Friday, May 30, 2008

Oui Oui Mon Ainee

It's been awhile since I posted, so here's what's been going on lately.

To start things off, I took a trip to South Bend, Indiana to be with Alison as she graduates from Notre Dame with a Masters Degree in French Crap. One might ask themselves, (as I have asked for many years) what do you do with a degree in French Crap? Well, undoubtably, you teach other unsuspecting kids French Crap in high school. Yes, six years of college and she is now taking a job at St Benedict High School in Chicago to pass on her wealth of knowledge in the French language.

Now, I kid Alison all the time about French, the language, the people, the country, but obviously, I am extremely proud of her accomplishments. She has worked very hard throughout her educational years, carrying a 4.0 everywhere she went. The logical question becomes, "Where did she get the brains, sure wasn't from my wife or myself?" Maybe I should research the mailman, the milkman (yes, I actually remember having a milkman that delivered to our house when I was a kid in Detroit) - anyone that may have taken responsibility as the father. But apparently, dumb genes + dumb genes can equal a smart kid.

Teaching high school wasn't her ultimate goal, she did apply to a number of grad schools to enter a PHD program, however, at this time was not accepted. Well, sorry to say, but those schools missed the boat; she would have made their programs proud. Not to lose sleep though, she'll try again next year with a bit more on her resume. I'm sure she won't rest until I have to call her Dr Stiner!

3 Generations of Polocks
Broncia, Sue, Alison
Now, it's time to talk about training and what's next on my schedule. Next up is the Topeka Tinman Triathlon. I've cut back on the running lately in order to get in more swimming and biking miles. Here's what the last two weeks looked like:

I'm trying to add more bike miles, but let's be honest, I don't really enjoy it, so I'm not doing so well there. I'm hoping the marathon legs can pull me through the 20 miles I need to bike in the race. Frankly, I'm doing this triathlon just to see how well I can handle the challenge, I don't care anything about how long it takes. I'll be totally satisfied just to finish.

I have also added a new marathon to my schedule, The University of Okoboji Marathon on July 19th in northern Iowa. This is a smaller race that coincides with a triathlon. I'm a bit apprehensive about a marathon in July because of the heat, but plan to just take this one easy, using it more as a training run for the 50K I plan this fall. This area of Iowa has a number of lakes and is allegedly a summer hotspot for vacationers. The wife and I plan to camp at the State Park for 3 nights while in town for the race. There is just something very primitive, very spiritual about sleeping outdoors in a tent, then arising in the morning for a long, long jog in Mother Nature's splendor. I am really looking forward to this run.

And by the way, GO RED WINGS!!!

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Country Music Marathon

What is the make-up of a great race?

Is it the course, the scenery, the spectators? Maybe the organization is most important, the food, the post race spread? Should it be a destination, a reason to travel, the weather? Maybe Nashville has a little bit of everything.

Saturday, April 26th 2008 began with a rude awakening. Mother Nature provided overnight storms and a look out the window from my 5th story room at the Loews Vanderbilt 5-Star Hotel (5-star prices with 3-star amenities), reveals a steady rain. Not exactly my idea of perfect conditions!

OK, just a quick review of the hotel:
Great location; just a few short blocks from the start line
For just an extra $19 a night, parking
A bag full of goodies for my dog, this actually was filled with very nice items
No pool, no hot tub
No runners breakfast, they did have a few choices in their little café, so $4.50 got me a bagel and a banana
A very pleasant staff and a nice, clean roomy room.
They handed out garbage bags for all the runners to wear as we walked in the rain to the start line, really, a nice touch

At 6:30 am, my daughter, Alison, and I begin the walk down West End Avenue in the light, annoying rain. This race has approximately 30,000 entrants, so the streets are crowded. Because of the large numbers of runners, they use a corral start. Each corral will be released about a minute or so after the first. Based on my blazing slow speed, I’ve been assigned corral 10.

As if there were some type of divine intervention, the rain stops at precisely 6:59 and corral #1, aka the Kenyans, is released one short minute later. It was only a short 20-minute glimpse into the life of cattle before our corral was herded up to the start line and we were set free to run the streets of Nashville.

The race begins very smoothly even with the masses of runners. Already, the streets are lined with screaming fans and you get a sense that this race is going to be fun. We lined up behind the 4:15 pace group but never was able to weave through all the people to get close. The first couple miles went as planned and we were running just a few seconds behind our desired pace of 10 minute miles.

The early miles find us running along Music Row, a unique section of town where many of the old row homes have been converted into recording studios and the like. You wonder if stars like George Strait or Loretta Lynn made their first recordings here. Miles 5-7 find us wandering through some of the areas neighborhoods, with a mix of modest and elegant homes, then its back up through Music Row again and heading toward downtown.

The half marathon split is near mile 11 and Alison and I are making excellent time. We continue to cut 20 seconds or so off our goal for each mile and we both feel quite comfortable, but Alison is only running the half, so I’m now on my own. I hit the halfway point at about 2:06 and I’m feeling strong and confident.

Shortly after splitting off with Alison, I come across a large church or maybe a seminary, but there is a group of nuns in full habit lined up on the side of the road, cheering like they’re in high school. As I ran by, I got a high five from each one of them. My daughter is a devoted Catholic who has often stated how much see loves nuns, too bad she missed this part of the race. Just past the nuns was an aid station with a large sign at the first table: Holy Water!

Around mile 14, I finally have sighted the 4:15 pacer ahead of me. I’ve been working hard at trying to keep this pace, but I hadn’t seen the pacer in my view since the first mile. This really gives me a mental boost. The next few miles I continue to try and close the gap between us, but never get closer than a couple hundred feet.

Somewhere in this stretch, props to the guy on the side of the road in the KC Royals hat and a T-shirt with big letters that reads “Yankees Suck”.

As I head into mile 18, I’m starting to show signs of wear. My pace is beginning to slow and my mind is having trouble redirecting focus from the tiring muscles. Physically, I’m doing OK, there is only minor pain in the muscles below my left calf and some soreness in the shins, but nothing too serious. I’m now looking forward to each water stop just so I can walk for a few seconds. My cathexis (that word should be worth extra points if Nitmos is reading) now needs to be on finishing this race with at least a PR.

I get a big surprise at mile 21, where I spot my wife and daughter along the street. I didn’t expect to see her again until the finish. Alison, who had finished her half in 2:04, decided to jump in and run some more with me. At the time, it was exactly what I needed. Alison has a way about her, always upbeat and ALWAYS talking. Technically, I call it annoying me, but she probably won’t even read this, so I can make fun of her!

So talk she does. She is rambling on about school, her boyfriend, the city, just on and on. She asks me if I want to hear about her thesis (she is receiving her Masters in a couple weeks.) “Of course I do”, I said not really understanding exactly what she asked. Big mistake! I don’t think I heard a single word after “it’s about a French author…” ZZZZ

Well, maybe the quick little power nap was good for me. I grabbed a few pretzels at mile 24 and all of a sudden felt energized. After 6 miles with a declining pace, I was able to get back to the pace I had in the first half. Once I get to this point in a race, I seem to gain some motivation, just by being close to the end. I’m back to picking out people in front of me and playing my own little game, just beat that guy or don’t let anyone pass me now.

The final mile goes well and I cross the finish line in 4:24:37. My goals for the race were:
Ultimate Goal – 4:15 – missed by 9 minutes
Secondary Goal – avg. a 10-minute mile pace – pace was 10.06, consider it close enough
Basic Goal – set a PR – WooHoo, beat my last race by 4 minutes.

Overall, I’m quite satisfied. After a 2-½ mile walk back to the hotel, I surprisingly felt pretty decent, much, much better than my first marathon, one year ago today. It’s off now to indulge in a meal fit for a king and the best beer on the menu.

Here’s a quick recap of the race itself.

  • A fun race, plenty of bands, cheerleaders

  • Spectators were loud and abundant

  • Aid stations were well organized and consistent

  • Power gels, fruit and salt available at a couple stops

  • The first half of the course seemed to have most of the hills (maybe because I was zoned out for much of the second half and didn’t notice) regardless, the hills weren’t too steep or too difficult

  • The course is a nice mix of neighborhood, parks, downtown, a stretch along the river, but seemed to miss the major attractions of the city (namely, the original Grand Ole Opry building and Printers Alley)

  • A good amount of food and drink available at the finish line (fruit, bagels, cookies, muffins and the like)

  • I heard my name announced as I approached the finish line

Go ahead, do Nashville, you’re guaranteed to have a good time.