On August 11, at Camp Speicher near Tikrit, Iraq, I snuck out at night and did a 3 mile run. It wasn’t fast, it wasn’t good in any sense of the term. But it was 3 miles. And it marked the start of my training for the 2009 Honolulu Marathon, using the Hal Higdon training plan.
That week, I ran 15.15 miles, and averaged a pace of about 8:45 minutes per mile. All told, I did 69 other training runs, leading up to the marathon today. Of the 461 miles in the training plan, I managed to do 459 of them — I did not do the two miles on this past Thursday, when I flew from Lake Arrowhead home to Oahu (and I had missed one other run, due to an injury, but I had dutifully made up the miles that week). For those 459 miles, I averaged a pace of 9:37 minutes per mile, and I averaged over 6 and a half miles per run for those 70 runs. These past two weeks, when I was in the mountains and snow of Lake Arrowhead, were when I had my slowest average page: 11:37 and then 11:23 per mile, with every other week averaging between 8:42 and 9:44 per mile. Doing it all, I sprained my ankle 4 times.
I never really looked at all those numbers until now. It seems like a lot. Driving 459 miles would be a long day. Often, running six miles feels like a lot — all the more so when I am not running a lot or training like this. And 4 ankle sprains? I don’t think I had sprained my ankle that much over the past 20 years combined. And while an average pace of 9:37 minutes per mile is nothing to write home about, it’s pretty close to the pace I ran today — 10:37.
And I guess the thing that really strikes awe in me, for all of this, is that I ran a lot of this in Iraq, did more in Hawaii, and then did some both in Eugene (aka Track Town, USA) and at Lake Arrowhead. I went from running at night in the deserts of Iraq, to running through the pineapple fields on Oahu, to running through history in Eugene, to stomping through ankle deep snow up and down the quad-runner trails that covers the ridges near Lake Arrowhead. In 4 months of running, I’ve sure covered the globe pretty well, and covered most every type of running, from roads to trails, from flat to steep, from desert climate to snow.
And while this may not seem like a big deal to you, it is to me: I ran low tech. In Iraq, I wore my Army PT uniform. No special tops, no special shorts or running pants. I didn’t carry water or gel packs or fancy jelly beans, but relied on water points from the around the base to keep hydrated. I can think of only one time — the 18 mile run I did here on Oahu — where I stopped for Gatorade during the run, and that was because it was cheaper than water to buy on base. I ran — and in the most unfancy ways I could.
During all this, I used one pair of running shoes. That might not seem like a noteworthy thing, but the officials at Nike and Brooks and all of the other running shoes would want me to believe that I need new shoes every 300 miles. Well, I’m just not believing that. I’m not some high tech racer, some modern day Ferrari in Nikes. I am a runner, and I run. I’d just as soon take off barefoot and in shorts, to run down a deer, as I would take off to run across the island to my office. Super high tech anything would be, I fear, just lost in my running.
And in August, I weighed 214 lbs. Today, when I got home from the marathon, I weighed 202. I am happy being anywhere in that range. I really don’t care what the number is (and while it’s in that range, the Army doesn’t care either). What I do love and care about is the feeling of strength that I get when I am running often and farther. I feel ready for the world at times like now.
Also, I love how this much running has made me feel. For as crazy as Iraq was during those last months, with a new job and the IBOL project on top of trying to go home and reintegrate with my family, I can’t think of a bad day. Endorphins are an amazing thing. My stress has been under control. My PTSD has been under control. I feel good, life is going well and is under control, and I am happy with where I am in life. And that’s the influence of the running, of the preparations I made for this marathon.
If you’ve read the book, Born to Run, then maybe this will make sense: I’ve been chasing a deer. I’ve been running for fun, not for speed or anything else. No carrying water, not eating along the way, not using fancy high tech stuff — it’s been about reaching down deep inside, and finding me by running. And I would not trade that for the world.
I have been so unfocused on the training part of all this, that it probably could be called something other than training. I’ve just been running — while also following some guidelines for distances. I’ve had more fun getting out and putting in the miles, without care or regard for times or intervals or pace or personal records. Running in Iraq at night gave me time alone, to clear my thoughts and let my mind wander. And it led me to IBOL — which was a great part of my 2009. I spent the summer, fall and now winter investing in running, and looking back at how my year in Iraq ended, with work and IBOL and a great return home to my family, I would have to say that it was a hell of an investment; a little less sleep gave me some great dividends.
Anyway, enough with all that. Poor Jack has been suffering through all this, trying to get to the part where I talk about the actual race event, so he can decide whether to add Honolulu to his 2010 Marathon plan.
This is the second marathon that I have run. I’ve also run some half marathons, too. There are a few things about Honolulu that make this race noteworthy.
1. Egads, it’s beautiful. From running along the Pacific, to coming around Diamond Head, to zipping through both Honolulu and Waikiki, it’s a great place to go running.
2. Wow, it’s flat. If you’ve never run one before, this would make for a fine first marathon.
3. The people are great. It’s a wonderful social event, with folks dressed as Yoda and Darth Vader, Minnie Mouse, brides, etc. And at something like 20,000 runners, it’s a big happy crowd.
4. The race organizers love the military. I’ll be honest — this marathon is expensive (registration started at over $100, and late registration the day prior was $225). But they cut us slack, not just with the late registration but also with the super-awesome registration fee of just $30 for active duty military. Saving 85% on the registration price was a nice, nice thing.
5. If you have to go somewhere for a marathon, Hawai’i is a damn fine place to go. We’ve had wonderful weather this week (though it’s rained the past two years), and I can’t recommend enough coming to Hawai’i — to run a marathon or just for vacation.
One bummer, though, is that the race starts at 0500 / 5 AM. Which means getting into Honolulu by 3 or 4. Being active duty military, the race registration folks had advised me to go to the Hale Koa hotel in Waikiki, and park there. The Hale Koa is an Army hotel right on the beach, and they have a nice parking garage there that cost me all of $12 to park while I did all of the marathon events. Yeah — $12. Nice. I loved that. That raised the total cost of the marathon to $42 for me — about as awesome as they come. Anyway, I snuck into the parking garage at about 3 AM, geared up (iPod, Garmin Forerunner 305, military ID, car key, and a spare $20) and then headed to the starting point.
The starting area is on the road outside of the Ala Moana Shopping Center, across from the Ala Moana State Recreation Area (which is really just a nice, big park). The park featured the all-important banks of porta potties, which had a near non-stop line right up the start of the race. The race folks had marked off sections for folks to stage, based upon expected finish times. Which was nice, until abut 10 minutes before the start when everyone crunched forward. See video of the staging, here. See the video of the fireworks, here.
And by the time I started to run, of course, I had to pee. I had to make the 2 or 3 mile look around Honolulu and back to the start line, before I could peel off and use those same porta-potties. And by the time the race had started, I felt a) tall and b) Caucasian. The race is sponsored by Japan Airlines (JAL), and the race does cater to a lot of visitors coming from Japan — so much so that the race has two websites, one for US / other, and one for Japan.
It wasn’t just that folks came from Japan to run, or that they came with travel groups / through travel agencies. A saw whole packs of folks, lining up together, staging together, with matching additional stuff on their shirts or just plain matching shirts. My favorites were the packs of runners I ran into later — a gaggle of 30-something-ish ladies, running as a pack, with someone out front – maybe their coach, maybe their tour guide, maybe both. All, though, looked to behaving fun, which I thought was awesome.
It was good that we had started so early. Though it was dark, it did set a nice setting for the start — which featured a fireworks display over just a starter’s pistol. It made for lousy photos, but hey — small price to pay.
The run really was uneventful. I tended to let my mind wander, though I was listening to music the whole time. Nice and pretty, without too much elevation change. And yes, folks were dressed crazy, which was pretty cool. But mostly it was just a very nice run. When we started, it was in the low 70’s, though it was likely closer to 80 when I finished. I walked through every water point, which were about every two miles until near the end, when they were every mile. I mostly had two cups of water at each water point; once I had half a banana, and once I had 7 jelly bellies that some nice lady was dispensing. But mostly I ran and let my mind wander where it may.
I was, though, the little social butterfly. I ran into a few folks from work; a bunch of us from the staff had decided to train up and do this, some (like me) doing it solo, but one big clump doing it with the lawyers.
And you know how Superman has his kryptonite? And Samson lost all his powers when his hair was cut? I was on track to do about a 4:30 marathon (10 minute miles, or about the same as I did in Luxembourg a few years ago) when my enemies massed their forces and resources, and deployed a keg to the race course. Damn them! Not only did I get beer, but I got only a little beer initially, so I had to go back and correct them on what it means to run a beer point during a very serious race like this. And I had to take a photo, too.
There’s something wrong with being middle aged, and 20 miles into a marathon, and considering doing a keg stand, just because it’d be a hell of a photo opportunity. Looking back now, I wish I had. Instead, I opted just for the standard photo with the ubiquitous red cups — the only thing keeping it from being a great party was that we were out in front of their house, and not in their kitchen.