Friday, February 18, 2011

The BAA has spoken

For those of you not closely monitoring news about marathoning, there was a huge announcement Tuesday.  The Boston Athletic Association (BAA) announced a new registration process and new qualifying standards for the Boston Marathon.  This news has been anticipated and rumors and speculation have been plenty ever since the registration for the 2011 Boston Marathon filled in an amazing eight hours and three minutes.
First of all, many people said that something had to be done after the race filled so quickly.  I do not agree.  There was a lot of buzz in the weeks leading up to the opening of registration that it would fill up quickly.  I have many friends who were part of the 20,000 people to sign up in those eight hours.  It seems to me that selling out isn’t a problem for the race, nor is it a problem for the runner who planned ahead to register at the earliest possible moment.
In a nutshell, there are still qualifying standards based on age and gender, but those standards are a baseline and do not guarantee entry.  There is a tiered registration system where runners who have run a race 20 minutes (or more) faster than their qualifying times get to register first, then those 10 minutes faster, then five, then an open registration.  At whatever point the race fills, the faster runners will be registered prior to slower runners.  This system will be in place with the existing qualifying times for 2012, and the qualifying times will be lowered (made faster) by five minutes for all ages and genders for the 2013 iteration of the race.
There seem to be two responses to this news.   The majority of runners whose comments I have seen/heard  feel that the BAA has just raised the bar.  Those runners see the new system and the new standards as just another goal to be met.  In fact, there are now ranks of qualifying.  The runner who qualified with six minutes to spare is now eyeing that BQ-10 (Boston Qualifier minus 10 minutes) to ensure a better chance of getting in the race.  There are also people out there who feel cheated.  They want to know, without a doubt, that they can get into the race, and this system of rating applications by speed relative to the qualifying standard could, potentially, mean that a runner has qualified, but will not get into the race because too many other applicants have qualified by a larger margin. 
I think that the mindset about qualifying will change a bit.  There is still the goal of making the qualifying time, but the larger the margin of beating that time, the better one’s chances are of getting in the race.  That doubt about whether the qualifying time has been surpassed enough to actually get in is a little rough on the runners, but it is good for the race.
The BAA has a good solution here.  They have ensured that the fastest registrants will get into their race and they will not need to adjust the qualifying times because those times are self adjusting.  If the race fills up, it will fill up with the runners who have beaten the qualifying standard for their age and gender by the largest margin.  Reducing  the qualifying time by five minutes makes the pool of applicants smaller, and  the tiered registration will avoid the rush on the servers, allowing the BAA to “dose” the rush of applicants.  They have taken measures to control the rush of applicants into the race (a wave start, if you will) and have maintained the quality of the field.
The Boston Marathon is prestigious because it is old and because it attracts the best competition from the masses of citizen runners.  It is hard to get into, and that difficulty should not be based on beating the rush on registration morning, just beating the clock and running the best marathon possible to qualify.  The BAA has maintained their prestige. Of course, people will complain.  They complain about change, and they complain a lack of change.  Let them complain, but let them train!  There have been changes to the registration process and to the qualifying standards, but one thing hasn’t changed:
Do you know how to get to Boston?  Training, training, training!

Monday, February 7, 2011

A snowy long run

I had an awesome 20 mile run yesterday.  There was every excuse for it to be horrible, but I chose that it was going to be a good run.  The schedule called for a long run on Saturday, and Sunday was a scheduled rest day.  As the weather got worse on Saturday, and my other obligations kept putting the run later and later, I decided to postpone it to Sunday.  I figured if I got out early enough, I would be able to run down the middle of the snowy streets; they weren’t calling for that much snow, anyway. 
I  awoke at 6 am and the snow was hammering down.  There was a good six inches on the ground and it wasn’t showing any signs of letting up.  I decided that I was going to run for three hours or twenty miles, whichever came first.  As I headed out with Fletcher for 4.2 miles, it looked like I would be going for the three hours.  The roads were dicey with a few tire tracks but no signs of a plow.  When I got to the lake, which is usually one of the first places to have plowed paths, I discovered that I had beaten the plows.  A good 2 miles of those four miles were breaking a fresh track in 8 inches of powdery, Colorado snow.  I chugged along, at one point seeing that I was in the 11 minute mile range, but I didn’t care.
I decided that I was going to take what the day gave me and “run like a child.”  My kids love the snow, and I like running in it.  However, I have recently gotten too caught up in the numbers of a training plan; so I decided I was going to run joyfully and ignore the numbers.
I returned home with Fletcher and it seemed like the snow was letting up.  I leashed up Finn and headed off for a wandering tour of the residential streets in the area, because they had some tire tracks that I could run in, which provided the best surface to be had.  After wandering five miles, we hit the same lake where I had run with Fletcher.  I had played it right; they had just plowed the inner loop, which is 1.1 miles.  There was still hard crunchy stuff covered by a thin layer of fluffy snow, so the footing was good.  We settled in for about 9 laps, (with a mile to run home from the lake) and started hitting some descent splits.  The sun came out. A couple of the miles dipped below 8:00/M which is in the range that I am trying to run my long runs.  I snapped off a couple of good miles and then I started to fade.  The early 10 miles of working hard to run through the snow started to show.  I just ignored the pace and ran out the miles.
It was a great run for many reasons.  I headed out into questionable weather and got to experience the silent run of fresh snow and empty streets. It was beautiful and fun.  I worked hard, but ran happily, not stressing about pace or distance, taking all the joy I could from a beautiful winter day, running along, with my four-legged running partners.
It was interesting to see who was out on a wintery day.  Early on, when the snow was still falling, I saw mostly shovelers and snowblowerers.  There were very few tracks in the snow at the lake on the first visit; the few I saw were human and canine.  The dog walkers were getting it done, although I didn’t see them yet, just their tracks in the snow.  On the second round with Finn, I saw snowshoers, XC skiers, walkers, runners, photographers, and, of course, dog walkers.  It is great to live in a place where people love the outdoors.  As the park department got the paths plowed, more and more people were heading out to enjoy a 30 degree snow day.
I thought I was going to have to tough this run out.  It got a little hard near the end, but it was one of those runs that are so joyful that it will propel me through the next week of training.  I ran like a child.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Mike's Hotel

A high school friend with whom I have been in contact off and on over the years posted some pictures on FaceBook the other day. His name is Mike Pop.  He posted a whole album of pictures of the renovations he has made to his home.  He owns an old hotel (originally build in 1880) in rural Nevada and is renovating it into a small storefront and three apartments. 

The enormity of the task is daunting to me.  The pictures show the old rooms prior to the changes, and then the removal of walls, repairs to some of the brick arches, building kitchen cabinets from recycled wooden doors, replacing windows, cutting holes and installing stairs, and basically repurposing the entire building to his needs.  In addition to all of these changes, my friend creates a lot of art from things he finds in the Nevada desert; all of the railings on the hotel are handmade—Mike Pop originals.  Wow, that job is huge!

As I looked at the pictures, impressed with all of the work that my friend had done, I noticed that all of the pictures were labeled, stating what it was that was depicted: new window in the kitchen, new cabinets in the kitchen, the kitchen when fully painted, etc.  There would be groups of pictures as an area of the hotel was transformed, with several shots of a given area, then a shift to another area.  While the enormity of the transformation of this old hotel did not lessen, it became clearer to me how such a task can be completed.  The entire project is the renovation of the hotel, but within that project, are smaller projects. Removing the walls, framing new walls, creating a kitchen, creating a utility room all fall under the Hotel Project banner.  And those smaller projects are comprised of numerous projects themselves: wiring for the appliances, building the cabinets, changing the window, sheet rocking, painting, etc.

I think that Mike’s project is going really well; it is impressive to see all that he has done, but the list of things to come is still daunting.  However, he finishes a task and moves onto the next item, all with an overall vision of the finished product.  His journey parallels any big task.  He is not getting paid to repurpose the hotel; in fact he spends a lot of money, time, and labor on his task.  He does it because it makes him happy and he sees worth in it.  His process, of taking one step at a time is inspiring.
I get frustrated doing any kind of home repairs and improvements.  Something always goes wrong and I am left grumbling as I make one more run to the home improvement mega store.  Mike told me that the nearest lumberyard is 80 miles away and Home Depot is 130 miles.  But he has had no shortage of setbacks along the way.  I would be a basket case.

Of course, I am a basket case, but it is not an old hotel that is highlighting my dementia.  I am not building a home from the remnants of an old hotel, but I am building a marathon.  I am sure that people, when seeing my friend’s home upon completion, will be in awe that he did it all himself, yet still not grasp the enormity of the task.  When people find out that I have run a marathon (or 7) they have a similar reaction.  They are impressed, but usually don’t “get” it.

A different friend of mine once wrote that marathoners know the secret that a marathon is short.  Yes it is 26.2 miles and takes a number of hours, but those measurements pale when compared to the thousands of miles and hundreds of hours that are dedicated to preparing for the task.  Of course, like the renovation of a hotel, training for a marathon is an accumulation of a lot of smaller tasks.  There are training cycles, mesocycles, weeks, and daily workouts.  One task at a time is completed, which accumulates into a section of the tasks being completed, which eventually leads to a finished project that is turgid with my effort, focus, and passion.

In our culture of immediate gratification, it is easy to forget that change often occurs slowly.  We should dream big, set our goals high, but focus on the immediate task at hand and its contribution to the goal rather than being overwhelmed with the enormity of the goal.  Take it one step at a time, do that step to the best of your ability and move on.  The big picture will take care of itself.

Last week’s running plan (11 weeks until Boston!) got disrupted by a minor illness; I took two consecutive days off, making up one of the runs on Sunday, my usual rest day and skipping an 11 mile run.  I wound up with 56 miles for the week.  I can’t recoup those 11 miles I missed, but I don’t have to. It was a solid week, including a 22 mile long run that went very well.   I will just press on.  This week started off strong, despite some bitter cold and snow.  I completed a recovery double (6 miles am, 4 miles pm) on a treadmill at the local recreation center on Monday, bringing January’s mileage total to 270 miles (a monthly record).  I ran 146 laps of an indoor track on Tuesday for 14 miles.  Today’s project is five recovery miles.  The forecast calls for a high in the single digits (F), but I owe it to myself and the pups to get out there.  So I will bundle up and tend to the task at hand, knowing that the finished product in Boston will be something that I can be proud of.

Here are some links from Mike Pop.  More information about the hotel is available in the “pages” link on the right side of the blog.