Thursday, August 28, 2014

Marathon Majors as a (lofty) goal

Running the world's biggest six marathons

“You feel like a single cell of one huge organism consisting of 30 thousands similar running cells”
Photo: Bill Brine / Foter
Creative Commons Attribution
I don't think of running as grueling, I always found it easy. I love going outdoors, no matter the weather, checking the neighborhood, humming a tune in the rhythm of my steps, sometimes listening to the music, or more likely an audiobook, other times going "commando" (sans-music) and getting lost in thought. And no, running the same routes doesn't bore me either. Every day is different, even if the route is the same. There are different people—and some of the same ones too—walking different dogs, different squirrels (though I can't be absolutely certain of this, as I can't tell them apart other than by the color of their fur) rush up different trees... I don't get people who complain about running all the time, yet do it every day. It must be an extreme form of self-torture; how much energy do they spend only to get themselves out the door, before even making the first running step! I can't wait to go out, it's a highlight of my day. If I feel tired, I go slow. If it still doesn't feel as nice as I'd like, I cut it short. But, mostly it's a very enjoyable experience, never grueling.

However, there are times when I allowed the word "grueling" into my thoughts. In a few instances it happened at the late stages of a race when my ambition reached farther than my strength and energy. And on a few other occasions it was during the training for one of those races. I guess it's unavoidable. Most marathon training plans run for 16-20 weeks, 5-6 days a week. If we take the 16 weeks / 6 days plan, that amounts to 96 runs. Some of them are bound to be tough, some will be spoiled by bad weather, and some by bad people or my own bad mood. Toughing those out makes them grueling.

Answering the challenge

Every marathon finisher—and there are more of us every day—will tell you that running 42.2 kms (26.6 mls) is beyond hard. Some do it once to prove that they can, and never subject their bodies to that pain again. But, many more runners keep coming back, doing it over, and over, and over. There's something about answering the challenge in you; when you conquered the marathon once and lived to tell the story, you want to do it again. Each time the challenge is slightly different; first time it may have been to finish the race, then it was to finish under -:-- (insert your own goal time here), and it gets crazier from here. Some people run the same marathon over and over, as a ritual, carving metaphorical notches on their shoes so they can say "oh, I ran such-and-such marathon 15 times!" Others collect them like rare antique items. They run a marathon in every state (USA), or a race on every continent. The latter is deemed too easy (not enough continents to boast about, I guess), so to up the challenge for the bragging rights (because, that's all there is to it) it has to be done in the same year. That is getting trickier as the Antarctica's ice is melting, making the iciest marathon not only the wettest, but the most challenging for the safety reasons as well. With the new marathon races popping up like mushrooms, especially in the United States, one of the fads is to run the "every state" challenge in one calendar year.

Although I deeply enjoy the atmosphere at the races, and racing itself, I am afraid to put such a challenge to myself. Not that I wouldn't physically able to do it—without false modesty I believe I would—but I feared I'd come to hate running after that. Instead, I picked a different challenge: to run all Marathon Majors. For a guy my age and with my (slow) speed, I decided to do it as I can, definitely not in the same calendar year.

Marathon Majors

I expect you know all this, but for those who don't, bear with me for a few lines—or just skip to the next paragraph! The Marathon Majors are a league-style competition consisting of six of the most reputable marathon races in the world. The "league" was established in 2006, made up of Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago and New York City marathons. For ordinary runner it only means they are very difficult races to register for, as the quota of participants gets quickly filled up. The elite runners—those Kenyans and Ethiopians who actually win the races—have a special incentive for running the majors—the first five runners in each race earn points, and at the end of a two-year period, the runner with the most points gets a $500,000 prize as a marathon majors winner. Sweet, eh?

For a regular Joe Blow as yours truly, this challenge to run the majors may appear too easy, and maybe subconsciously I was fishing for a challenge that won't make me dedicate my whole life only to running. After all, when I made it my goal, there were only five of the majors. But, don't forget you need to qualify for some of them—Boston, for example. While I was at it, I managed to qualify for NYC too, so I wouldn't depend on the lottery draw to participate. Then came Berlin and Chicago, which were both beautiful races, well organized and executed. And, just as I was a single race away from my goal—the elusive London marathon whose entry lottery I keep missing—the organization added Tokyo into the mix, in 2013. Imagine approaching the finish line of a marathon, only to be told that you have one extra mile to go—that's how I felt when they dropped Tokyo into my bag of wonders to achieve! At fist I was put off, but soon learned to look at it in new light: now I had another spectacular race to experience, and that promptly improved my mood.

Great thing about the majors challenge is that you get to run six of the best marathons in the world. In each of those races crowds of spectators stretch the whole length of the course and carry you on, cheering squads and live music make it all seem like a giant—and, granted, a bit grueling—street party. Beside, you get to see some of the greatest cities on the planet, and they stop the traffic and open their hearts for you to tramp on.

Personal Perspective

Just as every one of us runs for his/her own reasons, so does each of us experience the race differently. One thing I noticed in each of the four marathon majors I ran—the atmosphere, especially at the beginning of the race, tends to take your breath away. Pushing off at Hopkinton during the Boston marathon, the road dips down and for a moment, cresting the starting hill a view breaks in front of you of a road winding through the forest, alive with thousands of bobbing heads, swinging arms and wagging shoulders, all bathed in the golden aura of the rising sun. At that very moment it hits you that you are participating in the oldest, and arguably the most prestigious marathon on the planet. You glance at the faces around you where the same awe is clearly reflected in almost religious fashion. And you feel as a single cell of one huge organism consisting of 30 thousands similar running cells, snaking its way toward Boston. Your eyes fill with tears and your throat constricts with humble pride from being a part of it. You can feel the unspoken excitement, tear-inducing reverence of every participant and closeness that transcends brotherhood among the runners. That massive wave of emotions you can only feel in special races. And for that feeling alone it's worth to run the majors!

At the time I write this post, I've already missed yet another draw for London. There's always next year, right? On the other hand my pulse accelerates at the mere mention of Tokyo; I am waiting for the results of the participation draw for the 2015 edition of the marathon. Wish me luck!

Friday, August 22, 2014

Size matters

Weight loss and the role of portion size

No need to go to such extremes to lose weight
Photo: malias / Foter
Creative Commons Attribution
I feel elated and light like a feather. And no, it's not strictly metaphorical, other than the feather part, of course. Exactly three weeks ago I embarked on a weight loss crusade, joined by my wife Margo. The goal was the same for both of us—to shed 10 lbs. As you may have guessed by the opening sentence, we've accomplished it fairly easy in 21 days. Here's how it went.

First, a little background: we are both on the slim(ish) side, Margo is petite 5'4 and was 120 lbs to start, I am 6'1 and was 180 lbs. However, we both felt sluggish in our skins, heavy and devoid of energy. On top of that, I have developed a nagging back pain and Margo suffered upper back stiffness and neck pain. I don't believe the weight was the cause of our back problems, but it contributed to our feeling heavy and listless. After complaining about it for months, we finally decided to do something.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Starting again

Where I’ve been and what I’ve done since the last RunCast

Photo credit: João Lavinha / Foter
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)
Every runner knows coming back after a long break is hard. Whether you were out with an injury, or life got in the way, starting the running over is a bitch! All the muscles that worked like parts of a perfect purring engine now misfire, hurt and misbehave. Although it takes less time to get where you once were, it takes more will power.

Something similar is happening with me now. And I’m NOT talking about running - I’m talking about runcasting. Or, rather, blogging.

For over a year since the last podcast I went through the phases. First it was fatigue with podcasting, then it was a withdrawal phase. When I was at peace with myself about not doing RunCast any longer, I started having ideas that would be just great for another episode, and had to fight myself to dismiss them. I consciously stopped checking the traffic report on the blog and updating twitter. But, the ideas, the thoughts wouldn’t leave me alone. So, I relapsed, and here I am doing it again. Please don’t judge me harshly.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Runcast 81 - the last cast

As you probably guessed from the title of this podcast, this is a farewell. It wasn't a pre-meditated decision, and it certainly wasn't an easy one.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Runcast 79 - Breaking long run into two / What is your favorite running surface?

The new concept breaks the long slow distance run into two more intense and more manageable halves. Do you prefer hard or soft when it comes to running surface? We explain the difference and why you should vary the surface you run on.

Runcast 69 - Importance of the long run in marathon training / Can running form be self-taught?
Time To Forget The Long, Slow Run
How Running On Different Surfaces Affects Your Body

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Runcast 77 - Rest and Pain

How much rest is too much? When does your fitness start to ebb away and what are the consequences? Also, why does it hurt when we run? Listen to learn about the rest and pain management.

Too Much Rest: Training Reversibility
Navigating the Pain Trail – Concepts of Pain Physiology in Running Injuries