Lost in Translation – My Montreal Marathon Training Attempt

J’aime Montreal.  Really, I do. You are a foodie’s emporium, an architectural wonder, a historical link from imperial rule to modern radicalism. You are worldly and cosmopolitan and everything I want in a big city.  It’s not you – it’s me. I was not ready for you. I was not prepared to accept you for all that you are.  I think I need to mature, maybe see other cities. You are so much more than I deserve. We’ll chalk this up to a messy, one day stand.  Thank you Jesse Dryden and Alisan Funk for hooking us up on this blind date.

I set myself a test goal of three marathon distances in the month of November.  As I had a little time off and the weather had been holding steady, I thought a nice trip across the border would be pleasant.  Phenomenal friends had been urging me to visit all year. It’s a beautiful city, the altitude map of the marathon didn’t look too daunting, and I had good friends who knew the city and wanted to support my endeavor.  This should have been a dream date run.  Where did it all go wrong? What can I do better?  Let’s start with the big lessons that I learned or were reinforced on this trip.

Surveying the Route 

When you are running a race without the normal race crew in place, you need to study the roads back and forth and up and down.  No volunteers blocking the wrong route, no signs saying you have reached mile 12, no friendly officers to wave you through intersections.  Three things I need to be aware of before I start my run.

  1. Construction.  The late fall has inspired many structural road repairs.  There were a number of areas under construction that were a little unsafe for me to be running through, even on a relatively empty Sunday morning.
  2. Road/Sidewalk/Shoulder Quality.  Most races shut down roads or at least limit access so the runners are actually racing on the road. I will not have that luxury.  In Montreal for the most part, I had sidewalks most of the run. In the more rural areas, I will be running on the side of the road where dirt, gravel, and sand will not give me the same purchase.
  3. Special Access.  Some races provide access to unique areas to run through. Montreal has La Ronde, a small amusement park that sits on the north end of Île Sainte-Hélène.  I thought I might sneak through, but security guards were sitting at the entrance, flashing their lights at me.  I need to prepare contingencies not only for connecting the route, but also for making up any lost miles.

Race Preparation

I am grateful for the wonderful friends I have and I am sometimes overwhelmed by the amazing people they are and the remarkable things they do.  In planning my trip next year, I haven’t been allocating enough time before the race.  I’ve been thinking I could just cruise into town, run my race, then decide what to do from there.  I now realize I need at least one more day before the race if possible.  This will give me time to either catch up with old friends who are hosting me or learn more about the incredibly generous strangers who have extended me the hospitality of their homes and get myself together for the task at hand.  Certain hosts may not have time for me or have no desire to extend themselves to me.  That’s fine; I can make the most of that time then, but that is usually not the case with my friends or friends of friends. I may have got caught up in the pleasure of being surrounded by kith and kin and may not have gotten everything done the night before I needed to get done. I didn’t actually drive the course and Google Street View was not as helpful for imprinting landmarks as would have hoped. Also – note to self – Print Race Checklists.

Don’t Believe the Weatherman

The day before my trip, Accuweather said I could expect a High of 54 and a Low of 32 in Montreal.  As I set out, Sunday morning, it was a balmy 21 degress and that’s not including the winds over the river or whipping down the larger causeways. If we topped 40 degrees I’d be surprised. I did have the wherewithal to grab an extra shell jacket but I was really freezing my butt off.  I generate heat like a furnace when I run, but I have learned that although I stop feeling the cold as my body warms up, I am wasting energy in the cold that I need to be saving for the end of the race.  I need to pick up some cheap extra layers that I can easily discard along the route.  If you see me running some morning in Memphis or Oklahoma City with an “I Love My Cute Kitty” sweatshirt and pink sweatpants that say “juicy” on the backside, expect to find them on the side of the road later that day.

Mapping

I got lost.  Multiple times I missed streets, took alternate routes, had to double back.  That was ok because I had some miles to make up for missing the amusement park midways, but overall it’s disconcerting and discombobulating.  The course is not overly complicated – for the most part Montreal is laid out nicely on a grid.  However a combination of the the French, missing signs, and construction areas led me astray and became disheartening.  This is Canada which is international – a whole other country.  My phone was not working properly and even with a program designed to not need data to operate, it was a struggle.  A struggle that eventually beat me up that day.  I now know to make sure I have print outs of the more difficult areas of the map.  Perhaps I’ll have GloboRun stickers to put on buildings or signs to keep me on track. I will probably switch from Nike as a running app to an application that will track me in realtime like Runkeeper so people and hosts will know exactly where to find me.

I may not have finished the run, but I did take away many lessons and really enjoyed running the city and getting to explore.  I could not have had better hosts.  Jesse and Alisan are incredibly supportive and even offered to run 3 or 4 of the final miles with me.  Jesse met me on the trail with water and energy and then waited forever when I got lost and couldn’t find my way back to our next meeting point. During my stay, I got to play a game with the two of them where we kept changing the rules to improve the experience of the game.  Even though the rules kept changing and I would occasionally get hung up on one of the discarded actions, we kept moving forward towards the larger goal of enjoying ourselves while establishing rules which duplicated that most consistently.  Hopefully I can approach my trip with the same perspective. My trip is malleable.  I am the captain of this vessel, and I will change course as I see fit and the tides allow. If something isn’t working, I hope I can allow my ego to let it go, so I can follow a new flow that will lead to a more enhanced experience.

Race Report – Newport Marathon 2015

Ultimate, Neverending, Rainbow Glitter Pegasus Explosion Sunrise.

This was an amazing race weekend with a variety of highlights and gold star moments, but the sunrise will always stand out as a glorious herald of a perfect race day. I walked a mile to the start line, beginning with brilliant stars twinkling in the ether beyond fairylight streetlamps and ending with neon and teal fireworks sizzling at the ocean’s edge. It seemed like the sunrise went on for an hour and every second was a scenically fanciful fellatiating foreplay to  the sun finally cresting the horizon.  Anybody who was there that morning knows what I am talking about – I saw more than one runner crying as they looked longingly at the sea.

Let’s take a step back. Two months prior to the race, I was talking about my upcoming races and trainings with a great friend, Jennie Marvelle. When I mentioned I was the sweep for the Newport Marathon, she immediately offered a place to stay at her Mom’s (literally a mile from the start line) and then proceeded to offer “sherpa” services – offering to chauffeur, guide, and support me through the race.  How does one say no to being COMPLETELY spoiled as a race participant?

I was spoiled indeed.  Not only did I get a ride down to the race, I finally got fully immersed in Jennie’s podcast obsession. If you think music can make a road-trip fly by, you have no idea what podcasts will do for your gallivanting gab sessions.  Not only did the time fly to get to Rhode Island, when we got there, it seemed Jennie had done more research on the course than I had.  Granted, she grew up there, so she had intimate memories of most miles of the course, but she knew every turn and provided ongoing historical and geological commentary throughout the drive. The prerace carbloading at Sardello’s with Jennie and her mom was perfect in every way.  After the race, there was a Lasagna Competition at the Elk’s club.  I’m not saying Jennie arranged the Lasagna Competion for me, but I don’t believe that it is beyond the scope of her powers.  I am truly grateful.

You already know about my sunrise salutation and happy ending.  I was pacing again with Beast Pacing and I am always amazed to be included in such an illustrious group of runners.  Some of my co-pacers have run literally HUNDREDS of races, setting records and inspiring others.  My only disappointment is that I get to spend so little time with my fellow pacers on race day. Thirty minutes to maybe an hour before the race and then maybe fifteen or twenty minutes after with the pacers closest to your time.  Another reason I am grateful for Facebook is I can follow their continuing exploits after the race.

What I was not expecting was a little notoriety at the beginning of the race.  I had many people ask what a sweep does.  I told them – I come in last and motivate the people who are in front of me. I had my photo taken about a dozen times by people glad that they would not be the last person to cross the finish line.  I was happy to provide the pre-race relief. Unfortunately, many of those same people were disappointed ten to fifteen minutes later as I ran by them. The Newport Marathon starts their Marathon and Half Marathon concurrently and we were only providing a sweep for the marathon.. So although I started running slowly at the back of the pack, I worked my way forward, looking for the last of the marathoners. I would say “Good Morning! Running the Half or the Full?”  As I explained to some of the runners I passed, if I stayed with the end of the Half Marathon, I’d never be able to catch up during the second half to the end of the marathoners.  Instead, about a mile and a half into the course, I found my people and essentially stayed with them for the entire race.

The first half is an amazing 13 miles.  You truly see the best of Newport.  One big hill, right at the beginning, helps burn off some of the adrenaline built up from the start line.  After that it’s down hill or flat with only one small gentle incline in the middle of the most scenic portion of the ocean view. You run through the downtown and pass marinas, farms, seafoam and mansions. The second half has some truly memorable scenery especially along Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge. The dunes and beaches were amazing enough to make us forget about the headwind. There are many more hills on the second half of the course and not nearly enough variety to distract us from them.

Lastly, I’d like to talk about the two ladies I “helped” finish the marathon. Mo Terry-Carelton and Becky Eleck Bruce are passionate, committed competitors and I feel like I learned more from them than they learned from me, I just kept providing running commentary (litterally) whether wanted or unwanted.  Becky started to lose her wind around the nineteenth mile but she never gave up.  Her mantra of one foot in front of the other kept her focussed.  Mo was an amazing running partner, both compassionate and insistent, breaking things down to simple step counting when all other distractions became too blurry.  There were many great runners that day with some truly unique stories, but when you run just over twenty four miles with someone, they’re family.

The race technically has a six hour limit, but when I asked the race director if he wanted me to run a 6 hour pace as a marker or stay with the finishers he said stick in there til the bitter end.  His team really made it happen as well.  The cleanup crew that started following behind us around mile 21 kept a respectful distance up until the last mile when they started cheering and blasting rock and roll down the final slope leading to the beach.  It was awesome. We crossed the finish line just over 7 hours with officials timing, photographers flashing, volunteers cheering, and food and refreshment waiting.  A very emotional day that will go down as my first time pacing a full marathon.

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Benchmarks and Marks on the Doorframe

How many of you had a door in your home where a parent religiously marked off your height? Perhaps if you had siblings there was a mess of marks in different colored Bic pens or Sharpie markers. Maybe your dad used his pocket knife, which was his father’s and now sits in your jeans pocket, to notch the door frame on your birthday each year.  You had an easy to read record of growth, an ability to see where you were coming from and where you stand now. If only we had such easy marks to read in our lives as adults.

Many people have asked me “What makes you think you can do 50 marathons in 50 weeks?” I only ran my first marathon 2 years ago.  I took off 2014 due to repeated injuries. I have only run 2 official marathons and 3 unofficial marathons so far this year. To be honest, my training miles are not where I would hope they would be.  I shoot for 30-40 miles a week and I’m only completing 20-30 miles. I haven’t had any major injuries this year, but I have had weeks where I needed to R.I.C.E. (Rest, Ice, Compress, and Elevate.) These next two months will be my tempering.  Three more marathons to go, one each week in November. I have run more consistently this year than any other time of my life.  I feel I have adopted tools and habits that allow me to rest and recover properly.  I feel that I have a team that I can go to for advice and support.  My body feels strong.

I actually don’t know if I can do 50 marathons in 50 weeks. I know I could do 50 5ks and 10ks. I’m pretty sure at this point I could do 50 half marathons. I am unsure about 50 marathons. However, this was the whole point – to choose a goal that seemed unbelievable to me and figure out how I could make it happen.  Other people try to come up with a new mousetrap. Other people try to create art that has never been seen or experienced before. Selfishly, I am merely trying to push myself out of set comfort zones, to see if I can consciously change who I am for myself – define myself by my terms.

In the grand scheme of the running universe, I know I am not setting any records or accomplishing anything new.

Earlier this year, James Lawrence, nicknamed “The Iron Cowboy” , a 39-year-old triathlon coach and personal trainer, set out on a grueling endurance challenge on June 6 in Hawaii: to complete 50 Ironman-distance events in 50 states in 50 consecutive days. He succeeded, finishing his final 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride, and 26.2-mile run 50 days later on July 25 in Utah.

“I want people to know that anything is possible, and to not let anyone else dictate what they think is possible,” he said. “Chase your highest dreams… there are no limits to life.”

This summer, a 23-year-old has allowed his life to imitate art — running about 3,200 miles across the United States in less than 100 days just like the title character in “Forrest Gump”. Barclay Oudersluys had this to say about his momentous trip.

“I think it’s all mental,” he said. “It’s just, do you want to do it and stay focused and put the work in?”

There are everyday people, moms, doctors, cubicle workers, retirees, the guy who sits next to you at work who put in these miles, EVERY DAY.  They don’t take off a whole year, they just make it work.  I wish I could do that.  I’m hoping that this trip will show me that I can do anything I set my mind to.  I hope I can mark off growth on the doorframe at the end of this year.