Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Keybank Vermont City Race Report

I am now officially humbled by the marathon.

I ran the Keybank Vermont City Marathon in a bit over 3 hours and 48 minutes, a huge disappointment in terms of what I had trained to run. I was not disappointed in my performance on that particular day, given the twists and turns my training took over the past couple of months, but the time was far from what I had hoped for.

Here is a (long) recap of the weekend. Read at your own risk, and don't blame me if you fall asleep in your chair as you do.


It was a long drive up on Friday, made longer by my oldest daughter's being car sick for most of the ride. We stopped a few times, and got into Burlington around 7:00 p.m. At that point, going out to eat seemed like a big mistake, so we got take out from the restaurant closest to the hotel. It was a delicious meal, probably the best food I've ever eaten out of a Styrofoam container. The little ones only picked at their grilled cheese and french fries, unable to appreciate the hand-cut fries and homemade sourdough bread. They all ended up watching TV until 10:00 p.m., and then slept three-across on the king size bed on the bottom of our lofted hotel suite. My wife and I followed soon after, and got a decent night's sleep.


Up at 7:00 a.m. (hooray for sleeping in) for the hotel's not-so-bad continental-plus breakfast. My 7-year old son was registered for the Y.A.M. Scram 1-mile run, and he was fired up. It was a beautifully bright, cool morning, and I wistfully wished that Sunday's weather would be the same (it was forecast to be warmer). We made our way to Waterfront Park, where we waited around for the pre-Scram festivities. I saw Bill Rodgers from afar, and Bart Yasso from a-near.

My son was unbelievably psyched to get his race bib and t-shirt, and he stretched and "warmed-up" like a pro. I told him to run the first half-mile loop nice and easy, and to pick up the pace if he felt good during the second loop. He started in middle-rear of the huge pack, and seemed to listen to the pre-race advice. I crossed the field so I could see him come by on the other side of the loop, and he looked good. He went through the half-way point looking strong, and was still chugging along when I saw him at about the ¾-mile mark. His ever-helpful big sister watched the finish line like a hawk, and calculated that he finished 165th (out of about 350-400 kids) in a gun time of 10:35, which would probably have been a net time of closer to 10:05. I was very proud of him, and he beamed as he got his medal, which I think he's still wearing days later.

We worked our way out of the crowds, the kids played on some rocks on the edge of Lake Champlain, and we decided that my wife would take then to the aquarium while I went to the Expo to pick up my number, chip, etc.

At the Expo, I chatted with Bart Yasso, bought his book (which he signed) and thanked him for sharing his running adventures with us mere mortals. He was gracious, friendly and humble, and he even gave me his card. I now have Bart Yasso's cell phone number! I did keep quiet about how the prevailing opinion in the marathoning community is that his "Yasso 800's" do not accurately predict marathon race time. The idea and its symmetry is nice, but it simply doesn't take endurance into account in terms of forecasting what will happen in the final miles of a full marathon.

We ended up having a nice lunch on Church Street, Burlington's lovely pedestrian boulevard. I delivered on the promise to buy the kids waffle cones at Ben & Jerry's, since my son had run his best that morning. We did a lot of eating throughout the weekend.

After lunch, it was getting late, and I needed to get off my feet. I'd wanted to run 2-3 miles, hopefully up the much-ballyhooed Battery Street hill, but I decided it'd be best to get back to the hotel and take it easy. For the first hour there, my kids loudly tried to be quiet, and my wife finally took them out for a tour of the spectacular Shelburne Farm (see below) from about 4-5:30. I couldn't really sleep, so I laid out my race clothes, checking and re-checking to make sure I had everything in order.

We had a reservation to meet a co-worker and her marathon support crew for dinner at Buono's Italian Restaurant just over the line in Shelburne, where we ate basic Italian fare. When my co-worker ordered Chicken Fettucine Alfredo, I couldn't believe it (I'm no fan of cream sauce in general, but before a marathon, blech!). I ate bread, salad and spaghetti with plain tomato sauce and grilled chicken, plus a purported Reese's peanut butter pie for dessert (disappointing). We drank lots and lots of water, and the waitress figured out to leave the carafes on the table for us.
We took a short sightseeing drive after dinner, and had the kids asleep by 9:00. My wife and started watching a movie, but we both got sleepy at about 10:00 p.m. Lights out, with a 5:30 alarm setting for a 6:45 shuttle bus from the hotel to the start.


It was a beautiful, sunny, cool morning on Sunday in Burlington. The hotel adjusted the breakfast schedule and put the spread out at 6:00 instead of 6:30 (as one of the desk clerks said, "We wouldn't you all to get hungry while you're jogging.") After consuming my bagel and cream cheese, two small cups of terribly weak coffee, a banana and lots of water, I got dressed and made my way down to the hotel entrance to catch the shuttle.

Mist rose gently off of Lake Champlain, and I wondered whether to wear something more substantial than the triathlon singlet which zips ¾ of the way down (same thing I wore in Chicago). I had my gels ready to go in my RaceReady shorts' pockets. I was feeling good and very hopeful about just getting moving, putting all of the training to the test. Yes, I harbored some apprehension, but I figured I was going to enjoy myself no matter what.

As I milled about in the starting area, I drank water, took a last CarbBoom gel, used the port-a-potties (a couple of times). I chatted with people whose prior race shirts and jackets piqued my interest, including a woman who may end up being one of my daughter's teachers when she starts junior high next fall. I went to the bag check area and asked one of the volunteers if she'd mind writing my name on my upper arms in Sharpie. She gladly did so, I checked my pack, kept my running gloves with me just in case (never needed them, though) and worked my way towards the starting area. I lined up a couple of rows behind the 8:00/mile pacer, sang the Star Spangled Banner (hat off), saluted servicemen and women in light of it being Memorial Day Weekend and chatted with the guys to my left and right as we waited for the wheelchair participants to take off. Then came the countdown to the runners' start and off we went. It took me less than a minute to cross the starting line. I pressed the start button on my Garmin Forerunner 305 GPS watch and I tried to settle into a mellow pace.


I took the first, mostly uphill mile in 8:30-ish, and noted that the Garmin was registering about 0.02 long, meaning that the watch measured 1.02 at the first mile marker. I saw my family at around Mile 3, and I tried to flash them a huge smile. I had picked up the pace as the terrain leveled off and then settled into a rhythm, ticking off mile after mile in the 8:05 to 8:10 range. I felt good, strong, smooth. My feet, calves, thighs, shoulders, arms, head and breathing all felt great. I could feel the slightest nag in my left hip, but it was so minor that I paid it no heed. The temperatures felt really nice, and the course was mostly lovely. The highway out & back wasn't great, leading to the first significant hill in mile 8, and the industrial area around mile 11 wasn't the most attractive, but there was constant crowd support, and well-placed aid stations. Each station had - bless them - clearly marked water versus Gatorade, along with Vaseline on cardboard slabs. I drank at each early aid station, knowing it would warm up and not wanting cramps to get the best of me. At least I learned something from the Chicago experience.

Things continued along nicely, and I crossed the half-way mark (bypassing one of the relay exchange zones) in almost exactly 1:48. I figured that if I continued to feel this good, I'd have a shot at low 3:30's, with which I'd have been thrilled.


Everything still seemed fine after the half-way mark, but - looking back - I did start to slow down incrementally. I still felt good going into the next couple of miles, and was psyched for the "Assault on Battery" in the 16th mile. I was waving my arms to get the crowd into it and I took the hill with a nice, smooth effort. I saw my family again near the top, cheering, ringing a cow bell and holding up a great sign. I pointed and smiled at them, and I felt like I was on top of the world. I'd slowed down only a bit on that hill, my HR climbed (but not too much) and I saw some friends cheering along the course just a moment later. Everything felt good. Then, somewhat suddenly, I noticed my pace start to drift. I tried to focus on staying on pace, but seemed to be having a harder time doing so.

One course highlight was the African immigrants cheering, with their beautifully lilting accents and brightly colored traditional garb, "You can do it! You can do it!". There were stretches with little or no crowd support, and I was still enjoying myself, despite noticeably slowing down 10-15 seconds per mile. I continued hydrating and taking gels according to my pre-race plan. I was still in the ball park for a mid-3:30's finish. As I reached the 20-mile mark, though, I started to feel my hips tighten. They didn't hurt exactly, but I felt restricted in terms of my stride. I also started to feel the balls of my feet striking the ground uncomfortably hard. I questioned the wisdom of wearing the lighter weight shoes, but I think I would have felt something similar no matter which shoes I'd chosen. I was hurting, psychologically as much as anything, and I turned down the frozen ice pops that some folks were offering in one of the course's residential sections. Maye I should have taken one.

I tried desperately to stay focused, to think about training, some of my inspirational songs (I might have put my iPod in here if I'd brought it), my family, my running friends, all the motivational stories I've heard and read. But, alas, the tightening hips prevailed, and the miles grew longer, the effort greater. I had to stop to stretch; I had to walk. Dozens upon dozens of people passed me, and I just started looking at my watch to figure out how fast I needed to go to get in under 3:50. I ran until my hips wouldn't let me run anymore, then I'd stretch and/or walk. Others were cramping and walking, too, and we'd say something encouraging or pat one another on the shoulder as we passed each other. I had my slowest, tough mile at 24, and then I just forced myself to find a rhythm - however slow - to the finish. I also noticed that my heart rate was dropping as my pace slowed. That was frustrating because I knew I had more fitness than I could seem to access. As I wrote to my RW forum-mates, my healing hips just couldn't sustain the workload for an 8:10-ish pace past 20 miles.

The real race in the marathon begins at that mark, and it took me an hour-plus to cover that last 10K. As we approached Battery Park, the adrenaline kicked in. When I saw the 26-mile sign, I dug deep, and ran that final 0.2 at about a 6:35/mile pace, passing a dozen or more people along the way. I saw my family somewhere before the finish line, smiled and gave them the thumbs up, and crossed the finish line with the clock reading under 3:50. My net time was closer to 3:48, but still a disappointment in that it did not reflect my training effort. In other words, I did not get out of this race what I think I put into it. I got my medal (nice and heavy!) and worked my way to the food tent, which was fine except that everything was sweet (bananas, yogurt, cookies, ice cream, etc.). I wanted SALT, and lots of it. I got my bag from the gear check and called my wife's cell phone. She was at the other end of the park, which seemed an eternity away, but I had to get to her, since navigating the crowds with the 3 kids would prove too tough for her.

I reached my family, hugged my wife and started to cry, mostly a release of all the emotions built up since last fall and the disappointment in Chicago. There is plenty of good to take from this training cycle and race, but my ego is clearly bruised (and I, consequently, am humbled) by the fact that I'm 0-2 in terms of reaching my marathon goals.


I missed the massage tent, and my kids and I hung out as my wife trekked up to get the van. We went back to the hotel, where I showered and packed, before stopping for bagels on our way to the highway. Wearing my medal (family agreed it was a bit goofy, but within the bounds of acceptable behavior), I ordered lunch and the guy at the counter said, "Did you really finish second in the marathon?" I was befuddled, then realized he must have keyed onto the 2 in "20th Anniversary", along with the fact that the medal is silver. I laughed and said, "Not quite", as visions of what might have been still danced in my head.

The drive home was less uncomfortable than I expected, but we stopped about half-way because my wife was getting sleepy. I was glad to drive the rest of the home. At least I was able to keep the pace while behind the wheel.

The late-afternoon and evening were mellow, and my first cocktail (a Dark-n-Stormy) in weeks tasted really, really good. I basically ate myself to sleep that night, reliving the good, bad and ugly parts of the race in my mind.


As I conclude this race report, the soreness in my legs is subsiding, as is the sense that I let myself and some of my more supportive friends (real-life and virtual) down in terms of delivering a decent performance when it counted.

Yet, I know have actually run a marathon in decent conditions. I held myself back in the early going. I ran a consistent pace for as long as my body would allow. I've logged numerous 50+ mile weeks. I survived a terrible winter without letting the weather interfere with my running schedule. I got a 5K PR in the midst of my first 60-mile week.

Most importantly, I don't feel so much defeated as I do motivated to "get it right" this next time around. I'm still debating what training plan to adopt, whether to stick with Pfitzinger, use another plan or write my own. I don't know whether to increase my mileage or focus on more faster running. But I do know that my love of running remains, despite the fact that it is proving to be a fickle mistress. While I may or may not get to Boston in 2009, I do expect to remain in a relationship with running for a long time to come.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Feelin' groovy

Hello, lamp post, what you knowin' . . . .

Don't ask me why I'm spouting Simon & Garfunkel, for as nice as their music is, it's not exactly something I associate with running. But, after running 6 miles yesterday at what turned out to feel like an easy 8:30 pace (with appropriate HR even), then playing in my company's softball game, I woke up today pain-free for the first time in a month. So, I am feeling pretty groovy.

This development is a huge confidence booster, and I am finally excited about Sunday, as the dread that I've tried to tame over the past few weeks (and days) dissipates. Race plan is to go out at about an 8:15/mile pace, for 4-5 miles, assess heart rate, hips and everything else, then slowly accelerate until I'm running at or slightly under 8:00 pace. If that's relatively comfortable through 20 miles, then I'll see if there's enough in the tank to take a stab at a sub-3:30 finishing time. The revised time goal is therefore between 3:40 and 3:30, instead of 3:35 to 3:25.

I'll be offline while in Vermont, but will post a race report on Sunday night or Monday.

Good luck to my fellow Keybank Vermont City Marathon runners, and here's hoping that those forecasted mid- to upper-70-degree temperatures take their sweet time in arriving on Sunday.


Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Who's Racing Whom?

I took my planned 7-mile run yesterday (Tuesday) at lunchtime. I ran the almost 2 miles to a local park which has a convenient lake with a 1.02-mile shoreline (see below right). It's easy enough to get there, and running laps along the wooded path around the lake beats running in traffic any time.

I got to the lake (see photo, courtesy of and started out with an easy lap, thinking I'd run the next 2 miles at goal marathon pace (still hoping that's 8 minutes, but tough to say with the way my hips still feel). Anyway, I got about a third of the way around the lake and I sensed someone coming up behind me. I saw a short, stocky guy, wearing basketball shorts and beanie (it was about 70 degrees out) chugging along listening to music. He passed me, and I just tried to maintain a good running rhythm, keeping him in my sights the entire time.

After that first loop around the lake, I stopped to stretch and the guy went on ahead. I started the first of my two MP miles, and I caught up to him pretty quickly, which I found odd in light of my 30-second+ stop. As soon as I passed him, he surged. I stayed steady, and with the natural elevation changes and the wind, my pace fluctuated between 7:45 and 8:15 per mile. We finished my second lap running together, and I kept the pace at around 8:00/mile as I entered the third (mile 5 of my run). He kept himself ahead, and then, a little before the spot where he'd first passed me, he peeled off and bent over facing the water, seeming casual about the fact that he looked like he might be sick. I patted him on the shoulder and gave him a thumbs up, then finished my last loop. When I got back to the parking area near the lake, he was there, and I greeted him in Spanish (he seemed to Hispanic, and turned out to be Mexican). He asked me how many laps I was doing today, and I told him 3 at the lake and 7 miles total. His face was incredulous, as it's clear he's a guy who runs, and not exactly a "runner".

When I was a soccer player, I ran almost exactly like that. Three or four times a week, 3-5 miles, usually 8-minute miles, but always feeling like I was pushing the pace, and with little real endurance to show for that modest mileage.

Given the state of my hips right now, I don't know if I could have outrun him in a short race, but it was encouraging to see that I had the endurance to keep going around that lake as many times as I wanted/needed to. It was also a good lesson in advance of Sunday's marathon, realizing that I need to just keep to my pace and forget about what's going on around me. Let people pass, don't worry about placing (was never going to win or place in my age group, so who cares about the actual place). Focus only on staying steady and running "within myself", as they say. Whatever limitations my hips may place on me, it won't matter if I can get through the distance and finish feeling relatively good.


Monday, May 19, 2008

The Final Push

Though there's been no apparent link between blogging and my hip issues, as I skipped 4 days of running last week, I felt that there was not much to write. As I type this, there remain less than 6 full days until the gun sounds at the Keybank Vermont City Marathon in Burlington, Vermont. I am excited, nervous, resigned and frustrated. Here's a recap of the last week, and a preview of the next few days.

After struggling a bit through 16 miles on Sunday, May 10th, I decided that I would take it easy last week. I did 15 minutes on the elliptical on Monday, and nearly an hour on Tuesday, but I was still sore afterwards. I took Wednesday off completely, saw my Physical Therapist on Thursday, and ran 5 miles on Friday evening during a break at an office retreat one state over. That run left me feeling pretty down about how things were going to go over the course of 26.2 miles, as my hips were stiff and sore, and my heart rate was much higher than it should have been for running an 8:35 pace. As I tried to finish fast, the hip simply did not allow me to run under a 7:30 pace. Maybe that's a blessing in disguise, in that I won't physically be able to go out too fast, since my hips won't permit it.

I took Saturday off, despite it being a beautiful day, with the trails calling out for an easy 5 miles. In order to feel like I am actually doing something, I have been icing, stretching, using Hammer Balm and arnica cream, foam rolling and even praying in an effort to get to the starting line with as little pain and as much range of motion as possible.

Yesterday, I decided I would do the final "long" run of 12 miles, and I am pretty pleased with the way it went. I ran a comfortable sub-9:00 pace, and felt like I had plenty of energy left (I know, it wasn't even half the marathon distance) when I was done. It got warm towards the end (mid-70's), and the weather forecast is calling for a similar day on Sunday in Burlington, which is not great. All told, though, it was a good run, with no need to stop for a stretch, my NB 903's feeling like they will be a good marathon shoe and my hips just a bit stiff/sore afterwards, but not too bad.

This week's running schedule will be (no cross-training and no weights or core work):
  • Tuesday - 7 miles with 2 at marathon pace
  • Thursday - 5-6 miles easy
  • Saturday - possible 2-3 miles, really easy, perhaps on the race course's one significant hill

The more involved schedule this week is the body work plan:

  • Monday - physical therapy
  • Tuesday - Chiropractor
  • Wednesday - Massage
  • Thursday - Physical Therapy
  • Friday - Chiropractor

I'm feeling a bit like Humpty Dumpty with the king's men (and women) and horses trying to put me together again.

As I replied to my one of forumites when asked if my hips would let me race on Sunday: "Run, yes. Race, I don't know."

Despite everything, I am eager to run, thinking positively, and looking forward to it being over so that I may rest, go back to base maintenance running for a few weeks and then start the Chicago buildup in good health, with the idea that I will make new and different mistakes this time, as opposed to repeating the same stupid ones from the past two training cycles.


Monday, May 12, 2008

T-minus Two Weeks

This past weekend left me feeling pretty ambivalent about where I stand in my training, and how to handle the remaining two weeks before the Keybank Vermont City Marathon.

Saturday's Race - Slow but Beautiful

I left my house at around 6:15 on Saturday morning, bought a bagel, banana and coffee, and hit the road for the almost 90-minute drive to Woodstock, Vermont for The Road to the Pogue trail race. Having decided at the last minute to make Friday a rest day (skipping the 4-5 mile recovery/easy run), I thought my hips might allow me to run the 10K at tempo or near-tempo pace.

The weather was perfect, mid-40's and sunny, with no apparent threat of the predicted rain showers anywhere in the clear blue sky. The location for the race was the nicest I've seen, and the energy of this small event was very positive. I actually ran into a few people I know from "around", and thought I'd run with one woman whom I suspect to be a thoughtful, disciplined runner, in terms of finding and holding steady pace.

I warmed up for about a mile, then stretched, then ran another half-mile with a couple of fast strides thrown in. My hips felt okay, but once I remembered to put my chest strap on, I was worried that my heart rate was higher than it should have been. I lined up for the start still worried about how things would go, and still undecided about how to run this race.

The first mile seemed to almost all uphill, and I passed the 1-mile marker in just over 8 minutes. My mouth felt dry, not a good sign that early in a race. The was 30 seconds slower than I had hoped, and the worst part was that my heart rate was sky high, already around 180 bpm. The second mile had some downhill, and I ran that in about 7:35, better, but my HR was still too high.
At about mile 2.5, in the middle of a long and steady climb, my hips started to bother me. I had to stop to stretch twice during the next half-mile or so, but I plugged on, deciding to enjoy the gorgeous scenery and just take the course one twisty-turny-hilly stretch at a time. I crossed the 3-mile mark in a bit over 24 minutes, unwittingly settled into what I could feel was a pretty slow pace. I ran behind a couple of young women who chatted with each other the whole time. Let's just say that they added to the natural beauty of the scenery. One of them took a sudden fall at about the 4-mile mark, but she gathered herself and kept going. I stopped to see if she was okay, something I wouldn't have done if I had been thinking about my time. I could feel what little momentum I had just dissipate in that moment.
The middle of mile 4 included the most gorgeous panoramic view I've ever experienced during a race, with the Vermont countryside exposed in all its spring grandeur. The palette included more vibrant shades of new-growth green than I could have imagined. The strategic placement of a water stop at the turnaround spot at the peak convinced me to walk for a few seconds and take in the view.
The view and the water seemed to energize me, though my hips - especially the right one - still bothered me, and I started to speed up a little bit. Interestingly, according to my Garmin mile 4 was almost 1.2 miles long, but mile 5 was about .9 mile long. When I saw that Mile 5 sign arrive sooner than I expected, and having concluded from the course's elevation map that it was mostly downhill to the finish.
After the two slowest race miles (4 & 5) in recent memory, I decided to see what my hips were willing to let me do. I picked up the pace little-by-little, until I was running at about 6:30 pace. I felt okay, if a bit like I was on the edge. When one of the leaders told us that we were within 300 meters of the finish line, I tried to kick into the last gear, but that's when my right hip said "No", rather emphatically. The familiar dull ache ripened into a sharp pain, so I back off, and finished in a disappointing 48 minutes. The total course length (acknowledged by the organizers) was 6.1 miles, so I guess I can call in a marathon goal pace training run, but it's not like I locked that pace with any intention.

Sunday's Long Run - Unimpressively Steady
Mr. Pfitzinger called for 16 miles on Sunday, and I was willing to see how far I could go on my sore hips. The run started out a bit labored, then got better, then got worse, but I wanted to run right around a 9:30 pace - no faster, no slower, with the possibility of speeding up during the last few miles.
It was a glorious morning, and I ran in short-sleeves with some gloves at the beginning, enjoying the 50+-degree weather and the ever-thickening woods. I did have to stop to stretch a couple of times, and had to make one pit stop, but overall I did not expect the run to go as well as it did.
My heart rate stayed very low on Sunday's run, rarely going above 150 bpm, a good sign from a cardio fitness standpoint. The feeling in my hips is best described as that of riding one of those bikes in a spinning class, where you manually adjust the tension. It feels like I have the tension set on medium-high, so that the ratio between my effort and the speed output is out of whack.
The big question now is how to go through the rest of my taper. I think I may replace one or two runs here and there with elliptical or cycling, visit my PT, massage therapist and chiro and try to ice and stretch as much as I can. I know I have a solid endurance base, and my real hope is that running at an 8:00/mile pace won't aggravate my hips too much, even in that intimidating zone from 20 to 26.2 miles. I guess we'll have to wait and see.
One other resolution I'm making is to try to work yoga into my training. From everything I have read, it really sounds like just the thing to help me address some of these hip issues once and for all.

Friday, May 9, 2008

WOW - This American Life TV

Faithful readers (or the reader) of got lactate? know about This American Life, one of the best and most original radio shows ever to grace the airwaves. To think that Ira Glass used to avoid being photographed, lest his image somehow ruin his relationship with the radio-listening public. Now he has his own television show.

I feel like host Ira Glass is one of my closest running buddies, having logged countless miles with me since running, my iPod and my ability to access podcasts coalesced in late 2006. Unlike Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me host Peter Sagal (a Boston Marathon qualifier), I don't get the sense that Ira is a runner, but he has certainly spent lots of virtual time on the roads, with me and many others.

After hearing him promote TAL's television show, now in its second season, I finally remembered to look for it, and I recorded it and watched it last night for the first time. Rarely does any product - whether creative or material - live up to its self-promoted hype, but when TAL - The Television Show claims to be "unlike anything else on television", it could not be more true. I fall into that ever-increasing category of people who subscribes to a wide array of cable channels, yet routinely find that "there's nothing to watch". Thanks to a DVR (like a TiVo), I record the few shows I like (Scrubs, The Daily Show, soccer, 24, etc.) and watch them whenever I choose, skipping commercials along the way. TAL has instantly vaulted to the top of my "must-see TV" list.

Last night's episode was entitled "Escape" and featured two stories: a short one about inner city kids who ride horses in Philadelphia, and a longer story about a man with a degenerative muscular condition which has rendered him essentially immobile, mute and otherwise barely functional by most people's standards. His story deals with his desire to "escape" living with his mother, a wonderful woman who has basically spent every waking (and non-waking) moment making sure her son stays alive. The man communicates painfully via a thumb-click-operated computer program, and it's clear that his intellectual and emotional life is very rich and dense. Between the gorgeous cinematography and fresh point-of-view storytelling, TAL ranks as one of the most compelling pieces of television which I've ever seen. What a refreshing change from reality shows, sitcoms, high-noise/low-substance news and whatever else fills the space and time which is the video broadcast spectrum.

Ira Glass himself has pointed out the irony that TAL's fan base, Public Radio listeners, are not likely to be Showtime subscribers, so I hope that TAL finds a way to get the ratings it needs to stay on the air. Perhaps post-air downloads, national tours and other promotional events will raise the show's visibility. One can only hope.

If you have not seen (or listened to) TAL, I cannot recommend it highly enough. Perhaps it won't be your cup of tea, but I promise that you won't walk away feeling like you've seen it before.


Wednesday, May 7, 2008

One Day at a Time

After three days of tapering, I'm still considering it to be a happy state. Yesterday, the plan called for 8 miles with 5x600 repeats at 5K (6:20/mile) pace. I chose to skip that, and figured I would do 8 miles with 3 or so at tempo pace. I ran 3 miles on the trails and worked my way back to the track (yes, the place where I live is glorious in that way) and started the tempo stage. It took only 400m to realize that I wasn't going to be able to run 3 miles at a 7:20 pace without seriously straining my hips. So, I tried a second lap around the track just to be sure, then I scrapped the tempo segment and ran another couple of easy miles on the trails. They were 5 "vanilla" miles, though I hope they helped with recovery from Sunday's monster run (as an aside, the total for that run turned out to be 23.1 miles).

Today I had hoped to get up early and do 5-6 in the woods, but I'm tired of running when it's in the 30's, knowing it'll be close to 70 by mid-day. So I ran at lunchtime, and though my heart rate seemed little high for the pace I was running (about 8:50+/mile), I'm guessing that the heat was a factor, since it was about 70, and I've been running in much cooler temps since last November. After last year's Chicago debacle, I do need to get more runs in during the warmer part of the day, since there's no way to know what Memorial Day Weekend in Burlington, VT will bring. If it's warm, I'll be glad I did. If it's cool, it'll feel even better to have run in warmer temps.

So, I ventured out with two office mates: one a casual fitness runner out for 4 easy miles; the other my 2:55 Philly friend who's gunning for a sub-2:50 marathon at New York this year. Fitness Runner peeled off after a mile, choosing a different route. Mr. 2:55 ambled with me for 2 miles, until we reached a nice park in the middle of town, leading him to the wooded lake which almost exactly 1 mile around. When I oriented him and told him to go, it was like letting a dog off a leash. Almost instantly, he was gone, and I looked for him across the lake, but suspect that he was well ahead of where I searched. I did two laps of the lake, listening for the first time to the podcast "Confessions of a Runner". It was okay, though I'm personally less interested in a beginner discussing Jeff Galloway's run-walk training/racing methods than I am hearing about more experienced runners, elites, big races, running history, etc. I then ran the 2 miles back to the gym, stretched, showered and went back to work. The good news was that the last miles were the fastest, yet my HR settled down to the low 150's.

As I type this tonight (kids are down and my wife is away on business), I am a bit sore/tight, but will go foam roll for a while in front of the TV. I'll take tomorrow completely off, unless I get motivated and do some stretching and core work before waking the kids. Friday I'll take a very easy 4-5-mile run through the trails and Saturday I'll drive to Woodstock, Vermont for the 10K race. I have convinced myself (I think) that it will not be an "A race" effort, but will be a fun run at a pace faster than I'd run on my own, in a scenic place, with a t-shirt at the end.

17 days and counting . . . what a messy cauldron of mixed feelings a tapering marathoner is.


Monday, May 5, 2008

"Got 'er done"

With no apologies to Larry the Cable Guy, I slogged through a painful and disappointingly slow 23-mile run yesterday. Despite the fact that I had to walk a number of times in the second half (more on that below), there are some positives to draw from it.

First, I covered nearly 23 miles, and was on my feet for about as long (hopefully longer, actually) as I plan to be in Burlington. Second, the hip problems of the past couple of weeks seem to have subsided. Finally, I managed some serious hills (see elevation chart below), so Burlington's course should seem relatively flat by comparison.

Now, to discuss the ugly parts of the run. The first half went okay, but only okay. I had hoped to run around 9:20-9:30/mile pace for about 12 miles (which I mostly did), then speed up to 8:45-ish for the final 10 or so miles, consistent with Pfitzinger's 20%/10% long run approach (meaning that you start out 20% slower than marathon goal pace and finish running 10% slower). While the first 6-7 miles were on pace, the overall plan simply wasn't meant to be.

The weather was lousy all weekend, so I did not run early in the morning as planned because it was pouring, and I just wasn't up for spending over 3 hours in the cold rain. By the time I went out at 1:30-ish, it was in the low- to mid-40's and misty, but not bad. I was running in my newest Asics Kayanos for the second time, but I was soon having problems with the ball of the left foot and soreness on the top of my right foot. Several stops to try to correct these issues had no real effect. Try as I may, I couldn't seem to get my laces right, especially on the right shoe. Gotta fix that before race day.

The route I had mapped out was a longer version of a 20-miler I'd done before, and I thought I'd cleverly re-routed myself around one of the worst hills about 5 miles in. Imagine my surprise when I faced a climbed that made me pine for the other side of the hill. Somewhere around 8 or so miles into the run, my right calf started to feel tight, like it was on the brink of cramping up completely. I stopped to stretch, and hoped beyond hope that I would not have the same problem I had after last year's Beach to Beacon 10K and during the Chicago Marathon (both of which were hot & humid, unlike yesterday, but were the only times that has happened). The calf held, but I was not running comfortably. With 14+ miles to go, that's not generally a good sign. The muscle-related limitation was especially frustrating because my heart rate stayed pretty low (averaged 141 for the entire run), which told me that I definitely could have run faster. The overall fatigue in my legs simply didn't allow for that, though, and the order of the day became to "git 'er done".

As I came up to around mile 15, there was a little country market where I had planned to stop for a Gatorade/water refill. As I got close to the store, I had the most intense craving (which must have rivaled some of my wife's pregnancy moments) for pretzels, so I bought a bag of Combos (with the cheddar cheese filling) and ate about half the bag, chased with water, during a stop where I also tried to stretch everything out. In what may have been a mistake, I ended up not taking the Accelerade gel I'd planned to take last, originally figuring that the protein would help with my recovery before I was even done running.

So, as I hit the final torturous hilly segment of the course, from about mile 16 through mile 18, I had to walk fairly often thanks to the tight calf. I tried and tried to stretch it, but it just didn't want to loosen up. I was also kind of cold and clammy, as the temps and humid air made my clothes stay damp and cool. I was wearing a lightweight EMS tech-fabric mock turtleneck top, mesh-backed running vest, and had switched from a Gore-tex cap to a headband when my ears (a sizable part of my body) got cold. My convertible mittens were wet, but managed to keep my hands warm enough.

Taper Gladness

There's a phenomenon known to distance runners as "Taper Madness", which is the neurotic thoughts which wreak havoc with a runner's psyche as he/she winds down training and allows the body to heal and rest before the big race. It's marked by a feeling that all sorts of aches and pains spell certain catastrophe, that hard-won fitness is seeping away by the bucketful and that all of the training was woefully inadequate in preparing to meet one's goals. Given how things have gone for me in the past couple of weeks, I am not too worried about succumbing to this syndrome, at least not right now.

No, I can state unequivocally that I am thrilled to have reached my three-week taper phase, with nothing longer than 8 miles scheduled on weekdays, and remaining long runs of 16 and 12 miles on the following two Sundays. Yes, I'm a bit stiff and sore, but not too bad all things considered. My bothersome hips seem to have healed up, even though I ran through the pain this week to log close to 55 miles. The challenge now is to balance running fewer miles while maintaining a certain intensity level so that I arrive at the starting line on May 25th in the best shape I can.

I am registered to run a very nice-sounding 10K on May 10th in Woodstock, Vermont, The Road to the Pogue, which won't be a PR course, but a nice way to do a tune-up race away from the local running scene, on picturesque carriage roads and which falls exactly on the day the training plan calls for an 8-10K tune-up race.

Race-day goals remain the same, as follows:
  • I-can-live-with-it goal: Anything under 3:35, which moves me up one start corral in Chicago
  • Reasonable goal: sub-3:30, which would be a solid performance, setting me up nicely to nail that Boston qualifying time in Chicago

  • Stretch goal: somewhere around-3:25; that beats a friend's fall marathon time (not that we're competing, right?) and will give me lots of confidence going into the next training cycle

The wrestling match which I've had with myself about whether to go for the sub-3:20 Boston qualifying time has mooted out thanks to the hip issues. I keep reminding myself that this is my "second first marathon", since I still don't know what it's like to run at marathon pace for 26.2 miles. In order to pull off a sub-3:20, everything would have to be perfect, which is unlikely, and I'd have to push the pace and risk blowing up somewhere in the mid- to late stages of the race. Simply stated, I DO NOT WANT THAT, and I plan to train for a 3:15-ish marathon so that I will have a cushion in the fall when I seek to punch my Boston ticket.

Friday, May 2, 2008

A Shot in the Arm

Assuming that May 25th turns out to be a successful day of marathon racing, I'll look back on today as a watershed moment in the training program. Having nursed sore hips for over two weeks now, I decided after last Sunday that I am only sore and that I could "run through" this particular speed bump. The schedule called for 10 miles today, and my son took ill yesterday, coming home early from school with a fever and spent the night in our bed (turns out he has strep; crossing my fingers about not getting it). I eventually moved into his bed, and fell asleep after midnight, with the alarm set for 4:30.

I shot out of bed like rocket, and did all the things I do to get ready to go out before the sun rises (e.g., take a caffeinated gel, drink water, make the day's iPod playlist, check the weather, stretch, stretch and stretch, try to go to the bathroom, etc.). At about 4:55, I was on the road, starting out slowly, but with noticeably less pain in my hips (not no pain, but less). I still stopped to stretch a few times (it seems to help, though I hope not to have to do this on race day) and had one bathroom break (bless the town ball fields and the newly-arrived port-o-johns). I managed a slow 9:00+ minute overall pace, but my aching hips stayed under control, and I was able to run the last stretch at MP and faster with no increase in pain.

The Garmin weirdly froze after one stretching stop at around mile 7 (the auto-pause didn't restart automatically), and ended up recording about 9.7 miles for the run, which seemed short to me (this was a new variation of a known route). The MotionBased software "fixed" it, and it turned out to have been nearly a mile more, for a total of 10.65 miles in a hair over 1:35.

As I type this, the lack of sleep is catching up with me (and we have a work-related dinner party for some of my wife's "people" tonight), but the hips feel much better. Not sure if it's due to yesterday's massage, the switch from ibuprofen to naproxen sodium, or just my body and I making peace as it heals itself.

Tomorrow calls for 5 easy miles on the trails (early due to a hugely packed day), with Sunday's 22-miler the crescendo of the training plan, followed by a very civilized taper (though I may add a few miles here and there). I do hope to be able to throw some "easy" intervals and/or tempo runs into the mix before the big day, but I think that if I line up healthy, the aerobic base will carry me to my sub-3:30 goal.


Thursday, May 1, 2008

A little cheese with that whine?

Well, I'm posting on a non-running day because I'm feeling cautiously optimistic that whatever is going on in my hips is going to pass, if not very soon, then upon the commencement of the taper after Sunday's final long, long run. I saw my massage therapist today, and while I had expected a veritable torture session, her ministrations hurt much less than I had anticipated. She kept asking me to rate the pain on a scale of 1-10, and it never really surpassed a 5-6. She worked my hips for an hour and I can't say if they're any better, but will see tomorrow whether they're any worse. On the pain threshold issue, I want to say tough break to my RW Marathon Training Forumite Amstelly, who ran through an undiagnosed femural stress fracture, and will now miss her spring marathon. You can feel her pain by clicking here. Against that backdrop, some sore hips aren't so bad. I'll stop whining . . . for now.

Need to rise by 4:30 tomorrow and run 10 miles before getting my wife & kids up for school. The nice thing about these early runs now is that it's dark when I leave, but light well before I finish, so it's a lot less bleak than the frigid, lightless winter runs through which I slogged for almost 3 months. We have a jam-packed weekend ahead (I just accidentally had typed "ham-packed" weekend, which would be an odd thing for a Jewish guy to have planned), so I will be running early on both Saturday and Sunday. Weather forecast looks good, though tomorrow morning will be near freezing when I go out the door. Unlikely to be good preparation for May 25th, so I'm going to overdress by design, just to keep the engine used to running warm. I'll do 5 easy miles on the trails on Saturday, and then the piece de resistance, the final 22-miler, run slowly but boosting pre-race confidence like no other workout. The main problem with running any long routes near home is that the choices are hilly, really hilly, and oh-sh*t-that's-hilly. My hips and the hills are not currently very amicable, so I'm not sure what to do. I could run an 11-mile loop twice, but just the thought of passing home at the half-way point is not very appealing.

In a perfect running world, I'd have followed my plan to drive up to Burlington on Sunday to run the last 22 miles of the marathon course, but the logistics are not cooperating. Problem is that 5 hours of driving and three hours of running equals an extra day away from the family. So, local it is, and if I have any energy left afterwards, I can hang out with my kids.