Archive for the ‘Marathoning’ Category

The Tel Aviv Marathon

Posted: March 8, 2014 in Israel, Marathoning

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A week ago last Friday I had the privilege of running the 2014 Samsung Tel Aviv Marathon on Israel’s Mediterranean shore.  By the time I was made aware of the race in early January, and our unit gave those interested the approval to go, I only had about eight weeks to train and had not ran marathon distance in nearly 10 months.  Thankfully I had been participating in most of the physical activities South Camp had to offer, to include the Spur Ride, the Army 10-Miler, and the Norwegian Road March (18.65 miles with a 25-pound ruck and weapon), so I was confident I would be able to finish the race but had little idea how long it would take me.

Training for a marathon when confined to a military post with only a two mile circumference is downright boring, to say the least.  There are only so many laps one can make around the perimeter until they are tired of seeing the same scenery and the same faces conducting tower guard, not to mention the dirt track here is hardly flat and even less enjoyable to run.  Because of these factors the longest training runs I completed throughout were about 10 miles long.  During my previous marathon training I battled a fair amount of knee pain, especially as the long runs became more frequent, and without the same level of training resources at my disposal I decided to go easy on my training and simply supplement my normal Army PT with 8-10 mile runs a couple times each week up until race day.  This plan would afford me some conditioning without the risk of injury.

Apparently the Jewish Sabbath is Nike sponsored.  Just do it.

Apparently the Jewish Sabbath is Nike sponsored. Just do it.

Last April I ran the inaugural Army Marathon in 4:39:47, a time I was pleased with if only because I actually finished while having no idea how to pace myself for that distance.  Now I have never claimed to be a fast runner because I am not one, but I did have a couple of goals regarding my second attempt at a marathon.  My baseline goal was to beat my previous time and my high end goal was to break 4:30:00.  I figured, if nothing else, I could replicate my performance in The Army Marathon.  But in order to reach my high end goal I would  attempt to run with the 4:30:00 pace group for the duration and, in doing so, would finish much faster than I had before (even if I failed to come in in the 4:20s).  A plan that seemed simple enough in theory but posed to be a bit more complicated in execution.

Pace groups are made up of a bunch of paying customers following one semi-professional runner who essentially guarantees he/she will cross the finish line almost exactly at the time printed on the back of their jersey.  This is quite the impressive feat by my standards if only because my interpretation of time is a bit loose — when I tell you that “I am 15 minutes away” that could mean 5 minutes or it could mean 50 minutes, just ask most of my friends.  What is funny about these pace groups is their resemblance to the running scenes from Forrest Gump.  One guy trudges on rather uneventfully, and really appears as if he could run right on to the other side of the country once he crosses the finish line, while several less-graceful runners crowd around or closely follow behind, mimicking the pacer’s every move.  He drinks, they drink.  He takes a gel pack, they take a gel pack.  The pacer, much like Forrest, says very little and sweats even less.  It is all actually quite entertaining when taken out of context but I figured being a follower in this instance was an easy way to accomplish my goals.  Considering the 4:30:00 pacer also happened to be a senior citizen was both a shot to my pride and clear motivation that I could do it.

A little before and after.  Our hotel rooms had mirrors built for selfies.

A little before and after. Our hotel room had a mirror built for selfies.

As it turns out, I could not.  My official time at the tape was 4:39:27, a mere 20 seconds faster than my previous marathon.  While I was happy that I succeeded in accomplishing my baseline goal of improving my time, I was disappointed that I did not get discernibly closer to my ultimate goal of breaking 4:30:00 and beyond.   I was able to hang with the pace group until right around the 20-mile mark when a bout of self-inflicted cramps attacked my left leg, forcing me to stop and stretch and lose sight of the pacer, a set back I never would overcome.  An unfortunate outcome to an otherwise entertaining story.

Just prior to completing 20 miles I noticed that a tall, lanky hippie, who bore a stark resemblance to Jesus, had jumped out of the crowd and began leading our pace group.  Barefoot.  And in skinny jeans.  I really appreciated his enthusiasm and sense of adventure and figured I needed to have a picture.  In the midst of fumbling with my iPhone and trying a dead sprint to catch up with the runaway hippie, I pulled up lame as if I had just been shot in the ass like Private Gump.  I think every major muscle in my leg seized simultaneously, as if in one collective voice they were reminding me that I had just finished 20 miles and was in no shape to be sprinting on any day, let alone that one.  I was never able to catch back up to the pace group and was forced to be content with grinding out the remainder of the race a bit sore, which no doubt hurt my time.  The real travesty, though, was that I never did get that picture.  I wonder what hipster Jesus is up to today.

Aside from actually running it, one unforeseen difficulty to completing a marathon overseas — especially once I had lost my pace group — is that the distance is calculated in kilometers instead of miles, meaning a marathon goes from 26.2 mi to 42.2 km in a hurry.  When fatigue sets in towards the end, one kilometer might as well be one mile and it feels like it takes a helluva lot longer to reach 42 than it does to get to 26.  My mind was not prepared to pace myself when the route was calculated in mileage back in the States, it certainly was not ready to first convert kilometers to miles then figure out my pace all on the fly.  This is, by no means, an excuse for my showing, but it is another unique facet to running events in far off lands, an experience I am eternally grateful for having had nonetheless.

While I did not finish in the time that I had hoped, I did not particularly train well enough to deserve a 4:30 flat either. With that in mind, along with the barefoot hippie debacle, I have myself to blame. Considering my limited training, and all of the circumstances involving our presence over here to begin with, I am just thankful for having been given the opportunity to participate in and complete a marathon overseas — a likely once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me.  It is certainly one of those events I can add to and check off my bucket list in one fell swoop.

And at least now whenever I see people with the oval 26.2 stickers on their cars I can be that guy with the smug 42.2 sticker instead.

42.2 is just so much more posh than 26.2.

42.2 is just so much more posh than 26.2.

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I Did The Unthinkable… AGAIN

Posted: February 6, 2014 in Israel, Marathoning

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I signed up for another marathon.

Technically I signed up for it back on January 6th — consider it some kind of New Year’s Resolution to quit being fat — but I am just NOW making the news public for no good reason whatsoever.  This level of procrastination on even the simplest of tasks (blogging) can only translate to success on the race course, trust me.

When I ran The Army Marathon back in April of 2013 I gave myself 8 weeks to prepare only because I did not know about the race prior to hearing a radio advertisement and signing up on one (likely) inebriated evening.  This time, I gave myself just 7 weeks, 3 days for mainly the same reason, I was not aware of the opportunity until I received an e-mail about it from my unit (along with approval for the trip from our command, which is partially to blame for the delay in the announcement to begin with).  However I decide to rationalize my lack of preparation and ensuing struggles, it by no means eliminates the reality of the situation: the marathon is fast approaching and I am not getting any younger.

The event this time around is the Tel Aviv Samsung Marathon in Israel along the Mediterranean coast.  While the race does not have quite the sentimental significance of running the first Army Marathon for my first marathon, finishing attempting to finish a marathon in a foreign country — near the Holy Land no less — was an opportunity I simply could not pass up.  Besides, if I am going to attempt the physically unthinkable and keel over in some turtle ditch what better place than in the Big Guy’s back yard?

I am at roughly the halfway point in my preparation and have an 18.6-mile ruck march with a 25-pound ruck (Norwegian Road March) under my belt thus far so I am fairly optimistic about my chances of not dying, even if my resources are a bit limited here on South Camp.  My primary goal is to beat my Army Marathon time of 4:39:47, with a secondary goal of coming in under 4:30:00 and/or not embarrassing myself;  not entirely impossible but certainly no guarantee on all of the above.  I guess I did not get enough of all of the pain, anguish, and public humiliation the first time around, I have decided to come back for seconds.

Which means the real winners of this race are those people of Israel who get to witness my suffering.

The look of a champion.

The portrait of a champion.

Marathon: The Aftermath

Posted: April 24, 2013 in Marathoning, Texas
The starting line.

The starting line.

As my ol’ pal G-Dub once said, “Mission Accomplished.”  I did it.  The unthinkable.  I finished a marathon.  A part of the reason this feat is so remarkable is simple: you are talking about me, of all people, running 26.2 miles.  The second reason this feat is so remarkable, however, is a little more complicated.

When I made the public announcement of my intentions back on February 24th, I was giving myself just eight weeks to be ready for a 26.2 mile race; crazy, but not out of reach.  I had been doing regular Army physical fitness training (“PT,” for short) five days a week for nearly two-and-a-half years up to that point.  Granted, PT is only one hour a day and pales in comparison to a marathon but I was not quite a Day 1 “Biggest Loser” contestant, either.

On top of the already condensed training schedule, the last distance-run I actually completed using Nike+, at the time of race day (April 21st), came on April 2nd, when I had to stop at 4.83 miles of a planned 18 because the pain in my knees was far too excruciating to continue.  I refrained from running anymore after that to allow my knees time to heel to be able to pass my Army Physical Fitness Tests (APFT) on April 11th and 16th, both of which required a 2-mile run.  When the race finally arrived I had not ran farther than two miles in the previous 19 days.   In fact, I actually only completed 10 total “training runs” prior to the marathon, outside of required PT, and my longest run was just 14 miles, 12.2 short of what I would ultimately have to travel.

Now if it sounds like I am bragging, I am not…really.  I am mainly trying to paint a picture of the level of uncertainty I had in me being able to go the distance when race day came around.  Where it may sound like I am bragging stems from the fact that I had very little confidence in my ability on the day of the race, let alone to come in with the time that I did and do so with such little training and seemingly many complications.  Simply, it is one of the few times I can actually say I am proud of something I accomplished.

I officially crossed the finish line at 4:39:47, which was a slow but respectable time.  If you had asked me what my goal was prior to I would have told you two things: finish and not die.  Realistically, though, in the back of my mind I thought I could finish if my knees held up and IF they did, I really wanted to break the 4:30:00 mark.  Coming in at 9 minutes, 47 seconds shy of that was oddly bittersweet.  I was thrilled to survive and come in well under five hours but I surpassed my expectations and actually had a shot at 4:30:00 then fell just short, which was somewhat frustrating.  Better luck next time, right? I guess that is how they keep you coming back for more, which is exactly what I intend to do.  The atmosphere was both positive and infectious.  You heard nothing but words of encouragement before and during the race and nothing but congratulatory greetings after, all from perfect strangers.

Throughout the race my strategy was simple: take what my legs would give me.  I wanted to run the entire distance and only stop at the water stations but not advance forward in any way while I was stopped, both of which I accomplished.  I typically slowed down when there were not any spectators around and sped up when there were people lining the streets or crowding the water stations simply because the adrenaline spike from all of the cheers helped me pick up the pace.  Plus, I could not appear to be struggling when there were potential ladies in the crowd who did not yet know they were big fans of this American hero.

The Finish Line.

The Finish Line. (The crowd was MUCH bigger up until about the 5:00:00-5:15:00 mark, I was just late getting back to cheer.)

Of course, as I crossed the finish line and collected my medal I did my best Barry Sanders impression and dodged all of the fruit and electrolytes laid out for us and went straight for the beer garden. How else is a Mowery supposed to celebrate a marathon?  Like I said that day, I was not drinking…I was carbo-loading.

What was my official time?  Miller Time

What was my official time? Miller Time.

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Marathon Eve

Posted: April 20, 2013 in Marathoning, Texas

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Well, the time has come. We’re just a little over 12 hours away from the start of the inaugural Army Marathon.  I had hoped to post more updates along the way but my training hasn’t gone quite as well as I had planned, which is saying a lot because who really thought this process would go well for me to begin with?  Plus, there wasn’t much to update you fine folks on until the race actually got here simply because all I did was run.  A lot.  And loosely resemble a dog struggling in a surgical collar in the process.

To say my training hasn’t gone as planned may be an understatement. I battled two very painful cases of what the Internets is calling “runners knee” throughout my training, which forced me to cut back on an already condensed training schedule in order to be physically able to fulfill my Army Physical Fitness Test obligations.  I have since purchased two high-tech knee braces that I now wear when I run, which brings additional unnecessary attention to this train wreck and makes me look like the old white guy playing basketball at the YMCA still trying to live out his life’s dream of being “the next Larry Bird.”  While I was reluctant to accessorize, the knee braces do seem to help, as do the Dr. Scholl’s Active Series Insoles that I added to my Nikes (hat tip to the Mom for that suggestion), so if any fellow runners are having knee pain I would give the Mueller brand knee braces and Dr Scholl’s insoles a look.

Earlier today I was able to pick up my race packet which made my imminent demise all too real.  I was told that I needed to be at the starting line by about 5:30 in the morning, which lead to the realization that I don’t know if I have ever been up at 5:30AM on the weekend unless I was still up from the night before.  I better get a heavy dose of personal fulfillment that these running maniacs talk about when I cross that finish line because this marathon is really eating in to my ability to sit around and do absolutely nothing but watch baseball and drink beer all weekend.

Nonetheless, this is what I signed up for and I’m actually excited to get started and even more ready to finish.  I’ll be posting the start of the race on Facebook and “Liking” my status will send cheers directly to the Nike+ app on my iPhone and in to my headphones while I run.  Technology these days, what will they think of next?  This will allow my friends and family to be a part of my overall success (failure) tomorrow with virtual words of encouragement.  Or, if that doesn’t interest you, you can just text message me hateful things like most of my close friends do on a daily basis.

At this point, I know my pace will be very slow and my time won’t be great but as long as I finish I’ll be happy.  After all, 26.2 miles is an awfully long ways and I’m not sure I did that math back when I signed up 9 weeks ago but it’s too late to turn back now.

Pray for me.