Wednesday, October 28, 2009

I head to New York full of HOPE

There are two vastly different views about hope, according to "The Shawshank Redemption." One: "Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane." The other: "Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies."

Personally, I've never been able to decide which of those ideas is "right." It might actually be both. Or it could be neither. In fact, it might just be; maybe hope is what it is.

Therefore, it's not really a concept worth dissecting. All I know is that -- with less than four days to go until I line up on the Queensboro Bridge with thousands of other runners at the start of the 40th New York City Marathon -- I am full of it. Hope, that is.

I HOPE I can get at least a couple hours of sleep Saturday night. I know it's more important to get good sleep two nights before, but still ... and since the sad reality is that it'll probably be about 4 a.m. when I'm finally sleeping (i.e. having some horrible nightmare about my wake-up call not coming) I HOPE one of the 37 alarm clocks I set for Sunday morning functions properly.

I HOPE the weather cooperates. I HOPE whatever I ate the night before doesn't come back to haunt me and my belly the day of. I HOPE I make the bus to the ferry. I HOPE I make the ferry to Staten Island. I HOPE I can link up with the only other two people I know who are running Sunday, so we can help each other pass the time by taking turns going to the Porta-Johns.

I HOPE I have the ability to get up somewhat toward the front of my wave start, which might enable me to avoid some frustration and minimize the bobbing and weaving in the first few miles. But I HOPE that I have the good sense to go out under control, stick to an easy pace for a few miles, and then slowly warm up into my goal pace of 6:00/miles. (I HOPE you know I'm kidding there.)

I HOPE during the race to be able to see and be seen along the way by my parents and my incredibly supportive wife and daughter, who both endured 16 weeks of missed mornings together, of occasional crankiness, and of persistent babbling about running-related stuff they didn't really care about or understand.

I HOPE I went to the bathroom enough times before the race. I HOPE I don't eat too few GUs -- or too many. I HOPE to be able to "Breathe. Relax. Focus." I HOPE I remember that that's my mantra, because I kinda like it. I HOPE to be able to dig down deep after crossing the Queensboro Bridge at Mile 16, and to dig deep deep DEEP down once I hit the hills in Central Park in the homestretch.

I HOPE to finish injury-free, with a smile on my face and my arms raised above my head ... or at least a hearty pump of the fist goin' on. (Oh, and I HOPE I beat Edward Norton.)

But most of all -- even more than breaking 4 hours or hitting my goal of 3:45 -- I HOPE to soak it all in. To bask in the electricity of the event, to revel in the cheers of the 2 million-plus spectators along the route, to appreciate the fact that I've been given the opportunity to be a part of something special and unique. To take pictures with my mind, to make mental notes, to stop (metaphorically) and smell the roses so that two weeks or two months or two years down the road, it's not just a blur, but a vivid and wonderful memory.


* * *

To follow me on Sunday, click here for details on how to use the ING New York City Marathon's "athlete alert" tools. Or click here to become a part of my Facebook community, and you'll get pre- and post-race thoughts throughout the weekend.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

For Charlotte, it's a race like no other

Charlotte's got a lot of good annual races. It's even got a few great ones. But you'd be hard-pressed to find a local running event with a more memorable setting than the Runway 5K Run held at Charlotte Douglas International Airport.

We recently talked to airport operations manager Herbert Judon about the course, the logistics, and how close participants will get to real-live jumbo jets during this unique race, which is scheduled for 8 a.m. Saturday.

Q. This race is only in its third year, but it's become one of the most talked-about annual running events. Surprised?

Nope. Most courses run through neighborhoods, city centers, business parks, etc. However, the Runway 5K Run provides a rare venue -- an airport -- that cannot be replicated. For competitive runners, the course provides a fast, flat surface, which is conducive for PRs. There is also a walk event. Most of the course provides extraordinary views of parked, landing, departing, and taxing aircraft in close proximity of the runners. ... Very few people have the opportunity to view the airport from this vantage point. ... As you are running to the east, the view of the Charlotte skyline is spectacular. The event also provides some of the best grand prizes in the region -- airline gift cards.

Q. These aren't in-service runways, are they?

Yes, they are actually active runways. We coordinate a brief, temporary closure of one of our runways while participants are running/walking and reopen it as soon as the last participants are off. Other portions of the race take place on taxiways and airport service roads. These taxiways and service roads are still in very close proximity of taxiing and parked aircraft. We coordinate the best time to have the least service interruption. Therefore, primary air operations continue -- no problems. ... The Runway 5K Run will start and finish on the US Airways Maintenance Hangar Ramp, located at 5020 Hangar Road.

Q. How close in feet, yards, whatever, are there actually planes taking off, taxiing, and landing?

Very close but safe!! It’s not uncommon for airline passengers to exchange waves with bypassing runners and walkers.

Q. What percent of the course is on the runways, and how much is on airport service roads?

Approximately 80 to 85 percent of the course is contained within the airport’s perimeter. There is a small portion of the course which takes place on one of the roads outside of the airport perimeter fence.

Q. By the way: How the heck did you guys originally get permission to do this?

The idea was presented to the airport's aviation director Jerry Orr. Once granted, it was a matter of developing security and operation plans with the appropriate agencies. The event also requires detailed coordination with the airlines, specifically US Airways. We use their maintenance hangar ramp space for the start/finish point and to stage event amenities.

Q. How many participants are you guys expecting?

Our goal this year is 1,000.

Q. There's a little bit of a debate about whether you guys or the Greek Fest have the flattest 5K in Charlotte. Are there any notable elevation changes out on that course at all?

Our course is almost completely flat! There are no significant elevation changes. Runways are designed with a very minimal slope to allow for water drainage.

Q. Before I forget: Tell me about the race's charitable beneficiary.

Proceeds from the Runway 5K Run support LifeSpan’s Community Activity and Employment Transition Program – a nonprofit organization. LifeSpan assists children and adults with developmental disabilities by providing education, employment and enrichment opportunities that promote inclusion, choice, family supports and other best practices.

Q. What's new for/different about the Runway 5K in 2009?

Last year, former Carolina Panther Mike Rucker presented the awards. This year, our featured awards presenter will be Julie Tesh, Miss North Carolina. In addition to the overall winners receiving airline gift certificates, we have added airline gift certificates for winners in the overall male and female baby stroller categories. We will also have a drawing for several other gifts, which will take place after the awards ceremony. This year, we will also be using the Chronotrack timing devices for the competitive runners.

Q. Whatcha got for the kids?

Several nostalgic airplanes from the Carolinas Historic Aviation Commission (CHAC) will be on site. The CHAC is especially focused on educating children about aviation history and they typically have giveaways for the children. There will also be a children’s bounce house and Sir Purr will be there. In addition, the North Carolina Air National Guard will have their miniature C-130 aircraft there. Children can ride in the miniature C-130 and the Air Guard will have staff to supervise and answer questions. There will also be a fire truck provided by the Charlotte Fire Department.

Q. Who's providing the post-race food and drink?

The food and drinks have been donated by HMS HOST, the airport’s concessionaire. Additional race sponsors are also chipping in.

Q. Oh, one more thing: Since race day is on Halloween ... is there a costume contest planned?

The event is held on the last Saturday of October each year and this year the last Saturday coincidentally fell on Halloween. No, a costume contest is not planned. However, we will have professional photographers on hand to capture any ghoulish images that may appear.

Registration for the Runway 5K Run is $25. To register, or to view footage of previous events, click here. Questions? E-mail or call 704-359-RWAY.

Monday, October 26, 2009

This runner deserves a big 'Ooh-rah!'

A week and a half ago, I had one of Charlotte's slower runners share her unique (and inspiring) perspective on completing a major U.S. marathon in six-plus hours. Tonight, I present you with the exact opposite: a view of a big-time 26.2-miler through the eyes of one of our area's fastest.

Jay Holder, the 2009 Run For Your Life Grand Prix Series champ and a charter member of the Charlotte Running Club, ripped through Sunday's Marine Corps Marathon in 2:44:35 -- 48th overall out of more than 20,000 official finishers.

He wrote an excellent recap of his experience earlier today, and graciously gave me permission to reprint an edited version of it here. By the way, here's a fun fact: Jay turned 26 exactly one month ago ... making him almost (but not quite) 26.2 years old.

I am always amazed at the ease with which I fall asleep the night before a big race. I was the little kid who couldn't sleep on Christmas Eve because the thought of what may be under the tree in the morning. But, Saturday night, stuffed full of pasta, meatballs, bread and salad made by Aaron's mom [editor's note: the Aaron is Aaron Linz, another top Charlotte runner whose name you've seen on my blog a lot], I was out by 9:45. Right on target.

The alarm went off at 4:45 Sunday morning. The intent was to get up, pee, drink some water and crawl back under the covers for 15-20 minutes. But, once I was up, I was up for good. My singlet was already laid out with the number pinned to it. The race day bag had passed my checklist task. As I did before Myrtle Beach, I put my iPod on and bounced around the room to whatever came up. "Staying Alive" -- the 1997 version by Wyclef. By the time that private episode was over, Aaron was up. I grabbed a bagel, a banana and a half-cup of black coffee and we were off.

Our plan to avoid the crowds and park close to the starting line was flawless. Too flawless. We were at the starting line by 6:30 for an 8 a.m. start. [We] took at least three shots at the porta potties during that time. The last thing you want is to have to duck into the woods as you try to pace yourself through 26.2 miles. It was cold, and because we weren't checking bags, I just had an old long-sleeve dri-fit shirt on over my singlet, and a Redskins hat that Aaron gave me. Two things I planned on donating to the side of the street. People often ask how you warm up for a marathon and the answer is, you warm up during the first 10 miles. So, we waited. Shortly after the National Anthem, [we were] in the 2:30-2:59 corral. We exchange high-fives and wouldn't see each other again until the finish.

A World War II cannon took us from stagnant to striding. It was an incredible feeling to have the race underway. Eighteen weeks of hard training all for this day. For those of you who have not run marathons, it's important to know that it is yes, a race of speed and strength, but it also takes a wise runner -- often an older runner -- to complete it successfully. I don't claim to be one, but I know and train with a lot of them. All of them made it very clear that running at what feels like a painfully slow pace and running consistently is the key to not blowing up at the end. This was something I did not understand until I raced Myrtle Beach last February, and experienced pain I say may only be rivaled by giving birth (clearly, I do not know this from experience) for five consecutive miles. With the adrenaline going and the crowd cheering, it's a challenge, but hitting the wall is much more of a challenge.

The watch said 6:14 at Mile 1. Perfect. 6:18 was my goal pace; the pace for a 2:45. Everyone was right, it felt terribly slow. Fortunately, last weekend I ran the [LungStrong 15K] at the pace, so my body knew what it felt like. For the next few miles, I looked for "running buddies." I had a brief chat with a guy named Kevin, looking to break 2:50, but he ended up getting roped into the battle between the USMC and the Royal Navy that was happening in front of me. I knew a lot of those guys were quick and decided to be a spectator in the intercontinental road war.

By Mile 4, we were heading into Georgetown, a more crowded portion of the course. I had linked up with a former Division 3 stud from Pennsylvania who was running his first marathon, but looking to go 2:45. I told him we'd work together ... and he provided some good conversation. Took my first water at Mile 4, and from there on out, alternated between water and Powerade at each stop.

The next several miles proved to be incredibly hilly. Marine Corp is advertised as a flat course, but even as someone who trains on hilly terrain, I would say the advertisement is false. We climbed up M Street into the only real neighborhood area of the course. That's where we faced another steep uphill before a nice rolling downhill into Mile 8. The pace had dropped to 6:06, ambitious and dangerous. At the Mile 8 marker, the front pack passed by the HUGE crowd going through Mile 5.

Rolling into Mile 9 is where the crowd support became unbelievable. Crowds of people five, six deep, holding signs, clanging cowbells, blaring music ... all in support of family, friends or total strangers. At some points, it was like running through the tunnel of a football stadium. Deafening. Goosebumps. The crowd on the back steps of the Lincoln Memorial was like nothing I had ever seen. It gave the mind a chance to detach from the legs and focus on surroundings. A needed break. At the 15K point my watch said 57:15. Too fast. I told the Pa. runner, and he said he felt OK. I decided to err on the side of conservation and back off. I wouldn't see him for a while.

The final 17.2 miles would be my own journey. At Mile 10, I could see the Kennedy Center on my left, the Potomac on my right. This is where [a friend] told me to start picking people off. When I first [heard] that, I thought to myself "far too early to kick," but out on the road, it started to make sense. Runners who had gone out with the force of our starting cannon were beginning to pay for their mistake. One by one, I started to move up. Aaron's parents were moving strategically around the course, shouting out my place. Mile 11: 74th. Through the park surrounding the Tidal Basin, I caught up with the first and second female runners, watching these two elites battle it out before passing them.

1:20 at the half marathon point. To call it the halfway point would be a misnomer. It gets much harder from here. Each mile more painful, and more mentally draining. 1:20 was a bit fast and put me at 2:41. I was angry with myself because I got carried away leading up to the 15K, but happy there was some cushion time now to absorb the blow of a BONK.

I continued to pick off runners from Miles 13-16, down Constitution Avenue, by the front of the Capitol Building, onto the Mall. Aaron's dad shouted, "You're moving up. 67th place." His mom handed me my second vanilla Gu.

A certain mental relief comes with Mile 17. Single digits left. Problem was, I never saw the Mile 17 marker. Now, I was worried I had slowed tremendously. Mile 18 was a welcome sight. Let me take a second to describe the mile markers. Most were giant yellow arrows held by course volunteers. Each twirled as if it were a baton. When you are running such a distance, mile markers break the race into segments, and making them something interesting to look at is a nice touch. Along the same lines, the water stops were organized to perfection. It was lines of uniformed Marines each holding a cup in their palm. Powerade in the red cups, water in the white. Each marine had something encouraging to say to the passing runner. Every 20 minutes or so, a Blackhawk helicopter flew overhead, low, loud and with a patriotic feel.

Mile 19. 61st place. One mile and the real race starts.

Most marathoners will tell you that the marathon is two races. There's a 20-mile race and then the 6.2-mile painful run to the finish. Mile 20 took us over what seemed like an incredibly long bridge and back into Virginia. On the bridge -- few spectators -- a man dressed as the grim reaper holding a sign that said "The End Is Near." It was. It was near for the Pa. runner. I could see him getting closer to me before he eventually stopped to walk. I felt his pain. This is the point of the race where I started waiting for the "wall". It hit me at Mile 21.5 in Myrtle Beach. Would I fall victim again?

The thought haunted me as I entered Crystal City. It was a loop. I could see the leaders. I was in 50th ... clicking off 6:18s. I circled around past Mile 23 and was headed back out the way I came. Aaron was headed in. We exchanged cheers. No wall. 3.2 miles to go. Now, Kevin, who had gone out with the Royal Navy, was walking.

Miles 24 and 25 came with a terrible headwind. Can you run into the wind and not get Bob Seger in your head? I dare you. As I ran through the parking lot of the Pentagon, I looked down at my watch. 2.2 miles to go, 2:31. If I could keep the pace, not succumb to the horrible pain that was shooting up through my legs, I was going to make it. I was in 46th place. We exited the Pentagon, onto a highway that would lead us to the finish. Two runners with a kick motored past me. 48th. No one else could pass me. Earlier in the race, I had adopted a new goal: finish in the top 50 of the fifth-largest marathon in the United States. The homestretch was in sight. I saw Aaron's parents one last time. I turned down an offer for a final Gu. I could eat in just minutes. Mile 26, and I look at my watch. 2:43:50. I can break my goal. I took the sharp left toward the Iwo Jima monument ... the finish line. Some sadist put the finish line at the top of the steepest hill on the course. Of course at this point, a speed bump would feel like Mount McKinley. I started to falter. A Marine came out of the crowd and screamed at me. "You can't quit now!" He was right. I picked it up and motored toward the finish, crossing the line and looking down at my watch. 2:44:35. 48th place. Fourteen minutes faster than my debut marathon.

A Marine lieutenant slipped the heavy finisher's medal around my neck and shook my hand, addressing me as "Sir." I'd be lying if I said it wasn't emotional. It was even more emotional seeing Aaron cross the same line less than two minutes later. He'd shattered his goal. Months of logging thousands of miles together had paid off.

There's a lot more background and stories to tell about the race, the weeks leading up to it, and the hours following it. But, if you've made it this far, you've read enough of my rambling. What's next? I know I'll run Boston in April, but I am going to take the next couple of weeks to relax. Running will go back to basics for a while. No goal, just good conversation, better friends and stopping when I feel like stopping.

Jay Holder, with Ieva Augstums (also of Charlotte), after Sunday's marathon.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

How'd Charlotteans do at Marine Corps?

The 2009 Marine Corps Marathon was run on Sunday morning by more than 20,000 participants, including scores of our neighbors. Here are finish times for many of the greater Charlotte-area runners who took the 26.2-mile spin through our nation's capital. (For the full results database, click here.)

Jason Holder, 2:44:35
Aaron Linz, 2:45:52
Billy Shue, 2:57:19
Tim Friederichs, 2:59:38
Todd Patterson, 3:11:37
William Breland, 3:14:06
Timothy Russell, 3:19:58
Dave Knavel, 3:21:19
Joel Thomas, 3:25:31
Kevin Creedon, 3:27:56
John Chambers, 3:28:04
Michael Ham, 3:28:54
Bryan Griffith, 3:30:56
Shenna Kevorkian, 3:31:16
Casey Malone, 3:31:27
Luke Maybry, 3:31:44
Brian Graboski, 3:32:03
Chris Cronk, 3:34:05
Mary K Bridgers, 3:38:22
Brent Jacobsen, 3:38:54
Richard Bonfanti, 3:42:27
Boriana Bakaltcheva, 3:46:37
Jean Paul Michaud, 3:50:22
Angela Corio, 3:51:18
Vinny Spaulding, 3:52:20
Bruce Dennis, 3:53:29
Ted Danser, 3:56:25
Luke Smith, 3:56:27
Cris Kulikowski, 3:56:45
Jeffrey Hicks, 3:58:21
Jason Boulware, 3:58:49
Arthur Forgette, 4:00:13
Patrick Ryan, 4:01:14
Erin Crane, 4:01:23
Mischell Christmas, 4:02:44
Kimberleigh Welsh, 4:02:59
Rebecca Dunder, 4:03:13
Robert Treff, 4:04:00
Carolyn Hoopes, 4:04:17
Melissa Johnson, 4:06:23
Kathy Lee, 4:09:25
Patrick Beach, 4:11:40
Tanner Bacon, 4:12:07
Garry Washburn, 4:12:42
Deanna Pennetta, 4:12:50
Shannon O'Donnell, 4:13:13
Thomas O'Donnell Jr., 4:13:14
Wayne Johnson, 4:13:59
Jeffrey Haas, 4:14:27
John Martin, 4:14:53
Manda Gold, 4:15:04
Maria Packard, 4:15:05
James Nebus, 4:15:43
Stacey Hien, 4:16:10
John Myers, 4:18:50
Jim Kabrich, 4:19:12
Vikram Datta, 4:19:37
Michael Griffin, 4:19:50
Mark Shuler, 4:19:52
Steven Sanford, 4:20:41
Thomas Ferrell, 4:21:05
Emily Hansen, 4:21:36
Jack Shannon, 4:22:36
Sean Higbea, 4:24:34
Jody Dennis, 4:26:05
Ryan Danner, 4:30:17
Timothy Eichenbrenner, 4:33:37
Shawn Matthews, 4:34:25
Lucretia Holland, 4:36:40
Stephen Saunders, 4:38:29
Cory Brasness, 4:38:59
Stephen Mendoza, 4:39:14
Samuel Sayson, 4:39:14
Jessica Douglas, 4:39:37
Christopher Mann, 4:42:04
Allen Hackman, 4:42:17
Victoria Windell, 4:45:11
Daniel Stowe, 4:45:21
Malya Alperin, 4:46:41
Rick Begovich, 4:48:03
Nancy Scott, 4:48:55
June Carraway, 4:49:02
Terry McCabe, 4:50:27
Harry Harden, 4:51:37
Rachelle Chretien, 4:51:51
Jessica Hudson, 4:51:51
Katti Koehl, 4:52:27
Thomas Brown, 4:53:56
Landon Dunn, 4:54:47
Kristen Sharpe, 4:55:25
Cara Heath, 4:55:39
Suset Gibson, 4:58:34
Robert Hawks, 4:59:03
Leo Dunn, 5:00:02
Jessica Loehe, 5:01:37
John Carter, 5:03:03
Anthony Gawlik, 5:04:07
Erika Irrera, 5:05:19
Thomas Ludden, 5:05:28
Ieva Augstums, 5:10:13
Allison Aiken, 5:11:00
Susan Slattery Rogers, 5:12:25
Tiffani Wagner, 5:16:00
Jennifer Rollar, 5:21:39
Stephen Geis, 5:25:11
Tracey Gardella, 5:31:05
Linda Clauberg Driscoll, 5:33:35
Jorge Gonzalez, 5:33:44
Craig Tabler, 5:34:14
Shelley Clayton, 5:36:23
Emily Finck, 5:38:07
Stephanie Jennings, 5:40:41
Peter Jakuc, 5:40:52
Sarah Geis, 5:41:09
Steven Wright, 5:43:50
Lisa Baker, 5:45:17
Jennae Fahy, 5:47:14
Staci Bacon, 5:48:03
Jason Winslow, 5:57:03
Justin Angotti, 5:58:08
David Gilpin, 5:59:32
Lisa Gilpin, 5:59:33
Andre Fouant, 6:03:36
Molly Harrington, 6:08:18
Rodney Rogers, 6:15:28
Brendan Boone, 6:19:40
Lindsey Anderson, 6:21:07
Noelle Dougherty, 6:25:12
Aaron Smith, 6:44:48
Ernest Cornell, 6:49:26
Vickie Jacobsen, 7:21:14

Mia Griggs, 3:17:24
Edward Morse, 3:20:39
Mike Fisher, 3:49:22
David Jordan, 3:57:17
Richard Seay, 3:57:54
Keely Ragar, 4:01:06
Gavin Knudson, 4:09:34
Emily Knudson, 4:13:32
Elizabeth Newsome, 5:19:37
David Black, 5:35:12

Adam Mayes, 3:06:12
Travis Edwards, 3:57:20
Laura Minnich, 4:09:14
Brian Kirby, 4:53:47

Mark Ippolito, 3:44:35
Ann Santoli, 4:56:53
William Latham, 5:43:19

Jason Sanders, 4:31:45
Katherine Sanders, 4:31:45
Ron Grenier, 4:58:16
David Hooks, 5:10:13

Rachel Tanis, 4:29:05
James Pierce, 4:33:38
Jennifer Schmidt, 4:42:16

Terrance Robinson, 3:32:28
Kristyn Dunn, 4:20:35
Rebecca Schusler, 4:26:58
Kara Pettie, 4:31:41
Peter Viola, 4:32:17
Elizabeth Michels, 4:35:16

Rob Danison, 4:05:13
Kevin Kelly, 4:17:02

Donald Silleman, 3:39:41
Robert Mersch, 3:44:14
Brian Wetherell II, 3:46:44
Rick Shooman, 3:46:55
Vicky Alonso, 4:14:15
Chad Coltrane, 5:06:27
Jean Ayers, 5:34:01
Steven Ayers, 5:34:01
Bill Caskey, 5:48:44
Rae Silleman, 6:08:03
Dexter Pepperman, 3:11:24
Brad Beane, 4:11:15
Barney Megargee, 5:17:02
Elisha Pepperman, 5:47:30

Brian Donehoo, 3:31:05
Diane Laczko, 3:38:00
Darren Zino, 3:49:08
Edward Lowder, 4:08:54
Bruce Hui, 4:25:14
Kevin Cowan, 4:36:15
Donald Carter, 5:26:33
Alison Combs, 5:43:21

Joe Schlereth, 3:47:51
Lidel Magno, 5:50:48

Carly Behrmann, 3:35:35
Bill Moran, 3:39:24
Stephen Day, 4:11:04
Jeffrey Randall, 4:24:36
Sondra Patton, 5:11:35

My goals for the NYC Marathon

People keep asking me what my goal is for the ING New York City Marathon, which I'll run exactly one week from now.

"What are you shooting for?" "What's your goal pace?" "You thinking about Boston at all?"

In a few cases, I suspect other runners are sizing me up, trying to determine roughly how fast I am (if they don't already know), or attempting to figure out roughly how inflated my sense of self is. Most of the time, though, it's a perfectly innocent question -- a conversation starter, just something to talk about on a run or while hanging out, as casual as asking about the Panthers.

Up to this point, I've been waffling on the answer ... for a few reasons. First of all, there's a little bit of a fear of commitment; if I say something, it's "out there," and then I feel like there'll be unnecessary pressure to perform. I'm also concerned about the weather, how I'm feeling that particular morning, and about the sheer size of the crowds in NY.

And then there's the fact that this is my first marathon. I know in training what kind of paces I can put up. I know what I can do in shorter races, in 5Ks, in a 10K, in a 15K. But while I've done long runs of 20 miles (give or take one or two) four times, I've never gone 26.2 -- and I've heard it said that the race doesn't really begin till Mile 20. In other words, maybe I'll fly through the first 20, then smash into the wall at 23 and limp through the last three doing 12-minute miles.

Still ... I'm naturally competitive. I use a Garmin, I keep logs of my training, I crunch numbers, I make forecasts, and I know what my pace needs to be next Sunday to hit 4 hours, to hit 3:50, 3:40, 3:30, 3:20, to qualify for the Boston Marathon.

So I certainly have been kicking around possible goals since the day I signed up last spring.

Let me tell you what my goal isn't: I'm not qualifying for Boston. I'm 36 years old, and I would need to ride a bike for the last 6.2 miles to come in at 3:15:59 or faster.

Beyond that? Well, I've been telling people lately that my goal is to finish with a smile on my face. (Though to be honest, in thinking about it right now, I wonder if that's a realistic goal given how exhausted -- and how in need of a triple cheeseburger -- I'll be at that point.)

I've also told plenty of people that I want to accomplish three key things: 1) get to the starting line healthy and injury-free, 2) get to the finish line, and 3) finish in less than four hours. (I co-opted these from a running buddy, Chris, who sadly wound up hurting himself and had to miss today's Marine Corps Marathon in D.C.) These are practical, attainable, and respectable goals, especially for a first marathon.

But as race day has gotten nearer, I've had to do some more thinking about my plan of attack. I want to wear my Garmin, and I want to be able to hold back early on, going out slow and warming up into my race pace. Of course, this means it would be helpful to come up with a pace to start at, and a pace to work up to ... which means I need to nail down some idea of a goal pace ... which would give me some sense of an expected finish time.

My thought process is pretty simple: I feel like 4 hours is a great marathon time, but it just doesn't challenge me enough; 9:09 miles are way slower than I've been training. 3:30, on the other hand, represents a pace I routinely hit in longer runs -- 8-minute miles -- but still seems too ambitious since I have no marathon experience; it feels like I'd be setting myself up for disappointment (or a big crash in the final miles).

Which leads me to a pretty obvious conclusion: 3 hours, 45 minutes.

So there you have it -- my first public admission of a specific time goal for NYC. I honestly don't know whether I feel better or worse having finally gotten something official off my chest. Ask me again in about a week.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Odds + ends for my running friends

A few interesting nuggets to pass along on this gorgeous fall day:

One other Saturday race out in Gastonia that I forgot to mention: the CaroMont Candlelight 8K, which offers both a rare distance and a rare nighttime start -- the gun goes off at 8 p.m. The race, which starts and finishes at Gaston Memorial Hospital (2525 Court Drive), is a benefit to support HealthNet Gaston, a county-wide initiative that gives medical assistance to low-income and uninsured residents of Gaston County. Monetary prizes will be awarded. Registration is $20 through Thursday (click here to sign up). There's also a 4K and a kids fun run called the Pumpkin Chase. Race site is here, although it seemed to be having technical difficulties this afternoon.

The Thunder Road Marathon is recruiting volunteers for the big Dec. 12 event, which includes the 26.2-miler, a half marathon and a 5K. In addition to being involved with Charlotte's only marathon, you'll be supporting thousands of fellow runners and an event that benefits local non-profits; oh, and you'll get a cool long-sleeve volunteer T-shirt. Register as an individual, or grab some friends and make it a group effort. Remember: An event this big needs more than just the runners to be a success. Interested? Click here; the site lists the available volunteer positions and times help is needed. Questions? E-mail Jessica Douglas at

Looking for some running buddies? The Charlotte Runners Meetup Group hooks up Wednesdays at 6:30 p.m. at Charlotte Running Co. in Dilworth for the "Pick Your Distance Run." According to the store's newsletter, runners can choose from four, six or eight miles -- "basically there is an eight-mile route that runs by Charlotte Running Co. three times. You just jump off when you're ready." Wear reflective clothing or a running light, since it gets dark early now. An added perk: Participants get 15 percent off purchases made before the run. Charlotte Running Co. is at 1412 East Blvd., Suite. G. For more info, click here or call 704-377-8786.

Charlotte Running Club chairman Aaron Linz invites Charlotteans headed up to D.C. for Sunday's Marine Corps Marathon to join him and other CRC members at an informal/casual post-race celebration. Meeting place is the Cowboy Cafe, a bar and grill right across the Potomac River, at 4792 Lee Highway in Arlington (703-243-8010). Aaron describes it as "a tiny place with a lot of character. Fun place to have some drinks with friends and relax over some food. ... Please feel free to join us in celebration at 4 p.m. Leaves enough time for a nap after the marathon!"

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

And we're off to the races...

In addition to UNC Charlotte's 4.NINER K, Saturday's race calendar offers a couple of other smaller options worth considering:

The Brookhaven 5K Fun Run/Walk at Brookhaven subdivision at Weddington-Matthews and Antioch Church roads in Matthews: This is the second year for an event that benefits Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy, with proceeds going to the fight against Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, a fatal genetic disorder among children. (A 5-year-old Brookhaven resident named Jake is a sufferer.) Action starts at 9 a.m. in front of the subdivision's clubhouse. In addition to the 5K run/walk, there are one-mile, 100-yard, and 40-yard races for kids. The 5K is $15; see the race site for other details or to learn more about Jake and muscular dystrophy. The registration page is here.

The Jack O Lantern Jaunt at Frank Liske Park (4001 Stough Road) in Concord: Sleep in all you want Saturday, because this 10th annual event doesn't start till 4:45 p.m. After the two-mile cross country run and the one-mile "fun run"/walk conclude, a 5K race goes off at 5:15. The courses all stay within the Frank Liske Park grounds. In addition to age group awards, there'll be awards given to the runner wearing the best and worst costumes. Registration is $10 for the fun run, $15 for the two-miler, and $21 for the 5K. For more info or to register, click here.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Will running a marathon kill you?

It's hard to ignore the steady stream of reports of deaths at big-city races around the country in the past few weeks. Two runners died at the San Jose Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon on Oct. 4. A marathoner collapsed at the Baltimore Running Festival on Oct. 10. And then on Saturday, three men died while running the Detroit Marathon (one had just completed the half).

Obviously, these are terrible tragedies. Terrible, and puzzling. You can't say this happens all the time, because it doesn't: In Baltimore, there hadn't been a death since 2001; in Detroit, it had been 15 years since a runner died during the race. You can't say it happens only to older runners, because all but one of the six recent victims were 36 or younger. And it's not just men -- one of the two who died in California was female.

You can say, however, that the odds of this happening to you during your fall distance race are very, very, very slim. As noted in the story about the Detroit deaths, "Minneapolis cardiologist Kevin Harris presented a study this year at the American College of Cardiology's 58th Annual Scientific Session showing the death rate for marathons was 0.8 per 100,000 participants."

Anyway, I know your non-running friends are going crazy forwarding you all these links to all these articles about the marathon fatalities. And hey, it's OK to feel sympathy for the families of the victims. But don't let people scare you.

Remember: There were 50,000 runners at these three events who all had the experience of a lifetime.

If you want a medical perspective, check out this decent Q&A with a running cardiologist/expert published today on the Runner's World Web site.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

'Listen to your body' (try to, at least)

Listen to your body. Listen to your body. LISTEN TO YOUR BODY.

When you're sick, when you're hurt, when you're overtired, these four words haunt so many runners. It's like -- sorry in advance for getting this one stuck in your head -- the "Poker Face" of admonitions.

But why is the best piece of advice also the hardest to follow?

For the past week, I've had some tenderness on the outer part of the ball of my left foot. Since Wednesday, I've had a cold. On both Wednesday and Thursday nights, I only got about six hours of sleep.

So there I was in my bathroom this morning, standing in front of the mirror with two hours to go till the LungStrong 15K (and with two weeks to go till my first marathon), congested, a little achy, pretty exhausted. The little angel on my shoulder is cooing Listen to your body ... the little devil on the other one is calling the little angel's mama some really hateful things.

I'm telling you, I stood there like an idiot for about 15 minutes letting these two voices slug it out. I thought about the amount of Kleenex I'd been going through. I thought about how good climbing back into bed would feel. I thought about New York. And at one point, I actually started texting my friend Diane to tell her good luck, that I was feeling too miserable so wouldn't be joining them for their warmup.

But -- and you know how this goes -- that little devil is a powerful sonofagun. I thought about missing the time with my friends. I thought about missing a race and a course I'd been looking forward to tackling for months, and that I wouldn't get a chance to run again for 12 more. I thought, If I can just get through this, it's all downhill from here. I'll have made it to taper time. To sleep-in time. To chicken soup and orange juice time.

What's the difference between courage and stupidity?

Well, I think this is what courage looks like: It's Curt Schilling in Game 2 of the 2004 World Series, pitching the Red Sox to victory against the Cardinals despite fresh sutures to patch up a torn tendon in his ankle. It's Chicago Bulls hero Michael Jordan fighting through a violent bout with food poisoning and a stomach virus during Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals and scoring 38 points to bury Utah. It's Greg Louganis cracking his head open on the diving board at the 1988 Summer Olympics yet finishing his qualifying dives before going to the hospital to get five stitches.

There's a good chance, meanwhile, that stupidity is me saying "Hell with it," plucking the angel off my shoulder, getting in the car, and heading for Cornelius -- and that's exactly what I did.

The difference is that Schilling and Jordan and Louganis ... well, they're champions, for one thing. I mean, there's the obvious stuff. They're professionals (or in Louganis' case, close enough). It was do-or-die time for all of them. There were things at stake that were bigger than them -- teammates, national pride.

For me, I really had nothing to gain and everything to lose by going out there this morning.

But I think that deep down, there really is only a fine line between courage and stupidity. It's only our level of ability that makes us different from superhuman athletes, or even from the man or the woman standing next to you at the start. We're all out there because we're competitive. Not necessarily because we're particularly courageous or remarkably stupid, but because we're competitive.

My point is, while I'll encourage you up and down the street to listen to your body, I'll understand why you didn't if you don't.

[Theoden finished the LungStrong 15K this morning in 1:07:55, beating his goal by more than two minutes. His foot feels pretty good, his cough is now productive, and he's about to take a long nap.]

LungStrong: Was it good for you?

Facebook friends share their thoughts on the Lungstrong 15K, held this morning in Cornelius:

Stan Austin (1:01:50): "It was perfect running weather. The jacket and gloves sure felt good afterward, though."

Jason Gardner (1:19:30): "Thought it was a good race. I enjoyed getting to [see all] the 5K runners [coming at us on Jetton Road]. I did not enjoy the cold wind on the way back and a couple of over-anxious drivers coming a bit to close to me. I went into the race with the goal of using it as a training run for the marathon so I'm not sure how I would have felt about it if I was pushing harder."

Karen Graboski (1:33:59, with a knee injury): "It was fun. It probably would have been more fun if it was a little warmer, sunnier, etc., but can't ask for it all. New shoes from last night and some funky tape for the knee and I almost made my 90-minute cut off time. Hobble on!"

Megan Hepp Hovis (overall female winner, in 55:40): "I had a blast out there today. I have not raced in Charlotte since this race last year. I could not miss my favorite course! Set a new PR for myself for the course and that makes me optimistic going into the OBX marathon in a few weeks. Love, love, love the scenery on this course!!"

Stacey Hien (1:23:12): "Great race! PR for me on that course!! Good race for the week before Marine Corps Marathon. Great support on the course that had more turns than any race I've ever run. Great cause. I'm friends with [a] lung cancer survivor [and] I ran for her today!! Run for someone who can't!!"

Aaron Linz (57:57): "Very cool course. A lot of turns, but volunteers did well to direct folks. Love the [Snickers] Marathon Bars."

Brian Sammons (1:03:21): "Great course and near-perfect running weather. Had a lot of fun out there, I hear the beer could have been better -- I had to [leave right afterward] -- but all in all a great run on a great course!"

Allen Strickland (1:07:46): "Today's cool conditions made things infinitely better than the unseasonably warm Saturday a week ago. I came through the [first] 10K nearly four minutes faster than [my time at a] 10K time [I ran] last week. ... Some of us might have gone even faster if we didn't have to run off the road, up an embankment, to avoid a firetruck. All in all, I felt like it was a great race."

Bill Waterson (1:20:52): "I had a great time. I loved the course. I also had a PR for a 15K. OK, so it was my first one..."

[For full 15K results, click here. For full 5K results, click here.]

Thoughts on today's race? Go ahead and click that comment button!

Friday, October 16, 2009

UNCC hopes 4.9 is a magic number

A brand-new race set for Saturday, Oct. 24, on the campus of UNC Charlotte offers runners a guaranteed PR and an opportunity to help keep needy students in the university's classrooms.

About that PR: This is not your typical 5K. In fact, it's not a 5K at all. It's a 4.9K ... which is apropos when you consider that the UNCC mascot is the 49ers. So unless you've run another 4.9-kilometer race -- and I'm pretty sure San Francisco hasn't thought of this yet -- you're certain to put up a personal best if you run the school's inaugural 4.NINER K.

About those needy students: OK, so here's the deal: State budget cuts to need-based financial aid are leaving scores of UNCC students (1,300 last year alone) unable to continue their enrollment. This event is an outgrowth of the university's Stake Your Claim identity campaign, and its aim is "to help keep students in school who would otherwise need to drop out before next semester." One hundred percent of all race proceeds will support this cause, said race co-organizer Edna Dash of the university relations and community affairs office.

Pre-registration fees for the first-ever 4.NINER K run/walk are $15 for UNCC students, $26 for single runners/walkers, and $49 for couples or families of four (children ages 14 and younger can participate for free). Day-of registration will be higher. Click here for more info on the event, or to register.

Oh, and the start time? Runners take off at -- but of course -- 8:49 a.m. from the new Student Union on Craver Road.

In addition to a post-race barbecue, "49er Fan Day" will be held beginning at 11 a.m. inside Halton Arena, where UNCC men's and women’s basketball teams will hold scrimmages and sign autographs.

4.NINER K race partners include the Charlotte Observer, and Chartwells.

No Jell-O shots in Steamtown??

I mentioned earlier this month that top local runner Danielle Walther had a "super secret" goal of going sub-3:00 at the Steamtown Marathon in Scranton, Pa. Missed it by that much.

Still, Danielle's 3:00:37 was a PR by more than 27 minutes, and was good enough to make her the day's fifth-fastest woman -- 49th overall out of 1,890 total finishers. She also earned an elite start in the 2010 Chicago Marathon.

After giving her quads a few days to heal, she hopped on her computer Thursday night and banged out for us a recap of her experience at Steamtown, a downhill marathon that was name-dropped on a recent episode of NBC's "The Office":

"For starters, it was COLD. The Weather Channel promised 40; at the start, it was 33. I was cold throughout, but that is much better than being too hot.

The first 10 miles felt pretty easy. Naturally, because [that part of] the course was primarily downhill. [But] the downhills were a lot harder on me than I anticipated. Making sure you didn’t hit the pavement too hard and too fast was difficult, and once I finally got to the flat it felt like running slightly uphill because I had gotten so used to running downhill.

The second 10 miles went really fast. I was chugging along -- averaged 6:50 per mile. During my training, I had started to feel pretty tired and sore by mile 17, but I made it to 20 feeling OK and on pace for my sub-three hours.

At 20, my hamstrings and calves started to tighten up, but nothing so bad that I could not maintain my pace. At 21, my quads went from feeling fine to burning. I knew they would start to bother me at some point due to all the downhill running, but I was surprised just how suddenly [the pain came on].

Although I cruised through Mile 22 still on pace, the wheels were starting to come off. There were no Jell-O shots at Mile 23 as promised on 'The Office.' The hills started right at the end of mile 23 with the steepest climb of the day. I was too tired to curse the course designer. ...
During those last four miles, I was pushing harder than I had the previous 22, but my legs just would not go 6:50 pace anymore. I averaged 7:10 for the last 4.2 miles.

At the top of the very last hill, at which point you can see the finish, someone had set up speakers and was continuously playing 'Born to Run.' As a huge Bruce Springsteen fan, [this gave me] one last burst of energy...

The overall atmosphere was really good for a small marathon. There were a good number of fans spread out on the course, the only time there really were not fans out cheering was when we were in the woods for three miles. Some people set up their own aid stations and handed out water bottles, oranges, lollipops, and Vaseline sticks. It was truly impressive.

I was incredibly lucky to have a huge cheering section throughout the course. Between my parents and my future in-laws, there were six people screaming for me at a total of nine different spots. They were even counting the women in front of me and telling me how far back I was or how close the woman behind me was. It made a huge difference. The biggest help was running with my training partner and having help staying focused, motivated and on pace.

Despite not hitting my super-secret goal, I am really happy."

Danielle, the leader in the women's overall standings for the 2009 Run For Your Life Grand Prix Series, will run the LungStrong 15K in Lake Norman Saturday. It's the final race of the series, but she technically doesn't even have to run it to clinch the title.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

A 6-hour marathoner, and proud of it

I often write about people who are fast. About runners who routinely are bringing home trophies from local races, about athletes with a ton of natural ability.

But for every one of these superspeedy men and women, there are thousands upon thousands of us who are grinding out the miles in complete anonymity, who will never win a race, who have to make up for average or below-average athleticism through sheer power of will.

Anyway, after compiling the times put up by Charlotte participants at the Chicago Marathon last weekend, I briefly flirted with the idea of reaching out to the fastest finisher in the area for an interview. Then I thought, Why not talk to the slowest?

That's how I came to interview Julia Bousman Vertreese, a 36-year-old paralegal who crossed the mat Sunday in 6:02:07 -- a time that on the surface seems so unremarkable ... but a time that was a PR for her and becomes increasingly inspiring the more you talk to her.

Since December 2006, the wife and mother of one has run four marathons -- including two this year alone -- using a run/walk technique influenced by the well-known Galloway training programs; Julia has also run four half-marathons in the past three years.

If you're a rather slow runner, hopefully you'll find in her a kindred spirit. And if you're rather fast? Well, she'll explain what you might be missing out on as you fly through the course.

Q. How'd you get started running?

In the summer of '06, I felt a strong urge to accomplish something on my own as well as a desire to give back and be a helpful part of society. As if the universe felt me flailing about in search for that "thing," I received a mailer from the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's Team in Training. And there it was ... the answer: run a marathon to raise money for an organization that help hundreds of thousands of people -- including a dear friend from college who was fighting lymphoma -- and will train me to run the marathon. How's that for full circle!? The catch, and the challenge: I am an asthmatic who had never run a mile. Wondering if I'd lost my mind but filled with determination, I completed my registration card to join the North Charlotte chapter of Team in Training, mailed it in, attended an information/kick-off meeting in early August of '06 and was on my way.

Q. What was the Team in Training experience like?

Those five months of training were life-changing. I quickly realized that I was never going to qualify for Boston -- and I am OK with that -- but I found in myself a desire and determination that I didn't know existed. Sadly, in that five-month period, the lives of so many people I love dearly changed as well. In October of '06, my dad was diagnosed with colon cancer and in December, a week before Christmas, my cousin was diagnosed with leukemia. In January, I completed my first marathon in Phoenix with their names on the back of my shirt while mentally chanting, "This is so much easier than chemo." Two days later, I was on looking for my next race. [Note: Julia's dad is on year three of being cancer-free and her cousin "is living a happy, healthy life" with her husband and three teenage sons.]

Q. How was Chicago?

Chicago was FANTASTIC. The city put on a clinic for how races should be organized. In all the races I've run, none compare with respect to organization and crowd support.

Q. Did you go in with goals?

I always go with two goals: 1. to finish and 2. to beat my previous time. The latter doesn't always happen but I'm OK with that. This time, I achieved both goals. Additionally, I was really hoping to break the six-hour mark and missed that by two minutes.

Q. Can you talk about the run-walk method you use when you do marathons?

Because races are typically very slow in the beginning because of the crowds, I run the first mile to get warmed up -- and pure adrenaline carries me for a bit. From there, I run for five minutes and walk for one minute and as I get tired or sore or what have you, I lessen the running part. ... My approach is always to finish with hopes of improving -- and beyond that, I want to take in everything that I can on whatever course I'm on. For example, on Sunday we ran through Chinatown and it was a great community. I slowed down and took it all in. In fact, there's a picture of me in Chinatown and it appears as if I might just be standing still. Oh well, it was wonderful. There was an elderly man banging a gong and people were in shop windows on a narrow street. If I concentrated more on running and less on the surroundings, I would have made that six-hour goal ... but at what cost? What would I have missed? The Galloway method allows me to walk occasionally and look around in a city or part of a city that I've never seen. For me, it's part of the total experience.

Q. How much of a factor is your asthma?

The first two miles always suck, for lack of a better way of putting it. As an asthmatic there are so many contributing factors to a good run -- the temperature, the humidity, your tempo, your breathing patterns, did I remember the inhaler, blah, blah, blah. I resent my asthma, can you tell? But after two miles, my lungs start cooperating and I know if I can find my zone, my rhythm and get past the first two miles, I'm good. After that, it's all about getting the miles in no matter how ugly or slow it is.

Q. I'm told you do all of these races alone. Why?

For me the running -- more specifically the races -- is a very personal journey. It's my thing. It has nothing to do with me being a mommy or a wife or a daughter or a sister or even a friend. It's about my desire and determination to complete something that quite honestly is extraordinary. Aside from any injury, freak accident or oddity on the course, my success or failure, my speed or lack of, my net time to the finish line, etc., is all determined by me. And although I have a tremendous amount of support from my family and friends throughout training and even during the races via text messages, I feel so empowered and proud when I cross the finish line knowing that I did just that -- I finished. I do have to admit that part of my desire to run alone is the self-imposed pressure and sometimes the anxiety to perform at a certain level if I'm with others. I don't want to feel like I'm holding someone back. I don't want to feel pressured into keeping up with another runner. I want to run comfortably without thinking or worrying or stressing.

Q. Do you talk to other runners throughout races?

I do talk to other runners and some pretty neat ones at that! Again, it's part of the overall experience. ... [But] there are plenty of stretches where I run alone, go into a zone and just run/walk. I enjoy those times just as much. I shut out the world and I think about everything from my son to my next pair of fabulous shoes to how crazy marathoners must be to how much and what kinds of food I'm going to eat (inhale) after the race. Sometimes a mile or two can go by and I have no idea what happened or how I got there. Running is my time, my experience ... mentally and physically.

Q. Does putting up slower times ever make you self-conscious?

Sometimes. People in my training group run four-hour marathons and look great doing it. Oftentimes I'm the last person in from a training run and as we sit around at breakfast I can laugh about it and the majority of the time it doesn't bother me. Other times it does, but never so much that I'll stop running. When I was at the expo for the Phoenix race in January of '07, one of the speakers said that only 2 percent of Americans will ever complete a marathon. Although I'm sure that number has gone up ... holy moly! I'm in that 2 percent! And there are typically plenty of slow runners right along with me so I'm not alone in the world of slow times. ... Occasionally a person asks my time, I tell them, and this look of what seems to be disgust comes across their face, or they tell me it's ridiculous that it takes that long. I just smile and move on. That person is either a running snob and isn't supportive so I don't care what they think, or that person isn't a part of the 2 percent and has no idea what it takes to complete a 26.2-mile course. They don't get to lessen my accomplishment.

Q. I'm sure you get plenty of positive feedback, though, too. Right?

There's a hundred times more positive than negative. I posted a few pictures of the race on my Facebook page and have received some very nice comments. My friend, Rodney, who I have known since elementary school, lost touch with after high school and found again thanks to Facebook, just posted this message, "I've probably said this to you before, but seeing you run these marathons is such an inspiration. I remember you in elementary school as this kid with an inhaler and now look at you go! I'm very proud of you." It brings tears to my eyes. Truly does. I may be a slow runner but people are still proud of me. Whether you're 6 or 36, that feels GREAT! ... [And] on Monday, the day after the Chicago race, one of my co-workers sent me an e-mail congratulating me and asking about the result. I gave him my slow, steady 6:02 time and joked that the winner did it in 2:05. His response was so kind and uplifting. He said, "I am as impressed with the slow and steady finishers as the winners. You ran three times longer than that guy." Yes, I did! I did that. I did that.

Q. Are you interested in getting faster?

I am interested in getting faster, but I'll never run nonstop for an entire race. I think about all that I would miss and it's not worth it to me. The scenery, the people, the culture ... . In my mind, as a slow runner, I get the best of both worlds: I finish the race with a huge amount of pride and I take in the best and most interesting part of the races which are the location and the people. If I ran a four-hour marathon [laughs], then I'd miss that and I just don't want to miss a single thing.

Q. What's the best piece of advice you have for slower runners who want to tackle a marathon but might be afraid to try?

Just go for it! Is it scary and intimidating? Yes! But it's not the scariest or most intimidating thing you'll ever do. I've run eight large races and each one is scary and fun and thrilling and exciting and nerve-wracking and every other emotion you can imagine. But the payoff is so grand and you'll be so proud of yourself when it's all over. I decided to go as big as I could ever imagine going and then I know that anything less would be as easy as a training run. Challenge yourself. Surprise yourself. Let others be proud of you and be proud of yourself.