Friday, December 20, 2013

The Voices Are Back

They're baaaa--aaack!

You know, the voices we all have that constantly remind, scold and cajole us.

I don't know about the rest of you runners, but my running voices tend to be louder than a lot of my other ones, especially now that I am training for Boston.

And, they have been going crazy since Pennsylvania started experiencing in snow and ice.

Every time I'm out and about in my non-runner persona, the running voices still take over. 

"Be careful. Don't fall."

"Oh, can you only imagine what will happen if you hurt yourself now?"

"Don't think about falling.  It will only make you more likely to fall."

"Shuffle, shuffle, shuffle, shuffle."


I'm not a person who tends to feel a lot of pressure, especially in running-related things.  After all, my philosophy is pretty much, "Hey, I'm not going to win this race so I might as well just do the best I can." 

But, being selected as a charity runner for Boston has changed that somewhat.  Now, much of what I do is focused on April 21, 2014.  (And, I'm not saying that's a good or a bad thing. It is what it is, right?)

A few weeks ago, my running partner became injured and I think that ramped things up a bit for me.  All of a sudden, I was conscious of all the people supporting me in so many ways to be able to run 26.2 miles in four more months.  And, the thought of "what happens if I get injured?" has been creeping into my thoughts over and over again.  And, then some.

 In the end, I know I'm doing all I can to stay healthy, raise the necessary funds and be ready to rock in Boston on Patriot's Day.  In fact, my running has never been better. (Oops...there go the voices.  "Don't write that.  You're going to jinx yourself."  "Be quiet. There are no such things as jinxes."  "Oh, now you've done it."  "(Scoffs.)  The sentence is staying in.") 

Each day, in addition to my running agenda, I also do a series of running-specific physical therapy and strength training exercises.  Regular readers of my blog will know that I got injured after my first marathon and I will do pretty much anything to avoid that again.  Plus, after my recent race in Steamtown, I felt every one of those 26.2 miles in my knees and hips.  When I researched how to make them stronger, guess what I found?  Yep, almost all the PT exercises I had been given a year before.

Although I'm not dieting per se, I am also conscious of what I've been eating and am down about 5-6 pounds with the goal of taking off another 10 before Boston.  Why?  Because 10 pounds translates into about 20 seconds faster per mile.  Oy vey.  It IS all about running, isn't it?

I still have a ways to go in training and fundraising, but I'm working on getting along with those voices and have them help rather than hinder me along the way. 

Can't wait until they say, "We knew you could."  ("Yes, and we will say that.  We know you will. See how benevolent we can be?")

So, good or bad, my voices and I will continue to train and talk with the goal of getting 'er done.  What about you?  What do the voices in your head tell you?

Catch you later at the back of the pack!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

A Tale of Three Trainers

"Don't waste your money."

That was the reply someone posted in response to a special marathon/half marathon training Facebook special offered by my friend and personal trainer, Elizabeth.

What ensued was a lively discussion about whether or not runners should spend money on using a personal trainer when so many free programs and advice-giving running friends exist.
At first, I was taken aback by the response.  And, then, I realized it wasn't that long ago that I questioned the same thing.  After all, running is a pretty simple sport, right? Just takes one foot in front of the other for however long you want to go.   And, internet access offers a plethora of information in addition to sport-specific magazines like Runners' World (which, admittedly, makes my heart skip a beat every time it shows up in my mailbox.)

I first started running with the Couch 2 5K program and followed the plan religiously.  It worked.  I was able to run a 5K in the prescribed time and--in that short time--began to identify myself as a runner.

After I realized I did better with endurance than speed, I decided to try a half marathon.  During that time, I began my relationship with my first trainer, Jeff Galloway, a former Olympian who now championed the run-walk method.  I took his advice to heart and became a huge fan (and still am today!)  Using his prescribed methods, I successfully finished multiple half marathons and then decided to tackle my first marathon.
It was then that I met Hal, my second trainer.  Many marathoners run with the Hal Higdon plan and I found myself with another running hero.  Hal is a world-class runner who offers training plans and support for runners of all abilities.  It wasn't easy, but I followed his plan and, at the same time, joined a local running club where I met many other runners who could help me tweak my plan.

I finished that first marathon and even asked Elizabeth for some advice along the way.  At that point, I  took exercise classes with Elizabeth and admired her 7:30ish running pace (distance) but didn't think I needed to pay her as my trainer.  But, she was there for me during my first marathon when--at mile 17, I cramped and needed advice.  Not knowing where else to turn, I whipped out my phone and texted her to find out what I should do.  Luckily, she was available and helped me limp to a 5:25 finish.

Because I knew enough only to be dangerous to myself in that first marathon, I ended up injured, needing to see an orthopedist who prescribed orthotics and physical therapy. That began a six month recovery period that was like starting the Couch 2 5K program all over again.  I hated that it took me forever to return to my previous non-stellar running level.

Fast forward two years and I decided to tackle yet another marathon and looked to Hal once again.  By this time, I was a full-fledged, card carrying member of a Facebook club with a running problem and met many folks who ran faster, better and longer than me.  I loved (and still do) being able to run with others and talk about....well, running.  And, running. And, of course, running.

During my training, Hal and I were getting along quite well until I got to a long run of 16 miles when I felt some familiar pains.  At that point, I decided I would rather not run a marathon than get injured again and  so I asked Elizabeth for some advice.

She quickly diagnosed that I didn't have enough of a base and told me to back down in my long run and build up my base.  And, that's when my relationship with my third trainer was born.  Dagnabbit, if I was going to do this thing called a marathon yet again, I'd put my money on Elizabeth helping me through.

From then on, I began to have ongoing discussions with her about how to train.  Where Hal would tell me to do speed work, Elizabeth asked me if I preferred track or hills.  In response, she prescribed a very specific set of hill work to do in addition to my other miles.  Whereas I had tweaked Hal's plan on my own when necessary due to my personal schedule, aches and pains, Elizabeth told me what I could change and what I couldn't if I wanted to be successful in my second full marathon.

I was also able to ask her about my game plan for other races.  For example, I thought it was a brilliant idea to run an eight-mile downhill course two weeks prior to my full and my running friends agreed.  After all, the course for my full was downhill, so what better conditions to finish off my taper?  Elizabeth's response?  "Do you want to finish or PR?"  Running downhill that close to the full would tire out my legs too much.

She was able to tell me if I could substitute back to back halves in a weekend instead of an 18-mile run. (Here again, my bets were wrong.  I'd have thought she'd say no way, but instead she told me that was fine. And, might I say, I credit that double-header with many of my later gains.)

I started to PR in all my races and, yes, even the second marathon for which I came in 35 minutes faster than the previous time--and, best of all, uninjured!  The first 20 miles were a breeze;  I actually ENJOYED running them.  I tanked a bit in the last 6 and came in about 15 minutes slower than I could have. According to Elizabeth, a) everyone tanks a bit in the last 6 and b) because of my step-back in training, I didn't have the base to finish as strongly as I would have liked.

The following day, I complained about achiness in my chest and Elizabeth's quick response?  "I saw the photos and by the end you were running hunched over.  You need to remember to keep your chest up and shoulders back."  I continue to be amazed and inspired by how much she innately knows.

I'm now headed into my third full marathon in Spring, having been selected as a charity runner for the 2014 Boston Marathon.  And, I have goals to cut off another 30 minutes.  Based on my training plan from Elizabeth, I have no doubts I can pull it off.

So, to me, a personal trainer is very much worth it.  I'm not a professional and never will be (although I joke about being an elite athlete in training as I follow Elizabeth's advice pretty much to a "T.") But, having someone who has tweaked my running form, given me solid advice to avoid injury and challenged me beyond what I thought I was capable of is priceless.  In four short months, she transformed me from a lifelong back of the packer to someone who's now hanging in the middle of my shorter races.  At the Marine Corps Marathon 10K two weeks after my marathon, I finished in 1176th place.  Out of 4751 finishers.  Even though I'm mathematically challenged, I can figure out that's in the top 25% (and isn't age graded.)

And, since I now consider Elizabeth a good friend, I could surely ask for her advice for free.  But, I value her as a professional.  After all, she has certifications and ongoing training and oodles of practical experience in the field.  I wouldn't consider asking my attorney or doctor friends for more than bits of advice at a time.  So, why should I ask less of my professional personal trainer friend?

Even though I still admire Jeff and Hal, they won't be there for me in the clutch.  But I know who will be.

Catch you later at the back of the pack....or, more likely, the middle of it!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Running for the Feel of It

Another day, another 10K.  Really seems to feel like 10K's are all I've been running recently, but that's OK. Except they keep getting colder!

 Today, I lined up for a Christmas Cash dash.  All was going well until I got to the start and my Garmin signaled "low battery."  "Well," I thought, "this has happened before, so it should last me through the race."

Then, the race director yelled, "Ready, Set, Go!" (yes, it was a small race) and we were off.  And, so was my Garmin.  As soon as I pressed "start," it went blank.

I haven't run a race without my Garmin for years. Training runs sometimes, but never a race.  And, one of the main reasons I like to use it is because it stops me from going out to fast and tanking later in the run. (Although, really, left to my own devices, I can find many a reason to tank later in the race with or without a Garmin.)

I tried to be positive and thought I would just run by feel.

That lasted for about a quarter mile when I started second guessing everything. Since I had been pacing with a gentleman next to me, I thought I'd ask him how fast we were going.

"No idea," he said. "But it feels slow today."  (Thanks, bud, for the confidence booster.)

"Well, what's your usual pace?" I asked.

"Depends," he said as he took off and left me in his dust.

About another quarter mile later, I was pacing with another younger female so I asked her.

Her response?  "I'm just trying to stay upright.  I have no clue."

What?  Was no one wearing a watch?  I resisted the impulse to take out my phone and longingly watch it as my feet pounded the pavement.

I realized how much attention I lavish on my Garmin during a race as I began to feel unusually restless.  I didn't even have music to distract me because it was an open course--meaning we dodged cars as we ran the course.  And, of course every time I had to get myself out from the trajectory of a car, my lack of a timing device came back to haunt me again.

My inner voice tormented me with a torrent of conflicting thoughts.  "I bet I'm running way off course, so that's going to add to my time.  If I knew my time. But I don't.  Because my Garmin died.  I think I'm running really well. As a matter of fact, maybe I'll PR.  Wouldn't it be funny if I just ran faster than ever?  Hmmph. Hardly. This is probably one of those times where you think you're running really well but you're probably slower than ever." And so on.

Luckily, around mile 2, the woman trying to stay upright told me she figured she was around a 10 minute pace.

That made me happy.  For about two minutes until those inner demon voices reminded me that "around 10 minutes" could mean just about anything.

Finally, I settled in even though the course was hilly and--because of that--my asthma kicked in a bit.  I didn't PR, but I still came in at an acceptable time. And, I learned that I'm a little bit neurotic about my Garmin.

Recently, a friend told me she never runs races with her Garmin because it puts too much pressure on her. Although I admire that perspective, I think mine keeps me pleasantly preoccupied and on task so I don't think I"ll go running for the feel of it again any time soon.

What about you?  Does the thought of running without your Garmin (or other timing device) cause you stress or nirvana?

Catch you later at the back of the pack (and you can bet I'll have a functioning watch.)

Sunday, November 24, 2013

It's a RUN-derful life!

So, the other day, I went to get my hair cut.

I wanted a change, but I had very specific requirements.  You see, I told my hairdresser, it has to still be long enough to wear in a pony tail. And, I want layers but they have to be long enough to be held back in a Sweaty band.  Oh, yeah, and my bangs either have to be so short they are out of my eyes or long enough to tuck back under the headband.

Ah, I remember the days when I didn't have all these considerations.  And, part of me longs to go back to those days, but I also realize my life changed when I became a runner.

Yes, it took a while for me to wear that label, but--because of my many lifestyle changes, I can no longer deny I are one.  I dress like one. And, talk like one. And, arrange my life like one.

I'm fortunate enough to work from home.  So, you know what that means?  I am almost always in running clothing.  Why?  Because chances are I am on my way out for a run or have just come back from one. And, since running clothes are the things I'm now most excited about buying, that's what I'm also most excited to wear.

As a "What Not to Wear" fan (still mourning the loss of the show), I often wonder what Stacie and Clinton would have had to say to me as I duck into Target in running gear.  (And, what area of Target do I always manage to take a peek at?  Yup.  The athletic wear section.)

But, outside changes aren't the only ones I've made.

Once I learned that what I eat affects my stomach on long runs, I now skip stromboli and pizza on Friday nights.  Often, it's "I'd love to have a glass of wine, but I'm doing a long run tomorrow."  

As my husband sometimes laments, most of our vacations are now planned around marathons or half marathons.  My reasoning?  We love to travel and often we end up going to places we wouldn't otherwise see if I hadn't scheduled a run there.

Most of my reading materials center on running.  I have watched movies about running, read books about running (novels and nonfiction.)  I have read and shared all kinds of articles about runners and running with my like-minded friends.

Speaking of friends, I also have made some wonderful friendships through running.  There are awesome people I might not otherwise know (or hang out with at 6 am) if it weren't for running.

And, what am I planning to do to celebrate my upcoming 50th birthday?  Yep, I'm running a marathon.

The non-runners among you might not understand much about this malady called running.  But, I know those of you who run alongside (and, most likely ahead) of me "get it."  What changes have you made to your life to be a runner?

Catch you again at the back of the pack!

Monday, November 11, 2013

A Different Kind of Runner's High (Spectating is not a Sissy Sport--part 2)

"Tissues and Vaseline!  What more could you ask for from a random stranger?"

That's what I yelled around the mile 20 mark of the Harrisburg Marathon yesterday.  And, if you run marathons, you know those things come in handy as you log mile after mile--especially on a windy day.

The water caravan.  
I have taken this spectating thing to a whole new level.  Because of it being a local race yesterday, I went armed with signs, a cowbell, tissues and Vaseline along with supplies for runner friends.

Actually, my day started early because I volunteered to help with the water station delivery.  Yes, I know the water doesn't deliver itself, but I never really thought through HOW much work goes into just that aspect of a race.

As the lone female (most of my counterparts said they just didn't want to get up that early!), I helped load water, powdered Gatorade, tables, cups, emergency supplies, Gu and various other things to deliver to eight aid stations.  It was a great upper body workout--at least that's what we told ourselves!

Admittedly, I wandered off after the third station (with prior permission!) to join some of my running buds at the start line and go into full spectating mode.

From there, I ventured to several spots to hand out tissues and as much support as I could!

This wasn't me, but I looked just like it!

This experience differed significantly from my first spectating one at the Marine Corps Marathon a few weeks ago.  First, a much smaller field meant I didn't have to elbow my way around other spectators. And, I could drive from one spot to another, parking on the same street where I was cheering.  (Try THAT in DC.)

Plus, I knew so many runners.  It was great to see the faces of so many running friends as they passed by. I could actually call them by name rather than bib number!

So, I became (by virtue of self-naming), "the tissue lady."

I tried to make people smile and not think about a few steps by calling them "Special PR tissues" or telling the runners they were "clean and unused!"  Then, a friend stopped by and said, "I don't know if I'd take tissues and Vaseline from a random stranger," to which I replied, "The ONLY place I'd take tissues and Vaseline from a perfect stranger would be a marathon!"  And, my earlier line was born.

Finally, I ran out of tissues, so I switched sneakers, removed a few layers and trotted back a mile or so to join my running partner for her final six miles.

Of course, I had spent the previous hours cheering on hundreds of runners, so I was pumped!  I did my best not to totally annoy my friend and two others who paced with us.  It was tough not to be perky and annoy them, but I told them I was the only one with brain cells left so they had to listen to me when I told them to "jog nice and relaxed for 30 seconds."  They joked about pushing me into the river, but I was able to see them all finish.

Just like the last time I watched, I was exhausted although I tried not to say that out loud to those who had just run 26.2 miles. After leaving the race, I went home to take a two hour nap!

Yesterday taught me again that running is a community sport.  Whether running or spectating, a race can be a magical matter where your feet find themselves on the day of a race.

Catch you later at the back of the pack (or handing out tissues and Vaseline!)

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Let the groveling and the training commence


Runners will know that saying as a frequently posted sentiment when trying to get into a coveted race or even just to report in for a training run.

I've been in many times, but never so IN as when I got my official news yesterday.

I WILL BE RUNNING THE 2014 BOSTON MARATHON as a charity runner for Team Dougie as part of the Doug Flutie, Jr. Foundation for Autism.

Regular readers of the blog will remember the trials and tribulations of this journey from earlier this year. You can find it here along with another article on the pros and cons of charity runners.

So, as I've said before...yes, I must be crazy because I campaigned to get this spot so I could do winter training and raise $7500+ all for the opportunity to run 26.2 miles in April.

Crazy or not, I'm anxious to get this party started!

So, for any of you so inclined, please see the link to my fundraiser page (on the logo below) along with frequently asked questions about charity runners and the Doug Flutie, Jr. Foundation.

What is a charity runner and how is it different from another runner?   
A charity runner agrees to raise money for a particular charity.  Many marathons have them and use them to support worthwhile organizations. Often, someone who didn't otherwise qualify or get into a certain race can gain entry through getting a charity bib. 

So did you qualify to run Boston?
Here is where I'm tempted to say, "Have you read the name of my blog?"  Seriously, I run as back of the packer trying to work my way up to being a midpacker but don't see it my future that I could "BQ."  I knew the only reasonable way for me to run Boston was to become a charity runner and so I began to pursue that quest several years ago. 

Why do you want to be a charity runner at Boston?  
First of all, I have a heart for charities and have played various roles in many community and church affiliated projects since becoming an adult.  I set my sights on running Boston 2014 when I first started running three years ago because it's "the race" to get into and I will turn 50 six days later.  What a better way to prove my physical and mental capacities than to willingly take on this challenge?  (I know...go back to the part about being crazy earlier in the blog.)

What was the application process like?
Long, nerve wracking and interesting.  As I said, I contacted Team Hoyt three years ago to check in about
the possibility of running for them.  Having very little knowledge about charity teams at that point, I thought all I pretty much had to do was ask and they'd say yes!  That's when I found out about bib distribution and the competition to get onto a charity team.  At that point, Kathy--the office manager and Dick Hoyt's wife--told me they weren't even sure Dick and Rick would be running Boston 2014 but to keep in touch. So I did.

On April 14 of this year, I started to send them an email inquiring about the status of next year's race and figured I'd let them get through this year first.  We all know what happened the next day on Boylston Street at the finish line of Boston 2013.

In future discussions with Kathy and by watching news media reports, I knew the 2014 race had unprecedented interest.  And, Kathy told me they first invite any former runners to run again with them and she doubted there would be a bib for me.  She did give me some advice about other charities to look at. 

So, how did you get to the Doug Flutie, Jr. Foundation for Autism?
After my conversations with Kathy, I decided to branch out and do some more investigation.  Through that process, I found many worthwhile organizations--many of which interested me. However, I  narrowed my selection down to two top choices, with the Flutie Foundation as my first choice team. The other team was for the Women's Lunch Place; they have a wonderful mission of serving homeless women in Boston and I loved my conversation with their marketing director.  Yes, I had to interview throughout this whole thing!   

To be "safe," I applied to several other teams which required an application and application fee. 

However, I opted for Team Dougie as my first choice because my 13-year old son has an autism spectrum disorder.  I knew my chances of gaining the support would be greater because of that connection.  

At some point, I plan to make an appeal for physical items the Women's Lunch Place could use, so stay tuned for that!

How much money do you need to raise?
As my previous blog indicated, as the number of interested runners increased, so did the expected dollar amounts.  Whereas there had been a $4,000 minimum in the past, it now increased to $7500.  Deep breath here.  I really had to assess whether or not I had confidence in my abilities to raise those funds before I totally signed on.  But, I did and I'm here. 

What happens if you don't raise the money?
There is this thing called a credit card they have on file and signed permission to charge me varying amounts along the way. Deep breath again.  I have certain dollar figures I have to raise by certain points or CHA-CHING!  (My husband was totally thrilled to hear that....not!)

What are you doing to raise the money?
My little brain with the big ideas has kicked in and I have all kinds of thoughts.  First, I am doing social media outreach (that's what the blog is part of) and I'm also reaching out to other friends, acquaintances, etc. for ideas about other fund raising ideas.  I'm only one person here, but trying to do my best to figure out which fundraisers might bring in the most funds for Dougie's Team.

Two ideas have really taken hold.  First, is the option for any donors who give $100 to have me wear a puzzle-pieced ribbon with their name (or the name of a loved one) on my back during the race. After the race, the donor will receive that ribbon and a bumper sticker that says, "I ran the 2014 Boston Marathon (on Linda Beck's back!)"  

Also, I am currently soliciting items for an online auction so stay tuned for more information on that!

Do you get your way paid for through these donations?
Short answer.  Nope.  I still have to pay my entry fee to the marathon, travel and lodging expenses. All the money I raise goes directly to the Doug Flutie, Jr. Foundation for Autism.  Every penny.  

How reputable is the Doug Flutie, Jr. Foundation?
First, the John Hancock company receives the majority of charity bibs and they dole them out to other organizations.  Those organizations go through a rigorous selection process to be considered for bibs in the first place.  Additionally, the Doug Flutie, Jr. Foundation spends less than 10% of the funds raised on administrative costs and was recently recognized by Charity Navigator, America's larges and most-utlized independent evaluator of charities with their prestigious 4-star rating for good governance, sound fiscal management and commitment to accountability and transparency.   Plus, it's got Doug Flutie at the helm (who will be a teammate by the way!)

What does the Foundation support?
From their mission statement:  The goal of the Flutie Foundation is to improve the quality of life for people and families living with autism. We are dedicated to increasing the awareness of autism and the unique challenges of families who are faced with it everyday. Our commitment is to support these families by helping them find the resources they need and by funding advocacy programs as well as educational, therapeutic and recreational opportunities. 

This extends to national levels including partnerships with many other notable autism organizations.  They also provide grants to organizations such as one in Arlington, VA that created a video based learning module for general and special educators to understand autism and use practical strategies in the classroom.  The learning module is available free on-line for all educators.

Anything else I need to know?
Wow--first of all, congrats for making it this far.  If there is anything I haven't covered that your inquiring mind would like to know, please ask in the comments section below.  If I don't know, I will find out!

How can I help?  
A donation is any amount would be outstanding, although I very much realize not everyone has money in their budgets to give.  If you would like to and CAN give, great! If not, but you'd still like to support my cause, please forward this blog and like my page on Facebook for updates.  You can also share those updates as well.  Or, let me know if you or your business has any fundraising ideas or grants.  Last, just say some prayers for this journey that I am able to meet my fundraising and training goals.  (And, if you can do all three--AWESOME!)

Catch you later at the back of the pack!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

How Young is Too Young?

Quick!  What did you do for fun when you were around ages 10-12?

For me, it was probably playing whiffleball on a back street and having sleepouts with the neighborhood kids.

Gym class?  

Did we even have gym class? 

Ah, yes, I remember the "red," "yellow" and "green" signs in the cafeteria that would let us know whether or not we could go out for recess and gym, if we had it, on that particular day. 

And, I also remember wearing gym uniforms when I got to middle school.  Nothing sleek or sexy about them, I can tell you.

That, and never having my sneakers.  Thank heavens for Monica B., who wore the same shoe size, had a locker close to mine and was willing to give me her combination so I could get the shoes out and make it to gym class on time. 

(True Confession:  I still have dreams about being late to gym class or--worse--showing up dressed half in street clothes and half in gym clothes.   We'll go into dream interpretation in another blog.)

My point?

When I was 10 or 12, organized sports weren't a huge deal.  Oh, yes, we had softball (for which I have more very bad memories of wearing a new purple polka dot bra under a white game shirt, but let's not go there...) but it was more or less for something to do--nothing to get serious about.  

Today's kids have more opportunities to get involved in sports at a young age.  Truly, if a child doesn't specialize early, they can often be left out even when they get to middle school. For my generation, middle school was pretty much where it all started and athletes didn't start to get serious about their sport until high school.

On one hand, that's great.  I wish I had been more of an athletic type when I was younger. (Maybe having my own sneakers to wear instead of Monica B's would have been a good start....)

But, on the other hand, are kids getting into sports--even "extreme" sports at too young of an age?

Take the Welch sisters....

 Erik Szylard Daenitz for The New York Times

Now, at ages 11 and 13, they have finished hundreds of races--sometimes back to back on weekends.  They have run all distances, but are particularly pulled to endurance races like challenging trail runs, triathlons and even full marathons. Kaytlinn, the older sister, finished the Houston Marathon with a time of 3:45:15, but was later disqualified because she didn't meet the entrance age requirements. Here's a video to learn more about them: 

In fact, most marathons have age requirements that start usually around age 14, but can go as high as 18 years old.
But, they are not the youngest marathoners out there.  Believe it or not, there was a young boy named Budhia Singh, who ran 28 marathons by the time he was four years old.  His prowess was spotted by a man who had purchased him from his parents in India; to punish him, the man told him to run.  When the man returned five hours later, young Singh was still running. 

But, Singh, now 10 years old is not running any longer, although he does his schooling at a sports hostel.  His benefactor was murdered and, unrelated to that, human rights activists called for an end to the "abuse" he was suffering. The officials at the school say he may run again, especially because he does show promise in endurance, but they want him to train and develop more--especially since he can't compete in international distance events for four more year.
Then, there's the 14 year old--Winter Vinecki--who, in April, became the youngest person to run a marathon in Antarctica, one of the toughest courses that exists, particularly due to the temps of -25 degrees.  She is also on track to become the youngest person to run a marathon on each continent.  That record is currently held by a 22 year old.  

As you can imagine, these young prodigies can't run from the controversy surrounding them.  Some doctors are concerned that this kind of activity can damage growth plates and delay puberty in girls.  They believe there isn't enough evidence that shows whether or not there is long-term damage.  

Others insist that--as long as the runners get good medical care, they should have no more issues than someone older who is running. 

So, I young is too young?  Should these younger athletes be encouraged or discouraged from a sport they reportedly love?  Leave a comment and let me know what you think. 

Catch you later at the Back of the Pack!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Spectating is Not A Sissy Sport

True confession time.  As a runner, I've sometimes gotten frustrated with my posse (otherwise known as my husband and son) because they may have missed seeing me during a race.

During this past year's NYC Half marathon, I even scolded them (yes, during the race!) for not having a camera out and then took about two minutes of race time to wait until my husband fumbled around for the camera to get a pic. Well, come on.  It WAS Times Square after all and traffic was stopped for me (OK...and several thousand others) to have "the moment" of running in the Big Apple.  Ironically, my husband didn't capture the picture anyway so I have no photographic memories of that event.

And, truly, I didn't "get" the challenge of watching a race until I joined Spectator Village at the Marine Corps Marathon yesterday.  Several years ago my friend Eileen told me to do the MCM 10K because you could experience the event and then get back in time to watch the elite finishers, etc.  (Regular readers of this blog might remember Eileen as the one who died from cancer earlier this year. I hear her voice often and still follow her advice, so I found myself in DC yesterday. I ran the 10K and had a list of about ten other runners to track, mostly friends from a local running club.)

After running the 10K, I had ample time to walk what seemed like several miles to get my medal and pick up my bag from the UPS men who kindly kept it safe in Truck 42.  I must have won the prize for the most stuffed bag because I brought all that I thought I might need for an afternoon of spectating.

So, I gathered my stuff, switched around some clothing, hit the Portajohns (with NO lines!) and meandered back to as close to the finish line as possible.  Foolishly, I thought that--having participated in the 10K, the young Marines would treat me like royalty and allow me back into the finish area for runners.  Um, no. They directed me to stands and a viewing area a short distance away from the finish line.  Unfortunately, peons like me could only get so close because a VIP area surrounded the immediate area at the finish line.  (Side note: I have not been to MCM before, but I wonder if that is a reaction to the Boston marathon bombings. I assume the highly visible police officers carrying large weapons also reflected the changes to marathon races. MCM publicly announced changes in reaction to that event in other policies that affected bag checks and what runners could carry on the course.)

View of bottom of hill before last .2k
I grabbed a very cold steel seat on the bleachers for a bit until the elites came in.  Wow! Talk about a finish.  Not only did the elites have police escorts; the winner also had a helicopter flyover.  (If a helicopter ever flies above me in a race, have no doubt it's because of an escaped felon in the area--not because of me!)

Shortly before the winner arrived, the media truck came into view. The Philadelphia Duck (land and sea vehicle) dropped off the reporters and camera people at the bottom on the last hill so they had to sprint (with their equipment and probably no training) the last .2 miles of the course to beat the first finisher.  And, speaking from experience, it's not an easy hill. Nor, I assume, is it a piece of cake to race an elite marathoner!

The media race
Once the elites finished, I wandered down to the fence to watch my friends finish.  Because of timing apps, I received frequent updates on their projected finish times. Again, foolishly, I thought getting to the fence about 45 minutes before the first of my friends came in would give me enough time to jockey right up to a great camera point.  Those who were three and four deep in front of me had different ideas.....

Luckily, I persevered and got to the fence before the first two were expected. But hold on now....everyone was leaning over the fence and I couldn't even see down the stretch.  Plus, there were too many runners to be able to focus down the hill to get a heads up on who was close.

The great pic of my friends' backs
I did get a photo of the first two---their the corner of the photo.  Then, it was time to try to Kodachrome the others.  I had about 15-30 minutes of projected time between most of the others I knew. But, it became crazy trying to track times and do the crazy trunk and head twist maneuvers to get a photo.  Plus, some of the runners I didn't know too well and had to message my club (who responded quickly) to get me bib numbers and photos of what the others wore.

Yet, I still missed some of them.

Last week, I had seen two funny signs on Facebook and chuckled at them, but now know them to be true. The first is this.

A good race spectator has to be quite focused on his or her target and must stay vigilant until the runner passes by.  After the race, I overheard a man say, "My wife and kids missed me THREE TIMES in this race. They were at places where it should have been easy to see me, but they didn't.  One time it was because they were cold and went to get hot chocolate.  She even showed me the receipt to prove it."

I get both sides of that one.  I thought I had enough food but for some reason must have missed putting my protein bars in my gargantuan bag.  A few times I thought about asking the others smooshed in beside me if they had any random picnic items to share, but decided to suck it up.   I also knew if I left a) I would never get my spot back and b) miss one or more of the runners I wanted to see.

And I am in solidarity with this woman:

Yes, I ran the 10K (and even managed to PR), but I am stiff and sore today.  Methinks it's more because of the spectating than the running!

But, with all the trials and tribulations comes the benefit of seeing the nearly 30,000 people finish the race. Each and every one of them had a story to tell.

Because it was the Marine Corps marathon, many of the runners had tribute signs for a service member who had died in combat.  There were numerous hand crank wheelchairs whose mostly young drivers had lost one or both legs. Other wounded warriors ran with prosthetic running limbs.  Still others carried American flags and shouted, "USA" and "America" as they went by.  Although most of the runners reported high noise level, I can tell you that doubled when one of these folks passed by.

Then, there were those carrying more than just the burden of their grief or injury.  There were a good number of service members who carried rucksacks that had 30 plus pounds or more in them.  Or, the people who ran with full-sized flags or other mementos.  Folks, it's tough enough to run 26.2 miles much less add to that by carrying an oversized object.  My spectator aches and pains could never compare.

I also cheered every time a "Team Hoyt" or similar team ran by pushing someone in a specially made wheelchair.  One of the boys being pushed pumped his arms and smiled so broadly, it made the crowd cheer even harder.

Two runners were tethered to another runner in the middle who had "blind runner" on the back of his shirt.

Then, there was the "regular folk" some dressed in costume, many with their names taped onto their shirts and others who ran for charity to raise funds.  One man was dressed as a Redskins player and juggled three footballs as he went along. They came in all ages and sizes.  Lots of the runners carried cameras and captured the crowd at the finish line to remember their victory over the 26.2 miles.

Some had so much energy they jumped and waved their arms to encourage the crowd to cheer louder. Others showed the signs of wear, including a woman who almost collapsed at the first timing mat until she was helped by two medics to cross the second mat.  Another gentleman tripped and was assisted by three other runners to get up. One of those runners stayed with the man until they both crossed the line together. (As I indicated in an earlier blog article, runners tend to show many kindnesses and support to other runners.)

I have vivid pictures of many of the finishers in my mind.  And, I could empathize with whatever they were feeling at the moment.  It was quite emotional to see the faces and hear the support from the crowd.  And, I now know that spectators have a tough job too on race day.  But, in the end, it's worth it on both sides of the fence.

So, tell me--what is your favorite spectator story--as the spectator or the runner?

Catch you later at the back of the pack.  (Or, maybe even in the spectator gallery!)