The Starting Line

91. The Countdown Begins

Thursday, 26 May 2011 05:11 PM Written by

Wednesday’s workout: 1 hour spin 

Today:  Off


I like the feeling of my heart beating out of my chest.  On a spin bike last night I kept twisting the tension on the knob to see at what point I started breathing like it meant something.  One hard turn and I started panting.  Another, nothing.  Another, sweat stood out on my face.  Some more and my quads started screaming out of my legs.  Right there: the happiest I’ve been all week.

I’m weary with all this rest.  (If I were talking to my trainer Terry I would say: I’m not complaining.  I’m just making a statement.)  At our last meeting before the race Ron DeAngelo advised me to take off two to four weeks off running before I considered starting back.  Sunday makes two weeks since the marathon.  I know more rest would be good.  But even though I’m lifting and doing spin I miss the feeling of running.  Nothing else makes me feel that kind of good.  Just as much I miss the ritual: getting up early, mapping a course, stretching, setting out.  That first step out of a walk always feels like stepping through a door or behind a velvet rope into some cooler place – out into the world and inside my endorphin-addicted head.

I keep thinking about a moment in the early miles of the marathon – did this happen to you? – when the runners in my corral headed toward the Strip District and streaked beneath the bridge near the Greyhound station.  Everyone started whooping and the sound bounced everywhere and splashed its echo and made such a perfect soundtrack to that feeling at the start of a run.  Especially a run that big.  I'm counting down the days until I hear that echo again, if only in my own head.

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90. Easing Back

Monday, 23 May 2011 03:46 PM Written by

Today’s workout:

30 minutes on stationary bike at 90 to 112 rpm

One hour weight training


The last week, it’s been all about the bacchanal.  Fries.  Chips and guacamole.  Ice cream.  Cake.  And then Saturday night I was sitting on the couch eating a cheeseburger.  A blob of mayonnaise leaked out of the bun and splashed across the toe of my shoe – Pollock in condiments.  And as I reached for a napkin I thought: OK, you’ve had your fun.  Time to get back to it.  Right after you’ve finished these fries.

And so this morning I found myself pushing a 45-pound plate up a basketball court, wondering if I ever should have told Terry I felt soft.  Suffering aside, it did feel good to move so much.  On Friday we did a short workout to ease me back into the routine.  Today we still gave the legs some space and concentrated on the upper body and core.  In the next couple of days I’ll start back with spin classes to get in some cardio and burn off my week of maniacal eating.  What I’ll do with my head is, as always, the bigger part of the story.

Even as we worked, Terry kept reminding me that rest is not a bad thing.  When I overtrained, he said, I got to see the dark side of overdoing it.  These weeks after the marathon offer the chance for me to let my body completely recover so I can start training again for the next race at full speed.  And to make sure I never get that run down again.

He’s right, but I’m restless.  All week long as I drove through the city, down streets in Shadyside and Bloomfield and the South Side, I would say to myself: I’ve run here.  I said every day at least twice -- amazing: so many miles covered in the last five months.  Over the last week people have said to me, I don’t know if I could ever run a marathon.  And I say, hey, a year ago I didn’t know if I could, either.  I couldn’t even run a mile, for crying out loud.  And now look at me – I can barely sit still long enough to eat a cheeseburger.

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89. I Can't Go On, I'll Go On

Tuesday, 17 May 2011 04:34 PM Written by

Ultramarathoner Marshall Ulrich crossed the United States from coast to coast in 52 days – a total of 3,063.2 miles – on foot.  His journey makes running a marathon sound like being pushed in a stroller.

"I had to average close to 60 miles day on my run across the country, and it seemed endless,” Ulrich said in Sunday’s Los Angeles Times.  “All I had to look forward to was another 60-mile day.  And that is unbelievably hard and worrisome, because the distance and cumulative wear and tear make every day like summit day on Mt. Everest.  It's a 14- to 16-hour day where you can get injured and your body can fail at any time.  Yet you can't afford to fail or even slow down.  The pressure was on.  I was trying to set a record.  There was no relief.  It was do or die."

Why do so many runners do this, no matter what the distance?  Why do they hurt themselves?  Do they like feeling bad?

An article in today’s New York Times says that runners put themselves through torture for many reasons.  And the discussion of their motivation often gets muddled because of the different ways they experience and define pain.

One researcher quoted says what most people mean by pain is usually the discomfort of fatigue, not the pain caused by injury – the kind of distress even the strongest competitor can’t override.

Another reason runners are willing to hurt: the sport sparks a euphoria that makes pushing through pain worth temporary agony.

On Sunday, I had my own reasons to keep going, mainly because I knew if I kept going I’d eventually catch a wave and ride it across the Roberto Clemente Bridge.  And partly because I know the feeling of not finishing would hurt worse – and for a lot longer – than the pain in my legs and lungs.  And also for one brief and shabby moment because of two guys I saw on the hill into Oakland.  One was dressed like a Keystone Kop.  The other was dressed in prison stripes with chains around his ankles.  My lungs were burning and my calves were cramping, but my brain was screaming: If I can’t pass a dude in a stupid costume with chains around his ankles, I might as well lie down right now.  Ultramarathoner or not, you take your inspiration where you find it.


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88. Again

Monday, 16 May 2011 02:53 PM Written by

My non-medal moment from yesterday's marathon came on Bryant Street in Highland Park just past mile 19.  I jogged past a German shepherd barking and straining at the leash and I thought with a sudden rush of great cheer, If that dog lunged into the street and bit me right now, I could stop running!

As I wrote in my story today, I can’t say I loved every moment of my marathon.  But I do feel changed.

When I talked to Jeff Galloway on Saturday, something he said struck me:  “The marathon, especially the first one, is to an extent a life-changing experience.  I mean, you don’t turn your life around miraculously, but you simply have a different feeling of appreciation for yourself and respect.  And this will create a lot of other things.  So you need to make it a good experience, because then you’ll want to do it again.”

And along with my desperate wish for the peaceful release of a random mauling, good experiences keep floating back.  Like the line of four children standing along Frankstown Road, palms facing up.

"The high-five is what it's all about," said the boy second from the right.  "It's better than a thousand dollars!"

What a freaking philosopher.  If I'd been carrying a thousand bucks, I'd have given it to him.  

You find your advice where you can, and if you're looking you can find it everywhere.  Galloway offered his own counsel about running after a first marathon.  “I do recommend having another goal within the next three weeks,” he said.  “Not a race goal, but a fun-run goal – something that’s going to get you out there and allow you to continue to enjoy this.”

I haven’t found one yet.  But I do have other plans:  I just signed up for the Toronto Waterfront Marathon – five months from today.

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87. Last-minute Advice

Saturday, 14 May 2011 05:50 PM Written by

10 hours to marathon

Friday’s run:

3 miles


Average pace:  10:01 minute/mile

Today:  Off


I left the marathon expo about an hour ago with what I went there for: some last-minute advice from a couple of guys who are running the half marathon tomorrow:  Jeff Galloway and Dick Beardsley.  I’ve interviewed both of them in the last five months, and on the night before the race I wanted to ask:  What’s the smartest thing a runner can do between now and 7 a.m. tomorrow morning?

“Well, first of all,” Galloway said, “you aren’t going to get in any better shape, so you should get off your feet.  Relax.  Secondly, don’t overeat.  Don’t starve yourself, but don’t eat too much in the night or the morning.  Thirdly, whatever you save during the first half of your race tomorrow, you can use for the last third of that race.”

Beardsley agreed with that last point:  “I always tell people, if you think you going out too slow at the start you’re probably going too fast,” he said.  “The first few miles will feel easy.  And then reality starts setting in.  And man, if you go out too quick and you start dying that slow death, those last few miles can be brutal.

“You’ve got to be disciplined and hold yourself back.  Because you’re thinking, ‘Oh, man, I’m feeling so good, and all these people are just flying by me.’  But if go out at the pace you feel you can run, I can almost guarantee you every one of those people will finish behind you, even though they’re way out in front of you at the beginning.”

And no matter what, Beardsley said, don’t obsess over anything.

“Everybody’s worried about the weather.  There’s nothing you can do about the weather, so there’s no reason to worry about it.  The more relaxed you can get yourself, the better you’re going to run.  Yeah, you’re going to be excited, your heart rate’s going to be kicking in – some people get so nervous they get sick to their stomach.  So be as relaxed as you can be.  Kick back tonight and keep sipping on fluids.  You know you probably won’t sleep real well because of the excitement.  But that’s OK.   If you slept well the previous few days, you’ll be fine.  They’ve done studies where they’ve had people stay up all night the night before a marathon, and they’ve run absolutely fine. … Tonight, it’s not gonna happen.  And then just get out there tomorrow and enjoy.”

So ... here we go.

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86. Not a New Mantra, But.

Thursday, 12 May 2011 03:37 PM Written by

Last night around the eighth inning of the Pirates game a beer-soaked kid two rows back started yelling at the Pirates to pick up their game.

You suck! he yelled.  You can do it!

I’m going to yell that at you at the race, my brother said.

That would actually be pretty cool, I said, after I stopped laughing for a very long time.

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85. Storming the Barricades

Thursday, 12 May 2011 03:23 PM Written by

2 Days to Marathon

Yesterday’s run:


5 miles

Average pace:  10:50 minute/mile (rough marathon pace)


Even now, Terry is trying to train me for Sunday’s race.  Not my body, but the changeful throbbing mass atop it.

Think of the marathon as just another run, he told me the other day.

So all day my brain fever-spits just another run just another run. And then yesterday I went to the Pirates game with my brother, Ron, and crossed General Robinson Street and looked toward Heinz Field and the finish line and thought: In a couple of days I’ll be running there. My stomach lunged in the direction of my tight left ankle.  And then this morning I woke at 4 a.m. joining a program already in progress: just another run just another run.

And then I was walking down Forbes Avenue in Oakland before lunch and passed some barricades on the sidewalk.  That’s funny, what are those … oh.  Yeah.  Just another run just another ...

... and then I put salt on my chicken salad – to store some extra to sweat out over 26.2 miles – and I thought: I never do this ... no wait just another run just another run in the name of all that's holy just another freaking run.

Then I drove to the South Side for a last quick visit to UPMC’s Center for Sports Medicine for some minor adjustments to the ankle.

Are you ready? Ron DeAngelo asked.

I’m ready, I said.

Are you nervous? he asked.

I’m nervous as hell! I said.

The only time I didn’t feel that way in the last two days?  Yesterday, when I went out for my run.  Come to think of it, I probably ran past those barricades then.  I just didn’t notice.

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84. Things People Say (One in a Series)

Tuesday, 10 May 2011 06:40 PM Written by

From an e-mail from Doug Newburg, a performance coach who's been giving me advice:

"In a long race you are going to move in and out of your comfort zone and will need to find little games ... to reenergize yourself.  So keep playing around and see what works for you.  The hardest part of the race is going to be when you feel bad, but you will find a way out of it.  The main thing is stay open to the experience of everyone around you – the people cheering you on. Also, when you start to feel bad, just breathe, nice easy breaths, and your body will respond to that and click you back in.  One of the biggest things that will make you feel bad is boredom.  When your body gets bored it starts to feel bad.  Don't accept that bad feeling as being tired.

"So to practice for that, when you run try to run as big as you can.  Play around with being big.  Head up, taking in the environment.  Small movements, but be big in doing them.  As you get tired you will shrink and get smaller and your mind will start trying to protect you.  So just play with being big and see how that feels to you ..." 

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