Monday, May 5, 2014

Virgin Marathon - The Race

Where did the time go?  I thought I had more time.  How can I be running a marathon tomorrow?  I don't know if I'm nervous or excited.  Excited would be good, nervous will make me constipated.  Oh God I hope I'm excited.  These thoughts ran through my mind the night before my first marathon.  That night when you want to sleep but you can't.  Everything runs through your mind and try as you might, you can't keep any of it out.  Self doubt knocks on your door.  I look over to the sofa and see my running gear laid out just waiting for me.  I take comfort in that.  They are like Harry Potters wand to me.  Remember that moment in the movie when he gets his wand?  The room glows, wind blows, and we all know the wand is a perfect match, exactly the one he needs.  He will do great things with that wand.  My choice of running gear was similar.  Not that the room glowed and the wind blew when I pulled on my underwear, but my last long run was perfect.  As soon as I got home I stripped down, washed everything, and set it aside for marathon day.  I knew I had my "wand".  Weird but it gave me a sense of comfort.
I knew I was well trained.  As with all my previous attempts at a new distance, I had leaned on Sharon for a training plan.  All of them had been hard but this one actually freaked me out a little.  The mileage was daunting.  I knew two things.  The first being that if I followed this plan I would be able to complete the marathon.  The second was that it would kick my ass and push me beyond anything I had ever done.  I wondered at 54 if it too late to attempt this, too late to try and push my body and ask it yet again to give me a little more.  With some anxiety I decided to go for it.  I'm proud to say that I only missed one workout the entire 5+ months.  At the same time there were plenty of runs I thought would never end, many I didn't want to do, all I was glad to finish.  My finishers medal belongs as much to her as it does to me.
The alarm wakens me.  3:30am.  We get up and slowly get coffee and oatmeal going.  Tripping over each other in a hotel room the size of a prison cell.  It didn't help that Sharon brought multiple bags and her own latte machine, nor the dozen donuts, bags of chips, and candy bars we bought the night before somehow thinking that we'd eat it.  Food and drink down, we heading to the shuttle.  Rain was pouring down and by the time we arrived at the shuttle we were soaked.  We were dropped off at an unheated airplane hangar where we waited for 90 minutes for the marathon to start.  Nerves required more pee trips than I wanted but it was what it was.  Before I knew it we were heading out to the starting line.
3....2....1...and we were off.  I remember looking up at the huge inflatable start sign as we ran under and then past it.  I was running a marathon!  It felt amazing.  Every sacrifice, every mile, every minute of training was now in the past and I was actually doing this.  It's impossible to describe the feeling.
Five miles or so in Sharon says we'll keep our pace and catch the 4 hour pace group at the mid way point and see how it goes from there.  If felt effortless at this point so I gave her a "cool" and on we ran.  By the time we hit mile 8 Sharon had stopped twice to work on her IT band.  That fricker was acting up on her and we begin to worry it was going to be a show stopper.  By mile 11 she was done.  Her knee had gone out.  At that moment she did what few athletes who have trained six months for a single event do, she decided to pull out.  I know it was the hardest yet smartest decision she could have made.  Six months of training, a life saving surgery, and she was running a marathon.  Kind of makes you want to put that bag of chips back in the cupboard.  We walked to a couple police officers explained the situation and asked if one would drive her back to the hotel.  They agreed and she looked at me and said run, you can do this.  I slowly ran off as she stepped into the car.  I felt like shit.
I was now running with strangers, alone yet people around me.  My pace was good, fueling on target, and now passing mile marker 12, next thing I knew I passed the 17 mile marker.  My hip was getting sore and I couldn't seem to pass a honey bucket without having to pee but all was good.  That is until my left calf begin to cramp.  I ran though as much as I could but it became clear that I needed to stop and work it out.  Unfortunately that became routine throughout the rest of the race.  Mile 23 was new territory and my body knew it.  Maybe it was mental but the road became like quicksand.  Each step hurt and it begin to feel like I was running up a down escalator.  I focused on running to a point on the road, the next telephone pole.  One at a time.  Each one seemed to pull away from me yet I was moving forward.  By mile 24 I honestly thought I'd never make it.  I had been insane and now I knew it to be true.  Up another hill and then marker 25 was going by and I knew I was close.  Rounding the corner and looking down the road I saw Sharon and her family out there waiting for me.  They were so excited their energy revived me and soon I was rounding the corner, passing mile maker 26 and the finish line was dead ahead.  Spectators sticking their hands out for high fives and screaming encouragement.  What a feeling to run across that line.  I had done it.  I was a marathoner.  I am a marathoner.
Shortly after finishing my phone was buzzing with folks wondering what my time was.  I learned a lot during this marathon.  I witnessed many a runner struggling to put one foot in front of another yet always moving forward, runners helping other runners rub out a cramp, runners giving encouragement when passed or passing.  Not all that started finished.  I learned that time is not important.  The journey is what's important and I wouldn't trade my journey or my partner for the world.  To my family and friends, I thank you for the support and encouragement you shared.  Your words helped carry me forward on many a day I didn't think I could or would.  Finally to answer the question will I run another, I simply share that I am happily looking for future race dates....for 5k's...

Friday, February 14, 2014

Virgin Marathon Part II

Halfway there!  It's hard to believe that I'm less than three months away from my first marathon.  In fact I have but a short 12 weeks to go.  I'm at the point in my training where every week is new territory, be it the daily mileage or the long runs.  The feeling I have is strange  because I'm nervous yet excited for each new week.  Some of that is the challenge of what I can actually accomplish but mixed with the emotions and doubt that creep in when I look too far forward in my training plan and see the 18 and 20 milers and the weekly miles rising high on the horizon. 
There are many pros so far. I'm running more days and more miles than ever before and (let's all knock on wood) I'm injury free.  Sure I have that ache here and there but I'm also 54 years old and still manage to find a pimple stopping by to say hi from time to time.  I've not missed a single run nor have I been unable to complete one.  I find it much like a job.  You know what needs to be done so show up early, give that little extra, and take pride in a good day's work, or in this case a successful run.  The support I am getting is tremendous. I'm not sure how anyone can do this without it. I'm grateful for it. The most surprising thing however has to be that I have found that I love running with a partner.  I had become a loner on the road, running with my ipod and not wanting to be bothered.  Now I look forward to it and from time to time there are 3-4 of us.
There are some cons.  I never seem to have enough Vaseline.  While I use it like crazy, places that shouldn't be raw tend to be raw.  In turn I walk like I've been riding a horse and now have a phobia about having my nipples face directly into the shower.  My running shoes are dead and the second pair were purchased  a couple weeks ago - pair number three is happening next week.  I'm losing weight yet always hungry and those 20,000 pushups I did no longer show the effect they once did.  I'm also now waking up at 3:30 in order to get my workout in before work.  That I don't mind as much as the gym is empty and my favorite treadmill untouched.
Sharon's training plan has been great so far - not easy but great. Saturdays are up to 16 miles and Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday are 7 miles each.  The pace isn't fast but I'm training for distance and not for speed this time.  As mentioned, I'm enjoying the Saturdays run now that she's running with me. We talk but she knows when I need quiet to push up a hill or simply finish the next mile or two in a distance I've never ran.  Last week I was dying on the last mile and my form was shot to shit.  I know she was telling me to straighten up, drop my shoulders, and something about my stride.  I looked at her and thought "I might be dead right now, just want to get home, exhausted, nipples hurt" but I smiled and mumbled "thank you".  That girl gives me no slack and pushes me every week.  That's exactly what I need though I might not always communicate it.
12 weeks to go.  Hundreds of miles.  All for the chance to complete 26.2 in May without failure.  Sounds silly doesn't it?  What's sillier is that the 26.2 will probably mean more to me that all the miles that lead up to the marathon.  I hope not.  I hope I look back at the journey instead.  Time will tell, right now I need to go find some more Vaseline.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Virgin Marathon Part I

I'm going to run a marathon.  Ok, I said it, it's out there now. Now it's law. Stating my intentions publicly has a way of adding a higher degree of accountability to the statement, or in this case, the event.  When I first shared that I was committed to completing a marathon, the more popular question flying back to me was simply "Why?".  It's a bit of a difficult question (as most easy questions can be).  My first response is that I've ran and competed in many events since my first 5k in 2006. I remember that 5K like it was yesterday.  I walked often....I ran often....I hated that I couldn't complete the distance without some walking.  Fact is most people don't know that it wasn't until my fourth race that I finally ran the entire distance without stopping.  3.1 miles felt like running to the moon.

Since then I've competed in many distances; 2 mile, 5k, 8k, 10k, 15k, half marathon, triathlon relays, duathlon, and a 24 hour 187 mile relay with 5 others.  In all, 52 races since 2006. The marathon distance was noticeably missing.  Plug the hole I say.  The reason could also be when asked about my running, folks always ask if I've run a marathon - like running a marathon is the one thing that makes you a runner.  I reply no I haven't and hear an oooooohh with a look on their face of disappointment and sadness.  Poor Mikey hasn't run a marathon. Oh well, maybe someday he'll be a runner.  Thank you my pork rind,  donut eating, chip munching,  candy sucking, runs only when the dinner bell rings judge. You actually make me feel bad. You shouldn't but you do. I train hard for my events and I don't like being discounted for not doing something, especially something on the magnitude of a marathon. Only one tenth of one percent of the population will run a marathon while 26.2% of the population were obese in 2012. Interesting that that obese percentage matches the number of miles in a marathon. Geez I sound angry.  I'm not of course, though re-reading my blog so far, I am a tad judgmental.  A tad. Running a marathon might also be because I like to challenge myself and as a 54 year old closing in on 55, I figure I best tackle this before I get too much older!  I plan on writing about my journey over a few blogs, the final of course to recap the race itself.  It's a bit of a diary that I can look back on and remember the journey, the ups and downs, the celebrations and support, and unfortunately some possible moments when I felt like I couldn't do it.

After making the decision to run, I made the next best decision - I called Sharon.  She has trained me through most distances and while her training plans suck fish butt, if you follow them and I mean follow them, you will perform.  You will dislike her often and praise her infrequently.  She knows her stuff and tailors the program to the individual. Looking backs over various training periods, I've thrown up, clutched my chest, nearly passed out, and learned to keep my inhaler close. She has however always gotten me to the finish line. I'm counting on that once again.

I admit I'm nervous about this journey because it will take me to distances I've never even entertained, push my running to more days a week that I've done in forever, and should I fail I hate to think of how it will affect me.  I'm now running Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday at 5:00am and my long run on Saturday.  The morning run required finding how to adjust my morning routine. Poop if you will. Knocking out  2 miles of your 4 mile run and getting "that feeling" is uncomfortable.  Do you try and run through it or jump off the treadmill and hurry back?  "Excuse me" you say to the person on the treadmill next to you, "would you watch my stuff, I have to ah...I ah...gotta poop". My goal is to avoid time anyway.

I believe my body is getting used to the 4 day a week running plan and thus far the mileage has been within my experience range.  This week my weekday mileage jumps a little and Saturday become 14.  This is the point where I begin to move into uncharted territory. The point where I'll have to push myself to levels I once thought insane.  During many of these times I will think of you. So many of you have gone through personal trials that in comparison make the marathon seem easy.  You'll give me inspiration without knowing it. I thank you in advance for that and for reminding me to never give up.  I will be that one tenth of one percent and though I may run alone, I never will be...

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Deja Vu

Rode my bike today.  Thank you for that thunderous applause - yes it was quite something.  I've never been much of a rider, but then again, I've never really given it much of a chance.  Lately however I've felt a renewed sense of fitness.  I'm part of this crazy knock out 20,000 pushups this year program - that likely deserves its own blog, or at least a sentence scratched out on the side of a bathroom stall "went at it hard, knocked it out, feeling pumped".  Ok, that may not be the best place for it.  My running is improving.  I'm actually doing all those stupid time intensive preventative exercises that no one does until they get injured.  At that moment every one of us thinks to ourselves "I should have been doing them all along".  Guilty.  Slap me in irons captain.  Better yet force me to do some squat jumps, donkey kicks, clam shells, and a host of other funked out exercises that make you look like a freak yet honestly can save you weeks if not months of rehab - not to mention avoiding the "I told you running was bad for you" look one gets from non-running non exercising gluten eating sugar pumping....sorry, got a bit carried away.  Anyhow, for the last couple weeks I'm getting in two 10 milers and a long run on Saturday.

My diet has also improved. I've since sent an apology letter to Hershey's, Ben & Jerry's, and Hostess. If you own stock in these companies please also accept my sincere apology.  Tip of the day - invest in spinach.  I love baby spinach - mostly because I can get the entire leaf in my mouth without having to cut it, fold it, jab it three times so it sits just right on my fork.  If you have spinach salad recipes, email me!

Sharon and I drove to the Centennial trail. Yes, we're quite green you know, driving an SUV so we can enjoy a ride in the clean crisp air. Don't judge me, I recycle. No sooner than we got on the bikes did we see the our partners in fitness just getting back from their ride. It was so good to see them, catch up, and have a few laughs. They are really good people.  But time is money or in this case miles, so we were off.  We did an out and back and the ride out held no surprises.  My quads began to burn and the bike seat as it does so often, played peak-a-boo with my ass.  I allow Sharon the luxury of drafting behind me on the way out. In turn I could draft behind her on the way back.  I could if however I was able to keep up with her.

Today was no different.  She was a good quarter of a mile ahead of me but luckily her and a couple other riders were stopped at a traffic signal which turned in our favor just as I pulled up.  I had momentum so quickly passed a young man and pedaled on.  Sharon quickly rode up and in moments was well ahead.  The young man also caught up as I heard an "on your left" as he flew past.  Off he went pedaling quickly until he came upon Sharon.  On my what happened then was a deja vu.  The guy starts riding past her, looks over, then slows down next to her.  Yes, off they rode into the sunset chatting back and forth as I fell further and further behind.  This happened in Chelan some time back and hard as I tried, I never caught up.  Today would be different my friends.  Today I had my renewed sense of fitness, Power bar drink, and I had successfully wrangled my ass free of the seat.  I was on a mission.  Head down and legs pumping hard I rode.  Today I would not be denied.  My God they are really moving.  How are they doing that?   I am now riding fast, my legs a blur, yelling "on your left" to every walker I passed.  Holy shit, I'm catching them.  I'm weaving around everyone shifting gears like a madman.  50 yards away, 30...10...I'm right behind them.  I slide to the left and yell out "on your left" as I pass them both.  Victory!  Or so I thought.  They were slowing down for the upcoming stop sign....gads.  What the heck, I had caught up and found that the young man was really much older and was riding from Canada to Mexico.  I tip my hat to him.  We chatted at the rest area and he told us about an energy drink that makes your lips buzz as soon as the liquid hits them.  I'm withholding the name to try it first just in case it's a real advantage :)  Next Saturday I'm racing with the Giant as part of a 2 person Triathlon relay team.  Can't wait for that and to once again see some of my good friends at the event.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Hell Run

I debated writing down my thoughts regarding today's run because I don't want to sound like I'm complaining.  However I am so frustrated that I'm hoping it works like a good therapist - lie on the couch and spill your most inner feelings, get up, write a check for $300 and go home feeling better.  If you know me you know that I am fiscally responsible thus this blog - cost $0.

There was nothing unusual about my morning pre run routine. I'm a little boring that way.  Bowl of Cheerios and a cup of coffee, visit the bathroom (thank you coffee), take a couple hits off my various inhalers, set the timer for 20 minutes (giving the inhaler time to work), greet my firm black roller and let it do its thing to wake up my legs, calves, and back. From there it's the iPod, Garmin, fuel belt, shoes, gang banger beanie, and so forth. Timer goes off and I'm ready to walk out the front door. Today was well, just that.
On the docket was a slow 12 mile loop that I have done before. The first 3 miles were without incident though I noticed the wind was at my back so part of the loop would be into the wind.  By mile 4 the wind was hitting me dead on and I felt myself slow. No big deal, it's long slow run day. I'll note here that the wind was in my face for the remaining  miles...Another half mile or so and I was feeling a little off but that feeling can come and go as a runner regardless of your distance so I plugged forward.  Safeway is just beyond mile 7 and a regular pee stop, again, today was no different.  I'm back on the road swinging past Fred Meyer when stomach cramps hit me like a brick thrown at your gut. Holy shit, I could barely run upright and I'm 5 miles from home.
Many a runner gets cramps and we simply hope at some point - sooner than later - we slip out a little gas. No such luck, Mr. Fart did not have my address apparently. My gait is now affected because I cannot stand tall no matter how hard I try. 4 miles to home and I'm barely moving - the fetal position sounds real good right now.  I'm now passing Lowes when my calves begin to cramp up. Yes, both of them.  Between my stomach and my calves I can't seem to run straight and look like a drunk runner.  I thought about stopping and walking but I knew there was an end result that would come from those stomach cramps and I wanted to be home for that.
I could see Starbucks ahead and from there I was less than two miles from home. The closer I got the more I knew I needed to stop and hit the can. My fuel drink was ready to let loose and I had to stop. I walk through the door of this very busy Starbuck and who arrives?  Yes, Mr. Fart.  He simply had a mind of his own and was quite vocal as I made my way through the crowd to the bathroom.  He continued to speak to whomever would listen as I left and stepped onto the sidewalk to finish my journey.
The first couple steps assured me that my calves would continue kick my butt the rest of the run. To my surprise however was the back left side of my left knee. It too decided that it would deliver constant pain for the next two miles. I'm sure this was due to how I was running for the past 3-4 miles as I have never had any trouble in the past.  I made it home. That was 3 hours ago and I have said hello to the john many times, currently have ice on my left knee, and am sipping water.
A non runner might read this and say this is exactly why they don't run and running is stupid.  That is fine as long as they swallow the donut first as it's impolite to talk with one's mouth full.  A runner might read this and say, yup, had a day like that once myself, but the hundreds of other days that are pure bliss make it all worthwhile. After purging my thoughts through this blog I'd have to agree with the runner. Though I wouldn't mind a donut....

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Seattle Hot Chocolate 15K

Today was a good day. I ran a 15k. In fact what started out to be a “fun run” turned out to be something quite a bit more. It slowly became more about what I really had inside. I surprised myself today with what I found. I should step back and remind us all that 2012 wasn’t my best running season. For whatever reason I was always trying to make a comeback. Silly boy. I had my share of oddities that kept me from training my best and in turn, giving my best. In December I decided to step back and start over. My training consisted of one run a week – a long one on Saturday, lifting weights, and deciding that doing 20,000 pushups in 2013 would be a good idea. By the way, we now have 61 people pumping out those pushups. I’ve been eating better too, although stick a bag of chips in front of me and you won’t see my head for a good fifteen minutes. Then it pops out and my face is covered with Lays, Cheetoes, or whatever the bag used to contain. So today’s 15k was going to be just another slow long run.

I had the utmost pleasure of running with Sharon and Jessica. Me and two pretty girls – must be the pushups I’m doing. Regardless, I was a lucky man. Anyway, Sharon is recovering from a heart procedure six weeks ago and Jessica hasn’t knocked out this many miles in some time so I figured we’d be running abreast. Reality was however that the only time we were side by side was waiting for the race to start. That wonderful time in the corral when you wait for your group to be released. We were cold and shivering and the anticipation of the run lingered in front of us. I had then decided to rub my crotch because ever since surgery last year, it seems to bother me when I run and a little rub on the right appears to do the trick. This of course was the exact moment the girl in front of me decided to turn around. Ah yes, hello, oh yes the crotch thing…well you know…oh I guess you don’t. We’re were all laughing and since I don’t really look like, well, one of “those guys”, she smiled and turned away. Shortly after our corral was released and we were off.

Sharon, Jessica, and I ran together for the first mile and as the norm, they were soon inching their way ahead of me. More like by the yard then the inch. I found myself watching them run, ponytails swishing back and forth, seemingly to move ahead effortlessly. In a moment they were gone. Invisible yet out there in the crowd somewhere. Poor me, alone again. The runner inside wanted to catch up and find them but the realist knew it would never happen. I decided to stay the course, maintain my plan, my strategy.

My plan was simple, run as if it was my normal long slow run and at the turnaround point (mile 6), pick up the pace if I was feeling up to it. Well hells bells this course had some mighty hills – long mighty hills. I hadn’t planned on that. Pushing myself uphill I would stare at a orange construction cone until I met it and quickly shift my eyes to the next one. At one point the hill was huge and I decided not to look up until I had passed 30 cones. At 31 I looked up. Damn, the top of the hill was at least 100+ cones further. I chatted with a few folks and the time passed more quickly. Suddenly I see Sharon coming back down the hill on the other side. A quick wave and I felt energized. I yelled out “trade places with me” which my fellow hill runners around me thought was way funnier than it really was however it helped get us up and over. Soon I turned the corner at the six mile mark and honestly I was feeling fine. Air was coming easy and I was smiling. I kicked it up a notch and decided to put the hammer down until I crossed the finish line. My legs were heavy but they kept up with the rest of me – good thing or it would have been ugly. I crossed the finish line blowing my planned time out of the water, nearly 90 seconds a mile faster than I had been running. I found Sharon and Jessica both of whom had finished some time ago and already had their post run treats. Hugs and kisses all around. I don’t have the official times but the girls rocked this race and it was time to celebrate. While we stretched The Creeper came over and was chatting with Jessica. He was the Creeper because of the way he’d been following her around and you know, sometimes you just get that creepy vibe. Sharon picked up on it too and we decided it was time to blast and hit Starbucks for that post race drink. The curse of being pretty coupled with the dark side of man.

What Sharon achieved today was remarkable and after the race I saw something in her eyes I hadn’t seen in quite some time. I was happy to see it. Jessica blew me away with her pace and pure happiness she seemed to get from the race. I found something in me today that I thought had gone away forever. It wasn’t just that I found I still had speed; it was something inside me when I ran. A joy that grew mile after mile. I didn’t curse the hills and as I came in the final mile, I was smiling. I loved it out there. I also loved running with my friends. Thank you girls for making today a very special day.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Michael Bitz: Power Walker

Yes, you read that right, I am a power walker. Let’s be completely clear about this – I’m not a walker, not a fitness walker, I am a power walker. What’s the difference you ask? The difference my friends is that I am doing it, as such it must be power walking. After months of fine running I found myself on the floor for three days unable to stand, having been bitch slapped by my lower back. Weeks of doing nothing has turned into a couple weeks of evening power walking. I cover the distance of my old race friend, the 5k. Mentally it feels good to walk a race distance. I am learning a few things as I PW (that’s what we in the know call it) and thought I would share.

Walkers code of conduct. Very limited if it exists. As a runner you always yield the left as a runner comes up behind you. Walkers however tend to float all over the sidewalk. It’s like they all have inner ear problems. Lord help you if there are two of them. They don’t budge. I call out a mild mannered “coming through” and the wall of rump in front of me seems to close up before I can get through. The other night I thought I wasn’t going to make it. Half way through, the gap was closing fast. I turned sideways, sucking myself into the thinnest stick of a man I could and just cleared those cheeks of death before darkness engulfed the street. One step slower and there might have been a mangled mess of a man left on the sidewalk gasping for breath and praying for some sanitizer.

Talking. Zipping along a runner will often see another runner coming at them. Due to the speed of the runners, there is barely time to say hi - generally just time for a quick head nod as you pass each other. Walkers on the other hand come at you slowly. You look at them and for the next 5 minutes while you pass each other there is time to exchange recipes. It is an awkward time for me. I am friendly but I don’t want to talk to anyone (I am a power walker after all). So I try not to make eye contact but the harder I try the more my eyes want to, have to look at them. Our eyes meet and I give the runners head nod. Now for the next 30-45 seconds I don’t know what to do. So I just keep giving the head nod until they pass. I find that it you do this, they will pick up their pace to get past you as soon as possible.

To combat all of this I have taken to wearing thug attire. Aside from my jet black sweat/PJ pants, I wear a sweatshirt with a large hood and a skull cap pulled down to my eyebrows that also covers my ears completely. I push my lips together and stare straight ahead. My gait however doesn’t help. My physical therapist says my hips are tight so I find myself swinging my hips back and forth. Add to this that I don’t want to heal strike so I lift my quads higher than normal with each step. Now I look like a gay thug power walker. No one talks to me now though occasionally I think I get a wink.

Next week the verdict on my return to running will be in. Tuesday is the day. I hope for good news and I can begin to run again. I’ll be more careful this time. I’ll work my core, stretch, continue the exercises to keep my glutes strong and hips loose. Until then I will power walk my way forward. In fact I will be out there in the rain shortly knocking out another 5k. If you see me feel free to say hi. Outside I may look tough but inside I can’t wait to see you.