My AIDS Marathon Diary

I participated in the National AIDS Marathon Training Program for six years (2001-2006), and I know that in the past I’ve had a lot of people read my old journal entries about those early times as they start their own marathon experience.

This page contains my 2001 journal entries; it was at my newest (and my slowest) and probably the most important of all the ones I wrote. If you’d like to read the others, I’ll be adding links below over time to the remaining five years. (As the process continues, the journal entries eventually get shorter.)


Week One — May 5th, 2001

It all begins here! This was my first week of running, and I think it went pretty well. My original plan was to start running twice a week in March, and by the time May 5th rolled around I would be ready to kick some serious running butt! And then, the last week in February, I hurt my left knee while in Los Angeles. (Don’t ask, it’s a little embarrassing.)

When I say "hurt my left knee", I don’t mean "it hurt for a week". We’re talking three weeks of really bad pain. I finally saw my doctor, who gave me Vioxx to reduce the inflammation, and instructions to take ibuprofen for a week afterwards. If there was still pain at that point, I was to go back. Well, it did the trick; by the time the Vioxx was completely gone, I didn’t even need the ibuprofen. (When I went from 50mg of Vioxx to 25mg of Vioxx, it started hurting again, so I went to the emergency room. They x-rayed my knee and thankfully there’s nothing wrong with the bones. I was given a prescription of more Vioxx to use if necessary, but haven’t had to touch it. It’s my reserve stash, just in case.)

To make a long story short, I didn’t even remotely start running in March. In April, I started going to the gym and took it easy with some cross-training machines. I also bought a knee brace; the one time I didn’t use the knee brace, my knee hurt afterwards. I’ll keep using the knee brace, thank you very much. It wasn’t until this past Wednesday, though, that I finally actually went out and ran. I got up early, put on my Walkman, and set out into my neighborhood.

Immediately, the batteries died on my Walkman, and this was more or less the theme of my Wednesday run. I was next to a 7-11 so I did buy some more batteries, but the Walkman still sounded slightly slow and ragged. Sort of like me. By the time I staggered home at 8am, children were coming out to be picked up by the school bus. I made a mental note to get started a little earlier in order to avoid their stares. I was out for 35 minutes, and did just under 2 miles. I was in a bit of pain afterwards (especially on Thursday), but with the help of bananas I was only a little stiff by the time Saturday morning rolled around.

My running partner Julie showed up at 7:30am, right as I was finishing up my oatmeal. (Yes, I now eat breakfast. Usually an apple, but I thought oatmeal would give me more power.) We headed over to the East Falls Church metro, where we met our initial group. Wow. Tons and tons of people. We were told to get into groups based on how fast we thought we’d finish a mile. Julie and I quickly picked the "16:00 (or higher)" group. We both pledged that if we were last we would still be happy that we’d finished, but I think neither of us wanted to be last. We chatted a bit with two women (Emily and someone whose name I didn’t catch, oops) and by the time we started, Julie and I both decided we hoped they ended up in our pace group.

The point of today’s run—3 miles—was to determine what pace group we would end up in. We’ll be doing interval running, where you run a certain number of minutes, then walk a certain number of minutes. How fast we finished the 3 miles (and did so without huffing and puffing and ready to drop at the end!) would determine what group we were in. Before too long, our group was up, and we set off!

We ran on the W&OD Trail, a 45-mile trail which goes all the way from Purcellville to Shirlington, right outside of Washington DC. I used to ride my bicycle on the W&OD Trail from Vienna to Falls Church to buy books and comics at Hole in the Wall Books, but I’d never been on this part of the trail. There was some shade, and streams, and such, and it was a really pleasant place to have the run.

Julie was a wonderful person to run it with. I’d told her that if I was holding her back, that she should go on ahead, but it worked out perfectly. We alternated between jogging and walking, and chatted with a couple of people along the way. It felt great to hit the 1.5 mile point and get to turn around. We kept picking spots where we’d start running, and try to pick places to go back to walking. The important thing is that we were definitely exerting ourselves, but not pushing ourselves to our limits. We could both still speak without gasping, and we were having a good time.

We’d also picked two women who had arrived together as our goal on who to at least keep up with. They looked much more in shape than we were, and they were also in the 16 minute start time group with us. They passed us really early on, but around the halfway point we caught up with them and more or less paced them the rest of the way. (We’d catch up, they’d start running and vanish, we’d start running and catch up to them walking, and so forth.) We actually ended up finishing slightly ahead of them, which tickled us to no end. It wasn’t a race, but we’d finished ahead of our "goal". (They’ll both be in our pace group, which will be nice.)

Our finishing time was 46:05, which we were happy with. Based on that, we’re in a 1:2 pace group, which means we run for one minute, walk for two. It’s not the dead last pace group, which is where I was convinced I would be. Sure, it’s the second to last pace group, but I take small victories where I can. We were happy to see that Emily will be in our pace group as well (hurrah!) and hopefully her friend will join us before too long. (There didn’t seem to be very many people in the 1:3 pace group, although I could be wrong, so for all I know we may end up merging. We shall see!)

So, all in all, a very good initial run. Next Saturday we’ll be in our pace group and running 4 miles. I was a little nervous up until now, but I’m very excited about this. I can’t wait!

Week Two — May 12th, 2001

It’s hard to believe it’s already week two of our training! One second it feels like we’d just done our initial 3-mile run, the next second it feels like months ago. None the less, we’re now at week two, and I’m really happy to say that I’ve already gotten two pledges! (Owen Erasmus and Alternative Comics are both my personal heroes for this week.) I’m just over 5% of the way to my fundraising goal, which feels good. Let’s see if I can keep up that pace.

Keeping a good pace wasn’t what I achieved on my Monday morning run, though. I was assigned a 1:2 pace group last week, so I tried to do just that on my run. Within about 15 minutes, I was feeling a little pain in my shins, so I ended up slowing down—after all, the goal is to not hurt anything! I ended up taking an extra walk break here and there, and I felt really stiff afterwards. Seeing that fire hydrant (my unofficial turn-around point, although I went a block further this time) was such a wonderful vision I must have been channeling one of the 7000 dogs that barked at me when I jogged by their lawns.

I went out walking on Tuesday for my walking/crosstraining day, and really enjoyed it because I went through all sorts of streets that I’d never seen before in my neighborhood. I was heading back when my left knee started to bother me, which really worried me. I knew I had to wear my knee brace for running and crosstraining, but for walking, too? I was a little depressed about this, but it wasn’t until later that it hit me that there’s a difference between walking around the block and walking non-stop for 40 minutes. And if I need to use the brace for crosstraining, then walking really follows suit. So, from now on, the brace goes on for walking, too.

I was very bad on Wednesday—I woke up and it was raining, and I decided to push Wednesday’s run to Thursday. Bad, bad Greg. I know it says that if it’s raining you should still run, because after all it might be raining the day of the marathon! So, this was my one "wimp-out" morning. I did, however, get up on Thursday morning and run to make up for it. I was still a little stiff, and my shins hurt a little bit part way through, but it wasn’t as bad. I had my new Timex Ironman Triathlon watch to beep out my pace times for me, which was much easier than having to count my paces and glance at my watch to see if it was time to walk! I only took two extra 30 second walk breaks on Thursday, which was I happy with.

This Saturday I was a total space cadet; Julie came and picked me up, and we were part way there when I suddenly realized that I’d forgotten my knee brace! Fortunately we weren’t too far away, and still had enough time to double back, get the brace, and then get there by 8:00am. We got in our groups, and then one of the coaches told us that we needed to get a pace group leader, preferably someone who had the watch. Uh oh. I was nervous about being a pace group leader, because I had images of being unable to keep up with my group, and that sort of defeats the whole purpose. Since there were two of us that had the watch, and they wanted to split our group into two, I took one group and another woman took the other one.

We started running, and in about ten seconds I heard choruses of "Slow Down!" Ok, maybe this wouldn’t be so bad after all. It was a really great four mile run; I never found myself in pain, or moving at a pace that was too fast for me. I think on my solo runs I was actually running too fast, which explains why at the halfway points there I found my shins hurting. This was a much better pace, and I was definitely feeling myself working, but it was never a "can’t keep up!" sort of working.

As it turned out, we ended up with one or two people from the other half of our initial group who caught up with us, and we traded a few off with them that needed to go a little slower. (Julie was our "designated driver" this time, which means that if someone needs to go a little slower, she’ll hang back and stay with them. She slowed down a little bit and talked with the pace group leader of the other 1:2 group, and made sure that they’d be sticking with the new additions and let them know that we had some of their people now.)

Overall, it was a great run. We’ve got some really nice people in our group, and I don’t know everyone’s names yet (if you’re in my group and reading this, understand that I am really bad with names, so don’t take it personally!), but we did a good job of sticking together and keeping ourselves entertained. My favorite part of today’s run was hearing that Ray, one of the AIDS Marathon volunteers who would be at the 1.5 mile marker, had his birthday today. When we passed him, we all sang "Happy Birthday" to him. He jokingly yelled at us for wasting energy, of course.

(Oh, and as predicted, I am indeed the only guy in my pace group. I’d mentioned that possibility to someone on Thursday who calmly replied, "You know, Greg, there are a lot of guys who’d kill for that." I tell you, they don’t know what they’re missing!)

Two weeks down, and a lot to go, but I feel really good about this, especially knowing that I can indeed keep up with my pace group. We actually hit the time we were supposed to be doing exactly, which is good. My goal is to not only have better solo runs (in terms of a better pace and such), but to also go buy some CoolMax shirts. I’m sure the people in my pace group who were running behind me will appreciately the back of my shirt not being a Rorschach ink blot pattern! I can’t wait for Week Three to start tomorrow!

Week Three — May 19th, 2001

I suppose it’s inevitable that with my life, every week of this journal needs to have some drama, especially focused on me worrying over something on Saturday morning. Now that I’ve grown to understand this drama in my life, I’ll be prepared for it. ("Week Nine: Well, the tornado warning gave me a bit of concern on Saturday morning…") Oh, before I forget, special thanks this week goes to Steve Traylen, who is my third person to be a sponsor for my progress. Thanks Steve! One step closer to my goal is such a great feeling.

This week I was determined to get in my three scheduled days of either walking or cross-training 30-45 minutes, in addition to my running; I didn’t succeed, but I did come close. Sunday was a nice walk, and everything seemed fine. On Monday, I got up and promptly headed out to run—and once again started feeling stiffness in my calves and shins. After 15 minutes and it not going away (and getting a little worse), I finally gave up and turned around and walked all the way home. This was bugging me, because I’d had no problems on my Saturday runs, but a little solo run causes pain? I ended up skipping Tuesday’s walk/cross-training as a result (but I did go to the gym on Thursday for cross-training), but decided to try a little experiment on Wednesday.

On Wednesday morning, I set the alarm for ten minutes earlier and spent those extra ten minutes just stretching a little more. When I run on Saturdays with the group, I get up, take a shower, get dressed, eat breakfast, ride over with Julie to the running site, stand for a little bit, and then start running. Maybe this was the big difference, being a little more limbered up and my muscles a little more awake? I’d done a little stretching on Monday, but maybe that just wasn’t enough. Well, I started running, and I didn’t have nearly as many problems as Monday’s run; I still felt some stiffness and I ended up taking an extra walk break or two on the way home, but it was a real improvement. I vowed that starting next week on Monday and Wednesday, I’m going to get up much earlier and then take a shower, shave, eat breakfast, and so forth, instead of saving all of those until after the run. It seems to just be a case of getting my whole body to wake up and get ready for action.

So on Friday morning I prepared to enjoy my "day of rest" and checked the weather forecast. Rain possible in the afternoon (ok, I can deal with that), then storms in the evening (yuck), and rain Saturday morning. Argh. So of course, I spent half of Friday checking the weather forecast over and over again. Would it rain? Would it rain on me? People who read last week’s report may remember that I totally wimped out on a Wednesday run because of rain (although I did make it up that Thursday), but I decided that short of lightning striking in the area, I’d go for it. Some CoolMax shirts arrived from Road Runner Sports on Friday morning, so that was a nice little boost; I really wanted to see how well these would work. (CoolMax is a fabric that doesn’t get saturated with moisture the way that cotton does, and is supposed to cool and dry off really quickly.) Most places in the area seemed to only have CoolMax tank tops or sleeveless t-shirts, and I wasn’t quite ready for that, so I was happy when Chad mentioned Road Runner having some nice normal-style t-shirts.

My parents had gone away for the weekend, so I was over at their house watching the dogs, which meant I had to do a good job of packing my bags; turning around because I’d forgotten my knee brace again would be a much longer journey! I went to bed a little nervous about the rain, and woke up once or twice to hear it absolutely pouring outside. Great.

When I got up at 6:00, the dogs were amazed that I was getting up so early to let them out. "Is he insane?" I could hear them thinking. "It’s Saturday. We’re supposed to sleep for four more hours and then whine at his door until he lets us out." Fortunately, the rain wasn’t coming down nearly as hard as before, although it was still strong enough that I briefly entertained the idea of running with an umbrella. (Hey, I said briefly!) I didn’t have anything waterproof to wear; the only waterproof jacket I own (which isn’t even really waterproof, now that I think about it!) is a winter jacket, and the idea of running with that on was just too insane. I had sweatpants at my apartment that I could go get, but that seemed like a really bad idea, and to be honest, I’m not nearly as concerned about my legs getting wet than my torso. I’d cleverly brought a baseball cap with me (one I picked up in Hawaii when I was warned that going on the volcano tour without one would be a bad, bad idea), so at least I’d get a little protection… Then I had a sudden burst of inspiration and ransacked my parents’s hall closet. Victory! A light-weight, waterproof jacket. I pulled it on and decided that I really needed to get one for myself.

I got to the meeting site at 7:45, since they’d asked pace group leaders to be there 15 minutes early for updates and information. Well, either my watch was slow or they started early, because I got there just as they were wrapping it up! Oops! Fortunately, I was able to get the scoop from someone else (there was no one at the turnaround point so we needed to watch for it, and a tunnel under the road that we ran through was full of water so we may want to just cross the road itself instead), and before long we were ready to go. We had a couple of new people; John, who works at the Whitman-Walker Clinic, had done his first 3-mile run last week, so he was about to jump up to 5 miles. This meant, of course, that I was no longer the only guy in my running group. All my friends who have decided to live through my experiences vicariously will no doubt be very disappointed! (Not I, though. John seemed really nice and fun to be around and has, from all reports, the same sort of deranged sense of humor that I possess at times. Which is good.) I ran for a bunch with "the new Emily" as I found myself calling her, as we already have one Emily in our group. (You can never have enough Emilys.) "Original Emily" had her husband and corgi waiting at the water station, which was a nice touch. Alas, we no longer had Madelyn, who was going to try one pace group higher than the one we were at; I hope it went well! I didn’t see Emily’s friend Pam there, who hopefully just decided to run on Sunday and avoid the rain. (You see? I’m slowly learning names, and I also learned Martha’s and Ann’s names. Slowly but surely, I’m getting there. I had a suggestion for a fun way to learn names but with the rain and such it got postponed. Maybe next week!)

I was surprised at how quickly the run seemed to go today. I remember being really amazed that we were already 1.5 miles into the run, and really happy about it. Even better, there really wasn’t any aching or soreness going on. (My theory is proven! This is good, except for the part about having to get up earlier on Mondays and Wednesdays. Oh well.) The only part that seemed to stretch on for eternity was the half-mile of course that we’d never run on before; it’s the old trick of being somewhere unfamiliar taking twice as long to get through. When we got to the 2.5 mile marker (our turn-around spot), one person in our group seemed amazed that we were already there. ("Are you sure this is it?" "Yes!" the rest of the group cried, which cracked me up.)

It felt great to get back to the finish. I always expected the last half-mile to be an eternity, but it always seems to just whip right by. It felt great to take off the jacket; the rain stopped about halfway through, and I should have just taken it off then, but instead I ended up running with a sauna focused around my torso. I’ve learned my lesson!

After getting home, I decided that I could use my own training jacket (or something waterproof), so I gave Julie a call and we headed over to Target. They unfortunately didn’t have any (curses!), but I did pick up some more running shorts, and Julie’s sister Susan gave me a running gift of CoolMax socks. Later, I went over to Sports Authority, where I found they had some training outfits (both jackets and pants) for $50. I wasn’t sure about that, so I looked around some more and then found the clearance section, where everything would be 40% off. I found an almost identical set for $40 (before discount), but even then, I wasn’t sure if I really needed the pants, and they were selling other jackets and pants of other brands individually. In the end, I grabbed just a jacket that after discount came to just $18, so I declared it a victory and headed home, where a nap and a tape of this week’s "Sopranos" were calling my name.

And so, with another drama averted (let’s see, so far we’ve had "will I be able to do the initial 3-mile run", "will I be able to keep up with my group", and now "will I be all right running in the rain".) I’d like to say that I am utterly confident from this point out, but I’m sure I’ll come up with something new to work myself up over next week. (I’m going to be missing the June 9th run, so I’m sure my drama for June 16th involve wondering if I keep up with my group after missing a run—in some ways I’m very predictable!) We’ll see!

Week Four — May 26th, 2001

I hate to break it to everyone… but there was almost no drama this week. No, really! Ok, there was a little bit, but this was almost entirely a smooth sailing week. (A little boring, sure, but boredom is kind of good for something like this!) Before I get, many thanks this week go to Chad Jones, Shaun Lyon, and Lee Atchison for being my latest sponsors! You three are wonderful.

This Monday I got up a little earlier as planned, to see if being up and moving and such made a difference in my morning run. So instead of setting my alarm for 6:45am and being out the door by 7:00am, I set the alarm for 6:00am, took a shower, had breakfast, and headed out at 7:00am. Well, that did the trick beautifully. Almost no stiffness in my calves, so clearly this is just a case of needing to get everything revved up for a while before taking my body out for a spin. I was really thankful I’d bought that jacket on Saturday, since it was raining again on Monday!

Training this week went well, aside from discovering on Sunday and Monday that a little chafing had occurred on Saturday’s run. I finally remembered to buy some BodyGlide on Friday, so hopefully that’ll keep everything pain-free. Other than that, there’s nothing out of the ordinary going on, aside from once more skipping Tuesday’s walk/crosstraining. Hey, it was the season finale of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Angel". My goal is to get all three of the optional walk/crosstrain sessions in this coming week, though.

Saturday morning I woke up at 4:00am to hear a thunderstorm raging outside. Oh, no, I thought. This is just what I don’t need. (You see? I promised some drama.) I rolled over and tried to fall back asleep, but it took a while to do so. Thankfully, when my alarm went off two hours later, the thunder and lightning were gone. Unfortunately, the rain wasn’t.

So, we had a very wet run this time; much wetter than last week, where at least it stopped raining halfway through. It looked like it was going to go away this time, but it turned out to be a false alarm and it picked up quite nicely before too long. I had to get more stationary and envelopes, so Julie kindly drove her car over from where we’d parked (there’s no parking at our starting point itself; we park at the Metro station a block away) and loaded the supplies in so they didn’t get soaking wet. Other than that, it went really well—so much that Julie and I are thinking of stepping up a pace group. We probably won’t do it until after the 10 mile run; I’m going to be missing the 8 mile run, and shifting from 7 miles to 10 miles and also moving up a pace group will be a bit much. (I have no idea if anyone else in our pace group besides Julie is thinking the same thing. I love my pace group, but I don’t want to go at a pace slower than what I can safely manage.)

Dry clothing is such a wonderful thing.

Week Five — June 2nd, 2001

Another week, another milestone reached! (I can’t believe it’s been a month already! Wow!) This week started out as one of the most dreadful ones I’ve had, but in the end… not so bad!

The week started well; the Bodyglide did its work quite nicely (no chafing in a rather sensitive chest area), and my Sunday walk was nice because I ended up watching half of a Doctor Who tape ("Arc of Infinity") while walking on a treadmill. (It was bucketing down rain, so my original plan to walk with the family dogs that I was watching for Memorial Day weekend got killed pretty quickly.) Best of all, I got two very generous donations, one from Mark J. McGarry, the other from my grandmother Ruth Spinelli. You two are great!

And then came Monday.

Still at my parents’s house, I wasn’t really sure where to run. I knew I didn’t want to run along Vale Road, which is the main road that my parents live on—too much traffic. If I headed over in the direction of Carey Lane, I’d be without sidewalks. So, I decided to head down Riviera Drive, which has lots of good sidewalks.

It also has lots of huge hills. I don’t know how this managed to happen, but every single time my watch told me to run, I was at the bottom of a hill looking up. It was uncanny. By the time I got to the two-thirds mark, I was giving serious thoughts to just dying on the spot because it would make everything much easier. I’m not entirely sure why I kept running—in retrospect, I should have just stopped and walked the rest of the way home. (Something I’ve had no problem doing once before on a very bad run.) But I ended up doing my pace almost the rest of the way home (I cheated once or twice and walked for an extra ten seconds) and finally got home.

I paid for this the rest of the week. Tuesday night, I was so sore I ended up not going to the gym as planned for crosstraining. (I didn’t even have the "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Angel" excuse.) When I went out on Wednesday morning, I was still a little sore. And I felt a little sore on Thursday (but did go to the gym and felt great afterwards) and Friday, and even waking up on Saturday. I’ve learned my lesson about not stopping! (I really have no idea why I kept going. I know better.)

But, Saturday’s run went great. This time was a 7 mile run, and while it was overcast and had rained the night before, it wasn’t raining this morning. (I was actually a little glad about it being overcast, because I didn’t have time to pick up my new prescription sunglasses on Friday.) Interestingly enough, Yael Utt, our program representative, wasn’t at the site this Saturday. So far she’s been at Week Three and Four’s runs, and both times it rained. HMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM.

Anyway, it went really well; our group ended up splitting in half a bit towards the end, but that actually seemed to work pretty well for everyone. The half I was in actually finished a little faster than we were supposed to. This is the third week in a row where we’ve finished a little fast; those of us that are finishing fast think it’s because we’re all shedding pounds (some more than others!) and getting much more in shape, since we’d never run a bit in our lives. Three of us decided to shift up a pace group or two and try out the 15:30-a-mile pace group next time.

Well, the other two will be; I’m going to be in Denver. I e-mailed Julie’s sister Susan (who lives in Denver) to see if she’d like to run four miles with me that Saturday. With the higher altitude, I don’t want to do the scheduled eight miles, but I like the idea of running four with someone else. (I don’t think I’d do it by myself; I don’t really enjoy my solo runs as much.) Hopefully she won’t be off visiting her husband-to-be, but we shall see!

If I do run, expect the journal entry a little late! If not, well, it is a vacation… and don’t expect one in that case!

Week Seven — June 16th, 2001

My apologies for the lack of a journal last week—there just wasn’t really anything to say, due to my trip! Huge thanks this week go out to Dotsy and Vince Gigliotti, Jim and Dolores McElhatton, Kris Dresen, Eva Palmerton, Monica and Jim McGrath, Dan McElhatton and Rosemary LeCompte, Albert and Cosima Mauro, Lawrence Watt-Evans, Joe Mauro, and Top Shelf Productions. Just because there’s a lot of you this week (can you tell I just got an update list from the AIDS Marathon office?) doesn’t mean I think any less of all of you. Thank you so much for your generous donations, all of you!

Last week, I ran Monday and Wednesday at a 2:2 run:walk ratio to see how that would work out. On Wednesday, by the end I felt a lot of soreness in my shins, which I was less than pleased about. It was at that point that my decision not to run while in Denver was finalized; Susan was going to not be in the area, so I wouldn’t have a running partner, but more importantly I decided that running at high altitude and being sore and by myself was all a bit too much.

So, I ended up having an entire week off of running. This was a good thing, really; my shins were sore for several days afterwards, and I found myself really worried that I’d gotten shin splints. (Ugh.) I was a little worried about taking a week off, especially since the only exercise I really got was a lot of walking on Saturday in Denver. (It should count for double after we had to wander the streets of Denver aimlessly for three hours while the riots were going on. A hint for Denver: shutting off the public transportation just makes the situation worse, not better, because no one can leave. Yeesh.) When I went out for a run this week on Thursday morning, though, I felt really great. I did it at a 1:2 run:walk ratio because of my week off, and at the end I felt energized for this weekend’s run.

Since I’d missed last week’s 8-mile run, I decided to definitely stay in my old pace group for the 10-mile run. This worked out pretty well; Wendy and Pam and Pat and I chatted a bunch the whole way through, and that made a big difference in surviving the three mile jump in distance. Unfortunately, this run ended up a bit of tragedy…

Because it looked like rain, I snagged my favorite hat (a blue hat with the word "Hawaii" stitched into the front); it’s one of the only hats that’s ever seemed to fit right, and I got it on my trip to Hawaii when we were going to go on the volcano tour. Sure enough, about a mile in it started to rain, so I unclipped my hat from my water belt and put it on. Within a couple of miles, though, the rain stopped, so I took the soaking wet hat back off and put it onto the belt once more. (It’s mostly to keep the rain off my glasses.) Well, about two miles later we stopped for a bathroom break, and I took off my belt in the process, putting it back on as we left. It wasn’t until another mile later that it suddenly hit me that my hat was gone.

I thought I’d accidentally left it in the bathroom—I had a sudden clear mental image of putting the belt back on and the hat not being attached. So after we were done running (with the returning rain clinging to my glasses, making sight a real problem at times), Julie and I drove over to where the bathrooms were and checked. Nope. No hat. We walked for almost half a mile down the trail to see if it was lying along the side, but we never saw it. I’m really hoping someone in another pace group picked it up and then absent-mindedly took it home. I’ve been told that I should get a CoolMax hat, so now I have an incentive, I suppose, but I really loved that hat. Argh. Losing a hat and being utterly drenched is not the way I want to end my 10-mile run.

Oh well. If that’s the most tragedy that will happen from running, I think I’ll survive. Next week is a 12-mile run, and I’m thinking I might give the 2:2 pace group a shot. We’ll see!

Week Eight — June 23rd, 2001

It’s hard to believe that it’s now been two months since this all began! (Well, eight weeks, anyway.) Before I go any further, my sincerest thanks have to go to West and Jim Flanagan, Jane Stanga, Dick Pierce, Lori Yacobi, Anne Elliott, James S. Harris, Esther Friesner, Robert Weinberg, Dean Haspiel… and my parents, John and Tina McElhatton. Thank you all for both having faith in me, and for helping out for a very important cause!

My HatBut before we proceed any further, it’s time for a moment of silence for my hat. Listed as being Missing In Action last week, I’m afraid we’ve had to upgrade it to Missing Presumed Dead. It was a good hat, first teaming up with me back in January 1999 on the islands of Oahu and the "Big Island" in the state of Hawaii. It almost got passed by in favor of a "Hawaii Rainbows" hat because that hat was white (my beloved hat was a dark blue) and wouldn’t get so hot, but in the end, the plain old "Hawaii" hat won out. It served me well, and will be dearly missed.

On Thursday, hearing that there might be rain (yet again) on Saturday, Julie and I headed over to Galyan’s. I’d checked out Sports Authority earlier in the week, and once again they failed to come through to me. (I’d gone there looking for CoolMax shirts very early on and they had none. How pathetic is that? I’d ended up ordering them from Road Runner Sports and that worked out pretty well.) There, I did indeed find a hat which was lined with CoolMax and had vents and fit. Hurrah! Oh, and I also bought a bright red DriFit shirt, two pairs of DriFit compression shorts, and a pair of running shorts. Can’t… stop… buying…

In terms of running, this has been a pretty rough week. After feeling much better last Saturday, heading out Monday morning brought back the stiffness in my shins almost immediately. Uh oh. So much, in fact, that when I woke up on Wednesday for that run I didn’t even bother getting out of bed, making the decision to swap Wednesday’s scheduled run with Thursday’s scheduled crosstraining at the gym. Thursday’s run went so-so; I could still feel some real stiffness there, which I wasn’t happy about.

So on Friday, I made a decision—I was going to run on Saturday morning, but then for the next two weeks I wasn’t going to do my Monday or Wednesday runs. I never seem to have a problem on the group runs, and since next week is just a 6-mile run that shouldn’t be too bad. ("Just a 6-mile run." I can’t believe I just thought that.) Instead I’d do crosstraining on those days as well (which shouldn’t do anything bad to my shins) and let them recover. (If this is me getting shin splints, then crosstraining is still a good thing; everything I read about shin splints online said to keep doing it.) Following the recommendations I found online, I iced my shins on Friday (using frozen bags of peas which worked much better than any ice pack would) and took some ibuprofen. It seemed to help a bit, and by the time I was ready for bed on Friday I felt good about both running on Saturday (with the solemn promise to myself that if they started hurting at all on Saturday to stop running immediately) and also with taking two weeks off of running the solo runs. (The fact that I hate solo runs has nothing to do with this, really.) The good thing is I’m 99% sure it’s not stress fractures, based on everything I read about them online; none of those tell-tale signs have happened.

I was a little nervous on Saturday morning, but it turned out to have been for nothing. It didn’t rain (although it kept threatening to!), and I felt really good out there. Pam and I ended up almost utterly losing our group, though! Around the 3-mile marker, one of group members was really lagging behind, so our "designated driver" got to perform her duty (it’s a rotating position) and hang back with her. Then around the 8-mile marker, the same thing happened, so Ruth hung back that time. So, Pam and I suddenly found ourselves on our own! Fortunately, we still found a lot to talk about. (I’m sure the wildlife was thinking, "Don’t they ever shut up?") Once nice thing was that around the 10-mile marker, Martha (who was in our group the first week or two but since moved up) joined up for the last leg of the journey, so that was fun.

When it was all over, Pam and I decided that for the sake of our group and ourselves, next week we were both going to step up one group and probably form our own "Rosa Mota" group. (Each pace group is named after a famous runner.) There’s no one in the Rosa Mota group right now, which runs a 2:3 pace. We figure since it’s just 6-miles, we can give it a whirl safely. Wendy (who wasn’t here this week) had been talking about wanting to do that pace anyway, so we’re hoping she shows up next week and joins us! I feel really good about this—I think I can do the 2:3 pace, and this way it’s a nice step up instead of bounding ahead two groups. Plus, with my shins, jumping into the 2:2 group might be a bit much!

So, with all of that over, it’s time to rest my shins. I certainly don’t want to hurt myself badly and not be able to do the marathon! I suspect I got this from not stretching my achilles tendon well enough, but I found some additional exercises that should help out a lot keep them limber and this from happening again. Plus, of course, them not getting a pounding for two weeks straight should help a lot. I still can’t believe I’m thinking, "Just a 6-mile run next week! How wonderful!" I guess they’ll make a runner out of me yet.

Week Nine — June 30th, 2001

Nine weeks! Good lord, that’s hard to believe. Even harder to believe was that all week all I could think was, "It’s only 6 miles this Saturday! That’s a short run." Am I insane? (Madelyn assures me that no, I’m not insane yet. When we all show up at 6:00am next Saturday, then we’re insane. You know, she’s got a very good point there.) Special thanks this week go to Shannon Patrick Sullivan, Fi Craig and IBGames, Catherine Asaro (whom I keep forgetting to thank—don’t think I’m not thankful, because I am, I really am!), Christopher Elliott, Marty Baumann, and Vince Laviano. All of your help will make other people’s lives a lot better.

As I noted in last week’s journal, I was going to take this week and next week off from my solo runs and just do cross-training. Well, I stuck to my word, and then some; looking at this week’s progress, it’s the first time where I’ve actually done training all five days! (Sunday through Thursday; Friday is the official day of rest for Saturday pace groups.) I have now seen more bad music videos and television shows at my gym than anyone should. I fear for people who watch half of the garbage I ended up seeing! Next week I’m going to have to remember to bring a magazine.

After all of that, I hope my shins are healing. I also took some ibuprofen for the first couple of days, but on Wednesday decided to brake out the Vioxx I’d gotten when I hurt my knee back in February. It’s sort of like a super anti-inflammatory pill; it was what finally brought my knee back under control way back then. So, I took 50mg through today, and will take 25mg for a couple of days next week and see how that goes. I also got some compression wraps that you put on your calves if you’ve got shin splints and are going to run; that way you don’t do any damage because it sort of keeps everything in place. I’ll give those a whirl next Saturday.

This Saturday, Pam and I gave a "Rosa Mota" pace a try. (All the pace groups are named after famous runners.) It’s the pace in-between where we are and where Julie and John and Emily and Madelyn are, so we thought it would be a neat experiment. We did pretty good for the majority of the run; the extra minute for both running and walking didn’t seem too bad at first. Then, around the 4.5 mile point, we suddenly exited the shade… and just about collapsed. Heat. Lots of heat. Beating down onto our faces. Ugh. We ended up taking it a little slower here and there, stopping to walk 10 seconds early on occasion. Between that and a bathroom break at the 4 mile marker, our last two miles weren’t nearly so hot. (Or is that too hot?) Oh, and to top it off, I forgot to use BodyGlide or NipGuards or anything on my chest. This could be really ugly tomorrow. (Chafing. Ow.)

So, I’m not sure what group I’ll do next week. I have a feeling I may end up doing the run with my old pace group, because the Rosa Mota group was really just me and Pam. It would be great to step up another group and run with all my buddies in the Emil Zatopek group, but I think that’s going to be too soon, especially since next Saturday is 14 miles! (That’s over half a marathon. I can’t believe it.) The important thing that I keep reminding myself is the goal of finishing. I really want to be able to complete the Marine Corps Marathon, but we’ll see how my progress is going. I’d rather finish the Baltimore Marathon than get picked up by the slowpoke bus for the Marine Corps Marathon. (That would stink.) So, the goal is to finish, whatever speed that takes! That’s a pretty admirable goal for this non-runner in my book.

Week Ten — July 7th, 2001

Well, all in all, this is a pretty short week to report on! This was the second week of letting my shin splints heal, which meant no running during the week. Unlike last week, though, I got almost no crosstraining in. My older sister Melissa and her boyfriend Sam flew in from San Francisco early on in the week, so I ended up spending most evenings visiting with them instead.

The good news is that after tapering off of the Vioxx this week, I didn’t take any on Thursday or Friday and felt pretty good. A little sore, but it didn’t hurt anywhere nearly as badly as before. So, the rest seems to have done some good. I also bought some compression wraps for my shins, so I promised myself to wear them on Saturday to help minimize any further damage down the road.

So, at 6:00am (ugh!) there I was, bright and early, standing with the five other members of my pace group (Pam is on vacation for two weeks, and Wendy is still MIA—where are you Wendy? We miss you!) and ready to start the 14-mile run. (Just over half a marathon! I still can’t believe it.) We started off pretty well, but around mile 3 or so we lost Ann, so Mirta hung back as our "designated driver" to stay with her. (We later found out that Ann’s knees started bothering her, so she called it quits at mile 8, which is where our path circled back to the start/finish line.)

The rest of us, though, did pretty good! We were all surprised at how well it was going, and everyone seemed unusually chipper and bubbly. A good thing when you all need to pull together for the 14-mile run! This week’s exciting taste test was GU, a sports gel. So far, the Tri-Berry flavor is definitely better than the Orange Burst, but there are four more horrific flavors to still try…

Towards the end, everyone started slowing down, though. Ruth and Barbara ended up slowing down a bit around mile 11, so Giovanna and I ended up with just each other for the last three miles. We were doing good until mile 12, at which point one of the site helpers stopped us to talk to us. This was a horrible mistake—afterwards, neither of us could barely move after stopping for almost two minutes. (Next time I think we’re just running away from you, Ray!) Giovanna’s daughter Heather (who’s in a faster group) ran back for the last mile and kept spurring us on, though, which was a wonderful burst of inspiration.

The next group up from us (the "Emil Zatopek" group) was having some real problems as well this time, unfortunately. They’re the last group out of the gate, and we kept wondering why they hadn’t passed us for the last couple of miles. We finally saw Madelyn and John off in the distance and kept shouting things like, "Oh no, they’re going to catch us! Run!" to give them a little inspiration. Turns out that half of their group had hurt themselves as well! Poor Julie’s knee went out, so I ended up driving her home (Julie has a stick shift).

As for me, I feel pretty good! My shins aren’t hurting, but the real test will be how they hold up tomorrow. Cross your fingers for me! I’m thinking that the rest and then the compression wraps did the trick. (Hopefully I’ll have some more pictures for you soon! Several cameras were snapping like wild this week…) Me, I’m looking forward to next week being only 7 miles. It’ll be nice to have a short run.

Week Eleven — July 14th, 2001

Eleven weeks! I find it hard to believe myself, but here I am, still alive and moving. (Well, mostly.) Huge thanks this week go to Trina Short, Keith Stokes, and Todd VerBeek; you guys are my latest running-partners-in-spirit… and more importantly, helping others in need.

This week was the first one that I did a solo morning run, after taking off weeks Nine and Ten to let my shin splints heal. I was going to run on Monday morning, but my left ankle was still hurting from Saturday’s run (and then abusing it by walking all through Georgetown and back, ugh) so I decided to skip it. I did, however, go out running on Monday, complete with my shin compression wraps (to keep from getting shin splints again) on and everything… and I still felt stiff and sore and generally pretty horrible. It was really depressing by the time I was done—I wanted to scream, "How can I run 14 miles with virtually no problems, but can’t handle 2 miles on my own?"

So, next week I am going to try an experiment. When I run with the group on Saturdays, I’ve been up for two hours before I start running. And when I go to the gym, I’ve been up all day. So instead of being up for just one hour before my solo runs, I’m going to get up (ugh) two hours early and see if that does the trick. Otherwise, well, Julie might be finding me showing up at her doorstep twice a week to go running with her and her dog Simon!

This Saturday’s run went… not as well as I was hoping. I joined the "Emil Zatopek" group this week, which runs at a 15:30-minute-mile pace (run 2 minutes, walk 2 minutes). My old group was a 16:30 pace, so this was a big jump for me. I figured if there was a time to do the jump, though, it would be on this week’s "short" 7-mile run. Julie wisely decided not to run this week; her knee is still sore, so instead she was one of our water volunteers. She wasn’t the only one missing this week, though; a lot of people weren’t there! (Giovanna, John, Martha, Kimberly, Madelyn, Pam, and everyone else… we missed you!) We decided that everyone must be scheduling their vacations for "short" run weeks.

Anyway, we took off… literally! Our group was running a little fast, clocking in most miles at 15:00 instead of 15:30, which I was not really that happy with. Still, I was keeping up fine until around the end of mile 4. I’d run a couple of feet off the trail to throw away my gel wrapper (GU’s Banana Blast tastes like and has the consistency of an overripe banana) when all of the sudden I stepped into a ditch and went flying. We’re not talking a little stumble, here; I hit the ground and rolled, hard. (True confession time: I saw the ditch, I even thought, "I better not stumble when I go through that." And what did I do? It’s amazing I can tie my own shoes.)

I think it was the not-so-nice word that I screamed as I did that which made my group stop dead in their tracks (darn it, I was going to make them stop one way or another!), and everyone was very attentive and nice. After a couple of seconds, my ankle seemed fine, so I kept going. I ended up lagging behind a little bit, but not more than about 10 feet at any moment. (And our designated driver did a great job of sticking with me but not pushing me too hard.) I actually stumbled again a little later, but thankfully didn’t fall, and the rest of the run was without incident, if a little exhausting. (Guys, 15:30, please!) Boy, will I sleep well tonight. (My right ankle, the one I hurt, seems fine now. Now my left ankle, the one that was sore after last week’s run, is now sore again. Make up your mind, ankles.)

We have to decide in the next week or two which marathon we’re running. In addition to the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington DC, we can choose to instead run the very first Baltimore Marathon the weekend before. (There was also the option of the Dublin Marathon, but you had to decide that months ago.) The big difference between the two is that the Baltimore Marathon is an 8-hour marathon, giving us slower runners plenty of time (and then some) to finish the race! The Marine Corps Marathon, on the other hand, opens the 14th Street Bridge at mile 22.5 back up pretty quickly, so you have to run no slower than a continuous 15-minute mile the entire race, or the "slowpoke bus" comes and picks you up and you don’t get to finish the race. Period.

Now don’t get me wrong—I really, really, really want to be able to run the Marine Corps Marathon. The idea of running my first marathon through DC by all the monuments is a great one. But I have a feeling that I, along with most other people in my running groups, am not going to be able to complete the Marine Corps Marathon before the slowpoke bus comes around and ends it for us. That would be a really horrible way to end my first marathon. So, I’m going to think it over carefully, but I suspect that when I send my form in, it will be for Baltimore. On the bright side, the Baltimore Marathon goes through some really nice spots like the Inner Harbor, and Fells Point, so that will be nice. And hey, I get to say I ran in the inaugural Baltimore Marathon! That’s pretty cool. (And all my friends and family in the area better still come up to see me run it!)

Oh, last but not least, I won’t be sending out an update next week—I’ll be in San Diego for Comic Con International. (Unfortunately, that means I’ll be missing the 16-mile run, so I’ll be talking with Coach Jen for advice on what to do for the 18-miler. Hopefully someone else will have missed it to so we can both do a 17-miler that day or something!) See you in two weeks!

Week Thirteen — July 28th, 2001

Ooh, lucky thirteen! After missing last week because of being in San Diego (which was wonderful, and I think I actually walked those 16 miles I missed last Saturday!), someone who is always worrying and making a drama out of nothing might be concerned. Fortunately, that’s not me, right?

Huge thanks this week go to Kathy Wentworth and Felicity Kusinitz who have joined me on this very long journey! It really means a lot to me to have friends helping others in my name. (Well, you know what I mean.)

I actually ended up not doing any running last week before going to San Diego; I was a little sore after falling in the ditch during the group run, and decided that the last thing I wanted to make my still-slightly-sore ankle any worse. That, and I was able to justify it by telling myself that I would be doing tons of walking in San Diego. So naturally, one of the first things I saw there was Seaport Village, where all the beautiful people go to jog. I’m sure all the members of my pace group are thrilled to know that I felt lots of guilt for not running. (But not so much guilt that I did, mind you.)

My flight back this past Monday got in far, far later than it was supposed to, and I didn’t actually get home until 3am. This meant there was no way I was getting up early to run on Tuesday like I’d been contemplating. So, in the end, I just ran on Wednesday. I got up a little earlier than my normal wake-up time, and that seems to have done the trick. No sore shins, and I think it was one of the best solo-runs I’ve ever done. (I even did it all at my new pace and felt great afterwards.) This is, needless to say, a big relief! Well, except for the thought of getting up at 5am on Mondays and Wednesdays from now on.

This Saturday was an 8-mile "maintenance" run. Our group never seemed to really gel this week; one mile we’re going too fast, the next too slow, and so on. It started out a little rough for me on a personal level; I felt sick to my stomach and was not happy at all. I spent most of the first two miles thinking that I could always stop at the 4-mile point (our course today was two miles out and then back in one direction, then the same in the other direction), but around the third mile I started feeling much better. By the end of the run, I was ready to keep going! Ultimately, I think it was actually one of my better runs, and unlike the 7-miler, I didn’t feel towards the end that the faster pace (an extra minute of running) was any problem. (Two weeks ago I was counting the seconds towards the end.)

Next week schedule is for an 18-miler, but we’ll see what happens. I talked with Coach Jen today about having missed the 16-miler, and said that maybe I’d just run 17 of the miles and walk the last one in. She said that was a good plan, and to listen to what my body was saying and not to push too hard. I’d like to be able to run all 18, but my goal is to just make it to mile 17. I know miles 14-17 will be tough (new distance is always hard!), so making it through those is victory enough for me! Mile 18 will just be frosting on the cake.

Oh, last but not least, I made the right decision and signed up for the Baltimore Marathon. I don’t want to run the risk of not being able to finish my first marathon, which is what could happen if I stuck with the Marine Corps Marathon. So that’s a bit of a bummer, but fortunately Julie, Emily, Pam, and a bunch of others from the East Falls Church run site are also going to run Baltimore, so that’ll be a lot of fun. And hey, this way I get to head into DC the following weekend and cheer on everyone else at the Marine Corps Marathon! Sounds like a win-win situation to me!

Week Fourteen — August 4th, 2001

I’d have to say that this was a very good week. I got up at my new, super-early time of 5am this Monday and Wednesday and didn’t have any real problems. (I ran a little too fast on Wednesday and could feel it on the way back home, but it wasn’t anything too serious.) All week long, though, the dreaded 18-miler was looming. That’s two-thirds of a marathon, which is pretty darn huge on its own! Add in that I missed the 16-miler two weeks ago, and that means that I was jumping from 14 to 18 miles, and having not done a long run in four weeks. That’s a big jump! (I managed a 3 mile jump (7 miles, then 10 two weeks later) but that was a little tough even then.) I talked with Coach Jen about it the week before and she said to aim for 17 miles, but to listen to what my body was saying. (Having my big runs going 14-17-20 sounded doable.)

This Saturday, we were missing Madelyn, our pace-group leader, so I found myself stepping to the front to take on that job. I found myself wondering, "Is this such a smart thing? What if you have to walk in the last mile?" Oh well, I’d worry about that later. We had a couple of new faces join us, including Pam and Giovanna from my old pace group. By the time we took off, we had 15 people in our group, which is pretty huge. They asked if we wanted to split the group up, but we had a feeling that it would happen on its own before too long.

How right we were.

Everything was going pretty good at first, although we quickly lost two others from my old pace group. I had been a little worried about them keeping up (the idea of doing a long run and jumping up to a faster pace group is very daunting to me), but they stuck together, which worked out pretty well. A few miles in, six of the ladies in our group decided to make a detour to the bathroom, so we promised to keep an eye out for them. Well, three of them caught up about a mile later, but Giovanna, Pam, and Julie were all still MIA. We made it to the first turn-around point (6.5 miles in and all the way to the Vienna Community Center; I grew up in Vienna, so this was very exciting for me!) and started heading back the way we came, and saw Giovanna with the other two we’d lost early on, so we were glad to see her.

It wasn’t until around 9 miles in that we finally found Julie; Pam had hurt her shin but wanted to keep going at first. When it started hurting more (at the 5.5 mile mark), Julie and Pam turned around so Julie could walk Pam back to where the water stop is. Julie had just dropped Pam off and started heading back to us when we found her. At mile 13 (which is our starting point), we lost two more members; one simply couldn’t go on any further, and the other was behind in training because of an injury and that was her ending point for the day. Meanwhile, Ralph had taken off ahead of us and joined one group ahead.

So, 13 miles in, we were indeed down to just 8 people instead of our initial 15. Talk about attrition! Fortunately, we didn’t really lose anyone else. (Tracy towards the end ended up about 500 feet ahead of us but we could see her still trucking onwards.) I was doing really well until mile 16.5, which was brand-new territory for me. I’d been a little tired for the last couple of miles, but I suspect a lot of that had to do with not being able to fall asleep until after midnight and having my alarm go off at 4am. Suddenly, I was exhausted. The only thing that kept me going is that while I was utterly beat, nothing really hurt. I went a tiny bit slower for the end stretch and both John and I walked up a hill that the rest of the group ran up, but I not only hit my goal, I surpassed it, finishing off all 18 miles.

(Julie, in a fit of dedication, turned around 17 miles in and ran back for half a mile; since she’d missed two miles for turning around early, she decided that she’d make up one of them there. I don’t think I would have been so tough to make myself turn around with only one mile left!)

(If I do this program next year, I’m sure this will all be very old hat and these updates will be much shorter! Really! Revel in my enthusiasm!)

So that was my 18-mile run! I’m still a little tired (oh, what a great nap I will have this afternoon! I’ll probably not wake up until tomorrow!) but I’m really proud of myself. 18 miles. Wow.

Week Fifteen — August 11th, 2001

If I had to sum up this week in one word, it’s hot. Like so much of the country, Washington DC has been boiling all week. Ugh. It was so hot that I didn’t even bother to run my Monday morning run (plus I was still recovering from the 18-miler last week!), and doing the run on Wednesday, even at 7am before it got too hot, was still a bear. Bleah.

Fortunately, it cooled down a little bit Friday afternoon, courtesy a cold front and a big thunderstorm. The storm let up right around 6:30, which was good timing for me. My former pace group was in charge of bringing this week’s food, and since said pace group is virtually nonexistent these days, Julie and Pam and I decided that we’d step up to the plate (all being ex-members of this group) and take care of the food. I was in charge of the bagels, so I’d called a Chesapeake Bagel Bakery and asked if we could have their leftovers donated. They said sure, come by right before we close at 7:00. So I showed up, thinking I’d get 80 or 90 bagels or so. Wrong. I guess the storm kept people away (I really hope they aren’t normally this wasteful!) because we got, easily, 400 bagels. Maybe more. My entire trunk and back seat were full. (And naturally, it was just a short run this week when you aren’t in as much need of fuel afterwards! *sigh*)

The run itself went really well for me. We decided to go at our "very hot" run pace, which meant adding on an extra minute of walk time into our cycles. Despite the heat, though, I felt pretty good and could have kept on going. Some other group members were lagging a bit, but we only lost one person (who was still aching) this week, who dropped out halfway through. Poor Pam, who’d gone back to our old pace group after last week’s injury, also had to stop early because it started hurting again. I’m glad she turned around and stopped, though, rather than keep running on it. Hopefully she’ll be up and fully recovered next week! (Not around this week were John (off on vacation) and Emily (nursing a sore ankle). We missed you both!)

And, as an added bonus, most of the bagels are gone! I convinced people to take some of them, and I’ve only got left three gigantic translucent trash bags full. I’m going to call around to some different homeless shelters shortly and see if anyone will take them!

Next week is both our 20-mile run… and my high school reunion that night. Boy, am I going to have fun answering people’s questions of, "So what have you been doing recently?"

Week Sixteen — August 18th, 2001

Sixteen weeks in and still going strong! Hard to believe, I know! Huge thanks this week go to Andrew McCaffrey, Janet Hamel, Steve Lieber and Sara Ryan, Jon Blum and Kate Orman, Karon Flage, Johanna Draper Carlson, and Matt Smylie. Your help will go a long way to help others!

This week was pretty quiet; about the most running related-stuff I did this week was dropping off all those bagels at Martha’s Table downtown later on Saturday. (They’re a place for homeless and disadvantaged people to get food.) A combination of feeling sore and not sleeping well the nights before my planned solo runs ended up with me just not getting much exercise in, unfortunately.

This Saturday was the dreaded 20-mile run. Julie had read all about how it’s where a lot of runners hit the wall and continually worried about it all week. I wasn’t really that worried during the week—if I made it from 14 to 18 miles with no problem, just adding on that tiny bit more should be nothing, right? It wasn’t until I got to the run site Saturday morning (the last of the 6:00am start times!) and discovered that everyone was worrying did it start to get to me.

We were given a new revised pace for this week—Coach Jen explained that for a distance this long, the first time out of the gate it would be better to just get the distance under our belts and not worry about speed. That way we’d be able to complete the distance and not hurt ourselves. So instead of our normal 2:2 run:walk ratio, we were supposed to stick to just a 1:2 run:walk ratio. We were also instructed to just walk for the first five minutes to make sure we were limbered up a bit.

As soon as we got out of site from our starting point, five people in our group (we were at a huge total of 13) said that they were going to split off and run a 2:3 pace instead (which is was our revised "long run on a scorching hot day" pace for the 16 and 18-mile runs). The next thing we knew, eight of them were leaving, with just me, Madelyn, Julie, Emily, and Pam running the recommended pace.

I think this was a good decision for us to not go faster; after all, the AIDS Marathon Training Program office do this as their jobs, they probably know what they’re doing. Add in that Pam and Madelyn had never gone farther than 14 miles, Emily’s ankle was still a little sore, and Julie only had 17 miles under her belt and it was definitely the right way to go.

We did pretty good, overall. Our course took us back our starting point 14 miles in, and we’d stuck together all up until then. Pam was feeling a little sore at that point, so she and Emily decided they were just going to walk a bit more and see if they could work out their kinks. (Pam ended up stopping after the very respectable amount of 16 miles, and Emily turned around there and ended up with 18 miles.) We also picked up Martha at this point, who I used to run with but is now in one pace group faster than us. She’d been having some soreness issues (and also only had 14 miles under her belt), so she dropped back to run with us.

16 miles in, Madelyn decided that just making it to 18 miles would be enough of a victory for her, and that she’d never make it to 20, so she turned around at that point (she ran into Emily shortly after and the two walked back together). The remaining three of us made it all the way to mile 18, where Martha was also ready to stop, so one of our water volunteers drove her back. Since both of them jumped from 14 to 18 miles, that’s outstanding (and really difficult—I did that two weeks ago) and I think they were smart to stop where they did.

I’m very happy to say, though, that Julie and I did finish the 20 miles! We were the last to come in (along with Barbara, who was in a different group and always about 200 feet in front of us for almost the entire run) but we were happy that we finished the distance. (Soon after hitting the 14-mile turn around we saw three people from the 2:3 group (that broke off of us at the start of the run) all heading back to home base, so clearly the 2:3 pace was a bit much for a combination of the distance and the pounding heat this morning.)

And now I get to head off to an engagement party and then my high school reunion. I figure if I’m still awake at the end of the latter I’ll be doing pretty good! I’ve vowed to get back into my solo runs and crosstraining next week. Next week is something blessedly short in comparison (I think 10 miles, but I am too tired to get up and check). Oh, does that sound nice.

Week Seventeen — August 25th, 2001

Another week, another set of running! Special thanks this week go to Steve and Britt Conley, Sharon Fisher, John Cannon, and Ab Mauro. Your donation will help a lot of people’s lives be a little easier. Thank you so much!

After last week’s 20 mile run, it was nice to know that we only had a 10-miler on the horizon. In an effort to spice things up on my two solo runs during the week (and since I was dogsitting for my vacationing parents), I ran them on their treadmill instead of outside. It was interesting; certainly nice to be able to watch the news and such while running, which means that you aren’t thinking, "Isn’t it time for my walk break?" In some ways it’s a little easier, and while I don’t think I’d want to do this all the time (if nothing else it doesn’t prepare you for the real deal), it’s nice to have it as an option in case of bad weather.

This Saturday was the first time in a while that we’ve actually run our prescribed pace of a 15:30-mile. (Run two minutes, walk two minutes.) We had some really hot Saturdays where they added on a minute to our time, and for the 20-miler they added two minutes onto our time to keep us from burning out. I think that’s why towards the end of the run I was feeling so beat—it had been a month since I’d run farther than two miles at that speed!

But, it went well, and I find myself relieved to know that next Saturday will also be a 10-mile "recovery" run like this week. And then, of course, comes the 23-mile extravaganza… Oh my.

Week Eighteen — September 1st, 2001

As I started writing up this week’s journal, it suddenly hit me. This is week eighteen. There are only six more practice runs before the Baltimore Marathon. I started this program the first week of May, and here I am at the first day of September with 194 miles under my belt. Wow. I suspect a lot of people thought I would have quit by now. To be fair, I had my doubts early on. I don’t think I could have done this without all the tremendous support I’ve received—not only from my friends and family and everyone who’s been kind and generous enough to donate, but also with the people in my pace group. When that alarm goes off at 5:00am (and sometimes earlier!), they’re one of my sources of inspiration to get moving. I don’t want to let them down.

Julie and I have been talking about taking part in the new Washington DC Marathon at the end of March (two days before my birthday); this will mean starting training back up in December. I really hope some other people in my pace group are interested in the idea, because as great as it is to go running with Julie on Saturdays, it would be even more exciting if some others like Emily and Pam and John and company were interested as well…

This week was the first time in a while I did some solo runs in my neighborhood. They went pretty well; Tuesday morning had the nicest weather I’d ever run in. The route I take was absolutely packed with runners, so I guess everyone else agreed with me! Thursday morning was muggy and overcast and I saw a grand total of two other people out there running (plus that guy on his bike that laps me approximately 700 times in just over half an hour). The contrast between the two days was really funny.

This Saturday was a beautiful morning. We were missing a couple of people (Emily and her husband are off on a camping trip, and I think John might be on vacation as well) but we had a visitor from the AIDS Marathon Los Angeles program! Teri was on the East Coast for business and had come down to DC to visit her brother, so she called up the office and got directions to our running site. She was a lot of fun to have around—come back any time, Teri!

The run itself went pretty good. Madelyn’s knee was acting up so she decided to take it easy and dropped out after four miles. Likewise, Pam’s knees were not doing so good after having to crawl around and lay cable all day Friday at work, so Julie hung back with her at the seven mile marker and they went a little slower for the last three miles. But other than that, it was a good run. One person in our group started complaining that we weren’t on pace when (we were—she hadn’t factored in the two bathroom breaks) and refused to listen otherwise, which was a little frustrating. I think she was worried about finishing the Marine Corps Marathon before the slowpoke bus comes around. Our group functions really well when everyone’s cooperating (and we do have a good group) so it was a real surprise that she started snapping at us. Oh well. Everyone has a bad day now and then, right?

If you’re in the DC area next weekend and want to help out, we will need a lot of water volunteers for our 23-mile run! Sure, you need to be at the running site in Falls Church by 6:50am, but trust me, it’s fun and it’s also for a good cause. In fact, to show you all just how much fun it is, Julie and Pam and I are going to water volunteer tomorrow at the Georgetown running site! Send me an e-mail if you’re interested!

Week Nineteen — September 8th, 2001

It’s hard to believe we’re in the home stretch here, already. Only six weeks until the Baltimore Marathon! Yikes! Before I forget, though, special thanks go out to David Frankel and Jackie Henderson, who are my two latest sponsors. You can consider yourselves two more people along for a very long ride leading up to this October!

I was very bad this week and totally slacked off on my solo runs. It was one of those situations where real other commitments happened at first, and once I got sidetracked, that was it. Bad Greg. (Julie and I did, however, water volunteer last Sunday at the Georgetown site, which was a lot of fun to see how they do things over there. I don’t think I’d be so crazy about running on the gravel tow-path next to the canal for such long distances, but it’s certainly a change from the W&OD trail that we practice on.)

We all received an e-mail earlier in the week from our Program Rep, Yael, letting us know that as with the 20-mile run, we were going to add on an additional two minutes per mile for the 23-mile run on Saturday. The goal isn’t speed on these long practice runs, it’s just to get our bodies ready for being out there for such a long period of time. The last thing we want now is to get injured or so worn out that we can’t do the marathon, after all! (Chad assured me that the day of the marathon, you’ll actually be going faster than normal because of adrenaline and to not worry about it.)

Unlike the 20-miler, almost all of our group decided to do the revised pace (two members shifted up to faster groups). This was really nice, since we ended up with a group of twelve people, which gives a little more variety, and it’s nice to be with everyone. Our path led us all the way through Vienna today, which was a little exciting. Even nicer, my friend Laura from work (who lives in Vienna) came out to the trail and cheered us on (and ran with us for a minute). It really lifted my spirits, especially since we were only 6.5 miles into a 23 mile trek!

We were heading back when our group unfortunately started to fragment. Poor Pam was feeling some pain, so she, Jeanie, and Giovanna dropped back to walk the rest of the way in. (I hope you’re doing all doing well!) At the same time, our group started to stretch apart a bit, with John and Emily in the front, me and Julie in the middle (we kept bouncing back and forth), and Madelyn, Joanie, Pat, Toni, and Barbara in the back. It took us almost two miles to pull ourselves back together, but I was glad we did so. Then, around the 14 mile mark, one of the water stations also had some candy, and I grabbed a couple of Swedish Fish (or whatever those gummy things were) and chewed them. Some of the sports gels that we use during the runs are sweet, so I figured I wouldn’t have a problem with it.

Wrong. Within half a mile, I started feeling nauseated, and honestly thought I was going to have to stop or be violently sick for a couple of seconds. The worst feeling went away a minute later, but not by much. It was incredibly hot by this point, and I think the heat wasn’t helping matters. (The heat beat a lot of us down really badly. We could feel the difference.) In addition, I’d forgotten my shin wraps (to help prevent shin splints) so I was worried about that, and generally not feeling good. Joanie decided to stop at a gas station restroom, though, so Julie and I decided we’d walk until she had a chance to catch up with us. (There’s nothing worse than being all by yourself and having to run for ten minutes just to catch up with the rest of the group, who’s still trucking along at full speed.) I also decided to take a couple of ibuprofen to see if I could head off any chance of shin splints with the power of anti-inflammatories.

What a difference all of that made. Joanie soon caught up with us, and the three of us stuck together for the rest of the run. By the time we got back to our starting point (at the 17-mile mark), I was feeling a lot better, and a mile later I’d found my second wind. This was a good thing, because while Julie and Joanie were a tremendous inspiration for me to keep going back there, we got to reverse our roles. Now the one with energy, I kept cheering them on, and when they caught their second wind a couple of miles later, we were all doing great.

The three of us were proud to cross our finish line having completed all 23 miles. We were sad to see that Madelyn, Pat, and Toni had to turn around early, but they did so getting 21 miles under their belt, which is no small feat! John and Emily had forged on ahead and did wonderful, and Barbara kept trucking on through and finished only about five minutes behind us. As exhausted as I felt, there was at the same time a feeling of overwhelming joy. I hadn’t thought a couple of hours earlier that I could finish the 23-miler, but I had done it, in part thanks to my incredible teammates (especially Julie and Joanie).

So at this point, we’ve only got one long practice run left, which will be the 24-to-26 mile run (depending on what you’re up to), which we’ll also take at a much slower pace to prevent injury or extreme exhaustion for weeks afterwards. And then… the marathon! Wow.

Next week’s journal will be sent out a bit late, I suspect; a convention that I help run is next weekend, so while I’m planning on still running Saturday morning, I don’t think I’m going to have time to type up the new journal until a bit later. (I’ll be breaking in new shoes next week! Oh boy!)

We’re almost to the marathon! I can’t wait.

Week Twenty — September 15th, 2001

Here we are at week twenty! Huge thanks this week go to Melisa Michaels and Suzanne McElhatton, both of whom kindly donated money since our last update. Thanks so much, both of you!

Obviously this week was a little crazy. I didn’t do any of my solo runs (or crosstraining) as planned, unfortunately. On the bright side, with last week’s run being the big 23-miler, knowing that there was only an 8-miler on the horizon made it not so bad to have been slightly distracted and slacking off. In retrospect, I really should have gotten up early and run, since it would have done some good. Hindsight is always 20/20!

The temperature in the DC area dropped dramatically Friday morning, so instead of the baking heat that we had last weekend, our Saturday morning had us all shivering and huddling together. This is actually a good thing, because with the marathon being on October 20th, it’s not going to be very warm on the actual day! I wore my windbreaker that I bought for the rainy days, but took it off before we started to run; I knew it would just get in my way once I heated up. Once the sun came up over the horizon and we had a mile or two under our belts, I felt great.

Not only was this a short run, but it was also a small group this time. We only had six of us in the group; two people moved up to faster groups to prepare for Marine Corps (a bit too late for that, but oh well), John didn’t show up, and poor Pam has stress fractures in her feet and needs to stay off of them for a while. I think her plan is to just do crosstraining (which doesn’t impact her feet) to keep her endurance up, but to otherwise not run until the marathon itself and then just take it slow.

The run itself was a lot of fun. It was great to have such a "short" run after last week’s never-ending odyssey, and we all had a good time. Towards the end Emily and I ended up a little ahead of everyone else and never managed to pull back enough to get the others to catch up, so we spent the last two miles talking about foods we were having sudden cravings for. Emily wanted a big helping of vegetable lo mein, while all I could think about were hot Krispy Kreme doughnuts. So much, in fact, that I mentioned them to Julie and the next thing we knew, we were heading down Route 1 for two hot off the conveyer belt doughnuts. Mmmmmm. Pure heaven, and a reward well earned.

Next week is another "short" run, just 10 miles. (Sadly, both Julie and Emily will be out of town. The rest of my group is no doubt already cringing at the constant stream of chatter they will have to endure!) The Saturday after that, though (September 29th) is our last massively long run. If you’re in the Washington DC area, please consider being a water volunteer! We’re going to need lots of them, and Yael (our Program Representative) promises that it will be "Lots Of Fun!" so clearly you need to come on out. We’re almost there!

Week Twenty-One — September 22nd, 2001

Another week, another journal! This week, special thanks go to Kathy & Rick Reid and Jen Contino for being my latest sponsors. Your helping others is always appreciated and needed!

This week I found a new route for my Monday and Wednesday morning runs. I’ve been running the same route almost every week, and it’s getting boring. Add in that the entire second mile is uphill and I’ve been starting to dread it. (Hill training is good, don’t get me wrong, but I’d like a little flatness on occasion.) So, after thinking about it for a while, I came up with what I’m now calling my "parking lot" run. A good three-quarters of the run is through various parking lots; the one in my apartment building (which goes back quite a ways!), the library next door, and the office building next to the library. It eventually dumps me out into a residential neighborhood for about half a mile, but otherwise my main source of scenery is empty parking spaces.

New route or otherwise, it felt good to get out and start running again on weekdays, even if waking up three hours early is a little rough! I also managed to hit the gym twice this week for crosstraining, which made me feel very good about my getting back on to the wagon. By the time Saturday got here, I was more than ready for another short "recovery" run.

This week was just a 10-miler; I say "just" because next week’s is the 24-26 miler! It was a small group this time around, with just six of us. Julie and Emily were both out of town, and other people either had similar engagements or just decided to run on another day. Lisa stepped back to join us this week—she normally runs one group ahead of us, but some group members apparently decided that "recovery run" really meant "run faster than normal". We’ll take her any week, though, so it was nice to have her there. The weather itself was perfect; cloudy and cool, with some fog still lingering early on. The sun came out at the end and started to bake us, but we only had a mile to go, so that wasn’t even a real issue.

When I got home, I had a nice surprise—Julie called on her cell phone to let me know that she was actually out and running as well! (It’s a good thing she was on a walk break, or else I might have thought it was a prank phone call with someone panting into the receiver.) It just goes to show how much this has gotten ingrained into our brains to get out there and run!

Last but not least (but for the last time!), this is a reminder that next week is the last of our long runs. If you’d like to be a water volunteer, it’s a lot of fun! The downside is that you have to show up by 7:00am at our running site (just near the East Falls Church Metro stop), but the upside is that you get to help all of these marathoners by providing much-needed water. You don’t want us to all die of dehydration, do you? If you think you’re interested and can get there by 7:00am, let me know and I’ll send you directions on how to get there and all sorts of details. It’ll be fun, really!

Week Twenty-Two — September 29th, 2001

Well, this was it; the last of the long runs before the marathon itself. We were scheduled to run 26 miles this week (at our patented two-minutes-per-mile-slow pace for super long distances, since we don’t want to burn ourselves out!) but I already knew going into it that not all of our group would be hitting the full distance. For the 23-miler, only five of us were up to the full distance (me, Julie, Emily, John, and Joanie), while others had done anywhere from 17 to 21 miles that week. What this really meant was that I had to mentally psyche myself up in advance for the fact that our group would be getting whittled down. For all of these training runs, we’ve got a lot of strength in the group dynamic, so it was important to go into the run knowing that they wouldn’t all be there.

We had a pretty full house for the run; just about everyone except for John (who was in Knoxville, Tennessee but had a running partner to do the run with) and Lily were there. The AIDS Marathon office really went all out, making custom mile marker signs for each step of the way. Since two of our six running sites for this weekend were closed down, we had a lot of visitors, so they also wrote all over the trail in chalk to mark the way and put encouraging messages as well.

We did pretty good. We stuck together as a group for the first 13.5 miles, at which point Joanie decided it was enough for her and stopped at a water station to get a ride back with one of the volunteers. It was right then, though, that we picked up Stephanie, who was from one of the DC running sites. Her group was acting really out of control, so she decided we looked more stable. (Physically, sure, but mentally? Ha!)

Home base was at mile 20, where Emily, Pat, and Jeanie called it a day. I was a little tired at this point, but nothing was hurting so we kept going. (It was here that we saw a woman being taken away in an ambulance. It turned out she hadn’t drank water all day, arrived two hours late so they "ran faster" to catch up, and ate nothing but a Twix bar… then collapsed from dehydration. Gee, I wonder how that happened. Once they hydrated her, she was fine.) Alas, we lost Toni and Madelyn a couple of miles later, deciding that 24 miles total was perfectly respectable since their farthest distance was only 21 miles.

I’m proud to say, though, that Julie, Stephanie, and I did the full 26 miles. It took us a little longer than we’d hoped, and Julie and I seriously slowed down for the last 3 miles because Stephanie was starting to sputter to a halt, but I’m glad we stuck with her. It sounds like her group is always zooming off way too fast and then crashes and burns partway through, so I hope she felt what it was like to have a "normal" group experience. I’m pretty lucky to have such a stable group to stick with.

When we got to the finish line, Yael and a volunteer had a finish line ribbon for people to run up to, and Pam was handing out special "AIDS Marathon 2001" medals. It was a great way to end, and I feel wonderful knowing that we finished the distance. Just three short weeks now until the real Marathon Day itself. I can’t wait.

Week Twenty-Three — October 6th, 2001

I can’t believe it’s October. It feels like we just started this, and that was back in May. Who’d have thought just over five months would have sped by so quickly? (And that my marathon is now only two weeks away?) Huge thanks this week go to Toby Hamilton, who is my latest sponsor. Thanks so much! While I’m thinking about it, congratulations also go out to Chad Jones, who did a 20-mile run today with the Los Angeles branch of AIDS Marathon. Between following Chad’s progress last year and talking to him back in February, I was convinced I could do this—I don’t think I’d have made it without all his support!

This week had some gorgeous weather; not too hot, just the right level of cool. I had no problem convincing myself to do my running on Monday and Wednesday, although on Thursday and Friday my knee was a little sore, so I decided to skip crosstraining and just relax it. On Friday, I told a co-worker that if we could just keep this nice weather for two more weeks I’d be thrilled. She laughed at me in response.

Sure enough, this morning was cold and raining. Ugh. It was just a sprinkle when we headed over, but right as we got out of the car it poured on us for a good five minutes. I was glad I had my jacket that I bought ages ago, as well as my replacement hat. It ended up raining for the first three miles or so, and then shifted to occasional drizzles and huge gusts of wind. I think it was a combination of the weather and last week’s 26-miler that we ended up with a desolate run site. Our group only had four people (the smallest it’s ever been); myself, Julie, Emily, and Pat. (Even our Program Rep, Yael, wasn’t there—she’s off in Chicago about to run their marathon!) At first it looked it would be just three, but Pat caught up with us maybe five minutes into the run—we were excited to see her. Since the run was just an 8-miler, we finished up pretty quickly and all scurried home. (On the bright side, we only saw three bicycles the entire time. A new record!)

Of course, now that the run is over, it’s cleared up a lot and I can actually see some blue sky, now. Naturally! Oh well. 14 days and counting! Baltimore, here I come!

Week Twenty-Four — October 13th, 2001

It’s hard to believe this was the week of our last group run before the marathon! (Marine Corps Marathon participants have one more week, but the Baltimore Marathon is a week from today.) What this really means, of course, is that all of you will stop being pestered each Saturday by these e-mails! Big thanks this week go out to Melissa McElhatton, who’s my latest sponsor; trust me, I’m still happy to see donations come in!

I didn’t do any running this week; my shins were feeling a little sore on Saturday and Sunday, as well as my knee that I hurt back in February. I figured, why blow it this close to the race? Everything was feeling fine again by Tuesday, but I didn’t want to take any chances. (Ok, I should have done some crosstraining on Thursday, but it was the season premiere of Survivor: Africa! You can’t expect me to miss that, could you? Ok, ok, stop laughing.)

Saturday’s run was once again a bit sparse, which was too bad; I would have liked to run with everyone one final time before the marathon! Still, it was a quick run and it went well. Once it was all over, there was a little celebration for this being the last training run that we’re all going to be at. I had to miss it, though, because I’m heading up to my cousin Karin’s wedding in Philadelphia in about, oh, five minutes. (I admit it, I wrote everything but this paragraph before this morning’s run.)

7 days and counting! In theory (knock on wood) the next one of these mailings will be a, "Hurrah! I did it!" announcement, so keep your fingers crossed for me!

Marathon Day — October 20th, 2001

What does twenty-four weeks of training get you? Well, in my case, the answer was a trip up to Baltimore on Friday, October 19th, for the inaugural Baltimore Marathon the next morning. Julie, Emily, Pam, and I had all booked rooms at the Quality Inn next to PSI Net Stadium for Friday night; that way, we wouldn’t have to worry about traffic on the morning of the marathon (Baltimore is an hour north of Washington DC), or running around madly trying to find a shoe, and so forth. Plus, this meant an additional hour of sleep! Sleep the night before a marathon is good.

Julie and I headed up to Baltimore earlier in the day so we could have lunch with her friend Andrea. I’d met Andrea before and like her a lot, so this sounded like a good idea to me. Andrea greeted us with helium balloons saying "Good Luck!" which was the perfect way to start the day. After getting horribly lost trying to find our hotel (it is very easy to get to driving from the south; very, very difficult to get to driving from the north) we finally checked in—and ran into Jeanie and Joanie, a pair of sisters who also ran in our pace group. We walked up to PSI Net Stadium and picked up our packets. The Baltimore Marathon had assigned the numbers alphabetically (except for the first 200, which were for the big-name runners), which meant that Julie got to look all snazzy and cool with #401. Meanwhile, I was a lowly #3950.

We also picked up and tested our ChampionChips that afternoon. A ChampionChip is a little device that you attach to your shoe. When you run across the starting line, it scans the ChampionChip and records what time you actually started the marathon. Since most people will have started the race after it began (in huge races like the Marine Corps Marathon, it can take fifteen or twenty minutes to get across the starting line!), this gives you a much more accurate time. At the Baltimore Marathon, your ChampionChip also got scanned at the halfway point (13.1 miles) as well as the finish; other marathons often have places like the 15K and 30K points scan the ChampionChip.

We hung around PSI Net Stadium for a bit to check out the big Running Expo set up there, decided we didn’t need anything, and headed back just in time for Emily and Pam to arrive. After they got all of their stuff, it was time for dinner, which meant carbohydrates. We ended up eating at the Uno’s at the Inner Harbor, sitting out on a patio overlooking the water. It was really pretty, and unfortunately, also really cold after about ten minutes. (The breeze coming directly off the water is quite cold!) We were really happy when our food arrived simply because it was warm.

Then it was back to the hotel (after many twists and turns—remember what I said about how difficult it is to drive to the hotel from a northern direction?) as Emily and Pam decorated their singlets for the marathon. Julie and I had put iron-on letters onto our singlets; our names were on the front, and on the back we put "Oh Baby!" on Julie’s and "Hot Damn!" on mine. We figured this might help the spectators find the right words to cheer us on. Susan, Julie’s sister, arrived soon afterwards and we all headed off to bed to toss and turn in anticipation of the morning.

Before we knew it, morning had arrived. We headed over to the stadium and hung around the AIDS Marathon hospitality tent trying to find our other friends. We finally headed to the starting line, wondering what had happened to Madelyn—she finally showed up maybe ten minutes before we started, having been caught in traffic. A group of friends (Karon, Jeff, Steve, and Britt) also appeared suddenly, each holding up a sign with a letter on it to spell out "GREG". It was a great sight to see, and it really cheered me up. Suddenly the crowd started moving forward… and we were off! Pretty soon, our group solidified into me, Julie, Emily, and Madelyn.

The first couple of miles went through the Inner Harbor and Fells Point areas, which I’m pretty familiar with. We really had to hold ourselves back at first to keep from running too fast and burn out. We paced ourselves pretty well, though, about halfway through the third mile our path suddenly headed north, away from the water, and into new territory… almost all of it uphill.

I’m not joking about the uphill part; we’d heard that the Baltimore Marathon was an extremely hilly course, but we had no idea just how bad it really was. It makes me feel better, several days later, to see a lot of comments from experienced runners about what a very hilly and difficult course the Baltimore Marathon was. All I knew at the time was that about 3 1/2 miles into the run, we started going up, and up, and up, and up. Our speed slowed down dramatically, and I know we were all feeling the strain. I shudder to think how the one guy we saw who was jump-roping the whole marathon was doing. It was also around mile 4 that I pulled a muscle or something in my lower left calf. It hurt more and more as we continued on; perhaps not the smartest thing to do, but I’d made it this far, I wasn’t going to give up now! My doctor has diagnosed it as tendonitis (guess what still hurts a lot, days later?) and has told me not to run up so many hills in the future.

The course brought us through a lot of residential neighborhoods that I’d never seen before. This was good in terms of crowd support—a lot of people used this as an opportunity to hang out and cheer on the runners. Unfortunately, it also meant that visually things got really boring, and quickly. As a result, it was the little things that stood out; at mile 7, for instance, there was a big arch of balloons over the street, which was a nice little touch. Voortman Cookies was the sponsor of mile 7 and was handing out sugar wafer cookies there, which was also one of the only places that the marathon had thought to put out food.

Food wasn’t the only thing in short supply on the run. They’d promised Gatorade throughout the course, but after mile 4 it vanished; all the faster runners drank it and left none for us slowpokes. The only water stop that seemed to be able to ration it out well was at mile 21, which was also manned by the Army. I’m sure there’s a connection there. Unfortunately for me, in an effort to reduce weight and the cramped conditions of my waist pack, I’d gotten rid of my little container of Gatorade so I could replenish electrolytes and sodium later on. Argh.

The other thing that kept us going early on were friends and family. Emily’s husband, family, and friends, as well as Julie’s sister Susan, showed up around the 5 1/2 mile mark to cheer us on (and to take my jacket, which I’d tied around my waist some 4 miles earlier and was contemplating just throwing away, since I’d only paid $9 for it). A couple of miles later, Julie’s parents showed up. Julie’s mother should rent herself out as a professional cheerer—I’ve never seen anyone else put so much energy into it! Madelyn’s family showed up before too long afterwards, which was fun to see.

Unfortunately, the hills got to Madelyn around mile 12, and she dropped back to a slightly slower pace. So, at this point it was just three of us. We kept climbing farther and farther up the mountain… oops, I mean, the hills of Baltimore. In retrospect, one really funny thing around this time period is that people kept swearing that the last hill was the one we were seeing. We’d hit the peak of the hill, turn a corner, and oops, there’s another hill. I guess they were trying to be encouraging, but we were nearing the point where we wanted to turn around and yell at people who kept telling us about these mythical "final hills" that never appeared.

Around mile 18, though, things did finally level off, aside from one final horrific hill a mile or two later. It was right after mile 21 that a couple of nice things happened, though. First, we finally found the lake in Druid Hill Park, which we’d all written up as being non-existent. (No one could remember where on the map it was located, but were all convinced we should have seen it by then.) Even better, my friend Cris showed up to cheer us on. He’d parked his car around mile 23 and then walked almost a mile and a half backwards along the trail to find us. Now that he was that far in, he ended up keeping up with us for that mile and a half back to his car. His company definitely helped keep us going, and we all really appreciated his good spirits.

Soon after he left, Emily needed to slow down; she’d hurt her back earlier in the week, and the sun beating down on us wasn’t helping matters. For a change, though, my aching calf/ankle wasn’t giving me many problems, so I decided I was going to keep going at the pace we’d been moving at. Julie initially stayed with Emily, but soon decided that she needed to keep trucking along as well, and caught up with me within half a mile.

Finally we found the downhill stretch—all three miles of it—and picked up our pace a bit in an effort to see if we could finish before the 7 hour mark. Our AIDS Marathon program rep, Yael, showed up about a mile later to cheer us on, as well as some other runners from our site who would be running the Marine Corps Marathon a week later. It really made a big difference, and with the emotional boost, we pushed on as hard as we could. We could see the stadium off in the distance, and got excited as it got closer, and closer, and closer… …and then suddenly we had to run AWAY from the stadium. I don’t know who put that part into the course, but I’d like to have a little talk with them. Talk about discouraging! Suddenly all our steam vanished, and we limped along the last stretch.

We finally circled the stadium itself, rounded a corner, and there it was. The finish line. Julie and I sprinted towards the finish line, all energy suddenly back. I grabbed Julie’s hand and we charged across the line with our hands triumphantly raised in the air. My final chip time was 6:65:16. Ok, it’s really 7:05:16. I’m sure if the course had been a bit flatter our speed would have easily been under seven hours, but now I have a good future goal.

Was it worth it? Definitely. Will I do this again? Well, not the Baltimore Marathon unless they seriously rethink the course. On the other hand, I hear the Myrtle Beach Marathon down in South Carolina is nice and flat. And there’s always the goal of getting fast enough to do the Marine Corps Marathon next year…

Thanks have to go out to all my great sponsors, as well as Yael and Jen, coaches extraordinaire. A couple people, though, deserve extra-special thanks. Once they finally got used to the idea ("I promise I won’t exert myself so hard I have a heart attack and die"), my family has been incredibly supportive. My friends Steve and Britt Conley have been lifelines throughout this whole process, keeping my spirits up when I found myself wondering why I had ever agreed to do this. Finally, Chad Jones (whose progress I watched last year when he did this) has been my unofficial coach and mentor, looking out for me ever step of the way. There’s no way I could have done this without any of these people.

Believe me when I say thank you from the bottom of my heart, all of you. Me, I’m going to enjoy being able to sleep in on Saturday mornings for the first time in quite a while.