With less than 1 week to go before the Marine Corps Marathon, I have decided that the best course of action for me is to stop running.  Temporarily.  Saving it for next Sunday. More than ever, I am determined to complete this marathon.IMG_0945

After last Sunday’s attempt to run, I had hoped that I would recover from my rib injury similarly to my previous rib injury.  Once, stabilized, the pain would recede quickly.  I would return to running form in a week or two.  Unfortunately, that assumption was wrong. I was never diagnosed with what my rib injury was because my broken collarbone was the primary injury I received, so I am not sure exactly what is wrong there. Clearly, it’s worse than I thought.

I thought about seeing my doctor again about the ribs, but I am certain that a) nothing will show up on x-rays, b) I really don’t want to get an MRI and c) ultimately, the diagnosis will be to rest. I don’t want to rest.  I just want to get better so I can run.

To that end, I have put on a full court press on getting better.  I am riding my bike on the trainer to get a cardio and leg workout.  I am doing 2+ mile walks to get some weight bearing work on my legs.  I am doing contrast therapy several times a day to get my ribs to feel better.  More than anything I am avoiding doing anything that will aggravate my ribs. I am determined to do everything possibly to complete this years Marine Corps Marathon!

Today was a promising day.  After spending 45 minutes on the bike, my ribs felt pretty good.  And my legs felt great.  But I still feel a long way away from being able to run a marathon.

I’m glad that I have another week before the MCM, but I wish it were two weeks.  The progress I’ve made is slow.  I hope it can accelerate in the next week.  I need it to accelerate in the next week.

Next Sunday night I’ll let you know!

Learning To Run Again

Running is one of those things that we inherently know how to do.  Not long after a child takes their first steps, they are happily trotting along on the balls of their feet.  Running is natural. It happens without thought.

That is, unless every step you take is combined with a stabbing pain in your back.  Or your side. Or both.  At that point, running is the least natural thing you can do, or want to do.  Quite simply, it sucks.

That was the case for me today as I headed out on my first run post injury.  My surgically repaired clavicle was the least of my problems. That feels just fine.  Broken ribs and a muscle strain/tear in my back are another issue.  I felt every step.

I started out very tentatively.  I know it was going to hurt.  I just didn’t know how much.  I quickly realized that running downhill was a lot more painful than running uphill.  You put a lot more shock on your body when you run downhill.  I always knew that, but it became crystal clear today.  

I ran to a 2 minute run, 1 minute walk cadence.  As much as I don’t like to have to walk, I really needed the time to collect my thoughts and let the pain subside between runs.   It helped me to think about how I felt.  About what I should do differently.  About how to run better.

As I got through my first few intervals, my focus shifted from just getting through the run to running better.  I went back to my Chi Running basics  – needle through cotton, lean at the ankles, breathe through the abdomen.  I found that the better my form was, the less painful my run was.  I started to allow myself to stretch my stride a bit.  I was learning how to run again!

The longer I ran, the better I felt.  Though, I decided to cut my run off at just over three miles.  That was enough for today.   After dealing with the run, everything else has felt a little less painful today.  I don’t know if that’s because I’m really getting better or if, compared to the run, it’s just less painful.  In any case, I’ll take it.  I manage to grunt through 3 miles today.  I just need to figure out how to get through another 23.2 in two weeks!

Back In The MCM!

What a difference a week makes.  On Monday, I saw my orthopedist for a post-surgical follow up.  I got the giant pillow taped to my right shoulder removed as well as the staples that held my incision together.

More importantly, I had a chance to discuss what I could and could not do with my doctor. While I need to focus on shoulder mobility and range of motion exercises, I am able to start doing other things.  Like cycling (indoors).  And walking.  And next week – running.

Given that I was cleared to start running again, I have decided to participate in and finish this years Marine Corps Marathon.  My hopes of PR’ing are gone, but I will be able to fulfill the commitment I made to everyone who has supported the Semper Fi Fund for me.  I feel a deep obligation to fulfill this commitment.  The problems I am dealing with as I prepare to run this race are trivial compared to what some of our service members have to deal with.

I also want to use this race to finish what I failed to complete in the Multiple Sclerosis City to Shore ride.  I rode for a friend and I will run in his honor.  I rode for my friends son and will run in his memory.  This will be s special run regardless of how long it takes.

I also want to mention that part of my encouragement to run this race goes out to Mary Beth Ellis.  She is a world class triathlete who suffered a similar injury to mine.  Four weeks after her injury, she will be competing in the Ironman World Championships in Kona, HI.   Knowing what I feel right now, it is amazing that she is planning to do that.  You can follow her progress on her blog.

So far this week, I managed 2 miles walking on the treadmill at a 10% incline and 30 minutes on my bike trainer.  Aside from my ribs everything felt really good.  I know the ribs are just a matter of time and persistence over pain.  Another week and they’ll be much better. I can’t wait to run this weekend!

So, after a down week last week, I’ve picked myself up, dusted myself off an am ready to start all over again.  If this post inspires you to do more than you think you can – great!  If it makes you want to support the Semper Fi Fund – follow this link and support out troops:

Happy running!


September – A Month To Remember, A Month To Forget

It’s hard to believe it’s been over a month since my last post.  I’ve had so many things to write about, and seemingly so little time to write.  September was a very busy month for me and I’ll go through training/racing aspects of that in the next several paragraphs.  Most days, I trained, worked and trained some more.  Then I’d sleep.  There weren’t many days in September where I was awake after 9 PM. Now, I find myself with more than enough time to write and energy to write at night. But, I’m getting ahead of myself here.

September 7 – The Bird In Hand Half Marathon
The first weekend of September kicked off with the BIrd In Hand Half.  It was certainly more than just another half marathon.  The festivities kick off with a balloon launch and 5K run Friday night.  We had good %RFRC representation there (including Elvis).rfrc - bih2

After the 5K there was a bon fire that featured an appearance by Bart Yasso.  Of course, I went home to go to sleep before Bart spoke.  BTW – I ran a 22:58 5K, only 4 seconds off my PR.

Saturday morning brought perfect conditions for the running of the half marathon.  The race followed the same route as it did last year through the picturesque farmland of Lancaster County.   For a description of the race, read last years Race Recap. Once again, we had a strong group of Red Felters running the half.  Here’s everybody after the fact:rfrc - bih

Given the perfect conditions, I decided to push myself.  I tried to stay at a hard sustainable effort.  As the miles passed, I continued to feel good, so I continued to push.  When it was all said and done, I had finished in 1:46:50 – a PR by more than 5 minutes and over 15 minutes than I ran this race last year.

Just to add to the excitement of the weekend, for me and a few of my friends who ran the Garden Spot Village Marathon (or half) last spring, we qualified for the Road Apple award. It’s a very unique award that may seem odd in other parts of the country, but is perfect here.

Me & Neeli after picking up my Road Apple award

Me & Neeli after picking up my Road Apple award

September 8 – R U Able Duathlon
Wanting to keep up with my new found obsession with triathlons, I entered a Duathlon the day after Bird In Hand.  The R U Able duathlon is a sprint distance event consisting of a 5K run, a 15 mile bike and another 5 K run.

The duathlon is run by the IM Able foundation, an organization that supports and promotes  an active lifestyle for people with disabilities.  Before the start of the race, they presented two individuals who had recently become disabled with a handcycle and adapted recumbent bicycle respectively, to allow them to continue their active lives.  It was a very moving moment and made my feel very thankful for the health I’ve been blessed with.

The race gave me an opportunity to practice my transitions and the chance to test out my new triathlon bike.  Fresh off a hard half marathon the day before, I took it relatively easy on the out and back 5K.  Having arrived early, I had a good spot in the transition area and got through T1 in 41 seconds.

The bike ride started off well.  The course was a fairly flat 2.5 mile loop that we circled 6 times.  Since it was closed to traffic, I settled into my aero bars and focused on the riders in front of me.  Everything was going great until lap 2 when I reached for my water bottle.  I took a drink and, when trying to return it to its cage, dropped the bottle.

For a moment, I thought about just riding on.  Then, I remembered the warnings from triathlon sites about not leaving anything on the course.  I jammed on my brakes and a volunteer ran over to get my bottle for me.  After what seemed like an hour but was probably 30 seconds, I had my bottle and was back on my way.  Annoyed at myself, I learned a lesson for future tri’s – hydration kit in front of me.

Despite the hold up, I put in a strong time for the ride (18 best – 19.1 MPH).  My T2 was a bit slower at 56 seconds, but still not too bad.  As I headed out for the second 5K my legs were a little rubbery, but I felt like I could beat my first 5K time.

The first quarter mile of the 5K is a gentle downhill.  Just enough to allow you to ease into a rhythm for the second run.  By the time I reached the bottom of the hill, my legs felt good and my breathing was settled.  I managed to push my pace and beat my first 5K time by 27 seconds.

Overall, I finished 22nd out of approximately 70 competitors.  Judging by the finishing times in front of me, my water bottle drop cost me 2 or 3 spots.

September 15 – Marshman Triathlon
The Marshman Triathlon was my second triathlon, but my first with an open water swim and my first swimming in a wetsuit.  It was also chalk full of serious competitors as it is part of the Mid Atlantic Multi-Sport series.

Swim – When I arrived at the course, the air temperature was a balmy 41 degrees.  Getting into the wetsuit brought relieve from the cold air, but not the wet, cold ground. The worst part of the entire event was the walk from the transition area to the swim start.  Cold, wet grass, followed by cold hard pavement.  Brrrr.

Getting into the water was a pleasure.  It was probably in the low sixties and quickly warmed my feet.  When my wave started, everything went smoothly.  I find a nice space in the middle of the pack and was swimming at a comfortable pace.  As I approach the first turn buoy, all was well.

As I began to turn around the buoy, all hell broke loose.  People in front of me stopped.  I swam into them.  People behind me swam into me.  People were churning in the water, thrashing around.  Anything but swimming.  By the time order returned, I was completely out of breath.  I switched to breast stroke to catch my breath, but it came back much more slowly than I was used to.  For the rest of the swim, I alternated between free and breast every 30 strokes, give or take.  I was thrilled when I was able to get out of the water.

Bike – As I exited the water, I was able to quickly start peeling off my wetsuit.  Until it got caught on my watch, that is.  Then it got caught on my timing chip. Ugh.  More lessons learned.  I decided to take the time to put on socks, arm warmers and a head band since it was still only 45 degrees.  It took time, but it was well worth it.

The bike course had three good climbs with long stretches of rollers in between.  The first climb was right out of the transition area.  It actually helped warm me up in the cold air.  I could feel the cold as I headed down the other side of the hill, but the extra gear I put on did it’s job.

The course was not closed to traffic, but very few cars were on the course as we rode.  I felt comfortable moving out to pass people.  Given that, after a slow swim and a worse T1, I was well behind a lot of people in my wave, I had lots of people to pass.

Run – As I finished the bike and headed to T2, I got stuck behind someone who decided to walk their bike back to the rack.  I didn’t really have room to pass them, so I patiently growled under my breath until I got past them.  My T2 was a little better, but the cold had me fumbling pulling on my shoes.  I was happy to be able to get out and run.

The run was a 2 mile out and back – one mile uphill and one mile downhill.  I tried to take short, choppy steps as I started to get my legs ready to run.  Another thing that I didn’t anticipate was that the run was mostly on a gravel and dirt path.  Had I known that, I would have worn shoes that didn’t have spaces in the sole where rocks can wedge.

Going up the hill, I caught a lot more people.  Having to run hills all the time in training is a pain, but it pays off during races.  I always feel like I’m stronger when others start to tire.  As I made the turn at the top and headed back down, I let my stride stretch out and gained more ground on the people in front of me.  My run was my strongest leg, averaging a 7:40 pace and finishing 95th.BR1_2339-M

Overall, I finished 188 out of 400 finishers.  Not bad, but I know I eft a lot of time out on the course.

September 21 – Back On My Feet 20 In 24
The 20 in 24 is an ultra marathon race run in Fairmount Park, Philadelphia.  There are several formats and events within the race, but everything is run on a 8.5 mile route through the park.  My friend Kathy was running the Lone Ranger Challenge for either 50 or 75 miles and I was going to pace her for a lap or two of the race.

By early afternoon, Kathy let me know that she was going to run 50, which meant that I was only going to run one lap with her.  Since I was supposed to get a 20 mile run in and knowing I’d only run 8.5 with Kathy, I decided to do a 30/3 brick workout to make up the difference.

By the time I got down to the course and found Kathy’s tent, I could see she was not at 100%.  The day got warmer than anticipated and Kathy was dealing with blisters.  I hadn’t realized it, but Kathy tried to catch me before I headed to Philly to tell me not to bother.  But, there I was, ready to run.  The trooper that she is, she picked herself up, loosened back up and headed out for a lap.

Before we started to run, I checked the weather.  According to, we had a good three hours before any rain was supposed to arrive. Before we got a mile out, the rain started coming down lightly.  No worry, we caught each other up on what was going on in our lives as we ran along.  A few more miles in and the rain started to come down harder.  Fortunately, it was warm rain, but I’m sure that Kathy, having already run close to 30 miles and dealing with blisters, had reached her limit.

For the last mile, Kathy actually picked up the pace and finished strong.  Drenched, sore and exhausted, she called it a night at that point, having run 34 miles.  8 miles more than I have ever run.  For me, it was fun to be a part of the event.  It was fun to help a friend.

September 28 – Multiple Sclerosis City to Shore Ride
Earlier this year, I got some shocking news.  I was reading through a draft section of a book my friend is writing and learned that he has MS.  I was shocked because, fortunately, he is not outwardly showing any ill effect.  Still, knowing how debilitating MS can be, I wanted to do this ride in honor of my friend.

Two days before the ride, I got another shock.  Another friends 9 year old son Tommy was in an accident and had passed away.  This was a friend who I was supposed to ride the MS ride with.  When I saw him Friday night, he asked that I think of Tommy as I rode.  And that, I did:

Riding 100 miles for Tommy

Riding 100 miles for Tommy

I was riding as part of a group from work.  There was a total of 45 doing the ride, but 4 of us rode together and were keeping a good pace.  We stopped at the mile 31 rest stop and met up with a couple more people.  We were getting a good pace line together.

The course runs from Cherry Hill NJ to Ocean City NJ.  There is a 75 mile course with an option to take an extra loop to my it  a full 100 miles.  Being New Jersey, it is very flat, but the wind started to pick up along the course of the day.

The day was going really well.  We were just a few miles away from our last rest stop before we rode the final 13 miles into Ocean City.  We were cruising along on a flat, straight strip of road when it happened.

I couldn’t see everything that happened.  All I know is I saw the bike in front of me roll hard in one direction, then back the other way.  Then, it was on its side, sliding in front of me.  I had nowhere to go, no way to stop.  I remember hitting the bike, then being airborne, rolling forward.

The next thing I remember was a very hard strike on the ground.  On my right shoulder.  My bike popped off my feet and disappeared.  All of the air came out of me and I started to groan.  I wasn’t trying to.  I didn’t want to. The sound just came out of me.

As I lay on the ground, I began to take inventory.  I was awake – that’s good.  I was in a lot of pain – that’s bad.  There was blood all over my leg, but I could more both legs without any pain.  As other riders quickly came to my aid, I realized that my shoulder was my main problem.  Paramedics quickly arrived and, after confirming that I didn’t suffer a brain or spinal injury, they got me into an ambulance and off to the hospital.

As September leaves and October arrives, I find myself with a metal plate holding my right collarbone together wondering when I’ll be able to train and race again.  After thoroughly beating myself up for getting into a pace line for no good reason, for failing to complete my ride for my friend and for Tommy, for screwing up my MCM, I’ve decided to put September in the past, be thankful for what I have and take whatever October is willing to give me.

Embracing the Long Run

Today, I ran 18 miles as part of my training for this years Marine Corps Marathon.  Most marathon training plans top off at 20 miles, so the 18 miler is generally viewed as a tough run.  Rather than dread it, I chose to embrace it.

Pre-Run Planning
Today’s run coincided with a golf tournament I was entered in, which meant I needed to get out early.  Fortunately, I wasn’t scheduled to tee off until 9.  So, I planned to get on the road by 5AM so I had a chance to recover a bit before I teed off.

After last weeks triathlon mishap, where I forgot my air pump, I meticulously laid out all of my gear the night before.  Clothes and shoes were all set up in the bathroom.  My hydro pack was waiting for me in the kitchen with the gels already packed.  My pre and post run drinks were chilling in the fridge.  My Garmin, headlamp and iPhone were realy to lock and load.  I was all set.  I thought.

Miles 1 – 5
As I stepped outside this morning, everything was perfect.  The sky was clear and full of stars with a Waning Gibbous moon lighting the way.  The air was crisp and cool – perfect for running.  As I started out on my run, I knew it would be a good one.

My first reflection came a half mile into the run.  That’s where I reach Route 100, a stretch I call The Gauntlet.  It’s a quarter mile stretch of road that I need to navigate to get to the “less hilly” terrain east of me.  It’s also a very heavily traveled road where drivers typically exceed the 45 MPH speed limit by a lot.  At rush hour, it’s scary.  Today, it was empty.  I actually was able to run on the road and not the shoulder.  As I cross 100, Linkin Park played out Easier To Run.  Clearly a good sign.

A couple miles into the run, I encountered my first dirt road.  I love running on dirt roads.  They’re easier on the legs and give me a chance to check my Chi Running technique.  I focused on having my strides land squarely below me and have my feet not slide out as I peeled my feet off the ground.  So far, so good.

I enjoyed running in the dark.  It’s quite.  It’s peaceful.  It’s calm and cool.  As I passed my first farm, all of the cows were still laying down, their eyes glowing back in the reflection of my headlamp.  As I neared mile 5, the first few signs of the sun rising raised my spirits that I would be able to run under natural light soon.

Miles 6 – 10
As I crossed off mile 5, I was on Horseshoe Trail.  Not the trail itself, but it’s namesake road.  It’s a mostly downhill section where I run it.  One of the memorable parts of this run is the dairy farm I pass around mile 6.  There’s nothing exceptional about this farm, but the smell that emanates from it.  Keep in mind that I grew up spending a lot of time on a dairy farm.  This place smells.  All the time.

After Horseshoe Trail , I headed to St. Matthews Road.  As I ran along the road, I heard barking from across the road.  I looked over to see two German Shepherds in the front yard of a house.  I kept running, but notices that one of the dogs started to follow after me, still barking.  I had one of those flight or fight moments.  Keep running, or deal with the dog.  I decided to turn back and deal.  I stopped, paused my Garmin (of course I did) and turned back to the Shepherd.  I put my right hand out, palm first and started taking to the dog.  At that point, I guess (s)he decided the game of chase the runner was over and decided to head back home.  Took a deep breath, restarted my Garmin and went on.

Further along the road, my Garmin buzzed to let me know I hit mile 8.  That’s great, I thought.  Only 10 to go.  That made me pause. I felt really good, but I knew that the suck was going to come – that time in your long run where you think running sucks and you question why you;re doing it.  I smiled and told myself that, when that moment came, I would “EMBRACE THE SUCK”.

Another mile into the run, I felt the need for a detour.  Having learned my lesson the hard way, I have routed my long runs near parks that provide porta-potty access.  Today, I was glad I did.  I made a course correction to head to a multi-sport complex that was about a mile away.  It meant I had to make some course adjustments, but I was happy I planned ahead.

Miles 10 – 15
My alternate route took me through a small piece of suburbia in my otherwise rural route.  As I passed house after house of immaculately landscaped yard, I felt a bit guilty about the state of my yard.  “I bet none of these people are training for a marathon”, I told myself.

Nearing mile 14, I prepared myself for “the suck”.  There was a hill on Black Horse Road that has taken its toll on me on several long runs.  It completely wiped me on a 16 miler last winter on a run that may have been the most miserable I have other done.

Today, the hill didn’t suck.  I slowly churned up the hill and over to Route 100.  That really lifted my spirits as I headed into the last few miles of my run.

Miles 16 – 18
As I neared home, I realized I needed to circle a bit to get to 18 miles.  I headed into another development and started to figure out how I could get to 18.  I also started to push my pace a bit.

Towards the end of mile 16, the suck came.  That mile felt like it took forever despite the fact that it was one of my fastest.  After miles of feeling great, my legs were starting to hurt. Not injury hurt, fatigue hurt.  I was miserable at this point.   Until I saw that mile 16 was one of my faster miles.  Two to go.  I’ve got this.

As I ran mile 17, I thought of my friend Jeremy.  Jeremy is the master of the negative split.  He proudly (and deservedly so) posts about his runs with negative splits.  I thought to myself, “can I do negative splits for these last few miles?”.  I then thought, “I’d rather have a banana split than a negative split”.  I laughed out loud.

For mile 18, I headed back to the Gauntlet.  It was a bit busier, but nothing like mid-week.  I pushed hard back uphill towards home and finished with a near marathon pace, totally uphill mile.

On To 20
I still have 3 20 milers to do before the MCM, but I was really happy with this run.  My attitude was great.  My preparation was great.  My performance was exactly what I wanted.

Next week brings 20 miles!  Game on!



Race Recap: Quantico Triathlon

Well, I did it! I completed my first triathlon – the Quantico Triathlon.  Before I get into how it went, let’s look at how I got here.

Injury = Adaptation
If not for two running injuries, I may have never gotten into triathlons.  The first was a knee injury during last years Merrell Down & Dirty.  Let me just say that, unless I am significantly compensated for my participation I will never do a mud run again.  It’s just not my thing.  But, that injury got me back on my bike and I’ve been riding ever since.

The second injury was an achilles injury I encountered after stupidly running a hard, hilly half marathon the week after I ran a hard, hilly marathon.  That injury sent me to the pool, but also allowed me to ride.

As I recovered from the achilles injury, I started getting ready for the MCM Historic Half.  Since I was spending a lot of time on the MCM site, I saw that the Quantico Tri registration opened on May 15.  It interested me for a couple reasons:

  • It was a pool swim.  I thought that would be an easier way to get into triathlons than the chaos of an open water swim.
  • It was run by the MCM organization.  Having participated in three other MCM events, I knew it would be well organized and well run.

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I have to pause for a moment because, this week, I was the recipient of some good fortune.  Long story short, I tweeted with the hashtag #KINDAwesome after Kind Snacks sent me a couple sample bars.  Little did I know that it entered me into a monthly contest, which I won.  This week, KIND delivered the goods.IMG_1111
Six boxes of bars and six bags of Grains. #KINDAwesome!!!

End Unsolicited Advertisement

Pre Race
One of the first differences you notice preparing for a triathlon compared to a run is the amount of equipment you need to pack.  In addition to my bike, which was securely affixed to the back of my car, I laid out all of the stuff I needed for the race to be sure I had everything.  Keep in mind, this is the guy who forgot to bring his running shoes to last years Broad Street Run.IMG_1112

So, I was all set.  Proud of myself for my attention to detail.  Feeling really good.  Right up until about an hour into my drive when I realized that I left my pump at home.  Oops! After stressing for a minuteI figured there would be plenty of pumps to borrow.  Worst case, I could use my bike pump.

The Hardest Part
Perhaps the hardest part of the triathlon was getting to the venue.  Leaving from southeast PA on Saturday morning, I made it to DC in about 2 and 1/2 hours.  From there the final 30is miles to Quantico took another 1 and 1/2 hours.  Honestly, I don’t know how people in northern VA deal with this traffic.

I got to the registration site early in the afternoon.  They were happy to see me!  Keep in mind, this is an organization that efficiently manages a registration of 30,000 people for the MCM.  300 triathletes is a piece of cake for them and I was an early arriver.  Included with the price of the race was a tech shit and towel.IMG_1115

They also had some folks from The Bike Lane there for safety inspections and minor repairs.  Ahh – free air.  I brought my bike over, got a bent derailleur fixed, got air in my tires and a once over for everything else.  I also got some encouragement that my 15 year old bike is still worth investing in versus replacing.  I didn’t get the names of the two women  there, but they did a great job and I would strongly reccommend giving The Bike Lane some support!

The Course
The course was a sprint length tri – 400 meter swim, 9 mile bike and 5k run.  The swim was in a pool – 16 laps.  The bike was a semi-flat ride throughout the base with one significant climb and descent around mile 5.  The run was also relatively flat around some of the buildings on the east end of the base.

Both the bike and run courses were very well marked with volunteer support at all of the turns.  The bike course was also well marked with orange paint wherever there were potholes or rough patches on the road.

My Race
I woke up a little after 4 AM to start getting ready.  After ignoring the weather for about 30 minutes, I decided to take a look outside.  This is what I saw:IMG_1118

It was pouring!  And it didn’t look like it was going to get better any time soon.  I began to wonder why the hell I drove 5 hours and paid for a hotel room to do this. What was I thinking.

Figuring that I didn’t need to get to the start too early, I decided to get online.  There, I found a series of posts to my Facebook wall from the Red Felt Running Club friends wishing me well on my first triathlon.  That really changed everything for me.  I was doing this and I was going to go strong!

When I got to the base, I was heartened to see that the parking lot was full of other fools like me who were going to slog through this.  I decided to shed my extra t-shirt and shorts  and head to the transition area with just what I was racing in.

Check in to the transition area was easy.  They seeded everyone by our expected swim finishing time, so I was able to meet the guys swimming before and after me.  Everyone was in reasonably good spirits despite the continuing rain.

The Swim
The swim was clearly my weakest leg going in and I knew it, so I was surprised when I was 63’rd in line out of 300 to swim.  Apparently, everyone sucks at swimming.

They started us at 10 second intervals.  Given the extra adrenaline of the race, I started out too quickly.  That caught up with me by my 5th lap, but I was still doing OK.  I actually managed to pass a few people, but was also passed by several.  I was happy I was surviving.  I did a couple laps of breaststroke to help recover, but finished with a stron final lap.

Getting out of the pool and heading back to the transition area was a new experience.  I shuffled along for the first few steps until I got my equilibrium. I was able to fairly easily sight my bike and get to my stuff.  Give the rain, I didn’t unpack my transition bag, so it probably took me a little longer to get ready than I hoped.

The Bike
When I got on my bike it was raining hard.  I made a couple decisions before I started that worked out well.  I skipped my glasses and my gloves.  I think both would have slowed me down.

I clipped in fairly easily and was on my way.  The start of the ride is flat to slightly downhill, so it was easy to get a rhythm going early.  I tried to keep my RPM’s up high at the start to get my legs used to working after the swim.

About a mile into the ride, I was soaked head to toe, I was getting pelted to rain, and the thought that crossed my mind was “THIS IS AWESOME”.  I couldn’t believe how much fun I was having riding in a driving rainstorm, but I felt great.

I managed to get past several people in the first few miles.  The only significant climb was on Purvis Road, around mile 4.  There, I remembered a video I saw on hill climbing for triathlons.  I dropped my gear down so I could stay in the saddle and pedal comfortably.  About halfway through the climb, the people who started it out of their saddles began to fade.  I passed about 10 people on that hill.  At the top of the hill, I bumped up the gear and pushed hard over the top to have good momentum for the ride downhill.

As I neared the finish I got a little worried because I didn’t see anyone in front of me.  I just kept heading toward the start and hoped.  Fortunately, I saw a volunteer and realized I was on course and near the transition area.

The transition to run was shorter.  It was shorted to get back, though I felt a little cramping in my calves when I switched to my running shoes.  I got out fairly quickly and on;y felt a little wobbly when I started to run.

The Run
Having done a few bike-run bricks, I knew what it felt like to start running somewhat out of breath.  I tried to focus on my pace and form as I allowed my body to adjust to the run.  The rain was down to a drizzle, but there were puddles everywhere.  It didn’t matter, nothing on me was dry.

Once I felt like I had my legs, I tried to pick up the pace.  I’m not sure if it was the conditions, or the fact that this was the third leg of a race, but I found it hard to stay focused on that goal and kept easing back into a more comfortable pace.  On the last mile, I started to try to find people to pass.  Having a goal like that makes it easier to push. While they picked their way around puddles, I took the shorter route and sloshed right through.

My Result

Overall I finished 34th out of 247. I am more than happy with that result. Here are my splits:

  • Swim – 8:34
  • T1 – 3:00
  • Bike – 25:15
  • T2 – 1:24
  • Run – 24:03

Once again, the Marine Corps Marathon team produced a great event.  Despite the weather, it was well run start to finish.  As a first time triathlete, it was a great introduction to the sport and has me looking forward to sign up for my next event!

Countdown To The Quantico Tri

Tonight I went to an open water swimming clinic.  It was a great experience.  Adam, our instructor, talked to us about some of the things you’ll experience in an open water triathlon swim that you won’t find swimming laps at the pool: wildlife, murky water, waves, getting kicked by other swimmers, etc. I actually started to feel some anxiety as we talked though how to manage each of those things.

After the lecture, we took to the water and started to experience what some of those panic inducing events really felt like before we dealt with them in a race.  We started easy, swimming in pairs and practiced drafting.  Gradually we swam larger and larger groups. At one point, we split into two groups that swam in different directions and crossed paths.  Talk about mayhem!

Ultimately, I learned that a little contact in the water is not a big deal and I wasn’t as claustrophobic in a pack as I feared I would be.  That’s making me significantly more comfortable with the thought of adding more triathlons to my race schedule.

It also made me realize that I’m as ready as I’m going to be for the Quantico Tri this Sunday.  Four days from now, I’ll be on Marine Corps Base Quantico for the inaugural Quantico Tri.  Wow, where did the time go?

Learning To Compromise
I’ve learned that training for a triathlon is all about compromise.  Since you’re training for three disciplines, you need to split your training time across swimming, cycling and running.  I’m constantly feeling like I’m not giving enough attention to any of them, but don’t have the time or energy to do more.  Add that I’m deep into my Marine Corps Marathon training and my MS City to Shore 100 mile ride training and the anxiety grows even more.  So, what gets sacrificed? Swimming.

The triathlon I’m doing is a 400 meter swim, a 9 mile ride and a 5k run.  So I expect the cycling leg to be the longest, followed by the run with the swim being a distant third.  That being the case, I am committing more time to my cycling and running.  I am hoping that I can limp my way through the swim and make up time on the bike and run.  At least that’s the plan.

The experience of training for multiple events has also given me a better appreciation of having ‘A’ races versus ‘B’ races.  The MCM is my priority, so I will not compromise on that training.  I hope to do well in the tri and the MS 100, but the results in those are not as important as the experience of completing them is.

Preparing For A Triathlon Is Complicated
I suppose this should be fairly self evident, but I’m finding that getting ready for a triathlon is a lot more work than a single event.

  • Travel – Since Quantico will require an overnight stay, I’ll need to load up my bike and the rest of my gear for the trip.  My packing checklist will be approximately triple the size of my typical running checklist.
  • Pre-Race Meetings – The evening before the race there is a participant meeting.  For an hour!  I’m used to being told what corral to start in.  That’s it.
  • Transitions – In between my swim, bike and run are these fun little scrambles to get ready for the next event.  From everything I’ve read, I need to have everything set up in meticulous order so I can efficiently complete each transition.  I’ve practiced these transitions by doing brick workouts.  I’ve done both swim to bike and bike to run bricks, but haven’t done a full race simulation.  Hope that wasn’t a mistake.

One and Done or Just the Beginning?
When I finished my first half marathon I told myself that I would never run a marathon.  When I was 15 miles into my first marathon, I told myself that I was definitely running the MCM again! So, what does this mean for the triathlon?

I suppose that question will be answered on Sunday.  I have to say that I still struggle with swimming training, but it’s only been a few months.  I’m hoping that the energy I get during a competition will inspire me to push on with my swimming training and continue the triathlon route.  If all goes well, I’d like to do a 70.3 Ironman in 2014.  But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves yet.

MCM 2013 – It’s Getting Real

It’s Saturday morning at 3:30 and the most obnoxious sound I could find is coming from my phone.  That sound, an electronic version of a cat meowing, is my wake up call.  A call to train.  A call to avoid the heat of the day.  A call for my 15 mile long run.  Yes, training for this years Marine Corps Marathon just got very real.

The Quasi-Intervention
Let’s rewind to the night before.  The conversations went something like this:

Me: Um, I’m going to be getting up at 3:30 tomorrow to run.  So, when you hear my alarm, just go back to sleep.
Wife: Uh, why?
Me: Well, I have to run 15 miles and I have a 7:40 tee time. Plus, the heat is so bad I need to run early.
Wife: Why don’t you just run on Sunday.
Me: Because my plan has me running this on Saturday.  And I have to cross-train on Sunday.
Wife: You’re really starting to worry me.  Why are you forcing yourself to run?  This doesn’t make any sense. Just skip a day.  It’s supposed to be cooler on Sunday anyway.
Me: It’s no big deal.  I’ll wear my headlamp.  I run in the dark all the time.
Wife: Aren’t you running that thing in Philly tomorrow night?  Isn’t that enough?
Me: That’s just a 5K.  And it’s not a race, just a fun run.  It’s no big deal.
Wife:  You’ve lost it.  You’re obsessed.
Me: I’m OK.  Trust me.

I’m fully expecting to walk in from a long run and have a group of family and (non-running)friends sitting in my family room saying “Take the shoes off.  Give us that watch.  Get on this couch and watch some TV.   You’re not going anywhere for a long time”.   I’ll be ready for them.  I have running shoes stashed.  Spare GU in the car.  Water bottles hidden in drawers.  They can’t stop me!

Back To Reality
Saturday, as I opened my door at 4:15 to head out to run, I had a serious reality check.  The temperature was still in the high 70’s and the humidity was near 100%.  As I turned on my headlamp and headed out on the road, I knew I was in for a tough run.  I knew I was marathon training.IMG_1077

The run went as well as could be expected.  The first hour was completely in the dark.  For people who have never run in the dark, it’s a very different experience.  Running with a headlamp can be difficult on the eyes as they deal with a very bright light above and complete darkness below.  It’s tiring.  You also need to be very conscious of the road in front of you so you don’t miss seeing a pothole and roll an ankle.  And then, there are the eyes.

When you’re not used to them, the eyes can be a bit scary.  You see them in the distance as small circles of light reflecting back at you.  Depending on their height relative to the road, you can start to guess what they are: a few feet above ground are usually deer.  Lower to the ground, it’s a crap shoot: cat, possum, fox, skunk.  And then, a little higher up are my greatest fear: dogs.  I love dogs, but dogs running loose at night are a wildcard.  If I see what might be a dog on the loose, I start making contingency plans.

Fortunately, this run I only saw a few deer and a couple cats, along with some horse and cows.  Nothing to worry about.  As the sun rose and night became day, I felt a renewed sense of energy as I could relax my senses and focus more on running.

This run gave me a real sense of confidence in my plan and my goals.  Last years MCM training was full of first experiences.  This year, I feel like I am better prepared for every run: how it will feel, how to pace myself, how to hydrate and fuel.  I felt that Saturday.  As I got to the last few miles, I was drenched in sweat.  It felt like crap, but I knew it would.  I was tired, but not burned out.  I felt – like I trained well.

And so it will go from now until October 27.  Lots of early morning.  Long runs getting longer.  Plenty of discomfort, but hopefully no injury.  Then, the ultimate reward of a celebration run through our nations capitol.  With a final sprint (yes, you must sprint!) up the last .2 miles to the Iwo Jima statue.  Oorah!

Finished - not smiling.

Finished – not smiling.

And Now For Something Completely Different
You may have missed it, but there was mention that I was running a 5K Saturday night after my 15 (14.5 in reality) in the morning.  Yes, that night I ran the Philadelphia Electric run.

The Electric Run is not a race, it’s more of an alcohol & drug free rave disguised as a 5K run.  Lots of lights.  Lots of costumes.  Lots of pulsating music.  It’s a big party moving along a 5K course.  One of my Red Felt friend found this and a few of us signed up to run it.

Before the run, we were all glow-sticked up and ready to run:IMG_1080

The crowd was getting ready for the start!IMG_1092

Along the course, we stopped for another pic:IMG_1099

As we ran, we began to hear thunder.  The thunder began to et louder and we started to see the flashed of lightening in the distance.  That encouraged us to pick the pace up a bit and get to the finish.

As we got to the finish, it was surprisingly dark.  We quickly learned that the run was shut down due to the incoming storm.  The people who were already out on the course were allowed to finish and the on course lights were kept on, but everything else was dark.  Thousands didn’t get to run and there was no post race party.

As we all scrambled to get back to our cars before getting drenched from rain, there were plenty of disgruntled runners.  But, canceling the run was the right thing to do.  The storm that came through had plenty of close lightening strikes.  They had to shut things down.

Today, we got an e-mail from the run organizers that everyone who participated would be allowed to transfer their entry to another Electric run – either at a make up date in Philly or at any other Electric Run site.  That seems like a more than reasonable response to a situation that was beyond their ability to control.

Back On The Road To The MCM
So I now feel like I am well along on my road to this years MCM.  Lot’s of miles to go.  A few diversions along the way.  Praying for some cooler weather.

What Are You Training For ?

If You’re Past Your First Marathon, How Have You Changed Your Training, Attitude, Goals?

Race Recap: 2013 Mad Half Marathon

Today, July 7, 2013, I ran the Mad Half Marathon in Waitsfield, Vermont.  The organizers like to advertise it as the world’s most beautiful marathon.  Lat me tell you why I think they’re right.

Wait, I Though You Were Running The Marathon
Yeah, I thought I was, too.  Then an achilles injury in April sidelined me completely for 3 weeks and slowed me down for a few more.  Though I really wanted to run the full, I knew that if I did I’d be setting myself up for reinsuring myself or causing some other injury through overcompensation. Which brings me to:

Most Beautiful Reason #1: Dori Ingails
Dori is the race director for the Mad Marathon.  One of the things that distinguished Dori as a race director is her desire to engage with the runners.  Last year, she was instrumental in helping me find a place to stay close to the race start.  This year, when I needed to switch to the half, this was our exchange (paraphrased):

Me: Hi Dori, I hurt my foot and haven’t been able to train.  Will I be able to switch to the half?

Dori: Ouch? Not a problem.  You’re officially switched to the Half.  Heal well!

Mind you, that exchange over e-mail took less than 45 minutes.  It’s just a small example of what she does to make this race special.  She hugs you when you finish!  Who does that?  Someone who cares about her runners, that’s who.

Most Beautiful Reason #2 – Beautiful Course
This year, I took some time the day before the race to drive the course.  It gave me a chance to remember what I was getting my self into and help map out a strategy for my run (yes, I actually ran with a strategy for a change).  Along the way I stopped to take a few pictures,

The course is run along several unpaved counter roads.

The course is run along several unpaved counter roads.

You run through two wooden covered bridges on the course.

You run through two wooden covered bridges on the course.

You get views on the trails at nearby Sugarbush Ski Resort to your right.

Fortunately, we’re not climbing to the top of that mountain!
You get views of Sugarbush Ski Resort to your right.

You get views of Sugarbush Ski Resort to your right.

Some of the crowd arrived early to get a good position to see the race.

Some of the crowd arrived early to get a good position to see the race.

Anther beautiful part of this course is the fact that there are water and Gatorade available every one to two miles.  And there are porta-potties at each aid station.

Most Beautiful Reason #3: Beautiful People
I’m a big fan of moderately sized races.  The logistics are easier and everyone seems to be a lot more relaxed.  Relaxed people tend to be happy people and happy people make for a fun day!

Let’ start with the volunteers.  There’s lot’s of there.  They’re very supportive and they’re extremely competent.  gain, I’ll defer to the Marines at the MCM, but, putting them aside, this group does as good or better than any I’ve encountered.  ALL the people handing out drinks are calling out what they have and looking for someone to give it to.  The people riding the course on bikes are constantly checking on the runners and encouraging you as they go by.  Dori has really put together a great team.

Now, let’s talk about fan support.  Granted, there are not a ton of people lining the course, but there are lots of cows and they count.  And, the people who are there make you feel like they are personally cheering for you.  That’s probably because, when you run by, they are personally cheering for you.  It’s encouraging and energizing to make that brief, personal connection with a perfect stranger who’s rooting for you to do your best.

Last but not least are the runners.  One of the things I look forward to at races is reconnecting with friends.  Here, I was able to meet up with my friend Jennifer and her husband Jerry for dinner on Saturday night.  We were able to meet again before the race.IMG_1059

We also got together for a group shot with the Half Fanatics, Marathon Maniacs and 50 Stater’s.IMG_1060

Beyond the meet ups, I found most people on the course to be in great spirits.  Maybe because there was plenty of room for everyone.  Maybe because we were all going through this little bit of hell together. Maybe because it’s just awesome to be running through Vermont in July!

Most Beautiful Reason #4: A Beautiful Run
As I mentioned earlier. I came into this race with a plan.  I decided to try a few things that I’ve been reading up on.  I did a caffeine fast for a week prior to the race to enhance the caffeine effect during my run.  I carefully worked on carb loading for a few days prior to the run to maximize my glycogen stores. And, I mapped out a race strategy to improve my chances for success.

My race strategy consisted of the following:

  • Take the first climb easy
  • Use the first downhill and flat to recover
  • Push hard up the second climb
  • Maintain a hard pace to the second downhill
  • Extend and maintain effort on the downhill
  • Give whatever is left to the finish

Without going into too much detail, I stuck with my plan and I think it worked out pretty well.  Up the first climb, people passed me until the final third of the hill.  On the first downhill, more people passed me as I let my heart rate recover down to 145.  On the second climb, I felt strong and started passing people left and right.  On the second downhill, I did my best to lengthen my stride without overextending and got a couple sub-8 miles in.

The last climb up to the finish isn’t long or steep, but it feels like it takes forever.  What I remember at the start to be a 2 block run is actually more like a half mile.  At that point I was pretty spent, but determined to finish strong.  As I made it through the finish, I gave Dori a big sweaty hug (initiated by her).  I finished in 1:54:44.  17 minutes faster than last year.  Strategy, and training, validated!

After I collected my finishers medal and had a few bites of the ample post race food, I headed over to soak my legs in the cold pools set up for runners.  I’m sure it’s hard for many people to understand the joy in that tent as runners happily plunged their legs into ice cold water and talked about how they love this race and the future torture sessions races they have planned.

This years loot!

This years loot!

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  From my point of view, this is a pretty beautiful race.  God willing, I’ll be back next year to run the full and experience even more beauty!

Race Recap: Half Sauer, Half Kraut Half Marathon

A year later and my second time experiencing the Half Sauer, Half Kraut, I couldn’t be happier.  This years version proved to be just as rewarding and entertaining as last year’s, if not more.

After last year’s experience with this race, I had this one penciled in early in the year.  I tried to lure a few friends into this race and managed to get my friend Neeli to run it.

Really, we didn't coordinate our outfits intentionally!

Really, we didn’t coordinate our outfits intentionally!

We also had a meet up with the Half Fanatics and Marathon Maniacs for a group picture.

Keeping with the German theme of the run, several of the Fanatic/Maniac crowd came in costume.

The Course
The course runs through Pennypack Park in northeast Philadelphia.  It’s a beautiful little escape from urban life that features rolling hills along he edge of Pennypack Creek along with a fun little section called ‘Mount Cuckoo’ – a mile or so of gentle, but muddy trail running.  After looping through Mount Cuckoo, the course returns to the running/biking path and heads downstream back to the finish.

The course features several aid stations with water and gatorade.  Given that temperatures in Philadelphia can get into the 90’s this time of the year, having a lot of aid stations is a really smart move.  Also on course is UberHans – the toughest accordion player in the land.

My Race
Since this was the first race I planned to run relatively hard since I hurt my foot in April, I can in with low expectations.  I intended on starting easy and pacing myself based on how I felt.  If I felt any pain in my foot, I’d back off immediately.

The race started off well.  The temperatures were still cool and the course featured a lot of shade.  At the first mile, my Garmin told me I ran an 8:41 mile – I was pretty happy with that.

Over the next several miles, I kept getting surprised by the rolling hills on the course that I completely forgot about.  Nothing huge, but definitely a couple steep climbs.  Despite the rolling terrain, I kept on hitting 8:40ish miles.  And my foot felt fine.

The Mt’ Cuckoo section of the race was a bigger challenge than it was last year.  In the past week, the Philadelphia area received approximately 9 inches of rain.  That made for a muddy trail experience. This section definitely separated the road runners from the trail runners as I passed a lot of runners who were picking their way through the mud.  The temperature also started to rise by this time and the woods felt quite steamy.

Midway along the run, my Garmin spaced out on me.  I usually wear a wrist band under it when I run in warm weather, but I completely forgot about that today.  As the temperatures rose and I began to sweat more, the bezel on my Garmin became non-responsive and, for all intents and purposes, stopped working.  The biggest problem this posed for me was that I like to check my heart rate to make sure I am not over-exerting.  Today, I would just have to run by feel.

As I exited Mt. Cuckoo and headed back on the paved path, I was still feeling pretty strong.  I managed to catch Neeli, who had dashed away from me at the start, and we ran together for a while.  Over the last 2 miles, I tried to catch as many people ahead of me as I could, reeling them in one at a time.  I don’t know what my splits were for the last few miles, but I finished at 1:53:36 – an 8:40 pace.  Not a PR, but considering that I needed a lengthy pit stop halfway through the race, a respectable finish.

Post Race
Once again, the post race festivities were great.  Immediately following your run, there is water, oranges, pretzels, Oreo’s and amazing banana bread to help refuel.  After a quick fuel-up, Neeli and I headed back to the German Club where we were treated with beer and brats.

In addition to UberHans entertaining us after the race, a German Dance group showed us some traditional German dancing.

At the awards ceremony, Neeli picked up an age group award and got this cool German Weather house.

Here’s a close-up of the medal.  It’s one of the coolest logo’s I’ve seen.  We also got a re tech shit with the same logo, and no advertising.

Once again, the group at UberEnduranceSports came through with a really fun event.  This may be my favorite race in the Philadelphia area.  The only question I have for next year is whether I double up and run the marathon, or find myself a pair of lederhosen to run in!