Thursday, December 01, 2011

What Happened In Long Beach?

On Sunday, October 9, 2011, I ran the Long Beach Marathon. Even though I got a personal record (P.R.) at this race, and I am proud to have finished a 26.2 mile run with a time of 3:30:28, heck, regardless of time, I am proud any time I cross the finish line at a marathon, period! Nevertheless, as many of you know, even though I really didn’t want to say it out-loud, I really was hoping to get a Boston Marathon qualifying (BQ) time at this race! My BQ would have had to have been a 3:15 finish which would have put me at a consistent 7:26 pace for 26 miles. Even though I felt like I was totally ready to accomplish this, I failed to do so in Long Beach. So, just what happened during my third marathon?

First, before I get all negative on you, let me tell you what was terrific about this race. This is the first marathon in which I decided to run with an official pacing team. My pacer, the guy holding the balloons and the stick with a sign that said “3:15” was named Michael, and Mike was great! We started way up front in the first wave, corral one, not too far back from the elite runners. That was cool to be up that close to the start line. For my first two marathons, I was nowhere up that close at all. To give you an idea of how close to the start I was, my “chip time” for finishing was 3:30:28, and my “gun time” was 3:30:46, a difference of only 18 seconds. When I ran my first marathon, the L.A. Marathon, in 2009, I was way way back and it took me much longer to cross the start threshold. So, that was kind of cool. It added to the excitement for me.

I actually met the people around me that were part of the 3:15 pace group. Mike got my name, and everybody was very encouraging. We stayed together. Being that I didn’t have a friend running next to me, I was very glad that I had the camaraderie of this group. A side note: my closest friend running the full marathon that day was Martin and he was back near the 4:00 pace group. In addition, the full and half-marathon runners had the same start time in this race. In fact, we had two half-marathoners in our pacing group. Those guys would be with us until the split, around mile 10.5! My wife, Chrisy, her friend, Tricia, and my two sons, Max and Wes were running the half. Chrisy, Tricia, and Max were way back in the furthest corral, and Wes was lined up with the 3:45 pacer.

The race started off well. We were on pace! The pace we would need to maintain was an even 7:26 per mile, and that’s what we were doing. A cool moment for me came right at the beginning, right near the end of mile one, there is a loop that allowed me to see my son, Wes, running with his pacing group. I gave him a huge shout-out from the other side of the course, and he nodded. I knew he heard that and that felt good! Our pace felt okay too. I vividly remember thinking at mile number 3, “I can do this for the whole race. I feel good.” Around mile 4 one of the guys in my pace group said, “Looking good Doah. You make it look easy.” I made everyone laugh when I quickly responded, “Well, I *am* a runner, and so you are you!” Things were looking good despite the little uncertainties the pre-race mishaps had created.

What pre-race mishaps you ask? Well, let’s back-up. We had planned to leave our house at 4:45 a.m., but actually ended up leaving closer to 5:00 a.m., plenty of time to get to a race that started at 7:00 a.m., right? We thought so. And, technically we were right. However, when we got really close to our exit off the 710 freeway, the traffic was narrowed down into one lane and there was a huge back-up, sort of like the back-up that was beginning to form in my colon! Yea, that’s right, having to go “number two” plays a factor in this. And, for those of you who know, me, that will not be a surprise! So, when the clock in the car started saying 6:00, and we were still parked on the freeway, a few of us started to panic. I tried to express verbal calm in the car, but that is where I started to get nervous. We finally got off the freeway, found our parking lot, and were walking to the start line and it was around 6:30ish. On our walk to the start line, Martin spotted three lone outhouses and suggested we stop there at those port-a-potties to avoid the lines at the main ones by the start. Good call on Martin’s part. A few from our group just waited for us and said they would use the ones at the start. I chose to take care of business then. Now, I would have gone poop, but guess what? All three of them did not have any toilet paper, so I just went pee, knowing, of course, I would have a chance to do my dirty business at the main ones. We were off on-foot again. Looking at my watch, I was really beginning to stress now. I tried to calm myself down by offering a prayer out loud to my group, but I was just going through the motions, not tapping into God’s peace. I was walking faster than anyone in our group and a real anxiety was coming over me. At this point, I remember Wes saying, “We’re good on time.” I got snappy with my reply, saying, “We have to find bag check-in, use the restroom, find our pace group, and that’s going to take a long time!” I was beginning to meltdown. Chrisy told me to relax, but it was no use. Once we spotted the vastness of the crowd in line for the main collection of port-a-potties, I got really stressed, said good-bye to Chrisy, Tricia, and Max and ran off with Martin and Wes to find the bag check-in. We had to ask a bunch of people and finally found the UPS trucks that were handling back check-in. After we turned our bags, I told Martin and Wes that I was off to use the toilet and wished them good luck. Upon leaving the check-in area, a fellow runner was vigorously stretching his legs, hands on the fence, kicking his legs backwards, and he kicked me right in my upper leg! It hurt like crazy! I took this as a “bad omen” which goes to show you how mental all this is. I ran to the port-a-potties and found that there was not a single short line! I looked down at my watch and it was 6:50, no time. I decided to try to ignore the fact that I actually could have really used a nice dump. No time! I had to find my pace group! Thus, I went to the first pacer I saw, but he was the 3:45 guy. He told me my guy was way up at the first corral and I was in corral number two. I exited that one, ran to the other one, and frantically pushed through until I found my guy! The National Anthem was sung and we were off running.

Like I said, miles 1 to 4 were uneventful. By my calculations we were running the perfect pace. We weren’t maintaining anything near a perfect 7:26 pace, but we were darn close. Interestingly, mile 2 seemed like a really long mile. My watch beeped for mile 2 long before we hit the course marker. I said nothing. Sure enough, my pacer shouted, “Folks that was a heck of a long mile there!” A bit irritating, but no issue. Despite the fact that I swore I was not going to expend extra energy talking during this race, I couldn’t help myself around mile 5. We passed by the “Aquarium of the Pacific” which was a landmark we could see at mile 1. Being my usual smart-alecky self that I am I said, “We’re still at the damn aquarium?” My pacer said, “You’ll love seeing that thing at mile 26!” I replied, “As long as I don’t see it at 17!” I shouldn’t have been talking, but we were holding firm at our steady pace.

The best part of this marathon for me came between miles 7 to 10. It was during these four miles that I actually found myself thinking, “Man, I love running with a pacing group!” This stretch of the course runs on a concrete boardwalk along the beach. There is sand on both sides of you and the beautiful Pacific Ocean to your right. You could see the Queen Mary and cruise ships, and there was a Coast Guard boat close to shore shooting water up out of several fire hoses just for our enjoyment. The best thing about these four miles was the rhythm of the pacing group. At this point I counted 25 of us, running in a cluster. Our feet were all in rhythm, and there was something strangely soothing about the sound of the feet hitting the pavement in unison! I honestly felt so at peace here, but I begin to question if I was made to maintain this sort of pace over a distance of 26 miles?!? By my calculation, at this point, our slowest pace had been run at a 7 minute, 29 second pace, but our fastest mile had been run at a 7 minute, 19 second pace!?! Not long after the self-doubt kicked in, I got a welcomed surprise: I saw my friends Debbie, Michael, and Jenna Lombrano! They were all smiles and shouted, “Doah! Amazing! Go Doah!” I knew they would be my only loved ones on the course today so it was a welcomed boost!

At mile 10.5 we hit “the split” where the half-marathon runners split off to the left of the fork in the road. Two guys from our pacing group were only running the half, so they left the pack. I vividly remember thinking, “Smart guys! I wish I was running the half.” Indeed, at mile 13 I was totally thinking of my family, Chrisy, Max, Wes, and Chrisy’s friend Tricia who was running with my wife. I was thinking that 13 miles is the perfect distance, and the thought, “Why wasn’t I just doing the half?” wouldn’t leave my brain! Other than that, Miles 10 through 15 were pretty uneventful. I stayed with my group, I wasn’t feeling horrible, but my stomach was beginning to feel like I really should have went and taken that “number two” at the port-a-potties! Of course, in my head, I was beginning to have the dialogue about whether or not my legs had what it takes to finish a full marathon at this pace. And, then, of course, there was the issue of still needing to go poop . . .

Just when I couldn’t override my bowels with my brain any longer, my pace leader, Mike, spoke up out of the blue and did something a great coach would do! He said, and I quote, “Miles 15-20 are mentally important so we are going to begin a 5-mile countdown from 15 to 20!” By this time, much of our 25 or so person group and fallen off, we were down to about only six of us. Mike continued, “This is our core group, 3:15 separates the men from the boys. We stick together from 15-20.” (In hindsight, I don’t know if I thought this was a round-a-bout way of giving me permission to drop-out after mile 20 or not?) With these words of encouragement, I felt inspired. I wasn’t going to give up. Things went well and according to plan until just after mile 17.

“Bonk!” is the sound a body makes when it runs smack into a wall. And, like in the Batman television show of olden days, I’m pretty sure there was a cartoon caption over my head that read, “Bonk!” right about mile 17!

As a runner, I’ve heard a lot about “the wall” and I’ve read a lot about “the wall” and I’ve even thought a lot about infamous wall, but I had never ever hit it. During my previous two official marathons the wall never came. Indeed, during all my long training runs, I had never hit that wall. I was always smart enough to know that, if I kept running, hitting the wall would be inevitable. I had literally thought to myself, “If you keep running, one day you will hit the wall. It is inevitable.” I knew this in the same way a favorite author of mine, Dennis Prager explained a component of happiness. This was a theory he had called the “Flat tire quota” in which he argued that one could be happier if they walked around expecting that they had a “flat tire” coming to them! If you spend your life assuming that you are entitled to NEVER have a flat tire EVER, then, when you get one, you will be very angry and unhappy! However, if you spend your life assuming, “You know, every person, at some point in their life really has a flat tire coming to them,” then, when you get your flat tire one day, and you’re on the side of the road changing it, you can be happy saying, “Well, here’s my flat tire. At least I got that over with.” Along these lines, I actually have thought about the notorious wall in this way. I have told myself, “Dude, if you keep running, you will hit the wall.” So, during this most recent marathon, I hit it!

I don’t think it was just the small hill at mile 17 that did me in. Rather, I think it was just bad timing. I had done much hill training, and I have conquered many hills. As usual, I *ran* this hill on the Cal State Long Beach campus. I ran it, but it kicked my butt. Sure, my legs were hurting, I had to go to the bathroom, and I was a mental wreck, but something else happened that I hadn’t expected: back pain! That’s right, I was having lower back pain. My back hurt! All this resulted in me falling way back behind my pacing group at mid-way mile 17! They were pulling away from me and my self-talk was saying, “You can’t keep up with these guys, so just let them go.” I was really second guessing myself too, and I was thinking, “I shouldn’t have brought this stupid water belt! Maybe that’s why my back is hurting? No one else in this group has a water belt!” By mile 18, it was over. I was done! I told shouted to Mike that I was gonna let him go. I literally said out-loud, “I’m done. I can’t do it. I’m gonna let you guys go.” He turned around and said, “Don’t make me start cussing at you!” But, he had to turn and look back to say it because it was too late, I slowed my pace way down, I let them go! The group pulled way ahead of me, soon they were way out in front of me, far away.

Luckily for me, miles 17 to 19 were run on the Cal State LB campus, because after the mile 18 marker, I encountered the biggest crowd of the marathon. Hundreds of college students from the fraternities and sororities were lining the course, screaming, and holding signs, their energy was contagious! I literally got an energetic tingle throughout my body, a huge emotional rush, and I dug deep. On a side note, it's amazing what a well-placed sign will do! I saw one that said, "You're so sexy," and I thought to myself, "Yea, I am, aren't I. I'd better run faster!" Ha! But, really signs help! At this point, I thought about Mike saying we were going to stick together through miles 15-20, and I pulled inside of myself and gave it everything I had! I sprinted and well before we hit the mile 19 marker I was literally side-by-side with my pacer again. The small 3:15 pace group was blown away! Mike said, “Way to man-up Doah!” Another guy said, “Wow! Nice recovery bro.!” Mike added, “Yep, that’s how you do it guys!” On the surface things were good now. However, my back was killing me, and worse, my breathing was much labored! And, now, I REALLY had to go to the bathroom! I was only able to hang with my pacing group for another mile or so. And, this time I knew I was letting them go for good.

At mile 20 all I could think about was NOT running. I was smacking that wall now something hard and I honestly did not have what it took to push through it. I kept telling myself, “This is now just a 10K, six little miles, but my brain wasn’t buying that!” Somewhere around mile 20 there was a shady park off to my right and there were two lone outhouses right there on the grass! It was at this point I made the conscious choice to let my group pull in front of me, I slowed way down and let them go without saying anything! I started walking. I walked right over to the port-a-potties. Finally! I took my ol’ sweet time taking that long overdue dump! I swear, if the Sunday LA Times was in there, I would have read through the Calendar section. I was in no hurry! Honestly, I had no desire to finish this marathon at this point. It was a good thing I did not have a cell phone because I really wanted to call my wife and tell her to come get me later in the park. When I came out of the restroom, I spotted a family having a picnic nearby; I honestly had thoughts of stealing their watermelon, and then napping on their blanket, a la Goldilocks! I even had visions of gloriously riding back the last 6 miles on the back of a so-called “meat-truck”, those vehicles that take injured runners off the course. My most realistic thought at this point was to sit on the curb and wait for my buddy Martin to pass by. Was he still with the 4:00 hour group? I could take a nice rest and run in with him. I was “this close” to literally sitting on the curb, I had a real vision of watching Martin run by and me saying, “Hey, man, going my way? Can I run with you?” Instead, I ran now. I kept going. Alone.

Actually, considering what my training had been like, what I started to do didn’t really resemble running as much as jogging. It felt like a shuffle really. I came out of that park with about a 10 minute per mile pace! When I thought I was too slow, I’d try to crank it up, but any time I got over a 9 minute mile, I was breathing so hard, it was something I hadn’t felt since I was a kid and had asthma. I was shuffling along and it was taking everything I had. Not long after, I spotted Martin on a loop around. He appeared to be a bit back from the 4:00 hour group. He gave me a heads-up. He had no clue how desperate I was at that point. The course after that was full of long stretches of straight lonely road. I had nobody to keep me company or motivate me.

Around mile 22 I was hurting so bad that I decided to take a walk break. I was walking along the course and a random runner stopped right by my side! I must have been speaking this guy’s language because he looked at me and said, “Yea, I’m pretty much done too.” My immediate response inside my head was, “How dare him!” I thought, “Man, I am NOT done. I don’t see a stinking finish line here. I am not done.” I did not say a word to this guy, but I started running again. That guy was just what I needed. He was my shot in the arm! At that moment, I told myself, “If I run across that finish line today, I am a stud.” I was running. Not fast, but I was running!

At mile 23 I had another runner come along side me and offer me some more positive inspiration. He said, “Just a 5K now!” He passed me. I was being humbled by the beast that is a marathon now, but I shouted back anyway, “I could run 3 miles with my eyes closed!” He said, “That’s the spirit.” Interestingly, somewhere around here I actually came upon a woman who was originally part of my pace group. She had dropped out long before I did, and she obviously passed me when I was in the restroom at mile 20. She was surprised to see me. Without me even speaking she said, “It just wasn’t in the cards for me.” I pulled ahead of her and she said, “Good for you.”

I spent miles 23-24 at somewhere between a 9:00 and 10:00 minute mile. The entire time I was beating myself up in my head for letting my BQ dream go. I began wondering if I could make a 3:30 marathon. The goal had now switched to making a P.R. Just then, around mile 24, the Cliff Pace Team guy with the 3:25 group comes up on me. He says “Swing those arms man! Want to join us?” I tried to go with him but could only do it for about a half mile. He was too fast. I just didn’t have it in me! I was metaphorically kicking myself! I was telling myself, “What the hell is wrong with you? You are a natural 8:00 minute miler dude! Why can’t you find an 8 minute pace right now?” Just then the 3:30 pacer went past me! I was mad. I was defeated. It was mile 25.

At mile 25 a spectator called out to me, “Dude, looking good! You’ve only got one mile left!” That was what I needed. I changed my self-talk. I thought, “Yea, I am looking good to someone that isn’t even doing this! I can do this!” Something happened within me and I found more inside me than I thought I had. I brought my pace back-up to an 8 minute pace. I told myself, “Dude, you are an 8-minute-pace-man! Do this!” I thought of my family. I thought of finishing strong. I thought of just being done!

I brought it all home doing an 8 minute mile for the final stretch. However, I had to dig deep to do so! My breathing was still much labored and I was getting very dizzy and light-headed. I heard the announcer say, “From Lake Forest California, Shenandoah Lynd.” I heard a random voice shout Doah! I spotted my wife and kids and began to cry. I was a wreck when I crossed that finish line. When I hit the mat at the finish-line the clock read 3:30:46. I had just missed the 3:30 mark!

Upon finishing this marathon, I had never been so spent in my life. I walked over to my family and the world was spinning. I was light-headed and felt like I was going to pass out. I dropped gently to the floor in a criss-cross position. When my family asked how I was, I didn’t even respond. I just sat there all silent like. This was the most difficult recovery of my three marathons.

It was a mental blow to not actually finish under 3:15 and to qualify for Boston. The thing is, a couple days later I begin beating myself up for going against my own plan for this race. You see, I originally signed-up for Long Beach as a training run for the California International Marathon (CIM) on December 4, 2011. It is run from Folsom to Sacramento and it is supposedly a great Boston qualifier race. I was going to run Long Beach and just take it easy and then go up to the CIM and run the BQ! However, I got cocky. My training going into Long Beach was so good, my speed work so successful, I knew I could do it. I threw my own plan out the window and bit off more than I could chew at Long Beach. Moreover, I had decided to do two back-to-back marathons (LB on 10/9/11 and CIM on 12/4/11) in an effort to see if I could beat the infamous Post-Marathon Syndrome (PMS). You see, after both my first marathons I had suffered greatly from PMS, which, for me, meant that I was abruptly propelled into the “nothing” extreme of my famous “all-or-nothing” personality, something that has been a chink in my armor my whole life. Well, that didn’t work either. Knowing I had another marathon in two months, I was supposed to be super motivated. However, I wasn't. PMS hit hard.

In the almost two months that have passed since Long Beach, I have not put in nearly the mileage I have needed to. I have also reassessed the purposes for running a marathon. I have decided that, at least for the time being, I don’t really care about a BQ time or running the Boston Marathon. I have reflected back on my three marathons and noted that the best one I ran was the Twin Cities Marathon, which happened to be my slowest. Why was it the best? That’s because I ran side-by-side and finished hand-in-hand with my dear friend and brother-in-Christ, Tony Cloyd. I almost want to start a movement to redefine what “PR” even means. At the very least I want to come up with another phrase like MPR, which means mental personal record, meaning you actually enjoyed your race. You see my Twin Cities Marathon on 10-3-10 with a pace of 4:17:45 was an MPR. I begin deeply regretting not running the Long Beach Marathon *with* Martin Lombrano. I would have rather had the experience of running 26.2 with another amazing friend, than trying to simply be a “fast” runner.

So now I will run CIM, but I am going for another MPR. For years and years I have told my cousin, Elaine, “We should run a race together someday.” Elaine was the person that got me into running, or at least one of them. She was doing marathons long before me, and her fitness level always impressed me. Instead of driving up to her house for a BQ, I’m driving up to her house to have an experience with her. Yes, I admit it: I am not in shape for a BQ right now; I haven’t trained for a BQ right now, so maybe I am just telling myself that it doesn’t matter. Who knows? Maybe I will swing back to that “all” part of my personality in the future again and go for it. Just not this time. Then again, maybe I will surprise myself and just be a consistent guy who likes to run.

So, what happened in Long Beach? The answer to that is: I got schooled. I learned a lesson. I bit off more than I could chew. I didn’t stick to my plan. I didn't qualify for Boston. I hit the wall for the first time ever. I bonked! What really happened in Long Beach on 10/9/11 was I finished my third full marathon! Too bad it wasn’t an MPR though!

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