Friday, December 27, 2013

Brief overload

Without getting TOO involved in what I do for a living, let's just put out there, as I already have done on my "About Me" page, disclose that I work for a major . . . government, the HQ of which is in Washington DC.

No, I don't work HERE exactly, but they're damned interested in what I do.
Anyway, on a day-to-day basis, I write legal briefs, which is basically a term paper, except with more statements like, "Id." and "See id., supra, at blah blah blah."  It might seem all high/mighty, but there are days where it's a matter of full *headdesk* mode as I am required to explain to a Court that yes, water is actually wet, and provide citations what water is wet, and then explain why my opponent's arguments that while water might be wet MOST of the time, and despite his client's water being, you know, IN A POOL at the time, it might NOT have been wet that time and OMG WHAT A TRAVESTY OF JUSTICE.

No, but seriously, you're going to make me write the whole brief out?
 So, I have to spend a LOT of time writing out extensive legal arguments to what-should-be-obvious legal points, because I'm not allowed to say this in response:

May it please the Court:  This.  Love, Tai Fung.  kthxbye







Don't get me wrong.  Some of the work is HARD.  It requires major thought, and I have to spend significant time trying to explain complex points in a logical fashion, all the while explaining to a Court why my opponent's points are wrong.  That's quite difficult sometimes, and I think I do a decent job at it.

Set phasers to "Winning."

But, that's why I'm proud of my job, and get so annoyed when I have to STOP doing that stuff to explain things that should be obvious.  It's not such a simple task.  I can't just do this:


My briefs just got way shorter!

According to the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure, all briefs filed in the Federal Courts of Appeal must contain:

1.  A statement of jurisdiction (meaning, a page or two on why the Court can look at the case at all)

2.  A statement of issues (wherein the briefing party writes some SERIOUSLY ONE-SIDED questions, the answers to which are obvious).  Stuff like, "Whether the Court should throw this case into a landfill, where the other side is a smiling, talking bag of poo, and so are their arguments."

3.  A statement of the case and of the relevant facts ("Court, I'm going to tell you JUST what you need to know, and which you could read yourself, but here are the Cliff Notes version, after which you'll just read the actual record of proceedings anyway to see if I'm telling you the truth)

4.  A summary of the argument (I'm about to argue stuff to you, but here it is in a page, but SERIOUSLY PLEASE READ MY WHOLE BRIEF!)

5.  A statement explaining the standard of review (Courts can only judge cases depending on the standard, which changes depending on the type of case and a myriad of other factors, all of which you don't give two emoji poops about).

6.  Argument (look!  Where's finally here!  I've JUST started really advocating and I'm alreazzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz *snores*)

Anyway, by this point, you can probably tell that writing an appellate brief in US Courts of Appeal isn't the easiest of tasks. 


See you in two weeks!

Each appellate brief I write takes, on average, two weeks to get done.  Some can be shorter, some can be longer, but 2 weeks per brief is about average.
So.  About a week ago, I finally hit my breaking point.

I was hit with brief after brief, and was juggling them as best I could.  But every time I was given ANOTHER brief, it was sandwiched in between two OTHER briefs I was already writing.  Imagine having a term paper due on the 1st of the month, and one due on the 16th.  Then, you go back to class, and learn that there's ANOTHER term paper due, but this one is due on the 7th.  Have fun!  The problem is, if you MISS a deadline, you're in deep, deep, (deep!) trouble:


Well, fuck.
So yeah, that's a problem.  

And that's where I am nowadays.  Unhappy, stressed, and feeling woefully unappreciated.

But still running.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Same distance, different race

You win some, and you lose some.  This morning, I wasn't able to join my friends and rejoice at being selected in the Cherry Blossom 10-miler lottery.  #SadTrombone  I've written extensively about Cherry Blossom in the past, and have run it 5 times over the last 8 years.  I just love that race.  But, it's not to be this year.  However, I'm treating it as an opportunity.  I've heard a great deal about the GW Parkway Classic 10-miler, which is one week after Cherry Blossom.

Adam at Lesser Is More did a race report from his run back in 2010, and my office is littered with folks who've run it, and swear by it.  The only significant negative to doing the Parkway Classic over Cherry Blossom (I have friends with volunteer codes, so I could still get in that way if I wanted) is getting to the start of the race:

The "getting there" issue:
 
The GW Parkway Classic is a point-to-point race.  Usually, that means you leave your stuff at/near the finish, you're bussed to the start, and you run back to the finish again.  At least, that's how most P2P races are.

For Cherry Blossom, I could roll out of bed, walk to my (very!) close metro station, and be there in a snap.  No bags to check, just stand out there in the dark and wait for sunrise and the starting gun.  It's such a short trip that it's one of, if not THE most convenient race I do each year.

But, it's not like it's IMPOSSIBLE for me to get out of bed early, and I'll just bring an old blanket or sweatshirt if the race is cold this year.  I'd rather it be cold than warm, so I'll live. Maybe even one of you out there wants to carpool?  *bats eyelashes*  Anyway, grumbling about not wanting to show up early is no reason to not do a race.

The cost:

Cherry Blossom is cheap to register and run.  It's $40.  However, finisher medals come with an added cost, as do long sleeve tech shirts (you get a short sleeve cotton one with registration).

GWPC 10 is a little pricier.  It's $75.  But, this year, for the 30th Anniversary of the GWPC, they are giving finishers medals to all runners!  Plus, all runners get a tech tee.  So the cost is virtually equal.

The course:

I love the Cherry Blossom race.  It's flat and fast.  It's also packed, unless you can get yourself right up to the front of your assigned corral.  Strangely enough, I used to use CB10 as my PR race, but this year, the Army 10-miler was my PR, finishing it in about 83.5 minutes.  So it's not like I'm incapable of having a fast race on a non-flat course.  Army is only SLIGHTLY hilly, though . . . .

Compared to CB10 and Army, the GW Parkway Classic features more rolling hills, but is an overall net drop.  Moreover, it's alongside my beloved Mount Vernon Trail, where I do almost all of my long runs.  I wrote a runner's guide to the Mount Vernon Trail here, and this portion of the race will be near the "South" part as I described it, finishing towards the "Middle."  I know that terrain.  I know the homes alongside the course.  I know every nook and cranny of the trail, and have watched cars drive by (where we'll be running) as I slagged through my long runs.  This course map is like a trip down memory lane of many long runs in 2013:


The GW Parkway Classic 10-miler course.  Start at Mount Vernon, end in Old Town Alexandria.

So there we are.  My first race of 2014 has been chosen, and I still haven't settled on what my focus for racing will even BE in 2014.  But, as of less than 30 minutes ago, I did this:


Change can be good, right?

Finally:  Why not just run both races?

I suppose I could.  But last year, my first true year back, I made a point to cut the amount of racing that I used to do.  When I first started running, it seemed like I was doing a race weekly, certainly monthly.  I think there's such a thing as over-racing.  I know some running coaches and gurus preach against it.  For me, it's all about staying healthy, and having a few focused goal races to strive for.  Plus, I really don't want to use a "back door" to get into Cherry Blossom.  So it's settled.  I will push my comfort zone and do something different this year -- even though I'll be racing in completely familiar territory.

P.S.  My friend Holly at Race It Live It Love It just highlighted a race I hadn't heard of, but which looks good.  The Cherry Pit 10-Miler.  It's the same weekend as Cherry Blossom.  Perhaps they used that name as a hat tip to people who didn't make it into CB10?  And what if you do BOTH Cherry Races in one weekend?  You should get a cherry pie or something if you do.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Year End Gear Endorsement

Let me say at the outset before I plug various companies and gear --- I have not received an iota of compensation from ANY of these manufacturers.  NOBODY sends me a single thing for "free evaluation" or for review.  I'm not anyone's "ambassador," or "runbassador," or whatever the hell the cool kids have named themselves.  I'm "fitfluential" in the sense that I'm a walking "before" picture for most runners or triathletes, so I guess I "influence" them to start getting fit before they look like me.  Anyway, companies don't give me a thing.  This is all just my own view -- I won't even alert any company that I've plugged their product, because I'm not going to use traceable links.

Ok, with that said, here's the gear I've been using in 2013, and will continue to use for a foreseeable future, because I'm happy with these products:

Let's go from the bottom up (yes, yes, I know . . . TWSS) --

Shoes:  I have zero brand loyalty. I believe in wearing what fits, and what works.  That's it.  Having said that, I shifted from ASICS in 2011 to Saucony in 2012, and stuck with them.  I was a slight pronator, but now I am a neutral runner as I lost weight and got both healthier and faster.  So I wear Saucony Ride 6s, (instead of the Saucony Guide series) and they are the flame-reddest shoes you've ever fucking seen.  I'm buying another pair soon, because the Red Shoes of Doom will not be denied.

These shoes will chase you down and take ALL YOUR LUNCH MONEY!

Socks:  I wear Feetures socks.  If you had told me a couple of years ago that I would end up preferring "no-show" socks, I would have thought you crazy.  But I love that kind the most. Now, anything coming up even near my ankle isn't going to cut it for running.  Years ago, in gym class, guys were teased at the idea of wearing "footies" socks.  Well, fuck that, asshole jocks who've lost all their hair and gained 100 pounds.  I wear footies, and I'm proud.

Underwear:  Commando.  Ok, I'm kidding, I just wanted to see if you were still reading.  I wear Under Armor compression shorts, and they are fucking TIGHT.  Sheesh.  Ladies, I will be right there beside you when the time comes for Spanx-burning.  And while I know most running shorts have an underwear-like liner in there, it isn't . . . constraining enough (blush).  So I have to cut the liners out, and then I wear the compression shorts underneath the running shorts.

Shorts: A completely unscientific test of shorts seems to show that Brooks Running shorts often have a couple of small but deep pockets on each hip, allowing you to keep at least 2 gel packs in there on each side.  You can even fit a sleeve of Clif Shots, or a pack of Gu Chomps in there.  So the pockets are deep, but have velcro to keep them closed while you run.  Really, the shorts are perfect for anything over 12-14 miles (barring really hot conditions, I don't even hydrate for anything 10 or less).

Wrist:  Based on a recommendation from the must-read-all-the-time DCRainmaker, I went with a Garmin 610 a couple of years ago.  It's my everyday watch.  I wear it to Court, and leave it on for races.  I've gotten quite adept at charging it at night, so I never worry about having a paperweight on my wrist.  The 610 is an epic watch.  I don't use a bunch of the bells/whistles it has, so I probably could have gotten away with a Garmin 210, but the touchscreen of the 610, wireless data transfer, and everyday wearability of it makes it a real must-have for me.

Shirt:  I'm a huge baseball fan.  Therefore, while I don't shy away from wearing race shirts when I run (and this year's Marine Corps Marathon technical mock was great), I tend to just wear one of several Washington Nationals curly W shirts.  That's NATIONALS, people, not WALGREENS.

There's a difference, dammit!  An actual difference!  There's . . . aw, fuck it.  They are pretty close.

Sunglasses:  I actually broke down a few years ago and bought Oakley running sunglasses from Potomac River Running in Reston.  They weren't cheap, but they really do a nice job during training runs and races.  You can actually see your Garmin readout through them, which is new for me, because I used to wear a pair of polarized fly fishing sunglasses, and actually had to lift them up every time I wanted to see my Garmin.  Plus, you know, I look all Terminator-like.


Hasta La Vista, ankle socks.

Hat:  Apparently, some people wear hats when they run on hot days.  I should get on that.

Nutrition:  I have a few things that worked well for me during a long year of (1) getting back to who I used to be, and (2) training for two marathons 20 days apart.  The first was good ol' Gu Gel packs.  I know some people aren't huge fans of sucking down a fluid (heh heh), but I'm not discerning during a race or training.  I have also found that Gu Chomps (watermelon FTW) provide surprisingly potent energy, despite the hassle of having to chew.  I think they're really great to eat in the car on your way to a long run, they're rather candy-like.  Finally, turned on to them by my friend Jennifer, I tried Tailwind Nutrition as an additive to water.  It had good results, much better than taking Powerade for those days when I broke down and wore a fuel belt.  Jen has a more in-depth review at her blog if you're interested.  Tailwind won't do for me when it comes to races, because I refuse to carry water then.  That's what those wonderful volunteers are for!  But, in terms of long runs, or days where I was sweating to death doing Yasso 800s in 90+ degree heat, yeah, it's a nice boost.

Safety:  This list starts and ends with one company:  RoadID.  There is no substitute.  If you have ANYONE in your life who is important to you, or anyone who might be remotely sad if you were gone, you owe it to them to do the right thing.  It will cost under 20 bucks, and potentially save your life.

Running Stores:  The bad news is, I have no endorsement.  The good news is, that's because each of the three running stores I've frequented are outstanding, with enthusiastic and knowledgeable runners to help me out.  Those stores were:  Pacers in Pentagon City, Potomac River Running in Reston, and Road Runner Sports in Falls Church.  Basically, you can't go wrong with these shops.

Ok, so from toe to head, that's the list of gear I use/wear, and will continue to use/wear.  Once again, nobody paid me or comped me to endorse their product.  These are just the things I like.  I didn't include my tri bike, bike trainer, or any swim gear because I'm just getting my bearings back in those sports, but I anticipate having more to say about them next year.

If you have a product you swear by, and think I ought to try, leave it in the comments! 

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

2014 Racing Plans

I find myself really flummoxed by what I should do for my 2014 racing schedule.  Roughly speaking, I see 3 "routes" that 2014 could take.  Each have their pros and cons:

A) Ironman Timberman 70.3

Pros:

I'd really love to get back into Tris now that I seem to be fully recovered --and have surpassed-- my prior running self.  An Oly distance isn't that difficult, since I only do Tris to finish, and could not care less where I place.

Cons:

This would be an EXPENSIVE trip to New Hampshire.  Travel, lodging, the race itself is over $200, and I would pretty much do no other races during the year. Maybe a Spring 10-miler, but that would be about it.

If my race plans were ice cream flavors, this one would akin to eating the "Ziggy Pig" from Bill/Ted's Excellent Adventure:





B)  Nation's Tri plus a smaller-field marathon:

Pros:

This option allows me the luxury of a local Triathlon, even if it's "only" an Olympic-distance. Of course, an Oly is the farthest I've ever gone prior to getting hurt, so maybe this is a good thing?  I could then do a smaller marathon (I'm thinking Wineglass, reviewed so lovingly by Holly at Race It, Live It, Love It).  I could actually do a LOT of races, and train for the Oly on the side, as a supplement to run training.

Cons:

Forget the Potomac, which is the cleanest it's been in 50 years.  I'm not a fan of the Nation's Tri bike course.  You have numerous hairpin turns, meaning you have to slow down a lot, and then get your speed back.  Biking is the one Tri sport I fear the most (no, not swimming).  I will say, it seems like they've tried to change the course compared to when I did it, so I could be jumping to conclusions. 

This is almost the most "vanilla" of my 2014 plans:


All of the boring, none of the "Super."

  
C)  Ultras:  North Face 50K, fall marathon, then possibly JFK 50 Miler:

Pros:

Um, I really want to do an Ultra. And not just any ultra. I've got an eye on the JFK 50 Miler. If I really want to give it a shot, then this isn't a bad way to do it.  My boss is an avid trail/ultra runner, and she's a great resource.  She did a series of trail and road marathons leading up to her Stone Bridge 50 Miler.  I'm intrigued by this challenge.  It would probably mean more trail runs, which would just annoy the hell outta me, because those would almost certainly devolve into "longish hikes with almost no running," but I do know that trail running is far easier on the body, punishment-wise.

Cons:

I'm also a complete weenie.  I ran ONE trail course when I was in Florida visiting my mom.  I might as well have worn a petticoat, so I could have raised it up and said, "Eek!  Eek!  NATURE!"  I never fell, but there were puddles messing up my nice shoes, fucking bugs EVERYWHERE, and holyfuckdidIpassthattreealready?!  I'M GOING IN CIRCLES!  BLAIR WITCH!  AAAAAH!  Also, I read all the time about people slipping, sliding, and even jumping over streams like a fucking deer.  I know ultra runners are laid back, and I would CERTAINLY just do any/all ultras to finish, but wow.  Sliding down a rocky hill on your ass, then fording a stream, while, what, a fucking bear eats the person behind you?

If this one were an ice cream flavor? You guessed it . . . Rocky Road.

And let's face it.  With my "love" of the outdoors, there's almost no chance I don't end up lost and looking like this guy by the end of the race:



So.

What do I do?

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Runner's World Holiday RunStreak

Everyone loves the period from Thanksgiving to New Year's.  But what people don't love is the concomitant caloric intake that happens BETWEEN those holidays.  Last year, I embarked on my first ever "Run Streak," and it happened to be the Runner's World 2012 Holiday RunStreak.

What you do is pretty simple.  You run at least a mile every day from Thanksgiving to New Year's Day.  It was 41 days last year, and this year it will be a week less.  Only 3435 days for this one!  Because it's a week less, I'm toying with doing a minimum of TWO miles per day.

The results last year were tremendous.  I actually LOST weight over the holidays.  You read that right.  As in, "I weighed less on New Year's Day than I did the day before Thanksgiving."  So you're damn right I'm doing it again this year, even though it's an "easier" streak.

I storified a lot of my Tweets from the streak last year, archived here:

http://storify.com/tai_fung/runner-s-world-runstreak-holiday-2012

If you have a worry about getting sedentary during the holidays, I definitely recommend this streak.  I did the summer RunStreak, and for some reason I wasn't having as much fun with it.  I'm not sure why.

I do know that there's just something invigorating about doing this streak during the holidays.  Maybe it's the knowledge that you're at least holding the Eating Monster at bay, at a stalemate, while folks in your office/school are gorging themselves.  Maybe it's having a long term challenge during a period of time when people are settling in for a long winter's nap.  Maybe it's the idea that lots of other people are right there with you.  Going out in the dark and cold, climbing up on a dreadmill, clocking their mile(s).

I hope you give it a shot, even if you're not much of a runner.  A mile a day.

Happy Holidays.

P.S. Yes, I used "concomitant" again.  Whatever, I'm a fan.

Monday, November 18, 2013

2013 Richmond Marathon Race Report

Once again, let me give the lead right out front:  4:01.  It's the second-fastest marathon I've run in my life.  It happened within 20 days of running my fastest marathon (3:59, at MCM).  There's a lot of good that happened down there in Richmond.  There was also some bad that happened.

But I wanted to give myself a couple of days to sleep on the race, catch up on some MUCH-lost sleep, and try to figure things out.  I think I've got enough perspective to write this now.  This will be a shorter entry than recent ones, so stick with me.

Pre-Race

I really have a LOT of good things to say about running Richmond, particularly if you're from the DC area:

1.  It's a VERY cheap Amtrak ride down ($25 with 14 days advance purchase, $33 if you buy with less time).  I took the cheap ride down, stretched my legs, and listened to two nutters sitting behind me complain about the George Washington Masonic Temple at the Alexandria stop discuss how Charlie Sheen was framed to look crazy because he understands "what secret meetings go on in that place."  They looked like characters from "Sons of Anarchy," so I didn't pull out my Skeptic Card.

2.  There is a pretty modest hotel located nearby, called "Massad House" that is very no-frills, but doesn't require a 2-night stay.  They put out water and pastries in runner's rooms the night before, and even allow you to check out late enough to get a shower post-race (that's huge, because you don't have to stay a second night).  This is a VERY no-frills hotel, not for those with Tiffany Tastes.  But the room is clean, and the people so very friendly.  Plus, you know, post-race showers.  I stayed there in 2009 in a "suite" and in retrospect I should have again gotten the bigger room.  I didn't, and didn't sleep well.  Stress.  Life drama.  Damn.

3.  There's a little English pub nearby, called "Penny Lane Pub," where you can get a beer, listen to actual vinyl records, and eat a big plate of fries the night before the race, before you put yourself to bed early. I did all that.  

But I just didn't go to bed happy.  I knew going to bed that I was a little sluggish.  I just have no idea how to "reverse taper," although my long runs were coming in right at 9 minutes over 10 miles, I just couldn't figure out what to do about Richmond's course. 

The Course

Richmond really is up there for being "America's Friendliest Marathon."  But the elevation profile is, well, a little challenging:



If it's not obvious, it's (1) a steady climb to about 6 miles, a quick drop to 7, another (short) climb, a drop, (2) ANOTHER steady climb from about 9 to almost the half.  You get another quick drop to 14.9, after which you (3) climb again, this time to about 18.  There are some gentle hills post-18, but the only one that will really hurt is the one around mile 23.  You of course get a quick drop to the finish.

So you've got 3 steady climbs even before the 18 mile mark.  I wasn't really sure how to strategize this.  Obviously, I couldn't run the early miles fast, that method is just ASKING to bonk, or hit The Wall at the end.  But, miles 13-20 aren't exactly amenable to banking time.  I wasn't sure what to do, so I handled the problem by just not thinking about it.

Besides, I'd just run a marathon 20 days earlier, hitting a PR, so I was supposed to just have fun.  But, I'm competitive. And I'd trained to get over injury for a solid year.  I wanted to see where all that work had left me.

Race Day

I walked all of like 4(?) blocks to the start line from my hotel, which wasn't hard.  Getting up was.  I was exhausted.  I knew from the start I wasn't feeling super.  I had someone recognize me from Twitter (or perhaps this blog), but he said he wasn't on Twitter.  So, um, hi?


Flat Tai, plus the 22 Too Many soldier I was running for.

Anyway, it was EASY to get to the corral.  Mid-sized races are just such a breath of fresh air compared to these epic, major city races.  I love the Marine Corps Marathon, and would happily run NYC (or Boston, but I'll never BQ), but the crowds are nuts.  I just strolled into my corral, and studied my pace band.

"Wait, Tai?  A PACE BAND?  Didn't you say this was a run just for fun??" 

Well, yes.  Yes, I did.

But, I'm also competitive.  And, I felt like I had run for almost a year to get myself back to the way I was, and I wanted to get a little gravy on top of my prior PR.  So, I wore another 4-hour pace band again.  If anything, I wanted to see if I could keep it close.

Bang!  Off we went.  It seemed like a crossed the start line quite quickly, but I didn't take note of how quickly (FORESHADOWING ALERT -- this was a bad idea), so I had no idea what my "gun time" was, vs. my chip time.


Miles 1-6

These were rough, but do-able.  They were a steady uphill, like I knew, but I held on to a little over 9 minute pace the entire time.  I took nutrition after mile 4, but pretty much snapped back to pace.  I hit the 10K mark in 57 minutes and change, so about a 9:11 pace.  No big deal, I told myself.  I was due a downhill.

Miles 7-13

I just FLEW through miles 7 and 8, taking advantage of the terrain, getting my pace back down to about 8:40 per mile.  The emotions were coming in ups and downs, as I suspect with many marathons.  I took nutrition at mile 8, and was ahead of a 4-hour pace by mile 12, with all of 40 seconds of cushion.  But, I was climbing again.  Climbing.

The Half

I stopped and walked through my last major nutrition stop here, which involved eating Gu Chomps.  There happened to be a large hill prior to the half, and I just figured, "screw it, take your time, eat, and then run another half marathon."  I hit the half just under 2:01.  So over a 4-hour pace, but not by much.  If this were the MCM, this is where I would open up and fly through the course.

So I did!

Miles 14-17

These miles can be a little bleak.  Many a race in Richmond has been lost at the mile 15 bridge.  There is wind.  There is desolation.  There isn't a lot to inspire you.  But, I came in each mile at 9 minutes, and was chipping away at the Half deficit in 10-second increments.

Unfortunately, you climb from 15-18 at a not-pleasant rate.  I slipped a little.  Mile 16 was 9:15, and mile 17 was 9:08.  The magic pace is 9:09, remember.  So I was at a stalemate.

Then came mile 18.

Mile 18

This is only something that I can do.  I hit mile 18, and, as was my habit, I hit the "lap" button on my Garmin, so I could keep track of my pace.

BEEP!  (or "boop")

I kept running.

At some point, I looked down at my watch.

The time wasn't moving.

I had hit "stop" instead of lap.

Oops.

So, there was that.

I trotted along at mile 18, absolutely dumbfounded about what to do.

I had about 9 minutes to come up with a solution.

What I decided to do was hit "reset," and "end" the run.  Then, at mile 19, I would hit "start," and track a 7.2 mile run.  But how much time did I have left?

Foreshadowing:  "HEY IDIOT!  Did you note how long it took you to cross the start line?  No?  HAHAHAHAHA, SCREWED!"

I guessed that it took me about 2 minutes to cross the start line, and operated the rest of the race on that assumption.

That's also foreshadowing.

Mile 19-20

The 7.2 mile race begins!  Just in time for me to start to slip a bit. Not much.

I hit 20 miles at an even 3:04, (a 9:12 pace), so exactly 1 minute behind 4 hours.  I had 56 minutes to run a 10K, which I can do in my sleep when I'm rested (9 minutes per mile).  But doing it after having run 20 miles?  A wee bit tougher.  Plus, I didn't think I had 56 minutes.  I had deluded myself into thinking I had 58 minutes or so (9:20 per mile, which should have alerted me to making no sense, but I was exhausted, loopy, and frazzled).

I had work to do, but of course, this is the wall.  If those two minutes of clock time held true, I might find a way to gas it.  But, the uncertainty got RIGHT into my head, and just ate at me.  I couldn't shake it.  Besides, I was supposed to have fun, right?

Miles 20-26.2

My final 10K slipped, but I'm grateful to say it didn't slip much.  My overall pace dropped to 9:19 per mile.  In my head, if I had 2 minutes of clock time, I might make it.  

My pace reflected a respectable, and mostly inevitable drop.  But, I just couldn't figure out when to kick.  I kept waiting for another mile marker to recalculate what I needed to do.  And I held onto those two minutes like a security blanket.  But, time kept on slipping, and I kept on counting.

Finally, hoping for the best, I said to hell with it, and kicked at mile 25 to 26.  Because, you know, why not?  I ran my 2nd fastest mile of the marathon, doing it in 8:43, and then flew down the fabled .2 down the hill, motoring as best I could.  I actually was almost embarrassed to go as fast as I did.  Garmin said I was running a sub-7 minute pace (albeit for just .2).

The clock read 4:02:XX.  It turned out I had only taken about a minute to cross the start line.

4:01.

Well, crud.

I passed Bart Yasso at the finish line, as runners were getting their water, and high-fived him.  He took a second a stared at me, almost sizing me up.  Did he recognize me?  My online name was right there on my bib.

I was ashamed.  I said nothing.  I couldn't bear to re-introduce myself to him.  So I gave a jaunty hand-slap, and kept walking, head down.

I headed back to my room, showered, and dealt with the online fallout.  People were uniformly supportive.  I hadn't publicized a secret desire to break 4 again, but I was gutted.  I tried to focus on the positive.  I bought a train ticket online to head home, and waddled to the English pub, where I had many, many beers, plus fish n' chips.

Other runners were in there too, and we all kind of chatted about how surprisingly difficult the course was, even though the crowd support was great, and the city support itself was also very noticeable.  Richmond loves its runners.

I'm left, after a couple of nights sleep, with the Good, Bad, and Ugly of this race:

Good:

-- Um, hello?  My two fastest marathons happened 20 days apart
-- I wanted to get back to where I used to be.  I got there.
-- Hell, I not only got there, I'm now faster than I ever was, barring high school.
-- For the second straight marathon, I didn't bonk, walk (non nutrition point), or hit the wall.
-- My post-mile 20 race pace was only about 7 seconds slower
-- I went out on a tough course, where hills are front loaded, and nearly equated my PR.
-- I trained all summer to be a sub-4 runner. I got there once, and kept my fitness level.

Update:  Holy shit.  My 1st and 2nd half of the races were ONE SECOND apart.  I had a ONE SECOND positive split.  So, even though it's a positive split, I'm going to count that as a good thing.  Yeah, I think it's fair to say I've gotten beyond being hit by the Wall.

Bad:

-- 4:01.  It wasn't 4:02 at least.
-- Mile 18.  I was loopy, I won't lie. My head was just off its rocker. I was probably delirious.
-- I think, in retrospect, my long runs this past summer were too slow.
-- Hal Higdon often says you can't do LSDs too slowly, but now I wonder.
-- I have the endurance to keep going beyond 20 miles now, but not the speed.

Ugly:

-- TWICE, post race, someone said to me, "Are you ok? Do you need assistance?"

-- I was looking VERY rough. My calves were tightening up. They have NEVER done that at any other race EXCEPT Richmond.  Hills?  Who knows.

-- I forgot to do ANYTHING at the finish line.  It was suggested I do the "Live Long and Prosper" sign, hold up some 4s, even do Gangham Style, but I just ran across the finish line, already wondering if there were train tracks I could lay down across and end the miserable existence we call life.

But, giving it a couple of days to let it settle, and reading social media, I see that a LOT of running is about disappointment, particularly for runners who've been at this sport a while.  When you start out, you PR race after race as you get faster.  But, then, you start to level off, and you can either be content, or take it to the next level.  I saw reports from runners who are WAY faster than me express disappointment with Philly 26.2, or celebrate new PRs.  I saw runners who are slower than me celebrate finishing, and some express relief that they did it at all.  Same for Richmond.  The feelings I had were quite common.

I actually kept my fitness around 4 hours regardless of the course.  One was flat but crowded, one was far more open, but hilly.  I have to learn how to pace.  I have to learn that it's ok to fail.  I have to learn that "failure" is a pretty ridiculous thing to call the second-fastest marathon you've ever run in your life.

The bottom line is I spent the summer trying to rev up.  I think I did just that.  Now it's time to rest up, heal, and focus on bettering myself more in 2014. 

===============
By the numbers:

Top 44.1% of all men (ouch).
Top 39.6% of men in my age group.
Top 33.7% of all finishers.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Marine Corps Marathon Race Report, including made-for-tv Dramatic Ending(tm)

So as not to bury the lead on this race report, I'll just come right out and say that I hit my goal -- I got my sub-4 Marathon, although it was a nail-biter:  3:59.  I readily admit that all I was hoping to hit was between 3:54 to 3:59.  I couldn't hope for anything more, Yasso times or not.  After all, prior to this race, I'd only run a single marathon trying for a specific time, as the other 4 were just to finish. 

The story of how I got to 3:59 is, well, the story.

This race had lots of downs, ups, and drama.  My mind was an utter maelstrom of inner demons, mind games, and euphoria.  It was a battle, plain and simple.


Pre-Race

I hopped on a near-empty blue line train on Capitol Hill, and headed towards the Pentagon.  It filled up around Rosslyn, and a solitary guy with a suitcase applauded us as we filed out of the train at the Pentagon station.  I flashed him my standard "hang loose" sign, and waited to exit.

It didn't take much to find the UPS trucks, but I was already alarmed at how far one has to walk from the Pentagon Metro the starting line.  I'd say it's easily a mile.  At this point, every step felt like I was using up precious glycogen.  I turned off my phone after a kind couple got a "before" shot of the Marine's picture on my back (I was running for him as part of the "22 Too Many" awareness group), and quickly found a spot in the corral marked "expected finish time 3:40-3:59."  I also immediately felt like a fraud even standing there.  I'd run ONE marathon with a shot at sub-4, and missed it by 5 minutes.  Yassos or not, all my other marathons were nowhere near this time.



Almost Time for the Howitzer shot!

I want to take a second to mention something special that happened in our corral.  The MCM had some wounded warriors doing a precision parachute jump prior to the race.  One of them was carrying the largest U.S. flag ever jumped with, a 7,800 square foot flag.  It was SO large, that it actually trailed off behind him, into our corral, as he landed.  Almost immediately, several runners rescued the flag, and started to untangle and unfurl it.  I'm sure someone got pictures of it.  But, I was on the far right side of the corral as you faced forward, and the flag was directly to my left.  As it was unfurled, I stepped around it, and took hold of it, along with dozens of runners.  We stretched it out.  7,800 feet of patriotism.  Someone started to shake it, to make it wave in the "breeze."  We all just stood there, holding it.

It was then, we realized that we weren't really getting direction on what to DO with the flag.  Fortunately, someone at the stripey end led the runners at the far end to start to gently roll it up.  I let go as it passed me, and resumed my position.



The Race Begins.

Boom!  Off went the howitzers, marking the 8:00 start of the runners.  About 3-5 minutes later, I crossed the start line, along with my sea of runners, all hoping for a 3:40-3:59 finish.

And promptly went nowhere.

I had just run the Army 10-Miler a week earlier, so I was already used to crowds, but this was VERY thick.  For all our supposed planned speed and finish times, we weren't able to get going. 
 
Miles 1-4 (aka, the wilds of Arlington, VA)

The first two miles came in roughly 10 minutes per mile each, but I knew that we had horrific hills to start off, and plus, with that kind of crowd, there was no reason to panic.  I fell in behind a visually impaired runner and his two guides, who were quite adept at traffic navigation.  They were SO adept that they left me.

A note:  I am particularly vocal about screaming, "GET TO YOUR LEFT" as wheelchair and handcrank athletes come through the pack.  People usually get moving, which is nice.  Except for one:   A petite blonde in her oh-so-trendy capris wearing EARPHONES.  She then had the gall to look back, see that she was blocking the athletes, and basically just ease over as if an afterthought.  Grrrr.

We continued making our way through, and I continued to manually lap my Garmin, knowing that I needed to know EXACTLY where I was, time-wise, for me to work the pace bands, and otherwise make sure I was on the right side of 4 hours.

I took my first nutrition shot at mile 4.5.  I've learned one thing from all my races.  I must take stuff early.  Late nutrition just means I feel great afterwards, but that doesn't help the end miles.

As we crossed the Key Bridge, I was at roughly 37 minutes through 4 miles, or about a 9:15/mile pace (4 hours = 9:09).  No big deal.  I know this course.  It will clear out.  It has to sometime, right?

Miles 5-10 (Rock Creek Park to the Kennedy Center)

Wrong.  Oops.  I hit the 10K mark picking up my pace a bit, because I had just the smallest kernel of fear creeping into my head.  Perhaps it was self-doubt.  I'm good at that.  I'm a walking BQ when it comes to self-doubt, and when it comes to self-hatred, I'm practically Kenyan.

Regardless, I was picking up SOME time from the initial start, but frustrated by the continual stops of momentum, detours around packs of runners, and general inability to find a steady pace.  We went up into Rock Creek Park, and I continued to shout at Marines ("THANK YOU DEVIL DOGS!") and also gave some love "to the people in the cheap seats" (standing on the overpass bridges).

I screamed a LOT at this race.  In retrospect, I probably burned energy.  But is that so bad? Shouldn't these things be fun, even a little bit?

I also took my second nutrition shot at mile 8.5.

Miles 11-13 (Hitting the Half, and making decisions)

Coming out of Rock Creek Park, and past the Kennedy Center, I knew what was coming.  Hains Point.  A lot of people don't like it, because there's little crowd support.  I don't love it a ton, because the course is VERY narrow there.  Still, it's where I do my bike training, and I know the loop around Hains Point like this was my own neighborhood.  Hell, this whole race is practically IN my neighborhood.


I hit the Halfway mark at 1:59:59.  TECHNICALLY, I was on pace, but the margin for error, was rather, um, tight.  I was worried, sure.  But ever since I've come back to running post-injury, I'm smarter, and have always trained for negative splits.  All my runs finish with the fastest miles at the end, regardless of whether they are a 4, 6, or even 10 mile run.  Hell, even the 20s ended fast(er).

So I picked up the pace, trying to trust in my training, even if I wasn't going to trust myself.

I also took my 3rd nutrition shot.  One to go, and then nothing else.  Front loading.

Miles 14-16 (Revving up)

Heading back towards the National Mall, we ran along the outskirts back towards Lincoln, and then turned back to the Washington Monument.  My miles steadily increased in speed.  9:09, 8:50, 8:45.  Perhaps too fast?  But my pace bands indicated I was making up some time, building a cushion.  I liked that.  It improved my mood.  I needed good news.

Miles 17-19 (OORAH!) (or, around the tip of the MCM's junk -- see the map)

We hit the heart of the National Mall.  Here, the pendulum of momentum swung even further towards optimism (foreshadowing alert:  this was a BAD IDEA).  I went NUTS with the crowd.  "Devil Dogs!" to all the Marines.  "Good morning!" to the spectators.  I was fired the hell up.  I took my last nutrition.
  8:51, 8:39, 8:26.

Note.  I know now that this was too freaking fast. 

For those of you doing the math, I had built 134 extra seconds over my goal at this point: 

2 minutes and 14 seconds of room.

Just in time for mile 20.  The Wall.

The first thing I remember is that the wicked wall located on the 14th Street Bridge wasn't nearly that bad this time, the site of many broken race times.  I was still moving, although I let up, just a touch, based on what I knew about the new course's elevation.  Mile 20 took me 9:06, so give me another 3 seconds.

So call it 2 minutes and 17 seconds now. 

137 seconds of cushioning over the next 6.2 miles, having run 20 already.


Miles 21-24 (I'm bleeding here . . . )

These miles hurt.  I can't describe them any other way.  They've altered Crystal City's course so you don't run through in an out/back anymore, but WHOA there's some serious elevation gain here for late in the race.  Leave it to the Marines!

I tried to high five kids sticking their hands out, but at this point I was working.  The screaming had subsided (from me).  I was constantly doing the math, studying my 4-hour pace band.  But I didn't need superb math skills to know that time was bleeding off me. 

The Mile 24 marker came, right near the Pentagon.

I looked at my Garmin, I lost 55 seconds in the hills of Crystal City.

That left me 82 seconds of wiggle room left to make my goal.  I was slowing, but not by much.  Doing quick math, I had about 2.2 miles to go, and a touch over 20 minutes to do them.  All with a touch over a minute of room for error.


Miles 24-25.5 (Math makes my head hurt)

I lost another 10 seconds going from mile 24 to 25, running about 9:19/mile.  

I was now down to 72 seconds of cushion by mile 25.  I needed to go 1.2 miles with no mistakes, and no letup.

Except one thing.  One big thing.  The crowd of runners here was HUGE.

Don't get me wrong.  The race was well-populated from start to finish.  But runners were giving way here from running, to walking, to stopping to stretch.  They were quiet.  They were also congesting.  I needed room to move.  This was no empty Mount Vernon Trail.


Initially, I was forced to settle in.  I didn't think I had the energy to weave through the crowd, so I thought it was perhaps better to find a slot and just finish.

As I cruised along, somewhere between mile 25 and 26, two things occurred to me.

#1.  I'm still losing time.  I might not make this after all.  I had tried so hard.  Trained so long, and--
#2.  HOLY SHIT IS THAT BART YASSO?!

It was.  Bart-freaking-Yasso was standing along side the course, off to the right, wearing his red Runner's World shirt.  I'd recognize him anywhere.  So I did what any idiot would do.  I screamed, "BART YASSO!  I'M GOING TO BREAK FOUR HOURS BECAUSE OF YOU!"

I kept running at a pace which (I thought) would stop the bleed-off of time.  Then, a few moments later, I took another moment to look at my Garmin.  I then said to myself, "Did you seriously just tell Bart fucking Yasso that you were going to break 4 hours when it is entirely possible that you're not?"

Yes.  Yes, I had.

Cue the music, when some intrepid director makes a movie of this.

I increased speed.  By "increased," I mean, I reached down, and summoned some epic fucking power, the likes of which I have NO idea where it came from.  But it was prompted by these magic words:

"NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO!"

(yes, I said them out loud)

I'd like to think I said them like Gandalf, or King Arthur, or even Christian Bale in his rave-out audio, but I think it was more like a kid who was told to clear his room.  

Seriously.  I whined it.  But, for a guy who had already run over 25 miles, I started hauling serious non-Kenyan ass.

Miles 25.8 - finish (Really, you can't script it like this)

I screamed my silly scream. I wailed my silly wail, a combination of despair and defiance.  I then shifted to the far left outside lane. Seconds were ticking by.  Seconds I didn't have to give.  But I knew this.  I was already past 3:58:00, and I wasn't even to the hill.

I had the shoulders of spectators along my left side, and almost all runners to my right.  I called out "ON YOUR LEFT!" to a couple of runners who moved right for me, and freaking CHARGED the course, including that hill.  Ran it with every ounce I had left.  I was vaguely aware of some spectators going crazy, since I'm pretty sure they hadn't seen anyone run like I was running for a while, but I was cranking and ignored the spectacle I was making of myself.

I had the remainder of Route 110 to run before the left turn up the hill.  Because I am COMPLETELY MENTAL, in the middle of my breakdown/panic/desperation, I still looked down and hit the "lap" button on my Garmin as I passed the Mile 26 marker.  I'm not a well person.  I get that.

From the numbers, it looks like I had than 40 seconds of room at this point.  I know my Garmin said my time was now 3:59:something.  I was less than 60 seconds away from devastation or redemption.

I kept charging up the hill.  I was aware of the bleachers to my left, and vaguely recall seeing one or two people stand up out of their seats, but was staring straight ahead, looking anywhere for daylight, and then running towards it. 

The hill flattened into a straightaway.  I was aware that there were some mats across the road, which I'd hoped were finish lines, but the large, red and gold banner with balloons told me it was a bit farther.  I kept going.  More traffic to dodge.  I had to slow, but I didn't look down.

Finish Line.

I crossed, and looked down at my Garmin.
 
Sub-4.  

I didn't see by how many seconds I'd made it, because I didn't stop my Garmin immediately.  I kept walking, in utter disbelief.  I recall throwing my pace band, which I'd already pulled off my wrist and crumpled into a little ball, up into the air.  I'd done it.

Update:  You can see video of my finish here.  Go to the 4:40 mark.  I'm in the middle of the field, starting from right to left, in a red shirt.  I came lumbering up behind a guy in a blue shirt and black hat.  At the 4:45 mark of the video, I crossed, and immediately looked at my Garmin.  Two more steps.  That thing I'm tossing in the air is my 4:00 pace band.  Whee.

It turns out I had just under 25 seconds of room to spare, which means I was WAY closer to missing my goal than the 72 seconds I thought I had.  But a 3:59 is a sub-4 hour marathon, just like I'd always said.  No pace groups.  Just me.

Did I cry?  A little, probably.  I wanted this for me, yes, but I also wanted this for the family of the Marine on my back as part of the 22 Too Many group.  I knew they were tracking me.  I knew I wanted to do something, anything for them.  Apart from my time, they're getting my medal.  I don't need it.  I'll never forget this race.

Post Race:

Normally, you go and get a banana, water, yada yada and go find a way home.  Not me.

I walked back out onto the course.  I walked BACK down Route 110.

I found me some Bart Yasso.  I shook his hand, told him I was the idiot who wrote the love letter to his track workout, and that I'd just run my first-ever sub-4 marathon, and that I genuinely believed it was because of him.  He was gracious, and looked down at my bib number a couple of times (perhaps to alert the police?).  But he was seriously kind, friendly, and enthusiastic.  I quickly left to not overstay my welcome or monopolize him.

I paused a bit in the tunnel just before mile 26, imploring the runners (this wave was trying to break sub-5, as a couple of spectators told me they were waiting for family members with that goal), and went nuts again.  Cheering them in.

Anyway, it's done.  I'm now a member of the sub-4 hour marathon club.  Groucho Marx said that he's never be a part of any club which would have him as a member.  I wonder if a bunch of runners will quit marathons now that I've joined.  ;)

Which brings me to this question:  What's an Ahab to do the day after he catches his White Whale?

 =================
By the numbers:

Top 27.7% of all men
Top 26.6% of all men in my age group
Top 21.6% of all finishers