by Bill Durbin (find his original blog post here)
Frid: I’m here today with the guy who writes this blog, to talk about his recent experiences at the Philadelphia Marathon. Bill, thanks for coming to talk with me.
Bill: Hey Frid, thanks for having me! What’s up with your name, though? “Frid”… is that Dutch?
F: It’s my job to ask the questions.
F: No problem. So what’s up with my weird name? Is it Dutch or something?
B: No.. it’s an acronym. It stands for “Fictitious Runner Interview Dude”.
F: Ah. I see. I’m a figment of your imagination. We got that out of the way, so let’s abruptly change the subject. I hear you had a great race?
B: The race went really, really well.
F: But you’ve been having some trouble writing a race report?
B: Sort of, I really didn’t want to do the whole “play-by-play epic struggle, culminating in victory or defeat” thing this time.
F: It wasn’t an epic struggle?
B: Of course it was. I’ve never experienced a marathon that didn’t have its share of that stuff. I’m sure they exist, but for me, it’s that struggle that makes this distance interesting. I’ve written enough of those reports. Not that I’m done with them altogether – I just want to do something different this time. I still need to write it down and document what happened. I go back and read these things and try to learn stuff you know.
F: Ah. I see. So you got tired of reading your typical long-winded drivel.
B: In a nutshell, yes.
F: Well, I for one just eat that stuff up. I’m sure some percentage of your readership does too.
B: I have a readership? With percentages?
F: According to Google Analytics, you have between 20 and 30 people who actually touch the page each time you post something here. I couldn’t tell you if they all read it, but I know I do. And I like those “epic struggle” stories. I like the suspense. Can you just do that again this time?
F: Please? Pretty please with sugar on top?
F: This silly interview thing is going to get old pretty quick too, you know.
B: Sure. You’re going to ask me one leading question after another, most of which I just fed you ahead of time, and then I am going to respond with my typical long-winded drivel. But we’ll try to keep it entertaining with some semi-witty banter as well. Of course, fair warning – this is still going to be really, really long. Maybe not a single sitting.
F: Witty banter? Throw in a lame joke every few questions, perhaps with the occasional F-bomb to liven things up a bit. That kind of thing?
B: Come on… this is a family blog, remember?
F: No F-bombs. Got it. How about we compromise. Just give me a little taste. Tell me a quick story with a little suspense, and then we can have our fake interview and I will pretend to be clever.
B: Fine. Ok, here goes.
F: Wait… you’re going to tell us about peeing?
B: Do you want me to tell you a story or not?
F: Please, continue.
B: I’ll start over.
Man, I had to pee when I arrived in the bag drop area. Bad. Really, bad. It was probably a result of breaking into my factory-sealed water bottle and drinking way too much of it during the 10 minutes I spent waiting for the security checkpoints to open. Apparently when they say things like “Checkpoints open at 4:30 AM – plan to arrive by 5 AM so you don’t get left behind”, what they really mean is “If you rush to get here at 5:15, no worries. We were just kidding. Please enjoy the company of the other 700 or so runners who took us seriously – at least you have something in common.”
After I dropped off my bag I immediately headed to the port-a-potty corral. There was no wait and I was done and on my way in less than a minute. I wandered around a little bit, to see what was going on. Not much. Just a bunch of other people wandering around to see what was going on. Before I knew it, it was closing in on 6 AM. I’d drained another good chunk of the water I brought with me, and I headed back to the potty corral to go for my “final” bathroom break. That second time the lines were forming, but they were maybe three people deep for every five toilets. The wait was negligible, and I was again all done in a jiffy.
I walked to the start area to figure out how to get to the maroon corral, which was mostly empty. I paced across the road a couple times and decided that I really didn’t want to be there yet. All the people who were there were just wandering around looking all anxious. I exited and sat on a curb for a while. Then I got the urge to go again. Just a little bit, but better safe than sorry. It was about 6:10ish, and I headed back once again.
F: Ok.. this is not what I had in mind for “suspense”.
B: This is just the setup, ok? Plus, you said “a little suspense”. Didn’t you think that part with the slightly longer lines was a little suspenseful? Anyway…
I heard someone say “Hey Bill!” I had passed by Amy and a few of my team members without realizing it. I thought that it would be great to sit with them for a little bit before the race, so I asked if I could just drop off my water and return after hitting the toilets again. There’s really nowhere to set a bottle of water in those port-a-potties. At least not anywhere I trust to be clean enough for a vessel I am about to drink out of. I generally resort to stuffing any water bottle under my hat if I have one. It keeps it out of the way, but it makes for a difficult little balancing game. The hat is just a weak suggestion that the bottle should stay on top of your head.
I spent one minute in the now ridiculously long lines, and I decided that I didn’t really need to go. It was just nerves. I headed back to the group. Amy promptly convinced me, using the same logic that I use with my kids, that I needed to at least try. I took my water bottle this time and got back in line. And waited… and waited.. and waited. I kept checking my watch. 6:20. 6:30. 6:35. 6:36. 6:36 again. The line was moving sooooo slow. I still wasn’t even halfway to my destination. I looked around – could I go undercover and do my business behind a port-a-potty? No, there were tons of people walking back there. I looked at my watch again. Still 6:36. My plan was to be in the corral four minutes from now, and ready to roll. 6:38. I almost bailed at 6:40, but the line kept teasing me… getting just a little bit shorter. It was playing with my mind. I told myself I could wait until 6:50 at the very latest.
6:45 rolled around and I ate my scheduled Gu packet. 6:46 is when I really started to get anxious. The loudspeakers had been turned up a few notches, and though I still couldn’t hear what was being said, I could tell that there was some back and forth with the crowd and the MC. Lots of cheering and stuff. Then the speaker changed hands a few times – I heard the word “Mayor” mentioned, but I am not sure if they were thanking him or introducing him. None of the people standing in line with me seemed to be the least bit concerned that the race was ABOUT TO START. Some of them still had their drop bags! Meanwhile, in the back of my brain, I was screaming at them, “HURRY UP! We’re supposed to be OVER THERE! RIGHT NOW! What is WRONG with you people?!?” 6:48, 6:49… 6:50. There were still 23 people in front of me, but the end was in sight. I could wait another 5 minutes, right? 6:51… 6:51.5… 6:51.75… The line had dropped to 20 people. Some quick math told me that I was likely to be standing within three feet of this very spot at 7AM when the gun went off.
6:52. The Star Spangled Banner started playing. That was the last straw. I hurled a long-overdue expletive into the air, followed shortly by the word “IT!!” and I bolted.
F: Hey! I thought you said no F-bombs!
B: Implied F-bombs are completely different than the real thing. Besides, are you *sure* there was an F there?
F: No, but…
B: Mmm-hmm. Continuing on, then.
I may or may not have dropped an implicit F-bomb and then I headed briskly for the start line. I had decided that I’d just hold it, and if it got to be any kind of emergency, I would sacrifice a minute or whatever to use a bathroom or a tree or whatever along the course.
I made it into the black corral without any difficulty, but moving forward to the maroon corral was a challenge. After a couple minutes with extremely little headway, I found myself next to John. Who would have guessed? 30,000 people out there, and I run into the only person I know from outside Austin who is also running this race. I decided that was a good place to be, and a familiar face calmed my nerves a bit. Plus, I was here in the corrals. I could see the starting gate not too far away, and it didn’t really matter that I would take an extra 30 seconds or whatever to cross the line.
Then the race began. I could see the runners up front take off down the street, but nobody around me moved. Why weren’t we moving forward? They probably explained all that while I was biding my time in the other line. I didn’t understand until the announcer said “Ok, black corral, just chill out for a while here… we were just kidding about starting the race for you guys. We’ll let you go soon. Number 491, you’re going to have to revise your plan a little. Sorry bud.” That’s not really what he said. That’s just what I heard. After a gargantuan pause, they finally started us. I looked up at the clock as I crossed the line, a little over 3 minutes behind the first wave. I was officially underway. I still felt like I needed to go pee as late as mile 5, but it never turned into an emergency, and eventually went away. In hindsight, received from Amy, come 6:30 I should have wandered around long enough to find a nice private tree, or maybe even a not-so-private one. Lesson learned.
F: The end? I suppose that was kind of what I was asking for. I was getting a little nervous there when you were counting the seconds. Thanks, I guess.
B: I guess you’re welcome.
F: I’ll try to hold up my end of the bargain. Let’s go back to talking about the race again. I read in one of your earlier posts that you were “training by effort”. What does that even mean?
B: Ha! I’m not sure I even know, really. But a lot of people have asked about it, especially after the race. I confused people. I confused myself. I just wanted to do everything by feel, and not have to rely on my watch. My friend Chris made a good analogy – he said it is kind of like driving your car by RPM instead of MPH. Trying to regulate how fast the engine is turning, or how hard it is working, instead of how fast the wheels are spinning. I have a few different “gears” I can go to for more power or more speed, then I regulate my effort based on how deep I breathe, and pay some attention to how my legs are feeling.
F: How did you come up with that?
B: I didn’t. I had the idea I wanted to try something like this but I had no clue where to start. I read a book called Running on Air back in April or so, which is mostly not about this stuff at all, but it does have some guidance for how to control your effort through breathing. I massaged his ideas and made them work for me.
F: It seems pretty clear to me. You said people are confused?
B: Not so much about that part. When I tried to explain it before the race, a lot of people latched onto the “I don’t have a time goal for this race” thing and freaked out a little.
F: WTF?!? YOU DIDN’T HAVE A TIME GOAL?
B: That’s awfully close to an explicit F-bomb, but I will let it slide. Props for the attempt at humor. No, I specifically avoided making a time goal.
B: I wanted to see how things would turn out if I just relied on effort the whole way. It was completely something I did for me, so that I could keep myself honest. I knew that if I made a specific time goal the focus of this race, I would be checking my watch and worrying about staying on pace and stuff. That wasn’t what I wanted.
F: What did your coach think of all this?
B: Amy is awesome, as always. She was on board with it right away. She encouraged me the whole way. Did I mention that Amy is awesome?
F: Yes, your respect for your coach has been well established through the years. So this running by effort thing means you have to give up on a time goal?
B: No, I don’t think so. I think there’s some middle ground in there. It might even help some people decide on a realistic goal. I ended up running the race about the same as my training pace. I might trust myself with a number next time. Or maybe not. I kind of like this idea of just going out and giving it my best. That’s always in the plan, but it was particularly important this time.
F: So the race must have gone according to plan, then.
B: Yes and no. I had a good race. Most of the important things went according to plan, but I don’t think that I’ve ever run a marathon that turned out quite so differently from the way I had visualized it.
F: You mean except for Manchester last fall, which does not actually begin by running over the Verrazano Narrows bridge, nor does it end in Central Park.
B: Thanks for that – you really do read this stuff! No… just a few little things changed which had some bigger implications. I still got from point A to point B, but it didn’t follow the path I thought it would.
F: You mean they changed the course?
B: Do you really have to be so dense?
F: In the name of witty banter, yes.
B: Ok. Well we both know you know what I meant, but I’ll spell it out anyhow. What I visualized is not the way things went down. I had convinced myself that the beginning of the race was going to be mentally difficult with all the different runners at different paces. I prepared to just hold back and let everyone fly by if needed. I knew I would need to get into my own place, not get caught up with anyone else, and find my effort level relatively quickly. By the third mile, I figured that people would have settled down and I’d probably be in a group running roughly the same pace from then until about mile 20. Still, I would need to stay focused and not get “anchored” to any one person – just run my own race, keeping my legs as relaxed and free as possible, staying tuned into my effort. Somewhere around mile 20 (maybe earlier, maybe later), I would start focusing on individual runners ahead of me, and just pull in as many of them as I could. By that point, effort would just kind of be maxed out and it would be a matter of trying to hold on and finish as fast as I could. Epic struggle, fight the leg muscle rebellion, all that good stuff.
F: It didn’t really go like that?
B: It didn’t really go like that. The biggest difference was that I started the race three minutes late.
F: What difference does that make? You were running for three hours.
B: Two hours, 59 minutes, and 29 seconds.
F: Right. Sorry.
B: The thing is, when I started, I was well behind most of the people I thought would be my companions during that long stretch between miles 3 and 20. Actually, I was probably behind them for the entire race. That first wave of the race was made of runners who put their estimated finish time down at 3:10 and under. So I spent most… really all of the race passing other runners. Especially in the first couple miles. It was really crowded. I wasn’t all relaxed, letting everyone fly bt me. To them, I was one of the people to watch out for. I was paying so much attention to slipping through the gaps between runners that I didn’t really “see” a lot of things at the beginning of the race. I didn’t notice the first two mile markers at all. I don’t remember actually seeing city hall after I started running.
F: But you run directly at city hall for almost the first mile of the race. And its like a mile high, too, isn’t it?
B: Something like that. I do remember seeing the steeple of the church behind city hall. By mile 3 the crowd thinned a bit and I wasn’t spending so much time weaving around people. I was still passing a lot of runners though. I got a little panicky.
F: You? Panic? Nooooo…
B: I know, right? My biggest fear was going out too fast. Continually passing people for three miles didn’t help with that. My eyes were taking all this in and saying “You’re going too fast!” I checked with my lungs – they were saying “Eh.. I don’t think so. Seems like everything’s ok here.” And my legs chimed in with “Hey guys? Did we start running yet?” During training, I trusted what my lungs and my legs had to say. I never actually asked my eyes for their opinion. But suddenly the eyes were the only thing that mattered, and I was convinced that I was going too fast. At mile 4, I checked my watch.
F: Were you right?
B: Nope. I should have just trusted my lungs and my legs. It was around 27 minutes when I passed mile 4. Math is harder when I am running, and I never actually figured out how fast I was going, though it seems like a simple problem now. I got far enough to know that a 6:30 pace would have been 26 minutes, and so I knew I was going slower than that. I felt a sort of weight lift off of me, and started actually enjoying the race. I trusted what my body was telling me from then on. And at least between miles 11 and 16 there was a small pack of people running about the same speed I was. I had some company, if briefly.
F: So you didn’t consult the watch again?
B: Not really. I mean, I did look at some of the clocks near the mile markers when I passed them. The time wasn’t so important after that initial concern was gone though. The only other time I remember looking at my watch was not to check on the time. I wanted to know mileage when I was somewhere in mile 24. I was hoping I’d missed seeing the marker for mile 25.
F: You wanted to miss the mile marker, or you have something against the number 25?
B: I wanted to be done.
F: Why? Was it getting difficult?
B: Uh… It was the end. Of a Marathon.
F: Yes, at the end. Was it difficult?
B: Haven’t you run eight of these things?
F: What are you talking about? I didn’t even exist until a couple days ago when you dreamed me up.
B: Yeah, but… oh never mind. You’re terribly inconsistent. Yes, it was difficult. The final two or three miles of this race were uncomfortable in a way I hadn’t really planned for. Normally, my calves seem on the verge of cramping, I have the occasional muscle mis-fire, and everything is just tired and hurting. My legs were certainly tired. Fatigue had set in several miles earlier. And they hurt too, after running for so long. But the threat of cramping up that I am used to wasn’t there. I wasn’t having trouble keeping them moving. Instead, the last couple miles or so I felt like I was going to get sick.
F: Did you?
B: No. It was just idle threats, and then a mild case of the hiccups for ten minutes afterwards. But I didn’t get sick.
F: Hmmm. Still sounds unpleasant. Might have made for some good “epic struggle” material, eh?
B: I was reeling in runners and picking them off one-by-one. The Gatorade-tinged vurps kept reminding me that I was mortal. Would this race never end? I was still passing people yes, but just inching by in some cases. I was hugging the corners of the gently winding road, running the tangents as best I could, shaving precious centimeters off the distance between me and the finish line. Then a runner in a yellow shirt “flew” by. I willed myself to chase him. He was the only one to sneak by! But willpower alone wasn’t enough for me to keep up. I was discovering where the phrase “last legs” comes from. A minute after losing track of him though, I saw him again and I was coming up fast. He was walking, and obviously in some pain. I’m not one to gloat – I grunted some encouragement to him as I passed. But in my head I was donning my Black Knight suit and loudly proclaiming “None Shall Pass!”
F: YEAH! That’s what I’m talking about!
B: That’s all you’re getting.
F: (sigh) Ok, so the end was a different sort of torture than what you normally get. You started a little late. Anything else go wrong?
B: Not really wrong, but a couple other things were unplanned. I can remember shortly after mile 5, I saw someone drop a full Gu packet. It hit my shoe and went skittering down the road in front of me. I pointed at it and told the guy who dropped it “Hey – you lost your Gu!” He just said “Nope – that’s not mine” and we kept running. It wasn’t until five miles later when I went fishing for my next one that I realized the escapee was mine.
F: Ouch! Did you go back for it?
B: I considered it.
B: No! Of course not! I would have stopped if I knew it was mine at the time it happened. I always pack an extra just in case one goes missing like that, and it worked out for me this time. I’ve had a few close calls, but I think this is the first time I’ve ever lost one. It must have bounced out of my little pouch. My pouch is getting kind of tired after several years of use.
F: Sounds like it is time to invest in a new pouch.
B: Maybe. The clip is getting rusty. Sooner or later the whole thing is going to fall off mid-race. I’m just all sentimental. Its the one piece of equipment that has been with me for every Marathon I have run.
F: So hang it on the wall or something. Bronze it if you need to. Go buy a new pouch already, or one of those belts or something!
B: Yeah. I suppose.
F: What was the best part of the race?
B: It was the people – the support. That, combined with the way the course is laid out. There were a lot of spectators, it is a big city race. Lots of strangers. But I had some good friends out there too. I had a small mobile cheering section, comprised of my wife and best friend Stephanie, Erika, who I have known for like 27 years, and my newest friend Sean. I missed them at a few of the places they were cheering from, but I knew they were out there. At mile 6 though, I saw them. I got a special high five from Sean. It was the only high five that I gave out during the entire race. Well… mostly anyway. There were a couple of high-one’s from giant foam fingers attached to dancing and/or inebriated adults, but those really don’t count the same way.
F: Of course not. They’re five times less powerful!
B: Exactly. Kid high-fives are just special in their own way, too. And then there was the out-and-back part, the last half of the course. I knew a lot of runners out there because we had a pretty big crowd from Rogue present. John too, who I mentioned earlier. He’s Erika’s husband, Sean’s dad. It was great to cheer on and be cheered on by other runners as we would see each other. Made it feel like a team effort. I didn’t see everyone. In some cases, I heard a “Go Bill!” or a “Go Rogue!”, but couldn’t pick the face out of the crowd. Others, it was vice-versa – I saw them and cheered, but they did not see me. Still others, we managed a second or so of eye contact and exchanged a few quick shouts. I remember Amy yelling at me to “close hard!”, or maybe she was saying “use those arms!”… I still have trouble doing that. I think a few others probably passed by in the area where the out and back was separate, or perhaps they were battling that little hill on the other side of the river in mile 18.
F: The one where you were going so slow?
B: How’d you know about that?
F: My people talked with your people before you agreed to this.
B: Right. That hill wasn’t really that big. There were others on the course that were longer and taller, but the course was pretty flat. I just remember that one because I lost some focus somewhere between mile 16 and 18. It’s a good thing there was a 3:05 pace group. When I was coming back up that hill, I saw them coming down the other side where I had just been. But I couldn’t remember passing them. I must have crept up on them and passed them in the previous mile or so, but I couldn’t remember seeing them at all. It is really hard to miss a person running with a sign. That is when I realized my mind had been wandering a bit, and it helped bring me back into the moment.
F: Is that when you realized you had slowed down?
B: No. I did not realize that until I looked at my splits after the race, and it took me a while to remember what that mile was all about, because it didn’t fit with what I remembered. It is kind of a mystery to me. When I “came to” and started checking in with my body, I had the impression that I was going too fast. I was all tense and breathing hard. Going back across the bridge over the river, I reined in my breathing and forced myself to relax. My impression was that I slowed down there, when in reality I sped up again.
B: That’s what I said. My theory is that because I was running all bunched up, just relaxing everything helped make it feel easier. Easier, in the context of what I have been doing since April, almost always means slower. I might have to re-evaluate that idea.
F: Is that what was going on the last few miles? You slowed down a little there too, but you thought you were speeding up.
B: Was this more information from my people to your people? It was similar, but different. By that point the whole effort thing was irrelevant. I was just trying to get by as many runners as I could, and run as fast as my legs would let me go. But I was definitely not losing focus. From my perception it was all going according to the plan. I was speeding up and finishing strong. The last half was going to be faster than the first half. That wasn’t reality, but I came close.
F: But you were also feeling sick.
B: I don’t think that was really slowing me down any. I think it was about being all tense again. I mentioned earlier that I just simply wanted to be done with it, even in mile 24. I can remember towards the end of the race the trees opened up on the right side of the road, and I could see the museum. That was still about half a mile to the end, but I remember thinking “Oh thank God, there’s the art museum!” and then this giant wave of relief passed over me. I didn’t perceive any change in pace or feel like I was doing anything different than I had been since mile 20, but I see a big jump in the pace there. I don’t know. I over-analyze all this stuff. I should JFR.
F: What’s that word? Jayeffar?
B: It means Just Run.
F: I don’t… Oh! Hey…
B: You get one, I get one. We’re even.
F: And you called me inconsistent. I think we’re done here, no?
B: Pretty much, yeah.
F: How did we do?
B: Meh. Typical drivel, packaged differently.
F: Nobody’s going to make it past the pee story, are they?
B: It’s highly unlikely.
F: Want to include the stats at the bottom, like usual?
B: Sure, why not.
Total : 2:59:29
Place : 292
AG Place : 39