Thursday, April 30, 2009

Adventures on Two Wheels

I've been toying with the idea of getting a bike since last summer -- and now that I think of it, both kind of "bikes" were on the radar: motor and pedal.

It's been an internal back-and-forth between the two for me, knowing that my current budget wouldn't likely support both of my two-wheeled hobbies.

After a couple of trips looking at both, I ended up getting one last weekend -- with pedals. Apparently, they are very uncool, amateur pedals, almost embarrassing so rest assured that my plan is to get rid of those as quickly as I feel comfortable moving into some clipless models.

I think it's a pretty good decision. Not a hint of buyer's remorse.

Don't get me wrong, there's something about a rumble of a motorcycle and the thrill of the open road that you just can't beat. Plus,
I successfully passed my motorcycle license test last fall and wanted to put my new skills to work.

But I know that I'll get a lot more personal satisfaction from my shiny, new pedal bike.

From everything I've heard and read, cycling is great cross-training for runners. It helps with hill training and endurance without the constant pounding on your body. Great for anyone training for a marathon or just runners in general.

Plus, my new bike isn't just any ordinary bike -- at least that's what I gather from the feedback I'm getting from my friends who are "in t
he know"... It's an all-carbon, pretty-darn-sleek-looking, "seriously" comfortable riding machine.

According to my friends, it's a good choice and I'll be flying down the road with ease in no time at all.

Those people obviously didn't see my first ride.

I might have looked the part (and I'm not even sure of that) in my brand-spanking new gear, but anyone who watched me for more than a minute would know I wasn't a cyclist.

I certainly didn't have a comfort level on the bike that I've seen others have. My shoulders were tense and at times I was conscious of how tight I was holding on. At times I felt as if I were crawling along in slow motion.

And don't even get me started on shifting, which I played around with -- for the entire 16 miles -- as I tried to get a feel for the bike.

Still, I liked everything about my first ride -- the wind in my face, the smell of fresh air, taking in new sights, even my frustration as I climbed harder-than-expected hills or wobbled as I tried to keep the bike going while I reached down for a drink.

I'm looking forward to this new challenge and some great cross-training.

See you on the road. (Just please don't hit me.)


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Marathons Ain't Just For Runners

I watched my first Boston Marathon with a runner's mind.

Having challenged and pushed myself to go only half of that distance, I appreciated (perhaps not even fully) what Monday's marathon runners accomplished.

But something else stands out to me, something I didn't even think about as I made plans to watch the race.

I was positioned at the top of a hill, just before the participants would make the final turn. It didn't look like a monstrous hill -- it certainly wasn't Heartbreak Hill. But it was a hill at Mile 26.

Running it was challenging, no doubt. But the ones who struggled the most to make it up the final hill weren't runners at all.

Everyone thinks about the marathon runners. They get most of the glory, at least in the news coverage.

What most people don't think about is the group of non-runners -- the wheelchair racers and hand-cyclists. People should think about them more. They're impressive -- in many ways.

Not only did they complete a grueling 26.2-mile course, they did it under notable conditions.

It probably goes without saying that a lot of the hand-cyclists and all of the wheelchair racers were part of a special group -- people who, for whatever reason or circumstance, had been handed a tough situation to deal with. Many were amputees, determined not to let a disability stop them.

I give this group a lot of credit. (And that's really an understatement.) I'm sure it would be easy to become bitter or depressed facing a situation like these people faced. I'm sure it would be easy to dwell on the negative and wonder "why me?"

For this group of people, the thought probably never crossed their minds.

For them, overcoming life's challenges -- even just garnering the mental strength to deal with the day-to-day events -- is impressive enough. Deciding to race is another. Doing the Boston Marathon is another incredible step.

That final hill was a true test of character and perseverance.

Their sheer will and conviction was evident as they pushed and struggled their way up the final hill, at times coming to a complete stop mid-hill. Their eyes closed, their jaws clenched. It seemed as if time stood still.

They fought gravity, which fiercely wanted to pull them back down to the bottom of the hill.

(I've sometimes noted when I've passed cyclists on the road that they get a "break" going downhill, while "us runners" still have to keep working. Seeing the uphill battles I witnessed on Monday might give me a new appreciation for the work it takes to get to the top of that hill. Perhaps they've earned that downhill "break.")

Each time a racer creeped up the hill, the crowd roared and offered encouragement. Some athletes managed the slightest smile upon hearing the overwhelming support from complete strangers.
The more a racer struggled, the louder the cheers became.

At times it seemed as if the crowd's cheers literally pushed the wheels forward ever so slightly.

Shortly after making up that hill -- and every one of them made it -- they would cross the Finish Line. But the race probably wasn't about the finish at all.

As the words posted at the top of this site remind me, it's about having the courage to start.
These people reminded me you should never be afraid to start. If you want something bad enough, you can make it happen.


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Bring It On

I'm ready to run 26.2 miles.

Maybe I should clarify: I'm mentally ready to run 26.2 miles. The physical preparations are just starting.

My surge of excitement to take on this crazy task comes after a day of watching the runners of the 113th Boston Marathon -- the elite athletes, the struggling ones, the happy ones, the crying ones, the ones in pain, the ones in costumes.

Nearly every single one passed by me yesterday as I stood atop a small perch on a street corner near the Finish Line.

I never thought standing for 5-plus hours on a chilly day could be so rewarding. But watching the pure emotion of the runners
, so close to accomplishing this monumental goal, was inspiring.

When I returned from my first half-marathon in Disney last year, I remember thinking it would be hard to put into words exactly what the weekend meant to me. How would I truly be able to capture the experience?

I find myself struggling with the same thing today.

My mind is fille
d with snapshots -- rows upon rows of water bottles lined up at the finish line, sidelines packed with cheering fans for hours, the raw emotions painted on the runners faces as they rounded the last corner.

Despite the million spectators and 25,000 runners, a few stand out.

I remember the man crumpled on the ground holding his leg in agony as the crowd cheered him on for the final stretch. Awkwardly and in obvious pain, he rose to his feet and somehow kept going.

I remember the older woman in a homemade T-shirt marking it as her 40th straight Boston Marathon. Yes, forty consecutive marathons.

I remember runners waving their arms to build up crowd support and runners on the verge of tears -- some actually crying.

I remember the runner clicking his heels at he topped the hill at Mile 26.
I remember many runners stealing kisses from loved ones on the sidelines.

I remember the runners with one leg -- and another with none -- both running on specialized fin-like prostheses.

I remember the costumes -- Capt. America, a Batman and Robin duo, tutus, tuxedos and top hats, shirts with every name and slogan imaginable, head-to-toe body paint, crazy wigs. And many, many more.

I remember countless runners encouraging their fellow runners -- almost there, you can do it, they told anyone in need of a little boost.

It's one of the reasons I love running. Support and camaraderie, even from strangers. They see a true appreciation for reaching a goal -- and there's never a hesitation to help someone else achieve theirs. It comes from runners and it comes from a supportive crowd on the sidelines.

I intently watched the thousands of runners pass by, reminding myself of the mental and physical challenges they had just experienced. I think most were running on pure adrenaline -- and heart -- by the times they reached the corner of Boylston and Hereford.

At that point, finishing was within reach. They could do this. And they would.

Each one of those runners -- the elite, the well-training and the struggling -- deserve that respect. They earned it. And based on the cheers, the signs and the constant ringing of cowbells, it seems as if the million spectators agree.

Just makes me hope that a similarly supportive crowd turns out for the Manchester Marathon in November.

I'll need them. Bring your cowbells.


Runner's Perspective - Boston Marathon 2009

Monday, April 6, 2009

Support From A Sideline Sherpa

A few posts ago, I declared that I was totally content not to run the Great Bay Half. And I was.

A day or so after my post about the race, I did "a 180" and signed up for the race. Ready or not.

I'm not sure exactly what changed my mind. Certainly my friends encouraged me to give it another shot -- to mentally get over what was a tough race for me last year.

My memories weren't too pleasant, as I noted earlier, with thoughts of struggling through many miles of the race clouding any positive memories. Even the bellydancers weren't motivation to get back on the course.

I had a twinge of panic after I hit the "send" button to complete my registration. I hadn't really gotten any productive, long runs in and knew I'd need to put one on the calendar -- pronto.

Sometime last week, I blocked out some time for a good 9-miler. Incidentally, my friend's Facebook status noted she would be running later in the day and we soon concocted a good plan for me to ease the middle-miles with her. (I parked three miles from her house, ran to meet her for a few miles, then ran back to my car. It worked perfectly!)

With a good 9-miler under my belt, I felt pretty confident and ready to go... although as race day approached, I wavered with inexplicable doubt about the upcoming 13.1.

But I had a secret weapon with me this time -- some big-time sideline support.

This sideline support came in the form of a two-wheeled, Spandex-wearing Sherpa. (I'm actually stealing that term from a Seacoast TnT legend -- Sherpa Steve -- who carried water for and ran with his girlfriend every step of the marathon training. Every TnT'er -- and probably most runners -- want a Sherpa Steve. Like I said, he's a legend on our team.)

I extended an invite to my trusty companion shortly after I signed up, inviting him to watch the race and join the team for post-race festivities. But he took it a step further -- actually, a giant leap.

He mapped out a route he could access with his bicycle, keeping in mind the specific points where I might need the most support -- whether it came in the form of a water bottle, a GU packet or a smile on the sidelines.

Admitedly, I was a bit nervous about the idea of having him there. This was unchartered territory for me. Would I be distracted by having him there? What if I had a terrible race? Would I be embarrassed? Would I be hesitant to use his support as much as I might need it? What does one do, exactly, when they have a supporter on the sidelines?

As usual, I worried for nothing. Everything fell into place, naturally.

Somewhere after I left him at Mile 5, where I feuled up, took a sip of water andsoaked up some encouraging words, I decided I might christen him Sherpa Jr. or Sherpa II or Sideline Sherpa for purposes of this blog. (That idea seemed a lot better mid-race and even immediately following the 13.1 miles ... so we'll see if it sticks.)

He was waiting patiently precisely at every stop we planned -- water bottle in one hand, GU in the other, just waiting for me to tell him what I needed. I resisted the urge to stop and chat too long (I was in a half-marathon, after all!) ... and everytime I took off back into the road, I left hearing, "You still look strong" or some other encouraging phrase.

I later found out that Sideline Sherpa (still seeing if any of these work) also supported my friends along the way -- despite the fact that he had only met them briefly at the starting line. Big points scored, for sure, with the team and with me. (Not that I'm keeping score. No, not me.)

It wouldn't be like me to feel a bit of guilt for being so attended to -- isn't that my job? I urged SS to get a ride in on his bike and enjoy the day while I ran. Don't worry too much about my run. I've done this solo plenty of times. But he wanted none of that -- insisting that he was there to support me that day and his ride was secondary.

He certainly took his job seriously, even snapping photo at the finish.

I finished with my second-best half-marathon time -- 2 hours, 10 minutes -- and was certainly pleased with that, especially given the challenging nature of the course. (Last year, I came in around 2:21.)

Even more important than the clock time was that I felt strong -- and very much supported -- the entire way. Thanks, Sideline Sherpa. We're a pretty good team.


Thursday, April 2, 2009

A Voluntary Butt-Kicking

My gym (one of them) has a sign that says, "We're not here to kiss your butt, just kick it sometimes."

I've always liked that sign for some reason - even though I don't find it appropriate for a gym that is really hands-off. Any butt-kickings I've ever gotten there have been purely self-inflicted.

I guess I just think we could all use a good butt-kicking every now and then. And so I've decided to take on another challenge - track workouts.

Not just track workouts. Track workouts with an intense group of runners.

I've been toying with the idea of joining a running group in Manchester since I moved here last summer. Although I don't plan on giving up my Seacoast Team In Training runs, I thought it would be a good idea to branch out to meet some other local runners.

My spin teacher suggested track workouts as a way to improve my running and give it some focus.

Almost by accident, I connected with Athletic Alliance. My first introduction to the group was from a marathoner who sits on an event committee with me. I asked him if he ran with a group and he told me a bit about this group.

A few days later, I was taking down our display booth (for work) at the Manchester Marathon and noticed that the Athletic Alliance booth was next to ours. I chatted with the woman and her husband behind the table - who happen to be my neighbors.

She and I have stayed in communication for various things - so when I received an email from her last week telling me that the group's spring track workouts were about to start, I gave it another look.

I confess that this group intimidates me. I've seen them run. They're fast. And they're serious. (Not too serious, though, as it was explained to us that part of the yearly dues are used to throw parties and social events for the team... and the first "meeting" was in a bar. Definitely a "work-hard-play-hard" group.)

I told her about my hesitation, but she encouraged me to come and check it out. (I'm well aware that this is clearly called recruiting and that I was sucked into it hook, line and sinker.)

And I dragged Shawnna with me. And she dragged her sister and another friend.

The four of us joined about 40+ people in a test-run for a 5K course last night. Our finishing time would determine which track group we'd be in.

The group took off - and I mean that literally. As soon as the word "go" left the lips of the woman at the starting line, the people in the front were a blur. They ran ahead with seemingly little effort - long, perfect strides.

We made our way down Commercial Street, around the Fisher Cats' stadium, over the new footbridge - and back. A very fast 5K indeed.

Normally, I fall smack-dab in the middle of the pack on race day. I usually finish at the 50-percent mark for my age-group. But that wasn't happening last night.

I soon realized that my goal would be to not finish last. It was a close, but I wasn't last. I finished with a very unofficial time between 26-27 minutes. (We used only our watches to gauge our run-time, which included two stops at the lights at Granite and Commercial Street - a busy intersection in the after-work hours.)

That finishing time puts me in the "yellow" group - not the slowest, but certainly nowhere near the group of gazelles (pink group) that sprinted through last night's 5K.

The newly formed groups will assemble on Wednesday evenings at the track. The coach will coordinate interval runs - starting with 1/4-mile intervals and eventually working out way up to 1-milers.

This new workout will certainly be a challenge - but I'm usually up for a good challenge. So a good butt-kicking on Wednesdays is just fine by me.


Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Did I Mention...?

I've officially signed up for the Manchester Marathon. Yep, 26.2 miles in November. With that in mind, I've added the following street to my running route.