Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Answered Prayer 12-23-09

I started the day like I have so many times in the past with a devotional time and I prayed specifically that God would give me wisdom and direction about what to do about my back pain and treatment of it. Last week I had visited a local physical therapist that specializes in the the type of pain I am having. He said he could definitely help me solve the problem BUT no running for a period of time. I did not take that suggestion very well. As a matter of fact as early as this morning I had decided to not take his advice and continue my training regimen just as before. That was the impetus for my specific prayer request this morning.

After my prayer time, I headed to the downtown YMCA to walk on the treadmill and maybe even do some running. While I was there I met a friend I had not talked to in several months. He is an active runner who you can see at any time of the day running all over Columbus. I knew he was training for a marathon so I stopped to catch up with him on how the training was going. He asked me about my recent marathon race results and was impressed with my time of 3:40. I told him about the back pain I had been having and he commented he was recovering from the very same thing. Furthermore he strongly suggested I follow a regimented program for treating the condition that included stretching and strengthening my core muscles that include back muscles. He warned if I did not take of the problem now, it would turn into a huge issue going forward. Well, talk about an answered prayer. Praise God! Just when I had asked for wisdom to guide me in my decision whether to follow my physical therapist's advice or not, there it was. My friend gave me the answer I needed and along with it a great deal of encouragement and praise for my recent accomplishments in the Rocket City marathon. We certainly serve an AWESOME God.

What a way to start the day. Now I need the strength and courage to follow a strict training program that gives my back a chance to heal while keeping me in shape from a cardiovascular standpoint. It is going to be a challenge for no other reason than the fact that running is such an addictive sport. I am craving the experience of getting out and pounding the pavement. All those who have gotten to this point knows what I am talking about.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Rocket City Marathon 2009

Here I sit; recalling the experiences of the past six months and realizing how long its been since I last wrote. There have been so many memorable things happen in that period, it is a shame they have not been chronicled properly.

It is now post four days from the 2009 Huntsville Rocket City Marathon and I need to record the events surrounding that race. From my perspective it was very successful. The training period, which occupied a good portion of the past six months, went as expected and my performance in the race reflected that result. I followed a modified schedule I found in a Runners' World article and it proved to be a good one. The bottom line in my training regimen was; I ran a lot of miles and did a lot of speed work.

A few days before the scheduled race on 12-12-09, forecasts revealed less than desirable weather. The idea of temps in the mid to upper 30s and wind and even possibly ice was a little daunting. My wife, daughter and I traveled to North Alabama on Friday afternoon and after I dropped them off with family in Decatur I headed to Huntsville to pick up my race packet and shop for cold weather gear. I was fine in all areas except my legs so after a trip to Fleet Feet Sports and after spending more than I had planned I was fixed up with a pair of super duper tights. The salesman there promised me these tights would help me in the later parts of the race when my legs would be fatigued. My race day attire was now complete.

Race day started at 5:00 am as I got up and started my pre-race routine. Actually my routine is far from ritualized as this was only my second marathon and I have not really developed the perfect combination of food and drink to best fuel me for the long morning to follow. More importantly, I spent the hour and half before we headed to Huntsville trying to get myself psyched up for the race both hoping I had prepared properly and fearing the occurrence of some mid-race ailment that would do me in. Whatever the result, I rested in the assurance I had done my best to train and whatever would happen would happen. Good preparation is always the best cure for nervousness and apprehension.

My wife and I headed out the door at 6:30 to make the 45 minute drive from Decatur to Huntsville. She had planned on meeting my parents at the start, watching me off, then heading back to Decatur to have breakfast with her family as I ran the first leg of the race. As she did two years ago on the occasion of my first race she would make it back to the race as I entered the latter stages.Kellye, Mom and Dad ready to serve as my support team

The weather was cooperating as the rain (and ice) stayed away until much later in the day. I had decided to stick with the tights and it is a good thing I did. The wind was pretty stout and it was cutting through the two layers of tops I had on. But, for the most part, with the postponement of precipitation, the weather was not too bad.

The RCM is always a well organized event and this year was no different. the race began in the nice wide street in front of the Holiday Inn. Due to my previous race time of 4:33, I was taking my place toward the middle of the pack. I surely did not want to get up in the mad rush at the start but also didn't want to get stuck behind packs running slower. I had made my pace card and copied the same information on a map of the course I gave to my crew. I had hoped they would be able to meet me at certain checkpoints past the half-way mark to keep me fueled.

At exactly 8:00 AM, the musket was fired and the runners were off. I passed my family, gave the thumbs-up and started getting into the rythym of the race. I felt really good and as the first two to three miles slipped away I found myself settling into a comfortable 8:15 per mile pace. Wait a minute, this was much faster than the 9;10 pace i needed to finish under 4:00, but I had told myself previously that if I felt good I was going to go out and run as fast as I could. I believed I had the stamina to beat my goal and getting way ahead of the pace at the start was the way I decided to go.

After the 4 mile mark, the race has pretty much left the downtown area and started into neighborhoods south. Unfortunately, my Garmin Forerunner had died weeks before so I did not have the luxury of mile splits. This was no big deal during the race as the course organizers were well prepared with volunteers calling out split times. The big drawback to not having the Garmin is trying to remember my times later. Most of the splits, obviously, escape my memory but the one at the 10K (6.2 miles) mark I do remember because it is the first time in a long time I have run this distance this fast. My 10K time was right at 48 minutes putting my per mile average at better than eight minutes. I can remember now hearing the time and thinking I needed to slow down and run a few slower miles.

At the seven mile mark the course passed through the parking lot of Whitesburg School, past an aid staion and through a pedestrian tunnel that took runners under the busy auto traffic on Whitesburg road. After this point the course began a loop that will not revisited. Up until this point, most the course would eventually be retraced back to the finish.

The race pack had started to thin out by this distance and a lot of the runners' chatter had subsided. As is commen for me in races, I like to keep to myself. I tend to "zone out" and focus on my running stride and lose track of the runners all around me. However, in any race, there are always groups of loud, chatty runners who break the silence and either amuse you with their wit or aggravate you with their arrogance. A group of six or eight runners who were obviously doing the race together passed me somewhere in the eight to nine mile mark. Though I have since forgotten most of the scant conversation I either had or heard form others, I do remember some of what said among the group. The comment by one in the group was loudly proclaimed of how easy the race had been so far and how the race would not really begin until mile 20. Well, I can tell you, I was proud of well I had run until that point and I didn't need some self-proclaimed marathon expert to tell me what the race was all about. Of course, as I would later discover, what he said was true, but I would rather have not wanted to hear him crowing about it.

At the 10 mile mark the race course took another turn south on a fairly busy road. Having been previously shielded from the wind by tree-lined streets in neighborhoods, this area wa wide open and offered no protection from the elements. It was on this road where runners would pass miles 11, 12, 13, 14 and 15 and be spared none of the stiff wind coming from the south. Though this was generally a downhill orientation, because of the wind, it felt like I was running uphill.

This was to be the longest single stretch of the race and where I first met up with my support crew. Just before mile 13, my parents were stationed on the right side of the road. This road was busy with car traffic and runners only had use of the right lane. It was good to see them and I was offered gatoraide and water and I gladly partook. I also swapped my billed runners cap for a toboggan as my ears were frozen and I needed better protection for my head.

Here I am looking refreshed at the half-way point

As I left my parents I quickly passed the half-way point in the race and remembered hearing my split of 1:47:45 which was one minute faster than my race time at the Atlanta Half-Marathon two weeks prior. I started thinking at this point that if I could keep up this pace I could break the 3:30 barrier which would qualify someone of my age for the Boston Marathon. Of course, i also knew I was running faster than how I had trained and more than likely I would feel serious fatigue later in the race that would slow my pace considerably. But, still, it was exciting to think I was even close at this point.

At the 15 mile mark the course took a right turn and headed north for the first time in the race. It was here where thoughts of how I would complete the race started filling my head. I remember two years previous, during my first marathon, this is where I started crashing. I was able to assess my present condition in comparison and made the conclusion I was in so much better shape for this 2009 race. I was so proud I was able to train properly to place myself in that position. I can't really remember anything noteworthy happening in the race for the next few miles as the course continued north heading back to the downtown conclusion. I did learn later, however, my support crew, which now had grown in number to include my wife and daughter, had stationed themselves at the 18 mile mark. Using the 4:00 completion time mile splits I had given them, they got there after I had passed. After waiting and watching for almost five minutes, they reasoned I had either died somewhere out on the course or I was way ahead of my scheduled time. Choosing the latter alternative, they packed up and sped ahead to the 23 mile mark hoping to catch me there.

Meanwhile, back in the race, the 21 mile mark brought the biggest hills on the course. At least that is the way I remember them. A one mile stretch between 21 and 22 presented an incline that has probably been responsible for finishing off many a struggling competitor. Thankfully, my training regularly included hills so I bore down and charged through that section with little effort. It was here where I was thankful Columbus is such a hilly place to run.

At mile 24 I finally saw my family. They had stationed themselves at the Holy Spirit School parking lot and I got to run with my wife and daughter for about a quarter mile. They offered me more gatoraide and water and more importantly encouragement as they exclaimed how surprised and excited I was so far ahead of schedule. It was just the boost I needed for the final three mile leg of the race.

Kellye and Mary Kellye giving a much-needed boost

Last Gatoraide break until the finish

With just a short distance to go, you would think you could sprint effortlessly to the finish. But, those of you who have run one of these know; its not that easy. Most of the energy I had left was rapidly waning. I had long since abandoned the idea I could break the 3:30 mark when I was around miles 17 to 18. Now, I was simply trying to preserve a time that was going to be much faster than I had envisioned. These last two to three miles were fun, though, and I remember the comment made earlier by the braggadocios runner that the real race starts at mile 20. He was right. Breathing was harder as I knew my muscles were filled with lactic acid and not taking oxygen like they were earlier in the race. I felt some minor cramps beginning and hoped they would hold off until I crossed the finish line.

For a good part of the race, I had run alongside a female who who had a personal trainer running with her. This trainer would tell her when to stop for breaks, when to walk up hills and when to resume her pace. Well equipped with her Garmin GPS, the trainer kept the runner on pace. I once again encountered this female at mile 25 and ran pretty much beside her (and her trainer) for the rest of the race. Except for the last 1/2 mile. I had determined that anyone who needed a trainer running with them was not going to beat me; and the race was on! I had to really kick to keep ahead of her but as we turned the corner for the remaining 0.2 mile I turned it on and left her in the dust. It is amazing how restricted your breathing gets at this point in a race but I am so glad I was able to suck it up.

Kicking it in at the finish

The finish was exhilarating. I saw my family there and heard them calling my name and cheering me on and I heard the loud speaker announcer doing the same. Another marathon under my belt. Another 26 miles 385 yards covered. This was a really great race! As I would comment later, I was proud of the way I had conditioned myself to do so well. It was a huge affirmation that doing the proper training produces proper results. Other than fatigue in my legs, I had no pains anywhere. This is quite different than the last marathon where I severly injured my left foot which forced an unplanned three month hiatus from running.

Until next time!

The 2009 Rocket City Marathon was complete. I want to thank the organizers and volunteers who always make this a popular event. Traffic control was perfect, aid stations were spaced just right and the after-run food was great. All those involved need to be commended.

I sit here now contemplating where I go from here. Immediately upon completion of the race I was planning the next marathon. I had just about decided to sign up for the Albany, GA Snickers Marathon that is run in March when I had some change in plans. A visit to the physical therapist this past week resulted in a cancellation in these plans. Because of back pain I have endured for many years and which is now causing numbness in my right leg, it was strongly suggested I not run for a period of 8-10 weeks while PT treated my condition. To say the least I was unhappy with the report. But, I have decided to give the treatment plan a try and have now put off plans for another marathon until later in the spring, maybe even next fall. This is a disappointment but not the end of the world.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Tuesday 3-3-09

Once again I find myself trying to play catch up with my blogging. I need to stay current with this thing. I have started posting on Twitter. I guess it is kind of "nerdy" but it is a quick way to stay connected with those in your social network.

I had a good run this morning. Started out for a regular 4-5 miler but felt so good, i just kept on. I ended up running over the Chattahoochee River to Alabama and back, 8.5 miles. I felt a little like Forrest Gump as he made his way across Greenbow County on his way across the country; well maybe not that extreme. It does help pass the time to occupy my mind with thoughts like that.

My right heel is still a little sore but the pain is nothing like it was before the heel lifts and new shoes.