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 later...so much is different...so 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, Ry...me. 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 drink...you 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

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...