Sunday, November 15, 2015

Richmond Marathon Photologue

There WILL be an entry (oh yes, there will!). But for now, just a few images from my Richmond Marathon experience, which started Thursday morning.


Thursday morning shake out run with Kathrine Switzer & Robin Robinson

Hanging with the woman herself.

Friday morning - Bart Yasso's shake out

Hanging with Barbara and Tina during Bart's run.
Special meaning as Barbara and I met during Bart's shake out
2 years ago.

Another photo op with Kathrine and Roger at the Expo

Shadow selfies with Kit on the Lee Bridge during our pilgrimage run.

A tiny fraction of Team Lemon pre-race

Noodles the thug with her pants hanging low in ling for bag drop off.

With Coach Scott in the corral

On the course on Main Street
(somewhere between mile 17 and 18)

Post finish line hugs, captured by the incredible
Jesse Peters

Mom and me post race. <3
A huddle of happy marathoners.
T, me, Kit, Noodles, and Angela

Friday, November 13, 2015

Repost: Thoughts on Marathon Eve

It's marathon even in Richmond. The energy in the city is amazing. I've decided that race weekend is my most favorite weekend of the entire year. I love it more than Christmas. All of these runners together, in my city - the city that I love - who are about to embark on a fantastic journey.

I wrote this post last year when I was broken and preparing to spectate the marathon instead of run it. I think it might be the best thing I've ever written. I wanted to share it again today for all of the runners who are hitting the streets tomorrow. Though this is aimed at marathoners, it's really for anyone.

For everyone - whether a first timer or a veteran - remember that running is a gift. Enjoy it.

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Tomorrow, you'll be like a kid on Christmas morning and wake up at 4 am. It will take forever for the start to happen. The first ten miles are so much fun. Riverside is glorious. You'll be stunned at how much of a hill Forest Hill Avenue really is. You'll make the Lee Bridge your bitch (cause it's the only way to do it). You'll curse at the overpass by the Diamond and through Bellevue. You won't even remember you name once you get to Grace Street and you'll probably do something silly like cry at the end.

Now, take all of that and file it away. Don't think about it again until you are in the moment tomorrow.

As I said, I'm not going to attempt a profound analysis for what you should do. In my day to day life, I over-analyze a lot. The strange thing is that when it comes to race day, I take on a whole different persona and do one thing:

Just run.

That is my advice for you. As I've already said in the lead up to Steamtown, the cake is in the oven. You've mixed that sucker to the max. Now you just sit back and wait. Or, more accurately, you just go out there and run.

To just run, you need to do a few things. Sounds oxymoronic, I know. But hear me out.

First and foremost, trust your training. I know you've heard this already about 500 times. I'll say it again though. Trust your training. This evening, go look at your training log. See all that you have accomplished already. Do you remember when it seemed like you'd never in a million years be able to run 15 miles? How about how nervous you were about that first 20? The second? The third? But you did it. Add up all the miles you ran. There are hundreds of them. YOU ran them. YOU did that. 

What's 26.2 more? NOTHING! For my half marathon friends, what's 13.1 more? You've got this, I promise. You know what to do. You've been doing it since June. One foot in front of the other.

Just run.

Trust your training.

Be in the mile. This is the single best piece of advice anyone has ever given me. I have to give credit where credit is due - to Jeff Van Horn, the owner of Lucky Foot. This was his advice to me last year, imparted to me on Marathon Eve at the expo. I took it to heart and it has made a profound difference in the way I approach every run.

You know what lies ahead - Kit's got you prepared.

Now stop thinking about it.

Tomorrow, deal with the mile you are in and only the mile you are in. When you're at the start, don't fret about Scottview. On Forest Hill, don't think about Lee Bridge. Or the overpass. Or the last 10k.

Think about only what you are doing in that moment. The entire course is laid out for you - it will be there whether you worry over it or not. There's nothing you can do to change it. As you go through, think about what the mile you are in holds but nothing more. Deal with it as it comes. That way, it doesn't get overwhelming. You can run a mile in your sleep. So just run a mile.

Just run.

Trust your training.

Be in the mile.

Don't think about THE WALL. I spent my entire first marathon holding back because I was afraid of the wall.

I hate it when people try to scare first time marathoners with the looming specter of THE WALL. "It happens to everyone. You are going to be miserable at some point. Be ready for it." Listen, I'm no coach and I'm no seasoned marathoner, but in my opinion this is nothing more than a scare tactic.

Does it happen? Yes.

Will it definitely happen to you? NO.

I know this because I can honestly say that I've never hit THE WALL. Not even during the no-good-very-bad Raleigh Marathon.

Here's what I think about THE WALL: you have to tell yourself that it doesn't exist. Period. Kind of like the monsters under your bed. If you don't believe in it, it can't scare you.

Don't spend your whole first marathon worrying about it. My first marathon was a great experience, but in the back of my mind I kept wondering, "Where's the wall? When's it going to hit?" Everyone told me it would happen and I kept looking for it. I looked so smiley and happy in my marathon because I was holding back - out of fear of the wall. Since then, I have never wasted another minute worrying about it because it was a pointless exercise.

Don't spend your first marathon waiting and wondering when it will hit. Because it might not. And one way or the other, there's nothing you can do about it.

Just run.

Trust your training.

Be in the mile.

There is no wall.

Be thankful. Be grateful. For many reasons, lots of people can't do what you're going to do tomorrow. Putting all the time, effort, and money into marathon training and racing is a luxury that precious few in this world are able to afford. Your body is strong and healthy. It has gotten you this far without injury, it will get you to the start tomorrow and will carry you to the finish. So many of us were taken out of the game over the course of training. You're a lucky one. Don't forget it and don't take it for granted.

Just run.

Trust your training.

Be in the mile.

There is no wall.

Be grateful.

Be awed. You are doing something that very very few people do in their lifetime. When you've been living in a bubble of runners for months, it is easy to forget that we are a rare breed. Running any distance is a big deal. Accomplishing a marathon is an exceptional feat. Remember that.

Look around you tomorrow, at every other athlete who is realizing a dream. What a powerful thing to be a part of.

Thank the spectators. A lot of them don't get it. They might tell you that you are almost there when you're really not almost there. They might tell you that you look great when you know you don't. A lot of them probably don't even know exactly how long a marathon is.

But it doesn't matter. Smile. Thank them. Take their support. They are there for you, even if they don't quite understand everything that has gone into this day for you. Be grateful for their enthusiasm - it comes from the goodness of their hearts. I will never forget the older gentlemen around mile 23 of Steamtown who told me I looked great. I laughed and told him, "I know you're lying, but I love you for telling me that."

Or the guy who I think Sensei and I both imagined at mile 22. "Smile, relax, welcome to Steamtown" he said in a perfectly zen voice while bowing. I swear we imagined him. Real or not, he gave us strength when we needed it.

High five the kids, smile at the old gentlemen, laugh at the drunken revelers and the ridiculous
signs. They are out there freezing because they want to help you in some small way.

What a loving gesture by thousands of strangers.

Just run.

Trust your training.

Be in the mile.

There is no wall.

Be grateful.

Be awed.

And my last bit of advice: drink it all in. Tomorrow is a celebration. It is the cherry on the top. Think of it as the reward for the hard work you've done. All those sweaty miles and Saturdays. All those early Wednesday mornings, waking up before the sun. All those Friday nights you couldn't go out and drink and eat whatever you wanted because you had to prepare for the Saturday long run.

Will it be hard work? Yes. But that doesn't mean you can't love every minute. Be proud of what you've accomplished. It's allowed. There is no better feeling than seeing that finish line. Let yourself cry. Don't forget to put your victory arms. Smile for the camera.

Just run.

Trust your training.

Be in the mile.

There is no wall.

Be grateful.

Be awed.

Celebrate.

You guys are amazing. I am already bursting with pride for every person who has had the guts to tackle a big dream tomorrow - whether it's the 8k, Half Marathon, or Marathon.

Your cakes are in the oven. Now,

JUST RUN.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

An Interview with Kathrine Switzer and Roger Robinson

I was recently given the extraordinary opportunity to interview two legendary runners - Kathrine Switzer and Roger Robinson. Switzer and Robinson will be in Richmond for a speaking engagement that benefits the Massey Cancer Center just as thousands of runners descend upon the city for the Richmond Marathon, half marathon, and 8k.

If you've arrived here via link from the article that appeared on RVAnews.com - welcome! Here you will find more of my conversation with Kathrine and Roger, most of it very run-nerd in nature, which I thought would probably not be of much interest to anyone other than us runners. You know what happens when a bunch of runners start talking... they talk about running. A lot. And also food.

What follows is a transcript of the parts of our conversation that didn't make it into the article (with minor editing). Enjoy.

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During her training and in the starting corral, Kathrine had found that most of the men she encountered were encouraging and supportive of her. It made me wonder why Jock Semple had been so angry when he saw her that he wanted to physically attack her - and if the fact that Roberta Gibb had jumped into the race and completed the marathon unofficially the year before perhaps had him on edge.

Kathrine Switzer: Yes - a woman had run the year before but he didn't make any big deal about it. He said to the media afterwards, "no girl ran the Boston marathon - she just happened to come into the event along the course at the same time."

He was furious with me because - it was a sweet reason and I forgave him right away - well, not right away. It took me 20 miles to get over it, but I forgive him  because first of all, he's an overworked race director. The weather was bad and miserable, he was tired, and he was a great protector of this race. He was the guy who saved the race during World War II and the Depression. He kept it going, kind of single handedly. So when people were jumping into the race - drunk college students who would try to run with the leaders as long as they could, it just infuriated him. He hated clowns. The Boston Marathon was a serious race and he thought I was making a mockery of his race and of him personally. He thought I had gotten a bib number through subterfuge because I had signed my name with my initials.

Roger Robinson: In defense of Jock Semple, he came from a very tough background of extreme poverty. He was a small man who grew up in Glasgow [Scotland] schools. Glasgow was one of the toughest cities in the world. He would have had to defend himself and so his well known short fuse is something that goes back to his origins. The Boston Marathon was so important to him... he defended it and saved it when the Boston Athletic Association wanted to let the race go. So I often say in many ways, that Jock Semple deserves to go down in history as a hero of the Boston Marathon and it's unfortunate that his short fuse made him the villain.

In 1967, Kathrine's boyfriend broke up the attack by tackling Jock Semple. I couldn't resist asking Roger what he would have done if he had been running with Kathrine that day.

Robinson: (laughing) Oh this is a bad joke. Of course her boyfriend at the time was over six feet tall and a top football player and a hammer thrower. I am not of that physical stance. When Kathrine and I made our prenuptial agreement, one of the agreements was that if she ever gets physically attacked by a bad-tempered Scotsman, I'll try to talk him out of it instead. But I do like it when some journalists think that it was me who flattened Jock Semple.

When I took up running and 3 years ago decided to attempt my first marathon, it never occurred to me for a second that I wouldn't be prevented from doing so because of my gender - thanks, of course, to the efforts of Kathrine Switzer and many others who came before me.  I was aware that women were discouraged from intense sports like distance running, but I never thought about it much. I was curious as to whether or not Kathrine saw that as a good thing.

Switzer: Absolutely. I don't think that any mother wants to hammer into her daughter's brain that "you owe me a favor and you should remember all the difficulties we had, oh poor us, etc." We want them to go ahead and enjoy the freedom - the limitless and the empowerment. I love it when a mother comes by my booth at an expo and there's the poster of the photograph and the mother explains to her little daughter, "See, that man is trying to throw her out of the race because she's a girl." And the little girl will look at the picture and then look at her mother and say, "Why?"

That's what it's all about. she doesn't have to have any doubt.

One of the themes that popped up many times in our conversation was opportunity - and in particular, equality through opportunity.

Robinson: We feel very strongly that the way forward for the world is through equality of opportunity. If everybody has the opportunity, if there are no closed doors, then the world will keep getting better. Just don't close doors on people and talent will come through.

Switzer: I've often said that is one of my mantras: talent is everywhere, it only needs an opportunity.

Robinson: Look at the African runners. Here are people that come from total poverty, but because they are good at running, they become global figures. Within two or three years, they're holding press conversations in English and sometimes in French and Italian as well. They are incredibly smart people ... they're emerging because they're good at running, but then their other talents begin to show through.

During their visit to Richmond, Roger will address the runners at the Sports Backers' Marathon Training Team pasta party on Thursday night. Many first time marathoners will be there, so I asked both Roger and Kathrine what their number one piece of advice is for marathoners.

Robinson: It's always the same - especially to the men - go out slow. They always go out too fast and they say, "It felt so easy!" But then of course they get to 15 or 20 miles and they fall over. So always go out slow. Always aim to run negative splits. It's always my advice and people always ignore it and that's why I keep beating them.

Pullam: Well, we are boneheads - we're runners - that's what we do right? Ignore advice?

Switzer: My tip for the marathon and for any runner is that the night before the race, make sure you have a plan for exactly where you are going and how you are going to get to the race. Are you going to drive, take public transport? Make sure you get there an hour ahead of time because it will be chaotic and more difficult than you ever imagined. You don't want to get rattled. Get your number pinned to your shirt, get everything laid out. Get to the race early, use the bathroom, stretch. And remember that once the gun goes off, you won't be nervous anymore. It'll go away and you'll be fine.

On to the other truly important topic for runners - food. I wanted to know what Kathrine and Roger's favorite post-run indulgence is.

Switzer: For me it's a really good cold craft beer!

Pullam: We have a lot of that in Richmond! How about you Roger?

Robinson: Similar - a good meal and a good half bottle of wine. A large steak of something. You know you've hit on something - in a way, what you're saying is that being a runner enables you to live life fully and with relish.

Pullam: It really does, doesn't it?

Robinson: Yes! Runners really enjoy themselves in all aspects of life. I think it's a really significant thing!

Robinson and Switzer spend half of their year in New Zealand, so while we were on the topic of food, I couldn't resist a plug for one of my favorite restaurants in Richmond - Proper Pie - which of course is owned and operated by resident Kiwi Neil Smith. So Neil, be on the look out!

As a runner who qualified for Boston this year but did not make the cut off time, I wanted to ask these elite runners their thoughts on Boston's qualification system and whether or not the BAA should adjust the standards.

Switzer: Roger is more versed on this than I am and I agree with his totally, so I'll let him take this one.

Robinson: I'm not extremely well versed, but I'm involved to the extent that I'm coaching and advising a friend who started running at 64. He's now 68 and would like to qualify for Boston, so I'm close to the issue. He'll be 70 in 2017 and I believe his qualifying time is 4:20 or something close to that. I've told him we're going for a 4:05. He's got to get in on the first wave [of registration]. We aren't going into the situation that you just suffered. I don't want to criticize Boston, but I do think they should consider making the standards tougher. It would be better than letting people think they've qualified and then rejecting them.

Boston is in a difficult position and they're handling it as well as they can. The running scene is changing so much and so fast that it is hard to keep up. It's taking a lot of work from the people involved to keep ahead of the trends. It's exciting and wonderful that this is happening because it's great for the sport, but it does create some problems.

Speaking of things changing so quickly, I wanted to get Roger's take on some current running trends - the craze for minimalist shoes and then the response to that craze, the ultra cushioned shoe.

Robinson: There always have been these kinds of trends. One that has disappeared is the whole notion that you will go stale if you do too much training. And then there was the notion of "style." Back in the beginning of the 20th century, you'll see pictures of runners all prancing along with perfect arm position, which was very important. Then that passed out because of runners like Paula Radcliffe and Alberto Salazar. Now it's back again and Salazar, who was one of the ugliest runners in history - is now fussing about what they now call "form."

Another one is stretching. In the 70s and 80s, everybody believed in stretching before the race. You'd see everyone lined up along the fence, stretching their calves and quads. Now it's gone to skipping about and loosening up to make sure everything is warm. They call it "dynamic stretching" - a fancy name  for what we always did before static stretching became the rage.

I'm about to try a fad that I'm sure I'll reject. My friend has just given me two pairs of compression shorts. I hate the idea. I bet compression is out in 10 years time. (laughs)

I had one last question for Kathrine - I couldn't help myself, I had to ask her what she thinks of running apparel brands like Lululemon and Athleta, which make it seem like planning our race day outfit is as important as the race itself. I'm one who falls into this camp. I'm guilty of carefully planning my ensemble. In many of the interviews that I read in preparation for this one, Kathrine likes to point out that she was wearing a sweatsuit that day in Boston, but that she wore lipstick too, so I thought she might have a strong feeling one way or the other.

Switzer: That's actually very important! Under that sweatshirt, I had on really cute shorts and a top. I have always been proud of being a woman and looking great. I was very disappointed that I couldn't off that sweatshirt that day. When I run alone and train I just wear sloppy gear, but on race day I love dressing the part. I like looking good and I think clothing helps a lot of women feel strong and gives them sassiness. 261 Fearless (Kathrine's new non-profit) has a line of clothing with Skirt Sports and in fact, I run in skirts all the time.

Now I feel justified in my carefully choreographed race day outfits and my ridiculous collection of running clothes. Thanks for that, Kathrine!

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Kathrine and Roger were wonderful to interview - kind, gracious, funny, and extremely patient with a novice "reporter" such as myself. I highly encourage anyone who is in Richmond to take advantage of the opportunity to meet them while they are here.

Thursday, November 12th - Roger Robinson will address the Sports Backers' MTT Training Team at the Team's traditional Pasta Dinner.

Friday, November 13th - Kathrine Switzer will be at the Massey Cancer Center booth at the Richmond Marathon Expo on from 11 am to 3pm. The Expo is held at the Arthur Ashe Center
 at 3001A North Boulevard, Richmond, VA

At 6 pm on Friday evening, Kathrine and Roger are giving a talk whose proceeds benefit the Massey Cancer Center. Details and tickets available here: https://www.support.vcu.edu/event/switzer

Saturday, November 14th - Roger Robinson is running the HCA VA 8k. Kathrin and Roger will both be in the VIP starting area. VIP Premium Packages are still available at http://www.richmondmarathon.com/race-details/run-richmond-premium-package.aspx