Saturday, April 29

At the Marathon Finish


I finished. It was really tough. Really tough. But, I did it.

My official chip time was almost exactly what I had gotten according to my watch. I came in at 4:10.51.


It is just after 5 AM and I am ready to go. I am not going to win anything. I am not going to impress anybody with my time. Nobody told me that I ought to do this. No one even asked me to do this. The fact is, I might not even be able to finish. So, why am I even attempting this? Why have I sacrificed for months and months for this moment?

To run a marathon is one of the most challenging things a person can ever attempt to do. And so just in the attempt, there is great satisfaction and accomplishment.

I am going out there this morning to try. And that is enough.

Friday, April 28

26.2 in 1

Registration packet. Check. Expo gewgaws sorted through. Check. Race day gear laid out. Check. Course strategy mapped out. Check. Pace chart and prayer list written out. Check. Obsess over every little detail. Check. Now, double-check everything I've checked--and then triple-check. Check. Check. Check.

OK. I think I'm ready. The only thing left to do is hydrate, hydrate, hydrate; carbo-load, carbo-load, carbo-load; rest, rest, rest.

Problem Solving on the Run

Obviously, when we run in a marathon we are stressing, straining, and depleting our bodies--to an extraordinary degree. I have found that in order to keep going beyond say fifteen miles or so, I have to take some pretty strategic steps right from the start of the race.

First, there is the matter of staying hydrated. The problem is that when we sweat, some of the water content we lose through our pores is actually taken from the blood supply. When blood volume decreases, heart rate needs to increase to pump the same amount of oxygen. Therefore, dehydration is always accompanied by a decrease in pace at a given heart rate. Studies of endurance athletes have shown that there is a 3% decrease in pace for each 1% decrease in bodyweight due to dehydration. So for example, a 190-pound runner like me could lose as much as 2-3 pounds of sweat per hour when running on a warm day. Thus during a marathon, I could conceivably lose 8-12 pounds resulting in about a 15% pace reduction. That could be as much as an extra minute or a minute and a half per mile. The only solution to this dilemma is to stay hydrated during the race. And the thing is, we can't rely on our thirst because by the time we are actually thirsty we've already started to dehydrate. It is equally important to not drink too much. The standard rule of thumb is that during a marathon we ought to drink small amounts often--so, for example, I never skip a water station on the course. But, I also try never to exceed 4-5 ounces (just a couple of good swallows) in any 10-20 minute period.

Second, there is the matter of keeping our body systems in balance. The problem here is that when we sweat we lose a great deal of our stores of sodium and potassium--which are the minerals our bodies use to balance their fluid and electrolyte levels. Thus, replacing lost sweat with water alone can be nearly as dangerous as dehydration. Hyponatremia, or sodium depletion, can lead to many of the same symptoms as heat stroke--headache, nausea, vomiting, extreme fatigue, and dizziness. A lack of potassium can lead to paralyzing muscle cramps. Thus, it is important for us to supplement our sodium and potassium stores with sports drinks. I try to get a couple of swallows of Gatoraide or something similar at about every other water stop after mile five or so.

Finally, there is the problem of staying fully fueled for the three to five hours that we're actually out there on the course. Our bodies are constantly burning carbohydrates. As the miles add up, our carbohydrate stores become progressively depleted and our bodies will try to conserve what's left by burning fat. The problem is that fat is not a particularly efficient energy source. So, when we start running low on available carbohydrates, we inevitably slow down and wear out. That's where energy bars and gels come in. I usually try to start introducing small amounts of energy supplements around mile eight--and then every four or five miles after that.

It is a lot to think about. But then, during a marathon, there is plenty of time to think.

Thursday, April 27

Expo Musings

Before every big marathon, the organizers put on a sports and fitness expo--as sort of "runners convention." It is where registered participants go to pick up their final instructions, their race numbers, their timing chips, as well as their goodie bags stuffed with coupons, adverts, freebies, and all the other pre-race flotsam and jetsam. Exhibitors hawk their wares and runners stock up on such peculiarities as "Body Glide," "GU" gels, race logo-wear, and all the latest and greatest gear.

The worst thing that a marathoner can do is spend too much time at the expo. You can really wear yourself out--especially at big expos like the one before the Country Music Marathon (this year registration should top 22,000 runners so there are lots and lots and lots of exhibitors).

I always like to get in early, make one complete circuit through the exhibts making mental notes of any of the stuff I might actually want to buy, and then make my way back through to actually make my purchases (that way I don't do any impulse buying and I restrain myself from getting anything more than necessities).

Call me crazy, but I find the expos very motivational. They are generally abuzz with all the hopes and dreams and excitement of runners ready to burst out of the gates toward their dream PRs.

Between appointments this afternoon, I made my way to and through the expo. And once again, I was inspired. The place was electric. I saw lots of friends. I didn't buy much of anything at all--just a disposal rain jacket in case the 70% chance of thunder showers that are forecast actually crashes our little party!

I had lots of fun and now I am in the frame of mind I need to be in to actually go 26.2.

Oh yeah, and the bronchitis I've been battling all week is actually a bit better. I'm coughing like a smoker--but, I am ready to roll, rain or shine.

26.2 in 2

Dr. Owen Anderson has observed, "It's strange, isn't it? The marathon is clearly the least-forgiving of all popular race distances, and yet runners probably make more mistakes preparing for this event than they do for all other competitions combined."

Yep. I resemble that statement. Preparing for 26.2 miles is a daunting challenge. Often we will do foolish things--desperate to gain some sort of an advantage. Sort of like a "get-rich-quick-scheme" for the body. So, we over-train. We introduce strange substances into our bodies. We radically alter our routine. We change our sleep patterns. We try gimmicky new gear. We panic. We lose focus. We forget our strategies.

Last year, I thought I was doing great in preparing for the Country Music Marathon. I did everything by the book right up to race day. On race morning, I had some queasy stomach issues, but nothing debilitating. The race began and I was doing fabulously. I kept right to my pace all the way through mile 11. But, I felt so great, had so much energy, and was so pumped up that I decided to discard my race strategy and just go for it. I started doing really fast mile splits. Really fast. Like, two minutes a mile faster than my planned pace.

Of course, I hit the wall. Slammed into it. Right at mile 21, my body shut down.

Until then, I was well on my way to a Boston qualifying run. But, after that, I was barely able to crawl across the finish line. My foolish beginner's mistake probably cost me a trip to Boston.

I won't make that mistake again. Of course, I'll probably make some other mistake. But then, that's life in this poor fallen world. For the moment though, I am back to doing everything by the book.

Tuesday, April 25

26.2 in 4

Just four days to go. I've gotta, gotta, gotta get well. I'm a little better, but the lingering Bronchitis is still pretty bothersome. The worst of it is the weakness--to say nothing of all the bother with medicine, herbal remedies, teas, et al.

My plan is to sneak in another easy run of about three miles this afternoon. Then, rest, rest, rest. I'm not yet carbo-loading. Indeed, I'm still Airborne-and-Vitamin-C-loading. But, I am starting to think about every meal.

I'm also mentally preparing. Experienced marathoners tell me that to run 26.2 requires a great deal of mental preparedness and strategizing--it is, they say, at this stage of the game 20% physical exertion and 80% mental endurance. So, I have watched the video of the course route several times--marking mental landmarks and establishing particular personal checkpoints along the way. I've made up my pacing chart. I've planned my hydration and nutrition stops. I'm about as ready as I am ever going to be.

Now is when the fun begins--if I could just get well.

Monday, April 24

26.2 in 5

It is a lousy time to get sick. But, it seems that every time I taper my body thinks that it is a good time to fall apart. So, after a fierce allergy attack yesterday afternoon, I found myself spiraling out of control and right into the nasty matrix of sinus infection and bronchitis. I am dosing up and hoping I can kick the bug quickly and sufficiently to run on Saturday. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Despite the nagging head and chest infections, I went out for a nice gentle three-mile run this morning. My legs felt great. Now if I can just get the rest of me to follow suit.

Sunday, April 23

Spectators at the Marathon

The Country Music Marathon is quite a spectacle to watch. Thousands of friends, family members, and fans of road racing turn out along the course to watch and cheer. It is very exciting and lots and lots of fun. But with the crowds, getting around can be a bit of a challenge. I think that the two best places to watch the race are: at the beginning of the race, along Belmont Avenue, where you can see the runners go out and back (and you can get some great coffee at Bongo Java while you wait) and, toward the end of the race, just above downtown alongside the Farmer's Market (8th Avenue north), where you can also watch the runners go out and back. Afterwards, you can walk over the downtown bridges to the Titans stadium and watch the finish. For parking, the best bet is to park on the west side of the river downtown so that you can avoid the stadium traffic snarls. Again, just walk across one or another of the three bridges.

26.2 in 6

Go slow! That needs to be my motto from today until the end of the week. I need to focus on energy and effort conservation at all times; taking everything at as relaxed a pace as possible. I have a fairly full week ahead, so I am going to have to concentrate on keeping stresses to a minimum. I am going to have to try to avoid rushing about and doing everything at top speed--like what I usually do. Slowing everything down will allow me to focus instead of fire-fighting. Throughout this week, I am going to try and observe the maxim; "if I'm standing, I should be sitting; if my feet are down, they should be up." My aim is simply to save all my energy for Saturday's race. By the time I line up at Centennial Park, I want to be like a coiled spring, ready to give it my all and complete the Country Music Marathon with endurance, persistence, and determination!

Saturday, April 22

26.2 in 7

Today, I took my last long run before the Country Music Marathon. I ran my regular ten-mile route--parts of which are quite hilly. Then I did a warm-down three mile walk. It felt great--though my knee and my back are a little achy now, a few hours later. Hopefully, those aches and pains will all vanish before the big day in just a week.

The plan for the coming week is to stay loose with a few short, easy runs, but also to get in some good rest, some carbo-loading, and some mental preparation for the 26.2 challenge ahead. It's still seven days away but already, I can hardly think of anything else.

Friday, April 21

26.2 in 8

I watched the OLN broadcast of the Boston Marathon on Monday. What an amazing race. Kenyan runners won both the men's and women's races. So, what else is new? Well, what else is new is the fact that eight of the top fifteen finishers were Americans--including third, fourth, fifth and seventh places. That is the best result in more than twenty years!

My friend Peter Pressman finished with a fine 4:13.32 and my cyber-friend Steve Walker soldiered on to a 5:33.41 finish despite serious stomache aches from almost the start. It was both great fun and tremendous inspiration following them in the race.

All this has come at just the right time for me. In just over a week I will be attempting to once again run the Country Music Marathon. Not that I'm really ready for this huge undertaking--at least, not physically. But, after all the great Boston hype, I am so excited to once again participate in something so remarkable.

I will never win a marathon. I will never even win my age group in a marathon. And no one will ever be impressed with my time. But, just to do this, just to compete, just to finish 26.2 miles, is more than enough for me.

This week I began my "taper." My training hasn't really been sufficient for a true taper. But, here I go. On Monday, I did a good ten-miler. On Tuesday, I did an easy six-miler. It was great. Today, I was going to do a long run, but thunderstorms have pushed it back to tomorrow. I am so looking forward to this challenge--and believe me: it is quite the challenge!

Sunday, April 16

Boston Marathon History

Tuesday, March 15, 1887: The Boston Athletic Association was established, and construction began soon after on the B.A.A. Clubhouse at the corner of Exeter and Blagden Streets.

April 14, 1896: The marathon race at the first modern Olympic Games in Athens in 1896 served as the inspiration for the B.A.A. Boston Marathon, which was held the following spring.

Monday, April 19, 1897: The B.A.A. Marathon in Boston was originally called the "American Marathon" and was the final event of the B.A.A. Games--inspired by the events in Athens the previous year. The first running of the B.A.A. Road Race commenced at the site of Metcalf's Mill in Ashland and finished at the Irvington Street Oval near Copley Square. John J. McDermott, of New York, emerged from a 15-member starting field to capture the inaugural Boston Marathon.

Tuesday, April 19, 1898: In its second running, the B.A.A. Marathon welcomed its first foreign champion when 22-year-old Boston College student Ronald J. MacDonald, of Antigonish, Nova Scotia, won the race in 2:42:00. MacDonald's accomplishment foreshadowed the international appeal the race would later attract. Today, 19 countries can claim a Boston Marathon champion. The United States leads the list with 41 triumphs.

Wednesday, April 19, 1911: The legendary Clarence H. DeMar of Melrose, Massachusetts won his first of seven Boston Marathon titles. However, on the advice of medical "experts," DeMar initially "retired" from the sport following his first title. He later won six titles between 1922 and 1930, including three consecutive from 1922 through 1924. DeMar was 41 years old when he won his final title in 1930.

Friday, April 19, 1918: Due to American involvement in World War I, the traditional Patriots' Day race underwent a change of format. A 10-man military relay race was contested on the course, and the team from Camp Devens in Ayer, Massachusetts, bested the field in 2:24:53.

Saturday, April 19, 1924: The course was lengthened to 26 miles, 385 yards to conform to the Olympic standard, and the starting line was moved west from Ashland to Hopkinton.

Thursday, April 19, 1928: John A. "The Elder" Kelley made his Boston Marathon debut. Kelley, who won the race in 1935 and again in 1945, has the record for most Boston Marathons started (61) and finished (58). His final race came in 1992 at the age of 84. Meanwhile, Clarence DeMar captured his second straight title (his sixth overall). To date, only nine champions have returned to successfully defend their title. DeMar is the only one to have posted consecutive triumphs on more than one occasion (1922-24 and 1927-28).

Monday, April 20, 1936: The last of Newton's hills was given the nickname "Heartbreak Hill" by Boston Globe reporter Jerry Nason. When John A. Kelley caught eventual champion Ellison "Tarzan" Brown on the Newton hills, Kelley made a friendly gesture of tapping Brown on the shoulder. Brown responded by regaining the lead on the final hill, and as Nason reported, "breaking Kelley's heart."

Saturday, April 19, 1941: Leslie Pawson of Pawtucket, Rhode Island joined Clarence DeMar as the only champion to win the men's open race three times or more. Pawson first won the race in 1933 and added a second title in 1938. The pair has since been joined by Gerard Cote, Bill Rodgers, Eino Oksanen, Ibrahim Hussein, and Cosmas Ndeti.

Saturday, April 19, 1947: For the only time in the history of the men's open race, a world-record was established at the Boston Marathon when Korean Yun Bok Suh turned in a 2:25:39 performance.

Saturday, April 20, 1957: John J. Kelley became the first and currently lone B.A.A. club member to win the Boston Marathon. In addition, from 1946 to 1967, Kelley was the only American to win the race.

Tuesday, April 19, 1966: Although not an official entrant, Roberta "Bobbi" Gibb became the first woman to run the Boston Marathon. Joining the starting field shortly after the gun had been fired, Gibb finished the race in 3:21:40 to place 126th overall. Gibb again claimed the "unofficial" title in 1967 and 1968.

Wednesday, April 19, 1967: By signing her entry form "K. V. Switzer," Kathrine Switzer became the first woman to receive a number in the Boston Marathon. By her own estimate, Switzer finished in 4:20:00.

Monday, April 20, 1970: Qualifying standards were introduced. The official B.A.A. entry form stated, "A runner must submit the certification that he has trained sufficiently to finish the course in less than four hours."

Monday, April 17, 1972: Women were allowed to officially run the Boston Marathon, and Nina Kuscsik emerged from an eight-member starting field to win the race in 3:10:26.

Monday, April 21, 1975: A trio of stories emerged from this race, as Bill Rodgers collected his first of four titles, Bob Hall became the first officially recognized participant to complete the course in a wheelchair, and Liane Winter of West Germany established a women's world-best of 2:42:24. Hall was granted permission to enter the race provided that he covered the distance in under three hours. Hall finished in 2:58:00, signaling the start of the wheelchair division in the race.

Monday, April 19, 1982: Alberto Salazar and Dick Beardsley became the first two runners to break 2:09:00 in the same race after dueling one another for first place over the final nine miles. Salazar emerged victorious from the thrilling final sprint to the finish, with Beardsley just two seconds behind in 2:08:54.

Monday, April 18, 1983: Joan Benoit won her second Boston Marathon in a world-best time of 2:22:43. Benoit, who won the Olympic Marathon the following summer, became the first person to win the Boston and Olympic Marathons. Greg Meyer, a resident of Massachusetts at the time, won the men's race and is the most recent American man to win the Boston Marathon.

Monday, April 21, 1986: Through the generous support of principal sponsor John Hancock Financial Services, prize money was awarded for the first time, and Rob de Castella of Australia earned $60,000 and a Mercedes-Benz for finishing first in a course-record time of 2:07:51. On the women's side, Ingrid Kristiansen of Norway captured her first of two Boston Marathon titles in 2:24:55 (she won her second title in 1989).

Monday, April 18, 1988: Kenya's Ibrahim Hussein finished one second ahead of Tanzania's Juma Ikangaa, and became the first African to win Boston or any other major marathon. Hussein, who also won in 1991 and 1992, established a trend in which African runners won 14 of 16 races.

Monday, April 15, 1996: The historic 100th running of the Boston Marathon attracted 38,708 official entrants (36,748 starters; 35,868 finishers), which stands as the largest field of finishers in history. Uta Pippig overcame a huge time deficit and severe dehydration in the final miles, among other difficulties, to become the first woman of the official era to win the race in three consecutive years.

Monday, April 20, 1998: The performances of Moses Tanui (2:07:34), Joseph Chebet (2:07:37), and Gert Thys (2:07:52) marked the first time in the history of the sport that three runners finished in under 2:08:00.

Monday, April 17, 2000: After seven consecutive victories (1990-1996) followed by three years as runner-up (1997-1999), Jean Driscoll won an unprecedented eighth title in the wheelchair division, moving her past legendary Hall of Famer Clarence DeMar for most all-time victories at Boston.

Monday, April 16, 2001: After an unprecedented ten consecutive victories by Kenyans in the men's race, Lee Bong-Ju of Korea halted the streak with his 2:09:43 win. The last Korean winner at Boston prior to Lee was Kee Yong Ham, who was the men's race champion in 1950.

Friday, April 14

Marathon Madness

The Boston Marathon is an extraordinary spectacle. Between 500,000 and a million spectators line the 26.2-mile course annually, making the marathon one of the world's most widely viewed one-day sporting events, according to estimates by police and public safety officials from the eight cities and towns along the route. And as if that were not enough, in terms of on-site media coverage, the Boston Marathon ranks behind only the Super Bowl as the largest single day sporting event in the world. More than a thousand media members, representing more than 250 outlets, have requested media credentials for the 110th running of the race this coming Monday. That's a big deal.

The Long and Short of It

I awoke this morning with a sore throat, no voice, and the sure signs of a springtime cold. Not a good thing for a day when I really needed to go long. I went through the motions, but by mile six, I was laboring terribly. My plan was to try to get in between twenty and twenty-two miles. I finally gave up the ghost at eighteen. That leaves me still uncertain about whether I can go the full distance at the Country Music Marathon in two weeks. I really should be ready to taper at this point rather than still trying to get in a good long run. Nevertheless, I am hoping I will be able to do one more long run before I start racheting down the weekly milage.

Thursday, April 13

Boston Marathon

The Boston Marathon is the world's oldest annual marathon and one of the world's most prestigious road races. This year, the 110th running of the event--which is annually held on the Patriots Day holiday--will be contested this coming Monday, April 17. A maximum field of 20,000 qualifying participants (with qualifying times that are incredibly tough) will run the historic point-to-point route from Hopkinton to Boston. An estimated 500,000-1,000,000 spectators will line the 26.2-mile route, making the Boston Marathon one of the most popular, accesible, and exciting sporting events in America.

This year, the marathon will be broadcast live on OLN (the same Outdoor Life Network that broadcasts the Tour de France every summer) from 10:30 AM-1:30 PM CST. There will also be a broadcast rerun beginning at 4 PM CST. I can hardly wait. I'm actually taking the day off just to make sure I am able to see it all, from start to finish.

One of these days I'd love to run Boston--but I may have to move up several more age groups before I can reach the qualifying standards. Until then, I'll be content with OLN's coverage.

This Week

I've taken it pretty easy this week. On Monday, I ran five good miles on my hill route. Tuesday, I did three miles on the same route. Then today, I ran with my grandson in a jogging stroller--just three miles, but it felt like ten! Tomorrow, I will do my last really long run before the Country Music Marathon in two weeks. I am going to try to do between twenty and twenty-two miles in the morning--it will be a real test of how ready I am. If I struggle, if my knee starts acting up again, or if I just really don't have the conditioning to do it, I will settle for the half marathon on April 29. But obviously, I am still hoping that despite my on-again-off-again training schedule, I'll somehow be able to do the whole thing.

Saturday, April 8

Going 19

How is it possible to run a twisting and curving, up and down, out and back route with the wind constantly in my face? Doesn't make a bit of sense. But, that is pretty much what my long run felt like today. I did my regular hill route and then made my way into Franklin, turned around, and came back to the hills. It was slow going because of the gusting winds. But, long runs are supposed to be slow going. I wanted to try to get in 22 miles or so but finally gave up the ghost at 19 and a half. Interestingly, when I got back home my Country Music Marathon confirmation packet was waiting for me in the mail. I'm still not entirely convinced I should run the full marathon. But, going 19 today sure helps.

Stormy Weather

Fierce thunderstorms, hail, and high winds pounded Middle Tennessee yesterday. While most of us in Franklin suffered only very superficial damage, tornadoes struck just to the north of us inflicting devastating damage. A cool front has now settled in across the region--the prevailing winds are still strong and the rain comes and goes. Not exactly the best weather for a long run. Nevertheless, I have to get one in today. So, I am going to bundle up and trundle out.

Friday, April 7

Dodging Thunderstorms

My run plans were interrupted today by severe thunderstorms, hail, and rumors of a tornado. Despite these difficulties, I was able to do just about three miles of good hill work. Hopefully by tomorrow, the bad weather will be past us and I can log my long run.

Tom King Photos

Tuesday, April 4

Hill and Tempo Work

Yesterday, I went out for a quick recovery run of two miles. It felt awful--I was still stiff from the half marathon debacle this weekend. Today was better. I got in three good miles of hill work. Another mile of flat tempo runs. And then, Karen and I walked three miles. So, I had a good balanced work out. Now what I need is a really good long run late in the week--maybe a twenty or twenty-two miler.

Monday, April 3

Jackson Marathon

This past Friday night I spoke in Memphis at the wonderful 10th anniversary celebration of Westminster Academy--a fabulous classical Christian school in Germantown. As I drove out of the parking lot of the church that evening, I made a last minute decision to run in Jackson the next morning. If I was going to do that then I knew I would have to drive a little more than an hour, find a hotel somewhere nearby the race, get settled in, and then be up early the next morning ready to run. I was feeling great, so I thought I'd give it a go.

Big mistake. I didn't get into my hotel until after 11 PM. Then, I had a hard time sleeping. I was just too exhausted. Ever have that happen? Too tired to sleep?

Well, the next morning, I awoke to discover that the temperatures had not cooled significantly over night. I knew it was going to be a hot one! And was it ever! Then, I found out that the course was hilly throughout. Oh boy! Everything was conspiring to make this more difficult than 13.1 miles really need to be.

But, even though it was just about the most painful and slowest half marathon ever, I did finish. On that particular day, that was more than enough for me!

It did reinforce the fact that I am still a long, long way from being ready for a full marathon! And I've got a full one to run in just three weeks!