Saturday, August 23, 2008

Cool, Crisp Mornings...and Lipstick

Ahhh, have you noticed the mornings have been cool and crisp this past week? This week required me to be at work by 7am so daily, the alarm beckoned me at 3:30am. Running this early isn’t difficult; it’s standing up out of bed at 3:30am. Once I’m up and the fresh espresso has brewed, I’m good to go. If it all went to plan, I was on the roads by 4:30am, far before sunrise this time of year so I wiped the dust from my reflective bands and my headlamp out I went. It’s hard to describe, but if you’ve run a fall marathon, you can relate when I say it “smells” like marathon morning when the dew has settled, the air is crisp, it’s quiet, and most of the country is sound asleep. I just love these morning runs this time of year…similar to the end of winter heading into spring, but it’s better now because I’m not used to the coolness and I appreciate it more. In the end, I’m so glad I made the decision to get up and go run. (I will admit, though, that on one day I came back to bed and crashed for another hour…I was just to wiped out…made it up later in the week) This was a great week to work on bringing the speed back to my legs after doing so much long, slow running getting ready for Burning River. I'll say this: your legs don't forget your past training...they just need woke up. I've been running a mixture of pick-ups, tempo runs, combined with some strength training, push-ups, and crunches.

Unfortunately, my weekend long run was null and void this weekend due to my commitments to the Navy but many of you were pounding the freshly painted Blue Line on the Akron Marathon course. It was a perfect morning for that. Looking forward though, next Saturday will be a lot of fun. Starting at 6:30am from Canal Park in Akron, we’ll be re-familiarizing ourselves with the Akron Marathon course as we get in 20 miles on the Blue Line. Details at the VR Training website. It’s traditionally one of the largest group runs of year and should draw 40-50 runners from the veterans to the novices. One of the best parts of this crazy thing called distance running is seeing new faces accomplish never-reached goals before. I honestly can’t wait to toe the line with Karen S. who I will accompany to her first Boston-qualifying time. She’s trained smart and hard and I wish her the best of luck. “Run your training!” I tell her. “Don’t try anything new come race day. Stick to your plan. Run your pace. Have fun!”

As a family, we had some fun this week at the picture studio at Chapel Hill Mall. Ever been to Picture People? We’ve grown very fond of them due to their quality, photos printed on-site, courteous staff, and endless coupons via e-mail. We’ve been really unhappy with other places like JC Penney who hide fees and other garbage in their packages. Picture People don’t do that. Anyway, my 7 year-old had an idea about doing a picture where we’re all stacked up. So once the majority of pictures were shot and we weren’t worried about getting dirty, we created the “Billock Stack Sandwich.” Honestly, this ended up being the BEST picture of the bunch. It’s hard to get everyone with a “genuine” smile on their face, especially with 2 little girls, but when everyone is having fun and maybe even laughing, the combination is a great photo. Pretty good idea, eh?!?! Now comes the lipstick: here's what you get when you combine clown hair, red lipstick, and two little girls. That smug look just kills me!

I mentioned last week about reading Amby Burfoot’s book. I’ve captured a few great quotes from his book and I’m going to throw a couple in here and there as appropriate. As school starts for us in Ohio this coming week and the calendar is already bursting at the seams, I have to constantly remind myself to KISS. Nah…not what you’re thinking: “Keep It Simple, Stupid!” Simplify. Keep priorities in check. Forget all the “material” additions to our busy lives and focus on simplicity. These cool, crisp mornings and stillness of life before dawn remind me of this. I think Amby agrees:

“We runners are the luckiest of athletes. We don’t need any special equipment or facilities or conditions to enjoy all the benefits of our sport. No clubs or gloves or racquets. No pools or courts or country clubs. We don’t need to wait for a particular season – summer or winter – to go out and have a great workout. Our running shoes are sitting there, in the closet or basement or garage, waiting for us. All we need do is lace them on, and open the door.”

(from Amby Burfoot’s “The Runner’s Guide to the Meaning of Life.”)

(yes, that is ALL RED LIPSTICK!!!)
(yes, her sister was the "artist" for it all!!!)

Happy Trails, everyone!

Friday, August 15, 2008

NYC/Bermuda Cruise Vacation - Part II

Picking up from my last entry, we spent our last day in NYC trekking from lower Manhattan back up to Times Square. We took the subway down to Chinatown where Marjie was on the hunt (and a successful one, I might add) for a “bag,” known as a “purse” to me! Afterwards, we turned north on Mulberry St. where in an instant, we were walking through Little Italy. A storm was brewing overhead and we were hungry so we quickly picked an Italian restaurant for lunch. In a nutshell, I’d describe Chinatown as endless vendors set up in tiny little rooms street-side selling clothes, jewelry, and purses. Stepping into Little Italy erases the vendors and is replaced by restaurant after restaurant. More than enough to choose from and workers from each stand along the sidewalk trying to convince everyone that theirs is the best in “Italy.” After lunch, we began the walk north through Soho and stopping in at shops here and there. We spent about an hour at the Barnes and Noble where I picked up “The Runner’s Guide to the Meaning of Life” by Amby Burfoot, the editor of Runner’s World for several decades and once a winner of the Boston Marathon. I actually finished the book on the way home from Bermuda while poolside on the ship. I really enjoyed this book. It’s not a book about training at all. If you’ve been running for years and have experienced the super highs and the lowly lows, you’ll like this book and I highly recommend it. It also addresses running’s role in our lives…for Amby, it was about his path from elite runner to one with a wider lifetime perspective on where running fits in everyday life. Anyway, we made our way next past the Empire State Building where a major remodel is in progress. We passed on shelling out nearly $30 just to go up in it. Dodging rain showers all the way back to Times Square, we finally made it back in time for dinner. After sharing a salmon sandwich at the Dunhill Café next door, we headed back to our room to catch the opening ceremonies of the Olympics. We never did see the Americans enter the stadium as we were sound asleep by then. Come Saturday morning, I got up early and headed down to Central Park for 10 miles. There were a ton of folks out there. Roller-bladers, an organized cycling relay event, multiple kids’ organizations having their own events, lots of runners, walkers, and folks just letting their dogs run free in the green areas. 10 miles and I really felt good. Smart recovery is a beautiful thing! Afterwards, we packed up, and headed for the subway to head to New Jersey where our car and our cruise ship beckoned us. Part 1 of 2 of our vacation complete!

Our cruise ship, the Explorer of the Seas was docked in Bayonne, NJ at a shipping port. Just across the water was the Statue of Liberty and Manhattan where we just were an hour before. After checking in and grabbing some lunch, we were topside for the Sail-Away Party at 5pm. (the picture here with the life preservers is from the drill that all cruiseships must go through before departing...everyone meets with their preserver at their assigned emergency station) We barely cleared the Verrazano Bridge with less than 10 feet to spare while heading out into the Atlantic Ocean en route to Bermuda. For dinner, we got our request for a table-for-two in the dining room. We have found that we enjoy just eating together/alone more than with a group of 8-10 others who we’ve never met. Harvy from the Philippines was our waiter and provided excellent service throughout the week. Tuesday was a day at sea where we spent the morning poolside under the beautiful blue skies. I brought a travel book on Bermuda so we made our plans for the next 2 days. Afterwards, I challenged the Rock Wall. All Royal Caribbean ships have one and I always visit it. There were kids as young as 6 years old giving it a shot. After lunch, we stopped by the Art Auction and found it incredibly boring. Sometimes, these are packed but this particular crowd on this sailing clearly had no intention of shopping for art. After a few games of Rummy (where I beat Marjie pretty bad!) on the Royal Promenade, we got dressed up for formal night and had dinner. Monday morning by 9am, we were docked in Bermuda. My goal was to be running before sunrise and run through sunrise while pulling into Bermuda. Here’s the video I shot while wrapping up 50 laps or 10 miles topside on the ship. You’ll see the northeast coast of Bermuda in the video. Gorgeous!

Our plan for Bermuda was to do the OPPOSITE of what the thousands of others would do on Day 1. Others would head to the beach and to Hamilton (the main shopping area and capital of Bermuda). So, we headed to St. George, the original 400 year old town on the opposite end of the island and work back towards the ship throughout the day. It worked out perfect and we had no crowds all day. The church in the picture here is over 400 years old. Inside, the church is as it was when it was built and is still used today. We had lunch at the Carriage House, waterside, in St. George, visited the St. David’s Lighthouse, then hopped on the pink bus and headed to find the Swizzle Inn, the supposed home of the most popular Bermudian drink, the “Rum Swizzle.” Pretty cool place and I’d say a “must visit” if you go to Bermuda. It’s tradition to leave your autograph on the wall or a business card. The walls are completely covered with years of old business cards and graffiti. We had lunch not too soon before so we opted for the loaded nachos, instead. YUM! We hopped back on the bus and headed back to the Royal Naval Dockyard where we were moored and browsed a few shops before heading back to the ship. By this time, we craved a hot shower due to so much time walking and riding public transportation. Ahhhhh…10 hours of sleep before Day 2 in Bermuda! Day 2 brought heavy rain and clouds. We kept positive, put on the swimming gear and headed into Hamilton to shop. Not too impressive and a town we’ll skip on our next visit. It is nothing more than a tourist-trap. We stopped by the local supermarket, got some wraps for lunch and grabbed yet another pink bus en route to the most highly rated beach, Horseshoe Bay. This is supposed to be one of the most highly rated beaches in the world with crystal clear water and pink sand. The beach met our every expectation. The “pink” everyone speaks of come from flecks of pink coral mixed in with the sand giving it the pink hue. The water was the clearest I’ve ever seen anywhere. Absolutely crystal clear and not too salty, either. And to answer the question now....NO, these aren't my painted toenails in this picture!We headed back to the ship just in time before getting underway at 5pm. Wednesday was our last day at sea all day so I headed up at 5:30am for my last chance at a “sunrise run.” I knocked out 40 laps/8 miles and witnessed a gorgeous sunrise. After breakfast, we headed topside to the pool but the sun never really came out. We ended up just relaxing in our stateroom while the chick-flick “P.S., I Love You” was playing and then caught the last ice show at 5pm. Yes, the ship is big enough to actually have an ice rink on board! After dinner and the farewell show in the theater, we packed our bags and got up to the Windjammer Café before 9pm for our favorite treat, sushi rolls! By 8:30am Thursday morning, we were in the car and en route back home.
All-in-all, it was a great vacation. It is also good to be home. The fast-paced atmosphere in Manhattan followed by being on a ship with a lot of folks from NY and NJ (ie: another fast-paced atmosphere!), makes home in NE Ohio a relief from it all and very much appreciated. It is also really good to be back home with our girls. We sure did miss them.
Gear Shift: it’s time to prepare to pace the 1:45 goal-setters at the Buckeye Half-Marathon on September 7th followed by the Akron Marathon 3 weeks later. I’ll be pacing Karen S. to her Boston-qualifying time…you will do it, Karen! Then 5 weeks later, the Mountain Masochist 50 Mile Trail Run in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. That should do it for 2008 except for the Turkey Day 4-miler and the New Year’s Eve 5K…two traditions I refuse to break. Is it too early to start talking about goals for 2009? Again, a discussion for another day…
Happy Trails, everyone!

Friday, August 8, 2008

Recovery in NYC

Picking up from last entry 6 days ago, I saw Lori Roosa, LMT again on Sunday night for my deep tissue massage from my Burning River attempt. It's a good thing that I did because she found lots of things wrong. As I thought, the whole left side of my body was out of alignment with my right since I favored that side for 17 miles after I sprained my left ankle. Hips were out, left hamstring was a mess, certain muscles in left hip actually were in the wrong place, and the extensor tendon by my ankle (the diagnosed sprain area) needed stretched out. While not a very "pleasant" session, in the end I was set on the road to recovery. My hamstrings actually hurt worse after the session than my ankle did! Thanks to all the e-mails and text messages from many of you after BR. I really appreciated all of them.

Time heals better than anything so even though I wanted to run this week, I took the time off, completely. With only 2 days at work, Marjie and I hit the road for New York City on Wednesday morning...about a 6 1/2 hour drive across Pennsylvania. We parked in Jersey City, NJ and took the subway into Manhattan, then the NYC subway to Times Square, the location of our hotel. Even though I didn't run, we walked several miles Wednesday night as we walked through Central Park and through various parts of upper Manhattan. The video here is of a band who was performing at the entrance to the park.

They were really good. I gotta tell ya, I was really surprised at how many runners were in Central Park. You would've thought there was a race going on. Runners, competitive cyclists, roller-bladers...they just kept coming and coming non-stop. The outer loop of Central Park is 6 miles.

For dinner Wednesday night, we stopped at the Stardust Diner which is staffed by up-and-coming actors/actresses off Broadway. They break out in Broadway hits every few minutes and then double up as our waiter or waitress. Thanks to Ron and Nancy, our neighbors, for the recommendation!

Thursday was the day to finally go see the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, the island where hundreds of thousands of immigrants entered our country in the late 1800s and early 1900s. We first jumped on the subway en route to Wall St. As a formal financial adviser and someone who loves just watching the inner workings of the financial world, I really wanted to visit Wall St., the Financial District, and see the NYSE (New York Stock Exchange.)
The photo here with the flag is the NYSE. It's hard to read the words above the flag because of the sunlight. After that, we walked further south to Battery Park. This is where we stood in line for at least 2 hours in order to get on the ferry to the Statue. We weren't able to go inside Lady Liberty as those free passes are only given out once per day at 9am. However, we were able to walk the island and snap a few photos. After that, we took the next ferry to Ellis Island. This is where everyone was processed and is now is a museum but much of it has been conserved and the story is told very well through pictures, theater, and an audio tour. After our return to Battery Park, we walked north to the World Trade Center site. Unlike our last visit a few years ago, we really couldn't see in the site anymore except through a hole here and there in the fence. Basically, they are building the underground portion of the new towers right now. Nothing really to see. However, it's good to see the city surrounding it fully alive and in business. We then jumped on the subway and took it up to 60th St., the southeast corner of Central Park and headed west a few blocks to Serendipity 3's. Marjie had been here not too long ago with girlfriends of hers and just had to have the Frrrrozen Hot Chocolate again. After that, we headed back to our hotel and cleaned up for our night at Broadway. We went and saw Wicked at the Gershwin Theater. Wicked is essentially the prequel to The Wizard of Oz. It's been on Broadway since October of 2003. Afterwards, it was raining so we moved between downpours back to our hotel in Times Square.
Today, I definately had the itch to get back in the running groove again so I headed 15 blocks north to Central Park and ran the 6 mile loop. By the way, this is the loop ran multiple times at the Men's Olympic Marathon trials and also where Ryan Shay died. I looked but I didn't see any marking where he died. It's also where the finish line is for the New York City the Tavern on the Green, just inside the Park on the southwest side. All in all, the ankle felt really good. I'd say it's "All Systems Go" for fall marathon/ultra-marathon season! YEA! Afterwards, I fueled up with the new Jamba Juice in Times Square. Today, we're heading south again to Little Italy and Chinatown. No real agenda today. Just taking it easy and relaxing. Tomorrow, we head back to our car in Jersey City and drive about 15 minutes to the cruise port and embark on our 5 day Bermuda Cruise aboard the Explorer of the Seas. I may shoot a video of running about the top deck of the ship while out to see and post it next time. Stay tuned!
Happy Trails, everyone! (for me, I'll be on asphalt and rubberized running track aboard ship this week!)

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Burning River 100 Report

Before I begin, I want to give a HUGE congratulations to many of my friends/fellow runners who completed the Burning River 100 Mile Endurance Run. You all should be very proud of your accomplishment and crossing that finish line in Cuyahoga Falls. Brandon R., Jerry W., Kellie T., Mike G., Kurt O., Melissa T., and Bob C. You all are a true inspiration. Also, thank you to anyone reading this who was volunteering. The aid stations were phenomenal! REAL food, super emotional/encouraging support, and all around, a first-class job. Also thanks to the organizers including Joe and Vince for organizing a great event. To think that on a point-to-point event including 22 fully stocked aid stations, you made it look effortless. I am in awe of what I witnessed. I have seen far less quality and concern in many marathons I've run. You should be very happy with your hard work. Please accept my deepest "Thank You" for a job well done. Also, thanks to Jim C. for the webcast. I heard so much positive feedback from friends and family who were tracking me.

My Experience at the BR100
If you've followed my blog history, you know I was hyped up for this challenge. I trained well, educated myself on the challenge, and mentally prepared. Come race morning, we all met in downtown Cuyahoga Falls at 3:30am for a school-bus ride to the starting line at Squire's Castle in Willoughby Hills, east of Cleveland. (I think someone forgot to install the shocks on that bus!) At the start, the energy level was electric. After the National Anthem being sung, a siren kicked off the event at exactly 5am. We crossed the Castle's lawn and on to the asphalt of Chagrin River Rd in the dark. My goal was to run at a pace that was comfortable and slow enough that I could close my mouth completely and still breathe OK. This keeps my pace under control and keeps me from moving too fast. I also didn't want to run too slow. I learned at the Green Jewel 100K back in May that running at too slow a pace early leads to soreness early. I knew I'd be sore eventually so no need to bring that on prematurely. Goal accomplished. I felt awesome all the way through 30 miles and fresh as ever. I was drinking regularly, eating well at the aid stations, and had no problems. Well, that's not exactly true. A blister formed under my left big toe due to not tying my shoes tight enough (MY FAULT!!!). I stopped, re-tightened, and stopped it's progression. It actually felt better and never came back. During the segment between Station Rd. #1 and #2, we head out to the challenging Carriage Trail. On the last descent, I was being overly careful on very steep downhill and while doing so, twisted (or something like that) my left ankle. The pain immediately slowed me to a walk. I run/walked back to Station Rd. #2. Also at the time was the very real concern of no sweating or a bathroom break for over 4 hours. One rule of ultra-running is the need to go to the bathroom often. Basically, it's a good indication that all systems are still operating correctly. I had been taking in plenty of fluids but still nothing. Lifting my shirt and looking at my gut made it clear I was retaining the fluids as well as slightly-puffy fingers. The concern I'm eluding to is hyponatremia, also known as water intoxication. It's brought on by greatly dilluting your sodium levels and then leading to lethargy, nausea, vomiting, and mild mental aberrations, and in severe cases by convulsions and coma. I wasn't really exhibiting any of these but I knew I should be concerned. I continued on. Eventually, about 2 hours later, I started sweating again and went to the bathroom once. At this point mentally, probably around 48 miles, I was 100% determined to cross the finish line, no matter what. After the Snowville Aid Station at mile 50.6, the pain took a steep increase. Now, instead of only really hurting on the downhills, it was now a throbbing pain 100% of the time. I again called Marjie to discuss the options. Of course, she remained neutral and said it was a decision only I could make. At this point, she was at mile 56 at the Boston Store aid station with my daughters. Option 1: arrive at Boston, pop ibuprofen masking the pain, and continue with 45 miles to go. Option 2: drop out stopping further injury. Was Option 1 worth it? Would this be the first event I have ever started and not finished? Is "quitting" an option? Or, did taking Option 2 make the most reasonable sense? I'll say this: it's a much harder decision when so many people are supporting you, encouraging you, and rooting for you. This decision would be easier at a race where I knew no one. At mile 55, one mile before Boston, I called Marjie and asked her to drive up Boston Mills Road and pick me up. I was done. 6:30pm was the time. I didn't travel that last mile to Boston because it has a lightning fast downhill that would have hurt so much and knowing I was done, there was no point in covering it. I reported in to the aid station captain (in a straw hula skirt, none the less!) and reported my drop. Also at Boston was a podiatrist. She assessed my ankle, took me through some range of motion movements and determined it was a tendon strain. She wrapped it and sent me on my way. No major damage, THANK GOODNESS. I made a call to my pacer, Nick V. and let him know I was out as well as a handful of other phone calls.

The morning after: regrets? No. Incredibly disappointed? Absolutely. Did I make the correct decision. Definately. I've been told by several supporters "good job," "congratulations," "you still ran over 2 marathons!"...but honestly, there was only one goal yesterday and that was not accomplished. I didn't show up to run 20, 55, or 85 miles. I showed up to run 100. Period. However, what happened...happened. However, the shining light is watching so many people I know cross that finish line this morning. You've all earned that BR100 belt buckle!!!

When I got in the car at mile 55, my innocent 5 year old said: "Daddy, did you quit?".................yea, a moment of silence before I answered that one. My reply: "No, I did not quit. I dropped out because I'm hurt and can't continue. Quitting is giving up. My ankle gave up, but I wanted to continue." Quitting is such a nasty word, isn't it? It sounds so negative. Webster's Dictionary says I quit, but I disagree. I made as objective a decision as I could given the circumstances. There are people whom I know who still disagree with my decision and for that I'm sorry. Just know it was not an easy decision and one incredibly difficult to make...but a necessary one.

So, am I in for next year's BR100? A redemption run, perhaps? We're going to table that discussion for now.

Thanks again for the awesome friends I have made here in the NE Ohio/Vertical Runner running community. You are so incredibly important to me and I wish you the very best regardless of your next endeavor. Always remain positive and keep looking forward and upward. Till next time....

Happy Trails! (well, some time off is in order for me! How about a few days in Times Square and a cruise to Bermuda! Oh yea!)