Cross Timbers marathon 2015 — race report

Me and race director Teresa Estrada: Photo by Nicole Studer

Me and race director Teresa Estrada: Photo by Nicole Studer

In 2012 I did my first ever trail race, a half marathon at Lake Texoma’s Cross Timbers. It was a challenging, three-hour mudfest. It was the most enjoyable race of my life.

But being inexplicably driven by a desire to knock a few minutes off my road racing times, I forwent trail running for a few more years and focused on my goals in the marathon, half, 10 and 5k.

I still have more speed dreams to fulfill, but I hit a plateau recently and was feeling quite burned out. So in an effort to “ask nothing of my running” and enjoy the sport more, I once again signed up for Cross Timbers.

The half marathon was sold out, so I registered for the full marathon.

I told precious few people I was doing this — just my running buddy, Jen, my husband (who thinks I am insane) and the other runners I knew were attending.

The race turned out to be a positive experience, but the day began somewhat nightmarishly.

First of all, though the weather had been in the 30-40 degree range all week, we awoke to 66-degree race morning temps. Seriously? I thought. This. Just. Figures. (66 is too hot for a long hard run, but 40 is perfect).

I did enjoy the extreme good fortune of hitching a ride with my friends Nicole and her husband Eric and our buddy James. Nicole is one of the best trail/ultra runners in America. James also is an experienced marathoner, ultrarunner and trial runner who was a top finisher in previous year’s Cross Timbers marathon. Nicole was getting in some volunteer hours. James was running. Eric is a top-tier supporter and driver.

Nonetheless, near the end of the 90-minute drive to the start of the race, I became violently carsick. To make matters worse, when we stopped at the one restroom near the race site, an overflowing toilet welcomed us. Granted, this was more of a nightmare for the shop owner/operator, but the sight and smell exacerbated my illness.

When we pulled up to the race site, I immediately walked to the trees and puked my guts out. This continued as my friends picked up my racing number and bag.

Nicole, who basically is an A-list celebrity on the trail running scene, secured permission to run the first 10 miles of the course to the aid station where she would volunteer. We all gathered at the start and agreed that I was just carsick and that I’d get over it. Nicole would stick with me to the 10-mile station. Eric would drive the car there, and if I was too sick to go on at that point, I could just crawl into the backseat until everyone was done. That was not going to happen, I told myself.

I splashed some water in my face, stripped off my sweats and handed them to Eric. They helped me pin on my number. We stood, and I tried to converse with my fellow athletes, but I was barely holding my shit together as we waited for the race director to send us on our way. James and Nicole both said things to the effect of: “Once you get on the trail you will feel better.”

Most normal people would say: “You are throwing up and this might not be the time to run a 5-6 hour race.” But not them. I love my runner friends so much. And they were right, too.

Miraculously and thankfully, sometime between 5 a.m. when we left Dallas and the 7 a.m. race start, the temperature dropped by about 20 degrees. Hallelujah.

Nicole and the rest: Photo by Gray Kinney

Nicole and the rest: Photo by Gray Kinney

The lead pack, including James, took off. Several of the eventual leaders — including the female winner of the marathon — were content to run behind Nicole for the first three or four miles, though she was trotting along at my extremely cautious pace. Everyone wanted to congratulate her on her recent American record.

After the first hydration/nutrition/aid station, I let some of that group go ahead. I was careful because — other than that half marathon three years ago — I had not raced on a trail before, and, in the past year, I had not done any long runs of more than two and a half hours.

Based on my half marathon time out here in ’12, I figured I was looking at a six-hour race this day.

Also around this time, I went ahead of Nicole so that I could dictate the pace. I, of course, took a wrong turn and got myself, Nicole and two other guys lost. We were off track only for a very short while. Thankfully someone noticed the absence of the little white flags that lined the course and we were back on course soon, losing probably less than five minutes.

Unfortunately, this fork in the trail impacted our friend James, and the group he was with, far more significantly.

The first six miles of Cross Timbers is brutal. The course has something like 5,500 feet of elevation gain and loss and most of that is over the first and last six and a half miles (that’s why the half marathon course is so very slow and tough).

At the half-marathon turnaround, there is a beautiful aid/nutrition/cookie station manned by the friendliest volunteers you’ll ever meet. Here I drank some ginger ale and ate an orange slice. If I could keep that down, I figured, I would be OK. As we departed that stop, the course flattened out and grew more enjoyable. Nicole and I were able to relax, pick up the pace slightly, and chat. And by the time I hit mile 10, I felt much better.

Me, Eric and James: Photo by Steve Griffin

Me, Eric and James: Photo by Steve Griffin

At that point I dropped Nicole at the aid station and saw a friend from the Dallas Running Club, Steve, who said he got a late start. I considered running with him, but he, a talented and experienced trail/ultra runner, was moving pretty fast and, though I felt better, I thought I needed to keep it super comfortable until at least the mile-13 turnaround.

Also around this time, I saw James. As I mentioned before, he got lost and in his case it added about two extra miles, he says. I could tell he was pretty bummed about this. He also is about the most relaxed, low-key dude I know; he applies a surfer-like attitude toward running, so I wasn’t too worried about him.

The trail was just gorgeous, with several glimpses of Lake Texoma, even a short romp across a sandy shoreline beach. I was truly enjoying myself.

Again at the turnaround was a well-stocked goodie/drink/aid station where I procured some more ginger ale. I figured ginger ale would give me both hydration and some calories to keep me moving. I was afraid to consume anything else. At each of the remaining aid stations I would ask for ginger ale and the volunteers would scramble to get me a cup quickly. I was so impressed with the volunteers at this race. They were angels from trail-running heaven. Seriously.

(Side note: the space between aid stations on a trail marathon made me think about the excessive amount of hydration stations in a road marathon. A water table every 1-2 miles is too much and just creates congestion.)

By the time I saw Nicole again at the mile 10/16 aid station, I was feeling even better. Nicole at that point ran alongside me again for about another mile. As we passed a tiny lakeside gas station/convenience store, I said to her, “Do you think they have a restroom?” And she’s all: “I was wondering the same thing.” Then this kid hopping into his folks’ Suburban says to us, “It’s on the side of the building.” And I am like: “Oh there is a god!”

I am not exaggerating when I say that discovering that bathroom changed my whole life and universe. You see, one of the reasons I’ve avoided trail running is the bathroom situation. No matter how minor or major the, um, need, I cannot go outside, in the bushes; I just cannot. Maybe someday I will figure this out, but I just don’t think so.

So after the pit stop, I was a new woman, completely. I was keeping up a steady pace, power walking the hills and passing many people. Granted, most of the people I passed were tackling the 50 miler, which started half an hour before the regular marathon. I made sure to tell each of them how very impressed I was with what they were doing. I could not imagine nearly doubling what I did that day. That is a tough course for a 5 miler, much less a 50.

Anyway, I was alone most of the last 10 miles, but I talked to everyone I passed. I enjoyed the scenery immensely. Because of how bad I was at the beginning, I think, I was even more grateful for the way I felt at mile 20.

I hate people who say stuff like I am about to say, so know and please understand and believe this is an anomaly for me, but, I kept waiting to feel tired. I was like: I am sure to feel tired at some point, but instead I just felt more energized as the race went on.

In fact, when I finally saw Nicole again, when she told me I was at the finish line, I was like: What? It’s over? (I was so discombobulated at the start that I did not start my watch, so at mile 26, I thought I was at mile 24).

As I crossed the finish line, the race director, Teresa, greeted me and handed me a finishers award and says, “second overall female,” and then a guy sitting at a laptop at the finish line says, “she’s your masters winner,” and she takes the award and hands me a bigger, framed award that reads “first place masters.”

I dreaded hitting 40 as much as anyone possibly can, but it has resulted in some nice trophies and awards.

I am blown away by the superb organization of the race.

I am also happy as hell with my racing experience. Of course, once I finished I begin to think: Maybe if I hadn’t been so cautious I could have won first place. So I look at the results and see that first place female beat me by almost 30 minutes, so I am OK. I did not stand a chance, thank goodness. My time was 4:51.

Did I mention I love this race? I think I will do an ultra on the trail next. But I am keeping my plans to myself for a while.


Nicole Studer breaks 100-mile trail record

Nicole Studer with husband Eric and the rest of her support team, mostly runners from our neighborhood: Courtesy Nicole Studer

Nicole Studer (pink jacket) with husband Eric (to her right) and the rest of her support team: Courtesy Nicole Studer

Nicole Studer, who lives near and trains often at White Rock Lake, set an American record over the weekend, clocking the fastest time ever recorded by a female in a 100-mile trail race.

(Published Feb. 1 on lakehighlands.advocatemag.com)

Before you even think of dismissing this as a moderate deal, imagining ultra-running as a less-than-competitive fringe sport, stop.

Ultra-running’s popularity — especially when it comes to races on tough, mountainous terrain — has steadily and enormously increased over the years, especially after the 2009 publication of Christopher McDougall’s nationally best selling ultra-running manifesto Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Super Athletes, And The Greatest Race The World Has Never Seen, which also was responsible for a barefoot-running boom and those crazy-looking five-finger shoes.

Matthew McConaughey just signed on to star in a movie adaptation of the book.

Screen Shot 2015-02-01 at 8.12.24 PM

Nicole Studer finishing 100 miles: Courtesy Ultra Sports Live TV

It’s not soccer or football. It boasts no pop-star-and-her-dancing-sharks halftime shows.

Studer’s payday was a relatively paltry $2,000 ($1k for the win and $1k for breaking the record).

But the sport offers gritty, grueling and utterly compelling competition nonetheless.

Studer, about whom we have written before — like when she won the 100-mile Trail Championship last year — ran 14 hours 22 minutes  at last weekend’s 2015 Rocky Raccoon 100 Mile. This is her third year to dominate the women’s race.

Only three men finished ahead of her, and all by less than 20 minutes. The closest woman was more than an hour behind.

The previous 100-mile trail record was 14 hours 45 minutes, set by Traci Falbo in 2014. The previous record on the Rocky Raccoon course was set by Jenn Shelton in 2007. If you haven’t heard of Jenn Shelton, chances are you will soon enough. She is the female runner prominently featured in the aforementioned book Born to Run; her larger-than-life personality added drama to the story, so she potentially could become a household name once this movie comes out.

Studer, who is pretty exhausted at the moment, credits her husband and supportive friends with helping her through the race, and she says the full weight of her accomplishment hasn’t fully sunk in yet, adding, “I am just so relieved to be finished.”

Late last year, USA Track and Field named Studer Women’s Ultra Trail Runner of the Year.

This summer, Studer will compete against the world’s best trail ultra-runners at the prestigious Western States 100.


2015 Boston Marathon training plan, 12 weeks

I was worrying over how to train for the upcoming Boston Marathon, as I recently hit a plateau, and then got slower (which I shall discuss in another post) and decided I needed to switch things up. I recalled that the B.A.A. website had training plans. I went there, and they have removed the old programs they once featured, but they do provide reference to training plans created by “High Performance Coach Terrence Mahon” via the miCoach platform. 

I went through the steps, which involve registering, watching videos, picking your way through several screens and answering some basic questions about your goal and then, there is a calendar with a program in it. It looks like a good program, but the long runs are on Mondays and rest days are Tuesdays, and if you want to change that, it requires some tedious maneuvering, as far as I can tell.

Also it is very glitchy — for example, the whole training program ends on April 13, despite placing the race date on April 20, and random 3:20 minutes of intervals show up on some days; they are not intentional, designers acknowledge in the “help” forum.

Anyway, I spent the last two or so hours tweaking this program for myself, moving long runs to Saturday and the rest days to Monday (I am not used to taking weekly rest days, but this will be part of the change up for me), and also incorporating a couple of races I want to do.

I figured since I spent so much time on this, I’d share. If you are a coach or otherwise running geek, I’d love to get your thoughts in the comments:

Blue Zone = easy, ranging from about 8:00-9:00 min/mile pace

Green Zone = harder, ranging from 6:50-7:45 min/mile pace

Yellow Zone = more harder (smile), under 6:50 min/mile pace

Red Zone = hardest

I have not yet determined goal pace. Current half marathon pace is about a 7 minute mile, just to give you an idea of what I’m working with. (Strength and flexibility workouts added Sunday, Tuesday and Fridays). I have not added up the mileage in this program, as it goes by time, but it is at a glance lower mileage than I did last season. High mileage worked greatly for me, for a while. But over the last year, I think my body began to wear down. I am hoping a lower mileage, yet still pretty intense, program will help restore the spring to my steps.

Wednesday (Jan 28)

15 min in Blue Zone (easy, ranging from about 8:00-9:00)

20 min in top of Green Zone (hard, ranging from 6:45-7:45)

3 min in Blue Zone

90 sec x 3 in Red Zone (very hard, at close to 100 percent) up hill

After each hill, jog easily back to base (10-15 min total)

10 min in Blue Zone

Totaling a little less than an hour for entire workout

 

29 Thursday

8 miles in the Blue Zone “… this a recovery day. You had a harder run yesterday and today is about recharging your body. No need to go too fast.”

 

30 Friday

20 min in lower Blue Zone

30-40 min in upper Blue Zone

 

31 Saturday

2 hours 30 min in the Blue Zone

 

Sunday (Feb 1)

45-60 minutes in the Blue Zone

 

2 Monday

Cross train/ easy jog/ walk dog/ whatevers

 

3 Tuesday

70 min 

4 Wednesday

15 min in Blue Zone

5 min in upper Green Zone (6:45-6:50) x 6 with 2 min recoveries

15 min in Blue Zone

 

5 Thursday

60-75 min recovery run in Blue Zone

 

6 Friday

20 min in lower Blue Zone

30-40 min in upper Blue Zone

 

7 Saturday (incorporate DRC race) 

2 hrs 30 min run

70-min warm up (lake loop)

5-mile race (35-40 min 8 a.m. at Winfrey Point, 7:15 average pace) then 6 miles/ incorporate hills 

 

8 Sunday

40 min recovery

 

9 Monday

Rest

 

10 Tuesday

35 min in Blue Zone

Hill repeats x 6 on steeper hill than previous sessions – 60 seconds each with a 1 min recovery

10 minutes in Blue Zone

 

11 Wednesday

8 miles blue zone 

 

12 Thursday

15 min in Blue Zone

6 x 1500 repeats on track in Red Zone

15 min in Blue Zone

 

13 Friday

50 min easy

 

14 Saturday

60 min in the Blue Zone

5 x 5 min at about 6:45-6:50 pace with 3-min recovery in between “Increase your stride rate and maintain good form as you run at this higher intensity.”

15 Sunday

45-60 min easy

 

16 Monday

Rest/whatevs

 

17 Tuesday

70 min in Blue Zone

 

18 Wednesday

15 min in Blue Zone (8:30-8:40)

20 min in Green Zone (7:15-7:30)

3 min in Blue Zone (8:45)

90 sec hill surges times 3 (as hard as possible – AHAP!) (6:38 average)

10 min in Blue Zone (8:30-8:45)

19 Thursday

7-8 miles in Blue Zone

20 Friday

30-40 min in upper Blue Zone (do in the morning, long day Saturday) 

21 Saturday

Cross Timbers trail marathon (technical trail – goal is 5.5-6 hours)

22 Sunday

rest or 6 mile easy

23 Monday

75 minutes easy

45 minutes easy

24 Tuesday

10 min in Blue Zone (8:30)

25 min in Green Zone (7:30)

5 min in Blue Zone (8:30)

25 min in Green Zone (slightly faster than first segment) (7:15)

10 min in Blue Zone (8:30)

25 Wednesday

10 miles

26 Thursday

AM: 15 min in Blue Zone

6 x 1500 repeats on track in Red Zone

15 min in Blue Zone

PM: 60 min easy

27 Friday

50 min

28 Saturday

2 hrs 45 min (18+ miles)

Sunday (March 1)

60 min easy

2 Monday

35 min in Blue Zone

Hill repeats x 6 on steeper hill than previous sessions – 60 seconds each with a 1 min recovery

10 minutes in Blue Zone

3 Tuesday

90  min

4 Wednesday

10 min in Blue Zone

25 min in Green Zone

5 min in Blue Zone

25 min in Green Zone

10 min in Blue Zone

5 Thursday

15 min in Blue Zone

12 x 400 meter repeats

 

6 Friday

40-60 min easy

7 Saturday

levee 30 min +10k +60 min

 

8 Sunday

40-60 min easy

9 Monday

40 recovery

 

10 Tuesday

70 min Blue Zone

11 Wednesday

15 min in Blue Zone (easy, ranging from about 8:00-9:00)

20 min in top of Green Zone (hard, ranging from 6:45-7:45)

3 min in Blue Zone

90 sec x 3 in Red Zone (very hard, at close to 100 percent) up hill

After each hill, jog easily back to base (10-15 min total)

10 min in Blue Zone

Totaling a little less than an hour for entire workout

 

12 Thursday

50 min

13 Friday

20 min in lower Blue Zone

30-40 min in upper Blue Zone

 

14 Saturday

3 hrs (20+ miles)

15 Sunday

40-60 easy

16 Monday

70 min

17 Tuesday

recovery/cross train

18 Wednesday

10 min in Blue Zone

25 min in Green Zone

5 min in Blue Zone

25 min in Green Zone (slightly faster than first segment)

10 min in Blue Zone

 

19 Thursday

50 min

20 Friday

40 min

21 Saturday

35 min in Blue Zone

Hill repeats x 6 on steeper hill than previous sessions – 60 seconds each with a 1 min recovery

10 minutes in Blue Zone

 

22 Sunday

20 warm up, 40 min top of Blue Zone

23 Monday

Rest

24 Tuesday

20 warm up, 40 min top of Blue Zone

25 Wednesday

15 min in Blue Zone (easy, ranging from about 8:00-9:00)

20 min in top of Green Zone (hard, ranging from 6:45-7:45)

3 min in Blue Zone

90 sec x 3 in Red Zone (very hard, at close to 100 percent) up hill

After each hill, jog easily back to base (10-15 min total)

10 min in Blue Zone

Totaling a little less than an hour for entire workout

26 Thursday

20 warm up, 40 min top of Blue Zone

27 Friday

45-60 min recovery

*28 Saturday*

3 hrs

75 min in Blue Zone

90 min in Green Zone – at goal marathon pace (7:15??)

15 min in Blue Zone

“This is your Boston Marathon simulation run. Find a course with rolling hills on a 2-3% grade both up and down.”

29 Sunday

rest

30 Monday

40 min

31 Tuesday

15 min in Blue Zone

12 min in Yellow Zone

3 min in Blue Zone

90 seconds in red zone x3 with 2:30 recoveries

1 Wednesday

65 minutes Blue Zone

2 Thursday

60 min in the Blue Zone

Yellow Zone (around 6:55 min mile) 2 min + Green Zone (about 7:10) 3 min times 8 “Increase your stride rate and maintain good form as you run at this higher intensity.”

3 Friday

35 minutes

4 Saturday (DRC race??)

Get in 2 hrs 40 total, including race

5 Sunday

45-60 min

6 Monday

Cross train/ easy whatevers

7 Tuesday

20 min in lower Blue Zone

30-40 min in upper Blue Zone

8 Wednesday

15 min in Blue Zone

5 min in upper Green Zone (6:45-6:50) x 6 with 2 min recoveries

15 min in Blue Zone

9 Thursday

60-75 min recovery run in Blue Zone

10 Friday

20 min in lower Blue Zone

30-40 min in upper Blue Zone

11 Saturday

80 min in Blue Zone This is your last longer run before the marathon. Keep it relaxed. All the hard work is in the bank and now it is time to get your mind and body ready for next week.

12 Sunday

20 min in lower Blue Zone

30-40 min in upper Blue Zone

13 Monday

Rest

14 Tuesday

20 min in lower Blue Zone

30-40 min in upper Blue Zone

15 Wednesday

15 min in Blue Zone

5 min in Yellow x3 with 2 min recoveries

5 min Blue Zone

2 min Red Zone

15 min Blue Zone

Run this last interval session starting at marathon pace and finishing just slightly faster. No need to go too hard as you’re less than a week from the race. Finish it off with one hard interval that goes from the Yellow Zone to the Red Zone. This will help your body store carbohydrates for the race.

16 Thursday

35 min

17 Friday

Walk

Saturday

30 min Blue Zone

 

Sunday

20 min – This last run is all about shaking out the pre-race nerves. Try to run around the same time as the race start so have an idea of how the temperature might be on race day.

BOSTON MARATHON MONDAY


Re-read: 2013 story about an electrocuted marathoner’s comeback won an award

prizeThe Independent Free Papers of America gave me first place “Original Writing Feature Story” for my “Miles to Go” piece in the Advocate — it’s about runner Brandon Cumby. The story basically wrote itself.

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 … here’s the full story.

This is the second running-related piece that’s won an award. The Society of Features Journalism last year gave me third place overall for my personal essay, published in the Dallas Morning News, about my checkered past and the role running played in my recovery.

Bragging done.


Hood to Coast, from the perspective of Runner 1

Despicable We, Van 1, ready to roll

Despicable We, Van 1, ready to roll

Note: As with my Boston Marathon write-up and most everything I write for this blog, it took me about a month to get this done. See, when I go out of town for something like a race, I return to a shit-ton of work and do not have time to write recreationally. Also, it is long. I want to not only document my experience for personal use, but also to provide useful information to readers anticipating this race in the future. Anyway, enough bla bla bla. Here’s the Hood to Coast report:

It’s mid-morning on a Friday in August. I am at the top of Mount Hood in Oregon, 6,000 feet above sea level. With me at the starting line are some 40 or so other runners. Our teams cheer us from the sidelines. My adrenaline is pumping. I have never been more ready to run. Minutes later I am flying down the mountain, running the fastest miles I’ve ever run past a million evergreen trees and rivers and waterfalls — yeah, friggin waterfalls.

It all started many months ago …
… when my running buddy Danny Hardeman asked me to be on his Hood To Coast relay team. Friends from our White Rock Running Co-op ran the 2013 HTC. They made it sound insanely fun, but not at all like something I wanted to do. Twelve-man teams, some 25 hours in a crowded van, scrupulous planning and related meetings, a litany of expenses … not exactly ideal for a frugal, disorganized loner who despises hassle and deeply values personal space, not to mention sleep.

But Danny was so excited. He thought my husband could drive one of the vans, he said. Yeah, like that would happen.

My husband, Josh, is not a runner and he thinks we are weird. If my husband wants to drive, I say, I’m in. I figured that would be the end of it.

But something happened that night — local radio personality Craig Miller, a competitive runner and triathlete whom Josh and I both love, came for dinner at Josh’s restaurant.

“Hood to Coast?” Craig apparently said, “You have to do it!” So Hubs called me and said he was in.

Danny put together a team of 12 solid runners. Most were people I know and a few were people I did not know well yet. At our first meeting, we argued over team names. Suggestions that required the least bit of mental calisthenics were met with blank stares; most enthusiastically praised were suggestions alluding to sex, gross bodily functions or food (I later would learn that these things drive most HTC team names). Eventually every name proposed at said meeting was rejected and somehow we became Despicable We. It turned out to be a beloved team name and theme — later, throughout the event, we would hear, “It’s the minions!” “I love your shirts!” “Love your van!” Not to overstate it, but we were kind-a famous.

The unveiling of the Despicable We campaign, featuring Susan, Gigi and Jenny: Photo (and poster) by Paris Sunio

The unveiling of the Despicable We campaign, featuring Susan, Gigi and Jenny: Photo (and poster) by Paris Sunio

The other WRRC team is called Cereal Killers. I wrote all about them here last year.

I did not really know before I partook in Hood to Coast, but I know now: name and theme — this also involves T-shirts and van decorations — is a big deal. A seriously big deal.

As race weekend neared I realized the complex planning and expenses that go into HTC — registration, travel, two vans with (preferably) two drivers each, starting-line accommodations, finish-line lodging, getting to and fro the airport, and so on. Fortunately a few of my teammates were real leaders when it came to planning and I did not need to do much other than pay my way and do my best to follow instructions.

Then there is the training — how does one train to race three times in less than 24 hours?

I pretty much just followed my training schedule for my upcoming November half marathon. Through the early summer months I maintained a base by running about 40-50 miles a week; in May I began adding speed work twice a week. I’d run, for example, 12 times 200 meters or 400 meters on Tuesday and six mile-repeats on Thursdays and a long run on Saturday and Sunday (usually 10-15 on Saturday and 10 on Sundays). In July I ramped up the mileage to about 70 miles per week, adding a second run about three days a week. I sought out hills and used the downhill treadmill at the gym for several runs. Normally I would schedule a 5k or 10k race this time of year; instead, HTC would be my end of summer fitness test.

But there is nothing to prepare one who resides in Dallas for the infamous Leg 1 of Hood to Coast. It is six miles of extreme downhill running. Overall, it is one of the shortest and easiest legs of the race, but the mountain makes for some really intense racing. I decided that no matter how fast or controlled I ran, I would hurt afterward. I knew from research and personal experience that the worst muscle soreness would set in about 48 hours after a given run, so I would be able to finish all three of my legs before the really intense pain set in (which it did; in the days following the race I could barely walk). So I chose to let the momentum and adrenaline carry me through my downhill leg — no holding back.

me at start

I’m so excited. I’m so excited. I’m. So. Scared. Photo by Brent Woodle

Book 1

I believe the faster teams usually start later, but somehow Danny had negotiated us a 9:45 start time. Teams start in waves — about 30-40 every 15 minutes all day Friday.

So I started with other Leg 1-ers who were planning to race a bit slower than we were. Therefore, from the starting horn to the end of my almost-six miles I was out front and all alone. The few times I looked back, I saw not a soul. About a mile in, my van passed me en route to the first exchange and they yelled that I was running on the wrong side of the road. I was kind of scared to cross the street but then another van pulled over; the driver said we’d be disqualified if I didn’t cross and she watched traffic so I could cross. Thanks, friend.

I clocked a 5:36 first mile. My second mile was closer to 5:40, and I maintained a sub six-minute mile right up until the final quarter mile (where things flattened out). To give you an idea of the speed-assistance this mountain offered: my fastest-ever 5k prior to this was run at a 6:12 per-mile pace.

My buddy Matt was waiting to take the relay wristband. The van and the rest of the team parked across the street and was cheering us on. Teammate and friend Susan was waiting for me at the exchange, too, thank goodness, because when I came to a halt, my rubbery legs gave out and she caught me.

Me and Susan: Photo by Brent Woodle

Me and Susan: Photo by Brent Woodle

No time to waste — getting the van from one exchange to the other in a timely manner is part of the competition. We hopped in and drove down a scenic thoroughfare thickly lined with fir trees. At 10:30, the air was crisp but the sun was emerging and it was warming up. As we waited for Matt, I walked around and rolled my hamstrings and calves with The Stick. I drank a bottle of Gatorade and ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

By the time Matt finished and Jenny started, it was nearing 70 degrees. Susan was dreading Leg 4, a sunny 7-mile race, but she wound up being right on pace. Brent, our fastest, had the toughest overall assignment, but his first leg, though hot, was handily slaughtered. By the time Danny finished Leg 6, and we went to rest a few hours while members of the second team van did their thing, it was blazing hot. The sun was shining full force as Van 2 minion Julie embarked on Leg 7. This relay and van exchange took place at a high school. The parking lot was an ideal place to check out the competition and all the creative team themes, costumes and decorations.

While Van 2 minions ran legs 7-12, us Van 1-ers went to a pizza place. Pizza was delicious. As I tore into my second slice, I asked Brent — who had created a spreadsheet to estimate our start and finish times based on each team member’s predicted pace (and as we went along, actual pace) — how much time I had until my next run.

Four hours? I guessed. “No,” he says. “Two.” I returned that second slice to its plate and said, “Crap.”

Pizza before racing on a hot afternoon: not the best idea.

Ready for round two: Photo by Paris Sunio

Ready for round two: Photo by Paris Sunio

Book 2
My second run, a.k.a. Leg 13 was just over four miles, but it was through the middle of Portland at 5:30 p.m. The sun was still baring-down and it was about 85 degrees.

In Portland, a half HTC relay race called Portland to Coast begins, so it is crowded. As I waited for Leg 12-er, Kevin, to hand off to me, the race officials started announcing that if we were not going to be finished with our leg by 6 p.m., we needed to be wearing our reflective vests. I asked some of my team members to get me the vest, but the van was too far; there was no time. When Kevin arrived, glistening with sweat and smiling broadly, the linesman said to me, “Where’s your vest?” And I confidently proclaimed, “I’ll be done before 6.”

Of course there was no way I was doing 4.5 miles in fewer than 30 minutes, but they let me go. In fact, I ran these miles at a little over 7 minutes each. I had hoped to keep my miles all under 7, but I was beginning to understand that running 13 or 14 miles in HTC was very different than running, say, a straight half-marathon. By the second round of running you are sore from your first race, cramped-up from being in a van all day, and there’s a good chance that your lunch has not fully digested.

I grew very nervous during this leg that I was on the wrong track. The course runs through a Portland park, where vagabond loafers smoking pot stare at you. You can’t really blame them for being baffled — while they are just blazing,  this pink-faced, heaving chick is blazing through their park. WTF? But finally I saw two HTC fans sitting in lawn chairs — they cheered me as I approached, told me I looked hot (and I think they meant the sweat soaking my body and my fire-engine-red face, as opposed to the complimentary sort of hot) and they verified that I was heading the right way.

On the other side of the park is this industrial area that smells of burning rubber. It is hot and miserable and the few other Hood to Coast-ers I saw were walking. I miraculously managed to hand off to Matt without regurgitating the pizza, which was my constant unwelcome companion through the aforementioned miles.

I am so grateful to be done with that leg! Here on the edge of Portland we also encountered the Cereal Killer team. We were neck-in-neck with them and competing in a friendly way. Meredith, a CK member, wound up carrying a second reflective vest because she had heard I did not have mine. She was trying to get one to me. When I heard that, it warmed my heart. It was one of many sweet fuzzy feelings to come as the night wore on.

After my second race, I stretched, drank a protein shake, continued to hydrate, popped an allergy pill and some aspirin and attempted to relax as my husband and his co-pilot, Paris, navigated the runner exchanges.

As it grew darker, we ran farther, through scenic, wooded, mountainous Oregon — through towns called Scappoose and Mist and Jewel — toward the finish line at Seaside.

With the night came cooler temps. Once Danny finished Leg 17, we pulled into the campgrounds at the start of my final leg and attempted to get some shuteye. This was practically pointless. Several of us stretched out on the seats of the van while a couple tried the tents provided by Dick’s Sporting Goods. For about an hour I was able to relax myself into a near-meditative state, but never slept. Then I had to pee. As I walked from the van through the dark to the potties, I realized my legs were toast. I mean, they felt like someone had beaten them, and ruthlessly, with a baseball bat.

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In the middle of the night — Brent, Jenny, Susan, Me, Danny, Matt: Photo by Paris Sunio

Book 3
For about 45 minutes I walked around the campgrounds trying to loosen up. Just a little over 4 miles left, I told myself, but I knew I had to move fast to keep our team on pace. We wanted to break 24 hours. It now was super-chilly. I grabbed some coffee from a vendor. Van 2 arrived at the exchange to pick up their last runner of part 2, Kevin, and members of Van 1 began to emerge from that pseudo-sleep and gather to cheer Kevin in and me out.

Despite my soreness, I was much more excited about this leg than I had been about the last. It was cool. It was dark. The stars were abundant. It was 3 o’clock in the morning, and I was totally pumped.

Again, Kevin arrived with a smile and I screamed his name. “Keeeevvvviiiinnnn! Come on, buddy! Yes! Alllrriiigght! Wooo hooo!” And then I was off.

As the noisy, crowded exchange area faded into the background, I breathed in and concentrated deeply on the moment. Even with my flashlight, visibility was low. All I could see was the gravel-y road at my feet. The fog made even the few runners I passed invisible until I was just steps behind them. I turned off my light for a moment and looked up. The stars were thick and endless. The night was sparkling.

My legs refused to match my overall enthusiasm and didn’t move much faster than about 7:15 per mile. I worked as hard as I could, tried to mentally photograph that sky, and when I handed the relay bracelet to Matt for the last time, I felt a pang of sadness. My run was over.

When I reached the van, I offered my one bit of advice to my teammates: “Be sure, at least once, to turn off your light and look at the stars,” I said. “They are amazeballs.” (So shoot me — I get sentimental when I am sleepy.)

The night flew by. We grew more excited as morning approached. Brent tackled the toughest leg of HTC — 3.5 miles of  extreme elevation followed by 2.5 miles of treacherous downhill running. By the time he reached the exchange, traffic was bad. We were fortunate enough to avoid any delays due to the backup at the exchanges, but Brent did have to walk an extra mile after his run to reach the only spot we were able to park the van. Luckily we also were able to drop Danny off at his proper starting point, and Susan got out with him and helped Brent find us. More evidence that this race is in large part about navigation, logistics and luck.

Danny embraced the final leg of Van 1, flying downhill at breakneck speed. He hopped into the ride and we all took a moment to be proud of this little team he had put together. We were done, and every member of Van 1 performed brilliantly in his/her first Hood to Coast experience.

Turns out, though I did not get to observe it so closely, our Van 2 members did the same.

Finished!: Photo by Paris Sunio

Finished!: Photo by Paris Sunio

A memorable finish 

We drove to another Oregon high school that was welcoming Hood to Coast runners (for a small donation) to use its showers. At that point, I think we would have paid anything. (Um, thanks, Brent, for paying for both me and my cash-broke husband.)

After old-school group showers, we headed toward Seaside — famous for providing a backdrop to the classic “Goonies” movie and — more importantly if only on this day — the Hood To Coast finish line.

First we made a couple of pit stops for well-earned potables of an alcoholic variety. Now, I no longer drink alcohol, but I sure do love watching others get plowed. And mixing alcohol with exhaustion is always funny and unpredictable. So as to not incriminate myself or any of my teammates, I will not go into any more detail there. I will just say, when you are a runner, there ARE actually times when it is acceptable to purchase Crown Royal at 7 a.m., though it is not easy to find someone selling it.

Josh, me and Matt, done.: Photo by Paris Sunio

Josh, me and Matt, done.: Photo by Paris Sunio

After a couple of hours we know we need to get to the finish line. We estimated that Kevin would be finishing just about 9:45. (As it turned out, our finish time was 24:08:00 which placed us 8th in the open division — about a 7:12 overall pace for almost 200 miles. Not bad.)

The way the finish works: as the anchor runner rounds the last corner, about 400 meters from the finish, race organizers announce the team number, then the team gathers in a corral and joins its runner as he passes, so that your whole team finishes together.

Problem: Van 2 got caught-up in traffic. As Kevin embarked on his last mile, they were just finding a parking space. A good eight blocks from the finish. The members of Van 1, already gathered at the finish, were beginning to worry that the second half of our team would miss the big finish. Biting my nails, I watched the road for signs of Andre, Julie, Kelly, Ryan, Gigi and their drivers Tamra (Kevin’s wife) and Sohale.

Then, we heard it — the announcer called out “Here comes team 825. Despicable We!” Just as we filed into the corral, I spotted Andre. I started screaming at them, “He’s here! Kevin is here! Huuurrryyy!” This effort would mean the last of my voice, which was hoarse for the next two weeks. Andre and the gang surveyed the fence between them and us, and they assessed that there was no way over; they would need to go around — a bit of a hike. At that point, Kevin, who was hauling, came into sight.

Not to Kevin, but to his teammates we screamed, “RUUUUUN!”

They had no choice but to revive their dead legs and start running toward us. Just as Kevin came down the final stretch, the members of Van 2 stumbled through the corral. All together, we ran to the finishing chute — under the banner, some of the guys lifted Kevin to their shoulders. I felt a little catch in my throat, and it wasn’t from my pained vocal chords. It was emotion.

I hugged my good sport of a husband and the rest of my teammates. A lady handed me an armful of medals and I put them, one by one, around the necks of my relay brothers and sisters. Danny. Kevin. Matt. Susan. Jenny. Gigi. Kelly. Ryan. Julie. Andre. Brent. Me.

Shortly after, the members of Cereal Killers arrived. We ate and drank and recapped the hilarity. I bonded with CK friends Meredith and Greg, who like me were veterans of “Leg 1” (this and last year, respectively).

We dreamed about “next year.”

Seaside beach was magnificent.

Cold waters: Photo by Matt's camera, but that's Matt, so I am not sure ...

Chilly water, sand and fog: Photo by Matt’s camera, but that’s Matt prancing along the coast, so I am not sure …

Josh and I, while too wimpy to fully submerge ourselves in the icy water like some of the others, dove into the balmy sand and slept for 45 minutes, and we woke as the sun burned off the last of the morning’s dense fog.

Thanks, Craig Miller. You were right. We absolutely had to do this.


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.


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