Monday, July 27, 2009

San Francisco: the 26.65mi Marathon

Yeah, that's not a typo. The race was 26.65 miles...or nearly a half mile longer (.45) than a standard marathon of 26.2 miles. It was not a joke, it was not intended, but at that point in the race, it is what it is. Other than the distance discrepancy, this was an awesome race set in an amazing city. 

We started at 0530hrs at the Embarcadero along the water front. The air was cool and damp, but not nearly as cold and windy as the night before. The bridge to San Rafael was capped with lights which stood out against the dark backdrop of the San Francisco sky that morning. After the gun went off, the course carried us around the waterline for about 5 miles, all the way to the base of the Golden Gate Bridge. When we got to the GGB, the air was noticeably cooler and as we began the start of a steady three-mile climb up to and across the bridge, the low-lying fog and cloud cover--which make the GGB so famous for use in photos and movies--coated the runners' skin as if running through a mist. The wind was also kicking up and I was tucked right in the middle of my 3:40 (8:30/mile) pace group. At that point, you couldn't see a damn thing, but you could hear the low, eery bellowing sound of the Hornblower and other bay barges and boats as they made their way under the bridge. (Note: The horns sounded just like the alien pod 'collectors' in Tom Cruise's War of the Worlds a couple years ago. Made me smile.)

The plan, so to speak, was to run really conservatively with the slow pace group through the first half of the race and then if I felt good, I could pick it up once the majority of the hills subsided. If I didn't feel good, then I'd just knuckle down and stay in the middle of the 3:40 pack. Regardless, I committed to myself that I wouldn't make a move one minute or one mile sooner than the midway point (13.1 miles) and I was going to remain patient and just read my body until then. 

Yeah, I scrapped that plan. 

At mile 11, I felt good. After severe cramping in Cincy and Seattle, I came into this race way over-hydrated (as evidenced by unplanned pitstops in the bushes at mile 2, 8 and later at mile 17 to empty a full bladder.) Due to those stops, I frequently lost touch with the pace group, which obviously kept on running as I ducked in and out. The desperate yo-yo'ing of sprinting to catch back up eventually caused an adrenaline spike and on a huge downhill, I just took off, unlocking my legs and letting my body hurtle me down the hill. I can remember Natasha Badmann running back several minutes in the Hawaii Ironman a couple years ago, by sprinting the down hills while all the other women were locking out their legs and "bracing" down the hill. First, that's brutal on your quads and knees, especially in latter stages of a marathon. Secondly, it's analagous to sitting the breaks while driving down a steep hill; you're just breaking your own natural momentum and killing your breaks in the process. That said, I went with it...and went I did. I just ran. Soon the pace group was no longer visible over my shoulder. 

It was a gamble, but as the splits corroborate, each mile was getting faster and each segment (as shown below) was getting faster than the previous. When it was all said and done, the last six miles were the fastest of the entire race. 

At any rate, after we crossed back over the Golden Gate, the course wound thru the Golden Gate Park, which was absolutely reminded me of Rock Creek Park in D.C., yet it was distinctly California in terms of flora and fauna. This section was particularly hilly as well. When we made it out of the park, we climbed to the top of Height Ashbury, which was the highest elevation point on the entire course and your legs were really feeling it at that point. 

Height Ashbury, is the famous anti-war, home of the Grateful Dead, noted for its prodigious and flagrant weed smoking, and as the epicenter of the 60s and 70s west coast counter-culture revolution. Even still, the long-hairs were out in force to cheer everyone...even the likes of a short-haired agent who's running for injured American soldiers--the very thing they once and still do protest on a daily basis. In a sense, that's the strangely unifying spirit of distance running. It brings together opposing sides, ideologies, and perspectives, which might otherwise, never see eye to eye on any issue of real substance. 

With that, we began a series of rolling descents, all the way to the old packing houses that lie about 4 miles from the finish. At this point, I focused on form, breathing and driving it home. I had long since ditched my pace group and was inching closer to an overall average of 8:00/mile, something I never would've thought possible when looking at the race profile and in light of my implosion a month earlier in Seattle. Regardless, I pushed through and crossed the first line (26.2 miles, though obviously it remained unmarked) in 3:32 and then crossed the "official" finish line in 3:34:07. According to the Garmin readout, that's 8:02 average for the entire race, but the race website, has it (26.2, not 26.65) as being 8:10 per mile. Either way, it's done and on the books. 

On the whole, I loved my trip to San Francisco. I ran a good race. Got a lot of work done for some clients. Saw the city where I was born. Ate the best Chow Mein of my life on the 2nd floor balcony of a tiny restaurant in Chinatown. Rode a trolley. Saw where one of my favorite movies, Bullit, was shot. Watched a 2-hour dance showcase in Union Square. Saw my fair share of locals, tourists, trannies and homeless.  Ate a little bit of San Fran sea food. Had two post-race, well-deserved gin & tonics. Slept like a baby the night after the race, for the first time in almost a month. 

Though I love this city, and will undoubtedly be back more and more over the next couple years--both for business and for recreation--there truly is no place like home. With that, my bags are packed and I'm going to do some client work until taking off for the airport and my 1500hrs PST flight back to Washington, D.C.

San Francisco is on the books and Colorado Springs is up next, where I'll be doing the American Discovery Trail Marathon over Labor Day weekend. Thanks for all your support.

Seven down. Three to go. 

Doug Eldridge
DLE Sports

Sunday, July 26, 2009

San Francisco: 2 hours away

I didn't sleep well last night. I tossed and turned thinking about clients I still need to place for the upcoming football season. I got up a couple times, sent emails, made notes for follow-up calls this afternoon (yes, I make calls on Sundays) and generally jotted down some reminders for myself and a timeline for their completion later this week. If there's one thing  that my clients never worried about when I told them about this campaign, it's that the level of service and representation would diminish in any way. If anything, it's only increased. 

At any rate, the San Francisco Marathon is now just under two hours away. Right now it's 53 degrees outside with low lying clouds, incredible moister and if the sun were up, it would reveal that the City by the Bay is undoubtedly covered with fog. Looking at the hourly breakdown, it's not supposed to get above 60 degrees during the entire marathon. Though that sounds chilly to many people, for a bigger guy like me, that's ideal. 

Ever the data nerd I keep pretty detailed training and racing logs, to try and take the guessing game out of both good and bad performances. I account for variables such as sleep, fatigue, body weight, temperature and humidity, terrain, intensity and duration of workout, extrinsic work-related stress, etc. Point being, I've determined that despite diligent hydration in the days leading up to the marathon--and despite going through both bottles on my fuel belt as well as multiple 'running cups of water' along the course--on a typical marathon where the air temperature is 70 degrees or higher, I will lose between 8-12 lbs during the race. By contrast, when it is 60 degrees or cooler, that quotient drops to 6-10 lbs. Although that might seem like minutia to the casual observer, that's actually a substantial difference in terms of variable dehydration and the resulting cramps that ensue between miles 18-26 on the course. That said, the fact that it's in the low to mid 50s, with damp air and near complete cloud cover, bodes well for my race...especially given all the hills I'm about to battle. 

Regardless, I'm going to run with a slower pace group today. After my meltdown in Seattle, and given the brutal nature of this course, I'm going to start running with the 8:30 pace group (3:42 finish time) and see how I feel. Looking at the topography of the course and after having driven it yesterday, the hills, though pervasive, are pretty much over at the 18.5 mile mark. That said, it's better to start conservatively and hold it (or pick it up if I'm going good) than to start too fast and burn out and be passed by slower pacing groups. Trust me, the humility of this endeavor is not lost on me. 

There is no greater metaphor for life than running and no better narrative for perseverance, self-awareness, and accomplishment than distance running. In less than two hours, I will add another chapter to this ongoing saga. 

Doug Eldridge
DLE Sports

PRESS: San Francisco Examiner

I did this interview earlier in the week with a San Francisco-based writer, author, PR man and personal fitness fanatic, Mark Davis. The interview lasted about 30 minutes and Mark and I--both SF natives, Ironman finishers, relentless sports fans, and committed runners--talked about a wide variety of topics. Because the general focus of his articles is on training, racing, recovery, etc. that's what was reflected most heavily in the article below. I enjoyed talking to him and as always, I'm thankful for the coverage of our campaign. 

As I've said all along, without media, there can be no exposure. Without exposure, there can be no awareness. Without awareness, there can be no contribution. Without contribution, there can be no call to action...and without that, we cannot invoke the change on behalf of these injured American soldiers that was the genesis of this entire campaign. In that, I say thanks to Mark and a very special thank you to Courtney, who has proven to be an invaluable addition to the DLE family. I appreciate your tireless hours, attention to detail, and unflenching loyalty more than you know.

Doug Eldridge
DLE Sports

Saturday, July 25, 2009

San Francisco Marathon: 13 hours away

As I type this, I'm looking out the window of the Hotel Palomar, with the sunshine beaming through the glass and the American flags on the opposing buildings, blowing nearly straight out to the side at times. Chicago may be the windy city, but the poet said it best:

"The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco."

Indeed, back home in Washington, DC it's in the high 80s with complete humidity, yet here in San Francisco, it is in the mid 60s, windy, damp and rather cool. This is the kind of weather we're accustomed to in DC around the middle of October. Nonetheless, it has all the makings of a great marathon tomorrow morning--my seventh race in the 10-12-100 Campaign.

I drove the marathon course this morning around 0900PST and it was chilly! I had a light jacket and a scarf on for most of the morning as San Fran is known for it's low-lying fog in the early morning. Today was  no exception and by the time I made it around to the Golden Gate Bridge at about 1100hrs, you could still barely see it through the fog. We'll be crossing that tomorrow between miles 5-9 on the course. Speaking of which, the course itself is just what you'd expect: hilly. Add to that, the aforementioned morning fog, damp air, and a crisp breeze and it will be nice conditions for what promises to be a very demanding course. 

I must say, however, that for all of its challenges, this course matches its inherent brutality with breathtaking beauty. Tomorrow's route will take us along the Embarcadero, past the Fisherman's Wharf, through the Presidio, over and back across the Golden Gate Bridge, through Haight Ashbury, across the Golden Gate Park and then back along the water to the finish line. Though it will be chilly and inevitably foggy--and I'll most certainly be hurting at any and all points listed above--this is going to be one gorgeous race. 

In terms of sightseeing--and in the interests of 'saving my legs' a bit--I've postponed China Town, the Wharf, and most of the fun areas for tomorrow afternoon and/or Monday morning. But I can say, that after my 4-hour excursion earlier today, San Francisco is unquestionably one of the most unique and beautiful cities I have ever visited. In many ways, it's a shame that it took 31 years to return to the city where I was born. As many of you know, I was born in San Fran, but my father (who was active duty military) got orders soon thereafter, so we left when I was only six or eight weeks old. 31 years later, this is my first trip back to the City by the Bay. I can assure you, it will be the first of many.

With that, I'd better finish some client work I'm doing and then grab an early dinner. I'll need to be up tomorrow around 0230hrs (local time) since the race begins at 0530hrs. I need a couple hours to wake up, stretch and caffeinate before the race. 

Thanks for following along and thanks for your words, letters, emails, texts and Facebook messages of support. Please continue to spread the word about this campaign and let's take the fundraising up a notch in the remaining months and marathons that lie ahead. We've got a lofty goal to achieve and I can't do it without your help.

More soon. 

Doug Eldridge
DLE Sports

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

PRESS: Seattle TV Interview

Dan Cruz was kind enough to send this link to me last week--it's the TV interview I did with KIRO CBS in Seattle, two days before the marathon. 

The piece was shot directly across from the base of the famous Space Needle, but when I walked into the station, everyone's eyes were glazed over as it had just hit the wires that Michael Jackson had collapsed in his LA home and was being transported by ambulance to the ER. It was presumed that he was DOA and the shock and awe that rippled through Seattle--a town with no shortage of musical influences and icons--was palpable. 

Regardless, many thanks to both Courtney and Matt here in DC and to Jake in Seattle for making this possible. Not only does the campaign exposure continue to grow, so too is the case with generous financial contributions. 

I leave for San Francisco in two days so I'll post another entry very soon. 

Doug Eldridge
DLE Sports

Friday, July 10, 2009

Recharging Old Batteries

In the mid 80s, when rechargeable batteries first started to hit the market, they were a young piece of technology. Sure, theoretically they were better than a standard one-off battery in that they had the potential to last over and over and over, instead of just one use. The problem however, was that after each time you charged them, you got a little bit less life out of them during their next use, before they were simply zapped. Charging and after charging, eventually the batteries simply couldn't be recharged and you just threw them away.

My legs feel like 80s rechargeable batteries.

The race in Seattle got me pretty good. I was covered in salt, completely dehydrated, under-caloried, and utterly exhausted from cross-country flights and insufferable 7-hour drives in my rental compact (I have attached a pic for your viewing. No offense to those of you who own this model, but at 6'2 and change, it made the 7-hour bumper to bumper trek from Eugene, OR to Seattle absolutely miserable.) Even still, you can look for factors that contributed to your struggle, but you can't point a finger of blame. There's a big difference in the two and I've never been one to make excuses. That said, I got off my red-eye flight  back to DC (with legs and ankles that had swollen like stovepipes following the all-night flight) and I made a promise to myself as I limped to my spot in thelong-term parking garage: I would not hurt this badly again as a result of poor preparation. 

So I set out to train smarter, recover better, hydrate more efficiently, and get my head in the right mindset going into a very challenging San Francisco marathon, which was then less than a month away. As I write this--while waiting for call-backs from physicians with whom I'm scheduling some surgeries for three DLE client-athletes--I am now 16 days away from the marathon. Despite a disciplined protocol and sensible recovery/training plan following Seattle and leading up to San Francisco, my legs are much like the 80s batteries that just reached a point, where after multiple uses, they simply couldn't be charged anymore. Sure, you could plug them in and let them sit there, but there just wasn't any juice left. 

Let me be clear: this is neither a white-flag waiving concession nor is it intended to read as a litany of excuses. To the contrary, this is what I like to call 'white knuckle honesty.' Yeah, the kind that is so raw, that it just makes you flinch. The truth of the matter is that everything hurts right now. I'm sore. I'm tired. I'm not recovering...and now, I'm heading into the most brutally hilly city in the United States to do my seventh marathon in a ten-race campaign. 

So tomorrow morning, I'll get up early and do the last long run before the SF race. It'll be a hilly 14-mile run at race pace, from Ballston to Georgetown, around and through Rock Creek Park, flat along the C+O Canal, before crossing back over the Key Bridge into Virginia and beginning a 3-mile steep climb from the Potomac River back up to Ballston. 

Am I looking forward to it? Absolutely not. 

But I didn't sign up to host a polo match on the National Mall or host a celebrity golf tournament at a regional country club. I chose the most brutal, medieval format I could possibly envision as a means of dedicating myself to our nation's wounded young soldiers. I did so deliberately and I did so with eyes wide open. 

I do so willingly and count myself fortunate to have the opportunity to do so--both as an able-bodied man of good health and as an American citizen who lives in a country that would provide the freedom and liberties for such a platform to be successful. 

More than that, I do so because I believe that every one of those young servicemen and women that come thru Walter Reed Army Hospital, would do the same thing for me. One step, one race and one finish line at a time. 

Doug Eldridge
DLE Sports