Archive for September 10th, 2007

More Quality Time on Highway One, Malibu Grand Tour

September 10, 2007

24 June 2006

Thou art to continue

Measure for Measure, II, i, 181

The alarm went off at 1:45am. Presumably the other alarm had gone off at 1:40am and I had slept through it. I set two the afternoon before just in case this happened and then tried to go to sleep before dark. I had to be at Kathy’s at 2:30, dressed, fed, packed and ready to go down to Malibu. We’d loaded the bikes the day before.

Six weeks before the Boston marathon my knee went pop and I couldn’t run it. For once the weather there was perfect, it would have been a great run. My doctor finally got around to scheduling my surgery — and chose the day I would have flown out, so I could not even visit my friends.
I got depressed.
Then the surgery happened and it didn’t seem to amount to much. I walked out of the recovery room with essentially no pain.
But the next day my knee started sloshing. No one had warned me of that, it frightened me. And it hurt to move.
I got depressed.
A week later I was much better, and was told I could start riding my bike. Not just could, but should. Ten miles a day. Then a few days later my PT suggested a 40 mile ride.
The thought of running worried me. Would my knee go “pop” again? Would the other knee? What was wrong with me that caused me to torque my menisci?
The physician’s assistant assured me that tearing one meniscus did not increase the probability of tearing the other. Statistically. But surely those statistics were based on tennis players and basketballers, people who tend to tear their menisci, rather than runners, who don’t often. And so are those statistics applicable to me?
Who knows. Everyone is a special case. The only way to find out for sure is to try, and that seems a bit risky.
I ask my PT about what I can do to correct my imbalances (not now, not yet, but when I’m more fully recovered from the surgery). He agrees it’s too early to try anything.
My friend Kathy has started doing 200 mile bike rides (in a day). Perhaps I should go in for that? Presumably it will be less stressful on the knee, and since it’s my current therapy it might even help me to recover. Or that’s my rationale.
I mention this to the PT, half expecting him to demur at the idea. Instead he tells me I should start riding 50 miles a day to train (that’s about twice what I do on a normal day).
There are two rides (or tours as they seem to be called) coming up “locally” one at the end of May in Davis (which seems too soon after surgery, and anyway I’m leaving for France the next day), and one at the end of June in Malibu. That sounds doable.
These are not races. I don’t even know if they are timed (though I do intend to keep track). Kathy says she doesn’t ride in a pack, so they don’t have the aspect of bike racing that I dislike (fear).
I don’t ride particularly rapidly. I figure it will probably take me about 16 hours of riding time (maybe less, but 16 sounds conservative. Of course there will be stops for food and other functions so elapsed time will be longer.
Ah… it’s the weekend closest to the solstice. The longest day, good thought. Riders to start between 4:30 and 6:30 am. I’d best start as early as possible. Lights are required. Yes, even at the solstice there aren’t 16+ hours of daylight in southern California. Sunrise: 5:45, Sunset: 8:15, day length: 14:30.
So in the four weeks before I leave for France I manage to put in approximately 300 mile weeks — not quite the 350 my PT asked for, but close. Never done four of those back to back before. I average about 12 mph, but that’s mostly because of city driving, on longer rides without stop lights I can average 15+. I don’t think I can keep that pace up for 200, but I manage it for 32 (then a few hours rest while I measure water quality) and then for 32 back. Not the same as 64, but not bad.
Let’s see 200/15= 13 hours. So even if I go unexpectedly fast this will still be a very long day.

One day I rode out to El Capitan State Beach, sat at a picnic table and looked out at the sea, and ate my lunch.
A (coastal scrub-)Jay landed about 2 feet away. I’ve never seen a scrub-jay that close, and it was beautiful. It cocked its head and looked at me. I very slowly moved my hand out to it hoping it might hop onto a finger. It didn’t. Then it flew off.
And landed on my shoulder. I turned and looked at it. It looked at me. It walked around my neck to the other shoulder.
I tore off a small bit of my lunch and put it on the table in front of me. The jay flew down, grabbed it in its beak and flew off a few feet. It came back for another crumb, and this time flew over to my bike, perched on my tire, held the crumb in its two feet and pecked at it with the beak. I was a little worried that it might pop the tire, but it did not.
I gave it some more crumbs and it really flew off.

Then I go biking though the farms of the French countryside with my parents. The Charente, in the land around Cognac, between Angoulême and Sainte. I assume I’ll just do even more riding now that I have no distractions. But I’ve forgotten just how heavy and clunky our rental bikes always are. And it rains almost every day. And the countryside can be beautiful so I tend to stop and look at it, at the wild flowers, at the wheat fields, at the vineyards, the swans, the occasional chateau, the odd Roman ruin. If I averaged 40 miles a day I was lucky and 50 was probably my maximum. Oh well. The prehistoric cave paintings we stumbled on were worth the trip.
In France I tell my family about the tour. My mother says “I guess you are less likely to hurt yourself on a bike than running.” This seems unlikely to me. My aunts say “That sounds strenuous, so you shouldn’t do it.”
Nothing like a little encouragement from the family.
When I come back there are three and a bit weeks to go. I get Kathy to ride with me to Ventura one morning. She starts out far too fast… only it isn’t too fast, I can keep this pace. We average 16.5mph down to Ventura (32 miles). I guess I have never before pushed myself on a bike. Interesting. Perhaps I didn’t know how before.
The following Wednesday I do a 66mile loop down to Ventura, around Lake Casitas, through the mountains between Ojai and SB and back to SB. I get down to Ventura at an average pace of 17.9mph. Wow. I slow down on the hills, of course, but I still average 16.2 for the entire loop.
I’ve been considering buying a new bike, and considering getting clip-in pedals (I’ve been riding in toe-cages for the last 20 years). The week before this I bought bike shoes and used them in spinning classes. Clipping in seemed a bit difficult, but clipping out was easy — and clipping out is what worries me; I need to be able to stop after all. So, confident of my new found skill, I go off to buy a new bike.
On my first test drive, at the first intersection about 20 yards from Fastrack (the bike store), I come to a stop and slowly fall over into a puddle.
And my feet won’t come out even now I’m on the ground.
So much for my confidence. After this I’m more careful, clipping out almost as soon as I clip in when I go round the block. No more mishaps. I buy the bike, and I ride it home safely and upright.
The next day is to be my last long training ride, two weeks before the tour. I’ve decided to do the standard 66 mile loop around the lake and then ride out to Refugio (about 30 miles in the other direction), getting about 120miles in. Nothing like 200 of course, but probably more than I’ve done in a day before.
I take the new bike.
I only fall over twice.
There’s a coyote standing on the horse trail right next to the bike path about 30 feet from a house. He just watches me. There’s a Jay in the bushes screaming alarm calls at him. He isn’t bothered by that either. I’m surprised by his boldness… but then I think “How could I hurt him? I can’t even stop the bike without falling off. He’s perfectly safe.”
I get down to Ventura at 18.3mph. I get around the lake at 17.5mph. I do the first 100miles at 17.2mph. I complete the 126 mile trip at 17mph.
My legs don’t seem to get tired, but I’m learning that I really need to eat. The reason I slowed down at the end was that I hit the wall. I hadn’t taken in enough calories and suddenly I was going 11mph. I stopped (without falling) and had lunch. I felt better after that, but it takes time to digest, and I was an hour or so before I got back up to speed.

The Malibu Grand Tour is the oldest double century in the US, and it has several options in addition to the double. You can choose to ride 200km, 200, 300 or 400 miles. You can also choose a mountainous or a flatter route. I had no interest in doing 200km=125miles, I’ve done that, no particular challenge there. But being a bit nervous about 200miles I opt for the easier route.
A map.
Because they have 300 and 400 mile option, some of the aid stations remain open until 3 or 4am the next morning. Some of these stations are in a nice building with comfy chairs and amenities, but others are just a corner by the side of the road. These are all manned by volunteers (most of whom have done their own bicycle ultras). These guys are dedicated.

Most of June has been foggy and cool, but the day after I did my 126 mile ride it turned sunny and hot. Very hot. Not what we want for an endurance event. The next week the fog rolled in again, and we were much relieved, but the Friday before the event the weather for the next day was predicted to change yet again, with temperatures above 100.

I drove to Kathy’s. She had told me I could tell her condo because all the lights would be on, and no one else would be getting up at that hour. 🙂 we had both forgotten that to much of the world 2:30am is late rather than early, and the complex was ablaze with lights — people partying on Friday night.
We got down to Malibu around 4 (check-in started at 3:30) and there were already bikes heading down the road as we turned off Hwy 1 to drive up the last half mile to the start. I remind myself it isn’t a race, no reason they can’t start early.
We pick up our packets, and get scanned in. We don’t realize it, but this is our official start time. Then we go back to the car, pull the bikes out, put them together, figure out what we’re going to take with us (I’m taking lots of gel-packs, recovery-drink powder, electrolytes, three water bottles, spare tubes, pump, sun-screen, etc.), figure out what to wear. I take a wind breaker. It’s pleasantly cool, and blessedly foggy. Of course it’s 4 in the morning.
I discover that my rear light isn’t working. That’s a shock. I can’t ride without a rear light.. Thank god for Kathy, she has a spare light. It’s designed to be a front light, is blue and is a bit too bright, but it’ll do, it’ll do. Whew!
In our check-in packets is a double-sided, double-column page of directions. I don’t quite grasp what this entails yet. When I run a race, the course is always clearly marked, there’s never any doubt where we go. And there’s always someone just in sight whom I can follow (I’m never first). Besides it’s pretty clear what we are going to do now — we go up Hwy 1 for 25miles and then find the rest stop at Port Hueneme. So I just glance at it and store it in my fanny pack.
We go back to the start, almost ready to go now. Kathy was given the wrong directions so she nips in to get the right set. As she comes out there is a group of a dozen or so bikes counting down. It’s just 4:30. And they’re off. And then we’re off! I click my stop watch (the one on my watch) to mark our start — who cares about the official time.
There is a distinction between the stopwatch on my wristwatch and the one on the bike. The wristwatch measures elapsed time. The bike stopwatch measures biking time. We stop for all kinds of reasons: At stop lights, to eat, to read directions when we get lost… so these two numbers will be quite different. Both interest me.
It’s rather pretty as we start. Pitch black of course (moon almost new, enough overcast that the stars aren’t visible), but there is a line of bikes going down the hill with their rear lights twinkling. Like Christmas lights.
I quickly discover that the route isn’t as simple as I thought. We don’t go onto Hwy 1 in the obvious way, we spend some time on the surface streets of Malibu. There’s no indication as to where we should turn either (this turns out to be wrong– there are orange arrows painted on the road at most of the turns, they are invisible at 4:30 though, and even when I look for them I sometimes fail to find them, or I (color-blind I) follow a green arrow from a race last month). However that’s ok because we’re in a pack of riders and the guys in front know where they are going.
We’re in a pack of riders. One of my fears. If I make a mistake — I crash into someone. If someone else makes a mistake — I crash into them. My feet are locked in my pedals and I won’t be able to get them free if I need to stop suddenly.
The people behind me are complaining about my rear light. It’s too bright, and it isn’t red.
We come to an intersection and I realize my speedometer isn’t working. Did I put the wheel on wrong? I pull over, and stop (without falling!). No it’s just that the sensor got knocked too far from the wheel, I correct it and everything is working now. (but I’ve missed the first half mile or so).
We go again. There’s no traffic in Malibu at 4:30.
By the time we’re on Hwy 1 we’re stretched out into a line rather than all bunched up. That’s a little better, but still everything is too close. If I drop back far enough to feel safe someone from behind just slots into the space. So I have to drop back even further. And it’s dark. I can’t see the road particularly well. Someone passes me and complains about my light as she does so:
“That light is really annoying”
Tant pis.
We’re going more slowly than I would like, I think. But I look down and see we’re going about 16.5mph. To think that a month ago that would have seemed really fast. Or perhaps I’m drafting and I’m just not used to it.
Around 5:30 I start to be able to see things. There’s a guy beside me and he has a little clip on his break cables which clamps his directions where he can see them.
Me: “That’s a great idea!”
Him: “Hunh?”
Me: “That clip for holding directions.”
Him: “Wxxfl”
This is a rather beautiful bit of coastline all craggy with the surf crashing against the rocks. We’re on the inland side of the highway so don’t get to see the ocean as well as I’d like. Oh well, it will be better in the evening on the way back.
We leave Hwy 1 when it turns into freeway. And the route is again more complex than I had thought. We’ve got another 10 miles before the first rest station. But the guy up front knows where he’s going so we can just follow along.
Kathy tells me she’s just seen a kestrel, indeed has seen several. I’m all excited, I’m no good at identifying small hawks, and ask her to point it out the next time she sees one. Kathy laughs. A kestrel is a kind of bike, and points to a bike in front. It does, indeed, say kestrel on it.
The first rest stop is a bit of a disappointment. There isn’t much to eat. But I fill up my water bottles, drop off my light, give them my number (so they know I got this far), remove my wind breaker, use the restroom … and then discover that there is fruit outside. That’s better. I try to memorize the directions to the next rest stop, but they don’t stick in my mind well. I have a gel pack and we’re ready to go again.
Kathy and I are in a slightly different group this time, some of the same people, but some new faces too. Most are doing the highland route and they branch off from us soon after the first stop. After this there are just us and Bret. So we get to know Bret. Bret is 28 has done many double centuries and triathlons and is considering trying to go out for the Race Across America next year. He’s planning to do the 300mile route (to qualify for RAM you need to do 400+miles in 24 hours — that’s about 17.7mph for 24 hours — I can’t hold that pace for 4 hours). So this is training for qualifying for RAM.
Bret is a strong cyclist (as he’d have to be) and takes the lead. He also can read the directions on the fly.
I’m at the back again. Kathy is very interested in Bret’s plans to do RAM and so they keep together talking. We continue to do 16+mph. Sometimes I feel guilty about being at the back and pull out in the lead, but my attempt to memorize directions didn’t work and at a major intersection I have to fall back and let Bret take over again.
Bret finds out that this is my first double century and asks if I’d like some advice. I say sure. “Always eat more than you think you need to, and eat before you feel hungry.” I’d sort of gotten that idea from my own 126 mile ride, though I had not expressed it so coherently. Sounds reasonable. “Don’t spend too long at the rest stations.” Dave (the owner of my bike store) said the same thing: “If you spend 10 minutes at each station you’ll add about an hour to your 12hour day of biking. You’ll regret not being home earlier.” That, too, sounds like good advice. Though the idea of biking 200miles in a 12 hours seems unlikely.
We get to the next rest stop in Morepark, I’ve never been here before. Morepark is inland and the sun has shaken off the clouds and is shining. We sail down a nice shady street before turning into the park with our stop. The highland route has joined us again, briefly, but there aren’t many people at the rest stop. The restrooms have just been opened, which is rather comforting for us, a little disquieting, no doubt, for those before us. But then there probably aren’t that many. We’re going fairly fast and on the easy route and we started on time.
They have peanut butter + jelly sandwiches here. And fruit. And recovery drink (the real stuff, not Gatorade). So I eat, use the rest rooms, give my number, drink my recovery drink, fill my water bottles, rearrange my fanny pack so that the gel packs are on top, try to memorize the route, and we’re off again.
Once more it’s the three of us, and almost immediately we are back in the fog and overcast. Which is nice. We’ve turned and are heading toward the coast to Ventura. Bret and Kathy are going more slowly now than I’d like (about 13mph), so I pull out in front to encourage them to go faster. But this only has the effect of having me go faster while they don’t. Not what I was intending.
Later Kathy tells me this was because I did it wrong. I needed to slot myself in right in front of them, while my natural tendency is to give people lots of space when I pass them — less chance of crashing into them that way. I was just too far ahead for them to be able to draft off me.
As we approach Ventura, I’m going down a road at about 20mph when someone passes me. This surprises me — 20mph seems very fast to me. Another group of Grand Tourists has caught up with us, or with me, rather, they’ve already passed Bret and Kathy. So now I try to hang with these people. And then Bret catches up and takes the lead as we go up the hill into the park in Ventura with the next rest stop.
Give number, eat, drink, recovery drink, fill water bottles, use rest-room, try to memorize directions. And we’re off. Pretty much the same group we came in with. Brett and Kathy hang back again, and I let them and go ahead with the group who caught us. We’ll meet up in Ojai where we have lunch.
There’s a bike path that follows the Ventura river all the way up to Ojai, and I’d just assumed we’d take it. That’s the way I always go. But we don’t. I actually did a pretty good job of learning the directions this time, and I know where I’m going for once.
I’m with two guys now who are going at a reasonable clip. And then the chain comes off on one guy’s bike so he and his friend stop. I push on. After a bit Kathy catches up with me. Bret has tired and is nowhere to be seen, Kathy says he says he didn’t get enough sleep last night. We keep going up Ventura Rd and then onto Hwy 33 (much too busy for my taste), and finally off on Creek Road which goes in to Ojai the back way. This is the area in which I do water testing, and I’m checking, as I go, whether the streams we test are still running (some dry in the summer). But they all still have water. At one of our sampling sites, I see a black tailed deer and a fawn stepping daintily out of the woods and then running back in as I whiz past.
A swallow comes flying by and then hangs in the air about 6 feet in front of me for a few seconds before he flits off.
Kathy has told me she can’t keep up with me. But she seems perfectly capable of catching up with me. Maybe she’s better at sprinting than I?
We get into Ojai together and have lunch. And recovery drink. And water. And give our numbers, use the rest rooms, and memorize the directions to the next rest stop. This is an area I know pretty well — not the little back streets of Ojai — but once we get out of the city the route back down to Ventura, so I feel I’m actually memorizing them.
It is hot in Ojai. 83 in the shade. Kathy has a thermometer on her bike computer which reads 96 at one point.
Bret has caught up again. He doesn’t seem to eat much and is ready do go when we are.
As is a tandem bike. Kathy thinks we should draft behind the tandem. But they take off far too fast. Bret manages to catch up with them, but Kathy and I don’t … until they make a wrong turn and backtrack. Then we all slot in behind them. Or Bret and Kathy do. I’m no good at it. Probably I want to hang back too far and am not really drafting. Or something. They go at about 30mph, and I fall further and further behind.
Eventually Kathy sees that I’m a couple of hundred yards back and she drops back too. I feel badly about this — if she can draft with them she should, I’ll manage. And then I wonder: How can she hang with someone going 30mph when she was complaining about me going 20mph before lunch?
Ojai is about 300ft elevation and Ventura is sea-level, so we’re going downhill now and 20mph seems comfortable to us both.
We get to Ventura, and I had thought the next rest area was the little park at the beach on the SB side of Ventura. But it isn’t. The park is merely drawn in a similar typographic style, I’m not sure why. So we press on up the coast toward the Rincon (just outside of Carpenteria).
The wind is against us now, and we slow down considerably. The wind always comes from Pt. Conception and blows down the coast, but today it seems particularly vigorous. We complain bitterly about it and drop down to 11mph for a bit.
At least we are back in overcast again. With the wind it’s even chilly.
And we see Bret again. He couldn’t keep up with the tandem either, though he did last longer than we did. But it seems he can’t keep up with us now. And we leave him behind.
We push on up the coast. We both know this bit really well; it’s one of our standard routes. I get hungry halfway to the Rincon and stop to eat a gel-pack, while Kathy stops to massage her feet — hers get cramped and hot on long bike rides.
Something has shaken loose on my bike. There’s a little jingle as the bike moves. Eventually I track it down to a small chrome dome that seems to have popped off the front wheel. It’s between the front fork and the wheel on the axle but has some room in which to slide along the axle… and jingle.
I don’t think it’s functional. I hope not.
We get on the freeway here; we’ve got about 3 miles of freeway riding to do (there is a bikepath on the freeway).
At the Rincon there is no rest stop either. We look at the directions. Oh. The place they call the Rincon is not the actual Rincon, but is the next freeway exit. Sigh. We get back on the freeway and go to the next exit.
Give our numbers, eat. I don’t want to eat now, the thought of food makes me nauseous, but I eat anyway. Drink recovery drink, fill water bottles.
I ask if someone can look at my bike. No one there is a bike mechanic, but they agree with me that my jingle probably isn’t significant. There is a bike store about a mile from here in downtown Carpenteria, of course, but… I decide I don’t need it.
Now we turn back to Malibu. The people at the rest stop tell us we are now going home, but home is in Santa Barbara — 15miles in the opposite direction.
Bret has once again caught up and is ready to go when we are (does he not eat? or does he eat really fast?). He has decided not to do the 300 mile loop but will just do the 200 miler that we are doing.
The wind is with us now, and we are going downhill as we head back onto the freeway. Bret just takes off. I’m going about 26, and Kathy’s right behind me, but in 5 minutes he’s a quarter of a mile in front. And there he stays for about a mile, and then slowly we catch up, and pass. We slow a bit (19) to let him draft if he wants, but he can’t keep that pace either.
Off the freeway now. At the state park at the end of this bit of Hwy 1 we see two guys who’ve been drafting off us for a bit head off in the wrong direction. We shout at them (this is still a route we know well). And on into Ventura.
I need to stop to look at the directions now, and then on. The two guys have caught up again. They are the two I was following just before Ojai, the ones who had to fix the chain. After about 5 more miles one of them offers to go in front. This is welcome. I’ve been leading since before Ojai, for the last 60 miles or so. Kathy has offered before, but always says she will slow down, and I’d rather not do that. So I let him, and he leads for the next 5 miles or so.
I apologize for the jingle my wheel makes, and he says I really need to get my pedal clips checked. My feet keep slipping out inappropriately. I explain that I’m new to clip-in pedals and I clip out if there is even a slight chance that I’ll need to stop and put my foot down. He agrees that this is a good idea for a beginner, and asks if I’ve fallen. “Four times in the first three days, but not since.”
At the next stoplight. I put my foot on the ground and then slowly fall onto the other side.
So much for hubris.
The final rest stop is the first rest stop. I really don’t want to eat, but I have some fruit, recovery drink fill my water bottles … oh yes, and pick up the lights that I left here this morning. I shan’t need them. It’s about 4:30pm now and there are only 35miles to go, but I need to get them home… Give numbers, restroom, etc.
The two guys who’ve been with us on the last leg took off before we did (and we don’t catch them up again). But someone else leaves when we do.
The directions say: “Take J street to Hueneme and turn left”, there are orange arrows at the first big intersection on J pointing left, and we follow them. And then realize this is not Hueneme, it’s Pleasant Valley. This is the route we took this morning on the way to Morepark. We don’t want to do the tour all over again.
We go back to J, go to the next big street, and it is Hueneme. A relief.
And head down it. I’m tired now. I tell Kathy I’m going to slow. That’s fine with her. Except we aren’t going particularly slowly and after a bit we both speed up back to 18mph or so.
And then we’re on Hwy 1 again. Only another 24 miles or so.
It’s daylight now, and we’re on the ocean side of the route; we have an actual view. Occasionally we get splashed by spray as the waves crash below us. Pelicans fly past. Dive. Rock on the waves like small boats at anchor.
Two guys come zooming up from behind us, pull in in front of us. And slow down. This is frustrating. I don’t like it when someone passes me and then slows down and goes more slowly than I was going. Then there’s a downhill bit and they take off again. Ah, I think, that’s ok then. But there’s another uphill bit and I’m right behind them once again. Kathy and I are both stronger hill climbers than most people. This keeps going on. At one point they are going particularly slowly (13mph) and Kathy says, “OK, pass them if you must”. And it seems I must. I take off.
I’m getting into Malibu now, and the gentle hills earlier on Hwy 1 are becoming steeper and longer. I’m trying to keep a good pace, but it’s getting harder.
I’m amazed at how different it feels biking than running. When I’m running my legs fill with lactic acid, but here there is very little sensation of tiredness in the legs. Oh, on a very steep hill my quads will burn, but most of the time there’s nothing. Does that mean I’m capable of going even faster on the bike than I’m now going? Of course in any endurance event you want to work below the lactate threshold, but in a marathon it still builds up. On the other hand my lungs are feeling … raw. I’m coughing a lot and an attempt to take a deep breath results in a coughing fit. This is more noticeable when stopped than it is when riding. It reminds me of the way my lungs felt after running a 5 minute mile in high school.
I guess in biking the tiredness is more general, while in marathoning it is more specific?
At the bottom of a hill I am shaken out of my reverie by Kathy saying “I’ve spent the last 20 miles trying to catch up, and now I’m about to lose you again”. And we head up the hill, and I guess I do lose her for a bit.
The hills are so high here. I don’t remember these on the way out. Have I gone too far? No, I’m at 198 miles so there’s still a way to go. I guess it was just dark.
It’s hard to keep pushing myself.
But I do.
This stretch of Hwy 1 is unpleasant. There’s too much traffic. People park on the shoulders so there’s no good bike path. People walk between the cars and the traffic so there’s even less of a bike path. People open car doors. Cars pull out in front of you, or stop in front of you.
As I reach the top of each hill I hope it is the last. But it isn’t. And it isn’t. And it isn’t. And then, at last it is.
And I can see the place where we need to turn up. I’m stuck at a stop light. It’s a long light. Various people I’ve passed catch up with me. We’re off. I have to make a left turn now, but the traffic is so heavy I’m not sure I can cut over into the left hand lane. Ah… the light behind changes again, and there’s space, so I cut across. There’s no one in the left turn lane but me. It’s a trip light, and it’s not going to trip for me. I wait for a car to pull up. A bicyclist does instead. And another. And here’s Kathy! She did catch up! Good for her. And finally there’s a car behind us, and eventually we get a green arrow and head up the final hill.

Elapsed time 13:34 hours, Biking time 11:40hours, Average speed 17.3mph (27.8kph), Max speed 35.7mph, total mileage: 204miles, elevation gain ~6000ft. It’s a little after 6pm.
(This year 233 people finished the 200 miler, 28 the 300 and 2 the 400. And 92 finished the 200 km.)

Dave (at the bike store) had a better idea how long it would take me than I did. And Kathy finished with me — so in spite of all her claims not to be able to keep up, she did.
Kathy and I hug.
We get off the bikes, park them, take off our shoes (they don’t want bike shoes on the inside floors) and go inside. Our final check in. According to their count we took 14:01 hours. Next time I’ll know better than to check in before I’m ready to leave.
I’m coughing.
I drink some water. Kathy eats a bit of chicken. We sit outside for a bit and chat with some of the other finishers. Kathy has more energy than I. She chats. I sit. And drink my water. And cough.
We had talked about having a meal at a restaurant, but I find the thought of food disgusting at the moment. Kathy’s a bit better off but she’s more interested in a shower and bed at home than food.
We head back up the coast on Hwy 1. Our final time today. Basically we are retracing the route we biked (no diversions to Morepark and Ojai though). The sun is finally breaking through the clouds here on the coast. We keep seeing cyclists biking down Hwy 1, and we wonder which will make it back before dark. Sunset is 8:15, civil twilight ends at 8:45. We look for Bret, but don’t see him. We wonder why we never saw the sag wagon after the first stage. We see one poor guy sitting by his bike with his head in his hands.
Kathy stops at a convenience store so I can get some ice for my knee. A good idea. My knee feels fine, but it doesn’t hurt to be careful. My cough has vanished as I’ve rested.
For someone who woke up before 2am, I don’t feel at all sleepy when I get home. I still don’t feel hungry either, but the next morning I’m starved. My knee came through just fine.
The next day I check in with Dave at Fastrack: the jingle isn’t significant, and he fixes it with a couple of hammer blows. So the bike is fine too.

I think I want to do another one. Or try for 300 miles next year?
But today, I don’t need to do anything. And that’s a welcome change.


Running Monolog

September 10, 2007

Winter 2005-2006

Explaining ourselves seems to be a disease we all suffer from, and people training for a marathon seem to have it worse than most. After all, why would anyone want to hear about running 18 miles as a training run? There is no glamor, no excitement in that, yet newspapers are full of people describing their training efforts. The disease does not seem to affect those running 5K races, but train to go eight and a bit times as far and we want to explain why.

I suppose running 26.2 miles seems a little (or a lot) daft, and may need more explanation… Running 3 and an eighth seems normal in comparison.

I think there is some similarity to the homeless who mutter at street corners, no one else wants to hear them, but they are talking anyway. There is one poor woman I see who simply howls in agony as she walks down the street. Well I hope I shan’t come to that. But perhaps I shall attain the level of those who swear.

April 2005
I qualify for Boston by running the Big Sur International Marathon. A beautiful run which I heartily recommend.
I take the month off from running and go biking in France with my parents.
I ease back into running. I also get a bigger lift in my shoe to help the hip pain I’ve been feeling. I start to get tendinitis in my achilles. My physical therapist (Mike) and my massage therapist (Rusty) encourage me to run through the tendinitis as long as it doesn’t get worse.
It gets worse. I stop running.
I am fed up with not running. I’ve missed one race I care about, and it looks like I’ll miss another. I’ve tried rest, ice, acupuncture, two different massage therapists — nothing works. My friend Dan sends me a very uplifting article from a medical journal on tendinitis which essentially says that no treatment method works. On the happy side my hip pain has finally vanished. I go back to Mike and he starts doing ultrasound on the achilles. He tells me not to do yoga or run (I’m not) or bike (which I gave up a few weeks before just in case). But I can swim. I hate swimming.
After two weeks Mike tells me to run again. Slowly. On a treadmill. Not for long. Every other day. The only way for the achilles to heal he says is to get blood to it, and the best way to do that is to run. I still can’t bike or do yoga. After a week of running slowly I’m allowed to do some yoga, and after another week to bike.And the achilles does start to improve. Slowly.I’m allowed to run for longer. And then run outside on flat ground.Mark & Alice, my friends who live in Boston, invite me to come stay with them for the marathon. I have to admit that I don’t know if I’ll be able to run.
Mike said “Well, we should start building a base if you’re going to run Boston.” I start running faster. Move from every other day to 4 days a week. I also sign up for Boston. I happen to bump into a friend that evening who has also just signed up. Yeah! Exciting to think that it may actually happen. I write Alice and tell her I’ll be there! My friend Dan (a high school friend from NC) has felt for a while that he’d like to run a marathon before he turns 50, and was all fired up by my running Big Sur. So he now signs up to run a marathon in Umstead Park (between Durham and Raleigh NC) in March. He tries to convince me to run with him, but it is too late now, I can’t do both. Not that I’m much tempted. A bunch of my friends are running Boston this year. says that there are 16 Barbarians (Les Invasions Barbares?) going to Boston and I know 7 of them. There’s an interesting 20K race in early December. I presume that I shouldn’t run it, but it would be nice if I could. I ask Mike and to my surprise he says “Maybe. Let’s see how you feel the week before.” Wow.When I visit my parents at Thanksgiving, my mother warns me not to overdo it. Tells me my yoga practice is “violent” and finds my penchant for practicing handstands unnerving.

You are old sonny Williams, the mother said
And your pate has become almost bald,

And yet you incessantly stand on your head
Don’t you think, at your age, you’ll be mauled?

Mike tells me I can run the race. Suggests that I not run faster than 7minute miles. The first 6 miles are uphill and all of them are around 7min. As the hill gets steeper I slow down to 7:25. But then it’s all down hill for 6 miles. That first downhill mile is really steep and I run it in 6 minutes (which is fast for me). I end up being first in my age group, averaging 6:50 (not too far off) And the achilles did not bother me at all during the race. At this point Rusty, whom I’ve asked to train me for the marathon, suggests that I come out with the group he’s training. Wally warns me that training with Rusty will not be easy. Come to think of it Mike said something similar. Mike, of course, has trained with Rusty so he knows. I don’t require easy, I do require possible.They meet out at San Marcos High School. So at 6:30am that Saturday I’m at the San Marcos track. I hadn’t realized however that we weren’t doing a track work-out, and everyone else was at the main entrance (which I bypassed on my bike). I wait until 7, in the early morning darkness (we’re almost at the winter solstice now, it doesn’t get much darker) and the cold. And then bike back home, grumbling to myself.We get that confusion sorted out, and Rusty sends me my first weekly schedule. Rusty generally starts 12 weeks before the race, but he’s taking me on a little early because a) he wants to make sure I don’t break again and b) he’s got a guy starting who runs at a similar pace.

Dan seems to view me as a expert on marathoning, which I find rather ironic (I’ve run two) and has been asking me questions about training. I’ve sent him a copy of Advanced Marathoning, a book with far more information I can provide. Dan runs a 5k a little faster than I ever have, but he’s only just started longer distances and his half marathon is a bit slower. I expect he’ll be pretty similar to me in a year or two. Dan has just discovered that one needs to drink (and maybe eat) during a marathon. Is that really necessary?

Well, in once sense, no. People didn’t drink or eat 100 years ago, and they
were about an hour slower than they are today. In 1908 the world record was 2:55, in 2005 the world record is 2:04. In 1908 the first runner collapsed yards from the finish line, had to be carried over and was disqualified. There are other factors, of course, but drinking water during the race is definitely called far. It may (just) be possible to do a marathon without consuming calories, but most people need some carbohydrates to run that far that fast.

My father tells me I should be proud of Big Sur as the high point of my running career. This surprises me since I will be rather disappointed if I can’t improve my time by about 15 minutes or so. He sees his comment disturbs me, so he changes it “the piece I wrote about it is the culmination of my writing career.”, so much for this monologue then.

Week 19/12/05
Mon Elliptical trainer 45min, level 4-7 keeping HR around 135-145
Tue SBCC track, 3mile warm-up, 5x 100m strides, 8x 550m hill repeats, 3mile
Wed Same as monday
Thu Easy run 60min at ~8min/mile
Fri Off. Do yoga
Sat San Marcos, 3mile w/up, 3 mile tempo (~6:40 pace, to be adjusted) 5mile
Sun Easy run 90min at ~8min/mile

The Santa Barbara City College track has lights, so it isn’t dark at 6am when we meet. And meet we do, thank goodness. I had only known that Rusty was training one other guy, Jim, whom I’ve run with before, and with whom I’m pretty well matched, but he (Rusty) turns out to be training three people (four with me).

There’s Jim, of course, who is training for Napa in early March, Rusty thinks he should do about 2:55 (which is a pace of 6:40 minute/mile).

Laura is someone I’ve seen before though I don’t know her. She is also training for Napa and wants to get under 3:30 (8min/mile), though Rusty thinks she should be able to go faster.

And there is Jeff. Jeff has just started running. He did the local half-marathon a few seconds faster than I have, but he wasn’t training for it properly — only ran about 20 miles per week (I normally do 40~45). He should be really fast after he gets his mileage and endurance up. At the moment he is hoping for a 3:10 marathon (~7:15 pace). He is training for the LA marathon in late March.

Jim & Laura have already been training for a few weeks, while Jeff has just started (though he actually met up with everyone last Saturday).

Although we met at the SBCC track, that’s just a gathering spot, we jog down along by the harbor and out along the beach, and then turn back and jog on up onto Shoreline Park. Continuing away from SBCC is a slight incline up. It doesn’t seem like much — until you run it at 95% effort level. Then it suddenly becomes very steep.

Before we do our hill work we do strides, a short fast run for about 100m. This helps us switch from the gentle warm-up pace to the real work-out. And then we start. Jim, Jeff & I all are running together and about the same pace. I’m currently the slowest of the three, but only by a second. Not too surprising considering that I wasn’t running for most of the summer. Poor Laura has no-one at her pace. And it makes a real difference to have others there, we push each other to run faster than we would alone. Rusty runs with Laura, and that helps a bit.

It’s an exhausting work-out. When we finish we run 3 slow miles as a cool down and then go our separate ways. I’m proud that I did it. Haven’t done any real speed work in ages.

On Saturday we meet at San Marcos at 6:30am again. Out front this time, and I find everyone. I get there first, and worry for about 5 minutes until the others drive up. Then we trot down to the bike path and along that out toward UCSB. The bike path is handy, as it has been very precisely marked every 1/4 mile (also 2.5k and 5k marks). We again to a 3 mile warm up. Well, Jeff & I do. Jim and Laura, being further along, run for an hour at this easy pace. Jeff, Rusty & I stop at the 1mile mark and do our strides.Then we start our tempo run. This is a lactate threshold effort (supposedly), the pace at which lactic acid starts to build up in the legs, but the body still does a good job of flushing it out. Rusty doesn’t really know what a true tempo pace is for us, so we experiment. We run the first mile at 6:40, and that’s easy enough (well, it’s a definite effort, but talking is still
possible), then next at 6:35, and the last at 6:30. The last mile is hard
for me, eminently doable, but definitely harder than the 6:40 pace. I can
still talk, but I’m not doing so voluntarily. Jeff seems to have no trouble and I’m a little jealous. We jog back to get in our 3 mile cool-down, and Rusty goes off to find the other two and run with them. A much easier day than Tuesday, but I’m still elated to have done it, I thought it would be far harder.Oh, it’s Christmas Eve, that probably matters to some people.

Talking to my parents on Christmas, my mother warns me not to overdo it. My normal Sunday running group is down to one person, Amy, and we are each very grateful to have someone else to run with. Amy is also training for a marathon: LA. I try to convince her to come join us (Laura needs someone to run with, Amy is a bit faster than she, but would be good company none the less). However Amy is happy with her own training schedule.
Week 26/12/05
Mon Easy run 40min ~8min/mile
Tue SBCC track, 3mile warm-up, 5x 100m strides, 8x 550m hill repeats, 3mile
Wed Elliptical trainer 45min, level 4-7 keeping HR around 135-145
Thu Easy run 60min at ~8min/mile
Fri Off. Do yoga
Sat Mountain Dr, 3mile w/up, 3 mile tempo (6:35~6:40 pace) 5mile cool-down
Sun Easy run 90min at ~8min/mile

Our hill repeats are similar to last week, except this time we do the first four on the very steep stretch up to Shoreline that only lasts for a 1/4mile (last week was 1/3). Jeff runs his first at a 5:00min mile pace. Too fast for Jim and me. Rusty tells him to slow down a bit. After that we run pretty much together.

Then Jeff goes off home to pack up his family and drive to Mammoth to go skiing for the rest of the week. He’ll get in his runs on a treadmill up there.

I have read that over a long enough course that humans are faster than just about anything. That we can just run prey down on the savannas, rather as jackals can. And I started thinking of horses, now they might be a special case as they’ve been artificially bred for speed, still it would be interesting to know if a human can run faster than a horse over a long enough distance.Or over a marathon. How long does it take for a horse to run a marathon?

Horses don’t seem to race marathons. How about 25 mile runs then? Well I can’t find any numbers on that either. But I do find a rather amusing 22 mile man/horse race in Wales. It’s been won by a human once in its twenty-five year history. Oh well. I guess I’m unlikely to be beating any horses in Boston.

Saturday it is raining. When I get on the bike at 5:45 it is pitch black, chilly, wet and miserable as I head up to Mountain Dr. Generally there are good views of the ocean and the city. Not today. It’s still quite dark when I lock my bike to a tree. The others drive up. Somehow I have lost my glasses. This is stupid, I had them a minute ago. I get everyone looking for them. We can’t find them. Eventually I give up and we start. I can’t see very well, but it’s rainy and misty and there are no views anyway. Oh and it’s dark. And wet. Chilly too. Quite unpleasant.

Mountain Dr. has also been marked, not quite as well as the bike path. It used to be better marked, but they repaved the road. Some of the marks have been replaced (perhaps by Rusty, I’m not sure) but they are only every half mile, not every quarter. This makes something of a difference, when you try to find a pace it’s easier if you can correct yourself every quarter mile. At the 3 mile mark Jim & Laura turn back (they have a longer warm up again), and I do my strides.

Then Rusty and I set off. Rusty tells me he thinks I’m running too fast so we slow down a bit, but we finish that first mile at about 6:20 or so. Then the pocket on my shorts breaks and my keys fall all over the road — it’s not my day. I would not even have realized this if Rusty had not been behind me. So we stop and find my keys. Rusty carries them for me. When we start up again I zoom off and do the next half mile at 3:05 or so in a vain and foolish effort to get back on track. Rusty checks every now and then to make sure I can still talk (If I can’t talk, I’m running far too fast). Then he leaves me to do the last mile by myself. I have trouble with my watch but I think it was again about 6:20. Too fast.

Now we’re back at the 0 mark, and Jim an Laura are there too. Rusty asks me if I’ll run with Laura as a cool down (she’s doing a 7:45 tempo pace, which is a little faster than an 8min cool down, but not bad). I feel kind of badly for her, there she’ll be working hard, and I’ll be cooling down? Rusty asks how that’s different from what he’s just done with me. Er. I guess
it’s no different.

I put my keys in my back pack by the bike (kind of stupid, I know to leave the keys right beside the lock, but what else can I do?). I make another futile effort to look for the glasses (it’s light now).

I look up and I see Laura zooming off. I give up on the glasses and sprint to catch up, but before I do so she slows and stops. Oh. She was doing her strides.

Then we are off. The first mile was a 7:30, a bit too fast. And we slow down, 7:40. Then another 7:30 I think and we turn round and come back. Laura is running even faster on the return and finishes with about a 7:20. That’s not really a cool down pace for me, a bit fast. But it was fun to have the company.

Rusty asks me how I feel. He has asked me this after every workout. At first I thought he was being polite, but I’m coming to realize this is something he really needs to know. If I’m feeling exhausted, I’m doing too much and he needs to have me do less.

I’m done now. Laura and Jim still have to cool down. Rusty offers me a lift home. I make a final futile search for my glasses and let him drive me home (I don’t want to bike without glasses in a misty drizzle). At home I find an old pair of glasses and prepare to drive back to search the hillside once more… But before I do that I make a thorough search of my back pack. I searched it earlier, of course, but in the dark and the rain, now at home I find my glasses bundled up in a sweater. Oh. Whew. But how stupid.

This same storm hit Mammoth. I think Jeff said they got 3 feet of snow. Luckily he managed to get out before the storm hit.

It’s New Years Day. I sent out email asking if anyone else would be running today and no one responded (or rather, no one said yes. David and Liz said they’d be misbehaving in San Diego instead). So I start running from my house, and run towards the beach where we normally start, timing my run to get me there when other people will show up, if any do.

To my surprise Chris drives in just as I run up. Chris doesn’t run with us often, but he runs faster than my group normally does. He and I wait a bit and no one else shows (not surprising) and we go off, around a 7 minute pace. Faster than I should be running, but so what, better to have company.Chris has just returned from visiting home, his first visit since he graduated from high school thirty years ago. All his high school buddies seem to be in terrible health. This one has had a heart attach, another back surgery, another knee surgery. Most are over weight. We comment on how great it is to exercise. I mention that the only high school friend I’ve kept up with (Dan) is also training for a marathon. My mother warns me not to overdo it. Forty year old men (Jim & me) still think they can run as if they were 20. Well the world record for the marathon was set by a 34 year old. 40 year old men may be able to run as well as the 20 year olds, but probably not as well as the 30 year olds… Endurance improves with age far longer than sprinting speed does.

Week of 2/1/06
Mon Elliptical trainer 45min, level 4-7 keeping HR around 135-145
Tue San Marcos track, 3mile warm-up, 5x 100m strides, 5x 1k (88sec/400) with
3min jog between, 3mile cool-down
Wed Easy run 75min at ~8min mile
Thu Easy run 65min at ~8min/mile
Fri Off. Do yoga
Sat San Marcos, 3mile w/up, 5 mile tempo (6:35~6:40 pace) 3mile cool-down
Sun Easy run 90min at ~8min/mile

When I was in high school tracks were 440yards around, which was 1/4 mile (still is a quarter mile, of course). Now-a-days tracks are usually 400meters around which is about 6feet shy of a quarter mile. Essentially they are the same size, they’ve just gone metric. And it’s slightly easier to talk about doing “400”s than “440”s.

I’m worried about this run, an 88sec quarter mile is easy. Doing a kilometer at that pace (2.5 laps) isn’t bad either. Doing 5 of the damn things with only a 3 minute breather between is … well worrying.

About half way through my watch suddenly has conniptions and resets itself to midnight, looses the stopwatch mode (which I’ve been using to find how fast I’m going). I have to rely on other people to set the pace after that.

But we do it. I’m really glad to have the other two there. Then I find that Jeff and Jim have to do 3 more (because their marathons are closer, Rusty doesn’t want me to get too fit too early, people tend to break if that happens).

So I cool down alone. That’s easy.

The first Saturday of the month I go down to Ventura to do water quality testing, so I shan’t join the others on Sat. instead I do my tempo run on Friday. Alone. Have I any chance of doing this without someone else to spur me on? Have I any chance of finding the pace without help?I’m out on the bike path at 6:30 and do my warm up in the dark as usual.

It’s light enough when I finish and I start to do my strides. A biker sees me and he actually leaves the bike path to come over and congratulate me. “That’s the way to be fast, says he, do 5 short sprints and you’re all set.” Well that’s exactly what I’m doing!

Then the tempo run. I get ready at the 1mile mark (the 0mark is in the middle of the Goleta beach parking lot, and we tend to avoid that).

I’ve got a different watch today, it’s my heart rate monitor. I’ve never used it’s stopwatch mode before, but it seemed easy enough from the directions. I’m off. Terrified that I’ll go too slowly I run the first quarter mile in 78 seconds. That’s a 5:12 mile pace. Way, way, way too fast. I slow down. I can’t understand what my watch is reading at the next quarter, or the next (is it telling me I ran the quarter mile in 30 seconds? Impossible). At the mile mark I’m ready to give up. I slow down stop, and look at the watch, and suddenly I understand how to read its display. There’s an extra digit tagged on to the front of the elapsed time, oh and the display shows time since the last lap, rather than total time.

I start up again. My first mile was 6:21. Far too fast. My next mile was 6:19 even with the time I slowed down and checked my watch. The next half mile was exactly right (3:20), but then I sped up again and the whole thing was 6:33, then 6:24 and finally

Well I had no trouble running as fast as I needed to, but I had great difficulty finding and keeping the right pace. In a five mile run I can easily maintain a 6:20 pace (obviously), but if I run a marathon with the first 5 miles that fast I will have blown it. I’ll have to slow down, way down, to make up for that initial sprint. I need to learn to find 6:40 or so.

Still I’m glad that I ran too fast, at least I’ll have no trouble running
6:40s if I ever learn how…

The goal seems to be to run at a consistent pace. More efficient or something. So you have to figure out beforehand what pace can be maintained for 26 miles. To knock off 5minutes from your marathon time you need to run 10 seconds faster per mile (about). Which is easy. For a mile or two. Marathon pace feels slow because it must be maintained so long.

Hmm. I wonder if my inability to find a running pace is related to my inability to hear rhythm in music.

Saturday I bike 32 miles to Ventura and 32 back.

Sunday we finally have a good group together in my normal run. But most of them are going to run an out-of-town half marathon next weekend. They warn me that Rusty has overtrained some people. I’ve heard this before. My mother tells me that Peter (brother-in-law, who is a better athlete than I) thinks I am overdoing it. This surprises me. I’d think Peter would have better sense than that. He doesn’t know what I’m doing. Probably Peter said something like “He might be overdoing it.” And, indeed, for all Peter knows I might. And then my mother latched on to that and fleshed it out with her worries. My guess anyway. I get annoyed however and point out that a) Peter doesn’t know what I’m doing, b) Peter doesn’t know what shape I’m in c) Peter doesn’t know what precautions I’m taking. Nor does my mother, of course. I continue to check in with Mike (physical terrorist) once a week, he looks at the achilles mostly (which continues to improve). And Rusty (coach and massage terrorist) goes over my body once a week. They really are prepared to notice and deal with sports injuries.

Dan has run his first 20mile training run. The foolish boy didn’t eat lunch beforehand and felt beat after 15 miles and could barely finish the run. Is it possible, he now asks to eat enough during a marathon? I tell him I don’t think he has hit the wall, he just didn’t have enough food in him for a twenty mile run. Running without fuel doesn’t work. We talk some more about replacement fluids and sugar gels. I point out that a few weeks ago he wondered if it was necessary to eat at all. He admits to the irony.

Week of 9/1/06
Mon Elliptical trainer 45min, level 4-7 keeping HR around 135-145 or take
it off
Tue San Marcos track, 3mile warm-up, strides, 2400 (87/400) then 3×800
(2:44-2:46) 3min between, 3mile cool-down
Wed Easy run 65min at ~8min mile
Thu Easy run 90min at ~8min/mile
Fri Off. Do yoga
Sat San Marcos, 3mile w/up, 5 mile tempo (6:33~6:35 pace) 3mile cool-down
Sun Easy run 40min at ~8min/mile

On our warm up I mention how much my mother worries and complains about my running. Oh yes, says everyone. Ours too.

Rusty tells me he thinks I should plan on running the marathon in 2:52~2:53. A 6:35 pace, or thereabouts. My first thought is “Wow, he really thinks I can go that fast?”, my second thought is “Oh my god, he’s going to expect me to go that fast.”

This work-out scares me enough that I ask Rusty, didn’t he mistype? A mile and a half at under 6min/mile? No, he assures me I really can.

He’s right of course.

And Jim and Jeff have to run a 2mile interval in 12:00min after that. But I don’t because my race is too far off.

This time Jeff has a longer warm up that I, so I’m doing my tempo run by myself again. Rusty runs the first mile with me 6:36. One second slow with him setting the pace. Then he goes back to start Jeff off. My next mile is 6:26 then 6:36, 6:28 and 6:15. I really need to work on my pacing… but each time I slow a bit I think: this is too easy, I can’t be going fast enough, and speed back up.As we ran the first mile, Rusty started talking about having me run the marathon at a 6:48 pace for the first 18 miles and then picking it up if I had energy later. That’s a little under 3hours for the marathon, rather different from 2:52 just a few days ago. Did I run badly in the speed work on Tuesday? My right calf tightened up during the warm up and never loosened. Ug.

A 40minute run on Sunday? With most of my group gone? No real point in joining people, I’ll just run from home. Calf still hurts.
Week of 16/1/06
Mon Elliptical trainer 45min, level 4-7 keeping HR around 135-145 or take
it off
Tue Easy run 65min
Wed Easy run 90min at ~8min mile
Thu Easy run 45min at ~8min/mile with 8x strides afterwards
Fri Off. Do yoga
Sat San Marcos, 3mile w/up, 6 mile progressive run (pace: 7:00 first mile,
6:50, 6:40, 6:30, 6:20, 6:10) 3mile cool-down
Sun Easy run 40min at ~8min/mile

No speed work this week. Yeah. But a rather frightening run on Saturday. Perhaps it’s to help me find a pace?

When Rusty is working on me, I mention that I think I’m fast and anyone who runs faster than I is really fast (we were talking of such a person). Rusty laughs and says he thinks he runs slowly. Rusty runs slowly because he compares himself to the 40 (or so) people in the US who are faster than he. Rusty really wants to win, and be able to win the Olympics. He’s not quite that good. I think I’m fast because I compare myself to the thousands of people who ran slower than I did at Big Sur, not to the 69 who ran faster. I don’t expect to win. It’s all a question of perspective.

Rusty has marked off a 4.3 mile loop around his house (which is 1/2 a mile from San Marcos). He’s marked it every 1/4 mile too. We run round this loop once as a warm up.

Today we are joined by Larry (who is a little slower than Jeff, Jim &
I, but not much), Lee and Garret who are much faster. After doing the warm up a guy with a baby stroller runs up to us and Rusty invites him to join us (I don’t catch his name, I’m doing my strides, but he knows everyone else). He runs with Garret & Lee & Rusty. It’s a bit demoralizing to see someone pushing a baby stroller overtake you…

Jeff and Larry are running 6:50 pace (Jim & Laura have a longer warm-up and start later) so we three start together and I let them slowly creep ahead of me. That feels kind of odd. I’m not used to running deliberately slow with people in front… With someone in front I can do a fair job of judging my time, 6:58 for the first mile. The next mile I just have to stay the same distance back, 6:46 for the second. I should catch them up right at the 3 mile mark, but they’ve inexplicably slowed and I catch them at 2.75 and am still too slow at the 3 mile mark (6:44). So the next mile I run too fast 6:22, and then to make up for that, too slow (6:35), and the final one is again too fast (5:56). Oh well, I was never more than 15 seconds off. Better than the tempo runs.

During cool-down I ask Larry what he’s training for. “Oh, I’m not, I’m just training.” That sounds very existential. “I find that after training with Rusty I have no desire to race.” The rest of us smile, yes we understand that viewpoint.

Rusty is now talking about my running Boston with a 6:40 pace, a 2:55 marathon… That sounds to me like what I should be doing. I think he’s just not sure how fast I should run yet. Somewhere between 6:30 and 6:50. It’s not that I’m running faster or slower than expected, it’s just he’s trying out various ideas of my speed. That’s a bit of a relief.

I run with my group for all of 20 minutes, and then I turn back. Feels silly.In that time I learn that Amy was in a bike crash. Some idiot teenager was riding in the wrong lane of the bike path around a blind corner and crashed into her. Now she is in pain if she rides or runs. She didn’t run the half-marathon with the others, but she went and cheered them on. I think I’d be too depressed to do that. Good for her. Dan has run his second 20 mile training run. And this one went much better. He ate before and took fuel with him. He’s feeling much better about the idea of running 26 miles now. Good.
12 weeks before Boston (23/1/06)
This is the official start of training. Rusty works on a 12 week schedule.

So now my marathon training begins in earnest. My mileage is up, my speed-work mileage is up, and my tempo run (which has now turned into a marathon pace effort) is down, but my warm-up is up. The marathon pace run will increase by one mile a week over the next few weeks…

Mon easy 40 min run
Tue San Marcos, 3 mile w/up, 5×1600 (5:52-5:55) 4:30 min jog between, 3 mile
Wed Elliptical 60min resistance 7-8, crossramp 5-6 rpms 180-200
Thu Easy run 90min at ~8min/mile (11miles)
Fri Off. Do yoga
Sat San Marcos, 5mile w/up, 3mile marathon pace (6:40) 3mile cool-down
Sun Easy run 14 miles

Rusty warns me not to get excited about the race, or the idea of the race until I’ve reached the top of heartbreak hill. Then I can speed up (that’s about 20 miles into the race 12 weeks from now).

It’s freezing cold on the track at 6 in the morning.. And I mean that literally. There’s ice. And frost. Rare for SB. And annoying to run across a slick bit of track. Luckily it’s just one place.

I can’t read my watch for the first mile. It’s too dark.

As usual, I’m intimidated by 5 miles (1610m is about a mile) at a 5:52 pace, but I now believe Rusty knows what he’s doing, or rather knows what I’m doing. It’s hard, of course. But we manage them. The first 4 are at the high end of the time range so Rusty asks us to do the last one faster. And we finish with a 5:48. Jeff didn’t hear him, and wonders why Jim and I are going so fast (we don’t have much breath for talking at this pace — he doesn’t ask till after, we don’t explain till then either).

Garret has joined us again. He turns out to be one of the track coaches for San Marcos. (we only had one track coach at my high school, but San Marcos has 10 times as many students so there are more coaches). Garret ran the first mile with us, setting our pace. He runs really smoothly, it looks effortless for him. Then he did his miles progressively faster, and he only got 2 minutes between them.

And Laura is running by herself slower than we.

I wonder what things will be like in March, when everyone else has run their races and I have a month more of training alone. Or with Garret zooming ahead of me?

As we cool down, Jeff is worried about his aches and pains. He, too, has been told that Rusty overtrains people. Marathon training will involve some aches and pains, there’s no avoiding it. But Jeff isn’t used to this much running, overtraining is probably more of an issue for him, but then he’s also less used to the expected aches.

It is worrying to keep hearing that Rusty overtrains. On the other hand Jim has trained with him at least twice (the other time he knocked 20 minutes off his PR and ran a sub-3 hour marathon ). Jill also knocked 5 minutes off her marathon PR. Annie got a PR at the half marathon because of Rusty (and he had her run less). What I hear is that the people who know how to run and run well do well with Rusty.

Or that’s what I want to hear.

(I think I run well — oh, and fast)

I do my elliptical work, and I wear my HR monitor. Heart rate has crept up to 170 by the end. When I tell this to Rusty he says “WHAT? That’s way too high, why’d you let that happen.” I point out that I just did what he told me. Oops, he says, crank the resistance down and keep the legs moving fast. You should still have a HR around 140~145.

Perhaps this is how some people get overtrained? I didn’t know what the goal was, but I did know enough to check my heart and to report back. If I hadn’t I’d probably have continued doing too much. If I made that mistake often enough… As my yoga teachers are so fond of saying, I must take responsibility for my body, no one else knows what’s going on, not even the best coach. Especially not a coach who is trying to push me up to, but not beyond, my limit. Only I can know that. He can tell a lot from external signs, but I need to give him the internal information…

I now have the same warm up was everyone else. We go once around Rusty’s loop, do our strides. Laura sets out. Then Jim & me (at 6:40), and Jeff and Larry (6:50 interesting, Rusty is training Jeff for a 3:00 marathon, not the 3:10 Jeff originally expected. I think 3hours is more appropriate — Jeff is fast). I’m not sure what happened to Garret. Jim and I run our first quarter at 89, a 5:56 pace. My legs thought they were going too fast, but I wasn’t sure, I might be just tired (I did work too hard on the elliptical after all), and I assume Jim has a better sense of pace than I. A little consoling to know that he doesn’t always. But after that we find the right pace. And finish the mile at 6:29, essentially dead on except for that first quarter (which was 11 seconds too fast. It’s amazing how much difference those 11 seconds made. That quarter was uncomfortable, not really sustainable.

Slowed down — well it’s still fast, but it’s maintainable). But when I try to set the lap counter on my watch, it squeals and resets itself to midnight and loses the stopwatch. I think I need a new battery. It means I have to depend on Jim for timing now. Next mile is 6:37 or so. Then we catch up with Laura. I’m not sure what she’s running but we aren’t passing her very quickly.

At three miles I let Jim go, and turn back an join Laura. She looks at me oddly, “What are you doing?” “I thought I’d cool down with you.” Shortly thereafter Jeff and Larry pass us. She’s doing 7:35 I think. A bit fast for a cool down but nice to have company. We don’t talk much, this is a fast pace for her, and although she can, talking is an effort and I shouldn’t force her to — she’s got another 6 miles to go at this pace. I run 2 and a bit miles with her and then turn round, slow down and make directly for my bike as my final cool down mile.

Carrie, from my sunday group, is saying that next year she’d like to run an ultra (she’s done 39 marathons already). She wants to know if I’ll do Badwater with her (the insane 135 mile race across Death Valley). No. But I might do a 50miler or a 100k sometime. That’s ok, says Carrie, we need to do a couple of those first in order to qualify for Badwater anyway. But how does one train for such a thing? The only ultra any of us have done (and I’ve not even done that) is the local nine-trails, and as Carrie puts it she just ran on the road for three hours “like a normal person” to train for it. I suggest that perhaps this is stretching the definition of “normal” a bit.

I ask Carrie if her mother tries to dissuade her from running. “Oh yes, I can’t talk to her about it at all. I never bring the subject up.” Today when I talk to my parents they seem quite supportive of my running and excited for me. I wonder what happened? It’s amazing how this marathon has taken over my life. When I talk to people I want to talk about training. I was thinking of doing a yoga teacher-training class this spring, but I realize I just won’t have the energy (or time) for that. Next year.

11 weeks before Boston (1/30/06)
Mon easy 40 min run
Tue 75min easy run w/ 6 20sec strides
Wed Elliptical 60min resistance 4-5, crossramp 5-6 rpms 180-200HR 135-144: this is the important thing
Thu Easy run 50min 5-6strides, 4 mile MP (6:35-6:40), 4 miles cool-down
Fri Easy 65min
Sat Bike to Ventura
Sun Easy run 14 miles

Marathon training is a fourier series of efforts. There are easy days and hard days. Long and short, fast and slow. The body needs stress placed on it to improve, but it also needs rest. There are bigger cycles too, hard weeks and easy weeks. This is an easy week, it’s two miles shorter than the last, and there’s no speed work. There’s a general build in effort until about 3 weeks before, and then things ease off so as to allow me to be nice and rested for the race.

In my case there’s a bit more going on. Rusty keeps saying he doesn’t want me too fit too soon. Injuries happen when one is really fit, and given my recent history of injury… So I’m not doing speed work this week, nor a couple of weeks ago. No one else gets off from speed work, and it is a little galling to be thus singled out. Yet I admit it is wise.

Silly me. I’m comparing myself against the people who are better than I. Most are far worse off. I was teasing Rusty for this very behavior. And yoga would suggest that I not compare at all. Do my best and enjoy the process.

My schedule is also complicated because this is my week to check the Ventura River. So I will do my marathon pace effort on Thursday by myself. I don’t get to run with my group at all.

Dan has pulled his hip-flexors (or something like that) and is having trouble doing long runs. I suggest a deep-tissue massage, warning that work on the psoas is not pleasant.

My mother called to ask me what her password was, and when I couldn’t answer asked me how my running was going. To get her mind off me I told her about Dan’s problem. Not a good idea. “Does that mean you’re having problems too?” she asks. NO. Wherever did she get that from? She apologizes. Doesn’t know why she always thinks the worst of my running. Well, it’s very annoying.

After I used the elliptical Wally asked me what pace I was training for. “6:40.” “Do you really think you can do that?” I can understand his surprise, I’ve never run even a half marathon at that pace, much less a marathon. And can I do it? I haven’t the faintest idea. Rusty thinks so. But I say “Well if everything is perfect, maybe. But I’m really hoping to break 3hours.”

Rusty is annoyed, “Wally has never seen you run what you’re capable of, he doesn’t know. If the weather’s right and you don’t get injured, of course you can.” Well, we’ll see.

Suddenly it doesn’t feel like winter any more. It is light and almost warm when I bike out to the bikepath for my long run. How pleasant! When I’m warming up I run beside the little creek that goes parallel to the path (I don’t need exact mile marks in the warm up). The creek is a good place for birds and there are a lot of mallards about this morning, plus a some snowy egrets.

A few miles further along the creek enters the slough and opens out, here we have a flotilla of coots, two great blue herons (side by side) and a white heron. Often I’ll see cormorants, night herons and bitterns here, but not today. I finish my six mile warm up. I’m wearing my heart monitor today because I still haven’t fixed the watch.

I press a button and it goes blank. I can’t make it work. Damn. I can’t do the work-out without a watch of some kind. I let it sit by itself for a bit while I do my strides. I come back. It’s still blank, but when I press a button it comes back to life. It thinks it’s midnight of 1-Jan-2000, but that’s ok. I go to the mile mark, start the stopwatch (and it starts, yeah!) and go. I think I’m going too fast, so I slow, but in spite of slowing the first quarter was at a 5:56 pace. I slow further, but my first mile is still fast 6:25, the next is 6:32 — better, the third is 6:36 — which is in the range I’m looking for — except: I’m not pressing any buttons on the monitor (just in case) and it isn’t calculating my lap times, so I’m doing subtractions in my head while running, and I get the difference (from time at end of mile 2 to current time) wrong. I think I just ran a 6:56 — far too slow, and I speed back up. Final mile 6:24. Oh well.And now it really seems hot, there is sweat in my eyes. I wish we had that lovely cold winter weather back:-).

On the cool-down run I see lots of monarch butterflies fluttering about, it’s a lovely warm day and they’ve popped out of their winter hideaway down the road. Amusing: I don’t notice nature when I’m running hard.

There’s a kite (black-shouldered I think) hovering high overhead as I finish.

(I get new batteries put in my watches)

There is an old woman whom I sometimes see walking down on the beachway in front of town. To every runner who passes her she chirps “Run, run ’till you’re a hundred.” We wave and smile. If you stop and chat she will explain that she is 95 and attributes her great age to her habit of walking on the beach every day. And she tells you to keep exercising, it’s the only way to live long.

I lead a yoga practice with a couple of friends. Their four year old son has become addicted to a video game, he is dull and out of sorts until someone asks him a question about the game, then he brightens up and becomes voluble. I fear this is the way I react toward this marathon — my friends nod in sad agreement. I think I have become generally more cheerful in the last two months — even when I’m not thinking about my marathoning addiction. Chock full of endorphins

I talk to my brother on the phone, complaining about my mother’s assumption that I’m “overdoing it”. Well, she might be right, says he. Yes, I suppose she might. I tend to think that I probably have a much better perspective on these matters than a mother 3000 miles away who has no idea what I’m doing, how I’m responding to it or anything. But I can’t deny that she might be right.

Jody is also running Boston, and her birthday happens to be the day of the race. Jody also switches age-groups at that birthday. But suppose the Boston officials are picky? Jody thinks she was born in the afternoon (after the race) — they might claim she was still in the old age-group. Luckily she qualified for the faster age-group, so the point is moot.
10 weeks before Boston (2/6/06)
Mon easy 40 min run (6-8 x 20 sec strides after run)
Tue 3mi w/up, 3×800 (2:52), 2:30 jog between each, 3:30 before 1600, 1600
(5:57), 4:30 jog, 2×800 (2:52), 2:30 between, 3:30 before 1600, 1600 (5:57),
2:30 jog, 2×400 (85) 90sec between, 3mi cool-down (~13miles total)
Wed Elliptical 60min resistance 4-5, crossramp 5-6 rpms 180-200HR 135-144: this is the important thing
Thu easy 90min (10-11miles)
Fri Easy 65min
Sat 65min easy, 5miles ~6:35-6:42/mi, 6miles after easy (~19miles)
Sun Off

I approached my Tuesday run with some dread. I’m no longer worried that it will be impossible, just unpleasant. I don’t like these short fast intervals (though I remind myself that in high school I had faster, shorter intervals and those were much worse, these are mild in comparison. I really should not dread them).

I said last Thursday that it was light and warm. Well, not today. It’s half an hour earlier and the sun isn’t up yet. There’s frost on the roof of my car when I set out at 5:30.

During our warm-up we discuss various recovery drinks. Is it good to have some protein in them? Does the lemon-lime flavor taste better than the mandarin?

This time we were joined by Bill (I learn later that Bill is the guy with the baby stroller — it’s hard to recognize people in the dark!) who ran with Jim, Jeff and me. He’s a faster runner than we, but he’s been off for a while and is starting slowly (for him). During our first half mile, Bill comments on the sunrise. I can’t look, but after we’ve finished I do. It is beautiful. Little mottled clouds painted orange and yellow.

After we’d finished our first 3 half miles Jim had to leave. Then after the first mile Bill left. Then Garret vanished. Then Laura. When we finished there were just Jeff and me on the track. Rather lonely…

Rusty tells me my breathing is better than it was in December. I presume this means I’m running more efficiently.

Jeff and I have different complaints about interval work. I like the miles because the pace is a little slower. I don’t mind that they are longer (much). So I push Jeff on the miles and he tells me to slow. Jeff likes the quarters, the pace is faster, but they are over sooner. Jeff was running 80second quarters at the end (we were supposed to do 85), I didn’t keep up, but did end up running faster than required too (82). And my watch worked:-)

Jeff tells me that I run at an erratic pace during these intervals. Unfortunately that sounds likely.

These intervals would be far harder without company, and I’m really glad they are over for this week.

Last week when I did my work on the elliptical I noticed how my heart rate crept up over time until after 45 minutes or so it was above 150 (actually I’ve noticed this each time I’ve used it). I just assumed this was part of exercising. You get tired and have to work harder to maintain the same level of output. I mentioned this to Rusty and he said it was probably because I was dehydrating. But I’m only doing it for an hour and I drink, how can I be dehydrating?

Anyway today I tested the idea. I went in with two full water bottles and I forced myself to drink a mouthful of water every 2 minutes. And my heart rate stayed pretty constant around 136. Wow. Maybe Rusty knows what he’s talking about:-) I’m amazed at how easily this effect can be seen. I assumed it would be far more subtle.

My mother ran into Dan back home and worried to him I was “overdoing it”. I wonder what she thinks that phrase means? She has no idea what I’m doing, so how can she know if I’m overdoing? I get so frustrated about this, as far as I can tell she has no specific worries so any specific reassurance I give will fail to address them, and will be ignored. Dan did his best to reassure her too. It would be nice if he had succeeded where I have continually failed… Perhaps I’m just not credible. I had hoped that not collapsing after two months of training might carry some weight with her, but I guess not.

Or perhaps I am frustrated because I fear she is correct. I’m 46. Is that too old for this sort of thing? I haven’t done this kind of speed work since high school. I think I have recovered from my injuries (not just recovered but healed the ultimate cause), but I and my PT and my doctor might be wrong.

My Pilates teacher prefers me to run after my Pilates class, so I didn’t start my medium run until 9 or so. It was hot. The sky a cloudless blue, the ocean, calm, a darker blue, the islands sharp and clear. A beautiful day. But hot. The old woman was out feeding the sea gulls and told me to run. But hot, sweat stinging my eyes. I won’t be able to run very fast if Boston is that hot.

My longest run so far, 19 miles with 5 at pace. Jeff is off skiing, Garret is running a race, it’s just Jim and Laura and me. Their run is slightly longer, but with 13 miles at pace. I do an 8 mile warm up before my 5, and I find it hard to hold the pace on my final fast mile. When we’re all done with our fast work we pause and refuel and then start up for our cool down. Just at first we’re stiff and tired. We joke about how decrepit we must look.

Rusty tells me it’s best if I don’t run on Sundays now, I need that day to recover from my long runs. Rats. I’ll miss my group.When I call my parents this week I notice that it is my father who is all enthusiastic for me, while my mother is now silent.
9 weeks before Boston (2/13/06)
Mon easy 40 min run (6-8 x 20 sec strides after run)
Tue 3mi w/up, strides*5, 3200 (12:00), 5:30 jog, 1600 (5:48), 2×800 (85/400),
3mi cool-down
Wed Elliptical 60min resistance 4-5, crossramp 5-6 rpms 180-200HR 135-144: this is the important thing
Thu easy 95min (11-12miles)
Fri Easy 40min
Sat 45min easy, 5miles tempo ~6:18-6:22/mi, 65min easy after (~18miles)
Sun Off

It’s a beautiful moonlit night as I set out at 5:30. The full moon is directly in front of me and the streets are deserted. I get to San Marcos and find only Jim and Rusty. It’s just beginning to be twilight when we set out on our warm up, but it’s light enough to read watches by the time we finish.

We start with a 2 mile run trying for 6min/mile pace. We run round the track in a little pack, one guy leading (and in theory setting the pace) the others drafting off him a bit. We alternate leads every half mile and Rusty begins. He does the first half in 2:55, which is 5 seconds faster than it should be (and 5 seconds is hard at this pace). I’m already breathing hard, I can’t hear anyone’s breath else. Then Jim takes over and he’s even faster. I’m wondering if I’ll have to drop out. Jim ran a far harder work-out on Saturday than I, how can he be doing this to me? After Jim’s first quarter Rusty warns him that he expects the second mile to be just as fast. Ogg. Rusty says he’s not asking Jim to slow, just warning. I ask Jim to slow though. Finally I hear Jim start to breath hard.

Then I take over just before the mile mark. 5:45 for the first mile, so Jim led a 2:50 half. And Rusty expects me to keep up that pace. As we cross the mile mark he tells me not to look at my watch, just to run. And then …

I hear Jim’s footsteps dropping back. And then Rusty’s. I’ve not been checking my watch but I don’t think I’m going any faster than they did… And it’s harder now to keep the pace, there’s no one pressing me on. Rusty is talking to Jim, encouraging him I guess, but I can’t really hear, it’s all I can
do to keep running. But I do. My face grits into a rictus, and yoga says that’s bad so I unclench. This is really hard. I have no support. I’m not sure I can keep going, I could stop. I could slow and run with the others.

I keep going. I cross the third half mile, no one takes over from me in the lead. I look at my watch but I can’t figure out what it says. My face grits up again and again I unclench. One more quarter to go. I can’t do this. Rusty shouts something encouraging at me but I can’t really hear. The final stretch, I really will finish. 11:32. I almost was able to keep the pace of the first mile (5:45 then 5:47), I’m really proud of myself, I managed that with no support. I’m a mess though, drooling spittle from the side of my mouth, mucus from the nose, gasping and bent over.

That’s the fastest 2 mile I’ve run since high school when I did 10:47 in a state-wide meet. I’ve tried to put two 6 minute miles back to back several times in recent years but have not succeeded. I realize though that if I wanted to run 2 miles well, I’d have to train my lungs more. My legs feel OK, but I’m in oxygen debt.

There’s a reason I prefer long races — these short runs are far too painful.

Jim isn’t really far behind. By the time I unbend he’s there beside me. Rusty tells us that he should now make us run the next mile 12 seconds faster than the mile pace for the two miles we’ve just done — but that he won’t. We’re supposed to have a 5:30 jog now, but Rusty is again kind and gives us another minute or two before our mile interval.

I lead on the first half of this. For the first 100 meters I’m too fast, and Jim reins me back. After that I’m too slow, barely under a 6 minute pace for the first quarter, little better on the second. Then Jim takes the lead. And once again I contemplate slowing, it’s less than half a mile, but I’m exhausted. When the wind is against us I think of slowing, but we make the turn and it’s behind us now, and we fly down the track footstrikes in perfect sync. 5:47. Jim made up the time I lost on the first half.

As we wander around head down gasping for breath Rusty asks “How are you doing?” I answer “Terrible”, Rusty laughs “I’m not talking to you, George; Jim’s got a marathon to run in 2 weeks, while you’ve got time to recover.” Of course I’m really fine, just exhausted. Still he decides we don’t need to do the final 2 half-mile intervals.

Jim needs to go off to work (as does Rusty), so I’m left to do my cool-down by myself. I’m barely moving as I head down to the bike path. But elated. The sun is shining now, I get a really close view of a cormorant in the slough standing on a rock close to shore, towering over a bunch of mallards and coots. Then it sees me and takes off, wingtips hitting the water on each downstroke before it eventually gains airspeed and gets aloft.

When I get back to my bike fog has rolled in. It’s cold and grey, an amazing change in just a few minutes.

At the farmers’ market this evening I am chatting to one of the vendors (about — good heavens, how surprising — about running) and I mention how a friend of mine “is a fast runner for a woman”. How dreadfully condescending that sounds. It is true though. She qualified for Boston with a time 22 minutes slower than mine, and yet she is about 15 minutes faster than the time for her age group (as I am 17 minutes faster than the time for mine). So she is fast. There must be a better way to say it though.

I continue my experiments with drinking water and find that I can up the resistance on the elliptical if I drink a lot.

Rusty tells me that Jim and Jeff are more efficient, smoother runners than I, but that I have greater endurance and so can keep up in spite of that. Then Rusty suggested that I train to run a 10k at a 5:45 mile pace. Yikes! bad enough to do 2 miles at that pace, 6 sounds inconceivable.

Rusty has been warning me for weeks that we’ll be doing a three mile time trial next week. I’m dreading it. Yesterday after the two mile fiasco he jogged beside me and pointed out that for the 3-miler I’d still be at 17:30 even if I died on the third mile and ran it in 6 minutes (Um Rusty, a 6 minute mile is not dying. A 10 minute mile is dying). Today he is telling me that I just have to hang with Jim and Jeff. They are faster than I, but I have the endurance to keep up with them. I guess that means it’ll hurt me more but I can do it. Um… great.

Rusty complains about people he trains who do the fast part of their long work-outs without doing the warm-up/cool-down. This may be a polite way of telling me not to do this. The work-out is a unit and the warm-up is to get you tired, and the cool-down is to force you to keep running when you are tired, if you skip either the work-out isn’t as effective.

Dan tells me it looks as though his injury will keep him from running Umstead in March. Now he is thinking of Richmond in the fall. Richmond has the advantage that it is Boston certified.

In these days of global warming Boston is likely to be hot (where “hot” means hot for running, even quite pleasant balmy days can be “hot” in this context). So Rusty wants me to run my 90minute run either indoors (in a warm stuffy room) or outside during the heat of the day. After Tuesday’s fog, the days have not been hot, so that suggests I should run on a treadmill inside.Boston is mostly downhill. The first four miles quite steeply so, ten miles of rolling hills, another steep decline for two miles, then five miles of uphill culminating in heartbreak and the final 5.2 are downhill. I think of running downhill as easy. It is and isn’t. It’s easy on the heart and lungs, but it tears up the muscles of the legs. So Rusty wants me to train for running downhill for a long time followed by a little up. Again this means treadmill (the only 8 mile downhill stretch I know locally is far too steep to train on).I do 15 minutes normally, then an hour downhill, then 15 minutes uphill.

I stop in to the local running store to buy some expensive sugar&salt, and I end up chatting with Joe for a while. Joe trained with Rusty for Boston last year. Rusty had him running 90 miles a week on his longest week (more than Joe had done before) — my guess is that I’ll probably get above 60, probably below 70 (63 in a week is my max to date). Rusty also tried to talk Joe into training for a 10k at a ferociously fast pace (3~4 minutes faster than the time Rusty wants me to run one in — Joe’s a lot faster than I am) and he commisserated with me about that.

When I wake at 5 before my long run I find the power is out on my street. Then it starts to rain. Why go outside? The cat is curled up contentedly on the beanbag chair — I envy her, could I curl up beside her?

It’s cold as I bike out to the high school, and in spite of the rain the waning gibbous moon shines brilliantly. As we set off on our warm-up the rain lets up, and I see the mountains are snow covered, then there is a beautiful sunrise through the clouds on the horizon. Then it starts to drizzle again.

As usual I have no sense of pace. Jim & I are supposed to be doing a 5 mile tempo run at 6:20 pace or 95 second quarters. We set out, and it feels fast, but it should, we get to the quarter mile mark and my watch says 1:29, I misinterpret that as 4 seconds too slow instead of 6 seconds too fast, so I speed up. Jim, sensible man, slows down. At the half mile mark, under 3 minutes, I realize my mistake and slow to let Jim catch up. Then Rusty drives past and asks how we came to separate. I mumble something incoherent. Jim sets a good pace and after 3 miles we are at 19:07, one second too slow (our pace range is 6:18-6:22). This worries me and I speed up way too much. I do the next mile in 6:05. I slow down for the last, but even so it’s 6:15.

As we cool-down Laura warns that this monologue will provide a biased view — most marathon training isn’t like this. It had never occurred to me that it was. I don’t want to run an average marathon. According to Hal Higdon, the average time to run a marathon is about 4 hours. I can run 27 miles in 4 hours with no training, no support, no competition (I did this one day last year, just went out the front door and ran — all my friends were running the LA marathon and I was feeling left out). I don’t need to train to run an average marathon.

Of course that’s misinterpreting Laura. Most people don’t train as hard as we do. But most people aren’t as good as we are, we’re all better than average, and the better you are the harder you have to train to get each little dribble of improvement. Joe, for instance, had to work a lot harder than we are. And we are all pushing ourselves to go beyond what we could do by ourselves — that’s why we’ve got a coach, after all.

When we are done Rusty asks how we feel. I’m really hungry and a little light-headed, signs that I’ve run through all my blood sugar. This is unpleasant, but it is also something I should do from time to time. It trains the body to metabolize fat more efficiently. Back at my bike are some biscuits andsome recovery drink (that expensive sugar&salt I bought the other day), I gobble them down, go home, have a large breakfast, and take an hour nap.

I feel a little more human.

It’s a beautiful sunny day now (though still chilly) and all the snow has melted away.

When I got home yesterday my left leg felt — unstable. Weird tingles down the exterior posterior side of the leg, sometimes in the calf, sometimes the hip, sometimes the thigh or ankle. My guess some sort of nerve constriction. Sciatica? then I should stretch the periformus I think. So I go into pigeon for about 15 minutes before yoga class. This yoga teacher is going in for surgery on Wednesday and she begins class by asking “Is anyone not in pain?” Which gets a chuckle.
8 weeks before Boston (2/20/06)
Mon easy 40 min run (6-8 x 20 sec strides after run)
Tue 3mi w/up, strides*5, 5k time trial (~5:45-5:50/mile), 3mi cool-down*believe in yourself!
Wed Elliptical 60min resistance 4-5, crossramp 5-6 rpms 180-200HR 135-144: this is the important thing
Thu easy 95min (11-12miles)Run either mid-day in sun or on treadmill in heat drinking water (6-8oz every
15 min)
Fri Easy 40min
Sat 45min easy, 7miles PMP ~6:35-6:40/mi, 65min easy after (~19miles)
Sun easy 85min (~10 miles)

At 6am monday morning the sky is light enough that I can’t see any stars. The waning quarter moon shines brightly overhead and two planets are visible, but down on the road it’s barely twilight. And it’s cold. A heavy frost blankets the grass. If it’s hard for me to get up and run outside — what must it be like for the people who actually live in Boston?

The sciatica (or whatever it was) finally seems to have left me. Whew, that worried me. Instead my right calf tightens up to the point of pins and needles in the foot. But that’s an old familiar problem, I’m used to it. It goes away on a downhill stretch.

I finish my 40 minute run at the Wilcox, near my house, where I do my strides. The sun is up now, the planets have vanished, but the moon shines on (running early has made me much more aware of the moon than I usually am). I can hear the surf crashing at the base of the bluffs below the park. It’s really lovely out this morning (but cold) — there are some recompenses for being up at quarter of seven.

There’s a very well kempt little dog sitting in the middle of the trail down which I intend to run, nicely wrapped up in a dog-sweater. He appears to be waiting for something. In the distance some more dogs and their human appear and I assume they go together, but no, he just ignores them all. I sprint past the little dog, and he just watches me (most will try to play or chase, this one is well mannered). He stays there as I run past him eight times, turning his head to watch as I go past. As I prepare to leave I go up and pet him. I notice he has an airline baggage tag around his neck with a label: “My owners are out running and will return.”

He watches me trot off home to breakfast.

I’m dreading tomorrow, it’s not going to be pleasant at all at all. Two weeks ago I was assuming a 6 minute pace, which would be hard but not too bad and better than I’d done before. Now I’m fearing a 5:45 pace, which will be punishing. And yet I’m excited. How fast can I run a 5k? I’ve never really raced one before (in the sense of pushing myself to my limits). Rusty tells me that I’m better than I think I am and I should just believe in myself 🙂 I think I have that problem with most aspects of life.

I’ve been annoyed with my HR monitor. It purports to have a mode where it will remember lap times as I run, and then display them later. But whenever I try to play them back nothing happens. I tried reading the French instructions in case the English was wrong, but they are the same. Today I tried reading the German. I don’t speak German, but there are enough cognates that for a simple thing like this I can work it out. The German says something completely different — and it works!

For Rusty expects — I forbare to proceed,
‘Tis a maxim tremendous, but trite,
And I’d best be unpacking the things that I’ll need
For the run that begins at first light

It’s just Jeff and me for the time trial. Garret and Bill join us but our
pace is no trial for them. Rusty has Garret lead the first mile, Bill the
next (and then peel off and do his own thing) and then Jeff and I will each lead one of the remaining halves. Or that’s the plan. Rusty tells me that even if it hurts I can still keep the pace. Rusty tells Jeff that if it looks like I’m running too fast it’s just because I’m keeping the pace. Jeff tells Rusty that I can only keep a pace on average, erratically speeding up and slowing. Garret leads out and for the first 100m I’m thinking this is too easy, but then it feels about right. First mile 5:51. A second slower than our goal pace, but that’s all to the good — best to speed up as we go. Then Bill takes over and I move up to his shoulder. His first quarter is 85 — a little fast and then I hear Jeff’s footsteps start to drop back. Not again, I don’t want to run the final mile alone again. Garret drops back to run with Jeff, I run with Bill. At the end of the 8th lap I don’t feel that I can lead and I beg Bill to keep going. It’s hard to beg when you don’t have any breath for talking and at first Bill misunderstands what I’m saying, thinks I’m telling him I’ll lead now. But after croaking another request he understands and keeps going. Second mile 5:47. After the ninth quarter I start to lose it, and begin to fall back. But as Rusty said last week — and I didn’t believe — I still run the third mile at a six minute pace (exactly). And now there’s only a 200m half lap left, and suddenly I have a little more energy and speed up a tiny bit. Total time 18:22, “mile” pace 5:53 (real mile pace about 5:55 — as opposed to 1600m pace). So I ran the last 1/8mile at 0:44 or a 5:52 “mile” pace.

That’s the fastest 5k I’ve ever run (I’ve not run many, they are too short to be much fun) 1:19 faster than my previous best. Jeff is ten seconds behind me and it’s the fastest he’s done too (I think he said by 45 seconds). As we start our cool-down I can barely move while Jeff seems fresh as a daisy. I have no stamina and Jeff keeps having to slow down for me. I think he could have run faster, but then I suspect Rusty thinks the same of me.

🙂 I want to turn right when we hit the bike path to look at birds in the slough, but Jeff turns left and we go through a residential neighborhood while he talks about real estate instead.

Hubris: I was thinking before: I’ll run the first two miles at a conservative 5:50 pace and then I’ll speed up on the last mile and see what I can do. Didn’t quite work that way.

I’m still pleased though.

And I’m grateful for Garret and Bill. They really helped.

We also had a wind. The common sense thought is that on a track wind will not be a problem, it helps you in one direction, it hinders in the other, obviously the two will balance out.But they don’t. Let’s assume that I’m running at 10mph (6 minute mile pace), and the wind blows at 20mph. The power the wind applies to me is proportional to the cube of the relative velocity. When the wind is behind me the relative velocity is -10mph and the wind helps me by -1000 units of power. When the wind is against me the relative velocity is 30mph and the wind hinders me by 27000. On a windless day my own running generates a “wind” of 10mph which hinders me by 1000. So when the wind is behind me I get an improvement of 2000 units, and when it’s in front of me I get a loss of 26000 units. The two are not symmetric.

It sounds as though Jim and Laura won’t be joining us any more. They are now far enough into their taper that they’ll just work on their own. I shall miss them. Jeff only has 4 weeks before his marathon, so he’ll not be around much longer either.

A few hours after the time trial I notice some pain in my right knee…

Rusty keeps encouraging me to start slow in Boston. Even 7:30, or 8minutes for the first mile. It’s so hard to believe that I’ll actually be able to run fast at the end. Last year at Big Sur I was running half a minute slower at the end. Rusty assures me that with the training I’m doing I’ll be able to, and that running fast at the start is a big mistake. He suggests running with the 3:10 pace group for the first 4 miles and then slowly catching up with the 3:00 hour pace group and running with them to heartbreak, and then racing.

Thursday morning the knee pain seems finally to have started to dissipate.

Every little twinge makes me worry “Is this the injury that will stop me?” So far they’ve all faded. My legs are still dead tired though. Even the easy treadmill run feels exhausting.

The “Orchard to Ocean” 10k is coming up, a course that goes along the Carpenteria bluffs with stunning views down the cliff side into the ocean. The first time I ran it I fell in love with it. I’ve been looking forward to it and finally sign up. Rusty suggests trying to run at a 6minute/mile pace. Sounds a possible pace, not sure how well I’ll do at finding it though. I register for it. But I’m starting to understand Larry’s comment about not needing to race when training with Rusty.

Luke at the bike store says “Running a marathon? Why would you want to do that?” And I don’t really know. At 5:30 on a cold frosty morning it is hard to get on the bike and ride 5 miles in order to run 19. And yet I do. It seems so pointless sometimes. And then I reflect that everything seems pointless if you look at it wrong. At a leisurely pace running is quite pleasant. But I’m not running at a leisurely pace. Even running fast for a while is pleasant. Running that 5k was decidedly unpleasant. Sometimes I run to get places, but I’m not really that anxious to get to Boston, there are far easier ways to do that than detouring out to Hopkinton and then running 26.2 miles. I’m not going to set a world record, nor win the race, nor even win my age-group. If I look hard enough I could find something I’d win at: being the only entrant from the 93109 zip-code I shall probably be the fastest runner in my zip — but so what?

I guess I’d doing it partly because running a fast marathon is a challenge. Odi et Amo. I hate and I love. It is my passion. A word meaning both suffering and strong attachment. Running that 5k was unpleasant, yes, but I’m really proud of the result. Training for the marathon has not been precisely fun, but I’m proud of what I’ve done so far. In a very strange way I enjoy it.

My marathon will make no mark on the world, but it will make a mark on me.

For once we have a pleasant morning for our long run. No rain, no frost, cool. My knee feels fine, my legs seem to have recovered. Rusty tells me he’s not disappointed with the 5k, that the 5:45-5:50 pace was something to strive for, not what he expected us to attain.

To my surprise Jim is there, he’s just running our warm-up, but it’s good to see him and to have a chance to wish him well. As I look at the sunrise coloring the clouds Jeff comments that “George only runs for the scenery.” 🙂 I guess there’s some truth in that.I’m running 6:35~6:40 pace, Jeff 6:50 pace. This is Jeff’s longest day with a 13 mile marathon pace effort. Rusty gives Jeff a 45 second head start and tells me not to catch up with him for at least 3 miles. My first mile is 6:39, pretty close to pace for me, but Rusty has also said to start slow, so I slow, 6:45 second mile. Then Rusty zooms by me (he’s running a tempo run with a new guy called Henry at a 5:20 pace or something) and tells me that 6:45 is too slow. So I pick it up and quickly catch up and pass Jeff: 6:33. Next mile is uphill and I slow 6:43. Now downhill 6:33 and Rusty joins me. He starts talking to me asking how things went during the week (in part to know, in part to see how well I can talk at this pace). I assume that Rusty is going to hold me to a 6:40 pace, but no, I see this mile is also 6:33. Then about a quarter into the final mile my knee goes snap and I’m in pain. Rusty asks if I can continue. “Yes… ow No.” I slow and walk, the pain eases a bit and I start up again. The final half mile is 3:21.

Oh god, maybe this injury will keep me from Boston after all.

Rusty tells me to stop if it gets any worse, otherwise do my hour cooldown. It continues to improve — slowly, slightly, but I remain aware of it. I go running by the UCSB lagoon which is full of grebes, and then on out to the open ocean and see a bunch of brown pelicans. On the way back I see my first bufflehead of the year. And of course mallards, great egrets and a great blue heron.

The pain is worse than it was on Tuesday, and yet it’s not really that bad. In fact when running it doesn’t hurt much at all, but when driving a car it is extreme. I guess the way the knee is held bent yet supporting weight — or perhaps just being still? Rusty has me ice it, and asks me to use a foam roller to stretch the hamstrings (semitendinosus particularly). I really hope it gets better.


I tried my ten mile run, but quickly decided that was not a good idea. I then tried using the elliptical trainer, but that didn’t seem a good idea either. My yoga class went well, but even there I needed to modify a few poses.Damn.
Monday. I still can’t use the elliptical. I manage to make an appointment with my doctor and she suspects ligaments or a torn meniscus. She sets me up for an MRI which I eventually schedule for Wednesday morning. She also tells me to take anti-inflammatories. Her comments make me think that a) I won’t be running Boston and b) I may not be running again.

By Tuesday the pain has dropped so that I can use the elliptical, which I do for an hour. I’m feeling all sorts of self-pitying thoughts which I try to pretend to myself are really self-sacrificing thoughts.

Wednesday I ellipt for another hour, get my MRI taken (but they won’t tell me the results), and go see Rusty. He’s much more cheerful and isn’t ready to give up on Boston yet. He hopes it’s a muscle injury which he can heal with massage. So I’m more cheerful.

Later I go see Mike, my PT, and he tests my knee and concludes that I do have a torn meniscus, but says this isn’t necessarily appalling. It may be possible to run through it and have it heal, or I may need surgery. In any event I will almost certainly be able to keep running in the long term. He’s had this surgery and he runs far better than I. But a torn meniscus isn’t a common running injury and there must be something wrong with my form. I wonder if it is because my legs are of different lengths and if I need to use a bigger lift in my shoe. Mike tells me not to put more stress on my knee by switching lifts.

I had the MRI results sent to him, and they arrive just as I’m leaving. They say I have a “complex” tear, which means I’ll probably need surgery. Mike tells me to make an appointment with an orthopedic surgeon — which I do, but not till Monday. Mike says I can continue to ellipt and to aquajog (ug) and swim between now and then.

Thursday. I had to stop ellipting after 10 minutes because it was too painful. The calm acceptance I thought I’d acquired seems to have changed to despair. I’ve heard everything from: “You should get both knees cleaned out,” to “The surgery is no big deal,” to “It’ll never be the same again,” to “Once they get inside the joint capsule they are liable to make matters worse.”

Marty tells me that he thinks that 5 years of running after knee surgery has given him more knee problems (but he still runs).

While recovering from my last injury I told myself that now I’d be OK, that I’d worked through all my body’s problems. I believed that all my previous injuries stemmed from a common root cause, which had been fixed. But that if I did get another major injury I should accept that I should no longer run competitively. I didn’t believe it would happen, of course, but it did.
I still don’t want to accept it.

Friday. The friends I talk to today encourage me not to give up running (even one who has counselled giving it up in the past). Rusty called to commiserate; it never occurs to him that I would give up, and how can I disappoint him?

If I do continue running I’ll need to have some explanation for why my knee went bad. And a fix. This is not a common running injury and indicates that my biomechanics are bad. Presumably they’ll still be bad after surgery and my knee will be even less capable of withstanding the bad torques I place on it.

I realize I no longer have any desire to do Boston. I wanted to run Boston because: a) qualifying is a challenge b) to redeem a mis-spent youth (I ran it as a bandit when I didn’t know any better) c) because I have friends there. Well I qualified, and don’t need to do that again. Being officially accepted has salved my conscious, so I don’t need to do that again. And I’ll still visit my friends even though I don’t run.

Jim and Laura had miserable weather in Napa today. Neither ran as fast as they had hoped, but Jim came fifth in his age-group and Laura fourth which means that they did well compared to other people — all you can hope for when the weather is against you.
The End
I talk more with Mike, this time about how to correct the imbalance which caused the tear. He seems to think that it is the leg length imbalance and that it can be fixed by a different size lift. Which is encouraging to me.

It tells me that it isn’t a new problem. And it’s a problem with a solution. Now increasing the size of the lift gave me achilles problems last year, but perhaps I can manage the transition better this year. Spend more time walking before I start running. Or something.

He also explains more about what the menisci do, and the whole injury begins to seem less threatening.I go to my orthopedic surgeon who is very careful not to tell me to have surgery. But who does say that he would have surgery if it were his knee. He also tells me that the good news is that running did not cause the injury. A statement I find hard to believe…

Did I “overdo it”? With hind-sight, maybe. My bad biomechanics might have torn the meniscus eventually anyway (my first knee injury came out of the blue).

Did I do anything that foresight would have cautioned against? I don’t think so.

Do I feel I was overtrained? Good heavens no.

But most important of all: I enjoyed it. I had a blast. And I don’t regret the process even if it did lead to injury.

Quality time on Highway 1

September 10, 2007

24 April 2005

I drove up to Monterey on Friday to run the Big Sur marathon, enjoying the coastline as I went north (you get better views going south when you are in the lane by the sea, but north is pretty spectacular too). Didn’t have time to do much but go to bed once I got there.

I was a little concerned about this marathon. I haven’t run one for 13 years (and that one was 3:29:06). I wasn’t able to train properly because my hip gave me problems 2 weeks into training and I had to take about 2 months off — so I’d only been able to train for a month and a half, and my hip still wasn’t well, I could only run on alternate days. And Big Sur is supposed to be a hard course. I hoped I could do another 3:30 marathon (that’s about 8 minute miles), but I wasn’t confident of that. Wouldn’t be too surprised if it were as much as 4 hours on this course.

(3:30 is my Boston qualifying time, so it’s magic)

Would you believe it? It was raining Saturday. The first real rain in 4 weeks. Downpour for most of the morning, drizzle for the afternoon. That doesn’t look encouraging for a marathon on Sunday. But Saturday I could spend indoors at the aquarium.

The next morning I was up at 3, and half the hotel with me from the sound of things. We were all catching an early bus that would take us from Monterey to Big Sur.

The trip was in pitch darkness, so once again we missed the true glory of the coastline (this time we missed it entirely).

The guy beside me in the bus line was Mike from Salinas and he and I got to chatting. We sat together on the bus. Mike had run Big Sur twice before and Boston once. I was impressed, Big Sur is not an easy course to qualify for Boston on. Still I thought, here was someone I could run with who would be keeping a pace similar to mine. If I were lucky enough to go that fast.

Then the woman in front turned around and started talking to us. She discovered I’d never run Big Sur before and reassured me that there was no shame in walking up the steep hills. She was expecting to run about 4:30. I hoped I wouldn’t need to walk. She rereassured me that it would be ok if I did.

At Big Sur we were deposited at a maintenance depot for the Pfeiffer State Park. It was maybe 5:45 now and still pitch black. It felt like a refugee camp — there were about 5000 of us or so crammed into a fairly small parking lot. Harsh electric lights illuminating everything. There were people wrapped up in mylar blankets trying to sleep, people waiting in lines for food and water. People waiting in lines for port-a-potties. And more people crammed in every minute.

I grabbed some water and used a port-a-potty. Then I found a spot to squat where no-one else was, and tried to figure out what to wear. We’d been warned that the temperature might be down to forty, so I brought lots of warm things (leggings, armings, sweatshirts, wind-breakers, etc.). Since the previous day had had a (cold) downpour I’d brought rain gear. Now I had to guess what the weather would be like for the next 4 hours or so.

It was not raining. Thank heavens — I had really dreaded that. The sky had broken clouds just becoming visible, so it did not look as though it would start soon. It was cool, chilly even, but not cold. No wind — at least not here among the trees. I decided to wear shorts, long sleeve wicking shirt, cap, sun-screen (just in case) and a plastic bag.

Then I packed a sack with all the stuff I’d decided against, and decided it would not hurt to stand in line for the toilets again. The lines were now about 12 people long. The one I joined didn’t move. I stood in it for 20 minutes or so and it might have moved by 4 people. I was glad I had gone earlier.

They called us up to the road about then. So I switched lines, and stood in one to toss my sack on a truck (this one moved much faster), then went up to the road. Dawn had come while I waited.

Highway 1 was now closed to traffic — which is rather remarkable as there is no real alternate route, you have to go about 200 miles round. They placed us on the road ordered by expected finishing times. I was surprised to find that I was almost at the start line. Because this is a hard course very few expected to finish faster than 3:30.

We stood. And stamped. And cooled down a bit more. They released a flock of white doves. Someone sang “Oh say can you see” (but we were already standing). A news helicopter droned overhead. A priest murmured an inaudible blessing. BANG!

Immediately we are squeezed a bit as we are forced to run over the chip detector. Then we spread out and cover all of Hwy 1.

The first few miles are downhill (which is bad, I don’t want to start out too fast) and through the Big Sur woods, which are lovely. Immense redwoods shadow the road, small streams cross under it. I was standing beside Mike at the start, but he took off faster than I liked, so I dropped back. I’m still running too fast. My first mile is 7:01 when it should be more like 8:00 if I want to be consistent toward a 3:30. So I slow down on the next mile. 7:17. Not much better. The third mile is even worse: 6:58. Oh well I can handle a 7 minute pace for a while, it isn’t that fast. The first 8 miles are easy so doing them at 7 minutes shouldn’t be bad and then I can slow down when it gets hard. That seems reasonable, and I stop worrying about my speed for a bit.

At each mile there is a sign, and standing beside it a person calling out the time since the race began. Most of the mile marks have a second person about 10 feet along calling out average time (total time divided by miles run) and projected finishing time (assuming constant pace — a ludicrous assumption on this course).

We come to our first band. The bands also have signs so we know who they are. They are playing “Go, Johny, go!” with great enthusiasm. Seems apropos.

As we come out of the Big Sur woods (mile 3 or 4) there is a sign saying “End 45 zone”. This seems ludicrous to me. I’m doing 8.5 mph (about) and am now told I can speed up to 55. I point this out to the people around me, but no one laughs.

We’re coming out onto moorland now and can see the sea. I’m starting to get warm, time to remove the plastic bag. It has served its purpose. I take off my cap (to pull the bag over my head) but then I don’t have enough hands — I need two for the bag and one for the cap. So I put the cap back on. After all, I can just rip the bag off, so I do, and hold it in my hand until we reach a water stand (which has garbage cans).

We pass the first first aid station, and some wit beside me asks them for a cigarette. Someone else points out that the only smokes these people might have would be medical marijuana.

We run through rolling hills of open moorland with a cliff dropping down to the sea (think Devon). In the distance, but approaching is Point Sur. We get there at about mile 7.

Imagine Mont St Michell. Imagine that this rock is bigger and topped by a lighthouse rather than a church. That’s Point Sur. It even has a causeway out to it.

The hills start to get bigger now, and we slow slightly.

There is a spattering of rain, and the wind picks up. Was I wise to throw away my plastic bag? I have no rain gear now… still I’m pretty warm, as long as it doesn’t worsen I should be ok.

But the rain (and wind) only lasts for 5 minutes or so, as we come down our first real hill.

At mile 10 we come to the first bridge which leads up to the steepest and longest climb of the run 564ft in 2 miles. After the bridge is another memorable band — twenty or thirty Taiko drums beating a steady rhythm to help us up the hill. But as I approach they fall silent. I urge them to continue, and after a short break they do. Their drumming looks pretty strenuous, I guess they can get tired too. I mention this to the guy beside me and he agrees, glad he only has to run and not drum.

Some way up the hill is a sign by a turnout. It says “Exclamation Point”. Is this the name of a band that didn’t show? or is it the name of the spot? To be on the safe side I run to the edge of the turnout and look back across the inlet we have just crossed. And I exclaim “Wow!” for the view is stunning.

Then onward and upward. I remind myself that I intended to slow down a bit about now. And I do. But I’m passing people anyway, I seem to run uphill better than most. Well, many will pass me again on the down hill (they do).

This is supposed to be the most grueling part of the race, we have been warned of the wind that will sweep down here. The top is called Hurricane Point. But today there is no wind.

Conditions are perfect for a run. Overcast, cool, no wind, no rain. I’m not sweating much so am not dehydrating much. I’ve drunk some water (sometimes Gatorade too, sometimes GU, later fruit) at each rest stop. I’m feeling remarkably good.

And the view is spectacular. We no longer have the whole highway to ourselves, race related vehicles occasionally go by in one direction or another, but we have the left lane, the oceanside lane. Occasionally there will be a walker there, but mostly I can run right on the edge of the western world and see the ocean crashing on the rocks below.

We turn a corner at Hurricane, and head down into another inlet with the most spectacular bridge. Bigbsy Bridge, a delicate arch across a small river. The far side of the bridge is the halfway point, and there is a gentleman playing a grand piano (how did they get a grand piano out into the middle of nowhere?).


I seem to be speeding back up. Oh well. I seem to be doing ok.

Onward and upward again. More beautiful views. But I’m tiring now — I’m not slowing, but I don’t have the energy to look around that I did earlier. So I have to remind myself to look. The course is easier again, the hills are more gentle. More bridges over more inlets, more hills in between. Surf crashing on the rocks below.

About mile 15 I hear sea-lions barking. I can’t see them though. There’s a rock some distance out at sea with the waves crashing on it, looks like a place they might like, but I can’t make them out. Or perhaps on the beach under my feet, close to the cliff where I can’t see either. No matter. Their barking carries me on for another half mile.

Somewhere there is a sign warning us not to pick up hitch-hikers. None of us tries to pick one up. (I guess the road is too narrow and twisty and stopping is just too dangerous — er, in normal conditions I mean).

A little before mile 20 there is a sign: “At this point in his run Pheidippides nearly died.” An encouraging thing to be told as we struggle up this hill.

A little after mile 20 there is another sign: “But he recovered and ran another 6 miles 385 yards”. This makes a good sign, and was certainly amusing as we start down this hill, but I don’t think it is strictly accurate. We don’t really know exactly how far the original runner ran. It’s about 25 miles from the plains of Marathon to Athens — but a plain is not a very precise location, no one really knows what happened 2500 years ago. (Indeed there is some doubt as to whether it was Pheidippides who ran — he ran to Sparta and back but the marathon runner is nameless — or so I have read — haven’t checked the original Greek myself.)

The modern distance is wonderfully arbitrary. The first modern marathon (at the end of the first Olympic games in 1896) was just a long footrace. Nobody measured it as precisely as they do today. It was about 25 miles, about 40k depending on what country you were in. So things continued for a while. Then in 1908 the marathon was in London and the course ran from Windsor Castle to the Olympic stadium. It was also about 25 miles. It happened to be exactly 26 miles 385 yards. And somehow that stuck. 26.2 miles, 42.2k.

At mile 21 I checked my split. 5:59. NO WAY! I can’t have run that fast this late in the race, or if I did I’d be way more tired than I am. Still that’s what the watch says.

A minute and 16 seconds later the mystery is explained. There is a mark on the road that says 21. The large visible sign and the person beside it calling out the time is just in the wrong place (about 1/5th of a mile off). Amusing. Still it would have been neat to have run a sub-6 mile this far along.

And now we are entering Carmel Highlands. The highway leaves the coast and heads into urban forest. Not so interesting. I stop even considering looking around and concentrate on running.

At the penultimate (I think, I may be off by one) water stand there is a couple at the end with a sign “Free Hugs”. Tempting… but I can’t stop.

There are lots of walkers now (these have had a much shorter course than we) and they get in the way. Still some of them cheer us on. Sometimes I cheer back, or at least give a thumbs up, but there isn’t much energy left for anything but running now.

Sometimes I yell at the walkers to move left (they are supposed to be on the left edge of the road), but there are far more walkers now than runners — not many runners ahead of me, and the walkers aren’t paying much attention to us. I suppose that is reasonable, I could run in the center of the road and not bother them. I try this but somehow I drift over to the edge again. I guess I’m used to running on the edge and this late can’t break the habit. No energy for that.

Damn. It’s Carmel Highlands. We’re going up again, steeply. Then down. Then up. Short ups and downs, not the long gradual changes we’ve become used to.

Good heavens there’s a group of belly dancers beside this band. Unfortunately they aren’t paying much attention to the runners either and one is out dancing in the middle of the road with her back to me, she twists and wriggles and as I approach I dodge from side to side to get out of her way but she seems to get back into mine. Then she turns and sees me and scoots out of the way with a few feet to spare.

Oh neat, some of the locals have put up their own refreshment stand and are giving away strawberries. Sadly they don’t do as good a job as the professional stands, and the walkers have crowded around and I can’t get to any without stopping.

If I stop now I shall not start again … probably. Not easily.

3 miles to go. My pace has slowed to 7:30. I try to run harder. It’s downhill for a bit, but I’m not running faster. But I am passing a few people.

2 miles. My legs are really tired. Will I make it at even this pace?

1 mile. I can’t go faster. No one passes me. Up again.

I pass the 26 mile post. Damn those .2 miles the Brits added. I’m really trying hard now.

And they are yelling names now. But not mine. Where’s the finish… walkers to the left (and this time they really do go), runners right (and we’ve taken over both lanes again). Almost. My name!

But where do I stop. There are two mats… which is the chip mat? best to run hard over both. 3:13:48 I think.

I try to turn off my stopwatch — but later find out I haven’t. Don’t know how long it took to run that final .2 miles.

I’m exhausted. I slow, and there are people taking off chips. I sort of collapse on the railing in front of one guy and rest a bit. But he’s done and I have to move off. They wrap a mylar blanket about me and there’s water. More water. Gatorade. Mylar blankets are hard to deal with. They don’t drape on you, the wind wants to blow them away, you need one hand to hold it closed and another hand to hold it in place and a third hand for the cup of water and here’s the food, so we need a fourth hand for the box they give me to hold the bananas and orange quarters and apples and carrots oh and a cookie too. Then I walk out. Foolishly. I don’t realize that I can’t reenter the food tent. I juggle my food as I use my fifth hand to eat some of it while drinking from the cup. Nowhere to sit. I need more water. There doesn’t seem to be any. That’s really stupid. I know, I have some water in a bottle in the sack I packed this morning. Where are the sacks? over there. In a caged area. There seems to be no entrance. I walk all around. Hobble. There is no entrance. But a line seems to be forming at one corner. I join it. Someone tells me I should drink some more water. They let us in, a few at a time. People push me forward (most are walkers, a few are relay runners, they aren’t as tired as I am), kind of them. Sacks are ordered by bib number. I walk up to my row. There seems to be no one there, the guy on the next row pays me no attention. Oh I see, the guy on my row saw me coming read my bib and went back to look for it. And I didn’t realize it. Here’s my sack. Look, over there’s some soup, that sounds better than water. I drink two cups of soup. I’m starting to feel vaguely human again. There’s a large sign that says “Preliminary results”. I wander over. Hobble. No results for the marathon yet. Nowhere to sit. Where’s the bus back to the center of town. I find it. I climb awkwardly on. It’s painful. I collapse in a seat.

Now I can rest. I even have a conversation with the two walkers in front of me. They are feeling a little embarrassed because they only had time to train to walk the 10 mile walking course rather than the longer one.

Back to the parking garage where I left my car. Third floor I think. I can’t remember. No, not on the third floor. Second? Not there either. Did I lock it? No one would want to steal my car. It must be here. Nope still not on the third floor. The fourth floor is the roof, I know I didn’t put it there. Still here it is on the ramp most of the way up to the fourth floor. Whee. Too excited this morning to notice where I put it, too tired now to remember.

The streets of Monterey are dead. I am so used to being surrounded by thousands of runners and walkers and volunteers and bustle and busses. But it’s 11am (not even) on a Sunday.

I get back to my hotel, shower, pack up the car, check out and head south. I get to Carmel about 12:45. They told us we had to be off the road (ie. finished running/walking) by 12:30 so they could open it again, but I guess this takes time. Hwy 1 is still closed. So I drive into the finish area, park (this takes some doing — parking lot is jammed). And hobble around again. I see they have posted marathon results now. How interesting the time here seems to be 20 seconds faster than the time I thought I saw when I crossed what I thought was the chip mat. I shan’t argue.

I search for a Mike from Salinas (in the results, I don’t see him in the enclosure) and there he is with a solid 3:28, just as he wanted. Good for him.

The sun comes out and it is starting to get hot. And they have opened the road now, so I head down south. There are still some people walking on the road. Poor people. They’ve been going for 6:30 hours. They now have sun. They have no more water, no fruit, no spectators, no one offering free hugs. It’s hot. The last one I see looked as though she had about 5 miles more to go. Another hour and a half? In the sun and the heat with no water. Poor thing.

And then I’m out of Carmel and the shoreline opens up in front of me. With the sun shining on it. Beautiful.

But you know? Even in the sun, it isn’t nearly as nice as it was when I was running.

Two weeks before the race they sent a blurb full of reminders and with info we needed. They said that this marathon was slow, we would probably run 20 minutes slower than on a normal course. We were warned: Expect to have the worst time in your life … and the best.

But I didn’t. I only had the best.

Big Sur -> Carmel 3:13:28 (PR)