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.
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.