A running memory and running from memory

I’m back

I thought if I didn’t write this now it wouldn’t get written, and Olive is busy on the Mac book air and Edie on the home computer, while Chrissy whips up some gourmet health feast for tomorrows breakfast.

I finished the Brussels 20km 4 hours ago in hot sunshine – about 26c – I was completely blown.

Since finishing I have eaten a banana, drunk at least 1.5 litres of fluid, eaten a mars bar and a nutrition bar and a half a serve of hot chips (very Belgian) – and guess what I’m still 4kg lighter than when I started!! I haven’t been 62 kgs for at least 20 years!

Yes it was that hot, also I have struggled with hydration with all the flying I have been doing of late (my 5th trip to the USA in 6 weeks tomorrow), and I paid the price, by 4 km’s I wasn’t even sure I could finish, as I hung in waiting for the first drinks stop at 7kms, knowing I was at severe risk of heat stroke.

Olive out MTB’ing with me – part of my build up!

That was where experience kicked in, and running on memory.

I’d had terrible heatstroke twice in my life, once 30kms into a 79km mountain run, I swore I would never let it happen again. I backed off completely in Brussels, ran in the shade wherever it was possible, and just let people pour past. that was experience.

Memory had taught me I could see this through and with a woeful seven kms of over 50 minutes I thought my sub 2hr target was toast – but memory told me, you can do this – so at 7kms I did something I have never done before; I walked and drank 1 litre of water and half a bottle of isotonic sports drink – I was so parched the dextrose tablet I was trying to suck wouldn’t dissolve. I preferred the choice of stomach ache over dehydration.

I thought of my post last night – that the NYC marathon had taught me what was possible, and got away again. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I stormed the rest of the course – I hadn’t done the training for that – but suffice to say I had a purple patch in the middle 7kms, which also fortunately had a lot of shade. Despite wearing out between kms 16-18km marks (mostly uphill) I managed to pull through for a shade over 1hr 56minutes.

So we can do stuff, we can drag ourselves through things, and practice is not just about perfect it’s about preparation both mental and physical, about belief, about understanding your possibilities.

I feel 5 years younger at least, and all I wanted to do at the end was get back to our wonderful girls.

I sneakily got two finishers medals – so they now each have one  – which I told them were awarded to me for having the best girls in Antwerp (you should have seen Edie’s horror when hers fell of the ribbon, and even more so when I threw an apple core in the bin and she thought it was her medal!)

And what of the race as compared with the NYC experience?

Well it was different in all sorts of ways. An email printout sufficed as ID (very loose by Belgian standards), the starting gates (6 for 35,000 runners) were almost empty with 20 minutes to go, there was nowhere obvious to store surplus gear (so my bag of finishing goodies was gone when I returned to it after the run), and as compared with NYC which started with Start spangled banner and Frank Sinatra singing New York New York, …well Brussels had Ravels Bolero and then Beethoven’s 9th – too funny!

Olive at 6 years old doing 1 arm press-ups, I have no idea where she gets that from 🙂 – though Chrissy was the inspiration for this Jillian Michaels session!

Once underway it was similar – I was lucky to be in the second group away, so it was busy but not too crazy, the highlight was the first underpass/ tunnel we ran – almost 1km of people (runners) clapping chanting and whistling – that was the only part that really came close to the buzz of the crowd in NYC – and the difference being it was entirely generated by the runners themselves.

I saw two supermen, ad passed someone running in their civvies with about 4 kms to go – hot! So on the humor count NYC won hands down!

The music on course was very different – almost every band was a jazz band – modern to swing, to more of a traditional brass band, it was sort of kooky fun – the others were all conga drums beating out the rhythm – wherever they were I was grateful to them, music is such an uplifting thing.

The high 5’s were fewer, but they were there and I regret not going back to a young girl on the side of the course in her wheelchair with a broken leg who I did not see until I had passed her – sorry to you if you ever get to read this.

And the course itself was quite beautiful, Brussels is such a different beast to Antwerp, our experience would have been totally different had we based ourselves there, and I say that with all due respect and deference to the great people and friends we have made in Antwerp. I’m just saying Brussels would have been very different, for me the environment is so much more inspiring – hills for one, nice parks, just more sophisticated for a number of reasons – I would love to have done my training there and lived there a while.

Anyway there it is, I don’t have any pics to show you so I have included a couple from recent travels – because I had nowhere to leave a camera or cell phone while i was running.

Edie – giving it heaps at the Atomium (Brussels) – her hair is wild because she’s just jumped of the concrete moulded seat (way cool)

It’s been a good day – We’re all out for Burgers tonight – Olive is going to ride there she’s very excited. It’s been a good week, it’s been a good year.

Thanks for joining me.

Richard

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ING NYC Marathon – Epilogue

And so what of it…

Marathon fireworks two nights before the race

Well it’s renewed my passion for running, even if that does mean I need time for my ankle to rest, it renewed my belief in what people can do – anyone who puts there mind to it – the marathon is the metaphor – and it’s a very good one (I thought often through the race – why 26.2 (Iike really “why?”) – but more particularly what if it was less, what if it was more, is the story highlighted in history because someone realized something about that distance – and of course there is no answer, but isn’t it amazing that 47,000 people can get off the couch to do this, when we know for sure it isn’t easy).

And of course it proves that there is reward, real reward, in taking ourselves through these things, through pain and discomfort we wouldn’t ordinarily endure, by avoiding the ‘seemingly safe’ and taking on the ‘not so obviously safer’ route of pushing our boundaries and reminding ourselves of what is possible.

I remember my first training run – the day I found out I was in (true) – I dragged myself around a 2 mile circuit of Staadspark in Antwerp on a fairly hot late April day, got home to pop open a beer and then had the phone ring with the charming Bertrand offering me a ticket to a concert he was off to (his wife was unable to go and Chrissy and the girls were in Italy), my legs aching I headed off and had a great night – apart from having to stand for about 90 minutes more than I would have liked.

And from there to 26.2 miles in New York. Before that I had completed probably fewer than 10 runs in over 10 years, and not been past  6 miles in over 15 years.

The highlight of my training is still the novelty of running to the Nederlands from Antwerp (a convenient ½ marathon and my longest training run). The previous night I drove out there with the girls and cycled back to Antwerp with them in the bike cart. They had a great time and so did I, we did lots of crazy stuff along the way and I remember how excited they were when I got them home to Chrissy.

Edie and Olive - 2hrs after I'd finished (they'd been at Lion King) - we were all pretty stoked - so Hard Rock Cafe in Times Square saw the Croad girls celebrate in style!!

I was up at 5 the next morning and headed off into the sunrise on a beautiful late spring morning. It was peaceful, clear with a frosty mist drifting across the horse paddocks, probably to date the most beautiful day I have etched in my mind of Belgium. I completed the run on schedule and drove back to Chrissy and the girls before 8 in the morning –  I still had a whole Saturday up my sleeve. Magic, pure magic.

Honestly next to giving birth (not me, Chrissy – to our two wonderful children) this has to have been one of the best returns for effort I am aware of.

It costs a pair of shoes, a little organization, a bit of determination, a bit of care, and any 26.2 mile course you can find.

You’ll love yourself for it, and people will regard you as a superhero (even your kids)… which is all quite nice if you can get used to it!!

Be strong – go do something you never thought you would, and let me know what it is and how great it feels.

ING NYC Marathon – across the line

The Mountain Lion - I was looking out for this in the run - it helped get me home!

Coming out the park and heading towards Columbus circle was a bizarre feeling, I wanted to feel totaled, exhausted, dehydrated, spent, but I didn’t. My legs were traveling slowly but one after the other much like they were at mile 2. It was both a time of elation (I’m nearly there) and disappointment (I could have pushed harder) – and before you say it – go back and read my earlier comment, that’s just running and me!

I was running alongside a woman (I have this theory about running next to the best looking woman you could find, there were actually quite a few to choose from!) from the navy down that stretch but as I turned into the home stretch (back into the park and slightly uphill) I pulled away easily (I’d already caught and passed the Nederland guys) and then in the last 100 yards (just when I could have been ‘zooming’ across the line) I had Chrissy’s words in my head ‘look excited when you cross the line’ and I remember totally losing focus as I desperately tried to conjure up some ‘cross the line elation performance’.

I settled on crossing the line with what seemed like a large leap in the air (the video shows it to be about 3cm {: ) and thrusting my hands in the air.

Unfortunately it was such a well conceived piece of choreography that I completely forgot to consider whether the audience might be able to see it, so despite hundreds of camera’s and video’s at the finish line, my Oscar wining performance remained largely obscured as I ran in behind two runners and it looks more like I managed to stall some sort of exhausted fit.

I further added to my ignominy by not even stopping across the line, but quickly clearing the crowds (and photographers) with the one thought in my mind being “Right what’s the time I don’t want to keep Chrissy and the girls waiting after the Lion King”. Yes, I understand I should be seeking help for some of these pre-occupations.

Fortunately with thousands of people crossing the line every 10 minutes the route out of the park was quite lengthy and I had time to reflect on what I had achieved and I certainly felt pretty good looking at the condition of the many around me, but I also felt good for them. I loved seeing all these people give their all for something I have always loved doing – running.

There was no one being impatient, it was a well-behaved crowd of tired men and woman. The odd person being plucked from the queue by attentive medical staff, and a number just sitting as far out of the way as they could to re-hydrate or ease cramped muscles. It took a full 40 minutes to get from the finish line, to the gear truck and then out to the nearest subway.

Olive on the monkey bars in Central park - right next to where I exited two days later.

Music to my ears

A brief word on Music – the race started (each wave in fact) – with a Firefighter from one of the 911 brigades singing Star Spangled Banner, as the gun fired Frank Sinatra’s New York New York boomed over the speakers. You couldn’t mistakenly think you were in the London marathon!

Through Brooklyn it was covers of Born to be Wild, Bruce Springsteen, the Rolling Stones, The Bangles (Girls just wanna have fun), Metallica, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and of course the choir in Lafayette, Katy Perry hit the waves on a few occasions and there was also a fair bit of Hip Hop and Rap – all but one of which was a mystery to me.

I can’t recall any music at all down 5th Avenue or through central or across the line – but I’m sure there must have been. But in the Bronx I did here the track which to me defines my trip to New York and I’d been waiting to hear all the way along, it defines New York exceptionally well and speaks of the music of ‘the time’ – you’ll all be surprised, I have this on my i-Tunes, I love the sound, the emotion, the lyrics and the way the song captures so much about NYC – look it up and have a listen and imagine you’re running the ING NYC marathon yourself: Jay Z (Featuring Alicia Keys) – Empire State of Mind.

Me and my support crew the day after. I wouldn't have done it without them 🙂

(Next post i’ll tell you what it all add’s up to…)

ING NYC Marathon – Part three

So onto the second half.

Yes I do remember it, and even physically the run is divided sort of neatly into two halves. Not long after half way you cross a small bridge and then onto the long Queensborough bridge which presents a not inconsiderable grind up and a mind altering decent down through a spiral bend onto first avenue.

Mind altering because it had to be the coldest corner on the course and it was wall to wall crammed with more craziness; bands, yelling and screaming supporters, kids, grandparents, mums, fathers…Smurfs for all I knew!. That and what followed was probably the most memorable scene of the course for me, for as you came out of the turn you lined yourself up with 1st avenue ahead, jammed full of thousands of runners down 6 lanes and more spectators giving it ‘all’ for as far as you could see (and from the bridge end that was quite a way)

Even though I knew that there was a return leg, for the first time I felt like I was on the ‘back’ of the run. And wow what a beautiful day, glorious, absolutely glorious. The race merited the weather and the weather the race, and all the supporters deserved every good break they could get.

The Queensborough Bridge (I think!?) - taken from DUMBO

I suppose not unexpectedly, more people recognized the “kiwi” while running through Manhattan, so that was odd to have more support all of a sudden, but by now I was watching a lot of others, trying to pick countries, see what sort of people were around me, who was fading who was doing it easy.

I lost big chunks of 1st avenue in this way; I was hardly conscious of running, I felt pretty relaxed, and was actually looking forward to getting into the Bronx and through Harlem, to feel what they had to bring to this massive 26.2mile street party!

I mostly remember two things about the Bronx – the music and more unfettered compassion and encouragement – oh, and pulling a muscle thanks to the great rendition of R.E.S.P.E.C.T. I thought it was going to be a long way from there. I remember straight after that a big dude of a DJ blearing out “Welcome to the Bronx runners, this is the heartland…now come on bring it on home!” Hobbling as I was it made me determined to try and get back to running, which about ¾ mile later I was – but during that time the 3hr 50min pace marker passed me and just after I got going again the 4hr pace runner – so I knew 4hrs was toast!
I settled again for what my pre-race estimate was of 4:15, and started doing the math to get me over the line then (8 miles to go). In hindsight I should have just ‘hurt more’ and got on with it.

Strangely I felt a bit disrespectful just charging (Poetic license!) through Bronx and then Harlem, felt like I should thank them and thought of my friends from Australia Wes and Annette who were doing the race for a Harlem kids charity and what a satisfying feeling that must be as Wes ran through before me and Annette followed later.

Somewhere in Harlem another DJ boomed out “this is the wall, welcome to the wall”. It displays my lack of taking this seriously that I didn’t even know what that corresponded to, I think it’s 20 miles, but I remembered thinking ‘so what!’ though I concede I was a bit tired and still walking to ease the pressure in the back of my right leg.

Central park - walking part of the course with the girls 2 days before the race

As we finally came alongside central park it all seemed within reach, I checked my time and distance and knew I had a bit up my sleeve, walked some more, and then as we turned into Central park at E72nd street I hooked on to the back of a ‘likely bunch of Nederland runners’ and followed them through the park. I walked again near to a spot I knew from walking it with Chrissy and the girls, just to re-gather myself, got to the top of the rise and then set off past the mountain lion and on my way to the southern end of the park.

(Next – the final installment)

ING New York City Marathon – Part two

It is indescribable, something I have never seem in a sports event to this level (and I’ve done many of the most popular events in NZ). I would run it again just for that feeling – and I’m sure it would work me over just as much the second time.

Through Brooklyn, every ¼ mile (out of respect to the Americans all references will be in miles) was another band – folk, rock, pop, electric, and down Lafayette Avenue the Choir – I could have just stopped there a while and listened. However all of it added up to feeling like you owed it to them; to give it your best.

I knew some of the kids I was high-fiving probably would never get to have a pair of decent running shoes, and yet here they were being foisted high by mum or dad or their big brother or sister with grins and encouragement (and meanwhile probably thinking they had just high-fived some super athlete – Olive asked me the night before if I was going to win! – oh to be struck down from your pedestal).

And so it went, not long after turning off 4th avenue I got my first big “Hey Kiwi, go Kiwi…” (see photo to understand that) – it was a very emotional moment and the one I remember best of all (what’s that they say about your first!).

From there the entertainment started to morph – in terms of either passing or being passed by a carrot, an apple, Spiderman, Captain America, Superman, a bride and groom, and a few others whose outfits in general use would have qualified them as a nut-job.

I saw a few Kiwis through the race, but mostly everyone was either running their own race or running with a group – socializing was largely limited to brief interactions with the crowd and the occasional person ‘diving’ out of the pack to hug and embrace mum/dad/son/daughter/husband/wife/brother/ sister/ friend/ or fellow countryman. That was very emotional and I must admit though I had insisted Chrissy take the girls to Lion King rather than put them through the torture of waiting for a brief glimpse of me running by, I was more than a little envious and at times a ‘hug’ would have been better than great.

The ½ marathon mark came up with relatively little effort, I was 4 -5 minutes behind my target, but I knew the slow crossing of the Staten Island bridge (just too many people to weave around) and the brief ‘relief’ stop on the other side (tactical decision due to poor pre-race strategy) had been the main contributors. However the mind games kicked in immediately – I had not trained at any distance greater than this due to a heavy travel schedule and my nursing a niggly calf muscle for the last 3 months. So mentally I switched from cruising to being very conservative – and more than anything that added time to my time.

If I could have run the race the next day with the knowledge I could run it I am confident I could have taken off between 10 and 15 minutes (note the distinction between knowing I could finish and not knowing how much I could run), and that is a little of what holds me back in celebrating – I didn’t hurt enough, in many respects this was probably my most conservative effort in a sports event ever.

As a half-way interlude for you  some random musing– who did I think of while I ran?

Well Chrissy of course, and her determination to run and her enjoyment and satisfaction from running (it was in the end what got me back into a pair of shoes). Olive – she loves movement, and is certainly showing early signs of being a great little athlete. Edie because she just loves doing stuff – whether that ends up as running, downhill mountain biking, or – who cares!

I thought of Lance Armstrong and how he described it as the hardest thing he ever did (I think he is now doing under 3 hours and a half marathon time similar to mine when I last ran one in my 30’s), I thought of the old guy that used to run all over Manawatu where I grew up, he was probably one of my first role models – I wanted to be fit like he was at his age (I hope in reality he was over 40!).

I thought of all the people who couldn’t, of friends I have lost and in particular Francie who died 18 months ago from cancer, I thought of my brother Rodger.  I thought of my older brother Peter who has run plenty more Marathons than me and was in hospital having a quintuple bypass the week Olive was born, I thought of my brother in law Simon who competed at the world heart transplant games in Gotberg this year. I thought of my boss and his family who have endured and survived a tortuous year.

I thought of the impossibility of poverty and the generousness of almost every New Yorker we encountered rich or poor. I thought of my parents and my in-laws and my many friends. I thought of Ray Wood the long tall Texan – Kiwi who has always run and tagged me along with a good friend of his to run the Heaphy track in a single day (49 miles), Ray has been often on my mind whilst I trained, I think he used to find my approach to running quite humorous (that I could pick it up without much effort or thought as and when I wanted). I thought of Dan Rockwell who I should have contacted and who only weeks later came close to losing his life in a car accident.

In short I constantly thought of how lucky I have been, and how lucky I was to be able to ‘compete’.

If you’re not on the list – it’s only because I can’t remember it all and I didn’t have enough energy to run another 26 miles to get a few more in!

Part 3 – in a few more days…..