Dallas, healing and recovery, injury, inspiration, marathon, White Rock Marathon

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

Screen Shot 2013-12-01 at 5.29.10 PM
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.

injury, inspiration, marathon, running, running as religion, ultra, Uncategorized, White Rock, White Rock Marathon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boyle went for a ladder.

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

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

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

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

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

A deafening “hmmmmmm!” shot through the air.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Through it all, doctors prodded Cumby for information.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And his answer was: running.

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

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

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

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

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

Brandon: Photo by Danny Fulgencio, Advocate magazine
Brandon: Photo by Danny Fulgencio, Advocate Magazine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He didn’t like being slow, though.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cumby begged for an alternative.

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

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

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

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

But it has worked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I want to see how far I can go.

Boston, Dallas, inspiration, marathon, people with true grit, running, training, White Rock, White Rock Marathon

For Dallas runners, circling White Rock Lake is a rite of passage

This is part of a full-feature story in the March Advocate magazine about the many wonders of East Dallas’ White Rock Lake:

Full circle

Completing the full circumference of White Rock Lake trail, on foot, is a rite of passage


 What a wonderful White Rock Lake world

Dave Dozier Photo by Can Türkyilmaz

Drive to the end of Winstead, a winding road west of White Rock Lake, any Saturday morning at about 5:30 and Dave Dozier will flag you down. He assumes you are there to join him for a run. On a dewy winter morning he dons a black tracksuit with reflective stripes and he invites early morning guests, runners and walkers, jovial folks he calls friends, into his home of 50 years — cozy quarters whose décor includes display cases full of medals from White Rock, St. George and Boston marathons, to name a few, hundreds, dating back as far as the 1970s, and collages containing magazine clippings and racing bibs.

An inconspicuous manila folder contains what we came for: certificates for completing, on foot, a full 9.2-mile loop of White Rock Lake.

In his early running days, Dozier says, running all the way around White Rock Lake was something only the most serious runners did.

“Once you ran the loop,” he says, “you were somebody.”

In the 1970s a gang of diehard runners including White Rock Marathon founder Tal Morrison challenged Dave to run all the way around, rather than the couple-mile out-and-back jaunts they had seen him performing at the lake. When he eventually took them up on it, the guys gave him a certificate of completion. It is a tradition Dozier continued, mostly under the radar, long after Morrison and the other old timers stopped running. Recently a local fitness magazine publicized the practice and Dozier got an unprecedented amount of takers. But he doesn’t give these certificates away to just anyone. “You really have to do it. I have to see you. I will run with you,” he says. “And you can’t have done it before.” The certificates are reserved for those running the loop and the distance for the first time ever.

And while the certificate is a neat token of achievement, it really isn’t about the paper. It’s about the camaraderie as runners gather at the starting point. Those who meet at Dozier’s place vary in pace — taking anywhere from 70 minutes to three hours to circle the pond. The wee moments before the jog are for catching up and laughing while Dozier tells everyone to “shut up. My wife is asleep.”

Voices fill the erstwhile silent neighborhood with stories of marathons past. Dozier’s friend Julie Stauble recalls a time Dozier stumbled at the finish line, knocking out his front teeth. Dozier teases the group’s fastest runner, a psychiatrist named Joe Gaspari who is preoccupied with qualifying for the Boston Marathon. “He’s always looking at that watch. Doesn’t he know we are here to have fun?”

It’s about the other lake goers. When Dozier ran the first of his 9,000-some lake loops, he says, there were about eight guys regularly running the lake. On a Saturday morning these days, there are hundreds, maybe a thousand. “I stop and talk a lot. I know everyone out there,” Dozier says.

It’s about the commitment and motivation one feels after hitting that 9.2-mile milestone, says Stauble, who ran a marathon after meeting Dozier and joining his informal running group. She says it changed her life.

“A lot of lives have changed out here,” Dozier says. “And we’ve had people that didn’t fit in in the world, fit in with us.”

It’s about the sense of completion. The circle represents wholeness, unity and infinite possibility, right? But Dozier scoffs at all that philosophical stuff. “It’s just fun. I love this. Running is my way of life.”

If you are interested in meeting Dozier for a run around the lake and, if you make it, a certificate, emaileditor@advocatemag.com.

White Rock Marathon

Dallas marathon eve

‘Bout to hit the sack. Sure I won’t sleep, but going to get horizontal anyway. I stayed busy this week. Now flippin’ out. Stomach in knots. Couldn’t go through with either dinner invite.

The weather for tomorrow’s race is looking pretty sketchy: 60-70 degrees, high winds. If you asked me the worst scenario for the marathon, well it would be 80+ degrees, but beyond that, it’s 60+ and windy. Give me rain, sleet or snow any day. To make matters psychologically worse, the cold front should blow in about the time the race is wrapping up. Really, Mother Nature? You are an evil B. It’s even worse for those Dallas runners who were slated to do New York and are relegated to Dallas. Two for two weather hell. (I realize complaining about weather, especially hurricanes, for running performance reasons is a totally first-world problem.)

Recently I heard the term defensive pessimism. It’s a psychological term used to describe that defense mechanism that makes us say things like: I might not even finish. Not feeling well. I will probably wind up on a stretcher again. That sort of thing. I am saying these things to myself.

I am preparing for the worst. In fact, I decided to sign up for the Vancouver marathon in the spring and continue with my one-on-one training. Due to my awesome 5-minute half marathon personal best last month, I know the plan has worked amazingly for mid-distance.

Tomorrow is not the be-all and end-all.

It’s just a chance to see how/if I have progressed through more intense training. That’s all. If this goes badly, there’s another chance in a few months.

Plus, there are a lot of fun races coming up, such as Cross Timbers. I’ll be there.

To all running tomorrow, don’t let this race define you. Unless you kick ass. Then let it define you a little bit.

Dallas, inspiration, marathon, people with true grit, running, Uncategorized, White Rock, White Rock Marathon

Our buddy, Bob

When I started running with the Dallas Running Club in 2009, it broadened my world. Long distance running made my mind, body and spirit feel better. It has taken me to places I might never have seen — the streets of Oklahoma City, San Diego, New York, Philly, Boston and the hidden pockets of my own city.

But far more impressively, it has brought a whole new world of people, friends, into my life.

I met Bob Philpot during my second season. We trained together for the Oklahoma City Marathon. Bob was a steady source of entertainment and companionship.

While many of us bitched about the weather or our injuries and pains, I never heard Bob say a negative word. He had what seemed like an eternal smile on his face. The marathon at the end of that season was bad — hot temperatures, gale-force wind.

Everyone in our group was trained for a three hour forty minute marathon, but it took most of us more than four hours to finish. We rode a bus home together; I was totally devastated. I felt like my athletic dreams, my chance for qualifying to run Boston, had been squashed. Bob, having years of experience on his side, knew better. As we rode the bus home and I pouted, Bob joked and laughed and those of us around him couldn’t help but lighten up too.

I did get faster, and as did many of us in that training group, moved on.

Bob, who was pushing 60, became a pace leader for the Dallas Running Club training program and continued trying to qualify for Boston.

There was hardly anyone in the Dallas running community who had come up through the DRC who didn’t know Bob.

Last year, he finally reached his goal. He booked a room. He was headed to the Boston Marathon in the spring. But then he got sick.

When I heard Bob had cancer, I wanted badly to ignore it. I wanted to believe that it wasn’t a big deal. That he would get some treatment and come back and we would celebrate with a BBQ or a night at the bar. I honestly, purposely, selfishly, didn’t think much more about it.

I was running a few months ago with Chris Stratton, White Rock Running Co-op founder and also the leader of that 2010 DRC Oklahoma Marathon pace group. He had mentioned weeks before that Bob was not well. I asked Chris that day how his friend Bob was. He gave me a strange look. My friend? He’s your friend too, Chris said. That’s weird. Chris never has hesitated to let me know I have said something stupid. Looking back, I think I subconsciously distanced myself out of fear of emotional pain. Fear can make us act like jerks and I am obviously not immune. Tough realization.

Yep, Bob was my friend. And I listened as Chris told me how hard it was seeing him this way.  It takes a brave person to keep close to his heart someone who is dying.

Fortunately, Chris wouldn’t let me or any of us forget Bob. Through the Dallas Running Club and White Rock Running Co-op, respectively, Chris Stratton and Vishal Patel, among others, kept us posted on Bob’s condition. They hosted a fundraiser to collect money to help his family with medical expenses. Bob’s running buddies contributed thousands of dollars.

The last time I saw Bob, he was volunteering at a race. I walked right by him, looked at him, grinned impersonally and started to turn away when his familiar voice yelled, Christina!

Bob! I didn’t recognize him. He was skinny and his cheeks were sunken and he had no hair. But as soon as he spoke, and smiled, he was familiar Bob again. We laughed about old times and joked about the use of medical marijuana and soon other members from that old group such as Danny Hardeman, Chris and Vishal had gathered around. It was a sunny and warm and a beautiful day for running at our lake. Bob seemed happy just to be there.

Bob died on Thanksgiving. At his funeral today, his daughter spoke of how much her dad loved running, how young runners admitted to her that it ate ’em up that this old timer could keep up with them, and how they said there was no word to describe Bob,  but that if you had to pick one, it would be Honorable.

His brother-in-law told us how, in his younger years, Bob was stressed with life and work and took up golf.  How Bob was so terrible at golf that his companions suggested he take up jogging.

So Bob started running marathons.

“A week ago,” said Bob’s brother-in-law, “I asked Bob, if he could have one more good day, how would he spend it?”

Bob told him he would put on his running shoes, grab his wife Elaine, and go for a run around White Rock Lake.

When I picked my daughter up from school today, I told her about the service and about how Bob wished for one more chance to run. She remained silent for a minute, which is eerie for this teenager, and then she said that I should dedicate my marathon to him.

I said I would and smiled. In fact, I don’t think anyone who has run with Bob who runs the Dallas Marathon next week, especially as they take that stretch along our glassy, shimmering, breezy White Rock Lake, will be able to resist remembering  Bob, and running for him.

Bob is second from the left on the top row. This is the 2010 OKC training group, taken at our tune-up race, the Rock To Victory Half Marathon.
marathon, racing, running, training, White Rock Marathon

Dallas Marathon training: final phase

I planned to post regularly about my enhanced training program. Once I go over the regimen, you’ll understand why — considering I also have to earn a living, pay some attention to my children and occasionally see a movie — I haven’t had much extra time for recreational bloggin’.

When I last wrote, I was only about three or four weeks into training and I was doing a lot of speed work and preparing to race a 5k. The 5k, on Labor Day, sucked. I started out fast, at about a 6:10 pace, and because it was very hot and I was over exerting, I blew up on the last mile, winding up with a time in the low 20s. It was a personal best, but only by a few seconds and far from the hoped-for finishing time of 19:30-ish. Disappointed, but I was still encouraged by the progress I had experienced in training, so I hired the coach for the remainder of marathon training season.

I’m about to nerd out for a minute here, so if you don’t care about the details of this training program, you might enjoy another of my posts more. The one about my depressing last marathon, or my death defying puke-fest 50k (not an official race name), for example.

Following the 5k, I began training by heart rate. I have a few different training zones, based on the rudimentary V02 max test we ran when I first started with him (see craigslist coach post for details): 140 bpm is my easy, recovery pace; 158 is my daily, hour-long steady runs; 166 is my marathon pace; 177 is threshold. Note: gadgets, heart rate monitoring, data taking are things I am not fond of, but I said I would try anything for a season, so I got a watch, yada, yada, and eventually figured out how to use it.

It was worth the hassle, because this is where I really began to feel some progress.

I started doing daily runs at about a 158 heart rate. At the beginning of the month that was an 8:20 minute mile. By the end it was a 7:30 (the weather began cooling from hellishly hot to warm and humid during this phase, so that has a little to do with the pace improvement too). During that phase, I ran about an hour at a 158 heart rate every day except Mondays, when I did some sort of interval training and threshold pace, and Thursdays, when I did a long, 90-minute tempo run at a 166 heart rate, which on good days was around a 7:10 pace.

At the end of this phase I raced a 10k. Here I felt like a new person. For the 1st time ever, I raced while watching my heart rate. And for the first time ever, I ran the second half of the race faster than the first. My overall pace was a 6:44 and my last mile was 6:30 — this wasn’t a personal best by a whole lot, but it was the easiest PB I have ever had. I felt so strong and in-control the entire race. I also took home 1st overall female. Those who were there at the Great Taco Run 5k, 10k and 10 mile, and who know that all of the the faster women were running the 10-mile, not the 10k that day, shut up. First place: Taco Run 10k.

Invigorated by the 10k PB, I launched into the real marathon training. During this phase I increase mileage. When Coach sent me the schedule for the week following the 10k, my head started spinning. It had more than 80 miles on it.  I’ve never been able to do more than 60 miles a week without getting hurt, so I was worried. Also I was concerned about how this schedule was going to impact my life.

I partied enough for a lifetime from the age of 16-28, so my current social life essentially is running. My daughter says I’m a geek and I’m all: aren’t geeks cool now? Look at Nate Silver: Badass Geek. By the way, if you’ve read this far, you are a nerd too. But this extreme requires me to neglect even my running friends. Unless your are on a lets run.com forum — where only p***ys run less than 100 miles a week — running 12-13 hours a week can seem pretty unbalanced. But at least this is simple. I don’t have to try to figure out what I am I doing wrong or worry over what I should do next. Just follow the schedule. I love that.

My schedule for the next several weeks would look something like this:

Monday: 15 min warm up; 6 times 6 minutes at 177 heart rate with 1 min static rest in between; 15 min cool down or 1 hour a.m. 1 hour p.m. at 140 heart rate

Tuesday: 1 hour a.m. 1 hour p.m. at 140 heart rate

Wednesday: 1 hour a.m. 1 hour p.m. at 140 heart rate

Thursday: 15 minute warm up, 60-90 minutes at 158 heart rate, 15 minute cool down

Friday: 1 hour run at 140 heart rate

Saturday: 1 hour a.m. 1 hour p.m. at 140 heart rate

Sunday: 1 hour a.m. 1 hour p.m. at 140 heart rate

And this is just a hobby.

A few things I learned while doing this: It’s more convenient than I thought it would be. I run for an hour before the rest of my household wakes up. I find another hour to run anytime between lunch and 8 p.m. Working in 1 hour in the evening is easier than sneaking away for 2 hours.

I am not hurt and most of the miles are enjoyable. The majority of my runs are done at an extremely pleasurable pace. I have taken time to explore my neighborhood and observe my surroundings, gotten to know the regulars at the Richland College track (a guy who runs in jeans, a wise old Morgan Freeman-esque walker, a trio of Asian women who insist on walking side-by-side-by-side and not letting me pass); I’ve run the dirt roads of Todos Santos, Mexico where I went on a long-weekend vacation, the streets near my kid’s volleyball practice or near my office — I just keep my running gear with me and find a way to work it in. And, because I am breaking the runs into short periods, I haven’t experienced any of the pain that in the past has accompanied high mileage. (I also see a sports chiropractor about once a month for treatment to problem areas such as my knee and foot).

I did feel generally sore a lot at first, though. Some mornings as I embarked on my run, my legs felt as if they were at mile 20 of a marathon. I guess that is the point in some respects.

Some of my tempo runs have been very encouraging. One morning for example, when it was especially chilly, I found my 158 heart rate producing 7-minute miles and under. It is pretty cool, with heart rate training, that I can quantify improvements. It makes each run kind-a like a little game.

So far, this sh*t is working! The high mileage phase resulted, last weekend, in a personal best by more than five minutes in the half marathon. Yes, I ran a 1:29:32 at the hilly-ish Dallas Running Club Half Marathon, good for 2nd in my age group and a top-ten female finish in a big race. Again, the best part about the whole thing was that until the very last mile, I didn’t feel fatigued at all. The photos of me at mile 10 (thanks Jose Vega) are amazing — I have a freaking huge  smile on my face. Certainly not the face of the familiar me who isn’t racing if I’m not miserable halfway through. I just settled in behind (most of the way) the 1:30 pace group led by Nick Polito and Ethan Neyman (also pictured below) and had fun.

Now I am on to the last stretch of training before the White Rock Marathon — Dallas Marathon, I know.

I am still doing the 2-time a day easy runs with 2 two-hour-ish high-intensity runs a week. A month out from the marathon, my longest run has been 15 miles, which is a little nerve wracking, considering the rest of my marathoning friends have done multiple 18-20 milers, but I said I’d trust this trainer and I have seen good results so far, so I am going to see this through. I am maxing out at over 90 miles a week, so the endurance should be there when I need it.

Other things to consider with the high mileage. Nutrition: I have started protein supplements and I simply have to remember to eat. I have lost about 5 pounds while almost-literally eating nonstop throughout the day. Hell, yes. It is like a dream come true. Sadly when I am running 40-60 miles a week, this is not the case. I still have to watch my calorie intake lest I gain weight. But with 80-90 miles a week, I can eat anything and everything I want. This makes this final phase of marathon training my unequivocal favorite.

Hydration: I have to constantly force down liquids. I don’t go anywhere — in the car, to work, to bed — without a bottle beside me, and not like in the old lush-y days. I usually have powerade zero, crystal light or some other no-calorie flavored water junk, because I usually dislike drinking water. I tend to get very bad headaches and they can be triggered by a hard run, among other things. Sometimes I can’t stop them, but I think proper hydration helps fend them off a bit.

Sleep: Possibly the biggest challenge. One huge help is that my daughter doesn’t have to be at school until 8:45 a.m., so my runs generally can start at either 5:30 or 6:30 a.m. as opposed to 4 a.m. as they had to when the kids had morning practices at 7:30.  So that means I must make a valiant attempt to go to sleep by 11, which is tough for a night writer, Colbert-show watcher, obsessive novel-reader like me. Every Saturday, God willing, I take a nap. Precious nap. (Except today, when I am instead writing. I was too stressed to relax because i promised myself I was going to document this and the season is briskly passing and I haven’t really been doing that) I know, based on readings, I should be getting 8 hours a night, at least, but I figure 6-7 with the occasional nappy time is going to have to suffice until I become ridiculously wealthy and quit my job at the Advocate (which, hell, I probably wouldn’t do even if I were wealthy. It’s not as if I went into community journalism because of the high salary).

OK, now I can go nap. Night night.

Dallas, marathon, White Rock, White Rock Marathon

Final Dallas Marathon course changes announced

Originally published on Advocatemag.com.

An update to the East Dallas Advocate‘s July story about changes to the White Rock Marathon (most notedly, it’s not the White Rock Marathon, but the Dallas Marathon now):

Last May, the Dallas Marathon organizers and board released a tentative course map, included in our story, but today they announced a few more changes.

Said changes address concerns of marathon runners as well as concerns from city departments and the community regarding traffic and safety, according to today’s news release.

Landmarks such as the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge, Klyde Warren Park and Texas Scottish Rite Hospital remain on the course. The originally proposed long stretch of running up Mockingbird Lane, which brought about many complaints from runners, will now be edited, and the course will instead cross over 75 via McCommas and Ellsworth on the way to White Rock Lake, “providing runners with scenic neighborhood views,” according to the news release.

There are also changes to the proposed half marathon course.

A greater section will traverse Cedar Springs along Turtle Creek, leading to Armstrong, and the half marathon will return south via Cedar Springs and pass by Klyde Warren Park near the finish.

“After diligently working with DART, the Dallas Police Department, the Dallas Park and Recreation Department, the Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau, Dallas City Hall and the mayor, we feel we can guarantee that our race will provide a safe and enhanced experience for all marathon runners and spectators,” says Dallas Marathon Executive Director Marcus Grunewald. “The 2012 course will still offer a flat, fast race with ample entertainment.”

The Dallas Marathon will be held Sunday, Dec. 9. Registration fees for the marathon, half marathon and relay events increase Oct. 16. Register at dallasmarathon.com