Sunday, April 24, 2016

Running the Gettysburg Marathon without a Taper

Today, I ran a marathon for the first time without a taper.  In fact, this was my second to peek week in my training for Comrades.  Today’s 26.2 (or as my Garmin says 26.3) was run as part of a 70 mile week.  And despite that, the plan that Shannon developed for me was executed with precision.  Not perfectly, of course.  But with precision.

For the record, the elevation chart can be accessed here:  

As you can see there are climbs from 6 into 7, from 11 into 12, and from 17 into 18.

A running friend from Baltimore picked me up at 5 and we drove to Gettysburg.  We arrived a bit before 6:30 and had plenty of time before the race. 

I decided to run with knee brace on.  I put on sun screen.  I was down to shorts and my Back on My Feet tank.  My number was 80.  And I checked my bag.  I used the porta-potties twice before the race and thought I was fine. 

We lined up approaching 7:30.  I was closed to the front than I expected.  Was not sure of the technology to get times, but it worked wonderfully.  A gun (fired by someone in a Civil War uniform) fired the gun to start the race and we were off.

I was so near the front that I could have gotten caught up with a start down near 7:00.  But I could tell that it was considerably too fast, so I dropped back.  There were probably 30 people ahead of me total.  And after I settled down my first mile ended up being run at 7:35.  Right on the planned pace.  Shannon had pointed out that if my Garmin ended up at 25.3 (which they almost invariably do in races) that would put me right on. Second mile went by and I had run a 7:33.  So far I couldn’t get any better.

As I ran along somewhere in the 2-3 mile range, a runner my age came up and struck up a conversation.  He told me he was from Charlottesville and had run a few marathons to date.  He wanted to aim for a 3:15.  We chatted about our training.  Miles 3 and 4 went by in 7:33 and 7:19. 

The latter of those two really worried me. 

So, I managed to slow down mile 5 (after mentioning that this was a bit fast) and we ran 7:30.  Mile 6 was then down to 7:27. 

So, we ran mile 6.  I recognized that I had not had a Stinger at the start of the race.  I had begun the morning with a bowl of cinnamon and wheat cereal and soy milk at 4:30.  I then had a Stinger at around 6:45.  I should have taken one at the start of the race.  So, I consumed one as I approached mile 6.  The guy I was running with did closer to the water stop.  That was water stop number 3.  Throughout the race I took something to drink at each stop.  Early in the race that was all I took.  After I grabbed the cup, I realized I could not go on without stopping.  Since there were porta-potties at each water stop, I took the chance to stop.  I told my fellow runner that I would maybe catch him later.  I didn’t.  But it did allow me to slow down.  Between the pit stop and the hill going to mile 7, that mile was run at 8:12.

Moving along the next several mile were run at 7:28, 7:20, and 7:33.  The first two of those pretty much got me caught back up with the time I was trying to get.  Early in the race my Garmin and the race-marked miles matched closely.  As the race went on there was more separation.  I could do the mental math to figure out what time I should be at when I reached the mile markers. The calculations were part of what kept my mind busy.

Somewhere along the race there was a beautiful stream to run by.  There were many fields.  I ran by an alpaca that was standing at the fence of its farm and staring at the runners.  There was a very loud chicken coop.  And the support other than the water stops was minimal but nice.  A few people just stared.

As I ran through mile 11, it was run at 7:51.  The cool thing was that in this race I was able to recover each time.  Mile 12 was run at 7:20 again and mile 13 at 7:21.  Those felt like strong miles.  At some point in this range, I ran into a guy who was 25 and said he grew up in York.  We chatted for a bit.  And after a while on a down hill he started running ahead.  I let him go. It was not worth trying to keep up.  I told him to have a good race.  I had completed the first 13 miles in 1:38:12. 

In mile 14, I ran a 7:29 again.  And then there was a hill in the 15th mile and I ran a 7:50.  The ups and downs started getting to me.  I ran a 7:29 for mile 16.  I don’t remember at this point whether I yelled at a driver during mile 16 or mile 17.  But at that point, I had been running with traffic (not recommended but all runners were on that side).  I was behind two runners.  They were two I would eventually catch as I had so many others.  The two seemed to be communicating with the driver of a minivan.  After they passed the minivan driver started backing across the road to pull perpendicular to the road.  I don’t know if the driver somehow did not see me behind them or was just inconsiderate.  But her backing was slow.  And if I had not broken stride and changed direction to go around the car I would have run straight into it.  So, I yelled.  Startled the other two runners.  But there was no reason the person could not have waited. In any case, mile 17 was run at 7:35.

I felt like I had to work harder now to keep my time.  Very different from running 8:45-9 and feeling like I didn’t even have to breath hard.  Another up in miles 18 -19 and I ran 7:39 and 7:33.

This was where I truly had to face my own ability to persevere.  My stomach felt like I might have to stop again.  But I tried to relax.  And while I proceeded through mile 20 at 7:25 I regained my composure and ran right by the water stop.  As I passed the actual marker I was within just a few seconds of 2:31:40 and was ready to try to make the goal I had.

So, miles 21 and 22 were both run at 7:33.  This was at the stage of the race in which I would always take two cups.  Either both water—one to drink and one to dump on my head—or a water to dump and a Gatorade to drink.

I had taken my second Stinger during the race around mile 16.  I had felt a lot slower while consuming it.  So, I tried to avoid taking the third during the race.  My fuel belt ended up with one extra Stinger.

That 25 year old who had grown up in York.  When I spotted him originally he said he was hoping for a 3:30.  He did a lot better than that, but I did pass him.  Turns out that if you are thinking of a 3:30 and you catch up with someone who is running a 3:20, you will eventually run out of steam. 

Mile 23 was both fast and my saving grace for my overall time.  I pulled myself together to run a 7:14.  As I finished that mile and had just a little over a 5K to go, I was feeling good. 

For mile 24, I ran a 7:35.  At that point I saw what my time was and saw that I could afford to slow down a little if I still felt like I was under control.  I wanted to stay faster than 8 minute miles because I didn’t want to risk missing the opportunity I’d worked so hard for.  I thought of how Jackie ran the last four miles with me in Philly in 2014.  I thought of all the miles Lauren, and Joselyn, and Kristen had put in with me.  I thought of the fact that I was using money that my grandmother had left my mother and my mom had passed on to me.  I thought of how Shannon had little or no doubt I could complete this.  And as I headed into the neighborhood to run mile 25 before coming back out to the main road for the end of the race, I settled in for the end of the race.  Mile 25 was run at 7:52.  I passed one guy in the neighborhood who commented on how hard I was working.  I wanted the sub-3:20.

So, I continued on and came back out onto the main street leading to the last run.  Mile 26 was run at 7:41.  Amazingly enough the second 13 were run at 1:38:27.  Now, I realize that the first half included a pit stop, but I had run the two 13’s within 15 seconds of each other.

Then, there was the end.  I ran a 2:32.  Once I made the final turn, I could see the clock above the finish line and through all the effort to get there, I smiled.

Success.  15th overall.  Made my time.  Many choices available to me now.

And with the 7:34 over 26.3 or 7:36 over the official 26.2 distance, I have proven that I don’t need a taper to run a decent marathon.

No one had passed and stayed ahead of me from mile 2 forward.  And I had come back to pass many of the people who had gone in front of me at the start of the race.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

The Fallen Tree

In the early part of a run
Begun before 6 AM
On a familiar street
In a familiar part of town
We saw that a tree had fallen.
The tree looked like a strong tree.
Tall, good trunk, not sickly.
The tree was, in fact, in bloom.
Yet, when the tree
Met the strong winds
That had been blowing through the night
It was clear who won.  
The winds.
The tree spanned the street,
Preventing cars from passing.
Lucky for the cars
That were on the street,
It looked like the most damage
Would have been
Some scratches to the side of a truck
From the top and smallest branches
Of the tree.
And it is sad to see a tree ffallen.
And it is amazing to think of how long
The tree stood there.
Perhaps longer than either of us has been alive.
But when conditions were not
In the tree’s favor, the tree could not change.
Could not shift.
Could not turn itself away.
Could not protect itself from 
The whims of the winds.
While as runners—even as people—
We can adapt.  Change.  Shift.
Plan.  Resist.  React.
All characteristics that allow us
No matter how vulnerable one may feel
When running against the wind
To be there another day
While the tree that stood tall
And appeared mighty
No longer is there. 

So, I count my blessings.