Friday, January 24, 2014

Marathons, Renewal, and Simplicity

With the hope that the New Year holiday would begin a season of renewal, I decided to enter a two-day marathon “double” in Allen, Texas.  After a few months of low mileage and injury recovery, I felt it was time to renew my marathon quest.  A pair of marathons, one on New Year’s Eve, followed by one on New Year’s Day, seemed like a perfect symbolic way to usher out 2013’s marathons and kick-start 2014.

There was a much deeper, and far more important “renewal” that made this an important event to add to my calendar.  I realized it was time for me to make a personal renewal, a change in my self that isn’t really possible to properly express here.  I’ve been very blessed with wonderful friends and family, but this trip gave me an opportunity to have some time on my own to reflect on the necessary changes.  Some of the best times of my life have occurred during marathon trips where I had a travel partner in 2013, but on this trip I would be alone, giving me plenty of time to think.  I also ran the races alone, instead of pacing with a friend as I had done in most marathons since May.  As one person said, I would have 52 miles to think of 52 reasons.

Thus it was that I contacted my friend Libby, who is the Race Director for the New Years Double, and got myself on the registration list.  The New Years Double is a fairly large event, with 5k, Half-marathon, and Marathon distance races on each day.  Several thousand people turn out, but the number of runners who tackle the full marathon on both days is about 100.  Libby sent me a message saying I might win, which was nice, but the real win I was looking for was to conquer the battle inside.  I think that may be why a lot of us who run long distances really run – it’s a way to face our issues.  If you’re a runner, you understand, if not, go for a run and see what happens.

I arrived a couple of days early, and picked up my race packets.  Two bibs, two shirts, plenty of pre-race excitement!  I noticed it was very cold in Allen, which was compounded by humidity.  I drove out to Celebration Park, where the race start/finish line would be, and previewed the course with a short run.  The first thing I noticed was that it was entirely, 100% concrete path.  In Tucson, most paving is asphalt, so I never run on concrete.  There is definitely a difference between the two – concrete is far more abusive to the legs.  The second thing I noticed was that the course is out-and-back…four times!  In other words we would be running the same path, 8 times back and forth, each day.  To some runners this may sound like a nightmarish marathon course, but others really enjoy it because you are continuously passing other runners of all speeds.

During my alone time in the hotel room that night, I decided that I’d make “Simplicity” a theme for life in 2014.  Whether I will succeed remains to be seen, but it seems like a good goal.  The Lynard Skynard song, “Simple Man”, came to mind and brought me some peace.

The next day was generally quiet.  I took care of some work responsibilities, and also drove out to the race site to assist a little with the setup.  Participants in large events like this often don’t realize how much work goes on behind the scenes.  I had some fun helping Libby and her crew of volunteers, unloading supplies for the finish line area.

Race Directors have a challenging job, because finishers expect to receive plenty after they cross the line – water, shirts, medals, food, etc.  When you have thousands of runners, and two days of racing, that translates to a lot of supplies.  After helping I took another short run on the concrete path.  Later that day, some of the members of the Marathon Maniacs got together for a pre-race carbo load at the Olive Garden.  It’s always fun to swap stories and share plans with these folks.

The next morning was New Year’s Eve.  I was concerned when I saw that the temperature was a frigid 19 degrees!  But the sun was out, and the wind was calm, so once the run started it was not as bad as I expected.  Cool weather always tricks me into running too fast, which is always a mistake in the marathon.  I planned to go hard the first day, with a goal of 3:10 or maybe 3:05 if things went well, but when I crossed the half way point at sub-3 pace I knew I would not be able to maintain it.  I did have fun cheering and high-fiving other Maniacs as we went out, and back, and out, and back…

I don’t run with a music player, but tunes are always in my head during a race.  Sometimes they seem random, perhaps based on a tempo that matches my pace, other times the lyrics have meaning and reflect my thoughts.  During a marathon it's not unusual to go through a range of songs, some happy and some sad, as the miles slip by.  Some of the songs I remember (linked to YouTube vids if you want to listen) during this marathon were;

            Warrior, Patti Smyth
            Maggie May, Rod Stewart
            My Body, Young the Giant
            Changes, Black Sabbath
            Look What You've Done, Bread

My pace did indeed slow, but at mile 20 I was at a pace that still might have resulted in a 3:10.  I didn’t think I’d be able to hold it though.  Sure enough, around mile 22, I had to stop and walk for 1 minute to catch my breath.  I started up and slogged on.  It was a treat to see my friend Cathy, who had finished the half-marathon and then rushed out to hand out water at aid station 23.  That gave me a boost and I worked my way through the rest of the race to finish in 3:20:10.  I was not thrilled with that time, but I was also pleased that my legs did not seem to be destroyed – important, since I had to do it all again the next day.

When the results were posted, I found that I had placed 6th overall, and 1st Masters.  It was a little bit comforting to see that the winner ran a 3:02+, he had told me at the start that he expected a 2:50.  So perhaps the conditions were partly to blame for my bonk.  I received a nice prize – two champagne flutes with the race logo and “Winner” printed on them.  And of course, a very nice shiny finisher medal!

One of the most important things to do when running a double is to re-fuel properly.  After a marathon, muscles are in glycogen deficit, so loading up on carbs is crucial.  But the protein necessary to repair muscles is also important.  So, my strategy is just to eat as much as my stomach can handle…simplicity!  I ate a LOT.

The next morning, my legs actually felt reasonably good.  The real problem was my stomach.  Maybe I ate too much the night before!  I could not convince myself to eat anything before the race, and I didn’t take any gels at all during the race.  My stomach just felt  like it couldn’t take it.  Fortunately, that did not seem to hurt me too much.

I expected to run this marathon slower than the day before.  I started with the goal of running sub-4 hours.  The temperature was a bit warmer, around freezing, but there was a strong wind so it felt much colder than the previous day.   I really was not sure what to expect, but when the race began I was pleased to be able to quickly get moving at about an 8 minute per mile pace.  I had expected it to take a couple of miles for my legs to warm up.  That pace felt fairly easy, so I just tried to keep it.  There were more people ahead of me than the eve race, but it was hard to tell which were half-marathoners versus full.

During this race, there were a few times when boredom set in, but those moments were brief because of all the runners and spectators on the course.  The wind was rough at points, but with the out-and-back it quickly became obvious where those spots were.  One of the most fun things about this course was that many of us “Doublers” recognized each other on the second day and were bonded by mutual self-challenge, so there was an awful lot of friendly encouragement going on between us as we passed again and again.

Although my time was slower on day two, my pacing was far better and I didn’t stop for any walking.  I finished in 3:32:43 and was again very happy to feel great at the finish line.  When the results came in, I was surprised to see that I had come in 7th overall.  No Masters win this time, but an age group 1st.  And surprisingly, I set a new PR for a double marathon - by just 34 seconds!  I was also very excited to learn that I had the fastest overall combined time for the double marathon.

We had a great finish line celebration.  It really was a fantastic way to start out what I hope will be a successful year filled with marathons and running friends.  Despite my plans to spend a lot of alone time, I found that true running friends don't abandon you in the low spots in life.  There were quite a few people at the event that I already knew, and I also made a bunch of new friends, and we all had a lot of fun together.  I also had a huge amount of support flowing to me through modern technology - FaceBook, text messages, etc.  I can't say that I found all the answers, but I definitely was reminded of one of the best "results" from running - the wonderful friendships!

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