Monday, March 29, 2010

All Peak, No Valley

As my fingers work their way across the keyboard, the official start of the Boston Marathon is three weeks and one hour away.  There's still a dream-like quality to the fact that I'll be lining up in the 7th Corral in Wave 1 (Bib #7930), taking part in the world's most storied marathon.  The way I feel now contrasts sharply to how I've felt before any of my other marathons.  Principally, since I have no specific time goal (yet), I do not feel any performance-related pressure (yet - lol).  I know that my training has been excellent (for me) and that I cannot look back to anything I might have done differently since January 4, 2010.  I suppose that I would have liked to have run a faster tune-up race, but in light of the big picture, I'm not particularly concerned about that, either.

So, fresh from a week-long  vacation in Northern Florida, I ran a huge weekly mileage PR (for reasons to be detailed below).  The past two weeks ended up like this:

  • Monday - 8.2M in nasty, cold rain
  • Tuesday - AM: 5.1M easy; PM: 7.8, with 4x400m & 2x800m (first running club track workout of the season)
  • Wednesday - AM: 7.4M; PM: 6.7M
  • Thursday - 10.1M progression run
  • Friday - 11.1M, with 3M @ HMP, 0.5M recovery & 2M @ HMP
  • Saturday - 7.2M (travel day)
  • Sunday - 9.75M; had to scrap LR due to family schedule

  • Monday - 20+M into relentless headwind, with last 3M @ goal MP
  • Tuesday - AM: 6+M; PM: 4.7M
  • Wednesday - 12+M progression run
  • Thursday - 12M, with 6M @ HMP (between 6:40-6:45/mile)
  • Friday - AM: 7+M; PM: 5+M
  • Saturday - 6+M
  • Sunday - 22+M, with about 8M @ goal MP (or faster); 2000 feet elevation gain

Without putting too fine a point on it, I'll admit that last week was really the first time during this entire training cycle where some of the runs felt like a chore, especially since the wind in Florida was a constant nuisance.  That said, though, as befits the experienced, more Zen-like runner which I've become [ ;-) ], I did not let the need to move things around derail or unsettle me.  I've put in the miles.  I've done the quality work.  I'm injury-free (knock wood), save for a couple of nagging aches.  And all of that comes on the heels of a consistent year in 2009.  The average weekly mileage for my 13 weeks pre-taper should come out to 72.2 miles.  My peak week last year? 72 miles.

So, having hit an unexpected peak week, it's time to dial it down.  Plan is to do 70 miles this week, then start the official taper with weeks of 50 and 30 before toeing the line in Beantown.

At this point, the lingering unknown is what my Boston goal will be.  Some well-intentioned running friends are suggesting that I should go for sub-3:00 at Boston.  To quote George H.W. Bush, "Not. Gonna. Happen."  As I've said before, I'm not going to run too close to my limits in my first Boston.  I just don't want to repeat the "death march" finish of my first three marathons.

Of course, it'd be somewhat disingenuous of me to claim that I'm going to line up on April 19th, and "see what the day brings", but that's going to be at least part of the plan.  For those who simply must know, I figure that a realistic target would be somewhere between 3:05 and 3:10.  Weather conditions will play a huge role in determining what I try to do in Boston, but the best thing about being this close with no goal, is that I have nothing about which to be disappointed. Yet.

Yup, we'll all have to find out together. ;-)

Cheers, ESG/Ron

Monday, March 15, 2010

A Cold, Wet & Tantalizing Preview

Readers of this blog know that your intrepid author has been focused on a little race held each Patriot's Day, starting in Hopkinton, traveling through a total of 8 towns (including Ashland, Framingham, Natick, Wellesley, Newton & Brookline) and ending in the self-proclaimed Hub of the Universe, a.k.a. Boston, Massachusetts.  As a relative local, I joked about running Boston long before I was a runner, and have dedicated a lot of time and energy to qualifying for the oldest continuously-run marathon in the world.  On April 19, 2010, I get to stake my tiny claim to being part of running history.

Thanks to the generosity of my running buddy Keith, I got to preview the first 20 miles of the course last Saturday.  While there were plenty of runners (heading in both directions), it was a very low-key experience.  The start area seemed far too small to accommodate 25,000 runners, not to mention marathon personnel, spectators, media and the like.  But the veterans with whom I chatted along the way said that the atmosphere for almost the entire route is positively electric, and I did my best to imagine the crowds and the energy of the day - 5 weeks hence - while chugging along MA-Route 135 on a sleepy Saturday in the midst of a late winter downpour.

With the exception of needing a pit stop at around Mile 13, the run was fantastic.  I met up with virtual running friends from San Diego (online monikers HikerGirl & Runner in Paradise from RWOL) and took them to meet the group for an organized, supported training run, courtesy of Keith's running club.  Hardy volunteers braved the elements to provide hydration and snacks to about 30 runners who covered varying distances at various paces.  Keith took off hard and did 22 miles at a sub-7:30 pace.  HikerGirl probably ran at an 8:45-ish per mile pace, while RiP and I stayed together the whole time.  Our running time (meaning I stopped my watch for drink/pit stops) averaged out to about 8:15 per mile.  My HR stayed low and my fastest 3 miles were the final three, which included the first three of the four famed (or notorious) "Newton Hills".  We stopped short of "Heartbreak Hill", which will remain a mystery to me for another 5 weeks.

My impressions of the course are as follows:
  • The early miles are very much downhill, so the warnings about not "over-running" those miles is worth taking seriously
  • It's not a particularly scenic route . . . at least not on a miserably windy, cold and rainy day; introducing Race Day fanfare into the mix will change everything, though
  • One needs to be very careful about conserving energy when going through Wellesley, as it falls about half-way into the race.  I suspect many a runner's overexuberance  at the "Wall of Sound" has cost him (or her) dearly later in the race
  • The first three Newton Hills were not a big deal at all, neither too steep nor too long; I'm sure that I may feel differently after pounding out 18+ miles at marathon pace, but I was able to accelerate in the hills with no problem
  • The last 10K could be the best or worst running experience of a runner's life; I'm banking on that stretch being the highlight of my running life to date
So, with some muscle memory of the first 20 miles (also known in marathon parlance as the "first half of the race") burned into my legs, I focus on the last 5 weeks of training.

Last week's cutback came out like this:
  • Monday - 7.5M, with 8x19+ secs hill sprints
  • Tuesday - 8+M
  • Wednesday 10.6M total, with 4x1200m @ 10K pace, and 4x200 at sub-5:00/mile pace
  • Thursday - 6M
  • Friday - 6M; first trail run of the year (and it was a mess)
  • Saturday -20.2M on the Boston course
  • Sunday - 6+M, again on the trails, in a cold rain
Week's total was about 64 miles, which last year would have been a heavy week.  This week, I'll shoot for 82 miles, with two decent workouts (hills on Tuesday and  threshold on Friday).  Next week, we visit the in-laws in Florida, so I've prepared my beloved wife for the fact that I will be running peak mileage while we're on vacation.  She's theoretically okay with it.

Finally, please consider supporting the Boston to Big Sur run by  going to and giving what you can. Thanks!

Best, ESG/Ron

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Ups & Downs Abound

As I draft this week's update, the start of the Boston Marathon is exactly 6 weeks (and 24 minutes) away. I'm in the heart of the training program, and I'll admit that I'm tired.  But, at the same time, running continues to teach me important lessons, about training and - of course - about life.  So, while I've had some ups and downs lately - both figurative and literal - persistence and dedication always seem to carry me through.

Running-wise, I had a lousy attempted workout last Friday, which I'll highlight below in the weekly recap.  However, that disappointing attempted run was sandwiched between a great track session on Tuesday, and a very confidence-inspiring long run on Sunday.  Add in the constant presence of hills in my various running routes, and the "ups and downs" metaphor is complete.

Here's a look back at last week:
  • Monday - 7+M easy, with 10x10 secs hill sprints
  • Tuesday - 12M, with first hard track session of the year (4x1K @ 5K pace; 2x400m; 2x200m)
  • Wednesday - 7M + 5M recovery runs
  • Thursday - 7M + 5M recovery runs
  • Friday - 10+M, bagging an attempted threshold progression after 2M @ goal MP, since I just wasn't feeling it
  • Saturday - 8.5M easy
  • Sunday - 19+M, with about 6M @ goal MP/effort; overall pace 8:00 with over 1500 feet of elevation gain - GREAT RUN!
Week's total came out to a little under 81 miles, with a rolling 8-day total (Sunday-Sunday) of 103+ miles.  The most important thing is that I'm feeling healthy.  There's an errant ache here or a pang there, but nothing too concerning, and all part of what happens when pushing one's body (and mind) into uncharted training territory.  However, I've shuffled things around and am making this week a cutback week, with somewhere around 65 miles on tap.  That was close to my peak week last year, so I'm pleased with the progress I've made.

One continuing cause for concern has been the GI issues which do not seem to be getting better.  After scouring WebMD and exchanging messages with a running doctor friend, I've bitten the bullet and scheduled an appointment to see my doctor.  I'd hate for all this hard work to be derailed because I had to make a pit stop (or more than one).  The idea of April 19th is NOT to tour Boston's finest portapotties.  We'll see what the doctor says.


Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Weighty Eighty & the Gym Consultation

This week will be a quick training update post, mostly free from attempts at cleverness or profound observations. I've been busy with life, along with having lost power after a terrible windstorm which ravaged much of New Hampshire, all the while existing in the dark about the news of the earthquake in my native Chile.  So, it's with a distracted and somewhat heavy heart that I continue my marathon training and summarize last week's running-related news.

Recovery from the ill-fated "GI Joe" Half-Marathon went surprisingly well.  I took a post-race bath in the miracle product (full disclosure: the company is owned by a friend and is sort of a client) known as Endurasoak.  I ran with no soreness on Monday, though I skipped hill sprints.  I then ran 8 miles on Tuesday, 12 on Thursday, did doubles on Thursday (11+ total), a weird 10-miler on the treadmill on Friday (weirdness detailed below), 8+ Saturday in a light snowfall and 22+ on Sunday with my ultra-runner friend Nate.  The total for the week was . . . drum roll . . . 80 miles.  It's my first time breaking that barrier.  Am I tired? Yes.  But no injuries or even real aches and pains.

Friday was one of those days where the To-Do List resembles the Hydra of Greek mythology (on my mind since we saw The Lightning Thief on Friday night): you slay one head by completing an item, and several more seem to crop up. So, as the day's end neared, my planned 12-miler became 10, and my planned 6x1K repeats became 6x800m.  The need to hit quality paces, along with the weather and waning daylight, led me to the Y at 4:15 p.m., a very unusual time for me to run.  So, I get on a TM, set it at 6.5 mph, and already feel like I'm working hard in the first mile.  I'd left my Garmin at home (it may have been uncharged anyway), so I was using the TM's own speed reading to register my pace, rather than using the calibrated foot pod which gives me standardized readings regardless of which dastardly machine I use.

So, I'm about 1.5 miles into my run - minding my own business - and there are only a couple of other runners. Suddenly someone prods me insistently from behind.  I turn to see a pretty bulky guy, who seems to have strayed from the heavy lifting section of the gym.  He says, with an accent and almost angrily, "I need to speak with you."  I ask if we know each other; he says no.  I ask if there's a problem; he says no.  I ask if he knows who I am; he says no.  Finally, I press pause, get off the TM and walk to the side.  I ask what he needs, and he tells me that he knows I'm a "very good immigration lawyer" and needs to discuss his situation.  I suggest an office appointment and wait while he gets a pen and paper [mental note: bring business cards to the treadmill] to write down my contact information. Anyway, I schedule him for an appointment, tell him the fee and hear him reply that he can't afford the consultation.  I tell him to call me when he can.  It definitely took the wind out of my running sails, but those winds returned when my preferred TM opened up after 6 miles, and I realized that the pace on the first one was very stingy.  The remaining repeats and cool-down were much more manageable, with the pace falling in line with my perceived effort.

Once this week (hopefully another 80 miles) is in the books, we're looking at 6 weeks until Race Day.  I think I'll cut it back for a week, hammer really hard again for two, reduce slightly for one week and then do a pretty sharp two-week taper.

Still no Boston goal, but a range of realistic possibilities is coming into focus.  It's interesting to allow the "right" goal time to come to me, rather than chasing an arbitrary number.  I suspect that doing it this way will minimize miscalculations and disappointment, though - of course - part of the insidious appeal of the marathon is that anything can happen come race day.  Months of careful preparation can yield intense glory or bitter personal defeat.  I have finally reached a place in my running life, where my relationship with the sport (and the lifestyle, really) is such that no one race will derail me or make me question my worth as a runner.  That said, if there is a single stage in the running world on which every distance runner would want to deliver a virtuosic performance, it would be in Boston. I'm no different.

Thanks for reading. -ESG