Saturday, October 29, 2011

Keeping Up With the Cars and Dashers

For full disclosure, yes, I was beaten by an 8-year-old boy and a 12-year-old girl, but I’m taking the Dayton Dash as a major milestone on the road to the D.C. Turkey Trot. After weeks of hamstring problems that slowed my training, I needed to see just where I was in this quest. And yes, losing my car for nearly a week because of transmission problems was definitely a buzz kill. Did I tell you how hard it was to run without the right arm and leg I used to pay for those repairs? But I digress.

Last week I was able to complete a 5K on the Purdue TREC treadmill going 5.0 mph. I probably did the last half-mile or so at 5.5 to test the hamstring. While the last mile was a struggle, I made it through – another accomplishment. On my birthday, I would have whined about trying to do one mile at virtually any speed that was more than a leisurely walk. I foolishly thought it was time for a road test.

One of my Weight Watcher friends Sara Behnke suggested the Dayton Dash Saturday at Dayton United Methodist Church. Sara’s husband is an assistant professor in HTM at Purdue and she works in procurement services. They both are part of the loyal, but sleep deprived, 5:30 a.m. weekday morning crew at the TREC, which is where we formed our bond. Dayton, not be confused with Dayton, Ohio, is small town outside of Lafayette. I assumed this would be a nice, small run where I could completely embarrass myself and no one would notice and, more importantly, tell me exactly where I am and how much more will I need to improve before Thanksgiving.

The night before, West Lafayette’s sectional football game with Crawfordsville could not end quickly enough. I was counting the seconds because I still had to make a Walmart run for sweats (remember The Hill), long-sleeve t-shirt and Aleve (better running through chemistry) for the hamstring, knees and what other pain I fully anticipated. Of course, I would have loved the Happy Juice Tony Romo got for his ribs or to find the West Lafayette outlet for the BALCO lab, but neither one was available.

I arrived at Dayton UMC about 8:30 a.m. and immediately noticed, “There’s a lot of cars here for such a small race.” Much to my surprise, there were more than 100 runners at the event. I started noticing people walking with t-shirts from other races they participated in. I saw marathon shirts. Mini-marathon shirts. There was one person who took off a 5K shirt to show off his 10K shirt under it. Needless to say, I was thoroughly intimidated. A few people walked up to me and started a conversation until I told them this was my first 5K race since high school. They immediate gave their condolences and ended the conversation. “Oh, he’s a dead man,” they must have thought. I felt better when I saw Sara and two of her running partners come in so I knew at least one other person. 

An elderly gentleman named Bob walked up to me. With a friendly voice and a smile, he welcomed me to the church and race. He talked about how he had open heart surgery a several years ago and how much he cherished just getting out and jogging and walking as much as he could. Probably sensing my nervousness, he encouraged me just to have fun. After the conversation, I felt better. I thought, “That was so nice. There’s a least one person I could beat here.” Kidding aside, the chat the very much appreciated.

There were several things I picked up on immediately before the race. First, I needed gloves. One would think I would have thought about this before the race with it being October and the D.C. Turkey Trot in November and all. I saw a lot of baseball-style caps. I have plenty of those around the house. I was going to buy my fancy running shoes before this race but Adam the Terminator talked me out of it. He told me it would be a mistake trying to break in new shoes during an actually race and I should break them in by training in them first. So I struck out with my black “Walmart Specials.” More on the sneakers later. Finally, I need a “running” mix on my Ipod. While I do like my music, I quickly found that Barry Manilow, Whitney Houston and Josh Groban were woefully inadequate for the inspiration needed to run down teenagers, hardened 60-year-olds and the “Glory Days” athletes you’d find at an average road race.

As we walked to the starting line, the announcer said, “If you think you’re a faster runner, you may want to move to the front of the line, so you don’t have to run over anyone.” I didn’t make it an issue when he looked right at me when announcing the second part, but the inference was clear. We were off and running and actually the first mile wasn’t so bad. In fact I found an older couple to follow behind and get into a nice comfortable pace. The Terminator warned me not to go out hard since this was only going a gauge and not suppose to “really” be racing. When the first couple of elementary school kids passed me, I did get a little offended.

“Where are your manners?” I wanted to say to them. “Aren’t you suppose to at least say ‘excuse me’ or something to make me feel a little better while you’re leaving me in your dust?”

Along this endless country road, we had run up the I-65 overpass. Whoa. No one mentioned an overpass! Needless to say, that was my undoing and died halfway up. OK, I was able to go a little more than a mile before I started walking. I’ll just go about 200 meters, get my second wind to start jogging again. I was getting close to the halfway point where we would turn around and repeat the course, so I wanted to look good to the people giving out water, so I started jogging again. The good ole right hamstring started to tighten up, which left me walking again just before the turnaround.

By this time, a mother was jogging with her young daughter. She would jog ahead, and stop and waited for her daughter to catch up. Yes, even they passed me. By this time, pride took over. I knew if I wanted to finish this race with any kind of dignity, I had to stay in front of them. So with tight hamstring band all, off I went.

It was off and on like that the entire race. I knew they would send out the cadaver dogs out to find me if I didn’t finish soon. About 800 meters out, the hamstring started to feel a lot better and I raced in like I almost knew what I was doing. I crossed the finish line never looking at the clock and by the time I thought about it, it would have been impossible for me to guess. I thought surely I was in the 40-minute range. I finished yes, but I was hoping for better. The race, though, taught me a lot of lessons. 

Back in the Dayton UMC gym, I hovered over the poor timer girl like an impatient editor waiting for a reporter to finish a deadline story. Feeling my heavy breathing over her shoulder, she finally posted the times and I was actually surprised: 35:36.9. No, that’s not 35 hours, but 35 minutes. The kicker was I was second in my age group and actually received a medal. I asked if there were only two in my age group. Actually, there were two others, so I felt special.

I was one hurting puppy the rest of the day, but finally a time to beat and another reason for my wonderful Washington D.C. lobbyist daughter to yell at me for. I’m a month out now and it’s on. Turkey Trot or Bust? It’s still in doubt.

Monday, October 10, 2011

No Respect

I have come to believe there are more joggers and runners in Lafayette-West Lafayette per square mile than anywhere in the country. Maybe I’m just noticing them a lot more since my quest to run in the Turkey Trot and my longing, “I wish I was them.”
My hamstring still has me slowed to the point of light treadmill jogging, but everyday I walk on campus – whether it’s the morning time, walking to the Memorial Union for lunch, or even after work on the weekend – I see numerous joggers and runners in their own little world.
I decided Sunday that, “I don’t wish to be them. I am them!” Knowing full good well about my fragile state, I took off from my Fourth Street apartment determined to jog as much of my usual walking route as possible. It didn’t take me long, well before I reached South Street, that my hamstring talked me out of it.
“Whoa, where are YOU going?” it seemed to be saying as pain darted up the back of my right thigh. “Did I give you permission to do this? Why do you want to be like THEM? I guess if they were running off the Wabash River bridge, you’d want to run off it, too?”
Needless to say, I walked the rest of the route, pretty discouraged. After clearing The Hill, to Five Points and returning downtown on Main Street, I saw a couple heading my way. They were doing a couples’ jog, surely a way of bonding with each other in the morning, and again, I had that warm, “I wish I was them” feeling return. That was until these running snobs told me to get the heck out of their way.
“Excuse me! A little room here,” the man said as they tried to whisk past me. Hey, who gave the running snobs a permit to the runner’s parade? I know I’m a little overweight, but I wasn’t taking up the whole sidewalk. And even if that was the case, does “single file” mean anything to you? Too good to share the walkway with us slower folks?
So much for the “I wish I was them” feeling. By this point, I was trying to think of a way I could trip both of them and escape down an alley as they passed by. My hurt hamstring would slow my escape. Let’s nix that idea.
Now, my wonderful Washington D.C. lobbyist daughter would have called this “hating” and I don’t want to be a hater, so I chilled. They passed me unfettered. One day I won’t have to submit to the, “a little room please” taunts of these nose-in-the-air, too-good-for-walkers kind of snots.
I made a beeline to Wal-Mart to find sports wrap and a reusable icepack for my hamstring in hopes to speed up the healing process. I approached the pharmacist for advice, telling her I was jogging and hurt myself and she gave me this look of skepticism.
“What happened big boy, lose a race to the buffet line,” her eyes seemed to say as I explained my situation. She just frowned, pointed to an aisle and pretty much left me standing there looking dumb, which was probably wasn't too hard to do at this stage. By this time, I was pretty much feeling like Rodney Dangerfield: I get no respect at all.
“My running’s so bad, the police tried to arrest me on my last jog for indecent exposure.”
“My running’s so bad, strangers would ask if I needed a lift just to get me to stop.”
“On Halloween, parents would tell their children to run like me to each house.”
“I took out a subscription to Runner’s World. They sent me a note back asking, ‘why?’ ”
This running thing isn’t getting any easier.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

A Broken Down Old Man

I’m a broken down old man. I came to this simple truth over the past week. I’ve started to reach some milestones in my training and each milestone created new challenges (problems) that made me realize the obvious – I’m a broken down old man. Even when I started to feel like I was making progress to the point I could smile just a little, peril was just around the corner.
Case in point, my workout with Adam the Terminator on Sept. 28. It was my hardest workout yet. I ran a mile at about what I think is race pace, 6 mph. I’ll have to average 6.5 mph to reach my goal of under 30:00 for the 5K. It was a challenge but I made it through.
After a short break, the Terminator said he wanted me to do a half-mile. Trusting his judgment and not mine, I jumped on the treadmill again and couldn’t wait for those minutes to fly.  Between the 0.3 and 0.4-mile mark, he sped up the treadmill to 7.0 mph. I looked at him, thinking, “Dude, what’s the deal?” He smiled and said, “It’s just for a short time to get you use of pushing through the run.”
After another short break, he said he wanted me to do one more half-mile, but I found out later this was a ruse. I started grudgingly, wanting to get this over as soon as possible when the Terminator did something unexpected. He covered up the digital distance readout on the treadmill. His excuse was that I wouldn’t have that aid during the race so he wanted me to get use to running without it. Again, grudgingly, I believed him.
So I’m running . . . and running . . . and running. I’m thinking, “This should be over soon shouldn’t it.” When the Terminator took the sticky note off the distance readout, I had run 0.65 miles. I felt like Admiral Akbar. “It’s a trap!”
“Look how far you’ve gone? You’ve got 0.10 to go. That’s so small, you can’t even measure that on a course,” the Terminator said.
“Since they can’t measure it, that means I can stop now, right,” I responded. Not a chance. He just kept pushing me to get to 0.75. I was the happiest person on the planet when I reached that point. Total running mileage for the predawn morning: 2.25 miles, mostly near race pace.
I slid off the treadmill thinking, “He’s fired. He’s so fired. Wait until I catch my breath and I swear he’s fired.”
I never caught my breath until after my shower and by that time the Terminator was long gone. And a cooler head prevailed. He did exactly what I needed him to do. In fact, he really should have made me run the entire mile on that third repeat (Yeah, I wasn’t thinking that on the treadmill then.)
I was really hurting, sore but as the day went on, I thought about the milestone. Easily the most distance I had gone at that speed. I’m really getting close. Man, I’m about ready to rock!
The Terminator then emailed me my weekday schedule. Saturday, he wants me to do four 400 repeats at 8.5 mph! Whoa. Really? But look at what I’ve just done. I’m ready. I had to judge a Toastmasters speech contest in Logansport Saturday morning, taking me out of my routine, but no problem – the TREC and my fans will all be waiting on me when I get there in the afternoon. I was confident. Cocky even.
I walked into the TREC about 2 p.m. with a John Travolta Saturday Night Live strut, with “Who Let the Dogs Out” playing in the background. I felt everyone was looking at me and I was looking at them looking at me. I wanted to tell them, “Come over to this treadmill and let me show you how it’s done.”
I stretched with this big smile on my face that would have made people think I just won the Lotto. I strolled to the treadmill with the confidence of Rick Perry at a Tea Party Rally. I turned on the treadmill for a two-minute warm up before my running show for all of these folks. Ready to go, I started to kick the treadmill up from 3.0 to 8.5 mph.
Well, okay. That’s kind of fast. Uh, that’s really fast. Now, I’m falling to the back of this treadmill. Wait a minute. Maybe I should slow this thing down.
I went the entire 400 at 8.5 but it was not the fun I thought it would be. Now mind you, that’s roughly the speed my wonderful Washington D.C. lobbyist daughter use to run 5Ks in high school – on her slow days. I always knew I couldn’t keep up with her on my best days, but wow. That was ugly. I tried the second 400 at 8.0 mph.
I managed to stay on the treadmill this time but the result wasn’t much better. I was sucking every bit of oxygen out of the TREC and I had two more 400s to go. That’s my workout so I was determined to get it done. I took a longer rest before jumping on the treadmill again for another stab at it.
Midway through third 400 I felt it – the right hamstring. Pain. Hurt. The last time I had a hamstring pull? It was Odom Jr. High, seventh grade football game. We were playing Vincent Jr. High and we were just crushing these guys. I was starting defensive tackle and chasing this little quarterback who ran the option. By the third quarter, this quarterback had performed several Houdini escapes from me but this time I was going to get him. He faked the handoff to the full back and made a wide turn toward my end and I chased him with everything I had and then I felt it – the right hamstring. Pain. Hurt.
It’s a feeling you don’t forget after all of these years and I exited the treadmill immediately, hoping – this time – that absolutely no one was watching. Grimacing, I walked away, a broken down old man. After that Odom Jr. High game, I was out for three weeks. I knew three weeks would put the Turkey Trot in jeopardy. I started to think for the first time for all of my good intentions, I actually may not be able to do this thing.
I left the TREC. No John Travolta strut. No Who Let the Dogs Out. Just me – sweaty, humbled and with a noticeable limb. I emailed the Terminator Sunday after I woke up Sunday and noticed the hammy wasn’t feeling any better. He put me on the shelf until our session on Wednesday, reminding me that it’s no sense trying to workout if you’re hurt.
For the next three days, I was bummed out, worried about if I could really do this. When I get like that, I turned to the one thing that made it all better – Golden Corral. Yeah, I know I’m doing Weight Watchers, but I needed a pick me up. I really paid for at my weigh-in, too, but that’s another story.
I got to Wednesday morning’s workout and the Terminator is nowhere to be found. Probably given up on me. Broken down old man. I decided to do one of the easy workouts, a 30-minute walk to test the hammy. About 15 minutes in, it was so far so good. I still felt a tweak, but I had to see how far I could go. I pumped up the treadmill from 3.0 to 5.0 mph. So far so good for the next five minutes. Okay, let’s try this at 5.5 mph for the next five minutes. Tweak but nothing that would say stop. I did that for another five minutes before a cool down. Hmmm. It’s not heeled but I can still jog. Wow.
I jumped off the treadmill with a sigh of relief. I’ve had a setback but this was the first sign this broken down old man may recover in time for the race. During the day, I saw this video of the 61-year-old guy who went back to college and is now the field goal kicker for his college team. I have to admit that fired me up again.
I don’t really know where these future workouts will take me as I get closer to Thanksgiving, but I’m doing this Turkey Trot if I have to crawl. This broken down old man is back in the game.