Seebo's Run

A running commentary on my training and whatever else emerges from that.

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Location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Checking In

It's been nine days since I've run, and nine days since I've posted. I haven't ambulated rapidly during that time any farther than chasing T down the sidewalk, although I've walked about an hour a day with C over the Thanksgiving weekend.

I miss both the running and the writing, as its now gotten to where the workout is not over until I've written a little about it. I also feel like what must be mild withdrawal symptoms. For while I enjoy sleeping right past 5:30 am, I feel heavier (I gained five pounds from my pre-marathon weight) and find myself dreaming about training for ever faster times as I wonder how much "fitness" I'm losing by staying idle.

The weather has been too mild not to do at least a little run. Today I don't have to go in until later, as I teach in the evenings, so I ran down to school with T and took the long way home via Franklin Field. T and I were a little late getting out the door this morning and I made the mistake of telling him we need to "fast motor." This had me running alongside his bike going straight from zero to tempo. We made it to school (on time) in a running pr of 5:04. After that I ran a more relaxed pace with BB King and Eric Clapton on the iPod, a long 4 in an easy 34:10. Riding with the King!

This little leg stretcher did me a world of good, as does writing this. I'll probably do it again on Thursday and then over the weekend KF twisted my arm (he didn't have to twist too hard) into running Brian's Run. I love races like that, where my 10k PR (34:34, which I doubt I'll get close to this weekend) likely wouldn't even get me an age group placing and where even running a 32:30 won't get you in the top ten. That feels like a "real" race, and prevents my getting too full of my marathon PR. C will go up as well and with some gentle persuasion I should be able to get both her and T to run the 5k.

But with all that I'm still laying low!

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Philly Marathon

Well, here’s the recap of this morning’s jaunt.

Sunny and chilly as C, T & I go down to Eakins Oval in front of the Art Museum. The pre-race is singularly unremarkable save for my being barred from the elite porta-potties. Apparently the blocked off area, with the vacant porta-potty that I had my eye on, is not the “elite” area but the VIP area, to which I needed some special wristband for access. Properly humbled to learn the distinction between “elite” and “VIP”, I go on my way.

I spend most of the time at the start with the “regular” folks, nervously talking to a few acquaintances. I then pass through the barrier they had set up to cordon off the front area (here my number gets me access), and talk to a few fellow local “elites” that I know. I take a few half-hearted wind sprints to reassure myself that my legs feel fine. Somewhat starry eyed, I get a kick out of lining up right at the starting line and, right after the horn goes off, to running in the lead pack for the first blessed few blocks down the Ben Franklin Parkway. I quickly recall some marathoning advice that an old running buddy, MF, and I used to share: “let the Kenyans go, you can always reel them in later” and ease up. The first mile, just past City Hall, nonetheless passes in 5:54. Let the Kenyans go.

Mile 2 passes in a more sustainable 6:13. We are now in Old City and then, a few turns later, we’re on Columbus Avenue. I fall in with a pack of five others who are going a little faster than I would have liked, but decide its worth it for the mindlessness and wind protection that running in a pack affords. Miles 3 & 4 both pass in 6:02 and the course now winds up Front Street, onto South Street and then it’s a long straightaway on Chestnut through Center City; with miles 5, 6 & 7 clocking in 6:03, 6:08; and 6:04. Past the Bryn Mawr Running Club water stop and its into West Philly. I make a right onto 34th and now I’m on the stretch I’ve trained endlessly on. I tell myself to take it easy, as I’ve got time in the bank and this is the toughest stretch of the course.

Mile 8 goes by in 6:19 as we go through Powelton Village. This is always one of my favorite parts of the course. When I first ran it in 1997 the crowd here was sparse, all African American, and loud. Eight years later the crowd is more numerous, much more white, but still loud. The Drexel University frat boys are out in force, sitting on their porch hooting and banging pots and pans. Then its over the railroad tracks, past the zoo in all of its scatological pungency, and into Fairmount Park. Mile 9 is in 5:53, which feels like a short mile, and then mile 10, which is usually in front of Memorial Hall, is farther down and clocks in at 6:26. Total time at mile 10 (accuracy of the mile markers notwithstanding) of 61:09. 6:07 pace and right on schedule!

Next two miles are pastoral and downhill, through botanical gardens, under autumn leaves, and amidst sculptures half hidden amidst the foliage. I run and chat a little with a guy from the DC Road Runners who is shooting for a 2:48 – talking to me he realizes that either he’s going to have the race of his life or he’s going to die. I pass by him and stop to water a tree, thus mile 11 splits in 6:25. The course bottoms out on MLK Drive and we’re along the Schuylkill River. Now I’m in with two guys, one with a Cornell shirt and one in a red shirt. I’m with them through miles 12 & 13 (5:56 & 6:07) and now we’re at the half in 1:20:21. Still exactly where I want to be.

Just before coming back to the Art Museum C, T, and KF are waiting and give me a big cheer. I flash a thumbs up to let them know I’m in good shape. Taking inventory, the only problem to monitor is my left big toe, which is banging up against the front of my shoe and getting more painful. That pain gets filed away in the “deal with it later” category. Looping past the Art Museum and onto Kelly Drive, I concentrate on keeping pace through these crucial miles. Its still me, Cornell, and Red Shirt, and we stick together in an odd way. I run steady, Cornell runs behind me, and Red Shirt runs with an astounding inefficiency, keeping a ten foot lead in front of me but frequently letting me reel him in, at which point he surges to regain his lead. I expect him to crash at any minute, but we stick together to Manayunk. Miles 14-19 are like clockwork: 6:09; 6:01; 6:06; 6:07; 6:06; and 6:11. Now we’re seeing the leaders as they are heading back down Main Street. The guy with the drumset, another marathon institution, is taking a break as we pass. I wave my arms and he starts up again: that’s better I shout. Up a long gradual hill and we hit mile 20 in 6:17. 2:02:38; or just 20 seconds off the pace for the first ten miles.

Like most people, I run a marathon with an eye on how I’m doing now and with another, more anxious eye on how I will feel at mile 20. That foreboding lifts here, for the future is now. Cornell fades and it’s me and Red Shirt screaming back downhill through Manayunk redux. Mile 21 is in 6:10, one less mile to suffer through. But then it’s a slight uphill through the ass-end of Manayunk and a nasty little acclivity up a ramp and back onto Kelly Drive. This mile (22) passes in 6:20. Mile 23 passes in 6:18 and I’m past Falls Bridge again and on home turf. I don’t mind spending some of my banked time on these miles, but now its time to pick up the pace again. I feel like I’m doing so but this proves an illusion as mile 23 passes in 6:26. I’m slowing down. Red Shirt, amazingly, has pulled about 50 feet ahead of me and would stay in my view but out of my reach. I hear footsteps behind me and keep a few steps ahead of the phantom but again don’t gain any time as mile 25 passes in 6:25.

I have hit my limit. 2:40 will not happen, but then neither will 2:45. I’m hurting but in all the appropriate places, and I just want to hang on. Every once in awhile my left foot hits the ground long and pain shoots up from my toe. We’re closing in on the Art Museum and the crowds become thicker and louder. I’m in that zone where my head is screaming at my legs to go faster but my legs no longer listen. There is no mile 26 marker, so the last 1.2 go by in 7:53 (6:34 pace) and I cross the line in 2:42:14.

2:42:14! Personal best time by over 3 minutes, and a race run exactly according to plan and to the best of my abilities. Everything fell into place. I ran exactly the race I wanted to run: holding a 6:08 pace to mile 20 and setting myself up to give it whatever I had left in the tank. And I did exactly that. I can only think of two things I would have done differently: eaten more prior to the race and not run that first mile so fast. But these are minor. As are the black toenail and silver dollar size blister on the ball of my left foot. Finally, after three tries, I broke 2:45 and now have 2:40 in my sights.

As I’ve said before, it takes a village to run a marathon. A few weeks ago I described my experience running the NYC marathon and the privilege of guiding Jambal, a blind Mongolian runner. Throughout the race and especially toward the end I felt a bit like Jambal, being guided by the cheers and support of others, many cheering me by name. Any marathoner can tell you how powerful this is (many write their names on their shirts and bodies) and, especially at the end, how this can carry you. Several instances were particularly moving. Philly’s got a tight knit running community, and never is this more apparent than on the day of a big race. And each year the Philly marathon draws bigger crowds, and this bodes well for the future of this race.

Also have to thank C., my #1 fan, who tirelessly makes it out to my races and cheers me on. But more importantly I have to acknowledge the hundred little things she does so I can engage in this self indulgent little obsession of mine and without which I would never make it to the starting line. My mom has also been a great source of support, reads my blog religiously, and amazed me by how genuinely thrilled she was at my time today. The folks in the two clubs I run with: Philadelphia Athletic Charities and Philly Runners, had my back today and I wish I could have done more to cheer them on. I’ll also put the spotlight on MM, who has been a friend and mentor to me since I was running 3:10 marathons, who, from the sidelines a half mile or so before the finish, jumped onto the course yelling in my face to get a move on. That was about what it took to get my attention at that point, and he knew it and it worked. And that, on a more metaphorical level, is what I have gotten from many people all through training and running this race.

And lastly I’ll thank the blog readers for the good karma they have thrown my way. Writing this is now an essential part of my training, and it amazes me at the number of folks who respond positively to these accounts of my running exploits. Now that the marathon is over I will take some down time. I read once about how it is essential to have dormant periods in our training cycles. I fully intend to apply this advice to the rest of the year and, although I’ll still run (and maybe even race) some, it will be sporadic, unstructured, and only done when accompanied by joy. This blog will be like that as well – updated irregularly and with every intention of getting back down to business come the New Year.

So stay tuned, but not too often.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Back Out on the Road Again. . .

Turn this beast into the wind.

Love that line, from a Steve Earle song. Or if your taste is blues, then here's some Muddy Waters. . .

I'm drinking TNT, I'm smoking dynamite
I hope some screwball start a fight,
Because I'm ready, ready's anybody can be.

Either one sums up the way I feel.

I've gotten great support and good wishes from a bunch of folks around here in all kinds of ways but from this blog, which never draws many comments (perhaps because it doesn't draw many readers), and this also promises to translate into good support on the course. And by way of inspiration (a word I don't use lightly), I heard this morning that MP, a casual acquaintance who runs with Wissahickon Wanderers, won the Harrisburg Marathon last week in 2:40, slicing something like 8 minutes off his PR (read about it here). Just kept running faster than he knew he should. Great job, Matt, and a role model for me!

Me, C and KF will eat Italian in South Philly tonight, and if we have time drop by a pre-marathon party at KJ's. Then its to bed early and waking up tomorrow in familiar surroundings, having a familiar toilet, a fridge with familiar food, and a familiar way to get to a familiar course. The home field advantage.

I'm ready's anybody can be.

Ran with the 9:30 group at the Art Museum this morning. IC was there and we felt like something was missing, so we made KG run between us with his eyes closed. I was yapping so much I lost track of the distance and we finally turned around 2.5 miles into MLK to make it an easy five in 41:47. From there it was a trip to the Expo across the street to pick up my number and I've been eating ever since, including some potato latkes and apple sauce with M at Izzy & Zoe's deli.

Why wait until dinner to carbo load?

Turn this beast into the wind.

I'll say it again:

Turn this beast into the wind.

Next time I post it will be with news from the race.

Friday, November 18, 2005

King Solomons Marbles

E & I pushed back our abbreviated morning run to the deliciously tardy time of 6:30 am. Ran the Franklin Field loop in a time so slow I won't even post it here.

Its cold enough this morning to where I will crack and turn the heat on. There were scims of ice on the puddles, and a clear sharp sunlight and bright blue sky we will surely see on many subsequent winter days. I said that this enabled our bodies to bury capillaries deeper under the skin and prepare for subsequent runs, E, a medical historian of sorts, just accused me of buying into the "thick blood" theory still espoused by many Philadelphians.

Then the topic turned to architecture.

4 miles, slower than dirt.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Sound Check

Went out to the track for the last time, probably for the year. "Cruise intervals", kind of like running fast without really trying. Workout was to be 5x1000m w/ 200m recoveries, in 3:27 to 3:23.

Same workout I did just before Boston earlier this year. I said it was like doing a 5k on the installment plan. 3:24; 3:24; 3:22; 3:14 & 3:21. 16:45 for the 5k. Not bad. I read over my blog entry for the workout I did in May and it is eerily similar, both in substance and in mood, to my workout today. And the writing is not bad.

So this morning was a sound check. Make some music and see how everything is working. Legs, head, breathing, shoes, even the weather . . . all check. Volumes are all adjusted and everything sounds good together. Ready to rock.

Plan for Sunday is simple, get into a groove in the 6:05-6:10 zone, and hold it until 20. After 20, there's no point in planning for the unplannable.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Partly cloudy. Highs in the lower 50s.

Thats the forecast for Sunday. Sounds almost perfect. Dare I hope for decent marathon conditions for the first time in the last seven marathons I've run, and not since Boston in '02?

Was out the door this morning and realized I left my watch on my nightstand dresser. Without missing a beat I thought that today, if any day, was a run where I didn't need to know my time. This made the run feel less urgent, more relaxed. Time became unimportant, as did distance. At this point, I just wanted to go out and run. And not too long, mind you.

E, KJ and I went out to Cobbs Creek via Larchwood Ave. and returned back down Thomas Ave. The Cobbs Creek bike path was beautiful, especially the Butterfly Garden part that veers into a wooded area. The colored leaves, many of which are now on the ground, in the muted light of an early, clouded morning, gave an illusion of running through a rural forest that would have been perfect had it not been for the burnt out automobile carcass on the side of the trail.

We spent a good bit of the run talking about marathon preparations. KJ and E are both first timers. This thing is getting close.

Call it five miles for the log. The time is inconsequential.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Out Walking My Legs

This phrase popped into my head as I was running through Taney Park, filled with dog walkers (and dogs) of all shapes and sizes. Its one of those phrases that in college would have seemed both hilarious and capable of explaining secrets of the universe, and for that I took it back home with me and now can keep it safely on this blog.

Also took it home because that’s about the highlight of the run. Today was an easy six and a half miler, run in 52:36, which dropped T off at school and then went on to do an Art Museum loop of the kind that I used to do on a daily basis. Felt good today to not have to face a tough workout.

I’m trying to think of something interesting to say, but it was just not that kind of run. The goal today was minimal effort, and I feel wimpy when I say at this point I’m relieved about that - where I can just go out and put on my iPod and run mindlessly.

Weather continues to be mild, but the forecast is for it to turn to the cold side by Thursday. This would be excellent timing for Sunday, and sofar the extended forecast looks good.

One day closer to the marathon.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Almost Famous

One last NYC Marathon redux. IC, who guided Jambal with me, works at NPR at got his version of the events onto a spot on NPR's Weekend America. Anyone interested can hear it on their website. The link is here, and you can check out our picture on the top, and then you can click on "Nov. 12" and scroll down a bit and hear the report. There are also more pictures, courtesy of Brightroom, here.

Each day continues to be more beautiful than the next weatherwise. Its just before getting light now at 6 am, letting the sun and the leaves color West Philly's postindustrial landscape as I run through it. I warmed up for 20 minutes or to 34th and Market Streets, did 8 repeats of 30 second striders (sub 5k pace, with 1 minute recovery) on the I'm-now-so-familiar-that-I'm-sick-and-tired-of 34th/Lansdowne Ave marathon stretch, and then headed home on another 20 minute cooldown. The only noteworthy thing (other than the joy of being outdoors this morning) was that I discovered that 41st St, which looks blocked off south of Girard Ave, actually has a disused bridge that easily lets you run over all the train tracks that run behind the zoo, giving me a new way back home.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Into the Final Week

The beautiful autumn days just keep rolling in, with the leaves about at their peak. Sun was strong and the temps mild. I slept in instead of my usual Saturday morning custom of joining the 8:15 folks at the Art Museum (did anybody come out this morning?) and instead biked down to the Art Museum to meet the 9:30 crowd. Alot of folks came out, including a good mixture of folks who had run their marathons and others who were tapering for Philly next Sunday. This created a real up mood as folks were either recounting tales or anticipating their turn up.

I ran with five others, JW and KG who are both running Philly next week and hoping for BQs, CS who ran Marine Corps, and RL and a friend of his from out of town. Running the drives was easy at an 8 minute pace and drifting back and forth and lazily talking about this and that. It was just a great morning to be out and running. Then at mile 6 I bid farewell to this group and turned around to retrace those 6 miles at marathon pace. MP was 6:05, and I finished those 6 miles in 36:18. Not a hard workout at all, however, the miles started at 6:00 and ended at about 6:08. That was fine, as this reassured me that I should start next weeks marathon at a 6:10 pace and NOT any faster.

Well, the workouts keep getting easier from here on in. I'm already saying, probably more boldly than the superstition in me is comfortable with, that barring anything unforeseen or unfortunate that 2:45 will go down. The anticipation is now building, as its officially the final week.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Penguin Run

No need for speed today.

E started the run by asking if I was up for a variation on a regular loop. I said only if the variation involved lopping off a few miles. She said it was shorter and I said fine. T0day's route had us go up 34th St. again (marathon route) and at Memorial Hall (right at mile 10 of the marathon route) turn left to go home via Belmont and 42nd Sts. At 7 miles this route was a bit longer than I wanted but, at 60:10, we took it slow. Conversation, on everything from marathon routes to moral panics, was good. Sunrise over postindustrial Philadelphia was pretty this morning.

I went over the 2,500 mark for miles sofar this year with this morning run. My record for miles in a year, set in 2003, is 2,554, so its a pretty sure bet that record is going down, probably this month.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

It Must Be the Shoes

Like most boys, when I was a kid I loved getting new sneakers. I thought they made you run faster and I would do windsprints with my shiny Adidas or Puma sneaks (back when todays retro styles weren't retro) and actually feel the speed emanate from the shoes. I've caught T doing windsprints when he gets new sneakers, so I suspect this still holds true.

With that intro I will sing the praises of my New Balance 833s. If you read last week's posts, I got them online after a quandary on what to run in for the upcoming Philadelphia Marathon. I wanted to give them a trial run in NYC, and the UPS guy delivered them literally a few hours before I left for NYC, but on walking around with them I started to get heel blisters and decided to play it safe and wear my old trainers (NB 856s). I wore the 833's yesterday and they felt comfortable, and put them on again today and they felt fine, with no indications of any blister problems. But that is not why I'm pumped about them.

I'm following the taper schedule laid out for me by an old coach. For this workout, Greg directed a run of 90-105 minutes, with 4 of those miles taken alternately at 5:45 and 6:15 pace. I modified this a little bit to fit the course I've been running on Thursdays. So the workout ended up being a 2-mile warmup (including dropping off T at school); a 2 mile dash from 34th & Chestnut to the Civil War Memorial just before Memorial Hall (which are the toughest two miles on the marathon route) in under 12 minutes; a 1/4 mile or so downhill recovery to MLK Drive; and then take the first marked mile at marathon pace (6:05-6:10) and the second at 5:45. Then its up Bloody Nipple Hill and a cool down all the way back to Penn, where I altered the usual course a bit so I could pick up my bike, which I had to leave there last night, and cycle home. If you're interested, the course is here and measures to 12.3 miles.

The beginning of this marathon course portion is an uphill so I imagine I'm in an infantry charge. Today the enemy had a secret weapon - a strong headwind - and before I knew it I was sucking air heavily and not feeling fast. But the enemy's secret weapon was no match for my shoes, as to my surprise I hit the first two miles in 11:40. Dawg! Fastest I've ever run that stretch. The marathon pace mile then felt effortless as it went by in 6 flat, and the last timed mile was a relatively easy 5:38. The rest of the run was a romp through Fairmount Park, made beautiful by the sun and the autumn leaves, and the whole run ended in just over the minimum at 91:13.

Perhaps the most rewarding part of this training cycle has been charting my improvement over this loop. This is the last time I run it this year, and it leaves me confident that I'm ready for Philly on the weekend after next. With a little help from the shoes!

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Another Mild Day

One more day snatched from the oncoming winter, one less day of having to use heat, and one more day of running comfortably in short sleeves. In other words, living on borrowed time and thankful for each remaining morning of mildness and daylight.

E and I did the usual Acme loop, I talked her ear off for about half of it about NYC and we discussed other more mundane things for the other half. Finally got to run in my 833s, they were surprisingly comfortable and had lots of room up front.

Day felt good to run, glad we went 8. Time was 65:39.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Taking Inventory

Went out for a run to see if there was any collateral damage from the weekend. Mapped out a four mile course that goes west on Woodland, cuts over to the near reaches of Mt. Moriah Cemetary and then goes back east on Kingsessing (see here if you are interested in the course details).

Weather continues to be mild. I put my iPod on shuffle and took off.

Physically everything felt fine, as evidenced by the 29:53 time in which I finished. I won't pronounce myself "recovered" until I see how I feel after airing it out on Thursday, but sofar so good.

What I didn't anticipate is that mentally the recovery may be a bit more difficult. My mind keeps drifting back to the weekend. It was a mountaintop experience and I suspect a let down will follow in a day or two. I don't know if I'll be able to get myself up again for Philadelphia and the thought of running just to cut a few seconds off of an old time.

But, again, maybe I will.

Monday, November 07, 2005

NYC Marathon Weekend

Note - this is a long blog entry about last weekend in NYC. An amazing experience, but a bit long. So if you're only interested in the race, scroll down to Sunday. This is also unedited, and maybe I'll get around to proofreading it someday, maybe not, its already taken me long enough to put this together. There's a picture at the end if you make it that far. Enjoy!


Well, we made it. Its about 11pm and I’m laying in the bedroom of a woman I spoke to over the phone once and emailed a few times while she is off for a week to I don’t know where. A small apartment in the Lower East Side of Manhattan that is considered spacious by local standards – three bedrooms, one bath and an efficiency kitchen/living/dining area. There’s also a patio I haven’t seen yet, right over a liquor store on Avenue A. M & O, A’s two roommates, seem nice enough as T and I basically set up camp in their house. T is happy that they have cable TV and has plopped himself on the futon in the living room, where I’m sure he’ll go to sleep.

New York City is great. What other city, except for maybe Boston, can you hear the lite rock station in the supermarket preface the weather forecast by saying that the weekend’s predicted highs in the upper sixties bode poorly for marathoners (though everybody else will be happy). Where else can you be a part of a room full of people with obvious and not so obvious handicaps who look just incredibly in shape, whether they are blind, are walking on prosthetics, in wheelchairs, and whatever. Marathon advertisements all over the place, people in NYC marathon jackets, t-shirts, and running shoes. There is definitely an energy in the air, and its only Friday.

So we are here, but had a hard time getting up here. I picked up T a bit early from school and he was visibly dragging, complaining that he went to the school nurse earlier in the day but adamant about going to NYC. So we biked down to 30th Street Station, as SEPTA is on strike, and just missed the 3:40 train to NYC. Next train with space left at 5:15. This left me with an extremely tired boy at the station for awhile, and meant that we would get in to the Achilles Track Club welcoming buffet late. I just kept reminding myself that some things I just cannot control. T slept virtually the whole train ride up and really dragged himself when we had to walk from Penn Station (8th and 33rd) to the buffet at 5th and 44th. We got there and just missed Jambal and the Mongolian contingent. That sucked, but again what could you do. We stayed a little bit and had dinner, and T was about falling over on the way to our crash pad.

An inauspicious start. We’ll see how the marathon goes. For once I don’t care what the weather will be like. I am worried, however, about a rash that has been my legs for a few weeks now which I first thought was poison ivy, but now am not so sure. It slowly seems to be going away but has now spread to my toes, making them very itchy when I’m in running shoes. To complicate matters a bit more, I planned NYC as a trial run for a new pair of lightweight trainers that came in the mail today, New Balance 833’s. I bought these shoes partly because a previous generation of this shoe has been the last racing shoe that I had been happy with, but also got them on faith as I ordered them over the internet. So I put them on today for the first time and got some irritation on my heels that bodes poorly for running 26 miles in them. And then there are those itchy toes.

So there’s always plenty to worry about before a marathon. I found out more about this tether method for guiding blind runners, as apparently you and the runner both hold onto a tether which you use to guide him where he needs to go. But all those logistics, plus my mixed connections with Jambal, is another source of anxiety that I have spoken about before.

But before all that I get tomorrow to play in NYC with T. We got a list of coin stores to check out, he wants to go to the Toys R Us mothership near Times Square and I need to go to the Expo. We brought a soccer ball and are about four blocks from Tompkins Square. So all that should ensure that we stay busy on what promises to be another mild, beautiful fall day. And I don’t have to run!


Just want to write this and then get to bed at a decent hour. My day in the city is winding down, and its about time for getting down to business. I’ve done enough of these where its routine now, and in the absence of any pressure to run fast there is less urgency to get everything right today. So T and I slept in and then hopped on the subway back to Midtown where we went to the supersized Toys R Us, which was a madhouse and we walked around it at least three times before T decided there wasn’t anything in the store that he wanted. So then we went to the addresses of four different coin shops in the area, none of which really panned out, but took us toward the Converntion Center and the marathon expo.

First stop at the expo was the Achilles TC office. The place seemed somewhat chaotic as people came looking to guide but there was a surplus of guides, and people were calling asking about making connections with the runners they were supposed to guide, and a guy in a wheelchair with what looked like cerebral palsy was trying to communicate with volunteers despite his very impaired speech. I introduced myself and the volunteer looked at me with awe, not for who I was but because the Jambal, the guy I’m scheduled to guide, apparently has quite a reputation at ATC. So much so that in deference to our speediness I was given one of the athlete’s shirts, which were coolmax, rather than the guide’s shirts, which were cotton. This is one perk I appreciated because I would have been very reluctant to run a marathon in a cotton shirt, especially as the temperature is supposed to get into the upper 60’s. I didn’t spend much time at the expo (I rarely do), only enough to get my bib, goody bag (most of the contents of which I threw out), and to buy a bunch of Power Gels, which I am trying tomorrow as an experiment to see if a) they give me an energy boost; and b) if I can stomach them.

I still haven’t hooked up with Jambal. IC is in town, and we spent some time calling back and forth trying to arrange a meeting with Jambal, who was staying in a Midtown hotel that wasn’t very good at passing on messages. After the expo I took an exhausted T back to the apartment we’re staying at and IC did manage to hook up with Jambal. He says that Jambal is taller than I am and very easygoing. Despite his not knowing English they were able to communicate about rudimentary matters and IC felt much more at ease about running with him. I think that, given that IC and I run easily and comfortably together, Jambal might fit right in. We agreed to meet at the ATC buses that take us out to Staten Island tomorrow morning, and I figure we’ll have plenty of time to get acquainted in the morning. I’ll bring a camera with me as well to post pictures of him on the blog.

We spent the late afternoon at the apartment, T watching Cartoon Network and me grading Stats assignments and then going over marathon info and prepping a spectator plan for C. C and M got in at about 7 and, after cruising around looking for parking and finally parking the car amidst the housing projects along Ave C, we got the kids a pizza and C and I went to a little Italian restaurant on 1st Avenue and had the customary pre race pasta meal. A very relaxed atmosphere, dark with romantic Italian music and the door open to let in the mild evening air. After a trip to the corner bodega to get water, yogurt, bananas and Gatorade for tomorrow, I think I’m set to go. My day will start around 5 and I’ll head to the subway by 5:30 to get started with the day.

My new 833’s felt more comfortable today, but my toes are still itching and this will be a problem tomorrow. I guess its gotta be something.

The thought I’ll sign off today with is that I was very impressed by the number of people that ATC gets who are willing to run as guides. Even today I saw several people walking up and offering their services, which were politely accepted by ATC as backups should somebody not show or have to drop out of the race. There is a booklet that ATC distributes for guides that has a section of various anecdotes, including one where Eastern European disabled runners are often shocked to see people volunteering to run the marathon with them, as they would not fathom why a complete stranger would be willing to do this without getting paid. A different culture perhaps. The closer I get to doing this the better I feel about doing this. After some initial iffiness, I now have no problem with the prospect of extending myself to where I may not be in peak form in two weeks. I’ve taken so much from this sport that it feels right to be giving something. And apparently a lot of people agree with me.

Next time I post it’ll be with another long boring marathon report.


New York is truly the city that doesn’t sleep. The bedroom I slept in overlooked Avenue A and my usual fitful premarathon sleep was interrupted regularly by sirens, car horns, and people talking loud, shouting and arguing all through the night. I woke up for good at five to go through my pre-marathon rituals, and left the apartment to catch the subway at 5:30. People were still wandering the streets in their evening clothes. On 14th Street four tough looking teenagers came up to me asking if I was running the marathon, and wished me the best when I said I was. Two guys, one who looked homeless and one who didn’t, were sleeping in the 1st Avenue subway station, keeping me company for the fifteen minutes it took for the train to get there. At the transfer point at Union Square I ran into another guy decked out for the marathon, from Washington State and running his first marathon, and we discussed the upcoming race.

We wished each other well as we walked up from the Bryant Park station and into a stream of marathoners heading towards the buses that would haul us all to Staten Island. Its amazing how well organized this whole process was. This year I walked a bit past all that down to 38th Street, where the Achilles Track Club had bus service for the handicapped athletes. The darkness started to get lighter as I made it there. IC was already there with not much more than a cup of coffee and the New York Times. Like at Fridays dinner, athletes with all sorts of disabilities were hanging around. Jambal eventually showed, with his sister, at about 6:50, a few minutes before the last buses were scheduled to go. He looked a bit older than 44, a bit shorter than people told me he was, yet still tall and lean – a runners body. He was all smiles. He shook my hand and bent down to feel my thigh, as naturally as if it were some Mongolian greeting. We posed for pictures, with my camera and with his sister’s, and boarded the bus.

It was foggy enough so that we couldn’t see the East River on the ride to Staten Island. IC and I tried to get information from Jambal about what he wanted us to do in guiding him. We understood he wanted to run about in the 3:01 to 3:03 range, that miles meant nothing to us but he understood kilometers, and he had heard about the Queensboro Bridge. In turn IC and I decided that we would take turns holding his tether, while the other ran in front to function like an offensive line. That person would also get water and Gatorade for us, and there wasn’t really much else we could plan. One of us would keep splits in miles and the other in 5 kilometer chunks. We were a bit better in understanding stuff about him, such as that he was a gym teacher in Ulaan Bator, was married with two children and had one small grandchild. The bus got stuck in traffic on the Verrazano Bridge a little after 8, so that we could see the handicapped athletes in the early start. Our bus got more excited as we saw these athletes, who are given a start two hours before the regular marathon because they will need more time to finish, waved to them and in some instances saw them wave back. They were in wheelchairs, handcycles, crutches, on prosthetics, and on their own power, mostly in red ATC shirts and with one or more guides. Watching them I felt part of all this.

We were stuck in the bus for a while and as a consequence did not have long to stay in the staging area. We were in the Blue section and pulled up a spot of grass to sit on and, like 37,000 or so others, wait for the race to start. I was worried mostly about my feet making it through the race, and put on my old, worn in (and out) trainers rather than the new shoes I had because there would be less chance of blistering. I take some of my Gatorade and hand it to Jambal. Jambal sips and quickly gives it back, and we ascertain that he prefers water over Gatorade. Like everyone else, we killed time and got ready and as the time got closer IC took Jambal to the portapotties and I took our gear bags off to the trucks that would transport them to the finish.

It helped that I knew the drill from last year. We were marched along a winding way to the start just behind the toll plaza and stood around nervously while Mayor Bloomberg gave a welcome, the National Anthem was sung. I tried to envision what Jambal must have thought, being led around with all this noise in what must have been a very strange surrounding. Then the cannon went off, signaling the start, and we started to run. It occurred to me that I had not yet run with Jambal, and for some reason was relieved to see that he was a runner, with a steady, shuffling stride that started slow and, as the field sped up he too went faster until he found his pace. This was the clearest communication I felt I received from him, and I knew this would go fine.

The hardest part as a guide was the first few miles, where the crowds are still very dense. At this point Jambal did not want to use the tether, and IC and I quickly found out that what worked best is having him at his right and me at his left, and taking Jambal’s arm and pulling him either right or left, as the situation demanded. We did not want to have him weave too much, and we quickly learned that saying “blind runner coming on your left” would obviate the need for us to move him around. This worked particularly well when people wrote their names on their shirts, but not so well for international runners, of which there are many in this race. So we went multilingual, with my trying it in German first, IC trying it in Spanish and then we ventured into more other languages with mixed results. I did get to take in running over the Verrazano Bridge more than I did last year, but not much more as I felt like a bodyguard, scanning all around us and also at the surface underfoot for anything that might potentially get into Jambal’s way.

The first mile up the bridge and through the crowded start went by in 8:27. The second mile, down the bridge and into Brooklyn, went by in 6:50. The runners were thinning and the crowds of bystanders were thickening as we headed up Fourth Avenue. The cross streets start here at about 100th Street, and will count all the way down to 1st Street and then some before we get off of Fourth Ave. And all along the way it feels like a big block party, and the runners are fresh enough to participate. Clusters of different ethnic groups cheer on particular nationalities of runners. Bands, organized and impromptu, play almost one after the other to add to the festive atmosphere.

The toughest part here is breaking through a clot of runners that is the pace group set to run 3:15. We get the water stop routine down, with either me or IC getting water for Jambal and the other. We brush the water against Jambal’s hand, and he takes it, drinks some, and pours the rest over his head. I get nervous about Jambal navigating the slick expanse of spilled liquid and trampled paper cups around the stops, but he can take care of himself. The Brooklyn miles take care of themselves as well. 7:14; 7:39; 6:20; 6:51; 6:43; 6:50 and 6:54 get us to mile 9 and heading to Bedford Avenue with a steady rhythm. IC tried to communicate to him each time we passed by a 5k mark, and tell him the split. We couldn’t tell if that helped him or not, but we’d keep doing it throughout the race.

Jambal is a running machine, and we’re doing the backup, Diana Ross and the Supremes. 2 more miles, 6:38 and 7:07, and we pass where C and the kids are standing. I stop and kiss each of them in all my sweatiness (M particularly loved that) and ran back to catch up. Another two miles in 7:07 and 6:35, then we blow by the halfway point at 1:32:11 and head up the Pulaski Bridge into Queens. Even though the pace could be steadier, Jambal is still on schedule with his goal time, and I’m thinking with some relief that we’ve got this guiding thing down.

But I’m also now aware of how strong the sun is, and I’m happy to be in a coolmax shirt. I’ve gotten to this point in several marathons, where even though you realize cognitively that the conditions are warm here you fully comprehend that the conditions are warm. One of the advantages of a language barrier is that I can tell IC that Jambal will have to run a hell of a back half to match this.

Halfway up the Pulaski Bridge Jambal asks “Queebo Bidge” and IC says not yet. Next two miles go in 14:33, winding our way through Queens and getting a hearty sendoff from the crowd before ascending up the ramp into the silent cavern that is the lower level of the Queensboro Bridge. IC breaks the news to Jambal but the silence, the stale air, and the echoes of labored breathing around us have doubtlessly already tipped him off. He appears more determined but also slows some and mile 16 goes in 7:39. Heading down and around and we’re on 1st Avenue and on parade.

The crowd noise gets very loud and Jambal breaks out the tether. First IC runs with him and I run support. They seem attached and I’m floating around and I get very antsy, running ahead and around them and realize that I’m itching to pick up the pace. I’m anxious to get back on goal pace, perhaps more so than Jambal. Perhaps I’m flashing back to this point in my run last year, where I came off a slow mile on the Bridge and never got back on goal pace. Jambal still runs expressionlessly, and he is sweating more. They give out wet Sponge Bob sponges, I pass him one and Jambal is initially puzzled, but then wipes down his face and neck. Miles 17 & 18 in 7:17 and 7:31.

Jambal switches the tether to his left hand and now I’m guiding him. It takes some time to get used to the tether, as my cadence and his seem at odds and we pull against each other on the tether. I try to adjust my arms so as to relieve the tension on the tether but that is clumsy and maybe that is not what he is looking for. It is moments like these that I wish we had prepped on this. But ultimately I just run as normal as I can. IC hands Jambal a cup of Gatorade and he gulps it down, as well as a cup of water which he drinks some and pours the rest over his head. This, and a pair of miles that read 7:46 and 8:40, and we don’t have to know Mongolian to know that we’ve crossed the Willis Avenue Bridge and hit the wall.

Now we are in the Bronx. Mile 20 comes here, as the spectators in this gritty part of town, perhaps by years of seeing this spectacle of beaten down runners or perhaps by intuition gained by hardscrabble lives, seem to know the mindset that comes with hordes of runners suddenly struggling against defeat. The tone of the cheering takes on a different tone, less festive and more encouraging, pushing folks onwards and summoning them to find that last store of energy to make it back into Manhattan. 21 at 9:06, is the slowest yet, but Jambal’s expression remains determined and unchanged.

Vamos Achilles! Starting toward the back end of Fourth Avenue and regularly throughout the rest of the race we passed by the handicapped runners that we had waved to from the bus as they started early. Each time we’d pass them we’d shout go Achilles and they, or their guides, would shout back encouragement to us. All along the course shouts of “Go Achilles!” came regularly from the crowd as well, including a point in Queens when a whole mass of spectators in red ATC shirts cheered loudly as we passed. In contrast to past marathons, which despite the cheering and the crowds is essentially a solitary, self-encapsulating experience only occasionally broken up by connections made seeing loved ones and friends, here running became a communal experience, a connection with something larger than split times and personal records. Now many of the runners passing us, some of whom we’d previously passed, were encouraging Jambal on. IC, whose brain was less glycogen depleted than mine, stopped by a stand and came back with a placard upon which he had written “Jambal”. One of us now had the tether and the other was the cheerleader, holding up the sign and getting the crowd to cheer directly at him. He never let on whether he recognized the personalized cheering or not, or even wondered how all of a sudden so many of the spectators knew his name. But miles 22 and 23 were a bit faster, in 8:50 and 8:44, and Jambal now asked us “Cental Pak?” We said almost, and didn’t know if he understood.

The 3:15 pace group now chugged back past us. Taking inventory, my feet were doing fine and my legs felt very sore but were holding up fine. Mentally I was impatient for the race to be over, but kept my focus on Jambal. Mile 24 was in 9:34 and we were back in Central Park. IC, again with more glycogen going to his brain, pointed out C and the kids cheering us on again (they had also been on First Ave but I had missed them), which gave me a boost. Crowds got bigger, and finally the rich smell of horseshit around Columbus Circle told us the finish was near. Mile 25 went by in 9:23 and by now I was literally pulling Jambal along on the tether and encouraging him to pick things up for the last mile, but I don’t know if this was a help, an annoyance, or irrelevant. We did pick up a bit (10:58 for the last 1.2 miles) and the final time was 3:21:45 (3:21:35 or so chip), good enough to place 1,924th out of about 34,000 official finishers and first among ATC’s non-wheelchair athletes.

The three of us had a big group hug and kept walking toward the ATC reunion area. Here we met up with Jambal’s sister and another companion and we took more pictures, took our shoes off and kicked back a bit. Exhausted and happy. Jambal babbled away in Mongolian, I wish I could understand what he had to say about the race. I told him, through the companion, to let us know should he ever come back to the States to race. With nothing much more to say we said good-bye and I got my stuff and hooked up with the family. It then struck me what a beautiful fall day it was, and C, M & T were hanging out patiently in the grass. It struck me what a privilege it was to run with Jambal, and how my family did much to make this possible as well. I’ll get a lot of complements for running with Jambal, and their efforts will go unrecognized. So I’ll say thank you here.

We walked back to the subway and went down to Union Square. T & I kicked a soccer ball around and the girls shopped in the stores that encircled the Square. We all then got greasy food to eat at a street bazaar that stretched a couple of blocks up Broadway, and walked back a few long blocks down 14th Street to the apartment. It was dark when we got back, about as dark as it was when I left the apartment in the morning on this most remarkable day.



Friday, November 04, 2005

Going to NYC

Mellow run this morning with E and KJ. KJ has had some tendonitis problems that has thrown his plans to run Philly marathon into question and was trying out his legs for the first time in a few weeks this morning. He gave a cautious thumbs up. As a result we didn't go fast or far this morning, which was fine with me. Up Pine to Cobbs Creek and back down Catherine all the way home. 5 miles in 45:10.

I'd also have to be remiss not to say that, with the increased light, the bright sun and the fall colors, that it was a beautiful run.

It's off to NYC this afternoon. Me and T are going up. The toughest part will be the trip to 30th St. Station to catch the train, which is only about 2 miles away but, with SEPTA on strike, means that we either must walk or bike there with our bags. We're renting part of an apartment in the East Village for the weekend, in a deal I got off Craig's List, and I'm looking forward as much to spending tomorrow just messing around in Manhattan with T as I am for Sunday.

Wish me luck, and I promise some stories when I return.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Cruise Intervals

Took a page from my taper program laid out by Greg McMillan when he was coaching me last Spring. Figured I was paying $85 a month for this, might as well recycle it.

On the taper period he has one hard workout (instead of the usual two) during the weekdays. This week it was 2000 meter reps, 7:17 down to 7:03. It was a beautiful sunny day, I warmed up as I took T, riding his bike, to school, and went on to Franklin Field. Reps went down in 7:11; 7:06; 7:06 and 6:59. These reps weren't push it to the max as much as go fast but comfortable. I felt like I did racing the Loop last Sunday, fast but in control. I spent much of the reps trying to visualize this feeling for the marathon.

I checked out how I did this workout back in April and see that I actually did it a bit faster. Now speed is not an issue here as I could have done them faster today, but the idea is no longer to push but just to stay tuned. My comments for the first time around were here. Interesting how I felt very similar. By cutting down the target times just a bit you get a good workout, but more importantly, you also gain confidence. And I have that right now.

So now I can look ahead to NYC on Sunday. Turns out that me and IC are guiding the same guy. Assigning multiple guides to one guy is apparently standard at ATC, as they say things often go wrong with one of them. However, having both me and IC as guides simultaneously may qualify as another handicap. But we'll take him on if he takes us on.

I did some scouring of the internet yesterday, and found an account of our guy, Jambal, from Sydney in 2000, when he apparently showed up for the Paralympic Games without a guide. You can read about it here. The story ends sadly, as you can see here (scroll down to the bottom, under "Busts").

The prospect of guiding someone who I presume does not know much English through an event and a city such as NYC has been a low-level source of anxiety all week. There will be logistical problems galore. Among the most poignant is that, when he crosses the finish line, how will he know his finishing time? I'm assuming that, as Jambal has apparently done this before, he will show us, as will the ATC, who have I'm sure encountered this situation before. But it does get me thinking. The first link is also somewhat informative as apparently they get guided by a tether, but now I have visions of leading this guy around on a leash. The second story is also a cautionary tale, and probably represents a worst case scenario, that the guide unwittingly does something to screw up the race.

So the anticipation mounts. I'll have more to say about it tomorrow, and then I'm heading up.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Cold Beer Sandwiches

This was on a sign on a deli we passed on Warrington Ave. M and I used to get laughs from a similar deli sign we'd pass on Lancaster Ave that advertised "lunchmeat soda cigarette chips". We tried to imagine what lunchmeat soda might taste like, or whether it goes well with a cold beer sandwich.

Got some more sunlight this morning, with the dawn just breaking as E & I left for the run. We did a Cobbs Creek loop coming back on Warrington, a run interrupted by a stop by the house of a friend of E's where she surreptitiously picked a sprig of thyme from the herb garden planted in the front garden patch.

Looks like another beautiful fall day. Loop was consistent with the taper theme, 6 miles exact (see in a not too strenuous 51.42.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

For the First Time in a Long Time, Running was Fun

Workout for today was just 60-70 minutes easy. No tempo, track, or anything like that.

Beautiful day - sunny and in high 60s, my sunglasses and iPod put me in my own private world.

Got out and just ran. Sweetbriar loop, from USP, 8 miles in 59:40. Having yesterday off put enough spring in my step to let me hammer up the Lansdowne Ave. hill.

Only two days into my taper and already I realize what a slave I had become to the training schedule. Yesterday off was well timed, as along with all the other usual stressing stuff there is now a SEPTA strike which is a major hassle as that is how M gets to school, and it was Halloween which, unlike in many parts of the US, is alive and thriving in West Philly. Today likewise, with a stats class I'm putting together and a trip to the city jail to get some data yet to go this afternoon, putting in a major workout would have been tough.

But now there is that feeling that "the hay is in the barn" and it doesn't matter. Just keep the motor well tuned.

And rest up for Sunday.