Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The double -- yes, I know what you're thinking...

So I got a little nutty. A couple of months ago on the Half Fanatics bulletin board someone posted the a message with the headline "THANKSGIVING WEEKEND QUAD IN SEATTLE!!!"

It was like a car wreck -- I couldn't NOT read it. And then start daydreaming about it. Four half marathons in four days? Insane! But interesting!

Fortunately, probably, the race director of the third race decided not to offer a half marathon option (despite being a loop course...) -- so I put it from my mind.

But I did keep thinking about doing a double: the Ghost of Seattle on Saturday, and the Seattle Half on Sunday.

Would I be ready to run 13.1 3 weeks after the NYC Marathon? And another 13.1 the day after that? I wasn't sure. So I printed out the application for the Ghost, and filled out the application for the Seattle Half, and pondered.

We came home from NYC and I felt okay within a few days... so I decided to just go for it. Why not?

Registered on the last possible day for the Seattle Half... the day after I sent in my check for the Ghost. Crazy...

Thursday, November 25, 2010


Snowstorm on Monday -- and the resulting 4+ hour commute -- made me extra glad for the snow day on Tuesday... and hesitant to drive into the office on Wednesday. More snow Wednesday night meant I wasn't super keen on braving the roads for our family get together for Thanksgiving / Charley's birthday. Instead, we hunkered down, watched Glee, and had a little feast of our own. Very cozy.

Busy weekend coming up -- the Ghost of Seattle Half on Saturday morning, and the Seattle Half on Sunday. These races are really just aimed at checking boxes -- the Ghost will be my 8th half marathon of the year, which would earn me my second moon. But if I finish both races, I'll be promoted to 4 moons. Not fast, just quietly moving along. Weather permitting, of course...

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

NYC Marathon Race Report

We had unfortunately been assigned to the "Green" course.... which meant that we didn't get to run across the top of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge... you know, the famous picture of the masses of runners streaming across it? Well, we were on the lower deck. Bummer.

So we started the race with the biggest hill of the race -- up up up to the apex of the big bridge. I remembered sailing under it on the QE2 years ago, so I knew how high it must have been. As it was just past the start, things were pretty crowded so we just kept moving. The wind at that altitude was very strong, too -- making the bridge the single coldest point of the race. We may have actually been better off on the lower deck... then again, we didn't have the sunshine.

But soon we were on the downhill slope, and saying farewell to Staten Island... how nice to get one borough completed so quickly! On into Brooklyn, where we ran on an expressway for a while, before winding our way up to 4th avenue. The whole way we were greeted by cheering crowds, but 4th avenue was special. Tons of kids -- which led to lots and lots of high-fiving -- and plenty of music and dancing. By this point I was warm and loose and feeling surprisingly good for not having run a step in 4 weeks.

At one point we met up with a woman called Lizzie, visiting from Ireland to run her tenth NYC Marathon. We chatted with her for a while and she asked if she could run with us because she wanted to finish in 5:30. Of course, we had no idea what we were planning on -- and apparently at that point were well ahead of a 5:30 pace -- so we went our separate ways. On we went, at one point passing a band that looked suspiciously like Blues Traveler (who were also playing a show that night). But who knows?

I will say that, while there were lots of bands along the route, there weren't nearly as many as along a Rock 'n' Roll marathon route. Then again, there were exponentially more fans, so what's more important?

Finally, at mile 8 all three courses blended and we ran as one. Again, felt really good here. We were passing people and being passed, but for the most part moving slightly faster than the people around us. We turned on Lafayette and passed several houses with parties and barbecues in their front yards. It was clear that people treated the race as a huge rolling block party -- as an event to be celebrated rather than an annoyance to be tolerated. Well, until we turned into Williamsburg, a traditionally Hasidic neighborhood that has requested that the race be routed around them. So it was pretty quiet through there -- though we did see a couple of young mothers with their children sitting on stoops, smiling shyly.

Then a couple more turns and we were headed to the Pulaski bridge, crossing into Queens. We had spent much of Brooklyn running near the Blues Brothers, and stopped to snap photos of them (and they of us) as we crossed the bridge with the gorgeous Manhattan skyline in the distance. We crossed the halfway point in 2:36, a completely acceptable half marathon time for us, and I still felt remarkably good.

To be frank, I don't have a lot of memories of Queens, good or bad. I seem to recall passing streets lined with shops (rather than residential streets), but perhaps that was actually in Brooklyn. Who knows?!? I also remember sighting "TNT Elvis" -- a guy who raises money for Team in Training and runs in an Elvis jumpsuit. (Duh, right? What else would TNT Elvis wear?) The nicest touch is that the sequins are all purple and green. Sweet. We just kept running and running, and suddenly headed onto the Queensboro bridge. Three boroughs down, two to go.

Queensboro was a steep hill up as well -- we weren't the only ones who decided just to walk the whole way up. (It's always a bit amusing to pass people "running" while you're walking up a hill.) I laughed because it reminded me of scenes from Grand Theft Auto 3 Liberty City. Except the police weren't chasing us. Which is a good thing, because it would have been difficult to elude them.

We came down the super-steep bridge ramp and hit Manhattan for the first time. A roar came off the crowd, someone shouted "Welcome to Manhattan! Three down, two to go!" and we all whooped. One woman -- a short but broad woman built a tiny bit like Sponge Bob -- who we had been with since Brooklyn (seriously), with "Moskie" or something like that on her shirt, snarled, "Yeah, but it's not First Avenue yet."

Okay, another hundred feet or so and we turned on to First Avenue. (Happy now, Moskie?)

I had always been told that running down First Avenue in Manhattan is a huge thrill -- that the screaming crowds are 6 or 7 deep for blocks and blocks. But I figured that while that might be true for the frontrunners -- or even the medium runners -- that it wouldn't be true for us slow but steady types. Boy, was I wrong. The wall of sound that came off the people was amazing -- people packed up against the barricades on both sides of the street, just shouting and cheering. It completely perked me up.
That said, First Avenue stretched on and on and on...but at least it felt mainly like a long, slow downhill slide to the Bronx.

Everyone had always said that the Bronx was the hardest part -- not because of the terrain, or the roads, but just the placement of the course. You leave Manhattan and cross into the Bronx just before mile 20, and cross back into Manhattan just before mile 21. Mile 20 is, for many runners, The Wall. The NYRR had done well -- placing a gel stop around mile 17 or 18 so that everyone got some fuel to help them "smash the wall". And the Bronx had done extremely well, calling themselves "the Boogie-Down Bronx" and having what seemed like more music and dancers along their mile than along any other spot. I barely remember the Bronx -- other than seeing the dancers, doing the hand motions to some song as we headed out of the borough, and of course seeing my new favorite race sign:


We crossed back into Manhattan in Harlem -- and were greeted by gospel choirs, lots of friendly faces, and little old ladies handing out paper towels. I think it all caught up to me right around this point. I nearly tripped over one of those cord-cover things... which made me realize I wasn't picking up my feet at all. That said, I knew that with under 5 miles to go, I would finish, so it wasn't as if I was worried... I was just tired.

A few turns to skirt a park and we started heading up 5th Avenue. My fatigue had really hit me at this point. And the crowds were certainly thinner as we approached the park. And did I mention that it's essentially one long hill? I had slowly reduced our pace from our standard 5:1s to 3:1s and now 2:1s... but by the time we hit the last few blocks before the park I was pretty much just walking. Again, I was tired, but I knew I would finish, so I was okay. Not sure if that makes sense... but it's how I felt.

We turned in to Central Park near the reservoir and ran on the downhills and walked on the uphills. Wil was awesome, as usual, and kept me moving -- and smiling -- the whole way. We passed the 40 km marker... and shortly thereafter the 25 mile marker, and felt buoyed by them. Not buoyed enough to run, mind you, but happy.

We left the park for the little stretch along Central Park South and headed past some real troopers -- I mean, those people just have been there for hours. We also were joined by a man wearing a Spider-Man outfit at this point, oddly enough.

Then the turn at Columbus Circle and back into the park. Usually at the end of a race you see the "13 mile" or the "26 mile" mark and, no matter how bad you feel, you can pick yourself up for a "sprint" to the finish. I always think back to the guy at my first triathlon -- a sub-elite so much faster than me that he was returning from his bike leg before I even got on my bike... and was packing up when I was going out for my run. He looked at me and said, "Leave nothing in the tank" -- which Wil and I always say to each other as we hold hands and run across the line.

In New York, however, the 26 mile marker came on a curve -- and the finish line was invisible. While I tried to do the math in my exhausted head ("Point two of a mile... how long is that?!?") I couldn't make myself run. I think the tank was pretty much empty. But a few more steps and we could see the finish line -- three chutes wide. I grabbed Wil's hand and ran as fast as my tired legs could carry me. (Not very fast.)

I remember bursting into tears -- happy tears, but tears -- and hugging and kissing Wil. I also remember the volunteer with the medals beckoning us to come to him, and handing Wil a medal to place on me, and then handing me one to place on Wil. Very sweet. (This makes me tear up even now...)

Then I remember space blankets -- glorious mylar heat sheets -- which we all tied on in a variety of styles. Then we were handed bags of food -- none of this picking slowly through boxes of bagels. Nope -- here's your bag of food, now move along. Perfectly efficient!

We had to trudge a very long way, and people were moving very very slowly. It was also getting cold very quickly.

See, between the time change and the late start, one of my goals (besides just finishing) was to finish before sunset. We managed that, but it took us so long to get out of the park, that by the time we emerged into the street it was dark and very cold.

One really nice post-race story -- Wil overheard a man ask a woman if he could borrow her phone. She hesitated and then said no... but then felt bad and explained that it's because she was from New Zealand, and it was one thing to pay international roaming to call her mom, but another to give the phone to a stranger. Wil volunteered his phone, and the man made a quick call. We asked him how his race went, and he said he'd been a bit slower than he had hoped -- and that he had gotten separated from his girlfriend, but that they had made arrangements to meet and he was just confirming.

We told him congratulations, and he said something about we didn't know how appropriate that was. We hesitated -- was he a heart-transplant-recipient? An amputee? A cancer survivor? He saw our hesitation and said, "Oh, well, I was hoping to finish with my girlfriend and propose at the finish line." Awww. We wished him all the best, and went our separate ways.

On the way back to the apartment we passed some young Brits, who said, "How are you walking normally?!?" Ah, practice. Just practice.

We went home, had showers, and headed out for our well-earned massages. Fantastic day!

When I think about the race I'll always remember the sound of the crowd, the amazing numbers of cups at the giant water stops, running in a huge group, and the feeling that you were in a city that LOVED the marathon. I don't expect to run the race again-- heck, I don't expect to run another full marathon! -- but I am thrilled to have run what has to be one of the world's greatest races.

For posterity (or as least as long as the link is live...), here's the course map of the 2011 NYC Marathon.

Monday, November 15, 2010

NYC Marathon Pre-Race Report

So my training hadn't been optimal, and my "taper" had been more of a "drop", but after all the hustle it took to get bibs for the race -- including raising over $3000 with a lot of help from my friends! -- I wasn't going to skip the race.

We got into town on Friday at 5 -- and realized that if we hustled we could get to the expo before it shut at 8 and get our numbers, shirts, etc. Expo was very different than any others I had ever visited -- huge, sprawling place, with lots of large exhibitors and very few "little guys". Or maybe we just didn't see the little guys? Big pretty Brooks shop -- nice! Also interesting to compare and contrast what Asics (the official sponsor) and Nike did. Asics had all the official gear, of course, but I wasn't that impressed. Nike had all the "bandit" gear that said "NYC 26.2" -- sneaky! We checked in at the Nike+ counter, and were given special NYC 26.2 sportbands (minus the sensor). Very cool. Oh, also at expo we got the very good news that we didn't have to be at the ferry terminal until 7:30 and 7:45 -- much more sensible than 5:30 and 5:45!

We spent way too long on our feet on Saturday, but still managed to get to bed early. And with the time change (and the ferry change) we didn't have to get up until 6am, so it wasn't too hard to get moving. We got up, got dressed, put breakfast in a bag and headed to the subway. Funny to get on board a train and see a lot of people dressed like you. :) We were, of course, layered up with our disposable warm clothes -- and astounded by the people who were in shorts and singlets. Really? I mean, really?

We chatted with a very friendly guy named Eddie, who was astounded by the marathon and wished us good luck. We had to leave the subway and take a shuttle bus for the last few stations -- a bus crammed with runners. Awesome.

Then into the Staten Island Ferry terminal, where we crowded in to a busy departure hall. No one checked our "assignments" -- it was clear that they just wanted to get people onto boats as quickly as possible. After about 15 minutes, a ferry arrived -- and we all filed onto it. Wil and I headed up to the upper deck -- glorious in the bright sunshine -- and settled in to enjoy our cruise. I was amazed at how long it took to get to Staten Island... and humbled at the realization that we would be running all the way back and then some!

Upon landing at Staten Island, we took our time getting off the boat (no sense in queuing up!), and were welcomed by a throng of volunteers. We stopped to take a couple of pictures of the Manhattan skyline in the distance.

Gulp. That's sure a long way away...

Then onto buses that took us the last few miles to Fort Wadsworth. We seemed to arrive at just the right time -- in a gap between buses -- which meant that we got off the bus to discover a line of clean, empty porta potties. There was a strange pause -- what were those strange, line-free things? -- and then we all headed over to them. Within minutes other buses arrived and long lines formed. Clearly, the marathon gods were on our side.

We then moved to the "Race Village" entrance... and faced lines of security guards and then armed soldiers all shouting "SHOW ME YOUR NUMBER!". That gauntlet cleared, things were easier. We walked and walked until we found our Green village... and realized that a lot of people had still been told to be on the ferry at 5:30. Yikes.

Wil got some coffee and we found a quiet spot to have a rest. We had over an hour before our corrals opened, so we just ate our breakfasts and relaxed. It was cold but the sun was shining and the day was bright. Perfect!

We decided to move to a more central location in the village 15 minutes before our corrals opened -- just in time to see the male elites and wave 1 start. It was amazing to hear a roar and suddenly see people appearing on the bridge. We whooped and waved ... and then laughed at the men stopping to pee on the bridge.

Soon after, our corrals opened... and the second wave moved into the starting pen. They left, we moved into the pens, and tried to avoid twisting an ankle on the piles of discarded clothing. I had the same surreal feeling I often do before races -- was this really happening? Was I about to start running a MARATHON? To be honest, part of me still worries that I've just dreamt all of this, and that I'm going to wake up and face race morning again! But we were waved forward into the starting chute, and with a cannon shot, we were on our way.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

A Setback of Sorts

I wasn't sure I wanted to write about this, but in quiet moments (stuck in traffic, bored in meetings) I seem to have been writing this post for a couple of days now. So here goes.

I've been feeling really run-down and sluggish for a couple of weeks. I wasn't sure what was happening -- was it just the change of seasons? Was I coming down with something? Was I just not sleeping well on the new mattress? I started getting that weird "flu" feeling -- you know, the one where your skin hurts? I was cold a lot, but didn't seem to be running a fever. I chalked it up to a cold house and a cold office.

Then we went to see our friend Jen's son Lee play in his "senior appreciation" football game.... a dry but very cold night. By the time we got home, I felt weirdly tingly along my back, and noticed two "bites" on my lower back. I thought perhaps I had been bitten by something at the game, since we were sitting outside for a couple of hours.

The next morning I had several other "bites" all in a line on my leg. We began to wonder if I had somehow trapped a spider or a mosquito or something in my PJs and it had just stung and stung and stung. The bites were a little itchy, but also incredibly painful. And they sort-of burned. Like that feeling when you burn yourself with an iron, but lingering.

Sunday morning I noticed more "bites", this time on my tummy. Things were weirder and weirder. We stripped the bed, washed all the PJs and linens, and fretted a little. But from then on no more "bites", so we just let it go.

In the meantime, however, the bites still hurt... not a sharp pain, but a strong ache along with occasional bits of "burn" feeling. And I was feeling weaker and weaker. With the race coming up, I was fretting more and more. I wondered if I had caught the flu, despite my recent flu shot. (I know that the flu vaccine slightly increases your short-term risk while dramatically decreasing your long-term risk of developing the flu... but I know there still is a risk...)

Friday afternoon -- a week after first noticing the "bites" -- I called my doctor and made an appointment for the next morning. I had to see a different doc -- mine wasn't working on Saturday -- and while talking about how tired I was, and chatting about iron and so on, I mentioned the "bites". That morning I had noticed that the bites on my leg were in a line -- not all in a row, but they created a definite line pattern. I told the doctor how weird I thought it was, and he said, "Hmm. Show me."

So I showed him my "bites" and he said. "Wow. You're a textbook example of shingles."


Now, one of my favorite things to say in response to questions about whether we plan on having children is that I didn't like kids when I was a kid myself. I've always thought of myself as a curmudgeon -- an "early bloomer". But all I knew about shingles was from reading the big signs at the Walgreens: "If you're 60 or over, you should get the shingles vaccine." How could I get shingles?

I stood there, stunned, and finally managed to ask, "Umm, how did I *get* shingles?" The doc said, "Well, you had chicken pox as a child, I assume?"

When I nodded, he said, "Well, then you've had the virus dormant in you since then. No one really knows what activates it."


He told me how the virus follows nerve pathways, and when reactivated it travels up the nerve roots to the area of skin supplied by those specific nerve roots. That's why you get those "lines" or "belts" of a rash. He also assured me that I'm not contagious -- a big relief. (Oh, I suppose I should note that if someone who had never had chicken pox touched the rash itself they might develop chicken pox. So keep your children away from my thigh if you're worried.) Glad that I don't have to quarantine myself.

In other good news, I have had a very very light case -- I've only got the rash in three small patches. And while it hurts and burns, it's not some huge gakky thing. Thank heavens. Or perhaps I just haven't had the "blister and pus" period yet. Fingers crossed.

But in bad news, I went in for treatment too late to "nip it in the bud", apparently. If caught in the first 48 hours it's possible to lessen the attack with a dose of vaccine. But who would have thought I would get SHINGLES at 41??? So I'm left with ibuprofen for pain and Caladryl lotion for itch. Sigh.

I do still feel some relief knowing WHY I've been feeling so run-down... even if I still feel run down. But, weirdly, I also feel embarrassed about having shingles. Not sure why.

The doc told me to take it easy for a couple of weeks... a bit challenging when the race is next weekend. People have asked if I was going to have to drop out of the race. But I'm no Ryan Hall or Chrissie Wellington. Those sorts of folks can only really be at the top of their game a couple of times per year. But since I don't make my living from the racing, I can "throw away" the effort on just getting myself through it. I'm also not someone who doesn't want to be out there if I can't be my absolute best. I just want to be out there to experience it.

Even though I dread the trip to the "start village" (on the Staten Island Ferry at 5:30 for a 10:20 start? Umm, okay....), I'm excited to stand in the corrals at the largest marathon in the world. I hope that I'll feed off the energy of my fellow runners. I expect that I'll finish -- even if my "taper" has been a bit severe, and if I'm not 100%. We'll just gut our way through it.

Wish us luck!