Tuesday, August 16, 2011

I still have a full deck; I just shuffle slower now.

I have no idea who said it, but for the sake of my blog I'll take credit.

Could it be that I am - gasp! - getting slower?

Let's all think back to 2009 when I was training for Nike with Babs and Elkin at my sides. Think about it. Think.

Or just click on the links to the left that take you there.

I was all hopped up on a steady stream of first marathon juice. I felt lean, mean and fast. I did a fair amount of boasting about times and pace. We did our first mile test and I clocked a sub-7 minute pace. I.Was.On.Fire.

(We'll skip over the whole "falling apart at mile 18 of the marathon and was a lot slower than I ultimately wanted" thing. Point is, I was faster in training).

Fast forward to this summer's training. I knew Barb had been running a lot faster recently. My gazelle-like buddy had gotten speedier, which I saw Tuesday night after Tuesday night. So when it was time for the mile test again, Ramon broke us up into groups by speed. And I let Barb join the fastest group. She was the only woman in the pack, and natch, she blew the doors off them.

Ramon kind of gave me a look as I put myself into the next group. Kind of a, "come on, you can do better than that" look. But I knew the fastest group would be too much for my abilities. Regardless, I ran hard per Ramon's instructions. Hardest effort my body could handle. I ran to the point of sheer exhaustion. Yet my fastest mile? Would only be 7:20. I was completely disheartened as the two mile repeats that followed were an abomination. A much slower 7:40, then a 7:55 mile. I was beat. And really super pissed off.

So I've been trying desperately to pick apart why this has happened. Have I stopped running as hard? Did I pack on the el-bees these past few years? Did my legs get shorter? Did I stumble into some bad lighting?

No, not really, not possible and as if!

There was only one explanation. I'm 40.


Now mind you, I'm not the type to blame things on age. Listen, if they didn't want us to enjoy these years, they wouldn't make so many damned creams and potions (yay, Juviderm!) to make us look good. I also firmly believe that I am stronger now than I have ever been and will proudly challenge anyone to an arm wrestle over dinner. (What a lady).

I've never regretted turning 40 (like I could do anything about it anyhow) and other than just those few times when I told people I was really 32 - okay, maybe 31 - I've embraced middle age. ("Middle age." I think I just threw up a little in my mouth.)

Okay, so it was 29. Don't judge.

Suddenly, Barb was much more than a mere ten years younger. I thought maybe now she'd have to find faster running buddies. There's nothing I'd hate more than to think I'm holding her back; luckily, Babs and I have a standing agreement that we will leave one another in a race in order to pursue our own goals. That pretty much means I see the Back of Babs for every race. It's never bothered me that she is clearly the faster of us and that I will most likely never come in ahead of her. I just always want to make sure I'm in the ballpark. And on those mile repeats? Forget the ballpark, I suddenly wasn't in the same league.

We've started hill repeats now, which are really designed to make you stronger - and faster. I am one of the few who actually love hills, perhaps because you have a built-in excuse for going a bit slower. But after two weeks of repeats, I already feel my speed on the flats picking up just a bit. I don't think I'll speed up enough to catch Barb on Tuesday nights, but perhaps I'll get close enough to feel her draft.

To be continued.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

This is my favorite race photo. Ever.

And I'll tell you why, because it's not what you immediately see. Yes, I look super cute in my fluorescent green tee. Even more super cute with my name on my bib. Not why it's my favorite.

And not even because I'm totally getting air, indicating my haul-assity at this point in the race.


Look behind me. See that dude? The dude who is grinning like this is the most fun race of his life? That's a beer in his hand. No joke.

So last weekend I ran the 2nd half of the San Francisco Marathon. It was a bit spur of the moment; frankly, I'm almost at the next elite level at American and need like one more trip home, so this was all about the miles. When I booked a quick weekend home, I discovered it was also the marathon, so I registered.

The website made it seem that the 2nd half - which started in Golden Gate Park, wound through the Haight and down to the Embarcadero - was less hilly than the 1st half, which went through the Presidio (uh, yeah - I will never forget that 2-mile long ramp of a hill) and over the Golden Gate Bridge.

And then I got to the expo:


But no mind, I had a great weekend planned with family and friends. Stayed with mom, saw the boys.

And headed into the city to stay with Ken, who made me - get this - homemade pasta for a carb load. Next morning, I was on my way.

Seriously, how cute are my arm warmers?

But turns out, I didn't really need them. Temperature was perfect, despite what you see here:

Do you see the heat lamps? Yes, I'm serious! Those are heat lamps! I mean, really, San Francisco? There is simply no reason for those in 60 degree weather. I felt tremendously badass all of a sudden, recalling the dead-of-winter-and-it's-15-degrees and-I-can't-feel-my-face runs. We New Yorkers know how to run with nothing but body heat. Well, pants, too.

I resisted the urge to drop the p-word loudly. I thought that might be bad juju for the race start.

Speaking of which, we started in GG Park, right around the 14-mile mark for the full marathoners. I have to say that at mile 14 in any run, you're skirting the BMZ. (Bite Me Zone, for you See Cindy Run newbies). To then have 5,000 runners - all pumped up on starting line classics such as "Welcome to the Jungle" - suddenly merging with you, all fresh-legged - well, let's just say I would have completely understood had one of them punched me in the back of the head. I told myself I deserved it, should it suddenly happen. It didn't.

But the run was completely awesome. Back to those hills. Website person? Liar, liar, pants on fire. Hills all over the place, and big ones at like miles 9 and 10. Regardless, I had a great time. And since the photographers got some of my best race photos ever, I'm going to show them off.

So back to the guy and the beer.

It's San Francisco, so any marathon that has a David Bowie cover band along the route:

Is bound to have some great sights along the way.

My favorite was a group of spectators dressed like devils. What else would the devil offer during a marathon, when your mental and physical strength should only be matched by the faith you have in yourself to finish it?

But not just beer. At some stations, they had shot glasses of Bloody Marys. And you all know how I love me some Bloody Mary. That one was hard to pass up.

But they were also there at the end, as we rounded out mile 12. Holding signs like, "Come. Sit. It'll be nice." This time, however, the devils meant business. They were holding out entire cans of beer. I remember seeing a guy weave over, shrug his shoulders as if to say, "Hell, why not?" and take one.

(And the Lord sayeth to the Serpent: 'No sweat, he earned it.')

I remember digging this guy immediately and thinking to myself that here was a runner who had already accomplished something so great - and now he was having enough fun to not take the end so seriously. That was inspiring. So all the way to the finish, I tried it out, too.

And when I got my pictures back, I was stoked that Mr. Budweiser was behind me. For as long as I look at that picture, I'll have a reminder of how much fun a marathon can be.

No PR for me, but given the hills, I was more than content.

One of the first races where I didn't spend the rest of the day obsessing over my time. Instead, I spent the afternoon with about 20 friends and family at Pier 23.

How fitting that Kerry sent me this today:

Yep, the 26.2 is for fun.

(Well that, and fundraising for cancer research. Yes! It's a shameless plug! And if you haven't visited my ACS page, do it now. Now.)

I've decided that the next time I'm struggling on a run, I'll envision myself with a beer in my hand, smile on my face, photographer in front of me. Nice cap on a fun and fulfilling weekend. And now I'm only about 800 miles from platinum status.