Monday, October 27, 2008

Run. Race. Recover. Repeat.


It was a busy week in both my running and non-running life. No sooner had I put up my last post about having written off my own participation in the 113th Boston Marathon than a colleague asked me if I was interested in accepting an invitation to run Boston without need for qualifying. I hoped not to have sounded too ungrateful when I said, "Thanks, but no thanks," since I would feel like a fraud if I were to line up in Boston without having met the 3:20 qualifying standard for men aged 40-44.

Facing such a deep philosophical quandary, I posted a poll in the Runner's World forums. While the poll results were along the lines of what I had expected, I was surprised at the compelling content in some of the narrative answers. A few folks made strong arguments for accepting the bid, and using it as motivation to train to run the qualifying time in Boston. As former philosophy student who enjoyed logical theory, it's a strange tautology: to qualify for Boston in Boston. Certainly, it's been done, but I simply wouldn't feel comfortable doing it. I felt like a poser when I went to the Expo before the Boston Marathon this year.

So, I am toying with the following plan. I train for and run the Hyannis Marathon in February 2009 (yes, it could be nasty, but will it be worse marathoning weather than Chicago has been the last two years?). If I run a qualifying time, and Boston registration is full, then I use the invitation. If I don't make it, then I re-group and decide whether to run a Spring marathon or a later fall marathon such as Bay State in Lowell, MA or the Philadelphia Marathon.

We'll see how the BQQ (Boston Qualifying Quest) plays out. Stay tuned . . . .


Well, I've set the date and have worked out most of the logistics for the "Forty at 40" birthday run. Other than celebrating the fact that I've managed four decades on this planet, I'll be raising money for the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston in memory of a cousin of mine who dies from brain cancer (glioblastoma) at age 35. He would have been 40 next year, so it's sort of a joint birthday celebration.

The run will start at my house on December 7th (yes, I know it's Pearl Harbor Day, but there's no connection) at 8:00 a.m. and will likely involve two hilly 20-mile loops through three towns. Friends and family have committed to providing support via donations, encouragement and/or - best of all - running a few (or many) miles with me.

If you want to support this run in any way, please post a comment with the first word "PRIVATE" and your e-mail address and I'll send you more detailed information.


Last week was Week #2 of my post-Chicago Recovery. I let myself run as I felt - mostly - which resulted in only 4 running days. I may have erred on Tuesday by going a bit hard on nearly 7 miles on the half-marathon course where I'll run on November 2nd. My left hip has been a bit sore (not bad) since, so I skipped Wednesday, did an easy 5 on Thursday (in my new Saucony Grid Tangent 3's - nice!) and took Friday off.

On Saturday, I ran into a friend of mine downtown at a local bagel shop. He's in his early 50's now, but he was a hard-core college runner in his day, and ran a 2:42 marathon in the early 1980's. He's still fit, an avid adult league baseball player, who still lifts and runs 3-4 times a week, usually on the treadmill for about 30 minutes. He said he'd love to join me for an easy 5 miles on the trails. We set out a little before noon, and he looked smooth. We chatted a bit for the first mile or two, and then I noticed that he got quiet. Having run with plenty of people who are much faster than I, I knew he was getting winded, so stopped asking him questions and just pointed out highlights of the trails. He stayed about 50 feet or so behind me, and at about 3.5 miles I heard a thud. He'd taken a face-plant thanks to a well-concealed root, but picked himself up and kept plugging along. I slowed down in the last mile, and when we came out of the woods with about 0.4 miles to go, he asked me if we could stop. I told him that we were almost there, but that we could run any pace he wanted. He told me to go ahead, so I did, but he rallied and finished less than 30 seconds behind me. He said it was painful, but now he's motivated to get back in shape. I enjoyed the company, and it's not the worse feeling after a disappointing goal race to know that you're faster than somebody (especially somebody who used to be smokin' fast).

We had a major rainstorm blow through on Saturday night, but it cleared out as quickly as it had moved in. On Sunday, I had a glorious 11-miler in perfect weather, where I opened it for a mile-and-a-half towards the end just to see how I felt in advance of the half-marathon next Sunday. After running almost 9 miles at an 8:35/mile pace (though I was trying to run closer to 9:00/mile), I settled into a comfortably hard pace, running the first mile in 6:58 and the next half-mile at 6:43 pace. My HR held steady (there were some downhill stretches), and it felt good to move fast. Since I'm hoping to average under 7:20/mile on Sunday, it was a nice little test.

This week, I plan to take it easy. Monday was a cross-training day. I'll likely run Tuesday (7-8 miles), Thursday (5-6 miles on the trails at a non-profit board retreat at a luxury mountain resort) and Saturday (3-4 super-easy miles) before letting it all hang out at the half-marathon on Sunday.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Happy Trails to You . . . Until We Meet Again

It was a gorgeous fall weekend in New England, and I've managed to run a total of about 18 miles since last weekend's marathon adventure. The title of this post came to me on Saturday, when I did 5 easy miles on the most technical part of the trail system near my home. It's narrow, rooty, rocky and sloped in parts, so it's a great way to ensure a nice slow pace. I ran a little under 10:00/mile, and enjoyed the sights, smells and sounds of the woods in deep autumn. Other than nearly falling flat on my face due to missing a leaf-concealed stump/root, it was simply bliss to be out there.

I thought about how happy I was to run without any agenda. To just move at whatever pace my body dictated. I thought about not having a time-based goal, not training for something right now, not doing anything more than just feeling cool air on my skin and the movement of my arms and legs. And then I thought of the marathon, not as a sport, but as a challenge, my own personal Everest. To be conquered, in Sir Edmund Hilary's immortal words, "Because it's there." And, finally, my thoughts turned to Boston, and in what seemed like an instant, I came to terms with the fact that I will not be running the Boston Marathon in April 2009. To shift metaphors rather clumsily here, my running Holy Grail remains secreted in its ark, and I will have to continue my quest via smart, hard training and more discipline and commitment.

So, with all of that swirling through my head, I realized that I was happy on the trails, and that my BQ attempt and I will certainly meet again, most likely in the Spring.

On Sunday, I set out in a long-sleeve shirt, light gloves and a headband just in case the wind picked up. It didn't really, and it was just beautiful out there. I wanted to run at least 8 miles, but was prepared to cut it short if my legs felt heavy. At about 8.5 miles, I realized I should head home, since it probably would not help my recovery to go much longer. I logged almost 9.5 miles, at about an 8:45 pace, with an average heart rate of about 145. It's great to be recovering so quickly from Chicago, and I am now very much looking forward to my two upcoming running events.

On November 2, I'll be running a half-marathon, trying to capitalize on my (untapped) marathon fitness and - hopefully - set a new personal best.

On December 7, I'll undertake the 40-mile run for my 40th birthday, in memory of and fundraising for my cousin who died of brain cancer at age 35. More details on that to follow.


Monday, October 13, 2008


Heat. Cramps. Over-exuberance. Hubris. Blisters. Willful blindness.

Can you guess how Chicago went? The good: 3:40 is my new marathon PR. The bad: it is far short of my Boston qualifying standard of 3:20, and rather short of my "acceptable" B goal of 3:30 for this race. The ugly: cramps and blisters ruined the final miles - and my race.

It is tempting to write a long, borderline histrionic race report, aggrandizing my marathon effort as if it were some Odyssean battle of good versus evil. Of course, runner and non-runners alike know that the marathon is really a battle with oneself. We battle our bodies' perceived limitations; we battle the obstacles life throws in our way. We battle inertia, mockery, self-doubt. We battle injuries and time crunches, inadequate rest and competing obligations. We battle and struggle and scratch and claw and sacrifice with the hope that on race day, we will know it was all worth it because we picked a goal time we thought we could run and we actually ran it.

After my third marathon attempt, the battle continues.

Here is my weekend recap/31st Chicago Marathon Race Report. Read at your own risk.


I believe that I have previously acknowledged somewhere herein that I suffer from a (self-diagnosed) mild case of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). I like things to be a certain way, can be rattled when they aren't, and - while I consider myself to be somewhat adventurous - I thrive on routine. I made similar travel plans this year, stayed with the same wonderful friends, got my Saturday haircut at the same barber shop, ate my pre-race pasta dinner at the same place and otherwise fell into comparable patterns from last year's Chicago adventure. By doing things a second time over, I created "traditions".

My trip began inauspiciously when I received an "Orbitz Alert" that my flight would depart a half-hour late. I arrived about a half-hour before the scheduled departure, and was hurried to the gate area, since the plane was actually leaving on time. That meant no time to buy water, a paper or anything, but at least I didn't miss it.

As we boarded, I met another marathoner - easy to spot in a race shirt, Asics running shoes and SmartWool socks - who'd been doing the Pfitz 18-week, 55 mile-per-week plan with the hopes of breaking 4 hours. We chatted a bit and wished each other luck. I found out later that she just missed her goal. Darned heat!

I got to Chicago a little ahead of schedule and made my way to the blue line, to transfer to the red line before hopping on a shuttle to the Marathon Expo. Kid-in-a-candy store is the only way to describe me in a 10,000 square-foot area dedicated to all things running. The centerpiece of course was the Nike booth, official apparel sponsor and purveyor of some very nice gear. I'm not a big fan of Nike in general, given its sweatshop history and the fact that it's muscled its way into sports such as soccer by brandishing gobs of money so as to buy not just celebrity pitchmen and women, but entire national teams and athletic federations. I checked my reservations at the door and bought myself a wonderful (if overpriced) layer, along with a Chicago 2008 t-shirt for each of my 3 kids. The gear blew away what New Balance offered in 2007.

At the Expo, I saw several of the stars of "Spirit of the Marathon", the documentary which I saw last year, and which I saw again on Thursday night before flying out. I also saw Olympian and running wunderkind Ryan Hall signing autographs at the Asics booth. The place was immense, and the only that saved me from spending far more money than I should on things I don't really need was the fact that before long I'd gone into sensory overload. That, and the fact that everything being marked at full retail offended my bargain-seeking sensibilities. I'll likely load up on more gear when the prices drop before the holidays.

The highlight of the Expo, though, was meeting up with some of RW online forummates, known to me previously only by screen names and half-inch avatar photos. I met Screaminzab, 320orbust, LARunner, bird22, dvc2002 (I think that's it). It was very nice to put faces and names to training tips and race times. We laughed and wished each other well.

After the Expo, I finally made it my hosts' home in the Gold Coast area of the city, unpacked, washed up and prepared to go to dinner with my first childhood friend and his wife. We had a wonderful middle eastern meal full of exotic spiced flavors, along with the kind of barely controllable laughter that only people with long common histories can share.

When dinner ended, they dropped me off for the big FE (Forum Encounter) at a pretty lame karaoke bar. I met some more of the "usual suspects", including squirrel1.1, MN RunnerGuy, Chooch262 and some others who mostly post in a different forum. It was fun to hang out for a bit, and at least I got to meet Pace Runner briefly before I headed home. When one isn't drinking and doesn't sing, the options in a karaoke bar are pretty limited. Add to that the cure little young woman who confirmed that she is far closer to my almost 12 year-old daughter's age than she is to mine, and I felt like the old man who needed to go home, take some Metamucil, remove my teeth and go to bed wishing that Johnny Carson was still on the air.


The order of the day was to be mellow. I tried to sleep in, but was up at 7:00 (8:00 my time). I went for coffee and some pretty junkie breakfast food, and met my hosts' at their boys' water polo tournament. It's a rigorous sport to say the least, and I couldn't believe how much energy these boys expended.

I got my haircut. My host D & I took a leisurely 4-mile run through Lincoln Park, on part of the marathon course. I threw in some strides and let D heckle me about how he used to run 35:00 10Ks, sub-2:55 marathons and numerous ultra-marathons by doing nothing more than running around 100 miles per week (15 miles per day M-F, then 30-40 more miles on the weekend). No speedwork; no hydration strategy; no watch or heart rate monitor; no concern for lactate threshold, VO2 max or any other physiological cues.

I ate some lunch, where I ended up talking to a lovely young woman who was studying for the GRE's. She had note cards with vocabulary words, and I was on a roll when she quizzed me, so much so that she asked me to take the test for her. We chatted about school, life, education, work, Israel and the marathon, before I went to the store for fluids and carbs (as great as my hosts are, they don't cook and don't keep a very well-stocked larder). I tried to go to the movies, but the movies were all pretty lame. Call me crazy, but "Momma Mia" and "Pineapple Express" just didn't seem like good pre-race fare. I needed the Steve Prefontaine film festival, but it wasn't happening.

Napping eluded me. I worked my legs over with The Stick, the self massager which caused a secondary baggage screening when I boarded my flight. I tossed and turned until 6:00-ish, before washing up and dressing for dinner at the same Italian place where we ate last year. I ate gnocchis and grilled chicken, along with salad, bread (lots) and water (lots & lots). The 10 year-old boy of the family who'd followed 6 water polo matches with a full soccer game, fell asleep during dinner.


I awoke at about 3:00 am with a full bladder. I awoke at 4:00 with pre-race jitters. I got up a little before 5:00 and started eating, before being able to go to Starbucks in time for it to open at 5:30. As I got there a few minutes early, there were a couple of street guys talking loudly and less-than-elegantly. I also noted many folks, young, hiply dressed, especially women in shockingly short dresses (where were they when I was single?) apparently coming in from quite the night out. I got my and my host's coffee (he offered to drive me to the start, bless his heart), and was on my way back to get dressed. Breakfast was a small bagel with cream cheese, a honey-sweetened Greek-style yogurt a banana and lots of Gatorade and water.

En route to the steps of the Art Institute, D told me that his luxury SUV indicated that it was 67 degrees with 89% humidity. While those numbers may or may not have been accurate, they were certainly close. Unlike in 2007, I wasn't sweating merely standing around, but it was clearly warmer than it should be at 6:30 a.m. on an October Sunday in Chicago.
I made my way through the thickening crowds to the Endurance Pavilion, a restricted access tent for runners who were willing to shell out an additional $75.00 in order to face no waits for the restrooms, extra food and drink, a tent offering shelter/shade, and additional massage tables with little to no post-race waiting. I tried to connect with my RWOL buddy Pace Runner, but she had trouble finding the tent amidst all the hubbub, and I wanted to head to the starting corral, which would be a bit of a walk.
Access to the starting corral (I was in Corral C) was slow, and despite having used the semi-private port-o-lets in the Endurance Pavilion, I still had the urge to go. Some folks were using nearby trees; other had brought disposable bottles for that reason. I held it, hoping the urge would pass after a mile or two.

The announcements began, the national anthem sung, the wheelchair athletes started and then came the official starting gun. It took me well over 4 minutes to reach the starting area. This did not bode well in terms of the crowds in the early miles.

I had a very specific pacing plan, calling for a few "slow" early miles and allowing for a slight fade at the end. This was "the" plan to help me get to Boston. Despite how things played out, I think it was (and is) a sound pacing strategy.
The early miles were crowded. I hit the mile splits manually on my Garmin watch, and the combination of the tall buildings and my own likely zig-zagging put me well over on distance in the early going. Mile one was supposed to be 8:00; I ran it in 8:03. Mile 2 was supposed to be 7:55; I ran it in 8:03.

Below are the splits. Bear in mind that the slow later miles involved walking through aid stations, stretch breaks to deal with cramps and at least one curbside attempt to remove and re-lace my left shoe.

  1. 8:03

  2. 8:03

  3. 7:47

  4. 8:07 (included epic port-a-potty stop of at least 45 seconds)

  5. 7:30

  6. 7:47

  7. 7:37

  8. 7:38

  9. 7:46

  10. 7:37

  11. 7:43

  12. 15:29

  13. [missed the Mile 12 marker]

  14. 7:54

  15. 7:45

  16. 7:52

  17. 8:18 (cramping twinges began)

  18. 9:00 (giving up on any thoughts of Boston; trying to stave off cramps)

  19. 8:23 (getting it back together . . . briefly)

  20. 8:59 (struggling; my stride is a mess now; left foot is both numb and in pain; feeling the blister; bank thermometer read 83 degrees)

  21. 10:20 (dealt with my left shoe for at least 1+ minute)

  22. 9:29 (cramps getting worse, more severe & frequent, and affecting both calves and right hamstring)

  23. 10:19 (2 stretch stops; walked aid stations)

  24. 9:41

  25. 9:51

  26. 8:49 + 1:36 (did not stop running at all, but pushing any harder gave me more crampy twinges; minimal satisfaction out of passing people in the final stages)
Total Garmin-recorded distance was 26.71. Average HR was 164, but it was too high too early, around 171 when I crossed the half-way point in 1:42+. On the one hand, that was an encouraging time because I was running pretty comfortably and in the right "ball park"in terms of pace, while knowing that I had lost time navigating the crowd in the early miles and for the unexpected potty break. However, there was no denying the reality of the moment: I was not going to pick up two-plus minutes as the mercury climbed and I felt that I was working harder than I should have been at that stage.

The last mile reminded me - sadly - of a toned-down version of 2007, with apparently dozens of runners dropping off with cramps, dehydration, heat stroke or sheer exhaustion. All of the people I saw on the ground were receiving some sort of help, so I didn't have to decide about whether to keep running or do the right thing and help a fellow runner in distress.

When I saw the mass ahead of me veering towards the right, I was overjoyed at being so close. When I saw the 26-mile marker, I tried to pick up the pace, knowing that a 3:39-something finish was possibly within reach. According to my watch, despite everything that had happened, I was running close to a 7-minute pace, but it wasn't enough. I missed the 3:30's by the most infinitesimal margin.


I stopped for a "finisher's photo" against the Chicago backdrop after I got my medal, some water, some ice and a cool towel. I had to walk for what seemed like an eternity when the not-very-nice volunteer/security person would not let me through a fence to go back the Endurance Pavilion. I made it into the pavilion area and went to the massage registration table. Two nice women put me on a table, and stretched me out. My hip flexors screamed, but they did a nice job and I think they helped speed up my recovery.

I tried to eat, but nothing was very appealing. I put down a yogurt and an oatmeal cookie, but the thought of drinking a beer made my stomach turn. I was in a haze, chatting with other runners about their race experience and finally made my way to a semi-private changing area so that I could towel off and get into some dry cotton clothes before meeting D who'd volunteered to pick me up this year.

In my post-marathon haze, I did something incredibly bone-headed: I left my relatively new running shoes in the tent, along with my very pricey custom orthotics. I've e-mailed the marathon office, but am not holding out too much hope. I'll have to have my chiropractor fit me for new ones.

After an awesome shower (where I forced myself to stand under cold water for a while in lieu of an ice bath), I rested up during the afternoon. I called some family and friends to express my mixed feelings about a disappointing PR. I watched some trashy television (too embarrassing to state the titles of the movies and shows), nibbled on pretzels and candy, drank a lot of water, and rallied to join my hosts and another old friend for sushi for dinner. It was a great meal which hit the spot.

At this point, I'm going to stop, and will give myself a few days to digest the race, ponder what lessons I can learn and decide what's next. A half-marathon in 3 weeks? The Philadelphia Marathon is 6 weeks? Preparation for my 40-mile birthday run?

I don't know, but - as one well-known runner has observed - "Runs end; running doesn't".

Thanks for reading.


Monday, October 6, 2008

As ready as I've ever been . . .

As I type this, there remain five full days before I will toe the line at the 31st Chicago Marathon. I have firmly resolved to go for my Boston Qualifying time of 3:20. I know that it's certainly within the realm of the achievable, but it will require that everything come together perfectly for me on race day. That includes the weather, my own feeling of well-being, proper nutrition/hydration, smart pacing and having the mental fortitude to push through when things get difficult. As I said in a post in the RW forums, I'm not sure I'm ready to run 3:20, but I know I'm as ready as I've ever been.

The last week was okay running-wise, considering the need to taper and the fact that I got a cold from my son starting last Sunday night after finishing the 17-miler and which only seems to be finishing up with me about now. I ran an easy 6+ on Tuesday, took Wednesday off, did 6 miles with 2 at tempo pace on Thursday, did 5 easy on Friday, 4 on the trails with 6 x 100m strides afterwards. Saturday turned out to be a very active day, with the run followed by my youngest daughter's soccer practice (I'm the Asst. Coach) and then what turned out to be a longer-than-expected hike in the woods on a gorgeous autumn day. The kids made fairy houses, and mostly had a great time, that is until we were about a half-mile from home and the little ones hit their own version of "the wall". I carried my five year-old for most of the return trip.

I ran 13 miles yesterday for my final "long" run. I didn't feel great before I went out, and it was pretty chilly at the start, around 40, I'd say. I tried out the arm warmers which I've owned since last spring, but which I've been too self-conscious to wear. Call me a convert who doesn't care what he looks like at this point. They allowed me to run comfortably in my singlet, much more so than if I'd worn a long-sleeved shirt. I ditched my headband and gloves at about Mile 2, but the arm warmers kept me comfortable all the way through the run.

The first 10 miles were pretty easy, though I'm pleased that that "easy" pace has settled into something along the lines of 8:15/mile or faster, at least on the flats and downhills. There were two major climbs on the run, the first at around Mile 4 (where I held back intentionally to save myself, for the only over-9:00 mile of the day), and another at Mile 10, a nearly mile-long steady climb (ran it in 8:35) which I chose on purpose in order to simulate feeling tired before running the final 3 miles at goal marathon pace. I don't want to overstate how challenging that climb is, but - pardon the possible overshare here - I did note that someone had apparently left his/her breakfast on the shoulder, probably earlier in the morning. It was pretty gross, and a reminder that I too will be flirting with the edge of my abilities and limits on Sunday.

At this point, I'm calling "goal marathon pace" 7:30/mile, which is not what I expect to average for the full distance, but it is the pace that I need to run for at least 8 or so miles in order to have a chance at the BQ. Despite some hills and some wind, the final 3 miles were 7:30, 7:30 (pleased with the precision of the pacing) and 6:56. The last mile is a slight downhill, and I did open it up a bit, but by no means did I give it everything. I ran an easy half-mile cool-down and called it a morning.

My hips (especially my left one, for a change) are slightly sore, and The Stick, a foam roller and a tennis ball have served as my personal massage therapy team. I'll see my chiropractor for the last time pre-race tomorrow and hopefully will be all aligned and only minimally sore.

This week is very busy at work for me, has my wife traveling for her work, has Yom Kippur on Thursday and then it's off to Chicago on Friday morning. The running schedule calls for 5-6 easy miles tomorrow and then 7 with 2 at goal marathon pace (the so-called "dress rehearsal") on Wednesday. I'll likely take Thursday and Friday off completely, and will run 3 easy miles in Chicago on Saturday. Then it's time to focus and see if I can discover the elusive alchemy required to turn a very good training cycle into an even better race performance.

Stay tuned to find out.