Monday, 27 July 2009


Okay. For those who need the numbers from yesterday's San Francisco Marathon...

Got up at 4, had 2 cups of coffee, left the house at 4:30, got to The City at 5. Snagged a parking spot 3 blocks from the Finish.Waited 1.5 hours til starting wave 8 got to run. During that time I had 12 ounces of Mountain Blueberry Accelerade AND went pee 4 times. My race started at 6:42. 1/2 mile into it I had to pee again. Then settled into my run, which was going to end up lasting 5:06. My average speed was 5.1 mph, my fastest mile was done at a 5.6 clip, my slowest mile was done at 4.6. I apparently burned 3,588 calories. This was marathon #28 overall, and the 9th of the 12 in 12 challenge. It was my 3rd running of this particular race. This running was my 3rd best time of all 28, my 3rd best time of this year, and 15 minutes faster than the last time I did SFM in 2005, or 4 years ago. I had 3 strawberry Clifshots and 1 English Mars Bar (at mile 17), and suffered through 1 hotspot on my right foot and 0 blisters. I did 4:1 run/walk intervals for the first 15 miles, then geared down to 3:1 til mile 22, then chilled out at 2:1 til the finish. Oh! My bib number was 8614. Numbers sorted!

Now, the important bits.

While I didn't really welcome the alarm at 4, it was very nice to wake up in my own bed, as opposed to a hotel somewhere else, on marathon morning. In other cities I've resorted to buying a cup of coffee the night before a race then saving it overnight and nuking it in the pre-dawn getting-ready-to-go ritual. Here, I set up the coffee maker the night before and was welcomed by the smell of freshly brewed Blue Bottle.

I was in wave 8, the last group to start the marathon, at 6:42. The first wave left at 5:30. Didn't think I was going to like the wave thing but when it came right down to it, it was okay. The separation meant we were not packed like sardines in a tin behind the starting line and, after the race began, there was far less jockeying for room in the first couple of miles.

The weather at the start could not have been better. San Francisco's lovely fog chilled the air (ala Tony Bennett). As we ran through Fisherman's Wharf, the aroma of Boudin's fresh baked sourdough bread was something I would have paid to take with me the whole 5 hours. I run through this area at least once a week and will admit to sometimes not understanding what it is that out-of towners find so attractive about it. This time, I got it. I was proud to see so many visitors stop their runs to snap keepsake pics, as proof they were really here.

After climbing our first steep, although quite short, hill, in Fort Mason, we got our first look of the day at the Golden Gate Bridge. Actually, it was our first glimpse of where we were sure the GGB was. The fog completely shrouded the iconic structure that means SF to so many people. What we could see was a steady stream of runners, about 3 miles away, climbing the 2nd steep hill of the course, into that fog. Made me think of a horror movie where hundreds of runners enter a mysterious fog...and never...come...out!

It did not take long for my beard to retain enough of the mist and fog, once on the GGB, that, had it been a towel, I could have wrung it out and had a 1/2 cup or so. As exciting as it must have been for the visitors to run on the bridge deck (one lane north and one lane south) I found it to be somewhat of a pain. Too many people in that confined space. I was relieved when the bridge portion of the marathon was done.

From there we headed into the Presidio (an old Army base) and up the 3rd steep climb of the day. Had there been no fog this is where we would have got our first look at the Pacific Ocean. Not THIS morning. From the top of that hill we tumbled down for, I'm guessing, at least two miles. A great spot to make up some of the time lost on the three earlier climbs. Then, it was into Golden Gate Park. This is where I had the most trouble. The hills are not steep, at all. But they are long. The park is home to mile 15, which is where the city's Hash House Harriers were pouring little cups of Pabst Blue Ribbon. As I approached, they were loudly proclaiming "the keg is dead". I, however, scored the last little cup. It was a delightful reminder of what was waiting at the end of all this. I was happy to come out at the east end of the park at mile 19, with "the Haight" before me. The last two times I'd run SFM, by the time I got here the cops had re-opened the famous street to traffic, forcing me onto the sidewalk. Not this time. Nice!

The fog had lifted by this time, and the sun was beating down. Temps were on the rise, as energy waned. This is when the "bacon station" appeared, on lower Haight, at, roughly, mile 20. Two guys with a little table, with freshly fried-up bacon and a sign saying "free to marathoners". These two guys are now my favourite people in the world. One piece is all it took to spur me on. THAT rocked.

The next 4 miles wind through SF's warmest neighborhoods and an industrial/office park area know as "Dogpatch". The latter is the least attractive part of the course. I have found that keeping my eyes fixed on AT&T Park off in the distance helps get me through this stretch. The last two miles skirt the southern edge of the ballpark and then up the Embarcadero, right back to where we started. Before crossing the finish line I got a high five from Bart Yasso. Bonus!

Shortly after running past the ballpark I realized I was very close to breaking 5 hours for only my second time. Turns out I was a half mile short of that, but I am very pleased with how my race went. Next up, Rochester, New York, in about 6 weeks.

Oh, look. I found some more numbers. After the race I had 1 7/11 hotdog, 16 ounces of chocolate milk, drove 15 miles home where I had, over the next 7 hours, 1 Stella, 12 ounces of tangerine juice, 2 margaritas, 1 dinner (of beans on toast with turkey bacon), went to bed at 7, and slept for 10 hours.

Gotta run!

Sunday, 19 July 2009


At the expo before Rock and Roll Seattle last month, John "The Penguin" Bingham shared an insight he gleaned from an elite marathoner about the link between running times and performance. It made an inkling of sense then, but with added pondering, it's even more of a gem now.

Probably safe to say that many, if not most, amateur runners, base their training around the setting of race time goals. Come race day you could ask them what their goal is and the response would be a certain finishing time. Trouble is, if I understand the elite's practice quoted by Bingham, setting one's finishing time before hand and then trying to get that day's performance to match, is doing the whole thing backwards. Bingham said the elites, while surely knowing their time capabilities and those of their true competitors, actually are more concerned and in tune with how their bodies are responding to the task at hand while racing, and therefore allow their ability to perform in that moment, as compared to those around them, to dictate their results. In short, their performance dictates their time, not the other way around. Seems to me that frees one up to enjoy the ride of the marathon, instead of looking at it as anything close to work, or a chore, or something that has to be conquered.

I had been thinking about this this morning before tuning into a radio interview of a philosopher/poet. He was asked about the poetry writing process. Long story shortened, he replied that, for him, poems evolve, with some sort of life their own, and that sometimes the poet's job is to just go along for the ride and/or get out of the way, rather than try to get the piece to end up somewhere that's been pre-determined. He said it's like raising kids, in that parents may have grand ideas for their offspring, but the trick to helping them be successful in their own lives is to do the basics, then to fall back, and watch. I would say, having helped raise two awesome stepkids, fall back and prepare to be amazed.

Linking these two (or is it three or four?) stories together, became almost effortless for me this morning when I realized that I have been unknowingly applying these principles, in varying degrees, while running my 12 in 12 marathons.

I really do like running with other people, but when it comes right down to it, I like running alone the best. The reason for that is that when I am running a marathon I am married to running "my race". It's easier for me to accept what's happening if I'm not having to worry about anyone else's. If you are faster than me I would encourage you to leave me behind and run yours. If you are slower, the same applies. If we both manage our own event and we end up together all the way, that's great. However, there will always be enough post-race beer to go around, regardless of our finishing order.

I am hoping to become more of an artist as I keep running 26.2 mile races. I have no interest in being blinded by the science of it all. I have vivid pictures in my head of the places I've run and the people who've run near/with/in front of/behind me. I have seriously almost forgotten most of my 27 finishing times. Most, mind you, not all. I have broken 5 hours once, and that number's tattooed on the inside of my eyelids. Each one of those races has its own stories. My "goal" is to get out of my own way so I can live many new ones.

Starting with my hometown marathon, San Francisco, next weekend.

Gotta run!

Monday, 6 July 2009

In my workday world I am a full-time bicycle technician. As such, I guess I'm supposed to be all fired up about "the Tour". With apologies to all those folks setting their alarms to watch the race on television, for me, it's just a bunch of dudes riding their bikes. Then there's the whole Lance thing. With apologies to those who worship the guy, I'm so over Mr. Livestrong.

Don't get me wrong. What he has accomplished in his life has been nothing short of amazing. His refusal to give in to cancer surely inspired others facing similar and even greater challenges, helping them power over their hurdles. But, when it comes to riding his bike...not so much.

Lance is kind of like ultra runner, Dean Karnazes. They're both stunning athletes. But they're also, in my estimation, pseudo-freaks of nature. They are not normal. They're not just regular guys who turned themselves into the monsters of their sports. They got extra helpings of genes most of humankind does without. I have learned from their accomplishments, and have applied nuggets of their training philosophies to my marathon adventures, to positive ends. But, I have not been inspired by either of them. I turn to "regular" folks for that.

My most recent experience of "inspiration" was during Rock and Roll Seattle, two weekends ago. As I approached mile 22, thinking just how hot and tired I was, wishing the last 4 miles would just be over, I saw, going in the opposite direction, at his mile 14 or 15, a very large man, plugging away at what was quite possibly his first marathon. He was showing no signs of being anywhere close to packing it in. For some reason I am inspired whenever I come across those who've taken it upon themselves to battle the plus-size they've become in an effort to release the runner within.

Speaking of first time marathoners; they are an awesome bunch. Deciding to run 26.2 miles the first time can be an exciting, heady experience. Sticking with it, pushing through the pains and progress of training, to the point where one actually "gets" the distance, and then tearfully shuffling across the FINISH line...for me, that's inspiring. That's why I follow so many runners online. I love finding a new person whose profile says "just hoping to finish my first marathon". They get me at "Just hoping...". Then there are those who finish their first marathon...and decide to do ANOTHER. Holy smokes!

Lance doesn't have to hope he'll finish the Tour. Karnazes doesn't have to hope he can run 50 marathons in 50 days or all the way from Napa to Santa Cruz. They just do what they do. Former Manchester United star Ronaldo doesn't have to hope he can slam a ball into the back of a net. He just does it. He claims he's worth the 90 MILLION euros Real Madrid just paid for him, and he may well be, in a business sense. He sells team jerseys, not hope.

I'm thinking genuine inspiration is born, in hope, at ground level, with life's minnows. Very seldom does it come from the top. Those who've got it at the pinnacle have a tendency to keep it for themselves, while they figure out a way to sell it. I like the free, amateur stuff way better.

Gotta run!