Heat Down, Speed Up (2015 Lifetime Miami Half Marathon)

Vamos por el chifrijo! … Mae, dejastes tirado a tu compa! … Hay que ganarse los frijoles molidos!

20,000+ strong at the starting line

Mile 0: 20,000+ strong at the starting line

Every time I passed a Costa Rican runner, I’d blurt out some random tico chatter, usually about food.  At first, they’d respond and even ask me a question or two.  Towards the end, they’d simply smile and continue punching the air in front of them, battling the demons of pain and fatigue.

But though I was getting tired, demanding more of each lungful and feeling the harsh shock of pavement shoot through my legs and into my hips, I was giddy on the inside.  I hadn’t run farther than ten miles in the last three months and was far from peak condition.  Despite this deterioration, I was still committed to running the Miami Half Marathon for the fourth time, and there I was, cruising through the city at mile 12, feeling grateful that I wasn’t wincing with every forward leap.

left to right: José, me

left to right: José, me

If you’ve been following my running adventures for more than three years, then you’re probably tired of my Miami posts.  In fact, you probably didn’t even make it to this sentence without groaning, wondering why I can’t seem to avoid running this race year after year.  Miami is ostentatious, the traffic is often unbearable and the heat can be the worst if you don’t count Rick Scott, Marco Rubio or the state’s relentless push to disenfranchise minority voters.

But goddamn if the yearly Miami Marathon and Half Marathon isn’t one of my all-time favorite races.

There’s two levels to Miami’s allure.  The first is purely physical and will appeal to pretty much anyone.  The course, organization and production are all reflective of the city itself: beautiful, over the top, and infused with an indelible Latin flare that makes you want to dance.  There’s no denying the sound of thousands of jaws dropping as they crest the MacArthur Causeway to see purple cruise ships resting quietly on the ocean.  Fast forward a few miles and you’re zooming north on Ocean Drive past restaurants and classic hotels.  If you keep going, you’ll wind up returning to the mainland on the Venetian Causeway, where many bridges connect the thin islands that play host to some of the most gorgeous homes you’ll ever see.

Mile 5: Ocean Drive

Mile 5: Ocean Drive

Along the way, aid stations are packed with friendly volunteers, eager spectators and every single Latin American flag coloring your periphery.  Turquoise and terra cotta high-rise condos watch haughtily from the beachfront, reflecting the morning sun, and every manner of Spanish is heard from the sidewalk: vamos, vamos! … Dele, ya casi! … Eso campeones! …

Mile 8: Golf courses and palm trees

Mile 8: Golf courses and palm trees

But what really keeps me returning is that every year I’ve managed to use the race as a backdrop to strengthen my friendships.  I didn’t know my cousin was a diehard runner until she earned her first medal under urban palm trees.  The next year I visited a good college friend and met her husband, catching up on years of growing up.  Otter joined in 2012 and lived through a race experience better left unwritten, yet somehow fondly remembered.  Last year I ran an emotional race with my in-laws and raised money in memory of my uncle, taken too soon from us by brain cancer.

And this year I finally managed to run a half marathon with a friend from high school.  Though I’ve been lacing up for over six years now, it has mostly been interpreted as lunacy by my Costa Rican friends.  I’ve been totally fine with that, and have taken every single usted está enfermo as a compliment and point of pride.  But this year, my buddy José signed up for the half, either inspired by personal initiative or to silence the nagging voice of his good friend Solera, who had been pestering him for years to run the distance.  Back in high school, he was hands down the most athletic of my friends, having been a lifelong fútbol player.  Over the years, he had run several races from 5 to 10ks, including the backbreaking Cerros de Escazú trail run from 2013.  And though I had been joined by my friends Javier, Gabriel and Ricardo on the race circuit, they’d never run 13.1 miles.

Mile 10: Venetian Causeway

Mile 10: Venetian Causeway

“You’d better run under two hours,” I told José as we logged a short run along the Rickenbacker Causeway.  “I don’t want to hear that it was easy or that you finished relaxed.  Kill yourself out there.”

Mile 11: Toll Booth

Mile 11: Toll Booth

“No way, dude,” he chortled, knowing I was only half kidding.   “I’m going to take it easy and enjoy myself.”  He has a history of running races for fun, oblivious of his time, crossing the finish line happy and ready to eat.  But I decided to egg him on a bit and light the competitive fires that he harnesses when he works, plays fut or dukes it out on Smash Brothers.

“That’s actually smart,” I said, picking up the pace.  “You’ll definitely want to run another one if you have fun.  But honestly, if you wanted to, you could run under two hours easily.”

Two days later, I was standing by the American Airlines Arena, listening to the music booming off the speakers of the starting line, doing something I never thought I would do in Miami.  I was shivering.  The hordes of runners around me were joining the frenetic dance, especially the Latin Americans.  Truth be told, it was merely 53 degrees, a temperature also known as Running Perfection of Elysian Proportions, Climate Divine and Let’s Kill This Bitch.  But if you asked any of the thousands of Caribbean, Central and South Americans shaking in their corrals, for this party in the city, someone forgot to turn the heat on.

Mile 11.5: Cheer Zone

Mile 11.5: Cheer Zone

Normally I would have been ecstatic – 53 degrees, a flat half marathon and homemade meatballs in my stomach?  This course wouldn’t stand a chance.  But after last year’s injury (and this is the last time I will mention it, I swear), I slid far from my fighting condition.  So I figured, screw it, let’s do a fitness test.  Let’s run this thing without checking the Garmin.

Mile 13.1: Finish Line

Mile 13.1: Finish Line

As I reached the finish line, I picked up the pace, passing runners who began their sprint too early.  I crossed the familiar orange and blue finish line for the fifth time.  I stopped my Garmin and looked at it for the first time all day and saw 1:34:36, a Miami course record by almost six minutes.  Not too bad.

After grabbing my post-race goodies, I found a patch of sunlit grass by the charity tents.  I sat down and happily munched on a cookie while drinking a protein shake and waiting for José to finish.  Regardless of what his finishing time was, I really just wanted him to enjoy the experience.  I knew that nothing today would necessarily inspire him to embrace the sport like I have.  It’s been a long time since I came to terms with the rarity of my passion (though the blogging community does make me question whether we’re truly a rare bunch).  But if he at least had fun, maybe he could join me elsewhere and add himself to my select cadre of running friends.

0125_mediamiami 15I saw him emerge from the crowds, slightly dazed with a wan smile and his arms drooping at his side.  I went to congratulate him on his first half marathon and for killing expectations by running a 1:54 debut.  He was definitely tired, blistered and spent, but most importantly, he was happy.  We spent the next hour or so talking about the race, what he thought about it, funny or interesting moments that happened between start and finish.  He sounded like a kid after his first roller coaster, detailing every loop and corkscrew.  Perhaps I could convince him to run others, I thought.

“Dude, I realized that this is an excellent reason to travel and visit new places,” he said, with that curious timbre of someone realizing something meaningful and profound.  “But I don’t think I’ll ever run the full thing ever.”

I’ve heard that before.  Maybe I’ll see him join the ward sooner than I thought.

Qué bien que la paso con ustedes.  Nos vemos en Boston!

Qué bien que la paso con ustedes. Nos vemos en Boston!

End of Year Recap (2014)

I can’t remember the last time I ran so little.  The last two months I’ve averaged around 8 to 12 miles a week, which is less than when I started running in March of 2009.  Even when injured, I’ve been able to routinely knock out at least 100 miles per month, with consistency being the name of the game.  But since November 1, I’ve decided to take it easy.  For once, finally.

Though it wasn’t my choice.

Recap_2014

The story is familiar to those who have been following my race stories.  In October, I tried to run two marathons in one weekend, and ended up aggravating my right IT band.  Four weeks later, I was scheduled to run a marathon, and instead of taking it easy, I decided to chase a fast time.  Despite my knee hurting for 22 miles, I managed a one-minute PR.  After that, I decided, it was time to rest.

miami-marathon-12-groupAnd rest I have.  This hasn’t been “rest” like diehard runners do, where they take two days off and then make up for the absence with hard intervals.  I’ve legitimately sat at home and let my trainers collect dust, even as picture perfect 45-degree days beckon me with perfectly blue skies.  Almost two months later, my right knee seems to be back to normal.  I haven’t fully tested it out, as I haven’t gone on any runs longer than 8 miles.  But so far, it feels great, fresh and ready for the challenges of the new year.  But before we can look forward, it’s fun to cast our glance backwards and see what the year on our feet has brought us.

2014-04-06 06.38.54This year didn’t quite have a defined purpose like theprevious ones have.  2011 was the year of the marathon, where I went beyond the one-a-year mindset and began exploring the distance in depth.  2012 was the year of geography, with states being added to the log like cereal boxes in a shopping cart.  2013 was the year of the ultra and that mythical realm beyond the banner marked 26.2.  This year, for better or worse, was a little scatterbrained.

There were new states, to be sure.  I ran through the deserts of New Mexico, past Midwestern monuments and 0503__albuquerqueon the shores of New England.  I ran on school campuses, Air Force bases and national parks.  There was an ultra thrown in for good measure (though my performance was far from good).  But most notably of all,  it was also a year for speed.  I lowered my 25-month old half marathon PR to 1:29 and inched ever closer to my Boston Qualifying time by notching a new marathon PR of 3:22.

Those last two stats are incredibly important for me.  I’m not just a runner because I like improving my times.  Though few of us like to admit it, there will eventually come a time when we simply can’t get faster.  It’s about self 0511_1_delawaremarathon 27improvement, be that longer distances, faster times or simply being the best runner that you can be.  For now, though, despite the dalliances in ultra distances and running certain races “for fun,” I’m still very much a competitive runner.  And that means running fast.

So though it might be tempting to remember 2014 as the year where I ran a 3:22 marathon while very injured, I’m confident that the history books will focus elsewhere.  Instead, I will remember how an otherwise nondescript excursion to Maryland became an opportunity to catch up with a good friend and meet her entire extended family.  I 2014-bighorntrail50k-11will fondly recall the trip to New Mexico, where I got together with old friends from college and new friend from the internet.  Memories of a brutal 50k and the generous friends who drove us across the state will always come up when I think of Wyoming, just as a lifelong friendship that started in high school will color my thoughts of Maine and New Hampshire.

And so, with my legs recovering from a pretty intense year, it’s time to look ahead to 2015, a year with a singularly ambitious goal: a Boston qualifying time.  As a known sandbagger, I don’t always like to publish my expectations, but with a goal as lofty as running a 3:04 marathon, I need to light multiple fires under my ass to make it happen.  About a month ago, I earned a spot at the 2015 Berlin Marathon, the fastest marathon in the world, and that is 0920_airforcemarathon 01where I will attempt my first ever BQ.  As monumental as that day will be, I won’t start it alone.

This is a point I can’t emphasize enough.  Though running itself is a lonely man’s game, this project of mine has been anything but lonesome.  Though I may not have known was 2014 was really “about,” it took a Christmas missive from a relative to put it all in perspective.  2014 was about solidarity, support and family.  From the outpouring of emotion at the Miami Marathon, run with a charity for my dearly departed uncle, to pacing my father-in-law at the Air Force Marathon, it was about using the sport to help 1004_sebagoothers.

Every state has written a new story about people, those who joined the race, offered kind words of support, opened their homes, or met me afterward for a sweaty drink.  This countrywide, soon to be global effort would mean nothing were it not for the truly wonderful people that have helped me with each and every race.  Runners sometimes get a bad rap for talking about their sport too much.  But if you felt this much love, I don’t see why you’d want to talk about anything else.

On your feet, everyone, always moving forward, onwards. 

Happy New Year, share your experiences, and look at that map!  Almost done!

RaceRaves is Live!

As someone who wants to run all over the United States and (hopefully, eventually) the world, I am always researching new races.  However, it’s not always easy.  Though a plethora of blogs and articles exist about races, they don’t always include the information I want.  Even large events, like New York and Chicago, can sometimes be plagued by a glut of information that can be cumbersome to sift through.

That’s where RaceRaves comes in.

raceraves-screenshot-main-page

The site is the brainchild of Mike from Blisters, Cramps & Heaves and his wife Katie.  They set out to create a space where runners could outline all of their races, rate them on several key components, and supplement those reviews with their own blogposts, pictures and videos.  The ultimate goal is to have a community where runners can discover new races, meet like-minded individuals and keep track of their achievements in one cohesive space.

Top of Profile Page: the animal icon next to my name is one of five options (Turtle, Horse, Goat, Cheetah and Camel)

Top of Profile Page: the animal icon next to my name is one of five options (Turtle, Horse, Goat, Cheetah and Camel)

Mike and Katie reached out to me in May of this year to help with the site’s functionality, features and look.  It has been a pleasure for me to collaborate with them on the user experience and to brainstorm big ideas for the future (and as you might have guessed, my profile on the site is already robust).  That’s because the site’s usefulness and appeal depend entirely on people like you and me.  If you’re the type of runner that is always excited about a getaway race or simply someone looking for a fun 10k in your state, this is the kind of site that will help you learn more about those opportunities.

Further down your profile, the site organizes your races according to PR, Future and Past races.

Further down your profile, the site organizes your races according to PR, Future and Past races.

But first we need people to sign up and help make this the community it can be.  As bloggers, we depend on each other for feedback, insight and perspectives on the sport.  Wordpress and Blogspot are only as useful as the people that write on their platforms, penning opinions and stories.  Those of us who write about running do so for many reasons, but one of the most crucial is to tell the world about that new race that made us suffer a wonderful myriad of emotions from gun to tape.  And yet, in three months, as we’ve continued writing, that story may be hard to find, even for your most dedicated readers.  RaceRaves aims to keep all of those stories in one place.

Past races, ordered chronologically, with results and overall ratings

Past races, ordered chronologically, with results and overall ratings

I am very excited by this site and I want it to be successful.  With a thriving community of runners and writers alike, it could become a hub for 50-staters and casual runners alike.  Please check it out if you’re interested and spread the word to your own readers and social circles.  For more information on RaceRaves, please read Mike’s post and feel free to post any questions or comments about it here or on his site.

 

State 42: Maine (2014 Maine “Half” Marathon)

I awoke on Sunday with a serious, credible issue in my right knee. My IT band was extremely tight and would complain loudly every time I raised it off the ground. It could bear weight, but the minute I sprung forward, it tingled with pain. The hilly and challenging New Hampshire Marathon had pulled something out of alignment and I had hoped against hope that a good night’s rest would somehow nudge all the pieces back to their original positions.

It hadn’t, and I was due to run another marathon in just two hours.

This marked the first time I saw the sun all weekend

This marked the first time I saw the sun all weekend

My friend Javier dropped me off at the start line about an hour before the race was to begin. I made use of that time by walking in circles, hoping to somehow shake off the pain, as if it were a pesky bug that had gotten caught in my leg hairs. As more runners arrived, I felt like I was doing something right. Lifting my leg so that my knee was almost touching my chest, I felt better. I even dashed for a hundred feet and the discomfort felt manageable.  Perhaps I would be able to survive this marathon after all.

It took just one tenth of a mile to crush my optimism like a mallet to an egg.

If I felt any sort of relief, it was gone by the time the smoke from the cannon had faded from the starting line. With hundreds of runners zipping by me, I stopped to walk just a minute into the race. The pain in my right knee was unbearable, sending acidic stings with every step, each one worse than the previous. In that moment, I knew that 26.1 more miles of this would be impossible, if not absolutely excruciating. In my hand I clenched my phone, which I had sealed in a ziploc bag, and every slow, stumbling step I took, I gripped it harder. It was my way out, my lifeline. I could use it to call Javier and this whole thing would be over. I had that power to drop out.  I just worried that I didn’t have the maturity.

Mile 4, by the sea

Mile 4, by the sea

I sent him a text message instead.  “This is not working out.”  It was like mental insurance, an early warning sign of things to come.  But I stopped just shy of using it to call for a rescue.

That first agonizing mile was slow.  Every time I broke into a run, pain would singe into my knee and I would be forced back to a walk.  In that time, the one thing I managed to do very quickly was burn through the five stages of grief.

Denial

This can’t be happening. This is my thing, running is MY thing, and I’ve proven to be pretty good at it. There’s no way that this pain is really such a big deal. I just need to keep running on it so it loosens up my knee.  After that, everything will just click. All pains eventually go away, so it’s just a matter of ignoring this little hiccup, steel yourself, use mind over matter, and pretend it doesn’t exist. Just keep going.

Anger

Ow, ow, ow, this is bullshit and not working. I absolutely killed my training for this without a single issue. There’s no reason why my knee should be hurting this much. It hasn’t ever been this bad. In fact, my right knee has NEVER hurt, so why start now? I didn’t even push myself yesterday and suddenly it’s punking out like it’s never experienced a race before? Unbelievable. Ow, ow, ow …

Bargaining

You know, if I switch my gait to my old, maligned heel-strike, then I can actually pick it up a little. Maybe I can stay with this run/walk business until the end. Can I hobble the full distance?  But then we’d miss our hotel check-out and Javier and his family would end up waiting far too long for me. I wouldn’t be able to shower either – is that such a bad thing though? Is it too much to ask a family of four to wait for five hours and then endure the mephitic odor of an unwashed runner in the car for another two? 

Depression

This sucks. This really sucks. I came all the way here and now I might have to bail. There’s a reason that many runners re-brand DNS from “Did Not Start” to “Did Nothing Stupid” and I’m about to discover just what Stupid is. Man, each step hurts; this is the worst. People are going to give me that smirk and tell me SEE? They KNEW running was bad for your knees, and the proof was in my pudding-like pace. I wish people would stop staring at me.  I know, I’m walking at the first mile, thanks for your concern, but please move along.  And on top of all that, I now have to come back to Maine eventually to re-do this state.

Acceptance

… or do I? This slower pace and awkward stride is actually working pretty well. In fact, check it out, I’m at mile 4. I can probably keep this up for another 9 miles, cut my losses, run a half marathon instead and stay on track for all fifty states. It wasn’t my original plan, but if I stop running and go home now, I’ll be very upset at myself. Am I alright with doing “just” a half marathon?  Yeah … yeah I’m okay with that.

(left to right at Sebago): Diego, me, Javier, Erin

(left to right at Sebago): Diego, me, Javier, Erin

I would love to say that a smile burst from my visage from that moment onward and I waltzed happily for the next nine miles. Instead, I was locked in a grimace, a vestigial emotion leftover from the Anger phase. Denial was quickly overcome – there was no getting past the obvious pain. I bargained with my goals and ultimately accepted that I would rather not crawl for five hours, kill my enjoyment of the event and ruin everyone’s plans. But anger would stick around for several thousand strides.

It wouldn’t be until mile 10 that I began to run fast again. I wasn’t in the clear, as my IT band was still pretty tight. But it was no longer feeling like it was getting squeezed. I even sped up to a 6:47 pace toward the end and only then did I let myself smile. Maybe I hadn’t really accepted what I was doing until this point, as if the last two hours had only existed to get my mind off what felt like cheating or giving up.

Lobster Roll at Sebago Brewpub

Lobster Roll at Sebago Brewpub

It took me a while to get over it. I thought of people like Steve, Danielle and Otter, who have gone on to finish long races with terrible, probably worse pains, crossing the timing mats often smiling and with absolutely no regrets. It made me wonder if they know something I don’t, or if their worldview is somehow more mature than mine. Maybe they’re just better actors.  A childish part of me believes that accomplishments are only worthy or important if someone else thinks they’re impressive. I know that’s not true, but I can’t help but think on it from time to time.

I wish I had been able to fully enjoy the friendly volunteers, the flanks of cheerful spectators who assured me that I was “looking good” and encouraged me by name to “keep it up.” I’m sure they had seen my scowl because I had never gotten that much dedicated attention before. It would have been nice to enjoy the picturesque neighborhoods that came alive to witness the stream of people flowing through them. I would have taken more time to breathe in the beautiful seaside vistas and wispy cirrus clouds vanishing into the horizon.  Because the race really was quite scenic and very well organized.

The Maine Marathon gives out enough swag to fill a Doomsday Prepper bunker

The Maine Marathon gives out enough swag to fill a Doomsday Prepper bunker.  And yes, that IS a can of baked beans.

But I did finish smiling. Oddly enough, part of me did have fun at this race, even if the majority of it was spent wincing and facing the possibility of dropping out. If the physical act of running weren’t fun by itself, then I wouldn’t have come all the way here in the first place. Though they were emotionally charged and far from graceful, the miles I ran in Portland were still miles run. And of course, beyond the race itself, there was plenty to enjoy. When I wasn’t running, I was spending a fun weekend with a good friend and his family, happily noshing on local seafood during a gorgeous time of year.

It’s a strange thing, dropping to half the distance.  As the day went on, I quickly forgot about the race, almost as if it had happened weeks ago.  Despite how much those early miles hurt, they didn’t seem to register in my mind.  Maybe my subconscious is already quite aware that I will come back to Maine for the distance I originally wanted to run.  But that comeback will have to wait, and for now, I’m happy with my memories of the Pine Tree State.  Though I will certainly look back on this trip as “the time I dropped to the half,” I will also remember Maine for many other reasons.  There was the lobster, the chance to reconnect with friends and the realization that these events can bring out more than just the strength in your legs and the sweat from your pores.

Onwards.

Marathon_Map 053 (ME)

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