"Now if you are going to win any battle you have to do one thing. You have to make the mind run the body. Never let the body tell the mind what to do. The body will always give up. It is always tired in the morning, noon, and night. But the body is never tired if the mind is not tired.”

- George S. Patton, U.S. Army General, 1912 Olympian

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

*Special Post* Inside The Mind -- Post-Marathon

Note: There's a 24-hour rule in my house: anything I say (or think) about running within 24 hours after finishing a marathon is not to be taken seriously. It's no secret that the marathon is hard on body. It's just as hard on the mind. However many hours you're out there chipping away at 26.2 miles, the body as a whole is under immense stress and pressure. What happens upon completion? I'm not a medical professional, but for a time the chemical makeup of the body is out of balance. The imbalance affects mood, cognitive ability and even physical processes. Hence, my 24-hour rule. 

What follows is a stream of consciousness from Saturday night, about 10 hours after completing the Red Rock Marathon. I knew I wasn't feeling or thinking correctly, but I felt like I had thoughts and feelings to get out anyway. I finished writing, saved the post and went to bed, intent on letting it sit for a few days before deciding whether to post it or not. 

I've had two really good runs so far this week, each of them 8 miles, one of them with my wife, and I've felt great. Good times. I've gone back and forth whether to post Saturday night's writings or not but have decided to do so for this reason: after all of the excitement over preparing for and completing a marathon, I thought it would provide a good insight into life after the race, when the finish line adrenaline has worn off, when family and friends have gone back to their normal lives, and when you're left alone to reflect on what you've accomplished and what might be next. 

The following is as it was written on Saturday night and has not been altered in any way...


June will mark two years since I started to run consistently. It's easy for me to look back and see how far I've come. On that day, my brother and I ran four laps around the high school track -- and were gasping for air (and water) at the conclusion. On Saturday I ran a marathon that consisted of 3000 feet in total elevation gain. Maybe it's a case of being sore and experiencing some post-marathon blues, but I find myself wondering if I've made any significant progress in the last year, since I ran my first marathon.
What have I improved? My marathon finishing time? Nope. Last year I ran a 4:34 in Newport and a 4:07 in Seattle before finishing Pocatello at 4:35. I clocked in Saturday at 4:26. I was quite pleased with my time this week, given the difficulty of the course. It was certainly the most difficult course I've run, there's no doubt about that, but what does that really mean? How does a 4:26 at Red Rock compare to a 4:07 in Seattle, which had a few hills (though at the time I thought it had TONS)? Is it 20 minutes more difficult? 30 minutes? Is it equal?
Has my speed improved? I moved to the Garmin 205 at the beginning of the year and I haven't done many speed runs since, so its tough to tell. The Nike+ technology that I was using prior to 2011 was so inaccurate that it's tough to extract any quality information out of it. As a result, I only have shorter races, which I don't run a lot of, and known routes that I run to compare. Has my speed significantly improved? Not really. (That said, I have seen significant improvement in my speed and endurance on inclines, which I feel good about.)
How about endurance? Not really. Maybe it's too soon after a grueling race, but I think back on all four marathons and get frustrated by the fact that I've struggled so much with the mile 17-22 section of the courses. I generally recover and finish the final four or miles strong, but by that time the damage has been done and my time has been blown up. In every case, I've finished the first half in under two hours and in three of the four races (including Saturday), at 1:55 or better. I wouldn't say I "bonk" or "hit a wall," as I feel like these terms imply not being able to continue or walking more than running just to finish. There's just something about these few miles that I haven't yet been able to get through. Do I train hard enough? Do I put in enough miles? Enough long runs? Enough rest? Healthy diet? Plenty of sleep? I believe I can honestly answer yes to each of those questions. What then, on race day?
Has my health improved? This may be the one area I can definitively answer yes. With an additional year of consistent running under my belt, I feel stronger. I've avoided any of the injuries I struggled with towards the end of 2009 and into 2010, namely severe shin splints, some hip issues and extremely sore ankles and knees after long runs. I've struggled the last few months with an on again/off again strained abdominal muscle, but in terms of bone structure and strength, I've improved.
So that's where I am right now. I feel like I've plateaued. I have plenty of time to revamp things before Newport 2011 the first weekend in June. I don't know what else to do though. More speed work? More cross training? Longer runs? This week I'll do a couple of recovery runs and next week is up in the air, but after that, it's back to business for 11 weeks leading up to Newport. What am I missing here? What's it going to take to get to where I want to be? And why haven't I been able to get there yet? Is it even worth it...?

Monday, March 7, 2011

Red Rock Canyon Marathon Recap

(Note: I have pictures to add to this recap, but can't do so until I return home. Check back after 3/17/2011 for pictures)

With only the sound of feet hitting the ground, the first line in the documentary "Spirit of the Marathon" is Deena Castor saying rather ominously, "sometimes the moments that challenge us the most, define us."

The Red Rock Canyon Marathon probably won't define my life or who I am as a person, but it was my greatest challenge to-date as a runner. And as a runner, the challenges I experienced and overcame on Saturday may very well stay with me as I encounter future obstacles and hardships.

It was a cool but clear morning as i arrived at the Red Rock Casino to catch a bus to the starting line in the desert. I figured the busses to the starting line would fill quickly, so I jumped on the first bus rather than sit in my car and wait for a future ride. This turned out to be mistake as we arrived at the starting line at approximately 4:45am, in the dark and in the cold. I was wearing ample warm clothing, but could have used an extra sweatshirt or jacket. Sitting around shivering for an hour wasn't much fun but what was the alternative, go run around trying to get warm? No thanks.

The temperature rose just enough in the minutes before starting that the shivering subsided. As went off, the sun was just starting to come over the mountains and gave way to a perfect morning on which to run.

Miles 1-8
In a nutshell, the first eight miles consisted of a steady 3% grade climb followed by a 4.5% downgrade to the halfway point.

It took a mile or so for me to get warmed up after sitting in the cold for that long, but I felt good during the initial miles as we climbed up the canyon. I found a nice smooth pace at which to run and stayed between a 8:30 and 9:30/mile pace. At mile markers 5, 6 and 7 I made mental notes that I was below a 9 minute pace and almost to the top of the outward climb, which I felt really good about. I knew the real race would start around mile 13, but for the time being, I liked how I felt and how I was running.

Miles 8-13
After reaching the peak at mile 8.5, it was a sharp downhill for about 5 miles to the Red Rock Canyon Visitors Center, where the turnaround point was. I was content to try to keep an even, albeit slightly faster pace, down the hill but had some people flying past me in what seemed to be a sprint. These people know they have to turn around and run back up this hill, right?

It was about this point that the wave of half marathoners approached (they began at the halfway point an hour after the marathon start). I would never disparage half marathon runners. They're great. They seem to be a more social bunch than marathoners though. This was evident in the countless groups running and/or walking three and four (or more) abreast up the hill while us marathoners were trying to take advantage of the downward slope. The road was marked off with cones, giving runners half of one lane (with no shoulder) - not a whole lot of space. I was forced off the side of the road a handful of times by 1/2ers who simply weren't paying attention, didn't see me coming, or didn't care. There's a simple solution to this problem -- start the half marathon 2 hours after the marathon. It would have given the bulk of the marathoners the chance to get past this congestion.

I hit the halfway point at about 1:55, a time I was pleased with. I was starting to feel a little fatigued, but knew that I would probably be resorting to a run/walk pattern up some of the steepest hills in miles 13-18, so I continued on at my current pace, though not for long.

Miles 14-18
Running back up the hill, the stress of the first half began to take its toll. My pace in mile 14 slowed to 10:17 and then to 10:34 in mile 15. I was still moving consistently, but I was having to walk here and there because of the degree of the incline. My pace continued to drop during miles 16 and 17 and as I approached the top of the hill in mile 18, the steepest portion of the entire course, I had slowed to a 13:14 pace.

Mile 19-22
And then mile 19 happened. I reached the peak of the canyon and walked through the well-placed aid station and psyched myself up to run down to the finish line. I got about 100 yards down the road when all of the sudden my right quad began to cramp just above my knee. A little slow to react, I pulled up quickly, which probably only made things worse. It was only a few seconds later I was trying to rub out the baseball-sized cramp protruding from my leg.

I've never cramped on any run. And on this day, given the sunshine and warm temperatures (once the sun came up), I had made sure to take HEED (as disgusting as I think it is) at every aid station rather than water. But for some reason today was the day my legs decided to cramp. Both of them. From my calves up to my, uhh, inside upper thigh.

It's funny, I don't remember running downhill much during the first eight miles. But during the last eight miles there was definitely some unfinished business in the form of a few difficult climbs. This made for equal opportunity cramping of my muscles - my quads going downhill, my calves going uphill.

Miles 23-26.2
I knew at mile 19 that finishing in 4 hours was out, but 4:30 was still there. At mile 23, 4:30 was still there, but I knew I'd have to push it a little harder than I had been. I had to get going, keep walking to a minimum and hope that I wouldn't need to stop to rub out any more obnoxious cramps.

The final three miles I turned in my three fastest laps of the second half, despite continued cramping. I had also noticed that despite my drinking up to the point just short of discomfort at every aid station, I had stopped sweating around mile 22, a clear sign of dehydration. I'm proud that I was able to push through though, pass a few people who had passed me earlier and run the final .2 at an 8:23 pace to finish in 4:26:27. I've never been one to try to compare running accomplishments to life, I guess I just don't think that deeply, but I do feel like what I experienced and pushed past in the final few miles will serve me well in future races.

It was nice to have some support at the finish line. My wife and kids had made some signs and were stationed about 50 yards from the finish, along with my in-laws, sister-in-law and nephew. It wasn't exactly a spectator-friendly course, but it was nice to have them stop by and cheer at mile 15 and then to have them at the finish as well.

A quick run through of the pros and cons of the race:

Pro: The t-shirt design is unique and kind of cool

Con: The light brown shirt the design is on? Not so cool

Pro: Great organization. Busses left on time, mile markers were spot on, aid stations were located where they were supposed to be (and stocked what they said they would stock), volunteers were energetic and helpful, easy check in.

Con: Post-race spread looked like something from a church picnic: Tupperware containers of fruit salad and pasta salad, some various fruity shortcake-like breads, mini cinnamon rolls, and water/HEED coolers with paper cups. Not a huge deal, it's a lower-budget race and it met all of my immediate needs.

Pro: Course description and elevation maps were accurate. Nobody should have been surprised with what they had gotten into

Con: This is kind of nit picky, but I like either my shirt or my finisher's medal (which had the same unique design as the shirt) to differentiate from that which the half marathoners receive. Again, not to disparage the half runners in any way, but I think we've earned that much.

Like Pocatello, it's probably not a race I'll put on my calendar every year and make it a point to travel to, but if I'm in the area on race day, I'd do it again.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Red Rock Marathon Results

A hard-earned 4:26 on an extremely difficult and taxing course. Full recap coming...

Friday, March 4, 2011

Red Rock Marathon: Final Preparations (or lack thereof)

It's been such a busy two weeks that I haven't had much time to dwell on the actual race tomorrow. Probably for the best. By nature, I want to plan every little detail of everything, leave nothing to chance and know exactly what is going to happen when and why. This is how I approached all three marathons last summer and while all three were good experiences, I think I had over analyzed things so much that by the time I reached the starting line I was an overstressed mental mess, despite my efforts and intentions to be the opposite.

I'm feeling pretty good today. I know the course generally, but haven't bothered to inspect every inch of it. I know it goes up for eight miles, then down for five, then turns around and goes back the other direction. I know roughly where the aid stations are and which ones will have food. I know where to catch the bus to the starting line, what the clothes drop-off procedures are and where my family might be at the finish line. More than that, I don't really know. Don't really care. Because of the difficulty of the course, I don't have any expectations or goals for a finishing time. My wife asked what time I thought I might be done and I gave here an hour window. I really have no idea.

Many training programs stress the importance of treating long runs like race day. For some reason I've neglected this in the past. I've run 21 miles+ three times in the last six weeks. For each of those runs, I rolled out of bed, put on my clothes, drank a small glass of water and set out on my way. Why should race day be any different? So that's the plan (or lack thereof) for the next 24 hours. Eat smart. Drink fluids. Enjoy my vacation in Las Vegas. And at about 4am tomorrow, roll out of bed, lace up my shoes and head towards the starting line. From there, I'll just run.

This hit my inbox a few weeks ago from Runners World:

"Do the work. Do the analysis. But feel your run. Feel your race. Feel the joy that is running." (Kara Goucher, American long-distance runner)

Good enough for me. I've run aapproximately 400 miles of hills since my last race in November. I've done it through rain, wind, snow and darkness. I've done all I can do. Tomorrow's forecast calls for sunny skies and 60 degrees by around 8am. Sounds like a great morning to take a 26.2 mile victory lap.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Border Crossing Contraband

Eating on the road is difficult. I'll have spent most of two days in the the car and one day stopped in Sacramento for some training for work before finally arriving in Las Vegas on Wednesday. I plowed through a eight or so bananas on day one in the car, but when it came to looking for a quality meal, it was difficult. I finally settled on a BLT on whole wheat bread from Subway, figuring this was about as good as it was going to get without access to my blender (which I travel with) or my frozen fruit. I'm trying my best not to stress too much over it though, as it is still early in the week. Once I hit Las Vegas tomorrow afternoon it'll be all business until Saturday, but I've come to the conclusion that I'm going to have to make some concessions while I'm traveling. I'm just trying to be as smart as I can about it.

Something I did not expect on my trip towards Las Vegas was being stopped just after crossing the Oregon/California border at some sort of border crossing. I didn't think much of, just that it was sort of odd. What would I be bringing into CA that I couldn't have in OR? As I pulled up to the little window and the official-looking lady stepped out, I wondered what she would ask me. Are there any drugs in the car? Any illegal aliens (or, if you prefer, your favorite P.C. term)? How about any runaway underage girls? Have you seen this missing child?

Not even close.

She asked me the only possible question to which I could have answered yes: Sir, are you carrying any fresh fruit in your vehicle?

I tried not to laugh at her. What I really wanted to say was, "Yes. Yes I am. Lots of fruit. All different kinds of fruit. Some of it frozen. Some of it not. I have enough fruit in my car to feed a small army in fact. Guess what, I have a blender too, etc etc etc"

Instead I simply answered yes.

Then she wanted to see it. My bananas -- they were fine. The pineapple -- all good, as were the strawberries and apples. Then came the 40lb box of oranges in my backseat. "I'm going to need to see those oranges, sir" she said. As she started to inspect my cargo I told her I had bought them at Food 4 Less the day before but she didn't appear to hear me. Then she saw on the box that they were a product of CA and said they checked out fine. Good thing too. I spent a lot of money on those oranges and I would have had to make reference to my cold dead fingers had she tried to confiscate them. Maybe because they weren't from Florida they were alright? I don't know. Let it be a warning to you if you want enter the State of California though. I wonder, is this the same question asked at the Southern border? If so, I can think of a way to vastly improve the illegal immigration, drug and human trafficking problems without costing taxpayers a dime.

Thinking Like a Runner

I don't particularly like anything starting with "You know you're a (fill in the blank) when..." so I won't do that here. I'll simply say that I am a runner. And I know it. How do I know it? Because of what I was thinking about in the car on and off for 8 hours yesterday.

I've mentioned before that I'm very much a numbers-oriented person. Because I run alone I have lots of time to calculate pace, split times, projected time and speed, etc. After slowing my pace by a minute/mile while running up a hill for a mile and a half, my thoughts turn to how fast I need to run the next few miles to get back to my target pace.

So as I was slowed at various times yesterday by traffic, bad weather, mountainous climbs and stops for gas fillups, I instictively started processing what speed I would have to average over the next hour, two hours, 100 miles etc in order to get back to my desired pace for the trip. Stupid? Maybe. A sure sign of a runner? Definitely.