Monday, April 24, 2006

Patriots' Day 2006

Boston 2006 was to be my ‘coming of age.’ I really wanted to qualify for Boston at Boston; this meant I had to run a sub 3:16. In spite of my minimalistic training, 40 mpw average, I felt I was ready for I had done three quality runs each week with several long runs of 18 miles or longer.

The weather on Patriot’s day turned out to be ideal, and thus, I could not blame a possible bad performance on it. Yes, the asphalt was the stage and I was the main actor. Corny, I know; the 'benefits' of a substandard education.

I made it to my assigned corral with barely 2+ minutes to spare. My legs felt okay, and more importantly I was confident. We take off and the first mile comes at a not too fast 7:41, which is more than acceptable to me since I want to avoid starting too fast. In the next few miles several faster runners would pass me which did not bother me at all; I knew this would happen, after all this is not your typical marathon.

I go through the next three miles in the mid 7:10s and I ma pleased for I am running easy, just the way the first few miles of a marathon should feel like. The next four miles would be just under 7:30 with the same perceived effort and I suddenly became concerned. I tried to pick it up and the following mile comes in at the expected pace, although the effort was greater. At this point my calves began to feel as though they were about to cramp. I was obviously dehydrated. The four beers the evening before did not help. The feeling of the onset of cramps would come and go for the next several miles. Mile 12 comes and I am looking forward to the Wellesley girls section. The three previous times I have ran this race I have never dared to stop and kiss any of the coeds. This time was different. I saw one holding a “kiss me” sign and I stopped and went over to kiss her on the cheek. It did not downed on me that the salty taste of her cheek meant that one, or more, runner(s) had made kissed her before me. Oh well. I must say that this stop gave me a huge adrenaline boost and I ran this mile in 7:23. Great, I am slightly ahead of my goal.

Now, I must say I had planned on banking one to two minutes in the first 16 miles, give them back the next five miles and finish strong with 7:25s the rest of the way. But we all now how planning turns out in running. I will venture to guess only a small minority meet or exceed their expectations in a goal marathon.

So I hit the half-way point just 45 secs ahead of my sub 3:16. Not too bad. The real problem is that I am beginning to feel tired. Again, I suspect I was not well hydrated prior to the race. As I hit the beginning of mile 17, the Newton hills begin and my calves, once again, began to cramp. I had told a close friend that anything over 3:20 would be a failure so I decided to ‘run’ the next five miles easy. I figure if I kept a tad under 8 mpm pace I would make it close enough. Mile 17 is 7:51 and I am pleased and continue with the shuffling gait. I am actually surprised it was ‘that fast.’ I surely felt like a slug. The other times I ran this race, I always found myself walking at different spots in the hills. Not this time. I was determined to not walk a single step. I run Mile 18 in 7:58. I am still ‘running’ conservatively, yet I feel tired. The next mile passes in 7:37. Wow, where did this one come from? It must be a net loss in elevation. I get to 20 miles in just under 2:30; if I had felt stronger I would have made a run for a sub 45 for the remainder of the race. But I didn’t and besides, I did not want to jeopardize my ‘back-up’ goal of sub-3:20. Mile 21, the one with heartbreak hill, comes as the slowest mile in 8:09.

The next five miles are downhill and should not be a problem for me to run them in sub 8 mpm. In spite of the downhills, they are difficult and my heartrate is a bit higher than I’d hoped. The one good sign was that I was ‘banking’ a few seconds here and there. My mind was so foggy that I didn’t realize I could actually break 3:18. In fact, I had given up on breaking 3:19 altogether; I was just hoping to run in the low 3:19s.

I now see the Citgo sign and it could not seem farther away than it does. I get to the 25-mile marker and notice this woman in black shorts is running a strong race and try to stay with her. We turn, and there is this mild incline and I try to drop her, but she stays with me. We make another turn, this time onto Boylton Street and we both can see the finish banner. Mile 26 is a rewarding 7:32 and she is pulling ahead of me. Darn it! I did not want to push it this late in the race. But the testosterone kicks in and I push it one last bit and manage to barely stay ahead of her. I begin to lift my arms sideways, mimicking an airplane and they feel so tired. I cross the finish line in a chip time of just under 3:18, thanks to the black-shorts woman; had it not been for her I would have taken it easy and finish a tad over 3:18.

I worked hard for this race and not having met my goal sure makes me feel disappointed. But I am pleased with my run because I left everything on the black top; I gave it my very best effort that Monday afternoon; I gave it my all… and that race was respectfully dedicated to the memory of my Mom.

Next up: Flying Pig in two weeks.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Rome Marathon - Vini, Vidi, Vinci

I had hopes of staying in the city center but lo and behold, when I tried to book a hotel recommended by a friend, it was full. So I ended up staying in a B&B about 5K south of the EUR FERMI station and whose owners are really wonderful people.

I signed up for this race back in October but had trouble with my credit card. Back then the fee was only 25 euro, a bargain. The fee went up to 40 in January 1st, and to 50 later on. When I went to retrieve my bib number I wondered which fee they would make me pay. They honored the 25 Euro! I was then given a coupon to pick up my book-bag (rather nice) which contained some goodies and a t-shirt.

Lets fast forward to race day. Maurizio (owner of the B&B) gave me a ride to the Eur Palasport station and I took the metro (Line B) to the circo massimo station. The station happens to be about a K from the start. There were lines for the portas and I ended up taking care of business and using the last of the toilet paper.

The way the organizers seeded runners was in four corrals. Corral A was for elites, B for bibs under 3000, C for bibs 3001-6000 and D for the remainder of the runners. While waiting for the start I realized I had not placed band-aids on my nipples. Ouch. However, some lady had left a case of vaseline and I used it sparingly.

The Plan: Originally, I had devised a first half at 8 mpm and a second half at 7:30 mpm. But then I second-guessed my plan thinking that it would be too tough. So I came up with a second plan, to run sub 3:20. BUT when I saw the rather large group of runners in front of me I discarded it and decided to run for fun.


The 3:45 pacers are to my right. The race starts and it takes me about 1:03 to cross the start. We are right next to the Colosseum on Via Dei Fori Imperiali. The amazing sight makes me feel special. We run around the Campidigio on cobblestones. The pace seems pedestrian. It’s rather warm and I am already sweating. I ‘run’ the first klip in 5:45, way off the sub 3:20 pace but it’s rather enjoyable for I am taking in the sights and sound... and odors... and I am gald I threw away the sub 3:20 goal. I bisect the circo massimo and the foro romano. Then I run along the river. I hit the 5K marker and my watch reads 25:20. I have managed to make some time. I then make my way towards St. Peter’s Basilica and around the Vatican Museum while passing the St. Angelo Castle. 10K in 49:24. The aid station were enough for us middle of the packers but I was afraid not enough for those at the back of the pack. The tables were labeled: aqua, salts and solids. I did not figure the salts out until 15K where I took my first gatorad... that’s right salts=gatorade. But I am getting ahead of myself. From the 10K marker to the 25K marker the course was rather boring and I struggled to keep focused. Right after the 10K I spotted the 3:30 pacers and gave chase. I did not catch them until the 13K marker where I had to run on the sidewalk to pass their wall made of runners. Two Ks later I had to make a dehydration stop and they caught me. But I promptly left them behind. 15K in 1:13:08. I reach the halfway point feeling rather fresh in 1:42:58.

I wonder if picking it up will not hurt my time three weeks later in Boston, especially since my hamstrings feel a bit tight. I decide for a mild pick-up. The 25K mark comes in at 2:01:36. Not bad but it is getting harder to focus. Then around the 27th K the course gets more interesting as I go through the piazza novona and then the torre argentina. But I am struggling, mentally not physically, after all I have had my best training yet out of all my 32 marathons; but the mental strain is quite palpable. The next sight is the piazza del popolo right before 30K (2:25:50). Now, my only objective is to finish. I figure 5 minute Ks will bring me home at a decent time, hopefully sub 3:26 for even simple calculations are not so simple.

During this stretch one italian runner literally zooms by me at sub 6 mpm screaming ‘il presidente’ to which another italian responds by what I imagine is the english equivalent of a four-letter word. It was entertaining nonetheless. I keep on what is now shuffling. Amazingly I am still maintaining sub 5 min Ks as I pass the Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain and the piazza venezia.

Then I reach the colosseum as I run right next to the circo massimo once again. Before this stretch my feet had been hurting but I think the cobblestones massaged my feet making them feel better, or was it psychosomatic? (35K in 2:50:20). Seven Ks remaining and I know I am close to ‘home.’ This part was rough in that it’s and out-and-back section and seeing faster runners on the other side weakens the spirit and the left knee is aching. The mild head wind is not helping either, but I know I will have it on my back when I reach the home stretch. I get to the s. paolo church and it is only four-point-two Ks left and I manage somewhat of a decent gait. I am now running 4:30 Ks. I see the 40K marker (3:14:24). I am feeling stronger by the minute. The colosseo is just in front of me. There is this short but technical incline; I power past it almost without effort. I really pick it up now. An inflated arch is right around the colosseo and I think it is the finish line. The joke is on me. I look at my watch and see that only 7+ minutes have gone by since the 40K mark, I realize I still have over 400 meters to go, ouch. In spite of this I manage to keep a good form. I extend my arms in the form of an airplane. A big smile on my face springs to life. This time the inflated arch I am looking at marks the finish line. I cross it in 3:24:10 by my watch and the chip (which was in my bib number). The official clock reads 3:25:13.

I am happy to have finished a marathon ran on historical grounds of roman proportions :-). I will cherish this medal more than any other medal because it is a work of art. A renowned Italian artist actually designed the medal.

Next in line is the 110th Boston Marathon where I will chase a sub 3:16 goal.