Monday, November 12, 2007

Workouts - Week of November 12, 2007

Settling into the new house, the Higdon-inspired white board is now up in the mud room. Each day has a bright red number, XT or off written on it, and it gets a check mark at the end of the week. It's always most satisfying to check it off before breakfast, but with the cold and darkness having arrived, the daily schedule may change a bit.

I should note that yesterday was my running club's first post-season group run. We had over 20 folk show up for runs of 5, 7.5 or 11 miles, with the courses ranging from hilly, to hillier, to bring-your-ropes-and-crampons. I went in the slower of the two 11-miler groups, and we went up a treacherous stretch, steep and covered with 6 inches of fallen leaves. Good sense won out and we walked a stretch, mostly out of concern for our ankles. I had the pleasure of running with two of the areas top Master's runners, a woman who wins a lot of 40+ races (until she turns 50 next year and will take that division by storm), and a New England running legend, a 50-something fellow with a 2:22 marathon PR (which he ran in 1991 when he needed 2:20 to get to the Olympic trials). It was a joy and a privilege to run with them, chat and just soak in all their passion and experience. It's nice to be looking out as my 40th birthday inches closer and closer, and realize that I've chosen a sport - unlike my old one - which holds a future for as long as its faithful disciples wish to participate.

Monday - Off due to work and Y closure

Tuesday - 5 miles at lunchtime

Wednesday - 6 miles in the mountains (will be traveling overnight for work)

Thursday - 5 miles easy in the woods

Friday - Elliptical and XT

Saturday - 6 miles easy

Sunday - 13 miles easy, maybe with some company during the first half and some good music during the second

I'm looking forward to a colleague's run in Philadelphia on Sunday. He's looking to go under 3:00, which is nearly incomprehensible to me. Granted, he was a high school and college standout who's thus been running seriously and regularly for more than half of his 30 years. I was a semi-competitive (i.e., mediocre) soccer player who just started running last year. Baby steps . . . baby steps.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Workouts - Week of November 5, 2007

This won't be a memorable week training-wise, since my wife is away for work from Monday through Thursday. Will call it a "rest week" and let myself off the hook. Just registered for the Keybank Vermont City Marathon on May 25, 2008. Have heard great things, and I look forward to having a chance to run a marathon under conditions which do not simulate the outer gates of hell (i.e., the 2007 Chicago Marathon).

Monday - off after Sunday's half-marathon

Tuesday - pliometrics at home; abs & core; stretch

Wednesday - a quick 5-miler in the woods after dropping the kids at school but before work

Thursday - 5-7 miles at lunchtime, possibly retracing some of the half-marathon route to start attacking the hills which got the better of me

Friday - Elliptical and weights circuit

Saturday - 6 miles on the trails (weather permitting)

Sunday - 10+ miles, nice and slow, depending on the weather, family and work obligations

Manchester City Half-Marathon

On Sunday, November 4th, I tried to salvage what's left o my Chicago Marathon fitness into a half-marathon PR. I'd run 1:40:12 at a half on a cool March day on as close to a perfectly flat course as one can get in this part of the world. While I was hoping to go 1:38:30 (7:30/mile pace), anything under 1:40 would have sufficed. The Manchester course is very hilly overall, rising from the end of mile 1 to mile 5.5, with major hills at miles 2-3 and 7-8.5. The poor marathoners had to run with us halfers for one loop, then bear right for another 13+ miles, as we bore left on Elm Street for a screaming quarter-mile straightaway.

Since I was not sure about my fitness and I had a healthy respect for the hills, I went out conservatively (which is to say pretty darned slow). For the first 5 miles, my splits ranged between 7:44 and 7:59. I covered mile 6 in 7:20, using the downhill to make up a little time, but by then I knew that 1:38:30 was not happening. I saw a guy right in front of me at around mile 5 pull up with what might have been a ruptured achilles tendon. I stopped to see if he was okay, and he said he was. Don't think he ran another step, and I hope he's okay.

The biggest hill on the course started just as we hit the 10K mark, and continued until just shy of the 8 mile mark. I kept my head up and back straight as I passed runners up the steepest climb, nonetheless logging my slowest mile of the day, 8:26. Knowing the course, I decided to attack after that, unconcerned with the modest hills which remained. The next five mile splits were 7:36, 7:27, 7:19, 7:24 and 7:36. Once I crested the last hill, I had plenty of gas left in the tank, and I ran mile 13 in 6:35. As the race gods would have it, the last major downhill was offset by a strong headwind, but I didn't care.

As I pushed towards the final 400 meters, I thought that maybe, just maybe, 1:39:xx was still possible, and I ran as hard as I could. My Garmin Forerunner 305 recorded a peak pace of under 4:30 per mile, which was probably off, but I'm sure I was running around or under 5:00/mile pace in that last stretch. Sadly, I was all alone, with no one within 20 seconds of me in front or behind. Gun time (no starting mat) was 1:40:13. I came up with 1:40:03, since I started about 5 seconds back and didn't press the stop button for about 5 seconds after crossing the finish line. Between the water stations, the Achilles guy and a shoe tongue adjustment at around mile 10, there went my sub-1:40. Oh well . . . I'll run another half in late winter/early spring and atone.

Funniest moment of the race (and possibly of any race I've run) was the ear-piercing, blood-curdling shriek as a male runner opened a port-o-potty door at around mile 2, only to find a female runner taking care of business. She was in such a rush, she didn't latch the door. :-)

Looking back, I wish I'd been a bit more aggressive on the hills, especially early, and I plan to do hill repeats at least once every 10-14 days during my winter mileage base maintenance. I also hope to make 40-mile weeks my norm, building up to a 60-mile peak during the next marathon training cycle.

Truth is, I hope I never feel like I had a perfect race, or I may walk away feeling too satisfied and leave running behind.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Workouts - Week of October 29, 2007

Monday - Off after Sunday's 10-miler; skip lifting to rest pulled upper back muscle (not sure how it happened)

Tuesday - 8.5 miles on the latter part of November 4th's half-marathon course

Wednesday - Elliptical, circuit training and core

Thursday - Moving Day; sneak in a 5-miler if my wife lets me

Friday - Rest or easy 5 miles

Saturday - Rest or easy 3 miles

Sunday - Half-marathon; shooting for a PR (sub-1:40)

Dropping Names

So, as I strolled into the starting area before the 2007 Chicago Marathon, I looked to my left and saw a very familiar face. I said hello, and that he looked familiar, and he introduced himself as David Willey, Editor-in-Chief of Runner's World magazine. He is a very pleasant guy, we chatted about relaxing our race-day goals in light of the heat, and I suggested that they create a year-end compendium of training programs which incorporate some of the stand-alone training techniques which they feature every month. He very politely said he thought it's a good idea, and we wished each other luck.

Turned out that David had a worse race than I did, despite (or because of) a more ambitious goal (3:20 vs. 3:40).

I waited a couple of weeks and sent David an e-mail expressing my "condolences" (more like commiserating, really) about the race, and he wrote me back, asking for some informal reflections about Chicago. Lest I get too excited thinking that I have a foot in the door to my dream job of being a running journalist, he explained in a follow-up that he's seeking input from as many people as he can, and they'll feature a few highlights in the January 2008 issue. Incidentally, I was very disappointed about the lack of even a mention of Chicago in the December 2007 issue, but - as David pointed out - the December issue went to press before Chicago was even run.

Not sure what I'll say, but will try to come up with a fresh perspective. Feel free to post comments if you have any thoughts you'd like to share.


Friday, October 26, 2007

Workouts - Week of October 22, 2007

Monday: An unusual off-day to get a little extra sleep and to rest after a moderate-effort 10K on Sunday. Ran a slightly disappointing 44+, 1:30 slower than in August, but 1:30 faster than same course last year. Ran for the first time based on HR and made myself reign it in until the last mile, so that I would not undermine post-marathon recovery. It was fun to pass a lot of my running club friends during the last mile, but my time was still well off my 10K PR of sub-43:00.

Tuesday: Did elliptical, weightlifting circuit and core work

Wednesday: 5M on the trails; took a wrong turn and got disoriented; found the trail again and only after finishing did I realize that the Garmin Forerunner 305 would have helped me find my way in the pitch blackness. Nothing special about the run, but the weather has been unseasonably mild so far.

Thursday: 7M, a 5M loop with my friend The Doctor, which is always really fun, and 2 miles at a slow-ish tempo pace (about 7:30) after he peeled off. Nice run.

Friday: A quick lunchtime circuit & core workout. After three early, early mornings and another World Series game (Go Sox!), I just needed a little extra rest.

Saturday: Plan to go an easy 5M in the woods

Sunday: If the weather and schedule allow, 10M on the roads

I'm not currently in a specific training mode, but will run an inaugural Half-Marathon on November 4th. I've been telling myself that each race does not have to be a PR, and am starting to accept that I won't get faster forever, though that seemed to be the case for the first 6-9 months of my running life. As one friend said at the time, "If you think this will continue, then you'll be poised to win Boston in a few years." I realize now that he was being ironic.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

2007 Chicago Marathon


October 7, 2007 was to be a transformative day for me. I had signed up for the Chicago Marathon just hours after registration opened in January. I had run about 5 days a week for over a year (first topping 30, then 35, then 40, then 45 miles a week). I'd done speed work, tempo runs, hill repeats, easy runs and long runs. I'd run in the rain, the snow, the heat, at home, on vacation, on the roads, in the woods, on a 1/10 mile indoor track and on treadmills. I'd run races from 2 miles to a half-marathon. I saw my doctor, my chiropractor, my physical therapist and my massage therapist. I bought more running gear than any one person should be allowed to own. I never before wanted the summer to pass so quickly. It did, and October 7th arrived with a vengeance.

The story is so long and the details so incredibly vivid in my mind that I'm not sure I can just summarize it in a user-friendly way. That said, I'll still try.

On July 4, 2006, I went from being a casual/fitness runner to becoming a Runner. I took my brother-in-law up on his offer to join him in a half-marathon in October. I downloaded a beginner's training plan from, and soon saw my speed and endurance improve, all with relatively little effort on my part. Four days of running per week became five, and I started to miss running on my "rest" days. The half-marathon went great, and I ended up finishing within 45 seconds of my goal. It also got me into a preferred start corral (C) for Chicago, meaning that only about 10,000 people would be with or in front of me, instead of the possible 40,000+ who might otherwise have stood between me and the starting line.


I wanted to run Chicago as my first marathon since I'd lived there for a couple of years as a small child, I'd heard it was very well-organized (and that the crowds were fantastic) and because - unlike where I live - it's flat, flat, flat. I also have a good friend who lives there, and had run the race 15 times. He has lived in Chicago all his life, and was willing to play host to me and my first-marathon neuroses. Not sure how I got the neuroses past airport security, but David helped calm my first-timers nerves as soon as he introduced me to his colleague and 3:30 marathon pacer, who talked me into running with the 3:40 pace group, given the incredible heat forecast on race day.

Well, as an avowed gear-head, the Expo was great, although still a bit disappointing. Everything seemed to be marked full-retail-plus, and there were fewer freebies than I had expected. I did shake Hal Higdon's hand, which was a treat, since I can all but recite a few of his books by heart. I looked for Dick Beardsley, but he wasn't around until Saturday, and I figured the Expo would be a mob scene by then. I pawed the attractive but hyper-priced New Balance "official" marathon gear.


Friday night involved going to a Chicago Film Festival screening of The Spirit of the Marathon, complete with director/producer and featured runners Q & A afterwards (thanks for the tickets, A1runner). It was a great experience, not so much because it's a masterful piece of film-making, but because seeing it with 200+ other runners made it a special event indeed.

Saturday was a mellow day, including an emergency trip to Fleet Feet Sports to buy a new running top, since the dark blue form-fitting Asics top in which I'd trained all summer was not a good choice for an 88-degree day. I found a perfect Zoot triathlon top, white, complete with half-zip and gel pockets on either side. David and I went to the starting line (after running out of gas and pushing his SUV downtown), walked the first mile, then ran the next 3 nice and easy, ending at his house. The new singlet didn't seem like it would chafe, so I washed it and pinned my race number to it as soon as it dried.

I ate lots of bread and gnocchis on Saturday night, drank water like crazy and snacked on pretzels, rice cakes and other carbs until bedtime. I drank Gatorade and water until turning in at around 11pm, and sipped some more water during my fitful night's sleep.


I got up at 5:00, stretched lightly and walked to the closest Starbucks. There were two types of folks out at that hour: runners and Cubs' fans who had not stopped commiserating with each other about their team's playoff elimination. One large black coffee later, I ate my bagel and banana and drank some more water and Gatorade. I checked and re-checked my gear bag, and panicked that I'd not gotten the access ticket (a bracelet, in fact) to the Trophy Tent near the start/finish area. My only preparation crisis was that I couldn't get the pace tattoos to stick to my skin. A bad omen, as it turned out. Since I wasn't sure about my new singlet, I applied the BodyGlide liberally.

Anyway, David drove me to the starting area (he has reserved parking at his office building just a couple of blocks away), walked in with me, and then left me when he was not allowed to enter the corrals. while walking downtown, I saw a man with a huge sack slung over his back, and with a heavy west London accent, told me that it was a costume. "Of what?", I asked. "Testicles," he said. "You're going to run an entire marathon in the heat dressed as a pair of testicles?" I asked incredulously. "Well, 'run' is a bit of a strong word," he said. I heard he finished, but it must have been brutal.

Then I had a good karma moment, when I turned to my left and saw a familiar face. "I think I know you," I said. "Hi, I'm David Willey," the kindly fellow replied. We chatted briefly and wished each other well, butnot before I made some suggestions for Runner's World. As a faithfulreader, I knew that David hoped to run sub-3:20; I was going for a sub 3:40. See separate post about that chance encounter.

Once I checked my gear and found the C Corral, it was just a matter of waiting. Stretching and waiting. Stretching, sweating and waiting, to be precise. I knew things would be tough, since I could feel sweat beading up around my temples before I'd run even a single step. I kept the faith, though, and decided to create a virtual tether between myself and the New Balance 3:40 pacers.

And We're Off

After chatting with fellow aspiring 3:40 marathoners and our pacers, there was some commotion and the mass of humanity started to move forward. Two minutes and 59 seconds after the starting gun, I was across the starting line. I experienced that moment as if I'd been dunked in cauldron of hopefulness, fear, excitement, joy and gratitude. I'd put in so much training and endured such intense anticipation to get to this point, that the entire affair had a surreal quality that's tough to describe. I felt like I'd been sucked into a newsreel of the Chicago Marathon.

The first mile was too fast, sub-8:00, while the second was too slow. The pacers kept telling us that it takes a few miles to settle into a rhythm. I felt comfortable at an 8:15-8:20 pace, and had the idea to run just a bit ahead for a brief moment so that I could take my first gel at the aid station at Mile 5. I did, but then lost my pace group for many miles. My running watch was a Nike+ Sport Kit attached to my iPod, which had been acting up in the weeks leading up to Chicago. It seemed to be relatively accurate, off by about 8-10% relative to the posted mile markers. I caught back up with my pace group at around Mile 10, and still felt strong. The Nike+ died for good at around Mile 11, and I felt like I was running blind with no time on my wrist. I got to the half-way point and fiddled with it some more, but it was no use. I'd only know my times at each mile and the 5K splits. Still, I felt good, despite the heat, and thought that could run something in the 3:35-3:38 range, a decent debut in such bad conditions. I had hit every aid station, drinking a cup of Gatorade and at least a cup or two of water. I should have had more Gatorade.

The Wheels Come Off

Well, all my plans and training seemed to go down the tubes when my right calf cramped up severely at about Mile 16.5. I couldn't really run at all, so I stretched and walked, until I could run again. I was able to shuffle along at a snail's pace, and each labored step took a tremendous amount of effort. As I saw the last 3:40 pacer in my vicinity pull ahead, I tried to accelerate. My calf issued a resounding denial. At that point, my strategy was to shuffle to the next aid station, walk while drinking Gatorade, shuffle to the water tables and walk some more, then shuffle again for a couple of miles to the next one and repeat the cycle. The "Joggler" passed me. He is a guy who juggles three balls for the entire marathon distance. He later reported running a slow time in Chicago, but was proud to say he had only had two drops.

The thought of dropping out filled my head like a noxious fog. I kept trying to let it seep out and continued to make my way forward, however slowly. I had a running dialogue with myself, telling myself over and over that whatever time I ended up running would be better than explaining to everyone I knew why I dropped out of my first marathon. Hearing constant sirens and watching people on the course literally fall over did not help me forge ahead, but somehow all the miles logged, the training manuals read, my near-complete immersion in the wonderful world of distance running combined to give me the strength to get through the ordeal.

Even though the miles seemed to get farther apart, I knew I was going to finish once I had only 5K to go. I passed hundreds, maybe thousands, of people walking in the final miles, buoyed by the wonderful crowds and the knowledge that the pain and discomfort were temporary, but the knowledge of having persisted would stay with me forever. In the very last mile, I picked up the pace (to something like 9:15-9:30/mile), and actually heard the police telling us that the race had been cancelled, that we should stop running and "walk it in". My heat-addled brain could not really process that instruction, so I took my chances (what would they do, give me a speeding ticket?) and shuffled into Grant Park. I saw the finish line and was overcome with a feeling of elation and accomplishment. I ran towards the finish, seeing that the clock had passed 4 hours, but not really caring. There was relief in sight: water, ice, shade. I put my arms up, remembered to smile and crossed in a net time of 4:03:04, a disappointing start to what I hope will be a long and satisfying marathoning "career".

I took my finisher's medal, a space blanket (as a memento) and some water and tried to get to the Trophy Tent. I was denied access via the shortest route, and walked a total of a mile to go around and get to a shaded place with food and drink. I was soon feeling stunned and nauseated, and the disappointment of having fallen apart on the course set in. I sat at a table with 6 other runners; 5 had dropped out along the way. One said she was running with the 3:20 pace group, and when one of her pacers dropped out at Mile 11 , she soon followed.

After collecting myself, I walked towards where I had hoped to hail a cab. After another nearly two miles of walking (I thought I might cry as one full taxi after another went by), I got into a taxi, wanting to hug the driver for being willing to drive me back to David's house. I would have paid him $500 for the two-mile ride to David's house, but, thankfully, he only charged me about $7.00. I got there and David' wife and kids greeted me with big hugs and congratulations. I drank more water and called my wife, best friend, mother and sister. I only reached my friend on the first try, but when I heard my wife's voice mail message, I burst into tears, not sure why other than feeling a release after so much hard work, sacrifice and incredible anticipation.

There's so much more to write about, but I'll close this overlong post by saying that the heat in Chicago might have bent me, but it didn't break me. I cannot wait to run another marathon, and to avoid training mistakes the next time around. I can't draw many lessons from the race itself, other than it's good idea to avoid 90-degree marathons. I now respect the marathon distance, but I do not fear it. Before October 7, 2007, it was the other way around.

Just what the world needs . . .

Another friggin' blog.

I just wanted to create a space to post material about my still-pretty-new running life. Truth is, I hope almost no one reads this, but - having failed pretty miserably at keeping a thorough training log in my first year as a runner, I thought this might help me record the sort of information I'll need in order to remain committed to training and improving. Running has been a wonderful gift for me, replacing my old soccer obsession, causing me to think and eat and act in a different, more healthy way (while occasionally distracting me from work & family, though if it weren't running, it'd be something else).

So, look for nothing wise, witty or worthwhile within this blog, and read at your own risk.

Cheers, ESG