Monday, November 29, 2010

First date butterflies

Five days remain until I run my first 50K and judging by the butterflies in my stomach I know this isn't just any other race. Despite the recent arrival of some new life in my legs, the fear of the unknown is still getting the best of me as I wonder what lies ahead and why exactly I decided to do this.

Don't misunderstand my fear, I am completely confident I will finish the race and hope to do so in a respectable time. The anxious-nervous-maybe-a-tad-bit-worried feeling I have is more like what you'd feel before a first date. I'm confident in myself and the plan i've set out, but I just don't know what "she" (the trails) will throw my way.

Come to think about it, running and dating are similar in a lot of ways...but that's a post for another day.

Forecast shows a high of 60 with a decent chance of rain...there go the butterflies again...

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

New life

For the last few weeks my legs have felt incredibly heavy. At times i've even felt as if I were running in quicksand. My mind would tell my legs to move fast, but I felt like I was hardly above a quick jog.

I knew this was normal following two marathons within two weeks of each other, but my legs had never felt this dead before and they didn't seem to be improving much. With my 50k only 10 days away I was beginning to worry.

I laced up my shoes this morning, cautious of the fact that I may have to put up with my 'dead legs' for 10 miles, and was out the door. After a warm-up jog I picked up the pace a bit and much to my surprise I found myself moving at a decent clip. "Not gonna last" I told myself, thinking my legs would revert back to the heavy state they had been in for the past couple weeks.

The miles kept ticking away and I was able to keep with the pace, even pushing it at times and challenging a couple of hills. People passing on the sidewalk probably wondered why I looked so happy, but I didn't care if I looked crazy. My legs had new life and that gave me new energy. I finished the run well ahead of my usual pace with a huge smile on my face (please forgive the rhyme...i'm a poet).

A workout like this comes around very seldomly, but I enjoyed every second of it. After my 50k next week when my legs are heavy and my body hurts, i'll be dreaming of this morning's run.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

My next training partner

Over the last few years I have had some phenomenal training partners. Friends, family, young and old have come out on the roads with me and I couldn't be happier that they did. I might have to wait a few years for my next training partner, especially considering he doesn't even know how to walk yet.

Last night I met my new baby nephew, Ethan. To say I am a proud uncle would be a huge understatement...

I sat with him for hours last night as he dozed off and drooled all over me. I couldn't help but think about who he will be as he grows up, the personality he will take on and the things he'll like to do.

I can't wait until that one day, years from now, when Little E and I go for a run and talk about life. Until then, i'll keep enjoying the pint-sized 14 pound version of him. I mean look at him, how could you not?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Conquering Catalina for my first buffalo (Race Report)

As I crossed the finish line of the Catalina Eco Marathon on Saturday, I looked at my girlfriend and said, "That was the hardest thing i've ever had to do in my entire life". Fighting back a flurry of emotions, I tried to explain why. Here, in a much more coherent fashion, is a recap of my experience...

The morning was a bit of a marathon itself, with a 4:40 am wake-up call, a thirty minute drive to the dock, an hour long boat ride to the island, a taxi ride and a half-mile walk to the start. By the 8 a.m. start I was ready for a nap, but little did I know that things were about to get a whole lot worse.

At the beginning of a race, runners normally take off running faster than their usual pace with their bodies full of adrenaline. With a steep three mile incline to start this race, most, if not all of the runners were walking. The incline was so steep that I was walking at the same speed as the guy next to me, who appeared to be running (or at least trying).

I immediately regretted my decision in choosing this race.

This was supposed to be a training run, to prepare me for my 50K in December and to be a nice day on the island. Three miles in and my legs were burning, the temperature was already north of 70 degrees and my right calf decided it would nag me yet again.

After we reached the top of our incline and I looked 1,500 feet down on the town of Avalon, I took a deep breath and enjoyed the few feet of flat trails I had before the hills returned. I knew I had a few miles until the next large incline so I did my best to keep a quick pace and take advantage of the terrain.

Miles 4-18 were tough, but beautiful. With the ocean all around us and eagles flying overhead, I couldn't think of a more beautiful place to run. We dropped down into a valley and ran on single tracks in swamplands, underneath trees in a wooded area and across sand skirting a lake. This course is a trail-runners dream.

The trail runner's dream became a nightmare at mile 19. Signs foreshadowed the upcoming "Catalina Crush" hill. Rather than tell you my true feelings about this hill, I will remove all expletives and simply tell you I hated it.

While refilling on water and partaking in the goodies at the aid station (which were unbelievably amazing), I saw an older woman who I had passed a couple of times earlier in the day. She would shuffle along at a decent pace, never slowing. I would blow by her only to see her shuffle by me while I took a walking break.

We exchanged pleasantries and started running side by side. As time passed, we got to know each other, talked about running, work, relationships and life. Amazed by the story of this 65 year old ultra-marathon runner, the miles went by in a flash. There were more inclines and it kept getting hotter, but my new friend Carol carried me through those miles while inspiring me with her incredible story. What an incredible blessing she was to me.

The descent back into Avalon began just after mile 23. Relieved at the sight of some steep downhills, Carol bid me farewell as her physical limitations forced her to take the downhills with extreme caution. I promised i'd see her at the finish and I pressed on.

Stumbling (sometimes literally) down the mountain, just about every part of my body hurt. I had been running for longer than I ever had before and my legs hadn't seen a fraction of this abuse in my years of running. Finally, we reached the asphalt road and mile marker 25. I kicked into gear, desperate to finish.

Coming down the homestretch with my gas tank on empty, I squeezed out one last burst of energy and crossed the finish line. "Give me my buffalo!" I thought as the volunteer handed me my medal.

My legs were cramping and my feet were sore, my head hurt and my stomach groaned. My amazing girlfriend met me at the finish line, ready and willing to help in any way possible. I told her I needed to go back to the finish line...I made a promise to Carol.

Standing near the finish, I saw Carol off in the distance, shuffling along with a smile on her face. I cheered as she approached and gave her a high-five, thanking her as she shuffled onward. What an inspiring woman...this was her 35th marathon on Catalina Island alone, and she crossed the finish line taking 1st place in her age group.

This was a race I will truly never forget. The unbelievable views became a footnote to the people I met and the challenges I faced. My finishing time was over an hour longer than my usual mark, but I could not care less. Earning the medal was the goal, but the journey in getting there was the true reward.

Lindsey and I spent the rest of the day in Catalina, eating, playing mini golf and enjoying the island. The fun and peaceful afternoon by the water was just what I needed after a hellish time in the hills.

Stay tuned over the next couple of weeks for more posts as I recover and prepare for the North Face 50K. God Bless!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Hungry for a buffalo - my first trail marathon

It's here again. It's been less than two weeks since I toed the line for 26.2 in San Jose, but this Saturday i'll run up hills and pass herds of buffalo on my way to finishing 26.2 in Catalina.

A whole new challenge lies ahead of me, and it's only an appetizer to the main course which comes December 4th (North Face 50K). This is my first-ever trail race and i've been told it's going to be rough. To make matters worse, I intended to train on trails a lot more than I actually did.

Should be interesting.

I wouldn't say i'm scared or even nervous. It's more of a blend of cautiousness and doubt. How will my calf hold up after nagging me the last two weeks? How will these hills affect my energy late in the race? Will the trails humble me even more than the roads already do?

All of these questions will be answered Saturday. I'll face these doubts the same way I face tough hills, by running hard and getting over 'em.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Next challenge: Bring home a buffalo

In about a week and a half, I am going to attempt something a little crazy (even for me)...I will travel to Catalina island and bring home a buffalo.

You heard me right.

For those of you picturing me trying to fit a buffalo into the back of my jeep, let me put your mind at ease. The buffalo I am referring to is the finishers medal for my next marathon. It is very well known amongst marathoners as being one of the top medals in the marathon-world. Here's a look at it...

I should point out that the large majority of runners dont run for the medal. Of course, what it signifies is very important, but the design or size of it is of little importance to most.
Think of it like a wedding ring...most women (hopefully) don't care if their ring is big, small, simple or extravagant. What is most important to them is what is symbolizes. When I look at each of my medals, I can instantly tell you the race it was from and the experience I had in getting it.
I'm hoping there's a great story behind my buffalo. Stay tuned for that race report, November 13th.

Do you know the way to San Jose? (Race Report)

We spent the entire day in San Francisco, checking out the sites, having fun in our Halloween costumes (see above), watching the World Series and partaking in a couple adult beverages at a local speakeasy.
Still feeling a little drowsy from an eventful Saturday, Lindsey and I headed to the start line. For the first time ever, I was able to walk to the start line...and it took less than five minutes! A welcome change from the usual early morning wake-up call, traffic/shuttle to the start.
Trying to maximize every second of sleep I could, I arrived to the start line just a few minutes before the race began. Not leaving enough time for nerves to kick in, we were off. We made our way through five or six miles of San Jose streets before embarking on about 14 miles of paved trails.
The weather was beautiful, around 60 degrees with limited cloud cover. The trail was perfect with rolling hills and some trees to provide a little shade.
About seven miles in I was amazed at the people around me, it seemed as if everybody had decided to run the same exact pace. Nobody passed me and I hardly passed anyone. If you've ever run a race before, you know how rare this is. This went on until the half-marathoners split off at mile 13.
Passing the half-marathon finish line was like seeing the end of the movie half-way through. A big part of me wanted to cross that finish line and call it a day. Nevertheless, I made a right turn and kept on with the running. In perfect timing, I was greeted with a few large hills immediately after passing the half-marathon finish line festival. Turning around wasn't an option, as badly as I wanted to I forced myself on.
Around mile 20 my legs were still feeling pretty good and I was staying ahead of my target pace. I briefly thought to myself, "Maybe this gets easier the more I do it...maybe this won't hurt so bad this time".
Coming up on mile 23 my body started its usual slow and methodic shutdown. (I'm being a bit dramatic here, it actually isnt as deadly as it sounds). My right calf tightened up and I felt a sharp pain in my left groin, not enough to make me stop but more than enough to bring a grimace to my face.
With the Catalina Marathon 13 days away, I wasn't interested in being prideful and pushing myself to the point of injury so I took my time the last few miles. I encouraged other runners while slipping into a run/walk that probably looked more like a walk/stop.
The mile 26 marker finally appeared and I kicked it up a notch, making certain to finish at my goal pace. It hurt just as bad as my previous marathons, but the feeling of finishing was worth it.
Finishing number six was special to me for a couple of reasons. First, because it was the first marathon I ran as a "training run". I was able to enjoy myself and not worry at all about my time. More importantly, I was able to share the experience with two very important people in my life, Mario and Waldo. Thank you both for being there to support me. Knowing you were at the finish line motivated me more than I could ever tell you.
With hardly enough time to think back on my experience, I have to look ahead to my next race. In 11 days I will be hopping on a boat for Catalina to take on the hills and earn myself a buffalo.