Athens Marathon Report – Pre-Race Chatter

This will be a multi-part series, because something this epic deserves an epic series of blog postings. And I can’t say anything in a few words. I am prolix. 

At the beginning of this year I hired a professional coach. And as part of our mutual orientation, I had to decide what was going be to my goal for the year.

“5 hours in Athens”, I said.

My run in Athens had left me frustrated and cranky. At the 30km mark, my body had given out. And upon further reflection it was clear that what had really happened was that my brain had given up on my body.

And this was simply not okay. I do not accept this kind of failure. Losing because I gave up is simply not okay.

And so I decided I was going to crush this run. I was going to destroy this run. This run would lie prostate on the ground begging me for forgiveness.

And so there was training. And I mean lots of training. Endless training. And lots of running too. I have run 800 miles since the Athens Marathon. And that’s not every mile … Just the miles I recorded in

In one year, I went from having a really poor running style to almost looking like someone who was running. I felt stronger, fitter and healthier than I had in years…

Just a few weeks before the Athens Marathon I finished the Morgan Hill Half Marathon in 2:21 minutes. And my confidence was at an all time high.

I would do this.

My confidence at an all time high, my physical fitness at its peak, I flew to Greece with my son …

And this brings me to hubris.

Hubris /ˈhjuːbrɪs/, also hybris, from ancient Greek ὕβρις, means extreme pride or arrogance. Hubris often indicates a loss of contact with reality and an overestimation of one’s own competence, accomplishments or capabilities, especially when the person exhibiting it is in a position of power.

I believe that God is rarely in a rush to punish the true evil doers of this world, but when it comes to hubris he doesn’t wait at all. God moves quickly to punish hubris. And when he is done humility and shame are all that is left.

Back to my story. So my son and I traveled alone together for the first time, and it was a blast. In fact the whole trip was worthwhile just because of the time we got to spend with each other …

The day before the race my sister and I took our kids to the Acropolis where we took a picture in front of the Parthenon…DSC_5006_5046

Complete with the lady who photo-bombed our picture … Apparently last night she had fun with something this big.

As is tradition the night before the trip we ate at my cousin’s house.


This time the house was teaming with children. My cousin had her first child, and her niece had her first child and my sister had her first child… We were drowning in children…



And like last year, I was able to be there for my dad’s birthday who was happier to just have his grandchildren…



Happily fed, I rested. I was ready for my race the next day…



Week 43 – Sick

My body this week decided to remind me that I am on the on the wrong side of forty.

And that sucked.

What made it worse was that I was starting a new job.

So here I am trying to get through new hire orientation, trying to learn about stuff and in parallel trying to avoid passing out. Normally I am a pretty high energy guy, but this week I am dragging.

Talk about not giving the best first impression possible …

Thankfully this illness has passed me by and I get to start working out again…

Week 42 – down time

freeimage-203844-highI owe the world a race report. But I wanted to spend a moment talking about down time.

After having finished my first year of serious athletics: three marathons (athens 2012, napa valley, athens 2013), one olympic triathlon, and one half marathon, it’s time for me to take a break.

And that is a good thing. Because after last week’s epic marathon, I am physically wiped out. And my body’s way of telling me that is that by calling in sick. I mean *cough*, *hack* and *wheeze* sick.

This is a big shift from last year when I finished the Athens Marathon and turned right around to train for the Nevada Marathon. I think I pushed myself harder and longer this year. In fact, towards the end I was feeling done. Not kinda-done, but done and baked.

I was supposed to do some amount of physical activity this week but just breathing has been a chore.

More to be discussed in my race report…

Oh and I am starting my new job at Juniper Networks.

Week 40 – One last week of training

This week was the last week of serious training before a week of tapering and a massive effort to beat 5 hours on the Athens Marathon.

One of the nice things about being between jobs and being blessed with a reasonable amount of savings is that I can take some time off, and I did. One whole month.

I thought with all of this extra time training would be easy, because well I have no job…

Except that my wife and kid are way more fun than pounding the cement or sitting on a bicycle.

And this made me appreciate, just a little bit the life and times of professional athletes.

Being mentally disciplined to actually do the training is hard when it’s the only thing you have to do. There is always something way more fun to do at any point in time.

And then the eating becomes a mess.. When you don’t have a job, and you’re with your wife there is a temptation to eat out. And you meet friends for lunch and eat out. And before you know it you’re eating more than you ever did.

And because training is something I do for fun, being tired makes you feel guilty…

Well the good news I am going to Greece, going to do a marathon and then going back to a job … Something about real life intruding …


Morgan Hill Half Marathon 2013 – Gotta go potty edition.

The Morgan Hill half marathon was an accidental race. Uncertain if I would be able to compete in the Athens Marathon, I signed up for the Morgan Hill full marathon as a backup plan.

Events occurred that made it possible for me to do the full marathon in Athens, so I quickly dropped to a half.

The half marathon is a different beast than the full marathon. Or I am just fitter.

The full marathon’s I have done in the past are these existential crises. At some point in time the body and the brain are at war with the will. The full marathon is just beyond the limits of what I am truly able to accomplish.

The half marathon takes about as much time as a long run.

So I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.

Arriving at the Morgan Hill starting line, I was pleasantly surprised at the demographic makeup. Turns out the local Indian population is into running.

One of the nicer parts of this Marathon was that they have folks who run at specific paces. So if you want to arrive at a specific time, all you have to do is keep up…

A gentleman who was standing next to me had volunteered to be the pacer for the 5 hour marathon. His buddies were confused because he would typically run a much faster marathon. Apparently the 5 hour slot was all that was available. I was feeling sorry for him because running at a much slower pace than you are comfortable with is brutal!

While waiting another gentleman remarked that this was the hardest half marathon in the area, and I was thinking – how hard could it possibly be… I would learn, yes I would learn.


Here’s the image that shows all my vitals during the race. Notice the ever increasing elevation followed by a sharp drop. I referred to this elevation profile as the one fingered salute. Also notice the various stops along the way. We’ll get to that later.

As is traditional I took a selfie waiting for the race to start:



And here’s the starting line:

Like every good athlete I ran to the port-a-potty before the race started. Felt good about myself and caught the beginning of the race:

So the plan my coach and I had was to run the first 3 miles at 12 minutes, and then the next 9 at 11 minutes so I could hit a sub-2:30 marathon. Sounds like a good plan.

The first three miles were difficult. Mostly because trying to run at a 12 minute pace at the start of the race is very very difficult. Your body is feeling good, you have all these people running around you that are running faster, you have the nervous energy of the race start …

But I reminded myself of what happened at Napa when I chose to ignore my coach and just followed the instructions…

So every 20 or 30 seconds I would check my pace and slow down. I had this weird hand gesture where I was pretending to step on the break of a car as a reminder to slow down, slow down.

After three miles, I decided to pick up the pace … except I then ran into the pee problem.

Okay look… they never discuss this in running books and blogs and running articles, but man drinking the right amount of liquid so you don’t pee every five minutes is not obvious. They tell you hydrate, etc… but then they don’t tell you what happens when you over hydrate and have this stupid belt pressing on your bladder and you have to go pee..

I felt like a character in urinetown looking for a place to pee.

I was expecting Morgan Hill to be hot. They told me it was going to be hot. So I drank a lot of liquids.

It wasn’t hot. It was cold. And so I needed to go pee. And then I, foolishly, drank some water at the first station and had to go pee again. And again. And again. The whole need to pee was borderline ridiculous.

After the first three miles, I was able to get a pace of 11:16 and 11:48, not quite the 11 minute pace I was aiming for. Although the 11:48 mile did involve TWO pee breaks! Seriously. Dudes. Bladder issues!

Frustrated and annoyed and at the 5 mile marker, I realized I needed to start moving a lot faster if I wanted to break my 2:30 minute barrier. So the next three miles I pushed really hard. well, what I did was instead of running against a pace, run against a heart rate. Figuring that if I ran against the heart rate, I would pick up my speed significantly. And I did.

A small note on the race. The race was pretty. I mean really, really pretty.

The next three miles were done at a 10:16, 10:48 and 10:26 pace. What I didn’t realize was that I had decided to push hard right through the finger. At least that is what I called the nasty peak in the middle of this race. And it was a nasty peak. I mean nasty. Like every good climb in the bay area, you’d make a right turn and think there … I am reaching the end only to see the road climb further and further up. Only when you officially give up all hope do you cross the top of the mountain.

One thing that did help was all of the biking I have done around here. Used to these climbs, I know that the trick is to find a rhythm and focus on the rhythm not on the pain and effort. And so I did. I focused on my cadence, and I focused on beating the 11 minute mile pace.

Once I reached the top, I realized that the easy part was over, now I had to go down.

Foolish me didn’t realize that the descent on the backside was nastier than the climb. The road was steep. At times I felt like those dudes in the tour-de-france who finish a climb and are blasting down the hill as fast as they can. I somehow expected to see bodies in the ditch from runners that took the turns too fast …

And yes I had to go pee again. Seriously. What the hell… Not fun.

Once I reached the bottom of the hill, I realized that this was the moment to go all out and I did.

My goal was to keep pushing until the very end while ensuring that my heart rate never got above 159.

My other goal was to catch the 2:30 minute pacer.


And so I ran, and ran and ran. And it was a joyous moment when I passed the 2:30 pacer. Seriously I was like ready to fist-pump and be happy except I had learned from my triathlon races that the proper etiquette is to say “good job”.

And yes I had to go pee at some point and there was a line to the port-a-potty that cost me my 2:19 finish. Okay, there.

By the time I reached the 12 mile marker, I let it all hang out, clocking in a very impressive for me last mile of 8:48.

As I huffed and puffed and pushed hard, a charming group of people had this sign:


Which almost caused me to stop and bend over laughing. Not cool people. Being super funny during a race is not cool!

What was interesting about this experience was how this run was completely different from my other runs. In the past I never got this experience of racing, it was more of an experience of enduring. This time I really felt like I was racing.

Perhaps the difference was the purposefulness of the running. I wasn’t just running at some random pace or trying to survive but instead had a plan and was executing against the plan. The run felt controlled and I felt under control.  Except for the bladder, the bladder was not under my control.

And here’s a picture of me at the finish line:



After crossing the finish line, I was delighted to discover that the full marathon had not yet finished! Whee! I grabbed a burrito, crashed on the ground and waited for my brain to reboot.

So my time is still in the bottom 20%. I realized that to really improve my time I am going to have to lose some weight. Like 60 pounds of weight.

Not a problem.

I am so game …