Sunday, February 27, 2011

Training Week Eight Recap (118 days to go)

The most amazing week of my life is coming to a close. I enjoyed a week at home, hanging out with my girls, getting to know my little daughter, trying to relish every moment...and sneaking out the door for a run. After all, I can't let little Nora down come that last weekend of June!

Monday: 14.15 miles, nice and easy after Sunday's tempo run.

Tuesday: 6.28 mile recovery run...I picked it up at the end.

Wednesday: 8.62 miles, again nice and easy.

Thursday: 9.56 miles, including 6x800s with a 400 jog rest in 2:51, 2:52, 2:53, 2:54, 2:53, 2:51. It was pouring rain, and it felt like the headwind hit me over 300 of the 400 meters. Overall, I was happy with the workout.

Friday: 3.16 miles. This was a rest day before Saturday's race.

Saturday: 12.14 miles, including a 15k race in the Big River Running Company's Castlewood Cup.

I finished the trail race through Castlewood State Park just a few miles from my house in 1:03:43 (6:51 average), good enough for 5th of 322 finishers and 2nd in my age group. I ran most of the race in 7th place, after the pack spread out at the top of the huge hill just before the first mile marker, and I was pleased that I had enough kick in the final mile to pass two runners with a little gusto. I'll add a photo of the creek crossing once they're uploaded online. Overall, a well-run event over a challenging and diverse course with great post-race food (barbecue pulled pork) and a keg of Bud Light. I'd definitely recommend this race to local runners.

Sunday: 12.33 miles. My legs were pretty sore from the previous day's race.

Total Week Eight: 66.24 miles

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Training Week Seven Recap (123 days to go)

I've got a good excuse for falling behind on the blog last week. A really good one, if I do say so myself. The best one ever:

Beth and I welcomed a beautiful and healthy daughter on Saturday, February 19th. Nora Marie weighed 7 pounds 2 ounces and measured 19 3/4". She's got her daddy's ears and her momma's good looks...and she's stolen both of our hearts. But don't think she's made me forget about running!

Here's a quick photo of Nora and me taken with my cell phone. I'd been up for over 40 hours at that point, since she decided to start her arrival one minute after I crawled into bed on Friday night and didn't arrive until 3:35 the next afternoon. I've have more photos in a post to come later this week (if I find some time to type it up).

Here's a quick recap of my training during Nora's birth week. It was a cutback week for me mileage-wise after three mileage PRs in the previous four weeks, and I was paying particular attention to my sore left foot that didn't hurt when I ran, but had a faint soreness that appeared whenever I was sitting around (and with a desk job, that's too often).

Monday: 5.33 miles nice and easy.

Tuesday: 10.17 miles, including 7 miles in the middle that got progressively faster: 7:18, 7:27, 7:17, 6:59, 6:57, 7:04 (oops), 6:51.

Wednesday: 6.28 miles nice and easy under a full moon rising in beautiful 60 degree weather.

Thursday: 10.06 miles, including six half mile hill intervals along Skinker Boulevard in Forest Park. I rocked this workout, if I do say so myself...and temperatures hovering around 70 at 6 PM didn't hurt my ability to do so!

Friday: 6.20 miles nice and easy the next morning.

Saturday: 3.25 miles. The plan had been 16 with 13 at tempo, but little miss Nora had other plans. I didn't complain. Oh, no, I didn't complain.

Sunday: 16.12 miles, including 13 at tempo. Does this workout sound familiar? Beth told me to go get my run in, and I decided a mile or two into the run to give Saturday's plan a shot. I expected to pull up after 8 or 10 miles on account of exhaustion from being at the hospital for 36 hours, but my legs were adrenaline-powered. I averaged 7:10/mile for the 16 plus, with the 13 tempo paced well under 7 minutes.

Total Week Seven: 57.41 miles...which would have been a top ten mileage week for me before I started my WS100 training. It's hard to believe that I missed out on a 14 miler that was schedule for Sunday, and which, by the way, I made up on Monday.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Training Week Six Recap (132 days to go)

Week Six is in the bag, and for the third time in four weeks, I've set a mileage PR! It was a goofy weather week...extremely cold temperatures much of the week, finishing up with 60 degree weather today.

Monday: 6.25 easy miles.

Tuesday: 10.12 miles, including 7 tempo miles. I ran this entire run on an indoor track, 8 1/2 laps to the mile. After 86 laps, I was finally done. It was not fun.

Wednesday: 8.12 miles. Hey, I just finished 86 laps last night...why not do another 69 this morning? The best thing I can say is that it was done.

Thursday: 9.18 miles, including a pyramid of intervals on the Clayton HS track. 800/1200/1600/1200/800...overall, a pretty consistent performance. I had never run on this track before, and I guess you could say I still haven't, because it still had several inches of hard-packed ice and snow on it. My shoes never touched the track itself. Unlike my usual track, however, it did not appear to be used regularly, so the surface was flat, if not fast. I ran in the dark, and on occasion I'd feel my left foot step on something soft (the infield) or I'd release that I'd swung wide on the dark turn into the fifth lane. It was an unusual workout.

Friday: 8.12 easy miles. The air temperature was about 10 degrees this morning, but the windchill was brutally cold, hovering at or below zero. I didn't cover my face, and I regretted it.

Saturday: 26.60 miles in three loops of the Lewis Trail. I had a 24 mile run scheduled, but I screwed that up when I decided to run my second loop on the 8.2 mile Lewis Trail in reverse...only to make a wrong turn onto the shorter Clark Trail. It's a bad habit I need to kick, but then again, I'm out running in the woods without any signs. Oh well. It was a beautiful day--temps were in the low 50's--but the trail was still an icy mess. I took my time, finishing each lap in about 90 minutes. I don't know for sure, though, because my Garmin battery died less than two miles into the run while I was fixing my Camelbak strap that broke. I obviously didn't have a good start.

This run had two highlights. The first was running into a four high school-aged hikers about 2 1/2 miles into my run. They asked how far it was to the start, and I told them a bit over 2 miles. Groans all across the group. I was back to my car putting on dry clothes and drinking a gatorade, about 5 1/2 miles later for me, when they emerged from the woods. I asked if they were okay, and they groaned again...when I hit the trail again, one of the boys asked me what I was doing. I said, "Two more laps." They laughed and said, "You're crazy, man!" If they only knew.

The second was on my final lap. I met up with a guy who was running with his dog. We started chatting, and he mentioned befoer I even told him why I was out there that he'd paced a friend several times in Western States! Needless to say, Bert and I had a lot to talk about over our 4 or 5 miles running together. If you're out there reading this, Bert, shoot me a note hello! It was a pleasure running with you!

Sunday: 14.12 miles. This one hurt. I wore shorts, which was great, because temps rose to about 60 degrees. The goal had been 14 miles, 10 at tempo. I hit miles 2-11 in a range of 6:55 to 7:31 (it was a BIG hill!), and while my legs felt okay, they didn't hate me when we got home.

Total Week Six: 82.51 miles. This was a huge PR, by over 10 miles from last week's previous high of 72.05. I certainly will enjoy this week's cutback week. And of course, the big question is when our little one will arrive! 132 days till race day, but only 10 days until the due date!

Friday, February 11, 2011 first dream race (134 days to go!)

I know I'm going to run 100 miles in June, and I realize I ran over 50 miles last July, but I'm not foolish enough to believe that this makes me an ultrarunner, at least not in ultrarunning circles. I'm still a marathoner, not that there is anything wrong with that. Long before I set my sights on Western States, and only minutes after I crossed the finish line of my first marathon, I focused on Boston. Like Western States, Boston has qualifying time requirements. Runners in States must have finished a 50 miler in under 11 hours, a 100k in under 14 hours, or any official 100 mile race. A runner of my age and gender must run a marathon in 3:10:59 or faster to qualify for Boston. So with that finisher's medal newly placed around my neck in October 2005, I started thinking about Boston. I've been fortunate enough to run it three times now, each time progressively faster, and I've set two personal records there. I'm even signed up for the 2011 race, though I'm going to eat that registration fee now that I'm running Western States. Like so many love the WSER, I love Boston. Here's a re-publication of the race report from my 2010 Boston Marathon that I first shared with my friends at Runners World.

Ah, Boston. I knew you were fun, having run you twice, but I forgot just how fun you really are. In fact, I started cheating on you, telling folks that I really loved Twin Cities, and small marathons are nice change of pace, and even Chicago, but for their race director, has its virtues. How quickly one forgets. But how easy it is to fall for your first love all over again. And while Boston was my third marathon, it was undoubtedly my first love when it came to this little long distance running crush I've developed.

The 114th running of the Boston Marathon was my 10th marathon and 3rd Boston, having run the Nor'easter of 2007 and coming back for a do-over in 2008. It was the first one where I didn't travel out with a running partner (having run '07 with my college roommate and '08 with two running friends from back home). It was the first marathon I ever ran where my better half wasn't in attendance, having been unable to avoid a trial date. In spite of these things (and not because of them, honey), it was, by far, my favorite race to date.

Training went well this spring. I loosely followed Higdon's 12 week Boston plan, for the most part following his Monday through Thursday, running a mile on Friday for my "rest day" (my running streak is at about 8 months right now), then lengthening my long runs. I did three 20 milers this cycle, one very fast, one on my hardest hills course, and one on a nice and easy flat course two weeks before Boston. I topped out at 62 miles 4 weeks out (the first time I had ever gone over 60 miles), and I hit mid-50's on several occasions. My average weekly mileage over 12 weeks was 45 miles. My speed work went well, and I even did a set of 10 Yasso 800's a few weeks out at an average of about 2:48 (foreshadowing?). I felt great. And then I was sitting in urgent care and hoping for a miracle. It came, but it wasn't from that visit!

I headed out to Boston on Saturday morning with a cough and a smile. It was Day 12 of a stupid virus that had left me, at various times, phlegmy (okay, that one was pretty common), coughing (non-stop), short of breath on quite a few of my taper runs, battling a sore throat, and wiping a runny nose. What better to do than to expose your imaginary friends to it? The weekend was what I expected--great company, good beer, and a lot of laughs. For those of you who aren't reading this on the forum, I should explain that while I headed to Boston on my own, I was, in reality, meeting 40 or 50 people who have been my friends, virtually, on the Runners World Online forum for the past 3 years. Of that group, I'd only met one of them who was going to be there in person. But when I walked into the hotel bar on Saturday afternoon, it was like attending a college reunion. What a group!

Sunday was the usual--quick and easy 2 miler after watching the BAA 5k race (and being touched on the shoulder in passing by marathon legend Uta Pippig!). I attended the rain-delayed Red Sox game with friends, lucky to be under the grandstand even if we were crammed in chairs that were obviously made, size-wise, for a different generation of Americans. After Twin Cities, I realized I freaked out too much about what I ate and drank, so like Twin Cities, I had a beer at the park and ordered a glass of wine at the pasta dinner that night. Dinner was with a large group of friends, and we laughed like crazy throughout it. You wouldn't guess that we probably all felt those familar butterflies in our stomachs. The only downside to dinner was that the cough returned...and wouldn't go away. I went to bed around 10:30 p.m. with a crazy cough.

The alarm sounded around 5 a.m. the next morning, and I was off with the group by 5:45. The weather was perfect--the sun was rising, temps in the low 40's, and not a chance of rain after a rainy weekend. We set up at what we called the Red Dot--a spot where the RWOL forumites all decided to make a home base. Again, laughter, hugs, and a general good time. One wouldn't guess that we had to run 26.2 miles back to our hotel! It really was the most calm I'd ever been before a race, which is saying something given that this race starts at 10 a.m., while most others fire their starting guns by 8 a.m.

When I got to the lobby in the hotel that morning, I met an imaginary friend for the first time: bkw1982! Blake and I realized after our fall marathons that our times that fall, despite different courses, were very similar. We also realized that we ran almost identical times in our last Bostons--his in '09, mine in '08. At some point last fall, we thought it'd be good to run together. In retrospect, we couldn't imagine what a good idea that was!

Blake and I walked down to the start corrals with our friend Cope. We all needed one more pit stop, so I'd like to say it was a relaxed atmosphere, but I'd be lying. We finally found some portapotties in the Hopkinton Town Square. Cope was smart and picked the line without kids. Blake and I fell in the shorter line behind some parents and their kids. We didn't see Cope again until we were out on the course. I think you can guess which of the three of us had kids of our own. Fortunately, one of the fathers let Blake and me cut in front of him and his little one. We were quick, and then we jogged back to the corral. For the first time, I was in Corral 1, which put me in the first 1000 runners of 13,000 in the first wave. Every runner is assigned a starting corral based on their qualifying time. I barely made it into Corral 1 (I think I made the cut by 13 seconds), so I expected to be run over by the hares flying out of Corral 2...and I knew I couldn't keep up with the likes of my friends Bird and Tom, who are 2:35ish marathoners, almost 20 minutes faster than me.

I'm a talker (surprise!), and I was having fun in Corral 1. This was a lean group of guys and gals who looked like runners, not football players like me. I'm 190 pounds, probably the heaviest guy in the corral. So what better to do than to challenge the entire corral to an arm wrestling match? No takers. My guns must have been too intimidating. Maybe next time. It was good for a few laughs, if nothing else.

In spite of the illness, I felt pretty good. Pre-cold, I thought I was in 2:50 shape, which would have been a huge PR. With cold, I figured I'd pace out on Nike's 2:54 pace band, with a positive split, and hoped to have a little kick to bring it in.

We were off, crossing the starting line 23 seconds behind the elite men. From the get-go, I felt good. Blake and I fell into a steady pace, maybe a tad fast from my wristband, but nothing too bad. He told me early on that he'd never run with another person. Little did he know he picked the most talkative guy he could for his first effort.

Blake was clicking his lap button on the mile markers:

Mile 1: 6:32
Mile 2: 6:30
Mile 3: 6:23.

I was using a Garmin, and I ended up being slightly ahead of the mile markers by Mile 2. We crossed the 5k in 20:02. This was pretty much what we had in mind early on, maybe a tad fast, but we were both feeling good. Somewhere in there, we found Cope and talked to him for a few minutes. Since I hadn't had a chance to wish him good luck, I was pleased to see him on the course. He looked good, and his finishing time proved it (even if he'd say it wasn't a perfect race, he ran a pretty darn good one).

It might be the product of nearly a week passing us by, but I really don't have a lot of specific memories from the race. I know I "gu-ed" around miles 4, 9, 13, 17, and 21. (That was for Dhuey.) I always love the biker gang that hangs out in Ashland, I think it is (or is it Framingham?)...they rev up their Harleys and just look bad ass. I'm not sure what brings them out for the race, but they're there every year, and I'm always happy to see them and their ZZ Top beards. I was wearing my name on the front of my shirt, something that came in handy as the race wore on and I realized I was only the second guy passing through that the crowd knew the name of....after Ryan Hall, and he needed no introduction. I guess it's one of the luxuries of being a bit of an attention whore. I do distinctly remember some guy sitting at a bar on a built-in open air patio room on the third story of his house that yelled down at me "Go Chad!" He was a long ways away...I couldn't believe he could see my name. Beyond that guy, I've run several big marathons, but nothing is more amazing than 26.2 miles of point to point racing with people shoulder-to-shoulder on at least 23 miles of the course, and thick crowds in every city, and every single one of them cheers for you. You. Like you're related to them, and they came out there just to see you pass through. Chicago is nice, and the crowds have their moments...but the Boston suburbs and their residents know how to cheer on a marathon. Simply amazing stuff.

As I recall, we passed by Rick and Dick Hoyt, the father and son wheelchair legends, in Mile 9. I started a little tradition back in my first Boston, and when I see them, I start yelling at the crowd to cheer for them. They're just about the most inspiring athletes I know, and if you're reading this (Grandma, this is for you) and don't know who they are, run a search for them on Google and watch the movies and read the stories and prepare to cry. Inspiration at its best.

Blake's watch showed the following splits through Wellesley:

Mile 4: 6:27
Mile 5: 6:41
Mile 6: 6:30
Mile 7: 6:29
Mile 8: 6:33
Mile 9: 6:26
Mile 10: 6:35
Mile 11: 6:27
Mile 12: 6:26
Mile 13: 6:22

Mile 13, in Wellesley, hit me the wrong way, and I really felt it in my stomach. As a result, I didn't even think to look for my buddy D-man, who was manning the first Gatorade position as I passed through. And here I gave the guy a hard time about making sure I could see him.

To recap our official splits, we hit the second 5k in 20:28, a tad slower than the first one. We came through the next 5k to 15k in 20:11. The 20k 5k split was 20:10, and it was somewhere in here that I did the unprecedented...I mentioned to Blake that we might be on to something special that day. I think he wanted to kick me in the shin. He quickly mentioned something about his hamstring, so I talked about my cough (which did rear its ugly head on at least two occasions, but overall, was pretty subdued) and a faint pain I felt in my left calf and hip. Luckily, the Gatorade and Gu mix gave me something very real to be worried about in Mile 13, so I did spend much of the rest of the race wondering if I was going to actually hit the confessional (a portapotty stop, Mom) or just let it fly. Nothing happened...thankfully. I was a believer before those 13 miles, but I have no doubt my prayers were heard along the way.

I've read that a few folks have criticized the Wellesley College Scream Tunnel. I don't entirely get it. I'll agree that Boston College seems to fuel their cheers with more and more alcohol each year (thankfully for us), so they're getting louder and louder and out on the curbs for longer. But it's not the Wellesley girls' fault they can't form a tunnel anymore, and it is inspiring stuff to hear that high pitched monotone scream from a quarter mile away. I don't know if they were quieter this year or not, but they got me jacked and pumped, to quote my least favorite and disgraced college football coach Pete Carroll. I moved in, not for a kiss (that'd cost me a second and lead to a minute), but for some high fives, and I gave a high five to every single girl I saw along that campus. The tunnel is about a quarter mile long, and I dropped my speed to a sub-6 pace accidentally through there. When I emerged, deaf and ready to go, I looked for Blake, and he was about 5-10 seconds behind me, laughing. He mentioned that we should slow things down for a bit before we hit the hills in Mile 16, and I we promptly ran a 6:26 mile. We crossed over the half marathon point in 1:25:11, and I think we both figured we'd go positive splits and finish in a 2:52 or 2:53 (PRs for both of us). But forget that....we still have 13 miles to run!

We did cruise through Mile 15, which is mostly flat, before entering Hell's Alley and the first of the hills. Looking back, we didn't really talk about our hill strategy. I knew I was strong on the uphills, and I figured Blake's long legs would allow him to catch me on the downhills. Overall, I guessed right.

Mile 14: 6:26
Mile 15: 6:34
Mile 16: 6:24
Mile 17: 6:37
Mile 18: 6:28
Mile 19: 6:31

I think I spent most of the first three hills talking to Blake about the Johnny Kelley statue. He'd never seen it, and based on my role as a tourguide, pointing it out only to discover that it was not, in fact, the statue, but just an intersection, or a portapotty, or someone's house, you'd think I never had either. But I finally did point it out, and I saluted him and noted that I only needed to finish this race, and 58 more Bostons, to tie his record of 61 Boston Marathons. Whew.

Blake and I got separated on the third hill, but he caught back up to me as we climbed Heartbreak. In fact, he actually shouted at me that he was there and was going to try to hang on. We both were feeling it a bit, but I think we both were more afraid of a big crash and burn than anything. I knew my stomach had settled to a managable level, and while my hip and calf were sore on the left side, I figured I could fight through it. It wasn't pain, just a little niggle, as L'ard might say. When I saw that Blake had caught a second wind and fought up Heartbreak Hill (which, honestly, isn't that big, for those of you reading who haven't run this's just placed at a bad time...Mile 20 or so, when your legs are shot and you start believing your self-doubt), I knew he was going to be fine . I had no idea how fine that really would be.

The BC crowds were great. Sorry, BC, but I hate you guys in football season. You're insufferable. You're like the ugly stepchild of my existence. Yes, you've got my boys' number and beat us more often than not, but it's because you seem to care so much that we fall like Goliath. But on Marathon Monday? You're all my best friends. Unreal. Entire groups of drunk young men chanting my name. Offers of beer (I said no). Even a "Go Irish!" or two (well, okay, I didn't hear any THIS year, but in '08, I heard several) in response to my Notre Dame sweatband and the fact that I write "Go Irish!" under my name on my shirt. Someday, I may just come spectate, and if I do, I'll bring a keg of Bud Light and a tap to the top of Heartbreak Hill and enjoy the day with the heirs to the fine men and women who inspired me to chase my goals.

When you peak Heartbreak Hill, you're on top of the course. It's "all downhill from there," except the hills you still have to climb. But it is a fast downhill, and I did pass through campus without having to pull over to stretch like I did in '07. Blake was somewhere close behind me, so I was on my own inaccurate Garmin readings from here on out....

Mile 20: 6:22 (which basically is coming up and over Heartbreak for the non-Boston runners reading)
Mile 21: 6:26
Mile 22: 6:03 (WTF?)
Mile 23: 6:11
Mile 24: 6:14
Mile 25: 6:09
Mile 26: 6:10
And the final .2...who cares? It was going to be a huge PR!

My better half has watched each of my previous two Bostons at Coolidge Corner, around Mile 23, on the left side of the road next to a nice little pub. I had made a habit of saying hello to her as I passed over each 5k course chip reader, and when I passed by her old look-out point, I blew a quick kiss in that direction. The girl standing in Beth's spot liked that. Or so I'd like to think. A few minutes earlier, when I passed over the 35k marker in a 20:27 split, I wasn't quite as nice in saying hello. Like Twin Cities, when I saw my dad at Mile 17, I told her, in slightly cleaned up terms for this story, "I don't know what I'm doing, but let's hope I can hold on."

I was flying, by my standards, at this point. I felt good. I do not recall seeing anyone pass me in the last 6-8 miles. I was picking off runner after runner, a half-smile on my face, and I knew that if I just didn't fall victim to the sniper I saw shooting the leg muscles of those around me, bringing them to a stop on a dime after running 6 minute miles for 23 or so miles, I was going to meet my goal of a sub-2:50 6 months earlier than planned. The crowds were energizing. They were buzzed from the excitement of this event and the cold beverage in their cups. They cheered me on like I was heading for the big pay day that Robert K. Cheriuyot got that day. In their eyes, there was no difference. And I started to cry. I remember the tears forming for the first time when I saw the Citgo sign, about 2.2 miles from the finish. The Citgo sign marks the 1 mile to go mark, and I knew then that I had the gas I needed to finish this race strong. I started to cry, thinking about an email I'd received the night before the race, telling me and so many others who had been hoping for a miracle that our friend JJ was in his final hours. I started to cry, thinking about all of those late night meals I'd shared with Beth after my runs, selfishly, really, since she got up each morning for her run, but I couldn't...I wouldn't. I'm just not a morning person. Marathoning is such a self-centered sport. In the end, we run the 26.2 miles for ourselves. We might raise money for charity. We might dedicate our race to someone. But in the end, I have no choice but to use the first person plural. Maybe I'm wrong. I don't know. But I can't ignore the fact that we do it to make ourselves better, to look at the world through a different scope, to dream, to achieve dreams. We do it for an old friend who fought, for 8 months, an ultimately lethal disease, knowing that the pains I felt as I "dropped the hammer" compared nothing to his looking death in the eyes and still punching back...again and again, when so many thought it hopeless. I didn't know it then, but one day later, he lost that fight--we're all going to someday--but that extra day on this earth, that extra moment with a loved one, that's what we're pushing for every single day. That's what makes it worthwhile. And as I made that right on Hereford and left on Boylston, missing my friends Troy and Sully's gift of a cannoli along the way (don't worry, guys, I looked for you, but I would have turned it know that!), I found the emotions overcoming me.

I crossed that finish line in a new personal record of 2:48:50, five minutes and 38 seconds faster than I'd ever run a marathon before. And I cried. I couldn't help but not. A volunteer approached, probably expecting to take me to a medic tent, but when she saw the smile on my face and the tears on my cheeks, she let me go. She knew. I was going to be okay. I was okay. And it was a journey I'd never forget.

Not more than 30 or 40 seconds passed and I felt a hand on my shoulder. It was Blake. He'd crushed his PR by about 4 minutes, finishing sub-2:50 for the first time. We hugged. We cried....okay, maybe that was just me. But we were emotional, bonded by that experience we shared together. To think I'd just met him that morning for the first time in "real life." I don't think I'm out of line when I say that I think he'd agree with me--we've each got a friend for life.

You guys know the post-race. I couldn't find a portapotty, so I shuffled through the streets of Boston, thanking volunteers along the way, got my stuff, and walked the 10 feet to the hotel. It might have been 50 feet, I don't know, but that was a one close hotel. My friend (and WS100 pacer) Bird was already there, and I walked in, triumphant, singing "Bird Bird Bird....Bird is the word." He was gracious enough to swap finishing times with me (2:33, buddy? Really? With the blueberry beer and cannoli incident?), grab my stuff, and watch me sprint to the men's room....not that this story needed that. I kept thinking that I'd head back out to Boylston to cheer folks on, but I forgot just how fast this gang as each of you came in, each with your own 20 paragraph story (some of you were nice and shortened it...significantly...not me!), we toasted our days, our races, our friendship. We took calls from friends and family across the country and the world. We had those little golden moments, like my conversations with my wife, my mom, my dad, and my mother-in-law, all of which were emotional, powerful, touching...and then I wandered up to my room, long after most of the group had showered, to cleanse myself. I was buck naked, water running, when I heard my cell ring in the room. I wandered out--why not? I've got the room to myself--and saw it was a seven digit number starting with 0. No idea who it was. And the voice on the other line opened with a taunt--"I thought you were supposed to get slower when you turned 30." I laughed, a bit buzzed, mystified at who it was...we bantered for a minute, and then I must have said something funny, because I recognized the laugh. It was my little brother, from Iraq, and he'd watched the entire race on Universal Sports over there on his Army base. He'd been gone for 5 weeks, and we hadn't talked yet. As I told him, his wife and son were more important calls than me. But he found some crappy connection (it took three calls to complete our conversation) and we shared that moment together. I'm no soldier, and I'm no hero. But he is. I'm thankful for that 10 minutes we shared together (though I wish I had been wearing some pants), and like JJ, I'd be lying if I said he wasn't there with me on that run. I wrote two sets of initials on my name sticker--MC, for my brother, and JJ, for my friend. They both were there with me in spirit on that run.

So...that's my day. I'd tell you about what happened next, but that's what I call my "second marathon," where I complete 26 of something entirely different...gotta get the carbs. And I think I was successful, as some of you could attest.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Training Week Five Recap (138 days to go)

A day late, but hopefully not a dollar short, here's a recap of Week Five:

Monday: 7.60 miles...nice and easy morning run, a rare effort made necessarily by the threat of freezing rain that afternoon. It was, after all, going to be the biggest storm since 1982.

Tuesday: 9.12 miles in the gym, much of it on the "dreadmill" because we had a couple inches of ice that had frozen over every surface. I did manage 6 miles at a 6:49ish tempo pace while watching local TV reporters report from every corner of the metropolitan area about the weather, including 10-20 inches of threatened snow on the way. It was riveting. Also, as I explained to a marathoner friend, my ultra tempo pace is not the same as my marathon tempo pace.

Wednesday: 8.15 miles nice and easy. I ran this in the street because my taxpayer money was put to good use, and by mid-afternoon the roads were clear. How is that possible, you might ask? The experts said we were going to get nearly two feet of snow! Oh, we got 3 or 4 inches. But the sidewalks? Still dangerously frozen over even today as I type.

Thursday: 8.15 miles again, including 5 up and down hill intervals on a street hill that didn't promise to break me in half like my usual hill.

Friday: 6.12, again nice and easy.

Saturday: 20.76 on the Greenrock Trail. When my alarm went off at 6 a.m. and I looked out the window, I was elated to see 4-5 inches of fresh powder. And then I remembered that I was not going skiing. After a slow drive to the trail head, I set out in the fresh snow. There was one set of footprints ahead of me that I relied on as my navigational tool, and I caught up to a fellow St. Louis ultrarunner around my second mile. David and I ran the next 13 miles together, taking turns breaking in the trail, and I'm proud to report we only had 3 or 4 wrong turns. I ran the final five miles at a brisk pace. The entire run took me over 4 1/2 hours!

Sunday: 12.15 miles in the neighborhood roads, since all of the sidewalks in the area are still iced over. I ran the middle 9 at a tempo pace of about 6:45. I was hungry when I got to the Super Bowl party.

Total Week Five: 72.05 miles, another mileage PR! Perhaps the most surprising thing is how good my body feels. I can feel a weariness in my legs at times, but they're still responding. Even more importantly (knock on wood), I don't have any niggles.

Time to reset the mileage...on to Week Six!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Devil's Thumb to El Dorado Creek (Miles 47.8 to 52.9) 141 days to go!

The tenth stage of the race departs Devil's Thumb into the depths of the second canyon to the El Dorado Creek aid station. It's five miles of quad-destroying downhills that leaves its mark for the remainder of the race.

Special thanks to Dan Nevarez and Carla Riggs, Jim Wagener, Susan Demuth, Kerry Will, Megan McNew, and Allison and Griffin Howard for their generosity and support of the Wounded Warrior Project that sponsors this section of the course tour.

This stretch is a more gradual downhill into the second canyon compared to the first one.

Runners will descend over 2400 feet in about five miles. It's said by a lot of the runners that this stretch is one that is very runnable, but many actually lose pace due to the weariness of their journey.

After crossing a small bridge, runners will enter the El Dorado Creek aid station. The leaders will enter around 1:00 p.m., with the 24 hour runners over three hours behind with a 4:20 estimated arrival. 30 hour runners will enter around 7:30, and the aid station closes at 9:45 p.m. Runners will have passed the midway point of the race. Only 47.3 miles until Auburn!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Last Chance to Devil's Thumb (Miles 43.3 to 47.8) 143 days to go!

The ninth stage of the course is known to be one of the most brutal stretches of the Western States Trail. The drop into Last Chance continues deep into the canyon befor rising, fast and furious, in a climb up to the ominously-named Devil's Thumb.

Special thanks to those who contributed to my Wounded Warrior Project page, sponsoring these miles of the course tour: Jessica Kelly, Ilana Stern, Dave Willson, Andrew Dhuey, and Mimi Raleigh. Of note, Jess donated in honor of her friend Mark Maida, a member of the US Army who was killed in action in Iraq on May 27, 2005, and Andrew donated in honor of his father, Joseph Dhuey, MD, who served in the Air Corps Brigadier from 1942 to 1944. I give a special tip of my cap to my college classmate and triathlete extraordinaire Mimi Raleigh, who is putting aside her Ironman dream to serve a deployment to Iraq as an Army surgeon. Godspeed, Mimi! Thank you for your service!

Devil's Thumb. It just sounds intimidating, and for once, the name is fitting the locale. As Andy Holak, the race director of the Voyageurs Trail Run I ran last summer, wrote after his 2002 Western States run, "[T]he descent into Devil's Thumb and climb out was incredibly steep and rocky. Devil's Thumb kicked my butt. The canyons totally kicked my butt. Devil's Thumb was the hardest stretch of running that I think I've ever done. The canyons were very tough and the hills in many places much steeper and tougher than I had anticipated." Even Geoff Roes, the 2010 champion and course recordholder, struggled through Devil's Thumb: The climb up Devil's Thumb really hit me hard. I was really struggling for a while.

This stretch features steep, rocky trails descending deep into the canyon. There is an 1800 plus foot drop over 2 1/2 miles, a descent that is known to beat one's quads into submission.

The course crosses a suspension bridge over the American River before climbing over 1300 feet in one mile along 36 switchbacks! This is some of the hardest trail running around.

Temperatures rise to 100 degrees in the canyon, and runners are known to stagger into the Devil's Thumb aid station in a state of delirium. Many never continue on down the trail, choosing to drop here rather than journey into the second canyon. Devil's Thumb is where Fernando, the runner I paced in 2010, was pulled aside by the medical team and forced to consume fluids, food, and even popsicles in the hope that he could continue. Over 30 runners passed him as he sat in that aid station waiting for the go-ahead to continue. To make matters worse, there is no crew access at Devil's Thumb, though race officials will transport a drop bag for runners to get personal items at one of the toughest stops on the course.

Someone taped this stretch of the race and put it on Youtube in five videos. I've attached the first one here so you can get a feel for the climb

Reach the Devil's Thumb aid station, and you're still not halfway to Auburn. You are, however, halfway through the two canyons that break so many runners. The leaders will enter Devil's Thumb around 12:20 p.m., over seven hours after the race started. 24 hour runners will arrive around 3:15 p.m., with 30 hour runners reaching it at 6:05 p.m. The aid station closes at 7:00 p.m. For those who depart into the second canyon, there are only 52.4 miles to go!