October 2012 Archives


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This week I was part of a large contingent from Run Dem Crew that rolled into Amsterdam for a Bridge The Gap event. For those who don't already know, these are gatherings of the international urban running crews. This weekend was hosted by Patta Running Team, the Amsterdam-based crew, and Edson, the Patta crew's leader. The weekend kicked off with a boat dinner cruise with African food cooked by Edson's mom. Yes, in a truly legendary display of love, his mom actually cooked for well over one hundred hungry runners! We all love Edson's mom for this! The weekend then culminated with a party where those who had run well got congratulated, and those who had not had friends to commiserate with. Between those bookmarks, here is what happened.

Saturday was a quiet day. Suzanne and I went to the newly reopened Stedelijk Museum, and then I went off to the marathon expo to pick up my race number. Saturday night we had an obligatory pasta dinner, and then off to bed early for me. At least this time I actually got in a good night's sleep. No fire alarms or other sudden noises disturbed my slumbers.


Sunday morning I woke up, had a simple breakfast of muesli and yogurt, put on my running kit, and headed off to meet my fellow Bridge The Gap marathon runners at the race HQ established by Patta just north of the Olympic stadium. Despite some minor glitches with the trams (including a delay while we waited for a stalled taxi to be pushed off of the tracks!) I arrived in plenty of time to check my bag, make my final race preparations, and head over to the Olympic Stadium for the start of the race. It was really nice to have our own private space in which to do final race prep. My friend and training partner Melissa and I arrived at the stadium together, and managed to make our way quite close to the start line by the time the gun went off to start the race. I tried to make my way up to where the 3:30 pacers were, but couldn't quite get through the crowd to them.


The race started with a half lap around the Olympic track, then we headed out of the stadium, and up north to the Vondelpark. Not only is running through the park a really pleasant start to the race, but I also got a shout out from my friends Guy and Kaye who were forming their own cheering section. Although I wasn't with the official pacers, I did manage to keep to a fairly consistent pace of right around 8:00/miles for the entire first half of the race. We meandered through the streets of Amsterdam, headed down the Amstel river, and I just kept rolling along. There was a fair amount of wind along the river, but it seemed to be more from the side so I was more concerned about my race number being torn off (along with my timing chip which is attached to the back), than I was worried about losing pace to the wind. There was music at lots of points along the course, including a band playing on a boat on the river. A very nice touch.

As we ran along the river I was reminded of a bicycle ride I had taken last year which happened to have been along this very stretch of the river. It was actually a pleasant surprise to discover how much of the scenery was familiar! For the most part I was sticking with my pace all along the river, but it was definitely starting to feel like a little more effort than it had been. Each time I became conscious of the effort, though, I was able to correct my technique and get back to running fairly easily and at the correct pace. As we were going down river we could see on the far bank a big inflatable gate marking the halfway point of the race. While it was nice to know that the halfway point was not too far ahead, I found it psychologically unfortunate because as we kept going further and further south I just kept thinking about how this was all moving us away from that halfway point. Finally we crossed the river, went through the cobbled streets of a charming little village, said streets lined with cheering residents, and started heading back towards Amsterdam. Not too long after the turnaround we hit the halfway point, and I was quite happy to see that my time was right around 1:47, which is to say just two minutes off of the 3:30 pace.

After the halfway point things started to get more challenging. I was definitely starting to feel some fatigue in my legs, and I thought that the right thing to do was to have a gel. So I got one out. And waited for the next water station. And waited. And waited. I was thinking it was going to be at the 25 km mark, but it wasn't. Instead it was after the 26km mark. I was quite happy when I finally reached that station, ate my gel, washed it down with some water, and kept on running. Well, went back to running. Throughout the race I walked through the water stations if I was stopping to get something. All the drinks were in cups, so this was the only way to really get a full drink without splashing it all over the place. Plus you get a little rest, and the time you lose is negligible. Once I had the gel in me, I definitely picked up, and was flying again when I passed the Run Dem Crew cheering section around kilometer 26.5. This was people who were going to be running the half marathon, but had figured out (thanks Paul!) where they could be to see us marathoners fairly far into our race, and still have plenty of time to make their own start. I gave them a big hello, and rolled on into the city. At this point the course wandered through a rather uninteresting industrial section, and I just kept working trying to maintain my pace. It was definitely getting to be a challenge, but I was still able to consistently have stretches of running close to that 8:00/mile pace.

When we finished with the industrial section we were back on picturesque streets, running near canals, past parks, through nice residential areas, and near museums. By this point I was past twenty miles, and feeling pretty good, although my pace was definitely dropping. The kilometer where I hit 20 miles I was still close to my target pace, completing kilometer 32 at an 8:11 pace. But after that I was between 8:30 and 9:25 for the rest of the race. I was definitely finding it a bit harder to keep going, and by 36 kilometers when I thought of trying to reestablish proper running technique (knees driving forward, etc.) my legs were just not up to it. At this point I could have gone several ways. I could have given it everything I had left, and probably ended up struggling much worse at the very end. I could have kept up my pace and spent the rest of the race bemoaning my fate. Or I could let go of the time, appreciate the fact that I was still fine to keep running, and just enjoy the run. At this point I thought back to the words of wisdom I had received from Simon Freeman, and just let go of the time. This didn't mean I slowed down, but it meant that I stopped obsessing about my watch. It also meant that I spent the next six kilometers smiling, enjoying the scenery, encouraging other runners, etc. It meant that when I saw Guy and Kaye at kilometer 39 I could smile at them. It meant that when I saw photographers on the final push to the Olympic Stadium I could flash gun fingers at mile 26 (which had been one of my personal goals for the race). This was a sign to those in the know that I was still fine and still going strong.

I finally reached the last turn before entering the stadium, and there was Suzanne (accompanied by our friend Michael who had flown in to Amsterdam to see us) at the front of the crowd cheering for me! I flew past them, into the stadium, onto the track for the last 200 metres (another half lap), and that's when I started crying. I was just completely overwhelmed by the fact that I had really done it. I decided that I didn't need to sprint (remember, I had decided to let go of the time), so I just circled the track, soaked in the moment, and cruised across the finish line. I happily received my medal, kissed it, and headed off to find Suzanne.

I feel like I learned some really important lessons from this race. Most importantly, and most appropriately given the cancer research theme I have for this month, I really learned (again) how important it is to not let a ticking clock interfere with us enjoying the world around us. Ultimately the time is going to take care of itself, and we need to all find ways to accomplish our goals without letting the pursuit take the fun out of it. After all, I don't really run just to get good times. I run because I enjoy running. Because I like the way it makes me feel. Because I benefit from the contemplative nature of the activity. Because ultimately it isn't about reaching the goal, it's about enjoying the journey. I expect to have lots of opportunities to get better times, but I will never have another opportunity to run my first marathon. Ultimately, the time is just a number, but the memories of scenery, of cheering up other runners, of seeing friends, of enjoying signs people were holding up, of crying as I finished, those are what I will really treasure. And I am now looking forward to next week when I will complete my trio of races. Because this final race isn't about time at all. It will be about running with friends, helping someone else have a better run, enjoying the day, remembering all the people who have been supporting me, inspiring me, loving me.

Oh, and after all that, after I let go of the time, and just enjoyed myself, I did okay. Actually, that's a lie. I did amazing. I beat my gold medal time by two full minutes! I came in at 3:42:59. And I did it with a smile on my face, and love in my heart. And the only reason that was possible was because my friends and family had my back. Thank you all.


Rolling Through Royal Parks

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Royal Parks 2012 Jersey.jpg

Before I start discussing today's Royal Parks Half Marathon, I would like to share this observation recently offered by the marathon guru Hal Higdon: "Your friends don't want to hear your time, or whether you set a Personal Record in your race. All they care about is that you finished." To those to whom this applies, I assure you that I did finish. You are welcome to keep reading, but should feel yourselves under no obligation to do so.

Yesterday was spent resting, running a few simple errands, and trying out some recipes from Scott Jurek's book 'Eat and Run.' For those who don't know who Scott is, he is one of the top ultra-marathoners in the world. The sort of guy who wins 100 mile races while breaking course records. He also happens to be a vegan. So in his book he offers some of his recipes. Breakfast yesterday was Eight Grain Pancakes with Berries. We used a mix of berries which gave the batter and the finished product a distinct purple tint. They were also delicious and full of nutritious things. Dinner last night was Lentil-Mushroom Burgers. Then I got myself all organized for the morning and headed to bed in plenty of time for a full eight hours sleep.

Purple Pancake Batter.jpgPurple Pancakes.jpg

Except that about 1:00 in the morning the fire alarm in our building (which is prone to going off for no apparent reason) went off. Once woken from a sound sleep it usually takes a while for me to get back to sleeping. Suzanne ended up making me some sleepytime tea and that finally did the trick. Anyway, when the day finally dawned, clear and chilly, I was a little short on sleep. Nevertheless it was time to get dressed, have my usual cereal with yogurt and seeds (including this week's addition: chia seeds), some juice, and an espresso. Then off to the races!

After some conversation with Barbara, my coach/trainer, we had come up with an aggressive race strategy. The plan: try to stick with the people pacing for 1:30 as long as I could, and see how things go. I had originally proposed starting out at the 1:40 pace and seeing if I was up for speeding up later in the race. So this was definitely a bit outside my comfort zone. And I knew that there was a definite chance that starting out too aggressively could very well cost me time at the back end. It was pretty clear after a few hundred metres that I was not going to be able to stay with the 1:30 crew, but I was able to keep them in sight for a fair while. It was really great to be running through familiar streets as the race went by Hyde Park Corner (where I got my first shout out from the Run Dem Crew cheering section a.k.a. Cheer Dem Crew, and a little bit later from Suzanne), and then down towards Buckingham Palace and on to Westminster Bridge. This whole first part of the race was just magical. I had great thoughts of all the people who were supporting me (either in person at the race and/or through donations to my fundraising for Cancer Research UK), plus I really felt like I was on my home turf. Run Dem Crew runs much of this part of the route every couple of weeks, so I could just cruise, enjoy my pace, and admire the bright sunshine. This good feeling and cruising took me through the first split with a 5k time of 22:11 which was a new personal best. The last time I had gotten anywhere near this time I had hit 5k and then stood gasping for several minutes, so this is a great sign of progress!

The course then doubles back shortly after Waterloo bridge, cuts back along the north edge of St. James Park, back through Green Park, and then into Hyde Park. At this point I got another big shout out from Cheer Dem Crew (who were fantastic today!). Shortly afterwards I hit the 10k mark with a time of 45:52, another personal best! At this point things got a little more complicated. First off, the course through Hyde Park is quite twisty, plus there were some odd terrain changes, and there were some hills. But I kept putting in stretches where I was focused on using all of the technique I have been taught: knees up and driving forward, heels kicked up, etc. So even though this stretch was my slowest 5K of the course I still managed to maintain a respectable pace, although slower than I would have liked. We finally crossed over to the west side of the park, picked up some downhills, and headed for the home stretch. And this was where I had my toughest part of the race.

I was still running fairly strong through kilometer 21, but then the last 900 metres I just ran out of gas. That stretch seemed to take forever. It certainly didn't help that there was a bit of very spongy terrain which sapped a bit of energy out of my legs, but even back on hard, flat, roadway I was struggling, From 800 metres to go to 400 metres to go I felt like I had nothing left to give. Then the people pacing for 1:40 caught up with me and they were yelling at people to start sprinting to make 1:40. I gave it my all, and almost made it, but couldn't quite keep the spring up to the very end. Nevertheless I finished with a (you guessed it) Personal Best time of 1:40:14. Chuffed? I would say so. I feel very good about this. I have no doubt that if I had taken a more conservative approach to the start of the race I would have easily finished with a sub-1:40 time. But there's always another race for that!

One of the best parts of this race was definitely feeling like I had so many friends and relatives behind me. When things got tough I thought about the toughness I have seen people showing in their battles with cancer, and this helped me dig deeper into my reserves to keep pushing forward. I also had lots of stretches where I was able to just think about how showered with love and support I have felt through my entire race prep and fundraising process. Big big thanks to all of you who have been part of this journey!

Royal Parks Medal.jpg

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This page is an archive of entries from October 2012 listed from newest to oldest.

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