A streak

This year, on New Year’s morning, I woke up with a light snow falling, and I asked Stephanie to go running with me.

She did, and that 2.5 mile run kicked off the year just right. I was able to run the next day, and the next. And soon, I had run through the whole week.

I know that some people join semi-formal ‘run streak’ challenges, to inspire themselves to do this kind of thing at times like the start of the year, or the holiday season, or the summer. I wasn’t really planning anything like this, it just felt nice to get in a run each day, and the puzzle of how to fit it in even with a full schedule was both interesting and enlightening.

But Friday the streak ended, after 24 straight days of running at least two miles a day. I had a late night at the office, snow was falling, I had dinner to cook, and then the biggest thing hanging over me was that on Monday afternoon, I have surgery scheduled.

The surgery is to remove a cyst which has apparently grown in the sinus above my upper left molars. It sort of snowballed from ‘an annoying bump in my mouth’ to ‘a possible root canal’ to ‘a consultation with a specialist at the University of Michigan Department of Maxillofacial Surgery’. It’s been a surprisingly short road to get to the point where monday I will be going in for a 2 hour surgery where they’ll remove three teeth, clean out the cyst, and biopsy it to determine/assure that it’s of a type with no further consequences.

So with that definitely ending the streak on Tuesday, I just didn’t have the gumption to go for it on Friday.

Once I’m recovered though, I have to start training for the Glass City Half Marathon, and the 6 mile leg of the Pittsburgh Marathon Relay that I’m running with my magnificent team mates in just a few short months. My hope is, based on the optimism and casualness with which this has been treated, that I’ll be back on the road after the prescribed 1 week recovery period.

As I post this, I have 9 minutes before I’m supposed to forgo solid food in advance of the surgery. For most, if not all, of the recovery, I’ll be on a liquid diet. 

What will I eat? How will I feel? when will I recover? Can I get the small amount of work I need to get done from home done next week? Will I be okay? Will this hurt? Will this surgery change me in some small but noticeable way that will make me feel off?

Writing this out is helping me keep my anxiety about all the ramifications. Questions are rushing through my brain, but knowing that it’s happening tomorrow is actually making it easier than when I wasn’t sure how long before I would be in the OR.

I’m proud of that streak though. 24 days of running!

I’ll try to be back next week, to post about the rest of my exciting running plans for the year.

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2012 and Negative Splits

Every race so far has been the race of my life. The best races are run in negative splits, and while that particular ideal is not something I always achieve, 2012 was a year where I ran ‘negative splits’ of sorts. I was faster in the second half of the year, than I ever was in the first.

Since my last post, I’ve run two races, and they were my two best ever. I ran the Detroit Free Press Half Marathon in 1:52:50. I ran the 5k at the Detroit Fifth Third Turkey Trot in 24:15. A few months later, I have to look those numbers up every time I try to recall them to assure myself that I didn’t make them up.

I would say that the times speak for themselves, but they most certainly don’t. While the 1:52:50 at Detroit was a PR by over 5 minutes, that sound bite doesn’t tell the story of the race. From start to finish, each of those races was a triumph, a day that felt like the best of my life.

Detroit was a blazing fast race on a perfect race day. I ran over the Ambassador Bridge as the sun rose over Windsor, and I was cheered on by strangers, as these things always are. Returning through the tunnel, I tucked my trusty saucony running beanie into the back of my running tights, out of which it fell, never to be seen again. After the race, Stephanie and I drank cold beer out of a cooler on the roof of a parking garage, swapping stories, offering congratulations, and extending sympathies with near strangers. I honestly couldn’t have been happier if I’d won the race. That camaraderie among runners is something that has snuck up on me, but I’m glad I’ve witnessed first hand now.

The 24:15 in the turkey trot, is almost a miracle. If you’ve ever run in a Turkey Trot in a big city, you know what I mean. With a field of over 20,000 runners, it would seem impossible to make any kind of PR attempt. But because I wanted to run the Turkey Trot (Steph and I both ran it that morning!) and I wanted to get an under 25 minute 5k, I made it work. Lining up in the first corral, surrounded by teenagers, by rail thin runners, by excited track teams from local schools, I felt alien. That was the right place to be though, within a few seconds from the front of the pack, because of how many people estimated wrong, or were just excited, but not determined. The first mile of the race was a melee. Moments from the start me and an exuberant passer exchanged flailing arms. Not long after that I had a ‘crossing ‘ runner step directly into my path and I had to push him with two hands to keep from crashing into him headlong.

But soon it opened up, and redlining my heartrate the whole way, I finished in that sweet sounding time. 24:15… under 25 minutes, with no room for doubt.

When I ran the “Run for the Detroit Zoo” two years ago, I proudly printed out and brought in a copy of the race result, and hung it on my wall. I circled my name in red, 4 places from the bottom of my age group, and wrote in large letters “NOT DEAD LAST!!!” which felt like a triumph at the time. Now, just a couple years later, out of the entire 5k field of over 11,000 runners, only 363 finished before me. In my age group, I was 19th place.

Every race I have run has been even more gratifying than the ones that have come before. I am almost sick with joy when I think about how lucky I am to have found so much self-affirming success with running. I know the improvements will taper off with time, I don’t think that the joy will.

There are times, especially lately, that I grapple with the stress of life, the constant distractions of keeping my head above water in a complex and competitive world. Running changes that for me. Perhaps the above reads like a comparison; like I’m looking to win. Please don’t misinterpret it that way. Instead just see that I am overwhelmed with the gifts that my body is giving me.

Musing on a taper week.

Monday was the first day of week 16 of a training plan that has succeeded, to a boring degree. I set my sights on a modest increase in my pace in the half marathon, and I’ll know soon if that training plan has succeeded. These 6 days are populated with a mere 11 miles of running.

With only the vaunted (or dreaded) taper remaining, that particular outcome is decided, but unknown. It is Schrodingers race. Right now it has both succeeded and failed, but I will not know until I open the box on Sunday morning and let loose all those tempo runs, all those mile repeats, and try to run 13.1 miles at an 8:43 pace and finish the Detroit Free Press Half Marathon in 1:54:xx.

Over the past few weeks, my training plan hit the 30+ mile weeks that I knew were coming. And at first glance, I felt like I did not do anything new. The plan was so similar to my Pittsburgh plan. And because it was so long, the differences snuck up on me. I haven’t tracked the milestones, but I have turned in some of the fastest, hardest and longest workouts of my entire life this training cycle, and I did it without feeling miserable.

I’ve adjusted my life, my sleeping schedule, and my attitude, to hit those key workouts. I’ve run in the rain, in the dark of night, in the hour before dawn. Things I didn’t do in my last plan, I did here. I did them to achieve a number most people don’t care about, something you can’t even explain. With breaking two hours, people got it. Now, it’s just another 5 minutes. But that is what is left to me, what I drive toward as long as my body will gain another 5 minutes, before I have to change my goals to a different kind of growth. Today I am young, and I am getting fitter, maybe too late to have ever seen what I was truly capable of, but certainly not too late to know what I am capable of now.

So this half marathon is not a milestone. It’s not my first, it’s not my first sub 2. It might be the next PR, but I won’t know that until Sunday. But at some point you go from laying your keystone, to laying just another brick in the wall, and I always said I was in this for the whole building.

Onederful.

Under_200_Collage

I did it.

Thursday morning I weighed in at 198.4 pounds. The first time, since perhaps my teens, that I’ve had a leading 1 on the scale. And it has stayed there, for 3 days. So it’s not just dehydration or a fluke. I’m actually under 200lbs.

Whether my height is 6’3″ or 6’4″ (I’m somewhere between) this also, coincidentally, marks the point where I drop under 25.0 BMI. Putting me in the normal range.

When I started this journey, in early 2010, I was 285lbs. My body fat was an estimated 30%, now down to about 17%. My BMI was a whopping 35.6, well into the obese range.

I haven’t talked very much about weight loss here, partially because I don’t know what to say about it. I have no secrets; my method was to run until I liked running, to train for race after race to keep my motivation up, to consciously say no to food, and to weigh myself daily to keep both those positive inputs at the right level. I hit plateaus, most recently at around 205 where I’ve been for a couple of months. I never hung my success on losing weight, especially when I hit a plateau. I kept doing what I was doing, and called more running, or faster paces, success.

I dreaded getting on the scale after a vacation or a weekend trip, knowing the spike that would come. Some mornings, I woke up feeling heavy, only to get on the scale to be rewarded with a drop I hadn’t expected. Sometimes that morning weigh in would be the only way to convince myself I didn’t need another snack before dinner, or a second glass of IPA. For some reason my mind viciously resists counting calories, but deals well with the daily feedback of a weight. Most days, it doesn’t weigh on my mind. (I will admit that each day since that first 19x.x photo, I did dread the next day.)

This isn’t a declaration of victory. I am not done with fitness, I know I never really can be, unless I want to go back to where I was. Instead, this is a celebration of what I have accomplished. I couldn’t have done this without all of you. The motivation and support from my friends (old and new) and family was as much a part of this process as the miles on the road.

Where am I going from here? Nowhere, really. 199 wasn’t a ‘target’. Nothing is going to change. I’m going to keep eating right, keep weighing in daily, and keep training for my next half marathon.

I wanted to get this milestone published. To celebrate how far I’ve come. Please forgive the scatterbrained writing and the childish collage.

The 2012 Detroit Free Press Half Marathon – Training

Committing to a running plan is, paradoxically, a relief for me, rather than an intimidating event. Writing the plan, or researching it, or picking a race, all of those tasks, that involve choice so heavily, are intimidating. With a choice, or worse, with dozens of small choices, I am faced with the reality that not only might I not make a good one, I will likely not make the best one. These are the kind of things that afflict those of us with nervous minds.

Once the plan is laid in, typed into the calendar, the goal race set, and the paces all determined, the relief is palpable. At last, no more choices! There is only “run” or “don’t run” and I know which one of those is the best choice.

My plan for the Detroit Free Press Half comes, lifted whole, from Runner’s World Smart Coach, a free iPhone app that takes a recent race result, a goal race, your basic training stats (miles per week, experience) and spits out a training plan. This is perfect for the symptoms described above. I signed up for Detroit because I didn’t get to do it last year, and when I was still agonizing over 5k and 10k for the summer, I realized that the 16 week window I had used for optimal training for Pittsburgh was creeping up for Detroit.

So I told the app to spit out a plan, and it did. 16 weeks of runs, with the three pillars being a long run, a workout, and 3 easy runs each week. It also features a drop back week every fourth week with only easy runs. To see the whole thing in detail, check out the plan over on the Training Calendar tab above.

My ability to stick to the plan may take some flexibility, as my current schedule is a little out of phase with Steph’s workouts, but it feels good to have a plan again. The Detroit Free Press half is in a few months, and I have no reason to believe I won’t show up there with another sub 2 half. And if it goes well, maybe another incremental PR.

That said, I think there’s some room in the plan for using a 5k or 10k as a check-in race, but I’m not sure I want to go down the road of looking for one again. My indecision shines through when I start that process.

Lying to myself

I have decided, as I noted in my last post, to move straight into training for the Detroit Free Press Half Marathon, later this fall. Having that very distant race as a goal let me set up a plan with the full 16 week training that got me my sub 2 hour race at Pittsburgh. Plus, it took away the stress of finding a 5k, which was bothering me way more than the actual idea of running one as hard as I could. When I realized that, the choice was easy. Back to the headline though; It wasn’t speed that I have been lying to myself about. It wasn’t training plans. It wasn’t even the validity of stopwatching myself on a wheeled course and calling that a 5k PR.

It was milkshakes.

Yes, milkshakes. Or pizza. Or cheeseburgers, or tall beers and appetizers. Or just stopping around the next corner, or at the upcoming driveway.

You have to understand. My long run yesterday was a scorcher. It was 90+ degrees, and nothing about running in the Midwest trains you to run in heat. I started out with the spring in my step that coffee and sunshine give me. I felt the first mile breeze past, arrogantly thinking “10:20 easy pace seems so slow, why, I’m warming up and I’m happily under 10:00”. Soon, all my optimism about training paces, and racing goals was just melted out of me. At mile 2, before I turned around, I was counting the distance back to my car, and the water fountain nearby. By mile 3, I had started making alternate plans; fantasizing about stopping a car or a bike rider and asking them for water. I finally stopped in a bathroom to get a drink of water from the sink, only found out that this restroom was not a full bathroom but a latrine style unplumbed building. That’s when I started lying to myself.

“You can have a cheeseburger for lunch. With fries. And a beer. You just need to get back to the car, and you’ll be near 6 miles. Then just three more. I swear, you can have an appetizer before the cheeseburger. Dessert after too. And a milkshake. Maybe they have milkshakes at Twisted Rooster. If they don’t, you can get one on the way home. But if you stop at the car, you have to go home and eat cereal for lunch. You want a cheeseburger, don’t you?”

Normally I’m a little more subtle than this, but my audience was pretty fatigued so I don’t think they noticed either:

A.) My blatant bribery.

B.) The sickening amount of calories I had just promised myself. (Way more than a measly 3 mile extension would justify.)

C.) That I was completely lying.

The rest of the run was a slog. A slog that slowed to a walk at times, and even if I lie to myself, I’ll be honest to you. I haven’t stopped to walk during a run in recent memory, and I didn’t want to stop then. The heat made my decision for me.

And at the end, what did I get? I got a burger, no cheese. Side of asparagus. A pint of Bell’s Oberon. Quite a bit of food for lunch, though I ended up having a light dinner in recompense.

No milkshakes. Lying bastard.

The Next Big Thing

I read some time ago on “Eat Drink And Run” old coach’s advice that fast summer 5Ks make for good fall marathons. I have never really had a coach, since I came to running long after school. So I assumed that the same goes for half marathons, and I wanted to test that theory this year, get my 5k and 10k times on the books, and rev myself up for the fall. As of now, my 10k PR is the split from either of my recent half marathons.

However, it hasn’t worked out. I know that running is a matter of planning and hard work and not inspiration. But despite looking around, I just have not found a 5k race that lined up with my schedule, the time I’d need to train, and my needs for a race. Prime among those needs is a USATF certified course and chip timing. I need the “official-ness” of my official time!

When counting the weeks for those races I started to realize that my big fall race, my first running of the Detroit Free Press Half, is edging closer to the full training plan horizon. In fact, if I start a 16 week plan next week, for my birthday, it lines up perfectly with Oct 21st.

So instead of training for a 5k or 10k this summer, and rushing through a slapdash 6 week plan, I’m going to set my eyes on the Freep Half. A 5k or 10k check-in race along the way will give me a modest PR, and when I’m planning my calendar next year, I’ll more mindfully lay out my summer speed plan to get the best time I can.

Maybe I’ll even start thinking about that marathon that everyone has been bugging me to run. I said I wouldn’t consider it until I was 33. I turn 32 next Wednesday.

The 2012 Pittsburgh Half Marathon

Paranoia or precognition always wakes me up in the seconds before my alarm on race day. You would need a full military rendition of Reveille to get me out of bed before 7am on a weekday, but on a Sunday morning, when I have a race, my eyes snap wide at 10 minutes to 5. Bolstered by a cup of coffee, a banana, and an english muffin with peanut butter, I set out.

In tow, I had the best kind of friends you can ask for. The kind that don’t summarily shoot you when you ask them to wake up at 5am to support your silly quest to cover a certain distance in a certain time. There’s something remarkable about people who come out to support a friend for a race, and I’m so grateful to Annette, Sheryl and my incomparable wife Stephanie for being there when I woke up and got in the car.

We rode downtown with Franz Ferdinand explaining the world to us (“It’s always better on holiday/So much better on holiday/that’s why only work when/we need the money.”). I tried to keep my mind on anything, but mostly was feeling a curious combination of anxiety and relaxation that is now pretty much familiar on a race morning. Like it’s a series of steps that I execute, and to my surprise, at the end, I’ve run a race. Wake up. Eat. Drink a mug of coffee. Drive. Park. Walk. Wait. Run. Collect medal. Drink gatorade. In the hours before the race, that kind of blur is comforting.

As the opening gun drew nearer, thousands of us runners made our way across bridges and through the pre-dawn streets of Pittsburgh to the intersection of Liberty & Stanwix St, where the corrals seemed to come to a gathering point. (B, C, and D spread out from that intersection in a triangle. The blur started to lift once we took position on the sidewalk near corral D, and my friends helped to keep my spirits high. Annette and I attempted to photobomb nearby athletes, and to my great delight, nobody punched me for doing so. We discussed the places where the girls would try to find me to cheer me on. I joked that one of them didn’t seem so far away; less than 5 miles, which I was sure I could run in my sleep. The sun rose out toward the start line, 3 corrals and thousands of people away. The air was cool then; I had put on my long sleeve race shirt from that year to walk around in, but the clear sky (and the internet) foretold a day that would warm up faster than you’d want a race day to do.

That couldn’t be helped, or changed, and wasn’t even in my mind. I felt ready, after a training plan I haven’t shared much of with you, but which had me running faster and more confident each week. The long rest, because I managed to miss a few runs, didn’t bother me at all. My legs felt fresh.

I gobbled a peanutbutter gu, and left Steph, Annette and Sheryl to make their way to the crowds along the start line. I got into the corral with plenty of time before the gun. Energy runs between the bodies in a race corral; there’s a hum as people mutter the same conversation in a hundred places. The weather, the time, the course. I strained to eavesdrop, to find someone saying the magical words “2 hours”. A kindred spirit, trying the same goal as I was. Surveying the crowd backward and forward, I saw only one pace team sign, a 2:10 behind me. Unable to recall what pace I had indicated when registering for the race, I eased forward through the crowd, stopping now and again to bounce with nervous energy. The announcer was closer this year than last year, so instead of the tide of the crowd, I actually heard what was going on as they called corrals up to the start line and set them free. Each announcement got me closer, but this time, near the front of the D/E corrals, I actually walked to within line of sight of the start line, almost 10 minutes after the starting gun, before they set us loose.

I don’t remember an airhorn, or a gun, though. Even this close to the line, having heard the announcer call us to place, the release was unceremonious and suddenly the thousands of us are running.

Shortly after the start line I passed what looked like a very surprised set of girls, and they got their first pictures. You can tell by how everyone is staring at the camera just how much noise they are making!

The frantic hand waving also might have been part of it. But you know my cheer squad was something special to get all that attention from folks in the background.

So there I am, fresh faced and in the foreground, less than a mile on my feet. I cleared the streets of downtown, my Garmin lost in the buildings, happily reporting I was running a 5 minute mile as signals refracted off of a million surfaces. I remembered this section from the prior year, the streets lined with people, the feeling of amazement of a crowd with such purpose, pouring out into the Strip District. First, was the less than scenic section; a huge underpass, followed by the warehouse district next to the food and fun destination that is the Strip. Buildings with huge steel sides and tiny little signs reading out business names no one but the people right before and after them in the supply chain know. Along there were the mile 1 porta potties, which, to my continuing amazement, always have a 5 deep line at them. Certainly it’s just nerves, or the inevitable problems that only takes 50 people in 25,000 to populate those lines, but I always wonder if maybe they just forgot that they’d be running a race that morning and didn’t make a pit stop at the dozens of similar stops before the clock started!

It is smart of the organizers to get us through this part of the race quickly; any race has it’s lulls, and there’s enough energy in mile 1 & 2 to cover a less than stellar scenery, and any gap was filled by a few of the bands playing to inspire the crowds and the runners. As I clocked through mile 1, my watch, which had still not regained it’s sanity regarding pace, was at least able to report that reaching the mile 1 post had taken 9:20 seconds. That pace, for those of you doing the math at home, would be more than 2 minutes too slow to finish in 2 hours. But if you’ve ever run a big city race, you also know that mile 1 is by far the slowest, as paces shake out, legs wake up, and the swamps of crowds thin to the manageable waters of the later miles. I wasn’t worried.

Mile two ticked over in the Strip District, where, I am sad to report, I did not see a SINGLE person in a Rock Lobster costume. The scents and sights of the Strip were, last year, the first that really felt like capital-P-Pittsburgh to Brian & I, and the same held true on my own now. The end of the strip though gives way to a landmark, and among the most memorable parts of the course. The first of five bridges on the course. The 16th street bridge was where I found my first ‘nemesis’ last year; a shirt that challenged me “Don’t Be Last”. This year, because of my aforementioned uncertainty in pace, I was picking people off too fast to have a nemesis, which I assure you is a good problem to have. Around this time, I tried to pick one, actually two, in the form of swinging-ponytail girls, in the same style pink & blue tank tops. These, the first of many, were passed within a half mile or so, as the 16th street bridge marked mile 3 (this mile, and the last, were both sub 9 minute miles, 8:50 and 8:57 respectively). Crossing that bridge, and nearing the place where I recalled the ‘elite fueling station’ being cleaned up last year, I ate my first gu of the race, and second of the morning, hunting up a cup of water to wash it down at the next aid station.

This year, instead of the 16th street bridge being followed up by a trek through the North Side, it was broken up by two more bridges; crossings of the Rachel Carson and Andy Warhol bridges (two of the three sisters). Having dashed across these the prior day while photo-stalking Steph, Sheryl & Annette in the 5k race, I felt a big feeling of accomplishment crossing these iconic yellow-painted steel bridges. This was further bolstered by seeing the girls here for the second time along the route.

The excitement of seeing them made me miss hitting lap on my watch for mile 5, so all I know is that mile 5-6 averaged out to about 8:53 a mile; well on schedule for my goal.

That section (mile 5) once again contained the amazing folks of the Urban Impact Choir at East Commons & East Ohio Street. I don’t know if they sing in shifts, or if those amazing souls are doing their own marathon of song, but they are truly the best of us, no matter what. Those voices in song gave me a great lift as I proceeded through the North Side. I saw the relay exchange at mile 5.5, and soon those fresh-legged relay runners were overtaking me as I crossed the West End Bridge. Crossing 6 miles, I got out another gu packet, but I wasn’t looking forward to it. So I ate it in little bites, which I nibbled on for the next two miles. I heard two folks discussing the Tiger’s baseball season as I came over the bridge. The mile 7 flags were just over the other side and up the hill.

All of this is before the run started to get hard. Mile 8 ticked over, and I remembered quipping that I could run 5 miles in my sleep to Stephanie that morning. That 5 miles joke, and a crowd of JROTC offering sorely needed high fives, on a big uphill, got me through a lonely mile until Station Square and mile 9. The mile 9 banner was cruelly manufactured; the font chosen made the 9 look maddeningly like an 8. Nor was I the only one fooled; runners around me murmured in exhaustion that it had to be a 9, and attributed it to heat or hallucination. But even the spectators were fooled. Someone yelled out “Just 5 more miles, half marathoners!” as we neared the flag. I got a good laugh out of that.

Now, with 4 miles to the finish, I hadn’t looked at my watch except to see splits, but I had started to see splits that worried me. Mile 9 itself was a 9:06. On pace, but not fast. I knew the South Side, and the double digits were coming, but the heat was startingI ran into the South Side, and the crowds along Carson Street were energizing, including some of the best high fives I’ve gotten. The aid station at mile 9 I grabbed a cup near the end, intending to skip future ones. But the heat was catching up with me, and the carbs from the GU were not settling well in my stomach. I didn’t get distressed, but I couldn’t eat more. Mile 10 was the most worrisome split yet, a painful 9:27. I knew I needed to stay in the low 9’s to keep my goal alive, but I didn’t dare look at the watch and start doing the calculations. I just focused on how I felt. At the last minute running through the second aid station in this stretch (these fluid stops were only 1.5 miles apart!) I tried to grab water at the end of the mile 10.x station, heading into East Carson and the South Side, but I didn’t make the decision in time, and missed the last cup. East Carson was a pleasure, though my fellow racers were too tired to reflect my good will, I shouted good luck to the marathoners as they split off from us. I shouted encouragement to my neighbors now that we were in the double digit miles!

And then came the Birmingham Bridge.

I don’t think the elevation chart they published accounted for the bridge and the elevation of Boulevard of the Allies. Or if it did, it didn’t do it right. To do it right, you’d have to draw the elevation chart with a little devil tail, and horns, and a pitchfork, and a cruel smile. The sun shone brightly by now, certainly nearing 9am, and the temperature rose as we moved onto a bridge bare of spectators. Some crazy, lovely, generous people were giving out pretzel rods and twizzlers across that bridge, after mile 11 came and went, and if I had any sense about me, I would have grabbed one or the other. Still, the good will from Carson Street helped me turn mile 11 in at an 8:52 pace. On the bridge I also “met” my rabbit for the last two miles. A guy in a grey shirt and black shorts who I traded places with repeatedly over the ups and downs of the last 5k. On a downhill, he would stride past me, and then slow down and I would pass him on the uphill.

Boulevard of the Allies is what we used to call a cattle chute. Jersey barriers on each side, elevated high enough to have an excellent Pittsburgh view, but not exactly thick with spectators. And it’s high; a tough climb with so many miles on my legs. My rabbit and I traded places here again, and I remember seeing a few brave cheerers along the barriers of the Boulevard, and distinctly remember thanking them for their great support. And while those great few were a huge help, the best was yet to come. Just after mile 12, I stopped looking at my watch (though I did take the split, I just didn’t look at it, knowing that one way or another, the day was won or lost). Almost as if in reward for my self control, we rounded the bend from the elevated portion of Boulevard of the Allies and onto the city street. From the top of that rise, you could see the whole 4 lane wide parade route of the Boulevard spreading down with crowds on either side, and the bright yellow of the finish line less than a mile away. I called out to the folks around me, who again seemed underwhelmed by my surge of energy. That energy turned into a hard run down toward the crowds of the finish.

That last mile flew by. I remember shouting out to the crowds, and receiving roars and applause in response. The last tenth was an uphill to the finish line, but I saw the girls for the last time near then, and their cheers buoyed me to the end.

Here I am, partially eclipsed by another runner sprinting to the finish. You can see me tilting my head back to shout out for the great crowd support.

I even remembered to keep my hands up, and my smile wide, as I hit the finish. My finish line photo might even be good enough to buy, as a result.

The real payoff though, was 3 seconds later, when I stopped my watch and saw a number that left no doubt. 1:57:59 on the watch, later clarified to an official 1:57:56 from the chip time. I had done it. A solid 2 minutes under 2 hours!

I started whooping in the finish chute, runners around me unentertained by my apparent continued energy, but who cares! I had done it! In less than a year, I went from having never run 13.1, to 2:18:17, down to 1:57:56. I leaned down to accept my medal from an adorable little girl who was helping the finish line volunteers out. Shouting thanks to everyone, I floated on the tide of people that brought me to bananas, bagels, water and gatorade.

During the race and at the finish I thanked every volunteer I could see, but I want to take the space here to thank them again. This race was run better than any of my other races so far, with well stocked aid ad fluid stations, great communication, a huge and well supported expo, a million little innovations. There were QR tags on your bib for official times, screen printing bibs onto white shirts at the expo! The events organization and planning for this family of races was top notch. Thank you Pittsburgh!

Still devouring my second cinnamon crunch bagel, and my arms overflowing with post race fuel, I lined up for a post race massage. Because nearly no marathoners were finished yet, and only a percentage of the half marathoners were, the line looked quite reasonable! I filled out a waiver with hands shaking from exertion, my already miserable handwriting reduced to illegible scratches.

Just before ducking into the cool interior of the massage tent, Steph found me, bouncing with excitement. I was subdued, wanting to wait for chip times, but Stephanie had received a text with a finish time just after I crossed the line, making it official enough to celebrate! Annette had come with a great way to do that, in the form of a hot funnel cake. I ended up getting my massage, while the treacherous girls ate my funnel cake. Much to my disappointment my masseus was a petite black girl, not one of the three burly truckers I saw as I entered. If its going to be all candles and Enya, soft hands and a quiet voice are great. But after 13.1 miles give me a guy with a refrigerator silhouette and no mercy.

My stomach was pretty sick of carbs, and the Eat’n’Park Smiley Cookie is not that great on a good day, so you can kind of understand my face in this picture. (So much for victory tasting sweet)

We headed back to the car, and I faced something I haven’t before; strong waves of post race nausea. Just after this great photo on the Roberto Clemente Bridge on the way back to the car, I made the girls stop because I felt like there was a serious risk I would throw up. I think most of it came from devouring a ton of carb heavy food.

At home I showered and tried to find something to settle my stomach, before heading to Burgatory for another bout of post-race gluttony, this one way more delicious but perhaps as ill advised as my banana/bagel/cookie/funnel cake bender that morning. On the drive home I was exhausted and nauseous, fighting a weekend of heavy food, and heavy exertion.

Arriving at home all I wanted was a light dinner (I had fruit and crackers, seriously) and to sleep. That’s where my Pittsburgh Half Marathon story ends; with a 12 hour burger coma. I woke up at 11am Monday, a little worse for wear, but entirely guilt free.

The other side of the hill

Certainly, whether you’re a runner, or just a person who has taken the stairs instead of the elevator, you know the feeling when you crest the hill and the climb is over.

In more than one way, this week is that for me.

The Pittsburgh Half Marathon is in the morning. My training was 100% on target until these last two weeks, when work intruded on multiple of my runs. The worst casualty was my last hard speed workout, where a Thursday night run last week that was supposed to be 10 miles turned into an unwilling rest day when I got home from the office at 10pm. Up until about 8:30, I was still convinced that I was going to manage to get out and clock it anyway. But it was already once I felt trained. With the few runs being so close to the main event, I didn’t feel like I was losing out, more like the universe had said “let’s taper a little more than the Runner’s World App said to.”

As stable as my running career has been, my engineering career has been volatile. At the beginning of March, my direct supervisor announced he was moving on to a career leadership program. For most of March and April I’ve been riding the roller-coaster of that change at work. At first, what does this change mean? Next, how do I show that I’m the best one for this job? Then doubts, stress, preparation, agonizing amounts of patience, and finally, a few weeks ago, a respected friend and colleague of mine and I found the perfect solution. After interviewing separately for the job, we agreed to apply jointly. And, as of this Tuesday, we are officially job sharing the supervisor role. This past Monday was the last Monday I’ll work for the foreseeable future, as I move to a part-time (Tue-Fri) schedule, while taking a big promotion to the management team at Ford.

I feel very fortunate. Life isn’t always so kind as to give us exactly what we need, regardless of whether we foresaw that need ourselves. This promotion could have been a life-changing amount of stress, and a lonely road as I learned the ins and outs of managing a team. The job share solution ameliorates that in two ways; giving me the flexibility to manage my stress and load through the part time schedule, and giving me a partner to share the hike up the learning curve.

With that taking effect, and the race travel winding up and dropping me here, in Pittsburgh, hours before the race, I truly feel that I am at the crest of a ridge, looking out over someplace new. It’s a triumphant feeling, but not entirely without trepidation. Tomorrow morning, I’ll know if this hard Spring training plan paid off. And once that immediate challenge is over, I get to take on something I’ve looked forward to for a long time, professionally.

My bib number is 22818, and the race website was offering live tracking, if you want to play along at home. No live tracking on the new job, but I think you can assume you’ll hear about it here. As Brit said in comment to my last post, I’ll need the constancy of running during this exciting time, and I think that experience; the meditation afforded me during a long run, will make for some interesting blog posts.

8.5 hours to the Pittsburgh Half Marathon. I’m trusting my training when I say 10.49 hours to the finish line.

Wish me luck, folks.

When training takes a back seat

Sure, this could be a post to say that I haven’t kept up with my goals, that I haven’t stuck to my plan and earnestly recommitting myself to my half marathon plan with just a month to go before I toe the start line at the Pittsburgh Half Marathon nice again.

But that’s not necessary, because despite not writing about it, I have been running. I haven’t missed a single workout through the entire training plan. I just haven’t been writing about it. And rather than getting all tearful and “dear diary” about it, I’m just going to admit I’ve been plenty motivated without the blog. So when I say in my title that training has taken a back seat, I really just mean that it’s not up front, arguing with me about directions and whining for bathroom breaks. It’s in the back seat, getting to the destination. Along for the ride.

I’ve had some great runs these past few weeks, mostly in the form of my increasingly-brutal, wouldn’t-miss-it-for-the-world, speedwork each Thursday. Last one was 4 mile repeats at a pace I didn’t think I could hang for a 1/4 mile, never mind 4 mile long intervals. My tempo run, this coming Thursday is set to be among my longest, fastest runs yet; 5 miles at 8:56, very near my targeted race pace for the Pittsburgh Half.

My weight loss broke another plateau this week and I’m down in the 205-210 range; approaching the normal BMI range for the what seems likely to be the first time since college. I am struggling with some issues surrounding that weight loss and my feelings about it; something I want to write about more soon.

Ultimately all this unabashed good news in the areas of health and fitness is, like I said, riding along with a lot of career/work concerns that are really steering the ship. My boss announced he was leaving his current position at the beginning of March, and the time since then has been a tumult of speculation, application, interviewing and rumor as my colleagues and I all grasped at something that’s been rather sparse of late; a big opportunity to advance. Without running, I think I’d be handling myself with less grace and composure right now. I’ve gotten some great thinking done on the 5 mile runs that dominated my plan this week, and I look forward to the control of my situation that running gives me every time I step out the door.

My goal for tonight is not to let this one languish in the draft folder, so forgive the rough edges. 4 miles tomorrow. 26 days to the Pittsburgh Half.