Monday, May 31, 2010

Struggling; Acceptance

We lined up for the Bolder/Boulder, and I savored the anticipation of the gun going off. I was ready, and I knew it.
Oh, it was going to be a tough race. It always is. It's one of the tougher 10Ks in the state, if not the country, and it was already warm, despite the 7 a.m. start.
But I love this race. It's the largest 10K in the country. It's a race that sparked my running, and this was my sixth. I could call myself a veteran. I knew the course. I was excited to run fast, and I was in a fast wave, the fifth-fastest, so I was with some damn good runners, most of them, I have to admit, better than me. I was probably really suited for a couple waves back. But that's not what you want to think about right before a race.
I told people it may not work out. That I may bomb out. That I may not be ready to run a tough race not even three weeks after a marathon. But I didn't believe it. I never do. I'm terrific at handing out advice about rest and tapering and accepting the fact that racing so close after a tough, long race may not work. I'm terrible at accepting that advice on my own.
So the gun went off, and sure enough, I was feeling good. I ran the first mile in 7:22, and I thought that was smart. I thought I was fine.
I started feeling it by mile 2. The troll was already at work. Slow down. Walk. It's OK. I still hit the mat at 15 minutes, and I thought a PR was possible.
That's when the bottom dropped. More realistically, that's when the hills began to wear on me.
The BB is a tough course, with hills, hills and more hills. They're gradual, but they're also constant, and I've yet to find a good way to tackle them.
Let's make it short. I ran 8:25 for the third mile, somehow managed to hit 8:20 on the fourth, but then I puked, and mile 5 was 8:45 or so, or the pace I ran the first 20 miles of my marathon.
I crossed the finish in 50 minutes, my worst time in four years.
My friends, who are all experienced runners (and all of whom turned out their usual great times), told me that it was too soon. This was, to be honest, the first week where I even remotely felt myself, and even last Monday that wasn't true. I'm still surprised how long it's really taking to recover from the marathon. As I said, I'm great at dishing out advice and not so good at accepting it for myself.
But there's another form of acceptance, and it's one I may have to face soon.
I'm just not an elite runner. I am not my friends. Not even close.
My running partner finished 9th in her age group, which is amazing, considering there are 50,000 runners. Another who met us at the start finished 15th, and she's 31. I have friends who have done Ironmans, qualified for the Boston Marathon (no small feat) and ran 100 miles in a race.
Me? Well, I guess when you compare me to the average person, I'm good, and the average runner, I"m not bad. But I have to admit something. I am famous for climbing mountains even when I'm not feeling my best. That's something I can do. I've done it hundreds of times, and that's how I finished all of Colorado's 54 14ers (I'm only one of 1,500 to do that). But I'm not an athlete. Not really. I feel like today, with more guts, and more oomph, I could get past the marathon blues and turn out a good time. I didn't do that. I can't do that.
I may just have to accept the fact that I'm not in their class. It should be fairly easy for me to accept. I never was an athlete. I played in the band in high school and in college. It's only recently that I transformed myself. And yet I put in the work, and I'm seeing mediocre results, at least compared to my friends.
Should I accept that? I'll know in a few weeks. That's when the marathon becomes a memory. And no longer an excuse.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Evil Thought of the Day

As the girls screamed, cried, kicked, refused to lay in their bed, threatened to break the world record for decibels excreted in a minute, threw their teddy bears across the room, lost their pacifiers, then found them, then lost them again, then found them again, then lost them again (all within the span of 30 seconds), hollered as we sang them a song and generally acted like hellspawns on wheels:

"Well, maybe I'll just concentrate on the boy."

Friday, May 21, 2010


My wife texted me Wednesday night and asked if I could work from home Thursday morning because Andie was sick and we should probably keep Allie home too.
Normally, I'd groan at the prospect. I enjoy spending time with my girls, but I had a big story to write and sometimes I get caught up in my own self-importance.
Not this time.
Predictably, Andie and Allie put in their usual rate of two demands per minute. Juice. Potty. Juice again. Potty again. (See a pattern here?). Food. Candy. Cry when I say no to the candy. The movie "Up." Blocks despite the movie up playing. It makes it hard to do ANYTHING, let alone write a big story.
Normally I'd groan at this.
Not this time.
Predictably, as the morning wore on, Andie became fussy. She was cold. She was warm. She was not all-together. She was dramatic. She was "upset," as she put it. She wanted to see the computer. Even if it meant sitting on my chest so I couldn't write. Nothing would appease her. I was wishing good luck to her future boyfriend.
Normally I'd groan and roll my eyes at this and bemoan my bad luck.
Not this time.
Not that day.
Because that day, the body of Kayleah, a 12-year-old girl who lived in Greeley with her mother, was found Wednesday. Police hadn't officially announced that it was her yet, but everyone knew it was. Today they revealed that think she was murdered. Awful. Awful awful awful.
And my big story was a profile of the Greeley mother of a 23-year-old missing in Nepal since last month. Again, awful, even if there's still hope with this one.
When my daughters whined, I smiled. When they needed juice or milk or a thousand other things, I got it for them without complaint. And when they needed to snuggle, I put my computer aside and snuggled.
After all, they were with me. And I was damn lucky to have them there.

Monday, May 17, 2010

A trying trio

It's the girls' third birthday. This is supposed to be a time when I write heartfelt, loving prose about how much I love them, the kind you find the more serious Hallmark cards, the ones with lace and unfocused pictures of teddy bears and ballerina shoes.
But as I leave their room, I can still hear Allie screaming and banging on the door. Kate is pleading with her. Now she's just left. Tonight it's Allie's turn for a nighttime tantrum. Tomorrow it will be Andie's.
At times like these, I really have to wonder. I have to wonder why being a parent is the most rewarding thing I've ever done. Because, at times like these, it's not.
The girls' third birthday marks one of the harder years in my life, and the only ones that were tougher than their first and second year. The sacrifices I've made are numerous, uncompromising and, at times, unnatural. I have sacrificed many of the fun, relaxing things I used to enjoy. I have sacrificed most of my free time. I have sacrificed part of my sanity. All so I can replace all with tantrums, ear-splitting cries and moments that are so stressful that I don't even recognize myself. This is my life. This is every day.
And when I try to explain what it's like, usually to my friends who have older children, I get "just wait until they're teenagers." Which tells me they have no idea what I'm going through and probably don't care. All parents think they're stressed. All parents think they've got it the worst. All parents just seem to want to get through the stage they're in so things can get better.
I'm not sure they ever do.
And that is why I am happy for those three years. I admit that I really question that happiness. I wonder if I"m just telling myself that. I have done a lot soul-searching on my long runs. And I always reach the same conclusion.
Long runs are hard, just like a lot of things. And parenting may be the hardest thing I've done, but it is perhaps the most rewarding. It doesn't give me the same satisfaction that climbing a mountain or running a marathon does. Those give me energy, and the kids just take it away. But it's energy well spent, and nothing about climbing a mountain or running gives me the same warmth that those small, loving moments do.
They are fleeting. Just like a runner's high. But they're the reason to enjoy the journey, rather than try like hell to get through it.

Friday, May 14, 2010

RIP Nemo

One of my friends suggested I just put a new fish in the tank. He'd never know, he said. He's 4.
Yeah, but he's an old 4. Hell he'll be 5 next month. And so this afternoon I wrapped my arm around his neck in a sort of awkward father hug and told him it was time to say goodbye to Nemo.
He named the fish Nemo when Grandma Gail - my Mom - bought him the fish tank for his birthday more than a year ago. Nemo is probably the most popular fish name in history these days, just how everyone named their pet dolphin "Flipper" in the 1960s. Nemo was a good little beta. He was red, he swam around the tank and peered back at Jayden when he would drag his chair over to get a close look at his first pet.
Lately, though, he just sat in the bottom of the tank, looking like I do after a hard race (like a marathon, per se). Only he wouldn't eat. That's usually not a problem after one of my races. And I wondered how I was going to handle this.
I did consider a fish switch. But I only want to lie to my kid about fun stuff, like a bunny rabbit that carries eggs to good children. And, more importantly, I wanted him to get his first lesson about death.
"OK, let's go say good-bye," I told him. "I'll need to flush him away."
See, I was working on my eulogy.
"But I'll miss him," Jayden said.
I know, buddy. I miss Sparky. He was my dog for 15 years. I miss my uncle, and my grandparents, and I'll always miss them all.
I hope I'm long gone before I'd have to miss you. That would be a hole that would never be filled.
I hate that a 4-year-old boy has to learn that people, and yes, pets, go away and never come back. Whether you see them again is up to you. I'm not getting into that with a 4-year-old yet.
Right now the lesson is hard enough. I'm regretting, in a way, thinking that he needed to learn it right now. Really? Couldn't I have just switched the fish?
"I'm sad," Jayden said.
Me too.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

A tale of two races

When I started running today's marathon, I honestly thought I was in heaven.
So this is what it's like, I thought, as I gazed over the Poudre River, swept through a rock tunnel and flew down the canyon, all without the pain I was so worried about these last two weeks.
Oh, sure, it was cold, but even that was pretty awesome, as you could gaze down a long line of runners and see everyone's breath, which is way cooler than it sounds. The sun was peeking through, but it hadn't shown itself yet, splashing a few orange rays on the rocks behind me. I had metal in my ears, pushing me to go harder, friendly competitors by my side, a river to my left, an awesome sunrise, perfect cold weather with no wind and a body that was asking for more.
It was like this for a long time. Far too long, in fact, because when things are going this well, this long, it seems like there's always hell to pay later. It's like going on a huge hot streak in poker. You go through it with mixed emotions because you know eventually variance will take its taste, usually in the form of brutal one-outers for monster pots. I ripped off a 1:52 half marathon. I realize that's not going to qualify me for the Olympics, but this was my first marathon, and that's an 8:37 pace, and not only that, it felt like I could keep that up the entire race.
Alas, because around mile 18, my legs started to feel heavy. Only they weren't heavy. They hurt. Only I thought that was fine because, shit, we'd just ran downhill for 18 miles, and I'd ran it fast. I was well on my way to 3:45. And one of my friends met me to run with me for a couple miles just a mile and a half later, and I said to her that my legs were starting to hurt a bit.
And then I cramped up.
Now there are cramps, and there are cramps. I had experienced cramps like these maybe a couple times in my life. My right leg seized up, and it felt like my hamstring had turned into one of those Alien babies and was trying to burst out of my skin. When I stretched it out, my calf did the same thing. When I tried to stretch both, my quad bunched up.
This was not what we call a "win-win."
It was like this for the next seven miles.
Well, I was still able to run, but I'd run for a bit and then seize up again. I did what I could. Those same friendly competitors saw my agony and offered up bananas and pretzels. Folks, a marathon is war out there, and it warmed my heart to see so much generosity when it could mean their race only a couple miles later. I downed Gatorade. I ate sodium gels. Nothing worked.
I've had bad races - every runner has - when you feel as if you just want to walk. You're tired and down and sick. I didn't feel that way at all. I wanted to run hard. But it was impossible. I simply couldn't. I felt like a sports car with a good engine and a couple bad tires. I even had to stop twice to stretch out my calves close to the finish line. And I pulled in at 4:17, frustrated, happy, proud and pissed all at the same time.
Marathons are unpredictable. I trained well. I felt good. Yet my wheels gave out on me. I wonder if I didn't drink enough even when I thought I was. Or whether the downhill did me in (that's certainly possible, as we didn't run that far downhill during my training runs). I doubt running slower would have made much of a difference.
Here I am, barely able to move, and knowing I should feel proud. I ran a marathon. I suppose I will feel proud soon. But something nags at me knowing I could have done better.
And that is what will motivate me next year.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Time is short

I can't decide if I'm being a big baby about my upcoming marathon (next Sunday, in fact) or if my fears are justified.
I've always wondered just how football players get through an NFL season. They must always be in pain. You just can't play that game the way it's supposed to be played without being dinged up all the time. 
I've also always considered myself a tough person. I've prided myself on it actually. Mountaineers have to not only put up with discomfort. They have to sort of like it. We view it as a challenge. Oh, you've scraped up my leg? And thrown cold rain, wind, wet rocks, snow and a 55-degree hill at me? All on my three hours of sleep? Nah, I'm gonna climb you anyway.
And yet, here I am, worried about a pain in my foot.
Yet it is, sort of, justified.
I went to see the doctor about it Friday. He said, after a thorough examination, that I've got a stress reaction in a bone. This doesn't mean I have a stress fracture. But it means it's on the way if I keep pounding my foot by running so much.
So, OK. As a result, I didn't run hardly at all last week - and I know you're rolling your eyes at that, but really, I ran two miles all week - and I'll spend three days this week running maybe two miles at the most, all on soft surfaces, slow, so I don't hurt my eansy-weensy wuttle footsie.
But yeah, a marathon is kind of pounding my feet again, and that's what I'm facing this Sunday.
And it's my first one.
And I have no idea what's going to happen.
Doc even says he will inject my foot before the race if that's what I want. I know what you're all thinking - FTW is probably not far off - but I don't want to numb my foot and run 26 miles on it. I would, quite honestly, rather feel the pain. Think about it. You know how awful your mouth feels after the dentist, right? Would you want to run on that for 26 miles? No. Me either.
Still, my running partner is meeting me at mile 17, and she may - just may - have an injection with her. Maybe. Just to get me through it. Or, you know, if my foot does actually break.
It should be an interesting race. 
I ran today for three miles. It felt fine. But here's the real issue. Last week I ran 10. At every mile, the pain got worse, until, in the last mile, I was saying ow, ow, ow with each step. 
26 miles is a long way. I'm almost positive I can do it. 
But I'm still trying to decide if I'm just being a baby about all this or if all this worry is justified. And the scary thing is I won't know until the race is over.