Sunday, December 3, 2017

4 for 4 (Wins in Countries)

If I have ever been least prepared for a marathon, it was for this one. Lots of travel, high pollution, and little motivation has left me on sporadic jogs and a long run of 9 miles in the past couple of months. Nevertheless, I signed up for a return trip to the Running and Living Gurgaon Marathon and a Half.  I ran last year in the white-out smog and finished 2nd.  I hoped this year to just survive.

Luckily, the fog was reduced this year (see last year's tale here).  Two bonuses: we were handed little flashlights for vision and the course was a double out and back as compared to the quad lollipop of the year before.  A small group of brave souls took the line just as the finish line banner was being inflated. With a countdown from 30 (yes, 30 seconds), we were off.

It was abundantly clear in the first 200m what the result would be.  A small man took off to the front and was soon followed by a woman (the only woman in the race) pushing her way up to join him. I trotted with two other men and soon we formed the "lead pack."  We stayed this way for a couple of miles and soon, through no fault of our own, another man and I were alone at the front.  He had previously run a 4:15 this fall, so I suspected we would not be together long. Try as I could, I could barely make it to the 10.55km turnaround point with him.  My knees hurt and my stride was funny going at this slow pace and as much as I wanted the company and fee miles, I had to go ahead on my own.
The lead pack at 1km

The first hour of running was interesting. Like last year, this course had no lighting after the first kilometer, so we proceeded forward in pitch blackness.  However, unlike last year, we had small torches so we could navigate the speedbumps and the treacherous dirt road sections.  Nothing is more difficult than running completely blind on a rutted, rolling, rock-infested dirt road (which made up about 2.2 miles of every 6.5 mile section).  With the dawn light now shining, I switched off the light and rolled on, trying not to let my new freedom take me out too hard.  We still had 20 miles to go.

After agonizing miles of 8:45 or so I was clipping along closer to the 7:40 and 7:30 mark for most of the next segment.  I was heading back against the stream of runners and it looked like a gay pride parade of bibs coming at me.  There were five races: ultra, marathon, half, 10k and 5k so I say bibs of dark blue, light blue, yellow, orange, pink, and green.  Not sure why.  When I hit halfway I split my watch for 1:48 flat, knowing that I had come back from the turnaround much faster than I had gone out.  I was 2km ahead of the 2nd place runner at halfway.

Just like the run on the Great Wall in China, I had a lead motorcycle.  He stay ahead of us just fine for the most part on the way out, needing me to flash my light at him when he slowed to much and we almost ran up his back.  At the 10.55km turn I went back toward home.  Eventually he came flying up and got back in front.  He occasionally would stop to talk to another motorcyclist or to hang out with a person directing runners at an intersection.  I knew the course for the most part but I didn't know one turn.  Soon he took off, pulling far ahead and out of sight.  After about a mile or so, I came up to him, parked on the side of the road, indulging in a chai tea session with the locals. I carried on and he returned about a mile later.  When I wasn't dodging oncoming motorcycles, I was weaving around him.  After a few more stops to talk to others, he drove me to the finish.  When I turned to head back out for my 2nd loop, he did not rejoin. I suppose the lead bike is only needed for part of the race...

Continuing my controlled run, I went back out again. The air near the finish was atrocious (think grayed-out sky, with streaks of black, and yellow pouring across the road), but further out in the farmlands it was improved, although the sections going past farms that were burning cow manure sure left me wanting.  I rolled past barking dogs and herds of cattle, but the interesting sights were the numerous camels being loaded up with huge sacks of grain.  My pace slowed on the tumultuous dirt road sections that were being watered by trucks to keep the dust down.  While that worked, rivers created patches of mud that mad footing difficult and caked mud in my shoes, weighing me down. With water every 11km, I was left to fend for myself, particularly since the people manning the stations seemed to be there more to keep the table from being stolen as opposed to providing any sort of support for runners.  By 21 miles, I was 2.7 miles ahead of the next runner.

I kid you not, this happened: I was running down the dirt road and coming at me was a man on a bike.  He was transporting smaller bags of pink cotton candy. These were stuffed in a long, clear plastic sheath. The tube of pink cotton candy was strapped to his back, and extended above his head several feet. If that was not enough, dangling off his handlebars were two, no joke, two huge bags of pink cotton candy.  I burst out laughing at the sight of the man riding at me, looking like a giant phallic replica.  I literally stopped and looked around, certain that someone was playing a joke on me, filming me for my reaction.

For the last 10k, I grew a bit less comfortable, the slow start and faster finish, dirt road, and lack of training taking its toll on my legs.  I checked the watch and made sure I tucked it under 3:30, finishing in 3:28:45.  This was one of my slower efforts but it really didn't matter - a win is a win, a marathon is a marathon, and while the time and effort are nothing to write home about, it was still a unique experience.  I waited around the finish for about 27 min until a group of three guys strolled in.  They were so far behind that the guy took their names down as the top 3 finishers.  We all posed for a few pictures and I was awarded a book about a race in a part of India.  My phone died, so I was stranded, and I hitched a ride back with the runners up.

This race is my 4th marathon win and each in a different country (USA, China, Canada, India).
Top 4 with Race Director
Top 4 finishers

I spent the rest of the day at a softball tournament.  We finished runner up, 9-7 lead going into the bottom of the 7th, lost 10-9. Heartbreaking.  Man, are my legs SORE!



Sunday, October 15, 2017

Amsterdam

There are many excuses going into this one:
  • It's been 100 degrees for the past 2 months. Monsoon season so more humidity than Florida, harsh rains.
  • Work has been busy - busting my butt to do a good job
  • Stomach issue - the death gut of Africa reared its ugly head again and I have been fighting that - pills (up to 19 a day), ultrasounds, endoscopy - all indicating H. Pylori bacterial infection, gastritis, and a hell of a month of feeling like crap
  • Undertaining - let's face it; this is the real kicker. When you don't put in the work, you are going to pay.
I have to admit that after 70 marathons, this one came with probably more fear and uncertainty than perhaps 65 others.  I was really unsure how it would go.  Couple that with a hell of a busy week, an overnight flight Friday to Saturday, and the day spend walking around the city (my feet were so sore I could barely stand), I was not ideally suited for the running of the Amsterdam Marathon on Sunday.  But with temps predicted to be "hot" (yes, that is 22 degrees Celsius as a high (when we have had 39 in India for all this month), I walked to the start excited. 

It was my first BIG marathon in a while, and I had forgotten just how chaotic the start area is, and just how many people are on this journey.  After 45 min of waiting, the gun went off and I ran with thousands of others, making my way through the masses.  The girls came out to see me at the 1K before their races started - it was a family affair.  I ran 5:05 for the first kilometer and tried to slow from there but I kept coming in sub-5 for each marker.  The course eased into the park and out into the city, winding its way around the canals and buildings. It was a lovely tour of the area.

After about 12k we started to make our way down the Amstel river.  Here there were no buildings and fewer spectators, and the run turned into more of a scenic stroll than a race. The tranquility was punctuated with screaming fans periodically, but mostly it was just a group of people running on a path by a river. 

I kept expecting it to get harder but I did fine for 10k, then fine at halfway. I just thought, "Get to 30K," then "32k), and I did.  Never wanting to push my luck, I could have run faster but I feared the cost of blowing up on a lack of training.  When I hit 38k by the Heineken brewery I started to feel it. My body just wasn't in 26.2 shape.  But I knew the girls were at 40k, and this was a welcoming thought.  I rolled past 40k and saw them in the park, and I slowed to celebrate their runs.  Starting back up, I knew I had made a mistake. All the acid rushed to my legs and the pain was there. My good run was over.  I hobbled back up to speed and thankfully found this guy who had been with me for a while. He was being paced in by another guy who wasn't registered so I said I would take him to the line and I made him run all the way in with me. It felt good to focus on others. 

At 3:25:26 it wasn't one of my better times, but it was my 71st marathon in my 10th country.  I ran 48:17, 48:35; 48:17, 49:10 for my 10K splits. I ran 5:05 the first K and did not miss breaking 5 again until the 41st when I stopped to talk to the girls.  I was incredibly happy with this, given all that had happened, but I was pretty sore for a few days. The body just doesn't recover all that well without training. 


Saturday, June 17, 2017

Grandma's - A Family Affair

It seems odd to live in India but run a marathon in Duluth, Minnesota, but with a friend from AES who lives there in the summers, it was a way to make a visit and do the run.  Sarah came for the half, I the full, along with two other people, Jason and Gary, in the half. The kids came out with us and after driving up to Pictured Rocks for a day, made our way to the lake house for some pre-race boating and fun.

With the bus to the start being about 45 minutes from the house, and another 45 minute ride after that, it made for an early start. The rest of the crew left earlier (as the half stated first) and I soon followed.  When I got off the steamy bus at the start, 26 miles from downtown, a light rain was falling. It was a brisk morning but little wind. People were sprawled out all over the parking lot, some in lines for toilets, others leaning against cars.  After a long wait, we packed into the line and were off.

Keeping it conservative with my climbing trip in Bolivia on the horizon, I hung with the 3:15 pace group for a significant amount of time. I had no ambitions other than to run a good time for me and not be wrecked for the climb.  My training had been much better this time, with two 20 milers in the preceding weeks, a distance I had not run for training in the past 3 years, and was ready.  While I cant say it made the difference in speed, it certainly helped with recovery and stability.  We hovered right on pace for many miles. The road was undulating and much harder than I expected given the reputation of the course.

I kept with the pace group for 19 miles.  It was a rare race as I didn't speak to anyone for 18 miles.  Normally, I a keen to chat it up. This time, I said nothing, and just listened. People chatted up the pacer, in awe of his accomplishments.  Everyone wanted a piece of this person. Jokes and stories were told. Most did not hang.

At 19 miles, I had enough. I pushed on and was soon ahead of the group. I took the pace down a little bit. I felt ok and never really red lined. I knew the family was waiting at about 24 miles so I kept it on until I saw them, pulled over for hugs, and caught a quick report of the half marathoners. I pushed on for the final two miles, finishing in 3:12:23. It was a long walk around the baggage and up about a mile to where I met everyone at a pizzeria.  Sarah had run strong, 1:35 flat, and Jason a minute and a half behind.  Gary bested his goal by 20 min with a 1:54. One bad Bloody Mary and a slice later, job done.  Nothing left but to grab some beers and watch the lake.

Marathon number 70 in the bag, fastest I have run in 3 years, and glad to be back on the wagon.


Saturday, May 13, 2017

Motivation - A Tribute Run

It's no secret Doha sucked for running. I completed a few marathons while living there but ran little, sometimes cross-training, sometimes sick, sometimes just plain done. The move to India has been an improvement, but not significant.  Which is why today, on my 20 mile run, I reflected a lot. This was the longest run, outside of a race, that I have done in 34.5 months - nearly 3 years!!!  Therefore, this run was a tribute to the motivators over the years that keep me going.

I started at 5am with a loop of the ridge, a 10k run lining the forest.  It was hot. My mind began to wander to sources of motivation. What came to mind are the people who impacted me in my early running.

Rod Yeacker - my former high school track coach and long-time friend. Usher in my wedding and perhaps the only person in Ortonville I still talk to. Rod helped pace me to my first 100 mile finish and ran numerous other races with me (Crystal Lake, the Crim, and Mississippi). He is my model for a father, professional, and coach, and without him I wouldn't be the adult runner I am today.

Mike Richmond - I am not saying he is "old," but he is a few years my senior, though he never felt like it. Uncle to a guy I used to run with a lot, Mike has always been a friend, a peer. Back in college I would run from his house, and we shared perhaps the worst run of all time together in the snow. This is the guy who runs from East Lansing to Ann Arbor carrying the game ball. He moved out to Cali, reinvented his life, and enjoys bombing down wooded trails. I think of him often on the run.

The Women - Liz Terhorst was one of the state's, maybe the nation's best, runners when she was just a sophomore in HS. She opted not to run in college, but still runs often, after multiple kids and a doctorate in physical therapy, not to mention winning the award for nicest person year after year. I know I can always count on her for a run, and I know she will take it out fast.  Sarah Walker - my wife. Star HS runner. Top 50 in the world in the steeplechase, former top 10 in elite marathons. Yet today she runs to run, for her. Ran everyday of both pregnancies, right up till the birth. These ladies are strong.

My loop brings me to sunrise, and there is Bernie Manker, standing at the gate. Since no one else in the running group pitched up, I asked Bernie if he wanted to do a loop. He said he was still getting over injury, so like 9 min miles. I grinned, knowing Bernie. My fastest splits were coming soon.

We took off into the ridge, a wooded area next to campus with trails full of peacocks, pigs, cows, coyotes, and birds. Bernie is AES's Ashton Eaton, the pinnacle of athlete - he can do it all. Bernie was my motivation for the 60-day Ab Challenge I did recently. He is a beast.  He took me up hills and on a new route.

In the (relatively) cooler forest, I thought of other encounters I have had with people around the world.

Jason Coleman - A long-time AES man, Jason started running later in life, but he was hooked. He is the driving force behind AES Runners and is best known for his blog posts on mapping routes in the shape of things (a reindeer for Christmas, a turkey for Thanksgiving, the Millennium Falcon), all on his blog where he dedicates runs to people who donate to the fundraising he is doing to send needy students to summer camp. Jason created the shamrock route for me for my St. Paddy's party and dedicated it to me. Jason is equally known for playing Pokemon Go on his phone and holding a hell of a pace while he catches them all.  Pursue your passions, people.

Kirsten Leemans - The best training partner I ever had, he pushed me to my limits and beyond many times. Top 50 at Comrades - I don't care what year you do that, you are a balla. Late into the running life, he has never looked back. This man lives and breathes the run. He is the ultimate in no excuses. Rain, illness, work, stress, exhaustion - nothing would stop him from getting in the work he knows must be done. He is running when you are not. And that's why he will beat you. If Superman was a skinny bald dude, he'd be Kirsten. He has a set of guidelines, "Kirsten's Rules of the Fridge" which range from motivational quotes to outright attacks on your psyche. Never let him know you are hurting; it will just make him push more.

Lindsey Parry - The Coach. The man is the National Triathlon Coach for South Africa and Official Comrades Coach. Father, husband, son of a Comrades gold medalist, he does it all, day in and day out. And while he coaches some of the best athletes in the southern hemisphere, he still invites you in for a Coke and a beer post run. Everyone can learn something from this man.

Dr. Stan Fortuna - father to the above mentioned Liz, I have known this guy for a long time. He always tracks my runs, and sends me plenty of updates about his.  Stan finishes some and DNF's others, but he always has a lengthy write up, is positive about the experience, and thankful to everyone around him that made it happen, from those on the trail with him to family at home.  He understands the adventure is in the journey, not the destination, and I appreciate that. Hence my blog title.

Michael Trahan - Chase Pack. PB. A former athlete of mine, Michael is central to one of the craziest stories of my life. He has been with me for it all, from UNC to Leadville and paced me the whole way at Western States. He was there for many failures on his own dime. He came to Comrades. We have a epic run planned next summer together.  He is my past and future of running.

Bernie and I circled back to campus, and I had 11.2 miles in the bag. I said goodbye and turned out again. But where? I wanted 16+, but Lodhi Garden is 6.6...that would make 17.8. Time to go. As I stumbled back in the increasing heat, things seemed to cool down, like the reverse of hypothermia. It was 90+ degrees, on its way to 110, and no breeze.  Yet I did not overheat.  When you get faced with the abnormal, you must draw on the abnormal - otherwise, it would be like any other day. So I got to thinking about guys who are abnormal to this story that I still draw on for strength.

Matt Tegenkamp - his future wife and mine ran together at MSU. We have been a big fan for a long time. I regret not going to his wedding (I was coaching university), but he came to mine. Great career, American record holder, one of the best Americans in his event for many years, maybe ever, and a hell of a good pacer. He was the model for my team when we wanted to learn how to run - signed autographs for each one of the guys. What a champ.

Kerron Clement - We crossed paths at University of Florida where I worked in the academic support office for athletes. Even though he was fresh off Gatorade National Athlete of the year, this big shot freshman still called his mother all the time; she was what was important to him. He is caring, happy, and gracious. Now he is a star, with a world record, World Championships, and Olympic Championships to his name; hell, he was in a Beyonce video! We kept in touch for several years after I left UF, but that faded. I doubt he would remember me, but I almost cried when he won Gold in Rio.

Steve Prefontaine - The only guy on here I haven't met, yet he reached me in a way few others could. Larger than life, he transformed running, during his life, after his death, and for me as s snotty 18-year-old. His rebellious streak was emulated by every teenager, and his determination is the stuff t-shirts are made about, books are written, and films dedicated to (all of them literally so). Cut down in his prime, he would have done even more than we ever imagined, and no one doubts that. If there was every proof that the soul lives on, it does with Steve Prefontaine.

I tagged the gate with 18 miles done. That was the longest I had run in years, and could have gone home. But something inside me said, "Keep going. 20 sounds sexier than 18 when you write it up."  So I headed out again, and up a long, 1 mile hill, and it got tough.

When it gets tough, I think of those who have it tougher.  Pain is, after all, relative. My mind goes out to my brother, Matt Walker, who does as much as anyone with half the legs, proving it isn't what you have but how you use it. I respect him because despite this difference, he hasn't changed a damn thing - or maybe he has changed everything....

At the point of most suffering, I cast my mind to paralympians.  They are better than me. Stronger more determined.  I also think of Rick and Dick Hoyt; did you push your kid in marathons, ultras, and Ironmans, you prick?  Tired? Try climbing Mt. Everest blind like Erik Weihenmayer, you asshole. What are you bitching about? Tear a page out of Kirsten's rules of the fridge, take a concrete pill, and toughen the %$#@ up!

I touch the "summit" of the hill and start back down, a mile to home.  In the home stretch, the only motivation you need is yourself.  Because no matter who trained, encouraged, and paced you, you still have to take every step. A thousand voices can scream "quit!" but it takes only one to silence them - your own. I have won marathons, completed 100 milers and Ironmans, yet someone is always better, stronger, faster. We may temporarily emulate those to pull us through, but we must look inward to make the journey worth it.  What does anyone run for when they don't run for times, medals, or shoe companies? They run for themselves.  If you race for anything else, it is a race you can never win.

So here's to those who inspire us - and here's to you, finding your own reasons to pull out the shoes and head out the door.

Cheers! The ultimate post-race drink!


They'll tell you I'm insane
But I've got a blank space baby
And I'll write your name
__________________

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Charge of the British History Half Marathon (4th Ed)

Wait, what?

Let me explain.  First, you have to take a guy who has lived in India a while and has become obsessed with running.  He gets this pet project and grows it, and soon he turns it into an organized run, and by that he scrapes together a route, calls his friends and colleagues, and leads them throughout the city to parts they would never run on their own.  Fast forward a few years to this morning.

4:40am - a rag-tag bunch of runners, some fresh of Cinco de Mayo, assemble at Gate 2 of AES.  A desk is set up, and a short, bearded man, donning a neon yellow t-shirt obscured by a Camelbak, sits, unfurls a British flag, which he will later tie to his back.  A pile of wristbands in the colors of the Indian flag are strewn about, and one by one, blurry-eyed runners came to collect their bibs. Each had the runner's name, but the number, 1857 was the same. This would prove important later.

5:10am - The bus was loaded and the brave few departed for the start. A long ride meandered first through familiar neighborhoods but soon ventured into parts unknown.  The sites (and smells) of Delhi waking up were all the stimulants needed when they arrived at the line.

5:50am - Coronation Park, the site of King George V's declaration as Emperor of India and the shift of the capital from Calcutta to Delhi, was also the start of the run.  Numerous locals had come out to see the event kick off (or perhaps do their own training and just happened to stop and stare at 18 white folk dressed oddly).

The pace was casual to keep the group together, many of whom were not serious runners, but felt the need to expand their minds on this run.  After a few miles, we stopped and listened to the organizer, Jason, regale us with tales of the British occupation of India and the (unsuccessful) attempts in 1857 by the local people to oust the British. We ventured from historic gate to erected pillar and learned more than a lot of facts, dates, and stories of woe, battle, success, and defeat. There was often a poem or lament incorporated.

The run then went to the Red Fort and into the fabled area of Old Delhi.  We passed many a sight and experienced more smells and sounds than the human body can reasonably process in a given moment.  I had to stop for a while and stare at the body of a man, laying on the sidewalk. His eyes wide open, his tongue hanging out, I feared he was dead.  His foot twitched, as in the neuromuscular spasm of a body recently deceased.  After about 30 seconds, I saw a shallow rise and fall of the chest.  He was alive, although I expected just barely and probably not for long without treatment, which was unlikely to occur.  What brought him here? A product of the caste system? A life of malnoursishment? Nights of drinking paint thinner or sniffing glue? Disease? One will never know, and it is the sad reality of so many in this place.  I hustled back to the group saddened, but grateful for my circumstance.

We made the obligatory stop for Coke and water at an insanely crowded refreshment stand on the corner of a street, bustling with people, cows, and dogs, as once every 10 seconds a scooter blasted through, horn blaring, and nearly killing one of us in the process.  Holding noses, the smell of rancid meat, fecal matter, and cesspools of waterways were too much to handle at times.  It was important to try and jump over any standing water (that ain't rain) while not getting run over.  We jogged past a minivan, its insides removed to hold.....wait for it....about 30 goat heads.  That's attractive.

Animals, people, traffic, pollution and knowledge. We had it all.  What started with 18 dwindled to about 10 by the end of the 14 miles, people picking their bailout points by their own accord.  A shower left us clean, and a brunch left us full.  It was a great morning of running and spending time with people.  The Bloody Mary's helped, I guess. 

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Win Some, Win Some

We made a return to Dubai this year for my 3rd Dubai marathon in a row.  Aside from being a decent, flat race in the middle of winter, it had the added benefit of being where our good friends live.  So we saw them and got a race in.  Good times.  Sarah jumped in the 10K, running about 43 min which was a solid effort for her at this point, and good for 9th place overall.  I toed the line on less than ideal training.  While I normally suffer in the first part of the Dubai, this time I felt good, really good.  I started slow and say a 4:2x kilometer. Slow down. 4:30. Slow down. 4:30. Alright. It is what it is.

I clipped off 4:30s for a LONG time, bouncing around and forming quite a group. My body felt pretty good at this pace and while I thought it was too fast for my training, I was managing fine, so I kept it. I passed the halfway point spot on 3:10 pace so I was really keen to hold it and dip under that former Boston mark, especially on absolutely no training.  And therein lies the rub.  I had not done enough work.  Cresting 30K I was fine.  But 2K later I was starting to feel pretty poor.  I had passed the 20 mile mark, and as they say, the race is in 2 parts: the first 20 miles and the last 10K.  I managed to keep the damage at a minimum for a couple of kilometers but the body can only do so much and by 35K I was buggered.  The pain really set in and I slowed. At 38 I walked, which didn't really help, but the hot spot on my foot was at a maximum. I haven't walked in a marathon in years, but I took a second walk with 2K left. I was terrible, handing back time, and letting people pass me that had no business beating me. Ahh well, I deserved that with the training I had done.   I still finished another marathon and called it good in the Middle East.

Moving forward to another adventure, we return to India for the Urban Stampede. After being delayed a month for pollution, we registered a team for the Corporate Relay, a 4x5K race.  Our school entered a team the year before and won it all, so we wanted to do it but they had their team so I formed my own.  With Sarah, another teacher, and a parent, we had people that would help us. So we headed out.  It was met with the usual Indian issues: the guy guarding the parking lot designated for the race wasn't letting in racers, the Zomba to start the activities, the race starting late, etc. Sarah led us off and took an early lead.  She rolled along having done no speedwork and still put us in first at the end of her leg, with a 20:58.  Next, our "old man" cracked off a 21:06 and we were looking great. Nathan took the 3rd leg, a guy who hadnt run much but was a good athlete, promised us a 22 flat.  He crossed in 22:02 so we called that fair.  I took the baton.

Well in the lead, I could have jogged but that wouldn't have been fair to my teammates who we asked to run their hardest, so off I went.  It was a winding course with a lot of headwind, so there were some challenges.  After the first 600m I was worried about the pace, but with no one to key off of, it was hard to judge. The halfway point of the course wrapped around to near the start so teammates could check on their runners.  I crossed halfway in 8:55, blistering for me.  The 2nd half was very difficult, with the pace catching up with me.  The lactic acid was burning my legs but nothing compared to the lungs. The pollution was low for India, but higher than most other places. I am not sure if it was that, or the dust from the dirt trails on the course, or simply that I just have not pushed myself that hard in a long time, but my lungs were searing.  I tried to settle in and maintain a good pace, but the turns and the wind slowed me.  I finished with an 18:25, probably the fastest I have run in 3-4 years.



Sunday, December 11, 2016

2nd Place is the 1st Loser

To say a misty fog dominated the start of the Running & Living Gurgaon Marathon would be a massive understatement. Pollution in Delhi is not great, and the sky can sometimes resemble a morning on a Scottish loch, but it isn't always water particles in the air. It is poisonous gas and smoke.  However, luckily for the runners, pollution was "lower" that day, or low enough to allow runners to brave the weather.  Cool air led to a fog that blocked out the sky.

The run started with little fanfare as about 100 runners ventured out for a 26.2 mile journey (4 loops of 10.5K) of the remote portion of the city area.  Pitch black, it was impossible to see anything since there were no lights on the road and the fog blocked the moon and starts. I was immediately near the front, and considering this was won in about 3:40 last year, figured I had a shot. For the first 10K I, literally, felt my way through the dark.  Next time you want an adventure, pump up the treadmill and wrap a towel around your head. Now run.

We tripped on curbs, dipped into unnoticed potholes, and felt branches tickle our foreheads. Stray dogs would launch from the darkness, viciously snarling and barking, until a local would shout and call them off.  Perhaps a few men would huddle over a small fire at the roadside. Seeing the color from the flames through the mist gave us some indication of the general direction we were heading.  At one point, I saw a black figure ahead of me in the mist start to emerge. Unable to get a gauge on its profile, I squinted and ran closer, just feet from it, the figure's identity became clear. An 800-lb cow was meandering down the road. I jumped to the right just in time.

At then end of the 10.5K out-and-back loop, I was in 4th place, about 3:30 off the leader, and soon overtook 3rd and 2nd.  My pace was just under 8:00 min/mile, conservative due to my lack of training and racing, and cautious as I ran for 50 minutes without being able to see anything. But by the end of the first lap, the sun - wherever it was - had come up, and a diffused light made the road visible.  A whiteout ensued, blocking the presence of buildings just off the road and ensuring no one could see more than about 100m ahead or behind.  It is a good thing the course was so repetitive. Anyone could have missed a turn at any point in these conditions.

Figuring that I was now in 2nd and the leader had gone out too hard, I worked to move up. My original plan was not to do anything anything aggressive till halfway. But somehow I blew this, going way too hard from 10-20K.  I dropped about 6 minutes from the pace, and yet I really got nowhere, still about three and a half minutes back from the leader.  I had been running alone since about the third kilometer.  I decided to go into the third loop a bit more conservative, backing off the attack, and hoping that if he blew, I would motor by.  At about 20 miles, I knew this was going to hurt.

The final 10K were rough. My legs just were not with me. I hadn't run over about 13 miles since January.  My fitness and talent can carry me about 20 miles but after that it is all about the work that was put in. I didn't have the base. Definitely slowing, I tried to manage my effort as to not blow up myself, hoping no one would pass me and I could still finish.  Shoveling cookies into my mouth, I tried to withstand the inevitable bonk. I had no GU, and there were only a few stations for aid.

Completely spent, I inched the final miles, finishing in 3:22, about 12 min back from the winner, but in 2nd place. There is no substitute for training...

It will still go down as one of the most bizarre runs, in terms of environment and scenery, that I think I have ever done.

Emerging from the mist with about 15k to go
About 5K to go



Coming off of the dirt road
The winner of the half, and 2nd (me) and first in the marathon

2nd place is the 1st loser