I AM A RUNNER because I know what effort feels like, and I embrace it. I AM A RUNNER because I value and respect my body. I AM A RUNNER because I am willing to lay it all on the line. I know that every finish line has the potential to lift my spirits to new highs or devastate me. I AM A RUNNER because I know that despite my best efforts, I will always want more from myself.
Remember when I said that I hate marathons, and that I don’t see myself running another marathon without my posse?
Forget all of that; times have changed!
During the 26.2 Run With Donna last week, Pam TOLD me that I HAD to run the full marathon in Gainesville the next weekend. The Five Points of Life is a great half marathon, but the full leaves a lot to be desired. She said that if I did indeed complete the full, I would qualify to join Marathon Maniacs. The criterion to join this organization includes running three marathons in the span of 90 days. Since I had already completed Ocala, and was about to finish off Donna, it seemed like a no-brainer. But could I physically compete in two marathons within an eight-day window? Then Pam dropped the bombshell on me…she had not entered the race in Gainesville. I just assumed she did, but Pam was taking a pass on this one. I tried to convince Jennifer to run with me, but her mother was coming in from Connecticut for the weekend.
Let me get this straight…run in three marathons over a 29 day span, and…by the way…run the last one “lone-wolf” style? REALLY??? REALLY??? I said I would seriously think about it, but of course my mind was already made up.
When I woke up on Monday morning (the day after Donna), my right foot was totally bruised and swollen on the top. This had never happened to me before, but with a week to go before Gainesville, I wasn’t worried…yet. My training for the week included three days of running distances of two miles, three miles and two miles. When Wednesday rolled around, my foot was still pretty bruised, but I went out and did the two miles anyway. My foot felt a little better on Thursday, so I put in my three mile run. I decided to skip the run on Friday, in an effort to give the foot an extra day of healing time.
I left for Gainesville on Saturday morning with my youngest daughter Rachel. We picked up Lindsey at her apartment, and went to the expo. My foot was still bruised, but I “super-sized” the race anyway (I paid the difference to upgrade to the full marathon). I figured that if my foot hurt too much, I could bail out at the halfway point.
It was 55 degrees at the start of the race. YAY!!! There were 213 runners participating in the full marathon, and 680 taking on the half (893 in total, not counting the 364 who participated in the 5K on Saturday morning). My goal for this race was to finish…period!
I started very slow, and it seemed as if everyone entered in the race had passed me. I was testing out the foot, but it didn’t seem like it would be an issue. I started picking up speed, and was running a pretty decent pace. Around ten miles into the race, I got the feeling that this was not going to be as difficult as I had anticipated. After all, this was the scene of my worst finishing time for a marathon…ever! Miles 11-13 took me through the University of Florida campus, including “The Swamp.”
The second half of the marathon could not have gone better. I ran with a guy from Orlando for a couple of miles, but he was having difficulty keeping up. Around mile 16, I really caught a “second wind” and never looked back. I knew at this point, barring something unforeseen, I was going to set a new PR. It was now about 78 degrees, and I was drinking Gatorade like nobody’s business. I also took my creatine at mile marker seven, and never cramped up at all. As I crossed the finish line, Lindsey and Rachel were both there cheering for me and taking pictures. It felt great to be finished, and to have conquered this course in record-breaking fashion. However, it did not come totally without a price.
I went to my brother’s office the next day (he is my primary care physician) at Nova Southeastern University. He runs the Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine Clinic, and I go for treatment every two weeks to keep me running like a fine-tuned engine. My physical therapist Yasmin told me that I was pretty dehydrated, and that I should probably take it easy on the foot this week. I also took an acupuncture treatment on my calves, not to mention the fun of digging into my feet to break up the Planter Fasciitis.
But in the end, it was all worth it; I’m now officially a Maniac, and I’m now TOTALLY addicted to doing marathons.
I've tried my best to persuade Pam to come down to South Florida and run a marathon with me, but it just hasn't worked out yet. Her "dance card" is usually pretty filled, but we came pretty close this year. I finally decided that "If the mountain won't come to Mohammad, Mohammad must go to the mountain." Since Pam, Elaine and Jennifer all live in Ocala, they are more centrally located to do a larger variety of races than I am. When you stop and consider gas, tolls, hotel, food and entry fees (yes…you do have to pay to run in these races), it's hard to just pick up and go every weekend.
Pam ran the 26.2 Run With Donna in Jacksonville last year and could not stop talking about it. I had run the A1A Marathon that same day in Ft. Lauderdale, which was actually a "training run" for the 50K we were about to do. I registered for Donna when Pam had to cancel out on the West Palm Beach Marathon we were planning on doing, because of a prior commitment she had made.
The 26.2 Run With Donna is the National Marathon to Finish Breast Cancer. 100% of the proceeds and raised funds go to breast cancer research and care. Jennifer was extremely happy that I entered the race, since she was very nervous about competing. She had only run one marathon before, and was disappointed in her finishing time. I assured her that I would stay with her to the end, which was the reason why I chose this race.
I left early Saturday morning, and after a quick shopping spree at the Under Armour Outlet Store in St. Augustine, I arrived at the home of my close friends Cyndy and Al. They offered to let me stay with them for the weekend, which made the trip that much more enjoyable. Al is a fantastic athlete, but his knee will not allow him to run. We went to the expo and met Jennifer and her friend Tracy.
I was planning on running with my cell phone for the first time, so I was in the market for some sort of case. My running belt can hold my gels and my water bottle, but not much more. Another concern was keeping the phone dry, since I sweat like a pig. I meandered over to the iFitness booth, where they were selling running belts made of neoprene. A very attractive salesperson decided to demonstrate how the phone does not move as she ran in place. REALLY??? REALLY??? Was I even looking at her belt? When she finished, I asked her to run in place for me again, only to get smacked by Jennifer. I was there for quite some time, which provided great entertainment value for all parties concerned. I finally decided on the Ultimate II Race Belt, and we continued shopping. I went back once more before we left and upgraded to the Hydration Belt, which has two little water bottles on the side. I know they all thought I was crazy, but I tried my best to explain that I needed to run with two belts no matter what. Since I already own a Spibelt, I would wear it during the marathon, along my new iFitness belt. We had dinner at Sliders that night, and I turned in early, since I had to get up at 3:30 a.m. on Sunday morning.
Al was kind enough to drive me to Pam's hotel at 5 a.m. It was 41 degrees, and I was really cold. We took the shuttle to the Runners' Village, and met Jennifer and the rest of Pam's friends. We still had over an hour to kill, but there was lots of excitement in the air. There were 1,571 runners competing in the full marathon, and 3,928 taking on the half (a total of 5,499 for those of you who are mathematically challenged). Since I have absolutely no conception of crowd size, I would have guessed there were over 10,000 runners.
It took about three minutes to cross the starting line when the gun went off. We started running over a bridge, and I had to go potty after about two miles …my usual M.O. At the five mile point, we actually ran on the beach for the next two miles. The sand was hard and compact, and it was a welcomed break for our legs.
It was truly a chamber of commerce day, with the temperature now around 50 degrees and not a cloud in the sky. The crowd support for the runners was AMAZING! It seemed like the whole city embraced this race, with people thanking us for participating in such a worthy cause. Folks stood outside their homes and offered the runners orange slices, drinks, pretzels and even M & M's. Talk about southern hospitality!
Jennifer was consistently running ahead of us, and it was obvious we were holding her back. At around the 18 mile mark, we told her to just take off. It was also around this point that Pam's knee was giving her trouble and I was starting to get cramps in my left calf. The last three miles were very difficult for the both us, but we worked as a team and encouraged each other on.
With just two-tenths of a mile to go, I got a killer cramp in my calf. How could this happen now? I stopped to rub it out, and told Pam to keep going. There was no way I was going to hobble across the finish line after giving it my all for 26 miles. I worked my calf over as quickly as I could, and did my best impersonation a man running full speed ahead. Pam decided to wait for me, and we crossed the finish line together. Jennifer was there to greet us, as she finished ten minutes before we did. Not only that…she shattered her last marathon time by almost 50 minutes. I was really proud of her.
We hung out at the Runner's Village for a little while and celebrated our accomplishments. No personal best this day, but my times have become very consistent. My brother (who is also my doctor) suggested I try Creatine before my next race to help with the cramping. I'm open to any and all suggestions.
Next…on to Gainesville and a big decision to make.
I was pleasantly surprised when both Elaine and Pam told me they wanted to run the full Ocala Marathon this year. We had previously competed in the half, and I was really looking forward to running a full marathon with my buddies for the first time. With the National Marathon to Finish Breast Cancer (26.2 With Donna) coming up on February 13th, this was a great chance to run two marathons within a three week window.
Elaine and Pam both offered to let me stay with them, since they live in the Ocala/Silver Springs area. After a spirited game of “Rock-Paper-Scissors,” I would lodge with Pam and her husband Joe. An extra added bonus for the weekend was the opportunity to spend Saturday with my oldest daughter Lindsey, since she is a student at the University of Florida.
I left early Saturday morning and drove straight to the race expo at the Ocala Holiday Inn Conference Center. I met up with Elaine and Pam, bought a pair of compression sleeves for my arms, and continued my journey for another 35 miles to Gator Country. Lindsey and I had an early dinner, and then made our way to the O-Dome to watch the Gators destroy Arkansas 75-43 in basketball. I arrived back at Pam’s house around 11 pm and went right to bed.
It was a chilly 28 degrees when the race started. With only 130 participants doing the full marathon (302 were doing the half), we got going right as the gun sounded. Jennifer had not entered the race, but met up with us at the five mile mark. She was still training for the 26.2 With Donna, and planned on staying with us for about five miles.
Since I usually run “lone wolf” style, running with my buddies made all the difference in the world. I could not even begin to describe just how great I felt at the end of the race, both physically and emotionally. With about two miles left, I got this unexplained burst of energy, and literally sprinted across the finish line.
I did not set a personal best, but I came pretty close. We probably putzed around at the water stations longer than we should have, but it was fair tradeoff. The entertainment value alone was worth the price of admission; I don’t see myself running another marathon without my posse.
These are the words uttered to me over and over again by both Elaine and Pam as they tried to convince me to enter the Croom Fools Run. When I first saw that Pam had entered the race, I immediately went to the website. Within the same race was a 15 mile run, a 50K run and a 50 mile run. I knew she was not at the point to do 50 miles; when she mentioned the word “Ultra,” I knew it had to be the 50K. By way of definition, an untramarathon is any sporting event involving running longer than the traditional marathon length of 26.2 miles. The thought of doing a race this long never even entered my mind, but this was a trail run that takes place at Croom which is within the Withlacoochee State Forest in Brooksville (close to Tampa). I knew that if I even had any kind of shot at completing this 31 mile race, running with Elaine and Pam would be my only chance.
“It’s only five more miles.”
I did most of my training at Vista View Park in Davie. There was an equestrian trail in the park which I was told would be similar to the trail I would be running on during the race. I purchased a pair of Brooks Cascadia running shoes, which are made specifically for trail running. My initial observations were the following: 1) the terrain is not smooth like pavement; don’t take your eyes of the trail, and 2) DON’T TAKE YOUR EYES OFF THE TRAIL! You really have to concentrate more on where you are stepping and less time on observing the nature around you. The training also took a toll on my lower back.
I got to Brooksville the day before the race, and picked up the race packets for the three of us. When I turned into the Withlacoochee State Forest, there were no road signs (or signs of civilization for that matter) for about five miles. The folks putting on the race told me that there would be water stations every five miles (as opposed to every mile) and that the runners would have to check in at these water stations. This would be the method in which they would keep track of all of the runners, since it was a forest with no crowds to cheer us on. The event was limited to a total of 250 participants.
When the three of us arrived at the race the next morning, it was pitch black (there are no street lights in a forest because…well…it's a forest). When the race started, the sun was starting to come up, so we could actually see where we were running. To my surprise (and delight), the trail was much flatter than the one at Vista View Park. The course was marked by paint on the trees (orange for 15 mile and 50K; blue for the 50 mile). Things were going really well, and Pam had only fallen three times so far.
The 15 mile point brought us back to where the race began, and gave us an opportunity to get some refreshments out of our cooler. Four miles later, I was having trouble keeping up with Elaine and Pam. They were willing to stay with me, but I didn’t want to hold them back. BIG MISTAKE!
I was starting to cramp up and had to incorporate some walking into my routine. I was chugging along the best I could, but at the 23 mile mark, the race turned into a complete disaster! I followed the “Yellow Brick Road” the whole time, but it led me to a dead end right in front of a river. Now what? I didn’t have my cell phone with me (not that there was any reception) and no one around to ask for directions. The only thing I could think of doing at that point was to start to follow the blue paint markings that were designated for the 50 mile run. At least it would get me to the finish line. I bumped into a guy who was lost as well, and he figured he had run an extra ten miles out of his way (he was doing the 50 mile race). We made our way to the one and only road in and out of the forest. Some folks who were already finished with the 15 mile race were kind enough to stop and bring us back to where we should have been. They told us that the course was recently changed, so some of the trees were mismarked with paint. We were apparently not the only two runners to get lost, and I figured that I ran an additional four miles. I was now back on track and ready to finish this race off.
When I started to run again, I got cramps in my calves so severe that I couldn’t even stand up. In addition, I almost fainted on three separate occasions. With no one around to help me out, I truly felt as if I were battling for my life more than trying to finish the race. I seriously did not know how this was going to play out. I tried to block out the pain, and massage my calves as much as I could. I eventually crossed the finish line covered in salt from severe dehydration. This was where Mr. Salty was born.
Elaine tried to get me to eat something, but I had no appetite. My original plan was to drive home after the race, but there was no way this was happening. I checked back into the hotel and battled cramps in my feet for the rest of the night. I had no strength to get out of my running clothes, let alone take a shower. I felt better in the morning, but it was quite an effort to drive home.
Jennifer has already approached Elaine, Pam and me about doing the race again this year. I have mixed emotions about it…but after all…
After more than ten years of competitive running, it was finally time to put on my “big boy” pants and start training for a marathon. It was something that I dreaded, but at the same time, it was something I needed to do.
I will tell you up front that I hate running marathons. They are long, grueling and more physically demanding than you could ever imagine. Then why do I keep torturing myself like this? Because I can! Seriously…any athlete will tell you that they always wonder how they would compete at the next level. I needed to know how I could handle 26.2 miles, even if I only competed one time. I registered for the A1A Marathon , which takes place on Ft. Lauderdale Beach. The starting line is in front of the Museum of Discovery and Science on Las Olas Blvd, but the race is mostly an out and back on A1A.
The training for this race was very difficult. I was running distances I’ve never attempted before, and besides the physical toll it was taking on my body, I was concerned that I wasn’t embracing the challenge. I was seeing this as something I “had” to do, rather than something I “wanted” to do.
The race had around 4,000 entrants; most of which were only doing the half marathon. I only had to wait about three minutes after the gun sounded until I was officially “on the clock.” We ran east on Las Olas Blvd. over the intercostal, and then straight down the beach on A1A. There were very few people out cheering, but it still had the feel of a big time race. I was feeling good early on, but I was totally unprepared for what was about to happen.
Around the 13 mile mark, for reasons I still cannot explain, I suddenly “hit the wall.” 13 miles was a distance I could figuratively do in my sleep; how could I be totally out of gas? I started to walk, with the hope of catching a “second wind”; sadly, it never happened. I finished the race totally beaten down and demoralized; I did some serious soul searching on the drive home.
I would wait almost one year later to attempt my next marathon. I felt more prepared both physically and emotionally for the Five Points of Life Marathon up in Gainesville. Pam had already committed to participating in another marathon later in the month, but she said that she would run the half to help keep me company. Of the 1,000 participants, only 125 runners were doing the full marathon. After Pam and I parted ways at the half way point, I literally saw only three runners during the last 13.1 miles. As scenic and picturesque as the first part of the race was, the last half was pretty much out and back on Williston Road. As I crossed the finish line, I was surprised to find that they had already packed up the finish line! Talk about low budget! On a positive note, my time was a little better, but still not even in the ballpark of where I wanted to be.
Everything turned around last year, as I attempted to tackle the A1A Marathon once again. I had increased my training to a new level (thanks to Pam) and I felt totally prepared for this race. When I crossed the finish line, not only did I set a personal best …I shattered my old record! If I were to never run another marathon again, I could sleep at night knowing that I accomplished something special.
But alas…Pam was not going to let me off the hook that easily.
Before working at FIU, I worked for over ten years at Miami Dade College. I taught television production, and I was the Production Supervisor for MDC-TV (the network that originates from the school). During one of the tapings taking place in the television studio, we had a guest on the show to promote the Miami Marathon and Half-Marathon. We started talking about running; 20 minutes later, I had a free registration into the event. The director of our department had participated in several marathons in the past, and offered to run with me.
The race started in front of the American Airlines Arena in downtown Miami. It was raining pretty hard when we got there, so we ran for cover inside the arena to stay dry before the race began. The rain subsided about ten minutes before race time and we made our way to the starting line. I learned a very valuable lesson that morning: when you run in a race with over 12,000 participants, you don’t just meander to the starting line at the last minute. Getting our place in line was like trying to cut over to the entrance ramp of the Palmetto Expressway at the last possible minute. Not gonna happen! When you register for a marathon/half marathon, they ask you what you think your finishing time will be. This way, they can place the faster runners up front (not me) and the slower runners towards the back (that would be me). This is done by grouping the runners together by their average time per mile.
After finally fighting for our place in line, the gun sounded and we were off…ten minutes later! That’s how long it took for all of the runners ahead of us to get going before we crossed the starting line. Since we had our timing chip in our shoes, it wasn’t really an issue, except for the anticipation of finally running in a big time event.
It was a really scenic and fun race. There were crowds everywhere cheering the runners on, as well as music and dancers. The race took us over Biscayne Bay and through South Beach. With about two miles left, I started getting cramps in my calves. Yes, this was the first time it had happened to me during a run, so it was a bit of a struggle to finish. I really felt a sense of accomplishment when I hobbled across the finish line. I couldn’t imagine going for another 13.1 miles, but I knew that I would have to train even harder if I wanted to compete in more half marathons on any kind of a regular basis.
From big time event to local race, my next “half” was in Weston. Since I live around 15 minutes from the starting line, this was a no brainer. Only 1,000 or so people entered this race, which was a dramatic difference from the one I had just completed in Miami. The Weston Half Marathon was very boring, with no crowd support at all. It was pretty much a straight out and back on a major road, and the finish of the race was a lap around the track at Cypress Bay High School. If nothing else, I got my favorite race photo during this event.
The PAL Half Marathon takes place in Boca Raton and starts in Spanish River Park. This is a very pretty race, as you run through the neighborhoods of Boca Raton right on the beach. The homes are very old and very expensive. The race itself is very flat, with a good opportunity to set a personal best.
The Ocala Marathon and Half Marathon is a great race, but very different from the one in Boca. In Ocala, you run through horse country and it is very hilly. It was really cold and nasty (around 40 degrees) the first time I did this race, but I ran with my running buddies Pam and Elaine, which made it way fun.
My favorite half marathon, hands down, is the Five Points of Life Marathon & Half Marathon, which takes place in Gainesville. You get to run through downtown Gainesville, as well as the University of Florida. A major highlight for me is running through "The Swamp" towards the end of the race. They pump in Gators football highlights over the public address system…talk about a rush! This race has even more hills than Ocala, and not one you should be expecting to break any personal records. Last year, it was 28 degrees at race time, but not a cloud in the sky. I ran the race with Jennifer, Allison and Pam; afterwards, we celebrated by having breakfast with my daughter (who is currently attending UF). She thought we were dorks sitting in the IHOP with our race medals on.
My first attempt at any new race (in terms of length) has always tuned out disastrous. In fact, my first shot at a half marathon (13.1 miles) was over before it ever started…literally!
Since I had increased the distance of my Saturday runs to around 13 miles, I now felt comfortable to enter my first half marathon. My friend and running “role model” Pam (to be discussed in a future blog) suggested I dive in “feet first” and enter the Disney Half-Marathon.
Typically, a marathon and a half marathon are run at the same time. Because of the popularity of the Disney event, the half marathon was to take place on Saturday; the full marathon was scheduled for Sunday. If you were insane enough (as Pam is) to enter both races, it is affectionately known as the “Goofy Challenge.”
The family and I left Friday afternoon for the frozen tundra of Orlando. The temperature in the Magic Kingdom was around 35 degrees, and it was expected to be in the high 20’s for the start of the race. Many of the runners purchase inexpensive sweatshirts and sweatpants to throw to the side of the road once they have warmed up. This way, if they didn’t go back to pick their “Wal-Mart Special” after the race was over, it would be nisht gefloygen.
There is an expo that takes place the day before each marathon. This is where you go to pick up your bib (race number), your race shirt, your timing chip and other assorted swag. They also have vendors selling and demonstrating all the latest and greatest running products including shoes (we don’t call them sneakers), apparel, accessories and nutritional supplements. The expo took place at Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex; I was like a kid in a candy store. The adrenaline rush was overwhelming, but ultimately… it would come to a crashing halt.
While at Pizzeria Uno later that evening, my wife Glenda got a phone call from her mother. Glenda’s father had been sick for a very long time; it did not look like he would make it through the weekend. After an extremely brief discussion, we decided it would be best to skip the race and drive right home. This way, Glenda would have a chance to say goodbye to her dad for the final time.
The drive home was quiet, and we were both disappointed on many levels. Although Glenda’s dad did not pass away until Sunday, it was still the right decision to make. There would be many races to run, but only one father to say goodbye to.
For the next six years or so, my training was mostly on my own. I would run about five miles twice a week on the weekdays, and do about a 10 mile run on the weekend. I joined the Gold Coast Runners Club, the Greater Fort Lauderdale Road Runners Club and subscribed to Runner’s World magazine to help supplement my training. I entered as many 5K races as I could, but I was starting to get bored of races that were so short in length. If a race were a combined 5K and a 10K, I would opt for the longer distance. However, there were way more 5K race opportunities than any other distance; I knew that half marathons would have to be the next goal in sight. This would be a quality vs. quantity decision.
When you enter a race, they give a medal to the top three finishers in each age group. Typically, 17 to 22 minutes as a finishing time will garner the gold. I was finishing around 27 minutes, and did not foresee very much chance in shaving that time down significantly. However, I have finished third in my age group on two separate occasions.
The great thing about running is that it is one of the few sports where age does not matter in terms of your performance. If you look at the results of any race, the finishing times usually do not drop off substantially until you hit your 60s or 70s (especially in a marathon). If you check out the age of the participants in the Ocala Marathon (my most recent race), you can see that the majority of the runners are over the age of 30. Athletes who run track or cross-country in high school will enter a 5K, but they are not trained for much longer distances; the preparation is very different. Training for a longer race can put you on an “even playing field” with a younger runner.
I started to run competitively in 1996. Prior to that, I truly disliked running. I gave it a try several times; I just couldn’t embrace it. I found it boring and time consuming, and since I was in great shape (in a cardiovascular sense), I didn’t see the point.
I’ve played sports my whole life and there has never been a point in time where I have been out of shape. I began playing basketball when I was 14, and immediately became a “legend in my own mind.” I picked up tennis when I was 16, and played a good bit with my father, my brother and our next door neighbor (she was number two on the high school tennis team). After I graduated college, I joined several softball leagues. I was a terrific pitcher, but I was target practice as a fielder. It was around 1985 that I joined a gym with the fellas at work, and I began to “hang and bang” at least three times a week.
It was around 1990 when I started to phase out the organized sports and commit myself exclusively to the gym. Cardio became a big part of my workout routine, since I was no longer playing hoops, tennis or softball on a regular basis. I couldn’t handle the treadmill, so I turned my attention to the elliptical machine. I started out doing 30 minutes; then one hour. Eventually, I was able to complete two full hours, and that was after a complete workout!
During my time at the Bally’s close to my house, I became friends with Doug Hinsey. He was a runner and did his best to convince me to run with him. I resisted at first, but the pressure eventually wore me down. He had entered a 5K race (3.1 miles) and asked me to run with him. Since I was doing two hours of cardio in the gym, I wasn’t that intimidated and accepted his invitation.
The race was the Turkey Trot, which takes place every year on Thanksgiving Day. Unbeknownst to me at the time, races take place über early in the morning; Doug was at my doorstep to pick me up at 6:15 am. When we arrived, I was shocked how many people were there to torture themselves before the sun came up.
I don’t really remember too much about the race itself, except it was way harder than I could have ever imagined. I might have been in great shape, but I was not in race shape. I loved the experience and wanted to try it again. Doug and I entered a 5K the very next weekend (The Jingle Bell Jog), and I was now hooked. I began to visit the gym less frequently, and started to pound the pavement on a regular basis. When my membership at Bally’s expired, I decided not to renew it, and thus I made a total commitment to the sport of running.