Saturday, March 27, 2010

In the Beginning

Whenever one is attempting to look to the future, it is always good to recount the past. So, with the dailymile theme of favorite race pictures the other day, I decided to choose one of my favorite pictures from my first marathon. It is somewhat revealing of my character that I chose a race that was not strong, but in fact my worst race. I believe the struggles we experience do more to shape us than the successes.

The race was the 2006 San Diego Rock 'n' Roll Marathon. It was my first marathon after I had started running occasionally 2 years prior. My best race to date was a 40:30 5-mile race, and my plan was to run 4 hours at the marathon.

Training had been rocky at best. I followed a 16 week beginner training plan and slowly built my long runs up to the 20 mile mark. The plan involved hill work, but not much else and the weekly mileage tapped out at 35 miles. I remember the long runs being brutal! As it was only a 16 week program, the long runs were merciless in their advancement, after ramping up to 10 miles they increased every week by 2 miles to hit 20 four weeks before the race. Every run over 12 was longer than I had ever run before. Each week was worse than the last, but foolishly I convinced myself that the race would be better as I would have more energy after tapering.

The day before race day arrived and we spent most of the day walking around San Diego, it was 85 degrees and I remember being hot, tired and dehydrated by 4 o'clock. Having trained in Colorado springtime I had no hot weather experience and I was dreading the heat. I didn't even have a decent hat, just a baseball cap that I had used for training, so I bought a tech hat at the race expo. Pre-race nutrition was a disaster as we waited outside Buca di Beppo for hours for a table that never materialized. Apparently it was also grad night for many schools and after limo after limo pulled in we decided to hit TGI Fridays. By that time anything would have tasted good.

The early morning alarm arrived, I went through race preparations and got to the starting line alone as Melissa and Elijah slept. We had neglected to get a crib for the hotel room and Elijah, then 15 months old, had fallen out of the bed in the middle of the night making for a restless night for all of us. I had hoped to hit the port-a-potties before the race started, but so had 20,000 other overhydrated racers so I just made for the corrals. The strains of U2's "Beautiful Day" saw us on our way, I was about to run farther than I had ever run before!

As I have come to understand about the marathon, it all seems impossibly easy in the first miles. I eventually found a port-a-potty at mile 5 that had a fairly short line so I took advantage of it, and then picked up the pace to catch the 4 hour pace group. The morning was overcast, thankfully, and the temperatures stayed modest, but still felt hot with the high humidity. By the time I saw my family and friends cheering at mile 13 I was starting to hurt, and this would be the last time I was to see them before the finish. Ironically, Elijah was crying in his stroller and I felt like I wanted to cry as well but I pressed on.

Each mile became progressively more difficult and I found myself having to take more and more walk breaks. I struggled to make it to mile 17 where a gel station awaited, but I was finding more and more that there were just not enough sports drink stations. Water was not satisfying my thirst and I ended up dumping most of it on my head to keep cool. Mile 20 arrived and I was into unknown territory, I kept welling up emotionally thinking of Melissa and Elijah waiting for me at the finish. The thought of them waiting hours for me to arrive on a sag wagon was the only thing keeping me going, I knew I had to push through as they would be worried about me. Eventually I settled into a pattern of walking for a few minutes at every water stop, but I still found it in me to start running again each time. The Marine Corps recruitment depot arrived and I knew I was going to finish, I was so happy to see Elijah and Melissa cheering I couldn't help tearing up. I was done, and I had finished the biggest physical goal I had ever laid out for myself.

Four hours and forty-four minutes. Even today I have not run again for as much time as that day (that will change this year). In the three years following that race I took nearly an hour and a half off of that marathon time. The picture above summarizes well the pain and pride that I felt during that race, which is why I like it so much. The marathon is a goal that is achievable by anyone, and yet not everyone will strive to achieve it. It is less a test of what you can do on one day than it is a test of what you can do over months of training. It allows one a rare glimpse inside your own character, how will you persevere when things get difficult?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

What if...

My running life seems to have been punctuated by defining moments where my attitude and approach shifts dramatically. Sometimes these shifts have been caused by some realization I have made on my own, such as the first time I ran 12 miles and realized that a marathon may be possible. Other times these shifts are brought about by something someone else says that strikes a chord, like the time my running buddy helped me realize how much hard work factors into running success.

The other day I was at the Boulder Running Company at the Denver Tech Center. Recently I have been participating in their group runs on Saturday mornings, which have been a great way for me to meet new runners and have a little company for weekly long runs. Two of the guys who work at the store, Mike Aish and Scott Schrader, have offered great training tips and workouts as well as inspiring me to work harder. While I was there I was looking at a picture on the wall of Mike winning the Rock 'n' Roll Arizona Marathon. I made the comment that I would likely never get to experience "breaking the tape", and Scott responded with "Well, with that attitude you certainly won't!"

That remark really sunk in over the next few days. It got me thinking "What if..." A few years ago I would have never thought I would be racing the times I'm running now, what if a couple of years from now I am not only competitive in my age group, but competitive for the podium! Is there a limit to the goals I can achieve with consistent and directed effort over the next few years? What if the only thing holding me back is my bad attitude about what I think my body can accomplish!

I dwell too much on the opportunities I've missed along the way. The fact that I never realized my enjoyment of running in high school, that I never really had any physical activities through college, that I never had a coach encouraging me to do more, that I'm too old now to be competitive. I can focus on the positives: that I never got burned out on running, that I have never been seriously injured, that in developing my own training plans I can tailor them to my own strengths and weaknesses, and that at 33 years old I have a good 7 years before I even start to experience the effects of aging on my running. I can dare to dream the big dreams, and maybe soon it will be me in that picture breaking the tape!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Am I Old Already?

It's about time I came to grips with the fact that I have high-blood pressure. There, I said it. It is possible for someone like me, who is not overweight, who has a reasonably healthy diet, and who works out a ton, to have hypertension. You just have to have bad genes.

Really I have known about this problem for a while. At first I thought I could deal with it by cutting down on coffee, then by exercising more. But no matter what I seemed to do, the readings only seemed to go up. Then I passed it off as "white-coat syndrome", I get pretty worked up when doctors measure my blood pressure, it's like a test I can't pass! Finally, this year when the readings started hitting 150/100 my doctor decided to pull the trigger on medication.

So here I am, 33 years old and having to come to grips with the fact that I will be on lifelong medication. Fortunately, there are a lot of types of medications to choose from, each with differing success for each patient. Not all of the treatments have adverse affects for athletes either. My current morning cocktail consists of Lisinopril, an angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitor, Hydrochloro thiazide, a diuretic, and Amlodipine, a calcium channel blocker.

The first two of these seemed to make no difference at all in my blood pressure readings, so I hope I can eventually get off of these altogether. I am especially concerned about the diuretic, as there is potential for dehydration and kidney failure in endurance athletes. So far I have not noticed a big difference, but I am most concerned about running in the summer when I know I struggle to stay hydrated. One of the other side effects is sensitivity to the sun, which I have also noticed. Lately I have developed quite a sunglass-tan and I have started applying sunscreen. Usually I don't start using much sunscreen until May when the sun is higher in the sky, so this seems to be a result of the medication. The Amlodipine has had the biggest effect so far with the fewest side effects. There is potential for swelling in the ankles with this medication, but I seem to have dodged that bullet.

I also purchased a blood pressure cuff and take readings in the morning and evening. I am recording these readings using the HeartWise iPhone app (iTunes Link), which is giving me a wealth of statistics about trends and stats. My pressure now has fallen to the 130/60 range and seems to be holding steady. One unexpected added bonus of the measurements is a daily reading of my resting heart rate. It has been interesting to me to see the changes in my morning heart rate depending on my training. I have noticed that on days after my hard workouts the rate is generally elevated which I am taking as an indication of my recovery.

I have come to terms with my treatment, and realize that by addressing the problem now I can avoid potential health issues later in life. Overall this is also my reasoning behind running and staying healthy, so there is really no difference between this and a lifetime of physical fitness. What activity and diet have failed to do, modern medicine can hopefully achieve.