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Wineglass


J Zee

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Note: All 5 of the other Loopsters who participated in the Wineglass weekend are stellar individuals, outstanding people. Words don’t do justice, so I have copped out and not written about them. It’s too difficult to find the right sentiments. To be honest, it’s hard enough to write about this race. My feelings are complicated. Despite the successes across the board that the weekend brought to us, I feel we’re all poised for even better things. May the running gods smile on us, every one.

 

October 1, 8:15 AM: The gun fired and we were off.

 

September 7, 6:15 AM: I panted, bent over with my hands on my knees at the end of a 10 mile tempo. It was a little over 3 weeks until race day and I had been feeling bullet proof. Not a disappointment to be found for weeks and weeks of the training cycle. Until today. Hansons had called for 10 miles at marathon pace, but I had been sluggish from the start. I had pushed the pace to where I wanted it to be, but at more effort than expected. And then I felt them coming on slowly: abdominal cramps. The hell? When’s the last time that happened, a decade ago? More? They grew sharper and more insistent. Finally I had to stop, gulp air, wait for them to subside. I started up again and tried to find pace but there they were, lurking, aching, sharpening. I stopped again. In the end I managed 6:40 for 10 miles, not counting the stops. Just eking out goal pace on a perfect running morning. Except for those stops. “Oh well,” I wrote in my journal later. “They can’t all be great.”

 

October 1, 8:20 AM: We were cruising now, headed down the first gentle incline. Fiddling with my sleeve to check my Garmin (not used to long-sleeved mornings, I had failed to tuck it under my watch) I hit a button and the display flipped over to the time. As in, 8:20 AM, not race time. I panicked a little and began stabbing at buttons, including briefly stopping my chronograph before getting things back the way they needed to be. “Calm down,” I told myself. At the first mile marker I manually hit the lap button. “OK. Relax. You got this.” 

“Maybe,” said a quieter voice in the back of my mind.

 

September 7, 9:00 PM: During work, throughout the day after that bad tempo, my body had gone through cycles of too cold and too warm. I put on a fleece and then took it off again. I realized during a meeting that I was feeling more than a usual Thursday morning listlessness. I was able to forget about it for a while, occasionally feeling worse, sometimes not too far from OK. But as the day wound down I was definitely perking up. No doubt I had been fighting something off, explaining the lackluster training morning. My confidence was coming back and I wrote a status on Loopville on being so BA my body had killed off the flu in a day. It was tongue in cheek; I knew that wasn’t exactly true, but was reassured to be returning to myself.

 

October 1, 8:35 AM: I was moving along at just under 6:40 pace. That was fine, but I wasn’t sure it was as easy as it should be. A few weeks earlier I had expected to be about the same pace, but sailing, wondering, “Am I running too slowly?” Instead I was wondering, “Am I running too fast?” I had seen my family cheering around the 2 mile mark and their energy and support had buoyed me, but now the doubts were creeping back in. A pack of six had formed a few yards ahead. I attempted a gradual acceleration, to pull them in and draft. Slowly, slowly I increased my effort. The experience of thousands of miles of training and a dozen or so marathons whispered in my ear: “Too much.” I fell back and set my own pace.

 

September 10, 9:00 AM: I stopped my watch at the 20 mile mark, wrapping up my longest training run with a 6:59 pace. Success! Despite my confidence of a few days before, there was no doubt that I hadn’t been quite right since then, more tired than I should have been as each long day came to a close. At least it didn’t seem to affect my early morning running. And this run clearly showed I was past all that. I was over this minor cold and good as new, getting ready to sail through Hansons’ gradual taper and look for a big PR on race day.

 

October 1, 8:40 AM: What was with the fog? It was going to burn off, right? And was that a breeze in front? There wasn’t supposed to be any head wind. I must have been imagining it. Still, I couldn’t get comfortable, feeling more chilly than expected. If only the damn fog would burn off. I thought back to the ice on the car windshields as I’d left the motel that morning. That was a first for the fall. Just like the icy windshields that morning at Mohawk Hudson a few years back. That had turned into a disappointing day. “Be quiet,” I told myself. “You’d over-trained three weeks out. That’s the last thing to worry about today.” I watched the group of six pull ever so slowly away and then gradually became aware of footsteps approaching from the rear.

 

September 13, 9:00 PM: After a successful 4 x 1.5 mile workout the day before, “Not quite right” had turned into “Pretty well wrong.” I hadn’t checked, but there wasn’t much doubt I was running a fever. My head was clogged. I was coughing up phlegm. My muscles were letting me know that some crap was going on that wasn’t OK. A rest day hadn’t seemed to help much, but I didn’t want to mess up the plan. Another 10-mile tempo was waiting in the morning. Stick to the plan. Everything depends on the plan. “I’ll get a good night’s sleep and see what happens.” 

 

October 1, 8:45 AM: The footsteps slowly pulled up to me and then stayed there, just behind. It sounded like two of them but I couldn’t be sure. I didn’t much care if they passed. As much time as I’d spent before the race, reviewing previous years’ results, wondering if an award was possible, I didn’t care at all about that now. Just go around me. Run your race and let me run mine. Let me focus here. 
I concentrated on my pace of just-about-comfortable and tried to ignore them. They stayed right there. It may have been a mile, a few minutes, a few steps. Then one came up just off my right shoulder, a foot away, and parked there. I could see him in my peripheral vision. I couldn’t stay quiet. “You can pass if you want,” I grunted. He fell back. A minute later he said, “You can take a turn in back if you want.” Was that reasonable? Expecting me to slow to take my chance to tuck in behind? I wasn’t sure, but decided to dislike him.

 

September 14, 5:30 AM: My 10 mile tempo became a 1 mile tempo. The pace was fine for that mile, but after that I was done. I took a few more steps at tempo and then slowed to easy pace. I cruised, questioning whether I had given up too easily. Then a growing weariness assured me that there was no way I could have maintained the pace. For the last few miles I began wondering if I should have gone straight home after abandoning the tempo. At what point does the plan become an inflexible command to do the wrong thing? But the race was just over 2 weeks out. I felt I had to keep walking a fine line. A PR goal left about no room for error. The next few runs were supposed to be all at an easy pace. Maybe I could slip a few more tempo miles in there. No harm in that, right?

 

October 1, 9:00 AM: The footsteps stayed behind me. I ran my pace, generally just under 6:40, sometimes creeping above. Eventually the guy who had run up on my shoulder came back. I could see now the white hair, probably prematurely white as I stole a glance at his face, but surely another Master. “Are you from Cleveland?” he said. “Because you’re not letting anyone pass.” What’s that? Oh, a baseball reference. The way he said it, with a smile and followed by some words about working together, convinced me he was trying for a friendly reset. I apologized and explained I’m used to running alone. It sounded lame but was true. I’ve tried pace groups. I don’t like them. Too many constant, almost imperceptible adjustments to everyone else’s running. Plus, I’m an introvert, a strong one. It doesn’t mean I don’t like people. It doesn’t mean I can’t interact, be friendly, shoot the breeze. But each of those interactions, especially when they become a conversation, is a tiny withdrawal from my energy stores. And I was thinking that by the last few miles of the race I would have approximately zero energy to spare.

 

September 17, 8:30 AM: I wrapped up an 8 mile run including 3 at tempo pace. Ten the previous day had included 4 tempo miles. My 10 mile tempo for the week had turned into 8 tempo miles over three days, each time shutting it down when I began to feel done. I was walking, well, running a fine line. Was it too much? Was it enough? How could I possibly do 26.2 at this pace in two weeks? Calm down. This isn’t mono or bronchitis or strep. It’s a cold. An annoying, lingering cold. There’s no way it can last for two more weeks. No way.

 

October 1, 9:45 AM: The miles pounded by. Our group of three had grown to five as we neared and then passed the half mark right around 1:27:30. The first new runner to join us and take the lead was a lanky redhead in a cap. Looking smooth. Looking young. A shorter, dark haired guy joined him at the front of our group, letting Red take the lead. The other three of us stayed just back, and I was now convinced we were all Masters, possibly all in our late 40s. I found myself now naturally exchanging positions with the older guys. Sometimes near the front, sometimes just behind. No longer from Cleveland, I guess. The pace wasn’t hard yet but wasn’t easy. Sometimes it felt like I was just where I was supposed to be; sometimes like I was about to drop off the back. Focus. If the young guys are stronger, let them go. Just run somewhere around 6:40. Not quite there anymore but close. Stay with the middle-aged guys if you can. Almost surely headed for another positive split, don’t let those guys go. Smart? No idea. Hold on.

 

September 19, 6:00 AM: Yes! 6 x 1 mile ranging from 5:57 to 6:05. The intervals weren’t easy, but not bone-crunching either. I was feeling better, finally putting this stubborn illness behind me. No doubt my immune system had figured out how to beat it. Beautiful, beautiful T cells. What a miracle, the human body. A solid 10-mile tempo waited in two days, then I would be sailing into race day. 

 

October 1, 9:55 AM: I knew it was coming, a small hill right around mile 15, and there it was. I had felt like I was hanging on during the previous mile, but as the incline began I naturally moved past my Masters companions. It wasn’t much of a hill, really. On my home paths in Hershey it’s impossible to avoid hills like this. None is brutal, but they come one after another. One after another. I was in familiar territory. I kept my head down, smoothed out my stride, pumped my arms, and heard the two behind me fall back. As we neared the top, they may have been 20 feet back. Not a lot, but a gap. Then we were cresting the hill and descending, and here came their footsteps, catching up again, until at the base of the other side they were right behind me. Had they come back too fast? Maybe. Because when the road leveled out I noticed them falling behind again, very gradually. The two younger guys were still in front, but the sound of my other friends slowly began to fade behind me, and this time I didn’t hear them coming back.

 

September 19, 6:00 PM: Is the fever really coming back? How can I be getting sick again? This is a cold. It’s not supposed to relapse. I Googled it. Once I beat it, it’s beaten. Race day is just around the corner. Rest day planned tomorrow. Maybe this time I’ll take another rest day after that. Yes, another rest day after that.

 

October 1, 10:30 AM: “Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!” I heard my daughter’s excited screech a few seconds before I saw my family, waiting by the side of the road, close to the 20 mile mark. Immediately I began to peel off my top shirt and gloves. I surprised myself with how long I’d held onto them, but the fog had finally burned off and it was time. I still couldn’t shake the feeling that we had been running into a breeze much of the way. Was it in my head? Probably. No matter now. Time to shed that layer and bear down. “Love you!” I shouted as I dropped the clothes at my wife’s feet. “Love you!” “Love you!” “Love you!” I called back one more time over my shoulder. OK, this is it. The race starts for real now.

 

September 22, 6:30 PM: I had managed seven tempo miles that morning before cutting it off. Only nine days left to the race now. That bothered me, because the rule of thumb is that it takes 10 days to gain fitness from a workout, but there was no way I was ready to run yesterday.
And quite possibly, there was no way I should have run that morning. “Go to urgent care,” Kim said, taking a look at me when I’d arrived home from work. Finally, I had. The nurse was now reading the thermometer and giving me the news: 102. The doctor looked down my throat. Into my nose and ears. Listened to my chest. “I don’t hear any congestion in your lungs,” she told me. I knew that. It was a blessing and why I had been able to train some during the ups and downs of this illness. Or maybe that was a curse. “I’m concerned that you have a fever 15 days after getting sick.” Yeah. Me too. Here I sat, just over a week out, feeling like I’d been hit by a truck. Was there any way I could get well in time?

“I’m going to prescribe you a Z-Pak. It’s well tolerated and the cycle is only 5 days so you’ll have a few days left before your race. And it kills a lot of bugs.” 

“Except viruses,” I said.

“Except viruses,” she agreed.

 

October 1, 10:45 AM: Two had fallen back, and they hadn’t come back. Two in front had gone ahead. I was on my own now, occasionally reeling in a fading runner, occasionally being passed by a runner who had paced more wisely than myself. “Good job,” I would pant each time they passed, and then congratulate myself for that. It was a good sign. If they had passed and all I could offer was silent hate, that would mean I was close to collapse.

The course was now winding through a city park. Tiny ups and downs that felt like mountains. Plenty of race volunteers to point the way, and also families enjoying the warming morning. I could stop for a rest with them. Give my tightening hamstrings a break. It would feel so nice. So nice. Snap out of it. Check the watch. Do the runner math. Let’s see. About 2 minutes ahead of PR pace, I think, and not getting any faster. Time to bear down.

 

September 24, 7:00 AM: An easy 8.5 with Mr. Andante, in town with the family to visit the park. After another rest day I was now a week out from the race. Was I well? No. But maybe scraping myself off the pavement. That truck that had hit me hadn’t quite finished the job. It was a welcome interlude, running at an easy pace, chatting with a Loopster. But not feeling right. Better, maybe, but not right. I’d felt better before. I didn’t trust it. A week away. I couldn’t even remember feeling normal now. Only a week to go. It didn’t seem sensible to hope.

 

October 1, 11:00 AM: It felt like my feet were barely lifting from the ground. My hamstrings were very close to done and wouldn’t allow any extra lift. But the pace was OK. I was keeping it under 7:00. Would I ever negative split a marathon? Maybe, but not today. A few more runners passed me, and I passed a few. Everything else was a blur. How many minutes to go? Where would I be if I were in training Hershey, headed home? Oh, that’s an uphill. Don’t think about that. What’s my mantra? Mantras are stupid. Just run. It’s impossible, but never mind. Just run.


September 27, 6:30 AM: Two straight days of easy runs at a good pace, not pushing. Maybe the antibiotics were taking hold. Maybe my body was just finally winning, for real this time. Either way, I was feeling just a little better each day. Maybe this would happen after all.

 

October 1, 11:05 AM: There was the bridge, somewhere just past 25 miles. I remembered it from my first time running this race, a dozen years and a lifetime ago. That was a warm day, pushing past 70 degrees. An unexpectedly fast pace turned into cramps and walk breaks, but I still eked out a 3:10 and 3rd place male, 35-39. The picture, taken on this very bridge, sits on a shelf in my dining room. Twelve years later a photographer was there again in the same place, but now a new PR was coming into focus. A PR that would have been unimaginable to my younger self. Pain was turning toward confidence. No walking this time. I put down my head and did my best to power up the bridge.

 

September 30, 7:00 AM: That was it, the training done. The last 3 mile easy run finished. Race tomorrow and everything felt OK. Miraculous. I did the math. I’d missed about 30 miles in the last three weeks of training. The last three tempo runs were misses. And though I felt fine in the moment, I had no idea how I’d feel after 10 miles at marathon pace, or 20, or 25. 

If another Loopster was looking for reassurance in the same situation I would have written about the potential benefits of an increased taper, about all the hard work accomplished, about the strength and stamina in my legs. It was all going to be fine. Have confidence, you got this.

Confidence.

Looking at my own situation, I saw nothing but question marks.

 

October 1, 11:10 AM: But there I was making the last left turn that brought the finish line banner into view. A few blocks away but inevitable now. I charged. Block by block became foot by foot. I reeled in one last runner and passed him. The crowd packed in tighter and tighter, the cheers louder and louder. Another runner sprinted past me in the last few meters like I wasn’t even moving, and then the announcer was calling his name, and then he was calling mine.

I crossed at 2:56 and change. Official results put it at 2:56:14, a full two minutes under my previous PR, and first of the 45-49 year old men. I stumbled through the chute, got my medal, my water. A volunteer wrapped me in Mylar. I heard familiar voices and there was my family calling to me. I found a gap in the barriers and went to them. I gave them sweaty hugs, then more hugs, thanks, and love. They shepherded me to the massage tent, then to pick up my drop bag. Shivering, I pulled on a layer, then as Kim went to get the kids something to eat, I went back to look for Loopsters. They came in one by one and you know the stories: PR, PR, PR, PR, PR. Read their bloops. Read them again. They are Rock Stars.

Wineglass had become magic.

 

October 1, just before 8:15 AM: “I hate marathons,” I said to Peg as we left our cozy tent and took the final few steps toward the start in the chilly fog. We’ve all had that feeling at the start of a race when the pressure and the uncertainty come bearing down. I hate this. Why do I do this to myself?

But the marathon is a different beast. I’ve run races longer and shorter. There is something magical and terrible about marathons. So much training, so much grind, so much sacrifice for one race where everything can go right and everything can go wrong. Pounding out mile after mile at a pace that seems just this side of crazy.

I hate marathons. And I love them. Of course I do. 

Everything is crystallized during that last 10K when the pain comes in waves and running is impossible and you’re still doing it. Moving forward in devastation or triumph. Hundreds of days of work coming to one point of focus. All of the unknown, the hopes, the dreams, the fears becoming that one simple, burning point of focus. You run and you run and you pour your blood across the ground and then cross the line and all of the question marks, all the uncertainty leading up to that race are gone. You’ve done it. It’s done. Success or failure. It’s done.

Until it’s not. Until it’s the week after the race and it’s sinking in that there will not be another marathon for at least a year, through agreements both internally and externally made. Through tattered muscles that, though they feel better every day, will not fully be back for months.

It’s too much to launch into again right away. Too much sacrifice to every other part of a life. Some balance must be restored. Shorter races. More sleep. More energy to give back at the end of the day.

And it’s not simple to know how to feel when 2:56:14 would have been an impossible dream just a few years back, a two minute PR over a previous mark that in itself would be treasured for a lifetime. But does it feel the same when a few weeks earlier you knew you could go under 2:55, and were wondering just how high to aim?

It’s not simple with the knowledge that the next marathon will come within spitting distance of 50 years of age. A half century. Maybe even after that. How many more chances will there be to set an all-time mark? How much longer can a person expect to get faster? How much longer will it be possible to cheat time?

And if that 2:54 or 2:53 or 2:52 had come this day, would that have been enough? Enough to say, that’s it, forever, I’ve done it, it’s accomplished?

Of course not.

This all sounds gloomy and unappreciative. But really, it’s never been simple, knowing how to feel in the aftermath. It wasn’t simple the first time and it’s never been simple since. There is always another dream, another goal, another marker that feels that it would be even more meaningful. A thousand more miles of work and it could be real…

But all those thoughts are for later. For now we are shuffling toward the line. The National Anthem. 

We take a deep breath, the gun fires, and we’re off.
 

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I'm beyond thrilled for you.  Speechless nearly.  Still sad I wasn't there to witness the greatness that you all brought to the race that day and threw down your A games in every way possible.  I didn't realize you got 1st AG - AMAZING!

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Yes to all of this!! Marathons are horrible and wonderful! I'm so happy to hear I'm normal in crossing the finish line and wanting more.

Congratulations on running a great race!! Thanks for sharing.

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Congratulations on fighting off illness and all the other demons that come at you during an ambitious marathon attempt.  You won the battle...and wrote a great bloop on top of it!

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Always another goal.  Always another beast to take down.  Very well said. 

Congratulations on your PR and your AG win!!! It was great hanging out with you! 

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Brilliant. Always, I think, a huge roll of the dice when embarking on a marathon training cycle. Tons of work that go toward a single event. Congratulations! 

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Well I'm a year older than you. I had PR'd every race for 4 years since starting with HM's & then 3 years of 2 x fulls. This year my first 3 races were close but no PRs! I had changed from Hanson to PFitz plus the Canberra Marathon was a slightly harder course than my previous ones but yeah, I'm certainly wondering if there's any improvement left.

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Ahhhh, I love this! You capture perfectly all the pain and emotion and joy- and that little unfinished business part. Coming into this race so fearful and hesitant with our races and open-ended with our goals... and having all the PRs, etc.... and then leaving with the "what if" in our minds. I don't think you're done, either, and I think you have faster times left. But in the meantime, CONGRATS on such a BA performance and a smokin' time.

It was so great to see you and share some of that day with you! 

Edited by PegLeg
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I love the way you wrote this, J!! That's an amazing PR considering how the last month went down!! Somehow I forgot that you were that smokin' fast!!

Great job!! Congrats!

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I want to run and write like you when I grow up.  Your writing style is awesome, and an AG win after scrapes by yourself off the pavement is tremendous!  Congratulations!

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Great story! And a great race! It has ALMOST got me wanting to train for another marathon. But like you said, it's all about balance. Congratulations, again. Let's go for another run sometime.

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Awesome report, you nailed the doubts and demons and "it's never  enough" struggles. Great stuff.

And congrats on the smoking fast time, PR, AG win, and the future J ZEE-PAK endorsement deal. 

 

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This is a riveting race report. Thank you so much and congratulations on a great race!

It is funny how much this reports sounds like the one posted by PegLeg a few days after the race. You both have the post race blues pretty bad. You will get through and then over it.

 

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