Friday, January 14, 2005

Taking Stock

It's two weeks into 2005 and my Quixotic quest to qualify for the Boston Marathon (now, that's alliteration) seems to be proceeding nicely.

I turn 45 in August and and my qualifying time for the Boston Marathon drops from 3:20:59 to 3:30:59. Don't laugh, I know all kinds of marathoners who would look back over their racing careers and would KILL for 59 seconds. Over the Christmas Holidays I began to think more and more about the odds of my being able to make the cut.

My best marathon time to date is a 3:53 in the Royal Victoria Marathon (October, 2004) and I've been wondering ever since what it would take to wack another 25 minutes off my best time.

My 3:53 came in my eighth marathon in four years. My first marathon was in Vancouver in the Spring of 2002.
My goal was to beat four hours because I'd heard that Oprah Winfrey had run HER first marathon in four hours. I was gutted when I staggered across the finish in 4:06:09. I thought I'd been beaten by Oprah, and foolishly, I allowed the thrill of finishing my first marathon to be diminished by missing my time goal by a mere six minutes and nine seconds. I didn't realize until nearly a year later, when bitterly whining to a running buddy who filled me in correctly, that Oprah had actually run her marathon in 4:29:20, which is still quite a feat.

But I digress. Being somewhat obstinate, a trifle obdurate and not a little obtuse by nature, when it came to the marathon, I felt I had unfinished business. My goal had been to run a single marathon; just to say I had and then retire from the field triumphant in having beaten Oprah and the four hour barrier. I felt I had to keep running until I finished a marathon in less than four hours. Why? Because that is what I had told everyone I was going to do.

The next marathon in 2002 was the Royal Victoria in October, so I kept training. In the midst of training, our financing came through from National Geographic for a documentary film I was working on, The Vanishing Tattoo, My Marathon plans were cut short - sort of... I had promised a good friend of mine, Seymour that if he ever ran his first marathon, I'd be there with him every step of the way. Imagine my surprise, when in a little cyber-cafe in Kuching, Sarawak - on the island of Borneo - I received a note from Seymour telling me he expected me be a man of my words and to live up to my end of the deal.

I pulled out my airline tickets and discovered that, all things working according to plan, I was scheduled to arrive back in Canada on October 9th, which was a piece of cake, because the Royal Victoria Marathon wasn't until October 13th. I hit the reply button on Seymour's e-mail and informed him that I was his partner, the only provisio being that he had to arrange all the travel and accomodation plans as I figured I'd be recovering from jet-lag for a day... or two or three.

A short digression. While filming The Vanishing Tattoo in Borneo I had been wearing these great boots and a khaki kilt, courtesy of The boots were great boots and the khaki kilt was just comfortable when the temperature was averaging 36 degrees (95 F) and the humidity painfully close to one hundred percent. I even won a Utilikilts Photo Contest posing in my kilt in Borneo . You can't make up stuff like this!

On the trip back to Canada I began formulating this idea. And the plan seemed to make sense over the course of the two days it took to travel by longboat out of the jungle and back to Kuching, and it still made sense during the 36 hours it took to fly from Kuching to Kuala Lumpur to Tai Pai to Los Angeles and back to Vancouver. I was going to run the Royal Victoria Marathon in a pair of boots and a kilt. Did I mention I was taking pills to prevent malaria that often cause hallucinagenic side-effects?

When I shared my plan with people, the universal response I got was one of incredulity and, "Was I nuts?" To a person I was told that I'd never finish the race. Which in hindsight is a reasonable reaction. At the time all it did was enforce my belief in the idea and cause me dig in my heels, boot heels that is.

More bothersome to me than the prospect of my attire was the fact that I hadn't run in nearly eight weeks. But while in Borneo, even in the extreme heat, I had managed to get in some long hikes and exercise of one sort or another on a fairly regular basis. Plus, in August I had managed several 20 mile long runs.

So my second marathon looked like this - A lark, yes. An adventure? To be sure. But my time? Seymour and I crossed the finish line in 4:42:10. In order to break four hours I was going to have to run yet another marathon.

The next five marathons over the next few years included another one in a kilt and my trusty boots; the Burnco Marathon in Calgary (5:02; and who's really counting seconds after five hours?)
, another in bone-chilling snow, sleet and hail in Vancouver where I ran a 4:03, a heart-breaker in Victoria where I ran a 4:02 into a blustery 30-35 knot headwind, another one in Vancouver where, with a mile to go I calculated in my head I was going to finish in about a 4:01 and I didn't think I could survive that so I figured I'd cut my losses and save myself for another day and sauntered across the finish line, yes, I actually sauntered, in 4:12 and then I ran another Vancouver Marathon in May, 2004, a mere ten weeks after breaking my ankle in February, and I eased myself through the course in 4:32 because I was damned if a little broken ankle was going to knock me out of the race.

And during this period I was a four hour pace group leader for a marathon clinic regularily held by the Running Room
Breaking the four hour time barrier began to take on a life of it's own. By now, I figured my reputation was at stake. Plus, I was spending a small fortune on runners and gels.

Whew! As you can see, I got close enough to four hours at the finish line to see it, smell it, almost even taste it. But it was an e-mail to and then from, Jeff Galloway in 2003 that I am convinced got me across the finish line in under four hours last fall. A running buddy of mine and I were advised by Jeff to stretch the distance on our Sunday LSDs, (not the pyschotropic drug, but the Long, Slow, Distance run you do every week in marathon training to build your endurance). John and I added a couple of miles every Sunday until we got up to 30 miles. The result was that my last few marathons were run with negative splits and that I felt very strong at the end.

Last summer, in 2004, after missing four hours in the marathon by a few minutes I was almost beside myself. But that is the incredible attraction of the marathon. At 26.2 miles, the marathon is a thinking mans race. It is the careful management of scarce physical resources. After you run one, you can almost always look back and see, I could have shaved a minute off there, a few seconds here, I should have sped up there and eased up on the long hill... In other words, you can Monday morning quarterback all your races for years and years! In the summer of 2004, August 14th to be exact, I took Jeff Galloway's advice to heart and then I took it a step further.

I ran an Ultramarathon trail race, the Stormy Trail 67K Ultra in Squamish. That little adventure took 9:42 to complete. Oh, and I was wearing boots and a kilt again. Mostly because someone told me it couldn't be done.

But the effects of the long mileage training I was doing had huge benefits in my marathon training. The final result was a 3:53 in the easiest marathon I have yet run.

Next, my strategy for shaving another 25 minutes off my marathon time in the next ten months.


Blogger Pat Fish said...

I am absolutely CONVINCED that the true secret ingredient in Vince Heminson's success, that he has yet to reveal to the world, is the Sgin Dubh tattoo that I placed on his calf during our own little marathon session in Green Bay Wisconsin Sunday January 9th 2005. The very last tattoo done at Rick's Eleventh Tattoo Expo (OK< tied for last with Bob Tyrell tattooing the Al Zone) it will be the ultimate in psychological warfare for the conquering of his opponants and distraction of the spectators. Enough that he runs in a Utilikilt and Dayton boots, now he sports a unique, custom, impeccable and incredible Pat Fish tattoo. If I DO say so myself. He is now always armed and ready. Let him rattle on about body fat and personal best, what matters is that he has placed on his body the mark of a warrior.

3:53:00 AM  

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