Sunday, March 27, 2011

Keyser to Cumberland, WV to Maryland, on a hot 35th birthday

One of the most famous recoveries in cycling occurred as Lance
Armstrong avoided a huge crash...he instinctively scurried through the hillside and though skipping the switchback, gained no advantage and rejoined the leaders.

It was my birthday, June 18 and Dave Hoffman and I would be riding out of the Walmart parking lot, but logistics made it such that it was just me for now.

At 4:26pm on June 18, 2010 we crossed the time check just South of Keyser, West Virginia. What that meant in real time was Henry McCoy was barreling down WV SR 220 and soon and very soon it would be my turn to ride a bike.

About 15 minutes earlier I had doubted.

I stood there, out on the highway in the blazing sun, wondering if I was going to make it. I had not slept in days it felt like. I was so tired--pumping Five Hour Energy's like chewing gum...around the clock. It seemed so far until the end of this race, the sun would set again before we would finish. How much longer could it go on?

No one on my team was ready. Not only were people tired, but we needed some van transition time so that trash could be removed and new food and gear and riders loaded in. This was going to take a few minutes even if we were alert and we were not. The other riders and the drivers could barely move so the going was slow, but Henry was coming fast. So I waited, just me and my bike. I had the turns written on my arms so that I could find my way down the road in this Five O'clock traffic.

Moments before I had walked across the Walmart parking lot in the 90 degree heat just having used the facilities and in a haze of fatigue unlike any that had ever come my way. I've been tired before, but not like this. I wondered if I could go on. Could I get back on the bike and do my part to help Durham and my team?

I was feeling the weight of the world and I thought this is what I came here for, to see if I can go through this moment and find out what's on the other side. I wasn't sure that I could, but I looked back at the hot asphalt behind me and saw that I was not exiting my physical body, and no part of me had been left back there in a greasy puddle. I must have been walking back to the curb where Lance was poking around his stuff. I poked around mine. I put on my race bibs and jersey one more time, and made the necessary preparations to ride a bike for about the 40th separate time over the last six days.

It seemed like we were a million miles from Oceanside, CA (more like 2500) and million more from Annapolis, Maryland, (more like 400). This is the kind of spot in these races where teams quit. A waterfall of fatigue and despair washes over the group and they just say, we did good. Let's call it a day and find a hotel. Nobody said that in this group.

I'm back on the bike and coming back to life. Once set in the motion of bike riding I was starting to return to the land of the living. Cars were flying by and I was enjoying the excitement. I didn't necessarily stop for red lights if it was clear, this was a race, and I was in a hurry.

I was by myself, because like I said, no one was ready, not even the van. If something went wrong, I was on my own, just out here on the road. It was kind of nice. Not much true solitude during this race. Usually a van nearby to point the way or shine lights to help illuminate the road ahead. Now it was just me in rush hour traffic, sort of rural rush hour, but still rush hour.

I motored down the road and finally heard the van behind me. You get the sense because the rest of the traffic is sort of stalled. I was moving fast, but bike fast, maybe 22 miles per hour. Not car fast.

So why would I ever think to lead with that heroic recovery by Lance Armstrong? Well, it was what flashed through my mind when my tired hallucinogenic body made a wrong turn and went left against a one way street. The van yelled behind me, WRONG. I darted right, over the curb, through the grass in the Exxon parking lot and I bunny hopped an eight inch curb. To this day, it's the coolest thing I have ever done on a bike.

The day before I saw Lance, this one was Lance Condray, do it on a bike. I had tried it once. Now it was instinct. I leveled the pedals, front and back, parallel to the ground and picked the bike up with my feet, jumped the curb and with the forward momentum, cleared the back wheel and landed flat on the concrete in front of me.

I turned back to the right, back toward the road I had been on, but it was a two-way street and I was now on the left side of the road. I rode facing traffic, five or so cars passed and honked, I found my gap and made my way back across the road and onto the right side.

One block more and there is the left--the one I should have taken. I got lucky, because now luck seemed clearly to be on my side and I flowed right into the left turn lane as the cars were moving forward and with no stops and at a busy intersection I was turning left and hauling past one of the solo riders. She had a caravan behind her, but it was such a rush to see one of these brave souls who had started three days before our eight person team.

Within a half mile up the road, even more excitement. The 4th place team, the one we had been chasing down for 24 hours, there they were and I passed the rider on the uphill as if he were standing still. We assumed they were 45 minutes ahead of us. We later found out that they had made a wrong turn, but whatever the circumstances, it was one of the crowning moments in the race. Our whole team had been focused on this since the middle of the night before and now it was our job to gap them as much as possible between here and the finish line.

I had been riding more than 10 miles, a long pull for our rotation. Only one van was behind me, but I pulled off and Dave Hoffman and I began our beautiful work together. I rode the uphills and he hammered down. For four rotations, back and forth, we blistered the hills outside of Keyser, West Virginia. We were like machines. Zbow and Ben handled the logistics, bike on, bike off, try not to hit anything with the van. As I recall, we may have lost a rear-view mirror along this stretch, whatever, seriously, whatever, collateral damage at this point. We were all focused and pushing the limits of what we were being asked to do. It was a beautiful sight.

When Lance took over for us, I basically blacked out for 45 minutes.
Is it weird that I am a little sad that we are not all going to be in California the second week in June?

Christopher Gergen bear-hugged me at the start of the Great Human Race on Saturday, and I thought to myself, any person on that trip is a friend for life, a brother or sister in a way that is intimate beyond words. We have been to hell and back. I love you all.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Umstead Race Details--March 5, 2011

Weather was high 40s at the start and low 60s at the finish. Windy but fairly protected by the trees.

I woke after a fitful night of sleep feeling hungover with a sinus headache. I was still coughing up sludge out of my chest and my sinuses were blocked up. Oh well, I have dealt with this many times. The real test will be how my legs feel during a brief warm up.

I drove over with my teammate, Alicia, and coffee and conversation were starting to release me from the fog. We both seemed relaxed and in good spirits having each run hundreds of races. We got our bibs and did the usual pre-race small talk with friends. I saw the competition and tried to shut out the negative self-talk. When I went to check my legs, they felt great. I thought, the training has really paid off along with the easy week leading up to today. I had been running 70 miles per week for about six weeks and that is a lot of volume for me.

At the gun, I took it out much harder than the previous two years.

I wanted to break things open, because this race tends to start out very casually and I wanted to get to work early. More importantly I had two tough goals before the finish. 10 miles in 65 minutes and 20 miles in 2:10. This meant averaging 6:30 pace throughout the first 20 miles. I knew that with the single-track, which included two new miles on Sycamore, and all the hills this meant lots of 6:10-6:15 effort. I was confident I had the fitness for this endeavor. I wasn't really sure who else would be interested in this sort of work and somehow I was content to race the clock and not others.

The best marker that things were well on course or even ahead of schedule was around mile five. There is a very steep hill on the Sycamore Trail and I anticipated good news on the clock. This is shortly before the course pops off the single-track and turns left toward the aid station and turn-around on Graylyn. In years past I have seen this mile split at about 7:50. This year I clocked 6:40. That's fast if you know the hill. I was really clipping along and the proof came when the 10 mile marker showed 64:30 (6:27 pace) on the clock. At that point, I was alone in 2nd place and feeling very good about exceeding my first goal.

Soon I was making my way out on the Turkey Creek Trail trying to find a rhythm like I have had on many tempo runs these past few months. These miles (11 and 12) are along a steady down hill and I clipped off 6:12 and 6:05. The sun was starting to make its' presence known louder than the mild tempartures, but nothing unrelenting. Drink as much as my heaving stomach could take and all would be well. I remembered a run out here in the Fall that was a bit too hard an effort and I kind of blew up on the tough hills on the backside of Turkey Creek. I hoped the same would not be my fate today.

I was doing okay. Blasting the downhills and making up time wherever I could. I knew holding 6:30s was only going to get tougher and I had to really concentrate and go deep into the hurt locker searching for motivation, oxygen, guts, muscle tissue, songs—whatever could take me further and further into the struggle.

As the pain intensified so did the demons. Strides were becoming a little more numb as the minutes clicked forth. Each step hurt more than the one before and doubt and self-flogging would creep in against a fierce opponent--Reality.

Doubt would interrupt: Run up here to the end of Graylyn (about 14 mile mark) and drop out. That will be a great workout. You can still run those 5Ks at the end of the month you were planning. Maybe even break 16 minutes.

It's a saavy deception that doubt tries to play.

Reality chimes in: What are you talking about? This can be your day. You can break three hours. Stop trying to renegotiate. Shut up and Run.

Sounds harsh, but it is actually a much kinder word.

The slightly schizophrenic runner looms inside us all, or so I hear (or would like to believe). On some level, it's a blood sugar issue. Still, the voices must be shut out. All I needed to see was the closest thing to 6:30 at each mile marker. That was my job. Short goals. Short assignments. Every few minutes clear and rational feedback as to my progress. No new deals. No renegotiating. Not now.

The day was immaculate. Hikers and bikers leisurely enjoyed the quiet Northern side of the park. They looked on with something like pity. I got it. Why put the body under such distress on a perfectly good Saturday?

Spring was reaching out to all of us. The wind was clearing out the debris of Winter from tree tops. Birds chirped and busied to welcome new family members. I huffed and puffed under great distress.

All the way out to the turn-around again on Graylyn and then back on Turkey Creek. I could only give the thumbs up to passing runners. It was all I had left and I was thankful for their words of encouragement, but mostly I could only gesture.

I reached the 20 mile marker in 2:11:30 (6:34 pace). This was 90 seconds over my goal, but still it gave me a very realistic shot at breaking my bigger goal. If only I could run a 48 minute 10K I would break three hours for the marathon. I knew I could do it even with the looming hills ahead—Corkscrew, Wheel Fell Off, and Cemetery. The goal was in sight.

It wasn't the prettiest 10K ever, but I moved my legs as quickly as I could. I was in a rush even though I knew the pace would slow. I had run 20 miles on a hilly course and basically felt like that could have been the end of the days work. But I wanted to see “two” on the left side of that finishing clock.

I knew I was being stalked by runners behind me, but I didn't let it get me down. Whether I fended them off or not, I had my goal in sight. I ran a humbling 46:20 for the final 10K (7:27 pace), but it was far from a blow-up and brought me to the finish in 2:57:52. George IV and Kathryn ran with me from the 26 mile mark. I knew they were there, but I could only look straight ahead and pump my arms as fast as they would take me. It was my day.

Finally--under three hours

I finally broke three hours for a marathon. It was at a tough hilly course through Umstead Park in Raleigh, North Carolina and I ran two hours, fifty-seven minutes. I went out hard from the gun with an internal goal of running to the 20 mile mark at 6:30pace (2:10). I made it there in 2:11:30. Not bad given terrain which included five miles of single track trails along with those wonderfully soft bridle trails marked by a topography of steep rolling hills. I thought that if I ran hard for 20 miles and came close to my goal time, surely I could finish the last 10K in 50 minutes. This was an unorthodox approach, but it worked. I knew my body's capabilities after six weeks of 70 miles per week. I knew I had a race plan that I could execute based on my current fitness. I did it and everything else is just details. For those interested in race details read here.

For someone who does not really consider himself a marathoner, I went back to my notes, and I have completed 11 marathons over the last 13 years. I am like the retiree who keeps going to the office. He just cannot think of what else to do with his time. On my first attempt, I was 23 years old and I thought for sure that I would begin a marathon career by breaking the three hour mark. I ran 3:36 at Kiawah in 1998. I had prepared with a grueling Fall of hard training in Breckenridge, Colorado at 9,600 feet or higher. I ran 1:30 for the first half and 2:06 for the second half. I walked more than I ran from mile 16 to the finish. I wondered if I would ever come anywhere close to 2:59. I knew how to carry a bear by the end of that first race, but running fast for 26 miles was something I knew nothing about.

Over the next decade my greatest marathon successes were on the trails. I ran well in Breckenridge and at Black Mountain, but neither were races that had much to do with speed, but more toughness and mountain climbing. I was pleased with good results the two previous years at Umstead, but still found myself eight and fourteen minutes away from my big career goal. All of my road attempts, the attempts where I really should have been able to hold a 6:51 average pace, they were disasters, and I chalked it up to whatever excuse I could come up with at the time as a I saw 3:12, 3:20, 3:10, 3:30 and so on. Secretly, that internal voice that tells us what we are not, told me, you are not a good marathoner.

My father ran 3:04 for his personal best so I knew it was inside my bones to go faster. I had the genetics, but what else was missing? He had not begun running until his late 30s. I was successful by the end of middle school, running close to 18 minutes for the 5K when my tiny body had not even seen traces of puberty. Why couldn't I achieve this elusive goal in what was edging toward 30 years of competitive distance running? Was it toughness, health, training??? I could never say for sure, but time after time, race after race, I crossed the finish line in 3:12, 3:33, 3:20, 4:15. Some of these were trail marathons and not realistic places to even consider running under the three hour mark, but no less than five of my double-digit attempts at 26.2 miles were relatively flat and I crossed those finish lines scratching my head and quietly dejected. I'll be honest, I have lived a charmed life in the social world of running. Folks have given me more credit than was due and it seemed from other performances many just assumed I had run two something for the marathon many times over. Dern Frank Shorter, why did you have to make everyone care so much about the marathon? I pretended I did not care, but I did. I always did.

At least four of the last thirteen years, I did not attempt a marathon and I can faithfully say, I do not regret those lapses. It was so tiring to keep coming up short of my goal. I turned to the trails and had great successes and joys. The contrarian in me wanted my running to be something different than the masses on the roads, but I have always known that while I love the trails, there was an extra secret reason I sought them out. It was not just the beauty, serenity, and rhythm of the trails. There was a hidden agenda, an edge of self-deception and self-loathing. I was simply tired of dejectedly scratching my head while marathon prediction charts estimated something in the mid 2:40s for me. My pride kept me quiet in an endeavor which I could not give up. I had to return to running shorter and faster races again on faster surfaces. I could not hide in the woods forever. I had to strive for personal bests that I knew went untapped inside me. I could no more give up my version of running fast than I could arrest my need to breathe.

Perhaps I am just not a marathoner and similar words were my punishment for years of under-performance. Someone will be saying, what is he talking about, I wish to God I could run those times. I get it, but we each have our story and they are not solely for comparison with one another. That just won't do. It is useless to make apologies over the simple fact that we all have different internal engines, goals, and realistic expectations. Running has a universalism to it, but not in the details. The runner who completes a marathon in 4:30 is no less a runner than I was last week or today. In fact, he is out there dealing with hydration, nutrition, and fatigue another third of the time. In many ways, slower pace brings with it far greater difficulties. Still, we all have different skill sets and expectations. Keep in mind, if only I had leaned at the tape 54 minutes earlier, I could have snuck under Geb's marathon world record. There is always somebody faster and slower.

As for me, a finishing time beginning with a two alluded me for more than a decade and I was growing weary of not meeting what seemed a very attainable goal. But I kept at it. What else was there to do? I am a runner. A week ago at this time I was not planning to run a marathon, but now, even with an infection in my chest and sinuses, I have done what I so longed to do. It is strange to be on this other side. I feel good. I'm sure I feel many more things, but I am still sorting those emotions out.

Here's one reflection. Now that it is done, I feel vindicated in distance running, in this goal that was more important than I hopefully let on so it would not consume me. This need loomed over me like a cloud, but no more. As Florence and the Machine belts The Dog Days are Over. Oh, I have many more races to run, but I'm not sure the marathon is a top priority to me. It never really was. Only in the most indirect ways do I get paid for running. My performances have to be for enjoyment and the marathon is not my favorite. Give me ten miles of technical trails and you will see the face of swine in muck. I struggle to race for such a long period of time and to be honest, I get a little bored. I know my heart and mind find solace between five and fifteen mile races--long enough to enjoy oneself, but not so tedious. The marathon has become the marker in our running culture, but it is far from my favorite. Funny that I have so much to say about something I claim as a lower priority. Oh well, you figure me out.

I held myself to the goal that I would never go to Boston without a sub-three no matter the qualifying standards of the day. It was my own personal standard as a nod to the historical years when men my age needed a sub-three, and for a brief time even a sub-2:50. Looks like we are now returning to 3:05. I believe the standard should return to 2:59, and I have held this opinion for some time, but no one is asking me. Umstead will not get me there, because it is not certified, but now I know I can break three because I have done it and on a difficult course. Someday I will do it on a road course and I will go to Boston. I am in no particular rush. Boston and New York are on my list of must-do races, but no rush. There is time.

What's next???

I've had a great Fall/Winter season and now I am off to a great start for a 2011 season of racing. I have recently set personal best's in the 8K, the 10K, and now the marathon. Based on the one road effort of these three, 27:46 at an 8K in Charlotte on Thanksgiving Day, here is my vdot information for the techies out there. You know who you are. To summarize: it is a useful tool and a great website for your own exploration and training. Vdot tells all kinds of things about training and racing and it can help you with your running plans. For instance, I might expect to break five minutes for the mile or run about 58 minutes for ten miles. I might just try both of those and some other races this year. 2011 is shaping up to be my best year yet as a runner. I love writing that as I roll into my 36th birthday this summer. So many will tell you why age and children and work keep them from being what they once were. I guess I have always been a late bloomer and now is my Spring, just rolling into Summer.

Perseverance paid off in the marathon and I am sure it will at many other starting and finish lines in races and endeavors to follow.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Justin Bieber - Somebody To Love Remix ft. Usher

Should I pretend that I didn't enjoy Justin Bieber's movie, "Never Say Never?" Good, I won't.

Of course, I only went because our kids were begging, but I would be kidding to suggest I did not enjoy the show. Very impressive kid. He's not just the hair and the teeny bopper groupies. He's really a pretty cool kid and the songs are great.

Usher doesn't need this kid in order to keep his own star lit. He just knows a colleague/protege when he sees one and the two look like they have fun together on stage.

The Linney's were rocking out in the theater with a bunch of 10-12 year old girls and their moms. George (age 7) was looking at his role model with an entranced smile the whole time. Kathryn (5) and William (3) each rocked out to this teenage sensation and I was amazed how long he kept their attention.

In some ways Justin is a typical wide-open hyperactive teenager, but he has put that energy to good use. Let's all hope he has the roots to go a better route than some child stars who have come before him. I think he has a good shot.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Feet and legs

Some scriptures for the feet and and legs:

He will guard the feet of his faithful ones. 1 Samuel 2:9

They shall run and not be weary. Isaiah 40:31

On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. Revelation 19:16

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” Isaiah 52:7

Put on shoes worthy to proclaim the Gospel of peace. Ephesians 6:15

Craig Ferguson 11/5/10D Late Late Show Cornel West

Watching these two just makes me happy. Good stuff about God
and jazz and justice.