Sep 242014
Struggling through the last mile.

Struggling through the last mile. (Photo by Katie Hitzeman)

I have not spent enough time running this year.

I certainly haven’t spent enough time running to lower my times to where I wanted them to be. At the end of last year, when I drew up my goal sheet for the 2014 season, I wanted a sub-22 minute 5k, and a 1:45 half marathon. But with some fairly ambitious bicycle racing goals alongside, there just hasn’t been much time to train on foot. I’ve dropped my 5k time deep into the 22s, but hadn’t run further than about 6 miles all year. Strava tells me I’ve only logged 26 runs, with a measly total of 126 miles.

That just isn’t enough. Some of my running friends log more than that every month. I’m not putting in anywhere near the volume I should be, if I expect to drop my times and race without injury.

Those were the thoughts going through my  head a few weeks ago, as I started to prepare in earnest for my third attempt at the US Air Force Half Marathon. And by prepare, I mean do a last-minute ramp up to see if I could still even run it. Starting just four weeks out, I went to running club a couple times, raced a couple 5k events, and did exactly two “base building” runs, of 7 and 11 miles, respectively. Seven miles felt good. Eleven… not so much.

In terms of dress rehearsals for half marathons, I’ve had worse. I didn’t have a nagging injury. I didn’t bonk on my last long run, as had become a habit last year. And on my last tempo run, I was able to hold pretty close to my intended half marathon pace (8:00/mile) with some level of comfort, despite being sore from CrossFit the day before.

Still, as I finished my taper and started thinking of my strategy for the race, I wasn’t sure what I could expect. On the one hand, I know that I’m stronger and faster than last year. On the other hand, my 11 mile run was a little more brutal than I expected it to be, and I was intentionally going super easy. I hadn’t planned any other half marathons for this fall, choosing instead to leave time open for cyclocross. But if I fell apart in the race and missed my goal by a large margin, maybe I’d need to do another half to redeem myself.

After talking it over with Katie, I figured the only thing to do would be to go out with the pace group for 1:45, and see how long I could hang. I had no idea how long that would be, but I figured I could at least hold onto them through the flat portion of the course, up to the overpass hill at mile 9. After that, it was anybody’s guess. Privately, I just hoped to be under two hours.

How's that for level splits?

How’s that for level splits?

The conditions on the morning of the race were as ideal as anybody could ask. Pleasantly cool temperatures, brilliant sunshine, and just a slight breeze at our backs as we moshed across the starting line. The bike ride from home had been a sufficient warm-up, and I felt my body settle into a comfortable rhythm as we crested the first hill, over Huffman Dam. The first three miles passed easily enough at roughly a 7:45 pace, and as we made the left turn onto Skeel Avenue, my anxiety over the race melted away.

I was enjoying the run, something I can’t often say. I had just been joking with friends in the days before the race that I actually hate the act of running, it’s just the finishing that I’m addicted to. But this morning, the combination of the energy of the race, the gorgeous weather, and my body performing at the requested level without much complaint had me grinning behind my flashy new sunglasses.

Five miles in, and contrary to everything I thought I could expect from this race, I felt like the pace group was holding me back. I decided to let my legs stretch a little and see how things went. Ahead of me, I spotted a friend, and increased my pace catch her. We chatted for a minute, and then she turned me loose. She was turning down the gas just as I was turning mine up, so our pace curves crossed. That mile, the sixth, ended up being my fastest of the race, at 7:22.

Upping the pace felt good, but I was mindful that the second half of the race is much harder than the first, and so I slowed back down. The occasional glance over my shoulder revealed that the pace group wasn’t far behind, so I couldn’t afford to relax too much, but neither could I continue burning matches to stay under 7:30.

Before I knew it, I was turning left, toward the familiar sounds of a speed metal band that’s parked at the bottom of the Overpass Hill every year. That band is well placed, because 8 miles into a race, you need a little extra motivation to run up and over a bridge! Either you love the music, and it gets you excited, or you hate it, and you run harder to get away. As in years past, the hill was where my training, especially the runs through my hilly neighborhood, showed. I passed at least a dozen runners going up the hill, and a couple more on the way down the other side, allowing my breathing to accelerate and concentrating on running smooth.

Having dispensed of that challenge, I started to allow myself to think I could make it. Not to the end of the race; that was a foregone conclusion. But if I could just hold together on the last hard segment, the rolling hills on Kaufmann Road, I might even make my goal time! The pace group had caught up to me again as we ran through the back portion of Wright State, just as the full marathon runners merge again with the half-ers. I pulled alongside the pacer and bumped my tempo back up to stay with her, hopeful that I’d be able to hang on.

The rollers on Kaufmann are where my race started to come apart last year. Until I hit them, the race had been going easily, and I was holding an 8:30 or better average. But those hills took it out of me, and I struggled to maintain 9 minute miles to the finish. This year, as Jens Voight would say, the hills didn’t hurt any less, but I did go faster. In fact, I stayed with the pace group and didn’t lose any time at all, despite working very hard to do so!

A mile and a half from the finish, as we passed the next to last water stop, I wanted to feel that I was home free, but I knew that wasn’t true. I had at least twelve minutes of hard work left, and it seemed that the pacer was accelerating. I held on down the hill to Springfield Street, but as the road leveled, I had to let the pacer go. My level of effort already felt like a kick, and it was far too early for that, so I backed off, just a touch, to try and make it to the finish without blowing up early.

The finish loop at the Air Force Marathon is dramatic, to say the least. And long. You pass by the start line on your right, and then enter a 3/4 mile U that takes you between static display aircraft and thousands of fans lining the gates, all accompanied by loud music and an enthusiastic announcer. In previous races, I’d try to start my kick when I was just about even with the finish line on the other side of the U, increasing my pace for the last half mile.

But this year, as we entered the U, we were treated to an unabated headwind that felt like hitting a brick wall! I tried to start my kick as scheduled, but despite my increased heart rate and effort, barely accelerated.  The wind was brutal, and so close to the finish, it became demoralizing. After what seemed like hours, I reached the bottom of the loop, turned right, and turned right again. Now it’s a tailwind! I was convinced that between getting dropped by the pacer and beat up by the headwind, I probably wouldn’t meet my goal time. But I still had a chance at a good time, maybe even a big PR, so I let loose. I stretched out my legs, pumped my arms, and let my lungs suck air just as hard as they could, kicking for all I was worth to the finish line.

The finish chute at a big race like the Air Force Marathon is something everybody should experience once. The finish line banner and clock are just visible in the distance, you’re working at an absolute 100%, fans are cheering, friends are screaming your name… It’s magic. It’s not that the all-out effort doesn’t hurt, it’s that you’ve decided that hurting doesn’t matter!

My sprint to the line was strong, but it wasn’t quite enough. I crossed the line in 1:46:04, a mere five seconds off my goal time. Still, that’s 5:45 faster than I went last year! I beat my previous best effort by more than half a mile! And since my rookie effort in 2012, I’ve dropped over a half hour.

With that in mind, it was hard to be anything but overjoyed with how the race went. I may have missed my goal, but I beat everyone’s expectations, including my own, given my minimal preparation for the race. My splits stayed level, and my body held together until the very end of the race, which is a huge improvement over last year, especially on the hills. I may or may not schedule another half marathon before the year is out, to have another crack at my goal time, but even if I don’t, I’ll trot into the offseason feeling satisfied with my progress.

Jan 172014
It may not look like I'm having fun here, but I promise I am.

It may not look like I’m having fun here, but I promise I am.

Of all the sports and physical activities in which I engage, none is so polarizing among my friends as running. That’s surprising, given that running is the one sport I do that our bodies were specifically engineered to do, if the human physiological adaptations for moving faster than a walk are considered. And yet when I tell people I run, or about a big race I just finished, non-runners will invariably react with an expression somewhere between confused and horrified.

I get it. I get it more than most people would understand. I hated running for most of my life. I wasn’t good at it in school. I ran track in Junior High, middle distance, and was painfully slow. I was so bad at it that I didn’t run competitively again for more than a decade. I’ve never had great lung capacity, my feet flatter than a pancake on a sidewalk in Holland, my knees are less than top-shelf equipment, and I’m not all that strong. I smoked heavily for 9 years. Until a few years ago, all running ever did for me was hurt, even though I had done a whole lot of it. Heck, I wrestled in High School, and at a lot of practices we would run more than the Cross Country team, but I never got any better at it.

Running still hurts. It makes my joints ache, and my lungs burn. Part of me still hates it. Every single time that I run, I cross a threshold where I wonder why I’m doing it. That moment of misery awakens every voice in me that says “quit,” that questions everything I’ve worked for, and the time and effort I’ve put in working for it. I’m still not all that fast. I still don’t have great lungs or legs. Most days, I’m not a contender to win much of anything.

But I run anyway. I run because it does things for me that no other sport does. I run because of the feeling of moving fast along the ground, by nothing but your own power. I run because the runners’ high is stronger than that of any other sport I’ve tried. I run to silence that inner voice, to prove it wrong. I run to stare my doubts straight in the eye and tell them they mean nothing. I run to beat myself, to beat the parts of me that I don’t like.

And I run because they told me not to. In the early summer of 2010, I was rehabbing my right knee after ACL reconstruction surgery. My physical therapist had just put me on the treadmill for the first time and let me jog for a  couple minutes. I was still dealing with quite a lot of pain, and my knee felt loose. My muscles were so weak from post-surgery atrophy that every step on my right leg felt like imminent collapse. I asked the PT how much I’d be able to run again, and he sort of laughed and shrugged. He told me that, since I was in the Air Force, I could probably hammer out my annual 1.5 mile run, but not much more. And I should be careful on my mountain bike, too.

If you know me, you know that telling me I can’t do something is a pretty sure way to get me to try it. I finished my rehab program two months ahead of schedule, and immediately started jogging again. I completed a couple 5k races that fall, running gingerly and slowly, but running. I spent all of 2011 travelling, and fell off the wagon for awhile. But when I got home in 2012, I was done making excuses. I signed up for the Air Force Half Marathon, and started training in earnest. I joined the Ohio River Road Runner’s Club for the inexpensive races. It was a year of trial and error, of leaps forward and setbacks, but by the end of it, I had completed two half marathons and 20 other races, for a total of over 100 miles raced. Not bad for a guy with pieces missing out of his menisci!

I like running now because I chose to. I didn’t like it automatically. I didn’t like it because I’m naturally good at it, or because it’s easy for me, or any of that. I decided I wanted to do it for all of those reasons I talked about. Liking it happened later, and I can’t even say when. Now, the thought of not running is as repulsive to me as running once was. I used to look at runners and think, “why?” Now I know why, and I can’t imagine stopping.

Dec 152013

349If you’re looking at the trail in front of your tire, it will only slow you down. All the rocks and roots and hazards will overwhelm your vision and exaggerate your sense of speed. Keep your eyes up, and feel your lines and flow get smoother, and your speed and confidence rise.

If you’re looking at the ground in the weight room, your shoulders will follow and your form will collapse. You’ll be working just to stay upright and balanced, and the weight will seem impossibly heavy. Keep your eyes up, and the weight will stay centered, allowing you to use all of your strength for power.

If you’re climbing a hill, looking at the ground only makes your misery seem indefinite. You end up inside your head, inside the pain, enduring instead of attacking. Keep your eyes up, and pull the summit back to you with your mind, and you’ll be surprised at how quickly you get there.

When life gets difficult; when you’re struggling, distracted and stressed by the problems lying all around you, it’s hard not to get discouraged and look down, defeated. The details and petty periphery of day to day life can infiltrate and demoralize even the most motivated people. But keep your eyes up. Focus on your goals and your progress, and keep working, keep grinding, keep fighting. The only way to fail is to look down, get discouraged and quit. You’re better than that.

Eyes up, and go get what’s yours.

Nov 132013
Makes running on the bike path seem downright dull, doesn't it?

Makes running on the bike path seem downright dull, doesn’t it?

Monday night’s snow showers and accompanying cold snap ruled out a bike ride yesterday morning. Instead, I bundled up and headed to John Bryan State Park, to run the hiking trails by the gorge. While the cold took some getting used to, the beauty of the forest in early winter, with its dusting of snow, was inspiring.

I slipped and tripped my way through a little over 4 miles, following the North Rim trail out to its end and back, and on the way realized how long it’s been since I ran like this. I’ve run hard all this year, for training and racing. But I haven’t done much trail running, and I’ve done almost no running for fun. While part of the point of this run was to log some more miles for my Movember campaign, it was conspicuous in what it wasn’t. It wasn’t prep for a race, it wasn’t meant to address any one area of a training regimen, it was simply a run for the sake of running.

Because of that, I found it strangely freeing. I stopped to take pictures or admire the view whenever I felt like it, ran as hard or as easy as I wanted, and felt no guilt over my relaxed pace. It was a nice change from a year spent with such focus and purpose. Best of all, my hip only hurt a little, which maybe means that it’s healing up again.

Nov 102013

Bibbed up and ready to go. I’m surprised you can’t see us shivering.

Today was probably my last running race of the year, and one of the most memorable. We were in Columbus for the Ohio State Four Miler, an inaugural event benefiting the Urban and Shelley Meyer Fund For Cancer Research. The big draw for this race was that it finished in The ‘Shoe, at the fifty-yard line of Ohio Stadium!

For me, it was less of a race and more of a fun run, because I was there primarily to support Katie, as she tackled her longest race distance to date. My recurring hip injury that ended my chances at a fourth consecutive PR at my last half marathon means that I haven’t trained much. I wouldn’t be able to put in my best effort without risk of aggravating the injury, so it was better for me to stay with Katie, and help her through her race however I could.

The forecast for the morning called for breaking clouds and cool temperatures, but neglected to mention the wind. It whipped through the buildings of the OSU campus and froze just about everybody. We arrived an hour before the start, and spent most of it huddling together behind whatever wind break we could find, trying in vain to stay warm.

This being an inaugural event, it was not without logistical problems. There was no race-day packet pickup, which is a huge oversight for a race guaranteed to draw a lot of attention from out of town. Had I not already been in Columbus on unrelated business earlier in the week, this could have been a bigger problem for us. Then there was the start, which simply was never designed to accommodate the sellout crowd of ten thousand runners and walkers. For some incomprehensible reason, the race organizers decided to do a wave start, perhaps with the intention of creating some space between the groups of people and mitigate the traffic. But it didn’t work at all, and the result was that we stood around for a half hour after the first wave went off, waiting on our turn, and got to spend most of the race weaving in and out of people anyway.


Our “i” seems less than enthusiastic.

Growing pains aside, the excitement in the mob in the start corral was undeniable. It was a very different race from your local, garden-variety 5k, and the profile and size of the event was impressive. Members of the OSU football team and staff were present, including Brutus, both to help marshal the event and to run in it!

Katie made the reasonable decision to start in a conservative place in the queue, by a sign which was supposed demarcate runners with an expected pace of 11:00/mile. When it was finally our turn to start (we were the last wave), her nerves hit the firewall. She had recently completed the same distance on a treadmill, but that isn’t quite the same thing, and she was worried about how she’d do. Her concerns were the same as every runner when they approach a new race, and aren’t sure what to expect from the distance, and from themselves.

We settled into an easy jog when we finally got across the starting line, our pace regulated by the sheer volume of walkers and other traffic we had to navigate. As the mob spilled out of the bottleneck at the start onto Woody Hayes Drive, we started to make some headway, passing other runners by the dozens and finding what would become our pace. The exertion was welcome, as it started to thaw our numb and frozen feet and hands. I felt my legs warm up and start to come in, but was careful to restrain them enough to let Katie dictate our speed.

The sun started to break through the morning overcast as we finished our first mile, and I kept coaching Katie through as best I could, offering encouragement and pointing out how nice the morning was becoming. I know from training and racing together over the past few years that her mindset is everything, so the more cheerful I could keep her, the easier the run would be for her. That seemed to work well, and we cleared the first two miles before we knew it, before turning onto College Road for the zigzag back to the finish.

The third mile was the toughest for Katie, but she did the right thing, which was to dial back the pace until she was sure she could maintain it, and then just keep going. I got my phone out and started checking our distance, to keep her engaged with how much time and distance was left to go. That helped focus and reassure her, and soon we were on our last mile, and picking up speed again.


That’s my girl. Gettin’ it done.

We turned west on Woody Hayes again, headed back to the Shoe, and the finish. As the stadium came into view, the allure of the finish, and a personal victory, spurred Katie forward, and soon we were sailing past people at a solid clip. The pace quickened further when we turned alongside the stadium, and by the time we angled into the tunnel to enter the field, we were at a dead run. I couldn’t stay next to her any more, as the crowd was still too dense, and so we careened separately through the masses like a police chase through rush hour traffic. She was the very face of determination, and I that of the adoring fan, and I was doing everything I could to get back next to her before we crossed the finish.

The flood of emotion that came over her as she reached the line is all too familiar, to me. All of her struggles, and setbacks, and postponed dreams, all of the hard work, the sweat, the pain, the personal sacrifice that this whole year has embodied came over her in a rush. Once she knew she could finish, she felt nothing from her body but the insatiable desire to go faster, to get to that line. Nothing was going to stop her this time, not aching feet or painful hips or sinus infections or strained muscles. She exploded across the finish line in tears of joy and relief, and was soon sobbing on my shoulder.

I, on the other hand, was beaming. I’ve always been proud of Katie, but she really rocked it this time, and for the first time in a running event, success was never in doubt. She went out there and conquered this race, and in convincing fashion. I couldn’t be more impressed, and I can’t wait to see what next season holds for her, as she continues to train and get stronger and faster.

Being an athlete in your spare time is incredibly difficult. Juggling the schedules of work, family, your personal life and physical training sometimes leaves no time at all for relaxation. If I was the only one in the house doing it, things would be even harder. But having my wife and best friend to share in the daily struggles involved with trying to become an athlete, and then trying to become a better one, makes everything better, richer, and easier. We coach each other and learn from each other on a daily basis, and neither of us would have come as far as we have without the other.

This year, more than ever, Katie has taught me how to fight. She set a goal at the beginning this year to run a half marathon, and was on schedule to do so until injuries stalled her progress. She was forced to back down from her goal for this year, but she never used that as an excuse to quit. Her attitude through all the struggles she’s faced this year has been my own quiet inspiration. She knows to never mistake “not yet” for “no,” and that sometimes a tactical delay can lead to strategic victories. She has demonstrated the power of persistence, and has kept coming no matter how many times life has kicked her in the face. She’s never thrown up her hands in surrender to a problem, as I am so often tempted to. Watching her succeed, as I’ve been privileged to to all year, is better than any race performance I have ever turned in.

Great job, Katie. I can’t wait to see what you’ll do next year.

Oct 312013
Not exactly the sort of picture that makes you want to go do anything outside.

Not exactly the sort of picture that makes you want to go do anything outside.

I just couldn’t take it any more.

My hip hasn’t hurt for a few days. This would be a good thing, except that I finally have my appointment with the orthopedist tomorrow to find out what’s been wrong with it for more than a year. Hard to convince a doctor that there’s something wrong, when it’s not wrong right then.

I haven’t run in three weeks. I’ve been doing more than a little cycling, but I haven’t run more than a few steps since falling apart at my last half marathon. And honestly, I miss it. I miss moving fast under my own power, I miss the rhythm of my breathing with my footsteps, and I miss being able to take my dog around the neighborhood in less than an hour. Seriously, I never realized just how time consuming it is to walk the dog, until I had to walk the dog. Ugh.

I had been moping around the house all day, the weather contaminating my mood until I was blerching it out on the couch, playing Xbox and eating stuff. Any kind of stuff. Finally, I shook it off. I needed a run, or at least a jog. That it was gusting and spitting rain outside was irrelevant. I’ve got rain gear for that.

So I ran anyway. Despite the weather, and my cruddy mood, and my ongoing injuries, and the inviting, comfortable glow of my TV, I ran anyway. And it was fantastic. I took Max with me, and we sluffed along at a 10 minute mile for a little over three miles. It was windy, and we were wet, and I was sweating under my rain jacket. But it was glorious. It felt so good to be out running, and it felt better to be out when others would choose not to be.

My hip only hurt the slightest bit, so maybe that’s a hopeful sign. I’ve said before that I never really started running until somebody told me I couldn’t. It might make me a hard headed bastard, but that sort of thing continues to be pretty solid motivation, for me. If I’m hurt, if the weather’s crappy, I just want to run anyway.

Oct 302013

303a1It’s that time of year, again. time for raking leaves, dressing your kids up as scary/cute things, breaking out your favorite hoodies, and screaming slurred expletives at college football games.

And growing moustaches.

That’s right, boys and girls, it’s almost Movember, the time of year where I allow a hilarious little fuzz strip to inhabit my upper lip, for your amusement and for charity! And not just any charity. Movember’s purpose is to raise money specifically to fight Man Cancer. We’re talking about prostate and testicular cancers. They aren’t pretty, and so they don’t get as much attention as, say, boobs. That’s understandable. But ignoring Man Cancer isn’t.

My maternal grandfather had prostate cancer, and it eventually claimed his life. He taught me many things as a kid, but the most important lessons were those of character and integrity. He worked hard every day of his life, and for the whole time I knew him, did it sporting a fantastic moustache.

So in his honor, starting 1 Movember, I’m declaring a thirty-day hiatus on shaving in my upper lip region. I’ll be posting regular, hilarious updates as to my… er… “progress” for you to follow, like and share. And this year, I’m upping the ante.

Last Movember, I ran a little contest each week to let people name my ‘stache when they donated. While that was humiliating for me and fun for you, I don’t think it involved enough pain and suffering on my part to keep you all engaged. So this year, I’m going to match you, mile for dollar, all month long.

That’s right. You donate a dollar, I run, ride or row a mile. I’ll post proof of my mileage on here along with updates on my fuzzy little lip friend. Now because you people have surprised me before, and because I may occasionally have to go to work this month, I have to cap the mileage total at 500. But that ain’t nothing. It’ll represent my single biggest total in a month all year, and fully 1/4 of the miles I’ve posted so far. But if you’ve got the cash, I’ve got the time.

Let’s do this. Click the link below to donate, share this page with your friends, and let’s team up to help stop Man Cancer in its tracks!

Oct 132013
Feeling nervous before the start. Turns out, I was right to.

Feeling nervous before the start. Turns out, I was right to.

“Your brain writes the checks, but your body’s got to cash them.”

Truer and more timely wisdom has seldom been uttered in a race. I was less than a half mile from the finish at the 37th Dayton River Corridor Classic half marathon, but instead of pushing up the throttle for a triumphant and powerful finish, I was crouched to the ground, trying to stretch a little and talk my aching hips into jogging just a little bit more. There was no glory in this race, no joy for me, only suffering. I was totally beaten, and though I hadn’t quit, I felt that I might as well have, for all the time I had spent walking, stopping to stretch, and shuffling along at what could only be called a survival jog.

It’s been three weeks since my remarkable performance at the Air Force Half Marathon, where I smashed my previous PR to bits, having one of the best races of my life. Only a week after that, I charged through an abbreviated 10k to a podium finish. But this morning, my body let me know in unmistakable language that it had had quite enough of this running nonsense for awhile, thanks very much.

The warnings were there, I just didn’t heed them. My left hip has been bothering me a little bit for months, and I aggravated it again by coming back to running club too soon after the Air Force Half. It quieted down enough to run the 10k, and I haven’t done a running workout since, but neither have I been taking it easy. In lieu of running to get ready for this weekend’s race, I opted to step up the intensity on the road bike, hoping that the lessened impact would help my hip, but still have me strong enough for the race.

But it wasn’t enough rest, or maybe I’m just hurt worse than I’m being told. Warming up before the race, it was already apparent that I was going to have problems. No matter, I thought, I’ve been dealing with hip pain, off and on, for well over a year. I could surely just grit my teeth and make it through this race, and maybe even set a decent time. The conditions were perfect to do it, too. Partly sunny, warm and with a slight breeze on the return leg, just cool enough to refresh you when you needed it most. In October in Ohio, you can’t ask for much better.

After yet another inexplicably delayed start, the gun went off and we headed out of the parking lot of the Payne Recreation Center in Moraine. As we turned onto the road, the crowd thinned enough for me to have a little room, and I dialed in a comfortable pace, focusing on running as smoothly and gently as possible. I wasn’t pushing hard, but I was trying to run fluidly enough that I would be able to minimize further damage to my hip.

Womp, womp.

Womp, womp.

For the first couple miles, it seemed like it was working. My hip hurt some at the beginning, but then it tapered off, much like the knee pain I had dealt with early in the season. Maybe, I thought, I’d be alright, and be able to turn in a decent result after all! But right around mile five, the pain returned, this time with a sense of finality to it. I set my jaw and soldiered on, hoping against hope that it would hold together long enough, just long enough to take me to the finish.

It wouldn’t. The pain in my hip increased, and I eased off the pace, intentionally at first, and then more, simply because I had no choice. While my first five miles had all been sub-8:30, the next four slowed to 8:45, 9:18, 9:22, 9:58… I was falling apart physically, and nothing I was doing mentally was going to overcome it. Somewhere in mile 9, my left foot abruptly went numb, and my mindset went from annoyed and disappointed to concerned. Pushing through pain and running through an injury are acceptable, but I was starting to have reason to worry about more permanent injury. As I passed the 9 mile sign, I realized that my hobbled pace wasn’t even sufficient to keep me breathing hard, so I slowed to an uncomfortable walk.

My buddy Joe caught up to me just then, and walked with me for awhile. Neither of us seemed to be having the race we had planned, but he was as positive and cheerful as ever, and it helped. My hip started to hurt a little less as we walked, and he talked me into jogging to the next water station, only a couple hundred meters ahead. I did, and it felt as okay as it was going to feel. We walked again through the water station and then picked back up to a jog again, but I didn’t last long. My conservative 9:30 pace soon became a 10:30 slog, and soon I was walking again, as Joe trotted off ahead of me.

This was to become the pattern of the rest of my race. Walk until I had recovered a little, jog until I couldn’t stand it, then walk some more. It was a little strange, if I’m honest, being back in a part of the pack that I haven’t seen for most of the year. Further ahead, where I thought I’d be, the runners are strong and practiced, and the attitude is relaxed and convivial. Somewhere between where I wanted to be and where I was, though, something changed. This is the part of the race with the suffering. It’s were you’ll find the people who are injured, who are enduring their first ever race at this distance, who are clearly working very hard but not having much fun doing it. This is where I was last year, and where I started the season this year, and it was humbling to be brought back to it.

Strange as well were the messages from my body. My muscles were rested and well-fueled, and urged me on. I had plenty of power and energy, and the racer in my head was screaming “GO, RUN! You’re so much faster than this! You can beat all of these people!” But I couldn’t, not today. On a good day I am a great deal faster, but today was not a good day. Maybe it wasn’t a good day for many of the racers struggling alongside of me, or maybe it was about to be their first great triumph, but it was clear that on this morning, I wasn’t faster than any of them.


This guy was literally slinging pancakes at the finish. Pretty cool!

I tried to jog all of mile 11, just to have this race over with, but I only made it a half mile. I walked over the penultimate bridge and stepped off the course to stretch a little, hoping to bring a little life back into my hip to get me home. My right hip was hurting now too, a sympathetic injury developing from the miles of favoring my left. I set off again just as I heard somebody say that there was a mile and a half to go. The first few steps felt okay, and I chugged along at a nine-minute pace for a little while, picking up positions again and telling myself that surely I could make such a modest distance. That feeling lasted about a quarter of a mile, and I soon sputtered out.

This sucked. It wasn’t fun, it wasn’t what I wanted, and it certainly wasn’t what I signed up to do. I’ve been riding a wave of momentum all year, improving nearly every race on bike and on foot, and the progress has begun to feel common to me, almost expected. I had it in mind earlier in the week that this would be a great race to try and break 1:50. During my warm up I figured I’d be pretty happy to stay under 1:55. After things started to hurt again at mile five, I just wanted to be under two hours. Now? All I wanted was for it to be over. All I wanted was to finish. Just. Finish.

I passed medic stations and a bridge where I could have cut out of the race. I could have taken off my bib, walked through the crowd and called it quits, but I just don’t know how to do that. I’ve raced hurt before, particularly at the end of last season, but I’ve never DNF’d, and I didn’t want to now. I wanted that finisher’s medal, and I wanted to earn it. So as I limped over the last bridge, I looked at the distance remaining, and made up my mind I would at least run through the finish. With a half mile to go, I crouched by the median, not exhausted but feeling defeated nonetheless, and tried to stretch my hips.

The things I endure for these cheap little pieces of metal...

The things I endure for these cheap little pieces of metal… This one is pretty cool, though.

“Hey big fella, c’mon, you got this.” It wasn’t a cheer, it was a statement. An older runner was approaching, looking right at me. Without thinking, I got up and returned to a jog beside him.

“Oh how the mighty have fallen,” I said, “it’s hard to believe a few weeks ago I was PRing at 1:51.” It was at once a confession and an excuse. Selfishly, I didn’t want anybody to think that this was as fast as I could go.

“Well,” the man replied, “you brain writes the checks, but your body’s got to cash them.”

I chuckled, and picked up my pace a little. “I think today my body came back NSF!” I called over my shoulder as I trotted ahead. It was the pickup I’d needed. I’d make it from here. I turned into the parking lot, jogged around the building, put in the world’s saddest kick, and thudded across the finish.

Katie was there, as she almost always is, all smiles at my finish, even though she knew I’d be disappointed. She told me she was still proud of me, that I should be happy to have finished despite everything. And she was right. Even with crashing and burning in the second half of the race, I finished in 2:11:32, which is faster than I went a year ago at the same race, and not much slower than I went at the Xenia half this spring. Now it’s time to recover, and heal, and start planning for my next running season. Here’s hoping it will be one free from injury.

Sep 282013

It struck me today that, while running is an individual sport, our best performances still come with the help of others.


I was up well before dawn on the second consecutive Saturday for the Live Out Loud 5k and 10k, a memorial race for Janet Adducchio. Janet was a wife, mother and nurse who fell victim to thymic carcinoma earlier this year, and as with so many victims of the disease, she inspired those around her by her life and attitude before she passed. Her kids organized the race in her memory, to raise money for the Jack and Jill Late Stage Cancer Foundation.

10k races aren’t as prolific as the ubiquitous 5k, so while both distances were offered at this event, I chose to establish my 10k instead of trying to hammer my 5k time deeper under my goal for the year. I don’t race at the 10k distance much, so the pacing was going to be a little bit of a challenge to figure out, but I’ve been wanting to establish a PR at this distance for awhile now.

Crisp, clear fall air awakened me as I slipped out of the house at 6:45am, and a pleasant sunrise greeted us at the registration desk. Near the gazebo that housed registration, they had a chalkboard with the heading “BEFORE I DIE I WANT TO…” I looked at that board for a long time, trying to think what to write. A side effect of living life as emphatically as I do is that I don’t have much in the way of a bucket list. Don’t misunderstand, I have many, many things I want to do before I die, but I couldn’t come up with anything I must do before then, which is usually the point of these questions. They are meant to prompt introspection, to awaken the inner dreamer in all of us, and encourage us to go to the grave without regret. But I can say with all honesty that I am living life as fully as I am able, and if it ended tomorrow, I wouldn’t be unsatisfied by the experience.

I took my time warming up, careful to be gentle with my hips, which have been bothering me again for the last few weeks. I left my warm-up pants and hoodie on as long as I felt was prudent, and then headed down for the start. But the start was delayed for some time due to an issue with the timing company, and I had started to get cold again by the time they were finally ready. At last, the race director ordered all the 10k runners to the front, and then we were off!


I set what I felt was a conservative pace for the first mile, staying with the lead pack but not trying to get to the front of it. At a larger, more popular race, the faster runners would have left me immediately, but the smaller turnout for this inaugural event meant that most of the field was much closer to my level. A couple runners I had been chatting with at the start stretched off ahead of us, but there was a small group of about 6 of us giving chase, and I kept them in touch as my legs came in. That took longer than normal on this chilly morning, due in equal parts to the temperature and time between my warm up and the start.

Just after the first mile, I decided that the gap to the runners ahead of me was getting too large, so I dialed it up a bit. I wasn’t sure how much I should push, with so little experience at this distance, but I at least wanted to take advantage of a tow, if I could get one. I took my time catching the runner ahead of me, then hung around for the next mile, “resting” before trying my next push. My legs were feeling good now, but I still wasn’t sure just how fast I should be going, and we hadn’t yet reached the turn-around at the half way point.

A small cluster of runners had formed now. I had pulled myself up to two guys who were chasing a girl with impossibly long legs, and a couple guys behind me had towed themselves forward to me, in turn. I decided to make my next move at the turnaround, the half way point in the race, where I would at least be able to make an educated guess at the pace I could hold to the finish. The course angled south along Dye Mill Road, and then abruptly, there it was. Two guys stood next to a card table full of water cups and a cluster of cones, unmistakably a turnaround. It felt early, and everyone in our little group was a touch confused. I yelled ahead as I approached to ask if it was the turn for the 10k and they said it was, so I shrugged, pivoted around the cones, and headed back toward the finish.


I passed a couple people at this point and decided to put in a little push, to see if I could drop them and get out on my own. We did drop the girl, and one guy in a Tough Mudder shirt. But another guy, in a white shirt, stuck with me. The sun was at our backs as we strode northwest, and his shadow was always just behind mine. I could hear his footsteps, and every time I tried to push the throttle up, he responded and stuck with me. I just couldn’t break this guy! I knew, even as it was happening, that this was the best possible scenario. In a race distance that I haven’t practiced much, it was to my advantage to have someone pushing me, as I tend to be too conservative on my own.

When we reached the turnaround for the 5k, things got a little sporty! The 5k runners were already through, but a huge number of walkers were arriving just as we were, and the bike path suddenly got very narrow. I spent the next half mile engaged in an obstacle course of strollers and small groups of chatting friends, few of whom seemed to have noticed there was a race going on in the middle of their social event. To be fair, their entry fee supported the race’s charity the same as mine, but the other runners and I sure would have appreciated if they had tried to stay to one side of the path. “ON YOUR LEFT,” I called ahead of me whenever I could spare the breath. Most people got out of the way the best they could, but it was still a little dicey.

I quietly hoped that the traffic would allow me to slip away from my pursuer, but it just wasn’t to be. As the traffic thinned I checked over my shoulder and there he was, only a yard or two behind, with a determined pace that seemed to almost threaten me with its consistency. I pushed harder. My pace dropped into the 7:30s, and I gained a couple yards. The finish was nearly in sight now, just over a slight rise by a bridge. I made up my mind to drop the hammer as soon as I could see the finish arch, but I could still hear footsteps behind me. Was it just my imagination, or were there several sets, now? Was I going to get passed by a whole group just before the end?


We were at the bridge now, me and the mob I imagined was just behind me. I let loose, easing my speed up by increments, intentionally increasing the pace of my breathing to keep up with the demand. My pace dropped more, to 7:00, 6:30, 6:00 as I mentally pulled the finish line back to me. I was pulling back the lone runner in front of me as well, something I didn’t at all expect, as he had been out of reach for the whole race. He was kicking to the finish, but I was kicking harder, and the gap was closing fast. The carrot of beating one more person was fuel on the fire and I was at a dead run, every muscle and fiber straining with whatever power it had left. We flashed across the line, the man with the wild, gray hair and I, side by side and breathless. I thought I had got him, but only just!

I was elated. The post-race endorphin rush hasn’t been that strong for me in a long time, and the euphoria had me laughing before I had even caught my breath. I shook hands with my two close competitors, who had pushed and pulled me along, without a word, for the whole race. My GPS revealed that the course was indeed short by nearly a mile, but no matter. That was a race the way races are meant to be, and the minor detail of not establishing a proper PR took nothing away from the experience.

I stuck around for the awards, hoping that the results would be posted and I could see how I had done. But they were only going to announce the male and female overall winners for both races, so I wandered over to the snack table and started munching on a couple granola bars while I listened. When they got to the Men’s 10k, I was surprised that the third place finisher was a kid I had passed, and who I was fairly sure hadn’t passed me back. Then they called my name! I had finished second overall, which was a complete surprise to me, even having as good of a race as I did! I got my medal and stood next to the third place finisher as they announced the winner, the man with the wild gray hair, who had just held on at the line to beat me by less a tenth of a second. Less than a tenth!


It would be easy to be mad about being beat by so small a margin, but I felt enormously lucky just to have done as well as I had. The two runners who had gapped the field at the start had run right past the turnaround, ending up in Tipp City before they figured out something was wrong! So I had been gifted at least one place already, and I knew I owed my performance to other runners, anyway. Without them to pull and push me forward, forcing me to run harder than I ever do by myself, I would have been nowhere near as fast.

A coach and a group of like-minded people at a running club make fast feel easy. A stranger with a sign on the side of the road cheers you on, giving you just that little push you needed to keep going. A random stranger pushes and pulls you through an entire race, shakes your hand at the finish, and you go your separate ways. Running illustrates our dependence on each other in ways not unlike the rest of life, often in beautiful and deeply meaningful ways. When people ask me why I run, or how I’ve improved so much over the past couple years, I often find myself struggling to give the individualistic answer I think they’re looking for. Today reminded me that it’s because it was never just about me in the first place.


Sep 232013
I'm still sort of in shock over this.

I’m still sort of in shock over this.

If you’ve been reading all year, then you know that I’m sort of a geek for stats. I track my miles and times obsessively, and after a big race, I’ll often spend quite a lot of time breaking down my performance, to better understand my progress and hoping to glean lessons for future races. All of the technology available today makes this really easy. Strava tracks my efforts by GPS on my phone, and logs my heart rate data via Bluetooth, generating minute-by-minute data for later evalutation. Race results are posted online, usually the same day as the race and sometimes even as they happen. I can use them to gauge how well I’ve done against similar athletes, and sometimes against the conditions.

The breakdown from my race at this year’s Air Force Half Marathon provides an extra wrinkle of complexity, because I can compare it to last year’s race over the same course and distance. The course this year was slightly modified, but not in a way that would affect my time much either way.

Of course the biggest standout statistic was that I dropped nearly 26 minutes off my time from last year, which means I shaved nearly two minutes off my mile time. But more telling was my placement in the field, which accounts for the conditions of the day. The weather on a given day can speed up or slow the field dramatically, so my performance relative to them is a useful metric. This year over last, I improved by some 1760 places. Among just the men, I finished 945 places higher. The field this year contained some 1200 members of the military and their families, and among them I placed 181st. My run placed me just outside the top 10% of the field, and while it’s certainly an eternity between me and the winner, being near the top 10% is something. If I can drop my time by another ten minutes next year, I’ll be in the top 250 overall, and pass 100 runners in the military category.

Some people daydream about what they’d do if they won the lottery. I daydream of where I’d finish if I was just a little bit faster.

And I think I can get faster, still. Looking at my splits on Strava, I was far more consistent in this race than past races. At the Xenia half in April, I started out at a 9-flat mile, which ballooned to 10 after the first few miles, and was nearly at 11 by the end. At the Heights Half in June, I started strongly enough with five miles that were about 8:30. But then the wheels fell off, thanks to the heat and the lack of water stops mid-race. My last several miles were in the high 9s or low 10s, and my last mile was an 11-minute limp to the finish. On Saturday, at the Air Force half, my first ten miles were in the mid-to-low 8s. Miles 5-7 were within three seconds of each other, and represented my fastest segment of the race. After we lost our pacer to a cramp, my time slacked by about 30 seconds per mile, but that was also largely down to the problems my right foot was having. Even then, the difference between my first mile and my last was only a little over a minute, which is great news.

I owe a lot of that to running with the pace group, but it proved that I can do it. What this means is that I need to learn to hold a pace like that by myself, probably with the use of yet another gadget of some sort, or audio cues from my phone. If I can hold to the 8 minute miles I was turning in mid-race last weekend for a whole race, that will take another six minutes off my time. That doesn’t mean I’m in any danger of winning, ever, but I will have beaten myself. In the end, that’s all I’m racing for, anyway.

Sep 212013

It seems strange to me that I can feel humbled by something I did, but that’s exactly how I feel. I had an outstanding race today. Despite all my worries about under training, despite having run only 5 times– at all– in the last two months, despite the rain and the clouds, and a hurried start, and almost no warm-up, I turned in a half marathon race that I didn’t know I had in me. And while I’m proud of what I’ve achieved, and of the hard work I’ve put in to get here, the overwhelming feeling in my heart is one of being blessed, like I’ve been given a gift. I can’t explain it.


Dinner the night before can make or break a race.

It had been three months since I ran for distance, when I hit my PR at the Heights Half Marathon. I’ve done some running since (ten runs, to be exact), but nothing near a simulation distance (~9-10 miles). I’ve hit a couple of 5ks, done some interval training with my running club, and put in a few easy jogs, but nothing like what most training plans would have you doing to get ready for a race of this length.

I’ve already hit my goal for the year at this distance, so the self-induced pressure to go fast has somewhat relaxed. With the 5k being cancelled last night, that pressure returned a little, but I still wasn’t terribly worried. I wanted to beat my previous PR, but if I didn’t, it wouldn’t be the end of the world. The Air Force Marathon features pace groups, led by experienced runners whose job it is to help you maintain level splits and hit your target time. My strategy was to go out with the 1:50 group, see how long I could hang with them, and then drop back when I had to, still finishing ahead of the 2:00 group, and setting a new PR.

The buildup to a race like this starts days in advance. I stay away from the beer fridge, start loading up on water and salt, and limit my dairy intake. My workouts taper off, generally ending with a gentle bike ride or a long walk with Max. The night before, I have a larger-than-normal dinner, heavy on complex carbs and protein, to make sure my body’s stores are topped off. The morning of the race, I wake up 3 hours before the start, have a small breakfast and a little coffee, and get together my stuff for the race. Cell phone, arm band, shoes, socks, heart rate monitor, lucky shorts and shirt… It’s a careful, well-rehearsed ritual that I’ve developed over the dozens of races I’ve done over the past couple years. When it all goes right, it almost always leads to me having a good race.


Hydrate, nourish, caffeinate.

This morning’s ritual went mostly according to plan. I had wanted to ride my bike to the start, since it’s only five miles from my house, and thus avoid the traffic. But a rainy early morning nixed that plan, so we drove the truck down, instead. The parking situation was the usual level of chaos, made more exasperating by the cops not allowing left turns into the gates. We finally got parked 45 minutes before the race was scheduled to begin, but had well over a mile to walk to the starting area. The field we were parked in was a veritable swamp, so I chose to hand carry my shoes in and walk in my flip flops, which cost me more time.

To warm up before a race, I usually like to jog a mile or so. A slog through a muddy field in flip flops wasn’t what I had in mind, but it had to do. At the start area, I took a quick detour to the porta-johns and then changed into my shoes, trying to wipe as much of the mud from my feet as I could. This wasn’t the calm, relaxed start I like to have, but sometimes there’s no helping it.

I arrived at the line in a rush, a cough drop tucked in my cheek and my phone still booting up Strava. I found the pace group sign for 2:00, and was surprised at how far up they were in the crowd. I presumed the next sign I saw was for the 1:50 group, but couldn’t get close enough to tell. Soon the announcer was calling “1 MINUTE!”, and the crowd crushed forward in anticipation. This is normally one of my favorite parts of the race, as the building tension of thousands of runners surrounds me. But due to my late arrival, all I could do was try to get in a notch for a good start, get my GPS running, and wait for the gun.


Did you ever get the feeling that you were being followed?

Starting a race with almost six thousand other runners is an amazing experience, but the first few moments are always a little strange. The crowd presses forward toward the line, the anticipation builds, the gun goes off… and nothing happens. There are so many people ahead that it’s often a couple minutes before you can do anything but shuffle forward, and sometimes you can barely jog even after crossing the line. I was far enough forward in this race that there wasn’t an awful delay to get across the line, but it still seemed anticlimactic.

The first half mile was an obstacle course. I’m normally happy to just roll along with the crowd while my legs come in, preferring to make my first moves once things are a little more spread out, but I had to catch that sign. I weaved in and out of traffic, putting in little bursts of speed when I had an opening, until I was running just a few feet from the pacer. There was a huge cluster of runners around the sign, and I realized that the mental benchmark of coming in under two hours was a powerful draw for a lot of runners. The herd thundered up Springfield Street to the top of Huffman Dam, angled slightly left, and started down a gentle descent. Our pacer, sensing a lot of us were holding back, said “if you want to let loose, go for it!” And I did, allowing my stride to stretch out and gravity to pull me forward. Soon I could see the sign for the next pace group up, and I momentarily toyed with the idea of reeling them in, but cooler thoughts prevailed.

Just after the water station at the bottom of the hill it started to rain. The sky hadn’t given any clues as to its intent all morning, and I had worried that I might spend the whole race getting wet, but this turned out to be the only real precipitation we experienced. The rain spritzed us gently for a quarter mile, and then stopped.

I was running easy, making sure not to waste myself in the early stages, and paying attention to my form. I kept listening behind me to hear if the 1:50 pace group was catching me, but I was surprised to find that they were still 25 yards or so behind. I thought I was going to have to work much harder just to stay with them from the beginning, so when I was staying ahead of them without pushing at all, it was encouraging.


I dunno what the lady on the right is all smiling about. This crap hurts!

They finally caught me at the water station on Skeel Avenue. I only started using water stops this season, preferring to run with a pack before. My relative inexperience was costing me time at each station, something I’ll have to remedy in the future.

We came upon the 4 mile mark in what seemed like no time at all. I said “wow, already?”, mostly to myself. A girl running next to me heard and agreed, and we struck up a conversation. She was from Canada, and this was her first half marathon, although she had benefited from training advice from her father, who was running his 66th full marathon this morning. Crucially, the small talk kept me distracted, and the Blerch off my back, for the next several miles, until we got separated at a water stop and I couldn’t reel her in again.

The second and last little hill, climbing up State Route 844, wasn’t nearly as steep or long as I remembered it being. A death metal band was jamming for all they were worth at the bottom, giving us a little boost before we started up. An interesting side effect of running in a much faster part of the race this year was that there weren’t nearly as many people struggling to make it up that hill, either. Last year, it seemed like I passed half the field going up that hill, as so many people in my speed bracket just weren’t prepared for any sort of climb.

Things got serious for me right around nine miles. I was having to really work to maintain the pace of the group, and joints were starting to hurt. This isn’t unusual for me, as things usually start to hurt around the 9-10 mile mark, but then I’ve never had such a strong anchor pulling me forward through the pain, either. I had drifted back from the group by about 20 yards, and felt that I was in serious danger of being dropped, if I didn’t catch them and hang on through the next water station. I had to hang on as long as I could, and I was starting to think I just might be able to make it all the way to the finish with them!

But right at mile 10, the unthinkable happened. We reached the top of a roller and the pacer pulled up and limped off to the side. He had cramped, and couldn’t continue. He called out to us to press on, that we had this, but I wasn’t so sure! The pace group had been my life boat for the last couple miles, keeping my speed up and pulling me forward, but in the absence of that little sign on a stick, it fell apart. I hadn’t been paying much attention to my pace for most of the race, as I just allowed the group to do my thinking for me. Now I was forced to reengage, and I have to admit I was a little disoriented.


Over at last. After running for so long, walking actually feels a little funny.

I looked ahead for other people in the pace group, but couldn’t find any. I had slowed considerably and I knew it, but I was having a hard time picking back up to the pace we’d had. My right foot was starting to become an increasing problem, as a blister was forming under my arch and one of my toes started to feel funny.

Strava would show, after the race, that I lost about 30 seconds per mile on my last three miles. Not all of that was down to having lost our pacer, but that did allow me to concentrate on my own problems more than I had been. Without the ability to focus on staying with the group, I was left to focus only on myself. After running over ten miles, that’s not a particularly good thing to focus on.

I was getting passed by a lot of runners now, which added to my mental struggle. I hadn’t been passed much for the whole race, but now that we were nearing the home stretch, other runners were picking up their pace, just as I was struggling to maintain my own. I knew this part of the course well, since I’ve biked and run countless miles along this stretch of road, and I tried to break it down into smaller pieces in my mind. As runners came past me, I tried to latch onto them for a tow. I calculated the miles to go, and how long that would take at what I guessed was my pace. But try as I might, none of my tricks were working. The throttle was as far forward as it was going to go, and I just had to keep trying.


Some may contend that a finisher’s medal is a reward for mediocrity. To them I say, I beat myself, and that is enough.

I had been looking forward to going down the Springfield Street hill on the way to the finish, as a way to make up a little easy time and pass some people. But with the problems my right foot was having, each step on the downward slope was excruciating, and I barely gained any speed at all. Whatever pace I did pick up didn’t stick with me as the ground leveled out again, and I was back to what was becoming a survival jog.

We passed the one-mile-to-go mark just as we turned back into the gate to the base, and I wanted to kick, but I just couldn’t. I got some water from the final station and tried to pick it up, tried to talk my body into some sort of acceleration, but my body wasn’t answering the phone. In a way, it was a satisfying feeling, because it meant I had put in everything I had to this point, and I wasn’t leaving anything on the table. But racers race, and I wanted to pass some people before this thing was over!

I was in the loop now, the 3/4 mile finishing area that takes you between the Air Force Museum’s outdoor display aircraft and thousands of cheering fans. I saw Bonnie, an old family friend and my second mom, and she cheered me on as I rounded the final corner. Finally, my body responded to my demands for more speed, and my stride lengthened. It wasn’t much, but I was kicking now, and passing people on the way to the line and picking up steam.


More for my growing collection!

The familiar euphoria of the finish overwhelmed me as I reached the line, and exploded over me when I saw the clock. I felt like I had slowed so much since losing the pacer that I would be lucky to beat my PR at all, but the clock showed me finishing in 1:52, and my chip time would be faster still! I did it, and in grand fashion! The child inside me leapt for joy even as the grown man around him wanted to cry. I slowed to a stop, dumbfounded at the performance I had just completed.

Katie was there at the finish, and she was as emotional as I was. We shared a long, sweaty kiss over the barriers, and her eyes shined at me to underline her words, that she was so proud of me. I laughed the breathless laugh of a man who has cheated death, collected my medal from the throng of officers, grabbed some recovery drinks, and wandered into the crowds of victors to bask in the glow of an unbelievable personal victory.

This same race last year was my first ever half marathon. I had trained hard for it all year, slowly increasing my distances, fighting through injuries, and learning by my mistakes. Last year, I had exceeded my expectations and finished in 2:17:43, which satisfied me entirely. This year I finished in 1:51:49, an improvement of nearly twenty-six minutes! That’s an eternity that I feel represents the hours and miles I’ve done in the year between. It’s a reward for hard work, but one so rich that it’s hard to feel anything but awed and humbled. I am a very blessed person.

Sep 202013
A finisher's medal for a race that never started.

A finisher’s medal for a race that never started.

It would seem I was granted a bit of a reprieve.

Depending on your perspective, the weather conspired either for or against me tonight. I ate well and stayed loose all day, in anticipation of racing, then refueling and going to bed. I haven’t run on back to back days in a long, long time, but I was fairly sure that if I went easy for the 5k, I’d still be able to turn in a respectable finish for the Half tomorrow.

Then it got cloudy. Really cloudy. A look at the radar revealed an absolute monster of a storm front coming up from the Gulf of Mexico, which threatened to soak the whole weekend. Just what I wanted, right? Not only would I have back to back races to contend with, but now I would get to do them with soggy feet.

I showed up to the Nutter Center early and sat in the truck, checking the radar on my phone. It looked ugly, and sure enough it started to rain as soon as I parked. Then it started to pour. Then there was thunder. After about 20 minutes, it let up some, and I jogged from my truck to the arena to be nearer to the race start.

About five thousand runners were wandering around the arena. Their bibs told me they were also there for the 5k, and the looks on their faces told me that they were looking forward to it about as much as I was. I ran into a buddy of mine and we sat in the stands to wait, trading jokes and people watching.

A voice came over the PA five minutes after the race was scheduled to start, telling us that the race had been delayed, and to remain in the arena for further instructions. Captain Obvious repeated this message periodically for the next ten or fifteen minutes, before finally confirming what we all suspected. The race was cancelled on account of the weather, particularly the lightning in the vicinity. But we were all welcome to head to the arena floor to collect our finishers’ medals!

I thought it was silly at first, but I did pay for the thing. Why not take home the medal? I’ve earned medals in a few races that I didn’t stick around to collect, so on balance I suppose it works out.

In all, the 5k being cancelled is news as mixed as the weather. On the one hand, I’m off the hook for racing twice in a weekend. On the other hand, there went my excuse for not turning in a PR tomorrow…

The only race going on this night was the race to get out of here.

The only race going on this night was the race to get out of here.