"It's a little self indulgent..." - My mom
"After I read a sentence, I get mad at myself for caring what you're doing." -Karl Dusen

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

That's enough...

I slept in a bit on Friday, preventing me from feeling comfortable enough to stop in Hancock for my run during my drive home. I made it to Pittsburgh with 45 minutes to spare before lunch with my dad at Tessaro's, so I ran a quick three miles in Frick Park. It was great to be back there, and crisp fall weather that I have come to associate with that park, but recent tree removals uphill from the Kensington Trail have left the northern edge of the park looking awful. My mom said they were diseased, but still...

I met up with Steve when the Richmond team arrived at Schenley Park to make dinner plans then sped off to Mt. Lebanon to catch Coach A and the Lebo cross country guys, who had just finished third at the WPIAL meet. North Allegheny and Baldwin ended up beating them, but they were on their way to states again. I wish I had been able to take Thursday off, too, so I could have watched the WPIAL race that afternoon. Lebo 2000 alumnus Tim Sofis is coaching now, along with Oscar Shutt, who has been there a few years.
I had a little time to take a hot bath at my mom's house, which I miss terribly since I don't have a bath tub. After visiting my neighbor and hearing about his Halloween costume, I joined the Richmond teams for dinner at their hotel. Pat Barkhuff arrived and I hung out with Steve, Molz and Dan Petty before the team meeting started. We ran into Coach Wright on our way out of the hotel.

The next morning I got another easy three miles in on the course and got ready to see the race that would pump wild amounts of adrenaline through my body. When I ran, I heard a constant bleeting of a horn and the humming of a vuvuzela. I had enough of those during the World Cup, but now it seemed an awful bunch of Duquesne guys were making as much noise as possible, to my chagrin. I turned to Barkhuff and said, "that will be even funnier when they come in fifth."

I've always had a distaste for Duquesne. Both of my parents went to grad school there, though they would be loathe to admit it. We never discussed it as an option when I thought about college, though I didn't want to stay in Pittsburgh anyway. Their cross country team once featured Dickie Hildebrand, a hated North Allegheny rival of my LCC teams, and for some collection of reasons, I always resented the school and the program in particular. Maybe part of it comes from Tim Wu, which I promise will come up later in the story. I take a lot of pleasure in the Richmond basketball team never losing to Duquesne, even in our worst years. Post-Gazette and Tribune-Review writers would write "the Dukes lost to lowly Richmond" but those homers rarely checked to realize Duquesne had never won in that rivalry, so it was Duquesne that was lowly.

The Richmond women got out well. George Washington's Megan Hogan lead from the start and pulled away throughout for a dominant win, but the Spiders looked great from my vantage point a mile in on top of one of the dirt piles in the wasteland, the sandy, open portion of the Schenley Park trails near the Anderson Bridge. Nicol Traynor and Amy Van Alstine were solidly in second and third, and Julie Rechel and Jill Prentice were in sixth and seventh, with Jenn Ennis slightly back. The collegiate 5k course at Schenley isn't terribly great for spectators, though it's great for runners. I ran up the hill and saw them finish, and Richmond scored a comfortable victory over LaSalle, 43-68.

Then it was time for the show to start.

Eight years, ago, sidelined with a stress fracture after two races that saw me in the team's top five, I drove to Pittsburgh from Richmond with Ian Woie and Angry to watch the 2002 conference championship. We were a motley group, most of whom had suffered for at least a year, some two, under a less-than-ideal coaching situation for collegiate runners before Steve and Lori Taylor arrived, typified by Jon Lauder, who developed from a gangly high school runner, whom his teammate bet his car wouldn't break five minutes in a mile, into a 15:23 5k runner in his first spring under Steve's coaching. The cross country team had improved -- we won the Overton's Pirate Invitational in North Carolina and had seven healthy guys who could break 27 minutes (that was good for us). After an eighth-place finish in our first year in the Atlantic 10, we were sure to climb the results. Right?

On a freezing morning, I hobbled around and watched my teammates race. We gave it our best shot, but ended up eighth again, demoralized. I missed the bus ride back because I drove back with my fellow travelers, but I could not imagine the mood.
When the gun went off, I assumed my normal routine for watching the race. Catching the guys 100 meters in, then scrambling down a hill to 700 meters where an absolute wall of runners heads down the trail.The first mile had to have been faster than 4:30. I ran over to the 2.25 mile mark and hung from a tree on the hillside so I could yell down to them. The pack was still pretty tight, Andrew Benford and Matt Llano in front, with the Lemon twins from Dayton close behind. Tim Quinn followed, with another Dayton guy behind him. It looked to be close with them. I was surprised to see Jon Wilson, continuing his comeback season, with Levi Grandt and Ryan Lee in pursuit. We looked to be in good shape. The course makes a loop that climbs a steep hill on a single-track trail, and Llano came out first.

As soon as the slower runners got off the trail, I headed back to about 900 meters left on the course to watch them come out of the woods and onto the flat oval. I stood at the top of the hill where John Ciccarelli broke Mike Didio in 2004 to win Richmond's first individual A-10 title. I heard Mrs. Benford shout "It's Andrew!" and got ready for what would be one of the heart-stopping moments of my life as a distance running enthusiast. Benford fights up the hill, Chris
Lemon a step or two back. Llano moving ferociously to catch them. Matt Lemon chasing him, keeping the team race close. Then Quinn surged up the hill, and another Dayton guy chased him. This was turning out to be more like a dual meet, which is what I worried about. With such a great top three, Richmond did well because Benford and Llano could score in the single digits with Quinn perhaps 20 back. In a smaller race, having the the two best runners in the conference didn't provide such an advantage.

After Quinn passed I saw a disturbing number of Duquesne runners and no Richmond. I finally saw Levi chasing the fifth Duquesne guy. What happened to Jonny? Did he drop out? Did he just fall apart? Get hurt? Go out too fast? I started spouting gibberish to my mom, who came to watch. This couldn't happen. Duquesne couldn't beat us- not with this team we put together. Not that awful school on the bluff!

I rushed over to see the finish. Benford had a five second lead on Lemon 1 and held it to the finish. Llano came in six seconds later. Lemon 2 followed. Quinn was sixth, just ahead of the first Duquesne guy. Then the second, third and fourth guys. Oh man, here comes reality, the unlikely defeat. Suddenly, Jonny popped up. I don't know how I missed him, but I was glad to see him now. Levi came charging behind Duquesne's fifth. That was five for us. I ran over to the chute. Quinn saw me sprinting and hugged me with whatever intensity he was able to muster. Llano was on the ground, exhausted. Benford was staggering around. Levi had saliva all over the place. Jonny had his hands on his knees, I slapped him on the back and told him great job, but I hit him hard enough that he vomited bright green liquid all over the place. Oops. I got away for a while to let them collect themselves and chewed on the tension. How did things shake out with Dayton? I stopped watching them completely.

I thought about where this team had been. In 2000, before I came there, the program was on the ropes. Richmond was moving to the A-10 from the Colonial Athletic Association, and the athletic department was examining its priorities. In November, a subcommittee of the athletic council met to make a recommendation on the future of the men's track and cross country teams to then-President Bill Cooper. The Athletic Strategic Plan stressed promoting the university through revenue sports, plus a return-on-investment analysis of the other sports. As non-scholarship programs, track and cross country were at risk. Athletic Director Jim Miller said at the time that it was probably the teams would remain the way they were -- non-scholarship with few roster spots, but fear remained.
"There decision could be made that this would be the last year of track, but that's not likely," he told The Collegian.
The cross country coach at the time reflected on the strategic plan's emphasis on winning A-10 titles.
"The chances of men's cross country or track doing that are nil," he said. "They're not going to do it without scholarships."

Over near the Richmond tent, the team was back in dry clothes and warmup suits. Steve motioned for me to come over. He gathered the team, and fellow alumni Barkuff, Garrett Graham, Sean McKinney, and Jon Molz and me in a huddle. With his voice low and somber, he said that we had indeed won the race. We quietly celebrated in as dignified a manner as I have ever seen.

The horns and vuvuzela fell silent.

What followed was among him and the men in the huddle, but it was hard to hold back the liquid emotion that was gathering around my eyes. I thought back to the day I met him in October 2001. He told me the team was focused on winning a conference championship. He believed it, and knew it wouldn't be a quick fix. Everything built on itself, and it took a non-linear journey -- the results of the A-10 meet show it- 8,8,4,4,5,4,2,3,8,1. We had guys finishing all over the place some years, but on the day that mattered, we put together a hell of a team.


They learned how to be winners. Benford and Llano, already strong freshmen, became about as dominant as they could be. Tim Quinn improved steadily to the point where, as our third man, he finished higher than anyone on the teams for which I ran. Jonny Wilson endured a long injury last year and a comeback that started with him as the eighth man on our team two races ago -- he didn't even figure into the team scoring. Levi Grandt used every ounce of what he had to try to catch that Duquesne guy. Chris York and Jason Skipper finished together to be our six and seventh men. In 2002, their times would have made them the first and second men on our team. Ryan Lee was about 15 seconds behind them.

Dayton wasn't even an issue. Their fourth guy was 42nd, their fifth- 60th. Massachusetts snuck into third, but we had a 51-64 margin over Duquesne.

I walked over to the results and saw Timmy Wu. He said to me "Duquesne ran awesome!"
I responded, "Richmond ran better."
Lori heard me and laughed.

She and Steve were recognized as the coaches of the year. I knew it nine years ago, now the whole conference does.

On to regionals...

The Marathon Rebound

I drove back to Washington afterward, trying to get to the convention center in time to get my race packet. I made it, then skedaddled to Lauren's for dinner with her, Juan, Erin and Mike. I wasn't getting much better, health-wise. The cold that knocked me out most of the week was still there, and I took a Benedryl tablet to help make me able to sleep. It was 8 pm, so I had 12 hours to work it through my system. I drank water and Gatorade expressly to avoid the dehydration that comes with an antihistamine.

I woke up, took a shower, and braved the crowds on the metro ride to the Pentagon.

I spent 35 minutes waiting in line for the bathroom before the race, and found out that the people at the front of the line were only appropriating two bathrooms to our line, rather than three or four, as others were. I checked my bag and ran to the start, making it to the head of the pack with two minutes to spare. I retied my flats and looked around for Dave Burnham and Paul McCaffery, but saw neither.

The cannon fired and I tried to hold my pace while dozens of middle aged men ran ahead. I took it easy and stuck in a pack and came through the first mile in 6:07. I saw a crowd of GRC guys near the Key Bridge, specifically Murphy and Alex. I was already sweating, which was weird. The pack around me thinned, and I kept myself on pace up the hill through the second mile mark at 6:08. 12:15 was pretty much what I wanted for the first two miles.

I got some Powerade (fruit punch, turrible) and water. The third mile was downhill, so 5:45 wasn't alarming. I wound up with another pack and settled in with them. Mike Wardian said we were moving along at just under 6:00 pace, and I was happy with that. It turned out to be 5:50, but that was ok, I had people with whom to go.We crossed the key bridge and I got more Powerade and water, then I heard the shouts of the assembled GRC guys- particularly Texas Paul. As we turned left onto Canal, Jakes Klim and Marren ran alongside me, telling me that Ian was near the lead. I was really happy to be hanging back as I hit five miles in 29:49, with a 5:58 split. A fellow in black with white compression socks who looked familiar inched over and said "I thought that was Charlie Ban," it took me a second, but it was A.J. Kelly, the former IUP runner who still terrorizes the roads in western Pennsylvania. He said he was shooting for 2:35-pace for the half and then speeding up from there. That's exactly what I wanted to hear.
We hit the sixth mile in 5:52, then climbed in the seventh mile, where I took my first gel and had Powerade and water. We headed downhill and I hit 5:42, then I saw Sara "Science" Roberts at the Georgetown driveway. The scene in front of the GRC store on M Street was a zoo, I loved it. I saw a chap in a Richmond sweatshirt and yelled to him. Halfway down Wisconsin, we hit another mile in 5:42. That's where I first became aware of this stocky loudmouth from West Point, who proceeded to talk too effing much for the next few miles.
Another mile, in 5:42 again, got me through 10 miles in 58:59- 5:54 pace- perfect. I heard Mollie right before the mile mark, and she was indeed as loud as she advertised. The West Point guy was getting obnoxious, commenting on everything, trying to talk to people. The price for sticking with this pack was getting higher. Mile 11 went by in 5:53- I was very happy with that pacing. Mile 12 got boring quickly, 5:51. I saw Jake Klim and Chicken Finger Biker in mile 13, and I took another gel before having more Powerade and water- 6:01 at 13, 1:17:19 for the half. 5:48 for mile 14, the West Point guy was really starting to piss me off. We hit a slight hill after 15, which I hit in 5:56, and I let the pack go, figuring I would enjoy it more on my own.
Then I realized that was a mistake. Independence Avenue got really lonely, though Lindsey Jerdonek came to my aid with vocal support. I hit 16 miles at 6:06, and I figured I would just try to run 6:20 pace for the rest of the race. I saw Alex near the Lincoln Memorial, then started to pick up guys who were falling back. 6:13 for mile 17, feeling alright, another aid station. Mile 18 went by in 6:23. Then I started to get a little, I don't know...weak? I moved over to the right side of the course to get out of people's way. Wardian was escorting the women's leader and he kept yelling that people were passing on my right, but it didn't make sense because I was on the far right. They got out of the way eventually. Texas Paul was back, running around like a maniac, and telling me Ian was just a block ahead of me. As much as I wanted to catch him and chide him for running a marathon like that, I was hurting. I went through 19 in 6:52. Uh oh. I drank and had my last gel. Around the 14th Street turn I heard a crowd yelling "go Lebo!" and all of a sudden Neal Hannan was running alongside me. I was starting to get woozy, and I tried to make conversation. Someone had cups
of Gatorade near the bottom of the hill- that was awesome. Lemon-Lime, so much better than fruit punch Powerade. I savored it. I hit 20 miles at 2:00:50, for a 6:44 split. I was averaging a little over 6:02 per mile. Neal patiently ran with me until almost the 21 mile mark, then I was on my own. I hit 6:53 for 21. The friggin' bridge kept going, taking me into Arlington County, which I pretty much hate. I saw Mike Rossi. When I reached Crystal City, Klim popped up and ran with me. He kept me going, even though I couldn't converse much. He waited for me to make a loop at the turnaround and joined up with me again. I asked him but he didn't know how Dave and Jimmy were doing. 23 mile split- 7:21. A few seconds later, Dave ran by and I was powerless to go with him. I saw Rossi again.Then Jake left. 24 mile split: 7:50. Things were getting miserable. I was heading onto a long stretch on Jefferson David Highway. I hated this road when I ran it during the Pacers Half Marathon, and I sure as heckfire hate it now. I ran the 25th mile in 8:16. Just turrible. 1.2 miles left. The course turned down an exit ramp, and I sped up. I could push it to the finish- I was at 2:38 and would still PR. I ran under a bridge and could see the last stretch before the finish line hill. The shade washed over me, I shivered, and can't remember what I felt next. I just remember my legs feeling like they were dropping, even though I was still on my feet. I moved over to the sidewalk. I don't remember making the conscious decision to sit down, but I did. Then I thought about how much better it would feel to lie down. Two medical staffers ran over to me.
"Are you okay?"
"Do you want to try to finish running?"
I was freezing. The helped me up and just about 20 feet over to a medical tent I had run by a few seconds before. I wonder if my subconscious took note of that convenience.
They offered to walk with me to the finish. I didn't want to. If I walked, I would probably just finish around 2:50. That was way too much to do to run that time again. I think that I tried to push myself to run faster than my body was able at that point and my body rebelled. I was probably suffering from acute hypothermia. I was sweating from the very beginning, and my insistence on drinking Powerade and water at every aid station, sometimes two cups of either, probably accelerated things. I was soaked for almost the entire race, and I was never warm. It was an odd twist after the last 11 miles in Chicago...
I saw Paul McCaffery run by and tried to yell, but I think my timing was off.
The put me in a cot and covered me with blankets. The oral thermometer read 92 degrees. I was understandably freaked out and asked one of the workers how accurate it was.
"Well, when you've been exerting yourself like this for 2.5 hours, the oral thermometer isn't quite right. If you had passed out, we would have taken your temperature rectally."
I then responded to everyone in attendance, "Rectum? Damn near killed him!"
I saw Kelly Knicklebein run by, I yelled.

They gave me Gatorade (thank God) and a delicious strawberry muffin. I warmed up. After a half hour, they said I seemed fine and could go whenever. They gave me a mylar blanket and sent me on my way. I walked up the road, runners lined up behind me trailing me by hours. Derek Heiss bumped into me at one point. I technically could still finish, but I wasn't going to. The funniest part about it was that I didn't care. I wasn't devastated, nor even sorely disappointed. I was just glad it was over. It didn't work out, now onto something else.

I eventually walked off the course and straight to the baggage trucks, got my clothes and stretched out. I saw Jimmy Daly and looked for anyone else I could find. I found Lauren and Juan and we waited for Erin and Mike to finish. In the teamtime I saw Jessie, the old cross country trainer at Richmond, who mistook me for Hunter Willis. Billy Eayre, Jeff Tissue, Dan Kliefgen and Kristen Connolley came down from Ithaca and Toronto to run and I chatted with them for a while. At no point did I feel sorry for myself, and I was pretty happy with that.
The Richmond victories on Saturday truly made up for any marathon disappointment.

Mike and Erin ran 4:21, pretty good for neither having run more than 14 miles. She spazzed out at mile 15, but Mike kept her together.

I really like most of the Marine Corps Marathon course, certainly the first 20 miles. I just hate most of Arlington County. The bleak highway stretches and that stupid bridge are real kicks in the face after a great 20 miles.

The race was a Hail Mary. It had been five weeks since I had run 70 miles -- I had a five-week taper. I had a chest cold. I ran a marathon 21 days before. There were plenty of reasons the race wouldn't have worked, people told me I was crazy for trying, but I wanted to give it a shot so my fitness didn't go to waste. My fitness was gone, though. If it wasn't my confidence in it was. I missed the high mileage. I railed against the unfairness that now that it was cool enough for me to run far without overheating, I wasn't supposed to anymore.

I decided before this race that I was going to stay away from marathons for a while. I am glad I came to that decision before Marine Corps. I gave it a shot, and though I know the result didn't match my aptitude, I am fine with it now. Other people were fine with one mishap, like Dickson. I wasn't comfortable with chalking it up as a loss, I insisted that it be a spectacular failure, and that's what I got, even though it luckily doesn't feel like it.

I think the adizero adios was the wrong shoe for this race. I was too heavy- I should have stuck with the Manas. My feet were cramped when I was in the tent, and my right calf was tight.

The weekend overall was a pleasant celebration of running for me, though. I got to run in Frick Park, see my high school coach, run in Schenley Park, see college teammates and my college coach, plus the high point for my college team in decades, then run a mostly-pleasant marathon, cheered on by dozens of friends, and see one of my best friends finish her first marathon.

Now what?

I can't even think about running a serious marathon again. Nate, Pokey and Evan and I are doing a 30th birthday race in 2012, even though Evan will almost be 31 by that point, like the Hatfield and McCoy Reunion Festival Marathon. I don't know when I'll want to run another one seriously. I know I never wanted to run one, now I have almost run three. It's hard to rationalize. While I live in the D.C. area, I will never race a fall marathon again, though. Running so much in the summer was miserable.

I'm a little heavy for a marathon runner. Some of it is the junk food, but for the most part I am pretty muscular, which is great in terms of keeping my body resilient through high-mileage training, but weighs on every step in a race. I do enjoy high-mileage training, though. There's no reason I can't do it for half marathons.

Next year will be about short distances, the ones I love. The Fred Hardy Track Invitational 5k, the B.A.A. 5k (this time without a redeye bus trip the day before). The Shamrock 8k, the Pike's Peak 10k, and revenge on the Pittsburgh Half Marathon. Cherry Blossom, though I can't find anything wrong with this year's race. Monument Avenue will be a casualty, and thankfully so will the St. Patrick's Day8k in DC. Falmouth in the summer. Another half in the fall- perhaps Richmond or Philadelphia (not the Rock and Roll race) in November.

I should be getting my tonsils out in December, and I can't wait for that. I will be able to sleep again and not feel them blocking my throat when I am even just sitting down or running.


  1. I'm sorry you had such a tough race, Jessica was telling me a little about it yesterday. You looked great when I saw you right before 20 and snapped this shot of you:

    There's also a few of you at mile 4 at the beginning of the pics, you may have to hunt through to find. You probably still had some Chicago in you that knocked you down. Next time!

  2. LOVED reading about your college team Charlie! Very inspirational and exciting. Patience and hard work does eventually pay off. Just as I know it will for you and the marathon or whatever distance it is you decide to dominate. ;) Already looking forward to cheering you on at the Pittsburgh Half (Oscar is running the marathon)!