March 31, 2018: Lustgarten Foundation Walk for Pancreatic Cancer Research


Today's post is not about a run.  This is a memorial to a friend who recently passed away, Han Chun Choi.  Han and Bonnie have been friends for more than 20 years, going back to their first years in Atlanta as young attorneys.  They were among the first members of the Georgia chapter of the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA, the state chapter being GAPABA).  I first met Han and his wife Catherine 8 or 9 years ago when Bonnie and I were dating.  Han was managing partner at the Ballard Spahr law firm, a loving husband to Catherine, and proud father to three teen-age children Christopher, David, and Hannah, with the brightest of futures ahead of them.  Han was a pillar in the community, not only with service and leadership with many organizations in the legal community, but also serving on the board of the Decatur Education Foundation and the Georgia Center for Nonprofits, and providing pro bono work for the International Women's House.  Most recently he was the president of the Georgia chapter of the Korean American Bar Association (KABA-GA).  In his last year, Han and his family partnered with the NAPABA Law Foundation to establish the Han C. Choi Scholarship Fund to support first- or second-year law students.
Han and his children serving on Martin Luther King Day 
Leadership by doing, stuffing envelopes for KABA even while battling cancer

In October 2016, Bonnie and I were invited to Han and Catherine's home to celebrate their dual 50th birthdays, what they titled the "100/2" celebration.  This was a wonderful party, with several dozen friends and members of their families gathering to celebrate.  I remember Han and Catherine speaking of the happiness of their lives and expressing so much optimism for the future.  
Love and joy 
and all the hope in the world.

And then in April 2017, we learned the terrible news that Han was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  None of us had any idea that cancer cells were lurking in Han's body in the months before his first symptom of jaundice.  Han immediately began a regimen of chemotherapy to try to shrink the tumor enough to attempt surgical removal, which in itself would have been a high-risk procedure.  But despite everyone's best efforts, the cancer only continued to grow and spread, preventing any hope for a surgical treatment.  Shortly after the New Year, Han celebrated his 52nd birthday.  He continued working on good days and traveling with his family through mid-February, when his illness finally sapped too much of his energy.  At that time, Han asked his friends to come to visit.  Catherine generously welcomed the many friends and family that streamed through their home to share a few minutes with Han.  I was grateful for the opportunity to thank Han in person for his great support when Bonnie struggled professionally, and to share with him the news that I had just been selected in the lottery to run the New York City Marathon in November, a race that he completed in 2014.  Han shared some advice for the start, which I will endeavor to follow, in his memory. 
Han in the Atlanta Falcons' locker room on a tour of Mercedes-Benz Stadium,
in advance of the fall 2017 season

Han is wearing the poncho
immediately after finishing the
2014 New York City marathon
Han was the paragon of health: no unhealthy habits or behavior as far as I know.  He was a golfer, ran the Georgia Marathon twice, regularly competed in the Tour deCatur 5K (with the Decatur Education Foundation), and even completed a triathlon in 2011, back when I was still an overweight out-of-shape couch potato.  Han was a joyful person with a genuine smile and a positive demeanor.  He did "everything right".  Yet cancer still came after him, and in one of its most aggressive forms.  Han shed a few tears during our visit, as I did as well, knowing as I hugged him that it was really goodbye forever.  Han passed away on Monday evening March 26, exactly four weeks to the last evening that we visited him.  

This morning a large group of Han's friends in GAPABA and KABA completed the Lustgarten Run/Walk for Pancreatic Cancer Research, a 3-mile route on the Eastside Beltline.  A few people asked me if I was going to run.  But for me, today's event was not about getting to the finish line as quickly as possible.  Instead it was an opportunity to share our thoughts and memories of Han, and to strengthen bonds with friends.  (And I was still recovering from the marathon, not yet in shape to run, but glad that I could comfortably walk the route.)  It was a beautiful cool morning, without a cloud in the sky.  Before we began the walk, a young woman who had lost her grandmother and then her mother to pancreatic cancer cut a purple ribbon at the start-finish line.  This was a sobering moment for us: the plan was for pancreatic cancer survivors, including Han, to cut the ribbon.  But there were no survivors among us today.  Not only did Han leave us five days before our walk, another survivor who was planning to join us also recently passed away, two days before Han.  
Before the start of this morning's walk
Ribbon-cutting to start the walk.
When this was first planned, we had hoped that Han could join the ribbon cutting ceremony,
but it was not to be. 
It was wonderful to see our large group of purple-clad walkers on the Beltline.  I spent most of my time walking with Michele Hoover and Michael Ray, part of the larger circle of friends that Han had touched during his life in Atlanta.  As the walk progressed, my mood began to improve, from mourning to celebrating life and enjoying the beauty of the day.  
Bonnie with a few other GAPABA participants
Han will be missed by the large number of people that he influenced and inspired, but his legacy will live on, in his friends and family and children, in those continuing his professional and service work.  And even when we're all long gone, perhaps even when his name is no longer remembered, all of the good that he gave the world in 52 short years will grow and propagate forever into the future.  Rest in peace, Han Chun Choi. 

March 18, 2018: Publix Georgia Marathon

Today I finished my fourth marathon.  But, it wasn't pretty.  I was nervous going into the race due to the nagging injury from the Southside 12K four weeks ago.  My last run on Tuesday evening (4-1/2 days earlier) went OK as I was able to run a couple of sub-9 minute miles on the track, but pain in my left hip, left Achilles, and right shin never went away.  At packet pickup, I learned that a friend had changed her registration from the marathon to the 5K after suffering an injury.  I just couldn't imagine giving up on all of my training to this point, the massive investment of hours over the past four months, including three good runs >20 miles.  And so while resting my legs during the taper, keeping the exercise to a long walk each day, I hoped that I would be ready to complete the course. 

The weather today was spectacularly good: 55 deg F at the start, with a few clouds but promising to be mostly sunny, so that I liberally applied sunscreen in the hour before the race began.  I jogged a few steps here and there and was relieved that I could run, although not pain-free.  Nonetheless I was prepared with three mantras, in increasing order of intensity: 

1) SMILE!   Because I'm grateful that I can do this.  And Eliud Kipchoge smiles in his tough miles. 

And when things got tougher, I could fall back on the Weight Watchers mantra:

2) QUITTING IS NOT AN OPTION!  

And if my race began to completely fall apart, Running Rogue provided me with:

3) I'M A ******* BADASS!!

Completed lots of Saturday long runs with this great group!  And we're all smiling at 6:55 am. 
I began the race in wave C behind the 4:30 pacer, mostly to join a few friends from the Atlanta Track Club training group.  I set my watch to 4:30 run, 0:30 walk intervals.  My plan was to let them go ahead while I aimed for a 10:30 min / mile pace in the first four miles, and I would gradually work to catch back up, hopefully by the half-marathon split.  Crossing the starting mat at 7:09 am, as one of the last runners in wave C, I deployed mantra #1, SMILE!  I was able to run, not too fast, but easily managed a 10:30 min / mile pace.  I took the first walk break after 4-1/2 minutes, and shortly after resuming running, the first of the wave D runners caught up to me!  Nonetheless I was moving along fairly well, although on the high-end of 10 min / mile pace.  I was a little disappointed to cross the 5K mat at 35:22 (11:23 min / mile pace), probably right after a walk break, but at least I had not started out too fast!  My legs started to warm up and weren't too painful at this point, so I was able to speed up a bit, running closer to 10 min / mile pace for the next few miles. 

After the mile 5 marker, I saw Coach Carl Leivers and his family in front of the Variety Playhouse, as promised.  SMILE!  This was probably where I was feeling the best for the entire morning, and was pleased to be able to run relaxed past the Coach.  I reached the 10K sensor at 1:07:35 (10:53 min / mile pace) and was speeding up a bit.  I began to calculate, 40K would be 4:30, + 2 more km at 12 - 14 minutes, which meant I better run faster in the second half!  At the split after mile 7 where we left the half marathon runners, I felt like we had a larger group going for the marathon than last year.  I knew that this section would be hilly, but didn't really have much trouble going up hills at the easy pace.

After mile 12, approaching Decatur, the pain in my left hip started to get pretty bad.  This was disappointing: the first half of the marathon was supposed to be the easy part, and yet I was already having trouble.  I had improved my overall pace to 10:32 min / mile by mile 12, so until that point, a 4:30 finish was possible if I could speed up a little more in the second half.  But this was where I began to slow down.  By the time that I crossed the 13.1 timing mat in downtown Decatur, at 2:20, my overall pace was 10:43 min / mile.  SMILE!  QUITTING IS NOT AN OPTION!  The next few miles from Decatur to the Emory campus were net downhill.  Last year I easily sped up in this section.  Not today.  I was now definitely limping, not a good look, especially not this early in the race.

It took forever to get to the Emory campus, what a shame on these familiar streets.  I was now running between 11 and 12 min / mile pace.  Near the mile 16 marker, Bill and Liesl Wuest from the chemistry department were there to cheer me.  Their son, Max, paced me down the hill.  I asked "Max, can you run the next 10 miles for me?"  Miles 17 - 20 wound through the Druid Hills neighborhood.  It wasn't the hills that were getting to me, it was the distance and the time.  I now needed more than 13 minutes to complete a mile.  If there was any consolation, many of the other runners around me were also having trouble.  SMILE!  QUITTING IS NOT AN OPTION!  and now it was time for the nuclear option:  I'M A ******* BADASS!!   as I limped past a man wearing a Rock 'n' Roll marathon shirt.  

When I crossed the mile 20 sensor at 3:48 (11:24 min / mile), all of my time goals for the race were now out of reach.  It was just about finishing.  I walked most of miles 21 and 22, through the hills of Virginia-Highland.  My friend from Tucker Running Club, Linda Bode Phinney, was a 5:00 pacer.  She called my name as she approached, saying "C'mon Frank, we'll get up this hill together!"  I shook my head no.  Linda asked "Are you injured?"  "Yes, I'll be OK, but I need to walk right now."  She and her group went on.  I was so disappointed to realize that I was going to record my slowest marathon time, but now it was just about getting to the finish line, without cheating.  Yes, I was thinking about where I might cut the course, but stayed honest, repeating  SMILE!  QUITTING IS NOT AN OPTION!  I'M A ******* BADASS!!  SMILE!  QUITTING IS NOT AN OPTION!  I'M A ******* BADASS!!  SMILE!  QUITTING IS NOT AN OPTION!  I'M A ******* BADASS!!  until the feeling had passed.  

There were quite a few people cheering in the final miles today.  If any of you are reading this, your encouragement was really appreciated!  I was trying to limp-run more than limp-walk.  Remarkably, the downhill sections were more painful on the hip than the uphill sections, which led me to think that the injury occurred running downhill as fast as possible in the Southside 12K.  Finally we made it into the Georgia Tech campus, at the mile 24 marker.  2.2 miles to go.  In the original plan, this is where I was going to try to gun into the finish with a couple of 9 minute miles.  Today I managed to speed up to 16 minutes.  SMILE!  QUITTING IS NOT AN OPTION!  I'M A ******* BADASS!!  OH THE PAIN! 

The last part of the course changed this year due to some construction at Centennial Olympic Park, so at the mile 25 marker, instead of turning onto Marietta Street, we made a U-turn to run back through Georgia Tech to Luckie Street.  And I saw Harley and Jessica, two run leads from Track Club training, with the 5:30 pace group sign.  OK, I have a new time goal: DO NOT LET HARLEY AND JESSICA CATCH UP!  SMILE!  QUITTING IS NOT AN OPTION!  I'M A ******* BADASS!!  Yet it took FOREVER to get to the Aquarium at the intersection with Ivan Allen Blvd.  As we crossed the street, I could see the 26 mile sign, and a volunteer called out, "400 meters to go!"  

I couldn't manage a SMILE at this point.  I was barely willing myself to finish.  QUITTING IS NOT AN OPTION.  Limping slowly down the street, the last turn took its sweet time coming up to me, even though I had now "sped up" to a 14 min / mile pace.  Several run leads in the Atlanta Track Club were cheering me by name.  Tears were coming to my eyes from the pain and the emotion.  I'm glad that I was wearing sunglasses.  I'M A ******* BADASS.  And then, there was the finish line, in the same place as the Hotlanta Half and Atlanta's Finest 5K finish lines.  An announcer was handing out high fives, I tapped his hand as I pushed to the finish line.  Unfortunately I had completely run out of SMILE.  There was Bonnie on the left side, taking my photo as I crossed the finish line.  She looked concerned, and relieved to see me.  I accepted my medal, a bottle of water, and a banana.  I began looking for the entrance to the medical tent. 
Finally!  
Or is it the second timing mat? 
OK, now it's official. 
"Where's the medical tent?!"
Never too injured to stop the watch
Didn't quit. 
I remembered a spoof video on what NOT to do in a race:  "I don't think you've tried unless you've gone to the medical tent."  Well, I tried, that's for sure.  And I finished.  That is what mattered today.  And the guys in the medical tent were great.  They packed my left thigh with a couple of bags of ice, which felt so good.  I lay down on a cot for a few minutes, assured Bonnie that while my leg was killing me, the most important organs (heart, lungs, brain) were fine.  And after about 15 minutes, I took off the ice, was able to stand, and walk slowly but successfully. 

I am really disappointed that I didn't have a good race, after all of the training, but it's 100% my fault.  Five weeks ago, I was in shape to run a sub 4:30 marathon.  I'm confident that I could have done it if I hadn't made a big mistake one week later.  I ignored Coach Amy's advice to run the 12K race at marathon pace (10 min / mile).  Instead I let testosterone take over and ran at my 10K PR pace (8 min / mile).  I've been paying for it, and probably will continue to hurt for a few more weeks.  The first order of business for the next several weeks is rest and recovery.  I'm glad that I've resisted the temptation to register for any other paid races prior to the Hotlanta Half in mid-June.  I hope that I will be fully recovered by then. 

My next marathon will be the New York City Marathon on November 4 - yes, I won a lottery entry!  And now I realize that preparing for that marathon must be my total running commitment.  There's no point in going after new PRs in the 5K, 10K, half marathon, etc. for this year, as I've mastered those races well enough.  Because after four marathons, I've only had one decent finish.  And the last thing I want is a bad experience in front of a million spectators and millions more watching on television or internet feeds.  
This tells the entire story in a nutshell. 

March 10, 2018: The Charles Harris Run for Leukemia (10K)

Bonnie snapped this photo at bib pickup before the race,
making it look like I was about to be devoured
by the Tucker Tiger, while I was attaching my race bib.  
The training cycle for next weekend's Publix Georgia Marathon has gone very well for me, knocking out the long runs with the 10 min / mile pace group.  After completing a 22.5 mile run four weeks ago, I declared myself ready to run the marathon, with considerable confidence that I would break the 4:30 mark.  And then, three weeks ago:

I ran the Southside 12K.

Coach Amy Begley had advised us to run the race at marathon pace, which for me would have been a 10 min / mile pace, finishing just under 75 minutes.  But I had realized, if I could maintain my 10K personal record 8 min / mile pace for two more kilometers, I would finish in less than 60 minutes.  And I did just that, recording a time of 59:36 for my first 12K race.  I deployed a new mantra that pushed me up the last tough hill going into the finish line.  

But I paid dearly for that effort.  I didn't think that I was injured at first, but as the general soreness faded in the next day or two, I was left with a sore Achilles on the left ankle, weakness in the right ankle, and a painful left hip, which was either an IT band or a quadriceps strain, maybe both.  I've struggled with several runs since then.  Two weeks ago, I did finish a 20.5-mile run at a 12 min / mile pace to complete my third 20+ long run of the cycle.  But the injuries are still bothering me, despite spending considerable time on the foam roller and less time actually running.  Certainly I haven't been overdoing it during the taper period.  I just hope that I can run without too much pain next weekend.
Good turnout by the Tucker Running Club!
For the fifth consecutive year, I registered for the Charles Harris Run for Leukemia.  This is a fast net downhill course, typically held in the weeks before Peachtree Road Race registration closes.  If I hadn't injured myself a few weeks ago, I probably would have raced hard today to see if I could trim a few seconds off my previous personal record of 49:28.  But I was in no shape to do that today.  In fact I deliberately made sure that I registered a week ago for the Peachtree Road Race, to remove one major reason to try too hard today. 
Part of the Ben's Wizards team, before the race:
(l-to-r) Richard Wilson, me, Teresa Ducuara, Michele Richard 
The main motivation for continuing with the race was to join the Ben's Wizards team.  A few years ago, one of my running buddies Richard Wilson lost a friend and co-worker to leukemia.  Ben Newman was only in his 40's when he passed away.  Richard had told me a little about Ben in the past, and when Richard and his fiancĂ© invited me to join Ben's Wizards, I was happy to join.  They created purple shirts for the team, purple being the color adopted by the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.  

I warmed up with about a quarter mile walk inside the Tucker High School gym and then began to run slowly, feeling considerable pain in my left hip.  After less than a half-mile, I stopped for the Tucker Running Club photo, then resumed with two laps on the track outside, barely at a 10 min / mile pace.  With some trepidation, I headed for the start, taking a position near the back of the pack.  
With Donna Roberts, who worked the water station at the Southside 12K
My main running goal for today was to try out a new mantra.  Turns out, the mantra that I used in the Southside 12K was "too strong," pushing me so hard that I injured myself!  So I needed a more appropriate mantra.  
At the 40 km water station in last month's Tokyo Marathon, Yuta Shitara picked up a badge
with his mantra, driving him to a second-place finish and a new marathon record for a Japanese runner.
While that might have worked for Yuta Shitara in the Tokyo Marathon, in which he won a 100 million yen award for setting a new marathon record for a Japanese runner, that would be too mild for me.  And then I realized that I've been carrying the perfect mantra on my wrist ID: "Quitting is not an option."  That comes from our Weight Watchers leader, encouraging healthy eating in moderation, while in the midst of a largely sedentary society with abundant and inexpensive fast food options.
Mantra slightly modified due to Road ID character limit
The race started shortly before 8 am.  Some of my friends in the Tucker Running Club were a little surprised to see me starting behind them, but I needed to start slowly and carefully.  I had set my watch to a 4:30 run, 0:30 walk, and took the first walk break midway through the first mile.  Getting back to a run was a little difficult for the first few steps, but as my legs warmed up, I was able to stride a bit better.  Intending to run the race at a 10 min / mile pace, I was a little surprised to complete the first mile in 9:40.  I decided that if I could stick with the 9:40 min / mile pace, I would finish in a respectable time of 60 minutes.  But in mile 2, I slowed to 9:57, and needed 10:04 for mile 3.  I passed the 5K marker at 31 minutes even, on pace for a 62 minute finish. 

It's amazing how an injury can plant so many negative thoughts in my mind.  I started to wonder, in next week's race, should I drop from the marathon to the half-marathon? or the 5K? That would really be a shame after all of the effort that I've made to prepare for 26.2 miles.  "Quitting is not an option!"  And that's when I decided that I would try to push myself a little harder.  For mile 4, I was back to a 9:43 pace.  I also realized that the transition from walking to running was part of my problem, so decided to skip some of the walk breaks for the rest of the race.  I certainly wasn't winded, as my voice was strong as I thanked the volunteers at the water station.  I was beginning to pass other runners, and hadn't been passed by anyone since I had stopped taking walk breaks.  My attitude began to improve as I just focused on running.  "Quitting is not an option!"  Finishing mile 5 in 9:21, and less than 49 minutes elapsed, I realized that I could run the last 1.22 miles in 11 minutes if I managed a 9 min / mile pace for the rest of the race.  The great thing about the Charles Harris Run is that the mile 5 marker is at the top of a hill, with a 100-foot drop over the next half-mile or so.  I started to accelerate, passing more runners heading downhill.  The pain was still there but wasn't any worse, so I just focused on setting a faster pace, enjoying the easiest part of the course.  At the bottom of the hill, we turned onto North Druid Hills Road, with a slight uphill. "QUITTING IS NOT AN OPTION!"  Since I wasn't winded, I ran strongly uphill, passing more and more and more people as I drew closer to the finish line.  As I reached the 6 mile marker (8:42 for mile 6, 57:30 elapsed, I could see the top of the finish line banner in the distance, and I realized that I would definitely complete the race in less than an hour.  I passed a few more runners, which encouraged them to run faster trying to stay ahead of me.  I wasn't really racing them, I just wanted a good finish for myself.  As I drew near the finish line, I could see Bonnie ahead, ready to capture my photo.  At the start of the race, I hadn't expected to celebrate at the end, but as I crossed the timing mat, I flashed a big smile and raised both hands, pleased that I had run better than I had expected. 
59:50 gun time thanks to a strong finish!
I forgot to stop my watch until I had pulled off to the side to chat with Richard and Bonnie, but I estimate that my official time was between 59:30 and 59:40.  Although my legs were sore, I didn't feel any worse for the effort.  In fact the race has improved my confidence that I may continue to recover in the week remaining before the marathon. 
With Richard after the race - mission accomplished,
paying our respects to Ben's memory.
Ben's Wizards will run the Winship Cancer Institute 5K in the fall. 

February 17, 2018: Southside 12K, and trying out a mantra for the marathon

The Atlanta Track Club sponsored a new race this year, the Southside 12K, in suburban College Park on the southwest side of metro Atlanta.  I've not previously run in this area, nor have I run a 12K race before today.  The only other 12K that I've heard of is the "Bay to Breakers" race in San Francisco, which has been run for more than 100 years, and is famous for centipede teams of runners.  

As part of the marathon training program, Coach Amy Begley suggested that we should warm up for a mile and then run the race at marathon pace, followed by about 6 more miles in the area.  For today, our Saturday mileage was limited to 14 - 15 miles, a "dropback" week, before our 22-mile long run next weekend.  I decided to test my stamina by setting an ambitious goal of completing the 12K in 60 minutes.  As I recently broke the 50-minute mark for a 10K, this would mean maintaining the same pace for 2 more kilometers.  

On the 45-minute drive to the race, I replayed part of the Running Rogue podcast from January 28, in which coaches Chris McClung and Steve Sisson interviewed a couple of speedsters in the Running Rogue on-line training program.  About 23 minutes into the podcast, the first interview with Lee began.  Lee is a 41-year old runner who formerly ran for St. Louis University, and has run a 2:45 marathon.  He is training for the Boston Marathon in April, and is gunning for another 2:45 finish, with a longer-term goal to complete a marathon in 2:40.  So Lee and I have nothing in common when it comes to speed.  Anyway, the Running Rogue coaches have asked each participant to write a "statement of purpose" for their running.  Lee wrote a rambling but nice statement, saying among other things that his inspirations included remembering "1 and 3 mile runs with my Dad where we would race the last 100 meters, and now I run with my daughters from time to time, and I think that there is something beautiful about that."  When Lee needs to "toughen up I can think of some tough times, if I need to be sappy and soft I can talk about my Dad and my daughters..."  The coaches were polite at first, but around 34:30, coach Steve Sisson took over with "Now the tough part comes."  After pressing Lee for a few minutes, Steve asked what Lee will reach for when things get tough at mile 22, when he is going for the 2:45 time at Boston.  Lee admitted that "at mile 22 on a tough day, I am not thinking about sunshine and rainbows at that point ... and I'm not thinking about my daughters or my Dad ... I'm thinking about a lot of cuss words and try to figure out how to get to the next mile marker ..."   But Lee just couldn't utter a statement that was suitably tough enough for Steve and Chris.  Finally, at 39:30 Steve said, "You do this because, you're a ------- bad-ass, and you know it."  

When I heard that, I realized that was why I so proudly slapped the first 13.1 sticker on my car in December 2014.  And that was what I was feeling, even if those words weren't quite in mind, when I added the 26.2 sticker before I left the parking lot after completing the Chickamauga Marathon in November 2016.  Given how I've struggled in the final miles of the three marathons that I've run, I need a mantra that is that powerful, if I'm going to finish strongly in the Publix Georgia Marathon next month, both psychologically as well as physically.  

The race started and finished near the Wolf Creek Amphitheater.  I warmed up with about 1.2 miles, starting with the training group and then breaking away to push myself up the hill to the finish line.  Whew, that was going to be tough after 7 miles.  Then I realized that we would run this hill twice, as most of the race route was on a two-loop course.  Planning for an 8:00 min / mile pace for as long as I could maintain it, I lined up in wave B, for runners 8:30 min / mile and faster.  We started 2 minutes after wave A, and from the beginning this proved to be a very good decision for me.  The majority of the runners around me were also moving at a similar pace, and there were no walkers ahead of us, so we all ran unimpeded.  About 0.3 miles into the race, we took a left turn out of the amphitheater parking entrance, onto Merk Road.  The map showed an out-and-back section, and I had assumed that we would see the lead runners at the front of wave A shortly after we entered Merk Road.  In fact I didn't see the first runners until I was more than 1/2 mile into the race, even though they had a 2-minute head start and were running faster than a 6 min / mile pace.  Before long, my wave was entering a parking lot for a church, and we passed the 1-mile marker before getting back onto Merk Road.  7:59 for mile 1, perfect start!  However, the return trip was slightly uphill, and I began to slow a bit.  Then I heard footsteps approaching rapidly from behind: could it be one of the lead runners lapping us?  Already?!  then a woman with a blond ponytail passed at high speed!  It seemed that she was a faster runner who had begun in wave C, but about 50 feet ahead of me, she slowed down to a similar pace to one I was running.  She was my "pacer" for most of the remainder of the race.  

Pre-race photo with runningnerds.  I've worn this shirt in my second half-marathon
 (my first good half-marathon) and my first marathon, so it has positive associations for me. 
Yes, I'm "out of uniform".  My short-sleeve TRC shirts were dirty.
I brought a TRC singlet, but with 52 deg F temperature at the start,
I was more comfortable wearing short sleeves.
And the runningnerds shirt helped me run faster! 
After we passed the Tom Lowe Skeet Range, the road turned uphill, and I had to work to maintain a decent pace.  The mile 2 marker (finished in 8:15, 16:14 elapsed) was midway up a 100 foot hill.  I had expected that the road would eventually turn downhill, but we made a right turn onto Miles Road and continued going uphill, perhaps not as sharply as earlier.  Shortly before the mile 3 marker, I slowed for a cup of water.  I saw Donna Roberts from Tucker Running Club as the last volunteer at the water station, and accepted a cup of water from her as she cheered me on with "See you again on the second loop!" she said.  I took a 20 second walk break as I drank the entire cup of water.  Only one person passed me while I was walking, and shortly after I resumed running, I caught up with her. I needed 8:14 to reach the mile 3 marker (24:28 elapsed) but then the road leveled out, and then we began running downhill.  I picked up speed as we approached Enon Road, making another right turn and seeing a long gentle downhill ahead.  My "pacer" picked up a little speed, I started to follow at her pace, and then relaxed, knowing that I would have a second opportunity to fly down this section in the second loop.  In other races, I have actually worn myself out running downhill, and there was no point in risking the quality of my race at the midpoint.  I saw the mile 7 marker and then we turned right onto the back entrance to the Amphitheater property, passing the mile 4 marker at 32:16, 7:48 elapsed for mile 4. 

But now we had to run up the hill to the start-finish area, to finish the first loop.  I'm sure that I slowed a little (and the Garmin results afterwards confirmed this) but not too badly.    At that moment I happened to be running in a small pack with four other men.  As the start-finish area came into view, I said to the group "At least we haven't been lapped by the winner!" which was greeted with a few laughs.  As I crossed the timing mat, I noticed that we were at 4.31 miles, and my split time recorded at 34:53.   

I was a little tired but I was confident that I could manage another 5K at a similar pace.  I was some seconds behind where I needed to be to finish within 60 minutes, so I made every effort to run strongly.  We made a right turn back onto Merk Road, heading uphill again.  This time we ran in the left lane, with the right lane reserved for the slower runners and walkers.  We approached the skeet shooting establishment again, and this time we heard the sounds of someone firing what sounded to me like a machine gun.  I thought that skeet shooting was about taking one shot at a flying clay pigeon, not 100 shots at a time - but I think what was disturbing to me was remembering the tragic news from Wednesday of another school shooting in Florida, in which the murderer used a military type of automatic weapon.  Maybe I ran a little faster to get away from there, although realistically it is unlikely that I or anyone else in the race was in danger.  Anyway, near the mile 5 marker, I passed the "back of the pack" sweepers.  8:07 for mile 5, 40:23 elapsed.  My watch was reading that the overall pace was 8:05 min / mile: to finish 12K in 60 minutes, I needed to average an 8:03 min / mile.  So I wasn't too far off the necessary pace.  Unfortunately the hill seemed to have increased in elevation since the first loop.  And I kept expecting the water station to come up any minute, but it wasn't until 5.8 miles and 47 minutes elapsed that I saw the volunteers again.  I ran to Donna for another cup of water.  I don't remember exactly what she said, but she was encouraging, and after a 20 second walk break to finish the water, I took off again.  Mile 6 was the slowest of my race, 8:26 and 48:49 elapsed, but it also had the greatest difference in elevation, 125 feet uphill and only 34 feet downhill.  I was working on an overall pace of 8:08 min / mile. 

Elevation (top); pace (bottom).  The hills were no joke!  

Just in time, the downhill section began.  This time I launched myself forward, pumping my arms hard to take advantage of the favorable downhill slope.  I was easily lapping slower runners in their first loop, and I don't recall anyone passing me.  I even caught up to the woman with the ponytail for a moment, then she pulled ahead.  Nonetheless I passed a few runners that were probably on their second loop - that felt good.  I saw the overall pace number on my watch slowly drop to 8:06, then 8:05.  7:28 for mile 7, at 56:17 elapsed. 

I had hoped to pass the mile 7 marker before my watch ticked over to 56 minutes to get the 8:00 min / mile overall pace.  When I saw an 8:03 overall pace on my watch, I realized that I was exactly on track for a 60 minute finish, as long as I didn't slow down over the remaining 0.45 mile.  All I had to do was get up the hill at an 8 min / mile pace and I would definitely achieve my goal.  At the corner, a volunteer cheered me on by name and said "Curt Walker is just ahead of you!"  Curt is a 71-year old elite runner, one of my coaches in the 2014 Peachtree 10K training course, and an original member of the Tucker Running Club.  I looked for Curt up ahead but didn't see him, just younger and faster runners on the left passing slower runners on the right.  

When I had passed the mile 4 marker a little more than 20 minutes ago, I remembered that I had only 0.31 miles to the timing mat from that point.  A quick glance at my watch: just a few seconds past 57 minutes!  I could definitely get to the finish line in less than 3 minutes if the final section was mostly flat.  But it wasn't flat.  I was so sore and so tired and in some pain from all the hard work that I had done to this point.  Running up that steep hill was so tough.  And then, I remembered that one of my goals for today was to try out my mantra.  To myself, "I'm a ------- bad-ass", and a couple of seconds later, out loud but quietly, "I'm a ------- bad-ass!!"  

VoilĂ !  I found a reserve of speed.  Or maybe it was just obstinacy and toughness.  Churning my legs as fast as I could up that mountain, passing a few people on the way up, past the porta-potties in the parking lot where we had gathered an hour ago, looking for the finish line, and finally seeing the clock reading 61 minutes and about 30 seconds - with the 2-minute delay for the wave B start, I was going to make it - there is the timing mat - and over the mat - big fist pump - stop the watch - 59:39! 

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!!

59:36 official time, 126th overall out of 756 finishers, and 8th out of 31 in my age group!  
I desperately needed to cool down and stretch after the race.  I waited for the others in the 10 min / mile group to arrive for the final miles of today's workout, instead of taking off with the 9 min / mile group.  That was a good decision, because I had trouble starting up again.  My right ankle hurt, and my legs were so heavy.  I limped for the first hundred yards, but then found a better gait.  We reached a paved trail, to run 1 mile loops.  I lagged behind the others in my group.  After the 3rd loop, I wanted to quit.  I decided to walk for a moment with Ginger, a runner in the 10 min / mile group who might be injured from a recent fall.  Then I decided, "I'm really sore, everything hurts right now, but - I'm not injured."  Today I would be fine within a few minutes of stopping and stretching again.  And I knew then that I would regret not having the toughness to finish today's workout.  I realized that the most important part of today's run was to practice the mental toughness that I will need in the final miles of the marathon.  Yes, "I'm a ------- bad-ass."  I continued for two more loops, completing 5.7 miles after the race, and 14.3 miles altogether for the morning. 

Sure enough, after a few minutes of stretching, even though I was still a little tired and sore, I knew for certain that I wasn't injured.  

Yes, I'm very proud of this result! 

February 10, 2018: Hearts & Soles 5K, followed by a long training run

Week 13 of the marathon training log,
documenting an 18-week program
My running since the New Year has been 100% focused on preparing for the Publix Georgia Marathon on March 18.  I'm training with the Atlanta Track Club marathon program, and also continuing the speed workouts with Coach Carl Leivers at the Emory University track on Tuesday evenings.  I've kept up with the Level 3 long runs, keeping at the front of the pack with the 10 min / mile pace group.  I've maintained a steady schedule of midweek runs, getting off track for only one week in mid-January due to a confluence of work, visitors, and snow.  In short, this cycle of marathon training is going very well.  I'm healthy, strong, and growing in confidence. 

For today, the plan was to join the Atlanta Track Club's annual Hearts & Soles 5K race, followed by a long run to get a total of 20 miles, at least as I understood it.  Coach Amy Begley strongly encouraged us not to run the 5K as a typical race, but to run at about half-marathon pace, which for me is about a 9 min / mile pace.  I needed a few days to give up on any idea of trying to run faster - or even slower, to practice a marathon start at a 10 min / mile pace.  But as we were watching the opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympics last night, I said to Bonnie, "Coach Amy is an Olympian, who am I to contradict her recommendation?!" 

I arrived at the race site more than an hour in advance.  It had rained overnight, and the forecast earlier in the week had been for rain for most of today.  But with an hour to go before the race start, the short-range forecast was that rain was unlikely to begin before 1 pm.  And the temperature was around 50 deg F, so I was able to run in a short-sleeved shirt and shorts.  After taking a group photo with the Tucker Running Club, I made my way to the Atlanta Track Club marathon training tent, and did a couple of rounds of dynamic stretches until it was time to walk to the start.  I had resisted the strong temptation to warm up with 2 or 3 easy miles as I would typically do for a 5K race.  I did an easy jog for a couple of hundred years to the car to get a couple of sips of water before the race, to make sure that the running motion was comfortable, and then to the starting area.  Since I was not racing today, I started near the front of wave C, for runners at a 9:30 min / mile pace or faster.  I started to feel some excitement as our wave moved up after wave A began, and had to tamp that down: this is just a training run, I kept telling myself.  

With Tucker Running Club, on a foggy morning.
photo credit: Curt Walker
Ray Ganga, the crew chief of the Atlanta Track Club race volunteers, counted down to the start, and blew the airhorn.  As I started my watch and crossed the timing mat, I made a spur-of-the-moment decision to avoid looking at my watch, except as I passed mile markers.  I tried to gauge my pace by feel and by the majority of the runners around me, aiming to run without significant exertion.  As we reached the mile 1 marker, I checked my watch for the first time: 9:03 - Wow, I couldn't have run that better if I had been staring at my watch the entire time!  I suppressed the urge to speed up, just enjoyed looking around, chatting with people that I knew as I reached them.  As this was an out-and-back course, I could cheer the leaders of the race on their return.  After making the turnaround myself, continuing at the easy pace, I reached the mile 2 marker: 9:02!  I was beginning to sweat a bit, but that was partially due to the humidity and fog from the overnight rain.  I remember checking my heart rate, which was 151 bpm, maybe a little high for an "easy" run, but still a rate that I could maintain for a long time.  I passed quite a few runners as we headed up a hill midway through the third mile, not racing, just maintaining pace, and then here was the mile 3 marker: 8:54!!  It had been a long time since I been so excited to be at the 3 mile marker well after the 25 minute mark, but I was thrilled to have nailed my goal.  In my first 5K in October 2013, I had run as fast as I could for 3.11 miles to finish in 28:45, and now I can run that pace fairly easily.  Smiling as I crossed the finish line at an easy jog, here was my official result:
Mission accomplished! 
I picked up a half banana and a bottle of water, dropped my race bib and picked up my water belt and a cap, and jogged over to the marathon training tent.  The 9 min / mile group was about to leave, and I thought about joining them for a moment.  Last week, one of the runners with the 10 min / mile group suggested that I "should run with the 'nines'".  I knew that would be fine for half-marathon training, but not for 26.2 miles, not yet.  Fortunately it didn't take more than a couple of minutes to gather about 10 runners and a couple of run leaders for the 10 min / mile group to start, so we didn't get stiff.  And off we went, to run another 17 miles for a 20 mile day. 

I had not previously realized that the PATH foundation had recently opened a new trail in the area, but the South River Trail began at the end of the parking lot where we had gathered for the race.  And the section of the trail that we were running was recently named in honor of the former First Lady, Michelle Obama.  One of the nice things about marathon training is discovering new parts of the city, and new places to run.  And in recent years, the Atlanta metro area has continued to develop new pedestrian-friendly paths.  The path began through a swamp, then into a forested area, reaching the South River before crossing under I-285.  After about 3 miles, the trail joined the sidewalk along Clifton Church Road, as we passed the new campus of the Barack H. Obama Elementary Magnet School of Technology, which opened last year.  

One of the other groups in our training group posted this photo on the Facebook page.
I wish I had thought to take a few photos of our group!
photo credit: Victoria Nicole Deycard
At the intersection, our group split up.  I was part of a group of a half-dozen trainees.  Andrew and I had each run three marathons, and the others: Alex, Angela, Colleen, and Ginger, were each training for their first.  I've run with most of them in previous weeks, and we had plenty of time for nice conversation along the way, especially since we didn't have to worry about cars for most of the route.   In Gresham Park, we reached the turnaround point about 4.3 miles in, and began our return.  The path had a few hilly sections, but it was a gentler route in terms of elevation than most of the routes that we have run in previous weeks.  After having run the first part at about a 10:30 min / mile pace, we sped up a little to average about 10:00 min / mile for the return trip.  

Running along the Michelle Obama - South River trail

When we returned to the training tent, just past 8.5 miles, we filled up our water bottles, a few people used the Porta-Potties from the race, and then we took off again.  Coach Amy mentioned that we would go a little further on this leg.  At that moment I realized that this run would be longer than 17 miles total.  And now that I think about it, the people in the Porta-Potties may have missed that little bit of information.  Anyway we started out again, running the same route as before.  I had eight shot block cubes left,  which I had been taking an average of one per mile, so I would need to stretch that our just a little.  When we got to the turnaround point from the first leg, I mentioned to Colleen that we were going to cover more than 17 miles.  It appeared like we were going to run 20 miles in addition to the 5K race that we had completed!  Good thing I didn't run a few warmup miles, otherwise I would have covered 26.2 in total.  I was a little concerned that some of the others in our group were making a jump in mileage from 18 miles last week to 23 miles.  I myself had run 20 miles two weeks ago, so I was less concerned about my own legs.  Five of us continued forward, which proved to be another mile or so.  In this section, we climbed a fairly steep hill!  We reached the trailhead and a water stop, waited for a couple of minutes to see if anyone else was coming to join us, and then headed back. 

My legs were starting to get a little sore, but I was managing well enough.  We were talking about pain in marathon running, and if we could tell the difference between just hurting vs. developing an injury.  In the 2017 Chickamauga marathon, I had been in quite a bit of pain for the final 10K, yet within 10 minutes of finishing, I was fine, just a little tired, and was "kicking myself" afterwards for having such a bad attitude just 45 minutes earlier.  Around this point, we felt the first drops of rain, which turned into a drizzle, and then fairly hard rain for a few minutes.  

In each long runs of this cycle, I've tried to speed up in the final mile.  I was more motivated today to get back as soon as I could, to get out of wet clothes.  I had applied plenty of Body Glide this morning, so I wasn't chafing.  Before my watch had signaled completing the 17th mile, I decided to speed up a bit, and there was no chance of anyone getting lost at this point.  As my speed increased, the mild pain of the long run morphed into a more familiar feeling of exertion.  I was thrilled to cover mile 18 in 8:49!  I thought that I was maintaining the same speed in mile 19, but noticed that I slowed a little near the end of the mile, around 9:10.  I tried to speed up to see if I could drive the pace reading below 9:00 before recording mile 19, but needed 9:07.  I wasn't able to speed up any more, but managed to maintain the 9:07 pace for the last 1/3 mile until I reached the training tent, 19.36 miles in 3:17:19.  It was pretty clear to me that I would not have been able to run at the 9 min / mile pace for much further, but I was able to manage the 2.5 mile "kick."  I felt a little badly for leaving the others behind, but three in our front group arrived within the next minute, and the others shortly afterwards. 

This was a great running day for me, especially in terms of lessons learned: 
  1. I can complete a 20-mile run at a 10 min / mile pace without much trouble; 
  2. should not attempt to run the marathon at a 9 min / mile pace (so I won't try to break the 4 hour mark); and
  3. Confirmed that I may be able to speed up a little in a couple of final celebratory miles. 

Total mileage recorded for today: 22.48 miles, recorded time 3:45:15.  If I can reach the 22 mile mark within 3:40 on marathon day, I will be thrilled, so a 4:20 marathon finish may be a realistic goal.  I have one more 20+ mile training run scheduled in two weeks, for a final test. 
Coach Amy snapped our training group photo a few minutes before we started the 5K race.