Archive for March, 2008

This is a tough marathon, run on fire and access roads that follow the north-to-south shape of the Catalina Island. The island is situated about 27 miles west from the port of Long Beach. For the race, the total gain is 5880 feet or 1792 meters over 26.2 miles/42 kilometers. The highest point reached is 1554 feet or 473 meters at 21.6 miles or 35K.

It starts at Two Harbors at the north end of the island. You get there via ferry from Avalon on race morning. Basically, you get dropped off, and it’s your job to run back into Avalon. Don’t look up!

It is easy to get beaten by this marathon. Certainly not the place to do hill training; the first 4 miles brings you from 0 to a 1000 feet! The downhills that you can feel is only about 7+ miles, from miles 4-8 and 22-26. The rest of the time, you climb. Conventional wisdom on these downhills is that you can’t run them fast because it will burn your quads; and then you’ll suffer on the way back up!

This is one marathon where everyone on the road become comrades on the spot, not for any sort of implied kinship, but due to the shared hardship provided by the course. Somehow, you help each other on. A comforting word, asking about how you’re doing, or just senseless humor. The “what have I gotten myself into” question usually surfaces at mile 13. I heard it several times yesterday. I answered it with some helpful advice that I learned from running it the year before. You do what you can.  I did see a number of runners sporting skinned knees and scrapes.  The unforgiving dirt roads claimed a few victims after all.

While you trudge along, half-cursing under breath, it helps to look around and gaze at the great view offered by an island atop the Pacific ocean. The waters around Catalina go down 2000 feet, so it seems like you are in Hawaii. Truly wonderful to take in.

When you’ve reached the highest point, that is a victory of sorts. You can see Avalon from this high vantage point. Most runners temper their celebration because the screaming downhill section comes up immediately. This is the section where you’ll even have trouble walking it down much less run it. Catalina veterans hate it. I don’t mind it at all, because I used to run crazy on these grades when I was a kid.

After mile 23, you enter into town just west of the golf course. The finish line just pulls you, and every runner at this point starts to get faster even if there is little energy left. It’s kind of fun in a way because there is always a mini-race to the finish, between runners in a grouping in these final miles. I think I passed 4 runners this year versus about 8 last year.

When the finish line appears and the crowd roars in appreciation, you pat yourself on the back and say “job well done”. And then you relax and become a tourist again in this quaint little town of Avalon.


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The geese kept their distance and patrolled nervously, until the intrepid illegals left their waters.

That’s me and fellow marathoners taking a shocking dip in the cold Lake Tahoe waters after a grueling race. Hills plus altitude equals pain!

Here is some trivia for you: Lake Tahoe is situated at an altitude of 6225 ft above sea level. It is the tenth deepest lake world-wide, measuring some 1600 ft depth. We met one tri-athlete who had swam the lake N-S and E-W. I wonder if a crazy thought like a “Loch Ness monster” ever entered his mind while he swam.

The runners I’m seen here with are serious ones, and both typically race in the sub-3:20s to 3:30s. Both just happen to be marathon race directors as well.

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Held each year at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico.

It is a moving tribute to the brave Filipinos and Americans who held their ground in Bataan and Corregidor when all hope was lost. There are fewer veterans left to honor each year, but it remains a powerful reminder that at times life is not fair and all we can do is persevere.

They had a civilian light division, but I dressed the part in 2007. For those taking part in the heavy division, they had to carry heavy packs weighing about 35 lbs or 16 kg. They can run if they want to, but most walked. If you find yourself in the U.S. in the month of March, take part in this event. Many foreign military personnel do.

Everyone looks back in total awe and inspiration; I know I do. I can’t go this year, but many of my running friends are. There is a continuity that has remained unbroken since those fateful days in April 1942.

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I am bow-legged. So foot strike is by necessity a very important thing for me.

I experimented. Ran on my toes and got terrible shin splints. Ran on my heels and got knee and hip pain. Ran mid-foot favoring the outside, and I got foot arch pain. Ran flat-footed and got the beginnings of plantar fascitis.

And then I found the ideal. The foot strike has to hit mid-foot just in front of the arch, and as level as you can make it. A way to do this is to make sure that you’re whole body is forward of your hips and knees at the point of impact.

Running down-hill is the only time you should do a heel strike. It prevents your muscles from over-stretching and contracting in places to respond to the approach angle. It works really well too.

I don’t know if the mechanics will change if for some reason I take up true racing in the future. But at this point, my recovery time is shorter mainly because the muscles and joints aren’t affected as much by my body mechanics and pedestrian speed.

As the proverb states “for lack of a nail, the kingdom was lost”. If you think about the details, your overall experience will be much improved to that point that you’ll return to natural running! Sure–we don’t have to worry about sabertooth tigers and mammoths these days, but you know what I mean.

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Goal Setting

The goal for my first year of running races was just to see what happens and get comfortable with the process.  I went through the usual awkwardness, nervousness, little adjustments, and keeping my space around other runners.  I learned how to hold my ground, navigate my way around aid stations, handle different terrain types, and also do the business necessary to make it to the finish.

The goal for my second year was to have fun and run some of the majors.  It started out easy, but I soon found myself in front of the hilliest sections, and crazy terrain.   In the spirit of having fun, I had essentially forgotten to check the course profiles (elevation) and maps.  My body told me plenty how crazy I was.  A few instances of achilles tendinitis, foot arch pain, and sometimes shin splints.  But still, I got through okay.  I ran Chicago, Boston, LA, and Marine Corps.  I didn’t get into NY, but I’ll keep trying.

The goal for my third year is evolving.  I don’t think it can be declared outright until the middle of the year.  The foremost requirement this year is to run better and also train better.  I’m making a concerted effort to be more relaxed during the run, and also running races as I planned.

The main idea with goal setting is that you can’t get any significant improvement if you are uncommitted.  If you commit yourself to a training strategy, come race-time you will be ready for the work required to finish well.  If you want a sub-4 marathon, the simple requirement is that you have to run an 8:45 average (over 1.6K or 1 mile).  So if your marathon-pace runs aren’t close to that, then you’ll need to adjust upwards and take more time developing your base.

The story goes that this 23-year old decided one day to run a marathon after doing some drinking at a college dorm the night before.  He was in okay shape, but he was nowhere ready for the 26.2 mile / 42K distance.  He made it to mile 21 and then passed out.  He woke up in a hospital the next day.  I heard it often enough and I’ve seen instances of such folly that it usually is worse in reality.  The lesson is easy–marathoning is a big goal and it takes time to be able to run it effectively.

Slowly but surely.  You’ll get there!

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When your energy is depleted, it takes little inattention to cause spills or trips. It is necessary to either train better so that the energy reserves are there for the entire event, or learn how to focus when tired and drawing from an empty well.

As they say, dot every “I” and cross every “T”. If you know you have problems with hydration, bring a water bottle. Bring gel packs for energy replacement (at least one for every hour), or do a 4-8% mix with your water. Do make sure that you can stand the mixture though, because getting nauseated during a long race is not fun.

Plan ahead. If you rubbed parts of your skin raw in the past, apply petroleum jelly to that spot. Always, I mean always, apply sunscreen no matter what the conditions will be. Don’t let the sun catch you unaware, because it will come back to haunt you later on in life.

Make sure your muscles are warmed up before an event. Jog a little. Do some light stretching. Rotate those knees. Wear the right shoes for the event. Believe me, the spring in running shoes do wear out.

It helps to know how your body reacts to long hours out there. For some reason, my body gets cold after 4 hours of work. When the weather is perfect (55 F or 13 C) for running, you’ll find me in a long-sleeved tech T because of it. I have seldom been in a race and felt okay temp-wise at the finish while wearing a singlet.

The longer the run, the more effort it will take to keep a certain pace.  This is because of some dehydration and energy depletion.  So take these into account.  If your heart races so much so that it feels like it wants to get out, slow down or walk it off.  You don’t want to red-line, unless you’ve specifically trained at those levels.

If you never raced before, plan to have butterflies in your stomach. Nervousness can make nature’s call more frequent and unexpected. So it behooves you to make sure you don’t eat too much the day before the race. Remember that it takes 24 hours for food to be digested. If you eat a big meal, you are carrying it for the entire endurance event.

Best of all, have fun! Give yourself time to adjust to the needs of endurance events and your ability to respond to the unexpected. If you are only doing it once, then run like a banshee and forget everything you just read. I figure, if you are brave enough to toe the line then chances are you’ll see yourself to the finish by such doggedness. You’ll be a picture of suffering, but you’ll make it!

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The Endurance 50 series 2006 presented a unique challenge that I didn’t think I was ready for. Dean Karnazes wanted to run 50 marathons in 5o states in 50 days. Although Sam Thompson had completed his series by then, the production quality of DK’s series was by far more organized and better coordinated. DK advertised in plenty of time what cities he would be in, where the start line was, the number of runners that can join him, and just generally the logistics necessary for others to be able to throw their hats in.

So there I was, a budding marathoner meeting this well-known runner. I joined him in San Francisco, Cleveland, and Philadelphia in the months of September and October. So in a way, repeat meetings allow better familiarity. By the time I ran in Philly, Dean knew who I was. He hinted that I could go on and run with him in Long Branch, two days before the NY ING marathon; at that moment in time, my body would not let me. Imagine this was his 49th day of marathoning sub-4s and here I was hee-hawing about my little pains.

I saw his 3:00 performance in his 50th in the series, 200 yards from the NY finish. It was an interesting finish, because he was just a few seconds behind the Lance Armstrong bandwagon. Imagine, two athletes I hold in high regard in the same time and place in 2006! I said thank you and congratulations to him at the Northface store a few blocks up from west Central Park.

Looking back, the best thing I learned from DK is that there are no limits. If you are willing, you can run forever. It forever shattered my notions of how much the body can take, seeing how well he held up during the series. I think he mistook me as an ultra-runner when I ran with him. Which is fine. Being able to run beyond 26.2 miles or 42 kilometers is amazing in my book, and being mistaken for such crazies is okay by me. In a way, DK introduced me to the big world of endurance racing and now I’m hooked!

Going forward one year, I was at mile 23 when I saw a familiar gait. The guy passed me, looking fresh at a late stage of a marathon. I yelled “Hey Dean!”. He turned around, had the biggest grin and said “I was wondering if you’d show up for SFM”. We had a few words just catching up. And then it was time for him to meet his fans. I finished a minute after he crossed the finish, and I could see he was already holding court. I caught his eye, nodded, and waved. He nodded in return, and turned to talk to a mature runner wanting his attention. I’ll see Dean again, and will be sure to always say Hi to a great guy!

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