Monday, 25 May 2009

Why I race...

The start of the Dunblane Hydro 7.5 mile road race was abrupt. We'd lined up, and I was chatting Red Head, a woman I'd met at previous races. She, like me, is something of a race junkie. The race could be in the middle of nowhere, it could be snowing, and as likely as not she'd be lining up. Like me, on the surface, she seemed normal. But underneath I suspect that she too was haunted by the same obsessive thought: when can I run another race?

The horn sounded almost as soon as everyone was lined up, and we were off. I wished Red Head well, and then made my own way into the crowd.

My first mile was 6:55. I'd felt a bit trapped by the crowd, but didn't want to go out too hard. 6:55 was a little on the slow side, but the crowd seemed to thin a bit after the mile marker.

Mile 2 was 13:44. Better. It was sunny, but cool. The course headed out along a river on a country road.

3 was 20:25. Still making time. Between mile 3 and 4 the road crossed the river and headed back into Dunblane. We now were running into a strong wind.

In a 10-mile hill race late last year, I toiled away through boggy and cold conditions to the summit of a bald Scottish hill. It was windy, and my arms, exposed in a short-sleeved shirt, felt numb. I eventually reached the summit of the climb, and was pleased to begin the 5 mile descent back to the start/finish line.

As the descent progressed I began to feel, inexplicably, exhuberant. A phrase from the Origin of Species began to drum in my head "There is a grandeur in this view of life".

Legs fully extended on each stride, I stomped through the mud and bog and sprinted towards the finish. In the cold, in the mud, as I passed other runners, I felt terrific.

This, in part, is why I race: for those occasional moments of stepping outside of myself, for elusive day when you just feel great, for those fleeting moment within a race when you feel the joy of running hard.

Doubtless this is just hypoxia.


I began feel good at mile four. It was windy, but perhaps the gradient was slightly downhill, because I felt like running faster.

Mile 5 was 34:23. I was running sub-7 minute miles. Now there were only 2.5 miles left in the race, so there was less of a worry of running out of gas before the end. I was running one of the strongest races of my life.

At mile 6 I was back into town, and was at 41 mins something. I pushed my legs out in front of me, and the road felt great under my feet.

At 7 I was 48:35. There was a steady climb - not as bad as feared - back to the Hydro hotel. There, however, was a steep climb up to the finish.

I crossed the line at 52:22 on my watch. 37th out of 323. For me, one my my best races, in percentile times. I could not have run this faster, and I doubt that I'll be able to beat this time on this course again.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Running and aging

OK, my last run was just a session at the track to run 5 miles at at 7 min pace.

The sun came in and out of the clouds, the wind was present but light, and I felt o.k.

The only other people on the track were a rugby-looking dude, and an old guy who seemed to be coaching him. The rugby guy was running hard for a half lap, then walking the remainder. The old guy would chat with him during the walk breaks


Lately, I've been getting more interested in aging. In part, of course, this is self-interest. I'm 43, so I guess I'm middle-aged. I don't feel middle-aged - in my head I'm the same as when I was 21. That said, I now think that at 21 I didn't know anything. At some level, with aging, I feel that at least I know my personality. At 21, I wasn't sure who I was.

Just read an interesting book entitled "Survival of the Fittest". In it, Mike Stroud, the author, gives some really vivid example of "old guys" doing incredible endurance events. As we age, of course, we slow a bit. But, it's quite impressive how much physical capacity there is even after 60 or 70.


So, I finish my run in 34:46. I'm pleased - I was able to maintain a 7 min mile pace for 5 miles. The old guy, who happened to be standing near where I finished, as me how I was doing. We chatted, and it turns out that this guy is a pretty accomplished runner. In the race I'm doing this weekend, he finished 8th - overall - last year.

I ask him how his times have changed over the years. He said when he first began running - in his 40s - he was running 32 minute 10ks, and winning them. Now he runs them in 38 minutes.

Crikey. That's fast. My best 10k is 41 something, and that was 5 years ago.

So, as always, there's always someone who's faster than you. But I'm ok with that. The encouraging thing is just how little this guy's times have slipped over the decades.

The thing that I guess I haven't entirely accepted yet is that my best running times are behind me. I still think that I can run personal bests (PBs) in different races. In the last 9 years, since I've gradually gotten into doing races, my times haven't changed a great deal. 5 years ago, when I was 38, I set PBs in the three races I did that year. I haven't been able to beat these times yet, but I feel like I'm training harder now. So, we'll see.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

The Road

O.K., my road isn't quite a route to uncertain destination in a post-apocalyptic world. It's a narrow road, just behind where I work, leading up into the hills. When I can run it in its entirety, I beleive, I'll be ready to run the marathon.

The Road is 9.5 miles long. It starts with a steep climb, and on this climb the road appears to have been carved out of the hillside long ago. On each side a rock face rises about 20 feet or so, and drip with wet, green moss. Above these rock faces are woods, and their overhaning branch create a green tunnel for the road. If you encounter a car at this point, you have to press against the rock face until it passes. Often the road itself is wet, and after heavy rain it's a nearly a stream.

After this initial climb, the road forks, and the fork to the right takes you into another climb. This one is a touch less steep, but by now you are breathing hard. After 100 meters or so, the road flattens, and a pastures appear on the left and right. Usually there are sheep in the field to the left.

Next there is another sharp climb, but you are rewarded at the top with a brief descent, and an open view to the hills. From here on it's rolling hills for several miles, and then a gradual descent to the road's end.


On Sunday my wife took the children to their swimming lessons, and I was free to go in to work and to get in a long run. Long-distance running takes time, and it's a challenge to carve out a chunk of this - especially with small children. Some get up extra early in the morning, but I've never been a morning runner. Still, this is a thought, as the sun rises just before 4 am here in the summer. I listened to Steve Runner's Phedippdations podcast on the drive in, dropped off some necessary work in a colleague's mail tray, and then mapped my run. I wanted to do 12 miles.

The hybrid maps on "map-my-run" were most useful. 6 miles along The Road would take me to a large stretch of woodland beyond a large hill. 5 miles would take me to a farmhouse. A familiar training route, 4 miles, takes me to the sole pub on the road. As I was going to do an out-and-back run, these would give me 8, 10, or 12 miles. To do the whole thing, which I've never done, would be 19. If I can build up my endurance to run to that point, I'd be a long way towards marathon fitness.

It was cool but sunny when I started. On the initial climb I just plodded along, running slow, but getting it behind me. After this, I relaxed a bit, and enjoyed the open views. Occasionally, there were sheep on the road. I also saw three deer crossing the road, and startled one pheasant. It was a quiet Sunday morning though, and most of the traffic was from cyclists.

As I approached mile 4 I felt that I wasn't running too strong. I checked my watch: 37:27. This was a surprise - it was faster that I typically run to this point. After the pub at mile four there's a 1/2 mile climb to a patch of trees, and then a gradual descent. I'd never run beyond 4.5 miles from work.

The view from the pub is impressive. There's open moorland and all sides, and rounded hills. I had my eye out for potential spots to camp with the children someday.

Beyond 4.5 I felt o.k. At 5 or so I started feeling pain in the side of my left knee. This was familiar, and what I've self-diagnosed as illiotibial band syndrome. I hadn't reached the 6 mile mark yet, but at 56 mins I decided to turn around. I was a good distance away from my car, starting to feel sore, and I'd already been out nearly an hour. The 6 mile marker would have to wait for another day.

My runner's knee didn't get worse on the return journey, though later in the afternoon, at the playground with my children, it reminded me of its presence.

So, I called it 11 miles in 1:48.

This is about as much as I can do, on this route, with my current endurance level.


In my mind, I'm not actively training for a marathon yet. I'm keeping in some long runs, as the marathon is a distant aspiration, but for now I'm doing road or trail runs for upcoming shorter-distance routes.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

The Dunfermline Half Marathon

Well, it didn't quite feel like I was picking them up and laying them down today.

The weather was good. Sunny. Little wind. Temps in the low 60s. After a rainy, windy week here in Scotland, it was something to be thankful for.

There were 662 runners for the Dunfermline Half Marathon. It was the first time that I've done this race, and my second half-marathon ever.

With the runners line up, there was quite a bit of speech giving before the start. As we sweated a bit in the sun, most appeared eager to just start the race. What was interesting in what the speakers said was the repeated reference to the "current economic situation". The race was fortunate, I think one of the speakers said, to go ahead in these conditions. The withdrawl of sponsors had caused another upcoming half marathon, the Dundee Half, to be cancelled.

So, I was thinking to myself, it's interesting how the economic situation has permeated our everyday life. Who would have thought a few years ago that there would be references to the bad economy in the opening remarks before a race?

The race began and ended in a Dunfermline park, and was comprised of a loop that was done twice. After the start, I felt like I was trapped behind slower runners. I wanted to pace myself during the run, hoping to break 1:35 overall.

I passed people in the park, and eventually got to those who were running more my pace. I didn't want to go out too hard - I wanted to run a good pace, but comfortably.

My first mile was 6:42. Too fast. I deliberatly slowed up a bit. I wanted to run a bit over 7 mins per mile.

At mile two I was at 14:11 total. This was better, if not a trifle slow. The course wound through the town center of Dunfermline.

Mile three was 21:26. This was about right. There was a bit of up-and-down on the route.

Mile four: 28:55. OK, now I was slowing. The sun was out. I thought about an acquaintance who had a tough time in the London Marathon recently. It was hot, and she suffered. Here, I was ok, but would likely have to take on water.

Somewhere between miles four and five I took water. I always feel a twinge of guilt drinking just a bit of water from a bottle and leaving it at the side of the road. At home, I routinely save plastic bottles - it seems a shame to pitch something that is perfectly useful.

I don't remember my split at mile 5. The route was descending a bit, and I made a mental note that this would be good for the second lap. I was looking forward to miles 6 and 7, where my wife and children, with some friends, would be waiting to see me.

Mile 6 was at 43 mins something. This was slight slower than my mile 6 split in the previous half marathon I did 2 months earlier (the Alloa Half; I was 42 ish then). So, I was starting to think that beating my previous time might not be on the cards today.

Still, I felt good. I stopped keeping track of my split times after mile 6. Near mile 7 I started having twinges in my right illiotibial band, a problem that appears when I run beyond what I am apparently ready for, but it wasn't significant. I was hoping that the longer runs I'd done in the aftermath of the Alloa race would pay dividends in this respect. There I'd had significant pain after mile 11.

Mile 8 was a challenge. It seemed to be largely uphill. I just wanted to get it in the bag.

9 was better - the route levelled out. I thought it would be good to start picking people off, but I didn't feel quite that strong.

I was starting to get in my own world a bit as I looked for the mile 10 marker. Never saw it. The song "Hallelujah" kept playing in my head. I tried for something different, as the song wasn't really energising me, but I couldn't make anything stick. "All I've really learned from love, was how to shoot somebody who outdrew you...". Well, this was the mental song for today, no point in fighting it.

In the only full marathon I have done, the New York, 12 years ago, Alana Morrisette's "Thank You" seemed to power me through the miles. 3:54 there, in case you are wondering.

Somewhere after 10 I saw the familiar thin legs of an acquaintance from the local running club in my town. I'm not actually a member of this club, but I've run with them a good bit last fall and winter. I speeded up and confirmed that it was my acquaintance, and we chatted for a bit. He informed me that I'd passed 10 already.

I passed him temporarily. I was ok. My knee was fine, so the longer runs may well have helped.

After mile 11 I started flagging. 12 was a real challenge. The slight climbs through the town were really difficult - my legs seemed to have nothing left. My acquaintance had passed me, but he was still in view.

I was shattered when I re-entered the park. I just wanted to see the finish line. Finally, I rounded the last turn. I could feel someone on my tail, so I went all out. He didn't pass me.

1:37:17. A slight disappointment. This put me in 133rd place in a field of 662. So, from a percentile view, this was a bit better than my usual races (which are often hill races).

But, this was all I had. How can I run double this distance? I felt like I had nothing after mile 12.

Is qualifying a realistic goal?

Friday, 8 May 2009

Four miles

OK, just a short run yesterday after work.

I went to the track, and started with an easy-ish mile of 7:16. When I say mile, I mean 1600 meters.

I stopped and caught my breath, and then went for a fast mile. This came in at 6:36.


When I was in high school, I think my best time ever for a mile was 5:15. I find that a bit hard to fathom now... maybe I'm mis-remembering it. Wonder if it would be possible to track down high school track meet results from 25 years ago.

I was a slow runner in high school. I never won, or placed, in any race. I usually didn't finish last, but I was usually not too far from last. I also ran cross-country, and was dreadfully slow.

But I liked running. I liked training. I would run all winter, on my own. In northern Ohio, this isn't a trivial effort.


I was initially thinking of running a fast 3rd mile. However, I was tired after my 2nd mile, and decided to go for another easy one. This came in at 7:36.

This workout was intended to be easy. I'd run a 5-mile hill race two days previously, so this run was just to loosen up the legs a bit. I also have a half-marathon tomorrow, so I didn't want tired legs.

After my third mile, I rested for a few seconds, and then went for a fast final mile. I wanted to get home and see my children before they went to bed. So, I tried to run hard, particularly on the last lap-and-a-half. The sun came out on my last quarter, I pushed my feet out in front of me, and I came in at 6:26.

Thursday, 7 May 2009


O.K. Here's my story. I'm a 43-year old male, married, with two small children. My goal in life is to hike the Appalachian Trail, but, given the constraints inherent the circumstances mentioned above, my interim goal is to run the Boston Marathon. Just once. By qualifying.

This blog will be the diary of my efforts to do so.

Am I fast? Not exactly. On any given race I usually finish in the 66th percentile. That is, I'm usually ahead of 2/3 of the crowd, and behind the other 1/3. So, I guess, you could describe me as a middle-of-the-pack runner.

To qualify for Boston, I need to run a 3:30:59 time in another marathon. But, I hear you say, don't you need a 3:20 time as a 43-year-old to qualify? Yes. But that's to run next year's Boston. I want to shoot for a marathon that will occur next year, when I am 44, to have a qualifying time for Boston the year after, when I'm 45. So, I'm starting now.

But I don't just want to qualify and complete Boston. I want to run strong.

I want to pick up the miles and lay them down