Monday, November 29, 2010

Angels, Demons, and Europeans

The "BIG E" feeling the love in Brooklyn Heights!

Waiting for our Angel Cab to take us all home!

The "Big E" in Queens at mile 12.

In the Villages with me from the left ICE P, CZAR 2.0, and Buckeye Girl

Moment of Truth

Every race has a moment of truth and for me it has come to this. Central Park, Mile 24, chip time 3:35:49. Just over two miles to go and 24 minutes to get there sub 4 hours. Synonymous with the home stretch, the entrance to Central Park near the MoMA. At mile 24, a New York marathon runner should feels emotionally elated. Should be overwhelmed with joy with their pending achievement. Reveling in the moments that culminate from all the hard work and sacrifices made to be here on the pavement on this side of the park fences lined by crowds.

But, for runner number 17008, two miles and 385 yards cannot end soon enough. I leave 5th avenue at 81st street and enter the park. I am moving but each step is an effort. I am cold, wet, and beat up. The elephant that is my body commands me to stop. The rider that is my brain preaches “Rider up “not time to quit now Tim.”

Back story

“Wow! You haven’t run New York?” Ask anyone anything about running and the New York Marathon will enter the discussion. Boston may be hallowed ground, Chicago is faster, Grandma’s is friendlier, but the New York Marathon is the top dawg race, or better yet, “A running race festival”. And just like any festival, a great concept in theory but like that other famous New York festival upstate, overwhelmed by the crowds.

To accommodate the crowds, race organizers create three segregated “villages” that each send off three segregated “waves” of runners. In essence, the flow of runners is parsed into 9 waves of 5000 runners apiece. The course is designed for three separate flows of runners from each of the three village waves that then at mile 8 eventually meld into one rapidly running vein to course through the Brooklyn neighborhoods. In theory of course! Another unique aspect of New York is that the course hits all five boroughs of New York, but in doing so become a point to point race. Meaning 47,000 plus runners require transport to Staten Island for the start, only to finish in Central Park hours later.

Over the years, the race organizers also aimed to segregate runners by ability. Faster runners start in earlier waves and the slower or first time marathoners start in the later waves of each village. So, wave 1 with the Kenyans in front would go off at 9:40, followed by Wave 2 at 10:10 and Wave 3 at 10:40 from each of the Green, Orange and Blue villages.

In festivus spirit, three of my R2C crew are running the festival. To be honest, Ellen aka “Buckeye Girl”, who ran New York in 2000 and 2006, spearheads the effort, encouraging us to apply in November 2009. Running is Marguerite, (Ice P), who set a PR in 2009 at New York, and Jim aka Czar 2.0.

Taking advantage of my back in the day Baltimore Marathon PR time of 3:36, I secure a coveted Wave 1 Green starting wave. Buckeye and Czar 2.0 get Orange Corral Wave 2, but Ice P (Marguerite) is saddled with a Wave 3 green spot. ICE P being in marketing management at Sports Authority will have none of that. She works her “solutions” booth New York charm at the Javits Center expo to browbeat a hapless volunteer into upgrading her to a Green Wave 1 spot. Speaking of the expo, I am not sure if I am in New York or Paris. The crowd is dominated by non-English speakers. Unbeknownst to me European seemingly frown upon assigned wave starts times. Loosely translated, “I traveled across the pond, therefore, I will just push and shove my way into any wave I want and pretend not to understand English.”

Race Day in the Staten Island Village

Buckeye girl arranges car service, (black suburban) to escort the R2C crew to Staten Island. We arrive without incident and at 8am CZAR 2.0 and Buckeye girl say their goodbyes and head to the Orange Village, while ICE P and I hit the Port –o- Lets in the Green Village for our 9:40 start. Brrrr. . It is cold!! I brought an old Redskins hoodie and am thankful for it as Bruce Springsteen blares out of the speakers. The wind is howling, but the sun is shining. There are people (read Europeans) everywhere.

Bashing aside, I do notice that the Euros are an enthusiastic bunch, and are down with compression gear and kinsei tape performance enhancers. Fashion is less important than compression. AHA! but, little do they know that I hit up the Aussie 2XU booth at the expo to the extent, that the vendor shouted out” Now if I can just find 200 more like this guy!” I score white comp shorts, white long sleeve compression top, and black comp socks for another day.

Today outfit choice is critical to elicit fan support on the course. Drum roll please. . .. . “Starting in Wave 1, bib 17008, for your Washington Bullets, at forward, from the University of Houston, #11 in your program the Big E, Elvin Hayes!” Yes, I will sport a vintage Les Boulez jersey resplendent with white compression shorts, calf guards, matching ASICS Kayanos, and IM Visor. I anticipate lots of love from the 40s something set that recall the Knick Bullet rivalries of the 1970s.

ICE P and I fight the crowds to drop off our bags with the UPS truck to transport to the finish line. I fail to discern “the why” behind the mass exodus of runners walking against us heading to the corrals. There are still so many runners in the village (Wave 2’s probably) it fails to register that we should already be in our corrals by now though 90 minutes prior to gun time. I check my watch, 8:30, OK still an hour 10 until the start we are OK on time. (So I think)

I spot a fellow triathlete planning to toss out his Body Glide. Within the IRONMAN community, borrowing glide is not a big deal. Apparently in Staten Island among non triathletes, this is a HUMONGO Deal. ICE P is amazingly disgusted witnessing me borrow some sketchy glide from a stranger after he confessed to just using it "all over.” As I reach my hand in my pants to apply said glide, she cringes and takes a walk out of visual range.

One hour to go, and we hit the let one more time and then head to the corral entrance with plenty of time. There are runners everywhere and the line is not moving. It is now 8:45am and the gun is to go off in 55 minutes. OK, plenty of time, but I realize that the corrals have been closed. I peer over heads and see jam packed runners inside the fenced areas. WTF!! WTF!!

Cutthroat Corrals

The sheer size of the field dictates creative crowd control. The corrals themselves consist of 12 foot high fencing on one side, lines of port o lets on the other in front of buses parked bumper to bumper. Every 50ft there is a one person wide entry “gate” guarded by the corral “captains. Inside roped off 30 by 30 ft pen areas contain five or six port o lets and more guards making sure egress/regress is prohibited. Had I known of these “facilities” I would have entered the corral much early.

I see Wave 1 runners inside the fence heading to the start. There is plenty of room inside but no one allowed in. We are trapped below decks like Titanic passengers in steerage. Nowhere to go and the starting line lifeboats are being launched without us. THIS IS GREAT! Standing around for hours in the cold before running a marathon with thousands of smelly Europeans. I consider a new business venture, advertising the powers of Speedstick deodorant, a concept that apparently has not crossed the pond yet. Damn these Euros smell skunky!

From our Titanic pens, we watch the 9:40 wave go off 3 minutes late. We are finally permitted entry with Wave 2 at 10 am. I try to find the positive. Chatting up a couple of 3:30 hopeful finishers we conclude whereas we would have been the rearguard of 5000 Wave 1 runners, we are now the vanguard of Wave 2 starting within the first few 100.

Young rollie pollie black women act as the “corral captains”. They scream and threaten and command us all to back up away from the pen entry gates or they will call NYPD. There are hundreds behind us and none of us can even see our feet let alone move or fall. The chicks have no clue, and are verging on panic. I laugh thinking “Typical black chicks on a power trip.” A couple of the Euros look at me inquisitively. I attempt to translate in my broken Spanish. “Los dos son mujeres negros con poder.” I get a couple of smiles back. MAN, do I miss the simplicity of a trail race start right now!

According to Ice P, being in the corral waiting forever to start is frustrating but not as much as is “random guy”. In the middle of the crowd, Random Guy is just lounging on a bunch of discarded blankets and jackets like taking a nap in the park after the race. Not knowing what to make of this, I quickly bonded in the corral with all the other pissed off 3:30 folks who got boxed out of the 9:40 wave and mock random guy. I also just kind of pretended that I was actually "one of them" and could do a 3:30 race! As attested above the corral "captains" are power hungry and loved boxing us out!

At 9:30 am in the Orange village, Buckeye girl Ellen contemplates her own corral crisis surrounded by smelly compression bound European males. “I was just trying to stay warm, and failed to notice that one of my many power gel goo strapped to my fuel belt under my over shirt burst and oozed. Finally, in the crowd of Euro men, I finally look down on my leg, “What is that white sticky stuff?! What is it? Where did it come from? OMG, gross! No! OMG!! .It’s not . . . I signal to Jim on my other flank. Wait, oh, OK, one of my double latte gels blew open in my tights. Thanks god! Fortunately for Buckeye girl Race Captain extraordinaire Jim helps clean it up! Hmmn, tastes like café latte!

RACE START – Tim Chip Time (TA 0.00), Jim Chip Time 0.00

The gun for Wave 1 goes off at 9:43; 3 minutes late. We look up and see runners pouring onto the Verrazano. The power generated by the collective mass moving above our heads onto the span is empowering. Within minutes the “corral captains” open the ropes in front of us and we are herded out through another gate to the toll booths. Our green wave is channeled onto a roadway to the lower left bridge span. Greyhound buses block our views of the Orange and Blue waves that are to start on the upper levels of the bridge. CZAR and Buckeye girl are both in the Orange wave and I have no idea where they are. ICE P is most likely in the throng behind me somewhere. She is undertrained for this race, and I assume she will have to walk bits of it but will no doubt finish, because she is a Jersey girl rock star. However, she will most likely be disappointed not to better her 4:24 PR she set here last year. As I wait to start, I am surprisingly relaxed and don a Dunkin Donuts ski hat to stay warm while we wait. Score!

At 10:10 am the gun goes off and so do we. We have been warned not to pee off the bridge or be banned from any and all future New York Marathons. SO, dramatic pause. Several of us guys stop and pee on the cement bridge support prior to the bridge, take that Corral Biatches! We are quickly back and running onto the bridge.

Angels Spanning the Verrazano

The wind is fierce but the mood is festive and indescribable. All around it is quiet and not due to IPODs or exertion. Each individual is grappling with the powerful mental force that crossing the Verrazano generates. The views of the harbor, Statue of Liberty and lower Manhattan are awesome. For most, if not all, the visual omission of the Twin Towers is noticeable and generates unique memories and emotions. I shiver but do not feel the cold. I am hauling ass, but do not feel the bridge pavement. I am on the verge of crying, but not due to a close family person lost. I cry due to the immensity of the collective emotions that I feel. I harbor no special story of heroism, no someone close to me perished. I cry due to the presence of the angels that lift me on and carry me with their wings.

I am finally processing the fact I am alive and running the New York City Marathon! For the five week period of 8/1/2001 to 9/8/2001 I was assigned to work at a client site at WFC 1. The week of 9/11, I then was transferred to a client in New Brunswick, NJ. Would I have been OK? Most likely, but I owe all the angels that looked over me on that tragic day where so many hard working family people were not so fortunate.

As we crest the hill at the center of the span at mile 1, I redirect this spiritual power into physical. I am sprinting down the span at a ridiculously fast pace for a 5K let alone a 26 mile five borough journey. I cross mile 3 at 24 flat which included a pee stop and an uphill mile. The roadway is littered with disposed sweatshirts and jackets. Less fortunate people are rummaging through the picks of the litter; I pray that the angels will care after their lives like they have for my own.

Brooklyn Heights 5K time (3.1 miles) Tim 25:10 Jim 26:50

The fans are lining the streets now as we enter Brooklyn Heights. The neighborhood is Latin, and then quickly morphs to Jewish synagogues, then back to Latin again. Regardless of ethnicity or religious beliefs, the crowd is universally enthusiastic and seeks to be involved in their own ways. Some have signs, some have bananas. Some have tissues; some have gummy bears, some yell, and some high five. The melting pot crowds are what truly make the New York Marathon the special running festival that it is billed to be. For the next 23 miles these New Yorkers and guests will line the roads braving the cold, and even venture out onto the 59th St Bridge as far as permissible.

Grabbing a tissue to wipe my brow, I hug the right edge of the street. I am close to these New Yorkers in order to pass slower runners in the center, but also to be close to the crowds to soak in their energy and enthusiasm. Running New York is about interacting with the people. I once again thank the angels that are carrying me on their wings flying by at right on 8 minute mile, 3:30 pace.

Atlantic Avenue 10K (6.2 miles) time Tim 49:47 Jim 52:18

I am running too fast, but the Angels make me do it. They are everywhere in the crowds out in force. With my Washington Bullets #11 Elvin Hays jersey I am also a force and gets lots of attention. I wolf a gel with water at the one hour mark and dodge Dan Brown Eurotourista runners. Meaning, by mile 7, I have made up the 30 minute buffer from the slower Wave 1 runners. Many of these Europeans are not only walking, but stopping in the middle of the street to snap pictures of each other, and every church along the way.

Further annoying is that many of them sport Wave 2 numbers indicating to me that they ignored the wave rules. Being a tourist is fine; being a guest runner is fine. But start with your wave or in the back, and not impede others who came to “run” New York. Case in point, an older French couple radically swerves from the center lane right in front of me resplendent in full red white and blue afros, and red white and blue flag outfits with magic hands. Friggin frogs! What is this “Le Bay to Breaker?” Je née se pais doucebags in Francais? Like a NBA point guard, I push mademoiselle to my right, split the double team with Frog homme on my left, give him a WTF glare, and motor through and past.

At mile 8, the three wave courses merge into one. In order to make any progress on the throng of slow Wave 1 runners, I am virtually running alongside the curb and the crowd. Think driving the shoulder of the Belt, the BQE or whatever local tri state road you prefer. As I speed down the breakdown lane, the crowds edge farther into the street for viewing. This reduces the space for the flow of runners, like a mountaintop finish in the Tour de France. Time and again slower runners swerve out of the center of the jam to try and high five or take a picture from the crowd edge. I constantly scan the jammed crowd of runners and keep up my pace. Pop, WTF! There go the IPOD headphones as they catch on a young onlooker.

Lafayette Street – 15K (9.3 miles) time Tim 1:14:58 Jim 1:18:35

This is the yuppie zone of Park Slope. Tailgates, U2, and bloody marys are the flavor in front of the brownstones. I am moving along, but still cold when the wind blows but in the zone. I am staying right, passing Euro tourists, high fiving Bullets fans, and even get one “Bullets” how politically incorrect is that” comment. In my best Brooklyn tough guy impression, I yell out, I got you political correct right here. F U asshole, how’s that for PC! Hater Douche bag! I channel the negative into physical energy and keep my legs moving. Mile 10 flies by at 1:20:32 right on 8 minute per mile 3:30 pace.

Queens –- 13.1 Half Marathon time Tim 1:47:42, Jim 1:51:09

Hey there is Jay Song from the FED, out representing! Yay, I have fans on the course! At the half I intentionally slow my pace to 8:30s. The Verrazano angels are long gone, and I am tiring. I want to conserve and hope it is not too late to rein in my inner Wildebeest. Halfway is the long approach to the uphill onramp to the 59th street Bridge. The Manhattan skyline looms ahead. I Galloway walk several 30 second chunks on the uphill bridge as a preventative measure. Right at 2 hours in I wolf my second gel, but have no water to chase it with. Mistake! The gel will absorb water forcing my body to seek hydration elsewhere, like from my muscles already starving for fluids!

59th Street Bridge - 25K (15.5 mile) time Tim 2:11:16 Jim 2:13:37

I catch my breath and regroup here. I want to rock 1st avenue when I get there. The crowd has thinned out as many of the slower Wave 1 runners are behind me now and the speedy runners are still well ahead. With plenty of room to run, the bridge is endlessly cruel and no bridge angels anywhere! For others in my R2c crew the narrow bridge is even crueler. Czar walks a bit here and there and ICE P is submersed under a zone of Euro walker photogs and Euro pushers. She is tripped, toppled, and trampled. Quite the welcome to Manhattan, Marguerite!

Descending the bridge the first twinge of the left hammy flares. No!! No friggin way! With no angels around, the rapid descent after the climb is hadistic and those old marathon demons are ready to pounce. I turn onto 1st avenue and 50 yards ahead is a phalanx of motorcycle and cameras block my way. Why? There is only a trickle of runners but WTF? As I gain, I angle myself for full frontal camera love. I swing by and look back to see what the fuss is about. It is the Chilean miner, in full blown walk. Damn, even the miner got a Wave 1 starting time!

My demons scatter scared off by the presence of so many angels. I dwell a minute on the fact that he is here running. Say what you want, but no one can take away the fact the guy was contemplating death and dying for weeks and months and is here in New York. Awesome!

1st Avenue Freezeout

Despite the Angels and crowds 1st avenue is so wide, I run alone. I grab a Gatorade at the next water stop and bang, there goes the left hammy freezes up into a spasm lock.

“Well I was stranded in the jungle

Trying to take in all the heat they was giving

The night is dark but the sidewalk's bright

And lined with the light of the living
From a tenement window a transistor blasts

Turn around the corner things got real quiet real fast
I walked into a Tenth Avenue freeze-out"

I latch onto a water volunteer and he helps me prop my leg up on the water table. I massage and loosen up the muscle. I tentatively set out.

"Well everybody better move over, that's all
'Cause I'm running on the bad side

And I got my back to the wall
Tenth Avenue freeze-out"

Walk, good, walk faster, good, jog, good, run, OK! The next ten miles will define this marathon experience. Bruce has my back, and I chug up a virtually empty 1st avenue and think about the randomness of life and death. The miner, my own 2003 snowmachine crash, Heather’s 2000 double truck Somerville Circle closing accident. Life can be taken away so quickly. Running a marathon is so here and now forcing you to live in the moment;

For now, for you. For the person and body you had when younger. For the body you are trying to recapture now. For raising you middle finger and showing those death demons who you are!

I laugh and smile, and think to a truly special being that has been facing down these death demons for the last six months, John.

Those who have read my New Jersey Marathon report will recall that John is a family man, a player in the Morristown political scene, and a friend and philanthropist. John is at work at his financial services desk on just another day in April 2010. He is feeling a little bit down, but no doubt is contemplating his next long bike ride.

A week later he is diagnosed with Acute Myopic Leukemia or (AML), one of the more aggressive forms of leukemia. No rhyme or reason, or genetic history. No poor diet or smoking, in fact John is a 7 time Ironman, including Kona. Why? Who knows? Instead of dwelling on the fairness or lack of John focuses on winning at recovering his life. As of December 2010, he is doing just that, winning!

Channeling my thoughts of John, I vow to go as fast as I can as long as I can. I pick up my pace again and run strong all the way up 1st avenue into the wind toward the Bronx.

Bronx 30K (18.6 mile) time Tim 2:42:00 Jim 2:43:23
Crossing the Willets Bridge, I am still focused and determined. I slow to 9 minute pace but have not walked since the Freezeout at mile 16. I appreciate t cheering crowd and pass several runners from local NJ races. One is a Clifton Roadrunner I have seen before, who is walking. I slow down and encourage him, to keep moving. He looks up smiles and starts a jog. Awesome!

Bronx 20 Mile time Tim 2:55:57 Jim 2:57:13

The finish line itself notwithstanding, the 20 mile mark is the most important place within a marathon. 20 miles in means only 6.2 miles to go. A 10K. At sub 3 hours in, even non-runners can discern that to run a 10K in one hour is easily achievable. Both Jim and I are sub 3 hours here, so a sub 4 hour finish is within our sights. Right? Of course, we have been in the cold for six hours, standing for three of those, and are 20 miles in. My body is ready for a bath and a beer, not another 6.2.

Illustrating the point further, let’s compare pacing of ICE P and Buckeye Girl.

Half Marathon 15 mile 18 mile 20 mile Finish ICE P 2 hours 2:18 2:45 3:07 4:24:17
Buckeye Girl 2:08 2:28 3:00 3:22 4:26:55

Ice P does gut it out and set a PR by over 2 minutes. However, Buckeye Girl covers the last 10K in just over an hour picking up over 13 minutes or two minutes per mile on ICE P. Her pacing allow her to run an even split race and make up 13 minutes in just over six miles!

5th Avenue 35K (21.7 miles) time Tim 3:12:57 Jim 3:14:56

The warehouses are behind me and I am back into Manhattan in Harlem. I chug along and am mentally strong, but feel weaker and weaker. I pop a gel at the 3 hour mark hoping for a boost. The crowd is running but more walkers are impeding the narrowing roadway. I hug the shoulder again passing as I can. The crowd wills on the Big E but my body is weak. I resort to endorphin producing tricks;
“This is your NYC experience. Don’t ruin it”
“Do it for John.”,
"Do it for sub 4,”
“Pain is temporary, quitting is forever.”
"Think of the Tour de France breakaway rider, fighting off the charging peloton.”
My body is failing me. I am slowing down but still run on. I walk only to grab water, and trudge on. The legs are rippling and I am praying the cramps hold off for 30 more minutes.

Central Park Mile 24 time Tim 3:35:49 Jim 3:39:06

I leave 5th avenue at 81st street and enter the park. I am moving but each step is an effort. I am cold, wet, and beat up. “Not time to quit now Tim.” I could be poor ICE P, who gets Eurowhacked a second time while entering the park. This time is assisted by an angel of her own an older running gentleman helps her up. “Chivalry in not dead! Buckeye Girl notes that by now the throng is mostly walking, Everyone on cell phones at the end slowing the crowd more. Texting. Not walking. Maddening Europeans! ICE P is also bitter by mile 24 and dropping a lot of F- bombs trying to get to the end.

I walk for 20 seconds run for 2 minutes, I repeat, the demon cramps are boiling up and during each walk I jam my fingers into the left hammy to release the spasming exhausted muscle. The end cannot come soon enough!

Central Park Mile 25 time Tim 3:47:15 Jim 3:49:47

If you do the math Mile 24 takes me 12 minutes to complete. Ok, one more of these and I am in sub 4. I struggle through the park and around the Plaza onto 59th street. My brain is detached from my body and the angry elephant that is my body is ready to lay down right here right now. The hamstring freezes again. I scream and pull up to the side. I loosen it, and set off.

There is the half mile to go sign. My rider tells me to take a breath and relax. My elephant has other ideas as now the calf, the hammy, the right hammy all seize up. The expression on my face must be of horror as I walk on stilts toward several spectators who cringe and move away from the rail. I try and lift my leg to prop up but I nearly fall over. A race medic comes over. Seconds, and then minutes tick by. My rider commands my body to walk. My elephant bellows “NO!” I jam my left hand into my left hammy and my right hand into my right hammy. The medic is talking to me. The demons chortle and commence their celebratory chants. I do not listen. I do not look up at the medic. I simply say “I will finish.” With hands jammed in my hammys, the calves stay knotted up too. Too fucking bad. I stagger off and make the turn at Columbus Circle back into the park.

Mile 26 time Tim 3:59:39 Jim 3:59:43

385 yards to go. I have 21 seconds for sub 4. Even Sea Biscuit cannot cover a quarter mile in 21 seconds. I shuffle along. 300, 200, 100 yards. Just keep it together, Tim. I cross one step over the line. I stop. I breathe. I look to the skies. I pray to the running gods and angels. My body tells me that I have pushed it to the limit. I am cold, tired, and beaten, but I am happy. I have run New York and given the race my soul today.

Post Race Angels

With the Demons and Europeans vanquished back to their respective hells, the R2C crew convenes at the Amsterdam Ale House for post race beverages. Three of us walk/hobble over there. Buckeye Girl’s husband, Scott also is there with the Mercedes wagon. After beers, we all pile in and she pours champagne from the kiddie hatch as Scott expertly battles the NYC cabbies and Jerseyites for Lincoln Tunnel lane superiority. A true angel! We are exhausted but elated. All four of us with solid races and all sub 4:30! Elephant Riders up! WOOP WOOP! What a great day.

We arrive to our respective homes, Buckeye girl to her Angel, Scott, CZAR to his cheering wife and daughters, me to not interested boys, but a wife making homemade turkey chili cornbread and football on TV, and ICE P to a bag of frozen broccoli .florets on her knee while passing out in a hot bath.

Post Race Craziness!

Opening the Star Ledger newspaper Monday is the topper, Buckeye girl sees my official chip time 4:01:39. Ok, now what about CZAR, (Jim) OK, 4:01:39. Let me check again. WOW! So, starting in different chutes, crossing the starting mats at different start times, circumnavigating all five boroughs, European run tourists, both passing the Orange Hot Dog man on 1st avenue, and then finishing in exactly same time to the second. Craziness!

What could be crazier than that? How about ICE P on minimal training, and a year older, betters her marathon PR by two minutes to come in at 4:24. Did she leave anything in the tank? Hell no! She is so beat up at the end of the race she cannot walk the 5 blocks to the Amsterdam Ale House having to take a Pedi-cab for $20! Riders up!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

No Sympathy from the Swamp Devil Run


2002 marks the year I consider my first running season. At 33 years old, 2002 remains my most successful season in terms of establishing personal records (PRs). In my devil may care attitude, in August I ran a 75 minute ten mile, September a 25K in two hours flat, and in October my only sub 4 hour marathon, in Baltimore in 3:36. On a post marathon high I glided into November and the Madison, NJ Giralda Farms 10K, sub 43 minutes, folllowed by the flat, fast, Basking Ridge Great Swamp Devil Run 15K in a PR 62:45.

My 2003 bulletproof run at a 3:20 marathon and Boston Qualifying at the May 2003 Pittsburgh Marathon were bedeviled on March 29th, 2003 as I lay in a Green Mountain, VT ravine with my snowmachine nose down in the snow and femur bones sticking out of my ski pants front and rear. My life was now in the balance of first responders. The 2002 Great Swamp Devil could be my last race ever.

So, in 2010 with the ING New York marathon in two weeks, the timing was finally right to return to the Great Swamp Devil Run and unleash my inner wildebeest. While I harbored no fantasies about besting my PR of 2002, I did hope to improve on my recent half marathon 7:45 pace. As a bonus, my good friends Ellen and Mike “Coondawg”, came to run as well. Ellen is also tuning up for NYC, having run a solid Newport, and Staten Island half marathons. Coondawg of R2C relay fame, had never run more than a 10K in a race. So October 24th became a special day for all of us!


Sunday October 25th is one of those Indian summer days you want to be able to stash away and parade out in mid February. The race’s sponser is the Lord Stirling Special Needs School located on the fringe of the Great Swamp of New Jersey. The “Great Swamp Devil” is a fictional beast, but legend has it, the “Devil” patrols the Great Swamp ensuring safe haven for the many water birds that migrate to and thru the area.

We drive the ten minutes from Chatham to the Lord Stirling School to register and score Halloween orange colored long sleeve Swamp Devil T-shirts. The pre-race sun is warming and as we prepare to calm Coon’s nerves, we bump into Jackie Timmerman. She is a Lifetime PT, and Spin coach as well as triathlete extroadinaire with several Eaglemans and IM Coere’d Alene’s on her resume. She had a near Kona qualifying miss at Eagleman in 2008,and since I am a three time Eagle finisher we swap race stories. We also talk of her recent relays Ragner and Reach the Beach, in NH.

Soon enough it is time to hit the “let”one final time before toeing the starting line. With fewer than 300 racers, the startline is muy tranquilo. However, as I jockey toward the front line, I recognize many of the regular speed merchants of NJ road racing, Sergio Cano, Rick Pingatore and Bill Bosmann to name a few.


At the gun, I am off with the leaders, down the one hill at a insanely unsustainable pace. For the next three minutes (1st half mile) I am jamming at the front of the pack, my heart rate and breathing elevating to the uncomfortable. Little by little my pace slows to a more sustainable effort. The fitter leaders separate themselves and by mile one I am left alone in my own Swamp hell, 25 yards ahead of the 8 minute milers, but well behind the 6:30 milers.

My breath is raspy, my legs turning over, on the edge of blowing up. I do not have a watch, but I pass mile 1 and hear a 6:35. I slow a tad more on mile 2 to regulate my breathing back within lactate threshold, but surprisingly no one is passing me. I pick it back up right to the edge of lactate. My legs are churning, my arms are pumping, and air is hard to come by. My body and brain are in sensory overload and cannot process all the feelings. My heart is working 100%, my muscles are firing, I am elated, I am miserably, I am flying, I am looking for a hole to crawl into. The pavement and scenery is flying by. This is the best I can describe running right on the edge. Nirvana is so close, but the Swamp Devil also lurks behind each tree, ready to crash me out of the race with his long webbed wings.

At the mile 3 turnaround I am in severe oxygen debt but not slowing down. I spot Cooner and shout arcane NY Giants pep talk at him. Right behind him is Ellen, and she is breezing along making it look so effortless. I pass two, and three pass me, but generally we are “paced up”. Approaching the mile 5 turnaround at the Meyersville Circle, the leaders are 40 yards apart and motor by running 5:30s. There strides gobble up the ground. I am in awe but am maxed out running slightly over 7 minute pace. Well tim it is way faster than the 7:45s at your half marathons this year at Superhero and Newport Liberty.

But the devil will make sure this effort is going to hurt. I shout out again as I spot Mike and Ellen, staying on their pace and looking solid. At mile 6 I come up on the 3rd and 4th females. I am redlined and tuck in behind for a minute to collect myself and not look like an ass passing the girls only to gget repassed in a minute or two.

At the water station I slam a gel looking for a turbo boost. Gels provide ready burnable energy, like a sparkler, but they also soak up water, leaving your body seeking hydration from other sources such as leeching from your gi track causing cramps or worse from your already water starved and hard working muscles. The Swamp Devil’s ears perk up as his glare pierces out of the foliage.

Within a minute I feel the energy boost coming. Just as in a 5K, everyone is suffering, so you only pass with authority, bluffing strength for 20 seconds even if you are maxed out. I pull out to pass the girls, and jam it for a 20 second split. My heart rate spikes to max, and the bog stirs as the devil readies himself for his prey.

After each pass I slow down a hair to a still borderline redline pace to recovery just enough to allow my heart not to explode out of my chest. My next passs is big John, fresh off a 3:19 marathon at Steamtown. Again I power by for 20 seconds, taunting the Devil again. It is a long flat straight road home. Mile 7 flies by. Then mile 8. Only 1.3 miles to go now. A system warning light illuminates. My breath is ragged, I am running on hot coals, and I still have ten minutes of hell to endure. The light starts blinking in my brain. Damn it! The left hamstring twinges, then it tightens. My elephant uses the warning light to tell my rider to slow down. What to do? Elephant or rider? The elephant logic wins. Despite my effort, my PR is out of reach, so what if I lose 45-90 seconds going in. The worst thing would be for the Devil to tear up my hamstring and prevent a NYC Marathon appearance!

I slow and come to a full stop for a quick hammy stretch on a rail fence post. The 4th and 5th place girls steam back by, and after a ten second stop I chase. But dialing it down and shuffle running to save the hammy does not permit me to gain. The sixth place girl a fit 40s tri girl come up on me. I tell her that she can catch those girls ahead. She hits the gas. I go with her and pass back one of the girls but am holding back now and cautious. Tri girl takes 10 then 20 yards on me.

I cross the nine mile sign right at 65:30. So close. Don’t blow up now! I am going to make it. 100 yards from the finish Big John motors alongside. I accelerate and stay with him for 5 seconds. He shifts to a higher gear, that I am too scared to hit right now. He moves ahead as the tape is in sight. I hear panting behind me. I don’t dare look, but dial it up a notch. I hear the breathing again and as the tape nears I speed up a little more. I hold on and cross in 67:45, 7:15 mile pace, 54th out of 278 finishers. I am on my limit, done-ski, but at a pace 30 seconds a mile faster than the half marathon a month ago. Though not tip top, a solid effort given I ran a 20 miler a week ago too. I look around but the devil has hidden himself back in the shadows.


Ellen passes Cooner at mile 7 and they finish within 30 seconds of each other at sub 8:45s. Great efforts all around! My celebration with them is cut short as Heather and the boys are waiting for me to share this glorious afternoon. Josh and Quinn decide on a 4 mile Great Swamp Hike to search for the elusive Devil Monster. I do not have the heart or the heart beats left to confide in them that I have already stared down the Devil today and emerged, soul intact. As darkness falls, we are still a half mile from the car. “Let’s go” I yell, “the Swamp Devil may get us!”

Monday, November 1, 2010

Lions and Wildebeests

Newport Liberty Half Marathon - September 25, 2010

When in need of a tough training run, scheduling a “training” race serves as a powerful training tool. Many non - runner friends wonder why even race? Meaning why the effort to get up early, drive to a race, and pay to pin on a bib number to go for a run with strangers? Is your ego that lioness that you need to prove yourself versus 2400 people you don’t know of varying abilities? Why not just get up go out your front door, run, and go on with your day?

My short answer is always “motivation”. That is to run your best you need to train hard. To max your training and put out your best effort you need to be motivated. Or simply put, wildebeests runs their fastest with lions tailing their asses!

With two weeks of recovery from the SSH, I am ready to resume my mileage and cardio buildup for the Nov. 7th ING New York Marathon seven weeks out. My training plan calls for a long hard 14-16 miler this weekend. So, the need to get up at 4:30am on Saturday and run from 6am to 8:15 before kiddie soccer, a dreadful proposition. Not a formula for success to run your best by venturing out into the dark chilly air to run a long two hour solo run under streetlights an hour before the dawn light.

Many opportunities for the elephant to better the rider; 1. Will I even get out of bed? 2, maybe sleep in an hour and then just cut the distance in half, or 3 put forth the full mileage but at less than a maximum hard effort that I need. Advantages elephant, that is until my R2C14 relay buddies Jim C. and Ellen D. convince me to run the half marathon with them the next morning on Sunday with a promise to be home by noon, rider up!!


At 6am Sunday, the cool dawn air foreshadowes an optimal running day for an 8:30am morning race along the Hudson River. I walk down the hill to meet Jim at his house and we pick up Ellen for an easy 30 minute drive to Pavonia/Newport, NJ. Race registration is a breeze, but the 25 port-o-let to 3000 runner ratio mandates alternative olfactory arrangements be made. I lead my crew into the nearby Newport Mall and we locate his and her Newport Odeon Cinema restrooms that are in pristine condition at 7am, but less so by 7:04am upon my departure!

Race Start

The start and lineup on Washington Avenue is as breezy as the waterfront. The gun goes off, and I quickly settle into sub 8 minute mile pace. A minor complaint by the GPS runners is that the course mileage markers are not accurate. Mile one is actually 1.15 miles, so my 8:21 pace is not actually that bad. (In total, the course actually measures more like 13.35, than 13.1 miles.) However, after the GEER 100K that measured 105K or 1.5 miles too long, this slight over distance is no big deal to me!

We finger up Washington Avenue toward Hoboken, and then return to turn right up Grand Street to cross mile three on slightly sub 8 minute pace at 23:45. A system check indicates tingling in my legs and arms, a preliminary indicator of dehydration. In full disclosure, my diet and alcohol intake has not been ideal through September! Jim catches me here and we run together at a taxing but sustainable race effort.

The course navigates the Port Liberty Harbor, shoots behind the Science Center and traverses Ellis Island through the Liberty State Park. The route affords majestic early morning views of the Hudon River, the Statue of Liberty and downtown Manhattan. I cut the most efficient lines through corners and continued motoring on my hard training pace mile after mile, the younger, faster (lion) runners on my beest tail.

Jim maintains contact, but unfortunately I never see him after mile 4 once on the asphalt trail. He says he did not want to “mess with my vibe”, however, I also think he likes being a hunter lion as opposed to the hunted beest!

So, at juat over an hour in at mile 8 my pace is right on redline, or 7:45s similar to my race effort at the Superhero last may. I like to think that the brisk winds, and dehydration impact my pace a bit, but the sun and 70s weather are close to perfect and are probably as much a pace enhancer as the breeze is an inhibiter. With water and skyline views, running the medal is a positive mental process versus a pre-dawn solo training run slogging through miles to “fit them in". I am gassed but glorious as I approach the mile ten aid station at one hour 16 minutes.

5K to Go!

I pause and injest a gel with water for the final 5K push. Ten miles into a solo training run the focus would be to “get home”. But in a race, your focus for the last 5K is “to not slow down and get passed at the end as well as a sub 24 minute 5K”. My inner wildebeest bears down, hits the hammer and maxes it out. As I regain redline, just ahead a cop is preparing to hold up the pace line for the light rail street car to cross. No way Jose, this beest is coming through!

I barrel across the tracks, then careen through the turn down Grand Street to the waterfront. The slight downhill allows me to increase speed and overtake runners. At mile twelve along the water the winds flare as does the left hamstring. Tim, focus!! I know I am close and resort to my mental “hot coals” trick. That is as soon as my foot lands, jerk it up off the firey coals or risk getting burnt. I stay on pace and pass slowing runners through to the finish. The beest has given so much more than in any kind of solo training run.


My 1:41:30 time, same as Superhero, or 7:45 mile pace finishes 365th out of the nearly 2400 finishers. Good strong tempo run for the ING New York in seven weeks! Room for improvement but a solid effort and I am happy. A scan of the results indicates the strength of the runners in the field evidenced by the 152 runners that finish sub 1:33, or seven minute mile pace. Jim comes in on my heels, evidence to his improved training, and Ellen is not long behind us. The wildebeests survives for another day, and we motor home for hearty well earned lunches with our perspective herds!

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Elephant and the Rider

Susquehanna Super Hike and Trail Run (SSH)

My friends know I subscribe to the motto, “Go big or go home”. If that is so, then why no blog posts or races all summer? Well. . a two week Alaska cruise boat trip to celebrate my parent’s 50th wedding anniversary threw off my July/August race planning, not to mention adherence to any kind of diet!

Even though I did manage a 15 miler along the coastline of Anchorage, an 8 mile trail run above Skagway, and a few runs around the ship deck track, I could not pretend to possess running fitness to offset my cruise induced body fat entering the month of September.

However, my cousin’s September 11th wedding in Towson, MD opened up a Saturday prompting me to investigate any nearby races, and therefore I discovered the “SSH”. The website read, “For 28.4 miles the Susquehanna Super Hike & Ultra Trail Run course follows the blue-blazed Mason Dixon Trail on the west shore of the Susquehanna River and the orange-blazed Conestoga Trail on the east shore. The trails in this area are renowned for their beautiful scenery and their strenuousness.

Hhmmnnn, the rider in my head convinced the elephant that is my body that this was an opportunity not to be missed. As I registered on the website, I reviewed some finishing times from the prior year. Six hours on average, not too scary, however, what I did not know was that those times were before the course was lengthened from 25 to 28.4 miles this year to qualify as an “ultra” not to mention add in climbs the last 10K.

But “Go big or go home”, noted my elephant rider in my brain, so I adopted the plan that worked at GEER 2009, run the flats and the downhills and walk hike the ups. With a 7am start and a 5pm wedding in Towson, MD, 75 minutes south, I figured I had to leave the finish for Towson no later than 2:30 to drive south 75 minutes per MapQuest, rehydrate, check into my hotel, hobble into a shower and s suit and find the church by 5pm. Therefore my math stated I had to finish by 2pm or seven hours from the start. My rider chortled that for 28.4 miles, or just 2 miles more than a marathon, even with an out of shape elephant body how tough could this be?

Friday September, 10, Pre-race
So, Friday September 10th, I secured the family at LBI for a weekend at the shore house. After a solid dinner at Kubels in Barnegat Light, I set off for the 3 hour drive to Carroll Manor north of Baltimore to crib up at the house of my GEER pacer, Paul. Arriving at 10pm, I caught up with Paul and Jen who I learned is pregnant with twins. Wow! Before I knew it, the 4:30am wakeup call and a 75 minute drive to the Pequa Campground in Pequa, PA found me at 6am on the shores of the Susquehanna River just north of RT 1 and the Holtwood Dam. From there my plan dictated to park and take a shuttle 30 minutes to the race start on the western side of the river, so my car would be ready for me at the finish line.

On the shuttle bus, I met an ultra hiker Carol Javes from Philly. She was nervous about finishing the course having hiked ten miles of the course the month before with a guided group. Her attestations of the difficulty of the trail prompted me to respect the distance and appreciate the challenges just to finish. As you know, I have never not finished a race! (As it turns out, darkness at 7pm prompts Carol to drop within 2 miles of the finish.)

In the 6:30 am near dawn we arrive at the Otter Creek Campground for the start. As the sun rose, it signaled the start of a glorious day to be out on the trails. The rider in my head reveled in the euphoric feeling that anything is possible today. My rider trumpeted with the other riders what a wonderful feeling we are sharing forcing so many other elephants all out here in the dawn half light. This is WORTH the pain to come, and how silly it would have been to stay buried under covers in a warm bed!

I am nervous, but excited, and full of energy not knowing what the day will bring out in the woods. Looking around, the field is solidly half trail runners and half hikers. Runners were dressed in shorts, and technical shirts, some with Moomba arm sleeves and all with hand held water bottles or hydration systems. The hikers sported light weight tops, pocked khaki shorts, walking sticks, and Camelbacks. With the temps to reach 80 degrees, fuel and water is as critical as stamina. I sported a 24 oz perpetuem bottle, and a 24 oz water/Gatorade bottle, one in each hand, and yes my 2xu compression tri shorts and calf guards.

Whether runner or hiker, the 12 hour time limit or 7pm would govern all entrants. I caught snippets from other runners that the first half was “runnable” and the second half was not runnable, and in training runs parts of the trail is not even hikeable. What? What does not hikeable even mean? Yes, you are traversing boulders and descending chutes to creeks! Yikes! My elephant is not amused.

Start (Otter Creek Campground) to Checkpoint 1 (SGL 181), 0-9.5 miles
The start of the course circled the camp then ascended an old logging road through the State Game Lands. Crossing the bridge over Otter Creek we followed Kline Road for a half mile, and then found the blue-blazed Mason-Dixon Trail. We followed the contour of the hill before descending to the Otter Creek. With many trail intersections crossing the Mason Dixon Trail, not getting lost and increasing your distance would be vitally important all day!! Thus, I attached myself to a string of younger runners as the trail descended through the woods across Otter Creek and then climbs steeply uphill by large switchbacks. Back across Rt. 425 we followed another logging road to ascend to the Urey Overlook and a beautiful vista of the Susquehanna. This would become the Groundhog Day cycle of the journey we would climb to a beautiful vista, and then violently descend by switchbacks, to cross streams. Then like Bill Murray each morning, repeat the process, over and over and over.

But as of now, all system were go, I was in my running zone, breathing the clean woodsy air, feeling good, keeping up with the group, but holding back. The uphills were walked briskly, while some of the others chewed up their legs running up. Our string is led by two young girls in their 20s, Lauren and Caitlin. Both had recently finished the York, PA marathon and were undertaking their first “trail” run. Their pace was surprisingly quick. I had to decide whether to stick with them for ego or let them go ahead and assume they would blow up later. The egos of the other young bucks were also being tested. Male egos prevailed and we continued jamming the downhills, stream crossing, and up the switchbacks.

The girls kept up the pace and I knew we were well ahead of my schedule of a 7 hour finish. The trail blazes were decent, but the fear of being lost or off trail was omni-present as I did not want to endure any extra climbing. I had 5pm scheduled nuptials to attend!! We crossed the creek (on a bridge for once) and then passed back through the Otter Creek Campground at mile 5. The girls led the group out of the way to the left and I took a shortcut to pass them all and descend to Sawmill Run. At the stream cross I spied a runner on the far shore climbing up boulders. I short cut off the trail and streamed across the water and straight up the boulders to rejoin the trail, saving perhaps 100 yards or so of rocky trail to climb. As I scrambled up and over the rocks, I looked back down and saw the string just entering the crossing. I hit the gas to disappear from the group up the trail until of course the switchbacks up to Sawmill Run Road slowed me to a walk

After the trail climbed out of the hollow, I got slightly lost before hitting the roads. As I got reoriented on the road, the string took advantage of my poor trailblazing to close the gap and on pavement many of the youngsters just took off, including the girls. I reeled several back in on the downhill of Posey Road, and I knew we were close to the first checkpoint at 9.9 miles. No watch timing for me, but was told it was 8:40am or 100 minutes in, 9:35 pace and I was in 50th place overall. Solid, with the walks factored in.

Checkpoint 1 (SGL 181 Lot) to Checkpoint 2 (Lock 12), 9.5-15.5 miles
I prepared a new Perpetuem fuel bottle, had my water bottle refilled, and noshed on some pretzels. I observed the bloody arms and legs belonging to one of the girls, Caitlin Pettit. She was getting bandaged up, but her rider firmly in charge of her elephant, determined to carry on. Gotta respect that! Not a lot I could do, so I hustled out of aid #1 ahead of most of the string and down a long grassy stretch of land mirroring the scene out of Little House on the Prairie as Laura romps down the grassland with her dog.

Entering Oakland Run the sun shadows of midmorning accentuated the natural beauty of the stream. I soaked it in as I ascended to a large rock outcrop. The steepness of the climb followed by a mean descent (again!) was forgiven due to the sights and sounds created by the cascades and deep pools along the run which was a highlight of the day.

Following the river through lowland trails and roads the views of the Holtwood Dam were equally powerful. Just beyond the dam, I ran right through the foundation of an old hotel and gradually climbed up to a power line vista with even better views of the river and Holtwood Dam. Up, up, up the steep switchbacks to the top of the ridge. Here I spied the remnants of our string of runners below that I had left behind at aid #1. Just 12 miles in, my legs were already severely beaten up. My rider knowing full well that mental toughness and focus with proper nutrition and hydration are the keys to success still managed my elephant that would prefer to stop, rest, and recover in the shade with a cold drink and a ride to the finish. My rider also knows this is where my Ironman and trail experience evidenced itself. “Hey Tim!” No time to gloat now! Let’s move this elephant!

So after the wicked climb, I hurried down the trail descended steeply by switchbacks to Mill Creek. I followed downstream to River Road passing a nice waterfall along the way. Man the scenery is incredible! Circling behind a large mill foundation I followed a towpath for the old Susquehanna and Tidewater Canal to the restored Lock 12 to permit boats to navigate the rocks upriver to York, and Harrisburg. Then across a small bridge I arrived at Checkpoint 2 at 15.5 miles, over halfway home in three hours flat.

Checkpoint 2 (Lock 12) Checkpoint 3 (Pinnacle Overlook), 15.5-21.5 miles
Stopping to regroup, I was told I was in 55th place. However, the day was getting hot, my legs were trashed, and from what I had been told the “runnable trail portion of SSH was behind me. As I exited from Checkpoint 2, my rider was still in charge and I admired a bandaged Caitlin and Lauren entering aid 2. These trail girls are tough! I ran onto the Rt. 372 Norman Wood Bridge over the Susquehanna River to head upriver to the Pequa finish 13 miles away. Ok, four hours to run 13 miles? My half marathon PR in Philly nine years ago was just over 90 minutes. And I have four hours to make it!? And pavement running? It’s a lock! Cake baby! However, as I ran/shuffled onto the bridge, my trashed legs forced my rider to reconsider the folly of continuing this insanity. Within the provided directions, (that had sweat deteriorated in my pocket btw), “stay on the left side of the bridge and run/walk in single file.” Walk on a paved road? Maybe for wussies, says my rider, but when it is mile 16 and the road is basically two miles straight uphill my elephant wins and Okayed my body to power walk.

Five seasoned trail runners came up on me during this stretch, but I stuck to my elephantine walk, steeling myself for the trail and bouldering that I had been warned about. A left on Crystal Drive (uphill!) and then I entered the Holtwood Recreation Park looking for orange blazes. With only park going families, I felt like I was on a scavenger hunt. Just beyond the bathrooms, I found an orange blaze and the entrance to the Kelly's Run Trail and the descent to Kelly's Run, another highlight featuring water, rocks, hemlocks and rhododendron.

A long hill up to an unsightly gas pipeline was tempered by views across the river. I got lost AGAIN!@,. but backtracked 400 yards and rejoined two young guys from the Otter Creek string up a narrow ridge trail my elephant convienently ignored. As we continue hiking to top of hill to join an old wagon road, I was out of water and ready for aid #3. One of the string guys I came upon looked pale, and I offered him food. He said no, he needed water with it and had not in fact eaten in miles due to lack of water. He was in a full fuel bonk and his elephant decided to suddenly stop, bend over, and dry heave. I encouraged him to walk with me as aid was near. He looked up glassy eyed and sat down, I knew better than to try and move a seated elephant. I did promise to send someone back from Aid #3 with water and food.

Sure enough within 300 yards, I reached Pinnacle Vista with stunning views of the river and Checkpoint 3. After notifying aid to assist the fallen runner, I refueled, readying myself for the final leg, but not before pausing to revel in the view back up the river to all the shoreline I had traversed in the last 4.5 hours. This is what feeling alive is! The clipboard lady told me I was in 59th place of 400 starters. Solid. Surely I could go 7.7 miles in two and a half hours to meet my seven hour goal, right, elephant?

Checkpoint 3 (Pinnacle Overlook) to Finish (Pequea), 21.5-28.4 miles
On the shuttle bus, several runners warned me that the segment between Pinnacle Overlook and Wind Cave is the most strenuous but most rewarding of the SSH. Just below Pinnacle Overlook, I passed Lower Rock Vista with incredible views of the Susquehanna and then descended so steeply I had to grab branches and roots to avoid pin wheeling. My rider was dealing with quads that were shot, and now my left hamstring joined in the complaining so badly I had to straddle to cross a fallen tree. Going downhill, I resorted to descending crablike sideways, a mild compromise to my quads and hammys.

Eventually passing a rock overhang, and I heard several runners coming up my back door. Why it’s none other than Caitlin and Lauren. My rider perked up and convinced my elephant to march. We three reached the railroad tracks and turned right up the gorgeous Tucquan Creek, a nature preserve and another jewel of the SSH. The trail eventually climbed out of Tucquan Run, then descended to Reed Run. Up and down, up and down we climbed, out of Reed Run and descended to Brubaker Run. Climbing up my heart rate would max out to the point I had to all but stop and sit down, then we would scream down the next descend, hanging on to roots, rocks, branches to avoid falling or worse pinwheels off trail into the river. Why am I doing this again rider? The three of us stayed close together, with the girls outrunning me down the hills, and me catching them on the ups as Lauren would stop to regroup.

At the House Rock Vista we had to actually climb up over rock formations, and jump rock to rock for a descent to House Rock Run. My body screamed to my brain “This has to end!” My brain would convince my body that at the bottom of this hill the trail will flatten out along the creek for a spell. But every time at the bottom, no rest was afforded as the trail then climb even steeper than before to the next top. Then only to once again descend, insanely repeating the same outcome while my brasin desperately clung to the hope that this time would be different.

Finally we descended to the entrance to Wind Cave, one of the largest tectonic caves (formed by the movement of masses of bedrock) in the east US. Everything hurt, my legs were cramping, and the elephant swore to NEVER, EVER, do this race again. Finishing in seven hours did not matter. In fact, who cares about finishing . . .the only thing keeping me moving was knowing the only way out was to follow the trail. My physical self hurt to the core. I was wet, out of water, out of breath, cramped up and down my legs. However, my rider would note that everyone was suffering in their own SSH hell. I actually passed several stopped runners and even though I was moving several passed me by.

Near the top of a hill, I came upon Lauren stopped and bent over and dry heaving. I encouraged her and expected to see glass. However, as she looked at me in the eyes. I saw the fire was still burning. My rider commanded hers to get up and move, and her elephant did. Up ahead on the trail waiting for her, I spied Caitlin, bandages and all. As Lauren rose and moved, Caitlin pranced off like a gazelle. Her friend was still in the game. Damn those young gazelle legs!@ noted my old elephant ones.

In supreme survival mode after more than six hours + on the trails, I finally crossed a stream at an old springhouse and began a short climb not knowing it would be the last one. But at the top two local walkers told me that it was all downhill and paved from here in. I told them if they were lying I would find where they live, but they were right! I crossed two paved roads and continued through woods searching for the village of Pequea. Here I came across a concerned man asking if I had seen a girl named Lauren. Lauren’s boyfriend, who after seeing Caitlin rip by, was desperate to shepherd Lauren home. I assured him Lauren was close behind and in return he provided me crucial directions.

For, at the next intersection, I now knew to search for a sharp right turn towards a bridge but not over it., but right onto a small unpaved road at the Pequea Boat Club. Many runners including Caitlin missed this turn, allowing me to finish several spots ahead. Imagine the despair being lost at mile 27 after the hell we have endured!

Finish (Pequea Campground) 28.4 miles
I followed the unpaved road along Pequea Creek, lined with cottages for just under a mile. As I entered the Pequea Creek Campground, my elephant ears heard the applause ahead harkening my arrival. The clock read 6:53:55, and I came in 62nd out of 327 finishers and over 400 starters. Sub seven hours. I had made it. I stumbled around looking for my car I had parked in the dark 8 hours ago. After driving to Towson, rush checking into my hotel, suiting up and walking into the wedding, my rider signaled the elephant to smile. I saw my mom, sister, and brother in law and saw my dad check his watch. It read 4:50pm. In my pew with ten minutes to spare. Man I was so hungry I could eat an elephant!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Headbangers Unite

Thanks to 8 year old Teresa White for these Mile 1 action pics!

Runners say “Running feels good allowing you to clear your head”
Non-runners say “It feels better and your head clears when you decide to stop banging it against a wall!"

The President’s Cup is the most popular 5K race in the central New Jersey region evidenced by its 1500 entrants. Downtown Milburn, and the NJ’s Sneaker Factory put on a great race complete with mat timing and the use of the new sneaker timing tape system. The double loop course excels for fans’ runner viewing, and the Sam Adams beer truck serves fans' imbibing the brewing.

Superhero’s Marguerite White is the catalyst for this race. My calendar scan yield a big blank spot on Monday nite for a 8:30pm race start. Marguerite rallys her husband Jim to chauffer and wrangle her kids along as our “Crew”. She also cajoles one of the R2C15 crew, Jill to enter too.

Race Night

I change at home, grab a couple of gels and a water and am picked up. We arrive at 8pm and weave through the crowds to secure our race numbers and timing plastic sticker. My only concern is Marguerite knows every 5th person and stops to chat and we need timing stickers and to get ready. Several runners from the recent lullemon Summit, NJ focus group are running, Kristen and Jennifer, and we wish them well! Relax Tim this is a 5K! We secure our numbers and it is time to line up. No stretching, no port-o-let, no transition zone set up. Pre-race is easy peesey lemon squeezy.

We line up at 8:25pm a couple of hundred in and find Jill, along with several of Jim’s high school buddies. Jill and Marguerite are calm and ready to run, waiting for the gun.

Then we spot her. She is sporting a white revealing jog bra, mini shorts, track shoes, tatts and impossibly chisled tan curves glistening in pre race sweat on a body 12 years our junior. “Her” is the local CROSS FIT instructor Karianne. My R2c15 girls, want to take her down run her down and show her who's boss. Meaning show her that kids, jobs, and mothering does not slow you down. Game on!

1st Loop

At the gun we are off, like cars on the Garden State Parkway headed down the shore on a holiday weekend. Everyone is in a hurry, cutting off each other and running on top of each other. Karianne hits the grass shoulder and I follow. We pass the crowds on the shoulder and sidewalk and cut the corners.
My mouth feels like a desert already, not a great signal for the next 20 minutes of suffering on a humid night! The first mile circles through downtown Milburn and is slightly uphill. The effort is taxing and I stay on the edge of the throng as K and I slide by slowing runners. We hit mile 1 at 6:55 clock time which is great considering the traffic and 15 second delay tyo cross the start. We fly past the start a second time and I spot Jim, Henry, and Teresa White and give a yell out. The runners have thinned out and we are paced up at our sustainable 5K efforts.

2nd Loop

I am pushing to max pace and my dried out mouth and pounding head implore me to stop. Instead I push a bit more and pass runners. The leaders are running at us after the High School turnaround. Their turnover and stride length are greater than mine, but my effort rivals theirs. I pick the shortest lines and circle the school to head back downtown

We hit mile 2 at 13:45 so we are maintaining 6:50 pace in the heat. Now is the time in the 5K where you have to dig. Dig deep. The head is pounding on the wall and you still have 8 minutes of pain to go. Everything says slow down breathe and recover, but you can’t. No one around you is slowing down and all are gauging the others for strength or weakness from their own world of hurt.

Heading up the hill I push beyond my current effort to new levels of hurt and power up the hill. The look on the faces around are those of defeat. They do not match my effort and let me go. I crest the hill and am gassed. I come up on a fading young 14 year old kid is on my right. Tim, "Bluff strength and pass right by his cross country ass". My aging plant needs more oxygen then I am capable of providing. My body hates me right now. Why do this again? “I hear the non-runner chanting."

The kid and I come up on four guys that are also at the limit. I look at the kid, Tyler from Short Hills, as my heart is pounding through my chest. We start down the hill toward the finish and pass the 1 mile clock a second time, this time reading 19:50. We are close to the finish but not that close. I strain to see the end and hear the crowds at the beer truck. I floor it and drop Tyler and the four guys. I am sprinting alone in a wide gap and on fumes in 100% oxygen debt now. I hit the start line and the beer truck at max effort and start to slow down.

A course guy screams keep going, The finish is still another 100 meters! When will this end? My body hates me so much now. Just past the finish mat I hit the brakes and bend over. Here comes the dry heaves now. I wait to see if they will become wet heaves. They do not. I spy the clock. 21:42. A start adjusted 21:26 or 6:54 pace. My body recovers as I walk through the chute. I start to feel better as my heart rate comes down and I glisten with wet sweat.
So non-runners always want to know, “So you feel better bnow that you stopped running, right? "Well, yes but" . . .”But why?” they say. I try and explain that the feeling of your brain processing an overload of endorphins but this is always undescribable to them. The best I can offer is the comparison to the initial sensation in your head as you are drinking an icy Corona on Playa del Carmen in 95 degree heat.

This is the feeling that non runners cannot fathom. Physically you feel enpowered. Mentally you know you left nothing on the table. Sure, each race you may be older and slower, but when you give it everything, you achieve “That feeling”.

This is what makes 5Ks so awesome. Sure 246 runners finished ahead of me. Sure I finished ahead of 1200+ other runners. That is food for the ego, but it is pure junk food unless you have given 100% to achieve that result. Only you know if you give it all or not.

This is what defines “racing” versus a “non-racer runner”. The feelings of pain and suffering are what makes the after race result that much more special. As I leave the water table and turn around, I spot Karianne coming toward the table behind me meaning she has come in behind me. I cannot wait to share the news with Jill and Marguerite.

A Post Race Party
The DJ is spinning and the beer truck is flowing. Runners are pouring in and the Sams Summer Ale is being calorie processed before it hits my belly. The White kids are hanging tough and we post race in Charlie Browns with Patron Margueritas. (Get it?) as finishers continue to pore in.
Headbangers, keep on bangin!!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


Roadrunner, “BEEP BEEP”, the coyote after you.

Roadrunner, “BEEP BEEP”, if he catches you you’re through!

Ever get that feeling that the faster you try and go, the farther you fall behind? You cannot stop for if you do then your world comes crashing down around you. When did living life become a race for life?

We all have work, housing, cars, bills, repairs, family commitments, some kids and their needs and activities too. You try and solve problems as they arise, satisfy needs, but is there ever enough money to lubricate all life’s squeaking parts!

We runners know why we are attracted to the sport. For a brief time, on roads or trails, your focus is on you. Sure, the outdoor air, weather, etc. But I mean you must focus on your body’s immediate needs; fuel, hydration, cooling, breathing, muscular discomfort. Granted your mind can also explore life’s problems, considering alternatives and solutions, but eventually you need to refocus on your physical needs as the miles accrue or you up you pace. Running forces you to focus on you, running's siren song!

So, am out to dinner on April 30th, prior to the New Jersey Marathon, two of my R2C14 crew, Jim and Marguerite mention they are signed up for the Superhero Half Marathon. The race is staged in nearby Loantoka Park, Morris Twp, NJ and to benefit Christopher Reeve’s Foundation, (Get it?)

Race Day

Sunday morning May 16th is a speedy 7:15 am departure with Jim and Marguerite to park and speed walk to the starting line ready to go for an 8:30 start. Wow! It is crowded with over 1000 runners and another 300 relayers! This relay business is getting quite popular!
The temps are low 60s, quite a contrast from the marathon two weeks ago. My race strategy is to start slow and comfortable for 2-3 miles then see where I am at legs and cardio wise post marathon death march two weeks ago.

1st Loop

The three of us line up and start off together a few hundred back from the start line. Jim is just getting back into the swing after a bout with plantar fascia, and Marguerite has been cross training but not running much distance. However, both always run with passion and will run all out full throttle, beep beep. There goes the gun. During mile 1 I find myself trying to rein both of them in to a non-blow up 8:10 1st mile pace.

After the initial post start jockeying through the narrow neighborhood lane, the field spreads out onto Woodland Avenue. I am chitchatting with Marguerite and Jim is right behind. Marguerite is excited about her new job at Lululemon after a ten year private sector hiatus to work at raising her boy and girl. She is full of hope and the prospects for a life beyond her current one of mothering housewife extraordinaire.

I share with her some details from my 2003 accident and how the experience changed my outlook on life. She encourages me to write about the experience more deeply, and someday I will. Of course I need to reserve the film rights so when I appear at Kona, I can be one of those Ironman special interest stories!

We turn off Woodland Ave onto Kitchell Pond Rd and duck onto the local Patriot Path trails in Loantoka. We cross mile 2 together a shade over 16 minutes or 8 min pace. Ok, Marguerite and Jim are settled in. Let’s do a system’s check, feet, legs and hips- good. Breathing- relaxed. Stamina- solid. Let’s open this baby up a little bit.

I recall the last time I tried to run fast. Save a couple of 5K’s last summer, I must go back to the 2007 Cherry Blossom when I last ran fast for more than a 5K. I study the lines on the curvy path and hit the gas. Two, six, ten, twenty, I pass. My heart rate rises into the 150s. Approaching mile 4, I leave the trail and I am in the 160s. I am revving my aging plant toward the red zone. Hey there is “Steve Davenport, out rooting for his wife Anne” The Davenports live up the street and host a killer 4th of July party we must hit one of these times!

I hit the only hill on the course pitching up onto Spring Valley Road to circle back to the start in McGinty Park. I am redlining and I power walk the top of the hill to regroup and Hammer a Gel. The heart rate drops quickly enough to resume pace. I am moving along at pace and passing runners through to mile 6 and right on my redline. My brain works on excuses to slow down. Should I stop and pee? Yes, I can afford 30 seconds to bring my heart rate down and lighten the load by 16ozs, I reason with myself. I lose position on ten runners or so but am back in my prior spot as I cross the 1st loop in 52 minutes for the 6.6 miles. A decent 7:50 pace considering the slower start and the pee break, meaning I have been running about 7:35s. Now can I keep that up for another 6 miles?

2nd Loop

I am pushing to max pace through the neighborhoods for a second time. I pass and focus 100% on my breathing and relaxing my shoulders, arms, and run over my core, not side to side.
Once you can run 8 minute pace, the key to getting roadrunner speed is not ability, stride length, or power. but efficiency and turnover. The fastest runners can turnover 90 steps a minute, whereas most are stuck in the 65-75 range. The extra 15 to 25 steps is what makes them fast. That, and not wasting energy on clenched faces, fists, or sideways balance readjustments.

I breathe, exhale, and relax. My mind is in the moment. I tune into what I can do to keep my turnover as high as possible. I am on the redline, and have to stay here for another five miles. It hurts, but it is a good hurt, knowing that I will be rewarded with a sub 8 minute per mile time at the end.

I hit the trail again and continue to pass runners taking the most efficient lines through the corners. I am gassed but maintain I come up on two young males that are cruising along at my pace. I tag behind and draft off them for a spell to recover. Just like in bike racing, running directly behind someone can be 7-10% more efficient than solo. Another way to look at it is you can maintain equal pace but with 10% less effort allowing some recovery. As I am redlined that is my hope.

After 5 minutes the guys are getting annoyed with me on their heels and make room for me to pass. I reluctantly do so. We hit the hill up to Spring Valley Road and as I walk the top again to re gel, they pass me by. I am envious of their youth, but at the same time I am pleased that I am competing with them. I am hammering down Spring Valley, keeping up with younger fit runners. By now we are “paced up”. Meaning everyone is at redline and no passing is happening except for the isolated blowup as a runner “pops” or fades back to a jogging pace.

At mile 11 the hurt is more acute. At Mile 12, my brain is screaming stop and I reason with it that we have under 8 minutes of suffering left! Here I get passed by a 42 year old gal dressed up as Wonder Woman. That is OK. Then her husband my age also passes me. Now that is not OK!

As we enter the finishing stretch crowds I let it out and pass him. He counters and passes back. I surge one more time and put him behind me with my sights now set on his Lynda Carter. My lungs are screaming and my body hurts. As I approach the tape he edges me out. I guess this guy loves Wonder Woman wifey. Oh, well, I finish in 146th instead of 145th out of 1008 starters. My tape time is 1:42 flat, which equates to a 1:41:30 race time or a 7:45 race pace.

A Speedy Post Race

As I recover, Marguerite and Jim finish within a minute of each other, both sub 1:55. We grabbed a post race photo op, a bagel and are quickly back to the car as finishers continue to pore in. I would enjoy to stay but the race of life is not over!

We arrive home at11am or less than 4 hours door to door from our departure that morning. Pretty speedy, McCready! We are not the only neighbors that are fast. I receive a FB notice that Angelica B. also ran and came in 148th place or 15 seconds behind me. As we shared both identical 1st loop split times of 52 minutes and second loop 49:30s negative splits she was chasing me . I feel bad referring to her as my Wile E. but apparently she was on my feathers the whole race!

Back in the race of life, I managed a quick shower than sped off with all three kids for a noon rock climbing birthday party followed by the Castle playground and a neighborhood scooter. Gotta keep all those moving parts moving!


Thursday, May 20, 2010

Faith, Heat, and Revelation at the New Jersey Marathon

Question: When is running a marathon considered plan C?
Answer: When you bail on Plan A the inaugural Ironman St Georges in Utah, and then also Plan B the 50K Capon Trail run in West Virginia to stay close to home.

So Plan C is to run the easy New Jersey Marathon, the renamed Long Branch Marathon, north of Asbury Park, and south of Red Bank an hour 10 from Chatham. The two-loop, flat, fast, course starts along the Atlantic Ocean boardwalk in Long Branch and then loops through Oceanside, Long Branch and parts of Deal before returning to the beach. Nevertheless, any marathon is a hellish undertaking and finishing cannot be ensured on faith alone can it? To elect to toe the starting line at a marathon is a powerful statement on your fitness, health and confidence and in yourself. And on this day the gods of weather turned up the heat throughout the day for us marathon heathens to endure.

In my opinion, the New Jersey Marathon is a glorified half marathon as the field is comprised of 6500 half runners, 2000 relay runners, and fewer than 1600 of us cavaliers electing to ignore the weather decree that today is to be the hottest, most humid temps in 2010. Couple that with the race directors scheduling a late 9am start, maybe ideal for a half, but hellish for the whole. In Florida, 92 temp and 89% humidity is why Miami, Gasparella, & Disney races start at 6am!

I attend the Race Expo briefly on Friday April 30th and score new Asics for Heather’s Mother’s Day present, and a Bondiband for me (see Superhero half photos). The Bondiband booth is run by none other than the newly anointed half Ironman finisher Healthy Ashley from CROOM fame. Way to go girl!

Throughout spring 2010, my running form has been coming along as the gods had decreed unseasonably cold weather throughout NJ. However, on May 2nd waking up at 6am and hopping in my car for the hour ride down the shore, the temp reads 75 degrees already. The gods must be crazy. Perhaps just annoyed that I had not attended service since Christma? Instead I elect to worship my body as evidenced by shedding 15 lbs and gaining back a level of fitness. Negative karma #1.

I drive through beautiful Deal, NJ’s million dollar beach homes and park near the start. Hide my key and discover all my Hammer fuel gels are back at home. Bad Karma point #2. Come on, I’ve already cancelled IM this spring, and even a travel ultra race I deserve something good here! I am owed a break for settling for a C level Race, right?

AS I fret and sulk about mounting bad race karma, 100 miles north the entire world has shattered for a local ultra friend and role model of mine. John is a dynamic 43 year old father of three and eight time Ironman finisher, including Kona in 2008. A month ago he was diagnosed with acute myelomic leukemia. He has successfully completed his first round of chemo but trivialities such as fretting about karma and a road race would be an awesome problem to face right now. I pause and consider, “How to control the uncontrollable?” “How fair is it that you live a prosperous healthy lifestyle and still face roadblocks that could not just set you back but kill you?” “Better yet, what to do about it?”

The Arab word Inshallah is one of the most common expressions, or verbal appendages, in their world that means "God willing," or "if God wills it." When you live a healthy lifestyle and still your life is hanging in the balance, Inshallah is it. What can you do beyond that?
Only prayer, hope, and humility can be proffered to the gods to intervene on your behalf. You cannot control anything. Now you must trust others. You must believe in their abilities, and beyond people you must use your most powerful tool. That unscientific, unverifiable, ethereal, concept known as faith. People talk about faith a lot. Joel Osteen has gotten rich talking about it every Sunday morning. For me faith is a belief that the end results will be the appropriate ones as long as you trust in your faith. Not one specified by a religious concept but faith that all spirits have checks and balances and how you live your life impacts that likelihood for the best determined outcome.

When facing adversity, losing faith and doubting the likelihood for a positive potential outcome is easy. Keeping the faith without any ongoing positive indicators that by doing good you are banking karmic points is an incredible challenge. John has faith but can easily lose that faith. He is reminded to keep it from the over 4500 times visitors have checked in on him at his Caring Bridge website in the last three weeks. (Please e-mail me for more information). John has karmically touched enough people over the course of his life that he has love and support and faith that he will reach the finish!

For a 10,000 + marathon race, the start was incredibly unorganized. Yes, there were port o lets a plenty, but no starting corrals, or even directions to where the start line is and when to line up. Many of us lined up early only to then be told that sub 8 minute pace runners should move into a cordoned off area. I had lined up next to a couple grizzly shore marathon veterans and a young quiet blonde girl. One of the veterans had run the last 13 Shore marathons and was wanted the race number 13. He got 4 Instead, and he was complaining. More negative karma!
I need a positive sign here so I moved over to the speed roped off area and boy was I glad I did. No I am not going to tell you I paced with the leaders through 5 miles. However, I did plan on running at 8:30 to 9. Within the first mile I pass half marathon or relay people that had no business being up at the front corral impeding the rest of us, some even get all but run over!

Once on the course the first mile along the ocean was actually nice. (read good karma!) The cool ocean breezes and sun make for a pleasant experience. At mile 2, I duck in a port-0-let as I had been hydrating like crazy. I pee 4 times the hour before the race, but after 30 minutes in the corral nature called again! By mile 3 we duck away from the shore into Oceanport. The humid mid morning air hit us long before the hoses from the friendly residences, and it is only 9:30 am!

I am running at a conservative marathon pace of 8:45s just like the CROOM. But maintaining the pace is already becoming comfortably hard. I recalled my last marathon effort at Portland and my major blow up at mile 18. However, on that day I was running 7:45s after a cross country flight, and a wedding with a 12 pack in me sloshing around from the night before.
I hit mile 4 at sub 9 minute pace or 35 minutes. I looked over and there was the same quiet blond girl from the starting line. Viktoriya had never run a 5K until one year ago. This would be her 5th marathon since July 2009, yes within nine months! When the running bug bites, you can get infected! Having posted a sub 3:45 she has already qualified for the Holy Grail of marathon races, the BAA Patriots Day Race from Hopkinton to Copley Square. Now if I can only get her in the pool so she can tri a tri!

We bond enough to take out the IPOD and talk shop for a spell. We negotiate water stops and the tide of runners slowing down by the heat. We hit the eight mile mark right at 70 minutes or still on 8:45 pace. Again the gods were signaling us with the heat. I felt like I had already run the same as my 14 mile training run around the Great Swamp loop.

We cross the relay transfer station and I saw R2C14 member Dianna came out for a shout out. Viktoriya wisely hit a gels pack. Wish I had one with me! I hit up a 5 year old girl who is doling out gummi bears with her dad. Hey better than nothing!

Mile 11 at 1 hour and 38 minutes all systems are still go. We cruise through downtown Long Branch, all boarded up and vacant reminding me of a place that would inspire Bruce to sing about. The latent heat only accented the depressing wooden planks, crumbling sidewalks and trash littered about.

Here St. Peter is sorting out the weaker souls for the Damien express bus. The course a gauntlet of runners devolving into walkers. Worse still are the lost souls now lying on the curbs with blood pressure and ice bags cooling their bodies. Victoriya’s face betrays her inner fears. Can I become one of the fallen runners? I recall a line from Indiana Jones, “that the penitent soul get saved,” as Indy kneels and avoids the deathtrap devices aimed to take him out at chest level.
Victoriya is practicing good karma to respect the weather gods. She will go on to finish the race a shade over 4 hours. Awesome job V. for marathon V. For me, having finished many marathons and IMs, I am not unnerved yet, but with the heat I know that nutrition, hydration, and ice can serve to placate these deities.

Here the remnants of the 3:40 pace group pass us. Getting passed is always a karmic downer. Hmmnn, if you wanna call five runners and a flag a pace group, let’s make up our own one. We see many half marathoners walking wounded, but Viktoriya and I are marching on. I place a hand on the shoulder of a walker and offer some encouragement. I repeat this several times assuring them we are near home and run it in. Soon, V and I become a band of 6 or 7, a ragtag group running together.

It is now mile 12 and we circled back to the shore and the cool ocean breeze gave me a second wind. We march along the boardwalk through the crowds, making our way to the finish line. Feeling the power and energy from the crowd is always a boost and we cross the 13.1 mark in 1:56. The positive vibes of the finish is tempered by the realization that we have another 13.1 to go! I placate myself with gels off the half marathon finishing table.

At 11:15 am we hit mile 15 and are 2 hours and 15 minutes in. We leave the shoreline and the cool air and were back inland with the heat. Without the half marathoners the course is a line of refugees under a hot sun. OK, Tim, settle in for an IM like effort. Run a mile and a half to the aid station, walk and ice and Gatorade and then repeat.

As I am mentally steeling myself, Victoriya senses I am slowing down. I tell her to go ahead, always the first signs of surrender. She hesitates a minute and then presses ahead. I manage to keep her in sight through mile 16. As you body weakens, your mind becomes more powerfull.
I IPOD up and throw in my new DJ Enferno mix downloaded after meeting him when he DeeJayed Mur Mur several weeks ago during “industry night”. The dance jams kept me moving through mile 18 at 2 hours 45 minutes. Only eight to go!

The crossing from Oceanside back to Long Branch is an intercoastal bridge with a slight rise. I reason with myself, I can just walk this hill right? The walking feels awesome, my heart rate comes down and I realize how jelly like my legs are. I also realize that forcing an IM effort, while not in IM shape is conceptually hard to implement.

My initial annoyance at the lack of an organized starting line, is trumped by the aid stationsthat have ZERO ice. Lukewarm watered down Gatorade is not a huge wow factor at mile 18 regardless. No ice, behind on my fuel intake, and extreme heat all whip together to forge a potent death mix. My race may have been in purgatory thru 18 but now is descending into Hades with each passing step. I shuffle jog and overheat quickly and walk again. The 3:50 pace group passes me. Well actually the lone pacer girl with her flag tucked under her arm as the group has perished miles ago.

By mile 20 there are two walkers for every runner. This misery loves company is a tough mental barrier to overcome and run, when your body is shutting down. I down several more salt tabs and a gel, hoping for some energy. As I walk, I chart my progress versus the others around me. I shuffle jog a couple of hundred yards and walk and still I lose ground to “my peers”.
By mile 21 I approach the relay transfer station again. This also means crowds and noise. Crowds demand you run, or at least show effort. They are out in the heat too, so I always feel like I should try.

I pass a family watching me from the shade. I tell the young boy, “So, listen, if you cheer for me, I run for you”. That is how this works out here.” He gingerly claps, I gingerly shuffle. His sister claps too, I begin a jog. His parents join in and shout at me. I am off and running. I believe again in myself and my body responds.

I enter the relay point and R2C14 Dianna cheers me and offers water. I miss the exchange but the crowd supporting me and seeing someone I know stoke my fuel reserve. For the next mile I am good but the heat demons come back and work on my overheated system. I slow to a walk and find a reason to keep going. That reason is an ex-marine and a ponytailed cougar who march up to me with the 4:15 pace sign and two 20 something runners in tow.
Seeing this platoon, I latched on desperately. Immediately 3 others also latched on. Now we were a combat force of 8 or 9 commanding the street amongst those that have given up hope. At cross streets the cops nod approvingly and stop traffic. This is almost fun again!
I love being one of the pack so much that I fail to notice that now at mile 23 our strikeforce is down to me, the marine, and the cougar. Wha’ happen?

My brain panics and I drop too. I have stopped sweating and I can feel the chills that are a leading indicator of heat stroke. But with only 3 miles to go? Run Tim! No, my brain is providing the excuse to walk most of the way to mile 24.
Here I finally find ice. I jam chunks down my shorts, and in my visor. I run, walk, run again. No one passes me, but I am not passing much either. We all just wanted this to be over. We are at 4:25 or so finishing pace and two miles to go. It is 1:30pm and I am a sunburnt disaster. I have no appetite for food, or drink. If I see my car I would jump in right here.

The turn to the boardwalk at mile 25 fails to provide any cool breezes, music or fan support. The race is not a race but a survival to the finish. Deep down inside I boil up reasons to finish. Time is irrelevant, my car is a block over, and no one is waiting for me at the finish line. I am proud of the fact I have never been a quitter, but beyond that why subject my body to this anymore? To second the notion, my right hamstring seizes. I hobble from my shuffle into a straight leg walk.

Some people say that marathoners are just runners with a stubborn ego. I would say they are pessimists. They say running anymore than a 10K is meaningless to your overall health and does more damage than good. Many of these same people have never finished a marathon. These same people destroy others rather than challenge their own personal boundaries exploring the unknown. Finishing a marathon is a way of empowering yourself. To overcome adversity and push yourself outside your comfort zone. Marathons build confidence and provide a benchmark that you can accomplish something.

As I overheat in the final approach to the chute finish, both hamstrings and quads seize up together again and I am King Drama ready to fall down and have to crawl across the finish. I have pushed myself to the extreme, and gone as far as I could go , but that's far enough today.

Marathons are a positve way to express you are living life on your terms. Being the one to decide when to run faster, when to slow down, when to quit, or when to endure more pain and suffering. I crack a smile as I think how I am spending my Sunday morning, here in Dante’s Inferno of my own choosing. Meanwhile, an Ironman and dad of three young children is spending his Sunday in his own hell. He is enduring epically greater levels of hell, and not of his own choosing.

The power of prayer, hope and love is your support and your people will keep your faith when you may not have anything left. A marathoner believes in themselves and your marathon family has faith in you. And yes I have faith that god is willing.