Category Archives: Road Race

It’s Official!

It’s official, after being referred to as “Coach” by many of my running friends for years I can now officially call myself “Coach”.   Following several years of comfortable procrastination a series of circumstances over the past several months combined to enable me to become a nationally certified running coach via the Road Runners Club of America (RRCA) coaching certification program.

rrca-cert-coach-logoThe RRCA is the national running organization that has been promoting the sport of road running and racing since the late 1950’s, about the time that I began to take a curious interest in long distance running. It’s coaching certification process is focused on training coaches to train runners of all types for all types of road races. Coaches that achieve certification can be counted on as having a high level of integrity, knowledge of the sport, and passion to help their runners succeed.

The process to become a RRCA certified coach in a challenging one. It involves committing at least two full days of classroom training, successfully passing a lengthy exam, and becoming certified in CPR and first aid.  You might think so what’s so tough about that?  Well, it begins in finding an available class. That alone is more difficult than it appears as classes are held at various locations across the country and the enrollment is very limited.  I was fortunate in that the RRCA National Convention was scheduled to be held downtown Detroit in Mid-March and the coaching certification class was being offered as a part of the convention. This duel opportunity meant that the fee for the class was higher and the classes would be spread over three days. I justified the higher cost by reasoning that I could avoid any travel cost. The higher cost also meant that this opportunity remained “open” a bit longer than normal and I was able to schedule this class within weeks of the actual class date.

The Class Experience

Approximately 30 candidates enrolled in the class. What surprised me was how far away many came just to attend the class!  Out of the 30 maybe seven were from the Detroit area. The rest came from places like Tuscon, San Francisco, Minneapolis, Houston, Florida, and even one person from Bombay!  About a third of the class traveled from nearby states such as Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and one person from neighboring Windsor Ontario.  It was quite a cross section. There were also a few more ladies in the class than men which reflects the national demographics of the sport too.

Coach ClassThanks to the National Convention, we were treated with four very experienced instructors.  Each presented their specialty in various topic areas.  Topic areas covered physiology, psychology,  training theory, running form, nutrition, injuries, business aspects, and even the history of coaching.  There was quite a lot of information to cover and I was glad it was spread out over three days.  Unlike similar classroom scenarios involving the architectural profession, I did not find my mind drifting even once off track from the presentations. We were in a small room, no windows, basic table and chairs, yet I found myself being comfortable and even invigorated with the discussion and presentations.  Before I knew it each long day was over and I was anxiously awaiting to take on the next day.

The Test

The dreaded test. It was made very clear when signing up for this venture that each candidate would be required to take an exam. The exam consist of 100 questions, taken online, and an open book format that must be successfully completed within 30 days,  Also, in order to pass, one needed a score of 85% or better. If not, then it was back to the starting line and repeat the process (and cost) all over again!  So the pressure was on.

Immediately following the course, I spent a week organizing my study book (about 1″ thick of full pages). Yellow sticky tabs were everywhere by the time I was done.  Then came the day I had planned to take the exam. My Saturday afternoon was planned to start, I had made it this far, I needed to continue.  Much like approaching the half way point of any race, time to concentrate and “kick it in”.

The first few questions appeared simple, then I started to ask myself doubting questions. Even though I knew what the answer should be I made it a point to look up and verify the location of each answer in the book.  This became very time consuming. Each block of the exam consisted of 10 questions. After you answered 10 you could save that section and continue. There was the opportunity to re-visit each section and change any answer.

About two hours later I had completed 50 questions!  Half way! Yikes, this was taking much longer than I had planned.  I saved my work and took a nap with the thought that I could finish the last 50 questions on Sunday.  But I could not rest. After about 30 minutes of this anguish, I returned to my desk thinking that if I complete one more section then it would be that much less I would need to complete on Sunday.  Well, one section merged to two, two to three, and before I knew it I only had one more section to go. Done!

Done, but not so sure of certain questions. I was tempted to the the FINAL SUBMIT button but decided to think about it over night. It was late Saturday evening, I was drained from my long run earlier in the day and nearly four hours of questions.  When the final submit button is hit, you receive your results instantly!  I was not mentally prepared for this.  So instead, I printed out the questions and my answers and placed the papers aside until Sunday.

I was able to get a long run in late Sunday morning but it was not a quality run as certain questions from the exam lingered in my mind. Upon looking at my printed answers I discovered two or three that I had obviously incorrectly answered. Then there were another four or five that I was reading too much into the question and did not have confidence in my answers.

I spent the better part of Sunday afternoon dilly-dallying around. I returned to my desk with every intention to hit that dang SUBMIT button.  Well…  I also thought that before I do, I probably should have a glass of wine . . . or two.

Finally, after dinner, I returned to my desk, and like stripping a band-aid off your hairy arm, I hit that SUBMIT button and I swear, my finger no sooner came off the keyboard when a message flashed 95% !  I passed!  In time I will be able to learn the answers to all of the questions.

You’re Almost There!

The worse was over and I truly was almost there, unlike certain points in a race course where well intended supporters think they are helping when in fact they may be hindering your race effort, all I needed to do now was take a 6 hour class to become CPR and First Aid certified.  Fortunately for me I had taken such a class three years ago and knew exactly what to expect.  Regardless, it’s always good to brush up on one’s readiness.

I was able to locate a class very nearby and attend this past Saturday.  Good thing too because it was a cold and rainy day, who wanted to run in this mess.  I simply moved my long run to Sunday.  I had an excellent instructor, learned and re-learned my important items, and glad this part is now complete.

The first thing Monday morning, I sent my CPR/FA credentials to the RRCA and received prompt congratulatory notice and within a short time I will receive my official certificate documenting my achievement of becoming a certified running coach from the Road Runners Club of America!

The Next Steps

I plan to offer my services to the members of the newly formed 501 Running Club (formerly Running Fit 501) and continue being a helpful resource to the members of the club as each of them may see fit to seek my advice.

I also plan to establish my own business as a running coach in the very near future.  I am already well into the process of laying the ground work for my new venture. Stay tune in the coming weeks for more news regarding this venture.  In the meantime, I have NO plans to quit my day job as an architect at OHM Advisors.  I do not foresee my coaching effort as a career change, rather I see it as another opportunity to further explore and share my passion for running with long time runners as well as those who only think they might like to try running someday.

Thanks for taking the time to read my post, please check back for updates, or better yet sign-up to follow by blog and you will receive updates as I post.

Run Happy!

Coach Lee

Morning’s Dawn

It’s a Saturday morning in early August, shortly before 6:00 AM and I am turning onto I-96 headed out to Kensington Metro Park to connect with 30 or more runners all of whom will be running 10 miles or more.  I am not thinking about my run this morning but rather a special run just weeks from today, The Crim in Flint Michigan is perhaps the premier 10 Mile road race in the world.  There may be a few folks in Washington DC who may argue the Cherry Blossom, or Marine Corp 10 Mile races are the best but in reality each of these races are a distant second to the Crim, for they lack the soul of the local community that the people of Flint provide.

The sky is a beautiful mix of dark to light as the sun begins to reveal this day and  I am thinking in a few weeks I will have just arrived in my secret parking area  downtown Flint at this time in three short weeks, except the sun will be about 30 minutes behind me.

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Racing along the bricks to the finish of The Crim, 2015

Well that was a very quick three weeks ago already, how did August fly by so fast? It’s here, Crim week, the week that ends the 4th Saturday of every August. After months of enjoying many beautiful Michigan early morning sunrises during my morning runs I realize that the morning runs have morphed into pre-dawn runs, thus marking my calendar as “Crim Week”. While I miss the early morning sunshine I welcome the relief from our high temperatures and humidity. Another sign that the big race is just ahead. Nearly 16,000 runners are also praying our current break from the summer heat will continue, at least through Saturday morning.

Unlike the recent few years, I am running less this week as I taper my training in order to be well rested and hopefully race strong Saturday. For many of the past several years I was always training for another targeted race such marathons in Detroit , New York, Raleigh, or Chicago and the Crim represented a tough training run for those marathons. This year is different, not because I am not running a marathon this fall but rather because of an email I received from the Crim organizers nearly 11 months ago. I was notified that the 2016 Crim would be my 30th running of the Crim! Surely I thought they had made a mistake for I had figured I would not be able to join the 30 Year Club until 2017 at the earliest. I dug up all of my running logs (yes I have records of every training run and race I have done since 1984!) and I realized that I failed to count my very first Crim in 1984, so in fact yes this will be my 30th Crim!

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RF 501 Traditional Pre Race Photo

With so many Crim races in the past, there are so many personal routines that have evolved into traditions. Visiting the race expo on Friday, driving home (1hr each way) only to rise early the next morning to return to Flint before sunrise, my pre-race breakfast, my secret parking area, adding to my collection of Crim memorabilia (especially coffee mugs), driving through nearby Grand Blanc where I grew up, enjoying a post race Popsicle, and downing a beer and pizza in the parking lot along Harrison Ave. and many more.

Yet each year there is something new to add. In recent years I have competed in the USATF US National Championship 1 Mile event on Friday, organized teams to compete in the team event, annually update my “Touring The Crim Course” a guide to how to race the course, and generally been a self appointed ambassador for the event by encouraging those new to running to race the Crim.

This year is very special for there will never be another initiation opportunity for me to join the 30 year club. Imagine, gaining entry to a club that has a 30 year waiting list! I plan to take full advantage of this special moment and I look forward to my special induction ceremony along with another 18 other runners this Thursday evening in Flint, and my special 15 minute head start in front of 16,000 +/- other runners including many world class elites from all over the world. For a few miles I will be racing in front of this incredible pack of runners, then of course reality will quite literally catch up to me.

I have prepared well this year, ran many hills, many early morning sessions on the local

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Nothing like celebrating after a hard 10 miles of racing

track, attempted to eat properly, and generally maintain a positive attitude. Nothing within my control will cause me to not enjoy the balance of this week, race morning, and the post race celebration.

Thank you for taking a moment to read this post. I promise to report back soon.

Run Happy.

Coach Lee

PS:

I also need to recognize that there are 19 other runners who have competed in every single Crim since the first race in 1977. They too will receive special recognition this week as a new club is formed, The 40 year Club! Congrats to all 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

If It’s to Hot to Run It Must Be July?

 

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The start of the Crim 10 Mile

If it’s too hot to run it must be July and if it’s July it must be Crim time?  Wait you say? Isn’t Crim in late August?  Yes to both, if you want to have any chance of racing a grueling 10 Mile road race then you had better be in the sharpening phase of your training in July.

The Crim 10 Mile Road Race is one of only a few truly elite 10 mile road races in the country each year.  Named for it’s founder Flint area native and former Speaker of the State House for Michigan, Bobby Crim, the Crim has always enjoyed an awesome reputation among runners from all areas of the globe. The first race was on the 4th Saturday in August back in 1977.  It started in mid day and featured hundreds of runners including several “big name” runners who ran to help support the Special Olympics program. It has since evolved into a series of races and special events centered in downtown Flint. Several American records have been set on the course and countless world class elite runners have participated. The listing would take too long to include but the very short version includes super elites such as Joan (Benoit) Samuelson and Bill Rogers.

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Bobby Crim himself !

Back in 1977 my running consisted of a few occasional runs mostly to remind myself that I could still run. It was my first year out of grad school and I was working for an architectural firm in Flint.  I was not aware of the race. Had I been aware, I probably would have at least given it serious thought about entering. Many other things were on my mind back then, most of them involved my wedding day that was only a few weeks from then, so on the other hand, maybe I would not have chosen to compete.

Flash forward to 1984, the year of my first Crim. I left the Flint area in 1978, now had two young baby daughters, and had recently somehow managed to return to a more serious form of running.  I discovered a local running club, The Novi Trackers. This group more than anything else was responsible for my running career moving forward.  Members of this group told stories of the Crim race the prior year and encouraged me to join them at Crim in 84. I  remember being a bit hesitant as I had not raced in anything more than a few miles up to then but was excited to return to my hometown where I established my running roots many years earlier.

Now as summer is past it’s midway point my thoughts begin to focus more and more about my returning to race “The Crim”.  For at about this time each summer, I begin to train a little harder, focus a little sharper, and anticipate a bit more, about the 4th Saturday in August and another return to Crim. Except this year will be much different!

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Stretching out at the starting line, Crim 2015

Oh I still approach Crim like a child approaches Christmas, but this year will mark my 30th running of the Crim!  One of many special innovations Crim organizers have evolved is the establishment of The 30 Year Club. The 30 Year Club was initiated at the 30th running of the Crim in 2006. It consisted of all the 24 runners who had ran every Crim!  Each year since new members are admitted to this now prestigious club of Crim veterans. So this is my year. The 2016 Crim will be my 30th and I have been anxiously awaiting this year’s race for several years now!  Next week it officially begins as I have been invited to my first meeting. I hope to learn much more of what and how the Crim organizers have in mind to help me and about 15 other Crim veterans make this our best Crim experience ever!

Please check back regularly as I certainly plan to post many updates on the rapidly approaching 4th Saturday in August, downtown Flint Michigan!

Thank you and Run Happy

Coach Lee

 

DxAA – What a Difference 31 Years Make!

DXAAlogo One of Michigan’s most famous road races was recently held for the 43rd year in a row. Organized by the Ann Arbor Track Club, the Dexter to Ann Arbor Half Marathon continues to be one of the premier road races in Michigan and the entire Midwest. As the name implies, it is a road race from Dexter to Ann Arbor, a convenient distance of 13.1 miles. I ran my first DxAA race eleven years after the race debuted only it was not the half marathon. My first Dexter Ann Arbor race was the 10K back in 1985.  I dug out the 10K race results from that year and compared them to this year’s results. Amazing!

In 1985 I had been running various road races of all sorts but never a 10K (6.2 miles). So in the spring of 85 I figured it was time that I see what this 10K thing was all about and after all, I had no other plans for that Memorial Day weekend. (For many years the race was held on Memorial Day weekend). Back then, similar to the half marathon, runners were bused out to the starting line, then ran the point to point route to finish downtown Ann Arbor. The busing process meant that most runners, nearly 1,000 of us, sat around in Delhi Metro Park for up to an hour before the race.  As I recall, in 85, that was not a problem for the air was cool, the lawns were damp, but the sun shined beautifully. It also continued to shine resulting in a hot run!  I had heard stories about the route from my running friends. There was this long hill runners had to battle for the last mile of the route. OK, so?

I remember toeing the starting line less than several feet from the actual start. Then the gun fired and we were off!  I had no idea of how to actually run a 10K, I simply approached this race as any other, start fast, run hard, and hang in there to the finish. So that’s what I did!  I remember seeing a string of single file runners stretching long ahead of me on the sunny part of the route. I was nowhere near the lead runner. So what?  I was running as hard as I could and I was determined to do my best!

37 minutes, 51 seconds after the gun went off I crossed the finish line downtown Ann Arbor!  This was an average pace of 6:05 minutes per mile. I thought it was just OK.I was a little disappointed I did not run a sub 36 min for my first 10K.

But here is the interesting comparison. With a time of 37:51 in 1985, I finished 15th in my age group and 90th overall!  Yesterday, 31 years later, I ran nearly 10 minutes slower, finishing in 47:24, but finished 1st in my AG, and 60th overall!  My time from 1985 would have placed me 5th overall in yesterday’s race!

So what accounts for such substantial variations in finish placement given the same race time?  Well actually, time itself, or more accurately the times.  30 years ago the 10K event was the premier race distance. The half marathon was sort of an unusual gimmick type race.  Also, those who did compete were more serious or intense runners.  Thirty years ago all of one’s training runs were run hard. There was no “long run” as every runner seems to do at least once a week now.

Flash forward to today and it’s actually somewhat difficult to find a good 10K race event!  The half marathon has perhaps become the second most popular only to the 5K distance.  The 5K distance is primarily popular because it appeals to most any person who is reasonably fit whether a regular runner or not and it also appeals to serious runners who often view the 5k distance as a training or speed session for a longer race, such as the half marathon of course.

While I will never approach running a 37 minute 10K again (factoid: my first 10k remains my lifetime personal record), I hope to always continue to be competitive in my own division running against my many friends and peers. Why not look up the next 10K in your area and give this race distance your best effort?

Thanks for taking the time to read my post and Run Happy!

Coach Lee

PS:

For a neat look at a video of the 10K:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LUJYyzu7Gio Let me know if you spot me in the race hint,  it’s as I finish.

 

 

Boston 2016

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The reward, Boston Marathon Medal number two

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.

Arrival 

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.

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Nancy and I continue the tour by visiting the finish line at the Boston Marathon, less than 24 hours before the marathon.

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.

Pre Race 

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Ready to run, Marathon Eve

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.

 

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Riding the bus to Hopkinton with one of my running buds, Robin.

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!

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Robin and I about ready to enter the Athlete’s Village. Thanks Robin for showing me the route to the Village.

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.

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During most of the first half of the marathon I felt very comfortable, relaxed, and cautiously kept my pace slow.

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

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Welcome to Wellesley

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!

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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.

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Need to keep going, not getting any easier, and definitely no longer fresh.

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!

Hello Newton

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.

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The CITGO sign and one more (long) mile to go!

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!

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Crossing the finish line at the 120th running of the Boston Marathon. April 18, 2016.

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!

 

Post Race

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.

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Finally, the medal is earned!

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.

Run Happy!

Coach Lee

PS:

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:

http://www.hometownlife.com/story/sports/running/2016/04/26/boston-strong-stories-triumph-miles/83534226/

 

 

 

 

The Tradition Continues

Crim start

Judging solely by the title you might think this is about Christmas or a similar special event. Well, it is about a special event but has almost nothing to do with Christmas. More on the Christmas part later.

This is Crim week, the week prior to the fourth Saturday of August. The Crim 10 Mile road race is one of the best, if not the best 10 Mile road race in the US. It began back in 1977 and while I was working as a young architect in Flint at the time, I was not aware of the race. Back in 77 the race occurred 5 weeks before my wedding day so I had other things on my mind the summer of 77 besides running a grueling 10 miles in the afternoon sun. It has been 30 years now since I first ran Crim and this will be my 27th Crim race. Only a few more and I can join the truly elite runners who also have run 30 Crims and get a 10 minute head start on the field of over 10,000 runners.

So what makes it so special for me? Easy, it’s always been sort of a homecoming. It’s the area where my running career began as a high school runner in track and later cross country for Grand Blanc. Not long after that first Crim, I relocated from the Flint area to Metro Detroit where I continued to run primarily for fitness, not for competition. My passion to run long distances along rural roads or race along the curve of a flat track remained in my blood. Then late in 1983 I hooked up with a group of like-minded runners in the form of The Novi Trackers and I suppose you can say the rest is history.

I ran my first Crim race in 1984 wearing cotton gear and my very expensive $36 running shoes. Back then the race started away from the finish area downtown Flint. It started on the campus of Mott Community College. There were no timing chips, no corrals, no wave, just the national anthem and the gun. Runners lined up as close to the start as possible and dared to run across dangerous curbs and damp lawns to get as fast as start as possible. I vividly remember standing in the crowded start, wondering if I would even finish a 10 mile race my longest race distance was only 4 miles. I just wanted to survive, literally!  It was only about 18 months prior that my father passed away from a heart attack in a room of St. Joe’s Hospital that overlooked the start of the Crim course. I looked to that window and asked him to overlook my race.

A few years later the start was moved to downtown Flint and the crowd of runners grew from 2,000 to 5,000, to now over 10,000 for the 10 Mile race. They also now have several other races and events that spread over several days, and there is a full time staff to administer the good work of the Crim Foundation.

Since my first Crim I have had several personal traditions, all have evolved over the past thirty years and I trust they will continue to evolve and new ones started. In somewhat chronological order they are:

  • The first is the Saturday afternoon nap! It’s tough for me to get a good night’s sleep prior to any distance race so by the time it’s over, I am dog tired and need to recover.
  •  I have also always waked very early on Crim race morning, typically awake by 4AM. I get dressed, have a pre-race breakfast then drive up to Flint (about an hour north) and arrive just as others begin to arrive to downtown Flint, including the sun! It’s a dark ride and I enjoy my running tunes while munching on energy food or playing chauffeur to some of my running friends also racing 10 miles.
  •  Then it’s to a parking space, which has varied over the years but seldom beyond a 100 ft radius.

Bill Robin Lee

  •  For the past 20 years or so I drive up to Flint late Friday afternoon to visit the race expo. Pick up my race bib, T-shirt, goody bag, and scope out the Expo. Until 2 years ago the Crim also had a vast array of Crim related merchandise for sale. Posters, hoodies, polo shirts, even chairs and umbrellas. But my favorite has always been the coffee mugs. I must have nearly every coffee mug sold for the past 20 years. Always tastefully designed with the creative artwork by a local artist. Unfortunately this sales area no longer exists. Apparently the Crim Foundation has instead delegated the sales of such items to a major running gear company, not happy.
  •  For many years my pre-race tradition on race morning has been to simply sit on the steps of the Citizens Bank Building which fronts the starting area and simply people watch. I have met people there that morning that I have not seen in decades!
  • The race itself has many numerous traditions, the weather conditions, the start, the course, the entertainment, and the finish line. Perhaps the best feature of the Crim finish are the frozen popsicles and cold wet paper towels racers receive after running a grueling 10 miles in hot, humid, hilly, and sunny conditions. Forget the cool heavy weighted finisher’s medal it’s all about the popsicles and other post race goodies at the finish line.
  •  In early August several years ago I was inspired to sit down and type out a mile by mile description of how to race the Crim course. I titled it “Touring The Crim Course”. It’s a stride by stride of how to strategically race the course and provide a preview of what to expect along the way. I re-issue this 8 page article with update. Ironically, I found my own description very helpful to me during the Crim races since.
  • Post finish line has its own separate traditions. It begins with lining up with other race finishers to receive a hot slice of pizza and a cold beer. Yes it’s probably only about 10AM but this is one morning this combo works.
  •  Just a few feet away from the end of the pizza and beer line tent is a drive way to the parking lot. I have been arranging to meet people at this point for years. Usually people from years ago. It’s also a great spot to simply sit and people watch even after the pizza and beer are long gone.
  •  Up until about 8 years ago that would have been the end of my Crim race day. For the past 8 years I have been a part of the Running Fit 501 Marathon Training group. Each summer we have 50-80 runners race the Crim. Each year we also form some form of team and compete in the Crim Race Team event or our own event. It has always been a fun post race party regardless of how well one raced that day.

501 Crim Start

  •  Ultimately it’s back home for that well deserved nap but that’s not the end of the Crim race day tradition! Up until about 4-6 years ago, you could relive that morning’s race on TV. The local Flint public TV station had perhaps the best race coverage of any race on TV anywhere, yes even including word class events such as the Olympics! WFUM’s team did an excellent job of not only covering the leaders and elites but also the common runners too. They would regularly cut away from the elite coverage and show the middle of the pack runners in live time. I remember seeing myself struggle up the Bradley Hills at the 5 mile mark one year. That shot taught me to look up when running uphill!
  •  The TV coverage is long gone only to be replaced by same day results on the web and many YouTube videos. It’s a different world.
  •  Other ancillary traditions include stopping at my mother’s house in Grand Blanc either the night before the race or post race on my return home. The last such visit was in 2004 as she passed from this life 10 months later. My sister who lives in Flint also sends me the pre and post race clippings from the Flint Journal. I still have many of those old clippings. Good thing because the Flint Journal is also a victim of the digital age.

So, what about that Christmas tradition I mentioned at the start of this lengthy post? Well, I suppose you could say the Crim race extends to the Christmas season in our house too. For the past 6 Christmases I decorate our tree with race medals from that year and medals from my most memorable races from prior years. So adoring the Christmas tree with my medals from the New York City, Boston, Detroit, and Raleigh, Marathons are many Crim medals from the current year and many years prior.

Christmas Tree 2013

Thanks for taking the time to read this lengthy piece. By the time this gets posted I will be heading up to Flint to perhaps start a new tradition by competing in this year’s USATF, Masters 1 Mile National Championship Race.

Run Happy.

Lee