Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Summer Olympics Half Marathon in 1:56!

BEIJING, China -- Ni Hao! Something amazing just happened for a U.S. athlete at the Summer Olympics in Beijing.

I won an event on an official Olympic venue, with a personal, Olympic and world record to show for it.

Yes, I did it again. I invented my own race and this one is big.

I ran a Half Marathon before tonight's USA vs. Chinese Taipei baseball game. 47 laps around Field 3, the warning track all the way around the field, which is one mile for 3.5 laps. It was arranged for me by my friend Murray who is head of field operations at the Olympics. I also BLEW AWAY my Half Marathon PR with a time of 1:56 (2:12 was best), and it was all witnessed by Murray and by three security guards who counted down every one of my final laps and kept bringing me water and by about 40 Olympic volunteers who had gathered to see what I was doing.

I can't believe this just happened!!!

I can't believe how good I felt! It was just at the end of sunlight. On Field 1, the United States baseball team (almost all future Major Leaguers) were taking batting practice before their 7 p.m. game. On Field 2, the Japan team was preparing for its 6 p.m. start. On Field 3, it was me.

The warning track is beautiful red China clay, the field is flat as a pancake, and that all added up to great conditions. I already have told you that all the air pollution scare was media hype to have something to burp about before the Games finally started. I have now had six training runs and this was my big one, with the New York City Marathon just 9 weeks away.

I started running at exactly 4:23 p.m. local Beijing time (did you know that China has only one time zone despite its massive size?). I finished at exactly 6:19. That gave me time to spare, so that I could change into my khaki shorts, Elvis T-shirt and red Crocs, and get set up in the "press tribunes" behind home plate.

Murray is the person responsible for this miracle of Wukesong, which are MLB-caliber ballfields for the Olympics. We are almost done with the preliminary round now. Friday is the semifinal round, then Saturday are the medal games. I got here at 3:30 before a 7 pm start, saw the USA team get off the bus upon arrival, asked Matt L how he was feeling after his mild concussion the night before, found out he wasn't going to play tonight, called in a few paragraphs, and then looked for a place to run since I brought my gear. Murray said I could use Field 1. It is indescribably beautiful.

I started out planning to run 10 miles. I was able to grab water bottles from the dugout coolers along the way, so I was well hydrated. I had brought one GU with me. I hadn't eaten a bite all day because I finished working at 3:45 a.m. this morning. Everything felt good. At one point I bailed off into the perfect, soft outfield grass and did 50 crunches, and as I looked up at the sky, at exactly 5:00, I got chills. Clouds were swirling above me, and I realized that these were AUSPICIOUS CLOUDS!!! You see them every day if you watch the Olympics! They are the curly designs, representing "auspicious clouds" that bring rain and good fortune to farmers through the centuries. I saw Auspicious Clouds!!!!

I did some stretching, then resumed running. Ten miles would have been 35 laps. No hills, flat as a pancake, great on the knees and Achilles, the dream running condition to me -- even in August heat.

Once I got into the 30s, I decided I wanted to do something special. I started thinking about doing 50 laps, for the 50 United States. But calculating the math in the my mind, I told myself I was going to run the first Half Marathon at the Summer Olympics. Here I am, on an official Olympics venue, inside the security checkpoint that spectators and media have to go through to get here...I was going to seize this moment and push myself.

It hardly took any pushing. I was having a blast. I was in my element. I calculated that it would require 46 laps. Indeed, I am checking my laptop calculator now and it required 45.85 laps. As I got to 7 laps remaining, each time around home plate the two security guards in blue shirts would look at me and we would show each other the number on our hands, speaking the same language in that moment. They would bring me water bottles. I would dump one on my head, wring out my shirt and keep going. I would keep two bottles, and toss one on the grass in right field and one on the grass in left field. Then each time around I could reach down and grab it, take a swig or pour it on me, then toss it back onto the grass.

I heard the roars coming from Field 2 as Japan was starting to score on host China. I was inside of five laps left, and then each one came and each one seemed so easy! This was something really new for me. Oh, for no hills ever. The last lap, I sprinted the whole way, and I acted like I was breaking tape when I got to the area behind home plate, and the security guards were cheering. I had made new friends. Then check this out! I went into one dugout and in the cooler were about 20 perfect icebags, used in the morning for Olympic athletes to ice their arms or whatever. I sat with my legs extended on the infield grass for 10 minutes, with an icepack on my right knee, just what the doctor ordered.

Here is what the dirt looks like, so you can see a perfect running surface. I took this pic of LaPorta last Friday:

Now I am working. I just wanted to tell you about that. There is no real gold medal, but I am acting like I just won one, because I just ran the Olympic Half Marathon on an official venue with witnesses and in record fashion. Most importantly, I know now that I am going to KICK...MONSTER...BUTT...at the ING New York City Marathon on November 2.


Gerri said...

Way to go Mark. I admire your dedication to your training while on the road. Keep it up and you are going to ROCK NYC!!

Dani said...

awesome time!! how did you keep the boredome factor away for 46 laps??? where's your next run going to be???