Striding Through

Because a life well lived always finds the right pace

Monthly Archives: April 2010

Redemption on Boylston Street

Summary Results:

Official time: 3:20:41 (new PR by 27 seconds)

4748/22588 OA

4175 OA Male

535 in 45-49 Age Group

Redemption.

The very word had been driving me for a year, maybe even longer than that. But let’s just say it was ever since I struggled to the finish line at the 2009 Boston Marathon. That day I carried the burdens of an injury with me and I was never able to have the race I had trained for and envisioned. After finishing that day there was little I could do but take some time off to heal…and to resolve that 2010 would be different.

Eventually I did resume training and I went on to have a great fall season. While I stayed away from marathons during this time, the thought of Patriots Day, 2010 was always in the back of my mind, questioning me, challenging me, motivating me. When registration opened there really was no doubt whether I would be returning.

Not long after that I received some very sobering news. A good friend of mine and Lynn’s, Liz Rugaber had been diagnosed with leukemia at the age of just 38. Within our circle of Liz’s friends we all thought about what we could do to help in her win this fight. We pitched in with babysitting, meals, shopping trips and so forth but a thought continued to nag at me, that there was something more I could do. Then finally it clicked. Team in Training, an organization whose work I had long admired, was the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s athletic fundraising arm. Liz had already asked on her website that we support LLS if we could afford to do so, so the calling to me was loud and clear.

I needed to join TNT. For Liz. And for redemption. Yes, redemption. Running is such a single-minded sport at times, requiring a certain amount of tunnel vision. And that focus can sometimes come across as selfishness. Yet I’ve always felt my running could be a force for good. And this was an opportunity and a challenge to prove it. Joining TNT now was the right thing to do, and I knew it. However, after checking their website I learned that the spring training program had been underway for a month and while I wasn’t concerned about the training part, I was worried about the fact I would be starting a month behind in fundraising!

Luckily I called the local TNT office, and I also sought some advice from my friend Jen who was training for TNT in Boston, and they both put my mind at ease. They convinced me I could do this, and I signed up.

From that point on I proceeded with my training and fundraising. I didn’t make a lot of the TNT group runs because of my own training and racing commitments, not to mention a string of blizzard-induced cancellations in February, but I got on a roll throughout the winter months, notching new PRs at 20k and 12k in the process. Meanwhile, the generosity of so many friends and family got me over the top on my fundraising requirement, which in turn meant I was ready to finally represent TNT at the National Half Marathon, where I scored yet another PR!

But I wasn’t done yet. I had another big moment in store for the spring. Yes, that redemption thing again. I was going to Boston, and I was going to wear the purple TNT singlet. It all made perfect sense to me, and I couldn’t wait for Patriot’s Day.

I finished up my training, had one final tune-up race at the Cherry Blossom Ten Miler and seemingly just like that, it was time to board a plane for Boston.

We flew into town on Saturday and spent much of the afternoon at the expo but made sure to firm up our plans to meet up with some other Kickrunners at Picco on Sunday. On Saturday I did my final run before Marathon Monday, a little trot through the rainy streets of the North End and Charles Town. I followed that up with some weight work and pronounced myself ready for Monday.

Sunday went by somewhat uneventfully, the highlight of the day being the lunch meetup. It was great to meet so many friends who I had known only through internet contact, and we had a great time together. Later, I got to bed at a fairly reasonable time, having laid all my gear out and then I slept perhaps 5 hours, not all that bad the night before a race.

I awoke and dressed quickly Monday morning and was off to Boston Common, with a quick stop at Starbucks on the way. At the Common I quickly boarded a shuttle to Hopkinton and arrived there with much earlier than expected. I headed over to the TNT Boston house on Grove St. where I was graciously welcomed by all on the team from Boston. It was so nice to relax indoors, stretch and get mentally prepared to run and I really appreciated this piece of hospitality. Then at 9:15 or so, it was time to check my bag and get to the start line. As I got outside I noticed how much it had warmed up in the past 90 minutes. It was going to be a great day for a long run.

I got down to the corrals in plenty of time, got to hear the women start, the national anthem play and see the fighter jet flyover. Then it was time to quietly get in the zone one last time. As the start drew near I was completely relaxed. Finally the elites way up front got off the line, then several minutes later we began to shuffle our way towards the start. A total of 7 minutes elapsed before I finally crossed the line. And finally, we were off.

I knew the first mile wouldn’t be particularly fast; last year I think I ran about 8:00 in Mile 1. Nevertheless I got out a little bit quicker than that this year, in 7:35. Then the pace really started to pick up as I went 7:13, 7:18, and 7:15. In Mile 5 I slowed to 7:26 as I caught Jay Wind, a friend of mine from Northern Virginia and chatted with him briefly. Then it was back to the previous pace: 7:12, 14:39 (2 miles), 7:12, 7:15, 7:21, 7:14. Along the way I got lots of high fives from kids, and lots of “Go Team” cheers, every one of which I tried to acknowledge with at least a smile. At one point I heard a group yelling for me from the opposite side of the street. I gave them fist pump salute and that only made them yell even louder. Cool. We also passed through the scream tunnel at Wellesley, which is always fun. That was where I hit the 7:14 and it was perhaps inevitable the pace would slow a little after passing through there.

The next two miles went down in 14:43, and the following mile in 7:28, which told me I needed a boost. That got me thinking about the TNT cheer station which I knew would be at Mile 15, followed by a PowerGel station around Mile 16. As I approached the 15 mile mark I saw the TNT supporters and they didn’t let me down. I felt energized once again and put in a 7:19 for Mile 16.

I was feeling great, but knew that the hills of Newton were about to commence. And sure enough they started to take their toll on us all. I now started to see walkers for the first time. My pace slowed as well but I wasn’t too concerned about that. The next two mile each went down in 7:44, followed by a 7:38 and 7:58. I told myself I was saving my strength but also was starting to feel the first signs of fatigue.

As we reached the bottom of Heartbreak Hill I decided to dial it back even a little more and take it slowly. I wasn’t happy about running my first over 8:00 mile of the day but it seemed to pay off when I bounced back to go 7:41, passing both another TNT cheer station and somewhere along the way, my wife. She tried to get a picture of me here but because a tall guy got in the way at the last second, had to settle for a shot of my back.

Unfortunately that second wind was short-lived. As I hit the 22-mile mark, almost on cue, my calves started to cramp. Dehydration was setting in and this stretch was a fairly long one between aid stations. I toughed it out as best I could but I was clearly slowing down now, to 8:06, then 8:14. As I approached the 24 mile aid station I then did something I almost never do: I slowed down to a walk so I could take in as much fluid as possible. I knew if there was any chance of finishing and getting a new marathon PR this was what I had to do. Then I plodded onward, waiting for the liquids to kick in…and waiting…and plodding…and waiting…

By now we were in the final stretches leaving Commonwealth behind then turning right on Hereford. Here I finally started to revive just a bit. As we made the famous left onto Boylston, with the finish arch now in sight, I checked my watch — 3:18. Oh boy…I told myself to dig deep, find the strength somewhere to push. I was breaking the finish down into tenths of miles at this point, telling myself to try to go just a little faster each tenth. As I got to the 26 mile mark I stole one last glance at the watch. I was going to make it in a new PR, as long as I didn’t trip over myself or something. Happily I held my form together and jogged across the line with my arms in the air, in 3:20:41, indeed a brand-new PR!

The celebration, while boisterous, was short. I quickly remembered just how badly I needed some water. A volunteer handed me a bottle, which I downed in seconds. Then I grabbed another and finished half of that one. Meanwhile all the soreness I had blocked out for probably the last 10 miles started coming to the forefront. I shuffled my way to the baggage bus, retrieved my gear and very slowly put it all on. Then I hobbled over to a Starbucks to happily reunite with Lynn. During this time, thanks to her companionship along with a dark cherry mocha and tuna melt sandwich, I started feeling much better.

Soon we were ready to meet up with another Kickrunner friend, John and his wife Natalie and daughter Olivia for a post-run celebratory drink. It took quite the circuitous route to get to the bar we had selected in advance because it was so close to the finish. I guess we hadn’t banked on all the pedestrian sidewalk closures. But we finally got to toast our runs and that made it all worth the wait.

As the afternoon and evening went on I was pleased to see my recovery was already progressing. Now two days later, I have just a trace of soreness remaining, nothing more. It couldn’t be more different from my experience of a year ago, in so many ways, and for that I am so happy.

Busy road to Boston

It’s been a crazy couple of weeks, and I haven’t had time to even think about posting any updates here or at my Team in Training page. In the meantime the days have flown by and now it’s only 5 days until the Boston Marathon!

I managed to squeeze in 2 races over the past two 2.5 weeks. The first was on March 29, just a small 5k race in Falls Church sponsored by the Friends of the W&OD. I decided to maximize my mileage by running both to & from the event — 4 miles each way. Unfortunately my timing must have been a little off for the trip out there because I arrived with far too little time to get my number and chip and line up at the start. The race went off without me and I started about 2 minutes late. Oh well, I thought, there went any chance at an award. But I had come primarily for a good workout and I was going to get that no matter what. So I took off and quickly started knocking down some fast miles, first catching the back of the pack, then the middle of the pack. My official finishing time was well over 21 minutes, but my chip time was a much more impressive 19:04, the fastest 5k time I’ve run in a couple of years. Then it was time to run back home…slowly.

The following week was a bit of a slog, as the fatigue I often feel towards the end of a marathon training cycle took its toll. Despite some disappointing workouts I pushed on knowing the final taper for Boston would start the following week. Then last week I finally got to dial back the mileage in preparation for my final tuneup race, the Cherry Blossom Ten Miler.  I knew by midweek I was ready to run well when I knocked a short, fast interval workout (4 x 4:00) out of the park. By the time Sunday rolled around my legs were fresh again and I was ready to go.

My goals for Cherry Blossom were modest, basically to run at marathon pace for the first half and then really let it rip in the second. I got down to the Washington Monument grounds in plenty of time and was able to get fully stretched and warmed up. In the corral, I was relaxed and ready. When the horn sounded I quickly settled into a comfortable pace, which turned out to be about 30 seconds faster per mile than I was planning on! But I decided to go with it because I clearly was not straining. I ended up holding that pace for the next 9 miles. Finally at the 9-mile mark I decided to step it up for a fast finish. After a bunch of 6:45 miles, running a 6:26 came pretty easily, and I crossed the line in 67:12 — nowhere near my PR but a very nice run that was fast but didn’t take much out of me. I believe that run has me really primed for Boston next Monday.

Now, I just need to get there, because I know I have a really special race in me. 🙂 More on that to follow, very shortly. Meanwhile it’s time to go hit the trail at Burke Lake!