Sunday, May 20, 2018

Malibu Fear Again and Again

I started running back in 2004. I ran my first trail race in 2015 with the Xterra group. I had done some hiking before to which I got my ass handed to me on some simple trails so trail running seemed a bit foreign to me but in 2005, I was a lot younger and my infatuation with anything running was at an all-time high. I thought I could do anything. Running can make you feel like that or at least running a race and crossing the finish line can. I remember running the Xterra 6k and thinking it was hard as shit. It had a climb about a quarter of a mile in that seemed like it went on forever then you turned and went up another climb that seemed like you were going up the stairs for a slide at a water park because before you knew it, you were running downhill for about a mile and a half and it was filled with twists and turns down a single-track trail until you were spun out to the fire road and back up and over a hill to the straight away mile run to the finish. It was a rush and a serious sense of accomplishment. I would return to the run the 6k a few more times and I always felt like I was just on the brink of running my best time but would miss it by a few minutes which would leave me chasing that ever so difficult dream of placing top 3 in your age division. In 2007 or possibly 2008, I finished the 6k and stood around feeling myself like I was the top trail runner on the planet and about 10 minutes later a guy came blazing through the finish line. He was one of the first or second finishers of the 22k but the thing that caught my attention was that he only had one arm. He looked strong, fit as hell and totally made me feel like a complete loser. Sure people tell you to run your race and why should you compare yourself to others but sometimes that is a load of crap. In that moment, I knew that it was time for me to step up and stop celebrating a short victory in having run the 6k 4 years in a row.

The only thing I knew about the 22k was there was a portion of it called bulldog that people swore was hell. I emailed the race director before registering for and simply asked him was this really something I should be concerned with. His response: “definitely!” and he said don’t underestimate the last climb at mile 13. It has been over 6 years now that I started running the 22k and everything that race director said held true the first time I ran it and it has remained true including yesterday when I ran it again. One, I had no business running the race yesterday because simply put, I was not prepared mentally and physically. After the LA marathon in March, I have spent weeks trying to rehab an ankle/tendon issue which has kept me from any serious running. My longest run was about 5 miles two weeks ago. That doesn’t help prepare for a 14-mile race with nearly 1,800 feet elevation over 3 and a half miles but I am who I am so I was there at the start line with ambitions to at least finish without needing an ambulance at the finish line.

I had shades of last year’s race which was about 90 degrees and I literally felt like I was crawling the last mile of the race and finished about 40 minutes slower than my best time. It was miserable and a race I wanted to forget but it is kind of hard to forget when you know anything can happen with this course and I have never really had what I call a great performance at this race but we were blessed with low temperatures and overcast skies from start to finish. When we started off yesterday, I knew about 2 miles in that I just did not feel strong. I could not tell if I just needed to warm up or was this going to be a repeat of last year. I knew that the bulldog portion of the race would be coming up around mile 3 and it was there that I thought to myself “you are in for a grind today”. I started up bulldog which at the start of it makes you feel like it would be a piece of cake and that is because you really haven’t started the climb. When we hit the slightest bit of incline, I was tired, my legs were not turning and I was sweating like a pig so I knew the only thing I could do is to start hiking with some pace and try to dominate the climb. This is usually when I would throw on the headphones in a get into a groove but I heard a voice from behind and it was Cyris. I have been seeing Cyris and his wife at all the Xterra events for basically the last 5 years. Its super cool to see him because he’s always super positive and provides a feeling of family and that is what the trail running community is. Everyone is competing but they compete with a sense of seeing their fellow runner do well. Cyris and I started chatting and making our way up bulldog. He told me he had been battling a bad sinus infection for the last few weeks so he just couldn’t get into gear and run like he wanted but the conversation we had going up bulldog actually distracted from how hard it was. We were attacking the climb stride for stride. It wasn’t a competition at all. Just two runners feeding off each-others energy and pushing one another. I truly needed that and once we reached mile 6 and finally a chance to straighten out our backs and walk upright and start a bit of downhill, I knew we would go our separate ways.

In the past two years, mile 6 was where I looked to make up ground on the dreadful climb up bulldog and all the time I lost but I was so out of it the last few years that I sucked running downhill from mile 6 to 7 and so on but yesterday, my spirit wasn’t broken and I knew the course so well that I knew I just needed to conserve my energy and run the parts I could and conserve my energy until mile 10 when you essentially have downhill sprint for 2 miles to mile 12. When you reach mile 12 of this race, you actually exit the park and you are on the main highway for a bit which is crazy. It was there that I spotted another guy I have seen at these races, Joe Lewis. It was just last year that he and I were climbing up mile 13 like two turtles until we finally made it to the top and somehow made it to the finish. Once I saw Joe, it gave me even more confidence because he had sped past me in the early going so to catch him let me know I had rallied from that slow beginning and still had a lot in the tank. I sprinted past Joe and up the road and then back into the park where you run for a bit before the dreaded last mile uphill. I would say this is definitely the worst of the race because you just have nothing left but yesterday I was able to conquer mile 13 by just keeping a steady pace and moving my feet no matter how tired I was. Last year, I could barely walk 3 feet on this portion before I would stop, look around and trying to catch my breath and walk another 3 feet and stop again.

When I was done yesterday, I was able to talk to Cyris, Joe and a bunch of others that I see each year. There was a level of content and excitement on just about everyone’s face yesterday and really I think it was a sigh of relief especially for all of us who ran it last year and suffered through the heat. I could feel that we all were excited to finish and also to be able to celebrate a good hard race. If it hadn’t been for Cyris on that uphill, I may not have had the same result. He pushed me along and sometimes whether you believe it or not, you have to abandon your normal race plan to just go with the flow. This race continues to be a challenge no matter what but if I can lace up the shoes, I will be there to accept the challenge.

Legs are sore but I am feeling good!!

Friday, March 23, 2018

Glasses up for Number 15

When I finished the LA Marathon last Sunday, I went directly from the finish line on Ocean Blvd. in Santa Monica to the Renaissance Resort in Indian Wells. This had been one of my goals for year’s. Specifically to go be in the spa at the Renaissance after the race because it has one of the very few spas I love and with the drop of my bags and right back out the door to the spa, the dream was complete. For 3 hours, I was heaven and there was nothing more thrilling and rewarding than that moment but less than a few hours before that moment, I had to go through the usual hell to get to this moment of bliss. One of my proudest accomplishments was finishing one marathon but to have this be my fifteenth consecutive was just an insane feat to think about it because I could never actually see myself running one. This year was special as they all are but this year the race introduced a new program called LA loyal to recognize those who have braved the streets of LA in a few categories. Those who completed the race two years in a row received something special, those who completed at least five consecutive races received a little more recognition and items and then there were those who completed at least ten consecutive LA marathons received a different race bib, a special designed LA loyal shirt and hoodie and a special medal which resembled the medal given at the inaugural race in 1986.

As humble as I may appear for two minutes, this is something that truly excited me because I always felt like the race should do something to recognize those outside of the legacy runner’s for their commitment to the race and the city. Once I ran my second LA marathon, I said I would make it a mission to run every single race until I am unable to do it. I unable to be a legacy runner because I have not run every single race since its inception but I figured I could start my own streak and create my own legacy and that is what I set out to do. According to the LA marathon stats, there were only about 500 runners who are in this group of having completed 10 plus consecutive LA marathons which would then include the 144 legacy runners so that would mean I should be pretty impressed considering that is 500 out of twenty-four thousand runners each year.

To get to that spa and to my 15th completion, I had to go deep into my mental banks and find a way to get through this race. I struggled right away. I went out way to fast and around mile 4, my legs were already feeling heavy and sluggish. I probably shouldn’t have jammed and jumped around at mile 8 with the band that was jamming on the course but I felt the energy and the groove and minutes later I thought I hit the wall of the race but I have been here before. It sucks but you have to decide if you are going to pack in or are you ready to get down and dirty and go to your dark place to summon a different person. I threw on the headphones, Dr. Dre kicked in and I started to get in that groove and though it wasn’t smooth, I punched my way through miles 9, 10, 11 and 12 and then at mile 13, I had to search again for something to carry me. There is a voice that says “you have been here before, so don’t be surprised, just step up to the challenge”.

I hit miles 14 and 15 and by 16 when I saw my friends, I felt a bit emotionally spent but encouraged and my real wall came at miles 17, 18 and 19 but I knew if I just kept my head up then there would be a bright spot and at mile 20, I had a small cup of beer and that euphoria kicked in and my feet crawled with steps and though they were slow and I needed the occasional walk break, I was moving. My friend Cristina jumped on the course at mile 21 and helped me run two more miles and then I knew it was not a matter of finishing, it was how I wanted to finish and I may have run my best miles at 24 and 25 because I was truly flying or maybe it was the numbness in my feet that made it feel like flying because I couldn’t feel anything. As soon as you cross that finish line, you are trying to recap what happened the last 4-5 hours and it feels like you have had an out of body experience which would explain the pain, the emotion you feel and the joy. I finally decided to give myself permission to just do nothing until now which is why I am finally reflecting on everything. It feels good to finish the race but a runner’s mind skips to the next race but until I can walk again without pain, I will continue working on relaxing!

Pain is inevitable but the rewards will last a lifetime…..

Monday, March 20, 2017

26 Miles then You go Crazy

I never understand how difficult running 26 miles really is until I am struggling and wondering “why in the hell am I out here”? I know many would say if you have run the race 13 previous times you would know how difficult the race is but not necessarily. The LA marathon is the one marathon I run per year and outside of running the LA marathon and the NY marathon in 2006, I really have stuck to half marathons and shorter distances throughout the year so I have a short memory as soon as I complete the race and then I am quickly reminded as soon as the race starts as to just what I am up against.

For more than three weeks, I had what felt like a golf ball on the bottom of my foot. I couldn’t step down with pain and oddly it went away when I would do any training runs and as if that wasn’t enough, I pulled my hamstring 2 weeks ago on a simple run so going into yesterday, I had a lot of anxiety and tons of nerves. I do it to myself each year where I nearly go nuts worrying about the various little bumps and bruises and how they will play out in the race. I am never really worried about finishing the race but I always have anxiety about whether enough I will have enough dog in me to grind out an ugly race which was exactly what the race was yesterday.

I felt fine when the race started but there was a quick concern when I hit mile 2 and I just felt a bit lethargic and not yet into the flow of the race. I walked up the hill by the Disney concert hall which is what I always do and I had a plan to really pick things up around mile 6 and 7 but it was like I was running in mud. My foot pain wasn’t a problem and my hamstring felt great but as I read another runner post after the race yesterday that her legs felt like lead from the start, I realized it wasn’t just me but when it happens in a race, you have to just put your head down and grind. I tried to distract my mind by throwing on my music and zoning out and by mile 9 I was in a nice groove and I started to zoom past runners left and right but I felt around mile 16, things slowed for me. I cruised to mile 17 and 18 but I knew my legs were heavy and I would really need to do whatever it took to pull this one out.

There isn’t much of a blueprint to turn things around in a race when things start to go south. I always say it is time for a gut check. This is where you need turn into a psych patient and therapist all at the same time. I talk to myself non-stop and I look for any and everything to give me a spark. Any momentum you get, you need to turn it into miles for as long as you can. I was in a zone until around mile 22 and 23 when my legs cramped badly. I was forced to walk until the cramps subsided and then I would shuffle until I could run again but it would only last so long before I had to stop again. I had been in this ongoing battle with this muscled up black guy who I couldn’t shake the whole damn race and here he came creeping up at mile 25. As he edged in front of me, I could see he would stop eventually and then I would pass him but it wasn’t meant to be as my legs seized beyond my control and I could barely walk without limping so I had to concede.

It is funny how running goes. When I was struggling mid-race, I had all these thoughts. I wondered if I could do this another year or whether or not I had trained enough or did I have the mental toughness I use to but that is exactly why I run the marathon each year. That mental battle is what catapults me to keep moving my feet regardless of the pain and hurdle in front of me. I know that I will have to suffer in order to succeed and not many are willing to go through that type of pain and misery just to receive a medal. You can run 26 miles anywhere or at any time but there are very few chances to run amongst 24 thousand others looking to achieve a goal of their own and I couldn’t be more supportive of each and every person out there regardless their reasons for running. It takes balls and courage to step on the start line and it is commendable to do an event of this type of magnitude where you risk toenails and severe dehydration and pain for days afterwards but you will also gain resolve, mental toughness and a chance to build on that for the future. Some run the race once and that is enough for them and that is ok because honestly, it isn’t for everyone. I don’t encourage people to run it because it is not for everyone but if you are ready to push yourself to the limit and know what you are made of, the race will be waiting for you next year!!

Let your legs do the talking!!

Friday, January 20, 2017

New Era and New Day

It is no secret but I just turned 42 about 4 days ago and I got to celebrate my birthday in sunny Miami but before getting to Miami things weren’t so sunny. Mere days before departing for Miami, I got sick. I knew it was coming when I awoke one night in a cold sweat and my throat was killing me. Thanks to a few co-workers who were selfish enough to come to work the week before coughing and sneezing in my area for days on end, I was now in jeopardy of either missing my trip or having an awful experience. I contemplated even going to Miami the night before departing which gives you an idea of just how I felt but nonetheless I still boarded the plane on Saturday and arrived at the awesome private pad I rented in Miami Shores. I still felt like crap and on a Saturday night in Miami, I only managed to go out for 2 hours before realizing the bed was my best option. I awoke the next morning not too happy and feeling like I should have stayed home but one of my friends told me to just sit back and relax and enjoy the awesome pad and allow my body a chance to rest. They were right. Here I was in this place surrounded by bamboo and palm trees and my own pool and why did I feel the need to force myself to do anything? I took that day and did nothing except lounge, read and relax as well as the days that followed including my birthday. I know what you are thinking, what does this have to do with running? Just relax, I am getting to that.

On my birthday, I got up and felt a lot better than the previous two days. My mom called me to wish me a happy birthday as well as a myriad of friends and I was just feeling inspired and blessed to see another birthday so I used that inspiration and energy and I laced up the shoes and out the door I went. I had no idea what direction I was heading but the skies were stunningly beautiful so I just ran. My chest was on fire and my head was still congested so I had to stop multiple times to catch my breath but I was taking what my body gave me and I was enjoying the moment and the time and opportunity to do something I enjoy even though I could not do it at 100%.
About 6 minutes into my run, I saw an older woman just trying to make her way across the road. No driver would stop and she cautiously walked into the road with her walker. I quickly dashed over to help her by halting traffic and escorting her across safely. I am no hero but people should have some type of compassion and they should want to help other. That is just what a decent human being does. I felt like God put me there at that time to be a service to someone else and in turn, I felt even better on my run. I kept cutting up and down streets ultimately losing myself in the moment and getting lost. I could not remember which blocks I cut down and which way I had gone but I eventually figured it out and made my way back to the house. Waiting for me was the pool and a beer from the fridge. What a day and what a great birthday and the rest of my trip.

What is my new post really about? In running I have learned that no matter how hard you prepare, no matter how hard you train and how much you want to do well, you have to learn to take what your body gives you and to take each race and opportunity and make the best out of each and every situation. Like many runners, I can be incredibly competitive and I beat myself up over bad performances or I refuse to compromise and in turn I ultimately lose out on the experience of it all because getting the chance to race and compete is a honor and opportunity that many do not get. Take advantage of each and every opportunity you get in life because opportunities come and go and running like so many things in life if not forever. Sometimes it takes little things like getting sick to remind you what is important and to just relax and enjoy the moment as best as you can.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Sunday the 13th

Boy does 13 years go by in a blink but this past Sunday, my 13th consecutive running of the LA Marathon did not go by in a blink. I always get the question as to why would I put myself through a grueling 26.2 mile race and my answer is pretty much the same but the truth is I made a decision a while back that I would run every LA marathon since my first running of the race in 2004. That miserable experience ignited me to start from scratch and learn everything I needed to know about being a runner. It also didn’t hurt to be motivated by my dad passing away the morning after completing the first race. My dad was the reason I ran the race in the first place. Through the ups and downs of running, I continue to find the motivation and the desire to lace them up week in and week out and get outside and train not just for the marathon but for better health and overall fitness.

What happens in the LA Marathon is something amazing each and every year. I never quite know what to expect or how to best prepare but on Sunday, I found myself at mile 20 feeling miserable, tired and on the brink of complete and utter meltdown but still 6.2 miles remain in front of me. I have been here 13 times so I have felt this before and I have experiences all the highs and all the lows but it is amazing that in a matter of minutes, things can go from good to worse.

On Sunday, my ankle and knee were so painful that each time I planted my left leg on the pavement, I cringed in pain. I figured I could just master the pain for 6 miles but it just was not possible. My body just would not do what I wanted it to do and so for the remaining 6.2 miles, I had to embrace the situation and I had to understand that this would be a miserable 6 miles of the race and deep down I could hear my dad challenging me to see if I had the heart to fight through the pain and agony knowing I would finish the race but I would have to go through potential hell to do so. That is why I run this race. I want that challenge and I feed off of that challenge. If you can conquer the doubt, the fear and the pain, then what can’t you do? Life comes at you one mile at a time but you just have to stay on course to cross the finish line! 13 done and many more to come!!!

Keep those miles coming…..

Monday, October 19, 2015

The UPS and Downs

One of things I have about running is one of the things that keeps driving me and that is from week to week, race to race, no experience is the same nor is running well in an event a given. I think I have written about the PT. Mugu 11k trail race 5-6 times now. This race has become my white whale. I first ran in 2010 and came in 4th in my age division. Running is not always about the top 3 in your age division but it certainly adds a feather in your cap and trail races are as competitive and as difficult as they come so you can imagine after the 2010 race, I assumed I would come back in 2011 and capture that top 3 placing in my age division but I got hurt a week before the race and couldn’t run well in the race. Subsequent years, I just fell apart. I put so much pressure on myself to do well and I couldn’t live up to the pressure I put on myself and in result, I did not run well. Nothing changed this year but I was ready to put that curse behind and yesterday, the curse proved better than I again.

I got a small cold about two weeks ago and I was determined to not allow it to keep me from that top 3 podium spot. I rested and got myself feeling well enough to go up to PT. Mugu last weekend after hearing the course would change for the first time in over 4 years. We were being told the course in which I studied and trained would now start where it ended, which is a 2.7 mile run of a nasty incline, then out for about 1.4 miles and back down the 2.7 miles. In 92 degree heat last week, I braved the heat and the incline feeling winded and tired but strong and confident and ran quite well. That gave me so much confidence going into the race yesterday but one week is a lot of time between training and race day and it proved to be that way yesterday.
With little sleep, I felt like I was too lethargic and decided I would take an energy gel on an empty stomach and this is 2 minutes before the start of the race. I started with the first wave of runners and we blasted out and it was on the first climb that I knew I was in trouble. I felt like my stomach was revolting against me and quickly felt nauseous and if you’ve run uphill before then you would know that feeling sick to your stomach is not going to work. Five minutes in, I was walking and no matter what I did, I could not summon the energy and I got passed up by waves of people who were minutes behind me. I watched my goal just fly out the window. When I got to the top of the climb, I tried to rally a bit and push to the downhill and turn around and back up hill. I did what I could and when we got to the 2.7 mile downhill to the end, my watch had 56 minutes and I pushed until I couldn’t push anymore but finished in 1 hour and 13 minutes. I basically smashed 6:30 minute miles to the end and I knew I wouldn’t place in the top 3 but I wasn’t expecting to finish 4th. 4th!!!!! It was like learning that you were one lotto number away from 20 million dollars. It is an accomplishment but my goal fell short and I couldn’t help but think about how different each race and experience is different but you have to know that when you are in the race, you have a choice to fight and push through the most discouraging of times when your body cannot perform and you are miles from finishing.

I walk away from days like yesterday discouraged but then I realize I have plenty to be happy about and I put things in perspective and know that I have plenty of races ahead of me. Beat up, bruised and battered is just temporary. When I get back to my feet and back out there, I have more incentive and a new goal for my next race. This is why I keep lacing up the shoes. The challenges just keep coming!

Monday, September 28, 2015

Runner's Mind

I get little time these days to add to my running blog but I try to hold on to all the things I wanted to put down on paper. I ran my 3rd 5k this month yesterday and it came at the worst time possible. After a crash on my bike last week, I got up the day after in more pain than I expected. My back was so stiff that I couldn’t even bend over to put on my shoes and socks for work. I kept trying to fight through the pain only to make the pain worse but in true fashion, I refused to miss the race yesterday. Call it pride, call it stupidity but I like to say I am just competitive to a fault. I knew it would be a tough morning after I hopped on my bike to ride to Westchester for the race. My back hurt too much to really ride the way I wanted but when I got to the race and I saw all the other runners warming up and sliding into position to show off their running abilities, I got a boost but that only lasted so long. When you haven’t run in over a week, the reality is you just cannot expect to blaze down the course but I held my own for about 2 miles and my body called it quits. I finished 6th in my division and though it is respectable, it doesn’t satisfy my appetite and ego and after the race, it reminds me why I keep running. I seem to still think I can do this thing and I can get better. Sounds crazy but it is what keeps me going.

Running is serious work, especially for someone my size and I hear it all the time. Years ago, I really did not appreciate the older runners who tried to give me advice on training and preparing for races. When you are younger, you just think you can wake up and run and do little to no preparation for races but I have learned that the only way to perform well and to be successful is to be consistent in your approach and the real work happens leading up to the race. Training until you are exhausted, running on the hottest days of the year and just pushing as hard as you can. I was that kid just some years ago telling someone I could run a certain time in a race and they would just laugh at me. Now I realize I was an idiot. I am insulted now when people think I just wake up and run or that running is easy. It’s a lot of work and a lot of sacrifice. That is why it is such a reward. There is nothing better than running a race where it all comes together. You could care less about your time or placing because to have that race where you feel like a million bucks, no problems and you finish strong is priceless.

I believe I have a lot of running life left and I am just scratching the surface and I am looking forward to spending the next three weeks on the trails preparing for a trail race that I have been looking to win my division for the last four years. I know it will not be easy but I am ready to work.

For now I will rest and recover and lace up the shoes for my next adventure.