Wasn’t it was just last week when I paid my entry to run the 2017 Detroit Marathon? (actually it was last May). I had many weeks to train, I had everything mapped out ahead, and now, I wake up today realizing the only thing left on my training regime is to break in my new Brooks Ghost running shoes! 4 Days from this moment I hope to have successfully completed my last competitive marathon. I am in the midst of what runners call “Tapering”.
Tapering is the process of letting your body fully recover from the many long runs and to load up on energy sources so you can survive a 26.2+ mile road race. It’s also the time when runners overuse such phrases as: “The hay is in the barn, Put a fork in it, The fat lady is singing”, and so on with many more such lines. Essentially, there is nothing more to be done in training except to rest and attempt to live easy.
With less time out running that means there is more time to do other things. It’s not to late to continue to prepare mentally. Actually, the mental process is probably more crucial to a runner’s success than some forms of training. This will be my 6th Detroit Marathon. Detroit was my first marathon back in 1994. Much of the course route has been drilled into my memory since my early childhood more than 60 years ago. Each time I run Detroit I experience certain memories of the places I am running through. This helps to detract from the actual marathon and allows my brain to forgive me for beating up my body at that moment.
When I run along the start of the course I remember my grandfather taking me to board the Boblo boat. (The Boblo boat was a fun ride along the southern part of the Detroit River to the Boblo Island Amusement Park). My grandfather shared his stories of shipping on the great lakes, of how the channels in the river were constructed, and much more. I still think of those many tales as I begin to cross the Ambassador Bridge into Canada.
Once in Canada, I remember my second Detroit marathon as it actually started in Windsor Canada. In those days the marathon started in Windsor’s Jackson Park and ran much of the way along the riverfront. I was told by veteran Detroit marathoners that the view of Detroit from Windsor would be beautiful and that I would soon be over there. Right they were.
Nearly every section of the marathon route through the streets of Detroit contains a vivid memory of my past. Some like my Boblo experiences, “The Corner”, the site of the old Tiger Stadium (which I first knew as Briggs Stadium) take me back decades. Others areas such as Corktown and Lafayette Park bring back memories as an architectural student at the University of Detroit where I studied these areas of Detroit.
Then there are some parts of the course that are more unique to my marathon experience. I rarely had any connection to Indian Village prior to running through the scenic and historic residential neighborhood during my more recent Detroit marathons.
Then of course what would running Detroit be without Belle Isle? The historic island park links the Detroit Marathon with the New York City Marathon! How? Each was designed by the famous landscape architect Fredric Law Omstead! I also remember coming to picnic on Belle Isle with my paternal grandparents and spending great summer days on the island. There is of course the “curse of Belle Isle” too. As a runner, the island represents one of the tougher spots along the route to run. The runner is openly exposed to strong winds blowing up the river and against the runner, regardless of what direction the runner is pursuing.
The finishing part of the Detroit course has had many variations over the years. In recent years it has found a home along Lafayette Ave. appropriately enough, in front of the old Detroit Free Press building (the Detroit Free Press has been sponsor of the marathon for 40 years). Regardless of where the finish line is, I have managed to finish strong during the final stretch to the finish. My last Detroit in 2015 being my best. I look forward to repeating my strong finish again in a few more days.
Beyond the goal of a strong finish is the goal or strategy on how to run the distance. It’s much more easier said than done but it is a proven fact that the best (fastest) marathons are those where the runner actually runs the last half (13.1 miles) faster than the first half. It’s known as a negative split. My strong finish in 2015 was the cap on my negative split marathon. That marathon was strategically my best marathon. Shortly after that race I declared it to be my last “Detroit Marathon”. So why am I writing about running Detroit again only 2 years later?
Simple really, in addition to it being the 40th running of the Detroit Marathon, I also saw an opportunity to place very well within my 65-69 Age Group. I will have strong competition within my group but I intend to be competitive too. The strategy? The strategy will be much the same as 2015 where I break the course down into various neighborhoods and districts and simply run my own race. I have a goal finish time, will it be good enough to win my AG, or second, or even third or more? My time really doesn’t matter to me, what matters is that I control my race and that I give it my best effort.
So, back to what we know as taper time. It’s the time to rest, feed your muscles, and think about the race. Time to loose my worries about whether or not I have sufficiently trained, time not to ponder all the stretching and strength training I did or more accurately did not do, time not to worry about my competition, time to quit obsessing about the weather, etc. it’s time to run MY Detroit Marathon!
Thanks for taking a moment to read my post. Check back next week for my final chapter in the Detroit Marathon.
Well it’s all over except the memories and the memories will always be good ones. Despite not hitting my personal goal time I did thoroughly enjoy the trip and marathon experience. The memories of the preparation, sights and sounds of Boston, a pre-race dinner, race morning, the race itself, and of course all of the many great people whom I was able to share my experience.
Since race day I have had many people ask me how I did in the Marathon. I realize that only fellow runners really want to hear all the gory details and most folks are seeking not more than a 30 second answer to their question about a 252 minute race. Thus the format of this blog allows me to provide both types of answers. To the person expecting a 30 second reply I can be extremely brief and simply direct them to this blog. Same works for the person who would be thrilled to learn of all the details. Thanks to each type for taking a personal interest in my running of the 120th Boston Marathon.
Seven months after booking our trip to Boston it was finally time for my wife and I to pack up and fly out. We had a 6:00 AM departure flight from Detroit Metro on Saturday morning. The good new was that that time and day are not exactly peak times at Metro. I don’t think I have ever been on an airplane so full of skinny people! They were mostly dressed in Boston Marathon jackets from previous years. The flight was a good one as was our arrival in Boston. Our hotel was just around the corner from the staging area of the race finish, meaning only a minimal walk back to hotel after running a grueling 26.5 miles! Bags checked, we headed out to the Expo a few blocks away. Picking up my race bib was quick and easy as was my quick sprint into the Expo to purchase a few race souvenirs including, coffee mug, cap, label pin, and of course the free poster containing the names of all the runners, including mine, somewhere. The folks at the Westin Hotel were able to get us into our room early and so we were onto the next stage of our trip.
We arrived while the Boston Athletic Association (BAA) was in the midst of several special races involving local youth groups. What a thrill it must have been for these kids to race along Boylston St. and under the finish sign of the Boston Marathon. Thrill for the kids? It was a thrill for me to visit the finish line less than 24 hours from my official finish!
Whenever we travel to a major city we always connect with a local guided tour bus. A perfect arrangement if you are running a marathon in a few days and you need to stay off your feet. We actually traveled several times on Saturday and Sunday with various tour guides and learned something new and different with each guide. I never knew Paul Revere lost his horse to the British army in route to warn the patriots! And now of course I know what a Smoot is too (hint, it’s a measurement of distance that only someone from MIT could ever invent).
The final pre-race event was a group dinner at Stella’s Restaurant. Most of the runners from our training group were able to attend the very tasty dinner and compare notes about our race strategies and what to expect the next day. At the same time it was also a welcomed opportunity to forget about the race and comfortably relax a bit too! Thank you 501 runner Mami for volunteering to organize the dinner event.
Unlike all the other major races in my life, I actually got a full good night’s sleep the night before the marathon! My brain did send me an automatic wake up call about 10 mins prior to my alarm sounding at 4:45 AM. I need to finish prepping my race gear, get dressed, eat my first breakfast (honey soaked bagel), and get out the door of the hotel not later than 5:45 to walk several blocks to board a charted bus for Michigan runners. Kudos to Bauman’s Running Store for taking on this task. It made a huge difference in the pre-race morning. While the first wave of runners were not scheduled to start until 10:00 AM the bus needed to arrive over 26 miles away in Hopkinton for security reasons. On Patriots Day the safest spots on planet earth are Hopkinton and Boston MA.
While nearly 25,000 other runners board school buses in Boston Commons for their ride to Hopkinton, they must exit the bus upon arrival at the athletes village. Imagine a high school football field and adjoining sports fields being overtaken by several large tents, hundreds of porta-johns, and tens of thousands of runners. Runners must deal with the local weather conditions. This year the conditions were near perfect, well, at least they were early in the morning. The chartered buses allowed runners to remain in the comfy cozy buses until near race time. But the real advantage was the large number of porta-johns available to the runners in the chartered buses! Unlike the runners in the athletes village who needed to wait in lines with nearly 100 people, we had the true luxury of only needing to wait a few moments, if at all. Only an experienced runner can truly appreciate the luxury of such an arrangement!
With nearly an hour before my scheduled start time (10:50 AM) I was getting a bit antsy waiting in the bus as was one of my long time running buds and protege, Robin. We decided to leave and head over to the athletes village to absorb the atmosphere of the Boston Marathon. The temps at that time were starting to feel nice and warm. Nice unless you were planning to run a marathon of course. Robin and I were seeded to start in the third of four waves. She was further seeded in corral 8 and I in corral 7. After sitting in the shade waiting for the prior wave runners to clear we were cleared to proceed to our corrals.
From the athletes village to the actual starting line is about a 1 mile walk. It begins just outside the village in the Hopkinton High School parking area. Your starting position is listed as a corral and how appropriate as there were nearly 10,000 runners being herded like cattle to their appropriate slot. The first corral was released to start the walk followed by another seven groups. What was both oddly strange and reassuring was the military sharp shooters standing along the parapets of the high school building. High above were several military helicopters circling and protecting the athletes. For a brief moment I felt I was in a foreign country. At the same time, it was great to feel so secure.
The walk to the start was much longer than I had remembered from 10 years ago but no doubt it was the same path. The race conditions were deteriorating as the sky was clear of all clouds and the sun felt great on our very exposed winter protected skin. There were several opportunities to take advantage of free sun block. Thanks Robin for helping cover my shoulders. All during this time of about 15 minutes I continued to drink my special fluids from the bottle I carried. Needless to say, Mother Nature was calling. Robin assured me that “little known” porta-johns were just ahead. We finally, arrived at them and realized that they were obviously very well known now. We found a relatively short line with only about 20 people but, it was also only about 5 minutes to our start time! Needless to say, we gave up and continued to our respective corrals.
As I arrived at my corral I noticed more military sharp shooters on the roofs of the buildings along the start corrals. I also remembered that I needed to find my nearest friendly GPS satellite too. What normally might take a minute or less suddenly seemed to take forever! My Garmin watch was simply not connecting! Was it due to the crowds? The cause did not matter, the national anthem for wave three had started, still searching for a satellite. Then came the starting gun, still searching. The mass of runners way ahead started to move, still searching. Finally my group had started to walk towards the start line, still searching. The runners just ahead of me started to run. Why? Why start 50 yards ahead of when you need to start running? Still searching. At the last possible minute I started into a slow jog, still searching. Then just before I was to cross the official start line, CONNECTION! So I was able to totally track m every move. Runners are an anal group.
The Marathon – The Early Miles
My game plan was to start slower than my normal training pace (8:30 per mile) for the first 14-15 miles, then to survive the hills between miles 17 through 22, then push strong to the finish line.
The start was crowded and I had no choice but to start slow but before I knew it I was briefly running faster than I knew I should. I had planned to run between a 8:45 to 8:50 minutes per mile pace. I slowed my pace down as I looked along a mile or so ahead of me and all I could see was a road filled solid with runners. I was carrying my water bottle still filled with UCAN. Along the route the crowd support varied from almost none to boisterous gatherings along the side of the road. I ran mostly along the right side of the street looking to “Low 5” young kids along the way with their outstretched hands awaiting to be slapped by runners and there were plenty of such opportunities for the entire length of the marathon route.
The mile marks seemed to take longer to reach then I had remembered in previous years. I found myself thinking only 1 more mile to the first 5K split. This is not a good thing to be thinking so early in the race. Nonetheless, the 5K mark came and I remember thinking that my family, friends, and coworkers now could see I hit the first split as my computer chip was scanned and my split broadcast to the world. I forgot to set my watch to view my total actual race time but I knew I was within seconds of being exactly where I wanted to be. The next task was to hit the 10K mark on target.
For nearly the entire first half of the marathon I maintained a very steady pace with minimal variation. Running nearly 30 seconds slower than my average training pace I should have felt very fresh. Actually, somewhere around the 5 mile mark I could feel my legs begin to fatigue, not a good sign this early into any marathon and especially so for Boston. The downhill trek of the Boston route was already beginning to have an impact on my performance. I remembered what my trainer, Kirk Vickers had taught me about breathing. At the next water stop I stopped running and walked through the stop taking deep cleansing breaths following my water. Kirk has preached the need for such breathing as our tired muscles were straining for oxygen and the deep breaths helped to supply oxygen to my tiring leg muscles.
IT WORKED! Shortly after resuming my run my legs no longer felt fatigued and I was able to continue on with my enjoyment of the Boston Marathon. Actually, I felt pretty good during all of the early miles, legs fresh, pace felt easy, and I continued to “Low 5” as many little hands as I could all along the way. Then it came! The sound! The thunder! I was more than a half mile away but I could already hear the roar of the young ladies of Wellesley College and the half way mark were approaching!
The Wellesley Experience
The girls of Wellesley are world famous for their loud boisterous support of runners at the half way point of the Boston Marathon but that’s not all they are well known for. They are probably best known for their long line of coeds leaning over the rails reaching out not only their hands for slaps but also for their kisses! This is one part of the route where the guys definitely veer to the right of the road while the lady runners tend to stay in the middle of the road. I intentionally slowed my pace and tried to slap every single coed’s hand. Along the way I also felt so so sorry for two young Wellesley ladies. There they were standing a bit apart from the rest of the crowd, holding a sad looking sign indicating their desire to be kissed by a runner, so what else could I do but stop momentarily and give them each a big kiss (on the cheek) for good luck!
Then there were the two young brave coeds near the end of the 1/4 mile string of Wellesley ladies wearing ONLY A SIGN! Their sign read “Run Fast and I Will Drop My Sign”. You need to think about that message. I did not dare reach out to slap their hands for fear their signs may fall, but I did give one of the brave ladies a slap on her shoulder and told her she was looking good 🙂
The Wellesley support soon waned and I was on my way to run the last half of the 120th running of the historic Boston Marathon.
The Middle Miles
The Wellesley experience was very fun and actually it provided a bit of a spike in my pace. Not a bad time to do this, after all, I was aiming to hit a targeted finish time of about 3:50 and up until now had been running a very conservative pace. However, I was beginning to get concerned about the warming race conditions. The temps were a bit too warm at the start and not getting any cooler as the race continued. We had also been fighting a wind most of the route too. At times the wind came from the side but mostly it was a head wind. The winds were not particularly strong so I did not figure they were affecting my performance. That was a mistake.
The combination of the wind, the heat, and of course the hills all combined to give me a distortion of the race. The wind actually kept me dry and thus I never really felt the sweat and fluids I was losing without realizing it. I did walk many water stops to continue my breathing technique but also to gather more than one drink too. The cups of water or Gatorade were minimally filled thus most runners were not really taking in the amount of fluids they needed and more importantly would need later along the finishing portion of the route.
Only with the benefit of my perfect hind sight can I now say that I was in the midst of becoming dehydrated only I did not know it at the time. I also had failed to accurately remember the course. I thought that about 1 mile past Wellesley I would make the famous turn at the Newton Fire Station and head into the uphill portion of the route. Mistake! It really was more like 4 more miles! Thus my mind kept thinking this was a really really long portion of the route, when is this going to end? Why don’t I see all those runners ahead of me turning right yet? Then we came upon a very deceptive long uphill as the route travels over the I-128 and a nice long uphill, an uphill soaked with baking sun. Now I remember that I was warned of this hill. My goal here was to not over work this hill but rather to simply keep running and get ready for that big turn at Newton.
It was also during this stretch that I had planned to start using my energy gels. I have had great success with a product called BOOM. Still thinking I was about to enter the Newton Hills, I reached to my belt and treated myself to a BOOM. It must have worked because the last two miles were inching over a 9:00 pace, the next mile was closer to the 8:40 mark and more importantly, I STILL FELT FRESH!
Finally I could see the stream of runners several hundred feet ahead of me bend to the right. Were my own eyes deceiving me? The body and mind do strange things when you run long, especially in the heat! No, before I knew it I was around the bend and in front of the Newton Fire Station. There was cool mist tent runners could run through but I opted to keep a straight path and take on the first challenging hill. The Newton hills are a series of 4 hills and downhills the last of which is the infamous “Heartbreak Hill”. Each hill is not particularity a tough hill to run. What makes these hills difficult is their location in the route and the fact that the runners legs have taken a beating by running mostly downhill for the past 16 miles. One of my goals for this marathon was to figuratively survive these hills and come out of them still feeling strong. When I ran Boston 10 years ago I had already ran out of steam heading into the hills. While feeling some fatigue after running 17 miles, I was still feeling much better than I was at this point 10 years ago.
Well, so much for that great feeling of feeling good.I could feel my running form slump, I was starting to stare at pavement and not the road ahead, not good. I forced myself to keep my head up and eyes out over the longer horizon. I actually remember telling myself that this part of the route looked so much nicer than what I had remembered from 10 years earlier. Not surprised as I was likely starring at pavement 10 years ago. As I started my climb of the second, or third? hill, I saw an American flag stretched out over the crowd at the top of the next hill. It was several hundred yards away, but I focused on continuing to run as strong as I could at least until I reached the flag. By keeping my focus on the flag I think I was also able to get to my target a little bit faster too!
Before I knew it I was on my way up infamous Heartbreak Hill. Not so bad really, then again it could be much better. By now my pace was starting to slow. Where for the first 17 or 18 miles I had averaged in the 8:50 range and now I was edging closer to the dreaded 8:59 pace. This meant I was within my one goal of finishing in less than 3 hours but not by much.
And The Rest Is All Downhill
Or so they say. True that most of the rest of the course is downhill but that does not make it any easier. By now the leg muscles are toast for most runners and mine too. I could keep the running going but not at the same pace. I was beginning to slow to a 10 minute pace. I was beginning to think “when would I see that Citco sign”? The Citgo sign is most often associated with the Green Monster wall of Fenway Park. It can be seen in nearly every homerun shot over Fenway’s left field wall. Runners know it as the 1 Mile remaining mark of the Boston Marathon.
As I began my decent down Heartbreak I welcomed the entry into the Boston College portion of the route. Legs still moving downhill but taking every advantage to stop and walk the water stops. Not sure which is actually tougher, to keep running or to start running again after the water stop. It really does not matter, tough choices either way.
I was given continued encouragement ALL 26+ miles by onlookers along the side of the route shouting my name. As I passed through the Boston College area a group of hefty guys started to shout LEE, LEE, LEE, LEE! Looking good Lee! No I am not really that famous, I simply used the same name tag I made for myself in the Chicago Marathon and pinned it above my race bib. My “Fans” were super supportive all along the way and surely they made a very positive difference for me too.
Then I saw it out in the distance, CITGO! I was told by Robin that our mutual friend and running bud, Jessica was planning to be near the CITGO sign to cheer us on. a few miles before approaching the sign I told myself “only 3 more miles to Jessica”. This was simply my way of boosting myself to the point where I would only have a mile to go.
I did see her too! To my left along the rail, somewhat isolated and thus easy to spot among the hundreds of people supporting all of the runners was Jessica cheering me on. I was able to identify her voice as being different than all the others who were shouting my name. Having someone you know along the route in a major race such as Boston is a huge boost! Unfortunately it did not boost my pace. By this time my pace was over 11 minutes per mile and I was doing all I could do to keep my legs from stopping.
The Last Mile
I finally made the turn onto Commonwealth Street. A very famous and beautiful street lined with classic row- house style brownstones and of course, more of my adoring fans! The crowd support was simply awesome and very loud. There were still young kids with their hands outstretched seeking a slap. I was way to tired to move a few steps to the right and bend a bit to fulfill their wish. Sorry kids, maybe next time.
For the last several miles the heat of the day had diminished. Not that it was cold but it did feel good to be a bit cooler. Too little too late? Probably so. I remember passing the various cross streets that intersect Commonwealth. Our tour guides told us that the intersecting streets were named in alphabetical order. I don’t remember the name but I do remember crossing a street and thinking only two more letters to H were I can make the second to last turn on the course at Hereford!
I had to battle one last stinking hill first. The nasty little incline down under a via-duct and back up to the main street. In an odd way it was good to get away from the cheering crowds and under the via-duct. It was a very short hill but I took advantage of being visually disconnected from my cheering fans to walk about 10 yards coming up and out of the slight hill. But I could not walk too long for as soon as I was back in sight some guy with a huge voice yelled at me in the way only a Boston native can speak to “GO LEE”! What else could I do but start running again? As I passed my fan I could hear him continue to urge me on by saying “WHAY TA GO LEE, YOU GOT THIS”.
Up the hill I climbed and my legs slowly moved a bit faster with every step. I cannot explain how loud the crowd was as I turned onto the final short stretch along Hereford before the final kick. Even if I could explain, it would leave me speechless to explain the truly great roar of the crowd as I finally hit Boylston Street and headed to the finish line, FINALLY!
My legs were finally moving again. I was running the fastest pace of the entire marathon! I looked at my watch and saw I was moving along at 8:08 minutes per mile pace. I looked to the right side of the street to see if I could see my wife who was planning to be at a certain spot, but I saw that the crowd of onlookers was at least 12-15 people deep.
I kept running strong, taking in all of the thrill. I began to think about the finish photo opp that was just ahead. I felt I could easily take on the group of runners ahead of me and pass them but then I realized I was running alone along Boylston, no other runners were anywhere near me. So I took of my hat, ran a few more yards, raised my arms in a victory stretch and grinned.
In the flash of a camera’s light, I had finished the 120th running of the Boston Marathon!
The glory of being a marathon finisher never gets old. It does not matter if it’s a world class marathon such as Boston, New York, Chicago, or a very small local marathon. All marathons require the runner to successfully complete the same distance of 26.2 miles.
After crossing the finish line it’s very important to keep on moving. You do not need to be fast anymore, just move. Keep that tired blood from wanting to settle down to your legs. You will have plenty of help as the volunteers keep you moving through the post race lines where runners receive a bottle of water, bananas, sometimes other treats, but most importantly, especially at Boston, THE FINISHERS MEDAL!
You keep on shuffling along and while they were not really all that necessary the next best thing to is for a volunteer to greet and wrap you with a mylar warming blanket. A direct decedent of NASA technology, these blankets do an extremely great job of keeping the runner warm. Even on this warm Boston day my race experience was not complete until a volunteer wrapped my shoulders in my Boston blanket. Turns out I really needed too!
I was able to exit the post race chute rather early, only two blocks or so after the finish. I was looking forward to a slow but short walk back to my hotel. It may have been slow but it was not short. I needed to walk a few blocks out of the way due to street closures and crowds. In the shadows of the tall buildings it was rapidly becoming cooler in the late afternoon. I also became very aware of barrier free design standards. As an architect I practice accessible design. I was suddenly very thankful for curbless sidewalks! At this point after any marathon the runners legs start to stiffen up and it becomes very difficult to lift your foot more than an inch or two above the pavement.
It took a bit of shuffling, but I did manage to return to my hotel. I was congratulated by my wife as I collapsed on the bed. It took a few moments but I eventually was ready for the shower and clean-up time. Hotels that host marathon runners need to have curbless entries to their showers! I will spare you the rest of the details and jump ahead.
After cleaning up and a “brief” two hour nap, I was ready to chow down on the biggest, juiciest burger in all of Boston! Luckily we found such a burger at the hotel’s restaurant and I did not need to walk around Boston to reach my next meal.
Later that evening I received a hand written personal note from the young lady who originally checked us into the hotel. She congratulated my on my effort and noted my finishing time of 4:12. It was not until I read her note did I first know of my actual finishing time! My time was far off the mark I had aimed for and represented my second slowest marathon time of the 12 I have run in my life. Not a problem, no worries, I still had a great “TIME” and plenty of excellent stories to pass on from now and long into the future!
In a race of 25,600 finishers, where 97% of the field was younger than me, and I was able to finish in the middle of the pack, I feel proud and grateful.
Thanks for taking the time to read this lengthy report. It was a marathon I ran, so hence the length of the report.
Following our return home I was contacted my a local (Novi MI) newspaper reporter. She was interviewing the local runners (6 of us) from my town for a story in the local paper. Here is the link to the wonderful story she published this week:
As a coach for the past seven years to many adults who are training to run a half marathon or marathon as a part of the Running Fit 501 program, I offer advice on how to successfully train and attain their goal for their race. The problem is that what I tell these runners is much easier said than done. I ought to know for I have not been able to fully follow all of my marathon advice until the Detroit Marathon this past October.
First let me set the stage. I thought I had retired from competing in marathons in November of 2011 when I won my Age Group in the “City of Oaks Marathon” in Raleigh NC. That was until sometime early last summer when my daughter Alexis and I each were selected via a lottery to compete in the Chicago Marathon. It would have been Alexis’s first marathon. Unfortunately Alexis became injured late in her training and could not compete. On race day, I found myself alone again at the start line facing the challenge of a 26.2+ mile run. I knew how I was suppose to run a marathon, start slow, be smart, etc. But this was Chicago, a nearly totally flat and therefore fast marathon. I am accustomed to hilly courses. So when I started faster than I should have, I thought this is great! I may run my fastest marathon in nearly 20 years! Somewhere around mile 16 I was reminded of how all marathons can be very humbling. I will spare you the details, let me simply say the next 10 miles were not pretty. Nonetheless, I was able to qualify to compete in the 2016 Boston Marathon with nearly 10 minutes to spare. Regardless, I knew my poor performance was my own mistake and I did not set a good example for my runners.
So it came to be that my daughter Alexis, her in-laws, and my other daughter Bridgett wanted to take a trip and run the Bayshore Half Marathon in Traverse City at the end of May (2015). Instead of running the half marathon, I was determined to avenge my Chicago disaster and compete in the full marathon at Bayshore. Like Chicago, Bayshore has a reputation for being a fast and mostly flat route to race. Well, I will spare you the details of that marathon except to say I made the same mistakes again. In fact if I had not had to make a pit stop at mile 16 my finish time (3:46) was nearly the same as Chicago.
Bayshore was not to be my last Marathon. My daughter Bridgett, was planning to run her first marathon at Detroit in October. My plan was to surprise Bridgett at the starting line and run the entire marathon with her. This would no doubt mean I would run my slowest marathon time, but instead this would be a once in a lifetime type event. I prepared a training plan for Bridgett and she did very well adhering to the plan throughout the summer until the combination of higher miles, the hot and humid weather where she lives (NC), her final term as a grad student, along of course with family and work obligations all combined to cause her to pull out of her marathon training in mid- September. Her decision was the right one for her. But it meant I had only a few weeks to “tweak” my physical and mental preparation. Yes mental too. I firmly believe that a marathoner needs to mentally prepare to compete in a marathon as much as they do physically too.
People can appreciate the time it takes to physically prepare to endure a marathon, but only a very few understand the importance and time required to prepare mentally. With less than 5 weeks to marathon day the time to tweak my body and head was minimal. Nonetheless, I was convinced in my mind to make this my best marathon since my previous decoration to retire from marathoning 4 years earlier. I decided to minimize my taper time from the normal 3 weeks to a minimal time of 2 weeks. On each of my training runs I began to visualize my upcoming marathon. It helped greatly that over the course of the past several years I had participated in several marathon team relay events so I knew the quirks of the course, especially the final half. I had also ran the first half of the course even more times as it is the Half Marathon route. That along with being a native Detroiter and toured Detroit in the back of my grandfathers car more than half a century ago all helped greatly in taking on the mental challenge of the race course. So each training run I visualized a part of the route. My training hills became the stretch up the Ambassador Bridge. My speed work on the track became my final kick along Fort St. and so on for many segments of the course.
While mental preparation is important if not critical, no amount of mental prep will result in a successful marathon if the runner fails to train their body for race day. Some of the training advice I offer runners for race day include:
Get plenty of rest the day before your marathon and hydrate
Start slow, make your first mile your slowest mile
Concentrate on running a negative split (second half faster than the first half).
Fuel properly during the race.
Do not go out too fast
Do not do anything new, do not experiment on race day.
Do not go too slow or too fast as you run up and down the Ambassador Bridge
Do not get caught up in the cheering crowds as you exit the underwater mile tunnel, you will waste too much energy too early (mile 8) in the race.
You would think these all are very sensible items therefore simple to do correct? Well, no, ironically as simple as they sound they are very difficult to actually achieve. In fact I have never achieved all of these during my marathons. I have never run a negative split in any race yet alone a marathon. I tend to be the runner who believes in miracles and start races a bit too fast thinking this time I can hang in there to the finish. No, not even close, witness Chicago and Bayshore results!
If I was not going to run with Bridgett then I was convinced I would run my smartest marathon and avenge my Chicago and Bayshore Marathons.
The day before the marathon (rest day) I went downtown to watch my grandson Charlie run a kids mile race with his mom Alexis. Bridgett, her husband Shane, with granddaughter Katie, and I enjoyed watching Charlie and his fast finishing kick to the finish line. Following Charlie’s race we trudged over to the race expo to pick up our race bib and a few souvenirs. This was all fun and good, but I was on my feet too long! Remember rule number one (see above) Lee! I remember thinking most of that day that I really wished I had not entered the marathon. What was I thinking!
Race morning came early, very early as we left the house at 4:00 AM to get to downtown. Parking was to be easy. Our training group had once again rented out Cobo Joe’s Bar. It is strategically located near the start and finish area, but we needed to get downtown early to avoid the street closures. Our bad, as the streets had closed much earlier than we had planned. Our normal parking area was not accessible! This only added to my stress and anxiety of not wanting to run not to mention a long walk to Cobo Joe’s too.
Soon enough it was time to lose my warm clothing, face the chilly elements wearing my thin racing gear, and get to the start line. I always prefer to race in shorts and singlet (tank top style) race shirt. My rule is if it is 40 degrees and rising then singlet and shorts are my dress. This morning the temps were in the low 30’s and it was a bit breezy, and this was in and around the protective buildings of downtown Detroit. Imagine the wind high on the open Ambassador Bridge! So I decided to wear a lightweight long sleeve shirt under my Brooks singlet. This would still not be enough to ward off the predawn chill, so I also added my usual garbage bag cloak.
The half marathon and marathon runners start together and run the same course until about the 13 mile mark. Thus as you line up at the starting corral you don’t know who is running which race, unless you are able to see their bib color. They also place you somewhat in order of each runners anticipated pace. Faster runners to the front and slower runners towards the rear. Runners are further divided into waves. Each wave consist of a limited number of runners and the start of each wave is about 2 minutes from the previous wave start.
I found myself up near the very front of the second wave with a bunch of other scary fast looking runners. Again, why am I here? Am I really going to run more than 26 miles, at a reasonably fast pace, without stopping, and hope to be done in about 3 hrs and 40 minutes?
Joining me at the start was Meg Schulte, a fast runner from the 501 training group. Meg had run the Chicago Marathon only one week ago and was planning on competing in the half in Detroit. We chatted about race strategies, she asked about my plan for the marathon, asked if I was planning on an 8 min or so pace. I simply said no way and proceeded to explain my last two marathons. My goal was to start out very slow (for me) perhaps not any faster than 8:45 and I would not be disappointed to start even slower maybe 9:00 pace. I explained my goal to run a smart race and run a negative split. That was my focus!
I started as planned, very slow yet warm in my garbage bag cloak. I did force myself to keep it slow and not stay with other runners, I just kept repeating “run my own race”. It wasn’t long after that that teammate Meg Schulte came up along side of me and while I was tempted to run along with her I knew it would be race suicide to stay with her, so she ran off into the still dark of the pre-dawn ahead of me as I ran down Fort St.
My garbage kept me warm and I was determined to keep it on as long as possible. The problem is that runners need to be able to display their race bibs to Homeland Security agents as you approach the Ambassador Bridge (about mile 3) and begin to leave the good ole USA and run into Canada. So for nearly a mile I ran with the bottom of my bag pulled up over my stomach to display my bib. Normally it probably would have been OK to lose the bag by now but we were heading up and over the bridge about 400 feet above the Detroit River and nothing to block the somewhat strong winds. I continued to focus on holding my pace, no need to spend too much energy on this hill climb, yet no need to slow down too much too.
Top of the bridge, a beautiful view in all directions. Two countries and thousands of runners. Pace picked up a bit on the downhill route into Canada. Off came my garbage bag as it found it’s next home appropriately enough in a garbage barrel. Running through Windsor Canada is always fun. Its great to look up and see the thousands of runners behind me strolling down the Ambassador Bridge, great crowd support along Riverside Dr. too eh? I remember seeing the Canadian election signs out in the yards.
I also remember watching runners who appeared to be candidate for my age group ahead of me. I ever so slowly gained real estate on them to the point where I could peripherally glance a peek at their race bib and see that they were in the Half Marathon. Not a problem as I continued to slowly pass and see yet another potential competitor just ahead.
In the past I made the mistake of looking at my Garmin to see my pace etc. During the past few years as a Garmin runner I had come to depend too much on the device and less upon my “feel” as a runner. I knew that if I was to run a smart race I needed to rely more upon the feel of my legs and body and less on a satellite in outer space to run a smart race. After all, it worked well for me for over 40 years of running. Nonetheless, of course I gave an occasional glance at my Garmin but this time it was truly only occasional and it was to assure myself that I was still holding the pace back and not running too fast. All through Canada, it felt like a very easy controlled controlled jog and I was still holding back. In fact, I had actually began to run a bit faster pace but not by all that much. I told myself “all is going according to plan”, “you have been here before Lee”, “just hold this pace”. In other words, a whole lot of positive reinforcement.
Running along Riverside Dr. in Windsor offers runners the best view of Detroit. Within the a few stride lengths the runner can see Detroit’s entire riverfront. I was remembering back to my childhood the image of the riverfront, the Boblo boat docks, concrete silos, and an overall industrial look. Today’s view is much improved and will continue to improve. I also noticed the river walk location. The 23rd mile mark is along that area. I quickly put out of my head how much farther it was to there and redirected my brain to running consistently along Riverside Dr.
Runners soon make a few turns and head out of Canada and back to the good old USA by way of running under the Detroit River! The tunnel is a truly unique feature for the marathon. While I was not cold, neither was I overheated in my running gear but the tunnel would soon change that. During the nice downhill path into the tunnel I unzipped my turtleneck shirt and removed my hat. Yes, as always, the tunnel air was warm and dry. Just about the time that the tunnel’s warm air was truly becoming uncomfortable my legs felt the pavement’s incline and there really was that light at the end of this tunnel!
Back in the USA
One recommendation I always share with Detroit marathon runners, especially new marathoners, is to avoid a fast spurt of energy when you come out of the tunnel. There is always a huge crowd awaiting and cheering the runners and you can easily get an adrenaline rush that will cause you to waste too much precious energy too early in the race. Mile 8 of a marathon is not when you want to start your “kick”! I thought I did pretty well in holding my pace out of the tunnel. When I exited and turned left onto Jefferson Ave. a race announcer announced “Lee Mamola, Novi, MI”! Talk about trying to avoid an adrenaline rush! Nonetheless, I have literally been down this road before and I managed to keep my cool and continued to the next downhill, under Cobo Hall.
The next stretch of the course was not to be my favorite. Runners run along a part of the Lodge expressway before returning to the streets of Detroit via the incline of an exit ramp. It felt like this part was added only because officials needed to add some length to the route at some point. Then when you do return to the streets the route becomes long and straight. A few years ago my legs fell off at this point in the route while running in the Half Marathon. I remember that this part required continued concentration. I continued to tell myself my pace was good, I still felt very fresh and relaxed, no sense of tiredness at all.
Before I knew it we were back onto the winding streets, into historic Corktown, and the bricks of Michigan Ave. The half way point was only a bit more than a mile or to be exact, 8 minutes and 37 secs away. It was at this point that I started to target a runner ahead of me and focus on slowly gaining on them if I could. Some I could, or rather wisely decided not to chase too, but of the ones that were maintaining a pace near mine, I did pass. It’s especially fun to pass runners that are clearly at least 30 and sometimes 30+ years younger than me at this point in any race. It was a great confidence builder as I headed to the midpoint of my marathon in Detroit.
Half Way There
Actually just prior to the 13 mile mark the half marathoners are separated from the marathoners as the half marathoners make a right turn to their finish line and marathoners continue the route. My guess is that about 3 out of 4 runners are competing in the half marathon. So all of a sudden what was once a pack of familiar fannies you have been following suddenly diminishes to a much smaller group of serious marathoners. You also quickly realize that this is serious business and you need to continue to press ahead.
My second half began with a downhill along Griswold and between Detroit’s tallest and significant buildings. I remember a little more than a year ago walking down this very street with my boss at the time Lou Trama. We had meetings in the Ford Building and Guardian Building. Lou had been ill and had a difficult time breathing during this short two block route, his lungs were not healthy. Within 6 months he would pass on to his next life. I was remembering Lou and that day when I came across two enthusiastic members of the Running Fit 501 group. Thanks to the cheers from Ron Smerigan and Liz Wright my mind was just as quickly refocused to the marathon. These streets of Detroit have been in my head for over 60 years, it was like running in my own neighborhood.
It had also helped that for the past several years I had competed at various legs of the Marathon Relay too. Familiarity with a race route, especially a marathon is crucial to a successful race. Last year I ran a nearly 7 mile leg of the relay beginning from just prior to the 13 mile mark to the 19+ mile mark. This helped me greatly for the marathon. The long stretch along Lafayette became more bearable. I also remember trying to listen closely to my body. The time to hold my pace was behind me, if I was going to reach my goal of a negative split then I needed to slowly increase my pace without increasing too much. I remember passing the historic streets of St. Aubin, Beaubeon, Mt. Elliot, and how these streets were named for the families that settled along the Detroit riverfront. With each passing street I knew I was getting closer to historic Indian Village.
Fueling My Marathon
During the summer I experimented with a new sports drink, a product called UCAN. This product is designed to minimize the peaks and crashes of other energy sources that are primarily sugar based and instead it forces your muscles to burn energy from fat sources within your body. It has a taste that takes some getting use to liking but once you do it’s not all that bad. I loaded up on the drink for 48 hours in advance of marathon Sunday while resting as much as I could. Then on race morning I also drank sufficient amounts to extend my energy to about 2 hrs.
Throughout the marathon I would take cups of water or gator aide at every aid station (roughly every mile or so). It also was very apparent to me that I was more than adequately hydrated for shortly after I drank a cup, I also lost a cup, all throughout the marathon. But for the first time ever I had never raced this length of 16 miles without some sort of energy gel or candy. The UCAN was doing it’s job! Then shortly after the 16 mile mark I could begin to feel my legs beginning the start of feeling fatigued. Every runner knows this feeling. I did not bring any UCAN product with me, so at the next aide station at mile 17 I would take a gel. I had packed a few “emergency gels” in my pants just in case they would be needed. But at mile 17 they were passing out a gel product called “Boom” I had actually used this product in the past and had very good results. So I grabbed a banana flavored gel and washed it down with water as I began my entry into Indian Village. But before I did, I grabbed another “Boom” gel from a volunteer.
Boom gels are very appropriately named because my legs did feel a boom as I returned to my senses and reminded myself that the 8:05 pace my Garmin was telling me was too fast at this point. The run through Indian Village is essentially a run around a big city block. It’s a block that includes many of the older and finer homes in Detroit. It also has maintained a vibrant neighborhood over many years despite the myriad of challenges that eternally seem to plague the city especially for the past 50 years or more. But on this beautiful sunny Sunday morning filled with God’s autumn colors, all was just fine with me. My pace was steady, continued a bit faster as I started to pick off more and more runners during the next two miles. Then before I knew it my trip to and through Indian Village was coming to an end. As much as I enjoyed this part of the route I was glad to take on the next segment.
I remembered this route from my leg of the marathon last year. Runners leave the cozy confines of Indian Village and are thrust onto the wide open venue of Jefferson Ave. I remembered this stretch to be a short distance before the route takes the runners over the Belle Isle Bridge. In fact this segment along Jefferson was much longer than I remembered. No problem I was still running strong, I felt relaxed, and kept telling myself how awesome this was as I continued to “pick-off” even more runners ahead of me! My pace continued to steadily increase albeit at only a few seconds per mile, I looked at my watch and noticed I had crept down to below an 8 min mile pace, ouch! A bit too fast Lee, cool it! So, I did, I relaxed, smiled and waved at the DJ along the course offering encouragement and focused on the next milestone which was a relay exchange point.
It was at the Jefferson Ave. exchange point where I ended my leg from last year passing off to my son-in-law Steve. Steve was a good sport just to participate in the family relay team last year. It was this same spot several years ago that I stood awaiting to receive the relay tag from my teammate Jessica Shehab. I was very familiar with this point in the course and the many fond memories of running here in the past came back to me in a flash.
It wasn’t much longer when I found myself feeling isolated as I ran the length of the MacArthur Bridge and approached entry onto this famous island. As an architect I appreciated the fact that the island park was designed by the famous landscape architect Fredrick Law Olmsted. For those who may not know who Olmsted was, he is to the landscape architecture profession what Frank Lloyd Wright is to the architecture profession. He was also designed New York’s Central Park, many other parks in the city of Detroit, and even nearby Ypsilanti. This sense of history did not help me as I was beginning to bake in the warming morning sun.
Once again I unzipped my turtleneck and removed my hat to release some warmth. I could begin to feel my legs begin to fatigue. This was surely the result of the “crash” side of taking the Boom gels earlier. I needed to fend off this fatigue. I remembered the last minute sage advice from my training partner, an excellent marathoner herself, Jessica Shehab. She sent me a note reminding me to have my mantra to get me thru any rough spot(s) in the race. So as I was about to begin to exit the bridge, I knew I had to maintain my pace, I could not let myself slow down at all. So I told myself the following: “I am a running machine, I am a running machine” over and over. As I entered onto Belle Isle I could see that I as also approaching another aide station so I reached for my honey gel, grabbed a cup of water to wash it down and noticed the sign that read “Mile 20”. I had just run 20 miles and frankly still feeling pretty good! My pace was about 8:10 per mile, not too shabby for this point in the race.
Despite the natural beauty, scenic urban vistas, and level flatness, the Belle Isle portion of the marathon route is not a welcoming part of the marathon. In many prior marathons the runners ran entirely around the island (about 6 miles) and in the early years the marathon finished on Belle Isle. More recently the organizers cut the marathon route to about half of the island, the half that looks back to downtown Detroit and where the finish line is located. The reason the island is not favored by runners is the nature of the elements along the route here. Despite the weather conditions on the mainland, Belle Isle inevitably offers tougher running conditions. Runners will experience stronger head winds, minimal crowd support along the way, and most runners are battling the effects of “Hitting The Wall” all combine to make this a difficult struggle at best.
The head winds of Belle Isle were upon me as I ran along the southern edge that overlooked Canada to the South. Yes, this is the only area of the world were Canada is actually south of the USA! I could feel my form weaken and I knew this was that turning point in the race where it would be easy to give up emotionally and struggle to finish the final few miles. Thankfully I was able to fight this off and began to focus on catching the runner who was about 50 yards ahead of me. I focused on maintaining a steady pace as I fought off the head wind. Up ahead I could see the fountain. This is where the route would turn and the wind would be at my back. I caught the next runner as I passed the fountain.
Just ahead was the next relay point. I was very familiar with this part of the route from running here the past two years. I had flashbacks of passing off to my teammate Marianne Carter here. Before I reached the actual relay point I ran over the finish line of the Detroit Grand Prix! I also grabbed another gel to fuel up for the final portion of the course. Mile 22 was now behind me. I told myself the race was going good. “I was a running machine, just continue to hold your strong pace Lee”.
There were not many runners arond me as I headed for the final turn before leaving Belle Isle and the long run over the bridge. There was a woman standing along side the route cheering. She noticed my name on my bib and shouted encouragement to me “Lee, you’re a running machine Lee, you look strong”! How did this woman know my mantra that had kept me going through the toughest part of the course? I took it as some sort of a magic sign, took her advice, and picked up the pace over the bridge back to the mainland.
There was great crowd support for runners departing the bridge. Their cheers helped me keep strong as I ran down Jefferson Ave. heading towards the Detroit River Walk park. Between Jefferson and the River Walk we ran down a part of the course where Charlie had ran the day before. I remembered how Charlie managed his “final kick”, if Charlie could reach down and go for it surely his Papa could too!
I finally reached the River Walk, the part of the route I was both anxiously awaiting and dreading. I welcomed this part of the route as it represented the beginning of the end. I dreaded it because of the uncertainty of the winds a runner might need to resist and certain twists and turns in the route would require additional energy resources from my continually dwindling reservoir.
I remember a young lady runner was attempting to pass me. I decided not to let this runner who was likely 40 years younger than me pass this old dude. It meant my pace would need to increase slightly as I fought her off for the next half mile or so. This was the part of the river park where there were several twists and turns in the route. My proven radar for running the tangents (shortest distance between two points) ultimately allowed me to pass this young runner for the last time. Next, focus on another runner.
The next runner was actually RF 501 coach Suzi and 501’r Raymond Yost, They acted surprised to see me and yelled encouragement, told be I was looking strong (I felt strong too). Suzi encourage me to catch the only 501’r who was only a few hundred yards ahead of me. Another young-in 30 years my elder, Anthony Miller. I was not going to focus on Anthony I was going to focus on my own race effort. I felt strong, knowing too that the end was coming. I continued to run strong along Atwater St. passing runners as I did. I remember some runners turning their heads as I passed them and telling me I was looking strong! Keep up the good work guy! When you receive encouragement from fellow runners along the way it only serves to keep you going even stronger.
The next part of the route was a challenging little hill between Atwater and Jefferson. This was a huge struggle! It was short but relatively steep hill at a very strategic part of the course. Normally I charge up hills, not this time though. My brain decide to take it easy, do not waste any energy, just get to the top in one piece. It was slow, but my legs kept turning and before I knew it the hill had passed and I was crossing Jefferson, approaching Larned.
The Final Kick
I survived the little hill and was turning onto Larned. Ahead was the parking lot I used to park in when coming downtown for meetings with AIA Detroit and the Michigan Architectural Foundation. I was surrounded by buildings I was very familiar with for many years. My legs were feeling totally drained. The crowds along the route where larger again. Many voices from strangers reinforcing my effort. I could not let them down. I came upon Woodward Ave. How many times have I been at the intersection of Woodward and Larned in my life?
I was aware the finish line was approaching but I was not ready for the next turn leading to the finish line approaching so fast! Before I knew it I was back on Griswold for a short stint, an uphill stint too! Ugh! There were two runners just ahead of me as I approached the bottom of the hill. They were running strong. I was determined to show these “young kids” how to finish a race. Knowing this was the last hill in the marathon and that the finish was near, I kicked my pace into another gear, pumped my arms, held my head up high, finished the hill and rounded the final turn!
There it was the finish! Yikes it was not that far away, just a few blocks to go! So I continued to run even a bit faster passing several more marathoners! I simultaneously felt totally fatigued and strong as I did my best to focus on the finish line. The announcer called out “Lee Mamola from Novi finishing”. Finally, arms reached in a victory reach as I crossed the finish line! My final kick was at a 6:10 per mile pace!
I was relieved the marathon was done, I was greeted by volunteers placing a finisher’s medal around my neck and another wrapping me in a mylar heat blanket. Over to my left were Bridgett and Alexis who each had finished their half marathons and came back to see me finish and finish my strongest marathon too!
It took some time and effort to exit the finish area but before I did, Bridgett and Alexis joined me in the area and we posed together for a finishers final picture. Between the three of us we ran 52.4 miles this Sunday morning!
The final numbers are in, once you have completed a race there is nothing you can do to change the actual results and nobody can ever take away the fact that you completed a race, especially a marathon!
My final net time of 3:41:06 (8:26/mile average pace) was good enough for a 3rd of 68, Place finish in my age group, 503 of over 3,800 other marathoners. I hit my goal of running a negative split by nearly two minutes, felt strong throughout the entire marathon, and finally avenged my previous two marathons in Chicago and Bayshore (Traverse City, MI). The final notable mark is that I also qualified to run the Boston Marathon (should I elect to run) with nearly 10 minutes to spare for 2017! I finally ran a race the way I coach other runners to do.
Following a slow and somewhat chilly walk from the finish area with Bridgett and Alexis, I returned to Cobo Joe’s to be very warmly greeting with applause and cheers from all the great folks and running buds from Running Fit 501! I must admit that caught me totally off guard. I don’t remember what I wanted to do more at that moment, change into dry pants or devour some of those juicy looking chili fries and onion rings some folks were already having. I do remember the fries, onion rungs, and the suds that washed them all down tasted great!
I was onto the long walk back to our car, a refreshing shower, and more eats as we celebrated our youngest granddaughter Katie Jane’s second birthday too!
Thanks to all who took the time to read this long story, it was about a marathon after all. This has taken me weeks to gather and ultimately post. I look forward to any comments, feedback, and especially from anyone who may now be inspired to run a Marathon!
What does lining up at the starting line of a marathon have in common with creating an architecturally designed building? Plenty! Frankly too much to mention in one post so let me focus on one common element and that is the lack of preparation.
What? How can that be? Marathoners run all those miles during training, suffer through heat, winds, snow, etc. mile after mile. How can any runner standing ready for the start of a marathon ever feel unprepared? Well, every marathoner I know regardless of their training will tell you they wished they would have run one more long run, or pushed themselves a little harder in the early months of their training. Maybe their dietary habits were not the best. The list is endless. I remember having these feelings overwhelm me as I toed the line for my first marathon in 1993. Now with less than 48 hours to the start on Sunday morning I still have the same worry and anxiety.
OK, that might make some sense, but how does that relate to designing a building? In every design effort there must be an end. A time to put pen and pencil down and move to the next step. Typically this involves some form of an intermediate due date. Inevitably all design and drawing must be completed, prints assembled, and drawings submitted for permits, bidding, and construction. This is the point that the architect truly understands that the set of design documents are not perfect and the architect wishes for more time to continue to “tweak” the design. The sense of worry and anxiety are much the same.
What changes is time. The more experienced the marathoner and the more experienced the architect the more likely the worries and anxieties become less of an issue. They never go away.
There is no such thing as a perfect marathon or a perfect design. All the marathoner or architect can hope to ever do is to simply do their best each day or workout and trust that the culmination of effort will allow them to achieve a high level of confidence on race morning or project deadline and that they continue to pursue excellence going forward.
What a difference a year makes! About this time a year ago I had a job that kept me busy, was reasonably secure, but not exactly professionally fulfilling or challenging. I was counting the days and sometimes even the hours to my retirement. I also believed my participation in the upcoming Chicago Marathon would prove to be my last marathon. In fact I was coming out of a 4 year retirement from running marathons. I had won my Age Group at the City of Oaks Marathon in Raleigh NC in 2011 and I had decided that was a perfect time to retire from marathons. Little did I know what the future had in mind for me!
In the spring of 2014 I entered the lottery to run Chicago only because my daughter Alexis was planning to run Chicago as her first ever marathon. We each were selected via the lottery to run the Chicago Marathon. Alexis joined my training group and was making excellent progress towards her first marathon when a freak injury prevented her from participating. So I continued without her and ended up running a decent race in the windy city, well at least for the first 18-20 miles. I knew I had started too fast (7:45 avg pace) for the first 13 miles. I had fantasies of running my fastest marathon in over 20 yrs! Alas, it did not happen. Let’s just say it was not a pretty sight to see. Nonetheless I did manage a 3:45 finish, good enough to qualify to run the Boston Marathon with over 8 minutes to spare. Not a major concern to me because I already ran the Boston Marathon back in 2006 and I have never had any overwhelming desire to return. I did not have a good experience in Boston in 06 and I never had a very strong motivation return. One must first be highly motivated to train and compete in any marathon, otherwise do not even begin to attempt.
What I did have a strong desire to do was to attempt one more marathon and prove to myself that my Chicago experience was a fluke and I wanted to avenge my finishing performance. Thus, The Bayshore Marathon in Traverse City MI in May of 2015. I’ll spare you the full report of that experience and let me just say that while I thoroughly enjoyed most everything Bayshore, my marathon performance was a very similar experience to Chicago! My Bayshore time was less than a minute different and thus I once again had another Boston Marathon qualifying time, my 8th of 10 marathons. No big deal as I still had no desire to return to Boston,
My official days of competitively running marathons were now over at last! I did however have at least one more marathon in my aging legs and that would be to run along side of my daughters Bridgett and Alexis during their first attempts to complete a marathon. So it came that Bridgett had decided to return from North Carolina back to her hometown and make the Detroit Marathon her first experience. Meanwhile Alexis was recovering from her injury and aiming to once again compete in the Detroit Half Marathon in October 2015. I had decided to run with Bridgett and help her achieve her goal. Her marathon time would likely be slower than I am accustomed to running thus a new experience for me to look forward to enjoying.
Bridgett did very well with her training plan for Detroit but in mid September the combination of a busy workload, graduate school, daughter Katie, a very hot and humid training environment in NC, all combined to not quite attain the level of training she needed to achieve to be able to successfully complete her first marathon. She made the wise decision to back off of any further intense training and plan instead for another race.
All of this is a very long way of saying that two weeks from this morning I will once again be running another marathon! This will be my 5th Detroit Marathon and my 12 marathon. I will run it as a competitive runner in the 60-64 Age Group and despite not being focused over much of the summer, I do intend to race a smarter race than my previous marathons in Chicago and at Bayshore. It will also be my 3rd marathon in 53 weeks! Now that is something I never would have imagine achieving! (Most runners run one marathon a year).
Oh and what about that marathon in Boston? Well, it has only been a few weeks now, but I did decide to return to compete once again in the Boston Marathon April 18 2016! I truly never ever thought I would return for the Boston Marathon! My motivation is to join the 16 other runners from our training group to train this winter and enjoy the sights from Hopkinton to Boston and to once again avenge my disastrous Boston experience from 2006 (that is a separate story post). The Boston Marathon will be my last competitive marathon!
So much for the running part, back to the career part. A year ago I was not happy at my employers firm. While I thoroughly enjoyed working with the people it was clear that the firm’s owners had a different view of not only architecture but also of how a firm should be managed. As a result of various simultaneous events within the firm at that time I emailed the President of my previous firm OHM Advisors, several years prior to ask if there might be a position available and how I might be able to help them with the architectural efforts. Within moments I received a very welcoming response and the rest as they say is history. It took a short bit of time to complete the transition but by early December in 2014, I was back at OHM Advisors as a leader within the architectural group and very happy to be there.
I have gone from my unnatural thinking of counting the days and even hours to retirement to looking forward to many years of contributing to the success of OHM and I rarely ever think of my retirement. I am proud to be associated with a strong, growing, and innovative, interdisciplinary group of design professionals who value my contributions. http://www.ohm-advisors.com
As a part of my return to OHM, I have also been able to rejoin another previous passion of mine over the years. Following a ten year or more absence I have also rejoined the Novi Rotary Club. http://www.novirotary.org The club membership has changed since my previous years as a member between 1986 to 2004. There are new members, new leaders, new service projects, but the same high level of integrity and commitment to service remains. I am very proud and thankful to be a part of this group and look forward to years of service.
I never would have guessed that any of these main events would ever likely happen, let alone in a short period of time. So the moral of this story may be to plan ahead, but always be aware of potential opportunities that may exist. You just never know what lays ahead in your future. It’s been a great year and I am excited about the year ahead too.
Thanks for taking the time to read this and continue to Run Happy.
PS: I also have a very significant announcement I will disclose in early November too, check back often.
Architects and runners spend a considerable amount of effort and energy planning for the future. Architects need to have an overall understand of a project’s goals, schedule with intermediate milestone dates, and a game plan on how to reach the overall objective. The same is so with runners. Runners, especially runners training to compete in a very significant event such as a marathon, need to know the target date, desired outcome, and have a plan on how to achieve their marathon goal. The plan will likely entail at least 6 months of effort and include items such as long runs, speed work, yoga, diet, and intermediate races intended to check the progress.
While such planning often is the key to overall success, it is also crucial from time to time for both architects and runners to look backwards and carefully assess what worked and what didn’t work. Was the goal achieved? If not, why not? What can be done to improve the outcome next time?
So it is that I look back on my recent experience with competing in the Chicago Marathon last month. My overall finish time was 3 hrs. 46 min. A very respectable and perhaps even an enviable finish time as I qualified to run the Boston Marathon in April 2016. Yet I had hopes for much better. When asked by friends how I did in Chicago I tell them I had a fantastic first 20 miles or so, then the wheels fell off my buggy and for the remaining 6.2 miles or so it was not a pretty site. This experience is referred to has “hitting the wall”. While I have had this experience on occasion in other races of all distances it came very unexpectedly for me in Chicago.
So why? why went wrong? How did this happen and how to prevent it from happening again? As usual there is no one simple answer, rather there are several reasons. I won’t bore you with the tedious details but will highlight a few so in case you are planning to run a marathon you can benefit from my experience.
One of many reasons is “Corral Envy”. My marathon race application indicated that I was planning to finish in 3 hr’s 28. min. This was a very realistic expectation based upon my 3:29 finish in the NY City Marathon several years ago and a somewhat recent 3:33 finish in the Raleigh City of Oaks Marathon that included at least 600 ft of climb during the final miles. Yet I failed to provide documented proof to the race officials, thus instead of being placed far ahead of the mass of runners in corral A or B, was assigned to corral D! OK, my mistake, but at least I could get to the very start of that corral and besides, I knew I needed to be held back and start very slow, so starting with slower runners may be a blessing in disguise.
Speaking of disguises, I also found myself lining up next to a guy wearing a Big Bird costume! Surely he was not planning to run 26.2+ miles on this sunny, yet cool Sunday morning in Chicago was he? Stay tuned.
About 10 minutes after the official start of the marathon I was at the official start line. My timing chip (worn on the backside of the race bib) had officially been started and within the next stride I was starting my 9th marathon with 45,000 other runners. If you have never participated in a mega marathon, or any marathon for that matter, the excitement at the start is difficult to express. My emotions were very quickly reeled into reality with the first several yards of the race as my running shorts began to fall off! Yes, once again, I made the mistake of packing too many energy gel packs in my race belt. The only solution was to release them from the belt and carry in my hands. Past this near disaster I kept to my race plan and started very slow. So what if Big Bird was ahead of me already?
I hit my first 5k split time pretty close to my target of 24+ minutes. By close I mean I was faster than I had wanted to be. This is not a good place to be early in a marathon. I decided right then that all I had to do was to hold this pace. Not a problem I told myself as I felt very relaxed, strong, and this pace felt very easy to maintain. So it when, mile after mile, 5k mark after 5k mark. Each time when I looked at my watch expecting to see a slower than targeted pace, I was shocked to see that I was actually running much faster (7:37 +/-) then I had any business to run.
I tried to slow down each time! I just never did. I am not sure if this was due to the flat course, the ever present “Go Lee” from the throng of supporters that crowd the route, or what, I just kept going. Then as I approached the half way point I thought that perhaps I was on to running my fastest marathon in over 20 years! Well, I was in fact on pace to do just that. But as you seasoned marathoners know, this is not the way one should attempt to run a marathon.
Between the half way point (13.1 miles) and the 20 mile mark, my inner thighs began to give way. They were “spent”. A runner friend from my hometown who started ahead of me in corral B passed me. Good for her, she was running a very smart race. Shortly thereafter I was passed by, yes none other than “Big Bird” himself. Now I knew I was in trouble! The final few miles weave through areas of the South side of Chicago where it is difficult for crowds to gather thus, the crowd support dwindled. Until the final mile when some of the crowd support returned. I was constantly given encouragement by those along the side of the road. They could obviously see I was struggling. I did my best to smile at them, by a wave of my hand I let them know I was fine.
Finally, I hit the last “hill” (all of a 10-20 ft climb) at about the 26 mile mark and then made the final turn towards the finish line. The announcer called out my name as I finished and I was thankful this long race was finally over. The finish area consist of a very long, very slow walk back to pick up your gear. The first volunteer wrapped me in a silver mylar blanket to keep me warm during a still chilly morning. There were many other volunteers offering everything from beer, protein shakes, and ice bags. What I really wanted was a seat to sit down and rest. I knew if I sat on the ground I would never get up! So I shuffled onto get my gear, then eventually the mile long walk back to the hotel.
Overall I had a very enjoyable experience the entire time I was in Chicago-Land. From the huge but extremely well organized expo at McCormick Place, to the Pumpkin Fest in the suburbs on Saturday with family and grand kids, and the post race meal at a small but elegant restaurant next to our hotel. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and learned even more.
Next time I will practice what I preach and train, plan, and run smarter. Thanks for taking the time to view my post today.
Welcome to Taperville. Taperville is both an imaginary and real place. It’s the place marathon runners visit any where between 3-2 weeks prior to running their targeted marathon. For the non-runners out there you need to understand that to compete in a marathon (for the non-non-runners that is 26.2 miles) a runner requires at least six months of grueling training. This entails building up ones weekly mileage numbers incrementally until the final 4-6 weeks prior to beginning to “taper” for the marathon.
As an example, since the end of August I logged weekly total miles from 45 miles per week to a high of 60 miles one week. It’s also not only simply running miles. A well trained runner will also include faster paced efforts referred to as speed or tempo runs each week. An even better trained runner will include runs over hilly routes or hill repeats. Most runners also include a series of other conditioning efforts such as weights, yoga, or biking. Then there comes a point in the training process where there is little to be gained. The body needs to rest and recuperate. Muscles need to begin to store energy to enable the runner to run the entire 26.2 miles. This is the period known as the taper, or what I refer to as “Taperville”.
Many runners refer to this period in their training to “taper madness”. I have yet to fully attain a true madness level when I enter my taper periods but I suspect there are several reasons for the term madness. First, the runner is not used to running less each week. They do not know what to do with that extra time on their hands (advice: do not over eat). There is also a sense of becoming out of shape. The runner begins to no longer experience a nonstop sense of fatigue that they have become accustomed to experiencing. They do also eat a bit more and if not careful will gain unwanted pounds. Then they begin to have serious doubts about their running ability. Not running as much, not feeling like a runner, and gaining weight too! Yikes! No reason they call it a madness!
There is a specific approach to tapering. The misconception is that the runner should drastically cut back on the miles they have been running on a regular basis. This is perhaps the worse thing a runner can do during this time frame. While there are many formulas for proper tapering methods the successful ones all have a common element or basis. To taper properly the runner needs to continue to run their regular workouts but do cut back on the long runs. The runner also needs to continue to perform speed, tempo, and maybe even a hill run or two during the taper period. The key is to do what the name implies, taper! Gently, slowly until the final total rest days prior to the marathon.
When I ran the New York Marathon in 2008, I remember touring NYC and feeling like a total tourist, I did not feel like I could run at all! Yes, I was very worried about that feeling too. Turns out that I had my best marathon experience ever in that marathon! I hit my targeted goal (sub 3:30) and actually enjoyed passing other runners during the final miles in Central Park.
This year as my next marathon approaches on October 12th in Chicago, I am beginning to feel the same way as I did in NYC. I feel fat and bloated, yet my morning scale says otherwise. I have begun to enjoy extra time around the house to take the dog for a walk, complete a chore, or simply sit outside and enjoy this great Michigan weather instead of lacing up my shoes for another run. I do plan to do a speed workout on the track tonight with the Running Fit 501 group however, as I sit here wrapping up this post, I do not feel like a runner.
I have a theory about the person who has presented our world with many of his own famous theories. I believe that Albert Einstein was a runner! When you hear or read his name you probably have a vision of him in his later years, looking old with his head of frizzled grey hair. It would be tough to imagine him as a runner but that’s my theory.
So what is my basis for this theory and how do I go about attempting to prove it? Well, like most of Einstein’s theories only a limited segment of the population would ever understand my theory. In this case one would need to be a runner and more specifically a marathon runner to totally understand my hypothesis. Let me explain.
It all centers on time. Einstein believed time was relative to motion and space. Without getting too technical the best example is comparing two extremes. On one end of the spectrum there are times we all experience when time seems to simply fly by and then there are other times when time just seems to move so slow.
For me the time that seems to fly by the fastest is the one hour before I need to leave the house each morning and experience the thrill of the pre-dawn traffic along the expressways of metro Detroit. I have always been a morning person and I enjoy taking my time to wake slowly, sip my coffee, check the overnight email, do some morning yoga stretches, lift a few weights, and if I got out of bed early enough perhaps even a morning run. All of this before I need to do anything remotely associated with getting ready for work. There is never enough time to eat my breakfast, iron a shirt or pants, shower, get cleaned up, and out the door. I manage to get most of these items completed but I am continuously amazed by the speed of the hands on our grandfather clock each morning.
Then there are those times when time seems to come to a near halt. Perhaps the best example is when you are at work, with little to do except to remain on duty. You ultimately begin to watch the clock. Time appears to drag on forever! Fortunately for me this situation does not occur too often but when it does I begin to have an understanding of what eternity might feel like.
Still, what does this have to do with Einstein being a runner? Plenty, for runners experience many instances where time seems to fly by and other instances where time seems to take forever. Perhaps the best example occurs during the experience of running a marathon.
Early in a runner’s marathon experience they are likely feeling exuberant and why not. The runner’s body and mind is rested, filled with emotions, and eager to perform well. Typically runners run the first mile or two faster than they should so in addition to being alarmed by the speed of their mile split time, they also feel like time has flown by, perhaps as fast as my typical workday morning.
Contrast the experience of the early marathon miles to the later miles. It could be anywhere after mile 15-16 or even as late as mile 24 or so (I need to interject to the uniformed here, that a marathon is 26.2 miles). Regardless, in nearly every marathon, the runner will begin to struggle and this struggle extends to the runner’s brain. The runner’s brain is tempting the runner with a myriad of reasons to stop running, at least slow down! Coincidentally, the runner’s pace per mile has likely slowed considerably too. The runner may only be running a minute per mile slower in the later miles than the earlier miles but it is a huge difference. As an example, if the runner started the marathon at an 8 min per mile pace and runs a 9 min per mile pace towards the end, the runners pace has slowed by over 12%. Yet in the runners mind, the runner feels like they may be running half as fast. For the runner in this condition, time seems to drag on and on and is further exacerbated by the physical difficulty of continuing to run these final miles.
Again, back to Albert Einstein, he had to have been out for at least a long run during his break time. He experienced the anguish of the later part of a long run and had the brilliant idea to relate the sense of time to one’s experience as they travelled.
That’s my theory and I am sticking to it !
Thanks for taking the time to read this and continue to RUN HAPPY.
Sharing the Running Experience and My World of Architecture
Being confronted with adversity in your life is inevitable. Just keep in mind that it does not have to defeat you. Adversity is often short lived. Giving up is what makes it permanent. As a certified fitness professional, this blog is my way of helping you feel capable of anything.