Sunday, August 3, 2008

An Inspiring 19 Mile Run

I wake up at 5:30am, but once again don't make it out the door before 6:15. That's what I get for sipping coffee and throwing together a new route at the last possible minute.

I have changed today's run fearing another hot the moment there is no marine layer over my home. That said, with the Hills Are Alive 10K next week, I need to spend quality time on the rolling hills of Palos Verdes, so I start by heading uphill and chance spending my first several miles on the peninsula. Thankfully the early morning air is pleasantly cool. I just hope it stays this way.

The first part of my run goes according to plan. Despite tweaking my ankle on Thursday, I feel no pain at all today. My breathing is very controlled. I do not let myself go slower than ten minute miles on the ascent. I let my pace continue to drop as descend towards the coast.

On the hills of the peninsula, I see a lot of cyclists. Closer to and along the coast, I see more runners and walkers. I usually say or reply "good morning" to people I pass, but rarely does a conversation go beyond that. Today, however, as I catch a runner also heading north on Palos Verdes Drive West he unexpectedly asks, "Am I no longer running alone?" If this question is not an invitation to converse, I do not know what is. I reply, "Guess not any more" as I run alongside and match his pace.

This runner is particularly chatty...even more so than my coworker. We learn that we are both running significant mileage today (20 in his case)...and immediately (and correctly) conclude that we are both training for marathons. I tell him I am training for my first. He, on the other hand, has run 47...which includes consecutive Boston Marathons since 1999! When he tells me that he is heading towards Manhattan Beach along the coast, I decide to alter my course to stay with him. I had planned to cut inland to South High School today...but this is so much more interesting (and potentially more valuable).

Did I mention he just celebrated his 70th birthday?

He looks really good for his age. He is running a solid 9 to 10 minute per mile pace, but has already run 13 miles! His form is smooth, almost casual...and he is obviously not pushing his pace because the conversation continues. He even suggests turning up one of the side streets off of Palos Verdes Drive just to get one more hill into our workout. After passing Malaga Cove Plaza and rounding Palos Verdes Blvd, we continue down towards the beach.

I learn a bit about his running history, about how his wife (who also runs marathons) got him running again, how his competitive juices really started flowing after he finished towards the back of the pack, and how he now often finishes first in his age group. I learn that he prefers point-to-point races over loops and out-and-backs especially because he hates watching runners try to cut the course (and apparently people even try to cheat at Boston Marathon qualifying races...which makes absolutely no sense to him). He no longer does the Palos Verdes Marathon because the route has been part of his normal training routine for years. His stories about the Boston Marathon really gets me excited about it...reinforcing that it should be one of my goals (Maui Marathon is a Boston Marathon qualifier).

I finally introduce myself. He introduces himself as "Sus". When we reach the Esplanade, Sus tells me he normally heads down to the strand for his home stretch. I tell him I prefer the asphalt, which he totally understands. I thank him for making this four mile stretch unexpectedly fun. Sus says that we will see each other again. I do not doubt it...and I certainly hope so.

Feeling totally inspired, I resume my originally planned 19 mile run (albeit in the reverse direction). I turn right at Torrance Blvd, continue inland as far as Anza, cut south towards Calle Mayor and eventually South High School. I run 800m on the dirt track (something I swore I would never do after high school), take a short break, and then head up the hill towards my mom's house (where I refill my water bottle). After another short break, I resume my uphill run towards home.

I am able to run all but the final incline...but since I am well aware I can complete the entire workout within three hours (significantly faster than my previous and much flatter 19 mile run to Manhattan Beach), I walk as fast and as briefly as possible.

Shortly after I get home, I hop on Athlinks and try to learn the full identity of "Sus". Knowing his age and running history make figuring out his full name quite easy. Looking at his results and the number of races he has entered over the past decade, I am even more impressed!

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