Sunday I ran the Philadelphia Marathon, my second full marathon ever. My first was the 2011 Shamrock Marathon in Virginia Beach, where I ran a 4:17:30. I trained a lot harder this year, and shaved almost exactly twenty minutes off my time, finishing in 3:57:31. My primary goal was to beat four hours, which also happens to be faster than both Sarah Palin and Paul Ryan (in reality, not in his imagination). Someday I could be among the fastest runners ever to lose a campaign for Vice President.
For those who don’t know, I have been running for only about 30 months. I took my first steps as a runner in June 2010, running for thirty seconds and then doubling over to suck wind. Before that, I hated running. I was never a runner in high school or before that, and actively avoided running of any kind for at least a decade. I ran my first marathon nine months after I took those first steps. I say this not to brag about my accomplishment, but because I hold myself up as an illustration that anyone can do this, if they have the desire and the discipline and follow a good training plan. If you’re looking to get started, I strongly recommend the Couch to 5K, which is how I got started.
Originally the plan was for Liz to pace me, as she did at the Shamrock. Unfortunately, she injured a tendon in her ankle running the Harrisburg Marathon on November 11 (and finished in less than four hours, mind you, after injuring herself at mile 12) so I was running solo. I was surprised how comfortable I felt at this news–I had done all my training solo, after all, and my long runs had been going really well–but I had another moment of panic when, standing in the corral five minutes before the race start, my iPod shuffle crapped out on me. As I was grabbing my cell phone from Liz and mentally preparing to run at least part of the four hours without music, a lady next to me mentioned that her Garmin wristwatch had similarly chosen to die right at the start of the race. Now, having only recently brought my own Garmin back from near-death, I knew exactly how to resurrect hers, which brought her such joy she nearly cried. As she gleefully called her husband to give him the good news (yes, little things like your satellite watch breaking really are that big a deal before a marathon) the gods of electronics paid back my karma, and my iPod came to life.
Since my goal was a sub-4:00 marathon, I had trained to run a 3:50, reasoning that if there were unforeseen delays (like potty breaks, which have ruined a couple of my longer races) I would have a nice buffer to fall back on. A 9:07 per mile pace is what I needed for a sub-4:00 race. I planned to set a pace of 8:40 per mile for my first half marathon, and then drop as slow as 9:10 for my second half. I’m pleased to say that my first half felt so good, I stayed around 8:50 all the way through mile 20. Around mile 20 I was thinking a 3:53:00 might be a realistic finish, which would mean crossing the finish line before the clock read 4:00:00. As always, the last six miles were about a million times harder than the first 20, as my legs started to burn and tighten up, and my brain starts insisting that stopping really wouldn’t be such a bad idea. There’s also the mentally-challenging sight of other runners around you slowing to a walk. Early in the race, I told myself I would stay positive and encourage those around me, but when you’re just trying to push out those last few painful miles, every person who is walking makes the race seem harder, and you don’t want to encourage them–you want to yell at them.
In the end, the dedication that I showed to my training really paid off, and the race felt much easier than my first. Liz cheered me on at the 14 mile mark, and again at the 26-mile mark, and though I didn’t spot my parents in their spot near the finish, they met up with Liz and I afterward. I high-fived Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter at the finish line, as did about 20,000 other people (and may I say how awesome I think it is for our mayor to stand there in the cold for over four hours, congratulating people as they finish the race?) and then got a little weepy as I collected my medal. I’m normally pretty buttoned-down, emotionally, but after a race that length, there’s this incredible endorphin rush and sense of achievement, and because you’re so physically and mentally exhausted, it’s really difficult to hold in any emotion. I cried a little when I found Liz, and again when my parents joined us. Then I shuffled like a 90-year-old on our way to get food.
When I started training this past July, I wasn’t even sure I wanted to run another full marathon, but I figured I could train and see how it went, and if I didn’t feel up to the full I could run the half instead. I’m glad I ran the full. Philadelphia has been my home for the last five years, and the marathon is considered one of the best courses in the country. I expect to be a full-time New Yorker pretty soon, and though I could come back for a marathon any time, I’m glad I got to run it at least once as a home-town guy.
I’m not sure how many full marathons I see myself doing. I like distance running, but the half marathon really is my preferred distance. A full is about an hour too long for me, and the training just consumes your life. But there is an incredible sense of achievement that follows, because no matter how many marathons you’ve run, the next one always seems sort of impossible. As I started writing this, I realized for the first time that, while they were twenty months apart, I technically ran two full marathons in two years. I don’t think that’s a pace I will keep up, but then again I used to say I would never fun a full marathon at all. So who knows?
For the running geeks, here are the details of my marathon, courtesy of my Garmin Forerunner.
I’ve started laying out the next novel, following a somewhat new approach for me. I’m beginning by creating a thorough biography of each character that takes them from birth through the start of their involvement in the story. I have a rough idea about the plot, but I don’t want to make specific story decisions until I understand each character and have a feel for what he or she would do and why. In the past I’ve usually fleshed out characters as I wrote, and that has slowed me down – I’m hoping that writing out bios in advance will make the writing process go a lot faster. Not to be super-ambitious, but I’d love to have this book finished (in some form) by the end of 2013.
Also, I’m going to need to learn a bit about peer-to-peer filesharing services in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Two or three short stories are also in the works, and I may try to finish those before I start the real work on the novel. The first required three hours of research into voodoo and the geography of New Orleans. I did that research, and wrote the first 1,200 words, last night while my PS3 was downloading Assassin’s Creed III. Oh yes, even while I was working, I was simultaneously self-sabotaging. That’s multi-tasking.
Also, the Philly Marathon is this weekend, and I’ll be running alone because Liz hurt her ankle running the Harrisburg Marathon this past Sunday. I feel pretty confident anyway, and the weather looks promising. Of course I am also terrified. Stay tuned to see how I do.
I’ll admit to a certain level of intrigue. But I have too many other things going on in November. I’m finishing up marathon training (and running said marathon!), shopping a novel to literary agents, planning a move to New York City (including finding a new job), and in the meantime working my existing full-time job and trying to keep up with the enormous Rube Goldberg machine that is my day-to-day life.
I also have decidedly mixed feelings about NaNoWriMo in general. As much as I try not to over-romanticize the craft, I still cling to that idea of the author as a hermit, slaving away in isolation on that book he or she is compelled to complete. Something about the communal nature of NaNoWriMo runs contrary to that ideal. It’s a whole month dedicated to reminding me I am not a beautiful unique snowflake, but in fact one of tens of thousands of hairless apes who consider themselves storytellers.
I may be a little bitter that other people are able to churn out even a very sloppy first draft in 30 days [November isn’t even one of the LONG months, people!] and resentful that every agent blog I read bemoans the avalanche of manuscripts that hit their inboxes annually on December 1. There exists a National Novel Editing Month, but I don’t think it’s as well-publicized.
I do have a new novel I’m going to start work on shortly, but I’m not yet sure when. I’m laying down some of the skeletal work now, mostly mentally – drawing characters, figuring out plot points and themes – but I think before I really sink my teeth into it, I want to sink more time into trying to sell the last book, and maybe write some short fiction. I may even wait until I’m a NYC resident, but I’m not certain I can hold out that long. The muse may first call me to my hermitage.
It must be frustrating to be a statistician. I’m no expert in statistics, but I understand the science well enough to understand that statistics are often counter-intuitive*. Unless you’re surrounded by fellow statisticians, the bulk of your time talking about work must be explaining to lay people who wrong they are. Right now, to be Nate Silver, America’s most high-profile and controversial statistician, must be absolutely infuriating.
So it’s understandable that he might act of that frustration sometimes – as he did this week when he challenged Joe Scarborough to a $2,000 charity bet [side note: $2,000? If Nate Silver is worth 1/5 what Mitt Romney’s worth, then the New York Times is doing better than anyone thinks!]. This warranted a scathing critique from Margaret Sullivan, Public Editor at the New York Times, who apparently finds such things as charity bets to be unbecoming a blogger affiliated with the Gray Lady.
Sullivan’s criticism is not entirely unwarranted, though my own feeling is that Silver does himself a disservice by allowing Scarborough to get under his skin. My own totem pole of journalism, at least regarding established outlets, flows Print > Blog > Television, and stooping to Scarborough’s level is beneath Silver. Of course, few in the established press agree with me on that – including, apparently, Margaret Sullivan.
To me, the most interesting thing about her critique is how boldly she comes across as an anti-Silver partisan. Like many election wonks, I’ve followed Five Thirty Eight for quite some time, and what’s most won me over about Nate Silver is how rigorously he sticks to the science. One of the most common criticisms directed at him, and one to which Sullivan lends weight, is that Silver is partisan. It’s true, he has stated repeatedly that he is personally an Obama supporter, but the reason no one should mind that he does so is that his work has nothing whatsoever to do with his personal political preferences. The reason he’s consistently predicted an Obama victory is because that is the outcome to which his statistical models have consistently pointed. Period.
Nate Silver isn’t working voodoo, he’s working statistics – statistics that have been demonstrated accurate, again and again. Any regular reader of Five Thirty Eight can tell you that Nate Silver isn’t one tenth as in love with politics as he is with numbers, data, and statistics. He may personally be partisan, but his work is as non-partisan as it can get – which, of course, is why it’s called science.
It’s tempting here to get into a diatribe about how Republicans don’t like Nate Silver because they don’t like science, and how because Republicans approach everything from a lawyer’s perspective (decide on a result first, and then cherry-pick the evidence that supports your result) they assume this is how scientists must operate. The trouble is, I also read the first few comments on Margaret Sullivan’s critique, which come from pro-Silver partisans, and after reading them I don’t feel it’s fair to pick on Republicans for being illogical. Poor logic, sadly, is an entirely bipartisan enterprise.
* The simplest illustration is to try explaining to the average person that a coin that has been flipped 99 times and come up heads every time still has a 50/50 chance of coming up tails. Try it sometime, and see how enraged many people get at your ‘lack of common sense.’ But then, if statistics were intuitive, I suppose casinos wouldn’t be profitable.
It’s an interesting time to be querying New York-based literary agents about a book that begins in a future New York City reshaped by rising sea levels – and in which at least one action sequence takes place in a flooded NYC subway tunnel.
Is this more good or bad for my chances? I wonder.