Saturday, October 27, 2007

The Man in the Yellow Shirt

ORN: 9.3 miles with 6 x 1 mile repeats at 8:30 average

It was around mile 8 or so when I first spotted the Man in the Yellow shirt during last week’s
Indianapolis Marathon & Half-Marathon. It was probably his bright shirt that first caught my eye. I noticed again as we moved through the park, as we were staying about the same distance apart. I observed we were both using a run/walk plan and we seemed to be about on sync with each other.

I gradually got closer to him and could observe him more closely. He ran with a practiced economy of motion. Head up with no bobbing, back straight, arms low, swinging gently in metronome-like cadence, legs solid, feet close to the ground. No pounding, no wasted movement, steady and experienced. His shirt had long sleeves, even on a day in the low 60s. He wore a broad-rimmed floppy hat. He moved surely through aid stations, negotiating the traffic with ease and consideration while hydrating well. This guy knew what he was doing.

After the half marathoners split off at mile 12.5, I found myself getting closer to him. For the first time I noticed the full head of grey hair under the broad rim of his hat. He seemed to be at least in his mid 60s. And I was fascinated by just watching a man who seemed to be a very experienced runner.

During miles 13 to 19 as we ran the out portion of the marathon, our run/walk cycles were slightly out of sync with each other, so we leap frogged each other several times. He ran steadily, I admired his style each time I was behind him.

On the way back, our walk breaks finally coincided somewhere around mile 20. I pulled up beside him and asked him how he was feeling. He smiled, put his index finger to the base of his throat and uttered “It’s getting a little rough about now,” in a raspy, guttural type of voice. And I realized what I saw and heard in that instant.

He had had a

A laryngectomy is the surgical removal of the larynx, better known as the voice box. It involves rerouting a person’s breathing away from the mouth and to a surgically-made hole at the base of the neck. The person having this surgery has to learn how to speak again, forcing air over a surgically placed flap that vibrates. My wife is a trained speech therapist and had told me about this procedure and what is involved for a person to learn to speak again following this life-changing surgery. I was aware of the fact it reduces life to a minimalist existence for many. Yet the Man in the Yellow Shirt had decided it was not going to be that for him. I had no idea what his story was, yet I knew it had to be amazing.

Our short walk break was soon over and, knowing speech was difficult, we didn’t talk any further. We continued to leap frog for the rest of the race, yet on the last long incline when I struggled, his steady pace pulled right by me and he finished ahead of me, the Yellow Shirt climbing the hill and out of view.

After I finished the race, walked a bit and collected my gear bag, I headed for the big food tent, mostly to just sit down. Walking in, there he was, his Yellow Shirt as visible as it had been on the course. He was by himself at a table and I asked if I could join him. He smiled and motioned for me to sit down. After some small talk about the race and the finishing hill, he asked me “Are you doing 50 States?” I smiled and told him I didn’t have that ambition though I had a
good friend who was. “So, are you doing 50 states?” I asked. Matter of factly, he said “I have and I am.” I did a double-take and then realized what he was saying. Turns out he has already run a marathon in all 50 states and is now doing it all again. Saturday’s race was his 40th state this time around. “Yeah, only 10 to go now,” he said “and then I think I’ll call it quits.” He mentioned the city he came from, then bid me farewell and walked off.

I sat there, utterly impressed, completely amazed, in full awe. And I couldn’t get him off my mind.

When I got home, I looked up his hometown on the results list and found his name. I then did a web search for his name. I ended up with nearly 10 Google pages of his name with marathon results from all over the country, just as he had said, regularly doing marathons in the 4:20 to 4:50 range. Time after time after time.

And in the midst of all these marathon results was one article from the University where he had been a faculty member. He had won an outstanding teaching award several years ago. Several students were quoted saying what an amazing communicator he was in his field, making difficult technical subjects understandable, despite the obvious hurdle of speech he had following his surgery. This was no ordinary human being I met.

I tracked down his address and wrote him a letter to express my appreciation for our conversation and wishing him well on the last 10 states of his second trip around the country. I’ll respect his privacy here and not give any further specifics. Yet this man’s story is the most amazing one I’ve personally encountered in running. What he is continuing to do is an inspiration. I hope it encourages you just a bit as much as it has me.

Persevere. Like the Man in the Yellow Shirt.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Race Report: Indianapolis Marathon

ORN: 26.2 miles, 4:48:56, 11:01/mile R3/W1

Quick Summary: A super race for 24.5 miles!!! And, as always, the marathon is a profound teacher. On a beautiful day in central Indiana, it was a joy to run, smile, learn, be amazed, be challenged and to end the race contented.

Full Report

In an award winning entry to the “Coincidences that are Weird but Make No Difference” category, I spent the Thursday night before this marathon just as I did on the Thursday night one year ago before the Portland Marathon; attending a concert by the bluegrass/acoustical group
Nickel Creek. An added feature this year was that we wedged into the backroom of a bar in Bloomington, Indiana to see the band, standing on hard concrete for 3 hours, not moving. Just what I’ve read in many training guides for care of feet and legs before a marathon! Great concert, though, and a goofy link up.

Prerace: Race day had me up at 4:50am and out the door at 5:30, heading to Indy. Having run the half-marathon version of this event two years ago, I knew the parking/set up routine. I drove to the 12.5 mile mark and stashed 20oz of Accelerade and a dry towel behind a brick wall, then parked and registered. I was set before 7:00am, so, with the 8:30 start time I had plenty of time to relax and get set. The field of 4,500 began to assemble and what fun that was. I love the start of races…the energy is huge, the music is great, hope and optimism fills the entire group. With temperatures in the mid 50s, we were off on our journey.

The course looked (very roughly) like a figure 8 with a string hooked to the middle, where the start/finish line rested. The half marathon route covered both loops of the 8. The full marathon added a run out and back along the string. My plan was to run 11:03 miles, to end in 4:50.

The First Loop provided a way to just get started. About five miles long, it was simply cool and beautiful. My main focus was to hold back, stay relaxed and get into the rhythm of my run 3 minute, walk 1 minute approach to this race. That rhythm set in quickly and nicely and I hit the five mile mark 1:50 ahead of my projected pace.

The Second Loop was even more appealing visually. We ran on a bike trail for two miles through a city park under a cool, shady canopy of red and gold fall foliage set against a perfect blue fall sky. I also found some personal pleasure in this loop. At one point, an Army unit provided race directions and watched the intersections. Knowing I was ahead of pace, I paused, shook the hand of each person in uniform and thanked them for their service to our country. With two of my three sons in the Army at the moment; I have great appreciation for each one who serves. It didn’t slow me down that much; I hit the twelve mile mark 3:11 ahead of my pace. And I first spotted the Man in the Yellow Shirt.

Heading out. The half-marathoners split off at the 12.5 mile mark. I found my Accelerade and towel, undisturbed, refilled both of my belt-based bottles and moved off into a new phase of the race. With about a thousand of the 4,500 starters running the full marathon, the crowd slimmed considerably at this point. It got quiet and became an obviously different race. I find this the most enjoyable part of a marathon; the start is over, the struggles at the end remain in the future, one just starts knocking off the miles. Yesterday, it was even more enjoyable and truly a spiritual experience for me.

The out and back portion of the race opened into a beautiful state park and then onto city running paths. As I rounded one vista, I was swept away by the beauty of the tree-covered hills in their fall splendor. A phrase from an
old hymn came to me:

Were the whole realm of nature mine
That were a present far too small

The spread of nature before me brought a sense of awe at our world. As a follower of Christ, I considered it a gift to be part of God’s creation on such a beautiful day.

The miles clicked off in the high 10s to low 11s pace. I made the turn around at mile 19 a full 5:40 ahead of pace. And I was now playing tag in the run/walk pace with the Man in the Yellow Shirt.

Heading Back It was now time to plan the final few miles. In particular, I thought long about my stated “A” goal for this race: to run continuously from mile 23 to the end. My legs were not in pain but were getting heavy. I seriously thought about just keeping the 3/1 pace to the end. Yet, I truly had set the goal of running the end as part of the entire experiment I’m on this year. What do to?

The deciding factor came from a surprising source:
Sarah's son. You see, sometime last year, she was questioning about trying a certain race. In his simple-yet-profound 10-year old wisdom, he just said to her “There’s no point in not trying.” This has become a tag-line for Sarah and, when I thought of it, I laughed out loud on the course. Of course…there’s no point in not trying to run it in from 23!! What if I don’t make it? So what?? I’ll learn something. And, if I do make it, then I’ve accomplished an important goal. There’s simply no point in not trying! I came to this around mile 22 so had a fun mile planning for the final push (in addition to having my first conversation with the Man in the Yellow Shirt). Fortuitously, there was an aid stating about 50m before the mile 23 marker, so I downed a cup of water, turned off the 3/1 beeper on my watch, smiled thinking of Sarah’s son and set out to run the final 3.2 miles. At mile 23, I was 4 minutes ahead of pace.

It felt good. Steadily running, paying attention to form, I just kept going. We climbed a long incline and I began to think it might work. I crested a hill and hit mile 24 with an 11:01 mile in my hip pocket. The course set back across the broad valley surrounded by trees, yet I was less cognizant of the beauty, concentrating on keeping moving. And, around 24.5, the legs were done. I simply had to walk.

It felt like some sort of a defeat. Yet there was no arguing with the sluggishness. No self-talk or positive chatter could overcome the fatigue. After a bit of consideration, I decided to go back to the 3/1 plan. I re-started the timer and set out to finish the course. And I chuckled and was grateful for Sarah’s son’s counsel…indeed, there was no point in not trying.

From the 24.5 mile mark, the course had a mild incline all the way to the 26 mile marker. The temperature was near 70 by this time and all of this conspired. Yet, I managed to keep the 3/1 ratio the rest of the way, even if a less-than-Kenyan running pace. I passed a number of folks who were hurting and tried to offer some encouragement.

We wound back to the starting area and I was going on fumes. Yet, when I hit the final right turn with 100 m to the finish line, I pushed it in, a big grin on my face, thrilled to have complete the third marathon of this running era, one minute and four seconds ahead of my target time.

Post Race I crossed the line, got de-chipped and was amazed at how good I felt compared my the immediate post-race feelings last year in both St Louis and Portland. I was fully lucid, actually exchanging philosophical comments with spectators and fellow runners, discussing race-histories and geography, wondering where the honey-bees around the Gatorade jugs sleep at night and staying on my feet. I had determined beforehand that I wanted to walk quite a bit after the race to see if that would avoid the cramping I had experienced before. So I walked…and it did. I looped back to the course, saw a fellow runner finishing her first marathon come in and cheered for her…she had tears streaming down her face, it was so emotional. Good for her.

I walked back to the gear check, got on a dry, cotton T shirt, went to the food tent and there he was, the Man in the Yellow Shirt. We sat and talked for about 20 minutes, giving me one of the most amazing and inspirational stories I’ve personally seen in running. So much so, it will be its own blog post soon.

A day later, I’m amazed at how good I feel. No blisters. No soreness. I’m up and down stairs with no discomfort at all. I’m set to do my usual Monday 5 miler tomorrow morning. It is astounding to me to feel this good. Three weeks from now, I’m scheduled to do a 28 mile training run…we’ll see how that goes.

For now though, I’m over the next ridge on the hike to the
Rocket City Marathon. I have much to think about between now and then and I will enlist your input in so doing.


Sunday, October 14, 2007

Thermal Whiplash

ORN: Saturday—9.1 miles total, with 6 mile repeats @ 8:45

I had a long, deeply profound post composed in my mind about the impact of the temperature on our running. Starting with the debacle at the Chicago Marathon last Sunday to my own experiences in heat, I was going to write on what high temperatures Teach Us About Life In General.

The post sounded pretty dumb once I started it though, so I will not impose it on you. You should be glad.

Suffice it to say, the weather was brutal a week ago in the Midwest. Then a cool front blew through and two days after the heat damage in Chicago, it was into the mid 40s overnight. And it makes a big difference. And jerks you around.

I had one of the nicest runs I’ve had in months on a simple 4 miler mid-week. It was stunning what the lack of humidity does alongside cool air. Yesterday, the schedule called for 5x mile repeats at 9:15. It was so nice, I did six, rather than five. I tried to hold back the pace but still did all the repeats very near 8:45, feeling very comfortable, as if I still had a lot I could still put forth. The last repeat hit at 8:33. Three weeks ago, in 86 degree temps, I averaged 9:11 for the identical course with 6 repeats. Yeah, the temperature matters.

The next long training run comes this Saturday in the form of the
Indianapolis Marathon. It is great to have a low cost (only $45) marathon an hour from home fit the training schedule. Looks like about 400 or so will run the full marathon, though about 2,000 may run the half marathon with it. I ran the half two years ago, so am familiar with the course. I find myself in the anticipation mode, really looking forward to a race. I haven’t run a long race since early June…it’s time.

The plan is to run a 3/1 run/walk ratio, shooting for 11:00 to 11:15 miles. My A goal is to run continuously from mile 23 to the end. My B goal is to run it in from mile 25. My C goal is to simply finish reasonably. The forecast at the moment for Indy on Saturday is for temps around 54 at the start, heading to mid 60s by the end with partly cloudy skies. Yeah, that works. That works just fine.

Persevere. In any temperature.