Saturday, May 10, 2014

Greatest Hits

I'm a clumsy person.  I fall a lot.  I own that.  The hardest I've ever seen anyone laugh is when I was in my early teens.  It was my little sister Julie.  I was leaving her bedroom after making what I am sure was a smart-ass, know-it-all comment.  Somehow, a wire clothes hanger was attached to an opening at the bottom of the clothes hamper in our hallway.  I didn't see it, stepped into it like it was a trap, on on my next step went flying down the hall, landing with a thud.

 When people ask me how I got into running, I tell them that I was too uncoordinated to play sports with sticks, balls or worse -- both.  Running doesn't take coordination, I say.  Except for that it does.  Even on a flat solo run, there are sidewalk cracks, cyclists, hot dog vendors and my own feet to contend with.  In a race, depending on how well it's organized there are at the very least two of those obstacles to try to avoid.  I'm currently recovering from wounds received at my last 5K.  It wasn't European Cross Country or anything, just a road race in the Bronx where the last thing I was worried about was road rash.  It got me thinking about some notable tumbles and on this rainy Saturday, the evening before a race where I may very well add another fall to the list, I thought I'd chronicle the greatest hits so to speak.

Winter 2002 -- You don't fall off a treadmill:
You fall onto a treadmill.  I trained through a lot of snowstorms during my time as a member of the SUNY Oswego Track and Cross Country teams.  It must have been a particularly bad storm for me to be running on the treadmill in the gym of Laker Hall. I was running with one of those CD players that wasn't supposed to skip as one did in 2002.  This was before I got my Rio, but I digress.  I don't remember what song it was, perhaps something by JaRule or maybe Incubus, but I didn't want to hear it.  In my attempt to change the track, I drifted to the side of the treadmill and lost my footing.  I landed on the belt which shot me into a pile of wrestling mats.  For years after this incident, I never ran on a treadmill without using that little clip you attach to yourself so the treadmill will stop if you go down.

This is from May of 2008.  The circumstances of the fall are not memorable, so thus it did not make this list.

Late Summer 2008 (Exact date unknown as this was pre-online training log days) - Crowders Mountain Crash:
I had just moved to Charlotte and picked up running again.  I was still running in cotton T-shirts and had definitely never run 20 miles before let alone run 20 miles on a mountain.  Still, I agreed to go along with two friends who were planning to do just that on Crowders Mountain in Gaston County, North Carolina.  Other than my complete ignorance of how to properly hydrate and fuel for a 20 mile run in the middle of the summer (What the hell is Gu?), the running was going smoothly.  Toward the end, I was leading the pack when I caught my foot on a tree root.  I belly-flopped into the ground so hard a cloud of dust went up in the air.  I was able to finish the run, but I bruised a whole bunch of ribs making laughing, coughing or breathing in general very difficult for the next few weeks.

August 24, 2010 -- Pre-trip Trash Bag Trip:
I was cooling down with Jordan after a pretty intense track workout during which I had managed to stay on my feet the entire time.  The workout was tough enough that this cooldown was really slow.  We were jogging in a suburban area of Charlotte complete with even sidewalks.  I saw that we were approaching a pile of trash bags filled with leaves, but for reasons that even four years later I cannot comprehend, I tripped over them in dramatic fashion.  I hit the ground with at least four areas of my body.  By the time I got home, the shirt I was wearing was covered in blood and it looked like I had been in some sort of knife fight and/or jumped through a glass window.  What makes this fall especially bad is that three days later, Lauren and I were going to the Bahamas.  Prior to this trip, I had only heard the expression "it's like rubbing salt in a wound."  Now, I know that unless someone is actually doing that, the comparison really isn't accurate.
Patching the wounds from the trash bag fall was a work of art.  Lauren did a great job!

July 17, 2011 -- Faceplant in the Parking Lot:
According to my log from this day, I logged 16.7 miles at Rockefeller State Park in Westchester County. It's safe to say that 16.5 of those miles were on the trails within the park. That's not where I fell.  I lost my footing running to the bathrooms in the parking lot.  This was one of those falls where the palms take the brunt of the impact. 

August 7, 2011 -- Brooklyn Bridge Falling Down:
There are two falls on this list I contend were 100% not my fault.  This is one of them.  I had lived in New York City for two months and had yet to cross the Brooklyn Bridge.  I saw there was a 5K that ran over it from Manhattan and back so I signed up.  What I did not know was 1) the pedestrian path was not closed off for this race and 2) there is a lot of foot traffic on the Brooklyn Bridge.  I was in first place from the start of the race. On the way out, it was early enough that other than the occasional cyclist, the path was pretty clear.  On the way back, I was having to dodge in and out of people still making their way to the turnaround in Brooklyn.  For the most part, they stayed to their own side, but in a split second that gave me no time to react, a young child literally hopped into my path.  Down I went.  The kid went down too.  This fall caused no wounds and it didn't cost me the victory, but it's a great first memory of running on the Brooklyn Bridge.   Come to think of it, I wonder what ever happened to that kid.

 December 14, 2013 -- Lap Traffic Tumble: 
I think I got cocky.  I had gone a solid two years without falling and was feeling pretty stable.  Despite a lack of fitness and a blizzard, I was having a really good 15K in Central Park.  At mile 9, I had been battling with two other runners -- good runners -- for the entire race and it was clear it was going to be a kick.  As we neared the final turn toward the finish, we came up on the back of the field heading into their second loop.  There was one spot in between the barrier at which you could merge and head toward the finish chute.  As the runner on the outside of the pack, I missed it.  Desperately searching for another opportunity, I darted in at what I thought was the next opening.  A woman walking never saw me coming and tripped me.  I was able to brace myself, but I hit my side pretty hard and of all the falls on this list, this is the only time I hit my head.  I was able to get up and sprint to the finish, but never caught the other guys.

May 3, 2014 -- Violence in the Bronx:
And that brings us to my current wounds.  I picked a small 5K at Bronx Community College as a good place to do a hard tempo workout and maybe even pick up a win.  Based on past years' results, this was quite possible.  Before the start of the race, I scanned the crowd and determined it was appropriate for me to be standing in the front.  I was planning to go out at a 5:15 pace which would get me plowed over in some big NYC races, but not here.  Or, so I thought.  As soon as the starting command was given, a much larger gentleman behind me shoved me out of the way -- shoved me hard.  He was one of those guys that you see at every 5K. They sprint out to the front of the race like they are racing Usain Bolt in the Olympics.  You generally see them walking by mile 2.  This guy was not an exception to that rule.  With no warning and therefore no time to brace myself, I went down harder than I have ever fallen before.  Before I could even assess the damage came the terrifying sight of a couple of hundred sets of legs coming straight for my head.  Based on the aggressiveness of the guy who pushed me, this was not a crowd I trusted with my life.  A few people hurdled me, but I got up quickly. I jogged over to the side of the road bleeding badly and in a lot of pain.  I was going to call it a day until I realized how mad I was.  The bandaids would have to wait until I finished.  I ran the race grimacing the entire way and only managed to pull off a second place finish.  Anyhow, about those bandaids. Yeah, they didn't really have any.  They didn't have any ice either.  A very nice, but ill-prepared gentleman taped up my arm with packing tape -- yes, packing tape -- and sent me on my way back to Manhattan.  On the hour-long subway ride home I tried not to bleed all over the train (although, I guess people have done worse things on the trains involving bodily fluids) by resting my elbow on my shorts.  My hip was already bleeding through them anyway, so what the hell?  I'd like to thank the gentleman on the B train who approached me and handed me a handful of bandaids and Neosporin packets without saying a word.  Karma will be kind to you sir. 

Packing tape on a grapefruit elbow

I'm livid about what happened at this race, but I understand that this photo is as hilarious as it is terrifying. 

It shouldn't take long for Greatest Hits Volume II to come out.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Making New Memories

Running along the Charles River in Boston the Sunday before the Boston Marathon, I started to second guess my race plan.  I was feeling good and healthy, clicking off effortless miles with Kevin at a sub-seven-minute per mile pace.  Boston was sunny and beautiful.  There was an electricity in the air.  Maybe I didn't have the fitness or the training to run a PR, I thought.  But, maybe I put in enough miles and ran enough solid workouts in January and February to go out with the first corral and hold my own.  These thoughts were fleeting, misguided and cocky and after experiencing the 118th Boston Marathon the way I experienced it the following day, I couldn't be more thankful that the absurd ideas were gone by the time I took the first sip of my post-run coffee.

Allen, a friend from Charlotte, had agreed to let me run with him and another friend/former roommate Matt.  Allen was hoping to redeem himself after falling victim to the heat of the 2012 marathon.  Despite a lack of mileage under my belt, I figured I could run with him for at least the bulk of the race while at the same time carrying a GoPro camera that would capture footage from the race course to be used on news reports by my place of employment.  
KB and me before heading out the door

The gun goes off at 10am, but Marathon Monday starts early.  I was up at 5:45am to get my gear together.  Last year's attacks meant tighter security, which meant no bags at the Athlete's Village in Hopkinton.  Runners were only allowed to carry a fanny pack and whatever fit inside of it.  Challenge accepted.  A few weeks before the marathon I put the term "hilarious fanny pack" into and wa-la!  Days later, a neon pink fanny pack with the word "PARTY" written across the front arrived in the mail. I had planned to ditch it before the start, but was talked out of that by many admirers of the fanny pack and the prospect of several official race photos prominently featuring the pack.  Thus, I took it on a test run to make sure it wasn't going to annoy/chafe me as it was strapped around my waist for 26.2 miles. 

I stepped out the door for the mile walk to the Boston Common wearing the fanny pack, a couple layers of clothes to be left behind, a JITFO singlet, shorts and New Balance 890v4s.  On the way, I met Josh who after being moved by Sunday's Blessing of the Runners at a nearby church had also decided to run the entire race.  We met Katie, who was going to be running much faster than us, and Matt at a Dunkin Donuts just off the Common.  However, Allen was nowhere to be seen.  We waited 30 minutes past the agreed-upon meeting time then cut our losses and headed for the buses.  I was convinced the whole plan was out the window.  Pacing Allen had become my purpose and without him, I didn't feel like I had any reason to be running.  The panic subsided when Allen and his girlfriend Laura somehow found us among the thousands of people waiting for their ride to Hopkinton.  Turns out Allen and Laura had gone to the wrong DD.  In hindsight, Dunkin Donuts was probably not the best business in Boston at which to meet.

I have always been a bundle of nerves on that seemingly endless bus ride from the Commons to Hopkinton.  First of all, it's a really long trip and the entire time you are on the bus, you can't help but think that once this long ride is over you have to run back from whence you came.  This year was different.  With no specific race plan to adhere to and a free pass to catch the first DNF bus back to Boston should any of my weak spots flare up, the pressure was completely off.  Instead, I tried to soak up some of the nervous energy of my seatmate/teammate/friend Katie who was running Boston for the first time. 
I'll pony up the cash for this photo eventually

I wasn't really sure of the timing on getting to corral 2.  It's the same nearly-one mile walk, but unlike year's past, we were in the corral about 25 seconds before the starting canon sounded.  Warning: Gross pre-marathon detail coming.  I was mid-bottle pee when the race started.  I may not have been ready to move, but the tens of thousands of people surrounding me were.  So, I can now add peeing and running simultaneously to my resume.

We went out a little slower than Allen's goal pace as we fought our way through thick crowds.  It's better to go out slow on the first mile because it is a significant down hill.  My previous Bostons, mile 1 has always been one of my fastest and that comes back to bite me.  As we made our way down the narrow two-lane road, Josh and I immediately started working the crowd.  I thought it would be my fanny pack that attracted the most attention, but it was the GoPro that sent the spectators into a tizzy.  I decided early on that I would grab water and Gatorade for Allen when I could.  It was in doing this that I developed a tremendous amount of respect for the grace, skill and balls it takes to approach a water station in heavy traffic and emerge with both a beverage and all of your limbs. It's truly terrifying and to everyone who does it with regularity, big props.

One of the reasons I love running Boston is the crowd support. The city and the towns along the course have always embraced the event and brought an electricity that's unmatched by any other marathon -- although New York comes pretty close.  But this year's running, Greater Boston took it up a notch.  Throughout most of the course, the crowds were four deep.  The enthusiasm was always high, but any time I sensed a lull, I pointed to the GoPro camera and there would be thunderous roars.  I don't think I stopped screaming for 26.2 miles. The rush of adrenaline that came from being back in Boston was enough to fuel hours of running and simultaneous celebration.  Along the way, I slapped hundreds if not thousands of hands.  In Wellesley where the spectators are famously raucous, I tried to match their volume with my own voice.  Miles later, the Boston College crowd stepped up to the plate outdoing what we had seen near the Wellesley campus.  The line of Golden Eagles was at least a mile long.  I have no connection or love for BC, but I am pretty sure I said I loved the place more times than I can count. By the end of the race, my throat was more sore than my legs.
This is Mile 25-ish.  I just got more excited as the finish line got closer

I was able to get a good look at some of the homemade signs on the course this year.  There were the traditional messages: "Beer at the Finish", "You're almost there!", "Kiss Me!" (Proud to say that the only kiss I gave was to Lauren at mile 24).  But there were also signs that said "Boston Strong", "Welcome Back", "Thank You".  My favorite sign was held up by a woman somewhere in Newton.  It said, "Meb Won! 2:08:37.  Yes Really."  At first, I thought it was a joke.  No one, including myself expected Meb to beat arguably the best Boston field ever assembled.  I asked her if she was sure.  When I was satisfied that she was, I yelled "USA!!!" for at least three miles.
This week, I told Meb I thought his win was the most significant moment in American Distance Running history.  I know I'm not alone in that thought.
This was my fourth Boston Marathon, but it produced a lot of firsts.  It was the first time I took candy from spectators on the course (Twizzlers, Starburst Jelly Beans; it was like they knew I was coming).  It was the first time I stopped to pee (twice). It was the first time I posed for photos.  It was the first time I saw Lauren cheer for me.  It was the first time I stopped on the course to wait for friends.  Crossing the finish line was a moment to be shared.

At mile 24, I got a burst of energy.  Cheering and hand-slapping turned into jumping up and down. Josh and I had just toughed out a two mile stretch that was a little dicey and thankfully had caught a second wind.  That's when we rolled up on Josh's fiance/my friend Tanya was in a world of hurt.  She was shuffling and clearly in pain.  Like me, she hadn't been able to train the way she wanted to, but was gutting out the whole race anyway. Tanya told us she didn't want to finish and she was ready to drop out.  I knew Tanya felt the same way I did about Boston.  We were both there last year and we both never got the chance to relish the experience. I reminded her the pain she was feeling at that moment with 2.2 miles to go would be much worse when she woke up in the morning without a medal. She toughed it out.

We came across in 3:26:18.  The goal was 3:25.  Maybe we could have gone out a little faster.  Maybe we shouldn't have stopped.  But, ultimately it wasn't really about the time on the clock it was about completing the year-long journey.

Check out my bad-ass fanny pack
After I got my medal, a volunteer who was clearly a local thanked me for running.  The guy giving up his time to help sweaty, tired and possibly unsteady strangers thanked me.  Then he said, "Thank you for helping us take our city back."  That's where the tears came.  I will never forget that moment. I don't often admit it, but I know running for me is a selfish hobby.  It's about my PRs.  It's about my mileage goals.  It's about me feeling good about myself.  But, on this day I didn't feel selfish.  I felt like my run was part of something much more important.  Along with 36,000 other runners and 1,000,000 spectators, we wrote a new chapter and left Boston with fond new memories of the best marathon in the world.