[ back to Tom 7 Radar ]

r
u
n
b
l
o
g
Marathon managed! (03 Aug 2008 at 15:56)
Oh, red laces! You did not let me down.

So, this morning I got up at 4:30, made coffee, and biked 3 miles to downtown on a funny folding bike (courtesy Jake) to run the San Francisco marathon. This was my first marathon. I've been "training" for it for about 2 months, which for me means running a hard 4 hilly miles every day, or a semi-gentle longer (10–15-ish) one on the weekend. I was also trying to watch my calorie intake, which is much harder than running every day, it turns out. Anyway training is boring and over. Let's not talk about that. I was a little worried about running in this race because I had never run that far before (the previous farthest was a very painful 22 miles with a number of pain-increasing circumstances), and I was worried that it would be really physically hard (particulary as respects "The Wall"). I was even more worried about injury, particularly to my right knee which has a chronic pain issue at distance and had been acting up this past week. (I think that I get these pains psychosomatically to some degree when I know I'm about to do something intense, like I actually think my body is inventing pain to try to discourage me from doing it because it usually goes away after I tell it Shut Up and run for a few miles.) Even though I did a half-marathon in like 1:40 or so, and I'm much better than I was then, I had my expectations set pretty low (it turns out, stupidly low) for this race: I said to myself and those who asked that I would be happy with 3h45m and disappointed if I didn't come in under 4 hours. My sights were stupidly low because I finished in 3h23m04s, which is approximately the 90–95th percentile (depending who you count)! And I definitely could have done better. Here's what happened. I was a little late to the start line because the biking was slower than I thought and the chaining of the bike was a more complex knotting and folding problem than I thought, and the lines for the porto-potties were a lot longer and slower than I thought, so I ended up starting with the 4h–4h15m wave, which is even a slower pace than I thought I wanted, and is definitely a lot slower than I now know I want. And that's fine because it's actually pretty fun and encouraging to be passing people the whole time, and you get better cheering when you do so, as long as there is enough room to be passing people safely and non-obnoxiously. And so I was carefully running a 7:55/mi pace which felt sluggish but I thought it was the right thing because I didn't want to feel shitty later when I got to the last 10 miles. Then we got to the Golden Gate Bridge. This is almost certainly the most beautiful part of the course. They blocked off two traffic lanes for us; one out and one back. But the lanes are pretty narrow and there was no out-of-band sidewalk option, so I kept getting stuck behind some people who were running side-by-side and I couldn't get around them, not even if I was signaling and dashing to the other side of the lane, because over there were some other more people bunched up. I can't even blame them because they were all moseying along at the same pace that was appropriate for the wave they started in because they are more punctual than me. But this was really fucking annoying because 7:55 felt slow already and 9:15 or whatever was really slow. So when I finally finished this bridge part, which is about mile 11, and I was not feeling basically any fatigue and I was feeling this annoyance of not having been able to go as fast as I had wanted, and finally there was room to run around people, I really opened it up and that felt great. My knee was hurting and then later my foot, but I ignored it and it eventually went away. I ran the rest of the race at what I would guess was an average pace of 7:00 or so. I could have pushed harder there, but it didn't feel sluggish at least and I was still a bit worried about body changes at mile 20ish, so I was content to continue and get a much better time than I had thought. I'm honestly a little disappointed that it wasn't harder. It didn't feel bad or hard at all until mile 22, even, and then I only had to check my watch to push a little to keep up the 7:00 pace. Only at mile 24.5 did I turn to someone else and go, "This sucks!" and at that point you can hardly complain. So I am certainly happy with my time and I'm definitely happy with being able to run continuously (ok, with one bathroom break) for that long although I feel a bit like a chump for underestimating myself. If I had just pushed a smidge harder from the beginning I could have almost certainly qualified for Boston (3h10m), which I had previously thought was like a life-long goal of mine but now I think I should just do the next time I make marathon.

Here are some things that worked out well:
  • The bike was a good way to get down there. At 5:20 there is nobody on the road. I didn't have to deal with any parking nonsense.
  • Arriving in SF yesterday with EDT jet lag made it much easier to get up at 4:30.
  • I "carbo loaded" on Friday and Saturday and this seems to have worked? On Saturday with dinner I had 3 beers of light strength. This is a personal racing trick. They contain carbs too, and make it easier to relax and get a good night's sleep, as long as you don't get dehydrated. I think I did the right thing drinking at the water stations and having power-gel at mile 18 because I didn't have any wall problems that I could detect.
  • Red Laces worked out great. Thank you blog-readers for putting me at ease about this choice. I was scared at mile 8 when the knee pain came, but it went away. I also have this chronic under-nail blister that I think is going to result in one of my toenails falling off (gross) but I don't think that is a shoe issue but a weird toe angles issue.
  • The clothes were right. This was a concern for me because San Francisco has such weirdo temperatures and micro-climates. I wore shorts, a t-shirt, a long-sleeve shirt, and a hat. In the early morning and on the bridge the long-sleeves were good. Then I ditched that layer and ran the next 8 miles with the t-shirt, then I ditched the t-shirt and ran the rest in just the shorts. I held onto the hat, because it is light and it's something to wipe up sweat with. Not carrying stuff (including clothes on your body) does make a noticeable difference. I could have ditched earlier, but I'm glad I had the long sleeves for the bridge.
  • I ran hard on the downhills. This is a good place to make up time, and it is especially fun because you get good cheers when you are conspicuously pushing hard. I think the concern is acute injury, but I have a lot of practice from Pittsburgh hills.


  • Here are some mistakes:
  • As mentioned, the worst thing was being super wrong about the pace I'd be able to keep up. Embarrassing. Even if I had known the actual time to qualify for Boston (I thought it was 3h30m) I could have pushed harder in the second half and probably gotten it, once I realized. Well, there are lots of marathons. I will try again.
  • In training, I should have started calorie restriction later, since I was at my minimum weight last weekend, not this one. And that process is not fun.
  • I wrote a crazy-long and boring blog post about it. Seriously, a lot of people have been telling me that they want to hear "all about it", etc., so I hope those people are happy, and regular readers who like to read about interesting things and projects are simply not reading this far.
  • I knew that I was planning on ditching both shirts, so I definitely should have left a backup shirt with the bike. That was dumb. It is cold when you are not running. They had these mylar blankets that they were giving out as some kind of weird robot/superhero swag, so what I did was to tie that around my naked upper body and then punch holes through it for my arms, which looked absolutely ridiculous. Biking down was a great warmup, but the bike trip back uphill in the cold and looking ridiculous after running that far actually rather sucked. It was a little disturbing how few comments/looks I got, which I guess speaks to San Francisco's level of weird-tolerance in general.


  • Finally, some observations:
  • San Francisco is famously hilly, of course (though not as hilly as Pittsburgh, in my opinion). The marathon route is amusingly flat, however. The biggest hill is the one going up to the Golden Gate Bridge, which isn't really that bad. Like when I was running in Portland, I definitely noticed the locals (at least I assume they were predominantly locals) suffering substantially on hills. I just thought this was funny in Portland, but I was disappointed with the San Franciscans, who I feel should be representin' the local terrain. The Pittsburgh marathon, which is coming back in 2009 and does not go out of its way to be flat despite the naturally hilly terrain, will be interesting for this reason. In my opinion we should actually craft the course to be maximally brutal, which, coupled with Pittsburgh's unpredictable weather and poor air quality, could help us get a reputation as one of the most abusive US marathons. Because we ought to excel along at least one dimension, right?
  • I like trains a lot.
  • It is weird and I don't understand why I saw so many people running on the sidewalk in the opposite direction of the marathon. What are they doing?
  • It is weird and scary when I see someone running like this:
    Disturbingly non-ergonomic running style
    Scary not just because I don't have my regular drawing tools with me and so I have to draw this awkward animation on this crappy mac trackpad, but scary because I think if I ran 400m with this kicking the heels out to the side style—let alone 26.2 miles!—I would ruin my knees forever. I saw at least 4 women running this way. I think that they have bad friends.


  • OK: I apologize for this post. Do not unsubscribe. I promise the next will either be short, or be about an interesting project, or written in an amusing style. Right now I am too wiped out to do any of those.
    c
    o
    m
    m
    e
    n
    t
    Chris (c-76-99-55-118.hsd1.pa.comcast.net) – 08.03.08 18:49:35
    congratulations both on running your first marathon and on what may be, even for you, a record breaking paragraph.

    My dad ran the boston marathon some years back when they were letting many people in because it was like a special anniversary year or something. At the end they also had the sweet mylar robot blankets. That was my favorite part.
    c
    o
    m
    m
    e
    n
    t
    ben v. (pool-151-201-5-86.pitt.east.verizon.net) – 08.03.08 19:31:00
    good job, tom7!
    c
    o
    m
    m
    e
    n
    t
    Tom 7 (mobile-032-159-065-006.mycingular.net) – 08.03.08 19:38:48
    chris: thanks, but I'm pretty sure it doesn't beat the opening sentence of "Name of Author by Title of Book"...
    c
    o
    m
    m
    e
    n
    t
    Cortney (pool-138-88-174-54.res.east.verizon.net) – 08.03.08 20:32:11
    Congratulations!! And thank you for posting this! It was fun and exciting to read!! Do not hold back from posting similar things to this in the future.

    I think Michelle and I are going to run the Great Race -- are you planning on it?
    c
    o
    m
    m
    e
    n
    t
    Tom 7 (mobile-032-157-247-241.mycingular.net) – 08.03.08 20:38:26
    Cool! Yeah, a bunch of people I know are doing it, and since I didn't injure myself today I'm pretty much committed. I am going to try to crack 40min. It is sad we can't start from your old cottage though--that was super convenient! :)
    c
    o
    m
    m
    e
    n
    t
    Mike (h-74-0-115-118.phlapafg.dynamic.covad.net) – 08.03.08 21:20:40
    congratulon!

    Where's the GPS log? You ran the whole thing without tunes? I left my iPod in the kitchen for you but you didn't take it.
    c
    o
    m
    m
    e
    n
    t
    Tom 7 (mobile-032-159-203-107.mycingular.net) – 08.03.08 22:28:52
    I can't upload the GPS from here, so that'll have to wait until I get back ok Friday. I read on the site that MP3 players are banned, so I decided not to chance it, but there were lots of people with them anyway. I don't know if it would have helped or hurt. I had to stick with the tunes on my mind, and sometimes a little singing...
    c
    o
    m
    m
    e
    n
    t
    Tom 7 (mobile-032-159-203-107.mycingular.net) – 08.03.08 22:29:43
    ps. Who is this and how did you get in my kitchen??
    c
    o
    m
    m
    e
    n
    t
    Mike Kenny (146-115-26-58.c3-0.abr-ubr1.sbo-abr.ma.cable.rcn.com) – 08.03.08 23:00:25
    "...the bike trip back uphill in the cold and looking ridiculous after running that far actually rather sucked."

    good lord, a bike trip uphill after running a marathon!

    say, what do you tend to think about when you're running for so long? is the mind in a state of zen-like quiet, or is there a kind of running inner monologue?
    c
    o
    m
    m
    e
    n
    t
    Ejaculate (c-71-236-67-122.hsd1.pa.comcast.net) – 08.03.08 23:21:02
    so totally awesome! Congrats on finishing. Your pace is inspiring.
    c
    o
    m
    m
    e
    n
    t
    Brendan (pool-68-162-180-202.pitt.east.verizon.net) – 08.03.08 23:50:39
    Nice job, Tom! I enjoyed the details. And if you were disappointed it wasn't harder, or really want more hills, how about this: http://www.wasatch100.com/
    c
    o
    m
    m
    e
    n
    t
    Tom 7 (ip67-152-86-163.z86-152-67.customer.algx.net) – 08.04.08 00:28:16
    MK: Well, it really wouldn't have been that bad except for the cold. I was tired, but it's not like I was racing, and it doesn't take that much rest to recover that kind of energy. I think it'd be much worse to go for a bike ride now or tomorrow... I am really feeling the muscle damage now.

    Usually I listen to music when I run, and I'm thinking about maps because usually that's what I'm doing is covering the map. Today I was humming to myself, mostly songs from Graham Smith's lovely new album "Yes Boss." I also do think about stuff, of course, but it's really no different from any other time spent thinking except probably harder to concentrate. Sometimes I think about the slow people on the bridge.

    EJCLT: Thanks! =)

    Brendan: Thanks and Yikes. I will admit that I was thinking "ultra" as I was finishing, but I don't think I want to go 4x the distance yet, especially at Rachel Carson-like elevation changes and altitude. Small steps.
    c
    o
    m
    m
    e
    n
    t
    Erin (pcmr.sei.cmu.edu) – 08.04.08 09:57:11
    Congratulations Tom! That was a great blog post. And good job with the marathon too. :)

    Ps- i stole your computer. couldn't help it. its so much better than mike's.
    c
    o
    m
    m
    e
    n
    t
    Tom 7 (72.14.224.1) – 08.04.08 10:09:03
    Yeah, it is much better than Mike's, isn't it? And much more expensive.
    c
    o
    m
    m
    e
    n
    t
    Sophia (c-24-91-199-132.hsd1.ma.comcast.net) – 08.04.08 11:03:19
    Congratulations Tom! I'm not much of a runner these days (in fact that's quite an understatement, I really haven't run in quite a while; mostly due to my old knee problems flaring up too much, and occasionally back things, and then spraining my toes in San Francisco last week; I feel like an old lady sometimes), but I still enjoyed reading the details. And really am quite impressed. And you should totally keep it up and qualify for the Boston Marathon so that you will come visit me!
    c
    o
    m
    m
    e
    n
    t
    HH (bioch3088.bioch.ox.ac.uk) – 08.04.08 11:54:04
    WOW! Congratulations Tom! I am so impressed that you could do this. The post was also really fun to read. Go Red Laces! Your stats for the race were really impressive until I saw your age! OMG you are so old...!


    c
    o
    m
    m
    e
    n
    t
    Mike Kenny (146-115-26-58.c3-0.abr-ubr1.sbo-abr.ma.cable.rcn.com) – 08.04.08 18:56:08
    What keeps you in the habit of running? Whenever I've tried it I've found I simultaneously feel physically unpleasant, and somewhat bored. I'm definitely in need of cardiovascular exercise. Are there tricks to making running a sustainable habit? I've been told after a point running gives you a runner's high, which is an incentive to run. I've also heard guilt of not doing what you should (exercise) as an incentive (I'm afraid I won't be motivated by this one). You seem to bring a marathon-y sensibility to many things, like album-a-days and book writing, so I could see a particular personality tendency at work there too!
    c
    o
    m
    m
    e
    n
    t
    Ryan (nc-63-173-123-143.sta.embarqhsd.net) – 08.04.08 20:21:07
    unsubscribe
    c
    o
    m
    m
    e
    n
    t
    Ryan (nc-63-173-123-143.sta.embarqhsd.net) – 08.04.08 20:21:27
    subscribe

    nice work!
    c
    o
    m
    m
    e
    n
    t
    Scott/Graue (ip70-179-119-114.dc.dc.cox.net) – 08.04.08 20:54:59
    Why so self-deprecating? This post _is_ about an interesting project. Congrats! I really like how you shared all the details... it almost makes me feel like I coulda run the marathon too (but I know I couldn'a).
    c
    o
    m
    m
    e
    n
    t
    Tom 7 (ip67-152-86-163.z86-152-67.customer.algx.net) – 08.04.08 23:13:50
    Soph: That's the plan! But I guess I'll have to find a race between now and then, or else it won't be until 2010...

    Bioch: I know, won't it be awful when I turn 30 in almost 14 months? OLD

    MK: I dunno. I think I am pretty well addicted to it now. On Thursday and Friday before the race I wasn't running because I was "tapering" and I literally caught myself pacing around my apartment thinking, Something is Wrong? What is wrong? And it was that I had not run that day. It is important to me because feeling fit is important, I wanna be able to eat what I want, and that time spent doing something difficult and introspective makes the rest of everything seem easier. You are definitely right that I have the personality for approaching lots of things this way. Usually that's good, but not always.

    R: Subscription confirmed. 4a0e83f0a030c0eb3015671 Thanks!

    Everyone: Okay, I must have made too big of a deal about a long boring post because almost everyone seems to feel the need to tell me that it wasn't that bad or actually that they enjoyed the description. To me this kind of thing just doesn't seem that creative or interesting, it just sorta seems like navel-gazing about something that is kind of an individual thing (and risks sounding like boasting, which I do not want to do). Point taken, and thank you for the encouragement.
    c
    o
    m
    m
    e
    n
    t
    Amit (72.14.228.1) – 08.06.08 01:18:25
    Congrats Tom!
    c
    o
    m
    m
    e
    n
    t
    Haakan (pool-96-236-148-48.pitbpa.fios.verizon.net) – 08.06.08 06:36:04
    Tom,

    Congratulations! That's an awsome time for your first marathon.

    Columbus Marathon (http://www.columbusmarathon.com/) in October is one of the most popular for qualifying for Boston. It is very flat. I ran it in 2005 (my only Marathon so far -- made too many mistakes and finished just under 3:45).

    About Pittsburgh marathon, as far as I know, it is known to be one of the toughest Marathons in the U.S. It was used as the Olympic qualifier in 2000, and I believe elite runners had trouble making the qualifying time that year.
    c
    o
    m
    m
    e
    n
    t
    William Cohen (72.14.228.89) – 08.06.08 10:25:46
    congrats! that is a great time. -W
    c
    o
    m
    m
    e
    n
    t
    Mike Kenny (146-115-26-58.c3-0.abr-ubr1.sbo-abr.ma.cable.rcn.com) – 08.06.08 19:38:01
    yeah, that sounds sort of like what i've heard others say about running, i think. i'm trying to figure out what there's this addiction or craving or compulsion, which seems positive.

    one thing that leaps to mind--maybe we have a running and a sedentary mode deeply ingrained in us from our ancestral past, modes that fit with the demands of our ancestral environment. i've heard a theory that we are meant to run quite a lot--what did it have to do with, getting to water sources or something? maybe gathering intelligence about rapidly evaporating opportunities in a stone age environment ("there's a herd of easy-to-hunt animals ten miles over that way! come on!")?

    anyway, if our environment could shift a bit now and again, either seasonally or due to less predictable but not uncommon events, like famines or periods of plenty, different demands might be required of our bodies at different times--arguably our eating habits might reflect a feast or famine reality in our stone age environment--binge when food is plentiful and store fat for times of famine (i've heard this theory from seth roberts). so maybe running is like that. at times it's good to be lethargic, and at times good to be addicted to running, and the shifting demands of our environment activate one tendency or another.

    was there something that got you into running, i wonder? a trigger maybe? apologies for the length of this post!
    c
    o
    m
    m
    e
    n
    t
    Tom 7 (64-71-21-146.static.wiline.com) – 08.07.08 21:30:29
    Haakan: A couple of people have suggested Columbus now. It is pretty conveniently close, so maybe I will try. I'm not surprised that Pittsburgh already has a reputation for being tough... but I think we should own it!

    MK: It's a plausible theory. I would probably expand it to include more than just running/sedentary and say that generally the human body adapts to repeated activities and lifestyles pretty well (though there are some we are clearly "built" for). One of the most tragic things for people is that many of the mechanisms we evolved ages ago are no longer relevant and therefore no longer advantageous in a world of abundance. I certainly wouldn't want to go back to those famine and You Have Died Of Dysentery days though. ;) The "hardship" of running 30 minutes a day and avoiding having too many It's It bars is pretty tame in comparison.

    The second question: I can tell you for sure two life moments where running became drastically more important to me. First was back in sophomore year of college when some childhood love thing snapped one day and seemed like the worst thing, but now obviously I know that's at worst par for the course, and I felt so shitty that I was in need of some self-punishing vigorous exercise, which for some reason of convenience I decided to do at the CMU track. I was definitely not a runner at that point so I probably only ran a mile, and probably at like an 11 minute pace, but the important thing was how physically in pain that made me feel and how that made the other pain seem comparatively laughable. As mentioned in a recent post, this works great. It is much better than getting drunk or something like that. (I suspect this goes back to being raised mildly Catholic, which even though I couldn't give two shits about its religious mythology now, like it literally bores me to even try to enumerate the ways in which I don't care about it, it is funny how it continues to impact my actual values and behaviors.) I can't say that this specific time started some regular running habit, but it was surely the beginning of running-as-introspective-time for me. The second life moment is less serious but probably more important to the actual habit, which is that I have pretty wide feet and for comfort reasons I've always bought shoes with fitting as the primary concern at the expense of other dimensions. Then one day New Balance became the (or a) cool brand, whereas formerly for me it had just been the specialty like orthotic lame shoes that I got just because they were the ones that were made in 4E sizes. So for my birthday one day (this is like grad school) my parents brought me to buy new shoes and the store had only two pairs in stock that fit me: some middle-of-the-line thing and the venerable NB 991s. I couldn't believe it when I tried on the 991s. I think it was literally the first time that I wore something on my foot that felt like it fit. They were way more expensive than the other middling ones and I felt bad asking my parents for the conspicuously more expensive ones, because I knew they would oblige even if they didn't want to (this is maybe the Catholic thing again), but anyway I got the 991s. The next day I was walking to school and feeling so comfortable in these shoes that I just felt like starting to run, so I did. And then I ran for a bit again on the way home. I was happy that this method of transport was faster so I started timing how long it took me and keeping track of it, and stopped carrying a backpack pointlessly with my notebooks that I could just leave in my grad school office anyway, so that also I could run more efficiently. So that was really it, the shoes, which is trite but true.
    c
    o
    m
    m
    e
    n
    t
    Mike Kenny (146-115-26-58.c3-0.abr-ubr1.sbo-abr.ma.cable.rcn.com) – 08.08.08 19:00:25
    tom, yes, definitely i think there are problems with 'getting back to nature' or pining for our ancestral environment. i imagine i would have constantly had a sore throat if i had to hunt and gather, or eat the hunted or gathered items of my band-mates.

    gog: what should we name our band?

    thwok: not that kind of band.

    your reply is hugely informative--so to condense, running became important

    1. at a time when it caused an easing of emotional pain, by replacing it with physical pain due to exertion

    2. "running-as-introspective-time," as you say. this resonates--i sometimes find walking eases anxiety and helps me think. i believe i've heard others mention something about this too. maybe sometimes thoughts cause emotional pain and so we avoid them, as we would avoid putting our hand in fire, and by walking or running, that pain is eased in our viscera (why, i wonder?) and our mind can then approach the thought again.

    3. surprising discovery of comfort and new ability.

    these were all really interesting points i'd like to think more about. i think i'll query other people i know who run to see if they have any triggers causing them to get into running. i recall hearing of an ultra-marathon runner who had written a book talking about how he started running a lot during a sort of a midlife crisis--i think it was his thirtieth birthday (hardly mid-life i guess) and i think he had an opportunity to cheat on his wife which he 'ran' from. so his story dovetails with yours in terms of an emotional experiencing triggering a desire to run.

    i'll have to think about this more--particularly if there's some evolutionary story here--is long distance running just a dulled-down version of the flight response in response to general and less-intense-than-panic emotional pain? is it an accident of our nature without obvious adaptive benefit, or cost? was it a good way of causing socially clashing humans in bands from escaping their particular group and finding their own niche somewhere somewhat away from the old group (would running be social? 'we hate these people. let's go running, guys. hey, why don't we start our own band in that cool place we saw ten miles from here? no, not that kind of band, gog.'

    anyway, i'll keep your points in mind and see if i can maybe make use of them in making it easy/fun to run, exercise, or maybe do other things.
    c
    o
    m
    m
    e
    n
    t
    Tom 7 (mobile-032-148-194-042.mycingular.net) – 08.08.08 22:50:21
    You should call your band Theme from The Gog
    c
    o
    m
    m
    e
    n
    t
    Mike Kenny (146-115-26-58.c3-0.abr-ubr1.sbo-abr.ma.cable.rcn.com) – 08.09.08 12:19:18
    hahaha, indeed!

    thwok: i brought my bass!

    glarg: i brought my guitar!

    edmund: i brought my drum!

    gog: i brought my spear!

    thwok: ...not that kind of band, gog.
    c
    o
    m
    m
    e
    n
    t
    Mathcheck (198.98.38.231) – 08.11.08 23:09:34
    Congratulations, Tom. As others have pointed out, I'm a regular reader and I think this is one of your most fascinating posts ever.
    p
    o
    s
    t

    a

    c
    o
    m
    m
    e
    n
    t
    [ Tom 7 Radar  •  Tom 7 on Google+  •  on Twitter  •  on Facebook ]