Monday, April 28, 2014

Monday, April 28th: 4:18:32

My journey is complete. I have run a marathon.

Warning: Since this is my ultimate entry, it's extremely long. I know not everyone can read through the whole thing, but I hope you'll read as much as you can and let me know what you think!

I have a lot of emotions right now, almost a day later. It's going to take some time to sort them out. I'm obviously proud of what I accomplished. I'm relieved that I can start getting my life back to some semblance of normal. I'm just so incredibly touched by everyone who helped me along the way -- especially my wife, Jackie. I am wondering what, if anything, I could have done better along the way. And I am wondering if this feeling of void is going to go away after I get back into a normal life routine.

As you have probably noticed, I've been lying low of late. I decided a few days into the taper that it wasn't really worth blogging about. There was really just nothing to say about those shorter, easier runs. And I kind of wanted to use that time to try to dial back my emotions and excitement, to save them for the race.

But before I really get into the emotional stuff, let me tell you about race weekend.

I took Friday and today off from work, so that I'd have an extra day to get myself ready, and so I'd have a day to recover. On Friday, I made my way down to the race expo to pick up my race packet and check out the scene. It was somewhat small, but I did enjoy myself -- especially when I sat in a fantastic massage chair, then used another machine that gave me an awesome foot massage. I also added a shot glass to my burgeoning collection. And I took the opportunity to check out the scene, so I would have a sense of where things would be in the morning.
$370 will get one of these bad boys
I bought one, not all of these

That is a lot of porta-johns!

Saturday morning, I went out on my short shakeout run -- 2 miles, just to limber up. I also made sure
Couldn't get the whole thing in the pic
I had all my gear together and made myself one last pasta dinner. Jackie and I had to run a few things over to my parents' house, and on the way home, we saw a horizon-to-horizon rainbow. It was much brighter on one end, but it went all the way across the sky. I thought of it as a symbol, that even if I faded a bit at the end, I would make it all the way through the race.

Sunday morning started early: 4:30 a.m. I had bought a ticket for the special New Jersey Marathon express train, so that I wouldn't have to worry about traffic, which I'd heard could be a bear. It arrived at my train station at 5:50 a.m. So I got up and moving, got my race gear on, put on some warmer throwaway clothes, and headed out.
Here I am, all set to go. (courtesy Jackie Richter)
I looked like a homeless guy! (courtesy Jackie Richter)

Some sleepy runners waiting for the train.
The train got to Monmouth Park, in Oceanport, a little bit after 6:00, so that the half-marathoners could get there in time for their race, which went off earlier than the full. That's why I'd geared up in my homeless garb. I had a newspaper to read -- though I couldn't much focus -- and a black garbage bag to sit on so my butt wouldn't get wet while I was waiting. I wound up using those porta-johns three times in the course of an hour and a half. And I made sure to be one of the first into the corrals.

Those are the people in the three corrals ahead of mine.
I wanted to be at the front of the corral for a specific reason. When I signed up for the race back in August, I had no idea of my expected finishing time, so I left it blank. That got me into the last corral, with all of the people who were expecting to do 4:30 or slower. I was concerned that I would spend the first few miles of the race weaving in and out of traffic, and use up valuable energy in the process. But as it turned out, that didn't matter a bit. When the horn blew, more than a dozen people flew by me almost immediately, and the group stretched out before we'd even hit a quarter mile.

Now, my race plan was to start out slow and work my way up to race pace. So when all those people started beating feet out of the gate, I said to myself, "Good. Let them go. Run your own race. You know what you're doing." Of course, that didn't stop me from running a sub-9:00 first mile, even trying to keep my pace in check.

After I got by the 4:25 pace group -- which actually started in the corral ahead of mine -- I settled into an easy pace. I talked to a few people who were shooting for that time, but had gotten out ahead of their group a bit. And just as planned, I eschewed the first two hydration stations, knowing that I had plenty in the tank that early on, and I didn't want to have to hit a porta-john on the course.

Jackie, our kids and her mother were waiting to see me right around mile five -- my first real pick-me-up of the day. The race was still in Oceanport, actually -- right down the street from Jackie's school, which made it a great place to look for her. I stopped off, handed off my headband and gloves (which I'd hung onto as much for sentimental reasons as anything), got a quick kiss and was back out on my way. Right after that was the only significant climb of the race, on the bridge into Long Branch. And honestly, even that wasn't much of a climb compared to the hills I'm used to. At this point, I was feeling really good.

The course wends its way into Monmouth Beach from there, looping through residential neighborhoods before turning south. Someone -- not sure if it was the race organizers or someone else -- put up a gantlet of motivational signs along the road. One read, "You've done dumber things when you were drunk." My thought: "Yeah, like commit to doing a marathon."

South from Monmouth Beach, we were back in Long Branch. I would say that leg -- from roughly mile 8 to mile 11 -- is probably the lowlight of the race. It actually goes right past a sewerage treatment plant and through some pretty run-down neighborhoods. Fortunately, it's still fairly early in the race, so it wasn't the kind of downer it would have been if I were tired. It also was a good spot for me to put in a little faster mile, just to kind of get my overall pace closer to race pace.

Around mile 11.5, I befriended a woman who seemed to be struggling a bit. Turns out, her kids are in the Oceanport schools (but not yet in Jackie's school), and she's a teacher herself in Little Silver. She was definitely pacing slower than I was at that point, but I took the opportunity both to have some pleasant conversation about something other than running, and to slow my pace a little bit. We did about a mile and a half together, till close to the halfway point, when I moved on.

This is probably a good time to mention why I was being extra careful about my pace. The weather forecast was for northwest winds between 15 and 20 miles per hour, with higher gusts. That meant that the last 6 miles of the race would be directly into the wind. I knew by the halfway point that 4:00 was out of the question; I crossed the timing belt at 2:05:46 -- 9 minutes slower than my half-marathon in March. There would be no making that up into the wind, and I really wanted to leave something in the tank for late. I'd say I was still in good shape at this point.
Mile 14 (courtesy Mark Stalford)

Not long after that, my parents and Aunt Susan were along the road. My stepdad insisted that I not wave or anything, because he wanted to get some good action shots. But he didn't say anything about making sure to give Mom a kiss along the side of the road.

The three of them trailed me along that bottom half of the course, and I saw them again just a couple of miles later, right before the race moved into Asbury Park. I was getting a little tired, and it's always great to have a cheering section.

Convention Hall in Asbury (courtesy Christine McDevitt)
I got a nice surprise in Asbury. My friends Dan and Christine were there waiting for me. I knew they'd be somewhere along the course, but I didn't know if they were just going to the finish or what. And there honestly weren't a ton of spectators out in that area. It's not very residential at all, so anyone local would have had to walk a little ways. That meant that Dan and Christine were able to spot me easily, and I was able to spot them. Super-exciting! Got a couple of high fives, and then headed for Ocean Grove.

The turnaround for the race is at the very south end of Ocean Grove. I was both looking forward to it and dreading it. I was excited for the turn to come, because it was the last major milestone before the push for home. But I was dreading it because of the wind. You get only half as much push from a tailwind as you get against you from a headwind. And the turn is at 19, with a little jog to the east before we headed straight into it. By now, I was pretty tired. Not ridiculously tired, but as tired as you'd expect someone who'd run 19 miles to be.
Getting a little tired at this point (courtesy Mark Stalford)

So then there was the wind, for real. It was killer. It was, frankly, my undoing. I saw Dan and Christine around mile 20, and my parents around mile 21, and I'm sure they could see I was dragging. It was a total fight, and my legs were just really balking. I tried taking some extra fuel, but that just made things worse, as my stomach wasn't happy about all that GU all at once. It's where the race plan went out the window, and where things really became about just seeing the finish line.

Those guys in the gold shorts were just as bushed as I was (courtesy Mark Stalford)
And then, at mile 23, I decided I needed to walk some. The gusts of wind were just awful, and my legs were burning. I was able to walk at a good pace, not a trudge, and I was confident I would make it to the end -- it was just a question of how long it would take. I walked for a few tenths, and then I would run a bit. When I was running, I made sure not to get myself to the point where I couldn't go on at all -- like when I bonked on that training run -- so that the walking jags would actually help me recover a bit. And I kept this up basically through the last three miles of the race.

I look a lot better than I feel here (courtesy Christine McDevitt)
As I got past mile 25, I got a lot more encouragement, both from friends and total strangers. In Pier Village, Dan found me again and ran alongside me, slowing when I slowed and keeping my spirits up. We were even able to chat a bit about Rutgers football, which was good because it meant that my aeration was still OK, and I wasn't on the verge of collapse. It's one of my favorite memories of the race.

After my final walking jag, I took off in a dead sprint for the finish. I actually checked up maybe 50 feet short of the line, but it was still fun to be going balls-out with everyone -- including my family and friends -- cheering me on. I saw everyone -- I promise -- but I'll never forget my neighbor Julio, up on a bench, yelling louder than anyone in the crowd. What a rush!

As the title of this entry says, I finished in 4:18:32. I'm happy with that for a first try, but I'm not totally satisfied. I know you're never going to encounter totally perfect race conditions, but I am left wondering how much time that wind really cost me. My best guess is about 5 minutes. None of the people around me during those last few miles were able to run straight through -- everyone had to stop and walk some. So I know it wasn't just a matter of conditioning and running out of gas. And as I mentioned above, I was able to chat with Dan at the very end, so my cardio was good -- my legs were simply fatigued, and I have to believe it was from pushing against that wind.

After the race, because I had so many people pulling for me, rather than eat lunch at a restaurant, my parents hosted an afterparty at their house not far from the finish line. Some more friends were able to come out to that, even though they couldn't make it to the course to see me run. It's just really something to have all of these people who've been invested in this huge journey I've been on for eight months now. I can't adequately express how much that means to me. But I want to give one last shout-out to Dan, who brewed a beer especially for the occasion -- Marathon Man IPA -- and created a label with my image and the letters AR in marathon highlighted. It's really, really cool. And the beer tastes great, too!

I also want to thank my parents. They supported me last fall at my first
There's the frame, with my medal draped over the course map
half, and they saw me in four different spots on the course yesterday -- before rushing back to their house to be ready for more than 20 people to come celebrate. And my stepfather, just in the time between when I saw him at mile 24 and when I got to their house, created this great frame with a photo of me running and the course map. It's really just awesome.

And of course, I have to, have to, have to thank my incredible, beautiful and beyond patient wife, Jackie, for all of her support over these eight months. She's done many things for me over this time -- adjust her schedule around my running, nurse me back to health after long runs, deal with my ridiculous diet -- but most of all, she's listened. There have been times when all we've talked about for days has been running. She's offered wise counsel, she's been my rock when I need to let out my emotions, and she's simply understood how important all of this has been for me. She probably knows more about marathon running than any non-marathoner you'll ever meet. There is no way -- NO WAY -- I would have gotten to this point without her.

So as I said, this 100th blog post is the final entry in this blog. My journey is complete. I am a marathoner. It's a great feeling of accomplishment, but it's weird, too. I posted on Facebook last night that I was checking the weather forecast, and for the first time in forever, I wasn't worrying about overnight lows or when exactly the rain is going to start on Tuesday. I am no longer in marathon-training mode. And there's kind of a void there.

As I said, I'm just a ball of emotion right now, and I think it's going to take a little time to untangle.

I know I'm not done with fitness or running, and I imagine that at some point down the road, I'll do another marathon -- though not this year. But it's been all-encompassing for me for eight months now, and especially for the past four months. There's no more thinking about what I can do better, or mapping out my runs for the week. There's no need to read article after article after article about running stride, nutrition, interval training, tapering... And there's no more excited anticipation.

Anyone who's talked to me over the past eight months has talked about running. It's just kind of been who I am for a long time. And now that it's not who I need to be, who am I? What will fill that spot in my life? Will I feel normal in a couple days, or a week? Maybe once I stop being sore and my black toenails fall off, my psyche will start getting back to normal, too. Maybe in a couple days, I'll stop thinking about that wind, and having to walk.

4:18:32 is still a darn good time for someone who, 14 or 15 months ago, was 240 pounds and doing absolutely nothing to take care of himself. But 4:18:32, I think, is motivation to give it another go at some point.

So with that thought, I'm signing off. It's been an amazing journey, and I've learned and experienced more than I ever could have imagined. I hope you've been able to experience a little of it yourself by reading my posts. Thank you, thank you, thank you for every ounce of support you've given me.

Total miles since starting the blog: 650.6

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

April 16th: Back on the Belt

I guess it's a good thing I'm into taper week 2, because I'd be pretty annoyed at the weather otherwise. I've been back at Planet Fatness the past two days.

Yesterday was rain and wind. So I did an easy 4 on the belt -- and hated every minute of it. Then overnight, we got a coating of snow. It was still windy, too. So back to PF for a pace 5k. I actually wound up averaging 8:53s, mostly because I was bored.

I'm definitely starting to feel the rest in my legs. After today's run, I barely felt like I'd done anything. I do need to get my work and home life in order so I can get my sleep schedule worked out. And I'm starting to plan my final week's diet -- lots of carbs and lean protein.

Tomorrow I'm off from work, so I'll sleep in and then do another 4. If I wait until 9:00 or so, I should be OK in shorts. Then rest, and then 8 on Saturday. And then its race week! 

Total miles since starting the blog: 602.8

Sunday, April 13, 2014

April 13th: Is Yardwork Cross Training?

The taper continues, and it's still weird.

Yesterday morning, I ran a 12-miler. The weather was absolutely perfect. I took Lily along for the first 6 miles here in Cliffwood Beach. She made a friend for a bit down by the water -- a nice woman was walking a big black dog. I dunno what breed, but the two of them got along great. Unfortunately, since we were running, I couldn't hang around, and I didn't get a photo. (Also, it would seem kinda weird for a runner to stop and ask a stranger for a photo, right?)

After I dropped the dog back at home, I looped around for about another mile in the 'hood before heading west to my friend Dave's house -- we live about 5 miles apart. This is the route I took back in September, in one of my first blog entries. Sometimes you just need a change of scenery, but there are a few parts of this run I don't like for safety reasons:
Looking northbound near exit 120
  • The sidewalk across the Garden State Parkway is very narrow. Although I'm always fascinated by the view from the bridge.
  • There's a bend on Morristown road near Cheesequake Park where there's really no shoulder, and it can get busy.
  • There's a 90-degree bend on Partridge Road in Old Bridge with no shoulder. And because of the way it bends, and the zero visibility, it's one of the few spots in which it's safer to run in the direction of traffic.
Right after that last bend is what I used to perceive as a big, big hill. Here's what I wrote back in September: the last mile, there's a HUGE hill. I knew about it, I was planning for it, and frankly, I was dreading it. I turned the corner and got my first view, and wow, it really is big. But you know what you do? You just keep on pushing. And let me tell you, once I got to the top, it was great.
It's still a fun climb, but I think this is another example of how far I've come: I was looking forward to it instead of dreading it. Nice, solid climb at the 11-mile mark, and since I'm limiting my miles and overall energy output, I enjoyed dialing up my climbing gear and motoring up.

I got to Dave's neighborhood a little short of 12 miles, and I still felt great. I looped the long way around his block and wound up with 12.35 on MapMyRun. I easily could have gone quite a ways farther. That's the weird part -- shutting it down when you know you have plenty left in the tank. Dave drove me back home as part of his morning errands, and then we went about our day.

First front-porch beer of 2014
Jackie and I went to a friend's child's 3rd birthday party yesterday -- it was one of those mostly adults parties with a few rugrats running around. Let me just get this out of the way: It was beer, not Gatorade. I also had a couple when I got home. I figure that's probably the last beer I'm going to have at all until after the race, so I decided to give myself a little license -- a last hurrah.

The other highlight of the party, for me, was getting to talk to the birthday girl's uncle, who's running Boston next week. He's a marathon vet and is shooting for a time in the 3-hour range (because he hasn't really been training that hard!). I picked his brain about training, tapering, race strategy and a bunch of other stuff. It was really great to get his insight, and it felt good to get some confirmation that I'm on the right track. I'll be watching for him next Monday.

Today I was going to go to WOW for some strength training, but this nagging abdominal strain hasn't really healed up yet -- and probably won't until after the race. I'm not sure how much good work I could get done there. Plus, with the gorgeous weather today, I think it's a good opportunity to do some yardwork. It's probably reasonable for that to count as cross training, right?

Total miles since starting the blog: 595.7

Thursday, April 10, 2014

April 10th: Tapering Is Weird

I have to say, it's an odd feeling getting to the end of my Thursday run and still feeling fresh.

This morning's run was an easy 5. It was pretty cold when I started out, so it took me a bit to hit my rhythm. But once I did, I settled into a real comfortable pace that would actually be pretty fast on race day. But I was nowhere near VO2 max, and my legs had plenty in them. The course was nothing remarkable, though there were a bunch of fishers out this morning.

Switching to chocolate milk for recovery.
The strangest thing about it is that I had two beers last night and woke up a little hung over. (It's kind of amazing that two beers can do that to me.). I figured it would be a slog -- I even contemplated skipping it. So that I ran 9:00s without any big effort was a major surprise. Another example of what should be hard turning out easy, I guess.

I'm really curious to see how I feel at this point next week, when the total mileage is way down.

Total miles since starting the blog: 583.4

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

April 9th: Two Days of Tapering

One of the weird things about running is that, sometimes, what's supposed to be easy is hard, and sometimes, what's supposed to be hard is pretty easy.

First, the supposed-to-be-easy:  With the brain yesterday, I headed to PF for an easy 5 on the belt. It was horrible. The air in the gym was sticky and static, and I just couldn't get into a rhythm. Despite running 9:35s, I was just praying for it to end. And when it did, I was a sweaty mess.

Good day, sunshine!
Today I'd originally planned to go to WOW, but a hectic morning put the kibosh on that. It was 41 degrees at 6:30, so I decided on an outdoor run instead. My schedule called for a pace 4, so it seemed like a reasonable time to take the dog. Even wrestling the leash, I wound up way under race pace. First two were around 8:37 each, and the final two were under 8:00. Wound up finishing in 33:00. Then I through in a couple of planks and a set of bicycle crunches for good measure. And I feel great.

It's hard to find consensus on the finer points of tapering. Some experts would say today's run was too fast and is going to be to my detriment. Others say that you should reduce distance but keep up intensity. And I've even read one person who wouldn't have me in the taper yet. So I think the best thing is to be sure I feel fresh, and that will let me know if I'm going too hard or not hard enough.

Tomorrow looks like an easy 5 -- the challenge will be in regulating my pace. Rest Friday and 12 on Saturday.

Total miles since starting the blog: 578.3

Sunday, April 6, 2014

April 6th: Not the Way I Wanted to Go Into the Taper

I'll save you the suspense: I bonked at 19 miles today.

I ran pretty much the entirety of the Henry Hudson Trail in both directions -- well, it would've been the whole thing back and forth had I made it back to the car. But I was just completely and utterly spent.

No pics today. Just wasn't feelin' it.
In hindsight, I made a lot of mistakes.
--Friday night, I stayed up way too late, and so I really wasn't well enough rested.
--My fueling on Saturday was just OK -- we went out for Italian (i.e. carbs), but I didn't really eat very well throughout the day.
--We weren't out super late, and I got to bed at a reasonable hour, but I did have two beers with dinner. Not usually a deal-breaker, but maybe it didn't help with hydration and probably not with my overall sleep quality.
--Speaking of hydration, the morning was cool, so I wore my sweatshirt. I shed it when I got back to the car around 11 miles in, but the small drink I took there -- the only one during the workout -- probably wasn't adequate for how much I had sweated out.
--I probably should've eaten something in the morning to top off the tank, rather than relying on the Chia Fresca.
--I did get to WOW yesterday. I had a good workout there, but you have to figure that took some miles off of what I could do today. That wasn't such a big deal when a long was 12 miles. But when you're trying to do 20+, that hour takes something out of you.
--And for reasons I can't explain, I started out way fast this morning. I averaged under 9:00 for the first 10 miles.

And of course, there's just the accumulated fatigue in general. Even with today's 19.1, the last three weeks have added up to 132 miles.

So in retrospect, all that adds up to a bad workout. I'd say by 12 miles I had an inkling that things weren't going as well as I'd hoped. By 14, I knew I was in trouble. By 16, I was on adrenaline and willpower, and I wasn't surprised when I had to shut it down at 19. I think on most bad runs, you know pretty early on that it's not your day.

The worst part -- I still had a mile and a half or so to walk to the car, completely exhausted.

Well, they say that you should make all your mistakes during training, not during the race. And I would be happy to chalk this up to a subpar experience that will help me during the marathon. But the thing is, I wish I had another long run so I could put the lessons I learned into action and see how I do with better prep and pace. Now I just have to hope that my overall fitness will get me there.

Last week, when I finished my 20, I thought that I could surely do the last 6 if the race were that day. Today, I don't think I could've gone another 100 yards before I literally fell over. So I feel like I can make it, and I'll be OK come race day, but I don't have quite the confidence I was hoping for. Sure, I know with good rest and proper pacing, I have the capability. And frankly, given all the negatives, that I got to 19 is probably a good sign. Again, I just wish I had one more chance to find out before race day.

Now we start the taper. Higdon calls for 5 on Tuesday, a pace 4 on Wednesday and 5 on Thursday -- then 12 next weekend. 26 miles in a week? I can go for that.

Total miles since starting the blog: 569.2

Thursday, April 3, 2014

April 3rd: One More to Go

Look for these on 4/27.
After yesterday's pretty intense tempo run, I was glad to have an easier run on the docket today. It also gave me a chance to put on my new running shoes in a low-key setting.
Sun coming up over Keyport
I've been trying to vary my routes some to break up the monotony, so today I did some loops right near my house till I'd hit a mile or so, then headed down to Keyport.  And I'd have a hard time explaining this, but everything just seemed to have a feeling of optimism, of the start of a good day. Maybe it was the good spring weather. Maybe it was the idea of looking out over Matawan Creek as it empties into the harbor, just as the sun was fully up. Maybe it was just a better night's rest. But things felt good.

That's Clffwood Beach in the gloaming
The idea was to go easy today, and the first mile did that -- 9:36. But most of the rest was at an under-9:00 clip. I certainly wasn't killing myself, so I really do think that's a workable pace for me. I finished 5.6 at a 9:07 average.

Near the Keyport boat ramp. Tide was low.
That brings me to a minor concern for the race. As you know, I registered in August. At that point, I think my longest run was around 7 miles. So I left the "expected finishing time" box blank, because I really had no idea. Well, that got me a corral placement with the 4:30+ crowd. My race plan involves not expending a ton of extra energy running around people early on. But I don't want to get stuck behind people running 11:00 miles. I have to hope it thins out quickly enough that I can get a move on. I will be seriously annoyed if I finish just over 4:00 because of this.

Tomorrow is a rest day. Saturday will be cross day to give my foot an extra day to feel better. Sunday, I may go run with the group the marathon is organizing in Long Branch. I just am not sure I want to be in a crowd of 500 people.

Total miles since starting the blog: 550.1