May 26, 2005

Maharam's Plan of Action

Okay, I finally got to a doctor's today about the knees.

I phoned a couple of days ago to Dr. Maharam's office and got an appointment for this morning. Dr. Maharam is the NYRR doctor and the lead physician for the ING Marathon. He also takes care of lots of other runners, so choosing him is a no-brainer. His office doesn't take insurance, but does provide paperwork to help you try to get insurance re-imbursement. I don't expect I'll be reimbursed, but I don't care -- my knees are too important to be going instead to an HMO quack. Maharam's office is conveniently located and he comes with good references.

More importantly, he does the right things, I feel. He looked at my feet and how they move on the treadmill. He lamented my genetics. He said I had "runner's legs" but that isn't necessarily helpful -- weak inside-the-thigh muscle.

We're trying orthotics. I think once these temporaries compress a bit, things will begin to improve with my knees. The right one feels OK. The left is bulky-feeling and makes my shoe too small. That's to be expected. When I come back from my vacation, I begin therapy, too, to help strengthen the weak muscles and work on my illio-tibial band. I'll also be fitted with custom orthotics at that time.

Given this strategy, my runners' knees should be much much better in six to eight weeks (I'm not pushing it, especially since I'll be on the road for four or five of those weeks!)

Mostly, I'm relieved that my problems aren't permanent, that they're addressable and that the pain will eventually go away and I'll be able to comfortably knock out long distances without major pain or any damage.

May 22, 2005

Personal Best - Ah, But At What Cost, Glory?

Yesterday, in the middle of a beautiful, sunny Saturday afternoon while I was at work, I had the urge to go for a run. Perhaps after work, I thought. Then I wondered if there was a short-distance race on Sunday. Sure, enough, New York Road Runners had one scheduled - today's Healthy Kidney 10K in Central Park.

So, giving up my one chance to sleep in, I got up even earlier and prepared for a "long" run. My knee had been feeling pretty good the last few days, and my ankle wasn't complaining much either. A run would be good, I thought.

The trains this morning were mercifully fast, service changes and weekend schedules notwithstanding. Those Saints of Transportation, also known as the MTA, got me to Central Park in good time and I had an hour and fifteen minutes to leisurely register and warmup before the race. The t-shirts are technical shirts this time -- good fabric. And a new company was handing out pre-race food bars. I took one, but since there was only about half an hour before the race at that point, saved it for later.

My warm-up was good. Some aches and pains, but after a half mile I was running at a good clip and figured that I could keep up a good pace for the race. I downed some power goop and a chose a couple of Excedrin - I'd need not only the painkillers, but also the caffeine, I figured. I happened to see James Lu before the race: he asked if I'd done the Queens Half and I had to say no. We wished each other luck.

5500 runners, including some of the world's top professional runners, ran today's race. I lined up at the very back of the pack. For once, the pack near the 10 marker wasn't jam-packed, making me think a lot of people had been out training and were going to use today to try for personal bests - much as I was! Since I'd done 10-minute miles at the Nutter Run, I wondered if I could turn in a similar performance today and perhaps post a personal record.

My only apprehensions were: I had on new shoes. I'd forgotten my stretchy running gloves and my hands were cold. The weather was cool, but humid - would I be able to breathe well? Would I stay too cold, or would I warm up enough? I'd also forgotten a snotrag. And I chose not to carry my own hydration or any power goo, figuring this would be a good test if I could run an hour with only the water from the tables. I also forgot my sunglasses which, as the sun came out just before the race began, for some reason really had me worried. They're like my good-luck charm.

I forced myself to just forget about all that. Time to concentrate: pre-visualize finishing this course with a good time on the clock. 10-minute miles would mean 62:30 on the clock. Could I do that? Could I beat that? I wanted for sure to beat my Scotland Run 10K time (1:08:48) and THAT had been a good solid performance, with a "coach" who had talked me along through it. I found no such person this time.

I never heard the starting horn. The pack just started creeping forward, then walking, then power-walking, then jogging, then running. As noted, I started at the BACK of the pack - on purpose. Turning in a solid performance meant, to me, passing people and drawing energy from that.

And sure enough, I spent most of the race passing people. I made a game of it. I'd find the next nice-looking butt a few yards ahead of me and concentrate on chasing, catching, and passing him or her. I found myself passed only a few times and always by the same two girls - one in a full knee-brace - so I figure we were running similar paces.

I was really running pretty strong, but by mile two, my left knee and right ankle were complaining and I began to ponder the flawed wisdom of running on KNOWN injuries! I really must see a doctor. But I'm also mentally prepared for this and it wasn't anywhere near the pain I experienced in the marathon, so I kept going. I discovered the knee pain got worse on uphills, but went away completely on downhills. The big climb, at the top of the park, just about did me in. But I kept trucking.

I used the water tables. As I did in the marathon, I'd grab a cup of water and keep running, squishing the top together and drinking from the "corner" so as not to soak myself in spilled water. It's still hard to drink while running, tho...I got a lot up my nose. Unfortunately, I didn't drink nearly enough. (After the race, as I used a port-a-john on my way out of the park, my urine color was the darkest I've seen in in a year!) Maybe next time, I go back to carrying my own HEED - I'll at least keep hydrated better!

Turns out I didn't need to worry about soaking myself - about mile three and half, it began lightly raining, enough that my shirt was getting wet, if not soaked. Mercifully, the rain actually lowered the humidity, which had been keeping me from breathing well, and I didn't feel so labored anymore. The course got slippery, but what the hell.

About mile four, my right knee joined in the chorus with my left; now both knees were singing the same pitiful song, begging me to stop. "Shut up, biatches! You do your job and stop whining!" I learned something about pain today - new pain is more painful than old pain. Huh.

But hey, I had zero reason to worry about my knees and didn't feel sorry for myself. There were people in worse shape, as I could tell from the girl with the brace and all the other knee-butressing things I saw on people. More importantly, I was in far, far better shape than the runner I passed at 2.5 miles. We were on a downhill there and as the pack came around a bend, I noticed a large clump of runners off to the left of the road, several kneeling. A runner was down. I could only see his/her legs, but it was clear this runner was having convulsions. I heard and saw several people getting out cell phones and dialing for 911. I sent a silent prayer skyward and kept running.

The last two miles pretty much flew by. I was still passing people, though now I was slowing a little, even with efforts to keep the pace up. A lot of people were walking by then. Finally, blessedly, the 400 (meters) sign finally showed up, meaning I was now where the race began and had but a quarter-mile to go. A minute later and the finish line was in sight. I was able to pick up speed during that last quarter-mile, though I didn't try to sprint it out.

I finished well! I finished in 1:03:09, making for a 10:11 pace and, yes, a PERSONAL BEST!!! I made absolutely sure to take a long cooling-down and stretching-out period, knowing already that I'd be practically crippled again for the journey home, but hoping the stretching would at least keep my muscles happy, if not my joints.

I wandered around, collected a nifty water bottle, some food, another free bar from the Amino Vital people, this time a post-race bar. It's mostly a rice krispy bar, with some nuts and raisins and rabbit turds or something thrown in. Palatable, good texture; not for everyday consumption, but probably a good idea post-race.

The journey home, while being the exact same route as coming in, but in reverse, was arduous. Due to service changes, my route home wasn't quite as easy as planned. Those Sadistic Motherfuckers, also known as the MTA, forced me to do an up-and-over train change. By that point, stairs were so painful that I had to pause halfway down them to give my knees a break. Coming down the four flights of steps at my home station was also a real bitch. When I got home, I got into as cold a bath as I could stand - which wasn't as brutal an experience as it was after the marathon! I spent 20 minutes soaking my legs in as cold a water as comes from the tap and, for a while, they felt better for it. Probably more ibuprofen and more coldpacks later tonight.

My knees have me worried. A 10K shouldn't result in pain like this. There is damage and either it's not healing, or it's doing so very slowly. And here I am actively retarding the process. I really must see a doctor. If I have to stop running for a couple months, I guess I need to know that now, before I do any more damage.

All in all, though - an excellent run! Personal best time, decent weather conditions (not lousy); great freebies; good to see familiar faces on the course, good to be in "the routine". Good way to spend a Sunday morning! And... I do believe this was my sixth qualifier towards the 2006 NYC marathon!
PS: I called NYRR Monday afternoon and got confirmation that the downed runner is all right now.

May 17, 2005

C-arr-nival of the Arr-unners

Arr! This here be the Pirate's edition of the Carnival of the Runners. Arr!

Why Pirates, ye ask? Well, because this past fortnight has seen this week's author, The Pirate, bein' a lazy bastard after runnin' his marathon, so all of his readin' and writin' is akin to an act of plundering on the high seas of the runners' globe. And now he'll stop dropping his g's, or he be risking the wrath of the bonny lass Lynne Truss. What kind of pirate is The Pirate, ask ye? Why, a rum runner, of course!

The big item on the Pirate's radar this week was the Queens Half-Marathon, part of the NYC Grand Prix series. This race attracted 2618 runners, among them Chelle, Derek, and (I believe) Pete. Chelle breathed the rarified air of the sea and posted a personal record time, but due to a wrong turn is wondering how solid that time is. Like her coach, Pirate sez not to worry about it, in Queens there are no shortcuts! She did beat Carnival of the Runners' founder, though, even with him running his best half marathon in five years! Way to go, ye dogs!

Unfortunately, not everyone could run the Queens Half. All Brooklyn could do that Saturday was go out for a jar of pickles and kick out a 5K in the process. And Riona, in training for her first marathon, lives just about as far away from Queens as you can get! But she's got a good start and racked up her first race!

First mate Seebo struggles with limitations his body puts on his times. To which The Pirate sez: Listen, mate, maybe you're not a top-of-the-line racing regatta, maybe you feel like you're "just" a swift-sailing schooner, but when you're passing dinghies, like the Pirate, all they sees is yer wake. Well, maybe yer biorhythms will get you straightened out.

Or maybe Seebo could take some tips from Publicist-turned-Pirate Pete, who truly knows the meaning of "aaaarrrr!": his training apparently involves some kind of secret Seal torture method. (Don't miss the older posts there too!) The Pirate now sees that Seals are as bad as big white Whales.

On the other hand, Seebo could try a whole new style: Ken's entry about his 3:29 time in the Zurich Marathon credits the POSE method of running. Speaking of changing tack to a new course, Debra is very happy with chi running helping her get over some plantar fasciitis.

Running on the sea is always a battle. You're either battling the elements, mental exhaustion, or factory presets. Somehow, though, when a mate is battling his/her own sea serpents and giant octupii, seems like there's always another Beast that can put the smaller problems in perspective. Beast's entry, about last month's Ironman Arizona, is monumental enough to include here.

By the way, mates, if any o' you scallawags are, like Beast, Triathletes, or do some bicycling for cross-training, or even simply do cross-city runs as part o' yer training, like The Pirate does, you mayhaps will appreciate this truly electrifying bicycle dragrace shot by Lucas. Be warned, be a big file size!

That's all for this week from The Pirate. T'anks for readin'!

Aargh! 26.2 miles down to TWO???

Second run post-marathon. The knee pain after the first run (Saturday) stuck around for two days. I thought it was done, but it was back after a mile and a half today. I don't really know what I'm doing wrong, or if I'm just not taking enough recovery time. Perhaps my recovery should entail MORE workout - on the bike!

I bought new shoes yesterday. Come to find out that the New Balance men's 991s are made in several different widths. I was not apprised of this at Paragon when I first bought my running shoes. So I found a store that had the narrower width in stock and tried them on. They felt good immediately. Certainly they still have their padding left, whereas my 360+ mile old shoes don't...but I think I'll get more support out of this narrower size.

I still think I need to consult a doctor, if nothing else than to make sure I'm not doing something stupid in my running stride or footwear choice.

May 14, 2005

Pickles. Yeah, they're that important.

That was a really long way to go for a jar of pickles, I tell you what. Seriously. One gallon Vlasic dills: 130 miles and a 5K run.

Okay, okay, so the jar of pickles wasn't part of the master plan when I got up this morning at 5. As the alarm went off, my eyes popped open: today was the day! Today was the FIRST day! First day of what? Why, my second round of training, of course!

It's been two weeks since the Cincinatti marathon, which I completed in 5:25, and consequently two weeks since my last run - or excercise of any sort. So this first run to get back in the game was important and I'd planned to go for a couple of months.

The run was the Sgt. Nutter (memorial) 5K. It was organized by the National Guard unit at Sea Girt, NJ and this was the first time they'd organized a run. (They did a wicked good job, too!) One of my riding buddies had emailed the East Coast crew about the run some months ago, and I marginally committed to it. I didn't REALLY commit 'til last night, when I printed off driving directions and checked the weather forecast. The NWS promised no rain until at least one o'clock, so I figured I'd be good to go.

I drove my motorcycle down to Sea Girt, about 65 miles away, through Staten Island and down the Garden State Parkway. Lovely drive at 6 in the morning! I arrived way early at the site and was greeted by brightly attired, cheerfully smiling National Guardsmen. I asked where I could change and stash my bag and another Guardsman was called over to the registration table. It was my friend Inch! I didn't recognize him outside of a leather jacket. We spent a pleasant 15 minutes chatting about his recent service in Iraq and he introduced me to his girlfriend.

We chatted some and he introduced me to another motorcyclist who showed. That guy brought his girlfriend and dog, Ellis - ultimately, they ran the course, too! Inch disappeared (official photographer for the event) and my new friends and I compared notes - this was his second race and second 5K. He didn't seem interested in the longer runs, but was curious about what it takes to run a marathon.

Finally, we all lined up and were led in a Guardsmen-style stretching routine pre-race, then ambled over to the starting line. They fired a canon - a REAL canon - and the pack took off! There were about 100 runners total, maybe not even that many, so it was easy to keep track of the runners as we ran the course. The course doubled back on itself a couple times, so we kept passing as the leaders zipped by us going the other way. As usual, a lot of the pack took off at a near sprint and - after a mile and a half -- I was beginning to pick them off one by one as my "slow and steady" strategy began to pay off. I was running faster than for my previous training runs, and my legs were very aware of their recent abuse and un-use, but it felt good to be getting some excercise on what had turned out to be a fine sunny day.

One of the runners, a Sgt Carroll, was a powerfully built Army man who ran in full fatigues with a 45 pound pack. Turns out he's a champion boxer, too. I passed him after a mile, but was pleased to see him cross the finish line not long after me. The friend of Inch I'd been talking to turned in a swift 25-minute 5K, and his girlfriend and dog, who had started a couple minutes after the race began - and who I'd passed once or twice after they passed me - came in a few minutes after me.

My time was 31 minutes even. Not bad for 3.1 miles! I think, per mile, this was my best time ever. It makes me very curious about doing some speed training. I do, however, need to figure out why my nose was bleeding after the run. And I also need to get online and order a new pair of shoes! My left knee is back to hurting and I believe it's in part due to running in worn shoes. Damn I'm stupid.

So...where do the pickles come in? Right after driving back across the Verazanno Narrows Bridge, I noticed a small sign pointing out an exit for Fort Hamilton. Okay, I thought, I could use some groceries. Quick-crossing three lanes of traffic, I took the exit. I went into the comissary and started picking up the usual supplies - and then noticed the gallon jars of pickles. A gallon. For $2.99. I knew I could get the other groceries home, but I wasn't sure the gallon of pickles would fit on my motorcycle. What the hell. Purchased them anyway.

Got home a few minutes ago and will shortly take a shower and then a much-needed nap.

The pickles are delicious.

May 12, 2005

11 days post marathon -- TIRED

Is it possible that the effects of a marathon can take so long to catch up to a man? A week ago, the pain and stiffness in my legs had gone away and by Monday, I thought, "Hey, maybe I'll go for a run. No...don't. Stick to the book; stick to the plan." Still, the idea of signing up for this coming weekend's half-marathon was pretty alluring. After all, even with two weeks off, I should be able to handle a half-marathon, right?


Sadly, I know it isn't to be. If I can get my motorcycle done (I'm installing a CB and a weather-shielded 12v outlet for an upcoming trip), then I still plan on doing Saturday's 5K in New Jersey. It will be a good first run to get back into things, I think.

However, as of the last couple of days, and certainly today, my energy level has been in the trash. I don't know why, either. I'm eating well, and getting 8 or 9 hours of sleep each night. But I just spent three hours asleep in my recliner, after an 8-hour night's sleep. And slept better in the recliner! I'm also having some nosebleeds, which had gone away before the marathon. Very weird.

Is it possible that some recovery takes this long, not counting joints and legs? I thought I'd already gone through my post-race crash (had "the flu" for a couple days last week), but this isn't like that crash either. It's just fatigue. It's as if my body knows that it has this time - and only this time - to really be lazy and conserve energy; I have no shows right now, and am only getting ready for a trip in a couple of weeks, as well as dealing with a mound of paperwork My brain is not happy about having such a low energy level. Or perhaps my BRAIN is the real culprit because it doesn't want to tackle the paperwork!

May 7, 2005

Twitchy Twitchy

5 days post-marathon and I'm noticing some interesting things.

1) Nobody seems to give a shit that I finished the marathon. Not that I really expected them to, but the book says I have a right to crow about this for a little while - and that implies people are going to listen with wide-open eyes. I'm learning that the best reaction, though, is when they get that far-away look in their eyes that says "wow, i didn't really know you. if you can run a marathon, what else can you do? like...mass murdering?" This is very much fun. I never knew that chunking out a TwentySix would inspire fear, rather than admiration. And that's almost as good.

BUT - Like Jonathan Segal says: You can only bask in the glory of past achievements for so long. Like bathwater, if you lay in them too long, you'll start to shrivel up.

2) I have a discolored toe. More precisely, I apparently have a large pocket of blood underneath my left second toe-nail. How did this happen? When did this happen? During the marathon? After? Much after? I mean...who notices their toes? And it's been cold here in NY, so I haven't exactly been walking around barefoot. It doesn't hurt, so I'm not going to mess with it.

3) Legs are finally back to being able to ascend and descend stairs without me leaning on the handrail for support. Ankles only minor twinging. The soles of my feet get cranky if I'm on my feet for more than fifteen minutes. My left knee, however, is very much unhappy. Continued rest is my plan.

4) I'm looking forward to the next one. Not because I enjoy pain and trauma, of course, but because I really enjoyed conquering the course. If the next marathon had, say, bear traps and tiger pits, that'd be good, too.

5) I really enjoyed the family bonding experience, too. That part may stay with me a lot longer than the marathon itself.

May 3, 2005

Two days post-race out today for a long walk and stretched the aching muscles. At first, I felt practically crippled, but by the end, I was doing OK. It is just amazing to me how much punishment one's legs can take and still function -- and then shut you down later!

A few other observations about the Flying Pig:

I'm not very fond of their mascot Never did like pigs much. But I didn't choose this marathon; that was done by my family. Perhaps the Nashville marathon would've been better.

The number pick-up was a zoo. This wasn't my first race, it was my first marathon. I truly hope that not all marathons arrange their packet pick-up in such an excruciating manner. One had to go to one floor to pick up a number. If you were picking up numbers for other people, that mmight be found at other tables, depending if they were running full or half marathons or the relay. It took way too long just to get the numbers. Then had to go downstairs and run a gauntlet of vendors to pickup the (worth it) swag. (Hey, the t-shirts and bags were part of the entry fee after all.) While I agree there should be an opportunity to browse vendors before (and after) the race, being forced to run a maze of them was just too much. In New York, you go to one room and state your name. They throw your packet at you and kindly ask you to get out. Lingering only creates traffic jams. Sometimes t-shirt pickup is in a separate area -- usually on the way out the door!

Splurge on the right hotel room the night before and get a good night's sleep. My mom was kind enough to lay out the cash for a hotel room within minutes of walking distance of the starting line. My sister is claiming it was a mile, but it was perhaps a quarter mile. However, four people in one room, even for a quick night's sleep, is difficult. We would have been better off with two rooms, I think. I felt bad for my sister, who managed to have a miserable night in wet sheets after dousing her bed and her son in water trying to get him a drink in the middle of the night. Mom didn't sleep much either, though to her credit she didn't disturb my sleep much. I arose having slept "enough" if not soundly.

Shoes. I trained 317.7 miles for this marathon -- that doesn't count the mileage needed to train enough to BEGIN the training program. Besides that not being enough mileage, probably, for proper training, it was too much for my shoes. My shoes are shot, and were before the marathon. What I should have done was buy new shoes a month before the marathon and done my last two big weeks of training in them, breaking them in for the marathon. On the outside of the heels of my current pair, the rubber is worn nearly to the stuff underneath.

Fueling and hydration Hammer gel -- A+ I use the Rasberry cut with Plain in a 1:2 ratio. Hammer HEED, also A+. A good sports drink at a good price without an overwhelming taste, though I think I mixed it too strongly for the marathon. Perpetuem...well, I need more practice with that. And I need to flavor it. Probably a very good idea, but I didn't execute it well, or early enough in the marathon. Live and learn, eh?

Clothing. Here's where my training and experience at previous races paid off! I gauged my needs perfectly for the temperature and predicted temperatures. I dropped my sweatshirt at the baggage truck before the race and never felt a need for less or more clothing than the two t's I had on (one long-sleeve over one short-sleeve). As things warmed up, I put away my hat, gloves, and rolled up my sleeves a bit, but nothing else. Later, by the river again, I pulled the gloves on. Socks: I chose the socks I'd trained in -- plain, uncushioned white tube socks. I have some running socks, just have never used them. Didn't want to chance it during the race. And even with crappy cotton tube socks: no blisters! That alone made me feel like the winner, as I saw a LOT of people being treated for blisters en route and my sister and mom each had a few.

People who keep telling you "it's all downhill from here". Only the last one wasn't a liar! I know they mean to be encouraging, not literal, but please...until you lend me your legs for the last six miles, I don't wanna hear it. As Kara noted, even gently rolling hills feel like mountains late in the race.

People who cheer and/or play a musical instrument for us, however badly: thank you. Thank you all!

My lungs. I needed a shot of albuterol about mile 15, but other than that, no real troubles. Running at the pace I do, one doesn't need much in the way of lungs, I guess, though I reckon that if my lung function weren't 36% of normal I'd be able to turn in faster times. We'll see what the future holds on that -- I think the running is helping my lung capacity and no matter what the numbers day, endurance racing is about endurance, not VO2 max.

Finally, thanks to everyone who has sent comments in about yesterday's post. It's nice to know I'm not alone and, with Kara out there, was not alone on that course! (At least as bloggers go.)

May 2, 2005

When Pigs Fly!

...that would have been my answer a year ago if you'd've asked me, "Hey, wanna run a marathon?" First off, I hate running; second, I don't have the lung capacity to run two blocks, much less 26.2 miles. Third, I hate running, detest it. Fourth, I don't have the kind of time it takes to train for something like that. Fifth, I hate running; it was always forced on me as a kid and I find no joy in the activity. Sixth, while I do like rock climbing and roller-blading, I am most assuredly not an athlete. And did I mention I hate running?

Fast forward a bit, to a phone call in late October. My sister has just completed the Chicago marathon. Wow!

A couple days later...I find out that another of my online friends has succumbed to Cystic Fibrosis. I am depressed for a week. Until...

I'm standing by the side of the road in the heart of Brooklyn, cheering on forty thousand runners as they pass by in the ING New York City Marathon. Many of them have on the lime green CF jerseys. God, it'd be neat to do that, I thought. No, not neat. Great! Fantastic! I could never do that. Could I?

I announce at work I'm going to start running and I buy my first pair of running shoes. My sister sends me a book for beginners which helps them train for a marathon in four months.

We made a plan. My family would meet in Cincinnati May 1st. I had almost six months. At the time, I couldn't run a long block without having to stop and catch my breath. It took two months before I could run 30 minutes continuously. And very slowly at that.

But yesterday, May 1st, 2005, I RAN THE CINCINNATI FLYING PIG MARATHON!!!

Technically, I participated in the marathon. I think to say one runs a marathon is to say one doesn't walk any of it. Well, I walked some of it. But I finished running!

The weather was great -- crystal clear skies, temps started at 39 degrees, rose to the mid-50s by the time I was done; I took just the right amount of clothes and didn't have to "lose" anything.

I ran a really strong first half. I set out on a good, measured pace with my sister, Rachel. We ran the first six or seven miles together, not going too fast, about a 10:45 mile or so. Turns out that, even without enough training for this event, she actually speeds up going uphills without meaning to. After mile five or six somewhere, I said "go ahead" and by the time the half-marathon turn around point came up, I'd lost her completely. (She had signed up for the half-marathon kinda late in the game, along with my mom, who had started an hour earlier and was walking the half-marathon. I had signed up for the full marathon and [at the time] there had been no half-marathon option. Was there a big man upstairs manipulating things to make sure I ran the whole thing??)

So off Rachel went. And I trucked on. At mile 11, still going strong, I had emptied two of my HEED flasks and one of my gel flasks. Fortunately, that's exactly what I'd planned, since my cousin's house was right on the route at that point. I zipped off to their lawn, threw my empties on the ground, grabbed the 24oz bottle of HEED and new gel flask and took off. Didn't skip a beat and kept going strong all the way to mile 19. By that point, I'd finished the 24oz bottle and had switched my fueling to the concentrated Perpetuem, along with some water from the tables. And while I still felt energetic and mentally strong, my thigh muscles -- in front and back -- were beginning to lock up and not cooperate. I stopped several times over the next couple miles to stretch, but that would only help for a few minutes. And while the aches and pains in my feet, knees, and hips were immitating all the pains and injuries I'd had in my training to date, they weren't stopping me -- it was those thigh muscles. Damn.

Let me back up a bit. The route of the Flying Pig is flat for five-six miles, then a long uphill battle for the next five or six, then downhill six, then flat eight; approximately. I found the hills OK, but the downhills finally took their toll on my muscles and joints. By the time I got out on the (rather boring) flats, I was in a walk-jog-walk-jog mode.

Let me back up a little bit more. Let's say I have been a Deiist most of my life -- a vague belief that God exists, but he's on leave of absence -- that he chooses not to be involved anymore. Subsequent to that belief is the belief that prayer is useless. A rather pessimistic view, huh? Well, over the last few months, I'd noticed that when I appealed to God for some strength regarding my training, that strength always came through, provided I put in the effort. God helps those who help themselves, after all. Well, on the plane to Cincinnati, I had taken some time and really asked God for help. I knew that after two weeks of no running at all and only this minimal six months of training (not to mention CF, no fat reserves, etc.) that I needed some Grace to get through this. Religion has not been a cornerstone of my life, but Saturday I was asking for help honestly, plainly, and I put myself in God's hands.

About mile 21, I realized that walk-jog-walk is a "survival shuffle". I cleared my head and said to myself, Self -- you need to just WALK, that's it. Keep up a good pace, but just WALK. Let the lactic acid clear out a bit; let the Perpetuem and Sonic Strawberry powergel have a few minutes to do their work. Walk and then finish RUNNING. I had doubts in my mind about this; it felt like a cop-out. But I was soon up to a power-walk stride that I kept up for three miles and with it I was passing a lot of walkers -- including one gent I chatted with who was on his second marathon that weekend. By this point, I had forgotten all about my prayer to God the previous day. I have strong belief in my own willpower and knew that I would finish, at the very least, even if I did have to walk like this.

Mile 23: I pass a choir. Out on the shittiest stretch of the whole damn marathon -- in whitetrashville -- there's this 60+ person choir -- black robes and all, on risers, led by a preacher or deacon or minister or whatever in the black shirt, white collar, the whole bit. He's leading them from a little distance as he's in the middle of the road giving high-fives to the runners (and now-walkers) as they go by. He's this tall, powerfully built middle-aged man who is the epitome of "large and in charge". As I go by, I clasp his hand in the thumb-lock style handshake, brother-to-brother style. His grasp is warm and firm and he smiles and says "you're doing fine."

And I realized yes, he was right, I was doing fine! And my plan B was the right choice, because it was the choice that would make me realize my goal of FINISHING RUNNING. I felt my spirits lift and when the sign for mile 25 came in sight I got into a trot, then a jog, then a real run and stuck to that for the last 1.2 miles.

I'd passed mile 24 at exactly 5:00 on the clock. (Keep in mind that I have no idea if these individual clock times were accurate or not.) I passed 25 at 5:14:45. I wondered if I could make a sub 5:30 yet. The final mile took me down a slope and into the rennovated waterfront of downtown Cincinatti. I was going pretty strong, too, though my legs felt like hell. They felt like the little unburned charcoal bits in an otherwise-used-up pile of charcoal ashes -- black, stumpy, and useless. But I kept running. The finish line came into view between the crowds and I started sobbing a little bit, realizing that my long-worked-for goal was now, for the first time, a 100% certainty. Then the clock at the finish line showed from behind more people about 75-100 yards out (this is up a slight slope and the finish is very curvy) -- I had 45 seconds to cover that ground -- even then, I wanted to beat that clock and summoned up the last of my energy and broke into a sprint, really zipping it out, and crossed the finish line at 5:29:48, from what I saw.

Today's morning paper had all the runner's times and they're on the web, too. Since Rachel and I didn't get to the starting line for several minutes after the cannon, my net (published) time is officially 5:24:49! And my half-marathon time is also five minutes better than my previous best half-marathon! I came in 3156 out of 3790 -- a significantly better finish percentage-wise than my New York races!

Getting home was a bitch. I neglected to stretch out properly, thanks to a bad decision on my mother's part of where she should meet me and a bad decision on my part to try to get to her, instead of MAKING her come to me. In the ensuing confusion and the 30-minute ride home, I didn't stretch like I should have and things really locked up. I expected pain and stiffness anyhow, since I was already experiencing that, but I think I made it worse. I've been eating and drinking well since the run so I hope the damage is already starting to heal. The plane ride home today also made me very stiff.

As I had my sister to thank, mostly, for getting me into this and for contuing to inspire me, I sent her a little flower arrangement this morning and am now figuring out how to download her thankyou message from my phone to my computer. She and I have never been close, but this was a great bonding experience. (She finished the half in 2:19:46.) Also, props to my mother; she walked the half-marathon in 3:45 and was instrumental in getting us a hotel room just a few minutes walk from the starting line.

I would like to see the rest of my family get in on the act, too, somehow. Mom doesn't think she'll do this again -- 3 miles a day is enough for her health at her age. Rachel is beginning to think about another full marathon. I'm already planning which one will be my next and where it might be. If I don't get the lottery pick for this year's NYC Marathon, perhaps I'll try the Marines Marathon in D.C., late October, if registration isn't already closed. Or maybe Chicago!

My plan now is to sign up for some speed-training and endurance-conditioning classes at New York Road Runner. My next run will be on the 13th -- a little 5K for charity out in New Jersey. Should be a good first run after a couple weeks of full rest. My goals for the next marathon are, by priority: 5:15 or under. No walking (which would easily result in the first goal). Less post-run pain and stiffness. All doable I think.

As for God in all of this? I'd forgotten about my request of God until I was on the flight home. The second flight (leaving Chicago) rose up above the cloud ceiling and banked onto the port side, allowing me an awesome view of the nearly-purple sky above fading to pale baby blue at the horizon and the carpet of fluffy clouds beneath us, with the silouhette of our plane squarely lined up in the center of my window. The shadow was clearly highlighted at its center -- where I was sitting just behind the wing -- with a round halo of light. It's a matter of optics I know, but all of a sudden, I remembered my prayer the day before the race, and the sudden appearance of the choir and preacher, and the strength I had to finish the race under my own terms, and finally this beautiful picture outside the plane and I think it's possible -- no, probable -- that I was watched over this whole time, through all my training and especially this marathon. I haven't had the personal strength and willpower to finish anything this monumental since grad school. But God helps those who help themselves, they say. Men aren't supposed to cry I know, but for the second time in two days, tears ran down my cheeks -- there was such a relief in the whole thing; a closure of one process and the beginning of another.

So, OK, God. New York City November 6th, right? It's just you and me.