Berry Smoothie

I really dislike bananas.

I’m not bragging or anything; just stating a fact. I truly dislike bananas. I always have. I know they’re very good for me and I wish I could eat one. I honestly don’t think I have ever managed to eat an entire banana by itself (that is, not in some other food).

The 2006 Richmond Marathon was the third (and last) marathon I ran. It was exceptionally hot that day, with temps around 80° in November. The last 10k was really rough on me and I knew I was in desperate need of some nutrition after the race. I sat down on a curb in Shockoe Bottom with a banana and a bagel, thinking that the banana was exactly what I needed. I managed to get about half way through it, forcing every bite.

Then it occurred to me: I’d rather risk serious injury or death rather than eat an entire banana.

Like I said, I really dislike bananas. Always have.

Berry Smoothie

None of this changes the fact that bananas are excellent to eat after strenuous workouts or runs. I still know this and I’m quite pleased that I finally found an easy recipe that I enjoy to have after working out. It does have quite a lot of sugar, but you can substitute water/ice for the juice to reduce that by about half.

Ingredients

  • 8 oz Apple Juice (substitute with same of ice water or ice or other juice to taste)
  • Medium Banana, frozen
  • 1 cup Mixed Berries, frozen
  • 1/2 cup Vanilla Yogurt

Steps

  1. Pour the juice, berries, and yogurt in your blender cup.
  2. Use a butter knife to slice the skin off a couple of sides of the frozen banana. It comes off very easily, even when frozen & you can just cut off slices into the blender while holding the two remaining sides.
  3. Pulse the blender 5-6 times to chop up the frozen bits.
  4. Blend on high for 40 seconds.

Serves 2 (who am I kidding, I drink the whole thing. So should you).

The best part: The frozen banana is almost undetectable in terms of flavor, smell, and texture. I mean if you get nose right down into the cup, you’ll detect banana; but that’s what straws are for. For people who really hate bananas.

Defensive Running

Today I joined people from all over the world in going out for a run in dedication to Meg Menzies, the woman in Hanover County, VA who was tradgically struck and killed by a drunk driver on Monday while out for a morning run with her husband. My heartfelt symphathies to her husband, three children, her family, and all her friends.

As I went out on my run, I started thinking about some of the ways runners can try be more defensive in avoiding traffic incidents. Sometimes, caution is just not enough. By all accounts, Menzies was an experienced runner and doing everything ‘right’ in order to try to minimize her chances of being in an accident. Certainly, encouranging everyone to have the decency to not drive while intoxicated and to not text while driving helps us all. But there are some defensive steps runners can take to be safer. Most of these are pretty obvious, but if you’re new to running or have just always done your own thing (as I did for years), then maybe you might get something out of these.

  • When possible, keep to the sidewalks. I know a lot of runners who complain that concrete gives them worse pain (often shin splints) than running on more flexible asphalt. However, I strongly believe that discomfort from running on concrete can be largely offset by properly fit shoes and adopting good form running techniques.

    If you must run on the road, be sure to keep aware of the traffic. Sounds simple, but it’s easy to get lost in a song or a conversation and not hear a car until it’s too late.

    Incidentally, during my run earlier today, I had to go off the sidewalk an onto the road (in the direction of traffic, even) as there was a small flock of turkey vultures devouring a opossum in my way and I deemed it best to not try to hurdle them. However, after about 50 yards and as I heard a car approaching from behind, I jumped back in the grass.

  • I’ve been part of running clubs in the past, but the large majority of my runs are alone. However, running in groups has its own kind of safety. The more ears and eyes, the more likely to notice a car.

    Just try to avoid running down a road two- or three- (or, in the case of Grove Avenue in Richmond, VA, up to four-) abreast. Leaving a runner out in the middle of a lane leaves them —as well as a vehicle— no where to go.

  • As I run by myself a lot and as I’ve started running with a smartphone, I tend to listen to music or audiobooks while on a run. However, it’s important to not listen to music too loudly or use headphones that restrict your ability to hear your environment. Consider listening to audiobooks or podcasts instead of loud music, as these tend to present less of a wall of sound and you can often make out sounds around you much easier.

  • Consider getting a RoadID or at least keeping your driver’s license with you while you run. In the event of an accident, you want people to know who you are and who to contact someone on your behalf if necessary.

    I mentioned running with my smartphone, on which I use a GPS app to track my runs. However, that GPS can also be used to help locate me and make sure I’m safe. My wife can user our shared iTunes account and a Find My iPhone app to make sure I’m still up & moving at any time. In other words, it’s like I’m LoJacked on my runs (and that’s a good thing).

  • Be aware of your own self, as well. As you run, you get tired and/or get into the zone. Both can tend to put blinders on you, restricting your awareness to the path immediately ahead of you. This is also where having others can be of help, but it’s still important to acknowledge that just because you’re deep into the zen of your run, the world around you hasn’t really stopped.

  • Lastly, but sure most importantly, please obey all laws and regulations regarding traffic and pedestrians. As frustrating as waiting on a light to change can be, traffic laws are there to keep you safe. Let’s face it, running out in a urban area isn’t the best place to set a PR. Save that for a race, where the course is closed to traffic and you can really focus on your run and only your run.

    If it helps you, a lot of current running apps have an auto pause feature which pauses recording if you stand (relatively) still for more than 30 seconds or so. I use this feature on the Nike Plus app on my iPhone and it alleviates that sense of urgency I might otherwise feel to dash out in between cars at a red light.

If you want to read even more about staying safe while running, Runner’s World has a great long-form article titled Collision Course.

And, please, whether your out for a run, on your bike, or behind the wheel, please be safe and aware.

My FitBit and Me

In early January, Angela and I got matching his-and-hers FitBit One’s to start tracking our activity. Angela’s actually been wearing a pedometer for years now. But the FitBit does a lot more data tracking than a simple pedometer. I’ve been wearing it everyday since then.

There a few technologies I’ve adopted that I would consider life-changing. Maybe not the sort that change the entire course of my life, but certainly that have had a dramatic impact on my day-to-day behavior. DVR (TiVo), smartphone (iPhone), and a personal activity tracker (FitBit). As a professional, I’ve always been at a desk for a lot of my time. But when I practiced engineering, I was often going on site visits and moving around throughout the day. Now that I’ve been working remotely for a software company, that’s not the case. My activity level can vary dramatically from day-to-day. I had no idea just how much until I started wearing the FitBit.

Pocket Location

I keep my FitBit one clipped to the watch pocket in my Jeans.

One day I’d break 10,000 steps shortly before lunch (if I went running, typically). On another day, I might be lucky to approach 2,000 steps. What’s more, is my eating varied just as much. And my activity (i.e., caloric expense) had absolutely no correlation with my eating (i.e., caloric intake). So my body would one day get twice as many calories as it really needed and another not enough. I was essentially training my caveman-era/lizard-brained body to hold on to every scrap of calories it got because who knew what tomorrow would bring.

Daily Achievement Unlocked!

Meeting your daily goals comes with bonus endorphins!

Wearing the FitBit and carefully tracking my calories eaten has help to change that behavior. I now track my calorie intake using LoseIt1. Having a number of activity goals —steps, active minutes, stairs, and miles— all of which gamify my physical activity. Of course, I don’t meet the targets all (most?) of the time, but just having the goals points me in the right direction rather than stumbling around in the dark.

Of course, just tracking the data is one thing. It would be all too easy to just pile it all together in some useless place. FitBit’s web site and iPhone app are really exceptional. In fact, I sort of use my FitBit as just a recorder (and occasional timepiece) and rarely take it out of my pocket. I simply use the iPhone app. On an iPhone 4S or newer, the smartphone syncs directly to the FitBit via Bluetooth 4.

Power Walker

I must have gotten lost that day.

I also use the FitBit to track my sleep, although that’s more to make sure I’m getting enough rather than judging the quality of it. Apparently, I’m generally 98% efficient at sleeping, whatever that means. The velcro wrist strap is a pain and tends to come off my arm. I’m on my second wrist strap, as well as second silicone clip. As a result, I’m considering upgrading to a Force next year. The One has been great so far.

  1. LoseIt has a great iPhone app and syncs both ways with a FitBit account.

Mommys Representing in NY

I really enjoyed this bit from the coverage of yesterday’s NY City Marathon, where Brit Paula Radcliffe won the women’s race:

…there was something seminal about the way Gary Lough emerged from the crowd at the finish line at the New York Marathon yesterday in order to hand his 10-month-old daughter, Isla, to her mother, Paula Radcliffe, moments after she won the New York City Marathon. And that is because Isla is among the first generation of daughters who will grow up watching their mothers compete as professional athletes.

Things like this make me very glad our daughter gets to grow up in this time.

PA Is For Pennsylvania and Pain

In this post, Jason and Angela spend Mother’s day in Pennsylvania with friends and Jason confirms yet again that he can snooze in adverse conditions.

Oxford, PA

We spent more time hanging out and not so much time taking photos this weekend. However, I did like this clock I noticed in a small town on the drive through rural PA.

Angela and I drove up to PA over the weekend to visit our friends Sally, Chris, and Mason, whom we hadn’t seen since the last time they came to visit Richmond. Our only other trip up to see them was spent sight-seeing around Philadelphia, so this was a much more relaxed visit. By relaxed, I mean that we ran a 5k footrace on Saturday morning. Rather than just any old 5k, this was a one-time event being held on a yet-to-be-opened-to-traffic new bridge on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Even better, this particular bridge was designed by the company Chris works for, Figg Engineering Group (of the Natchez Trace Parkway Arch Bridge, among many other high-profile bridges). The new Susquehanna River Bridge isn’t exactly Figg’s most spectacular design (this is the company whose motto is “Bridges as Art,” mind you) but it is still a large and attractive structure and the view for the entire race was great. Okay, it was a pretty sunny day on large river so even if the view was of Three Mile Island, you could still do a lot worse.

We celebrated mother’s day by all going out to a nice Italian lunch yesterday. Angela’s 3/5 of the way to being a mom, so we figured this was her first un-official holiday for which she could celebrate.

For the past couple of months, I’ve had a pain developing in my right hamstring. Angela and I figured it was due to some uneventful running injury but stretching and yoga didn’t really seem to be doing a lot for it. I finally got around to seeing a sports medicine doctor this morning and as it turns out, it may have nothing to do with my leg at all. I may have some sort of spinal disc issue which is simply sending incorrect signals of leg pain up to my brain (stupid nervous system). Anyway, I had a couple of x-ray images made this morning of my lower spine which didn’t really answer much. However, the doctor did point out that I have an odd sixth bone/lower vertebra at the base of my spine, at my sacrum (I’m hazarding a guess that you only have five lumbar vertebrae). This apparently is not a health concern, just a really odd thing.

MRI Sheets

This is probably going to take a while for the doctor to go through. My spine feels very well documented now.

Anyway, since the x-rays didn’t explain much regarding the soft disc tissue, I went for an MRI this afternoon. MRI’s take longer than an x-ray (a lot longer, as in about 30 minutes), if you didn’t know. Of course, this results in about 100 images as opposed to just a couple. Frankly, I could see how someone who was claustrophobic might get very upset at being in a similar machine. Frankly, I didn’t mind all that much being wrapped tightly in leftover parts form an jet-liner’s interior for that long. It’s loud and cramped, but I ended up falling asleep for almost the whole thing.

I suspect that will remain the most expensive nap of my life for a long time to come.

I feel just fine other than some mild pain in my leg. It’s not like I broke my wrist or have debilitating migraines. I came home this afternoon and mowed the lawn as well as ran a couple of miles on the treadmill (the doctor did ask me to limit running to softer surfaces for now). This is all just so he can get down to the bottom of where pain is coming from and then recommend what to do about it.

A Nice Spring Weekend

Angela and I had a relaxing few days (mostly) at home over the past weekend.

We spent most of the weekend at home, although Friday night we went to pick up our race numbers for the following morning’s 10k as well as hit the grocery store for the first time in weeks. We cleaned up the kitchen that evening as friends were coming over the next day.

I guess most people don’t consider running 6.2 miles early on Saturday morning relaxing, but it really did feel that way. This weekend was the Monument Ave 10k, Richmond’s largest race, with about 25,000 entrants. Running the big races in Richmond is a lot of fun, as I’ve said many times before, because of all the crowds that come out. Saturday, with nearly perfect running weather, was no exception. Angela and I rode with our neighbor, Teri, down to the race, along with friends Meredizzle and Jess (who I dubbed "wing-nut" this weekend for no really good reason). We were running a little late, which ended up working out just perfectly. After rushing to get my bag checked in, I made it to the start line just about a minute before my coral started. I had a good race. Even though I was about five minutes over my best 10k time, I felt great after crossing the finish line. Probably a sign I could have pushed harder but also a sign I’m not that bad out of shape, either.

That afternoon, a bunch of friends came over for lunch off the grill (hamburgers, mostly) as well as playing the Wii. We sat around talking and getting to know one another for quite a while (we have a number of friends who don’t yet know our other friends, like most everyone does). Unfortunately, this meant that not everyone got to play the Wii as much as we would have liked. Also, it meant that I didn’t get embarrassing photos of people playing Wario Ware.

Sunday afternoon, we went to a baby shower for one of Angela’s co-workers held at yet another of her co-worker’s home. I have to say, if more baby showers were like this, I bet folks wouldn’t dread them so much, especially males. There was a keg of local micro-brew, great music, and good food. I had met the couple before and enjoyed getting to talk to them (well, actually, mostly him) more. The host, his girlfriend, and the rest of the guests (again, a lot of Angela’s new co-workers) were all lots of fun to talk with, as well. We love the people at Angela’s old job and miss them. However, it was great to know she’s again working with a bunch of nice folks who are fun to spend time with.

Incidentally, having co-ed baby showers is probably much more common now. Not that dads-to-be didn’t have any interest in their children before, it’s just that now we don’t feel this need to hide it1. Reading some great sites online written by dads as well as talking with other current and soon-to-be dads has really done a lot for me, both in encouragement and in excitement. Anyway, Angela and I have agreed that having a dads-are-welcome baby shower is really the way to go. Of course, there was at least one mommy at the baby shower who seemed to be upset.

"Why is he opening the presents?"

Well, maybe because he has an interest in his daughter, too, just like she does.

  1. I’ll write more about it after I’m done with Pregnancy Sucks – For Men, but the book I’m reading right now kind of falls into this. It was the only pregnancy book for men I could find and it plays up the whole dads-are-too-manly-to-care-about-pregnancy thing. I’m not just trying to do stuff because that gets my nagging wife off my back. She’s not nagging, actually, and I genuinely am excited about being a dad.

Moving Pictures

I’m going to a post-marathon party at some friends’ house tonight so we can all celebrate not dying last Saturday morning. Angela took some great photos of them, so I’ll Flickr ’em1 and have Target print them for me. At ¢20 for a 4″x6″ 2, combined with the fact that Target is only about 3/4″ of a mile from our house, it really beats trying to print them ourselves. For comparison, 4″x6″ photo paper goes for about ¢9 – ¢21 per sheet at Staples (which is, incidentally, just about six blocks from our house). Essentially, we use Web 2.0 to outsource our printing. How cool is it that we can do that?

Anyway, here’s a couple of non-Angela shots from last Saturday. Just about every race with over a few hundred people (and some even that small) have professional photographers at them now who hope to sell you a photo of you running. I’ve bought a few, but they tend to be very expensive. That, plus, who doesn’t look like total crap when running that far? Oh yeah.

Somewhere In NorthsideSprinting Down The Hill

  1. However, don’t bother going to look for them. I usually just send those to a private set and delete them later.
  2. It’s actually just ¢15 each if you have them mailed to you, but I don’t know how much shipping is.

Going For The Duece

If you don’t have the time or desire to read a fairly long post from me, let me give you the short & sweet: don’t try and run two marathons in two weeks time. More importantly, the next time you hear me talking about doing something like that, slap me and then make me read this first paragraph.

Okay, on to the rest of this entry…

So, I felt that I was able to recover from the MCM fairly quickly. I had a sports massage the day afterwards and within just three days of running, virtually all the soreness was gone. A week ago (Sunday evening), I went out and ran a fast five-miler and my legs felt good (other than chafing from the cold wind, but that’s easy to correct for). That evening, I made the decision to go ahead and run Richmond this year. Thursday evening, Angela and I went down to the James Center to pick up my race packet and our t-shirts1. I also got my Sportsbackers Training Team race singlet, which although I’d have preferred a t-shirt to prevent some of that nasty chafing I had during last year’s marathon, I figured I’d just put it over a thin t-shirt. The next day I picked up an iPod arm-band and sport headphones, both for cheap, so I could have that during the race if I felt like I needed some extra boost. I ate well and got to bed early that night, although I’d been a space-case at work all day and was glad just to be able to get ally things in order for the following morning.

Angela dropped me off near the James Center (where the race finishes) so I could make it to get in the group photo for my team. I found a few friendly faces I hadn’t seen in over a month (since my training schedule had to be altered for an earlier race). I headed up to the start area and got my bag all checked in. That morning was great weather for a race, but we all knew it was going to get a lot warmer (the previous year we had to start in jackets and wearing gloves). I saw some more familiar faces in between the 4:00 and 4:30 pace2 groups that I decided to begin in and having some people to talk to always makes the race go by faster.

The Richmond Marathon Course

The course of the Richmond Marathon as recorded on my wristwatch GPS unit.

Before long, we were all heading across the start line and down Broad Street. The first few miles of a race like this are so filled with anticipation and adrenaline that they go by very quickly. I remember looking at my Garmin every few seconds to force myself to a 10:00/mile pace. After a few miles, my pace becomes steady enough I don’t have to check so often, but in the excitement at the beginning, it’s too easy to run fast and burn out too early (not that it was going to make a lot of difference today). At around mile four, I came up on Angela who was taking photos with the D50 and cheering everyone on. I felt really good at that point and was so glad to see her. She was waving her "Go Jason" sign and rattling a noise maker, both of which she’d gotten at the expo. I stopped for just a few seconds to discuss where she’d be next on the course (Main and Boulevard). I headed on down the street, passing our friend Karen (who was acting as a course marshal). Karen’s the one who convinced Angela and me to sign up a couple of years ago for the training team, so it was good to see here out there as well. The training team coaches, many of whom had been acting as pacers for us, dropped off at mile five. That’s right about where my right foot started having some pain, just under my shoe laces. It’d happened at the MCM, just three miles later into that race. I decided I’d take some ibuprofen after the mile six water stop to deal with it, hoping my first energy gel would help to offset any nausea associated with ibuprofen on an empty stomach.

Downhill on River Road to the first ‘party stop’ at the Starbucks and the first really large crowd since the starting line. It’s an amazing feeling for your neighbors to come out and cheer for you like some sort of rock star. While the crowds seemed a little thinner than last year, I appreciated all the people calling my name out. A little later in the race, one fellow runner asked me if I was the mayor or something because so many people kept shouting my name. I just pointed out that it was written in large letters across my (brightly colored) shirt. I caught up with some fellow team mates on Riverside Drive and kept up with them for quite a ways, until I stopped to stretch out my calf muscles on Forrest Hill Road. I was hoping to avoid the nasty muscle cramps I had gotten at the very end of last year’s marathon and that had plagued me during the last 10k of the MCM. Around the 14 mile mark, on Semmes Boulevard is where I (and apparently many others) began to feel the day getting warmer. I had put on my headphones at this point and could even notice the heat around my ears. I had made the decision before the race to up my intake of energy gels to one every 30 minutes, but by the beginning of the Lee Bridge, just past mile 15, I could barely even get half of one down. Having the pain killers along with extra doses of energy gel (which is like cake frosting with the consistency of honey, if you’ve never had one) was beginning to make my stomach turn and the heat only made it worse. There’s almost no shade for nearly two miles while heading back north to Main Street, and that’s when I began to feel the sense of exhaustion that would beat me down for the next two-and-a-half hours.

Cruising Around The Corner

The smile’s not fake, but the look of running hard sure is. Glad to be able to ditch that t-shirt with Angela, I tried to recover from fatigue at mile 18, but it was short lived.

I was having to stop and walk a block or so at every mile at 17, and Angela busted me in a couple of photos coming around on to the Boulevard. I was able to jog a few steps to fake it, but it was more of a joke on me than anything else. I was looking beat and I felt it. However, after running that far, you sure can’t just give up just because you see a pretty face cheering just for you. I stopped and stripped my t-shirt, stretched, and got a pep talk from Angela. We cheered some fellow runners together before I got back on the road up the Boulevard. I luckily grabbed a handful of pretzels from a guy on the sidelines a couple of blocks away and shoved them in my pocket. After all the sweet stuff all morning long, some salty pretzels were a perfect source of energy. I trudged on for a couple of more miles, finally catching up with one of the fellow teammates I’d ran with for three miles earlier that morning.

"I had a plan." Ruben quipped, "But that got dashed today. So I’m just going to walk for a bit here and there. I’ll still get my same medal."

"Well, if you don’t mind, I’ll just walk some with you."

…and that’s just what Ruben and I, along with some other training team members we caught up to along the way, did for the last 10k of the race. Many of the team coaches were there along the last couple of miles, running along side people and cheering them on (and cheering them up, in many runners cases). As tired and lousy as I felt, the last half mile in Richmond is really awesome. You can see the finish line from quite a ways back and it is down Cary Street, which for those who don’t know, is quite a steep hill. I did my best to pick up some speed and finish as best as I could muster (having long since blown away my hopes of finishing under 4:30).

My final time was 4:52:16.

Heading For The Finish Line

Heading to the finish line, and home.

I could barely even keep standing after crossing the finish line. I found someone to remove my timing chip, hoping I wouldn’t ruin their day by vomiting on them. The volunteers at these events are likely to be blissfully unaware just how quickly they could regret their decision to help out. I got my medal placed around my neck and, while very proud of what I had just done, it really hit me all of a sudden just how different I felt from the previous two marathons. Rather, how I didn’t really feel nearly as much. The first race was filled with a sense of pride of accomplishment that I had really fulfilled a life goal. The second was a sense of awe and respect for my surroundings, fellow runners, and the Marines putting on the whole affair. I simply didn’t have the emotional investment in this race as much as I had previous ones, and that simply cannot be discounted. You’ll hear it time and time again: running a marathon is a mental effort as much as a physical one. I simply didn’t have the desire which gives me those little adrenaline rushes throughout a race that keeps me pushing on this time. Maybe just as much as the heat affected me, my heart just wasn’t into this one.

Angela found me at the exit area for runners and walked me to get signed out (the training team keeps track of all their runners on every run). I grabbed a slice of pizza and once I got my bag back, changed shirts and shoes. Afterwards, it was home for a shower and a nap with the dogs. Angela took me to get a sports massage that evening and then out for a reward dinner at a local seafood and steak place. I can’t say that really did anything to earn any of that, other than just being bull-headed. However, it sure did make me feel nice. Having people in the city come out and cheer me on was great, but having Angela around during and after the race was even better.

  1. Part of signing up for the Sportsbackers Marathon Training Team is the entry fee to the Richmond Marathon, even if you plan on running a different race. Lot’s of people here use the training team to get ready for Chicago, New York, Marine Corps, and even races as early in the Fall as San Francisco. So, even if you don’t run Richmond, you can still get a nice, long sleeve t-shirt, so Angela got hers even though she didn’t run this one. That smart girl.
  2. That’s total time for the entire race, or four-and-a-half hours for the entire marathon. That boils down to about a 10:15 minute mile on average. Hopefully that will give some background on the two different "pace" meanings I use often.

Marine Corps Marathon

Well, the big day kind of snuck-up on us. Angela had been getting over a hamstring injury pretty much all of October and we had gone on vacation earlier last month. Therefore, when the end of the month came out of no where, we almost felt surprised that an entire month had gone by without either of us running all that much. I had run my second twenty-miler before our Alaska vacation and really hadn’t run much since during my taper period. Poor Angela hadn’t run any distance since her fifteen-miler back in late September. We both went out and ran a six-miler the Sunday one week prior to the MCM and Angela determined that her leg felt good enough to run on, though. Having Dave in town the day before the race really helped distract us though, which was probably a good thing.

We had reserved a room at the Sheraton very near the start of the race, a couple of blocks from the new Air Force Memorial. This would prove to be great the morning of the race, but disastrous afterwards. We parked at Pentagon City and took the Metro to the Armory to get our chips and bib numbers. There was actually a line out the door of the Armory and down the block, which was sort of alarming. People were streaming in from everywhere to get in before 7:00pm (some people had come straight from the airport via taxi, with luggage in tow) when the race expo shut down. We made it in and picked up our stuff and proceeded to wander around the expo for a little while. We bought a couple of those throw-away Tyvek jackets since it would be cool and very windy the next morning. We loaded up on free energy snacks and other swag1. Clif was doing some pace-groups and handed out pace bands, which proved to be pretty handy. I enjoy using my Garmin GPS (a lot), but having the mile splits written out helps on over-all pacing a great deal and reduces the amount I have to keep checking my watch2 We finally decided we’d filled up our tote bags (mine actually started ripping), so we headed back out to the Metro to go find some dinner.

We had broken out our D.C. travel guide books in hopes of finding some great Italian restaurant for our pre-race calorie-fest. However, there didn’t seem to be any that really stood out to us, although D.C. has some of the greatest places to eat and I’m sure the ones we read about are fantastic. However, being tired and really just wanting to get checked into the hotel, we opted to just eat at California Pizza Kitchen. We enjoyed our relatively soul-less, chain restaurant food well enough before driving past the Pentagon to our hotel. I would recommend the Sheraton National for anyone traveling to D.C. since it is very nice and the bed was insanely comfortable (we decided we wanted that very bed for our home), except for one thing: it’s no where near any Metro stops! The nearest is the Pentagon, and that is still nearly a mile away. We regretted that most of our time in the hotel was spent looking at the backs of eyelids, since it was pretty nice. We didn’t get to partake in breakfast, either, since that’s a bad idea before running a marathon.

The following morning we got dressed and prepped for the race, and then headed out into the cold to walk to the starting line. It was a very chilly hike downhill around the cemetery and past the Pentagon to the bag check, at the Pentagon’s north parking lot. We met up with about 32,000+ other runners there and headed into the masses to find our spots in the queue. Angela got in near the 6:00 pace group and I kissed her goodbye after we wished one another a good race. I found my way into the 4:30 pace group and waited. Even though we had gotten there just as the first of two waves was to start, there was an administrative delay which had pushed that back 15 minutes or so. I should have taken advantage of the time I had to stretch my legs out some, but didn’t and I regretted that later on. Before too long, Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy made an short statement just prior to the beginning of the race. He mentioned the MCM Forward in Iraq [.pdf], where 600+ men and women of the armed forces there would be running a marathon along with us (obviously not at the exact same time, since it would be the middle of the night there). That kind of got both my mind and my heart racing, and it was clear I wasn’t the only one. It was exciting to know that those men and women would be doing something ‘fun’ and ‘normal’ along side us in spirit. Sometime later, the second wave finally got moving forward and before I knew it, I was running in my second ever marathon.

2006 MCM GPS Plot

A plot I made using the data from my Garmin Forerunner 201 and USAPhotoMaps.

The first part of the course, through Rosslyn, was somewhat dull although at one point a incredibly large American flag was hanging between two large buildings. It was just the first of many, many reminders of where we running this race: in the nation’s capitol. The crowd was so thick, it became difficult to get anywhere near my goal pace of 10:18 per mile. However, after three miles or so, running downhill to the George Washington parkway, I heard shouts from behind me: pace group, coming through! I realized this was the 4:30 pace group behind me (I had started off just behind them) and was determined to try and stick with them. I let them blaze a trail through on the way into Georgetown, where the path widened some and I was able to pick up pace to where I wanted to be. Over the course of the next few miles, we ran fast. So fast, in fact, I went from about two minutes behind pace to over four minutes ahead of pace. At some point, I lost the pace group, but figured I could just stick to about a ten minute mile and keep my four minutes in my back pocket until later. Around mile ten, the course comes into the mall area, near the end of the Arlington Memorial Bridge. If there is a ‘proper’ way for one to enter D.C., I’d say that L’Enfant had to have intended this to be it. The mall was absolutely stunning. I just wanted to keep running up and down it over and over, to tell the truth. Usually, I enjoy looking around while running but I was in awe the whole time. Not only had it become a beautiful day, but here I was part of the center attraction in D.C. It was as if the mall was all ours to enjoy. I think I nearly strained my neck looking at all the buildings and monuments as I ran by. It wasn’t as though I hadn’t seen all of them before, but this was just something so much more special. Today, these all belonged to me in a whole new way. It reminded me why I enjoy running crazy things like marathons: it’s a huge ego trip to be in such an amazing city among the most incredible buildings and statues while all the people are cheering for you. I’ll never know what it feels like to win the World Series, an Oscar, or a Nobel Prize. However, when running through a city that has opened up for you, it feels just as good.

Well, if all good things must come to an end, mine did somewhere around mile seventeen. I was away from the mall now, running along side of the Potomac (inside Potomac Park) heading towards Haines Point . I noticed I was slipping off my pace quite a lot all of a sudden and needed some extra energy. I had just done an energy gel, and it was going to have to be something else. I decided I’d stop to pull out my iPod Shuffle and give music a chance to pick me up. It seemed to the do the job quite well for the next three+ miles, until the battery died! I hadn’t charged the USB stick up enough to have it play very long at all (30 minutes or so). Much to my disappointment, this happened right around mile 21, when I really began to hit the wall. My upper calves, which had been twinging for the past few miles had now begun to cramp up. Nearing mile 22, sudden ‘charlie-horse‘ cramps forced me over to the bridge guard rail to stretch out my calf muscles. Unfortunately, it was about this point when I had slowed down so much that I had already eaten up my four minutes (part of which was spent messing with the iPod, though). I had little hope of regaining that time since the cramps in my calves weren’t going anywhere (there still there, actually, nearly a week later). Any hope I had of keeping my 4:30 was gone.

I made it through Crystal City and around the Pentagon, but I was having to stop more and more often to stretch out my calves. The cramps were getting so bad near the end, near mile 26 actually, I could barely stand. My foot was being pull down by the intense spasms in my calf muscles, to the point that even walking was getting difficult. At the turn uphill to the Iwo Jima Memorial, right at mile 26, I nearly cried when I saw just how steep a climb that last little leg was going to be. I tried to keep my head up and just plod up the hill, maintaining what I was now calling a run. However, I simply couldn’t maintain even that pathetic shuffle and was reduced to walking the last 50 feet of the hill until it leveled out, right in front of the bleacher seats. It was humiliating, but I picked up pace for the last 200 yards to the finish.

I came in at 4:42:05.

I suppose after almost five hours of exertion, I was a little weary, but I thanked the Marine who placed a finisher’s medal over my head when he told me congratulations. I mumbled out that we all ought to be giving them medals and he just laughed a bit. The Marines certainly always had my respect, but the way they put on this event (yes, it is mostly staffed by Marines), cheering us on and congratulating us was fantastic.

I hobbled forward with the crowd, gathering up some food and such on my way to get my checked bag. After finally making it through what seemed like a mile of crowd, I found a spot of curb to sit down on and eat. I changed to a dry shirt, as is my custom after a long run, only to notice I wasn’t really all that sweaty. Funny, didn’t I just run a marathon? Why am I not dripping with sweat? It had been so windy, it had kept me dry. However, I was covered in a thick layer of white powder; salt crystals, actually. It was almost as if I had been rolling in salt all morning. I sat and waited for Angela for a while, and eventually got up to move around. I made great use of the little aluminum foil blanket a Marine had thrown around my shoulders (which was done for everyone as they passed the finish line) while hobbling back to the bag check, and then on to the Netherlands Carillon near the memorial, our agreed upon meeting place. Unfortunately, I had just missed Angela and while heading back towards the bag check, I happened to catch up with her. She had finished about 20 minutes earlier and had been waiting on me. However, both of us were too tired and too glad to see one another to be really upset.

Angela had run a heck of a race for the first 20 miles, in order to ‘beat the bridge.’3 Given the fact that this was 30% further than she had run at any time since last year’s Richmond marathon, that alone was quite a feat. She had promised herself she wouldn’t have to push herself so hard beyond that point, and once you’ve made that kind of bargain with yourself, you’d better damn well keep it if you plan on your legs carrying you for another 10k. She walked and ran on and off the remainder of the race and finished in 6:43:42. A respectable time for someone who wasn’t even sure she could run six miles the week before. Angela really put forth a heroic effort on her own part to just attempt this race and I was really proud that she toughed it out and finished. I know she is proud, too.

We caught the Metro at Rosslyn down to Arlington Cemetery, hoping we could walk back to the hotel. However, traffic was now on the Jefferson Davis Highway and it was getting dark (and colder). We walked over to the entrance gate of the Cemetery to ask a security guard if there was anyway to cut through the cemetery. There isn’t, but the gentleman standing next to the security guard offered us a ride, saying it was on his way and he was about ready to leave. It turns out, this fellow is a trumpet player for the Army Band Ceremonial Band. Angela enjoyed not only the short drive back to the hotel courtesy of our new friend, but also getting to ask about playing music with one of the countries most prestigious bands.

We had checked out that morning, but were still parked in the hotel garage. We ‘borrowed’ the lobby restrooms to change into some warmer street clothes before leaving. We agreed a nice dinner would be great, but didn’t really have the energy to find some place nice. This meant that we agreed to just stop in Fredricksburg and eat at Outback (yet another chain restaurant, but oh well, we didn’t go to D.C. for the food this trip).

That night, neither of us slept a wink, even after loading up on ibuprofen and Tylenol. Some muscles are just that sore. My calf muscles are still killing me. However, Richmond is in one week and I’m thinking: what the hell?

Note: Although I brought my camera, I didn’t take any photos the entire two day trip. Although Angela and I agreed it was some of the most amazing sites we’d ever seen, we didn’t have the ability to photograph it. We may post up a few race photos we’ve ordered, though.

  1. Did you know? Swag is actually an acronym; short for stuff we all get. Oh, sure, some people spell it schwag, but does that really make any sense to anyone?
  2. It didn’t make too much difference in the end, but I think wearing a pace bracelet is something I’ll do for now in races. I also circled the times when I would take an energy gel (it just so happens, I like Vanilla and Orange Cream Clif Shots), which reduced the amount of thinking and made sure I didn’t miss one. I don’t take quite as many as Clif recommends, apparently, though and had to make my own marks.
  3. The 14th street bridge is re-opened to traffic five hours after the start of the race. A pair of buses are driven along the course and anyone who hasn’t made it past the bridge at that point, is put on board and driven on to the finish.

A Chilly Twenty

Today was the final twenty mile run of this season for me. I was scheduled to run it yesterday, but we had rain all day and the temperature stayed around 50°F. The run got cancelled to prevent anyone from getting hypothermia (four hours in that weather wearing nothing but a t-shirt and shorts can easily lead to hypothermia, so it was kind of a no-brainer). Now, most of you probably don’t realize just how big the Richmond Marathon training team is, but it’s around 700 people (± – we’ve had some matrition since May as you can imagine). Usually, this is divided up over four different start times, three on Saturday mornings and one on Sunday morning. To have a majority all those groups show up on one day and take off at the same time was the equivelant of running a pretty good sized road race. The main difference: we wouldn’t be out to win anything or get a t-shrirt. It was just me running with hundreds of other really crazy people with nothing better to do on a cold, gray Sunday morning1

The first twenty I ran this year, a couple of weeks ago, was what I call a P: it’s basically an in-and-out with a loop at the end. It had one pretty bad hill, but it was at about the half-way point, so not too bad. Today’s run, on the other hand, was a large loop (about a mile was retracing our steps, but that’s not uncommon). the back third of the run was along Riverside Drive, which is known to us runners here in Richmond as being a torturous series of hills. Put that from mile nine to mile 16 and you’ve got yourself a punishing run. I had some bad calf cramps in my right leg a couple of weeks ago and really did a lot of stretching througout today’s run. I was able to stave off the cramps, but both calves were mooing badly with soreness for the last five or six miles. Speaking of that portion of the run, we passed over the Lee Bridge to cross back over the James. Now, I’ve been hearing complain about that bridge (which is nearly a mile long) for the past couple of years and I never understood why. I mean, I love bridges and enjoy getting look at Richmond’s biggest and newest in the downtown area. There are great views of the city skyline from there, as well as Hollywood rapids, the cemetary, and Belle Isle. Today, there was also a cold headwind in my face that made running a 12 minute mile seem impossible. I know understand why so many runners here really hate that bridge. I guess I’ll just have to look forward to warm, breezy days when going over it in the future.

Today's running route plotted onto a satellite image from Google Maps

Today’s running route plotted onto a satellite image from Google Maps. Thanks to Coach Ron from the Sportsbackers Marathon Training Team for plotting this for us (Note: This isn’t an active map, just a .png image.)

My run took me three hours and 36 minutes, which isn’t too bad considering how much my legs were hurting towards the end. There’s a point at which you begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak, and that always helps me to pick up at the end. I was able to change into some pants, a dry t-shirt, and my running jacket at the end, but I’ve still been chilled to the bones since ending the run. That’s why I’m currently in my fleece jacket, under a down comforter, and typing with Angela’s very toasty iBook on my lap. Angela’s sitting here with me, also helping to warm me up a bit. I think I’ll get a cup of coffee in a bit and see about just letting my legs rest for a while. Here’s hoping that the Marine Corps Marathon (three weeks from today) sees some better weather. At least our vacation in Alaska this week will help prepare me in the event it isn’t.

  1. Actually, that’s not true. I wanted to go to my adult church class this morning and then attend worship service with Angela, but that got all messed up. For the record, though, I didn’t cause the cold rain yesterday. Just remember that, okay?