Archive for April, 2008

Someone to run with!

April 19, 2008

Two weeks before the race Rusty told me to shoot for a 6:10 pace. I balked at that, I didn’t think I was in very good shape, after all I’d just done the Orchard to Ocean 10k at a 6:15 pace, I didn’t believe I’d be able to better that. So the next week Rusty said do the first half at 6:15, and then do what you can for the second (that is — go faster). Well, that seemed more reasonable.

I was concerned that I’d go out too fast. I always do. O2O hadn’t had a half mile point marked, and my first mile was 25seconds faster than my average. Not good. So I took out my wheel on Thursday, rode down to the start, and put marks on the curb to show the ¹/₈th, ¼th and ½ mile points. Or that was my intent. José had already marked the ½ mile point (Yay!)

The course runs out 5 miles along the waterfront, into Montecito, around a post and then back on basically the same route. So the 4 mile mark is also the 6 mile mark, etc.

I volunteered for packet-pickup on Friday. I like doing that, it makes me feel part of the race already and I start getting excited.

During a quiet period, a homeless guy (I assume) rode up on his bike and started ruttling around in the dumpster. Then he moved over to us. He asked if he could have one of the keychains the Addidas rep was handing out, and I let him. Then he asked what was going on; I explained there was a 10mile race tomorrow and asked if he wanted to run. Not any more, he replied, but back in the day — why in high school he’d run 10miles 1500yards in an hour and was the third best in the nation, and his best marathon was a 2:30.

Wow. I guess it had never occurred to me that a homeless guy might have been an excellent runner in his youth. And I can’t imagine that someone who wasn’t a runner would know what numbers would impress yet be believable. Rather an eye-opener for me. We chatted a bit longer, and he rode off.

Race day morning I got to the start a bit earlier than normal because I wanted to draw lines across the road where I’d previously marked only the curb (marks on the curb don’t get smeared into oblivion by traffic, but they aren’t readily visible to runners).

Two miles of warm-up. Or there-abouts. As I loop back I run through the beach-front soccer field. In the middle of the field is a sign “No parking — SB Streets Div”. This amused me all the way back to the race start. A car would have to go to extreme lengths to reach that field.

Take off my sweats. Put on my magic shoes. Um. It’s chilly. Do I want a jacket? Do I want gloves? Hmm. Probably not. I’m manage, and then I’ll warm up.

Some strides.

Time to line up.

None of the other runners seems to know where the start line is. First I see some trying to line up at the half marathon start (there’s no mark on the road for it, but there is a curbside mark); I direct them to the real start. I do some more strides, and then head there myself. No one is at the line. Everybody seems to have lined up about 20feet back from it.

I stand at the line.

I figure I’m fast enough.

Eventually other people join me.

We start.

I’m trying not to take off too fast. I let Ricky and Andrea go. But even so… at the ¹/₈th mile I’m at 41 seconds. That’s a 5:24 mile pace. I want 46 or 47 for a 6:15 pace. I slow a bit. At the ¼mile mark I’m at 85. Better, but that’s still a 5:40 pace. At the ½ mile mark 2:57, again, better, but still too fast.

Jeff has joined me. He wants to chat. We’re going faster than 6 minute pace, and he wants to chat? I didn’t even realize I could. But I guess I can, at least this early in a race. Jeff’s goal pace is 6:24 (~64min) and he is also aware that we’ve gone out too fast (but less fast than many). We joke about how we’ll pass many of them later (or we hope we will). Jeff speculates that some are only running the concurrent 5K and so can afford to go fast now.

At the one mile mark 6:16. Almost perfect for me. Little fast for Jeff. But he says he’ll run a little fast while the adreneline is up. We keep going together. At the 5K turn around (approximately 1.5 miles) I comment that very few of the people ahead of us have turned back. So let’s hope we do pass them later.

At the two mile mark I see I’ve slowed too much: 6:21. Not horrible, but it turns out to be my slowest mile. So I pick my pace a bit and leave Jeff.

I’m gaining on Andrea. Judging by O2O she’d be another reasonable person to run with. But when I reach her she’s going more slowly than I’d hoped and I pass her too. And then I pass Ricky. Ricky did the “Tough Enough” race last week — in the horrible heat, so I’m not surprised to pass him. Another half mile later I see the number 4 woman is passing the number 3 woman and the guy who is running beside #3. And I end up passing all of them at pretty much that moment. Pushes me out into the street a bit but there’s no traffic, so that’s ok.

And then I hear footsteps behind me. The woman who was #4 and is now #3 is pacing me, just off my shoulder. OK. She can try to keep up.

As we twist around the bird sanctuary my eyes turn toward the mountains (and I happen to look up). A bit of sun has broken through the cloud cover and Montecito peak stands out in the morning glow. Quite lovely. But the road twists again and it’s gone. Anyway I can’t pay it much attention. I need to run now.

At the 3 mile mark I see that, er, I was going too fast: 6:03. The combination of picking up the pace after the previous too slow mile, and the joy of passing people has pushed me too fast. I’d better slow here, especially as the first hill is around the next bend. I expect the woman will pass me as I slow, but she doesn’t. We go up the hill together.

I get a little ahead, but she closes the gap on the flat at the top. Coming down the hill, I get a little ahead again, but she closes the gap again. Neat. This is kind of fun. I can’t really see her, she’s mostly behind me, and there’s no way I’m going to turn my head and look back. She isn’t someone I know.

We both click our watches at the 4mile mark: 6:14. Perfect for me.

We both grab cups at the water stand. I have great difficulty drinking. I’m squeezing it too tight or something. I get very little into me and go off into a coughing fit for a bit. She doesn’t pass me.

The next mile is a gradual up hill that twists through Montecito. And here comes Micah on his way back, and someone I don’t know and Aaron, and a bit later Garrett. I cheer my friends. The woman seems to know some of the others, and one of them calls her by name, but I don’t catch it.

We pass the #2 woman. We reach the turn-around at 5 miles: 6:14 — total time for the first 5 miles 31:10, at home I see that that is almost exactly a 6:15 pace for the first half (5 seconds too fast), just what Rusty ordered.

Time to pick it up a bit? This is a downhill mile. We pass the guy in front. And now no one is in sight in front of us (but it’s very twisty here). Far more interesting than the people ahead are the ones behind, and after the turn-around we’re running against the main body of the race, and I get to cheer them on. And they cheer me on.

The woman says “You seem popular, George” (people have shouted it). I ask for her name, “Jen”. I thank her for running with me. It really is great. She is forcing me to work, I don’t dare slow and take it easy lest she pass me. And that’s about as much chatting as I (we) have breath for at this point.

We twist back through Montecito. Back to the water stand. Given the difficulty I had last time, I figure I’d better not try for more water. Jen, however, gets more. This proves a mistake. She drops back slightly, and she never catches up again.

At the six/four mile mark: 6:06. Nice. I did pick it up. Next mile has the hills, but it’s still 6:13. I pass some walkers. One says “16” too me. Neat, that probably means I’m 16th over-all (I was actually 17th at that point, perhaps she meant 16th male, perhaps she miscounted). Thanks. And then behind me I hear “2”, so Jen isn’t far back and she’s the number two woman. And then — I’m out of the bendy area and I can see down the long straight section that runs for miles.

There is no one visible ahead.

Looking at the race results I see the next clump was about a minute and a half ahead of me. That may not sound like much but it’s a ¼ mile at this pace. Oh, there are faint shapes far in the distance, but they provide no inspiration — I’ll never catch them.

An’, ah look down duh roa~d–
And duh road so lo~nesome.
Lord, I gots to walk down da lo~nesome road
I gots to walk down it b~y m~yself.

Traditional spiritual from the Charleston low-country

Well, I gots to run down it, but it’s still lonesome. I was thinking just the other day that “the loneliness of the long distance runner” only really applies to the winner (ignoring all the other connotations in the store). But today it’s applying to me too. There’s too much of a gap to the group ahead.

I can’t hear Jen behind me. There is no one visible in front. It’s hard to keep going. 6:16. Ug. I can do better than that! But the next mile is similar: 6:15. Ok. It isn’t horrible, but I want to do better.

But now there is only one more mile to go. I can go a little faster now that I’m almost there. And then there’s only half a mile to go — and then I hear footsteps. Hmm! incentive? I figure that if Jen passes me, I won’t try to pass her back, but she’s going to have to work to pass me. I speed up a bit. But the footsteps get louder and louder. Hmm. Jen wasn’t that noisy. Maybe she’s gotten sloppy as she has tired? And then the footsteps pass me and — it’s Ricky.

Well I’m not going to let him pass me, but his kick is better than mine, and I can’t catch him. Then someone else passes me. Damn it. I am not going slowly, in fact I’m going faster than I was. Why is everyone passing me. Sigh. I just have no kick. I can speed up by 10 seconds, and that’s a lot for me, but Ricky is much faster than I over short distances — like 5Ks — while I’m already running almost as fast as I ever can.

Almost done now. No footsteps behind, but I must assume than Jen isn’t far back (I’ve heard people cheer her on all along — as #2 woman she gets more cheers than #16 man). I’m breathing like a steam engine, I’ve got to stop. I keep going. I’ve drolled all down my chin. And here’s the chute, I see 1:02:05 on the clock (great, I’m faster than 6:15 pace) and then the finish line. (1:02:09)

I can stop.

And eleven seconds later here’s Jen.

And now it is possible to introduce ourselves better. She’s from San Diego. Rats. It has been a pleasure to run with her. I explain why I didn’t stop for water.

I find I am 5th place in my age group. No other age-group runs that deep in age-graded percentages. Even absolutely — I would have been first place in the the 40-44 group. They are the guys younger than I who should be running faster? That just doesn’t seem fair. Why are so many of the really fast guys my age?

So my first half was 31:10 (6:14.5 pace), the second half 30:59 (6:11.8). Reverse splits. I usually don’t manage that. Thank you Jen. Thank you Ricky. I really feel I raced today (as opposed to just running fast).

And even more cheering — I ran this at a slightly faster pace than the 15k this summer. The weather was better today, but it’s a slightly longer race — so it’s roughly comparable. I’ve been so afraid, since September, that I’d never again be as good as I was last year. It’s a relief to have proof that I was wrong.

Jeff is a minute and a half behind me. And now that doesn’t seem like anything. I’ve barely started talking to Jen, and he’s here. And Kent finishes a minute later. Time dilates oddly. During the race a minute and a half is so far ahead that the people are invisible, afterwards you blink and they are crossing the line.

Andrea turns out to have been ill. She points out there will be other races.

Stu Sherman tells me some of the faster people had to wait for a train to cross the tracks in Montecito. Whew. I’m glad I’m not that fast:-)

I cool down with Kent for four miles, and we chat about the race. I am so pleased. I can run fast again (and it’s a two minute PR too).



Pre Race Jitters

April 18, 2008

I threw my back out night before last. In my sleep. Few people have mastered the art of injuring themselves in bed, but I am learning.

I haven’t run well since last September, when I ran myself into overtraining.

I wasn’t able to run the marathon I planned in October.

Then I did the half marathon in November and was almost a minute slower than the year before. Exactly the decline the age-graded tables predicted. Obviously I would only run more slowly from now on.

When I did a marathon in Dec I had to scale my goal way back — and then I failed to make even that.

In January I tore my glut after running the resolution races at a moderate pace.

I couldn’t even run for a month.

Then I got achilles tendinitis.

I didn’t run Orchard to Ocean well.

My easy runs were very slow. My track and tempo workouts were also slow compared to what I used to do.

Everyone else seems to be doing so well. All kinds of people passed me at Orchard to Ocean; people whom I have, in the past, been in front of.

A week ago I noticed that my easy runs had become faster. Naturally. Was I starting to feel better? But the tempo run was still slow and that’s what matters.

The 10 miler is tomorrow. I should be sleeping. Instead I’m writing this and worrying. Can I run 10 miles at the pace I had trouble running 4 last week-end?

I’m done now. I hope I’m done feeling sorry for myself and done with apprehention too. Maybe that will help me sleep. Good-night.

One hundred years of 26.2

April 10, 2008

The 2008 Olympics marks the hundredth anniversary of the peculiar choice of 26.2miles for the marathon.

It’s rather interesting how that distance was chosen, I’d like to tell you about it. Are you all sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.

The Greek Olympic games started in 776BCE and lasted until 393CE. As with the modern games they were held every 4 years.

The games were not open to women (who weren’t even allowed to watch), but there was a similar set of athletic contests for unmarried women.

There was no marathon race. There were really only four footraces, though the specifics varied over the centuries: a 1 stade sprint which went from one end of the stadium to the other (~192m), a diaulos sprint (2 stade, ~380m, where the runners went back and forth turning at a post), a long distance race, dolichos, which was anywhere from 7 to 24 stade (1.3km~4.6km), and finally a 2~4 stade run in full armor (which weighed about 50 lb).

The Roman Emperor Theodosius forbade pagan cults in 393CE and thus ended the games of antiquity. [†]

Heroditus tells us that when the Persians invaded Greece in 490BCE, the Athenians sent the runner Pheidippides to Sparta to request aid (~150miles), later, when the battle was won, a runner ran from the battle site at Marathon to Athens to report the good news (this runner is often said to be Pheidippides though Heroditus does not name him).

The Olympic games were revived in 1896; with the first one held in Athens to honor the ancient tradition. The organizers decided to finish the games with a long distance race from Marathon to Athens, a distance of about 40km (roughly 25 miles), the race was won with a time of 2:58. This was the first marathon.

The first Boston marathon was on 19 April 1897, the course was 24.5miles long (a little shorter than the Olympic distance) and 15 people ran it. This race was won with a 2:55 time. [†]

The marathon was not a set distance in the early years, it was roughly 40km, but each course was different.

In 1908 the Olympics were held in London, the race was originally designed to be ~25 miles long. It started near Windsor castle and ended at the Stadium in Shepherd’s Bush. The Princess of Wales requested that the start of the race be moved so that her children could watch. This added a mile to the course. Then Queen Alexandria wanted the end of the race moved so that she would get the best view of it. This added 385 yards to the course. (I think I would have been quite annoyed to discover that the race I intended to run was 5% longer than I expected, ah well, one of the last instances of the use of the royal prerogative I presume).

The winner of the 1908 marathon was not the first to cross the finish line. Dorando PIETRI entered the stadium first, but was so disoriented he ran the wrong way around the track; the umpires redirected him, but then he fell, and fell 3 or 4 more times and had to be helped. He finished with a time of 2:54:46 (where the last 385 yards took ~10 minutes), John Hayes won with a time of 2:55:18 (Dorando was disqualified because he needed help to finish). [†]

After the London Olympics, the Polytechnic Harriers of London created the Polytechnic Marathon (in London), it was the next marathon to chose 26miles 385yards as its standard distance. It was run annually in from 1909 until 1996. The first running was on 26 May 1909 and the winning time was 2:42:31. [†]

In 1912 the Olympic marathon distance was 40.2km (24.98miles), in 1920 it was 42.75km (26.56miles). (in 1916 there were no Olympics because of World War I)

In 1924 the Olympic distance was standardized to the 1908 distance [†]. Boston changed its course that year, but the new distance was still too short, and Boston was not the standard distance until 1927. [†]

Women were first (officially) allowed to run Boston in 1972 (3:10:26)[†], in the Polytechnic in 1978 (2:54:11)[†], while the first Olympic woman’s marathon was Los Angeles in 1984 (2:24:52).[†]

Boston started requiring qualifying times in 1970. At first the requirement was that all runners be able to run faster than 4 hours. At some later point an age-graded system was put in place. In 2002 the age-graded system was amended to make it attract more older runners (the qualifying times for runners 45years+ were increased). [†]

New moon?

April 6, 2008

… The moon is nothing
But a circumambulating aphrodisiac
Divinely subsidized to provoke the world
Into a rising birth-rate

The Lady’s not for Burning
Christopher Fry

The moon was new last night, which meant there was a chance of seeing a very slim crescent moon in the first few minutes after sunset — and possibly seeing the rest of the moon, the part the sun can’t reach, faintly lit by earthlight. Only a chance, the moon sets 5~10 minutes after the sun today, and being such a thin crescent it will be very dim and easily obscured.

Wilcox ReflectedSo I went for a beach walk at sunset.

Well… The moon is an excuse really, I go out to watch the sunset most Sundays.

And to watch the ocean, and the birds.

Usually the sand on the beach migrates away for the winter and returns in the spring, and today the sand is still sparse and the beach quite steep. There seems to be a fair amount of surfWave breaking on Rock which gives the waves a chance to show off and break impressively against the rocks uncovered by the winter storms.

And the light is nice right before sunset.

SanderlingsThe sanderlings are out today, doing their little dance with the water — chasing the wave as it recedes, probing hurriedly into the wet sand, and then running from the next wave in a futile effort to keep their feet dry. Silly little things. Their legs move so fast… (I wish I had their turnover:-)

Sun PathThe sun is burning a path into the sand for me to follow (the moon is yet invisible), and follow it I do.

Everyone else seems to have the same idea and we all walk into the setting sun.

The evening is hazy. Sunset but no moonsetI fear the moon will not show her face. But a hazy evening with occasional clouds gives more color to the sunset even while it obscures the moonset. So not all is lost.

I watch a little longer, but there is no sign of a moon.

Three months ago, the sun set well out to sea. Now it is setting over UCSB, and in a few more months it will be behind the mountains and out of sight. As close as Santa Barbara comes to seasons.

Then I head back home. Along with everyone else on the beach.

The quality of light has changed now, the world no longer glows, but if I look behind there is an ember in the west.

The sanderlings are still playing their eternal game with the waves, and a pair of plovers have joined in, but without the same zest — the legs of the sanderlings move so rapidly — the plovers look clumsy in comparison.

Ahead the trees on the wilcox bluffs are fading into the evening’s mist.

I pass a man with his head down talking into his cell-phone. How can he deaden himself that way? Here he is, surrounded by fading beauty and his attention is fixed on a small piece of plastic. The crashing of the waves, the calling of the birds are just annoyances to him, they mean he can’t hear the phone.

Why do we do this to ourselves? Surrounded by beauty we chose to focus on something ugly.


I think this is the same reaction I have to iPods and such. I live in Santa Barbara. It is a beautiful place, why would I want to drown out all the natural world, why avoid all the beauty? Why run with an iPod?

Now if I went for a walk, or a run, in downtown Los Angeles, that might be a different matter, I might be glad to stifle the sounds of the cars, and obscure the grime of that smoggy city. But I live somewhere beautiful, I walk in beautiful places, I run into beauty. I want to enjoy it.

I find it sad, a sign of sickness in our culture, that so many of us will huddle over our cell-phone and not look behind to see the sunset.

Looking behind to the sunset