Friday, May 20, 2011

Week in Review: 15-21 May, and MMT: The Aftermath

Alright, miles . . .

15 May 2011: 31.7 miles, as part of the MMT 100, 11 hours, 47 minutes (sounds even worse typing it now)
16 May 2011: 1 mile, slow, at APG, to Burger King (10 minutes)
17 May 2011: 2 miles, at APG - twice as much mileage as yesterday! (15 minutes)
18 May 2011: 5 miles, at APG again. Continuing with the double-mileage trend (plus a little extra) (35 minutes)
19 May 2011: 9 miles, at APG, half on the treadmill, doing hills (70 minutes)
20 May 2011: 13 miles, at APG, with another half-hour of treadmill hills (95 minutes)
21 May 2011: 13 miles, around Patterson Park, the Inner Harbor, and all that business. (90 minutes)

Total time: 1,022 minutes
Total miles: 74.7 (75, more or less)

Probably another deceptive week, since counting MMT on 14-15 May, I posted 130 miles in 7 days (although the fitness benefits of covering that distance in that much time are probably debatable). That said, the mileage that I put in over the past few days is more in line with the density required for a 100-mile week, so hopefully next week, the numbers will look a little better.

And now, speaking of MMT, if you haven't already accidentally discovered it:

http://www.ultrarunning.com/ultra/features/news/meltzer-pastalkova-win-at.shtml

. . . which marks the third time that I've had a picture of me racing show up in UltraRunning online/magazine (Mohican 2009 and Cascade Crest 2009 were the other two). Also, my picture showed up in the 2009 Boston Marathon race record book (the first time that I broke 3 hours at Boston).

That said, I didn't have the performance that I was hoping for at MMT, and I type this with mixed feelings.

On the one hand, it appears as though my running is inspirational in some way. Not only do I have a track record of getting my pictures printed everywhere, even when I have a crappy race, but also, I have a way of being inspirational in spite of (or, at times, because of) my sub-par performances. After MMT, a woman came up to me and told me that she had seen me at one of the aid stations when I wasn't doing so well, and then, many hours later, when she was driving down the road at the end of the race and saw me running again, she started crying.

A few minutes later, as I trudged through camp, barefoot, shirtless, and carrying my water bottles, shoes, and shirt, the kids who were camping there for the weekend saw me and asked me if I ran 100 miles. I told them yes, and then they proceeded to ask me tons of questions - How long did it take you? (31 hours and 47 minutes.) Did you sleep at all? (No, and now I'm very tired, I said with a smile.) Did you see a bear? (No, and I was a little bit disappointed that I didn't!) You could tell that they were in awe that a "regular person" who didn't look much older than them had run so far.

In all fairness, I think that the above is a valuable byproduct of my running. A lot of runners compete and win, but competing and winning with style and grace seems rare, particularly in ultrarunning. This is a topic that I had hoped to discuss in a different blog entry, in greater depth, but to me, an important part of running is motivating others to run, and being motivated by them in return. Being out on the roads and in the streets, around other runners, and people in general, affords a greater opportunity for my running to inspire others. To me, spending a lot of time on trails, alone, or with only a select few people, is very self-serving, and part of the reason why I put in most of my training miles on the roads. Unless this is going to be something bigger than just me, I can't justify the time, effort, and pain involved in training and racing at this level (or, at least, the level to which I aspire).

But, on the other hand, at some point, inspirational though my efforts may be, the bottom line on my MMT performance was that the outcome was mediocre at best. Can I run much better than I did? There's no doubt in my mind that I could, on a different day, under different circumstances. But to really take things to the next level, I need to perform my best when it counts, and at MMT, I didn't.

Fortunately, to that end, there were a couple of positive consequences from my MMT experience. The first is that the fire in my training has returned, after flagging somewhat as a result of 4+ months of slow, steady mileage-building. Sometimes it takes a roadblock like this to re-ignite, because a long string of gradually-improving performances does more to make one complacent than anything else. I recovered quickly from my "bad" race, and put up some decent mileage later in the week.

The second is that the DNF demons of Grindstone and Oil Creek have been at least temporarily suppressed, which is no mean feat. This should give me at least a little bit more confidence in my next race, the Old Dominion 100.

The bottom line is that, for me, running is still joyful - it's hard not to sit in my office all day and not have the itch to go outside and run (especially the way things are in the office lately). If I can keep holding on to that, everything else should fall into place.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Week in Review - 8-14 May, and Massanutten Mountain Trail 100 Mile Run Race Report

I'll be brief with the mileage, since the mileage was brief (mostly), and the race report is the meat of this post:

8 May - 1 mile, Patterson Park (10 minutes)
9 May - 7 miles (45 minutes), out of what was supposed to be a 1-mile "garbage run" - just felt good and kept going, through Patterson Park in the dark
10 May - 1 mile, Patterson Park (10 minutes)
11 May - 4 miles, in two laps around Patterson Park (32 minutes)
12 May - 1 mile, at APG (10 minutes)
13 May - 3 miles, Patterson Park (24 minutes)
14 May - 70 miles, Massanutten Mountain Trail 100-Mile Run (0400-2359; remaining 31.7 miles run from 0000-1147 on Sunday, 15 May 2011)

Total Minutes: 1331
Total Miles: 87

The point is, mostly a taper week for MMT, then the race. Still debating the merits of the taper; I think in this case, it was neutral.

Now, the race report:

It's hard to believe as I type this that at one point, about 20 miles into the race, I was thinking that there might not be much to write about. However, considering the epic nature of arguably the most difficult 100-mile race on the East Coast, it's not surprising that as the day progressed, I accumulated more and more race report material (along with pain, fatigue, and other unpleasantness), and the end result is what you read here.

To those who have been following along, it should come as no surprise that my goal for this race was to run as fast as I could, compete well, and place as high as possible. My strategy was essentially to run my own race, and only if things were close in the last 15 miles or so, to start pushing beyond my comfort zone. With all that still in mind, it wasn't unnerving to me that at 0400, a semi-circle formed in the front row behind the starting line - nobody seemed to want to take the lead.

Since the first 3.6 miles were on a road that was intermittently pavement and gravel, I did the honors. It wasn't intentional; it was the pace that felt comfortable to me, which put me a few seconds ahead of the chase pack, including Karl Meltzer. Karl mentioned that he was having flashbacks to a few years ago, when he was chasing a Korean guy who was ahead of him by about two minutes all day long (and ended up winning the race, and setting the course record). This was either good or bad, depending on how long I could maintain this intimidation factor.

As it turned out, of course, the answer was "not long," since within minutes of reaching the trailhead, Karl, along with about 7 other guys who were better at running rocky trails in the dark with a headlamp than I am, passed me. While it never feels good to be passed, I wasn't too worried, since my race strategy essentially consisted of staying within my limits, running comfortably, and letting the people who went out too fast come back to me, while I kept my pace steady.

Once the sun rose, and I could see more than a few feet in front of me, this strategy seemed to be working. Up through Elizabeth Furnace, I continued with my "even effort" approach, power-hiking the climbs, running relaxed on the flats, and stepping quickly on the downhills, working my way back to (guessing about) 5th place.

Unfortunately, after Elizabeth Furnace (around mile 33), things started to fall apart. For one thing, this was the start of areas that I remember distinctly from the training runs this past spring, and for another thing, this is one area where I distinctly remember running poorly at the beginning of Training Run #2. So when the two guys (Jeremy Pade and Jason Lantz) who I had passed on the previous downhill passed me on the climb, this took some of the wind out of my sails. When we reached the downhill on the backside, and I started running to retake my position, I found that although my legs weren't sore, I had no energy. My feet started slapping the ground uncomfortably, and, for fear of blowing out my quads, I slowed. Another person passed me. When I reached the road (Shawl Gap aid station), I sensed trouble.

From there, things got worse. The road was fairly exposed, the temperature was rising, and the humidity was high. All of this, combined with imprecision in my nutrition, and an early effort level that may have been just a bit too much, and suddenly, I was relegated to walking most of the next 3.1 miles on the road, when I should have been running them, so of course more people passed me on the way to the next aid station (Veach Gap). Not good.

The potential nail came after the 9.5-mile stretch following the road. Without going into too much detail, the constant ups and downs, the rocky trails, and the length between aid stations left me at Camp Roosevelt, Mile 63.1, very close to giving up. The last section had been several hours of running and feeling okay for about 5 minutes, then feeling awful and dragging myself forward for about 20 minutes, ad (physical) nauseam. Knowing that the next 38 or so miles were only going to get more difficult, I was losing confidence in my ability to finish the race. It also didn't help that Camp Roosevelt was about 6-tenths of a mile (downhill) from the finish area.

I sat at Camp Roosevelt for a long time. I tried eating cookies, brownies, potato chips . . . if it was on the table, I tried it, up to and including Slim Jims and dried mango. Nothing seemed to be helping my energy level. I walked around the aid station little, I sat down, I sprawled out on a picnic table, wrapped in somebody's jacket. I even drank a few sips of Brittany Zale's Rolling Rock. Nothing seemed to be working. All the while, people were coming into the aid station to cheers and clapping, and leaving to even louder cheers and clapping. The aid station volunteers were encouraging; they didn't want me to quit, but I just wasn't ready to go yet. I wasn't ready to quit, either.

Finally, at about 10 minutes to 9 p.m., things started making sense to me. I realized that part of the reason why I couldn't quit was that when I curled up as though I was going to give up, I could feel my bib on my stomach. This reminded me of how at the pre-race meeting on Friday, as the race director was saying that if you were dropping, you had to turn in your bib (for accountability purposes), I clutched my bib to my chest fiercely as I stood next to Sara and said "not turning this in." I had waited too long for the opportunity to run this race, and I wasn't going to let go that easily. I thought about what Dave Snipes said as he passed through the aid station about an hour ago. A woman was saying that she was pacing somebody else, and that she was going to "drag me along" with them for the rest of the race. Snipes responded that I knew the course, and that it was (if you're not feeling well, which I wasn't), a good 14-hour walk to the finish over the last 38 miles, and that I shouldn't let somebody force me into doing it. I decided that it was my decision to come here, and it was my decision to finish or not to finish, and that it was time to make that decision. Since I was curled up on a picnic table, trying to sleep and failing miserably, even though I had slept only about 3 hours the previous night, and been awake for 18 hours since then, I knew what my decision would be.

I got up, put on my bottle belt, my hat, and my headlamp, and shuffled out of aid station purgatory towards the next section of the course, nearly 3 full hours after I had reached the aid station, to the loudest cheers yet.

Of course, the boost from this was short-lived, and within 15 minutes of walking down the trail, I started feeling weak and listless again. I tried my best to tell myself that I was just out for a pleasant walk in the woods at night, and at times, this was effective, but it didn't help that I was heading up another huge, muddy, rocky climb. Still, I pushed up and over, and after another nearly 6 miles of excruciating pain, I found myself at Gap Creek/Jawbone I. The aid station was lit up like Christmas, and again, when I sat down, I was having a very hard time getting up and moving forward again. I spent perhaps another half-hour here, again, questioning whether or not the 6-mile chunk that I had taken out of the remaining distance was enough to convince me that I could finish. The aid station volunteers were again very encouraging, and continued to tell me that I looked good. Finally, after a much shorter bout of self-doubt, I headed out on the 8.4 mile stretch of course to the Visitor Center.

This 8.4 mile stretch was my lowest point. I was not about to run and potentially break myself, but walking meant slow progress, and it was after midnight now, nearing the 24-consecutive-hours-awake mark. All this time, in the back of my mind, I couldn't forget the last training run, when I did this in the daylight, and it went so much faster. In fact, the part of the training run that had gone the best - the rock-picking, randomly-climbing-and-dropping trail fiasco on Kerns Mountain - at night, in the fog and rain, by the light of my headlamp, was a demoralizing disaster. While I had held my position over the last stretch of course, people who were WALKING were overtaking me here. They were all very friendly and supportive, and tried to get me to come along with them, but the reality was that I just couldn't make myself walk that fast. As I stumbled in to the Visitor Center, after what seemed like an interminable stretch of road (which is how roads tend to feel when you've relegated yourself to walking them), I was thinking that maybe now was the time to take my souvenir rock from the Visitor's Center and go back to camp.

Not so fast, though, because the aid station captain (who reeked of alcohol), was running frantic ultramarathon triage. Outside, the rain was pouring down, and broken runners were pouring into the tent and flopping down onto folding chairs, while the aid station captain and his assistants were rushing around with cups of soup, egg salad sandwiches, and trash bags to use as makeshift ponchos, trying to get the runners out as quickly as possible. For my part, I wrapped myself in a blanket and napped for about 20 minutes, until Captain Liquor woke me up, and told me that I was his project, and he was going to get me out of there. Not wanting to argue with a drunk, lest he grow belligerent, and wanting less and less to DNF, I complied, and took off my shoes so they could bandage my feet, and ate the soup, and put on the trash bag, and shuffled off to climb Bird Knob.

It was at this point that the pain stabilized. Perhaps food was finally digesting. Perhaps the trash bag was keeping me warm enough that my muscles were getting the blood flow they were craving. Or perhaps, at 5 in the morning, I had gone past the point where quitting made any sense at all, as I had already been out for a stupid-long time. As miserable as it was not to run the flat section at the top of Bird Knob, I was now convinced that things were at least not going to get worse. Plus, the sun was rising as I reached the top, which, in addition to allowing me to put away my stupid headlamp, was pretty to look at.

I had reached the turning point at an opportune time, since the aid station at the top of Bird Knob, in stark contrast to the mayhem at Vistor Center, was small, subdued, and seemingly bored with this whole endeavor. With their mumbling, forced, "keep it up, dude," attitude, I was convinced that if I had asked them for a ride back to the start, they would have told me that I could hang out there until the aid station closed, and then, after they packed up, if there was any room in any of the cars, maybe I could come with them. If I ever wanted to see my friends and family again, I had no choice but to continue the walk down the road to the pink and purple trail, and the Picnic Area.

Along this silly-colored section of the course, I started seeing crew and volunteers who had seen me back at Camp Roosevelt and Gap Creek, when I was so close to calling it quits. The little boost I got from the little joy they seemed to be taking in seeing that I hadn't quit was enough to get me to start running again when the pink trail started going downhill. I was afraid to attack as hard as I had on the training run, but the fact that this section was now feeling closer to training run speed was a huge mental boost, not to mention that I was passing people now that I was actually running again. As I barrelled down the rocky trail at near-top speed, torn-up feet and growing quad bustage be damned, I hoped that this momentum would carry me through the 9-ish miles from to Gap Creek/Jawbone II, arguably the most difficult section of the course.

Then I got to this section, and decided that "doing" was better than "hoping," so I power-hiked the easy downhill trail section to Route 211 (the part that is apparently there to lull you into a false sense of security), and then, doing my best Mount-Whitney-at-Badwater-last-year impression, I attacked the awful white trail climb. Now I was (relatively) moving, at nearly 15-minute mile walking pace, putting distance on the guy who had left the last aid station just after me, and passing people on the trail ahead of me. I was getting that "rush" that I felt at the end of Badwater as I felt myself come back from the dead, and to top it all off, after braving the rock-pile climb to the top, I ran down the yellow trail to the road, and, for a while on the road (although I returned to walking, for fear of burning out before the last 5+ mile section). I reached Gap Creek/Jawbone II with a huge smile on my face as the aid station volunteers welcomed me back, to which I could respond only with laughter. There was just no other way to explain what I had been through for the past 10-ish hours since I left that aid station the first time.

Deciding that there was no sense in lingering the second time around, I crossed the road to climb Jawbone (again, now muddy and slippery from all of the foot traffic through), and this time, go over the top and down. Because I fouled up this part of the last training run, I hadn't seen the back side of Jawbone, but I vaguely suspected that it was steep and rocky, and my suspicion was confirmed. Yes, just one last reminder that Massanutten "rocks" before the finish. Now, with about four miles to go, I wasn't afraid to give it a little more gas, and I passed nearly a dozen people between the top of Jawbone and the finish, powered by my vigorous walk, my reckless abandon on the downhills, and my 7-minute miles on the road section leading to the finish.

I ran the entire last road section all the way through the line, finishing in 31 hours, 47 minutes, and some-odd seconds, to the cheers of the crowd, and the welcome-back of the aid station captain who had suffered through me at Camp Roosevelt for 3 hours. Dave Snipes handed me a grape soda for some reason (that seems to be his thing after we run), and after that, I don't remember too much in detail, other than food went in, the tent came down, and the shower happened. Sara returned for the post-race awards ceremony, and to drive me home (and ran to hug me when she finally found me - I ran to meet her, which was perhaps evidence that more of my struggle was mental than physical), and we had some pleasant together-time as I gave her the brief summary of my struggle, and she gave me the brief summary of her car struggle (the makeshift parking lot in the field had turned to mud, making it very difficult to get the car in and out).

Although the race didn't turn out as I had planned, in some ways, it was better. Since I hadn't finished a 100-mile run since Beast of Burden last August, I had a feeling that, despite my strong training base, my first 100 back would be a little bit difficult, especially with the DNF ghosts of Grindstone and Oil Creek haunting me. And, in truth, I think that those experiences had some effect on my mental state when things started to fall apart. In that sense, it was very important that I finish a race that's this difficult, to reaffirm that I can do this, and, moreover, that I'm at my best in these types of races. In retrospect, I probably had more in the tank than I thought, but the mind-body coordination wasn't there. The teaching points from this experience (careful pacing early in the race, consistent nutrition, high weekly mileage, training as much as possible on rugged trails) will serve me well at the Old Dominion 100 in three weeks, in my quest to complete all of the Virginia 100s this year (which includes revenge of Grindstone in the fall). Perhaps most importantly, though, I'm excited about my still-nebulous plans for adventures between now and Badwater, and, prior to this race, I felt as though I needed that kind of energy to motivate my training.

Plus, I got a new belt buckle (for now, the pewter one, but next year, definitely the sub-24-hour silver version), so I can finally put away the Beast of Burden buckle:



In conclusion, the buckle is cool because it has a bear on it. :)

Monday, May 9, 2011

Week in Review: 1-7 May, and Frederick Half-Marathon and 5K Report

On paper, this is probably going to sound like a pretty dull week, but I'll do my best to shine it up. (Also, for the sake of dramatic effect, if there is any to achieve, I'm going to relegate my KDM recap to the land of lost posts, to re-surface at some random time in the future. There's nothing wrong with it; just seems like too much stuff to post now, at sort of an awkward time.)

Anyway . . .

1 May - 9 miles (60 minutes) through a park and the backside of some random neighborhoods surrounding the park-and-ride off of I-70, exit 28 (our meeting place for the drive out to KDM), in light rain.

2 May - 2 miles (15 minutes) around Patterson Park, barefoot.

3 May - 10 miles, as a result of the following medley: 2 miles (16 minutes) warmup on Gilman Trail, 36 minutes including "interval on, half off," starting at 6 minutes, and working down to 1 minute, in 1 minute intervals, 2 miles warmdown (16 minutes), 1 mile barefoot (8 minutes). 76 minutes total. "On" intervals at 5:45-5:50 mile pace.

4 May - 2 miles around Patterson Park, not barefoot (15 minutes).

5 May - 5 miles (35 minutes) on and around Pot Spring Road, or, an impromptu hill workout.

6 May - 15 miles (105 minutes) at Gunpowder State Park, Essex version, that featured a long section along a power line cut, various suburban streets, a whole lot of mud, and rotting fish heads on the trail. Followed up with 2 miles of run/hike with Sara at Loch Raven (30 minutes).

7 May - Pace Frederick Half-Marathon in 1:40, with about a mile of warmup and a mile of warmdown on either end. Rest for a couple of hours, then a mile of warmup, the Frederick 5K in a disappointing 19:45, a mile of warmdown, then another 4 miles just because. Back in Baltimore, about 5 miles of run/hike with Sara at Loch Raven. Total 29 miles, and about 240 minutes.

Total Time: 576 minutes
Total Distance: 74 miles

Definitely high marks for variety, although not for mileage. Then again, going back and running the numbers from 28 April to 4 May, I ran 90 miles in that 7-day stretch, so, although not the magical 100-mile mark, more in the ballpark than this actual week would suggest. Given that I'm this close to MMT, and most of the hay is in the barn, this peak-and-rest trend is probably for the best (not to mention the variety in times/distances/terrain).

Now, Frederick, in as few words as I can manage:

I've run at least one race at the Frederick Running Festival since the 2007 edition, and I've always found the experience to be at least slightly uncomfortable. In 2007, it was the first year I had done the National, Boston, and Frederick marathons in the same spring, and I really didn't have the base to sustain it, so Frederick didn't go so well. 2008 went somewhat better, but Frederick was still my slowest of the three. 2009 was a 3:50 pace effort, which would have felt easy, except for the rain. 2010 was a crash-and-burn pace effort at 3:20, due to heat and cramping (but at least I finished, in spite of calf cramps so crippling that I nearly tripped and fell several times in the last mile).

This year, there was no marathon, so instead, I paced 1:40 for the half-marathon with Brian Benda, and then decided at some point in the past couple of months that running the 5K at noon would be a good idea. As it turned out, this was partially true.

The half was, as Frederick tends to be, pretty uneventful. We went out a little bit fast, slowed down on the hills in the middle and the end, and came in right on time. The weird thing about pacing 1:40 is that, unlike 3:20, not that many people want to run 1:40, because it's not really a qualifier for anything. The women's auto-qualify for New York is 1:37, which is a little too fast to stay with the 1:40 group for very long if you want to hit that mark, but otherwise, 1:40 is sort of an arbitrary time to run. A lot of people came and went, and in the end, we weren't really pushing anybody to the finish. I know that we helped people reach their goals, but it didn't feel like it as much this time.

When the half was over, I found relief for my upset stomach (which had made running the half a bit unpleasant, in addition to the fact that that pace for a half marathon is just a bit uncomfortable for me at this point - not slow enough to be completely easy, but not fast enough to feel fluid), then trudged back to the car, which was parked uncomfortably far away, in uncomfortably tall grass, to change clothes for the 5K. I napped for about half an hour in the car, because it was uncomfortably just a little bit chilly outside, and it was a little bit less uncomfortably chilly in the car. I woke up about 45 minutes before the race, and embarked upon the uncomfortable trudge back to the half-marathon finish/5K start.

I'm not really sure how to explain the 5K. In my warmup, I felt okay, maybe even fast. And my workout on Tuesday was faster than I had expected for that set of intervals (sub-6-minute-mile-pace). Maybe it was the crowded start, or the sandy loop around the track at the beginning of the race, or the hills and headwind on the way back, or maybe it's just not possible to bust out a fast 5K as the 32nd, 33rd, and 34th miles in a 24-hour period (although probably not the latter if you're trained for it). In any case, my 19:45 finish was evidence that my training has been too slow overall for me to run a fast 5K (and I think this is the salient point here). While this is a slow time, another way to look at it is that at 6:23/mile pace, it's in the ballpark of my current marathon pace, and, aside from general sluggishness, it didn't feel harder than a marathon effort. Developing a stride and a comfort level over the 5K distance is definitely something I want to work on in the next few weeks, so that hopefully the Bel Air Town Run will go a bit better.

And now that all of that (uncomfortable) water is under the bridge, it's onward to the MMT 100 this coming weekend. Stay tuned for that recap, which is bound to be more epic and inspiring than this one.

Monday, May 2, 2011

On Death and Running

No, this isn't the weekly update post, although I do have that one in the hopper, ready for publication. But in the interest of not double-posting, or making any of these any longer than they have to be, tonight I think I'll write about one of the "something differents" in a long list of "something differents" that need to be published on here sooner rather than later, and save the weekly update for later.

(If you really must know, the very short version of my update is that in the past two weeks, I ran 80 and 78 miles, including a PR at Boston, and a surreal 3:20 pacing effort at the Kentucky Derby Marathon, with an extra 17 miles tacked on at the end for good measure.)

But tonight, the topic on many people's minds (people that are on the internet and might read this sort of thing, anyway) is death. In particular, Osama Bin Laden's death. Putting aside (deep breath) the complications that some people believe that he's been dead for a long time, others believe that he's still not dead, still others believe that he's not responsible for all of the terror for which he's given credit, and all of the moral and political implications involved in an unauthorized deadly cross-borders raid (exhale), in some sense of the word, this is a huge accomplishment. That is, since the 9/11 attacks, a substantial number of Americans have been longing for the mastermind to be brought to justice, for the sake of a sense of closure. Now it's happened, and, acceptance willing, they have it.

What, pray tell, then, does this have to do with running? Since it's me, lately, probably a lot. First, bringing Bin Laden to justice has been a long-standing goal for the US. Closer to the 9/11 attacks, it seemed within reach. Then, for many years, it slipped away, and certainly, some lost focus. But a certain few persisted, and those who persisted reached the goal. As a runner, I can relate to this struggle. Over the many years since I've started running, I've had such goals, most notably, a sub-3-hour Boston Marathon. On my fifth attempt, I finally achieved it, after feeling as though I was close on my first attempt. That many years, and that much running, is a lot of time and distance between the starting point and the goal. At times, the value of the goal becomes questionable. And, in spite of the achievement, there's still no way to know for sure if all of the sacrifice and effort was worth it, or if the time could have been better spent on other pursuits. In a sense, the goal is dead, and there's no way to bring it back, and turn back the clock and let it live instead. But the undisputable prize here is validation of the assertion that achieving something that your heart is set on really is possible, with enough time and the proper efforts. The prize is the promise, and the confidence that you have the ability to do better.

But on another level, Bin Laden's death, relative to running, is something entirely different. In the context of the larger "war on terror," this is victory in one battle. This is hardly the end. And as clear-cut as it is to some Americans that this is a time for joy, across the world, others mourn, resent, lament, or vow revenge. All of these are valid reactions to death, because, if nothing else, death assures change. As a result of any loss, people re-group, re-assess, and re-prioritize. Hopefully, as a result, things go on better than they did before. And, in an allusion to something I've mentioned here in the past, this is exactly the substance of training to win. Simply put, if you're already there, you don't need to do anything to get there. But who's really already there, and even among those, who's going to stay there while the world keeps turning? In the words of Andrew W.K. (words whose brilliance I'm comprehending only now, years later), you have to be "ready to die." Effective training, training that makes you a faster, stronger runner, is going to kill some things. Aside from the physical death/rebirth cycle that is at the heart of training, it kills fear, doubt, sloth, indecision, weakness. And with death this profound, death of things that, although negative, have provided comfort in the form of stability to your existence for longer than you can remember, you're bound to experience emotions as mixed as those surrounding Bin Laden's death.

But ultimately (and back to the first point, and onward to the end of this), it seems as though the real winners in this world are those that are "ready to die." When you're ready to let go of the goal (hopefully because you accomplished it), or let go of the negativity that holds you back, you're ready to die to something that's been bringing you down, and raise yourself up to bigger and better things. And, as I mentioned in a previous post, this sort of process is uncomfortable, unsettling, and painful. It's not for everyone, it's not for everything, and it's not for all of the time.

But sometimes, it's worth it.