Thursday, December 12, 2013

Pacing Predicaments: The Micawber Principle

In Charles Dickens's novel David Copperfield, the fictional character, Wilkins Micawber, makes an astute observation that applies to not only incomes but pacing as well:
"Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen pounds nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds nought and six, result misery."  ~ Wilkins Micawber
The scenario: 

You are standing on the starting line, blood rushing through your veins, legs jumpy with anticipation, bouncing foot to foot - champing at the bit - and gun fires. You cross the mats, press the start button on the Garmin, and take off with the flow of runners.

What could be more natural. Running. With energy. With speed. Light on your feet. Breath...and feet...and legs...and heart...all so there in the moment. You feel so freaking good.

And then you take a quick glance at your wrist. Your aimed for pace is 8:15, but Mr. Garmin seems to indicate that you are at about 7:50. "Sweet", you think. "I'm ahead of pace and I feel great. I feel so flipping great!! This is my day. I am going to crush that PR." And so it goes for the first 6 miles, where you begin to feel that perhaps you pushed it a bit too fast. So you pull in on the reigns and settle into your projected 8:15 pace, for, oh, maybe another 10 miles. And then you start noticing that your pace begins to drop. You try harder, but your legs just don't respond. Now you're at 8:40 and struggling to maintain that. At mile 21 your pace drops to 9:10, then walk/run your way to the finish painfully cramped from the waist down...You feel like you're crawling and you can not will your legs to move any faster.

How could something that began so gloriously end in ignominious defeat??

So let's talk marathon pacing (this applies to shorter distances as well - but for different and the same reasons). Generally your optimal marathon pace (MP) is very close to, but slightly above, your lactate-threshold (LT) pace. Why? Well, two reasons really:
1) Once you drop down below to your LT pace certain things begin happening, metabolically, in your muscles increasing acid concentration and interfering with energy production. Stay just above (a bit slower then) LT and that lactate is used to produce more ATP, the energy source you need to keep muscles contracting. Lactate is a fuel, but if there's too much produced at once, then it can not be taken up fast enough and accumulates in your muscles. THIS is the big problem. Lactate is not the enemy. Too much lactate too fast is the enemy. That accumulating lactate creates an acidic environment that physically damages your muscles and interferes with the process of muscle contraction.
2) When you stay just above LT, you can use both fat and glycogen for energy production. Go under LT, and you predominantly rely on glycogen which is a very limited fuel source. If you can stay in the zone where fat and glycogen are used, sparing the limited glycogen for as long as possible, then you are less likely to bonk at mile 17, or 20, or 22...
So, let's return to our runner above. Let's say that she runs just 5 seconds per mile faster than LT for the first 6 miles of her marathon - what happens? Well, the environment of her muscles is now acidic and that shuts down the enzymes needed for ATP production. What does she FEEL: heavy and tight. And now she must work harder to maintain the pace that would have felt doable had she not begun this whole metabolic process. She has also burned through precious glycogen at a higher rate than she needed to. So, she will run out earlier in the race.  The result: The seconds she "banked" during the early stages of the race will be lost many times over during the later stages of the race.

Training of course should aim to lower the pace at which you can run before hitting LT (that is you should be training to improve your LT pace + training your fat burning metabolism), and your race pace should be determined with that in mind. But it is crucial that you stay above that place where bad things begin to happen (and you will not feel the deleterious effects until AFTER it is too late). And the fact is that most of us have experienced the consequences of going out too fast, and yet we continue to do it. It takes discipline and understanding to do the right thing, especially when everyone around you is doing the wrong thing (going out too fast). BUT I guarantee, if you heed this warning, you will be passing all those suffering through the later stages of their race, and best of all you will feel stronger and more capable than you ever have before!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

You Can Go Home Again

This is not a story about the 2013 New York City Marathon. And yet it is. This is not a story about running. And yet it is. This is just something, I'm not sure what...

At 18 I leave New Jersey, and never look back. All through high school I live for this moment. I dream of this moment. I plan for this moment. All I have done for the past many years, I have done for this moment. I am gone. Done. I reject it all. I regret it all. I sometimes curse my lot.

Coming back…Coming back…Coming home…again…I come back many times over the years, but this time I come home...
“To be oneself, simply oneself, is so amazing and and utterly unique an experience that it's hard to convince oneself so singular a thing happens to everybody.” ~ Simone de Beauvoir

The last mile

It is 3:52 p.m. November 3rd, 2013
I walk from Central Park, hop, stiff legged down the subway stairs, step onto the C line downtown to 34th St., poke my head out from underground into the low fall light, cut sharply by towering buildings and make my way a couple blocks to Penn Station. I don't really want to leave. I want this to last. But I am tired and sticky with Gatorade.

The train pulls out from Penn Station, moving through the darkness deep beneath the Hudson River. All I can see in the window is my own reflection. The iPod seals me in own little world surrounded by people and their lives. I can not talk to anyone right now. I need to be by myself. The train emerges from underground into the late afternoon autumn yellow light, through the marshlands. Cattails and tall yellow-brown grasses gently bending in the breeze. Hawks glide by on invisible waves. I am struck to tears by the beauty of this place, a place I have always seen as ugly, ruined, defiled, sad.  The sky is a hazy autumn blue. The whole world is soft and gentle around the edges.  And after more than 30 years of rejecting the very idea of this place as part of me, I find myself overwhelmed by a thankfulness that hits me as a sudden shock. I have spent so much time pretending this is not me, and yet it is me. This place, the environment, the people - I owe them all gratitude for this day.

When Socrates is sentenced to death by his fellow Athenians, and sent to jail to await his hemlock, he is given ample opportunity to leave. The jailer leaves the doors unlocked and open. Freedom is one step away. His students beg him to leave and save himself. They cry at his side, pleading with him to leave. He will not. He sees himself as who he is because of Athens, it’s people, it’s culture -  THIS time, THIS place is what made him what he is. He would not be the person he is without these people - this place - this time. And so, he accepts, though he does not agree with, the judgment and punishment handed down by those who made him who he is. And the jailer brings him his hemlock, and he drinks it and dies, with his students sobbing at his bedside. And Socrates dies, as he believes he must die, to remain Socrates. Anything else entailed a sacrifice of his very self.

What makes us what we are? Who we are?

Today will not sink in to my brain. Try as I may, it will not happen. My brain pushes it away. While running, I say to myself, “My god, you’re here. This is it!” My brain says, “Yeah, so what?”  But in my skin, my throat, my heart, my soul, I am lost in it, in the blur of being in it. Sometimes we look forward to something but fail to be there, truly there, when it happens. How to be there? The brain just can’t grasp it. It’s too much, and it’s really nothing. It is nothing at all. Running through the streets of New York City is pretty unspectacular. Anyone can do this any day of the year. I am simply running down a city street.

What an experience is for anyone is dependent on the person AND the experience. It is nothing but that. 

For me this is even more than I know, than I knew when I began all of this, and I feel that sink in as I sit on this train, Passing the refineries, and the long shuttered factories, the razor wire fences, the men smoking cigarettes, laughing, shooting baskets. The small grocery shops, the old women pushing a shopping cart along the cracked-to-bits sidewalks.The windowless lounge, a flashing neon martini glasses flickering against the red brick wall...After last year, and the NYCM fiasco, I had washed my hands of all of this. Then I thought again.

35 years after taking this same train line into NYC with my father to witness Grete Waitz’s first victory in NY, I am heading home having done what I told myself I would do on that day. I am going back to the house I went back to then. Most of this area, on the surface, is unchanged from the 70s when all these factories began shutting down. Nothing has really changed. Everything always changes. What remains through the passing of time is us. We remain.

Aristotle asks us to consider this: Take a ship. Replace every bit of the ship with new pieces - every board, every nail, every itty bitty piece - Is it now the ‘same’ ship it was?  Good question. There is not a single cell in my body that is the same as any cell in my body 35 years ago. In this sense I (we all) have become many ‘different’ people over the years. And yet, I am the ‘same’ person, and today I came to an important realization: This place I rejected with such vehemence, I now embrace as the very core of who I have become - what makes life and a self really matter. I may not like it all, but it is me, good or bad, and I needed to accept that. This place made me who I am, as did running, and it made me the runner I was and am and will be, and the person I was and am and will be. And I guess I'm usually okay with all of that.

My father had no idea what he did for me back in 1978. But I now know at least a piece of it.

My father is gone now.  But at this moment he is with me, sitting beside me, as he was 35 years ago on this very day, going home with me, having given me the chance, having planted a seed that burst open, took root and grew -  to do something that really matters to me. And once again, I am changed by the experience.
“I take pleasure in my transformations. I look quiet and consistent, but few know how many women there are in me.” ~ Anaïs Nin

…“I move slow and steady, but I feel like a waterfall...Past the one’s that I used to know…”

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

For The Sake of Me and My Father: NYCM Take Two

 “You are -- your life, and nothing else.” ~ Jean-Paul Sartre 

One year much is much is the same.

Last year at this time I was preparing to leave for my sojourn to NYC to run the marathon that meant more to me than any other marathon. Hurricane Sandy had crashed into the metro area late Monday night, Oct 29th. Last year at this time I had still not heard from my family. I had no idea how they were. I tried to contact friends nearby. Any word?? No luck.  This is my post from one year ago today: "Emergency Blog Post: NYC Marathon Post-Sandy" 

Anyone who's ever read anything here, knows what the NYCM means to me.  This is from last year:
"Back in 1978, during the first running boom, you could still take an easy train trip into the city from the suburbs of New Jersey and watch the finish of the New York City Marathon. It was a big deal, even then, for anyone living in the NY metropolitan area, but nothing compared to the circus it is today. And it was a really big deal for me, a NJ High School runner, because Grete Waitz was running. We all need heroes. She was mine.

So as I stood in Central Park with my Father, about a quarter mile from the finish, and watched the graceful streak of Grete Waitz flow by me, I was completely ME at that instant, and knew something more true than anything I had (or would) know about myself: I love running, and I want to run this marathon...someday. Now this may sound melodramatic (but, hey, I was a teenage girl. It's all melodrama!) but it was one of those moments where the world seals off all around you, it's you and the world and nothing else exists, and your senses feel hyper-sensitive (like when you're about to pass out and you lose your peripheral vision and the world becomes a tunnel - only better). I don't even know how much time passed. Time froze...

1978: Her first Course record
Many years have passed. As it turns out, I was right on Oct 2nd 1978 - the one (and only?) thing I've been 'right' about. I do love running. And I've never stopped running since. And in 2 weeks I'll be running NY..."
Well, as it turned out,  I was wrong on that one!!
This race is THE reason I started racing again in 2009, after nearly 20 years of running but not racing. 

2008: I am standing in Neptune Mountaineering on an ordinary spring day in Boulder, phone to my ear. It's April. The worst of the winter is behind us. The doctor identifies herself. She has the MRI report and has consulted the orthopedic docs. Seems my knee is shot all to hell. 

She says in my ear, like she's saying nothing at all, "You won't be able to run anymore. I know this will be hard for you. But you'll have to do something else now."

"Now wait a second" I reply, "Is there anything that can be done?" A panic rises through my body.
"No." she responds, very casually,  "You're too young for a knee replacement."


My husband and daughter are with me, chasing each other around the store, and I go into a spin. I just can't absorb what I just heard. I'm 44 years old. 44 FREAKING years old. How can this be??

And the very first thing to pop into my head after that is, and I can still hear this ringing in my head, "Oh my god, I'm never going to run the New York City Marathon". 

Why? Why THAT thought? I had been running all these years. Running was as much a part of my daily life as eating. So why didn't I think about that daily need? Why the NYCM??? I ran my first marathon in 1993, and then I was done with that - but it was always with this understanding: Someday, I'd run another. Someday. Maybe when I had finally climbed 5.13 and gotten the climbing bug out of my system so I could really train again. Maybe when I got 'old' and couldn't climb so hard anymore - but I would run another - and it would be NEW YORK. But as my world began spinning around me, all I could think was: I'm never going to be able to run NY. My knees rarely go weak. But they did. Thankfully my husband came to steady me. He didn't know what had happened, but he could see something had happened.

I wasn't ready to give up yet, though part of me battled with the logic of denying what the doctors claimed to clearly know. Luckily, logic lost -  this time. 

Now. There is no time to waste. 

Fast forward 4 years: I am set to run the NYCM 2012 having qualified in after several failed lottery attempts. And my dream is within reach: "Courage: Feeling the Fear and Doing It Anyway"

But then Sandy hits. And then there's the mess that follows: the bad decisions, and the hatred and the negativity and the bad feelings, and the accusations and the verbal attacks and the character assassinations and.... the bitterness. "NYRR's Wrongheaded Resolution: A Letter to Mary Wittenberg "

And I spend some time, again, mourning the loss of a dream. Silly perhaps to some, but so very important to me.  I tried to let it go. I tell myself it doesn't matter. I tell myself that the NYCM is not what it was. And yet that 16 year-old girl, that daughter of a father who encouraged her to run because she wanted to run, could not let go of what it meant to HER. And the gift her father gave her...and continues to give her today...

May, 2013:  I realize that my run in Tucson, the race I ran instead of NY, is a qualifying time. At this point have NO intention of running NY - and I'm already registered for two marathons in October. I'm finished with the NYCM: disgusted, disillusioned, disheartened by how the NYRR handled the whole situation - And YET, Here I have this qualifying time. Will I ever have that chance again??? Because of the 'Resolution', this year those with qualifying times are also put in a lottery. I never win anything, so I figure I still won't get in. An hour before registration closes I send in my registration, after having begun and aborted this process many times since registration has opened. This time I click "submit".

A few days later this pops up in my email:

Dear Caolan MacMahon,
Congratulations! You’ve been accepted to the 2013 ING New York City Marathon. Celebrate Marathon Opening Day today, and we’ll keep you posted on news and events leading up to race day. Check our site for more details.

This is just the beginning of your journey to 26.2 on Sunday, November 3!

New York Road Runners
Well, Sh*t. What have I just done!
And now I am, again, 5 days away from completing a journey begun in 1978 - that's 35 freaking years!!!! 

What does that mean to me? I don't even know, or maybe I cannot articulate it, but I can say that these things make us who we are. 

The Scottish Empirical Philosopher David Hume argued that the "self" is nothing but a bundle of experiences, gathered together and joined through the faculty of memory and called 'the self'. But the "self" is nothing substantial. I disagree. I am who I am today because of who I was. I will be who I am in the future because of who I am now. 

And I will run this for my father, who left me too soon. My father, who brought me into the city on that cool fall day and changed my life then, at 15, and who I became and who I will become.
“The greatest hazard of all, losing one’s self, can occur very quietly in the world, as if it were nothing at all. No other loss can occur so quietly; any other loss - an arm, a leg, five dollars, a wife, etc. - is sure to be noticed."  ~  Søren Kierkegaard 

Friday, October 18, 2013

Chicago Marathon 2013: So Many Lessons To Learn. So Little Time

“Learning is not child's play; we cannot learn without pain” ~ Aristotle
My husband nudges me in bed.
"It's 4. I thought you said you had to leave at 4!!"
"Ummm, I'm all packed. Just have to shower and leave, soooooo, I was planning to sleep til 4:30."
I grumble.

Too late I'm awake. 4 hours of restless sleep. The night before the night before a race is the important one. Well, that's already totally screwed up. Off on a good foot...

The drive to DIA is dark and quiet and pea soup foggy - and as usually I have the tunes blasting...

As we land in Chicago after a bumpy flight, I flash back to last year - flying into Midway for the Fox Valley Marathon and then a few weeks later for the Chicago Marathon. Chicago has taken on a special flavor for me. Chicago is where I come for two things: To see my best friends and to run. Just being here evokes very raw and vibrant emotions.

At this point I have the drill down. Airport, up the ramp out down the long corridor to catch the Orange Line to downtown. I don't even have to look for directions anymore. I know where to go. I move through the world with my personal soundtrack blaring in my ears. I'm vibrating inside my skin. Sometimes these weekends away from my 'normal' life feel a bit illicit. My 'other' self gets to disappear into an anonymous, strange place.

I text Sandra. She's just getting in too. So is Jeni and Rylee. Things are coming together seamlessly. I get off at Harold Washington Library, walk down to the street and get my bearings. North, South, East, West. Then I head south to find the crew outside Subway (note: I did not, but should have, eaten something). Mistake #1.

We drop our bags at the hotel and head off to the expo. Now, I'm not so keen on the whole expo thing. I get razzed about this sometimes. So I try to be a good sport. I grab every morsel of food I can get my shaky little fingers on...we sign walls here and there...we make the rounds. We have fun.

And we can't get into the hotel until 3pm anyway, so we have time to kill. But at some point I hit my limit and I set up camp in an open area on the floor, all our bags strewn around me. Sandra and Jeni head off for more exploration. Ry plays games on his phone. My phone is about to die. I lie on the floor gazing up at the ceiling, staring into the lights, taking myself away from where I am. The din around me becomes white like the light. Where am I? Last year I was here to run with someone else. Last year I wasn't racing. Last year was different. And yet, it's hard for me to grasp that I'm here to run. To race my race. I can't seem to absorb this, which is why I end up making so many mistakes - both concerning myself and those I am here to support. Sandra and Jeni return excited about just having met Deena Kastor and I am at this point in a pissy mood, mostly because all this thinking and trying to be present has sent me into a funk. I then, of course deeply regret being such a piss-ant, which then leads to me being quiet, which then leads to the inevitable "Are you alright?" Mistake #2: Show nothing.

Am I alright??? Uggggggggg. No. I'm nervous as all get out, I'm not sure what I'm doing, and I'm being/feeling hyper-sensitive, but I need to stuff it,  just stuff your shit. No one needs it...Go inside. Just go inside.

We get back to the hotel to chill for a while. I have splits to get together for the four runners I have running in the morning. I still haven't eaten anything. It's 3:30pm. I had some toast at 4:45am. Hello?? Stupid. Eat!. I open a box of crackers that I stashed in my bag as I rushed out of the dark house this morning. Yeah. They are NOT doing it for me.

About 4:45 we all head for the restaurant, about a mile away, for dinner. I walk slowly. I lag behind the group. I just watch. Sandra, Jeni, Esther, Stu, Trying to melt away.

We get to the Rosebud and meet up with some old and new friends. It's great to see everyone, but I'd rather be doing this tomorrow. Before a race I usually hide out by myself, eat my rice and veggies, and fester alone. So, yeah, again, I do what I need to do. And then we walk the mile back to the hotel. And at this point the alarms are screaming in my head! Mistake #umpteenth: Take the ride offered and persuade your runners to do the same even if they don't want to. 

Jeni and Ry are asleep in no time flat. They are here to cheer us on and for Ry (a talented 14 year old runner with goals set high) to see the elites race. Sandra and I watch bits and pieces of "Spirit of the Marathon" when it will actually load. Lights out. Sleep is elusive...I worry about me. I worry about everyone. I sleep about 2 hours, and then - snap - eyes wide open. Mind spinning. And so it goes from 12:30 am until our 5:45 wake up.

I'm up. Eat a bar, make some strong coffee, bathroom, dress, bathroom,...make sure splits are clear for everyone, bathroom...Hugs. And more hugs, and good lucks, and on...And I head off for my wave 1 start. I hate leaving everyone. I hate it more than I even expected.

Now. What is MY plan. Mistake # - Oh, what am I up to now???  I didn't write down splits. Maybe I'm afraid to think about all of this. Maybe I'm making excuses. Let's face it, I tell myself, I'm really not sure what I can run. I have an idea of what I want to do, or think is reasonable, but things have been uneven for me for a while now. I will just keep it around 8:40s for the first half, then see where I'm at.

Yeah, nice and safe and doable...and, cowardly. Damn coward.

I drop my bag at gear check and head for the C corral. I luck out. There's non-crowded porta potties right by the corral entrance. Then I squeeze myself into the sea of runners - peeling off layers as the sun rises higher in the sky. A fighter jet does a flyover. National anthem is sung. And we're off.

And things are fine for the first, oh, 500 meters. Then the GPS goes all whack. It starts jumping from 7:05/mi to 15:53/mi. What?? We pass mile one. Time 7:45. Whoa. Slow it down girl. I press the lap button, hoping in vain to snap it out of it's tizzy. No good. The Garmin has betrayed me, but worse I'm relying on something I've NEVER relied on before, and it is the one time it has decided to crap out on me. Mile 2 passes. I do the math: 10:XX. I just ran a 10ish minute mile!!! That can't be right (turns out, it is). The crowd has me out of sorts. I can't seem to find my sweet spot. For the next several miles, I try to do the math using just the elapsed time. My math skills are wanting. When we pass the 13.1 mark, I see clearly that I am way off pace. We turn onto one of the larger bridges somewhere in mile 14, and I suddenly feel able to move.

And so, as we emerge from the tall buildings of downtown and the Garmin actually starts working again, I start trying to chip away at the deficit without blowing up. NOW I hit my groove. Now the pace feels good and right, and my body is finally doing what it wants and knows how to do.

Around mile 18, a woman catches me at the water stop, and says "I don't know who you are, but you have a really good pace. I've been running behind you." I thank her...drink...look over my shoulder a few times, hoping she'll join me, but I also notice that my pace is picked up a bit. And yet, I could use some company. I also realize that I feel really really good and strong.

At Mile 25, my calves start feeling zings of cramps shooting through them. I back off a bit, visions of crawling the last mile dancing in my head. Once we hit mile 26, I just don't care anymore and I push with whatever I have to push with. I pass Jeni and Ry on the bridge and manage a feeble wave.

And I cross the mats in 3:51:21. The ONE thing the watch got spot on - my time and the official time were identical.
“Success does not consist in never making mistakes but in never making the same one a second time.” ~ George Bernard Shaw 
Another BQ. I should be happy. But here were my A, B, and C goals, only articulated to myself (never mind anybody else) AFTER I was done, or perhaps as I turned onto Michigan Avenue (Yes, that is too freakin' late butthead! Mistake #...): A. under 3:40; B. under 3:50; C. BQ

So I got C. And I am happy about that. Am I satisfied? No.

And now I must do what Aristotle counsels all cowards, who desire to be courageous, must do. I must do the courageous thing. Now I need to learn what that means...
“We become just by performing just actions, temperate by performing temperate actions, brave by performing brave actions.” ~ Aristotle.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Obsessive Compulsive Weather Checking Disorder (OCWCD)

“Everyone talks about the weather, but no one does anything about it.”~  Mark Twain
Obsessive Compulsive Weather Checking Disorder or OCWCD strikes some runners with a ferocity that unsettles everyone else within 2000 miles. I'm a reasonable person. Sometimes I believe I am TOO reasonable - too logical, but when it comes to my sever case of OCWCD, logic and reason cease to tame the beast.

I start looking at weather forecasts and trends a month before a key race. Now, I know this is pointless. Meteorologists rarely get tomorrow's weather right, so why would I put any faith in an "extended" forecast - or, a month long forecast???  Well, because this little game we runners play is part rational and part irrational.

Aristotle described this interconnection best: There are rational and irrational parts of the soul. Both are necessary for a flourishing life. Emotions, desires and passions are found in the irrational part and they are what MOVE us, what fires us up, what get us all jazzed about an idea - like running a marathon - six months down the road. You press that "register" button with the necessary impetus from desire. You feel the rush, the thrill.  Reason alone would never get you excited. Reason MOVES nothing. Reason's purpose is to direct the passions. The emotions make you wake up in a cold sweat two nights before a marathon screaming in your head "ARRRgggggg" heart pounding, "Oh my god, Oh my god. Oh my god...". And reason is saying, "Ummm, why exactly have you done this again??" Then in the light of day, emotions are redirected with the help of reason, and the 'ARRRggggggg' is replaced with, "This is going to be so great! I can do this." 

So reason and passion work together. Passion moves us to DO, while reason DIRECTS the passions. Neither one rules here. They are both a necessary part of a full, and rich, and meaningful life.

And then there's OCWCD. I KNOW it makes no sense to check the weather a month out. It's flat out unreasonable. And yet I can't help myself. I know that clicking the damn accuweather tab (always open) 24 - did I just say 24? Yeah. more like 124 - times a day will change nothing and will tell me nothing new. There have actually been times that I see a good forecast and I just don't want to look again in case it changes for bad! Do I believe that all this checking and clicking will change anything for the better. No, And yes. I must or I wouldn't keep doing it.

And then there's the lack of understanding concerning this affliction. People chuckle or outright laugh at me for my silliness. Can you imagine how people would respond if those with other real obsessive disorders and phobias were laughed at and ridiculed to their faces?? People also laugh at me if I want to avoid sick people a few weeks before a race. I DO know that it's just a stupid race. BUT the things that are important to each of us are important to us. That is what make life worth living: the things that matter even if they seem trivial to others. Call me uptight. But it matters - to me.

I'm not trying to trivialize serious conditions that negatively affect the lives of many, but the fact is that telling me to stop worrying doesn't work! I admit I've had some bad experiences, and that makes me nervous (OCWCD-PTSD). You run a few hellish marathons, you stagger through mile after mile of beating down, desiccating, heat with not a drop to work hard for months and your one day royally sucks, and you start to feel, well, uptight.

Yep, THAT was Boston 2012!!...Nooooo. It was only a heat index of 122!  Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr

Then again there's...

The London Olympics...

They practically have no clothes on and it's pouring rain!!! (Hot + Wet = Bingo!!)

So apologies for being a basket case.

Warning: This will continue. I just can't help myself!

And why?? Because I am alive and I care. Because I, and you, go out and face what we will face - and be brave, or not. Because there is no weather sitting in front of the TV. There is no weather sitting in the cubicle at work. Weather matters to us, because we live life. Weather is as much a part of this as anything else: the training, the people, the course, the day. It's not just an add on. It's part of the whole experience that you will carry with you until the end of your days.

Friday, October 4, 2013

The Taper: Where Our Demons Hide

"When you get to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on." ~ Theodore Roosevelt
Ahhhhh. Autumn: Fresh, crisp air blows in from the summer swelter. A new crop of crunchy-sweet-tangy apples replace the sweet-smooth peaches. The green landscape begins turning into the color of the sun-setting sky. The air itself looks almost yellow.


For those of us who ran cross country as kids, the smell of the leaves and their crackle under our feet is almost enough to make us feel 15 again. The smells of fall wafts past our noses - and our pace quickens. As we get older, many of us move on to road racing, then marathons. And so the autumn which was the season of mud, and trails and long yellow bus rides to Van Cortlandt park (for me anyway) now morph into long training runs along yellow tree lined roads.

For those newer to running, perhaps running a first fall marathon,  they learn that the dawn of fall and cooler temperatures seems to miraculously speed up their paces. Slogging through all those grueling miles through the hot summer yields fruits unimaginable during the August swelter.

Those final long runs are a gift from the root children, going back to sleep for the cool, dark months. And we can run FOREVER!!!!

And then IT happens, for all these roads lead to one dreaded place: THE TAPER -  (queue "blood curdling scream")

The Taper is what we long for, until we are in it's midst. Those last few weeks of training, where we feel that anything, especially our sanity, can snap at any time, is made tolerable by the very thought of 'the taper'. And then 3 days into it, we start going nuts.

There's gobs of advice out there for why tapering is important and why we all hate it:

Common Taper Maladies Include:                          Taper Adaptation:
* lethargy                                                                  * Increased blood volume
* crankiness                                                              * Increased muscle glycogen storage
* Uncertainly                                                             * greater neuromuscular strength
* New aches and pains                                              * improved running economy
* all runs feel HARD
* Sore throat
* Moderate depression
* Heartfelt belief that you have forgotten how to run!!!!!!!!!

Tapering is a relatively new thing - Endurance runners picking it up from swimming during the middle of the 20th century. Arthur Lydiad incorporated a 'Taper Phase' in his four phase system following on the success of Czeck runner Emil Zátopek who stumbled onto it after 2 weeks flat on his back in the hospital prior to the 1950 European Games - a tactic Zátopek continued to use as he rose to running prominence winning three gold medals in the 1952 Olympics. When the reputed 'best runner in the world' does something, others take notice. And now we have the TAPER - which is just the status quo today.

There are even entire books written just on tapering such as  Tapering and Peaking for Optimal Performance by Iñigo Mujika. And you can 'google' all day, everyday, for your 2+ week taper and find plenty of advice on dealing with tapering. There are many tapering protocols out there, and to some extent we must each learn through trial and error to find what works best for us - though the studies seem to be pointing at the greatest benefit seen with reduced mileage while intensity stays steady.

Now - the thing I wonder though, is WHY we suffer taper madness/blues/antsiness/etc. in the first place. What's REALLY eating at us?  Why do we have a love hate relationship with the taper? So here's my theory:

What fills us with angst is that we've done all we can do. We've done the training, now we sit and wait for it to gel at just the right time! But wait! Did I run long enough?? Did I run enough long runs?? Were my tempos too fast...or too slow?? Should I have done Yasso 800s for all 20 weeks of training?? OMG, I only ran one week at 50 or 40 or 30 or 100 miles!!!! I should have done MORE...MORE...MORE!!!! Ugggggg. What can I do now?  Okay. I'm 14 days out from my marathon. Maaaaaybe, just maybe, I should do just one more 20 miler. THEN I'll know I can do this. Or, maybe just one more longer tempo...some repeat 800s???? Something?????

When I feel that either I or someone I coach is going through this thought process, when I see myself or someone else do a run that looks like maybe, just maybe, they're trying to test their fitness, I ask two questions:

1) During your 18 weeks or so of training, do you believe that you COULD have done more?
2) What do you hope to gain from the test?

Most will answer, on reflection, that they worked as hard as they could have during the training. Most of us walk a fine line in marathon training between training hard enough but not too hard. And what we must understand during the taper is that the principle of supercompensation negates any benefit of "the test" run.

Optimal timing for stimulus application

  Applying  training stimulus before supercompensation is complete
These two graphs illustrate: a) why training is so difficult - you must introduce a new proper stimulus at just the right time; and b) Why a hard last test run during taper will do you no good. At that point, in order to gain the benefits of the taper PLUS the time frame needed for supercompensation, means that a last test run fails on every count. You may lose some of the benefit of the taper and you gain nothing because there's just not enough time to allow for supercompensation.

So, what's a crazed, anxious, exhausted, depressed, crankipants runner to do??? Acceptance is the only answer. Understand that this is just how it may be. Try to be kind to yourself. Sleep more. Get a massage. Drink lots of water. Eat good nourishing food. Spend time outside going for easy walks. Read a book. Re-watch Spirit of the Marathon

And always remember - there's always more...
"We may train or peak for a certain race, but running is a lifetime sport." ~ Alberto Salazar

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Colorado Floods: A Little Compassion Goes a Long Way

May you be poor in misfortune,
Rich in blessings,
Slow to make enemies,
quick to make friends,
But rich or poor, quick or slow,
May you know nothing but happiness
From this day forward.
Last November I had the unpleasant experience of being in NJ/NY less than 2 days after Hurricane Sandy hit that area. The devastation was heartbreaking. And the response from the running community was simultaneously dismaying and uplifting. I was attacked by many for going to the area - my supposed purpose for going was to run the contentious, soon (not soon enough) to be canceled, New York City Marathon - but my real purpose was to support my family in New Jersey and friends from the area who were planning to run even as they suffered. It would have been much easier to stay in nice, sunny, comfortable Colorado. This experience was horrible in so many ways.

Now, fast forward...Not quite one year later...4,500 hundred square miles of Colorado is flooded...

Highway 34 toward Estes Park, Colorado, as flooding devastates the Front Range and thousands were forced to evacuate, on September 13, 2013. (AP Photo/Colorado Heli-Ops, Dennis Pierce). 

The rain begins in earnest on Wednesday, September 11th, 2013 - Yes, THAT date. It continues at such a furious rate for the next two days with NO break. The entire norther front range of Colorado becomes a lake of sewage, debris, mud - and the memories and lives of many people. Canyons wash downstream. Houses crumble as they slide down hillsides.

This video shows an area just north of where I live. These are roads I run and bike on every week.

The rain continues...through Friday the 13th...and does not stop until Monday afternoon, September 16th, after a solid week of rain - most of it torrential. In the end, the rains cause an inland sea the size of Connecticut.

And now we all emerge from our homes, blinded by the sunlight like lovers of wisdom emerging from Plato's cave. What is still real??


 Crazed eyes - Windows to the soul

Now a week later...Things are still not right. I am now deep in the midst of tearing out carpeting and padding from the basement. Some roads are still closed. Most trails are still closed. People are still suffering.

The costs for this flood is estimated at 2 billion dollars. Entire towns and communities have been washed away. We are all weary and worn down.

The Boulder Marathon, which was originally 'postponed' until later in the fall, is now 'postponed' until September 2014!! I'm not sure that counts as postponed - but I suppose I'm splitting semantic hairs. 

I am scheduled to run the St. George Marathon on Oct. 6th, and due to unexpected flood expenses, and just the overall stress of this situation, I request a deferment - something SGM clearly does not offer. But I think I might as well give it a shot and send an email. What harm can it do? (I will learn the answer to that question soon enough!)

And I start thinking about the Boulder Marathon runners, and other area runners running marathons elsewhere in the coming few weeks - many of whom I've been training with these past couple months - and I start thinking of how race directors reached out to runners post Sandy and the cancellation of the NYCM: Philly RnR allowed NYC marathoners into their full marathon at a discounted rate. Others including: Malibu, St Jude, Harrisburg, Tucson, Route 66, Seattle, Mesquite, and others, all reached out to runners. I took the Tucson Marathon's generous offer to register for that race at their early registration rate. I believe it helped all of us to heal from a very negative and emotionally draining experience.


And the wheels start turning or churning -  perhaps like a hamster wheel - spinning aimlessly around.

 ...or maybe one the kind of wheels that flatten and pulverizes all reason and sense...

I start looking at what's happening beyond the bounds of my very small, damaged world, and I realize that I'm not over whatever happened in NY. And, I say, something has to give or I will implode. The one thing I can not deal with at this point, emotionally or financially, is running a marathon (call me weak if you will!)  - and so I start wondering if others are feeling this way. 

I email about 25 RDs from marathons either nearby or with good reputations, run within 3 weeks of the flood, to ask what their response is to anyone asking for a deferral and if they have reached out to Boulder Marathon runners to offer spot or deals.

This is what I receive: 
From: Dayle L. Wallien
Race Director, PVC Monument Marathon
Scottsbluff, NE  
We extended our registration deadline and kept it open as long as we could (our race is September 28) and I have still been trying to accommodate people who call in.  I also reached out to the Boulder Marathon Director (didn't hear anything back) offering to let runners run our race for free if Boulder wanted to provide their medals and shirts (because we already have ours here and we have some extras, but not a lot - we have SWAG, including race bags, medals and shirts for 15 more full marathoners and 50 more half marathoners) for their runners.  We suggested we would provide an additional silly shirt that said something like "We ran the Boulder, Colorado Marathon in Nebraska.

And, from the Jackson Hole Marathon: 
The Jackson Hole Marathon has been contacted by several individuals impacted by the floods in Colorado.  We have offered a full roll over to the 2014 event. 

Jay Batchen

Most I hear nothing from. I receive a few auto-response 'form' emails from other marathons stating that they do not give deferrals. Period. My friend, who's scheduled to run Steamtown and has more than $11,000 of damage to his home, is told - Sorry, "No deferrals" -  Even for those living in a disaster area???!!!

I send and email to SGM explaining my situation. I ask for a deferral, no refund, just a chance to run next year. I hear nothing...and nothing. I post on their Facebook page. Three days pass. Nothin'. I get frustrated, and say so on my FB post - things start getting heated, and others tell me to stop stirring up bad feelings.  

that night I decide to drop the whole thing, crawl into bed, and cry. Bad feelings indeed.

But when I wake the next morning I send one last email to the SGM, one last time.  And finally I receive a response from a real, honest to gosh human being!  
I’m sorry you have not been successful in contacting us.

I’ve gone through all email and phone messages but did not see anything from you - thinking I may have missed it or perhaps it went to junk mail. We still had you registered as well.

We have all heard about the flooding and the devastation created from it in your area – our thoughts and prayers are with everyone.

I have cancelled you from this year’s race. We will most definitely offer you a deferral to the 2014 St. George Marathon... 

We wish you the best
And that's really all it takes to make people who are having a hard time feel that someone out there cares. It really doesn't take much but this one email restored my faith in this whole enterprise into which I invest so much of my heart and soul. I only ask that other marathons extend the same offer. I did not ask for my money back. I simply asked to be allowed to run next year. What can be the downside to that? The goodwill you engender is worth so much more. The compassion you add to the world through your actions makes a difference.

“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” ~ Aesop

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

My First 50k: Great Cranberry Island Ultra

The thing about a 50k is that it really isn't a big deal. I mean, if you've run a few marathons (I've run more than a few) then it's no biggie, right? - 5 extra miles.  Baaaaaaa. How can you even call that an "ultra"?

And then it's a week away and the freak sets in. This was a little bit like giving birth (or the anticipation of it) for me. I never took a childbirth class - When I asked my doc if I should, she said, "Well, it depends on how comfortable you are with the whole thing". I spoke to all my momma friends and asked: "Did you get anything out of taking a childbirth class?" The singular reply I got was: "I learned how to breathe in and out", with accompanying demonstrations of the crucial breathing technique. Well, I thought, I already know how to do that. And I thought to myself, well, women have been giving birth since the beginning of humankind, so what's the big deal. Then at about 39 weeks I started to freak. It hit me: "OH MY GOD, this thing has to come out of me!!!". And a 50k felt the same way. It was no big deal, until it was right there and I had to do something I had never done before...


We land at the Manchester-Boston International Airport at midnight. Exiting the building from baggage claim to collect the rental car, we walk smack into an invisible wall of humidity. I let out a sigh and a quiet, resigned, 'uggggg', and we load up and head for the Econo Lodge.

The next day we head to Maine. The weather is heavy and thick. I know that lower altitude is supposed to feel good. I'm supposed to feel all light and oxygen enriched, but in reality I usually feel the weight of all that extra oxygen. Add to this the fact that my sinuses are in total revolt, and I feel like I'm moving through a world of mud with a fish bowl on my head - And I can honestly say that I am not feeling very psyched.

Two days before my first 50k, and I barely (NO exaggeration) stumble through 4.4 miles of jogging.

So for the next two days I fortify myself with Sudafed and nighttime Ibuprofen. I gotta clear this noggin, and I gotta sleep. NOW. I can not actually imagine running this thing right now.

I chill. We sail out to Little Whaleboat Island. I sleep. Things improve, a little.

 You can barely tell that my head is about to explode and make a big fat mess all over the deck, can ya??

And then we make our way north, a drive my husband and I used to make so often, from Brunswick to Bar Harbor to climb on Mount Desert. It has been a very long time. So much is the same - exactly the same as it was 19 years ago. That is both comforting and disconcerting. I'm not the same. And yet, I am the same.

We make our way through Southwest Harbor, in a steady rain, to the Seawall Motel situated right at a natural seawall.  It's thick-as-pea-soup foggy out now - and the cool, salty moisture feels good. Except for the gently lapping surf, all is quiet darkness out across the bay where I know Great Cranberry Island sits in wait. I stand on the second floor walkway, and look out where I know the island sleeps. I still can't quite get my head around this...

I wake at 7:30. At this time the air has a cool nip to it. If only we could be running now! The race starts at 11:30 (to allow people to get out to the island and for those who are camping to have time to set up their tents), but the boats only leave every two hours, so I need to catch the 9 a.m. boat. After a frantic search for the ferry dock (small Maine towns like to keep things interesting for those "from away") I jump out of the car in a bit of a fluster bid farewell to my husband and daughter, and trot down to the dock barely catching the boat. 

I'm on the boat with Jill (no longer 'just' a facebook friend) and her boyfriend Brian. Lot's of Marathon Maniacs on board - lots of chatter, introductions, stories shared - and we all know, or perhaps we don't know, what's coming. And I can't help but feel that we are somehow sailing off to battle...And I am reminded of what often plays through my head at these times:
From Shakespeare's Henry V, 1598:
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember'd;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.

I know. A little over the top. A little melodramatic, but there's something to it!

And all is peaceful...The calm before it all begins...

We arrive at the island and there are pickup trucks and decrepit island cars and golf carts a plenty to haul our stuff the 1/2 mile up the hill to the start. As we walk up this hill, it dawns on me that soon I will be running up it, quite a few times.

Then there's time to kill - it's only 9:30. I get my bib, introduce myself to Gary Allen (RD and head of Crow Athletic, a northern Maine running club of which I'm actually a member), park my self and my stuff in a shady spot on the porch of a church and stroll over to a little cafe for some much need coffee.

Clouds obscure the sun, but each time the sun comes out of hiding it feels like a stab of heat. Please, more clouds.

Finally 11:30 approaches. Speeches are made, the national Anthem is sung, and we're off...

 Thus begins the journey of 7.5 laps of  the island...

And everyone seems to take off like a shot. Here's what I'm thinking: "Ummm, folks, we have 31 miles to go. Where's everyone off to so fast??" You'd think that most of us have been around the proverbial block a few times and know better than to try to pull a jack rabbit start - but no. Everyone's happily chatting along as if this was just a fun little island jaunt. What's wrong with me??  Lots of people are running with friends. I have no friends - well Jill is here somewhere, but I don't know where. I trot along, alone, and the arch of my right foot is screaming at me. Now, I do have a right foot injury (from twisting my foot in a hardened horse hoof print on the trail months ago) nagging me (peroneal tendonitis at the 5th metatarsal attachment) but it's never been that arch! Okay. Work it out. (WTF!!)

We round the first turnaround and I'm heading back, seeing the people coming the other way. I spot Jill and Brian. We high five. A guy with a mohawk yells out "Go Chronic". I chuckle and wave, not sure I heard it right and too surprised to say anything. And the first miles tick along...

During this race we pass over the start/finish line, ummmm, I don't know, 14, 15 times - Oh, I can't possibly do the math. Our names are announced, and as always, people struggle with mine. But as I cross and head down the hill toward the next turnaround I hear my name. Then I hear, "Hey, I'm Facebook friends with you" over the loudspeakers. I wave and trot off.

Any remaining clouds burn off within the first hour and the sun beats down from the blue bird blue skies. The only saving grace is slight breeze that feels like a gift from the gods, though the gods could be a bit more generous!

Again I pass the guy with the mohawk - I hear, "Good job Chronic". Okay. I did hear that. "I can't believe you know that!", I call back. "Thanks". He responds, "It's easier than your real name". Then I hear a runner, 'Jim' is on his bib, call out, "Good job Caolan".

And so it goes, lap after lap after lap after lap. You see the same people, over and over and over. You cheer everyone on. They cheer you on. You get to 'know' them is a strange sense. The Islanders come out. They see how you're doing on lap 2...on lap 6... two women have cheered for me each time I pass their house: Lap 6 "Caolan, you're so consistent, so strong. great job" Ummm, I don't feel that way!

As the 80+ish heat and 75+% humidity begin to wear on me I stop at the table where we stash our stuff and pull out my bottle of HEED, pouring it into a smaller handheld. This is valuable time, time I don't ever allow in a marathon - but hey - THIS is an ULTRA, right? I do this 4 times over the course of the run, but I'm glad I did, even though I now wonder just how much time I "wasted" doing that.

As I cross the mark entering my last lap, I see my husband and daughter. My husband asks how much I have to go. Another lap, I tell him - which of course means nothing to him - but to me it means this is the hard one - the last 4 miles. And this lap is hard - really really hard. At the final turn, I can no longer calculate how far I have to go. I look at my Garmin, but still I'm second guessing it. Is it 1 or 2 miles left. Oh, I give up. Just run.

My adductors are cramping on the uphill, cambered roads - and I'm trying to delay the inevitable. With half a mile to go I suddenly realize that it's not the mile and a half I thought I had left. I see the flags that line the road leading to the finish, and my legs come alive. I push with all I have up the final hill to the finish. 5:04:44.

As usual, all is a blur after I cross the mat. All I can think is: "I gotta get these shoes off NOW". A volunteer runs up to me and loops a medal/belt buckle over my head. Another runs over with my finishers 'rock'. My daughter runs to me, excitedly animated as always asking things I can't quite make sense of. I hobble over to my bags - and stand there trying to figure out what to do first. I can't really move.

I wait for Jill. I talk with the people I've spent this long day with: Jim, Bob, Nancy, Maddy, John, Shawn, Zach and Juli... etc...all people I know now - who I didn't know this morning. 

We make our way the half mile back down to the boat dock. Doug (Welch), the guy with the mohawk, is still running, now with a beer in hand.
"How do I know you?" I call out to him. He walks over to me, "Facebook and your blog". "I really appreciate your support today. Thanks", I say. We chat for a bit. We hug, and he trots off up the hill.

And as we wait for our ferry back to Southwest Harbor, I stand in the icy waters looking across Frenchman’s Bay to Mount Desert and the rolling blue hills. And I am tired and hungry and salty and achy to the bone...and happy.

And that's the story of my first 'ultra'. Does that make me an "ultramarathoner"? I don't know. But it has changed me. And now the story continues...
“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face...You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”  Eleanor Roosevelt 

Everyone Seems to be Looking for "Motivation"...

  "Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going" ~ Jim Ryun It's January. For many of us that means cold...