellyn hills that comprised the course my running friend and de facto coach, Rich, set for us. This was also the first time I've run with someone else except for a short run with my son Andrew back in August.

Some things that surprised me about the long run:
* The pace (turned out to be about 9 minute miles, on average) felt good nearly the whole way.
* I would not have predicted that I could engage in conversation throughout a run of this distance.
* Without being scientific about it, I was dressed appropriately for the temperature, wind, etc. It was more comfortable than I had any right to expect.
* I never go 90 minutes (the length of the run) on a bike without finishing a small water bottle. I often eat something on a ride of that length, but not always. This run was without water and without calorie intake. I wonder how having one or the other, or both, would have changed the run. The advice I see about race day is to be sure to take a drink every couple of miles, and to know what you should eat, and how often. Surely before I run the 17 miler in February, I will have to think about that.

Well, so the end of Week 3. A little stretching, some good nourishment back at home. And today, the day after, feels good. The goal for the coming week is to do all the jogging outdoors. I think I'm stuck inside for the speed intervals, for now. I may have to alter the routine still to accommodate teaching - I don't see how to fit in speed intervals on a teaching day, for example. But that's 3 down, 13 to go. I'm sure there will be many surprises ... and not all of them pleasant!

12 January 2010


My objections and reservations aside, I am in training to run my first marathon.

"I am not a runner" - I will still assert this. As I said to someone in the gym recently, "running is still my love language." Still, after my toe in the water with a charity 5k run in June, and people telling me I did well (surprised to hear this was my first 5k) ... well, I don't know if it was flattery, curiosity, or endorphins - I kept running, a little bit. In addition to time on the bike, I ran once or twice a week, and decided to see how far I could go without a lot of pain. The goal? "Friends" were egging me on to register for a specific marathon. I set a distance goal, and decided if I could handle a 10-mile run by the opening of registration for the marathon, I would do it. By September I had, and on September 1 I registered for the Big Sur International Marathon.

The Big Sur is NOT the ideal "first marathon." I have worked through this with the men I'll be going with (all of whom will finish the course before I do). It is a dumb idea; but on the other hand, since I have never run a marathon, I have nothing to compare it to. So, the reasoning goes - and even if it's only to make me feel better, I'm buying into it - I can just enjoy it.

Two things attracted me to the idea. Three things: 1 - it is a chance to get to California and see my son Chris, in the Bay Area; 2 - I have driven the coastal highway, and the idea of trotting along and being able to take it in is hard to resist; 3 - it is an "anniversary year" for the event (25th), and so should be specially interesting and fun. To top it off, I will be with 3 other men from church, including one of my pastoral colleagues. That will provide some training camaraderie, and an extra bit of personal engagement before, during and after the race.

While sorting out this prospect, I spent a few days in Portland, OR, with my Karen. As I do whenever we go there, I spent one of those days at Powell's Bookshop. There I found a cheap used copy of a 10-year-old training guide: 4 Months to a 4 Hour Marathon by Dave Kuehls. I almost disregarded it, then noted that Kuehls wrote the book after his father - A MAN IN HIS 50's! - decided, trained, and ran his FIRST MARATHON. OK, so this book had to come home with me. I ran it by a couple of marathoning friends, who said, yes, the training program looks good. The age of the book primarily meant information about gear had changed, but the advice was sound.

So by September I had bought my first pair of "running store running shoes" and registered for the Marathon. I wasn't ready to give up the bike in good weather, but I committed to running twice a week, just to keep the legs where I wanted them. These were mostly 5k runs in the neighborhood or on the paths across the road from me. 5k or 5 miles. For one of those runs I had ridden a bike into town to give to a friend, prepared to run back home, on streets and the path. The next day my knee was in a great deal of pain, which lasted a couple of weeks. That's when I stopped using my old running shoes as alternates ...

Christmas Day was exactly 4 months to the April 25 marathon in California. Happily, by tracking the weeks instead of the dates, I could put off the start of official training for a couple of days. This past Saturday I finished week 2, with a 9-mile run. This coming Saturday, at the end of week 3, I am meant to run 11 - which will then be the longest run of my life.

The only frustration so far is that with the intense cold - and actully more to the point, with icy streets and snow-packed paths - my first 2 training weeks were indoors, at the Wheaton College Sports and Recreation Center. That has got to change! Quarter mile speed intervals are lousy on small tracks, and 9 miles on a treadmill ... well, the Decemberists helped, and Johnny Cash. But still.