Wednesday, March 28, 2012

"We Are All Infected:" Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, and Other Supplements and Diversions

I am in love with my diversions.  I call them diversions, but I think that gives them a bad rap. Diversions are something that makes you forget your live, takes you away from things you should be experiencing, and dulls the senses so that you don’t feel as much of your pain.  Diversions are the opiates of the masses.

I prefer to think of them as ‘supplements’.  Things that enhance my life, reflect something about myself, highlight the drama of the human experience, reflect or draw upon some inner emotion or notion or relationship dynamic and present it in front of me.

And this is a great week for supplements.  And as I look at my list, they are a Geeks dream


“Let me tell you something, Bastard. Never forget what you are, the rest of the world will not. Wear it like armor and it can never be used to hurt you.”
 “I have a realistic grasp of my own strengths and weaknesses. My mind is my weapon, and a mind needs books as a sword needs a whetsone if it is to keep its edge. That’s why I read so much."
Tyrion Lannister

Daenerys Targaryen, mother of dragons

 Let's start with the book I just finished, ‘A Clash of Kings’, or, as I think of it; “Game of Thrones, Part 2” and the HBO Series Game of Thrones which starts on April 1st. I rarely read full series of books, but this series has me hooked. Clash of Kings is one of those books I looked forward to diving into more than many others, and it will probably make the rest of the 30 books on my kindle jealous the way I slobbered over it. And the dismay over losing my favorite character from the book one was laid to rest when I realized that his presence is felt all throughout the second novel.  Each and every character in a sense is haunted by his ghost. 

A much coveted seat.

The book is character driven by rich  personalities with sharp motivations that run the spectrum of human nature and this is perhaps it's greatest feat, right after the incredible world the series portrays. The land is so vast, so rich, with Shakespearean family legacies, mystical flavoring sprinkled in, and majestic in its scope. Yes, there are mostly second hand accounts of rape, incest, extreme barbaric acts, but this just magnifies the nobility of the actions of many of the characters and makes it all more riveting.

The HBO series only enhances my pleasure of the reading and maintains its same depth and maturity while adding to the beauty of the kingdom.  I'm sure I will be diving into the next book shortly after the next HBO series is over. The book feels like historical fiction rather than fiction, and even though intellectually I know the land and the characters don't exist, I feel it more than the real world much of the time, and isn't that what great books do?   So, on April 1st I will be there watching.

Also on April 1st, the second season of The Killing will premiere.
I love Linden, and won't believe Holder has gone rotten

 This is an atmospheric, deeply engrossing, slowly unraveling, and I find plenty satisfying Onion of a series were the detectives aren’t all gorgeous, the good guys aren’t all good and the bad guys have a backstory that makes you think twice.  The show follows only one killing, and the mystery isn’t solved in a 52 minute no commercial hour. The characters are multi-dimensional and ever unraveling, the parents response to their daughters murder was done with such realism, and the resulting shattering of the family and the large community hits with powerful subtly.

Oh yeah, and it rains. It rains a lot.

Then there’s the geeky delightful book I am currently reading called “Ready, Player One”
What books used to look like before the kindle.
The novel is set in the grim future where  a Steve Jobs type of guy who has created a powerful virtual reality where much of the society spends their time to escape their bleak poverty. When he dies, he leaves behind a contest based on the glory days of the 80’s and it becomes the obsession of the masses.

So far, the best way to describe this book is "neat." Neat with a capital "N!" The story is interesting, the writing is not lyrical but easily digestible, the world is interesting but sort of done before, but the 80's movies and video games references make me smile every page. Yes, I was a nerd who played Robotron and all the atari games and can quote most of  the John Hughes movies, and the author itches the nostalgia scratches (or scratches the itch?) enough to make you go "ahhhh, this is fun. A little to the left" and yes, the author does go a little to the left inevitably and gives you what you want.

Love the game where you have to memorize Matthew Brodericks lines from War Games, but so far I’m very upset the iconic movie Red Dawn is given no mention.

The movie version is on its way.

MAD MEN (season one)

"The reason you haven't felt (Love) is because it doesn't exist. What you call love was invented by guys like me, to sell nylons. You're born alone and you die alone and this world just drops a bunch of rules on top of you to make you forget those facts. But I never forget. I'm living like there's no tomorrow, because there isn't one."

Before antabuse.

I was never able to keep up, and thus the series passed me by, but alas, here I am finally with Netflix streaming and going back to season one, and currently on the tenth episode. Love the whole notion of advertisers and marketers selling and ‘inventing’ want, making people think they need a certain product to be happy, trying to outwit the public out of their nickels and dimes, all the while they have already bought into their own false sense of happiness, with ongoing buyers remorse that all the whiskey and sex can’t wash away.  Existentialism, consumerism, materialism, gender wars - my only regret is that I keep stumbling upon spoilers.

And then there’s that other AMC series; The Walking Dead. 
The whisper.

I found the three next to last episodes incredible and the final episode satisfying.
“We are all infected” was the season's secret, which really seemed to get little play out there compared to the teasers for next season, but for me this was profound. When you realize "we are all infected" with the zombie gene, that your afterlife is to be forever aching and hungry and mindless and heartless until you are put down again. Well, damn, that’s a tough break.
Yes, this means you too.

We are all infected.  Isn’t that a neat theme.  We are all infected with this human experience, it’s a virus that lasts approximately 70 years, give or take a few decades, and during that time we look for meaning.  This can be done through all sorts of  diversions and supplements.  Or, as the Buddhists say; All existence is suffering and all of our efforts are to relieve that suffering, if but for brief moments. Grim, I know, but , don’t blame me, blame the Buddhists.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Long Run Munchies and Giving Birth To Twins

I finished a 17 mile training run on Friday that had all the elements of what Long Runs demand.

First of all, my calves felt destroyed all week, which had me icing them with a bag of peas off and on, and for 3 days I was ingesting a ibuprofen/naproxen cocktail, so before I even started the run I feared I would have to bail out. Although the first 4 miles were tough, my incredibly smashed-in, painful to the touch and tight as a hangman's noose calf muscles finally released, so that by mile six I no longer feared they would stop me.

Then it was smooth sailing, it was a 8 mile rush of energy, of running faster than expected pace, of dashing down sidestreets I have never been on 'just because' and of everything flowing loose and easy.  Then the aches and pains hit, and already at mile 12 I had sore tightening muscles. 

I finished the last miles with some grunts, with some steps where I closed my eyes and felt a bit delirious, and I know I was in the zone cause I finished with sweat and mucus and who knows what other kind of mojo on my mug but was fully oblivious to the looks from those around me.

As with every long run, as much as I'm relieved when it's over, I also wish I was back in it.  I love those moments  where the exhaustion and muscle pain hits, where you feel so raw and the rest of the world fades away. I know I am in that zone when the headphones suck me into the music so intensely, and every nerve feels a strange combination of being numb yet fully exposed.

And then that moment where you walk into your house and chug down the cold chocolate milk waiting for you. My thoughts flow from  "damn that felt good" to "God I hope I didn't injure myself" and eventually  "Damn do I want to eat but please dont' eat more calories then you just burned."  Inevitably, I munch with the Long Run munchies that make the marijuana munchies look like nothing. 5,000 calorie days inevitably follow a long run day.

It's time to start taking my S-Caps. I love S-Caps.  Maybe they are just Placebo caps, who knows, but they help so much. It's just a load of sodium, but it works better than gatorade, and is probably more similar to pickle juice.

Cool thing was I took the day off of work on Friday to get the run in just so I could have family time over the weekend. (any other runners out there take a day off of work, or a half day, just to finish a long run?  It can't be just me.)

So, I know my calves will tighten up again, and they will ask for a cold pack of peas and be snuggly tucked into the calf sleeves before bed each night. I will massage them under the table during work meetings, I will take strides randomly in the middle of walking through parking lots just to see what they feel like, and i will wait for them to be fresh so I can start all over

It is amazing how 'intimate' we get with our chronic injuries and nagging pains. We know their triggers, we know their moods, we read their subtle signs and know when they will flair up and can tell what it takes to fix them.  They are sort of like the annoying co-workers who we know we have to deal with, who we don't necessarily like or hate because we've moved beyond liking or hating to just accepting them for what they are and modifying our work to fit them in.
I am at that point in my training where I know I could rock some runs if I could just take 5 days in a row off, but then I look at the calender and with only 61 more training days and my plan to do 6 more progressively longer Long Runs (another 17, an 18, 19, two 20's, and a 22) and I realize that I just don't have the time, so I push my limits, make my legs ragged, hit the ice more,and push through to the taper. I want to do more speed work, I want to do more hills, I want to do more miles, but as it is and I'm going at it the minimalist route. I can run though most any exhaustion, but one thing I can't do is run through injury, and after some years I can tell when I'm on the precipice of such an occurrence.  As the great Scotty Bowman (and probably many others) said, "You can play with pain but not with injury."

I've heard a marathon is like a giving birth, and much like you only get pregnant again after forgetting the pain of childbirth, you start training for a marathon again once you forget the pain of the 26.2 miles you just ran. In both cases, the joy remains.  Well, since I'm doing 2 marathons in 4 and 1/2 months it's going to feel like I'm giving birth to twins, and during the pain of the first delivery I will know that in the back of my mind another one is soon on its way.

Only 61 days left until it's time to taper for the Ann Arbor Marathon.

 "The Jade Rabbit" - A story of a miraculous marathon run
$3.99 on Amazon

Reviews of The Jade Rabbit

Thursday, March 22, 2012

My Two Cents After One Trip To Boston

It's just over three weeks away, meaning the culmination of those training for Boston is here! Before I ran Boston for the first time, I read lots of different takes and opinions on the course, and all of them highlighted different things.  Different personalities see different things, and it was good to get a consensus. With that in mind, I thought I would throw in my two cents about my take on Boston.

Getting There.
Flights are expensive, but then the price of the hotels make the flights look cheap. I found one of those “rent a room in my house” websites and got a nice room, sort of like a B and B, for less than a hundred dollars a night. We had a great host who cooked for my wife and I and gave me some local pointers. It was in Cambridge, and I walked around the campus of Harvard and took what I call” The Good Will Hunting Tour,” which ended when I banged on the glass of a restaurant window yelling “Do you like apples? Do you like apples?  Well, I got her number. How’d you like them apples?”

It was nice to stay away from the main marathoners drag, since I was around them enough for the expo and during the run, but needed some space. Having runners in front of your nose all the time just constantly reminds you of the event, and plus you’re with the same group in a different city that way rather than venturing outward which is what I wanted.  The Boston subway system is incredible. The city is quaint, not the claustrophobic crowded feel of a Chicago and just seemed a little more ‘green’. Boston, you  all have reasons to be snobs.

Getting To The Starting Line
If it's your first Boston, I think you are cheating if you don’t take the buses but instead take a private bus. Potties on the bus are for wimps. Wake up, and go stand in line with the massive MASSIVE crowds by the subway stop like the rest of us.  Man is it a sight to see. Lines of buses from horizon to horizon and a mass of crowd everywhere.  Do get there early, especially if you are in the first wave.  I have wondered many times who was the last person to get on the bus and how they must have pooped their paints in nerves over not getting to the start on time.
Waiting in line for the busses. This picture doesn't do it justice.

A Survival Kit
Yes, I suggest bringing a disposable survival kit. A black bag to sit on to keep your arse dry, some food to eat if needed, and all the little comfort items you may need to prepare yourself before the run. Packing your breakfast if you want because there’s plenty of time to eat it. The bus ride is long since there are a lot of stop and go’s waiting to drop you off.  The crickety bus ride really exposes how far you will actually be running and gives you lots of time to socialize with random people or meditate and ponder on your event, or just take a nap if you really are the running Zen Master.

When it’s time to go to the corral and wait, this to me is what really felt different than other races. Just a bit more majestic the buzz that comes from the start with helicopters and then jets flying overhead, the Boston Marathon Banners, and the reality of waiting to take off on the biggest most famous race on the plant. Of course, my feelings could be based on what it personally meant to me to be there at that moment.

Waiting to be summoned to the start
The Myth of Hills At Boston.
I was very surprised after hearing all the stories about the hills at Boston. What I found was there are no hills, but in fact, the course IS hills.  When I hear hill I hear a flatland approaching a hill and then getting flat again.  The whole course is always on an incline or decline, which is what surprised me despite seeing the elevation chart many times.  And the neat thing is you can thus see forever in front of you, and the whole mass of runners makes you feel that much more a part of the community.

But, none of the hills is that daunting in terms of its steepness, but a few are strategically placed by some marathon guru to test if you really want to finish.  When I close my eyes, I have more horror at that small little hill at mile 25.5 at the Chicago Marathon dubbed “Mt. Roosevelt.”

The Crowds: My take on the difference of the crowds at Boston:
 The crowds at Chicago are four to ten deep and cheer for its marathoners with all their heart. The crowds at Boston are ever present as well and seem to be cheering for themselves during the marathon. It seems they are cheering for their city, and for all that they created, and they are happy you are there to see it and be there with them.  They don't just want you to hear, they want the whole world to hear that they are Boston, and hear them roar.

Learn the history
I didn’t study it thoroughly, but did read through quite a few descriptions of the distinct and differing neighborhoods you will run through trying to get back to the city from Hopkington. My description wouldn’t do justice the many different ones out there, but just know that, maybe due to it being a straight shot, it has more distinct neighborhoods than other circular courses (I do New York in November so expect it has this same feel.)  It is like venturing through different worlds as you go, my testosterone does remember the screaming Wesley girls, I remember a “biker gang,” and I remember wishing I memorized the exact number of hills leading up to “heartbreak hill.” I really wanted to know as my thighs were getting pounded if I was at the end of the inclines or was there another one on the horizon. Not sure if my fuzzy brain would have been able to remember and recall anyways, but a sign that said “Welcome to HeartBreak Hill” save me and  was such a relief so I expanded the last bit of ‘hill energy’ I had to get to the top and ready to roll down to the finish.

Boston Virtual Course Tour Link 

Did The Sox Win?
You are a Red Sox Fan for the day. No matter what. Be a geek about it. Pay homage to Carlton Fisk and yell randomly to people “But did the sox win? Did the sox win?” Makes you as cool as the other side of the pillow.

The Boston Marathon not in Boston.
Only a portion of the course is in Boston, a very small portion at then end.  This makes the Boston section seem so roaring.

Pray to CITGO  Pray pray to Citgo
I had heard in advance about the Citgo sign looming in the sky as a sign that you are near the end.  And yes, when you see it it will warm your heart and pump fresh blood to your legs.  And I swear as you get closer to the finish, with a solid but relatively sparse crowd, you can hear the finish from miles away, until you finally make that final turn onto Bolyston street and your last strides before crossing the blue and gold banner.

I now love CITGO gas.  Or, as one famous boston baseball player who tried to hit the ball out of fenway park, See It Go.

This runner has some major CITGO love

Bring A Ring To Give To Your Wife At The Finish.
Well, in my case, our ten year anniversary was 5 weeks after the run, so it worked out perfect.
Yes, I carried the ring with me through airport security, hid it from my wife over the weekend, and then tucked it into my zippered shorts and carried  it with me over 26.2 sweaty mucus filled miles and gave it to her near the finish. I had this whole image of kneeling down and presenting right on the blue and gold finish line strip, but….

Stay longer…
I Love walking around a city a bit after the race.  Great way to help in recovery, no more worries about your time and the event, what's done is done.

After the Boston I finished, I was able to walk, and my wife was happy as could be  since this romeo gave her an anniversary ring at the end of the event
We went to the coolest sea food shop ever in the north end called The Daily Catch.  They cook your lobster or whatever meal and then just bring the pan right to your table as the dish. There’s a chalkboard menu, cash only, maybe 4 tables and 20 seats in the place.  The Daily Catch

This meal was delicious, but later on that night, I chased it down with a Quarter Pounder w/cheese. True Story.

There were no bathrooms in the place, but they had an agreement with the cigar bar across the seat, so I went over there and it looked like a Sopranos casting call. Expensive suits, men with leers on their faces surrounded by woman in Vegas like outfits, an aura of “I’m a clown, you think I’m a clown? I amuse you?”  floating above each and every one of them.  I tiptoed to the bathroom over the legs of ‘made guys’ to the tune of Don’t Stop Believin.
"Excuse me (cough) where's the bathroom?"

Lastly - Buy as much Swag as you can.  Get the jacket, even if it’s ugly like it was the years I ran. I grabbed the jacket, a short sleeve T, and a winter hat, but wished I got more.  Who knows when I’ll be back.


Friday, March 16, 2012

"I Got This!" The Story Of My Boston Qualifier

“I have no formula for winning the race. Everyone runs in her own way, or his own way. And where does the power come from, to see the race to its end? From within”
“I'm forever in pursuit and I don't even know what I am chasing.”
Chariots of Fire

 *With Boston coming up, I figured it was time for another long, rambling, self-indulgent post, this time describing my Ten Year Odyssey to run A Boston Qualifier*

No Such Thing As Failures, Just Many Ways To Learn How Not To Do Something

I trained my ass off to quality for Boston. After the pain of my first marathon ended, I wanted to push the bar farther, to find some other rite of passage to prove myself.  I had heard about the mythical, classic race, and even non-runners know that Boston means something extra special.  Many times it came up with someone unfamiliar with the world of running that I’ve done a marathon  “Oh yeah,” they will say “but have you ever run Boston?” I can’t help but think others have had this experience. Most who ask this, don’t mean are you fast enough to qualify, but they assume that it is somehow a different kind of 26.2.  Still, it was an immediate measuring stick.

Shortly after my first marathon when the pain had finally subsided,  I remember googling “Boston marathon qualifying times” and learned that I needed to run a 3:10 to qualify. I quickly did the math and found it meant averaging 7:16 per mile.  So, I immediately took a warm up run to the local track, and then tried to assess if I could run a 7:16 mile and see what it felt like. I figured if I could run one of them without incredible strain, that after some training, I could do 26 of them.

My first attempt was around a 7:40 and my perceived effort was alarmingly hard. Not to be discouraged I rested and ran again, and since I was truly warmed up, hit a 7:05.  that was more like it. It was on. I had a goal, qualifying for Boston. I researched programs, did constant mathematical equations and mile splits in my head, thought about running at work and talked about it to people who didn’t give a damn,

 I really believe I was in the best shape of my adult life (adult life, that is) training for my first attempt for a BQ. I was running 55 to 60 mile weeks, I was doing intervals once a week – quarter miles, half miles, 8 x 1 miles– and I was doing regular races while training and recovering fairly well. I hit  a 1:29 half marathon, a 1:06 ten miler, and all the race predictors had me  right around a 3:10 finishing time, some predicted a bit higher, some a bit lower.  My confidence was growing at the same time my fear was growing.  I kept telling myself failure was not an option.

So, as any egomaniac hiding an inferiority complex would, I went out for a run most days trying to prove myself capable.

The  lack of confidence and constant fears meant I wanted so much feedback from my training data. All the time. Constant data.  Every run was measured, and when the doubts hit during a run I pushed myself to run a marathon pace mile.  I was so infatuated with training, always wanting to know if it would happen, so  for no reason on regular runs I would push it to marathon pace, already on dead, tired, non-recovered legs and thus damaging myself and not proving a thing,  foolishly wrecking what should have been a slower recovery run and stealing moments away from more key workouts in the near future. It would be my theme for years to come.

"Just remember this: No one ever won the olive wreath with an
impressive training diary."
- Marty Liquori

All this training lead up to my last 20 miler, a training run sponsored by Runnning Fit 3 weeks out from marathon day. I had been pointing to this even and wanted assurance I was in 3:10 shape, so I basically raced the training run, and ran a 6:58 pace for 20 miles on a hilly route. A 7:16 pace was needed to qualify.  I of course did the math and realized 6.2 more 8 minute miles would have given me BQ glory at the finish. Hellz yeah! I could do that!

Little did I know, I blew my whole training that day, emptying out all the marathon Mojo I had been storing up, and lost any hope for running my best event.  If I had run the first ten slow, sped up, and ended with some marathon pace miles, and then followed this last long run with a three week taper,  I would have been refreshed at the starting line Marathon morning and been fully 3:10/BQ ready.

But, Instead of training for marathon day, I wanted assurance and a guarantee, so I raced the training event just so I could point to this sweet time as proof I could BQ.

A week later, even this confidence wore off, so  I did another 20 miler only this time it was with slogging, dead legs -- 2 weeks out from marathon day, and did the Detroit Half Marathon the week before Chicago. Not only was it a  2 instead of 3 week taper, it was way too much for my ‘fair at best’ running genetics. This mistake would also continue for years to come.

And now in one hour's time I will be out there again. I will raise my eyes and look down that corridor; 4 feet wide, with 10 lonely seconds to justify my whole existence. But WILL I?
-Chariots of Fire (before the 100 meter)

Chicago came, and my mistakes continued. The start was packed, jammed together, making it impossible to start with any speed (this was before ‘chutes’).  I was so fearful of not running my BQ, that I ran an uneven pace, at first acting like a nut and running through people quite obnoxiously the first mile trying to hit my 7:16 and not fall behind. My runner’s etiquette shot out of my body like a one nostril snot shot.  Still, in the crowded field, I couldn’t hit my 7:16 for the first 2 miles but instead was closer to 7:30, and insanely made up for it by doing a couple of even 7 minute miles in a row from miles 5 to 7. 

With all of that, I was still on pace until mile 20, but when I got there, I felt much worse than I had at the end of my faster 20 mile training run 3 weeks earlier.  I employed the “just one more mile” mentality, telling myself that I just had to run one more mile, just one more mile at the same pace, and that the race ended at mile 21, so just make it another mile and don’t worry about the rest. And then the same for mile 22, and so on. 

My pace slowed, my legs hardened and ligaments so taxed it was like I had wet cement for blood.  I wasn’t going to make it, all my training and time and mental energy was a waste. Alarm bells rang in my head.  I fought and fought and fought against that prospect, pushing from some force beyond me, and what happened to me at this point was amazing. My legs cramped up so insane that bulges of muscle, like the birthing crowns of aliens, sprouted out of my thighs.  Huge bowling balls from my thigh muscles emerged. Walking was a struggle.  I feared getting pulled off the course, and if someone could read my mind and feel my body they would mandate it. I finished with an ache in my legs that has left a permanent psychological imprint. If there was a zombie attack, I would have been shot in the head cause I looked like the living dead. I was that guy you looked at and put in your memory banks saying “I don’t ever want to be him.”  I hit a 3:16 after running the last two miles averaging 10 minutes per mile pace.

“Most marathoners will tell you, around mile 20, they start praying for any kind of help they can get”  Saint Ralph

Instead of learning from my mistakes, I basically did the same exact training routine for the next 3 or 4 years with only minor modifications, and crossed the finish line with a marathon each year but always short of my goal.

Qualifying for Boston was a self-imposed mark. It was pretty artificial, and while I gauged it as what would make me a ‘real runner’, I realize everything is relative and that there are many faster folks who set the bar much higher; sub 3 hours for example, being able to run the Olympic qualifier, all sorts of other feats that make a BQ look a bit silly, but for me it became important.

Yet I still found myself failing in multiple attempts at qualifying, each time taking solace in all the psycho-spiritual-physical benefits of training, soothing myself saying ‘you just finished a marathon, how can you be disappointed?’ but still with a nagging ache in my heart and an unspoken sadness for not reaching my goal.

I started to wonder why my training had just coincidentally danced around the BQ time zone but never under. Was I psychologically stopping myself from being successful and running this time?  Maybe I was flirting with meeting my goal, but somehow my psyche was too scared to run faster and more comfortable with falling just short; a wannabe athlete accustomed to not performing and feeling less than, completely comfortable in not succeeding and falling to saccharine self-pity. 

“I've known the fear of losing but now I am almost too frightened to win.” 
Chariots of Fire

There were many moments it hit me that I was going to my grave without having ever qualifying.  That it was a dream that would forever have to be deferred, and all the times I imagined what a BQ finish might feel like would have to stay imaginary and would simply never happen. .

Just a small part of me felt embarrassed since it was a pretty public goal of mine, although mostly it was just an existential failure and that my roar into the vast realm of the universe was in fact just a pip-squeak of a mouse instead.  That’s okay, a mouse has its place.

The horror, the horror.

Then kids came, and I was a little less into times and simply finishing. I ran a few 3:45 marathons, one just under 4, I did a trail marathon just to finish since it was heralded as one of the top ten toughest marathons in the country.  My races were spread apart, but as the kids got older and training was easier to fit in, and as the BQ times changed from a 3:10 to a 3:20 for my age group, I went at it again, trying to qualify, and felt like I had to unlearn some bad habits.  Insanity is trying to do the same thing over and over again expecting different results. It is being hard-headed and stubborn and sticking to beliefs, not in a noble way but in an ignorant dangerous way. It happened in my addiction and failed attempts to get sober, and it happened in my sobriety. I needed to trust some different training ways, some different approaches. I realized each race was an experiment of one.

So, I tried a whole series of new training methods, many of these have already been discussed in pasts posts, but I think the mix that worked for me was the following:

-Pushing my last longest run to 22 or 23 miles.

-Doing more long runs, finishing the second half of every other long run at projected marathon pace.

-Doing less speed work. My times showed I was fast enough, and speed work hampered the endurance runs that I really needed.

-Taking more time to recover, not worrying if I do a week of as little as 10-15 miles of running if needed.

-Calf sleeves, 2 calf sleeves really.

-Not pushing the training for false, overly reassuring needing confidence building runs.

-A 3 week taper instead of two

-Adding hills for muscle strength in those last miles

-Eating for recovery, and adding S-Caps; (sodium caps.) My sweat is so salty I finish events with white streaks on my face, and I swear the S-caps help eliminate even minor cramping

-Running with headphones. Yes, running the event with headphones too.

-Choosing a smaller race, in my case, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

--Pity from god who gave me a perfect temperature to run on race day.

Grand Rapids Marathon Start
All of these were part of my experiment of one, and it was an experiment I never knew would work.  I had been mentally defeated to a degree, and there was the mind games I had going on, that mental block, that fearful and uncertainty to find my personal “win”.   I intellectually knew all about the “you have to believe you can do it” (yeah, yeah, blah blah)  but it was in a weird Jedi training moment that I actually ‘learned this’ concept.

It happened 15 minutes before the start of the Grand Rapids Marathon, on a perfect, partly sunny morning.

My wife was dropping me off just before the start with time enough to take the mandatory pee, and get a nice starting spot in the chute. Grand Rapids was small, no need to elbow your way to freedom, and the cold wind and rain of the day before had gave way to what was a perfect running day.  Mid 30’s to start, up to mid 40’s by ten am.

“If I don’t see you during the race," she asked, "what time do you think you will be done?” 

“If I’m done in three and a half hours, and I know I will be done in three and a half hours, it will be 11:30. But hopefully earlier.”

And then it struck me. I said “hopefully earlier” with no backbone to it, yet I ‘I Know” I could run a 3:30 with complete certainly. If I didn’t’ think I could do less than that, the 3:20 I needed to qualify,  if I didn’t believe it, I was done and all set up for another failure. I already believed I wasn't going to make it, and my language had revealed this lack of faith.  Where the mind is, the body is sure to follow. 

I needed to believe it in my heart, not simply due to the training sheets, but believe it, and maybe even stronger, KNOW it. I know I can do it, and I know I will do it.

So it struck me.  I did my prerace routine and did a personal Jedi mind meld.  I know it, I Know it, I know it. I got this, I got this, I got this, I got this…

The  phrase “I got this” would be my mantra to push me. I got this, I got this, I got this. I must have said it 20,492 times in my head to myself during the race, and at the 20,493rd time, about mile 18, I believed it.  I had been speeding up the whole event, actually starting slower than marathon pace to get my legs warmed up, and then running about 10 miles just under 3:20  from miles 8 to 18, and here I was and I knew it, I knew it, “I got this.”   Your fastest races feel the easiest, and this was where I was at, there was no “might.”  I have been at those “might qualify" moments so many times in races before, so I knew this wasn’t one of those. A “might make it" means some weird energy might come from nowhere, but I always knew in my heart in those “might” races I was not going to make it. I just wanted to try, because to ‘try’ is to fail with dignity. But here I was at mile 18, with the biggest smile in every fiber of my being because I had energy left!  I was actually gaining energy, my instinct could sense things were different and as long as I made no mistakes and didn’t rip a muscle by pushing the pace erratically, I was good to the finish.

·      "A runner is a miser, spending the pennies of his energy with great
stinginess, constantly wanting to know how much he has spent and how
much longer he will be expected to pay. He wants to be broke at
precisely the moment he no longer needs his coin."
  Once A Runner

When I did finish, I wasn’t fully broke but probably had another marathon pace half mile or more in me, but my only fear was pushing too hard and ripping a muscle completely, so I raced sweet and smooth to the end. The tears came during the last .2, and I crossed the line and found a place alone to have a true holy moment.

Flying High Now

And here’s the truth, no joke, I finished at exactly the training time needed.  3:20:00 flat. Not a second too slow or fast, but right on time.

Mark Matthews

Knowing I would be physically and emotionally exhausted, I took the next day off work. It was a Monday, and my boss called me at home.  He’s calling to ask me about the marathon, I thought, which seemed very thoughtful because we’d become close over many years and maybe he understood how important it was to me. But that wasn’t the reason for his call, “take more than just this Monday off,” he said, “and we need to schedule a meeting.”

After 9 years at a job I overall loved, I was being laid off. Oh, the irony dripped from the walls. Breaking through this running barrier had brought on a whole slew of changes, and shortly after running the race of my life that had eluded me, I was cleaning out my office at a place that had been my second home for nearly ten years. It was a job where I was well known, comfortable, but was now just a memory.

I had always said I would trade away nearly anything to finally reach my goal, and that’s exactly what seemed to happen. But as doors closed, windows opened and I landed on my feet, and looking back, wouldn’t change a thing. Thank god I had the confidence of my run to deal with the layoff, and pretty much any challenge that comes my way, as long as I don’t give up.

Read "The Jade Rabbit" - A story of a miraculous marathon run

Reviews of The Jade Rabbit

Read "STRAY", by Mark Matthews, recently voted into the second round of Amazon's Breakthrough Novel Contest

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Walking Dead, Season Two, and The Running Dead, Inaugural Race

Ah, The Walking Dead, Season Two is coming to its conclusion, and a great season it has been. The show continues to demonstrate an entertaining portrayal of moral ambiguities, decision making dilemmas, group dynamics and grasping onto some humanity while trying to survive while the zombies make guest appearances.

Spoiler Alert!

So sad that Shane is gone, but I gasped and fell in love with the series for its willingness to off a major character. Shane deserves an Emmy for his acting job. I know people who are just like him in real life, and Shane has all the hair scratches, head bobs, facial expressions, and tiny little movements and cadence of speech down perfect.

If you pay close attention, there has been all sorts of metamorphoses:  The Sheriff's hat that Rick used to put on to remind him that he was in charge in the past life so he needs to continue, is being transferred to his kid. Okay, that one's obvious.

But then there's another noggin: Shane. remember the scene when Shane killed Otis just to get free, and then he shaved his head? He has never been the same since, and in fact, when he was about to kill the prisoner and his face was all jacked up with bruises, he was already basically a zombie then; grunts included.


I'm a good cop who will protect your wife and kids.

I just killed an innocent man to help my mistress  who I think I got pregnant.

My mistress's husband killed me and now I'm a zombie.

Then there's Darryl who is either in the farmhouse or out of the farmhouse, depending on how much buy-in he has for the group and if he's going to play savage or saint.  Shane and Dale were polar opposites, (one had a shaved head, the other a dorky hat) but Darryl has it all wrapped up sweetly in his tormented backwoods heart.  Maybe the most emotional, most caring, most able to turn it off in seconds and drill you with his primitive Bow and Arrow. Coolest cat in any holler you have ever been to.

I kinda dig the whole idea of 'caretaking' and 'keeping family safe' as a testosterone laden thing in the series.  When Shane tells Rick he's not a good dad, that he's not the best dad and can't keep his family safe, every dad can't help but feel their blood pressure rise and rage.

As for the final episode, I am looking to learn the secret whispered into Rick's ear at the CDC and hope Merle will make an appearence

All this zombie talk, I have this great idea for a new running event. It goes something like this:

The Running Dead - 10 Miler
5,000 folks sign up, it could be a marathon, half marathon, but I think a ten miler would work best.  Of all of these runners, there is one runner who is the infected. This runner is, of course, aching and suffering and hurting on the insides like any good zombie is, and it is their constant craving  to catch someone to feed upon to alleviate this pain.  They start somewhere in the race, and when they find a victim, they either bite them, or --another acceptable method would be to rip off the tag on the runners shirts given to them at the start. Much like a flag football, all the runners would have a secure flag or identifier that securely attaches but can easily be ripped off. Then, this next runner is also infected and it is now their role to catch other victims. The zombie infection would travel through the runnning field and the best way to escape it is probably to run as fast at you can to the finish.

Prizes for those not infected as well as those who infect the most others. Sounds great? Like The Hunger Games flag football?

I can see some serious zig-zag running and a big scrum breaking out, but if any race directors are out there, this idea is free for you to take, thanks for stopping in.

***April 3rd update***
Apparently this kind of Zombie race is already taking place, and it is touring the country right now.  I learned about it on this blog:
I'm not saying they stole my idea, I'm just saying I thought of it second, unprompted by knowledge that it was already happening, so that's makes me pretty friggin cool.

"STRAY", by Mark Matthews 
(recently voted into the second round of Amazons Breakthrough Novel Contest)

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Amazon Promo - Stray FREE for Kindle, Two Days Only

STRAY the novel, Free on Amazon for Kindle, March 7th and 8th The link is here: STRAY on Amazon

**STRAY has recently been voted into the Second Round of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest**  (5,000 Entries allowed, 1,000 remain.)

Therapist Tomas Cleaves is many years sober from his addiction but is now losing his mind. He is sure that the addicts he treats must have infected the womb of his wife. Add to that the occasional seizure and voices in his head, he may be more unstable than any of his clients. And with clients like Jason Boston Senior, the Ancient Heroin Wizard, who moves about the city’s underground like the Merlin of smack, Tom is in desperate need of a client who can give him some hope.

James White is one such client -- a newly orphaned alcoholic dead bent on drinking again until he finds himself rescuing lost strays at the next door animal shelter. It is here that he meets the mystical nurse and animal control worker Rachel. Rachel cleans cages, rescues strays, but then has the unfortunate duty of putting some to sleep with a lethal injection. Can James escape his despondent life by helping her rescue the throw-away pets of the city?

The lives of Thomas and James, along with some incredibly vivid characters from the streets of Detroit, are intricately woven together, creating a novel that is certain to be remembered. A gritty novel with an edge yet surprisingly gentle and sweet, Stray illustrates the universal longing in all of us as we look for a safe place that feels like home.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

New York Marathon --- Raising Funds For Covenant House

Flying To New York In November 2012

So, I am officially in for the New York City Marathon for 2012.  The non-profit, Covenant House, was chosen as a charity again this year, and my application is set for faxing and I have 8 months to raise funds for a great cause.

I am not going to pretend that a major part of my motivation isn’t  "damn, I really want to run that race" but it would be impossible to raise the amounts of funds without having some passion for the charity.  This is my second time doing a charity marathon, the first was inspired by a family member undergoing chemotherapy and I raised funds for cancer treatment.

I became aware of the Covenant house through my dad who, after a long successful career, wanted to find a cause to support.  He was very thorough in trying to find something he believed in, and didn’t want to just throw money or time at something that wasn’t clearly effective, needed, and with tangible results you could see with your own eyes. For example, one of his thoughts was that he wanted to drive around the city of Detroit with a van, a ladder, and some new basketball nets, and make sure every iron rimmed hoop had a net. 

As kind of a financial guru, his services were requested by some non-profit boards, and he finally came up with Covenant house, and gets tears in his eyes when he talks of the services, and has found a second career as board chair of the Detroit chapter. Their focus is on the 17 to 22 year old population, often times those who have ‘aged out’ of foster care.  While most foster care families do it for the love and concern, some stop showing that ssme love when the monthly payments stop.  These are young adults who will fall through the cracks, never given a chance, and at such a critical place in their lives. Covenant house offers a place to live, spiritual support, much needed guidance for their transition to adulthood, and also offer a school where at-risk and needy youth finish high school.

Here are their words instead of mine:

Covenant House Michigan offers unconditional love, respect and hope to youth ages 13-22.
Covenant House Michigan is a sanctuary for young people who have nowhere to go. Kids who come to our doors have been abused and neglected, have slept on friends' couches or in abandoned buildings. These kids have been forgotten by those who are supposed to care about them the most.
When they come through our gates, they become part of a family. Our staff, volunteers and donors carry out our mission based on faith and the belief that all of God's children deserve unconditional love, respect and hope.

Here's a link for more information. Covenant House of Michigan

I have met the executive director of The Covenant House, and his dedication is incredibly selfless, his charm is magnetic yet humble, and he can bounce among so many different worlds that he’s a spiritual chameleon. The clients, customers, or “their kids”, as they call them, have a genuine gratitude for the services.  After all that most of them have been through, there is no way I would be doing as well, and I can see why my dad was so inspired by the service.  

Candle light vigils are done in the cold of the winter, to let others get a feel of what its like to be outside in the dark. And while many of its members are more homeless in the sense that they are living at a friends house, coach surfing, or in unsafe environments, many are indeed on the streets or at parks, and thus a Covenant House van goes out each night and does outreach, looking for those in need.

As a social worker and therapist for 20 years, I have worked with this population at different times, including 2 years at a runaway shelter, and I have also referred people to Covenant house and they have an incredible attention to the role they play.  Human services can too easily forget who they are, and become cold and impersonal, and that first interaction when you are in crisis is so crucial.  They got it down right, and now I have a ‘macro’, larger based reason to run this marathon rather than the usual, ‘micro’ interpersonal runs I usually take.

In fact, if you have read my novel,  The Jade Rabbit, Covenant House is the type of service the main character ,Janice is constantly encouraging Sharleen, the homeless 18 year old,  to get involved with. (Can't spoil the outcome.)

So, until then, I will see you in New York!   **But first, some training to do.

I’m scheduled to run the Ann Arbor marathon on June 17th   and have some work to do. So far, I have done four 14 mile runs and one 15 mile run, so my long run distance is moving along just fine. I hope to do 6 more Long Runs, including three 20 milers and a half marathon warm up. However, my weekly mileage is a bit pathetic.

(I’ll whisper it.  25 miles or so, topping out at 28, one recently as low as 20, and 12 days completely off due to a major sinus infection)

I’ve always contended that someone could effectively run a marathon by just doing one long run a week, as long as it gets bumped up to 20 or so followed by a taper. I guess I’m testing that theory.

If I go splat in Ann Arbor, bury me standing.

Click here for the link to my fund raising website. NYCM 2012 Fund Raiser for Covenant House Have a no obligation look!
**Anyone interested in information about running for Covenant House, I would be happy to provide it!**


Lullabies for Suffering is Now Available on Kindle

Lullabies for Suffering: Tales of Addiction Horror is now available on Kindle!   For Lullabies for Suffering on Amazon: Click Here...