Archive for June, 2011

Dawn Landry and I made our way to Charleston, SC to visit Landry’s Grandmother in the hospital after her surgery on Tuesday.  The trip East was very uneventful, although Landry did have some fun on the flights today.

Ladies and Gentlemen, this is your pilot Landry, today we’ll be flying at 35,000 feet.
Landry and Dad had a great time with Pilot Steve talking about the trip out to Charleston.  This is Landry’s 5th airplane trip, which at 10 months might be some kind of frequent flyer record.  Fun times on the way to Charleston even though we wished we were going for another reason.
 
We landed a few minutes early and got a very welcome surprise as my mother was ready to be discharged only 48 hours after her surgery.
 
News was pretty positive all things considered, we of course were hoping against hope that the mass they found on the left side of my mothers brain would be benign, but instead we are dealing with stage II cancer.
 
Approximately 40-45% of the mass was removed, the remainder will be treated with radiation 5 times a week for the next 7 weeks.
 
Roughly 1/2 of my NYC Marathon Training Schedule – each of my 5 weekly runs will be in honor of my mother’s battle against this illness.  I plan on running each and every one of them like I’ll never run again.
 
If Lady marathon thought that I was locked and loaded on February 20th aiming for a big Day at the Livestrong Austin Marathon this past winter, New York better pack a lunch, because it is going to be a long f’ng day out there for that race course on November 6th.
 
I’ve run marathons afraid (my first), confident (my second), nicked up (my third), exhausted (my fourth 13 days after my third), and prepared (my last).  But never have I run one angry.  Well truth be told I’m just plain pissed off right now and the NYC Marathon is nothing more than 26.2 miles that were foolish enough to get in my way.
 
Last night’s race in 101 degree heat resulted in a time of 19:00 flat.  A :14 second course and series PR for me about 12 hours before my flight out to Charleston.  The whole race I felt like I wasn’t running fast enough, wasn’t running hard enough, that I had more to give …. perhaps I did.
 
We’ll find out on November 6th.  I am going to train my ass off for that race, harder than we ever have before.  We’ll see what kind of tricks the marathon has up it’s sleeve for us in November, it seems there is always something that race tries to throw at you on race day.
 
But it better be up to task this time around.  If I have 1% of the strength and determination I watched my 82 year-old mother roll out of that hospital with today, NYC doesn’t stand a chance.

Yesterday my mother went through surgery to have the mass that was causing pressure on the left side of her brain removed.  Or at least as much of it removed as was possible.

The Doctor was able to remove 40-45% of the mass, which was what his pre-surgery estimate was, so that appeared to go as planned.

Mom did very well with the surgery and is recovering comfortably in the Hospital in Charleston.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that the mass indeed turned out to be stage II cancer.  Not a benign tumor as we had all hoped.

We will know more when the test results come back from pathology tomorrow, but it sounds right now as radiation will be used to treat the area, no mention of chemotherapy at this point, but we’ll know more by the time I get to the East Coast.

So today I’m tying things up at work, getting packed, getting Kayla to the Doggie Spa so Landry, Dawn and I can make our way out to Charleston in the morning. 

Tonight they are running the 8th Summer Sunstroke Stampede 5K of the season series downtown at 7:00 p.m.  I’m going to sneak down there and drop the hammer on the 3.1 mile course.  Try to let out some of this pressure that I feel building inside of me.

I’m not going to bring my watch with me.  I could pretty much care less what my time is or how I finish.

I’m so angry right now I find myself looking for a fight.  So cancer is back in our lives once again.

Bring it on.

I was out this afternoon swimming in the quarry over my lunch hour.  Three 750 M loops around the lake in open water with no breaks along the way.  A swim that 12 weeks ago while not only impossible for me, seemed absolutely absurd.  A 1.4 mile swim in a body of water with no sides to grab ahold of, no line on the bottom to sight by, no bottom to stand-up on if I got tired or needed a break.

No chance.

But time and hard work create the “new normal” all the time.  Runs that used to scare me before I completed my first marathon now are just circled on my training calendar as “interesting” or “challenging” – nothing seems impossible.

I have runner friends that tell me often that I’m a “tough runner”.

That when conditions are poor, oftentimes I run some of my best races.

I don’t seem to “fall off” as much as other runners do when it is hot or cold, windy or hilly.  I for whatever reason find a way to keep going, keep pushing hard, always try, always do my best.  It has become ingrained in me to not cede an inch, as if you start doing that it becomes easier and easier.  Before you know it you’ve quit.

And once you’ve quit one time, it makes quitting the next time easier and far more likely.

On my swim today I found myself alone with my thoughts, working on my catch and pull, listening to my breathing, noticing the sun beating down on me when I rotated out to catch a breath, warming my body – then as I rotated back down to take a long stroke the water felt cooler, refreshing.

It is amazing how much I am enjoying my time in the water now.  It just took 3 months, 12 lessons and more than 60 hours in the water …. but it came to me finally, just like everyone told me it would.

But today as I continued to try to get better at my swim, I thought a lot about where this supposed “toughness” comes from.  Why doesn’t everyone have it?  Why can’t everyone do it?  Why do I see people walking during races as they tire, but we keep pushing?

I think I am closer to figuring out that answer today than I was say a week ago or the week before that.  I think a large part of who we are comes from where we came from.

As I watch Landry learn to crawl, learn to eat, play, laugh and smile as she takes on the world through the eyes of a 10-month-old, I can see bits and pieces of Dawn and myself.  She is a part of our family now and we of course are a part of her.

Tomorrow (Tuesday) at Noon my mother will be going through a significant surgery to have a mass removed from the left side of her brain.

The pressure that this mass has been causing lately has created some memory issues for my mother and although we do not know the nature of this mass quite yet, only a biopsy will tell that story after her surgery, we do know that this has to be removed and we are all preparing for the various scenarios post-op.

Over the past 12 months I’ve seen a close friend ravaged by cancer and taken from all of us before his 40th birthday.  My best friend and Godfather to Landry lost his wife in a camping mishap 11 months ago.  My good running friend Scott Birk hit by a car and killed two weeks ago while out on a training run.

I’ve had my share of tests of faith over the course of the last year – of that there is no question.

But watching my Mother go through this situation with an amazing amount of courage and determination has been awe-inspiring.  She is one tough lady, and I know that there is simply no quit in her.  Whatever needs to happen after surgery tomorrow, she will make happen.

She has a lot of reasons to fight to stay in this world, watching her grandchildren and great-grandchildren grow up, watching her sons and daughter become the people she always hoped she would and many more years to spend with her husband of more than 50 years.

So perhaps I learned a little bit more about myself this week, that the next time things aren’t going exactly the way I planned, whether that is NYC, Boston or an Ironman finishing is not a goal, it is an absolute.

My mom didn’t raise no quitter, it’s just not an option.

Best to you tomorrow Mom, I love you.

J

Wednesday night marked the 7th race in the 2011 Sunstroke Summer Stampede race series.  I had to miss last week’s race as I was traveling on the East Coast, but with 3 more races needed to be elibible for any year ending awards, I decided to take advantage of the slightly lower temperatures and race again just 4 days after the Holland Cornfest 5K on Saturday.

Compliments of a pretty significant thunderstorm that rolled through Northwest Austin at 1:00 a.m. Wednesday morning, temperatures dropped 10-12 degrees from where they had been over the last several weeks.  This was our first rainfall of any kind since May 30th, breaking a streak of 17 consecutive days that reached 100 degrees.

Oh yeah, and summer only started on Wednesday.

This was going to be a tough race to predict as I had really been training hard since our race on Saturday.

12 miles at 7:24 pace on Sunday.

15 Miles on the Tri-Bike Monday morning.

1500 Meter Open Water Swim Monday afternoon.

6.25 Miles at 7:17 pace Tuesday morning.

Another 1500 Meters Open Water on Tuesday afternoon.

My legs were definitely feeling it from all the racing and training.  I was not exactly showing up with a knife to a gun fight, but I knew that I had very little chance of running my fastest race in the series on Wednesday night.  I was just a little bit on the tired side.

But it was cooler out ….. maybe that would help me a bit I thought.  That is the funny thing about racing.  You never really “know” what is going to happen.

Pre Race:  Dawn and Landry were not going to be able to make it to the race on Wednesday night, so my choice was between running my warm-up to the race from the house (2 miles) or driving to the trail head and running my warm-up there.  I decided to run over to the race from the house after a little bit of back and forth.  I knew my legs were a little heavy, so a good warm-up would certainly help them.

I wanted to gradually ramp up my pace and finish the two miles in 16:00 minutes.  Leaving the driveway my legs didn’t have a lot of snap to them.  The temperature felt a great deal cooler at only 90 degrees, amazing how nice 90 can feel when compared to the 100 or 101 we raced in the last few Wednesday nights.

By the time I pulled up at the race start, my legs had loosened up a bit and started feeling “runnerish”, still not perfect by any means, but not enough to change our race strategy.  My warm-up took 16:06.  Pretty darn close.  My friends Joe McClellon, Brendan Cahoon, Sean Lilly and Tom Munier all made it to the race.  There were some fast runners in attendance on Wednesday night, I wouldn’t have any problem finding some folks to chase.

Mile 1:  I was looking to complete mile one with 1/2 mile splits of 2:53 and 3:05 for an opening 5:58.  At the start of the race I settled in around the 7th or 8th position and started making my way around the lake.  My legs definitely didn’t have their usual get up and go, my pace felt a little bit labored, but I decided to just hang in and see where it took me.

The first 1/2 mile came in at 2:49, definitely a bit too fast given the circumstances.  I tried to slow down my next 1/2 mile and get back on target.  This is a tough part of the course to manage as it can be fairly technical with a few small looping turns, a hill and then a 90 degree turn up onto the surface of the dam.  You are never really “locked in” to a consistent pace – so managing effort is all you can really hope to do. 

As my watch beeped my second 1/2 mile split came in at 3:08.  Mile one – 5:57.  Just :01 ahead of my planned opening mile.

Mile 2:  I was pretty encouraged by my first mile and took aim at a runner ahead of me.  He had gone out quickly and had been more than :20 or so in front of me through the first mile.  I increased my effort just slightly and posted a third 1/2 mile of 3:05.  In the next 1/4 mile we would be approaching the turnaround point and the water stop, I thought that if I kept steady I would catch up to him before we made it to the aid station.

I pulled past the runner, grabbed a quick sip of water and headed back towards the hill that would take us up and over the dam to the finish.  My fourth 1/2 mile came in at 3:01 for a second mile of 6:06.  A pair of really solid opening miles on this course, but I could feel my legs going away from me racing again so close to Saturday’s effort up in Holland.

Mile 3:  As we hit the incline of the hill I heard footsteps closing in on me off of my right shoulder.  I had a feeling it would be my friend Sean Lilly as he had been hanging back a bit from me at the turnaround.  Out of the corner of my eye I spotted his blue race flats and Sean cruised past me on the climb.

As we reached the concrete switchback that takes the trail up and over the dam my fifth 1/2 mile came in at 3:18.  :05 seconds slower than our race here two weeks ago when we set our personal best on the Brushy Creek Course.  I had given back most of my margin vs. that performance.  It was going to be a tough last .60.

I hit the dam without anyone to chase and with nobody on my back.  This has been the theme of my races this summer, with only the exception of the race back on May 25th when I was duking it out with Sarah Mark over the closing 1/2 mile, I have been racing virtually all alone in the closing stages of these 5K races.  It makes it tough to keep pushing hard to the end of the course, but it is definitely good for building on that mental toughness to keep running hard when your body is sending you very different signals.

At the last turn before the final 1/10 of a mile my watch beeped with a final 1/2 mile split of 3:13.  I had fallen off pretty badly over the last mile posting a 6:31.

My closing miles this year in the series on the Brushy Creek Course have been:

Race 1:  6:32

Race 2:  6:28

Race 3:  6:26

Last Night: 6:31

Definitely a outlier as we had been trending down on our closing mile since the series started.  My final mile in Holland on Saturday came in at 6:05.  Now the elevation over that final mile was -8 feet net, comapred to the +46 feet net on the Brushy Creek Course, but it was still a bit disappointing that I couldn’t hold on just a bit longer.

Finish:  The final .10 came and went in :42 seconds for a total time of 19:19 tying to the second my course PR from two weeks prior.  All things considered I should be happy with my race just 4 days after racing so well and so hard at Holland, posting a course record there of 18:51.  But somehow finishing with the same time as two weeks ago is bittersweet.  On rested legs I think we could have held on a bit better over that final mile.

We’ll get another chance on July 6th.

Post Race:  My time of 19:19 was good for 8th place overall, 1st place in the 40-44 year old Age group, My friend Brendon took home the Male Masters award with his time of 18:46.  Sean ran a great race in 19:04 just a couple of seconds short of his PR at the 5K distance for 7th place, 3rd in his age group of 35-39. 

Tom finished at 24:16, good for 5th in his age group of 45-49.

After catching up with my friends for a bit, it was time to run back to the house for a 2-mile cool down.  I was looking to once again cover the distance in 16:00 minutes.

The miles ticked by quickly and as I crested the hill and made the left turn onto our street I saw Dawn, Landry and Kayla out for their walk.  I ran down to the house, clicked off my watch and joined them for their evening walk around the neighborhood.  I even took Landry for a couple quick strides in the B.O.B. stroller.  She seemed to like going fast a bit.

My time for the cool-down run?  16:00 flat.  Pretty locked in right now, feeling good as the calendar flips to July and our first triathlon is now just over a month away.  Still a long way to go with our training, but things are certainly looking like July 31st might be my most “interesting” birthday out of the 44 I’ve had.

How many years do you have the chance to possibly drown, maybe experience a bike crash at over 20 mph and run 3 miles as fast as you can when you are hungry and tired ….. sounds like fun to me 🙂

Saturday’s race up in Holland went just about as well as I could have hoped for.  My goals going into the race were pretty well defined:

  1. Improve on last year’s race time of 19:30.
  2. Break through the 19:00 minute mark.
  3. Give absolutely maximum effort in memory of Scott Birk.
  4. AG win for the third consecutive year.

Things came together just about perfectly up in Holland and our time of 18:51 made it a four for four sweep of our pre-race goals.  Race days like that don’t come along very often, so I made sure to enjoy it as much as I could on Saturday.

Sunday morning arrived like it always does, and there was a shift in focus from a training perspective.  Yes I do in fact have 3 more 5K races over the next 4 weeks as we wrap up the Summer Sunstroke Stampede Series.  I need to post times in 8 of the 12 races to be eligible for any year-end awards at the banquet, so I will be sure to toe the line in at least 3 of the remaining 6 weeks.

But the next “A Race” on our calendar is Jack’s Generic Triathlon on July 31st.  Held on my 44th Birthday this is “only” a Sprint Triathlon, 500M swim, 13.8 mile bike, 3 mile run – but for someone who just started swimming 11 weeks ago, this is a big deal.

My first ever triathlon, and while I know it is always smart to have very simple goals in your “first ever” anything, such as:

  1. Finish.
  2. Have fun.
  3. Do your best.
  4. Don’t drown …. Things like that.

I really do want to leave it all out there on my birthday and race to the best of my abilities.  I have plus or minus 40 days to go before race day and I want to make sure that my race doesn’t end before I even get out of the water.

Last week I received an e-mail from Coach Claudia titled, “It’s Time”.

I knew before I read the message that she was implying that it was time for my first Open Water Swim.

This would be the final frontier if you will for my swim training, and it was a big, big deal.

No pool to stand up in.

No big black line to stare at to swim straight.

No wall to push off of.

No short breaks as you catch a breath at the end of each length.

Just me, out there swimming in the lake.

Claudia took me to Pure Austin – an indoor gym for outdoor people.  Truly an amazing facility over off of Braker Lane in North Austin.  A great gym, wonderful lap pool and of course access to the Quarry Lake for an Open Water Swim.

The lake is set up with floating platforms every 150 Meters or so to mark the course and also give swimmers a place to take a breather if they needed it.

The plan was for Coach to rent a kayak and paddle along next to me in case I ran into any trouble.

We walked down to the lake and stowed our gear, the next thing I knew Claudia dove into the lake and popped up.  I think she did this so I wouldn’t have a lot of time to really think about what we were about to do – she’s smart like that – so I just dove in right behind her.

She asked me to swim to the first platform on the right of the course, what would traditionally be the last buoy if you were swimming around the entire 750 meter lake and get used to the water.

I tried to remember all of the advice I’ve gotten about swimming in open water (OWS), and just stayed as calm and relaxed as possible.  I found my stroke, found my breathing and swam out to the platform.

We chatted for a minute or so, I caught my breath and she asked how I was feeling.  The truth was I felt pretty darn good and we swam back in to the dock.

Claudia asked if I thought I was good to go without the kayak for support and I told her that I really did feel just fine.  We headed out, Claudia swimming off of my right side and made our way to the first platform.

I was going a little bit too fast, and could feel my shoulders getting a bit tired, but I was smooth and was doing a pretty good job of sighting.  Every 5 or 6 strokes instead of catching my breath and then immediately rotating into the water with my head, I would sneak a quick peak to the horizon and spot the next platform.

I was swimming pretty straight for my first OWS, and we went platform to platform.  After 450 Meters I bypassed the final platform and swam back in all the way to shore.  300 Meters or so without stopping – I felt like the last 10-11 weeks of swim training had all been worth it.

I SWAM OPEN WATER FOR 300 METERS!

Afterwards we did some fast, slow, fast, slow, fast drills using the buoys in front of the dock to mark the intervals.  Coach wanted me to practice swimming hard in the water, then getting back on pace and getting my breathing back under control.

This way if I got too excited on race day and went out too fast, I would be able to get it together, calm down and find my groove.  A pretty successful first OWS, like I’ve said before, it helps to have a great coach.

Pure Austin = Pure Awesome

On Monday I decided to head back out to the Quarry and hop in for my 2nd OWS in 4 days.  There is nothing like repetition when you are trying to master a new activity or task.  I thought that the sooner I could get back out there, the better.

This time with no coach alongside I swam around the entire course without stopping for a rest.

750 Meters.  1 ½ times as far as I will have to swim at Jack’s Triathlon.

17 minutes and 24 seconds.

I took a brief 2-3 minute rest to enjoy the accomplishment and then I went out and did it again.

750 Meters, this time in 18:24.

I was a little slower on the second loop, perhaps I did not sight as accurately and ended up swimming a little bit longer or perhaps I was a bit more fatigued – but the important part is that I did it.

For the first time I actually feel like a triathlete.  I don’t think I’ll refer to myself in that way until after July 31st; I’m still a marathoner trying something new.  But I’m getting closer that’s for sure.

Now it’s all about getting faster …. Right up my alley.

The third Saturday in June is the celebration of the local cash crop – corn – being harvested in the small town of Holland, TX – population 1,233.  It also marks the annual corn festival now in its 37th year.

For me it means race day.  Our “A race” 5K of the late spring/early summer.  The first road race after we make the switch from marathon training and racing in the fall and winter months to the shorter, faster races held in the heat of our Texas summer.  Even though the race attracts only a little more than 250 participants, it is a well organized event that returns many of the same runners year after year.  Holland, just north of Georgetown and just south of Temple is about an hour by car from our home in Northwest Austin.  A little far to travel for a 5K, but every year the event is more and more fun.

I plan on keeping it on my calendar for many years to come.

As is usually the case before a race that I care about, I had a hard time sleeping on Friday night.  I slept soundly until about 4:00 a.m., then dozed on and off for the last hour and a half before it was time to get up, grab a quick bagel for breakfast, slam down a grape gatorade, shower and dress for the race.

It was going to be another hot one on Saturday morning, 82-85 degrees at the start of the race at 8:00 a.m., but more troubling was the humidity which was hovering around 84%.  To make matters worse, the wind which had been relatively calm for the last couple of weeks was back on Saturday.  It was blowing out of the West 12-15 mph.

I tried to play the race course over in my mind when I walked outside to check on the conditions, wondering if the wind would be in our faces on the way out or on the way back.  I thought that it would be blowing into our faces on the first 1.5 miles, then helping us slightly on the way back to the finish line if I had remembered correctly. 

No matter.  The elements are the same for everybody, you just have to block that stuff out and race hard.  That is the only way I know how to do it when it comes to dealing with less than ideal race conditions.

Pre-Race:  My friend Neil picked me up at ten minutes after 6:00 to make the ride up to Holland.  Dawn and Landry would be making the trip up a bit later to take in the awards ceremony and the parade.  With no traffic Neil and I made our way to the race start to pick up our race packets and retreive our bibs.

I opened up my bag and saw my number.

Rule Number one, I'm number one.

The number seemed fitting as I wanted to really run my race on Saturday after the events of the past week.

I was going to leave it all out there and try to break through the 19:00 minute mark, which would be a :23 second improvement over last year at this event and :42 seconds faster than my time in 2009.  It was a time I was capable of on the rural, hilly course.  But with the heat, humidity and wind, it certainly wasn’t going to be easy.  Not too much is when it comes to racing a fast 5K.

Warm-Up:  I got back to the car, pinned my bib to my shorts and fired up my GPS watch.  I wanted to run an easy 2-mile warm-up.  Something around 16:00 minutes total, just enough to get a good sweat going, but easy enough not to sap my rested legs.  I ran out onto the race course and covered the initial .25 miles up to the first turn and the next .75 miles down to the first foot bridge at the bottom of the first climb. 

I turned around and ran back to the finish to wrap up my warm-up, looking at the curves in the road and planning out how I was going to tangent the turns.  I wanted to run the shortest route possible, making sure my race was as close to 3.1 miles exactly as possible.

I hit the 2.00 mile mark in 15:54.  Just :06 seconds fast.  I was pretty much dialed in.

Mile 1:  I had chatted with my friend Paul from Temple, TX, his son and his friend about their goals and pace for the race.  It sounded like they wanted to run about a 6:30 opening mile.  I was thinking more along the lines of 5:55.  We were all tucked into the starting chute and a couple of minutes ticked by.  I felt my legs tightening a bit, so I ran two quick striders in front of the starting line.  Just two :15 second bursts – just enough to stay loose.

I tucked back in to the chute and at the horn we were off.

I surged out in front of the pack and got into the line I wanted to take the the first turn to the left.  The road has a significant camber to it and falls off quite a bit to the left.  I wanted to make sure I was running on the flat part of the street, about 30 feet from the left edge.  I would cut hard to the corner and make a tight left turn. 

As we approached the turn I was running in third position, no traffic on my inside and I was able to nip right along the edge of the turn.  Perfect.

I felt a few runners coming up on my hip as we approached the first 1/2 mile split and realized it was Paul and his son.  My watch beeped with an opening 1/2 mile of 2:53.  I called the time out to the runners with me and Paul and his son backed off the pace, they had started out a bit too fast which is an all-too common occurance in short distance races.  It takes a lot of discipline to lock in on your pace and not waver no matter who is running around you and how fast they are going.

We hit the slight downhill section leading to the bottom of mile 1 and two high school runners moved ahead of me.  I passed Paul’s friend and settled in to 6th position.  At the beep my second 1/2 mile came in at 3:01.  I had run a 5:54 opening mile, just :01 second ahead of my goal for that split.  Perfect.

Mile 2:  In any 5K this is the “money mile”, it is the mile where your pace starts to slow and you have to increase your effort to hold the same time.  The trouble is if you have opened the race too aggressively, you don’t have anywhere to go.  The pedal is already to the floor, so you can’t run harder.  Your pace then slows down and you fall back from the pack.  The key to running a solid second mile for me, is running a solid first mile.

Too fast over mile 1 and I’m cooked too early. 

At Holland, this also marks the beginning of a 51 foot climb over the next 1/2 mile to the turnaround point.  It is spread out over two hills.  Put together they are a little bit higher than a 5 story building.  This would be my slowest 1/2 mile split of the race unless I fell apart at the end.  That was not the issue.  The issue was how slow it would be.  I was hoping to run this stretch in 3:10 or 6:20 pace.

I pulled past one of the two high-school boys ahead of me and was running alone with nobody to help cut the wind.  Tough break.

At the beep I glanced down at my watch and caught my third 1/2 mile split – 3:13.  I was :03 slow.

I navigated the cornstalk turnaround and grabbed a quick splash of water at the aid station.  I didn’t want to take more than one sip as my breathing was perfect, so I just wet my lips and pitched the cup.  We could now see the runners who had been behind us, as I pulled past the second high school runner I was now in 4th position.  No threats from the rear, but unfortunately I was a solid :15-:20 seconds behind the third place runner.

Unless they came back to me I would be running the final 1 1/2 miles alone.  Nobody to push me, nobody to chase.

I focused on my form and keeping my legs churning.  I needed to make up a little bit of time lost on the uphill split.  At the top of mile 2 my watch beeped once again marking my 4th 1/2 mile split at 2:58.  2:58?  I was right back on track.

Mile 3:  The next mile has a slight uphill tilt to it.  Nothing too terrible, but it is long and gradual.  I focused on running up on my toes a bit and tried to keep my stride long.  Not letting the change in the grade shorten my length.  Split number 5 came in at 3:04, Split number 6 at 3:01, I had just run a 6:05 third mile.  It was time to kick, we had a real shot at that sub 19:00 time.

The Finish:  Thankfully this part of the course tilts in the runners favor to the finish – my final 1/10 of a mile clocked in at :39 seconds.

As I hit the timing mat the clock read 18:51.2

During a week where I lost a good friend and a tremendous running partner in Scott Birk to a tragic accident, I had turned in what was easily my best race since the last time I ran with Scott, the 3M Half-Marathon back in January.

With Scott’s initials on my left shoe and Dom’s initials on my right – I wanted to make sure I left it all out there on the course for those two men on Saturday.  Not to be overly dramatic about it, but I placed their names on my race flats with the ultimate measure of respect.  They deserve nothing short of my very best.  It felt really wonderful to deliver the goods for them.

I grabbed a quick sip of water and caught my breath.  I saw Paul Lopez and my friend Erin Ruyle come through the chute finishing up their races then I jogged back up to the top of the final stretch of the course.  I told my friend Neil that I would pace him in over the final 1/4 mile and help him close out strong.

My timing was just about perfect as I got in position to run in with Neil with .30 miles left in his race.

Running just ahead of him, challenging him to get on my back, run harder, run through the timing mat – push all the way to the finish.

Neil came to the race with a goal of running a time under 24:00 minutes.  As he hit the mat I looked at the clock:

23:55.

Tremendous.

Dad, Landry and Uncle Neil

Awards Ceremony: Dawn and Landry made it to the race to join the party as Erin, Paul and his son Jonathan would all receive age group awards for their performances on Saturday.

Superwife Dawn and Landry

As for me, I finished in 4th place overall, my highest finish at the Holland Race.  We also came away with our third straight Age Group 1st place award.  As I was walking up to the stage the Race Director said, “1st place in the 40-44 Male Age group with a time of 18:51 …. wow, that’s a fast time …. is Joe Marruchella …..”  Hearing the comments of the Director was quite a compliment, he seemed genuinely surprised that one of us “old guys”, could throw down a time under 19:00 minutes. 

The goal was to go for the three-peat.  Mission accomplished.  We’ll be able to come back next year, our final year racing in the 40-44 age group and see if we can make it 4 straight.

Three-Peat ....

Landry was kind enough to make the trip up to the stage with me to pick up our Cornfest Trophy.

Landry and Dad

Great race, great day and to be totally honest something I really needed after learning about Scott’s death on Monday.  I know that if he had been at the race on Saturday he would have been the very first person to come up to me, offer me a big bear hug and tell me just how wonderful a race I had run.

Of course, he would have beaten me by a few seconds.

Maybe that’s why I was running all alone over the final 1.5 miles on Saturday.  Scott Birk was missing.

On Monday while I was sitting in the airport waiting for my 9:55 flight that would take me north and east to New York City one of my close running friends here in Austin was struck by a car while out on a run crossing over 2222.  A route that he had run literally thousands of times. 

According to police, a Dodge Durango was traveling south on RM 2222 at River Place Boulevard about 9 a.m. when it struck a man who was attempting to cross FM 2222.  The Dodge had the green light when the pedestrian ran out in front of it and was struck, police said.  He was pronounced dead at the scene.

Scott Birk, a 48 year-old stay at home Dad, lost in the blink of an eye.  Senseless.  Tragic. 

Here in Austin, if you were a runner who liked to race, you ran with Scott.  When I visited his profile on Athlinks.com – a site that tracks all recorded races for an amateur runner, I counted 208 races that Scott competed in since 1998.  37 Marathons, 28 Half-Marathons, 52 5K’s.  22 races in just 2010 alone.

Scott’s routine was to get his son ready for school and then go out and train.  He would log close to 100 miles every week and at the age of 48 was still getting better and better.  Just last month Scott ran an 18:01 at the Chuy’s 5K here in Austin.  That is 5:47 pace at age 48, an extremely talented athlete.

But when I think of Scott, I don’t think of any of that stuff to be honest with you.  Scott was one of the very first runners who ever congratulated me after a race in Austin.  It is racing here locally where I started to come into my own a bit as a runner.  As I improved I began running closer and closer to the front of the Age Group field, and it is there where I found Scott.

Scott who was at least 5 inches taller than me truly stood out among the crowd in the starting area.  Most of the “fast guys” are all around 5′ 9″-5′ 10″, thin, willowy and just flat-out fast.  Scott was closer to 6′ 1″, broad in the shoulders and just darn fit.   He would be wearing a black singlet and shorts.  Always.  And he would be “holding court” with a group of runners keeping everyone loose, everyone smiling and laughing.

But make no mistake, when that gun sounded, Scott was off like a rocket.  What I loved about seeing Scott at a race was I knew that if I could keep him in my sights, I was on my way to a PR or darn close to it.  We raced similar times and were always near each other on the course.

The last four races I ran with Scott went like this:

IBM Uptown Classic 10K:  Scott 38:00, Joe 38:06

Run for the Water 10-Mile:  Scott 1:02:47, Joe 1:03:47

Resolution Run 5K:  Scott 18:03, Joe 18:12

3M Half Marathon:  Scott 1:24:52, Joe 1:23:55

I finally “got” Scott at the 3M Half Marathon in our lead up to the Austin Marathon this past winter.  After I caught my breath, grabbed a bottle of water and started looking for Dawn and Landry there was a giant right hand squeezing my shoulder.  Scott Birk.

He gave me a big sweaty man-hug and said, “You were killing it out there!  When you went past me at mile 11 I thought about going with you but I could see the look on your face and knew there was no way I was going to stay with you ….”

That was Scott.  He was always the first one to downplay his own performances and congratulate another runner for their accomplishments.

He truly was a wonderful, wonderful runner.  No doubt about it.

But Scott was something much more important and relevant than just how fast someone can run down the street.  Scott was a tremendous person and a wonderful husband, father and friend.   I heard the news about Scott from the other guy that I look for at every race I show up to around Austin.  My friend Andy Bitner.  Andy and I met last year at the Holland, TX 5K.  Racing the final 1/2 mile together, Andy beating me by :09 seconds.

Tomorrow morning I will be driving up to Holland to race for the third consecutive year.  Andy is away up in Michigan, and won’t be making it to Holland, I won’t be able to race with him this year as I look for my third straight age group win in the event.

When we are milling around the starting area I know that I am going to be looking around, searching for that black singlet on Scott out of habit.  It became as much a pre-race ritual of mine as running my fingers over Dom’s initials on my shoes.

I have a new pair of Brooks T7 Racers being delivered to the house this afternoon, just in time for tomorrow.  I hope you don’t mind Dom, but your initials are going to have some company on this pair of race flats.  You would have absolutely loved “Scotty Boy” Dom, everybody did.

Scott, I can’t imagine what happened on Monday along a road that you know so very well, as such an experienced runner.  I know that you are going to be missed by your wife Carla and your son and that there is nothing that anyone can do to change any of this or bring you back. 

But I am going to do all that I can to help the fund that they have established in your name – The Scott Birk Fund – to put a pedestrian footbridge over 2222 and River Place.  Tomorrow morning Scott, I feel bad for the rest of those 40+ year olds. 

They don’t stand a snowball’s chance on a hot TX Saturday morning.

Tomorrow is for you Scott.  I plan on making sure that when that race is over, everyone knows that I was there.

Scott at this year's 3M Half Marathon

Travel this week takes me briefly to the city that never sleeps. The Big Apple. Gotham. New York, New York. The city so nice they named it twice, and all that.

I love NY. One of my favorite cities to visit and home of one of my all-time favorite venues for an early morning run, Central Park.

Aside from my run across the Golden Gate Bridge, Central Park might be my second favorite place to run anywhere.

I usually stay in Midtown when I am in the city. I make my way up to Central Park South, head uptown along Central Park East and loop the park going counter clockwise.

I mixed things up this morning as the NYC Marathon route covers the final 3.5 miles in central park coming in the opposite direction.

Runners enter the park coming down 5th Avenue heading South, cut into the park at 86th street, travel south to Columbus Circle, make the turn back into the park on Central Park South and hit the finish line at Tavern on the Green.

I like to run sections of a marathon course in advance or at least drive the route, so I know what to expect. The chance to actually run the closing miles was too good to pass up this morning and with Marathon training set to kick off in about 3 weeks, the timing was perfect.

I set my alarm for 5:00 am to get out in the NY streets before traffic started hopped out of bed, got geared up and out the door in 15 minutes. Staying on 92nd and 1st I had about a 3/4 mile run up to 5th avenue which borders the East side of the park.

I ran up 5th Avenue to the 96th street entrance then turned south in the park to run the closing miles of the Marathon course.

Even at this hour, where in Austin I MIGHT see one or two other runners, the park is already packed with runners, peletons of cyclists, dogs being walked and other NYC “randomness”.

My asics where gobbling up the ground as I passed a lot of runners, falling into a pace just over 7:00 minutes per mile.

There are some rolling hills over this part of the course which will surely test my legs at miles 23, 24 and 25 on November 6th. I will need to really hit the hill repeats hard during training to be prepared for this closing stretch. When I left the park briefly at Columbus Circle, I tried to visualize the sights and the sounds I will have pushing me, fueling me and 40,000 other marathoners to the finish.

I passed Tavern on the Green and thought the next time I see you I will be a marathoners again. Perhaps the fastest I have ever been.

I continued on around the park all the way up to the north side, up the hill past the ice skating rink, past the lake and then hit 96th street exiting the park the way I came in.

I ran back over 5th Avenue, Madison Ave, Park Ave, Lexington and finally back over 1st Ave., glancing downtown and uptown, taking in yet another part of the marathon course I will be battling in 5 months.

I hit the hotel in 8.5 miles exactly 1:00:00 hour flat. 7:03 pace. Will that be our goal pace for NYC in November? Quite possibly actually. We are a long way from race day, more than 900 training miles await before we are at the point of dialing in on our goal pace. But 7:03 would be a monster PR.

Sounds pretty good to me.

I’m an outdoor runner.  Some people are, some people aren’t, but for me there is no grey area. 

When I run, I run outside.  Cold, wind, rain, snow if I’m traveling – no problem.  Part of it is the fact that I simply enjoy being outside in the elements.  There is nothing better than a cool morning run, a sunrise, spotting deer along a running trail.  It’s the best. 

There is another reason why I run outside however and that is the treadmill.  My archenemy.  My kryptonite.  I loathe it.  I dislike virtually everything about it. 

The Dreadmill

It takes a lot to get me on the dreadmill, exigent circumstances I like to say, and there are usually a combination of factors at play that force me inside. 

It usually isn’t enough to just be the weather.  I have just about every type of running “gear” that there is thanks to my very understanding and wonderful wife.  But if travel to a new city, icy streets and an early flight conspire against me all at the same time, I do sometimes end up with an indoor run. 

In the last 12 months I have gone for 234 runs covering 1,850 miles.  All but 2 of those runs and 11 of those miles have been outdoors.  That equates to 99.15% – which I would say places me firmly in the “outdoor runner” category.  

I can in fact remember both of my indoor runs vividly. 

The first took place the day of my 25th High School Reunion, the Friday after Thanksgiving.  I arrived in Philadlphia at 4:00 p.m. and needed to get an 11 miles in quickly before meeting up with my good friend Steve.  I didn’t have time to drive from the airport hotel, get my run in, get back, shower, change and make it back out to Manyunk.  So I hit the hotel treadmill for my longest-ever indoor run of 11 miles.  I hated every second of it.

The other came just after Christmas when we had high winds and rain falling with a temperature of 28 degrees here in Austin.  The temperature was fine, but the wind was gusting up over 30 mph.  A big front blowing through town.  I had an appointment with my personal trainer that morning, so I simply went to the gym a bit early, knocked out my 6.25 mile run on the treadmill, dried off and hit the weights. 

That’s it.  232 other times I laced ’em up and went out in the elements.  Man vs. Nature.

Here in Austin it is not the winters that make that challenging and dangerous like some of my runner friends in the Northeast and Midwest – but instead it is our Summers.

Today for example I rose at 5:00 a.m. to get out before sun up.  Temperature 75 degrees, 84% humidity.  I put two 10 ounce bottles into my waterbelt, one with water, one with grape Gatorade.  I hit the hill route for 14 miles.  Covered it in 1:44:41 (7:29 pace).  A pretty even-paced training run although I did ramp things up late with my final two miles clocking in at 7:13 and 7:12 to wrap things up.

I stepped on the scale when I got back inside.

5 lbs. lighter.

Think about a 5 lb. dumbell.

A 5 lb. bag of sugar.

I lost that much weight in just 1 hour and 45 minutes, while I drank another 20 ounces!

This time of year the “challenge” for outdoor runners  is not snow, ice, wind and storms – it is something far more difficult and in a lot of ways far more dangerous.  Heat. 

For a marathoner or even a middle distance runner there is no greater evil than the heat.  Heat can bring on two conditions that will negatively affect your performance.  Overheating and Dehydration. 

Overheating occurs as your body begins to lose the battle in how much sweat can be evaporated from your skin.  This is the primary “cooling mechanism” in each of our bodies. 

As your internal body temperature rises you start to sweat.  Your body then begins to send more blood to the capillaries at the surface of your body, where it is cooled by coming in contact to your “cooler” skin. 

While this is taking place there is a battle being fought elsewhere over this same supply of blood.  As you continue to run and cover miles, your body calls for more and more oxygen to be sent to your muscles.  As this blood flows to your muscles being placed under a heavy load – less of it can be sent to the skin – and overheating results.  

Your body is forced to make a choice between the two.  Either the oxygen (and the blood carrying it) will go to your muscles allowing you to keep your pace – which will cause you to overheat OR the blood will go to the surface of your skin to cool your body – but less oxygen will be available for your muscles which will slow your performance.  

You cannot have both, although slowing your pace is a much preferred alternative to overheating and all the problems that can cause. 

Dehydration is simply your body losing fluids while you are exercising – in the heat, this of course means sweating.  If you’ve noticed after a long run or race that you have dried salt on your face, arms and legs you probably realized that in addition to losing water you are also losing salt as well.  That is why in the summer months drinking a sports drink that contains electrolytes is so important in addition to the water you consume during a run. 

What is unnecessary during an hour of exercise in the winter becomes critical in the heat of a Texas summer.  Fact of the matter is that I rarely carry a water belt with me on runs 8 miles or less between 30 degrees and 65 degrees here in Austin.  But this time of year – anything longer than a 10K and I make sure to have water with me on every run. 

So here are one runner’s tips for running in the heat. 

1.  Know your Body:  Weigh yourself before and after your run.  Drink 16 ounces of fluids for every pound that you lose during your run.  This is not “weight loss” – this is dehydration.  Take this very seriously. 

Last Tuesday’s Pre Run Weight 137 lbs.
10 K and 43 minutes later 134 lbs.

2.  Run Early:  If you are not a morning runner, you might want to become one from June-September.  Here in Austin even on the hottest summer day reaching 105 degrees will fall below 80 again overnight.  At 6:00 a.m. the temperature is rarely higher than 78.  Better still, if you can have your run completed before the sun reaches the horizon you are even further ahead of the game. 

3.  Sun Protection:  Morning running also removes the need for sunscreen if your run is shorter than an hour or so.  If you do have to run in the heat of the day, apply a sunscreen that is a “non-drip” variety.  These are designed so the sunscreen will not get into your eyes as you sweat.  SPF #15 or #20 at a minimum. 

6:04 a.m. Temp 68 degrees, humidity 94%

4.  Hydration:  During your run make sure you are drinking every 15-20 minutes.  I take a hit on my water bottle on the even numbered miles – 2, 4, 6, 8 etc. – it helps me remember to drink and gives me something to look forward to as the miles tick by.  I try to drink about 4 ounces of water per “squirt”

5.  Clothing:  Wear light-colored, technical clothing that is moisture wicking.  If you are running in cotton it will trap your sweat against your body and will not allow for evaporation – which helps cool your body.  You will also be prone to chafing as the material gets wet and heavy. 

6.  Anti-Chaffing:  Apply Body Glide or another anti-chafing product liberally and everywhere that skin meets skin.  Moisture in the form of sweat is just like running in the rain.  If you do not prepare for it properly it will lead to chafing and blisters. 

7.  Slow Down:  This is science guys, not opinion.  Less blood to your muscles = slower pace.  Don’t fight it and try to be a “hero” or “heroine” – slow down and enjoy your run.  We are out there because we love it.  Why push yourself to run a pace that your body simply isn’t able to hold comfortably?  You will enjoy your summer runs much, much more if you lower those speed expectations just a bit. 

For me it is :05-:10 seconds for every 5 degrees above 65.  If my pace per mile for an 8 mile run is typically 7:10 at 65 degrees or less, I will adjust my pace to run at 7:25 on a 77 degree morning.  I finish the run feeling the same in July as I would in November – and my fitness level is no worse for wear. 

8.   Adjustment Period:  “They” claim that it takes two weeks for the average runner to adjust to running in the heat.  That to me sounds about right – one trick however is to make sure you are also out “in the heat”, not just going from your air-conditioned environment to the running trail and back.  I make sure to do yard work and spend some time “in the heat” when I am not running to help with this adjustment. 

9.  Run Naked:  Now, now – we talked about this before.  By “naked” I mean no GPS and no iPod.  I do this every Wednesday to help me simply “enjoy being out there”.  This has helped me not be so conscious of every mile split and think about pace on every run.  Without my Garmin beeping at me every mile I simply run by feel.  

If the heat and humidity is forcing me to dial back my pace so be it.  I run by the effort I want to expend instead of by time.  If you know how a “Hard” vs. “Moderate” vs. “Easy” run is supposed to feel – you are ready to embrace “Naked Running”. 

10.  The Dreadmill:  Look, if it’s simply too damn hot out there – it is.  If you need to do a speed workout or a hard interval workout to train for a race and it is 100 degrees outside – be smart.  Last time I checked our gym it was about 70 degrees at Fitness 19.  That is definitely a better option than skipping your workout all together or even worse, putting your health at risk. 

Enjoy the summer guys!  Six months from now we’ll be here talking about the best running gloves and hats … guaranteed.

Wednesday night was race number 5 of the Summer Sunstroke Stampede 5K Race series.  After last week’s race downtown on Town Lake, the series returned to the Brushy Creek Trail right behind our neighborhood.

I prefer this location over the Town Lake course for quite a few reasons as there is no rush hour drive for me, the trail system is much less congested and there are no streets to cross, baseball players to dodge or parking lots to run through.

The one advantage that the Brushy Creek course does not enjoy however is topography.

The Town Lake course is very flat with only 36 feet of climbing spread evenly over the 3.1 mile course.

Town Lake Course Elevation Chart

The Brushy Creek course features 71 feet of climbing, which is not too terrible, a little more than a seven story office building, but the elevation change is concentrated for the most part from mile 2 to mile 2.5 as runners climb from 778 feet above sea level up to 833 feet at the top of the dam.

Brushy Creek Trail Course Elevation

There is also a 180 degree switch back over the last 200 meters of the climb that requires runners to forfeit their forward momentum to navigate the turn.  It is a very technical course and by my estimation appears to be somewhere between :06 and :10 “slower” than its counterpart downtown.

Both courses feature a “cone” turnaround where you have to come virtually to a stop to make a quick U-turn, grab your water cup and head back on your way.  These races are also run predominantly on loose gravel, also adding to the challenge of posting a fast time.

All in all, I love everything about this series as I know it is making me stronger and faster for our road races later this summer.  Steel sharpens steel after all.  If you are going to pick a race series to help you get faster – you might as well pick a tough one.

Pre-Race:  I tried something a little different this week as I have started to really feel like a longer warm-up is benefitting me in these shorter races.  I ran a 1.5 mile warm-up last week before the Town Lake race and ran a new series PR of 19:14.

So last night I decided to leave the truck in the garage and run over to the race start from the house.  It was exactly a 2-mile warm-up from my drive-way to the starting area, covered in 16:13.  My ½ mile splits were just about perfect as I gradually increased the pace:  4:09, 4:07, 4:00, and 3:56.

I arrived at the start feeling like most of the soreness from this past weekend’s tiling job had left my body.  My legs were feeling pretty “racy”.  I paid my $10 entry fee and drank a bit of Gatorade.  Hung out in the shade chatting with my friend Joe McCellon and started to think about goals for the race as Joe left me to warm-up.

As much as I would like to have shot for last week’s personal series best time of 19:14, I thought that trying to come in under my time on this particular course from 2 weeks ago was a more sound plan.  I had raced very well that night duking it out with Sarah Mark over the final 2 miles to finish in 19:23. Hopefully I would have another runner to push me this week.

Mile 1:  In keeping with the low-key nature of these race starts, we assembled as a group behind the timing mat and with very little fanfare we were off with the starters “Go”.  I settled into my opening half-mile pace in 5th position.  I felt like I was running right where I needed to be as Joe and Scott Rantall sped off ahead of the group.  They would be duking it out over the early miles.  Scott running a new course record in 15:59 or 5:09 pace.  They were long gone before we hit mile 1.

I clicked my first ½ mile in 2:53 only :01 second behind my opening half on this course two weeks ago as well as my opening ½ mile last week at Town Lake.  Just about perfect I thought.  I felt like I had run the opening mile just a touch too fast two weeks ago, so I backed off the pace slightly and let a runner slip past me.  My second ½ mile came in at 3:09, :07 seconds slower than the race two weeks ago, but I was betting that would help me over mile 2.

After all these races, I feel like I’m still trying to put together the perfect strategy.

Mile 2:  As we started the second mile I made a conscious effort to wind the watch a little bit and increase my leg turnover.  I passed back the runner I had let slip by and reclaimed my spot in 4th place.  He fell off my shoulder quickly as I feel like he went out a bit too fast, and I ran alone for the rest of the second mile.

With nobody to push me and nobody to chase, I knew this was a critical mile.  I needed to make sure I didn’t let my mind and my effort wander and keep hammering away with that 98 degree heat beating down on us.

My two ½ mile splits were 3:03 and 3:05.  I had made up :13 seconds on my time from 2 weeks earlier over the same mile after “giving away” :08 seconds on the opening mile.  I had a shot at a new course record for me if I could keep it together, but we were approaching the start of the climb back up to the top of the dam and I was running all alone.

Mile 3:  This is the part of the course where Sarah and I really started to chase each the last time I raced at Brushy Creek.  There were no footsteps behind me to be heard and the third place runner Colin was a solid :30 ahead of me.  Too far to realistically chase I was pretty much on my own.

I pushed hard up to the top of the dam and then started to once again regain some pace over the second half of the mile.  My two ½ mile splits were 3:16 and 3:10.  My sixth half mile was only :01 slower than my second.  It was going to be pretty close to come in under 19:23.  It was all going to come down to the kick.

Finish:  I hit the last 1/10 of a mile and could make out the finishing clock counting down the last few seconds under 19:00.  I kicked hard and tried to really push through the finish, just before the finish line Dawn was there holding baby Landry and I could hear Dawn say, “Here comes your Daddy” …. Too tired to smile on the outside, I had a big smile on the inside as I hit the timing mat.

19:19.

:04 faster than two weeks ago and another course best for me in the series.  It was good enough for 4th place overall, 1st place in the Male Masters (over 40) division.

Post-Race:  I walked down to the water and Gatorade, caught my breath and then walked back to turn in my timing chip and meet up with Dawn and Landry.

I had a great time introducing Landry and Dawn around to Tom, Jason, Joe, Colin, Pete and a few of the other runners that I see just about every week.  The highlight of the night for me though was during the awards ceremony while I was holding Miss Landry.

At school the last week or so they have been working on “clapping” and Landry has picked this up very quickly as well as saying bye-bye and waving to us.  Sometimes she does that when it is more of a “Hello” situation, but hey, she’s 9-months old, give the kid a break right?

But last night as all of the Age Group winners were called up for their awards, Landry would clap along with everyone else in attendance with the announcement of each winner.   When the clapping stopped, Landry would stop.  She would wait to hear the next name, then clap along with everyone else.

It was absolutely the coolest and she got quite a bit of attention from all of the runners and their families.  A year ago I was running the same series and Dawn was 6 months pregnant.

Amazing how things change, and how much cooler things are one year later.  I’ve got a pretty great little “race fan” right now, it might be time to try out that jogging stroller this weekend.