Thursday, June 29, 2017

Quest Complete! 50 Marathons in 50 States before I am 50!

First, thank you to all those who have donated to the 2017 RunLairdRun Charity drive already. Your personal email thank you is forthcoming as I catch up from vacation mode back into the real world!  Here's the donation link for those that are looking for it:

50 States Complete!
On one of the various Facebook threads that sprung up around my 50th state, one of my coworkers asked a question about my last blog post. I wrote, at some length, about "attempting" this race. And just a few days prior to the event, I did not know if I could do it. Yet, by the time I posted the blog, Volga wanted to know if I had really any fear of finishing? Had I ever actually failed a race I started?

I did not find any offense in the question. In fact, I likened it to the Kobayashi Maru test in Star Trek. Briefly, Captain Kirk, as a cadet, cheated his way through a "no win" scenario test; he had never  experienced the feelings of losing or death from these impossible situations. So, to apply this to myself, could I honestly convey a sense of drama about my race if I knew I would make it? 

(Oh, and yes, I did finish my 50th State in the 50th state before I turned 50! Just under 5 hours, family cheering me on, smile on my face. More on some of the neat things that happened just after the race below - such as being written up in the local paper! We'll get to that in due course.)

Back to the question of drama: Against me is a very obvious point. I did not post my pre-race marathon and fundraiser post until the night before the marathon. I certainly gave thoughts to posting an ongoing commentary from the time of being injured (June 17) up to and through the race (on June 25). Then my rumination on if I could attempt the race or not would have been more in doubt in the lead up. However, I felt it unfair to ask people to donate on my behalf if I could not actually start the race. Sure, you all would have understood what happened, but part of RunLairdRun is in the name. I'm supposed to run! In addition, I needed to direct my energy into getting well (or well enough) rather than writing blog updates. I rarely write short ones, and they take time. A few of you pinged me before the race to ask how I was doing (as you knew about the race date), and I was able to share with you that things were not great with my leg. Looking back, I can think of a range of ways to reveal the drama better! Ah, hindsight and a clear mind.

As with everything in running for me, I like to think about my experiences and how they apply to life. This week is no different, and Volga's question stirred something in my mind about confidence and how it develops.

Let us start with the question as raised. At the time I posted about the Kona race, did I have fear of not completing the attempt? The short answer is yes, but that doubt was small. 

In fact, in every marathon I have done, there is always some doubt that starts at the planning. when you have run 77 marathons in on 7 continents in 11 countries and in 7 states in the USA, there is a lot of planning that takes place. I may look forward 6 months and pick a marathon only to have some work or family obligation require me to skip it. Sure, I have voluntarily decided to not run the race, but that means that in every race I plan, I have some measure of fear of not completing it.

As the date approaches, and calendars remain clear, I start to plan flights. (I usually book hotels at the time of booking a race since most are cancellable very close to the actual stays.) Still, something might happen - a missed connection, bad weather across the US, even a cancelled race (as happened to me at the Walt Disney World half marathon this year).

On the running-front, I am continuing with my daily and weekly goals. If I am running just one marathon in a month, I put in some long runs and see how I do. I might do a shorter race to work on pace or a weekend of races to test my endurance and recovery. All of these give me information on how I am feeling and what I can do or not do.

I ran with Jc (right) at Mad River VT on my 48th Birthday

Case-in-point: In March, I planned and was schedule to run with my friend Jc during his 250th marathon in Pennsylvania. This was going to be a weekend of two races with him two full ones and me doing one half and one full. The week after, I was scheduled to run my 49th state in North Carolina. (This Pennsylvania race would be my 2nd in the state; the first was state 26 in August 2014.) Then I got the flu or at least a bad cold two weeks beforehand. I actually took sick days. Still, I had over a week to go. In the end, I just did not feel well enough to make it back east and do the race. My confidence was low that I could do that running weekend and then safely make it to North Carolina for the more needed new state marathon. I had already done 3 back-to-back weekends in the past 9 months with no issues, but this spring did not feel right.

In the normal case where I do run the races I sign up for, knowing I will finish the race is not a switch between 0 and 1. I rarely start at 0, but I equally rarely start at 1. In fact, not until the race has started and I am on my way do I start to get really confident. Then as the race progresses, and more mileage is under my belt do I approach confidence. There is a point in every marathon where I know I will finish even if I walk (usually around mile 16). Ironically, in the one marathon I should have likely dropped out of - the 2008 New York City Marathon - where I got injured, the injury manifested itself at mile 16. I went numb in my foot, but as it did not hurt to run, I just slowed down a bunch and actually enjoyed not worrying too much about my time. I then was off running for 4 weeks while my calf healed. I started swimming and cycling.

In the specific case of this past Sunday, I did go from nearly 0 confidence to completing the race. I thought a brief timeline would be illustrative:

June 9 - 20 mile run in London. Felt fine. 85% confidence in Kona Marathon - 5% was pure logistical in nature; 10% given I knew Kona would be hot and humid

June 15 - arrived in Hawaii feeling stiff from the flight. Bit of a limp. 

June 17 run had nice scenery but a less than nice post run
June 16 - 10 mile run in Honolulu. A good run. No real issues, and in fact I had added 3 miles as I decided to find an ATM Machine and get some cash. Heat and humidity were apparent but I was feeling ok in it. Slower than normal. 90% confidence but only minimal concerns.

June 17 - 7 mile run with a big uphill section. GPS went wonky! Immediately had trouble walking post running. Confidence drops to 50% throughout the day as the pain and limp were getting worse, not better.

June 18 - Took the day off of running for the first time since Dec 30. A massage made me feel a bit better, but still pain in every step. The thought of running on my hip is almost nauseating. Confidence drops to 20%. 

June 19 - Chiropractor appointment. Some improvement but still not right. Given I have no had a treatment, my confidence drops further despite feeling better. I don't feel well enough yet to run after seeing someone. I cannot even imagine walking the race yet. I admit that I may not be able to do this. I consider flying to Los Angeles and back for treatment and even book flights but worry that the travel would undue any benefit. 5%.

June 20 - Rebecca does some muscle testing on me and thinks my pelvis is out. She then proceeds to adjust it by sitting on my side. I hope to never feel something so painful again. However, I do seem to have more power in my leg even if the pain still exists. I have some laser and ultrasound work done which helps. Confidence at 15%.

June 21 - Another day off running, but I get in 20 mins on a stationary bike without pain. Still limping and in pain walking. 20%.

Hotel bike. 1 speed. That was good for me.
June 22 - 45 mins bike ride around the resort. Then, I have a Rolf massage session (think aggressive massage) and then another chiropractor appointment immediately after. That feels better! I think now that I can at least walk the race in about 8 hours, but that is a long time to be in the heat and sun! 33%

June 23 - First run in 5 days. Nearly 8 miles, and it's not great, but I chose to run a mile and then walk 30 seconds before running the next. This seems to work and keep the discomfort and tightness in check for all 100 minutes I was out there. 50% confidence as I think I can probably run at least half and then walk the rest. I am also not limping too much worse than before the practice run. I also run with compression shorts and a band around my waist to keep everything in place.

June 24 - Just a 3 mile run before the race. It's enough to know I am ok to try the race. Confidence is now at 67% or so. I've done a bunch of exercise in the heat and sun and not fared too badly. The original pain is now gone, but I am very constricted in my stride. Slow and steady is about the best I am going to manage. Like the turtle in this video we shot.

June 25 - I get up without issue at 3:30 AM. Marathon prep goes well and I am at the start of the race. Lots of lovely messages from all of you about wishing me luck and that I have this. 80%.

Start line - I end up next to Steve and Paula, the organizers of the 50 State Marathon club! The give me great encouragement. Still 80% though!
A fellow runner as the sun peaks over the horizon
Mile 1 - so far so good. I am actually running in my 50th state. 81%
Mile 5 - feeling about as I did when I started. The sun is up. 85%
Mile 9 - Post on Facebook I am past the 1/3 through. 90%.
Mile 16 - 10 miles to go. 95%
Mile 18 - The family is there for an amazing pitstop - more fluids, another bluetooth headset, more sunscreen and lots of encouragement and love. Text messages are coming in checking in on me from around the country. 99% - really by this point I knew I would make it even if I crawled the very end
Mile 26.2 - Done! 100%!

While the numbers are different when I am not feeling poorly, I actually go through a similar brain exercise in every marathon. There is always some doubt which is probably helpful as overconfidence is dangerous in an endurance sport. 

In fact, when I think about any major project - one that has lots of planning and execution risks, such as shipping the consumer Oculus Rift or various Call of Duty games - my confidence goes through similar roller coasters. I remember when I was assigned the PC game Return to Castle Wolfenstein in 2000. The developer was fighting with the IP owner, and I was asked to get everyone speaking and sort it all out. I promised we would ship by Thanksgiving the following year. The marketing lead did not believe this could be done. He had been on the project the entire time, and his confidence was shaken. I cannot say that I had any basis in my belief other than experience and 12 months of time to work with. My feelings about our ship date definitely went up and down during those 365 days. Just as in the marathon recap above, there were times when my confidence was near zero. And as we approached the code release date and then our ship date, that went up towards 100%. Even at the end, we had a problem with our German manual that delayed the shipment in that country a week. The good news is that we did make Thanksgiving, and then we won PC Game of the Year and Multiplayer Game of the Year with glorious reviews. So, for me in any case, running is like making a game or shipping a product in terms of going through an analog curve of feelings and fears and emotional highs. Achieving a plan of any sort is an amazing feeling.

In following posts, I will write more about the race itself - so much fun and so different for me than others. I changed my iPhone playlist a bit too for this one, and that was a good decision. So, I'll write that up too.

I'll close though to talk about some of the really special aspects of the experience. This started when my lil sis Jen showed me the shirts she had designed a made. Red with big letters spelling Run Laird Run! on the front and a map of the US on the back with each marathon name and date listed by year. The family all wore these on Sunday. I ran in my traditional Marathon Maniacs white (more grey now) shirt. After the race, I did a costume change and put on my earned red shirt. 

Riley, during the 5k, wearing RunLairdRun red
Bright red stands out, and one great benefit of that was seeing all 5 Kenlines during their 5k. The Kona races all overlap and share portions of the course. Thanks in part to my slower than normal pace, I was running part of the out and back as the 5k started and was running to me. I saw Daniel sprinting his way to a 4th place finish in his age group, then my goddaughter Riley and her dad Paul. And a few moments later, Jen and Max were there and we were all hugging to propel us all to our various finish distances.

Then at the pitstop referenced above, I easily found the entire family crew in attendance - 8 red shirts really do pop visually!

At the end of the race, I was called up to the podium to receive a special plaque acknowledging my 50 state achievement. This was unexpected and lovely. 

The final kicker was that a reporter approached me after this. JR writes for the West Hawaii Today paper, and he had seen all the red shirts with the white lettering and had googled to find the blog. Intrigued, he asked me about RunLairdRun and the experience running in Kona. Here are a few images of the paper I found the next morning and the link to the article online that also shows Jen and Max as they finished the 5k. People working in our hotel stopped to congratulate me as they had read the article!

As my cousin Julie asked, wasn't it more fitting to have felt such low confidence on this journey and to succeed at the end. And indeed, she is right, particularly in retrospective. This was the best personal worst time ever! Still, I would have loved to have felt physically better before, during and after the race! Maybe next year I will run again in better form.

(To be clear: I have no intention of running all the 50 states a second time! Once is awesome enough.)

One more plug for the fundraiser - please donate if inclined and you have a chance:

Daniel and Laird show off their medals