Sunday, February 3, 2019

Louisiana Marathon - Jan. 20, 2019

This is how you run a marathon, while injured, in four Phish jams.

As it tends to be, it was chilly on marathon morning. Gloria did an awesome job getting us from our hotel (about seven miles from downtown) to the starting area in the heart of Baton Rouge.  Her keen sense of direction and ability to learn the lay of the land rather quickly was a relief, since most of my energy was being spent worrying about whether my legs would hold up.  She found a place to park on the street and we found a spot next to one of the buildings where I could do some stretches without getting hit so hard with the gusts of wind.

I seeded myself with the pacer for a 3:30 goal.  That felt do-able, since my leg felt like it would at least hold up for the duration of the race.  And even if it did not, my attitude was "whatever happens happens, as long as it happens in under four hours."  I would bring my phone with me, in case things got bad and I had to call Gloria to pick me up (literally, as in, off the ground).  Plus, if my mind needed to wander, I had four long Phish jams playing softly in my headphones.

At the start line of the Louisiana Marathon in Baton Rouge.  Photo by Gloria.

For the first mile or two (while listening to the 62-minute "Ball Square Jam" from 7/2/11), I held back.  I pretended I was back in Las Vegas for the Red Rock Canyon marathon, taking the first few miles very easily before the hard work of climbing that thousand-foot ascent.  Only this time, the hard work would not be a mountain, it would be the challenge of staving off the hamstring pain that was inevitable.

With a couple of low 8s under my belt, things felt pretty good.  As we left downtown Baton Rouge via Park Boulevard and passed a couple of parks along Dalrymple Drive I got to talking with a gent wearing a "Fifty Under 4" shirt indicating he had run a marathon in every state, each one under four hours.  I told him about how that was my goal and that I was on number 19.  He wished me luck and I moved on, accelerating the pace into the mid-7s as we passed City Park Lake.

We passed University Lake and headed into Louisiana State University for the fourth, fifth and sixth miles, an enjoyable campus tour that included a pass by the impressive stadium. Off of the campus in the seventh mile, we ran through a quiet, tree-lined neighborhood.  Its serene tranquility brought a content smile to my face.  This was shaping up to be quite an enjoyable race, and I had gotten my average pace down to about 7:50.

Along Lakeshore Drive and its beautiful community, the residents were out in full force, with signs, music and cheers - not to mention the proud New Orleans Saints fandom.  The team would play its NFC championship game that afternoon (and lose, sorry to say) and the "Who dat?" chanting was infectious.

We continued to work our way around University Lake and back around City Park Lake through the 10th mile and, now in my second hour of running, I was listening to the 59-minute "It Tower Jam" from 8/2/03).  After backtracking past the parks along Dalrymple, the marathon runners split from the half marathon runners and the real work was about to begin.

While deep in thought in the 13th mile, doing some math in my head to try to calculate my pace (7:49 thus far), I heard a familiar voice.  It was Gloria!  She was calling my name, holding a sign.  I was so thrilled, I stopped and gave her a kiss.  She said I looked good and I told her I felt good.  Things really were going as well as could be...

...until they were not. Something suddenly was not right with my right hamstring as I snaked my way through more pretty residential neighborhoods in the 15th mile.  It was almost 10 a.m., I had been running for two hours, and the Real Time pain reliever was wearing off.  My right leg muscles started seizing up.

Slowing the pace considerably, I made a frantic call to Gloria, asking her to meet me wherever and whenever she could, but as soon as possible.  I needed more of that pain reliever and my "stick" muscle roller.  If there was any chance in me finishing the race under four hours, I would need some quick treatment.

Somehow, I dragged my deadening leg through miles 16, 17 and 18.  I was getting by, but slowly.  The 3:30 pacer passed me, which meant my average pace was now slower than eight minutes, which also meant that those miles had to be closer to nines.  I even considered walking, but thought the better of it. 

Now in my third hour of running, I tried to focus my attention on the third Phish jam - the epic 58-minute "Runaway Jim" from 11/29/97 - but things were looking grim.  Then, around the Mile 19 marker, I saw Gloria.  Like a pit crew at a NASCAR race, she was on the ready. She gave me the  stick and I furiously rolled my hamstring, howling in agony.  She passed me the Real Time and I shoved my hand down my tights to slather it on.  Then, more rolling.

The whole process took about two minutes, which would normally be an eternity in a race, but I knew the only way to buy myself some time at the end was to lose a little time first and get this done.  I thanked my wife profusely, kissed her goodbye and set out to finish this thing.

Amazingly, that stuff worked again.  I did not care if it only masked the symptoms, as long as it could get me through the last six miles.  I hit mile 20 with about 2:45 on the clock.  Even at the pace I was running, I knew I could get to the finish in under four hours.  At 11:04 a.m., just after hitting the 22 mile mark and starting the final Phish jam ("Drive-In Jam" from 8/22/15), I sent Gloria a text: "If I can keep this up, it should be a 3:35 finish".

Gloria met me one more time, in the middle of mile 24 and with another sign.  The positive energy was exactly what I needed.  Finally getting into the downtown area, it finally felt like the race was coming to a close.  Though the last mile felt like it took forever, it did not matter.  I was going to finish this race well under four hours, and is that not what I had come to Louisiana to do?

I approached the end as the P.A. was playing one of my favorite songs - "Your Love" by the Outfield.  I sang along at the top of my lungs as I crossed the finish line with a final time of 3:36:10, an 8:16 overall pace.  Somehow, I had managed to come in the top 16 percent overall (141 out of 890) and in the top 29 percent of my age/gender group (25 out of 89).  On an injured leg.  A month after pretty much getting a PR.  Wow.

Truly, now, I had earned my Beach to Bayou medal.  I completed my 20th marathon.  I listened to four Phish jams.  I crossed my 19th state off the list.  I drank beer.  I ate as much of the available vegetarian gumbo as I could get.  I listened (and tried, unsuccessfully due to the soreness, to dance) to the band playing "Proud Mary".  I reveled with my wife and enjoyed the chilly but sunny day in beautiful Baton Rouge.

This was, indeed, what I came to do.  And I did it.  Who dat?
The Beach to Bayou medal, connecting my Mississippi Marathon, Louisiana 5K and Louisiana Marathon medals.

Gloria and me in front of the Louisiana State Capitol building, at the finish line of the Louisiana Marathon, in Baton Rouge.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Louisiana 5K

Because I was planning on doing a three-mile Saturday warm-up anyway - and it still qualified me to get the giant Beach to Bayou medal, and Gloria was running it, too - I registered for the Louisiana 5K taking place on Jan. 19, the day before the marathon.

In addition, it would serve as a good test of how my legs would hold up. I slathered on more of that Real Time gel and hoped for the best. The forecast called for rain all morning, but as Gloria and I drove from our hotel, about five miles from downtown Baton Rouge, it was still dry, though very windy.

Upon arrival at the parking garage near the start line, some folks informed us that, due to impending extreme weather conditions (wind, rain and lightning), the race was canceled.

As is now part of the Phish-fan lingo, we had been Curveballed.

After the initial disappointment, we began to wonder - what about that Beach to Bayou medal? I was planning to run the marathon the next day, but this was Gloria's only race this weekend. She came all this way and now she cannot get her award?

Though she was ready to, as she said, "get all Jersey on them," it turned out that these lovely folks were way ahead of us, extending their Southern hospitality to all who came to collect both the 5K race medal and Beach to Bayou medal. 

Not satisfied to collect medals without running, we decided to run the 5K anyway. And we were not alone. We got out on the course, ran an earnest 3.1 miles and felt justified for taking our hardware. As soon as we finished, at around 8 a.m., when the race had been scheduled to start, the skies opened up and the deluge of rain began. Streets quickly flooded, lightning flashed across the sky, and the wind gusted heavily. They had definitely made the right call.

Gloria displays her huge Beach to Bayou bling, along with her Mississippi Half Marathon and Louisiana 5K hardware

As for my hamstrings, running at Gloria's 10+ minute pace made it easy to get through (despite the fact that the slower gait is hell on my back, for some reason), and my legs held up OK. There was a nagging ache and a little pain, but I felt like I was in good enough condition to at least get through the marathon on Sunday.

Four hours might not be in the cards, I thought, but I'll get through it. At that point, it would have to do.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Marathon XX

When I was in Biloxi for the Mississippi Gulf Coast Marathon, I was seduced.

The race booklet made mention of a special medal for runners who participated in any race at that event and any race at the Louisiana Marathon event six weeks later. This Beach to Bayou medal was huge - a giant hunk of metal with magnets on each side, where the medals from both Mississippi Gulf Coast and Louisiana can be attached to form big, mural-like triptych.

I was in its thrall and could not pass it up, despite the fact that my near-PR in Mississippi took everything out of me - destroying my hamstrings in the process. I probably should have rested, repaired and recuperated. But no, I looked up Hal Higdon's Multiple Marathon plan and got right back to work.

Admittedly, it was a relatively small amount of work, with a maximum mileage week of only 36. But almost every run, from the twice-weekly four- and six-milers to the peak 16-mile long run, felt labored at best, painful at worst.

By the time Gloria and I rolled into Baton Rouge on Friday (a 25-hour road trip from New Jersey), my outlook was bleak. At worst, I could slowly run the 5K with Gloria on Saturday, collect the Beach to Bayou bling and let whatever happens happen at the marathon on Sunday.

Driving to Louisiana and not completing the marathon didn't make sense, though. I needed to add a 19th state to my list. So, theoretically, I could crawl to the finish line in the seven-hour time limit, get my marathon medal and cross it off in my effort to run all 50 states.

But if I really wanted to keep my streak going, it needed to be under four hours. By Friday, with my hamstring still in agony, it felt like I needed nothing short of a miracle to accomplish that. At the race expo, a minor one showed up in the form of a topical analgesic called Real Time Pain Relief, which I bought as a desperate, last ditch attempt. The salesman may very well have been offering me snake oil, but I gave it a shot.

Happily, it did ease some of the pain as I continued to slather it on Friday night. The first real test would be to see how my legs held up on a relaxed 5K on Saturday.

From the get go, one thing was for sure - this was going to be a very weird weekend.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Phish at Madison Square Garden - Dec. 30, 2018

Any multi-show run in one venue plays out like a single, giant show, so I listened to the Dec. 29 show on the morning of Dec. 30, the second set while doing my 14-mile run.  That way, I would not have missed anything by the time we went to the show that evening. 

"Corrina" was not only nice to hear, but well played and reminiscent of its bust-out on 12/30/99 (Big Cypress Seminole Reservation, Florida). "46 Days" had a swifter-than-usual tempo and a jam that was rocking in the first half, and pretty in the second half; but Trey pulled a 2011-style ripcord - within 30 seconds of Mike and Page establishing a nice vi-IV pattern that could have totally been explored, Trey forced a segue into a sloppy "Cities". The fun of the first set was a "Wolfman's Brother" into which Trey crowbarred elements of "Party Time", probably trying (but failing) to swerve the jam into that song proper.

Set II of 12/29/18 gave us the absolute best jam of the four-show run.  Shortly into the opening "Carini" jam, they shifted into a major key, and instead of the usual 10-plus minute jam, we got a surprising segue into the jam-of-the-night in "Tweezer". People will be talking about this one for a while. There was such great interplay, with Trey and Fish initiating stops and starts to goad the crowd into some "woo"s and, afterward, they did a pretty, uptempo jam, followed by a segue to "Death Don't Hurt Very Long". But instead of taking the solo himself, Trey threw solos to Fish and Mike before another segue back into "Tweezer", which had another pretty but, by now, perfunctory jam which was brought way down for a segue into "No Quarter".  

With "Death Don't Hurt" as well as "Turtle in the Clouds" played on Dec. 29, we had six remaining Kasvot Vaxt songs on the table as we arrived at Madison Square Garden for the Dec. 30 show. We had decent seats in section 202, across the arena, but with an almost head-on and unobstructed view of the stage.  The sound was not so bad, either.

Opening with "Alumni Blues -> Letter to Jimmy Page -> Alumni Blues" followed by "Mike's Song" gave the show a classic '88 feel, but a big surprise came in the place between "Mike's" and "Weekapaug Groove" usually occupied by "I Am Hydrogen".  Instead of that song, they busted out "Glide II", played exactly once before by Phish, on 5/16/95 (Lowell, MA) - though the real bustout was actually when Trey blew everyone's mind by dusting it off earlier in December during his solo tour.

Speaking of old dormant songs tested by Trey during his solo tour, the short acoustic number, "Bliss", from the 1996 album Billy Breathes that mostly serves as an introduction for the album's title song, also showed up for the first time ever at a Phish show on Dec. 30.  It came off of a "Crosseyed and Painless" that was seamlessly segued out of "Weekapaug" and led into "Billy" as on the album.

After that, there was about 18 minutes of dancing, with "No Men In No Man's Land" laying down some funk and "Weekapaug" showing up again in the middle of a "Tube" jam. "More" closed the set to great and powerful effect, as it often does. As first sets go, that one was pretty hard to beat.

If Set I kept things mostly classic, the first two-thirds of Set II stayed firmly rooted in 3.0 with a fifth Kasvot Vaxt song ("Cool Amber and Mercury"), a large "Everything's Right" that included a big major-key bliss jam, a "Plasma" that had Page tearing it up on the clavinet, and a 20-minute "Light" during which Chris Kuroda's lights were the definite MVP of the jam - not that the band was too shabby either, especially when they peaked, brought it way down, and peaked again.

To close out the set, "Wading in the Velvet Sea" was a pleasant choice, and it was followed by a very 3.0 "Split Open and Melt" (and you know how I feel about those).  That almost did not matter though, because the encore more than made up for it, with a rare four-song selection of classic-era tunes - "Funky Bitch", "Wilson", "Rocky Top" and a "Cavern" that included a nod to Kasvot Vaxt ("Your time is near, the mission's clear, you'll face plant into rock.").  

Despite the lack of any 2.0 era songs in the show, and the way the 3.0 and 1.0 songs were played in separated clumps, this show felt like it had a ton of variety and, most importantly, the playing was incredible - a band doing what it does best on the night before its year-end spectacular.  It was my 10th Dec. 30 Phish show and, once again, it did not disappoint.  I came away satisfied with it being my last show of the year.

The next night was everything New Year's Eve should be, with big, fat jams in "Down With Disease" and "Seven Below"; a fun song sandwich that put "Passing Through" (KV song #8 after "Play By Play" was the seventh in Set I)) in the middle of the "Harry Hood" jam; and, of course, an elaborate production to ring in the new year (this time based around one of my favorite newer songs, "Mercury" and a ninth KV tune "Say It to Me S.A.N.T.O.S.").  I watched it with friends at home on Jan. 1 and it felt like I got to ring in the new year all over again.  

Fans seem to be using "This is what space smells like" (from "S.A.N.T.O.S.") as a catchphrase, but when it comes to Phish's New Year's Run, I think the next line is much more appropriate - "You will always remember where you were."

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Phish at Madison Square Garden - Dec. 28, 2018

Happy New Year's Run!  Now that all that Christmas crap is over with, we can get down to the real holiday season.  It is Phish's 17th Dec. 28th show ever (and my seventh!) and by Jan. 1, they will have played at the venue 65 times total, just a few shy of the 69 Elton John will have racked up by the spring.  We see you, Billy Joel, with your 106 MSG shows, and we are coming for you.

For this show, Gloria and I scored floor tickets through Phish mail order, so we got the full sound and lights, with an excellent view of the band and, occasionally, some decent dancing room, staying around the middle.

Being the first show since the Halloween run, it is no surprise that Phish wants to explore the new Kasvot Vaxt songs that they debuted in Las Vegas, so we got two of those songs - "We Are Come to Outlive Our Brains" to open the show and "The Final Hurrah" as a highlight of the second set - and I am sure there are more to come over the next three nights.

"Martian Monster" provided a 3.0 Halloween double shot at the top of the show, but until the "Walls of the Cave" closer (with its awfully bungled intro but high-energy redeeming jam), the first set looks on paper like it could have been from 1998, with a raging "Axilla I"; a rocking "Free" that kept things hot and heavy without pushing any boundaries; "The Wedge", which always feels both out of place and perfectly welcome wherever it is played in the set.

But do not let the set list fool you.  The quick swerve into a major-key in "Ghost"; the herky-jerky, noisy stabs in "Meat"; a "Sparkle" that was well-executed into its speedy coda, but without the frantic, frenetic pace of the old days; Trey's killer counterpoint during Page's organ solo in "Maze"; and an "If I Could" that retained all the beauty of the later versions, but at the more brisk tempo of the earlier versions, this was unmistakably the non-jam side of 3.0 Phish at its best.

Oh, you want to talk about the jam side of 3.0 Phish?  Check out the raging jam that saved "Walls of the Cave", and then follow me into the second set, where "Set Your Soul Free" got things going with a long jam that stayed mostly moored, but explored a lot of pretty textures before getting weird at the end and falling into "Swept Away".

The minute-long "Swept Away" always leads to "Steep".  Any old fan like me remembers the 1990s versions of "Steep" that were merely another brief, two-minute pit stop.  The 3.0-era "Steep" is a beautiful slow jam that builds on the theme of the backing vocal melody. While this version did not quite meet the majesty of the Baker's Dozen version (8/1/17 Maple) at this very venue, or even the 7/10/11 version from Camden, Trey and Page showed - as they did with "If I Could" in the first set and the lovely "Shade" (I am not crying, you are crying) later in the second set - that the tender moments can be some of the best. 

Holy moly, I just realized that Phish has only done this new "Steep" five times since the 2009 reunion, and I have seen four of them!

While it was super fun to have some extended play off of "The Final Hurrah", the bigger, better jam came in "Fuego" which is always reliable, often a highlight.  Count this version, which peaked twice, in that latter category, even if (at only 10 power-packed minutes) it did not stretch out into transcendence like the back-to-back monsters of 7/4/14 and 7/8/14.

Speaking of peaks and transcendence, have you heard this "Bathtub Gin" yet?  After Page gets down on the Rhodes for a while, Fish speeds up the beat and, suddenly, I am transported back to 6/28/00 in Holmdel, for a high-energy, funky/happy jam. The similarity in vibe was uncanny. 

So after all that, does ending with "Possum" leave me a little flat?  Yes, just a little - but watching everyone else, from newbie kids to old dudes, go bananaballs over it always makes me smile.  I am sure it gives Jeff Holdsworth a warm fuzzy, too.
"Slave to the Traffic Light"
And if I can not feel the same about a version of "Bouncing Around the Room" so lame that even I refuse to defend it, at least we ended the show on about as pretty a note as one can, with "Slave to the Traffic Light", perhaps to tie it in with the other such moments on this rainy, yet mild December night in New York City.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Mississippi Gulf Coast Marathon (Part Three)

It is no secret that race directors and the USA Track and Field organization have a bug up their butts about GPS watches.

This is, of course, with good reason.  Most runners now have the darn things and there are a lot of discrepancies that can occur because of the way that they calculate the distances between points.  Without going into great detail, the general accepted consensus is that, mile to mile, they are pretty accurate, give or take a fraction of a second.

But those fractions of seconds add up over long distances.  So if my Garmin is off even as little as a quarter of a second off per mile, that is no big deal for that one mile; but over 26.2, I am looking at a differential of more than six seconds by the end. 

Naturally, race directors and the USATF completely dismiss complaints about GPS discrepancies, claiming that their race courses are meticulously measured and thoroughly vetted, and are therefore not subject to such discrepancies.  Thus, they are the gold standard of accuracy...

...except when they are not - like at last year's Mississippi Gulf Coast Marathon or the Rehoboth Beach Marathon in 2011, when the courses were glaringly short; or the countless races where I had been sent into a wrong turn (or a missed turn).  Even at major events like last year's Mississippi Gulf Coast race, at some point, the directors have to admit, with eggs on their faces, that an error had been made (though the silent USATF never admits there is ever a problem). 

Because no matter how accurate the measurements are claimed to be, there are still humans doing it; several, in fact, for each course measurement.  And humans make errors, no matter how much people like that idiot Liza Recto from the Lower Potomac River Marathon (whose poor instructions caused runners several precious seconds) try to get around copping to it.

Also, I have read that many courses are designed to be slightly long just in case of these kinds of errors occur.

So, all that being said, if my time on my Garmin (3:04:15) was 33 seconds different from the official time (3:04:48), is it not possible that seven seconds (almost one-fifth of the differential) can be accounted for as some kind of human error?  There is legitimate proof that there was definitely some kind of error at this race, as no one could deny that the 11-mile marker was waaaay off.

I am certain that neither the race director nor the stuffy USATF would entertain a complaint (they completely ignored my legitimate and completely prove-able argument about that moron Liza Recto), and I will accept that the official time stands. But in my heart, I will always feel like the Mississippi Gulf Coast Marathon was my unofficial PR - the race in which the weather and nine years of hard training came to fruition and its triumphant conclusion.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Mississippi Gulf Coast Marathon (Part Two)

After doing a mile warm-up jog and trying to stay warm at the start line during yet another pointless playing of a recording of the national anthem (seriously, when can we stop suffering through that nonsense before a race? A freezing race starting line is not exactly the place for patriotism), we were finally off and running the Mississippi Gulf Coast Marathon.

The lead runners went out way in front and I hung back as much as I could.  Even now, 19 marathons later, I still have to remind myself not to start out too fast.  The rule is, was and always will be "If you think you are going a little too slow, you are probably about right."

I used my Garmin GPS watch to keep track of my splits and, indeed, I hit the first mile at 6:53, only slightly faster than the magic 7:01 pace that would bring me a personal record (3:03).  The next few miles were 7:00, 6:53 and 7:07.  I could not slow down any more than that; I was already having too much fun looking at all the beautiful houses on the tree-lined Scenic Drive and enjoying the awesome tailwind.  Perhaps it was too early to start talking about a PR, but I was about 11 seconds in front of the goal time and the seed was already planted in my brain.

With another sub-7 in the fifth mile (6:58), I knew I had to calm my excitement and slow the hell down.  I have done this all too many times - start out too fast, crash by the end.  I did not want this race to end in suffering.  This was supposed to be a happy race, through and through, and I was determined to keep it that way.  So the next few miles were deliberately slower - 7:08, 7:10, 7:08, 7:04, 7:11 - and it felt like I was crawling.  Plus, those miles put me about 22 seconds behind my goal PR pace and no matter how much I tried to convince myself that I did not need to go for a PR, I could not get the nagging thought out of my head that it was possible.  Perhaps that is why I did the 11th mile with a 6:58.

(By the way, if you are watching the videos, you will notice that my math was a little off.  Doing math is a great way to keep my brain occupied while running, but it is not easy to do it accurately!)

Still not certain that a PR attempt was the right move, I hung back some more for the next three miles, even getting caught up in a conversation with a fellow runner.  So miles 12 through 14 in Gulfport were 7:04, 7:05 and 7:12.

More than halfway through the race now, and 37 seconds behind PR pace, it was time to decide what kind of race this would end up being.  The flat course and the tailwind made it possible to stay so steady with so little fatigue.  If there was any chance to ramp it up and get some of those seconds back, it had to start immediately.

I went for it.

To make up 37 seconds in 12 miles, I needed to run 6:58s consistently. That seemed unlikely.  However, there was one saving grace - my PR goal pace had a built in cushion.  A 7:01 pace overall would get me to the finish line at 3:03:32.  But my PR is 3:04:42, so that gave me 70 seconds of wiggle room.

I ramped up the effort for the next several miles and made up a decent chunk of time.  Unbelievably, I ran my fastest two miles yet in Miles 15 and 16 (6:52 each) and kept the effort strong and solid, coming in with 7:01, 6:59, 7:02, 7:03 and 7:01, for miles 17 through 21.

Five miles to go and only 20 seconds off of that 3:03 goal, the PR seemed completely within my grasp, especially with that built-in cushion.  But my grasp started to slip as each mile got more labored.  There was no way I was ever hitting a wall at this race, but I could definitely feel my energy fading away as I managed to run Miles 22 through 24 at 7:02, 7:04 and 7:02 - a marvelous feat at any other marathon, but every second counted now.  I kept telling myself that I only needed to push myself a little more and it would be over and I would be triumphant.  I was picturing where I would be on my five-mile course and how close to home I would be.  I was also picturing what it would be like to cross that finish line breaking the PR that has been standing now for almost a decade.

The 25 second deficit from the goal pace would put me at the finish line at 3:03:57.  All I had to do was run the last 2.2 miles in 15:52.  That would be a 7:12 for each mile.  7:12 had been my slowest mile, when I was barely trying.  If I use every last bit of gas in the tank, surely I could pull that off.

Then, the course's one and only hill came in Mile 25 and threatened to put the kibosh on the whole thing.  Not a natural hill, this was an exit ramp off of Highway 90 and onto Interstate 110, which literally crosses over Biloxi.  At first, the incline felt good - I could finally use some different muscles (my quads were raring to go).  I even passed a few people.  But heading up the incline and into the 15 mph winds that had been at our backs (at best) and from our left (at worst, which still was not bad) knocked my penultimate mile down to a 7:16.

Still, every uphill has a downhill, so I gave it everything I had for Mile 26.  Despite my hamstrings practically screaming for mercy, I lengthened my stride as far as it would go as I saw Gloria and my friend Marshall cheering me on from the minor league baseball park where the finish line was.  All I had to do was hook around the stadium, enter from the opposite side, and traverse the outfield wall and first base line to the finish.  And with a 6:50 (my fastest mile of the race), I made up almost all the time I lost in the previous mile (my slowest).

This was it.  PR, baby.  I had done it.

Except, somehow, I had not.  As I rounded the outside of the ball field, I saw the seconds tick past the 3:04:41 that I needed.  Grunting, groaning and moaning in pain, I crossed the finish line with 3:04:48 on the clock.  An amazing result of which I am extremely proud, but inexplicable considering my pace and my splits.  How did it happen?

If it is possible to be both elated and disappointed at the same time, this would be that moment.  But at that point, who cared?  My 19th marathon was my second fastest marathon of my life - at 44 years old, no less.  There was no reason to quibble, nor was there time to do so because from that moment, for the rest of the day, it was party time.  You run a race like that, you celebrate.