Saturday, November 30, 2013

November: What a Difference a Month Makes

In an evening, October changed to November. Along with it went my desire to run.

How can someone spend so much time running and then shut it down in a matter weeks? 

When I had this feeling last fall, I decided it was a sign (and time) for a break.

I read up on taking a break from running. Runner's World and other sources recommended it in varying lengths. It seemed like the thing to do, well, or at least try.

Before I could even experiment with a lot less running, I needed to find an activity that could fill my workouts (because in the back of my mind, I was on the path of a Marathon to Couch Program)

So I rode my bike on the bike trainer and got back into a routine with yoga. Some people would say the cross training is enough to do for a period of time. Months even.

But I couldn't let it go completely. I kept with a weekend long run and tried to do a mid-week run to keep with some type of schedule.

This year and very quickly after Marine Corps, the weather changed to winter in Chicago. A few years ago I would have told you the cold weather didn't stop me from getting outside. But I'm singing a different tune this year. I've been getting over to The Lab about twice a week this month. A nice change of pace from running and truthfully some of most challenging workouts I've done in some time.

Last Wednesday was November 27th. A month since the Marine Corps Marathon. Since the marathon, I've run three times. Each effort was a poor existence of a run. Runs in which I wanted them to be over soon after the start. I could blame it on a lot of things, but I think an off season training plan of little running is in order. At least in the short term.

Two weekends ago I headed downtown for a yoga arm balance and inversion seminar. As if I can't find enough injury in running, I'm now finding fascination in poses that cause bruising and falling. I saw a few runners as I drove out to the studio. Normally, I would see a person running and think how I'd like to be running, especially if I hadn't yet that day. But on that day, I was happy to not be running. I really didn't have any desire to. I was more interested in checking out this yoga seminar for the afternoon.

So I'll take that as a sign. We'll see what happens with this not running (or not running very much) thing. It could be good. Maybe the not running thing will allow me to grow in yoga. 

Saturday, November 16, 2013

[Sorta] Being Bob [Vila]

Somewhere in between tapering for Chicago and leaving for Marine Corps, an unfortunate situation appeared in my kitchen. The light had stopped working.

I heard a crackling noise when I flipped the switch and had a sense as to what it was. Dave volunteered to fix it.

As weeks went by, not having a light in the kitchen was driving me crazy. The more time that passed, the more I read up on how a bad switch being an electrical hazard. And, well, that's never good.

I watched a few youtube videos and decided I was going to fix it. 

The first weekend of November was a strange one for me. I had no long run scheduled. I woke up early and ran some errands. Errands that eventually brought me to Home Depot.

I love Home Depot. The smell of freshly cut lumber is by far my favorite smell. It reminds me of my childhood and my Dad's never-ending home improvement projects. He can destroy and then rebuild anything (though sometimes to my Mom's dismay).

We watched a good amount of This Old House with Bob Vila back then. Bob reminded me of my Dad - the flannel and jeans, tool belt, boots, mustache/beard combo. Bob worked on projects in New England where people had funny accents. A big change from the job sites in the Chicagoland area I imagine.

By the time I left for college, I'd helped with a variety of projects - painted few rooms, assisted with the construction of a gazebo, sealed a deck and laid tile in a bathroom. So I was no stranger to a Handy Andy or Builder's Square back in the day.  

But on this Saturday morning, I was at Home Depot alone. It's strange to go into a home improvement store without my Dad. He has the place memorized and knows exactly what to get. I on the other hand, wander the aisles looking for the short list I've created based on a few trusty youtube videos. Though I had hoped I'd get everything I needed in this trip, the rule of Home Depot is that you'll make two to three times the number of trips you'd originally thought to complete a project. 

I pick up a switch, electrical tape and wire tester, then head to the cashier. As I check out, I wonder - Have I bought the right switch? Will I end up electrocuting myself? How bad will it hurt? I pay the $9 bill and leave the store.

I head home and decide to tackle it right away. I re-watch the youtube video on my ipad and follow the steps. I take photos along the way. This way, if I screw something up and have to call in reinforcements, at least he'll know what I did. 

In less than ten minutes, I had replaced the switch and had a working kitchen light again.

Electricity is amazing.

The old switch pulled out from the wall.

The new switch before reattaching to the wall.

Monday, November 11, 2013


 Now that October has concluded, I'm shifting gears out of running (at least a bit) and realigning my focus with yoga. I dusted of my Lab class pack and headed back for challenging practices of arm balances and inversions. 

Last week Sara and I took a class with Carmen, owner of The Lab. Carmen is (and truthfully all of the instructors at The Lab are) amazing. We spent time working on a variety of poses, including Dragonfly (or Parsva Bhuja Dandasana for those of us using sanskirt).

Here's an photo example of the pose:


When I first started at The Lab in February, I remember watching our instructor set up this pose and thought I'd never see a Dragonfly of my own.

I'll do my best to explain how you get into the position:

You start sitting on the ground with your feet on the floor and your knees bent. Place your left leg into a figure four so that the left ankle rests just below the right knee. From there, you work on your breathing and twisting your torso to the right. Only once you've established contact with your left foot on the back of your left tricep can you move on.

Here's where it really got tricky for me - Now it's time to get into position to balance on your arms. Without losing the foot/tricep contact on your left side, swivel up onto your right toes allowing your arms to get into position about shoulder distance apart.

For months, I struggled with this transition. Having enough strength to lift my hips with one foot. When I could lift my hips, my foot would often slide right off my tricep.


Last week, I was finally able to connect the steps above and then lift my right foot. A few seconds of yoga glory and a reminder that things that seem impossible become possible with hard work and dedication.

Here's a short tutorial on Dragonfly pose:

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Marine Corps Marathon

Sunday was the day. We had traveled to Washington DC with one goal in mind - to complete the Marine Corps Marathon.

Jen and I woke up around 5. We had breakfast and put on our race outfits before heading to the Metro at 6. We boarded the train to see it filled with other race participants. More got on at each proceeding stop. When the train reached the Pentagon, there was a mass exodus.

 We followed people in front of us up the Metro's stairs, through the exit fare turnstile and up onto the street. It was still dark out as we walked along a road and eventually into a parking lot. The parking lot set up looked similar to other race staging areas, but instead of volunteers, there were Marines. 

We met up with Carl and Jeff before dropping our bags off at designated UPS trucks. From there, we followed the crowd onto a highway which was the race's start corral.

At first glimpse of the field, I could see this race would have a different feel from Chicago. Many participants wore red, white and blue shirts for military and veterans charities. Some had laminated photos safety pinned to the backs of their shirts. Photos of fallen heros. 

The National Athem was sung in a way I've never heard before. It was the perfect accompaniment to the spectacle before our eyes - military veteran skydrivers with large Ameican flags. We were in awe.

Shortly thereafter, the race started. We crossed the start line under the large Marine Corps marathon arches and headed into Roslyn. The course quickly began it's hilly climb in the first few miles. As we headed up the second incline, we saw the first struggling hand cycle participant. The wheelchair and hand cycle participants has started a few minutes ahead of the runners, but the hills proved challenging for many. A few people ran around the hand cyclist helping to clear the way for him as we all continued up the hill. Other participants yelled ahead "make a hole" to which the field parted to make way. As the hand cyclist passed participants, people clapped, cheered and yelled encouraging Marine sayings. 

The participant camaraderie was like nothing I'd ever experienced during this race. It reminded me that the meaning of this race went beyond the 30,000 individuals participating that day. Each aide station was staffed with Marines handing out Fluids and Marine medical staff at first aide. As we continued out of Roslyn and into Georgetown, we saw individuals and small groups of men in Marine fatigues. Some wore full gear. As they passed, other participants gave them words of encouragement or thanks. Once again we were reminded. 

The steep hills in the first few miles lead to smaller hills, and eventually to semi flat land. That is, until there was a bridge to cross. Some areas were heavy with spectators and some were desolate. I remember wondering if the lower level of crowd support might be a downer, but is enjoyed the section through the tree lined streets around the National Zoo. 

We headed back in to Arlington and reached mile 15. Signage appeared on the left side of the road for a charity called "Wear Blue Run to Remember." For a solid mile, signs were placed about every five feet. Each sign stood for a soldier lost in combat. The sign contained a photo, name, home town, unit/base. As we approached the signs, I heard a runner behind me say she was fighting back tears, and soon, so was I. We found a way to run a bit faster that mile. 

We crossed over a bridge and eventually onto the National Mall. We headed towards the Capitol building, rounded a corner, and then headed away from it. We cross the 20 mile mark and kept chugging along. 

Along the way, I saw a few runners who had pinned signs to their shirts about running the Chicago Marathon two weeks ago. I tried to talk with them a bit. Crazy can only seem normal if it finds another crazy, right?

In the last few miles of the race, we crossed over what the race refers to as "Beat the Bridge." Keeping in mind that even moderate hills can seem monstrous as this point in the race, this bridge was a might one indeed. 

We headed into Crystal City, then down the highway we had started on. I prepared myself for the hill I had heard so much about. I had heard it was huge. A half mile, oh no, a mile straight up. And so steep...I'd probably never seen anything like it. As we moved down the highway, barricades and signage appeared. It can't be long now. We turned off the highway and I saw the hill. It was steep, but it wasn't long. And if I was thinking about walking, well, there were Marines, of course. 

As I ran up that final stretch, I tried to look at each and every face in uniform lining the curb. I wondered where they're form. Are they stationed in DC right now? Did they travel far to get here? How did they decide they wanted to be a Marine?  

Then there was a finish arch and the memorial. I was congratulated by several Marines, then presented with my race medal. I was thanked for my support, had the medal placed around my head and then saluted. Again, I teared up. Wow, this is just an incredible day. 

I finished about 12 minutes behind my time in Chicago two weeks earlier. Overall, the 2013 Marine Corps Marathon was my median marathon time of seven. As I walked up to the memorial, I wondered if I could have pushed myself a bit harder. Inspiration was everywhere.

What a great birthday. 

More on Wear Blue Run to Remember 

Thank you to Jeff Reardon for the great photos.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

The Big Question

The question of the summer and fall was, could a person of moderate fitness run two marathons in 14 days?

The answer? A surprising yes. 

I wasn't sure, back in the spring, if I would be able to pull it off. So much can happen in training, and they're all things that have happened before - injury, head cold, heat.

The million dollar question was, could a person train for one marathon but, in essence, then run a second, "bonus" marathon? 

Why yes, you can. 

Following the finish at Chicago, I stepped onto unfamiliar ground. Instead of the finish line marking the end of my training, it was instead a highlight in the journey. 

Post Chicago was much like any marathon I've run. I was sore and stiff. After a number of days, I went to yoga to stretch out. All in all I felt good, but like I was carrying lead in my shoes. That Saturday, I went on a 6 mile run. Again, I felt a lot like I knew post marathon week to be. 

Yet I had another marathon on the horizon. 

I was semi-following Hal Higdon's plan of "training in between marathons" but more that that, I was practicing the art of not freaking out. What will be will be. 

Until Jen and I started to set our clothes out the night before, it didn't seem real anyway. I'd never run a marathon outside of Chicago. I was on vacation as far as I knew. 

As morning came, reality came quickly as we grabbed our gear and shuffled to the metro. This was it. Race day two. 

A year ago, this race was just an idea. One that I thought fitting I run. Now I had four friends joining in the experience. 

I had thoughts of uncertainty along with some nervousness, but overall I knew one thing - I would finish. Hopefully, I would finish strong. I would do this because it's what needed to be done. Today wasn't about what I did two weeks ago, it was about the cause today. I would be reminded of that with each mile. 

And so, the four of us stood on an unassuming highway in DC. We heard a perfect rendition do the Star-Spangled Banner as paratroopers jumped out of an airplane with flags strapped to them. We were about to start on one of the most patriotic journeys do our lives. And in that moment, I knew I was ready.

Photo courtesy of Jeff Reardon