Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Everyday is Halloween

…on the New York City subway. I’m on it enough, I know.

And today is the day parents show off the little monsters so they can all go insane with late-night sugar attacks. If their children are anything like some of the trust fund kids in my neighborhood, it is indeed a frightening day.

Ministry – Everyday is Halloween

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Tonight: NOVA Marathon Challenge

If you’ve got the time to watch TV tonight, NOVA (PBS, 8PM DST, and re-run ‘til the end of time) is devoting an hour to following a group of folks as they train for a marathon. I can’t have an opinion on the documentary since I haven’t seen it, but hopefully it won’t end up being public TV’s answer to a reality show (dysfunctional people complaining, whining, crying on-camera, etc.), nor an overly sentimental take on ‘the triumph of the human spirit’. Sure, there’s a little bit of all of that in any training and race coverage, but I hope the NOVA team has the good sense to be, well, honest about marathon training without resorting to the usual TV clichés.

Link to ‘NOVA: Marathon Challenge’

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Race Report: Poland Springs Marathon Kickoff

I’m getting so blasé about races, I’m forgetting to bring my camera. So no funny pictures of people from behind, which always happens, right? And pretty soon all the race pictures start to look the same. It’s like sports highlight footage on the news, they could show five seconds of somebody catching a ball from last year and it would look exactly the same as the footage that was taken this afternoon. And it’s also like that generic video of obese people from the neck down, walking down the street, always shown when there’s some study published about overweight America… they could reuse those pictures for years, and we’d never know. So you know the one I plopped in (above) is from some other race this year. Hey, at least I’m honest.

Today’s race was a 5-miler, and it was a preview of the last couple of miles of the NYC Marathon next Sunday. Thousands come out for it, and the Central Park drives are jammed beyond belief, so the first two miles end up being a slow jog for practically everyone. It’s a big pain in the ass, especially because at least a fifth of the runners are wearing headphones and blasting the Theme to ‘Rocky’ between their ears and can’t and don’t want to hear anybody else. Unlike Chicago, here headphones aren’t outlawed, just ‘strongly discouraged’, so we can only hope those iPod batteries die sooner than normal on the NYC Marathon course.

My 5-mile time was OK, but it felt like it was about an hour off my PR. Then again, as NYRR prez Mary Wittenberg said before the starting gun, ‘if you’re running the marathon, you shouldn’t be racing today’. True enough.

So we finished at Tavern on the Green, and got our Poland Springs water and bagel and that was that. It had started at 8AM, so getting home by 9:30 was rather nice; unlike the marathon, it didn’t feel like we’d spent the whole day traipsing all over kingdom come.

This all came on the heels of this week’s marathon organizers’ e-mail to participants ‘strongly advising’ them to find alternate travel methods to get to the upcoming marathon start. That means an alternative to the bus diaspora from midtown. Taking the bus costs an extra $20, and most runners already bought their ticket when they registered, and now they tell us not to take their very own buses if we actually want to get to the start in Staten Island on time. The delay is caused by ongoing construction on the Verrazano Bridge that won’t be finished in time, so everybody is mildly screwed.

As for me, it will all work out, this week’s foreign policy is all about being blasé. Like the weather, I refuse to get angry about something I have no control over. I’ll always get cranky about certain things, but after running the Chicago Marathon, I feel like every race is a fun run anyway.

Friday, October 26, 2007

iPod Friday 21

Today’s recording is kind of appropriate for this time of the year, though it’s a bit too old school for most, I guess.

But I like how the Martians end up in Central Park only to drop right near the location of the New York City Marathon finish line. That’s even more appropriate.

Orson Welles & The Mercury Theatre on the Air – The War of the Worlds

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Runner Profile: The Mummy

Just in time for Halloween, here’s a picture of the first known runner, pre-Marathon, even.

He was an Egyptian athlete, and after getting all mean and nasty to other runners, he was wrapped in non-wicking gauze and doomed to an eternity of slow, and that means very slow, power-walking.

OK, I’m in a trough between races. Gimme a break, they can’t all be winners.

Anyway, as the old Hollywood saying goes, if you can’t outrun the Mummy, you deserve to die.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Race Report: Staten Island Half Marathon

Yeah, I’m a nut, I ran a half marathon a week after a marathon.
Sue me.

It was a ‘fun run’, OK, and that’s a phrase that’s loaded with way too much meaning for me to go into right now. Anyway, a nice part of it all was getting to the start of the race, which involved a subway ride on the Lexington Avenue line and a 25-minute trip on the SI Ferry. The ferry is still free, which means the terrorists haven’t won, and it’s a fun way to rid yourself of a half hour of your life.

However, on the way, the #4 train I was riding on stopped at 42nd St., as scheduled (you never know on the weekends, it’s travel roulette ‘round here). Since it was early Sunday morning, there was room to sit and fewer passengers getting on and off. And as I waited for the car doors to close, I noticed the biggest damn cockroach in midtown trying to board the train. I’m telling you, he was big, as in ‘Vs. Godzilla’ big. He stopped at the edge of the platform, looked in, and began to think about the feasibility of jumping onto the train. Since the doors stayed open for a few minutes, he had plenty of time to turn around, do a few laps, return, and think some more. Again and again. And I’m just sitting there watching this big-ass insect considering his options during his long run. So I started thinking about Kafka, European Lit’s Mr. Sunshine. And about turning into some running insect myself, and just then the doors slammed shut before Megalon could make another trip to Tokyo. I must say he did appear more intelligent in his decision-making abilities than some of the citizens I’ve come across in this fair city of ours.

So I got to Satan I-, uh, Staten Island, met up with running pal Susie, and she listened to me gab on and on and on about the Chicago Marathon for a full 13.1 miles. Poor thing.

Finished the race, ran to the noon ferry, and was back home before I sprouted antennae.

But that damn cockroach still haunts me. Better re-read
The Metamorphosis in time for Halloween.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Chicago Marathon Day 2.1: Afterparty

Now that even I’m getting bored with replaying race day through my head, I won’t make anybody suffer through a megapost about how I ate a protein bar at 3PM. But I will make a few comments about what went right and wrong after the show.

I can’t belabor the zombie analogy anymore, but I will say that after I crossed the finish line it was pretty much business as usual for the finishers. That usually means exhausted-looking, very quiet, sweaty people moving forward at a top speed of a quarter mile an hour. There was one guy in front of me, who was declining assistance, but then changed his mind. I watched him get carried off, and then it was my turn for volunteers to ask me if I was alright, too. I told one of them that yes, I was OK, and almost followed up with a remark that if I could hear you and answer you, I’m relatively fine.

I even had the wherewithal to stop and get my official finisher photograph. A very nice looking blonde girl, probably half my age, was in front of me in line. She was smiling, and so was I, and I said something obviously dumb like ‘I’m just glad that’s over’, and she agreed. So off we went through the lines of people telling us how wonderful we are and handing us provisions that nobody in their right mind would want to eat after a race like that. I would’ve liked a little bag to put all the crap in (juggling food, etc., takes more brain power than you think you have), but that was the least of anyone’s problems.

I made it to the baggage pickup, and after getting my checked bag, I realized I was the only one still standing up. I found a tree and stretched a little, and I was the only one doing that, too. I have to tell you, I may not feel like 100% after every marathon, but just ‘not running anymore’ makes me feel better, fast. As long as I keep walking or moving I don’t have time to let fatigue catch up, and I don’t let my legs freeze up, either.

I stopped again to look for the food I’d just put in my bag five minutes ago, and it reminded me of my mother’s lament ‘I can’t find anything in this purse’, and then another runner came over to where I was standing and dropped to the ground. He immediately started with the loudest session of dry heaves I’ve ever heard, and it was then that I realized a lot of people were having a bad day. A lot of people.

So after stepping away from Heave Prefontaine (sorry, I’ve used that one before), I left the runners at baggage check to enter the civilian world outside of the chain link fences around us. It was not quite noon, and I headed to the family reunion area around Buckingham Fountain, unshaded and bathed in blazing sunlight. One runner told me that he saw a bank temperature sign that read ’96 degrees’.

And I waited and waited for comrade runners R.B. and Bambi, and started getting worried after another half hour went by and no sign of either. I started to need water, and the race organizers had none beyond the finish line, and now that I was out of the finisher’s area, I couldn’t get back in. That should’ve told me something, but I was still unaware of what was going on out on the course. So I went to the area near the start that had water before the race. I didn’t see a damn thing, but something else kind of strange. Runners were coming in to the finish line from the opposite direction, slowly; another finisher behind me asked me what was going on, and we concluded there was some other 5- or 10-K going on along with the marathon. Of course, no one had said a word about another race, but when the heat starts to fry your brain you can convince yourself of anything. Just as we chalked it up to some concurrent ‘fun run’, a spectator walks by and informs me that ‘they’ve cancelled it’. I didn’t really believe her, but I didn’t say so. What do non-runners know?

I went back to the meet-up area, no sign of friends, but by 12:40 R.B.’s Husband/Patient Spouse found me. Long story short, she shows up about 20 minutes later, and Bambi shows up another half hour or so later. Despite the heat, and because of it, both decided to do the smart thing and take it easy and finish the race when they were good and ready. Bambi had been told to stop at Mile 24, but managed to quietly finish the race anyway despite the stern warnings of organizers, and now, police. Both finished between 4 and 5 hours, and under the circumstances that day, that’s pretty darn good. They even looked better than I did after all that, and that just pisses me off (!). But we were all fine, and damn glad it was over, especially since we kept seeing overcome runners in wheelchairs going by.

That night I watched the local news and saw frightening scenes of runners in convenience store lines buying their own Gatorade and water. Talk about pissed off. And of course, coverage of the guy who collapsed and died. The media was all over the other racing death of the day, too, in the Army 10-Miler in Washington, D.C. Same old story, crazy runners in the heat, what were they thinking….

Well, they trained for months, and didn’t want to stop. Some of them had raised thousands of dollars for charity and had been taken out mid-race. In hindsight, stopping the race was probably the right thing to do, but I have to say I don’t know what I would’ve done had I made it to the halfway point and been told to get on a bus or walk back home. For me, running faster has its benefits, and in this case, not running out of water. But those folks not running as fast? They were screwed by bad weather and poor management. One you can’t control, but the other you can, so I’m not heading back to the Chicago Marathon anytime soon. The race management STILL hasn’t admitted any mistakes were made.

OK, I’ll try to end with some constructive advice. After you finish a long race, keep moving. Resist the urge to plop down. If you keep moving, your legs won’t stiffen up as much and you’ll feel better in the long run (no pun intended there, my puns are more obvious than that). After the race, I kept moving for a couple of hours and felt better that night because of it.

Eat a protein bar or something soon after you finish, as long as it won’t make you sick. You need fuel whether you know it or not. And keep drinking water, that helps for recovery, too. You knew that already, but your brain does funny things with the on/off switch after a race sometimes.

And here’s the strangest advice, this may or may not work for you, but here goes. Try a brief run the next day. I ran for 20 minutes or so the next morning; sure, I was somewhat sore, but a little leg exercise (of any kind, really) helps get rid of the lactic acid that accumulates in your legs. And by Tuesday/Wednesday, I was starting to feel pretty good. Most marathon trainers would probably say I’m crazy, but it works for me.

Thus ends my Chicago ’07 saga, and I’m happy to write that I’m lucky enough to have had a generally good time. Next up: New York City.

P.S. Upon my return to NYC and e-mail, running pal Mindy informed me that I had qualified for Boston. Shit! I’ve done it now…

The number pickup area at the expo, usually staffed by the AARP. Just kidding, I made that up.

A view of downtown, around 6AM. Before the deluge.

One of the departure areas after the finish line, around noon. Those are family members and friends pressed against the chain link fence, waiting for runners. Notice how many runners are coming through. Yeah, not many.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Chicago Marathon '07, Day Two: Judgment Day!

So it’s 5AM, Sunday the 7th. Since my body thinks it’s 6AM, because it is indeed 6 on the east coast, I wake up two minutes before the alarm goes off. Feeling rested. So off I go into pre-race autopilot, shower, shave, dress, go down to the hotel lobby for coffee (my stomach can handle it before a race, always can) and back up to put on the temporary tattoo from the New Balance Pace Team. It’s a 7-inch excel spreadsheet in green and white, and it gets slapped onto my inner left forearm. I know, Nerd Alert. Anyway, I’ve signed up for the 7:40 minute/milers, which means a 3:20 marathon. Based on my last half marathon finish line, I should be done around 3:10, but with the expected heat I allow for an extra ten minutes.

So out the door I go with a big-ass tattoo on the left arm, and all the fixin’s I need packed for post-race glory or depression. Since I see other hapless runners heading to the Red Line stop, I join the lemmings going up the steps to wait for the next train, and lo, Jehovah or Yahweh produces public transit salvation. We get on the train, and we quickly discover that the only folks nutty enough to be on the CTA at 5:50 on a Sunday morning are marathon runners, runner hangers-on, and very large, inebriated homeless men. One of these large, drunken men gets on after a few stops and decides to stand and stagger around the train car for the next twenty minutes. And we’re all just nicely sitting there and thinking to ourselves ‘Stay the Hell Away From My Legs’ Drunk Guy’ because having your legs and feet crushed by a raging drunk right before the Chicago Marathon ain’t kosher. He yells and annoys some guy listening to an iPod for another ten minutes, then leaves, thank you, and we’re back to enjoying our typically inexplicable stopping and starting experiences on the lovely CTA.

Then we’re at a downtown stop, and off we go to the baggage area in that Millennium Park area that better be big enough for thirty or forty thousand people. It’s still dark, but that’s OK, it feels nice out, it’s in the mid-70s, and that’s… uh oh, that’s a little warm for 6:30 in the morning. Cue foreboding incidental music.

Next is a quick cell phone call to comrade runner Bambi, who’s arriving with Running Bitch soon, and I’m fussing with my checked baggage while standing by Buckingham Fountain, which I think was in the opening credits of ‘Married With Children’.

I have some time to spare, but after meeting up with my running friends, and rummaging through our packed bags a dozen times, we’re off to baggage check where listless, bored kids file your bag in big cardboard boxes. I make some joke with one of these kids who's trying to nap for some reason, and I say something along the lines ‘yeah, I’m not sure I want to be here, either’, and he doesn’t get it. Anyway, more fussing with safety pins and such follows, and I encounter running friends without even trying. Off to a last-minute bathroom break, the men’s bathroom lines are too long, which rarely happens, so I go to my corral.

The corrals are set up this way: elite (i.e., Kenyan) runners up front, a group of the top 100, then three corals, A, B, and C, seeded based on a submitted previous marathon or half marathon time. I had sent them my 1:30 half marathon time from August, so I land in corral B, with bib numbers in the 2000-4000 area. Corrals are optional, and the bulk of the runners are in the ‘open’ field, which probably means about 80% of the folks out there. So after a ‘bathroom’ trip en plain air, which means locating an obscure tree in the park (women are doing this, too), I make my way to the B corral, which is filling up, with 15 minutes to go. It feels like we’re right up front, and relative to the rest of the runners, indeed we are. Some guy wearing a camelback and sporting at least ten gels in a fuel belt stands in front of me, and I roll my eyes and issue another mental Nerd Alert. Later that day, I retracted that very Nerd Alert, goofball runner was right.

So country star and marathon runner Jo Dee Messina belts out a twangy national anthem, and pretty soon, we’re off. It’s crowded, but I can see a 3:20 pace team ahead of me, so I keep up. There are three pacers holding little signs from what I can tell; I pick one team and stick with it. Suddenly, I realize that the Chicago spectators are cheering to the point of going nuts. Really. I haven’t heard such crowd support since NYC, and it only gets stronger. Gotta love that.

The first few miles create an S-curve through downtown, shady, and crowded. The weather is cool but humid, and after a few minutes I realize I’m sweating more than usual, and I’m not known for that. Never mind, I feel good, even though I see the first runner of the day starting to walk at the 5K marker. Headphones are banned, so for once I’m not getting cut off by somebody who can’t hear anything but their tunes. Sure, there are a few runners with mp3 players, but there are far fewer than you see in New York races.

The course heads north parallel to, but not on, the lake, and every so often you feel a nice breeze. Although we knew it by looking at the course map, it wouldn’t be until later on that we’d fully realize those would be the last breezes of the day. After six or seven miles we U-turn and run a few streets over from the one we ran up, parallel again. My pace group is keeping up, the head pacer is giving us words of encouragement, and spectators are even cheering us as a group. ‘Go, three-twenties!’ we here, over and over. Heading for the Mile Ten marker, we’re almost back downtown to the shade and comfort and huge, huge crowds. I feel good and actually have to slow it down and try to not run faster than the pace team, which shows you how much I was raring to go. But I have to cool it and keep the pace because it’s not going to get easier, I know from experience.

Around mile twelve, my right Achilles tendon wakes up. The same tendon that caused me to take nearly a week off in September.

AT: What? What? Hey, what’s going on?
CR: Uh… uh…. Nothing, don’t worry about it, just a little, uh, race..
AT: You sure? I feel like I’m working kinda hard.
CR: Don’t worry, we’ll all be fine.
AT: Well, if you say so, but I know you, and well…
CR: Relax. You’ll be resting this afternoon, and then we can all have a protein shake to celebrate.
AT: Alright!

And that was the last conversation I had during the race with my right Achilles tendon. Love that A.T.! No problems.

But then my quads and glutes start to have a similar conversation between them, and I overhear it. They’re starting to stiffen a little and they’re not too happy about it. So I convince them it’s time to show me what they’ve got. And despite the grumbling, they come through for me, then and for the rest of the day.

After a few twists and turns downtown, we head due west towards the halfway point. For the first time, I start to long for mile markers. It’s too soon to do that, I haven’t even reached the 13.1 marker, and the hardest part is ahead. Heading west, we lose the shade of the skyscrapers, and full sun hits our backs. It’s getting hotter. I arrive at the halfway point at 1:40 and some seconds, and the big-ass pace tattoo on my forearm tells me I’m pretty much on time. Anyone else could’ve done that math in their head, but when you’re running and losing brain functions, sometimes you need an excel spreadsheet on yo’ ass to help you out. For the first time, I stop at a water station to take off my shirt and re-pin my name banner, which requires more motor skills than you’d think. So I lose about a minute and or so, but I’m just glad to be halfway done.

A note about the water/aid stations. There are fifteen of them total, about a mile and something apart. Not at every mile marker like in some marathons, but instead, sometimes as much as 1.8 miles apart, and unless you’re carrying a map, it’s a little bit of a mystery as to exactly where the next one is. This would be an anxious and sad situation later on for everyone.

So off I go and… where’s my pace team? I know I stopped and all, but they’re really nowhere to be seen, not even somebody wearing the 3:20 pace bib. I start to see 3:10 pacers without teams, and a few people with higher numbers than mine, and… it’s starting to look like a zombie movie. And after slugging it out to about mile 15, the course U-turns and now the sun is facing us, and it’s even worse. We’re in an area that has lots of low, two-story warehouse-looking style buildings, and there is no shade, unless you want to count shade from fire hydrants. Like running through Long Island City, and that ain’t so pretty, either.

Casting for the zombie movie is in full swing, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a sign that says ’Brain Station Ahead’. If somebody had thrown a whole cauliflower on the course, it would’ve happily halted the race, at least temporarily. But we’re plugging away, no sign of pacers, and I realize that everybody around me is pretty damn fit. All of the men are skinny and shirtless, all of the women are wearing those sports bra/shorts combo bikini-like outfits, and it’s a tough crowd. Which helps me a little, because you find yourself keeping up with the Joneses if you know what I mean. But, boy, is it getting harder.

By the Mile 16 marker I’m starting to get more tired. For crying out loud, I have ten miles to go, it’s too soon for that. And it seems to take forever, and I can’t believe it’s the Mile 17 Marker, I thought I’d passed that. I don’t even want to think about how long I have left, it’s got to be more than another hour (and it is). And it’s getting hotter.

People pass me, I pass them. I start to stop at every water stop, walk for a half a minute, then continue, feeling slightly better. I pass the people who just passed me. Spectators are ecstatically cheering us on. But I generally keep my pace. And guess who I see? Mr. 3:20 Head Pacer, passing me, he’s all alone. You mean to tell me I’m running faster than he is? Not really, he just passed me, but what gives? Things are falling apart.

Then at one of the water stations I encounter my first and only running idiot of the day. I feel an entire cup’s worth of water hit my right leg and go into my shoe, and then I see this guy pass me. He’s taking cups of water and dousing his head, one after another, until he’s finished off around eight cups (and you just knew he did this at every single water station). I almost went up to him and said ‘thanks for the shower’, but I didn’t think it was worth the effort, and besides, the water would evaporate soon enough. Of course, he had every right to use as much water as he wanted, he paid his entry fee, but in hindsight it was a tad bit indulgent. Not that he or I would’ve known it, but runners behind us would’ve killed to have that water later. Anyway, I watched him weave and cut in and out of runners despite the wide open space we had, and that pissed me off, too, so I decided I was better off turning inward to wallow in the mounting misery.

I start to get into the 20s. Same routine, I run until I make it to the next water station, curse the heat, curse the world, stop at the station, walk with my water or gatorade, hear the cheers of teenagers and older volunteers. At one point around mile 23, a teenage girl sees my name pinned to my shorts and screams out an earsplittingly loud and mock-encouraging ‘RICHARD, YOU’RE GONNA DO IT!!’ At that point I’m holding a cup of water, bent down, facing the ground and watching sweat drip like vanishing points to the unshaded asphalt. Waiting a beat, I let out a comparably loud and insane ‘YOU GOT THAT RIGHT!’ And the whole water station erupts in laughter. Thus ended the comedy portion of today’s program.

And a water station away, a nice lady, noticing that I’m not enjoying this particular chapter of my life, quietly offers me a little cup of ice. My brain instant-messages an ‘OMG’ to the legs, and I effortlessly stop and thank her with more sincerity than anyone has a right to. It’s a frickin’ episode of ‘Touched By An Angel’. After crunching on some of it, I walk a bit more to add more water to make ANOTHER iced water, and it’s heaven. I didn’t know it for sure, but the temperature is in the mid-80s, and it feels like the 90s because of all the humidity, and there’s no shade, and it’s only 10:30AM. Got to run to the next water station.

And I do, and amazingly, my pace has not suffered substantially. Despite the little walk/stops at water stations that are killing any hope of a 3:20 finish, I’m not delirious, I’m not feeling light-headed, I’m not even feeling nauseous like I have in a couple of other hot marathons. Just getting more tired, hotter, and even bored with having to struggle to the next water station. And the course has us zig-zagging south through a Mexican neighborhood, and then a mile later, Chinatown. I see the typical ethnic establishments, but I’m not paying much atttention, because I just want to finish the damn race. And get to some shade.

I see a mile marker at an underpass and we get a ten-second break from the sun. I realize now that I have about three miles to go, and thank God, because I’ve had it out here. What’s three miles, about 25 minutes? That sounds a hell of a lot better than an hour, so I suck it up until the next water station. And I can do it because strangers I’ve never seen in my life are screaming at me like insane asylum inmates and telling me I can. (I must admit I heckled a spectator at mile 22 who yelled out a chipper ‘You’re almost there!’, with an equally chipper ‘No, we’re not!’)

So after heading south through another non-scenic neighborhood of automotive body shops and warehouses, we turn left onto Michigan Avenue. A straight shot of two miles, where every far off highway sign looks like the finish line. And you get closer, and it’s not. And I’m still seeing skinny, fit, personal trainer types trudging along with me, trying to keep a respectfully decent pace amid this third reel of today’s zombie movie. Less shade, more insane spectators.

I realize I’ve hit the last water stop, and soon (but not soon enough), I see the Mile 25 marker, and thankfully, the Mile 25.2 marker, which means you-know-what. I know the course is going to turn right, go a bit, then left to the finish, and after another ‘OMG’ IM, I’m turning. And here’s the hill everybody warned me about. It’s steep for its location on the route, it’s a bridge going up to the final 400 meters. But I was warned, and off I go, up the hill, no stopping now. Someone screams my name out, and I pass a younger guy, he hears them scream out, too, and in a split second he looks over at me, and I look at him, and there’s this mental connection that says ‘this is hell, but we’re going to finish, aren’t we?’ It was a level of communication that can’t be fully described; he knew it, I knew it, and we turned to look up just as the hill ended. We turned left, and there’s the $%&^# finish line.

Upon seeing the finish line banner, I let out a ‘THANK-YOU-JESUS!’ which I’m sure no one else heard, but was about as heartfelt as any cynical, post-enlightenment going-to-hell heathen like me could muster. I look down and see a spray painted ‘300’, which better mean 300 meters, and there’s no stopping now, looks like my finish time is about 3:30. I can’t believe it when I cross the finish line… wait, I can, it’s about fucking time.

Next: Post-Race Wrap-Up and Race Organizer Bitch-Slap!

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Race Report: Chicago Marathon ’07 - Day One

With every passing day I feel luckier and luckier that I didn’t pass out or drop out or get diverted like thousands of runners did during the marathon. I didn’t even hit empty water stations, for crying out loud. But I now know that people behind me did, and once I started hearing ambulances at the finish line, and then hearing them announce it was a ‘fun run’ (yeah, right) and then hear that the race was cancelled outright, I knew it was not going well. Later that night I saw on local TV scenes of runners in long lines buying liquids at convenience stores during the race. One runner, brandishing a bottle of Gatorade, told the news crew ‘I paid $110 and this is what I have to do’ right before taking off down the route. She was right. And many runners weren’t just sarcastic, they turned hostile, and it probably would have been a worse scene if everybody wasn’t already so damned weak from the heat. And the race organizers still deny they ran out of water (not even a ‘we’ll look into it’) despite thousands of runner testimonials about having to carry cups with them so that ocals could fill them with water from garden hoses.

The race organizers should be ashamed of themselves. Right before they’re forced to run a waterless, shadeless, hot marathon in mid-August, and then banned from running or even managing a run, for life.

Well, that’s my rant, and I probably don’t have as much of a right to that opinion as many others would, but it was a mess out there last Sunday. I’ll try to describe my happier experiences knowing full well that over 300 runners ended up in the hospital, and one didn’t even make it out alive.

Getting to Chicago

As my plane landed at Midway Airport on Friday afternoon, it banked sharply left and right, then started to land with only a few hundred feet between the plane and the runway. Suddenly, the plane lurched back up and started climbing again. The passengers all started looking at each other with worried expressions, and then the pilot comes on and tells us there was another plane that ‘was being a little slow taking off’ on the runway we were about to land on. Hmm. That’s great, ‘Tragic Plane Crash Cancels Marathon Pasta Party’ and other similar headlines flash in front of my eyes. Everybody looked at each other and just waited for the second landing attempt, which went much better. Of course, all I’m thinking about is having ‘DNF’ (Did Not Finish) after my name in the marathon finisher list. No, I’m not thinking about human tragedy or disaster grief or anybody else, just whether or not my race statistics are going to be embarrassing because I ‘DNF’d due to an airplane crash. I quickly chalk this up to Marathon Taper Disorder (MTD symptoms: restless leg syndrome, weather forecast obsession, mood swings, etc.) that has dogged me for ten days.

Saturday - The Expo
So it’s in the southern part of Chicago, and I need to take the Chicago Transit Authority Red Line to Chinatown, the nearest stop to McCormick Plaza or Place, whatever the hell they call it (see? I’m getting cranky already). I quickly discover that Chicago’s mass transit has some rather sucky qualities. Like the stations are lit by greenish neon lights that turn them into sets out of some teen torture flick. And most disturbing of all, there are plenty of slowdowns on the tracks, so at any moment you could go from 50 to 2 MPH and sit in the tunnel for a little while, or just coast along. The Chicagoans I saw riding the CTA seemed rather used to the erratic speed, and had an air of resignation about not getting anywhere on time, whatever that is. I’m not trying to come down too hard on the CTA, let me tell you, the New York Transit system is nothing to write home about either, but when you’re timing a slow, undependable trip to the expo you begin to have doubts about your far more important trip to the actual race in the morning. So I decided I would have to taxi on down the several miles to the start the next day if the good ol’ Red Line didn’t fulfill expectations. And then the conductors started picking and choosing which stops they were going to hit, and I ended up switching trains twice even though I was on a direct line. Great.

Then I get to Chinatown where I immediately meet running pal R.B. and R.B.’s Patient Spouse. Off we go to the expo on a Partridge Family-approved marathon shuttle school bus, and the damn convention center is the size of an airport. You could’ve parked several space shuttles and the mother ship in there, and still had room for somebody sitting in a booth selling glow-in-the-dark sports bras. We’re talking BIG, and R.B. agrees with me that we have reached Runner Heaven.

All the major shoe companies are there. Staffed with clean, chipper sales people and stocked with overpriced gear. And people in booths from all those marathons you hear about but never go to, you know who they are. And then we become Sample Whores and start snacking down on bite-size pieces of energy bars and drinks served in plastic shot glasses. If you throw a leg of lamb into the Amazon river, and see piranhas attack, you get an idea of what it’s like to see a bunch of runners with the MTDs at a Clif Bar booth. And if you don’t pull your hand back fast enough… well, it ain’t pretty.

So we get our numbers, and the little old ladies are always so nice, aren’t they, and then we get the goody bags which is more bag than goody, but that’s OK because my plane didn’t crash yesterday. Yeah! And then old running pal Bambi and the Official Bambi Posse arrive and we meet and assault the expo with everything we’ve got. Official marathon jacket: $125 plus tax. It’s a mustard color, and heavy, so forget it, because the thought of buying something for the wintertime is surreal when it’s still 85 degrees outside. Funny, the singlets are almost gone...

Well, the rest of the day was even nicer, despite a 30-40 minute wait for the shuttle bus to get us the hell out of there. A quick lunch was followed by a trip to the crowded Art Institute, which is rather worth a visit if you find yourself in Chicago. Famous paintings live there, and it was a fine way to spend the afternoon before heading out to dinner at a carb-loading pastatorium. Of course, the night before a big race is when you’ll find hapless runners nervously scanning menus for non-threatening entrees (once again, a symptom of the MTDs), and that night was no exception. After a quick trip back to the hotel (of course, the train was faster because I wasn’t in a hurry), I settled in for some mindless rest in front of bad Saturday night TV. I actually got some R n' R, and managed to get some good sleep too even though my body was an hour off due to one hour of jet lag.

I’ll post more soon, this time about race day… but so far, so good.

Next up: Satan Races in Hell!

Monday, October 8, 2007

I Ran Chicago and All I Got Was a White, Long-Sleeve Cotton Tee-Shirt

Really, that’s what they gave us for the $110 entry fee. Not a nice, technical shirt we could actually use, but some typical, numbskull beefy-T they’re too embarrassed to hand out at the East Bumfuck Leap Year 10K. Not to mention running out of water starting at Mile Seven. Details, details.

As you can tell, I survived, and survived enough to write (upon my return to NYC just now) something snarky about the hellish heat of Chicago Marathon ’07.

But I was there, I did it, and I’m just fine. I didn’t finish too close to where I wanted to, but I was happy enough to finish ten minutes off of it, which is better than about ten or twenty THOUSAND runners did yesterday.

I will post an agonizing discussion soon on what went right and what went wrong (and when it did, it was a doozy), but I just wanted to let Satan’s Helpers know he’s fine and actually feeling better than normal after a marathon.

See, it’s ‘Rocktober’ after all!

- R

Friday, October 5, 2007

iPod Friday 19 and OK, 20: Race Soundtrack!

Haven’t posted many tunes lately, so I’m about to get caught up in a big way. Since it’s way-too-long race time for some folks (including Le Crank here), I thought I’d throw out some appropriate stuff to get the blood going, among other things. So I present to you:

Cranky Race Soundtrack ’07!

Yes, tunes to inspire and indulge, all ready for those important points in the race. Not ‘Born to Run’, not ‘Running on Empty’, not ‘We Will Rock You’. Please. Just a few music files for that player of yours, and for the playas, if you will.

Before the Race!

A little instrumental track from Orbital, nice for a warm-up. Think of your old pal Satan here, wishing you only the best.
Orbital - Satan

One of my faves from the Gorillaz, from that last, overplayed album. I ‘dare’ you to run the race… yeah, that’s stretching things a bit.
Gorillaz – Dare

Oh, you know, I’m all up in the old wave, here’s Tears For Fears redo for a charity race in the UK. I mentioned this one a long time ago, but it still makes me smile in a ‘PBS Sweatin’ To The Oldies pledge drive’ way.
Tears for Fears - Everybody Wants to Run the World

And now for a little relaxation. Useful when you’re stressing out, though it might make you wish you were somewhere else. A pleasant instrumental from The Art of Noise reminding you of that vacation you really, really need to take.
The Art of Noise - Island

Now how did this get in here? This one’s about shoplifiting! Doesn’t matter, it has this skittish beat that makes you want to be a ‘hustler’, though not quite the kind this tune is about. You’ll hear ‘push it, push it’, ‘cause you’re about to, right?
Simian Mobile Disco - Hustler

And We’re Off!

Damn! A slice of early 90s rap and dance, this crazy track by The Kopyright Liberation Front, aka the Justified Ancients of MuMu has everything from air raid sirens to the MC5 dropping the f-bomb. It always gets me going with all that old school rap and stuff, despite the ‘gonna make you sweat’s.
The KLF - What Time Is Love?

A new track from Seal about addiction, I assume. But he keeps singing ‘so you run, so you run’, so it could be about running addiction? Yes? No?
Seal – Amazing

This one was a hit in the UK earlier in the summer, and it’s grown on me. All about regret and loss and conformity. I didn’t say these were all going to be happy tunes, did I? For when you’re saying to yourself ‘I coulda been a contender…’
Reverend and the Makers - Heavyweight Champion of the World

Timbaland, always lunging for another hit, has no shame, but at least he always gets Nelly Furtado, Justin something-or-other and anyone else taking out the trash that day to sing on his albums. And this nervous D. Mode-ish remix bops along enough to move the Nike trainers.
Timbaland - Give It To Me (Blaster Project Dance Mix)

Another hit from leftfield! OK, folks, here’s a really, really Not Safe For Work tune, and I’ll apologize right now for including such an apparently dumb, misogynistic rap track on the list, but this is an homage/parody of the old 2 Live Crew joints, and if you can make it to the end, it’s hilarious, in a Jerry Springer way. It’s by Bangers & Cash (brilliant DJ Spank Rock’s side project), and all they do is ‘ho-downs’ ‘bout women. The ‘H’ word and the ‘N’ words fly, but then guest rapper Amanda Blank gets all Roxanne Shanté-like and turns the tables on the bitches. Because ‘bitches is NASTY’. Sorry for the NC-17 language, but if I heard this in a race, I’d be laughing so hard I’d forget all about where the hell I was. And sometimes that’s good.
Bangers & Cash - Loose

Feeling Good!

‘I Like the Way You Move!’ Yes, you!
Bodyrockers vs. Reel 2 Real - I Like The Way You Move It (DJ Matt Hite Bootleg Mix)

‘It’s Britney, bitch!’ A fine little Team 9 mash of Daft Punk (now heard on Kanye West’s hit), and then out of nowhere, Dead or Alive arrives when Brit wakes up from her stupor.
Team 9 - Britney Dead or Alive

Cabaret Voltaire was one of my favorites in the early industrial rock world, and then in ’90 they got all Technotronic and housy and kind of blew it. This track emerged, but it does have an appropriate message and that doomsday synth riff even The Human League got tired of.
Cabaret Voltaire - Keep On (Razormaid Mix)

Damn, this is the aural equivalent of a cheese log. A eurodisco track from BWO (Bodies Without Organs! Hey, that’s stupid!), an embarrassing Swedish group who dress like nerds at a renaissance fair. The title has nothing to do with the running flick from the 80s, but the track does chug along. Gayer than the men’s room at the Minneapolis Airport.
BWO - Chariots of Fire

Not just Diana Ross, Diana Ross having a seizure! Yes, take a listen, you’ll hear what I’m saying. This’ll light a fire on your ass. Yes, YOUR ass.
Diana Ross - Ain’t No Mountain High Enough (Fantastic Plastic Machine Mix)

More mashed up stuff, Eurythmics meet Madonna’s ‘Die Another Day’. Yes, you’ll die another day, not today, thank you. ‘Cause everybody’s looking for something, like the next water station.
Eurythmics vs Madonna - Another Sweet Dream Dies

Nine minutes of trance from Goldfrapp, a tripping remix of ‘Time Out From the World’ that moves along in a motivational-seminar-sort-of-way. Then with three minutes left it turns cinematic and technicolor all at once. Try not to cry. HAHAHA!
Goldfrapp - Time Out From the World

Feeling Lousy!

Starting to lose it!
Garbage – I Think I’m Paranoid

OK, he’s talking about Apollonia, or Vanity, or some other vixen wearing purple hotpants, but it doesn’t matter, delirious is delirious, whatever the cause. He even sings ‘I just can’t win the race’…
Prince – Delirious (extended)

‘Pain, pain, pain, pain… pain’. And will you return it? Why, yes.
Depeche Mode - Strange Love (Pain Mix)

Cheery little number from Rammstein. They’re SO cute. This sounds like some Wagnerian chain gang going to the convenience store, doesn’t it? I had no idea what they were singing about (I thought it was bathroom tile or something) until wikipedia filled me in. Remember, at those water and food stations, ‘you are what you eat’!
Rammstein – Mein Teil (PSB There Are No Guitars On This Mix)

Disco stompin’ remix, just in time for Halloween. An oldie from the Manahattan Transfer, not known for disco, but it does have that ‘do-do-do-do, do-do-do-do’ theme we’ve heard enough already, thank you.
Manhattan Transfer - Twilight Zone/Twliight Tone (Jason Nevins Remix)

Finishing Up!

E.L.O. is now played in frickin’ drug commercials and such, and in Jim Carrey movies, but time was they were kind of cool. LONG time ago, but they knew slick pop/rock when they programmed it, and even agreed to jump on the soundtrack bandwagon with the cheesefest Xanadu (from which this is taken). So here’s their shameless take on Martha & the Vandella’s ‘Dancing in the Streets’, something that will either fill you with universal love or nausea, hopefully both.
Electric Light Orchestra - All Over the World

Ready for runner rehab yet? Amy Winehouse meets The Four Tops, who realize ‘I can’t help myself’ on this Party Ben remix. Well done!
PartyBen-Rehab (Can'tHelpMyself)

Weird one to add, Satan! The Flaming Lips channel John Lennon, and get all heavy, but maybe not. If it hits you the right way, you’ll have to sit down and listen again after they take that chip off.
The Flaming Lips - Do You Realize?

Had a bad day? Beck might thank you’re a loser, but Radiohead knew first. Feeling better already! ‘What the hell am I doing here? I don’t belong here!’
Radiohead - Creep

Here’s an oldie that got hijacked by Mars’/Peanut M&Ms’ marketing department earlier this year. Bitches is nasty! Anyway, this isn’t that uplifting if you really pay attention to the lyrics, either.
The The – This Is The Day

Gotta end on a high note, right? I’ve always loved Chrissie Hynde, and this is one of her less cynical tunes, and you’ll need one now that you’re a dehydrated, blubbering mess.
The Pretenders - Show Me

And there’s your long-distance (!) dedication, folks. All of these were road-tested at Cranky Laboratories, a division of Satan’s At Mile Markee 24, Inc. And if you like any of these tunes, check out the full-length versions on Amazon or any of those fine music retailers.


Wednesday, October 3, 2007

If It Doesn’t Kill You, It Just Makes You Faster

Time to title this midweek confessional with a play on a now over-used tough-guy quote. ‘Take no prisoners’ was, well, taken.

So I’m running the Chicago Marathon on Sunday, 8AM. I’m joining two ladies from Philadelphia’s Morning Glories, informal running team circa 1999, before and after. I’ll be joining R.B. (aka Running Bitch) and Bambi for another insane tour of an American city. You’d think we could just plan a vacation and go somewhere, but no, we have to go to a tiring ‘expo’ and fight serial dehydration and fatigue for hours the next day. Oh, and pay other people to make us do all that.

So as I type this, I’ll say the things that I didn’t want to say out loud for fear they weren’t true, or perhaps ‘jinx’ myself, whatever that means. Screw all that. Here is what I know four days before the race:

1. My training generally went well, and I feel strong. My Achilles tendonitis from a month ago is nowhere to be seen or felt, and hasn’t been an issue for at least a week. I feel good. Of course, I’m having those phantom leg pains that everyone gets during the taper, but I’m NOT injured. And no, I’m not protesting too much. Then again, if I’m that self-aware, maybe I am protesting too much. I guess I’ll go back to sticking my fingers in my ears and doing that ‘la-la-la-la’ bit again. Bottom line: I’m doing fine.

2. Chicago is flat, except for a small hill at the very end that will no doubt turn me into a cranky runner. Wait a minute, too late avoiding that, I’m already there. Next!

3. The Chicago weather forecast as of now (Wednesday) is: HOT. As in: sun/clouds and a high of 86 degrees, a possible record-breaking day. Then again, I ran a slew of races over the summer in moderate heat, and anyway, I’m not going to start complaining over something I have no control over. How mellow I’ve become in the face of adversity, dear reader.

4. I’m going into this thinking it’s just another long run (a really long run) with better catering. I do know what I’d like my finish time to be, and it’s not unreasonable, but that’s between me and my legs. I can say I usually plan to finish under four hours, it’s my ‘I’ve hit the wall, but I’ll crawl if I must’ finish time.

SO, your cranky pal is #3237, corral B, from what I can tell, a good spot. Have to be there by 7:45, and I’d best be done by noon so as to avoid the worst part of the heat. I shall return with stories that will warm your heart, no doubt. If it goes well, I won’t be shy, and if not, you can join me in the post-race goth gloomfest.

But right now, it’s looking and feeling like it’s going to be Rocktober after all. Dude!

P.S. Somebody else is running a really long time this Sunday, so let ReneeMc know that she and all that shiny hair will be just fine.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

News from The NYT

As you probably know by now, Haile Gebrselassie won the Berlin Marathon in record time on Sunday. I saw him interviewed after the NYC Half Marathon in August, and I loved how he laughed about the other runners who were ‘crazy’ to run those Central Park hills too fast. Anybody who can laugh about a race, or even crack a smile after a killer workout like that is OK by me.

Marathon World Record in Berlin

Hmm. Somebody at The Times has discovered that runners have a subculture. Who would’ve known? Anyway, it’s worth reporting on, obviously. To be honest, I’m not making fun of this article, but at the very least ‘we hold these truths to be self-evident’. Catchy, huh?

Keeping Up With The Pack

And finally, another article from The NYT, this one about how body size can be an indicator of success in athletic pursuit. Interesting. But we don't care, right?

Bigger Is Better, Except When It’s Not