Race report: 2016 NODM half marathon

It was hot. I mean really, it was HOT. Hot as in 75 degrees at the start, 79 degrees at the waterfront finish line, and the day topped out at 86 degrees. That’s warmer than our high temperature for the year in about half the years I’ve lived here.

On June 5, 2016 I was up at 3:59 AM, just before my alarm went off. NODM day at last! My local half marathon.

Despite the usual race morning nerves, I managed to choke down some breakfast. My partner CFL and I began our day’s exercise with a brisk 1.2 mile walk downtown to catch the shuttle bus that would take us to the half marathon start.

At the starting line area in a community soccer park, the runners milled around slowly, with many people seeking shady spots at the far edge of the field. No one seemed to be doing any vigorous warm-up exercising. We were already warm enough.

As the 8:30 start time approached, I lined up immediately ahead of the 2:30 pacer. I knew I didn’t have a chance of beating my last year’s PR of 2:10:38, but I was optimistic of finishing in the 2:20 range. I resisted the temptation to line up with the 2:15 group, as I knew I couldn’t keep up with them. I figured as long as I could stay well ahead of the 2:30 group and save a little something for the last three miles, I’d be in good shape.

The gentle uphill in the first half mile got my heart pumping (as it always does) and gave me a good feeling for just how tough things might get later. Still, I settled down quickly, running mile 1 in 10:25 and mile 2 in 10:21. So far so good. But in the middle of mile 3 I was already ready for a walk break. So I walked for a bit and then picked it up on the downhill toward Siebert Creek.

After that I slowed down a lot. I took my time at each water station, making sure to drink all the water in the cup rather than my usual practice of sloshing down a few drops, trying not to choke, and tossing the rest. I walked the steeper and sunnier parts in the next few miles, which are a series of short rolling hills. I was hardly alone in this strategy — a whole tribe of us were running in the shade and the downhills, and walking the sunny sections and the hills. It was HOT!

Somehere in the middle of mile 5, the 2:30 pacer passed me. I let her go.

I trotted/ambled on, making my way slowly through the huge down-and-up at Bagley Creek. I walked much of the the awful dogleg on a blistering hot road (the only place the course leaves the Olympic Discovery Trail) in mile 8. It was HOT! At the water stations they were now giving everyone two cups of water, and like many others I was pouring my second cup over my head.

Finally we reached the big downhill, sailing downward to Morse Creek trestle. I crossed the bridge (4.5 miles to go!) and welcomed the next part, a long, gentle, tree-lined downhill toward the waterfront. The waterfront section of the trail (3.6 miles to go!) is where I do most of my running. I know every little hiccup on the trail here. On race day, this is where my “GO” flag drops and I give it everything I have left.

My legs were ready to go, but my head was occupied with figuring out what a realistic time goal should be at this point. To make my 2:20 goal, I needed to be just under a 10:45 pace at mile 10 and then run like hell to the finish. In actuality, I was down to an average 11:25 pace and there was no way I could make up that much time. I decided that 2:28 was realistic and that if I pushed I could just get there. I knew I wouldn’t be able to summon the mental toughness to do much better than that.

I’d like to say I ran the entire final distance along the waterfront, but did I tell you it was HOT? It was hot. My brain and my legs battled it out! My brain won. I was forced to continue walking the sunny sections. Fortunately, there is not much sun along the north-facing waterfront, so at least my walk breaks were shorter than previously.

Early in mile 12 I passed the 2:30 pacer back. Yay! Soon after, I heard someone right behind me saying they were getting old and it was hard to keep running in the heat. Someone replied, “Well, I’m 60!” Aha! Someone in my age group was right behind me! That was plenty of inspiration to keep pushing.

Mile 12: damn, it was hot. I walked over the bridge at Rayonier (full sun and 13 feet of elevation gain!) and barely trotted to the last water station just on the west side of the bridge.

After a good, long drink I managed to run from there to the finish, although I was pretty slow coming through the little bump (full sun and 7 feet of elevation gain!) at Francis Street. I hit the finish line at 2:27:58.

My brain had managed to get me to the finish line in just under 2:28.

I ended up 8th out of 50 in my age group — and sure enough, 9th place finished just 4 seconds behind me. Yes, it paid to push to the finish! And guess what: if I’d made my original, and entirely unrealistic, goal of 2:20, I’d have just barely finished in 7th place. All things considered, I ran as well as I could have — and as well as I needed to — on that day.

I got in the very long line for food. I just had time to go through it before I walked back to the finish line to watch for CFL.

While I was waiting near the finish, I watched a 30-something female full marathoner nearly collapse. Someone came out to support her, give her a sports drink, hold her while she vomited, and help her to the finish line. It was scary to watch. It was really, REALLY hot out there.

CFL walked in at 3:10:41, which was his fastest of two NODMs and his second fastest ever. He said he actually jogged a little on some of the downhills. He said maybe he’d jog a little more in the future. I am dumbfounded.

After CFL got his food, we headed to the beer garden.

Free beer!

After our free Space Needle IPA from Pike Brewery in Seattle, we walked home and showered. Then we walked back down to Barhop for truly local beer.


Even on a sunny day, it’s usually too cool to sit outside at Barhop because there’s always a stiff breeze off the water. Not that day! We enjoyed the view of the harbor and passers-by for a good long time before finally a gentle whiff of a breeze caused us to start thinking about dinner.

So now my 7th NODM — my 14th half marathon — is behind me. All in all, it was a good race and a great day. I’m satisfied with my race. It was really HOT. I find as I get older that making a rational decision not to kill myself out there is actually a good way to go. Stay strong and finish healthy! May there always be more finish lines ahead.

Slow and happy!


It’s race time again!

It’s hard to believe it, but this coming Sunday I will run my 14th half marathon. That race will be my 7th local North Olympic Discovery half marathon. That’s the race that I stood and watched, with tears in my eyes, in 2007 and 2008 before resolving that I, too, would become a runner.

There is something extra special about running a race in one’s own town. I’ve run so many, many miles on the Olympic Discovery Trail, in all kinds of weather, through all sorts of joys and sorrows.

I’ve watched each year’s race mile markers get placed (usually painted) on the trail in the days immediately before the race. Then I’ve watched the numbers fade in the sun over the months after the race, always a reminder of race day and an encouragement to keep a steady progress toward next year. This year’s markers are a little different, and I don’t think they’ll remain in place on the trail after race day.

I’ve seen four different versions of the course, slight variations necessitated by sections of the trail being added, improved, or blocked off for various reasons.

This year, the final half mile to the finish was blocked for a couple of months by a major landslide. The trail here runs along the waterfront beneath a bluff. A house at the top of the bluff caught fire. When firefighters turned their hoses on the blaze, the sudden rush of water caused the bluff behind the house to fail. Rather than risk losing several more houses to the slide, they had no choice but to let the house burn to the ground. Then there was a delay of several weeks while the homeowner and the insurance company worked things out. The slide could not be cleared until all of the debris from the house was knocked down and carried away. As a result, the trail was finally reopened, and the race course was assured, only about five days ago.

While I’m excited to be running yet another NODM, I’m not particularly optimistic for a great performance. My post-marathon bronchitis really took a lot out of me. I basically lost the entire month of April. When I was finally able to run again, I couldn’t go further than a mile or so before I’d have to take a walk break and catch my breath. My cardiovascular fitness was gone.

The last week or so I’ve become able to run a little longer, a little faster. But I’ve had to resign myself to the fact that I’m much slower than I was a year ago at this time. And that’s okay! I have no illusions about a PR; I’m simply going to try to maintain a steady pace and finish healthy and happy

I still get to show off my beautiful trail and my wonderful small town to out-of-town runners. I still get to run up and down those rolling, forested hills, sail down the big hill to the Morse Creek trestle, and then get down to business in those final 3+ miles along the waterfront. Where I’ve been paced by deer, accosted by river otters, serenaded by bellowing harbor seals, and buzzed by the occasional bald eagle.

Whatever happens during the race, it will be a good day! And there is local beer at the finish line. What more could anyone ask for?

One step at a time!


Belated race report: I finished. And then…

The Yakima River Canyon Marathon turned out to be quite a bit hillier (translation: more challenging) than their website led me to believe. Isn’t that the way it always seems to work?

On Saturday, April 2 I was up at just after 4:00 AM. The worst of the coughing seemed to be behind me, and I was optimistic about how the race might unfold.

The bus from our motel in Yakima to the starting line left just after 6:00. We got to the gathering point at a motel in Ellensburg a bit before 7:00, with lots of time remaining before the 8:00 start. It was cold, around 45 degrees. Fortunately there was a large room in which all 218 of us were able to gather and stay warm.

We had to walk about a quarter of a mile to the starting line. Knowing that it was going to be warm later, I put my jacket and gloves in my gear drop bag, but decided I’d wear my Buff (headwear) to keep my ears warm at the start.

The first three miles took us through a couple of loops. My heart rate was elevated right from the start; I hit 160 in mile 3. So I started taking walk breaks almost immediately. I also coughed a fair amount and did some spitting, especially in the early miles. Then as the air warmed up and dried out, my breathing improved.

After the loops we headed into the canyon, starting with a slight uphill. By mile 4 it was getting warm. I took off my Buff and stashed it in my back pocket. I was smiling and looking fresh at that time!

It was up and down, but slightly more down than up, over the next few miles. The highlight of the first half was mile 6, which I finished side by side with Kathrine Switzer, who had been the keynote speaker the night before. She was meeting runners and running with them for a short time. That was fun! No, beyond fun, it was an HONOR to run with the legendary Kathrine Switzer. If you don’t know who she is, you should Google her right now.

I hit the official halfway mark in 2:35:34, which was right about an 11:50 pace. Not bad considering how sick I’d been. It looked like a 5:15:00 or so finish time was still possible.

But soon after that (in mile 15) we headed up the first big hill. I walked all of it. I did mile 15 in 14:12, but I was okay with that. I began to run down the hill, but my legs got very wobbly very quickly. I did mile 16 in 11:58 (my last sub-12 mile), but I was walking by the end of the downhill.

I did some serious self-assessments and decided that since it was warm enough that my heart rate was spiking to 160+ (as high as 167) every time I tried to run, and since my legs felt so rubbery, that I would just walk for a while. I figured I could probably walk ten more miles, but I wasn’t sure I could keep running for that long without my legs just collapsing. So I walked. I walked the next 5 miles at about a 14:00 pace. I had no idea I could walk that fast and I was very pleased by that. But then I started to get a side ache and I could no longer maintain that walking pace. I had to slow down.

It got very warm. At some point it finally occurred to me that I could soak my Buff with water at the aid stations, and get some cooling effect. So I did that and put it back on my head, and kept it there until just before the finish line. It helped.

Then we got to the really big hill in mile 23-24. It’s about 300 feet of gain in just over a mile — that’s a LOT bigger than Boston’s famed Heartbreak Hill. I walked those miles in 15:35 and 15:07. Not so fast. Up to that point I had been calculating that I might finish in about 5:36:00, but not after those two miles.

The last 3+ miles to the finish were a moderate downhill. My side ache started to ease up and I was able to run a little. I did mile 25 in 13:50 and mile 26 in 13:26. At the mile 26 sign I started to run for real, and more or less managed to run to the finish line from there.

My finish line photo is more of a grimace than a smile. By the way, I was NOT flipping off the photographer, but I was obviously very tired and flailing around wildly.

I was (and am!) very happy simply to have finished. I was recovering from being very sick, and it was warmer and much hillier than I’d hoped. It was about 75 degrees at the finish line.

I was 5th out of 6 in my age group.

I’m certainly a little disappointed with my race TIME of 5:39:46, but I’m not at all unhappy with my strategy to finish it — given my circumstances — and with my success in actually doing so. I have no wish to run another marathon any time soon, if ever. Marathon training is hard. My body was tired and needed a good long rest.

Unfortunately, that isn’t what I gave it. As soon as we got home from Yakima, I put myself through another trial. At some point, months ago, I had decided that scheduling a screening colonoscopy for three days after a marathon would be a good idea.

It wasn’t.

I lost a couple more pounds, of course, but that wasn’t the end of it. My cough returned with a vengeance, along with a low-grade fever. For the last four days or so, it’s been all I could do to get out of bed. Although I hate to admit it, it’s now time to seek medical attention.

The Yakima River Canyon Marathon really is an intimate race in a beautiful location. The race organizers and volunteers are absolutely world-class with their hospitality and their support. It’s a reunion race for many old-timers who’ve run hundreds of marathons over many, many years. But it’s not an easy race. One runner, who had chosen this to be her 500th marathon, declared it to be one of the more difficult ones she’d ever run.

I’m glad I did it. But I think I am cured, for a good long time (I hope forever) of the urge to run any more marathons. My body has spoken and for once, I’m going to listen and take heed. Hurrah for half marathons!


Tapering my expectations

This is a tough post to write. The Yakima River Canyon Marathon is four days away, and I’m sick.

I was able to generally follow my training plan all the way through to the 21-miler three weeks before race day. By “generally” I mean I completed most of my planned runs, but I ran at least one long run at a shorter distance than originally planned, I skipped at least one long run, and I wasn’t able to complete the 21-miler until March 14 — 19 days out rather than the planned 21 days. Yes, I was close to my plan and I felt generally okay, but by no means could I say that everything had gone perfectly. Still, I felt better about my prospects than I did in the final couple of weeks before my aborted October marathon. I wasn’t expecting to be fast, but I was completely confident that I’d run a steady pace and finish the race. I started my taper period feeling relief mixed with cautious optimism.

Then I woke up coughing on March 21. When I went out for my scheduled easy 12 mile run, I felt fine, but my heart rate was elevated so I decided to call it a day at 10 miles.

Over the next couple of days I coughed a lot more and started to sleep a lot. I had no other symptoms, just a dry cough. I figured that — because spring is bursting out all over right now — I was feeling some pollen sensitivity. Then I lost my appetite and with it, I lost a couple of pounds. This was in the midst of my taper period, when I should have been eating lots of carbs, drinking lots of water, and putting on a pound or two’s worth of stored energy for the race.

I canceled a run and rested as much as I could. I ate lots of vitamin C rich foods and tried to drink as much water as I could.

Yesterday I decided I’d go out and run 6 miles and see how I felt.

Neither my chest nor my stomach thought that was a good idea. I stopped running at 1.7 miles, mostly due to stomach distress. I figure the stomach distress was due to all the vitamin C. Now there’s a catch-22! The foods I’m eating to beat the respiratory symptoms so I can run are making it impossible to run.

Last night I slept 12 hours. Today I’m not coughing nearly as much, but I’m finally needing to blow my nose. I guess that’s progress.

Actually, I really do feel better.

You will tell me I’m crazy, but as of today I’m still planning to “run” a marathon on Saturday. I have worked so hard for this, and I was so disappointed last October when I trained so hard and then couldn’t get out of bed on race day. I don’t want to go through that disappointment again. I’d rather run and finish this — even if it takes me six hours — than miss another race.

But I am certain of one thing. This will be my last marathon. My body has told me very clearly that marathon training is too much for me. My knees and hips won’t permit me to do the high weekly mileage that is needed in order to be properly prepared to run 26.2 miles on race day. I am forced to cut corners on mileage. I reach race day without an adequate training base, with depleted energy reserves and accumulated fatigue.

It’s difficult for me to conclude that this is too much for me. I have to remind myself that I’m 60 years old, I’m the total opposite of a lifelong athlete, and I’ve already far exceeded my original expectations of myself as a runner. It’s time to recognize that the age-dependent sliding qualifying time for the Boston Marathon will always be just out of my reach. No, I’m not going to run a marathon in under 5:10:00 at age 75, or even 5:25:00 at age 80. Not gonna happen.

It’s time to taper my expectations.

It’s time to recognize that I’m not immortal.

I have other plans and goals and I want to keep them intact as much as possible. The half marathon is still my favorite distance and I hope to run many more of them before I’m through. I want to keep running 2-3 days a week, however slowly, for as many years as I can. Running makes me happy! Running has changed my life in all kinds of wonderful ways for which I will be forever grateful.

I also have big goals as a cyclist this year and in the future, and I’m looking forward to focusing on them. And I expect to continue walking every day without fail, as I have done every day since January 1, 2013.

I’ll let you know how the race turns out. Whatever happens, I still hope to have fun.

Right now, I’m going out for a walk.

Slow and happy!

Marathon training: Getting it done!

With the Yakima River Canyon Marathon on April 2 now only six weeks away (yikes!) my marathon training has kicked into high gear. My longest run so far has been 16 miles. I plan to do 15 today and then make the big push to the really long runs. The next few weeks after today call for long runs of 18.5, 17, and 21 miles before beginning my taper.

Originally I’d planned to follow my usual practice of running three times a week (spaced 2-3 days apart), with the long run on either Saturday or Sunday as my schedule permitted. The shorter runs were to have been a combination of steady pace, progression, and hill training (again, as per my usual routine).

However, on this training cycle I noticed that I wasn’t recovering as quickly as I’d like. Specifically, every time I ran on only one day’s rest, something went wrong. I’d be inexplicably slow, or sore, or just unable to relax and run smoothly. Part of the difficulty, I think, was that it can be cold and wet this time of year! My hands and feet always go numb for the first couple of miles, and that does make it tricky to relax and run smoothly. But I couldn’t ignore the fact that on the days when I’d had two days of rest, the cold and damp didn’t seem to slow me down as much as on the days with only one day’s rest.

Once I saw the pattern, I had no choice but to reluctantly acknowledge it and adjust my schedule accordingly. So now I’m running only every third day, which means that for two out of three weeks, I’m only running twice. This, of course, means that every single run means more and must be approached and executed more carefully.

So far this new strategy is working well. I’ve increased my mid-week runs by a couple of miles so that my weekly total mileage is not that much less than I’d originally planned, and that’s all going well. In addition, I walk for at least an hour and a half (usually 5-7 miles) on almost all of my “rest days.” I walk rather briskly and I can feel the benefits of that gentle effort in my leg strength on running days.

Overall I’m much more confident about the progress of my training than I was at six weeks prior to my aborted marathon last October. At this point, I’m optimistic that I’ll complete my training strong and ready for a good race. No matter what ultimately happens, I expect to enjoy this marathon.

One step at a time!

Marathon training again? Yes, please!

After the Marathon Virus From Hell knocked me out of the Victoria marathon this past October, I was surprised at how much I genuinely grieved. All that effort, all those training days and hours, and then — NOTHING! It took me a couple of weeks to fully recover from that heavy cold and even feel like running again. During that period I felt lost, purposeless, and rather depressed.

I didn’t start feeling significantly better until I began actively researching my next marathon. For a while I got excited about running the Fargo marathon.

The Fargo marathon??? Apparently it’s a pretty good one. It started in 2002 and has quickly grown. It’s become a very popular destination race with a cap of 2,500 for the full marathon and 7,500 for the half. It features a start inside a domed stadium (convenient for staying warm and dry while waiting for race time), a nearly pancake-flat course, several miles of riverfront trail on the Red River, a zigzag through residential streets in miles 15-21 where the locals compete to see which street can cheer the loudest, and a finish back inside the dome where you can watch yourself on the jumbotron. All of that is followed by a downtown pub crawl with something like ten participating brewpubs. The date (May 21, 2016) seemed ideal — I could do that and still follow up with our local half marathon on June 5.

Still, I wasn’t quite sold on the idea of driving two long days to Fargo. So I began toying with the idea of changing my North Olympic Discovery (my local race) registration from the half to the full marathon. I’ve resisted the idea of running the full marathon here because it’s a rather hilly course. Those rollers are tough enough in the half marathon; doing another (and larger) set of rollers in the first half of this point-to-point course has never seemed like a good idea. Yet training for this race would be logistically easy — I could practice on the course itself!

But I resisted. I procrastinated on sending that email to the race organizers to change my registration. I kept looking for another suitable spring race.

I found it! On April 2, 2016 I’ll run the Yakima River Canyon Marathon. It’s small (a few hundred people). It’s an incredibly scenic course through the (you guessed it) Yakima River Canyon between Ellensburg and Selah, WA. The race organizers are a remarkable 86-year old couple who seem to know everyone in the running world, many of whom come back year after year to run this race. He’s run 500+ marathons; they have added a half marathon for the first time this year, which he’ll be walking. The course is mostly downhill except for a hill at mile 15 and a big hill at miles 21-23. So what if I have to walk the hills? I can take my time at those spots, enjoy the scenery, and still claim a course PR when I’m done.

So I’m registered! My partner CFL will walk the half. I’ve already calculated that I’ll pass him around mile 24 and reach the finish line about ten minutes ahead of him.

April 2 is only 16 weeks away! That means — you guessed it — marathon training has begun!

The thing is, I realized something while brooding for all those weeks about whether to run another marathon and if so, which one. I realized that as much as I love running a race, it’s really the process of planning and training for races that keeps me going. I love being in that groove where my calendar fills up with planned runs and my schedule starts to revolve around preparing for the next workout, doing it, relishing it, analyzing it, recovering from it, and then preparing for the next one. I love being even more conscious than usual about what, when, and how I eat, rest, and sleep. I love the pure focus that marathon training requires. I can ramp up to running a half marathon in a few weeks, but full marathon training takes commitment, dedication, and tenacity. It demands my full, extended attention.

But it’s December. Right now running means a slog through rain, mud, sometimes ice, and the occasional detour around a landslide. The fact is, I enjoy running long and slow this time of year because it takes me 3 miles to warm up so I might as well just keep going, right? In January I’ll have the optimism of the new year to keep me enthusiastic. It’s February and March, when the weather will still be lousy but I’ll be out there doing the REALLY long training runs, that will test my resolve.

That’s where having a solid training plan really helps. I can’t wait to test my resolve in February and March! I’m going to do this!!


DNS: Did Not Start

I had imagined all sorts of race scenarios for the Victoria marathon, but I never saw this coming.

Friday morning I woke up feeling ever so slightly congested. No big deal, and I felt better soon after breakfast.

Saturday CFL and I got up early to catch the morning ferry to Victoria. I had a sore throat. We walked downtown to the ferry. We found seats and I soon dozed off. No worries, I’d had a short night, right? A nap should fix everything.

We docked in Victoria, walked to the race expo, and picked up our race bibs and shirts (CFL was walking the half marathon). We walked to our favorite deli for an early lunch. We walked to our motel.

It was barely past noon, but we figured we could drop off our bags, and then check in later in the afternoon. But I was tired, and my throat was getting very sore. I asked if we could check in early so I could take a nap. They had a room ready for us.

I went to bed and slept soundly until about 3:30. I had planned all along to eat an early dinner so I could get to bed early and try to get a halfway decent night’s sleep before the marathon. So I got up and we walked to our favorite place for pre-race dinner.

After I’d eaten, I felt a bit better, but I was beginning to realize that I’d need a miraculous overnight improvement if I was going to run 26.2 miles.

I was back in bed before 8:00.

The full wrath of the virus from hell hit overnight. For hours I struggled to breathe. My head felt like it weighed 5,000 pounds and was going to explode any minute.

Still, it was not until 3:30 AM that I fully accepted that no way, no how was I going to run a marathon that day.

I vaguely remember CFL getting up and going out to walk his half marathon.

I didn’t get out of bed until noon.

From that point, I began to feel better. I was able to get up, walk around, eat, sleep another night, and get myself back to the ferry and home on Monday.

I’m still tired, but essentially I “only” have a heavy cold now. I’ll feel a lot better in a few more days.

I spent some time last night looking for another suitable marathon between now and the end of the year, but there isn’t anything that would tempt me to travel to run. So I’ll just put all those weeks of training on the shelf. I’ll decide, probably around the first of next year, whether I want to train for another full marathon. I probably will. I still want to do it. But right now I am so, so disappointed.

There were 21 people in my age/gender group. Had I run the race I’d hoped to run (basically, I figured I could do the 4:50 I ran two years ago, plus or minus 2 minutes), I would have finished in the top ten. I guess that’s enough to keep me motivated.

Until next time, I guess!

Marathon mania!

I’m into the final countdown. By this time five days from now, I’ll be into the last few miles of the Victoria Marathon. I’ll probably hurt. I’ll probably berate myself for not being as well prepared as I should be. I’ll probably fight back tears now and again. I’ll get it done, one way or another. And I’ll look forward to feeling both proud and very relieved at the finish line.

My taper has gone well enough. I’ve backed off the distance and the speed, and focused purely on running a steady pace. My feet have not given me any problems.

Over the past couple of days I’ve found myself wishing that I had three or four more weeks to train… but not merely to be more race-ready than I am. Rather, I’ve finally gotten into the rhythm and the mindset of the training… and I enjoy it. Running for hours on end has its rewards. I sleep soundly and long. I eat well and with relish. I feel healthy and happy. It’s a great feeling.

I have a time goal, but as usual I’m not telling. Actually I’m predicting that I’ll finish somewhere within a rather broad time range, and I’m telling myself that I’ll be happy with wherever I end up within that range. Nah, I really do have a specific time goal… and I’m still not telling.

I’ve had a few running dreams. I’m pleased to report that all of them have been happy dreams in which I finish feeling triumphant and spectacular.

I have one more run planned. I’ll do 6.6 miles on Thursday, steady and easy. I’ll get out early to simulate the 8:45 race start. It will rain, as it’s forecast to do on Sunday. Thanks to our great summer, I haven’t had any opportunity to train in the rain, so I’m looking forward to rain-testing the clothes I plan to wear on race day.

Beyond that, there isn’t anything more I can do to be any more ready than I am. The clock is ticking — I’m really going to do this.

One step at a time!

Marathon training is not easy

Don’t ever think that marathon training might be easy, or maybe a fun thing to try. It’s not something to undertake on a whim, and it’s not possible to shortcut the process. Marathon training is hard physical and mental work, involving many hours over many days and weeks, out there by yourself with lots of time to wonder why the heck you are running all those miles and hours.

I’ve now completed my 21 mile run, which was the longest and final long run I’d planned to do before the Victoria Marathon on October 11. I’m now officially into the taper stage. I wish I could say that everything had gone according to plan and I’m comfortably optimistic about race day. But that simply isn’t true.

Things went great and I was on schedule with my plan, until the day of my 18-miler back on September 7. On that day, everything got weird. Even during the first few miles when I was fresh, I couldn’t seem to summon any speed. Then about 7 miles in, my right foot decided to spasm, over and over again. It didn’t really hurt, but it felt like my foot was collapsing under me. I’d take a walk break, settle down, and resume running. All would be well for a few minutes, and then ZAP — all over again. I finished the 18 miles, but soon regretted having tried to push through it. My hips, thighs, and knees were very sore for a couple of days. I could only figure that I’d tensed up all over, fearing the spasm, and actually injured myself with an overly-stiff stride.

I took a few days off to rest, recover, try to figure out what had gone wrong, and correct that. The first part of my solution was to buy a new pair of shoes, even though I only had about 150 miles on the pair I’ve been wearing. When I’d bought that pair, the same size I’d always worn had felt small, so I went up half a size. However, my new shoes had always felt a bit loose. I thought that maybe my feet were moving around too much inside my shoes and that the spasm was the result of that movement. So I bought another pair, going back to the old size.

The second part of my solution was to buy a new pair of compression tights. I was running in tights that were almost four years old and, frankly, weren’t giving my knees and hips all that much support anymore.

Five days after that disastrous 18-miler, I ran 7 miles in my new shoes and new tights. Everything went great! Problem solved!

Or so it seemed.

Back to my planned long runs, only four days behind schedule. I did my 16.3 mile run a little slower than I’d hoped, but in relative comfort. I had a couple of foot spasms in the later miles, but they weren’t worrisome.

So on September 24 I did the 21-miler. Everything went great through the first 15 miles. Then  my right foot began to spasm occasionally. Then it progressed to a sharp pain with every footfall. Needless to say, that pain necessitated an immediate walk break.

I’d walk a bit and feel better, so I’d try running again. Everything would be fine, and then the pain would return.

All the rest of me — knees, hips, heart, lungs, brains — kept going along just fine and feeling great. I felt physically and mentally strong and focused. I asked myself what a stress fracture might feel like, and if this could be one. But every time I resumed running, it would feel fine — right up until the next stab of pain.

I ended up walking a good portion of the last 3 miles. Even so, I finished within the time I’d predicted at the start, and only a couple of minutes slower than the 21-miler I’d done during my last marathon training two years ago.

My feet had no bruising, no swelling, no sign of anything resembling a fracture, neither immediately after finishing nor over the next few days. I really wasn’t sore anywhere; the new shoes and tights have fixed that.

The problem with my foot shows up in the later miles of a run. Upon reflection, I’ve become convinced that it’s due to the relatively short time (less than 9 weeks) that I gave myself to train for this marathon. I simply haven’t given my feet enough time and miles to gain strength and toughness. My feet get tired, and when they get tired they hurt.

I’m now officially in taper mode. Yesterday I ran 6.6 miles, strong and steady, no issues. I’m planning three to four more easy runs of 6-9 miles over the remaining twelve days before the race. I’ve committed myself to walking a few miles every day that I don’t run — anything to try to firm up the feet.

I don’t feel optimistic about a great performance at Victoria. I know that I’ll complete the race, but I expect to need walk breaks, and I expect to do some hurting in the last few miles. I don’t anticipate a PR — but it will be a PR for me in my new age group! If I ever run another full marathon (and I’m sure I will), I’ll give myself a lot more time to train.

I’ll get it done, but it won’t be easy.

One step at a time!

Do the miles. Finish healthy.

Earlier this year, when I registered for a half marathon in June, a 6-day, 400-mile bike ride in August, and a full marathon in October, that combination of events seemed obviously doable. I’d focus on running (with a bit of bike riding) in the spring, switch to intense cycling training (while continuing to run 2-3 times a week) through early August, and then ramp up the running in the latter part of the summer. I’d only have about 9 weeks of serious marathon training, but I’d have a solid baseline of running and cardiovascular fitness that would allow me to quickly work up to a 20+ mile long run.

That was the plan.

The reality was this: After the half marathon in June, I traveled to California for two weeks, where I spent time in air conditioned rooms in the close company of a few thousand other people. I came home with a heavy cold, and couldn’t get excited about either running or cycling until well into July. I then realized that I wouldn’t have time to get properly prepared for the bike ride while also running 2-3 days a week. I had to let go of the running. As of the end of July, therefore, I had run a mere 28 miles since the half marathon.

We did the bike ride, and had a wonderful time. CFL and I were among the slowest riders, but mattered was that we had trained well enough to finish the ride.

When we got home from that, I was fairly exhausted, but there was no time to lose. Let the marathon training begin!

Google “marathon training plan” and you’ll see that there are a lot of them out there. Most of them assume a duration of 16-18 weeks, although you can find 12-week plans.

I had eight and a half weeks.

The only 8-week plans I found assume you are ready to do a 16-mile long run in week 1. In other words, it’s a 16-week schedule with the first half cut off.

Clearly, I’d have to design my own plan. I’d have to focus on quality versus quantity. What’s the least number of miles I can run and still be somewhat ready on race day? And I’d have to center my training on the long runs, working everything else around them.

I developed two simple principles:

  1. Do the miles.
  2. Finish healthy.

I would run 3 times a week. The long runs would follow a simple progression: 12, 14, 16, 18, 16.3 (the psychologically important 26.2 kilometer race simulation run), and 21 miles, followed by a 2-week taper. The mid-week runs would rotate between steady-pace, fast-finish, and rolling-hill runs. There would be no procrastination, no postponements. I’d do whatever it takes to get through the long runs — rest stops, walk breaks, whatever — but I’d always do the miles. And I’d finish each run healthy, with enough in reserve to know that I’d be ready to do the next one.

When I went out for my first serious run on August 12, I’d done so little recent running that I’d actually lost the calluses on my feet. My soles were sore after only five miles. I realized that it would not be enough just to do the running miles. I’d also need to spend easy miles on my feet, walking or hiking, on the non-running days. So I sadly turned away from my bike and committed to doing the miles.

I’m now at the end of week 3. I’ve done the 12-miler and the 14-miler. I’ve done all of my planned shorter mid-week runs so far. On nearly all of the non-running days, I’ve walked — typically 4-6 miles. Today I’ll go out and run 16 miles.

Do the miles. Finish healthy.

Honestly, come race day, the same principles will apply. Do the miles. Finish healthy. If I have a good day, I’ll be a few minutes faster than I was two years ago when I ran my first full marathon. If I’m slower, I’ll still have run a full marathon at age 60 — a feat I couldn’t have imagined at age 50. Either way, I can’t lose!

All I need to do?

Do the miles. Finish healthy.

One step at a time!