22 of 52: B & A Half Marathon

Everyone’s Driving a Different Machine

It’s been a few weeks since I ran this race and I swear I have only a passing recollection of who said this. Was it me or Dan? It was probably me, responding to one of Dan’s insights about running – or runners. That’s usually how it goes. Dan shares a thought that he’s been having about runners or running – more like an ongoing observation – one he’s been working on for years. And then in a moment of un sophisticated word salad, I attempt to summarize what he says in four words or less.

OH! Now I remember – we were headed south on the B&A – probably around mile 4 into the race which means he had already stopped to pee and then caught up to me. I’ll never understand how he does this… Kari had dropped us long ago. We were at that point in the race where the leaders were starting their return run from the turn around so we could see them – and they were working HARD.

Dan said something to the effect that he thought it was interesting that no matter where you are in the race – front, middle, or back – there were people working just as hard. And it’s true. No matter what combination of training, ability, physical characteristics, age, experience, motivations and whatever else you’d like to throw in the mix – if each individual person was working with the same effort as everyone else we would all be traveling at a different speed. At the moment the reason seemed obvious to me:

“Everyone’s Driving a Different Machine” – the word salad fell out of my mouth.

The Run

This was my 4th time running the B&A Half. When I looked that up I was surprised – I could have sworn I’ve run it at least a few times more but nope. Athlinks doesn’t lie. I mentioned many weeks ago that I might try to PR this race, but honestly my training hasn’t been all that it should have been to make that happen. My half marathon PR was 1:55:33 @ 8:49/mile. None of my other 21 half marathon distance runs have come close to that pace. What was I thinking? And then this happened…

I PR’d by 1:47.

What?? How? I’m not sure but I think it has something to do with what I was writing about last week. About shortening the scope of my attention from “all the miles” to “this mile” and at times “this moment”. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The first 5 miles went by without a hitch – I mean aside from the mile markers being off by about .34 miles. Well – the markers weren’t off exactly. We noticed that they were right on the marks on the street that indicated where they were supposed to be. So what the heck? Did we miss part of the course? We wondered about it for awhile and joked about our sub six opening mile. At some point we gave up trying to figure it out or we got distracted. I was thinking – “dang, I’m gonna have to keep running after we finish to make 13.1.” I wasn’t really looking forward to it.

Dan and I headed South on the B&A. I’m in the grey shirt and white hat. Dan is in the blue shirt and orange hat.

I was feeling good. The extra push I get from running a race surrounded by a bunch of other runners was in full effect. I have been getting more weekday runs in and some strength training. The winter sun was gone and I was enjoying the cool temps.

We had talked about running 9:30 but the first several miles were right on 9 minute pace. A short while after Dan caught up to me from his unscheduled/scheduled pit stop, he started feeling some pain in his calf. With a full marathon two weeks in his future he decided to stop and work it out rather than keep running on it. I fully expected him to catch up to me again in a mile or so.

But then Dana Dobbs ran past me. Who is that? He’s a local triathlete. I’ve never met him or run with him but a lot of folks in the tri club know him which is how I know who he is. Anyways – he’s fast as hell – and as he passed me I took note of how wide open his stride was.

I usually run with a conservative stride – a pretty consistent .95 m. I don’t want to over extend myself because I feel like the longer my stride is the more I put my knee at risk but after seeing him run I decided to open it up a little bit – but not try any harder. Turns out I opened .15 m per step to 1.1 m – that’s about 6 more inches. Per step. Apparently that adds up.

I ran down boulters to the turn-around and then back up the hills to the trail head. I still felt strong so I decided to keep doing what I was doing. About a mile later I saw Susan and Angus at Arnold station and I said to Susan – “I think I might PR?!”

I had just looked at my average pace and realized I was on track to do it. But could I? Surely the math was wrong – I had made a mistake – and so I proceeded to think about this for the next mile and try to do the math. I am not good at runner math and so this took all of my mental focus so the mile disappeared…

And THAT is the moment that I realized I shouldn’t think about running the rest of the race – I should only think about “right now”. Which is hard to do for me.

I had just seen Susan at Arnold Station – at this point I’m trying really hard to do math.

I’ve known for awhile now that I don’t like to suffer for long periods of time. I can suffer through short track intervals or in the pool – but the idea of suffering for MILES – I don’t have what it takes mentally. If staying in the moment really works (and I have been trying it out on shorter tempo runs and it seems to) then I may have found a loophole in my “no suffering” clause.

I probably still don’t like to suffer for long periods – who does? But maybe now I have a way to cheat time a little bit – to make me feel as though no time has passed at all.

I don’t know what happened in mile 6 – but I like it.

Long story short – every time I would start thinking about “how much further” or if it was hard – I just tried to bring my thoughts back to the moment. I have to give some credit to the book Dan got me for Christmas – “Running with the Mind of Meditation”. The author talks about focusing on the breath and when the mind wanders – and that it WILL wander – to just refocus on the breath. Simple.

This went on for awhile – and then I was done.

Mind games or not – I’m pretty sure I was suffering at this point.

If the race had been about a half mile longer – Dan would have caught me. He finished about a minute later. I have no idea how long he stopped to work out his calf but HOW DOES HE DO THAT? It doesn’t really mater – I’m just happy to have such a consistent and well matched running buddy.

I almost forgot! The mile markers sorted themselves out somehow and by the end the finish was right on 13.1. I don’t know how Josh Harriman made it happen but thank goodness he did. Another .35 miles would have sucked.

Not the Run

It was a great day. I think I really learned something new about how to think while I run and I’m pretty sure I’m going to figure out how to apply this to work and trumpet and pretty much every other part of my life. It’s nice to know that while I may just be driving “my” machine – it’s possible to mod that machine from time to time and keep getting better.

Next Week: Where the Hell is Centennial Lake?

21 of 52: I Ran with Dan

The Plan

The plan was to write this in the style of Dr. Seuss. You know…

I Ran with Dan
We ran and ran
and ran and ran and ran

But as it turns out Dr. Seuss makes something that is very hard to do – look very easy. So for now I’m going to keep writing in the style of Chris Kaplan which should be pretty easy for me.

The Run

So there it is. With the B&A Half Marathon coming up I wanted to make sure we ran to the head of the trail in order to get some more time on Boulter’s way which is funny because I’ve run up those hills probably hundreds of times already – just not so much in recent times. Dan and I agreed to just get that (and the bridge) out of the way first.

BUT FIRST we ran past a townhouse I was thinking about renting. Of course I forgot to start my watch so let’s just say we got some bonus mileage prior to the “start”.

It was coldish with the threat of rain so we had light jackets on but by the time we hit the far side of the Naval Academy bridge we decided to ditch them. We rolled them up and placed them in a small tree off the ground and joked about wether or not we’d even remember to pick them up by the time we were finished.

We made our way to the trail head and then ran back down, over the bridge and onto the Naval Academy. We have a lot of really neat places to run here in Annapolis, but the Academy has got to be one of the most iconic (along with the downtown area). It was late enough in the morning that there were quite a few midshipmen out doing what midshipmen do… we wondered at what an amazing experience it must be for them. I wonder now in retrospect if they’re aware of the uniqueness of the experience. I imagine some do – most don’t. I hope I’m wrong.

The thing that always catches me off guard is how these young people *always* defer to us as we run through *their* campus. They immediately and with extreme courtesy make way for us and say hello. It’s remarkable. Maybe they just think we might be an admiral they haven’t met yet ( you never know who you’re talking to) – or maybe that type of courtesy (be nice) is one of the things they’re taught at the academy. Either one is a good life lesson in my book.

We enjoyed the academy, running as extreme a version of the perimeter as we could, ran downtown and then made our way back to Dan’s place by way of West Street. 13.1 and done.

Not The Run

We got to talking about how many weeks I’m up to. And I said how I felt like after all this time (21 weeks) it feels like I should be more than halfway. Some weeks I feel like I’ve been doing this forEVer. Then other times it’s just another run. Mostly when I’m in the middle of one I don’t think about how many more I have to go because being in that moment none of the other runs matter. I don’t have to worry about them.

I think this is also how it goes with the miles of a long run. Say you set out for 20 miles. Usually for me it goes like this…

  • Miles 1-5 – “YAAAYYYY”
  • Miles 6-10: “How far are we going again? I mean I can run all day but I just wanted to double check. For a friend.”
  • Miles 10-15: “Keep on running. Keep on running.”
  • Mile 16: “I hate my life.”
  • Miles 17-19: “The cold dark space in my heart is dragging me forward.”
  • Mile 20: “I am a machine. I just ran 20 miles. Bring me all of the tacos.”

In truth I can bounce back and forth between feeling all of these things regardless of the mile I’m in but the thing is – in a single run I am almost ALWAYS concerned with the other miles of that run. The opposite is true if you think about each week of this as one mile of a long run – where I have little regard for any of the runs ahead of me. I tried this attitude out in the future (week 22) when I ran the B&A half and had a surprising result.

Spoiler – I PR’d – but more about that…

Next Week: The B&A Half Marathon.

ALSO: We remembered the jackets. Did you?

20 of 52: Ghosts on the B&A

I See Running People

It was a very busy weekend you see. At least it was supposed to be or I remember it that way, but when I look back at my calendar there isn’t much on it. Friday night was busy with the kids – so no time for a run outside. Saturday I had a morning sound check and late morning concert and Sunday was complicated so I figured that Saturday after the concert was the best time to run.

This run was four weeks ago so I’m having a hard time remembering where my head was. But what I do remember is although there were people on the trail I felt like Bruce Willis in “The Sixth Sense” – like no one could see me – and it made me think back to people I used to run with regularly but haven’t seen in awhile. Ghosts from my running past. It’s not a sad thing – more like my running history laid out before me. It made me smile.

The Run

Being that I wanted to run outside, I was alone, and I didn’t want to put much thought into where to run, I went straight to the B&A trail. It was around 3 in the afternoon so the usual traffic of runners and cyclists had given way to the families and more leisurely patrons of the trail giving me an added sense of detachment.

I didn’t have any expectations. I had just run the Rock n’ Roll half the week before at a very slow pace and I hadn’t run at all the entire week in between – but I felt strong immediately. I decided right away that I would run the first half faster than normal and just suffer slowly on the way back.

I started at mile marker 1 and went north with a skip in my step and a song in my…. ear. Seriously I could not shake it. We played it earlier that afternoon at the concert and it stuck with me for ALL 13.1 miles. What song is that you ask?

Falling in Love with Love

What? Yeah – it’s a catchy tune but it’s not my favorite. It’s in a weird key for me and I always struggle with it when I play this particular arrangement. But here it was, in my ear, driving the pace of my run. We had played it a little fast at the concert and maybe that’s why it was stuck in my head. Who knows. I kept expecting it to to go away but it never did. I kept expecting to slow down – but I never did. Not that I was going crazy fast – just faster than I had expected.

Maybe it was the easy pace the week before, or the week off in between, or being distracted by memories or the uptempo tune in my ear but I did not feel like slowing down. So I didn’t.

Not the Run

Oh what to say. What to say? I’m not feeling poetic or particularly insightful four weeks after the fact. I’m feeling like I still have three more reports to write after this.

Work is busy which I’m enjoying. I’ve been feeling very out of balance on the whole work life spectrum – with very little energy going into work and most of it going into “life”. And it’s funny because normally this means I’d be killing it in the life department – but all it really means is that it’s been taking a lot of energy just to keep on moving. You maybe read about this a couple weeks ago – job uncertainty and needing a career coach and all. I’m still working on that project – but in the meantime, my minimal energy at work has had me feeling guilty.

It used to be (in another life) that I’d get this way – lower energy at work – after having put in a couple years of solid over achieving and professional development – but not this time. I have no excuse other than “I cannot stop staring at these crossroads in my career. I’m not sure exactly how to proceed.” So the busy time at work has been a nice distraction from that. At the very least I don’t feel guilty on payday. I guess if all else fails and I start to lose my pace, I can just put the headphones on listen to a little “Falling in love with love.”

19 of 52: DC Rock N’ Roll Half Marathon

Look Ma – I’m a Pacer!!

Just what is a pacer you ask? No – I am not a sleek orb of a disaster that AMC put on the road in the 70’s and while I’ve admitted on this blog that I sometimes wander in circles around my apartment – this is not what I’m talking about.

This pacer had a tendency to blow up. Photo credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:CZmarlin

A pacer is someone who helps other people finish a race in a specific time. Or – at all. Faster runners may have a friend or two help them along the way. I’m not a faster runner so I can’t really fill you in on that but the last couple paragraphs of this article sum it up.

I was part of a pacer team helping runners finish their half marathon in 2 hours and 45 minutes and it was pretty awesome. I would have been nervous about it BUT I was pacing with Lara Mish – who I’m pretty sure has paced more half marathons than I have run – which is a LOT. So with that kind of experience – what could go wrong?

Nothing. Nothing went wrong. I know that’s like a writing device for “well let me now tell you all of the things that went CRAzy during the race!” – but nothing did. It all went to plan. It was a great day and I got to help some really nice people achieve their goal.

A huge thank you to Lara Mish for organizing all the pacers (all of them – for the half marathon and the full marathon) and for inviting me along for the ride!

The 2:45 pacer team means business!!
Ok – we were actually fun and cool pacers. Not mean and grumpy.

What’s in a Name?

You: “What’s with the extra heading Chris?? I come here for a max of THREE headings. What am I supposed to do with this?!”

Me: “I don’t know. There was a lot to say about what Rock n’ Roll is and I didn’t want people who skip only to The Run to have to wade through it all.”

The Rock n’ Roll Marathon Series is a pretty well known, successful series of races put on by … Rock n’ Roll? That doesn’t make any sense. Oh wait – they’re owned by the IRONMAN group… more here if you’re interested but basically these folks are good at organizing large scale races. They encourage many many charities and build and maintain relationships with cities (you need permits and police support and medical support for these things) and the merchants in those cities (to help with travel and accommodations and tourism.) They put on good well supported races and that is something that isn’t easy to do.

Make no mistake – it’s a business but I think that’s ok. What some folks have been critical of in the past is that they will buy up smaller races (and organizers) only to eliminate the race a year or two later or even if the race does survive – it becomes this massive thing and the small local race and organizer are no more.

Also – Rock n’ Roll races feature LIVE MUSIC which I am all for. They may not be bands that you have ever heard of but they are good and they are playing songs you know.

Known for live music and massive inflatable rock n’ roll dudes.

The Run Before the Run

You: “Kaplan – you re KILLING me with he extra headings today. What the actual hell dude?”

Me: “Shhhhhhhh”

I met Lara at Starbucks near my place. I ordered a coffee ahead of time and was just coming out of the store when she pulled up. I have only recently started drinking coffee on race day. I had stayed away from it knowing that it will cause problems with my stomach during the race howEVer I recently discovered that if I have it long enough before the race starts then I’ll have time to take care of it. Of course this means waking up earlier – and we all know how I feel about that.

On this day I would be up plenty early because of the ride in and also Lara needed to get a few additional miles in before the race for her marathon training.

We met a handful of Striders at the New Carrolton Metro station who were also pacing. Michelle (a long time running bud and absolute positivity machine), and a few new (to me) faces – Leslie, Sarah, and Jessica.

A handful of pacers… I’m the one on the right lol

After a pretty short metro ride we emerged to some pretty decent running weather – though a little on the cold side. Lara almost immediately ran into her friend John Young who is running 12 marathons this year. You can read more about him here and here.

After the photo op we started a short run around the mall and guess what we found? BATHROOMS – not port-a-pots my friends – BATHROOMS. No lines and fully protected from the elements. We took advantage knowing that the lines near the start would be pretty long.

About two miles later we took our place in the starting corral. Pretty soon we were making conversation and listening to the stories of those people around us. Some were curious about what a pacer does – “what’s the 2:45 sign for…?” other folks were nervous about either running their first half or maybe this was their first big race since having children. One woman was running with her mom who was running *her* first half-marathon.

For me this was a really neat part of the day because it brought back a ton of feelings from when I ran my first half marathon back in 2010. I was nervous about wether or not I would be able to run the distance but my friend Eric (who is actually the person who got me into running in the first place!) ran with me the whole way and also ran with me in my first three marathons – but that’s a story for another time…I digress.

The Run

Ok NOW we can talk about the run… and listen – just because there have been extra sections and you’ve been reading all this extra stuff I can tell you “The Run” is not going to be all spectacular and interesting so I’m hoping at this point that you’ll just keep reading because you’ve put in the time and “I’m gonna finish this thing dammit!”

…and You – are halfway to the end of this post. Thank you random stranger for providing me with a useful sign.

The thing that struck me as being so different about this race than any other I have run was that I felt almost like I wasn’t really running in it. I mean – I was there… I was running… but I was paying so much attention to the folks following us and my watch and mileage and pace. It’s not like I couldn’t focus on the here and now so much as the here and now did not belong to me. It belonged to the people who were following us. Those folks trusted us to get them to the finish and do it on time.

The 2:45 group.

The race was not as crowded as I thought it would be. Maybe it was because of where we were in the pack, but even before the race started though the lines to the port-a-pots were long the place didn’t seem like wall to wall people. I liked this. Large crowded races are not my thing.

We made our way down Constitution Ave. where I tried to be a good tour guide. I learned that just because you work in a place does not mean that you know that place. I’ve even done a handful of runs downtown but I found myself drawing a blank on building after building. I was particularly drawn to the American Pharmacists Association building. First of all – what the heck? Second – why is it on the National Mall? Third – why does it look like the nondescript entrance to a massive underground operation? It’s super plain and super cool at the same time.

American Pharmacists Association – Who knew?

I did properly recognize the Lincoln memorial, the Kennedy Center, the Watergate Hotel, Georgetown and Rosslyn. It wasn’t after 6 miles or so of pointing these things out that I turned around and asked if anyone was from out of town. Thankfully – we had a handful of folks who had never seen the city so that worked out. If they had all been locals my plan was to then pretend like I was from Nebraska or Canada.

I don’t know why, but running on a freeway is always exciting – particularly a short tunnel like this.

The later miles of the race had us running through parts of DC I had either never been in, or had only driven through. If nothing else I was left with a sense that this city was one that I wanted to know better. I don’t have a plan for that but hey – I start with an idea – *then* make a plan.

It wasn’t until the last mile or so of the run that any of our group started to express any concerns which I was very grateful for. My biggest fear as a pacer:



(everyone yells during a race BTW – at least in my head there’s dramatic music and sound effects – stay with me…)

Runner: Does not *actually* finish.

Yikes – what happens if I can’t motivate the runners enough to finish? What happens if I fail as a pacer?!?! Fortunately for me Lara is a coach – and also a coach of pacers and she told me this: “Your job is to finish the race in 2 hours and 45 minutes. That’s it.” I quoted her here but I think now I’m paraphrasing – in in the movie version in my head that exactly what she said to me, bombs going off in the background, music playing – you get the picture.

Not the Run

Lara was right though – even though as pacers we literally set the pace and do what we can to distract and motivate the runners – actually finishing is up to each individual. It sounds simple and obvious but I like that. Actually finishing is up to you.

18 of 52: Team L8Runner vs Team HyberNation

It’s Groundhog Day Again 

Another Saturday where my desire to rest wins. I didn’t sleep in like a teenager who literally needs 16 hours of sleep per day but only gets 4. No, this was your run of the mill “old man missed his nap yesterday” kind of sleep.

As I sat in my coffee/reading/comfy chair I thought – “Hey, text Susan and see what she’s up to. You can probably get a few miles together on the trail.” Some time later I realized I was doing my best imitation of my brother getting ready in the morning in high school – staring out the window with one sock beginning to make its way over the tips of my toes. I would find him like this a lot in the mornings. We’d make up for lost time with creative navigation and other bad decisions.

My trance was broken by the buzzing of my phone – Susan texting. The universe had spoken. Of course it was speaking a different plan than the one I had in my head – which was “run up to the trail, meet Susan around mile marker 1 and then do a few miles with her before she headed for home. Nope – the text read:

“Team L8Runner is meeting DTA at 9:45. There will be coffee post run.”

Team L8Runner is comprised of anyone who knows what it’s like to get up ass early on the weekend to run long because you told 150 strangers you would be there and they literally could not do it without you. Or it could be anyone who used to have to get up ass early to run long on the weekend because the kids will be up by 7 and I need to run 18 miles before they take over the house. If this used to be you but it is no longer you and you sleep in and run later – then you are on this team. You get the idea.

It was 9:08 and I still had one sock hanging off of my foot and I am a 4 mile run from DTA – I could drive over and then run with them the whole time – but it seemed like I would be better off if I ran there. You know – cus I’d have to run back. My reply:

“Team HyberNation will def join Team L8Runner in DTA”

Team HyberNation is comprised of anyone who planned on getting up earlier but is mostly bear so you slept in. Me.

I asked roughly what route they would follow since I knew I’d be chasing them – no way I would get that second sock on my foot and make it downtown before they were long gone.

The Run

So I did get a move on after making plans with Susan. I left my place and started my usual 4 mile route to DTA. I glanced into the Starbucks window just in case they decided to wait for me – but no such luck. I now started the runners math…

“If a man leaves his place at 9:25 running a 10 minute per mile pace…” You get the idea. Long math short, I figured I was about 20 minutes behind them when I got to DTA and that I’d need another few miles and a significant shortcut to catch them. I am shocked to say that it worked out even with a little construction detour on the way.

Me: Pointing to a pathway lined by construction fences… “Hey (to a guy who just came out from where I was pointing) – does this go all the way through?”

That guy: (Looks at me one second too long) – “Yeah”.

It did not go all the way through – so I turned around and came back around another way. I did snap this cool picture though:

We were running at the US Naval Academy at this point and the usual route is along the outside perimeter of Forrest Sherman Field and then up “Hospital Hill” – I just skipped the perimeter all together, headed up to the top of the hill to get a better vantage point and who should be coming up the hill but Team L8Runner.

The whole perfectly rectangular perimeter – I skipped it.

I was really glad to see them – not just because it meant that I could slow down and stop chasing them but because I had just seen two figures halfway up the Naval Academy Bridge and I did NOT want to have to chase them up that hill – though we did wind up going over the bridge together.

When we got to the other side Susan suggested that I continue on to Boulter’s way and then meet them back at Starbucks. I did not like the idea of continuing on alone. Going over the bridge had made me cold and I was looking forward to a hot coffee.

Me: “Why don’t I just head back with you guys and then I’ll run home after coffee. That will get me 13.1.”

Susan: “That’s sounds awful! I’ll drive you home from Starbucks.”

She was right of course. Who wants to be cold and wet, then get warm again just to have to head back out into the cold to run some more. I mean – people do it – but I wasn’t in the middle of some ultra. I’m not training for a 50 miler (or longer) so it would just be unnecessary and foolish really.

So on I went. I was alone so of course the wind “picked up” and the temperature “dropped” but I did feel strong so I went after the rolling hills that lead from the bridge to Boulter’s with some gusto. When I reached the mileage I needed to turn around I was just a couple hundred yards short of Boulters.

Me: “Well I can’t just turn around *here*. *Here* isn’t anywhere in particular so that can’t be right.

Also Me: “You do it all the time.”

Me: “Yeah – but I feel good. Besides, Susan said to run to *Boulters* not *no place in particular* so I’m going to keep going.”

And so I did. It was just a little bit but I’m glad I did it. I made my way back over the bridge and back into town to the Starbucks where Susan and Gloria were enjoying a hot beverage. I ordered a coffee and oatmeal for myself and then joined them.

My face was cold. I warmed it up with my coffee cup. Gloria and Susan both agreed that I should stop. It’s good to have friends.

Not a particularly speedy run, but that ain’t the point now is it?

Not the Run

I recently attended an awards ceremony where my oldest child was being recognized for their outstanding achievements in the STEM program. The keynote speaker talked about things that successful people do. One was “practice, practice, practice”. You know I could not agree more with that. He also mentioned this gem: “Get a Coach. The minute you aren’t learning from someone else who’s further down the road than you are then you’re stuck!”

I immediately thought – “who is my coach?” And in some areas of my life I could identify my coach right away. For running it has always been Susan. She was my first running coach. I was training for my first marathon and she was the coach. She’s *my* coach. I know I’m not alone when I say that.

I was surprised though that I couldn’t name my coaches in other areas of my life – most notably my professional life. I need to get on that ASAP because I can tell you that even with all the uncertainty that comes with significant change – one thing that has become clear is that I need a career coach. I need someone to tell me not to run when I’m cold and wet and to stop rolling my coffee cup on my face – but for work stuff.

I’d write more but as it turns out I need to go Google “how to find a career coach”.

Next Week: Pacing the Rock n’ Roll Half Marathon