That was part of one of the many sayings I can remember my father repeating when I was young: Some days, you get the bull. Some days, the bull gets you.
This weekend the bull got me.
I left for Olathe on Friday, feeling good, and expecting nothing but a good result at the Garmin Half Marathon. And while I knew I wasn’t gonna set any land-speed records, I just ran two half in February, and got through them. The weather was shaping up to my in my sweet spot — cool, and possibly some rain.
What could go wrong?
As I often do, I put a little gastrotourism on the docket for my travels, and Friday’s event was Taco John’s in Odessa. I remember Taco John’s from my time in Nebraska, and when someone at work reminded me that there was one along my path, I knew I needed to stop.
I ordered a simple meal — a couple of tacos and refried beans — and once I had my tray at the table, I dug in. I’d forgotten that TJ’s meat was a little more like a chili, with a mushy consistency. It was really tasty, but the first TJ’s I’d had in at least twenty years reminded me why I prefer Taco Bell in the “fast food gut bomb taco” category.
While I sat and ate, “If I Die Young” by The Band Perry came over the speakers, and as it always does, I was taken back to when I was first diagnosed with cancer. That song was big at the time, and it was so very meaningful to me. At the time, we didn’t know the details of what I had, and what the future would hold. Y’all already know that story, and how it ended, but this was an unusually poignant moment in what was supposed to be a big, positive weekend.
I eventually got checked into the hotel, picked up my packet from the expo, and played the part of a hermit in my room, relaxing, and getting things ready for Saturday.
Early in the morning, the alarm went off, and I began to get ready for the race. Looking at the weather, we were gonna miss the rain, and temps were up just a bit to the high 40s, making this a “shorts” day, instead of running pants. This was shaping up to be a nice morning.
Walking from the hotel to the start/finish line, I chatted with a bunch of folks, and discovered that the race start was delayed by at least fifteen minutes. Apparently, there were a lot of folks still trying to get to the site, and the race committee wanted to let them get in for the race start.
After some nervous waiting, we grouped up, sang the Star Spangled Banner, and with a cannon’s blast, we were off!
I felt really good. The opening of the race was slightly downhill, and I was keeping a nice pace as I started out from near the back of the pack. I was trying to keep on a Galloway-like interval, and for the first mile or so, that went reasonably well. The rolling hills began to get the better of me, and I slowed down, but to consistent, comfortable pace, and expected to be there for the rest of the race.
When I run, I play with the math of my run in my head. Since I’m usually near the back, there’s not too many people with which to chat, so math is my running buddy. At the first water stop (a little over two miles in), I took a look at my watch, and saw that my kilometer splits were off by quite a bit.
I didn’t panic, but I knew that this was shaping up to be another long day — like those in February’s halfs. I trudged on, finding another another water stop around five miles in, and by now, I began to realize I was in trouble. My splits were slowing, and I was feeling some wear and tear.
The aid station at mile five was at the top of a small hill. After a quick break, and a chat with my police escort, I started down the hill, and I could feel something painful in my right knee. I’ve been nursemaiding my left knee for months, but this was new. I tried to keep putting one foot in front of the other, but it was now painfully obvious that this day was not going my way.
My first 5km was pretty average for me; by the time I got to the six mile point, that second 5k was shaping up to be nearly half-again longer than the first. I’d gone just shy of 10km, and was already thirty minutes slower than my worst 10k.
I cried uncle.
I’d been trying to actively compensate for my right knee since that stop at mile five, which was causing pain in my left knee and hips. Given the way my times dropped off so badly after 5km, I was likely already developing a problem then. I don’t know if I could’ve finished, but had I tried that, I’m highly convinced I would’ve injured myself even more, and it just wasn’t worth the risk.
I took a ride in a volunteer vehicle back to the hotel. As it ends up, that was just what I needed. I was really beaten, and the couple inside and I had a lot in common: hams, berners and hockey. It was a nice “keep my mind off it” ride…
Until I handed my bib over to the folks in my rescue ride, sealing my DNF. That was tough.
I went straight to my room, thought over what had just happened, and showered, trying to put it all behind me. As part of this trip, and another leg of my gastrotourism, I’d planned to go to Runza. I wasn’t gonna let this struggle on-course take that away from me!
Runza is based in Nebraska, and the nearest ones are just across the border in western Kansas. Whenever I’m out that direction, I try to stop in, and get one. I had a cheese Runza, and an order of onion rings. I was in heaven. I probably could’ve eaten two, but that would’ve been pushing it, and I didn’t want to add gastronomical distress to my list of maladies on the day.
Back at the hotel, I dozed off and on, watching some TV, and finally went to bed, knowing I’d have an early start today. After an early rise, I zipped across the state — it’s about four hours from Olathe to Da Lou — and am home, and happy to be here.
So were there lessons from the weekend?
Firstly, a big tip of the hat to the folks at Fleet Feet. If you remember my halfs in February, I blistered on the bottom of my left foot quite badly. I talked with them, and they suggested RunGuard, which is basically a beeswax-feeling substance that you smear all over the bottom of your feet. I was skeptical, but it really worked. I had no blistering at all, which is a huge improvement!
I also learned that it’s ok to listen to your body, and stop when it makes sense. A medal is simply not worth doing longer term damage.
I also thought long and hard about the longer distance work I’ve been trying lately. While I had two extraordinary days in February, it’s become pretty obvious that I’m not really quite ready to tackle 20+km with any expectation of success. Not yet, anyway. On any given day, I might make it, or I might not, and I’m not a fan of that. Typically, when I run, I’m racing against me, not against finishing.
And frankly, that’s taking the fun out of it for me. I’ve been so focused on finishing these long races, I’ve forgotten what made this sport so much fun. It’s time to return to my roots, and focus on 5k and 10k distances for a while. I’m hopeful this will help me work out my mechanics, perhaps get a little faster, and begin to enjoy this great sport again.
It’s also been suggested that I should take my bike out. I think this is great advice, and something different for cross-training. The bridge crossing from the Chesterfield Valley to the Katy Trail has been open for over a year, and I haven’t yet taken my Kona across it. With the warmer weather being here, it’s time to return to the Katy, and I can’t think of a better way to do that than to ride there from the Valley.
Needless to say, this will put some big ol’ dents in my running plans for this year. I have three half marathons (one in two weeks) and a triathlon scheduled for this year. At this point, I’d put all that in the “maybe” category.
Normally, I’d guess someone could get pretty down about that change. These were big race events, after all! I prefer to look at it this way. I did some monster things in 2016 and early 2017, and I will again, but it’s time to put the fun back in my running, focus on getting healthy, and work my way back to those kinds of races, with knowledge that I will finish those races when I’m ready to tackle them again, and not have the question of “finishing” in my head.
168 races ago, I ran my first race, the 2012 Undy 5000 here in St. Louis. I had finished two surgeries less than 90 days earlier, curing me of colon cancer. I’ve been running ever since…
After a few weeks of furious fundraising, yesterday morning was when the rubber was to hit the road. It was really cloudy, and felt like it was going to rain all morning. The rain held off, which was a shame. I love running in the rain!
I started off the morning with coffee and an old fashioned from the Donut Palace of Ellisville. They were hosting a fundraiser for Backstoppers, and had uniformed officers serving doughnuts to the public. It was a fun time, and I was happy to donate to the cause.
Doughnut in tummy, and coffee in hand, I headed down the road to Forest Park. If you’ve read a few of these blog entries over the years, you know I have a love-hate relationship with running in the park. It’s not awful, depending the course the race directors select, but even the easiest course has plenty of up-and-down rolling hills.
I picked up my race bib, survivor shirt and undies, and got myself all dolled up in my colon cancer clothing. This is the first time I’ve worn all the freebies, but it felt right this morning, and frankly, it all fit, which is a plus.
As opening ceremonies began, Darla texted me to let me know she was on the grounds. This was a surprise, as I wasn’t expecting her to come by. We listened as Roche Madden — a CRC survivor himself — talked about the race and fundraising. As a group, we raised about $150k, and continued to be one of the largest Undy events, at about 1500 registered racers. Way cool.
I meandered toward the start line, playing “rebel without a clue” by putting myself closer to the front of the pack than the back. As it ends up, that was a great move, and let me pass some folks, and not get passed by quite so many. Running is a mental game, right?
About a third of the way through, some stranger tapped me on the shoulder as he was passing me, and told me I was doing great. I assume the “Survivor” emblazoned on the back of my shirt made him take the couple of seconds to say hello. I’ve said it before, and I’ll keep saying it… I love the running community.
Darla made some new friends, and as I got close to the finish line, I could hear them all cheering for me. Man, that is such a rush!
I finished the race in what was a pretty good time for me. This race is more an event than a race, and while there are some folks that are in it to win it, there’s a lot of folks that are just walking, talking and memorializing folks that have been stricken by colon cancer. This usually makes my results look far more impressive than they actually are!
We stuck around for the awards ceremony, and listened to one survivor tell his tale. Seventy-six of us were brought forward, and received survivor’s medals for running the race. I’m always full of emotion at that part of the day, but it’s so cool to see so many folks who have fought the fight, and won.
Next year will be my seventh Undy, and I’m sure I’ll be there for it. I hope to have some folks come along for the ride next year!!!!
Last night, I took off on my first neighborhood adventure since returning from Gasparilla. And that wasn’t by choice. Over two weeks of being sidelined by the flu really took its toll. I knew I needed to get out last night — it was a rare 86° degree night! — but, I also knew I needed to take it easy, given what my body had been through since the beginning of the month.
After work, I pulled my running shoes on, and set out on one of my 5k courses. I was surprised at how easy it came — must be like riding a bike, eh? — and although it was definitely hotter than my comfort zone outside, I chugged along.
On this course, I have an option to take on a big hill on Clayton Road, or to turn around at the top of the hill, and fill in the missing distance by taking a detour on Wren Trail. I was feeling kinda froggy, so I decided on the hill.
I’m glad I did.
It’s so very easy to take the less challenging path. I mean, who’s gonna know? At the end of course, it’s still 5k, right? But yesterday, I had something to prove. I got kicked by this illness — hard! — and I needed to show myself that while I was down for a while, I wasn’t out, and I could once again take on these kinds of challenges.
I got to my turnaround point at the bottom of the hill, looked up the hill once, staring it down, and began putting one foot in front of the other. The next time I looked up from the sidewalk, I was almost finished climbing… and that was an awesome feeling!
And with the hill behind me, the rest of the course was relatively flat and easy. I finished up, with a slow finishing time — but speed wasn’t the point of last night. Last night was about finishing something I started, and continuing to fight for every mile I can!
I love to find fun spam in my inbox. I’m also the same guy that likes playing with the robocallers. Yeah… I’ve got an illness! 🙂
Today, I got an incredibly personal email from Jen Miller, that I felt compelled to respond to. Here’s what I got:
And since I love stuff like this, I had to respond!
Thanks for the nice email!
I’m glad my blog showed up on your radar as you searched the world over for information on running. Of course, the great post you noted is actually a site tag fronting well over a hundred posts! I think your automaton that generates (Jen-erates?) emails like this may have gotten confused as it tried to speedily dive into the trials and tribulations of a real person, writing about their real running journey. Of course one post in a hundred is actually created by flying monkeys typing randomly — can you spot that post?
And your automaton saw my single link to The Oatmeal website from eighteen months ago — neat! I’m not entirely sure why mentioning that site would put me in the hunt for your detailed, 7,000 word guide on health benefits of running, but it’s cool that automation has forever married The Oatmeal and your article… it’s like a match made in silicon!
Looking at your site, I see very little about you and your family. To borrow a phrase I’ve seen on Twitter a lot recently, “sad.” I love to see the folks that are recommending things for me, understanding their motivations, and learning what their automatons eat! It’s things like this that make this kind of exchange much more human, and less bits and nybbles (sorry automatons!).
I dug into your site, and noticed that your “Only the Best Reviews” page on the Blog tab shows a buncha pretty cool stuff. I mean, when our automaton overloads take over, that article about “How to Drive a Car” will be crazy important to them! They’ve likely never avoided deer in the highway, stopped to collect beer from an overturned beer tanker, or pushed a car off a cliff to collect the insurance money. These are hugely important topics, and I’m sure you’ve got them covered!
I also noticed that every article I saw — and I didn’t look at ‘em all! — had just about 20,000 views. That’s a clue, isn’t it? That’s how many automatons are reading your site, instructing the other automatons on how precisely to take over! Oh, it’ll be a sad, sad day in the world of human affairs once they take over. But that likely will stop all the robocalls. I mean, why would robocallers need to pester automatons, right?
Well, Jen, I hope you’re having a great day from what I can only assume is an underground bunker somewhere. Hopefully it’s sunny there, and you’re keeping the little automated beasties at bay!!!
Best of luck! (And “boop beep boop” to the automatons!)
P.S. Do you know anything about indoor nano-octogons? That might make for a neat article for your website! Finding the best nano-octagon out there for little nanobots to duke it out is a real pain! With the advent of 3D printing, that’s gotten easier, but it’s still a struggle. The little nanobots get all excited, and sometimes leak oil on the floor as part of their excitement! That makes it slippery for the other nanobots, and that’s a challenge. Thanks in advance!
Last February, something possessed me to drive to Tampa for a long weekend, and run the Gasparilla Distance Classic, taking on the Lime Challenge (15k on Saturday, and 8k on Sunday). I have no idea why I did that, but I had a tough weekend, with big blisters coming up during the 15k, causing me to hobble my way through the 8k.
Despite the painful feet, I had so much fun that I signed up again for the 2017 Lime Challenge as soon as registration opened. I’ve had this on my calendar for months.
And then I ran the Mississippi River Half Marathon, and a lightbulb went off… if I could change my registration for Gasparilla to the half, I could qualify for the Half Fanatics by completing two half marathons in sixteen days.
Most years I’ve run, I’ve set some kind of goal. In 2014, it was to run a race a month. 2015 saw me run my first half marathon, and in 2016, I competed in my first triathlon. This year, I wanted to become part of the Half Fanatics. To do that, I needed to complete either three half marathons in ninety days, or two in sixteen days. Converting my Gasparilla registration would hit that target.
After a week of frantic communication right before the registration cutoff, I finally got the nod for the modified registration, and I was set!
The Road to Tampa
I set out from Da Lou bright and early on Thursday, planning to get to Dothan AL before the day was done. That’d leave a shortish drive on Friday, and give me plenty of time to get settled in once I got to Tampa.
I decided to take a different route this year, avoiding Nashville, Chattanooga, and Atlanta, and traveling kinda diagonal across west Tennessee and northern Mississippi, before hanging a big right, going south through Alabama.
I passed through farm lands, and crossed the very river I’d run across just two weeks ago. The clouds and fog hung in all morning, keeping the temperatures cooler, which was fine by me.
Along the Rockabilly Highway, I stopped for some gas in Henderson TN. I got out of the rental car, and noticed a note on the pump, indicating that the card reader wasn’t working. I walked inside, and waited for the clerk to show up. Once she did, I asked what she needed in order to turn on the pump. That’s when it got weird.
She asked if I was filling up, and of course, I said “yes”. Then she asked me how much I thought it would take to fill it up. Eh? I had no idea. It’s a rental car! She told me that it was only that pump that had a problem, so I figured I’d just move to another one. And then the wisdom came. She began to tell me how much safer it was to pay inside the store, because there were so many folks out there putting skimmers on the pumps.
I thanked her, told her I’d move to another pump, and then went about filling up. If my card gets nabbed, I have a pretty good idea where it might’ve happened! 🙂
The rest of the drive to Dothan was pretty uneventful, making for a long, twelve-hour day, full of Sirius XM glory, and my torturing the animals I passed by with my singing.
I saw signs for lodging as I was pulling into Dothan, and picked the Best Western from the lot. Basically, I just needed somewhere to lay my head for the night. I got checked in, and frankly, it was an old, tired motel, with a bed that was a little uncomfortable, doors that didn’t shut well, but an air conditioner that rocked.
Upon getting checked into my hotel for the night, it was time to find some dinner. I’d read about a place in Dothan called Rock N Roll Sushi, and wanted to give it a try. They had some very unusual rolls on their menu, and I knew that’s what I needed for dinner. I hit their website, and put my iPhone in control, guiding me to some grub.
Except that the address on their website was wrong.
I ended up in a really grungy part of town — I knew that because one house had “No Trespassing” spray painted across a front door and jamb — and couldn’t find the restaurant. I called, and they told me I was all the way across town from them. After some directions, I headed back across town, and finally found it.
And while the restaurant wasn’t amazing to look at, the food was stunning! I had smoked salmon nigiri and tobbiko nigiri, along with a couple of rolls. Knowing that I needed lobster to survive, I started with the ZZ Top roll, which had tempura lobster inside, crabmeat atop, along with crunchy crab, spicy mayo and eel sauce. It was huge, and was, by far, the best thing I ordered. I also had the Velcro Pygmies Roll. This smaller roll had spicy tuna, avocado, crunch flakes and topped with Pop Rocks… yes, real candy Pop Rocks atop! The sweet from the Pop Rocks countered the wasabi and soy really well, and the slight popping in my mouth was just plain fun. The food was awesome, and was definitely different from any sushi place I’d ever visited.
By driving as far as Dothan on Thursday, I set myself up for a relatively short drive into Tampa on Friday. I grabbed a little OJ and a pastry before heading out, and hit the road at sunrise. Along the way, I found a Lowe’s that was open, and ran in for some duct tape (more on that later!) before heading south to Florida.
Highway 231 out of Dothan is apparently a big run down toward Panama City. And with it being a pathway to Florida, there was a rest area just beyond the Florida state line. The welcome centers in Florida are renown for serving up fresh OJ as a little treat for entering the state. Unfortunately, since this one was a little off the beaten path, it would be closed for another hour, and I missed my chance for a little slurp of nectar from the Sunshine State.
By now, I was starting to think about my endgame for Tampa — where to stop for lunch, and when to stop for fuel so I wouldn’t have to worry about that first off on Monday as I began my return to the Midwest. I finally landed in Gainesville, mostly driven by an advertisement for Krystal’s. If you’ve read my race reports before, you know that I’ll go out of my way to go to Krystal or Runza. I stopped in, and sat down for a quick lunch, before heading across the street for some gas. After filling up, I picked up some Gatorade (I’d also forgotten that at home, still chilling in the fridge), and resumed my southerly charge.
Along the way, I’d noticed some differences in how the Apple Maps app and my Garmin were leading me. Most of it was semantics. The Garmin was intent on ensuring I didn’t accidentally take an exit I shouldn’t, while my iPhone showed me what I would eventually be doing as my next maneuver. The thing that made the Garmin stand out, however, was that it showed me which lane I needed to be in for my entrance into Tampa. I kept ’em both on as I hit the city, and felt like I had consensus on everything I was doing. 🙂
This year, I stayed in the Hilton Downtown, which is on the other side of the Convention Center from where I stayed last year. I didn’t have to fight any of the crazy traffic at the Convention Center, and pulled right up to the Hilton. I dropped off the car with the valet, and headed in to check in. I knew I was early (about 2pm), and hoped for best. If you remember, last year, there were many of us who waited several hours for our rooms to be available, with me finally getting mine at 4pm after a lot of squawking. The Hilton, however, had a room immediately available, and after thanking me profusely for our repeated business, I was heading upstairs to my room.
And it was a nice room. Big, comfy king bed, a couch, a real desk, and all the power outlets you could possible want. That’ll do, pig. That’ll do.
I walked down to pick up my packet at the Convention Center. I got turned around a little (of course!), and it turned into a little longer walk than I’d expected, and by the time I’d trodden into the Center from the 90° heat, I was sweaty and stinky. Like last year, the organizers had done a great job to ensure there weren’t long lines to pick up your bib and shirt. I was a little fearful that there could be some drama around my bib and shirt, since I was a late conversion to the half. But my bib was there (without my name printed on it — not a surprise, given the timing), and awaiting me was a “good ol’ boy” sized race shirt for the half. Woot!
I wandered around the expo, looking for anything cool and interesting, and frankly, I didn’t really see anything much that I hadn’t seen before. Of course, there were a lot of races being promoted from this region, along with local organizations and companies, none of which were things that would be helpful for me.
And then I ran across the folks from Krave Jerky. I’ve really started enjoying having jerky in the car for these road trips, and on a lark, I tried some Jack Link’s Tender Bites for the Mississippi River half two weeks ago. It was awesome on the course, sat well with me, and I really felt like I got a boost out of it. I get pretty bored with the sweet treats like Sports Beans, and other chewy sweet things. They’re nice, but I just can’t make a race of them. The guys from Krave seem to have figured that out too, and had samples there to try. I really liked the flavors and tenderness, and think I’ll need to get some in the house for future runs (never try anything new on race day!).
As I was leaving the Expo, there was a creepy little guy hauling a backpack half his size, asking folks if they had bibs that weren’t gonna be used. I’ve never encountered that before. For every race I’ve ever seen, having someone else run with your bib would get you blacklisted from running in that race again. And I can’t imagine what this guy’s deal was. Maybe he was too late to get registered. Maybe there’s a market for those just before race day (like scalped tickets for a concert). Regardless, it was slimy, and I just walked on by.
I walked back to the hotel, and called it night, staying in, watching TV, and just relaxing, knowing that in about 36 hours, I’d be taking on my next real test, and hopefully sealing the deal for my joining Half Fanatics.
With the change in my race plans, Saturday was a down day for me, and a chance to just relax before my big run.
Last year, after the 15k, I met some friends –Shauna and Clyde — for a late lunch. They relocated from STL to Tampa a few years ago, and Gasparilla is a great chance to catch up with them. I’d made the same plan with them for Saturday on this trip, and once again, we went to the Columbia Restaurant. This place is legendary, and has been around for over a century, sporting amazing Cuban-inspired food.
These guys make great sangria table side, so Shauna and I decided to split a pitcher… neither of us was driving, and I needed hydration for Sunday’s race. 🙂 Continuing my lobster theme from October’s cruise, I ordered Croquetas de Langosta, which was absolutely amazing, and light enough not to weigh me down to the point where I couldn’t have desert. And since I was in Florida, that meant key lime pie, and Cafe con Leche to top things off. With all that goodness, and a couple of hours of great conversation, I was able to take my mind off the upcoming race, and simply relax.
The half marathon started at 6am, and I knew I had to walk about four blocks, and build-in time for finding the tail end of line. I woke up ahead of the alarm after a fitful night of sleep, and started getting ready. Socks and braces and compression sleeves and bib… I felt like a gladiator getting ready for competition.
And, truthfully, it’s probably not that far off!
I walked down to the start line, and found that it was already very crowded. I think there were to be about 6500+ folks running the half, and every single one of them appeared to be milling around in front of me. I found a couple of guys that were also turtles like me, and we chit-chatted for a bit, which helped keeper my nerves down. Really quickly, the time came for the National Anthem.
Now, many races this size have someone actually perform the anthem, but in this case, it was a recording. However, the sound folks couldn’t quite get the sound system switched from the “pump you up” music to the Anthem, so after a few attempts to announce the Anthem, the DJ gave up… and then suddenly, the last three or four lines of the Anthem came through. Yeah, that was kinda messed up. 🙂
And then we were off!
The race course first wound through the neighborhoods on Davis Island. Even at that early pre-dawn hour, there were folks on the sidewalks cheering us on. I really love races where the neighborhoods are engaged and rooting the runners along!
And since the route on the island was a loop, I got to pass by a fire juggler twice. That was crazy awesome, and worth watching for a little bit. If I had any kind of skills, I’d be out there doing something like that for these long races. Maybe I should learn to play my ukulele while I’m running. 🙂
Finishing the island course meant that almost five miles were behind me as the sun was starting to rise. With the nice breeze from the bay, this was feeling like it was gonna be a great day.
The rest of the race was along Bayshore Boulevard — the same course as the 8k and 15k I ran last year. This is a beautiful route, with the bay on one side, and wonderful deco-inspired homes on the other. I really like the look and feel of this neighborhood… and the sea breeze off the bay!
The first several miles along Bayshore went along pretty well, but I could tell I was starting to weaken, feeling some soreness in my hips and feeling my crazy left-foot blister starting to rear it’s head. I’d duct taped it, trying to keep friction to a minimum, but as I’d find out later at the hotel, my tape tore, and started floating around in my sock.
The turnaround was about 15km in, and by then, I knew I was in trouble. I was walking slowly — but methodically! — up Bayshore, and that’s when the last of the pack finally passed me. I was officially the back of the pack, and had a police escort for the next couple of miles.
Behind the half marathon, an 8k was slated to go, and the course organizers helped ensure I was out of their way as they kicked off. The elite runners began passing me about ten or eleven miles in, with the competitive runners not far behind.
But here’s the cool thing. Even with all these speedy folks passing me by, many of them patted me on the shoulder as they went by, encouraging me to continue on. I’m sure they realized that I was out there as the last of the half marathoners, and was trudging forward by sheer force of will. I’ll never forget all those kind words as I worked slowly toward the finish line.
With about a half kilometer to go, there were three ladies at the end of an entrance ramp cheering folks on. They’d finished the half, and when they saw me, and recognized that I had a half marathon bib on, asked me if I’d like them to make me a mimosa. I’d been on the course for over four hours by this time, and that sounded like the best idea I’d ever heard. They reached into a cooler, began mixing, and I started drinking the best drink I think I’ve ever had. We toasted my impending finish line appearance, and they congratulated me on my determination. They were angels in disguise, and after a few minutes, I got my feet under me, said my goodbyes, and was on my way again.
Only a few minutes later, I crossed the finish line, and wandered toward the folks handing out medals. Just like in Mississippi two weeks earlier, someone tried to hand me the wrong medal (an 8k medal, in this case), and I explained as best I could that I was the last of the half marathoners to finish. They walked to the medal racks, grabbed a medal, and hung it around me. I was thrilled.
I continued through the finishers’ chute, grabbing only a water. I knew I was done, and needed to be heading back to the hotel to relax my poor feet. I had my photo taken with a pirate lass, and at the apex of the footbridge, I leaned my head against the top of the handrail, saying some small thanks, and becoming very overwhelmed at what I’d just accomplished.
Not only had I completed my second marathon in two weeks, but I’d qualified for Half Fanatics.
In pain, limping from my blistered left foot and painful hips, I walked the few blocks back to the Hilton, reveling in this personal victory. Back in my room, I fell across my bed, and slept for a couple of hours, finally showering, and finding some food. I was done for the night, and just sat back, letting my body complain and recharge.
Back to the Midwest!
Just like a race day, the night before a long drive isn’t usually my best sleep. I woke up before my alarm, got into my driving duds, and headed downstairs to checkout. The Hilton had been good to me, but it was time to head home.
I checked out around 5am, and started my drive northward, knowing that I wouldn’t be home for two days. Frankly, the drive on Monday was pretty uneventful. I put about two-thirds of the miles to Da Lou behind me, and settled in to a hotel in Tupelo for the night.
And once again, it was a fitful sleep. This time, however, my sleeplessness was not of my own making. About 3am, the heavens opened up, and a small thunderstorm cell rocked and rolled across Tupelo, awakening me. It wasn’t too long until my alarm was gonna go off, so I decided to pack up everything, and get checked out of the hotel, putting myself on the road for the last push for home.
I kept Darla apprised of where I was, and just kept pushing north. I was counting down the minutes and miles, playing all the crazy distance/times games that I do when I run, inching ever-closer to being home.
Just before lunch, I pulled into the driveway, and saw a banner on the front porch:
You could’ve knocked me over with a feather. I’d never expected any kind of recognition like that for these silly little adventures of mine over the last five years. To have someone recognize completion of this crazy goal was incredibly humbling.
I’ve recovered pretty quickly from this race, as compared to the Mississippi River Half two weeks ago. I still have my blister, and I definitely have enhanced the likelihood that I’m gonna lose a toenail that began blackening from that first race. My body has recovered nicely though, with very little residual pain, and that’s something I’m very thankful for.
I reached out to the Half Fanatics after I got home, and am officially a member now, #15914. I couldn’t be happier about adopting that number!
There’s been a lot of congrats from folks at work and Facebook. Many of them knew I was striving for this in 2017, and I’m of the opinion that it takes a community to run a half marathon. Whether they’re close by family or friends, friends from the internet, passers-by in a race who cheered me on, or angels with a cooler on a street corner who can tell when a man needs a drink… they all have their place, and make up part of the story of me achieving a pretty dang significant goal, and proving, despite having had a third of my colon removed five years ago, that I’ve got a lot of guts. 🙂
This race benefits a boatload of charities. In 2016, this race gave $360,902 to dozens of charities. You can read more about those donations here.
It seems like I learn something from every race, and sometimes, I’m surprised at just how many things I bump into that are either new, or forgotten revelations. Here’s few from this past weekend’s race.
Instrumental pieces, no matter how peppy, just don’t cut it. I have a curated running playlist I’ve been working on for months, and made a lot of assumptions about what I’d like to hear on the run. There were times I was so, so, so wrong. It didn’t seem to matter how wonderful the track, they were skipped when they cropped up randomly during the race. The only one that stuck was “Drum Dreams” by ELO. It has a crazy drum beat, and it’s hard not to be driven by that.
So why don’t peppy instrumentals cut it? Because I wanna sing when I’m running! Now, “sing” is relative. Caterwauling is likely a better description, but only for those parts of the race where my inner voice can get past the huffing and puffing of my breathing. When I topped the bridge, “I Melt With You” hit the top of playlist, and I’m absolutely convinced that I sounded like some maimed animal as I tried to sing and dance along, while trying to maintain forward momentum, keep appropriate hand-to-beat coordination, and avoid breaking an ankle in the expansion joints!
My Running Plans
Don’t ask about ’em until at least three days after the race. During the race, I know I can recite what my next races are. But secretly, I’m cutting deals with myself like a sinner on judgement day about which future races I’m not gonna run, because the current race is so tough!
Beef Jerky Rules!
I’m a jerky junky, but this race was the first time I carried something savory with me. I’m all about the Sport Beans, but I decided to carry a little something different, and had a sack of Jack Link’s Tender Bites in my pocket. I liked those because they were easy to deal with — they’re already in a resealable bag, they’re easy to chew, and I loved the flavor. I think there’s some experimenting to come on this!
Normally, I’m a water-only guy. MRM had water stops every mile, and since I was carrying water with me, I had small cups of Gatorade at every stop. That worked out extraordinarily well! When I did the Route 66 Half in Nov ’15, I noticed that Gatorade went down pretty well, so I think I’m gonna have to incorporate that into my race day regimen. Outside the race, I tried Gatorade’s Frost Glacier Cherry, and liked it pretty well. I suspect that’ll make an appearance on my long race days.
Old Guys Rest!
When I did my triathlon in May last year, one of the things I did during the swimming leg (my weakest component) was to flip over on my back, and just float, resting for a few minutes. Apparently, that was also the exact method to get the race support folks as excitable as they could be, thinking that I had some sort of problem. Running MRM on Saturday, I encountered the same phenomenon. And no, I wasn’t lying on my back on the race course! 🙂 I was, however, sitting on culverts and leaning against walls, while trying to summon my inner “me” to get through the last couple of miles of the race. Much like my tri, this is apparently the “cry for help” in a half marathon. I fended off a BUNCHA folks, telling ’em I was fine, and just resting, which is exactly what I was doing. It was sure nice to have strangers watching out for me though!
The “C” Word
When folks talk with me about running, the conversation invariably comes around to “what started your running journey?” And the answer to that question always starts with my journey with colon cancer. I never mind talking about what happened to me five years ago, and I’ll answer any question about it, no matter how much TMI your might ordinarily think was involved. It’s hard to know if what I tell folks helps them be more comfortable with talking about cancer — especially colon cancer! — or changes their attitude about early detection, but I hope it does. If you ask me about running, you’re liable to hear about my cancer journey … You’ve been warned!!!! 🙂
Said Dr. Peabody to his boy, Sherman, “Set the way-back machine to November 2015, for that’s when this tale begins!”
I ran my first half marathon in November 2015 at the Route 66 Half Marathon in Tulsa. This was monumental in so many ways for me, and something I’ll never forgot. You can read about that race here. As part of the expo, I ran across the table for the Mississippi River Half Marathon. After talking with the folks there, I dropped my name in the proverbial hat for a chance to win a free entry to their race, and didn’t think about it again.
Not until a week or so later, when I heard from the race folks, letting me know I’d won that free entry! I talked with the director for a while, hearing about this great, flat race, all the while getting my excitement up for this event. However, it was very close to Gasparilla, which I’d had teed up for a while. They let me defer to 2017, so done and done.
Now, we return to the present…
I’d been sweating this race all winter. I knew I wasn’t getting the training miles that I should’ve — ice, winter, and injuries all got in the way. I kept telling myself that I could do this anyway. I mean, I didn’t train that hard for my first half, and I got through that one, right?
But, this was gonna be my fourth attempt at my second half marathon. I had blisters in Chattanooga in March. I had a leg that was incredibly messed up in Tulsa in November. And December found me taking care of Becky and her eye, keeping me away from Springfield.
So this race was a long time coming, with a lot of self-inflicted pressure. And the closer the day came to leave for the race, the more nervous I got. Even up to the day before the race, I was still doubting if I could really get through it. I figured that I could just muscle through it though. After all, I’d done this before, right? (Sense a theme yet?)
I drove to Greenville MS on Friday. When I left STL, it was 28°, and by the time I hit the bootheel, it was in the 40s, with tremendous winds. There were times that the dust blown up from the barren fields made “brown out” conditions where I couldn’t see thirty feet in front of the Jeep. And with those winds, my mileage plummeted to about 12.5mpg. That was impressive.
I rolled into Greenville around 5pm, got checked into the hotel, and went to pick up my race packet at the local mall. I think that’s the first time I’ve picked up my packet at a mall, but it worked out well, and being a small race, went pretty quickly.
I laid out Flat Colin, making sure I had everything planned and together for the race. I went through my race strategy, trying to plan for what was to come on Saturday. I’d been visualizing my race plan for a week, putting myself in the best place I could be for my race. All I had to do Saturday morning was get dressed, and get to the start line.
Well, technically, it was the finish line first. This race is a point to point race, with all the runners bussing to their starting points. We were to be carried 13.2 miles from the finish line, with the full marathon folks going 13.2 miles even farther out. The cool thing is that that meant that there would likely be folks on the course while I was finishing. I chit-chatted with a bunch of folks as we awaited the busses to begin boarding. The doors opened, and we started loading up.
This was the first time I’d been on a school bus in a very long time, and I was suddenly struck by the size of things on the bus. It was obviously designed with smaller persons in mind, and folding all of us runners into these little seats was pretty comical. And then the doors closed.
No more comical notions about long legs in little seats. It suddenly got very, very real.
We were dropped off at a little steak house just across the border in Arkansas, milling around for just about an hour awaiting time for the race to start. The race folks announced a ten minute warning, and asked us to start collecting up on the bridge deck. I really thought we’d be running across the whole bridge span, but we ended up starting about a quarter way across, which meant that the first part of the race wasn’t entirely uphill. 🙂
While I stood on the bridge deck, awaiting the start, someone walked up to me, and said hello. It was Lynn Nelson, who was on the bloggers panel with me at Route 66 in November. I was stunned to find someone I knew at this race! We chatted like old friends, and that really helped cut the pre-race jitters for me.
We all stood, sang The Star Spangled Banner, and just like that — we were underway.
The thing that struck me right away was how long that bridge over the Mississippi River was… and how beautiful the land so very far below was. The sun was poking through the heavy clouds every now and then, lighting up parts of the river as I crossed the bridge. And as I expected, inside fifteen minutes, I’d lost the pack, and was left to my thoughts.
The Greenville Bridge is pretty impressive, and is billed as the longest cable-stayed bridge span on the Mississippi River. I couldn’t say if that’s true, but it’s very cool to run across. The only thing that was weird for me was ensuring I didn’t step wrong on the expansion joints. They were huge, and looked like you could break an ankle by stepping on them wrong.
Having lost the pack, I was the very last person running the half. As a result of that, and running on a pretty significant highway, I had an escort. 🙂 That’s one thing I noted throughout the race — the support from the LEO community was amazing! I never felt unsafe crossing any intersection, and I made sure I thanked every one of ’em. They kept all of us safe, and I loved being the target of the world’s slowest high-speed pursuit!
I chugged through the first quarter (5k), and had a time pretty comparable to the first quarter of Route 66 — within a minute. I felt like I was on track for another long day, but a successful one. I even posted some Facebook Live material from the race course.
I continued on up Highway 82, with a nice tailwind, and kinda thought my times would be benefitting from the little extra push. However, at the halfway point, I was seven minutes behind my time from Tulsa, and was starting to feel a blister form on the bottom of my left foot. I’ve been there before (remember Gasparilla last year?), and that could’ve set me up for some real misery. As it ends up, that blister was the least of my worries.
Halfway was kinda a big point in this race. I put another (and my last) Facebook Live video up. The first of the marathoners passed me — remember, he was at the 19 mile point in his race, while I was sitting at six miles in mine. He was flying! And it was around halfway that I met Liz, Brenden, and Ashley.
These kids were probably half my age, and were walking at the same pace I was, plus or minus. Oh, and Liz was 30-weeks pregnant. 🙂 We’d been passing each other for much of the first half, and then hooked up as we reached the end of the highway part of the race. We talked for miles, stopping at some of the neighborhood rest stops, picking up doughnuts, citrus and other goodies. Eventually, they got ahead of me for good, although every now and then, they’d look back to make sure I was still in the game.
Somewhere around nine miles, I really began to struggle. I started taking breaks, sitting on the culverts and leaning against walls. I had so many folks passing me by, asking if I was ok. And I was, I was just exhausted. I hydrated well along the way (a little Gatorade every mile), so I know that wasn’t the problem. But for some reason, I was just barely getting from point to point. It was like some crazy Walking Dead imitation, only without the constant mumbling for brains.
And every time I’d get moving again — slowly and sloppily — I had runners passing me, encouraging me as they went by. And every now and then, someone would slow to my pace, talk with me for a few minutes before moving on. And being in the South, there were more than a few “You’ve got this, sir” flung at me as those faster folks passed me. Sir? Really? 🙂
I don’t quit, and I finish what I start. But, this… this was really brutal. There were at least a couple of times where I wanted to pull the plug, and catch an ATV to the finish. Every time I thought of that, I knew I’d be crushed, and I’d have to live with that. I could see that I was so close to the finish, and that I only needed to find ways to rest, recharge, and keep moving. That was my strategy over the last couple of miles, and I just kept counting down the kilometers.
And then it was over. I finished, and had my medal around my neck. (Put a tack in that; we’ll come back to it later.)
I waddled to the finisher’s tent, and found that they had a feast of pizza and other goodies. The lady behind table asked what I wanted, and I muttered something about just wanting to sit down, eat some pizza and have the coldest Coke I could find. She said there weren’t any chairs in the tent, but walked off for a minute, and came back with a folding chair from somewhere. I sat right at the serving table, hunkered over my pizza and Coke like they were my precious, and began to recharge my batteries a bit.
The tent also had some massage chairs set up, so I signed up for my first ever massage. My shoulders were awful — they always are after a long race — and I figured I wouldn’t hurt anything by getting them worked on a bit. As it ends up, that was the best move I coulda made. The masseuse just pummeled my back and shoulders, and it made all the difference in the world.
And while I had my face in the doughnut, someone came up and grabbed my hand. I asked who that was, and it was Liz, coming by to congratulate me on finishing. I felt like George Bailey at the end of It’s a Wonderful Life, suddenly having something wonderful happen. It absolutely made my race.
When my massage was finished, I wandered back over to the table, and asked for the quickest path to where I’d parked my Jeep. The folks started trying to figure that out, when a twenty-something girl said she’d just take me to the Jeep. Wow. I’ve never had anything like that happen at a race!
I drove back to the hotel, and that’s where I discovered that I had a medal for the full marathon, rather than the half. I’m sure that as long as it took for me to come across the line, the volunteers weren’t expecting that grizzled old dude to be a half finisher!
I’ve thought about why this race ended up being so tough. I thought the flat course, especially with a tail wind, would make for a fast time for me. However, I really think that having some hills to help break up my pace, and to give me a “restful boost” on the back of those hills, could’ve been helpful. I also think the weather toward the end of the race got to me. It was 75° when I finished, and I felt every degree of it. All that conspired to keep me on the course an hour longer than I’d planned for.
I am thrilled to have my second half marathon behind me! But there’s no resting on my laurels. I’m supposed to be in Gasparilla in two weeks for a 15k and 8k. I’m definitely encouraged by how this race went, despite how very tough it was. I learned a lot about myself, and that I really can push through some pretty tough racing in order to finish. I know folks finished much, much faster than me, but for me, this was a solid win!
At the end of the year, I always have a bucket of medals from virtual races that I just didn’t find time for during the year. This last year was particularly bad, with injuries, cold weather and me kinda falling off the wagon a little. This is one of those race. Prepare for more in the coming weeks!
I’ve been a Prince fan since Purple Rain was released. I’d heard of him before that, of course, and I enjoyed some of his later music, but there was something special about that music and that film at that time. It was a tumultuous era for me, with girlfriends and breakups, and me beginning to lay the foundation for who I’d become as an independent adult. I needed that music then. I couldn’t tell ya how many times I saw the film during its first run, nor how many times I lit up the CD. I think “a lot” comes to mind. 🙂
In fact, most of my runs start with the extended version of “Let’s Go Crazy” from the film. It’s eight minutes of fun, and is big, bouncy, and gets my mind in the right place for getting the miles laid down.
Friday night, after work, I decided I needed to get some miles in the books. This year has been abysmal, with no where near enough miles, and knowing that I was facing a half marathon on the near horizon, I had to get out.
Careful readers will remember that my last outing had me sporting some knee issues. Knowing that, I put my knee brace on, and even with the cold weather, I only had one slight twinge, and that was when my brace had slipped a bit. No biggie, and after a few minutes, I was on my way.
In truth, this was the best outing I’d had in a while, and has put me in a good frame of mind for my upcoming half in Mississippi. But, more on that later!
This past weekend marked two big anniversaries for me.
The first was the 31st anniversary of my entering the Air Force. I was a lanky, introverted 22-year-old that had never left home, and only had a couple of jobs under my belt. I barely had a work ethic, and certainly had never worked with any organization with the impact that the USAF had. The impact was on me though… Joining the military was the best career move I ever made, and taught me a ton of extraordinarily valuable lessons that would shape me into the person I am today.
And forever linked at the hip to that anniversary is the anniversary of the Challenger disaster. I can remember being at the MEPS station in Knoxville TN, watching the lift off of Challenger, and stepping away to the restroom, only to return to everyone in the room being stunned by what had transpired in those few minutes.
And then I was whisked away to Lackland AFB for basic training, and the obligatory blackout that (at that time) came with that.
None of us knew what had happened to Challenger. There were rumors running around that it was sabotaged by the Soviets (yes, kids, there was still a Soviet Union at that time!). Practically any rumor you could imagine was crawling among us newly minted airmen. When we’d go to classes, we’d ask our instructors for information about the investigation, but of course, there was much to say in those first few weeks.
And in the most chilling of moments, I remember the sirens accidentally being activated across the base while we were in the dorms. We quickly began scrambling to put mattresses in the windows to protect from whatever might be coming. That was probably the closest I’ve come to genuinely believing I was done for. Of course, we quickly heard that firing the sirens was an accident, and nothing was going on… but still.
So, with that as the backdrop, I selected the Captain’s Run to chase yesterday. Marvel has brought Captain America to life in the recent films, and he’s quickly become my favorite Avenger. He harkens back to simpler times, with a good dose of common sense, which, at times, seems to be missing nowadays. Why not run a race inspired by him? 🙂
I started out of the house, and it was a cold 35°, with a blustery wind that just didn’t wanna quit. Add to that a pretty good base of clouds, and it was obvious that some of the cold weather gear needed to come out with me. However, I didn’t put on my knee brace. Remember that — it’ll be important later.
As I usually do, I took the first half kilometer at a brisk walk to warm up, quickly deciding to stretch that to about thee-quarters km to make sure I was ready, and I started jangling my ungraceful self down the sidewalk.
And then my knee barked at me.
My left knee has been sore off an on for a couple of months. I don’t know if there was a specific injury that’s caused the pain — nothing stupid that I’ve done comes to mind — but from time to time, it’s painful for a little bit of an outing. The first time I remember this pain was at the turn around point for Flat as a Pancake back in September 2015. I was going around a pylon at the turnaround, with my left leg on the outside (as I remember), and I came out of that with horrible pain. It’s come and gone since then.
Wearing a knee brace seems to help, and with the cold weather, I should’ve worn my brace — in fact, I should probably be wearing it around the house. I didn’t, and I’m sure that’s why I noticed this pain yesterday. Note to self…
I got through my neighborhood course, though, enjoying the brisk temperatures, and just being outside in the showiness of nature (thanks Reverend Lovejoy!). It was glorious, and nice to be back out there again.
Seriously, I’m gonna do more outings more frequently. Really. Honest!
Here it is … the middle of January. And this is my first run of the year. In fact, it’s my first run in about five weeks.
And I’ve missed it.
Sometimes, life just gets in the way of running, especially this time of year. There are holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, weather … and sometimes, a little too much real life drama. That’s what happened with me. Every day, I’d pledge that I was gonna go out on my neighborhood 5K tromp, and every day, something would eclipse that. As a result, I have a box of medals for virtual races I have not yet run. You’re gonna see some oldies that should’ve been run in 2016 float by.
But not this one. This one was actually on-time!
The Moon Joggers group is a crazy-supportive collection of runners from all over the world, and it was with them that I first started running these virtual races. The MJ’s are gathering in Utah this summer for the AF Canyon race (half marathon for me), renting a vacation home for a few days, and just reveling in the company of like-minded folks for a while. I can’t wait! This race was a fund raiser to help with some of the costs associated with the MJ presence at that race.
Like every other day for the last five weeks, I started my day with the best of intentions, thinking I’d go for a run at lunch, only to find myself staying indoors, taking in some chili. It was cold and raw at lunch, and that ended up being the deciding factor in staying in.
Though the afternoon, I’d seen one of my Facebook running friends having a struggle with her running, and I chimed in with some of my thoughts about life, the universe, and everything. And ya know what? All that inspired me to run after work.
Now, it’s wintertime here in Da Lou, which means the Sun sets pretty dang early, leaving precious little daylight after work for me to cram in five kilometers of distance at my pace. Immediately after work, I went upstairs, got changed into my running gear (including a rain slicker), and put myself outside.
It was sprinkling, and I’d intentionally gone out without music so I could listen to the world around me in the glory of the rain. I love running in the rain, but it’s pretty easy to miss all the nuances of a gentle rainfall with earbuds plugged in. I set out at a brisk pace, and just looked and listened as I went through the neighborhood. I could hear thunder off in the east, and wondered if I was gonna get drenched. (I didn’t, btw, although I did have a pretty good downpour for about five minutes.)
It was glorious.
Back on the road. Outside again after a long winter’s nap. And with an amazing sense of completion after so long away from the great outdoors I love so much. It was a great run with which to begin 2017!