Dallas runner finishes famous Comrades Marathon

White Rock Running Co-op team member Hari Garimella ran the 2014 Comrades ultramarathon: Photo courtesy Garimella

White Rock Running Co-op team member Hari Garimella ran the 2014 Comrades ultramarathon: Photo courtesy Garimella

Hari Garimella accompanied by his wife and young son, just returned to the White Rock area after successfully trekking the mountainous 56-mile Comrades Marathon in South Africa. A version of this article was first published on Advocatemag.com.

A few years ago I read a piece in Runner’s World magazine about editor and former professional runner Bart Yasso’s experience running the Comrades Marathon in South Africa.

Even here in The States, among the running community, Comrades is notorious. In Africa, beginning in 1921, it has reached Super Bowl — or World Cup, even — levels of acclaim.

The race involves running about 56 miles through the mountains of South Africa in under 12 hours.

It is more popular, say the editors at RW, than the Boston Marathon, with as many runners, from as many various nations; the entire country — anyone who isn’t racing or spectating — watches the 12-plus hour television broadcast, they marvel.

After first reading about the event, I too was enthralled. Unlike our usually precise American races, the 56 miles is an estimate. “They change the course every year and no one minds,” RW editor Amby Burfoot says. There seems less a spirit of competition than a spirit of community. A group of physically disabled students sing for the runners. Most participants, aside from some elites, aim not for a particularly fast time, but to strategically pace themselves to finish before the 12-hour cutoff. At 12:00:01 a course marshal fires a shot. Anyone who has not crossed the finish line at that point did not run (according to the official results, anyway).

Students from the Ethembeni school for disabled children performed for Comrades runners: Photo courtesy Hari Garimella

Students from the Ethembeni school for disabled children welcomed Comrades runners with singing and dancing: Photo courtesy of Hari Garimella

At that point, runners stop where they stand and fall to the ground, often wailing, moaning and weeping from exhaustion and disappointment, one former participant tells RW.

To finish before that dreaded gunshot was the goal of 39-year-old White Rock Running Co-op member and Texas Instruments employee Hari Garimella, who just returned to the neighborhood after racing the 2014 Comrades ultra-marathon.

“During the course of my training and previous experiences of running a few ultra-marathons, which included tasting my first ever DNF (did not finish) on a 50-mile race at Palo Duro Canyon, I realized that I was going to have to get very disciplined on my training, as the Comrades run was going to be my longest-ever race,” Garimella notes in his race report that you can read in full here.

Garimella says he trained near White Rock on Saturdays, with his running club. The rest of the week he ran with his dog, Dunbar or his friend Viresh Modi, who also was training for Comrades.

His preparations began with a New Year’s Eve marathon followed by six months of daily runs, which included several long training runs of 21, 31 and 35 miles, and one day of rest per week.

When he arrived in South Africa last week with his wife and son, he says his appreciation for the historic event grew, following a trip to the Comrades museum and meeting a few renowned Comrades competitors. (Former Olympic runner Zola Budd — famous in the 80s for her bare feet and for becoming tangled with American runner Mary Decker during a disastrous 3,000 meter Olympic race in 1984 — was one of the top female competitors).

Garimella’s strategy, he says, involved walking some on the uphill sections and running nonstop on the downhills. Despite temps in the near 90s and more hills than he ever could have imagined, he stuck to it. Mostly. With just 5k to go, fatigue forced him to walk, but a fellow runner motivated him to finish the last of the 89 kilometers fast.

“I felt this motivation come out of nowhere. I thanked my new friend, and all of sudden ran the remaining one-kilometer, and ran it strong. I got to the Kingsmeade Sahara stadium and could hear the entire stadium cheering for the runners,” he says.

Garimella family in South Africa: Photo courtesy of Garimella

Garimella family in South Africa: Photo courtesy of Garimella

“I saw my wife and son on the sidelines and waved to them. I kept running strong and in a few seconds I crossed the finish line. I was done and had succeeded in finishing my first Comrades marathon in 11:13:12.”

He says his wife, Nirisha, and son, Jay, are his biggest cheerleaders. “My son is going to be a better runner than me soon.”

Garimella is home and intends to take a couple of weeks rest before resuming training. His plan? The 2015 Comrades, which will run the opposite direction (with more uphill than down) of this year’s race. He says he will continue regular uber-long runs, which he thinks contributed vastly to his healthy condition at Comrades, and he will run more on hills and add weight training to strengthen his quads. Read more from Hari here.

Sidenote: Zola Budd reportedly has been stripped of her age group win at Comrades for failing to properly pin on her runner identification information.


Back from the Boston Marathon 2014

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Boston Marathon poster 2014: Poster Gallery

Note: I wrote this on the plane home from Boston, fell asleep and neglected to edit and post it for one solid month. How’s that for grade-A procrastination.

A bad, short training season, low thyroid and vitamin deficiency 

In the weeks leading up to the Boston Marathon, I was depressed, and not in an AJ Soprano, I’m-gonna-drown-myself-in-the-pool sort of way, but as in, my whole body was physically tired and I was seriously concerned I wasn’t going to be able to run a marathon. Especially one as hill-acious as Boston.

I was so tired just a month before the race, that I was falling asleep, literally, in the middle of the day at work. I was taking four-hour naps on a Sunday. I was struggling to keep up with my running contemporaries. I was failing to maintain my typical tempo pace, even during a 15k race.

I finally went to the doctor for lab work, which showed low thyroid.

Nothing new — my thyroid has been low for almost 10 years that I know of. Every six months, doc increases my dosage a bit. This time, after the labs, the doc’s assistant called to say I was very low in vitamin D as well. What does that mean, I asked the assistant, who replied, “It means you need to take a supplement.” Thanks for that flippin’ wealth of information, lady.

So she told me to start taking D supplement and to pick up a new more-potent RX for Synthroid. On my own — thanks, Google — I learned that D deficiency makes it tougher to absorb synthetic thyroid. That made me feel better — like I had a lead. I did as instructed and also began taking a multivitamin with iron every night. I never had done this for long because vitamins usually make me puke. But taking it at night on a half-full stomach (because I never eat dinner ‘til like 9, at least) and then going to bed made it work.

Ok, back to Boston training.

So, within about 10 days of this vitamin supplementation, I was no longer taking George Costanza-style naps at work. I felt markedly better. And my last long run of 16 miles, which was eight days before the marathon, felt OK. Not fabulous, but OK. And I started getting excited about Boston.

Fine-tuning my attitude 

The week leading up to the race was production week at work, so I was too busy to get too panicked.

I made it a point to do a (relative) lot of running with friends who I enjoy being around. Talking to them helped me put things in perspective. If I am all worried about my personal time and performance this year, after what the city of Boston and the marathon participants experienced last year, I am a selfish asshole. Basically.

I was going to be in Boston on the day that the city, the runners and all the fans of the sport take back Patriot’s Day. That alone was a reason for insurmountable gratitude. Though I trained hard, the time on the clock this day would be secondary.

In the days leading up to race day, I hardly checked the weather. Usually I check compulsively starting 10 days out. I was not as worried this time.

I was a little concerned about finding my way around the city — and I had every right to be — but about the race itself, I was not freaking out.

I am not religious, but I do frequently chat with the god of my understanding (a.k.a. pray) and when I was praying about this race, I got the distinct message to let go.

Getting there 

I did the carb-starve and carb load the same as I did before Louisiana. This has become a very important step in my improvement at long distances. See this post for a more-detailed explanation.

Leaving on a Sunday was nice because I had all day Saturday to pack and rest up.

I left Dallas at 6:30 Easter morning and arrived at Boston at 11 a.m. I got confused about the location of my hotel in relation to the marathon expo. Note to future Boston travelers: there are two convention centers in Boston. The Boston Convention Center is not where the marathon expo is. It is adjacent to my hotel. All along I was thinking my hotel was outside the expo, but it actually was three miles away.

OK, so that meant I was lugging my suitcase 1.2 miles up Boylston Street to the Hynes Convention Center. The crowd thickened as I progressed up the street. Congregants were exiting en masse following Easter service at the church, and I rolled over a kid’s foot with my suitcase and he commenced screaming.

I finally realized why thousands of people, including TV reporters and cameramen every few yards, were crammed together here in the street. I was at the Finish Line. Before I knew it I, and my suitcase, was stepping over the iconic blue paint, and my head was buzzing with the voices of hundreds of runners and running fans, speaking in myriad languages. Tons of people were already donning the bright orange 2014 Boston Marathon jackets, and reporters were stopping them for interviews. It all was, as one of my friends later said, surreal.

I took a very deep breath as images from last year’s bomb aftermath bloodbath filled my head. I was a little distressed that the Finish Line was not as somber as one might expect — instead there was giddiness and photo snapping and selfies. I get it, but it was unsettling.

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The Finish Line, Sunday

I found a back entrance to the race expo—thank God because security was examining bags and I had a freaking suitcase with me.

Got the shirt/number and hauled ass to the nearest exit, where I easily caught a cab to my hotel. I wanted nothing more than to rid myself of that horrid suitcase.

The Westin Boston Waterfront is really nice and a little removed from the chaos, which is good for me. I rested for a couple hours and then walked over to a pub where I got a pre-race dinner, baked mac and cheese, at about 4:30 p.m.

Usually before a marathon I eat my last big meal at like 1-2 p.m., but since this thing was starting at 10:25 a.m., I figured I’d eat later.

I actually feel asleep easily after watching a Boston Marathon special narrated by Ben Affleck. It featured a guy who was found after the bomb clutching his own disembodied leg. He got married this past week at Fenway Park.

I woke a few times in the night, but slept OK, considering it was race night.

Race Day

Getting to Hopkinton was smooth. I had been to Boston Marathon back in 2011, but I stayed in Framingham, so didn’t get the full experience hopping on one in a massive fleet of county school busses. A convoy of yellow busses carried more than 35,000 runners to a town 26 and-a-half miles away. On the bus, I met runners from Jersey, Ontario, New York, other parts of Texas, San Diego … you name it.

Upon arrival in Hopkinton, a temporary “Athlete’s Village” houses the marathon entrants.

Again, there are runners from all over the world. Boston is one of those races where you have to wait around for a long time pre race. It can be chilly, so people wear warm clothes that they can discard prior to the race. Therefore, you see a lot of folks walking around Athlete’s Village in funny getups — men in thrift-store suits, people in funky old coats and sweaters, three guys were in Breaking Bad style lab suits and one couple was wearing what looked like their hotel bath robes.

I fortunately ran into two friends, Brent and Ally from the WRRC, right off the bus.

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Ally and I: Don’t sue me Marathon Photo

We hung for a while. Brent who’s planning a 2:50 marathon started in the wave before us. Ally and I got in the bathroom line. And waited, oh, 45 minutes. We were supposed to head to the start at 9:50 and were still in line at 10. Nightmare. All around us people were dropping drawers and letting it all out on the grass. We opted to wait for the box. It was ugly out there. There were not enough toilets for 36,000 participants. I cannot imagine being one of the volunteers who had to clean up that dump after we left. Bless them.

Once your wave is released from the Athlete’s Village, you walk almost a mile to the Starting Line. By now the elites and the top-of-the-field runners have started.

My wave’s corral had started by the time I got to the line, but I tried not to panic. One volunteer told me: Don’t worry. The time doesn’t start until you cross the mat. So I took a minute to stretch and breath, and then I jumped in with wave 2 corral 4.

Action

The first mile of Boston is fast no matter what. It is very downhill, and people are lining the roads screaming. I mean just bellowing like soccer fans.

I thought I remembered the course as all-downhill the first half, but it is far from that. It is net down, but there are rolling hills through this entire race.

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My fellow White Rock Running Co-op members captured this image on TV. That is me :)

At the start, the temps are OK. It’s in the mid-50s, but it’s been worse. See 2012. I consider running at the pace of my last marathon, about a 7:20 minute mile, which seems doable for about 30 minutes. It becomes very clear that the temps are rising quickly and by mile six people are mumbling about the heat. Layers of jackets, long sleeved shirts, mittens and arm warmers are flying from the course (anyone who started with a jacket on was just in all-out denial anyway).

At that point I decide to run by heart rate for a while. The Coach and I had discussed an acceptable range and agreed that exceeding that range early on would spell certain bonk. It was tough though, with the rolling hills, to keep my heartbeat in range. I knew I could not afford to tax myself too much early on, because I remembered how tough the Newton Hills are.

Around mile 5 maybe, we pass a bar with a parking lot full of what appears to be a Hells Angels-type biker gang. They are going nuts. One girl near me says, “A gang of bikers at a bar at 10 a.m. cheering for a bunch of marathon runners.”

The crowds along the race route never thin. There are some deeper, more-intense crowds at certain points, but there never is a quiet moment. It always is a sea of runners ahead and a throng of screaming fans on both sides essentially for 27+ miles.

Going through Framingham (mile 8), the spectators roar with marked excitement and I see ahead that I’m passing the famous Team Hoyt. This is a father son team that has run the Boston Marathon for decades straight. Theirs is an amazing story.

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Team Hoyt: Vimeo

I try to take Shot Blocks every 20 minutes; I took an S Cap electrolyte tab before and during the race; I sip water and pour the rest on me at most water stops. By noon it is in the mid 60s. Great for spectating; bad for marathoning. By mile 13, when we run through the Wall of Sound at Wellsley College my legs are sore. The downhill is rough on the quads. The raucousness of that crowd propels me for the next 5k, which is where the Newton Hills begin. At this point my pace had fluctuated between 7:20 and 7:5x minute miles. My slowest miles are through the hills, but I feel surprisingly not bad. First, my legs actually find some relief running up. It’s like an opportunity for my quads to rest. Second, I begin passing a lot of people. Entering Newton, I see several runners full-stop at water stops or walk or wander over to the med tent. You don’t see this on a good day in Boston.

Heartbreak Hill is not necessarily a bad hill. Loving Hill in East Dallas is decidedly more intense. It is just the placement that makes it so tough. It is the highest of several hills that follow some serious rollers that are net downhill. It is just a really tough terrain to train your body for if you do not live in Boston.

But I think with the right mindset, these hills are not so intimidating; they are all short. None last more than about a quarter mile, I think.

Now, the best part of my race comes after Heartbreak Hill. I know I am overheating, but I am stoked after making it through Newton and there is a long downhill and there is an awesome group of Boston College kids along said downhill and I give one of them a high five and the others start going nuts and slapping my hand and it is like, neverending. I high-five probably 50 people there. I am whoo-hooing and thanking them and then — good times end — the wave of nausea hits. Dizziness. OK. Calm down, I say. I retreat to the opposite side of the course where there are no geeky-cute 20-year olds tempting me with their high-fives.

With five miles to go, there are people walking. Guys cramping up and hobbling. Mile 22-24 is the worst. I am in serious pain in my quads and I am red, sunburned and I just felt red-hot, like my face is going to explode. At each water stop, the water on my face feels heavenly. During the last third of the race it is between 65-70 degrees. It is not the worst conditions you can get, but it sure ain’t the best.

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Pain train and finally finished: stolen photos

I am pretty happy to see Brent W, another member of the WRRC who was out with an injury but cheering, at mile 24.

After that I am praying hard. “Carry me home, please!”

Every other race or marathon I run, this is the point where it hurts so bad that I’ll come up with any reason to slow to a more comfortable pace (a walk seems preferable). My reason, usually is, “Oh there’s no reason to kill yourself; it isn’t Boston or anything.” But today, I did not have that one.

“It is Boston,” I tell myself. “Hold nothing back.”

The turn onto Boylston Street is bittersweet. I am trying to take in the scene. The crowds. The history of this race. The buildings and businesses that suffered in the wake of last year’s destruction. But, argh, it hurts bad. I can see the finish now but it is so far. I am just over 3:20 and I can see the Finish. I am pushing. I feel a pain equivalent to that of giving birth. It is that pain that you would never tolerate if you didn’t know that a) it would end soon and b) the reward would be worth it.

Then I step across the line. I think my time (by my watch) is 3:23, but later learn it’s officially 3:24:00.

I struggle to stay upright, but I have a huge smile on my face. The people are still lining the section after the finish line, cheering for us. At the end, runners walk “Mile 27” — stop at medical if you need, get water, food, your medal, check the leaderboard (American Meb Keflezighi won!) and finally exit at Boston Commons. As we limp outside the official corridors of the race, a massive mob of Bostonians stand, hooting and hollering “You did it!” You beat them!” “We beat them!” They are speaking, of course, about them — the young terrorists who wreaked havoc on this city last Patriots Day. “Thank you for running!” they shouted.

“Thank you. Thank you so much,” I answer. And some tears come out of my face.

Post race reflection, gratitude 

That night, as I celebrated with friends at a Boston bar, I fully appreciated the sadness that must have engulfed this city following the last marathon. One friend mentioned how he felt guilty even going to eat at a restaurant that night and retreated to the suburbs for dinner, out of respect. Many runners packed up and went home that night; those who couldn’t hid out in their hotel rooms, feeling sickened.

It was a stark contrast to this year. The whole town filled with runners. Every business in Boston sported a motivational running sign in the window. Random citizens stopped runners to thank them for being here. Fun-loving, money-spending, crazy tourist marathoners fill the bars and restaurants.

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Dallas runners/Boston Strong

At the celebration with my D-town team, one of our more-seasoned runners, “Coach Steve,” made a toast:

“A year ago,” he says, “they stole our opportunity to celebrate. A year later, we are back … and I am so proud of everyone … Boston Strong 2014.”

Cheers ensued.


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.


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