It was a beautiful spring Sunday afternoon when Ruth and I visited the Boston Marathon Memorial.
Two more interviews, yesterday on NBC Sports Boston, and today at noon on CNN. Mike is smart enough to avoid all this. After all, as he put it, what can they ask? ”So, blind guy, tell us what you saw.”
As far as I know, everyone I know who was at the marathon is OK. Three quick notes for now:
Mike and I lost 5 or 6 minutes in the crowd at the start. Our chip time was 3:58. The bomb was at 4:09, so we missed the blast by 5-6 minutes. The lesson: always run hard to the finish.
It’s important to remember the good times when bad stuff happens. Look at Mike’s projected finish at the half-marathon, then look at the finish time:
This article on Patch.com gives a little detail. I’ll have more when I have some time.
Note: Checked some other results – apparently they update the projected time as you go along. After the finish, the projection IS the finish time. D’oh. Still, losing only 4 minutes through the hills is pretty good for a guy who’s only run on flat courses in Texas.
Today was the Massachusetts Association for the Blind’s Volunteer Appreciation Brunch. Marathon runners and fundraisers were recognized, along with the volunteers who help MAB support the visually impaired on a regular basis throughout the year.
I finally got to meet Mike Merino, the runner I’ll be guiding in the Boston marathon tomorrow. Mike is the tall one.
Like any other event, there’s a certain amount of milling about and waiting:
But we finally took a group photo.
Then it was off to the expo to pick up our numbers. Mike is #21076, if you’re following along at home.
If you missed Hassan Haydar and I talking about the Boston Marathon with the Diehards on NBC Sports Radio Boston this afternoon (or you loved the interview so much that you want to hear it again), you can listen to it here.
Boston will be Hassan’s 71st and final marathon. He’s quitting while he’s ahead – his goal for Patriot’s Day is to run under 3:30.
Lovely day for running post-storm. Blue skies, not too cold, not too icy.
Ben was in town from Chicago for a writers conference. He’s the author of (among others) 99 Problems, which you’ll like if you’re into running or writing, and You Can Make Him Like You, which you’ll like if you’re human.
Ben recorded our discussion during the run for his podcast. Time will tell whether he got anything other than a half-hour of wind and truck noises, but if the experiment was a success, you’ll be able to hear it for yourself soon.
And tomorrow, if you’re looking for a race, come run the An Ras Mor in Cambridge. I’ll be working bag check – drop by and say hello.
On this morning’s run:
I was approaching the West Medford commuter rail crossing when the lights started flashing and the bells started ringing because a train was coming. A woman put her head down and ran through the alarms, hoping to catch a bus. She ran head-first into the descending barrier, her feet came out from under her, and she crashed.
No blood, and after a minute she got up and walked off. She said that would teach her not to run with a hat on. I figured she wasn’t likely to have learned anything.
Ruth and I saw Human Sexual Response at the Boston House of Blues last night. It was a little less than 31 years since the first time I saw them live, at a New Year’s Eve show at the Paradise with Mission of Burma. Also, it was in almost the exact same spot where I saw their first reunion show, 28 years ago on Halloween. That venue (Spit – punk was still popular) is long gone, plowed under to make way for the current set of mega-clubs.
The band looks pretty good for a random collection of people in their fifties. Better than much of the audience and much better than DEVO.
Here I am, at the end of 17 weeks of training and blogging that culminated in 26.2 miles of running. That last bit passed in what seemed like no time at all while it was happening, even though it took almost three and a half hours according to the clock waiting by the finish line.
I recently came across a word that describes what marathon running is for me. An “autotelic” activity is one where the reason for doing it is intrinsic to the event itself. Most things we do are motivated by external rewards, like the need for food, shelter, or the admiration of those around us. We do an autotelic activity for its own sake, not with the expectation of some future benefit, but simply because the activity itself is the reward.
There are certainly marathoners who run for the money, and there are others who do it for the show, or for some other reason, like charity. That’s not why I’ve run 21 marathons. For one thing, if there’s a marathon that pays people to run a 3:25, I’ve never heard of it.
People having an autotelic experience say things like they’re “in the moment”, “on a roll”, “at one with the universe”, or “in the zone”. Some people get that feeling from painting or programming or dancing. I get it from marathon running.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a leading researcher on positive psychology, calls that feeling a “Flow state”. Someone in a Flow state experiences intense and focused concentration on the present moment, a merging of action and awareness, a loss of reflective self-consciousness, a sense of personal control over the situation, and an altered subjective experience of time. That’s exactly how I feel when I’m running a marathon, only with sore quadriceps.
Flow theory says that for a person to achieve Flow, he needs a task with a clear set of goals to provide direction and structure. That task has to provide clear and immediate feedback to help the person adjust his performance and maintain the flow state. The task must be difficult, but the person should have confidence in his ability to do the task at hand.
Running 26.2 miles as fast as I can is a pretty straightforward goal. I get immediate feedback from my body, my watch, and the runners around me while I’m running. And I’ve never run a marathon without some level of pain, but I’ve finished all 21 that I’ve started. Seems like a good fit to me.
On the other hand, Flow experiences have been shown to foster addiction and they can encourage risky behavior. In running, we call those “the Runner’s High” and “ultrarunning”. Survivors have been known to write books about their experiences.
I’m still thinking about what I want to do next now that Cape Cod is over, but I’m certainly not ready to give up the hunt for Flow. Before the race, when I was tapering and gibbering with anxiety, I was ready to quit the whole training/racing thing and just run – there’d be no pressure, and I could eat all the doughnuts I want. Then I had a good race, with Flow that made everything over the last 17 weeks worthwhile.
A week after Cape Cod, my legs are still tired, my neck hurts again, and my left calf has a new strain. Today, while Ruth went off for a run with her friends, I dragged myself through four miles that had absolutely no Flow. But I know that sooner or later, the Flow will return.
Next year, if everything falls into place, I’ll guide a blind runner at Boston and I’ll earn my Claw at the Great Cranberry Island 50K. There’s no guarantee that either of those will happen, but if not, I’ll find something. Cape Cod was less than a week ago. There’s no need to decide what I’m going to do next just yet.
Meanwhile, Ruth is already making lists of potential future marathons.
(4 mi. run)
Thus endeth this spate of daily blogging, at least for now. I’d like to thank all my faithful readers, most especially you!
I’ve got some other projects that need my attention. I’ll post news here as it happens, plus other fun stuff as time permits. I hope you’ll keep following what I’m up to using whatever method that’s most convenient for you.
My new book will be out in March 2013. If you want to make sure you’re notified via email when that’s ready to go, sign up here. There might be some special offers for people who’ve signed up…
Thanks! Now go out and have a great run!
Last night’s run at Casey’s was my first since the marathon. My legs were still sore, so I took it easy and ran sweep, trotting around the 4 mile course in 45:30. Ruth was supposed to sweep with me, but she felt too frisky for the slow pace. Halfway through, she started to pull ahead, chatting all the while with one of the new runners. Doesn’t seem fair.
Now that Cape Cod is over, it’s time to look back and see what, if anything I learned this time around. Each marathon is educational in its own way. Even after 21 of them, I’m still learning new things. I’m always hoping to learn something that helps, but sometimes learning what doesn’t work is just as useful.
I keep getting older, which is an ongoing source of new problems that need answers. A lot of the answers are common knowledge. The trick is realizing that they now apply to me.
Cross-training on my bike instead of running two days a week was successful in helping me manage my chronic injuries while building a decent base for my marathon. Biking was particularly helpful in managing my butt pain. It hasn’t gone away, but it’s much less annoying if I never run two days in a row.
On the other hand, biking brings its own pains. I still have a lot to learn about riding form if I want to be as efficient as possible and, more importantly, cut back on the discomfort I get from riding, especially the pain in my neck and shoulders. I have to find out if drop bars will help, or if they’ll cause more pain by forcing me to bend my neck back farther.
The 4 to1 bike-to-run conversion factor I used to track how much I was doing was close enough for my purposes, though I suspect the real rate is closer to 3-1 at the rate I pedal.
My biggest single mistake during training was probably running too hard over 21 miles of hills at Lake Winnie. Before Winnie, I felt great. After Winnie, I never felt quite as fresh. Training was more of a struggle, and I’ll always wonder whether I would have been stronger over the final six miles of Cape Cod if I had run slower at Winnie or avoided beating myself up by running down the hills from the ski area. Long runs are absolutely necessary, but I need to do them slowly.
It’s hard to run slow enough in a race, and it’s never quite clear exactly where the line between “OK” and “too fast” is until it’s too late. I did something similar in 2004, when I left my Boston Marathon on the course of the Martha’s Vineyard 20-Miler. In both cases, if I backed off for a couple weeks afterwards to recover instead of training straight through, I probably would have been fine. But it’s hard to take that much time off in the middle of training, especially this year when Winnie was only seven weeks before Cape Cod. I’d probably be better off skipping long races altogether during the buildup to a “serious” marathon.
Track workouts are a necessity if I want to hold on to what’s left of my speed as I get older. In the past, I’ve gotten hurt by doing too much too soon. My cardio-vascular system was fit enough let me do more than my body could handle. Easing into track by starting with only a few intervals and then working my way up slowly from there kept me from getting hurt.
Races are for racing, not training. I knew I had too many races on my schedule, so I tried to hold back and use them as tempo runs. I had fun seeing my friends at events, but it always seemed like a waste to pay an entry fee and not do the best I could.
One day of speedwork a week was more than enough. Even though I wasn’t racing all-out, I found I had to cut back some on my track and hill workouts because of all the races I had on my schedule. I’m pretty sure I would have been better off in the marathon if I ran more track and fewer races.
I would have felt better about myself if I hadn’t dropped the last few track workouts. Of course, feeling bad about dropping the workouts was stupid. I made the right choice to listen to my body and cut back from my original plan. But I still felt guilt and stress, which was silly.
There’s a common thread that connects these problems. I still haven’t internalized that doing less is often more in the long run. And I still use “in the long run” when I write about running, doubly painful because it’s both a cliché and a bad pun.
Blister prevention was a big win. As long as I followed my routine, I stayed blister-free. Running is much more fun when I don’t have to run on raw meat.
Adding a forefoot valgus wedge to both of my shoe inserts helped mitigate some of the problems created by my foot structure. My latest adjustments to my right shoe insert are another win. The left one still needs more work, but that side has always been more of a problem. Actual wedges, rather than flat cork shims, seem to work better, though the wedges are wildly overpriced for thin slices of cheap plastic. I ended up buying $20 BikeFit varus wedges, flipping them so the thick edge is on the outside instead of the inside, and trimming them to fit.
I’m not sure whether the calf compression sleeves helped, but they didn’t hurt. I didn’t have any problems with my calves in the marathon until mile 26. That’s still not great, but it’s better than I’ve been doing, so I’m going to stick with the calf panties in the future.
Some smaller things didn’t work, but caused no real harm. The Natural Calm magnesium supplement left me feeling more tired the next day, not less, so I stopped taking it. Nike Flex shoes felt fine while I was running, but my legs didn’t feel as good afterwards as they do when I run in Asics GEL-Hyperspeeds. I blame the mushy Nike midsole. My Garmin GPS watch provides useful information while I’m running, but all the data I collected while I was training isn’t terribly useful. If I ran on an air-conditioned indoor track, I could use my heart rate during a workout to tell whether I was in measurably better shape. But in the real world there are just too many variables to allow meaningful comparisons.
From here, what can I do to run a better marathon? It boils down to this:
- Add more miles for a better base. Do it carefully, with plenty of cross-training, so I stay healthy
- Fewer races, no long ones without adequate recovery time
- One day of speedwork per week at most
- Chill out