Drew this one quickly to reflect a conversation we had while driving home from voting yesterday, then scanned it using my phone. Technology has come a long way since I first started drawing comics (I was living in Viet Nam and had to take a stack of drawings over to the Vietnamese equivalent of a Kinko to be scanned and put on a CD for me [side note, Kinkos doesn’t exist anymore and CDs aren’t much used, so this story is flawed]).
I’m not that into superheroes, but I have a weird soft spot for Lex Luthor. Previous other comics including him are here.
I signed up for a 50k in April, which will be my first since November 2016 (actually, that one wasn’t quite 50k if I remember correctly–and that race report suggests I do, meaning my last actual 50k was…the Kettle Morraine 100 back in June 2015). Wow, digging that out was a trip down memory lane. Also, this is my first race of marathon distance or farther since the North Face marathon in September 2018. Anyway, I can’t do long runs two days in a row right now, so we’ll see how this works out. So far I’ve done a few runs in the 15-16 mile range (the weather has definitely been a limiting factor in this) and felt pretty good, so I’m basically…halfway there. Yes.
True story. Hal sleeps relatively well, but often wakes up between 5-5:30, or about an hour before I’d like him to be up. Most of the time when this happens, I put him back down in the guest room downstairs after a bottle, just so any comments he has on his situation won’t disturb B. Then I lie down on the sofa. And the cat…goes a little nuts. For some reason, he really likes to sit on people’s chests. Preferably with at least one foot on their windpipes. And he weighs fourteen pounds.
We’ll file the comic under SF446.5 L86 2018, for Animal culture–Pets–Cats–Behavior.
I ran my first marathon ten years ago this fall. (Fun fact: my first date with B was the evening of the day I did my last 20 miler for that race.) That year, I finished the Twin Cities marathon in 4:41:10. It rained for 90% of the race and I think I swore I’d never do another one. (Since then, I have run at least fourteen other races of 26.2 miles or longer; actually, I think there might be others? This number was reconstructed using various results websites.) My road marathon PR is 3:59:59 (set at Lakefront in 2012) and my road 50k PR is 4:57:58 (set at the MadCity 50k in 2011); it’s difficult to give a number as a trail event PR because trails have really different conditions that make them hard to compare. This past weekend, at the Endurance Challenge WI, I ran my first marathon in almost two years—I had run a trail ultra of about 29 miles in November 2016, and then spent the rest of 2017 pregnant and recovering from pregnancy. This means that a lot of my life over the last decade has been spent preparing for marathons, planning my various events in order to get ready for a marathon, and recovering from marathons. (Or sometimes getting injured two weeks before my marathon and not running it. Boo, 2010.)
And I just want to say: while I have gone into events with some half-assed training, I have never signed up for a race knowing that I was going to half-ass my training as much as I did this time (and knew that I was likely to do).
Rather than recounting the race in blow-by-blow detail, which I think would be boring, let’s try an exciting Q-and-A format.
Q. I understand you have a one-year old. How does that effect your training?
A. He effects it both more and less than I expected pre-baby. On a day-to-day basis, I often run him to daycare (about 8 miles round-trip), plus a lunch or post-work run with B (anywhere from 3–7 miles), giving me midweek totals of 8–15 miles per day, and anywhere from 50–60 miles per week. This is on par with or a bit more than what I was running before I got pregnant. On the flip side, my long runs on Saturdays have suffered from a lack of sleep and drive. Rather than training to 18–20, which is normal for a marathon, my longest single run was 16.4 miles. In my defense, I planned to do a 23-miler, but there was some major flooding in Dane County that led to its cancellation. But I didn’t make too much of an effort to replace it. I also didn’t do much trail running since June, because of a bad poison ivy experience and mosquitoes and the flooding and, you know, going to brunch instead.
Q. Given that, how happy are you with your results?
A. I am. All things considered, I think I was in shape for about a 4:10ish road marathon. Maybe 4 hours if the weather was good and I found someone to pace off. Instead, I ran a 5:07 trail marathon, about 37 minutes slower than the last time I ran this course (2014). But that said, my goal pace (4:30) was picked because I wanted to place in the top five in my age group, and I placed third (ninth woman overall!), so I’m actually pretty pleased with that (although if I’d run a 4:30 again, I would have won outright as first overall woman). There are also the conditions to consider: the race had somewhere between 1,300–1,800 feet of climbing (my Garmin gave the first number, Strava the second); many of the ascents (and descents) were covered with a scree that made climbing them at a run quite difficult; the weather topped out at about 82 degrees and humid AF, following directly on about a two-week stretch of cooler weather during which I rather lost my heat acclimation.
Q. Did you learn any important lessons?
A. Yes. It’s important to plan for both the race and the ride home. I had to drive myself home, and my blood sugar started to crash around the time I got back to the car. I stopped at a gas station to pick up a coffee and a chocolate milk, and wound up sitting on the floor waiting for the people buying a million lottery tickets in line ahead of me to get done so I could check out. In a more ideal world, I would have ridden home with someone who had their shit a bit more together.
Pursuant to that, I think my nutrition strategy was generally pretty good (it was: grab something to eat at each aid station plus bring a gel to eat about two miles before the next one, and salt tabs at 1.5 hours, 2.5 hrs, and 3.5 hrs), but I waited until mile 6 to eat anything for the first time, and I think I should have had a gel a bit earlier. Also, it’s better to grab something with a bit of protein/fat (peanut butter) than just to stuff a bunch of M&Ms in your mouth. Also, I ran out of water at mile 16 with the next aid station at mile 18. That was gnarly. Wish I’d planned better for that.
Also, finally, I learned (again) that time on your feet does more than just prepare your muscles for the race–it prepares you for the pain. Like just the feeling of your socks on your feet can hurt after thirteen or fourteen miles of rough terrain.
Q. Any final thoughts about racing?
A. I’ve had a tough time getting my racing mojo back since Hal’s birth. Primarily because if he’s going to have a bad night, it will usually be a Friday night (it’s like he KNOWS), and I often have wound up on the starting line wishing I had more flexibility to shorten my run or move the time up. Recently I’ve realized that just running races to run them (or to get a t-shirt I guess) is not exciting to me. This marathon, with the competition aspect, was exciting. So next season, I think I may try to structure my season more like a pro might, with an A race, a couple of B/C races as prep, and then most of my time spent doing my own thing. (Full disclosure, smart people have been telling me to do this for a long time. I just learn slowly.) Going into the marathon, I had some plans to use it as a springboard for something bigger in the spring, but I’m not sure I’m really feeling that now. Twenty-six miles is a lot when it’s hot and you’re undertrained. Maybe I shouldn’t push my luck. (I’m sure I will though. I seem to crave challenges. We’ll see.)
This is based on actual conversations I had back when I was still going to aikido (something I did up to about 20 weeks). It surprised me when I was talking to guys about pregnancy–and I mean guys who have kids–the two things they know about pregnancy are 1) there is a lot of puking, and 2) get an epidural. Actually, after making this observation, a friend pointed out that most people don’t spend as much time with their spouses/significant others as I do on a day-to-day basis, so the vomiting and labor may be the biggest parts of what most men remember about pregnancy. That and cravings, I guess. But just like I didn’t actually throw up until I got the stomach flu in March, I didn’t really have any exciting cravings beyond granny smith apples with peanut butter.
So when I originally drew this comic, I messed something up–I drew and inked another comic on the other side of the page, and the ink bled through. Fortunately, B was able to save the art with Photoshop. He also produced this version, which I actually think is in many ways much better than the original, betraying a good sense of comic timing as well as an acute awareness of, well, Em (Em qua character and Em qua me):
I’m filing the first comic under HM1161 L86 2017, for Sociology–Social psychology–Interpersonal relations. Social behavior–Interpersonal attraction–Friendship. The second comic will be filed under BJ1491 M48 2017, for Ethics–Special topics–Hedonism and asceticism. Renunciation.
I wanted to add a few notes about running during pregnancy, since I have pretty much finished running (though not working out) at this point, and since I anticipate that in a few weeks, the topic won’t be of too much concern for me anymore but that I may want to retain the information for posterity.
I have run seven races while pregnant:
Race / Distance
New Year’s Day Dash (5 mi)
54th of 144 in age group
Freeze for Food 5k
5th in AG
Freeze for Food 10k
3-4-17 (directly after the 5k)
15th in AG
44-Furlong World Championship (about 5.5 mi)
11th overall (of 18 women)
Donald Dash (12k-ish trail race)
25th in AG
Ice Age Trail Half Marathon
Blue Mound Trail Race (10k)
20th in AG (of 20)
I think this kind of paints a picture. The weather is always a major factor for any runner, but it’s especially a big deal during pregnancy. For example, the Ice Age Trail race was extremely humid–in another year, I would have finished, although slowly (I was on pace for a three-hour half–significantly slower than I’ve ever done on that course–but of course in another year I would have probably been a little faster too). But this year, I decided that discretion was the better part of valor and ended the race after the first 6.5-mi loop. In fact, “more” is basically the watchword for running during pregnancy–you need more water, more calories for a given distance, more bathrooms, and eventually, more time.
The situation is not quite as 100% clear-cut as I’m making it sound here, though. Here’s a chart of my pace from November until July (click to embiggen):
As you can see, I have gotten slower, but things are uneven. On the other hand, this is skewed by the fact that I moved my training inside as of May and took to the elliptical only as of mid-June. The moving average is set to a period of five because typically I run five days per week, although since I switched to elliptical only it has been 4 days / week elliptical, 3 days / week swimming.
So here, briefly, is a list of my advice for running during pregnancy. Standard disclaimers apply–this is basically what worked for me, but it may not work for you, or even be feasible.
Read Exercising Through Your Pregnancy by James Clapp.
During the first two trimesters, running was a lot easier when I was running with others. The further along I got, the more true this became. Getting up in the morning in time to meet my running groups got harder and harder though.
Bring water. Also, bring more snacks than you would normally.
You can get a support belt that will help prevent your uterus from bullying your bladder. This belt was most helpful between about 13-20 weeks.
Eventually, moving the workouts inside, where there is climate control and easy access to bathrooms, is a good idea.
Expect recovery to take longer than usual.
Don’t run down a mountain–you will eventually have to run back up. This might be good advice for any time, honestly. I did this around twelve weeks, at altitude (in Colorado), and nearly passed out later that evening because I didn’t refuel well–just downed a coffee and a bagel and took a nap. So if you do decide to do something stupid like this, eat two bagels.
Just because people often compare going through labor and running a marathon doesn’t mean that you have to show up for labor ready to run 26.2 miles. Similarly, it’s okay to switch to elliptical when your joints/organs can’t take the impact anymore. Just keep moving.
The funny thing about this photo is I remember feeling so victorious as I crossed the finish line. But in reality, I look incredibly toasted (and covered with mud). And eight months pregnant. Some things are unavoidable.
 It is perhaps unsurprising that men who have watched their partners go through labor both with and without an epidural will say, “Get the epidural.”
 My current workout regime is ~25 mi/week on the elliptical, 3,000-5,000 yards of swimming, and 3-4 days of lifting weights. I can still deadlift 115 lbs at this point, but I’m getting some funny looks from various gym bros (suck it, gym bros).
 Technically I was pregnant during the 2016 Burbee Derby, but I didn’t know it yet, so I’m omitting that here.
 I’m still kind of disappointed in myself about this. I’d never DNF’d a race before. (For those who aren’t runners, DNF = Did Not Finish.)
 One highlight of the IAT race was stepping off the course to pee in the bushes and discovering I’d chosen a thorn bush to crawl into. Good job, me.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child: Parts One and Two, by Jack Thorne, based on a story by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thorne
Alan Mendalsohn: The Boy from Mars, by Daniel Pinkwater
Equal Rites, by Terry Pratchett
Wyrd Sisters, by Terry Pratchett
The Wee Free Men, by Terry Pratchett
It got a little escapist there at the end. I should note that this list is somewhat incomplete–it doesn’t contain, for example, several nonfiction reference books I read, nor the three times I re-read HST’s obituary of Richard Nixon.
Best book I read: Probably The System of the World, which is itself the third part of a trilogy. Is it 2,400 pages of fanfiction about Isaac Newton, Gottfried Leibniz, and the invention of the calculus? A treatise on globalization and economics? An in-depth look at the difficult political transition between Queen Anne and King George I? A joyful romp around the world with the Royal Society? All of the above? Totally worth reading, whatever it is. Someday I want to meet Neal Stephenson so I can give him a high five.
The 2017 reading list can be found here, and my theater reviews are here.
New Years Day Dash
Freeze for Food 5k / 10k
5 km / 10 km
26:57 / 49:14
Ice Age 50 half marathon
Blue Mounds 18k
Dances with Dirt
Madison Mini Marathon
Safe Harbor Labor Day Dash
North Face Endurance Challenge
Indian Lake Trail Race
McCarthy Park Trail Race
Wolf Pack Trail race
Best finish (in terms of pace): Freeze for Food 10k (7:56 pace); New Years Day Dash (7:58 pace); Fall 15k (8:32 pace)
Best finish (in terms of place): Wolf Pack (2nd woman [of two], 8th overall); Fall 15k (3rd in age group, 4th woman of 27); Freeze for Food 5k/10k (6th in age group in both).
I ran 29ish miles on Saturday at the Wolf Pack Trail Run. 29.28 according to my watch. When I signed up, I thought the race would be 28 miles–it was billed as two 14-mile loops, but there was some overlap between the loops and some extra so it worked out weird. It took about five and a half hours. I was the eighth finisher overall out of fourteen. I was also the second woman finisher…out of two. There were several other women who started the race but dropped out (at least three, possibly more). So really, I was one of only two female finishers. That’s not bad, right?
Here are some things I learned during this time:
Miniature Snickers bars are better than miniature Three Musketeers. Potato chips are not as good as boiled potatoes dipped in salt. Hammer makes a peanut butter gel that is kind of gross–definitely inferior to the GU gel.
I should eat more when I’m running a distance like this.
The Richard Bong Wilderness Recreation Area is a huge prairie area in southeastern Wisconsin. It was once slated to be an airport. I don’t know why it didn’t become one. But it has miles of trails.
Trails that are frozen in the early morning are hard on the ankles. Once they thaw, they get kind of squishy and are hard on the hips.
Mud can pull your shoes off. Oops.
After a while, it’s not going to hurt any more than it already does, so you might as well run because you’ll get done faster. I had a real low point from about mile 19 to mile 24ish. But I rallied during the last 4-mile loop and even passed two people during the last mile (I only passed about four people all race, so this was significant). Looking at the results, one of the people I passed went on to finish about three minutes behind me, so it made a difference.
Running where hunting is going on can be nerve-wracking, but hunters tend to be pretty methodical. Also, I think bullets are expensive, so they don’t want to waste them on you, because you’re not a pheasant.
The hooded sweatshirt I got for this run is awesome and I’m not taking it off until spring.
Driving home right after an ultra sucks. I cramped so badly. But listening to this interview of Lorretta Napolioni on Travel with Rick Steves was REALLY INTERESTING. One of the best interviews I have heard in a long time.
Although I am inherently an angry liberal, I’ve decided to try to talk to more people about politics lately because why not try to understand things outside of my liberal bubble. I had a nice conversation about politics with a woman I ran with for about seven or eight miles. She came from a more conservative part of the state, although she wound up voting for Clinton because of Trump’s statements about women. She was upset about the outcome of the election, but described Trump mostly as more transparently corrupt than Clinton. She wondered if he would be impeached.
Wouldn’t that be interesting.
My longest run for this race was the 18 miles I did last weekend while pacing at tBunk. Before that, I did 16 a week or two ago and 19 at the beginning of September. Otherwise I was busy racing on the weekends. I have gotten faster over short distances, but this wasn’t the best strategy for building the endurance needed for this kind of race. Oops.
Whatever I did right or wrong, I feel good today. I had a little light blistering on one foot (caused by my foot striking the uneven ground in a weird position) and some chafing and whatnot, but my muscles were back to nearly normal twenty-four hours later. I went down and watched the finishers at the Madison Marathon on Sunday and thought, wow, they look like hell. Do I look like that when finishing a race? And also, races are much more fun when you’re spectating instead of running them. And then Monday morning, I went out and ran five miles. Maybe I’m finally getting decent at these longer distance races. On the other hand, I don’t see myself doing any more this year, and next year is a big question mark, so maybe it doesn’t matter.
My blog got a bunch of hits the day after the election, as though someone was hoping I’d have something to say. And– I don’t know that I have anything to add to the ongoing fury, but I do have one observation.
In 2008, I went to an Obama rally in Philadelphia. It was October, not long before the election, and after eight years of Bush I didn’t feel especially optimistic that he was going to be able to bring us the change he was promising. My friends and I walked a long way through Philly to get to the rally, and then waited in line for a long time.
I live in a liberal area, but also a very, very white area. So while I knew Madisonians were enamored of Obama, it wasn’t quite like it was in Philly. As we waited under the hot noontime sun, I looked at an array of t-shirts featuring the senator dunking, the senator in African colors, the senator looking senatorial in that iconic HOPE image, Obama as Lincoln, Obama as a Russian comrade. They were different aspects of the man, different avatars. I began, dimly, to realize that all of these were ways in which the community–of democrats, but also of African Americans–were projecting themselves onto the man who was shortly to become president, convincing themselves that he was one of them, that his concerns were the same as theirs. This is like the imagined communities that Benedict Anderson wrote about. People imagine themselves into the political community of the nation; regardless of what the politician actually says, they find the ways in which it’s relevant to their lives.
It wasn’t until the current election and the selection of Hillary Clinton for the democratic nominee that I understood what was going on. The job of a leader is to lead, but to really inspire the populace, a leader has to provide a somewhat blank canvas for people to project something of themselves onto. I realized this even as I was doing it myself, feeling moved and significant to be voting for the first-ever woman who had a ghost of a chance of winning. I even own a magnificent t-shirt similar to those I saw back in 2008; this one features Hillary as George Washington and Bill as Martha.
The flip side of this, of course, is that we project our fears onto the opposition. Notwithstanding the fact that our current president elect has done and said some terrible things (for which, G-d willing, he’ll answer someday), I think the current hysteria in the liberal press is a bit overly dramatic. Trump is not the Antichrist; he’s just some guy. Are bad things happening? Yes. There have been some hate crimes committed this week. But those are still illegal. Let’s not lose sight of this fact: we are not living in a dictatorship. This isn’t the Philippines, people can’t just walk into your house and shoot you for free right now. He is not going to dismantle every liberal advance of the last fifty years. I don’t think he can. Is he going to be embarrassing and tone-deaf? Yes. Is he going to start a nuclear war? I don’t believe it.
We’ve had good presidents and bad presidents, and the country has always survived them. In fact, the country has pretty consistently alternated between liberal and conservative leadership for the last forty years at least. The majority of Americans don’t make their decision based on much more than how they feel they’re doing when they step in the voting booth.
For the majority of voters, this was not a referendum on the state of the soul of the nation. It was two crappy politicians making half-believable promises. I desperately want to believe that it is not the case that 50% of the (voting) country is composed of racists, sexists, bigots, anti-Semites. They’re just people who are frustrated with the current administration. I’m actually willing to place a bet that most of them did not vote against Clinton because she was a woman, or because they have some complex view that boils down to reasons why women cannot be president. If anything, the handful of liberals who have confessed, “I wasn’t that happy with Hillary” is the reason for why she lost–she was inspiring to me, but a moderate neo-liberal isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and a lot of them would just rather not make the effort to go vote for her. Hillary will always be president in my heart, and let me be clear–I cried when I realized she was going to lose–but the truth is, a lot of people think about the whole situation and shrug.
And that’s all I have to say about that. Stop reading the news, you’ll be happier. Get off social media and go outside. The moon is nearly full. Look at the stars and think about how small we all really are. And also this.
Okay, who wants to hear about pacing?
Last Saturday I joined my friend Sandy in Kettle Moraine State Park for 18.2 miles of fun after dark. For four and a half hours, we hiked, jogged, and occasionally fell down over wide trails that occasionally grew rocky and hard to navigate. The stars were magnificent, the temperature was chilly, and the woods are dark and terrifying.
I tried not to let on to Sandy the tenor of my thoughts, but it’s basically like being in every horror movie ever made. When you’re pacing, the person you’re running with has been running for 50+ miles, which puts one in an altered state of mind. It falls to the pacer to try to create reality for them, specifically by not introducing weird ideas about the terrible things that could just jump out of the woods at you.
Foxes make noises that sound like screams. A whole bunch of foxes can sound like children screaming. It’s a really weird thing to hear in the middle of the woods. Coyotes sound like you’d expect. And then we came around a bend and realized we could hear a sort of humming noise, like traffic at a distance. But we were in the middle of the woods out past Whitewater, not a spot known for heavy traffic patterns. In fact, when I looked at a map later on, I was fairly sure that we weren’t even near the meagre one-lane road that ran past the park. I told her I thought it was traffic anyway, because all my other ideas about what it could be ranged from the outré to the mildly macabre.
In the dark, it’s hard to get clues from the environment in the way you normally would. For example, you can’t see the horizon or in many cases tell if you’re going up or down a gentle slope. Your internal proprioception can begin to fail and you find yourself running in all sorts of weird positions.
As I was leaving, Sandy got her hiking poles out and went off to spend the next seven hours hiking alone through the woods (and then another six hours with her next pacer). I am staggered by the amount of commitment and mental fortitude that an event like this requires. It feels superhuman. I shivered halfway home, eventually stopping to buy decaf coffee, chocolate milk, and cheesy popcorn at the only 24-hour gas station I could find. Then I stuffed popcorn into my mouth the rest of the way home. #noregrets
Occasionally I’ve been asked if I was going to do a longer ultra–something 50+ miles long. I always say “maybe.” It’s certainly daunting. I don’t know if I’ll ever feel up to it. Pacing for a 100-miler was awesome though. I’d totally do that again.
Tomorrow I’m off to the Richard Bong State Recreation Area to try and run 28-ish miles and not get shot by hunters. I am overly enthusiastic and under-trained. Should be fun!
This comic panel is the result of me 1) drawing a seven-panel comic about a race, 2) inking the first four, and then 3) deciding they were lame and this was the only salvageable one. I’ve actually done a bunch of comics lately, then discarded them because not funny. Maybe because the looming election is taking up such a large place in my thoughts. We’ll see how soon I can get my act together.
Here are all the races I’ve done since August, in brief:
Madison Mini Marathon (13.1 mi). Normally I wouldn’t do this race, but a coworker asked if I wanted to run it with him. He did it in 1:30ish. I did 2:07:22. First race back after being off for more than a month for a poorly diagnosed IT band-related injury. 93/256 in my age group.
Safe Harbor Labor Day Dash (10k). Did it on impulse when I woke up in time to bike to the starting line. Took the first three miles to really warm up. 55:24. 26/56.
North Face Half Marathon (13.1 mi). Hilly course, wasn’t feeling it. 2:18:19. 14/15.
Indian Lake Trail Race (12k). Supremely hilly course, and I ran it better than I’d ever done it before. 1:07:49. 17/32.
Fall 15k. Ran far, far harder than I expected I would. 1:19:14. 3rd in age group, 4th woman overall.
McCarthy Park Trail Race (18k). Spent a lot of the race trying to figure out how far 18 kilometers actually was (spoiler: about 11 miles). It was cold and rainy. 1:39:46, which although a good deal faster than the 18k I ran in June (Blue Mounds, 1:55:24), was only good enough for 9/14 in my age group, or slightly more hideously, 28 of 35 overall. Oh well.
With the exception of my exciting finish at the Fall 15k, I haven’t been placing well (and annoyingly, the Fall 15k only did prizes for the top person in each AG rather than top 3). But my times have been good and my races have felt fairly strong.
I wanted to race five different distances this year. So far, I have raced one 5k, one 5 mile, two 10k, one 12k, one 15k, two 18k, one 20k, and four 13.1 mile races. This coming weekend, I am pacing a friend through about 18 miles of her 100 miler, and then the following weekend I’m doing a 28-ish mile trail race as the finale to my season. After that I may take it easy for a while.
Ooh name that book. Or film. The film was also excellent.
Anyway, TWO COMICS IN ONE WEEK? I should pace myself better. Oh well. This actually happened–I didn’t hear the woman’s explanation to her offspring. I do wonder what she said. Okay, let’s bad segue into a quick discussion of the 2016 LMR 20k! (Link to last year’s race report.)
LMR20K 2016 micro race report: I ran in a circle that started at the Monona Public Library and went around Lake Monona. My 5K splits were pretty even at 27:11, 26:57, 27:31, and 27:08.
I was faster than last year, which was my goal. I didn’t beat anyone else in my running group, which was my other goal. This coming week, Saturday May 14th, I have a trail half marathon (the Ice Age half marathon) in La Grange, WI. I was hoping to use the LMR20K to predict my pace for the next race. If the two courses were similar, I would expect a 1:55:xx based on this performance. But they’re not–the trail race is a seriously harder course. And the weather may be quite a bit warmer. So we’ll see.
It was nice to race, though. I put off signing up for many races this spring because of stuff going on in my personal life and I have been missing it. In addition to the upcoming half, I’m also in for the Blue Mounds 18k and the half at Dances with Dirt. Depending on how things go health-wise, I would also like to do something crazy in the fall–maybe an ultra of some sort. Earlier in the spring, I was having some ankle pain after running distances farther than about 16 miles, so I’m going to wait and see if that has cleared up. Surprisingly, swimming helps keep my ankle tendons flexible when these things flare up.
We’ll file this under GV1062 L86 2016, for Recreation. Leisure–Sports–Track and field athletics–Foot racing. Running–Distance running–General works.
To preface this story, let me say that two weeks ago I did a local Middleton race called the Haunted Hustle. It wasn’t an “A” race, and though it was fun there didn’t seem to be much point in writing it up other than my friend/running companion, Kristi, getting to see her name in “print” here. Since it’s marginally relevant, I’ll just give the tl;dr version here: Hilly course, cool day, lots of costumes to look at, ran a 1:55:55.
That was, at the time, my fastest half of the season, although to be fair my other half was a trail race, and I also did a 20K in 1:50:xx, which is only about 4 seconds/mile slower. Anyway, since I’d signed up for the Tyranena race only two weeks later, my plan was to use the Haunted Hustle as a hard training run and then really race Tyranena hard, with the goal of running a faster time.
The races were only two weeks apart, so my training was unremarkable. The HH was on a Sunday; I ran 54.19 miles over the next week (October 26 to November 1), with one day off for swimming. That week included one day of dreadmill intervals and a 15-mile long run in the rain. The following week, November 2–7, I lifted legs on Monday, then hobbled through 8-milers Tuesday through Thursday and was completely off except aikido on Friday, for a total of 24.4 miles before the race. No taper, that’s me.
Tyranena starts quite late—11:30. I got up early (well, okay, I got up at 7:30) to eat my pop tart, drink a small cup of coffee, and loiter around working on my novel until it was time to go pick up Kristi. Last year we hit real traffic on the beltline and it was very tense, so this year I actually left a bit early. And of course the beltline was empty. We arrived in Lake Mills, WI, about 40 minutes away, by 10:20 and picked up our packets, then stood around chatting for the next 40 minutes or so. At 11, I went out for a warm-up jog, just a mile out at a relaxed pace and then some telephone pole intervals on the way back. I got back with just enough time to find everyone, then jump in the line for the port-o-potties and lose them again. Oh well.
We took off at 11:30 and I fell pretty quickly into an 8:30 min/mi pace. Running with the crowd to break the wind, this definitely felt like a comfortable speed, and I decided to hold onto it as long as I could. A bit before the first mile marker, I bumped into Kristi again, but when she took off (aiming for a sub-1:50 race), I made the decision to let her go and try to stay with what I had. This proved to be a pretty good decision.
The hills on this course are all on the first half, with the biggest coming right around mile four. However, none of the hills is really too difficult; my Garmin clocked 248 ft of elevation gain, compared to 362 ft at the HH. Watching my watch on the uphills, my pace occasionally dipped as far as 8:45 or even 9:00 min/mi, but I always recovered on the downhill. At around mile 5.5, I took a gel, another big change from the HH when I didn’t have anything for the duration. I hit the 10k mark in 54:28, according to the chip, and the halfway point about two minutes later. Up through mile 8, everything went really well. Then I noticed the people I’d been pacing off were gradually moving away from me; I didn’t feel like I was slowing, but my watch was suddenly reading 9:00 for pace.
At this point, I made a very conscious decision to push the pace, to leave everything I could behind and do my best to finish in under 1:50. I ran a few intervals using the trees along the path as markers, and gradually brought my pace back toward 8:30. Mile 8 seemed to last forever, but as I hit mile 9 at 1:17:xx, I did some mental math and realized that with 5K left to go, if I could just maintain my current pace I would finish under 1:50 comfortably.
Then, a few minutes later, I remembered that 9+3 is 12 and 9+4 is 13. So if I could run the next 4 miles at 8 minutes/mile, I would be done in 32 minutes. But what are the chances of that happening? Pretty much 0%. But if I ran strategically, it might be pretty close, so I decided to keep on it.
By mile 10, I was definitely beginning to feel the effects of a sustained 8:30 pace, especially in my right hip flexor. Every mile felt like I was making a bet with myself that I could sustain the pace I was running. If I had been smart, I would have brought another gel for this point in the race, but I didn’t really expect I would be doing as well as I was. Also, I didn’t have any other gels at home that morning. Tant pis.
I had a feeling that if I could hit a little better than an 8:30 pace for the actual last 5K, I would hit a sub-1:50. It was at this point that I fell back in with the group I’d been running with earlier and exchanged a few words with them, so I wasn’t looking at my watch and assumed later I just hadn’t been hitting the pace. But looking at my watch splits, I had this:
.1 (.26 on my watch)
I ran a 1:51:40 officially, which is about 100 seconds over a 1:49:59—meaning that even if I’d managed 8-minute miles for 10 to 12, I still wouldn’t have made it.
Last year, I ran a 1:53:13 on the same course, so I improved by about a minute and a half. I also managed my goal of beating my HH time. Part of this involved running strategically rather than stupidly, which is what I usually do. The biggest change was to find a pack or at least a tall guy to draft behind when running into the wind. Normally the decrease in perceived exertion in this position makes me speed up and puts me back in the wind; by biding my time, I was able to conserve some energy I really needed. I also didn’t take off with Kristi, which allowed me to save energy I would have spent very early trying to keep up with her (she’s fast). I took a gel at a good moment, about 5.5 miles into the race, with 7.5 miles on my legs. And I reengaged with my race mentally when I started to slow down and actually pushed myself. So I’ll call that a success, even if I didn’t hit my time goal.
This marathon, you guys. I don’t know what to say about it. It has been a tough couple of weeks for me. And so . . . this is my blog, let’s talk about it.
My training for this race was pretty consistent. I logged 208 miles in June, 221.5 miles in July, 253.8 miles in August, and 229.4 miles in September. My longest run was 23.5 miles, which was our running group’s trek out along the planet path from the Monona Terrace to Mount Horeb. That run happened August 29, and it was basically my last long run of the training session. I had an 18-mile run toward the beginning of August too, and a bunch of runs in the 15–16 mile range. There were some weekends where I meant to do 15/15 or 13/13 across Saturday/Sunday, and typically the second day’s run was not as long as planned. But then again, there were a lot of weeks where I took a random day off on a Tuesday or Wednesday to deal with aches and pains preemptively and then ran on Friday, so my legs typically weren’t as fresh going into the weekend as they might have been.
I also did some speedwork for this race. I did mostly 800s (working up to 10 x 800), 400s, or in the last two weeks, strides (15-second sprints with about 45–60 seconds of recovery). These were always as part of a run with warmup and cooldown on normal terrain, not on a track. My pace on these was usually around 8:00 min/mile plus or minus; in fact, the goal for each run was to do the intervals (not the strides) at 85% to 90% of max HR. I made this decision based on the strategies suggested by Pete Pfitzinger and Scott Douglas in Road Racing for Serious Runners. The book is more geared toward races up to the half marathon distance, but I do so little speedwork that it seemed like a good (and unintimidating) starting point. Eighty-five percent of max HR or 8:00 min/mi works out to be about a 5K race pace, which is slow enough that I’m not (or don’t seem to be) in danger of injuring myself doing it.
Finally, my running group was doing our long runs at close to race pace, often in the 8:50–9:20 min/mi range, which basically turned my long run into a long tempo run every week. This was quite helpful; I started out this training cycle just after the 50K feeling like a 9:20 was very fast, and finished able to do a half marathon distance run at an 8:48 min/mi pace, which required some pushing but felt generally comfortable. As a result, I decided my goal for the race—contingent on having a good taper—was going to be 3:55:xx.
So on the 26th of September, I tested for 4th kyu in aikido. The last weeks prior to the test were for me filled with a lot of aikido classes, so I was feeling a bit bruised by the end of it and ready to taper. Then, on the 28th, Bryan had knee surgery.
The Knee Surgery Thing
Back in the spring, B had his knee scoped. I think the technical term is a knee arthroscopy. The idea was to get a good look at a small defect on the femoral articular cartilage that has prevented him from running for, at that point, a bit over a year. At the time, the ortho shaved down the edges of the defect, and B decided to see how it went. But after rehabbing it, he found that while he could do short sprints during a game of ultimate, he couldn’t really run farther than about a mile and a half with me (on grass-covered trails, specifically) without pain. And then a day came when he went to frisbee and ran too much and the pain didn’t stop for over a week. So he got put on the list for a cartilage transplant.
The thing about being on the list, besides the awesomeness of medical technology that this is an option and the creepiness of having someone else’s cells in your body, is that you don’t know when exactly they’re going to call and tell you it’s time to rock and roll. So B got the call two weeks before my marathon, and possibly because of the aikido test (plus a play we were going to that weekend), he scheduled the surgery they told him Monday the 28th was go day. I’m glad he was able to come to my test, which meant a lot to me, and able to enjoy the play, which would have been difficult if he’d had to try to manage APT on crutches. But it did leave us a rather slender window for him to recover enough for a four-hour car ride.
After the first surgery last spring, he was back on his feet almost right away. Not an exaggeration: We went out to dinner that evening, and I had to glare at him to get him to bring the crutches into the restaurant. The surgery itself was very non-invasive, and they encouraged him to get back to walking as soon as he could. The second surgery ended with a four or five inch incision down the front of his knee, and he’s now on crutches with orders not to put any weight on the affected limb for the first three weeks, with another three weeks of gradual buildup to follow. So not only was his mobility a good bit different, his pain levels were as well; after the first operation, I think he took a few Tylenol, whereas after the nerve block for this one wore off, he needed serious painkillers. And then he developed some other side effects that I’m not going to get into, but suffice it to say that it was kind of an unpleasant week for him.
The thing about the running industry, such as it is and such as I interact with it, is that it is always telling people they have to make running a priority. Going out for a jog, being fit—if you want those things, you have to prioritize them. But the thing is, running is not really a priority for me in that sense. Running is a thing I do in order to stay sane and manage my stress levels, just like brushing my teeth is a thing I do because I have a horrible fear of my teeth falling out like in Tommyknockers to maintain dental hygiene. Race preparation, on the other hand, is something I have to prioritize or it doesn’t really happen.
Over the course of the week, watching B’s health/comfort levels wax and wane, it became clear to me that there was a serious question about whether or not he was going to be able to make the drive up. And I wasn’t ready to leave him to anyone else’s machinations; either we went together or I wasn’t going. So it may be obvious here what I’m pointing at—my taper did not really happen, or not very well.
The Personal Becomes Political
Monday was also when the race organizers sent out an email informing us runners that a protest by the group Black Lives Matter was being planned to disrupt the race at mile 25. Apparently they (BLM) had first announced their plans on the 26th or so, but I wasn’t following the issue then.
At first, I was quite disappointed. After a really long, stressful summer, I had been really looking forward to going up to see my brother and his wife, hanging out, doing the race . . . it sort of belatedly dawned on me that this was a very privileged way to look at things—they’re ruining my relaxing vacation, my race, and so on, when what they’re asking for—justice for police brutality—is both an extremely reasonable thing to request and something that it’s unlikely I’ll ever have to deal with. Which is to say, anyone in the BLM crowd would also like a relaxing vacation weekend, but they weren’t going to get it.
By, I guess, late Wednesday, I was reconciled to the fact that I would run twenty-five miles to where the protest was, symbolically turn off the course, and then jog back to my brother’s house about a block away. And then do, you know, another 1.2 miles on my own. But I wouldn’t be officially finishing. (I came to this decision in part because of discussions with a number of very smart friends and in part because I read some of the comments on the marathon’s Facebook page and realized which side of the issue I thought I wanted to be on. But also, to be honest, the whole thing also felt kind of secondary to the rest of the stuff that was going on in my life, like something I was watching from a distance.)
Thursday, the city of St. Paul and the marathon people announced that a deal had been struck and the race would not be obstructed. Instead, the protesters would be given 1) a meeting with the mayor, and 2) a place near the finish to hold their protest.
So, spoiler alert, B was able to make the drive up. Friday afternoon and all of Saturday were spent in Daniel and Claire’s most entertaining company, doing things like drinking Pimm’s and grapefruit soda, eating curry, and watching episodes of Sherlock. Then, Sunday morning, we got up early for the race.
Well, the race was at 8:00; I got up at 5:00 because B got up at 5 to take some pain meds. So it goes. Daniel and Claire kindly dropped me off at a few blocks from the starting line around 7:40, just enough time for a quick warm up and a stop at the port-o-potty. Actually, the PoP I found was right where a bunch of the pros were lining up, so I got to pee within ten feet of the person who actually won the marathon.
The beginning of the marathon was a bit of a problem. The race typically hosts about 8,500 people or so, and we were divided up into four corrals. However, as I jogged along the sidewalk, I could see pacer signs but no indication of where each corral started. I also noticed that the numbers of the runners in the corral I was passing (corral 1) were a different color than mine, which made me anxious that I’d accidentally stumbled into the 10-miler starting area instead. Eventually I ducked in and a woman in a bright yellow vest told me to move back to the 2nd corral (where I was assigned to start).
I had jogged about 0.27 miles at this point. For some reason, I decided to just hit lap on my watch rather than clearing it. This had a few unintended consequences. First, during the first mile plus, there were a lot of tall buildings that messed up the distance tracking of my watch; since the time was also off, I couldn’t rely on that to estimate my pace. Second, I didn’t realize that the corrals were going to be released as waves, with several minutes between each. So not only was my watch off from the time on the mile marker clocks by an unknown amount, our wave time was also. Basically, I was pretty lost.
The route starts out downhill for the first mile, then turns up as you run past the Walker art museum (a beautiful building; I’d love to see the collection there sometime) at mile 2. The best sign spotted during this section said “Keep running! . . . Unless you’re Donald Trump!” Then it’s on to circle three lakes, Lake of the Isles, Lake Calhoun, and Lake Harriet from around the 5K mark. This part of the race is great—the houses ringing each lake are easily some of the priciest properties in the city, and there was a good crowd out to watch and cheer us on, too (and all of their dogs). I felt very strong and relaxed through this section, and I was making pretty good time, clocking low 9s and even some high 8s (8:58, 8:46, 8:48). I came through the 5K in 28:xx and the 10K in 56:xx. Around mile 8, we left the first three lakes and entered a long, fairly flat part that went beneath some underpasses and eventually left us near Lake Nokomis around mile 11. I had originally thought I was going to see Daniel and Claire during this part of the race, so I stayed occupied looking for them in the crowds. Later I found out that they missed me in several places by only a few minutes. Crumbs.
I came through the half marathon point in what I thought, after considerable mental calculation, was about 1:58:xx. I was still moving well, and I knew if I could do the second half in that amount of time, I would wind up very close to my goal. At this point, I decided that I was going to take it easy until I reached Summit Avenue, and then really hammer it home on the last 10K. Just really leave it out on the course.
Of course, there were some complications. Aren’t there always? Somewhere around mile 17, my left knee began to ache. At first I thought it might be my IT band, since jogging with Daniel the day before he’d mentioned his own ITB issues. I slowed considerably because of the pain, and the four hour pace group was suddenly right behind me. I managed to gap them briefly, only to be caught when I stopped to stretch. I told myself I’d catch them back up, but I didn’t see them again for the rest of the race. Of course, the problem wasn’t my ITB—it was my hip. So there wasn’t really anything I could do. I tried to just relax and enjoy the day, since I quickly came to the realization that my goal time was not going to be met. At one point, I saw a lady with an orange tabby cat on a leash. The cat was lying in the grass, looking pretty chilled out, all things considered. I shouted at her, “That’s a funny-looking dog.” She seemed confused and shouted back, “Thanks?”
Around mile 19, there was a considerable hill near the University of St. Thomas that I’d forgotten about. At the top of it, a friend from my running group, Julie, was spectating, and she jogged about a block with me. That gave me a big boost. Then I finally got to turn onto Summit, which was kind of a bummer because the first two or three miles are one gradual hill. I don’t remember noticing it last time, but this time it was both obvious and hard. But I got to see Daniel and Claire in there (I think around mile 22), so that was another exciting boost.
Summit Avenue is another really nice section of town with really expensive old houses to gawk at. As I recall from 2008, the stretch between miles 23 and 24 was the longest ever. Although I kept hitting the lap button on my watch when I passed a mile marker, it was never registering a mile when I got to the next one, so everything seemed interminable. I was also having quite a bit of pain in both knees by this point. Then I got to see not just Daniel and Claire at mile 25, but B as well—he’d managed to crutch down to see me hobble by. What a rush!
I did reflect, as I left him, that if the protest had gone off as planned, I would be stopping at that point. And, to be honest, I would have been totally okay with stopping. But I was so close.
As I approached the finish line, I remembered the protest again. I had planned to symbolically raise my hands in the “hands up” gesture as I ran past them to express my solidarity for the protesters, since I thought from what I’d heard from the race that it was unlikely they were going to give runners the option to exit the course. But I didn’t actually see the protest. I did see, off to the left behind a chain-link fence, a bunch of people holding signs, but they were mostly white, and also standing in a circle facing inward, so I couldn’t really read any of the signs to determine what group they represented. And I was actually in some not-inconsiderable pain and very focused on just getting through to the finish line, so I decided not to stay and look around and just kept going.
I finished in 4:03:36, about eight minutes off my goal time. The first time I ran the TCM, in 2008, I finished in 4:41:10, so I’ve made considerable improvements in the last seven years. I’m not quite where I want to be/think I should be, but I’m somewhere other than where I started. And that’s sort of the idea, I guess.
As I mentioned, I crossed the finish line with pain in both knees. Fortunately, there was no permanent damage. With B’s help, the joint got shifted back to its proper position, and I am now again pain-free. I have already been out and run a few times this week, with no noticeable problems other than my quads being tired. I also felt pretty beat up generally at the finish; I think I have done so many trail races lately that I had kind of forgotten how running so far on concrete makes you feel like you’ve been beaten. My next two races are on a combination of cement and gravel, so we’ll see how that affects me.
I also finished with some pretty bad chafing on my back—it seems the belt I was carrying my phone in bounced around a lot, to the point where I had several kind of ugly, bloody scrapes on the small of my back. Those are still healing—yesterday at aikido, I noticed the top piece of my hakama occasionally digging into them when I fell. Ow.
Other than those, life has been pretty decent. And B’s recovery has been going pretty well.
When I told the story of this race to a friend, she asked why I didn’t just stop when things started to hurt. I don’t really have a good answer. I guess I just didn’t feel like anything was bad enough to warrant stopping, so I didn’t. What kind of what would warrant stopping? I don’t know the answer to that either. I do know that I have one more big race (ultra) and a half scheduled for this year, and possibly a 5K or 10K on Thanksgiving, and then I’m going to take it a little easy for a while. Easy meaning nothing longer than a half, maybe doing some weird trail race distances that are, you know, 15K or whatever. Maybe doing some more swimming. I feel like I say that a lot after marathons. I guess time will tell if I actually mean it.
 Not to sound too noble. I was going to run 26.2 miles on Sunday regardless of where I was, but if I was at home, I was planning to do 5 x 5 mile loops with a break for an ice cream sandwich after each.
 Okay, that was one of the weirder sentences I’ve written.
 I found out later that the 10-mile race had already been won by the time we set out. The winner finished in about 56:xx. Holy cow.
 Best dog: a husky who, when he heard the crowd shout “Woo!,” started howling. Also spotted a small bear-like beasty (possibly a chow puppy) being held and bounced like a baby by its owner.
 My SI joint slips, and then one of my legs becomes longer than the other, putting pressure on my knees. I’ve started doing more plank/dead bugs/half bridges to try to prevent it, but it still happens.
 So for liability reasons, races don’t want you leaving the course without telling anyone. There have been cases of runners getting eaten by bears and so forth—of course, an unlikely outcome in a big city marathon, but still.