Tuesday, February 19, 2013

My First Half Marathon Race Report

Its hard to start this report with anything other than ... Wow! I set an esoteric goal for myself to do something I thought was impossible by my 40th birthday. I started running and then this goal just formed itself into this wonderful opportunity to run a half marathon just 6 days after my 40th. The timing, the location, everything worked out and all I needed to do was put in the effort and get it done. What an effort it was. As I sit here now, two days later sipping a margarita, my mind is torn between two opposing thoughts. The first, just overwhelmed with the fact that I was able to pull this off. The second, yearning to do it again!

Lets start with a recap of the events and then I'll try to put my deeper thoughts into words. My in-laws and my own mother live in Palm Beach County Florida and this race, the A1A Publix Marathon and Half Marathon in Ft. Lauderdale on President's weekend gave me a great opportunity to bring the children down for a visit and have some support at the race without too much disruption of their schedule. The kids were off of school Friday and Monday, so we added one extra day to drive down to Florida on Thursday. I was able to take a few days off from work as well and the plan was laid. We drove down to Florida on Thursday and we'd return Monday. I reserved a hotel room in Ft. Lauderdale on Saturday night for my wife and I to stay, leaving the girls with the in-laws so I didn't have much to worry about Sunday morning but to run.

We clean up pretty well I think.
We made great time driving down on Thursday, ran some errands on Friday and spent time with my wife's family. My mother in law planned a surprise birthday party for my father in law on Friday night as his 70th is next month. He was caught completely by surprise and everyone had a great time.

On Saturday my wife and I headed down to Ft. Lauderdale and checked into our hotel. I think this spot might have been one of the hottest on the strip in 1967, however it hadn't been updated since then. That's what I get for choosing the cheapest hotel I could find in the area of the race, but we wouldn't need it for that long. Plus, it did have a really cool dockside restaurant. We got checked in, enjoyed some conch fritters and coconut shrimp overlooking the gorgeous yachts come and go and waited for a friend to show up to take us to the expo.

This was my first real race expo and it was pretty cool. We picked up our race packets which were loaded with free stuff and then walked around to browse all the vendors. My wife bought me a magnet for my car, but I wouldn't touch it until the next day. No reason to jinx myself! We had a lot of fun checking out all of the things you can buy to run with, and all of the silly gadgets they were trying to sell, from sleep juice to magnets. Then we went off to meet a couple of more friends for dinner. Had a great dinner with some fantastic friends and returned to the hotel to hit the hay by 9. I slept pretty well, considering, only getting up twice during the night. Of course, the alarm went of at 3:45.

What's a beach race without a sand castle?

Now, the hotel might have been a dump, but it was super convenient. Not only was it right across the street from the race finish, but the shuttle busses to the start were parked not more than 100 ft. from my hotel room door. I got up and dressed and was out the door at 4:30 and onto the first shuttle to the start. My wife opened her eyes long enough to take a quick picture of me before I headed out the door.

Now, you'd think because this race was in Florida that it would be warm. Of course not! This was the coldest day of the year, with the temperature at the start only 45. I didn't mind the cold so much, but there was a lot of wind coming off the ocean. I decided to wear my jacket and check it at the start, which in the end was a good idea because I needed it.

I got on the bus and found a couple of co-workers who were also running so we headed out together. Because my company is headquartered in Ft. Lauderdale, there were a number of people I work with who were running. I wore my company shirt too and it got me some recognition along the way.

As we waited in the cold for the start, I was anxious but not nervous. Most of the fears that I'd thought I might have had for race day morning just weren't there. I'd hydrated all week and my body felt good. I had 4 packs of hammer gel and I ate my honey stinger waffle about an hour before the start. I talked a lot with my friend about starting slowly and made it a point to continually remind myself that I'm going to be passed a lot in the early miles and that I shouldn't worry about it.

Finally the time came and we headed into the start corral. It was packed! More so than any race I'd been to, even the Peachtree. I made my way towards the back, but I stayed with my friends. I just kept thinking to myself that this is my race, not to worry about what anyone else was doing. It took us 4 minutes from the gun to make our way to the start line. I hit go on my Garmin and started running.

Instantly my friends (even the slower ones) were off in front of me. I made no effort to try to keep up, just settling into my pace. I tried to relax and just let my body warm up and settle into a pace. My plan was to keep the first few miles above 13 minutes and then see how my body felt. I was going a little quick in the first half mile, but I settled myself and just let it flow. I hit the first mile at 13:15 and wasn't even breathing heavy yet. I chatted with some of the people around me as we made our way towards the beach. The sun wasn't up yet and it was chilly, but we weren't hit by the wind that we'd find as we got to the shore. There were a lot of run/walkers around, so I was passing and being passed and just generally trying to maintain.

Around mile 2.5 we hit the only significant hill of the day, a bridge over the intercoastal waterway onto the barrier island where we'd run the rest of the race. As I got to the top of the bridge I felt really strong and at that point I knew that today was going to be ok. I used the downhill to let my momentum carry me and sped up past a lot of the folks I'd been pacing with the first couple of miles.

Slow and steady was the name of the game for me. We headed north on A1A and around mile 4 headed into a park that was just beautiful. The ocean was on one side and then we looped across to the intra coastal, with yachts and beautiful homes lining the race course. Water stops on the course were plentiful and I grabbed a cup at each one, never drinking a lot but just enough to keep me from feeling dry. The hydrating I did all week really paid off for me. We exited the park around mile 6 and I realized that I was almost half way done!

The wind really picked up at we continued north along the beach. It was a headwind from the right. At this point the faster folks were coming back from the turnaround and I always enjoy watching them run by. I saw the fastest of my co workers and gave him a shout. I was really pretty cold at this point but was buoyed by the thought that we'd have a tailwind on the way back. We hit the turn around at mile 9 and I was struck thinking about how good I felt. I picked up the pace a little bit, but then backed off a bit, remembering some of my earlier long runs when I felt the same way and then crapped out before the end.

The sun was up now and the wind was at my back. I passed mile 10 and started to really think about the finish. At this point I started passing some of the people who were fading a bit. At mile 11 I took my third gel and my mind was doing flips. I hadn't hit any of the landmines that could trip me up and I realized now that this was it. 2 miles and nothing was going to stop me.

I passed mile 12 and I started to get emotional, the smile on my face wide and goofy. Tears started to well up and I started to run faster. Every time that I felt like crying I just ran faster because I figured if I was breathing too hard I wouldn't cry. Would you believe I ran the 13th mile in 11:38?!? My legs were burning, my lungs were gasping, my heart was pounding but I was happier than I could imagine. Just past mile 13 as we were heading into the chute my wife was there screaming for me. I smiled and waved and started to break down.

I crossed the line, stopped my Garmin and started to sob. But it didn't sound like sobbing, more like a seal barking and I thought I was hyperventilating. I quickly gained my composure and was handed a medal. I grabbed a bottle of water out of a bucket and looked up to see a group of my friends standing there cheering me on. They hugged me and slapped my back. Then my wife came up and I nearly collapsed in her arms, except that I was soaking wet and it was freezing!

If you've read my earlier posts, you knew that I had very little expectations about my time. I'd hoped that I could finish around 2:45 but I'd fully expected to be closer to 3 hours. When I checked my Garmin, it said 2:46. I was ecstatic with that time. My official chip time was 2:46:49. More importantly for me, I'd run the entire way, save for a few yards at each water station where I drank some water or ate a gel. I never wanted to take a break. I pushed myself hard to the very end and I dont' think I could have gone faster in this body. At the end of the day, what more could I have asked for?

Now, a couple of days removed, I still can't think of much that I would do differently. The day went as well as I possibly could have hoped. For my first half marathon, I couldn't be happier. When my wife handed me my phone after the race, I was even more overwhelmed by the messages of support waiting from Twitter, Facebook and texts. Friends and strangers, fast and slow all wished me well and congratulated me on my accomplishment. I proudly wore my medal for the rest of the day and I'm already thinking about what the next challenge is going to be.

I know this post has gotten kind of long, so I'll just wrap up with a brief thank you, to everyone who's read these posts, who's sent me wishes and who have laced up and run themselves. This has been one crazy gratifying journey for reasons well beyond the personal accomplishment and I assure you, its only the beginning.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Things I Love About Running

Last spring I became aware of an event on Twitter called #runchat. Its an hour long moderated Twitter chat where a great community of people answer questions posed by the moderators, share thoughts, encouragement and laughs. Since most of my Twitter followers are from #runchat, I'll assume that many of you already know that. 

The group of people that I've met through runchat have been some of the most supportive and knowledgable I've met. From back of packers like me to folks who run ultras and even running luminaries like Bart Yasso. To me, runchat has become a place to recharge and share my love of running with people who aren't going to roll their eyes and say "oh there he goes on about running again."

This week in honor of Valentine's Day, the runchat blog is hosting a contest and I thought I'd throw my hat in the ring by listing out the things I love about running. 

So here goes, a list of what I love about running

  • I love that running is hard and that I continue to do it!
  • I love that there is no coasting when running. You can never just stop working at let gravity or momentum take over. You must work to move.
  • I love the quiet time, the time to process my thoughts, the time to appreciate the changing leaves, the mist rising over a field on a cold morning and to not think at all.
  • I love the feeling of accomplishment I get after each and every run. 
  • I love how my legs feel strong again, how hard my calves and thighs have become again.
  • I love the self realization that comes during those tough runs, when you have to dig deeper than you thought you could, or even when you fail.
  • I love the community of runners, the support and encouragement that even a slow guy like me gets from everyone.
  • I love being addicted to something that is not destructive.  

Obvious to anyone who has read my blog, running has played a huge role in my recent transition and as I approach the milestone ahead of me next week, I have no intention of changing that role.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

What I've Learned in Half Marathon Training

This past weekend marked two weeks until my half marathon and for the third week in the last four I ran a personal distance record. This time it was 12 miles. A run like that took me close to two hours and forty five minutes, which is a lot of time to think. At one point I started thinking about the journey I've made, how I struggled through my first 3 miles not too long ago, and what its taken for me to get where I am today. I leaned some lessons about myself and about running and I'd like to take a few minutes to share them here.

They say that the hardest steps on a run are the ones out the door. Through this whole process, I'd say about half of the time I had to play a mental game with myself to get going for my run in the morning. Sure, there were some days where I was excited to get out and run, but on other days I'd linger in bed trying to play "change the schedule" with myself. On most of those occasions (though I'll admit not all of them) I'd end up running and being glad that I did. I've never regretted going for a run, so the first lesson I learned was, do whatever you can to get your ass out the door and get started.

Now, just because they say that the steps out the door are the hardest, that doesn't mean they are the only hard steps. Not by a long shot. There were days when I felt like I could run forever, and days where I nearly broke down and just found myself walking for no other reason than I couldn't go on. Each time I had a bad run, my analytical side would look back and try to figure out what went wrong. Sometimes it was pacing too quickly, or eating poorly the night before, or not hydrating enough. But in all of these occasions, I had negative thoughts during the run. As I got into longer and longer runs, I began to notice that if my thoughts started straying into something negative, it invariably led to me feeling worse not too long away. And it didn't have to be negative thoughts about running either, but just negativity in general would trigger it. So I started forcing those out of my head with positivity. I'd think about something good and soon I'd be feeling better. That certainly became harder as the runs got longer, but I found it worked really well to predict when things are starting to get tough.
Just dreaming of the beach made me happy
Everyone has their own struggles. There are a lot of people who I would see every week out on the trail, running fast, putting in way more miles than me. You're tempted to think, "If only I could go like that, then it would be so great." But I'm not them and they aren't me. Running is not everything and it took me a long time to stop judging myself against other runners. I'm a slow runner, but I'm a man who is accomplishing something very difficult, whether I do it quickly or not. The strength of will that it takes to start a run when you know its going to take you close to three hours to finish it, when you know that thousands of people are going to be running ahead of you and very few will be running behind you, that strength has to come from a place that few people get to tap. I've learned that challenging myself and rising to that challenge is the best thing that I can ever do for myself. I've met a community of people who are supportive and understand this very thought. Your time doesn't matter. What matters is that you're putting in the time. You've made the decision to change something and you've put in the work to change it.

Half marathon training has opened my eyes to the possibility that even now, at age 40 (soon), I can still affect change in my life for the better. I've had a ton of ideas flow during the meditative time I spend running. This has shown me that its still not too late to accomplish anything.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Runner I Am

I read a blog post today from RunLadyLike titled Be the Runner You Are, and it brought me back to some thought I had during my long run on Sunday. I haven't posted much about it here on my blog, but I'm in the final few weeks of my training for my upcoming half marathon. If you've followed me on other social media, you have seen some of the struggles and triumphs I've had over the last month or so. This is at once humbling and uplifting. I'm pushing my body to do things that I'd hardly imagined I could do, but at the same time being forced to accept my limitations.

Starting just before the new year I've been hitting distance records on most of my long runs. I did a 9 mile run and it felt magical, like I'd hit a sweet spot and really felt that the sky was the limit for my running. Then a week later when faced with my first 10 mile run, it was a disaster. After 7 miles I felt like I couldn't move another step. I walked and prodded my way to the end and instantly felt defeated. Then I thought more about what I'd done, posted about it on Twitter and got some tremendous encouragement from the community. My next 10 miler was a little better and last week's 11 miler felt even better. I can finally picture myself completing 13.1 and I finished that run really excited about crossing the finish line in just a few short weeks.

Here's the thing. I've always had a time goal in mind for my half. I know that the only goal should be finishing and all that talk, but I'd thought that I could keep a certain pace and make my goal of about 2:45. Its not a fast time by any means, but I would feel comfortable with it. While I was running my 11 miles on Sunday, I realized that the pace that makes it comfortable enough for me to go that distance without burning out is much slower than that. My pace will put me much closer to 3 hours. I struggled with that a bit when I first realized it. Man that's slow! But, its me. Its me moving my still quite heavy body 13.1 miles. Its me logging 88 miles for the month of January (after tomorrow's 5 miler). I'm a better runner than I was 18 months ago, 12 months ago, 6 months ago, 3 months ago. From the beginning of my running journey I've said I want to build distance and then worry about speed. So why am I worried about how fast I do the longest distance I'll ever try? Uh, I don't know! I'm not!

The runner I am is one who fuels himself with positive thoughts. I will run 13.1 miles because I'm putting in the work to get my body ready to do it. There is a lot more that I need to get my body to do, including be less body, but that will all come with time and more positivity. For now, I am the runner I am, and that runner is going to move his 270 pound body 13.1 miles along the Ft. Lauderdale beach 6 days after his 40th birthday.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Thoughts on Lance and Doping revisited

The first post of any significance on this blog was triggered by the first threads unravelling on the blanket surrounding Lance Armstrong's then alleged doping. Last night,  much of the sporting world watched as he sat down with Oprah for a "no holds barred" interview during which he confessed to having doped during every one of his 7 Tour de France victories. As I sit here organizing my thoughts about what I say, the overwhelming emotion is disappointment. However its not disappointment in the actions Lance took through his career, its disappointment in how he is behaving today.

Long ago I came to the conclusion that Lance and many others had cheated. In my last blog entry on this topic I urged Lance and others to come clean about what they had done and let the narrative move forward. I certainly can't take any credit for it, but it was heartwarming when I saw how many actually had. Last night I was hoping to hear Lance stand up before the world, give a sincere apology and recount how it all happened and why. I did not. Instead I heard a man who only seems to regret going too far and getting caught. The only regret I heard was about giving a lame speech on the podium of his last Tour and coming back to the sport after his first retirement because "we would not be having this conversation if I hadn't."

I'm finding it hard to find a word to describe Lance's actions, though the word sociopath has been repeatedly used by his critics. Its hard not to agree. He openly stated that he doesn't feel like he was doing anything wrong at the time. Doping was a part of their preparation like filling up his tires with air or filling his bottles with water. I can understand the elaborate lies and aggressive behavior towards critics as a method to protect his story and control the narrative about his life. I can't understand doing all of that when you don't even think you're doing anything wrong. How can he not feel badly about behaving like a jerk?

Lance worked too hard during this interview to downplay his role as the leader of a team that required doping. He said that he was doing it, and he can understand how others would feel like they needed to be doing it if he was, but that there was never a culture of that stated you had to be doing it to be a part of the team. Oprah made a good point in stating that it was merely a semantic argument, but it shows the psychology of this man who is still fails to understand his influence over people and the responsibility that comes with that influence. If Lance was careful to never explicitly tell riders "you dope or you are dropped," that doesn't change the fact that it was the message that was delivered. When you look at the methods he used against people like Emma O'reilly and Frankie and Betsy Andreau, using his bully pulpit to demolish their reputations when all they did was tell the truth, its hard not to believe that he hadn't used those same tactics on the team internally.

In watching deposition tape where he is vehemently denying doping under oath, Lance described himself as an "arrogant prick." Watching last night's interview, I came away with the same feeling today.

Lauren Fleshman wrote a fantastic piece on her blog yesterday asking Lance to move on. I don't think that he deserves to be a professional athlete any more. I hope that Lance can fully repent. He still has influence and can continue the fantastic work he's done in giving cancer patients hope, in helping raise awareness of the disease and raising money towards its research. I hope that he gets good advice and learns to let the "myth" of Lance die. Its a false story and can only be rescued by full contrition to all that were crushed in its building.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Why Lie?

The news of Lance Armstrong's upcoming confession raises a lot of questions about the motivation of someone to deceive. There are a lot of lessons to be learned from Lance's actions and I'm sure we'll all be trying to unwind the various threads of the stories for years to come. Then late today the story of Manti Te'o broke and that got me thinking about deception and how deeply we can go to deceive others and to deceive ourselves. If you haven't heard the story yet, you can read the full article on Deadspin. In short, there were inspirational stories all through the football season about this player's girlfriend losing her fight to cancer and how devoted he was to her. A beautiful story about true love and perseverance. The problem is, the story is a lie.

Now I don't know whether Mr. Te'o was the victim of a cruel hoax or using this story to increase his fame. In the end though, both of these stories are examples of the distance to which men will travel to propagate deceit. There's no denying that Lance Armstrong did a lot of good things for a lot of people. He became a symbol of hope for those stricken with cancer. His story was inspirational and I can easily understand his justification in preventing that image from being darkened. What would happen to his foundation? What would happen to all of those people who were personally affected by his struggle? Would someone fighting the terrible disease give up their hope if Lance's image was shattered? Being faced with questions, its not a large leap to see that Lance would want to keep his image. 

But how do you resolve his deceit with the vehemence of his denials. He shouted to the world about the "witch hunt" of his accusers. He sued his critics in court, won and collected millions of dollars while insisting on his own trustworthiness. All the while, he knew he was lying and many of his closest advisors knew he was lying as well. Why?  I think George Costanza said it best.

There comes a point where you need to completely deceive yourself in order to deceive the world. How can a man knowingly lie to the world? Its easy once you've knowingly lied to yourself. We've all had those moments in our life where we've worked hard to persuade ourselves against the truth, and once that's done, we turn to persuading those around us. We convince ourselves that we're happy in a dead end job, or we accept failure as a rule of existence and then live our public life with that acceptance.

So where is the lesson that we can take from these men. Personally, its one that I have found has been the key to the happiness I've found in my life in the last few years. Don't lie to yourself. Accept yourself for who you are and what you can do. Build from that base, and only then can you improve yourself. When you live on a base of lies, eventually that will crumble.  

Looking at Manti Te'o's story, it becomes hard to believe he didn't know his "girlfriend" wasn't real. But, its a slippery slope when we start to lie to ourselves, ignoring the glaring truths. I started this blog as a tool to help myself be accountable. As a younger man, I would have just written what I thought would make me look good. If I skipped a run, I'd make up a story about having done a few miles. But all lies crumble in the end. You can't run a half marathon on a training log full of lies. Just like Lance Armstrong couldn't build a legacy as a great man on a pile of lies. It negates much of the good will he's built.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Go Big or Go Home!

A sane person would look at their life, decide what changes they want to make in it and then plan those changes so that they build on each other to ensure success. I've never claimed sanity. Instead, I've recently piled on a bunch of things that are all hitting at the same time. The upside ... by next summer they'll all be complete (mostly) and life will return to normal (somewhat). Downside ... I'm exhausting myself for the next couple of months and building some nice potential stress levels at the same time.

Look at that face!!
As most of you know, I'm training for my first half marathon which is 6 weeks from today. I'm running more than ever and having to get up pretty early on the weekdays that I do run. Now, a sane person would make sure that they are getting to sleep early each night to ensure enough sleep time. But in a completely unrelated life decision, my wife and I brought home a new puppy 3 weeks ago. Now, I love this puppy. She's adorable and super smart already. On top of that, she's giving our 3 yr old dog a run for his money and I swear he's behaving better with the little one around. But, if you know anything about puppies, you know that they require constant attention, including walks in the middle of the night. So now instead of getting a full night sleep each night, I'm up every 3 - 4 hours with our sweet little newcomer.

This has all made it that much more difficult for me to pop out of bed and hit my training hard in the mornings. So far, I've only missed one run and that was on New Years after a bit too much partying NYE. I made myself late for work one day too, but next week as the girls go back to school, I'm going to have to get up far earlier to get everything out of the way and get to work on time. At least its only 6 weeks until the race.

Of course, that is only really impacting me. On top of this stuff, my wife and I just signed a contract to build a new home for our family. So I get to spend the next 5 months stressing over design decisions, and the weather, and financing and packing and moving and... well you get the picture. I can't complain as I'm super excited to have the chance to get a home like this, where I'll have a basement and one day finally build my man cave. But it comes at a cost, for sure. That cost could be what remains of my sanity, if any remains.
Someday I'll own this dirt
On top of all this, I have a couple of non work projects that I've been mulling around in my brain for a while now. Its always been hard for me to keep an idea for a long time. If I don't pull the trigger when I'm ready, then they tend to fade away. So I'm trying to keep them simmering while I get through the first half of this year. I might bring in some partners or just delay and let Evernote hold the thoughts for me for a while.

So, if I seem a little nutty over the next few months, please understand why.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

2012 In Review

Once again, its time for a look back and a look forward post. Since today just happens to be 1/1/13, seems like a good time for it. This year has been a pretty good one for my family and I. While I didn't hit all of the goals I set out for myself for the year, I did continue to make progress in most aspects of my life and feel that I've set myself up nicely for what is to come.

My two major goals for the year were to lose 50 more pounds and to increase my running. I wanted to run 500 miles, with a stretch goal of 700. I went .500 on these. Fitness wise I feel that I've come a very long way this year and I'm really happy with what I've accomplished. On 12/31/11, I ran my very first 5 mile run. I was ecstatic at the time but I also knew that it was something that I wanted to make a normal occurrence. I set a goal for the first half of they ear to get up to 15 miles a week and to run the Peachtree Road Race.

Our Victorious Relay Team!
I ran 5 miles or more 25 times this year and maxed out at 8 miles. I ran 4 10K races including the Peachtree and also a leg in the Atlanta Marathon Relay. I ended the year with 501 miles total. I could not be happier about the progress that I made in running this year. I'm well on my way in my half marathon training and know that the progress will continue. There were struggles and periods of the year where I wasn't progressing like I hoped to, but I'm glad that I was able to buckle down in the last part of the year and really get myself moving. There was only one week of the whole year where I posted 0 miles.

As for my other goal, the weight loss just didn't happen. I can come up with a lot of reasons why, but they are all excuses. My decision making when it comes to nutrition was nowhere close to where it needs to be. 2011 was a great year for weight loss, 2012 not so much. So I'm going to repost that goal. My wife and I have been talking about ways we can encourage each other and we have some ideas on how we can make better food decisions this year. It still is the hardest thing for us to achieve, but we're going to continue the fight.

Some other areas that I feel went well in 2012. I connected with a fantastic community of runners on Twitter through #runchat. I changed from being a Twitter lurker, looking for stories about cycling and football, to being an active participant. Social media is about conversations and it becomes much more fulfilling when you are involved in those conversations. I've been thinking a lot about ways to use social media to help my own motivation and accountability. I'm still churning around some ideas in my head, but hope to solidify some plans for that shortly.

On the whole, this year I felt much more creative in my thinking. It may sound trite, but I do credit a lot of that to the time I have to think while I'm running. Ideas at work and outside of work have really crystallized for me. Most have not seen their way to execution yet, but I plan to be able to share them with the world in the coming months.

The year ahead is going to be packed with big things for the family and I, including 40th birthday's for my wife and I, a new home for our family and continuing to grow and nurture our little family. I look forward to sharing as much of it as I can on this blog. I want to thank those of you who read and support me, especially those who aren't family members. I wish you all a happy and healthy 2013, may we all live well and prosper.