Monday, February 15, 2016

The Beast That Is The Marathon

Did you happen to catch the US Olympic Marathon Trials on Saturday? Watching people achieve their goal of making the Olympic team -- or even just making the trials itself -- is really inspiring.

No doubt, the conditions in Los Angeles were brutal, even to runners who have a wealth of experience. If you watched the women's race, you saw first hand what a physical meltdown looked like as Shalane Flanagan was running on fumes and instincts over the final few miles. If it weren't for the unwavering support of her friend and training partner, Amy Cragg, Flanagan more than likely doesn't finish third and make the team, and it's probably a safe bet she may not have even finished the race.

Flanagan said after the race she was dehydrated and "delirious", and you could see in post-race interviews she wasn't all the way there. And after reading lots of posts and on-the-ground accounts, she wasn't the only one. There was a lot of suffering going on out there.

That was pretty evident at one point near the end when Cragg and Flanagan passed one of the men's competitors (the race was run on a multiple-loop course) and he was jogging at what looked like an 8-9 minute pace. It led me to tweet this:

And keep in mind, the marathon trials are full of experienced, successful runners. Both fields were made up of former Olympians, as well as people who have represented the United States in international competitions, and others who have been state champions in high school or All-Americans in college.

All of them did their best to sim potential hot conditions, but you can sim training runs all you want, but race day is always different. The pressure (or in our case, anxiety) of a race changes things, and our bodies just react differently from day to day.

It just goes to show that the marathon is an absolute beast for everyone in the field, from front to back. I know elite runners usually look pretty good when they finish the race, but as a member of the media for two Chicago Marathons, I've seen elites 45 minutes to an hour after the race, and they look just as beaten down as the rest of us!

The physical, mental and emotional toll of a marathon is what makes the race unique, and so sets it apart from the other distances. It's what I really like about the race, and why I think that I may take a break between marathons, like the three years it will be when I run one this fall, but I plan on running them for as long as I can. You never really "master" the marathon, you are more subjected to its whims, which, again, is why I love the distance so much.

But if you run the marathon enough, you have a day like many of the guys and gals did on Saturday. I've run eight marathons, and I had a day like that: the 2008 Chicago Marathon.

I will admit right now that I had no business running the race. I was going through a ton of personal issues over the summer, and can't even remember my longest long run.

My summer began with my then-wife telling me she didn't know if she wanted to be married to me, and after three agonizing months, I told her at the end of September that we just couldn't do this any more.

I really have very little recollection of that summer, and I know that my training suffered immensely. I tried to train, but some days I just couldn't do it. 

So about three weeks after I made that decision, I tried to toe the line at the marathon. I already had one strike against me for not training hard, and strike two came when the weather was ridiculously hot for the second year in a row. I had made it through the 2007 Chicago Marathon, when it topped out at 88 degrees and the race was cancelled, but I managed the heat well and made it home in 4:28.

In 2008, the mercury topped out at 86, but my experience was so much different. As you can see from my 2008 splits (listed above) and my 2007 splits (listed to the left), it was a death march for the last half of the race. My 2007 race was about as perfect as it could be, my half splits were 2:14:13/2:14:15, but the next year I was doing great up to 13.1 miles, but the wheels fell off after that.

As you can see, it took me three hours, 21 minutes to run the second half of that race, and I hated every step. I was hot, tired, pissed...pretty much every emotion you could have, not to mention the baggage I carried to the start line. And to add insult to injury, just after Chinatown and Mile 21, I put my hand up against a utility pole to stretch out a painful calf, and drove a 2-inch splinter into my hand!

I went to the next medical tent and while I was waiting for help (other peeps had far more pressing issues than my splinter), I saw a cooling bus waiting to take people who dropped out of the race. I was so tempted to get on that bus, and the 2016 Mike probably would have, but the 2008 Mike was waaayyy too stubborn to make a smart decision.

So I pressed on, and finished, but the experience pretty much made me hate running for the better part of the next 2-3 years. I'm so thankful for my then-girlfriend, now-wife, Darcy, for providing me with the encouragement to get back going and to love my running again, and to want to do another marathon.

Because here's the deal: once you get 26.2 into your blood, it's hard to turn your back on the temptress. After 2008 I really didn't feel like running another marathon, but to run a great race, to get it right, like I did the year before, is my challenge.

And while I can't wait to try again in the fall -- maybe even twice (!) -- I'll always know that an off day is potentially out there. It's the nature of the beast of the marathon. But I can guarantee one thing, that just like me, the people that had a bad day at the Olympic Trials are going to try again.

It's a little scary to jump back into a marathon after a bad result, but past results don't guarantee future performance. I know deep down I am never going to slay the Beast that is a marathon, but I'm going to continue to try.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

I'm in a Funk

Remember how in last week's post I mentioned that February was one of those months that had the potential to bring me down? Well, it succeeded.

A year ago Saturday, I was on top of the world...literally! Darcy and I were still in Dubai and we went to the top of the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building on the planet. The observation deck sits 452 meters (1,483 feet) in the sky, and was part of a great day to cap our trip.

Fast forward a year, and it's the middle of February in the Midwest. It's cold and windy, and, even worse, Darcy is leaving to go back to Dubai next week...without me! Actually, she is taking her son, Spencer, which will be a great experience for him.

I still have three weeks to work out of my funk to meet some of my goals for the month, and I know I will, but man, my butt has been seriously kicked the last week or so!

Some of it has to do with the weather, as we are in the midst of one of our coldest stretches of the winter, and also I'm trying to work on budgeting my time a bit better since I am taking those two college classes. Which I must say is one HUGE positive in my life as four weeks into the semester I have an A in both classes, and thanks to my Film Appreciation class I came to the realization that Citizen Kane is an amazing movie!

The thing I'm most disappointed in is that I haven't run in nine days! Yes, I totally suck. Nine days. And, in the interim, I haven't eaten all that well, either. So I need to work on fixing that, quickly.

Also, if you go back a couple of weeks to the post where I made my declaration that I wouldn't look at my scale for six months, I had fallen into the trap of comparing myself to others. It's funny how a comment from someone you don't even know can start the wheels of self-doubt going, but that's what happened to me.

A friend of mine who was just starting a new exercise routine posted something on Facebook about how she was having energy problems and was having issues getting through workouts without feeling shaky or nauseous. So given my experience of fueling for runs, I gave her a suggestion that is actually my tried and true race-day strategy, which is easily digestible foods like bananas, yogurt or bagels, plus a lot of water. It's never failed me.

A couple of posts later, one of her friends posts, in reply to my suggestions:

"Nope. Nope. Nope. Proteins. Drinks. Bars. Real protein foods. Nothing along the line of sugary foods. No bread, rolls, bagels, etc. Must be proteins" 

OK, so I stopped short of asking her credentials, because I really don't think she has any,other than she is trying to sell my friend into some sort of money making nutritional program, but I did think it was insanely rude (and my friend agreed). But while it was was rude and wholly inaccurate -- my friend is trying to get into an exercise program to trim down for her son's wedding, not become a crossfitter -- it threw some doubt into my mind about who I am and what I'm doing, which I talked about a couple of weeks ago so I won't rehash here.

I have a lot of doubt right now...about my running, this blog, social media, my podcast. All of it. And I keep going back to the same question: Am I wasting my time?

I know, I know, it's both fruitless and pointless to dwell on it, but I am. Sometimes when my defenses are down (like in a mid-winter funk), it doesn't take much to make my confidence a little shaky, and congratulations internet troll, you did it! I'm stuck in a HUGE pit of self-doubt.

So how do I fix it? How do I get back to where I was a few weeks ago, where I was finding joy in all things running? I'm not sure, but I'm open to suggestions!

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

My Goals For February

I have to admit, I have some really mixed thoughts about the month of February. This month we celebrate both Matt and Darcy's birthdays -- on consecutive days no less -- baseball season is beginning and over the last few years I've taken some memorable trips during February, including going to Dubai last year.

(Shameless plug: You can read up on my running exploits in Dubai here.)

But at the same time, February is one of those so-close-but-so-far months. March is just a few weeks away, but usually right about now we are in the midst of some serious, Hoth-like cold and snow. While El Nino has been good to us this year --we are actually in the middle of a February thunderstorm as I type this -- in two of the last five years (2011 and 2015), we've been hit by a huge blizzard today!

So that's what February feels like to me. Not quite sure how that applies to this post, but...

...actually, yes I do. I guess what I'm getting at is that unless you get on a plane and get out of here, February is a prime time to start suffering from some serious blahs. So what better time than now to set a few goals?

Mileage: A last-minute flurry of 14 miles over the weekend (3 on Saturday and 11 on Sunday) put me at 72 miles for the month. While I was a bit disappointed over the fact I skipped days I could have run due to a lack of motivation, the mileage itself wasn't all that bad. So for February, I want to go about 10 percent better, so let's set the bar at 80. When I think back to some of my best running summers, they usually started with a sting of 80-100 mile months leading up to it.

Run a race: It's been two months since my last 5K so I'm really itching to get out and run on the clock again. Matt and I will be running a 5K on Mar. 12 but I'd like to find one before then. Finding a race around here is a little slim this time of year, but I'm sure there is a small 5K around here somewhere!

Eating: In a recent post, I talked about hiding my scale for six months, and I plan on sticking to that. I'm also not dieting per se, it's more of a focus on just trying to do better things for myself. I really recommend listening to the Body Kindness Podcast hosted by Rebecca Scritchfield and my good friend Bernie Salazar, there are a lot of good things in there about making choices each day to be kind to ourselves, while trying to build habits we can sustain for the long term. When it comes to food, I'm just going to try and sub out the things I like that aren't really good for me for things I like that are good for me. If I focus on that and keep running I'll see results.

Go back to One: So a week ago I was in a little bit of a funk, and was having a pity party about a few things. While many of them are not worth going into detail here, I ultimately realized I embrace other things to make me happy, and things others do probably wouldn't make me happy...because if those things did, I'd be doing them! Right? So I'm going to worry about me and my crazy, rather than others and their own greatest hits.

Keep getting A's!: I don't know if I'd mentioned it but I started going back to school at the beginning of the semester. I attended school for 2 1/2 years when I was younger, but since I still have a few gen ed's to knock out before I can begin attending Northern Illinois University, I am taking a math class and a film appreciation class at Elgin Community College. As we start into week three, I still have an A in both classes, and I want to keep the positive vibes going! I've really enjoyed it so far, it certainly is a lot different!

What are your goals for February? What do you hope to do to meet them?