2014 Join the Voices



August 10, 2014
New York, NY
GPX
Event website

I wasn’t feeling the love today, especially since I almost forgot about this run. In the middle of a late night movie at the Landmark, I remembered the five mile run I had in eight hours.

It’s not as simple as just forgetting though. I wasn’t supposed to be in town this week so I thought I’d miss this run. Instead, I’m gone in two weeks and I’ll miss the Percy Sutton Harlem 5k, which runs in my neighborhood. It’s a short race and a I could have slept in longer. It also covers some serious hills, but they are my hills that I’ve started running on Thursdays.

This run, for a charity about brain cancer, is in Central Park. It’s a little longer than the lower loop 4 miler. We start at 67th Street, but on the west side, then run anti-clockwise.

map

The first part of the course is downhill or flat, which could make for some fast starts. But, sitting on the benches outside the corral, I thought it was too hot to run that fast. Although the CNN clock at the bottom of the Park said 73 F, the humidity was higher. I decided to take it easy.

I could have started in the front corral having earned a blue bib with the crazy pace I maintained at the Run for the Champions, but I started at the back of the second corral, where I think I belong.

Still, I ran fast. I didn’t mean to, but it happened. Well, fast for me in a five mile race, but at the same pace that I remember Kara Goucher saying she’d slow down to while she was pregnant. I maintained that around the bottom of the park, up the east side, and onto the 102nd St Transverse.

By then I was feeling the heat and I needed to back off. And take my shirt off. And walk up the hill. It’s a bit humbling that even running slower than I could within the month that I set a 5k personal best that I’d have to stop for a walk break after 3 miles.

I expected this though. I’m past my peak and I haven’t run more than five miles into six weeks. I also planned for this. My summer is intentionally light to beat the heat. I’m not worried about my fitness, but I do have that de-training effect.

I got back into it. At the four mile mark I saw the clock and figured I could come in under 40 minutes. I’m liking running without my Garmin, although it wasn’t by choice today. I haven’t used it since Victoria Falls and its dead. I made it with a couple seconds to spare.

It’s a decent time and one that would have amazed me two years ago. The faster I run the more I’m unsatisfied. It’s harder and harder to get better. The chocolate milk tastes as good as it ever did.

There it is. That’s my eighth run for the 9+1 goal, leaving one more to go in the next four months. I’m feeling a lot better about this goal as long as I don’t miss any more races.

9+1-8

2014 NY Giants Run of Champions



July 20, 2014
East Rutherford, NJ
GPX
Event website

I wanted to a personal best today. With a good run at the Boomer’s Cystic Fibrosis Run To Breathe last week, I thought I had a good chance to improve my 5k time. I ran that four mile race in Central Park, with all of its hills, in a pace faster than my 5k record that I set at the Rosehill Crypt 5k almost two years ago. I’ve only run one other 5k, the Race to Wrigley since then. That was over a year ago, so I don’t have an idea how fast I might be. If I kept my fastest pace this year, I’d break that time.

This run has something to do with the New York Giants, the football team that’s actually in New Jersey. There are some current and former football players on hand—none of whose names I recognize—and at least one player running his first 5k. Beyond that I haven’t paid attention in the same way I don’t check routes or profiles. I knew that I’d finish inside the stadium, but I wasn’t too excited about that given that finishing inside Soldier Field for the SF 10 was a let down as the grass was covered and the Wrigley Race was technically inside the stadium even if we never saw the seats or the field. I didn’t know it yet, but the MetLife artificial turf field can handle the throng of thousands of runners.

The New York Road Runners showed their support by giving me a blue bib, which moved me into the first corral with a number less than 1,000. I don’t think I deserve that, but this race is special as it’s in New Jersey by geography even if New York claims East Rutherford by parking its football team there. I moved up a corral because many of the good runners probably didn’t want to deal with the hassle of NJ Transit (and it was a hassle) to show up far too early in the morning then wait around for transport back. Where an event in Central Park will have about 6,000 runners, this one has around 3,500. It’s their loss and my gain since I’d be near the front for the start, giving me a slight advantage. Today I wanted every edge. It was overcast and not too hot or too humid and the course was in a flat parking lot.

map

Being toward the front I could see all the stuff I only hear from the other corrals. I saw the lead vehicle, a truck with a race clock on top of the cab and race officials sitting on the tailgate. I could see the announcers and the starter, who go through a series of announcements and exhortations to fill up the last ten minutes as we waited for the start. I could probably also see the future winner’s head, although from the back.

If I weren’t going for a personal record I might have brought along my phone to take pictures. My short races this year have been mostly along the same courses in Central Park—a spot where I have plenty of photos. I’m unlikely to come back to East Rutherford where I’m running today mostly because I need it for my 9+1 goal and it fits my schedule. I wouldn’t get up this early to take three different trains for a 20 minute run around a parking lot.

metlife

The start was fast. Last week I felt the second corral was just right for me. Now I’m the slow guy, but not that much slower. I was barely hanging on to this group, but I knew the start would be like this. I ran about a half mile for a warm up to get the heart going and the blood flowing to make this part a bit better, but I was still at my limit. I didn’t have to deal with any walkers, either.

I saw another runner I knew about ten meters ahead of me so I caught up to him and ran with him for the first mile. The time on the race clock said 6:35 as we passed the first mile marker. I’ve never run a mile that fast, even in a race that’s only a mile. In the Fifth Avenue Mile two years ago, I ran 6:51 and that really hurt. I’ve run about 20 seconds faster than that for the first mile today and I feel good.

I had set up my Virtual Partner for a 7:19 pace. I was only going to look at that screen without worrying about all the other numbers my Garmin collects and processes. As long as I was ahead of that guy, I would be doing what I needed to do. I didn’t want to track distance, overall time, or average pace. This was pass-fail. I would be ahead of my best pace or not. If I improved by one second, I would be satisfied. Happy, even. I still had this nagging thought that I wouldn’t be able to do it, but I was ignoring that. I had been telling people this morning I was going for it to put the extra pressure on myself.

At a mile and a half I knew my friend wanted to go a little faster. I couldn’t keep up with the slightly higher pace, maybe ten seconds faster than I could handle, so I told him I’d see him at the finish. For the next mile I focused on a woman in a yellow racer-back top about ten feet ahead of me. Sometimes I gained on her and sometimes she gained on me, but we were still near each other at the two mile mark. The clock was somewhere in the low 13 minutes, meaning I was a bit slower than the first mile but still doing much better than I ever had. A long time ago in Basic Training I ran two miles in the high 13 minutes, close to 14. I know there was a 13 in front. It surprised even me, but this was after four months of intense military training and when I was 30 pounds lighter.

I was now 1:45 ahead of my Virtual Partner, and that number was only increasing. He was going to finish in 22:41 no matter how fast I ran, but being almost two minutes ahead of him gave me some ideas. I could finish with a 20 in front of my time.

Curiously, my legs were fine; I didn’t even notice them. They weren’t burning, my joints were fine, and even the pains that had crept into my feet this week weren’t noticeable. My lungs, however, were on fire. The only thing slowing me down, I felt, was how fast I could breathe. I should be past my lactic acid threshold with this effort, but I don’t remember any of that. It’s a dangerous memory that makes me think I could have run faster, but I know I didn’t feel that way during it. I regretted not bringing my heart rate monitor so I could look at that later.

With a half mile to go, a modest overpass over the NJ Transit tracks slowed me a bit, and taking it a bit too fast probably slowed me for the next half mile. At the top it turned toward the stadium and I thought I was almost there. Had I looked at the distance on my Garmin, I would have known I had a ways to go. Looking at the course map would have done the same thing. I would have known I had to go half way around the stadium to enter it, but I didn’t know that.

I tried to keep the pace high. I was two minutes ahead of my Virtual Partner so I was almost assured a personal best time. The heat was starting to get to me and I could feel my brain screaming for oxygen. I knew I was close to my limit where my vision would narrow, but I was so close and so fast today. I was still close to my rabbit, the woman in the yellow top.

Around the stadium we went, now on concrete and always curving to the right so I couldn’t see ahead. Back to the Pepsi Gate (every gate is sponsored) and then into the tunnel and onto the field we went. I saw that we were under Section 137, the same number Wolfgang Ernst Pauli saw when he went into the hospital and knew he wasn’t coming out but also one of my favorite numbers. I was doing well.

Emerging onto the field, we took a right so we could go to one end zone and run the entire field to the other. I don’t remember seeing a marker for three miles, but it would have been around the tunnel. That 0.1 miles at the end is around 170 yards. I was looking for it but missed it and didn’t hear my Garmin auto-lap buzz.

The remarkable thing about being on a sports field is its smallness. The TV cameras distort the size. I’ve been on football fields before, but not ones surrounded by a pro stadium. Everything seems so close, including the finish line. I could see the clock and it’s in the high 20s. I wasn’t going to make it before it hit 21. When I cross the finish line it says 21:20 and my Garmin says 21:06. The official results—posted by the time I make it home—put me at 21:05. I’m happy that I’ve broken my own record, but a little disappointed in the way I wouldn’t have been with a worse time. I was so close to running under 21 minutes. Being so far ahead of my Virtual Partner might have held me back. I’d never contemplated running that fast.

9+1-7

I crossed the line at about 21:20, so even with the straight gun time I’d set a new time for me. My throat had paid the price. In this heat with all the huffing and puffing it was scratchy and sore, a small suffering that would last all day.

Two more runs and I’m in the New York Marathon next year.

2014 Boomer’s Cystic Fibrosis Run To Breathe



July 12, 2014
New York, NY
GPX
Event website

It’s another four mile race toward my 9+1 goal and I wasn’t interested in it more than that. It’s been two weeks since my last marathon for the summer and I’m ready to step back from the peak of fitness I think I’ve been on, especially since it’s full on not and sticky summer in New York. The heat kills me, although I’ve been handling it quite well lately.

Today I was assigned the second corral, with a number in the 1000s with the red bibs. I’ve been making my way closer to the start line this year. I found an answer about placements on the Dashing Whippets Meetup page. In short, NYRR tracks your best pace in a race longer than three miles. To allocate corrals, they rank the paces of all registrants and place the first block in the first corral, the next in the second, and so on. That means I could move up in the corrals if all the good runners stay away, and move back in a very competitive field.

Today’s corral assignment worked well for me. Usually, the start is chaotic and nerve wracking as everyone tries to find some space to run. I usually spend the first half of the race moving up in the field. This time, I was placed just right. I mostly stuck around the people with whom I started, although I was barely maintaining the pace at points. Perfect corral placement, and I got to fist bump Boomer Esiason as I passed the start line.

I kept up the pace throughout the race. My legs were fine and only my lungs limited what I could do. The heat didn’t bother me that much. Once I got to the last turn—right on the 72nd Street transverse—I slowed slightly. I wasn’t paying close attention to my time and I didn’t care that much about my time today.

I should have kept the pace or even sped up slightly, even though I typically ramp up my pace over the last mile so I have nothing left for a sprint at the end (and tend to think that those who do didn’t try hard enough). I ended up with a run one second slower than my personal best at the Celebrate Israel run on the same course.

Even though I ran one second slower, I ran a bit better than the rest of the field. That fits in with the idea that I was placed in the red corral because my past performance was better than the people behind me and there were fewer people with better performances in front on me (so, fewer showed up for this summer event). I’m happy that my personal best pace wasn’t a fluke, but now I have to keep running that fast!

Half year goal assessment

I’ve made it through half the of biggest running year of my life. How am I doing? In short, I’m kicking ass for this year’s goals.

I’ve run at least one mile every day for over six months. I’ve run in all sorts of weather. One day I ran back to my hotel from a restaurant in my street clothes (and in snow that time). I ran through an empty airport, and there were several runs to and back from a far away grocery store. I’ve run in combat boots in a tornado zone when I was doing disaster work. I ran in Cairo during a layover. I’ve had so many excuses to not run and people wouldn’t have blamed me, but I’m tougher than that. I’m doing this for me. And, I’m doing it.

I’ve jumped out of bed on a couple of nights because I forget to run, and there were more than a couple days when I thought I had forgotten to run the day before.

Earlier in the year, this goal to simply get out the door to run was killing me, but I’ve used to it now. I have an easier time in the warm weather too since I don’t take as long getting dressed. Mentally, I’ve just accepted that it’s going to happen. It’s easy now.

I reached my Titanium goal during the Heartland Series in Illinois. I’d planned this year thinking that I had to run them in a calendar year, but if I start back in the Center of the Nation series in September. Still, in just this year, I’ve run 26 marathons and ultras, only repeating New York. I front loaded the schedule in case I ran into problems or injured myself beyond repair. Aside from the George Washington Birthday Marathon cancellation, everything else has gone as planned.

With the Victoria Falls Marathon, I finished a third circuit of the Seven Continents. That wasn’t a stated goal for this year. I’ve also developed a new goal to run ultras on all Seven Continents. Before this year I’d run only Two Oceans in South Africa, but this year I ran ultras in Antarctica, South America, North America, and Asia, mostly following Ziyad Rahim’s ultra Guinness World Record for the shortest time to run ultras on all continents. I ran three of his races with him.

I’m registered for another 10 marathons this year as I work on the 50 States. I didn’t have a goal to finish it that this year, but I wanted to get really close. If everything goes as planned, I’ll have Idaho, Oregon, Hawaii, and Alaska left. I think I’ve decided that I’ll finish that goal in Idaho, the only state I haven’t visited.

I’m a little behind in my 9+1 goal for guaranteed entry to the New York Marathon, which is to say that I’ve only done the volunteer portion and five runs. I have four more runs, which seems like I did more than half during the first half of the year. But, I like to be ahead of the game and I’m not. I should have two more runs in July, though, and then I’ll only need two more in five months. That sounds easy, but if I keep traveling like I do, I won’t have many opportunities.

At this point in the year, I thought I would be a wreck. I’ve run much more than I ever have, even to the point that I don’t train. However, I set a personal record at the New Jersey Marathon and every other distance I’ve run this year. I’m getting stronger, not weaker. I’m running crap miles in an unstructured schedule. This isn’t the way it’s supposed to work, but I can’t argue with the results.

I haven’t done anything for my goal to run over all of the Manhattan bridges. That’s my goal for the summer.

2014 Victoria Falls Marathon



June 29, 2014
Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
GPX
Event website

[See my earlier post How I get to Victoria Falls on the cheap]

Race day! This is my third marathon in Africa and completes another set of the Seven Continents. I’m a bit banged up from a fall a couple of days ago, but otherwise I feel good. My body wanted to be awake in time to have my peanut butter sandwich and to sit around a bit for the start. I didn’t know how I’d do today, but I had an inkling that I might go for a personal record. I’ve been on a good year, I’m close to peak shape (although I don’t know if I’m ascending or descending that mountain), and I have new confidence in running in the heat if I can have coconut water, which I’ve found at the local grocery store. Everything seems to be lining up.

I shouldn’t think about that yet. If I get through the first half in good shape I can start to think about a personal record. If I’m in good shape by Mile 18, I can work toward a personal record. At the start I need to warm up and let the body fall into something that feels good.

The start is in front of the Kingdom Hotel, where I’m staying. I leave my room ten minutes before the start and stand around a couple of minutes before the gun. We line up, the field takes off, and we’re off to the Falls, across the bridge into Zambia, and back for the bulk of the race.

start

A cloud of mist comes up from the gorge; it’s one of the curious features of the Falls and a way to orient yourself in the high water season. You know where the Falls is by looking for the cloud coming up from the ground. When you get close enough, it’s perpetual rain—a big misting station. Even if its hot, it will be cooler here.

cloud

After a short downhill from the start, we start a slight uphill to the border post. Past that is the bridge. The sun is coming up, which would make for good pictures but I have another job right now.

border_post
sunrise

Before I get to the bridge, the lead pack is already coming back. The winner today gets $10,000 USD (Zimbabwe uses the US dollar as its official currency). The competition is going to be first. Some sports commentator once said during the Tour de France that cycling is the sport that lets fans get the closest to the athletes, but they’ve ignored the marathon, which lets fans compete in the same event as the elites. These guys are amazing, so graceful and efficient. There’s nothing about them that shows waste or awkwardness. And they were running right toward me on their way back from the turn-around on the Zambian side of the gorge. I’d just run a mile and they had already run over two.

lead_pack
blurry_pack

They are blurry like that in real life

I wasn’t in competition for any prizes so I took a quick stop on the bridge to look at the Falls and take a picture, like many other runners.

stopping_on_the_bridge

On the other side of the bridge is Zambia, and although we were actually in that country since we were on the other side of the river, we wouldn’t technically enter the country. We ran up to the border post and turned around. There’s no chip timing in this race. Officials in green blazers record our numbers at several checkpoints along the course.

zambia

At the turnaround we face back toward the bridge and have a nice downhill.

hill

With my hat and glasses on, my messed up Phantom of the Opera face doesn’t look so bad. I wonder how that will feel when I start to sweat, though.

me
bridge

Once across the bridge and through the border post, we turn right onto Zambezi Drive, which goes along the park that blocks everyone’s access to the Falls before it bends to the left. The rising sun casts orange light on the big baobob trees. We run by the Big Tree, a 1,500 year old baobob.

baobab

I’m still feeling good. Off Zambezi Drive we turn right onto the main road to go toward the River Lodge. My average pace is a bit fast for me, but I’m not feeling it. I’ve been running much faster this year, and I’m comparing each mile pace to 9:08, the four hour marathon pace. So far I’ve been below that for every mile. So far the heat isn’t bothering me.

The park along the river is pleasant. It’s shaded and a bit cooler, so the heat I knew I was building up had a chance to get out of my body and I was back on the level.

Almost at the farthest point into the park I hear a bit of activity behind me, then the lead bunch of the half marathon passes me. They had started a half hour after me and they’ve already caught me.

I get through Mile 9, what I count as the first third of the race with the same pace. I have a little trouble when we run up to the Safari Lodge. There’s a big hill going up there and it just keeps going. It slows me down a little, but I’m still faster than I think I should be even though I’m not feeling the effort.

There’s another turn around farther up the hill. After that, it’s downhill for a bit and I make up a little time I lost on that big hill. With a few more bumps, we’re back on the main road back toward the Falls. That’s a good downhill and even holding back there I’m close to an 8:10 pace coming up on Mile 13. If I’m feeling this good at the half, I could be on a good day. I pass halfway under two hours. I start to get a little excited about this. I’m running better than I did in the New Jersey Marathon, where I set a personal best earlier this year.

But I can’t get too excited yet. Maybe I’ve overcooked myself and I’ll blow up in the next couple miles. We run past the Kingdom Hotel again and go back toward the Falls, but rather than go over the bridge we turn left onto Zambezi Drive again to repeat most of the loop.

I make it through Miles 15 and 18 maintaining a sub-4 hour pace. Now I knew I was on a good day. I could set a personal record here. Not only that, I had a chance at breaking four hours today. Still, I had eight more miles to go and a lot can happen. I’ll think about that again when I get to Mile 20. I heard that last year part of the race was held up for animals crossing the road .I had seen some warthogs scurry across and I once saw one of the soldiers holding his rifle at the low ready peering intently into the woods. If I wasn’t running so well I would have stopped to take a picture with one of them. How many races have course marshalls with AKs?

elephant_crossing

I go through the park again, but there’s an new out and back now. I hadn’t expected that and it takes me out of my head for a moment. I was pushing toward Mile 20 thinking I knew what was ahead, but I don’t know where this is going. I take a quick pit stop for nature but I’m back to running. This puts me a little off my pace, but it’s not a problem. I’m still ahead of the pace I want and I’m feeling fine. By Mile 19 I’m not feeling good, but I’m not struggling either. That’s a good sign.

I run out of the park at a good clip, pushing it a bit to make up for the pit stop but also to get myself to Mile 20 before three hours. If I could be there a little early, I’d be in the right position for a sub 4. I got there with two minutes to spare—two minutes I could use for that 0.2. From here, I could slow to a 10:00 pace for the rest of the run and come in right at four hours. That should be easy. Right?

Mile 21 starts with a short downhill but then it’s uphill for a long time. This is going back up to the Safari Lodge. The sun is up and now it’s hot, with no shade along this stretch. I run the next mile right at a 10:00 pace, which annoys me because there’s nothing to spare there. In the next mile, things go poorly. I’m losing momentum on this uphill and the heat is bothering me a little. I decide to take a walk break, and this is where I lose it, I think. I lose a couple of minutes here, but I tell myself not to panic. I can make up for this later. It’s better to take a little break here to regroup then run myself into the ground.

But that hill up to the Safari Lodge is a motherfucker. I lose more minutes and I start to feel the sub-4 slip away. After the lodge, we turn to the right and go uphill, but they moved the turn-around farther up the hill. This gets to me a little. I was thinking that I could take a short break, hit the turn around, then be on the downhill. Now I have this extra uphill, which I walk. I take off my shirt to get rid of some heat.

At Mile 23, I have 20 minutes to get to the finish to break four hours, and I know for certain that I’ve lost that. I still have a chance to run a personal best though, but I’m not particularly interested in that. If I set a new record, it wouldn’t be by much, so what’s the point?

I get back to running, but I’m pretty slow. I’m a bit demoralized, much like some of the marathoners who have already given up. The really fast runners, the locals in contention for the prize money, just stop when they know they aren’t going to win. They aren’t in this for the love of running. They just want the money.

I mentally gave up, but I was still going to finish with a good time. But it gets worse.

At the 40 Km marker, my Garmin is spot on. I should have 2.2 Km left, and that’s about what my distance says. That’s unusual for my track, which is usually about a quarter mile long at this point. Even then, at 40 Km, I should have 2.2 Km left no matter what my watch says.

I run for about a half mile and then see a “2 Km to go” marker. What the fuck? Maybe it’s just in the wrong place. I run for another half mile but I don’t see the 41 Km marker. When my Garmin says 26.1, I’m at a corner with a sign that says “1 Km to go”. Maybe that’s in the wrong place too. Down the road I can see the parking lot where we should end, and it’s about a tenth of a mile away.

I get there and miss the turn into the finishing chute. The directional sign was after it, so I ended up in the parking lot and people are shouting at me that I’m in the wrong place. No shit. I look around, find someone with a medal, and ask them where the finish is.

I get back on track. But then I enter a cricket field, with tape all the way around it. There’s another half mile to get around this thing, which I jog slowly, thoroughly pissed. Even if I had kept the pace I thought I needed for the past five miles, I wouldn’t have broken four hours because I’d have another half mile to go. I’m pissed that there’s an extra distance and I’m pissed that I might have run the best marathon of my life to still not have run the best marathon of my life. I could have run my second fastest time. I was pissed that things could be so screwed up in the last two kilometers. Was the 40 Km marker in the wrong place? It seemed to be in the right place based on my measurement from the preceding markers.

map

Still, I finished, got my t-shirt and medal, then found a place to lie down for a bit. In my frustration at the end of the run I’d forgotten that I’d just completed another circuit of the Seven Continents.

medals

I waited around for the rest of the Marathon Adventures group to finish. I wasn’t the only one who had a bad day; everyone’s race seemed to go pear shaped at the same spot.

But, even with the time I had and the amount of walking and slow jogging I did in the last five miles, I had a really good run. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a better position at Mile 20. Maybe I could have pushed harder through Mile 22 to keep up my momentum, but I don’t think I made the wrong choice even though it turned out not to be right. With 65 marathons down, I’m used to this ending. It happens, it happened today, and it will happen again.

A bunch of us piled into a taxi for a ride back to the hotel. The driver wanted one of our shirts. This wasn’t a strange request. Many people had been asking for our western clothes, especially our flashy running shoes. I gave him my race shirt. I have enough race shirts already and this one was dark blue, my least favorite tech shirt color. The half marathoners received the flashy red shirts. Lucky buggers.

Aside from the ending, this was a good race. That I was surprised by part of the course was my fault, but I also don’t like knowing the course ahead of time. That’s on me.

Face plant


June 27, 2014
Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
GPX

With two days to the Victoria Falls Marathon, I wanted to go out for a leisurely run to explore a bit more of the area. I didn’t want to exert myself or do anything that might knock me out of the race. It turned out to be the wrong day for that.

I started from the hotel and ran to the Falls with the intent to go into Zambia. You can do (legally) without crossing through the Zambian border post, which means you don’t need an exit stamp from Zimbabwe or a Zambian visa; you don’t even need a passport The immigration officer on the Zimbabwean side gives you a “bridge pass” which you show at the gate leading to the bridge.

bridge_pass

A bridge pass

On the other side of the gate is a queue of taxis whose only job is to carry people from one border post to the other. I don’t need them because I’m going to run across. There’s a bit of land before you get to the gorge, but after that are a glimpse of the Falls. This is part of the marathon course, where we start outside the Kingdom Hotel and run into Zambia shortly before turning around.

victoria_falls

In the middle of the bridge, you enter Zambia, about halfway over the gorge. This is also where the bungee jumping takes place, probably since it’s the center rather than the odd fact that there’s about a meter of space that neither country claims (so they tell me). I spent a little bit of time talking to a man named Sunshine (other names I’ve met include Honest, XXX, and David). He wanted me to bungee jump, but I kept telling him that I wasn’t going to do anything that risky until after the marathon. If I only knew what was coming up I could have jumped off the bridge.

entering_zambia

On the other side of the bridge is the Bungee Cafe, where you register for the jump but can also get a drink. Behind that is a lookup point where you can watch the idiots people fall off the bridge. Even though this is now Zambian land, the border post is still half a kilometer away.

bridge_from_zambia

On the way back across the bridge I stop at the informal borders.

zambia_side

Still in Zambia

no_mans_land

No man’s land

into_zimbabwe

Crossing into Zimbabwe

panorama_small

Back at the Zimbabwean border post, I show my bridge pass to the guard who collects them, and I’m back on the other side.

welcome_to_zimbabwe

From there I take the dirt path the leads directly back to my hotel. It’s much warmer today than it has been for the past week, which means its going to be warmer for the marathon. The humidity isn’t bad though.

Instead of going into the hotel I decide to continue on the path in the other direction, toward the Victoria Falls Hotel. That’s the fancier hotel and the one that claims to have a direct view of the Falls. You can see the bridge, and under the bridge, I couldn’t really see the water.

I continue along the path going on the outside of the hotel. This is where the elephants go at night to sleep. That first run in Zimbabwe was as sunset and interrupted by elephants coming in this direction. I’ll need to be careful; there are wild and dangerous animals out here. I’m keep an ear out for snapping trees, the sign that elephants are eating.

The path goes downhill, but with a warning. It is step, with broken steps, and with a couple of small rope bridges.

steep_and_dangerous
rope_bridge

The farther I get the more elephant dung I see on the trail. They must spend a lot of time around here. I probably shouldn’t be back here on my own, and I shouldn’t be running around in the African bush without telling someone where I was going.

elephant_dung

I ignored all of those thoughts and kept going. I wanted to get around the corner of the gorge, which makes a big zig zag. From the top of the gorge it’s all dried grassland and small trees. If I get stomped by an elephant out here, no one is going to find me.

gorge
plain

By this time I’ve run maybe four miles, although I had stopped my Garmin for awhile without restarting it. I’m not really sure. I’ve gone through the little bit of water I brought so I should finish this run. The railroad tracks are ahead, and I can follow those back into town, and I won’t have to worry about the elephants anymore.

There’s a small path along the railroad tracks where everything goes wrong. I had no problems with the steep and dangerous gorge and no animals attacked me. When I think I’m away from all of the danger, my foot catches on something along the tracks and I start to trip. That wouldn’t be so bad, but as I’m bringing my other foot forward to catch me, it catches on a wire sticking out of the ground. From there I’m falling like the beanstalk giant.

I want to tuck and roll but my momentum is stretching my out as my feet at still stuck. I’ve pulled my arms in for the roll, but now I land right on my face. I think I hit first right on the side of my face next to my nose, but it doesn’t stop there. My chest comes down on my left arm.

I don’t lose consciousness, but my bell is rung. I know I’m in a bad way. I check my mouth for all of my teeth; no problem there. The entire right side of my face is stinging and dripping a mixture of sweat and blood, although I don’t know the proportions yet. My mouth and nose are filled with the fine dirt from the side of the tracks. My left arm is throbbing but I can move all of my fingers. I go through my ABCs on myself. I can breathe, and the only blood is coming from my face and my left forearm. I have some scraps on my right shoulder, but those are abrasions. I know where I am and what I’m doing. I know who I am. Honestly, my first thought was for the marathon.

Fortunately, I took my face plant right in front of the station agent sitting in a small shack big enough his chair and small desk. He leads me to his small restroom to get cleaned up. I can wash my face off but I can’t see what I’m doing because his mirror is dirty. A lot of dirt comes off my head. Once most of the dirt is gone, my hands comes back bloody each time.

I decide I need to get back the hotel, about a half mile away still. I try to put on my sunglasses again, which somehow are intact, but the bridge of my nose hurts. I give it a wiggle and know it’s not broken. I try to hold my sunglasses in my left hand but that hurts. That can’t be good.

Blood is still dripping into my mouth, but not that fast. I take a selfie to see the damage.

face_plant

I run the rest of the way back to the hotel, although slowly. I look a mess. I’m holding my left arm against my chest, my right side is dirty up and down. My face is a mess. People I pass are horrified, but no one says anything.

I walk into the hotel looking the same mess. A couple of security guys follow me for a few minutes until I stop at a table in front of a big mirror to find my room key. They watch me for a couple minutes but neither approaches. I don’t want their help, but I think it’s strange they don’t offer anything. I can barely use my left arm. I might not have fractured it, but something else is going on.

As I’m doing this I know I’m going into a slight shock. The adrenaline and chemicals that masked whatever happened is gone and I’m shaky and weak. I know the feeling and why it’s happening and what I need to do.

I make it back to the room to lay on the floor for about five minutes before I convince myself that I need to get properly clean. I know that’s going to sting.

With most of the dirt gone, I can see the damage. Lots of scraps to the face and something more serious above my lip. I can really tell about that because it’s really caked with dirt. The inside of my lip is fine, so I know a tooth didn’t go through it.

My arm as a pretty good puncture. There’s some blood, but it’s just from the skin I think. Another runner in the group is a vet and she takes a look without freaking out about it. She doesn’t give me the cone of shame. I put a band-aid over it.

An hour later I’m walking around with lions, still feeling a bit weak kneed and light headed, and with a band-aid saturated with blood and whatever else is coming out of my arm to the point that it’s dripping a little. My forearm is slightly swollen and it hurts to grip anything, but two hours away from my fall the pain is subsiding on its own even if some bits are still tender.

face_plant

I have a marathon in two days. My legs are fine and my ribs are fine, so I should be good to go. I spent so much time telling people I wasn’t taking risks before the big run that the universe decided to take me down a peg. It happens.

My first day in Zimbabwe


June 21, 2014
Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
GPX

I’m in a city, but it’s the smallest in Zimbabwe. Victoria Falls is only here to support the natural wonder of the same name, and is surrounded by a national park where the animals roam free. I don’t really want to go out running since 35 hours of travel and a nine hour time zone change is keeping me in bed. And, it’s chilly. Not only is the weather here moderate and comfortable, but I couldn’t figure out how to turn off the air conditioning. I don’t know if I brought warm enough clothes for this African trip. I’m here for the Victoria Falls Marathon next week.

I run down the path whose signs points toward the gorge. I figure as long I see other people walking on the paths, especially the locals, I’m fine.

This gorge is amazing, but it’s not the falls. I can see that farther up. I think that’s the bridge to Zambia. I don’t want to see the falls fight now anyway; it’s overcast and the sun is going down. I want to see for the first time in magnificent light. I’ll probably be up before the sun tomorrow as I fight the jet lag.

gorge

On the way back to the hotel, I’m stopped by a couple of rangers who tell me to stay where I am. They’re pointing into the trees, where I hear crashing and see trees shaking before I notice the two bright white tusks of an elephant. I can’t see the animal yet, but I can see what it’s doing.

back_to_hotel
in_the_bush

I stopped to talk to one of the vendors as we hid in the bush, figuring that the elephants wanted to move along the same path I was on. He told me I was a big target with my plan white tech shirt, but I think my new Asics were more likely to get me into trouble. Everyone wants to trade me anything for my shoes. I can’t tell if its from their bright coloring (I buy whatever is cheapest no matter how garish) or that they really need shoes.

The elephants stick around for a bit, tearing up the place. I forgot to pause my watch so I’m working on the worst average pace ever. A couple of rangers are taking notes and calling in the sighting, probably sharing information with the next hotel down the path.

elephants

After they leave, I still need to stretch out my run a bit to get my daily mile so I follow a path along the outside of the hotel. About halfway around, I figure that wasn’t such a good idea. The fence is electrified and I’m on the side with the elephants and buffalo (which I haven’t seen yet). I’m going to need to be much more careful, despite my experience running in the middle of the night by Chicago’s “Crack Jungle”.

electrified

Back at the hotel, I see a bunch of warthogs mowing the grass. They kneel on their front legs and move around with their faces in the grass as they graze.

warthogs

It’s getting dark, and that’s when big cats come out. I don’t know it that’s a problem around here, but I’m not sticking around to find out. Besides, I need a nap.

At Cairo Airport


June 20, 2014
Cairo, Egypt
GPX

I thought today might be the one where I failed to continue my one mile a day goal. I’m on my way to Zimbabwe for the Victoria Falls Marathon, which is 32 hours of traveling from New York, through Cairo, then Joburg, and finally Victoria Falls. Somewhere in there I need to run. I didn’t know how that would work out but I knew something would present itself, even if I had to run up and down a concourse.

The ticket agent in New York told me that as a business class traveler, EgyptAir provides a hotel room in Cairo for the 12 hour layover. That sounds promising. If I can get a room, I have a place to store my stuff, take a shower, and so on.

But, it gets better. As I waited at the transfer desk for my hotel room, the airline agent asked if I wanted to see the pyramids. I’ve seen them plenty, but the airline had a small bus for this purpose and for $35 I could go along. Brilliant. I had wanted to do that but figured it would cost too much and the situation in Cairo would be too unstable. I could have hired a cab for my own for the day, but that could have been a couple hundred dollars since the pyramids are a bit of trip from the airport.

panorama_small
pyramids
sphinx

It was still hot when I got back to the hotel, so I waited for the sun to go down before I went out, and good for me that I did. With the sun down a cool breeze came up to make it pleasant. It was still a bit warm for running for my preferences, but what can you do? (I can cross the equator and go far south!)

Walking out the front of the hotel, I didn’t know where I wanted to run. I needed to do only a mile, but I’m at Le Meridien next to the hotel. I hadn’t noticed sidewalks along the roads, and those roads are heavily trafficked with crazy drivers. I didn’t want to go outside the military checkpoints either; EgyptAir had held onto my passport since I was a special class of transit passenger who just happens to be on the other side of security.

apc

I ended up running in the parking lot. A lap goes down a ramp to the parking lot, then around the loop, and back up the hill for about 0.17 miles, all on brick. Six of those laps got it done, just in time for me to take a shower then go back into the airport.

le_meridien
downhill
parking_lot
uphill

2014 Portugal Day Run



June 15, 2014
New York, NY
GPX
Event website

Another personal best? How can that be? I feel depleted from the Heartland Series and thought this would be a recovery week. I didn’t plan to do anything other than make another notch in my 9+1 goal.

I can easily run a personal best on a new distance. I can’t recall that I’ve ever run a five mile event, so any time is a record time for me. However, I’ve run several 8k events, which are a hair short of five miles. Going by those times, I’ve run much faster than any 8k I’ve done by a couple minutes even though I had to run 0.03 extra miles.


Today’s course is different than the other NYRR runs I’ve done, which start on the east side and go anti-clockwise. This one starts on the west side and goes clockwise, which I hardly ever do in Central Park since I want to run up Harlem Hill at the top of the park.

map

I shad stayed up late the night before. After a couple of hours of sleep I rolled out of bed, put on my running kit, and stumbled out the door and to the subway. I picked up my bib, still half asleep, then sat on a bench in the sun for 20 minutes waiting for the start time. I could get some extra sleep. At ten minutes to go, I joined the corral, thinking I’d take it easy.

For the last two races I’ve had a bib in the 2000s, but this time I was moved back to the 3000s. I still don’t know how that works since my average paces have been faster and faster. Today I didn’t care since I wasn’t going to run fast. I was only here for the 9+1. I didn’t bring my Garmin; I didn’t need it when a milk run.

9+1-5

After the start, rather than weaving through the crowd and going way to fast to get ahead of my corral, I found a couple of runners going at a relaxed pace and stayed behind them. I resisted the urge to pass people. I feel okay right now because we just started. How long can I last with these dead legs?

But I ran that first mile around an 8:20 pace. It didn’t feel like I was putting out that much energy. I closed my mouth and breathed through my nose. A runner friend told me to breathe for my nose for as long as I could. If I could make it to five breaths, I’m under my maximum effort. I easily do that. Normally I’d make it to three breathes before I thought I was going to suffocate.

I try to slow down a bit, but the next mile is faster. By that time we’re at the 102nd Street Transverse, which is a bit uphill. After that it’s mostly downhill to the bottom of the park. I get a little faster, and I start thinking about a goal. I think I could finish under 40 minutes for an even eight minutes per mile. I’d shave a couple seconds to get a pace in the seven minute mark.

Then I decided I wanted to try to get 40 minutes gun time. I was about a minute and a half ahead, but I thought I could do it. I worked hard for the last maile and a half but faded slightly in the last bit back up the west side since it’s slightly uphill. The clock said 40:17 when I crossed. Even if I had kept up the pace in the last half mile, I still think I would have gone over 40 minutes.

For the effort, I got a medal. I wore it on to the train where more than one person asked if there had been a marathon today. Nope, today was just to wake up the legs a bit. That I did some speed work is my fault for not following the plan.

medal

Heartland Series: Wisconsin



June 8, 2014
Monroe, WI
GPX
Event website

For the last day of the Heartland Series takes place in Twining Park, named after General Nathan Farragut Twining, perhaps the luckiest soldier (airmen, whatever) alive. He always just missed the big wars, didn’t have to do more than two years at West Point, and still got to be part of the jet age.

None of that mattered to me. In 26.2 miles I would be done with my week. The end was within sight. With five or so hours of suffering and grit I’d be finished for the week, even though I wasn’t sure I’d make it all the way to the end. This is the second state I’ve repeated this week, so I didn’t need it for my 50 States goal. I could have skipped it without affecting any current goal. I suspect that I’ll have a 100 marathons goal since this is number 63. When I’m done with this year I should have around 75. I’m not thinking about that at the moment though. I have enough to think about already.


jet

This course was a short out and back for 1.3 miles. That’s a lot of laps and a lot of rubber bands.

map

At the other end of the course was a small bridge, and then the black cone for the turn around. I just kept running in circles, trying to get one more leg done and not thinking about the rest that I had yet to run.

path
bridge
cones

My body felt fine, but my muscles were just exhausted. My joints were fine, my head was fine, my stomach was dealing with it, but the big muscle groups were barely hanging on. It helps to know that most everyone else is in the same boat, save for the very fresh local runners joining us for their hometown race. I wonder what they think of the pack of zombies we had become, and if they hope they never turn into that. I know some of them will, though, seeing that one marathon isn’t enough. I wanted to eat more from the well-appointed support tables, but I was too tired to grab too much. If I stopped it would only take longer and it would hurt more to get started again.

tables
food
drinks

I ran the first half straight through, mostly, with a couple of bathroom breaks, then switched to a 9 minutes of running to one minute of walking. There was a small hill out of the parking lot up the path, the hook you see in the map, and I walked that too. The slow and steady pace throughout the race gets it done, one step at a time.

And there it is, the last of five marathons in a week. I need a nap.

medal

With this, I’ve completed all but one of my landlocked states. I have Idaho left, and the rest are on the coast. I have a plan to finish the rest of the Atlantic states later this year with the Appalachian Series and a couple of marathons close to New York City. Before I get that far, though, I have the Victoria Falls Marathon in a couple weeks.