Monday, October 17, 2016

Persistence, Patience, People

Today, I close out my 2016 fall marathon training season with one last entry about the run.  After I wrote out my long race report yesterday (from which I have heard comments about feeling like people were there, surprise that my running partner tossed her watch, and thanks for my last two paragraphs on running and friendship), I attended mass yesterday and Father Marty gave a homily focusing on the first two words: persistence and patience.

The readings yesterday at mass were about persistent prayer.  Father Marty commented on this in his homily and gave several interpretations.  First, in addition to the importance of persistence, patience is also important.  The two are not identical.  The priest reminded us of how our cell phones have made us expect immediate responses and how that flows over into other aspects of our lives.  If we fail to be patient we then forget that it is important to wait and to stick with things (persistence).  He then linked persistent prayer to living life as prayer.  My interpretation of that is that it is not just about saying prayers at church and repeating them over and over again in an unending chant.  It is about living out one's beliefs all day every day and not just the hour a week at mass while saying prayers.

Patience and persistence and living out one's beliefs are all important for marathon running.  Training takes a while (needing patience).  Training takes sticking with it over many long runs and many other training miles of various sorts (persistence).  The actual marathon run requires patience (one cannot go too fast too soon) and persistence (one has to keep going).

When running with another (as mentioned yesterday) it is an example of living out my beliefs in life--trusting another, being generous with time with another, having faith that everything will work out, and not wasting a step.  (All things related to the Bible verse from my bib number).

Every concept so far works for me in my Catholic beliefs as I listen to a priest but also can work for just about anyone regardless of their belief system as long as they believe in the good intentions of their fellow human beings--and I am willing to give anyone the benefit of the doubt until the person has proven otherwise.

Where does people come in?  There were plenty of people in both the Old Testament reading and the Gospel yesterday.  There were plenty of people at the marathon.  But the people I want to focus on in this particular entry are people I train with.  One of the things that training with people over the past six years (since marathon #1) and training more and more with people over the past year has done for me is to make me more ready to run with just about anyone.  It no longer takes months or years to understand, "I can run with this person just being present.  We don't need to talk the whole time."  It no longer takes me months or years to figure out how to challenge a fellow runner enough but not too much.  It no longer takes me months or years to figure out how to encourage someone.  And this has come from running with people again and again.  Just as with anything else in life--running with people requires practice.  The more one practices the better one gets.  That goes for many aspects of running.  Many aspects of life.  And the more I learn to relate to others, the better I can share the part of me that is "sure and steady runner" with those who want to experience that--whether sure and steady is based on pace or emotion or anything else.  

Sunday, October 16, 2016

My Bib Number was 1026 and I Carried an Under-Ripe Banana for 11 Miles

Baltimore Running Festival 2016 is now in the history books.  The morning began in the low 40’s with my getting up around 3, taking care of making a bread dough, walking the dog, and taking a quick shower.  I drove to my office, parked the car in my normal space below the Legg Mason building, and proceeded to walk over to the start/finish area of the marathon.  I found the Back on My Feet tent and met up with the person with whom I was planning to run the marathon. 

That was around 6:40. We had a little under an hour before the walk to the starting line.  Back on My Feet had its circle up featuring four resident members who were running different distances talking about how they prepared—one step or one mile at a time among other expressions.  We were by the M&T Bank Stadium where the Ravens play.  A portion of the stadium was open to provide extra access to bathroom facilities and I know that each of us made use of that before the start of the race.

I had pinned four nutrition packs to the outside of the shorts I was wearing.  I had consumed a bunch of calories the day before to give my body some extra reserve and then I consumed one of the nutrition packs a bit before the race.  The type I like to use is honey-based and I can consume it without needing water most times.  While waiting for the start I also took a little water and some of a bottle of Gatorade I had brought with me. 

I left my bag between some cubbies at the tent, had on only a thin throw-away long sleeve shirt on top of my Back on My Feet tank top, and we walked over to the start.  With less than 3,000 runners in the race, despite getting to the start line less than 15 minutes before the race, we were able to weave our way up to the 3:35 pacers.  A person I have referred to in the past as my running guardian angel was one of the three pacers.

After hearing from the mayor of the city (in the most animated state I’d ever seen or heard her) and the race chair, and a local Olympian from the last summer, someone sang a rousing rendition of the Star Spangled Banner and soon the race began. My GPS watch online data says it was 41 degrees.  I think it was a little warmer but it was a great temperature at the start. 

Here are the splits:

Cumulative Time

That first mile was slow largely because of just trying to get started.  While there were less than 3,000 runners in the race it was still a crowded start.  And that first mile is up toward Druid Hill park.  The second and third miles also were over 8 minutes.  Perfect pace for the 3:35 pace group.  But not what my partner for the day wanted to run—closer to a 3:30. A 3:35 would make her “Boston qualified.”  But given that people had to be more than a minute (and perhaps more than two minutes) under the actual qualifying time to get into Boston 2017, she wanted to be comfortably under 3:35.

The run through the zoo included keepers out with several animals.  A nice touch but none of the runners at that pace were spending a lot of time looking at the animals.  It’s mostly downhill through the zoo.  Then we were into Druid Hill park and headed toward the Johns Hopkins campus.  It was our first uphill other than the start and it set the standard for the day—increasing effort on the uphill.  So much easier to do when I am running with someone.  Hard to do on my own.  And even though I’ve only known Elysabeth over the past summer, we could run together at pace without having to say much.  I did encourage her to slow down just a bit as we ran toward JHU with the reminder—you’ll need this energy later.

So, the race went on—winding through Charles Village to get to St Paul and the long run down St Paul street.  We chatted sometimes and I updated her about the pace as we passed each mile.  Back at mile 2, I had missed the first water stop—unusual for me.  But that was the only one I missed during the race.  I saw my coworker Emmanuel on Light Street south of Pratt. 

As we were running along Key Highway toward the Under Armour headquarters, I saw my friend Joselyn.  She crushed the race yesterday—running a 3:14. Amazing.  I’ve never run a full marathon with her before, but that would have been incredible if I’d been able to keep up.  The key was, I had not trained up to that this time.

Every mile had a sign marking it.  Every five miles and at the half there was a clock too.  The clocks were apparently sponsored by Pandora.  That was a surprise to me, although with a local office, it is not a surprise that they should be an important sponsor.  We passed the half before it started.  If we’d been on pace for a 3:35 at least the front pack in the half would have begun already.  So, I knew we were ahead of schedule.  I forget what the exact time for the half was when we passed it and the marathon provides a 12.5-mile time rather than a 13.1-mile time (odd) but by my calculation from the splits we would have been at 1:44:38.  It couldn’t have gotten much more perfect than that.  It had warmed up quite a bit.  And even with just a tank top, I was drenched by mile 12. The part of the race on Light Street and Key Highway reminds me of the MCVET races on Memorial Day weekend when it is usually hot.  We chatted about that.

As we ran down President Street and into Harbor East, we eventually got to a water stop near mile 15.  It was the first one at which I remember food.  I had consumed one nutrition pack at that point, and I recalled consuming bananas during the Comrades run in South Africa.  So I took one.  I could immediately feel that it was slightly under-ripe.  So, I knew it would have been (a) a challenge to peel, and (b) not soft to eat.  That told me I didn’t want to consume it right away.  So, I carried it.  At some point, I think it was in the same area, my running partner for the day threw away her watch.  It was old and pretty close to dead and it was distracting her, so she got rid of it. 

The race went onto a street that I run on often with my most frequent training partner and over to Canton.  This was where the work for this marathon truly begins.  Up Linwood toward Patterson Park.  And we did just fine running up that hill.  At the southeast corner of Patterson Park is where we joined with the half marathon runners.  It gets a lot more crowded at that point.  Up Madison.  A reprieve running down Washington. Then up.  Across Sinclair—that was new, a little out and back.  Then up through Lake Clifton park.  Then up Harford.  Then up Hillen briefly.  Then down to Lake Montebello and around.  Running around the Lake there was less wind than in the past years I’ve run the race and that was good.  I still had the banana.  I was beginning to think about how to get rid of it.  I didn’t feel I needed more calories.  Two nutrition packs is what I’ve used in many marathons (although my coach usually recommends more like four).  My stomach was feeling fine.  A little cramp at one point but not enough to stop me.  I suppose I could have just tossed it, but I didn’t want to waste it. 

Coming off the lake we hit the 33rd Street “hill”.  It is infamous within the Baltimore running community.  A hill that is actually pretty small but that feels like a lot after 20+ miles.  Once we hit the top of that hill, we knew we were near the Back on My Feet water stop.  That was fun to pass as we got a big shout out.  A Back on My Feet member had run with us for a brief bit back around Lake Montebello as he was on the way to the water stop on the north side of the lake.

We reached 33rd and Guilford and turned south toward 29th street.  There was loud music at the top of Guilford.  Then, I passed my son as his girlfriend who gave a nice shout out.  Then, the Eye of the Tiger guy and we turned onto 29th.  At 29th and Howard some of Elysabeth friends cheered her own and we began the final few miles.

The run down Howard Street was comfortable.  We were counting down miles.  At one point Elysabeth had made a comment about concern about keeping going.  I told her to let me know if she felt bad but that she had worked too hard and come too far to do anything other than finish as strong as possible. 

Going down Howard we went over the bridge and by the underpass.  Then we hit MLK and the turn onto Eutaw.  There was just a mile and a half or so to go.  And we were on target for a time that would not only be under 3:35 but that would be under 3:30. We just had to hang on.

And that was just what we did.  We held on and ran strong all the way through.  Each of us occasionally running ahead and then the two of us coming together.  And as we approached the finish line with the clock overhead, I pointed out just how fast we had gone.  We crossed the line and the feeling of accomplishment was amazing.  If she wants to go to Boston, she can and will get in with ease.  I was incredibly proud of her.  And it was an amazing feeling of giving.

We reflected on how we had probably run the fastest miles uphill.

What was so different about this race?  First, I had never run a full race with one person ever before.  Baltimore 2010—I didn’t know anyone at my pace.  Baltimore 2011—I knew a few people, but didn’t stay with.  NCR 2011—knew one or two and didn’t stay with.  Lower Potomac 2012—didn’t know anyone else there.  Boston 2013—knew a couple but did not run with.  Philadelphia 2014—ran the last four miles with my “running guardian angel.”  Freedoms Run 2015—ran 19 miles with Lauren but needed to finish faster than she was able.  Gettysburg 2016—traveled with a guy but ran alone, taking the opportunity to chat with a few people as we went along.  So, this was the first time, I spent nearly three and one-half hours running with one person. 

What else?  I still had that banana at the end of the race.  I was peeling and eating it before we got to the food at the finish line.   I finally was hungry enough and had the time to focus on peeling the banana.  As expected it took a little extra effort to peel and it was definitely a solid banana that would not have been easy to consumer while running at virtually any pace.

Elysabeth asked if I had any post-race rituals.  I talked about walking—which I did a good bit of.  I should have also said writing—here it is.

Finally, I want to reflect on the bib number.  I had been trying to find spiritual meaning in my running ever since my first marathon.  So, the 1026 takes me to John’s gospel—chapter 6, verse 10 plus 2 more.  Here is the Catholic version:

Jesus said, “Have the people recline.” Now there was a great deal of grass in that place. So the men reclined, about five thousand in number. Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed them to those who were reclining, and also as much of the fish as they wanted. When they had had their fill, he said to his disciples, “Gather the fragments left over, so that nothing will be wasted.”

This is just after one of the apostles had identified a boy with five loaves and two fish.  Interesting that I was making bread before the marathon (which my 11-year-old completed so that he could take it to the last garden club meeting for the fall).  This is a story with no waste—related to my carrying the banana 11 miles.  And this is a story of generosity and trust.  The boy’s generosity.  Maybe others generosity—perhaps the miracle was just people giving and sharing rather than a true multiplying.  There was also trust among the people that if they did what they were told things would work out.  And a faith in others.  That was all true yesterday.

Yesterday’s marathon was not the fastest total or in Baltimore.  Of course, qualifying for Boston while having no one to run with was a big deal.  Boston itself was a big deal as proof of my ability.  But yesterday’s was one of the more meaningful.  Running can be a very lonely sport sometimes.  But yesterday was a day of teamwork to achieve something amazing for someone else.  And that provides a feeling like few others. 

And since I often reflect on second chances in this blog, this was my second chance to help someone else achieve a marathon goal.  And this time, we executed perfectly.