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Chapter 8:
The Delicate Middle

What Goes On
Tuesday, November 2, 1999

Before starting my five-mile run at the track Tuesday night, I had a conversation with Boston Bill, who had already finished running. He, like me, is in a holding pattern, trying to maintain and maybe gain fitness between marathons two months apart. He needs to lop 31 seconds off his St. George time to qualify for Boston, and I need to lop at least twenty pounds off in order to leave the ground consistently with each step.

It seems that Bill is holding his own. I'm holding my own, too — my own large bag of chocolate chip cookies, which I'm eating one at a time. Bill and I have different training methods.

In addition to weight control, my problem has been one of pursuing the dual goals of running a marathon two months after a previous one, while attempting to build up for a 24-hour run a mere 26 days later. One objective of this Big Experiment is to find an answer to the question: Are these goals at cross purposes with one another? I humbly recognize that the answer may be Yes! But until the results are in I'll refrain from drawing a conclusion. While there is time there is hope.

Aiming for a PR in a marathon two months following a previous one is not an impossibility. My existing PR of 4:25:45 was set in Tucson on December 7, 1997, barely two months after my first marathon in St. George. I topped my first time by either 16:36 or 19:24, depending on whether you accept clock time or watch time. It was also an extraordinary day: cold, with steady rain, whereas temperatures in cloudless St. George reached the eighties.

As I'm now getting down to the nitty gritty of planning how much and when I will be running from now until the end of the year, I've come face to face with the realization that practically speaking, there will be no time whatever for me to do what would undoubtedly help me the most at Across the Years, namely a couple of looooooonnnng runs. Ideally, I'd like to put in an eight-hour day and a ten-hour day on the road in preparation, with enough recovery time separating them and the race to restore myself. But it's a simple fact of Real Life that I'll have absolutely no time for such folly. Other than the indoor 50K I ran in September, I haven't put any more than a standard marathon distance or time on my legs in any single run since Crown King 50K last March.

Following Tucson, I'll recover for a week, then will have around two weeks to make the best of whatever time is left, before settling in for the Big Taper. Come what may, that's all I'll have opportunity to do.

I'll Be On My Way

Following that sobering confession with Boston Bill, I hit the track and proceeded to rip off the best five-miler I've run since September 14, my second fastest since last June.

It's likely I could have done even better. I started off slowly, but warmed up quickly and found myself running comfortably. I continued to increase the intensity gradually, while watching the clock closely enough most of the time to be cognizant of my lap times. For at least half a mile I sustained close to a 9:00 pace, fast for me. The total time was not impressive because of the slow start, but I was pleased with my overall effort. Significantly, I maintained an average of 88% of my maximum heart rate, and maxed out at 95%.

I'll Cry Instead
Friday, November 5, 1999

There's nothing like a little tragedy to help one put his life in perspective. On Wednesday evening we received a telephone call delivering shocking, numblingly sad news regarding a circumstance that will dramatically impact the life of everyone in my family for some time into the future, and that will leave a hole in my heart. It is not something I can discuss in a public forum. No one has died, but we have spent the past two days in a state that is not unlike mourning.

An activity like running can be compared in some respects to buying insurance. Running is alleged to give us extra physical and psychological strength, energy, mental discipline, and a measure of ability to handle difficult life situations better. We hope that the occasion never arises when we are challenged to deplete our reserves, but if it happens, we're glad it's there. At a time like this I truly value the good health I have fought hard to establish. Now it's time to regroup and move ahead. And to make some more insurance payments.

Fixing a Hole

On Wednesday morning, a day that began like any other day, for the first time since May, I put on an ordinary pair of long pants of the type I wear to work during cooler weather. I couldn't button the top button without tugging at them a little. My love handles have grown.

Over the previous few days I'd been planning my strategy for the rest of this year. I solicited offlist advice from some experienced acquaintances and came up with a plan that may work out optimally.

I've concluded that I don't need to be running any more fifty-mile weeks for the rest of the year. This week will total close to that — near 47 miles, but will be the last of it. I'll be dropping out chunks of midweek activity, while maintaining the long runs on the weekend. I love running long, and seem to be better at it and enjoy it more than laborious evening after-work jaunts. In addition, I'll continue to go as far as possible on days following long runs, to prepare for the experience of running tired that I'll encounter during my 24-hour race. I've scheduled fifteen miles the day following Tucson Marathon, but little the rest of that week.

I began the plan by sacrificing 2.25 miles of my usual Wednesday four-mile walk plus 10K track run, cutting it to four plus four. As frequently proves to be true on Wednesdays, I started the run not wanting to do it at all, but got warmed up quickly, and before long began to push it. I finished that segment at a reasonable 9:46 pace.

On Wednesday night I slept no more than ten minutes the whole night. The one time I did slip off into sleep I had a bad dream. Cyra-Lea and I were trapped in our house while a titanic rainstorm headed our way. It was starting to rain heavily through a hole in the roof as we took refuge under a table. The panic woke me up again.

Remarkably, I functioned adequately at work Thursday. But when I got to the track I was too distracted to think much about running. I ran-walked 32 laps, 2.8 miles, then quit without stopping to stretch, and headed out the door and to home to get on with an evening of important things to do.

On a positive note, I did receive some interesting news on Thursday by way of Paul Bonnett-Castillo, the race director of Across the Years. A representative of Yiannis Kouros contacted Paul Wednesday night, saying that Kouros has expressed interest in coming to ATY, with the objective of setting the world 6-day record. Yiannis Kouros is the undisputed Michael Jordan of ultrarunning, universally regarded as the greatest long-range ultrarunner in history.[19]

[19] As one ultrarunner responded the first time I used that comparison, "Great, but who's Michael Jordan?"

As I understand it, numerous details need to be worked out to make this possible, but I truly hope Kouros makes it. I can't imagine a better venue for him to pursue his goal in. Kouros already holds world marks at almost every ultra distance up to 1300 miles. He set the 6-day record three consecutive times, the last in 1988, but had it taken from him by France's Jean-Gilles Boussiquet in 1992. Kouros is now age 43, and is still capable of regaining the record.

In September Kouros set an official US all comers record when he ran 167.44 miles in the USA national championship 24-hour race. That works out to an 8:36 pace for 24 hours straight! I've run no more than a half dozen single miles at that rate. Kouros' presence would be likely to attract media attention, and would probably serve to rocket ATY into deserved prominence as one of the most significant fixed-time events in the US.

In My Life
Saturday, November 6, 1999

It was inevitable that some readers would respond offlist to yesterday's post with kind expressions of sympathy and inquiry. I'm grateful for each one. The reason I offered as much information as I did was not a ploy to call for sympathy.

Before writing anything at all about the situation, I reflected long and hard, because the matter is genuinely private, not something I can discuss publicly. Other persons are involved; their privacy must be respected.

From the beginning it's been my intent to mold this journal into something more than just a series of email messages. When it's done I'll prune it, spiffy it up, and save it for posterity as a testament describing how I set myself a difficult challenge and then pursued it. RTtM will be completed even if I fail to reach all my goals.

Naturally, this journal is shamelessly about me. It's certainly egotistical for me to think that there is anything at all so interesting about me that others would want to read a whole serialized book on the subject. Regardless, I want the record for myself, and I'm happy to share it with others who want to read it.

I'll never claim that RTtM is a masterpiece. So far it isn't, and I doubt that anything I add later will make it so. However — and this is my main point here — at least it's honest.

My efforts and achievements in connection with running are inconsequential by most any standard, but they are a part of the fabric of my whole life. Therefore RTtM is not just about running, though I've tried to emphasize that subject. It's really about the running thread, which is just one facet of My Whole Life. Running and My Whole Life are inseparable.

It would have been possible for me to continue grinding out journal installments as though everything was copasetic, pretending our family has not recently undergone a life-changing experience, and I'm sure I could have convinced everyone — that is, everyone except myself.

As it is, I've already masked a great deal of extraneous detail from My Whole Life out of the journal in order to focus on running. I've said little concerning my religion, my family, my work as a software engineer, my lifelong involvement with music, my participation in the open source computer software movement, my other writing projects, literature, art, chess, or any of the other things for which I have a passion. I've stuck almost entirely to the theme of running.

But this story would ring false to me if I were to continue sharing my running experiences with others as if nothing has happened and there is no additional stress I haven't already mentioned to deal with. And so as a workaround, I chose simply to make an allusion to it, and then to let it be.

For reference, I'll label the event a generic Real Bad Thing, something that will make Real Life more complicated for a while, but that I know will ultimately work out for the best in a year or two.

Yesterday I compared running to insurance. I should hasten to add my belief that working aggressively on one's spirituality is a far more effective form of insurance than mere physical fitness. But once again, because this journal is about running, I won't veer any further than that off the main subject.

It's time to move forward; that's largely what running is about.


Yesterday (Friday) was a rest day. When I got home I was so tired I couldn't resist taking a nap for a whole hour. This confused my metabolism. The dinner of baked potato and two kinds of squash, normally an excellent meal, landed like a lump of mush in my stomach and didn't know quite what to do for a while. "Was this supposed to be breakfast, or what? Did I miss something here?" I felt groggy the rest of the night, but slept well despite it. The extra hour yesterday probably did me some good today.

We were out this morning as usual, and didn't get back until nearly noon. It was 1:00 PM before I could start my long run.

A joke among ultrarunners goes: You know you're an ultrarunner if your friends all say you're in better shape than you think you are, and you really are in better shape than you think you are. Recently I've been whining about being in a bit of a slump. If that's true, then how have I sustained a weekly average of 41 miles the five weeks since my last marathon, fighting a chest cold for part of the time, and how could I nonchalantly decide to run 20 miles last Saturday, 22 miles today, and insert a ten-mile walk and an eight-mile run-walk combination in between them in addition to some shorter runs?

But that's exactly what I've done. To top it off, I PRed my 22-mile time today by a margin of 3:33, and I feel just great tonight. Too fat, but fit.

Before I left the house I explained to Suzy how it's difficult for me, and I suppose for every runner, to face a long training run when my heart is not in it. Even persons in very sound mental and spiritual health become briefly depressed under the crushing weight of adversities that life in this system of things can inflict upon us. But then they push through them and bounce back, stronger than ever. It would have been easy to make excuses for myself today and bag the whole plan. But I never do that with a long run for any reason short of illness or obligations of a higher priority. So I went.

Except for not drinking much beforehand, I remembered all the right things in preparation. I was ready to dig in to an afternoon of work: 250 laps on tRtNE.

Almost immediately both my shins began to ache and cramp. Usually it's only the right one. I haven't had shin cramps since September. The pain was uncomfortable, but not bad enough to stop for. I knew from experience that it normally takes almost exactly forty laps to shake it out. At thirty laps I clearly sensed a waning of the tension, and at forty, the first drink break, it was gone.

As usual, I divided the run into forty-lap segments. The second was much easier than the first. The third was — dare I say it — effortless. I'd entered a zone. My breathing was easy, my form was good, there was strength in my legs, and I felt as if I was floating above the track. The fifth segment was still strong, but I was glad for the break when it came at 200 laps. I had fifty laps to go, 4.4 miles. Would I stay strong to the end?

I've learned from repeated experience what it's like to hit the wall. My energy reserves become depleted so suddenly that I can go from strong to staggering in the space of a few steps. At dinner tonight I told Suzy it's like watching the last of the water run out of a bathtub. Schluurrrp! and it's gone.

At 200 laps I had enough energy left to be optimistic. I picked up the pace substantially. This time I heard the gurgling at exactly 220 laps. My heart rate went up as I struggled, but my pace went down.

If I'd stuck to the routine, I could have taken one more walk break at 240 laps, but I decided to run it out. How tough could it be to do just ten more laps after 240? Tough enough to cause me to make mental calculations every quarter lap, but I made it.

When I looked at my watch I was surprised to see the time appeared to be fast. It was not until I checked my records at home that I realized I'd PRed by 3:33. I have only four runs on record at the distance. The worst time is exactly thirteen minutes slower, and was run in July of this year. It appears I'm out of my slump.

For my next trick: I'll try for twelve miles tomorrow, and will attempt to run as much of it as possible. Runs during the week will be lighter than usual.

The Hippy Hippy Shake
Sunday, November 7, 1999

I didn't have time to run the whole twelve miles I'd scheduled today, but I could have gone longer.

My mind-set and technique were much different on this run than most others. This afternoon time caught up with me, and I had only a slice of time in which to accomplish my run. The total available was around 2:10, which, on fresh legs, is enough to cover the twelve miles I had hoped for.

However, being sore and tired from yesterday, I approached it as I may in later hours of my 24-hour run, when my mind and spirit might be more willing to move than my body. Rather than going for a predetermined distance, I was aiming for a cutoff time: 4:50 PM. At that time I had to leave immediately to go meet my daughter. However many laps I could cover in that time would constitute my run. I didn't realize until I started how different the run would be mentally.

Normally, to be substantially different from a run for a given distance, a timed run should last a span that would be difficult to cover. For instance, if I gave myself only thirty minutes to run, it would be little different than trying to run for three and a half miles, and the results would be harder to measure. I can measure time over a set course of any odd distance in hundreths of a second, but without measuring tools that I don't have available, I can't measure the distance run in a precise time unless I do it on a treadmill, which introduces other problems.

So when running a timed run, a long one that presents a challenge is more interesting. In the future, if I do much more of this sort of thing, I'll set a time like 6 hours on a track.

As I've said, I had no such slot available today. It didn't matter, because I was tired enough that 2:10 was plenty.

I began by walking the first four laps, then running one, walking one, running two, walking one, and so forth, until I got to fifty laps. From then on I ran nine and walked each lap divisible by ten. My form was not the best. Over the first 45 minutes I experimented with form until I found a motion that worked and that kept me moving forward at a reasonable speed, even though my shuffling pace had to be around 11:00 per mile. I took a potty break at around eighty laps, during which I stopped my watch.

In the end I staggered and hippety-hopped around the track 122 times in a period of 2:04:06, for a total coverage of 10.74 miles. Although I'd had enough, I definitely felt as though I could have sustained this routine for another five miles at least.

In the evening after dinner I was sufficiently worn out to fall asleep in front of the TV. Monday I'll do weight training only.

Bad Boy
Wednesday, November 10, 1999

I've decided to make this a light week, like a week of tapering. Next week will be more hard work, before starting my real two-week taper until Tucson. I'm wondering whether my body will benefit from the surprise, or get confused by the false alarm. I'm banking on it working for my benefit.

On Monday I did only 45 minutes of weight training followed by an evening of restful slothfulness in front of the football game.

I'm still fighting the urge to eat everything that crosses my line of sight just because it's there. I'll start off well each morning by eating a yogurt and a PowerBar, and maybe a banana. So far so good. I never eat lunch unless somehow a fistful of cookies accidentally finds its way to my cubicle. I'll get through the afternoon without any pangs, but when I get home from the gym I'm hungry. I'll eat a reasonable and nutritious dinner. Then maybe a pretzel. And ... four-slices-of-cheese-and-another-two-pretzels-and-some-candy-out-of-the-bowl-on-the-dining-room-table-and-a-pudding-and-maybe-a-jello, but-since-I-eat-them-real-fast-and-nobody-notices-they-don't-count!

And so forth, as Kurt Vonnegut is fond of saying.

Tuesday was good. My body suffered much less than usual from such a hard weekend. I got to the track and ran three miles at a 9:59 pace with no problems. I declared my slump to be officially over. I'm back!

Today, Wednesday, I thought about doing seven miles. However, I was up at 4:30 AM in order to get to work early, and will have to do so one more time tomorrow. Before I can sleep tonight, I have an hour or more of important research to accomplish. Rather than exhaust myself I opted for a light night.

When Cyra-Lea and I got to the gym we both started on a three-miler at the same time. She ran and I walked, except I alternately walked a fast lap and then racewalked a lap. Within a few laps I realized that I was catching up to Cyra-Lea, who was only running. This became a goal. I not only caught her, I nearly lapped her by the time I was done. My overall pace was 13:03. This went into my files as a walking PR, the first one I have recorded.

It's amusing that I can racewalk a lap almost as fast as I run when I'm tired at the end of a long run. However, because the motion is much different from running, racewalking uses different muscles, and it uses a great deal of energy. I can't keep it up for more than two laps at a time without my shins starting to cramp.

Too Much Monkey Business
Saturday, November 13, 1999

Recently I've written far too much about my frustration with weight control. I'm going to stop whining and either take charge of my own life and admit responsibility for what I do, or else just shut up. From now on only good news will be reported on that front.

Writing this journal has put my training on display. In exposing myself to public notice I've provided myself with extra incentive to follow through on what I've proclaimed I will do. What sort of person likes to stand up and tell thousands of people that he is going to accomplish X, Y, and Z, and then humiliate himself by failing to do any of it?

So far this year I've been surprisingly successful overall, as success begets more success. It's been a fabulous year. Contrarily, I've gotten into a warp on weight. Thursday night it seemed to me almost as though I'd given up and thrown in the towel on that issue. I haven't; I've just barely started.

It's too late in the year to do enough to have an impact on Tucson or Across the Years, or to report on by the time this journal is completed. At least I can get a good start on it.

So now it's on to new beginnings, and refocusing on my primary objectives.

This is another week with a rearranged schedule. On Thursday I was forced by circumstances to skip my run entirely. I foresaw several days in advance that it was coming.

An hour from now I will be going out to volunteer at a race for the first time ever: the Just Another Mad Dog 25K/50K/50M race, run on a 3.8-mile sidewalk loop in a local park. Historically, around fifty runners show up. I'm expecting to learn a few new things today. Because it's a long race, already in progress as I write, I'll probably be there until late afternoon.

Therefore, last night after work I did my "short" long run for this week, a half marathon. Friday afternoon is a lousy time to pop off a run that long, but I was sufficiently rested that it shouldn't have been too arduous. The first five laps were comfortable. After that it was like pushing a grocery cart full of cement bags across the Sahara for a while.

My shins cramped up early, as frequently happens. This time they didn't loosen up until 55 laps, because I had pre-ingested Advil less than five minutes before I started. When I run on Saturdays I'll take Advil while I'm still at home, giving me as much as a half hour before I start running for it to begin to take effect.

Many non-runners believe that running is sheer misery at the beginning, and then gets steadily and irreversibly worse each step of the way. For an untrained person, that's an accurate description. Therefore, it still amazes me, even after over five years of consistent training, that I can continue to run mile after mile on a day when it's no fun at all, and despite it, sometime down the road it will get easier.

Friday I felt so much better after the halfway point that I had enough left to push it hard the last twenty laps without letup. My time was 2:17:53 — my second worst time of fifteen recorded. It probably would have been a PW if I hadn't run close to a 9:30 pace the last two miles.

How can a person run in misery for over ten miles and then start to feel good? It's a mystery to me. But I've always been better at managing the longer distances.

My pace range is narrow at that distance. For me a 2:05 is incredible, and 2:15 is awful. Most of my half marathon training runs range between 2:10g—2:13.

Two weeks ago I predicted that no PR will be forthcoming in Tucson for me this year. The right kind of numbers in my training runs just aren't there, and I'm out of time to get any better. Maybe with a perfect day I can still pull a 4:30 out of it.

I'm not upset. I'd like to run just one more good marathon sometime, fast enough to set a significant all-time PR, before settling back to run them mostly for fun. Two years ago at this time I was confident that I had a 4:15 in me. But maybe not.

On November 10 I said that this week would be like a taper week. That was sort of true, except that by putting my long run on Friday instead of Saturday, my total mileage for the last seven consecutive days adds up to 52 miles. I won't run at all today. Tomorrow I'm hoping for another half marathon, but I'll have a cramped schedule again, and don't know yet what time will allow.

And now it's off to Mad Dog.

A Day in the Life
Monday, November 15, 1999

My first opportunity to serve as a volunteer at a race was interesting and enjoyable, largely because of two factors: First because it was a tiny event, and second because it was an ultrarace.

Just Another Mad Dog 25K/50K/50M is run on a 3.8-mile loop on a concrete sidewalk through a park in Scottsdale, Arizona. Runners shared the course with bicyclists, dog-walkers, rollerbladers, strollers, and everyone else who decided to come to the park for a pleasant Saturday morning.

The race started at 6:00 AM, but I didn't have to show up until 9:00 AM, since I was willing to help out with the later stages. The 25K started two hours after the other two races. When I got there no one had yet finished any race.

I can't say that I did a whole lot, but I filled in wherever I was needed. Being a newbie, at first I felt a bit like a left-handed catcher's mitt: probably quite useful in a different universe. But before long I learned the overall operation, including how they track laps and times in this sort of race.

My primary job was to welcome finishers and collect the bib tags and keep them in order. In a race this size there is no finishing chute, just a piece of duct tape laid across the sidewalk marking the finish line. Later on I helped the race director get the times listed for publication. There was no on-site computer assistance available.

The course was laid out in a barbell shape. Runners passed the aid station in the middle, where the start and finish were, twice each lap, once in each direction. I also helped some with the aid station. I learned that 25K runners could be cheered on, but with the 50K and 50-mile runners it increasingly became a matter of personalized care giving. I was impressed with how totally each runner was attended to, being waited on hand and foot each time they passed

Of all days for it to happen, we had record high temperatures in Phoenix Saturday. The high was 92. Some runners were clearly suffering out on the course. They would come in with their skin dry, not sweating, an indication that they were getting dehydrated.

They would stop to drink and eat, get water poured on them, and get whatever other assistance they needed, whether ibuprofen, Vaseline, sunscreen, massage, or just some encouraging words, before being cheered on their way. By the end of the day I knew all the 50-milers by name. There were 22 25K finishers, ten 50K finishers, and ten 50-mile finishers.

The winner of the 50-mile race was Scott St. John, a local elite runner who was aiming to break 6 hours. He didn't. His finishing time was exactly 6:00:00, for a 7:12 pace. He missed his goal by no more than two steps. The second place finisher didn't finish for another hour and seventeen minutes.

One 50K runner was Michael G. Allen, a delightfully enthusiastic 64-year-old man who had been on the 1964 US cycling team. Another finisher was 69. Both finished in fine time and in excellent spirits.

The fifth place 50-mile finisher, 48-year-old Dan Brenden, and his wife, both have permanent ear-to-ear smiles engraved on their radiant faces. Dan's wife has only one leg and uses crutches rather than a prosthetic limb. She served as his personal handler. When Dan came to the end, his wife met him fifty yards from the end, where he scooped her up in his arms and ran with her at a surprisingly strong pace from there to the finish. The race director's wife was waiting with a camera to get a picture of it. They were both laughing as he crossed. It was a special moment.

Three runners came in between 9:19 and 9:43. After that there was only one more runner still on the course. There had been no cutoff advertised, and this lady, who was hell-bent on finishing her first 50-miler ever, still had 3 laps of 13 to go. Everything had already been torn down and packed away, but the race director kindly and heroically settled down with a book and waited it out, leaving the aid station up and the clock running, until she finished in 13:14. I had left by 9:30, so only learned her finishing time from the results that arrived by email later.

Sunday Brings Another Day

This Sunday was much like last Sunday. I couldn't get to the gym until nearly 2:00 PM, and had to be out of there by 4:15 to get ready to go out to dinner and a concert.

Therefore, I did another timed run. I would complete the next whole lap after the clock clicked over at two hours. As I did last week, I began by walking one, running one, walking one, running two, and so forth, until twenty laps, and from then on walked only the laps with numbers evenly divisible by ten.

This made for a comfortable run, even though I was still a bit tired from Friday's half marathon. At the end I had covered 125 laps, 11.01 miles in 2:00:32, at a net 10:57 pace. This sort of routine has its benefits as a recovery or training run, but it does slow a person down. I'm definitely not personally either a practitioner or an advocate of the Galloway periodic walking plan.

Sunday night I dreamed I was running early in a marathon and suddenly realized that everyone else was wearing ChampionChips, but I never even knew it was a chip race and wasn't wearing one. Why are so many of our memorable dreams about personal embarrassment, danger, or failure?

This Boy
Tuesday, November 16, 1999

The greatest advantage of a mail list for runners is the opportunity its subscribers have to exchange ideas and experiences related to running and training. Having done this for several years, I've come to one conclusion: There are many ways to do it. What works for someone else doesn't necessarily work for me.

Conversely, what works for this boy is unlikely to work for many other runners. For instance, few runners at any level have the patience that I do to cope with circling for hours on an indoor track. I regard it as a strength. Others might call it a sickness.

Today a reader responded to yesterday's post, wondering why I neither practice nor advocate the Galloway plan, incorporating periodic walking breaks in my run. The answer is not simple.

A cascade of unripe thoughts follows. An answer may lie somewhere among them.

My strength is endurance. My weakness is speed. I want to cover ground faster, not slower. For me that means I need to keep running whenever I can. Therefore I don't Gallowalk.

Don't Pass Me By

On Monday, after over an hour of weight training, I slugged out in front of Monday Night Football. Some practicing athletes would label this a Real Bad Habit. I prefer to call it a Tradition. I'll never forget watching MNF on December 8, 1980, when Howard Cosell (of all people) interrupted the game with the news that John Lennon had been shot dead. Viewing the game was a firmly entrenched routine by that time. I haven't stopped watching regularly since, for fear I might miss something important.

This week I'm preparing for a 24-mile run on Saturday, and a backup long run Sunday, my final thrust before the taper into Tucson. Therefore, my runs during the week will be short, namely two miles today, and three tomorrow.

When I got to the gym Boston Bill was burning up the track, doing some serious speedwork. He looked fantastic as he blazed by in a blur. Surely he'll get his Boston qualifier in Tucson, with several minutes to spare. With better weather, a faster course, harder training, and only 31 seconds to shave off his last marathon, he's got it in the bag. The only thing I have in a bag is some taco chips.

Whoops, I wasn't going to talk about that anymore. But I wish I had the same confidence in myself. I'd need to shave fifty minutes off my PR to go to Boston.

After three warmup walking laps, I launched into my two-mile run (2.03 miles on tRtNE) with the hope of trying to hit a sub-9:00 pace. I should have warmed up with three or four running laps and recovery first. It took only two laps until I was gasping and in a world of suffering.

It wasn't pleasant, and it was far from a PR, but I finished in 18:21, for a net 9:03 pace. The time ranked seventh of 46 recorded for the distance. I've run it as fast as 8:26 per mile. Now, if I could just try it without this concrete sack strapped to my middle ...

Marking Time
Sunday, November 21, 1999

I've been quiet for a few days. Many stresses from work and Real Life, including fallout from the tragedy I related on November 5, have preoccupied me. But I'm happy to report that apparently my decision to go lightly during midweeks and hammer the weekend long runs has been working.

Wednesday I went for an ordinary midweek run rather than a ten-miler. After leaving Cyra-Lea at her piano lesson, I went to the post office, then returned and snoozed in her teacher's waiting room the rest of the hour. Afterward we headed to the gym where I did three miles at 9:36 pace. I still think I'm working far too hard to achieve this rate of speed.

On Thursday I powerwalked a mere half mile, but at a sub-12:00 pace. Until I learn the technique better, my personal version of powerwalking means alternating a lap of ordinary fast walking with a lap of racewalking, which I seem to have the technical ability to do, but still with little endurance.

Following that warmup I put in a short but highly effective 35 minutes on the weights. On Friday I rested completely.

How Do You Do It

Saturday I returned to action. After being out and about for three hours in the morning, I returned and immediately began my long run preparations. The only preparation I forgot was applying lubricant to my tender parts, which turned raw by late afternoon.

Bally's was unusually deserted all afternoon. Over a period of four or five hours the entire occupancy turns over several times. Some people stay a half hour, most stay an hour, a few hard core people stay two hours or more, and then there are the nuts like me. Actually, there is only one nut like me that goes there with any regularity.

All afternoon there was only one person I ever talk to in the place, a fellow I had time only to wave and say Hi to as he was on his way out.

I did make one new acquaintance, a young woman (about thirty) named Linda. As I've explained previously, I don't make a regular habit of walking up and talking to women I've never met. This particular lady I have been seeing regularly for the last several months. She's extraordinarily fit, one of those who spends over two hours in the weight room doing exercises that are beyond my ability, using heavy weight. She shows an unusual amount of muscle bulk for a woman, but is compact, with little body fat.

In addition, she's an excellent runner, and has put in up to eight miles or so on various Saturdays, lapping me often. We'd waved and acknowledged each other several times before, so it wasn't like she was being hit on by a complete stranger. But we'd never both been standing still at the same time so as to have the opportunity to talk. Saturday we arrived at the gym at the same time.

I've wanted to ask her if she trains for races. When I approached, she greeted me with, "Hello, marathon man!" She'd gotten that part figured out right. She'd run a half marathon last year, and decided to keep up her running. Good for her. We chatted only two or three minutes, and then it was time for both of us to get to work. She was still there over two hours later.

Saturday the schedule called for 24.04 miles, 273 laps on tRtNE. I didn't know how it would go, but with two days of non-running, eight hours of sleep the night before, and a good attitude, I was optimistic.

The first lap felt wonderful. Assuming I didn't ruin things by going out too fast, I would be fine. I still experienced a little bit of shin pain the first forty laps, but not as bad as it has been in the past.

I came well-armed with liquids and goos. I had three quarts of Gatorade and four Clif Shots, in addition to my pill box stocked with Succeed! and Advil. I drank a whole pint of Gatorade every 40 laps, consumed a Clif Shot every 40 starting at 80, and took another electrolyte tab at 80 and 160, and more Advil at 120.

The run gradually got better. Where does this ability come from, and how do I do it? I have absolutely no idea. Laps 120—160 (10.6 to 14.1 miles) I ran like a freight train — smooth, consistent, and relentless, every step identical to the last, breathing easy, my pace still up at its maximum level for the day, the time and the laps flying by evenly. I hated to stop at 160, but knew better than to skip it. I was on target for a PR at the distance.

By 180 I sensed the gas running out of the tank. Schluurrrp! At 185, alarms started to go off, and by 190 I had entered deep bite-me mode. The next 83 laps were run on raw determination, at an enforced slower pace.

Sheryl Crow returned to the gym's speaker system after an absence of months. This time she preached repeatedly her na"ively simple home-spun philosophy: "If it makes you happy, it can't be that baaa-a-aa-ad." Well — there was a thought to ponder. I was in no condition to argue the point rationally.

The worst segment was from 200—240 laps. During that period I started to experience mild nausea. I wonder if I'm taking too much electrolyte. I've got to check that out.

Another possibility: during a long period of vigorous exercise, the alimentary canal becomes like the Alaskan pipeline, dumping large quantities of fluids and foods into it that must be processed immediately and much more quickly than normally. A body has to get used to that sort of stress.

Eventually I finished, as I inevitably had to, in 4:29:27 — not the distance PR I had expected, but the second slowest of 5 on record. After fifteen minutes of recovery and stretching, I headed home to an early dinner, following which Suzy and I went to see the Arizona Opera Company's performance of Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro, my final feat of endurance for the day.[20]

[20] It's one of the greatest operas, but lasts nearly three hours.

I didn't get to bed until nearly 1:00 AM, but was up at 6:30 AM to get some important studying done before going out for the morning, not returning until 1:45 PM. Then it was straight back to Bally's for another dose of endurance training. Just what I needed! I haven't been running nearly enough lately.

It's sometimes difficult to convey sarcasm in writing. Please note that I'm writing this from the perspective of having already finished what I'll now describe.

Today is two weeks until Tucson Marathon. For the sake of preparation for Across the Years, I wanted to heap another half marathon on top of yesterday's 24 miles. You say I'm unreasonable? Very well, then, I'm unreasonable, to paraphrase Bertrand Russell. But I did it.

Naturally, I didn't expect to set the track on fire today. I wanted only to cover the distance, even if I was forced to walk much of the way. But I wanted to run as much of it as possible.

I started out walking one lap out of five, and at thirty laps, I walked one out of ten until eighty. From then until the end (149 laps), I sometimes walked the first of five or the first of ten, striving to keep ahead of an overall sixty-second per lap pace. I normally run them close to fifty seconds per lap.

This resulted in a 2:28:29 half marathon, a 12:05 pace, and a PW by over 8 minutes, if I were counting it as a run rather than a run-walk. (I won't.) Nearest I can figure, I walked twenty of those laps, and the ones I ran were slow, around 54—55 seconds on average.

Although Sunday's slog was slow, it gave me a new sort of PR: a two-day cumulative distance of 37.16 miles. I've never tried to track that statistic, but I'm quite sure that's my best by far, and was worth noting. That spectacular surge, marked the time to begin my official taper into Tucson.

Today's performance is a typical demonstration of why I don't Gallowalk. The technique served a useful purpose for today, when I was hobbling along on exhausted legs, but I would never do it on any kind of regular basis, and certainly not in a race the distance of a marathon or less.

How am I ever going to run for 24 hours? Only forty days remain to figure out the answer to that question.

I'll Follow The Sun
Thursday, November 25, 1999

We don't observe holidays that most people in our part of the world do. Today is just a paid day off work for me, a chance to sleep in, and to get some things done that have needed doing, such as upgrading my Macintosh clone.

It's also one of the most spectacularly beautiful days that Arizona has to offer. At 2:30 PM the temperature is 65 degrees, the humidity is 11 percent, and it's yet another perfectly cloudless day.

On both Monday and Tuesday I rested completely, skipping even strength training.

On Wednesday I ran only two miles, but hard. The last time I did only two miles, one a week ago, I started out too fast and without adequate warmup, throwing myself into instant oxygen debt, and bringing grief and woe on myself. Wednesday I walked some laps, then trotted lightly one, walked one, trotted another one, then walked one more as a warmup before starting out for real.

The result was a more comfortable run overall, but slightly slower than last week, for a 9:07 pace. Rats. I should be capable of running sub-9:00 consistently at that distance, but I can't. My heart rate averaged 89% of my maximum. The effort is there, but the speed is not. It must be that anvil I carry in my shorts. I'm also sure I was still recovering from the weekend, though I was not sore at all.

The gym is open today. Suzy and Cyra-Lea went this morning, but I opted instead for a noon trip to the nearby high school to run 10K on the track. I owned the place except for a football player who was practicing bursts of backwards running, but left a few minutes after I got there, and a couple of shot-putters who were there for half an hour in the middle of my run.

I had no desire to push hard. It's easy to track a 2:30 per lap pace, so that's what I aimed for. I stayed consistently between right on pace to five seconds ahead and finished with four seconds to spare at 1:02:26, a 10:03 pace. It was fun the whole way, and I was sorry to be done because it was so pretty out, and refreshing to run in the beautiful sunshine for a change. But I knew better than to try and extend it.

The Beat Goes On
Sunday, November 28, 1999

The Big T is upon me. Tucson? No: Tapering for Tucson. Taking it easy when I have some time off work is not something I do often.

Friday afternoon Cyra-Lea and I headed for the gym. She's been doing three miles faithfully nearly every time she goes. Until recently, she was a runner with little resolve. She's run several 5Ks and 10Ks, but has always procrastinated over training for them. At least two out of three times she'd start out on a run and throw in the towel at a mile and a half or two miles. She's done two or three 10Ks having never run more than five miles in preparation. Lately she's shown more personal commitment to her own training program, and has been faithful to it. Since she has the desire to be a health care professional, I'm glad to see her doing this more rigorously without any prompting from me.

I was going to do two track miles, but instead snagged an open elliptical trainer. After twenty minutes of cranking, I was dripping and my knees were woozy. I did ten minutes forwards, with no hands on the support bars, and ten minutes backwards. The balance is a little trickier, but I found that merely resting my pinkies on the handles, without putting weight on them, was sufficient to keep me steady.

For the sake of my records I entered this as the equivalent of a two-mile run at 10:00 pace, which I followed with thirty minutes of light but effective weight training.

I've read that a person shouldn't do weight training the last ten days of a taper. I'm ignoring that advice, but not with cavalier disregard for my well-being. All I'm doing is keeping things tight, like a piano tuner who comes on stage during the intermission at a piano recital to touch up any problem areas in an otherwise well-tuned instrument. I'm not killing myself with exhausting heavy lifting sessions. I never do.

It's now Sunday afternoon and Cyra-Lea and I just returned from another workout. Today I did eight miles. It will be my longest run until Tucson Marathon a week from today. Tuesday I'll do three and Wednesday between three and five depending on how I feel, and that will be all.

When I started today I didn't care at all about my pace. As the laps clicked by, I felt like running, and at the same time could feel the strain of the extra weight I've been carrying. It ticked me off.

When I reached four miles, my watch said 41 minutes flat. Not good enough. I should be able to ease along at a consistent sub-10:00 pace at that distance. It made me madder. Instantly I jammed it into high gear and put the pedal to the metal, even though I'm tapering for a marathon a week away, and still am letting my legs recover from the long distance I covered last weekend. I'm tired of lumbering along like a buffalo.

My body obeyed. The laps gradually got faster, going from 52 seconds down to 46 each. My breathing got noisy as I hoofed and whoofed, exhaling hard every four steps, but with control.

With twenty laps to go a pretty girl stretching in a corner smiled at me. I ran harder.

Three laps later, some tall hairy guy with tatoos and big muscles, who'd been doing some bouncy goofy running when I got there, walked nonchalantly from a corner on the track toward me, as though the world needed to step around whatever particular space on the planet he happened to be occuping at the moment, even if that was walking the wrong direction down the fast lane of a six-lane highway. I pretended to nearly blow him over with the breeze of my passing as I whizzed on by just inches from him, as though he wasn't there, and would have been roadkill, trampled into the track if he'd been in my way. A half dozen laps later he acknowledged I was there and looking good with a smile as I went by.

I finished with a negative split by a margin of 3:23. My overall pace was 9:42, not great, but not bad considering the first four miles was run at 10:07. I felt good when I finished, and after ten minutes of stretching I headed home satisfied.

I'm continuing to keep a column in my log counting the cumulative mileage for each previous seven days. This number gives me some indication of what to expect in freshness, and seems to be more meaningful on a daily basis than weekly totals.

Months ago it was consistently in the upper forties and lower fifties. At the time I was following a regimented routine. Therefore, if a ten-miler on one Wednesday dropped off the end of the list, it would be replaced with a new ten-miler the next, leaving the overall total much the same.

Recently, with my emphasis on some weird mileage combinations, the sequence has looked a little more unusual. For instance, the first week of the month the sequence went: 45.70, 43.50, 46.32, 47.91, 48.65, 46.71, 41.74. The last 10 days it's been 18.36, 42.90, 45.01, 43.95, 41.39, 40.25, 46.43, 48.43, 24.39, 19.90. I'm just now finally starting to sense the effects of tapering. By next Sunday the numbers should fall into the downright slothful range.

Tuesday, November 30, 1999

It's the last day of the month, four days until Tucson Marathon, and two days before I'll be meeting many people who have been reading this journal with regularity. It seems an appropriate moment for a status report.

Monday I wrestled with the weights for forty minutes, working a little harder than I originally intended, but carefully avoiding any leg work at all. My hamstrings still tingled from the blast I gave them Sunday afternoon.

Today I scheduled three miles, but found an open elliptical trainer, so hopped on it for twenty minutes of forward motion, and ten minutes backwards. What a sloshy feeling it is, getting off that device! It's like having to learn to walk again for the first three minutes. The session went into my record as the equivalent of three miles at 10:00.

Tomorrow I plan on walking five miles, my last exertion until Tucson.

One figure I have calculated faithfully every month since I started taking records is the percent of days that I work out. The desire to keep this figure high helps motivate me to do weight training on days that I don't run. The average for the year has been right at 75%. In 1998, when I ran less mileage, it was 86%.

November's total mileage was 147, well below my average of 161 a month for the year. The year's total is up to 1775 miles, exactly 50 miles short of 1998's total. Given that I expect to add 26.2 to that on Sunday, and perhaps seventy more miles on the last day of the year, plus training runs the rest of the month, I'll top last year's figure by quite a margin. However, the target of 2000 miles by the last day before the year 2000 is out of reach.

Originally I had planned on twenty miles more this month, about the distance of one good long run. I sacrificed that mileage deliberately by letting up during the week and hammering the long runs on the weekend. This strategy seems to have worked well. I feel as ready for Tucson as an old, fat guy can be. Though I don't anticipate a PR, there's no reason I shouldn't have a good run.

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