Friday, December 10, 2010

It's about time!

After a bit of a break, I am finally starting to ramp up my running again.  Let's be clear here: the ramp in my ramp up is closer to the ADA-approved end of the scale than a Mount Everest-like increase, but I did run 2.5 pain free miles yesterday.  These days, that achievement is like climbing a mountain.

I discussed in my last post how my adventure in Athens left me damaged.  A few weeks ago, I expected that a rest from running along with a sensible cross-training program would get me back to running fairly quickly.  I also trusted my self-diagnosis of a stressed out IT band.  Alas, until last week, my knee was not feeling better and every attempt to run left me limping in pain within a half mile.

I finally went to see the Miracle Worker.  As always, his enlightened analysis of my injury was key.  First, he pointed out that I have a "sprinter's legs" versus "marathoner's legs".  This means that my quads are meaty compared to the rest of my leg muscles.  The main injury I sustained was damage to one of my quad muscles, the vastus lateralis, and it was cramped up in a little ball.  He had me feel the suppleness of that same muscle on my other leg as a comparison.  The balled-up nature of the vastus lateralis was pushing out on the illitobial (IT) band.  The IT band cannot stretch, per se, so it pulls at the attachment points and rubs along the protuberance on the end of the femur causing my knee pain.  So, until I got the quad under control, I could roll and stretch my IT band all I wanted to no avail.  He prescribed regular rolling on a tennis ball (not a quadballer or foam roller) to break up the adhesions in the muscle and relax it.  I am finally able to roll on it without crying, and my IT pain is gone.  I can now run until my quad balls up again and irritates the IT.  That amounts to about 2-3 miles, every other day.

The Miracle Worker also pointed out that my favorite form of cross training, bicycling, was not doing my injury any favors.  He did not tell me to stop doing it because he really doesn't like to restrict cross training activities.  He made it clear that I would be exacerbating my problem by continuing to train hard on the bike and stress my quad muscles.  That news sucked to hear because it eliminated one of my cross training options.  I am now left with pool running and the elliptical machine.

I have added some spice to my elliptical training by reading books on my iPad.  This actually really helps to pass the time, especially when the book is good.  I've read the first book in the Stieg Larsson Millenium trilogy and am part way through the second.  I can't read and do hard intervals, so I try to limit my elliptical training to the days where I don't have a workout to do.

I save my workouts for the pool.  I do all of my running at the local YMCA where I buy a $10 day pass.  I throw on my floaty belt, my waterproof iPod headset, my pre-programmed Garmin 310 XT, and I'm ready to roll.  One of my favorite hard workouts in the pool is the pool ladder, where I do 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 minutes hard with 1 minute easy running in between.  I don't mind the tedium of pool running when I have a job to do in the pool and find it to be a really good workout.  The "hard" running amounts to moving my little arms and legs as fast as I can underwater.  This can become quite exhausting.

I became adventurous last week when there were very few people in the pool and decided I would spend my cool down swimming rather than pool running.  I started with a modest breast stroke and felt pretty comfortable with that after a couple of laps.   I then busted out my crawl stroke.  I wasn't quite sure how to breathe with this stroke, so I recalled that Michael Phelps used a 4 stroke to 1 breath pattern in the Olympics.  By the second stroke, I had exhaled all of my air, started taking water into my lungs, and began flailing around very excitedly in the middle of the lane.  At one point, I thought I saw the lifeguard running toward my lane with a flotation ring to save me, but he passed by to attend to something else on the other side of the pool.  I regained my composure and decided to try breathing with every other stroke.  That was much better.  I was able to make it the entire length of the pool without having to stop.  In fact, I was moving faster than the guy in the lane next to me.  I was feeling pretty good at the end of the 10 minutes alternating between breast and crawl strokes.  As I got out of the pool, I noticed that the "slow" guy in the lane next to me had hobbled over to an aluminum walker and used it to make his way to the locker room.  Perfect.  I was patting myself on the back for being a faster swimmer than a disabled person.  I felt like a huge loser.

You may have already gathered that I am going to have to pass on the 1/2 marathon championships in Houston.  This is really not a big deal to me.  It would have been nice to compete in a race of that caliber and preview the Olympic Trials course, but I will not be in any shape by the end of January to run a decent half.  Plus, I don't like the added pressure that having an upcoming race brings when recovering from an injury.  I want my body to determine when I'm ready to start training again.  That was a lesson learned from my achilles injury last winter.  I pushed myself to return to running pretty fast.  In a way, I think I am paying for that now.  My body needs to heal; not just my IT band and quad but the rest of me too.  And, I really have all the time in the world to let that happen.

A crampy aside...

I was reminded this week about a commonly held belief that many runners have about dehydration causing localized muscle cramps.  Several of my friends ran the California International Marathon and were blessed with fabulous weather conditions: temps in the 50s with no rain or wind.  It actually stopped raining within a couple of hours before the race, so the air was humid at the start.  The humidity started at 100% but dropped to 80% by the 2-hour mark.  The temperature never got over 60 degrees, at least during the first 3-4 hours.  There was a lot of muscle cramping going on at the end of the race which led a few people to hypothesize that the "warm and humid" conditions caused them to become dehydrated and that resulted in their localized muscle cramping.

I remembered that the Science of Sports bloggers discussed muscle cramps in a series back in 2007 on the subject.  Basically, there isn't a scientifically rigorous explanation for why muscles cramp at the end of strenuous exercise like running a marathon or triathlon.  They do cover why dehydration and loss of electrolytes are likely not a causal factor.  Here are a couple of teasers from their initial post on the subject:

  • "Despite the theory that muscle cramps are caused by electrolyte and fluid depletion, it has yet to be shown that people who cramp have lower electrolyte levels or are more dehydrated than those who do not. In fact, the studies have found that "Crampers" and "Non-crampers" have similar electrolyte and dehydration levels. Something wrong with that picture...
  • If cramps are caused by electrolyte and fluid depletion, which muscles would be most likely to cramp? Would it not be ALL the muscles, because you're losing electrolytes and fluid through sweat, so then all the muscle groups should be vulnerable...yet for some reason, we cramp in the muscles we actually USE. Again, something out of place there."

When I first read this series, I was blown away because I thought that dehydration causing muscle cramping was a law of nature.  It turns out that heavy marketing by big companies like Gatorade might be a primary reason behind why so many people still think this is true.  Happy reading! 

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Hello, normal

When your nose is so close to the paper, you quickly forget that what you're writing is a novel and not just one word at a time. ~Me

I always find it interesting to come out the other side of a major experience or event and look back on the craziness that preceded it.  Of course, when I'm part of the craziness I don't realize how skewed my life is.  After running two marathons and having two of the most amazing experiences of my life, it's nice to finally settle into a lifestyle that feels somewhat normal again.

I haven't run since Athens.  Maybe I should say that I can't run right now.  Normally, I would be scratching at the cage, raring to get out and run.  Instead, I am perfectly content letting my body rest and heal.  This is part of my new perspective.

I made a rookie mistake after Chicago.  I did not respect the recovery that my body needed, and it rebelled in a big way.  I think I was equal parts drunk on my major accomplishment and tired from the stressful months that led up to the race.  As happy as I was that I had reached my goal of qualifying for the Olympic Marathon Trials, I was also relieved that I could rest for a bit.  But, I had another marathon to run 3 weeks later.

Instead of sticking it out for another 3 weeks and doing everything I could to allow my body to recover while maintaining my fitness, I short-sheeted the recovery bed.  I did nothing to aid my recovery after Chicago: no stretching, rolling, massage, ice baths.  Nothing.  Huge mistake.  I did however, start running again to keep up my fitness.  My body finally revolted during my long run the week before Athens.  I THEN tried stretching, rolling, massage, but by that time, it was too late.  You know how that story ended: a Pheidippidel assault on Athens and lots of post-race limping.

Lesson #1:  Respect recovery.

What I didn't take in recovery post-Chicago, I am taking now, and I am not the least bit sad about it.  I don't have that panicky feeling like I might be losing fitness right now because I'm not out there running.  I know I can cross train and maintain my fitness.  It's also kind of fun getting out on the bike and riding along the American River Bike Trail, seeing my old friend, the somnambulist lifeguard, at the local YMCA pool for my early pool run and reading e-books on my iPad on the elliptical at the gym.

I told The Genius in Athens, as I was paying little attention to what I was shoveling into my mouth, that I was going to let myself get fat.  He flipped his head around to look at me, and I saw a flicker of panic in his eyes.  I explained, "...relatively fat.  Like 2 pounds." Relief.  My point was really that I needed a break from the diet bookkeeping and the worry about not getting enough carbs, eating too much fat, getting enough nutrients and general fretting about being lean.

My Chicago Marathon experience actually taught me an important lesson about my previous conclusion that leaner = faster.  I think this is still true, but each of us has a personal limit.  As it turns out, I was about a pound heavier and slightly less lean going into Chicago than I was when I ran the Twin Cities Marathon the year before, yet I was fitter and ran much faster.  This wasn't for a lack of trying either.  I felt like I was pushing my lower limits in terms of caloric intake leading up to Chicago, but I just wasn't losing weight.  About a month out from the race, I abandoned my pursuit of a lighter physique and upped my calorie intake for fear of becoming either injured or sick.  That was the right move.

I have not tracked my caloric intake since Chicago and am quite happy about it.  I imagine I will continue to be happy until I notice the buttons on my jeans popping or people commenting on my Swiss genes again.  I don't have any factoids to back this up, but it just feels like body fat is a good thing to have around periodically.  At some point I'll bust out my iPad and get back to recording my food intake.  For now, I'm enjoying the mental break.  And the chocolate.

I don't have a training program yet with my new coach since we're focusing on healing, but I have set my first race for 2011.  My 2:45 marathon qualified me for the National Half Marathon Championships in Houston in late January.  I mentioned to Coach Tom that I was interested in running this but recognized that I won't have time to get into peak shape for it.  He agreed that the experience would be amazing and that I should go for it.  I don't necessarily expect great things in that race, but I also realize that the opportunity to compete in a National Championship race is very rare.  Last year, Shalane Flanagan won the race in her half marathon debut.  I will probably come in close to last, but I don't mind being close to last in a race against the best in the country.

I have also put a bug in the ear of The Nature Conservancy President and CEO, Mark Tercek, about landing a spot on a TNC staff team running the 2012 Safaricom Marathon.  He just ran his first marathon in 20 years at NYC and mentioned in this post on that he plans to lead a team of TNC staff in the Safaricom marathon as a fundraiser for the Lewa Preserve in Kenya.  This is an amazing race that has you running in this huge nature preserve amongst wild animals on dirt paths.  As a grassland ecologist and a runner, this would be the most amazing experience I can imagine and the type of fundraiser that I could really get behind.  Mr. Tercek said I had a spot on the team if I wanted it, so you better believe I'll be reminding him of that!                      

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Athens Classic Marathon 2010 Race Report: The Battle of Marathon

October has been a month of marathon contrast for me. In early October, I experienced one of the most enjoyable and relatively easy marathons in Chicago followed three weeks later by the hardest marathon I have ever run in Athens, Greece.  It seems only fitting that my hardest marathon would be run on the original marathon course where the sole participant died after completing the distance.  
Running the Athens Marathon was truly a great life experience but in many unexpected ways.  As a refresher, I ran this marathon as part of the 2010 World Military Marathon Championships.  Each year, these games are hosted by a different country with member countries sending their best active-duty military marathoners to compete.  The USA uses the Marine Corps Marathon (MCM) as the competition from which to pick its team, and I won the military competition at MCM in 2009 earning my spot on the team headed to Greece.     
Every military event is steeped in tradition, military ceremony and lots of time spent mustering.  We were housed at a military installation near the town of Marathon, and the accommodations were fine--much better than the barracks we stayed in Belgrade, Serbia for the 2009 Marathon Championship race.  This one had its resident pack of stray dogs and cats, a common theme throughout the city,  supposedly the result of a government official firing all of the dog catchers in Athens decades ago. This led to the release of all captive animals, precipitated a breeding frenzy and ensuing population explosion.  Our military “resort” was right on the water and, aside from overgrown weeds and trash scattered about, it was perfectly livable. 
Me and my buddy Joanie.
The opening ceremony for the 43rd military marathon games brought a particularly wonderful surprise for me.  As we were standing in formation, listening to the Master of Ceremonies ramble in Greek about something unintelligible but very important, I heard the name, “Joan Benoit Samuelson”.  My ears perked up, and I craned my neck to get a better look.  Sure enough, Joanie was walking hand in hand with some other woman carrying the Olympic flame up the stairs and lit a larger torch in the stadium.  Her escort was Constantina Tomescu-Dita, the most recent female Olympic marathon gold medalist.  So, the race organizers decided to bracket the short span of time that women have competed in the Olympic marathon event by having the first and last Olympic gold medalists light the torch for our military ceremony.  Holy crap.  I was beaming like a star-struck kid and immediately began plotting my plan of attack for the perfect photo opportunity.  
It turns out that getting my picture taken with Joanie was a piece of cake.  I armed one of my teammates with my camera and approached Joanie with a big smile and outstretched hand, kindly reminding her that I had run with her for a short time in Chicago.  She, of course didn’t remember me and probably thought I was somebody that she had passed along the way.  She told me that she was also running the Athens Marathon, but this one was for fun.  She had also run (at least) one 10k and half marathon since Chicago, so I felt like a serious slacker having only run one marathon in the last three weeks.  I couldn’t stop smiling all day thinking about this crazy encounter as I stared at the picture of me and Joanie locked safely inside my iPhone.            

The course elevation profile.
The Race 

I knew this course was going to be a bitch, and I was mentally prepared for it.  According to Wikipedia, it is one of the most difficult major marathon races in the world.  The Marathon Start Venue was the actual start of Pheidippides historic run. The course was pretty much a straight shot all the way into Athens from there.  It is marked with a faded, solid-blue line that snakes along the roads leading from Marathon to Athens.  This is actually a pretty cool thing, because you can simply run on the blue line all the way into Athens and be assured that you’re running pretty close to the 42.1 km distance as measured.  
What the course lacked in turns it made up for in hills, both up and down.  I knew this was coming, having downloaded the course elevation profile from the web months earlier.  I was actually less worried about the 10-12 miles of constant uphill in the profile compared to the 6-8 miles of unrelenting downhill, with 6 of those miles at the end.
I was mostly concerned about this in the week leading up to the race after an overzealous long run the Saturday before the race left my left IT band sore and me limping.  I rolled out my muscles and stretched with feverish dedication, but could not seem to loosen up this tightly-wound band of connective tissue.  Every run I did last week, though they were all slow and short, aggravated this new niggle.  
I am typically a nervous nelly when it comes to niggles, always conservatively fearing the worst and doing everything possible to keep the niggle from leading to full-blown injury.  This one left me especially worried.  It got better with rest, but flared up with running.  I knew exactly why it had happened, what I did wrong and couldn’t do a damned thing to make it heal faster.  Even the day before the race, when I ran a 20 minute shake out, I could feel the tightness around my knee.  I tossed and turned all night on the race’s eve worrying that I would not be able to finish due to either catastrophic body failure or not being able to tolerate the pain that was sure to set in at some point in the race.  
This was absolutely uncharted territory for me.  I typically shake my head with a “tisk, tisk” when I hear of other runners that run races when they clearly have an injury or at least the makings of one.  I have always prided myself in not being that runner.  I think I better understand the type of thing that might motivate a runner to do something so foolish.  An all-expenses paid trip to a world championship race commemorating the 2500 anniversary of the original Marathon being held in Athens, Greece could be one of those things.
I’m pretty sure that the US military running uniform stylist drove a Delorean to the 1980s to procure our racing outfits.  I expected to have something vaguely rockin‘ and comfortable to run in and was stunned to see the skin-tight Brooks shimmel top and ultra-long, matching 1980’s-style basketball shorts that went with it.  I am honestly most surprised that Brooks makes those shorts and labels them as running attire.  That’s why I believe Michael J. Fox had something to do with this outfit.  My female teammates were much smarter than me and wore alternate bottoms with their uniforms.  Had I looked at myself in a mirror or just felt the material of these shorts after they got wet with sweat prior to race day, I would have done the same.        

Decked out in my basketball uniform, I lined up at the start with my teammates along with runners from around the globe, readying ourselves for battle with each other and this ancient course.  My team did a little motivational huddle and, with the first gun for the elite athletes, we were off.  I ran with two of my teammates for the first few kilometers, and held a nice even 6:30 pace.  I had absolutely no race plan, no goal time, nothing.  My only goal for this race was to try to place as well as I could in the military competition but to do so without literally breaking.  I was running completely by feel.  
Grabbing some water and on my way to 1982 to shoot some hoops.
(Thanks to Pano K for the photo) 
Stray dogs paced us for these first few kilometers but quickly had race officials on their tails trying to chase them off the course.  We passed a few small towns and circled out into a lollipop-shaped, 2 km course add-on that extended the original 25-mile course into the modern 26.22.  As I entered the lollipop, I watched as the lead pack of men exited, and they were moving.  
I was concentrating on staying loose and breathing easy.  Mostly, I was trying not to think about my leg pain.  Within the first 4-5 km, one of my teammates who was running along side me asked me how my leg felt.  I was very irritated with this question, though I knew she was asking out of concern for me and for our team in case I wouldn’t be able to finish.  I shot back a  curt, “fine,” but also said ”I was trying not to think about it.”  She told me she would only ask me once.  I already had a nagging ache in my left knee and did not want to be reminded of it.  I needed distraction.  
Relief and distraction came as we started into the uphill section of the course a little after the 10 km mark.  The uphills actually relieved the pain in my knee.  I felt surprisingly strong on these hills and was quite happy to see that they were not the steep, steady uphill experience that I expected.  They would go up for 1-2 km and then become less steep or even flatten out for a short bit, then head up again.  I passed a lot of people on those uphills and was actually quite surprised when they ended just after the 30 km mark.  I had in my head that I needed to make it through 32 km before the downhill started.  
I would find out after the race that runners unanimously struggled with the uphills and thought they were brutal.  I was just the opposite.  I felt the best on the uphill portion of the race.  I’m pretty sure this was because I was mentally prepared for worse than they were, I ran them by feel and refused to look at my Garmin or my kilometer splits while climbing.  I also think that the massive amounts of uphill training Coach Nicole had me doing for the last 3 years paid off in spades on this course.  Thank you, Nicole, for making me a strong hill runner--something I once dreaded most of all in races.
I mostly focused on hitting one km marker at a time and getting fluids and gu in my body.  It was a warm day with a 19 degree C start, but I think it cooled a bit as we headed into Athens.  I was not at all worried about the heat after my experience in Chicago.  

For most of this race, I was in no-man’s land, rarely pacing with other runners.  I did find a somewhat offensive use for the European male runners on the course.  Early on in the race while briefly drafting off of a pack of sweaty, undeodorized Euro-runners, I discovered an alternative to smelling salts.  My eyes watered slightly as the powerful essence of runner BO entered my nasal passages.  It did perk me right up, while simultaneously making me throw up a little in my mouth.  I thought this strategy of drafting off of smelly men might come in handy (ala Constantina Tomescu-Dita in the late stages of the 2008 Olympic Marathon) as a sort of smelling salt effect.  I tucked that little brain child into the back pocket of my extra long and baggy shorts for use later on in the race.          
As soon as I summited the last hill and started the downhill, I knew I was in trouble.  My left knee and calf were absolutely screaming.  I mean, on fire.  I was in pain with every step until my leg finally became numb and rubbery.  I started to feel concerning tightness cramp my left calf.  I breathed into the tightness with hopes of averting a race-ending event.  By this point in the race, I knew this was the terrain I had to battle for another 6 miles, so I better just suck it the hell up and press on with pride.  The supportive, calamitous crowds along the course saved me in the last 10 km.  I absorbed their energy and kept going.  I needed the distraction of the little kids standing on the streets with their hands out waiting for someone to slap them.  I slapped every hand I passed.  I waved and pumped my fist as the crowd cheered me on to my own personal victory in Athens.
I could not believe the support for me in my USA-emblazoned uniform on this course.  In the Belgrade Marathon in 2009, my Team USA outfit was met with calls from the crowd that “USA (pronounced oo-sah) sucks” and “Bush sucks.”  In Greece, I was a superstar.  Chants of “U-S-A! U-S-A!”, “Bravo oo-sah or (yoo-sah)”, “Bravo Bella”, and “Bravo America” were yelled from almost every crowd lining the streets.  The crowds were unexpectedly big and loud in numerous locations along the course, increasing in volume and intensity as we entered the city of Athens.  I was so proud to represent my country running in this race as I heard these cheers over and over.
Around the 36-37 km mark, I looked ahead and saw another female runner.  This gave me something to focus on since I hadn’t seen another female runner in the last 25 km or so.  I was now starting to hammer the hills. I was running most of my km splits in the 6:20-6:30 range and I was gaining on this gal.  As I got closer to her, I noticed it was one of my teammates and my heart sank.  That was not the person I wanted to see coming back to me.  I was now really concerned since she is a super strong runner (2-time Olympic Trials Qualifier) and the strongest runner on our team.  It took me a couple of clicks to catch up to her, but I passed her quickly and told her that she looked good and strong.  I knew that, if I were in her shoes, I wouldn’t want someone to linger and dote on me.  It’s your own personal struggle at that point and you need to focus on staying in the game.
What was Brooks thinking with this combo?
I picked up the pace even more as the crowds cheered me along toward the finish.  I watched km markers 38 then 39 pass and knew that I was going to at least surpass Pheidippides‘ run once I passed the 40 km marker.  I was so focused on keeping my legs moving and not letting the rubber chicken feeling get the best of me.  I wanted to finish.  I wanted that finishers‘ medal.  I wanted to turn in a strong performance for the USA.  With 2 km to go, I knew I would finish, even if I was reduced to walking.  I also knew that, if I stopped running, I would not start up again.  I was afraid I might collapse at the finish line.  I kept pounding down the hills, around the corner, and then, finally, into the entrance of the Panathenaic Stadium, a structure first built in the 3rd century BC and most recently restored for the 1896 Olympic Games.  I entered the stadium and the crowd roared.  I had a wall of male runners between me and that finish line.  I kicked it into a gear that I had no idea I could find in the last 100m of a marathon and passed the guys standing still.  The crowd loved my sprint finish, and I truly felt like a hero crossing the line in 2:58:46.  I stopped running and braced for collapse.  It didn’t come.  I gave a little “thank you” to my legs as they walked me away from the finish line in one piece.  I had survived my Battle with The Marathon.

Majors Potter and Marty in the Panathenaic Stadium with a view of the Acropolis between our shoulders.
I was ushered off to the left immediately and sent into a cave.  It was literally this steep, marble encased tunnel that I imagined saw ancient athletes grace its walkway before and after ancient Athenian games.  I felt it was a cruel challenge for marathoners to have to climb following the race, but I was relieved to reach the top, have someone unlace my shoe to remove my timing chip and get my sweet finishers‘ medal.  Soon, the rest of my team joined me, all of them having run strong races and achieved excellent times.  We met up with our USA mens' team and found out they had both run under 2:30 on that course.  We enjoyed chattering on about how tough the course and race had been.  Joanie ended up finishing the race in 3:05 or there abouts.  She ran in to the finish with one of my teammates and raised her arm up in the air as they cruised along the track in the stadium to a roaring crowd.  This was a thrill for my teammate, Sue.

And the Gold Medal Goes To...
The 2010, gold-medal winning US Military Marathon Team.
The closing ceremonies for the 43rd Military Marathon Championship race were held on Monday evening back at our base station in Nea Makri.  For the third world championship marathon in a row, the American Women's Team took the gold medal.  This is an especially gratifying and moving achievement in that only the team awards are given out at the event and the winning team's national anthem is played.  We stood atop our podium (all three of us on a very small step) and saluted as the Star-Spangled Banner played.  I have to admit to a few tears rolling down my cheeks as I breathed in the fresh marine air and the significance of this moment.  While I had sacrificed my legs in this event to lead the team to victory, that moment made it all worthwhile.
In case you think that this competition was full of military slackers, the men's competition was even more fierce.  The winning team from Poland had a combined time of 6:48.  That's right, 6:48 for three team members, which equals a 2:16 average pace.  Their lead runner was in his 40s and ran a 2:15.  The next fastest military mens' team had a paltry 2:20 average.  Crazy fast.

The Day After...

I could hardly walk without excruciating pain.  The good news is that pretty much everyone else was in the same boat.  The bad news was that Monday was our "cultural day" and we would be walking, mostly limping around the city looking at the fantastic ruins in the middle of the city of Athens.  I am now on the beautiful, remote island of Santorini enjoying some run-free relaxation.  I have a few weeks of healing to do before I start back into my training.  In the mean time, I plan to fill my gut with good Greek food, drink lots of wine and get fat on life, enjoying the memories of this fantastic adventure.
Me and The Genius at the Acropolis.
Congratulations to all of the brave participants of the Athens Classic Marathon. Special thanks to the organizers of the Athens Marathon for a fantastic event and the Conseil International du Sport Militaire (CISM) and our Greek hosts for creating a truly extraordinary experience.    

Saturday, October 30, 2010

2500 Years

2500 years ago, Pheidippides ran 25 miles from Marathon to Athens, Greece to announce the victory of the Athenians over the Persians.  History tells us that he promptly expired after delivering the news.  Humans enjoy commemorating major milestones through reenactment and hundreds of thousands run marathons each year around the world without even thinking about the original messenger's final act 2500 years ago. Of course, now we run an arbitrarily longer distance of 26.22 miles and only a handful of runners give up the ghost in the attempt.

There is a slightly less dramatic history behind my personal journey to follow the actual course of Pheidippides and it started in October 2009. I had just completed the Twin Cities Marathon and set a personal record by 5 minutes. I was thrilled with my accomplishment, and arguably deserved a break from training. However, the military championship marathon was being run in Washington DC in conjunction with the Marine Corps Marathon at the end of October and the winners would head to Athens, Greece in October 2010 to compete for the USA in an international military marathon competition. This running of THE marathon would be in celebration of the 2500 anniversary.

As soon as I heard about it, I knew I had to run that race and try to earn my spot on the team. As it turned out, I had one of the most amazing races of my life at the Marine Corps Marathon and was glad I ran it based on the day's experience alone. I came in first military female, second overall female, catching and battling the leader in the last few miles of the race. I also set a masters course record in the process. Best of all, I would be headed to Marathon, Greece in one year.

Fast forward one year and I am on a flight headed to Athens, Greece (actually, I'm sitting in a dorm room the night before the race, and finally able to connect to the Internet to post this!) I have done very little training in the three weeks since Chicago in preparation. Last week, I ran about 40 miles culminating with a 16 miler on Saturday. This week, I am running between 3-5 miles each day with a few strides thrown in on a couple of days. My hypothesis for this train-through plan is that my fitness will carry over regardless of of how little I actually run, but running too much could lead to injury. So, I'm being conservative.

My goal for this adventure is to enjoy the race while doing my best to place as high as possible in the competition. This will require a conservative approach. The marathon course looks brutal with about 10+ miles of straight uphill and the last 6 down. So, starting out conservatively is essential if I want to finish strong. I don't have a time goal other than I'd like to run under 3:00. I could run a lot faster than that if I have a good day. Last year's adventure at the Marine Corps Marathon proved that to me.

I'd also like to finish the race still standing and able to walk. I have a few days of vacation tacked on to the back end of this trip with The Genius that I'd like to be able to enjoy wandering around Athens and the ancient island of Thira.

The future
I have spent these last few weeks reflecting on my running future. I am in a great place right now having achieved my life's running goal. As I mentioned in my last post, it's also a little unnerving for a planner like me. That's not to say that I don't have new goals already brewing in my brain. But my running goals are only part of my running future. I have been thinking more about how I want to experience the sport of running. Regular readers of my blog probably picked up on a sense of unease that began to trickle into my happy little running world mostly in the last 3-4 months. It really bothered me. I was starting to dread workouts, wasn't enjoying races and this extra anxiety was having a negative impact on my life. I had a gut feeling, that a change would be good for me mentally and physically.

I have a fine, reliable posse of girlies who I am lucky to meet up with somewhat regularly for easy runs. Prior to joining this group (called the Early Girlies because we run weekdays at 5:15), I did all of my running alone. For the most part, I do all of my hard training alone. Many of the girlies are also coached by Nicole Hunt, but we never seem to be on the same program and we don't run the same paces even if we do the same workouts. I have been longing for some time now to find a group to do my hard training runs with, but just haven't been able to make it work.

I have had great luck training with my on-line coach, Nicole Hunt. She is the most professional, wisest, level-headed and nicest person I have never met. People often find it odd that I have worked with someone so closely for over three years, only talked on the phone with her once and never met her in person. It takes a lot of personal motivation and good communication between coach and athlete to make a cyber coaching relationship work, and I have had all of that.

The running experience I crave right now includes training with a group of women and men that are around my same level and doing similar workouts. I want the benefit of having a more traditional coaching relationship where my coach is able to watch me run and can help adjust my workouts when needed. I also think that I need a new focus for my running. I have been a serial marathoner for 6 years now and I think I would enjoy training for shorter distances, maybe even changing up my routine.

I am a member of one of the best women's racing teams in the Country, the Impala Racing Team. Most of my teammates live and train in the SF Bay area. I live 90 miles away in Sacramento and have not had the ability to train with them regularly, or at all actually since I joined the team back in 2008. Several of these fast women train with coach Tom McGlynn of Focus 'n Fly and they perform some of their workouts together.

After talking with Tom, other runners who know him and some of the athletes he trains, I decided that training with his group was a great opportunity. I have been told by some of his athletes to brace myself for a big change in my program, and I am excited to see what that change will be. It has come to my attention that I have a reputation for having an aggressive training program. This is funny to me, because I don't really see it that way. I see the workouts and total volume that others put in and think they are much more difficult. I really don't label myself as anything when it comes to running beyond being a masters runner and now an OTQ. I don't see myself as only responding to high mileage training, mainly because I've not tried the alternative. I would love to explore other ways of training. I honestly believe there are multiple ways to become a fast runner, the best being the one that keeps you injury free and maintains your love for the sport.

Over the next few months, I'll be making a concerted effort to get to SF most weeks to train with my new coach and his athletes. This also means that I'll be able to spend more time running and getting to know my teammates, something I've wanted to do since I joined the team.

Of course, I won't leap into this new program for a bit so I can recover from my two marathons. The good news is that Coach Tom doesn't have a problem with me continuing my running blog as long as I don't do stupid stuff and attribute it to his coaching. That's not my style. I'm a mea culpa kind of gal.

Exciting times ahead, and you are welcome to come along for the ride!

Monday, October 11, 2010

10-10-10: Chicago Marathon Race Report

Here's the proof.
Thanks to for the pictures.

I feel a little lost right now.  It's that feeling you get when you've been dreaming about something for so long that it has become a part of your psyche, and you don't quite know what to do with yourself once you've arrived.  I have been dreaming about and working my ass off to become fit enough to qualify for the Olympic Trials for the better part of five years, and yesterday, on 10-10-10, I did it.  I ran 2:45:09 in the Chicago Marathon.
Pre-race Paranoia

I will say this.  The easy part was running the marathon.  The hard part was dealing with my brain this last week.  I refrained from blogging or Facebooking about any of this pre-race madness because I didn't really want to put it out there.  Putting it into words makes it real.  If it's simply in my head, there's a chance it isn't real or won't come true.  I don't think that what I experienced was in any way unique, but boy was it uncomfortable.
For starters, my right foot started acting up last week.  It's never, ever done this before.  My arch was very sore after my runs, even after easy runs.  I immediately started thinking "stress fracture."  I just knew that in my next run, my foot was going to break, just like Deena Kastor in the 2008 Olympic marathon.  I worried about this pretty much non-stop over the week's course.
Then, there was the weather to worry about.  The long-term outlook appeared good a week out from the race, but, as we approached race day, things started looking bad.  Really bad.  I know that people say there's nothing you can do about it, but you do have to respond to it in your preparation and your race plan.  I felt lucky that most of my training runs were run this summer in very warm conditions.  I was certainly acclimated to the heat, but I knew this did not make me immune to it.
I made the mistake of spending way too much time this weekend looking at the literature on how heat affects running performance and everything pointed to a marked slow down for the temperatures predicted for race day (60s at the start, mid-70s at the finish).  The most depressing factoid I found was that, the equivalent of a 2:46 marathon in these conditions was somewhere between 2:40-2:42 in ideal conditions (<60F).  I was not convinced that I was in that kind of shape.
After allowing myself to get worked up about it, I finally resolved to just go for it and stick to my original race plan.  I would hydrate like crazy and see what I could do.  Needless to say, I did not sleep well at all the two nights leading up to race day.  Worry, worry, worry.  Well, sleep was also made difficult by some punks outside the hotel making noises that sounded like vuvuzelas all night long.
The Race of My Life  

I awoke at 4:15 and started my pre-race routine of eating as much as I could stuff into my gut, showering and getting into my battledress.  I pinned my Airborne wings on the back of my shimmel, ensured my race numbers were in place, and both D-tags were affixed to my racing flats (yes, they required two for elites and sub-elites).  I bundled up in sweats, a long-sleeved shirt and jacket in hopes that all weather predictions would be wrong and I would be chilled en route to the start. 
The Genius and I headed out into the dark Chicago morning to catch the train to the start and were greeted with still, warm air.  Damn. I so wanted it to be cooler.  The Genius later told me that a digital clock/temperature sign on a bank we passed read 71F, but thankfully, he did not point that out to me at the time.
Regardless of all of my worrying, I was surprisingly upbeat as I ventured off to the Elite Development Tent in Grant Park.  I love the energy in the hour or so leading up to a marathon race.  It's electric and intoxicating.  I found myself feeling super excited as I blasted a few upbeat songs into my head before heading to the starting line for our 7:30 start.  After getting a big hug from fellow Impala, Brooke Wells (who would go on to run 2:37!), I took a deep breath and waddled forward with the crowd as the gun sounded.

My race plan was to go out under control for the first 5k, hydrate like a mad woman, see how I felt and try to get through the half in 1:22.  My pace band showed splits for a 2:46 marathon.  Back when the weather was looking a bit more favorable, I had printed one for a 2:44, but that seemed a bit too ambitious under these conditions.
I had several women and men to run with for the first 5 miles, but there was never a consistent pack like I had in the Twin Cities Marathon last year.  It was more of a string of women that I knew were likely shooting for the same time as me.  It turned out that my best pacers, my only pacers actually, were a couple of dudes that I hooked up with around mile 4 or so.  I believe I stuck with them through about mile 14 when one of them sped up and one of them slowed leaving me stuck on my own.  I would later pass the one that sped off at around mile 25.
I gulped at least a half cup of water at every aid station and took my gels every 5 miles without incident.  I was thrilled to see water bottles offered at a couple of spots on the course.  It was nice to be able to carry it along for a bit to make sure I got enough.  Hydration was not a problem for me, except that I think I over did it.  My bladder felt full at the start, which is normal, but it usually resorbs within a few miles.  I had a full bladder the entire race and seriously considered peeing my shorts many times because it was very uncomfortable.  You'll be happy to know that I refrained.
My right foot started to bark around mile 10 and the worrying set in big time for me.  I cringed with every step thinking the next would be my last with intact bones.  While the aching remained on and off for most of the race, my foot did not break and actually feels quite good now.

Aside from the right foot issue, I felt great in the first half of this race.  I mean really great.  The heat was not affecting my pace at all, and I was easily clicking off splits of 6:10-6:15.  I kept watching time being deposited into my race bank account with each mile split and ended up at 1:21:37 by the half.  It was a little faster than I had planned, but I couldn't deny how I felt.  I decided I would keep at the 6:12-6:15 pace through mile 20 if I could, taking it mile by mile.  I kept thinking about keeping my feet light on the ground, repeating "tap tap tap" to myself, mimicking the sound of my quick little feet hitting the pavement.  I thought about running smoothly like Bernard Lagat.  For me, he is the vision of grace in a runner and thinking about his stride relaxes me.
Around mile 16, I saw a tiny figure up ahead that I thought might be Joan Benoit Samuelson.  I wondered when I would see her, if I would see her in the race.  As I approached, I could hear the crowd yelling, "Go Joanie!"  I was star struck.  I quietly ran up behind her pacer and ran alongside her for about a half mile.  I looked down at her face at one point and saw this look of sheer determination in her eyes.  That short bit running with Joanie might have been the highlight of my race.  When I finally looked down at my Garmin and noticed that my pace was dropping off into 6:20 territory, I moved around her pacers and kept going.  I was still able to hear the chants from the crowd urging her on for several minutes as I thought about how amazing she is and got a little choked up.

I was blown away by how many people I passed in the second half of the race.  Based on a quick count, it looks like it was about 100 men and 10 women.  It made me nervous at times, coming up so fast on people going backwards so fast.  I wondered whether my ambitious pace would bite me in the butt after mile 20.  I decided to not worry about that and just took the race one chunk at a time.  I thought this even as I saw the banners go up indicating that course conditions were now moderate for running and race officials were blasting over the PA system that we should think seriously about adjusting our pace accordingly and to be sure to drink extra fluids.  Around mile 20 or so, I ran past a bank that showed the temperature at 80F, and we were entering the most exposed part of the course.

In the final miles and covered in sweat.
Even at mile 20, I was surprised with how the pace felt as I was able to easily breathe through my nose with my mouth closed.  I was, however, preparing myself mentally for the last 10k, ready to pull out some Chuck Five Zero action to get through those last miles.  I pretty much knew I would slow, but I wanted to get as much as I could out of every mile before the lead filled my legs.  

Cruising down the home stretch.
I finally started to slow around mile 23, but not by a lot.  As I ran up Michigan Ave., I figured I was probably going to meet my goal, but I knew I couldn't let myself slow too much.  The sun was really beating down on me at that point, and I saw 6:30 pace on my Garmin for a few splits.  I decided to just take in everything and kept telling myself that this was my day.  I was going to do this, and I needed to remember what it felt like.  I took in the trees lining Michigan Ave., the spectators and their cowbells, the other runners and even the bright sunshine.  This was my day.
As I rounded the corner to head up the last cruel hill to the 26 mile marker, I looked at my pace band and misread the numbers.  A major wave of panic set in as I convinced myself that I was barely going to beat 2:46.  My brain wasn't working right as I rounded the corner, and I began busting ass to get to that finish line which was more than 200m away.  I couldn't see the clock and didn't have time to look at my watch.  With about 100m to go, I finally saw the clock and it read 2:44:40-something.  I knew that I was going to make it.  I raised my arms up as I crossed the line and then, just kept walking.  What had I just done?  Did I really do this? 

Marathon Finisher!

My Splits
1   6:11
2 6:16
3 6:21
4 6:06
5 6:14
6 6:12
7 6:11
8 6:14
9 6:12
10 6:14
11 6:11
12 6:15
13 6:17
14 6:13
15 6:15
16 6:15
17 6:20 (the Joanie mile)
18 6:16
19 6:17
20 6:20
21 6:18
22 6:19
23 6:30
24 6:30
25 6:34
26 6:37
26.22 1:19

Post-race party

I got my finisher's medal, waved on the mylar blanket and ate a banana as I walked for about a mile to get back to the Elite Development Tent to collect my gear and look for my family.  The whole way, I was alternating between being choked up with happiness and frightened that someone was going to tell me that I hadn't actually qualified for some reason.  I was relieved to get my iPhone and see on Facebook that others had virtually witnessed me cross the finish line in 2:45:09.  I had failed to stop my Garmin when I crossed the line, so I didn't even have my own chrono-documentation of my achievement.
I was greeted by The Genius, my Mom and Val soon after reaching the tent and was showered with many hugs, flowers and tears.  It was quite a moment.  I enjoyed hearing about my sister Jill and brother Jeff tracking me on line and how my sister was calling my Mom with updates.  We went to the results tent to get a printout of the results of my race.  I found out that I had placed first in my age group and was second female master overall--second to Colleen De Rueck.  If you have to be second to someone, she's a pretty cool competitor to follow.

Looking back on this race, I have to rank it as my third easiest in terms of how I felt.  I never once felt a rough patch.  I didn't have to call on Chuck 50.  Maybe this was the result of the focus I put on my mental preparation for the race paying off.  I'm not sure.  Aside from a sore foot and a bit of understandable slowing at the end, this was a pleasant experience.  The heat certainly kept me from reaching my full potential, but it didn't overwhelm me.  I have no doubt that I could have run a lot faster in cooler conditions, but there's always something that seems to keep you from running to your potential in a marathon.
I loved reading through real-time Facebook comments from people who continue to encourage and inspire me.  Joe posted a touching account of his experience of my race including some great Facebook chat, and Julie announced my achievement to the world in a very cool post about my race on her blog.  
The outpouring of congratulatory notes and comments I have received from friends and family has been truly overwhelming.  Thanks everyone for all of your support and encouragement along the way.  I have been blessed to have so many people express how much they believe in me and my ability to achieve this goal.  Indeed it is a big reason I crossed the line in under 2:46.

The Future
As originally conceived, this accomplishment would mark the end of my blogging journey.  I set out to write about my trials in achieving this goal, and I am now there.  I am not sure what I will do next in my running or my writing, but I will continue to do both in some form.  I have thoroughly enjoyed being part of a community of writing runners and feel like I have gained a whole new perspective on running, writing and a unique and satisfying relationship with readers and fellow bloggers, most of whom I've not met in person.  
Houston 2012, here I come!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Stop! Taper time...

Don't hate me because I'm beautiful!
You know, I really don't hate the tapir.  How can you hate a beast with a long, double-barreled, prehensile schnoz like that?  And those delightful little toes?

Sorry for the Emily Litella moment. I know that was really bad.  Never mind.

The taper.  Right.  I hear other runners talking about how much they hate the taper, but I have to say I'm not on board with that.  I used to think I hated the taper, probably because someone told me I was supposed to. To be honest, I like the feeling that I get in my legs.  Really.  It feels like my legs are growing stronger every day, and according to this article, that's exactly what's happening.  They definitely feel different than they have for the last 12 weeks or so, but I associate that with them getting stronger so it's a positive thing.

I am also taking that extra energy I have left over to take stock in all of the work I've put in: not just in  this training cycle but everything that has brought me to this point.  Here are a few thoughts that I've had running through my brain:

1.  Six months ago, I was not running.  Remember pool running Jaymee?  I over trained.  I learned from that and am now fitter than I ever have been.
2.  I have been sleeping 8 hours per night, eating well and running my easy runs as easy as I ever have.  I pride myself in running a positive split in my easy runs.
3.  My butt no longer hurts.<3
4.  I have nailed all of my goal marathon pace workouts these last two weeks and feel great running at 6:10 pace.
5.  This will be my 16th marathon.  Yes, sweet 16!  I've run, on average, just under 3 marathons/per year in the 6 years I've been running.  Eight of the last 15 have been under 3 hours.
6.  Joan Benoit Samuelson is running Chicago = Awesome!

It occurred to me this week, as I was preparing for a GMP workout, that I feel 100% confident that I am fit enough to achieve my goal.  In some ways, I can't believe the feeling of calm and confidence I have about that.  I have been getting more worked up about my silly training runs than the race itself!   I have no idea if the subliminal recordings I've been listening to at night are doing this for me, or if my most recent training runs have boosted my trust in my mind and body.  Regardless, I'm very happy with where I am right now.

I know that there are still many things that can go wrong that are out of my control going into this race.  While I hope everything lines up for me, I know that even if I don't have the best day, the work I've done has made me a faster runner and will continue to pay off in the future.

One week to go!!!!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Shifting the balance

After my long run this weekend, it occurred to me that the mind game I've been playing of late is all about shifting the balance of my thoughts from the negative side to the positive.  Whether I do that by tricking my mind into thinking that I feel good when I don't or changing my attitude to embrace the feeling of complete fatigue in my body at the end of a long run/hard effort as something valuable, it doesn't really matter.  Positive (constructive) thoughts must beat out the negative (destructive) ones.

Since I've been letting the negative creep in slowly over the last couple of years, there's much work to be done to reverse the trend.  The Fearless Athlete Program I'm going through is helping me get at the underlying beliefs and expectations that keep me stuck in the same old rut.  I admit I am disappointed in the audio portion of the program since the "coach" is simply reading what's written in the workbook.  I was expecting it to add value to the program.  That said, I do like the lessons in the workbook and think the process so far has been enlightening.  I am only 6 days into it and am already learning a lot.  I thought I'd share what I've been working on in some recent lessons.  

Creating a Functional Mindset
After understanding how fear of failure and perfectionistic tendencies can affect performance, the program works on uncovering the beliefs and expectations that hold you back.  The author explains that being a perfectionist is not all bad.  He explains that some behaviors can actually be functional and help you succeed.  So, the trick is to know the difference between those behaviors that are helpful and those that cause fear and anxiety.  I listed the following five characteristics I wanted to change and came up with a plan to change my non-functional mindset into a functional mindset.  I am supposed to review these daily and use them in my race day visualization as well as in training.

Non-functional mindset/functional mindset
1. I demand high expectations of myself because I work so hard to achieve my goals.
    --I choose to be confident in myself because I've done the hard work and trust in my abilities.
2. I assess my performance as either good or bad with no middle ground.
    --I will assess my performance on a scale from 1-10.  Most days will be 5 or 6, not 1 or 10.
3. I must control my performance under pressure to make it happen the way I want.
    --I will trust my ability to perform in races and allow my body to do what it was trained to do.
4. If my race isn't perfect today, I must analyze and fix it right away.    
    --I will race with the race I brought today and worry about mistakes in training.
5. The best way to perform perfectly is to avoid making mistakes.
    --I choose to perform functionally and focus on what I want to have happen.

Expectations and Confidence
The next exercise had me analyze my expectations and replace them with a confidence statement.  This distinction between expectations and confidence was good for me to understand.  The author defines expectations as "...demands that you place on your performance that cause you to judge how you're doing compared to how you think you SHOULD be doing." Having strict, perfectionist or unrealistic expectations undermines your confidence.  By contrast, confidence is a belief in your abilities, without judgment attached.  After each hard training run and race, I am supposed to review how I did in terms of setting aside my expectations and performing with confidence.  Here are some of the expectations that I have for my running and the confidence statements that I will replace them with:

Expectation/confidence statement
1. Marathon pace should feel easy.
    --I am confident in my fitness and know that I can run marathon pace on race day.
2. I need to run faster in training than I did in the same workouts before the Twin Cities Marathon.
    --Each workout I do regardless of pace is helping me get fitter so I can achieve my goal.
3. I should always feel good in workouts, or it means I'm not fit enough.
    --I embrace difficult workouts because they are important for training my body and mind.
4. I can't stop during a workout or, if I do, I am weak minded.
    --I have a strong mind that can handle adversity.  Stopping during a workout does not take away from that.

View from the halfway mark on my Bear Valley Trail run Friday. 
My workout on Sunday was a great test for me.  I knew it would be going into it.  I had run 9 miles on a coastal trail Friday afternoon that had some good hills on it.  I tried as hard as I could to baby my legs on the downhills with my coach's voice in my ear telling me that my legs wouldn't recover in time for Chicago if I took them too hard.  I felt successful enough in that I did not have any pain in my legs at all on Saturday.  However, there's really no way to run up and down hills and not sustain some muscle fatigue.  I felt this as soon as I started running on my brick legs Sunday a.m.  My 20-mile workout included:

~6 miles moderate pace
3 miles at goal marathon pace (GMP)
1-3 miles moderate
10 x 90 seconds @5k effort w/ 2 min. jog rests
1-3 miles moderate
3 miles at GMP

You may have noticed, as I did, that's a lot of stuff to pack into even a 20-mile workout.  I started the 3 miles at GMP about 5 miles into the workout and held 6:10 pace.  I could tell that the end of this workout was going to be a dinger with my legs feeling as heavy as they did.  That's when I decided that this was a great time to practice tossing out my expectations and replacing them with internal confidence statements.  The whole point of this workout, in fact, was to get me used to running GMP on tired legs in the late stages of the marathon.  I had the perfect conditions staring me right in the face.  

I ran about 1.5 miles at moderate pace and then started the 5k intervals.  This took me over 5 miles to complete.  I was now only 4.5 miles from home and had another 3 miles at GMP to knock out.  So, I jogged for about 1/2 mile and launched into the next 3 miles at GMP.  This is where I confronted the money part of the workout.  I was exhausted, now running in 80-degree heat and I needed to focus everything I had on staying positive and running smooth and relaxed.  I stopped at a water fountain half way through to get water and did not judge myself.  I felt like I needed water at that point and found no shame in breaking up my GMP work to get it.

I ran those last 3 miles at 6:19 pace and was very happy with myself.  As I told The Genius later, I would be ecstatic if I held 6:19 pace at the end of Chicago.  This workout, not just my physical performance in it but my mental performance as well, was a huge confidence boost for me.  I thought about all of the times I had judged my workout performance instead of simply seeing it as a process that pushes me closer to race day fitness and as a chance to practice handling adversity.

I think this is a good lesson for us all.  I read many blogs (including reminiscence on some of my own past posts) and am blown away with how much judgment I find.  How are we ever supposed to build confidence in our running fitness and abilities if we spend so much time beating ourselves up for not achieving unreasonable expectations that masquerade as "goals"?  Think about it.

And now for something completely different:
An Effin' J Invention Alert
I'm pretty sure I'm the first to think of this, and I want to be the first to publish to the web in case it really takes off so I can collect royalties at a later date.  Some colleagues of mine and I were driving in Point Reyes, CA on Friday morning when we spotted a runner carrying water bottles around her waist.  My colleague had seen her running before we left and mentioned that she thought it was me.  I made a quip that sounded something like, "I'm a real runner and don't carry water bottles around my waist."  It was a joke.  But, it astounded my two colleagues.  I said I plan most of my runs around water fountains so I don't have to carry water. I hate carrying water.  After I complained for about 10 minutes about all of the useless inventions I've tried (really, pretty much every one), my colleague challenged me to invent something better.

I did.  Subcutaneous fluids.  It's really quite perfect, though there are a few details to work out yet.  The idea came from a medical procedure I performed regularly for months on one of my late kitties who was diseased and required fluids.  I simply stuck a large needle under her skin and drained saline into her until she had a nice little "kitty camelBak" bubble on her back.  She carried it around for an hour or two while it slowly diffused into her body, rehydrating her like a champ.  Why can't marathon runners use this same technique?  It seems like we could insert saline, and possibly a glucose mixture under the skin in various places throughout the body with just the right volume to last for an entire marathon.  There would be added weight to deal with, but think of the time that would be saved in fumbling with bottles and gels.  The potential for gastric distress would be eliminated!  I think it's awesome.  Or, maybe I should stick to ecology...