Monday, November 30, 2015

Monkey Games ~ A Survivor's Tale

It has been seven days. There's still remnants of the battle scars. My body hasn't hurt this bad since last year, which hadn't hurt as bad since the year before, and prior to that it had never hurt that bad. But yet I keep coming back for more. There are 7,200 plus feet of elevation change. 10 hills and some 3 mountains. Two of these, one at mile 5, the other at mile 10, are hard but very doable. I ran/walked up these two without much consequence. The mother of all came at mile 19. I think I crawled. There was no running, there was no walking. I have no memory of this. For my protection, my mind has blocked this out. I'm not sure there is any human alive that after running 19 miles could physically run up this behemoth. Except of course my friend Scott W. I think he ate this one for lunch. Or was it breakfast? He was done way before lunch.

The Harpeth Hills Flying Monkey Marathon is held at Percy Warner Park in Nashville, TN. The 10th Annual Monkey Games did not disappoint. It is a small, locally organized event. No one knows how many folks are accepted into the race. It is a tightly kept secret. As is the selection process. You have to enter a lottery, you have to wait for your fate. This year, 324 marathoners finished, most of us bruised and beat up but with bragging rights intact. Reports are that 8 runners did not survive the Monkey Attacks. These reports have not been confirmed.

This was my third monkey kill. Some of my friends have killed all ten. They are my heroes. We all plan our fall racing schedule around the infamous "Monkey". However, no one ever trains for this race, because everyone knows that you can't train for the monkey, for each year is different. Same course, same miles, same hills, but a very different experience.

I'm not going into step by step, turn by turn detail of my day. I'm not going to tell you how my friends Rick, Scott J, Aine, Luc, Alison, Steve, Leigh, Jason, Karen, Tammy, and Charlene provided some much-needed support along the way. I'm just not going into how special a hug from Season at mile 20 was, nor how good it was to see my friends Paul and Kennette. I'm not going to tell you how magnificent "Water Station 23" was, and what a sight it was for me to see my wife's smile and support.  Nor am I going to tell you how an angel caught up with me after stop 23, started some small conversation and brought me home. I'm just not going to tell you. I will tell you, however, Marathon #14 is now in the books.

Next year is the Chinese Year of the Monkey. First one since the marathon started and the next one not for another 12 years.  Will the hills have special treats for us? Will the monkeys multiply and fly high? Will we survive the monkey attacks? One way to find out. We'll see you there, we'll see you at the finish line.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Marine Corps Marathon 2015: A Journey Of All Journeys

Marine Corps Marathon 2015
Training exclusively for a full marathon is serious business. It should not be taken lightly. A commitment has to be made and wavering is not allowed, permitted or accepted. That is, of course, if you want to achieve specific goals.

Going into the Marine Corps Marathon, I had no idea what to expect. I usually do. I can pretty much tell, bar any unforeseen's, how my race is going to go. Today was different. For the first time in nine-plus years, I had been nursing an injury before a race. For three weeks, I had been walking on egg shells, literally walking on egg shells. My groin was not happy and I couldn't figure out why. The pain and discomfort had moved to the hip, to the hamstrings, quads and had settled nicely into the knee. I believe all this was due to... no, who am I kidding, I had no idea why this was happening. I couldn't even begin to guess. I had only two very short runs during this three week period leading up to the race. Both of these runs were an exercise in futility. I had adopted my bike trainer in an effort to keep as much of my endurance as possible. This caused no pain. The elliptical also came into the picture.

The good news in all this was that I would be well rested. I took tapering to a new level. But with all this "good news" questions began to rise, most of these having to do with physical fitness and pain management.

When I started this journey my plans were clear, my goal was set. At the very least, I was aiming for a marathon PR. At the very best my goal would be a sub-4 hour finish. However, neither would happen this go around. But as those that know me well know, I always have a plan "B".

Along with my coach, we devised a plan. Well, he devised the plan, I just followed it. And if I may say so myself, followed it to the letter, never missed a beat, never skipped a step.

Gear Ready Night Before
As I woke up race morning I took inventory of all ailments. It appeared that all systems were go. At least as ready as they could be, they did appear to be.

I had visited my chiropractor, had an MRI taken, went to a masseuse and foot doctor. I had done what I thought best. I did my stretches religiously and everything else as prescribed and as directed. Because of lingering plantar fasciitis, I had cortisone shots in the bottom of my feet, both feet. I have an electric muscle stimulator, so this was put to good use. Nothing was left to chance. Nothing.

I was up and getting ready at 3:45 AM. I had a cold waffle (it had been cooked the day before) with peanut butter, a splash of syrup and a cup of coffee. I can't function without coffee. We made it to the hotel lobby at 5:10 AM. The shuttle to the Metro left around 5:20 and if dropped us off around 5:30. The station was not crowded at this early time. Apparently, not everyone was as nervous as I was. We took off towards the Pentagon at 5:40 AM. The ride took 20 minutes. Still small crowds when we arrived. This would change quickly. Oh. My. Goodness, would this change quickly!

I had opted not to Kinesio tape my feet before the race as I would often do. Sometimes as my feet swell during the race, this applies undue pressure and they become uncomfortable. I did wear my ankle, thigh, and knee compression sleeves. I wondered if one sleeve could be purchased that would replace these three? This proved to be very beneficial as the race progressed.

We made it through security check at the Pentagon staging area in about 20 minutes. This is where the crowd began to grow. We were glad we had left and arrived, early. The sun hadn't come up yet and the temperature was still a bit on the chilly side. It was 6:23 AM.

Sometime without much notice it had begun to mist. On and off it sprinkled before the start. We had found a spot under a tent so the rain was of no consequence. Here we waited for about an hour. I was afraid to sit on the ground because I knew getting up would be tough. My daughter found an empty chair, which she quickly offered to me. I resisted slightly, she insisted, I took it. This was a blessing. I did manage to make it to the portables three times. I was drinking my water, but it seemed to be just going right through. Nerves were getting the best of me. They always do. But today, the expectation of what would happen with that first, second, third step, added to the angst.

I first felt the pain during a training run in Cincinnati. Not exactly during the run, but later that afternoon. The family had gone up to spend the weekend with my youngest and she invited me to run with her training group. She was training to run her very own first marathon.

Cincinnati is a very hilly city. The course we ran was tough. I will not be doing the Flying Pig Marathon any time soon. But I managed to finish. I had to run three more miles than my daughter did, so when I finished she was waiting for me. Later that afternoon is when the pain appeared. My walk was difficult, my feet got heavy. When I woke up Sunday everything was back to normal, so I just chalked it up to the "long run" wear and tear, to the monster hills of the Queen City.

On Tuesday, I joined our training group on our usual hilly run. As it turns out this would be the last time I would be able to join them. Of all the workouts, I miss this one the most. I couldn't do the entire loop as we usually do. I had to cut it short. I thought this was due to tired legs.

The following Saturday I joined other friends on a 16 mile run in a Nashville greenway. The first 12-13 miles were great. Then the stabbing pain inside my upper right leg got intense. I finished the run, but I got concerned. I still had no idea.

By mid-afternoon that day, the pain was so intense I had to take some medicine. I don't take medicine. When I woke up on Sunday, I couldn't walk. No, really, I couldn't walk. I rested all day and decided it was time to get it checked.

The good news I was delivered was that the MRI came back "normal". This mean I had no tears. But still, I had no concrete answers.

The walk to the starting line was silent. Time to focus, time to run through the plan. One. More. Time. Took some final photos with the family and stopped at the portable, one last time.

I had eaten a banana at 7:00 AM. Now it was 7:45 so I took my first of five gels. All systems seemed to be set. Kissed my family goodbye and walked to my staging area.

The pre-race ceremonies were unbelievable.

The Army Parachute team and the flyover by a couple of fancy airplanes I couldn't begin to pronounce their names. This was amazing, to have the honor to be part of this. WOW. The national anthem was sung, the wheelchairs took off, five minutes later the race was on.

I had begun to worry about my endurance two weeks before the race. Not running for that long couldn't be good. Would nine months of intense training be for naught? The race is always the payoff; for the commitment, dedication, and sacrifices made along the journey. But would today fall short? This was a big concern. Not so much that I wouldn't meet my goals, but how I would handle the disappointment.

Yes, I had big plans and huge goals. But the time has come to realize that maybe, just maybe, finishing the race without any more damage should be number one priority, "damage" I say because at that moment I didn't know
better. This was a hard pill to swallow, but one that had to be taken. There would be other races, other opportunities.

The field was crowded, and when I say crowded, I mean elbow to elbow crowded. Due to the rain, the road was wet. Wet and slippery... and crowded. This I remember thinking would be some sort of blessing because, even if I wanted to I couldn't run fast off the gate. I didn't.

30 thousand runners in a course that was mostly on two-lane roads, on divided highways made it for an interesting go. I overheard some folks complaining about this throughout. My only thought was to just enjoy and try to forget the pain. Yes, the pain had begun to show its ugly self before the first mile. So, slow I went and enjoy I did.

For the most part, I followed six soldiers, four male, two female. They were in full gear carrying the flags of the services. They had settled into a pace I could keep up. I ran the first 13 miles more or less. The next 7-8 miles I turned to intervals, 4-1, then 3-1, 2-1 and the last 5 miles or so, it was half run half walk. Until the last half mile. Here I ran. Slow, but I ran. The last couple hundred feet of the course was lined up with Marines. Encouraging runners to run and to finish strong. I couldn't not run. So I did.

And then came the finish line. At the feet of the Iwo Jima, The Marine Corps War Memorial, a young Marine looked at me and saluted. "Thank you SIR and Congratulations". "No sir, thank YOU!" I responded, and then he hung the medal around my neck. Best Finish in a Marathon Ever. Marathon No. 13 was now in the books.

Marine Corps Band
There were many memorable moments throughout the race and course. I kept hearing about "beating the bridge". Which I did. At the back side of the Lincoln Memorial, a Marine Corps Band delegation played the Marine anthem. Chills. The "Blue" mile. Amazing. And running into my family just at the right time gave me the push needed to complete the journey.

Since the return from Washington, I have had the opportunity to consult with Specialists and the diagnosis is Osteoarthritis of the Hip. Roughly translated it means I've gotten old. Nothing can be done to reverse this condition, both conditions, but plenty can be done to help me manage the pain.

On to a new phase in my life. New Goals, New Challenges. Perhaps a New Journey.

It has been well over three weeks since the race. A lot has happened since. This is one of the reasons why I've hesitated to post this entry. I do not regret anything that has happened nor I regret any of the decisions I've made. The time, however, has come to do some serious soul searching and analyze priorities. I'm not getting any younger and my body has abruptly reminded me of this.

In the meantime, I have two more marathons to run before the end of the year. So I guess, I'll see y'all at the finish line.

Finisher's Medal Marine Corps Marathon 40th Anniversary