Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Race Recap - Kansas City Half Marathon

Finishing up with my raceday wingman!
Primary Goals:
(1) Run with Ethan and have a great time! Check.
It's generally a bad idea to run what you want to be an easy-paced race with someone who's significantly faster than you, unless you've discussed your mutual goals thoroughly ahead of time. Fortunately, despite his usual competitive drive, Ethan was amenable to my "have a great time" goal for his first return to "organized running" since acquiring his bionic knee. We had a great time talking and cruising along, without even counting the miles or thinking about pace, and I didn't even look at my watch until Eddie asked me my finish time.

The kinds of details we were laughing about aren't really suitable for a race report, though they were mostly just good-natured jabs at each other or of a people-watching nature. Races are fantastic places to people-watch! Unfortunately, while having a good time and chattering away I didn't actually observe or do any of the things one would usually mention in a race report. Sorry about that.

(2) Finish in a respectable time given whatever limitations the day chose to throw at me. Check.
No limitations for this race! This was my first half-marathon where I wasn't going up against some kind of pre-ordained handicap:
  • 2010 Rock the Parkway - shin splints
  • 2010 Hospital Hill - shin splints
  • 2011 First Light Half Marathon - did not run (PF)
  • 2011 Rock the Parkway - ITBS
  • 2011 Hospital Hill - ridiculous heat!
A more dedicated person might have used that as an excuse to kill it and go for a sub-2 time, but I just wanted to enjoy the day and finish without feeling like I'd run my way to a slow death by suffocation. Though a sub-2 is definitely within reach if I let the Type A monster take over and maybe not walk so much through the aid stations. (I took maybe 15 seconds walking through each - 1 cup Gatorade, 1 cup water, and go!)

(3) See all my friends and wish them luck! Check - sort of.
For me, running is equal parts solitary and social. I enjoy the solitary runs that give me time to think (or not think), observe my surroundings, and appreciate the day. I also enjoy the runs surrounded by friends where there's never a silent moment (unless we're going fast up a hill or something) and no topic is safe from consideration. I tell my running friends things I don't tell some of my closest non-running friends sometimes - I think I'm just so focused on what I'm doing, the filter comes off. Runner's Edge has put me smack in the center of the Kansas City running community, and I'm always thankful for the friendships and the inspiration I've found there.

Plus, when the weather is as "ideal" as it was this weekend, everyone's in high spirits and pleased with their times! Congrats to everyone, especially Mark, Jen, Rachel, Eddie, Blaine, Jeff, Pam, Susie, pacer Ashley, and the Angies!

Secondary Goals:
(1) No bathroom breaks. Check. 
Fortunately, I had enough gas in the tank for a final acceleration and was able to push the gas pedal a little with about 1.1mi to go...just in time for the slight incline to the finish. ("Downhill to mostly flat" my ass!) After the hill, I realized I had to go to the bathroom, so I slowed down a tiny bit but managed a nice finishing kick for the last 0.1. Maybe it was scared out of me last year when Nick threatened to tip my port-a-potty over if I didn't hurry the eff up! 

(2) Debut the anticipated NYC outfit and make sure nothing rubbed me the wrong way. Check. 
One of my last pre-Illinois Marathon purchases was a pair of Zensah compression calf sleeves, since I knew we were going to be driving down to Alabama as soon as the race was over and I wanted to be able to stand up when we stopped for lunch. However, since some of my friends have had luck running in them and since I absolutely hate running in pants unless I absolutely have to when it gets a bit chilly out, I decided I'd give them a try for this race and if they worked, run with them in NYC. After all, maybe fluorescent yellow calves will help my family and friends pick me out of the crowds a little easier!

Of course, they clashed fabulously with my gold-yellow Alzheimer's Association singlet. But shortly after, I received an E-mail saying that they were sending - and preferred if we'd run in - the original Alzheimer's purple. So I'm no longer running in Mizzou colors, I'm running in K-State colors. Oh well.

My arm sleeves are Nike and black. I've had them since I first ran Kansas City last year, but I had a tiny bit of chafing at the tops along the seams and I'm thinking about buying ones that fit a tiny bit looser...but not enough to shift around or slide down. I might look for ones that match my calf sleeves for that extra bit of visibility.

(3) Actually remember to stop my Garmin at the end of the race. ...Whoops.
I make fun of Brian because there's a photo of him stopping his Garmin at the finish line in every single race he's done. He's a lot more diligent than I am. It usually isn't until I've received my medal and am halfway through a bottle of water before I remember to stop my watch. Ryan Hall didn't do it when he ran Boston last year, so I guess I'm in good company.

I finished in 2:02, not 2:06. Stupid gun time.

Anyways, the 14 minute PR was just icing on the cake, and I had enough left in me for a 7-mile victory lap through the West Bottoms and along the Riverfront Heritage Trail. Because I hadn't taken any electrolytes during the race and because it REALLY started to warm up about three miles in, my stomach started cramping badly for the last two miles...but I made it through for my last 20 miler of the season. Brian and I followed up the successful day with Oklahoma Joe's for dinner - my favorite recovery meal!
Brian eats way faster than I do.
There are a lot of factors that could complicate a 4:15-4:30 marathon finish based on a 2:02:24 half, even though all the race calculators call it pretty much a slam dunk. Bathroom breaks, for example, or a less-than-ideal weather day (two things I haven't learned how to control, despite every effort to do so). So just to be on the safe side, I decided to double down and go for another kind of 4:15 goal...a final $415 in my fundraising account. Shortly after announcing as much on Facebook, I received a VERY speedy donation from my friend Susie. Sometimes doubling down means double the reward! And if not...I still raised $7000+ more for Alzheimer's research than I would have if I'd never tried at all.

Besides, I knew the minute I wrote it that Mom would be irritated with me for backing down from any opportunity to do additional good. Sometimes it's weird, having a voice like that in my head since I don't have the real thing to back it up anymore. It's almost like asking what Jesus would do. Weird.

Friday, October 14, 2011

An Underachiever Ponders Success

One of my favorite lines from my baby book, unearthed from one of the upstairs bookshelves on a recent expedition for something else entirely, is on the page headed "First Talents."
10/84 - You can read - I don't know how - but you can read.
I peaked early. In fact, depending on how high your standards are, one could argue it was all pretty much downhill from there. I combed the entire book from beginning to end looking for SOME sign of the underachieving and often underwhelming adult I would become, but, in the first few years anyways, there was no indication of such. She recorded that I was (tunefully) humming along to Bob Dylan songs at eight months old, and eleven days later, my first sadness was indicated at "the death of Anwar Sadat."

In fact, the only thing in the entire book that sounds like present-day me was my "talent for consuming amazing amounts of food," documented 11 days after my arrival and also under the heading "First Talents." (Thanks, Mom.)

Nor was her language reminiscent of the simpering "proud parent" who's so blinded by love she's convinced her overwhelmingly average baby is, in fact, a budding genius. Just the opposite, in fact. My fecal fingerpainting on the walls in Cancun did not have her rhapsodizing about her young Picasso - she was as irritated as any ordinary person would be and said as much. No mincing of words. I felt so dirty reading the recap, I almost felt compelled to wash my hands.

Fast forward thirty years. If I hadn't heard so many stories over the years about my gifted childhood, I wouldn't have believed the child she was writing about and the all-too-often unspectacular adult I've become are the same person. One of my deepest, darkest fears is that her last coherent impression of me was as a disappointment, and I know I haven't done a very good job in recent years of remedying that - for myself, if not for her. I'm trying...but I wish Mom would have had a chance to know me as a successful adult, not just the adrift one. I have a decent idea of where my gifts and talents lie, I just haven't exercised any of my potential yet.

One of the things I've had a surprising amount of success at, recently, has been my fundraising. Because I've never undertaken anything like this before, I had no idea of what I was capable of. The fundraising minimum for guaranteed entry to the New York City Marathon through the Alzheimer's Association is $3500. I didn't set that as my goal for two reasons - (1) I had the feeling I could do better than that, and (2) I figured I'd be more likely to receive larger donations if people saw I was going for a larger goal. So, having no experience with fundraising on such a grand scale, I picked a number out of the sky - $6000. It's not glamourous, but it's nice and round.

It didn't take long to get to $3500, and I breathed an initial sigh of relief. Before long, it became obvious I was going to hit the $6000 mark with ages to go until the race. I contemplated announcing I was setting myself a small secondary goal of $1000 in the month and a half left to go until race day...but, wondering if I was pushing my luck and not wanting to go into the race feeling like a failure in ANY way, I abstained. I kept it as a high water mark in my head, but did not go public with it...until now.

Of course, there are no stakes to declaring that as my "taper" goal now, because I already exceeded it. After my friend Patti's jacket purchase was processed yesterday and my fundraising account credited, my account is sitting at exactly $7010. And now I'm at a crossroads.

Tomorrow morning bright and early, I'm running in the Kansas City Half Marathon. Not only will it be good for me to get my feet wet in my first race since June, it will be a good test of the feasibility of my race goals for NYC. But after the race, I still have another 7 miles to go to get to the scheduled 20 mile run. I plan on finishing, grabbing my goodies and my medal, meeting up with Brian, and then away I'll go (he's going to pace me on his bike). And that will be my last 20 mile run for this training period. Fortunately I've had a lot of successful, confidence-building runs of 20 miles or more (3 20s including tomorrow, 2 22s, and a 23) so even if the last 7 aren't as easy as I'd like, I don't think I have too much to worry about. And then my three week taper begins.

The First Law of Thermodynamics states that energy can never be created or destroyed, it can only be transformed. Marathon taper periods are designed around this principle - by gradually dialing down the mileage and the intensity in the three weeks leading up to the race, the body can use its energy to repair minor damage incurred during training without losing too much in the way of general fitness. This permits the runner to line up at the starting line with the freshest possible legs. Unfortunately, this surplus of energy can also be expended in alternate ways - going crazy, for one. I'm good at that one, as indicated by my last post. Especially if running is pretty much the only way I keep from going crazy in the first place.

My friend Courtney, who recently ran her first marathon in Portland (and rocked a sub-4, I might add!) designed a taper strategy to keep herself from going nuts - she set herself a bunch of goals related to planning her upcoming wedding. In other words, it seemed to me she was setting out to kill two stressful birds with one stone, but in the meantime, be productive and get something positive out of the whole experience. Insofar as I could tell, her reviews on this strategy are mixed.

So as I approach my taper period over a thousand dollars over my initial fundraising goal, I'm considering setting myself another, smaller, fundraising goal to try my hardest to meet or exceed during my taper period. Fundraising has not been a stressful experience for me - in fact, it's been exactly the opposite - so maybe I'd be able to reap some mental benefits from all the good my loved ones and I are doing. Maybe with something positive to occupy my thoughts, I'll see fewer germs in the air, take less Vitamin C, and drive my friends and family a little bit less crazy with all the second-guessing of myself I'm prone to do when I'm nervous.

I don't want to set too optimistic a goal. Too much and I'll go into the race knowing I set myself a goal and failed at it. I don't want anything remotely RESEMBLING failure occupying any part of my brain on race day. I want it to be a 26.2 mile celebration of everything my friends and family have helped me to accomplish up to now. Basically, this is just a victory lap - the hard work is already done.

But too little, and I'll feel like I squandered the chance to squeeze as much good as possible out of this amazing opportunity I've been given.

Will post more on this later. Incredible amounts of food just showed up. I have a destiny to fulfill.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Attack of the EARLY Taperworm!!!

OCTOBER 2010 - I first knew I was infected as I sat at my desk, gazing down at a small bag of microwave popcorn that, with its seductive, distinctive scent, promised to soothe the hungry monster roaring plaintively from my stomach.

It had been a bad morning to skip breakfast. With hours to go until the close of the commodities markets and the only time a day trader can catch a few bites to eat before diving back into the numbers, the only thing able to drown out the insistent crescendo of gurgling from my midsection was--


His eyes watering, my coworker rubbed at his already red nose with a Kleenex. He dropped it on top of a steadily growing pile in his trash can. "I think I have a cold!" he announced to no one in particular. I sighed, picked up a fork, and began to spear kernels directly out of the protected environment of the bag. When I stood up, I sealed it carefully before walking away.

Having never eaten popcorn with a fork before, I wasn't sure what compelled me to do so, I only knew if I'd dumped it onto the surface of my desk and eaten it with my hands, like I usually do, that something awful was going to happen. My shoulders, already tense from awkwardness of eating in such an unusual way, tensed even more every time he sneezed. I noticed he turned MY direction as well, instead of sneezing facing forward or to the left. Every fiber of my being itched to tell him so, but I was (mercifully?) distracted when another coworker dropped a completed position sheet on my desk for review. Her nose was red as well, and she rubbed at it with her fingers.

I spotted a fingerprint on the sheet, dropped it, and ran to the kitchen, searching frantically for the Lysol bottle. It had begun - my week-long war on germs. Real and imaginary.

Let the record show I am not a hypochondriac, nor am I especially susceptible to cold and flu germs. I'm blessed with an excellent immune system and haven't thrown up (from an illness, anyways) since I was very young. But for whatever reason, with a week to go until the Kansas City (my first) Marathon, I was seeing germs in the air the way Neo saw digital numbers in the end of "The Matrix." I could taste them on my food, I could see them on the papers I shuffled through during the day, I could almost feel myself breathing them in I was so hypersensitive to their presence. I knew it - I was going to catch a cold prior to my first marathon and all that training was going to be for nothing.

When I didn't get sick and had successfully completed that first marathon, I thought maybe it was just first-timer stress and unfamiliarity with the whole taper process. I affectionately labeled my mania my "taperworm" - because it started in my stomach as an insane hunger, then went to my brain and made me crazy - and didn't think I'd see it again. But I was wrong. Two weeks out from the Illinois Marathon, I started feeling the germs crawling their way across my face again, towards my nose and mouth, and wondered why the bosses at work, in their infinite wisdom, had sat the heaviest smoker in the room directly behind me. I speculated with friends about whether or not she could feed herself on all the lung butter she coughed up and continued to handle her position sheets carefully, by the corners only. Then she caught a cold, and out came the hand sanitizer.

"Why don't you just go HOME?" I asked.

"I can work, I'm fine," she said. "I just have a cold, that's all."

I bit back the "I'm not worried about you, I'm worried about ME!" reply. People don't seem to take too kindly towards your pointing out how disgusting they are when it's not a comment borne of loving concern for their health and well-being.

Now I know what to expect, but I also expect my third taperworm to be my worst yet. For one, it's already kicked in two weeks prior to my official taper period - a late allergy season has made everyone around me hacking, sneezing snot machines, and while I know allergies aren't catching, a part of me wonders if maybe it isn't just allergies...maybe they have a cold. And if they have a cold, it's one of those month-long varieties, and if it's a month-long cold and I catch it, I'm screwed. And this is the first race I'll have to fly to - and planes are notorious breeding grounds for germs, as anyone who's read "The Hot Zone" knows all too well. I doubt I'm going to catch Ebola from a Kansas City-to-New York City flight, but a nasty flu would have the same effect, as far as my race is concerned.

There's a lot riding on this one. If I, for whatever reason, had to drop out of the race this year, I could always defer to the next year, but I'd disappoint the donors who've given so generously to my cause and expressed such enthusiasm for "seeing" me finish the race. Ten people (Brian, Dad, Alex, Max, Hanna, Jen, Shane, Beth, Megan, and Tom Baddeley) are making the trip to see me run and still more are joining us once we get to New York City. There are flight reservations, hotel reservations, and vacations hanging in the balance. So not only am I shying away a couple weeks early from all the coughers and sneezers, I'm listening very carefully to all the aches and pains and twinges I feel in my muscles. I ran last night and my back hurt - was that a reaction to the awful time I had wrangling the dogs the night before, or was that a sign that something's about to break down? Should I take Advil, or will that just compound the problem? And why in the hell does my shoulder hurt this morning? And why in the hell did I just touch my face?

DEEP breath.

I had a conversation a few weeks ago with a couple of my running buddies, and we all agreed - run-stopping injuries come and go, but the paranoia of being what-feels-like-permanently sidelined persists forever. It doesn't matter if you've had an exceptionally successful training period, like I have for New York City - until you cross the finish line, that fear is always there. For me, it's intensified since my last marathon finish was stolen from me by an unexpected IT band flare-up. So many things could go wrong...but all I know is, as long as I'm conscious and able to keep moving forward, I will. This race is for Mom and I'm NOT giving up. Even if I'm the absolute last person to finish, I will. I guess I'm just hoping for something a little more spectacular than that.

Condition: Taperworm (var: elizabethus marathonosis hypochondrius)


  • Originates in stomach with urge to consume everything consumable in sight.
  • Excessive dependence on Vitamin C (note: distinctive rattling noise emanating from all handbags)
  • Carrying of Lysol bottles
  • Dry, cracked hands that smell strongly of hand sanitizer
  • Marked aversion to eating with hands or touching face
  • Compulsive hydration

Onset: 2-3 weeks from marathon race day. Occurs during "taper" period of training, hence the term "taperworm."

Treatment: Palliative. No known cure. Symptoms will immediately fade on morning of race, once event has commenced.

(Note: This post is a dramatization. Sort of. I DID eat popcorn with a fork, though.)

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

It's Official-Official-Official!

Getting "officially in" to the New York City Marathon, when you're running for charity, is a multi-step process:

1. Apply with your charity of choice and pay the applicable application fee. The application for the Alzheimer's Association opened in mid-April with a mid-May deadline. I received notification on June 10. Some may have been accepting applications way earlier than that, but some were also accepting as late as yesterday evening. The fee was reasonable - $50 - and if my application wasn't accepted, I wouldn't have been charged. It, in turn, was applied to my fundraising account.

2.  Register with the New York Road Runners and pay the registration fee. Non-charity runners would have done this all the way back in April, when they found out they'd been accepted, but charity runners received invitations to register in August. This was the kicker for me. For some reason, I'd either confused "guaranteed entry" with "paid entry" or I'd just forgotten that the $196 registration fee was going to come due eventually...but it did, and exactly at the wrong time. I received the E-mail inviting me to register, then received a call from Coach Brian (of Team R2R) informing me there was actually a deadline for this, otherwise I wouldn't be able to run the race. Ouch.

At this point, I was officially "in" - my login showed that I had been accepted and I could pull up the PDF registration card that I have to print out and show when at the expo when I go to pick up my packet. However, because NYRR assigns bib numbers in waves and because I hadn't registered the minute I got my invitation, I had to wait for it to fill in the middle section with all the info I didn't provide.

And wait...and wait...and wait. They don't actually notify you when they assign these things, so of course my OCD self had downloaded about a thousand registration cards with no bib number/wave/corral/start time info, just to see if it was there yet. Coach Brian assured and reassured me that yes, I was actually registered, they were just processing things and I should get my info soon. It's just so hard to wait when most of the people on your team are chattering on the Facebook page about their start times!

But today, I logged on on a whim and found (edited for your viewing pleasure)...

3. I've been assigned a bib number! I'm official now - for real!!!

According to the Corral Chart, this means I'll be starting at 10:10 AM in Wave 2, Corral 35. From what I've heard, Blue and Orange start on top of the Verrazano Narrows bridge and Green starts below. So I'll be in a great position to take it all in, and I'll be starting right in the middle.

So here's the dilemma. A long time ago, when I first filled out the registration form (back in November, when I was a lottery entrant), I was thinking I'd shoot for a 4 hour finish, so that's what I entered. I forgot to change that when I completed Step 2 above and paid my registration fee. Whoops.

Since then, I've adjusted my goal to a slightly more reasonable/attainable 4:15-4:30 finish. (That's 4 hours and 15-30 minutes, not 4:15-4:30 PM, for the uninitiated.) The only reason I initially chose 4:30 was because that's the cutoff time to get your name in the New York Times...and also because it would have me finishing an hour better than I finished Kansas City. I then added the 4:15 when I realized I was actually running pretty well...enough to enjoy a little more of a challenge.

To run a 4:15 marathon, I would have to average 9:43 minute miles. To run a 4:30, I would have to average 10: 17. But in all of my training runs, I've been shooting for a goal pace of 9:15-9:30 minute miles, which would put me right between a 4 hour and a 4:15 finish. Why have I been trying to run faster, you might ask? Because (a) I have a sometimes uncooperative GI tract and would like to have a little extra time to hit the bathroom as needed - in the Kansas City Marathon, this was often, (b) I want time to take pictures with family and friends along the course without being rushed, (c) I want to enjoy myself and the experience and not stress out too much, especially since I'm unfamiliar with the course and what I'm "getting myself into," and possibly (d) I'd like to actually meet - or exceed?!?! - a time goal in one of these things, for once.

The slowest pace group I can run with in Wave 2 is a 4 hour pace group - running 9:09 minute miles. But these pace groups are advertised as running at even pace...and I'm not sure that's reasonable for me. I know I'm not as strong an uphill runner but I can definitely rock the downs, so I was planning on ordering a SmartPace band (see above), which accounts for the layout of the course, and running my own race. But like any runner, I can get caught up in the excitement and the pace of the crowd and totally (accidentally) throw the plan out the maybe starting slower would be a better idea. Usually I line up at the back when I race, in front of the walkers but behind people who run as quickly/slowly as I run, so I can be sure to get a good conservative start. In that case, I'd want to move back to Wave 3. But if I'm not going to run with them anyways, and my goal pace is faster than my finish time, maybe being with the faster folks isn't a bad idea, either. I could probably shoot for 4...probably. But I'm not sure I'm to the point I want to...yet.

Plus, if I move, there's a chance I'll get moved to the lower level of the bridge. I've heard both have their advantages and disadvantages, but most of the fanfare can be experienced on the top level...and maybe it's silly of me, but I don't want to miss that. The time goal, after all, is secondary. I have no problem throwing it out the window entirely on race day, if that's how I'm feeling, and just having a great time. If I finish, I'll be happy.

I still have some time to think about it, but not too much - at some point, I'm going to have to pick a pace and do some calculating so my family can know approximately when I'll be where. Decisions, decisions. I'd love your comments/thoughts on this, if you have any.

But at least I'm in. Officially.