April 19, 2014

Bib # 1202: my first marathon

grinding up 600E at mile 24
May of 2008:
I sat in a doctors office at the Huntsman Cancer Hospital being told some bad news that included numbers that I don't remember now. Somehow I had a tumor in my gut that was the size of a football. As if it could've been worse, they went on to say, that it was obviously in it's 4th stage. For those of you that, thankfully, don't have reason to know, stage 4 cancer is kind of a big deal.

As I approached 40 years old in March 2010 my hair had hardly grown back after a chemotherapy regimen that taught me that I was stronger than I thought I was. As a show of spite for this notion of being "over the hill" I thought I'd run a marathon.  

40 came and went, but I ran no marathon. I propped myself up with a handful of excuses I'd created. The most popular of which, being that "I'd give myself an overuse injury and suffer it the rest of my life". Over the next few years I slowly acknowledged that even my best excuse wouldn't hold. I always loved running when I was younger. I was familiar with what a "runners high" was. I knew the benefits of it. I knew that if I didn't try I'd never know, but quietly, I knew I could.

April 20th 2013:
It was cold and rainy. I stood under an umbrella at the finish line of the Salt Lake City Marathon. The mayor was there, as were about 15,000 people. I watched the runners finish their race. Some cried, and some laughed. A couple runners were bleeding from abrasion to the achilles tendon. Some were bleeding from their nipples with streaks of blood all the way down to their waist line. None of girls wore makeup. Nobody was trying to maintain a hair style. Women and men cried on the completion of a work, months in the making. It was a scene of unabashed and raw, human determination on a scale like I'd never seen. To be a spectator here was a special occasion for me. There was no us against them. The entire crowd stood in the rain, ringing cow bells, and blowing big horns, cheering for every runner without regard for who they were. One by one, runners reached their goals and I was very inspired by what I saw. As the spectacle went on I was surprised by some of the people crossing the finish line. Not everyone looked like a marathoner. I thought of all the people out there that would love to run a mile, but couldn't for whatever health issue. I told myself that my excuses were pathetic, and I was shamed.
I suppose every marathon finish line has spectators that are inspired to be runners. Standing there in the rain with thousands of people I distinctly felt the moment the inertia of my inspiration took hold and I became a runner. I didn't resist, but I swallowed a lump that wouldn't budge, and I shook under the weight of the pact that I'd just made with myself. I knew it'd take months of work and that I'd accomplish things I'd never done almost on a weekly basis.

Jan 14th 2014:
Got new Hokas today at SL Running Co. For some reason the $160 price tag gave me a feeling of commitment. It felt good, like it shored up any subconscious prior instability of commitment that I may have had. Did the over/under pronation analysis at the store, which was very interesting to see on video and to see the results of the arch support correction.

Feb 4th:
I have decided to start this journal now, in draft, to have a way of keeping track of things other than the miles. The weeks have turned into months and I have a lot to keep track of. It also seems that this Marathon thing is really going to happen now that I'm running about 25 miles per week and increasing 10% per week.
Below is the spreadsheet I started to document this weird idea I came up with. I also did this to give the training program some needed structure.

March 1st:
Not sure whats going on with my pace. I started on an 11mm pace in November. Got it down to 10mm pace on my 13 and even 9:30mm some days. Now it seems to be slipping away. HR is happier at slower pace over distance so I guess I'll go with it, but WTF?

March 15th:
Guess my pace is what it is. Too late to tweak anything now. Slower than 11mm is weird. I would think I'd get faster as I go. Maybe the miles are taking their toll now. Kinda frustrated now. Not gonna count, guess I'll just keep running how it feels good!

March 27th:
44 years old today. Ran 20 miles and feel awesome! Better than ever...

April 2nd:
I completed my peak week last week with 41 total miles. My high day of 20 miles was my 44th birthday. It was kind of a masochistic way to spend my birthday, but I'm glad I did. It was great for my confidence. When I started this journey I thought I would wait until "something went twang" then quit. So far nothing has gone twang. Not only that, but I feel stronger than ever. Not just stronger than ever, but stronger than ever on orders of magnitude! So now that I'm past the peak of 22 weeks of running I guess I'm really going to do this, although I'm still not sure how I'll ever run that far. I have enjoyed the unique feeling of going far. By far, I mean out there in no mans land, past two hours. I'm not sure how to put the feeling into words. I just know it's nothing I've ever experienced before. Maybe a mix of awfulness combined with joy on an equally awful scale. It's almost as if it's only possible to experience while there, even for me. To recall the feeling later seems impossible.

April 5th:
Probably gonna sound crazy, but I got this thing I call the 12 week syndrome. I think there's a perceptible change that happens at the 12 week mark of a steady training plan. A level at which a prior plateau is ascended from. I felt it this week I think. I'm counting from after the Christmas break and maybe it's just crazy talk, but I just feel stronger than ever right now. Really don't feel like tapering. Kinda want to hold the mileage at 40 for a few weeks and see what happens with the pace. Ah well something to experiment with later.

April 12th:
Every time I run I feel better. Every time I get to my daily goal I want to keep running cause it feels great, especially during the taper phase when miles are being decreased dramatically. The other day I finally did the deed and actually dropped the $125 entrance fee to run the 11th annual Salt Lake City Marathon. Little did I know how that was going to spike my nerves! I was putting it off for so long because I thought I’d hurt myself in training and not be able to go through with it. I’m really surprised I’ve come all this way and have not had any real issues with injury, or persistent soreness. I blame my foam roller for that! It’s the best thing since ice cream.
Here’s my foam roller sales pitch: When my miles started getting over 20 miles a week I developed a weird twinge on the outside of my left knee. After my runs I would ice it for an hour or so and it was good. Over a week and a half it got a little worse so I looked up a YouTube video and found someone suggest foam rolling the outside of the lower leg for knee pain exactly like what I having. That day I laid down on the floor with a distinct pain in my knee and after about two minutes per side on my foam roller the pain was gone and hasn’t returned. Most of the time I spend on that thing I’m searching around for knots like an investigator. It’s been my most useful purchase for sure!

So after finally signing up I started looking into some of the details of the event, beyond just running for a long time and I have discovered a few beginner mistakes. The newfound nerves combined with obvious mistakes are making me feel out of control for the first time. I just found out that the marathon aid stations don’t provide energy gel, just water and powerade so that sent me to SL Running Company for a new pair of shorts that have pockets for carrying gel. I also discovered that I should’ve been using energy that contained amino acids for runs longer than 1-2 hours.  So the mistake is that now the marathon will be my first long run in those shorts. I got a thing of body glide too so I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the dreaded chafe stays away. I chafed really bad during my 19 mile run, bad enough that it was bleeding. I knew it was bad, but I didn’t look until I was done. Now I’ve got scars and a good fear of it happening again.

All winter I’ve been free from any distractions so I’ve pretty much planned the entire winter around running. It’s been nice to devote the time necessary without any stress. Last week I returned to work for a hitch at the river ranger station so I’ve been getting in the taper runs on remote gravel roads. It’s been in the high 70’s and sunny, so I’ve been enjoying the shirtless running, but for some reason I chafed under the armpits. I hope it’s because there’s nothing in place to wick the moisture away from the skin. Also the dirt roads are more uneven and with more vertical than what I’ve been used to. So far it feels ok, but just another reason to freak out I guess. Everything I read says don’t change anything in the last couple weeks, and it feels like I’m changing and tweaking a lot of things. I’ve gotta trim the insoles in my Hokas too. I should’ve done that weeks ago! I’ve read much about taper phase and everyone says its just nerves, which is so true. The decreasing miles are really making me chomp-at-the-bit to go. Still a week to go and I feel the recovery big time. I’m 44 years old and I feel like superman actually.  Just gotta hold it together and not let anything stupid happen.
I’ve also been getting a playlist ready for my iPod. Hopefully I actually listen to it. On my 20 I ran the whole thing with ear buds in and never switched it on. Crazy! I’m excited for the long distance of it, but since I’ve never been in a race of any kind I know I’m a bit vulnerable in a couple ways. So far my strategy to tune the world out is to pull my hat down low and turn on my music, especially for the first 10 miles or so. So far I know of two things that are going to kick my ass.
1) Getting distracted by the crowds and the overall madness of everything, and letting my heart rate/pace get away from me.
2) Not getting enough water.
It’ll be fun to hear the crowd near the finish though. I’ve been thinking for a long time about what the finish will be like.

April 17th:
Crazyness continues! Nerves are going nuts!
New shorts ripped out in the crotch. Ended up getting a new pair of Patagonia Striders. Ironic because I was going to get these last winter and never did, just forgot about it I guess. Worked out cause I had a $20 off coupon to REI. I like them so far, but the marathon will be my first run in them so fingers are crossed for no chafe problems. Been freaking out about chafe. Got some nip guards too while I was back at Salt Lake Running Company. They don't look like they'll be of much use once I start sweating, but I'm guessing that SL Running Co wouldn't sell them if they were useless. Today I was going to run 2 or 3, but I decided not to. Weird because this is the first time since January that I've departed my running plan, and it's beautiful outside. I need to just force myself to chill and probably figure out how to eat as many carbs as possible the next couple days. Also gotta force myself to get up during the night and drink water so I have a good hydration base come Saturday morning.

April 18th:
Went to the expo today. Picked up Bib 1202, got a new foam roller, and a sweat band that I'm going to wear on the cuff to wipe snot and eye sweat on. Found out GU will be available at 7.5, 13.5 and 19.5 which is great. Came home posted on the couch and pigged out on carbs all day...blah worst part of marathon training by far. So don't want to eat right now!

April 19th:
Woke at 1:30am and couldn't sleep. Finally went back to sleep around 3:30 for another hour. Alarm sounded at 4:30 and I was up for coffee and eggs and toast which I had to force myself to eat. I knew it was important to change nothing about the last four months, of breakfast before a run, so I didn't. As my unappealing breakfast cooked I thought about the only other time I woke earlier than this to run. It was for my 18 miler in Palm Springs, which was one of my most enjoyable training runs. Did some yoga and went over a few areas with the foam roller while Lisa got up to take me to the starting line. As soon as we left home we found the streets had already been closed, but the cops were letting people pass through on the major streets so we had no problem getting up the hill. Lisa dropped me off under the Olympic village bridge and as soon as I got out of the car I could hear the music and sounds of the starting line announcers. I walked in the direction of the sound, bright lights, and flow of other people doing the same thing! Lots of people were also descending on the starting line from the TRAX station up the hill. As I walked towards the early dawn festivities I thought of all the times I used to come to this area for my radiation and chemotherapy. It was a wonderful feeling of winning and I hadn't even crossed the starting line yet. There were people warming up, eating breakfast, drinking coffee, rubbing the sleep out of their eyes, and lots of people shivering while waiting in running clothes in the cool pre-dawn hour. I was glad I dressed in sweats and brought a backpack to check in. The whole street was lined with portable toilets, and lots of big lines waiting for them. I got my turn with about 10 minutes to spare. Made quick work of a piss, and a dose of some stuff called body-glide, which I'd highly recommend. During the half hour I waited around I drank a quart of water and did some very basic stretching after the porta-potty, then took off my sweats and checked my bag. It was actually the most pathetic stretch session before a run in the whole 22 week training period. People crowded into the starting area as the announcer counted down the minutes, then seconds, and finally a loud horn let loose a crowd of 6,500 runners, 850 of which were running the full marathon.

The course wound it's way up a couple hills and into the Avenues. It felt great to finally be running again after the long taper session. Area residents stood outside in their pj's drinking coffee and yelling at the crowd going by. The first mile was up and down a bit, then the next four miles were mostly downhill. At 5 miles I was a little fast on my pace, but I thought it was due to the long downhill through Memory Grove so I didn't worry about it. Climbing towards 900E I was able to regulate my heart rate at less than 80% which was a good confidence boost. So far I was running exactly like I had trained. The part of the course we shared with the half marathoners was a basically a big party. The spectators were handing out all kinds of stuff to the runners; pretzels, bananas, orange slices, gummie bears, even coffee in front of a coffee shop. I took a banana which I had to force myself to eat. People sat in their front yards in lawn chairs with coffee, and horns, and cowbells, while they yelled. I enjoyed it greatly, and to my surprise I wasn't really thrown off on my pace by the spectacle of it all. I was pacing right where I wanted to at slightly faster than 11mm. At mile 9 or so the marathon split off from the half marathon party and turned into a long climb.

At once the crowd dispersed and I was on the road with just a few runners in front of me. The sunshine was lovely, and I pulled my hat down low. I listened to my breathing while we climbed towards 15th E. My HR monitor was starting to go wacky so I concentrated on the RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion) Scale to regulate my climb, which felt like it worked good. Approaching Sugar House Park I started to look for a place to piss when I realized that I had never been through the park before, despite having lived in SLC for quite a few years. The aid station at mile 12.5 had an empty porta-potty so I took advantage of that. After a piss break, some water, and very salty powerade I was more comfortable and eased back into it. The course climbed a little more then turned south on 2000E. where I could see for a long ways to the south. This is gonna sound crazy, but at about mile 14 I had a weird feeling, that I've experienced before on long runs, where it feels good to be a long ways from the end. In other words, I felt so good that I didn't want it to end anytime soon, and it wouldn't! Anyway I settled into the unique "zone" that I experience with long distances. I turned my music up and ran down the yellow line and just kinda zoned out, even now, one day later I don't remember what I thought about. When I woke up from my daydreaming zone out session I was crossing 4500S. and it was almost time to turn around and head for home.

After the turn we went down a long hill on 4500S where I could see another spectacle that looked like an aid station way up the road. As I got closer I could see the orange wedges covering the road. There was a huge crowd handing out orange wedges. I tried to eat one, but had to spit it out. The juice was good though. A bit later around mile 18 was the actual aid station that also had banana halves. Again I had to force myself to eat it, but even after carrying it for a while I couldn't eat it all. At the time it didn't occur to me that my lack of appetite was different than any of my training runs. During my 19 miler, at about mile 16, I almost stopped to pick up what looked like an unopened candy bar on the ground because I was so hungry. Weird distance runner stuff, I guess. The info I got from the pre race expo said there would be GU at 7.5, 13.5, and 19.5. With this info I left 3 of my GU's in my checked bag. As it turned out there were none at 13.5 so I was really hoping that 19.5 wasn't sold out. They weren't so I grabbed two. We turned onto Highland Drive where the last aid station with energy GU's was located. I walked the length of it to get as much water and powerade as I could, which proved to be a mistake I think. The long climb up to 2700S. had most of the people walking. I almost did, but told myself that I didn't have a good reason to. I was tired, but I wasn't anymore tired than I was on the flats. Energy level felt ok, relatively that is. I settled into a concentrated breathing and tried to relax everything but my legs. During my training I experimented with relaxing my face and neck which I found would reduce my HR by as much as 3-4 BPM.

Before the marathon I thought that the turn onto 2700S would be the beginning of the end and it kind of was. Lisa rode her bike down the course, to meet me, and to ask if I needed anything. As I approached 700E she saw me coming, but I didn't know it yet. After I crossed 700E I saw her sitting in the middle of the street, on her bike, taking a photo of me. She rode with me the next 4 miles to the finish. I apologized for not being very social, but having her there was great. I didn't know it at the time but, I was getting sick. I was so freaked about not getting enough water that at most of the aid stations I took at least three cups of water or powerade. Most folks that know me know I like salt, but this mixture of powerade was so salty I could hardly drink it.

As I approached the aid station at mile 22.5 I could feel the surge that happens right before a cramp. It freaked me out because it was in the big hip flexor, and quad muscle. I decided I needed more electrolyte, not water so I took two more cups of powerade and my last GU pack, hoping it wasn't too late. It was amazing how fast the cramp that almost was went away. The only problem I had now was that all the liquid I had for the past several hours made for a pretty sloshy gut so it made me want to puke. I was talking with an employee at the Salt Lake Running Co. about GU pacs. I said I didn't real feel any different after taking one. She said that if I successfully ran an 18, 19, and a 20 and didn't have a bonk experience they were working. After feeling GU and Powerade pull me back from the brink at mile 22.5 I couldn't agree more! As soon as the Powerade was down I was off again.
Before the marathon I fantasized about how it'd be to run up 600E into Liberty Park. Mostly because that is where I spent so many hours training, and gradually felt myself get stronger.

I remember looking at my, then blank, training log after the new year, and thinking how impossible it'd be to run 9 miles, then 13, then 20, all of which I've now accomplished without injury, or even any real soreness. I remembered the run I did in a blizzard where I was the only one out there. I remembered the snow removal worker at Liberty Park giving me a thumbs up on a 12 degree morning. I remember running in Palm Springs at 4:30am, to beat the heat that I wasn't acclimated to. I remember the mail lady stopping me with a big, arms out WTF, and commenting at how she did half her route and I was still running (that was my 20 mile day). I thought how 600E, past our house, and into Liberty Park was the perfect final leg of the marathon, a personal celebration of sorts. A celebration of determination and luck I guess, but to be honest I ran because I was unemployed and I refused to sit around. So I ran...and it felt good...so I ran more....then I was committed and there was no turning back. It turned out to be one of the best winters yet. I drank less. I never got sick. I felt great. As I ran up 600E on the home stretch I thought of all these things, but I couldn't really relish the thoughts because I just wanted to puke.

My friend Arie came out onto the course near his house and cheered me on then I entered Liberty Park exactly in the tracks that I had for the past 22 weeks. I didn't feel the surge of cramp again, but I was looking for the 25 mile aid station and hoping I could get one more Powerade down without puking. Out the north end of Liberty Park and a left on 800S. took me to the final turn at 200E. As I made the turn onto 200E I could see a spectacle several blocks north. I could hear the voice of the same announcer dude that counted down the seconds nearly 5 hours prior. I could hear a band and see arches of balloons over an orange banner that had the letters F-I-N-I-S-H. Someone held a sign that said "just keep running" I smiled and thought back to the day I bought my Hoka running shoes. When I opened the box the insole of one of the shoes said "keep running" the other one said "it's time to fly". I smiled and told myself that I didn't have a good reason not to keep running. Lisa turned off the course on her bike as I entered a narrow chute crowded with cheering people on both sides. I thought of one year prior when I was on the other side of that fence and all the emotion I felt as a spectator cheering for people I didn't know to succeed in an effort I was unfamiliar with. Up until this point the course was wide and open. When I went into the finish chute it narrowed down dramatically. With the closed in sides my delirious brain had the illusion that I was going faster than I was; that I was flying through the crowd. There was only 100 feet left out of 26.2 miles and it was "time to fly".

After the finish:
I started feeling worse. First I got a bad headache, then when ever I tried to stretch my quads, ham strings, and hip flexor, would cramp. I continued to drink the powerade and water, but I couldn't eat anything because I didn't want to puke in front of all those people. I got in a decent calf stretch, but I couldn't stretch anything else without cramping. The loud music was making my headache worse so I grabbed a couple more bottles of water and Lisa and I started walking home to the other side of Liberty Park, about 8 blocks away. My feet felt ok, and it felt nice to walk. On the way home my headache went away. It was fun to walk through Liberty Park and think back on all the training runs I did there. We crossed 1300S and someone in front of Park cafe asked me if I ran the whole marathon (I was still wearing 1202). I proudly said I had and he offered a hand shake and a congrats, which was nice to get from a stranger. Once we got home I started getting my appetite back. I took a shower and ate some cold pizza, then tried some gentle stretching. My quads still wanted to cramp, but slowly I was able to stretch all the big groups. I spent 10 minutes on my new foam roller, which felt great, then a bit more stretching, then it was time to post up on the couch for a quick nap.

Lisa and I met a few people that were in her class, including two fellow marathoners, at a burger joint and ate a huge pile of calories, but the beer didn't sound very appealing. At one point during the winter I remember reading an article that said the favorite post run drink was a beer. I don't know about this. I really like beer, but not after a run. We went home and I chilled out for while. That night Lisa and I walked a lap around Liberty because it felt like the right thing to do. Little did I know how the next day I would feel like I was 100 years old. I was surprised how different I felt compared to how I felt after my 20.

The one thing I'd do different:
My goal was to finish and not feel dead afterwards. I accomplished my goal with no injury, or even any real problems so I'm very happy about that. I ran the marathon exactly how I trained; long, slow, and steady so I have no regrets.
In January I was looking into running at the Kearns Olympic Oval on my long days to avoid the shitty air in SL. I saw that they were hosting a running club that gathered one night a week and it included a running analysis. Not doing this coaching analysis was the single biggest mistake I made because it would've corrected the heel strike in my stride that killed my efficiency. I didn't notice that I was heel striking until I started getting a bad wear pattern on both pairs of shoes I trained in, and then it was too late. I also think this was the cause of my pace slowing down around week 16. Either that, or the miles were wearing me down more than I thought. Probably a combo of both. I'm almost sure that correcting my stride inefficiency would knock 2mm off my pace. I know I can run 13 miles at a 9.5mm pace, but my HR is too high to do it any longer than that because of stride inefficiency. 80% HR is too high for me to hold for a marathon distance.

A few times I told myself I'd never do this again, but I'm pretty sure I will. Not because it's a marathon, but because I like the feeling I get after about 2 hours of running. What I know, for sure is that I can't just go run 16 miles off the couch without being injured. I know I'll continue to crave the long runs so I'll have to stay fit enough to do them. If I'm going to stay in shape enough to run 16 or 18 then why not run another marathon.

A big gratitude is due for Lisa. Thanks for tolerating this obsession while trying to finish your masters work.

Also thanks to the many volunteers along the course. I especially liked the words of encouragement. Late in the course, I can't remember exactly where, when I was delirious a volunteer handed me a cup of water and said "your doing great". As I left the aid station I thought to myself about her simple gesture and said ...yes...yes I am!


  1. Mick so proud to be your fellow river ranger, you are such a bad ass!!! Getting me all teary eyed good job buddy!

  2. Yes, yes you are a great human being who happen to have a bit of fun running 26.2 miles! I can almost see you running up the hill from Sand Wash towards the basin in the days/weeks to come; have a great summer on the river.

  3. You crazy f'n hobo! Love you, man. But you're one crazy sob lol

  4. That is pretty bad ass. However, it is even more obvious now that we are NOT blood related lol. Congrats! This is your favorite sister Moriah by the way!