Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Will the Real Runner Please Stand Up?

I think it was January 2008 when I listened to a voicemail that started, “Hello, I am looking for Eric Cameron, the marathoner….”  The voicemail was from a fellow Mr. Cameron who was also registered for Boston in April of 2009 and has a penchant for tracking down members of the Cameron clan.  If I received that call today, I would be tempted to say, “The marathoner isn’t in right now, I am expecting him back…eventually.”
I have heard/read people refer to being a real runner.  It usually comes in conjunction with a goal or achievement.  Be it running a certain number of miles or days of the week, achieving a certain level of speed, or completing a race or challenge, people feel that they are not a real runner until they have reached a certain level of psychosis dedication to the sport.
I used to be a real runner. I was a marathoner.  I labored over training plans and could be found pouring over my training log.  I awoke early to run while my neighbors slept.  I set goals and chased them feverishly.  I caught a lot of them.  I blathered on endlessly about races, training, recovery, and the friends that I made along the journey.  However, the real runner is MIA at the moment.  A flaccid temp has taken his place, wide eyed and panicky about how he can fill the shoes of his predecessor.   He has the real runner’s notes on how to get the job done, but is a bit overwhelmed.
So the question is this, if one has to reach a milestone to be considered a real runner, at what point does one cease to be a real runner?  Is it a certain number of pounds gained, dropping below a certain number of miles each week, or failure to maintain the training log because the truth is too painful?  Did I lose my real runner card when I abandoned goals to kick ass in my next race?
Ah…the next race. My real runner doppelganger is registered for the Pikes Peak Ascent in August and the Houston Marathon in January.  He had goals and aspirations for glory in those events.  He had a plan.  I have a belly and a growing feeling of doom.
Of course, being a runner is what has gotten me into this mess.  I trained like crazy for three years and was limping around Boston on the evening of Patriot’s Day 2011 after completing my 8th marathon.  The stabbing pain in my heel was the call for the real runner to go away for a while.  As I wrestle (I wish I could put this in past tense) with Plantar Fasciitis, an over-use injury from all that glorious running, I also wrestle with my identity.  If I am not a marathoner, who am I?
The answer: I am a runner.  Yesterday, the first day of summer, I took the dogs out for a run.  We all needed it.  The grass was high from the recent rain and the trails were soft without being muddy.  The sun was warm on my skin as we plodded along.  My mind was full of goals; where those goals would have been focused on race paces and strategies a few short months ago, they were now about how to finally whip this ailment and get back to my former state.  At what seemed like every turn on the familiar course, I thought about the hard workouts I had put in on those same trails over the past years.  While I am currently unable to hold the pace that I labored at while preparing for recent marathons, there was a spark.  I wanted to get back there.
And I think that is the answer to my question.  I am no longer a real runner when I don’t want to do it anymore.  Yesterday’s run was slow, and my heel was a little achy, but it made me want to get after it, which makes me believe that the marathoner will return from his hiatus.  As I turned off the trail to hit the neighborhood streets, I caught something out of the corner of my eye.  It was Eric Cameron, the marathoner, gliding through the tall summer grass in the angled sunshine of late afternoon, chasing his glorious goals.
I will catch him and pass him soon enough.  Really.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Everything I need to know about running, I learned at the 2011 Boston Marathon.

The 115th Boston marathon was my 8th attempt at the marathon distance.  I was coming off of a personal best time in Chicago and was really doubtful of my ability to run faster at Boston.  As I stated in the race report from Boston, I gave into peer pressure and planned on trying to run my fastest marathon ever.  I didn’t.
Of course, it was in the not running my fastest marathon where the lesson lie.  While I could have paced better, holding some energy in reserve in the first half, I didn’t.  I ran by feel, chatted with some other runners, and had great fun.  My  final time was my second fastest marathon ever, but the lesson was in letting go and enjoying the run.  Boston is a great town, and I met up with a lot of friends.  But the lasting impression of the race is that I raced well without putting pressure on myself to run fast.  Sure, in those closing miles, I ran proudly; I wasn’t going to quit, despite paying the price for a fast start.  However, it is that digging deep when things get tough that I love about this sport.  I gave my best but didn’t stress out that my best might not be “good enough.”
It was my best on that day, which is good enough for me.
And I learned that I love being a marathoner.  Granted, there are times when I am hanging on in the tough miles, or putting in that interval effort that makes my eyes bulge  and my breakfast threaten to reappear; those times are unpleasant, but I still like them—in hindsight.  But running a marathon, being prepared for the event (more or less) and sharing in the spirit of the effort and the race, is what keeps me logging the miles.  I like training.  I like running silently through the darkness in the early morning.  I like filling up the squares in the training log.
The question of running to “compete” or “complete” is often raised by marathoners.  While I have gotten to the point that finishing a marathon is taken for granted a bit, I think that there is some grey area between running just to finish, or complete, the marathon, and running to compete—in the age group or against my own expectations.  There is that sweet  spot where I am fit and prepared and can just run for fun.  There is no expectation of finishing time, just the expectation of getting the most of the experience.  I am blessed to be able to run 26.2, and there are times that the obsession with running faster obfuscates that fact.  The 115th Boston marathon reminded me of the fact that I love marathoning and that I love being a marathoner.
I learned that I am lucky to be healthy enough to complete the marathon distance, that I have great friends that share my passion, that I have a family that supports my madness, and that the people of Boston love their marathon and treat its participants like heroes.  I learned that I am a lucky man.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Boston Marathon 2011--A race report

The 115th Boston Marathon—a race report.
As Dawgdoc and I churn out the 22nd mile of the 2011 Boston Marathon, the crowds call us by name: “C’mon Eric…Go Jay.!”  The roaring crowd cheers us as we blaze towards Boston.  We are racing—not against each other, but with each other.
I ran next to Jay (AKA dawgdoc on the discussion board that I frequent) for a brief part of the marathon.  I don’t know if it was a full mile of the race; I think it might have been less.  But this moment  defines a lot of what this running of the Boston marathon means to me.
I am blessed to have the opportunity to run the Boston Marathon for a second time.  After ’09, I thought I would never return.  Don’t get me wrong.  I had a blast in ’09, I have qualifying marathon times, and The Boston holds a special place in my heart.  I just thought the journey was a little self indulgent.  Of course, I succumbed to peer pressure.  All of my imaginary friends were doing it.
The most significant social element of my running is participation in the Runner’s World discussion boards.  I started participating in the discussions before my run in ’09 and never left.  I didn’t know if I should stop posting because I doubted that I would return to Boston, but I had made a lot of friends through our daily discussion on running.  Those friends are what made the 2011 Boston Marathon worth the trip.
I met a lot of people during Boston ’09 and Chicago ’10.  The friends I have made online do materialize at races, and the opportunity to hang out with old friends and meet some new ones, combined with sharing the experience with my family, had me booking flights to Boston for Patriot’s Day.  I think I spent two months whistling the melody from the Dropkick Murphys’ Shipping Up to Boston. 
I was looking forward to the parties with friends, but was fearful of the race.  My training was OK, but I wasn’t ever as focused and driven as I was in the lead-up to Chicago (10-10-10) where I set my PR.  I worked through the training plan like a zombie (completing the workouts with little feeling) and tried to talk myself out of going for a best time in Boston.  The same friends I looked so forward to seeing gave me an earful when I proposed shooting for a goal some 7 minutes slower than my fastest race.  My wife called me names, including telling me to “toughen up, buttercup.”  Oh the indignity.
The course in Boston is a tough one that invites the hapless runner to hammer 16 miles of relative downhill, and then chews said runner up in the grinder known as the Newton hills.  After the hills, there are 5 more miles of downhill that can be a deathmarch if the early miles are run overly optimistically.  So I feared going out too fast, but also didn’t want to sell myself short, start too slowly, and have no shot at a good time.  My legs seemed good, but my head was a mess.
So I showed up in Hopkinton with a plan that would give me a shot at running my best marathon time.  I figured it was better to go for it and run the risk of failure than to play it safe and have regrets.  I met up with friends in the village, chatted, prepped for the race, headed to corral #2 of wave #1.  I could see the tops of the heads of the pro runners as they were introduced and filed out into their starting place several yards in front of me.  As I awaited the start, I fired up the Garmin (my GPS watch) to get a signal.  It wouldn’t turn on, despite several attempts.
I found myself standing in the starting corral of the 115th Boston Marathon laughing aloud like a fool and talking to myself.  Honey Badger don’t care.”  “Honey Badger don’t give a shit!”  I had my race mantra.
 Rather than obsess over the numbers and pace, I was going to run this one by feel, thanks to the expensive paperweight strapped to my arm.  I ran freely.  I tried to get other runners to talk to me in the early miles.  I loudly sang “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood” and tried to get others to sing with me.  I high-fived kids.  I kissed a girl in Wellesley.  I smiled—a lot.  I didn’t know my pace and didn’t try to figure it out as I went through the checkpoints.  I was a honey badger.  I didn’t give a shit.  I went all “attacky” on that course and planned on having cobra for dinner.
My original plan was to run the first 6 miles at 5-10 seconds faster than goal pace, settle into goal pace for miles 7-16.5, then run the Newton hills to the best of my ability, and let it fly from Boston College (mile 21) into Boston.  Well, I ignored the watch (as any good honey badger would do) and felt as if I was passing people for the first six miles.  I wasn’t pushing nor zig-zagging through traffic, but felt as if I was moving up.  At six miles, I consciously pulled back the pace a little (without having the slightest idea of what the pace was) and felt as if people were moving past me.  They weren’t streaming past, but I felt as if I was slipping back.  I worried that my effort might be feeling too hard, too early, but the honey badger don’t care.
I spread my arms like an airplane as I made the right turn at Newton firehouse.  The crowd went wild[er]. One hill was behind me and now the three famous hills of Comm Ave were before me.  I expected to see my family on this stretch, and really wanted to run within myself on the hills.  I felt like I was going slowly, but there were a surprising number of people walking and running more slowly than myself as I picked my way up the hills.  I worked the uphill and then tried to speed up on the recovery between the hills.  I saw my family at about 18.5 miles.  They didn’t know that I had been possessed by the spirit of the honey badger, but I informed them.  They cheered wildly, and I set my sights on Heartbreak hill.
At the top of Heartbreak hill lies Boston College.  While the girls of Wellesley scream loudly, have a lot of signage, and are willing to kiss sweaty runners, BC is louder, and most likely, more drunk.  They were roaring!  The din didn’t let up, either.  The frenzy of the crowd built throughout the race and the course was lined without gap from the turn at Newton firehouse until Boston.  They called out the names of runners who had put names on their shirts and howled.  I honestly believe that the Boston Marathon has the best fans in marathoning.  From the top of Heartbreak into Boston it got so that I could barely make out what was being said; it was a roar of support.  Those awesome fans cheered for the runners like they were family!  It was an honor.  I didn’t want to let 500,000 people down.  After all, it felt like they were cheering for me.
Many of those fans were calling my name.  I think it is because I was starting to look pretty bad.  I was a hurting runner, but just kept telling myself to keep the pace up—to keep it honest.  To give anything less than my best would be, indeed, to sacrifice the gift—the gift of being able to run, the gift of returning to Boston, and the gift of a perfect running day (including a nice tailwind), to name a few.  So I churned on.  And that is when Jay (Dawgdoc) pulled up next to me.
I asked him how he was doing and he said he was hurting.  I think I said something along the lines of “of course you are.”  I had been following Jay’s training for months and knew (better than he did) that he was ready to break the three hour barrier for the marathon.  His training was excellent.  He destroyed his PR’s in his tune up races.  He showed up on race day in great shape, and all he needed to do was execute.  The honey badger might not give a shit about things like splits and his own time, but he doesn’t back down, either.
I talked at Jay.  I didn’t need an answer in words, just in deed.  I mentioned his awesome training, his toughness, and how his goal was there for the taking.  I did my best Knute Rockne.  Oh, and I picked up the pace.  I would estimate that I sped up about 30 seconds per mile.  Of course, I didn’t care about the numbers of my race.  I didn’t want Jay to slow to my pace, which was turning into a death shuffle, but to chase his goal.  I was willing to chase his goal too.  We ran side by side for a while and then I had to let him go, having given him all I could.  I wasn’t upset that I couldn’t keep up; I was thrilled that he could pull away from me.  I believed that he was going to achieve his goal.
It seems like it was only a minute or two later that I heard the crowds cheering for Boston College.  I knew what that meant.  My friend, Phil, who was also chasing his first sub-3 hour marathon (and wearing his alma mater’s name on his chest), had caught me.  He blew by me, and eventually passed Jay as well.  I yelled out some words of encouragement and watched him take off.  It was awesome.  For the first time in my marathoning experience, I wasn’t all wrapped up in my performance.  I wanted to run well, but was really loving seeing the hard work of my friends paying off.  In the past I would be upset that I was getting passed and want to compete.  This time, I wanted to share in their success and have fun.
I achieved all that I wanted in Boston.  I had a blast both on the racecourse and off.  I ran a solid time that I can be proud of, but didn’t let the obsession with time suck the life out of the greatest marathon on earth.  I charged down Boylston Street with a grimace, milking everything from my body that I could, and saw that I had not gone under 3 hours.  Of course, it was easy for this honey badger not to care; I shared in the fellowship of the marathon and knew, beyond a doubt, that both Phil and Jay must have achieved the coveted title of sub-3 hour marathoners.  The crowd roared, and I couldn’t help but smile as I crossed the finish line.  Of course, if asked, the honey badger was baring his teeth and not caring at all.
Since I had no watch, I didn’t see any splits until after the race.  I went out way too fast, running nine and a half minutes slower in the second half than in the first.  That execution is pretty terrible, but I finished in 3:00:36, which is my second fastest marathon ever, fewer than three minutes slower than my fastest, and a full eight minutes faster than I had run Boston in ’09 (which now stands as my 3rd fastest).  I ran naked (no watch) which could have been a source of stress and disaster.  Instead, it freed me to savor the day, sing a song, high five little kids, kiss a coed, run by feel, pick out my family from the masses, help out a buddy without a care about my own race, and have a Boston experience that I will never forget.
The numbers—(no thanks to Garmin)
5K:          20:32
10K:       40:18
15K:       1:00:17
20K:       1:21:13
Half Marathon (13.1M): 1:25:43
25K:       1:42:22
30K:       2:04:18
35K:       2:27:05
40K:       2:50:15
26.2 Miles: 3:00:36 (6:54/Mile avg)

1602/23,879 Finishers
1497/13806 Males
238/2303 M40-44

Monday, March 21, 2011

Hair of the Dog

According to Wikipedia, the phrase, “Hair of the dog” originally referred  to treating a dog bite by putting the hair of the biting dog on the wound to avoid rabies.  Of course, in our modern usage, it refers to having a drink in the morning of the booze that we over indulged in the night before in the hopes of ameliorating a hangover.
This rabid runner figured he would return to the well as I headed out for a recovery run after a hard half marathon in which I bucked a headwind for 13.1 miles.  While I won’t go into the details of the race here (click the race report link if you are interested), let it suffice to say that I gingerly got out of bed this morning.   Some dog replaced my lower legs with wood while I slept.  So while the family was still asleep in the motel room, I slipped out for some cure—more running.
Marathon training, and racing of any kind, is hard.  While some people run socially, soaking up the atmosphere, I feel the need to push hard at every race, and the Canyonlands Half Marathon was no exception.  While I train and race hard, every training plan has recovery runs built in.  The idea is to run slowly and just get those wooden pegs loosened up a bit.  While the running is slow, it is often difficult.
As I headed out of the motel at the southern end of Moab and headed west along the Colorado river, I was hobbled.  Everything hurt, and I could barely fake a running motion.  However, like magic, the same activity that put me in this position slowly rescued me.  My legs stopped hurting by degrees and the pace picked up a bit.  The wonderful part was that I had no other goal besides logging some miles, so I could look around.  Yesterday I raced down a beautiful canyon, but anytime I thought of looking at the scenery, I was quickly drawn back to the task at hand: racing and cursing the wind.  This morning, I checked out the river and the beautiful canyon walls.  I saw sleepy campers slowly emerging from their tents and even a couple of llamas who watched me curiously as I ran by.  I trotted along with only the beautiful scenery and my thoughts.
The recovery run did more than just enable me to walk through Moab shops and hike to some magnificent rock formations in Arches National Park with my sons; it recharged my love of the sport.  I ran for medicinal purposes, but loved every step of the way.  The early Sunday morning jaunt greeted me with very few cars, comfortable temps, about 6 miles of joy (after the first mile of painful clomping) and even a breeze that seemed less hostile than yesterday.
So I am now back home with 28 days until the Boston Marathon.  That works out to one more week of hard training and then a taper—three weeks where the mileage lessens each week, but the intensity of individual workouts remains with the hopes of delivering me to Hopkinton with fresh, speedy legs.  In 29 days, I will probably try a little more hair of the dog that bit me.

Saturday, March 5, 2011


I think that we have all heard this acronym as a plan of attack: keep it simple, stupid.
There are some things that are more simple to me than to other people.  For example, I find it easy to get dressed in the morning; I find fashion simply stupid, so I just cover up and set out.  However, there are other things in my life that should be simple, but they are not.  A good example is this blog.  I read the blogs of others who appear to just dump ideas on the page and post.  I feel the need to craft blog posts, which results in drafts simmering for weeks at a time, and long periods of time developing between posts.
Another thing in my life which should be simple, but I tend to complicate it, is running.  Honestly, is there a more simple sport than running?  It is a fundamental element of many other sports, but as a sport itself, even more so as a hobby, it is pretty darned simple.  Put on some shoes and get running.  Simple.
This simplicity yields simple joy in running along.  Yes, I can complicate it with race goals, training plans, electronic doohickeys, and expectations, but, in its simplest form, it is just perambulating, much like my primitive ancestors did.  Of course, they didn’t have fancy shoes, which brings me to one of the simple joys of being a marathoner: buying new shoes.
One of the ways that I complicate my training log, but simplify the decision of when to buy new shoes, is to keep track of the mileage on my shoes.  Simply, I needed new trainers, badly.  So I did a little research online, but headed to my local running specialty store to see what they had to offer before sending my money off to the Internet.
I love going to the local shop: they know me; I know them; we are kindred running spirits.  The process is simple: they bring me shoes; I try them on and trot around the building; and then I decide.  All the while, we are talking running.  Honestly, it is difficult to find people willing to talk about running, racing, goals, and, of course, footwear.  On this occasion, I bought two pairs of trainers.  I had run in one of the models before and the other was a new iteration of a shoe that I have had luck with in the past.  I left the store with two new shoe boxes feeling happy and motivated.  I spent some time with some running acquaintances and stimulated the local economy.  More importantly, I was simply happy to be a runner.