Saturday, May 5, 2018

The 5th British History Half Marathon

It's been a year since the 4th BHHM (which you can read all about here), but not much has changed in the course of history from the perspective of the rebellion. However, fast forward 161 years, or even just 365 days, and much has changed.  This year we were without leader and founder of the BHHM, Jason Coleman, who, rest his soul, has departed (to Ghana to work).  Like the charge of the British retaking Delhi, we picked up the flag (note cards) and soldiered forward across the battlefield (streets of Delhi).

Laura, Evan, and I agreed that the show must go on and in doing so, formed a collaborative to recreate Jason's run.  The course was a simple copy from last year (though we added a stop and 1km to the route). Jason left his notes on index cards with us but we soon learned they were scribbles of shorthand reminders - the story was in his head.  This forced us to do a little research to complete the picture as the "run" is really a journey between historical stops, each one a major site relating to the British occupation, and subsequent Sepoy mutiny, of 1857. We solicited a few runners to be "hosts" of stops and sights. Some new additions were cloth bibs (with 1857 as the number for all participants along with a photo on them of last year's run), tech t-shirts, and a cyclist to help carry items and take photos (thanks, Rob).   Now, while people registered (we had 30 sign up), I was already up the road, logging miles for the day. Due to the slower pace and frequent stops, I considered this the perfect ultra training - lots of time on my feet in the heat, plus a different pace with intermittent running.  I met the bus at Coronation Park for the beginning of the run.

My role, aside from organizing this thing, was to talk about the memorial, our official starting point.  We learned a bit, took the start picture, and headed through the streets of Delhi, covered with neon shirts and looking more than a little out of place dodging stray dogs and piles of garbage as we worked our way down the increasingly busy streets as the city awakened. The longest stretch in the first half is from the start to our first talking point, Flagstaff Tower, 3 miles in.  We had a large crew that we kept for a good amount of the run.
Kicking off the running with a talk

The full starting group
Through the streets of Delhi

The group at Flagstaff Tower (yoga in the back left)

Zach and Justin wait for others on the road

Runners approach the Mutiny Memorial
The group in front of the Red Fort in Old Delhi

We kept a pretty good group for the next few miles as the stops were very close together.  While it was very warm, we all agreed we caught a break compared to last year where most stops took longer for people to recover and we did our talks in the shade. Our stops included ancient pillars, modern memorials, gates associated with bombings, beheadings, and other exciting and excrutiating facts, as well as the obligatory run through Old Delhi (no van full of goat heads or dead body like last year but still intense nonetheless).

We completed our last stop at the Parliament buildings and visited the newest addition to the run, the Jason Coleman Injury Memorial - sight of the infamous collision of leader and immobile post.
Bernie immortalizing the Jason Coleman Injury Memorial
As per usual, we grouped up again in order to finish together at AES, happy to be done but proud so many people started and finished this event.
Run for a cause

We went up to Mankers, grabbed some food, mimosas and Bloody Mary's were flowing, and the Blind School sent over massage therapists for our recovery.  All in all, a pretty damn good day, but one made even better when you throw on the annual Lip Sync party that night.  Has to go down as the best day of the year for me by far.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Two Oceans Marathon: Revisited

Some call it the most beautiful run in the world; it would be hard to argue. All of the mundane city streets pass by while darkness prevails, and with the coming dawn runners find themselves approaching towering rock peaks, smelling the crisp, salty air, and approaching the forests that make this diverse route a holiday bucket list run for many. However, many will also agree that it is also one of the more difficult runs out there, at least from a course that is completely on road. At 35 miles (56km), it is a long pull, but beyond this, the fact that it is 28K of flat and downhill running which is then met by 28K of mountains, climbs, and descents, your legs will be toast by the end. It's a good thing South Africa does wine well.

Prior to our visit, I hadn't done much work. I was more consistently running, though not far. We were sent on our yearly trip with high school students and I ended up in the mountains.  While I hiked everyday and was exploring at altitude, I only managed a few brief runs.  A week of touring SA left us happy and nostalgic. We missed our once family home and were happy to be back. The emergence of craft beer and the incredible quality of wine (and cheap price) made for decent consumption.  The abundance of meat meant full bellies (and a little extra weight).  I ran the days that were not packed with events: petting cheetahs, holding lions, riding (and feeding and holding and eating) ostrich, zip line rides with chameleons climbing on us, walking with penguins on the beach, and touring the winelands.  In typical fashion, I arrived to the starting line less than prepared. Let the incondite adventure continue...

With plenty of time to kill before the start, I sat in my car and listened to wave after wave of the half marathon depart. It was a cool, Easter Saturday morning, dry - rain had pelted Cape Town the previous two days and it was feared the race would be a wet one.  Once the final gun had sounded, I departed the relative safety of the car and walked to the start line.  It was a mad house, with no possible way of joining the corrals.  Although I was a "B" entry, I went to the "A" corral as about 150 people were jammed outside of the entry to the gate. I found a similar situation up front but managed to squeeze close to the gate.  I was greeted with the SA national anthem and instantly the words (well, the English ones, anyway) returned, after not having sung them in four years. After the homage, the crowd burst into Shosholoza, may favorite pre-race song. I must admit, I believed Comrades to own this tradition, but Two Oceans, perhaps because of the smaller corrals, gave it a real run for its money. Check it out here (this is 2017, and the audio does not do it justice to the rising chorus, but it does give an idea of the people stuck outside the fencing.)

The cannon blasts and we were moving. Nothing is reportable about the first 10k of this race.  It is in the dark and down city streets with shops on either side. But the views over the next 25 miles are unchallengeable, so we tolerate the inconvenience.  My legs are flat from the gun - not a good sign of things to come. I soldier on, running into members of my former club, the Fourways Road Runners. We chat and return to our own paces. I see many others who I vaguely recall from my many runs of the past, but I am running slower now than then, and I soon see no more resemblance. It is an odd feeling having run an hour and ten minutes and see you have a marathon yet to go.

Once dawn comes we are moving through the course. I split the half marathon in a reasonable 1:43:30, and feel well in control. I would like to run 8:00/mile for a long while, and not faster. I know what lies on the other side of that mountain, and I don't intend to go harder than is necessary to arrive on schedule.  Soon we are rolling though Fish Hoek, one of my favorite views in SA.
The course here follows the shoreline and the mountains in the distance bring a unique dichotomy to the landscape of the country.  Just past town we cross my second favorite portion of the course: we drop, seemingly toward the beach but then angle away off into the land. Every year, the theme from The Chariots of Fire is played on a loop at this exact location. In one of my previous runnings there was a mist over the road and the runners in the fog, beach background, theme music, you get the picture....
Crusin' just outside of Fish Hoek

Those without a run under their belt enjoy the next portion. The veterans know the fun is soon over.  The last of the flat portions lie ahead, and then the halfway point marks the end of the beginning, or the beginning of the end, however it helps to see it.  I cross 28K, halfway, in 2:18, a reasonable pace yet slower than ever before and far off the split required for "Silver," the hardest silver in the country to earn.  We meandered up Little Chappies and embraced the view as a drop in the road here could only mean the climb was near.

My climb up Chapman's was steady. I had been in check for 2.5 hours. Now, I wouldn't say I let the dog off the chain because that would imply that I had any aggression in me, but I ran with a purpose and clawed back a few runners.  It is quite a long climb with many turns and false summits, but it was lovely running.
Heading up Chapman's with a Fourways runner

That is, until the top.  Greeted by the usual band of crazies dressed all in green at the summit, I rounded the corner and saw about 60 people in front of me walking. I was puzzled only for about a second when the force of a huge wind blasted me sideways.  It was impossible to run, and people were weaving over to the aid station to get a drink.  I soldiered on, dealing with the wind as it slowed my pace to 9:30-10:00 per mile on the descent!  The first couple of kilometers off Chapman's is a relief, but after about 20 minutes I grew very sick of the relentless downhill.  The lay of the road is such that your hips and knees are way out of alignment as you slam down the steep pavement and most people pay for this section of the course, no matter how they run it. You are, after all, more than 20 miles in and it is a mountain you climbed and ran down.  Finally, the amazing town of Hout Bay, which had been below me for a long time, became level.  Crowds are great here (being the only point to drive to for quite some time) and it is flat.
Fighting the wind (hat backward) with runners blowing all over the road
My body held up as I worked through town and soon the 42K mark appeared. I crossed my marathon in 3:29:30, exactly the pace I wanted, but within a minute I knew that it was not to be. It was as if my body agreed to be cooperative for a marathon and not a step more.  My legs got really tired and heavy, the course was exposed and the sun got to me. The mix of Energade and Coke was starting to take its toll on my stomach which had gone sour.  I began the climb up Constantia Nek and planned to run it (less steep than Chapman's) but that didn't last long. I walked for the first time at about 44k, and it didn't seem to make a difference. People around me didn't pull away or catch up. It was just negative returns.  I alternated walking and running for a while but the running was less and the walking more. I turned in a 14:00 min mile. Yep. Legit. I crested the top and started down but the groin muscles were so shot that I had to be very cautious.  When I was running, I was back down in the 8:00-8:30 range, but anything up or down (and there is a lot of that from the top of Constantia to the end) and I would have to break it up with walks.  My body just quit.  People were going by me in waves and I cared not at all.  Looking at my watch again, I saw that I had lost most of the 90 minute cushion I had with 9 miles to go.

After the downhills, suffering on my way into Cape Town

After a murderous section of the forest behind me (I always have run poorly on that stretch and I think many would join me in that statement) I got out on the roads on the way to the university. I had about 30 minutes to run 5k to break the 5 hour mark and get the medal for doing so.  I could not have cared less, so I took it easy. Then I decided, nah, I can run this and would go again until a hill or the pain got too much. Then I would say, "Screw it!" and walk. Lather, rinse, repeat.  The pain was at its pinnacle, the will to push its lowest. It was haunting to think that I could no longer turn in a sub-30 min 5K.  Something in me said I could, and that this was more mind over body, so I limped back up to a run.  With 600m to go, I had 5 minutes in hand, and I turned to the guy next to me and said, "I have lost control of all other faculties. I think bladder control is next." It was a joke anyway, as there was nothing left to piss out.

Down the hill and into the lawn the guy said, "Relax, you got this." I laughed because I wasn't surging - I was unable to break because my quads were shot. The finish chute was a blur of noise but I managed to see my girls hanging on the fence.  I crossed the line and nearly collapsed, and grabbed a fence to hold myself up. The volunteers shouted for me to move on but I ignored them and the humming in my ears took over.  After a moment I waddled away and grabbed another fence and watched the last finisher before the 5-hour gun scramble across the line.  Many more were denied the Sainsbury medal, which I then collected.  Never had I suffered this much at a finish line. I found my family and crumbled into the grass - the pain was so intense I kept my eyes squeezed shut. It took several minutes before I could breathe without huge discomfort in my chest, and many more before I could sit up.  We wandered out of the stadium and up stairs (with breaks) to the bus. Sitting there, waiting to depart to the cars, I reached a new low. The hurt was so intense I thought I would puke.  Tears were close and I didnt see an end in sight.
Nothing but pain on the faces of this group


Pain like I havent had in a LONG time
Finally in a sitting position
It was a long bus ride to the car, upstairs to an apartment, shower, and down to the waterfront. After nearly an hour there, my food came, at which point I was so destroyed I was laying on the bench. I couldn't order a beer or wine I was so messed up. But a bit of walking and hydrating and I resumed some form.  My overnight flight (17 hours) back to India does not rank among my more comfortable transportation moments either.   But, as Kirsten would say, it was job done.

I now realize that I can fake a marathon but I can't fake an ultra, and you can never be prepared enough for Two Oceans. I will do more consistent running and hope to add a couple of 20 milers before June 7th, the day I venture into the great unknown.

Promotional Video with clips from the 21k and 56k (in my opinion the people in this film are having too much fun).

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Any Given Sunday

Given a choice to do something fun with friends or to continue your journey, would you opt for fun, or pursue the fitness?  Or would you do both?

The golf weekend was supposed to be last weekend.  Now it is Sunday. What else is Sunday? The New Delhi marathon.  Well, I guess you know where this is going. I would love to say my running has revitalized after Jaipur, but alas, recovery from that one led into an illness and I didn't run for 10 days. So I rolled into this weekend with 11.87 miles per week for the last month. Yikes.
Can't tell what worries me more: undertraining, the 430am sign, or the grammar in this sign
My biggest issue in negotiating my spot on the golf classic was I didn't know the marathon start time. They didn't have it on the website and when I contacted them about it, they said it would be posted "closer to the start date." This was 12 days prior. It posted about 5 days before. When I showed up at the expo, I found a lovely handwritten sign informing me that the race had been moved to 4:30am; an ungodly hour but better for my day's plans.
Real official
Rocking up at 4am, I found a toilet. It was a squatty potty, so I deposited the brown notes, but there was no toilet paper. That was an itch that would stick with me for 5 hours or so. I noticed the barefoot runners standing in pee. Not as interesting to me as the guy with fuzzy bathrobe slippers doing the same.   I watched the usual Zumba warm-up and then connected with Michael, my acquaintance.  He wanted a sub-3:20 so I said I would run him to that, at least for a while. He was joined by Evan and Raj, two of his friends from a running group. We hit the line but were delayed getting out by Sachin Tandulkar, the world-famous cricketer, who was speaking.  Finally, we were out, and within 1K Michael was going away - his friends confident he was in shape and would be fine.  I ran with Raj and Evan for many K, chatting and hitting the pace.  Unfortunately, I did no prep for this run, and when they told me it was 4:45/k for 3:20, I said it was 7:40/mile. I mixed these in my head and started hitting 7:42, 7:41; 7:44 etc. over and over again.  We hit halfway in just 1 min over pace for 3:20 and I couldn't figure out why when I had split everything spot on.  Then I saw my error: 7:40 mile vs 4:45 kilometers.  Ahh.  No problem. I can claw back a minute.  Michael was 3 min 45 sec ahead of us.

Evan and I tried not to go too hard, too early, but we got the time back pretty quickly. That happens when you start chatting Boston and Comrades. Evan was flagging around 18 miles, his steps getting clunky and his talking less. I knew he would struggle to finish at this pace.  I guided him to 32k (20 miles) and did some math - I needed 7:30s per mile to break 3:20. Well, that was the pace for the day so I had better go do what I said I would do.  With a nod to Evan, who would easily get his personal best today, I moved on, eager to shift gears.  I glanced across the street and saw Michael on his way back in.  He was 2 min and 40 seconds ahead of me.  I had yet to speed up so that means we had gained a min on him; something was wrong.  I took it down, running 7:08 and 7:14 for the next few. I didn't feel great, as 11 miles per week will do to you in a marathon, but I was in control. Then I saw Michael, and I caught him with 1.5 miles to go, which means I took 2:40 out of him in just about 4 miles. I made him hand over his camelbak for me to carry and stepped in front to lead the way, shouting encouragement for him to stick with the pace. We pushed on, turned the final corners, and crossed the line in 3:19:23, good for 58th overall.  I was in 118 at 12K so I figured that was a great negative split and I could have done more if I hadn't slowed to run in with Michael.  Later I found out he only needed 3:25 for Boston (no wonder he didn't panic) but he still pushed for the sub-3:20.
#74 done and dusted
Justin and Michael knocking out the Boston qualifier
Surprisingly good since I lost one of my Gu's on the course.
Unfortunately, the journey did not end here. After eating the food (first time I have eaten post-race Indian food), I started off.  The roads were all closed around the stadium, so I had to walk two miles to the golf course. I was accosted by security and caddys when I walked into the country club looking sweaty and dressed in running clothes but they let me stay and do my push-ups (50 a day, every day) until everyone else came. I showered and hammered an omelet, toast, and bacon and we hit the links. I walked 18 holes of golf, probably another 5 miles, and drank beer the whole way. We had a great time, avoiding peacocks and making numerous inappropriate jokes (golf lends itself to so many, "That's what she said" comments).  My group still finished 3rd on the day.
Hole #1 with a peacock on it

Trouble brewing on the 7th tee box
Our team, missing one, but we still finished 3rd
Finished the day off at the bar.

I was pretty toasted.  Maybe it's because I am 37, woke up at 3am, ran a marathon on no training, walked two miles to a golf course, walked another 5 miles playing golf, and drank beer all day, only to end up at a bar.  Or maybe I am looking at this wrong.  Maybe I am 37, woke up at 3am, ran a marathon on no training, walked two miles to a golf course, walked another 5 miles playing golf, and drank beer all day, and ended up at a bar. Awesome day.  Yeah, that feels better to say it like that.

It doesn't matter what you do with your Sunday, and you don't have to play softball or golf after a marathon. But you need to do something.  So get out there and make it happen.  Let the incondite adventure continue. 

Note: If you are one of the 3 people that ever read this thing, you can now sign up on the side for email updates when a new post comes. Thanks for reading. 

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Weird Running in India

Averaged 15.5 miles per week for the past 2 months (seems to be a theme as of late)
Friday: Beer drinking late
Saturday: 5am wake up. 7 hours in the car. Packet pick up.  Play with and ride elephants. Feed and play with monkeys. More car. Struggle with room service to get any kind of meal.  Sleep next to a kicking 8 year old, Indian music blaring over the speakers.
Sunday: Wake at 2:30am.  Eat and hydrate. Poop. Proceed to race start.

With nothing left to do before the gun, I wandered into a public toilet vestibule (women on the right, men on the left) and fought the chill air. A person unknown lay on a mat covered in a blanket while another guy sat on a metal bucket, playing with his phone. I am not sure his job, be it to man the restrooms or security, but he got up and shut the door every time someone went in and out. They never shut it themselves, so after a while I was giggling hysterically as this guy would slide this door shut 4000 times in 20 min. Finally, enough was enough and I went to the race start.

Chaos resumes.  A woman is trying to give information (in Hindi) and pump up the crowd. The drum core (full costume) has wandered into the start area, hooting and hammering their instruments. Security tries to quiet them. They settle, and soon it is their turn. As soon as they start their performance, the DJ blasts music over everyone. Bewildered, I look around, certain that everyone else was accepting this spectacle as sane behavior.

And so begins a run of some very odd encounters:
  • I see a guy running (in about the top 10) with his shoes, on his hands, ON them, like gloves, and just his socks on his feet (I later passed him at about 14 miles)
  • I see a man running in bare feet (actually I see several, and this isn't Africa, where I expect it), but this guy is not only in bare feet, but pushing a baby stroller - STROLLER, not jogger, an actual stroller, the whole way (I vow never to be beaten by that guy)
  • Some courses have bands on the course.  This is India, so we have DJs.  But for about 1 mile they are next to each other; 100m apart, 50m apart, sometimes two right next to each other, all BLARING obnoxious club music.  I could hear it miles away yet when up close, they all just blurred together in a tunnel of sound. Hearing damage ensues. 
  • The course is not set up when I start. Signs are all over the place. Stages being constructed. By lap two, they are done, but not in use as the half marathon runners have already gone by. 
  • The 4-hour pacer was the fastest pacer group. He led them through 10k at about 3:29 pace.  Good work, pal. Hope they didn't pay you for that. 
  • This is a closed course - sort of. There is still the occasional car and three-person motorcycle coming down the road at me in the wrong direction. You would think logically in India, if you ever see a road with no cars on it, something is wrong, or maybe you think, "Sweet. Real life Mario Kart. Let's-a-go!"
  • I have not run a lot of races (any) where I finish at sunrise. Start, yes. Finish, no.  A 4am gun will do that for you. 
  • The street lights went out about an hour before sunrise.  Running blind on India streets is not the preference.  And to think I made fun of the guy wearing a headlamp at the start. Karma. 
So I start easy.  There are 30 people ahead of me early on. Then these two guys - maybe they missed the start - come roaring past.  They look like runners so maybe they will keep the pace, but then I look closer. One has on jeans and a belt. Both have the race tote bag on as a backpack. I will see them again.

I catch them a mile later when the non-jean clad one starts stopping every 1 minute to apply what appears like Icy Hot to the front and back on his legs (at the 2 mile mark).  He does this, sprints ahead, and does it again. Lather, rinse, repeat. Then, as I am chatting to a Frenchman, he starts running backwards (still less than 5k into this one).  Now I am alongside the two of these clowns and they start to go with me.  I figure they will try for about 2 minutes then give up. They don't.  I lose the guy in jeans about 2 miles later but the other stays with me for quite a while.  We round the 8k mark and look up and see nothing. Not a person in sight. I estimate we are in 21st place.  Every once in a while he turns and yells at me (yelling because he is wearing headphones blaring music) and I don't understand his language. We run on.  Eventually we come on the first victim of the early fast pace and go by.  Now, non-jeans has been yo-yoing off me and sprinting up since mile 2 and we are nearing 10, so I can only imagine his pain.  I turn the corner and a stiff headwind greets me like an angry ex-lover.  Then next thing I know, this guy is gone, like ridiculously far behind me. It was as if he suddenly realized he had a whole marathon, not a half and thought better of running at all.

Other than the headwind, the rest of the run went well. I kept rolling up on people and passing.  It was still dark out and I felt strong and fast.  When I ran the 23rd mile in 7:10, I could not recall feeling this smooth in the final 5K of a marathon. I figured I might as well do some running since I was so near the end. 7:10 for mile 25 and despite the headwind, 6:37 for the last mile. I cannot recall a marathon ever where I have closed in this pace. The result was 13th overall, 10th male, 2nd in 35-55 age group. I negative split by more than 3 minutes and averaged 7:36 per mile.  I could not have been happier with marathon place and place on so little running, and #73 is now in the bag.

#73 done and dusted

Right into the car, 5 hour drive in traffic, and back in time to play a softball game (I hit terribly, thank you very much).  Nothing a few post-run, post-game Lagunitas couldn't cure ;)

Bib Number1053
NameJustin Walker
Category35 PLUS TO 55 MEN
Rank13 / 471 Finishers
Category Rank2 / 173 Finishers
Gender Rank10 / 419 Finishers
Split@5 Km00:23:19 Avg. Pace 04:40, Avg. Speed 12.87 Kmph
Gender Rank : 21 / 419 Finishers, Category Rank : 2 / 173 Finishers
Split@7.7 Km00:34:34 Avg. Pace 04:29, Avg. Speed 13.37 Kmph
Gender Rank : 19 / 419 Finishers, Category Rank : 2 / 173 Finishers
Split@17.2 Km01:18:46 Avg. Pace 04:35, Avg. Speed 13.1 Kmph
Gender Rank : 17 / 419 Finishers, Category Rank : 2 / 173 Finishers
Split@ 21.1 Km01:42:32 Avg. Pace 04:52, Avg. Speed 12.35 Kmph
Gender Rank : 15 / 419 Finishers, Category Rank : 2 / 173 Finishers
Split@ 26.6 Km02:05:40 Avg. Pace 04:43, Avg. Speed 12.7 Kmph
Gender Rank : 12 / 419 Finishers, Category Rank : 2 / 173 Finishers
Split@28.8 Km02:16:43 Avg. Pace 04:45, Avg. Speed 12.64 Kmph
Gender Rank : 11 / 419 Finishers, Category Rank : 2 / 173 Finishers
Split@38.3 Km02:57:45 Avg. Pace 04:38, Avg. Speed 12.93 Kmph
Gender Rank : 11 / 419 Finishers, Category Rank : 2 / 173 Finishers
Net Time03:18:56 Average Pace 04:43, Average Speed 12.73 kmph
Gross Time03:19:07 Average Pace 04:43, Average Speed 12.72 kmph

Sunday, December 3, 2017

4 for 4 (Wins in Countries)

If I have ever been least prepared for a marathon, it was for this one. Lots of travel, high pollution, and little motivation has left me on sporadic jogs and a long run of 9 miles in the past couple of months. Nevertheless, I signed up for a return trip to the Running and Living Gurgaon Marathon and a Half.  I ran last year in the white-out smog and finished 2nd.  I hoped this year to just survive.

Luckily, the fog was reduced this year (see last year's tale here).  Two bonuses: we were handed little flashlights for vision and the course was a double out and back as compared to the quad lollipop of the year before.  A small group of brave souls took the line just as the finish line banner was being inflated. With a countdown from 30 (yes, 30 seconds), we were off.

It was abundantly clear in the first 200m what the result would be.  A small man took off to the front and was soon followed by a woman (the only woman in the race) pushing her way up to join him. I trotted with two other men and soon we formed the "lead pack."  We stayed this way for a couple of miles and soon, through no fault of our own, another man and I were alone at the front.  He had previously run a 4:15 this fall, so I suspected we would not be together long. Trying as I could to slow, I could barely make it to the 10.55km turnaround point with him.  My knees hurt and my stride was funny going at this slow pace and as much as I wanted the company and fee miles, I had to go ahead on my own.
The lead pack at 1km
Screwing around with the photographers, my only
source of conversation for 20 miles

The first hour of running was interesting. Like last year, this course had no lighting after the first kilometer, so we proceeded forward in pitch blackness.  However, unlike last year, we had small torches so we could navigate the speedbumps and the treacherous dirt road sections.  Nothing is more difficult than running completely blind on a rutted, rolling, rock-infested dirt road (which made up about 2.2 miles of every 6.5 mile section).  With the dawn light now shining, I switched off the light and rolled on, trying not to let my new freedom take me out too hard.  We still had 20 miles to go.

Heading out for loop 2 with a 2K lead on 2nd place
After agonizing beginning miles of 8:45 or so, I was clipping along closer to the 7:40 and 7:30 mark for most of the next segment.  I was heading back against the stream of runners and it looked like a gay pride parade of bibs coming at me.  There were five races: ultra, marathon, half, 10k and 5k so I saw bibs of dark blue, light blue, yellow, orange, pink, and green.  Not sure why.  When I hit halfway I split my watch for 1:48 flat, knowing that I had come back from the turnaround much faster than I had gone out.  I was 2km ahead of the 2nd place runner at halfway.

Just like the run on the Great Wall in China, I had a lead motorcycle.  He stayed ahead of us just fine for the most part on the way out, needing me to flash my light at him when he slowed to much and we almost ran up his back.  At the 10.55km turn I went back toward home.  Eventually he came flying up and got back in front.  He occasionally would stop to talk to another motorcyclist or to hang out with a person directing runners at an intersection.  I knew the course for the most part but I didn't know one turn.  Soon he took off, pulling far ahead and out of sight.  After about a mile or so, I came up to him, parked on the side of the road, indulging in a chai tea session with the locals. I carried on and he returned about a mile later.  When I wasn't dodging oncoming motorcycles, I was weaving around him.  After a few more stops to talk to others, he drove me to the finish.  When I turned to head back out for my 2nd loop, he did not rejoin. I suppose the lead bike is only needed for part of the race...

Continuing my controlled run, I went back out again. The air near the finish was atrocious (think grayed-out sky, with streaks of black, and yellow pouring across the road), but further out in the farmlands it was improved, although the sections going past farms that were burning cow manure sure left me wanting.  I rolled past barking dogs and herds of cattle, but the interesting sights were the numerous camels being loaded up with huge sacks of grain.  My pace slowed on the tumultuous dirt road sections that were being watered by trucks to keep the dust down.  While that worked, rivers created patches of mud that made footing difficult and caked mud in my shoes, weighing me down. With water every 11km, I was left to fend for myself, particularly since the people manning the stations seemed to be there more to keep the table from being stolen as opposed to providing any sort of support for runners.  By 21 miles, I was 2.7 miles ahead of the next runner.

I kid you not, this happened: I was running down the dirt road and coming at me was a man on a bike.  He was transporting smaller bags of pink cotton candy. These were stuffed in a long, clear plastic sheath. The tube of pink cotton candy was strapped to his back, and extended above his head several feet. If that was not enough, dangling off his handlebars were two, no joke, two huge bags of pink cotton candy.  I burst out laughing at the sight of the man riding at me, looking like a giant phallic replica.  I literally stopped and looked around, certain that someone was playing a joke on me, filming me for my reaction.

For the last 10k, I grew a bit less comfortable, the slow start and faster finish, dirt road, and lack of training taking its toll on my legs.  I checked the watch and made sure I tucked it under 3:30, finishing in 3:28:45.  This was one of my slower efforts but it really didn't matter - a win is a win, a marathon is a marathon, and while the time and effort are nothing to write home about, it was still a unique experience.  I waited around the finish for about 27 min until a group of three guys strolled in.  They were so far behind that the guy took their names down as the top 3 finishers.  We all posed for a few pictures and I was awarded a book about a race in a part of India.  My phone died, so I was stranded, and I hitched a ride back to Delhi with the runners up.

This race is my 4th marathon win and each in a different country (USA, China, Canada, India).
Top 4 with Race Director
Top 4 finishers

I spent the rest of the day at a softball tournament.  We finished runner up, 9-7 lead going into the bottom of the 7th, lost 10-9. Heartbreaking.  Man, are my legs SORE!

Sunday, October 15, 2017


There are many excuses going into this one:
  • It's been 100 degrees for the past 2 months. Monsoon season so more humidity than Florida, harsh rains.
  • Work has been busy - busting my butt to do a good job
  • Stomach issue - the death gut of Africa reared its ugly head again and I have been fighting that - pills (up to 19 a day), ultrasounds, endoscopy - all indicating H. Pylori bacterial infection, gastritis, and a hell of a month of feeling like crap
  • Undertaining - let's face it; this is the real kicker. When you don't put in the work, you are going to pay.
I have to admit that after 70 marathons, this one came with probably more fear and uncertainty than perhaps 65 others.  I was really unsure how it would go.  Couple that with a hell of a busy week, an overnight flight Friday to Saturday, and the day spent walking around the city (my feet were so sore I could barely stand), I was not ideally suited for the running of the Amsterdam Marathon on Sunday.  But with temps predicted to be "hot" (yes, that is 22 degrees Celsius as a high (when we have had 39 in India for all this month), I walked to the start excited. 

It was my first BIG marathon in a while, and I had forgotten just how chaotic the start area is, and just how many people are on this journey.  After 45 min of waiting, the gun went off and I ran with thousands of others, making my way through the masses.  The girls came out to see me at the 1K before their races started - it was a family affair.  I ran 5:05 for the first kilometer and tried to slow from there but I kept coming in sub-5 for each marker.  The course eased into the park and out into the city, winding its way around the canals and buildings. It was a lovely tour of the area.

After about 12k we started to make our way down the Amstel river.  Here there were no buildings and fewer spectators, and the run turned into more of a scenic stroll than a race. The tranquility was punctuated with screaming fans periodically, but mostly it was just a group of people running on a path by a river. 

Waving to the girls who were
playing by the river
I kept expecting it to get harder, but I did fine for 10k, then fine at halfway. I just thought, "Get to 30K," then "32k"), and I did.  Never wanting to push my luck, I could have run faster but I feared the cost of blowing up on a lack of training.  When I hit 38k by the Heineken brewery I started to feel it. My body just wasn't in 26.2 shape.  But I knew the girls were at 40k, and this was a welcoming thought.  I rolled past 40k and saw them in the park, and I slowed to celebrate their runs.  Starting back up, I knew I had made a mistake. All the acid rushed to my legs and the pain was there. My good run was over.  I hobbled back up to speed and thankfully found this guy who had been with me for a while. He was being paced in by another guy who wasn't registered so I said I would take him to the line and I made him run all the way in with me. It felt good to focus on others. 

At 3:25:26 it wasn't one of my better times, but it was my 71st marathon in my 10th country.  I ran 48:17, 48:35; 48:17, 49:10 for my 10K splits. I ran 5:05 the first K and did not miss breaking 5 again until the 41st when I stopped to talk to the girls.  I was incredibly happy with this, given all that had happened, but I was pretty sore for a few days. The body just doesn't recover all that well without training. 

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Grandma's - A Family Affair

It seems odd to live in India but run a marathon in Duluth, Minnesota, but with a friend from AES who lives there in the summers, it was a way to make a visit and do the run.  Sarah came for the half, I the full, along with two other people, Jason and Gary, in the half. The kids came out with us and after driving up to Pictured Rocks for a day, made our way to the lake house for some pre-race boating and fun.

With the bus to the start being about 45 minutes from the house, and another 45 minute ride after that, it made for an early start. The rest of the crew left earlier (as the half started first) and I soon followed.  When I got off the steamy bus at the start, 26 miles from downtown, a light rain was falling. It was a brisk morning but little wind. People were sprawled out all over the parking lot, some in lines for toilets, others leaning against cars.  After a long wait, we packed into the line and were off.  I had two cousins in the race as well.

Keeping it conservative with my climbing trip in Bolivia on the horizon, I hung with the 3:15 pace group for a significant amount of time. I had no ambitions other than to run a good time for me and not be wrecked for the climb.  My training had been much better this time, with two 20 milers in the preceding weeks, a distance I had not run for training in the past 3 years, and I was ready.  While I can't say it made the difference in speed, it certainly helped with recovery and stability.  We hovered right on pace for many miles. The road was undulating and much harder than I expected given the easier reputation of the course.

I kept with the pace group for 19 miles.  It was a rare race as I didn't speak to anyone for 18 miles.  Normally, I am keen to chat it up. This time I said nothing and just listened. People chatted up the pacer, in awe of his accomplishments.  Everyone wanted a piece of this person. Jokes and stories were told. Most did not hang.

At 19 miles, I had enough. I pushed on and was soon ahead of the group. I took the pace down a little bit. I felt ok and never really red lined. I knew the family was waiting at about 24 miles so I kept it on until I saw them, pulled over for hugs, and caught a quick report of the half marathoners. I pushed on for the final two miles, finishing in 3:12:23. It was a long walk around the baggage and up about a mile to where I met everyone at a pizzeria.  Sarah had run strong, 1:35 flat, and Jason a minute and a half behind.  Gary bested his goal by 20 min with a 1:54. One bad Bloody Mary and a slice later, it was job done.  Nothing left to do now but to grab some beers and watch the lake.

Marathon number 70 in the bag, fastest I have run in 3 years, and glad to be back on the wagon.

Joshing with fam at 24 miles
Nearly done
Great group: Sarah, Gary, Jason, Justin