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.

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