Striding Through

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Tag Archives: Boston Marathon

No typical Boston Marathon

Preface

It goes without saying the 117th running of the Boston Marathon will not soon be forgotten. As I finally sit down to compose my own race report from the day, I do so with the luxury of knowing the clear and present danger visited upon us by Messrs. Tsarnaev has been extinguished, and that the lone survivor of the two will now face justice. While I continue to feel terrible sadness from knowing nothing will bring back the three innocent individuals who died needlessly on Patriots Day, and that those injured in some cases face a tremendously difficult physical rehabilitation, I am filled with pride and gratitude for all of the authorities who were involved in this case. From the elected political leaders to the uniformed officers and EMTs on the ground, not to mention volunteers who stepped forward, the relentless focus, unity of purpose and quiet professionalism shown by all involved in the response was magnificent. They showed unequivocally that, nearly 12 years after 9/11, that it is indeed possible to take the high road to justice. And that truly makes me proud to call this country my home. Moreover, I can’t wait to toe the line again in Hopkinton next year. I will be back.

And now for the race report…

Breaking Camp

That is, of course, a baseball phrase significant of when one’s favorite team finally leaves the comfy confines of Florida or Arizona to head north and start the regular season. But it also is a good way to characterize that time in a marathon training program where the “hard” or peak phase finally closes, followed by the taper and then the arrival onsite. For this cycle I followed the Hansons Marathon Method (earlier training updates hereherehere and here), which feels easy at the beginning, but over time builds in intensity. By the time peak phase hits, so does the sensation of having been “sucked in” to a really rigorous program. The long runs in the program are shorter than most marathon training plans recommend, but the overall volume and amount of marathon pace running are very high, much higher than I had ever done in the past. Moreover, the taper is a very short one, only 10 days. When I did my final “tempo” run under the program – 12 miles with the middle 10 at goal marathon pace – I was right on target despite running in near freezing rain conditions. Then came the taper period. Here I try to maximize easy running and get good rest, but the latter of those evaded me for a number of reasons, mainly due to outside stresses such as events at work and so on. So when I got to Boston, I can’t say I was a rested as I wanted to be, but when I had a good night’s sleep in Boston on Saturday, followed by a nice casual 3-mile trot on Sunday, I felt as ready as I was going to be. On a side note, it was pretty cool getting to meet the great Meb Keflezighi in person at the expo. He’s not only a great champion but an incredibly gracious gentleman. Later that night I got to meet Bill Rogers, who wished me luck in the race.

Lynn and I get to meet Meb Keflezighi at the Boston Marathon Expo.

Lynn and I get to meet Meb Keflezighi at the Boston Marathon Expo.

Race Day Morning

I slept fitfully Sunday night, then woke up feeling a bit dehydrated. Maybe the room’s ventilation system dried me out, I don’t know, but I quickly set about rehydrating as I consumed my oatmeal and energy bar. After breakfast I dressed quickly and was on my way to Boston Common by 6:15am. I arrived there to find only short lines for the buses; the big crowds would soon follow. I boarded a bus, chatted a little bit with a guy who stayed in the same hotel as me and browsed Facebook on my phone. I got to the athletes village and after all the water I drank upon getting up, desperately needed to make a pit stop, which of course meant waiting in a line. I guess my efforts to rehydrate went well, because I would visit the port-o-john twice more before departing the village. By the time I was due to begin making my way to the start I felt relaxed and ready to go. I was in the first corral of Wave 2 this time and that meant being held back for a while on Grove Street while the first wave took off. Then we moved forward and took our places.

And We’re Off!

As we lined up, I couldn’t help feeling a little amused by being at “the” Boston Marathon and being able to line up so close to the actual start. I mean, I could even see the starter, the emcee, the motorcycle cops. It felt like a little taste of eliteness, just a tiny bit. As the clock counted down I did my usual relaxation exercises and reminded myself, “easy out of the gate.” I knew some people would fly out of that start and I didn’t want to be one of them. At the same time, I was also cognizant of the aggressive goal I had in mind of 3:10. At some point I would need to turn it up a notch and get after it.  True to my plan as we headed across the line I stayed relaxed and ran a 7:22 first mile while getting passed by many who rocketed down the hills. I knew I’d see some of those folks again soon.

And so it went for me over the next several miles. I stayed for the most part a little bit off my goal pace, though I did drop a 7:13 in Mile 4. For the most part I tried to just stay in a positive frame of mind, smiling, waving to some friendly spectators and just enjoying the scenery and pageantry of this great race. I decided the real race for me would begin after 13.1 miles. As I came through scream tunnel at Wellesley, no kiss stops for me, I had work to do, but I began to gather my strength for that halfway point while the energetic young coeds pushed me to a 7:16 mile. I had this race right where I wanted it, I thought.

The Race Begins

Before long we passed through the half marathon point. I passed through it in 1:36:47, on pace for a 3:13. At this point while I wanted to start racing hard, I also had to be honest with myself about how much I had left. Could I pick it up more? Or was I already overextended? I still felt good but I also knew the hardest part of the course was yet to come and the early downhills had already worked my quads hard. I pressed on and stepped it up enough to reel in a number of runners who had been ahead of me the entire race. Most of them went out too fast and wouldn’t see me again. As the first of the Newtown Hills came into view I still felt strong even while the first walkers started showing. I was passing people right and left, but when the 25k split (1:54:42) came up, my pace hadn’t picked up at all, despite how hard I was now working. Determined, I dug in harder and tried to find a little more, but at 30k (2:18:23) the result was the same. With Heartbreak Hill still to come it was clear that today would not be my day for a 3:10. But a PR and breaking the dreaded 3:20 plateau that has tormented me for 5 years was a very real possibility.

The Reckoning

As we hit Heartbreak Hill I continued to leave other runners in my wake, even though my pace had noticeably slowed. I wasn’t too concerned about that, as long as I could rev it back up once we cleared Heartbreak. As we crested by Boston College, I settled in to a quicker pace, though not as quick as earlier in the race. I was much less playful with the crowds now, too, as I started feeling concern that my dream race could be slipping away. “Just hold on,” I kept telling myself, but my quads were shot. Moreover, my right hamstring was starting to tighten. And I had developed a big blister on my right big toe, which I had to hope wouldn’t pop (it didn’t). All told this day had suddenly turned hard. Really hard. I kept the corner of my eye on the tracks by Commonwealth to see if I could spot my wife Lynn in the crowd. Unfortunately she never did get to see me pass by, and I know I could have used the extra motivation. But as I hit 23 miles, and fuel tank running near empty I knew I had to go this alone. “Just hold on.” I was fading fast. With 2k to go (3:09:23) the situation was getting desperate. I didn’t want to stop and walk. I hate stopping and walking! But my hamstring was getting worse and I had no choice. When I did finally slow down to walk a bit, my legs nearly collapsed because my quads were so weak. Slowly but surely, the 3:20 beast was grabbing me back into its clutches. It had beaten me, again. I would take two more short walk breaks on Commonwealth, the last of them at Cleveland Circle. What got me restarted? A spectator, true to Boston form, who said “you in the green socks, quit walking and get moving!”

The Homestretch

As I made the right on Hereford, I swore to myself there would be no more walking, no matter how slowly I had to jog it in. Prior to the race I had visualized exploding off that final left turn onto Boylston. Unfortunately, that would just have to wait for another day. Step by agonizingly slow step the arch got a little closer. Finally, I crossed the line in 3:24:13 and only then did I realize what a favor that guy at Cleveland Circle had done me. Despite an excruciating crash in the final 5k of the race, I still held on for not only a Boston re-qualification at my current age group, but big BQ at my age group next year. Once again when I stopped running my legs wobbled underneath me. I had given everything I had today, that much was clear.  At this point my entire lower body hurt. I worried a bit that one of the volunteers would see me staggering, think I was in trouble and throw me into a wheelchair, so I worked hard to keep my bearings. Truthfully my cardiovascular system recovered quickly, it was my lower body that felt like jello. Eventually my stability started to return and by the time I made it to my baggage bus I had caught up my friend John from Chicago, who posted a 3:04 on the day. His wife Natalie, came in shortly after me with a nice 3:35 result. We chatted a bit, then dispersed, they back to their hotel and me to reunite with Lynn, but we agreed to meet up later. Those plans never came to pass, given what occurred a short while later, so I’m grateful for the time I did get to spend with them. Once Lynn and I got back together we headed for Starbucks so I could begin to get warm with a venti carmel macchiato. Not long after that the chaos ensued, with emergency vehicles going by, and large, dazed crowds in Boston Common. It was indeed a dissonant ending to what had been a great day for us all. But in the face of such a cowardly terrorist act, and armed with a new BQ, by that evening I had firmly resolved that “I will be back next year.”

Epilogue

I am now in my usual post-marathon recovery phase, two weeks of no running at all. Moreover, a severe spring allergy attack has gone the extra lengths to enforce that ban. But it has given me time to reflect on this most unusual of marathon experiences and the roller coaster of emotions it brought on. The competitor in me is still hungry to run a better marathon – and to be sure I’ll probably pore over the training data from this and other marathons to figure out how to get there – yet I am reminded of how lucky I was to get to finish the race. The fact I did is a random matter of timing, nothing more. And throughout the rest of this year, be it a small DC Roadrunners Club race, Marine Corps Marathon this fall, or Boston next year, I will run with the bombing’s victims in my heart. Because no one ever really runs alone.

2013-04-15 19.20.54

 

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Last Exit Before Hopkinton

It’s been a longer time away from posting here than I expected but I’ve been busy on a lot of fronts. The biggest consumers of my time have been an increasingly awkward situation at work, which I won’t get into here, and my laserlike focus on training for Boston, which of course is what I will discuss. However, for now just a teaser, because I have one more final workout tonight to build my Boston resume, a 12-miler with the middle 10 at marathon pace, or what the Hansons plan calls “tempo.” After tonight’s run the taper phase finally begins; Hansons keeps the pedal to the metal a lot longer than other plans.

Regardless of how it goes tonight, I feel good about my preparation. It’s the first time I have ever tried the Hansons plan but I really feel strong right now. The last time I felt this good was in 2010 heading into Boston, and that’s where I set my current marathon PR.

I’ll lay it all out after tonight’s workout, but the bottom line is I like my chances of PR’ing for a second time in Beantown. If you’re interested in tracking me on Patriot’s Day, it’s bib #9712.

One month down, three to go towards Boston

It’s been a little over a month since I initiated my Boston Marathon training cycle using the Hansons method. And I have to say while the approach has been a bit unorthodox I have enjoyed the change.

When I started training up in mid-December I was rather surprised by how “easy” it was in the initial weeks. There were no long runs, no speed, just a lot of easy 3, 4 and 5 milers.

While according to the book it is permissible to add more volume to easy runs to boost mileage, I stayed away from doing this for the first two weeks and stuck to the prescribed numbers. But by the time Christmas rolled around I was ready to start experimenting. The longest runs in the plan at this point had still only reached about 5-6 miles, but I cruised easily through a 9-miler with a buddy on the 28th.

Then the next day, I introduced another tweak. I have no idea whether the Hanson brothers would approve of this, but I didn’t ask for permission, I just went with my instincts which said it was time to start introducing a tiny little bit of quality work. I did this in the form of a progression run, tearing a page out of the McMillan library. Out of respect for Hansons’ start-slow approach, I took this step modestly with simply a marathon pace mile at the end of a planned three miler, followed by a one-mile cooldown. Since then, I have added more work to the weekly progression run, while the weekly mileage has also slowly crept up into the 30s.

Throughout this whole mesocycle I have felt that despite the small weekly mileage totals that my fitness was building in a very discernible way. But until today I hadn’t really had an opportunity to test that belief so I set out for a “tempo” run (Hansons version of tempo is actually marathon pace run). It was a fairly warm day for January at 49 degrees and humid thanks to a perpetual fog that has hung over the nation’s capital the past several days. Perhaps I was a bit excited to finally do a “real” quality workout, because I put down a first mile much faster than my typical warmup at about 7:36. Then in the next mile, when it was time to work I quickly found myself heading down a long hill. I decided to just the hill take me down while I worked to stay over my center of mass and the result was a 6:32 mile that felt no harder than the first mile. Over the next two miles I cruised over flat bike paths and that provided an opportunity to finally locate a pace close to the target of 7:15 per mile. Then in mile 4 came the inevitable correction for that big downhill mile earlier as I had to work up a very long climb that I hadn’t run in several years. However, the drop-off was only into the 7:30s, and that was then followed by two more quick miles at MP. After passing 6 miles I decided to keep it going for a 10k marker, which I hit at 45:11, for an aggregate pace of 7:17/mile…not quite 7:15 but right in the range and a very good place to start. Full run stats and log report are posted here.

All of which leads into the plan’s sixth week, where the intensity visibly ramps up. The first track workout is this week, as well as another MP run later in the week. After today, I feel like I am very much ready for the step-up. This next mesocycle will be one jammed with hard work as it approaches 60 miles per week, but when I come out of it I should be well positioned for the Club Challenge 10 Miler in Columbia, MD, which will serve as my benchmark race. More on that in 6 weeks or so. Now it’s time to get some rest!

2012 in review and the road ahead in 2013

With yesterday’s little 45 minute spin workout on the trainer I put the wraps on an interesting 2012. I ended up with the lowest total run mileage in quite a while with just over 1300 for the year. But I also cycled over 800 miles and swam 22.5 miles. Some of the decrease in run mileage is attributable to a couple of nagging injuries in the early part of 2012, and some of it is due to introducing more intense bike training during the summer when I was training for the 2XRip Duathlon. Nonetheless when it came time to run the Chicago Marathon in the fall, I was ready; if anything I felt like the varied training brought me to the windy city stronger than I had been in a long time.

Lesson to be learned from it? I think so. Clearly varying my training is something that works for me. Biking in particularly keeps my cardiovascular strength at a high-performing level while easing some of the stress on my joints, especially the knees. Even now as I start on a Hansons program in preparation for Boston, I plan to leave a little room for the bike. I am also considering getting back in the pool, if I can fit it into my busy schedule. Cross-training is an essential part of my training, and besides, I haven’t ruled out another duathlon or maybe even an Olympic triathlon someday.

One of the more disappointing aspects of 2012 was the lack of any new PRs. That is, of course, except for the automatic PR earned at my debut duathlon. I thought Chicago for sure would be that kind of a day and I felt fantastic during the race, but at the finish I found myself two seconds shy of the marathon PR I set in 2010 at Boston. Still the fact that I cruised so easily to that result at Chicago leaves me encouraged that with solid, consistent training I can get that time down at Boston in 2013.

I’m now into the fourth week of the Hansons program and feeling pretty good. The first five miles of 2013 are now in the books so I am clearly off and running towards this year’s goals, which include the following:

  • Successfully complete the Hansons plan this spring and stay healthy
  • Boston and a new marathon PR (aggressive goal is 3:10, PR to beat is 3:20:41)
  • Make sure to allow myself proper recovery time after goal races (not always easy)
  • Sub-90 minute half marathon
  • Sub-19 5k race
  • At least one multisport event
  • Marine Corps Marathon? I’m thinking about it
  • Win my club’s summer racing series for my age group (finished 3rd in 2012)

I may add more goals later as the year progresses. Happy New Year to all and let the chase begin! 🙂

I’ll be home for Christmas…and training

With my recent offseason break, followed by a frustrating foray back into racing at the Gar Williams Half Marathon at Carderock this past weekend, it’s time to put a wrap on 2012. Gar Williams wasn’t the way I wanted to end the year, that’s for sure. It was supposed to be just a training run at far less than full intensity, given I was just ramping back up to running. On top of that the C&O Towpath, on which this entire race was run, was muddy and slippery after a night of hard rain. But when the horn sounded I foolishly took off as if I was in top form. Needless to say I couldn’t maintain anything close to that pace and even bonked at around 10 miles, sheepishly slogging home the final 5k at around 9:00/mile pace, dropping from 19th overall to 29th, and finishing in 1:39:36, or about 8 minutes slower than I ran at Philadelphia just three weeks ago. So what did I learn from the experience? Well, first of all, that you can lose a lot of fitness even over a short break. Second, not to be an idiot and run as if you are in peak condition when you are not. Third, it is possible to crash and burn in a half marathon the same way as a marathon if you are not properly trained. And fourth, running a race that long isn’t worth the post-race recovery issues if you don’t approach the race properly and/or fail to stick to the plan for the day. So now I go through a few days of recovery and rehab, mainly because my right calf is still screaming at me, hoping that I will be able to start marathon training as scheduled next week. Most likely I will be fine for that goal, but it has been a humbling couple of days.

So about that training. I’m looking to get into it, and for this cycle I am actually going to try following somebody’s else’s instead of using my own home-brew method. Doing my own thing hasn’t been bad; it has, after all brought me across 9 marathon finish lines. But there is a nagging feeling I can do better. The McMillan pace conversion table, for example, shows that based on my times at shorter distances, I should be able to run around a 3:10 marathon, but I never been able to crack 3:20. I have 5 results between a PR of 3:20:41 and 3:23:52, so the consistency is there, but so is the plateau. Unfortunately, high mileage plans such as Pfitzinger are not for me, though; the times I have tried to push the mileage numbers up to similar levels I have ended up injured. I need something else, something that will get me ready to run at my desired marathon pace for the whole distance while not taxing my joints too much and hopefully allow me to still squeeze at least some of the cycling and swimming I depend on for cardiovascular endurance.

Enter the Hansons Method. I had heard lots about it in the past, particularly about its “radical” cap of 16 miles on the long runs, but always thought the plan was something reserved for elites who were already super-fit and just plain genetically superior. But then last February a 40-something club teammate of mine told me he had just used the Hansons Method for a marathon and run under 3 hours for the first time. Then in the intervening time, Hansons runner Luke Humphrey published a very detailed book on the method, including why and how it works. I purchased the book about a month ago and decided maybe this was what I have needed. In particular I like their argument that while other marathon plans do a great job of getting you ready to run the first 16 miles of a marathon, theirs trains you for the last 16 miles of the race. The other key distinguishing characteristic is the amount of marathon pace running, which parallels what another club teammate advised, that for me to get better I needed “more miles and more marathon pace miles.”

So I will give the Hansons a shot.

I should be clear that despite the lower prescribed mileage numbers, this is still a pretty intensive plan, even using the “beginners” plan as I intend to do. As for why I chose beginners, my reasoning is threefold. 1) the mileage numbers correspond well to what I have been doing, offering a slight increase; 2) the plan ramps up gradually enough that I can continue to cross-train as an “optional” activity under the plan, particularly during the early weeks (1-5); and 3) there is enough flexibility built in that I can squeeze in a tuneup race or two along the way. Actually I had been planning to run about 5 races in the club series, but I am now backing off of that a bit. I think 2 races is probably the most I will do prior to Patriot’s Day in Boston.

In short, I want to give this plan a chance to really work, and that means following it as closely as I reasonably can. The early aspects actually seem a little too “easy” given my background but the plan is designed that way, so that before you know it you’ve been lured into something where you now are working really hard. By the time I hit peak I will be at probably the highest intensity I have ever been in a marathon cycle.

The 18-week plan starts next week. Until then, I just need to shut this calf muscle up.

Offseason in a sport that doesn’t have one?

After Philly, I have decided to shut it down for a couple of weeks. I’m not injured or anything, but the cumulative fatigue of the fall had me just feeling like it was time for a little break.

I know for some runners, the very thought of an “offseason” is sacrilege. And the race calendar certainly makes it easy to buy into the “there is no offseason!” mantra. Even now as turkey trots pass the baton to jingle bell jogs, it’s possible to keep racing right on through it all. But to what benefit? Surely these aren’t target races, and nobody can race at top form all the time. If you try to do so, you eventually end up on the sidelines before the real target races in the spring. For me, that’s Boston, a race which always demands one’s best.

So it’s a pretty simple decision really. Two weeks off now may drive me a little stir crazy but sets me up well for a little pre-holiday base building and even some low-key non target racing; after all I still have DC Roadrunners Club race series points to pick up. Meanwhile I am also reading up on potential training plans. I have no conclusions yet on what to follow, if any — I usually end up designing my own — but that’s the subject of another post.

Then a 16 week cycle leading up to Boston starts the week of Christmas. By then I will be chomping at the bit, ready to roll.

My almost perfect Chicago Marathon

World Marathon Major finish #3 finally came for me this past Sunday at Chicago; actually it’s WMM #4 because I have now run Boston twice (2009, 2010), New York City (2010) and Chicago. It was also my 9th marathon finish overall. All told, it was a very good day, as the stats below demonstrate, but a bit of unfinished business remains.

Actually my first Chicago Marathon was supposed to happen a year ago. I had signed up for the 2011 event and had begun training in early summer of that year, but after a hamstring injury, then a knee injury suffered playing soccer, it was just not meant to be. Despite the summer 2011 setbacks, I managed to put together a nice Philadelphia Marathon performance in November 2011 and that gave me encouragement about making another attempt at a Chicago run in 2012.

After spending a good portion of the spring and summer of 2012 training for and racing in an Olympic distance duathlon, there were only about 10 weeks available to prepare for this year’s Chicago Marathon. Most marathon training plans are 16 weeks in length. For the first several weeks of this abbreviated cycle I wasn’t so sure I could pull it off. The body needed to recover a bit from the duathlon, and even 10-12 mile long trail runs were a slog during the Northern Virginia dog days and nights. I finally hit the 20-mile long run mark on Labor Day weekend in conditions that could best be described as miserable, close to 90 degrees and humid. But about two weeks later, as summer heat eased its way towards autumn, it all started to click into place. My second and final 20-miler of the cycle was a night-and-day difference as I cruised through it for 19 and then jacked up a fast finish in the final mile. In addition my tempo and interval workouts were now nailing the target paces. Then I topped off my Chicago resume with a solid 5k/10k double performance at the Clarendon Day Races in Arlington on September 23. As I hit the short 2-week taper period, I knew I was ready.

Lynn and I boarded the short flight to Chicago on Friday and before long we found ourselves at the expo. Having gotten that step out of the way, all that was left then was to enjoy a nice dinner and relax on Saturday. We enjoyed the downtown area a bit and that helped keep my mind at ease. As eager as I was to get it on, I was remarkably calm throughout Saturday and I even slept relatively well.

Finally the alarm sounded at 5:05 am on Sunday and having planned everything out 24 hours before it was a simple matter of eating breakfast, which ended up being two energy bars, and heading out for the 5 block walk to Millennium Park. The weather was chilly with a bit of a wind blowing but I felt well equipped for the temperatures, with a race outfit consisting of my DC Roadrunners singlet, shorts, arm sleeves, calf sleeves, lightweight gloves and beanie, lightweight merino wool socks and my new favorite shoes, the Skechers GoRun. I had my race nutrition all lined up, too, a Peanut Butter GU for just before the race, then Pineapple Roctane GU for miles 5, 10 and 15, followed by my “secret weapon,” a Honey Stinger Berry Blast gel teed up for mile 20. If an electrolyte boost was to be needed in the final 10k, I’d go with Gatorade since only that would metabolize quickly enough to help at that stage.

I said goodbye to Lynn and headed for the gear check, then made it into the B corral with about 2 minutes to spare. The anthem was sung, the wheelchair athletes were off and then it seemed like barely any time went by before the cannon for the rest of us sounded. It took me roughly two minutes to cross the line and I quickly settled into a comfortable pace. As we proceeded through the north side of Chicago I was pleased with my pacing; it was a little slower than I have taken out other marathons but I was on a sub-3:20 pace that actually felt easy. So I resolved to stay at that level…and not worry about racing until I got to 20 miles. As we headed back south I passed where Lynn was watching but managed to miss seeing her on the other side of the street.

I proceeded onward, cruising past the half marathon point in 1:39:27. Perfect, I thought and I felt no signs of wearing down. Through it all it seemed every new street we turned onto bore a new surprise from the crowds. Sometimes it was a band, sometimes a dance troupe, and sometimes a few very amusing signs. It seemed the spectator sign of the day was “Worst Parade Ever.”  Finally at 17 miles I got to see Lynn, still feeling great and thinking about dropping the hammer in a couple of miles.

Before long that 20-mile mark came up and I pulled out that Stinger gel, downed it with some water and said “OK, it’s go time.” In retrospect it’s a good thing I did step up my intensity because it turned out I was slowing down, just a little bit, despite the fact I was now starting to pass other runners in large numbers. Still I felt strong.

I saw Lynn again at mile 23 and couldn’t help but smile because I knew I was having a great run. The only question was could I hang on, or was a crash lurking in the darkness. I worried about that a little bit as the 24-mile mark approached, when I felt my right calf starting to really tighten up. Luckily the aid station was only about 400 meters past that; once I got some water in me the developing cramp went away. As 25 miles approached I knew it was time to go for broke with whatever I had left. I continued to be the hunter, passing other runners in droves and in the distance I could see the final turn towards the finish. I knew the 3:20 plateau I have been staring at for 5 years was probably going to live another day (darn it!) but a PR (3:20:40) was still in reach.

As we turned turned towards the lake we were greeted by something we hadn’t really seen all day on this course: a hill. That seemed a little cruel, especially as I was now trying to imagine myself as a half-miler rather than a marathoner. It was really hard to get it going up that hill which continued to climb past the 400-meter-to-go point. Finally with 300 to go it crested and the last 200 looked to be a downhill sprint. I gave it all I had from that point, dragging a couple of other runners hoping to draft off of me. As I approached the arch I couldn’t believe my eyes, which were witnessing the excruciating march of time. I finally lost sight of the clock as it clicked to 3:20:38. I had no idea if I would make it at this point…but I had a feeling, later confirmed, that I had come this close.

As I crossed the line I initially felt frustration over having come so close, after running such a great race, and it seemed incomprehensible that I could come away without at least a new PR to brag about. I had missed it by 2 seconds, finishing in 3:20:43. How on earth could a race so long come down to 2 seconds?! But as I had the medal put around my neck, my mood quickly changed. I had achieved some great things today, beyond just a marathon finish. The stats clearly showed that this had been my most evenly paced marathon ever, with a mere 2:14 positive split, compared with that PR day in Boston where my positive split had been about 10 minutes. Moreover, my training, which had consisted of lower mileage than any previous cycle and relied heavily on cross-training, had worked. I felt strong for the entire race. And I raced well, focusing on the my surroundings and tactics instead of being a slave to my watch. PR or no PR, it could be argued this was my best marathon ever. And let’s not forget, it was yet another BQ result, one that punches my ticket for eligibility up to Patriots Day 2014.

As I reunited with Lynn and we enjoyed a Goose Island 312 in the post-race party zone, I basked in the sunlight and satisfaction of a job well done. In the coming weeks, I’ll have plenty of time to evaluate how to build on this performance and get off the 3:20 plateau at Boston in the spring. Lots of ideas are on the table, like maybe getting a coach, but no decisions yet. In the meantime, I will enjoy the accomplishment, hang my hat on consistency: 5 marathons of my 9 have fallen between 3:20:41 and 3:23:52. And that’s a good platform from which to jump to the next level.

On the Road to New York, Week 1

I’m now into Week 2 of training for the New York City Marathon on November 7. This will enable me to check off another box in my quest to run all five of the World Marathon Majors.

This comes after a summer of not focusing at all on marathon or long distance training; indeed from April 19 when I ran the Boston Marathon, until August 7, I didn’t do a single run longer than 13 miles. I think (or at least I hope) this break was good for me both mentally and physically. As I ramped back up to training last week, I felt eager to get it on, even though the heat and humidity outside was stifling.

All in all it was a good start last week, with 41 miles logged, plus another 20 or so of cycling. During the week I ran one final summer 5k race, and then I capped off the week with a long run of 16 on Saturday.

One of the things I’m trying to do this fall is re-institute my commitment to cycling as my primary form of cross-training (with soccer being my other form). Two years ago, when I was training for the Outer Banks Marathon, I alternated my weekend long runs with weekend long rides. In other words, on one Saturday I would do a long run, the next I would get on the bike and go for a long ride. When OBX rolled around I was in perhaps my best marathon shape ever, and while I didn’t PR on race day, I did run a very solid 3:21:35. I also recovered very quickly from OBX.

The reason I picked up the cycling back then was my recovery from a groin injury in the spring of that year. I couldn’t run for much of the spring and early summer, so once I was at about 70% recovery status, I cycled. Lo and behold, it turned out I really enjoyed it a lot, and I also noticed it helped my fitness. Then when I finally could resume regular training, I decided to keep the cycling as part of it. I find that cycling serves two great purposes for my training — it provides some serious endurance work and it takes some stress off the joints.

In preparation for longer riding this fall, I even went out and got myself  a new (actually used but it’s nice) road bike, and have already put down one ride of 35 miles on it, plus a bunch of shorter rides.

All of this leads to the current week:

Done so far –

  • Monday 5k easy jog at recovery pace
  • Tuesday 7.6 mile progression run, finishing at marathon pace
  • Wednesday track intervals 8×500 at 5k race pace
  • Thursday 5 miles easy recovery pace, 45 minute core session

Planned for the rest of the week –

  • Friday 8-10 with some tempo
  • Saturday 35-40 miles road cycling
  • Sunday soccer with my coed adult team

That will leave me with fewer miles this week, somewhere around 31, but I’ll get a big ride in and that will set me up for next week. Next week the running mileage will approach 45, including a weekend long run of 18. I envision this type of trend persisting throughout the fall until taper time kicks in around mid-October. I’m nowhere near marathon fitness right now, but I’m confident that by November 7, I will be as ready as I’ve ever been.

Busy start to summer racing

It’s been a busy couple of weeks since my last post here. After having a few days to bask in the glow of a successful marathon at Boston, I then got thrown into a hectic project at work. I found myself working long hours and squeezing in recovery runs whenever I could.  My attempts to recover from the race still moved along, but slowly. There’s no question the race took a lot out of me.

Nevertheless, I  picked it back up after two weeks, finally started doing some speedwork again and  got myself as ready as I could be to lace up my new Brooks Green Silence racing flats for a race I wasn’t about to miss — the Mantua Raccoon Run 5k, on May 8. In many ways this race is antithesis of the Boston Marathon with all its glamour, huge number of racers and spectators and complicated pre-race logistics. The Raccoon Run, by contrast, is my neighborhood’s annual 5k race and the start is about 4 blocks from my front door. Race size is probably no more than 150 runners.

The bottom line is I knew I would be one of the front-runners this day.

I jogged down to the Mantua Elementary School at about 7:30 and quickly registered, got my goody bag and bib, then jogged back home. There I put the bib on my singlet, stretched and jogged back over the start. All these little jogs back and forth gave me a nice little warmup of about 1.2 miles. Then after a few words from Congressman Gerry Connolly, who just so happens to live in our neighborhood, we were off!

I should mention I run this course, oh, probably 20-30 times a year at a minimum. So I know every single inch of it. Here’s a course map.

The first couple hundred yards of the race were somewhat amusing as lots of elementary school kids darted out off the line, showing off their sprint speed for the local news photographers. Finally the race started shaking out a little and as we got to about the half-mile point there I was, in third place, with the bike escort leading us up the hill on Christopher St. The lead pack stayed that way until a little past the mile point, which I reached in a very disciplined 6:09.

Then suddenly a couple of guys passed me from behind. One looked to be around my age and the other couldn’t have been more than 17 years old. So now our lead pack was a group of 5, with me at the back of it. But I was fine with that as I knew Mile 2 was a downhill mile; my plan was to basically coast through it and hold a strong position. We remained fairly bunched as we completed the first loop, passing nearby the school again. But then things began to string out a little as the two guys who had passed me earlier surged ahead. They continued to open up distance on the Colesbury Loop, leaving the other three of us to duke it out for third place. After the water stop I got ahead of one guy into fourth but he quickly passed me back as we went downhill on Colesbury.

At this point I knew there was maybe three-quarters of a mile left. My legs felt tired, still not recovered from that little Patriot’s Day marathon. But I knew I had enough in me to finish strong and decided it’s time to make my move. The last mile, like the first mile is a net uphill and I was pretty sure I could handle both the runners in front of me and maybe if I was lucky, reel in the #2 guy (the kid). So I made my move and quickly passed #4 as we prepared to turn off Colesbury and back onto Glenbrook. Before long I passed the #3 going up the hill on Glenbrook. I could see both #1 and #2 ahead but they had a substantial lead. I dug in and picked up some ground on #2 but it wasn’t quite enough. As I turned back onto Kirkwood heading back towards the school for the final 0.1 I was all alone in 3rd, crossing the line in 19:49.

That’s hardly what I can run at my best; in fact back in late March I ran 19:04 at a 5k in Falls Church, which would have been good enough for first place in this race. But given how my legs felt, it was the best I could do this day and I was very happy with the result. It turns out our neighborhood’s got some fast, fit folks. Being third best here is nothing to be ashamed of and I’ll take it!

Next up, I’ve got two races, both this week. The first is tomorrow night, a one-hour track run sponsored by DC Roadrunners. I’ve never done one of these before, so I’m not quite sure what to expect. It’s an hour running around in circles, let’s leave it that for now. 😉  Then on Saturday, I’ve got another 5k race, the 5K Run/Walk for Spinal Health Awareness in Reston. This one tends to draw some fast elites, so I won’t be a frontrunner in it. But I’m hoping the speedsters and what is said to be a fast course will pull me along to a nice time!

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.