Monthly Archives: November 2011

running a risk ?

Last Sunday, over 20,000 runners participated in the Philadelphia Marathon and Half Marathon.  I was one of these runners.  And very sadly, two fellow participants died. 

Jeffrey Lee was a 21 year old student, set to move to Seattle when he was to graduate at the end of the school year.  He completed the half marathon just under his goal time of two hours, and then collapsed at the finish line.  Jeffrey was bright young man, a great student and friend to many.

G. Chris Gleason was a 40 year old lawyer from upstate New York, an experienced athlete, having completed Ironman Lake Placid this past summer.  He was pushing a 3 hour time in the full marathon when he went down just a quarter mile from the finish.  Like me, Chris was a father of two kids, and married to a marathoner.  I passed a guy being attended to by paramedics near the 26 mile mark.  I don’t know if this was Chris, as I would have passed this point about 40 minutes after Chris did. 

Apparently neither Jeffrey nor Chris has any known health risks that made anything think twice about whether they should have been out there running.

But when things like this happen, people react (or overreact) in different ways.  Some members of a online running community saw this as an reason to say “tsk tsk” to folks who attempt to run distance without training properly.  While this happens (I’ve done it), these comments were made before anything at all was known about the runners in question.  Generally, it’s prudent to withhold one’s judgment until there’s something to inform one’s judgment.

Judging by the front page of the Philadelphia Daily News the next day, the local media sees this as an opportunity to sell more papers.  The guy pictured on the front page, crawling after finishing, had just run a 2:24 marathon.  That’s a five and a half minute pace per mile.  It’s bound to take a bit out of you.  It’s also about five minutes off of the top finishing time for the day – so this guy was in contention, and had to have trained pretty well for the event.  But the front page paints a gloomy, dire picture of endurance sports.  That’s screwed up.  And then there’s the cranky Philadelphia sportswriter who claims that “human being were not built to go 26.2 miles at a clip”.  In the same column he offers opinions on Socrates as well as football.  Oddly – he talks about how barbaric marathoning is, but offers no such observations about a sport known to cause long-term brain injuries.  Any thinking reader will discard this sort of tripe.

Conversely, the article cited on the front page is actually quite good – check it out.  Barbara Laker, the author talks about hitting the wall while doing her first marathon, and how another runner made sure she was okay, and talked her into believing she would finish.  I remember feeling doubt and disorientation around mile 22 in my first marathon.  All I could think of was what it had taken me to get to the starting line – that’s the hard part.  I eased up, relaxed, the clouds cleared, and I finished.  She nicely captures the leap of faith required to get to the starting line in her article.  She also does a nice job of expresses the sadness we all feel when we hear of things such as Chris and Jeffrey dying :

“Every marathon has moments you never forget. And last night, I couldn’t stop thinking of the two men who died running down a dream. I imagined the deep pain that their relatives and friends must feel.  Last night was supposed to be a time to celebrate, not mourn.I don’t know exactly why or how they died.  But I understand why they were out there.”

Thank you Barbara for your thoughful words.  There are risks to many things we choose to do in life.  Life’s sometimes an uneven mix of preparation, determination, genetics, and chance.  Best not to live in fear of what we don’t control, and don’t know.


running the streets of brotherly love

You can count on it.  After pouring hours and miles into training for an event, it comes down to a single decision you make on race day.  My marathon plan was in jeopardy.  The clock was ticking, and the window of opportunity was closing fast.  I held my breath and hung in there.  Fortunately it paid off.  With patience and determination, I got in to use one of the relatively few porta-potties just four minutes to spare before the start of the race.  And after executing this key part of my race strategy, I lined up at the start with the 25,000 others to run the Philadelphia Marathon.

After completing the Bellingham Bay Marathon back in September, I was looking for one to close out the calendar year.  I took a gander at the helpful Marathon Maniacs calendar, and saw Philadelphia on November 20th.  I’d thought I would try a small event, closer to home.  But the timing was right and I’d get to click off marathon state number fourteen.  So – Philly it would be.

independence hall at night the assembly hall, where the declaration of independence and the constitution were voted on and signed. carpenter's hall, where the first continental congress met. 

I set out for Philadelphia early on Friday morning, two days before the race.  Flights were uneventful, and after checking in to my hotel, I ventured over to the race expo.  Afterwards, I went and got a  taste of what eating dinner out in downtown Philly would be like.  The short answer to this is “expensive”.  I rounded the evening out with a nice walk out to Independence Square, taking a nice look at Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell without the crowds.  It was a nice way to cap the evening.

clothes set out ready for tomorrow morning.

Race Day

I spent the day before the race doing a bit of sightseeing, and then turned in early.  After a fitful night of sleep, the alarm woke me just before five(that’s two a.m. by my normal body clock for those keeping track at home).

by the 'rocky' statue before the raace (this is in front of the philly museum of art). 20111120-maniac-prerace-group-shot

I ventured over to the start in time in time to meet my fellow Marathon Maniacs for a group picture.  When I arrived there just before six, it was pretty quiet.  Just thirty minutes later it seemed there was people everywhere.  It was all I could do to make the clothing drop, find my “happy place”, and line up with all the others.

several dozen thousand of my closest friends and I move towards the starting line.

Marathon number 34 started slowly, as the 25,000 of us ambled towards the starting line, with little room to move.  Six minutes later after the gun went off, I hit the start and began running.

The early miles were definitely crowded.  We ran past the international flags on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, and bore left onto Arch, heading towards the waterfront.  Given my usual preference for smaller events, running in such a mass of people was an adjustment.  More than once, someone would come up along my blind side and we’d bump.  It kind of reminded me of a mass start to a swim in a triathlon.

running through the old city.

We turned south and ran along the Delaware River for a while.  Here people began to spread out a bit more.  By the time we turned towards the Old City, it felt more sane.  Around mile five, we passed Independence hall, and turned west on Chestnut.

The stretch through Penn and Drexel was pretty raucous – lots of cheering.  We hit a couple of hills (minor by Seattle standards) passing the zoo.  I backed off a little bit here – mile 8 is pretty early in the race, and by then I’d banked enough time against my sub-four hour goal.

As we headed into Fairmount Park, I’d settled into a pretty steady pace. Sporting my new heart rate monitor and GPS, I was able to get a sense of my effort as I went.  In the early miles, I’d managed to keep it lower than I’d expected (high 130s, low 140s), while clicking off good mile split times (sub 8:50s). 

as we slog past mile 14 or 15, the frontrunner passes mile 24 or 25.

We passed to the west of the art museum, where the half split off from us, and turned north into the long out and   back stretch of the race.  Between mile 14 and 15, then front runners past us from the opposite direction.  Definitely humbling to see then gain a full ten miles on me over the course of about 2:10!

The stretch north to about mile 17 felt a bit challenging mentally.  I typically split the race into three parts.  The early miles (up to 10-13) I just try to settle into it.  The middle miles (to mile 20) are about grinding out a strong, sustainable pace.  The final 10k is about digging deep – either to push to a strong finish or just to hang on, depending on how the middle miles went.  I was trying to figure out which kind of final 10k today would be. 

Mile 17-20 got a bit interesting.  We hit an unusual three-point junction in the course (this is near the 17 mile marker on the course map).  The northbound runners branched to the left over the Falls Bridge to do a 3/4 mile out and back, and the southbound runners joined us at between mile 21 and 22.  We headed out over the bridge, and did a short down and up before returning.  Three groups of runners converge at the same spot.

As we came back to the junction, I’m about 75% sure that a woman cut the course in front of me.  She suddenly came up from my right side – near a gap in the fence separating us from the folks heading out to the short out and back.  If she did cut it, she shaved about seven or eight minutes off of her time – which hardly seems worth it (unless she was trying to get a Boston Qualifying time from it).  She promptly pushed about 100 meters ahead of me.  There were a number of stretches of out and back, where the course would be subject to someone doing this – I noted it in the park as well.  Can’t be sure that’s what happened here, and can’t worry about stuff like this – but I don’t really understand why someone might do it.  Who wouldn’t want to earn their posted time fairly? 

at the twenty mile marker I wondered what I still had left. was soon to find out.

We headed down a hill into downtown Manayunk, before turning around.  As we climbed up towards mile 20 and 21, I was feeling good about finishing strong.  As we  hit the long stretch where we’d seen the frontrunners coming in before I’d turned it up a notch.  Karen, a runner from New Jersey who I ran this stretch with was contrasting how good she was feeling now with her final 10k in the New York City Marathon last year.  She was digging deep and her confidence was infectious – I found myself digging in to keep up with her. 

All of my splits for the final 10k were under 8:30, with the final 5k 8:20 or better.  Mile 25 was my fastest for the event – a sub-8. 

I was feeling some pain by mile 25.  I checked my heart rate and saw that it was in the low 160s – better than I would have expected.  Grinding out that final half mile or so, heading towards the Eakins Oval was hard.  I thought about Scott Jurek’s blog post “This is What You Came For”, about how he focused on the essentials of running while doing continuous 1k loops for 24 hours.  I wasn’t running for 24 hours, but Scott has always inspired me by being a great athlete, and a very nice and authentic person as well. 

I’d monitored my cadence throughout the race (it was several strides per minute faster than it had been), and glided across the finish.  Improbably I came in at 3:43:51 – my third consecutive sub-3:45 finish.

the finisher

I hung out for a while at the finish, pleased with my effort.  I’d run a pretty smart race (first time in a while), monitoring things like heart rate and cadence to figure out how I was doing.  I focused less on the mile splits than I had for a while, confident that I’d hit my goal pace.  And I had enough left during the final 10k to make it interesting.

looking out from the philadelphia museum of art towards the center of town.. eating lobster is either the consummate tactile experience, or I don't know how to do it politely.

I relaxed in my hotel room for a while, and headed out to the Philadelphia Museum of Art – enjoying some wonderful Monet, Cezanne, Eakins, and some Dali sketches.  I wandered out of the galleries to a beautiful view of the city from the top of the steps. A great lobster dinner capped the evening for me.  A nice trip, and a race I felt good about.

charts and graphs for running geeks

Once in a while I’ll see a pace chart that I really like.  There’s a nice steady downward  trend indicating negative splits, relatively low variance, and a nice kick towards the end.  I’ll even take that slowing between mile 25 and 26.2 as evidence that I’d not held too much back :). 


I ran with my new TImex Global Trainer GPS and Heart Rate Monitor.  I’m not very happy with the device, but it was definitely useful to be able to monitor heart rate data as I ran – it’s a great indicator of fatigue level, and a reasonable predictor of what I might have left in the tank.

marathon maniac group picture provided by scott stader, a fellow maniac.


The past few months have been challenging for us. We’ve got lots going on in life now – and it’s been consuming lots of energy.

A while back, I was heading out for my weekend long run. I’d completed the Bellingham Bay Marathon the weekend before, and was thinking about what would be next. Given everything on our plates, mulling whether to do a road marathon vs. trail ultra, local event, vs. traveling seemed an extravagance.

Thing is – running is a great way to spend time with friends. When you’re out on a 15-20 miler, you’ve got a fair bit of time to enjoy some company. You’ll swap stories, and gain fresh perspective on things.  When I run alone, it’s excellent quiet time. I spend the time thinking. Again, 15-20 miles gives you time to breathe a bit and get some healthy distance from whatever is on your mind.  I run because it feeds my soul.

So – as I drove up to run in the mountains with some of these thoughts swirling around, some words from an Indigo Girls song I was listening to crystallized some things for me.  The title “Watershed” caught my attention. For years, a nearby watershed park has been my reliable spot to do longer runs. Since training for the New York City Marathon nine years back, I’ve easily logged several hundred miles out there. But as I listened to the song, the words brought more than simple sentimental value.

“Up on the watershed
standing at the fork in the road
You can stand there and agonize
till your agony’s your heaviest load
You’ll never fly as the crow flies
get used to a country mile
When you’re learning to face the path at your pace
every choice is worth your while”

That day as I negotiated the trail up to Pratt Lake, in the Cascade Mountains, I played the song over and over in my mind.  A middle of the pack runner like me has long internalized that running requires taking each mile as it comes.  In life sometimes it’s harder to remember this.  We’ll often get tangled up in our own expectations of what should be.  But that’s not always how things happen, is it?  I enjoyed my run out to Pratt Lake – up and down hill, over rocks and through water.  Each time is different on this trail.  I’d come here about a year ago, and got snowed on while navigating the rock slide areas just above the lake.  Definitely did some “country miles” that day.

Soon after Pratt Lake, I went ahead and registered for the Philadelphia Marathon.  I usually prefer smaller events.  In this case, the timing was right, and I was able to use mileage for the airline tickets.  And I get to check off another state on my way to someday becoming a 50 state marathoner (13 down, only 37 more to go).  One of the wonderful things about this particular life’s goal is that I go to some beautiful and interesting places – the Black Hills of South Dakota, some trails outside of Lawrence Kansas, Logan Canyon in Utah, the National Mall in DC and New Orleans (doing the first post-Katrina major sporting event in 2006).  My pace to fifty states is slow – perhaps one or two per year.  At this rate, I’ll get to fifty when I’m about eighty. 

But that’s okay.  No point in rushing, just to check things off of a list.  The country mile’s the reward, isn’t it ?