Dallas runners remember, return to Boston Marathon

White Rock Running Co-op members Brent Yost, Grant Wickard, Ann Marie Brink, Brent Woodle, Allyson Gump. Kristi Madden and Steve Monks completed the 2013 Boston Marathon. Most of them are returning in 2014. Photo courtesy Brent Yost

White Rock Running Co-op members Brent Yost, Grant Wickard, Ann Marie Brink, Brent Woodle, Allyson Gump. Kristi Madden and Steve Monks completed the 2013 Boston Marathon. Most of them are returning in 2014. Photo by Greg Brink

Originally printed in the East Dallas Advocate Online Magazine.

A year after the terroristic and deadly bombings at the Boston Marathon, members of the White Rock Running Co-op say they are grateful to be returning to the 2014 race.

Lochwood resident James Ayers had departed the race grounds an hour or so before hell broke loose last year.

He left Boston last year grateful for he and his wife Amber’s safety (she was waiting for him near the finish line), impressed by Boston’s swift resilience and determined to return. But, like the rest of the day’s marathoners, bafflement and depression trumped a wide range of other feelings.

A sub-three hour marathoner, James handily qualified for the 2014 marathon, and the couple decided returning to this year’s race would be a privilege.

“Being a part of this year’s race is important to me because of its significance. This particular race seems to epitomize overcoming adversity. The belief that we press forward in life despite difficult situations and circumstances is something that is important to me,” Ayers says. “To see the way the city came together after last year’s horrific events was incredible. I don’t doubt that this year’s race and the events that surround it during Patriot’s day will serve as another chance for the city to move on and become stronger. It will be a special day for the city and one that I am very proud to be a part of.”

White Rock Running Co-op members Brent Woodle, Adam Rubin and James Ayers will run the 2014 Boston Marathon: Photo by Mark Olajetu

White Rock Running Co-op members Brent Woodle, Adam Rubin and James Ayers will run the 2014 Boston Marathon: Photo by Mark Olajetu

He adds that he thinks this year’s race will be about as safe as it possibly can be.

“I think there is always going to be some small worry with any large public event, and I’m sure that Boston probably won’t be the last time we see a tragedy like last year. But what can you do? Unfortunately it is the world we live in today.

Marathon organizers have taken major measures, such as prohibiting all bags and adding checkpoint screenings. Instead of tightening the race, however, they increased the field by some 9,000 runners. That means this will be the biggest Boston Marathon with the exception of 1996 when they allowed more than 36,000 runners in honor of the event’s 100th birthday.

Preston Hollow resident and WRRC member Ann Marie Brink ran her first Boston Marathon last year and was back in her hotel room before the blast.

This year she’s back and her husband Greg Brink will be cheering her on.

“Running the race after last year’s events is an honor,” she says. “I hope that by running, cheering, and volunteering we can all help the city of Boston reclaim Patriot’s Day as the celebration that it has traditionally been. The fact that it will happen the day after Easter lends even more weight to the idea of renewal and rebirth.”

Full disclosure (or am I just bragging): I also am a member of the WRRC will be running the Boston Marathon Monday.

See also: Neighborhood runners show solidarity after Boston Marathon tragedy


Dallas women kick ass at Rocky Raccoon 100

I spent last Saturday night in front of my laptop watching the results of the Rocky Raccoon 100-miler.

Seamus — the mutt I adopted from Nicole, the RR100 champ — accompanied me as I followed the race online.

Seamus — the mutt I adopted from Nicole, the RR100 champ — accompanied me as I followed the race online.

My friend Nicole Studer won the women’s race, for the second year in a row (Nicole fostered my dog Seamus and brought the two of us together, so I will forever be indebted to her; he is the best mutt in the world – just look at him).

The second-place female Kaci Lickteig began gaining on Nicole over the last several miles and the 16+ hour ultra came down to a near neck-in-neck with Lickteig just three minutes behind Nicole at the finish. Whew – what a day.

Worth noting: the ultra-running/trail-running community did a bang-up job on coverage with live streaming, tweeting, Vine-ing, blogging, etc. so kudos to irunfar.com and endurancebuzz.com.

Below is the write up I posted on Advocatemag.com about our area’s kick-ass ultra-running women.

White Rock Running Co-op members James Ayers, Brent Yost, Nicole Studer, Eric Studer and Brent Woodle

White Rock Running Co-op members James Ayers, Brent Yost, Nicole Studer — and her hubby Eric Studer — and Brent Woodle are exhausted but ecstatic after a long day at the Rocky Raccoon 100-mile race.

Ultra-running is a fringe activity that is gaining popularity, and women from the Dallas and White Rock area are proving to be leaders in the sport.

An ultra-marathon refers to anything longer than the 26.2 miles that is a regular marathon — 50k, 50 miles, 100 miles and beyond — and they typically are run on dirt trails (and frequently over mountains and other grueling terrain).

We wrote a year ago about White Rock-area resident and White Rock Running Co-op member Nicole Studer when she won the Huntsville Rocky Raccoon 100-mile race.

This year’s Rocky Raccoon 100, held this past weekend, served as the USA Track and Field 100-mile Trail Championship, and Studer defended her title against an even tougher field of women than last year. She won again; she ran under 16 hours and beat second-place Kaci Lickteig from Nebraska by just three minutes.

Another neighborhood woman, Shaheen Sattar — who also improved last year’s time by more than an hour — placed third.

Dallas Running Club member and neighborhood resident Bryan Fisher snapped this pic of Claudia Zulejkic, who he supported as she tackled the 100-mile race.
Dallas Running Club member and neighborhood resident Bryan Fisher snapped Claudia Zulejkic, who he supported as she tackled the 100-mile race.

Claudia Zulejkic, who you’ll find most days working at Bikram Yoga Dallas on Mockingbird-Abrams, ran all day and night, completing the 100-mile ultra-marathon in a little more than 25 hours and placed in the top 25 women out of more than 100 who started the race.

The finishers all benefitted from the help of pacers and crew, they say, and therefore several members of the neighborhood-based Dallas Running Club and White Rock Running Co-op participated in that capacity.

Studer, an attorney by day, tells us her toenails are a little messed up, but other than that she’s feeling good.


Makeup marathon: Louisiana Marathon (plus a look at the long-run myth, carb unloading and loading and miraculous healing)

There are many things I searched for and obsessed over in the weeks leading up to the Louisiana Marathon, and in many cases there was a lack of information, so I am going to share my experiences and findings on the following:

What to do after a canceled marathon

Sudden calf injury

Running while on vacation

Running a marathon after two weeks of rest

Running a marathon on no long runs in training

Nutrition — carb starve and carb load

The Louisiana Marathon

As I wrote in December, I was probably better prepared for a marathon than ever I had been when the Dallas Marathon was called off due to ice. In the ensuing desperation and disappointment, I registered for the Jan. 19 Louisiana Marathon. As soon as I made the decision, The Coach says I need to figure out a way do a tempo run. Immediately. Your last two weeks basically have been recovery, he says, and if you want to do a marathon in a month, we need to stop losing fitness now.

It was as if I was hemorrhaging fitness and the only way to stop the bleeding was to head out in the 20-degree icepocolypse and run for two hours.

OK. I was feeling antsy anyhoo.

Richland the day of my run

Richland the day of my run

The entire city was blanketed in ice that day. I could not drive to the gym (it wasn’t open anyway) so I strapped on my heart-rate monitor and bundled up and walked to the soccer fields at Richland College (running on the streets was not an option. Too slippery).

I ran through the snowy grass and did a 10-mile tempo run by heart rate. It was similar to running in sand. I trained through the next few days and then I got sick with a cold. I kept running daily but cut it short on a couple of occasions — felt superbad. The following Saturday I had another 12-13-mile tempo run. About six miles in, a sudden wrecking pain in my left calf stopped me in my tracks. It was so bad I had to call for a ride home. I went to the sports chiro that week, got it taped, started wearing a compression sock on the injured leg and switched to the elliptical.

I left for Las Vegas a week before Christmas. It was supposed to be a relaxing, post-marathon trip to visit my sister, bro-in-law and nephews. Instead I had no marathon under my belt and I had to figure out how, if and where to run — there was no elliptical access. Fortunately, I adore running while on vacation and Las Vegas is a beautiful place to run. My sister lives about 20 minutes outside of the city and the landscape and the weather was perfect, so I worked in a very easy hour-long run each morning before the rest of the family woke up. The calf was sore, but as long as I went easy (we’re talking a 9:15 pace) it did not worsen.

Vegas

Vegas

The day after Christmas, back in Dallas, I had a hard workout on the schedule. Three times 30 minutes at race pace. The first 30 minutes was OK — I easily managed about a 7:10-7:15 pace. Then the wheels fell off. My calf pain erupted and my pace slowed. Coming up the Katy trail on the last three miles I slowed to 7:30 and was hurting immensely. After that, coach mentioned the marathon probably wasn’t a good idea. I argued that I did not want the training of the last several months to go to waste; I wanted a marathon. He said I could run the half marathon, that it would be like the marathon without the extreme strain. “Thanks, I teased him. That’s what I need a coach for. To tell me that the half is the same as the marathon but not as extreme. Haha.” So we had a laugh, but resigned to see how the next few days went.

This sounds weird, but my calf problem was miraculously healed. I know. Crazy. But I did a ton of reading that weekend about healing and I concentrated and meditated on health and I told the pain it didn’t exist. And then the pain was gone. Again, I realize that this sounds insane and there certainly is some other explanation. I’m just saying: this is what happened.

I resumed running easy two times a day for one hour each.

DRC 10k: Terrell Daily Photo

DRC 10k: Terrell Daily Photo

I ran the DRC 10k in right-at 41 minutes — about a minute slower than my PR — but still good for second female. Also I added miles before and after the race to make it a semi-long run. Still, I did not feel great about my speed. However The Coach reminded me that we hadn’t done any speed work in months, so this was to be expected.

Now we are two weeks away from the Louisiana Marathon and we decide that this next tempo run will determine whether or not I am going to be able to run a marathon.

Ten days out, I schedule a four-times-20-minute at race pace run within the heart rate zone 160-165.

I was very nervous about this run and I woke at 3:45 a.m. to get it done before work. I warmed up by jogging the 1.5 miles to Richland College. I would do the run on the parking lot and track — wanted to give myself every opportunity to do this.

Halfway through, I knew things were looking relatively good. I managed a 7:05-7:15 pace with no fade for the whole workout.

I wasn’t in quite the shape I was in right before Dallas — running sub-7s — but I was in form to run a conservative marathon, we decided.

After that workout, I continued to run twice a day, easy, right up to race day. Three days out (Thursday) I knocked it down to two 30-minute runs and the day before the race (Saturday) I ran one 30-minute run.

Long run

As race day approached I really started freaking out about my lack of long runs. Now, other than the marathon last December, I hadn’t run any single session all year over 15-16 miles. Still, leading up to Dallas I felt pretty confident — I had multiple weeks of 90-plus miles and some days of 24-26+ miles, just never all at once. But leading up to Louisiana, my mileage had dropped to 70-ish pw or less over the last 45 days and I had only two runs of 14 miles or more. So I scoured the Internets seeking someone who had seen marathon success on such low mileage — there weren’t many, or any that I could find.

Still, I had to trust what my coach and other respected coaches have stressed — conventional wisdom regarding long runs of 17+ miles is flawed. (“A farce,” is what the Hanson brothers call it.)

Nearly every marathon training program out there has a Saturday or Sunday weekly 16,17,18,20,22 mile long run.

The 20-22 mile long run three weeks out from a marathon is a ritual so deeply ingrained in the running culture that it is very difficult to ignore. It is a staple that even some of the most famous coaches call “The Key”. (Even the most old-school coaches now agree, however, that a 3 or more hour run is counterproductive, so someone whose long runs are done at a 10 mm pace, say, should not be doing 20-milers)

There are better ways. Simply, and this is the logic behind the increasingly popular Hanson plan, miles are important but training is far more effective when those miles are distributed throughout the week.

Many runners do a long slow Saturday run. They go easy or take Fridays off to prepare for the run. They are so pooped from the run that they need another day off afterward. With my training, I might run 12-15 miles on Saturday while others are doing 20, but I run 12 on Friday and 12 on Sunday, which the majority of us are not doing. My training, similar to Hansons, is based on cumulative fatigue. You are always training on tired legs and constantly adapting to more mileage. As one of the coaches tells Running Times, your 16-mile longest long run simulates the last 16 miles of the marathon rather than the first.

Some of the really fast, hardcore runners I know do 12 Friday, 20 Saturday and 12 Sunday and so on … but, think about it, a fast runner can do 18-20 miles in two hours. In addition, they are clocking some 100-120 miles per week, so the 18-20 is a smaller percentage of their weekly mileage, which is a significant point.

Placing too much importance on one run is a training mistake.

Also, I am going to hurt the next person who implies that the Hanson-esque plans are a shortcut. One guy told me it was fine if you want to “just finish” the marathon, but to PR you need several 20 milers. Another person said, “it is amazing you run so well on your type of training,” as if I am slacking and do OK despite it.

Look at these cumulative fatigue-based programs and you will see, it is tougher and requires more commitment than what 90 percent of recreational or semi-competitive runners are doing. It is for those who wish to improve time. No one who wants to “just get by” or “just finish” is doing anything like this.

I have been injured here and there, but far less since I began splitting my runs into two-a-days. I can run 80-100 miles a week with only a little fatigue and no injuries. Before, when I was following a typical marathon-training program, I could not run more than 60 mpw without getting hurt.

Goal

So my coach looked at the stats on my last workout and decided I should go for a “conservative” 3:12. LOL. He is very optimistic and I think he sometimes forgets how old I am. I so appreciate his belief in me. For perspective, my PR in the marathon was a 3:26 (albeit at a very hot and humid Dallas 2012). I converted his goal to a slightly more conservative goal of 3:15, which would allow me to run with a pace group.

The idea of knocking 10 minutes off my best, even in decent weather, on this f-ed up last few weeks of training, still seemed like a reach.

Eat

I needed any extra help I could get, so we looked at nutrition.

A week before the race I did a low carb diet, in an effort to prepare myself for the carb load which would begin three days out.

Low carb is difficult for a vegetarian. Luckily I am not vegan. I lived, basically, on eggs with cheese and fake bac’n and, for dessert, Cool Whip. Warning: day two of no/low carb can leave one feeling pretty bad. When I got to a point the second afternoon that I could barely stand up from my desk, I chewed a sugary piece of gum and felt instantly better.

Then there was three days of carb loading, which meant rice, Powerbars and spaghetti. The goal is five grams of carbs for every pound of body weight. At one point my husband offered me a piece of cheese and I actually said, “no thanks I am on an all-carb diet.” As fun as it sounds, I actually hate the carb load. I went from 115 pounds during the carb fast to 121 during the load, so I felt fat and icky by the last day and my Lululemon shorts (thrift-store bought because their prices are a travesty) hardly fit. I let up a little on the eating the day before the race, but still grazed all day on Powerbars and pretzels and had spaghetti with marinara for dinner.

The Race

I woke up race day feeling good and excited. When I walked outside I panicked a bit. It was warmer than expected — 59 degrees. But by the time I arrived downtown it dropped to 53-ish. Race had an early start, thankfully: 7 a.m.

Scientifically, 41 degrees is the ideal temperature for the marathon, studies show,  and performance decreases slightly with every 5 degrees above 50. However, considering that my last marathon was run in 70-degree, 80-percent humidity, I was thrilled with this weather.

I did a warm up of 1-mile jog and some light stretches, leg lifts, skips and a quick stride or three.

Might I get in trouble for this? Might. Unpurchased Sport Photo

Might I get in trouble for this? Might. Unpurchased Sport Photo

The Louisiana Marathon is low key — 4,000 (1,475 marathoners and 2,528 halfers, plus relay, etc.) runners, cheap hotel rooms, easy access to start, gear check etc. This all is to my benefit because crowds and waits and lines increase my panic. I easily found the 3:15 pacer, George, an ultrarunner from Florida who claimed it was way too cold for his taste. It was his third year running this marathon (which means he’s been here every year). He described the two hills on the course; it’s the same hill, actually, that you hit at mile two and again on the way back at mile 24.

The half and full marathons start together so it was a crowded first few miles through downtown.

There are water stops every 1.5 miles, which I find a little excessive, but it seems to be the norm now.

I decided I was going to consume this race in four parts — every seven miles would be like one loop around the track, using the mile as an allegory. The last loop would be shorter but much harder.

I felt great for the first “loop” — listened to George and the other guys talk about various races and running habits and letting the group block the wind around the lake.

The second “loop” also felt relatively good, but at about mile 14 I knew the full truth that I was running a marathon and felt the hints that pain was imminent.

By 16, I was feeling weary in some ways, but not enough to slow down. At mile 18, we turned around and began passing the runners behind us. I saw the 3:25 pace group and knew I was a good 10 minutes in front of them at mile 18-19. I told myself, as long as you keep going you will have a personal best—3:25 can’t catch you unless you start walking.

Around mile 20 two women passed me coming the other way and one said, someday I want to be that fast. She was talking about me?!

Somewhere around 21-22, George and the two guys still with him began to pull away. I struggled mightily, but kept thinking about how far five miles actually is and knew I had to hang on and not blow up by trying to push too hard with miles still to go. At mile 22 George turned around and said to me, Come on! And I said, I am trying! That was the last of our communications. Around mile 23 a guy in the crowd said to me, You are the seventh place female right now. Your name is definitely going to be in the paper. That guy got a big smile from me.

I saw a woman — must be sixth place — ahead of me and told myself, Catch her. I thought it would give me something to focus on, but within moments she stopped to stretch, so I passed her and never saw her again.

At mile 24-ish, things got weird. The half marathon met back up with the marathon. So there are many scattered walkers of the half marathon that I had to weave around, and, then, The Hill. It seemed so small at mile two. Now it appeared insurmountable. As I ran the hill I was grunting and dry heaving. The strolling half-marathoners gave me some terrified looks as I passed. A couple ladies actually laughed at me. But most were like: You go girl. As I crested the hill, I could see George, but barely. Telling the pain it did not exist did not work in this case.

At this point I did have a terrifying thought — if that hill felt so bad, what will Boston and it’s heartbreakers feel like in April?!! Shit. But, hey, one race at a time.

At mile 24 and 25 my pace had slowed to about a 7:40-7:48. But now the crowds were gathering and I was weaving through walkers into downtown. I was hurting but I knew I was in for a personal best by close to 10 minutes if I could just hold on.

I even picked up the pace slightly on that final mile, and I hauled ass once I could see the finish line.

My watch read 26 miles well before I passed the 26-mile sign, and the last .2 seemed like two. My husband started yelling at me as I rounded the last corner. He says he tried to run alongside me but got tired — ha! I saw the finish line. The clock clicked over to 3:16 as I hit the mat. My official time was 3:15:53. George and the guys finished right around 3:14, so they were traveling just a little fast.

Sorry Sport Photo. Don't sue me.

Sorry Sport Photo. Don’t sue me. Why are your photos so expensive? Really, it is ridiculous.

There is no better feeling I know than crossing the finish line at the end of a marathon. No matter how good or bad the race went. (But especially when it goes well).

Imagine you find yourself at the bottom of a lake. You have to swim to the surface, but you are deeeep. You try not to panic and start making your way toward the sunlight above. At first, you are confident you will make it — you feel strong and can see the blue sky, after all. But then you realize it is more distant than you imagined and the farther you travel the more your lungs ache for oxygen and the more labored your movement and the less hopeful your thinking. As you struggle upward, you become more desperate to breathe. You become increasingly afraid you will not make it. Every stroke seems an eternity. The deprivation of air — the sheer sureness that you won’t make it — feels so engulfing, painful and horrific that you are tempted to succumb to death. Still, you want life; you resolve to give it one last push. And when that resolve is all but gone your hand — stretched out above your head — shatters the surface. Your fingers touch the wind and your face follows. Finally, you inhale the air. Beautiful life-restoring air.

That first breath? That is what crossing the finish line feels like.

Dramatic? Hell yeah — I live for drama. But that actually is the best way I can describe finishing — being able to breath after some borderline unimaginable deprivation.

After 

As for post-race festivities, the Louisiana Marathon is the best I have ever seen. There were booths upon booths of food vendors feeding runners everything from vegan gumbo to beer and sausages and deep-friend doughnuts. The weather by the end of the race was in the high 60s low 70s and we just spread out on a big lawn, listened to the band and hung around for the award ceremony. I received a nice medal and poster for winning my age group.

My cool poster

My cool poster

This was an excellent race, overall, and though I hated that Dallas was canceled, I had a great time in LA. The remainder of Sunday was dreamy — we ate, lounged in our room, watched football and two excellent pay-per-view movies (12 Years a Slave and Gravity).

Now, of course, I am in post-marathon depression, which might be the next topic I cover.


Annoying things runners say: “We are the 1 percent”

“Only 1 percent of the world will dare to run a marathon.” (Or variation thereof). 

OK-you could say the same about a lot of things — only one percent of the world population endured the movie Gummo (look it up). Only one percent of the world population has fixed its own car transmission. Why do we have the population of THE WORLD in this braggadocios equation? It places the curve unfairly and unrealistically in the marathoners’ favor. So we are including babies and elderlies and invalids and the populations of the most poverty stricken countries (yes I realize Kenya and Ethiopia produce some of the world’s best marathon runners, but only a select few make the running club there. The others aren’t too worried about fartleks or maximum heart rate).

But the reason I most hate this quotation is not its unfair manipulation of babies and invalids. No I hate it because it is bragging by way of comparing yourself to others who have no interest in the thing in which you have an interest. Saying that we, by training for and running a marathon, have done something most “will not dare” is about as dumb as some guy bragging to me about winning a hotdog-eating contest. I would be impressed if he just said, “I am one of the world’s best hot dog eaters and here is my medal.” Wow. Cool. But when he throws in the assertion that you, your mom and most of your friends would never dare undertake the training required to be a great hotdog eater — “You would not be able to continue eating one hot dog after another as your stomach stretches and your heart burns. You must train to endure this and you do not have the guts,” I imagine him saying.

Yeah. Then I’d laugh and call him a jerk.

You ran a marathon? You are badass. You do not need some meaningless stat to back it up. So if I hear you say this, and I will hear someone say this very soon because I hear runners say it all the time, I am going to give you hell.


Training is done, all that’s left is to run

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Running the DRC Half with the 1:29 pace group: by Jesse Puentes

After a serious reckoning over a case of plantar fasciitis last spring, I ditched my Vancouver and St. George marathon plans and took some time off. It was awful.

In August I restarted running 20 minutes at a time. I began working with Coach Eric more than a year ago, which has improved my running, but has been hard work. I have always worked hard at running, but in a haphazard way. Now it is channeled and focused. I put in several weeks this season of 80-100 miles sans injury (I am dealing with some calf pain during this last week, which I’ll mention in a minute) and by the November DRC Half Marathon, I was back where I was last year at this time, which was an all-time best for me.

I did track work and base building during August and September and averaged about 55-60 miles per week during that phase with two harder speed and interval workouts per week. In October and November I moved to twice-a-day easy runs with two harder runs worked in per week, one of them long. The longest runs I did were about two hours (16 miles) with an added hour (6 miles) later that same day — I think I only had a day or two that actually was that long.

Right before I started the two-a-days I had a half-week off due to a family emergency. I had two days off in November when I just felt like I was falling into overtraining territory. I took one day off the Friday after Thanksgiving. Other than that, I haven’t taken any days off since late September.

Many of my running friends have asked me how — with a full-time, demanding job and children — I manage to work in the mileage.

Here are a few tips:

Sheri Piers via masslive.com

Sheri Piers via masslive.com

1. Read about someone else who does it. Sheri Piers has become my inspiration. She’s about my age – a year or two older – and works as a nurse practitioner (they can prescribe medicine so basically, a doctor).  She has a slew of kids and manages to clock some 90-130 miles per week.

She has come in the top 10 in Boston two of the last three years, winning 1st and 2nd place respectively in the masters division in the last two Boston Marathons. She qualified for the Olympic marathon trials.

Someone reportedly asked her, ‘What happens if you don’t get up to run tomorrow?’ And [she says], ‘What do you mean? There is no not getting up. I have three alarm clocks going.’”

2. Learn to be alone. I love running with my group when possible, but I had to learn to love running alone, because I don’t have time to arrange for accompaniment through all these miles. (Though some have been known to meet me at the track for mile repeats at 5 a.m. or at the lake for a 9-mile loop at 4.). The secret to my getting through the long slow miles is – drumroll – a subscription to Audible, where I download books. When things got really tough, I began listening to running-specific books — there is a novel called Flanagan’s Run that I return to time and time again. It is about a cross-country (literally) footrace in the 1930s and it is based on a real event, the 1928 Bunion Derby.

There is a scene that gets me especially pumped in which the runners on their trek through the Rocky Mountains start mornings with a chant.

“’I am a distance runner, my bones are light, my muscles lean. My heart will pump blood forever flushing my blood with oxygen.’ Their voices would echo through the mountains … the litany occasionally would be shouted, as if it were not merely an affirmation of their nature, but a gesture of their defiance. ‘I am a runner. I live as a runner. I eat as a runner. I see the weather, the road the world as a runner.  I have come to run …”

In the beginning, one of the runners finds the words trite, like a prayer you recite in church, he says, but as the days wear on, he shouts and believes he is now describing himself.

I listen to all manner of books and novels and I mix in some runner and triathlete biographies and I also listen to music.

3. Mix up the terrain. Instead of the same routes day in and out, I drive to different parts of Dallas to do my runs, or I run from work in Lake wood or hit the Katy trail and Downtown Dallas. I love being out of town, where I can find new places to run.

Galveston morning run

Galveston morning run

One of my favorite runs this season was in early October. My cousin got married on a Sunday in Galveston. I stayed the night but had to be back to the office in Dallas by noon Monday, so I rose at 4 a.m. and hit the sea wall for a 90-minute (split into three intervals) tempo run. It was the first cool run of the season — 69 degrees. At first I could only hear the ocean, but as the first hour wore on I could see the hint of sunlight rising over the horizon and the last mile was done right on the sand in my bare feet. It was magic.

If you are running more than 70 miles a week, some of it needs to be done on grass (or sand or trail dirt). I do a lot of running at Richland College, on the soccer fields and track.

I do some treadmill too. I don’t mind it at all, because I have my books.

4. Want it. Really, no one is going to run this much unless they have a reason. And there is no good reason to do this, unless you are one of the handful of young people working toward a scholarship or sponsorship in distance running. You just find that you want to or you don’t. If you don’t care about dropping 20 minutes off your marathon time, then it would be stupid to spend 12 hours of your week trying to do it.

I started running because I wanted to say ‘I ran a marathon’. Now I keep working because I want to be a good runner. I don’t really know why I want to be a good runner. I am too old to become a professional runner or an Olympic runner. But still I have this tugging desire to see what my limits are. It doesn’t make any logical sense. It doesn’t make any logical sense that one would climb a mountain, risking his life, simply for the thrill of reaching the top and looking out at the world from great heights. He does it not for money or material winnings, but for a feeling. I haven’t had the urge yet to climb a mountain, but I think that feeling I get at the end of a well-fought race is similar to the feeling a mountaineer gets when he reaches the peak. The less attainable the peak, the greater the feeling.

Anyway, now I have essentially completed the training and the race is one week away.

One week ago, I would have told you I am in the shape of my life. My recent marathon pace runs — done by heart rate — have been in the 7:00-7:15 range. I ran the 8-mile Dallas Turkey Trot in 52:31, about a 6:31 per mile pace.

But I limped away from that race and am now nursing a soleus strain (diagnosed by the internet) and will do the last week of my training on the elliptical.

One important thing I learned last season was to not put all my hopes into one race. When I put in the work, all sorts of positive things happen. Maybe that includes meeting my marathon goals, or maybe something doesn’t work out and I learn a new lesson. Like the main character, Doc, in Flanagan’s Run, “He knew who he was … he had gotten to the center of himself … he had no need to prove anything …”

A new personal best and an attainment of goal time, however, is a much-desired affirmation.

Temps on race day, blessedly, will not be hot like last year. However we might freeze and we might get a nasty wind.

I do not care. I have been waiting for a cold marathon, one for which I am properly trained, for years. Bring it on.


A year ago he was near dead from a freak accident, now he’s ready to run the Dallas Marathon

An almost-recovered Brandon Cumby ponders his upcoming 26.2-mile race: Photo by Danny Fulgencio, Advocate Magazine

This story originally is published in the December 2013 Lake Highlands Advocate and East Dallas Advocate magazines.

A freak accident left him burned, broken and dependent, but this White Rock-area runner intends to finish what he started training for two years ago — the Dallas Marathon

On a cool November morning, Brandon Cumby rounds the last turn of the Dallas Running Club Half Marathon at White Rock Lake. Feeling better and stronger than he’s ever felt in a race, he smiles at the breaking sun and crosses the finish line in 1 hour, 51 minutes and 14 seconds.

His time places him at a nondescript 416 among male finishers. But considering where the 33-year-old runner was little more than a year ago — facedown in mud, spewing blood from multiple orifices, nose and ribs broken, flesh smoldering, no discernable pulse — the finish ranks him decidedly outside the realm of ordinary.

The accident
In summer 2012 Cumby began training for the Dallas Marathon, but his plans screeched to a halt in August. Cumby cannot cohesively recall anything between July 28 and Aug. 24, he says. But family members and friends help him piece together the events that nearly snuffed out his future.

On Aug. 13, a Monday, the air conditioner in Cumby’s car died. After leaving the North Dallas office where he worked as an accountant, Cumby stopped at his friend Scott Boyle’s house. He figured he could park in Boyle’s driveway, hopefully fix the blower and avoid a sweltering drive home.

While Cumby toiled under the hood, Boyle and mutual friend Michael Baker played with their new toy — a high-tech remote-control helicopter.

By the time Cumby joined them, the sun was sinking, and visibility was low.

“They were ready to take it in — they didn’t want to crash it. It was expensive. They’d pooled their money to buy it. But I asked them to do a couple more runs. I egged them on, telling them to fly higher, do crazier stunts.”

Promptly, the copter crashed into a nearby tree, embedding itself in the uppermost branches.

Boyle went for a ladder.

Cumby, confident in the strength gained from his marathon training, and feeling responsible, was determined to climb and retrieve the object himself.

In fractured flashbacks, Cumby recalls ants biting his hands as he climbed the tree, looking way down at his friends and feeling the first pang of anxiety, seeing the power lines in the distance (avoid, he noted to himself).

He couldn’t get to the helicopter, he assessed. But he could climb close enough to loosen it from the branches, if only he had something long with which to prod it.

A neighbor who had joined the guys below handed him an aluminum pool-skimmer pole. Perfect.

He was clutching the pole with his right hand when his foot slipped. Falling in the direction of the wires, he lost control of his arm, which launched the pole over his head and into a power line.

A deafening “hmmmmmm!” shot through the air.

The hum was so powerful it made your teeth chatter, the witnesses say.

Then there were flames — orange and blue, that looked like they were shooting from Cumby’s belt buckle and from behind his knees, Baker recounted.

Then he fell, maybe 20 feet, “like a rag doll doing a gainer,” one witness later told him.

Motionless, Cumby lay prostrate. Boyle rolled him over; Mud clogged Cumby’s mouth, blood gushed from his nose and face, he was black and blue, smoke was rising from his groin and he smelled like burning flesh.

Boyle, a onetime lifeguard, searched for a heartbeat, a pulse. Nothing. He began chest compressions and kept working until paramedics arrived.

EMTs intubated, defibrillated, pounded Cumby’s chest until, finally, mercifully, his heart sprung to life.

But Cumby still was in grave danger. He was bleeding internally.

His friends say that even in his bed at Parkland Hospital, blood was seeping from his nose and mouth, from everywhere, it seemed.

The doctors could operate, they told Cumby’s loved ones, but his chances were not good. As his family waited with the hospital chaplain, a team of surgeons administered 22 units of blood and, against the odds, repaired Cumby’s lacerated liver and abdominal wall well enough to keep him alive. Later, burn and trauma surgeon Dr. Francis Ali-Osman later told Cumby that 100 out of 100 other people in his situation would have died before surgery.

Alive, but not well
The days and weeks following the first operation were the most mentally and physically agonizing of Cumby’s life, he says.

He was released from the hospital temporarily at the end of August. In his condition, he could not live alone, so he moved in with his grandparents. Clothing felt like sandpaper on his sensitive skin. Movement was nauseating. Stillness was unbearable.

“The pain and swelling from my burn excisions was unbelievable — I couldn’t tolerate walking or sitting down without one of those donut-shaped pillows.”

He couldn’t sleep, experienced hot and cold flashes, and lacked an appetite. A walk to and from the bathroom exhausted him.

“Before I had the accident I was fit. I rode a Harley, played the guitar, ran, cycled, worked on building lean muscle … I had lived on my own since I was 22, had relationships, had a house, was financially independent. Now I couldn’t live by myself or cook my own meals, drive or wash my clothes. I took medication out of a daily pill sorter so I wouldn’t get mixed up.”

And there was this hole in his gut, he says, whose source was anxiety over the idea that he might never run another mile.

But there is no space left in your head for marathon dreams when, say, the open wound located near your genitals inflames and oozes blood.

During a trip to the Parkland emergency room, Dr. Ali-Osman told him the wound wasn’t closing — it is called dehiscence. Cumby would just have to give it time.

“The anxiety of having an open bleeding wound in a sensitive area is worse than the wound itself,” Cumby says.

Before his groin-area wound healed, he was readmitted to the hospital because, once it became clear he would live, surgeons needed to mend several sinus and facial bones broken during the fall (fractured rib and cervical bones also were dealt with separately).

This time, doctors cut a line from one ear, over his shaved head, to the other. They folded down the skin, repaired the bones — adding synthetic bone filler and wire mesh where needed, Cumby explains — and sewed him back together.

Seemingly endless sleepless nights and sickening withdrawal from opioid medicines — tremors, insomnia, nausea and increased sensitivity to pain — followed.

For weeks, his face remained swollen beyond recognition. He weighed 143 pounds, down 30 from his training days.

Several mornings on end, he had his stomach pumped — exploratory measures to determine the effectiveness of his digestive system. Unbearable abdominal pain sent him to the emergency room on multiple occasions. Digestive distress and stomach pain are results of postsurgical ileus and abdominal adhesions, respectively, Cumby explains.

Through it all, doctors prodded Cumby for information.

“They seemed to wonder how I had survived,” he says. “Their best guess is that my fitness, the running, saved me.”

Two weeks after his release from the hospital following cranial surgery, Cumby snuck out of his grandparents’ house. He needed to run.

“I made it about a half mile before I had to lie down in the grass. I was wearing a heart-rate monitor, and it was going crazy. I walked home.”

A couple of days later he tried it again, with similar results. His mom, though she didn’t understand why he needed this so much, began walking with him, and they eventually began adding small jogging intervals.

Running therapy
Even as he was recovering from electrocution and life-altering trauma, Cumby felt this undeniable urge to run. Why? “I don’t expect anyone who is not a runner to understand this,” he says.

“When I first got out (of the hospital), I was entirely focused on the physical components. I wanted things to quickly return to normal. I needed to go back to work, get in shape, get my own place, make things look and feel normal. Turns out, there’s no quick way.”

Going out too fast can be detrimental in a long-distance race. Same goes for recovery, Cumby says.

He realized he had to go back and build a stronger foundation before he could rebuild his life, he says.

“So I asked myself, ‘What brings you joy?’ That is a good place to start.”

And his answer was: running.

“Running empowers me, centers me, focuses me,” he says.

The exercise strengthens his atrophied muscles and weary heart, but he says it is about much more.

“People think running is physical. It’s not. Most of it is between the ears.”

When he first started running years ago, he learned that.

“At that time, I was overweight, ending a marriage, unhappy, so I started running. Back then, I did my best thinking while I was running,” he says. “It is no different now. It is my Zen.”

Brandon: Photo by Danny Fulgencio, Advocate magazine

Brandon: Photo by Danny Fulgencio, Advocate Magazine

The marathon
Rebecca Baker is Cumby’s running partner. In 2012 the duo decided to train for the Dallas Marathon.

After Cumby’s summer 2012 electrocution, which was witnessed by Rebecca’s husband Michael, the Bakers only wanted their friend to survive.

“Everything was so touch and go for the first few days that we were more worried whether he would live,” Rebecca recalls. “It took a couple of days for them to figure out that he didn’t have any significant spinal injuries, which meant that he would walk again. At one point, he was so disoriented that he thought he had overslept and missed the marathon start. He kept telling his mom he needed his water bottle. Clearly, running was never far from his mind.”

Rebecca says she wasn’t all that surprised when he resumed training. “I was worried that he would try to do too much too soon, but he has done pretty well this season.”

The running community rallied around Cumby after the accident. The Dallas Running Club and White Rock Running Co-op held a fundraiser to help with medical expenses.

In January 2013, the Bakers and Cumby’s lifelong best friend Aaron Stevens (a Lake Highlands resident whose birthday, Cumby points out, fell on the same day of the accident), joined Cumby for a 5k race.

“It took 33 minutes to finish, and I thought I would die,” Cumby says. “But that got me over a mental hurdle.”

He didn’t like being slow, though.

“I am my own worst critic. I look at the other guys in my age group and their race times and feel inferior,” Cumby notes.

However, both he and Rebecca acknowledge that the way he is running now, all things considered, is nothing short of a miracle.

In March, Cumby ran the Rock n’ Roll half marathon in a little over two hours.

Then he registered for the Dallas Running Club’s training program for the December 2013 Dallas marathon.

As the miles increased and Dallas marathon hopefuls ratcheted up the calorie, carb and protein intake, Cumby ran into trouble.

In August he landed in the ER with severe pain and vomiting blood.

His doctor wanted to operate to remove scar tissue growing around Cumby’s intestine.

Cumby begged for an alternative.

“The doctor looked at me like, ‘Let me get this straight. You are refusing surgery because you do not want to interrupt your marathon training?’ and I say, ‘Yes’.”

The doctor made a deal. They would try one more thing, and if his symptoms improved, he could resume training. Cumby said he would try anything.

The treatment was dietary — Cumby would go on a strict low-carb, low-protein, high-fat diet.

To avoid mid-workout distress, he also started fasting for several hours before any long-distance run. The diet essentially goes against everything marathon coaches preach, Cumby says.

But it has worked.

Before racing the DRC Half Marathon in November, Cumby completed a 21-mile training run with the running club’s 4:10-marathon pace group.

When he runs the 26.2-mile Dallas Marathon course on Dec. 8, he won’t be wearing a watch, he says.

“I don’t want to put any undue pressure on myself by worrying about how fast or slow I am running,” he says. “I am just going to concentrate on finishing the race.”

As he expected, while he focused on running over the last few months, Cumby’s life shaped up. He recently got his own place near the lake — the epicenter of Dallas fitness, he calls White Rock — and a new job at a small firm.

He’s learned some lessons: No tree-climbing with aluminum poles. His friends and family are too good to be true. Follow joy. Forget the odds. Do not make specific plans, because you risk short-changing yourself.

After the marathon, he might try ultrarunning or a triathlon, he says.

“I want to see how far I can go.


Run-blog rut

Just realized it has been so long since I have blogged. I have a lot of running going on. I am going to blog my head off soon. Stay tuned. For now, a quote:

“The way I see it, every single mile we put in, every foot of ground we cover, that’s a victory. Every time we think of stopping and keep going, that’s another victory. Every goddam moment on that road is, too. Out here we grow every day. We grow, don’t you see?”

- Doc Cole, main character in “Flanagan’s Run”, by Tom McNab (1982).


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