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Everything posted by onthebusrunning

  1. onthebusrunning

    The Race

    There will most certainly be more.
  2. onthebusrunning

    The Race

    Thanks, Dave. Ever forward.
  3. onthebusrunning

    The Race

    I'm 100 percent with you. There was something about it being Boston that made me feel like I had to press on (maybe it was because I had bought the damn jacket already). We will most certainly be stronger for it. I'm having a little PTSD whenever I have to step into the rain these days, haha.
  4. onthebusrunning

    The Race

    You most certainly are -- having chatted with Dan, I have no doubt. Thanks for the kudos -- certainly have never run in anything like that for that long before.
  5. onthebusrunning

    The Race

    Agreed, wholeheartedly. I think we learn the most about ourselves when the plan goes south. What can we really endure? And do we grow from it?
  6. onthebusrunning

    The Race

    Thanks, Bangle. That's for sure -- this one is going to be in the mental rolodex for a long time.
  7. onthebusrunning

    The Race

    It started as more of a heavy mist than a rain. But there was no mistaking the wind. It came in gusts, battering at our resolve before we had even begun. Each gust came without warning, or rhyme or reason, which made the situation somehow more unpredictable, more grim, like no matter what we did, there was no escaping it. We walked -- or trudged -- the .75 miles to the start, this misbegotten horde of rejects who seemed for better or worse (mostly worse) to be on the outs with society. Trash bags snapped around us, Mylar sheets pulled snug, mismatched sweat suits and tech vests starting to absorb the rain. Even the best among us were likely asking the eternal question, "How the hell did I get here?" And what's more, "Why am I here?" I bit down on the edge of my poncho hood with the desperate hope it would stay in place and keep my head dry even though I would be saturated in minutes. The wind whisked the last remnants of our conversations away, our last words perhaps? I stepped between the barrier and into my corral. The clock read 9:55, and I decided to wait three more minutes to strip down. The announcer (executioner?) did his best to buoy our spirits. I watched the seconds tick down to the unavoidable. I peeled off my poncho, vest, sweatshirt, and long sleeve. The cold started in on me immediately, and I began to shiver and thought, This isn't good. But then crack! The gun. The night before, my friend and I went to our favorite philosopher, Jonathan Beverly, for his insight and perspective: "You have to respect a distance that can reduce you to survival four out of five times, despite the best laid plans and preparation." Addendum: the distance and Mother Nature. We chatted with our coach and modified our race plans as one might do with a forecast for 25mph headwinds. In short, I knew (as I had likely known for days) that my 2:35 would have to wait. We resolved to find an effort that made sense but ultimately agreed to run the race by feel. I channeled my inner Stan Beecham and vowed to get the best out of the day. I'd like to tell you that despite all odds the day came together, that there was a singular moment where I pulled myself together, righted the ship, and, you know, dug deep. But I can't. Because sometimes you put in the work and it's just not the right day for it. But like the badass woman who persevered on Monday said, you have to keep showing up. With that in mind, I can sum the race up fairly quickly. After my initial reaction just before the gun, I started in on myself. You haven't started running yet. Relax and get into the race. And I did. For my first seven miles, the rain remained a light mist, the wind hardly noticeable. So, I settled into sub-2:40 rhythm for as long as I could and felt the miles floating by, the pace and effort coming easily. At seven, the first downpour came and transported me back to my New England college days, when the cold rain seemed denser somehow and could penetrate down to your core and chill your spirit. My singlet clung to me and did nothing to abate the wind that blew right through me as if I was a ghost. I reigned back on the pace to keep from fighting the wind and burning any extra energy, and pulled the bill of my hat down to shield my face. The Wellesley girls managed to get a smile out of me, but only just. I didn't look at my watch again until half where I came through in 1:21. From 13.1-22, I entered into a constant battle of med tent and mile marker. The downpour would come and the wind would stand me up. My teeth chattered and my thoughts fogged. For large stretches, my view of the course was the narrow sliver of road that appeared under my hat brim. The road turned to river. I splashed through puddles, now unavoidable, and managed to spray more water up my calves and into my socks. And just as the med tent would come into view, the rains and wind would slacken and I could continue. I'm not sure why or what was pulling me on. The rains mingled with a few tears because I felt downright miserable and even a little sorry for myself. I remember ditching my gloves at 15 because they were soaked and seemed to be trapping the cold. I made a fist and wrung water out of them. And at 15.1 I regretted it as the wind ate at my now raw, red, and exposed fingers. What could I do but continue putting one soggy foot in front of the other. I soldiered on. Heartbreak (the hill), came and went. Hardly the formidable or momentous moment it usually becomes. At 22, I realized I had just four miles to go, and what was another four at this rate? Hey, you might actually finish this thing. The crowds thickened and spurred me on. Quintessential Boston. Even in the worst of conditions, the crowds still came. They carried me past the Citgo sign and eventually onto Boylston. That finish line never looked so sweet. It was the end of another chapter, another Boston, and also a reason to finally say for sure, it's ok to stop. I crossed in 2:53:59. Empty. I immediately began to shiver and wouldn't stop for another hour despite dry clothing. But after a very long, hot shower, after the cold had left me, and the texts and emails and calls had been answered, I returned to Beverly for one more passage: "I've learned that even when the marathon wins--perhaps especially when it does--we discover truths about ourselves. When all goals are abandoned, when it didn't matter if I walked, crawled, or curled up in the ditch, I found a core that I still cared. I found myself still pushing through the fog toward the finish as fast as my compromised body will allow." And in that I can find solace and peace with this race. It was one to be endured. One where I continued to push my compromised body as far as it would allow. One that deepened the shared camaraderie we already share as runners. One where we had to pry ourselves open to see what was deep inside us and how much our bodies and minds could withstand. As with Bostons past, it would seem quite a lot. And what of this race in particular? Just another waypoint along the journey. Another layer of callus and of opportunity to be put toward the next one. Until then, the number in my head is still 2:35.
  8. onthebusrunning

    ...to Boston

    I still remember. It was 2010. With every footfall up Hereford Street, my quads protested. But then I made one of running’s most famous left turns. The hair on the back of my neck stood up. Boylston Street boiled over with noise. The sound compounded as the cheering reverberated off of the buildings. The pain remained but muted somewhat now by this sudden infusion of adrenaline. The finish arch materialized, and I knew it would not be much longer. In the throng of spectators lined four and five deep, I somehow managed to pick out my wife, dad, and father-in-law hanging over the barricade. I flashed a huge smile, the pain blotted out, and I said to myself, “You’re about to finish the Boston Marathon.” It’s been eight years, and I still remember. As this year’s race has drawn closer, I’ve spent the past week reliving this Boston training cycle as well as visiting with ghosts (good and bad) of my Bostons past. I also came across a long-ago editor’s note from former Running Times editor, Jonathan Beverly, titled “Once Each Spring,” that I thought summed up this annual tradition well: In my mind Boston exists only on race day, ‘a runner's Brigadoon appearing out of the Massachusetts woods.’ Having never lived there, my Boston is a magical place, unsullied by the mundane and the sorrows of real life. ‘It is always spring in my Boston,’ I wrote, describing a place where no one has to go to work on Monday, instead the people come out to run or celebrate runners. In this Boston, ‘Boylston Street is a single-lane stadium lined with overflowing stands, a half-mile of agony and bliss. The very name evokes images of great battles and the sweet feelings of accomplishment. Copley Square is always slightly out of focus, viewed through the happy haze of honorable exhaustion.’ Simply put, Boston is different. When you boil it down to its simplest form, it’s still 26.2 miles, the same as any marathon. Yet, it’s so much more. It’s a race that stays with you. It’s a vortex that can suck you in from the moment you set foot in Boston, caught up in the pageantry, the buzz, and the anticipation. To me, in no other city, for no other marathon (sorry, New York), does a city stop, open its collective arms for three straight days, pause, and celebrate this endeavor we call running. At every start line, but Boston in particular, I like to take a brief moment and look around, to take in the sea of runners of which I am just one more body, one more story. We came from different places and backgrounds to get here and we will run for different reasons to finish. It’s that start line that brings us together. It’s the finish line that unites us. In that way, every race, every Boston, belongs to each one of us as both a unique and collective experience. My Boston is brightly colored jackets with white unicorns stitched along the back. It is something that once seemed unattainable and now is not to be taken for granted. It’s the electricity that starts at the airport (and I don’t mean Logan) and continues until you return home. It is past heroes and history that weaves you into its fabric: Bill Rodgers, Amby Burfoot, Katherine Switzer, the Dual in the Sun, Lisa Rainsberger, and Meb. It is the kindness of strangers lining 26.2 miles of road carrying you along. It is small towns, scream tunnels, and random high fives. It is fickle weather. It is tears of joy and exhaustion. My Boston is tinged with sadness and fortified by hope, love, and resilience. It is a race that can humble and elate you. Whether it’s your first, fifth, or fiftieth, every Boston is special. No one, or no thing, can prepare you for your first trip from Hopkinton to Boylston Street. You can read the articles, watch the videos, and talk to those who have been there before, but all of it is insufficient. As I toss the final pieces of my kit in my bag and obsessively check the weather again (and again), I depart for my fifth Boston with Amby Burfoot in my mind, “It’s time to keep enjoying the best day in running history.” In less than three days, I’ll be on the bus aimed at Hopkinton, preparing to run back to Boston, seeking to get the best of myself, and enjoy the ride along the way.
  9. onthebusrunning

    The Sword

    It’s Tuesday morning. Steely, gray clouds lord over the sky and mute the dawn. Rain spatters my sunglasses, an optimistic addition to my attire. But none of that matters. I pull my hands from my knees and inhale deeply to slow my heart rate. Sixty seconds left, I whisper audibly to no one in particular. Hands on hips now, I ease over to what had been the finish line of my ninth 800-meter repeat, and now marks the start line of my tenth and final. Eight hundred meters. A half mile. That’s all that separates me from my taper. Since the half marathon roughly five weeks ago, I circled five key days on my calendar: the Tuesday morning sessions and the Saturday morning long runs that remained before Boston. These represented the five opportunities I had to grab as much fitness as possible before stepping to the line in Hopkinton. I took each milestone one at a time, never looking farther than what lay just ahead. "Get the most out of each day. Survive," I told myself. I checked my watch again. Thirty seconds. The workout had been hard from go. Yet, charged with running 10x800 meters in 2:35-2:30 with 90 seconds between each, I had been no slower than 2:34 to this point. My legs still held some of the fatigue from my final 20-miler just three days ago, one where I laid down a 59:16 ten-miler in the middle. This morning, I had locked on to the pace despite the strain. I knew the effort. I knew it was going to hurt – again. But I also knew that there would come a moment, or perhaps several, in Boston where I would have to decide if I was going to concede to the pain or marshal the ferocity to push on in spite of it. I counted down the final five seconds, 5-4-3-2-1 and galloped off down the road. One more half mile. The metaphors are many. Hay in the barn. Smoldering embers. But for me, it’s one my uncle passed on in our early days working at that sub-20:00 5K. The sword. Those base, easy, and long runs forge the blade, while the tempo and interval sessions deliver the slippery, sharp edge. But in this buildup in particular, in this sword, there’s an essence, a spirit that exists behind those pounded out miles on the road and trail. The physical elements may form the sword’s hardness, but the true strength comes from those with whom you surround yourself. The friends who run alongside you and hold you up, meet you for breakfast, or simply shoot a text out of the blue (or daily) that says, “How’s the training going?” or “Killer run yesterday.” My coach, who buoys me up during the darker weeks and magnifies my confidence when things are rolling. My parents, who dutifully read this blog each week and urge me on. My wife, who supports and encourages me, indulges my early bedtimes and quirky routines, and who can floor me after a long run by simply saying, “I’m proud of you.” The sword, you see, is more than just the materials it’s made of, but the soul that resides in it. I pound down the slight decline, willing my legs to turnover, putting myself through it one last time. I’m aware of Margin Lane flashing by in my periphery marking 200 meters. My breathing is calm, but I know this is only temporary. On cue, the heaviness begins to seep into the tops of my quads, but I think of the quote from Franz Stampfl that’s carried me through this section nine previous times, “Sure it’ll be painful, but what’s pain?” I manage a weak smile. I spot Piller Way, i.e. 400 meters. Gun lap. The equivalent of one more trip around the track. Days began to fall like dominoes, time seemingly accelerating with each passing workout. I felt like every time I turned around, I was staring down another interval session. Yet, the sword got bigger, sharper – infused with fitness, strengthened with support. It reminded me of an old Jonathan Beverly article where he wrote, “I can sense tumblers falling into place, unlocking the ‘thing behind everything’ that makes all else seem second-rate, as John Updike described in Rabbit, Run. I’m riding the wave, hitting the sweet spot, in the zone, in flow. As I finish the workout, I feel invincible, fully alive, connected and powerful.” The road starts to pitch upward. The initial bump is enough to chop my stride, but I push on and reengage at the top and set about tackling the final 350 meters. My breathing is ragged now – raspy, throaty exhales that eschew errant fluffs of spit. My quads ache but I summon one last surge to combat what feels like a sudden slowing of pace. The stop sign, the finish line, the taper come into view and I lock onto it and let it guide me in like a tractor beam. The houses turn to buildings and I’m on Boylston, the clock edging toward my goal. My arms pump furiously, urging my legs to match the tempo. An errant step here, a wild elbow there. No time to dwell, just keep it together. I break the plane and immediately click the watch. My head tilts to the sky first to exhale one last ragged breath, then I steal a glance at my watch as my hands drop to my knees. 2:32. I let out a “whoop!” and start off on the three-mile cool down that officially marks the end of this training block, the beginning of my taper, the final mental preparations. The number in my head – the one that I started with 16 weeks ago and even farther back than that – is still 2:35. This winter has been fraught with challenges: schizophrenic weather, nagging injuries, and lingering illness. In the thick of it, the unsexy January and February months of simply putting one’s head down and consistently putting one foot in front of the other, I logged into my email to find my Runner’s World Daily Quote waiting for me. It was one that has stayed with me and become somewhat of a mantra for my friend and I as we thrash ourselves through long interval workouts on non-descript neighborhood streets, grind through long runs, or simply get out the door each morning. It read, “Fate whispered to the warrior, ‘You cannot withstand the storm.’ The warrior replied, ‘I am the storm.’” And this warrior has a big goddamn sword that’s ready to lay waste to 2:35.
  10. A friend of mine once said, "If you're not ready to pass out or throw up at the end of a 5K, you're doing it wrong."
  11. onthebusrunning

    The Crescendo

    This was a fantastic read -- I laughed out loud at the bday cake for the car, such a great detail.
  12. onthebusrunning

    The Tune-Up

    Great hill for repeats! Not for half/full marathons, haha. I would definitely be planning routes away from that hill.
  13. onthebusrunning

    Rejected Twice.

    Living life in greige it sounds like.
  14. Ha! Thanks, Dave! And down it went -- was a really solid long run. Definitely got out of it what I needed.
  15. onthebusrunning

    The Dam Buster

    I’ve been middling. Quietly putting in the miles with zealot-like devotion. The fatigue has accumulated. The miles have piled up. The calendar days have marched on toward the inevitable. When is it going to happen? I’ve wondered. The “it” in question is that magical moment, that elevation to a higher plane. The one where all the training pieces finally fit together and, though there’s more fitness to be had, you get a glimpse of what you’re becoming. The week following my tune-up half, I expected heavy legs shackled by fatigue. But on an optional 10x200m session three days post-race, there was a lift and a power in my legs that had been absent. The following day, it was more of the same. I finished easy runs feeling, well, easy. I let myself start to accept the idea that, indeed, I was starting to round into form. I had a 16-mile long run slated for the weekend, with pickups over the last 70 minutes. The dawn broke clear and crisp, and I buzzed with anticipation. As I laced up, I told myself, Keep it controlled. I set off down the Washington & Old Dominion rail trail heading west. My legs turned over with ease and I settled into a steady rhythm. I typically don’t like to look at my watch during long runs so that I can let my body set a comfortable, natural pace, and that morning was no different. In fact, I slipped the watch under my glove and just waited for the steady vibration to mark each of the miles. At mile 5, I started the first of my pickups, easing down on the accelerator to quicken my turnover. The trail had begun to pitch downward for about 3.5 miles, and I welcomed the decline and pushed it out of my head that I’d have to ride it back up on the return trip. But ride it I did. After the turn, I started a 2-minute pickup and caught a glimpse of the pace: 5:45. I raised my eyebrows in surprise but continued to flow on. I started my 3.5-mile ascent and focused in on maintaining the effort for that section, which meant not letting my mind start to wander. My legs churned forward and I could feel the power in them and the control I was suddenly able to exercise over the pace. I could move forward or pull back regardless of what the terrain served up. I topped the crest of the hill and accelerated down the other side with a little over 5K left to the finish. At mile 13, I focused in on the clock for the first time, did some quick math, and realized that I could potentially run a sub-1:40 16-miler. Normally, I’m pleased when I can do that with 15 but have never come close to doing for 16. But I slipped back into my comfortable pace, heeding my words from the start. With 1 mile to go, however, I needed a 6:29 to come in under 1:40, so I started to tighten the screws. I surged up the half mile long hill, fighting to maintain control and then powered down the backside. Under the bridge, past the mile marker, crosswalk in sight, buzz damn you buzz! I clicked my watch, slowed to a walk, and pulled back my glove: 5:44 last mile, 1:39:05 for the run. Fist pump. I’ve been at this long enough to know that with the right amount of consistency and perseverance, that dam will burst. But mired in long training runs, dark and cold mornings, another gut-busting interval session, your resolve can start to fray. It was Churchill who said, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” And it was John Parker, Jr. who wrote, “People conceptualize conditioning in different ways. Some think it's a ladder straight up. Others see plateaus, blockages, ceilings. I see it as a geometric spiraling upward, with each spin of the circle taking you a different distance upward. Some spins may even take you downward, just gathering momentum for the next upswing. Sometimes you will work your fanny off and see very little gain; other times you will amaze yourself and not really know why.” Last week, I had a glimpse. This week, I’m shouldering the load of a 100-mile week, staring down a 25-miler tomorrow. But I know I just have to keep going, to keep gathering momentum for the next upswing because I've seen what’s waiting for me on the other side.
  16. onthebusrunning

    The Tune-Up

    Thanks! Haven't formalized it yet with my coach, but I think we'll be in the 5:55-5:57 range.
  17. Huge congrats on the BQ, Brad! Way to hang in there when the going got tough in that final 10K. Hard earned!
  18. onthebusrunning

    The Tune-Up

    Sooo looking forward to tapering. Two more weeks...
  19. onthebusrunning

    The Tune-Up

    I checked my watch. Seven minutes to the gun. Perfect. I took off down the Mall toward the Washington Monument for one last strider. Turn, turn, turn, I repeated, reaching top speed, holding it for a moment, then easing off the accelerator and slowing to a walk. A stiff, cold breeze rippled my singlet. This could be a factor, I thought, then pushed it from my head and wove my way through the crowd to my corral. Nervous fingers. Jittery legs. The announcements were static in my head as I ran through my race plan one last time. My coach and I never put a time goal for this tune-up half marathon. Rather, we set a pace range for various sections of the course, which allowed me to just lace up my racing flats and go execute without the pressure of hitting a specific time. We bolted from the starting arch with Constitution Avenue abandoned and stretched out before us. Get out. Get settled, I thought. Rhythm, rhythm, rhythm. That wind met me head-on and I did my best to relax into it without forcing the pace and burning through energy early. The course scraped the Lincoln Memorial then turned us down and alongside a choppy Potomac River and under the Kennedy Center. I nailed my first three splits, wanting to be between 5:45 and 5:50, and hitting 5:49, 5:48, 5:47. Mile four’s combination of uphill and headwind backed me off that pace but I recovered for mile five as we headed up Rock Creek Parkway. The pace was on point but the effort felt just south of comfortable. I willed myself to relax, understanding the irony. The course began to bend to the left and rise. “What exactly is going on there?” my coach asked me while we looked at the elevation profile earlier in the week. Having run previous incarnations of this race in the past, I thought I knew the hill to which he referred, but, faced with what lay before me, I knew this was not the same hill. “Your goal is to just get up it, don’t lose ground to anyone, and then take 60-90 seconds of easy running at the top to settle back into your pace from miles 1-5,” he said. Then ominously, “You might run 7:30 up that hill.” Volunteers lined the hill holding American flags. They called encouragement, but my mind blotted out their voices. Up on my toes, I picked my way up the incline and pulled even with another runner. My breath came in rasps now and I could feel the strain in my quads. We rounded the corner together, and I remembered my coach’s words. The other runner tried to take off, where I concentrated on letting the fatigue drain from my legs. My watch beeped 6:30 at the top, prompting one of my friends on Strava to ask later if I had paused for a bathroom break there. Take your minute, I thought. The course shifted downhill and I ironed out my stride. Relative normalcy returned. “Be ready to race at seven,” my coach said. Let’s go. I thought. I caught the runner who had taken off at the top of the hill and went by them easily now. They wouldn’t be the last. I aimed for 5:40-5:35 pace over the last 10K of the race. While I had recovered from the hill, the damage had been done. Fatigue had seeped into my quads and the wind over the first five miles had leeched strength from me. Be calm. Be present, I intoned. The Howard University drums boomed and the hairs on the back of my neck stood up, rounding mile eight. I rode the downhills and survived the up, dropping a 5:38 and 5:33, collecting racers as I went. With under 5K to go, I picked up Brian Glanville’s quote from coach Sam Dee in The Olympian, “Be strong in mind as fit in body.” Except in my head it went more like, stronginminstronginmindstronginmind. After a 5:44 at 11, I resigned to just race and forgo looking at my watch, just taking what came over the last two miles. I kept two other runners in sight, though was not able to gain on them, nor were they able to pull away. We ground up one final hill to get to mile 12 and that’s where I really came apart. A stitch gripped my side and somehow manifested itself in my shoulder as well. My right hip flexor tightened. My quads grew heavy. One. More. Mile. I let gravity do the work for me, just trying to turn my legs over in that final mile. RFK stadium rounded into view and I threw whatever I had left in that final .2 miles, furiously pumping my arms and closing with a 5:39. I clicked my watch and saw 1:17:05. Hmm, I thought, unsure how to feel about it. Though we had never put words on a time, I had expected to be faster, and yet, with the exception of a couple of miles, I had been in range. So, what to make of it? There would be time to ponder, but not for long. I took my medal and my water bottle, reset my watch, and began a deliciously slow two-mile cool down. Another race finished. Another checkpoint reached. But nowhere close to done.
  20. You'll enjoy it -- it's a really fast read, but take your time because there is so much good stuff in it.
  21. My lungs heaved. My shoulders strained. My breath came in ragged gasps. I was wrung out but I churned on. When I cleared the stop sign, my watch buzzed marking the seventh mile repeat. “6:09.” Fuck. Rather than the exclamation point I had hoped for with this workout, I left it with more of a question mark – the questions being what happened? What was that? Why? You see, I was supposed to run 7x1 mile starting at 5:40 and working down to 5:30 (reference 6:09 above). The workout had been a bear from the start. And though I recognized the pile of adversities stacked against me (lack of sleep, stress at work, still sick), a trickle of doubt began to seep in. I started a down trodden cool down back to my house when I then asked myself: “Why are you running today?” It’s a question I’ve asked myself every morning of this Boston buildup as a I dress for a run, pop my contacts in, or lace up. I don’t ask out of wonder, skepticism, or dread. Rather, I ask out of necessity. And the answer is always: “I expect to run 2:35 at Boston.” It has to be. Admittedly, when I first began this ritual some 10 weeks ago, I’m not sure I believed it, or at least not every day. But the shift has been subtle. In buildups past, I might say, “I want to run 2:35” or “I hope to run 2:35.” That simple one-word substitution has ignited a massive mindset shift in how I approach mental preparation for this marathon. I embraced the concept after my coach recommended that I read Dr. Stan Beecham’s, “Elite Minds” earlier this winter. Beecham is a sports psychologist that ZAP’s athletes have used in the past. Beecham says that the “future is primarily determined by what you tell yourself about the future; the beliefs one has about the future can actually dictate behavior in the present.” In other words, if you set yourself up to run poorly by believing that will be the outcome, why should you expect any alternative? Confidence, though, can be like glass. It can be impenetrable and bulletproof or it can be delicate and fragile. Harkening back to my days as an ice hockey goaltender, that area between my ears could be a scary place, full of demons of doubt, where I second-guessed and forced every movement and reaction (mostly pulling the puck out of the back of the net). While other times it was a place of peace, of synergy, of flow. There was no past, no future, only what was happening immediately in front of me, and all I had to do was react. In that flow, there’s no thinking, no worrying, no second-guessing. And I’m trying to find that place of stillness with my running. Because believing that I will run 2:35 gives me the permission to not obsess about running 2:35, and it frees my mind to focus on the here and now, to only execute my race plan, and find that quiet mind. On those particularly bad patches, in workouts, in races, in low moments, I repeat “be calm, be present, trust yourself” even though doubt is starting to eat around the edges of my confidence, the glass starting to spider. But practicing this, I’ve come to realize, is just as important as getting the miles in, hitting the splits, and dialing in the nutrition. When I went to running camp at ZAP many years ago, the shirt laid out on our bed read, “The Mind is the Athlete.” We can hone, sharpen, and temper the body, but the mind must be strong as well to propel the vessel forward. That dog-doo 7x1 mile workout was nearly a month ago now. I won’t lie that I let it linger in the back of my mind and that alone has caused me to force a few of the sessions that followed. But, I also know that “expectation dictates performance,” according to Beecham. “How you function on a bad day is the true test. How you function on a good day does not define your character.” So I focus on getting the best out of each day, whatever that means, and with whatever circumstances I’ve been dealt. Then I can work with what I have, rather than exerting force against what isn’t working. Tonight, I sit on the precipice overlooking tomorrow’s tune up race, the Rock and Roll DC Half Marathon. I know that I am the collection of every run and every workout that I’ve compiled over the last few weeks, months, and, hell, even years. I am not defined by one crappy workout and I will do my best tomorrow with what the day gives me. Why? Because I expect to run 2:35 at Boston.
  22. onthebusrunning

    The Wind

    It was only supposed to be 10 miles, and easy at that. The wind roared. I could feel our house brace against it, hear the trees bend to it. I pulled the blanket up tighter around my head and let the chill pass through me, rattling my shoulders, before sleep took me again. But not for long. The power had gone out sometime in the middle of the night. Erratic, window-rattling gusts outside had replaced the soothing white noise of our fan inside. I slept light and woke often. When at last it was time to get up, I tottered downstairs – sluggish and heavy from the weeks’ accumulated mileage. Only 10 miles, I thought, pulling on shoes and slipping into a windbreaker. “Bring your phone!” Rachel called from upstairs. “Ok,” I said with reluctance, while rooting through our basket of gear to find the appropriate armband. I took a deep breath and pulled open the front door. I stepped outside and stiffened, but only a strong breeze brushed across my face. Not so bad, I thought, and started off at a trot, dodging the branches, papers, and containers that littered the circle by our house. Something had happened here. Traces of my tempo run from Tuesday still lingered in the tops of my quads as I made the climb to the road. The main drag was eerily still, with the exception of the steady whooshing in the treetops. People had heeded the call to stay inside, and a touch of regret dropped into my stomach. A forecast of sustained 40 mph winds with gusts up to 70mph will do that. Treadmill? I thought. Ten miles on the treadmill? Worth the risk. I pressed on. The air around me suddenly went still, but off in the distance, I could hear the wind gathering. It rushed through the trees behind me first and then was on me all at once – a tidal wave lifting and pushing me forward. I turned my legs over quicker, trying to keep up with the pace, until the wave finally receded. A few miles later, I descended onto the gravel path that wound along the stream. The woods moaned. Bare trees swayed and rocked violently against one another. Sharp breaks cracked the air as boughs strained and then snapped, sending branches crashing onto the trail. My pace quickened. I surveyed the carnage that the storm had delivered in the middle of the night, cognizant that the damage was not done yet. Despite my best efforts to blow through the woods quickly, fallen limbs blocked my path. I emerged from the woods and let my breathing (and my heartbeat) return to normal. When the wind abated, it was just another tired, Friday run and I fell into an easy cadence. I recalled the previous month, the illness, the injury, the lingering illness. And how for the past two weeks, I had finally been able to string together good, consistent training. I kept thinking, If I can just get to March healthy…. And here I was, the wind washing clean the stains of the month prior. I retraced my steps down the backstretch of where I had tempoed on Tuesday – albeit at a much slower clip now – buoyed by the optimism of how good my legs and lungs felt finally working together. I made the turn for home. The world was black and white. Steely clouds raced across the sky. Debris tornadoes spun up suddenly – leaves, wrappers, and paper caught in the vortex – and just as quickly fell apart. Errant snowflakes whipped by. Chaos reigned. A bad trip. The wave of wind that rushed behind me on the way out was now a wall I had smashed full on into. I strained against the blow. My hat flirted with abandoning me, but I pulled it down hard again. I relaxed against the invisible force pushing me back, feeling myself lifted with every footfall. When it would suddenly relent, I surged forward, gaining as much ground as possible. I returned to the circle and began the slow walk back to the house, relieved and invigorated. As I unlaced my shoes, I kept reciting Hemingway in my head, “None of it was important now. The wind blew it out of his head.”
  23. onthebusrunning

    The Relay

    I played the scales along my fingers, nervous taps against my thumb from index to pinky and back again. That pre-race energy started to sizzle my nerves despite my best efforts to tamp it down. Curious neighbors and spectators dotted the front yards and curbs along the start line. Runners bounced from foot to foot. The race director emerged from the crowd and turned to face us, cupped his hands to his mouth, and shouted, “Go!” Thus began my annual winter training rite of passage: the GW Birthday Marathon Relay. The three-loop course rolls (ed. note: mostly rolls up) along the patchwork of fields that the United States Department of Agriculture Research Center calls home. Those with intestinal fortitude complete all three loops solo, while others share the load in a two- to three-person relay. Coupled with the challenging course, the weather – not to be outdone – typically provides another element of resistance. In my seven runnings, I’ve faced arctic, howling head winds, snow, rain, cold, unseasonable heat, and whatever else the mail(wo)man’s creed promises to overcome to deliver your mail. This proved to be a more seasonable – if not slightly warmish – year, with clear blue skies and a high of 50. I’ve used the race in the past for multiple purposes: as a fitness gauge, a race, a kickoff, and this year a recommitment. As the first 20-miler of this buildup, I intended to make this a rededication to consistent training after having to cobble runs together over the past two weeks due to illness and nagging injury. As a two-man team, my friend Joey and I divvied up the legs (me running legs 1 and 3, a total of 18.9 miles, and Joey leg 2, 7.3 miles), and my coach meted out the instructions to simply run by feel, get 20 miles in, and keep the pace easy even I felt like I could go. So, I eased off the line to tackle my first leg, consciously holding back and trying to take myself out of that race mindset. Over eager runners blasted from the line as did those who would become the legit contenders. I tried to settle in (far) behind them and ignore that rather uncomfortable sensation of getting passed. “You’re here for you,” I repeated over and over, as the guy carrying an entire liter bottle of coconut water went by. The course took a sharp dip and I put it out of my head that I’d have to run back up this same hill 19 miles from now. I let my mind slip into neutral and went about the task of establishing some semblance of rhythm. Shotgun blasts from a nearby shooting range punctuated the steady thumping of my shoes. Crows scattered with each pull and the sun hung high overhead. By mile four, that rhythm brought me even and past several of the overeager go-getters. Without easing my foot down too hard on the accelerator, I targeted runners ahead of me and tried to pick each one off by maintaining the same output. My confidence grew, particularly when the two things I had worried most about were absent: noticeable pain in my hammy and any lightheadedness or fatigue from being sick. Yes, I was well on the way to the road back. I came into the relay exchange full of optimism and handed the baton (read: an orange armband with a chip safety-pinned to it) off to Joey. I looked down at my watch for the first time and was pleasantly surprised to see that I’d covered the first loop (9.7 miles) at 6:53 pace. While I waited for Joey, I stretched, foam rolled, and cheered on the marathoners coming through. I swapped long sleeves for short and got in a token 1.1 miler to keep my legs from tightening and to ensure I hit an even 20 miles when the day concluded. Joey handed the “baton” back to me just under an hour later. While the first loop started with that all too familiar race adrenaline and nerves, the second began with the easy, confident stride of a runner ready to roll. I came through the exchange again and made the turn for home, with 1.5 miles to retrace to the finish line. The hill that I had put away at the start now loomed large in front me. Fluorescent singlets dotted the horizon and I started to hunt. “Smooth, power, strong,” I repeated, and my legs churned under me. I settled into that magical homeostasis gear where the effort is steady and doesn’t leave your lungs heaving. I overtook the first singlet, a marathoner. “Don’t worry about me,” I said, “I’m a relay guy.” “I’m not worried about you, I want that power in your legs,” he called ahead to me. The second singlet slowed to a walk (a sting I know all too well from climbing this hill in the past) and I overtook him as well. With a half mile to go, I crested the hill and let my momentum carry me down through the neighborhood and onto the trail that would lead me to the finish. I crossed the line and picked Joey out in the crowd. I nodded to him and shot over a smile then looked down at my watch: 6:53 pace again. Back on the bus.
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