Thursday, December 21, 2006

The Dead of (er) Winter

I remember what snow looks like- no honest. I do. We had snow for about an hour two Fridays ago, since which the temperature has reached up into the 50, more days than it hasn't.

On Saturday I went out and road for 90 minute- wearing cycling glove. I mean, my fingerless CSC cycling gloves. Now, I have done my share of spinning in the basement and a few brick workouts at the gym at lunch (it was raining at least one of those days), but it's dark when I get up and dark when I get home.

To be honest, this much warm weather this late in the year is more than a little scary. It should be cold, it should be snowing. I remember at least one long run in the snow by this time last year.

Don't get me wrong. I don't exactly miss the cold. The option of taking the bike out on the weekend- hell, today I ran at lunch In nothing but a singlet and bike shorts- tha's just plain crazy. But l've always had the old-school opinion that training in the cold is one of those things that toughens you up, and so far this winter, there's been little opportunity to get tough.

Strange thoughts for the Winter Solstice.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Back- as if from the dead...

After two weeks off ran the Christopher Martin 5k. This is a race that often draws in the area of a thousand people. I've been top ten in this race, but not yesterday.

After two weeks off, including spending the night before the race christening an Irish Pub, I can without making excuses say I had no business running a 5K the first day back. Period.

After coming in at a less than respectable 18:38, which earned me a whopping 11th in my age group, all I want to say is that I am ready to start training again...

Friday, December 08, 2006

Downtime is Almost Over

I was asked by my coach to take two weeks off. I last took two weeks off before I started doing tris seriously- I spent an entire season running with plantar faciitis and finally at the end of December decided to stop running until it stopped hurting to get out of bed in the morning. That was maybe five years ago.

During my down time I did go to the pool and swim 500 yards three times a week (I was told I could do some light swimming). But what do you do when you're relatively committed to daily workouts and suddenly there aren't any ?

Fortunately, with the holidays coming, it's not like there isn't plenty to do, especially when you've left the leaves to molder on the lawn...there's also plenty of work, graduate courses, time with the family, shopping and decorating the house. I did play dodgeball one night, but I was on the faculty-staff team and we got beat in straight games, so that was about ten minutes of exercise.

The point isn't to bore anyone who's reading with the mudanities of my everyday life, of which their are legion in any existence, no matter how exciting and fulfilled it might be. No, what I found was that you can take two weeks off and still be motivated, still have the same passion or hunger or whatever it is that pushes you. I knew if I took two weeks I would gain some weight. I knew there'd be some days where not having the satisfaction of having gotten in a really intense workout would be a little bit of a drag, say on Saturday and Sunday when you do your longer runs and bikes.

What really worried me was that two weeks of not working out would dull my motivation. The theory I've always had, which I've kind of kept to myself, is that the workouts and the days that really matter are the days when you really don't feel like being out there or in your basement or the gym or the pool but you go anyway and you turn out a quality workout that adds something to whatever you are preparing for. The days you feel great and go out and have a good workout are almost anti-climactic in a way. Maybe it's that I see myself as someone who gets by on effort, and those off days where you get the job done make race-day effort easier.

However, I feel good after two weeks off. There are still some sore spots, but there are things that will always be sore. I feel neither unmotivated nor do I feel like I am chomping at the bit. I just feel ready, ready to start up again, to start focusing on Arizona in 2007.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Thanksgiving Can be Fast and Flat

While running what's become a semi-traditional 10K in Rochester, I was reminded something I hear a lot around Ironman Florida, namely 'There's no such thing as an easy Ironman.' Which is true.

Around 3.5 miles into what is a very fast, mostly flat 5 turn course I started to wonder if it's also true that there's no such thing as a flat 10K. Of course, there are, somewhere, however every 'flat' course I've ever run seems to have at least a few hills in it. Not that there is anything wrong with that. I know very well that my strength is not plowing along on the flats anyway, but some days you'll take the easiest course that you can get. Thursday kind of felt like one of those days.

The race is flat- the biggest climb on the course is probably 50 feet over an eigth of a mile or something like that. But of course, flat is relative. The first mile and an half is really a steady downhill pitch- the year I ran in the mid 34s on the course I ran the first mile in under 5 minutes. In miles 4 and into 5 there are two visible climbs annd it was odd, running on what I consider two of the tamest hills you can run on, people started coming back to me. Some of them stayed back, some didn't.

Flat or real flat, Margit and I took our 5th husband/wife team title and that was our goal, so we were prett psyched.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Inspiration ?

On Thursday, about an hour before my lunchtime run, I ran into one of the faculty members at the university. Because I'm too lazy to buy or wear shoes, I head out of the house most mornings that I'm planning to run at lunch wearing my running shoes.

The professor asked me what I was running in (Mizunos) and we had a short conversation about shoes, Woodbridge Running Company, and at the end of the conversation, he said something that was a little disturbing. "You're an inspiration to us all."

Now obviously that's an overstatement. But I do know that in general the people who work at the University know who I am- I've been there for what only seems like 10 years, and they know what I do with my spare time. There's a number of people I see on a regular basis when I'm out running at lunch- the cross country coach, one of the guys from the cafeteria, some of the professors. Friends and fellow athletes also occasionally mention seeing me out on 34. There are people that do ask me about my training and my races, even ask advice.

I tend to think of what I do- the training, the racing- as strictly mundane, for the most part. I mean, the biggest race I did this year, there were two thousand other people out in the pond with me at the start. The marathon I ran, over 500. Other days, like today, I'm out at a race with 60 people (last week was 24) that no one not in the know even knows about. Some of what you do, you're invisible, and other times you're anonymous. I kind of treasure those races where I have that anonymity at the start of the race, where no one knows you.

It's a little embarrassing to be told you're an inspiration. I mean, I have two good arms and legs, a decent job, a car that runs, a wife and son, a roof over my head. My biggest obstacles are the number of hours in the day and my need to always be 'doing something.' One actually helps me overcome the other. I think of the one-legged cyclist or the guy in a wheelchair that runs with his hands as an inspiration. The person that works on their feet all day but runs a 16 minute 5K. And all kinds of people that have nothing to do with sports- the working single mom with four kids that goes to night school, people who battle debilitating diseases.

But nobody gets off that easy. You don't have to be special or important or anything else to be an inspiration to someone else. I think all of us that do get out on a regular basis, do our workouts, get to a few races, are inspiring to other people. When that professor told me I was an inspiration, well, he really is talking about an 'us.' The community of people that have make that decision to get out there, to pursue something that's at once individualistic and communual.

I just hope that when the time comes and I do have to provide real personal inspiration- to my son- I'm up to that task.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Cross Country

My athletic career properly started with high school cross country. I ran CC and track for three years and cross country was the best. My memories of fall were always some of the most vivid- new school years filled with all sorts of promise, academic, romantic, athletic. Dances, races, pep rallies.

As an adult, cross country has remained one of my favourite things, however, it fills basically the opposite end of the spectrum. Where high school years started in the fall and cross country started in August, nowdays cross country is normally crammed into the end of my season. If I'm running the Mystic Marathon or doing IM Florida (see my last post), I might not hit the trails until November and then get only two or three races.

Last year I was fortunate enough to run the 5K national championship on the same course as we ran sectionals in High School. Although I could have gone again this year I felt that I should really, really focus on Mystic. So my first race was today.

I haven't run a 5k since July. Now, if you know me, and I pity anyone who doesn't and is reading this boring dren anyway, that's a record since I resumed running at the age of about 35. I used to run two 5ks in a weekend, or at least two a month. And a 5K is not like doing longer racing. Not at all.

Will Graustien and Dave (??), the race director, had a great cross country course set up in Litchfield this morning. The course was everything you want in a race. The one REALLY big hill, the type where you take another corner and just sigh because it's STILL going up, up and away. A couple of smaller hills, some mud, some turns. I had a ball.

I also ran out of gas after two miles. As Will put it- 'You were right in there at two miles.' Yeah, I was. And the race was 3.1 miles long. Don't get me wrong. I had a great time, it was a good warm-up for next week's 8K on Saturday. At the same time, at 41 years of age, I'm finally ready to accept that if you want to run 5Ks fast (and 17:41 does not do it for me), you have to train for 5ks. And I don't plan to train for 5ks any time soon, not unless that somehow fits into a plan to get Margit to a half or an Ironman....

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Ironman Florida

I have watched 4 of the last 6 Ironman Florida and competed in one other, so you could say I have a system for what to do. That system was tested- er, strained- by having Margit back in the race (which is awesome) and by having Ian spend large amounts of time on my back (uh, less awesome, but the best alternative).

Still, it would be a weird day for me. Better me than the people in the race.

I can't say I like being that close to an Ironman and not being in it. There's a certain calming factor in knowing you'd have had to sign up for the race a year ago and it's not like your gear is in the car and you just couldn't bring yourself to register. Still, at two of seven, with the music blaring and the athletes ready to go, well, that's emotional. There's probably something seriously wrong with that. I'm psyched for everyone else, and yet...

I was on the far right of the corral, standing just about in the water. It was a frigid cold day for IM Florida. The sand is usually cold because the sun is still coming up, but it was colder than usual and the water out to about 150 feet was also cold. As a result, a lot of athletes wore socks or flops into the corral. The tide was coming in and after the race started there was a litter of shoes, socks, food wrappers, and bottles on the beach, most of it right near the water. I decided, with nothing else to do, to start heaving or carrying stuff back up onto the beach, as some of it was getting caught in the tide almost immediately. This was kind of fun. I was tossing water bottles to the back of the coral. Only two other people came into the corral to help which kind of- well there were two hundred people or more standing behind the corral, so, well...

Since the pros started early, I was barely done when they got back off the first loop. I took my usual position in the water, on the right, just out of the way of the athletes as they run past and back into the water.

Margit got to see Ian, and I saw Marty, Ed and Jay Carney, Kathy Salvo, Scott (but not Ann). Sometimes you yell encouragement to the athletes, sometimes you slap an outstretched hand, sometimes you cover your camera up as someone reaches into the water and sprays you with a two-handed scoop. There's a delicate dance you do- you stay in the water as long as you can watching people finish their first loop, then you head up to the transition area, around the old host hotel rooms to the area by the gazebo, so that you can see people come in out of the swim. That trip takes five minutes, or ten with a baby on your back.

I got up there just in time to see Marty, then waited for Margit.

Margit had a good swim- but Steve maybe had an even better one and was maybe 10 seconds behind Margit. I bolted when I saw him and scrambled to get to the area opposite the bike arch behind the barrier.

I caught this image of Steve, in evening gloves. No, seriously, those are Wal-Mart tube socks. After Steve and Margit, more people I knew came out, including Ann, who had fallen in transition (what is it with that transition area ?) Her front break was rubbing, so I suggesting opening the break up (I guess most people don't ride with them wide open) and she was off. Then a first-time athlete got a flat right in front of me. I resisted the urge to help him, but I did fold up his puncture for him and tuck in my backpack so he wouldn't have to carry it or abandon it on the course.

That done, I went back to watch the end of the swim. This is something I've done with Margit he last two years. This time was different. First, around two hours, a man came out of the water and dropped to the sand right in front of me. He started throwing up seawater, so I started yelling for medical help. Two of the Ironcrew came over and kneeled by him, but after about a minute, he was able to get up, and I think he did finish. Then I started talking to the rescue crew. I later found out 27 people were plucked from the water, an abnormally high number. From what I know, two were critical and at least one died. There's not much you can say about that, it's- well, you almost wish you didn't here things like that.

At about two hours fifteen, I found myself out in the water, as far as I could get without drenching Ian, off to the right, trying to wave a seriously off-course woman in the right direction. Her husband or boyfriend was standing about 20 yards behind me, also trying to help. She made it.

At least five people missed the cut off. This is the cruel reality of the Ironman. They take people off the course- after the swim, after the bike, and even after the first loop of the run. They close ranks so that these people can't even see the arch, and everyone, including the announcer, is there to great them, cheer, and take their chip from them.

Once this ritual was over and the last person staggered out of the water, I went back in front of the host hotel, put down a sleeping Ian, and then did half an hour of research for a paper online. Ian and I spent some time watching Elmo after that, went for a run together, and then headed for the bridge. If you know the course, there's a bridge at about 100 miles- the worst hill on the course. I usually go there, stand near the apex, and snap pictures of the cyclists. Ian had other ideas about the camera this year, but I got a few shots, none great.

Ian was a real trooper out here. He did get ansy and make me switch from the stroller back to the backpack and he was relentless about the camera, but, he also cheered and clapped and made the experience memorable for me, and the athletes. I can't remember how many people came up to me after the race and said 'You were all over the place', or just 'Thanks for being there.' I know I'm not that memorable, but Ian is. I caught Marty, Steve, Angela, Peter, and margit. When Margit went by, i jumped in the car and raced back to the apartment.

I saw Angela go by where we were staying at about 7/10th of a mile, so I thought I have five minutes to get Ian a diaper and apple juice and myself two beers before Margit came by- so I missed Margit. I evaluated my options, spent a while cheering people on, grabbed more beers, and headed out about 3 miles onto the run course because I wanted Margit to see Ian as soon as possible. I was out there on the run course in one place or another until Margit finished, except for a diaper change and quick feeding.

I got into the arc below the finish are to cheer some of the people I knew there on, including Peter and Steve. At about 11:10 I headed up to the Family Exchange Coral, signed a waiver, and when Margit came by, I miscalculated her look and handed Ian to her instead of running with the two of them. While she was carrying a screaming Ian across the line, another woman in her age group passed her- fortunately a Hawaii spot was not quite at stake.

Margit had a great race, and there's not much more you can say about it. but when you see her let her know how awesome that 11:25:26 PR was.

I took her home, came back with Steve and her and collected their gear and dropped it at the truck, then Steve and I watched finishers until just after 16 hours, when we both decided to head home.

It was a great day to watch a race, Ian was a real trooper, and it was also an honour to see a lot of great performances by committed athletes.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Ironman Florida- First Thoughts

I have quite a bit I want to post about this race, although I was on the sidelines as a spectator and not experiencing it first hand, and I'm hoping I get it down before I forget it all. After five days of little or no internet access (once in a while the 30 mph winds seemed to blow some faint open access wireless my way, but in the end I had to go to the host hotel just to submit my homework), the frustration has been palpitable.

I've been down there five times in six years- one person's rut is another person's comfortable old shoe, I guess. Of those five times, I've raced once and spectated four times. I take that job seriously, but I've never done it before with a 30lb baby strapped to my back most of the day- and it's never been so fraking cold ! I mean, the beach on race morning is always cold to your bare feet- and you do go out into the water to encourage the athletes, don't you ?

I love it down there. It's usually warm and muggy and you go out and run one loop of the two loop marathon course (paying a dollar to get into St. Andrew National Park) and when you're done you've sweated off five pounds and you hang up your workout clothes but they never actually dry. The sun is warm on your face and at night you put on a long sleeve t-shirt but you don't really need it.

Not this year. We got in on Wednesday and it was nice, but not as warm as we were used to. By Wednesday night, when the winds were howling in the gutters at 20-30 mph and the temperature dipped into the forties, we knew something was not quite right. Normally I look to get up early and get my runs at around 7 am so we still have the whole day to do what needs to be done- and there's so much that 'needs' to be done at an ironman, from the check-in to buying that M-dot gear. On the days when I did intend to workout around Margit's schedule, the earliest I ran was 10 am, until the very last day.

Even the water was cold. Not frigid, but cold. On Friday, I swam out to the bouys and until you got 150 yards into the water it was VERY cold, almost too cold to be in there without a wetsuit as I was.

Everyone kept telling themselves and each other that the wind and the cold would be gone by race day, but the weather was predicting an high in the sixties, and sometimes, weather trumps optimism...

Sunday, October 29, 2006

No such things as a little race...

Squeezed in between last week's big races and next week's big race- Ironman Florida- I wanted to take what's probably the last chance I'd have for a 3rd sanctioned duathlon in 2006.

Believe it or not there were actually 2 duathlons in Massachusetts today, and the one that was 110 miles away was the closer one. It was also a FIRM race, so I pretty much knew what to expect and was comfortable driving two hours each way (give or take 15 minutes) to do a one hour race.

Still, as they say, perspective informs everything you do. This season's been about long races- the Ironman and the marathon. Although there have been a few shorter races, they've mostly come after the big races. I had a month off from racing between the Hammerfest and the Hartford Half. There were no races between the July 4th 5K and the Ironman. When I go through and log my races at the end of the year (I did this afterthe first year I started working with Eric) it's going to be an historical low- and as EH has always suggested, I should consider that I had at least one good A race using that strategy.

So I'd been kind of thinking of today's race as a 'short' race, and although I started training for it in my active recovery on Monday by spinning, I wasn't thinking about it as very important either. I'm not sure what makes a person spend four hours in a car for a race they see that way...still, I'd made some effort. I'd bought new toe clips and worked out with them for two days, tested sneakers with them and had a really good workout yesterday- treadmill, spin, treadmill. But I was kind of thinking of the race as a throw-away, a chance to get in a little racing of my own before turning my attention to helping Margit have the best possible race in Florida.

The funny thing about sprint races is that, they aren't really short. Again, it's a perception thing. You do a few Ironman races and you get spoiled. I don't want to say jaded. I wouldn't pay 40 or 50 dollars to do these sprints (some of the tris are actually 75) if I didn't like them. But I think a lot of us look at these as short, as not big deals. But I went into today's race expecting that it would take just over an hour- 5 miles of running and an 11 mile bike. The equivalent road race would be a ten miler- no easy race.

It's the obvious that gets you- the fact instead of a measured, sometimes even patient effort, you have to go all out, or close to it. I tend to take it easy on the first run of a duathlon, especially when I'm competing against people I don't know, then hammer the bike and give the second run everything I have. That strategy worked for me today- I was 11th off the first run, had the third fastest individual bike split, and the 6th fastest individual run on the second run. I had to work to run down the the #1 guy in my age group, who left on the second two mile run with a 23 second lead, not that I knew he was my target. All I knew as I ran the last 1/4 mile, where I finally passed him, was that he was wearing #1 and he was running way slower than me.

But this isn't about how I did. It's about the day. I tried to remind myself as I warmed up that a sprint isn't so much a short effort as it is a hard effort. It didn't take much warming up for that to sink in. I rode out with the wind at my back and back in against it and decided this was one of those days you don't turn on the computer. I then reversed my run- didn't feel good starting into the wind, which was how the race would start, so I went on the grass and did some stride outs first with then against the wind.

I can honestly say that I have rearely raced in this kind of wind. And by rarely I mean, well, on the bike, I'd guess never. There were times when I could not stay in the aerobars and I consider myself a pretty high-risk areo rider. My calves (a week off the marathon), started to hurt a quarter-mile into the run (and not the good way). Even when the wind was at your back on the run it was uncomfortable because of how hard it was pushing you. And the people on full-disc wheels- if you know you can't corner on a disc, why pass someone right before a turn (the second guy in my age group, who was the second fastest bike) ?

At the end of the run, into the wind, up a hill, I felt like a mime, running in place. But the wind wasn't imaginary. I'm not sure I have ever run so slow in a race.

And yet- a beautiful day. The wind, although stiff, wasn't really that cold. I was in bike shorts and only needed bike gloves. I didn't bother with a hat- it would only have blown off. Although it got bitterly cold later in the day when we were just standing around, it was actually more than warm enough for the duathlon, and certainly we were all running and biking in the same wind. It was also a nice day for a drive. Sure, my car was a little harder to handle in that wind, but bright sun. All in all a great day.

I had fun, and now I'm ready for Florida, if only as a spectator.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Final Multisport Hurrah, 2006

Sandwiched between last Saturday's Ironman World Championships and next Sunday's Ironman Florida is a Saturday full of rain and believe it or not, a few Sunday duathlons in Massachusetts.

I'm on my way to Wrentham for a Firmman Sprint Duathlon. I treated myself to new toe clips- my toe clips were at least 12 years old, the plastic was broken on one of the cages, and the rust- ! I still rode in them for a month this year when I thought I was training for the short course Worlds in Center Brook (I qualified, but trying to get there would have been a misadventure I'd have regretted twice as much for having missed Lake Placid).

It's a good question why I would drive two hours to do a sprint duathlon at the end of what my coach says has been a productive season. I'm not sure either. The part of me that likes to race is the same part that has been missing my bike the last three weeks and this is going to be one last chance for that- I may be a little overweight- kind of Apollo in BSG at the moment- I may have a marathon in my legs, but I'm ready to try one last time to produce a little speed.

I'm looking forward to Florida, and I think I've proven a decent Ironman spectator. At the same time, I'm not always thrilled about (by always I mean ever) watching other people race. If someone handed me a number I'd step out into the ocean next Sunday because that's how I am. I spoke to Dave from Elite bikes and he says their truck was broken into- major bumer. These guys are great- they have always been there for me with the last minute tweaks (or complete recabling) my bike has needed before the Ironman.

Time to get that 'two nights before the race' sleep everyone talks about...

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Fall and Down Time

I was out running today- my first run since the marathon. I'd struggled walking up and down stairs the last two days (often carrying a small boy), so it was nice to get out, even if it was a little cold and a little windy.

Marathons are a big deal, whether you want them to be or not, and there's no better reminder than not being able to do much more than sit and spin on a bike in your basement doing a little active recovery.

It was actually a beautiful day. I was on 139, north of 34, and it was snowing leaves. So thick I could reach out my hand and leaves would fall right into it without trying. Bright sunshine- stiff wind, a little chilly, but for the last full week of October, a great day. It made me feel a little guilty. I'd been at the New Haven Road Race Board dinner last night and John Courtmanche, always gracious, made a comment to me about what a good marathon I'd run, and made my usual denial. Sure, it wasn't a perfect day, I didn't quite resurrect my marathoning career.

But you know what ? I was able to train for a marathon without interfering with Margit's training for the Ironman. I'd got to take Ian out on some long runs. I was rained on only two or three times during the whole three weeks that I focused solely on the race. It's been a fantastic October, and it really waited to start getting cold until after the race was over (literally, it seems a little colder every day since).

I can't say that running every day like I do getting ready for the marathon is my favourite thing. But it's still enjoyable, still rewarding. How can you complain about getting outside for anywhere from 45 minutes to 2 hours every day, in the sun, with your music- and I'd found some great music to train with for this race.

And hey- you run a marathon and you've got a great base. I'm off to my last duathlon of the season Sunday- and then next Wednesday I go Florida and I get to run an half marathon training run on a great, flat, well marked course five days in a row, I get the beach, the sun, and I get to watch an Ironman, which is, well, it doesn't beat doing one, but there are worse things, that's for sure.

It turns out there really is a journey out there, and even after you get to the destination, it's possible to enjoy the trip. I know there's some down time coming in my future, but not quite yet...

Sunday, October 22, 2006

It's Over !

I had two sets of goals today- realistic goals and the out there goals. I missed all three of the out there goals- PR at the marathon (2:45), win my age group (first master), and top ten.

My realistic goals were 2:49:59, place in my age group, and top 15. I ran a 2:55:40 (course PR), was 2nd in my age group and 14th overall.

It was a weird race. I was determined to go out easy, aiming for a 6:30 first mile. But somehow I got mixed in with the top three women- the same group I've run with, had my feet repeatedly clipped by and acted as a wind break for in the past. We stayed together and hit the mile mark at 5:55. I was devasted- until I look at my watch- it was closer to 6:10, still fast, but not sub-six crazy fast- the clock was wrong.

Somewhere around 2 miles, all hell broke lose. What I've heard to this point was that Eric Blake went the wrong way in the ten mile race and took the entire field with him. The result was chaos. We literally crashed into the 10 mile field just as they were being told to turn around. I was excited for JB that the 10 mile race had record numbers, but I was not planning to have to weave through them. I yelled 'onto the grass, boys' and led a group through the skimishers. Finally though, we had to cross over to the right, so I picked the best path I could, hoping I wouldn't have to dodge too sharply. The craziness made it hard to keep to a steady pace because of the adrenaline rush. I got back on the back of the two lead women, with the number three woman running beside me. The race loops back around the start at a little over two miles and then we head back out for the real deal.

There was a little deja vu here. I know these three women and how they run. I know that the faster two women are too fast for me, and I know the third woman will hunt me down and use me as a wind shield for miles 7-14. Then she lets me go in town, only to run me down later. There isn't anything I can about the later (Elvira), but at about 5.5 miles I started to back off. It's amazing how quickly people go away from you, even when you let them. Charlie Iselin, the two lead women, a relay guy and someone else all were soon 15 seconds ahead of me.

Meanwhile, there were three people on my back who caught me by Mile 7. Two guys in red who I would see again and again, a shorter guy and taller guy who was running better than the shorter guy but who also veered towards the side of the road several times and looked to be struggling with some upper body problem. The guys in red went by me. Elvira glommed on and so it began. The only question was how long she would stay with me.

Charlie started coming back to me, so I pulled Elvira along and we passed him at around 11 miles. The race gets hard for a while as you run by the starting area of the Niantic Bay Triathlon. I pulled Elivra into town and then, because she's smarter than me, she let me go. I had the shorter guy in red in my sights and I ran him down. By the time we were on our way back out of town, he was only 50 meters ahead. I eased into a pass going by the Niantic Bay start the other way.

Things started to go a little wrong here. The runner I passed did not fade at all and I never got more than 50 meters on him. This is the fifth time I've run this race and what happens is that at around Mile 18, when there's some climbing and wind, I start to subtley fade. I try to just get a little tougher and gut out the next two miles because to me, 20 miles is a big deal in the marathon. There's also the fact that the achilles heel of my Mystic race has always been Miles 21-22, so getting to 20 feeling as good as possible is tremendous.

I never saw the Mile 21 marker. The shorter guy in red came back on me and passed me. Elivra started to close in. Then something strange happened. The taller guy in red was ahead of us, but he went to the side of the road and doubled over. He looked to be throwing up or something. He started up again after the guy in red passed him, then went back to the side of the road. I went wide around him- there was clearly some kind of train wreck going on and I've learned that especially when you are not feeling 100 %, you have to sort of not look, not get engaged unless the person is hurt and you can help. It turned out he was running the race with a sublimated shoulder and dropped out at 24 miles. I felt bad for him- after the race.

Elvira passed me at maybe 22 miles and then we worked our way back to Route 1, three of us, me in the rear until we hit the last (big) hill before Route 1. I amazingly caught the short guy in red again, who said as I went by him 'These hills are going to kill me.' They didn't but they did finish him off. At the same time a guy went by me and said 'Relay', and 'just one more hill'. I appreciated one more than the other. I wanted to drop the guy in red the same way Elvira was dropping me.

I missed the 23 mile marker- two misses in three miles ! 24 came up before I expected it and I tried to hustle back to the park. One last guy overtook me and I asked him his age- 34. I said 'sweet' and tried to stay with him as long as possible. Probably should not have asked his age. He ended up beating me by 20 seconds.

I turned into the park and as I ran the seemingly endless last mile plus point two back, I was glad just not to be on the verge of throwing up (last year I almost had to stop on the course in mile 26 to vommit). I did look back once, determined I was not in danger of being caught by anyone, and finished up with a 9 second PR on the course.

So, what did I learn ? Mystic is not an easy course. I'd spent the last week, and started this blog, to encourage myself and get psyched. I think one of my consistent problems with marathons in general is not appreciating the 'big deal' nature of the race for me. I see a marathon as one of the most difficult challenges I'll ever face- in many ways as hard or harder than Ironman, but less rewarding. I also do not have a positive attitude about what I can accomplish inmarathons. I've run Mystic 5 times in 6 years and always have had to work to break (or fail to break) 3 hours.

The more I run my own race, the better off I am. In the past, Elvira has actually made me mad by shadowing me. This year I offered her water at one aid station and waited for her at mile 11 when something went wrong for her at the water stop. Anyone who knows me, knows just how hard something like that is for me to do.

Patience pays off. I got beaten by two people late, but also beat five people that had been leading me at various points in the race.

Time isn't everything. I PRd the course, placed in my age group and beat my number (21).

I'll take it- with thanks to my coach who got me ready, to Margit, who pushed Ian for 90 minutes instead of her scheduled workout so I could run today, Jenny and JB for giving me an entry into the race, and Chad Brown, who spent a couple minutes at the starting line taking my mind off the fact I was about to run a marathon.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Here we Go

I just finished watching my coach finish Hawaii, and now I'm ready to get a good night's sleep and earn a few beers with my best Mystic yet.

I looked up my times and they are all between 2:55-3:01.

I just need to stay steady, relaxed, but be ready to work hard when it counts.

Wish me luck.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Rain, Rain Going Away

Well, today it finally really is raining. A good hard soaking rain that is supposed to be followed by high winds. Eric's reports from Kona indicate little or no rain (5 minutes in a rented convertable) despite Big Rock's seeing rain all over the report.

Better now than later. Running easy for 30 minutes in the rain is not an issue. Slogging through rain in the marathon is not fun.

The worst rain I was ever in during a marathon was at Lake Placid three years ago. Lake Placid is old-school Adirondacks. It might be cloudless brutal sun now, but that doesn't mean it won't dump on you an hour later- or vice versa. This year the swim started in the rain and the run- what a beautifully perfect day.

I spoke to JB again yesterday and we were commenting on how awesome the weather should be. There have been some cold, windy Mystics, and I think the race has moved up a week to try and avoid that. With a leisurely start time- 10 AM, you get the benefit of the weather if it's good. I don't think it's going to be a sunscreen day, but still pretty nice.

I think I'm actually looking forward to the race now, getting it started, thinking about staying calm. Over the years I've learned that after a few miles in a marathon I start to react the same way I do when I crawl out of the swim in a tri- a little panicky, a little manic in attempting to 'get back into' the race.

With the ten mile race sharing the first part of the marathon course and the relay teams, you can't tell who is in front of you and who they are, so as people pull away, you do have a tendency to panic a little, as it looks like you are being buried. Margit suggested after Hartford that people in these long races should be body marked so we know what we are up against. I think it's a great idea, but what race director can we sell it to ?

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Qualified Success

I received an email last night from Dave Parcells that one of our teammates had qualified for Boston at the Prince Edward Island Marathon. Congratulations were due and it made me think about the idea of the goal of one race being to qualify for another.

This was always kind of an abstract idea for me with marathons. Running a qualifying time for Boston (which I ran once) has never been a consideration and if I were planning to run Boston, qualifying wouldn't be an issue. While I may swim like a drunken goat, I'm able to skate by on my running and put up a qualifying time on even my worst day. I have to be honest, it's not usually a consideration either. In 2007 I'll be doing Ironman Arizona, so I'll be half a country away from the BAA.

Of course, Ironman is the same way for most people. To get to Saturday's race you have to qualify at some other Ironman. I've only had the opportunity to do other Ironmans, and well, Saturday's, but that's not where I'll be. I had, in a way, the easiest task of it this year in that qualifying for Hawaii wasn't a goal. And the disadvantage of qualifying in that unlike Boston, you have to make a decision within a few hours, which I was not prepared for.

It does make we wonder if sometimes people lose the enjoyment of the race they are doing in striving to achieve the goal of qualifying for the race that is their real goal.

On the other hand, I remember a few years ago, someone close to me missing the Boston qualifying time by one minute and bursting into tears at the Hartford Marathon. I wrote a letter to BAA supporting that athlete- that's like whizzing into the ocean, or at least that's the impression I got. Qualifying for Boston is a big deal, isn't easy.

While setting a goal of running a Boston qualifying time isn't appropriate for me, it's a reminder that a marathon is always a big deal, and not just an extension of my Ironman training.

My goal should be big- for a big race, as far out there as I can put it.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

What a Difference a Day

Makes, that is.

Boy, for someone in their taper, it could not have been better running weather, especially for October. 65 degrees and sunny with a light wind for an easy run? Just warm enough that you could actually get a little sweat going.

I'm going to be running the marathon in a Saucony shoe which escapes any attempt to identify it (short of looking at the box). The roads were still damp which is exactly what I was hoping- you can never trust a shoe until you've tested it out on wet road, preferably slick road. With the leaves coming down, the roads get a little slippery and there are no shortage of turns in Sunday's course. I'm going to this shoe for the marathon. I would have liked the Mizuno Idaten better, but Mizuno is out of 8.5s- I can't even get them straight from the source. That's the shoe I ran the marathon portion of Lake Placid in and it was very comfortable.

I'll probably try to sneak out on my bike for a short, easy ride after work. While not on my schedule, it really is a rare day out there- get out and get in a run or bike if you can- days this beautiful are on the decline until next year.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The Word from JB

I know the race director, JB. He called me up today because someone messed up the paperwork on the sanctions- I do the USATF sanctioning in the state of Connecticut. After assuring him we could get that taken care of, I asked him how the numbers are this year.

He told me the marathon numbers were running around even and the 10 mile numbers and the relay numbers were up. Not only that but the out of state numbers are up.

I was psyched. Mystic may be something I sometimes grumble about because I see that season-ending marathon as a burden to be borne, but at the same time I like having it to count on to be there for me if I need it.

The Rain Game

A little bit of luck today. Although the rain started half an hour before my run (or I started my run half an hour late), it was just a steady drizzle, not enough to do more but make me feel confident that yes, if it rains Sunday, it won't be a big deal.

Rain is funny this time of year. During the day, a good thin rain boosts the humidity and gives the illusion that it's actually warmer, not colder. Of course, if it pours it's miserable, and it gets nasty fast on the bike, but for a run, it's really not so bad at all.

I felt good running today. My stride is longer, like a runner's stride rather than a triathlete's stride and I feel like a things are coming together. In one of life's little senseless ironies, I received an email that my last chance to order pictures from the 2005 marathon was Friday.

Looking at this pictures I can see I had a bad day. I'm leaning backwards in one of them ! Backwards ! Good thing I wasn't skating !

Going Positive

My coach has a rule- 'No whining'. Eric's an incredible guy- always finds the positive, even when the world is literally shaking like it was in Kona Sunday. No whining isn't about improving his comfort-level, either. It's about a skill athletes, especially endurance athletes, need.

I was watching the Bears-Cards game last night and after the Bears returned a punt for a TD with about 3 minutes left, erasing a 23-3 deficit to take a 24-23 lead, they showed Cardinals QB Matt Leinart on the sideline, head down, on one knee. Joe Theismann gave him the benefit of the doubt and said that he was gathering his thoughts, but he struck me as dejected. However, Leinart went back in, moved the team downfield and set up a field goal attempt that Neil Rackers was unable to convert. The quarterback did his job, hung in. he might have been dejected on the sideline, but in the moment of the game he found a way to go positive with his effort.

Whining is one of those things that can take on a life of its own when you're training for long events. There's a lot that can wrong during a six-hour bike ride or a 2 hour run. Those things can either be part of the fun and the challenge, or part of a snowball that rolls over your best hopes for whatever you're training for.

I haven't exactly been whining, but the circumstances that find me running a marathon on Sunday, October 22nd have definitely dampened my enthusiasm a little.

So I was determined to get up this morning and find some positives for Sunday, so here goes:

Weather- the temperature is supposed to rise to 59 degrees, hopefully 60 if the rain holds off, with a thin breeze of around 7 mph. Now, some marathoners (most ?) would say 60 is too warm for a marathon. Not me. I like the heat- the hotter the better, and 60 degrees would be a major bonus.

Scenery- JB sells Mystic as a very scenic race for one reason- because it is. Fall came late this year and this coming weekend is likely to be the best weekend for colour in our area. Now, while I don't expect to be gawking at the trees during the marathon, that scenery is a great.

Field- After running 1:22 at the half, I have a number in my head, and a place in the field that I want to finish at or above. I think I can do both.

Preparation- I have a good nutrition plan, I think I am finally ready to go out and run a steady pace, and my coach has me prepared well.

It really has been a spectacular fall weather-wise, great for people doing late-season races. This is the year I should run well at Mystic...

Monday, October 16, 2006

Road to Mystic

I'm actually sitting hear listening to Steve Colbert talk about running a marathon and I'm blogging a post about the same.

I can remember when a marathon was a big deal to me, and now I have to say that is not the case. That's probably not such a great thing to say, especially when I'm staring one down in just 6 days, a marathon that in fact was a pretty humbling experience in 2005, when I failed to break 3 hours.

I have mixed feelings about this, to be sure. I ran the Hartford Half-Marathon as a tune up and was up at registration in the Civic Center the night before. I heard people talking to one another at expo- about how excited they were, about how they were looking forward to the marathon. There's a certain energy and excitement at a marathon, but I have to say, it leaves me unaffected personally. I am more interested in getting up on the line, getting started, and getting finished.

Maybe it's the fact that the number of Ironmans I've done (4), is starting to feel close to the number of marathons I've run (7?). I have to say that as emotional as the start of the Ironman is, as much energy as is there, I mostly just want to get the race started. Don't get me wrong. I think the Ironman crew does an awesome job from 6:30 am to midnight and you'll usually find me in the stands until the race is over, but when I'm staring down that crazy mass-start in Mirror Lake, I just want to get from the extreme right-hand corner to the far turn alive.

What does that have to do with a marathon where I can start in the front or second row if want ? Not much. It's been hard to get my head out of triathlon. The day before Mystic will be Kona, the race everyone else wants to go to- a race I passed on going to this year for family reasons. When we got back from Lake Placid I knew I had to commit to Mystic, get my long runs in, have some focus.

Now, less than a week away from the race, I feel a little guilty about how I'm looking at it. Is it a big deal ? Of course, it's a marathon- and let me be clear, running 26.2 miles as hard as you can is extremely hard- the run in the Ironman is a break for me in comparison. Mystic is not as easy a course as some people make it out to be. Not a ton of hills, but the big hill is late and there's wind every year.

Still, when I think about people who train all year for a marathon, who hold it out as their goal race or A race- I feel a little guilty heading out there to basically run the race because I think I need to do, because it will help- hopefully- prepare me for Arizona 2007 next April...

I hope everyone has a great day and after running every day for about three weeks, I am looking forward to the taper...

Thursday, October 05, 2006