Friday, March 27, 2015

Andreas Lubitz Story: The Son, The Father, The Drive

In the interest of helping investigators discover the who and why after a tragedy and correcting a lot of mistakes I am finding in the media coverage, I started researching the running history of Andreas Lubitz, the co-pilot who crashed the Germanwings airliner, and found a wealth of telling information about him. Running played a key and timely role in what reportedly became an ultimately fatal battle with mental health. I believe we can learn a lot about what made this overpronating enigma from Germany tick by looking at what he loved, and I hope that this research may prove useful in some way. I learned that he stopped running races for at least the past year, and per a runner comment below I think that could be telling; a person diagnosed with depression who sees running as an outlet might be greatly affected by no longer utilizing that outlet that had served him so well during the past half-decade. Based on feedback from other runners, I also feel this shines a light on the fact that a fair number of runners use this individual sport -- which is all about personal discovery, goal-setting, self-improvement, ambition and hopefulness -- to deal with depression and anxiety, and to a larger degree just the stress of everyday life.

Pay especially close attention to the father-son running relationship of Günter & Andreas, as the father ran side-by-side with him in the son's only marathon, pushing him to a sub-4 finish at the local race they called the "Mi-Ma" together in 2009. They would run together for halfs to come, like above in 2010, as Andreas inexplicably chose not to see how far he could take 26.2 rather than pursuing what easily could have been a Boston Marathon given his immediate abilities. Was Günter being an exemplary dad as they pushed the limits together and even dressed alike with expo gear? Or was the father pushing him to other extreme limits and an emotional trigger as the son became a man, indicative of an intense upbringing? As a father myself I'd like to think it was the former, but we are left with loose ends and everything must be looked at closely. I examine their deduced relationship below. I uncovered various race pics and the PDF file that the younger Lubitz was able to click on after finishing the 2010 Frankfurt Half Marathon in 1:34:38.

Have you ever seen a meaner look at a photographer than this . . .

I also was interested because this commonly published photo of him below running in a No. 403 bib as seen here in The Telegraph is incorrectly captioned by global media. It is attributed to photographer Wolfgang Nass/BILD, and it reads in that article: "Andreas Lubitz competing in a Lufthansa marathon in 2013." As I composed this article, I had CNN on and heard multiple broadcasters, including on Wolf Blitzer's segment, constantly citing a "2013 marathon." That was NOT a marathon. He was a marathoner, but there is a lot of nonfactual data being thrown around, because the tendency too often is to lazily repurpose what other media are saying.

That event was the 2013 Frankfurt Lufthsansa Halbmarathon, a distance of 13.1 miles. Lubitz finished in 1:37:09 according to his Athlinks results page, a 7:24 pace. This was actually his fourth consecutive Frankfurt Half, so his bib went from 4408 in 2010 to 403 in 2013, indicative of his progression as a runner in a sport known for wellness. His Athlinks page does not list the 2011 race, but I found his PDF finisher certificate right here:

The Wall Street Journal profile of him, posted early during the news cycle, also has a still-posted inaccuracy. They said he ran the Frankfurt Half from 2011-13. They just need to add 2010.

Notice in that 2013 race pic, he's wearing ASICS tights and shoes and calf sleeves, even a buff like I wear on chilly days; it was a cold March day and he overdressed a bit considering his natural pace. (In the race pics, I see a lot of the same blue Paris Marathon buffs that I and other participants received at the 2012 event.) He was an overpronator, rolling his foot inward as you can see from the footfall above. By all accounts he was a fast runner, but one whose finish time may have plummeted significantly just in the past year.

This is when I found something odd. The earliest available record of Lubitz running a race, at least on his Athlinks page (we have already found one missing half, so don't assume that page is comprehensive), was his only marathon. So it is correct to say he was a marathoner. It was the Ergebnisse Mittelrhein-Marathon in 2009, and he finished in 3:54:41. "Mittelrhein" is translated in English as "Middle Rhine," referring to the Rhine River. They call this marathon the "Mi-Ma. "As you can see from the map here, Mittelrhein is the same region as Dusseldorf, where he owned a flat at the time. It was in nearby Koblenz, a 2,000-year-old city situated on the Rhine and Mosel rivers and surrounded by the Hunsrück, the Eifel, the Taunus and the Westerwald. Among the special attractions of the city, which has about 107,000 inhabitants, including the Electoral Palace from the 18th century, the Old Castle -- a moated castle dating from the 13th century.

It was pretty much a local marathon, and things looked bright for Andreas Lubitz as a marathoner in 2009. He was just 21 years old at the time. He wanted to fly on the ground and in the sky.

If that calendar year seems curious, it's because much of the world has been talking about what happened to him that same year. Which makes the whole thing so curious.

Bild reported that in 2009, Lubitz underwent psychiatric treatment for 18 months for a "serious depressive episode" . . . "around the same time he took six months off from flight training." Lubitz was deemed "not suitable for flying" by the Phoenix, Ariz., flight school operated by Germanwings' parent company Lufthansa, according to documents obtained by the paper. His depression forced him to retake flying classes and get "special regular medical examinations." Former classmates said he took time off for "burnout syndrome" or depression, according to Der Spiegel.

Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr told reporters Thursday that Lubitz took leave in 2009, and the following day it was revealed that Lubitz was keeping a medical condition extremely secret, even tearing up a doctor's note saying he was unfit to fly on the day the plane crashed in the Alps.

Andreas Lubitz ran this marathon in 2009.
Back to the Mi-Ma. That marathon is scheduled for May 17. So it's a spring marathon, a time of amazing wonder and especially enjoyable for a runner in Germany (or here). If you look at the logo on the race website, it includes the motto: "Gib deinen Sinnen freien Lauf!" In English, that translates to "Let your senses run wild!"

It is possible that Lubitz ran that 2009 race before undergoing psychiatric treatment, but I'm betting that he ran it as PART of his treatment program, a wellness act and something positive to focus on. By all accounts, it seems like a wonderful event for healing. I believe that running became a key element in his own treatment plan, whether that was self-prescribed or by someone else. That someone else could have been his father, telling him how things will be done.

Here are the results for Andreas and his father Günter, almost identical. So you can picture them running the race mostly together, and you also can spot an early trend in the son's running:

Andreas clearly was a strong runner who could be successful if he committed to it. You can see the difference in his physique from the photos at the top of this blog, in 2010, to the 2013 race imagery. He became physically fit. And it is obvious that his father was leading him by example, literally. Günter (right) was making his son into a marathoner.

Only 21 and with a stellar time of 3:54:41 in your first marathon, and especially if there is a strong coaching influence in your own household, your natural inclination probably is to want to see how fast you can really get in that marathon. You want to be worldly and travel. Theoretically you would want to see if you could become a Boston Marathon qualifier.

But Andreas Lubitz never entered another marathon that I could find. He settled on the half, a steady diet of them. He looked forward to them. They were just right for him. He did not have the mental tenacity that it took to go after a BQ or to blast through a wall again in pursuit of the 26.2 mile finish line. In 2013, Lubitz ran Mittelrhein again, but this time he chose to run the half rather than the marathon. His time was 1:41:49, a 7:46 pace.

In 2007, Andreas Lubitz had come 72nd out of 780 participants in a 10-kilometer New Year’s week run in Montabaur, racing alongside Günter. So Lubitz had kept running, extended his distance, and he had become a marathon runner. Then he never ran a marathon again. They made the Frankfurt Half their tradition. The son was bib 4408 and the father was 4409 in the one I pulled the race pic from. They are great races, complete with a stadium finish followed by beer provided to runners. His first one he ran with his father, Gunter, and the younger Lubitz wore big 4408 and finished an impressive 1:34:38. Click here to see the PDF of the overall results.

Here's something that was puzzling to me and I researched further: The same Athlinks page shows that after that 2013 Mittelrhein, "Andreas Lubitz" competed in his third consecutive Albstadt-LBS Bike Marathon. It is an 86K mountain bike event, and his time went from 5:24:47 in 2011 to 5:26:26 in 2012 to a vastly improved 4:32:19 in July of 2013. I am trying to confirm whether this was a different Andreas Lubitz or the same one, and I have just emailed the organizers of that race via their website. I do not believe it was the same man. If you click on the 2012 results, and then click on Lubitz's name, you'll see that he also rode that race in 2014 and most importantly, that he is registered for this September's event. That's someone who is psyched for the future. That Lubitz is listed as from the Balingen region, and that is southwestern Germany. Also, the only listing of age on the Athlinks page is that 2012 bike race, and it says age 50. There is another Andreas Lubitz from Stuttgart, near Balingen, a veteran press agent, and it is my presumption that is the individual who did the bike racing. I will explore further but I am 99 percent sure that's not the same man.

This Capital Bay article showed the following picture and captioned it as a "2013 half-marathon." That is another inaccuracy. This was taken on Sept. 13, 2009, at the Airportrun at Hamburg in northern Germany. In any case, this is the only warm-weather running pic of him I have seen:

He has a running watch on the left wrist, but I was curious about what is on his right wrist. How many guys wear tennis bracelets on their other wrist while they run? Just curious.

I am having trouble discerning his 2014 results. The most recent event listed on his Athlinks page was the B2Berlin 2014, and if you search for that event, you'll find an Andreas Lubitz who was running for Skandia Insurance Management Service. The pace is far slower than Lubitz was running, so I clicked on the video link there and looked for bib #11314. As you can see below, that clearly is not the co-pilot. In fact, it might be the 86K mountain biker I was looking for. So I think we can safely say that Lubitz the co-pilot did not run the B2Berlin 2014 race. 

There is a 2014 B2 Run Dusseldorf 6.6K listen on the Athlinks page, and it is plausible that he was a relay runner in that event. But again looking at the results, I find that unlikely. I see no clear evidence that he finished any race in 2014, or at least none reported on Athlinks. I have to add that I typically do not look at Athlinks, so it is safe to say he could have run an event elsewhere. I will defer to other runners out there for possible clarification on what happened to him in 2014.

If you have further record of Lubitz' races, or knew him as a runner, please leave your comments here as we try to help investigators piece together this situation, focusing here on his running and what it might have meant to his history of personal wellness or lack thereof. I find it incredibly incongruous that someone with Lubitz's running talents and interests would balance that with what we are seeing to be an apparent deep mental issue. Good runners tend to be driven, ambitious, goal-oriented, treating their bodies like temples, living life with passion, all about self-improvement. Something is missing so badly here based on his running profile and what we are seeing in the news.

What do you think?

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

10 Years a New Yorker!

Wow, that just happened.

While I am starting my 14th season overall with Major League Baseball Advanced Media, it was March 2005 when I packed up and headed East to join the BAM-ily at our Chelsea Market HQ in Manhattan. Highlights in this adventure include always staying close (no matter the geography) to my awesome sons Matt, Ben and Josh; meeting my future wife Lisa (right) and my cool stepdaughter Rachmo (new co-contributor on this blog!) and a new extended family; buying a Cape with a pool; becoming a 15-time @marathoner instead of a smoker; making so many friends at work; thousands of bylines; giving King Bingley a home; becoming an Episcopal church treasurer & vestry member; watching Derek Jeter a lot; surviving Sandy and helping victims; Broadway (esp Carole King "Beautiful), NY Botanical Garden membership, Met Opera Opening Night Galas and the museums; the Italian red wine and unmatched food; the NY Times in the driveway and grinding Dunkin' Donuts coffee beans every morning in the kitchen; and the overall opportunity to make an impact in your years

There have been challenges mixed in, like commuting and shoveling, but it's been a great decade in the Big Apple. This fall will be my fourth NYC Marathon, and below are my three medals from 2007, '08 and '13 ('12 was canceled). Last year I celebrated my 100th race and went into all the running highlights over that time. For now, I just want to let out a big exhale and stop and think about what just happened to a Midwestern boy. I appreciate this life and all my family and friends here on social media. Seize every moment and Stop At Never!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

United Airlines NYC Half Recap

By Mark | Sunday's United Airlines NYC Half was my 22nd half-marathon and 111th overall race since I traded a box of KOOLS for a box of ASICS on Dec. 1, 2006. I finished this one with a net time of 2:40:10, compared to 2:26:01 in 2007, 2:46:51 in 2009 and 2:27:45 in 2012. It was perfect running weather in the 40s and a great event. Here's my recap of the weekend, and really it all comes down to that unmatched thrill of taking over Times Square:

#UnitedNYCHalf Expo

This race's expo is on par with that of many top marathons. It was held right next to Madison Square Garden, so you come out of the subway and see the Empire State Building in all its glory, and then enter a world that had the unmistakable air of flying aboard United.

I'm sorry I don't have these two volunteers' names below, but they handed me my bib package and I asked if they'd mind if I take a pic of them. They then proceeded to tell me their story. They came here from Australia just for this event, not to run it but to volunteer. It seems that they ran the event in a recent year for a sister, who was battling a disease. That sister sadly has passed away. Running this race as a dedication to her had meant so much to the three of them, that these two were here in her spirit. It was so heartwarming and gave me chills. I love them for this. If you happen to see this blog post, then I'm saying hello and feel free to reach out!

There was a terrific assortment of official and unofficial race gear.

There were a few tables for runners and their friends/family to fill out large cheer cards that they could bring to the race. I had to fill out this one and tweet it.

It was time to buy a couple of things. First of all, I needed another pair of running socks. I have a drawer filled with Balega and ASICS for the past seven years. I wanted something cushiony and warm for this half, and I'd never worn Wigwam. These would do just fine. Indeed, they were great during the race. The salesperson said that if you turn them inside-out before washing, they will "pop right back into place." Will have to give that a try.

One of the Expo areas featured a display of running log books. I thought this would be perfect for Rachel, as she is starting her training plan for the Airbnb Brooklyn Half in mid-May. I have not used a running log book since I started in 2006-07, and sometimes I wish I still did. I treated it like a diary then, putting Central Park leaves in the pages as well as my mileage and notes. The woman who designed these books was very helpful and said she used online logs for a while but found it more enjoyable doing it this way. I can't say I disagree with her. I tried to keep up with it for a while but don't have time to log miles online.

Thanks to Nuun for the sample shots of watermelon! Feel free to sponsor @marathoner anytime you want to reach more runners!  :)

Oh hey, it's Coaches Stuart and John going over the United NYC Half course below. These guys are great, as is Coach Gordon. NYRR runners are pretty lucky to have the virtual coaches and the talent and input from this crew. I asked John what the weather and expected attire were looking like for Sunday morning, and he told me he was going to wear shorts and said the wind would be at our backs going down West Side Highway. That advice wound up being very helpful. It is really typical of the advantage you get in utilizing their expertise.

...this was an amazing touch...a long wall with the grid of Manhattan and the course...

There was a long line, and I asked what it was for. You could have your picture taken. OK, not something I really need. But guess what, you also get one of those awesome United NYC Half super-warm head wraps for free by doing so. OK, I'm in.

Went back to the office and did a mini-flatme. Oh, that beef jerky came from the "Team Beef" crew that had an Expo kiosk. We were able to scoop our own ingredients for a chili packet that went along with a recipe. I'll enjoy that later. King Bingley naturally got this beef jerky.


I was in Wave 3, meaning a 7:45 corral open and an 8:10 race start. So we got up at 6, had some coffee and out the door around 6:45. Lisa and Rachel dropped me off at Fifth Ave and 72nd Street. I took the NYRR advice to not check a bag, and I thought that meant I could enter Central Park easily at 72nd Street and have plenty of time. Unfortunately I still had to walk all the way to the bottom of the park and enter through security with everyone else, bag or no bag. Memo to NYRR for next year: That was unclear to me ahead of time! I thus had to walk 13 blocks south to enter the park, and then of course make my way back up inside the park, so I walked at least 20 blocks -- that's a mile!!! -- to get from the car dropoff to my corral. I am glad we left me plenty of time, under the circumstances, but still . . . not a good way to start the day! The good news is, NYRR is awesome and that was my only issue on this day. My goal here is never to complain but to give runner feedback when we experience issues, so that was mine.

The first thing I saw as I entered the park was the beautiful and legendary Park Plaza Hotel. Shoulda stayed there. Could you imagine? Fall out of a luxurious bed. . . .

Happiness is being welcomed to a big race. Lots of security, as usual. Even though I brought no bag, I was stopped and frisked just to be sure.

Can I please say a final word about this white Adidas sweatshirt? It has been a fixture in my checked bags at NYRR races going back to at least 2007. It just gets the job done. Well, I had to make a decision to wear some warm gear that I could leave behind at the start, and it came down to this one. Sweeting is such sweet sorrow. Like the NBA, I'm saying goodbye to Adidas here.

And we're in the corral. Oh hi. Does everyone feel stupid taking a selfie when it feels like a thousand runners behind you are watching you do it? I see others taking them so I just say hell with it and take the pic. Then it's a bad pic and I take another, and that's when I feel dumbest. I'm one of over 20,000 runners, and this is Corral 23 in Wave 3. I'm wearing my Paris Marathon buff around my neck, came in handy when the wind kicked up later. BTW, elites are nearly done.

Hard to see here, but as usual about 7 of every 10 shoes are ASICS.

First 6 Miles: Central Park

The hardest part about the NYC Half, by far, is the beginning. You start with a big climb, so just get it over with and try not to leave it all right there on Cat Hill. Start this race by using those hill muscles, and then downshift along the Jackie Kennedy Onassis Reservoir. Make up some time in miles 2 and 3, which are flat-downhill-flat. Mile 3 featured a new wrinkle that I did not experience in 2012: We exited the top of the park in Harlem, ran for the Frederick Douglass Circle, did that loop and then returned on the same path and re-entered the park. Nearly a fourth of the race done. If you made good time in that first mile up Cat Hill, you should be looking great.

Mile 4 is the hardest mile in New York City and one of the hardest anywhere. But to the victor go the spoils. You run straight up the Harlem Hill, and then you run straight down it. In my case, I did minimal training and almost none on hills, so I was about 80% run and 20% walk up the hill. I wanted to make sure I would have legs left for the long West Side Highway later.

Mile 5, I love you and I hate you. It's the humps on West Drive. So many thoughts were going through my head at this point. That's when it hit me: Stop letting weird thoughts get in your head. Coach Andrew Kastor trained me last year to use mantras and be mentally strong. At that point, as I looked down at my ASICS Gel-Cumulus 16 shoes moving forward, I started a mantra:

It's all downhill now.
It's all downtown now.
Freedom just ahead.
Freedom to the left
Freedom to the right
Wind at your back

Mile 6 was all downhill, past the Shakespeare Garden and The Pond and Strawberry Fields and Sheep's Meadow and out the park on Seventh Avenue. Mantra working. Happiness ahead.

Mile 7: Times Square Takeover! This is what it's all about! This moment of bliss is the reason that I ran the Manhattan Half, the Brooklyn Half, the Queens 10K and the Staten Island Half in 2014 -- for automatic entry into the 2015 United NYC Half. The bright lights were up ahead. The Great White Way was ours. The wide road lined with barricades and then Broadway marquees and then the famous Times Square signs you see from outer space. It was all ours. Like the previous two times, I was giddy. I laughed. I whooped as loud as I could, and other runners did the same. Some runners ran backwards while taking selfie video of the bright lights behind them or above them. Some stopped to take pictures. It was the one time I had allowed myself to wrest my silly iPhone 6 Plus out of its snug Nathan waist holder. I took pics and videos. I expected to lose 3 to 5 minutes of gaga time in this mile, and I didn't care. There were photogs everywhere. I am pretty sure they captured me giving my true emotions of how I felt. This was heaven for runners.

Man, that was fun. Especially when you live here and are one of the teeming masses.

This was so much cooler than New Year's Eve. They're not even comparable.

The Mile 7 sign comes after you turn right on 42nd Street, and then it's over to West Side Highway. At that point, the cold wind kicked up, and I pulled my buff up over my ears for a little bit. We then proceeded south on that highway bordering the Hudson River. I drive on this road most weekdays during my commute. In fact, a few days earlier I had taken this picture just to remind myself what it would be like to run instead of drive this route:

I could run these next few miles blindfolded, as I work at Chelsea Market and do training runs along the Financial District to Battery Park. We proceeded in that direction, and I felt great. The wind was at our backs, so there was an urge to take advantage of it.

It's all downhill now.
It's all downtown now.
Freedom just ahead.
Freedom to the left
Freedom to the right
Wind at your back

The "Freedom to the left" was the Freedom Tower, aka World Trade Center. The "Freedom to the right" was the Statue of Liberty out in the harbor. We went down into the Battery Tunnel, did some hoot and hollers in the dark echo chamber, and it was daylight just ahead. As I got closer to the finish, I heard my name shouted. It was Lisa and Rachel! "Just 400 meters!" Rachel yelled.

Then I careened toward the finish. It was a bittersweet sensation, because just as the finish line was in sight, the full pathway in front of me was suddenly a scene of NYPD and police dogs. It was kind of pandemonium. I had no idea what was happening. Then I glanced to my left, and a man was on the ground, on his back, with paramedics over him. Why he collapsed, I have no idea, and perhaps someone reading this might be able to update me. The fact that so many cops and dogs were suddenly scurrying made me wonder if it was more than a late-race collapse.

Anyway, I had only one mission and that was to cross the finish line up ahead. My glee returned. My finish time was 2:40:10, and that was almost exactly what I was predicting given little training on this one. I'll take any finish, I don't care!

My 5K splits were 34:08, 38:52, 38:14 and 39:55. That's actually quite steady for me. Remember that the first 5K includes the fast miles 2 and 3, and even though the first mile was up Cat Hill, it's the excitement of a race start and I tend to flow excitedly with the crowd.

I love that medal! Remembering the large one I posed in front of at the expo, it was sweet to see the official version around my neck and to feel its weight.

My fourth NYC Half is in the books and the bib is on the ring!

Next race: Scotland Run, April 4 at Central Park. Rachel and I will both be running the Airbnb Brooklyn Half in May, so there will be a lot of details about that one coming up here.