Monday, November 28, 2011

Warning: Sorta Gross

Every time I am grumpy about something or not feeling well (like now, for instance -- after more than 5 years of not so much as a sneeze, I am a giant gross ball of cold/flu/etc.) I am just going to look at the photo below and be thankful that I am not this guy. Or, more specifically, that I am not his bloody nipple.

Hopefully this runner crossed the finish line of the Philly marathon happy with his time because otherwise I don't know if it's worth looking like you took a gunshot wound to the chest.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Philly Marathon: Go Team Go!

I never thought a marathon was a team event. Until I ran one with Abby.

Leading up to the Philadelphia Marathon I had no goals. I knew I had the endurance to finish, thanks to a year of trail runs and adventure races. I knew, though, that I didn't have the speed to come close to a PR, let alone the new and improved BQ times.

Leaving me with what to shoot for? I was as aimless as humanly possible when it came to a goal. Prior to Philly, I'd run five other marathons -- Philadelphia in 2001, Steamtown in 2002 (at the time I had the goal of running a marathon a year, I failed), Columbus in 2009, Boston and New York in 2010. Goals were clear-cut to me (finish, finish faster than at Philly, qualify for Boston, have a shit-ton of fun at Boston, beat my Boston time at New York, respectively).

Abby was in it to enjoy it, and that didn't sound like too bad of a plan. We decided to cross the start line together and I had 3:45:00 in my head as a number to shoot for just to keep me moving forward -- a bit better than my average marathon time so I couldn't just mosey along but obtainable without feeling like hell, hopefully.

I didn't even hit snooze on race morning. I was up by 5, on my second cup of coffee by 5:15, decided against a third, stuffed an Eggo with peanut butter into my face, properly lubed, dressed, deoderized and was actually ready to go when Abby and her crew rolled by to pick me up at 5:40.

By 6:20 we were at the race site and were in the longest portapotty line in the history of the universe. Actually, the line itself wasn't too long -- the people in front of us were apparently giving birth and/or performing minor surgeries in there and were taking forever and ever. Finally I gave up, got out of line and peed between a rock and a tree while pretending no one could see me -- the start was getting close.

Abby and I parted ways with her people and headed to the start together. The plan? Run together until we didn't. Have a good time. And, for me, don't do anything stupid in the first half -- all my other marathons came with positive second-half splits of 7 to 15 minutes. Terrible. F.

We crossed the start about 7 minutes after the gun and dodged our way over, under, around and through other runners and walkers for the first mile -- hit the marker at right around 9 minutes. A little slower than I would have liked but, eh. The weather was great, the company was great, I was happy, the road was flat.

Just before mile 2 I had a cheerleader -- an old coworker from an old job out bright and early to push along the runners. I was amused and surprised to see her, so yay.

And then, another familiar face -- Abby's husband Brent. "Look, there he is," Abby basically whispered to me. Among the footfalls of a zillion runners on a packed course, he, oddly, did not hear her whisper.  "BREEENNNNT!," I yelled and then pointed at him and jumped up and down a bit. It worked -- he saw us.

Friends of friends who managed to recognize me and a drumline (my favorite thing during races) made the next few miles tick by. Abby and I chatted about nothing in particular as we weaved around more runners and held a comfortable 8:35 pace.

As we hit mile five, a thought popped into my brain. Should I share it? "Dare I say it?," I said to Abby. "I think I am actually having fun."

"I wasn't going to say it out loud," she said, "but I am, too."

As we approached mile 5, there was Brent again. This time he saw us and started snapping away with his camera.

I sort of love this picture -- we both look thrilled
to be running!
The crowd (that had already been pretty solid) grew thicker and louder. I knew that about mile 6, where I set up shop last year for my first cheering spot, would be the first likely mile where Bill would be on his bike. And sure enough, there he was.

"Bill! Bill! Bill! BILL! BILLLL!," I screamed (apparently I get very excited when I see people I know while running marathons). He saw us and waved. He knows better than to ignore my big mouth but we were so damn fast he wasn't able to get any pictures.

Motivated by the unexpectedly loud and large crowds, the next several miles flew by. We chatted about whatever -- mostly adventure racing, I think, and before we knew it we were smelling the Philadelphia Zoo. Barf. I don't do stink while running and the smell of caged elephants and monkeys and lions and tigers and bears and lemurs and aardvarks and whatever made me a bit gaggy but I kept that to myself. Plus, I had more important things to think about -- the only significant hill of the course was right in front of us.

Abby and I didn't increase our effort as we steadily climbed the hill. Some runners around us started to struggle but we'd run this part of the course twice on two of our longer runs. We knew it wasn't that long, or that steep and that we'd be met at the top by about a mile of flat followed by a short, steep downhill so we kept things in control.

"Man, I can't believe we've already run what, like 8 miles?," I commented. I hadn't been paying close attention to mile markers and would check in only occasionally with Abby and her Garmin about our pace. "Try 10 miles," she said.

Yep, the miles were flying by. We were running solidly and comfortably and were right on pace for a 3:45 finish.

As the course dropped us along the Schuylkill River, Bill found us again. This time he was ready with the camera.

We also saw something crazy -- people dressed like bacon, grilled cheese and pizza dancing around. Silly! Soon signs were directing people running the full in one direction, the half in the other. I couldn't believe we were almost at the 13.1-mark. As we peeled in one direction and the half runners peeled into the other, we hit the middle at about 1:52 and some change.

At the mile 14 water stop I was bolstered by two friends handing out cups. Damn, they were loud. Just past them a dude dressed like Batman was playing the theme song to Rocky on a trombone. Abby was absolutely thrilled by this. I, however, have never seen Rocky despite living in Philly for more than 15 years so I didn't know what was happening.

As we chugged along on the out-and-back I realized Abby was in for a huge PR unless something unhappy happened. I tried to be extra-careful to knock her down, trip or kick her or punch her -- didn't want to ruin her day.

Outward bound. Can you spot us?

Next up was a detour from the main out-and-back -- about a mile across a bridge, down a hill, around a cone, back up the hill and back over the bridge. I'd been mentally dreading this part all morning -- not sure why, but I was. Just as we were about to reach the bridge a friend of Abby's let us know that Brent was waiting for us at the turnaround cone. Yay! Something to look forward to. I zoomed down the hill and was eager to see another familiar face.

I don't remember feeling as dead serious as
I look in the top picture. 

As we spun around the cone I was elated. "I was dreading that part! And now it's over!," I must have repeated enough times to make Abby want to sprint far, far away from me. Mostly I was just happy that both brain and body were still into the race.
We both started to get a bit bored about a mile or so later. "Talk to me about something," Abby requested. Do you know how hard it is to think of things to talk about when someone asks you to say words? Uhhhhh...
All I could think about was racing. I peppered Abby with questions about the race she was most scared of at the start line, her favorite race, her first race, her last race, her thoughts on race relations, race race race.

As we slogged into Manayunk the crowds grew louder and drunker. And we started to pass a lot of runners. People were starting to struggle. I felt a bit bad too, but, surprisingly, only a bit -- Abby started to pick up the pace and I was happy to tuck behind her. Then we passed a group of people handing out little cups o' beer and I dry-heaved. I like beer as much as (ok, probably more than) the next person, but not at mile 21.5 of a marathon.

"Oh, God, there's beer, I am going to puke," I said, as I darted as far away from the beer as I could. Fortunately, I didn't actually barf.

The course dumped us back alongside the river and I realized we only had four miles to go. Four miles? That's a prologue in an adventure race, a distance I can manage on a treadmill, 32 minutes and some change until the finish, depending on how well I was able to keep it together.

Let's go! I was feeling better than I ever had at mile 22 of a marathon. Usually at mile 22 I am wanting to cry and contemplating burning all running shoes/shorts/shirts/tights/hats/gloves/gus/water bottles/etc. and never running again.

This time ,though, was different.

I started to run a bit harder, not so much that it hurt yet but enough that I knew that it would before I crossed the finish line. Gradually, Abby and I began to pull apart. I peeked over my shoulder a few times -- she was still right back there but I decided I wanted to be done and I knew she would finish with a nastyhuge PR with or without me so I dropped my pace into the high 7s/low 8s, hoping to hold that for the duration.

Bill found me again. I wasn't smiling quite as big as I had been -- slowly but surely I was starting to hurt but I really thought I could hang on. I was actually passing people and the fact that I didn't seem to be hurting as much as many of the runners around me gave me a bit of motivation -- I apparently wasn't going to shit the bed with only three miles to go.

I passed my buddies at the water stop again -- they seemed to be having the most fun of all. Bill rode on the path just off the course and snapped a few more pictures.

 So many spectators!

I have no idea who I am smiling at in this picture.

I wasn't sure what to do -- most of the people around me were grumpy and many were walking. A few were crying and a few were saying "fuck" a lot. I needed someone ungrumpy and unhurting to motivate me. I scanned the runners around me and settled in on Purple Shirt. She looked like she'd been at mile 24 of a marathoon before, and looked like she wanted to finish strong. I made myself promise to myself that I wouldn't let her get more than 15 feet in front of me.

And then she picked up the pace a bit. Purple Shirt, were you trying to kill me? I hung on, barely, and managed to convince myself that I could hang on for the 18 or so minutes of running still ahead of me.

Thank you Purple Shirt, whomever you are.

I am not going to lie -- mile 24.5 to about mile 25.5 sucked. My lungs were unhappy, my legs were tired and my brain was starting to go. But then the crowd got huger and louder and I started smiling like a bobo. Suddenly I was so happy again. I didn't notice the last little incline as I rounded a bend to find the finish line staring me in the face. I ran as hard as I could for the last 100 meters or so, and that was that.

Chip time: 3:43:46. Fine by me. I worked my way to the gear check truck, threw on some warms (although the day was actually sunny and quite warm for Philly in mid-November) and met up with Bill, Abby, Brent and Abby's family before slogging about a mile to brunch/beer/breakfast/coffee.

Abby had a 9-minute PR. Nine minutes. NINE MINUTES. I would sell my soul for a PR like that. And she seemed to have fun while doing it, too. My big achievement for the day was a negative split -- only by a few seconds, but I fianlly didn't crash and burn in the second half of a marathon.

A nice little Sunday.


Sunday, November 20, 2011

Well That Was Nice

Don't worry, I will bore you with a rambling race report in the near future.

For now, though, I am lazy and have a few too many (ok, three) hard ciders flowing through my person and there's a soccer game on so here's the abridged version of the Philly Marathon:

  • I finished. But forgot to properly stop my watch. I knew I crossed the line in 3:43:XX but wasn't sure about the XX part. After no race results posted on the race site for me for a few too many hours, there it was. A 3:43:46. Not a PR, not a PW. A bit faster than my average marathon pace. I will take it.
  • Even better? I had fun! Like, actual good times, complete with smiles, high-fives, a few giggles and happiness. I ran most of the way with Abby. Neither one of us wanted to lay down on the sidewalk and curl up into a fetal position at any point. Even though I started to feel sort of junky during the last mile I was smiling like a freak. I never once was surly, either. WTF?  
  • I didn't really hit the wall and I am pretty sure I ran dead even splits. Unheard of for me. Abby did a great job of not letting me sprint away like an idiot -- in every other road marathon I have run my second half was anywhere between 7 and 15 minutes slower than the first half. Sort of pathetic but hopefully I've broken that habit.
That is all!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Marathon Eve Eve

Twas two nights before Philly
And I had nothing to fear
Except, for maybe, my belly full o' beer.

Ok, not really full, but there was a delicious microbrew on tap at dinner tonight and I just had to have a sip(s). Probably not the best idea, but bad ideas love company so now I continue to taper while on the couch with a glass of wine. Hooray!?

After a shitstorm of a workweek (bookended by some good stuff on Monday morning and Friday afternoon, fortuantely) I booked fast and hard away from the hospital by 1 this afternoon to head to the race expo. We have a wedding tomorrow evening and I hated the idea of braving the expo on a Saturday afternoon so I fought like a honey badger to get the afternoon off.

I did well at the expo -- it took two seconds to get my number and then I wandered around with Abby and a friend or two of hers while we drank free chocolate milk (wahoo!), free coconut water (sort of nasty) and purchased headbands made out of, I swear I am not making this up, velvet.

WTF? A velvet headband? For $15? Did I really just purchase a $15 (plus tax) headband made out of mofoing velvet? Yes. Yes I did.

But the sign said it wouldn't slip. I am holding the sign to its word -- my hair is sort of short right now and every headband I own either doesn't slip because it is so tight that my skull feels like it is being crushed or so slippy that it's on the ground before I make it to the end of the block so I was suckered.

The race shirt was fine -- I will wear it but I won't snuggle with it in bed or anything. I also picked up my Ronald McDonald House race shirt. I sort of love it. Nice and plain without, like, a giant Big Mac or a scary clown on it. And, although I am generally against wearing new stuff on race day, it is the softest thing of all time. Can't you see the abundant softness bursting through?

I love plain stuff, especially plain black and white stuff. So yay. Something else fun is that today the Philadelphia Ronald McDonald House marathon team reached its fundraising goal of $25,000. Thanks to all who contributed. This is the first year the PRMH had a team and I am glad it wasn't a disaster and that we didn't, like, just raise $1.67 or anything.

Race goals? Not a ton. I am going to go out at a 3:45 pace and see what happens from there. Uh, what's a 3:45 pace anyway? 8:38 miles or something? I guess I should figure this out pretty soon.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Tapering Makes Me Surly

For whatever reason, I really only taper for marathons. Something about halves not being long enough to need to truly taper and long adventure races being so damn long that a taper won't make a difference.

So here I sit, in the middle of a week-long taper leading up to the Philly marathon this weekend.

I think I am losing my brain.

My person feels like I've had 88 Mountain Dews and a Big Gulp of coffee. I want to run around for hours. Instead, last night I had a hockey game and today I did about 3 miles on the treadmill. I did the first and last one at an easy pace but jacked up the speed for the middle mile -- not a brilliant plan race-week wise but I would like to fall asleep tonight before 2 a.m. so I wanted to get out a bit of energy.

Tomorrow will be a slow 3 or 4 miles with a few hills thrown in just for fun.

The sad part of this? I know I will wake up bright and early Sunday morning tired, not ready to run and will be a sore, sad mess by mile 20.

That is all.

Monday, November 14, 2011

No Stopping Sunday

I had a present waiting for me in the mail today! At first I worried that it might be anthrax, but then I remembered that's so 2002. Then I worried it might be a tiger, but the package was flat, not roaring and had no air holes.

So I proceeded with opening the package.

What could it be? It was this:

When I ran Boston in 2010 I lamented the fact that I neglected to steal one of the 8 zillion "No Stopping Monday" signs that lined the course. My friend April, marathon cheerer-oner of the universe, happened to be in Boston when I ran and watched me slog on by a few times. Even better, she snagged a sign and sent it my way.

Sweet! I am thinking of whiting out "Boston" and "Monday" and writing in "Philadelphia" and "Sunday" and then making Bill wave it around the marathon course as he cheers his head off on Sunday.

Friday, November 11, 2011


I hate it when people bail on plans. I am a planner ... for example, the fact that I don't know EXACTLY when I am going to the race expo for the Philly marathon next weekend is sort of driving me crazy.

A good trait? Hell no. But I don't think it's going anywhere any time soon.

Tonight, though, I managed to deviate from my plan.

After an absurd week at work -- the kid of week where it's hard to explain why it sucked without going on and on about work and violating HIPAA in 88 different ways -- I was planning on spending a few hours after work lifting and then doing a quick 3 miles on my new most least favorite thing, the treadmill.

After an awful meeting in the morning and then an afternoon of being asked things like "Oh, can you get patient so-and-so immediate emergency insurance, because they have 88,876 follow-up appointments after their discharge next week" (uh, what the hell is immediate emergency insurance, and can I have some of that, please?) and "We decided that this kid needs to go into foster care immediately, so do you just get the court order and take them home yourself, or what?," I wanted to punch people in the face. Hard, and frequently. **

The idea of driving to the gym, lifting, running, driving home cold and sweaty and then deciding whether to just call it a night or destink myself and make some plans made me sad.

For probably the fifth or sixth time in my running life, I bailed on a run. My gym bag was in my car, my iPod was charged. But my brain was having none of it.

I wanted a damn beer.

Instead of the gym, I headed to one of my favorite bars (although the bartender we had tonight was quite a wanker) with a co-worker where we ranted about our shitty work week and sipped some autumn beers.

I mentioned no less than 8 trillion times that I bailed on a run for a happy hour, which I am sure she was completely fascinated by, but I was sort of proud of myself.

Of course, right now it is 9:30 on a Friday night and I am on the couch in my PJs sipping some Nuun and watching CSI in anticipation of a 7 a.m. wake-up call for an 8 a.m. run so I am clearly still the biggest dork in town.

** Fortunately, for my long-term sanity, I was covering a unit that is not my own ... I luv my NICU and hate it when I have to venture off to other areas of the hospital.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Clover -- It's What's For Dinner

Yesterday was my last long run (to me, a long run is anything more than 10 miles) before Philly. Decided on a combination of technical trails, paved trails, dirt roads and regular old roads for a 12-mile loop. Bill let me borrow his 83-cent GPS watch, mostly because he wasn't sure it actually worked and I wanted to try to figure out if it did.

I think it works. After standing in front of my house shaking it at the sky for a bit, it picked up a signal and I manged to figure out how to have it track overall pace and distance, but not how to stop when I was stuck at red lights and stop signs. At times it told me I was running a 42-minute-mile but it seemed to give an accurate measurement of distance and of speed when I wasn't standing still.

At the end of my loop I was happy with my pace and, more importantly, with how I felt. Until an hour later when every body part below my neck felt like it was trying to vacate my person. I flopped on the couch in a robe and whined and whined. The fact that we were meeting friends for dinner at a raw bar only made me whine more -- the idea of slimy oysters and clams, Tabasco sauce and beer made me weep a bit.

I made it through dinner, barely. After eating one oyster, a dozen oyster crackers and some clover (nothing helps you refuel after a 12-mile run like some clover) I was GRUMPY. I was grateful to climb into bed and more grateful for the extra hour of sleep. Two a.m. should come twice every day.

Woke up today and sat around, drank coffee and we eventually hopped on the bikes for a 6.5-mile ride to an orienteering meet. I hadn't done one in forever -- years and years. And the last time I did an o-meet Bill thought I was gone forever. The incentive to get out of pjs and out the door was zero.

I'd like to say that I blew through the course at the speed of sound. But instead, I stood literally on top of one point for several minutes trying to figure out what was going on (I was on top of a boulder, the flag was on the underside of the boulder) and then I got stuck in a shit-ton of thorns when I tried to take a short-cut that wasn't -- I plucked thorns from my arms and legs as I wandered around trying to figure out where I was. After crashing into a creek and gashing my hand (because it doesn't count as a jaunt in the woods unless there is blood) I worked my way back to being found instead of lost, but I was sort of pissed that I screwed up.

But, I actually could read the map, never got insanely lost, never resorted to guessing where I was and didn't have Bill thinking I had been abducted by the Blair Witch, so hooray.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Treadmill, I Beat You

I loathe treadmill running. So much, in fact, that I tend to run as fast as I can just to get off the damn thing. Not wise, I know, but I do it anyway.

Over the past week, however, late nights at work, my everlasting hatred of getting up early to run and a winter blast over the weekend led to far too many miles on the mill.

Today after work I headed for the gym for four miles. As I shed my work clothes and pulled on running stuff I realized I forgot a headband. Fortunately I just got most of my hair chopped off so I decided I could handle a few sweaty strands in my eyes.

Then I reached for my iPod. Dead battery. Unacceptable. I depend on it to make the miles tick by. Depend completely. After contemplating bailing and going home to eat some chips and slug some beer I decided to do a two-mile time trial and then get the hell out of there.

Hopped on, cranked the POS up to a barely tolerable speed and stared at the clock on the wall in front of me. After a mile I was surprised that I felt like I was jogging -- I was running comfortably and my breathing did not sound like the normal sweaty beast I turn into. I picked up the pace a bit more. As I neared the two-mile mark I decided to go for a 5k treadmill PR. I was well on my way when I hit the 2.5-mile mark.

Then the gym started looking bizarre. A bit foggy. Smoky, you might say. "That's weird," I thought to myself. "Runrunrunrunrunrunrunrunrunihatethetredmillhatehatehatealmostdonealmostdone."

And then, a smell. Sawdust mixed with campfire. Followed by quite a sound -- a squeal of brakes mixed with dial-up-modem.

The treadmill came to a grinding halt. Because it was on fire. Not a complete inferno, but smoke was pouring out from under the belt.


I looked around. People were looking at me. I pretended that nothing was happening. The treadmill screen alternated blinking "fatal error" and "no signal."

I hopped off and headed to the guy at the front desk. "The treadmill third from the end is ablaze," I said. But he knew that already. Ok, ablaze was overstating things, but there was some serious smoldering action happening.

Unsure of what proper gym etiquette called for in such circumstances, I thought about grabbing for the sanitizing wipes and making sure my sweat was off the machine. But that seemed dangerous. Instead I grabbed a magazine and hopped on the elliptical for a bit. While I ellipticalled I watched the guy at the front desk unplug the treadmill, squirt it with water from a squirt bottle, scribble "Out of order" on a post-it and stick it to the machine. I started to giggle. Then laugh. A lot. Like a weirdo. So I went home.

And yes, I am fully aware that the fact the damn thing caught fire had nothing to do with me running -- I am not so fast at all -- and everything to do with the fact that my crazy inexpensive gym is so cheap because the equipment is junk.