Monthly Archives: September 2009

One last run

Forgive my imperfections with this post, it’s been an incredibly long day.

I feel weird sharing this with anyone because, ultimately, this act has nothing to do with anyone else. Not even my sister. But I don’t know,  it’s me regardless.

I didn’t get to say bye to my sister. I didn’t want to say bye either. I had accepted that her life would be taken by cancer a long time ago and as the disease ran its course it became more and more obvious that there would be no going back. So when I went to see her last month, although I knew that would be the last time I would see her, I still didn’t want to say goodbye. I mean, how do you look someone in the eye, a family member even, and admit to them that there life is about to be over. I don’t care how accepting of the reality of the processes of life and death you embrace, there is a very real and understandable block to facing this reality. So I didn’t necessarily say goodbye to her.

And now she is gone. And that absence is incredibly real now. Despite her house being overwhelmed with friends and relatives, there was a hugely noticeable absence. Every time my family was together this weekend that absence filled the room. This is something we are going to have to deal with from here on out. Sure, it will get easier with time, but it will always be sad.

So today we conducted her funeral and the reality that I didn’t get to say goodbye to her began to hit me head on and I know, for my own comfort, that I have to do this at some point. Ultimately, as selfish as it sounds, this is for me and no one else. Not even Cari. I didn’t want to say goodbye to her when I saw her last and I’m ok with that. And now, well, now it would merely fall on deaf ears. But I need to do this regardless, because she was my older sister, and during the ceremony today I realized in what way will be most comforting to me.

I broke down today after the funeral. I have been doing good all week, but after I helped push her casket into the hearse and it began to drive away, I suddenly felt the urge to be alone. Of course, the entire congregation was standing behind us and I had to walk by most of them for some private space. I didn’t make it very far though. I found a doorway in a hallway and completely broke. It was good for me, I realize this, but it was/is rough. I was just incredibly sad and so many memories of my sister came crashing through the surface. She was, truly, an older sister and she very much looked at me as her younger brother. She looked out for me so much…I can’t even remember how many times she pulled her older sister card to get kids to stop picking on me or stealing my lunch money or all sorts of other esteem-crushing moments. But more than that, she always wanted to be a part of my accomplishments. She was so excited when my son was born. She was very interested in my writing. And, of course, we always shared the bond of running. And as much as she enjoyed hearing about my life I enjoyed having her to tell it to. I know, in some way or another, she was really proud of me.

She had always asked me when I was going to run a marathon, but I had never resolved to do it until a handful of months ago. As many as she has run, I was really looking forward to sharing my experience with her and having one more mirrored moment with her. I wanted to see her reaction when it was all said and done.

Cari was always my closest family ally, and when I was sitting on the floor breaking down, I began to realize how much we had shared in common, from our love of literature, to writing, to running, and I really began to understand how much of myself I just lost in her passing. And I never got to say goodbye.

So as contrived and predictable as it might sound, I know how I am going to say goodbye. She’s going to run the Chicago Marathon with me, maybe as a small gesture pinned to the back of my jersey. I think she would appreciate that and it feels most fitting to me, not as a gesture of sadness and despair, but instead a celebration of who she was and the many bonds we shared as brother and sister. She won’t know I’m going to do this and that is completely and fully ok with me, but she’ll be there one last time all the same.

Man I’m going to miss her.

—————


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Log

9 miles in the Lake Elmo Nature Reserve. (I was going to write about the stunning beauty of my last two runs, but I no longer have the energy, regardless, if you ever make it to Minneapolis, please find your way to run there. You won’t regret it.)

The big question

Today was what I think might have been my final long run with quality prior to Chicago. To be honest, I don’t know if it was adviseable to put quality into this run at the risk of not recovering in time for the next workout, but I did it anyways. I did it because I have a nagging question that has been sitting in the back of my conscience since starting this marathon specific training. That question still remains…

“Just HOW exactly am I going to do this again?”

The marathon is different than any other distance. I know “overdistance” is frowned upon for legitimate reasons, but I can’t help but feel unprepared for this race without running at least the distance itself, if not more. Granted, with the last few long runs I’ve done, I KNOW I can finish the marathon. Hell, I know I can finish it relatively fast. What I don’t have utmost confidence in yet is if I can run it at the targeted times I’m going for. I don’t know if I can start the first handful of miles at 5:45 then drop it into 5:30’s and hope to have enough at the end to either finish in 5:30’s or drop it even more. THAT is not guaranteed. As Little explained to me in the car after our last 15k, “At some point in the marathon it goes bad, that’s guaranteed. You have to be able to get through it, because if you don’t or if you overdo it, there is no coming back. There is no recovery or rallying from a breakdown in the marathon. From that point on you’re doing the death march.”

I don’t want to do the death march.

So where most casual runners put 12 miles into their long run, I started off today with 3 miles of warmup in pitch dark. I then started to knock out 5 miles at 6:00 minute pace, but towards the end of those found myself accidently hitting 5:45’s, then I went into 5 more miles at 5:45 pace, but again accidently went under here and there. I finished the quality with 5 more miles at 5:30 and even hit a couple 5:10 and 5:15 miles along the way, but during that portion of the run started to suffer the breakdown as well. Sure, at one point I fet like a frickin superhero and I had more in me when it was all said and done, but I had to remind myself and effectively humble myself with the thought that this was only 15 miles. In Chicago, I’ll still have 10 more to go, and the voice let out another exasperated consideration, “Exactly HOW are we going to do this again?”

I’m still not sure.

I ended the run with 3 miles of cool down and totalled today out at 21 relatively confident miles, but that question remains lingering in the air like a small cloud of mosquitos, effectively dealt with one way or another but always a nagging nuisance.

So come two weeks, I’ll find the answer to that question.

——–

I’m in Minneapolis on a sore leg, but will be leaving the hotel for a slow 10 miles tomorrow morning. I think I may be too emotionally drained after the day is complete, but a post might be exactly what I need.

Praise and distance

First and foremost, I want to extend my appreciation to everyone who has sent me and my family their thoughts and kind words of support. The response has been unexpected, yet incredibly appreciated. I am sure I will draw on this support as the reality of her absence weighs heavy on my heart. With my utmost sincerity I thank you all.

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What hit me most deeply about my sisters pain was her inability to be active when the cancer took root deep within her, taking over her body to the point that it was barely hers at all. I went to visit her for the last time this past month and her days consisted of waking up, being brought downstairs to the living room couch where she spent most of the day asleep or in a completely subdued state. We could interact with her for an hour or so at a time before the fatigue set back in and she needed to lay down to sleep. She barely had the strength to cough away the irritation of her dry throat. Admittedly, I was angered, at both the effects of the cancer and the seeming lack of attention given to her fragile state. I hated that she was simply put onto the couch and effectively left there. It wasn’t that she wasn’t tended to, quite the opposite as we periodically checked on her and kept her company when she was awake, but rather that I wanted to make the time she had in that room as pleasant as possible instead of just sitting and waiting. The blinds were always drawn shut and there was nothing around to stimulate her. No TV. No music. No nothing. I think part of it was my inability to do much for her or alleviate what must have amounted to incredible boredom. I hated that these were how her last days were spent. Immobile and darkened.

I run for many reasons, but primarily because I love to run. I love to be active, to be somewhere, to spend my energies to their fullest knowing I haven’t sacrificed or compromised any of myself that need not be saved. All or nothing. To the well. I run because I love to run, because I have the physical capability to run, because I am appreciative.

I am not of the theist sort, but this does not mean I am not grateful, that I don’t give thanks, that I don’t offer praise. The differences lie in how and to what I offer my praise. Sunday runs are lonely as the rest of culture puts on their best and takes the family to church, offering thanks and praise to the being of a story they internalize to calm their fears. I accept and respect this, and my acts aren’t so entirely different. On Sundays I run alone save the rhythmic rising and fallings of my breath, the increasing burn in my legs, the feel of small rocks on the soles of my feet and though I stand up straight, I feel as if I am appropriately giving thanks to all that makes us what we are. I give praise not to an external creator, not to a nature giver, but to existence itself. I give praise by utilizing what comprises the connectedness between us all, the abilities that we each embody.

To run is to give thanks, to oneself, to the ground for giving stability, to the wind for its calm, to others for doing the same, to everything for merely existing. It is not necessarily falling to ones knees and begging for mercy, but instead rising to ones feet and moving across the land with a strength and speed unthought of till that moment. Prefontaine put it, albeit in a chicken-soup-for-the-soul kinda way, “To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.” I take exception with ones best being a “gift”, something given, but internalize the need to give your best lest we sacrifice what we have individually discovered.

My praise does not take the form of prayers and psalms extended to a father figure, but exists instead as my ability to simply exist, to find my boundaries and extend them further and further, to become aware of my physical self and enact it with the motivations of my deepest passions and most far reaching goals. My praise is to be, not passively, but as kinetic as possible. My praise is to run…further and faster. I am most humble, most god-like, and always most appreciative and full of gratitude to everything and everyone when I am dropping 5:15 miles on a puddle soaked path of packed dirt in 70 degree weather with a cooling rain splashing off my grimace grinned face. I run because I love to run.

It hurt me deeply to see my sister effectively paralyzed, unable to experience the value of her physical self, to not only be aware of the life around her but to also partake in it. As much as I would prefer to see her running again, taking care of her three small children, play wrestling with me when we were kids, I now take solace that the pain that kept her body confined has now been released. I will forever remember not her final resting state, but the motion she embodied within herself when she was fully capable. And I’ll take this on my runs with me.

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Log

4 mile warmup / 5 miles with hills (sub 5:30 pace) / 4 mile cool down – all in a beautiful rain

Diet

Breakfast – Oatmeal (raisins, flax seeds, almonds, walnuts, agave nectar), coffee
Lunch – Bazbeaux pizza leftovers, kale and tomatoes, water
Dinner – Chili, Bread, sweet potatoes, water
Snacks – chocolate soy milk, smoothie, coffee, soy mocha

Music

Franz Ferdinand – Tonight: Franz Ferdinand

Goodbye Cari

This afternoon Cancer took the life of my sister. She was 36 years old and is survived by her husband and three young children. I take solace that the pain this disease was causing her has now ceased, but I will miss her dearly from here on out. She was always a great older sister and my closest family ally.

Life is unscripted, always make the most of it.

Thank you to all my friends (and strangers) who have sent kind words my way. I truly appreciate them.

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Log

14 miles – 6 miles relatively easy, 6 miles at 5:30, 2 cool down

Music

Suicidal Tendencies – Lights, Camera, Revolution

Pre-Chicago photo introduction

I returned this weekend to find my personal Chicago Marathon Participant Guide sitting on my desk. It looks like this.

chicago marathon_0185
chicago marathon_0184

Everyone that registers for the marathon gets one of these as it is the only way to verify your registration on the packet pickup days. The first pages all look alike….chicago marathon_0186But upon turning to the 3rd and 4th page, only a relatively small number have this. chicago marathon_0187Kinda feels like I found the golden ticket in a Wonka Bar….except there are hundreds of golden tickets. Still. This Top 100 start corral signifies that I’ve run under the Top 100 qualifying time (less than 1:11) in a 1/2 marathon the year prior. Among a number of other amenities it also means we are corralled directly behind the elite runners on the start line. The little red box is us.chicago marathon_0188Following the little red box is Seeded start A, B, and C. The rest of the street after is filled with 10’s of thousands of other runners. chicago marathon_0189The guide is to direct you regarding a number of matters, one of the most ominous being the warning system that was disasterously put into effect a couple years back when the temps soared into the upper 80’s and aid stations ran out of water. The race was cancelled over half-way in. Let’s hope these warnings are a mere formality this year.chicago marathon_0190Just in case you plan on being in Chicago in a few weeks, here is an obviously uselessly rendered map for your perusal. Come find me somewhere between mile 18 and 25 and scream your head off in my general direction as I will most likely need the added encouragement.chicago marathon_0191In case you can’t spot the Vegan Dandies logo moving down the road…here’s my bib number.chicago marathon_0192Finally, if you can’t make it to Chicago, but want to follow the action on-line, you can check out specific mile splits at chicagomarathon.comchicago marathon_0193So there you go. Your introduction to the Chicago Marathon photo essay. See you on the streets in three weeks.

Shoreline Classic 15k race report

The sun hadn’t even begun to break the horizon as a caravan of elite athletes left the hotel parking lot for the park where today’s race was to be held. We filed into the parking lot, gathered our gear for the race and headed out for our individual warmups, stretches and bathroom stops. The warmups felt good enough to me and the tightness from the days prior had worked itself out of my body well before we stepped to the start line.

A couple guys in our group who had run this race before cautioned of the hilly course, which hugged a shoreline that was lapping its edges with small waves as the wind blew across its surface. The skies were filled with grey clouds that blotted out the sun and kept the temperatures to a sufficiently cool degree, making for pretty ideal running conditions. The wind was noticeable, but only a concern in open areas of the course, of which there were not many.

The minutes counted down and a larger than expected group of elite athletes gathered at the start line waiting for the race to begin. The elite field was pretty deep and the expected groupings of Kenyans from various parts of the midwest had also shown up to race. Right off I knew any sort of prize money placing was well out of reach, where in years past I might have made a run for the top, this time it was about putting down a good race in preparation for Chicago. After a quick introduction to the race the signal was given and we all leaned over the line and took off down the lakeshore road.

My race strategy was hold back more than usual for the first couple of miles and then lay into, trying to see if I could pace myself to a strong and very fast last mile. With the course ending at 9.3 miles I felt I had a chance to hold strong to the end, but the cautioning about the hills put a touch of doubt into my plan. So then imagine my surprise as we rolled into the first mile marker and the volunteers standing to the side of the course yell out, “4:45!”. Now, I’m not the best gauge of my own pace, but I KNOW I was not putting down a 4:45 mile. Soon after we started off the finish line, a group of about 10 guys blasted out ahead and about 4 or 5 of us strung ourselves out behind, so when we hit that first mile marker I knew I was running a pretty standard first mile and they had to have been incredibly off. Little was just ahead of me and I saw him turn and say something to the runner next to him. Making a verbal confirmation of my own, I yell ahead to them, “No WAY that was right!” Eh, mile markers tend to be off in races and so I didn’t let it bother me.

Just ahead of me Little and another runner were moving side by side, but I was beginning to gain on both of them by the second mile. Little pulled out a little further and the other guy started to come back to me as I made ground. I knew I was going to pass him quickly as we hadn’t even hit the second mile and he was continuously looking over his shoulder to see where I was. We hit a relatively steep but quick hill and as soon as I pushed he fell right behind me and drifted away. I kept Little in sight and saw another string of runners that had fallen off the main pack dotting the road in front of him, the bulk of that pack consistently throwing down sub 5 minute miles and pulling far out of reach.

We hit a long flat bridge and I found myself moving up on Little almost immediately. I was feeling incredibly smooth and at ease, but I could tell he was suffering for some reason or another. I moved up on side of him and he kept pace, but as soon as I put a touch more effort into the flat stretch of road he dropped behind and fell away, the sound of his breathing quickly trailing out of earshot. I looked ahead and saw an interesting scenario for the rest of the race, Jessie Davis in sight, but decently far ahead, then two Kenyans in between myself and him. Now usually, when I start moving up on a Kenyan, they have blown up from the earlier effort and are simply trotting their way around the course to get back to whoever is going to drive them back to the hotel, but these two were in no way slowing and looked to be sticking with a solid finishing time. This…was incentive.

I made an effort to keep them in sight and make moves to pull up on them if I had it in me. I was still feeling incredibly strong as we rolled through 5k and started tackling a few of the quick hills that popped up before us. I was keeping both a quick turnover and strong pace on the flats and decided to to approach the hills differently than I normally do. Where I usually try to keep pace up the hills, often dying at the top and struggling to recover thereafter, this time I decided to accept the slowing pace while keeping my leg turnover consistent as the flats, even if my stride was shortened and choppy. After trying this for a few hills I think I was on to something. Hill after hill I worked my way up with a choppy but quickened stride and found myself recovered at the top of the hill almost immediately. And sure enough, the first of the two Kenyans was pulling back to me quicker and quicker, on both the downhills and the uphills.

Still feeling great we rolled down a quick descent into 5 miles and I passed the first Kenyan, he not even making an effort to hang on and keep stride. I looked ahead and saw the next one not too far off in the distance, still keeping a strong pace, but close enough that I could make a go for him.

The course never got out of hand as the guys in our group made it seem it might, but as we ran through 6 miles the roads did start to get a touch tricky, if not defeating. The slant on some of the roads became so severe that keeping a consistent stride became impossible and a greater effort was made trying to stay off the broken shoulder. This portion of the course slipped behind us soon enough and we were back into a strong race. I kept my sights on the guy in front of me and as I was still not feeling the sense of fatigue I normally do at this point I kept making a push to catch up. It wasn’t a quick move, but I was noticeably reeling him in as we moved into the final 5k.

It was at this point at the last 1/2 marathon that I started to struggle hard and I feared a repeat for these final few miles, but I was relieved to find myself recovering yet again on the hills. At mile 7 we did encounter a longer hill than most on the course and all though it drug me down at its crest, I patiently waited out the fatigue and found myself recovered yet again before we started the descent on the other side. I was still moving on the guy in front of me, but it wasn’t quick enough to convince me that I could catch him before we hit the finish.

I was still surprised how strong I felt and kept pace as we crossed the final lake bridge and hit mile 8….and then with just 1.3 miles left, I started to feel it. I certainly wasn’t crushed by any means, but another hill put the fatigue into me and my effort to run strong on the flats was now noticeably compromised. I looked to the guy ahead and it almost seemed like he had moved out further, but not enough to crush my determination. Running over the final lake bridge I tried to pick up pace and lay down that solid last mile I had hoped for, but I was pulled down into the road by an invisible weight. I started to feel something in the back of my throat as I pushed the effort and struggled to breath as my pace dropped. The final mile was twisting and I was losing sight of the runner just in front of me, but I pushed on trying to dig deep for the final kick.

Then much sooner than expected we were on the shoreline path and the finish banner was just up ahead. I started to push into a final kick, but the guy ahead was too far out to catch. Still, I laid into it and, oddly enough, a spectator yells to me, “Good job! Finish strong. Finish strong please!” Yeah, he said please. It’s funny the things you can remember when you are pushing out a final sprint in full body pain. Anyways, I was able to dig deep and kick in the final stretch of road, coming through the line at 49:13 and 12 place overall.

I was very satisfied how I ran that course. It certainly wasn’t an easy course, but I was able to tackle the hills and recover quickly and strongly and felt smooth the whole way through, save the last mile. Undoubtedly I would have dropped well into the 48’s on a flat course and a less windy day, but overall I was pretty thrilled with how I came through it all. One more effort down and on we go.

Final Results

15k (9.3 miles)
49:13
12th overall (2nd in age group)

and now……….Chicago.

One last time. Party like a track star redux.

The weekend is finally here and this Sunday is the Shoreline Classic 15k in Decatur, Illinois, the final race of our group before the showdown in Chicago. Again, we are being treated with race entries, hotel rooms and gas money….all so we can come run their race and go for the prize money. Judging by last years results we have a decent chance of making the top five, but as in every race you just never know who is going to show up. Regardless, it’s always about running against yourself, and this time around putting down one last effort to gauge where we might stand come October 11th.

Until the following race report, take care and run fast.