Friday, October 23, 2009

Irresponsible Journalism

The duty of care of journalists may seem like an odd issue to take up in a running blog, but sadly is a reality.

Over the summer, Time magazine, perhaps one of the most respected publications in our nation, published a cover story entitled "Why Exercise Won't Make you Thin." It was full of poorly researched "facts" and misrepresentations and was ridiculed, rightly so, by many health and exercise professionals, my personal trainer included. Yes, some people use exercise to justify their eating habits, we're all guilty of this, but if therr statement were true, then how I have lost at least 10 lbs while building muscle over the last year?

Yesterday, the New York Times, again a highly regarded publication, published an article by Juliet Macur on its front page entitled "Plodders Have a Place, but Is It in a Marathon?" In it, Ms. Macur interviewed marathoners who feel that slow runners, and those incapable of running every single step of the 26.2 miles do not belong in the field and take away from the accomplishments of those who can. While Ms. Macur interviews well known runner John Bingham (aka "The Penguin"), who defends the slow and average runners, her thesis and intent is clear - if you can't complete a marathon in 4 hours or less, you don't belong there and shouldn't be trying it in the first place.

Both of these articles are examples of irresponsible journalism especially in an age where the obesity rate in our country continues to climb. As has been pointed out on the most recent season of the Biggest Loser, the contestants from season to season keep getting bigger, not smaller. Rather than acknowledge the effort and personal accomplishments of individuals who strive to better themselves, Ms. Macur is depicting the running community as elitist and unwelcoming. Forutnately, my experience has shown this to be far from the truth.

Yes, I am a proud "back of the pack" runner. I work out 4-5 days a week, and still my body will not let me maintain a sub 13 minute pace on long runs. Is this my fault? No. Have I ever been criticized for it? No.

Yes, I run as well as walk in races of all distances, from 5K's to half marathons. I plan to do this in January's marathon as well. Following Jeff Galloway's run/walk intervals has made me a better runner both mentally and physically. If I continued pushing myself to the limit as I had back in June 2008 when I was diagnosed with a stress fracture, who knows how many injuries I would have had to date. Walking during a race is good for you. Don't forget, Galloway is a former olympian, so he knows a thing or two about running.

Yes, I'm sure there are marathon pureists who look down on me for doing the Disney Marathon, and who probably don't consider it a true race given the location, etc. That's exactly why I chose it for my first marathon, I was looking for a complete experience. I try not to take myself too seriously at times, so why should this be any different? I want to enjoin it. I don't want to have such a negative experience that I would never want to do a marathon again. And yes, I am considering a second marathon next fall, one that is more of a "traditional" one. My experience at Disney though will be the building blocks for making it through that one. You only have one first marathon.

Most of the time while I am in the final stretch of the race, I am passed by people wearing their finisher's medals/or premiums and walking in the opposite direction on the way back to their cars. They have finished the race, enjoyed the post race festivities, and are heading home, all while I am still toiling away. Knowing this can be hard when I see them, but as they walk past me, do they shout things like "What do you think you're doing?" or "You don't belong here."? No, they offer nothing but support and encouragement, which is more than often greatly needed as your body and mind are ready to quit. I once even had someone who had finished the 5K course we were doing run the final stretch in with me. He and his buddies had all finished long before me. He had no reason to be standing by the finish line at that point other than just purely wanting to support everyone coming in.

This is the true nature of the running community, and one in which I am proud to be a member of. My involvement in this community began long before I ever started or even considered running. I started as a volunteer, primarily at the B&A Trail Marathon. Despite the harsh weather conditions in March, we would never close down our water stop (usually the next to last one on the course) until that last runner came through. When he/she came through, we all stood and proudly cheered for them, hoping our spirit would help carry them on to the finish.

What bothers me most, and is the most insulting, is the insinuation that the "plodders" don't take these races or training seriously. Ms. Macur writes, "Slow runners have disrespected the distance, they say, and have ruined the marathon’s mystique." Really!?!? Yes, I will admit there are some people who think they can do a marathon, sign up for it, and then do nothing before race day. This is a fraction of a percent though. The rest are like me, following thorough training plans, and documenting every step over the 4-6 months before race day. They're like me, getting up at 4:30 on a Saturday morning after a long work week, trying to beat the sun in the summer and bear the cold in the winter for hours at a time.

I want to know if Ms. Macur has ever run 18 hilly, winding miles in 40 degree wind chills in the pouring rain as I did this past Saturday. If she had, I guarantee she would not have written that statement. It was perhaps one of the hardest things I've ever done, but pure grit and determination, and the support of my running family, pulled me through. Not only did at least one person stay with me during those nearly 4 1/2 hours, but when I made it back to the parking lot, they were there, honking car horns in celebration for me. I nearly cried, as if I had I just finished an entire marathon. If I can do 18 miles in those conditions, 26.2 is completely achievable.

This Sunday, I am running the 10K that is taking place in conjunction with the Marine Corps Marathon. After my race is done, I will meet up with friends and proceed to the marathon course. I will stand there for the remainder of the race, and I will be cheering for all. Everyone has a story and a journey that has brought them there, and it deserves to be acknowledged.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Under 100 days

Race day is now officially just under 3 months away! The nervous excitement continues to build, and training is plugging along quite nicely. :) The last 5 weeks have had lots of fun and great accomplishments.

September 13th was Howard County Police Department's annual Police Pace 5K, a cause close to my heart. I did the race for the first time back in 2007 during my first year of running. I registered for it last year, but decided not to do it since I was still trying to build my mileage back up following the stress fracture. This year I was determined to go and give it my was my first 5K since July, and the last for the foreseeable future as I focus on high mileage. (I was supposed to do the 9/11 Run to Remember in Baltimore two days earlier, but due to downpours, decided not to participate.) The result of a couple of extra days of rest, good training, and lovely weather....a 37:14 time, a new PR! And, almost a minute faster than the PR I set in May on what was for the most part a significantly easier course. Also time was nearly 8 minutes better than two years earlier! While I didn't win the free cruise, overall it was a great day!

The 5K was a good taper weekend in prep for the Philadelphia Distance Run, a half marathon, on Sunday the 20th. This was my third half marathon, and in my third state! This was also the largest race I've ever done. The organizers did a great job keeping all of the corrals separated and spacing people out on the course. Each group got their own start countdown and all, too, which I thought was a nice touch.

I headed up with the BWI crew on Saturday morning, very excited about our awaiting adventure. We made it to the expo for packet pick up and shopping, and met up with Philly friends from (R0TE) before heading for a good carb load lunch. The Goofy Gals from the Striders made it up later in the afternoon, and after some delays/issues at our hotel, we headed out for a lovely dinner where we were convinced the owner/manager must be in the mob! Then off to bed in prep for the big race.

For the most part, I was oddly calm leading up to race morning. I had no set goal/time in mind, and that might have been a big help. I was there to have good fun and just enjoy the experience. K and I planned to run the whole thing together, and it was her last chance to try out her race day strategy in prep for the Marine Corps Marathon later this month. The goal was to keep about a 13:30 pace. We started out conservatively and just chugged along watching the miles go by and enjoying some of the music along the way. We kept going along and picked up the pace a bit, doing negative splits all the way to the end. We met up with E for the last mile or so, and helped push one another over the finish line. The result, just under 3 hours...a few minutes off of a PR, but I wasn't trying for one anyway. (More importantly, per our Garmin's, our average pace was about 13:21.) It was faster than my first half marathon, and again, I did it on what could be considered a more difficult course. Afterwards, we met up with the rest of the ROTE crew, took pics with the Rocky statue near the finish line, and then did the mandatory run up the art museum steps. A great day, and a great I would definitely do again! I must plan on some more visits to that fun city!

The Philly race fit in perfectly with my training, as the Galloway plan had 13-14 on the chart for that weekend. I was surprisingly sore for the days immediately following the race. I went out with the 10K class group on Tuesday evening, and felt every single footstep. All I could think was, OMG, is this even a hint of how bad I'll feel after Disney. The training plan had 8-10 miles for the next weekend. If 2-3 hurt, how would that good. Fortunately, I loosened up as the week went on, helped in large part to a deep tissue massage, and a couple of easy runs.

The crew was meeting up on NCR Trail on Saturday morning. I knew the crushed gravel would be a good surface and friendly on the body. The goal was 8 miles, but go for 10 if everything was going well and I was feeling good. I was slightly anxious as I had not done 10 miles by myself for sometime. I ended up having a great 10 miles...things just clicked and given everything going on in my life as of late, I think the solitude gave me a good recharge as well.

We returned to NCR the following weekend. This time, I had 15-16 miles on the chart. For the most part the highest mileage I'd ever done before was 14. I was anxious, but knew K would be with me every step of the way, and the crew would be out there, too. Like the previous weekend, everything clicked and went so well. The miles just kept adding up as we continued on our way. 16 miles was done, and I felt awesome, like I could have kept going. Wow, perhaps I'm doing everything right?

After another "short" week (9 miles), I've got 18 in store this weekend. This will be out on the good 'ole BWI Loop. Haven't been there in awhile, and hope the hills won't be my downfall, but I'm up for the challenge, and should hopefully have some nice Fall weather to help me out, too.