Sprinkles Are For Winners!

*waves* I’m not dead yet!

So, first things first. The Lady and I were recently in our old stompin’ grounds–fabulous Pittsburgh–for the Pittsburgh Marathon Relay. We’d formed a team a few months ago with Kim as our fearless leader, a team named “Sprinkles Are For Winners.”

The relay runs the full marathon course, split up over 5 runners who each cover some distance between roughly 4.5 and 6.7 miles. As The Lady and I had never run the full, there was an entire 13.1 miles we’d never run before, so it seemed like a good opportunity to see the full without actually having to run the whole 26.2 miles. And, y’know, see Pittsburgh and the folks there whom we love dearly ūüôā

The race itself more or less went off without a hitch, albeit with a few wrinkles with respect to the weather. It was a lot more humid than anticipated due to in-and-out rain (which was also unexpected), and this made things a little tricky, but overall it worked out ok.

We stayed with Kim and her husband Scott in the Pittsburgh suburbs, and managed to absolutely¬†pack our schedule with friend-visiting time. We arrived in Pittsburgh on Friday morning at 9am–yes,¬†arrived at 9am; I’ll let you do the math–and spent the rest of the day meeting up with The Lady’s work buddy Lara, some of my former graduate school colleagues, and dinner with Matt and Maria, before heading to Kim’s for the night.

The next day was more running around. First, we went for a shake-out 3-mile morning run with Kim, Michael, and someone named Octavius or Jonathan or Maximillian or something, and his lovely wife Jill.

ChSyQHkWwAANKWc

Courtesy of Ferdinand. Or was it Randall? (that’s me on the far right)

Following the shake-out, we hit the Expo! Woohoo!

IMG_4939

Always a blast.

At the expo, we once again ran into Ellen, as well as Kelly and her family. Following the expo was a strategy session with Kim, a delicious pre-race dinner with Kim and Scott, and glorious, wonderful sleep.

The relay itself was pretty awesome. Our first runner, Danielle, was also running the¬†entire full, so once she handed off to our second runner Shay she just kept going. I was the intrepid third runner, stationed around mile 10¬†of the course. I was excited to run my leg, as it started near where the half and full races diverged, so I’d briefly get to see some familiar sights before stepping off onto a course I’d never run before.

Of course, the elevation of my leg was…interesting.

Yeah.

I went out feeling fairly good, and climbing Birmingham Bridge wasn’t too much of a problem, but there was this offramp that took us onto Forbes…that beat me up pretty good. I was definitely hurting after that.

I didn’t set any landspeed records–8:38 average pace, which for the 10K it essentially was is definitely on the very slow side for me–but I finished intact, handing off to The Lady in Squirrel Hill, right next to Bakery Square.

IMG_4960

Kim saw me around mile 5 and snapped a photo. I was deep in the pain cave at this point, but thanks for the awesome shot!

After The Lady dashed off, I took some time to hang around Bakery Square, get some coffee from the adjacent Coffee Tree Roasters, and generally take things easy before hopping back on one of the convenient relay buses that took me back downtown for the finish.

Soon enough, The Lady handed off to our anchor and fearless leader Kim, and The Lady and I managed to meet up at the finish with [almost!] our whole team.

IMG_4955

4/5 (runners 1, 3, 4, and 5) of team Sprinkles Are For Winners!

We hit up Burgatory afterwards for some glorious burgers and spiked shakes before getting cleaned up and hitting the road back to good ol’ Athens.

It was a really fun race weekend. Exhausting for sure–we spent the next week trying desperately to catch up on sleep. But not only did we once again have the privilege of running through the city we’d fallen in love with, but we got to see a large number of the people who made the city so special to begin with. We don’t see them nearly often enough and it was great to catch up doing the very thing that effectively introduced us to each other all those years ago.

As a bonus, the Danimal and Sarah were in town, too! They both ran the half marathon–Sarah’s first ever! They joined us for post-race celebrations at Burgatory, and a wonderful time was had by all.

There’s more to be said–lots more–but I wanted to go ahead and reassure the MASSES WHO READ MY BLOG (lolololol) that I’m still alive, still running, and especially in this case, still having a lot of fun ūüôā

 

Advertisements

The Injuries of March

A few months ago, I finally picked up some custom orthotics for my ongoing metatarsalgia. A couple more weeks’ rest seemed to do the trick: I started running again (under Mark’s direction) and the mileage started ramping up nicely.

Too nicely, of course. My¬†right Achilles tendon started bugging me, and from what I know of Achilles injuries, that’s not something to mess around with. I stopped by the local PT shop again, and sure enough he urged me to stop running immediately and let it cool down.

Fast forward a couple weeks, and I started running again without any pain. For awhile. Then, my¬†left foot–the metatarsalgic foot–started hurting in the exact same spot again, in spite of my still wearing the custom orthotics. In response, my right Achilles heel has flared up. Again.

So now I’m just trying to get to the Albany starting line in one semi-functional piece. I successfully logged a 10-mile this past weekend, and while it didn’t feel great (and was pretty slow) it felt solid. At the very least, I have the physical fitness to survive the Albany half marathon.

Screen Shot 2016-03-02 at 8.17.51 PM

Slow and steady, if nothing else.

But I’m getting really, really frustrated by this. Previous injuries–even bad ones, like the infamous IT band of 2013–didn’t take any longer than a few months. This metatarsalgia started up¬†ten months ago. The Achilles pain is newer and seems a bit more under control (eccentric calf raises seem to be doing the trick…when I remember to do them), but I cannot seem to kick the metatarsalgia. Months of PT hardly put a dent in it, and while custom orthotics (expensive ones, I might add) kept it at bay for several weeks, it seems now like the orthotics have shot their bolt.

The Lady has been kicking serious ass in her workouts–she’s chasing the Unicorn this weekend!–and I was hoping I’d be able to start building back to the point of being able to run at least a few miles here and there with her. No such luck, it would seem.

I can’t describe how insanely frustrating and rage-inducing this is becoming. I barely eked out 1000 miles last year and am on pace for a¬†dismal 2016: barely 100 miles total over the first two months. Running has been my release, my preferred method of relaxing for the past six years, but I can’t seem to log more than a mile or two every few days, if that.

I see friends running halves and fulls, going through the training, doing the work, and notching spectacular accomplishments; The Lady’s meteoric improvements¬†have been nothing short of¬†astounding. But I’ve been relegated fully to the sidelines, unable to even run them into the finish lines or see them off from the starting line. I’ve skipped more Saturday morning long runs and Monday evening group runs than I care to count, and given the rigors of my professional life those are pretty much the only times I have to see and socialize with friends in a relaxed setting, to say nothing of letting much-needed endorphins saturate my tissues.

I know I’m supposed to throw out an “aw shucks, I’m keeping my chin up” line somewhere but honestly I’m just not feeling it. I’ve had enough work lately to keep me distracted for a hundred¬†lifetimes (conferences in New York and Las Vegas in consecutive weeks; posts forthcoming), but I’m a¬†runner,¬†dammit. When I don’t run, I get¬†angry.¬†That’s just kind of how it works for me. Ellipticals and stationary bikes, while wonderful inventions whose praises I sing every single day, can never be anything more than temporary stopgap measures, not permanent training strategies.

So here I am, four days out from Albany. My left foot is niggling, my right heel is questionable, and my fitness is “merely sufficient” for the task. Not exactly the lights-out dominating aura¬†I’d hoped to exude upon arrival, but given the circumstances I suppose just making it to the starting line is a plus.

Here’s hoping something breaks my way. In the meantime, everyone send The Lady some good vibes! She’s done the work and has endured a lot of crazy ups and downs, but she’s ready. More than ready.

Wish us both luck!

Rebooting and restarting

This hasn’t exactly been a banner year for me with¬†running.

Most of it is due to one big factor I don’t really have much control over: injury (metatarsalgia). That’s come under a bit more control lately, as I received the first of two sets of custom orthotics a few weeks back and can already tell they’re helping redistribute weight where it’s supposed to be and allowing the irritated joints to actually start healing.

That being said, I’m still injured, and my running mileage is still in the tank. I’ve logged barely 950 miles this year; I may yet break 1000, but I’m on track to set the lowest annual mileage since I started tracking it on Garmin Connect.

Of course, the flip side of the injury is the innumerable personal records I’ve set in cycling. This year alone, I’ve logged more cycling workouts, more cycling mileage, and simply¬†more time on the bike than 2011-2014 combined. I have nearly 650 miles on the bike this year, and really that’s all been in the last 6 months. Not too shabby!

All this is to say: I’m hungry to get back into the mix.

The Lady ran an incredible marathon (go read about it!) under the direction of her coach. Given her¬†goal of catching the unicorn this spring, there is absolutely no way I can expect her to help me get back on my feet with running. But I’ve been out of the game so long, I can tell my mental acumen is not nearly where it once was; while I’m still not 100% physically, my biggest¬†weakness is far more mental than physical right now.

As such, I’ll also be hiring The Lady’s coach; not to catch a unicorn, but to get me back into fighting form. I’m going to need someone to help me set goals¬†and to keep running¬†when I want to quit. My mental game was my greatest Achilles’ heel even before I was injured; it’s likely a veritable sea monster now, and I’ll need help taming it once more.

Yes, I netted a sub-1:50 half marathon at Chickamauga last month, despite being injured and running¬†a grand total of 90 miles over¬†all of September, October, and November combined¬†(including the race itself). I even managed to feel phenomenal while doing it. But while it’s pretty thrilling to be able to hit sub-1:50 while subsisting purely on long bike rides (50-mile rides are not trivial, bee tee dubs), it’s fleeting. It doesn’t stick with me. It doesn’t stoke the fire in my belly. The thought of a sub-1:50 half marathon is fun, but doesn’t make me bolt out of bed.

The thought of a sub-1:35 half, on the other hand, most certainly does.

I want to run with reckless abandon again. I want to¬†race a half marathon, putting my heart and soul into it; feeling like I’m tearing to shreds in the final miles and the only thing holding it all together is sheer force of will. I want to¬†race¬†a full marathon, gritting my teeth through the final 10K while stubbornly putting one foot in front of the other in a staunch refusal to accept anything less than my first sub-4hour finish. I want to haul ass while feeling like death warmed up, confident that nothing and no one could coax a single rate constant’s worth¬†more ATP reactions out of my muscles at this moment than I am right now.

I’m ready to get back to work.

It’s the journey, not the injury

Like I mentioned in my previous post, the longer I’m out due to injury, the more I’m convinced this will ultimately be a good thing for my running psyche.

Allow me to explain using two races I ran in the last weeks as Exhibits A and B, respectively.

Sunday, Sept 27: Pittsburgh Great Race 10K

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, The Lady and I returned to the city we are still as madly in love with as ever (disclaimer: we really and truly do love Athens and the wonderful¬†people we’ve met; doesn’t mean we don’t still miss Pittsburgh, too) for a wedding: Kim and Scott (go ham)!

It was a beautiful ceremony, and so very Them. It took place at North Park, an exceptionally picturesque park that’s far enough outside the main Pittsburgh area that deer are a regular sighting (also host to such events as the Frigid Five Miler, Spring Thaw, and Just A Short Run). The ceremony itself was intimate–maybe 70 people in attendance–and took place under a pavilion on a day that God Himself was probably proud of: mid-60s, a gentle breeze, low humidity, and barely a cloud in the sky. It was, in every possible way, perfect.

But it just so happened their wedding coincided with the Great Race, Pittsburgh’s annual 10K that has as much personality as the city that hosts it. We couldn’t pass up the chance. Even with my injury, I felt my foot could handle 6.2 miles, and with all the cycling I’d been doing felt confident my cardiovascular system could keep up.

I went into the event knowing I wouldn’t be setting any PRs; in fact, I wasn’t going to try, not even for anything close. The Lady had to use the race as a training event and stick like glue to her goal marathon pace (8:12 min/mi), and I felt like sticking with her would be plenty given my complete lack of running mileage the past month.

<3

‚̧

So that’s precisely what I did. I soaked in the sights and sounds to a level I rarely ever have at this event (been too busy in previous years gunning for a PR), and all the while felt¬†great. I wasn’t officially pacing for The Lady, but I also had to be careful: I noticed I would keep speeding up to a sub-8 pace without realizing. Come mile 5 and the infamous Boulevard of the Allies climb, The Lady said I was more than welcome to take off if I was feeling good; she would stick to her own pace.

I pushed an 8-minute mile 5 (nothing spectacular), a 6:45 mile 6 (not too shabby!), and a 6:23-pace last quarter-mile before crossing the finish line at¬†48:41. Definitely not a PR (almost exactly 6 minutes long), but I’d had a blast and felt great¬†the entire time. I was truly on Cloud 9.

Yeah, I was definitely sore the next week: muscles I hadn’t used in almost a month had suddenly been called upon to run a hilly race at a reasonable clip. My lungs, quads, and hamstrings were more than up to the task, but all those little stabilizing muscles had a serious case of WTF M8. Furthermore, my foot was pretty pissed at me the rest of Sunday;¬†while it felt great during the race, it tightened up very quickly afterwards, so I made the decision that I would skip the next weekend’s half marathon in Atlanta and resume healing.

Sunday, Oct 4: Michelob ULTRA 13.1 Atlanta

…at least, that was the plan. Until I recalled that The Lady and I had signed up for the ATL Challenge and had already completed the first of the two required races back in March. I wanted that medal, dammit!

Of course, if it was just the medal, I would have been disappointed but not enough to switch strategies. I noticed that come Monday (24 hours later), my foot was feeling¬†better. As in, better than before I’d run the Great Race. So I started aggressively icing each night after work while making plans for completing the ATL Challenge.

Like the Great Race, I had no plans to attempt a PR. 100 miles of cycling each week, while certainly more than sufficient to maintain a baseline level of cardiovascular fitness, does not for a long-distance PR prepare one. But I was still nonetheless confident my fitness level could carry me through the race standing up.

Come race morning, me and the 7.2 miles I’d run in the last month (Great Race, plus a 1-miler on Sept 4, the only other time I’d run) lined up at the starting line, with the lofty goal of a sub-1:50. The Lady, meanwhile, was using the race as a training tune-up: she had her coach’s blessing to open up the throttles and see what she could do. With that, The Lady took off at the start, while I settled into something that felt comfortable.

A few things I very quickly realized within the first three miles:

  • This humidity was going to be a problem: I’d drained 2/3 of my handheld within the first few miles and my body temps were still skyrocketing.
  • A sub-1:50 wasn’t going to happen; 8:24 min/mi just didn’t feel¬†comfortable, and I had no intention of feeling¬†uncomfortable within the first few miles of a race that was effectively doubling in one morning my entire running mileage for the last month.
  • Holy. Hills. Batman.

Really, that list could be condensed into just the third point (with the side addendum: there were 11 aid stations advertised on the event website, but only 5 on the actual course). The hills were brutal. They were fast elevation changes that zipped up and down, leaving the runners very little on which to build some momentum before shifting yet again.

Michelob ULTRA elevation chart.

Michelob ULTRA elevation chart.

…and yet, I felt strong. I felt focused, alert, and in control. I wasn’t breaking any speed records, but I was consistently staying within the 8:30-8:45 range every mile, regardless of terrain; in fact, only mile 3 broke 9 minutes (9:07); the rest were below 9, often solidly so. Helping even more was a steady, misting rain that started around mile 5: it perfectly countered my rising body temperatures and kept them stable through the rest of the race, allowing me to preserve what was left in my handheld water bottle in case of emergency.

I kept cruising, feeling strong, taking the hills at a slow-but-steady pace and chewing up the miles. I¬†high-fived The Lady a few times as we passed each other on out-and-backs, cheering her on. The only hiccup was around mile 9, when I discovered my calves were¬†really hurting but I couldn’t figure out why.

And then it dawned on me: I haven’t been running, so my calves weren’t¬†used to absorbing the shock from my midfoot-to-forefoot strikes, and the Great Race was too short for this problem to surface. Cycling is great for your quads and hamstrings, but doesn’t do a whole lot for your calves. The last couple downhills I had to switch to heel-striking to give my calves and ankles a break, but¬†I made a mental note to start¬†mixing some calf work into my workouts.

I crossed the finish line at 1:53:10, again setting no speed records but nonetheless giving me an immensely satisfying finish, especially considering 1) the humidity, 2) the lack of aid stations, 3) the omg-hills, and 4) my complete lack of running mileage.

Also got my hands on this supaswank challenge medal (in addition to the regular finisher’s medal [not pictured]):

13.1 from the Georgia Half Marathon, and another 13.1 from the Michelob half.

13.1 from the Georgia Half Marathon, and another 13.1 from the Michelob half.

Again, I’d felt great throughout the race. The hills were brutal but I never stopped having fun. The pace was a good workout but it still felt comfortable, giving me a¬†huge psychological boost toward keeping doing what I’m doing while making me all the more antsy to get back to running full-time. My foot was somewhat pissed the rest of the day, but I’m waiting to see if it does the same as before and feels¬†better following the initial 24 hours post-race.

Conclusion

Technically, I’m still injured. My foot definitely still hurts when I walk, some days worse than others. I’m still not going to run on it during the week (dooming myself to miss even more group runs with Fleet Feet and Athens Road Runners), and I’m going to keep hitting the bike as much as I can to maintain my cardio fitness.

But I’m cautiously optimistic that my foot is–slowly–healing. I’m thrilled that I can still race and hit certain milestones. And I’m stoked that I enjoyed those races as much as I did, that I’m chomping at the bit to get back into running form. I miss running. And I like that I miss it.

I needed this break from running, without a doubt. Now I want to do everything I can to get back into it.

The marathon training cycle that wasn’t

Reports of my demise are some combination of exaggerated and premature.

But it’s been a rough go of things lately. Our November marathon is still a ways off, but my chances of participating–as in, even reaching the starting line–are looking pretty grim at this point. That nagging foot injury I mentioned in passing over the summer became a lot more than nagging. I’ve been making regular visits to the local physical therapist, and have gone so far as to order custom-built orthotics molded to my specific musculoskelature.

The punchline: I haven’t run a single mile since earlier this month, and I’m currently not planning an imminent return.

Screen Shot 2015-09-21 at 1.47.28 PM

Lots of biking! But no running since September began.

I’ve resigned myself to this fate. I fought it for a few months, attempting to keep a running base while also working on healing my foot, but it backfired. I have no realistic alternative aside from avoiding any and all activities that put strain on my foot, effectively ruling out running entirely for the foreseeable future (indeed, WebMD more or less insists on a cold-turkey approach).

Needless to say, I have a lot of mixed feelings.

  • On one hand, it really bums me out that I can’t run¬†at all. I’m missing all the Monday evening group runs at Fleet Feet, the Saturday morning group runs with the Athens Road Runners, and all the training runs in between. I miss it. I miss zoning out over the course of a 10-20 mile run and just enjoying being alive.
  • On the other, I think I needed a break. I was getting way too deep inside my own head, too obsessed with performance metrics and improvement goals. And there’s something to be said for a full-stop, cold-turkey break from running: rather than struggling through sub-par runs–bleeding off speed, cutting mileage, and generally feeling unsatisfied with the few runs I’d go on, all the while risking additional injury–I’ve accepted my situation and am now seeking out cross-training in all its glory.

To that end, I’ve been logging¬†monster¬†mileage on Sybil, my trusty Talus from my summer at Google (she’s just over 4 years old now!).

All my rides!

All my rides!

I’ve been exploring the country roads outside the immediate Athens area and having a blast while at it. I’ve already seen my times improving: my 39.1-mile ride was only 2 minutes faster than my 43.5-mile ride the subsequent weekend, and both took the same route. The latter route is my longest ride to date, in which I biked all the way up to the picturesque city of Jefferson, a classic southern town that I took a few minutes to explore.

Part of my motivation has been simply to get back on the bike; I really do enjoy cycling. But I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t at least a small ulterior motive: while logging monster mileage is certainly a lot of fun for its own sake, as is using my newfound and growing cycling legs to explore an ever-wider radius around Athens, I want to log monster mileage on the bike as a way to minimize my loss of running fitness.

I’ll admit: in a sense, it’s freeing to just drop running entirely. That way, I’ve also dropped any expectations for performance when I¬†inevitably get back in the game. Those first couple runs are going to suck, no two ways about it. But as a consequence of no expectations, I’ll get to see and experience the feeling of improving over each subsequent workout, observing my legs getting stronger again. I’ve already seen that in biking: in just one week, I extended the mileage of a really punishing route by 4 miles and finished in about the same time. The lower body workouts aren’t crushing me as much as they used to.¬†I’m substantially upping the difficulty levels on the stationary bike.

The Lady and I are signed up for the Pittsburgh Great Race next weekend (yup, we’ll be visiting the ‘burgh next weekend, WOOT), and my participation will be on a game-time-decision basis. However, the weekend after is a half marathon in Atlanta, and I’m even less optimistic about my chances there. I’d probably have the fitness to finish, but it would be ugly…also, foot injury.

I suppose the long and short of this is: I miss running. I’m actually kind of glad for the break and reprieve, too. But I really miss running.

Run-up (heh) to marathon training

Man, real life can be quite the time sink, #amirite?

At any rate, in the intervening weeks since my last update, I’ve since halted the run streak due to nagging pain under the knuckle of my second left toe. I’ve started seeing a PT, who looked at my gait and–I kid you not–said “I can’t let you keep testing, because otherwise you’ll break records that *I* set. Your gait is fine; take some time off and you’re good.” While I haven’t stopped running entirely, I have been doing a lot more cross-training (stationary bike, elliptical, weights, push-ups at work) and am still participating in the weekly Fleet Feet group runs, Athens Road Runner track workouts, and group long runs.

Still, it means my mileage has tanked somewhat; I barely eked out a 100-mile June (100.47, to be exact) for a 6-month total of 672.27. Very much on track to break 1000 miles again, but¬†way short of the monstrous 1600+ I put up in 2014; I sincerely doubt I’ll be able to log 1000 miles in the next 6 months. Not without further injuring myself, at least.

So if absolute mileage isn’t my goal for 2015, what is?

How about some PRs, maybe with some cross-training thrown in? To expound a little further:

  • The Lady and I are running the Peachtree Road Race in a few days’ time, and while we managed to get ourselves seeded at the VERY FRONT of the pack–wave A–I don’t think it’ll be a PR course. Still, I’d love to get under 44 minutes.
  • We’ve also registered for two half marathons in October: the Michelob Ultra 13.1 Atlanta, and the Ath Half right here in Athens. My half PR stands at 1:41 and change, and while I couldn’t come close to that back in March at the Georgia Half, I still put up a respectable 1:45. For October, I’m just going to lay it out:¬†I want sub-1:40.
  • I mentioned marathon training in the title of this post. In just a few weeks, The Lady and I will start training for the Chickamauga Battlefield Marathon in mid-November in the foothills of the Appalachians. I’ve run three marathons with varied degrees of success–Philly was an implosion, Marine Corps was better, and Big Sur was still better even though my time was worst–and my PR remains stuck at 4:17: what I ran at Philly and beat by 8 measly seconds at Marine Corps.¬†I want sub-4 hours.
  • I have a beastly Talus mountain bike that hasn’t seen the outside of our garage since we moved to Athens.¬†I want to take Sybil out for a spin or several.

I’ve had some motivational issues over the last month. In fact, all things considered, my current nagging foot injury came at the best possible time: marathon training was still far enough away to provide plenty of time for a full recovery, and it gave me a good excuse to take a bit of a step back from running. I’d been enjoying it less and less; I still liked the¬†idea of running, but whenever I actually got out there, I spent the whole run wanting to be done.

Effectively, “burned out” is the phrase I’d use to sum up how I’ve been feeling. So perhaps it’s time for a breather before training ramps up. The summer has been nice for settling into my 6-month-old new job, but with it came a¬†brutal three-week heat wave: mid-70s and humid in the mornings, mid-to-upper 90s in the afternoons…and no rain for that entire period. Every run, especially the evening group runs, was painful and grindy. Pulling back a little has helped, but I’m still working on shifting my mentality (and¬†getting more sleep; it’s been a very busy couple of weeks and my sleep has been iffy) from “avoid pain” to “haul ass“. I still have a lot of work to do, but I’m hopeful that I’ve been taking small steps in the right direction.

Wish us luck this weekend, as we join 60,000 of our closest friends to run the world’s largest 10K!

Have a very happy and safe 4th of July!

Race Report: The Hilliest Marathon Evar

Upside of running a marathon on the opposite coast: it basically forces you to take a vacation, unless you really want to fly back within 24 hours of touching down (not this guy).

Downside of running a marathon on the opposite coast: holy 500 unread emails, batman.

BUT ANYWHO. BIG SUR!

West coast best coast?

West coast best coast?

This whole trip was a very interesting logistical ballet. While the race was on a Sunday, we flew into SFO on the previous Thursday, giving us a few entire days to get settled beforehand. Afterwards, we left on that Tuesday, giving us yet another day after the fact to stretch our aching legs and tour around before cramming back into a tiny metal tube flying at 35,000 feet for several hours.

It turned out to be a brilliant plan.

Thursday, Friday, Saturday: Pre-race

She is SO EXCITED for the 6-hour plane ride.

She is SO EXCITED for the 6-hour plane ride.

The flight was long, but uneventful. The wild card, I noticed in class I was teaching the previous day, was a tickle in the back of my throat that, historically, signaled the onset of a head cold. With hardly 72 hours to go before a marathon, I was more than a little worried that this could be problematic. So we tried to accommodate by making sure we got plenty of sleep and fluids.

That first evening, we stayed in a hotel right next to the airport. Pretty much rolled out of the plane and into bed.

Friday morning, we rented a car and drove the ~2 hours from San Francisco to Monterey.

It's a surprisingly long drive, especially if you're still a little jet-lagged.

It’s a surprisingly long drive, especially if you’re still a little jet-lagged.

The plan was to arrive by lunch time, both so we could get to the Expo in plenty of time, and so we could meet up with friends of ours from Pittsburgh who were also running–Danielle (The Lady’s running buddy!), and her husband Jose (who ended up not running). We met them for lunch at a nearby crepe restaurant (omnomnom) which, not at all coincidentally, was a block away from the Expo.

We picked up our bibs, bought a bunch of really cool swag–they had some awesome stuff there!–got all the information we needed on the buses that would drive us to the starting line at oh-God-o-clock the next morning, and by the early afternoon we were all wrapped up!

Danielle and Jose wanted to spend the rest of the day in San Francisco, but since The Lady and I had just come back from there we were loathe to make that drive two more times in the same day. Instead, we planned to meet up the next morning before parting ways; The Lady and I made our way to our hotel further up the road, which turned out to be a lovely inn about two blocks away from Cannery Row. So we took the opportunity to do a little bit of sight-seeing!

It was nice to get out and about, particularly since we knew we’d be spending all of the next day lounging, giving our legs as much rest as possible before the marathon.

Not too much rest, though–that Saturday morning was a group shake-out run with several Runner’s World reps, including none other than Bart Yasso!

You're jelly.

You’re jelly.

Fun fact: we actually got to meet him before the Pittsburgh marathon a few years back, but this was the first time we really got to run and chat with him. Wonderful guy with boundless energy who thrives on meeting new people, especially runners.

After the shake-out, we went back to our hotel, got cleaned up, and lounged the rest of the day. Bedtime was early, as wake-up was super early: around 3am.

Sunday: Race Day!

At this point, nearly two months out from the race, I honestly don’t remember how early it was that we woke up. But I do know the buses left sometime in the 3am range, so it was¬†early. The bus ride itself was a good 45-60 minutes over Highway 1; very rolling. I somewhat dozed in and out; it was still pitch black out, so it’s not like I could really enjoy the scenery anyway.

We arrived at the starting line–seeming civilization in the middle of nowhere. Fortuitously enough, we encountered Danielle, and huddled together until the sun came up.

The start was right around 7am. The sun had only just started coming up an hour before, and the landscape as it came into view was, simply, breathtaking.

We had a few minutes to warm up (darting between runners) and generally attempt to shake out the butterflies, but soon enough, the starting time arrived. After a few announcements, the race director wished us good luck…and we were off!

Miles 1-5

The whole course was beautiful, but the first few miles almost felt like I was alone on the western coast of the United States. It was absolutely beautiful; there were giant trees to both sides of the road, killing the wind but also keeping out the rapidly rising sun. There were almost no crowds to speak of; the occasional house or lodge we passed by might’ve had a handful of people outside watching us go by, but other than that it was just the quiet pitter-pat of running feet punctuated by the occasional conversation between runners.

I loved it. Really helped me settle in, mentally. Plus I’m just kind of a nature freak: being by myself out in the great quiet embrace of Mother Nature is incredibly calming and soothing.

The road itself was, as advertised, rolling. The first 5 miles were a net downhill of 250ft, but there were certainly uphills as well as downhills on the winding road. We kept a fairly consistent sub-9 pace: 8:52, 8:40, 8:38, 8:44, 8:51.

Miles 5-10

With the exception of the last mile of this stretch, it was a significant net uphill. Gone were the cover of the trees; we had emerged along the California coastline, and the wind made its presence felt. It was absolutely beautiful; we could see the waves crashing on one side, and on the other the rolling hills complete with grazing cattle (we could even hear them; we imagined they were cheering us on). The Lady in particular recalled how there was a solid 2-mile steady climb during this stretch, where you could see the entire two miles; the road was a straight shot the whole way. Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, I felt pretty good. I had settled in nicely, and while our pace had slowed due to the climbs, I was enjoying myself.

Given that we weren’t aiming for any particular time goal, we stopped¬†a couple of times to take pictures of the scenery.

We stayed solidly in mid-9s territory: 9:04, 9:03, 10:08, 9:25, 9:48.

Miles 10-15

Ok. Here’s where things got interesting. I’ll show you, and then describe it to you. Here’s the elevation chart as compiled by Strava from my GPS data of the race.

Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 11.55.49 AM

That spike in the middle, ladies and gentlemen, is known as Hurricane¬†Point, and this elevation chart isn’t exaggerating: it is indeed a straight climb for two miles, during which you ascend just about 500ft. It’s not rolling; it is, quite literally, a straight climb. Mile 10 is the worst–you gain over 300 of the total 500ft in just that one mile.

Thankfully, I had my game face on and chugged up the hill, feeling surprisingly good the whole time. The Lady stuck right with me, too.

Upon reaching the top of the hill, we thought about stopping for another photo op, but the wind up there was¬†crazy. I don’t know how strong it actually was, but I do know that, in the small amount of time¬†that my foot was off the ground when I’d lift it to take another step, the wind would blast it sideways. My bib rippled, crackling loud enough to make me worry it would get blown off. So we kept moving.

We got a bit of a reprieve with a fairly lengthy downhill. At precisely the 13.1 mile mark, we reached the famous Bixby Creek Bridge. Of course we stopped to take a few photos.

And yes, as per Big Sur tradition, there was a pianist on a grand piano here. Absolutely delightful.

Despite Hurricane Point, we still made pretty good time on this stretch, keeping our mid-9s pacing on average: 9:48, 10:28, 9:53, 8:46, 9:54.

Miles 15-20

We were still cruising pretty well. I was definitely feeling the fatigue creeping in, but I still felt strong. However, for whatever reason, my GI tract decided to stage a revolt at this point. At mile 16 I had to make an unscheduled pit stop (The Lady had made one several miles ago; we were making excellent time so far, given our frequent photo stops, pit stops, and the general hilly course), after which I felt immensely better. Hashtag runner problems.

This was also where the course started deviating more inland, away from the coast. Kind of sad, though it did mean the wind eased up a bit. However, the sun was starting to get pretty warm, and while we did move further inland, there wasn’t a corresponding increase in tree cover. Instead, the surrounding area seemed to turn into farmland. The shade was a bit spotty.

Still we pressed on at a pretty decent clip: 14:13 (pit stop), 9:33, 9:42, 9:46, 9:47.

Miles 20-25

You know “The Wall” that runners talk about, and the concept of “hitting” it? That’s pretty much what happened to me at mile 20. One minute I was fine, the next minute, I¬†really, really wasn’t.

I call this maneuver the

I call this maneuver the “Final 10K Shuffle-Step”.

I wish I could say it got better, but it really didn’t. While this probably would have happened anyway, my sneaking suspicion is the head cold I mentioned at the beginning hit full force here. Marathons put a ton of stress on your body, and one of the ways that stress¬†manifests is by shredding your immune system. Most of the time this isn’t too much of a problem, but if you’re already getting sick, running a marathon will kick the disease into overdrive.

I was having a hard time breathing without launching into coughing fits that had me doubled over. My legs wouldn’t cooperate. It was painful.

The Lady, incredibly, was hitting a stride. Where I evidently kept her in the game for the first part of the marathon, she was the single reason I kept pushing forward past the 20-mile mark. 11:29, 11:31, 10:57, 12:38, 10:55.

Final mile

I had an amusing revelation the day after Big Sur. We ended up driving by the finish line to meet up with Danielle and her husband before they left town. I recognized the finish, remembering the tents and the people cheering us those final agonizing miles. But as we drove past the finish line and into where miles 25 and 26 had been, I startled to realize:

I had no recollection of it whatsoever. Even on the drive back, when we were driving¬†in the exact same direction along the course that we’d run–towards the finish–I couldn’t place the surroundings. They were completely unfamiliar to me.

That’s to illustrate that, while I don’t remember the course in that final 1.2-mile stretch, I¬†vividly remember the pain I was in. Again, if not for The Lady’s gentle but constant encouragement, I don’t know how I would have dragged myself across the finish line.

Finishing time:¬†4:26:11¬†(according to the official Big Sur finisher’s book)

The immediate aftermath was painful. The lead in my legs began to set almost immediately after I stopped¬†running, and it hurt. A lot. I think The Lady was honestly worried there was something wrong with me aside from the whole “just ran a marathon” thing. It took the better part of the ride back on the bus before the pain in my legs¬†began¬†subsiding.

We went back to the hotels, cleaned up, and rested. My legs, while completely beat, were functioning semi-normally by that evening. I couldn’t yet tell how bad my head cold was going to be; given how badly I knew I’d just trashed my immune system, I imagined the virus would be¬†rampaging through my body virtually unchecked for the better part of the next 24 hours.

(turns out, that was prescient: it took about that time before things really got bad)

By that evening we were both feeling decently well rested–and HUNGRY–so we took a short walk to a nearby burger joint. It turned out to be perfect.

Photo Apr 26, 20 49 48

It was very much a local mom-and-pop establishment. We were even treated to a group of retired folks who had organized themselves into something of an orchestra, conducting a regular practice session in the middle of the restaurant. So not only did we have a warm, inviting atmosphere in which to chow down on burgers & fries, but music from adorable retirees as well. It was perfect.

We slept well that night.

Monday, Tuesday: Post-race

It turned out to be a brilliant decision on our part to sacrifice two work days for the purpose of easing ourselves back into civilization. It gave us time actually enjoy traveling.

Since our hotel was all of a few blocks from Cannery Row–and therefore the beach and the Monterey Aquarium–we spent plenty of time checking out both. It was a convenient way to stretch out our legs a bit, and let’s face: beaches and aquariums are awesome. We had a lovely time.

Monday late afternoon, we said goodbye to Monterey and road tripped back into San Francisco to spend the night with my college-friend-turned-badass-Bay-Area-developer Amanda and her roommate. We don’t get to see each other very often anymore–what with living on opposite coasts and all–so it was a treat to be able to hang out with her for a night and catch up.

Oh, and we got along just fine with her apartment’s third, and furry, inhabitant.

Meet Jake the Cuddle Monster. He will cuddle you to death.

Meet Jake the Cuddle Monster. He will cuddle you to death.

Come Tuesday morning, as Amanda was departing for work, we packed up as well, said our goodbyes, and headed for the airport and home.

Epilogue

This was one of the most bipolar marathon training sessions I can remember. Granted, I’ve only been through all of three (I guess, technically, four? I ran the 2014 AF half but trained as though it was the full) so I’m not exactly working with a large sample; each training session is likely to have its own “first”s and “most”s for a few more yet to come. But the move to Athens can’t be discounted entirely, either; we were here all of two months before we started training. Kind of hard to imagine there¬†wouldn’t be some bumps in that particular road.

Also, I was coming down with a head cold four days before the race.¬†And as predicted, about 48 hours after the race, my immune system had recovered enough to discover that my body was¬†saturated with whatever virus it was and flipped every alarm switch to DEFCON 1. tl;dr I was the most miserable wreck all of Tuesday for the drive to the airport and the flight home, what with a runny nose,¬†splitting headache (that ibuprofen didn’t even put a dent in), and general lethargy. In that light, it’s kind of amazing that broke down at mile 20 as opposed to, y’know, mile 1.

All that aside, it’s still tough for me to shake the disappointment with what appeared to be a second consecutive 20-mile breakdown. At both Marine Corps and now Big Sur, mile 20 has been a wall that has thus far been¬†insurmountable; I’m¬†rolling, until that crucial final 10K where the wheels abruptly fall off.

And yet…there’s this neat feature on Strava where it attempts to intelligently discern how much of your workout you actually spent in motion. Since I don’t stop my watch during races (why would you?), it had the data to come up with a guess of what my time would’ve been minus the 2 bathroom breaks and¬†3 photo ops. Any guesses?

A 9:47 min/mi pace (for reference, my average pace for my official time was 10:10 min/mi). Any idea what my current marathon PR pace is? 9:47 min/mi.

So discounting the bathroom stops and photo ops, I ran Big Sur–in all its crazy elevation changes, with a head cold, and after a relatively subpar training cycle–at the same pace as my PR.

That gives me a glimmer of optimism. It also means it’s time to get back to work.