Monday, January 30, 2012

2012 Miami Marathon recap

After crossing the finish line of the 2012 ING Miami Marathon, there was an Instant Engraving stand. I could barely stand up, but I wanted this marathon medal engraved. I asked if I could add anything other than my name/date/time, and the guy said sure, name it. So my medal has two extra words as you can see in this picture:

Why? We are all going to get older in life. We are all going to deal with ups and downs. I have lost friends and family to cancer. The body ages. I know what life can have in store. Hell, some people lose their memory when they age and how are they supposed to call upon memories of overcoming adversity? One day, just in case, I will always have this medal and it will help me get through anything.

Race Day
I slept less than 3 hours. Always make sure you sleep a lot 2 nights before and/or sneak in a nap. We left Lismo's parents' wonderful resort in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea at 4:30 am and took I-95 down to Miami. Traffic was jammed in one exit lane as a record race crowd all vied for parking. I got to the H Corral in plenty of time, and I first have to say thanks to my wonderful wife for being so supportive. She is always there and she is just awesome, enjoying herself while I am out on the road to insanity.

We begin at American Airlines Arena, home of the Miami Heat, in the dark at 6:15 am. It was 72 degrees and 88 percent humidity. This had terrified me at first, but I will say in advance that the weather all day was a dream, breezy and overcast, true paradise. As they release the H Corral, I noticed the woman in front of me. She was Muslim so she had full covering over her skin, and on the back of her attire was a picture of a husband or father lost to "metastatic myeloma", a tribute to him, and the large letters "EGYPT" beneath. I was already moved to tears before we started. Club music pulsed. We were off.

Miles 1-3
As beautiful as the beginning is -- past the Port of Miami cruise ships over the McArthur Causeway -- the ONLY bad thing about the Miami Marathon is their failure to provide water soon enough. I went a full half hour before any aid station, which was close to Mile 3 at Star Island. It is too humid at the start. I took off my cap so my head could ventilate there. They badly need a causeway aid station. It's Miami. The best thing about the first three miles unquestionably was my new Marathon Playlist on my iPhone. Major props to Rachmo for helping me start a playlist and only putting on what I wanted. At Mile 2, I was powered up by Flo Rida and his latest hit. I had Pit Bull and Nelly when I needed them most.

Miles 4-7
This stretch of the Miami Marathon is something no other race will ever be able to touch. This is why you had better registered for an upcoming Miami Marathon, if you are a runner and appreciate life. It is high energy running through South Beach, everyone having fun, and then suddenly on Ocean Drive you see the Avalon and other classic art deco hotels on the left. The beach is on your right. Two hotties in platform shoes are giggling on the sidewalk, having just come out of the clubs.

On Mile 5, while Nelly was singing "Call Me The Champ," I have made a great discovery. This is the first race I've run that has the new 82GO "purely portable" 8-oz "boddles." They are at each aid station in boxes, but they are mostly gone by the time I get to the stations on this day. Still, this was my first one that had them. I had no idea why these were such a big deal, and I only found out thanks to the subsequent mile. With plastic cups, you grab a gulp or pour it over your head, then you throw down the cup. With these, you can hang onto them that whole next mile. (And they are purified water as opposed to the tap water in cups.) It is a life-saver. I put one in my pocket, and the other one I bit into the corner, drank and poured it over my head. You have to go to experience this...but they go fast on hot days.

Mile 8
I was jetting past everyone in my area. At this point, three things were apparent. One, the cortisone shot I had received on Wednesday was in effect and was working perfectly. I was having no issue with my ITB. Two, my fitness was good -- I was prancing rather than running, just gliding past the golf course. Three, my new Brooks Glycerines were cushiony and perfect; I had been concerned that they were pinching up front, but when I substituted orange laces after the Expo I saw that I was able to loosen them, and that made them absolutely perfect for this race. This was my best mile ever in any marathon.

Miles 9-13
The Venetian Causeway is a picturesque stretch that takes you back to mainland during the 11th mile, and along the way you see The Miami Herald building on your left. This is where I worked my first job out of college, as a Herald sportswriter. I think back to one of my first interviews there, when Bill Rogers came to the building and I wrote about him promoting a book. I remember back then, he told me that anyone could just start walking, then run, walk, run...and one day, sure enough, people listened.

There were a record 25,000 runners here for the full and half, and most of them broke away at the 12.5 mile mark to finish. The breakaway point for marathoners was in the first lane, and suddenly at that moment I saw them: the 5:30 pace group. 10 runners, together, having a wonderful day. I was suddenly part of a team. Marlena was the pacer, celebrating her 40th marathon and her 10th year of the Miami event. They would run for five minutes and walk one minute. I saw this as my ticket to the finish line, to get through any challenges as a group, maybe even go for a PR because I felt so great!

Mile 14
For a full mile, Marlena asked each of the group members to introduce themselves. So you would say your name, where you're from, how many marathons, number of kids, what you do for a living, etc. One guy was from Trinidad. One was a local doctor. One just got out of University of Miami law school. I was the last one asked to sound off, and I said:

"I'm Mark, I'm from New York, and this is my eighth marathon. It is my second Miami, but I had a bad blister for 14 miles on my last one so this is my vengeance and now I have ITB but hell with that I am going to dominate!" Everyone cheered. We were together, we were a crew.

Mile 15: Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. Hello Shore Drive.
I lost the pace group after passing the Mile 15 sign. I had just introduced myself moments earlier. Now it was a silent goodbye, as I sadly watched them disappear ahead of me. My body slumped off onto a lawn next to me, almost in a heap, my left leg unable to function. The left IT Band syndrome finally presented itself. It was the moment I had dreaded, and thank you to my ortho for getting me this far with the cortisone. My left ITB is tighter than my right, my left hip flexor weaker than my right, and when you ITB tightens, it tugs the kneecap, and you are unable to bear weight on the leg. It was screeching pain.

I stood, and tried to walk forward. There was an aid station. The two med staffers there did not seem to know much about ITB...nothing in fact. They did have Tylenol and BenGay, which they seemed ready to present as all-purpose help. I did not realize at the time that it was exactly what I needed. I wanted something magical, another cortisone shot. I was kind of delirious as well. I staggered ahead.

This was the worst part of my day: A neighborhood called Shore Drive, a mile-long niche carved for some unknown reason out of the main path to Coconut Grove, through residential housing, isolated with almost all homeowners long since gone inside, just the dumbest place to be badly injured. I limped through that whole neighborhood. I would never own a home there if someone gave me one. Twice I bailed onto someone's lawn and tried to stretch the ITB, tried to massage it out, nothing.

Mile 16
Now finally I see the Mile 16 sign on Tigertail Avenue. A little farther and another aid station. This is where I realized the BenGay and Tylenol was useful. They gave me a four-pack of Tylenol, so I reserved them (NEVER mask your pain...pain is what tells you something is wrong). BenGay loosened the muscle band a bit. I was going through the spiritual journey Ryan Hall had talked about at the Expo. I am dropping F-bombs at a record pace, even more than your typical New Yorker. I was Mr. F-bomb. I was so angry at going from what could be a surprise 5-hour or at least 5:30 finish, to stupid survival.

Mile 17
Approaching Mile 17, something new happened. I decided f*** this, I am going to run with my right leg and just drag the other one behind me. I was going to lose a good 45 minutes through this ordeal, but I was going to finish, bottom line. Crawl if I have to. And the more I dragged the leg, the more I realized that the left leg was starting to catch up, starting to regain some flexibility, almost useful again. I find a portapotty and do some normal stuff. It feels good to be normal for a second. There was even toilet paper. And I had some race form suddenly:

Mile 18
Hello, Coconut Grove. This is the twistiest area on the course, and it goes through one of the coolest spots. I am running with sparse packs of other runners, and we run past outdoor cafes, filled with orange shirts. I am very thankful to the ones that bother to look up and support us with an occasional clap or cheer. That is certainly what I would do if I had already finished and am seeing wounded finishers out there. Most of them don't care. Hope you had a great Half, enjoy your food and beer, OK to watch me go by as you eat but don't bother saying anything. I suddenly realized I wasn't too thrilled with Coconut Grove...get me out of here, too...gawkers who don't bother rooting for those battling.

Miles 19-22
This is the switchback turn and a four-mile straightaway. My left leg is functioning for the most part. I want some more BenGay and the aid station med tells me they and all the subsequent aid stations have run out. I pop another Tylenol. I look for Monty's, the bar/restaurant where I used to play Quarters all night when I was young and dumb. I pass Miami City Hall and out front are all the Republican primary placards, or at least Gingrich and Paul. It looks like their supporters are the only ones represented. They are two horrible candidates, as is the entire Republican field, and I am actually pissed at the disappointing ability to find intelligent candidates to compete with Obama, who has no ability as a leader to work the system and marshal support, hence obstruction, causal not derivative, so right now I am on the fence as a moderate, wondering if by some miracle any Republican will draw a vote. Mitt Romney is unelectable, will certainly be the candidate but has no chance. I don't think there is any way in hell Obama is unseated, as economy is improving. I am trying to stay indifferent, but wow, what a bunch of losers. Thinking that got me through another 100 yards, so bear with me, I am in pain.

Mile 23: Margaritaville
Some people claim that there's a woman to blame, but I know, it's my own IT Band's fault. I am looking at my watch, seeing through the haze, occasionally lightheaded, passing stray runners and being passed, and my my calculation I might break six hours after all. Then 10 seconds later, wait, there is no way. I am confused and I stop thinking. I turn right onto the Rickenbacker Causeway, which takes us about one-fourth of the way toward Key Biscayne, where I used to spend so much time. On the outbound stretch is the Parrothead aid station, all the Jimmy Buffet legions wearing their gear and playing music. One woman has a tray and three margaritas are on it. The lids are salty, and that looks like exactly what I need. I am wasted away in Margaritaville. Hey, what the hell! I went for it. I had my pic taken with the lady. Then I made the mistake of actually tasting this frozen concoction that helps me hang on. For the next 10 minutes, I was on the side of the causeway, trying my best to throw up in Biscayne Bay. Alcohol does not work. At all. For the record, I did not throw up and never have yet in a marathon or longer. Helping to ease out of my nausea was this beautiful sight of the Brickell skyline:

Miles 24-25
We are back from the Rickenbacker Causeway and into Brickell Ave., and I was racing here against a stupid yellow schoolbus with flashers that was behind me. Know what that was? The Scooper Bus. A cop told a runner by me, "Better stay in front of that bus!" In other words, we were close to that time when they stop providing traffic/aid support, where you get a finish time but that's about it. No way in hell I was going to be scooped up. Every time I looked back, the bus was EXACTLY the same distance behind me. It was like a Steven King book, The Scooper Bus. I outran it. I was trying my best. I never thought about my ITB again during that stretch, just outrunning The Scooper Bus. Brickell is a beautiful neighborhood along the bay, the classic Miami skyline. Almost home.

Mile 26 + .2
You are not going to believe what happened in my final mile. For the first time all day . . . it rained. It was like my Dad's tears from heaven. It was so God. I looked up and the drops fell into my burning face. Then the Brickell Bridge was in front of me, and that is when I saw the most beautiful sight I could possibly imagine, a girl named Lisa Orfino-Newman, my wife. She came out onto the course, knowing my status because I texted her along the way, and I hugged her tight and brought her with me for about 100 yards, and for some reason I just suddenly broke down, sobbing uncontrollably. I guess that is what happens when you go through something so arduous...the emotion just spilled out. I couldn't turn it off. Tears were mixed with the raindrops. I told Lismo, "OK, I'm going to finish this thing. I look OK for the finish photo?" I broke away for the final .2, and there it was, Finish Line. I DANCED ACROSS THE FINISH LINE AGAIN. That is my tradition, just a jiggity-jig-jig over the timer mat. I survived. My finish time of 6:21 is my slowest, but oddly enough I am embracing it, because time does not matter.

Medal. Engraved. Med Tent and icepack on left ITB. Soak it all in. Imagine what you just went through. Eight races of 26.2 or longer. Find a place to sit down. Lismo offers to go retrieve her father's Cadillac from the GrandCentralPark lot where we had left it in the dark. She scoops me up, we drive and see a sign that says "Cuban Coffee", and enjoy some of their finest.

We head for I-95 and head back up to Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, and that night I feast on an Ultimate Cheeseburger and rings and Blue Moon beer from Burger-Fi. I enjoy scotch and cigar with Lismo's father on the beach that night. I walk with Lismo on the beach the next morning and even run on the beach!

Life is good. Now it is time to start a second decade with Major League Baseball Advanced Media, and to go through 6 weeks of P.T. to heal my ITB in time for the Paris Marathon on April 15. Life will be even better and it will be worse. That is the nature of life. And whenever you run into something along the way, there is a medal with a message to yourself on the back. Overcome Anything.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Miami Marathon Week

The ING Miami Marathon is Sunday morning starting outside the American Airlines Arena on Biscayne Bay. This will be my eighth career race of at least 26.2 miles, and the start of my 2012 marathon calendar that also includes Paris on April 22 and New York City on Nov. 2.

The course will take me past the cruise ships, through South Beach, over causeways, through my old Coconut Grove stomping grounds, toward Key Biscayne and then finish around Brickell section. I ran it in 2010 and had a disappointing finish time due to a huge blister for 14 miles on the ball of my right foot. This time I head there with IT Band syndrome, it will be 70s and humid, and whatever it takes I am running it. This one will NOT be easy!

Live Tracking & Messaging is available for my friends and family who wish to follow my attempt. I am bib #7489.

Wednesday: Belgian waffle with strawberries at Upper East Side diner. Received cortisone injection in left IT Band at NYC Orthopedics. I learned a lot more about ITB and about cortisone. It will go into effect in 3 days and at that point inflammation will be gone as affected cells rebuild. Hopefully that will enable me to start-stop whenever needed on the course Sunday. And because I have lost much fitness through the ITB issue the past month, I will definitely start-stop. My left ITB is tighter than my right one, and it pulls at the kneecap, especially when I stop or when I use steps. I will be on a long physical therapy regimen the next 6 weeks lots of hip exercises, foam roller, etc. Flat course will help.

I have a goal time but I no longer care about anythingother than finishing No. 8. Penne Lasagna for late lunch. Walked past Alec Baldwin (liked him best in "Hunt for Red October") as he was being escorted into our Chelsea Market HQ building. Gym tonight, cardio/core/stretching. Drinking lots of water. Need to buy some parmesan Goldfish. Pack suitcases and put them in core, because Thursday will be a tight work/getaway day to FTL. Beach, here I come!

Thursday: Last tuneup workout at gym, ran 2 miles on treadmill trying to perfect a system of gradually speeding up or slowing down, so I don't run into the start-stop problems with IT Band. At 2 miles, the ITB presented itself again. I am not too concerned because I am told there will be no inflammation on Saturday thanks to the cortisone shot. I also did 120 crunches. Packed running gear, including 4 GUs and 2 pair of shoes, since I haven't decided whether to take the new Brooks to the start line. Lisa and Rachel scooped me up from work (today's celeb spotting at Chelsea Market was Starr Jones btw) and we hustled to Newark Airport, had some pizza slices, got on a squishy Continental flight that charged for everything and were in Fort Lauderdale that night, at Lisa's parents. As we started deboarding the plane, the guy in front of my seat looked around and saw my 2010 Miami Marathon sweatshirt and asked if I was running, and then we were proceeding to talk marathoning. He had run Atlantic City, Philly and one other. It's a great brotherhood of running.

Friday: Paradise! Woke up and looked out at sunrise on the ocean through palm trees. Cheerios and grapes for breakfast, jumped in the ocean (75 degrees), rode the waves, spent most of the day on the beach reading my book "The Tiger's Wife," had a great lunch of mozzarella, sopasada, tomatoes, olives, artichoke hearts, crusty bread. Morning acquasize class with a bunch of retired ladies here at the condo pool, my tradition before each Miami Marathon, to stay loose and limber and stretched. Large bottle of water is surgically attached to one arm the rest of the way, must hydrate like a maniac because it will be about 65% humidity to go along with temps in the 70s when we run Sunday. Went shopping for swim trunks and stuff, wound up with some lime-green movie star sunglasses, too. I was the last person to leave the beach, soaking in every ray, and then I came back in and took a half-hour nap. Dinner was fava-bean soup with broccoli rabe, followed by salmon, followed by an excursion for ice cream. I had a scoop of butter pecan. There was a pet store where we went, and we came pretty close to leaving with another English Bulldog pup. For some reason I decided to buy a 550-piece jigsaw puzzle of seashells, so at this posting I am the only one still awake, putting together a puzzle. It is nice because it is occupying my thoughts, keeping me from thinking about running for now.

Saturday: I am ready. 2 hours at Expo, packet pickup, sat on a Ryan Hall Q&A that was very valuable. He said the marathon is a spiritual journey and he prepares by watching an inspirational movie, prayers, Bible, whatever. I am in that state of mind. It is just me and 26.2 miles. We went to U of Miami and looked at the campus with Rachel, a HS junior. I got a white sleeveless UM shirt for the race. Pasta dinner and cigar. Hydrating constantly. Hall said to "keep topping off." All set. Lismo and I leave at 4:15 am. GO ME!


Monday, January 9, 2012

ITB vs. Marathoner

20 days till the ING Miami Marathon, my 8th race of 26.2 miles or more. This one is going to come down to a battle between me and my left IT Band.

I had just started my taper when I ran the Joe Kleinerman 10K Saturday morning on a perfect, 47-degree day at Central Park. I ran with my wife Lisa and her cousin Victor, and I was on a great pace nearing the 5-mile mark. Then I stepped over to my left to slow down for a final fluid station cup, and suddenly my left knee buckled. I took a few gulps and then planned to resume running. My left leg did not oblige.

It would not bear weight. I tried again, still nothing. At that point my worst fear was that I may have ruptured my ACL or something. The pain was on my outside of my left knee. I had Cat Hill in front of me, so I tried dragging the leg up the hill walking. Then it was: run-walk-crawl to the finish, or common sense?

I saw an ambulance to my right in front of the Met Museum. I limped over, and told the driver and passenger, both EMTs, of my issue. I have to say that neither of them really had a clue. The female driver said, "Why do YOU PEOPLE always think you have to run through pain?" Serious? She wanted to take me to the hospital and I said no, I just need a lift to the med tent near the finish. They put an ice pack on the outside of the knee and did that. Then she called for a wheelchair, and I said absolutely not. The wheelchair was brought over, and instead the female driver got in and the person pushed her over to the med tent, like they were children on a playground? Worst EMT crew ever??? No running knowledge whatsoever.

Fortunately, inside the tent was a resident from Mt. Sinai who runs marathons. He immediately diagnosed IT Band tendinitis, so it is apparently an overuse issue. He wrapped it in ice, told me not to run for 2 days, said to "adjust your taper" so I would go easy this week and run a little more the next week depending on any pain. It was such a relief, although it still meant Miami is "questionable."

At that point I asked him if they thought it was OK if I went ahead and walked across the finish line, which was 40 feet away. I said I felt sheepish because I rode most of the last mile in an ambulance. He said I had raced hard for 5 of the 6 and "since you have been sitting in here, I would go cross it." That is no small deal, considering you need 9 scored qualifier races for exemption into the following year's NYC Marathon. I did, and finished in 1:27:00.

Right now I am reading up as much as I can on ITB, and any other insights from runners would be appreciated. Since I started running in 2006, I have learned all about plantar fasciitis, shinsplints, this and that. But this is my first run-in with ITB. I have been RICEing the knee the last couple of days, although I did dance my butt off at a cousin's 40th birthday party the same night as the injury. Probably not smart, but my side of the family is the dance side. We dance. In fact, "I hope you'll dance" are those song lyrics that used to be played all the time. I hope I'll dance across the Miami Marathon finish line in 20 days!