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(Last?) One and Done…

3:30 this morning I awoke to rumbles of thunder and the steady splash of rain pouring off  the roof into a puddle outside my bedroom window.  My first thought: gratitude that the Chevron Houston Marathon and Aramco Half Marathon was yesterday.  I have run my share of races in the rain,  even had one cancelled due to conditions, but with my imminent departure from Houston (we listed the house today, and my realtor had three prospects already),  there is a very good chance that this year’s event was my last time across the finish in front of the George R. Brown Convention Center, and I couldn’t have asked for a better way to go out. 

Race weekend begins on Saturday with the ABB 5K, Part One of the Houston Double Challenge. Participants who complete both the 5k on Saturday and either the half or the full on Sunday receive a third medal, as pictured above. I guess I’m a medal whore, since I have four of these challenges under my belt now  🙂 

Every year I tell myself I’m going to take it easy, just cruise along and enjoy the experience of a 5k with 5000 runners; and every year, the act of pinning a bib and toeing the line triggers my competitive side. Last year I came within a minute of my PR, but such was not the case this time around.  I did put a bit more effort than was strictly necessary,  as a way to test conditions for a possible PR attempt at the half on Sunday…Let’s just say that I came to terms with the fallacy of that idea around mile 2 and leave it at that, ok? I finished under 30 minutes  (my baseline acceptable time for 5k) and left feeling satisfied with my chances for the next day. 

This was after the race. There are tall buildings back there somewhere!

Sunday morning’s alarm went off far too early for my taste (maybe staying out until 10 pm at my god-daughter’s Sweet 16 wasn’t the best idea, but some things only happen once) and by 5am I was at the GRB, soaking up atmosphere and energy. Both running clubs I belong to had their group photos, and then off to the corrals!

Runners High Club

Houston Striders

I had registered with a fairly conservative finish time,  so I was in D corral again this year.  I thought it interesting that the Committee had added a fifth corral, but it was noticeably less crowded than previous years (and much shorter lines for the porta potties!!!) so big kudos for that.

As I said in my last post, the forecast was rather warm and humid,  and for once they nailed it: 67°, 90% humidity, and a good chance of actual rain as the day heated up. Still,  I was glad I brought a long-sleeve shirt for the wait;  the wind whooshing between the downtown buildings left me chilled as we waited for the chute to clear. I quickly tossed it to the donation pile as we neared the line ,  and 20 minutes after the gun I was off! I held a steady, easy pace for the first 2 miles,  letting the noise of the crowd carry me along; high fives to the kids waving,  singing with the bands lined up along Washington Avenue’s nightclub district, and generally eating up every moment – something I have missed out on in previous years because I was so intent on myself…it made me think again about my motivations,  a recurring theme this year. 

The full and half share the course for about 7.5 miles, and I felt a twinge as the marathon turned off while we continued back towards the finish. (sniff) Fortunately I have run much of this part of the course during training the last two years, so it wasn’t unfamiliar, and the miles just rolled along.  My pace had steadily increased but I was running easy; sweating hard but I always carry my own water and refill along the course as I go. At about mile 8.5 though, just as I was wondering if that 2:00 goal might not be out of the question, my old friends Karma and Hubris joined hands and punched me right in the gut. That’s what it felt like anyway, but actually my stomach was finally rebelling – that third gel was probably one too many. Someday I may work out an effective fueling strategy; today wasn’t that day.  I walked until I was sure was ok,  then set off again,  determined to push when I could and walk when I needed to. I’m not a big fan of walk/run, but I recognize the value, and when times are rough you do what works, right?

The last 3 miles went very smoothly,  and I got to experience another first: cheering crowds in downtown! My last three attempts have all gone to ruin long before I neared the finish, and by the time I got there most people had already left.  This year I actually saw the marathon winners go screaming past me on the way to glory – what a privilege! I count a few elite runners among my acquaintances, but running beside near them in full flight is awe-inspiring to say the least! (Pardon me while I swoon a little at the memory; I didn’t know I was a fanboy until I met these extraordinary men and women in person 🙂 )

I made it over the line under 2:10, which was my middle goal for the race, and more importantly I made it running, not limping or staggering or lurching as had been the case in previous years. I felt good;  no, I felt great, and as I sat in the hall, eating inhaling a plate of eggs, sausage and gravy, I realized that perhaps I’m not cut out for the marathon after all.  I don’t feel ashamed of that; I can accept that not everyone can do everything. The secret of success is to find what you can do – what I can do – and then do it as well as possible. I may run 26.2 miles again, but I believe for a little while at least I’ll stick to shorter races,  and run without the watch more often,  and rediscover the joy I found in the beginning.  I won’t call it a resolution – how about a promise instead? While I’m changing everything else in my life,  why not that too? 

Contrary is as contrary does (whatever it wants)

As we wind through the final week before this year’s running of the Chevron Marathon and Aramco Half Marathon, the biggest buzz I’m seeing in my Facebook feed is the weather – or, more specifically, worries and complaints about the weather forecast for the weekend. It would seem that Texas is living up to the old saying about how if you don’t like the weather here, give it a minute , it’ll change. A few days ago we had a sudden hard freeze descend upon us;  today I ran shirtless at lunchtime and needed a towel -and a mop – by the time I was done.  To be perfectly honest, I wouldn’t have it any other way. 

I know the conventional wisdom says the cooler the better on race day, and for those who were hoping for stellar performance on Sunday,  these warm muggy conditions will be a huge letdown. I feel for them,  really I do – but the selfish part of me is turning cartwheels at a predicted 65° start and 75° finish,  with humidity in the low 90’s. I live in Houston, man, and I train in those conditions (or worse) nine or ten months out of twelve, and do alright for myself.  Maybe if I wasn’t skinny as a rail  (5′-10″, 130 lbs on a good day) the cold wouldn’t bother me,  but I am,  and it does. I hurt when I’m cold: hands blue and stinging, up to my elbows if I’m out long enough; eyes watering; every breath tearing at my throat. I get distracted from the business of running because my body is telling me I’m dying. This quickly becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, as I fall behind on fueling because I can’t get a gel out of my belt, let alone get it open.  Hydration is hard too, when my lips are too numb to drink anything. I’m sure I’m not the only one who experiences things like this,  but I’ll bet not many enter that zone at 50°!  Welcome to my world.

If I had to pick one thing that I will not miss when I move away from the Houston running scene,  it would have to be the 6-8 weeks every winter when running loses its appeal because of conditions. Yes, I know that treadmills exist ( I tried that one year, and I’m pretty sure the knee pain I struggled through that season was a direct result) and many people will roll their eyes at my little whine festival, but ultimately I have to find my own limits,  and either learn to overcome what I can,  or to accept what I can’t.  They say real wisdom is knowing the difference; I say contrariness is knowing,  and going on anyway – and going on is what it’s all about. 

If this is a running blog, where’s the running?

I started running in 2013 with one specific goal: train for a year and then run the Chevron Houston Marathon. Because of that,  I now see the third Sunday in January as my own personal New Year’s Eve – the end of the season,  the culmination of twelve months of preparation, a goal unto itself. I have run Chevron twice more since then (and one other marathon), but this year it will not be – I dropped down to the Aramco Half Marathon for 2017 just a few weeks ago, and I’d like to talk about why. 

Through spring and summer I run alone, generally; most of my time goes to serving others, and running is essentially my only private space to think (or not think, as the case may be); but once fall approaches I join up with Houston’s Runners High Club for their 18 week marathon training program. They have a fantastic group of volunteer coaches, pace-specific groups, the works. For last year’s marathon I trained with the 4:15 group, and qualified for “A” corral. My coach and I ran together, and for 17 miles we were step for step, perfectly on pace – and then my wheels fell off, and I barely beat the 6-hour cutoff, collapsing into someone’s arms as I fell over the finish line. It was the worst race I ever completed,  eclipsed only by a catastrophic DNF due to GI issues at my first and only attempt at a 50 mile ultra. In the wake of such a disappointment, I resolved to train smarter, get stronger,  and redeem myself this year – and then life started happening. 

I took about a month off after the marathon to heal up the damage I had done by refusing to drop, and slowly began rebuilding my base as spring came along. However I was still adjusting to being self-employed, with erratic hours, lots of travel,  and less money than I had been accustomed to having. Running took a back seat to other things, and I found myself falling further and further away. Then, in June I re-aggravated an old back injury, and running went completely out the window for 6 weeks – heck, I could barely breathe some days. Just when it seemed I could rejoin the club and get back on track, my dad’s health turned for the worse,  and he passed away at the end of July. The next month was a blur, and before I knew it, September had arrived,  and I felt I was quickly running out of time to prepare; my best year of training had yielded such awful results, so I had huge reservations about the prospect this time around.  

I ran a few shorter races through the fall, including a pair of half’s, with respectable  (if not PR-worthy) outcomes, but nothing that made me believe I could face the full this year.  I dithered with it for a time,  but eventually it came down to three options: 

  1. Don’t run at all, and let the time and money already spent go for naught.
  2. Go ahead and attempt it,  knowing it would end in a miserable death march, IF I made it to the finish.
  3. Drop down to the half,  which I was certain I could complete without crippling myself, and enjoy the experience instead of suffering through it.

When you lay it out like that, the correct choice becomes obvious, and that’s what I decided.  I’m still not in prime form, but I know I can run at least 2:30 next week,  maybe even a bit faster if the cards fall right. What happens after that remains to be seen. I’ll be moving away from Houston and everything I know.  I may or may not come back next year to run Chevron again;  there are some very well-run events in the Rio Grande Valley that occur around the same time; I believe the McAllen Marathon is held on the same day.  

Whatever the future brings, I know that I will meet it by running towards it, not away from it,  and for now,  that is enough. 

So many changes…where to begin ? 

As I alluded to in my last post,  nearly every aspect of my life is in flux. Now, change is not a thing I am entirely comfortable with; like many people I enjoy routines and consistency – there is a kind of peace in knowing what tomorrow will (probably) bring. The flipside is that routine can become rut, consistency can become  complacency , and boredom lies waiting in the shadows to devour our joy in life . Who wants that?

So I accept that change is a necessity in life, ok fine. I also accept that we are not entirely the captains of our own destiny; so much of what we do depends on what others do.  Within that frame, however, I believe it is imperative to sort out the choices which are available to me and then make the best use of them I can. It’s an ongoing process, as each choice we make opens up more possibilities and removes others (you can’t have everything) and sometimes that is the hardest part to wrap my head around – the job is never done, and everything is connected to everything else . Which is a whole lot of words to say that no single decision came first; “holistic” is probably not the exact word, but you get the idea.

Next time I’ll walk you through some of the process,  but for now I’m headed out for a quick run – it’s only 10 days until I run the Houston Double Challenge: ABB5K, then Aramco Half Marathon. I’m terribly out of condition but not so much that I can’t complete both in respectable times.  More on how I got here, too.  See you soon!

Out with the old, in with the new…everything!

Four years ago this week, I published my very first post on my new running blog – my first step toward embracing an entirely new and different way of life. The goals I listed that day have mostly been met, but along the way I learned that reaching the goals does not end the journey...so new goals are always necessary.  That is the spirit of the Resolution – an effort to examine past performance,  assess current situations, and set new goals. We tell ourselves we’ll be better this year,  and sometimes we even succeed. (Just making it to another year ought to count for something – so many didn’t.) So this year,  I decided to go back to things that worked before and see if they still work.  Blogging was a way to think out loud about my life and my choices,  and it served me well,  until I “got busy” and abandoned it. 

Let’s just say,  I got un-busy.

 
Today finds me on the cusp of another series of radical life transformations. In no particular order :

  • I’m still running, sort of;  I plan to run the ABB 5K and Aramco Half Marathon in two weeks as my farewell to Houston. I dropped from the full to the half this year because I’m in nowhere near the condition I need for 26.2 miles. I’ve been slacking even at that,  so the next two weeks are about just not embarrassing or injuring myself at the races.  I’ll be posting about that. 
  • My wife and I are selling the house, buying a luxury RV, and moving to our dream home in the Rio Grande Valley. This has been in planning for two years;  my father’s passing this summer was the trigger event. Nothing else holds me here in Houston, and Karen has two other sisters who care for her mom already. Why wait until I’m too old to go where I want to be? In truth, everything I have ever known or done is here, so  I am excited, and just a little scared,  but I’m going nonetheless. I’ll post about that, too.
  • If something else is really heavy on my mind, you may see that here also. Sometimes I’m looking for feedback,  sometimes I may just need to vent.  I’ll try to keep this to a minium 🙂

The appearance and pages are being reviewed, but all previous content will be preserved.  I hope to have all this finished fairly soon; if change must occur,  better to get them done.

 Thanks  for stopping by ,  I hope to have something new semi regularly .  See you again! 

Oh, no…not again!

I was awakened around 3 o’clock this morning by the crashing of thunderstorms, the atonal accompaniment to a stupid amount of rain. I wasn’t too upset about being up, since my alarm was set for 3:30 anyway; and generally I enjoy crazy weather – the raw, unfocused power of nature is very compelling.  But this morning the sound of falling water did nothing good for me.

I was up that early because Runner’s High had an option for the weekly long run: either meet at Memorial Park and run as usual, with a substitute coach (14 miles this week);  or register for the club-sponsored Alaina Dixon Trick or Trot 10K, meet early at the start line for 8 miles before, and then do the race at marathon goal pace. Both groups were starting at the same times (each pace group leaves at different times so we all finish roughly together), on two totally different courses. It was a brilliant piece of planning and organization, many kudos to all involved. (My own small role is to set up and take down the water stops along the route. It means I get up a little earlier, but I love being able to contribute to the group – nothing in the running world would ever get done if not for volunteers!) And then came the rain…

After last week’s cancellation of the Houston Half Marathon, you can believe that there was a certain determination in the air with this race – we were going to do this unless something made us stop, dammit. I was all over Facebook at way-too-early-in-the-morning, and most of the coaches were messaging us to keep everyone in the loop. By 5am the first wave had passed, and the next was expected around 9, so we were golden 🙂 I did my SAG duties, made it to the start, and 5 of us from the mighty 4:15 pace group set out at 5:45 to get the easy part out of the way. Three miles from being done, the skies opened up on us, and we splashed our way back to the race area to see what would happen. The downpour stopped as soon as we got there (naturally), and the sky actually brightened; so with 15 minutes until gun time, the race director made the call: let’s run!

Being in a race always stirs my competitive side, even if I’m doing it as a training run and not a PR attempt, so I was very glad that my coach and a few friends agreed to run race pace together; some decided to run easy, others wanted to make a good showing, we didn’t judge…it’s hard to be critical when your shoes are full of water.

The gun went off, and we moved out of the gate nice and easy, letting the crowd stretch out so we could run in formation and be able to talk – this is the chattiest bunch I’ve ever laced up with! The rain came and went during the first of two loops, and the lack of a breeze caused the humid air to just hang there and make you pull it in. As soon as we turned for the second loop, everything changed… the wind arrived, chill and gusting, and driving the rain at a 45 degree angle across the road. Perversely, this made me start picking up the pace – I was finally able to breathe, and I just wanted to be done, grab some free food and beer (breakfast of Champions) and get dry and get home. Coach held out for a while, but once I figured out that a sub-60 finish was in my reach, I opened up a little more and went on my own. The finish clock is visible the last 0.2 miles on this course, so I was smiling as I made that last turn and saw 57:00 – one last push got me over the mat at 58:22, which is why I’m glad I removed the timing chip from my bib before the race – it would have been awkward to place second in the women’s 40-44 age group! Wait, let me explain…

I had not registered for this race, my original plan was to lead the other group running from the park. But at the last minute, one of the other coaches offered to take my group with hers, and give me her bib; most of hers were not racing, and most of mine were, so we made the switch, with the agreement that I’d ditch the chip. (Had I run under my own name, I would have been top 5, still not too bad; there are some fast old dudes in this city.)

All in all, despite the weather, I call it an excellent day of running, a fine day of racing, and a great time with friends – where else can you have all that before 9 am on a Saturday?


Are you training for any fall/winter races? How is it going?


Is the weather having a big effect on you yet? How are you coping with it?


I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

Five minutes on a Friday

Hey y’all, I haven’t gone awol again, it’s just been a hectic week. Training is going well, my race in the morning might rain out (2 weeks in a row is not fair! ), and I still owe you a Spartan story… so keep an eye out this weekend. See ya!

Rainy days and cancellations make me cry…

I was supposed to run the Houston Half Marathon this morning;  in fact went out of my way on Thursday to go directly to packet pick up and register the moment I put my paycheck in the bank. But, thanks to Hurricane Patricia, the weather turned against us to the point that the Mayor’s Office of Special Events asked the RD yesterday to preemptively cancel the race. I’m sure it was not an easy decision, but around 4 pm the word went out, the race was off.  The Houston Striders, sponsor and organizers of the race (full disclosure: this was the first running club I ever joined, and I am a current member) have been in contact with all registered runners, and on social media,  promising more information in just a few days;  perhaps they will be able to reschedule, I hope so. I belive they made the best decision…parts of Houston got 5 inches of rain, and it doesn’t take that much in the wrong place to strangle this city. It is still raining as I write this; I gave up on it stopping and did a 3 mile shake out run this evening in driving rain and gusting winds (which really sucked but I am glad I did it).

In any case, I suspected it might happen this way, so I made sure to make it to lead the Saturday long run with RHC.  We had 13 miles on tap, with 5 of that at marathon goal pace. It was warm, it was stupid humid, and we got a little lost at the turn around and added about 1/4 mile, but that just made sure we all got our Strava half marathon achievement  🙂   The miles flowed along, everything worked like it was supposed to,  and I an feeling more and more confident in being able to reach my goals this year… quite a change from a year ago.

This time last year, I had just spent truly amazing weekend at Flat Rock Ranch with a group of friends both old and new, running my first relay race at Ragnar Trails Hill Country. (There was a schedule push this year, Ragnar was this weekend, and I couldn’t join, but my friends’ team placed first overall -yay for them! ) I was tired and sore from 15 miles over the hills and rocks, but felt like I owed the Half a decent run, and maybe a new course PR; the previous year’s 2:15 in the rain seemed ready to fall. I was also mindful of the looming Spartan Beast, now less than one week away. Not that any of that would hold me back – I ran my guts out – and my knees, as I would soon discover – and I got my course PR, and my second sub-2:00 half…so what if I was limping out of the chute and would not be able to bend my legs the next morning – I had a whole week to recover!

I’ll let you imagine how well that went. (Spoiler: not so much) Next time, we’ll talk about Spartan, and about some things going in in my real life during this period, and how the one affected the other. See you soon!

I’m still here, I’m still running… let’s try this writing thing again.

Hello, and thank you for clicking to read this post. It’s been over a year since I checked in here, and that should not have happened.  So much of what I’ve gone through would have been easier to handle with the help and support of the friends I made in the blogging world;  instead I turned inward and struggled alone.

But that is finished. I am taking the difficult and costly lessons I’ve learned over the last year, and I am using them to learn and grow and thrive – and I want to share this with you.

As I write, I am just over three months from my third running of the Chevron Houston Marathon.  I am feeling strong and confident, no injuries,  and training has proceeded surprisingly well. I am focused on my goals,  and no distractions are allowed. Life still happens, of course,  but can be dealt with by looking at the bigger picture and making adjustments. None of this is new or groundbreaking, you can find endless sources that claim they can teach you the secret… it’s up to you to learn how to do it.

“Learning how to do it” – or at least my process –  is what I will be passing along to you, in the form of little stories about my “missing year”, and how they compare to where I am today. I hope you enjoy them, and if you feel moved to share your own stories, I’d be thrilled to listen.

Thanks again, see you soon!