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Keep the Pace
A tough winter, a relentless cold and nagging foot pain dog our runner, but as his marathon approaches, he keeps up the pace. Eighth in a series of essays.

Keep the Pace

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By Hank Brown
Posted Monday, 24 February, 2003

This is the eighth in a series of essays following columnist Hank Brown in his march to the Myrtle Beach Marathon. The first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh articles are also available.

With about a month before the Myrtle Beach Marathon, I still have mucho miles ahead. I have two simple objectives for the next few weeks: take care of my body (especially my left foot), and don't do anything stupid. I have much more faith in my fragile foot than my feeble mind. I've never been mistaken for the smart blonde.

I reflect on the past 12 weeks and feel pretty good about getting where I am now. At least I have survived. It's been a very cold winter, especially for east Tennessee. When the National Weather Service sends warnings to run streams of water in your pipes and to bring your family pets inside, then that's a pretty good sign that outside isn't the place to be. One day soon, I'll probably be out running, and my wife Natalie will send out a search team, and they'll find me about 2 miles from the house... frozen stiff in my marathon shuffle pose.

I also know I've stepped into a few potholes in the road along my journey to reach the starting line at Coastal Federal Field in Myrtle Beach. I ran smack into a bad cold, which put me on the sidelines for almost a week. I missed days for snow, rain, work appointments, and travel. Hey, it happens. And, for those of you keeping score, you know my really long runs were supposed to be 21 and 23 miles. They ended up being 20 and 22. Well, excuuuuse me! As long as I go 26.2 on 2/22, then that's the final score, and that's all that counts!

I also found out that those medium-length runs (10-12 miles) two days after my long runs have turned out to be, well... wishful thinking. I've had good intentions, but for whatever reason, these runs just haven't materialized. When I was younger and faster, yeah, maybe. Not now. If the squeaky wheel gets the grease, then my creaky body needs a full lube job after long runs!

A couple of days after completing my 22-mile run, I receive an e-mail from a friend who has been keeping up with my training, and she compliments me for completing the distance. "It should be a piece of cake from here on out, huh?"

"Well, I don't know about a piece of cake," I write back. "Maybe a piece of beef jerky. At least it's chewable."

Sunday is an off day. I notice my walking gait is slightly better than Fred Sanford feinting one of his heart attacks. That's better than after the previous "ultras" (the 19 and 20 milers). I manage an easy 5 miles on Monday with Natalie. Then the rains come. It starts Tuesday and doesn't stop until Thursday. I'm looking for an arkload of barking, roaring, honking, and hissing animals to float by at any time.

Retreat to the Treadmill

The torrents force Natalie and I inside to the gym. Let me just tell you right now, you'll never see me doing an infomercial for treadmills, even with Christie Brinkley. I feel like a gerbil in a cage - run and run and run, in-place, with the only scenery the wall in front of your face. Natalie, on the other hand, loves them. She goes off into some kind of dreamworld trance, with visions of running far and fast, along tree-lined streets, passing houses, cars and friendly puppy dogs. Me? I look straight ahead at the wall and read the nutrition poster 4000 times and think, "I've only been running 10 minutes?"

After 20 minutes I get bored and decide to run one more mile, but really fast. I crank up the belt and take flight. Natalie looks at me like I'm George Jetson chasing Astro the dog. Actually I think she's more concerned about me flying right off the back - landing in a heap on the bench press machine!

I'm running 13 on Friday and for the first time since week zero, I'm actually thinking about pace. In the back of my mind, I have a general idea what the Myrtle Beach overhead clock should read when I gloriously cross beneath with arms raised skyward (okay so I'm fantasizing a bit). Today will be a practice run of sorts.

I decide on a 7-mile, and then a 6-mile course, both starting and ending at my house. The 7-miler goes well, even though the splits are a little fast (about 10 seconds per mile). That's okay; it's easier to slow down in a marathon than speed up! I stop for Gu and water, and take off on the 6-miler.

I'm feeling pretty frisky, and even though my throbbing foot could be the poster boy for Goody's Headache Powder, I can't hold back. I pick up the pace. I finish strong and calculate the last mile, even with a brutal hill, about 20 seconds quicker than my target marathon pace. Not bad. But I know I can't go crazy in the early miles at the marathon or I will certainly meet Mr. Wall somewhere along Ocean Boulevard. Control yourself, Brown.

Make a Plan, God Laughs

For week 13 of my training, I travel to Birmingham, Alabama. as the USA Track & Field liaison for the USA Men's Marathon Championship, hosted by the Mercedes Marathon. My last long training run is 15 miles, also coming up this weekend, so I plan to run the adjoining half marathon race, adding a couple of warm-up miles to the agenda. This will work perfectly because the race will have fluids and energy replacements along the way, giving me a perfect dress rehearsal for marathon day. Gosh, I'm so smart.

As Natalie says, "Make a plan, God laughs." About the time we jump in the car Thursday evening to drive to Birmingham, the snow starts falling. It's coming down with a fury, with curb-to-curb white carpeting within minutes. We make a quick decision to cancel the trip. So much for my rehearsal!

The streets clear quickly Friday morning (typical Tennessee snow), so I decide to go ahead with my 15-miler that afternoon. I will run my familiar half marathon course (with a two mile adder), so instead of the Mercedes Half Marathon in Birmingham with thousands of runners, thousands of spectators, and dozens of aid stations; it will be the Brown Half Marathon in Kingsport with one runner (me), no spectators (except a few trash-talking, pickup-driving rednecks), and one aid station (a water bottle stashed behind a VW Beetle at Fairway Ford and packs of Gu and Gel in my pocket). Over the course of the past 13 weeks, I have become the master of improvisation!

The run goes extremely well. Other than a few flurries around mile 7, and a slightly agitated zephyr from the west, the weather is ideal. Temperatures in the low 30's are a welcome change from the teens and twenties from previous long runs. I time several 3-mile segments, and I'm right on target (actually a little too fast). About the only thing that does not go well is my experimentation with eating Gel "on the run." It ends up all over my gloves, literally giving me sticky fingers from mile 8 to the finish. Yuck. I'll definitely be slowing down in the aid stations at Myrtle Beach!

On Saturday morning, Natalie and I smell a strange odor in the kitchen. It smells like something burning. A few minutes later we see smoke. We frantically scour the house for any signs of fire. The smoke is thickening. My mind is racing. Where there's smoke, there's fire... I call 911 and within minutes fire trucks are screaming to our front door. What once was a very serene Saturday morning at the Brown household has suddenly turned into disaster movie set with men in fire suits and masks tromping through our living room.

I'm following around trying to be helpful, but I'm in too much of a stupor to even think clearly. We eventually trace the source of the smoke to the heat pump in the basement. The firemen quickly turn it off and open it up to check inside. They point some "heat seeking" instrument at the motor - it reads over 300 degrees! That's hot! We reason the motor burned out. After about 15 minutes things cool down enough to feel we have disengaged the potential source of the fire. The firemen say if we had not been home they might have been visiting our house a few hours later under very different circumstances. It suddenly dawns on me that we were supposed to be in Alabama this weekend.

The firemen and the trucks leave much more peacefully than they arrived. Natalie and I are left to sober up on what might have been. We hug each other and realize just how lucky we were.

I suppose God had a plan after all.

Next: Taper Time



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