Whenever I do a big race, one that's been on my special list of must-dos and that involves traveling, we make a vacation out of it. That way my non-running wife, who loves to travel and be a tourist, has a reason to get enthused about the trip.
For 25 years one of my three younger brothers has lived in Minneapolis and nearby Northfield, where my mother now lives in an assisted care facility. Too often, when we go up to a visit, some quirk of circumstances prevents us to getting together either completely or for anything more than a very brief visit. He is a musician (a cellist, composer, and conductor), and just two days before we arrived in Minneapolis, he left on an extended tour, as cellist and associate conductor with the touring company of the show Miss Saigon. Once again we would be entirely unable to get together, even though his residence is near the downtown area, and a short distance of the hotel we were staying at.
It's a dangerous thing for a runner to try to be a tourist before a race. An inviting potential for overdoing things presents itself — putting too much strain on the legs, eating too much of the wrong foods, and not getting enough sleep. On the other hand, waiting until the race is over brings with it the problem of being too pooped to party.
We've tried it both ways, and have decided: Now that I'm experienced and fit enough to recover adequately from a race by the next day to walk around and function normally, next time we will try to schedule things so we rock first and roll later. But at Twin Cities we worked it the other way around.
We arrived in Minneapolis in mid-afternoon of Wednesday, September 29, got checked into our hotel in the downtown area, found a mall with restaurants, picked one and ate reasonably, then called it a night. Meanwhile we checked the weather, which was threatening to get ugly and continue ugly through the weekend.
Thursday we were pleasantly surprised by perfect fall weather: windy but cloudless, with a high of 62. The peak of foliage season was ahead of schedule. We found ourselves smack in the middle of it.
We spent from 11:30 AM until 4:30 PM on our feet, walking the splendid paths and trails of the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. It's reasonable to estimate that I put at least 6.5 light and pleasant miles on my legs that day. On the way back to the hotel we drove around the beautiful lakes in western Minneapolis. Three of them are passed in the marathon.
Friday was another story. The weather turned cold and rainy overnight, with a high of 42, and it rained much of the day. The forecast for Sunday as of that morning was for a low of 26 and a high of 42 — not good news. We heard later that on this day there was a blizzard with four inches of snow in Northfield, where my mother lives.
We spent several hours Friday at the splendid Minneapolis Institute of Art. Sometimes I wonder about the strain on the legs that walking around a museum causes. Is it exercise or isn't it? If it's not, then why do the legs of someone who can run all day long get so tired from only three hours of slowly roving around and standing before artifact after artifact?
The rest of Friday was spent off my feet, first trying to see how tangled up we could get in the traffic and rain and maze of one-way streets in downtown Minneapolis. In the evening we visited a dinner theater in Chanhassen, where the food was roughly the quality of the average Denny's, but the show, Cole Porter's Can-Can, though dated, was fun and well done.
All of Saturday was devoted to preparing for the race.
The first job was to check out of the Quality Inn and move a few blocks to the posh but expensive Hyatt Regency, the official race hotel. Once the car was parked, at an additional cost of $17.50 for valet service, we didn't have to worry about it until I picked it up Sunday afternoon after the race. On Sunday morning Suzy would have little difficulty getting us checked out and stashing our luggage before bravely catching a city bus over to the finish at the state capitol.
The race expo was a two-day affair. We didn't go on Friday, though I would have enjoyed hearing the Dick Beardsley clinic, where I assume he would have retold for the zillionth time the famous story of how he was narrowly beaten at Boston Marathon in 1982 by Alberto Salazar in one of the most exciting marathons in history, one of the few times where the prestige that came from losing was almost as great as the glory of winning.
We did catch the last third of the seminar by Craig Young, and all of the highly motivational talk by the amazing Ruth Wysocki, never a marathoner herself, but a setter of several world track records, who seems to be getting better and better with age.
Her enthusiastic presentation pumped me up for the job ahead. One story she told in particular struck me to the heart. She'd been hearing a lot of people moaning in fear of the weather conditions. She said that most of those people had already lost, and would probably not make their personal goals or run their best, because they had allowed themselves to be defeated by external circumstances.
Her point was to look beyond such things, recognizing that everyone there would be facing the same conditions. She illustrated it with a story from her own personal experiences when she ran one of the best races of her life, beating the great Mary Decker Slaney, despite every possible circumstance being against it. She had to ask herself how badly she wanted the win. On that occasion she wanted it badly enough to go out and get it. The attitude is not unfamiliar — it's the old Nike "Just do it!" formula dressed in inspirational verbiage. It's simple, but it can work.
Pass it on.
Earlier in the day I ran into Dead Runner John Evans from Manitoba, who wore his DRS T-shirt to the expo. At the conclusion of Wysocki's talk I met another Dead Runner, Minnesotan Bob Metzger. John had told Bob I would be in the seminar room, so Bob took the trouble to look me up, which I appreciated. We had talked about trying to get together before the race, but it hadn't worked out.
While on the expo floor I sampled bunches of new energy foods, most of them awful. I spent more than usual, too: bought some Bodyglide and a lightweight Speedo windbreaker, both of which I used the next day, and a long sleeve TCM T-shirt with an image of the course map on it.
I can't walk away from a place to shop without Suzy finding a way to spend some money, too. This time it was a coat and $50 worth of emu oil.
Don't ask. Besides, she pays the bills. Last time it was $13 worth of glasses cleaner. I used the emu oil the next day, too.
The Creamette Pasta Party was the best pre-race dinner I've ever been to. They had traditional Italian, southwest, and vegetarian offerings, all of it good, and a serving line for kids, the only one with meatballs, and Häagen-Dazs ice cream. Guests ate off ceramic hotel plates and flatware and used cloth napkins at big round tables with tablecloths. The banquet hall abounded with Gemütlichkeit.
Sometimes I think pastafests are from the Devil. They provide an all-too-convenient opportunity for weak-willed foodaholics like me to throw off all restraint and go for the gusto, thereby obliterating any possibility of having a good race the next day. I ate a bit more than I should have, but could have easily packed in a lot more if I hadn't been determined to avoid disaster.
We headed back to our room by 5:30 PM. All that remained was to go through the race packet, lay out my stuff for morning, set three alarms, put in a wakeup call to the front desk for 5:00 AM (yes, I'm paranoid), and pack as much as I could so Suzy wouldn't have to do it in the morning.
I slept nine hours a night each of the previous three nights, and had slept soundly. It didn't matter much how well I would sleep the night before this race, though of course I hoped for the best.
I was ready. All last-minute preparations were accomplished easily, with time to read and check the weather reports once again before turning off the lights at 9:00 PM sharp.
My sweat socks were hung by the TV with care,
And all was in order, as far as I was aware.
Then I settled down for a short autumn rest,
While visions of PowerBars danced in my head.
I slept! Not the full eight hours, but most of it. At 4:57 AM, five seconds after my foot hit the floor, my wakeup call came through. "Good morning, Mr. Newton. It's 39 degrees. Have a nice day!"
It's 39 degrees!? Hot dog!! I looked outside. Still dark and hard to tell — apparently overcast, but it was dry with no sign of imminent rain. Hope springs eternal.
I have my race morning preparation ritual down to a priestly art. There is much to remember — too much, so I write it down on a list the night before every race.
Go to the potty. Start drinking. Shave, shower, and go to the potty again. Put on big fancy underpants and red Coolmax running shorts. Slather feet, nipples, and other tender areas in Bodyglide. Ooze feet into Ultimax Ironman Triathlon running socks with padding. Put Emu oil on knees, calves, and quads. Drink a sixteen-ounce bottle of strawberry-apple juice. Take one Succeed! capsule, one Pepcid A/C, three Advil, and eat an "everything" bagel. Drink more. Go to the potty again; try extra hard to ease nature, in hopes of warding off an Eric attack. Put on my blue long sleeve Coolmax shirt, my red outer long sleeve Coolmax shirt over it, and my Dead Runners Society singlet with front and back numbers secured, Put on Asics Gel Foundation shoes with ChampionChip properly attached, running hat, Oakley Pro M Frame sunglasses with light tinted lenses up on the brim, and Timex Ironman Triathlon 100 watch, with timer zeroed out. Clip plastic badge carrier to inner shirt collar, containing driver's license, $6, and a signed legal document I've carried everywhere for over half my life that instructs medical personnel not to give me blood as medicine even if I'm found dying, matching instructions I've written on the back of my bib, and legal documents I keep in a safe. Don long warmup pants and windbreaker. Put gloves and gear bag in pocket. Wake up Suzy and kiss her in case I never see her again.
 See the section All Things Must Pass, later in this chapter.
 Geezers and geezeretts over forty, a.k.a. masters runners, are required to wear age division tags on their backs. I don't know why it's needed, but I greatly like this feature of TCM. The tags serve to tell you a little something about all the folks who are passing you.
Even taking my time, I was in the elevator and down to the hotel lobby by 6:00 AM. They had just opened up the coffee shop, so I bought some. I must have coffee in the morning. Runners were beginning to file through to get on the early shuttle buses. I was in no rush.
There's a cocktail lounge to the side of the front lobby with a lovely Yamaha grand piano in it. I'm addicted to pianos. Pianos and coffee. Pianos and coffee and running.
If I see a piano, I have to play it. If I walk into your living room for the first time ever and there is a piano there, I will say, "Oh, what a lovely home!" whether it is or not, and will then begin to play your piano without asking your permission. You've been warned.
I looked around to see if anyone was around who might complain, but there was no one. At this hour of the day I needed to produce a morning raga. Ravel and Beethoven wouldn't have fit the occasion. I sat my coffee on the bench beside me and improvised melodically, harmonizing polytonally. The sweet and sour tensions seemed just right for the hour. No one booed or asked me to cut it out.
I finished my coffee sitting on another bench. There were buses outside labeled ELITES. Before long a group of runners walked through, mostly beautiful, sleek African men dressed in Fila gear. I said to the man sitting near me, "There go the winners." Later, at the award ceremonies, I was proven to be right, when I recognized the man who got third place.
At 6:30 AM I went outside to the buses. It had gotten light enough to see well. The temperature was still chilly, but more than tolerable. I knew the day was gonna be all right. I would run without my new windbreaker.
On the bus to the Metrodome, less than a mile away, I sat with a man from New Jersey who had run only the New York City Marathon before, but had done it several times. He was in awe of how orderly everything was at Twin Cities, and regaled me with horror stories of standing in line for hours on end to pick up numbers, eat pasta, get on buses, and use the portajohns. When I returned to Phoenix, I marked NYCM at the lowest priority on my list of races I'd like to do.
We passed by Schmitt Music, a large music store with a fragment of piano music painted as a mural, taking up an entire side of the building. I'm unusually good at recognizing music from print, and can often identify even relatively obscure things from just two or three measures. The music in this mural is hideously complex, and therefore impressive to look at. I had less than ten seconds of view time to try and identify it. "Look! The Scarbo movement from Ravel's Gaspard de la Nuit!" I exclaimed to my traveling companion. It's one of the most transcendentally difficult pieces ever written for the piano. My busmate was duly nonplussed. We talked about music the remainder of the trip. Score one for the Geezer.
 I do this by sound, not by sight. I'm able to look at a piece of music and hear it reasonably well in my head.
|What I thought I saw of Gaspard de la Nuit
on the wall of Schmitt Music
Mercifully, the Metrodome, including its many bathrooms, is open for use of TCM runners. This made shedding my outer clothing and packing it in the gear bag much easier.
By 7:45 AM I was warmed up enough to stand around outside, and began to get antsy, making stupid jokes with the people around me. By the race start I was standing four feet from the fellow who was carrying the 4:30 pace group standard. Though I had not considered joining a pace group, I decided to stay as close to other 4:30 runners as I could. Once the race started, I never saw the guy with the pole again.
There is hardly a straight stretch in the whole Twin Cities Marathon course. The urban scenery changes constantly.
The course is utterly beautiful. It deserves the reputation it claims as the most beautiful urban marathon. I'm sure Minneapolis and St. Paul are no different from any other cities in having run-down and dangerous areas. But the TCM course designers adroitly managed to avoid sending us through any of them.
First it winds through the downtown area, past a theater where my cellist younger brother had been playing Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat barely two weeks before, past three of the gorgeous western lakes: Lake of the Isles, Lake Calhoun, and Lake Harriet, and from there through some south neighborhoods, past Lake Nokomis, and north on River Road on the west side of the Mississippi River. At nineteen miles we crossed the river at the Franklin Street bridge, came down the east side of the river to Summit Avenue, the straightest stretch of the course, and the location of many sumptuous homes, including the governor's mansion. The race finishes on a northeasterly downhill a mile long, ending in front of the state capitol building in St. Paul.
The first half, except for one steep hill at mile two, is mostly gentle downhill until shortly after the river crossing at mile nineteen. There, where you least want to see it, it heads relentlessly uphill, and stays that way until just after mile 23. Then it goes from easily downhill to steeply downhill, and finally to screamingly downhill at the end. The approach to the state capitol is impressive.
TCM had complete ownership of the roads during the race. There was no problem with traffic except at one intersection. The police were holding back cars that wanted to cross. A smiling policeman waved me through, assuring me it was OK to keep running, and that they weren't asking any runners to stop for traffic. Suddenly someone darted across in his sports utility vehicle, causing me to pull up short, while the policeman who had guaranteed me safe passage shouted after him with fruitless comments regarding the driver's parentage.
But the policeman had his genealogy wrong. Those of us in the know are aware that aliens from the planet Mo'ron have infiltrated our society and have surrounded us. The "man" in the SUV was one of them.
The back end of the course was progressively reopened to traffic at an alleged rate of 13:00 per mile. Happily, I was nowhere near close enough to tell how it went.
The starting temperature was about forty degrees Fahrenheit, and was no more than fifty at the end. At the beginning it threatened to rain, but it never did. Less than two miles from the end the sun peeked out briefly.
There were allegedly 7600 runners signed up for TCM. The people around me weren't even sure when it started, except we thought we heard a cheer ahead of us. From my spot in the herd it took me over five minutes to get to the starting line. It was so crowded I couldn't run a single step until my foot hit the chip-sensing mat.
Because this was a chip race, my first ever, there was no panic to get to the starting line. I love the chips, and hope they become standard equipment at all races that can afford to provide them.
My basic goal was to finish in 4:30, but if things went well, I would try for a PR. One needs to commit to an all out effort early in a race, on the basis of initial signs. If it happens, it's an occasion for celebration. Otherwise it means a death march in the second half.
I had an excellent first half, as I gleefully passed hordes of people with 40—44 back tags, something that rarely happens with me. Every mile from four to nine was in the 9:23 to 9:49 range, and no mile before ten was slower than 10:05 except the mile from two to three. That's where the first big hill was, but I managed it with aplomb.
|Looking dumb and happy at ten miles|
My watch half marathon split time was 2:10:46. I felt wonderful, smelled the possibility of a PR, and decided to go for it, even though I knew the uphill was coming later. I'd studied the course map and elevation guide, and had been warned by Bob Metzger: "It's pretty much uphill from where you will see us until mile 25 or so. It's steepest from 19—21, but then slightly and deceptively uphill for most of the next four along Summit. Be prepared." I tried to run it as though there was no hill. Silly me.
The next several miles the going got tougher, and I slowed some, but I was still OK.
The long hill began as advertised. It's not a killer, but it's long, steady, and located where you least want to see it. I remained strong until between 20 and 21 miles, though I was tiring rapidly. Then my reserves gave out.
The road from 21 to 22 seemed interminable. Some guy shouted, "The mile 22 marker is just ahead." The big, stupid liar! It was at least a half mile further. The stretch from 22 to 23 was worse.
Then the downhill began. I wanted desperately to walk, but I couldn't let the downhill pass. Sadly, I had nothing left to give it. By mile 20 I knew there would be no PR, but still hoped for 4:30. Then saw it fade to 4:35, but couldn't hang onto that either.
|About 300 yards from the end.
This is where the race begins for me.
Notice that at least I'm not last place!
There is hardly anything both as exciting and beautiful and yet as terrible as the final half mile of a marathon. The crowds, bent on witnessing repeated acts of self-immolation, are cheering the hardest when it's no longer fun, and you could care less whether you run another step. The excitement of being one of the people running inside the barricades while those outside are urging you on should be gratifying, but you're in no mood to enjoy it. I barely remember the last few blocks other than to say I know it was beautiful and there were hordes of people. At least, that's what everyone said.
My finishing chip time was 4:41:50, right in the middle of the range of my marathon finishes. I'll discuss the numbers later.
Running a marathon would be less fun without all the sights, sounds, and particularly the people we encounter. At TCM there were many things to keep me entertained. A few highlights:
Sadly, I found no Penguins at this race, though I knew some would be there, and I looked for their trademark pink hats.
At TCM I had one big problem: a major Eric attack. Readers with delicate sensibilities might want to skip this subheading.
Persons who are not subscribers to the Dead Runners Society or Penguin Brigade will not know what I mean by Eric in this context. Suffice it to say here that it's a euphemism for a common vulgarity whose meaning will become apparent in the next paragraph. How this term came to be used so freely, including by persons who would never use the word it is a substitute for, is a matter of Dead Runners Society ancient history, understood only by DRS cognoscenti who have been around a few years.
People are squeamish when it comes to discussing a basic fact of life that every human being has to deal with every day: Every now and then we have to move our bowels, and we have limited control over when our bodies tell us it's time to do so. How to deal with this problem in a timely manner in connection with an activity that involves eating a big meal the night before; eating some more in the morning and possibly drinking coffee as well; then subjecting the body to hours of strenuous moving, shaking, and pounding, during which interruptions are an inconvenience at best and at times a disaster; is a question I have yet to see addressed adequately in any running literature I have read.
The endless lines at the portable toilets before a race, with people getting in line multiple times, bear testimony that most runners are familiar with the problem and try their best to avoid the possibility of having to make a forced stop during a race, thereby extending their finishing time.
It's sometimes possible to hold out for the potties until the end, but can be dreadfully uncomfortable. And sometimes one just can't wait any longer.
I've now run at least three races where this was a problem. TCM was the first time I was forced to make an emergency stop, like it or not, even though I tried several times to prepare before the race. My body just wasn't ready to deliver yet.
By 14 miles I knew I would not be toughing it out, but would have to sacrifice my possible PR at least for a potty stop time out. I wasn't desperate yet, so looked for a place that didn't have a line.
By the time I resolved I'd stop at the next one regardless of the line, I found one without a line at mile 17. The reason there was no line was because it was disgusting beyond belief. I'll spare you the description. I was able to use it safely by sitting on the extreme edge. By this time I had little choice. As I ran out I warned the next runner who was waiting, who screamed and decided she should wait for another booth.
My split time for this mile was 12:55, a little more than two minutes longer than the miles that surrounded it. At least I felt much better when I was done, and could concentrate on the race. The opportunity to rest a few minutes didn't hurt, either.
One other technical problem I experienced was a slight case of nausea. It wasn't extreme, but sufficient to make me stop ingesting both sports drink and electrolyte caps by mile eighteen. I couldn't tell which one was out of balance. I took only water until the end, undoubtedly not enough, and I skipped some stops. I ate no food of any kind the whole race. Maybe I should have.
Because this was a chip race, there were no traditional chutes to run through. There were assistants in abundance to snag the chips off shoes. After that I claimed my thermal blanket, finisher's medal, and finisher's T-shirt. The volunteers seemed weary of passing out congratulations. Nonetheless, I was grateful to accept them.
Finally, I posed for my finisher's photograph. The volunteer who held my blanket and water bottle had to help me step up on the platform. This picture, with the capitol building directly in back of me, turned out the best of the three I got.
|On the finisher's stand, capitol building in the background,
Jessie Ventura nowhere in sight
By the time I got there, the only food left in the restricted runners area was chunks of not-moist-enough molasses raisin bread, stacks of hundreds of cartons of flavored cottage cheese, a new product that no one wanted, and a few yogurts. I could have eaten three yogurts, but got the next to last one. However, they were out of spoons, so I couldn't eat it. I carried the yogurt around in my pocket until I could unload it later that afternoon. They had more bottled water than they knew what to do with.
Finally, I retrieved my gear bag and put on my long pants and jacket. I wished that I had packed a towel and a clean shirt, because I was ultrafunky. That's something to remember for next time.
They had a family and friends meeting area where they could wait by a sign labeled according to the initial letter of your last name. Somehow they had one sign labeled M—O and another labeled L—N, so Suzy wound up running back and forth between them every two or three minutes. It was no problem for me, though — I found her immediately. She brought my heavier coat, but even with that on over everything I was still too cold.
The cold weather, combined with my sweat-saturated condition, made me uncomfortable. I was not in much of a mood to party, though I tried my best. After all, I paid a great deal of money to have this experience.
The post-race chow line led into a large tent where there were tables and chairs — a good feature I'd never experienced at previous races. Unfortunately, the only food being offered, available in any quantity you wanted, was not-hot-enough pizza, and donuts. These are foods I normally avoid in training. It seemed like mighty strange fare following a physical fitness event. I wasn't in the mood for either one at the time. I did wolf some down, but didn't enjoy it. I would have loved a bowl of hot pea soup. We didn't get a decent meal that day until after 8:00 PM.
We hobbled to the awards area in front of the capitol steps. The presentations had just started, with little fanfare. Less than 200 people stood to watch the ceremony, while the greater number remained in the finishing and food areas, or had left. It's safe to assume that many present were award winners with their friends and family. I usually attend the awards in order to say I took in everything I could.
Few mainstream participants, the ones who pay entry fees, seem to care much who wins big marathons. They read about it later in Runner's World or on the Internet. This is true even though TCM was declared a championship race. It was both the USATF 1999 national marathon championship for women, and the USATF championship for masters men and women. I certainly couldn't tell you the names of the winners, and I was there to see them get their awards.
The male winner was some skinny Kenyan. Of the top ten male winners, eight were Kenyans, one was Ethiopian, and one was a Russian masters runner. Hooray for them. Then came everybody else. All the top ten declare their residence to be various places in the US, so I guess they are qualified to win national championship prizes. I'm not sure of the constituency of the women's winners, but they seemed to be mostly Americans. The winner was a Korean-American from Florida.
I've observed that at the big marathons I've been to there are two races: the one the elites run, and the one the rest of us run. The division could almost be described as segregated. I hesitated before using that word because I don't want to give the wrong impression; I certainly don't mean it in a racial sense.
But the Kenyans, as wonderful as they are, seem remote to me, and I suspect to many other ordinary marathoners as well. We love to read about and admire their fabulous exploits, but how many of us even know who any of these folks are, understand their goals and motivations, or have experienced their way of life or training methods? Therefore, I can certainly understand why the majority of people in attendance might be more inclined to sit around, eat, and party with friends and family, than to stand and watch a stream of foreign visitors no one ever heard of walk up and collect trophies and checks. ($20,000 for the winners.)
I was too cold to endure it for long. It was 1:30, so we went over and got in line for a shuttle bus back to the hotel. We had to wait a half hour in the chilly wind for one to show up, but enjoyed conversation with runners in the interim.
We were the last ones on the next bus. Some people had to sit three abreast, because it was a bus rule that no one could stand. Three small ladies squashed together in order to let me have a whole space for myself next to one of their husbands, a kind gesture I genuinely appreciated. It was a short trip back — only fifteen minutes over the highway. How could that be, when it took so long to get there?
At the hotel we got our baggage out of storage. I changed clothes in the men's room. After that I felt much better, though I was still unable to shower. Then we took off to visit my mother in Northfield, forty minutes drive away. Thus ended another gratifying marathon experience, number seven for me, counting a 50K.
But there is still a little more to relate. Let's do the numbers.
My numbers look like this:
Chip time: 4:41:50 Clock time: 4:47:14 Difference: 5:24 Pace per mile: 10:57.5 Watch halfway: 2:10:46 Clock halfway: 2:16:10 Overall place: 4774/5981 (79.8%) Male 55-59 group: 145/189 (76.7%) All males: 3246/3818 (85.0%)
Those are the objective facts.
Speaking subjectively: though I'm not totally pleased with my performance, I'm always happy every time I complete a marathon, and have loved every one. I can hardly wait until the next one, in Tucson in December. At that race, if I prepare as I intend to, and the conditions cooperate, I will definitely be gunning for a PR. I'm sure I don't have many left in me.
We arrived home from Minnesota, following vacation, Twin Cities Marathon, and more vacation, to find that the redecorating work that was to take place during our absence did not get finished. My computer table and little network had been pulled out from the wall in order to make room to move slabs of marble through a door. Everything was disconnected, the wires were in a tangled jumble, plastic sheeting covered most things in the room, and a thick layer of grime had settled on everything, whether covered or not. It took four days to get my computers back online, and two more to get my TCM installments written and delivered to the Net.
Meanwhile, I haven't posted a word concerning what I've done since the marathon. This edition brings things up to date.
October 4: A day of rest and visiting with my mother, who now lives in a nursing home in Northfield, MN. I was sore and had great difficulty standing up and getting in and out of cars all day. It was the most debilitated I've gotten following a run since the day following my first marathon.
How mysterious. My training included more and longer long runs than the average slogger attempts, followed by long walks. I had ceased being sore following long runs, though I certainly sometimes feel tired and lack spring in my legs. Why, after all that, was I now suddenly laid to waste?
October 5: Suzy and I enjoyed a leisurely walk of 4.6 miles at an overall 18:46 pace through the Cowling Arboretum on the campus of Carleton College. The fall colors in Northfield were utterly spectacular, the best I've seen since I lived in Maine. However, "the Arb," as it's called by locals, generally did not manifest the colors. I theorize that the reason for this must be because being thickly wooded most of the trees in the arboretum are not as exposed to sunlight as are the trees that line streets and neighborhoods. It was a beautiful, cloudless day, with temperatures in the lower sixties.
October 6: Another rest day, mostly because it was a travel day. We spent the morning with my mother, then caught an earlier flight out than we had booked. We arrived home to mass confusion just before 8:00 PM, three hours earlier than we had expected.
October 7: It was back to work and to the Road that Never Ends. To my surprise, I ran four miles at a 10:03 pace, and felt fine.
October 8: Friday is usually a rest day, but because I'm busy recovering from the disruptions that traveling and a race bring about, I ran again. This time it was three miles at a 9:43 pace on tRtNE — even better than the day before.
October 9: Most of my long runs are on Saturdays. Only six days off a marathon, and with no preceding rest day, I didn't expect to do well, so I planned for only ten miles. My anticipation proved to be correct. It was a slow and tedious run at 10:20 pace. I'm continuing to work at learning how to run when I'm tired. Despite the slowness of the pace, my average heart rate was 137, 81% of MHR. On slow days, the heart rate statistic is a particularly good indicator of effort. It shows I was not sloughing off, just tired and still recovering.
Because the marathon was on Sunday, the first day of my training week, this run brought my week's total mileage up to 48 miles.
At the gym I encountered Boston Bill. He tried for his qualifier at St. George Marathon the day before I ran TCM. I interrupted my run at 10K so we could compare war stories. I'd already heard his, having looked up his time on the Net, and run into his wife two days before.
Bill missed his Boston qualifying time by 32 seconds. Bummer for him. It got hot in St. George on race day; some reports said it was as high as ninety degrees. However, it just means that Bill will be in Tucson in December. He should be able to make up that 32 seconds in cooler temperatures and on an easier course than St. George. The unfortunate thing for him, as I see it, is that he now has to run an extra marathon this year that he didn't plan on, which will increase his risk of injury. He has also said that he doesn't like the Tucson race.
On Saturday afternoon our home was finally restored to normal, so I could begin reconstructing and cleaning up my office. I got most of it done, but we had to go to an evening wedding. I returned afterward and finally got back online by 10:15 PM. When I'm without my computers I'm like a person with asthma who can't get enough air. It's a feeling of desperation. I'm addicted to computers. To pianos, coffee, running, and computers. And cookies. And a few other things, too, now that I think of it.
October 10: It was time to get back to my Sunday outdoor walks, except I decided I would run much more of this one than I did during the dead of summer. I headed out the door with no water and no sunscreen, determined to cover in 2:00 the same course that I normally walk in 2:30 and declare to be ten miles.
Not taking water was a mistake. It got much hotter than I anticipated: over 100 degrees. My tongue was sticking to the roof of my mouth by the turnaround point, but I made the trek in 2:00:12, right on schedule. Afterward I had to clean the pool, wash the car, and help get the house ready for dinner guests.
October 11: Blue Monday, and I was tired. We're expecting out-of-town guests for a four-day weekend, during which I will be unable to run as usual, though we'll do some hiking. It's my plan to front load the week with miles, concluding with a half marathon early Friday morning, before going to the airport to pick them up.
I felt no obligation to force myself to perform. I'd scheduled five miles. Three token run-walk miles at the gym at 11:59 pace was three more miles than I wanted to cover. This was followed by an evening of vegetating in front of Monday Night Football, watching one of the most boring games of the century between two teams I care absolutely nothing about.
October 12: I'm hoping to make up the two miles I blew off Monday by adding one mile today and one Thursday. It wasn't pleasant, though. I extended the five miles I'd intended to a 10K, but at a horrendous pace, and felt akin to miserable the whole way. The overall pace was 10:44, and my time the ninth worst of 86 recorded runs at the distance. Once again, an average heart rate of 138 suggests that the degree of effort was up to par, but my body wasn't.
I've wondered whether there has been any scientific work done to create indices between distance and time run as compared to average heart rate. For instance, if I run five miles at a 10:00 pace, with an average heart rate of 140, and the next day run the same route in the same time but my average heart rate is 136, I would call that an improvement in efficiency, because it required less effort to produce the same result, but a drop in performance, because if I had run so that my HR averaged 140 that day, I would have run it faster, for an improvement in performance. And how do I compare a run of three miles at 9:30 pace with an average heart rate of 148 to the five miles at 10:00?
I'm not a statistician. Perhaps there are too many variables at work to make such correlations.
And now for the bad news. When I got on my super-duper won't-tell-a-lie digital scale the morning we left for Minnesota, it told me I weighed 185.6 pounds. Aaaaarrrgh! That's a dead even tie for my all time highest since I took up running.
While we were gone I somehow ate rather reasonably, or so I thought. We didn't indulge much in the way of between-meal snacks, and I didn't eat the sorts of things that runners approaching a marathon oughtn't.
Yesterday morning I got on the Tanita again for the first time since that day. Horrors! It registered 187.6 — two more pounds added. I've got to put the brakes on and reverse the trend.
This got me thinking. I'm now headed into phase two of my big project, training for Tucson Marathon, now only 53 days away. I believe the following is all true:
 Something I should try more often.
So the big question for me is: Can I do it? Will I do it? To paraphrase Ruth Wysocki commented in her seminar at Twin Cities: How badly do I want it? The answer to that question is the biggest training challenge that lies before me.
Strange, huh? Some people take up running to lose weight. I have to lose weight in order to improve my running. What a sport.
This afternoon I went back to my Wednesday afternoon routine of dropping my daughter at her piano lesson, heading out for a one-hour run-walk, picking up Cyra-Lea, and going to the gym for an additional 10K — except this week it didn't quite happen that way.
The temperature was still unseasonably high, near 100 degrees, but dry and not too bad. I opted to do more running than walking, and had an unstressful session, covering the four miles at a 13:44 pace.
Often these outdoor sessions, rather than tiring me out, serve as an invigorating prelude to a good indoor run. The ten minutes or so of rest in between, then walking into a comfortable, air conditioned building, and the pleasant contrast to pounding the asphalt, all contribute.
When I hit the track I immediately fell into rhythm, and soon I was whizzing along. During the second mile I noted that my movement was unusually easy, something I could sustain for a long time.
At lap 23 I passed two miles with nothing but the highest expectations for the remaining 4.2 miles. Then in the space of two laps the wheels fell off my chariot.
At lap 24 I suddenly felt a little dizzy and queasy. My legs were wobbly as my knees went weak. Suddenly a malevolent troll jumped on my back and began whispering into my ear that I ought to quit, and that I shouldn't want to be doing this any more today.
Every runner has these experiences on a regular basis — a moment where you tell yourself you'd rather just pack it in and forget it. Most runners with experience learn how to manage the temptation deftly, and continue until the urge passes.
When my foot hit the 25-lap mark I suddenly pulled up, walked one more, and quit. But why? In a period of less than two minutes I went from having a great run to abject surrender.
Will power and self-control are important elements in distance running, which is in large measure a sport of mental discipline. When a casual runner without a program or personal goals bags a run for no good reason, it's no surprise. But when someone who has been training carefully for several years spontaneously self-destructs on the track with no foregleam of what is coming, it's a minor disaster.
The experience can be compared to an athlete getting injured — like New York Jets quarterback Vinnie Testeverde on opening day of the NFL season this year, on the verge of a great season. On one play his Achilles snapped, and in one second his hopes for the season, and maybe the rest of his career were dashed.
Realistically, nothing nearly so serious happened to me today. The primary difference, of course, is that I'm not injured. I can look forward to going back tomorrow and just doing it.
I'm inclined to write off today's episode as a lapse in control. I'm tired and I need more rest than I've gotten. It's only ten days after a marathon. I've run or walked the last seven consecutive days. My usual schedule is out of sync and is soon to be horsed up royally by the arrival of weekend visitors. The anticipation has induced me to push myself. So if I accept the assurance that in a few days everything will be back to normal, I'll come out of it just fine.
At the same time, I don't want to let problems of this type pass by without analysis, as though they never happened, because that opens the door for a repeat episode.
It's easy to make big claims one day, but much harder to follow through on them the next. Wednesday's lapse was more of a wakeup call than I originally permitted myself to admit. I needed a break. So I accepted the inevitability of a short week.
On Thursday, instead of plunging back into high mileage, I took a day off, and thought little about running. We had to prepare for the arrival of our guests, I had an anomalous evening off, and I needed to go home and tend to chores.
Yesterday, Friday, I took a vacation day. I dropped my daughter at school shortly after 6:00 AM as usual, and got to the gym before 6:30. I started running at 6:45, and completed a half marathon.
I'm not a morning runner. I love early mornings, but I like drinking coffee, and studying or working on a computer during the early hours. It usually takes a good two hours of being up before I'm physically loose enough to start engaging in strenuous exercise.
In addition, yesterday I was still sluggish from whatever brought me down two days before. However, I was able to keep going without any problem. I just didn't go fast. Instead, I set a personal worst for the time by a margin of 4:33! It took over an hour of running before I could breathe without laboring. After that I was fine, except I moved at an overall turtlesque 10:42 pace, 1:15 a mile slower than what I'm capable of on a good day.
Later we picked up our guests at the airport, and went to see an exhibit of Monet's paintings from his late Giverny period at the Phoenix Art Museum. Great stuff, though my tired legs bothered me a bit moving through the gallery at museum pace. I seemed to be the only one in attendance who constantly rocked back and forth and did calf and quadricep stretches while standing in front of peaceful paintings of water lilies and foot bridges, listening to the prerecorded discussions.
Afterward we went to a local Mexican restaurant. Do I need to tell you what happened there? It wasn't a pretty sight.
Today, Saturday, one of the prettiest days of this year, was a long day of little physical activity. We hopped in the car and took an all-day driving trip to beautiful Jerome and Sedona, and through Oak Creek Canyon, giving our friends the usual first-timers overall blitz tour. Just viewing the highlights by car, without stopping to get out and see much, kept us in the car most of the time from 9:00 AM until 6:00 PM. I guess it goes down as another day of rest. Tomorrow is likely to qualify as another, though I anticipate we'll get in a few hours of strenuous hiking on Monday morning.
Next week is going to be another short week mileagewise. I already know I won't make my goal of fifty miles, but I will get in my long run of twenty miles next Saturday, which should put me back on track until Tucson.
Sorry if this report is boring. I'm going through a difficult period right now.
For the last few days it's seemed as though my training program has fallen into a death spiral. The cumulative effects of tiredness, vacation, disrupted routines, and poor eating habits have led me into a rare phase of reduced motivation. Encouragingly, I had a run yesterday that was back on track, and may be a sign of better things to come.
The visit of our out-of-town guests, a young married couple, lasted until late Monday night. Under such circumstances it's difficult to follow a consistent training program, unless your guests happen to be runners. They aren't.
On Sunday we spent over four hours on one of the most beautiful days of the year walking around Out of Africa, a popular animal park here in the Phoenix area. This activity, though delightful, is no more strenuous than walking through a museum.
When we came home, I left my guests to rest up, while I headed out the door for a pitifully slow four-miler on the streets at a 10:37 pace. That evening we went to a low-key recital by the young Chinese pianist Xiang-Dong Kong — more sitting and contemplatively appreciating.
Monday, a spectacularly beautiful morning, looked more promising. We planned on going for a two-hour hike, either up Camelback Mountain, or on the Christian Trail, a.k.a. T100, in the Phoenix Mountain Preserve, and I had figured on a good romp, given that our guests are less than half my age. Our wives opted out, deciding instead to stay home and visit.
Just a couple of guys hammering up a mountain trail sounded like a mighty appealing prospect. The trail up Camelback is steep, requiring hands to climb in a few places, and rocky all the way. It takes me a good fifty minutes to get to the top, the highest precipice in Phoenix, from where one is treated to superlative views of the entire valley area.
Unfortunately, my buddy has back problems. After five minutes he had to stop for a rest. In all we got approximately one fifth of the way to the top, barely half a mile up, where my comrade sprawled himself on a rock to rest his back. We decided we'd better scratch the trip, and headed slowly back down. I suggested we try the flatter T100 trail, but he said he tends to have even more trouble on the flatter surfaces than on hills. We toured the trailheads on either end by automobile instead.
The rest of the day we just hung around the house, hacking on computers. Later I introduced my jazz-loving young friend to the joys of Keith Jarrett and Bela Fleck, artists with whom he was not yet familiar, and played some tapes of my own old stuff. Music listening is a decidedly inert activity. It's also an antisocial one, because thoughtful listening precludes conversation.
In the evening Suzy made a big lasagna dinner and invited our son Aaron over, who is a year younger than our guests. Sitting and eating is an even more inert activity, though good conversation and laughter is good for both the heart and soul. At 10:00 PM we dropped our friends on the redeye flight back to Ohio. On the way home from the airport I meditated on how I can get back on track.
Yesterday, Tuesday, I was back to work, and despite the bloat that generally follows traveling and entertaining guests, I felt good, and looked forward to a proper run in the evening.
At my 2:00 PM staff meeting someone brought in a box of Krispy Kreme donuts. Gak! I've never had one and have been hearing for years that these are some sort of donut-lover's gourmet treat. I've been waiting ever since for the opportunity to try one. I would have resisted the offer if the box had not said Krispy Kreme on it.
 Yeah, sure.
Now I've tried one. It tasted exactly like every other glazed chocolate cake donut I've ever eaten (just great!), and now, according to USDA charts, I'm 133 empty calories in surplus for the insight gained.
Remarkably, of the twelve people in the room, only three accepted the offer of donuts. How do they do that? Some people can resist eating for the mere reason that the are not hungry. They see something delicious put right in front of them, think to themselves, "I ate just recently, I'm not hungry now, and those are bad for me," and decline without a second thought. Regrettably, I am not one of them. Even if I had at first, the donuts would have quietly whispered my name throughout the meeting, and their mere presence would have occupied my thoughts to the point of distraction.
At the gym yesterday afternoon I took off for a five-mile run. It was not exceptional, but I ran it at 9:44 pace, 55th of 87 recorded runs at the distance. Surprisingly, my heart rate averaged 85% of my MHR, which is way high for that pace. This tells me my fitness must be down somewhat. Not good.
Tonight I am supposed to run (or run-walk) ten miles. We shall see about that.
It never ceases to amaze me how frequently my daily performance bears little resemblance to my desire to run before I start. On Wednesday I didn't have to take my daughter to her piano lesson as usual. I had scheduled ten miles, but was so tired I nearly fell asleep at work and then again on the road. When I pulled into the parking lot at the gym I closed my eyes. Before I knew it fifteen minutes had passed.
I was in no mood to run at all, much less a whole ten miles. That is, not until I took the first step. But because I wanted only to get the miles in without severely stressing myself, I followed a routine where I walked twelve laps, followed by running twelve laps, until 114 laps were done.
During the walking stretches I worked hard on my racewalking form for a lap or two at a time. I'm no expert, but I discovered to my shock that I can racewalk almost as fast as I do a slow run — in the range of 51—54 seconds a lap, as compared with 47—51 seconds a lap running. However, racewalking is tiring, and I can't keep it up for long.
When I was done I discovered that three times I have run the whole ten miles slower than I ran-walked it on Wednesday. My time was only eleven minutes longer than my average run at the distance. Overall it was a comfortable and enjoyable way to get in my workout.
On Thursday I was tired once again, but ran five miles at what felt like a hard effort. My heart rate was slightly slower than on my five-miler Tuesday, but the pace was fifteen seconds a mile faster. Nonetheless, considering that I'm capable of another thirty seconds a mile faster at that distance, and that I was gasping for mercy at the finish, I know my performance is down considerably.
While warming up Thursday I encountered Bill Perkins. He had just gotten wind of the fact, through a local runner, that I have been referring to him as Boston Bill in this journal, and thinks it's amusing. He looked up the URL to confirm it. I explained to him that I don't refer to people from outside the mail lists in this journal by their full names without their permission, but warned him to be careful what he says to me, or it might wind up spread all over the world. He was still smiling.
It's Friday, and a day of rest for me. Tomorrow will be twenty miles, my longest run since Twin Cities Marathon, as I struggle to regain the momentum I lost following that race. Meanwhile, many matters from Real Life weigh heavily on my mind.
When I wrote Friday's report I underestimated the gravity of the malady brewing within me. I had two important computer jobs to accomplish this weekend. One progressed well Friday night, but while working on it I felt myself descend into a physical abyss of misery, as my chest gradually felt heavier and I started coughing more and more often. At least my nose and sinuses were relatively snot free, so I could breathe.
At 9:36 PM I snuggled into bed and killed the lights. That's where my languishing body remained for nearly eleven hours. I had planned on making door-to-door visits all morning. By the middle of the night I determined that I would be going nowhere this morning except to my office in the back of the house to get some more work done.
I'm no fool. My body tells me reliably when I can run and when I can't. I've rarely been wrong. My daughter greatly wanted to go to the gym for a hard workout Saturday. I told her that I would decide when she got in at noon whether I'd be willing to take her over.
By that time I felt up to exercising, but not to breathing hard. The twenty-miler was out of the question. It had been written off by the time I went to bed Friday night. It was the first time in memory that I've been forced to cancel an important long run because of outright illness.
However, I did first two miles in thirty minutes of walking on a treadmill at 3.8 MPH and a 6 percent incline, followed by another thirty minutes on an elliptical trainer at medium intensity. I tried catching up on some back issues of Runner's World. That worked for a while. Eventually the sweat poured down my face and glasses in rivers, until I could no longer read. Even though I never got to a state of breathing hard, I felt refreshingly purged when I was done.
Cyra-Lea had run close to an hour and wanted to do another 45 minutes of weights, so I also did strength training for that period. This, too, was beneficial, since I hadn't so much as lifted a dumbbell since October 9, six days after Twin Cities.
While I was working I watched a guy doing leg exercises on a machine with twenty 45-pound weights distributed across two bars, and another 100 pounds on a third, for a total of 1000 pounds, plus whatever the weight of the unloaded machine was. I couldn't believe it. I stood and watched as he did six good repetitions of that load. He was taking a good eight minutes or more between sets as he gradually worked up to that weight. I'm surprised he didn't split a gut.
Late Saturday afternoon was spent getting pumped up to go see Turandot performed by the Arizona Opera. The pumping up was necessary because of how I felt. I knew I'd have problems with periodic gagging during the performance. I hate it when that happens. Somehow I managed to avoid being too conspicuous. We arrived home and got to bed much too late.
News on running lists informed me that the Fox television network was broadcasting the Chicago Marathon starting at 7:30 AM Central Daylight Time. The word was out that a great race was brewing. Last night I slept terribly, having been awakened three times by coughing fits bad enough to make me get up and sit in the living room for a half hour each time. The alarm went off at 5:25. I dragged myself in again and turned on the TV to begin looking for the race, assuming that the Fox telecast would be national. How naïve.
Apparently someone from the planet Mo'ron is responsible for Fox programming at that hour in Phoenix. Apparently this "person" had concluded that people in Phoenix would much rather watch infomercials about potato slicers at that hour on a Sunday morning, than what turned out to be one of the greatest marathons in history, according to the reports put out on the Internet. There was no sign of Chicago Marathon anywhere to be found on my TV. Boooo!
Back to bed I went, where I slept fitfully until 8:30 and finally awoke to another coughing fit and a splitting headache.
Today I've got to spend all late afternoon and evening across town, wearing a suit, because I have another public lecture to deliver. I've declared it a hopeless rest day — hopeless because whenever I have to wear a suit I don't ever get to rest.
When I scratched my twenty-miler yesterday, I did it in hopes that I can run it next week, and then do 22 the week following, so all I'll lose is some of the mileage from the half marathon that I would have run next week as a recovery work. I ran a 22-mile and 24-mile sequence of long runs the last week of July and first week of August, and handled it with ease, so I should be able to do it again, unless my conditioning has taken a worse nosedive than I thought.
This is all assuming that I recover from whatever has been ailing me reasonably quickly.
The last few days, between illness and Real Life, I've barely thought about this journal, though I have thought about running.
I'm better now, and starting to get caught up with some obligations that kept me busier than I like to be. And I'm the sort of fellow who likes to be busy.
On Monday, following an unusual Sunday of abstinence from exercise, I arrived at the track anxious to run a strong five miles. My body didn't agree with that goal just yet.
Surely, I reasoned, given a day's rest, and feeling glad to be well again, I could sustain a pace of six laps in five minutes (a 9:27 pace), by simply trying hard. In August of 1998 I imposed a challenge on myself: Run 31 days, five miles or more every single day, and ten miles on Saturdays, and no day slower than a 10:00 pace. I made this goal, with an overall pace of 9:38 for the month.
The first twelve laps at 6/5 were fine. After that it was all uncomfortable. At 36 laps I gave up and ran it out in defeat, with a final modest 9:49 pace, but an average heart rate of 86.5% MHR, hard enough to be laboring. It even qualifies as a tempo run on that basis. What a pitiful joke.
Immediately on completion, I began a sneezing fit, something that usually happens only following unusually hard outdoor runs. By evening I'd filled a wastebasket with soggy, used Kleeneces.
I'd hoped to remain home and vegetate in front of the Monday Night Football game, while working in some other necessary matters during commercials and halftime. At 6:00 PM I got a call from a friend that resulted in my having to get up and go out to a meeting at 8:30 PM — one of those where I have to be clean and wear a tie. Groan. My presence proved to be superfluous.
Yesterday (Tuesday) was better. I followed the same routine, and ran my five miles only nine seconds slower than Monday, but it felt much easier the whole way than the day before. I forgot to wear my heart monitor. Because I had enough left at the end to pick up the pace greatly the last four laps, I know I wasn't into any extreme zone; or if I was, I was managing the pain reasonably well.
It's now Wednesday afternoon, and in a few minutes I'll be headed out to see if I can handle a ten-miler.
For too long various concerns from Real Life have been weighing heavily on my mind, diverting my attention from running to more important matters. These distractions may even have contributed to my getting sick. The last week or so the gauge on my supply of blinding insights, anecdotes, and wry expressions has been pointing to empty. I entered a holding pattern, doing my daily runs the best I could, reporting the numbers and what I felt about them, and waiting for inspiration to return.
Writing this journal has given me an enhanced appreciation for writers such as movie reviewer Roger Ebert. I don't know how some columnists can produce such a steady, voluminous flow of consistently high-quality output. Of late, the cleverest thing I can think of to write is the literary equivalent of "Duhhh."
Yesterday was another ten-milefest, broken in my customary Wednesday way into two segments, a four-mile outdoor walk followed by a 10K on tRtNE.
The weather has been superlative. It was eighty degrees when I walked, a little above normal for this time of year, but decent by any standard. I powerwalked thirty minutes out, resisting the urge to run, shuffled some back, and when I reached the uphill, I ran it. That hill takes six to eight minutes by itself. I continued trotting lightly down the hill after reaching the crest. My total for the round trip was 54:01.
When I got to the gym, I determined that no matter what I would run slowly enough to enjoy it. That was slow, all right — my 10K time was 1:04:37, for a 10:20 average, but I was never uncomfortable. I wore no heart monitor because I didn't want to see that it was pumping ten beats per minute above sleeping.
Friday is scheduled as a rest day. I've made a decision: I'm not going to run tonight either. I'm feeling fine — like I could go out and tear into a ten-miler right now. My strategy was not induced by some crisis, conflict, lack of motivation, or illness. Instead, I looked at my training record, see that I have a twenty-miler coming up on Saturday, know that I did all right from Monday through Wednesday, recognize that I've had a funkier than average past two weeks, and theorized that for once two consecutive days off would likely do more to put the icing on my cake of recovery (what a stupid metaphor) than doing another five miles.
It seemed I was due for a good long run. I finally got one, though not without some suffering.
The perfect weather tempted me to run my twenty miles outdoors. I resisted this urge, because although temperatures in the lower eighties with low humidity are great for being out and about, it's too warm for productive long distance training. Besides, I'd already enjoyed the outdoors for two hours in the morning.
To have a first class long run, I need to prepare just right. This time I couldn't locate the two packets of Clif Shot that have been lying in the pantry for six weeks, and that I saw as recently as yesterday. I would have to depend entirely on two bottles of Gatorade for nutrition. In retrospect, I could have used the Clif Shot.
By the time I began my run, after depositing my gear in my favorite spot, it was 12:15 PM. I had 228 laps of joy ahead of me.
Before long, Mike from Eritrea showed up. He was sporting a knee support, recovering from a soccer injury. It was his second day back to running, and he was hoping to go between six and eight miles. Just before my mile two he joined me.
Mike can run double my pace when he chooses to do so. Yesterday he was kind enough to run strictly at my pace, without pushing me at all, yet keeping me steady as a metronome. When it works out that way, and whenever a running companion knows enough to just shut up and run after the usual exchange of pleasantries and catching up on what's happened since last time we met, I enjoy the pleasure of running stride for stride with someone else. Most of the time I'm strictly a loner.
Nice people like Mike are a pleasure to be with and to work out with. Mike is a genuine encouragement. He's about age forty himself, and lavishly complimentary and encouraging to me and other fellow runners, often mentioning how much he admires me for the running discipline I show, and for being a marathoner at my age. In his case it's not a condescending indulgence. He's never run more than ten miles himself, but he trains conscientiously, and has two sons who run cross country at the high school my daughter attends.
Mike and I took drink breaks at different times, then synced up again. He continued with me until I reached 8.5 miles. It had been a respectable run so far, and I felt good.
My running continued strong until just before mile seventeen, when my energy reserves took a serious nosedive. I'd obviously hit the proverbial wall bigtime. It was then that I thought about my AWOL Clif Shots.
At 200 laps (17.6 miles) I took my final drink and walk break. That helped for a little while. But the last fifteen laps were dreadful, and the last ten were an outright death march of the type I rarely experience.
I can't remember ever feeling so tired at the end of a long run. When I finished I didn't cool down by walking four laps as usual, but staggered a few steps, leaned against a table for a moment, then headed for the nearest mat, twelve feet away, and sprawled on it for three or four minutes. If I'd just finished a race they probably would have insisted that I go to the medical tent. I had begun to feel tinges of nausea creeping up on me.
It always amazes me how quickly we recover from these things. That short break was all I needed to be functional once again. When I got up I moved a little slowly, but was fine for the rest of the day.
I threw a mat down on the aerobics floor, and did some stretching for fifteen minutes before going home. I'd hoped to do some light weights and then cool off and clean up with a few laps in the pool, but I'd had enough.
Two hours later Suzy and I went out for dinner. I used my need for protein as an excuse to consume all the wrong things: deep-fried cheese, large quantities of red animal flesh, and a beaker of golden liquid with intoxicating properties that make the heart of mortal man rejoice. We came home and I did some studying, stayed up too late, and fell into bed at 11:30 PM, exhausted. I predicted to Suzy as I got into bed that I would be asleep in ten seconds. It didn't take much longer than that.
This morning (Sunday) I had to be up by 6:30 PM to study, after which we were gone a meeting from 8:30 AM until 1:30 PM. I'm feeling the effects of yesterday, to be sure, but I'm entirely functional.
At 2:45 PM I headed out for my first Sunday afternoon ten-mile walk since October 10, taking the usual route. At 89 degrees, it was unseasonably warm, fine for walking, but it would have been a killer run, as tired as I was.
Heading out I was sure I was well behind my usual pace, but I hit the customary turnaround landmark in 1:15:17, only seventeen seconds behind pace. My simple goal was to make up that seventeen seconds and finish with a negative split, and finish under 2:30. I accomplished that and more, arriving home in 2:24:32, for an average unrushed walking pace of 14:27.
Once again it's the end of the month: time to do the numbers and assess my status.
At 169 miles, October's total mileage is dramatically short of what I had projected, but I'm not upset about it. This month's original goal of 209 miles was unrealistic, given the marathon on the third of the month.
I'm not sure how I derived the original goal. I don't just pull a number out of a hat. Usually I plan the month carefully and add up the numbers. Obviously, I wasn't thinking carefully at the end of September. So the shortfall can be attributed more to poor planning than to sagging performance.
My weight peaked at a new high since I took up running. This is disappointing and frustrating, but I might have turned a corner on that, and may have lost between two and four pounds since that peak. I haven't been weighing in recently. Tomorrow I'll begin doing that again more regularly.
One influence that has helped has been that my wife has gone on Weight Watchers this month, for probably the eightieth time. I don't do diets myself, even so-called "sensible" ones, but one advantage to me of Suzy's newly rediscovered zeal is that she hasn't been buying junk food — chips and candy and cookies and cheese — which I in turn eat.
Four and a half months have passed since I started this journal. Today I'm exactly five weeks away from Tucson Marathon, which I had targeted for a PR.
Realistically, I know I'm not where I need to be right now for that to happen. I'll do my best. If everything falls together and I have one of the ten best days of my life, I might get it. If not, then my future opportunities to make good on my goal of getting one more marathon PR before settling back to run them mainly for fun may be limited to just a few, and my all-time PR may forever remain at 4:25:45, when I had been so sure at one time that I have a 4:15 in me.
One more month of hard work lies ahead before digging in for Across the Years.