Archives for posts with tag: 2012

fur-ther   adverb   1. at or to a greater distance.  2. at or to a more advanced point.  3. the psychedelic bus populated by the Merry Pranksters and immortalized in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.

On October 28th at 5:44am, I could go no further.  For almost 24 hours I’d been running up, down and around Arizona’s McDowell Mountain Park.  After 101.4 miles(nearly half a million steps), I could finally stop.

Someone handed me a belt buckle and gave me a place to sit.  I knew I should eat, drink and stretch, but all I wanted to do was curl up in my tent and sleep.  At that point I felt no joy, just relief to have finally finished.

It’s been over a week since I returned from Arizona and it’s taken awhile to process the whole experience.  I’ve been asked lots of questions since I gotten back and I’ve finally wrapped my head around some of the answers.  Here are my thoughts.

Why would anyone want to run 100 miles?

Good question, one I often asked myself at Javelina.  I signed up for this race because I was looking for a new challenge and one hundred miles in one day had a nice symmetry to it.  It sounds like a long way to run and it is a long way, but with proper training and the right mindset, it’s a distance that anyone can complete in a single day.

Did you run the whole time?

Some 100 mile races are more runnable than others. The Javelina 100 takes place on a relatively smooth trail with lots of rolling hills, but nothing too long or steep.  I ran about 95% of the course, only walking the rocky sections at night.  A few of the top competitors ran the whole race, while others walked quite a bit.  To be honest, I wish I would have walked more to give my running muscles a break.  Towards the end I was passed by a walker and realized:  A)  Walking can be more efficient than running.  B)  Damn, I’m running slow.

What did you eat?

It’s important to have a consistent fueling and hydration plan.  I tried to take in 100 calories every 20-30 minutes, mostly by eating energy gels/bars and munching on fruit at the aid stations.  I alternating water and Gatoraid in my handheld water bottle and took salt tabs every 2 hours to keep my electrolytes in balance.  When I got burned out on the energy gels/bars, I starting eating a piece of pizza every few hours.  It was a well-needed injection of carbs, protein, fat and calories.  You can probably imagine how good it tasted.

Was it hot?

This was the 10th annual Javelina 100 and this year was the one of the hottest ever.  The temperatures got into the low 90’s and even though it was a dry heat, out in the desert there is no shade to protect you from the sun.  At times I felt like the vultures were circling overhead as we struggled through the afternoon heat.  Of the 400 starters only 160 finished before the 30 hour cutoff, a finishing rate of just 40%.

What did you think about?

Through I didn’t really make a conscience effort to do so, my mind for most of the day was almost completely empty.  I didn’t think about my time or the distance or the heat or the pain.  I was somehow able turn off the random thoughts in my head and focus only on eating, drinking and moving forward.  Towards the end, the mix of dehydration, hunger, exhaustion, and sleep deprivation created a real psychedelic experience.  The shadows caused by my headlamp and the full moon made the saguaro cactus look like other runners.  It was pretty trippy.

One of the coolest things for me was to see all the different kinds of runners at Javelina, various shapes and sizes, ages and races.  Most of the participants were in their 30’s and 40’s, yet surprisingly there was more in their 50’s than in their 20’s.  There was even a handful of runners in their 60’s and one 70 year old guy from San Diego.

How did you train?

If you want to run a marathon, there are dozens of books that will tell you exactly what you need to do to get to the finish line.  In comparison, there’s very little information available about training for an ultra.  The only book I could find is called Relentless Forward Progress (a good mantra, by the way) by Bryon Powell, who started the popular website.  In the last few months I bumped up my mileage to about 60 miles a week, ran 50k and 50 mile tune-up races, and did a couple of all-day runs in the Columbia Gorge and around Mt. Hood to get used to being on my feet for extended periods of time.  It’s also important to make sure that all of your equipment and fueling/hydration systems are dialed in.  Something as simple as a blister or a cramp can jeopardize the whole race.

What would you do differently?

Many of the runners had support crews and pacers to help out during the race.  Yoshimi was in Japan visiting her family, so she wasn’t able to come with me to Arizona, so my support team was made up of just my amigo, Lobo.

Just a couple of lone wolves, me and Lobo.  During the race I was fine on my own, but it would have been great to have someone help afterwards with packing up camp, driving to Phoenix, dealing with all the motel, restaurant, rental car and airline stuff.

Would you do it again?

The pain is still pretty fresh, so it’s a bit too soon to say for sure, but yeah, I probably would at some point.  Javelina takes place in a beautiful desert setting and its 15.4 mile loop course made things logistically easy for a 100 mile virgin.  If I do run another 100 miler, I’d like to do a race on a more aesthetically pleasing point-to-point course in a dramatic mountain setting like the Rockies or the Alps.

To see the sun rise, then set and then rise again, all while running through the Sonoran desert was a unique experience I’ll never forget.  It was amazing to be part of a community of runners who set lofty goals and put in the time and effort to realize those dreams.  In the last few days the soreness in my muscles has finally subsided and the relief I felt initially has since faded.  Now all that remains is a lingering glow of joy.

Last year I ran my first 50 mile race.  This was nearly twice as far as I’d ever run previously and I had no idea what to expect.  Understandably, I was a bit nervous beforehand, however, there was a certain bliss to my ignorance.  Before my next 50 miler, I knew exactly what to except and just how much it would hurt.  The bliss had faded.

That second 50 miler was two weeks ago in central Oregon.  In honor of its 25th anniversary the organizers of the McKenzie River Trail Run (MRTR) decided to add a 50 mile option to go along with their usual 50k race.  I ran the 50k last year and had so much fun that this year I decided to up the ante.  However, about a week before the start of the race, doubts started to creep into my head.  Fifty miles now seemed like a ridiculously long way to run.  Maybe signing up for this race was a bad idea.

To ease my nerves, I sat down one morning with a french press of Nossa Familia coffee and made a list of my goals for the race.  The simple process of sorting out my motives and committing then to paper made me feel better.  Here are my eight commandments for the MRTR:

Start Slow:  Going out too fast may be a considered a beginner’s mistake, but everyone, even the pros, fall into this trap at some point.  The adrenaline is usually pumping at the start of a race and as a result “too fast” does not feel that fast at all.  Luckily the MRTR started at 5am, which meant that the first hour and a half would be in the dark.  I’ve never done any trail running with a headlamp before, so starting slow would probably not be a problem for me.

Have Fun:  A few hours into a long race, when you’re huffing up a big hill, sweat pouring down your face, stomach cramping up, blisters brewing between your toes, you’re probably thinking, “there’s got to be a better way to have fun.”  But you have to remember the big picture.  You’re in nature, far from the city and that little cubical where you work forty hours a week.  You’re on a beautiful trail surrounded by old growth forest and glacier-fed streams.  All you have to do is run.  I can’t think of a more simple and enjoyable way to spend the day.

Control Competitive Instincts:  Being super competitive has allowed me to accomplish many things in life.  However, there are times when I wish this fuel burned with a little less intensity.  I strive to do well in every race I run, but caring too much about the result makes it difficult to enjoy the process.

Thank Volunteers:  Ultra events always seem to have the best volunteers.  They fill up your handheld water bottles, help you find your drop bags, and tell you that you’re looking good, when clearly you’re not.  Many of them are ultra runners themselves, so they understand what it’s like to try and function with a carb-depleted brain.  I always make a point to thank them at every aid station, but sometimes I forget when I slip into a zombie state at the end of a race.

Run Smart:  There are many components that go into running a smart race.  Starting slow (#1) and controlling competitive instincts (#3) are a couple, but you also need to have a consistent fueling and hydration plan.  In addition, you must be able to adapt to the current weather conditions and adjust your race strategy accordingly.

Check Out The Scenery:  Two weeks before the race, Yoshimi and I along with a friend on break from the Peace Corps camped along the McKenzie River.  We hiked several sections of the the course and I was blown away by the beauty of this amazing trail, most of which seemed new to me despite the fact I had raced here in 2011.  This year I would make a point to be more aware and to better appreciate my surroundings.

Smile:  This one might seem simple, but it’s easy to forget.  I feel lucky to be healthy enough and fit enough to run these types of races.  When I’m out there alone, cruising along on a silky smooth trail, the morning sun just starting to filter through the trees, I feel that there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing and no where else I’d rather be.  Why wouldn’t I smile.

Finish Strong:  We’ve all run races that looked good on paper (fast time/placed well), but without a strong finish, you know in your heart that something was missing.  To finish strong, it’s important to run a smart race (#5), but you also have to remember that a little bit of extra suffering in the end is much preferable to the regret of knowing you could have done better.

So, how did it all play out?  Well, my buddy Greg and I drove down there on Friday and camped at the same spot we did last year.  It’s one of the best car camping spots in the state.  But don’t even think about poaching our turf cause I already have it booked for next year.

Running the first ten miles in the dark was tough.  It required a lot of mental energy to move at a consistent pace and avoid all the trail obstacles.   Psychologically, I felt better once the sun started to rise.

All day long those eight commandments bounced around in my head along with a depressing Tom Waits song that I just couldn’t seem to shake.  “A Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis” has to be one of the least motivating songs ever written, but for some reason today was the day it decided to get lodged in my brain.

I ran with three other guys for a couple hours.  Time passed quickly as we chit-chatted about this and that.  For the first half of the race I cruised along at a comfortable 10 minute per mile pace, but then decided to crank it up a bit.

The second half was pure fun, maybe because I remembered to smile, check out the scenery and joke around with the volunteers at the aid stations.  I started to run out of gas towards the end, but was able to hold on and really push it the last mile.  Wouldn’t want to forget that last commandment.

I finished in 8 hours 27 minutes and got 9th place overall.  The 50 miler was won by a 16 year old kid form Corvallis in 7 hours 12 minutes…crazy.  A big thank you to Greg for his support and for taking these photos.  I’m already looking forward to doing some more trips together next year.  Just have to remember to put together a list of commandments for every race from here on out.

Well, the 2012 Olympics just wrapped up after seventeen fun and exciting days of competition.  This was the first Olympics in which I seriously focused on the running events.  Here are some observations:

Runners come in all shapes and sizes : There’s a huge difference in body type between the sprinters (100m, 200m, 400m) and the distance runners (5000m, 10000m, marathon).  Running is much more specialized than swimming, where a single athlete (like Phelps) can win all the events.  The sprinters have more in common with those competing in the jumping and throwing events, than they do with the distance runners.  We all have a combination of fast twitch and slow twitch muscle fibers.  Sprinters have a higher percentage of fast twitch, which gives them more explosive power, while distance runners have a higher percentage of slow twitch, which gives them more endurance.

Fastest Man in the World : Usain Bolt’s antics can be bit obnoxious, but you gotta admit the dude’s exciting to watch.  He’s a genetic anomaly that comes along maybe once every hundred years.  We’re lucky to be able to witness that kind of speed and power.  After his three gold medals in London, Bolt now may be the most famous runner EVER and certainly the most well-known Jamaican since Bob Marley.  And despite the fact his training regime consists of Chicken McNuggets, Guinness, video games and late nights dance parties, he is good for the sport of running and for sport in general.

More running please : I’ve heard some people complain that there are too many swimming events (it seemed to dominate the whole first week).  Instead of cutting back on the swimming, I suggest we include more running events.  Running is one of the most popular recreational activities in this country, yet few of us can relate to races run around a track with competitors wearing spikes and one-piece spandex jumpsuits.  I say we add a half marathon (which has become the most common recreational distance in the last few years) run through the streets of the host city.  The winners would finish in about a hour, short enough to keep TV viewers interested.  I would also add a trail running and ultra marathon event, since these are two fast-growing activities as well.

Go Meb Go : Overall, the marathon was a bit of a disappointment.  In an effort to make the event spectator friendly, the London organizers designed a loop course that slowed things up considerably and caused some runners to cramp up on the many turns.  Three of the six U.S. runner did not finish due to injuries.  Yet 37 year old Meb Keflezighi ran a gutsy race and finished fourth.  This former Olympic silver medalist and New York marathon winner was dropped by Nike last year because they thought he was over the hill.  He struggled to find a new sponsor and was only able to secure a deal with fitness shoe maker, Skechers.  Since then he’s been a man on a mission, finishing fourth at New York last year (while setting a new personal best), winning the U.S. Olympic Trials in January, and now finishing fourth in London.  Getting dropped by Nike may have been the best thing that could have happened to him.

I want my BBC : NBC I feel did a poor job of televising the Olympics.  I realize there are challenges with time differences and the fact that different viewers want to see different events, yet still they could have done a much better job.  They made it extremely difficult to try and figure out when a specific event was going to be televised.  Many important events were not shown live so that NBC could show them during prime time, by which point most viewers would have already known the outcome.  The final straw for me was on Saturday when we had three Americans in the final of the 5000m and instead of televising this exciting race they chose to show a handball match.

Silver Lining : The U.S. racked up more than a hundred medals in London, including 46 golds.  Because we always do well in the Olympics, we tend to ignore the non-gold medal winners.  Yet for me, the most impressive performance in these games was the silver medal won by Galen Rupp in the 10,000m.  Galen Rupp grew up in Portland and went to Central Catholic High School,  just a few blocks from my apartment.  In 2000, he was discovered by Alberto Salazar while doing sprints in soccer practice.  If you are not familiar with Alberto Salazar, he is a running icon and probably the last American to be considered the world’s best distance runner.  Salazar won several major marathons, like New York and Boston, yet his career was tragically cut short due to overtraining.  If you want to known more, check out this recent article by Malcolm Gladwell on Salazar in the New Yorker.

Galen Rupp has incredible natural talent, yet Salazar has been extremely cautious in helping him to develop.  Rupp could be a case study on the benefits of slow, gradual, progressive improvement.  Nothing crazy or sexy, but never an injury.  It all came together in London when he became the first American to medal in the 10,000m since 1964.  Rupp’s training partner, Mo Farah of Great Britain, won the gold (and a second gold in the 5,000m).  Bravo Mo, Galen and Alberto.

In the last two years, I’ve run about 20 races, in distances from 5 kilometers to 50 miles.  I felt varying degrees of nervousness before each those races, usually proportional to the anticipated level of hurt.  Last Saturday was the most nervous I’ve every been before a race, not because it was going to be especially tough, but because I didn’t know what to expect.  Running fast and long are known variables.  Swimming, then biking, then running is terra incognito for me.

On May 26th, I joined 170 participants in the 3rd annual McMinnville Sprint Triathlon.  The month of May falls in the early part of triathlon season here, so the swimming section is done in a pool instead of a lake or river.  The advantages are that the water is warm & clear and it was comforting for me to know that if I got tired I could always hold on to the wall and catch my breath.  The disadvantage of a pool swim is that not everyone can start at the same time.  It must be organized in waves.

When I signed up for the race a few months ago, I was asked to predict my 500 yard swimming  time.  The problem was that I’d never swim 500 yards before and honestly wasn’t quite sure if I could.  So I timed myself for 100 yards, multiplied by 5, and then added a couple extra minutes.  It was pretty rough estimate.

When I showed up at the McMinnville Aquatic Center, I saw that they had put me in Wave 3(out of 5), smack dab in the middle, not the fastest or the slowest, which is exactly how I’d describe my swimming ability.  Wave 1 was for the slowest swimmers and I was surprised at just how slow they were. There were some people floating on their backs and taking long breaks after each lap.  One guy was actually walking up and down the length of the pool.  Is that legal?

Wave 2 was noticeably faster, but still in the slower end of the spectrum.  It was looking like wave 3 would be the perfect fit for me.  I shared a lane with three women about my age who all swam back in high school.  Since they were more experienced, I let them go first and then tucked in behind #3 and tried to match her pace.  While swimming I really have to stay focused on remaining calm and relaxed.  It helped having three others in the lane swimming at a similar pace.

After about 15 lengths, the first two women caught up with me.  I let them pass, preferring to follow rather than lead.  When they finished their 20th lap and hopped out of the pool, I wanted to join them, but still had two laps to go.  The pool was nearly empty by the time I finished my last lap, but nevertheless there was a big smile on my face as I crawled out of the pool.  I had managed to survive the swimming segment.

Most of the training I did for this triathlon had been focused on swimming. I hadn’t thought much about the biking, the running or the transitions between the three events.  As good as it felt to be done with the swimming, it was still quite a shock to run barefoot and dripping wet outside to the transition area.  I tried to dry off and then fumbled with my socks, shoes, shirt and helmet.  It probably only took a few minutes, but with my heart racing, it felt like half an hour.

It’s weird, just a few minutes before, I was in a pool, struggling through the water, and now I’m on a bicycle, peddling as fast as I can.  What an odd sensation.  I didn’t change out of my swimsuit(and no, it wasn’t a Speedo), so it was still soaking wet and dripping down my legs as I rode away from the transition area.  Oh well, it would dry eventually.

Cycling was the one event I didn’t practice at all. I ride my bike everyday to work (3 miles each way), but I never go very fast, unless I’m late.  I was surprised at the full spectrum of bicycles on display in the transition area.  There were tandems, recumbents, 20 year old mountain bikes, as well a bunch of those crazy hi-tech bikes Lance Armstrong uses.  I didn’t feel the need to buy a special bike just for this event, so I made due with my single-speed commuter bike.  When one of those serious tri guys would cruise by me on his $10,000 rocket ship , I felt like a soccer dad driving a minivan in the Indy 500.  But I didn’t care, I’d catch them on the run, where there are no technological advantages to be had.

The 12 miles on the bike was fun, my only worry was the possibility of getting a flat.  I didn’t bring a pump or a patch kit and wouldn’t know how to use them if I did.  Even though cycling has been my primary means of transportation for almost 20 years now , I still don’t know how to change a flat tire.  Maybe my New Year’s resolution next year should be to learn how to do some basic bicycle repair.

I finished the bike segment in just over 38 minutes.  Alright, two down, one to go.  After ditching the bike and helmet in the transition area, I was off and running.  And damn, it felt so good, so natural.  It’s like I had been struggling all morning to speak French, and then Spanish, and now finally, I could switch back to my native English.  The running segment was only 5 kilometers, so I didn’t have much time to make up for my deficiencies in the other disciplines.  There were lots of spectators on the short out-and-back course and plenty of high-fives to go around.  I was actually sad to see the finish line.

The McMinnville Triathlon was a fun, supportive, family-focused event and a wonderful introduction to the sport.  There were participants of many different ages, sizes and levels of seriousness.  I had a great time, met some nice people, and was pleased to have done relatively well(107th place in swimming, 31st in cycling, 7th in running and 28th overall).  I signed up for this race as a motivator to help reach my goal of learning to swim.  The triathlon itself was my reward for achieving that goal. I wasn’t sure what to expect beforehand, but I now know that triathlons are not for me.  I may do another one at some point in the future, but currently, running is where my real passion lies.  I wish we had the time and energy to do all the things that interest us in life, but ultimately we have to pick and choose.  And for me, right now, running is my choice.

The average temperature for Boston in the middle of April is a cool comfortable 47 degrees–just about perfect for slogging through a marathon.  This year, unfortunately, things turned out to be a bit warmer.

In the days leading up to the marathon I checked the weather report every few hours, finding it hard to believe that temperatures would actually be in the high 80’s.  The event organizers were freaking out.  There was talk that the race might even be cancelled.  From a liability standpoint they must have been worried about having 25,000 goal-obsessed fitness freaks running themselves to death.

The day before the race an email was sent out guaranteeing entry to anyone who wanted to defer until next year.  A few hundred runners took them up on the offer, but most of us had trained hard all winter for this race and flown long distances just to be here.  We weren’t going to miss out on this opportunity.

The flight from Portland to Boston was weird.  Walking down the aisle I saw passenger after passenger with that hollowed cheek look that all competitive runners seem to have.  It felt like a chartered flight to an anorexia rehab center.  Everyone drank water and got up frequently to stretch and use the bathroom.  I recognized a few runners from local races, including Morgan, the manager of the Foot Traffic running store.  The airline probably should have given us a kickback with all the gas they saved flying these super skinny runners cross country.

Yoshimi and I stayed in private room at the Berkeley Hostel, a bargain at $80/night.  We didn’t realize it when we booked the room, but this hostel is just a few hundred yards from the finish line.  This would definitely come in handy later.  The place was filled with groups of runners from all over the world:  Spain, China, Brazil, Japan, Italy.  I had breakfast the first morning with a guy from Denmark who told me he trained for Boston’s notorious hills by running up and down Denmark’s highest mountain…all 561 feet of it.

The whole city of Boston felt like a big running convention.  Every year Adidas, one of the sponsors of the marathon, designs commemorative clothing they sell at the Expo.  This year’s gear was bright orange and black.  You couldn’t go anywhere in town without seeing runners proudly showing off their Boston Marathon schwag.  At the Expo, I saw Dean Karnazes, the Ultramarathon Man.  This is a guy who used to do all-night training runs and have pizzas delivered to him mid-workout.  Like many famous people (Tom Cruise, Sylvester Stallone, the Mona Lisa), Dean was much smaller in person than you would imagine him to be.

The night before the marathon we went out for a typical Boston seafood extravaganza.  We started out with bowls clam chowder, followed by yummy lobster-stuffed ravioli, and then a whole 2 lb. lobster for the main course.  The waiter even gave us bibs so wouldn’t make a mess of ourselves.  We washed it all down with a couple a pints of Sam Adams (the beer, not the mayor of Portland).  Just as we were finishing up, a giant 7 lb. lobster was wheeled out to the table next ours.  It made our 2 pounder look like a little crawfish.

The logistics of organizing something like the Boston Marathon is enough to boggle the mind.  There are thousands of runners, volunteers, spectators, sponsors, media, security, medical personal, transportation, hydration, nutrition.  Just think of all the porta potties you need–it’s crazy.

School buses took us from Boston to the start of the race in Hopkinton.  The runners arrived in waves and some of us had to wait more than 3 hours for the 10am start time.  At Hopkinton High School they set up what is called the Athlete’s Village, where there was coffee, bagels, bananas, Gatorade and pre-race massages.  Shade, however, was in short supply and even at 7am the sun was already beating down on us.  The experienced Boston runners brought camping mats and caught a couple extra hours of sleep.  All in all, it felt like a giant runner’s Woodstock.

The Boston Marathon is a point-to-point course that travels east through the towns of Framingham, Natick, Wellesley, Newton and Brookline before arriving in Boston.  Because the roads through these historic towns are so narrow, the marathon must organize it’s 25,000 participants into three waves, each starting 20 minutes apart.  I was in the first wave, not too far from those Kenyan and Ethiopian speedsters.  While waiting for the start, I met a guy from New Orleans–a fellow alumni of my alma mater, Tulane University.  He said the heat reminded him of a steamy summer morning in Louisiana.

The first five miles of the course are mostly downhill, which normally wouldn’t be a problem except for the fact that it’s easy to go out too fast and trash the quads.  I managed to keep my pace under control, helped no doubt by the oppressive sun.  The heat was a bummer, but there wasn’t anything you could do about it, so I resigned myself to running slow and smart.  In a way it was kind of a relief not to have any time pressure and to be able to just savor the whole experience.

And what an experience it was.  Every inch of the course was lined with cheering spectators.  To help us combat the heat, they broke out the garden hoses and the super soaker squirt guns.  Little kids handed out those push up freezer pops.  It had probably been 30 years since I had a popsicle and I totally forgot how that icy-cold sugary-sweetness really hits the spot on a hot day.  My favorites were the blueberry flavored ones.  Remember how they turned your tongue that freaky blue color?

I ran a few miles with a guy from Portland, a member of our local Red Lizards running club.  We tried to keep the conversation going to help the miles pass by, but it was just too hot to concentrate.  Later I passed Dick Hoyt and his son, Rick.  Even though Rick is confined to a wheelchair, together they have completed hundreds of races, including the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii.  These guys are local legends and this year was their 30th Boston Marathon.

At the halfway point we passed Wellesley College.  The girls were out in full force, cheering us on and offering kisses for support.  I had to stop when I saw a sign that said, “Kiss me I’m from Oregon!”  It’s not every day you get a chance to kiss a college girl at my age.

After Wellesley I really started to struggle.  At every water stop I would grab two cups, one to drink and the other to pour over my head.  But still I couldn’t keep cool.  Even when a little breeze would kick up, it would be hot, like a wave of heat escaping from an open oven.  Every few miles I’d pass a couple of soldiers walking the course in full Desert Storm gear.  It’s hard to feel sorry for yourself after seeing these guys trudging along.

At around mile 20 in Newton is the start of the famous Heartbreak Hill.  It’s not a huge hill by Oregon standards, but it’s long and steady and comes at a point when you’re just starting to hit the wall.  I was surprised to see so many competitive runners reduced to walking.  Upon reaching the top I caught a second wind.  I put my head down, started pumping my arms and passing other runners.  Only five miles left to go.

The rest of the race was a bit of a blur.  I remember passing Boston College, seeing the giant Citgo sign and then the John Hancock Tower.  In the last mile I passed a guy dressed up like Minnie Mouse.  It doesn’t matter how bad I feel, I’m not going to let myself get beat by a cartoon character.  I crossed the finish line in 3:32:55 in 3,446th place.  It was the slowest, the hardest and the most enjoyable marathon I’ve run.

The temperatures maxed out at 89 degrees that day and over 2000 runners needed medical attention.  It’s a miracle no one died.  The winning time of 2:12:40 was almost ten minutes slower than last year (that’s a distance of more than two miles for those guys).  Geoffrey Mutai, who ran the fastest marathon ever last year, dropped out of this year’s race at mile 18.  So, basically I beat the world’s fastest marathon runner.  Don’t let it get you down, Geoffrey.  Keep training hard and maybe you can beat me next time.

The following day Boston looked like the zombie apocalypse with thousands of battered and abused runners limping around town.  Yoshimi and I went to a Red Sox game at Fenway Park.  This year is Fenway’s 100th anniversary and even though the Sox got crushed 18-3, it was awesome to see the Green Monster up close and personal.

The Boston Marathon is on almost every serious runner’s life list.  I went into this race with some pretty high expectations, yet still the overall experience blew me away.  The history, the crowd support, the organization, the prestige all combine to make each and every runner feel like a superstar.  Even though my legs are still a bit sore, I’ve already started dreaming about my next Boston Marathon.

2001 was a tough year.  Yoshimi and I had just returned from an extended backpacking trip through Asia.  Our bank account was completely tapped out and the real world pressures were starting to sink in.  We were unable to afford a lawyer, so I ineptly tried to navigate my way through the Kafkaesque bureaucracy of U.S. Immigration in order to secure a Green Card for Yoshimi.

They make it look so easy in the movies.  An American falls in love with a cute foreigner, whose tourist visa is ready expire.  Uncertainty ensues, until one of them says, “What the heck, lets get married!”  It’s my own fault for thinking it would be so easy.

Yoshimi was forced to leave the country while her Green Card was getting approved.  I stayed in Portland and juggled three part time jobs to try and make ends meet.  All things considered it was probably the worst time ever to start training for a marathon.  But, you know, sometimes you don’t choose these things.  They choose you.  In hindsight, maybe I craved a regimented running program to help me deal with all the uncertainties of that time.  Running has always served as a pressure valve in my life and in 2001 I needed it’s stress-relieving qualities more than ever.

I set a goal to run the Portland Marathon in a time of 3:10 and qualify for the Boston Marathon.  First held in 1897, the Boston Marathon is the world’s oldest and most famous marathon.  Its history and prestige make Boston is a mecca for marathon runners and because of this fact it is the only marathon other than the Olympic Trials that requires a qualifying time.  Some runners spend their whole lives trying (and failing) to make the cut.  The qualifying times are set at a level so that only the top few percent of all marathon runners get in.

I don’t know how I got it into my head that I would or could run a Boston qualifying time.  But for six months I put every extra bit of energy I had into training.  Yoshimi’s Green Card got approved right before 9/11 and around the same time I was offered a full time job at Powell’s Books.  Things were starting to look up.

With a mix of nervousness, confidence and excitement I rode my bike through the early morning darkness to the start of the 2001 Portland Marathon.  There was a pace group set up for runners hoping to run a 3:10, led by a guy named Dan from Runner’s World Magazine.  I wouldn’t even have to think.  All I had to do was stick with Dan and a coveted Boston qualifier would be mine.

The first ten miles felt easy and everyone in the pace group remained together.  We joked about all getting together for a lobster dinner and a Red Sox game in Boston.  The next ten miles were more of a challenge.  I was able to maintain the pace, but a few of the runners in the group couldn’t keep up.  At mile 22, I remember thinking, “All I have to do is hold on for 4 more miles, just 30 more minutes, that’s it.”  But just as that thought entered my head, Dan and the pace group started to pull away.  They weren’t going any faster…I was slowing down.

In the six months of training I had run close to a thousand miles in preparation for this one day.  And even though I was just 30 minutes of suffering away from achieving my lofty goal, I simply could not go any faster.  I had reached my physical limit.  Dan, the pace group and my dream of Boston literally ran away from me.  All I wanted to do was lay down in the street and cry.  Yoshimi was waiting for me at the finish, so I slogged my way to the end, missing the qualifying time by 5 minutes.

It was the first time in my life that I had fully committed to a goal…and failed.  At first I was devastated, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized what a great experience it was.  Goals are meant to be challenging.  If you hit all the goals you set for yourself, you’re probably not setting them high enough.  Qualifying for Boston is a worthy goal, one that usually takes more than a six month commitment to achieve.  I wasn’t ready at that point to try again, but I knew eventually I would take another crack at it.  And the next time, I knew I would succeed.

For almost ten years that race remained lodged in the back of my head.  I would think about it often when I ran through Laurelhurst Park or along the Willamette River.  Finally in the summer of 2010 I had the desire and stability to commit to another attempt.  It would take me a full year of intense focused training until I felt like I was truly ready.

Last summer at the Pacific Crest Marathon I ran a 2:58, finished in third place overall and qualified for Boston.  Afterwards I broke down, thinking about the 2001 Portland race and all the hard work I had put in since then.  It has been a lifelong dream of mine to run Boston.  Recently my mother found a short story I wrote in elementary school called The Runner.  In the story I run the Boston Marathon and win the race in a sprint finish, just barely beating out Boston icon, Bill Rodgers.  The first line of the story is, “My name is Shawn, but all my friends and fans call me Adidas.”

The 2012 Boston Marathon is on Monday April 16th.  I don’t think “Adidas” will be pulling off an upset victory over the Kenyans and Ethiopians this year.  My goal was simply to qualify and now I’m just going to savoy the whole experience: high-fiving little kids, collecting kisses from the cheering co-eds at Wellesley College, and soaking in all the energy from the million spectators at this historic sporting event.  I’ve been dreaming about this day for a long time and on April 16th I’m going to enjoy every moment of it.