Striding Through

Because a life well lived always finds the right pace

Tag Archives: racing

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

 

Please donate to the One Fund Boston if you can.

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! 🙂

Riding (and running) through a brand new challenge

Image

As much as I love my sport of running, there are times when it gets a little monotonous. This is especially true when you run marathons, where the cycle of “train long, race hard, recover, repeat” proceeds unabated through the seasons. I’ve long thought that variety is the key to keeping not only physically but also mentally fit to take on the challenges of long-distance racing; perhaps that’s why I cross-train so much and don’t hit anything close to the mileage numbers that the Pfitzingers and Higdons of the world recommend. It seems that when race day comes I am just as ready as those who follow such plans religiously. That’s not to criticize, just to say my approach is what works for me.

All of which has made me wonder from time to time, what if I actually tried racing in a manner similar to how I train? Until this year it was only a fleeting thought, but back in late February I had an inspiration of sorts, as I walked back to my car after a disappointing performance in a 10 mile race. Underneath my windshield was a postcard advertising an “Olympic Duathlon” for July. I glanced at the card for a few seconds and rendered no decision, other than to think about it some more. But a month later, as the weather warmed up and biking outdoors became more inviting, I noticed the fee was about to go up and that now would be a good time to jump in, if I was up to challenge. Of course, with the question framed in that manner, there was no way I wasn’t going to sign up.

In mid-May, once I had my spring races behind me, it was time to really focus on the duathlon. Whereas cycling before had really just been a means of supporting my running it was now something demanding equal if not greater time and attention. So I quickly went from 40-50 mile running weeks to 15-20 mile running weeks, with anywhere from 40-70 bike miles a week. As the weeks progressed my legs got used to the increased bike burden and to my surprise my running started to really take off as well after slogging through a lackluster spring season. In June I knocked out a 5k in 19:34 for my fastest one of the year so far. Clearly this training plan was working for me. The closer I got to race day, the sharper I could feel myself getting in both disciplines. When race day came I definitely felt ready.

This event was in rural Howard County, Maryland, not far from the scene of that flop of a 10 miler in February. It was only an hour or so away from my Virginia home, but with an early start and my newbie status in multisport racing, I decided to book a hotel room in Columbia the night before. It turned out to be a wise decision as I was able to relax, get a fairly decent night’s sleep and arrive at the site before the traffic with plenty of time to prepare my transition area and warm up. For a fairly big race, it was about the most stressless pre-race scenario I have had.

The format for the race was a 2-mile run, followed by a 26-mile ride, then capped off with a 4-mile run. Both of the runs took place in Western Regional Park over a loop course, while the bike ride did two times around on a 13-mile loop over hilly country roads. We started gathering in the corrals at 6:45 AM and at 7:00, after the anthem, the elites took off. My corral of 45-and-over men was next and off we went at precisely 7:05.

Image

In preparing my race tactics beforehand it was obvious that the runs would be my strong suit and the ride was an area where I would be severely tested by more seasoned cyclists. So the temptation was strong to really fire off the line and be as close to the front as possible and “bank” some time or position. But in the final days leading up to the race, I reconsidered that idea and decided to conserve some energy in the hope of staying strong for the whole day. I watched others bolt out and down the first hill but largely bided my time at a tempo pace. I came through the 2 miles barely laboring – but still in good age group position. Time: 13:35.67 (#6 in age group). Transition 1 to bike: 2:02.07.

Image

As I headed out on the bike course I started in a fairly low gear, and spent much of the first mile looking to get into a comfortable cadence while gradually adding more gears. Meanwhile we rocketed down some hills and whipped around some quick turns. Finally in about mile 4 the first big climbs came upon us. For the most part I had been getting passed by a lot of riders and was a bit disappointed by that, but I then noticed that many of them were not as strong on the hills as I was. So this commenced a jockeying of sorts that went on for the rest of this segment: me being passed on the descents or flats, then me catching the same riders on the climbs. The humidity really started to take hold on the second loop and temperature was also on the rise. I think I slowed down a little bit, but as we entered the park again to head back to transition I powered it up the final hill and passed a couple of those riders I had been battling for 26 miles. But I was also pretty hot by now; and I wondered how much I had left for the final run. Time: 1:26:30.77 (#13 in age group). Transition 2 to run: 2:03:53.

Image

The second run did the same park loop as the first but in the opposite direction and twice. I jogged from the transition area to let my legs adjust back to running then tried to pick it up once I got onto the course. But my legs felt like jelly and it seemed I was barely shuffling along. However I was apparently doing much better than that, or others were suffering far worse than me. For the next four miles I passed one runner after another, including a few who had passed me on the bike and who I thought I would never see again. Throughout this segment I think only 2 runners passed me and they were both younger age-group runners. On the second loop it was not uncommon at all to see walkers but that just made me push harder. Just like in a marathon, I told myself “no stops!” As I got to the top of the final hill I knew I had my first multisport finisher’s medal all but in hand. As I finished I felt tired, soaked with sweat to the bone…and totally awesome. Time: 30:59.09 (#5 in age group). Finish time: 2:15:11.13 (#8 in 45-49 age group).

It was a great day, all told. While I had no formal time goal in mind, I did think 2:15 would be nice result if everything came together. So, I guess it all did come together nicely. 🙂 I’m glad I stepped up to this challenge and am also glad my wife Lynn was there to cheer me on and take some great photos for the blog. I also have put a shout out to the race organizers and volunteers, who were absolutely top-notch. As for the next multisport event, that will have to wait until 2013. Right now I have the Chicago Marathon to prepare for. But there will definitely be another such race, because this one was a blast!

And not to forget these details, which I see on just about every multisport report I have ever read:

Running shoes: Saucony Hattori

Bike: Litespeed Tuscany with Zipp wheels

Bike shoes: Specialized

Bike Helmet/gloves: Bell/Pearl Izumi

Apparel: Pearl Izumi sleeveless triathlon jersey, CW/X running tights, Point6 lightweight socks, Under Armour headband

Other equipment: yellow tinted shades, Timex Ironman 30-split watch

Back in the saddle with Spring Racing!

After an up and down spring training cycle, the target races start to come whether you’re “ready” or not. And sure enough that’s exactly what happened on Earth Day (April 22) when I toed the line at Rutgers University for the UNITE Half Marathon.

To be honest I really wasn’t sure what I would have in me on race day. After starting off well with training in January, I hit a bit of a speed bump in late February, starting with a mediocre race performance at the RRCA Club Challenge Ten Miler in Columbia, MD. From there I went into a funk, either mental or physical, probably a little bit of both, as my workout performances just lagged. Then my sometimes-balky knee acted up – tendinitis, which has been nagging me since. I ended up taking about 2 weeks off from running in early March. While I clearly needed the break it didn’t do much for my race preparations. So when I started half marathon training again, I decided let’s not worry about PRs (sub-1:29) and certainly not the lofty goal of 1:25 I had conceived back in December. The goal was now just to get a solid run in that would set me up for Broad Street Run on 5/6. As for a time, I decided I would be happy with anything under 1:35.

Race day morning logistics went off without any hitch whatsoever and the shuttle from downtown New Brunswick got me and Lynn to the start area on Rutgers’ Busch campus with plenty of time to spare. I was completely relaxed at the start and when the gun went off I started with what felt like a comfortably hard effort. That ended up being a 6:39 opening mile, faster than I expected and I wondered if I could hold onto it. As it turns out I did hang on to it for a while, until about 5 miles or so. But then the gaps in my fitness started to show and by mile 7 I was running 7 minute miles.

We continued to wind our way through the Busch campus, until about 9.5 miles in when we finally crossed the bridge over the Raritan River and into New Brunswick proper. As we completed the crossing and turned to dip down into a park I saw Lynn who was with several other spectators.

Image

At this point I knew I was tiring – the pace had slipped into the 7:20s – but I also knew I could hang on and have a nice result if I didn’t do anything dumb. As I passed the 10-mile mark I noted my split time was better than the race result I had achieved at Columbia two months prior, which made me feel good. I knew that had just been a bad day but it’s always nice to have validation of that. We continued to wind around the park for another two miles; I chatted and ran alongside another runner for part of that stretch but had to let him go ahead as the finish drew closer. Meanwhile a female runner who had been jockeying places with me all morning surged ahead yet again and put a 100-yard gap on me.

We came out of the park into downtown New Brunswick, the finish just 0.6 miles away when I saw Lynn again. This time I was climbing a steep hill, whose placement seemed rather cruel given the stage of the race and my mounting exhaustion. Still it was great to see Lynn, and while I was suffering I still managed a smile for the camera, sort of. I have a great one-woman race crew. 🙂

Image

As we crested the hill I told myself, let’s see what we have left. I was easily going to beat the 1:35 goal I had set, no worries there. I tried to run steady but hard, not an all-out sprint. Just finish strong, that was the goal. I did get caught by one person from behind but in the meantime I passed two other runners, including the woman who had seemingly left me in the dust two miles earlier.

As I crossed the line I was tired, but could feel myself recovering quickly. That was a good sign because it meant my conditioning was just fine. Final results were 1:33:23 on the gun, 1:33:19 on the chip, good for 116th place overall out of a couple thousand entrants. In my age category (45-49) I was 7th overall with an age-graded result of 70.4%. For a guy not in top form, that’s a result I can definitely live with. Now it’s on to Broad Street…where I think I’ve got a good race in me!

Another restart

Well, I fell off the wagon on maintaining this blog yet again in the second half of 2011. Some events interfered, most notably that of being laid off from my old job in November. But happily, I have found new employment and things are starting to now settle down.

Through it all, my running and training have continued. I still have a race report to publish from the Philadelphia Marathon in November (it was a good day) and after a recovery period I am now back in the saddle training for spring target races. So far on my spring calendar, I have the UNITE Half Marathon in New Brunswick, NJ on 4/22 and a return to the Broad Street Run in Philadelphia on May 6. In any case there is lots to write about, so hopefully I will have some updates for you all very shortly.