Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Buffalo Marathon/Half Marathon Report

On Sunday, Geoffrey ran the Buffalo Marathon. I ran the half marathon. He signed up for it many months ago. His hope was to run a marathon that didn't break him at mile 18 or so. I signed up for the half shortly after I finished the Run for the Red marathon. Because why not. Let's start with the most important thing.

Buffalo Marathon was brutally, scorchingly hot.

It was skin-sizzlingly, pavement-meltingly, hope-crushingly hot. Water evaporated before it could make contact with your withered flesh. Folks were dropping like flies, seriously thinking they were about to discover if spontaneous combustion was real. Solar flares bathed Franklin Street with blazing white fire.

It was hot.

OK, now that we have that out of the way, let's start over. I interviewed Geoffrey, since he actually ran the marathon. Nobody wants to read about how I pranced 13 miles in a kilt. Geoffrey and I were both on our second bottle of wine when I interviewed him last night, so I hope my notes are coherent.

Geoffrey took his training seriously. He had an amazing coach, Michael Scott (Run Nerds Rock Coaching), who pushed him to do workouts he would not have imagined doing on his own. Mike had him doing combination workouts, like hill repeats combined with tempo runs. He had him doing absolutely absurd workouts like 15 repeats of 2 minutes at sub-5K pace. Geoff could not have imagined doing these (without his legs literally falling off), but Mike said do it and Geoff did it.

Geoffrey, just doing it.

I asked Geoffrey about his tapering. Runners hate tapering. Geoffrey loves tapering! Just kidding. The start of his tapering felt horrible. He felt like he lost fitness, despite doing Mike's workouts. He had a huge amount of apprehension in the 3 weeks of tapering. Up until 10 days before the race, Geoff was questioning if he would even do it.

But that changed.

A local runner friend, who had also registered for Buffalo, got injured and had no chance of doing the race. One day he posted that he got to go out and do a run, just a mile or so. Geoffrey realized that as badly as he felt and as critical as he was of himself, he was lucky enough and healthy enough to do the marathon. He couldn't let his friend down.

After that Geoff firmly decided he would show up at the starting line and do what he could do. He left behind his self-pity and disappointment and decided he would just go and do what he could do that day. And he became excited about the race! What would happen that day was a roll of the dice, but he loaded the dice as well as he could.

On Friday, we threw Geoffrey a birthday party. Meghan, his kids, and I tried to kill him with food and beer. He didn't think at all about the race. He just wanted to be with people he loved, to be festive. After dinner we went to the music studio of his daughter's boyfriend, Mark. Mark played guitar and sang songs, which he was good at. I played drums, which I'd never done in my life. Then Geoffrey took a turn at the drums and I played the keyboard, which I'd also never done in my life.

This birthday cake survived about 30 seconds.

I constantly shouted, "what key is that in?!" As if knowing the key was going to make me sound anything other than a gorilla mashing on a keyboard.

We were amazing.

Saturday morning I made blueberry pancakes. Then we drove to Buffalo. We went to the expo, which was like every other expo except bigger. We had lunch and checked into our hotel. This place was posh as heck! Our room was on the seventh floor, with a great view. We hung the "Do Not Disturb" sign on the door, then destroyed the room. Standard procedure.

"Moshi moshi!" 走子 answers the phone.

Geoff wanted to stay relaxed, to be detached from Sunday. He knew there wasn't a whole lot he could do on Saturday that would effect Sunday except to eat enough and not drink too much. Which he loves. He specifically wanted me to write how much he loves drinking, as if to say, "I want everyone to know how human I am, full of foibles and shit." Being alcoholics is one of our milder traits. Geoff got his stuff ready and went to bed early.

We got up at 4:45am. Geoff slept terribly, which is typical: A fitful, awful sleep full of bizarre dreams. I slept like a baby. My "bed" at home is a moldy paper-thin mattress on the floor, so any time I sleep anywhere else, it's always the most amazing experience of my life.

We got ourselves ready. Geoffrey was clinical in his preparation. He knew he would have to hydrate well to survive the race. He drank water until 45 minutes before the race, knowing that was the perfect window so he wouldn't have to stop to pee. I went to the bathroom four times. Geoff had his two packets of oatmeal. I ate a banana.

走子 watches us run.

I threw my kilt and bib on haphazardly. Geoff decided to forego his kilt because it would weigh a thousand pounds after hours of sweating. He put his bib on. It was wrinkly. It bothered him. He took all the pins out and put them back in again. He went through the same process tying his shoes.

We walked the short distance to the start and joined the gigantic mob of fellow, soon to be overheated runners. Geoffrey got kisses from his favorite person, Meghan. No kisses from me, because I'm a jerk; just a high-five. We met a fellow LUNAR. I did a quick warm up jog. We got in the starting corral with about 7,000 runners. Then the fireworks started.

The Race

After the pomp and ceremony, the statements from the race director and an adorable seven year old girl, the Star Spangled Banner, and fireworks that surprised and terrified the aforementioned seven year old girl and all the rest of us, we got ready.

Photo Cr. Geoffrey

The gun fired.

Seven thousand people streamed across the starting line.

Geoffrey (whose race I'm going to focus on here) originally had a pace goal - and had been training for - 7:55 minute miles. But he knew it was going to be hot, so he went out at a conservative 8:20 pace. I shot out at sub 7:00 minute miles and vanished from his universe.

8:20 was perfect. Geoffrey felt great. The run felt easy. His breathing cadence (which is the metric he usually judges by) was right on. The first 5k was on. 10k was on. 15k: super even split.

Mile 10 is when it fell apart.

That's when the course goes out along Lake Erie. The air was dead and the sun burned through whatever few clouds had given us meager comfort. Geoffrey knew it was about to get really hot. At mile 10 he got the sensation in his legs (for me it's a tingle in the scalp) that told him to dispose of his goal of 3:40.

By mile 11 Geoffrey knew that his only goal for the race was to finish it. That's how fast the heat got him.

Even these horses would've struggled.

At the half marathon mark, he had a strong urge to go left and finish at the halfway mark and say, "that's enough for today." I had crossed that line myself about 20 minutes before. But he didn't. Geoffrey turned right. He said, "I don't quit. I don't stop."

His pace had already dropped dramatically, a "jog" as he called it. His only goal was to finish this without walking. He had yet to finish a marathon without taking a walk break, either due to injury or inexperience. That was his goal and he didn't care how slow he was going. He just didn't want to walk.

At a water station between mile 17 and 18, he had to walk.

He felt broken. He felt defeated. He felt like he had let himself down and had let his loved ones down. Because we knew that his most important goal was to run a strong marathon without breaking down and walking. Of course Meghan and I could never be disappointed in him. But we weren't there at that water station.

But his feelings changed.

They changed when he saw how many other people had been destroyed by the marathon. He realized he was in a crowd of people who amazed him by how hard they pushed themselves. He was surrounded by people who were a million times stronger and better than him. And they were still doing it, despite walking. They weren't stopping. So Geoffrey couldn't stop. If they didn't stop, it was his responsibility to them to keep going. And to encourage them to keep going.

Geoff saw two friends who had come to spend time with us and to see him run: Truly amazing folks whose names I won't mention for privacy reasons. Geoff saw them spectating from a park. He walked over to them and said, "I'm dying."

"It's your day," they replied. Geoff was delirious. But seeing them gave him the fuel he needed to keep running.

Throughout the race, Geoff had been playing marathon hockey with a guy named Dan. He had seen Dan on and off since the halfway point, and he had seen that Dan was having a really hard time. They would pass each other, as their respective energies waxed and waned. Finally at about mile 19 they connected.

They both acknowledged that they were having a really hard race. But in connecting they silently told each other that they would get it done. Geoff realized that Dan was having a harder time than him. He chose to stay with Dan because he thought that Dan was doubting whether he could finish or not. And Geoffrey decided that Dan would finish, and that he would stick it out with him. Dan: A random guy he met.

I know you, reader, are excited to hear about the end of the race. But that's not how interviews go, especially when you're drinking wine. The more you talk about an experience, the more you remember. I could reorganize these notes chronologically, but I'd rather share them in the order that Geoff did.

At the halfway point, Geoffrey remembers hoping to see Meghan. She had actually been there, standing next to me and our friends, waiting to watch him pass. But she also knew that he would need water. Desperately. So she went to get water for him.

She didn't get back in time.

So much water! Just not for Geoffrey.

But I was there. He waved and shouted to us. Then he passed the halfway point where many folks were peeling off for the half marathon finish. And he knew he would have to do all of that again. I knew he would be struggling, so I sprinted after him.

"Awesome," Geoffrey recalls thinking, "Peter's going to run a block or two with me and say something encouraging." But then I kept running with him. I kept talking him and telling him that he'd kill the race. At mile 14 I was still with him.

Geoff told me that to be sent off on the second half of his marathon by me after I'd already kicked the shit out of the half fed him so much. More than I could believe, he told me. He doesn't know if he could have finished if it wasn't for that.

But I didn't stay with him the whole time. I was tired too. I left him at about 14.5, leaving him with as many encouraging words as I could. So he ran alone, suffering alone, except when he encountered Dan.

Then, around mile 21, out of nowhere, Meghan showed up. She wasn't dressed to run. She was dressed to spectate. But there she was. One moment Geoffrey was focused on running with Dan, and the next he heard a voice yelling, "Geoffrey!"

"Thank god," he thought, "my angel."

What is she doing? He wondered. And then she started running with them! And all she kept saying was, "what do you need? Are you OK? What do you need?" And he literally felt saved. The course support was amazing (water, gatorade, ice, etc.). The volunteers were amazing. But what Meghan brought was this: To let him know that she wasn't going to let him feel alone.

Geoffrey's eyes were moist with tears at this point in the interview.

Meghan would sprint ahead to water stops and come back and dump ice and water on his head. And just kept asking, "what do you need? What do you need?" She didn't say what he should or shouldn't do. She just said, what do you need. And made sure Geoff had it. She'd already been standing on the course and walking in the same heat for hours.Then she came out to run the rest of the course with Geoffrey.

I showed up again at mile 23. I had already run 16 miles that day. I was going to run 3 more. I ran next to him and Meghan, telling Geoffrey, "you're crushing this. You're destroying this. You're amazing. You're doing a marathon in this heat that's killing people." And Geoff recalls thinking, please don't stop talking.

"OK, just stop talking long enough for a pic."

Geoffrey had me and Meghan on either side of him, and he thought, "I can't possibly not do this now." He knew he was going to be OK. With both of us on either side of him, he knew he was going to be OK. He knew he was going to finish this marathon.

Geoffrey really wanted to run mile 24 to the end strongly, but he wasn't able to. He'd run his regular pace, but couldn't do it for more than a quarter of a mile. The heat broiled him. He ran as hard as he could for as long as he could, walk it off, then do it again. He then decided he would run the 25th mile. I sprinted off at this point to get pictures of him at the finish.

At 25.25 Geoffrey got the worst side stitch of his life. It doubled him over on the course. He didn't know if he could move, much less run. He walked, and breathed it off. He still wanted to at least look like a strong runner at the finish.

Geoffrey knew that it was late in the race, that so many other runners were struggling. It didn't matter what he felt like. Pain didn't matter. Nothing mattered except running to the end. He wanted to look better than he felt. There were people around him who needed him to look better than he felt. They all needed to get to the end of the marathon.

Geoffrey finishes.

Then he was done.

Anti-climactic? Marathons are the same way for me too. You suffer for what seems like all eternity, and then suddenly, it ends.

His first thought was, "I'm not dead." He was more than 30 minutes off his goal time. He didn't care. It didn't matter that he'd been slow. He realized that, after hearing about elites breaking down and passing others who had broken down, he hadn't done that badly. All things considered, his finish was OK. It was alright.

After collecting his medal, Geoffrey went back to the finish line to wait for Dan to finish. No, Geoff hadn't forgotten about him. He knew Dan had had just as hard of a time. He made sure Dan finished and got his medal. He made sure to acknowledge how hard it was for Dan. I asked Geoffrey and he said the only reason he'd sped up and left Dan was because Geoffrey just wanted to get the race over with. He was over it.

But he still made sure he saw Dan at the end. He wanted Dan to know that he didn't just leave him behind. He wanted Dan to know that he remembered what they went through together and that he was there for Dan at the end.

As the interviewer, I wanted to really dig deep into Geoffrey's feeling and emotions. Being the jerk that I am, I didn't believe for a second that it was just me, Meghan, and Dan that got him to the finish. After probing for a long enough time, I found out the real reason that Geoffrey finished.

He wanted to wear his hat.

Geoffrey has a thing for hats. He collects them. He got one at the expo that said, "Buffalo Marathon Finisher." He did not try it on at the time. That would've been bad luck. He wouldn't get to actually wear that hat until he finished.

Which meant he had to finish.

And when I asked the real reason he finished, he replied, "honestly, I get to wear the hat. I get to wear my hat now that says, 'Buffalo Finisher'. I just wanted to wear that hat." He knew at miles 14, 16, 18 when he was failing, he really wanted to wear that hat. He likes it. He likes hats.

The hat in this picture..... which is backwards. I don't see the point.

I suppose we all need something to motivate us.

Post race shenanigans

After the race we went to Pearl Street Brewery and consumed a huge amount of food and booze. I'd given up on staying within my calorie budget for the weekend. Our friends left to drive back south and I went to take a nap. I failed at napping and ended up splashing around in the hotel pool for a while. After lounging around like a sack of sh!t for a while I got up and found Geoffrey and Meghan at yet another pub, the Buffalo Tap House.

We had more greasy food and more beer. Geoffrey had been hinting (overtly stating) that he wanted to smoke a cigar to celebrate the race. I looked on my phone and the closest place was almost two miles away. I was so far over my calorie budget though that I volunteered to walk and get cigars (and burn a few more calories).

The place was called Duty Free America. I was too drunk at the time to think about why it was named that.

I walked for a while and soon found myself in a Hispanic neighborhood. I was wearing my kilt, stumbling down the street drunkenly. I stopped into every small grocery store along the way, asking if they sold cigars. No luck.

Half an hour later I arrived at my destination point on the map. There it is! I thought excitedly. I started walking towards it, passing something that looked like a toll booth. I was about ten steps away from the front door when I woman yelled at me, "you can't go there." I was drunk and confused. Then she explained.

I couldn't go into the store because it was in Canada.

The only way I could go to the store was to grab a passport, get in a car, drive across the bridge into CANADA, and then come back. Then I could shop. I had walked two miles to a store that turned out to be in Canada, and now I had to walk two miles back to the hotel.

I love Buffalo.

I stopped by a drug store on my way back, which, against all odds, sold cheap lousy cigars. I bought them, a pack of American Spirits, and a pack of lighters. I chain smoked cigarettes and blew up Meghan and Geoffrey's phone.

Don't get all judgmental on me. I don't actually inhale.

We ate more food. We drank more booze. They laughed uproariously at my unfortunate tale. We smoked half a cigar. We went to bed.

We were woken up at 5am by a fire alarm. And this wasn't the first one either. There had been another one on Saturday that dragged Meghan and Geoffrey out of the pool. But this one was especially annoying. We lounged in our beds for another 5 minutes, hoping the alarm would turn off. It did not. If it had been a real fire, we would have died.

Screw you sign. Seriously.

We joined a long crowd of people in the stairwell. Remember, we were staying on the seventh floor. It took a very long time to get out of the hotel. And while most of the hotel was exceptionally nice, the emergency halls we passed through looked like a Turkish prison.

We finally got outside and joined several hundred very sleepy and half dressed guests. Immediately after that we were allowed back inside. Realizing it was going to take 20 minutes just for us to get back to our room, I instead walked to a Starbucks half a mile away to get coffees.

Buffalo at 5:30am

When I got back, Geoffrey and Meghan were waiting for me impatiently.

I was the only who'd brought a room key with me.

We slept for another few hours, packed, and left.

Final notes

In case you care, I ran the half marathon in 1:32:36. That's not a PR for me, but considering the heat, that was pretty darn good. Apparently I got 55th overall out of over 3800 half marathon finishers, and 8th in my age division out of 268. I was in the top 3% in both. I was honestly quite surprised. I've never thought of myself as good in the heat.

Prancing in a kilt.

Geoffrey told me that his biggest takeaway from the race is that he could not have done it without other people (although we know the truth of the matter now vis-a-vis his hat). The only reason, he says, that he went over the starting line and then the finish line was because of the people who loved him and supported him, who showed up on the course to run with him, and the countless thousands other people who made sure that there was enough water, gatorade, ice, wet towels, and everything else.

Geoffrey wanted to emphasize how awesome the volunteers were. And I totally agree. They volunteered their time on a hot miserable morning to support runners doing something insane. They even waited extra long and handed out medals to late finishers. All Geoffrey did, he says, is put on some shorts and then start running. He didn't do anything special. The volunteers did.

I agree with him. We were eating and drinking by noon, and those volunteers were still under the glare of the baking sun, supporting and cheering the remaining runners. That is truly commendable.

I would definitely run Buffalo again. And you should too! Great city. Great race.

The end.

Always ending posts with the cheesy sunset photo.

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