Monday, April 25, 2011

Final Thoughts on Boston

Those who don't like it when I'm hard on myself for not meeting my own expectations may want to skip this post. I was completely unprepared to race a marathon on April 18, and Boston revealed that. A lot went wrong, and this post is about that. I am severely disappointed with my finishing time. Please don't interpret this post as detracting from the Boston experience. I had the time of my life. I was able to do something very special and I'm thankful for that. This post is about what went wrong in my training and in my race to prevent me from being in marathon PR shape on April 18.

Early Training
Ugh. I was battling a hamstring injury through November and December. I pretended that it didn't hurt, but it did. I wanted everything to come together for Boston, but it just wasn't meant to be. Then, I got the flu during the holidays. That forced me to take some time off, but I was too stubborn to take enough time off to allow my hamstring to heal, too. Remember, I was pretending that it didn't hurt.

I recovered from the flu, but because of the hamstring, I took two weeks off prior to Mountain Mist. With the flu and a two week layoff just prior, I opted to treat Mountain Mist much more like a jog/hike than a race. I ran a 6:30. That meant that I wouldn't need any recovery time before resuming training.

I was 6 weeks into my training and had gone backwards. So, I opted to punt the whole program and try for a 12 week training program instead of 18. But I wasn't at a good starting point. I had gained weight and lost speed. I had hardly done any quality work in 4 months. I was out of shape.

So I reset my expectations and restarted with a 12 week schedule. That started OK, but it wasn't long before I was struggling and inconsistent. I let some personal struggles get the better of me during this training cycle. I gutted out some tough workouts, but had more days of sleeping in and laziness. I'm hoping I'm past those personal struggles, but they really had me down. Boston certainly lifted my spirits to the point that I'm simply determined. I will run! I will run fast!

In addition to the mental struggles that were defeating me, I had more physical sickness this spring than I've ever had. (I'm not sure the mental stress and physical illness are unrelated.) I caught a stomach bug that weakened me for a week. Then, I had a case of bronchitis that had me out for another week.

Ugh.I was out of shape and not getting better. So, restarting with a 12 week program was a miserable failure. I averaged less than 50 miles per week and I was woefully inconsistent. I don't think it's possible for me to get in marathon PR shape on mileage that low, especially when the miles weren't really quality miles.

So, that's what went wrong in training. I was injured some, sick some, stressed, lazy, and for some reason unmotivated.

Race Day
So, I did take advantage of the opportunity to taper before the marathon. Why not?!? Fewer miles and more carbs? I'm in! That also meant that I was probably as heavy as I've ever been for a marathon at about 172 or so. That's pretty inexcusable, but I'm on my way down already.

Likewise, I had no goal or plan for the race. How about this for a goal... I'll just run however I feel like and hope for the best. It's not totally true that I had no goal, I had the typical 3 goals. The "A" goal was 3:05. The "B" goal was 3:15. And the avoid disaster goal was 3:30. I really thought I was in about 3:10 to 3:15 shape. It turns out that maybe I've learned a little bit about my body in the past 3 years because I ran 3:13:05. I was close to 3:10 before the come apart I had at the end.

I also used a lot of energy interacting with the crowd. I sure wouldn't change that, though.

So what went wrong on race day? I was fat, out of shape, had no plan for the race, and ran an inconsistent pace by getting excited and running fast sometimes and losing focus and running slow at other times.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Boston! - Part 2

Racing purists who think that one has to be serious and focused any time he pins on a number may not like this post. I considered running an 8:00 pace and treating Boston as a victory lap for qualifying. I'm glad that I didn't get that lax about it, but I'm glad I didn't put a lot of pressure on myself to perform either.
After the finish with my girls. Joy, joy!
I really soaked in the moment. I relished every minute of the experience of running the oldest foot race in America. I'm glad I pushed enough to suffer, because suffering is part of racing. But I'm also glad that I did some things that I know hindered my finishing time. Running Boston is an experience that not everyone is blessed enough to have. I wanted to enjoy the sights, sounds, and people while respecting the race. I hope I gave the race enough respect. I sure enjoyed the experience enough!

Again, I have to say that Boston does this EXACTLY right. It's a total celebration. And the town pulls it off without a hitch. The city, the people, the transportation, the expo, the swag, the start, the support, the course, the race, the finish, the post-race organization. Everything is perfect.

The First 15k
As I mentioned earlier, there is no way to describe the electricity that surrounds this event. Because of this, a mistake that many runners make is to go out WAY too fast. It's very difficult not to just fly past the start and run 5k pace for a couple of miles.

This is where the crowds of runners came in. The start is on a two lane street, so there is no way to sufficiently spread out 27,000+ runners. So, as a strategy, I purposely stepped into the coral behind my assigned starting corral thinking that surrounding myself with runners with slower qualifying times would rein me in. It worked. I ran a 7:21 opening mile and I could not believe how easy that felt. It felt like a 9:30 mile. Really. During the last quarter it thinned out and I picked up the pace a bit.

The crowd support at the start was nearly deafening! I could not believe what I was seeing, and it stayed that intense for most of the race.

Just past the 2 mile mark, I heard a spectator shout, "You're almost there!" I got a little kick out of that. In what sense were we almost there? We weren't even almost to the 5k mark! I was like, "Don't tell me that the 'almost there' cheers have already started!" I don't think I heard another one until mile 17, so that's ok. Even so, someone who says "almost there" at mile 17, 20, or even 25, has obviously never run a marathon. You're never "almost there."

The next several miles were fairly typical miles at Boston. I cannot count how many high fives I gave. Most every kid that I saw with his/her hand out, I gave a high five to. They seemed so excited to be getting the fives from the runners! It made my day to be part of their day. I saw several teenagers and young adults sticking their hands out and then pulling them back when a runner would attempt a high five.  Ha ha very funny. So I pretty much kept it to the kids except at Wellesley and BC.

I hit 5k a little behind at 23:01. The 10k and 15k splits were about where I expected at 45:20 and 1:07:50. And I felt great. I was absorbing the energy around me.

On To The Wellesley College
Just after the 15k split, I joked with another runner, saying, "Is it bad that I just set a 15k PR?" Of course I didn't come close to a 15k PR, but the miles felt so easy! Have I mentioned the energy at this race? :)

As we entered Natick, I kept hearing people shout, "Go Molly!" I couldn't believe the support for Molly! I thought maybe Molly was from Natick or something. I'm so gullible. I found Molly, and she had her name in big letters on the front of her shirt! I'm dumb! I told Molly that I was going to run next to her for a while and pretend that my name was Molly. She was laughing and truly enjoying the Boston experience. It was her first Boston and she was having a great time.  I ended up leaving Molly after a couple of miles, but that was pretty fun.

Before mile 12, I could hear this loud screaming up ahead. I mean, the town of Natick was great, but this was LOUD! Could it be the infamous "scream tunnel" at Wellesley already? Why yes, it can! From nearly a mile away, I could hear the girls of Wellesley College screaming! It's all they say it is and more! No, I didn't stop for a kiss, but I did soak in what was going on! I just kept my hand out for the entire time I was passing the girls at Wellesley getting the fives! I could not believe the volume of the screams! And there were several variations of the "Kiss Me" signs. Quite entertaining! I think I ran a sub 6:30 mile here!

I hit the halfway mark at 1:35:11. I believed that I still had a chance to qualify (per 2013 standards, 3:10), but I knew it would require a special set of circumstances in the second half to get that done. Those circumstances didn't come together for me.

To The Newton Hills
Between the halfway mark and the beginning of the Newton Hills is the only portion of the race that I spaced out a bit.  I didn't really notice much about what was going on around me. I wish I had been more aware of this portion of the course. I wasn't soaking it in for this 3 or 4 miles.

A couple of things I do remember from here is that there was a guy named Eric.  So I hung with him for about a half mile, similar to how I did with Molly during earlier. This time, I didn't have to pretend. But he was fading, so I left him. Then, there was a section of people who were cheering and ringing cowbells. The cowbells faded as I was about 200 yards from them, so I shouted, "I gotta have more cowbell!" ala Christopher Walken. Then the cowbells got nearly deafening! That was awesome!!!

After the halfway mark, the course rolls up and down, but mostly up to near the 15 mile mark. At 15 or 15.5, there begins a nearly 200 feet drop over about a mile with 150 of it in the last half of that mile. I'm guessing this is the steepest downhill on the course, but I'm not sure. It sure seemed that way, and my quads screamed at me as I ran quite briskly down this hill, a 6:50-ish mile. That wasn't very smart, but I don't know how I could have avoided it.

I don't know if this next hill is considered part of the Newton Hills or not, but it is in my opinion the second worst of the uphills on the course. It's the climb up from the Newton Lower Falls to I-95. The course makes you climb back up that 150 feet that you just descended in about three quarters of a mile. Ouch. I tried to keep a steady pace here and was passing folks like mad. Unbelievable carnage! This hill ate people alive.

Then comes the famed Newton Hills. The first one is noticeable.  Again, unbelievable carnage. I was passing people all over the place by trying to keep a steady pace.  Was this Heartbreak? Couldn't be, because I've only climbed one hill before this one. But it was tough. It's followed by a sharp descent that invites you to run fast. It's not a good idea to do so.

The second of the Newton Hills is really nothing, nothing at all. Fifty feet in a little over a quarter of a mile. I mean, you'll notice that you're climbing, but it's short and you can see the crest from the start, so it didn't discourage me at all. Again, I was passing and passing. Again, I asked, "Is this Heartbreak Hill? I sure hope so for my sake, but I hope not for the reputation of the hill."

Then came Heartbreak Hill. I knew it because of all the chalk on the street advertising it as such! And the crowd here! AMAZING! How could this hill slow you down with all these people cheering you on like this? WOW! The cheers were crazy! This is a perfect place to watch the race!

I knew that I shouldn't be running 7:10s up those hills, so I backed off to 7:25s for those miles. Backing off was wise, but I didn't back off enough. I will say, though, that I could not believe how good I felt at the top of Heartbreak Hill.

All right, 2:33 at mile 21. Let me see... that gives me 40, no, 37, no 27, no, 35, no 37 minutes to run the last 5.2 miles and still qualify (2013 standards). That's slower than 7 minutes per mile if you don't count the .2. But the .2 counts. But isn't it downhill from here? Do-able. Or is it? I have no idea. Do I need to run sub-7 or not? If so, I may as well give up. If not, then I have a chance. Ugh! I can't do this math! How about this... I'll just go as fast as I can from here to the finish.  Yeah, that's what I'll do. As fast as my legs will go. But wait... that's a cramp. Ok, not that fast. How fast can I go without cramping? Ok, I'll do that. It turns out that speed wasn't very fast.

Let me tell you a secret. It's not all downhill from Heartbreak. Sure it's net downhill and mostly downhill, but there are some NASTY hills left. Heartbreak is the second or third worst hill on the course. The worst, for me, was the climb to the overpass where Beacon St. crosses over I-90. OUCH. It's not much of a hill, but it ate me alive.

Oh yeah, Brookline.  Here's a picture of someone who's focused on racing and competing at 23.7 miles. That's Ryan Hall for those of you who don't know. Thanks to my wife for this awesome shot!
Ryan Hall 23.7 miles into his 2:04:58 at the 115th Boston Marathon
This is what someone who is just soaking up the experience looks like at 23.7 miles. Yeah, that's me. I have no idea what suffering lies ahead.
Joyful to see my girls!
This was right in front of our hotel. I had no idea when I booked the hotel how great a spot for watching that it was. I had no idea what suffering was ahead for me. I was feeling pretty good here, obviously. The hugs and kisses from Leigh and the girls really picked me up. I motored toward 24 and 25. And by the way, I beat everyone in the picture (I cropped, there were several more than shown here) whose bib I could read. :)

The Last Mile
Ugh. I have never suffered as much as I suffered in this last mile. The crowds are deafening. After the incline to I-90, I was zapped. Then the right on Hereford and left on Boylston to the finish! I wanted so much to summon some energy for the finish. The crowds were cheering so loudly! "You've got this!" "Go Fleet Feet!" "Yay!!!" Screaming, cheering, cowbells, whistles, deafening noise! I had nothing. The hill up Hereford killed me. I've never been in that much pain in all of my life. I had a horrible side stitch. My left calf was tied in a knot. My right quad would not move. My lower abs cramped.  Seriously, all of this happened at once on Hereford. I knew that I only had the left on Boylston to the finish. But when I made the left, the finish looked like it was miles away. I could not get there at all!

I seriously thought right now about quitting... Quitting running altogether. I walked. I could not run. The screaming the cheers. I was crying. Seriously, I cried like a little girl. I cried right there in front of thousands and thousands of people. I was overwhelmed with emotion and physical pain, and I couldn't make myself not cry. I hope nobody has a picture of this. I wanted so badly to get to the finish, but I had no idea how I was going to get there. I walked some more. Then, I put one foot in front of the other and started some sort of humped over limp-jog to the finish. It hurt, but I could run now. I thought I may be one of those who pass out this close to the finish line. I've never experienced this much physical suffering in my life. I dropped a 9 minute last mile. Ouch.

After crossing the finish, I just looked for somewhere to sit. But the red cross guys would not let me sit. "Are you OK?" "Yes, I'm fine, I just need to sit for a while." "You can't sit, you have to keep moving. It's better for your body to keep moving." "No, I don't want to move, I just want to sit here." "You have to move." Ugh. I got up and walked out of his sight and sat down again.  This time, I lay flat on my back. "You OK?" "Yes, I'm just tired." "I can't have people laying on the sidewalk." "Ok, can I sit here?" "I'll let you sit here for 2 minutes, but then you have to move." So, I got up and got out of his sight and sat down again. What is it with these people? I don't need medical attention. I'm just tired because I just ran 26.2 miles. Can you not understand that? I just want to sit down. Please let me. One thing, to be sure, for every one of the Red Cross people who made me move, I thanked them for doing what they were doing. I was trying to be polite, but I was also trying to convince them that allowing me to sit down was the right thing to do!

Post Race
When I finished, I heard an announcer say that the winner had run a world record 2:03:01! And then I heard that Ryan Hall had broken 2:05! I waxed emotional again because I was blessed enough to be part of something as special as this race on this day.

I was overjoyed to meet Leigh and the girls. It was much easier to find them than I expected. Boston does a perfect job of organizing this race!

We took the train back to our hotel in Brookline. When I walked in wearing my finisher's medal, the whole crowd in the lobby and the employees and everyone cheered! It was awesome! So many people congratulated me on the ride back and walking on the street. This continued until we left Tuesday night. Nearly everyone congratulated me and many cheered as I walked by. I felt like a celebrity!

Work as hard as necessary and qualify and run this race. I mean it. Do it. Start now.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


There is no way to put words to what I experienced today.  My friend Lance shared a video with me that helps, but still doesn't quite capture it. You have to imagine the intensity of that video for 6 or 7 hours!

One thing I have to say up front... Boston knows what they are doing. They know how to handle this event and this many people. The Rock and Roll marathons need to come take lessons from these guys. The experience, everything, transportation, aid, support, logistics, the finish line, the results, EVERYTHING was perfect. I didn't notice a single glitch. I cannot wrap my mind around what it takes to pull that off. I don't know if I'll ever do another mega race except for this one. They'll all fail by this standard.

Also, kudos to the city of Boston.  The people were incredibly hospitable to us tens of thousands of people who descended on their city for this race.  The city is abuzz all weekend. There is so much energy in this town surrounding this event. I really cannot describe how the locals embrace and get behind this event.

A Picture of the End
Not much matters less than my finishing time in this race. Boston is about the experience. I'll post soon about my performance, but this post is about the Boston experience. I got the idea for the picture below from my friend Eric Charette and I've seen others do the same. I like it.
Race shoes, shirt, bib, Garmin, and finisher's medal
The Trip
I was blessed enough to be able to bring my family with me for the entire trip. Spring break fell the week before, so we made a mini-vacation out of it. I was a little concerned that would wear me out, but it was so much fun that if it added 10 minutes to my time, it was worth it. We did a quick tour of coastal Maine up to Portland on Friday. Beautiful! We explored downtown Boston on foot with Shane O'Neill and Linda and Beth Scavarda on Saturday. Sunday, we went to church in Tyngsborough, MA and stayed all day with the Christians there. That was a wonderful experience!

The Expo
Shane joined me for the expo. Ugh! It was so crowded that you could barely move! I wanted to spend more time there, but it was just too miserable. I didn't get to see nearly as much as I wanted. If I ever do Boston again, I'll spend more time at the expo. The highlight was the ability to try on the Nike GPS sportband. I don't know if I'll replace my Garmin with it or not, but I really liked it, $299 MSRP.

The Bus Ride
Part of the Boston experience is the bus ride from Boston Common to Hopkinton. You never know who you'll meet or what you'll end up talking about for the nearly 1 hour ride to the start! I had planned to meet a friend here, but with the sea of people, it was just impossible! I hoped I'd catch up with him at Athlete's Village in Hopkinton, but no luck there, either. So, from the time I left my hotel until Mile 24, I saw NOBODY that I knew! But I was far from alone.

Athlete's Village
Shivering! 40 degrees and a 10-20 mph wind made this not so great. Oh, I know it could have been much worse. I really have no complaints about the weather. But I could not get warm pre-race. I felt like I was wasting too much energy shivering.

I staked out a spot in the sun to get some warmth. I felt like I needed a flag or something to claim my ground! People everywhere! I bought a $10 fold up camping chair to take with me based on the advice of Dink Taylor. Nice. I was happy to have a place to sit! Others were jealous! I had a nice dry place to sit comfortable for nearly 2 hours. Some charity now can enjoy that chair.

The Start
Wow. I was struggling with disbelief that I was actually there. I even got emotional a couple of times near the start. I don't know why, but I fought back some tears. It is an overwhelming experience! The energy of the crowds at the start is incredible. The noise. The knowledge that the elites are just ahead. The anticipation of Wellesley and Newton and Boylston. Indescribable. This is why I trained and suffered to qualify to be part of this.

To be continued...

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Scholarship Fund Run 8k

First, the numbers... 8k in 31:24 which was good enough for 10th overall and 1st in the 35-39 age group.

I was on the fence about racing this one. I intended to race the Rocket Run 10 Miler, but got grossly (in more ways than one) sick. Then, I was planning to run McKay Hollow Madness, which got cancelled.  I realized on Thursday that I had no idea what I may be capable of at Boston.  I haven't raced. in quite a while.  I haven't finished a road race since Halloween! I mean, there was Mountain Mist that I was woefully unprepared for.  There was Dizzy Fifties where I changed my mind 60% of the way through the race. I just had absolutely no fitness test!

So why not? I couldn't come up with a reason why not, so I signed up on Friday. After all, I've never raced an 8k before, so a finish is a PR today! I had to do this. I'm glad I did.

It was good to see my friend Mike Greene back at the races! Mike and I warmed up together and it was my first time to see the course, so I was glad to have someone who knew the course to guide me.  Woah... this thing has hills! It's a double loop course with three significant climbs on each loop. I'm glad I got a pre-race scout loop done. And, I must say, that for a road course, it is one of the prettiest I've ever run! I'm partial to the Duck and Run 5k in Athens for beauty, but this one may be prettier.

Loop 1
The race starts by Huntsville Middle School and leads off with the first significant climb up Adams. When we started, Donald Bowman and Victor Brown took off ahead of most everyone and a small pack of 7 or 8 runners formed behind them. For some reason, I was in this pack. I stayed here for about a quarter mile, but knew that I had no business there, so I backed off a bit. I felt good up this climb, but I knew I was running too fast.

As we were coming up the first hill, I noticed footsteps behind me and looked to my left and saw a young guy that I didn't recognize.  I surged a little and didn't see him again.

On the second hill, I heard more footsteps.  As we neared the 1 mile marker, Robert Whitaker passed by.  I thought about hanging on to him, but his surge was more than I felt like I could cover. I kept him in sight as much as I could, which was most of the race. I split mile 1 at 6:12, just a second behind Robert.

After Robert passed, I settled into the position that I would hold for the remainder of the race. I ran pretty strong up the climb to the courthouse, but Robert was pulling away. I hit mile 2 at 12:25, but I'm starting to feel it.

Loop 2
Up ahead, David Purinton was falling back from that pack, and Robert was trying to catch him. As I turned left to begin the second loop, the hill was steeper than I remembered! I struggled up the hill and welcomed the slight downhill before the climb up Eustis.  Mile 3 was 18:57. Oops.

There was an interesting battle going on ahead at the top of Eustis as Robert passed David. I was trying to close in on them, but I was struggling. As I topped the hill I wondered how much I had left. The downhill wasn't as fast as I would have liked. Then the climb up to the courthouse completely zapped me. Mile 4 was 25:25. I could not let up any if I were going to break 32:00! But I was fading for sure.

Luckily, there is a significant downhill after the courthouse to the finish, and I was able to take advantage. I seriously didn't know how close I was to breaking 32:00 for the rest of the way. It felt like I was crawling, but it was all I had. David and Robert had pulled out of my sight. I had no idea if anyone was behind me or not. Man I felt slow.

As I turned and saw the clock, I thought I would see some number very close to 32.  31:10? WOW! I WILL break 32! I just kept running hard and finished in 31:24, so the last .97 miles took 5:59. I was surprised because it felt like the slowest .97 that I've run in a race.  Weird!

Wrap Up
I'm very glad to be back to a road race. It was amazingly fun and I was pleasantly surprised with my finishing time.  Supposedly, if I can run a 31:24 8k, then I should be able to run a 3:05 marathon.  I think that is very optimistic and 3:10 is more realistic, and 3:15 is more likely on a course as tough as Boston.

And by the way, this 8k course is pretty tough.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Training Update

Three weeks to Boston.  The old saying is that the hay is in the barn. I didn't put up much hay. I have a number of reasons (excuses) for this. I battled a nagging calf injury during the fall that hurt my base to start the training.  I battled a hamstring injury during the winter that prevented me from doing any hard running. I've been sick more in the past 4 months than I have been in the past 5 or 6 years combined. Those are my reasons. I've struggled with personal and work stress that has at times completely zapped my motivation to run or do anything. As a result, my mileage base is about 75% of what it was at this time last year. My diet has been inconsistent. There has been no core work or cross training. My weight is up. Call me tubs. Those are my excuses. I'm not fit to run the Boston Marathon.

But the date is near and my family is excited and my airfare is paid and my hotels are reserved and my vacation time has been claimed. I'm going, and I'm going to have fun. I'm sure that I'll pin on a number and run hard. But my hard running is not going to be fast, unfortunately.

Recent Workouts
I was as sick as I remember ever being back on March 19. That caused me to miss both the Rocket Run 10 mile and the Sunday morning 10 miler. Those were to be key workouts in my week!  To try to make up without overdoing it, I ran a tempo on Monday the 21st.. I still wasn't recovered from the vomiting and diarrhea. I was nauseous and it was hot. As a result, I could barely hold 6:45 pace for 5 miles. Yuck.

Then, I met Matt and Lanier for a track workout on Wednesday morning the 23rd.  I still felt like garbage battling nausea.  But I did the workout anyway.  We did 6 x 800m repeats. I ran them all at about 3:00 flat, some 3:01 and some 2:59.  It was good to have company, and I was glad that my lethargy didn't slow Matt down at all.  Due to peer pressure, I did jump some hurdles that were left on the track during one of the recovery jogs. I had no idea I could do that!

Over the weekend, I unofficially ran the cancelled McKay Hollow Madness 25k.

This week I had business travel, but I was determined not to let it ruin my week. On Monday, I did 10 miles total and 6 x 800m.  I just found a high school near my hotel, ran over there, and hoped that the track would not be in use.  There was lacrosse practice happening inside the track. I just acted like I knew what I was doing and started doing my reps! Nobody told me to leave. I felt much better than I have in a while and was able to run most of those 800s at 2:52. One crept up to 2:54, but I was fairly consistent and ran the last one at 2:50.

I followed up the track work with a 13.5 miler along the Olentangy greenway.  The plan is to run the Scholarship Fund 8k in the morning and see what I have.