Happy ending

I'm not talking about this this kind of happy ending--although, let's be honest, I would immediately think of that too. But I am rather talking about the happy ending to my rant on the New Balance Harrisburg outlet store.

About a week after posting that entry I got an email from Heather at Consumer Relations at New Balance Corporate. When I read this it completely made my day:

"We were recently made aware of your blog and more specifically the unpleasant experience you had with New Balance Harrisburg. This store is independently owned and operated and the experience you have had does not reflect our company's high standard of customer satisfaction and service. We would like to speak with you directly so that we can follow up on this issue with the NB Harrisburg store owner and store manager. We would also like to extend an offer to send you the shoes you should have received for free as they had originally promised. We do hope that we can correct this, as we do not want this experience to keep you from considering our products in the future.

"Please contact me directly by phone at your convenience. I will be away from my desk today from 11-12 and 2-4pm today. If you cannot reach me, please leave a voicemail with the best phone number where I can reach you. I will call you back as soon as possible."

Wow. First and foremost, this was totally beyond anything I expected to get out of that post. All I wanted to do was get the anger off my chest and warn others. So way to go NB Corporate for actually monitoring social media and engaging with it.

Second, this was just great customer service. When I called Heather to follow up she was extremely apologetic--to the point where I was getting embarrassed because I knew she had nothing to do with the incident. She explained to me that while this store wasn't a corporately owned store there are still standards in place that the store neglected and that that wasn't right. Also, she was going to share my post with the store manager so that they could see exactly what happened (yea for meticulously detailed posts!). Finally, she right then and there put in my order for free shoes--she even had a cheat sheet to know which shoes best matched up to my Brooks!

Third, about a month after returning the shoes to the NB Harrisburg store I still hadn't received a credit on my credit card. Of course my attempts to reach the store directly didn't work, so I dropped an email to Heather. In less than two hours she wrote back saying that she had spoken with the manager and had confirmation that a credit was issued to me AND had shared my blog with him as well. Whoa. Way to go Heather!!

Now, about these shoes.

The first thing I noticed about them is that the laces are bumpy. It looks like the latest generation of NB shoes have these bumpy laces that help the knot stay in place. I actually found that the shoe feels looser with these laces (which I don't like) but I do think it's a great idea, maybe it just needs some tweaking.

When I started running in them it was like a dream! I guess because I've run in the same Brooks model for so long I don't notice the cushion when I slip on a new pair. But these guys were support all over the place. They didn't make me feel fast, but they sure as hell made me feel like I could run forever.

My biggest critique of the shoes was that I started to get a pain in my arch from wearing them. I rotated in these shoes at the peak of training for The Flying Pig, which meant they came just in time for the longest tempo runs, the hardest hill work, and the most punishing speedwork. Around the same time I started developing a pain/soreness in my arches that I hadn't gotten before. However, now, almost a month post-race, I'm feeling fine in the shoes and my arches don't hurt. So I will probably just regulate these shoes to the shorter and slower mileage and hopefully avoid any further pain.

So overall: a good shoe for the short easy midweek runs and for the LSD Saturday runs. Bad shoe if you want to rock out some 800s on the track.


On vacay

I'm following my back to back to back to back posting marathon with a bit of a hiatus. Taking a short break from blogging as I ease into a maintenance running plan and visit family around the country the next few weekends. But fret not, I have a long list of posts formulating in my head.


Flying Pigs in the Time of Swine Flu*, Part IV

*With apologies to Mr. Garcia Marquez.

I’m breaking this race report into sections for logistical reasons: it would take me a whole other week to write one long all inclusive post. So I’ll start at the beginning, continue through the middle, and then finish at the end.

The bacon is brought home

The official race finish time was 4:03:30. Fenny was a little off at 4:04:04 because I forgot to turn him off after the finish swine.

I took a breather to gain myself after that sprint to the end, then I shuffled through the water, Gatorade, and delicious food (apples and potatoes chips never tasted so good).

After exiting the finishing chute I was in a mob of people waiting for their runners to come out. Wifey was supposed to meet me by the family meet up area, which I thought would be right outside the finishing chute. But when I looked around, there was no sign of any type of meet up area.

I heard someone say “on the other side of those trees, next to the grandstand” so I walked in that direction, but didn’t find anything. At this point a map would have really helped.

After several minutes of looking around I decided to go back to the info booth, but in that I spotted Wifey, who has been looking for me ever since I crossed the finish line. Apparently she could read my mind and knew that I was never going to find the meeting area. I gave her a big hug and a kiss. She was on the phone with my mom and aunt at the time, so I said hello to all of them and then quickly found someplace to sit.

I changed into a dry t-shirt and a pair of Crocs (gosh those feel great after a race—thanks mom!). After recounting the race to Wifey and her showing me all the pictures she snapped, we got up and starting walking back to the hotel. Outside of The Great American Ballpark I turned around quickly and she snapped this one:

I feel I look like a futuristic Buddha in that picture.

We got to the hotel room and I took a nice long cold bath, then we ate breakfast at First Watch. I really wanted breakfast food and at that time it was the only option within walking distance. Afterward we walked around downtown Cincinnati for a bit and went back to the hotel to take a dip in the pool—oooh that water felt fantastic!

Dinner was at the Montgomery Inn, where Wifey and I went to town on a King size order of ribs:

For dessert? When we got back to the hotel we busted into the Cookies By Design bouquet that my family sent me:

All in all, it was a rough race. I was really happy to run it and get another state off the list. I'm also extremely happy to be a runner in a physical condition where running a Marathon is something I can do on a regular basis. However, being a runner, I feel compelled to nit pick apart this race (hello, a race report in four parts???). So I'll take the lessons I've learned from this race and move forward: learn how to deal with stitches, make sure I'm seeded properly at the start, always stick to the food I know before a race, and learn to focus on positive thoughts as much as possible throughout a race.


Flying Pigs in the Time of Swine Flu*, Part III

*With apologies to Mr. Garcia Marquez.

I’m breaking this race report into sections for logistical reasons: it would take me a whole other week to write one long all inclusive post. So I’ll start at the beginning, continue through the middle, and then finish at the end.

The flying of the pigs, continued

Miles 13-17: The wheels start falling off the cart

Mile 13: 8:50
Mile 14: 8:58
Mile 15: 9:04
Mile 16: 9:15
Mile 17: 8:54

I got a stitch on the approach to mile 13.

You know stitches are my mortal enemy and have plagued me forever. However, this one was sneaky—sinister even. It came on quickly and suddenly, but only somewhat strong. It was weak enough that I seriously though I would be able to push through it within a mile.

But then a mile became two. Then three.

I was holding in my side with my hands, breathing to relax my diaphragm, but nothing. Spectators (“squealers”) looked at me and wondered what the hell I was doing. This was the easiest part of the course—lots of squealers, less runners, no hills—and I was struggling like the worst of them.

I fought hard to not stop, to not give in. It was way too early to walk, because it would take forever for me to get back in stride. The hunger pangs came back and I downed some more Clif Shots. I tried listening to my music to get into a rhythm but every song just made the stitch feel worse. I tried telling myself over and over again, “you can get through this, you’ve done it before.”

I started to make a comeback in mile 16, the stitch was subsiding and the negative mental fog that had settled in started to clear. But then we left Mariemont and entered Fairfax on a series of hills and turns that knocked me out.

Miles 18-22: Mr. Shit meet Mr. Fan

Mile 18: 10:21
Mile 19: 10:50
Mile 20: 9:37
Mile 21: 9:29
Mile 22: 9:11

The turn onto Columbia Parkway killed me. I looked ahead and saw the no man’s land of mile 18: a stretch of highway without any squealers or distractions. In general, the wall is at mile 20 of a race, but I think The Pig’s wall is mile 18.

The bleak view ahead combined with everything that was not working forced to me walk. My thoughts flew back to MY FIRST MARATHON EVER where I made the mistake of starting off fast and not anticipating the hills or the difficulty. Here I was 1.5 years wiser, one perfectly executed marathon under my belt, and I was in total fear that I had committed the same mistakes.

But I refused to let those demons take hold of me. I forced myself to suck it up and run to the water station. Then I took a deep breath and headed (very slowly) to the next water station. I knew the water stops were roughly a mile apart, so I could run the mile and then walk through the station.

I was making progress (my splits were heading down) and there some squealers that were amazing. There was one girl in particular who looked me dead in the eyes, knew that I was hurting something fierce deep inside, and said “you can do this, you are looking real strong, you are going to do great!” That charged me through until the next water station. Amazing what a few words delivered in just the right way can do to you.

Miles 23-26.2: Two talks and a port-o-potty

Mile 23: 9:28
Mile 24: 10:05
Mile 25: 14:18
Mile 26: 9:26
Mile .2: 1:22 (7:07/mi)

The miles were just getting rougher. I remembered during The Breakers Marathon being surprised by the mile 20 marker, as if the first 20 miles were a jog. But here at The Pig, there was no such bliss, every mile was becoming increasing harder earned.

After walking though the water station at mile 23 I started chatting up another running under the auspice of misery loving company. As we started talking I managed to direct the conversation south. I was saying how hard the hills were, how it was a rough run, how I was not running the race I want to. I realized (with retrospect) that vocalizing my demons was not helping her or I and that I was talking myself into the ground.

Then, out of the corner of my eye I saw a port-o-potty about 150 feet away. Just the sight of the port-o-potty triggered my stomach to cramp and stop me right there—I was going to the bathroom, NOW. I wished my brief buddy good luck as she trudged on and I hurried to the port-o-potty.

I thought I only spent two minutes in there, but according to Fenny the Garmin I was in there for about four minutes (see mile 25).

I came out and started running. I tried to muscle over the next hill, but didn’t have the juice. I ended up walking next to a guy from Austin, Texas.

After a minute or so the guy tapped me on the shoulder to signal that he was running and that I better get running too. We got to the last water station and started walking again. I could clearly see the buildings framing the finish swine from this point. The crowds were growing slowly, but I felt the energy just gone from me; each step was a chore. We started running again just before the “one mile to go” mark.

I turned to the guy and told him “this is not my race.”

He immediately turns to me says “What do you mean? Of course this is your race! You are going to finish, you are still standing and able to move. You don’t have any injury. You are going to finish and you are going to get that medal.”

That was what I needed.

Once he said that every pain and every nagging thought shrank into nothing. It was true. It was so very true. I was running the race as best I could and Goddamnit I was going to finish and you better believe I was going to get that big pig medal on the pink ribbon around my neck.

I told him “You’re right, I am going to get that medal!” I charged off and wished him good luck. It was just me and The Pig for the final mile.

I hit play on Liam and skipped all the way to last set of songs, the gravvy songs. I landed on 25 Miles by Edwin Starr. Very appropriate.

I started singing, loudly. I didn’t care, I was running the last mile of a Marathon and I had the right to do any eccentric thing I needed to do to finish. I started yelling “come on!” and “we’re tired!” and the crowd responded and fueled me ever faster to the finish swine. I didn't want to move, but I pushed anyway. I charged up the last little hill—there was no reason to leave anything on the plate, there was only 800 meters to go. After clearing the hill I could see it all: the bridge marking mile 26, the flying pigs statues at bicentennial park, and the big red FINISH SWINE sign.

There were flashes of faces, rays of sunlight breaking between building, posters, cow bells, music. Those last few minutes involved a lot of yelling, some tears, and a whole lot of pain. It was a difficultly that I hadn't felt in a very long time. A little piece of me died during those last few minutes, but in it's place grew something stronger.

For the first time ever I heard them call my name as I crossed the finish line and for those two seconds I was superhuman.


Flying Pigs in the Time of Swine Flu*, Part II

*With apologies to Mr. Garcia Marquez.

I’m breaking this race report into sections for logistical reasons: it would take me a whole other week to write one long all inclusive post. So I’ll start at the beginning, continue through the middle, and then finish at the end.

The flying of the pigs

Miles 1-5: The flood gates open

Mile 1: 9:26
Mile 2: 8:48
Mile 3: 9:10
Mile 4: 8:42
Mile 5: 8:27

Like most big races I had run the starting gun didn’t actually trigger anyone to move. Actually, there wasn’t even the whole step-and-stop action that usually ripples through the crowd after the gun. The pack must have stood there for a good minute or two before there was any movement in my section. Everything was so crowded that I didn’t even review my game plan or give myself a pep talk or anything. I was too concentrated on not getting knocked over or pushed aside to do any of that—I just had to get myself to the starting line.

Several minutes later I crossed the starting line officially starting my race. I cued up “Proud Mary” on Liam and hit start on Fenny.

Immediately I discovered the major problem with not corralling 16,000 starters: all the runners of various abilities and walking groups were all jumbled up together. So there wasn’t the normal bobbing and weaving to get through the starting mile. I had to dodge walkers and slow runners who had all crowded up to the front of the line.

I try not to be a running snob—I really, really do—but there are some things that you do out of courtesy. And one of them is that if you know you aren’t cranking out seven minute miles that you stay toward the back of the pack. These walking and 5+ hour Marathoners should not have been in the first segment of the starting line. So a big note to The Flying Pig staff: I know you want to keep this a people’s Marathon, but some corralling will just ease things up for everyone.

This ended up being the story for the first five miles of the race. Even the parts where the road was super wide (four lanes in parts) there were so many turns that the sheer volume of people forced me to slow down.

I got really frustrated during these first miles. My game plan was to run the first three miles at an 8:50 pace, but with so many people this was quickly becoming difficult. So I tried to make up for lost time on the many down hills during these first rolling miles—which is why my splits are so erratic.

Miles 6-8: Hungering for hills

Mile 6: 8:47
Mile 7: 9:07
Mile 8: 8:47

This was billed as the “hard” part of the race. Miles six through eight were essentially a 250 foot climb with no relief. Driving through the course on Saturday afternoon I could see the intimidation factor: long slow climbs dotted with sharp short climbs in between.

I wasn’t worried about the hills though. Training in Central Park and over the East River bridges I regularly had 100/150+ foot climbs built into runs. I knew how to deal with these hills. I had a different concern: I was hungry.

Yes folks, 40ish minutes into a Marathon and I couldn’t deny it anymore, I was hungry. It turned out that I burned through those Power Bars fast than I thought and since I was looking the doughy goodness of the bread I had no gut fill. I busted out my first Clif Shot at the start of mile six, relieved that I had packed six Shots just in case, but seriously concerned that less than a quarter of the way through this race my body was already throwing up the “check engine lights” that usually come in the final 5K.

Aside from the hunger, I did really well on the hills. I was getting closer to my pace goal and falling into pace with the people around me.

Miles 9-12: Glory

Mile 9: 8:26
Mile 10: 8:36
Mile 11: 7:32
Mile 12: 8:22

With the big uphill section behind I focused on regaining my pace through the (relatively) flat midsection of the race. And it was working! I recouped myself, eased into a comfortable stride, and focused on my breathing—I was barely listening to my music so that I had no disruption from my natural cadence.

The crowds were out in full force here, it was like we were back at the starting line. I was slapping fives and yelling back to the crowd. I gave a great big “thank you” to the patients at the nursing home loudly ringing their cow bells.

I was actually feeling a little too good. At one point I looked down at Fenny and saw my average pace had plummeted down to 8:17 (see mile 11 above). I knew I was tapping a bit too much into the endorphins and immediately slowed down. FYI: 7:32 is the fastest split I’ve ever recorded while racing, it is also :18s faster than my tempo pace.

I was dealing with the problems I had in the best way I could. I drank Gatorade at every water stop to get calories and keep hunger at bay. I had a small stomach cramp, but used controlled breathing to push through it. Overall, everything felt fine and a 3:40 race was perfectly within grasp. I had visions of my triumph at The Breakers Marathon starting to play in my mind.


Flying Pigs in the Time of Swine Flu*, Part I

*No offense to Mr. Garcia Marquez.

First off, in reading my “remote” posts from Cincinnati just before the race I apologize for how sloppy they are. It is very difficult to write a good post on a Centro—the buttons are small and you can only see about 100 characters at a time. I think I’m going to give up posting from my phone, at least until I get a better phone.

Second, I’m breaking this race report into sections for logistical reasons: it would take me a whole other week to write one long all inclusive post. So I’ll start at the beginning, continue through the middle, and then finish at the end.

Calling all swine

At 4:30 the alarm goes off. I was surprised that I slept until the alarm—that never happens. I guess the half dose of NyQuil worked (on top of needing the sleep aid I was still recovering from a cold). I popped out of bed without hesitation, and went straight to the bathroom.

After that business was done I started to eat. And here was a major problem.

While at Walgreen’s the night before (pre-Nitmos encounter) I had the full intention to buy supplies to make my standard pre-race meal: peanut butter sandwiches. But I looked at the jar of peanut butter and the loaf of bread and knew that I would only use a tiny bit of each and have to throw them away before boarding the airplane to go home (I’d tried before, they do confiscate peanut butter). Feeling all conservationist I thought of what else I could buy at 9PM on a Saturday night in downtown Cincinnati that would be less wasteful. (How I now curse that damned Green-mindedness!)

We wandered around the store a bit before finding the energy bars and I decided to grab a few peanut butter flavored Power Bars. They say they stock you up on energy and that they are designed to be eaten before physical activity—I can trust packaging, right? Sheesh, I work in advertising, I should know better.

Back to race morning. I started gobbling up the Power Bars and washing them down with water while writing my race morning mini-post. They tasted fine and went down without a problem. I proceeded to start getting dressed.

But in the middle of changing clothes I heard a gurgling from the bathroom. I figured there was air in the pipes or something and that it would be over in a second or too—but it kept on. So I went to the bathroom to see what was going on, and the toilet was bubbling up foam like an out of control washing machine! The gurgling was not only coming from the toilet, but occasionally from the sink and tub as well. Oh God, I thought, a pipe has burst and they have to evacuate the building!

After a couple of minutes of this, when the foam started to bubble over the toilet seat, I called the front desk. The gurgling was so loud that the person on the person could hear it (she called it “grunting,” which I found funny on the morning of The Pig) and sent up a maintenance guy. Of course, by the time the guy got there the gurgling had stopped, but I made sure not to get rid of any of the foam so I could prove to him that I wasn’t crank calling at 5AM in the morning.

I woke up Wifey, let her know that the bathroom retaliated a bit this morning, but that everything was clear. She groggily acknowledged that the thought she heard some voices and then she stumbled over to the bathroom.

As I resumed changing into racing clothes/gear I released something: I still hadn’t gone, um, number two. This could be a huge problem because—well, I don’t think I need to explain, you all have been there. I quickly realized that it was food related. The Power Bars didn’t trigger my metabolic system in same way peanut butter sandwiches typically would—at best the bars worked on a delayed schedule. So I didn’t get the urge to go until right before leaving the hotel room, but it was a poor showing, I knew I would start the race with a stomach full of pasta and two Power Bars.

At 5:30 on the dot we left the room and headed over to the starting line at Paul Brown Stadium (home of the Bengals). When the elevator doors opened on the ground floor of the hotel there were runners everywhere. It was the most people I had seen in the hotel all weekend. When we got to the street there were streams of people coming from every direction going toward the stadium, like the Pied Piper was playing his flute, luring us to the riverside stadium.

Approaching the stadium the crowds grew thick—people jogging to the starting line, people with mylar blankets, some with trash bags, many people in pink winged costumes. I dashed into the stadium bathrooms for a last second pee break. I eyed the line for the stalls and thought it wasn’t worth potentially missing the start of the race. Although in retrospect there was plenty of time to do my business before crossing the starting line.

I gave Wifey a big kiss and a huge hug—she was so proud of me. She snapped a picture of my goofy pre-race grin:

I scampered down the stairs from the stadium concourse to the street level. I landed in a pit of pure runner mayhem: volunteers (“grunts”) shouting they had water, others shouting they had Gatorade, the music blasting in every direction, people starting to strip off their plastic layers. The port-o-potties were lined up against the starting blocks so the mob for the toilets and the mob to start the race were indistinguishable. There was no corral system in place, so people were bobbing through the starting crowds to get a decent place.

I settled on a spot under the traffic light at the intersection of Central Ave and Mehring Way, less than a block away from the starting line. I knew there was at least another block’s worth of people behind me on either street—I figured this would be a good place for me, since I assumed anyone lined up this close to the starting line would be close to a 4:00 Marathon. However, I realized that I was looking at the backside of the 5:00 Marathon pacing sign—which I found really, really strange. Why would a 5:00 Marathon pacer be in the first block of a four block staging area?

I was confused, but there was no time to ponder or move closer to the starting line because a resounding BOOM that shook the ground signaled the start of the race.


This little piggy went...

not exactly wee, wee, wee. More like stumble, grimace, and barely hold on all the way home.

Finished in 4:03, lots of detail to come.

This little piggy had none

It's 4:30 AM on race day and this little (flying) piggy gets to sweat, ache, and work hard to run 26.2 miles faceless with thousands of strangers in a city where no one knows him.

God, this is going to be hard. I've done it before but by no means does that make it any easier. Things are going to hurt. Unpleasant surprises will happen. There is a very good chance that I will hurt myself during this process.

But oh how wonderful it is to see the sleepy city awakened by the steady cadance of an unending sea of runners. Oh, what a triumph against everything it is to cross that finish line. And while, through the pain, a little piece of me will die out there on the course, I will do this.

Game on folks.


This little piggy had roast beef

Finished off the day with the Pig Out pasta party right across the street from our hotel.

Afterwards we went to Walgreens to stock up on race morning supplies (yogurt, apple juice, peanut butter). At the register I turned around to head out and found myself face to face with Nitmos! Both a little shocked to run into each other at Walgreens we chatted it up for a minute or two before heading off to our hotels.

Now for restless night of nonsleep that always precedes a race.

This little piggy stayed home

The expo at the pig was crazy! Thousands of runners, dozens of booths, free stuff coming out of everywhere. As part of the goodie bag not only do you get the t-shirt but you get a messenger bag as well!

After trying to spot Nitmos among the masses (and failing to find him), Wifey and I drove over the river to Kentucky. We wound up having lunch at a great seafood restaurant right on the Ohio River facing the Cincinnati skyline.

One thing I have to say is that the people walking around with the Boston Marathon t-shirts and jackets make me feel like such a wuss. It's like they are the seniors walkong around in varsity jackets while I'm the lowly freshman who can't find his homeroom. I mean these people just ran a difficult Marathon 12 days ago--what are they thinking?


This little piggy went to market

Wifey and I are sampling some of the local brew while waiting for a table at Terry's Turf Club--supposedly the home of the best burger in Ohio. Judging by the wait (coming up on two hours) they must be damn good burgers. I'm thinking of getting a swiss with porcini mushrooms and a burgundy wine sauce.

Funny thing about the plane ride over here: the plane was packed with two kinds of people, those running The Pig and those going to the Derby. So imagine a two hour ride with people abuzz about racing (both human and equine), the runners eager for their sneakers and the horse spectators eager for their mint juleps.