Category: Inspiration

Running is My Drug of Choice

This week I’ve found myself several times with this thought: for some people, running is a drug.

They can’t get enough. They live, breathe, and eat running. They buy stickers for their cars, get tattoos and wear running jewelry, and buy cute little t-shirts with funny running slogans on them. Sound familiar?

You should see my car. And my t-shirt drawer. And the ten pairs of running shoes I bought on sale last year.

Some are instantly addicted from the very first run. They like the way running makes them feel. It may be the first time in their lives they’ve ever felt in control, empowered, and strong. That’s how it was for me.

For others, it comes on more slowly. After years of running they one day realize they simply can’t live without it. They run in spurts, until the day arrives when they feel like they can get through a run without feeling like they’re going to die.

Sometimes it happens after your first long race. You’ve pushed yourself further than you ever thought possible. Finishing your first half marathon or marathon is exhilarating. Even though you swear you’ll never do another one, you find yourself planning your next race within an hour after crossing the finish line.

For some, racing is the drug. These runners book a race every weekend. They don’t train; they race. Continually. I don’t know how they do it. I’m good for one or two big races a year.

marathons

This is as close as I’ll ever get to the 3:05 pace group in a marathon.

For many, their addiction to running only shows up when they’re injured. First they ignore that little twinge of pain that could signal something serious. They refuse to believe that they may need to back off and rest a day or two. I can’t be injured, I have a race in two weeks. They think they can run through it, that it will just go away. Denial is its own powerful addiction.

When they give in and go see a doctor, who then confirms what they knew all along, they become depressed when day after day passes and they can’t run. Some even feel like their identity disappears when they aren’t out running with everyone else. They need an intervention. We’ve all been there at one point or another.

Thankfully, I haven’t met many runners whose identities are that tied up in running.  Most of us accept that there needs to be balance in every aspect of our lives, and running is just another part of the pie.

The bottom line is, it feels good to run. Nothing beats a good run first thing in the morning, and those feelings carry through for the rest of the day. That’s a pretty good incentive to keep running.

For instance, the other day my friend Liz needed to run earlier than our usual winter time of 8:15am, and we met at the lake at 6:00am. It was dark and foggy, but I have to admit it was a nice change. After the run I came home and went into hyper mode, going shopping, cleaning the entire kitchen (even the fridge!), doing dishes, doing laundry, answering emails, and even fitting in a session of yoga. I am a dedicated Night Owl, and somehow the combination of getting up earlier and a good six miler definitely felt like my own personal drug.

When I’m injured or sick, and don’t run for a few days, NOT running starts to become just as addictive as running. Not running is easy.  There are other things that need to be done. Not running is relaxing. I can sit on the couch and watch TV instead. Not running makes me wonder why I push myself so hard, week after week. I could walk and stay just as healthy. Not running makes me question why I put in all those hours of physical exertion. I have so much more time in my day when I don’t run.

I mean, what’s the point? We’re all going to die in the end anyway, right?

But then I hit the road and fall in love with running all over again.

It isn’t about staying alive as long as we can. It’s about living as fully as we can.

marathons

See that START banner? It’s really mile 20, where the marathon truly begins.

Running is life affirming. I run because I can, because it makes me feel strong and powerful. On some level, I find running to be very spiritual, especially trail running. When it’s just me on a trail, under a canopy of trees, or running through a gorgeous desert landscape, I feel connected to everything. There’s no separation between me and the universe, and every moment becomes meditative as I focus on nothing other than the trail ahead. It sounds hokey, I know, but it feels natural and unforced. If allows me to focus on the here and now, the immediacy of moving and breathing, and nothing else. In those moments there IS nothing else:  nowhere else I need to be, no one else I need to be,  and nothing else I need to have.

If running is a drug, so be it. It’s cheap, easy, and does the body, mind, and soul good. And that’s an addiction I can live with for the rest of my life.

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Run Away with Me, Scott Jurek!

Ultrarunner Scott Jurek came to town last night. I was so beside myself I could hardly stand it. I felt like a teenager again.

I may run ridiculous distances, toss back an occasional beer with the guys, and pee in the woods when I have to, but I am, first and foremost, a girl. All I wanted last night was to have my photo taken with Scott Jurek.

Scott Jurek

I can die happy now.

Of course I wanted to hear what he had to say, and was sad I didn’t make it home in time to change clothes to run with him and the group. But like the Celebrity Runner Groupie I have apparently become, the photo was paramount.

First things first: What a nice guy! The number one comment I heard from all my friends who met him that night was how nice and down-to-earth he is. He seems to have an inner happiness and enthusiasm for life that is infectious. He’s the kind of guy you would want to spend a lot of time with — like on a 100+ mile trail run, perhaps — and you can tell he genuinely likes being around people and having fun with them. He is unpretentious, humble, and willing to share what’s he’s learned about ultrarunning.

I am starstruck.

Scott Jurek

Some things I learned from Scott:

1. Favorite races: Hardrock 100 and Spartathalon. That’s 100 as in 100 miles long, and the Spartathlon as in 153 miles from Athens to Sparta. Hardrock is considered to be one of the toughest races in the country, with 33,000 feet of climb at an average elevation of over 11,000 feet (thank you, Wikipedia). I guess I’ve got some training to do. (Note: this question was personally asked by me — I was sitting on the front row with little hearts and angels floating around my head so I wasn’t hard to miss — and he looked into my eyes the entire time he spoke to me. I’m not even sure how I remember his answer. Read it and weep, ladies. And yes, I know he recently got married, so hush.)

2. He’s run Badwater twice and does not want to run it again. I cannot for the life of me imagine why. The Badwater Ultra is a 135 mile road race through Death Valley in mid-July, starting 282 feet below sea level and ending at an elevation of 8360 feet at Mount Whitney (thanks, again, Wikipedia). I ran a marathon in Death Valley one February. Just sayin.’ But it’s nothing compared to the Badwater Ultra.Scott Jurek

3. Eat real food early in an ultra, and eat often. Save the GUs and energy gels for later in the race. Real food for him is tortillas filled with beans, or rice balls, for instance. Vegetarian dolmas work for me, if you’re wondering.

4. He looks forward to being a middle of the pack runner one day, but for the time being wants to remain competitive. He says winning is fun. I’ll take his word for it. I believe he said that Leadville is his next race.

5. He’s a humanitarian and will be taking a team of runners to Ethiopia to help fight blindness there. There are still a few places left if you’d like to accompany him. You can find more details on his blog. (And yes, you know I want to go.)

6. To train for a trail race with lots of hills or elevation, he recommends lots of strength training (2-3 times per week) and core work, squats, lunges, downhill repeats, and running down the stairs of tall buildings (if you live in a large city, of course).

Scott Jurek

7. He had just come from a memorial event for Caballo Blanco, aka Micah True, in Copper Canyon with the Tarahumara. He told us about searching for Micah when he went missing, expecting to see him come running out from somewhere at any moment, but knowing if he had to go it would be a perfect place and way for him to leave. He also said that doctors believe running may actually have extended his life an additional ten years or so, based on his family background. Nice to hear after my post last week about long distance running and damage to the heart.

8. The actor Peter Sarsgaard is working on a movie version of the book Born to Run. Scott says he doesn’t know who will play him in the movie, but that Sarsgaard, a runner himself,  has said he wants real runners in the movie.  He has hinted at Scott playing himself, but Scott’s not sure if he’s kidding or not. Cast him, Peter!

Scott Jurek

Just in case you were wondering.

Scott spoke for almost an hour, and gave lots more information, but it was all just a little too much by the end. Remember, I was starstruck. And I was sitting on the front row.

If you haven’t read it yet, his book Eat and Run is fantastic. Read it. And then get out and run.

Scott Jurek

Signing Hari’s book. Hari was more starstruck than me (look at those eyes) and Scott liked the Spider Man stickers Hari’s son put on the title page.

* Thank you, Luke’s Locker, for bringing Scott Jurek to Dallas, and thank you, Scott, for coming to visit! Please come back soon so I can run with you next time!

Surprising Myself

I don’t recognize the woman I’ve turned into this summer. I look in the mirror and see a faintly familiar face reflected there, but it can’t be me. Who is this dedicated night owl who gets up at 4:30am to run ridiculous miles in the Texas summer heat? I hardly know myself anymore.

Two mornings in a row I’ve set the alarm for 4:20am. The first time was for a run followed by a core/strength workout, the second for a ten mile run at the lake. The runs and workouts are not surprising, only the time on the clock.

But then again, who gets up at 4:30am for a core workout?

Anyone can change. Even me.

White Rock Lake Sky

I’m always amazed that other people are out and about at 5:15am when I drive the ten minutes to the lake. Do people really have jobs that early in the morning? I park my car in the dark parking lot and worry about the car getting broken into while I’m gone.

My friends arrive and we spray ourselves with DEET-laced mosquito repellent, a new necessity because of West Nile. Setting our Garmins, we trudge down the hill, legs slow and stiff at first, then fluid and smooth as we run along the edge of the water.

Sometimes the conversation flows, and can veer off into a myriad of diverse topics. Other times we run silently, alone with our own thoughts, sharing a common bond of friendship and movement.

After these early morning runs the traffic is heavy and flows ten miles per hour faster. People tailgate, anxious to get to work. I’m feeling relaxed and satisfied from the run, and take a slower route through the neighborhood.

I pull into my driveway and the porch light is still on. Michael sleeps, and I feel a fleeting sense of regret that I got up so early.

The run has me pumped, and I contemplate doing some yoga before I shower. I need to use up all this energy before the inevitable mid-afternoon wave of sleepiness hits me.

I used to do all my runs alone. I thought I loved it. Sometimes I would listen to music. Mostly I listened to the birds and my thoughts.

Now it’s practically a requirement that I run with someone else. Running alone is not half as much fun when I have only myself to keep me company.

Change is good.

Fun Run with Dean Karnazes

Last Friday my running group had the opportunity to do a fun run with the Ultramarathon Man himself, Dean Karnazes, who was in town representing a sponsor for a local 5K race. I’m not a celebrity hound or star-struck kind of person, but it was such an honor meeting one of my first running heroes.

Me, Dean, and my dear friend, Hari

As I stated in my last post, Dean’s book Ultramarathon Man was one of the first running books I read when I began running six years ago. Dean is an undeniably talented runner, running distances I will never attempt. To meet him in person, and discover what a down-to-earth, genuinely nice guy he is, was a real treat.

My running group, the White Rock Running Co-op (WRRC) is a group of friends I’ve run with for the past five years. A core group of us met while training, pacing, and coaching with a local running group, and eventually branched off and created our own group. There’s no charge, no politics, no games–just a group of people who love to run. We run together each Wednesday evening and Saturday mornings (long runs), and we generally follow a marathon or half-marathon training plan.

This weekend about 30 of us are flying to Eugene, OR to run the marathon and half-marathon there.

Dean, WRRC, Greek Goddesses, and DFW Runs

The group met Dean at the American Airlines Center, home to the Dallas Mavericks and Dallas Stars, on a cool, overcast morning. Some people managed to sneak away from work, others made a day of it.

After an introduction and a few photos, we ran the length of the Katy Trail, which is roughly seven miles total. The first half is gradually uphill, and I had a tough time keeping up with the group. After about two and a half miles, when I looked down at my Garmin and saw the pace was 8:05, I decided to walk until the group turned back around.

Having already done a race pace run on Wednesday night (which was nowhere close to an 8:05 pace!), and knowing I was doing a 12 miler the next day, it wasn’t a tough decision to make.

The group quickly came back down the trail and I jumped in behind everyone else. It started to rain lightly, and thankfully the back of the pack had slowed down to a more reasonable 8:45 pace.

As we made the turn back to the AAC, Dean graciously stood off to the the side in order to be the last one to finish. He said we could brag to everyone that we had run with Dean Karnazes and “beat” him.

Yeah, right, Dean.

Me, Dean, and Hari

A few observations about Dean:

  • He has ZERO body fat. Zilch. His legs are incredible, with clearly defined quads and calves. Everyone was amazed at those legs. The men were envious and the women just wanted to touch them.
  • Everyone was impressed at how nice he really is. He thanked us several times for coming out to run with him, and talked about his love of running. He was very down-to-earth and humble. He acknowledged how lucky he is that he gets to run for a living.
  • He says he never sits down all day. He even has a special desk he uses at home that’s at waist height where he does all his writing. He says it’s one of the ways he stays in shape, and it helps train his body to stay on his feet for long periods of time. (I think it’s just natural for him.)
  • He does a lot of cross training.
  • He will run the Badwater Ultra again this summer. I asked how many pairs of shoes he usually goes through in Badwater, and he surprisingly said he hopes to use only one pair, which would be a full size larger than he usually wears. And he will run on the white line so the soles don’t melt.
  • One of his favorite things to eat on his very long runs is a sandwich of bread, almond butter, banana slices, honey, and a packet of soy sauce drizzled on top of the bread. Genevieve made one the next day and said it was yummy!

Those of us who didn’t have to be back at work had lunch and post-run beers, and talked about running with Dean Karnazes. It was a good day of friendship, laughter, and doing what we love most: running.

I’m Running With Dean Karnazes!

Tomorrow my running group is running with Dean Karnazes. He’s in town for a local run and interview, and wanted to run with a local grassroots running organization. The group I run with, The White Rock Running Co-Op, is going to run six miles with him tomorrow on the Katy Trail, an old railroad line that’s been converted into a running/walking/biking path.

Karnazes was probably my first running hero. I remember coming across his first book, Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner, after I had been running for about a year or so. I hadn’t even run my first half marathon at that time, and couldn’t believe there were people who ran the incredible distances he ran.

I’ve learned a lot since then.

Not only has he run the infamous Badwater Ultra in Death Valley, and Western States, but several years ago he ran 50 marathons, in 50 states, in 50 days–and wrote a book about it.

I haven’t run an ultramarathon, but I do have six marathons under my belt. Even though a month long illness derailed my plans for marathon #7, I’m looking forward to running the half marathon in Eugene next weekend.

Being able to run tomorrow with my first running hero is going to be one of those milestones in my life I’ll never forget. I’ll keep you posted!

Running: Interrupted, or What Happened to My Motivation?

This morning I was feeling lazy. VERY lazy. I generally like to ease into my morning. I am not a morning person, but now that I don’t have to be at work at 7:00AM, and the days are mild, there’s no excuse not to get up and get my run in and get the day going.

Easier said than done.

I have already declared this to be the year of NO EXCUSES, and my friend Hari said he’s going to hold me to it. I generally prefer to run in the late afternoon/early evening. When I was working, running was always a nice way to detox from the day’s stressful events. I love my early morning long runs on Saturdays with the running group, but there’s something in me that resists starting my day with a run any day of the week except Saturday.

It seems tougher to run first thing in the morning than in the evening. I’m sure, like most things, it’s all in my head.

I finally managed to get in that 7 mile run around 10:30am (I know, I know), and it was a good marathon pace run (9:12 pace) with lots of long, gradual inclines. I was disappointed that my pace was exactly the same as last Monday’s MP run, but it did seem easier and I enjoyed it more than last week’s run.

So why do I struggle with motivation? I love running, really, I do. Why is it so hard sometimes to motivate myself to run the morning?

Errrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr! (Sound of needle being dragged across an old, broken record)

That post was started almost a month ago, the day before my visit to the ER. It’s been sitting there, staring me in the face every time I sit down to write a new post, and the topic is even more relevant today than it was a month ago. MOTIVATION.

All I can say is, getting started is the hard part. Keeping it going is the icing on the cake.

This past month has been one trial after another. First there was the ER visit, then two weeks of broth, soup, applesauce, and mashed potatoes, and two different antibiotics that made me extremely dizzy. After two weeks of recuperation, when all the medication was gone and I was feeling stronger, I pulled a calf muscle at mile 2 on my first attempt at running. And last week, when the leg felt better, I came down with a nasty stomach flu that kept  me grounded for another few days.

Cue the violins, right?

I spent most of the first part of the month beating myself up for not being able to run. My mind tried to rationalize everything, and somehow made getting sick something I could have prevented (not true) or been tough enough to run through anyway (no way). I was disappointed because my training had been going so well, and I felt like I was starting to get my speed back up to where it used to be.

When I realized it might take longer than I expected to get well again, and I might not be ready to run a marathon, I freaked out first and then got a little depressed. Piriformis syndrome and recurring ankle tendonitis derailed my plans to run the last marathon I signed up for, and I couldn’t believe it was happening again.

Then, when I pulled the calf muscle, I got mad. I hadn’t been pushing the pace at all, and I’ve never, ever had issues with my calves. Upon investigation, I discovered one of the antibiotics I had been taking causes tendon damage during and after use, and I think the medication was a factor in the pull. Argh.

Finally, when the stomach flu hit last week, after enduring two runs on a hotel treadmill after the calf muscle healed, which should have been penance enough, I let it all go and gave in. I surrendered. Out of my control. So done with the pity party.

All of this has pretty much derailed my plans of running the Eugene Marathon at the end of April, but I’m okay with it now. There’s no way I can pick up the pieces and be ready to run 26.2 miles in ten weeks. It looks like, once again, it will be a half marathon instead of the full. It’s okay, I’ve resigned myself to the fact that it’s once again just not meant to be, and I’m looking forward to at least being able to run half the distance.

I’m just happy to be running again.

So this morning I got up and ran 4 miles, and it was good. Part of feeling sorry for myself has been knowing I’ve been missing out on the best weather to run in, which is winter in Texas. It makes up for all the months of summer misery. This morning was perfect, with overcast skies and a temperature of 50 degrees.

I’ve made up a new half marathon training plan for the next 10 weeks and am looking forward to running consistently again. I haven’t seen any of my running friends for a month and I miss running with them.

It feels like I’ve been quarantined from my tribe.

As for motivation, the hardest part about not being able to run for so long has been getting out of the routine. Once you miss so many runs, it’s really, really hard to get back on schedule. It’s easier to look back at everything you didn’t get done and feel defeated, but harder to leave it all behind and start over again. You can be stubborn and feel sorry for yourself for things not working out, and boo hoo about all the time you’ve missed, or you can move on and start where you left off.

That’s why making a new training plan is going to give me the motivation to keep up with my training. I’ve lost some stamina and speed, but I can still get out there and put in the miles. That’s more than a lot of people are able, or willing, to do.

And the best motivation right now: there’s nothing more satisfying than highlighting a completed run green on the training spreadsheet. I’m a real running dork that way.

Real Runners vs Frauds: How We Judge Each Other

Not long ago I wrote about my surprise at how some of the nonrunning public view runners and marathons. Sometimes I think the running community may actually be even worse towards each other. This could be similar to the pregnant hamster I unknowingly purchased for my prekindergarten class one year who ate her babies shortly after the miracle of birth while we all watched in horror. Yeah, something like that.

I just finished reading a book that had nothing to do with running, except that the main character loves to run. I don’t know if the author of the book is a runner, but this is the way the main character describes how she could tell her son’s coach was a real runner:

He was wearing an Orlando Magic T-shirt and baggy running shorts. You can tell a lot by someone’s running clothes. If the colors are bright, the fit fine, the logos designer, it almost always means fraud, someone who likes the idea of running better than the act itself. Mike Riordan’s shorts and shirt looked ancient, one step removed from the rummage sale. The real deal.

Huh? I think she has it backwards. I consider myself and my friends to be “the real deal” as far as running goes, and not one of us would be caught dead running in a t-shirt, especially down here in Texas (and for the record, the story takes place in Florida, and the heat and humidity are mentioned often). Nothing identifies a new runner more than running in a t-shirt. I don’t think any of us feel like “frauds” for wearing Nike and Asics either, if that’s what she considers “designer logos” running apparel. Maybe Christian Dior makes running clothes that I don’t know about?

I am guilty as charged, though, for sometimes liking “the idea of running better than the act itself,” especially at mile 25 of a marathon. I’m dumb enough to keep coming back for more, however.

These are my designer running clothes. Obviously I'm a huge fraud.

This little paragraph makes me think the author probably does run a few miles here and there, and lives in a cold climate where she doesn’t have to worry about sweaty wet cotton weighing her down, but it makes me wonder why she chose to make runners who wear ancient t-shirts better than the 99% of us who don’t. Is she part of the 1% of running? This got me to thinking about how runners judge each other.

We all do it, all the time. When I ran my first Turkey Trot years ago, shortly after I started running, I ran the 5K portion with some friends. For someone who wanted to race, it was a nightmare. There were walkers, shufflers, strollers, dogs, small children, grandparents, and entire families stretched shoulder to shoulder across the width of the street.

Running was like a game of Frogger. I was not happy. I judged.

The next year I ran the eight mile race, which was slightly better, but of course I was missing the point. With 26,500 registered runners, we have the largest Thanksgiving Day race in the country. Everyone has a right to be there, no matter how slow or how many people, animals, or contraptions they decide to run with. To expect to be able to race, and for everyone to get out of my way, was insane. I was acting like a true Dallasite, and I wasn’t even behind the wheel of my car.

The larger point overall: as runners, everyone has a right to be there.

Through my years of running, I’ve heard–and made–a lot of comments about other runners. It’s always amused me to hear the ways we slam each other. I remember being a new runner listening to some faster, more experienced runners complain about Team in Training and how they clogged up the running path at the lake on Saturday mornings. They said some pretty mean things about TNT, the most ridiculous being they weren’t real runners, and from then on I decided to go out of my way to be nice to them. To me there is nothing more real than getting off the couch and running your first marathon for someone who can’t.

The most egregious example of Runner Judgment happened last month in the middle of a half marathon. Two female friends were running together, chatting about a marathon they had run in the past, and they were chastised by an older female runner. She chided them about their “slow” finish times,” and made a comment about how they should be ashamed of themselves, how she was was running 3:20’s when she was their age. As I said, this was right in the middle of running a half marathon race. My two friends were much classier than this lady and showed great restraint in not tackling her into the ditch.

Sometimes I think we don’t know how we really come across to other runners. Some people seem to need to put others down to make themselves look better. Others are just plain rude. Sometimes we’re trying to be funny but it doesn’t always come across that way. And sometimes it’s our own insecurities that make us say dumb things about other runners.

Most of us have been guilty of calling those who run less fast than us the “slow” runners. I used to run in a somewhat fast group, then I switched groups and found myself suddenly in the back of the pack. I was now one of the “slow” runners, a blackbird and no longer a bluebird among runners. The label didn’t bother me, but my own competitive drive sometimes frustrated me because I wasn’t used to being in the back. And I do always hate being the last one to breakfast.

From trail runners snubbing street runners, to those of us saying “only” a half marathon, to those of us thinking you haven’t really run a marathon if you walk any portion of it, to runners thinking you shouldn’t hold conversations during a race, to those who run with music as opposed to those who think you shouldn’t, to ultramarathoners reminding us how far they run for fun, there will always be an us versus them. We see it in sports, politics, religions, races, sexes, schools, jobs, and families. Running is no different.

So the question begs to be asked: What is a real runner? Is it someone who runs in old t-shirts, or someone who wears purple with the picture of someone battling cancer? Is it someone who qualifies for Boston every time they run a marathon, or someone who trains sporadically and barely crosses the finish line under five hours? In my opinion, it’s merely semantics and keeps us separated from the rest of the pack.

If you run, no matter how fast, how slow, how often, how seriously, or what surface you choose to run on, it’s real, all of it. When you run, you are a real runner. There are no frauds.

(The running quote is from the book Black and Blue, by Anna Quindlen)

Olympic Marathon Trials – Houston, January 14, 2012

If I mentioned the names Ryan, Kara, Meb, Shalane, Dathan, Desiree, or Deena to any of my nonrunning friends, I would get a blank stare. To those who run, they’re like the names of family. Everyone knows who they are. This past weekend I got to see them all race for a chance to win a spot on the U.S. Olympic marathon team at the Olympic Marathon Trials in Houston. It was a weekend that didn’t disappoint.

I had been looking forward to the Olympic Marathon Trials ever since it was announced that both the men and women’s events would be held in Houston. I knew I would find a way to get there, even though I wasn’t interested in running the marathon the next day. Houston is synonymous with humidity in my mind, and heat and humidity are my running enemies. Even in January, I know how Texas weather can be.

I had this idea that the Olympic Trials were going to be a really big thing in the city of Houston, because for me they were. I had visions of millions of people, all vying for a chance to see the most talented runners our country has to offer the world of the Olympics. With that in mind, I went to bed at 7pm on Friday night with the intention of leaving Dallas at midnight. Michael caught a few hours on the couch beforehand. I didn’t really sleep much, but I rested, and we loaded up the car with video and camera equipment and hit the dark freeway south.

Driving when you should be sleeping is tough. Michael drove first, then I took over for the second half. We arrived in Houston around 4:30 and went straight to the area where the Trials would be held to scope out parking and a good spot to set up the video camera. The course was unique in that it started in the heart of downtown on a two mile loop, then continued on an eight mile loop along Allen Parkway, which would be run three times and finish back at the start. This meant we would be able to see the runners three times: at just past miles 8, 16, and 24.

Since the races started at 8am, with the men leading, and it was only 4:30am, we had plenty of time. The race organizers were just starting to block off roads. We jumped back on the freeway and took the first exit to a really bad part of town. The MacDonalds had three police cars and a tow truck, so we went across the street to Whataburger and ate in the parking lot. We watched someone drive up in a BMW to the Bail Bonds place across the street, open the building’s door, and drop off what looked like groceries.

See what you miss by sleeping in?

We drove back to the race location we had previously decided on and saw a man putting up $10 event parking signs at the Historical Society right across the street from where we wanted to stand. He was a very methodical man who wasn’t ready for someone so early. He directed us to pull up to the curb and wait ten minutes until the “gate” opened. We enjoyed watching him walk back and forth, setting up his cones, flags, money pouch, and plastic chair, each time checking to make sure everything was just perfect. A security guard came and asked us what we were doing, didn’t seem to know that the parking lot was being offered up for event parking, and set off to speak to Methodical Man. Eventually, after 20 minutes or so, someone pulled up and unlocked the gate, we paid our ten spot, and parked.

It was 6:30am.

We found a great corner to film and take photos, and set up all the equipment. It was freezing cold, even with down jackets, gloves, and various cold weather accoutrements. Police cars drove past continually, and we wondered why it was necessary to drive full throttle. It was probably like teachers running down the halls of school when the students aren’t there, or cussing in the teacher’s lounge on break. It was still dark, and we saw one huddled up person asleep in the middle of the park. As the sun came up, homeless people appeared from the shadows, one by one, with all their baggage, and moved on. We were never sure if the police made them leave, or if this was their daily routine.

We saw many people running past us in the dark to warm up, and many of them were buff and toned with zero body fat, but I wasn’t sure if any of them were running in the Olympic Marathon Trials or the marathon the next day. We had a lot of time to get to know the volunteer security men around us, who mentioned the Occupy Houston people had threatened to disrupt the Trials. Everyone associated with the races was extremely friendly, and most were runners themselves. I wanted to come back to Houston and run with these people.

Someone walked past and asked if we knew where the water stop was, and we discovered it was about a quarter mile from our location. I walked down and took a look and it was the longest water stop I had ever seen, one long row of numbered tables, and I realized each athlete had their own personal water stop. Each water bottle was decorated and labeled, and the bottles were all different sizes and shapes. A lot of the bottles were tossed at our feet as the runners ran past us in the race, and I helped one of the volunteers, Keelan, pick some of them up. One caught my eye because it was bigger than the others and had a low number, 5, on the label, so I knew it was one of the elite women (since they had just run past). I considered taking it, thought that might be kind of goofy and gross, and left it. After the race I noticed it was gone from the pile. Later that night, looking at the photos, I discovered it was Kara Goucher’s, and wanted to kick myself for not keeping it.

At 7:30 there were still relatively few people on the course. More people did show up later, but it was nothing like I expected. Just before 8:00, helicopters appeared downtown and we knew the race was about to begin. We could always tell where the runners were on the course because of the location of the helicopters above us. By this time I was frozen, and started jumping up and down to both stay warm and because I was so excited to see the runners. Finally, around 8:40, the lead cars appeared and the men could be seen coming around the corner.

I’ve never seen any of the men racing in person, but I’ve seen many of them on TV. I knew Ryan Hall had a very distinctive running gait, but to see him fly by in person was exhilarating and awe inspiring. Seeing Meb Keflizighi run past, winner of the New York City marathon two years ago, was amazing. They make it look so easy. Meb especially always looked like he was having fun, even on the last loop, less than two miles from the finish. Even more inspiring was to see the other runners following the elites, many of them people who hold down regular jobs and lives, but who ran marathons fast enough to qualify for a chance to go to the Olympics.

About fifteen minutes or so after the men, the women rounded the corner behind the lead cars. Again, it was all I could do to stop jumping up and down from excitement and take photos. I recognized Shalane Flanagan and Kara Goucher from the pages of Runner’s World magazine, and Deena Kastor from past televised races. Just as I had been with the men, I was amazed at their bodies. Zero fat, every muscle and tendon visible, and extremely toned arms. More than anything, I was amazed at their focus and level of concentration.

As the rest of the female runners ran past, I was amazed at how young most of them were. Some looked like they were still teenagers, and I realized I knew very little about them and how they got there. Michael and I had earlier wondered if Dallas’s own Melisa Christian was running in the Olymipic Marathon Trials again this year, as she had done four years ago, and we were both happy to see her as she ran past on her first loop. She had kinesio tape on her back and I wondered if she was injured.

We got to see the runners two more times on their second and third loops, just past miles 16 and 24, and their high level of focus and concentration never wavered. For some reason, Abdi Abdirahman looked right over in my direction when I took photos, and I wondered what had caught his attention. I always find it interesting when the elites mention how the spectators help them during the races, and I believe them, but their focus at the Trials was always so intense they seemed oblivious to anything around them.

On the men’s last loop, the crowd went crazy when Meb came around the corner in first place. He looked like he was having the time of his life, even though it would turn out to be a personal best for him. Ryan Hall was not far behind, and had a slight nosebleed. Abdi was next, and the crowd went crazy again to see Dathan Ritzenhein, America’s highest ranking American in the last Olympics, in 4th place. I would have liked to have seen how he came within 8 seconds of catching up to Abdi.

On the women’s last loop, it was Shalane Flanagan and Desiree Davila in the lead, both still looking strong, with Kara Goucher just behind, secure in her 3rd place finish and looking like she was ready to be done with the race. I was sad to see Deena Kastor too far behind to catch up, but she smiled when I yelled out, “Deena, you’re my hero!” and I caught that smile on camera. That was pretty special, knowing she had heard me and acknowledged the compliment with a smile!

Going to the Olympic Marathon Trials was truly a dream come true. I’ve loved the Olympics since I was a little kid, and I remember watching an Olympic marathon (there was only a men’s event, no women’s back in those days) when I was very small, and being mesmerized by the runners and how anyone could run that far without stopping. I don’t know if I’ll ever get to see an Olympic marathon in person in my life, but this was pretty close. It’s a memory I’ll always treasure.

USA Track & Fieldfor more info about the race

Olympic Marathon Trials: Don’t Blink

Today was a dream come true. It was a day when I stood next to greatness, humbled by the reigning gods and goddesses of marathon running. Having the chance to see in person the best this country has to offer to the world of Olympic running, the same people who are my running heroes and superstars, was a day I’ll never forget.

It’s hard not to gush when you’ve seen the best.

Here are a few preliminary photos I took of the runners at today’s Olympic Marathon Trials. A longer post, with more photos, will follow in the next few days.