Thursday, April 25, 2013

Boston Marathon: A tribute to the runners

In keeping with my usual pattern of procrastination, I’m belatedly chiming in over a week after the ghastly happenings at the Boston Marathon. Not that I have anything to add that has not already been said. Really, what remains to be said? From the excitement and thrill of following some of my best friends/running buddies (via BAA's AthleteAlert) as they competed (or spectated) at arguably the ‘world’s greatest marathon’ to the horror of the bombing in seconds. The mad scramble to check and double check that everyone you know is unharmed. The relentless questions of Why? How? Who? The outpouring of support for the unsuspecting victims. Riding the aftermath in silence, watching the story play out in the media while you process your feelings, and try to imagine what is going on in the minds of the people involved, the people closest to the tragedy.

While struggling with the dark, confusing, fearful thoughts that arise out of a tragic event, it's always  heart-warming to see courageous, magnanimous acts by people, rising above the negativity, infusing hope, doggedly determined to leave the horror behind.

There is anger, confusion. Talking about the race, the results and the spectacular performances of talented runners when the country is still mourning, may be considered disrespectful, distasteful at the very least. Tentative news articles of the winners and analyses of the race are just starting to trickle in, prefaced and shadowed by news of the bombing. Boston Marathon 2013 will forever remain tainted by this horrible turn of events. As if the race was just a footnote.

But I can’t help thinking of the runners. Some of the most dedicated on the planet (in the country, at least). I've had the honor of training with some of them; dreamed of being in their sweaty running shoes someday. Months of preparation, toil, tears and sacrifice leading up to the day; overcoming injury and illness along the way; way more devoted to the sport than amateur runners with full-time jobs and families can afford to be. Pouring their heart into every step of the race. The anxiety and excitement of negotiating a tough course for 26.2 miles. Full of anticipation for the finish. And finally robbed of their moment of celebration. Anxiety for the perfect finish replaced by anxiety for the safety of their loved ones. BAA is still figuring out how to handle non-finishers, provide adjusted times for those who were diverted or asked to stop the race mid-course. There will be age-group awards, as there are, for every race. But the satisfaction of crossing the finish line did not happen - for thousands of runners. And for those who finished, the wildly ecstatic, congratulatory messages, handshakes and high fives at the end of the race were replaced by a somber “Are you safe?” There will be no exhilarating race recaps. The PRs went unnoticed, the tales of triumph uncelebrated. None of it mattered anymore. An unconsummated race.

We move on, even as we continue to be weighed down by the tragedy. Runners are resilient, hard to intimidate. Passionate people, riding a tidal wave of endorphin. The bombing only fueled the wave. A number of runners are already clamoring to race Boston Marathon 2014. Races will continue to happen. And there will always be hope that evil can be erased by stories of courage and compassion.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

BQ...Take 10?

I’ve dawdled over this race report, because
a.       I never seem to have enough time
b.      I couldn’t find the words to fit all the feelings and events leading up to this race into a single, concise blog post

I always imagined that if I qualified for the Boston Marathon (a goal I’ve nurtured for over 5 years now), everything would be alright in my world of running. I would have figured out the recipe for conquering all running injuries, I would finally get over my fears, run the Boston Marathon and happily train forever after, injury-free, to the peak of my limited running abilities.

My last marathon was in 2010. My training included 3 weeks of pool running (thanks to injury, surprise, surprise), and the race was run in 80-90 degree temps, leaving me drained and  depleted for weeks. I finished in 3 hours 55 minutes. I needed 3 hours 45 minutes 59 seconds to qualify for Boston. The experience left me with a mortal fear of marathons. And a fierce desire to conquer the beast.  

Since 2010, Boston Marathon tightened their qualifying standards…I needed a 3:40:00 marathon. To do it before I hit 40 (next year) would be a little feather in my cap, I told myself. 

After a year of injury-free running, I felt ready for the challenge. I just needed to survive a marathon training cycle and get to the start of the marathon. I had been running/racing year-round in 2012, with only a few off weeks. I didn't need an 18 week marathon training cycle. I put together a 12 week abbreviated training plan, that incorporated elements from other plans (special thanks to Lesley!). And fed myself pep-talk. Lots of it.       

Training was a great experience, not just because I learned so much about myself, but also because I got to run some of my long runs with a bunch of really cool people, most of who were training for the Boston Marathon. And running with cool people makes you feel like you're cool too. I wish I was more computer-savvy. I would have slapped together a neat graph of how my training peaked and fell over the course of the 12 weeks. Not that it would interest you in the slightest. It would've just made my post look more colorful and less verbose. Forget that. The long and the short of it is, the first 3 weeks felt great. I felt myself get stronger, my body felt ready for longer distances and heavier workouts. 4 weeks into it, I was ready to quit. Every muscle and bone in my body was in agony. I scaled back. Ratcheted down the mileage...and the plyometrics. It seemed to work. I felt the energy return over the next couple of weeks. I had minor ITB issues, but I was able to keep it at bay by paying careful attention to running form, compression tights, yoga stretches, foam rolling and massage, among other things. Geez, aging bodies! The Saturday of week 10, I did my last, really long run...24 miles, a number of them at 7:40 pace. Felt strong. On top of the world. Invincible. 

The Sunday after my 24 miler, was Miles For Music 20K. Remembering that race still is a little painful. It will go down in my book as one of the dumbest running mistakes I have made. Forgetting the mileage I had logged over the past few weeks, I forced my body into a pace that I could not sustain, a pace that spelled injury with a capital I. Midway into the race, my ITB and ankles tightened up and refused to budge. It was not pretty, but I finished the race (1:24:39, a 6:49 pace). The next 2 weeks were spent in taking stock of the damage, salvaging what could be salvaged, stretching, massaging, PT. On the eve of the marathon, I was still unsure if my sore, recovering ITB and ankles could handle 26.2 miles at any pace, let alone a pace that could help me BQ.

I made it to the start of the Ocean Drive Marathon, patched up with kinesiotape, with GU in my pockets and smeared with Vaseline. Super runner and running buddy Marc had emailed me that I'd have an awesome race if I didn't worry much about having an awesome race. That made a lot of sense. I figured I would treat this like a nice long run by the shore. I would run as long as I could, walk if I had to, and quit if I couldn't handle it any longer. I would not put pressure on myself. Forget BQs. I will not go into detail, because I'm sure no one but moi is interested in the gory detail. Here's the summary: The first mile was great...7:05 pace. The twinges in the knee and ankle started at Mile 2. The muscles and tendons tightened, despite my intense focus on trying to keep them loose. But the pain was manageable, when I slowed down considerably. I stopped looking at my watch and just focused on how the body felt. It was a long, dreary race, with no crowd support. Just friendly volunteers at aid stations and loyal hubby who managed to meet me 3 times along the course, as well as at the finish. There was a bit of a headwind, which felt like a hurricane at the time. I hit a few walls, zoned out a little, got passed and passed people, and ran some of the longest miles of my life. Somewhere between Mile 20 and the finish, I noticed that the pain in my knee had traveled to the hip/groin area. Whatever. Every part of me was screaming at this point. When I finally got to the FINISH (yup, I finished), my watch had died, so I had to rely on the official clock...3 hours 17 minutes and 56 seconds, it said. Third woman overall, which is not anything to brag about. There were about 3 women who ran the race...well, there actually were a few more, but this was a tiny race, as marathons go. 

Have I overcome my fear of injury? The answer would be a big NO. For a Iittle while, I allowed myself to luxuriate in the feeling that I had FINALLY qualified for the Boston Marathon. It's a goal realized, and it taught me a lot of lessons about patience and focus along the way. I made mistakes and hopefully, will do things differently next time around. I still am nursing a pain in the butt and a strained hip flexor (and will be for a while), as a reminder of the mistakes I made. As Master Po (and more recently Marc) said, "Patience, grasshopper". And as David Stretanski, Chi running instructor said, "Any event result is temporary, but the skills you take forward with you."                  

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Why I love and hate long runs

I wake up at an ungodly hour on a Saturday morning, tiptoe into the bathroom, feel my way around and dress in the dark so as not to wake the spouse up, sip a steaming cup of green tea as I make my way to my car, almost jump out of my skin as the newspaper guy pops out of my neighbor's bushes, drive on deserted roads and make it to the park in one piece. It's still dark as I warm up and start my run. Still dark as I make my way back to the parking lot, pick up a few other runners. After a few more lazy miles, we pick up the pace a little, the sky gets lighter and we make our tentative way over the loose rocks and onto the towpath. I focus on the path a few feet ahead of me, falling into a steady rhythm, breath deep and even. Before we realize it, 3 more miles go by. We look up and see sunlight flood the sky. Our hearts soar.

About 12 miles in, soreness starts creeping in...the hips, shoulders, posterior tibialis, flexor hallucis longus; slight tightness in the glute medius, soleus, achilles. Why do I even know all these names??? A little adjustment, engage the core, more lean, erect spine, gather shoulders, loose arms, shoulders, hips, legs and feet. Better. The machine hums along for a few more miles. Wobble over the loose rocks again, run back to the parking lot, replenish, stretch (or not) and drive off to a hot shower, breakfast and to begin our weekends.

Sounds uplifting, eh?

Well, it's all rosy, except when I get a tad overzealous and run harder than I should be running.
Or when one of those crisp, ego-boosting 18 milers makes me get ahead of myself...viz the finish line of the Boston Marathon. You know what happens next...a faster 20 mile run the next weekend, followed by another even-faster 18 miler the next weekend, and then ruefully nursing my injured foot or knee or some other overused body part for 3 following weeks.

There's nothing more fulfilling than a reasonably long run (whatever distance sounds reasonably long to you). Sure, races and tempo runs can get your blood pumping and the endorphins racing. A long run does all that, plus gets you in a nice, reflective frame of mind (you're out in the open longer, so you're forced to take in more of the scenery, reflect on how wonderful life is, how lucky you are to be alive, and all that good stuff). And if you're a trail runner, the effects are will practically return from your long run with a rosy glow on your face and a halo around your head.

There's also nothing more frustrating than a long run...for me, at least. All my running related injuries are a result of long runs. The 10% rule does not work for me. I can increase my total weekly mileage by 10%, but my long runs are an entirely different story. The reason is most likely poor running form. I can bang out 6, 8, even 12 miles on any given run. After that, the slouching begins. The shoulder stiffens. I favor my right side over my left. Everything falls apart. Add to this the invincibility factor (this is where I spy the finish (of the Boston Marathon) at Boylston Street before I even get to the start...and start waving to imaginary crowds and picking up the pace)...what follows is impending disaster.

I can see you scratching your noggin. Wondering why it's such a big deal. Why I can't plod through my long runs like every semi-normal runner/marathoner who travels to Boston around Patriots' Day every year (or every other year) and lines up at the start of the world's most famous marathon. Be more CONSERVATIVE, you say. It's more important to get to the start of a marathon, you say. Unfortunately, to date, I have not been able to operate that way. I'm inherently competitive and while that's helped me accomplish things I've set out to accomplish, it's also been my achilles heel on many an occasion.

So, it remains my nemesis. The long run. I'm convinced if I can survive a marathon training cycle and get to the start of a marathon without a broken, twisted or mangled body part, if it's not a 100 degrees, if I don't get sick, throw up, break or twist or mangle a body part or get trampled upon or end up in the medical tent during the race, I can successfully qualify to run the Boston Marathon. I just need more practise in one little skill that has eluded me on long runs thus far...self-restaint.