Thursday, October 18, 2012

More Musings About Munich

Here are some random thoughts about last Sunday's Munich Marathon:

Perspective: Last Sunday's race was one of my less stellar races. But every runner that I know has had both good and bad races. I have been very lucky because my good races outnumber the bad ones by a lot. I have had very few truly awful races. If it was the other way around, I would have quit running and racing long ago. Even though I had a disappointing (at first) experience in Munich, it will definitely not deter me from racing again. It's the bad races that make me appreciate the good ones even more. Now that a few days have passed, I am satisfied with how I did in Munich. I was tempted to quit the race, but I kept going all the way to the finish. Even with walking during a lot of the last 12 kilometers, I made it to the finish line with lots of time to spare. In an ideal world, all of our races would be great and each one would bring a new personal best. But we don't live in an ideal world and we have to take the bad with the good, learn from our experiences, then move on to training for the next race.

The Mental DJ: I started off the first half of the race with The Sweet's "Little Willy" in my head. It's a fun song to run to. In the second half the tunes switched between George Thorogood's version of "Move It On Over" and the French nursery rhyme about the bridge at Avignon (Sur le pont d'Avignon...). My mother used to sing me the Avignon bridge song when I was a child.

Dreams Really Do Come True: I have mentioned my pre-race nightmares in previous posts. On Sunday one of them actually came true. Sunday morning I woke up at about 3 am after having a dream about being in a parking garage and not being able to find my way out despite following other drivers to the exit. When I woke up, I started thinking, "How do I get out of the Olympic stadium parking lot and back home again?" When I had run Munich before, my husband was there to drive me home and I never paid attention to how we got back onto the Mittlerer Ring. When I ran the half-marathon that accompanied the marathon in 2010, I took the U-Bahn (subway/metro) from the stadium to my favorite park-and-ride. As I left the parking lot, there was a sign saying the road to Stuttgart/Lindau/Garmisch was on the left and the way to Nuernberg and Salzburg was on the right. Then the road split. The right fork had two lanes and the left fork had one. Because of the sign, I took the left fork, which was really the entrance into the stadium from the Mittlerer Ring. I was really supposed to take the right fork but stay in the left lane. Therefore, I ended up going the wrong way.  But, as the name implies, the Mittlerer Ring is a ring road. I knew that if I kept going I would eventually get to the Garmisch autobahn. On my wrong-way journey I discovered a tunnel that looked like something out of a science fiction movie. It was brightly lit up in white and Day-Glow green.

Running Apps: During one of my pre-race bathroom stops inside the stadium I was talking with two women. One was older and the other was younger. The older woman said that she was running her 38th marathon. The younger was running her tenth. I felt like such a novice because I was *only* running my fifth marathon. Our personal best times were within 3 minutes of each other's. Then the younger woman asked me which running apps I used. I pointed to my watch and told her that my watch was my running app. I don't use high-tech running apps because I don't really need to know my training distances to the 23rd decimal place and times to the nearest nanosecond.

The Kindness of Strangers: My husband was unable to come up to Munich on Sunday. Normally he's my official photographer. But I brought a camera with me and asked random people to take my picture both before and after the race. Everyone was happy to oblige. I even took someone's picture before the race. I figured that if someone really wanted to steal my cheap camera, he or she was welcome to it.

Stauwarnung (Traffic Jam Warning): When I ran the half-marathon that accompanied the marathon in 2010, both races started at the same time. The half-marathon started at the halfway mark of the marathon. This year it started three hours after the marathon. I can understand why the start times were staggered. In 2010 the U-Bahn was like the Tokyo subway at rush hour both before and after the race. It was barely breathing room only. With different starting times, the subway trains would be less crowded, at least in the morning before the race. But it seemed to be a problem for the runners because there were fast half-marathoners mixing with the slow marathoners. A lot of the slow marathoners were literally being pushed out of the way by the fast half-marathon runners. It also made the course more crowded. The good thing is if I decide to run the half-marathon next year I won't have to leave for Munich so early.

Refreshments: The organizers deserve a big pat on the back for having plenty of refreshments at both the water points and in the stadium after the race. I have been in races where the slower runners had almost no chance of getting water or food because they had run out. I remember one half-marathon in San Diego where the runners were asking homeowners for water from their garden hoses because they had run out of drinks at the water points. It's always nice when race organizers realize that not everyone is an elite runner and that slow runners also need water, sports drink, and food.

Numbers: There were over 18,000 runners in the four races on Sunday: marathon, half-marathon, 10K, and marathon relay. Eighty-one countries were represented, 59 in the marathon. There were 4934 men who finished the marathon and 1163 women. It's nice to see more and more women running the marathon. When I ran Munich for the first time in 1993, it seemed like there was a 10-to-1 ratio of men to women.

I haven't decided if I will run the marathon next year or the half-marathon. There's still plenty of time to figure it out.

Monday, October 15, 2012

2012 Munich Marathon

Here is my report on the Munich Marathon. My time was a less than stellar 4 hours 34 minutes 39 seconds. It was my slowest marathon, beating out my 4:29 in Berlin back in 1994. But the important thing is that I finished. As a fellow runner once said, "A last place finish is better than being the first DNF." No, I wasn't last and made the time limit by about 1.5 hours. I'm going to divide this report into 3 sections: pre-race, during the race, and post-race.

Pre-Race: I should have turned around and gone home as soon as I saw the black cat that I almost ran over on my street. Even though I'm generally not a superstitious person (except for the requirement to wear something black on race day), that set the tone. Then there was the ordeal of getting my number, taking my bag to the storage area, and then walking to the starting area. Someone obviously had a sadistic streak when deciding where all of those things should be. At most races everything is in one area, or at least close by. Not for the marathon. The number pickup was about a 10-minute walk from my car. Then it was another 10-15 minute walk to the stadium, where the bag pickup area was. I posed for a couple of pre-race photos, stripped off my extra layers of clothing, then walked about 1.5 kilometers (almost a mile for the metrically challenged) to the start. I was tired before I even started running!

Murphy's Law of racing was in effect. The Porta-Potty line that you're standing in is always the slowest. I saw some Porta-Potties on the way to the starting line and decided to take advantage of them. I got in what looked to be the shortest line. But all of the other lines seemed to move faster. It always seems to happen that I get stuck behind all of the runners with  digestive issues.

There were a couple of guys dressed up as bottles of Erdinger alcohol-free beer, which is one of the marathon's sponsors. They planned to run the race dressed like that because their numbers were pinned to the costumes. In the start corral I chatted with two guys from Ireland who had run a marathon about 5 weeks previously. They were lamenting how the Irish football (soccer) team is "rubbish," especially after their 6-1 drubbing by Germany earlier in the week. There were announcements about the number of countries represented in the marathon (59) as well as the number of tons of bananas and apples and thousands of liters of sports drink and water.

The weather was perfect for a long race. It was about 10 C (50F) at the start, though it felt cooler due to a chilly breeze. The sun came out and it warmed up to about 14-15 C (57-59 F) in the afternoon.I was surprised by the number of people wearing tights and long sleeves. I would have died of heat stroke if I was dressed that way.

During the Race: The race wasn't really very memorable and I felt out of sorts almost from the beginning. At around the 7 km mark I talked to an American who was living in Munich. He and his companion (I don't know if she was his wife, girlfriend, or just a friend) were running their first marathons. The other thing that was memorable was at around the 35 or 36 km mark. There was a group of men in an apartment above the course. They were singing the FC Bayern theme song (FC Bayern, Stern des Sudens...). For those who don't follow German football (soccer), FC Bayern is the First Division team from Munich.

 I was actually doing quite well through the first 25 km, with a time of 2:06 and change at the half-marathon mark. It was somewhere between 27 and 28 km when my left calf decided to cramp. I stopped to stretch it, but that made it worse. So I walked. But when I walked the toes on my right foot would cramp up. The only way to loosen them up was to run. I was still able to run at a slower pace most of the way. But after about 30 km I did a lot of walking. As I got toward 37 km, I started figuring out how long it would take me to walk that distance and if I could make it before the time limit. But I was able to get in some running. Just before I got to the tunnel that leads into the Olympic stadium, I was able to run all the way to the finish line. Somehow I was able to block out the pain in my calf and keep going to the finish line. It was a big relief to finish. The strange things was during training I had some minor soreness in my left Achilles tendon after my long runs. A little ice would fix it. I never had problems with my calf or toes cramping during training, so these cramps were very odd. My Achilles tendon was perfectly fine during the race. Go figure.

After the Race: The finishers' medal was nice. It was shaped like a gingerbread heart and said, "G'schafft," which loosely translates as, "Done" or "completed."

After the race I drank a cup of sport drink and had a banana. The sport drink tasted better during the race, when I mixed it with water. I also grabbed two pretzels to eat in the car on the drive home.

The Olympic stadium has changed. Instead of the nice, springy track there was pavement until the last 50 meters. The infield was also covered in Astroturf instead of natural grass. One good change is that the steps had been renovated. Instead of metal steps with spikes, they were smooth concrete. But it was still a Herculean effort to get up them to get to the bag check area. Did I mention that the race organizers have a sadistic streak?

On the way to get my bag, I saw someone wearing the best t-shirt. On the back of the shirt it said (in English), "If you can read this, that means I'm not last." I thought of my late running partner Bill, who used to tell me that if there was no last place finisher, a race would never be over.

Now it's time to rest and put some ice on my sore right knee. Tomorrow I have an appointment with my masseuse. She will definitely be earning her money. Soon it will be time to think about ski season. As it gets toward spring, I will decide which races I plan to do next year.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Dream On

In a previous post of mine I wrote about my pre-race nightmares. When I have these dreams I do well in my races. It's when I don't have them that I do poorly. So far I have had four pre-race dreams before the Munich Marathon. The weird thing was that most of them were six months before the race, right around the time I decided I wanted to run Munich. Judging by the number of pre-race dreams that I have had so far, I should do well in Munich next month.

All sorts of things have happened to me in my pre-race nightmares: I have missed the start of a race, I have come in dead last, I finished after everything from the race had been cleaned up, I have gotten lost (usually combined with being all alone on the race course), I ran on courses that went through buildings or other strange places, I had no idea where the race start was, I was stuck in a long line to register for a race mere minutes before the start, I couldn't find my race gear or clothing, I ran on courses that were more like mazes than road races, I was supposed to race with a partner who was sleeping and wouldn't wake up, and I wore inappropriate clothing to races. In other words, anything that could have gone wrong in a race usually did in my dreams. I have run through houses, parks, castles, museums, construction zones, and even the Swiss Family Robinson treehouse at Disneyland. If only some of the real courses I have run on were that interesting.

Just when I thought that I had experienced every bizarre possiblilty in a pre-race dream, I had a totally new dream experience earlier this week. Here's what happened. I was at the beach with my husband and son. There was a marathon taking place at this beach. But there was no set start or finish time. The runners could start and finish anytime they wanted to. The catch was that the race was through the water to an island with a lighthouse on it and then back to the start. I decided to run this marathon. I was dressed in running shorts and a shirt with a race number on my shirt. I was barefoot. I took a big inner tube (it was the one that we bought in Italy for using in the water) and got into the center of it. Then I walked into the water to start the race. I ran on a hard, narrow ridge, which was supposed to be the race course. Imagine that ridge being like the plates on the back of a Stegosaurus. I ran in the middle of the inner tube on that ridge for a ways. Suddenly the ridge disappeared and there was nothing for me to run on. Yikes! I could tell that the water was over my head. There was only one thing to do--turn back to the shore and forget about doing the race. I turned around but couldn't find the ridge that I was running on before. It seemed to take forever just to move a couple of  meters in the water. Then I woke up.

It's good to see that after over 20 years of having pre-race nightmares, something new can happen. My dream a few days ago was the first one in which I ran in the ocean. That's what makes my pre-race dreams so fun. I never know what is going to happen in them or where I will end up. I hope that as long as I keep racing I will continue to dream on.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Speedo Land

I just returned from a week on the beach in northern Italy. We were all originally supposed to stay for two weeks. But the weather report for the second week called for bad weather (cool, overcast, and rainy). Since Bibione is an outdoor place, we thought it best to cut the trip short and head home. The main thing to do in Bibione is to go to the beach. The beach isn't much fun in the rain.

After looking at all of the people on the beach in Bibione, I think it should be renamed, "Speedo Land." It seemed like just about every man on the beach was wearing a Speedo swimsuit. Only a very small percentage of men should be wearing Speedos: Olympic divers, Olympic swimmers, and men with the classic marathoner's build. Unfortunately, 99% of the Speedo wearers on the beach in Bibione would never pass for an Olympic diver. They were more like the Italian guys who sat a few rows ahead of us on the beach with big bellies and 1970s disco era type gold chains, or else they were part of the over-65 set. There was even one guy who tucked the back of his Speedo into his butt crack to make it like a thong. Looking at that guy's butt was harder on the eyes than watching an Aly Raisman floor exercise routine. That old saying, "The bigger the belly, the smaller the Speedo" is true.  After having a baby, I realized that my bikini wearing days were over despite all of my running and sit-ups. Maybe the guys in Speedos just don't care because they realize that once their holiday is over, they'll never see the other people on the beach again.

The water on the beach was very warm and shallow a long way out. We could walk out about 200 meters from the shore and still be able to stand. Even though the Adriatic was warm, it was still very refreshing after being out in the hot sun. The only down side was that we had to watch out for jellyfish.

Italian TV has a lot of channels. But it seemed like at least 50% of them were devoted to football (soccer). When one of the football channels wasn't broadcasting a replay of  the previous weekend's matches from Italy, Spain, England, or France, it was doing a feature on a football team or interviewing players or a trainer. It was TV heaven for my son, who's a big football fan. He didn't care that everything was in Italian. In fact, he decided that he could learn some Italian by watching football matches.

Bibione has grown since the last time I was there, which was about 10 years ago. The path along the beach used to end just at the outskirts of town. I used to be able to run from my apartment, to one end of the path, to the other end of the path, and back to the apartment in about 30 minutes. On this trip I ran out  one way 30 minutes and still hadn't reached the trail's end. There are also two parallel trails: one for pedestrians and the other for cyclists.

Early morning is when all of the runners come out. The last time I was in Bibione, I felt like I was the only runner out on the beach in the early morning. Maybe it had something to do with going later in September on my previous trips.  But on this trip it seemed like between the hours of 7 and 8 a.m. runners and walkers owned the pedestrian path on the beach. My fellow runners and I were out early to beat the heat. There were male and female runners of all ages on the pedestrian path. The Germans were the ones with the pasty white skin and the Italians had more olive-colored skin. But both the Germans and Italians wore dark socks. They must have thought I was an oddity in my off-white Thor-Los. I saw one man wearing a City Run shirt, but it was from the one in Nuernberg. There was also an older woman running in a bikini.

The ice cream in Bibione was to die for. Italians make the world's best ice cream. Every flavor I had was excellent and I couldn't pick a favorite. There was an ice cream shop about 50 meters from our apartment and we went there every night either before or after dinner. That particular shop had its standard flavors, but each day there were some new and different flavors. I wish I could have stayed longer just to be able to sample all of the various ice cream flavors. I have always believed that ice cream should be its own food group. But real Italian ice cream should be a part of everyone's daily diet.

It's a good thing I brought my running gear with me and went running every other day for between 40 and 60 minutes. Otherwise I would have had to buy a Speedo.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

International Travels

Two weeks ago I was supposed to have run across the Austrian border. But I decided to go on a different path that another runner recommended. It was an interesting path with a big uphill section in the woods, a flat part that went along a stream, a section that reminded me of the California desert with short, scrubby plants and miniature pine trees, and then another part through the woods. It was part of the 25 km Plansee Rundfahrt (Lake Plan trail). The desert-type section reminded me a bit of Lone Pine, California, where my mother lives. I was surrounded on all four sides by mountains. I would like to run that trail again to see where it eventually goes, but not as a long (3 hour) training run for a marathon. The uphill was long and grinding, which made the run more difficult. I had to walk on part of the uphill section. When I came back down, it was a little hard on the knees. But maybe one day after I recover from the marathon I will drive out there to the starting point and run it.

Today's run was 3 hours and 15 minutes and I stayed on my usual path to the village of Griesen and then over the Austrian border on the bike/hiking path toward Ehrwald (an Austrian ski town). I'm not sure if Griesen even rates being called a village. It's one of those places that you'd miss if you blinked your eyes driving through it. Back to my run...I was off to an early (7:20 am) start because we are in the middle of a heat wave. The only way to beat the heat is to get an early start and carry a big bottle of diluted Gatorade. I was lucky because there is a lot of shade on the route from Garmisch to Griesen  due to the combination of a lot of trees and the sun being below the mountain peaks. The Austrian section was also very shady. There was definitely a big temperature difference between the sunny and shady sections. Fortunately, only about 25 to 30 percent of the route that I ran today is in the sun. Even though this route parallels the main road into Austria, it is still very scenic because it also runs next to the Loisach River. I think that the river also helped to keep things cool.

All in all, today's run was a good one. I started off slowly, though I noticed that I picked up the pace rather early. I was hitting my checkpoints faster than I did two weeks ago, when I ran for three hours (last week I hiked instead of running). Even on the way back, I was faster than I expected to be. It almost seemed a little too fast for the time/distance I was running. I felt great and ran at this relatively speedy pace until the 2:55 mark. Then the legs started to protest. I walked through my refueling stop at the 3:00 mark. (I walk through all of my refueling stops to simulate walking through the water points on race day.)  When it came time to run again, I had to really slow my pace. I really need to work on reining in my energy in the middle section of my training runs or the marathon won't be pretty. My very long training runs seem to follow a pattern: the first 30 to 45-60 minutes is at a nice easy pace, from 45-60 minutes to 2:00-2:30 I have lots of energy and tend to go faster, then the last bit of the run is very tough. I can still run through the last part, but I'm definitely slower and I spend a lot of time wishing that I could walk the rest of the way home.  If I can hold my slow early pace for the first 90 minutes, I'll be in better shape for a marathon finish. I expect to finish the marathon in around 4 hours and 15 minutes. Now my knees and left Achilles tendon need some ice. Then they'll be fine and not so stiff.

On the subject of marathon running, my husband made a comment about it last night. I was telling him that my mother thought that I'm crazy for wanting to run a marathon at my age. OK, she thinks it's crazy to run a marathon at any age. Then my husband said that marathon running is a sport for emaciated Africans. I'm not African and I'm definitely not emaciated. Neither is my stepbrother, who runs the Los Angeles Marathon every year. My former running partners, who also ran marathons, were also not emaciated Africans. But the marathon is a physical and mental challenge that very few people can accomplish. The feeling of crossing a marathon finish line and getting a finisher's medal is hard to put into words. Any runner who has ever finished a marathon will immediately understand how it feels to cross the finish line. To me a marathon finisher's medal is like an Olympic gold medal. That medal represents all of the time, training, sweat, getting soaked by rain, bug bites, and ice on the knees that went into earning it.

FIY, the Munich Marathon is on 14 October. Less than two months to go!

Friday, August 3, 2012

R.I.P. Artistic Gymnastics

February 3, 1959 is often referred to as, "The day the music died." That was the day the popular musical pioneers Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson died in a plane crash. August 2, 2012 will be forever known to me as the day that Artistic Gymnastics died. The sport of artistic gymnastics has been dying for a long time. But yesterday's Olympic women's all-around final "pulled the plug" on the sport that I have loved for 40 years. The American gymnast Gabrielle Douglas won a close duel with Russian Viktoria Komova. Douglas is a  "new style" gymnast who does a lot of difficult tricks without necessarily paying attention to detail and form. Komova represents the Russian school of gymnastics, which emphasizes artistry and form alaong with big tricks. Her form reminds people of the former Soviets. Many people, myself included, felt that Douglas was grossly overscored on bars and beam, while Komova was underscored for her beautiful floor routine.

The sport of gymnastics had its heyday in the years between 1972, when Olga Korbut captivated the world at the Munich Olympics, and 1992. Equipment improved a lot in those years, allowing for more difficult skills. Even though gymnasts did more difficult routines, there was still room for artistry and dance. Routines were tailored to the individual gymnast to fit their body types, ages, and personalities. Dance training was required to be a great gymnast. The Soviets in particular spent a lot of time doing ballet training and it showed in their work on all four events. The Risk, Originality, Virtuosity (ROV) bonus gave gymnasts incentive to invent new moves or new combinations of moves. It was truly the golden age of gymnastics.

The first sign that artistic gymnastics was going to die was back in 1997. The International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) eliminated compulsory routines for high-level gymnasts. While many people felt that compulsories were boring, they were the best way that the judges could directly compare the gymnasts. Compulsories also require mastery of basic skills. Those gymnasts with great basics performed excellent compulsory routines. The Soviets and Romanians were masters of compulsories. It was no coincidence that they also had great optional routines. The form and technique required for compulsories carried over to their optional skills. Even power gymnasts in the '70s and '80s, like Yelena Mukhina or Yelena Shushunova (both from the Soviet Union), had great compulsories. Two of the all-time best compulsory routines were those performed by Daniela Silivas of Romania on floor exercise in 1988 and Olga Mostepanova of the Soviet Union on beam in 1985.

The Code of Points that came about after the 2004 Olympics hastened the death of artistic gymnastics. Instead of using the old scoring system, which had a maximum score of 10, a new open-ended system was used starting in 2006. Gymnasts received a difficulty score, based on the 10 (later reduced to 8) most difficult elements in their routines. They also received a score for execution. Both the difficulty and execution scores were added to get a total score. Because vaulting is one skill, each vault was assigned a difficulty value.

What happened after the new Code of Points was introduced was that routines started looking more and more alike. Gymnasts chose skills for their routines based on their point, and not for their aesthetic, value. Since gymnasts wanted maximum difficulty points, they used the same skills in their routines. Originality went out the window because gymnasts were packing their routines with difficulty. Bar routines all looked alike and used the same bar-to-bar transitions. Beam routines were trick, pause, trick, pause with no flow. Floor routines had a lot of difficult tumbling and very little actual choreography. Instead of working to the music, the music was more like background noise. Very few gymnasts choreographed their moves to the music, like they did in earlier times. Form also went downhill because difficulty was rewarded over how well the skills were actually performed. Gymnasts were able to get away with bent legs and unpointed toes.Those sins would have been unforgiveable in the '70s and '80s. Even as a Class 3 gymnast in the mid-'70s, I would have been yelled at by my coach if I performed skills sloppily with unpointed toes. But this is common now.

There were a few bright spots, and hopes that the artistic part of gymnastics was still alive. Anna Pavlova of Russia had the attention to detail that was lacking in most routines.  In 2009 Romanian Ana Porgras captivated the world with her beautiful floor and beam routines and was reminiscent of the former Soviets with her beautiful body line. At the current Olympics there were several gynnasts who had exquisite form and even some originality: Vasiliki Millousi of Greece on beam, Ksenia Afanasyeva of Russia on floor, Viktoria Komova of Russia on bars, beam, and floor, Sandra Izbasa of Romania on floor, Sui Lu of China on beam, and Victoria Moors of Canada on floor. But it was clear that artistic gymnastics was quickly circling the drain.

Last night's death blow to artistic gymnastics came as the judges awarded the big tricks and power gymnastics of Douglas over the form and artistry of Komova. While Komova had a mistake on vault, she was spectacular on the other three pieces of apparatus. I felt like the judges all favored power gymnastics over the artistic from the beginning of the competition and wanted a power gymnast to win. I think this sends the wrong message. It tells young gymnasts that form, extension, and perfection of a skill are not important. The way to get points is to throw difficult tricks, regardless of whether or not they look good. This was the first time I watched an Olympic all-around final and actually got upset at the result. In close competitions like Gutsu-Miller in 1992 or Shushunova-Silivas in 1988, I was cheering for the second place gymnasts (Miller and Silivas). But I also felt like the winners deserved their titles and I was not upset at the final result. Last night made me feel like there will be no more hope for real artistic gymnastics.

If I ruled the FIG, one of the things I would do would be to bring back the old ROV bonus. What makes a routine memorable is either its originality or excellent form. Two gymnasts at this Olympics stand out for their floor exercises: Sandra Izbasa of Romania and Ksenia Afanasyeva of Russia. Izbasa does a great job of interpreting her music. Afanasyeva shows some unique moves in her floor routine. Both of those gymnasts would get ROV points if I had my way. But they were outscored in preliminaries by a gymnast with big tumbling and almost zero choreography (Aly Raisman of the USA). Another thing that I would do would be to take major deductions for bent legs, incomplete leaps, sloppy skills, and unpointed toes.

It would be one of my dreans for  gymnastics to get back to how it was from 1972 to 1992 with its mix of difficulty and style. But it looks like that dream is as dead as the "artistic" in Artistic Gymnastics.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Two and a Half Hours

Today was my first big test for October's Munich Marathon, which I passed with flying colors. It was my first really super long run. Two and a half hours is a long time to run, but the marathon will be just over four. I had done very well on my recent runs of 2:00 and 2:10. But two hours is the longest distance that I run in training to prepare for a half-marathon. Now it's time to do truly long runs to get ready for Munich.

I am a very old school runner. While running magazine and websites promote a lot of "Zero to Marathon in 12 Weeks" programs as the latest thing, I cannot follow them. First of all, my knees would never forgive me. I have tendinitis in my knees. As long as I build my mileage slowly, my knees don't bother me. But if I build mileage quickly, which those training programs tend to do, my knees would protest. Secondly, quickie marathon training programs only have one or two very long runs. I believe that the best way to prepare my body for the rigors of a marathon is to do a lot of long runs. With more long runs, there are more opportunities to figure out what works and what doesn't. When race day rolls around, I will be ready to go out and do my best.

My late running partner Bill used to tell me to analyze both my training runs and races to learn from what went right and wrong. Here's my analysis of today's run.

* The weather was perfect for a run. It was about 10 C (50 F) and overcast when I set out at about 10 this morning. I wanted to go earlier, but it was raining hard. I gave myself until 10 to either run or shower and try instead for a long run tomorrow. The temperature was not a typo, nor is Garmisch in the Southern Hemisphere. Summers here are typically hot, sunny days followed by a week of cool, rainy ones.
* I started off very slowly and ran a negative split coming back. It's not really fair to say that I ran a negative split because the route I run has a slight uphill grade going out and is downhill coming back.
* This was the first run where I didn't stop my watch during my refueling breaks. I walked while I drank my diluted Gatorade and ate my Gummi Bears. The walking was on purpose. It's time to start simulating the experience of walking through the water stops during the marathon.
* I made it home running and only walked during my refueling breaks every 30 minutes.
* My legs weren't as sore as I thought they would be. After I was home, my husband and I took a couple of short walks, which helped to alleviate the stiffness. As I write this post, I'm feeling pretty good.

* I went too fast during the second hour, especially between 90 and 120 minutes. I had a real burst of energy at around the 90 minute mark and went with it. Big mistake. If I did something like that at the 90 minute mark in the marathon, I would not make it to the finish line. When I took my refueling break at 2 hours, it was a real struggle to run back home. This is where my mental toughness came in and got me home, so it wasn't all bad. I'll know next week, when I run for 2:45, to hold myself back. It's better to make mistakes like that in training than during the race.
* There was too big a gap between when I finished breakfast and when I finally got out to run. It would have been okay for a shorter run, but it didn't work out on today's very long run. Even though I had my Gummi Bears and Gatorade, they didn't cut the hunger. The next time I have to wait out rain, I'll have some toast or a Power Bar before setting out.
* No wildlife. Last Friday I saw a fox for the first time in Garmisch. I used to see lots of foxes, deer, and even wild boar in the woods when I lived in Parsberg. Here I mainly see squirrels. But I did hear the song, "Fox on the Run" on my iPod today, though it would have been more fitting on Friday.

Next week I should make it to the Austrian border, or very close to it. Today I was within a kilometer of Griesen, which is a village on the German-Austrian border. The official border is just past Griesen.

All in all, I'm feeling very confident about Munich. This is the first time in five years that I haven't had any nagging aches and pains that prevented me from running a marathon. I'm feeling both physically and mentally ready for the next two and a half months of very long runs and for the race.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

I'm a Long Distance Runner Because...

This morning I woke up late (about 7.40) and decided that I would do a short long run of one hour. I have been building up my time on my long runs for the past two months and I felt like my body needed a little break. This week I was also doing a lot of stair climbing at work and my legs were tired. Today's run started off fast, but I was able to hold the pace the whole time. My run really seemed very short! While I was running today, I started thinking about how I realized that I am a real long distance runner. Looking back on my Excel spreadsheet that I made for my racing history, I saw that about one-third of my races have been either half-marathons or marathons. I'm currently training for my fifth marathon, which will be in Munich this October.

I should have realized that I was made for long distance running back in junior high. Back in those days (early '70s) our class had to take fitness tests every year. If you made a certain standard on all of the events: 50-meter dash, 800-meter run, push-ups, sit-ups, chin-ups, and hanging from a bar, then you got a certificate that was signed by the president. It was a big honor to get this certificate because only about 10% of the class could earn one. I could pass the standard on all of the events except for the 50-meter dash. I barely beat the fat kid in the 50-meter dash. But I was one of the top finishers in the 800-meter run.

The following list will be similar to a post from last year about how I know I'm a runner. But there are differences between simply being a runner and being a runner who likes long distances. I know I'm a long distance runner because...
* A one-hour run seems short.
* Waking up at 6 on a Sunday morning to beat the summer heat (and hordes of cyclists and walkers) on a long run is a perfectly normal behavior.
* Energy bars and Gatorade are permanent fixtures on the weekly grocery list.
* I make fun of those who buy one of each color of an item that's on sale. But when Gatorade is on sale at the Commissary, I stock up on it. My basement storage room always has a good supply of Gatorade.
* A 5 km race is practically a sprint.
* A fun mental challenge is figuring out a playlist for a 3-hour training run with as few songs on it as possible.
* Non-running friends think that I'm a masochist. They don't realize that there is a feeling of great satisfaction in completing a two-hour plus training run.
* Non-runners also don't understand that even though marathon finishers look like the walking wounded on the outside, they are doing the happy dance inside.
* Finishers' medals for any race shorter than a half-marathon are put away. The only medals kept on display are those for half-marathons and marathons.
* When I tell people I don't drink much alcohol, they think it's weird until I tell them that I run marathons and that too much drinking affects my training.
* I love the looks on people's faces when I tell them that I ran 25 km (about 15 miles) in training.
* Bedtime is 8 pm on long run days.
* After a post-race recovery period, I can't wait to start doing long runs again.
* I like to eat ice cream. All of those long training runs burn off enough calories to allow me to eat ice cream without gaining weight.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Grease Monkey

Note to those who are not native English speakers: A grease monkey is a slang term for a mechanic, usually an auto mechanic. 

When I run on warm days, I feel like a real grease monkey. It has nothing to do with being a mechanic, though back in the mid-'80s I learned how to change the oil, tires, and spark plugs on my car. I also learned about cars from interpreting auto mechanics classes at the community college where I worked. But for long distance runners the term "grease monkey" takes on a whole new meaning.

Summer running means chafing where my clothing combined with sweat rubs against my skin. The best way to prevent chafing is good old-fashioned Vaseline. It goes on my toes to prevent blisters. Then a generous amount goes under the arms, under the sports bra, and on the inner thighs. Because I'm not slimy enough from the Vaseline, on goes a layer of sunscreen. When I do my long runs, I'm out in the sun for enough time to get a good burn if I forgo the sunscreen because I'm fair-skinned. After the work of getting all greased up, it's time to run.

After a short bit of running the sweat comes. I tend to start sweating very early in my runs. I read somewhere that early sweating is a good thing. It means that your body knows to start its cooling process almost right away because it knows it's in for a good workout. I'm going with the theory that early sweat equates to good fitness. We all need our delusions, right?

So I'm basically a combination of sweat, Vaseline, and sunscreen when I'm out on a long run. As time goes by on the run, I feel like the Vaseline and sunscreen are melting everywhere. Even though I feel like a real "grease monkey," it's better than having raw, chafed skin or a bad sunburn. I've had chafed skin on long runs and it can really be painful. When I do my long training runs, I always seem to get bitten at least once by an insect. I'm sure they're attracted to the smell of sweat or sunscreen (or both). I would think that the way I smell three-quarters of the way through a two-hour training run would be an excellent bug repellent. But no, I feel like the bugs swarm around me like dirt does to Pigpen in the Peanuts cartoons. That's when I realize that flies and other bugs eat poop, so a sweaty, stinky runner is probably a big treat for them.  Cows are especially attracted to sweat, or specifically, the salt film on my skin from sweating. I have been licked by a cow many a time when stopping to open a cow gate.

By the end of a two-hour plus training run, I feel like a pile of melted butter with salt residue. I'm covered with Vaseline, sweat, sunscreen, salt, and sometimes even cow slobber. My legs are tired and I don't exactly smell like a bouquet of flowers. But as Mom always said, that's why there is soap and water. After a good shower all of the grease gets washed away and I'm back to just feeling good about accomplishing another long run and milestone in training for the Munich Marathon this October.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Euro '12: Final Thoughts

Here are more thoughts about the European Football (soccer) Championships, or Euro '12, which ended Sunday night with Spain beating Italy 4:0 in the final match. Spain made history by becoming the first team to win 3 major tournaments in a row: Euro '08, World Cup 2010, and Euro '12. Italy was classy in defeat and paid Spain many compliments. In both the World Cup and in Euro '12 Spain looked very flat. In fact, Spain came close to being eliminated by Croatia in the group stages. But La Furia Roja (the Red Fury) has a way of coming up with great performances in the finals. Spain's decisive victory on Sunday silenced the critics who complained about La Furia Roja being boring. I can easily see Spain defending its World Cup title in Brazil in 2014.

Trainer of the Tournament: Cesare Prandelli of Italy. He took over coaching the Italian team in 2010 after its disastrous performance at the World Cup. In 2010 the Italians didn't even make it out of the group stages after winning the title in 2006. The players on the 2012 Italian squad seemed to be a bunch of aging veterans, misfits, and others who were considered hard to handle. There were very low expectations  for Italy at Euro '12 because the team had poor performances in qualifying and in pre-tournament friendly matches. Yet Prandelli did a great job of guiding the Azzuri all the way to the final. Italy's highlight of the tournament was its win over heavily-favored Germany in the semi-finals. Even though Spain won the tournament, Italy won the most hearts and fans.

Typecasting: If I was a casting director, Euro '12 would be a gold mine for finding people to fill specific roles.
Count Dracula: With his slicked-back hair, Italian coach Cesare Prandelli would be a good choice to play Dracula or a grown-up Eddie Munster.
The Incredible Hulk: Mario Balotelli of Italy. He is incredibly muscular and looks very deadpan, or even angry. His celebration after his second goal against Germany in the semi-finals was to take off his shirt and show off his muscles without cracking a smile.
German Soldier or Hitler Youth Leader in a World War II movie: German goalie Manuel Neuer. He has short blond hair, blue eyes, and a sturdy build. If this was the 1930s, Neuer would be held up as an ideal example of how a German should look. My son has a poster in his room in which Neuer is holding a football with his right arm extended in what looks like an old Nazi salute.
1920s American football player: The Czech Republic's goalie Petr Cech. He wears a leather helmet when he plays to protect his head because he suffered a severe concussion. That helmet looks like something an old-time American football player would wear.
My Favorite Martian: Franck Ribery of France. He has a long, thin head and pointy chin. I can easily imagine him with a set of antennae on top of his head.
A Young Beatle: If I was making a documentary about the Beatles, I would cast David Silva of Spain because he has a mid-1960s Beatles haircut. Silva would probably play the role of Ringo because he's short.
Hannibal Lecter: Wesley Sneijder of the Netherlands. With his shaved head he has a resemblance to Anthony Hopkins. OK, I confess that Sneijder looks evil because his team, Inter Milan, beat Bayern Munich in the 2010 Champion's League final.  Even though Sneijder didn't score any goals, he was instrumental in Inter's victory. That automatically makes him mean.
Nemo: Mesut Oezil of Germany because of his eyes. Oezil's eyes look like fish eyes because of how they pop out.  His Real Madrid teammates even call him Nemo.
A Southern Redneck: Petr Jiracek of the Czech Republic. He is the only player with a mullet.
Dr. David Hayward: German trainer Joachim Loew. The evil Dr. Hayward is a character on the US soap opera "All My Children" played by Vincent Irizarry. Loew and Irizarry could pass as identical twins. They are even the same age!  A couple of years ago I was at the gym with my son. "All My Children" was on one of the TVs. Dr. Hayward was in that particular scene when I looked at the TV. I turned to my son and said, "Jogi Loew is on TV." He looked at the TV with "All My Children" and did a double take while wondering why the German national trainer was on an American soap opera. He was also amazed at the resemblance between Loew and Irizarry. If "All My Children" ever comes back, and Irizarry has other committments, Loew can step into Dr. Hayward's role.
Opera Singer: Gianluigi Buffon, the Italian goalie. He really belts out the Italian national anthem. While his  projection is excellent, he needs to work on his singing voice.

Melting Pot: Germany's team has a lot of starting players who are from different countries. The players themselves are German citizens; they were either born in Germany or came to Germany as young children. Mesut Oezil is Turkish, Sami Khedira is Tunisian, Mario Gomez is half Spanish, Lukas Podolski and Miroslav Klose are Polish, and Jerome Boateng is from Ghana.

Battle of the Midgets: Two of the smallest players at Euro '12 were Germany's Philip Lahm and Mathieu Valbuena of France. Lahm is listed at 1.70 meters (about 5'7") and Valbuena between 1.63 and 1.67 meters (5'4" to 5'6"). Both players faced each other during the 2012 Champion's League playoffs, but not at Euro '12. When my family watched the Marseilles vs Bayern Munich series earlier this year (Valbuena plays for Marseilles, Lahm for Bayern), my son started calling Valbuena, "The Mighty Midget." Unfortunately, Valbuena didn't get any playing time at Euro '12, even though he was on the French squad. Maybe France would have scored more goals with the Mighty Midget in the lineup. The Greek team also looked to be quite small, but then again I saw the Greek players next to the very tall German defenders, so it was hard to make a real comparison.

Neighbors: Two of the German national players come from towns which are very close to Garmisch. Bastian Schweinsteiger is from Oberau, which is 8 km away. Thomas Mueller comes from Weilheim, which is 35 km away. Both men play for Bayern Munich.

How I Knew Spain Would Beat Italy: In my last post I described how I used the songs on my iPod to predict how Italy would do in its matches, at least for the quarter and semi-finals. On Sunday I went for a two-hour run. There were 50 songs on the playlist that I was using, but only one was by Eros Ramazzotti. I added one from Antonello Venditti and decided that if Eros came up first, then Spain would win (he has recorded most of his songs in Spanish as well as his native Italian). In retrospect, I should have used "Spanish Bombs" by the Clash, which actually has a few words of Spanish. But that's another story. Anyway, neither Antonello's nor Eros' song came up. Then it was Plan B. I decided that all of the songs by British singers or bands would represent Spain because the English were the Redcoats in the American Revolutionary War. Spain is La Furia Roja or the Red Fury. Songs by American bands or singers would represent Italy, since US Revolutionary War soldiers are depicted wearing blue. Italy's team is the Azzuri or the Blues. During my run I listened to songs by: Elton John, the Grateful Dead, Eric Clapton, the Police, the Rolling Stones, Credendce Clearwater Revival, Bruce Springsteen, the Hollies, the Who, Frank Zappa and many others. But when I finished my run and tallied the songs, the British tunes outnumbered the American ones. It was at that moment I knew that Spain would win. If the Italian team needs someone to predict the outcomes of their matches, I'm available. But I won't be holding my breath waiting for a phone call from Italy.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

My Euro '12 Awards

Now that the European Football (Soccer) Championship, also known as Euro '12, will come to an end tomorrow night, it's time to give my impressions of the tournament. This is not the typical review of who I thought the best teams and players were, or who had the best dives and referee-influencing theatrics. Without further ado...

Battle of the Colors: Italy and defending European champion Spain will meet in the final tomorrow night. Spain is known as La Furia Roja, or The Red Fury and Italy is the Azzuri or Blues. But if the final had ended up being France versus Italy, anyone betting on the Blues would pick the winner because the French team is Les Bleus or the Blues.

Best Fans: Ireland. Even though Ireland lost all of its group stage matches, and didn't score a single goal, Irish fans kept up their singing and support of their team. Honorable mention goes to Greece, which had fans dressed up in capes and Trojan helmets for its quarter final loss against Germany.

Biggest Surprises: Italy making the final after not even making it out of the group stages in the 2010 World Cup. Czech Republic winning its group after a 4-1 loss to Russia in its first game.

Biggest Flop: No, I'm not referring to the best dive and fake injury of the tournament. The Netherlands, which was the 2010 World Cup runner-up to Spain, didn't even make it out of the group stages. The team known as Oranje, or Orange (here we go with colors again), lost all of its group stage games.

Shortest and Longest Last Names: Simon Cox of Ireland and Sokratis Papastahtopoulos of Greece. Sokratis has his first name on his shirt instead of his last.

Needs to Buy a Vowel: Polish names have a tendency for being hard to pronounce because of their lack of vowels. Two Polish players who could use a vowel or two in their last names, or at least a pronunciation key, are Wojciech Szczesny and Jakub Blaszczykowski (who simply has "Kuba" on his shirt). Honorable mention also goes to Croatian players Sime Vrsaljko and Darijo Srna.

Best Looking Goalies:  The best-looking goalie of Euro '12 is Italy's Gianluigi Buffon. He and my husband could pass for distant relatives, which is probably why I think he's good looking. Iker Casillas of Spain is also nice-looking.

Early Surrender: France has a reputation of surrendering early when there's a war or when defending a World Cup title (they won the 1998 World Cup and didn't make it out of the group stage in 2002). This time they made it out of their group into the quarter finals. But within the first 3 minutes of its quarter final match with Spain, France seemed to have given up. Les Bleus lost 2-0, but it could have easily been worse.

Living Off Its Glorious Past: England last had real football glory back in 1966, when it won the World Cup. But judging from the way the fans talk about their team, England has been a big favorite to win every major football championship since then. English teams have been full of great players. But even though they can't seem to get it together in a major championship, the fans still talk about 1966 and England becoming Number One again.

So Close, Yet So Far: Germany seems to have a mental block about winning a major tournament. Its last tournament win was the 1996 European Championships. Even though German trainer Joachim Loew has put together great teams, Germany can't seem to win a title. This year Germany was a heavy favorite to win Euro '12 because of its fast, aggressive, and entertaining style of play. I must admit that I enjoy how Germany plays. Germany also was the only team to win every game in the group stage of  Euro '12. But they got knocked out in the semi-finals by Italy and extended their losing streak to Italy in tournaments to 8 in row. Here is Germany's string of coming oh-so-close to a title. I am including the Bayern Munich team in this because most of Germany's starting lineup is from Bayern: 2006 World Cup--3rd, 2008 European Championship--2nd, Bayern Munich 2010--2nd in Champion's League, 2010 World Cup--3rd, Bayern Munich 2011 lost in Champion's League semi-final, Bayern Munich 2012--2nd in Champion's League, 2012 Euro--lost in semi-final.

Older Athletes Rule: Two of the best players in Euro '12 are the Italians Andrea Pirlo (age 33) and Gianluigi Buffon (age 34). Up through the semi-finals Pirlo has won the Man of the Match award 3 times and has a good chance of winning the award for best player in the tournament. Buffon has made a great comeback from the injury which sidelined him in the 2010 World Cup and has made some spectacular saves. Both Pirlo and Buffon played on Italy's team that won the 2006 World Cup. Thirty-five-year-old Andrei Shevchenko from Ukraine also had a great performance in his team's win against Sweden.

Hair Awards: Shaved heads and Mohawks are becoming passe and are no longer worthy of any special notice. The same goes for players who wear girls' headbands to keep their hair out of their faces. Here are my hair awards for Euro '12:
Best Hair: Mario Balotelli of Italy. His head is shaved except for a small strip down the middle (a mini-Mohawk) that is dyed light blonde and braided. He could puncture a ball with that hair. Balotelli could also play the Hulk with his muscular build and serious demeanor when he scores goals. See this video, which shows a good view of his hair.
Most Brylcreem: Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal. He looks like he uses a whole tube of Brylcreem before every game.
Hair That's Least Likely to Move in a Stiff Wind: Mario Gomez of Germany. Like Ronaldo, Gomez uses a lot of gel in his hair. Even when he's running and sweating, he never has a hair out of place.
Most Hairstyles in the Tournament: Cristiano Ronaldo. He seems to have a different hairstyle for each match. He even changed his hairstyle at halftime of Portugal's match with Germany. Instead of being with the rest of his team and figuring out a strategy for beating Germany, Ronaldo was re-styling his hair. Maybe if he paid less attention to his hair, Portugal would have tied or even won the game.
Best '80s or Southern Redneck Hair: Petr Jiracek of the Czech Republic, who has a mullet. Who knows, maybe mullets are the latest fashion in the Czech Republic these days.
Hair Plugs: Wayne Rooney of England got a recent hair transplant. He gets an honorable mention because it's so strange seeing him with hair after so many years of seeing him bald.

Move Over, Paul: Paul, the football match predicting octopus, died last year. Here is  my post about him during the 2010 World Cup. So far no other animal has been able to replace Paul. The seagulls on the North Sea and a cow somewhere in Germany have all been dismal failures at predicting the outcomes of Germany's matches in Euro '12. But I may have a future in predicting Italy's matches. Before Italy's quarter final match with England, I went out for a long run. As usual, I listened to the tunes on my iPod. At first I heard some Antonello Venditti and Eros Ramazzotti. I thought, "This is a sign that Italy will win." But late in the run three Beatles tunes in a row played. I decided it was going to be a tie and come down to penalty kicks. Sure enough, Italy and England tied in regulation and Italy won on penalty kicks. For the semi-final against Germany I mixed the same number of Eros Ramazzotti and Falco songs into the playlist that I planned to use. Falco is an Austrian group, but they sing in German. I figured that was close enough. During my run, I heard one Ramazzotti song and zero from Falco. I thought that the score would be Italy 1, Gemany 0. The real score was 2:1 for Italy, but I got the goal differential right.

Who Not to Hire as Paul's Replacement: Bastian Schweinsteiger of Germany, who obviously watched too many Westerns while recovering from a recent injury. Before Germany's semi-final match with Italy, Schweinstieger confidently predicted that Italy would be Germany's next big scalp. See the full article here. That big whooshing noise in Warsaw on Thursday night after the game was the sound of German egos deflating. Germany lost to Italy and was out of its customary rhythm for a lot of the game. As the search for a reliable match predictor for the 2014 World Cup continues, Schweinsteiger just ruined his chances of making the short list.

Who Will Win Tomorrow Night? Good question. I like both Italy and Spain, so I would be happy if either team wins. If Spain wins, it will make history by winning 3 major championships in a row (Euro '08, 2010 World Cup, Euro '12). However, I give the edge to Italy because the Azzuri were the only team to score a goal against Spain in Euro '12. The Italians did a great job of frustrating Spain during the group stage match. Italy played with a lot of heart against England and Germany in the knockout rounds. Spain looked good against France but very flat against Portugal in its knockout stage matches. Also, Spain is the defending champion. A European football champion has never successfully defended its title. Italy also gets the edge because its players do a better job of influencing the referees with their dives and theatrics. I guess I'll have to mix some Italian and Spanish songs into tomorrow's running playlist and figure it out from there.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Masochist's Delight (Not Really)

Garmisch is experiencing a summer heat wave. It wasn't super warm this morning in the shade, but it was very humid. It was downright hot in the sun because of heat reflecting off the black asphalt. The plan for my long run today (1:50) was to get out early to beat both the heat and the cyclists that crowd the trail to Austria on warm days. I set out a little later than I wanted to (about 7:45), but still got lucky with the crowds on the trail. During my 55 minutes of going out, I was only passed by one cyclist. On the return leg, there were still not many cyclists. Maybe most of them were still eating breakfast at their guesthouses.

On to today's run. I wanted to run the route that I accidentally discovered last week, but I knew it would be a mistake. That particular route is fairly sunny and hilly. I didn't really want to do hills when it was warm. I opted for the bike trail that eventually goes into Austria because it's the shadiest of my long running routes. It's tree-lined or in the shadow of the mountains for most of the way.

My pace was also very slow. It almost felt like I was going at a cool-down jog. But given the choice between overheating and a snail's pace, I'll run nice and slowly. I probably should be running close to this pace for my long runs anyway.  When I run slowly, I imagine that I'm running with friends of mine who I ran with in Parsberg who were slower than me. At this point in my training, it's all about time on my feet and not speed. The speed will come later as I get used to running longer distances.

When I run in cooler weather, my refueling breaks are every 30 minutes. This coincides with how water points are set up in most long German races. They are on average about 5 km apart. Even though I run 5 km in less than 30 minutes, I use that time because it's a nice round number. But because it was so warm today, I stopped every 20 minutes to take a drink. I was tempted to pour some of my drink over my head, but I wanted to make sure I had enough to last the whole run. Also Gatorade, even when it's diluted, can make hair very sticky and defeat the purpose of pouring water over my head. Yes, I have ended up accidentally pouring sports drink on my head at races.

Today's run was better than I thought it would be. I kept my expectations (and speed) low and decided to, "Sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride." I thought for sure the heat would make my run a real "masochist's delight," but I actually enjoyed myself. My legs didn't really feel tired at the end; and I felt like I could have gone further. This is a good thing because over the next three months I will be going a lot further. I still prefer to train in cooler weather, but I showed that I could handle the heat by being smart. I also know that October will be a lot cooler than June. I really feel that I'm on the right track for the Munich Marathon this October.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Type B Running

If there was a definition in Webster's Dictionary for "Type B runner," it would be my photo. If a Type A personality is someone who is a driven workaholic, I would be around a Type W. I'm not a lazy runner; and I have the self-discipline to run and train for long races. I am very diligent about getting my workouts in every week. But I'm definitely one of the more laid back runners that I know.

When I was a new runner, I kept a log. I got a free log book for subscribing to Runner's World. I would dutifully write down my distance, time, and how I felt about my run. But that phase didn't last very long. Every once in a while I would get the urge to log my mileage, but I would lose interest quickly. I would start "fantasy runs," where I would imagine myself running from one city to another, but only managed to finish one (Prague to Constanta, Romania). As recently as two years ago, I started an Excel spreadsheet on my computer with a fantasy run from Vladivostok to Moscow following the route of the Trans-Siberian Railroad. I actually made it through the middle of last year (and to Lake Baikal). But when I was in the States that year, keeping track of my distance went by the wayside.

There is a little part of me that wishes to keep a log, mainly because it would be interesting to know how far I have run since 1989.  I know runners who have kept logs since their first day of running and know exactly how many miles or kilometers they have run and how long it took them. They write down their resting heart rates, average pulse rate while running, respiration, body temperature, and blood oxygen saturation. Some people write down the weather conditions and even the dollar to Tajikistan somoni exchange rate on that day in their logs. A lot of the new GPS devices even show your route on Google maps. Other people use various online tools and post their workouts for all to see. I have several Facebook friends whose workouts I know better than my own. There's nothing like seeing, "I ran 5.7381 miles in 49 minutes and 27.86 seconds and felt like I was going to throw up afterward" to convince me that I'm fine without a running log.

I also used to be fairly diligent about keeping track of my mile (in the States) and kilometer (in Europe) splits during races. I would click my watch's split button at the distance markers, then go home and write down my split times. But now I keep the times in my head. Here is what usually happens to me. I think about clicking my watch at the kilometer markers. But after about 4 or 5 kilometers, I realize that I forgot to hit the "split" button on my watch. I then look at my watch at the kilometer markers and then mentally calculate my split times. That has happened to me in my last several races. But I still finish the race regardless of whether or not I remember to save my splits on my watch.

If I'm so Type B, why do I wear a watch? There are a couple of reasons why my watch is a necessity. First of all, I run for time instead of distance. There are no distance markers on any of the paths where I live. Since I know my approximate pace through experience, I know how far I run on a given day. I may be off by 100-200 meters, but in the grand scheme of things that doesn't matter. But I when I'm on a 90-minute run, I can't accurately judge when I have gone 45 minutes and need to turn around. The stopwatch on my watch lets me know. I also use the watch for pacing because I have a tendency to go too fast on my long runs. I look at my watch at my various checkpoints to determine if I'm on the right pace or need to slow down. My perceived speed is often different from my actual pace.

Another Type B thing about me is that I don't set time goals for races anymore. I know my usual time range for a given distance. I'm also at an age where I'm not getting any faster. To me a race is a training run in a new and different location. When I used to set time goals, I would be ecstatic when I was faster than my goal and disappointed when I was slower than my goal time. With racing experience I realized that there are variables that can affect time, like the weather or muscle cramps. My goal for races now is simply to do the best I can.  I often see people at longer races (half-marathons and marathons) with strips of paper on their wrists, or writing on their arms, that show the times that they should be at each marker. Knowing how I am, I would forget to look at my wrist or arm to compare my actual times to the ones on the paper or my skin.

People often ask me if I follow a specific training plan. That's another Type B quality that I have. While I do run 4 days a week, I don't follow a formal training plan. I have had the good fortune to have had awesome training partners who passed on their knowledge to me. Even though how I train may seem old school, it works for me. I also have a variable work schedule and a rigid training plan would not work for me. The only thing that's "rigid" about my training plan is my weekly long run. But if I have to skip a long run, it's not a big deal.

Being a relaxed runner also helps me to discover new things. Yesterday I did my long run (1:40). I wanted to go on a route that I had cycled on a few years ago. But I ended up making a wrong turn and discovered a trail that is perfect for long hill runs. It's part of the Eibsee Run route. I didn't panic about the wrong turn; I just followed the trail until it was time to turn around. On the way back I made another wrong turn and ended up going home a different way than I planned. It was a very fun run and I discovered a new place for long training runs. Sometimes having a poor sense of direction (or as I say, "being GPS challenged") can be a good thing.

In my opinion, what has really turned me into a Type B runner is experience. After over 20 years of racing, I know that there will be good races and disappointing ones. There will be great training runs and ones where I will feel awful. My hope is to get the bad runs over with in training and save the good ones for race day. In my opinion, what has made me more relaxed about my running is that I feel like I have accomplished everything that I wanted to as a runner. I have worked my way up from running 5K races to marathons. I have won women's divisions of races, age group awards, and even won a team competition. Now I see myself as a model for what an older runner can accomplish. While others want to run beyond the marathon distance or qualify for the Boston Marathon, neither of those things really appeal to me. Even though I am a Type B runner, I am still quite happy with everything that I have accomplished over the last 20+ years as a runner. The important thing is pride in going out and doing your best regardless if you keep a log, have time goals, follow a training plan to the letter, or are a Type B runner.

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Good, The Bad, The Fun

Training for this October's Munich Marathon is going well so far. Yesterday's run of 1:40 was a tough one, but I made it. During the two days before my long run I was doing a lot of stair climbing at work. One of the buildings where I work is being renovated and we had to remove all of the small things from the rooms.  By 10 a.m. I lost count of the number of trips I made up and down stairs. The next day I had to bring some miscellaneous items to the basement from the second and third floors. No, that building doesn't have an elevator. I started off Sunday morning with tired legs.

My strategy was to go slowly and take it easy. I was slower than usual, which was a good thing. Otherwise I would never have made it. I also opted to go on my flat course instead of the hilly one to save wear and tear on my quads.

The Good: When I started off, my legs felt like they were made of lead. I started questioning my sanity about doing this run. But after a short while the endorphins kicked in and my legs felt good. Another good thing was that I was able to run the whole way even though I started feeling crappy toward the end. My only stops were refueling breaks every 30 minutes. If I start feeling like I want to quit during the marathon, I can draw on this training experience to get me through it. The weather was also cooperative. It was fairly cool with a little bit of light rain. The rain was very refreshing.

The Bad: The last 20 minutes or so were a real struggle. It was the first time this year I had run for this amount of time. My last long run, two weeks ago, was 90 minutes. I had been increasing my time by 10 minutes every two weeks. But the stair climbing from the previous days caught up to me. I told myself just to keep putting one foot in front of the other and I would make it home. Another strategy of dealing with the heavy legs was imagining that I was in the late stages of a marathon and to draw on how I dealt with this feeling in previous marathons.

The Fun: Even though I have made yesterday's run seem like a total torture session, there were several moments where I actually had fun. I started off to Pink Floyd's "On The Run" on the iPod. That's the perfect title for beginning a run. Two of the songs that were on my iPod playlist were Blondie's "Maria" and "Victoria" by the Kinks. I immediately thought of Maria Hoefl-Riesch and Viktoria Rebensburg, who are the two big stars of the German women's ski team and among the very best in the world. Those two songs have nothing to do with either Frau Hoefl-Riesch of Fraulein Rebensburg, but the mind does strange things when all of my blood is going to my legs instead of to my brain. My thoughts then segued into thinking about ski season and having fun on the slopes. More fun happened on a side trail that I took. It was muddy due to recent rain. Some of the mud was deep and almost felt like quicksand. It was a good workout for the quads to lift my feet out of the mud. I also thought it was fun to get a little dirty.

Next week's long run will be another 100 minute one. My legs should be fresher because I won't be doing any heavy stair climbing for two days before it. But I'm sure there will be some fun moments and ones that will help me in my upcoming marathon.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

A Sad Day for the Home Crowd

Back when I was first married, my husband would occasionally watch a weekly West German football (soccer) match on PBS. This was back before the Berlin Wall fell. The announcer was named Toby Charles and he was English. Whenever the home team would lose, Toby Charles would inevitably say, "It's a sad day for the home crowd."

Last night was a very sad night for the home crowd in the annual Champion's League final. For those who are unfamiliar with the Champion's League final, it is the European equivalent of the Super Bowl. The best European football clubs play in the Champion's League tournament. The winner of the final gets glory, a huge trophy, a lot of money, and an automatic berth in the next year's Champion's League tournament. What made this year's final unique was that it was the first time that one of the clubs played in its home stadium. The final, between Germany's Bayern Munich and the London club FC Chelsea, was played in Munich's Allianz Arena. At the end of regulation and overtime, the score was tied 1-1. Chelsea ended up winning the match 4-3 on penalty kicks.

Bayern  actually outplayed Chelsea in every facet of the game.  But Chelsea played a very defensive game, which was also a successful strategy in the semi-final round against FC Barcelona. Bayern, like Barcelona, is capable of scoring a lot of goals. Both teams have many players who are dangerous goal scorers. But it's hard to score when there is a wall of defenders in front of the goalie. Bayern's scoring machine was shut down by Chelsea's blue wall (Chelsea wore blue uniforms) in front of the goal. While fans may be critical of a team strictly playing defense, it certainly worked for Chelsea.

Both teams have goalies who are among the best in the world. Bayern's Manuel Neuer is the German national goalie. He looks like he could play the part of an Aryan soldier in a World War II movie with his short blond hair, blue eyes, and tall, sturdy build.  Petr Cech of Chelsea is the Czech Republic's national goalie. He got a bigger workout than Neuer last night and can kick the ball almost all the way across the field. Cech looks like a 1920s American football player because he wears a soft helmet to protect his head (he had a bad concussion several years ago). Like Neuer, he is tall. But he is thinner and looks like he has a 3-meter arm span. Here is last night's penalty shootout, which shows both goalies (commentary is in Russian).

The main reason why the Champion's League is so special is because the European football leagues are the best in the world. Just like foreign players aspire to play in the NBA or NHL, football players from all over the world dream of playing for a European club. The best European football clubs are better than most countries' national teams. In fact, most national players from the top countries play for the best European clubs. Spain, Germany, England, and Italy have the best leagues. A club from any of those four countries is almost always in the Champion's League final.

There are a couple of things that I wish could be changed about football. One is that it's the only game where players get rewarded for faking an injury. The Italians are masters of diving and fake injuries, with the Brazilians (or any country which has a Latin-based language) close behind. With the way some players roll around on the ground and carry on with their theatrics, one would think that they just became crippled for life. The player who is closest to the diver usually gets penalized with a foul or yellow card. When the referee doesn't notice the dive, the "hurt" player gets right back up like nothing happened. Here is a video of the worst football dives. Some of the dives are very comical. Last night's game had some theatrics, but they were pretty minimal.

The other thing that I think should be changed is having a major championship, like the Champion's League final, decided on penalty kicks. To me that's the same as having Game 7 of the NBA championship being decided on free throws. I would rather see players dragging themselves on the field trying to score a goal in a third overtime period instead of playing for a penalty shootout. The Bayern-Chelsea match would have been even more exciting if the players had to play more than one overtime period.

Even though last night's game was disappointing for those of us who are Bayern fans, it was still epic. I hope that next year's Champion's League final is equally exciting. Who knows, maybe Bayern and Chelsea will have a rematch.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Male Role Models

One of the old stereotypes about gay men was that they were all child molesters. Like most stereotypes about minorities, that one is untrue. I'm sure that there is a certain percentage of gay men who are indeed pedophiles, but they are a tiny minority. Now the prevailing stereotype of all men in the States, gay or straight, is that they are perverts who are waiting for the perfect opportunity to groom a child in order to molest or abduct him or her. But like the gay child molester stereotype, there are very few straight men who are pedophiles. They are not really everywhere, like many people think now.

Fortunately the base where I work has not given in to "Predator Paranoia" and has many men who work with children of all ages, from infants through high school students. Some of these men would fit the stereotypical profile of a child predator because they are either single or older (or both). But they obviously proved that they were trustworthy enough to be around children; and they are well-liked by the kids and respected by their co-workers and the parents of the kids they work with. I'm going to talk about two of them, though all of the men who work at the Child Development Center, School Age Center, and Teen Center are all wonderful and very professional. I'm glad that the powers that be realize that boys (and girls too) need good male role models.

Larry (not his real name) is the man who runs the Teen Center. He used to work at the School Age Center, but is now strictly at the Teen Center. He is a 30-something single white man who genuinely loves working with kids, especially teenagers. Larry allows the teenagers to be independent as long as they follow the Teen Center's rules. He is a great soccer player and spends countless hours playing soccer outside with the kids. On Friday nights the Teen Center is open late and the kids can help prepare a communal dinner. Larry supervises the dinner preparation and has a way of getting even the most reluctant kids to help out. Getting my son to help me in the kitchen at home is sometimes harder than pulling teeth. But when I pick him up from the Teen Center on Friday nights, he tells me about how he helped to cook dinner with Larry. In addition, Larry helps the teens with their homework and is available to talk with them about anything.

The other man is Jim (also not his real name), who is an older African-American man with grown kids. The kids at both the School Age Center and Teen Center view him almost as a surrogate grandfather. Since most kids here have their grandparents in the States, it's great that the kids have a grandfather figure. When my son was at the School Age Center, he looked forward to playing board games with Jim. When Jim works at the Teen Center when my son is there, my son always tells me interesting stories of Jim's life or wants to show me a bulletin board that Jim made. Every year for Black History Month Jim makes special bulletin boards in both the School Age and Teen Centers. They are not the usual Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks exhibits. One year he did a bulletin board with famous African-American musicians. Another year the board featured the Tuskeegee Airmen and Buffalo Soldiers. My son was very impressed that Jim knew several German soccer legends who played on the Bayern Munich soccer team (my son is a huge Bayern fan). Jim played professional basketball for 8 years in Munich. At that time, the basketball and soccer stadiums were next to each other. Bayern Munich would play its matches in the afternoons and the basketball games were after the soccer matches. The Bayern Munich soccer players would walk over to the basketball stadium to watch the games. I think it's wonderful that the teens can be around an older man who had an interesting life.

At the base where I used to work, the only staff who worked at the various centers were women. There was one man who worked at the CDC there. But he worked strictly in the reception area taking payments and scheduling the kids who only needed hourly care. I'm glad that the base where I work has men working with kids of all ages. These men play outdoors with the kids (it's a good thing they never get tired of playing soccer), help with homework, and even cook Friday night dinners at the Teen Center. Boys and girls can see how men can conjugate German verbs, play soccer, then come in and whip up a delicious dinner. My son is very fortunate to have Larry, Jim and the other men who work at the Teen Center as some of his role models. I hope that this situation does not change.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Predator Alert!

Today's post in Free Range Kids was a link from Circle of Moms, which appears to be a site for helicopter parents (at least judging from the multiple "better safe than sorry" comments to various posts).  Here is the link: How to Spot a Child Predator. The author saw an older gentleman talking with two boys who were eating by themselves in a sandwich shop. The man went over to the boys and decided to strike up a conversation with them. He asked them normal things that any adult would ask a child: what grade are you in, where do you go to school, what is your favorite subject in school, do you like astronomy? The woman "had an epiphany" and decided that the man was an obvious child predator who was grooming the two boys with his questions. The writer decided that those questions are exactly what pedophiles ask when grooming their victims. She asked the boys where their parents were, then told a restaurant employee that she was concerned about the man talking with the boys. The woman even told the employee to call the police if the boys left the cafe with someone other than their parents. The man ended up leaving.

Did this woman actually know that this man was a child predator? No, she just assumed it because he was an older man talking to children. A man having a pleasant conversation with two boys was publicly humiliated simply because he was older and liked kids. The woman also was concerned about a stranger talking to two boys whose parents, by the way, deemed them capable of eating in a restaurant by themselves. Yet she went up to them and talked to them. But she somehow didn't see anything wrong with talking to the boys herself even though she was a stranger to them. I guess "stranger danger" only applies to men.

When did it become so crazy in the States that every man is viewed as a pervert who only wants to molest children? It used to be an old stereotype about gay men that they were child molesters. Now that hysteria has spread to all men, whether they are gay or straight. Men who sincerely love children are now becoming afraid to approach them or talk to them for fear that they will be viewed as perverts and potential child abductors.  Even the number of male teachers has shrunk to a 40-year low, one reason being that they are afraid of being accused of child abuse. See this abc news story about the low number of male teachers, especially in elementary schools. Of course a child's father should be a good male role model. But kids need to have other positive male role models as they grow up. But how can children have good male role models when men aren't allowed to be near them? It is sad that men who want to work with children are now afraid to do so because mothers like the woman who wrote the post in Circle of Moms would automatically accuse them of being pedophiles. One of my very favorite teachers was Mr. Ort, my 8th grade English teacher. He  got me excited about writing. Mr. Ort sincerely enjoyed working with junior high students. His students also liked him because they could sense that he truly loved teaching. None of Mr. Ort's students would ever have accused him of being a pedophile.

I have taught my son to talk to strangers, just not to go off with them. In fact, I have told him that when he is out by himself and needs assistance, he needs to ask an adult to help him. He put this lesson into action two years ago, when he was 11. My son wanted to ride his bike to the grocery store to get an official World Cup football (soccer) sticker book and wanted me to go with him. I told him that he had to go by himself because I was cooking dinner. I didn't really pay attention to how long my son was gone. But when he came back, he apologized for being late. It turned out that the chain on my son's bike slipped when he shifted gears. The closest adult that he found to help him fix his bike was an older man. As the man was fixing the chain, he asked my son where he went to school and what grade he was in. It turned out that the man's granddaughter was one of my son's classmates! When my son came home and told me what happened, my first thought was, "How cool that the person who helped you turned out to be a classmate's grandfather." The second thought was, "It's good that my son actually listened when I told him to find an adult when he needs some help." The thought that the Good Samaritan who fixed my son's bike was a child predator never even occurred to me.

Whenever I meet a child for the first time, I ask him things like where he goes to school and what grade he's in. Those are normal questions to ask a child. Who in their right mind would ask a child about how to solve the Greek monetary crisis?  In fact, the woman who wrote the original post sounded more like a predator to me by asking where the boys' parents were. I think that we all need to take a deep breath and realize that most men are good people who would be repulsed at the thought of molesting a child. As Sigmund Freud said, "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar." And most men who like children are simply men who like children.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Why I Run

Why do I run? The short, and half-in-jest, answer is so that I can eat ice cream. The real reasons why I run are as follows:

I can do something that only a few people can do. I have been a bit of an underachiever in the professional aspect of my life. In school I was also a good student but not a stellar one. But when I run, I'm automatically part of an elite few. A while back I read that only 3% of the American population can run 3 miles (about 5 km). That's my warm-up! An even smaller percentage can run 10 km (6.2 miles), a half-marathon (13.1 miles/21.1 km), or a full marathon (26.2 miles/42.2 km).  I may not be the fastest runner out there, but I'm in the top 3% of the population for something.

Setting a goal and then accomplishing it. Deciding to run a race, training for it, and crossing the finish line on my feet all require setting a goal and doing the necessary planning and training to accomplish it. My former running partner Bill told me what a long race finisher's medal is really all about. A medal proves that I ran a long distance on a particular day. But the real significance of that finisher's medal is that it represents all of the training that went into being able to earn it. The medal really shows that I accomplished a goal that I set for myself. Finishing long races has also given me the confidence to try new things that would have scared me before. If I can run and finish a marathon, I should be able to face the other challenges that life throws my way.

Getting to be outdoors and discovering new places. One of the fun things about long training runs is finding new trails and following them to see where they go. I have found some places off the beaten path and let myself wander on them. When I travel, I like to run because it allows me to see new and different things. One of my favorite running memories was in 1996 on the Greek island of Kalymnos. I went out for an early morning run. As I ran up a hill, I started hearing bells. The sound got louder as I climbed the hill. When I got to the top, there was a large herd of goats, with bells around their necks, and their herders. Running is also an outdoor sport. I would much rather exercise outdoors than inside a gym. I run outside in pretty much all weather conditions except for pouring rain and hail.

Fitness. Since I was a child, I have been a active person. As a child and teenager I did swimming, gymnastics, tree climbing, and lot of general running around outdoors. I was more of a tomboy than a super feminine girl. As an adult, I run, ski, and hike. I have always been physcially fit and can't imagine being unfit. Running keeps me fit and healthy. I'm one of those people who hardly ever gets sick. I believe it's because the running I do has strengthened my immune system.

Running allows me to eat ice cream. Ice cream is a major food group. OK, maybe not. The calories that I burn through running allow me to have some ice cream as an occassional treat. I don't have to feel guilty or worry about gaining weight from a summer ice cream cone because I know that I will burn off the calories on my next training run.

Friday, April 6, 2012

The Blessings of an Injury

The title of today's post comes from Wendy Mogel's books The Blessings of a Skinned Knee and The Blessings of a B-minus. This post was also inspired by a chat that I had a few days ago with a Facebook friend about how injuries can actually be a blessing in disguise.

Being injured is no fun. The worst thing about being injured isn't the physical pain. Ibuprofen or Voltaren and ice can take care of that, or at least make it more bearable. It isn't non-runners telling you that being injured is the natural consequence of participating in a sport that's "bad for women." Most of those people have no credibility with me because they don't exercise at all, so I just ignore them. No, the very worst thing about being injured is seeing someone running down the street and wanting nothing more than to be able to do that too. Whenever that feeling came over me when I was "out of commission," I had to tell  myself that I would be back running soon enough with proper rest and a slow comeback. Eventually my rational side would win and I would come back even stronger.

My late running partner Bill used to tell me that running injuries were caused by: 1) trying to increase speed too quickly, 2) trying to increase mileage too quickly, 3) not enough rest/recovery time after a big race, and 4) a combination of the first three things. When I look back on the injuries that I have had, I realize that he is right. All of the injuries that I have had were caused by one or more of those things.

Even though we don't realize it, injuries are really a blessing in disguise. They make you more appreciative of being able to run. Before I had my first knee injury, back in 1992, I took it for granted that I would always be able to run. After that injury, I realized that my ability to run was something that I could easily lose, which made me appreciate it more. Every day that I run injury-free is a real gift that I do my best not to squander.

Injuries have also made me slow down and think about why I started running in the first place. Most of my injuries were from trying to push the speed envelope. I then have to remind myself that I didn't take up running just because I wanted medals, trophies, plaques and personal records in every race. I run because I like to be outdoors exploring new places and seeing what there is to see. Sometimes it's best to slow down and see what would otherwise go unnoticed. Running is also a great way to keep fit and it keeps me young. It's something that I want to do for my whole life. The worst thing would be to push myself into a "career-ending" injury. OK, I also run so that I can eat ice cream and chocolate, but that's another story.

Another benefit of injuries is that they are a way of forcing you to correct errors. As Dr. Phil would say about a training plan that resulted in an injury, "How is that working for you?" Something obviously wasn't working, otherwise you wouldn't have gotten injured. Being down from an injury gives an athlete time to evaluate what went wrong and how to correct in in the future. For example, when I ran the Berlin Marathon in 1994, I had a very brutal training plan. It was to the point where the month before the race I couldn't wait for it to be over with so that I could rest. During the last third of that marathon one of my knees was really hurting. I walked a lot in the last 10 kilometers and was so glad to cross the finish line. After that race it took two months before I could run slowly for 20 minutes because of the knee injury. When it came time to train for the 2007 Munich Marathon, I looked back on what I did for Berlin and decided I needed a much different training plan that incorporated a combination of long runs and total rest days. Munich 2007 was a lot of fun and I came out of it with a personal record and some muscle soreness that went away after a few days.

I have been relatively lucky with regard to major injuries. In the past I had a couple of knee injuries which prevented me from running for more than a month. But with time and patience, I was back on the trails and stronger and wiser than before. That's not bad at all for over 20 years of running and racing. I  have tendinitis in my knees, but know to increase my mileage very slowly in order to avoid it flaring up. Now the only time my tendinitis acts up is when it's time to get new shoes. Last year I had problems with calf cramps, but they seem to have (thankfully) disappeared. I also have tight hamstrings and use my massage stick on them after every run. This year I am feeling good and am seriously considering running the Munich Marathon this October.  I'll train smarter, and not harder, and will hopefully stay injury-free.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Top Ten Running Moments

I think that every runner has his or her top 10 running moments. In all of the races that I've done since 1989, it was hard to narrow down the list. It was also hard to rank them because some of them were very close. Numbers 2 to 4 were especially difficult to put in order. On another day I may have them in a different order. Without further ado...

10. 2005 Munich Marathon (Munich, Germany). I didn't run Munich that year, but my friend Kim did. I ran a lot of long runs with her as she trained for it, passing along bits of my experience with marathons and advice from my former running partners. When Kim finished the race and achieved her two goals (not to finish last and to finish before the 6-hour time limit), I had the feeling that a coach would have when her athlete wins an Olympic medal. Training with Kim also gave me motivation to train for another marathon. Before I started running with Kim, she said that she was looking for a Sunday morning training partner. I told her that I'd be happy to run with her and we made arrangements to meet at her house the following Sunday. On that Sunday I knocked on Kim's door, ready to run. It turns out that I got her out of bed. She didn't think that I would really show up to run. But she got dressed and we ran together that morning. That turned out to be the first of our many runs together.

9. 1992 San Dieguito Half-Marathon (Rancho Santa Fe, CA). My half-marathon personal record (PR), which I set at this race, still stands. San Dieguito is a tough course that is all rolling hills and an uphill finish. My late running partner Bill prepared me for San Dieguito. But somewhere in the very last part I started walking. I was on track for a PR at that point, but figured I wouldn't get it because of my walking break. It was at that point that I heard Bill's voice in my head telling me, "You're wearing a black shirt, so stop being such a wimp and get your butt going." (I wore a black t-shirt to feel "tough".)  I started running again and ended up finishing with a PR. This experience really showed me that even when things got difficult, I had the mental and physical toughness to work through it and keep going.

8. 1989 Thanks for Giving 5K (San Diego, CA). This race was special because it was the only one that my husband and I ran together. We stayed together the whole way until just before the finish line, where he finished two steps ahead of me.

7. 2007 Munich City Run Half-Marathon. This was the first half-marathon that I ran after a 3-year absence from long races. I spent those 3 years running 5 and 10 km races to give my body a break from hard long-distance training. I did a lot better than I expected to after a long break from half-marathons. Because of my performance in that race, I trained for and ran the Munich Marathon later that year. I now do the City Run almost every year.

6. 2004 Mainly Masters 10K (San Diego, CA). This was a 10 km race for runners age 40 and over. I won my division (W 45-49), but that's not why it was a special race. It was the race in which I finally broke 50 minutes for a 10 km race. I had been very close to the 50-minute mark since running 50:12 in a race in 1991, but never seemed to be able to break it. I paced myself well and ended up finishing in 49:55. The course was flat and perfect for a PR.

5. 2005 7-Minute Mile (Hohenfels, Germany). Like trying to break 50 minutes for a 10 km race, a 7-minute mile (1600  meters) was another goal. Since 1992, when I ran a 7:20 mile, I had been trying to run a mile in under 7 minutes. I had come tantalizingly close with mile times of 7:08, 7:05, and 7:02. Finally my friend Charlie, a former elite-level runner, offered to pace me. We did track workouts together and I was able to hold the right pace. When it came time to do the actual test, Charlie paced me. But at the start of the 4th lap (a mile is 4 laps of a standard track), my hamstring acted up so we aborted the attempt. A few days later I went back to the track on my own, determined to redeem myself. The first two laps were at the right pace, but the third lap was slow and I was behind where I should have been. Going into the last lap, I told myself it was now or never. I heard the line, "Gonna show you what I'm made of" from Don Henley's "The Boys of Summer." I gave everything that I had on that last lap. When I stopped my watch, it showed a time of 6:55.40.

4. 2005 Hohenfels Box Run 10K (Hohenfels, Germany). That was the year my team won the team title in this race. The year before we were second by 20 seconds and we were fired up to win. Charlie, Lee, Frank, Jack and I really gave it our all. It was an indescribable feeling to stand on stage with my teammates to receive the first place trophy. I was also the 3rd place woman overall and 2nd in my age group. But the team award superceded the individual honors. I call this race my "1-2-3-4 finish" because of being part of the 1st place team, 2nd in my age group, 3rd woman overall, and the 4th finisher from my team.

3. 2007 Munich Marathon. This was special for two reasons. First of all, it was my first marathon since 1996 (also in Munich). Secondly, I ran with a photo of my former running partner Bill pinned to my shirt. Bill trained me for my first half-marathon and motivated me to try for a marathon. For this marathon I trained "smarter, not harder" and it paid off with a new marathon PR. I took 5 minutes off of my old PR and had the most fun ever running a marathon. During the race I had imaginary conversations with Bill. One of these conversations got me through a rough patch at the 39 km mark, when my legs turned to lead and I wanted to stop. I have worn Bill's photo in subsequent races as a good luck charm.

2. 1991 San Diego Half-Marathon (Carlsbad, CA). This was my first half-marathon. Bill and I ran together on many Sundays before the race. I soaked up everything he told me about running a half-marathon and performed better than I expected to. My time of 1:50:37 was much better than the goal of 2 hours that I set for myself. I ran a perfect race that day, starting slowly and increasing my speed at each mile. I felt like I was flying during the last mile, which was mostly downhill. When I got my finisher's medal, I felt like I  received an Olympic gold medal. I was on Cloud 9! After that race I told Bill that I wanted to run a marathon. His advice was to get a few more half-marathons under my belt before doing a marathon, which I did.

1. 1993 Munich Marathon. This was my first marathon, which I finished in a respectable 4 hours and 17 minutes. I trained following advice that I got from Bill and Pat. Pat was another former running partner (she currently lives in Nebraska) who ran ultra marathons at that time. Even though I had moved to Germany, I kept in touch with her and got great advice for my first marathon. One piece of advice that Pat gave me was that there would be a point during the marathon when I would feel crappy. She said to give myself affirmations to get through it. Pat told me that she used to sing at the 20-mile (32 km) mark of marathons, which would make the other runners around her upset and even mad. Maybe they didn't like her singing. When I got to the 32 km mark, I started singing, "I Feel Pretty" from "West Side Story." It was a combination of singing and affirmations, right? It was better than what I thought I would be doing at that point (blubbering incoherently or asking where the nearest subway stop was). When I made the turn into the Olympic Stadium tunnel, I felt like the Olympic marathoners in 1972 must have felt when they knew that they were in the home stretch. Nothing could compare to crossing the finish line. I let out a big, "Yessssss!!!" The race volunteer who put my finisher's medal around my neck gave me a strange look until I told him that it was my first marathon. I got a nice hug from my husband at the finish. When I got home, the first thing I did was call Bill and Pat to tell them that I was offically a marathoner.