Thursday, March 25, 2010

Retirement And Replacements

I did it. Reluctantly, I did it.

I finally retired my most recent pair of running shoes - the ones that brought me across the Finish Line of my first marathon and the ones that helped me break the two-hour half-marathon barrier last month.

Truthfully, I held on to them longer than I probably should have, way past the standard recommendation of 300 miles or every three months. Although I keep mileage stats for my running, I don't often match these up with the number of miles I've put on my shoes.

I don't need to. I can
feel when they're ready to be replaced.

My most recent pair - snazzy Asics 2140's in "Lightning and Quick Silver" (they just
sound fast, don't they?) - had served me well.

I actually remember my excitement when I purchased them way back in September
- yep, that's six months and several hundred miles for anyone who's counting - thinking that these would be my special shoes, the ones that I'd run in during my final weeks of marathon training and the ones that I'd have on during the Big Day.

I was so excited, in fact, that I even wrote a post about them here.

They'd worn out in all the right places and became part of me - until recently, when I noticed they'd started to wear a little too much. The treads were almost gone in some places. The mesh covering each of the areas above the big toes on each foot had torn. They looked, well, ratty - well-loved and used in all sorts of weather, but certainly ratty.

I couldn't deny it. I had to replace them.
I swore the Hyannis Half-Marathon would be their last outing. I'd get a new pair right after that race, I told myself. But I hung on just a little longer - perhaps a little too long.

I started to feel some nagging pains during recent runs, nothing particular or even describable. I just didn't feel right. I knew it was the shoes. A runner knows her "normal" aches and pains. And she knows when it just comes down to the shoes.

I was ready to take the plunge (really, did I have a choice now?), so I jumped online to check out the latest model. The latest version of this Asics line was out - the 2150's - and with each release, a new color scheme is released.

The 2150's were described as combination of "Lightning, Paradise Pink and Lemon."

Hmmm, I thought, doesn't exactly sound like me - especially the "Paradise Pink" part. (I'm constantly claiming not to be a "pink person," despite what my many articles of pink clothing may say about me.)

But Paradise Pink it would be.

Unlike when I was growing up, I no longer pick my running shoes on style or color. That's not what runners do, I've been told (although I suppose runners could have color preferences and try some new models out, if they really wanted a certain color).

I was pleasantly surprised when the guy at Runner's Alley opened the box and revealed an attractive pair of shoes - predominantly silver with highlights that were certainly more reddish-orange than pink.

The inside sole and the inner part of the tongue had a funky design with slightly truer pink and some yellow. The stylish detail, like the paisley pattern inside my old Asics, was one of my favorite things of them - a little sassy secret tucked inside the shoes while I toughed it out on the outside.

Even though I knew those were the shoes that worked for me, I always take the opportunity while in Runner's Alley to test out a few other brands. This particular trip gave me even more reason to do so because they were out of my regular size.

I tried on some Mizunos and Sauconys and even some Brooks, trotting up and down the store to see what they felt like. Each time, I came back to the Asics, even though the ones I was trying on were a half-size smaller than the ones I had at home. (Coach Jack's words of wisdom were ringing in my head:
Stick with what you know. Don't change anything.)

I'm what I like to think of as a Goldilocks of shoes - one size is too small, the next half-size up is too big. I need one
just right. (Can they make quarter-sizes, please?)

Sure, I could wait until they got the bigger size back in stock or brought it in from another location, but c'mon, I'm not a patient person. I'd waited this long to get shoes. I wanted them now. I needed new shoes.

Sensing my not-so-hidden hesitation, the sales guy told me test them out on a treadmill and, if I wasn't completely happy and comfortable, to bring them back for my usual size. (That's right, I could go run a few miles in them and bring them back. A test drive for my shoes.)

That reminds me, I need to mention that I
love Runner's Alley. Aside from their accommodating and practical return policy, they know runners. And they know how we can be about our shoes.

The sales guy (I feel funny even calling him that since he's really more like a shoe consultant) didn't flinch when I hum'd and hah'd after each pair and sent him into the back again and again in search of the runner's equivalent of the Glass Slipper.

I ran up and down the store in each pair, sometimes with one of each kind on each foot, to find the "just right" fit.

In the end, haste and impatience got the best of me. I walked out with my brand new - but half-size smaller - 2150s, ready to take them for a few miles. The springlike weather we've had didn't make me overly excited about hitting the treadmill - so I was actually pleased when a raw, rainy day drenched us on Monday. A perfect time to try out my shoes.

In a nutshell, they felt okay. Just okay.

That's not how I want my new shoes to feel. I've often described the first runs with a new pair of shoes as feeling as if I'm running with pillows on my feet - a perfect-fitting, cushioned, barely-there feeling.

I didn't get that feeling in the Test Drive. They weren't exactly too small. But they weren't
just right.

I banged out five miles in them and called it quits. I debated internally whether it was worth a trip to return them. Or could I just deal with them the way they were?

When you put the kind of miles in that I do, you don't want to "just deal" with anything -
especially anything involving your shoes. There are enough other things to worry about and deal with. So I packed them up and called the store. They had a new shipment in and would have the proper size waiting for me.

And they did, and as soon as I stepped in the door holding a shoebox, the friendly woman behind the counter said, "Are you here to exchange those for 9 1/2s?"

(As a side note, I seriously cannot believe I wear that size in running shoes. I know to buy running shoes bigger than your day-to-day shoes, but as my running and miles have increased, so have my shoe size. My first pair was an 8 1/2, a full size smaller than the ones I need now. A topic to explore at another time perhaps?)

I traded the shoes without incident - except for the near-catastrophe I avoided when I remembered on the drive to the store that I'd put my iPod in one of the shoes after I'd run.
They happily handed me the new pair - which I'm happy to report passed the treadmill test last night.

Four feeling-good miles. Ready to go.
I can't wait to find out what milestones these ones will help me reach...

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

We All Have An Old Guy At The Finish

I stumbled upon a posting theme on Daily Mile yesterday in which users were posting their favorite race photos. I haven't joined in the photo challenges much, but decided to jump on the bandwagon yesterday.

But what pic to post?

I thought about posting the pic from the end of the Manchester Marathon that my sister took just steps in front of the Finish Line.

I like it because I remember that moment precisely, hearing the cheers and shouts from my family on one side of the chute and friends on the other.
I like it because I'm giving just the slightest smile and look of accomplishment as I glance over toward my family. I like it because it captures the spur-of-the-moment decision to wave my hands in the air as I came down the homestretch.

And, let's be honest, I like it because it shows me finishing a marathon -- and not looking like I'm going to collapse doing it.

But, I thought, probably everyone has a pic like that. I wanted to choose something different. So I scrolled through the photos on the side of my blog - and smiled as I selected the Great Bay photo. If there's one thing I've learned about DMers, they've got a sense of humor. I figured I could give some of them a laugh.

And I did. The comments started rolling in with witty quips about the photo that TC snapped last year as I crossed the Finish Line of the Great Bay Half-Marathon.

Unlike some race photos, it was a decent one -- perfectly framed with the large "Finish Line" at the top, bright blue sky in the background. I didn't look overly awkward.

But I didn't notice any of that at first. The only thing my eyes were drawn to was the, um, older gentleman who was in the pic with me. Not just in the pic with me, he was crossing the Finish Line
ahead of me.

Don't get me wrong, if he did in fact run a better race than me, then kudos to him.

But I didn't want to believe that could actually be possible. I couldn't get my head around how he finished
ahead of me.

I went through all the scenarios. Maybe he was just a spectator that got in the way? (That didn't explain the race number and timing chip he's donning.)

Maybe he was running the 5K? (Would it take him 2:10? Unfortunately, no. Yes, I actually checked the race results for the 5K to find someone, anyone, who would fit that finishing time and demographic.)

Maybe he just takes bad pictures? Trust me, I've seen my fair share of my running pics of myself, ones in which I'm convinced (or at least hope) that I don't really look
like that. But, really, could this race photo be that far off from reality?

The Old Guy has become an ongoing joke between me and TC, and even served as motivation when we ran a 10K together in the fall. (Coincidentally, I saw The Old Guy near the start of that race. I grabbed TC and told him there was no way he was beating me this time. I never saw him again -- so I'm going to assume that I finished ahead of him. Please don't tell me otherwise.)

During that 10K, TC and I played a game that helped us chase down the runners in front of us. "I don't want to cross the Finish Line with this guy," I'd tell TC, and we'd pick up the pace and pass a few runners.

In a bit of a twist, we were blown away when the guy that we were finally "content" with finishing just ahead of us was called up to take his age-group division award. For the 70+ category. Oh man.

I was glad to see that the DMers concurred that it didn't appear as if The Old Guy should have crossed in front of me. What I didn't realize is that nearly all of the posters would relate. They all had an Old Guy at the Finish Line.

Sometimes it was literally an old man. Other times, an old woman. Or a woman pushing a stoller. Or someone much heavier. Or someone who ran a marathon on one leg.

One of my favs came from
Chris, who shared his story of feeling "like a rock-star" when he finished his second marathon -- until he turned around and realized he'd finished just ahead of someone who had jumped rope the entire 26.2 miles.

The lesson here, I suppose, is a simple one -- and one that our parents probably tried to instill in us years ago. Don't judge a book by its cover.

It's humbling, humorous and impressive that people whom we think we should have beaten in a race can put us all in our spots. Maybe someday we'll be those people -- the ones whom younger, fitter, should-be-faster runners focus on and wonder how we crossed in front of them. (Maybe that's happening now, who knows?)

Until then, I'll continue to use The Old Guy as motivation. I mean, it's a funny pic and all, but I don't want another one.

(You can read the entire posting and comments on Daily Mile by clicking here.)


Saturday, March 20, 2010

Heads, I win. Tails, I win.

Yesterday I felt as if I had a no-lose situation - you know, the kind in which no matter what you choose, you'll come out a winner.

Friday was definitely what I'd consider a full-fledged toss-up - as least when it came to deciding what recreational, physical activity I'd choose after work.

We have been lucky - super lucky! - that mid-March has given us some May-like temps, literally in the 60s and 70s. And full of sun. A super-charged dose of Spring Fever has most certainly hit New England. I was not immune.

I spent Friday debating in my mind whether I'd run or get a ride in on the bike. The day was so nice. I couldn't let it go to waste.

In the end, the bike ride won out - mostly because I have that pesky and somewhat daunting duathlon only eight or so weeks away. (Yikes!) So, I hopped on my bike and headed out for another try at the 15-mile loop I'd ridden earlier in the week.

The ride was great. The weather was great. I felt great.

Cycling is still very much a challenge for me. I feel my speed drop - significantly - up the hills (some may call them slight inclines), and it literally takes my breath away. My legs burn, I feel myself sweating and huffing and puffing just to make it up to the top.

I passed exactly seven runners on Friday - yes, I counted - making me question (momentarily) whether I'd made the right decision. Would I rather be running?

The truth is, it was a win-win. I won if I rode. I won if I ran.

I put in 15 miles on Friday, the same loop I'd done on my Maiden Voyage of the season earlier in the week. I felt good to pull into the driveway several minutes ahead of my previous time. (Yay!) I honestly felt like I could have kept going. In fact, I wanted to keep going.

But TC and I had planned a long ride (for me), hoping to put in 30+ miles on Saturday. I knew I had to save my legs.

After my Saturday morning work obligations and an impromptu lunch date, TC rode to my house (5.6 or so miles) - where I was (almost) ready to go. I asked him to install my brand-new bike computer, which TC had surprised me with as a "just because" gift after our lunch. (He should have guessed that I wouldn't let it sit in the box on my kitchen counter if I was planning a ride that day.)

I was really taken off-guard when he presented me with the package in the parking lot. Why was he getting me a present? And I don't think I properly conveyed my appreciation, despite my many, sporadic thank-yous.

I'd been thinking for a while of getting a bike computer - which measures distance, speed, time - but had held off until I couldn't "live without it." I was getting close to that point, mostly because I had recently resorted to mapping out a route online, then using my running watch to measure my time. That, of course, would be followed by some crude calculations on my iPhone to determine my average speed.

Once the bike computer was installed, I was ready to go.

TC chose a route that had us pedal through Derry and into Hampstead, briefly into Sandown, then back to a familiar road from Derry to Manchester.

I won't lie. It was hard. The first part of the ride was relatively uneventful - other than the inner-tense moments while I maneuvered through traffic and lights in downtown Derry. I clicked along at a pretty good clip - and thanks to my new computer, I could see precisely how far I had traveled and how fast I was going.

The second half, just as we turned into Hampstead, brought us up a doozy of a hill (for me). I clicked through my gears and felt the burn on my legs. I watched my speed drop. Nine, seven, five... yes, miles per hour. (To compare, at flatter times of the ride, we averaged 15-17 mph, and on the downhills, came close to 30 mph.)

"Stand up," TC said, coaching me while he rode behind me.

"I can't," I said, almost completely exacerbated and now worried about simply staying upright- and unclipping properly from my pedals if I got to the point where I needed to dismount.

Shamefully, that happened. Yep, I had yet another Walk of Shame - after a longer-than-expected hill just zapped the life out of my legs and forced me off the bike. Frustrated, I made the slow walk up the very steep part of the hill.

Determined not to have a repeat of the Bow Hill Attitude (see this post), I shook off the embarrassment and frustration of having to walk my bike up the hill once I reached the top. I actually got back on slightly before the end of the hill - perhaps my small way of showing that hill that it hadn't completely defeated me - and we continued on our way.

The ride ended on a familiar stretch of roads, and TC and I parted ways with just a little more than a mile left (for me). He went right to go back to his place, I took a left to go home.

My trusty new bike computer told me I'd logged 31.5 miles when I pulled into my driveway. It was only the second time, I think, that I'd gone over 30 miles. (The other time was actually a mistake when I missed my turn on a ride last year. Remember this post?)

I felt great - and am nervously anticipating feeling a "good hurt" in my leg muscles in the morning. We'll see if that affects my tentative plans for some sort of run.

I guess this is just part of training for a duathlon. Soon, I'll be doing it all on one day.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Just Like, Well, Riding A Bike

I finally got back in the saddle last night. No, not the horseback riding kind - although that reminds me that I should make an effort to get out to the barn for ride, too.

I had my first outdoor bike ride of the season. I'd be lying if I didn't tell you that I had a major case of the what-if's coming into the ride.

What if I couldn't make it up the hills?
What if I didn't unclip from my pedals fast enough?
What if there was too much sand on the road?
What if I couldn't avoid all the spring potholes?
What if I just couldn't remember to ride a bike?

I thought about those what-if's all day long as I planned for my post-work ride. We've been lucky to have been hit with a spell of spring-like temps and bright sun - the kind that just begs me to do anything outdoors.

The weather, coupled with the recent time change (three cheers for Spring Ahead!), made for the perfect after-work bike scenario.

Since it was my first ride - and I was nervous, nervous, nervous - I decided I'd drive my route before I rode it (something I don't usually do). I mapped out a 15-miler. My fav 20-mile route seemed just a bit too long for the Maiden Voyage of the season and a 10-miler almost didn't seem worth it.

It was a route I hadn't ridden before, although I'd traveled most of it either by bike or by foot at some point since moving to Manchester almost two years ago. As I drove the reconnaissance mission, I kept my eyes glued to the side of the road, seeking out anything that might be a biking hazard - excessive sand, broken up pavement, pot holes, water.

Not surprising, I saw my share of all of those things. (They're pretty much everywhere in the springtime in New England.) But instead of shying away from the challenges of early spring riding, I decided to give it a go and get on the bike. (I will admit that there was a fleeting moment when I thought about just going out for a run instead. I feel much safer and confident in my sneakers than on two wheels.)

Once home, I got all of my gear ready - cycling shoes and shorts, gloves, helmet, sunglasses, water bottle, the directions scribbled on a piece of paper. Yes, I'd driven the route and made note of landmarks and turns, but I'm still a bit fearful of getting lost.

Still nervous about the upcoming ride (I mentioned that I was nervous, right?), I did a few back-and-forths in the parking lot of my condo complex to practice clipping and unclipping from my pedals. There's definitely something about being clipped to a bike that's a little unsettling to me. (Anyone who knows me can probably figure out that's just part of my personality - the same way I don't like cruise control or to be picked up. Perhaps a bit of a control freak?)

I gave myself a passing grade on the clip-unclip test and headed out onto the road. I instantly remembered why I like cycling. The wind on my face, the slight burn of my legs as my muscles propelled me forward, the fresh air, the feeling of accomplishment.

I made my way along the designated route, struggling a bit at even the slightest incline. I'd forgotten how hard hills can be on a bike! I practice the techniques that TC taught me last season - standing up on the hills, shifting before it's too late, using the downhills to gain momentum to help me up the next hill. At times, I definitely pushed myself through pain and discomfort to get to the top of the hill. (The faster I get to the top, the faster I get to enjoy the pay-off of the downhill on the other side, right? Thinking something like that seems to help, mid-hill.)

At times, my legs tingled and throbbed - just enough to remind me that I'm not in bike-riding shape. (I'll get better, won't I?) Somewhere around the middle of the ride, I smiled to myself as I thought that I might actually find it easier to run 15 miles than to ride 15 miles at this point in the season. Yep, 15 miles on foot seemed much less daunting.

I heard TC's advice and words as I pushed myself up the hills, sometimes getting frighteningly slow at the top. It's okay to push myself a little harder. A little pain is okay. I can do this. I can probably even do more than this.

Soon enough, I'd completed my loop through Londonderry and back by the airport. (I always find it cool to be running or riding alongside planes taking off or landing.)

I pulled into my driveway with what was probably a huge smile on my face. I felt great to have conquered all of those what-if's. I hadn't fallen or felt uneasy. I hadn't struggled (not too much anyway - at least not enough to force me to walk up any hills or even shift down into my smaller gear).

The first ride had been exactly what I needed. A good confidence booster and a good challenge.

I guess that saying comes from somewhere... yep, it's just like riding a bike.


Monday, March 15, 2010

Nine Weeks To Duathlete?

Last night I passed the 300-mile mark on my bike/run 2,010 in 2010 Challenge. And because I'm always working toward some new "challenge," it somehow seems appropriate to hit this milestone while just stepping into yet another one.

In just nine weeks, I
will compete in my first duathlon. No, not the skiing and shooting sport - that's the biathlon. (Although that would be a fun challenge, too!)

The Black Bear Duathlon, to be held on May 22 in Waterville
Valley, will challenge me to run-bike-run. As a newbie, I've opted, along with TC, for the "short" course, a 5K run, 30K bik, 5K run. (The "long" course is 10K run, 60K bike, 8K run.)

On the surface, it would seem like this wouldn't be that much of a challenge. I mean, I can certainly handle running a total of 10K and, if needed, I could probably push out 30K on the bike (fingers crossed we'll be in the flatter parts of the valley).

But, can I do it all together? Consecutively? And not embarrass myself?

I've been told - and experienced once first-hand last year - that the transitions can be physically tough. The mechanics of running just aren't the same as cycling, so switching back and forth between the two isn't painless and effortless. At least not for newcomers.

I guess that's where training comes in.

Last night, after an exhausting workweek and way-too-little sleep, I decided to test it out. A windy, rainy, raw day sent me packing for the gym. My plan had been to run a few miles, somewhere between four and six, depending on how I felt.

As it often does, my plan soon changed as I thought of ways to make the often-boring treadmill run a little more exciting. I decided I'd break my five-mile run into two parts, each 2.5 miles, and jump on the stationary bike in between.

The first 2.5 miles were uneventful, which wasn't surprising. I can't remember the last time I "only" ran 2.5 miles on the treadmill. Or anywhere for that matter. I spent most of the time wondering what the transitions would be like, whether I should be altering my pace in preparation for the upcoming bike and second run - and just generally thinking about a duathlon in general.

Would I be way out of my league here?
What am I supposed to wear?
What will the hills be like?

At precisely 2.5 miles, I hopped off the treadmill and made my way to a bike near the front of the gym. I don't often (if ever?) ride the bike at the gym and quickly noticed there were several different kinds to choose from.

I opted for one of the more upright ones (as opposed to a recumbent model) that had some interesting-looking handlebars - the one that looked to be most like my "real" bike. I soon discovered that it even had a small fan - bonus! (Definitely not as good as the real wind-in-your-face feeling, but at least a little something to cool you off a bit. A very little bit.)

I strapped my feet onto the pedals (was glad to have that option!) and starting spinning my legs. I found myself pushing it - recalling a conversation I had recently with TC about effort, comfort and challenging myself during training and workouts. I was sweating like crazy, making me glad I brought along a small towel and plenty of water.

I finished out the ride at six miles (only a third of what I'll do during the actual duathlon) at a 16 mile-per-hour pace. I was pleased. And my legs were tired.

I brought my tired legs back over to the treadmill and hopped on.


I quickly learned why this type of training is called "brick" training. My legs felt heavy and almost immobile - yep, like bricks - despite the fact that I was running at my "normal" and usually comfortable pace at 9:30 minute-miles.

I pushed myself through the awkwardness - really, it just felt weird - knowing that I'd loosen up and get back into a regular running groove soon. Soon enough, it was just like a regular run.

I rounded out the second run, bringing my workout total to 11 miles - 5 running and 6 on the bike - surely a long way to go until Waterville.

Only nine short weeks? Holy Moly.


Monday, March 8, 2010

Attitude Adjustment Run

I needed a big attitude adjustment this weekend. By that I mean, I needed an adjustment for my big, somewhat bad, attitude.

Although it may not have been evident to everyone I interacted with, my snarly attitude was most certainly brewing just below the surface.

I was feeling a little more than overwhelmed with a variety of thing in the present and future -- three weekends in a row with work obligations, an impending move (which means hours of dreaded cleaning, sorting and packing) and a lot of uncertainty as I look to fly solo in my office for a bit in the very near future. (Just typing that last part sends my stress-level sky-rocketing.)

That, on top of the fact that I'd neglected running for an entire week added up to one exhausting week.

And one lady in desperate need of an Attitude Adjustment Run.

This weekend brought sunny skies spring-like temperatures - you know, the kind where us New Englanders jump at the chance to do anything outdoors after suffering through cold, dark winters. As a self-proclaimed outdoors-person, it pained me -- at least mentally
jabbed me -- to spend the almost the entire weekend inside.

First, a couple of work events trapped me inside buildings. Work obligations were followed in rapid succession by an enjoyable (but perhaps ill-timed, for me) 50th anniversary dinner for TC's parents. (Perhaps I should offer a "public" apology here to TC for my near-silence during our trip to dinner while I tried to give myself a little pep talk to drag my exhausted self through the rest of the day.)

That was Saturday. Sunday required another work event - where I spent most of the time hoping I could wrap it up early enough to get in a run.

The sunny skies teased me through the windows as I tried to concentrate on the event in front of me. And almost everyone, most not knowing that I'd dedicated nearly every hour of my weekend to being inside and doing things that I "had to" do, taunted me with theirs comments about the "beautiful weather" and stories of their outdoor escapades.

I rushed home after the "final bell" of Sunday's event. A run was guaranteed. I opted for running shorts -- the first Shorts Run of 2010! -- and gladly released my legs from those restricting running tights.

I purposefully left the watch at home. I didn't care how fast I ran. I didn't really even care how far I went. I chose a route that would be "about" six miles and headed out for the best dose of "medicine" that I could get -- a head-clearing, relaxing, full hour of Me Time.

I didn't think about work. I didn't think about moving. In fact, I'm not sure I really thought about much of anything at all. I just enjoyed being outside, hearing my footsteps on the pavement, seeing children playing in their yards, feeling the warm sun on my face.

I returned home a new person -- re-energized, happy and feeling like I actually accomplished something productive.

Attitude Adjustment? Most certainly mission accomplished.


Monday, March 1, 2010

24 Seconds To Spare

I officially checked off the first of my 2010 goals yesterday, breaking the two-hour mark at the Hyannis Half Marathon.

With 24 whole seconds to spare.

Sure, it was close. But it counts. And it feels great.

Not only did I get under the two-hour mark -- something I thought might lead me to signing up for a slew of half-marathons this year in an effort to check that off the list -- I also knocked seven minutes off of my previous PR (from the Maine Half in October).

Seven freaking minutes!

I didn't necessarily set out Sunday morning to break two hours. Actually, I was shooting for somewhere in the 2:05 range, figuring I'd chip away at that sub-two goal with a few new PRs along the way.

Make no mistake, however, that somewhere in my subconscious that sub-two was rattling around. The night of the race, in fact, I had a dream that I finished in 2:00:30. (The dream also included some panicked controversy about how I hadn't properly fastened the timing chip so it wouldn't "count"... toss, turn, toss, turn.)

Apparently a good night's sleep is not essential. (I should also note that my pre-race meal the evening before the run included sharing a bottle of wine with TC in a chic, delicious spot we stumbled upon while walking the streets of Cape Cod.)

It wouldn't be right if I didn't give proper credit to my ever-supportive TC, whom I dragged along to this mid-winter New England race and convinced to sign up for the 10K. Without him, this race would have been different.

And I don't think I'd be writing my sub-two post.

We donned our race apparel, debating how many layers or hats/gloves we might need, and made our way to the Hyannis convention center for some stretching before making it to the crowded, chilly (but definitely not cold) starting line.

We lucked out with the weather, especially considering the day before had been a day-long mix of rain and snow.

Soon enough, after a far-away-sounding National Anthem and an anti-climatic "GO," the race started. I only know that because slowly -- ever so slowly -- the first runners (the fast ones) began to bounce up the road in front of us.

Then the next set. And the next.

Slowly and methodically, we went from a stand-still to a walk and, eventually, a slow jog as we crossed the starting mat. We both clicked on our watches to start our "real" time - which would be a couple of minutes off from the gun-time.

The first couple of miles was spent dodging runners, finding spots to pass and, generally, just trying to stay on two feet amid the thousands of runners trying to get position. At times, we jumped onto the sidewalk to pass the sea of runners, having to zig-zag around spectators to do so.

We passed the first mile marker with a 9:30 pace. Hmmm, slower than we wanted. But given the crowded conditions, not too shabby.

TC is a cyclist. He probably won't ever claim to be a runner. He runs to stay fit in the off-season. And, I suspect, he runs (at least does runs like a winter 10K on the Cape) for me -- as a way to support me and enjoy a common interest.

He may not be "a runner" - but he's darn good at it. And he's fast -- and I was reminded of that as I tried to keep up with him in the next few miles.

Mile Two was somewhere around a 9-minute-mile - right on pace for a sub-2. But by Mile Three, TC was really pushing me. We ran an 8:15. What!? I don't run 8:15's - and not in the third mile of a half-marathon.

I was huffing and puffing and starting to struggle. I thought about the 10 miles ahead of me. I'd have to slow down, no way I could keep that up.

I knew TC's turn-off for the 10K was somewhere around the five-mile mark. I'd do my best to hang with him and get ahead of the pace with him while I could.

I pushed it hard for the next mile, still hanging with TC (who was running slower than he normally would but notably faster than my "comfortable" pace). I got a cramp in my side and began to get some inner worry.

It was the first time I'd ever questioned whether I'd even finish. I mean, I knew I had almost nine miles to go. Nine miles shouldn't be taken lightly.

At that point, I seriously wondered if I should just let TC go ahead for the last leg of his race. I'd gotten ahead of pace for a few miles -- which was good -- but I was afraid I'd pay the price later. Part of me was afraid I'd slow down too much after we split off. Or perhaps I'd just konk out entirely.

We ran in silence (unusual for me - and a clear signal to TC that I was pushing it) until the split. We said our good-byes and good lucks and parted ways.

I took a deep breath, turned on my iPod and tried to recollect and refocus on a strategy for finishing this thing.

Just after the split, somewhere around the six-mile mark, I came upon a water stop. I grabbed a cup and started walking. (I haven't yet mastered the art of running and hydrating - at least not from the cups at water stops.)

The water stop was situated at the bottom of a slight hill, so I decided I'd use that opportunity to get myself together, lower my heart rate a bit with a good walk up the hill. Then I'd be back to tackle this thing.

And the strategy worked.

I felt great as I flew through miles six through eight almost effortlessly. I bee-bopped to my music and really got into a good, pain-free rhythm. I checked my watch at every mile marker -- doing some Marathon Math at each point. (You know, the kind where you try and figure out what time you might reach the Finish Line, what you'd have to do to shave minutes and/or seconds off.)

By my calculations, a sub-two hours was within reach. But it would be tight. Really tight.

I began to visualize the sub-two. I know it sounds crazy, but I mean I really began to visualize it.

I thought about how it would feel crossing the Finish Line. I pictured it. I saw myself crossing the Finish Line. Maybe doing a slight fist-pump in celebration?

I thought about how proud I'd feel. I thought about telling my friends and family that I did it. I even thought about the post I'd make on Daily Mile.

I also thought about how I'd feel if I missed it by just a minute or two. It would be worth toughing it out through a few miles -- a mile at a time -- to avoid that. Right?

As I got closer to the Finish Line, the tighter I knew it would be. My Marathon Math skills were working overtime as I crossed each mile marker.

My iPod Shuffle landed on "Who Let The Dogs Out." As much as I don't want to admit it, that song moves me forward during my treadmill runs, and I found myself picking up the pace.

Mile 11 hit me pretty hard. I wanted to slow down. But I knew I had to keep that pace to make it in under two hours. I hit repeat on my iPod - again and again and again.

Who Let The Dogs Out. Again and again and again.

I was running with such focus now - like nothing I've ever done during a half-marathon. I didn't want to just finish this time. I wanted to get there before that clock said 2:00.

I passed Mile 12. Then Mile 13.

I realized at that point that I didn't know exactly what .1 mile looked like or felt like. I had no idea how long it takes to run .1 mile.

Just as I was about make the last turn toward the finish line, I saw TC standing on the corner in the crowd.

It's one of my favorite moments of the race - the look of pure excitement and almost surprise as he spotted me in the crowd. (He admitted that I looked questionable when he left me for the 10K turn-off.)

Amid the many cheers approaching the Finish Line, my loud iPod still playing Who Let The Dogs Out and the rush of other sounds on the course, his voice was the only thing I heard: "You've got one minute to get there," he shouted. "Go, baby, go!"

I knew it was now or never -- no way I wanted to finish in 2:00:30 like that nightmare-dream I had the night before. I gave it everything I had and scurried up the last incline to the Finish Line - weaving around runners ahead of me, passing no fewer than half a dozen.

I describe it as a "scurry" because that's really what it felt like. My short legs moving faster than they're supposed to, moving in and out of the crowd, making my way up the hill.

I spotted the clock at the Finish Line. I had just flipped past the 2:00 mark. I remembered the crowded and slow wait-n-walk start.

At that moment, almost as if he knew what I was thinking, I heard the announcer say, "Remember, folks, some of these people might be under two hours because of the way the start works. They'll be timed using an individual timing chip on their shoe."

I glanced at my watch just as I crossed the line. 1:59:35.

I proceeded through the finish chute, collected my super-heavy medal and was greeted by the biggest hug and smile from TC I'd ever seen. (That's saying a lot since I get plenty of big hugs and he never falls short on smiles.) It literally almost knocked me off my feet.

We made our way to the convention center, grabbed some post-run food and waited for the official results to be posted. I was too close to the 2-hour mark to rely on my watch-starting skills.

Eventually, it was posted. Officially, 1:59:36.

I had done it. And with 24 whole seconds to spare.


NH's State of Emergency Run

We just passed Week Three of TNT practice - and Mother Nature reminded our team who's boss, dumping several inches of rain on us the day and night before practice and whipping our area with hurricane-like winds.

Literally, hurricane level. On top of that, the overnight brought
several inches of heavy, wet snow.

The mix of this wild weather resulted in tress and power lines down throughout the state. Even today, four days later, many are still without power.

So what does that mean for our TNT training?

Nothing, essentially. Sure, we had to re-route our plan to avoid roads that were closed because of downed trees and power lines. But we still got our mil
es in.

The university where we meet hadn't had power for days, so we huddled in the darkened hallway in the athletic building's entry.

I was pleasantly surprised to see most of our teamma
tes arrive - a dedicated group, for sure! We talked about the challenges this winter running would bring - no sidewalks, slushy roads, deep puddles, poor visibility and guaranteed big splashes by passing cars.

The team handled all of these obstacles with grace and smiles - and plenty of laughs as piles of snow fell onto our group from the branches overhead. We got splashed, had soaking feet from the puddles we couldn't miss and zig-zagged across the street when the lake-like puddle was too big to avoid.

We ran through the biggest snowflakes I'd ever seen and surely got curious looks from people outside snow-blowing and shoveling their driveways.

The State of Emergency Run (yep, the governor declared it the day before our run) was definitely a bonding experience for our group.

I'm pretty sure we'll look back on this run - probably sometime in May when the birds are chirping, the sun is shining on us and the flowers are starting to bloom - and laugh.

And take a little pride in ourselves.

Here are a few pics, courtesy of Coach Geno, who was acting as Waterboy for this run and had the foresight to capture a few of Saturday's moments with his camera-phone.

February Stats

I'm now two months into my 2010/2010 Challenge - to run and bike a combination of 2,010 miles by the end of the calendar year. Here's how February went:
  • Run: 100.18 miles
  • Bike: 18.6 miles
  • Month Total: 118.78 miles
  • Total 2010: 263.32 miles
  • Left To Go: 1,746.68 miles