Off Topic


Fatherhood has interrupted this blog.

My wife and I welcomed our first child into the world last Wednesday, June 16. The 7 pound, 4 ounce little bundle of joy has dramatically changed our lives in less than a week. Even though we had 9 months to prepare, parenthood is one of those things that, I believe, you have to learn on the job.

The classes and books are nice, but when you’ve got a screaming four-day-old child projectile pooping on your shirt while you’re trying to change his diaper at three in the morning…well, books ain’t gonna help much.

Yesterday, my first Father’s Day, I was able to hold the little man and sit back and watch the U.S. Open. No amount of money could buy a better Father’s Day gift than that. Even with the near constant diaper changes, it was one of the best days of my life. I just soaked it all in–pun intended. I think he’s a Mickelson fan already, so he wasn’t crazy about McDowell winning the Open. He peed on me not long after that final putt.

Parenthood is going to bring major changes. My golf game is about to take a serious hit, more than likely. I’m hoping my blog posts won’t slow down, and with all the late nights to come, my guess is that it won’t. But, like I said, the life changes are totally worth it–and meaningless in comparison to the little man. Golf, restaurants–it all can wait.

Like any new father, I envision a future of throwing the baseball, swinging the golf club, playing in the yard. I can’t wait for all of that. But as I sit here and type up this post in my dimly lit office, with the little 7 pounder curled up in the bassinet next to me, all I want to do is just soak this all in. They grow up fast, I’m told. I’m going to enjoy every second while it lasts–even the projectile poop.

Gotta run.

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*I apologize in advance for this off-topic post about my first marathon experience. I know I’m breaking a cardinal rule of blogging. But I thought I’d post it here first for any fellow golfers/runners/friends/family who would like to offer feedback.  It’s a long one, so bear with me.

Six More Miles: The Strange Story of My First Marathon

That final step was supposed to be different. Not like this.

As I stepped across the finish line, I unwillingly entered one of the strangest paradoxes of my entire life. This was supposed to be a moment of glory, a lifetime accomplishment, but I had never felt more defeated.

How could this happen? How could I spend 16 weeks training for my first full marathon—running 373 miles and burning 45,000 calories over the course of four months—for it all to end like this: teary-eyed, angry, soaked from head to toe, less than 6 miles short of marathon distance, at the wrong finish line, and franticly looking for a race official to unload my fury upon.

Where did everything go wrong?

A Painful Start

A year earlier, I stood a few hundred yards away from that exact location and watched as a friend completed the final steps of his second marathon under sunny skies and in unbearable heat. That’s when something inside me clicked—I could do this. Forget that I’d never run more than two miles at one time, forget that I’d always hated running, forget that I was horribly out of shape…I could do this next year.

At the time, I laughed at myself for even thinking that I could transform from an out-of-shape-approaching-middle-age-non-runner to a marathon runner in a year’s time. Ridiculous. Nothing more than a pipe dream.

The start line at my first half marathon. October 2009.

My cynical side took over: While you’re at it, Robert, why not become an astronaut? You’ve got be kidding yourself, dude…you can’t run a marathon.

With those negative thoughts in my head, I started running. Well, I started walking with a little running thrown in for good measure. I ran for a minute or two in between labored walks. My first jog was an out-of-breath one-third of a mile trot. It wasn’t pretty.

I wasn’t obese. I wasn’t recovering from some dramatic life-altering surgery. I was just like most Average Joe Americans—out of shape and unmotivated to change.

Change came slowly. My body—mainly, my lower legs—stayed angry with this new lifestyle. I ran three days a week for a couple of months—each run accompanied with a new sensation of pain: tightness, discomfort, cramping.

While fitting me for running shoes, the owner at my local running store was shocked at the amount of tightness in my calves.

“How much have you been running lately,” she asked, probably thinking my leg condition indicated a recent half marathon.

“Well, I ran a mile yesterday,” I answered with a hint of shame in my voice.

After a couple of months of running three days a week, I painfully worked my endurance up to about 2 miles—a minor miracle at the time. During the next few months, my endurance improved drastically. By November, I completed my first and second half marathons—each in just over two hours. (Read about my first half marathon here.)

To me, the next step was obvious. In December, I signed up for my first full marathon without hesitation.

The Marathon

35,000 runners getting started at The Country Music Marathon.

April 24, 2010. The Country Music Marathon in Nashville —my hometown. I marked the date on my calendar. I downloaded a countdown clock for my iPhone. No way, I told myself, would I fail at this. Sixteen weeks to prepare.

On January 4, my regimen of marathon training began—a simple and slow three-mile run in 24 degree temperature. I learned quickly that training for a marathon is an entirely different beast than training for a half marathon. Right off the bat, my long run was eight miles. My Saturday runs included 18, 20, and 22 milers. Running became a part-time job.

As race day approached, I obsessed over the weather. The forecast called for severe thunderstorms. The day before the marathon, race officials announced that—because of the impending severe storms—all full marathon runners who weren’t maintaining a 10:20 pace by mile 11 would be sent to the half marathon finish line. The bad weather was supposed to arrive mid-day, and they wanted everyone off the course.

As if a marathon isn’t enough of a psychological battle, now I was forced to stay on a certain pace which, coincidentally, was the exact pace I needed to finish on my 4:30 goal time. Find the 4:30 pace runner and stay ahead of her, I told myself.

On the morning of April 24, I woke up at 4:45 a.m. with a bounce in my step. Race day had finally come. My wife, Katie, and I drove to the Vanderbilt parking lot, just a few hundred yards away from the starting line on West End Avenue.

Tears welled in my eyes as we sat in the car and talked. She told me how proud she was of me. No longer was I simply talking about and dreaming of running a marathon, I was about to run one.

When I stepped out of the car, I could almost see the humidity. Storms had rolled in during the night, and storms were coming in the afternoon. The air was moist and thick—just another obstacle to overcome, I thought.

Standing in my corral shortly before the race.

We walked slowly to corral 16—right in the middle of the pack. Within 30 minutes, more than 35,000 runners would line up on West End. Katie stood outside the ropes, talking to me and trying to keep my nerves down. My heart rate, which usually rests at 75 bpm, was at 130 bpm—and I hadn’t even started running yet. My adrenaline was in overdrive.

I crossed the start line at 7:02 a.m. without a clue of how the next four hours would unfold. The first clue came within 30 minutes.

The third mile follows a slow, steep hill up Demonbreun Street in downtown Nashville. By the time I reached a water station at the top of the hill, I already knew something with my body wasn’t right.

Each breath I took seemed to bounce off the humid air and float back into my face. I poured water over my head at the second water station—not a good sign.

I moved through Music Row and Belmont without too much difficulty, though my pace was about 20 seconds slower than I had hoped for at that point.

Sometime during mile 8, I grimaced as the four-and-a-half-hour pacer slowly jogged past me. Keep her in sight. Keep her in sight, I thought. But as I watched her move ahead through the crowd of people, I knew I couldn’t keep up anymore.  

My pace was slower than during any of my extended training runs. Whether it was the humidity, the heat, the hills, the people, or just the anxiety of running in my first marathon, something was getting to me. I was struggling badly, and I didn’t know how to recover.

By mile 11, I was already feeling it.

By mile 11, I held a 10:30 pace, about 10 seconds off the predetermined 11.2 mile cutoff time. At this point of the course, the half-marathoners continue on to their finish, less than 2 miles away, and the full marathoners turn left and venture out for 15 more miles.

The marathon route was still open. I turned left and continued on—already winded, fatigued, and wondering if I would live to see mile 26. But I was home free—or so I thought. Though it seemed apparent that I wasn’t going to reach my goal time, at least I was going to finish.

Halfway Home

I started walking for the first time right before the halfway point. How am I this tired already? My calves cramped badly. It seemed as though both of my calf muscles wanted to recede into my legs.

We’ve had enough, they seemed to be telling me as they pulsated with each step and forced me to stop and stretch them out every few hundred yards. My calves had never cramped during training, but the humidity was taking a toll on my body.

The skies darkened as clouds moved in. Around mile 15, we turned right onto a greenway that follows the Cumberland River for a couple of miles. Just before the turn, I noticed a female jogger sitting in a small parking lot and bawling as she held her ankle. Her race was over.

I felt bad for her, but I had to keep moving. A police officer stood a few yards away.

“What’s the weather looking like?” I asked him.

“It’ll be here in about 45 minutes,” he said. “Maybe less.”

Wonderful.

The rain started within 30 minutes. I had just passed the mile 17 marker when a lighting bolt struck a few miles away. Sporadic thunder echoed all around us. I began walking again, chatting with a woman who was limping from a right knee injury.

“This is awesome!” she said. “The rain feels great!”

The rain picked up intensity and the wind began to whip across the highway. Every half mile or so, a police officer would announce over a megaphone: “Runners, there is severe weather in the area. We advise you to take shelter. However, you may continue on if you choose to do so.”

No one was taking shelter. Some of us ran. Some of us walked. But we all kept moving.  For the next two miles, I continued walking and lightly jogging to ease some of the cramping in my legs. My upper thighs tightened as the cold rain poured down. My legs hated me.

After a couple of miles of trudging through the storm, the skies lightened and the rain tapered as we moved through the Bicentennial Mall area of the course. Downtown Nashville was once again in sight.

Just more than 7 miles remained. My time goal was out of reach, but I had mentally rebounded and began a steady run again. I found my second wind. I’m going to do this.

A Painful Finish

Just past mile 20, right before I found out my marathon was about to end.

After mile 19.5, marathon runners rejoin half-marathoners for a half-mile stretch. As I trotted past mile 20, I realized something was wrong. Orange cones blocked the road ahead. A couple of cops stood in front of my path. Without thinking, I turned right with the half-marathoners only to see LP Field straight ahead.

Oh no, I thought. They are bringing us in. I turned around and walked back toward one of the police officers.

“Where does the marathon route go?” I asked, fearing what he might say next.

“They shortened the course and diverted you guys to the half marathon finish line. More bad weather is coming.”

“You’re kidding,” I said.

“No,” he responded flatly.

“Could someone have told us this a few miles ago?” I said, stunned that my race was ending so abruptly. He didn’t answer.

I briefly considered running past the blockade. Instead, I swung back around and walked toward my new finish line. My face began to grow warm as tears of anger puddled under my eyelids.

At that point, I understood how someone can lose his mind for a minute and do something stupid–like punch a police officer. Maybe I’ve been angrier at some point in my life, but I don’t remember it.

Someone I didn’t even know, some race director in an office somewhere had pulled the rug out from under from my year-long quest to finish a marathon. Hell hath no fury like a marathon runner diverted.

I tried to hold it together as I turned the corner with some of the last half-marathoners who were finishing their race. I passed two women walking with their hands raised up in the air, celebrating their last few steps together before accomplishing their goal. The clock above the half-marathon finish line showed a time of just over four hours.

I slowed to a brisk walk moments before I crossed the half-marathon finish line—furious with the race organizers for yanking us off the course in the middle of a light rain, pissed at myself for struggling so thoroughly during the last 7 miles, angry at the half-marathoners who were celebrating in my moment of defeat.

During my 53 training runs, I must have envisioned that finish line moment dozens of times. How would I react? I thought. Would I cry? Would I yell? Would I raise my hands in victory? Would I fall down from fatigue? Would I run through the crowd and hug my wife? Would I act calm and collected? Would I stop and pray?

Out of all the scenarios that ran through my head, this scenario was not one of them.

That final step was supposed to be different.

The Last Six

The next morning, I woke up late, still depressed and frustrated from the events of the previous day. I hobbled to my computer and read the coverage of the race in the local newspaper. Race organizers explained that pulling the marathon runners off the course was in the best interest of the safety of the runners, spectators, and volunteers.

The weather predictions that caused this almost unprecedented decision were accurate. Within 45 minutes of the time I crossed the half marathon finish line, severe storms with heavy rain and lightning moved into downtown Nashville.

Just under 800 marathon runners, out of the few thousand who started the race, finished the marathon. Thousands of other runners knew exactly how I felt on Sunday morning. But this was my first marathon attempt, and I wanted it badly.

Race organizers said the shortened marathon course measured 20.4 miles. All I lacked to complete my first marathon was 5.8 miles. 5.8 miles.

Without much thought, I walked down the stairs and into the kitchen.

“Katie,” I said, “I’m going to run 6 miles. I know you think I’m crazy. My legs still hurt from cramping yesterday, but I need closure.”

“You do what you need to do,” she said. “Go for it.”

I thought about hopping in the car and driving downtown to mile 20.4. Instead, I walked out into my driveway and just started running. My pace was painfully slow, just under 11 minutes per mile. My legs ached.

I ran the 6 miles in 1:05:16, meaning the unofficial time for my first marathon was 5:10:35. With a makeshift, made-up final six miles, I completed the race—forty minutes slower and 27 hours after I expected to finish.

But I finished—not in front of an audience lining the streets, not at a finish line in front of LP Field. I finished in my driveway—where this strange journey started less than a year earlier.

Starting Over

I gingerly walked inside the house and back up to my living room. The full marathon medal that a volunteer handed me after crossing the 20.4 mile finish line sat on the floor next to my chair. On the other side of the room, my two half marathon medals from last fall were on display next to my bib numbers.

Have I earned that now? I asked myself as I glanced at the sturdy Country Music Marathon medal I had slung on the floor a day earlier. But I knew the answer before I asked the question.

Sure, I had just run 6 miles for some sense of closure, but I hadn’t accomplished my goal. I picked up the marathon medal and placed it inside my desk drawer.

That medal didn’t belong with the others. I hadn’t earned it. Instead of being a symbol of a major accomplishment, the medal was a reminder of a goal I still fiercely wanted to achieve.

I sat down at my desk, pulled up Google on my computer, and typed “2010 marathon schedule.” I still had work to do.

A few weeks ago, I started noticing that a lot of traffic on my blog was coming from fleetfeetnashville.com. Odd, yes?

Turns out, my local Fleet Feet Store here in Nashville is featuring my half marathon story on their home page. Interesting that a blog post about running–“Of Broccoli and Half Marathons“–has become one of the most visited posts in the history of this golf blog.

Maybe I should have a running blog. Doubtful. But I’ll admit I occasionally have schizophrenic blog-posting tendencies. I’m sure I’ll post about my first marathon experience, which is coming up on April 24.

Back to golf. How about that Freddy Couples? How about that Tom Watson?

The road ahead will produce random thoughts about swing tempo and running pace. (Image: KmacN/Flickr)

Running for 20 miles gives you a lot of time to think. If you run at my pace, you’ll have three hours, twenty-eight minutes, and forty-one seconds (to be precise) to ponder life’s greatest questions.

On Sunday, I finished my first 20-mile-run in preparation for running a marathon on April 24. As I was slowly jogging up a deceptively steep hill in our neighborhood, one word occurred to me:  tempo.

Tempo is so important in running. If you’re out for a three-and-a-half hour jog, you can’t run your first mile at a nine minute pace when your goal time is a ten minute pace. Not smart.

Halfway up the hill, my mind strangely wandered to my golf swing. Why? I don’t know. Maybe the Kings of Leon song in my ear wasn’t doing it for me at the time. When I swing slower, when I take my foot off the pedal just a little bit, I make better contact with the ball and produce a straighter shot. Tempo.

When you don’t run or swing a golf club with tempo, you produce more effort while getting lackluster results. If I speed out of the gates at my marathon, I might feel good about myself for 10 or 11 miles, but by the time mile 20 rolls around, I will be hurting.

Golf taught me something else about running. I played nine holes at The Legislature—one of Robert Trent Jones’ Capitol Hill courses in Montgomery—on Saturday morning. Three holes were underwater or my brother-in-law and I would’ve played the back nine. Anyway, I shot a 36—which brings me to my second point. Expectations.

I’ve always played golf relatively well when I didn’t expect a good score. Saturday was the first time I have swung a club in four or five months. I didn’t expect to play well, but somehow I managed two birdies, an even par nine holes, and seven greens in regulation (with five makeable birdie putts).

When I play in tournaments, when I actually expect to do well, my scores tend to suffer. The psychology of golf is maddening.

And that’s why I’ve enjoyed running. I’ve never been a runner. I never thought I would be a runner. But somehow in less than 10 months, I’ve gone from feeling totally zapped from running half a mile to running 20 miles in one afternoon. Expectations.

I don’t expect to run three-hour marathons. I don’t expect to win races. I’m simply out there having fun and challenging myself.

So golf has taught me a thing or two about running. Or maybe it’s a vice versa? Whatever the case may be, I’ve learned to take a deep breath (literally), slow it down, and enjoy the moment—or the four hours of running.

Please read this article I wrote at my day job. Find out a little bit about the people of Haiti and how you can help them recover after these tragic earthquakes.

And thanks for not getting mad at me for posting about Haiti on my golf blog. I know I’ve been known to get off topic every now and then. But who plays golf in January?

Here’s the article link.

Enjoy the turkey and the football.

This Thanksgiving brings two guarantees for me.

First, I will gorge myself on fried turkey over the next four days, but hopefully not to the point that I undo all of the health benefits from having run in two half marathons in the last two months.

Second, my Georgia Bulldogs will unfortunately get throttled by Georgia Tech in the 2009 version of “Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate.” Call me a pessimist, but I’ve never been more certain of anything. This doesn’t happen often, so Tech should enjoy the upperhand this year.

If you’d like to read about golf with a Thanksgiving twist, something I simply don’t have the creative juice for today, then check out ESPN Golf Writer Jason Sobel’s “99 reasons to be thankful.

See you next week.

Warning: This post has nothing to do with golf!

Broccoli sucks.

At least that’s what I used to think. You see, it’s green, it kind of looks weird with those strangely shaped florets at the top, and it’s supposed to be good for you.

Anything that’s green and is supposed to be good for you must suck, right?

Until a few years ago, that’s always been my mentality. What’s good for you must not really be good for you, I thought.

But thanks to my wife, these days I eat broccoli, zucchini, asparagus, and squash. I’m the guy who will eat pretty much anything, including sweetbread–and, no, that’s not a cinnamon roll. Look it up.

The point is, I try new things these days. And that’s where my new-f0und love of running enters the picture.

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Todd Myers wrapping things up on mile 26.1 of the Country Music Marathon. (Image: Robert Bruce's iPhone)

The Beginning

Back in April, my friend, Todd Myers, came to Nashville to stay with us and run in the Country Music Marathon. I was happy for him. I thought it was a cool deal. I mean, running in a marathon is a pretty big deal, right?

So on the day of the race, my wife and I, along with Todd’s wife Randi,  headed out to LP Field–the home of the Titans–to watch the end of the 26 mile marathon. I thought it was just the proper thing to do. I didn’t expect much from it, other than to cheer on a friend who was accomplishing a pretty significant feat.

But little did I know I would get hooked that day.

My wife, Katie, Randi, and I settled in around mile 26.1 and waited for about 45 minutes as hundreds of marathon runners passed us. I watched men in wheelchairs pass us. I watched a man who pushed his handicapped child for 26 miles pass us. I watched guys pass me with calf cramps that literally turned their calf muscles into small golf ball-sized knots. I was inspired.

Todd finished somewhere around 4 hours and 15 minutes on an incredibly hilly 26 mile course here in Nashville. If you’re not a runner, that probably doesn’t mean much to you. It didn’t mean much to me at the time.

But then I got the running bug.

The Training

I started running in May. I’m not sure exactly why. I know that I was inspired by watching Todd, and I was inspired by the 50+ people who stood up in our staff meeting at work and shared their stories of running in the Country Music Half and Full Marathon.

But I hated running. I’ve never been a runner. The longest I’d ever run, at that time, was in 7th grade gym class–maybe a mile and a half. So when I started running, I didn’t know what to expect.

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My first race: a 5K in East Nashville. (Image: Robert Bruce's iPhone)

Starting out, it was painful. Unlike the broccoli, running actually did suck. My heart seemed to beat out of my chest, my calves cramped, my thighs ached. Everything hurt.

But I kept running. For two months, I ran about 6 miles, spread across three days a week. I ran slowly. I walked a lot.  I threw up a bit. But it was a start.

The first time I ran 2 miles without stopping was a small victory, but it seemed like a major milestone. To me, running 2 miles seemed as improbable as shooting a 64.

Then…craziness.

I started a half marathon training schedule in July. The week after we returned from a July vacation in Florida–a trip in which, for the first time in my life, I actually exercised for three days on vacation–I started running…seriously running, getting ready for a 13.1 mile jaunt on October 3.

Any training schedule will include a “long run”. The long run occurs once a week and is the distance run that slowly and consistently builds your “mileage confidence.”

During my first long run, just three miles, I threw up in a neighbor’s yard. My sister and brother-in-law were visiting that weekend, and must have thought I was about to have a stroke. My face was beet red when I came back home.

The long runs were painful at first. For the first few weeks, I had to incorporate walking into the long run. The shin splints hurt, and my heart wasn’t quite ready to handle it.

Somewhere around my 5th week of training, something clicked. My body decided it could handle the stress of the long run. My running journal tells me I ran 7 miles on August 9 in 1:16:14, without stopping once. Victory.

Like a crazy man, I kept running…and running. After running for 3 days a week, and cross training for 2 days a week, I encountered my longest run ever on September 17…a 12 mile run.

In May, running 12 miles seemed as foreign to me as being a shepherd in rural Turkey. Seriously.

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What's a 12 mile run without torrential rain and a bloody foot? (Image: Robert Bruce's iPhone)

But on September 17, I ran 12 miles…in a steady rain…with a bloody foot (see photo). I ran those 12 miles in just over 2 hours.

The bloody foot looked worse than it actually was…just a bit of a toenail issue, to be honest. And blood, combined with rain and a wet foot, made my shoe look much like a scene from Rambo. But it wasn’t that bad, though it made me feel like some kind of medieval gladiator.

After the bloody foot and the 12 mile run, I began final preparations for my half marathon in Murfreesboro on October 3. In the two weeks leading up to the run, my legs felt tight, tired, and generally achy. I had been running for 5 months, and I was feeling the effects of this unprecedented amount of activity, for me at least.

The Race

But on the morning of October 3, I felt freaking great. If you’ve never run in a race, you don’t understand the energy and excitement of standing in a group of 1,600 people, all of whom have been preparing for this day for months.

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Starting out at 7 a.m. The first of 13 miles. (Image: Robert Bruce's iPhone)

Fired up, I started out of the gates fairly quickly. My goal for my first half marathon was 2 hours and 10 minutes. Fairly reasonable, I thought.

Around mile 4, I felt incredible. At that point, I swear I experienced my first “runner’s high.” I truly felt like I could run for 50 miles. When I saw my beautiful wife at mile 6, I still felt great.

At the halfway point, my time was 57:02. Suddenly, I thought 2 hours was doable, a thought that had never crossed my mind for my first half marathon.

But fatigue crept in around mile 9. I slowed down a little more with each mile. My breathing remained steady, but my legs hurt like hades.

The last mile of the Murfreesboro Half Marathon is a long straight-away in which you can see the finish line, the Middle Tennessee State University Track Stadium, in the distance. The last mile seemed like an eternity, but I made it through a headwind and into the stadium eventually.

When I turned the corner and ran inside the stadium, I felt an overwhelming sense of emotion. If my legs hadn’t felt like they were about to sever from my hip bones, I might have actually cried at that point. I truly couldn’t believe I had ran 13 miles.

I saw several hundred people lined up behind the ropes, the most important of whom was my lovely wife, cheering as I and hundreds of others passed. She was hopping up and down and clapping. She seemed so incredibly happy for me, with an ear-to-ear grin plastered on her face. It was one of those mental photographs I’ll never forget.

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The end. (Image: Robert Bruce's iPhone)

Finally, I crossed the finish line.

After five months of training, and after 2 hours 2 minutes and 16 seconds of repeatedly placing one foot in front of the other, I had finished.

In some sort of strange paradox, though, I was a bit sad. After 5 months of talking about this half marathon–the training, the dieting, the lifestyle changes–it was over.

If I chose, life as usual could return: the Cokes, the fried foods, the lazy, inactive afternoons. Freedom, right?

The Future

But, not really. Like broccoli, running has become a part of my lifestyle.

I’ve totally become hooked, to the point which I’ve written over 1,300 words about running on my golf blog! What’s up with that?

Golf will not go away. But choosing to run is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. My family has a history of heart issues. In my world, things needed to change.

I’m already preparing for my second half marathon next month. I’m considering a full marathon in April 2010. I’m totally and ridiculously hooked to this insane, but unlike golf, healthy hobby.

It’s not going away. I fully intend, like my late grandfather, to be one of those guys who is 80 years old with the heart of a 35 year old.

If you’re not a runner, I encourage you to give it a try. Get past the pain, get past the discomfort, and see what it’s  like. Yes, it’s incredibly difficult at first, but it’s worth it. It’s totally worth it.

And, maybe, just maybe, you’ll grow to realize, like me, that broccoli doesn’t suck anymore.

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