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Chapter 6:

When I'm 64
Friday, September 3, 1999

Non-running geezer and geezerette friends will complain with a sigh when I greet them: "Ah'm tahrd" They add parenthetically: "I guess when we get to be our age we just can't do all the things we used to."

Speak for yourselves, ancient ones!

In fairness, there is some truth to what they say. I no longer do heavy yard work. I gave it up ten years ago when I realized that every time I did it I would be as sick for a week from allergies as if I had caught a bad cold. What's the point of mowing your own lawn if it makes you sick, even if it is good exercise? So I pay a landscaper.

I've worn glasses for the last twelve years. I regard them as just another form of prosthetic device. I need them while sitting in front of a computer, where I can be found most of the time. I still see well at a distance. I can count the ants walking up a signpost across the street, so I don't wear glasses when I run. But if I have to read something I'm holding in my hand, I need the aid of lenses. For those occasions I wear bifocals. They're part of my geezerly street gear.

I've lost quite a bit of my hearing. It's a hereditary condition. I don't use hearing aids, but I should, and certainly will before long. I'm getting tired of saying Huh? in response to everything that people say, and I suspect my family, friends, and colleagues are, too.

I'm cautious about lifting things that are either heavy or awkward. I'm afraid of what I might do to my back. I have no fear of weights at the gym, but I'd rather not pick up a television or a piece of furniture unless I plan the lift carefully.

The first thing my wife does in the morning when she stands up is to make the bed, or her half of it. I try to do that myself, but it's painful for me when I first arise to bend over just that little bit. Sometimes I have to get down on my knees to pick my socks up. When I'm thoroughly awake and warmed up, I can do anything I ever did.

Other than those activities, I can't think of anything that I ever did in the past that I can't or won't do now just as much or more and as well or better.

The Fool Over the Hill

Perhaps true geezerhood is largely a state of mind. People usher themselves into the fellowship and find they have suddenly become lifetime members.

The authors of articles about older runners always define "older" as starting with age forty. Thursday morning I read Jeff Galloway's article "Masterful Aging" in September's Runner's World. Sure enough, he cites the turning point as age forty.

Yup, according to him and other experts, when we get to be over that age, there's no question — everything falls apart. We need to warm up more, rest more, walk more, and make all kinds of adjustments we never would have dreamed of before.

So some readers of RTtM might wonder: Since I'm 56 and obviously waaaaaaaaayyy over the metaphoric hill, why on earth am I working so hard on increasing my running? Shouldn't I be slowing down and taking up stamp collecting, resigned to the inevitable consequences of what is built into every living human being's genes? Shouldn't I buy myself a wheelchair for when I need it, and reserve a spot in a retirement home where I can take up shuffleboard and play pinochle on rest days?

The problem is, you see, I neglected my body for most of the first fifty years of my life. It's true that I ran a bit in my mid-thirties, but most of my forties I was close to inactive except for occasional weekend hikes and yardwork.

An article by Joe Henderson in April, 1999 Runner's World stated his belief that runners seem to have around ten peak years, regardless of when they start. By that principle, a seventeen-year-old high school cross country champ might look forward to being a good college athlete, then having a few good years, but being a has-been by age thirty. A person who takes up marathoning in his middle twenties might peak in his early thirties, and even be competitive.

And we all know about people who don't start until their thirties or forties. Now, with the second running boom, we have stragglers like me who buy their first pair of real running shoes and start hitting the streets after age fifty, and who progress so quickly that suddenly they believe they're invincible and cut out to be ultrarunners.

Whatever the truth is in my own case, the circumstance remains that at five years, if the philosophy is valid, I'm still in mid-form and near the peak of what I will ever accomplish, and have at least two or three more good years left. One thing is certain: My peak running phase is destined to be short. I'd like to think that I'll still be running marathons ten or even twenty years from now, but whether that happens remains to be seen. Even if I do, my PRs have already been set, or will be soon.

Meanwhile, I sense that now is my time. It's now or never, so I'm reaching for the brass ring. Distance running is not one of those experiences I'll think about in old age and regret that I never had the gumption to get into. I'll be able to say: Been there, done that, got lots of T-shirts.

Carry That Weight

On Wednesday something wasn't right at all. I hit the track wanting to run, but did eight miles in a personal worst time by a margin of 1:59. My previous PW at that distance was in January, 1997, the first time I recorded it. My PR is 10:00 faster. Perhaps wearing my oldest shoes with 550 miles on them and ordinary white crew socks detracted some from the effort as well.

It was a miserable experience. The cause was a complete lack of energy. I felt like a Caterpillar tractor trying to make time on the German Autobahn.

In the end it mattered little. I was there strictly for the miles, and I did run the whole distance, knowing I would be resting and sleeping well the next two days in preparation for the weekend.

I'm Only Sleeping

On both Wednesday and Thursday nights I slept well and longer than I usually get to during the week. Thursday and Friday were days of complete rest.

Friday I took the day off work, in order to string together a four-day weekend for myself, ending with Labor Day on Monday. Most of the day was spent performing errands. In the process I bought a new pair of shoes, a different kind than I have worn before. I've had thirteen consecutive pair of Brooks Addiction IIs, and I have one pair of Montrail Vitesse trail shoes. I just wanted to try something new, so got some supposedly equivalent shoes by Asics, the Gel Foundations. They sure are comfortable on my feet. I'm anxious to try them, but I'm not going to wear them on my 50K training run tomorrow. A mistake like that could ruin me.

Tonight it will be early to bed, nine hours sleep, and later in the morning I'll head bravely over to the track to face one of the biggest running challenges of my life.

Sunday, September 5, 1999

Yessss!! I made it: Yesterday I ran 353 laps on tRtNE, 50,031 meters, without walking except hydration laps. It was an outstanding, strong run.

Preparation was the key to a good run. In addition to all the work I've done to build up to this level, I slept and ate well the last three nights. Saturday morning I got up feeling fresh and rested. I ate yogurt and a PowerBar, drank coffee, read email, and relaxed until shortly after 10:00 AM. Usually on Saturday morning I don't have that luxury, but for this I rearranged my schedule.

The weather was spectacular for this time of year — still warm, but clear and fresh. It was a day to do things outside.

After a careful warmup, I approached the line that marks the start of clockwise laps, and recognized that I've never felt better and more ready to go at the start of a long run except at St. George, Utah, in October, 1997, my first marathon.

Wanting to take no chances, I started out slowly. I knew that no matter how carefully I conserved my energy, after fifty kilometers I would be completely exhausted.

According to my habit, I planned to walk, drink, and eat every forty laps. Those breaks are closer to a lap and a quarter each. As I come around the start curve, I stop running, walk the sixteen steps or so to the little alcove where I stash my gear, pick up the bottle, walk and guzzle a full lap, put the bottle back, and continue walking until the next curve, about twenty more steps.

That's exactly what I did, with minor variations, as noted below, after laps 40, 80, 120, 160, 200, 240, 280, and 320. Every other lap of the day was run.

It was quiet at the gym. I saw only two people I ever talk to all afternoon. The first, a man named Peter, who knew what I was planning, I encountered a minute before I started. The other is a widower I've known for 21 years. His son used to baby-sit for my two children when they were little. He has been cheering my running progress from the vantage point of a stationary bicycle for the last three years. I stopped and talked to him for thirty seconds on my 200th-lap break, just short of eighteen miles, when I still felt strong.

Because the run was so quiet and efficient, there is little to talk about except the mechanical details. I've learned that dividing long runs into forty-lap segments works well not only physically, but psychologically. It became like a series of nine consecutive 3.5-mile jogs, seemingly far less formidable than facing a whole fifty kilometers as a single chunk.

My running was slow, smooth, and in good form though at least 200 laps. In the course of things I consumed a quart and a half of Gatorade, at least a quart of water, one Hammer Gel, one GU, and two Cliff Shots. I had never tried either the Hammer Gel of Cliff Shot before. I liked the latter, particularly the cocoa peanut variety. In addition, I swallowed four Succeed! electrolyte capsules, one before I started, and three during the run, and several Advil.

By 240 laps, a bit over 21 miles, I started to feel the strain. On that break I walked an extra half lap. I did the same at 280 laps.

Starting from lap 228 (twenty miles), I paid special attention to the way I was feeling, and to staying alert. Two weekends ago, when I ran the marathon, I entered a trancelike state, especially the last few miles. I barely knew where I was or what I was doing.

Afterward I concluded this was a bad thing. I'm not seeking Nirvana or oneness with some undefined ultimate reality when I run. I'm trying to accomplish a difficult physical task, and need to pay attention to what I'm doing or I might get hurt. So pay attention I did.

That little flash of insight was probably the most valuable lesson I learned from the experience: When running distance, don't just let it happen as though I have no control over it and the experience is overtaking me. Instead, pay attention to what is happening, and use the information gathered to improve performance.

Pass it on.

At 298 laps I passed the marathon mark. My marathon split was 4:50, much slower than I expected, especially given that my half marathon split was 2:20. Two weeks ago I ran the marathon in 4:43, also too slow. I wasn't walking; I just slowed way down.

Every step from then on was new territory for me. Last February I did one 29.4-mile training run in preparation for Crown King 50K, but it was mostly on difficult trails where I had to walk a great deal; it took me 7:24. Crown King itself took 8:07 because of the 6,000-foot elevation gain, most of it over the last 15 miles. Yesterday was the first time I tried to run a whole 50K, minus the reasonable and customary hydration breaks.

At 320 laps I desperately needed the scheduled break. By then I was filled to the teeth with disgusting sour liquids and frosting-flavored sludge squeezed from the equivalent of toothpaste tubes. I neither wanted nor needed any more food or water, but I really did need the walking break. When I got to the rail I stretched my legs for fifteen seconds. The benefits were quasi-resurrectional. From then until the end I was fine.

My finish time was 5:49:10. It took me 59 minutes to finish the additional 4.84 miles after passing the marathon distance. But that time is a full 2:18 faster than my time at Crown King, a testament to the difficulty of that course.

More meaningful than the time, perhaps, was the expenditure of effort as recorded by my heart rate monitor: an average of 135 BPM for the entire run, 79% of my MHR. It was recording that one mile into the run, and said the same at the end. My pace slowed substantially over time, but if my effort had slackened, my HRM would have given me away.

Physically I fared well. My feet are fine, with no blisters, except that today one already-black toe is glowering bulbously at me again.

Everything that had been preVaselined was fine. One unVaselined spot suffered badly. It's a place I'd rather not mention, other than to say that the idea of putting Vaseline there was even more revolting than the consequences of not doing so. That having been said, suffice it to add that in the end I may have resembled a baboon in one or more prominent features.

I'm working on finding a solution for that problem in the future.

Not a Second Time

Take the distance I ran yesterday. Double it. Go run that 51 days in a row. That's what all four of the Sri Chinmoy 3100 runners accomplished earlier this summer.

Tomorrow is the beginning of the Sri Chinmoy 1300, which continues until September 24. At that level I'll remain content as an interested spectator.

After a day like yesterday most normal persons would have been content to sit on the couch and watch sports on TV. Not me. Real Life demanded that I be up by 6:30 to study. Then we went to a meeting all morning.

When I got home I headed out for a walk. Originally I thought I was due for five miles, but when I rechecked the schedule it said eight miles. Once I started, I said: Heck with it! and decided to do ten miles. My reasoning is: Tomorrow is a holiday and I can sleep in. Regardless of what I do today, once my body comes to its senses and realizes what I did to it yesterday, I'll probably find it a struggle to do ten miles on Wednesday, so an extra two today can be taken off of Wednesday's quota. This month I can be more flexible with distance than I have been the previous two months, when I had to stick closely to my prescribed goals in order to keep the numbers up. As long as I can create a general taper, hitting somewhere close to the weekly target mileages, I'll be OK.

It's become hot here once again. The forecast is for it to hit 108 tomorrow. I made the mistake of taking a twenty-ounce hand bottle rather than my CamelBak, and ran out of lemonade at exactly the turnaround. I had to endure 1:15 worth of return trip without a drink. It was not fun, but I survived. My legs are tired, but I managed to ultrashuffle a mile or two of the return trip.

I'm A Loser
Tuesday, September 7, 1999

It seems that I've got competition from Harrison Ford. According to the latest Ladies' Home Journal, with his picture on the cover, "This 57-year-old self-described `geezer' was named `Sexiest Man Alive' by People magazine just last year."

Hmmmph. I guess there's always room for one more geezer in this world. I'm not sure about the other part. On the other hand, I'll bet Harrison Ford can't run for 24 hours.[11] But why should he? He's already garnered the SMA title without that.

[11] I'm not so sure I can, either.

Other than that astonishing bit of trivia, there's not much to report today. Yesterday, a holiday,[12] I slept in, worked around the house, did an hour or so of weight training later on, and avoided both running and walking.

[12] For some people.

One observation about my present state that pleases me is that I seem to be recovering quickly. Despite the long distances, I've experienced almost no soreness at all. However, eliminating muscle soreness is not all there is to recovery. There is also the matter of regaining enough energy to run properly again. I didn't have it Sunday, and I didn't have it yesterday.

Today I did five miles, mostly running, with some walking thrown in, and I felt strong. I followed a sequence of one brisk lap, three easy laps, two hard laps, and one walking lap, until I completed the distance. I didn't feel like running the whole thing, but know I could have if I'd put my mind to it. The only ingredient missing was a sufficient degree of wanna.

Hmmm. I wonder if Harrison Ford has gotten his first senior citizen's discount yet?

Sea of Time
Wednesday, September 8, 1999

Purists like to point out that the third millennium won't begin until January 1, 2001. There was no year zero, so the first hundred years were numbered 1—100. The second hundred years, or century, began with 101, and so on, down to the present time.

The purists are absolutely right. In the long run the purists will probably be regarded as pedantic losers, having been overrun by simpler-thinking folk who have reconciled, for practical purposes, the notion that the first century lasted only 99 years. It makes life easier to think of history that way.

Besides, seeing all those nines change to zeros is way more exciting and worthy of celebration than watching a digits column increment by one. I still remember the day when the odometer on my first car rolled over to 100,000 miles. It was around 2:00 PM on Superbowl Sunday, January 28, 1978, on a backroad in Waldo, Maine. I guess it incremented to 100,001 a mile later. I don't remember. I was no longer paying attention.

I chose the name of this journal while riding the wave of popular tumult over the coming year. I may drown in that wave, but I'm standing by the title.

This discussion may not matter at all, because tomorrow is 9/9/99, a day it is theoretically possible for the computers of the world to come to a crashing halt.

Slow Down

I've been waiting patiently since Saturday for my mitochondria to rebuild themselves. Until that happens, my performance, no matter how strong-willed, will be less than good. It appears that a few of them have returned. So today I went out and promptly beat them up again.

As usual on recent Wednesdays, first I powerwalked four miles outdoors. The high temperature today was 108. The humidity was only 14 percent, and it didn't feel that hot to me. Perhaps I'm finally getting used to it. Either that or it's really getting to me. Afterward, I ran four miles at the gym. The first two laps I ran slowly, but then I laid into it, and finished with a second best time ever for the distance, at a 9:10 pace, but still 1:05 slower than my PR.

Whatever possessed me to run it that hard? And where did I put that protein powder?

Come Together
Thursday, September 9, 1999

Another pastime I enjoy is playing chess. I've been watching the proceedings of the game matching Garry Kasparov versus the Whole World with great interest as it now heads into what promises to be a challenging endgame, with a kick-to-the-finish pawn race.

My own endgame is lousy. When I studied the game, I never could get all the way to the part in the books that taught the reader how to wrap up a superior position, turning it into a win. That's why I usually lose. No matter, because as with running, this uniquely uncompetitive soul finds joy in the doing more than in the winning. Of course, in running I've never won anything and never will, unless I get an award someday for outliving the competition.

Training is like a game of strategy. The opening game is building a mileage base, the middle game is sharpening, and the endgame is the taper, the time when all the hard work comes together before putting it to the test. As with chess, therein lies my weakness. I usually blow it in the taper one way or another.

The issue of Runner's World that arrived yesterday has a detailed article on tapering with more suggestions than I know how to digest. By coincidence, the topic has also come up for discussion on the running lists. I'm awash in advice.

My problems are twofold. First there is deciding what the best options are and making the right choices. The suggestions offered by experts are many, varied, and sometimes in disagreement. Then there is the matter of doing the right thing.

The traditional approach says to do the last long run three weeks before the big race. I've learned from experience that this is too long for me, even though it takes time for my ransacked mitochondria to grow back. If I take three weeks I'll turn into a rotting pumpkin.

So I've been tinkering with my schedule for the remainder of this month. At this moment it says I'll run ten miles this Saturday, a half marathon the next week, which is two weeks before the Twin Cities Marathon, and eight miles one week and a day before. But it could change by the time I email this report.

Until this afternoon I was planning on running eighteen miles the Saturday after next. Then I read that it's good to run frequently, but shorter distances, while keeping up the intensity. Maybe I should try that this time. So I knocked the eighteen down to a half marathon. I'm trusting all the mileage I've already done to take care of the endurance issue.

How to eat, or in my case not to eat is also a big question. I've become fond of my recently-acquired ability to shovel in large quantities of fuel with impunity and still maintain my weight, albeit at too high a level. If I run less, I should eat less. I don't want to eat less. I like to eat. Hey, now that I'm thinking about it ...

Back with some pretzels. See what I mean? It's tough.

All things considered, then, making it all come together at the end is in some ways the hardest part of training.

It Won't Be Long

I considered a relatively casual four-miler today, but instead opted for an intense two-miler. Two miles (2.03 miles, 23 laps on tRtNE) is not a distance that I have run often recently. Today was only the sixth time this year. The only time I do it is when I want to kick out the jams with an all-out effort, or when I'm dead beat and don't think I can go any further.

This was one of those jam-kicking days. At least it was in my heart. My mitochondria didn't agree.

My first mistake was a failure to warm up adequately, though I tried. This resulted in some slow and uncomfortable opening laps. I almost gave up the idea of running hard. Eventually I got used to it. It wasn't the most pleasant of experiences, but I improved and hung on through twenty laps, but didn't have much of a kick left at the end.

I should be capable of running two miles consistently at a sub-9:00 pace, but have done so only a few times. With the slow start, today's run ranked only eighth out of 42 recorded runs at the distance.

Tomorrow is rest. My mitochondria are dancing with joy at the news.

Sunday, September 12, 1999

Theoretically, by running shorter distances and resting more than I have been, I am recovering, rebuilding broken down muscle, and becoming prepared to perform well at Twin Cities Marathon, now just 21 days away.

So be it. I hope it's true. I have to wonder whether the advice I read in Runner's World to run shorter but with higher intensity is at odds with the goal. Doesn't a short, intense run add up to essentially the same thing as a long, easy run in terms of muscle damage? I'll have to wait and see.

On Saturday I ran ten miles. This was my shortest long run since early June. It's become my habit, when pressing toward a marathon, to make a half marathon distance my short long run, the longest distance I run on recovery weeks.

In the morning I was out in the oppressive heat and unusually high humidity, visiting people from house-to-house for two and a half hours. It wasn't fun to wear a tie in that, and have rarely been so glad to get rid of it.

By the time I started my run on tRtNE it was after 1:00 PM. When I arrived, it was my heartfelt desire to run this one hard. I rarely go out with the premeditated intention of trying for a PR. Record performances spring into existence following the realization upon running a few initial warmup laps that I'm feeling better than usual. It's necessary to commit oneself to the goal early on, or else it won't happen.

Saturday's run was excellent, but it was not one of those PR days. Despite my good intentions, the first few laps didn't feel good at all, so I resigned myself to a mid-range effort. With effort and concentration, I maintained a decent pace for forty laps, the distance it usually takes me to get into a groove, and from then on it went well.

I decided to run hard until eighty, then sizzle the last three miles. Normally I break up a run mentally into segments. When I got to this point I tried something different: focusing on one lap at a time. Each lap I pushed as hard as I reasonably could, and then worried about how I would survive the next lap when I got to it.

I wouldn't recommend this technique. It worked for only a mile. Finally, I was obliged to take two laps at a pace I almost could have walked faster than before picking it up again. Somehow I mustered up enough oomph to kick the last lap.

The time was 1:37:12, nearly six minutes off my PR, but seventh on my list of 38 recorded runs at the distance. If it weren't for the rocky beginning, I would have done better.

Sometimes a more consoling indication of effort than time is average heart rate. I sustained an average of 85.3% of my MHR for the distance, with a peak of 94.1%. Given the distance, I'm pleased with that.

The last time I ran faster ten-milers was under interesting circumstances. I set my PR seven days before Crown King 50K, and got my second best time seven days after Crown King. I'm not sure what that curious piece of data tells me.

Now my first week of reduced mileage and tapering is completed, and as I write this it is three weeks from race day. One point I need to focus on is this: Twin Cities is supposed to be a race for fun, not for maximum performance. We're going up to be tourists for a few days, and to visit my mother. It's Tucson two months later that I;m aiming for, where I hope to PR. And both marathons are warmups for Across the Years.

As anticipated, my biggest problem right now is with food. Not only did I eat too much of the wrong things in the morning yesterday, I ate too much later. Last night we had guests for dinner, and feasted — on vegetarian lasagna, but in abundance — complete with wine, beer, and desert. Yummm! Urp. Bloat.

Today I feel like a festering cow pie. And in deference to tapering, I'm not walking or exercising at all today. This inactivity, I am assured, is good for me.

Tuesday, September 14, 1999

I hate tapers. It's not an addiction to running that makes me miserable. I'm perfectly content to take well-earned days off. The problem is that I can't adjust to a sustained reduction in activity. I'm jumpy, and I eat too much, which is counterproductive.

I never carry money. Money spoils in my pocket. If I go to work with a dollar in my pocket, by 10:00 AM the dollar has mysteriously turned into cookies sitting beside my keyboard. And we all know what cookies turn into.

Saturday I laid my hands on a five-dollar bill that found its way into my shoulder bag. Yesterday it had become four dollars and three Otis Spunkmeyer cookies. This morning it was three dollars and cookies. Now it's just the three dollars. See? Proof.

So usually I let my wife keep all the money. She insists that I do anyhow. I think I need help.

Monday I worked only with light weights for half an hour, and did no running. That was an error. I misread my training schedule — I was supposed to do two miles. I could have used it.

However, I did walk six laps. A few days ago I bought Dave McGovern's book The Complete Guide to Racewalking Technique and Training, not because I want to become a racewalker, but to help me improve my walking technique. Having read the first two chapters carefully, I wanted to analyze my present gait while watching myself in the mirror, beginning to apply what I learned.

This stroll wasn't hard or long enough to qualify as an aerobic workout for someone who has been doing fifty-mile weeks. Instead, I feel bloated and soft. I'm as solid as a tube of toothpaste.

Twist and Shout

In addition, I've come to realize that I'm slightly injured. Don't worry, it's not the sort of thing that will prevent me from running. I've acquired some upper body kinks.

Three weeks ago I began some shoulder exercises and felt a sharp pain in my upper right deltoid, bringing my first rep to an abrupt exclamatory halt. Something got torn or pinched. Now I have to favor that side until it stops hurting.

On Sunday I woke up with a pain in my left shoulder, high up near and extending into my neck. Whether I slept on my arm wrong or did something to myself working out I don't know, but the pain was bad enough that I had to get up in the middle of the night and take three Advil in order to get to sleep.

It still ached considerably yesterday, but seems to be much better today. It's just one of those things associated with aging, I suppose. But the right shoulder pain has continued long enough to be annoying.

Got To Get You Into My Life
Wednesday, September 15, 1999

My Real Life schedule is momentarily ridiculous. Suddenly every moment for the next three days has become filled up. I have an important errand to take care of tonight after work. Tomorrow my wife and I are celebrating our 21st wedding anniversary, and I haven't had one second available even to get to a store to buy a card or a present for her. I was planning on skipping out of work early tomorrow.

Then my boss came to me this morning and asked if I could take a technical class tomorrow and Friday. This would get me out of work later than I normally leave. How am I supposed to fit everything in?

It turns out Suzy has had a similar burden. We've agreed that tomorrow night we'll just kick back with a bottle of wine and do something to celebrate on the weekend.

With clever manipulation, I should be able to work in short runs both tonight and tomorrow. Maybe.

Helter Skelter

Upon arriving at the gym yesterday, I was in a frame of mind to try a hard five-miler. When I started running I knew it would not be my best run ever, but that it would be possible to push it a bit, which I was willing to settle for. (As if I had a choice.)

After only three laps Richard the podiatrist showed up, wanting to run about 25 minutes. He wanted to run it right alongside me. Richard is planning on running his first marathon ever, in Milwaukee, on October 10. As of today he has never yet run further than a half marathon in his whole life. Somehow he has it all worked out in his head how he is going to survive this experience, and come out of it with a 3:30—3:45 time.

I enjoy the company, and the challenge that arises when another runner joins me. Invariably I increase my pace at least a little to keep up with the runner who has slowed down for my sake. But sometimes these rabbits run me ragged.

You can tell Richard is in the health care profession. His manner of conversation is to ask endless questions, as though he were examining a patient. "How long are you running today? What pace are you planning on? How far have you gone? How are you feeling? Are your new shoes working out? When do you leave for Minnesota? How far did you run Saturday? Did you walk Sunday?" My answers grew shorter and shorter.

When I was no longer able to keep up my end of the conversation, Richard soliloquized. "This is a nice easy pace. We must be running about 8:30 to 8:45. I think this is the pace I'll try and run the first sixteen miles of my marathon at. If I can hold this pace, then I'll worry about the last ten miles when I can get there. This is nice and relaxing." In between, being a friendly conversationalist, I'm acknowledging his comments with, "Gak! ... Urk! ... Unnnh! ... Wheeze!"

Richard finally asked, "How does this pace feel to you?" I replied, with intermittent gasps, "If I can sustain it, I'll set a five-mile PR by a couple of minutes!" I was in a state of serious discomfort, suffocating from major oxygen debt.

Regrettably, I couldn't hang on. At lap 31 (out of 57), I threw in the towel and had to walk, but only one. Richard hung with me. Then I ran it hard to the end. Richard dropped out at 35 laps. He was probably bored.

My final time was not as fast as I thought it would be, even accounting for the one walked lap. I've concluded that I must have failed to count one lap somewhere along the way, and so ran one extra.

I watched the wall clock and know the time I ran many laps in. There were only a few in my normal slow-mode, and the one walked lap, adding less than thirty seconds to the total. Playing with the numbers, I see that taking the final time as applying to one extra lap, my pace, even with the walked lap, would have ranked eighth rather than sixteenth out of 86 recorded five-milers. This sounds reasonable, given both how I felt and what I was seeing for lap times. My heart rate monitor said I averaged 87%, also with the walk factored in.

I'm not going to change my record, because I can't prove that's what happened. But if I ran the slower time, I'd have to say that it's a bit disappointing. Therefore, I'm planning to pop off a sizzlingly hard three-miler next Tuesday, just to see where I'm really at on the speed and intensity scale.

Everybody's Got Something To Hide Except Me and My Monkey
Saturday, September 18, 1999

The problem: chafing! The solution: big, fancy underpants![13] Bye-bye monkey butt!

[13] In this case, Champion Cool Liners.

Pass it on.

Maybe I'm Amazed

Today I ran 15 miles, setting a PR for the distance by a margin of 2:57, my best of seven on record.

Ultrarunners say that the way they get through hard parts, when they feel like quitting, is to keep running until they don't feel so bad anymore. There seems to be a basis in real-world experience to that philosophy.

To me it's amazing, seemingly contrary to nature, when I start a long run raring to go, and things don't go well, but gradually, instead of wearing down and getting worse, I overcome it, and it keeps gets getting better and better until by the end I feel best of all and am running at 5K pace and finish feeling fresh and alive. That happened today.

It was my last long run before Twin Cities, now fourteen days and ten hours away. My scheduled intent was to run only ten miles, but Real Life got crazy this week. With two rest days and no runs longer than ten miles since I ran 50K two weeks ago, I felt I needed extra distance, so went for a half marathon.

It often takes me exactly 3.5 miles to snap out of a funkily-started run. Today it took a whole ten kilometers. From then on I grooved along, and was glad to be running.

My pace was marginally satisfactory until 10.5 miles, when an unexplainable urge to run at 5K pace suddenly possessed me. It didn't diminish until I flew past the half marathon distance in a time that was over four minutes ahead of where I thought I would be. By then I needed a walk lap, but three-fourths of one was sufficient to give me impetus to pick it up again and finish the remaining distance miles in a blaze.

A satisfying rush passed over me when I was done, in the knowledge that my geezerly soul is now as trained for Twin Cities as I know how to make it. In the last four months I have accomplished every single running goal I've put before myself.

So yay for me. Now for the bad news.

Crying, Waiting, Hoping

It's finally sinking in that tapering is important. It's not a period of living as though one is not in training. It's not a time to eat hero sandwiches for lunch, or sit and watch sports on TV all weekend with a tray loaded with chips and foamy cold drink handy. Such irresponsible behavior would amount to physical apostasy, a deliberate disowning of beliefs and practices that I value as truth itself.

Tapering is a time for calculated patience and caution, a time for premeditated control and precise moderation.

That's the theory, anyhow. Implementing it is another matter. That's why I feel like a load of bricks.

This week would have been impossible if it had been a normally heavy training week. As I reported in Tuesday's installment, I had a difficult schedule ahead. It happened, and left devastation in its wake.

On Wednesday afternoon my boss came and asked me to attend a two-day technical class all day the next two days. The short day I had planned for Thursday was not possible.

Wednesday afternoon I ran three miles. Suffice it to say that it was terrible. No matter. We had a temporarily altered schedule this week. We had a meeting to go to Wednesday night, and I had a talk to prepare for it. We didn't get home and to bed until late.

Thursday morning I arrived in the classroom of our world class on-site training center to find that coffee, donuts, and muffins had been supplied. I'd already consumed my usual morning breakfast: a piece of fruit, some yogurt, and a PowerBar. Sensible people would just turn away from the extra food. But I'm not always one of those sensible people. Instead I snarfed down a large cappucino muffin, figuring it should hold me for the day.

This reminds me of a Snoopy cartoon I saw many years ago. Snoopy is sitting in front of a calendar with the date January 1. He has a large bag beside him and is devouring a donut. He reasons, "The way I see it, you eat four dozen donuts on January 1 and nothing the rest of the year, and you lose weight."

Bzzzt! Wrong!

At noon in came the pizza. This I somehow managed to avoid entirely. I fled to my cubicle to get some work done instead, and never even got to smell it. I felt sure I'd conquered a major obstacle and was now invincible.

Bzzzt! Wrong!

At 2:00 PM, in came the tray of Otis Spunkmeyer cookies. I comforted myself in the rationalization that I took only two of them instead of the usual three that I buy from the cafeteria. Meanwhile, I fought all day long to keep my head from hitting the classroom desk from the boredom.

The detail that made this extravagance particularly difficult was that Thursday my wife and I celebrated our 21st anniversary. There was no time for even a token run after class. I went shopping to buy some books for Suzy instead before heading home. I spent the two dollars festering in my pocket on a card and charged the rest.

We were both much too busy to celebrate by going out this year. Suzy made us a big pot roast dinner with all the trimmings, and a yummy cake for desert. To my credit, I declined to open the bottle of wine. By bed time I was bloated and didn't sleep well that night.

Friday I played it a little smarter, anticipating we would be bemuffined once again. This time I ate no customary breakfast, and survived the morning on just a blueberry muffin. I had no lunch. In the afternoon I succumbed to three cookies that had my name on them and cried out to me from the basket, weeping. It could have been worse. Lots worse. Think about it: a whole basket of free Otis Spunkmeyer cookies sitting there unclaimed — at least two dozen of them. Once again it was all I could do to avoid falling asleep in class.

Sometimes I wish it was against my religion to eat cookies. We have a Hindu in our department at work who has been a total vegan all of his life, as far as I know. He has no problem with it. He wouldn't even dream of eating the foods he believes are bad.

Friday after work I ran a slow two miles and walked one mile. Afterward I did productive strength training for forty minutes.

Suzy went grocery shopping on Friday morning. When I stuck my head in the pantry looking for something healthful, what did my wondering eyes behold? Two giant Tupperware containers stuffed to the brim with the sort of cookies that cost $1.69 a pound, the ones you scoop out by the handful.

The tribulation was not over and still is not. This evening we were invited to my brother's house for dinner. That wasn't too bad: a few chips, salad, spaghetti, and no desert.

Once again tomorrow afternoon I'm scheduled to give a late afternoon lecture away from our home base, and we've been promised by friends that later we will be taken out to dinner somewhere.

Next week should be free of disruptions from my normal routine. I'll admit that I don't handle either exceptions or food problems well. With a little discipline perhaps I'll purge my system a bit the following nine days, before heading off on vacation to Minneapolis.

A Hard Day's Night
Tuesday, September 21, 1999

Last Thursday I set a goal of running three miles as fast as possible today, in hopes of setting a PR for the time, or at least coming close to it.

I'm fully aware that after the first two years or so of diligent running no runner nonchalantly pops off PRs at will. Many variables must play together just right, including recent training, restedness, the running environment, and the runner's attitude at the start. Only a fool would declare his expectation of surpassing himself before he takes the first step. I've often noted that records are always set at the end of events, not at the beginning.

Nonetheless, I did want to do well today, even though my speed generally has not been up to what it has been the last several months. Therefore, I did what I could within reason to prepare for it. Two consecutive days without running followed by a three-miler is a luxury I don't often enjoy.

At the track I warmed up carefully, then walked four laps, running one slowly, walking another, and finally running one more slowly. Afterward I stood at the lap start for 45 seconds while waiting for the wall timer to come straight up on 00:00. It's one of those training clocks that has no hour hand.

I calculated that if I ran 45-second laps I would set a PR. If I averaged 46 seconds, I would miss it by three seconds.

It went well for one lap, but it was too fast: 41 seconds. The next lap was 42 seconds. That was my last comfortable lap. I had already entered the zone of pain.

It was an arduous, desperate, sloppy run, the kind you see in movies where some victimized innocent flees in frantic terror from an angry bad guy, with a look in his eyes like a horse being led from a burning barn.

I can't recall any time in the last five years when I've run five miles or less that I've been forced to stop and walk part way because of sheer oxygen debt. Not until today. I ran hard through two miles, hit the split marker on my watch, and walked three quarters of a lap, until my heart rate dropped to 120.

It was not until I got home that I realized that my two-mile split time was a PR for that distance by a margin of 33.78 seconds. Whoa!

But walk I did, nearly doubling the time of the next lap. The remaining eleven laps were downright unpleasant as I gruffly gasped and whoofed my way around the track with cavalier disregard for anyone running too close to the centerline, splattering sweat and drool and wafting odor toward them in the wake of the breeze I made as I flailed my way by.

Do breezes have wakes? No, but I like the sound of the phrase. The mixed metaphor matches the state of my mind at the time.

You Can't Do That

My finishing time works out to an 8:50 pace. I missed a three-mile PR by 33 seconds, most of it lost on that walked lap. Still, it was my third best run at the distance of 76 on record, and the best of 1999. The surprise of having set a two-mile PR by such a vast margin makes it easier to accept third best for the total run.

Had it been a 5K race (and 35 laps on tRtNE is only 129 feet short of 5K), the two-mile split would have been completely irrelevant. As I said earlier, PRs are set and races are won at the end, not in the middle.

As a person who does little speed work, I made a rookie pacing mistake: I went out way too fast. Every runner learns eventually, and invariably the hard way, that starting a run too hard puts one on the fast track to perdition. Perhaps if I had slowed down at the beginning and forced myself to keep closer to 45-second laps I wouldn't have had to stop and may have made the PR. Perhaps. Pacing is critical.

Pass it on.

One statistic of the day stands out as anomalous: my heart rate for the session. My official submaximal heart rate, measured last October, is 171. Only once have I ever seen it go higher, when it popped briefly up to 173. Other than that, I have never seen it go above 163 while running, and only rarely above 159.

Yet today I somehow averaged 159 for the run (93% of MHR), and according to the monitor, I maxed out at 182, 106% of my supposed MHR. I'm not too sure what to make of these numbers, other than I'm supposed to be dead. It would be interesting to submit to another test, now that a year has passed.

I've Got A Feeling

Less than two minutes after I stopped running, I began to sneeze, hard and repeatedly, in bursts of six to eight loud, hard achoos. Before I started to run there was no hint of any such thing approaching. I recall well that I even checked my breathing and noted that my head was particularly clear.

This bizarre reaction is a recurring phenomenon with me. It started years ago when I ran my first 10K. Immediately after the race I burst into a sustained series of violent, splattering sneeze-fits that repeated themselves at short intervals over a period of at least an hour and a half before finally winding down into what became a runny nose and stuffy head for the remainder of the day. I had felt utterly perfect before the race, with no sign of pending malady.

It happened again at my next 10K, and yet again at most all my first races. In those days I raced only 10Ks, and then two or three half marathons. The sneezing has never come on following a marathon, when the pace is much slower. It seems to arise as some kind of protest to a maximal effort. Today was the first time it ever happened on an indoor run. The only common thread I can think of with all the occurrences is that in every case I ran 10K or less as hard as I could.

It's now late evening, and I'm sitting before my computer at home surrounded by used Kleeneces. I've been dabbing my face all evening, while snotshots spontaneously escape in little rivulets from my nostrils and trickle down my lip.

Hello Goodbye
Friday, September 24, 1999

It's Friday and there is not much momentous to report; it's just time to check in with an update and be on my way again.

I've been obeying the rule that says to reduce mileage greatly during taper, but to increase intensity. Normally it's a poor idea to do speed work on successive days. But my runs have been short and my overall mileage is down to 40% of what it was only three weeks ago. So on Wednesday I topped Tuesday's staggering three-miler with a four-mile outdoor powerwalk and two miles at the gym at 8:25 pace.

It's rare for me to record a sub-9:00 pace — only 14 times ever, the longest a 10K. Until Tuesday I had not gone sub-9:00 since April 12. I've never done it two days in a row until Wednesday. Then yesterday I came through once again with another three-miler at a flat 9:00 pace. Just one or two seconds faster and I could have claimed I ran sub-9:00 three days in a row.

This series has been encouraging. It's been months since I've put together more than an occasional run in the 9:15-9:20 range or better. It suggests that what I have been hoping may be true, namely that a degree of speed would return once I gave myself opportunity to get a little rest. It portends the possibility of doing well at Twin Cities in nine days.

I Kneed You
Saturday, September 25, 1999

This morning I climbed out of the back of a van. Whack! I banged my knee hard into the edge of the door. Ooowwwch! It was one of those everyday pains that stung a few moments and then you forget about forever.

Not long afterward I noticed my left knee was throbbing, not badly, but insistently. I couldn't remember for sure if it was the same knee I clobbered, or if this was a different problem, perhaps something I brought on myself from having done three days of high-intensity running in a row.

I've been fortunate to avoid knee problems in my running so far. I'm not anxious to start at this juncture.

My schedule proposed an easy eight miles today. Instead of running it, not wanting to take any chances with my knees, I took two magazines and glasses to the gym, and worked a full ninety minutes on an elliptical trainer. I've tried these two or three times before, but have never worked on one longer than ten minutes.

Bally's posts signs saying not to use these machines longer than thirty minutes. However, it's not crowded on a Saturday afternoon, and there was always another trainer available. I badly needed this exact workout, so just this once I broke their rule. No one complained.

It was this rule that got me started running on Bally's track. I got tired of having to sign up for treadmills on a chart, doing something else until it was my appointed time, and then having to stand behind and finally chase off someone else who was using the machine, who was often someone who didn't really want to get off it. Then thirty minutes later I'd be the goat who had to make room for someone else. One day, when I knew I wanted to run longer than thirty minutes, I decided not to sign up for a treadmill and to run around the track instead. I've been doing it ever since.

I would consider buying an elliptical trainer for home use if I had the money and room in my house for one. They provide a low-impact workout, in a motion that's much closer to walking or running than the stairstep machines, which I loathe.

As reported before, I'm never bored when I run. Exercising on a stationary machine is another matter. Therefore, I brought with me some magazines I'd gotten behind on reading, so was able to get something useful done at the same time as exercising. Eventually the sweat ran in rivers down my bifocals, making it impossible to read any longer, and drenching my magazines, but it was fun while it lasted.

These devices play havoc with one's equilibrium. When I got off the trainer, having not stopped for rest, it took a good three minutes to get my land legs back, as I slowly staggered a lap around the track, trying, unsuccessfully at first, to walk like a normal person. I looked as though I'd just finished a twenty-miler without stopping.

When I walk I sometimes have a hard time keeping my heart rate high enough. I was pleased when I checked my monitor to note that I maintained an average of 76% of my MHR, and peaked at 86%.

Just for the record, I logged this workout as the equivalent of an 8.5-mile run at a 10:35 pace, a fair assessment.

I'm Down

One unexpected problem developed: the pain in my right deltoid has gotten worse instead of better. I don't even notice it when I'm not exercising the muscle directly.

Most people who use the elliptical trainers grasp the hand bars for better balance. There's a natural tendency to lean a little on the bar, putting a little of weight on these muscles, though not much. The longer I pumped, the more that shoulder ached.

It's not a tired, sore muscle pain, but the sort of pain that comes from a tear or pinched nerve. I tried holding on with only my left hand and letting my right arm dangle, which helped, but it was difficult to avoid automatically returning my right hand to the bar. Finally I gave up trying.

This pain caused me some concern. It in no way affected my work on the trainer. However, I had been planning on doing some weight training and following it with 500 yards in the pool. By the time I got off the trainer, I could no longer lift my right arm up to shoulder level without pain. I went to a station where I could gently hang from that arm in order to stretch it out a bit. But it was impossible to move my right arm in the circular motion necessary for swimming.

I didn't try. I'll do no more strength training until I get back from Minnesota. My muscles are in adequate condition under all the fat that covers them up, so I'm not worried about my strength conditioning.

Eight Days a Week

It's now eight days until Twin Cities. More precisely, it's seven days and twelve hours until start time. Eight days, seven days, whatever — it's a week away. I'm still too fat, but otherwise ready. It's almost time to start gathering things together to pack. We leave early Wednesday.

Act Naturally
Tuesday, September 28, 1999

Sunday was to be a day of rest. Technically it was. In reality, we attended a picnic for some friends of ours who are moving out of state. It was attended mostly by young people. An uncompetitive and low-key but vigorous game of volleyball was on the agenda.

What was I to do? Sit on the sidelines with the other old folks admiring the youthful energy of the participants? No way! These kids all know I'm a marathoner.

Naturally, I wanted to make a respectable showing, playing as though this was something I could do every day of my life, which I probably could. And so I did. What I lack in skill, experience, and quickness as a volleyball player I more than compensated for in endurance. I broke a sweat (it was in the upper nineties), made a few creditable plays, and was disappointed when it was time to quit after only 45 minutes. I hadn't played in years.

My only concern was that I might twist something. I'll never again be able to play a sport that requires fast moves, turns, jumps, dives, lunges, or physical contact. I never could. My prowess lies strictly in transporting my body from one location to another utilizing a gentle cyclical motion, expending enough energy to maintain a heart rate of near eighty percent of my maximum for periods of four or five hours at a time.

During the game I did take one colorful dive where I landed hard in the sand on both knees. I seem to have survived this fairly well. It's now over 36 hours since we quit playing. The main aftereffect has been that this morning my back is sore, and I had to get out of bed carefully. That's my problem area, and I need to watch that I don't exacerbate it.

Things We Said Today

Monday — six days before the race. I planned on running five miles. It didn't quite happen.

When I arrived at the gym I had no enthusiasm for a hard continuous run. Instead, I began a pattern of walking six laps and running twelve laps that lasted until lap 39. That's when I saw running buddy Richard the podiatrist standing by the edge of the track, about to start.

Normally I would wave and run on by. But I was walking at the time, so I stopped. We wound up talking for ten minutes, so this was as far as I got. When I got home I logged it as a 3.43-mile combination run-walk at a net pace of 12:10.

Richard's first marathon is on October 9. I had to check out how he was doing. Richard is younger than me by sixteen years, faster (sub-7:00 pace for 5K), taller (by about two inches), slimmer (by about twenty pounds), and stronger than I am. He has always wanted to run a marathon — just one. When Richard's brother-in-law invited him to join him in Milwaukee, he began a crash training course, starting from a base of fifteen to twenty miles a week of 7:00 MPM training.

Until a few weeks ago he had never run more than a half marathon in his life. On Saturday he ran nineteen miles at 8:15 pace and just about died.

I've known Richard for about two of years, and am quite sure he will finish his marathon, likely under his goal of 4:00, a time that I can only dream about. But it's likely he's going to hit it hard, may go out too fast, and will probably be miserable most of the second half. He's already planning on it. Yesterday he swore that this would be the only marathon he will ever run.

In contrast, I'm expecting to cruise along, enjoying the whole experience, while looking forward to my next several.

You Won't See Me

I'll stop at the gym on the way home tonight and one way or another will cover four miles and stretch for a while, partly to loosen the knots in my back.

When I get home I won't have time to compose another journal installment. We need to eat, pack, and partly disassemble my office and the bathroom adjacent to it, because while we are gone we're having friends in (licensed professional construction contractors) to do some remodeling. We need to hit the hay early enough to make a 6:55 AM plane tomorrow without feeling sleep deprived.

So it's off we go to the land of many lakes. I'll be computerless during the trip, so the next installment of RTtM won't appear until at least Thursday, October 7.

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