Tear It Up (2010 Michelob Ultra Katy 5K)

Michelob Ultra Katy 5K 12 Logo

I was sitting in Whataburger, enjoying a post-race reward of beef and fries, when my iPhone chirped. It was a text message from my friend and head coach Patton, asking me if I wanted to run in the morning. I gave him a quick call.

“Dude, did you tear up the course?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said, “Now I am tearing up Whataburger.  And in about 45 minutes, Whataburger will be tearing up my bowels.”

“Good thing you’re not addicted to heroin,” he quipped.

I had a hard time arguing with that logic.

The Michelob Katy 5K is the only 5K I look forward to each year. It’s got the best combination of route and post-race scene. The after-party alone is worth the admission, as you get a wide selection of sweet and/or salty grub, plus the draft beer necessary to wash it all down.

Because I practically live in Oklahoma, running the Katy 5K takes a considerable amount of planning on my part. And because it is far away from my home base of McKinney, the race is usually a solo effort on my part; none of my friends ever run it.  All I can say is, “They’re missing out.”  Even though they didn’t represent, I wasn’t alone this day — thanks to the Power of Twitter, I met up with @SeeKrisRun, who I’ve been following since at least the White Rock Half-Marathon. Energetic and armed with a great smile, Kris was proudly representing her ‘hood of Uptown.  She even used the power of persuasion to sway her roommate to also run the race.

The day was sunny and warm, with a heaping dose of humidity due to the approaching front. Since I have been training well for the several weeks prior, I felt really good about this race. So much so that I let myself believe a PR was within reach. To achieve it would take a 5K time of 27:29 or less. Not unrealistic, depending on how good I felt halfway through.

The starting gun went off, and we began the slow mill towards the start line. Kris and I wished each other good luck and agreed to hunt down one another afterwards. Then I crossed the start, fired up my Garmin, hit the gas, and dashed down Turtle Creek Boulevard.

I started out very fast, as is my habit in short races like this: the sandwich of slow people I usually find myself between leads to a frantic start as I seek to escape.M y legs felt fresh in the heat, so I wasn’t worried about my oscillating speed. Once racers got sorted out halfway down Turtle Creek, I was able to relax within space and redirect energy to finding my rhythm.

Quickly ahead of me was the series of turns — a right onto Blackburn Ave. left onto Cole Ave., and another left at Cambrick St., leading to a straight-shot  towards the Katy Trail. Past participation in this event told me to not be shocked by the hill that was Blackburn; as I turned onto the street, I could hear nearby runners moan their surprise of the ascent before them. I allowed myself one small window to chuckle, then I set about the task of running strong.  And did I, making it up the hill, and to the end of Mile 1, in less than 9:00. On track!

The Racing Gods grew aware of my pride and confidence and felt something had to be done. With a snap of their powerful fingers, pop went my right side with a stitch. Such injuries are more nuisance than showstopper to me.  However, they are enough to slow me down, as they negatively affect my ability to draw deep breaths without concentration.  So I could either focus on my pace or my breaths. Since I chose the latter, my pace somewhat suffered.

It’s a good thing that Cole/Cambrick is a great downhill. I spent this easy part of the course manipulating my right arm back and forth, around and above my shoulder, stretching out that right-side ribcage.  By the time I hit mile 2, I had gotten over my side-stitch and could breathe deeply once again. Once on the Katy Trail, half of the race was left ahead of me, a smooth descent back to Reverchon Park. Although I had lost some time, Mr. Garmin told me a PR was still within striking distance. So I pushed it up a gear.

In previous incarnations of this race, the biggest beating has been navigating the funnel that is the Katy Trail.  Up until now, I was running on broad streets with plenty of room to maneuver; now I was on something more akin to a sidewalk, peppered with all forms of turbo-stragglers. However, those surly Racing Gods decided to give me a break, opening up pockets of space I took full benefit of for both passing and increasing my speed.  The best part about the 5K distance is its shortness. Even if you’re having an off-day, it’s really easy to rally your body to go faster & harder when there is a less than 30-minute commitment. An added bonus: a majority of the racers preferred to run on the straight concrete portions of the trail, leaving the meandering rubberized portions free for people like me.  At the 2.2 mile point, a final check of my Garmin confirmed that I was on-track (with absolutely no margin for error).  I focused on making the upcoming mile one I would be proud of.

This time passed quickly.  I was surprised when I actually stumbled upon the finish, I was so deeply concentrating on making efficient breaths and strides. Right before I crossed the line, a peek at the race clock told me I wasn’t fast enough — I was 00:29 off a PR. But it was easily my 2nd best finish ever. It’s good to know that the older I was getting, the better I was running.

Post-race, us participants were funneled downhill back into Reverchon Park, where a ring of food stands awaited them. By my guess, nearly four dozen local eateries were represented, presenting their confections amid a sea of well-beered athletes. I never need an excuse to run, but the run seemed like the perfect excuse to eat: cookies, tacos, pizza, beer, cheesecake, fruit, and brownies. So what if you’re supposed to carbo-load before a race?  As planned, Kris and I met up after the race. Thankfully she also had a good day, as did most everyone there. The Katy 5K is a good way to prepare for the upcoming marathon training season, and I recommend that everyone skip work and head downtown next year. After all, it wouldn’t be a party without you!

Runner’s Lent (2010 Dallas Rock ‘n’ Roll Half-Marathon)

Rock n Roll Dallas Half Marathon 2010 Medals

My iPhone chirped loudly at 4:00am, one hour before my scheduled wake-up time. I was sleeping on my back; now I was staring at the ceiling of my bedroom, wondering what the fuck was going on.

I looked to my left, and Jenn was thankfully still in dreamland. I could try and fall back asleep, but then one of two things would happen: I would sleep past my 5:00am alarm, or I would wake up in time but have unnecessarily exhausted myself attempting to milk extra sleep. Whether I liked it or not, I was awake.

I grabbed my iPhone and the culprit was soon revealed: a friend in Guam submitting her latest move in Words with Friends, triggering an audible push notification. Note to self: Guam-proof any future race plans.

I gingerly climbed out of bed and successfully stumbled downstairs without waking the baby.  Reaching for breakfast, I had to once again consider my choices, as I had the weeks beforehand.  What could I eat that didn’t have unnecessary or unnatural sugar?  Or corn syrup?

I soon settled on my regular meal of toast with almond butter and black coffee.  A few quick bites and gulps, then I got dressed and hit the highway.

Since moving to McKinney in 2006, I’ve discovered that participating in any Dallas-based race is a royal pain in the ass.  Traveling to them eats into my time with The Sandman.  A 45-minute drive coupled with finding the start line shuttles for my first point-to-point race in years adds up to a long amount of time running around before the actual run.

I was looking forward to this race for many reasons. Above all, it was the inaugural Rock ‘n’ Roll Dallas race, and there wouldn’t be many opportunities for me to say I participated in the first edition of any event. Secondly, I was not coaching (as is my springtime habit) so I felt I could enjoy the race without worrying about being responsible for anyone except myself. And in a cold season where I have been sick more times than I have fingers to count (thanks, baby Zachary), my training had been sub-par. Knowing I didn’t have a PR in me was one less element of pressure.  It’s a good thing I attempted to sabotage my chances with two less-than-well-thought-out changes to my routine.

First, I recently switched shoes.  Not just brands, but types.  In the span of three years, I had shifted from neutral type of shoe (Mizuno Wave Rider) to a stability model (Asics Gel Landreth and Kayano), then a performance shoe with the closest forefoot strike of my life (Brooks Ghost 2).  The reasons were largely therapeutic: several seasons of bounding strides and heel strikes had improved my speed at the cost of crushing my sesamoids and withering my calves.  My head coach Patton theorised that correcting this action would produce greater power and less injury, but only if we could promote a higher number of revolutions in my gait.  I had to get off my heels, hence the Ghosts. Up to the day of the race, Patton’s theory was slowly but surely being validated.  If the power and speed never reach their full potential, I’ll at least write him into my will for helping relieve my chronic sesamoiditis.

Second, it was the middle of Lenten season, and this time around I gave up sweets.  And because I’m disciplined in most things I attempt, I went all in: I gave up all items sweetened with cane sugar or high-fructose corn syrup, avoiding anything that wasn’t naturally sweet via something like honey or agave nectar. This included several staples of my diet, such as peanut butter, cereal bars, dark chocolate, Dr. Pepper, ketchup, margaritas, sweetened coffee, and post-dinner dessert with my wife.

My running workouts suffered in particular, as many of my trusted fuels fell by the wayside: no Nuun tablets, no post-run chocolate soy milk, no Clif bars…and no Gu packets.  The lack of familiar gels is what concerned me the most with a half-marathon approaching.  To compensate during those 40 days, I used Honey Stingers in place of Gu, and I placed extra emphasis on consuming more whole grains and fruits.

Thanks to this one-two punch of physical sabotage, I knew that come race day I’d have to rely on my mind instead of my legs.  In other words, my capacity to sweep away 13.1 miles of mental cobwebs would be the result of just how much I could lean on past experience.

I got downtown early, before much of the crowd appeared.  Dallas City Plaza had a familiar feel: instead of homeless people huddled into the nooks and crannies of skyscrapers, there were athletes shivering the morning away.  It was a long walk from the shuttles, and along the way I was able to sneak off with some banana and bagel I found in an unmanned food booth.

With plenty of time to turn, I walked up and down the chutes, attempting to get familiar with the course start layout.  I also had my iPhone with me, in case there was an opportunity to meet up with online friends.   And luckily, the Twitterati were able to hook up before lining up in our separate chutes. This epic encounter of the Running Twitterati included several Tweeps: Jennifer #1; Melissa; Kris; Jennifer #2; Lisa; Suann; Lee and Isis, the famous Running Couple; Brian; and Mark.  The girls were rocking homemade tutus — it would be quite easy to spot them in the crowd.

After completing bag checks and chatting for a few minutes, it was time to get lined up and focused on the race.  I arrived at Chute #6 and soaked in the scene: framing me on all sides were seas of people, young and old, large and small, stretching as far as the eye could see.  Many were swathed in respectful shades of pink, comrades against breast cancer.  I was wearing my own contribution: my Team Angie wristband, honoring my athlete who was diagnosed last October.  She’s been doing great these past few months, and I’d like to think it was due to good vibes from me and others at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half.  Almost on cue while thinking about Angie, I bumped into two other teammates I was glad to see, Laurie and Chelsea.

As this was also my first wintertime race in years, my fear of being cold led me to be quite Boy Scout-ish when it came to wardrobe. I was swathed in two short-sleeve shirts and Nike gloves. Thankfully, all parts were expendable, which I planned to shed sooner than later on this expected warm day.

Soon the chutes were filled.  It was time to get this party started.

I looked inside and pondered my physical state.  Lent had not only been a cleansing in many ways, but also a travel through time.  With the lack of accustomed fuel and lackluster training, I wasn’t in much better shape than 2003, my second year of running.  Visualizing the 13.1 miles ahead of me, I had a passing thought that I might come to regret this race.

Then a crack pierced the air…off went the starting gun!  And off we went — to standing around for several minutes.

Because of the high volume of participants, we were unleashed in waves. This meant that it took 12 minutes before I sniffed the start line. As we milled across the timing pad like the well-toned lemmings we were, above me to the right were a gaggle of scantily-clad Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders. They were vigorously cheering, shaking their pom-poms. I quickly realized the reason for their enthusiasm: all that motion must be an excellent generator of heat.  Then the picks of the litter were behind me, and I had a race to concentrate on.

The better generator of heat was running itself, as my weather prediction quickly came to fruition.  Three miles into the race, once the shadows were short and the sky blindingly bright, off came Shirt #1.  I was unaware of how confusing this might appear later on, as my earlier race photos have me decked in red, while the later ones show me in blue.

The weather was hard to figure out.  While it didn’t negatively impact my run, it caused distractions.  For example, my running glasses would fog up when I was enveloped in the shadows of Uptown, then clear up whenever a strong sunbeam struck me.  I spent several miles fumbling with my frosted lenses and cursing myself for even bringing them. Then when I turned east at Mile 5 and stared down the evil day star, I couldn’t have been prouder about a decision.

But I knew fairly quickly that today would be a run vs. a race for me.  I was feeling hot and worn just a third of the way in.  It wasn’t only my glasses I had to defog; it was also my mind, which was quickly becoming distracted (never a good sign for this racer).  I kept having to rein in my pace, which tended to increase with distractions, in order to ensure I had energy for the second half of the course.  I kept reminding myself to stick with my pre-race plan: run the first eight miles at a steady pace (10:00/mile) uphill to the summit on Mockingbird (Mile 8), then assess my status at that point.  Either I’d keep the same pace, or up it to take advantage of the downhill to Fair Park.

The march to Mockingbird had all the echoes of White Rock.  With the exception of minor deviations, we were running the same course.  Although tedious, I tolerated it because I was looking forward to the differences miles ahead.  The first chance for excitement was running through the Luke’s Locker water stop (Mile 3), where I slowed to spot my friends.  Looking left and right…no one was familiar…wait, there’s Patton next to Steve.  “PATTON!” I yelled.  “KILLER!” he responded.

That gave me the juice I needed until the next point of interest, rounding onto Mockingbird (Mile 7).  At last, a road I’ve never run down.  Despite the chaos of the Komen for the Cure water stop being right there, I zipped through and started a never-ending smile until the end.

Just past that water stop was the next of the course bands — who weren’t even bothering to play.  That made two bands in a row that were non-existent at this so-called Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon.  Not a big deal in the long run, as I chose this race for reasons besides the music.  Now, if they could fill up the course with some reunions of 1990’s bands like Caulk, Slow Roosevelt, and Bass-X, I’d be there each and every year.

The mystical Mile 8 had arrived.  My Garmin told it to me straight that a PR wasn’t within reach, not after a string of 10+ minute miles.  This was good news, as it meant I could relax and enjoy soaking in the scene.  I started to keep count of things like Elvis impersonators (2), green wigs (4), and chicks in tutus (infinite).  And my pace started to improve, largely due to the downhill between Mile 8 and the finish line.

I soon grew aware of my upset stomach (Mile 11).  The combination of Honey Stingers, drinking only water, and the cloudless heat were opening a door to Hell within my bowels.  I was lower on salt and magnesium that I had hoped, but not at any level that I couldn’t manage for the next hour (that story would be different were it a full marathon).

I luckily had some good distractions up to that point: when running through the lower Skillman area, I reminisced about the years I used to live in east Dallas, in a old duplex just barely on the right side of the tracks.  Those were good years while they lasted: I would find excuses to work from home, so I could use my normal commute time to run and bike around White Rock Lake.  I also thought about my friends who lived near there and thought, “I really should give them a call.”

Mile 12 was my first true Come to Jesus meeting of the day, where I questioned the need to run the entire course.  “Maybe I should stop and stretch,” I kept thinking over and over.  Remember the wisdom and experience I cited earlier?  Both Misters W and E responded, “Shut the fuck up!” and I kept running.  I knew deep down that if I paused, it would be that much harder to pick up the pace when needed.  Besides, it’s just a mile between me and glory.  That, and a bunch of cameras and camcorders!

The end of the race was exciting.  We flowed into the northeast corner of Fair Park, past the Museum of the American Railroad that occupied many of my youthful State Fair visits.  A right turn took us past the gilded Hall of State and Tower Building, while the next left brought us to the narrow path of the dormant Midway.  Another left and things got really interesting: we entered a spectator-lined chute that spooned the west and south sides of the Cotton Bowl.  Flanked by fences and loud voices of encouragement, I felt like Lance Armstrong navigating a crowded sea of fans as he summited the Alps during a Tour de France.  You couldn’t help but kick it up a notch in a scene like that.

I strode across the finish line, feeling as good about the race as any other.  Despite the crowd, I had to remind myself to keep walking for the next several minutes.  I didn’t want my muscles to lock up, or to undergo anything close to a fainting spell. It wouldn’t be until hours later that I learned of a race death, not along the course but immediately after the finish line.

The organization after the finish line was the best I’ve experienced at any race since the Motorola Half-Marathon years ago. Immediately after finishing, runners were routed past food tables as part of their post-race processing; at White Rock, you had to finish, then wait in a long long at a far-off tent to do the same. I might have broken Lent inadvertently with some of the label-free muffins I ate.  I think I’m fine — after all, it was the Sabbath.

Then outside of the chute were several stands, each emblazoned with a large letter of the alphabet, which served as meeting areas for friends and family.  Once again, a strong improvement over other races where I had to give loved ones either complicated directions or trust that I could call them on an overcrowded cellular network.  If I had known about these meeting areas, I would have leveraged them before the race to arrange meetups with the Twitterati.  Instead, I stumbled around until I encountered some friends from the Luke’s Locker family (Jim, Tony, etc.).  Soon afterwards, I found The Running Couple (and their motorcycle-driving mom) and we hung out for a short while.

My chip time was 2:13:47, while I logged 2:13:07 on my Garmin.

I’m satisfied but also ready for another challenge besides running another Dallas race.  Until I figure out what, see y’all at my next race.

Photo credit: Run Infinity

Why I Run #2

This was the turnaround for my run today.  Despite the need to get home, I wanted to keep going forward.  Despite the burning pain in my Achilles tendons, weak from lack of exercise and a new style of shoe, I wanted to keep going forward.

The fact is, if time wasn’t a factor, I would have kept running, exploring a never-ending web of streets and mystery until I got so far away that I collapsed in exhaustion.

Now I know how my infant son feels as he learns to walk.

So instead of going forth into the great beyond, I turned around and blew through a negative split on my way back home.  It’s days like today I wish I was faster, or stronger — anything that would allow me to pack in one more extra mile into the scant time I have to work out.

I’ve been exploring ways to answer the question, “Why do I run?”  Today’s answer: I run to explore the world.

No matter my route, I try and add one new twist — tackling a new street, using the opposite sidewalk, embarking at different times of the day. It’s too easy to do the same thing twice, and there are way too many avenues for exploration to not shake up one’s route as much as possible.

Programming variety into my routine was easier in my old job.  For several years, I was an IT consultant whose job took him on the road five days a week for five straight years. It was also at the beginning of that job where I picked up my running passion.

The job came with several privileges, but the one I enjoyed the most was being assigned to some scenic locations, all of which I was lucky enough to run within.  I would fly in on a Monday morning, then return home on the Thursday red-eye.  And no work week went by without at scheduling a minimum-1-hour run.  Even if it meant I had to make up the hours by working all night, I made sure to explore my each of my temporary homes.

I still get goosebumps thinking about some of those sights.  Getting lost in on woodland trails of Colorado’s Cherry Creek State Park.  Sprinting to the end of the San Francisco municipal pier, stopping to stretch in the bright sunrise, and pausing to watch triathletes train in the same waters as sea lions.  Jogging on along the mosaic sidewalks of downtown Belo Horizonte (“Beautiful Horizon” in Portuguese) each Sunday morning, soaking in the eerie silence resulting from the native population still in chruch.  Running from one side of tiny Waterbury, VT to the other, followed by weekly dreams of settling down in New England.  And the adrenaline rush from dodging angry commuters on Michigan Avenue.

These days, I don’t travel much anymore, so my exploring is mostly limited to my hometown of McKinney, TX.  Although nowhere near as exotic as past locals, McKinney still offers something new to me everyday.  It’ll take me awhile to run all of its streets, especially since the population is booming and they keep adding new ones.  But that doesn’t mean I’ll stop trying.

Why I Run #1

I ran down Silverado, as I normally do every other morning, working on a routine 40-minute loop.  Although a mess of a road to navigate due to sidewalks that alternate sides, I liked running down that street because it was off the beaten path.  Quiet and peaceful, and not terribly overrun with office commuters and parents dropping off kids at school.

I approached my usual left-hand turn on Brookstone Dr., and the calm was shattered by the wail of police sirens in the distance.  As I made the turn, the police car was right next to me, also turning into the neighborhood.  It was so loud that I had to stop running, cover my ears, and turn away, it was so uncomfortable.  For a fleeting moment, I wondered, “Are they here for me?  Did I do something wrong?”

Mercifully, the officer turned off his siren. I uncovered my ears, looked ahead once more, and continued my loop.  However, just a few hundred feet ahead of me was one of the saddest sights I’ve ever encountered: in the middle of the intersection was a 10-year-old boy, crumpled and motionless, circled by hysterical adults.  The policemen were already out of their car, attending to the boy and directing the rubberneckers to move along.  More sirens trailed in the distance, likely the fire department and EMS response.

It took a moment for the scene to truly register.  My running subconsciously slowed, until I was stopped and completely unaware I had done so.  It finally dawned on me that this was a real boy, and then the crying started.  It was a painful cry — not only because of this poor child’s circumstances, but because of my own son: I couldn’t stop thinking about Zachary and how I wanted to run straight to his school, hug him, and never ever let him go.

After several minutes of fighting through my sadness, I went ahead with my run.  There wasn’t anything I could do, considering there were tons of people already on the scene.  But mostly, I just couldn’t bear to look — the longer I was there, the more I wanted to vomit, the more I wanted to find the driver, shake them by the shoulders, and scream, “What the fuck were you thinking?!”

I kept running, and for twenty minutes I couldn’t stop crying.  Weeks of accumulated stress, illness, and lack of regular exercise combined to reach an internal boiling point, which thanks to the fuel provided by that poor boy’s accident.  And I didn’t want to talk about it to anyone.  Then a Twitter follower inquire about it, and the floodgates of emotion opened.

I had to get it out, and I’m glad I did, as I’m your  typical dude who bottles up his feelings until they explode, and this wasn’t something worth bottling up.  I think it was guilt: about being powerless to help, and at having left a scene where my only contribution would have been to stare.

But believe it or not, it was just a regular bout of parental guilt.  I felt that if my own son were to have gotten hurt like that, even if it was not my fault in any fashion, I’d still never be able to forgive myself.

So what does this have to do with running, besides the coincidence I witnessed this while in the act?

After the DRC Half in November, which turned out to be a “failure” of a race for me (I got hurt ⅔ of the way through), I limped home in the lowest of moods.  This was the third major race in a row where something completely derailed me, and my always-supportive wife was now newly-frustrated.  Jenn wanted to know, “If you keep having miserable races, then why do you run?”

A great question.  And one I wasn’t able to answer.

For the next three months, I’ve pondered that question on each and every run.  I’ve come close, but it wasn’t until after seeing that poor child that I have answer for her.

I run because I want to live a long and healthy life.

And I want that long and healthy life, so I can witness every moment of the miracles that are my wife’s and son’s lives.

The Yellow Group (2009 Dallas White Rock Half-Marthon)

I turned left onto the Katy Trail. Mile 10 out of 13.1. I didn’t need my Garmin to tell me I was running a tad bit behind, less of the pace than my expectations. Even so, I was close enough to my goal that this 2009 White Rock Half-Marathon was under my control.

I transitioned from pavement to the crumb rubber track, then I felt a twinge in my hamstring. That fucking left hamstring! I told that gimpy muscle in no uncertain terms that it wasn’t invited today. Yet here it was, crashing my party. I breathed deep and closed my eyes. Forefinger pinched to thumbs, as if I were about to meditate. Taking a moment to find my center, I re-focused on the road ahead. Go away, I repeated in my mind, go away.

The tightness faded. All that lie between mile 10 and glory was a simple 5K.

Last year before the 2008 full marathon, I was nervous. Despite all of my training, proper nutrition, a string of kick-ass long runs the weeks before, and the support of countless teammates, I was nervous. And that black energy accompanied me along the course and led to bad things: dropping Gu packs, becoming overheated, losing my focus and obsessing on the ghosts of failed races past. It’d been months since I had a good race, and I couldn’t stop thinking it would be even longer as the day wore on.

For six miles, between the 13.1 mark and the beginning of the “Dolly Partons”, those twin hills of no return, a hot southern wind beat into my face. I could feel sweat just linger on my skin, unable to evaporate in the high humidity. After I summited within the Lakewood neighborhood, I felt relieved and thought the worst was over. Then my legs locked up, slamming like switchblades into stiff, unyielding trunks that refuse to bend. Unable to break my body’s siege on itself, I limped to the end, barely beating my worst marathon time ever.

Adding insult to injury was my deflated pride: I was a coach of the Luke’s Locker Yellow Group, with a dozen marathons and half-marathons under my belt. My athletes dominated the day, and I brought in the rear. In fact, I crossed the finish line so late that none of my teammates was still around. Only my poor, very pregnant wife was there to witness me in one of my worst moments. Even though she was there, I felt alone and wanted to crawl under a rock.

I ended up being seriously hurt because of the heat and subsequent cramping. I was forced to skip the Yellow Group’s team celebration that night. Even if my legs worked, I was too much of a basket case to be around people. Several days would pass before I didn’t feel like crying. Non-runners may be hard-pressed to understand how emotional the marathon experience can be. To have invested twenty-six weeks of workouts and still fall short of your goals is nothing short of devastating, even if in the long run it’s just a blip in the path to greater glory.

The Katy Trail began to narrow, and as a result it turned into an obstacle course. Although I was still running, I was darting about a sea of those who had checked out. Walkers, standers, local joggers illegally on the course and running the wrong way.

I had dialed it back slightly, in a effort to ward off my hamstring. Yet in the previous six miles, you could have set your watch to my pace, as consistent as it was. I thought back to the Matilda hill, where for one ascending mile I got faster! I recalled my start, which was the most-relaxed I had felt coming into any race. And then there was Turtle Creek, where I hit a gear so smooth that I didn’t feel like I was running — I was flying.

In other words, this race was in the bag.

Two nights after the 2008 marathon was the Luke’s Locker group celebration. By that point, I had gotten my shit together and needed to be around runners once again. All of my athletes were there and we swapped tales of war from the previous Sunday. I told them my story, and more than one person confided that they could very much relate. Every runner has their days, they said. And I thought, why is it mine are always on race Sundays?

Before the night was done, our head coach Patton addressed the crowd. It’s been over a year, so I don’t remember his exact words. But I do recall Patton doing what he does best: emphasizing our collective accomplishments and inspiring us to run farther & faster. The list of what runners had achieved that season was seemingly limitless: first marathons, personal records, world travel, and endless self-esteem. Everyone of us had proven that nothing was impossible without effort and belief, Patton said.

Those who know me best know that strong effort is second-nature to me. It was the belief portion was still in the toilet.

Without glasses, I am blind as a bat, so I had trouble seeing the finish line ahead. But I knew it was getting close as the crowd grew thicker, louder, and intense.

The Katy Trail left the buildings of Uptown and now the sky was wide open. The American Airlines Center, standing at the final mile, was straight ahead. I let out a sharp laugh. Then suddenly I wanted to cry. After over a year of frustration, a good race was now under my belt. No matter what happened at the DRC Half in November, the Tour des Fleurs in September, or last year’s 2008 White Rock Marathon, I had a good race. How good was about to be determined.

I was running somewhat crocodile, so I corrected my posture and prepared to cross the finish line strong. I burst across the timing mat in a flash, shut down my Garmin, and came to a screeching halt. I probably shouldn’t have done that, as I became light-headed. Cutting through the crowd, I frantically begged a spectator standing on a short wall to make way for me. I sat and held my head in my hands, reminding myself to breathe. I caught a glimpse of my pink wristband emblazoned with the words “TEAM ANGIE”.

Angie was one of my teammates, but she wasn’t racing today. She was at home, recovering from surgeries and preparing for a round of chemotheraphy, all being done to ward off the breast cancer she was diagnosed with mid-season. She was the only woman I knew firsthand having to deal with this, and it wasn’t fair. But I had told myself before the race that I had to finish strong to honor her experience. She likely didn’t care one way or the other, but it was important inspiration for me.

The dizziness passed, and I eventually got up to fetch my finisher’s shirt and medal.

Remembering that some of my teammates had expected paces that fell close to mine, I kept an eye out for others. The first I bumped into was Mary, who was right behind me at the finish. She was tired, but also a beaming beauty bursting with confidence and pride. It turned out that she had just completed a PR. I felt like a proud father, having been her coach.

Mary asked me how I did, and I was surprised to realize I hadn’t looked! I peeked at my Garmin and smiled.

2 hours, 7 minutes, 16 seconds. A new personal record by nearly five minutes.

Not just a good race, but the greatest.

Patton was done with his speech, and the celebration was beginning to wrap up. Before I could walk out the door, Pepsi, one of my Yellow Group teammates, said to wait. She disappeared for a moment, then returned to present me with two gifts from everyone in the Yellow Group.The first gift was a gift certificate for a well-deserved sports massage. Very practical and very welcome!

The second was a bottle of wine. Pepsi excitedly explained how it was a custom label, and that everyone in the Yellow Group had signed it. The label read:

Thank you for inspiring & leading us through this journey to the finish line!
Luke’s Yellow Group
White Rock Marathon 2008

I read the message, then started to catalog the names. As my mental list of signatures increased in length, I began to well up. The emotions of Sunday were just below the surface, and while I had been throwing quite the pity party the past two days, now I was overwhelming happy and inspired. Knowing that my teammates cared so much about me as a coach and friend was the perfect way to remind me that the journey was more important than the destination. Instantly, I stopped feeling sorry for myself.

I then resolved to leave behind 2008 and make the 2009 racing season my personal best. As an incentive, I told myself that this bottle of wine would remain corked until I followed through on that resolution.

That night after my best race ever, I shared a pasta dinner with my wife Jenn and baby boy Zachary. The little man had just gotten the hang of eating the stuff a few days earlier, and every so often he enjoyed painting his face — and the walls — with tomato sauce.

Before we dug in, I reached into the wine rack and retrieved a certain bottle of red. For months, it had sat there, patiently awaiting its destiny. Before opening the flask, I examined those signatures one last time. I thought about each of my 2008 Yellow Group teammates and how fortunate I was to have shared the trails with them. Many of them had returned this year to build upon their previous successes. Some weren’t there, whether it be due to sickness or injury, and I paused to wish them good health going into the new year, especially Angie.

The time for reflecting on the past was done. It was time to celebrate this day. And the time for opening this bottle of wine had come.

I popped the cork, filled our goblets, and joined my family at the table. Jenn sipped and exclaimed, “That’s good!” It is good, I thought.

In fact, it was great!

White Rock 2009 from Rethink Running on Vimeo.