"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

Monday, July 25, 2011

Getting That Itch

Two weeks. That's how long it took me to officially recover from 3 in 31 days. I know this because this is when I was putting my training schedule together for the St. George Marathon on October 1st and thought to myself, "11 weeks...that's a long time. I need something to do in the meantime. Hey, the Pocatello Marathon is Labor Day weekend. Maybe I'll do that too!"
So we're going to Pocatello in 6 weeks. Taking the family, visiting some family in Pocatello and Salt Lake and making a weekend out of it. For our family, which isn't the most spontaneous group or biggest vacation takers by any stretch of the imagination, this was a big deal.
After looking at the calendar though, I started to have some doubts. Gee, only six Saturdays of training before that...one of them is the triathlon...another is a local 5k/10k that our office is helping to sponsor...I'm not going to put a 20 miler in the week before so that Saturday is gone...am I going to be able to get enough training in to be ready for this? I promptly got on my computer this morning and signed up. I'll work on the training details later. One answered question leads to another unanswered one though: Pocatello and St. George are 29 days apart. And that would give me five marathons in just over four months. The next Maniac level requirement is six in six months...I wonder if there's a third marathon in between those two races...oh wait, there is... Can I Make It Happen? 
With a paid race entry fee to any marathon I choose from my parents as a birthday gift, the only thing in my way is if I can/want to fork out money for a plane ticket. TBD...

Intro to Cycling

My swimming is improving and the running I have no problem with but that still leaves one event of the triathlon unaddressed: Cycling. I've never owned or ridden a road bike. In fact, I think I can count on one hand how many times I've ridden a bike since I had two stolen from me five or six years ago. I quickly learned that researching bikes is not like researching running shoes, which you could do fairly well in an hour or so. Not so with bikes. Recognizing I was in way over my head I called a friend who knows his way around a bike. I started searching Craiglist and other sites trying to find something used that wouldn't require a month's paycheck to pay for, emailing my friend links every so often asking what he thought of them. He also graciously let me borrow his own bike and indoor training stand to start getting used to riding.
I took the bike out on the road the next day and needless to say, it was a little shaky at first. The road bike is a different beast, a little squirrely on the front wheel at first and so so smooth going down a hill. I put in some good miles and loved pushing myself extremely hard on the indoor trainer for 45 minutes or so out in the garage (my kids kept poking their heads out the door wondering if I was alright).
After a week or so I finally spotted a bike that my friend agreed would be good for what I needed at a price that was reasonable. I went to check it out, made an offer, watched the seller squirm because he didn't want to sell it to me at that price, kept my mouth shut as he was waiting for me to apparently offer more and then handed him an envelope of cash containing my original offer after he had agreed. I now have a bike. It fits, it feels good and I'm getting more comfortable riding it.

Learning to Swim

I've done a brave thing this month: I started to swim. For someone who doesn't swim doing so can swing somewhere between embarrassing and horrifying, depending on the day, my energy level and the number of people within view. I struggled through the first couple of days, completely out of breath after just 50 yards. I'd catch my breath and then do it again. I'd finish my 500 yards, get out of the pool frustrated and wonder if I would ever come back. And then I came across an article under a Google search entitled, "If I'm so fit, why is swimming so hard?"
I read the five page PDF wondering where this gem had come from. It described me and my struggles precisely. I later traced it to a book call "Total Immersion" which I promptly check out from the library. Over the next 24 hours I plowed through 120 pages, nodding my head, creating a picture in my head of what the perfect swim stroke should look like. I watched YouTube videos and marveled at how easy the subjects made it look. On page 121 I came to the first drill: float on your back.
I called my wife and told her I wasn't sure whether I wanted to throw the book across the room or cry. 120 pages of gold and the first thing I'm being asked to do is the thing I absolutely cannot do: float. (The second and third drills, by the way, called for me to float on my side). Frustrated but determined I skimmed the rest of the book and was about to put it away when I stumbled across two pages which had five simple visualizations to keep in mind. They described the picture I had created in my head exactly. Following the visualizations was a note to those who struggle with the drills and how if they did nothing but pay attention to these visualizations, they'd probably be alright. Good enough. I went to work and lo and behold, swimming got easier.
I'm still a massive work in progress but I've got my basic mechanics down. Various lifeguards at the YMCA have offered tips and advice (which I appreciate) and slowly but surely I'm getting better. Even with my less than perfect form I know I can finish the 500 yards I'll need for my first triathlon next month, but now it's about doing it well.

29 for #29

The 4th of July also happens to be my birthday. So in addition to running a marathon, becoming eligible to be a Maniac, attending a parade and getting together for a big family reunion that day I had also planned to run 2.8 more miles to make it an even 29 miles run on my 29th birthday. After the marathon I drove 90 minutes back to my hometown for the local parade festivities (always a treat, especially if you're from the area). After the parade my wife and I ventured over to the university track and I put in the additional miles. I actually felt pretty good and could have gone on (despite the on-track temp pushing 95-100 degrees) but 29 was the number I was aiming for and that's what I did. Happy Birthday self. See you next year at 30.

Catching Up...

I've got a handful of updates from the last three weeks that are going to come fast and furious here. Let's get going...
Marathon #7: Foot Traffic Flat Marathon - July 4th, 2011
My third marathon in 31 days. First the actual race. It was a warm day, but an early 6:30 start helped to alleviate this problem slightly. The full marathon course consisted of a 12+ mile out and back (covering miles 5-17) and then 9 more miles around Sauvie Island back to the finish line at the pumpkin patch. I struggled through the middle portion of the race and was pretty gassed by about mile 17. The heat, the boring course and possibly some lingering effects from the previous two marathons. I was using a run/walk approach for a few miles and was being passed each time I walked by a guy who was keeping a pretty consistent pace. When I resumed running again I would pass him and build a slight lead and then he would pass me again the next time I walked. Just before the Mile 22 marker, as I was catching back up to him, I noticed that he had stopped running and was walking very slowly, head down, hands dropped to his side. I recognized the look instantly.
I caught up to him, asked him how he was doing and received the obligatory, "doin' good" answer. I said I didn't believe him, but told him I had been impressed by how consistent he had been the last few miles. His parents had been following closely behind on bicycles offering him support and water but were now next to him trying to talk him into continuing to run. I offered a few more words of encouragement and then said, "alright, let's go. We'll finish this together." I'm not sure whether he wanted to or not, but he started running again and together we ran the last four miles. After telling me it was his first marathon I related my first marathon experience, where I hit the same wall in about the same place before a friend came up from behind me and talked me through the last few miles, turning what had been a completely miserable day into positive experience. I honestly doubt I would have ever done another marathon if not for my friend's assistance that day. Instead, I'm now addicted to them. I don't know if this guy will ever run another marathon, but I know he was smiling and tearing up at the finish line as he looked at his medal and had his picture taken.
I finished the race in 4:18, not a PR but not a PW either. However, given the weather, the fatigue and running the last few miles slower than I normally would have (as well as having the experience of helping someone get across the finish line), I'll take it.
I submitted my Marathon Maniac application the next day and now have the title of Marathon Maniac #4113.
I won't spend much time on the non-running parts of this race but I will share a few brief thoughts. At the outset I have to say that this race gets glowing reviews. Most people love it. It's not really my thing though. For a race that tries to come off as folksy, hometown-ey, low-budget, eco-friendly or whatever, it sure isn't priced like it. $75 plus $15 extra for a shirt. Not a terrible price for a marathon, but too high in my opinion for the amenities that came with it. I thought the course was pretty boring. The aid stations were nothing more than a folding table with one or two people standing there holding only one or two cups at at time no matter how many runners were approaching. The medal is pretty cheap looking (original, but cheap). The post-race food spread was lacking. I realize that all the half marathoners and 5k-ers finished before me, but there were still several hundred people still out on the course when I finished. That said, I enjoyed a 50 cent hot dog, a bottle of water and a small serving of strawberry shortcake. There was no other food in sight. I could tell that some people love this race and probably participate every year. I'm glad I did it once, but I won't be back.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Impossible Things

Three years ago today I ran my first race, a 2.6 mile 4th of July fun run prior to my hometown's annual parade, without a single day of training. The following year I did it again, except I spent a few weeks training for it. At the time, the word "marathon" was synonymous with the words "crazy," "insane," and "impossible" in my mind. 
In the two years since, I've completed seven marathons (all in the last 13 months including three in the last 30 days), six half marathons, multiple 5k, 10k, and 15k races, 18 runs of 20 miles or more and more than 2500 miles total. What was once crazy, insane and impossible is now just what I do for fun.
Two weeks after the fun run (the "mini-marathon" as it's called) in 2009 I toed the line at my first 5k race. At the time I figured I could probably do it, but it was a daunting task. 
In less than 6 weeks I will make my first attempt at a triathlon. The 20k bike ride and 5k run don't concern me a bit (despite not owning a bike at the moment). It's the 500yard swim that gives me the creeps. Why? Because I sink (my wife says I'm dense).
I've never really been a swimmer. The swim check at summer camp was always a struggle. I can play around in a pool and get from one end to the other if need be. If my canoe or raft flips over, I can get back to it. I can jump off of a dock and make it back. I even made it across the Deschutes River and back as a teenager (without question the stupidest thing I've ever attempted -- very much could have ended tragically for me, my brother, or both of us).
In short, I've swam laps in a pool exactly three times in my life (all in the last two weeks). It's the swimming equivalent to where I was in my running prior to that first 5k.
I received an email from a friend last week containing details and pictures of his first Ironman triathlon completed last week in Coeur d' Alene, ID. The very first thought through my mind? "He's insane. That'd be impossible."
Interpret that how you'd like.
I don't know if I'm committed to doing something like that just yet, but I'm signed up for the triathlon equivalent of my first 5k on August 13th. We'll see how it goes. If I do decide to go in the Ironman direction, it may take me another two years to get there. It would be a long difficult road. However, I would know that I've already taken one "crazy, insane and impossible" and turned it into a "done that."
Stay tuned...

Friday, July 1, 2011

Running Vs. Racing

It's been an extremely wet spring and start to summer here in the Willamette Valley. For someone who loathes the rainy, grey, dismal winters, June - September is supposed to be what keeps me here in Oregon. June did not do its part. Tuesday was beautiful however. As I made my way across town through traffic yesterday evening there were handfuls of runners going in all directions. I sat in my car, stopped at the n-teenth red light and just thought, "I really want to run today."

Unfortunately, I couldn't. Or rather, I shouldn't have. Though the soreness from Saturday's Seattle Rock'n'Roll Marathon had worn off, I still had fatigued legs and knew that with another marathon just 6 days away it would be stupid to try to go run any distance. And so I started thinking, which do I enjoy more: running or racing? The answer is both.

I know that if I don't have a goal to work towards in the form of a race that my training will suffer. I suspect that my motivation will drop, days will be missed and training will not be as intense. Hence, in 2010 I ran marathons in June and September and a couple of halfs in November. I started 2011 running a marathon in early March, followed by this current set of three in June/July and then I'll run the St. George Marathon on October 1st. These races are spaced far enough apart to get some rest and recovery in between but not so far apart that I can just ignore my training for weeks at a time.

On the flip side is my love of running. And days like yesterday make me realize just how much I like to run and how difficult it is to feel like I can't because a race is quickly coming up on the calendar. I love to get out and run and think it's pretty cool that I could go out on any day and knock out 10 or 12 or 15 miles without batting an eye. But when it comes to race day, I've paid the money, done the traveling and prepared in every other way to perform as best I can on THAT day. To do that, sacrifices sometimes need to be made along the way, even if one of them is to NOT run.