Saturday, December 27, 2014

DNA Ancestry Results (No Jokes please)

A few months ago, I sent in DNA samples to a National Geographic research project called Genographic which analyzes one's deep ancestry.  It has nothing to do with medical associated genetic testing although they provide a file that can be used for that purpose.  There is a similar project in the UK called 23and me which does more or less the same thing.

When I got back from London, my results were ready and fascinating.  As most of you would have guessed, I am slightly more neanderthal than average (2.3% versus 2%) but also 3.2% Denisovan which is a more recently discovered non-homo sapien ancestor group primarily found in Siberia

In terms of regional ancestry (5,000-10,000 years ago) I am 57% Mediterranean, 21% Southwest Asian (think middle east), 18% Northern Europe, and 2 % Northeast Asian (presumably the Denisovan part).  My profile matches most closely with Iranian and Sardinian populations, but is generally consistent with the Neolithic expansion from the middle east 8,000 years.

The way they draw the boundaries between Mediterranean and Northern Europe skews my ancestry a little more south than I would have guessed (or the Russian peasant stuff came later than I would have guessed) but is pretty consistent with the Ashkenzi Jewish heritage that I am aware of.   It also suggests that the distinctions between Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews is of much more recent origin that I was aware of.

So no real surprises but I am fascinated by this whole exercise.  More importantly, who wants to run next with a 94.5% Homo Sapien 5.5% Neanderthal/Denisovan?

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Streak Goes to Vienna

I've kept the streak going with short runs on the treadmill in the hotel here in Vienna until yesterday.  Then this happened: 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Beware the Ides of Streak

Day 15 and my running streak is still intact.  I'm warming up to the idea.  This morning I did a real run of 7.5 miles with some pace on it.  Yesterday and the day before were disastrous work days. I probably wouldn't have run at all, but I managed a pair of 1-2 mile runs that got me out of my head and into the clear both times.  I was beginning to feel a bit creaky a few days ago, but realized that I had not been giving myself sufficient time to stretch after the short runs.  Today, I did some deep long stretching, and the creakiness is gone.  So, maybe the commitment to the streak is making up for the fact that I'm not actually training for anything right now.  This is important as the holidays are here.  During the next week or so, the streak is going to be hard to maintain. Saturday I go to Vienna for a week, and will be in meetings much of the time.  Making time for a run is going to be tricky.  On the other hand running around Vienna should be fun.

Sunday, December 7, 2014


Yesterday was the SBRC year end gala.  Everybody gets an award.  I think they've got my number . . .

Streaks and Other Stupid Ideas

Last year I ended my running year with an abortive attempt to run every day between Thanksgiving and New Years.  It was a vain effort to establish that my heel was in good enough shape to handle at least one mile a day.  It was a mistake.  Somewhere in mid-December I realized that I was having trouble walking, let alone running, and I entered my cold turkey non-running streak that lasted until March.

So, when a friend from the SBRC suggested that we try another year-end streak, there was only one possible answer, "of course."  So I'm back at it.  Today was day 11.  I'm being careful.  Since the streak rule only require one mile per day, I've kept up my cross-training routine.  The only difference is that on bike or swim days, I make sure that I spend ten minutes on the treadmill.  So far this has allowed me to get the benefits of cross-training, along with the bike run transition which I don't do that often.

I'm not sure why I'm doing this.  It doesn't actually seem like a very good idea, and the farther into the streak I get, the less good an idea it's going to be.  Any insights out there??

Hey, is this thing on?

Things have been pretty quiet on the blog as we approach the end of the 5th year of our existence and soon the 1000th post.  So let's get busy.

Running in Chicago has been reasonably pleasant of late.  Other than a blast of polar vortex in early November, its been mostly above freezing and dry.  Unfortunately I have been fighting a cold that won't quit so haven't logged the miles I could have.  But still getting out for the 4-5s and the occasional 7-8s.  All will change after New Year's so want to get that winter base up a bit in whatever few decent days remain.

As I mentioned to several of our bloggers, I have joined a Ragnar Relay team for the 200 mile LA-San Diego race in April.  Not entirely sure how to train for a 12 person relay where we all run 3 legs of 3-8 miles each.  The total mileage is very even with some runners doing 13 or so and at least one doing 23 (won't be me) and most somewhere in between.  There is always the possibility that someone will get hurt and the rest of us will have to take an extra shift.

The challenge doesn't seem to be the mileage but the endurance of 30 hours in a smelly van with a lot of down time and only a little napping in between legs.  Also not sure what to expect for the night leg each of us will pull.

There is a ton of info on the web site including some training tips but curious what you'all think as I look at that stuff in more detail.  How would you train in winter Chicago so I don't let my teammates down and have some fun? 

Monday, December 1, 2014

How about New Orleans?

Matt Sag and I are heading down to New Orleans to run the 1/2 marathon on January 25th.  Come one come all.  Free Beignets for the first 10 blog readers who meet us at Cafe du Monde at a mutually convenient time that weekend.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Good Form is Not Natural

Running is simple.  You lace up your shoes, walk out the door, and do it.  You grew up knowing how, so it feels natural.  But it hurts.  Injuries crop up, not just sore muscles, plantar fascitis, knee pain, heel pain . . . We've all been there.  We rest. We heal. We go back to what we were doing before.

Swimming has taught me not to trust my natural kinesthetic instincts.  After years of windmilling and dragging my legs, I took a bunch of lessons and a very few key changes to my approach changed everything.  In particular, changing the timing gave me a more powerful pull, a longer glide, better position in the water, and a generally more efficient stroke.  It didn't feel natural at all, and I'm still working out the kinks but changes that felt unnatural helped.

The same thing has happened with my running.  As often discussed, I joined the midfoot revolution a few years ago in response to pain in my right heel.  I started working on leaning forward, and landing on my toes.  That took a while, but eventually it felt natural.  I got faster.  Until, it started to hurt -- this time left heel.  As I have been returning to form in the last year, I'm realizing that even what felt natural then was not ideal.  I was protecting my left hip.  I'm not sure from what, probably just old habit.

It turns out that maintaining good running form, for me at least, requires a lot of thought: (1) fully shift weight to the left side; (2) land on the midfoot; (3) push off from the ball of the foot; (4) lean forward; (5) allow hips to roll a bit (don't hold them level);  (6) engage glutes; (7) increase cadence . . . There it is. . . Oops, lost it. Found it. Lost it. Going too fast . . . Damn! Okay, there it is . . .

Thanksgiving Run

Missed all the Turkey Trots this year, but still had a run to be thankful for.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Partial Body Sacrifice

As we were lining up of the NYC Marathon a few weeks ago, the South Brooklyn Running Club "phalanx" were chatting, we all engaged in some reverse trash talking -- fishing for encouragement.  We would talk down our individual aspirations and then one of the group would offer reassurance.  As I questioned my ability to maintain 9:00 miles for the full distance, G_ said, "It's all in your head.  Just remember, 'total body sacrifice.'"  "Sure," I thought, "that's okay if you're 26 and super fit.  For me, some of it is in my legs, some of it is gathered around my middle and the stuff on my head keeps changing color . . . . 'Partial body sacrifice' is more my speed."  That thought went through my head again as I let the phalanx pull away on the Queensborough Bridge.  I am sure I could have stayed with them going up the bridge, but it didn't seem like the right thing to do at the time.

Three weeks later, I'm liking my choice.  Instead of feeling beat up, I'm feeling fit.  Instead of worrying about lurking injuries, I'm watching my form continue to improve.  I'm not sure what my next goals are, but I think it may be a fun winter of running.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

John Doar

This lawyer's civil rights and Watergate record is well known.  Did anybody know that he represented Eastman Kodak in the suit by Berkey Photo?

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Announcing the Creation of the FIMC

Today we announce the creation of the FIMC.  Like all international sports bodies this has a fancy French name -- La Federation Internationale du Marathones de la Concurrence (in English International Federation of Antitrust Marathons).

Its sole purpose to select the sites for the future antitrust marathons to ensure the best opportunities for antitrust scholars and distance runners to contemplate the enduring issues of international competition and run the most interesting marathons.

The goal is to have potential sites bid to host the 6th antitrust marathon and beyond with the best package of benefits (and inducements) for the participants and organizers.  Why should we give this away since in the words of convicted ex-Illinois governor Rod Blagoyovich "This thing is (bleeping) golden."

If anyone has mad art skills we could use a fancy logo.  In terms of a motto I propose:

"Twice the brains and integrity of FIFA"

In its first decision the governing board of FIMC (pronounced Fee-Mac) has announced that Budapest is the first site to be considered as a finalist for the 2016 antitrust marathon.

Let the games begin.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Marathon Golf

In the NY Marathon, G__, C and M__ set out to run 9:00 flat for 26.2 miles. So, theoretically, did I but that's a different story (see below).   M made it with ten seconds to spare. G__ finished 8 seconds behind him.  If the goal is to finish first, M__ won.  But what if the goal were to finish according to plan?  Then G__ won.  Should there be a sport of Marathon Golf, where the goal is to pick a plan and stick to it?  The goal would not be speed, but accuracy.  The challenge would be, well, that Marathons are long and have a lot of variables.

One problem with this competition, is that the all time victor in this competition will be our friend Ca___ (not to be confused with C__), who has already broken the metaphoric "4 Minute Mile" of the sport.   She ran the 2013 Boston Marathon without a watch, and calmly churned out each 5K in almost exactly 24 minutes, with all of her mile splits within a 10 second range. . .   Thoughts? 

Monday, November 3, 2014

NYC Marathon Race Report -- That was fun!!

Succeed or fail, marathons are always awesome -- lots of training, expectations, anxiety, followed by reality and assessment.  Marathons are not always fun.  Yesterday was fun!  It did not start out looking like it would be fun.  Cold temperatures, high wind, and the famously long wait on Staten Island for the start. Also, I did not have high expectations.  As anybody who reads this blog knows, I have been fighting injuries since April 2013, and only recently got to a point where my heel and hip would handle long runs.  If you had asked me in August if I'd start the NYC Marathon in November, I'd have placed the odds at 40-60 against.  I only really started training in August, which is about 6 weeks late, and with remarkably little running base.

So, here's why it was fun. First, my expectations were modest. I did not think I'd be able to break 4 hours, but I hoped to come close. . .  Second, and mostly, I had company!!  It turned out that a bunch of friends from the SBRC (G_, D_, C_ and I) all had similar numbers -- Blue, Wave 2, Corral A.   M__ hereafter to be referred to as Super M_, had just run a BQ in Boston, and was, um tapering, for the Knickerbocker 60K in a few weeks.  He proposed to run 9 minute miles, as a group, start to finish, bringing it in under 4 hours.  So, Third, I had a plan.  My goal was not to stick with them the whole way (though it was perhaps my hope), but I knew I could get to mile 16, and bring it home from there.   Past experience suggested that this would bring me in at a little bit over 4 hours.  I've run at a 9 minute pace before, but it has always involved running a lot of 8:30s and then slowing.  Also, I hate the Queensboro Bridge.  It is steep, cold, and hits just as your legs are beginning to object. . .

Anyway, the race went according to plan.  The five of us ran through Brooklyn in a phalanx. We restrained M_ when he took off.  They restrained me when I got frisky (a lot).  It was a blast.  we talked, we got cheers as a group, and from friends along the way.  Big shout out to V_ who watched at Mile 8.  We were running through our own turf, and as we crossed from Fort Green to Clinton Hill, we hit the SBRC cheer station, and, well, that was just plain awesome!!  D_ faded at about mile 11.  We hit the half, spot on a 9 minute pace.  The bridges in the late middle of the NYC marathon are a much larger source of its brutality than the storied hills of Central Park.  The half is part way up the Pulaski Bridge, and then it's bridge after bridge, approach, on ramp, off ramp, approach, on ramp off ramp repeat. . .  Pulaski, Queensborough, Willis Avenue, Fifth Avenue . . . Oy!! The mother of all annoying bridges is the Queensborough.  It is steep, long and cold.  I ran it twice in training, in the hope of moderating its effects, but, well, it was my (expected) undoing.  As we hit the bridge, my buddies maintained pace and I maintained heart rate.  The two approaches did not work, and the rubber band snapped.  Who knows if I should have pushed it a bit harder up the hill to stay with them.  I didn't feel like I had it at the time, so I let them go.  In the process, I lost a gear, slowing to 9:30s along First Ave.

That said, I felt fine, so I just kept riding the crowd, up First Ave, through the Bronx, and back down.  I hit 20 miles at 3:02. That pretty much sealed it for going under 4 hours, unless I could reignite the 9 minute miles.  Not happening, didn't worry about it. A few minutes later I came up behind another friend A_ who had started with us, but dashed off ahead.  We chatted for a bit, and I drifted forward.  My legs were tired, so I walked a few of the water stations. This turned out to be great, as my form came back each time I did.  Miles 21-24 are always a bit of a slog, but there's nothing like the feeling, at around mile 24, when the road in the Park tips down and you start down Cat hill.  That, for me, marks the beginning of the home stretch.  I was pretty much on cruise control, so I just took it all in for the next 20 minutes, enjoying the end of the race in a way I never have.  My finish 4:04.35 (ish) was pretty much what I'd expected/hoped for, and the weather had finally taken a turn for the better.  The wind was down and the sun was out, so my walk to pick up my bag was pleasant.  I didn't have the usual cramping in my legs, so, once I was wrapped in mylar, I was a happy guy, and even happier after going to the pub for a celebratory beer.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Moment of Truth -- Carb Load Edition

So tomorrow is the NYC Marathon.  Considering where I was back in March, and even in August, I couldn't have asked for a smoother September and October.  I started training this year with the least base ever.  I'd hardly been running from September through March, and had gone gold turkey from December.  The Brooklyn Marathon was a harsh reality check, and reminder of how far I had to go to climb back into Marathon shape.  Things started to turn around at the end of July, with a long bike ride, and a few long runs.  A solid week of running on Cape Cod in early August, and suddenly, long runs did not seem out of the question.  So here I am.  I've banged out 3 20 mile training runs, ran a fair to middling half marathon, and didn't hurt myself during the taper.  This week, my short runs have felt smooth and comfortable. I'm not in the best shape of my career, but at least I'm injury free.  A group of us are going to set out at a 9 minute pace.  This seems reasonable.  I ran 8:30s ish for the half a few weeks ago, and averaged a similar pace last week when we ran the last 10 miles of the course. I should be able to hold it most of the way, and then after about mile 16, it's anybody's guess.  I don't think this will be fast enough to bring me in under 4 hours, but it should be fun.  The big enemies tomorrow are going to be the cold and the wind.  It's going to be in the low 40s with a head or cross wind most of the way.  For anybody who's going to be on the course, here's what I'm planning to wear.  Wish me luck!

Marathon Opening Ceremonies

Okay, I never do this sort of thing, but yesterday evening was the Marathon opening ceremonies.  The kick off involved a "parade of nations", followed by fireworks.  The first "nation" highlighted was the City of New York, as represented by its running clubs, so, well, I agreed to represent.  It was fun, and also the worlds' shortest parade ever.  The entire route consisted of the length of the finish line grandstand.  Still, it was a great photo-op, including a rapprochement between rival running clubs.

 And, as a personal first, I made the news!!

That was followed by an evening of barbecue and sides at Blue Smoke with Vicki.  Now it's time to focus on the carbs!!

Not all good news

Racing against Ted tomorrow will be the ageless Meb and astounding Kara as well as the favorites, Geoffrey Mutai and Buzunesh Deba of Ethiopia.  Deba is a perennial second-place finisher with a sub-2:20 PB. 

Not entered is the greatest women's marathoner currently at her racing peak, the Carfrae to Radcliffe's Newby-Fraser -- though Kenya's Rita Jeptoo was slated to make an appearance to receive a cool half-mil. for her top performance in the "marathon majors."  That is on hold, and if the tests are accurate, the analogy will be Armstrong to Radcliffe's Eddie Merckx.  It turns out this year's Boston and Chicago champion, with a sub-2:19 PB course record in Boston, has a recent positive drug test which her agent appears to acknowledge as accurate (backup tests not necessary; "This is true.").

Friday, October 31, 2014

Good luck, Ted!

I came across this awesome sign and thought it was appropriate for the blog :) Have a great run on Sunday, Ted! The hay is in the barn...

Monday, October 27, 2014

Hopping in at the end of the race

I followed Spencer around Chicago the other week and noted here that experiencing a marathon as a supporter may have been as fun as racing myself -- and certainly less stressful.

I thought I might reprise that yesterday at the Marine Corps Marathon, held, as seemingly always, on a beautiful day.  The course has changed since I last ran it in 2011, now heading up and back on Rock Creek Parkway to a u-turn at the Calvert Street exit.  I left home and headed south through Rock Creek Park, following the crowded bike trail to Calvert Street.

The runners were long through but the course still closed to traffic, so I jumped in.  I enjoyed a solitary run all by myself right down the middle of Rock Creek Parkway.  One athlete was still out there, an older gentleman sure to be caught by the MCM's famous slow-runner bus.  So it was just me and the Marines left cleaning up cups, bottles, and gel-packs from road-side, preparing the road to be re-opened to traffic.  I kept hoping I might catch a few more stragglers, but I was too late or they were too fast.

At the river I left the course and turned west past Thompson Boat House onto Water Street below Georgetown.  Spencer and I ran this stretch on his 18-miler in September.  Instead of turning up into Georgetown I continued to the C&O trail which would, if I followed it, take me north to Bethesda.

Instead I split off to the right and followed the dirt trail through the woods, heading back north through Glover Archbold Park, a sub-part of the Rock Creek National Park.  The trail takes one from the C&O Canal all the way to Tenleytown.

Glover Archbold Park
From where I wound through neighborhoods back home.  12 miles on a beautiful fall day for my only run this week.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Who knew that was a thing?

I had worked out my strategy for taper weekend. I was going to run 5-7 with the SBRC folks on Saturday, and then 5-8 on Sunday, then shut it down.  I went to the 7 am meetup, only to find out there was a plan -- take the subway up to the east side, and then run the last ten miles of the marathon course.   That was more than I'd planned, but what a great idea.  We took the subway up, and then walked to 59th and first at the base of the 59th street bridge.  Suddenly there were running clubs all over the place gathering and setting out.  The Prospect Park Track Club, my former club (though I never really did anything with them) even had support stations.  Who knew?? I've been running the NYC Marathon for 16 years on and off and had never heard of this taper tradition.  What a great idea!  I have never been a great finisher in NYC.  First avenue is a false flat that goes gently uphill.  Then two bridges into and out of the Bronx, finally a long gentle uphill mile on 5th Avenue before you enter Central Park.  Short version, miles 19-23 are pretty miserable.   This year I've taken a different approach to the back half of the course.  Two of my 20s included my nemesis, the 59th Street Bridge, and then, the last ten with fresh legs.  It turned out to be a really great confidence builder.  We kept a nice pace (faster than my planned pace by about 20 seconds/mile).  The weather was perfect.  It was fun -- the sort of run that reminds you why we do this.   Now I'm shutting it down.  Today, an easy swim and a spin class.

The economic impact of marathoning

Here are some interesting on the economics of the Chicago Marathon with 2013 data.  Maybe this is why it doesn't matter that much to the organizers how elite the leader pack is as long as it is respectable.

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.

Monday, October 13, 2014

In my backyard

Lucky number 7 in the books.  Not my worst time, but quite slow by design.  I was just too beat up to risk flaming out and limping off the course like a couple of years ago.  This one was intended as a slow stroll through 29 neighborhoods of my home town on a sunny beautiful fall day (50-57).  A few pictures will be posted on Instagram at @sweberwaller.

To start at the beginning, I got up at 5 AM and quietly dressed in the office not to wake L, her sister who was staying over in one room, and mighty Max in the guest room.  Half a bagel and banana later, L drove me to the Belmont subway where I took the red line down town.  In past years, L just drove me (and occasionally random stray runners) to the lake shore drive side of Buckingham fountain and then just walked to the corral.  Now in the post-Boston bombing era, there was a serious security fence surrounding the couple of square miles of the start/finish area.  There are now 5 gates on the Michigan Avenue side on the west of the park that every one has to go through.  The el was super crowded even 4 miles away from the park but I got the last seat.  20 plus minutes later I was walking east in the scrum of non-elite runners heading for corrals G-L and the second wave start at 8 AM.  Thanks to the Plaza hotel for their lobby bath rooms and comfy couchs where I hung out for about 20 minutes reading my Time magazine before I headed into the park. 

In the park, there seemed less public urination then usual but that may have been because the first wave had already left and I had only 10 minutes to finish stretching and get to my corral before it closed at 7:45.  Chatted with various friendly out-of-towners while pushing my way to the front of my group so that only group F stood between me and the start line which was still several blocks to the north.

The gun goes off and the usual 10 minutes or so until we shuffle to the start.  My big worry was the state of my knees which had different things wrong with them, all falling into the general overuse and I cannot believe I tweaked that during a 4 mile taper run category.  I start slow (the theme of the day), needing a quick bathroom break from my excellent pre-race hydration and looking unsuccessfully for my faculty colleague John D. at mile 2/3.

We swing north and then west and then south toward downtown.  At mile 2 1/2 I see a blind runner ON CRUTCHES with his guide.  At that point, I vow to finish for his sake if nothing else.  The first 4 miles plus involve clearing the loop and some river north neighborhood and entering Lincoln Park.  Leaves are beautiful but not yet peak.

We do a couple gentle jogs in the course heading north and east and then hitting Lakeview and Sheridan Road where I have a long list in my head of my friends and family who are at various corners between here and mile 10.  I pass my apartment and family, friends, neighbors, Ginny the wonder puppy (now age 7) and Max waiting to jump onto the course.  Quick photo op and I head north and they head west to mile 8.5 on Wellington and Broadway where Max will join me and I will load supplies switch to clean garments and chug a Nuun bottle to avoid Gatorade tummy.

At this point I am way behind any respectable time but having way too much fun to care.  I visit with some friends from law school (married to each other) on the next corner, my chiropractor 6 blocks up, a former girlfriend and one of the Student Fellows from the Antitrust Institute 3 blocks after that and hit the north edge of the course at Addison.  West a few blocks with a huge crowd on both sides and then south on Broadway stopping for a chat with my brother-in-law and sister-in law at the assigned corner.  Didn't see the transvestite cheer leaders this year but really enjoyed the precision drill team in hot pants further on in boys town.

Mile 8.5 my peeps are on the corner and change shirts and hats, reload snacks and take off with Max after more photos.  Frogot the water bottle though.  Then the fun begins which I cover this afternoon after I prep for my evening civ pro class.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Fun to be there

I've gotten it all wrong for most of my running life.  I avoid races I'm not running because, well, I'm not running.  Today was Spencer's day, and I am sure we will hear the great news, but I wanted to give a shout about how fun it is to see 45000 people just out being healthy and feeling good about themselves on a fantastic day in a beautiful city.

Spencer cruised by looking strong at mile 6.5 and we caught him again at mile 8.5.  Per plan I jumped in with him there and we cruised together for the next 16.5 miles, when, at mile 25, Spencer put in the earphones, cranked on Jethro Tull, looked north up Michigan Avenue, and got 'er done.

Mile 6.5.
We capped it off with seafood just down the street from Spencer's, continuing a tradition Spencer and Ted started in Montauk in 2011.  So all told I had a tremendous 24 hours hosted by Spencer and L__, capped by a magnificent tour of Chicago, and Spencer had -- well, that is his story to tell.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Allez Spencer!!

I am truly sorry that I will not be in Chicago tomorrow to join Max as he paces/cheers Spencer in the Chicago Marathon.   I have had some of my greatest marathon moments pacing Spencer.  First, I ran miles 7-18 of Spencer's first NYC Marathon with him.  Then I ran miles 1-19 with him in the Hamptons.  Both were great days, both were great runs.  It is worth taking a moment to acknowledge that this blog and the Antitrust Marathon are products of the twisted minds of Spencer and (ultra marathoner) Philip.  The rest of us were lucky enough to be brought along for the ride.   I envy Max his pacing duties and wish Spencer a spectacular day!! Go Spencer!!

Goodwill and Reminiscing

On my way out the door to Chicago to visit with Spencer and, hopefully, to provide some moral support for a few or 15.7 miles of the Chicago Marathon course.  I spent the morning finally moving out the door years worth of clothes for Goodwill.  I do not kid when I report 8 blazers, 1 suit, 27 shirts, 15 pants, and other sundries took their final trip in my car.  Something about a bad internet shopping habit, a few too many Jos. A Bank "buy three get 17 free" sales, and an atypical and every changing body shape put me in this pickle.

While checking the pockets for $100 bills (none, I am sorry to report), I found the following gems:
  1. An agenda for Friday, 3/11 -- of what year, I have no idea -- that included "class prep," "Liu letter," "swim," "run," "class," "Utah car rental," "Utah hotel," and "R__ & A__ paper."  Glad to report that of those I covered class prep, class, the swim, the letter, and the paper.  Has me wondering what fun I was planning in Utah!
  2. Business cards from a big DC firm that was my counterpart in my last episode of law practice, together with an executive from a company for which my firm was conducting an internal investigation.
  3. An agenda from a campus visit from a state school in the southeast where I gave a job talk before landing in my current position.
I also gave away 5 pairs of running shoes with plenty of life in them for casual use but little for running use.  They included the black-and-orange Asics Hyperspeeds that carried me for 26.2 miles in the Marine Corps Marathon (2011, 3:03:46) and Big Sur Marathon (2012, 3:20:change).  I have yet to find a pair of shoes that I love as much as I did those.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Randon Thoughts on Chicago Marathon Expo

I was in a mellow mood when I sauntered into the marathon expo this morning.  I played hooky today, slept in a bit and cabbed to the correct entrance of McCormick Place (the east building of the new expo center which is actually on the west side of South Shore Drive).  So my walk was about a block instead of 3/4 of a mile if I had driven.  Very efficient check in system, scanning a bar code sent me to station 34 which had my chip, and then a longish walk through the festival of commerce to get my check bag and tee shirt.

I actually spent about 45 minutes and $250 at the fair loading up on a heavily discounted pair of Kinvara 4s (now one model out of date), a long sleeve winter running shirt for me and my daughter, and a new running hat, gel, and cotton throw away gloves.  Browsed the various foreign and domestic marathon booths (I'm still leaning toward Budapest for our next antitrust marathon), picked up everything from microwavable fried rice (gluten free!) to string cheese and all manner of sample bars and tschotckes.

Then cabbed back to my neck of the woods for a Japanese lunch and the final massage and chiro adjustment.  Glad my tibia is back in the groove but that adjustment really hurts.  Back home, 20 minutes on the bike and a slow mile on the tread completed my race prep.  Tonight is laying out my stuff and packing the bag for L to hand me at mile 8.5. 

Tomorrow is taking it easy at a family bat mitzvah and then heading home to meet Max and a fine pasta dinner at Sappori trattoria. 

Over lunch, I enjoyed the complementary marathon edition of Chicago Athlete where I learned that there are 8 guys who have run all 36 Chicago marathons.  (Started in 1977 but no race in 1987 because no sponsor).  Half are still close to their original times with the rest anywhere from high 5s to low 10s.  This was inspirational in several ways including validating the notion that if I have to walk I will be walking.  I also learned that was passes for celebrity runners in Chicago is pretty sorry.

So now a day of heat ice rest and then either a rousing ramble through my backyard and/or a second induction into the marathon Hall of Pain.


Thursday, October 9, 2014

Goeff Roes on Recovery

Some here at RP blog may know the name Goeff Roes.  He is an ultramarathoner, a sometime Alaskan, twice voted ultrarunner of the year, who has won a good number of the major US ultras and set a number of course records along the way.  It may still be the case that Roes has won every 100-miler he has finished; I recall one year, when he was first breaking into the scene in a huge way, that he won -- and set records in -- four 100-milers throughout the year.  (Maybe not all four of them were records, but at least two were.)  He proceeded to break the record in the famous Western States 100 the following year.

Goeff Roes hasn't been racing much recently and I had wondered what happened.  This short column in Ultrarunning Magazine answers that question in a way that is not irrelevant to many of us here at RP.  Goeff Roes is working his way back, slowly, step-by-step.  Here's looking forward to seeing the man who I consider the greatest ever in US ultrarunning back on the leaderboard.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Race Report -- Return of the Shoes

Yesterday was Grete's Great Gallop, a half marathon that used to be run in celebration of the great Grete Waitz, and is now run in her memory, to benefit Memorial Sloan Kettering.  I last ran Grete's in 2004 and it was one of my great "comeback" races.  I had suffered a monumental slide after a depressing 2002 NY Marathon.  My return to form the following Spring was stopped short by an existential runners' crisis that is still too raw to write about, and had only really started to train well in August.  I was training for the Marine Corps Marathon, but without any great expectations.  Grete that year came as a surprise.  I ran hard and returned to the vicinity of 8 minute miles (8:06) that I thought I had lost forever.  Since then, I have viewed the race with great affection, though it hasn't usually fit my training schedule.

This is a similar comeback year.  I ran a disastrous Brooklyn Half, and a confidence building Superfund Run, but I really haven't felt myself for over a year.  Yesterday my goal was to see if I could hold 8:30s.  I think of that as my marathon pace, and I haven't seen it in a long time.

Short version -- victory!! Goal achieved (or close enough).  I went out a bit fast, running the first few miles at an 8:10-8:15 pace.  The good news was that my heart rate was at my usual hard half marathon level.  The bad news was that if felt hard . . .   I backed it down, and settled into what I think of as my "average" marathon heart rate (or slightly below).  The miles ticked off, and depending on whether you believe my Garmin or the official clock, I either averaged 8:29 (Garmin) for the race, or 8:36 (Official).  I felt good at the end.  I'm not going to pretend that I wanted to go any faster, but I certainly had gas left in the tank.  This is all good news for a successful (if not speedy) NYC Marathon in a few weeks.

Oh yes, the gear choice was the Kinvara 4s with Superfeet.  I felt fine afterwards.  . . Hooray!!

Sunday, October 5, 2014

M Minus 7

Finished last run of any substance this morning with a leisurely eight on a beautiful crisp sunny fall day.  Now obsessing about the weather one week hence which is showing 50s (good) and rain (bad).  Next up get some of those disposable $2 cotton gloves in case the day is colder than forecast.  Then finish the short last week taper runs taking care of my dodgy left knee. 

Then the festival of commerce that is packet pick up and expo.  The trick with McCormick Place is coming in from the west so you don't end up walking an extra mile and a half (I've measured it off).  This year I'm going shopping!  If anyone wants anything, place your order now.

Still planning out my route of where my friends and family will be along the course, probably have to write the stops on my arm.  Then figuring out with Max where we will be running together and where I go into my deep dark place to finish the course while on fumes.  Last is laying out my stuff for race day and packing the bag of stuff and spare everything for L to hand me at mile 8.5 by our apartment,

For 1,095 days I have said "Not today".  One week from now, I will say "Today, I run a marathon."

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Building a stronger Becky

I haven't posted lately, but I've been following everyone's successes with interest (and envy). My long road back to health can be likened more to an ultra at this point than a marathon. After multiple attempts at physical therapy, podiatry and orthopedics over the past 18 months, I'm seeing a new PT--one who I found via another running blogger. I could tell by her posts that she really trusted him, and she was traveling from Howard County to downtown Washington for her appointments, and that's pretty crazy.

This practice isn't convenient for me, nor is it in network--but I gave it a shot. My original plan was to go once a week during the month of July, but now it's October and I'm still at it. One of my previous PTs stressed the fact that if a course of treatment doesn't seem to be working after a few weeks, it's time to seek a new practice.

But I did start seeing some improvements--small, though, and not necessarily lasting--so I have kept at it. During my initial assessment, Robert noticed that I had barely any mobility in my left (bad side) ankle. Think about your knee coming over your foot during a stride--without mobility in your ankle, the kinetic chain doesn't work. In addition to my foot pain, I've been having a lot of pain down the side of my leg (peroneal tendon) so it makes sense that I was torquing it somehow.

The ankle stuff has improved with targeted stretches and some seriously painful manual work. I had a decent week of running while in Cape Cod and was encouraged. But the pain returned upon my return home, and even though treatment helped each week, it wasn't keeping the issue from coming back.

I was honest with Robert and he promised to really think about what else might be going on. While he was thinking, he and I also strategized about other things that might be getting in my way--namely the hours spent on the spin bike in lieu of running. I had a bike fit in the spring, but per Robert's suggestion I actually went a bit against the bike fitter's advice and moved my cleat as far back toward my heel as possible.

Over the past couple of weeks, Robert has done some additional assessments and discovered my lack of core and hip strength. I do a ton of (what I thought was) core work, but probably not the right core work. And I'm not surprised about my hips. So I've been learning some basic, but still challenging, hip strengthening exercises (like clamshells) and am trying to be as diligent as possible.

This week, Robert watched me run on a treadmill at PT. I've been through this many times before and the comments from the observer usually range from "Well, that's different" to "I've never seen a more biomechanically incorrect stride." I didn't get any judgment this time, but here's what I learned. I normally wouldn't post pictures of my ass for the world to see, but in the name of recovery, it's important.

So now I have even more work to do. The "vaulting" thing really throws me. How do I change that? I know that Ted and others have worked on stride changing with success, but I've tried it before and I feel like it didn't stick. Good luck to me!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Nick of Time

So I managed to log another 20 miler on Sunday.  I met C early for 7 miles around Prospect Park.  It was a bit humid, but cool, and the meadow was blanketed in mist -- really beautiful.  We finished at the SBRC meet up, where I met D and B, who were setting off for 17 along the New York City Marathon route.  We ran up Flushing Avenue, through Williamsburg and Greenpoint onto the Pulaski Bridge (the halfway point for the Marthon), where I experimented with an over the shoulder selfie.   We continued through Long Island City and up over the Queensborough Bridge.  Then back along the East Side. I hit 20 miles near the Williamsburg Bridge, so peeled off and took the F train home from there.  The run was a real confidence builder.  I am not a big fan of the Queensborough Bridge.  It is a big, long, unrelenting, cold hill that shows up at miles 15/16 of the Marathon.  For me, it is usually where I begin to hurt -- not a lot, but enough to be demoralizing.  A pre race visit should be a big help.  Anyway, I seem to be already recovered from the run, so I'm feeling much more confident of my ability to finish a marathon in a few weeks.  I'm not expecting anything great, but at least I'm feeling like a runner again . . .

Friday, September 26, 2014

Running Social

I've been using Nike+ to track my distance and pace for a while.  One of the things that has made my slow return to form bearable is that I've also been having fun with Instagram and my I-Phone, taking pictures of cool stuff I see on my runs.  A few weeks ago, I stumbled on the fact that Nike+ has a utility for stitching the photos from your run onto one frame.  I've mentioned this before.  Anyway, it's pretty cool, and a way of letting the gang know that I logged a run, even though I haven't been to the regular meetup in weeks.  I also mentioned that Nike+ automatically places the #nikeplus hashtag on the comment line when you post it.  Sometimes I remove it, but sometimes I don't.  No particular pattern.  Most of the time, the folks who see it are the running gang -- the intended audience.  The part that I find interesting, sort of, is the bunch of "likes" you get from a random assortment of folks who apparently spend their time looking at where other folks run.  I don't particularly mind.  I'm just curious about who these people are (if they are real people), and what the deal is . . .  There seems to be a game/competition operating here, and I don't understand the rules.  Oh, here's today's run.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

10 ways to have fun on your 20 mile training run

1) walk when you want to walk

2) drink when you want to drink

3) eat fun snacks like Kiwi flavored short bread

4) take pictures of cool stuff

5) torture daughter at college with selfies as you approach her dorm (but don't actually stop by and visit)

6) don't worry too much about running time

7) stop for gatorade at convenient convenience store (Thank you Sheridan Chase market).

8) listen to NPR and New York Times podcast

9) run through beautiful college campuses on classic fall day (Thank you Northwestern and Loyola)

10) end up within 5 minutes of projected time anyway

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Ultra long blog post

To evaluate true madness, start with the thought process.   There I am, in 2013, thrilled to be running again after 3 years of injury...having done the Roma Maratona in March with Ted and Spencer, and then the Amsterdam Marathon in October.   So all is good, right?   But no.    Despite my times in '13 being identical, and despite the fact that I should be grateful that I'M RUNNING AT ALL, I'm ticked off that my times are slower than my usual plateau.   
So in early '14 I start some speedwork...but then rowing training camps and work and rowing, and more rowing, get in the way, and I'm just too shattered to run quality miles, and I'm phoning in junk mileage and before I know it, it is summer, and I'm looking at the autumn marathon schedule ahead and thinking that I will end up as slow or slower than ever, and this makes me train even less!   
So, do I do what I should do and drop or dial down rowing and focus more on running, and the mile repeats I actually like?  No, I do not.   I hang my head and stretch and whinge and then one day I look up above me at the ads on the London Underground, and what do I see?


And an idea dawns...I love the Thames, I love a Challenge, and ultras are run more slowly than marathons, which means no speed work, more rowing, and Something Different.   

And before I know it, I'm devouring ultrarunning books and magazines and learning some very interesting's like a different world...through the looking glass, down the rabbit hole type of stuff.    Some examples:  
  • Ultrarunning training programmes are just like marathon training programmes, but they unsurprisingly put more emphasis on the long run, and they LOVE the back-to-back, ie a long run and another longish run very soon after it, either same day or next day.    I like this too!
  • Ultrarunning involves eating and drinking pretty well constantly.   Mmmmm.   Big TICK to that.
  • In ultrarunning, hills are your friend.   You WALK them.   Indeed you walk any rise, any bridge, any shady spot, and when there's none of that available, you walk every 25 minutes anyway, to rest your legs for all the more running.    Mmmmmmmmm.   Jeff Galloway times 100.
  • In ultrarunning, you run slow, slow, slow but with a high cadence, even as high as 180, but light light light on your feet.    This is good discipline and involves less jarring...
  • In ultrarunning, you get to wear pillows on your feet.   These were mine:

So I sign up, pledge my sanity to charity. ..  and BOOM!   Suddenly my urge to train is refreshed and just in time too.    The start of the summer sees a family holiday in Greece, where I'm up and finished my run before the scorching heat starts at 8am.   I'm eating more healthily, and while I'm struggling to slow down my running pace, it is coming down and the cadence is coming up.    Tick.

Since the race pace will be kept down in the fat burning zone, I'm practising training with fatty treats like coconut slices and almonds and oils.    I've got a fab new race vest and am testing out compression socks for the first time

Then suddenly it is a month to go and my mileage is skyrocketing but also so is the rowing regatta season, 

and I am running too much and racing too much and suddenly...ow it a metatarsal stress fracture or an extensor tear or what?   All running stops

I'm ordered into the pool for three weeks of aqua jogging while the physio works out what to do, ultrasounding me liberally.

During this time, of course, the seeds of doubt are only getting watered, and I keep telling myself it will be ok, but even if I am allowed to run the 100k, I'm worried the lay off will prove fatal mentally on the day....another thing about ultras: they say the physical part is of course huge, but the mental part is even need to do all the training, and not start with an injury, because even when totally fit, the distance is 90% mental, and mind over matter might work for the last 6 miles of a marathon, but it might not be enough to take you from mile 20 to mile 62 of an ultra.   

Five days and ticking and the physio deems me raceworthy, with the immortal words, 

"I don't think you are going to make the injury any worse, but the race is just going to hurt even more than it should".    

So with that ringing endorsement, and hourly ice bucket challenges for my foot (shades of Spencer in Dublin)  I pack my race kit, register and have my final carb load

 and head to the Start, at Putney.

There are 2500 souls doing a range of 25k runs or walks, or 50k or 100ks, and this can done by teams or relays or whatever you fancy.   Thus it is very moving when the announcer herds the hundred or so of us hard core 100k Runners into the Start pen before everyone else, and asks those of us who are doing it solo to raise their hands and take a round of applause.   Nice touch, that.

And then we're off!    It is 7am and I'm trot trot trotting slowly slowly over Putney Bridge trying to stay calm, and letting the field stretch out way in front of me.    This is the view upriver...just 100K to go!!

High tide was 630am and we are still splash splashing through its remnants as we run alongside the Thames - our companion for the rest of the race - and spy on early morning rowers and scullers from the many clubs lining the river.    It is a glorious sunny morning, and while I have a light sweat on it is not too much.   25 mins comes too soon and I have to task myself to walk for a couple of minutes, which feels good.   I keep this routine up for another hour or so, and just enjoy the views and chuckle as six or seven of us keep exchanging places as we follow our own trot/walk program.   Eventually three of us give in to the inevitable and band together to pass the time.  The pace is good, and another hour goes by as we cruise past Hampton Court Palace.    Eventually the banter starts to feel constricting, so I drop my companions with a friendly wave at the first big 25 k aid station, as we fumble about filling water bottles and scoffing bananas.    I have decided to refill my three 500ml bottles at every station and these come up every 14k or so, which is fortunate since I'm dry by the time I get to each one.   

Bizarrely it is around this time when I start really feeling overwhelmed by it all, and ponder stepping off the towpath for the day...I can't describe why, it isn't the lactic acid talking that's for sure, as there isn't any.   And it isn't an injury or pain pain.   It is - what - fear?    Is that too melodramatic?   That's what it feels like.   I recite some kind words my sponsors sent me    My favourite being from a fellow Antitrust Marathoner   

Break it down into stages... 
like, er, the first marathon, 
the second marathon 
and then there's only 10 miles to go! 
Good luck.”

and I start visualising the Finish, and also visualising the email I would have to write to people if I dropped before getting to the marathon distance, with no injury....yep, that cures me!

By this time I'm nibbling Clif bars and almonds and coconut slices and bananas and an S!Cap once an hour, plus rivers of water, but haven't gone for the gel yet, as I'm sure that as soon as I do, I will start feeling sick.   Cool things are happening - planes are getting lower and lower and bigger and bigger and I realise this is because I'm closing on Heathrow, which is a serious distance from the, I'm doing it!    Then suddenly I see a particular marker that makes me pause for some Quality Reflection can guess why...

Wow, I'm now in PB territory, since although this has been my slowest marathon distance EVER, it also means every step I take from this point on is new ground for me.         I celebrate by plugging in the iPhone, enjoying some tunes, then phoning my family to say I'm closing on the 50k aid station.    They are getting ready to leave home in Oxford to meet me later but they are thrilled to know I'm half way.   I am too, and I'm also amazed that my foot injury hasn't flared up, or my usual burning sides of knees....ITB of steel, not a good thing. 

But so far, just general pain all over and nothing threatening the run.    At the aid station itself I'm directed down a lane away from other runners being handed a glass of champagne, for completing 50k, and for a moment even this teetotaller is nonplussed, but then a terrible smug thought pops in that I'm doing that distance AGAIN...which is just mad, and should be squelched, but it gets me moving and the little crowd gives a wee cheer as I head out, fueled and tucking into more bananas.

Windsor comes and goes, and I chuckle that we have to run through bewildered tourists in the centre of town who refuse to move an inch out of our way.   I'm deep into my music now - Kate Bush, Talking Heads, Chili Peppers - and am just saying over and over that "I can do this" and I must smile - activate some happy feelings just by smiling - and think I will see the Fam soon.    It takes an age to get around the Eton Dorney Olympic Rowing site, which I know so well and at this point I'm passing super cruiser boats and families enjoying pub lunches.   

Fake smiling but it works...

Just north of Bray Lock I see my support crew, and they insist I change into new shoes (Newtons) and shower me with offers of specially baked carb balls, and drinks and all the power bars I'd given them and now don't want.   Too soon I'm gone from their caring embrace and am trotting up some seriously beautiful Thames Path, alone for the most part.    At this stage, some bad patches arise, and I find I'm walking fast but more than I'd like....I tell myself it's ok, when you're going through hell, keep going, and I do.    I see my phone and music batteries are almost done, so I plug in my first charger and go for that Awesome Hits album from Guardians of the Galaxy....perks me up in spirit if not in body.

This is none too soon, because here I come upon another moving marker!

I don't know why this one is such a big deal, maybe it is its roundness but for the first time, I sense that the Finish is within reach.    I meet the Fam again soon after and change back into my Hoka pillowshoes but decline all food and drink.   I'm in a mild nausea phase now, and while I'm worried that not refuelling will see me crash, even the thought of eating, even another bloody  banana, makes me want to puke.   I force down some flat Coke they've given me, and after a while I neck back a Gu gel, and I know this was the right thing to do, even if I almost bring it all back up.    It stays in, I run a bit more than I have been, and focus on something Ted wrote to me the day before: Form > Pace...and I realise that yes I'm not staggering, I'm not lurching, I'm trotting with Form, and this makes me feel good.

I'm getting a bit grumpy though and start shedding all of the Clif bars and gels that are in my pack, leaving them at aid stations.   At the final station at 86k or so, I drench my legs in ibuprofen gel, and somehow convince myself this helps.   It is getting darker now, a beautiful sunset has come and gone, and I'm feeling very lonely and a bit peculiar.   I plot on, saying "Relentless Forward Progress" over and over, a little madly, if I'm honest, and focus on relaxing anything that is tightening up, mainly my clenched teeth and brow.    I force another smile, and then a crazy grin, and try to hold it for a minute and then another, and gradually I lighten up a bit.

Now I'm into the 90ks and my trotting pace has matched my walking pace.   No matter, I force myself to trot to the next tree, to the next lock, to the next lamppost, anything to keep me moving.    It is dark now, inside and out, and I put my torch on, and am grateful that the mile markers are reflective...I almost get seriously lost a couple of times, but pubwalkers put me right, and it certainly seems the closer I get to the Finish the more that people I pass know what is going on.   I get little ripples of applause and thumbs up as I hobble by and this helps a lot as I'm starting to get weird spasms in my neck and back and need all the help I can get.  I start fantasizing that around the next bend the sky will lighten and this will signal that Henley is coming....but that doesn't happen for a very long time, and when it does, wow, it feels good.    I get to Temple Island...   

... the start of the rowing course and can't believe I'm within sight of the Finish. 

I phone the gang and they've been there for ages waiting, and I let them know I'm coming, slowly, and they laugh and say I'm to take my time.    I get to Henley Bridge and am ecstatic, a race marshal says I'm nearly done and I just need to follow the glow sticks in.   Which I do.   But they're going up a hill, away from the Finish.    I follow them a bit more and a bit more and the hill gets steeper and now I'm deep into a Henley town and the streets are full of people and I'm weaving in and out and trying to jog and the hill gets steeper and steeper and now I'm a teensy bit annoyed.   Suddenly though it flattens out, and I pass some 50k walkers and commiserate with them about the sadist route planner.   

Then it is a sharp and long downhill of ow ow ow ow and a right turn back onto the river and a tunnel of glow sticks and my fam are way ahead clapping generically until they realise it is me and they FREAK OUT and run with me and wham, I'm across, holding champagne, having my chip and number tagged and marked and being directed to burgers and salads and drinks and massage tables and dry clothes and it is HEAVEN!

I do all of that and more and get home and collapse and spend the entire next day in various forms of horizontality, gorging on Chocolate Lasagna (think layers of Oreos and cream, pasta free) and revelling in stories of the majesty of the Thames, and frank self disbelief that I did it and finished smiling too!    I'm also stunned at the weight loss, and for over a week I'm still finding clothes falling of me...the gadget says I burned 8600 calories that day, and I can't imagine I took in more than 4500 before I felt sick...and I drank constantly - 6 aid stations x 1.5 litres per station - and never went to the loo during the entire race, or til the next evening,so I'm guessing some weight has come off that isn't just fluid!   Amazing.   A good it back on.

The denouement: I have to say that during training and OCD'ing about ultrarunning books, I had got it into my head that next year I would do the 100 MILE Thames run from London to my home in Oxford, and then the year after I would do the 152 MILE Spartathlon in Greece...but you know what, I'm not going to do any of that.   And I'm not tempted to do the 100k again and knock some time off the 14 hours it took me!!!   I loved the 100k, I really did, and I'm thrilled I accomplished it, and raised over £3000 for Save the Children, but I'm a runner, and these ultras are just too far for me to have to walk, you have to pace yourself and it is something to endure....but right now, when I recover, I'm a greedy to RUN, and RUN, and RUN, and this means dropping back down to my true home which is marathons and halfs.

Consider doing a 100 sometime though, is awesome, and while words didn't fail me in this blog post, they do fail me, if you know what I is a unique experience!!!