2010 Seattle Marathon Race Report

3:21:32. Overcast, wet pavement, high 30′s. Second fastest marathon. Three minutes slower than my fastest and three minutes faster than my third and fourth fastest. Not bad for an oldster.

The question I set out to answer was how many 7:30 miles can I run in a row? I had logged lots of training miles at between 7:35-7:45 and I figured with tapering, perfect weather, smart nutrition and hydration, that was a good number that would also conveniently result in a personal record.

But just before the race I had a talk with my self. “Forget the watch Self. Respect the distance, stay within yourself, and take what the running gods give you on this particular day.”

Since I had my undivided attention, I continued the self coaching. “Let’s break the race into five parts, miles 1-8, 9-16, 17-24, 25, and 26. First eight are a freakin’ warmup. If you as so much hear yourself breathing, back off. Free miles. Enjoy Lake Washington. Settle into a grove. Remember it’s a long day. Use the first hour to shorten the race with as little exertion as possible. Hit mile eight as fresh as a (just changed) baby’s behind.

Executed this to perfection. Hit mile 8 in 59:30. I was cruising comfortably, and for a bonus, I was ripping off one 7:27-7:28 after another. The out and back on the floating bridge allowed me to size up how far behind Jesse Stevick (neighbor and Oly High cross country/track coach) and Jon Riak (former lost boy from Sudan, St. Martin’s alum and apparently all around great guy) were from the leader. He had seriously gapped them. Turned out his lead at mile seven was at least as much as at the finish. The East African looking winner won it with an especially fast opening 10k. Ballsy.

I struggle with multitasking. I wanted to take my two-mile splits, but I was also drinking every two, taking gel every four, and a salt tab every eight. The running, drinking, gel taking was as much as I could handle so I just let the watch run for the first hour.

Then I cleared it and started the 18 miler. “This is such a nice grove, no reason to get excited or play the hero and push the pace, just maintain it for another hour and you’ll be in very good shape. Yeah, let’s shrink this bad boy down to a more humane distance.” This is a really nice section along Lake Wash and around Seward Park. Long story short, ran miles 8-16 in 59:45. Eight more 7:28’s, 29’s. I passed lots of people during this hour. Still felt nearly as fresh as a (just changed) baby’s behind. Great consistency, everything in control, not frantically sighting the mile posts, not even checking the watch too often, not trying to get ahead of myself. The overarching goal was to shrink it down to a 10.2 miler. A Saturday run around Capital Lake with the posse.

Mile 16. Clear the watch, restart. Self, “You know hour three is going to be considerably harder than one and two combined.” I executed part three of the plan really well too for 30-35 minutes or through mile 20.5. Then things kick up pretty seriously, including a ¾ of a mile steep segment that would prove tough on a 10k training run. By mile 21, I had a definitive answer to my question of the day. I could run 20.5 miles @ 7:30/mile pace.

Weather was perfect, didn’t overeat the evening before or morning of, salt tabs kept the cramping at bay, drank a ton of Gatorade, and ran smart, so what went wrong? Simple. I ran too few long runs (two 20 milers) and didn’t have a high enough three month mileage total to run through to the finish. Had I gotten one more massage and switched out my shoes earlier, things might have turned out differently. At mile 21 I began to fight it big time, and the quads were trashed, which made the steep downhills from 25 to 26 especially slow and painful, but it was a classic case of having to go farther than I was physically trained to go.

During the last five miles Fifteen’s question from the car trip up rang in my ears, “Hey Dad, why the marathon this year?” Over the last five miles I wasn’t fighting the “whimp ass” voice DG refers to as much as a surly contingent of whimp ass voices. It didn’t help that I was running through the half marathon walkers. “Just keep running, doesn’t matter how slowly. No walking, no way. Salvage a great day.” I was as proud of my last much slower five miles as the first 21.

Thanks Denny for the kindness and generosity. Thanks especially to the GalPal and Fifteen for great race support especially immediately afterwards. Dano for being the best training fodder a guy could ask for. Thanks DG for the foot tips and inspiration. Katie, Lance, Courter, the Principal, moms, and other family and friends for cheering me on from a distance. I felt it. And my brother for the 3:31 prediction or whatever it was.

Felt even worse than I looked

Brotherly Love

Thanksgiving is a time to take account of one’s blessings. I am fortunate to have two older brothers. In high school my oldest bro was an excellent junior golfer who I looked up to and followed out onto the golf course at the ripe age of 5 or 6. So I have him to “thank” for my four decade-long journey to find my game. Oldest bro left for college when I was 6 or 7 so I have a few more memories of my other brother who is only three years older than me. Here’s some of what I remember.

He was an original X-game dude decades before the X games. I’m positive he has that crazy adrenaline chromosome that makes people repeatedly do irrational things. Jumped off the 10 meter tower in early elementary school, routinely jumped off our SoCal house into our smallish pool, loves big waves, and prefers skiing in the trees. Any day now I suspect he’ll take his kite board over the Seal or Huntington Beach piers.

Sadly though, despite growing up with long blonde hair, muscles, and dare-devil bad boy persona, he really struggled with the ladies. As a result, whenever he headed out, he’d ask me if I could tag along. Occasionally I’d throw him a bone, but I grew impatient when he proved to be a slow learner. Eventually he compensated by buying homes on the SoCal coast.

As you can plainly see from the “gift” he just sent me, he’s never really forgiven me for not spending more time with him during his formative years.

Derek Jeter

From Buster Olney’s ESPN blog:

“The Yankees’ belief is that their current three-year, $45 million offer is fair, and that by offering arbitration to Jeter, they essentially would bail him out after a down year. The Yankees feel that in the past, Jeter has fairly negotiated from his standing in the marketplace — when he went to arbitration in 1999, when he negotiated a 10-year, $189 million deal in 2001. And now the Yankees feel these talks should reflect Jeter’s place in the market; they also believe that no other team would be willing to pay him what they have offered. Here’s one big factor working against Jeter in this negotiation: While the Yankees want him and are offering him above what his market value is, they operate in the knowledge that if Jeter doesn’t re-sign — if he actually walks away — then his departure would not be a mortal blow to their pennant hopes in 2011. If Jeter walked away in 2001, that would have been different; he was an exceptional player then. Now he is a good player, but far from irreplaceable.”

I’m concerned for DJ. He’s building the largest, most expensive home on the water in Tampa a few miles from my mom’s pad. How’s he supposed to finish it and furnish it with a best-case scenario pay cut of $3.9m/year ($15m versus $18.9)? Last time I cycled by his crib there was a Porsche Panamera parked out front. Next time I ride by it will probably be a Toyota Highlander.

Sports analysts refer to DJ’s value to the Yankees in terms of his personal brand and argue it contributes to the team’s brand. In essence, approximately half of the proposed contract is a bonus for distinguishing himself from the other knuckleheads in the same locker room. Don’t mistake this for Yankee bashing, it’s pro athlete bashing more generally. It’s a sign of the sorry state of pro sports that Jeter has separated himself from the vast majority of ball players by doing what should be the norm, chasing foul balls into the stands, passing on p.e.d.s, and living within the laws of the land. In short, be a good citizen and we’ll pay you extra.

What intrigues me the most about these negotiations is the relative discipline of the SOS’s, “Sons of Steinbrenner.” A lot of financial analysts that study the wealthy predict that the vast majority of young adults of extremely wealthy parents will blow through their inherited wealth given their sense of entitlement and anemic work ethic. My guess is Steinbrenner would have signed DJ by now for more than is on the table. Props to the sons for their surprising, relative fiscal discipline.

Here’s what DJ should do. Sign the contract and say, “I’m well aware that functional unemployment is 17%. That awareness makes me even more appreciative of this contract which enables me to continue making a very good living playing a child’s game for the best franchise in professional sports. This is not a ceremonial signing. I will continue to work hard day in and day out to bring Yankee fans more joy over the next three seasons.”

“I’ll figure out,” he might add once the microphones and cameras are flipped off, “how to cut some costs on the new spread.”

Yankees daring Jeter to look elsewhere?

Marathon Pacing

There are three types of endurance athletes. The first, which make up about 1-2% of the total, are the elites who race one another in an effort to win. The second and third, genetically speaking are the remaining 98-99%. The difference between type two and type three endurance athletes is that type two-ers bring a lot more discipline, consistency, and focus to their training; as a result, they finish well ahead of type three-ers.

Each group has different objectives—1′s) win; 2′s) set personal records of different sorts, qualify for the Boston Marathon, etc.; and 3′s) finish.

I assume each elite athlete enters endurance events with detailed pacing plans which they often have to chuck when the lead group goes unexpectantly slow or fast over the early and middle stages. Have a plan, but be flexible.

Type three-ers, who may also be known as “one and done-ers” or “bucket-listers” go into races seriously undertrained, inevitably go far too fast early on, aren’t quite sure what to drink and consume, and fade big time over the later stages. I don’t know how they can go into marathons with detailed pacing plans when they haven’t done enough long runs from which to extrapolate.

I’m a two. There are two types of twos, those that lean heavily on science to aid their pacing, and those, like me that base their pacing on feel, or perceived rate of exertion.

My science is checking mile splits. Overtime I’ve learned to adjust my pace based on my breathing and my mental state. More specifically, by listening to how hard I’m breathing and thinking deeply about whether I can maintain my pace for another hour or two or three. Like turning a dimmer switch ever so slightly, I’ve learned to modestly increase, hold steady, or slightly back off my level of exertion. As a result, I usually perform very close to my limited potential.

I have a few different paces in my quiver. First speed is what I label my “steady/all day” pace. When I’m in good shape, hydrating, and taking in calories, this is the pace that I feel I can maintain for hours. Third speed is “moderate-hard/on the edge/85%/half marathon” pace. My optimal marathon pace is splitting the difference between the two. Easier blogged about than done because I don’t know if I’m in optimal shape. Trying to run optimal pace on something less than optimal fitness could backfire bigtime.

To be successful, twos have to learn to let faster people go. When passed, the tendency is to to say one’s self, I’ll show him or her. When marathoning, I wear horse blinders until the last 10k when I sometimes try to settle in behind someone stronger to shake things up and expedite finishing. To refine this skill I visualize my eighty-year old mother passing me with her reconstructed knee.

The exercise scientists would have chuckled at me one morning last week when I ran down to Capital Lake, around it, and back. Eight miles. Felt really good for the first four and then glanced over at the lake and saw wave action. Oh oh. A few hundred meters later and I was heading back into the 15mph wind that had assisted me over the first half hour. My worst marathon (Boston ironically) was one where I didn’t adjust my dimmer switch fast or significantly enough in light of the warm temps and how much I was sweating (I was fooled by the breeze that was masking my sweating). Again, the scientists would say that was avoidable and they’re probably right. But I’m stubborn and I accept the unpredicatability that comes with running by feel.

Here’s a summary of Saturday’s run. Don’t tell the team we were short a tenth of a mile.

The Great Church Disconnect 2

The second of two parts.

For reasons I don’t fully understand, Lutheran ministers seem intent on giving sermons that sound beautiful, but are very difficult to remember later that same evening, let alone throughout the week in the places people live, work, and play. This is the disconnect. Many congregants are suffering from strained relationships with spouses, other family members, and co-workers, but hear little that might help them begin reconciling with one another. Many suffer from mindless materialism, but are rarely if ever challenged in any specificity to live more simply. Congregants are frustrated with the shallowness of popular culture, but aren’t taught to live more vital spiritual lives at school, at home, and the workplace.

Instead, Lutheran ministers seem intent on stringing vague generalities together. Here’s a sample from a recent sermon from one ELCA church: don’t be weary, faithfully walk in his steps, don’t be afraid, live faithfully without fear, live the faith, and walk faithfully as a community of Jesus followers. There was also a reference to “unhealthy pathways”.

The first thing I impress upon my writing students is to substitute details for vague generalities. They know that if I was to read a transcript of a typical ELCA sermon, I would sprinkle the following comments throughout: What does that mean? An example would really help here. Elaborate. Explain more fully. This leaves me scratching my head.

If some Lutheran pastors read this, they may fire back, “You clearly don’t get it. Some congregants are liberal, others conservative, and so the only way to hold things together is to avoid being too specific about anything the least bit controversial.”

And how’s the moderate, mushy, middle working out?

I go to church thinking about Saturday morning’s running debate about Islam, terrorism, Christianity, religious extremism, and the military. Or education reform. Or the deficit reduction commission. Or the health of my marriage. Or what my larger purpose in life is. And what I hear is vague, unchallenging, uninspiring, and fleeting.

There are other hypothesis for the church’s decline that I stumbled upon following a quick search. No doubt some homophobic-inclined members have left the ELCA following its 2009 decision to embrace gay and lesbian ministers and members. However, given the gradual but growing acceptance of the GLBT community in society more generally, one would think at least an equal number of gay and lesbian people would eventually join what’s now a more accepting institution.

Another is that the church simply isn’t evangelical enough in the conventional sense of knocking on doors, talking to people about their faith, and inviting them to church.

I don’t think more door knocking is necessary. More people will try out church, and decide to stick around, when congregations model getting along and truly caring for one another despite political, theological, and interpersonal differences. When people see congregations living out the Sermon on the Mount in their family lives, at their workplaces, and  in their community-based ministries. They will be attracted to people living more purposeful, selfless lives than normal.

Literary and vague sermons given by the same one or two people every Sunday will not inspire that type of Christ-centered modeling.

More specific, relevant, challenging, and inspiring preaching probably won’t reverse the downward trend by itself either. A complete rethinking of the Sunday service may be needed. That won’t happen though because the service linchpins—the liturgy, the sermon, the hymns—all resonant with the traditional, elderly, 96% white congregants who yield the most influence because they’re the longest standing members.  They are, in essence, the “default”. By deferring to the majorities desire to maintain the status quo, the steady decline will most likely continue.

Carrots Not Sticks

Business true believers assume workers are motivated exclusively by economic incentives. Consequently, they advocate paying teachers based upon how their students do on standardized test scores. But the rub of course is that the total “salary compensation pie” doesn’t increase, so instead of three teachers making 40k, one will make 30, one 40, and one 50.

I’ve already described the problems with this approach here and here.

An alternative is to get foundations and wealthy philanthropists to contribute to “teacher bonus endowments” in every district in the country. These endowments could enable school community committees to identify and award exceptional educators. Bonuses could be 1k, 10k, or as in this story from today’s LA Times, 25k.

The Great Church Disconnect 1

Some numbers. 67% of Americans think religion is losing influence. In 1987, there were 5.3 million people divided among 11,000 churches in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA). At the end of 2009, there were 4.5 million in 10,348 churches. Since 2003, throughout the ELCA’s congregations, average weekly attendance has fallen from 144 to 131 people.

Why?

Here’s a New York-area religion reporter’s thoughts:

“I think demographics play a part. The next generation is largely unchurched, families with children are overextended, retirees move to the shore in summer and the south in winter, the faithful grandparent generation is dying.

The culprit may be our leisure society. And, believe me, I know what you are facing: working hard all week makes us feel we’ve fulfilled our obligations, need to connect with family, and enjoy that blessed reprieve of a weekend at the beach or mountains or maybe just sipping an unhurried cup of coffee while reading theTimes. We want to play with the toys we worked hard to buy.

When did God’s gift of the Sabbath become a weekend away from our Lord and from each other? Without getting into worship wars, poor preaching, church disputes, or bad music, we must ask more fundamental questions. How important, how powerful is our need simply to be together? The early Christians obviously felt the presence of Christ in their gatherings but they experienced a kind of rare community, koinonia, they called it (Acts 2.42). Is there a way we can be accountable to each other as sisters and brothers in Christ? Would a pastor or deacon, a council member or a friend simply call Sunday afternoon and say ‘We missed you’?”

The ELCA church my family attends is a snapshot of the “graying of America”. I would guess the average age of people in our congregation is close to 60. There are few young families and fewer people than when we first started attending seven or so years ago.

Our church, our synod, and the ELCA are failing to connect with people in compelling ways, especially culturally diverse young and middle-aged people. Our synod’s percentage of “members of color” has exploded from 2.3% to 3.9% since 2003. Too few people are asking why the church is failing to connect with people of color in particular.

I think the religion reporter is discounting “worship wars, poor preaching, church disputes, or bad music” far too quickly. On the surface they may not seem fundamental, but words—spoken in sermons and sung in worship—are symbolic of a worldview that does or doesn’t challenge and inspire people in meaningful, compelling ways. And the Sunday service is the center of the church week and the sermon is the center of the service.

Increasingly, ELCA preaching strikes me as problematic and may in part explain the church’s decline. What’s most fascinating about the preaching problem is it’s larger than any one person or ministry team, it’s a pervasive culture whose norms I suspect are learned first and most significantly in seminary. It doesn’t matter which of the 10,338 ELCA churches you attend next Sunday, you’re likely to hear a very similar sermon that I would characterize as unceasingly literary, vague, and forgettable. To be continued.

Seattle Marathon Training Update

After a few solid weeks of Seattle Marathon training I’ve hit a serious speed bump in the form of a bottom of the foot soft tissue bruise. Bad timing since last week was supposed to be my longest week. Had to pull up after a half mile one day, rested the following day, and ran 3 miles the third day. As a result, it’s unlikely I’ll be able to hang with the leaders over the final 10k.

It seems to be improving thanks to DG’s wise counsel, ice water, a tennis ball, new shoes, and flat trail running. And so I hope to put a little time into Subway Jared (New York Marathon time, 5:13) and Edison Pena, the Chilean miner/Elvis singer (5:40).

Monday’s predawn workout on the Olympia High School track was a setback of sorts too. Before hitting the track, Dano and I ran four miles with the right wing nutters. Dano only had time for 400 meters before heading home, but he can vouch for the veracity of the next paragraph.

As Dano and I rounded the first corner, one of four or five women stretching on the football field hollered, “Hey Ron!” It was dark and since I didn’t know which of my female fans it was I uttered a simple “hey” in reply.

Apparently women do love the strong silent type because once Dano peeled off the adoration, like my pace, picked up. 800 meters, “Looking good Ron.” 1200 meters, a reprieve because now they’re hopping on one leg across the width of the football field. 1600 meters, “Nice work Ron.” 2000, they’re hopping again. At 2400 meters I’m feeling part human, part gazelle. A legend in my own mind. This is how Pre must have felt.

Then it all came crashing down in one decisive ego shellacking blow. 2,800 meters, “WHEN ARE YOU GOING TO START YOUR INTERVALS?!”

“I’m nursing a soft tissue bruise.” That had to impress them don’t you think. I spent the last 400 meters thinking about how I should have replied. “I just got back from a training camp in the Rift Valley where I took it to the Kenyans. Today is a recovery run.”

Montana Grizzlies Stand Pat

The University of Montana Grizzlies will stay in the Big Sky Conference and not move up to the Football Bowl Subdivision, school president Royce Engstrom said Thursday.

“It was a complex decision with many pros and cons,” Engstrom said in a statement. “In the end, the better course is to stay with the conference we helped establish in 1963 and to continue building on its solid foundation.”

Engstrom said there were three keys to his decision — he wanted to maintain the cross-state football rivalry with Montana State; he wanted the Grizzlies to compete against institutions with similar academic missions; and he wanted to maintain the prestige and integrity the program has demonstrated.

Talk about enlightened leadership. Stories like this help me battle cynicism. In a day and age where the default is to constantly grow, continuously generate more money, and routinely increase one’s profile, the Grizz said, “We have a very good thing going and we don’t want to risk losing it.”

No doubt many Grizz alum and fans don’t see it the same way as me which makes his “no thank you” to the bright lights and big bucks of big time college football all the more remarkable.

Maybe Engstrom drew strength from this Emmylou Harris track.

I’ve felt adrift lately. Lost even. At times I wonder if some radical changes might help me feel less adrift, less lost. So far at least I’m following Engstrom’s and the Grizz’s example, looking within, finding lots to appreciate, and standing pat.

Dreamliner?

From the newswire. Boeing Halts Flights of Dreamliner Jet. Test flights for the 787 Dreamliner were halted a day after an onboard fire forced an emergency landing.

If you’ve followed this story, you’re well aware the Dreamliner desperately needs a new name. I hope someday it truly becomes a Dreamliner. Until then, some other possibilities, Screamlander, Emergencylander; Hindsighter; Costoverrunner, and my personal favorite, JETtisoned.