Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Brooklyn Triathlon

Max will no doubt have thoughts on this post.  Each of the last two years, I have considered signing up for the first Brooklyn Triathlon.  Last year the event was scheduled in mid-November, and was cancelled well before, when somebody realized that it would be really cold!!  They announced a better date, and a simpler course, and a whole bunch of friends of mine signed up.  I would have, were it not a week before the Marathon.  Well, it looks like I'll still have an opportunity to do the first Brooklyn Tri.  Yesterday they cancelled again, posting this on their website.  Gotta say, August seems a bit late to be submitting a request for a permit for a major event.  Just sayin' . . . 

Two years ago, because of Hurricane Sandy, I experienced the cancellation of the year's A race.  It was a wrenching experience, redeemed by the availability of another race a few weeks later (the Brooklyn Marathon).  That's not going to work for my tri-friends.  October 26 is the bitter end for the tri-season in the Northeast.  I would be very frustrated with the organizers for not having their act together . . .

Monday, October 20, 2014

Note to law schools:

I've voted.  You can stop sending me stuff.  None of it worked, even the cookie that one of you sent me.  (Yes, one of you did, and no, I did not eat it.  Or permit it to influence my vote.)

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Air so Thick You can taste it @ Beijing Marathon

Image: Runners jog past Tiananmen Gate shrouded in haze

Taper nerves . . .

Tapering is hard.  Marathon training cultivates the little Steve Prefontaine in the back of our brains.  Be tough! Push harder!! It's all in your head!! What doesn't kill you makes you stronger!! All of those mantras celebrate the theory that by pushing ourselves harder our bodies will get stronger. We will push back the wall and inoculate ourselves from the bonk . . .  Then, three weeks out, everything changes.  We tell ourselves that resting is training, that healing is training, that we shouldn't leave too much on the road. . . This reversal is too much for my simple brain to handle. Every time I hit the taper, I respond by wanting to work out harder, push for that last advantage.  It would be easier to argue with this instinct if the rest actually made you feel better.  During the taper things tighten up.  Injuries hurt worse. Runs feel sluggish.  This is the body's reaction to a drop in activity. It starts to grab back what training has taken out of it, and it is a good thing for race day, but during the taper I often feel lousy, and have trouble imagining completing the race.  I start moderating my goals, concocting excuses for deferring for a year.  It is really not pretty.

This weekend was the first weekend of the taper, the first week when you do less than you did the week before.  I resisted the urge to run a half marathon.  Instead, yesterday I ran an easy, but respectable 11 with C. Today I did a spin and shook out my legs with three on the treadmill.  I feel good, want to do do more, but am holding myself back . . .

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

5th of the Big 5?

If the world big marathons are Berlin, Boston, Chicago, London, and New York I fear Chicago is becoming the fifth place finisher particularly among the elite runners.  Boston and London are in the spring so the elite have to choose between those two.  Berlin, New York and Chicago are too close in the fall to each other to do more than one.  This year at least almost everyone has chosen not Chicago.  The winner Sunday was Eliud Kipchoge in a respectable 2:04:11 and Rita Jeptoo to clinch the world marathon series championship but not a lot of other well known names.  Bekele of Ethiopia was highly touted but was dropped like a bad habit by the winner at mile 20 and is still learning how to marathon after an amazing track career.  Korir of Kenya is now a member of Parliament and can't train year round and it showed.  Listening to the announcement of the elite field before the start was actually kind of a bummer.  Winning the Paris or Warsaw marathon a couple of years ago is a big deal for sure but hardly makes you a household name.

So what is going on?  The records are being increasingly set in Berlin year after year.  So it looks like Berlin is where you go for records and New York is where you for celebrities and the big apple but a hard course with too many hills to contend for records. Boston has its own cachet and London is also a contender for those trying for records.  Hard to compare prize and appearance fees without more data.

So what is Chicago missing and should anyone care given that it is becoming everyone's site for their first marathon, is usually in the running for the largest marathon depending on the year, and a great place to qualify for Boston?

My best guess is that fear of erratic weather, misapprehension of the reputation of the Windy City (The Windy is from political hot air in the 19th century political conventions but not the weather), and an unfortunate year where the finishing area was slippery from rain and the winner concussed himself leaning in for the win and then falling feet up head down immediately afterwards are all factors. 

In addition, they could better with optimizing the course.  It's flat as a pancake with 20 foot elevations at most from the bridges across the rivers and highways but has a fair amount of zig zags.  It wouldn't take that much effort to straighten out the kinks where you go right and then left within a 1/4 block at mile 5 and 9.5.  Couple of seemingly unnecessary turns in the 20s as well.  And who really wants a hill, even a mini one, at mile 26?  Doesn't matter to me, but might to someone for whom half seconds matter. 

Still a great race and great course which attracts 45,000 runners, 1.5 million spectators, many more thousands of applicants closed out in the new lottery system, more than 10,000 runners from all over the world, and jammed hotels, restaurants, and stores for the weekend.  Its a great boon for the city and its reputation but seemingly starting  to fall behind the rest of the big 5. 

By the way, just 'cause you run a Michelin starred restaurant, used to play for the Bears, or used to be from here before you got a series on cable doesn't make you a celebrity. 


My final thoughts:

1) best sign I saw was "All Toenails Go to Heaven!"

2) Worst sign, the dozen or so where people thought they were original with "May the Course be With You" and

 3) Happy not to see many Bible quotes for a change.


Crew:  a verb, derived from the noun "crew," conjugated as "I crew, you crew, he/she/it crews, we crew, you (pl.) crew, they crew."  Definition:  to support, feed, dress, entertain, wheedle, cajole, berate, cheer, and all-around serve an athlete who is digging deeper than anybody should ever dig.  [Not to be confused with "rowing," an action performed by a different kind of crew.  (Rowers never crew.  Rowers are a crew.)]

S__ and I flew to Reno to crew for frequent commenter D__, who competed October 5 and 6 in the Silver State 508 ultra-cycling race.  D__ was one of about 40 solo riders leaving the Atlantis Casino at 6:30 a.m. on Sunday, following a circuitous route through Reno to Geiger Grade, at which point they began in earnest to race 508 miles out-and-back to Eureka, Nevada. D__ tells that story here.

Lest crewing sound like advanced cheering, let me disabuse you:  S__ and I were awake for 32:15 straight, in and out of the car approximately every 15 minutes during the light, driving directly behind D__ from 7:45 pm to 7:00 am at a distance of between 15' and 15 yds., mixing and handing off bottles, finding and serving food, performing minor bike maintenance, helping D__ to don and to shed clothes, and even raising our voices when needed to get D__ through the inevitable dark hours.

While crewing we interacted with other crews and cheered for riders across the front end of the field.  We saw one rider -- a world-class Slovenian ultracyclist -- only twice, once at the first stop and once as we neared the turn-around and he was on his trip home.  The 508 basically involved a parade of U.S. athletes racing for second place.

Picture from

Those U.S. riders included Crow, Holstein, Rock Rabbit, Spotted Horse, Red-Necked Falcon, Great Basin Ichthyosaurus,  Irish Hare, and Wild Turkey; lest that sound like a late-night hallucination, The Race Director assigns "totems" to each athlete, an animal name the rider keeps for life after finishing the event.  (This idea will be familiar to those who remember "Born to Run," with its tales of Caballo Blanco, Venable, Lupo and Oso racing in Copper Canyon.)  Our rider was "Thundercat." 

We hung with that pack for some time, exchanging pleasantries with the other crews, cheering the other riders, and working our way slowly from West to East across Nevada on US Highway 50.  That stretch of road is nick-named "the loneliest highway in the world," which somewhat overstates the remoteness but is nonetheless appropriately evocative.  We crossed desert mountains, salt flats, and sage-brush deserts, but next to no water.

It was never hot, but with the altitude and desert air we baked, and our rider much more so.  We were charged with keeping him hydrated and satiated, no trivial task when everything seemed to upset his stomach.  We took to hiding caloric and salt powders in flavored drinks.  It kind of worked.

When the sun went down the desert sky was phenomenal.  After a marvelous sunset there was a near-full moon, brilliant stars that became all the more remarkable around 4:30 am when the moon set, and specters of mountains around us.

Much of the night we could not enjoy it, worried more about running the rider over than seeing any scenery.  Descending hills at night when providing direct-follow support is particularly fearsome.  You try to maintain the closeness while moving as fast as 45 mph.  And desert nights, in particular at altitude, get cold.  D__ rode for scores of miles with temperatures as low as 28 degrees.  Despite winter gear including double jackets -- for nearly 50 miles he wore my synthetic down parka -- nothing could make him warm.

After a short nap -- S__ enforced the allotted 15' to the second -- D__ began to ride stronger.  We crested the penultimate climb to the route's highest elevation at maybe 5 am and began the miles-long descent to the flatlands leading into Fallon.  In the light and on the flats, we moved back into the mix with a couple of the relay teams and with Wild Turkey; we learned in Fallon that Spotted Horse and Red-Necked Falcon were not far ahead.

Sand dunes on Highway 50, at approximately mile 100 and mile 408.
The final stage included a hellacious climb back through Virginia City to Geiger Summit above Reno.  On that climb D__ passed two riders directly in front of him, finishing the race on Monday afternoon, October 6, in sixth place.

Marathon- Part Deux

So I put away my headphones and ran/walked and chatted with Max from mile 8.5 until about mile 25 when they started pulling non-entrants off the course.

From my apartment heading south we passed through Lincoln Park and Old Town, probably one of the prettiest parts of the course and one of the most boisterous crowd wise.  Didn't see any of my peeps but got to show Max my high school, the building where my wife lived when we met, the venerable Twin Anchor's rib joint, my daughter's high school, and the Merchandise Mart (erudite headquarters in Divergent!), and a discreet alley or two before crossing back into the Loop.  A couple of zigs and zags and we were heading west on Adams past IIT-Chicago Kent law school and the half way point of the course.  At this point, I was feeling great but my time was terrible which was oddly liberating.  There was nothing I could do that bring me in below 5 hours so I relaxed even more if that was possible and continued to enjoy my meander through the next part of the course. 

Miles 14-17 are an out and back through the west loop and the area around the United Center (the Madhouse on Madison) to kill off some miles until you are back on Halsted heading south through Greektown, to University of Illinois-Chicago and then Little Italy.  Another west bound out and back and then south again to Pilsen, a thriving Mexican-American neighborhood increasingly encroached to the east by gentrification and hipsters.  Somewhere along the way Max tells me about his new article, I tell him about mine, and we more or less agree that we should do the next Antitrust Marathon in Budapest in October 2016. 

Once we head out of Pilsen we hit the only real industrial and empty part of the course unfortunately timed to coincide with mile 20 and when a number of folks who are really struggling.  We saw people actually falling or down on the tarmac plus numerous very realistic auditions for the Walking Dead.  After a bridge/hill (Chicago has no other kind) Archer Avenue takes us south east into Chinatown and the awesome dancing dragons at 22nd and Cermak (See Instagram @sweberwaller).  Then south through  the rest of China town and then Bridgeport the Irish neighborhood that was the powerbased of the Daleys and the old Chicago Democratic party machine.  At 31st we head east across the expressway and into the main campus of IIT with an fabulous jumble of 19th through 21st century architecture.  Most Bauhaus and post WWII greats taught and designed buildings here.  Then east on 35th and back north on Michigan for the final slog north  to the finish.  A few pre-Chicago Fire stone buildings, churches and mansions along the way, but finally getting tired and a little hot.  Hydration stations are starting to run out of stuff or only have a few cups available but people along the way also handing out bottles of water so no real issue.

With crowds building toward the end, I send Max on his way somewhere around 20th or 18th street, regain my pride, run the rest of the way including up the annoying bridge/hill which starts at exactly mile 26 and finish strong next to celebrity chef Graham Elliott whose name was called instead of mine despite having a much worse time (I think he started in the first wave).

The last few miles were very emotional as I thought about where I was and who I was with on my other marathons (Thanks Ted!) and whether this was really it.  I felt great both physically and emotionally clearing the finisher's chute and heading out to Michigan to find Max at the entrance to the Hilton down the block.  I saw the walking wounded and even did my mitzvah for the day suggesting that a finisher with ailing quads walk backwards down the stairs out of the park.

It was slow, but great fun.  My GPS was showing 27.4 when I finished but I doubt I meandered that much.  When the goal is finishing and not time, its a whole new experience that is very zen especially with great company and beautiful backdrop and matching weather.  Also recovery is a breeze because there is not that much to recover from.  Best proof was my ability to actually walk to the el, have a great lunch at The Fish Bar, walk home and then walk the dog when I got home before showering and napping after sending Max on his way home.  But if my GPS was correct and you add in all the walking before and after the race I also came perilously close to my first 50K.  Hmmm, food for thought for the future.

Kudos to Max who drove 3 hours to/from Indy and had the patience to head for a jog in the park at probably double his usual pace and well as accompanying me on my 18 milers earlier in DC.  And hearts to L. who was orchestrating carbo loading, overnight visitors, family events, early morning rides, and domestique duty on the course along with heading off on a business trip at noon after the course cleared. 

Now it's Ted's turn.  Have an awesome NYC Marathon. 

Final thoughts in part III later on why Chicago may be coming the mini of the 5 major marathons.