I spent the morning of Christmas eve escorting my friend, Ryan, through his first 18 mile run. Ryan also happens to be the first athlete I am coaching one-on-one. As I am learning, 1-1 coaching is quite a different experience than group coaching. As Saturday morning wore on, and Ryan's legs started to say goodnight, I re-experienced the moments of TBF (total body failure) from the position of an outside observer. I did my best to explain to Ryan how special that moment is, when the body disconnects from the mind, but he was withdrawn (which for Ryan is an unusual experience) and well into survival mode.
Rewinding a bit, Friday night was a bit atypical. I wound up having far too much fun at a friend's birthday gathering. Knowing that I had to be at the designated start for Ryan's run, along with one of my other friends and coaching victims, Vince, and yet realizing I was in no condition to drive, 3 friends and I hatched a plan. The plan wound up with me asleep on the world's smallest couch, in a friend's apartment, without my phone but with my running shoes. Interestingly enough, while this abode has many devices capable of indicating the time of day, none of them wanted to agree on what time it actually was. So, I wound up waking up 10 minutes late, hungover, and had to bum a ride to the run start where I managed to flag down Ryan and Vince.
Now, the inspirational part of Saturday wound up being how watching Ryan do battle with his first really long run wound up kicking my own butt into gear. I ended up at the Point Loma Core Power on Saturday evening where Tabu removed any shred of composure I may have entered with. At about 2/3 of the way through that class, after multiple unsuccessful attempts at forearm stand, I collapsed into a heap on top of a puddle of my own sweat and gasped until we were granted freedom. It took me 2 hours to make my way home, after multiple stops for fluids and fuel and large blocks of time where I felt unable to drive.
TBF is an acquired taste, and it's not something everyone really enjoys. In fact, I've actually received a few direct and/or indirect challenges to my love of this feeling. Within the yoga studio, I've had others ask me with sincere concern, "are you ok?" And I've also been told on multiple occasions that pain is not yoga. While I accept everyone's angle on life, yoga, sport, etc, I also think it's OK for me to give myself space to experience moments however I want to experience them. Or, perhaps less politely, I might phrase this as "let me be". If I decide I want to push myself through substantial pain and reach beyond my failure points, then I accept that the rest of the world may not appreciate or share the joy I feel while doing so. The feeling of nakedness that exists once I've slipped over my edge and I'm in the midst of a physical and emotional freefall is unlike any other experience I have had in my life. More importantly, consistently reaching beyond failure helps me dial in my breaking points so that when it matters, in a race or elsewhere, I know my own limits and how close I can get to them before falling apart.
Ryan is feeling better today and I have recovered as well. The sun is out and it's beautiful in San Diego, a wonderful day-after-Christmas waiting for me to dive in.
Monday, December 19, 2011
Last night, while teaching a small portion of a fundraiser yoga class for one of our teacher trainers, three of the cars in the parking lot were broken into. Windows were smashed, purses were removed, and cash stolen. Tears were shed, police were called and the evening dragged on later than planned, turning into an extended period of melancholy.
Two weeks ago, during my Tuesday morning private yoga session, I tore my right LCL while pulling too hard on a strap around my foot in half lotus forward fold. I felt the knee pop as it happened and knew it wasn't the right kind of sensation. I also knew as I was pulling on the strap that I was trying too hard and I knew the risks involved with pushing the limits of flexibility, particularly with respect to joints. Shane constantly reminds me to balance my effort and power with acceptance and ease and yet my DNA perpetually wills me to override and to push harder. Watching an experienced dancer or yogi, I can't help but admire their delicate balance of muscular and organic energy because I find this aspect of movement, and actually of life, to be such an incredible challenge.
On Saturday I took Hunter to the vet and then gave him a bath. While bathing him I noticed the many skin lesions he has developed, under his thick fur, and felt sad as he winced while I sprayed him down and soaped him up. I can tell this will be his last 12 months, that his final birthday is coming up. I will be devastated when he leaves me, but I have had ample warning and I think that helps. My responsibility is to make his last days as gentle and peaceful as possible. Old dogs are expensive and while he is as sweet as he ever was, losing his mobility is a stark reminder of just how fragile all of our lives are.
These three events, random burglary, an unfortunate sports injury, and the health deterioration of my most loyal friend over the past decade, all highlight the power of destructive force when compared to constructive force. It took hours of preparation and effort to organize the series of donation yoga classes. It took less than a minute for someone to smash three windows and take what they did not earn. Within the context of Hinduism, these simple facts illustrate the power of Shiva, the destroyer. It will probably take me 8-12 weeks to heal my LCL tear, and since the injury is on the same knee as my MCL tear from March, it adds some real trickery to my half pigeon and lotus efforts in the meantime. I had intended to work hard to open up my hip flexibility as that is one of my biggest limiters, so now that plan will have to be postponed or diverted. However, perhaps the most striking example of the power of destruction is watching my dog fade before my eyes, watching him reduced to a slow hobble and dosed up with medication when I still remember him leaping with joy through the sand on dog beach. Hunter's eventual departure will be a permanent life change for me, and watching it happening is further reminder of the tremendous impact of destruction.
Lest this sound too depressing, let me mention that Shiva is balanced by Brahma, the creator, and Vishnu the preserver. Or, for the western mind, when one door closes, another opens. I have no lack of new in my life, in fact I think I have too many new experiences, new friends, new jobs, etc and that I could and should try to be more devout with the ones I already have established. I still remember all of the demolition I did on the house I live in, and how much joy came from the carcass after all of the demo was complete.
I think that what has me momentarily shifted more towards "bummed out" than "stoked," is how much more powerful destruction seems than construction. It takes only a few words to destroy a friendship that was built over years. It takes a mere handful of minutes to destroy a building that has stood for decades. Removing entropy always takes energy and comes with a cost. Once a life ends, once a soul has exited our reality, they are instantly and forever missing from our interactions.
I'm a little sad today, but I think that is OK. I'm sure I'll feel different as the week rolls on.
Monday, December 12, 2011
The birth of my obsessive passion for running was the Honolulu Marathon, sometime in the 1980's, about when "North Shore" was playing at the Kailua Drive-In theater. Re-watching that movie over the weekend, my thoughts drifted back to the mindset I inhabited during those early years. Seeing a portion of the 2011 pipe classic and then watching scenes from the movie demonstrates exactly how little has changed over the years. The swimsuits are different, but the waves and beach are timeless.
The excuse for this trip to Hawaii was to run my 3rd consecutive and 4th total Honolulu marathon. Honolulu was my first open marathon back in 1999 and I still remember the pain from that 1:30 / 2:17 positive split. I managed a surprisingly decent effort in 2009 which earned me an age group W and then I followed it up with a not-quite-so-stellar effort in 2010, so I figured I might as well make it an annual thing.
I invited a few friends to join me this trip and it wound up being 4.5 of us heading to Honolulu on Thursday. Jeff and Becky with their 8 month old daughter, Maya, and Amy from Atlanta traveling solo. My father was leaving for a cruise that would consume most of the month of December, leaving plenty of space for us to enjoy the views of Diamond Head from his porch while he dances his way across the Atlantic ocean.
Out of the blue, on November 23rd, Rachel Ross sent me a note asking what my plan was for Honolulu in case she might bump into me as she attempted her first sub 3. I hadn't figured out any actual race plan prior to that point, other than potentially pacing Jeff to a PR which he seemed uninterested in and unprepared for. So, I quickly decided that sub 3 would be a quality challenge and signed up to pace her with the hope that I could go back out and find Amy on the course and run her in.
I found myself a bit distracted from this trip because of the buildup surrounding the Las Vegas half with Team Challenge which was the culmination of my coaching responsibilities for 2011. With only 3 short, busy days in between, I scrambled through the work week and somehow made it to the airport before Sunrise on Thursday. I followed another weary traveler, Colleen, through 3 different itineraries because of a delay with our SAN to LAX puddle jumper due to ice on the wings (in San Diego of all places!) Colleen, acting like a participant on the Amazing Race, navigated through the mess of missing the LAX to HNL flight and watching the LAX to Kahalui flight push back from the gate, and somehow found the LAX to Lihue flight before I could make it to the front of the customer service line. We scrambled again and snuck in as the last 2 through the gate, heading for the Garden Island, eventually arriving in Honolulu only 2 hours behind schedule. Thanks Colleen!
Thursday night we did a little shopping and cooked dinner. Rachel's son had nabbed 2nd place at a geography bee which made her a late arrival, but we all sat down to a yummy meal and some entertaining conversation. Friday was spent with a morning rain-jog in manoa, breakfast in Kailua, and an hour on the beach at Pipeline watching some of the best in the world rip it up. On Saturday, I met up with high school friend, Nicole, as I dragged Amy to yoga and then she dragged me up to the top of Mt. Ka'ala on a 6 hour, 3500' hike.
Most ridge hikes on Oahu are a bit steep and can be slightly scary for someone with a reasonable fear of falling to their death. There was one notable section of the trip to Oahu's high point which required ascending a 6' tall slab of rock that had a visible 6" gap between it and the rest of the cliff. As we walked towards the car at the end of that hike, my quads quivering, I watched a beautiful sunset and wondered how tough the race would be since I hadn't eaten since breakfast. Fortunately Rachel and Ikaika had gone shopping and cooked us all a great feast. I stuffed my stomach as full as it would go and slept like a rock.
A 5am start isn't that rough when you are on Pacific time and it feels like 7am to you. But, as I dragged myself out of bed, I definitely felt the pain from the hike the day before. It's amusing how self doubt creeps in before any event of importance even when it's another person's race that matters. Rachel secured VIP cards for Jeff and I, which didn't have tremendous value before the race but offerred us some very appreciated food afterwards. As the clock ticked 5am, we set off with the fireworks, cruising towards downtown.
The first few miles went by fairly smoothly. We watched Jeff drift ahead but I managed to keep things on track for the first 3. As we neared the return to the start line at mile 4 I got too amped and allowed a split that was 20 seconds too fast, but after correcting myself we ran through Waikiki fairly uneventfully. Rachel got a shout out from some random dude that fluffed her ego and as we hit Kapiolani park which serves as mile 6 and also the finish line, I had a lot of optimism about the day. My legs were feeling OK, the pace was reasonable, Rachel was running under control, and I knew that as the darkness lifted we would get a boost from the sunlight. We passed the lululemon crew on the back side of Kapiolani park where everyone cheered for Rachel while we both tried to block out the sounds of a lead-footed Japanese man who races in a Minnie Mouse costume. I had been beaten by that guy before, during my meltdown at the 2008 Chicago marathon and I was loathe to be anywhere near him because of that memory. But, as I had told Rachel ahead of time, a PR means ignoring everything else around you, so I tried to take my own words to heart and block out the noise.
The climb up and over Diamond Head felt harder than before. Even at a pace that was slower than the last two years. I wasn't sure why, but I think in retrospect we started feeling the wind here. Even the descents back towards Kalanianaole Hwy didn't feel easy and I started getting worried. We had given back some time to the point where we were right on pace and I knew we needed to keep running 6:50's to go sub 3. As we crossed under the end of the H1 freeway, I felt the wind and knew we had to be smart until the loop at Hawaii Kai.
By some stroke of luck, there wound up being a pack of at least 10 guys right in front of us, so I motioned to Rachel to tuck in close. After a half mile with this pack I decided that I could take advantage of the situation by stopping for a pee break on the median, under the cover of darkness and with the pace setting and wind blocking duty handled by the pack. I was still optimistic that we could hit the goal because I expected a massive tailwind on the home stretch. As I surged back towards the pack, I encountered Rachel a good 10-20 meters back, no longer protected from the wind. This concerned me greatly as it was my first indication that she might not be able to hit the mark.
Rachel explained to me that she felt like she was running 5k pace. As we hit the half marathon, with me trying to coax some energy back into her long legs, the clock told us we were only about 30 seconds behind pace. That was actually just fine given the headwind, I felt like we still had a very good chance. But I didn't seem to have much of any positive effect on Rachel at that point. In retrospect, while I will never know what her legs and body felt like, I think the mental struggle of feeling exhausted at mile 13 may have been a bit of a bear that was too big to take down for her. I've been there before, both in the marathon and in my 50's and my 100, so it's not much of a surprise for me to feel like garbage at halfway. We always rally, and you never know how strong that rally will be, nor can you count on when it might start or if it will not last till the finish line.
Rachel did start running fairly close to pace after we caught the tailwind around the turnaround loop. There were definite moments of sub 7:00 pace. By then I think we had crossed sub 3 off the list, but we still had a shot at a PR and maybe top 10 among the women. There was still something to fight for, and I wanted Rachel to fight. Interestingly enough, I found myself deteriorating as well, and I felt like I was hurting pretty bad by mile 17. I am not sure if the hike took too much out of me the day before or if I'm really not capable of sub 3, but I stopped being of any real aid once we got the wind at our backs. I suppose there isn't that much more I could have done, although verbal encouragement is always well received, but I pretty much just shut down and suffered on the way home. Rachel probably pulled me through a few sections along the golf course at mile 20, and as we approached Diamond Head for the 2nd time, we both just took our beatings and tried to survive it.
Katherine joined us for the descent past mile 25 to the finish line where Rachel turned it up a notch to impress her boy toys in attendance along the final K. I was so happy to be done with that race. Despite eating 4 gu's and being 10 lbs heavier than I'd like to be, I was starving and used that VIP tag to eat half of the food in the tent and drink 2 soda's and 3 cups of coffee. Then Jeff and I took a nap with Maya while Becky went out and ran Amy in. I've had some marathons which felt strong and others where I've been humbled and this 3:08 was definitely one of the humbling varieties. It's hard to say why the day was so tough, I certainly have been as poorly prepared in the past, but something about the day just lined up to kick us all in the nads.
The rest of the day included a trip to the OCC for some beachtime cocktails and a buffet that was to die for (thanks Ikaika). Then the viewing of "North Shore" and general laziness and face-stuffing. We finished off the weekend with a hot dog eating contest which saw Jeff crush the field, Ikaika perform valiantly, and both of the children finishing before I did. However, I did make a small improvement and finished my 5 dogs in single digits which is a nice step forward.
I wound up chatting the entire way through my red eye flight home on Tuesday and I've been delirious ever since. Hoping to get some much needed zzzz's this weekend.
Thursday, December 8, 2011
I wrote one of my college admissions essays about my father. It was one of my few attempts at semi-creative writing before I graduated, since I had been dealt the math/science geek card while my sister drew the one for language and communication. My father was, is, and always has been a huge influence in my life. The first things I learned, I learned from him, and to this day I am still learning about myself during and especially after our interactions, even if the focus has shifted from direct instruction to observation and analysis.
My father worked tremendously hard when I was young. He routinely spent all night on call at the hospital, sacrificing his sleep and time with his family to ensure the health of premature babies in the NICU. Some of my favorite memories of my dad are his one liners. He frequently told others that he chose Neonatology because he didn't like talking to patients, so he picked a specialty where the patient would never be able to speak. Of course, in the NICU, there is a lot of necessary interaction with parents. Some of those parents are not emotionally or intellectually capable of understanding what a physician is tasked with explaining. Hence the joke, or perhaps more aptly called a half truth, about the peace he felt looking into an incubator with a precious and usually quiet new life inside, struggling to survive its untimely eviction from the womb. Providing the basic needs of a 30 week infant, airway, breathing, circulation is the definition of living in the present. There is no future and no past to a preemie, only the simple desire to suck one more breath, for the heart to beat one more time. As a by product of this world, my father is very efficient at barking orders and perhaps slightly less adept at prefacing his instructions with pleasantries. NICU nurses have to develop thick skin to get through the inevitable loses and time spent on formality is time taken away from a life which needs it. I picked up on this and it has become somewhat of my achilles as well, being too harsh and direct with my word choice, not taking into account how what I say might affect the recipient before I speak.
My father grew up in Long Island. I lived there for almost a year in 1996, over 2 decades after he left for good, and I can see how our differences stem so much from our very different childhoods. His mother, my grandmother, spoke very little English. I spent a week with her once, sometime in my early teens, and I remember being petrified about how to communicate with her. I also remember her incessant need to push food down my throat, which was a product of her own childhood where obesity indicated wealth and where family always comes first, especially the son of the son who is intentionally spoiled (or in my case, force-fed). What I remember most about Maria was how frequently she reminded me that "bad people" lurked outside the door. Her favorite phrase was "Dayne-jer, Sete" which instructed me as grandchild to be cautious, to trust nobody. If at all possible, I should avoid even going outside. She kept the windows and doors closed and locked in the middle of summer, on a quiet residential street with barely any traffic. I once borrowed a bicycle and went out to wander and it caused her great bouts of panic until I returned home where she was able to lock me inside and drag me back to the dining table. If she had owned a plastic bubble, I am certain she would have put me in it.
My grandfather was very crafty, able to navigate the world of "bad people" and "danger" as he ventured into Manhattan on the train every morning and returned home late every evening. Sacrifice, especially financial, for benefit of the family was the end goal of life for him. I went to "work" with him once, to survey and absorb his world. I watched him fall asleep on the train and wondered if his internal clock was still functional enough to keep us from winding up in New Jersey. I remember sharing a bagel with him, walking through dirty streets with purpose, and eventually being wholly unimpressed with the reality of how non-glamorous his world actually was. The 20th century provider, hustling the streets for deals, buying what would sell for a profit back in the suburbs, my grandfather navigated with purpose but without passion.
Some of my other memories of my father's one liners: "The ends justify the means" and "Pay now or pay later" are burned into my cortex to this day. As a product of his childhood, my father's approach to life is no surprise. I know his personality so well that I can predict responses in him just as he can in me. Things get accomplished by badgering and price is the almighty indicator of a deal, more so than quality or even abstract concepts like the joy inherent in the process of whatever work is being done. My grandfather wanted his only son to be a doctor or a lawyer, and my father was lucky to discover that he was well suited to the role he found himself in. Within the NICU, my father's calculated paranoia about what could go wrong served as a constructive force which undoubtedly saved many lives over the years.
I have been told that my grandmother had as many as 12 pregnancies but only 4 children survived, my father and his 3 sisters. Perhaps some part of my father's occupation makes sense only in that context, balancing out the yin and the yang of siblings who perished because of lack of access to medical care in Palestine.
There are definite times when I struggle with my relationship with my father. Even though I love him and I support him and I want complete happiness for him, we wind up frustrated by each other from time to time. I don't want to live a life without trust and even after 37 years of observation and understanding, his trust in me has clear boundaries. I accept those boundaries, I understand them given the context of his formative years, and as he drifts closer towards wearing his grumpy-old-man buckle he has earned every ounce of his right to be whoever he wants to be and live however he wants to live.
Another line I remember vividly from my childhood, words from my father's lips, "To the victor goes the spoils". Perhaps the overall theme is apparent here, my father values success as a measure of worth, because winning, earning, producing, and providing can be objectively measured. And yet, my father is not without a softness. His dancing demonstrates that to me, when I watch him flow across the floor I see a man I never knew as a child, a facet which was buried and is now blooming. He talks about how his father never really understood exactly what he did for a living, but was overjoyed by the simple math of his annual salary and how much he would have liked to have shared a deeper understanding. Perhaps because of this, my father takes a very active role in evaluating my convoluted journey through the different positions I have held in my own career, even though he doesn't have the patience to deal with a complicated technical problem in a methodical and organized fashion which is how most of my days are spent. My father wants the best for me, and he is willing to do anything he can to push me in the right direction. He most certainly has my back.
The problems (and it's a disservice to call them problems because overall I'd say my father is my #1 ally and someone in whom I place complete trust) only appear because we are two different men, born and raised in completely different environments. Our most recent interactions have been a tad extra stressful because my father's level of trust towards me is probably a fair bit lower than the level of trust I have with my postal worker. Since I am not a father, I can't evaluate how difficult it is to trust your children, to believe that they are making good decisions and that everything will be just fine for you and them if you hand over control. But I do know that I can't live a life without trust extended beyond my family. I believe my sister is the same way, and I think growing up in Hawaii, where ohana means community more than it means family, is what may have shaped both of us to be this way, just as growing up in NY shaped my father.
The reality of life is that there are Bernie Madoffs and there are Mother Theresas and then the entire spectrum in between.
My father has been burned before. I distinctly remember a painter once doing 1/4 of the work he was supposed to do for 1/2 the money and walking away, leaving a few things behind and a bad taste in my father's mouth for picking him. I too have been burned on a number of occasions, but while I think I may have learned a little from those experiences, I don't want to change, I don't want to stop trusting people as much as I can, every chance I get.
My father has a tough time with mess and clutter. I'm just as bothered by disorder and failure to follow-through as my father is, perhaps I am bothered even more so because I have all sorts of OCD tendencies that come from my mother's dna which my father only picked up by osmosis and training over the time she was alive. I live with a roommate who raises the bar when it comes to creating mess and I consider it therapeutic for me to accept all of the dirty dishes, empty coffee cups, general filth and disarray. I also distinctly remember when my x-fiance moved out how empty and sterile the house seemed until he moved in, and I value his contribution to my quality of life as a tremendous net positive despite the challenges that come with it. My father, on the other hand, would probably be tempted to question prospective residents of his home about how clean they were willing to be rather than the content and intent of their heart. It is his right to do so. And fixing stuff that other people break or cleaning up other people's messes does get old, so I certainly understand.
A few weeks ago, while driving home late at night, I came across a motorcycle on it's side in my lane. I pulled off to the shoulder and helped another man move the bike to the guard rail and walked back to check on the rider. He was in good shape, despite having to crawl across 2 lanes of the freeway to reach a safe spot to wait for the ambulance. While a group of us sat on the guard rail and contemplated this situation, I renewed my decision to keep trying to let go of the worry I bring into my own life. This unnecessary stress creeps up when I see scratches in my wood floor or a crack in a shower tile, and yet these imperfections are what cause me to take notice in the first place, to see the beauty of the grain or the precise alignment of the grout and therefore celebrate the work that was done. I remember the demolition and construction phases, the challenges involved and the process of transformation and the beautiful impact of creating new from old. The trivialities and imperfections of the physical world really do become irrelevant in the moment when we are lying on the cold pavement, facing our own mortality, and reaching for our cell phone to make our final call. I often wonder, if that had been my motorcycle, who would I have called? What would I have said?
My father is on a cruise from Lisbon which will head south along the coast and then cross the Atlantic. He will be dancing and eating and sharing time with his girlfriend, talking and thinking, writing and reading. I am currently flying over the Pacific to his house in Manoa, making my annual pilgrimage to complete the race that started all of my fascination with running. My father and mother both signed up for the Honolulu marathon, at about the age when I spent that week with my grandmother and grandfather, the beginning stages of my own self awareness. I watched their very different approaches to the race and their performances during and recovery afterwards with fascination and envy. The marathon seemed special to me because I had a front row seat to how difficult it was for my parents and how unique the experience was for each of them. These days, my father tends to relish the attention he sometimes receives from colleagues and friends when they see his name in the newspaper as one of the top local finishers and congratulate him for the accomplishment. Perhaps this is one of the few things I can give back to him in return for his decision to create me and give me the name his father gave him. So, I keep coming back each December, to relive my childhood, to reconnect with my father, and try to feel closer to my mother's spirit.
Dad, if you read this, yes I will take care of your house and yes I will be very gentle with your blinds and yes I will shut off the water to the washer when I leave and yes I will put out the recycling on Monday morning and yes I will set the alarm when I leave and yes I will turn off all the lights. You can trust me, dad. You don't have to. But you can if you want to. I have your back too.
Monday, December 5, 2011
The Rock and Roll Las Vegas half/full marathon was actually dubbed "Strip at Night" in all of the marketing literature and website. I assume that was intended as a double entendre, complete with subtle reference to the sins which seem to be so commonplace in Las Vegas. However, perhaps in a bitter twist of irony, I spent my Sunday evening wishing I had more clothes to put on rather than take off.
The weekend started mellow enough, first a meeting, then a trip to the expo with excited athletes, followed by a spirit line during which I wondered what it must be like for Karen, our hearing impaired athlete, and a dinner that was actually tasteful in both food and presentation. Saturday was done right, all by the CCFA, and with a final meeting in our hotel room we sealed off a season to remember as a team.
Sunday dawned lazily, a day where living in the moment meant waiting for the sun to set. The 5:30 pm half marathon start, to follow the 4pm full marathon start, was one of the most unique elements of the race. The closest comparable event I have participated in would be Hood to Coast, where our team typically starts at roughly the same time, and where the stomach takes precedence over the legs as far as preparation and comfort are concerned. I enjoyed watching my fantasy football team pile up some decent numbers, cementing my position at the top of the league for the first time. Towards the end of the afternoon I suited up and made my way downstairs to meet with the handful of warm souls who were about to embark on this journey, with me in a tour-guide/support/figurehead/comfort blanket role.
The first signs of trouble emerged after a smooth warmup and stretch, as we fought our way back towards gear check to drop off bags of warm clothes that would be needed post race. Swimming upstream in a crowd of 40,000 people is a difficult task even without the intense apprehension of a footrace about to begin. I grabbed as many bags as I could and together with James we delivered them to their temporary resting homes, but it took a lot longer than I had hoped it would and I wound up with only 20 minutes to spare before the race started.
As I made my way back outside, now among a dwindling crowd of laggers, I realized the cost of the time spent. I tried to run up towards the initial corrals, but wound up stuck in a human pileup somewhere outside of corral 13, far behind the athletes I wanted to see get out of the gate. I bumped into Alan and we both shook our heads at each other in disbelief of how stuck we felt, a very winnie-the-pooh type of moment. At least all the proximity of bodies served as a protection from the cold.
Somehow I lost Alan and bumped into Rachel and Monique. Together we entered a corral somewhere after 13, perhaps at 8, after the race had started and that corral was now filled with runners from corral 10 or 11. I tried my best to get the girls off at 9 minute pace, but with people in front, to the left, and to the right, predominantly slower runners, and lots of people slowing or even stopping to adjust shoes, clothing, reach for their cigarettes, etc, it became a difficult endeavor.
The full marathon course approached soon after the start, from the left hand side, and was casually coned off approximately every 20 feet with a knee-high orange cone which was almost invisible in the dark in a sea of people. From our initial position, we had mixed with the 2:50 - 3:00 marathon crew, but as time went on, at 9 minute pace, the full marathon course started to fill up a bit more. There were plenty of cyclists trying to "encourage" the others to run on the right side of the road, to leave room for the full marathoners who had already completed their first half and were now literally fighting through the second half. I've been in that position before, multiple times at Carlsbad, and I find it very frustrating myself. At the same time, due to the bottlenecks and cluster of a massive race start with undersized corrals that were inaccessible for the most part, I felt the frustration of all of the half marathoners who just wanted to be able to run. It reminded me of Ironman swim starts, only this time it was many more bodies with slightly more control and courtesy.
I left Monique and Rachel and tried out the right side of the outbound lanes, effectively running in the median of Las Vegas blvd. The different contours helped to warm up my ankles a bit, but passing on the wrong side of the water stops proved to be unnecessarily troublesome for the volunteers serving water. I wanted to jump over to the inbound lanes where the course finished up, and with my coach bib this would have been permissible, but I felt it would have been in bad spirit and that it would be setting a bad example. So, I kept on, up until the outbound runners split slightly from the inbound at which point I continued on the sidewalk, upstream, as the elite runners came through.
I saw Clemmens run past with one of the elite women, but heading out at 7 min pace against his inbound 5-something pace we had only a few seconds to make the slightest of eye contact. I slowed down, as the stream of runners thickened and I saw the 1:35 pace group sign. Soon afterwards, out of the darkness, Vince popped out and I turned around and headed back with him.
Vince wasn't trained up for a PR attempt, having taken some time off after last year's race, but he was amped to race just because that's how he is, and that's one thing I love about him. So, off we went, with me trying to push him a bit, but realizing that he wasn't quite ready to lay it all on the line. We got a number of miles together, and with perhaps 2 miles to go, we saw David Volk who tagged on and took Vince the rest of the way in. I ran back and picked up Tavish, our local rock star fundraiser, who let me tag along for a bit before he graciously told me to go find the girls and make sure they were doing ok.
After leaving Tavish and returning to my upstream swim, I picked up Bash and Kimberly. Kimberly looked strong, and Jessica was right where I had hoped she would be, but I don't know if either was in extremely high spirits. Regardless, they ran valiantly, almost smiling, until I handed them off to Volk and went back to search for Rachel who I never saw. I found Caitlyn who had to walk a bit with a busted foot but was finishing with a smile regardless. She wasn't thrilled with the race, but it was nice to share a few steps with her. After Caitlyn, I turned around and picked up Monique. Running it in with Monique took away some of the tension from the earlier runners because Monique was right on track for her predicted time, despite the cold and wind and masses of people. I think I was feeling a bit defeated with how the race had shaped up for Vince, Kimberly, Bash and Caitlyn, because I knew all of them have the ability to run a bit faster than they did on the right day, so Monique's race felt like the first really strong success of the day, the first time I felt like my contributions as a coach had some sort of plausible value.
After leaving Monique at the chute and jogging back, I bumped into Alan. I regret that I only had a short section with Alan before we hit the chute again and I had to turn back to avoid being stuck. Alan's last mile was as ferocious as any I've ever run, he put maximum effort into every step and every breath, leaving nothing in the tank. If I was somehow validated by Monique's effort, I was even more awed by Alan's as the true art of racing is about giving your best at every moment, regardless of the conditions, and especially regardless of the outcome.
I remember looking for Lindsey and Dianne but I don't think I ever saw them. I do remember seeing Greg and Matt and running with them for a bit. Greg offered me a gu and I thought, hell no, I'm not about to eat a gu, that sounds horrible :)
After Alan, I had a short break and then I picked up Karen. Karen is hearing impaired, so she reads lips. And as it turns out, 30 degrees and thousands of people all running in a straight line make it fairly difficult to communicate with someone who is hearing impaired. But she ran great, surging through the crowd on many occasions and picking it up as we neared the chute. Truely fearless, completely at home on the race course, Karen seemed the most at ease of anyone I had encountered so far. It was a real treat to share that moment with her. After Karen I picked up June and one of the others from the central team who's name I'm blanking on at the moment. June had taken some great photos next to the larger-than-life cardboard poster of her mug in the Team Challenge booth at the expo and I enjoyed her healthy vitality and appreciated the chance to share the final portion of their journey. I was starting to get cold and crabby and June actually cheered me up rather than the other way around. Sometimes we take, sometimes we give, such is the cycle of life.
At this point, I have to admit, I started to fade pretty bad. It was getting colder and colder, and then it started raining a bit. I had been out for 3 hours and the exposure was getting to me. I took some time for myself and ducked into the heated valet waiting room at the Flamingo for a minute. While I felt better inside, protected, and heated, I knew I couldn't stay. As soon as I opened the doors to leave, I was instantly re-frozen. I walked back out on the the course, hating life for a bit. I had to hop the barricade to get back on the course. Without knowing what else to do, I ventured on, upstream.
Dave Bory's picked me out of the crowd and cheered me up, letting me join him for his ride home. He picked up the pace and jogged it in strong, his first ever half marathon and the beginnings of a level of fitness that he has yet to fully comprehend. I look forward to even more changes in Dave as the once difficult becomes the everyday. Dave mentioned that Monika and the other central walkers were behind him, perhaps somewhere near 8 minutes or so.
As I made my way upstream for what wound up being the final trip, I ran more in the center of the road than before. The crowd was thinning and the pace slowing, permitting more aggressive upstream travel. I did wind up bumping into a woman who was looking behind her as I attempted to dodge, my only impact of the day, and she seemed annoyed but not physically affected by it. I did not see Monika nor any of the central walkers, which really bummed me out because I knew what an important moment this was for Monika and I knew that she was the biggest reason I was still out there, suffering in the cold. If she can do it, I can too was my mantra for that final stretch, and to not have the opportunity to see her and tell her how proud I am of her accomplishment was perhaps the most sour moment of the evening. I definitely never saw Mike, Rachel, Jessica, Dianne, Monika or Melissa. I would have liked to have spotted Sean, Sally, Brooke and Joey. I probably saw some of the others from the central team but in the darkness and without a strong memory of facial expressions and stride subtleties, I wound up not making contact.
I got to jog in with the back of the pack as the sag picked off the stragglers and the course closed down. I saw quite a few people in varying levels of pain, some fairly substantial, but also a lot of determination and joy at the approaching finish line. I have to be honest, though, I was beyond my limits by that point, having covered 25 miles, the majority of which was on an exposed, windy, and slightly rainy last 2 mile section of the race. I snuck into the TC tent, said my pleasantries, grabbed a few bagel bites, and survived the short walk across the parking lot to the door of the heated hotel entrance.
The day was not over, though, as I first had to confirm that the one bag I had dropped without a name got picked up (it did) and then we had to navigate back out into the cold parking garage to get around a bottleneck of people attempting to get into the casino. I stumbled into my room, tried to heat up with a shower, and shivered my way through the next few hours of fitful semi-sleep. I should have been at the party. I should have been at the post party. I ran less than the marathoners, in a time that would have been my slowest marathon ever. But I was trashed. Completely empty. I had nothing left to give to anyone else, I didn't even have enough for myself.
Today, I'm a bit sore, very chapped from all the cold and wind, and a little sad about the few peeps I didn't see. I really wanted to celebrate with Mike, to hug Monika, and Jessica, to see Melissa, and feel the warmth of Dianne's smile and Rachel's goofiness. In the mix of 40,000+ people all running in the dark, I just didn't get to see them and that does bum me out. And when it would have been possible to reconnect with everyone, my body wasn't strong enough to rally, although it feels good enough right now. Overall, it was a true endurance event, one which tested me in all sorts of ways. I'm such a wimp when it comes to cold weather, and I have this ridiculous tendency to forget to pack or prepare for situations even when I know what to expect. I highly underestimated the magnitude of the miles and exposure and what it would do to me, even though I knew that would be my biggest challenge. Watching coaches Dave and Sean perform flawlessly only made me feel like more of a chump for showing such signs of struggle, for letting my head take over for a bit. But I was proud of myself for sticking it out till the very last finisher, something I've never done in a race other than Ironman and then only on a couple of occasions. I had to dig pretty deep for this one and there was no lack of challenge involved in staying up for the duration. It's actually a different kind of endurance event, to give continuously over 4-5 hours as the night presses on. It reminds me of some of the thrill of ultra, and some of the dementia of relay racing, all rolled into one. I hope I get to experience it all again sometime, and perhaps I will be able to meet the next coaching challenge with all the benefits of this initial experience along with even greater effort.