The world is big enough that statistically, no matter how narrow your interests, it's possible to find an organized group of people who share them. Somewhere in this world there's a club — with a Web site, newsletter, and conventions — for retired left-handed postmen who use Amiga computers, collect African stamps, and sing karaoke.
And so it is that today I find myself on the eve of attending a convention for sandbagging, writing, distance-running denizens of the Internet — nearly ninety of them. What an arcane level of specialization my life has come to!
When asked why they do it, mountain climbers sometimes answer: "Because it's there." That's the same reason I eat food.
Oops, I wasn't going to get into that subject any more. Sorry.
"Because it's there" is the primary reason I'll be running the marathon in Tucson. After experiencing bad weather at that race two years in a row, I had no inclination to repeat the experience again this year. But about the time I started to recover from last time, plans were being made from within CrAZeD, the Arizona outpost of Dead Runners Society, to throw our seventh World Conference in Tucson, with the Tucson Marathon as the centerpiece running event.
Then a call went out for volunteers to help support this insanity. Though I've never been to a previous conference, am not a joiner by nature, nor a particularly social person, when the request arrived for someone to put up a conference Web site, I figured, "Hey, I can do that!" The decision put a major twist in my plans for 1999.
So tomorrow we're headed to the conference and the race. To call it a race in my case is an exaggeration. I've never won anything, and never will. For me the goal is to get through the experience the best way I can.
However, I've worked hard and profitably this year. I'm "in shape" in a manner of speaking.
Being "in shape" often refers to one's literal body outline, the dent one leaves when making angels in the snow. (Something I hardly ever do any more.) My silhouette makes healthy young boys and pretty young women laugh. Well OK, I admit I do have a bit of blubber around my waist, and I am carrying more weight than I should, but it's not extreme.
Physical conditioning is only superficially related to body shape. It's true that people, young ones especially, want to be able to stand before a mirror and see chiseled lines, or lovely curves. Most persons, regardless of age and marital status would like to think of themselves as attractive to the opposite sex. The days of that vain possibility are long gone for me.
More importantly, my conditioning is internal. Last night at the gym, a personal trainer in his early twenties told me, "I sure hope I'm in as good a shape as you are when I'm your age." And this morning even my seventeen-year-old daughter told me lavishly that I look fantastic for my age. Both intended their words to be complimentary, even though the qualifiers in their verbiage smack of the same flavor as telling someone from a minority that he's a credit to his race.
I've learned to accept my compliments from wherever I can get them. I said thanks both times.
Last night I did the last bit of exercising I'll be doing until I hit the road Sunday morning. At the gym I walked five miles. Within four laps I began to push it hard, and before long my motion turned to racewalking.
My endurance for this is getting better. I can keep it up consistently for eleven out of twelve laps. I finished the trek at an 11:56 pace, the first time I've ever walked that far that fast.
As a result, I've begun noting walking paces and PRs in my log files, with yesterday's effort marking my first officially recorded walk at that distance. Someday I'd like someone who is an experienced racewalker to tell me if the technique I'm using is race legal, or if I'm just running funny.
So now I have three days of well-earned rest and rumination ahead of me. Above all, I intend to get some decent sleep! You probably think that's so I can refurbish my muscles and store up energy for the big run to come. Bzzzt! Wrong! I'm just a hedonist who likes to remove all restraints from around my expanding waist, and lie naked and motionless in a soft, warm place, for hours on end.
The longer I wait between RTtM posts, the harder it is get started with an update. This is all the more true when the reason for the gap is because I've been off to a running conference and a marathon.
Friday we picked up Cyra-Lea from school at 11:15 AM and headed south on I-10 through the scraggly desert toward Tucson to attend the Dead Runners Society World Conference #7. The weather was anomalous and had me worried. In addition to the unusual cold, strong winds had whipped up enormous clouds of dust so thick it was like driving through fog. Only outlines and prominent features of the desert scenery were visible. I wanted our incoming guests to see the best of what Arizona has to offer this time of year.
We checked into the hotel by 1:15 PM, the same one we stayed at the past two Tucson Marathons. The rest of the afternoon we spent in the hospitality suite, greeting conference attendees as they arrived, and watching a videotape of the Chicago Marathon, where the world record was set, and where the first two women finished one step apart.
Friday evening we all headed for a Mexican restaurant across the street. They sat us in a large outdoor room, but we parked ourselves under an efficient heater. The place quickly filled to capacity with runners, many of whom had never met face to face, but who behaved like old friends.
As the noise level increased, the management of the restaurant must have wondered how it was that this convention group seemed to know each other so well, and how such a high level of Gemütlichkeit could be achieved when fueled by the relatively small quantity of alcohol that a group of trained athletes typically consumes.
Saturday morning the sky was clear, revealing the beautiful mountains surrounding Tucson. By afternoon the temperature rose to seventy degrees. We spent the day doing things that would not deplete my energy. It began with a trip to the marathon expo.
It was immediately apparent upon arriving at the new headquarters hotel that there have been some radical upgrades to the Tucson Marathon. Judging from the size of the crowds, I estimated there had been a tremendous jump in the number of participants. This proved to be true. Last year's results showed 1030 persons finishing the full marathon. This year there were 1525 finishers, an increase of 32.5%.
We were delighted to see that, although still small, the expo was much improved. The biggest change was being moved from an outdoor tent to two rooms of a small western-style hall attached to the Sheraton headquarters resort hotel. We encountered many Dead Runners there picking up their packets.
The merchandise available was typical expo fare, but notably better than the previous two years. This year they offered fancy race T-shirts in addition to the standard short-sleeve advertising-laden shirt they give runners as part of their entry fee. I wear long sleeve race T-shirts to work, preferably without advertising, especially if they have the word MARATHON in big letters on them. Yes, I'm that vain. I bought an attractive black one. It has the required word prominently displayed in two-inch letters. I'm wearing it now.
I also bought a large pair of RaceReady shorts with pockets, and wore them in the race Sunday. Cyra-Lea bought some Nike shorts and sunglasses, which likewise proved to be useful Sunday.
From there we headed to the track at the University of Arizona, where an all comers track meet was in progress. Many Dead Runners signed up for events, and many more were there to cheer. It was fun watching some of DRS's most formidable but no longer young runners get smoked by runners who are barely twenty years old. But I doubt any of those young'ns went out and braved the marathon the next day. Endurance sport is the domain of older athletes.
Forty-four-year-old Dead Runner Jim Adams competed in the 200 meters, 1000 meters, 4x400 meters relay, and 800 meters on the medley relay track events Saturday, then ran sub-3:00 in the marathon on Sunday. This achievement boggles my mind.
We left the track meet early to go sightseeing in beautiful Sabino Canyon. This was not a day for hiking and exploring. There was time only to take the relaxing 45-minute round trip tram ride with geriatrics, kiddies, and other tourists.
When we left Sabino it was time to head for Larocca's Italian restaurant, where Dead Runners were gathering for festivities. I resisted the urge to overdo. A salad, bread, and serving of vegetarian lasagna was exactly the right amount of food for a pre-marathon dinner. I'm sure my self-restraint contributed to a lack of potty-oriented problems Sunday, of the type I suffered from during Twin Cities Marathon, and also last year at Tucson.
During dinner two representatives of the DOA marathon relay team approached our table in hopes of recruiting a replacement member. Cyra-Lea excitedly volunteered to run the 3.8-mile short leg. Fortunately, she had running shoes and a shirt, and had just bought a new pair of shorts at the expo.
Cyra-Lea's training averages one or two slow three-mile runs a week. She was delighted to be asked to participate by a crew of such esteemed runners, especially given that the DOA team came in at 3:50. She had a better race than I did.
|The Dead Runners Society DOA relay team,
with Cyra-Lea on the right
On marathon eve I have a routine I always follow. First I go through all the stuff in the race packet, looking for instructions and important information. Next I lay out all my gear in an array on a table I refer to as my altar, which cracks up Cyra-Lea. Then I make a careful checklist to follow in the morning. After that, it's do nothing much until I can justify going to bed.
This marathon eve there were revelries taking place right over our head, as the Dead Runners partied, ate, sang, joked, and visited into the night. I stopped up twice to check things out, and to say hello to some people I had missed before, but didn't stay long.
Finally, I settled into bed at 8:20 PM, tossed and turned for a while, but then slept well until 3:00 AM. I finally got up at 4:15 AM, moments before the alarm and wakeup call.
It's important to me to remember all the details of preparation on race morning. If I were to forget my orthotics or sunglasses, or fail to put BodyGlide somewhere that I should have, it would distract me. As far as I remember, I performed the ceremony flawlessly this time.
The morning was cold, clear, and dry. By afternoon it had become the sort of day I had most hoped for — the most gloriously perfect setting imaginable for outdoor activities, one of the best weather days Arizona has to offer. Hooray!
The hotel had the breakfast room open and ready for runners by 5:00 AM. I was the second person in, but was followed quickly by many others. In addition to DRS members, I ran into Boston Bill from Phoenix, there to get his qualifier. I expected to see him, but didn't know he would be staying at the same hotel.
I limited my intake to a glass of orange juice, a single cup of coffee, and a cup of yogurt. In the past I've experimented with different combinations on race morning, with varying success. Less seems to work better for me.
At breakfast I hitched a ride to the buses with two Dead Runners, saving myself a five-dollar van fee. We were early getting out, but the traffic was already a problem. We had to walk at least ten minutes from the car to the buses. I hopped on the first one available, thereby losing track of the folks I was with.
Normally, on a race shuttle bus I make a point of introducing myself to the person next to me. This trip the fellow I was with just grunted in response. It turns out he didn't speak much English. Therefore, the ride to the start provided me with an opportunity to take a short nap. Because of the traffic jam, it seemed way too long. I yearned for the company of some Dead Runners.
When we arrived it was getting light enough to see easily. I headed straight for the still uncrowded potties, and happily was able to care of necessary business then and there, adequately enough that I didn't have to worry about it again until after the race.
The new start is on a narrow dirt road in the middle of nowhere. I heard someone say we were in a state park. Things were disorganized. They had no sound system running yet. A balloon arch marked the start, an improvement over past years, when the location of the starting line existed only in the mind of the starter. But it was not apparent at first which direction we would be running. There were cases of water bottles by the side of the road, but most runners were probably unaware of it. They did have one giant floodlight. By that hour it was no longer necessary for seeing, but did add to the festive atmosphere.
I happened to be standing six feet from the race director when she said in a loud voice for the benefit of all standing nearby that there had been a major foopah: The truck and crew had not yet arrived to pick up gear bags, and there were no extra bags available. She suggested people try to share bags, and pile them in a designated spot by the side of the road. They would pick everything up when they could, and the RD promised they'd get it all straightened out and everyone would eventually get their stuff back.
It worked out. At the end I had to search a while for my bag, but I found it. There weren't many left by that time. It was an honor system pickup, not one monitored by attendants. I used a large dark green garbage bag of my own, rather than the dinky baggie they supplied us, and the magic marker number I wrote on it could barely be seen.
The sun came up over the trees. Immediately the cold started to vanish. I opted not to strip down to my singlet, and was glad for it later.
Amidst the chaos I located numerous Dead Runners to engage in prerace chit-chat with. Before long a small deer with an ear tag wandered out of the woods less than ten feet from me, unafraid and close enough that anyone who was inclined could have patted it on the nose.
Because the incoming traffic was bottlenecked, there was a ten-minute delay getting the race started. We heard no audible start signal where we were standing, but those at the front suddenly surged forward, so everyone followed the wave. It took between thirty and forty seconds to get to the start, and we were off.
To set a PR at this race would have meant finishing sub-4:25:45. A month ago I knew this was unlikely to happen, but thought perhaps 4:30 was doable if the day was right. I'd arrived at the start trained, rested, comfortably pottied, and ready to run.
 I don't count my time of 5:16:56 at Whiskey Row Marathon last May as a personal worst because the course is all steep hills, and widely regarded by runners as a 26.2-mile ultramarathon.
The first part of the race went exceptionally well. I was on a 4:19 pace through ten miles, and still on 4:22 pace at the half.
|Still feeling pretty good at about mile 11.
In 1997, at fourteen miles, a runner asked how I was doing, what my goal was, and if he could run with me. I replied that I was either having the best run of my life or was destined to go down in flames. All I had to do was hang in here. On that occasion, that's exactly what I did. This time it was not to be.
It was to be expected that I would slow down gradually. I always do. I'm embarrassed to show my splits below, but the record is instructive.
MILE: TIME: TOTAL: 01: 10:18.88 10:18.88 02: 9:13.62 19:32.50 03: 9:57.91 29:30.41 04: 9:23.46 38:53.87 05: 9:36.13 48:30.00 06: 9:58.50 58:28.50 07: 9:54.74 1:08:23 08: 9:59.51 1:18:22 09: 10:28.93 1:28:51 10: 9:56.75 1:38:48 11: 10:37.20 1:49:25 12: 10:05.99 1:59:31 13: 10:30.13 2:10:01 14: 10:27.41 2:20:29 15: 11:00.71 2:31:29 16: 11:11.89 2:42:41 17: 11:22.24 2:54:04 18: 11:21.00 3:05:25 19: 12:05.22 3:17:30 20: 12:23.25 3:29:53 21: 12:29.75 3:42:23 22: 12:16.00 3:54:39 23: 12:56.00 4:07:35 24: 13:30:60 4:21:05 25: 14:17.76 4:35:23 26.2: 16:46.56 4:52:10
Clearly, around fifteen miles my pace slipped dramatically and irrevocably. I knew I had slowed considerably, but was still feeling enthusiastic, and hopeful of matching last year's time of 4:35, run in an intense headwind.
One goal I had Sunday was no matter what, I would at least keep running and not surrender to the urge to walk. I knew from previous experience that once I give in to unscheduled walks, I never pull out of it.
It was a noble idea, but at exactly the 22-mile marker I broke that promise. My legs were done. The last three miles I made running motions with my legs and arms, but I was thrashing. By the end I was unable even to leave the ground with each step. As I recently learned, on a day when I'm fresh, I can powerwalk faster than any of last six mile splits.
Less than a half mile from the end a spectator on the side of the road was wearing a T-shirt that said: "Your village called. Their idiot is missing." How I wished for a cell phone!
|Just about to turn the corner before the final 200 yards
Note the steady uphill just completed
Note also my massive stride length (about my shoe size)
|Around the corner, with the end about fifty yards ahead
As noted in the chart, my final wretched watch time was 4:52:10. Gross. Still, I had a great time and look forward to trying again.
In retrospect, several factors may have contributed the demise of my performance in this race.
Boston Bill (who easily made his qualifier) theorized that I lacked sufficient fuel. Saturday night I ate less than usual, and Sunday I had a small breakfast. They had no XLR8 on the course until mile eight, which surprised and disappointed me, because I was counting on having it available. Thereafter I had two cups of XLR8 at almost every water stop, but it seemed to be a weakly diluted mixture. Later I had one Clif Shot that I carried with me, and whatever toothpaste-tube goo they handed us around mile nineteen, by which time it was too late to do much good. I carried a PowerBar in my pocket, but the idea of eating it was revolting.
Personally, I don't agree that lack of fuel was the biggest enemy. I'm basing this conjecture on the nature of the tiredness I felt. Every runner has felt the debilitating sort of lethargicly drunken tiredness that hits on a hot day, when your whole body becomes limp and heavy, your head hangs down, and even walking is unpleasant. Evil chemicals surge about, and voices in your head attempt to make you think you'd rather die than continue doing what you're doing.
My experience Sunday wasn't like that.
I continued to feel both mentally and physically good. I was willing to run, but my quadriceps flat out quit on me. Dead. Gone. I was like a car without shock absorbers.
If I couldn't even get airborne with each step, nothing short of a faster turnover would get me where I was going sooner than walking. This scenario doesn't sound to me like a lack of energy, just a matter of depleted muscle. Nutritionists may tell me there is no difference.
Judging from my splits, it would be logical to assume that I went out too fast. Perhaps so. Doing so is hard to resist with such downhills, which are more inviting the first part of the race than the last. Two years ago I passed the halfway point six minutes ahead of this year's time, and hung on to finish well. It was natural to hope that history might repeat itself.
Ironically, while standing in the porta-potty line, the guy behind me, who at around age forty looked trim and fit, said this was his first marathon, and asked me if I had any advice. He must have mistaken me for Bill Rodgers, which is understandable, since we're about the same age. Without hesitating I admonished him: "Don't go out too fast!!" Sheesh. Physician heal thyself. Meanwhile, the dude I was handing out the free advice to looked like he was good for a 3:30.
The third factor was the hills themselves. One indisputable disadvantage of my eccentric geezerly training routine on an indoor track is that I get almost no hill training of any type. It's natural for guys like me to think Pollyannishly that I'll squeak by on the uphills (huff, puff), and the downhills will take care of themselves, because after all, they're downhills, and easy. Bzzzt! Wrong! A half mile downhill may be easy, and roaringly good fun, but twenty-plus miles is not. So before future road races I need to do more hill work.
Finally, the most obvious thing I can do for myself to improve my running speed is to lose some weight. I'm ten to twelve pounds heavier now than when I ran Tucson two years ago. Despite much more rigorous training this past year, my overall paces have been consistently slower. What am I supposed to expect when I run with a bowling ball in my shorts?
Remarkably, I'm sure that if I had chosen to run the half marathon I would have had a good race at the least, and may even have PRed. But that's not what I did.
Fortunately I'm not the sort of fellow who sits and mopes about less-than-best athletic performances. All year my ultimate target event for the year has been the Across the Years 24-hour race, now only 23 days away. Therefore, even though I did get a PW rather than a PR in Tucson, I still had an enjoyable, hard, long training run on a beautiful day that was well worth the effort, and can now claim one more marathon on my running resumé.
We didn't stick around for race food or to see the awards, but headed immediately for the car, which Suzy had parked a half mile up the road, and from there to the DRS conference picnic five miles up Oracle Road at Catalina State Park. What a beautiful spot! Not a soul other than Dead Runners was anywhere to be seen. This provided opportunity to talk further to some I had missed, and to trade war stories.
Regrettably, we had an impossibly tight schedule, so had to leave by 2:30 in order to be back in Phoenix, cleaned up, and ready to go to a Steinway artists piano recital that night. We made it, but not with much time to spare. The performance by Alan Gampel was wonderful, which I badly needed in order to stay awake.
It's now been five days since I returned from Tucson. On Monday morning I confronted the task of recovering from the marathon, and then preparing for Across the Years, in the span of 25 days.
From my vantage point on the bright side of Quadricepial Perdition I thought that, because I've been trying to build up my ability to run on tired legs, on Monday I would do fifteen miles, even if I had to walk most of it. Then I was to do twenty easy miles tomorrow. Yes, I knew it would be difficult.
Difficult!!?? Ha!! What was I thinking!? By Sunday afternoon I needed my daughter's help getting out of the car. As part of her nursing training she has learned how to lift invalides twice her size out of a chair.
On Monday I could barely walk from my car to my office and from there to the bathroom, let alone dream of running even a single lap at the gym. I took the day off in toto and spent the evening watching large, padded men jump on each other, while drinking some of the beer I hauled home in the cooler I loaned to the DRS conference.
If I had followed through on this week's original plan, I would have accumulated a seven-day total of 64 miles, including that blow-out marathon. I've never run more than 52.5 miles in an official Sunday to Saturday week.
In my ache-state I besought wise ones in the ultrarunning community for counsel on how to optimize my readiness for Across the Years, given the little time that was left. A variety of responses were returned, with suggestions at opposite ends of the spectrum.
One runner thinks I should just rest from now until then. Another suggested I set up a table on a track with all the gear I'll need during the race, and should try to go at least seven hours, starting at 11:00 PM, to see how I will handle the sleep deprivation.
Almost all the experienced ultrarunners assured me that there's little I can do presently to improve my fitness by three weeks from now. I should trust the training I did for Tucson and through the rest of the year. The amount of exertion that people recommended varied, but almost no one suggested that I do much running. Instead, the thrust was that I concentrate mostly on walking for the rest of the year, and do a little light jogging to supplement it, but no speed work.
No training plan should be chiseled in marble. Sticking to a plan is a good thing, but the purpose of a plan is to produce the best results. If it's obvious that something is not going to work, then we adjust. No big whoop. So then, mostly walking it will be for the rest of the month, year, decade, century, and pseudo-millennium.
On Tuesday I showed up at the gym, where I spent ten token minutes on a stationary bike while trading tales with Boston Bill. He easily made his qualifier, and enjoyed the luxury of slowing down and running in slowly the last 10K, following which he helped out by working the finishing chute for an hour. The bike was followed by twenty minutes of light weight lifting. Finally, I walked around the track a few times, stretched thoroughly (oooouuuchh!!), and went home.
By Wednesday morning the pain had stopped, but my legs were still tired. Cyra-Lea and I went to the gym, I spent fifteen minutes on the stationary bike, walked a half mile, did token sets of weights and quit.
Thursday I did three miles, but I counted it as walking. Of the 35 laps, I normalwalked a few laps, powerwalked some more, racewalked a few more, and even ran four of them slowly, for a net pace of 13:04. That was all the workout I needed.
Today is Friday and I'm slothing out again. Tomorrow it will be back to work with three hours of combined running and walking, however far that takes me.
This morning I talked about running with a non-running but healthy friend fourteen years my junior who would like to take up running. His questions indicated that he's bought into the full gamut of misconceptions that beginning runners often need to undo before they can progress.
"How do you run so far? I get out of breath just running a block." Obviously, he's going out too fast. If I couldn't breathe, I couldn't run at all, not more than a few steps. So I run slow enough to allow myself the luxury of oxygen. So do we all, unless we are short distance sprinters.
Every runner with more than a week's experience knows that if you hit the pavement on the first step in bat-out-of-a-warm-place mode, you'll quickly find yourself unable to breathe enough. That's why the record for the 400-meter sprint is more than double the record for the 200-meter sprint.farther you go the more you have to slow down.
 At this writing, 43.18 seconds versus 19.32 seconds, respectively, both held by Michael Johnson. Interestingly, the record for 100 meters is 9.79 seconds, held by Maurice Greene, more than half the time for 200 meters. One runner theorized that this is because both Johnson and Greene needed a few seconds to get up to top speed, but in the 200, Johnson had more time to run his fastest, so his average speed, and therefore his total speed, was faster. However, the principle stated above holds true for any other distance you can name. If Michael Johnson had continued on to run the marathon at the same pace he ran his fastest 100 meters, the world record for the marathon would be 1:08:51. Today the real record is 2:05:42, set by Khalid Khannouchi.
"What do you do about aching joints and injuries? Every time I start running my knees or my ankles give out." I had to confess that except for a bit of a bout with Achilles tendonitis, which is now under control, I've never experienced an injury. People do get injured, but it's often from pushing their limits too hard, or doing something stupid, often in ignorance, such as trying to increase both speed and mileage at the same time. Runners who train intelligently are often able to minimize their down time, if not eliminate it altogether.
"Don't you get bored running for so long?" Boredom is a feeling someone gets when he isn't enjoying what he is doing. When I run, I do so by choice, because it's something I want to do. When I am doing what I want to do, how could I possibly be bored? How would I feel if I were doing something else instead?
"What kind of shoes should I get? I suppose I should just sink some money into a pair of good Nikes?" Spoken like another potential Just For Feet sucker. I gave him his first lesson in choosing shoes. When he parted he was determined to head off to Runners Den to purchase a pair and get started. Another neophyte launched on the road to purity.
In two weeks he'll be able to outrun me.
Plans are falling in place for Across the Years. I've been busy filling in holes: defining important jobs that need doing, making schedules, lists of things to do and get, and records that must to be kept, and have potentially assigned crew members to care for them.
By happy coincidence, a younger brother has recently bought a brand new house barely ten minutes from the race site. He'll be in Mexico for the holiday weekend, but we are invited to make use of his house if my wife and daughter need to sleep, which will be the case. We will probably sleep there the night before the race, saving me the drive from an hour away. This will make it convenient to set up my personal aid station (a supply tent) the night before.
It's starting to get exciting.
Today was my first opportunity to test my battered legs since last Sunday's debacle. This weekend will be my only opportunity to cover any long distance, while deep-tapering into ATY, if I'm going to do any at all.
Today I ran for time rather than distance, because I had no idea starting out what pace I'd be able to sustain. I didn't want to set a mileage goal and then find I had to stay out four hours and completely exhaust myself to make it.
I started a few minutes after 1:00 PM, feeling certain that I would be good for three hours. It was a good call. I was tired at the end, but by no means spent. I didn't overdo it. The gym rats who see me there every weekend must have wondered if there was something wrong with me because I was running so wimpily.
When I left the house I told my family that I was going to walk for three hours. The first six laps I walked normally. Then I ran six very slowly. I was stiff and tired, but not so much so that I couldn't do it. After that I walked another six, and ran two to get to twenty laps. From then until the end I walked only when the counter showed a number divisible by five. On two occasions I ran nine in a row, and once I ran fourteen. At the end (2:59:55) I had covered 165 laps, 14.53 miles at a leisurely 12:22 overall pace. Stretching before I went home produced some exquisitely delicious pain, a sign that I badly needed the stretching.
Now I'm really tired. From tomorrow until December 31 I'm going to coast. Next Saturday I'll do ten miles, but I may walk them all.
Following yesterday's run-walk, I piled on ten more miles today, with about ten percent more walking, and fifty percent more misery. It was not a fun experience.
We were obliged to attend a pot luck meal at 1:00 PM today. I restrained myself admirably, limiting my entire intake to three radishes, two modest pieces of reasonably healthy vegetarian lasagna, and a piece of garlic toast. Nonetheless, it was more than I wanted at that time. After exchanging token pleasantries, I escaped and headed straight to the gym.
I gulped some Pepcid A/C and three Advil before I started, but it was too late. The antacid works well as preventive medicine, but should be taken before it is needed.
For the first five miles, my stomach caught fire and caused me to cry out in anguish an average of once every five laps. After that it simmered down and stopped bothering me. It was torture while it lasted.
It's apparent that my legs are still by no means recovered from last week. Walking felt fine, but every step that I ran sent a jolt through me. As I ran I couldn't avoid slouching over, and must have looked like I was eighty years old. I was never so glad to be done with a session as I was today.
I had a half hour to spend before leaving to pick up Cyra-Lea, who was busy performing Ravel and Dvorák at a piano recital where no parents were invited. The time was spent doing a comprehensive round of single set weight exercises, followed by stretching, which was even more painful today than yesterday.
The mother of all tapers has now officially begun.
It's Wednesday and I'm feeling good.
Yesterday I arrived at Bally's at the same time as Boston Bill. It was my intent to walk three miles, with no running at all. Bill decided to walk with me the whole way.
It sounds funny to say so, but this regular Boston qualifier, who is at least two inches taller than me, eight years younger, twenty pounds lighter, and has legs that extend to his armpits, slowed me down. My overall pace turned out to be 16:52. I've recently discovered that if I powerwalk, without slipping into a much more strenuous racewalk motion, I can keep up a pace between 13:00 and 13:30 without straining myself.
The restraint undoubtedly did me good. It felt refreshing to do some old-fashioned low-stress strolling for a change, while chatting about running and life in general, without feeling like a guilty sluggard about it. I'll do it again tonight and only two more miles of the same tomorrow. My mitochondria are slapping high fives and dancing to the song YMCA over the break I'm giving them.
At this juncture the best thing I can do to prepare myself for the longest single trek I've ever made on foot is to tap the knowledge base of wise and experienced ones and plan, plan, plan. The physical training part is over.
The best source I know of for solid gold advice on the special problems of ultrarunners is the Ultra email list. Like every other unmoderated email list, it propagates a percentage of noise, off-topic trivia, and unnecessary vulgarity. But the list is inhabited by a disproportional number of runners who are both vastly experienced as ultrarunners and also scientists, medical field professionals, engineers, college professors, and otherwise knowledgeable and articulate people. Often, when I venture forth to ask a question on the list, I'm likely to get an answer with this sort of flavor:
On page 974 of my latest book on that subject, Arcane Science Glibly Obfuscated, I challenge the venerably erudite Professor Hi Falutin von Rumptydump, Ph.D.'s classic monograph on genetics, which says: "Blah blah blah ..."
At the same time I get genuinely warm and friendly encouragement from runners whose experience has been far on the opposite end of the spectrum from my own.
And so these days my running thoughts are preoccupied with the logistics of accomplishing a 24-hour endurance run, because it will not happen all by itself. These are some things I've had to consider.
So far 51 persons signed up for all three Across the Years races. The event is getting close to full. The race director says they can manage as many as sixty people on the track the final day.
Finally, as if I don't have enough balls in the air right now, today we will be going off to buy a car — the first brand new automobile I've ever owned.
Because I vary my training and maintain meticulous training records, I provide myself many opportunities to set PRs. Some road racers note only their racing 5K, 10K, half marathon, marathon, and 50K times. I track also training times at every mile distance from two miles to 24, as measured on the track at Bally's, several standard outdoor routes that I run and have measured with a surveyor's wheel, and also walking paces, weekly, monthly, and yearly total mileage, and various oddball statistics.
So far in 1999 I've set sixteen PRs, as compared with 25 in 1998. My most recent was on November 21, when I recorded a two-day cumulative mileage of 37.16 miles. This is certain to be my last PR of the year, with one notable exception: those that I will record for longest distance traveled in a single run, and longest time for a single run, when I go 24 hours on December 31.
Both those records will be added to this year's totals even though they won't be completed until January 1, 2000. The reason for that is because that's how I want to do it. This is likely to be my best year ever, and I regard the climax of that activity to be an integral part of it, even if I finish it a few hours into the new year.
Nothing short of bubonic plague or natural disaster can keep me from completing my journey into the new millennium. Unfortunately, BP is a distinct possibility, with all the people hacking their lungs out around me lately. So I'm being careful, getting rest, and eating healthy food, albeit chased by cookies sometimes — low-fat cookies, I'm told.
I'll have to be prepared for any eventuality. What sort of fool spends a winter holiday running in ovals around a high school track all night long, while the threat of international power failures, plane crashes, computer outages, and mass suicides hovers in the background? Whatever kind of fool I am — that kind. It means being ready for cold, rain, and possibly even snow, and being willing to put up with it.
Today we went to Runners Den, our excellent local running store, where I checked off one unresolved bullet item. We went primarily to buy Cyra-Lea some new running shoes. As long as we were there I purchased a pair of Asics running tights to wear through the night. I'm certain to need them. I hope they're sufficient. They're certainly comfortable.
I've volunteered to help out three afternoons and evenings during the 6-day race, probably as a lap counter. In addition, a few weeks ago the race director recruited me to work as a publicist for the race, which I consider an honor. Regrettably, I've been unable to do much to date other than submit a yet to be published blurb to Runner's World, and to fail twice to talk potential video documenters into showing up. I'm working on cultivating interest in the story on the part of the publisher of another runners' periodical, but nothing has been decided yet.
This sort of coverage is all after the fact. What we need now is the sort of publicity that might inspire sponsors to help bankroll some foreign ultrarunners who have shown interest in being there, but who need financial assistance. But that sort of interest has so far not been forthcoming.
Earlier I mentioned the possibility that Yiannis Kouros would show up for the 6-day race. It is now definite that Kouros will not come. I had hoped to use that to advantage in attracting interest. Kouros' participation would have virtually guaranteed media coverage. That issue is now water under the bridge. The race will go on just fine without him.
The move to become more personally involved in the race is only partially a gesture of magnanimity. It's at least as much an act of enlightened self-interest.
It's true that I'm genuinely fascinated by this noble running event, and want to be closely associated with it and to view it up close. Being on site I should have opportunity to pick up some last-minute insight into how experienced extended ultradistance runners cope with problems such as nighttime running, sleep deprivation, eating, nausea, working with crews, and extremely slow pacing.
By the night before my own race I'll know everyone already on the track, will scope out a spot to set up my tent, and by the time I arrive to run on Friday morning, I will have greatly increased my personal comfort zone, instead of feeling like a clueless Dork from Ork, having no idea what's going on.
Aaaaaahhhh!! What have I done??? Ahem. I am not afraid.
Until today I had done almost no running at all since last Sunday.
On Wednesday, during Cyra-Lea's piano lesson, I walked four miles, resisting the urge to run, except for two minutes, to assure I would end with a negative split for the substantially more uphill return trip. Then we went home and my wife and I went out and bought a new car. I'll be poor for the rest of my life. Aaaaaahhhh!! What have I done??? Ahem. I am not afraid.
Thursday evening I had important Real Life matters to attend to, including two presentations to prepare, so had time only to walk two miles, which I did starting from my front door. It was a chilly but beautiful late afternoon, and I wished I could have walked another hour. On Friday I rested.
After a busy morning visiting people from door-to-door, I hit the track for what would be my last serious effort at running until ATY.
 The race director abbreviates it ACTY, because, as he says, "That's how my mind works, and I'm the race director." Ever since I've been referring to it in mail to him as AC(sic)TY.
Today I cared not one whit about my time or pace. All I wanted was to cover ten miles, mostly running, but with some walking interspersed. The idea was to get used to the rhythm I expect to use at ATY, where I plan to establish a pattern from the beginning of running four laps and walking one, holding that for as long as possible.
Since my PR at ten miles (114 laps, 10.04 miles) is 1:31, I felt a little silly at the gym moving as slowly as I did, past people who have seen me week after week. I felt like shouting out, as I ran past the big dudes with backwards hats and tatoos in the free weights area, "Hey, boys! I can do way better than this! Really!"
It occurred to me that I wasn't even breathing hard. I was mostly getting a little bit sweaty, rather than accomplishing any great measure of aerobic training. Despite it, I maintained my pokey pace. Starting at fifty laps, I skipped walking the laps whose numbers ended in five. At 101 laps I ran it in to the end, and when I got to 108, I suddenly greatly increased the pace, running the last half mile at what felt like a 9:15 rate, for an overall net pace of 11:45.
This week I logged a total of 29.26 miles. Three times this year I ran further than that in a single day. My daily seven-day accumulation figures are dropping rapidly. Next week I'll cover a total of no more than seventeen miles, at least half of which will be walked. By the time I step up to the starting line at ATY, my seven-day accumulation should be nine miles, I'll have entered deep sloth mode, and I should be raring to go. That's assuming I haven't forgotten by that time how to run, and meanwhile taken up another hobby, such as lying all night on the hood of a car and listening for signs of extra-terrestrial life on a radio telescope.
Today on the Ultra List there was a heavily trafficked thread wherein contributors enthusiastically related their favorite hallucinations induced by sleep deprivation while running races that extend to twelve hours and more, usually into the nighttime hours.
Hallucinations!? Oh my. What have I gotten into? Now I find out about this, only ten days (and nine good night's sleep) before I attempt to run for 24 hours? No one warned me about this part of it. Endorphin highs are one thing, but hallucinations are quite another.
I've read about runners seeing phantom running companions, vans coming to give runners rides, snakes and vicious animals on the road, newspaper writing on legs that would not wash off in the shower, dinosaurs, vultures and witches devouring a fallen runner, brass bands marching across a glacier, and an impaled Christ affixed to the tall trees in a forest.
Mind you, I'm a product of the wicked sixties, and used to drink deeply of the cup of the sort of life that was common among young people in those days. One might think I would be chomping at the bit to hit the road on hearing of such excitement, in gleeful anticipation of states of altered consciousness.
Not so. I've changed my view substantially on the desirability and benefits of hallucinations. They're greatly overrated. Now I prefer the visions my head presents after a good night's rest.
Like many young fools who will pay for their folly later, I used to try to get by on five hours of sleep or less regularly. A news blurb in a recent Awake! magazine reported that Americans are sleeping as much as an hour and a half less per night than they did at the turn of the century because people have come to regard sleep as a commodity they could short change. It's been considered a mark of hard work and upward mobility to get little sleep. But sleep deprivation can bring repercussions, from depression to heart problems to death.
I no longer believe that getting too little sleep on a regular basis is cool, hip, or wise, and not just because I'm older now and need more than in my youth. Now that I run, I get seven hours almost every weeknight, and eight whenever I can, particularly on weekends, when I do my long runs.
Two days ago someone wrote to ask: How many brain cells have to die before you sign up for a 24-hour race? I replied: 11,423,419. Roughly the number that get taken out when a bullet passes from ear to ear.
Courage! I am not afraid. One night of testing one's endurance does not make one a demented lunatic.
Perhaps I'm already suffering. My records tell me that Sunday I did three miles of walking at a 12:38 pace, which means that I racewalked a good portion of it. But I don't remember it. I do recall that Cyra-Lea was there, too, and that she finished her three miles first.
Yesterday (Monday), I didn't plan to exercise my legs at all. However, they've installed three brand new elliptical trainers at the gym, a new kind with hand bars that move back and forth like ski poles. These machines give an unusually smooth ride. I got on one and churned it for ten minutes, six forward and four backward. The readout told me I had "traveled" a distance of 0.96 miles, so I gave myself credit for it. After that I did a round of heavier-than-usual weight sets for forty minutes and went home.
Today I walked another two miles at 13:08 pace. It was not until I got home that I remembered I was supposed to run these miles. They probably would have been easier if I had. My shins are feeling the fatigue. Now I find myself worrying that I might tire myself out in the last few days with walking that is too vigorous. Tomorrow I'll run a little and walk a little, but will do the exercises sequentially and will record them separately.
I'm on vacation until January 4.
Today, as I drove home among drooling holiday-crazed drivers unable to distinguish between highway traffic and the roller derby, I mused over the Y2K myth.
The team where I work is bunkering in for Y2K like they're expecting Armageddon. I could tell them on good authority that Armageddon will not come then, but they'd be unlikely to listen. During the rollover period, defined as from close of business December 30 until we return to work January 4, none of our 2000 employees will be allowed on the premises other than security and special "Y2K crisis" task force stuckees, doubtless sporting armbands bearing controversial symbols.
We are not supposed to dial in to check email during this period. We are not supposed to open or forward non-business information through the email. Fat chance. Motorola is my only ISP, as is true of many others.
We are supposed to turn off and unplug all electrical devices in our workspace. Ha! My "desktop" is a borg, a networked collection of four Unix server systems which, if any one goes down, will cripple our entire department's subnet and wreak havoc throughout the campus. Far more chaos is likely to be caused by bringing down our company's entire Net than by leaving it up with our shields raised high. I left a sign hanging on my desktop system that said, "Don't even think about touching this computer!" We shall see whether it gets respected.
The instructions emailed to all employees conclude: "Enjoy your holiday!"
When the Y2K turnover comes and goes and nothing important happens, some suits will proclaim with relief and ponderously furrowed brows, while gratefully accepting the credit, "Better to be safe than sorry!" "Better to err on the side of caution!" Clever, brave fellows. I'd like to see some of those guys about selling them some elephant stampede insurance.
There are only so many ways to describe an ordinary three-mile run. I'm starving for variations, so I need to pump these reports up with fluffery.
I've been doing nothing but resting and runs mixed with walks since Tucson Marathon. Today I ran three miles and walked two miles on tRtNE. At least this time I didn't mix them, but ran the three miles all at once, at a net 9:38 pace, the first time I've moved faster than 11:45 since Tucson. This ranked 34th of 89 recorded runs at that distance, in the 38th percentile — not bad given the circumstances.
Frankly, it was difficult. The two-mile walk that followed was nothing more than a leisurely stroll at 16:10 pace.
It's now eight days and thirteen hours until the start of AC(sic)TY and counting, on this evening when the full moon is allegedly brighter than it has been in 130 years, and appears to my eye to be so.
Thursday morning, my first day of winter break, I was sitting and quietly reading email, while chewing on a PowerBar, when I lost a filling and broke a chunk off my left central lower incisor, swallowing it in the process. It didn't hurt, but made my face uglier than usual, and I had visions of turning my tongue to shreds by Monday.
Within a minute I had my dentist's office on the phone. He and his staff were off for the holiday until late next week, but his Hindu partner and staff were sitting around the office like the boys at the firehouse, waiting for a disaster, and were ready to pack it in by 10:00 AM. Thirty minutes later their disaster arrived.
"You'll need a crown," the extraordinarily amicable young dentist told me in short order. Oh, joy. He began work immediately, and I was out of there in an hour. In three weeks the crown will be back from the lab. Meanwhile, the temporary looks fine, and the man did excellent, efficient work. I've had a lot of dental work in my life, and am qualified to comment on that.
Take $950 out of your wallet. (OK, you may have to put it in there first.) Place it in a large water-filled bowl. Press the handle marked "flush." Watch the bills swirl around and disappear forever. Was that fun? That's exactly how much satisfaction you'll get out of suddenly breaking a tooth on a PowerBar and having to get a new crown for it.
By 11:00 AM my brother Dwight showed up with his tent for me to borrow and use as a supply depot at Across the Years. Dwight's tent is roomy and not difficult to set up. If I had not been a spectator at the race last year, I would not have known that pitching tents is what people do. The football field was a forest of campsites for runners and their crews. I've not been camping since I was a Boy Scout (around 1955), so I have to borrow the gear.
When Dwight left, I walked two leisurely miles starting from the house. I didn't even wear a watch, and recorded it as being done at a 17:00 pace. The weather has been spectacular, and promises to hold out in the temperature range of 44 to 71 Fahrenheit and mostly sunny through next Wednesday.
In the evening I checked the Runner's World Daily Web site and found, to my delight, that the blurb I sent to RW's executive editor Amby Burfoot, advertising ATY, has been published. They chopped it down to the bare bones, and unfortunately did not include a link to the race's Web site, but at least we got a whole paragraph of exposure in the single best venue for publicizing running events. Because this week and next RWD will be putting up only one page a week, this message will be there all week, and has been up since Monday. Good news.
This morning race director Paul Bonnett-Castillo called to verify my schedule. It seems he's greatly lacking in lap counters. I can't imagine why more people wouldn't want to sit by the side of a high school track all night long, counting the number of times a bunch of crazies pass by.
In addition, I learned that there will be an article on the race in Sunday's Tribune. More good news. Things are shaping up.
My original plan for tomorrow was to do five miles, my last running before the race. I changed my mind, and decided to do it today instead, so as to put one more rest day between me and the Big One.
The gym was expectedly crowded for a Friday afternoon, with many people having the day off and making preparations to overindulge later on.
The pattern I followed was: walk one mile, run two miles, walk one mile, run one mile. I recorded split times, but fouled up in pressing the button once, so the first three miles are all in one lump, and I'm unable to break it out into running and walking times. The fourth (walking) mile was completed in 14:39, and the final mile in 9:42. The total effort measured 58:09, an overall 11:35 average. I can't wait to get back to real running in 2000.
While I was walking the first mile I saw three men take the track and begin running all abreast: two geezers and a guy in his mid-thirties. On a two-lane track where the inside lane is supposed to be for walkers and slower runners, this is a bad practice. They were obviously duffers out for a pre-holiday workout, and didn't manifest a malevolent look.
They passed me at exactly the moment I was to start running, so I had to crowd around them to get by again. As a result, I ran a little faster than I should have getting started, and was in oxygen debt by the third lap, but eventually recovered.
A mile later the Musketeers came barreling around on their final lap. One of the geezers almost knocked me against the wall as he ran by. He immediately turned around and humbly apologized, which I quickly acknowledged, with no harm done. But then he pulled up short and started walking, because he was done, whereupon I almost trampled him into the track. What a clown show. New guys.
The music at the track is usually bland mainstream pop fare, uncontroversial pap inoffensive to anyone except persons with a cultivated taste in music. The program was a little different today. Instead, in the typical spirit of the season, I was entreated by a song admonishing me that `I'd better watch out, I'd better not cry, I'd better not shout, and he was telling me why!' Hmmph. I am not afraid of these threats! I don't fear fat bearded men in red suits. Well — there was one I saw once riding a motorcycle on the Squaw Peak Parkway I was a little afraid of, but he was wearing a gun in a holster, which is legal in Arizona. Him I passed by cautiously.
That song was followed with another telling me what a treat a sleigh ride would be in the seventy-degree cloudless desert. Izzat so? How would it be for the hapless animals pressed into the service of dragging that sled across barren rocks and sand, through cacti and tumbleweed?
This music is considered appropriate religious music by some persons in our area. Perhaps you can tell that our family does not practice the default religion of these parts. I'm looking forward to a day of peace and quiet while I tune my piano tomorrow.
Conveniently for me, the Beatles recorded a song by the title of the subheading above, as a special holiday release in 1967. I've used the titles of over 100 songs recorded by the Beatles as subheading titles in RTtM since late September.
This is a holiday running journal entry with no holiday content. Most people in this part of the world are busy observing long-held traditions on this day. There are some who do so whose personal beliefs don't even accept the presumed premise for these goings on, and whose hearts are not in it. Our family has chosen to follow a way of life that excludes these practices. The last time I personally observed Christmas was in 1969.
This is also a running journal entry with no running to report. Not running is exactly what my training plan calls for now, so that's what I did today.
In former days I would have had to force myself to get out the door to perform physical activity on a beautiful, peaceful day such as we enjoyed in Phoenix today. In contrast, today I had a difficult time restraining myself from taking off on a ten-mile run, the way I really wanted to spend the afternoon. But I knew that if I gave in, it would have ensured that I would still be trashed come next Friday.
One personal tradition I do observe nearly every Christmas is to tune my piano. I've done so ten times since 1987, when I first started recording the dates.
I'm no expert tuner. I learned to tune pianos with the aid of a Hale Sight-O-Tuner in January 1985, when I bought my brand new Steinway Model K. The first two years I tuned it six times a year, in order to train the instrument to hold a tuning longer. Now I need to do it only twice a year. Every other spring I hire a local world class Steinway technician to undo my accumulated mistakes.
Piano tuning should count as a workout for me. It may not appear so to observers, but the work is hard on the back — on my back. Because I don't trust my ear, I'm necessarily extra meticulous, such that it takes me three full hours to complete the job. When I'm done, I need to ask Cyra-Lea to crawl up and down on my back.
The Steinway pro who comes spends barely an hour and fifteen minutes giving me what he calls his "best concert tuning." He used to co-own the Steinway dealership in town, and tuned regularly for the Phoenix Symphony concerts. He's now semi-retired, athletic (a golfer — in his case it counts for something), and has had to do back exercises periodically to cope with the physical demands of tuning and piano repair.
This afternoon we had a pre-race planning session. My family smirked at me. Maybe they think the accumulation of checklists and schedules I presented them with are a bit on the side of overkill. Hmmph. We'll see how they feel about it when they have to carry my depleted carcass to the car next Saturday morning.
After recording a day of rest in my log, I calculated that my seven-day accumulated total distance is 18.20 miles. That's a decrease from yesterday's 28.24, as last Saturday's ten-miler dropped off the end, with nothing to replace it.
When I consider my mileage in this way, it highlights the magnitude of the importance of doing a long run on the weekend. Bagging even one can have a substantial impact on training.
I'm completely done with running until the race. My schedule calls for two miles of walking Monday and Tuesday, and no weight training at all. I should respond to the starting signal like a jack-in-the-box.
Tomorrow, a little more than twelve hours from now, is the start of the 6-day race. In the afternoon I'll drive out to survey the situation and help out as a lap counter. I'm planning on taking a notebook.
Enrollment in the 6-day race is full, with nineteen runners registered. This level of participation is amazing, and beyond what was expected.
I have no idea if there are plans to continue next year with another 6-day race, to welcome in the other new millennium. But it has occurred to me that there's one notable kink in the plan. I'm inclined to question the viability of future 6-day races when the start date is necessarily the day after the world's biggest holiday, making the holiday itself a day of travel and race preparation for everyone involved. Apparently that disadvantage didn't discourage those who want to run from joining in this year. Nor would it stop me, if I were inclined to take part in the spectacle myself. But I belong to a very small minority.
Meanwhile, for me it's five days, 13.5 hours, and counting.