Tuesday, February 14, 2012


I am a runner and have been one for more than fifteen years.  In fact, for most of that time, being a runner is what defined me.  From high school, through college and grad school, and into the workplace, people knew me first as a runner, and second as the gawky, nerdy guy I really am (I prefer “svelte,” but I’m the only one).
Me without running.  So sad.
So, when I started the LGO program in 2010 in the midst of an 18-month knee injury, there was nothing for the real me to hide behind.  To my classmates, I was that gawky, nerdy guy, nothing more.  
Fortunately, last summer, after months of rest and physical therapy, I was finally able to run again.  It was time to start reclaiming my identity.  In building myself back up, I practiced more patience than anyone should ever have to, going for 3-, 4-, 5-minute runs in those early days.  I could complete my entire workout during the seventh inning stretch of a Mets game.  Sadly, this meant that I was back in time to see the end of the game.
Once I was running continuously, my competitiveness got the better of me.  I have a hard time running for the fun of it; I usually need a goal to shoot for.  Naturally, I decided that my first ever half-marathon would be a good way to end my two-year absence from the racing scene.  So, without really thinking about the consequences, I signed up for the Malibu Half Marathon in November.
I promised them glory and fame.  They got this instead.
You know that saying, “misery loves even more miserable company?”  Well, I decided that I’d enjoy my training more if I had some inexperienced partners.  Fortunately, there were five gullible LGO interns living within 100 feet of me.  After saying things like, “best shape of your life” and “run along the Malibu beaches” and “Charlie Sheen will be watching,” four of the five of them signed up.  And just like that, I felt better.
One of the unanticipated benefits of training with my LGO classmates was building a camaraderie I hadn’t felt since my days running collegiate cross-country and track.  There are few things I’ve experienced that forge stronger bonds between people than suffering together through a tough run.  Together, we scaled mountains (literally), hurdled rattlesnakes, and sprinted from hundreds of mountain lions (or, as it turned out, tiny but noisy lizards).  These are things I’ll never forget -- some of the best experiences of my two years in LGO. 
Anyway, on race day in mid-November, we finally put our training (or lack thereof) to the test.  We started by proudly demonstrating the “just-in-time” concepts learned at MIT: we caught the last bus to the start, found the last porta-potty (thank god), and squeezed into the start corral five seconds before the gun went off.  The folks at Toyota would have been proud.   
The race itself could not have started better.  It was a beautiful sunny day, and we all were running faster than expected for the first few miles.  This is usually a red flag, but I was feeling so good that I thought I just might be able to keep it up.  Little did I know it, but I was falling right into the evil race director's trap.

Not an enjoyable course profile.  Not enjoyable at all.
To punish the overconfident and ensure no runner could walk for the next eight days, the organizers created a course that was flat for the first half and then followed the Thunder Mountain profile for the second.  It was brutal for everyone.  To make matters worse, none of us had even run the race distance during our training, and we were paying for it.  It was everything I could do to put one leg in front of the other for the last four miles.  We all suffered -- separately, but together— through the 13.1 grueling miles. 

Running the flats, looking relaxed.
Near the finish, wanting to die.

Did I mention the water was cold?
Mercifully, the finish line (with NO beach party! what?!) appeared and accepted each of our sweaty, limp bodies into its concrete arms.  We cheered for each other across the line, making sure that no one had actually died on the course, and then rewarded ourselves with a refreshing dip in the frigid Pacific.

As painful as the race was (not to mention the next few days -- I walked around Amgen's offices like I had two peg legs), it was one of the highlights of my six months in California.  And even though I was thrilled to officially end my injury-induced racing drought, it was sharing the experience with the other LGOs that had made the race so special.