Monday, September 29, 2008
As I took my first notable foliage-filled run of the year on Sunday, I thought about how well my training has gone of late. How I was completely naive and baselessly optimistic last year (and then again this spring) as I trained and set marathon goals. My ambition and resolve bordered on hubris, and I was thus twice humbled by the event to which I have dedicated virtually all of my "free" time since early last year. Chicago 2007 threw record heat at me and the almost 35,000 others who toed the line on October 7, 2008. Burlington, Vermont saw my race parallel my training cycle: a solid start followed by me barely hobbling to a sub-par finish.
Then, just as I was recovering from Burlington, I threw my back out when I bent over to pick up a single piece of laundry in late June. That forced upon me a full week of no running, followed by three-plus weeks of feeling like I was dragging my sciatica-hampered left leg along for the ride. Little-by-little, though, as I crafted and executed a more flexible training plan, my endurance and speed started to return. I ran a very slow 10K race in early August. I ran a less slow 5K two weeks later, with another decent 5K effort on a cross-country trail five days after that. All along, I increased my weekly mileage, and then added a sixth running day per week.
With the various setbacks, I decided (i.e., was forced to conclude) that qualifying for the 2009 Boston Marathon (to be run when I'm 40, and for which I need to break 3:20 to get in) was still out of reach, and that I should focus only on making a marked, yet incremental, improvement in Chicago this year. I accepted that reality with relative equanimity and trained so as to put myself in the best possible position to run under 3:35 and take another shot next spring (or fall).
As it has in so many ways, running has taught me another life lesson: that by loosening one's grip on something one desperately covets, one may have a far better chance of actually obtaining it.
When I did my first 20-miler of this training cycle, I followed a coach's advice and had the best long training run of my life. Then, two weeks later, I had an even better 22-miler on even tougher terrain. Now, I think that I might (just might) be able to get that Boston qualifying time, and - even if I fall short - I can do try without blowing up and having yet another colossally disappointing marathon.
Of course, much of this is out of my control, starting with the weather on race day. Cool temperatures will give me a fighting chance. A smart pacing strategy is key, as is proper rest (always tough for me), hydration, nutrition and a lack of race-day surprises. I have to avoid getting hurt between now and October 12th, hope that I suffer no cramps, avoid going out too fast and otherwise pray for a planetary alignment of the highest personal magnitude, so that the offhanded comment I made at my 30th birthday party - that maybe I'd run the Boston Marathon when I was 40 - becomes a prophesy a few months after that fateful day.
Bear in mind that when I said it, I'd never run more than about 6 miles at once, despite playing soccer since I was a kid. Marathoning and space travel were essentially similarly elusive and foreign endeavors in my mind, though I confess to knowing more marathoners than astronauts even then.
So, with Sunday's 17-miler going very well, with the last 5 miles run at or below my new goal marathon pace of 7:38/mile, I will go for it in Chicago. Since I am still working out the pacing strategy, I'll put it up in a few days. I know, not knowing may keep some of you up at night, but try counting mile markers and you'll eventually fall asleep. ;-)
Thanks for reading, and if you have any words of personal experience as you pursued (or are pursuing) your BQ dreams (good or bad as the results may have been), please drop me a line.
Monday, September 22, 2008
I ran 22+ miles in mid-coast Maine, where we were for my wife's cousin's wedding. It was a cool start at 9:00 am, likely in the high-40's/low-50's and very breezy. Just before I left the seaside house we'd rented, I ditched my gloves and arm-warmers (which I've never actually used on a run), deciding I'd warm up soon enough. For the first couple of miles, I was regretting the decision, but sure enough, both my body and air temps climbed soon enough. "Climb" turned out to be one of the operative words of the day.
The route I chose was one I'd driven many times, and part of which I'd run a few times. The kids like it because it's so hilly that there are quite a few "belly-floppers", hills which rise and fall steeply enough that one's stomach rushes upwards on the descent, kind of like being on a roller coaster. See elevation profile below. In 22+ miles, www.motionbased.com/ reports that I climbed and descended about 4,000 feet in each direction.
Well, when I got back to the house, I saw that an area with games and toys had a Magic 8-ball, that wonderful prognosticator, offering quasi-cryptic responses to yes-no questions. So, obsessing about my marathon performance while basking in the afterglow of this great run, I asked the 8-ball whether I'd run 3:35 in Chicago. It said that I would not. "3:40", I asked nervously. " "Outlook not so good." So, I gulped and wondered what could go wrong during my taper that will send me to run another disappointing marathon in Chicago. Then I thought of casting aside that negativity, and asked whether I'd break 3:30. "It is certain," came the reply in that little black window. Then I got a bit greedy and asked it whether I should try to qualify for Boston at this year's Chicago. The insidious little device gave me the worst possible answer: "Ask again later", it said, without even a hint of being aware of how cruel it was to string a guy like me along like that.
So, be it resolved that along with my gels, sunglasses, gloves and whatever else I need to carry with me on race-day, I'm thinking of getting a Magic 8-Ball key chain which I can consult mid-race. "Should I get water at the next stop?" A: "All signs point to yes". Should I pick up the pace here? A: "Concentrate and ask again". You get the idea. Scientific? No. But it's probably no less kooky than some other methods of making those on-the-fly decisions.
Seriously, though, I am currently feeling a sense of serenity and preparedness unlike anything I've experienced during my last two marathon build-ups. I have also learned humility and still intend on running a conservative race plan this time around. I keep telling myself that a successful marathon will be one where the last 10K are faster than the first 10K.
I'm actually thrilled to be "tapering", though I have little desire to run less than I have been (except maybe for those mid-week, early morning 10+-milers), especially with the recent lovely fall weather. I just hope to stay healthy, be rested and well-fueled and be sharp so that I can execute a solid race in Chicago. Nice weather wouldn't hurt either.
Stay tuned . . . .
Sunday, September 14, 2008
This past Friday and Saturday have leaped to the top of my growing list of memorable running moments. Along with my first long run, some notable PRs, my first marathon, my only race victory and a couple of beautiful runs in different places, taking part in the 10th Annual Reach the Beach Relay, from Cannon Mountain to Hampton Beach, NH was something I will always treasure. Over 350 teams from all over the country (and some international folks) ran the 209-mile route, which is broken up into 36 legs. The intensity of this undertaking ranges from 2-person (yes, two, not a misprint) ultra teams, with each member running 100+ miles, to 12-person teams (like mine), where each member runs between 14 and 22 miles over three different stretches. Here's a report of my and my team's experience. Be forewarned that - much like this blog itself - it may be boring to everyone but me.
I joined a team which was formed 5 years ago, with two original members still remaining. The core of the team if from my local running club, but we had people from out of state, too. Our paces ranged from 6:00 to 9:00/mile, but there was not a single sense of anyone being "better" than anyone else. I fell somewhere in the middle, estimating that I'd run a 7:30/mile pace over my 21+ total miles. We had started out with 6 men and 6 women, but as a woman dropped out in the last week before the race with a stress fracture, we picked up a very fast guy from our running club. By not having at least 6 women, we had to drop out of the co-ed division, but since we weren't expecting to win any awards, it didn't really matter.
The chemistry of the team was very good, with several lawyers (as one I can say this was a drawback), a lobbyist, political policy-maker, a couple of systems analysts, a guidance counselor, crime lab supervisor and other decent, hard-working folks.
The entire team met at a local park-n-ride for the hour-plus trek to the start at Cannon Mountain, splitting up into our two standard-issue, white 20-foot 8-passenger vans. As runner #2 (of 12), I was in Van #1. Those of us who were newbies were jumping with excitement, just trying to imagine how it would all work out.
PRE-RACE / GETTING READY
Upon arrival, I understood why we'd emblazoned our team van with our name and some other decorations, since at least two-thirds of the vehicles in the parking area were nearly identical white vans. The weather upon arrival in the mountains was lousy, high 40's and rain. It sapped my energy and made it unpleasant to stand around. I bought a fleece hat just for standing around in, and it was $15 very well-spent. We posed for a pre-race team photo, and the photographer looked at us and said, "Not too shabby." There was a discussion as to which word he emphasized and how exactly he meant it, but it became one of our team's little jokes.
After waiting around, drinking some coffee, using the restroom twice and changing into my running clothes under my heavier outer layers, our first runner and co-captain was off with about 9 other team members at 1:40 p.m.
FIGURING IT ALL OUT
While there were many unknowns about this race, I really could not wrap myself around how it was all going to work, with 12 runners, 36 legs, 35 transitions, fluids, nutrition, eating, sleeping, bathrooms, navigation, clothing changes, etc., and all of that multiplied by over 350 teams. Of course, our trusty co-captains had it all figured out, and most of the race went seemlessly. We were hurried a couple of times because the other van made up more time than we expected, and we took one or two wrong turns, but we never missed a single one of the transitions. We noted other teams who were not as well-oiled.
The transition areas were schools, churches, public facilities and other places with large parking lots to accommodate van after van after van pulling in to drop off and pick up runners. There was boisterous cheering, consolation over injuries sustained or goal times unmet, lots of bathroom-going and a fair amount of eating. One transition area at a school looked like a storm shelter, with rows of sleeping bags lined up on the cafeteria floor, while a bake sale went on to raise money for the student body. This was the same school where some exuberant teenaged girls high-fived every single person who walked past them. I got one set of hand slaps on the way in; a second on the way out. Their enthusiasm was contagious, especially as I geared up for my midnight run of leg #2. But, I'm getting ahead of myself.
MY FIRST LEG
This was supposed to be a pretty straightforward 8.9-mile shot. The good news was that it was cool (around 50 with occasional mist) and I started with a tailwind, buoyed by the adrenaline of being in the race after all the anticipation. Here's what my Garmin recorded for an elevation profile:
It was a steady climb and at about Mile 5, I turned into a headwind. Still, I hit my target pace exactly, though my time was a bit over because the leg was nearly 1/10 of a mile long.
My team provided water at Miles 3 and 6, but my Garmin froze shortly after that Mile 6 aid when I pressed two buttons at once. Though I ran blind, the Garmin fortunately did continue to record the run.
I had been passed by an unbelievably fast guy wearing racing flats who seemed to floating up a hill, but I managed to pass a couple of slower runners, too. I tried to encourage one woman who was struggling to run the rest of an uphill with me, but she just couldn't do it. I pushed it hard at the end, and was able to reel in a member of the Google team in the last 1/4 mile or so, kicking it hard en route to a 7:09 final mile. According to the Garmin, my pace topped out at about 5:15 per mile. I slapped the snap-bracelet which serves as the baton onto ST's hand, caught my breath and stretched, pleased with my first effort. Since the next leg was pretty short, we had to hurry to the next TA.
TIME IN THE VAN
The energy level in the van was pretty high for a long time, but started to wane into the wee hours, as the exertion and exhaustion combined to sap our good spirits. No one on the team got cranky, just quiet. JM came up with the brilliant idea of a friendly scavenger hunt between the two vans, and that made for loads of fun, especially as we searched for amputees (saw them), mostly naked runners (not sure we really did), a runner vomiting (yup), etc. We saw a wooden Indian at about 4:45 in the morning, the huge carved mascot of one of the schools we passed.
We obviously talked a lot about running, but we also got to know each other better. We shared stories; those of us with kids talked about them; one woman articulated her struggle about whether even to have children. Those of us with kids didn't give her much hope.
There was minimal dozing, a fair amount of snacking, lots of good-natured ribbing and some well-orchestrated clothing changes. My Nathan "Power Shower" wipes (essentially baby wipes for runners) evolved from oddity to useful accessory. After a series of legs, the stench in the van became palpable. It was nice when the weather allowed us to open the windows. We hung white Christmas lights so that we could spot the van in the dark . . . that is until the power adapter died. That was one of the tricks the team had picked over the years.
We went to dinner at a local apres-ski-type restaurant, with what I'd term limited runner-friendly options. The atmosphere was great and the draft beer seemed to be screaming our names, but we all held back. I ate a chicken sandwich, baked potato and salad, and ended up spearheading the drive towards dessert. We had time to kill, and since no one was drinking, that turned out to be the group's indulgence.
An adjoining table had another group of runners, but we were definitely in the minority in the pub section, with locals casting intrigued glances in our direction. The table right next to us kept the whiskeys coming, while plates of buffalo wings and other friend appetizers teasingly went by us. The robust patriarch of the table ordered a very large steak, which he seemed to season with half a full shaker of salt.
MY SECOND LEG
As an early-morning runner, I'm no stranger to running in the pitch dark, especially in the winter and when I head out the door a few minutes after 4:00 a.m. Running in a race during the night on an intimidatingly hilly section, though, is new to me. My second leg was about 7.7 miles, with a small climb early, then a big hill at around mile 4 and another even bigger hill at around mile 5.5.
With temperatures warmer than during the afternoon leg, I left the transition area lit up like a Christmas tree: headlamp, reflective vest, and at least 3 blinking red lights. An older male runner set out about 15 seconds ahead of me. He had a distinctively flashing vest, which I could see for most of the run.
I knew that this leg would be harder, and I was psychologically prepared for the hills. What I wasn't prepared for, though, was that I'd be feeling sick from dinner. The brownie sundae was a mistake, and when I saw my team at around mile 3, I
Once our 6th runner had finished her second leg, we took off for one of the co-captain's homes for a couple hours' sleep and a shower. It was about 5:30 am on Saturday morning (later than I'm used to getting up during the week), and I decided to go straight to sleep without a shower, saving that pleasure for after I got up. For a guy who often lies in bed with his mind racing for hours, I think I was asleep before I finished zipping up my sleeping bag.
Despite thinking I'd need to be awoken, my eyes opened at 7:30, and I went straight up to the shower. That was a Top-5 lifetime shower, given the grit and grime which had accumulated on me after those first two runs.
THE SECOND DAY
After a replenishing two hours of sleep, we were up, showered, drinking coffee and eating bagels with what we thought was time to spare. When JM called the other van to check in, it turned out that they had banked even more time, and we ended up cutting our arrival at the transition area pretty close. We saw our #12 runner about a mile-and-a-half away, so JM had a few minutes to gear up for a tough 9+-mile leg. He had both some steep uphills and downhills on his leg. I confirmed my adequate hydration levels by using a porta-potty (which became less and less . . . er . . . "fresh" as the event wore on) for the umpteenth time.
MY FINAL LEG
The race directors in their hyper-organization provide maps of all 36 legs. They include distances for each one, and elevation profiles for those with significant hills. Thus, one might imagine my surprise when I learned that the 4.2 -mile final leg which included no elevation profile had two major climbs. So much for banging out sub-7:00 miles in order to get my overall average pace down to under 7:30.
As the temperature rose, I set off from the Deerfield, NH fairgrounds (incidentally the only spot with a grumpy race volunteer, who yelled at everyone pulling in or out of the fairground parking area). the leg started straight up, with me trying to keep a tall, shirtless runner in my sights. He had about a 20-second head start, so I'd lose him when the hill rose or the road curved. I was hot and tired as I neared the mid-way point, grinding out a 7:45-ish pace as best I could. My team was waiting with water at mile 2. I passed a nice woman (see photo at right), stopped to drink water, and passed her again a few moments later. She was encouraging as I passed her, just as I was earlier when a couple of folks passed me. Oddly, like during my prior two legs, I saw very few people, so had little chance to pass anyone, which makes things so much more interesting during such a long race.
After my last leg, I had the pleasure of meeting one of my RWOL forumates, "dogpound" who unfortunately twisted her ankle badly during her nighttime leg.
ONE MORE MILE
Having not yet learned the lesson that shooting one's mouth off can get one into trouble, I'd told the teammate to whom I'd be handing off after my final leg that if I felt good, I'd run a part of her leg with her. She faced a hilly 8.6-miler, and I thought my leg would be a flat 4+-miler which I could bang out and finish feeling good. Turned out I was wrong, but my teammate seemed very much to be counting on me to make good on my offer.
While I was spent when I finished my third leg, I recovered pretty quickly and when the van stopped to give ST some water, I asked her if she still wanted company for a mile. She said yes, so I ran with her, giving her some encouragement up the hills and trying to shield her from the wind which had picked up a bit. I knew that my fellow van-members would think about driving ahead and making me run more, just to be "funny", but I also knew that they wouldn't go too far ahead, since ST would need water in light of the climbing temperatures.
WAITING FOR THE FINISH
THE AFTER-PARTY AND SAYING GOODBYE
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
With a huge mileage week and killer long run behind me, I planned to go easy this week in anticipation of the Reach the Beach relay on Friday and Saturday. I did an easy 5-mile recovery run yesterday in a lunchtime downpour. The rain felt good, though I stingily didn't use my Gore-tex running cap because I was saving it all nice and clean for the relay (rain's in the forecast). So I got pelted in the face and had to wipe my forehead constantly, but it was fine.
This morning was an odd run, because I felt some residual fatigue, but my HR was very low, in the low-130's, which is less than many of my recovery runs. I didn't push the pace, and despite a slow start at 4:30 am, I averaged a little over 9:00 pace for the full 10 miles. My hip is bothering me a tad, but it's not bad and doesn't seem to affect my stride at any pace (though I have shied away from 5K pace running, just to be safe). I may seek Active Release Therapy for the hip, since so many of my online chums have extolled its virtues. I need to get over feeling disloyal to my chiropractor, who's been very good to me over the past year-plus.
I am very much looking forward to this relay, not just because of the running itself, but because I'll end up spending 36 hours or so with people whom are similarly passionate about this sport. Talk of training, injuries, past & future races, PR's, gear, memorable running moments, and anything else that arises is infinitely interesting to me, though it strikes people like my wife as one of the more boring conversational topics around.
I'll post after I've recovered from the relay.
Sunday, September 7, 2008
Tropical Storm Hannah blew through the area, dumping a lot of rain, blowing hard and knocking out our power for a couple of hours. However, she was gone by early morning, and I adjusted my plans for the first 20-miler of this training cycle (I had planned to drive to the coast so that I could do the run on a flat stretch, like Chicago). She left behind some strong winds, but even though they got in my face for some stretches, it helped keep me from getting totally overheated in the high 70-degree temps.
I type right now with a palpable glaze over my eyes, wonderfully tired from my hardest - and best - training run, which - either ironically or predictably - comes at the end of my highest mileage week ever. The week went pretty much as planned, with runs of 5, 12, 6, 12, 6 and today's 20+-miler. With the extra decimals during the week, I cracked 62 miles, but - most significantly, I ran a hard-core long run for the first time since I started training for marathons.
On the advice of Coach Brian whom I've "met" through RWOL, I did a progression run, where I ran 10 miles easy, then 5 at MP (marathon pace) and 5 at sub-MP. Even my "easy" pace is now faster than it's been, with the first 10 miles averaging a hair over 9:00/mile. Then I started running at 8:15-ish (thanks to the up- & downhills, it wasn't very even pacing), and then I dropped it to 8:00 or less. I felt the right hip bug me a bit, so I slowed down intentionally during mile 18, but I picked it back up and then ran the last mile (total distance was over 20.5 miles) in . . . drum roll, please . . . 7:22. True, it is a slight downhill finish to my house, but I've never pushed myself quite like that on a long run. I'll also note that my HR averaged around 156 for the second half of the run, a very encouraging measure that I am close to race-fit.
After the productive work of the past few weeks, I'm going to cut back this week, to let my body recover a bit before the relay on Friday & Saturday. I'll XT on Monday; 5M recovery on Tuesday; 10 easy miles on Wednesday; 5 again on Thursday; a total of about 21 over the course of three legs during the relay on Friday & Saturday; and - if I feel like it - maybe an easy 5 on Sunday.
The great debate within myself right now if how hard to push between now and Chicago. If this week is a 45-mile week, I'd like to put up somewhere around 55 miles the next week, concluding with another strong 20-miler. Then I'll likely follow the planned taper, with the extra day of running depending on how I feel. I'll probably skip any hard track workouts, but may do some 800-meter repeats at some point just to get my legs turning over a little faster and perhaps fine-tune the maximal oxygen uptake system.
Monday, September 1, 2008
Here's a recent recap.
After the great 17-miler last Sunday, the week took shape this way:
- Monday - 15 mins elliptical; circuit training; core & stretching
- Tuesday - 5 easy miles on the trails
- Wednesday - 8.5, with 4 at tempo pace
- Thursday - 12 miles, general aerobic pace
- Friday - 5 easy miles at lunch; stretching
- Saturday - 5 easy trail miles, 6x100 strides plus recovery at the track
- Sunday - 15 miles, with 11 at goal marathon pace
That's my second consecutive 50+-mile week, and the best part of all is that I feel tired, but healthy. The week was true to the scheduled Pfitzinger 12/55 in spirit, but I have shaken things up a bit. I put in the LT run in place of a VO2 max workout (5x1000), which I thought would be too much in light of recent racing and the need to be ready to run an MP workout over the weekend. Also, adding a sixth running day of very easy 5-6 miles seems to be helping me bump the mileage up without adding undue strain on my body.
The 12-miler on Thursday made me feel like I'd really accomplished something notable, since it required my getting up at 4:00 and out the door by 4:15-ish, in order to make it back before anyone woke up. It was the kids' first week of school, and I wanted to minimize any disruptions in the morning routine. Though I was pretty exhausted (with a client-development social outing until pretty late that night), I felt proud of having pulled off a tough run in the midst of a solid training week before most people were even out of bed. Even my 2:55 Philly friend was impressed, though given his talent level, he just doesn't have to run as much to obtain excellent results.
The run yesterday involved an easy first mile, with a gradual settling in to a goal MP of about 8:15 per mile (3:35 equates to 8:12 per mile). The first mile was a little slow, then things got pretty consistent. I chose the least hilly course near home, but there was still some variation. It was breezy but sunny, and it got pretty warm towards the end of the run (high 70's). The workout called for 12 miles at MP, but I decided that 11 would do in light of the following factors: the slight niggle in my right hip flexor; the fact that I felt the beginnings of a cold; and, most importantly, based on my route, that 12th mile would have been uphill, throwing off the MP anyway. I ended up averaging around 8:05 for the 11 miles, with miles 10 and 11 coming out to 7:45 each. My HR stayed under 160 (except on some hills) nearly the entire run, another great sign of improved fitness. I got home to an empty house, so I had time to stretch, eat and take an ice bath. Other than that old familiar hip soreness, I feel great.
Yesterday's MP run has re-vitalized me, given that I didn't (and still don't) really know what my goal MP should be. Whatever it could be this time around, I'm not planning on pushing the envelope. I've decided that no matter how great I feel leading up to Chicago or how well my two 20-milers go (and surely at least one will go not-so-well), I'm shooting for a 3:35 marathon, a 13-minute (or 30-second per mile) improvement over Burlington. If everything is perfect, I will run a 3:35 pace through 20-miles, and if I feel great, I'll pick it up a little bit and make a run towards low 3:30's. The mantra this time around is to pick a conservative race strategy and stick to it, no matter. I want to run the last 10K of the marathon at or faster than my overall marathon pace for the day. The only realistic way to do that is to run the first 20 miles conservatively. If I can run 3:35-ish, then a Boston qualifying time would feel within reach. Another disappointing effort (for whatever reason), will result in another large chasm between my actual performance and that elusive BQ time.
Except for the Reach the Beach relay on September 12-13, I don't have any races coming up, though I may throw in a time trial where Pfitz suggests, but only if I'm feeling close to 100% healthy.
The only other thing to report is that I have put together the fundraising piece of the 40 at 40 birthday run. I'll be raising money through the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. If I can raise $10,000 (which seems unlikely), I can restrict the gift for glioblastoma research. Otherwise, it goes to the Jimmy Fund, and will still likely do some good for people suffering from Cancer.