Wednesday, December 12, 2012

26.2 Questions: What Next?

I'll start with the same disclaimer as the last 26.2 Questions post. I'm not a coach. I'm not certified in anything. I'm just a dude who has run a few marathons, read a few books about running, and read several distance running periodicals. Consult a coach and a doctor before taking my advice to heart. After all, I'm sidelined with a stress fracture, so I obviously don't know everything.

One of the questions that came up often during the long runs is "What should be my next goal after the Rocket City Marathon?" That is an excellent question!

First and foremost... For the first two weeks after the marathon, you should do as little running as you can stand. Take off if you want. Run very easy if you want, but don't run much and don't run far. You cannot run too easy or too little during the first two weeks after the marathon. Recover. Running 26.2 miles is  a lot to ask of your body. Now, give your body a break.

Ok... After you've recovered, then what?

Whatever you do, please keep running! Don't just check 26.2 off your bucket list. Running has completely changed my life. Running draws me closer to God by giving me time with nature and time to pray alone. Running has introduced me to so many great people and gives me opportunity to spend time with them on the roads and trails. Running has helped me to maintain a healthy weight. Running has helped me in my battle with depression. Running will reward you.

One good option for a next step is to leverage this huge base that you have and run some shorter races much faster than you ever thought you'd be able to. The 26.2 program is very good because it introduces you to all types of running. There are easy runs. There are track workouts. There are tempo runs. And, of course, there are long runs. Once you ease back into running, experience with those different types of running will serve you well. Once you're running comfortably again, hit the track and do some intervals. Check the Fleet Feet Calendar and pick out a goal race and consult a coach for a training plan. There are plenty of races in the Huntsville area to choose from. With the 26.2 base, you can be ready to run a fast 5k in about 6-10 weeks.

Some have asked, "Why don't I just run another marathon while I'm in shape to run a marathon?" If Rocket City was your first marathon, I strongly discourage you from running another marathon until next fall at the earliest. Sure, you can run another marathon soon, but it's just not ideal.

Others have asked, "What about my long runs? Do I keep doing them?" A long run is definitely a staple of any fit runner. However, there are long runs and then there are marathon training long runs. If you're not training for a marathon, then you really don't need to run 18+ miles. You can get similar benefits and recover faster from a weekend long run of 12-15 miles. I'd recommend that you keep a "long run" in your weekly schedule of about that distance. It'll do you good.

Hope this helps! If you have more questions, ask and I'll try to answer.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Ragnar Tennessee 2012

The only word I can come up with to describe this experience is "WOW!" Ragnar Tennessee 2012 was absolutely one of the most incredible experiences of my life. I wasn't as excited about this one beforehand because I have done them before. My expectations were not too high. But, oh man, the experience was INSANE!

Opening Credits
Let me start by thanking our sponsors for this. This team gets very generous support from ADTRAN. Without their support, this simply would not happen. I do hope that our sporting our ADTRAN gear during the race raises our brand awareness. Also, I can definitely say that our experience has drawn each of us closer and will strengthen our loyalty to one another and to the company. Our doing business with one another is definitely improved in an immeasurable way by the camaraderie and closeness developed during this event.

A special thanks to teammate Shawn Barber for putting this together. He takes care of getting the support from ADTRAN and organizing the event. Sometimes we give Shawn a hard time because, well, he's Shawn. But this dude is a getstuffdoner. He's an invaluable asset to the team. Also, Shawn raised hundreds of dollars for charity by recruiting and organizing volunteers for this race. He also raised a good bit of money to help one of his close friends who has been diagnosed with terminal cancer and lacks health insurance. If ever I'm in a bind, I hope Shawn notices. He's the kind of guy that makes sacrifices and doesn't mind asking other people to be uncomfortable in order to do good to others. I'm honored to be his co-worker and friend.

Also, big thanks to Marty McCleary and his wife. We needed volunteers to avoid paying a volunteer fee for the race. They stepped up, and have three years in a row now. When I look at the McCleary family and see the relationship between Jake and his dad, I'm filled with admiration. Man, that's what family love is supposed to be like.

Finally, thanks to McKee Foods for their allowing (and encouraging) us to use our team name "Down with OCPs" and for donating lots of Little Debbie Oatmeal Cream Pies to the cause. We had folks asking for OCPs all during the race. Word spread that there were a bunch of crazy guys handing out Oatmeal Cream Pies, and lots of tired hungry runners wanted a piece of the, well, (oatmeal cream) pie.

The Start
We started at 2:00 PM EST in Chattanooga. These relays have a staggered start to manage the logistics of the varied paces. So, the 2:00 and 3:00 afternoon start times are for the serious teams, the ones who plan to run around or less than 24 hours. I was leading off and I wanted to get our team out front early. In years past, we had won this event by over 3 hours, so I wanted that to happen again. I had no idea if we'd have competition this year.

I started quick. I had a 14.5 (really 14.8) mile double leg to start us off. I ran a 6:40 pace that felt amazingly comfortable during the first 10 miles. For the first 6 miles, I was running with a competitor. He told me that he was about the 3rd or 4th best runner on their team and that they were all strong runners. I figured I was our second or third best runner, so I knew we were in for some competition this year. There was a small hill about 6 miles in. He tried to make a move up the hill. I covered his move and stayed on his shoulder and on the down, I obliterated him. I put a good two minutes on him in the last two miles of this first leg of my opening leg.

Their strategy was to swap runners at every exchange. Ours was to swap at every other exchange. So, their strongest runner took the bracelet for the second and most grueling leg of the entire race. This leg is roughly a 7 mile leg that has over 1400 feet of climb in the last 4 miles. Brutal. Their runner caught me about two miles into the climb and put about a minute lead on me. I was completely done at the top of Signal Mountain and probably pushed too hard during this leg and cost my team some valuable time in my later legs. Oh well, we're a minute behind and handing off to our 5th and 6th runners.

Through the Afternoon and into the Night
Seeing their strategy of using a fresh runner for each leg and strategically selecting the runners, we gave that a try for some of our legs. However, through the afternoon and night, they were opening up a 15 to 20 minute lead on us. To try to help close that distance, we worked it out so that I could take a longer leg. When I agreed to do this, I had totally underestimated how much the Suck Creek Road climb had taken out of me. I've never been beaten that badly by any 4 miles ever before. I agreed and swapped from a 9.2 mile double leg to a 13.5 mile double leg. I barely finished it. I was dying at the end of it. A lot of effort for not a lot of speed! But the gap was shrinking again. Maybe more like 8-9 minutes now.

During the night, we all learned a valuable lesson...

After I finished my second double-leg, I changed shorts and took off my warm-up pants. My phone happened to be in my pants. I stuffed the pants in the back of the van and I drove away. A couple of miles down the road, my phone started blowing up with text messages and ringing! It just kept on and on ringing! We were all saying, man, that must be important! And nobody could get to my phone, so it just rang and rang. I said, "As soon as we get to the next exchange, I'm going to check to see who that is and what is wrong. I mean, it's 10 minutes to midnight. It must be an emergency." When we got there... the text was from Andy Durr, and it said, "Hey. U guys a man down?"

Doh!!! We left him behind! It turns out that in the hustle and bustle of the exchange that Andy hopped out to use the port-a-john. We all thought he was asleep on one of the van benches. So, I drove off. Lesson... if you need to use the port-a-john, tell someone!

There's caveat to this lesson, though. Don't tell which port-a-john you use.
Why can't you get out, Mark?
The Early Morning Hours
I have so many stories to tell. I could go into a lot of details about each double-leg I did and blah blah blah. But none of that matters. Through the night, Team Memphomaniacs had a 20 minute lead. We had given up hope of winning this thing. I texted a friend of mine at about 1:00 AM. "We're in second place now and we won't make up the difference." The next thing I knew, they had a 15 minute lead. Then a 10 minute lead. Then, as I was was waiting to begin my third and final double-leg, Andy comes in yelling, "I caught them! I caught them! Eric, you have about 50 or 100 meters! Go! Go! Go!" So, I took off.

There were two problems, though. First, I was DEAD TIRED. I had nothing in my legs. My legs simply would not go. They were completely dead. Toast. Second, the guy I was competing against in this leg is a 16:30 5k runner. He's out of my league. I led for about a half a mile. He passed and I was powerless to do anything about it. I was running about 6:40 when he passed. Nope, I could do nothing. I hung on as best as I could. I let him get a bit of a lead because his move was very strong. Then, I thought, "I'll just keep him in sight. He'll probably slow down when he thinks he's broken me." Nope. He kept hammering. I dropped back to about a 7:00 pace and that was all I had. Next thing I knew, I was running 7:40 and it felt impossible. During this 10.4 mile double leg, they put about two minutes back in front of us.

I felt horrible. I had let the team down. There was nothing I could do about it. Sigh. Then their lead grew back up to about 8 minutes.

It was about 7:45 in the morning. Jake was out on his last leg, getting ready to hand off to Shawn for his last leg. Shawn had asked me to take his last leg, 4.5 miles. I told him "NO WAY." I'm done. I can barely hold a 7:40 pace. I'd rather not run if that's the fastest I can go. Then, Shawn got out of the van and walked to get into the port-a-potty line. He could barely walk he was limping so badly. He had given it all he had after the prior weekend's Marine Corps Marathon. While he waited in line, I changed my clothes and pinned on a number. When he got out, I told him... "I got this." The lead was still 8 minutes. I had no idea how I was going to pull this off, but I was going to. This was a very hilly 4.5 miles, and I gave all I had. I managed somehow to run a 6:30 final mile, but I didn't make much of a dent in their lead. Maybe 40 seconds. But... We still have George!

Catching Up
Mark was not ready at the exchange, and I had to look for him and it took about 60-90 seconds. Even though I screamed for him and made a complete jerk of myself at the exchange, I totally forgive him. You'll see why later. He made up some ground also, but then he handed off to George DeWitt. George DeWitt is no doubt one of the best runners I know.

We gave George a double-leg. The first section had a nasty hill. The second section was long and not flat, either. During the first section, he chased down their 16:30 5k guy and got him in sight. He was not able to catch him, but he was looking over his shoulder at George. He was hurting and George never let up on him. When he handed off to his teammate, George just kept chugging.

George caught the other runner very early in the second part of his double-leg. I thought George would put a good 5 minutes on this second guy, but I have to take my hat off to him. This guy gritted and suffered. You could see it on his face. He was HURTING. He managed to keep George in his sight. I totally admire the effort that guy gave to keep George close.

When George came to the finish of his double leg, he handed off to Mark with less than a 200m lead. I really believed that we were toast at that point. Their guy shot out of the exchange and caught and passed Mark very early. Mark told me that he just wanted to keep him in his sight. This leg was another hilly 6.4 mile stretch. Mark kept him close. Then, on one of the hills, their dude started walking up the hill! That gave Mark insane energy and hope! He closed the gap, and then on the next hill, Mark hammered the up and blew past him. Then, when Mark got past him, he didn't look back! He just ran as hard as he could, hammering the hills because he knew it was that guy's weakness, not knowing how much distance he was putting between him and their guy. When Mark got to the exchange, he had opened up more than a two minute lead in about 10k! And Mark completely collapsed at the exchange from exhaustion. That was the gutsiest run I've ever witnessed in person. MARK FREEMAN IS A BEAST!

Then, Mark handed off to Andy Durr, the closer. We knew that their second strongest runner was going to anchor and finish. Could Andy build enough of a cushion during the first part of his double-leg? We were on pins and needles and have been since about 8:00 AM! Andy added to Mark's lead during the first part of his double-leg. Then, their fast guy took over but Andy had over two minutes and less than 6 miles. Durr ran very hard and kept the lead. What an effort! The lead was shrinking, but safe. We saw the "One Mile to Go" sign, and Andy's lead was a good 200 meters, and he kicked it in! The lead was NOT shrinking by much at all! Andy was moving! With less than half a mile to go, the lead was still nearly 200 meters. Then, there were some turns through downtown Nashville, and we lost Andy and his competitor.

I hopped out of the van and ran to the finish to see Andy win, to see if there would be a sprint. I ran past several of the other Memphomaniacs, and Andy had passed but they hadn't seen their guy. I ran to the finish to congratulate Andy. It turns out that their guy had taken a wrong turn and finished ahead of Andy. But he never passed Andy, and Andy ran the correct course. What!?!?

So, the Race Director, not wanting to DQ the other team, claimed that the city blocks should be equal distance and that both teams would be considered first place in the Ultra Division. Now, there is no way they ran the same distance at the end. No. Way. The lead that Andy had was not going to be made up in the distance left. And, there is no route they could have taken which would have been equivalent. They cut the course short. The Race Director made the wrong call. Period.

But, we're okay with it. No money on the line. We wanted to break 24 hours. We ran 23:55, and there is no way we would have without those guys pushing us.

That was far and away the best race experience I've ever had!

Conclusion
I cannot say how much I appreciate all of the guys on this team. Those two days were great. Every one of those guys is a quality human being. Every. One. We talked about everything from work (yeah, we did talk some shop) to family to bathroom habits to port-a-john disgustingness to racing strategy to length of hair (Andy, really, you're OK!). We talked about Jesus, creation, the kings of Israel and Judah, the prophets, and Samson. Great times running and not running!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

26.2 Questions: Long Run Pace?

I've been pacing long runs for participants in Fleet Feet Huntsville's Rocket City Marathon Training program. During these runs, I've gotten some very good questions about marathon training that I'd like to address with the next few posts on this blog. The head coach for the program is David Rawlings. Assisting is Christy Scott. Christy is an RRCA certified coach and has written the running schedules that the participants use. I want to preface the next few posts by saying that am just a dude who decided to run a marathon in less than 3 hours, has run 7 marathons, and has read a few books on the subject. I am not an expert. I defer to Christy and David for individual advice during the program and welcome their opinions and corrections to anything I say here. But I hope I can offer some insight that is based both on experience and knowledge.

I believe both David and Christy would agree with me that there is no "one size fits all" training program.  We all have different abilities, goals, available time, and reasons for running a marathon. All of those affect your training for a marathon. However, there are some fairly fundamental physiological principles that any training program should be based upon. I'll try to provide some comment and application of these principles. Your mileage may vary. Ok, disclaimer done...

Probably the most common question I've gotten during my time pacing is something like, "What pace should I run for my long run?" Or "Why is my recommended long run pace so slow?" I have at least three ideas that can shed some light on those questions.

  1. One of the most fundamental principles of training is the principle of specificity. Your training needs to be specific for the event that you're training for. You need to replicate the demands of race day on your body as closely as you can without putting so much stress on your body that you end up getting injured. That's why long runs are the bread and butter of marathon training. That may not have helped with the original questions, though. Stay with me...
  2. Unfortunately (Or fortunately, I'm not sure which!) the human body just cannot handle running 26.2 miles as fast as possible very often. Training specificity might seem to imply that you should run 26.2 miles over and over, faster and faster until race day. Or it might seem to suggest that you should run marathon pace at progressively longer distances until you get to 26.2 miles. However, neither approach is good. Do either one, especially while training for your first marathon, and you'll almost certainly get hurt. So how do we apply the principle of specificity?
  3. Pete Pfitzinger and Scott Douglas, in their excellent book Advanced Marathoning, recommend that long runs should be 10% to 20% slower than your target marathon pace. So, for example, if you plan on running a 4 hour marathon (about 9:09 per mile), then 10% slower is just over 10 minutes per mile and 20% slower is about 11 minutes per mile. What this means is that if you run 22 miles (that just so happens to be the longest run of Christy's excellent schedule) at 11 minutes per mile, then you will have run for about the same amount of time that you will run on race day! Twenty percent slower is close enough to race pace that it promotes strong form and it gets you moving on your feet in a reasonably similar posture as marathon pace for the length of time of the marathon.
In summary, you won't have run 26.2 miles at your goal marathon pace before race day, and that's right. However, you will have a very solid training base. You will have lots of miles on your legs. You will likely be in the best condition of your life. You will have run for the same amount of time as the marathon should take.

Trust your training! Christy and David know what they're doing.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

The Good Weeks

Sometimes you have good weeks of training. Sometimes you have bad ones. It has taken me quite a while to learn that a good week doesn't mean I'm Meb Keflezighi and a bad week doesn't mean that I'm back at 240 pounds and barely able to finish 2 miles. I'm still learning that. I still get cocky when my planned pace and distance feel easier than expected and very down on myself when I have to bail on a workout. But I am learning. And I learn from my good workouts and from my bad ones.

This week, I was fortunate enough to have a week full of good workouts. I think there were a lot of factors that contributed to that. Some were in my control and some were not. One was weather. I was able to workout in some really good weather this week. Second is company. I had at least one partner for six of my 8 runs this week. That really makes a difference. Third is attitude. I just wanted to run this week. Every day. I realized that my mileage was too high by Thursday or I would have doubled on Thursday, too. I had to talk myself out of runs instead of into runs.

The key workouts were two 20 milers, a track workout (4x200 + 3x400 + 2x800 + 3x400 + 4x200), and a 7 mile tempo (6:30 overall pace) run. Yeah, that may be too much for one week. But I feel great. Also, it doesn't mean I'm going to run a world record (or even a personal record) race any time soon.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Elkmont Rails to Trails 10k

First, I want to congratulate Whitney Hollingsworth for pulling off such a good race. She had record attendance this year, and Whitney is just one of the good, selfless, loving people on this earth, not to mention a very strong runner. I enjoy this race and I am thankful that I had an opportunity to support this race and cause today. I wish I had done more to help her.

I didn't plan to run a 10k race today. I was planning to join the Fleet Feet 26.2 group for an easy 15 miler and a few extra miles afterward. We were meeting in Huntsville at 6:00 AM. I just completely slept through my alarm. I totally don't remember it. I guess I turned it off, but I just don't remember. I hopped out of bed wide awake at 6:10. Oh well. Still time to go to Elkmont. So I did.

This is such a unique race. It's a downhill first 5k with a seriously downhill second mile (-125 feet). The entire second 5k is a gradual uphill gaining 200 feet spread over 3.1 miles. It's a strategic race, for sure. Have a  look at the elevation graph below.
Elevation of Elkmont Rails to Trails 10k

I know I'm not in shape to run a strong 10k, so I knew this would be miserable.  I've been struggling to run 5-6 mile tempo runs at 6:30 to 6:35, so how could I expect to run a 10k any faster? Also, I ran pretty hard earlier this week. So, I have plenty of excuses. But the bottom line is that I'm a little heavy and out of shape. When I began warming up, I knew it wasn't going to be a great day. It was humid and I just didn't feel great. But I'm here and signed up. I may as well go.

There were lots of fast people at this race, so I had no delusions of competing or winning masters. George DeWitt is in great shape right now in his triathlon training. Tim Vinson is getting stronger as he does every fall. And out front there was George Heeschen and Tyrone Harris. This race always draws a competitive crowd.

My strategy was simple. Let gravity do the work in the first half. If I felt like I was pushing the pace in the first half, I was going too fast. Then, I was just going to hold on as much as I could in the second half. If someone was near me, hang on to them. Maybe a more specific strategy and a definite goal would have been good.

That's pretty much what I did. I tried to keep Tim Vinson in sight and I did for most of the first half. If he faded at all in the second half, I would try to close the distance. He didn't fade. I did. I positive split this course by nearly two minutes,  which means that I completely fell apart.

I ran a 39:14 which was good enough for first in the 40-44 age group and 9th overall. My splits were 6:05, 5:54, 6:13, 6:33 (the beginning of the meltdown), 6:36, 6:39, and 1:05. I wish I had pushed a little harder in the last half, but I just didn't. I knew that a PR was out of reach. There was nobody that I  had a chance to catch and nobody had a chance to catch me. I gave some thought to breaking 39, but I didn't even hang on enough to do that. I finished this race, but I definitely quit at mile 4.

There was a young guy ahead of me. I saw Tim pass him and I knew he was struggling. He probably broke 39, and he was limping and miserable at the finish. I really admired the tough race he ran. I congratulated and hugged and complimented his toughness at the end of the race. I'll look at the results to get his name.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Just Admit It

It's time for me to just admit it. I'm not in as good of shape as I was in last year. I won't be in PR shape for any of this fall's races, either. There just isn't enough time to cover the distance between where I am now and where I was last year. So here I am accepting reality and living with the consequences of the decisions I made to become sloppy with my diet and to sleep in and thereby reduce my mileage.

But there is time to have an outstanding winter ultra season. There is time to get in shape for a Mountain Mist PR. There is time to get in good enough shape to have a very strong 50 mile debut at Lookout Mountain.(See how I've already given up on Dizzy?!? I may never run 50 miles at that race.) There is time to get in shape to show up strong at Black Warrior. I know what I have to do. Clean up my diet and run more disciplined. Simple.

And... There is time to pick out a spring marathon and sub-3 again. Why not aim for sub 2:55 this time? Any recommendations for a good, fast, reasonably accessible on a budget spring marathon?

Reality hit me today on the track. I totally bailed on my workout. I was planning to do a combo workout... 4x200m fast, 2x2mile tempo, and 4x200m fast. I did not make it. I did 4 very consistent 200m repeats at 37 seconds. Then, I did a 2 mile interval at 6:28 and 6:29. I thought I was dying, though. I knew that there was no way I was finishing today's workout. I did one more mile at 6:32 and decided to recover a bit and try the last 200m repeats. I did one. One. I ran it in 41 seconds and kinda don't remember the last 20 yards or so. I don't remember hitting my watch, so it may have been faster or slower. I just remember standing next to the fence near the finish line on the track. That was my cue to just cut off the workout. I should have been able to nail that workout, but I don't think there is any doubt that I gave it all I had.

Maybe it was the 85 degree heat? Maybe it just wasn't my day?

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Fall Is Coming!

I should have posted more this summer, but then you would know how lazy I've been. My plan was to build a huge base this summer, but that didn't work out. I had some real struggles just getting up in the mornings. Since I was planning to build a large base, I didn't do any hard workouts. So, I ended up running 55-75 easy miles per week, depending on how many mornings I could get up. I did keep a fairly consistent 18-22 miler every week. I was really hoping for more miles, but oh well.

Anyway, it's time to start training for fall race season, and I've squandered away another summer. I have a plan for next summer, though. It'll be similar to last summer because last fall/winter was my best ever.

I have big, crazy plans for this fall. I'm a pace leader for the weekends training with the Fleet Feet 26.2 group. I'm planning to pace Rocket City again this year. That is so much fun! This year, it'll be more like work than it will be like fun, though. I've been asked to pace the 3:15 group. That's a stretch for me. I can run a 3:15, but it will not be comfortable like 3:30 was. The week after that, (yes, only one week after pacing a 3:15 marathon) I am planning to run the Lookout Mountain 50 miler. This may be my first 50 miler. This one doesn't have the option to stop without a DNF, so maybe I can get through it.  Big plans.

Today, I did a tempo run. It was a weird day. I'm traveling and I'm in an unfamiliar area. I googled around for a greenway system nearby and found one. I was hoping to get 5 tempo miles done. I drove to the trailhead and started running only to realize that my watch battery was dead. How on earth will I know how far I've run? How will I know my pace? How will I get in a tempo run? Ugh. So, I started and hoped for the best. My watch completely died about a mile into the run. Then, after about another quarter of a mile, I saw a 400 meter track! Nice! My workout can be saved. But how will I time my tempo run? I'll know how far, but not how fast... Here's what I'll do. I'll run back to my car and get my phone and use the stopwatch on it.

Done. So, after nearly a 4 mile warm up, I hit the track and set my phone down at the 400m start and started the stopwatch. I was just going to run by feel, hoping to run about 6:30 pace. So, I had no feedback during the run at all. I ran 20 laps (~5 miles) in 32:22 without ever looking at the stopwatch! I was terribly surprised by how accurate my pacing was! Nice. Really enjoyed the workout. 10.5 total with 5 tempo.

Let's start getting serious about fall!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Summer Running

This is the beginning of the fifth summer that I've been a runner. I'm 40 now, and the first summer that I ran was the summer after I turned 36. I know it's not summer yet, but it may as well be. We're past Memorial Day and the kids are out of school. Anyway...

The first three summers, I didn't run much. Heat zaps me more than anything else I can think of, even fatigue. I just have not been able to run well in the summer. Last summer was the first summer that I didn't take mostly off. Last summer, I maintained a base of about 55-60 miles with some fast, short stuff mixed in. That seemed to work well and improved my leg turnover.

This summer, I have a crazy plan. I'm planning to build my biggest base ever. I'm hoping to build up to 90-100 miles per week. I'm planning to do this with easy to moderately paced miles. I'll be running anywhere from marathon pace to 10:00 miles. I plan to double as much as possible and run at least a 20 miler every week. Then, I'll mix in some fast running closer to race season this fall. I got the idea from reading about Lydiard principles. We'll see how my body responds.

Today, I did a very hilly (no enormous hills, but the course was relentless rolling hills) 21 miler. Whew! It was brutal. I really enjoyed the hills, but I completely fell apart at 18 miles. I had absolutely nothing left and walked a lot of the last 2 miles. The road had very light traffic (that's what I was hoping for when I chose the route and time of day). I found myself wishing for a car to pass! At about 19.5 miles, I heard a car coming from behind me. I turned around and saw that it was a relatively late model mini-van. I was desperate to stop running. So, yes, I did. I stuck my thumb out. But he kept on driving by. I'm 0 for 1 in hitching a ride! It probably took me about 18 minutes to run that last mile and a half. I was done!

I just felt the need to run all of my energy out today. I succeeded.

Anyway, that's my interesting Saturday morning run story for this week.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Quick Medical Update

Since I mentioned my medical problems here earlier, I figured I should give an update. I'm no longer taking twice per day injections of Lovenox. Instead, I have switched to once per day oral pills of Coumadin. My eye has completely cleared up. We don't know if it's the blood thinner or if it just cleared up on its own. I don't know exactly how long I'll be on the blood thinner, but I won't be trail running while I'm on it. That's fine with me because I'm not a huge fan of summer trail running anyway.

This past week I've been battling chest congestion and just haven't felt like running. I took a whole week off. Today's run felt great and I'm really looking forward to getting back in the swing of things and getting a huge base for some fast fall races.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Eurocross 5k and 8k

I was on the fence for doing this race. We had a slumber party for my daughters' birthday Friday night. So, I figured I'd be very tired. But, I must say that those girls were the best behaved bunch of girls ever! I even had a ton of fun with this slumber party!

Then, I woke up at 6:00 AM or so, and a potential solution to a technical problem I've been struggling with for 3 days just popped inexplicably into my head. So, I grabbed my phone and typed up an email before I got out of bed. Then, I was feeling sick. Sore throat. Coughing up phlegm. Yuck. I thought about just not going at all. As usual, when I talk myself into running, I'm glad I did!

I rushed over to UAHuntsville to sign up for the race. I remembered how much fun this was when I did it back in 2009. I have no idea why I haven't run it for the past two years. I have this little boy inside of me who thinks silly things are funny (even bathroom humor) and who really likes mud. I love this race! After getting signed up, I jogged around a bit and saw lots of friends, some I haven't seen for a while. I knew this was going to be a good day, no matter how I ran.

The 5k
At the start line of the 5k, I was hanging with Jim Clemens and Marty Clarke. I figured both of those guys would finish ahead of me in the masters, and I was right. We had several laughs, and I wasn't quite ready to run yet. In fact, my overall pace for the 8k was faster than for the 5k. Go figure.

Now that's a game face!
At the start, I hung with Marty and Jim for most of a loop. Then, Marty put a lead on both of us. I was trying to keep them close, but I really just didn't feel it. I did really poorly on the creek crossings during the 5k. I fell at least 6 of the 10 crossings. I just struggled to find the right spot to cross. I was running 4:05 or so laps, except the last two. Again, I started to struggle at the end of the 5k. Jim stayed close to Marty. I fell behind. I just struggled. 21:06, 6th overall and 2nd (behind Jim) in the 40-44 age group.

The 8k
I only rested for about 15 minutes after the 5k. After that, I jogged around just to keep my legs loose. I did very easy jogging. Jim left after the 5k. So, that left Marty and me to battle again. I decided that I wasn't going to give up quite as easily. I still wasn't feeling great, but I was going to have fun, no matter what happened.

At the start, Marty and I ran together for most of the first loop. The young fast guys took off and I was content to let them. The first creek crossing was much shallower than I expected. I didn't even get my feet wet on this one! I made a slight move just before this crossing to lead a small pack that formed behind the fast younguns. This time, on the creek crossings, I knew what I was doing. I had my line picked out and didn't fall even once. During the last crossing on the first lap, I heard a splash right behind me. It was Rob Youngren. He passed me after exiting the water. I tried to keep him in sight, but I know that if Rob wants to beat me, Rob can beat me.

I still was watching Marty from behind. My lead seemed to be growing. Rob was also putting some distance on me. During the third lap, I had what I thought was an insurmountable lead on Marty. I passed by him as he was climbing the hill to enter the trail and I was turning toward the start/finish to begin my last lap. He said, "I'm about to start my kick, Eric!" Wiley veteran. I believed him! I ran as hard as I could early in the last lap! If he was going to kick, I was going to kick, too. When I started the last creek crossing and I noticed that Mary hadn't even entered the creek for the second crossing yet. He suckered me!

I finished 33:41, 4th overall, and first master. Yep. This was my first ever masters win. Marty told me, "That's one in a row. That's how most streaks start!"

After the race, Rob told me that he stayed behind me in the first loop to learn where to cross the creeks because he hadn't run the 5k. I got used by two veterans today! I'm going to be learning about this sport for a long time.

Overall a great, fun day.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Steeplechase 8k

I know it's late, but is it better than never?

On May 5, I rode over to Decatur with my good friend and Sunday morning regular Lance to race in the Steeplechase 8k. I really had no idea what the competition would be at this race. I knew that several fast folks were racing other places, like the Spring Zing 5k in Huntsville, the Coca Cola 10k in Corinth, MS, and the serious ultra runners would be running the Strolling Jim 40 miler in Bell Buckle, TN.

Overall, this is a very nice event with very good organization and good swag. I highly recommend this race. I ran 30:25 which was good enough for 2nd overall (bridesmaid) and 1st in the 35-39 age group.

When I got there and signed up, I saw Victor Brown, and knew that I would at least finish behind him. I figured I would try to keep up, but I know that he is in much better shape than I am right now. Then, I saw Brandon York warming up and knew that he would dominate the race. Who else might be close by? I didn't see anyone I knew, but that doesn't mean that there isn't someone there who can outrun me. Well, I figured I wasn't going to win and I was probably going to run away with my age group. Good enough. I figured I'd aim for sub-30.

I felt pretty good, but I just didn't know what to expect. It was hotter than it had been, so that was a factor. And this is not an easy course, no matter what the website says. Also, I had recently started twice daily Lovenox injections, so I didn't know what to expect from my body.

The Start
After a warm-up with Lance and a few strides and some quick dynamic stretching, we toed the line. The race director made a couple of comments about how well marked the course was this year and how that nobody should get miss a turn this year... Yeah, I did that at this race last year. I turned an 8k into a 5.25 mile run. I will say that the course was better marked this year, but I had studied the map. I didn't plan to make the same mistake twice.

After a prayer and a few announcements we were off at 7:03. Brandon, of course, was way out front along with a few kids who didn't know better. By a half a mile in, I was in second place, wondering when Victor would drop me. I was still feeling pretty good at the 1 mile split which I hit at 5:54. Not too bad. A little slower than I expected, but still ok.

About mile and a half, I noticed Victor right on my shoulder. I knew that he likes to start conservatively and then come on strong. I hung with him for a minute or so, but then let him go on ahead. I knew that he was out of my league. I probably gave up too soon. He put a few seconds on me and I hit mile two in 5:52 (11:46).

The End
I have no idea what happened in mile 3. Victor kept getting smaller and smaller, and I was slowing down and could do nothing about it. I really don't know why. I didn't feel bad, but more effort didn't produce more speed for some reason, so I had to find a groove and settle in. And this third mile was awful, even though it's a pretty easy, flat mile. 6:14. Why? I don't know.

Victor was totally out of reach now. Nothing I can do except to just hope for sub 30, but that 3rd mile was going to make this very difficult. I just kept chugging along, never really feeling a good rhythm. I just couldn't settle in to a pace that I felt I could maintain. I pushed hard only to realize I was going to blow up if I didn't back off. And so I would back off.

I struggled up the Gordon Street overpass, cursing the rise and losing sight of Victor after he crested the hill. By the time I got to the top, I couldn't see him any more. Had he hammered the hill and gained that much of a lead? I made the turn and didn't see him. I never saw him again. Where did he go? Oh well, I figured he had just dropped me badly. I knew I was fading, so I wasn't surprised. Mile 4: 6:12. Yuck.

I just hung on begging for the finish. I knew that 30 minutes was no longer a reasonable possibility. Ugh. I'm blaming the medicine because I like to have an excuse. Mile 5 (0.97): 6:11. Double yuck. My new race strategy seems to be start out on a reasonable pace and blow up anyway.

Post-Race
It turns out that Victor missed a turn and that's how I came in 2nd and lost sight of him. I hate that it turned out that way for him. I relate because I did the same thing at this race last year. So, I was the 3rd best runner and 2nd overall finisher.

Check out the video on the Steeplechase 8k website. At 1:35 or so, that's my buddy Lance after the finish. That's how a race is supposed to feel! Congrats to Brandon York for setting a course record. Victor still won the masters title. And, the post race grub was VERY good. Chick Fil A biscuits and bananas and cookies. Nice!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Quick Update

I have a couple of race recaps I'd like to write soon. I have back to back runner up finishes in completely different ways. I'd like to chronicle and share the experience.

First, a quick explanation of my absence...

  1. I have been reflecting on my sub-3 hour marathon. When you have a goal that takes two years and three attempts, it's difficult to move past achieving it. I'm by no means complacent. I'm working hard and trying to get faster. But I'm trying to determine what should be my next BHAGO (Big Hairy Goals and Objective).
  2. I have still had many of the same personal struggles. I'm trying to overcome, but I'm afraid that I will have to accept a new normal and learn to work with it. Ugh. Maybe more on that later.
  3. I have had some medical issues. A little over a month ago, I lost vision in my right eye. It was the oddest thing. I just saw a bunch of purple and black spots in my right eye. It was like I had just stood up really quickly and had a temporary loss of vision and lightheadedness that sometimes comes with that. Except that it lasted minutes instead of seconds and I wasn't light headed and I hadn't just stood up quickly. It happened a few times for just a few minutes. Then, one night it happened and lasted pretty much all night, so I went to the doctor (actually about 5 different doctors). Long story short, I had a retinal vein occlusion in my right eye. Apparently, I'm outside of the typical demographic for that condition, so more thorough tests were run to determine the root cause. It turns out that I have a couple of genetic conditions that make my blood likely to clot (don't ask me what they are, I'm an engineer, not a medical person.) So, now I'm on twice per day subcutaneous injections of Lovenox. It hurts. My stomach is all bruised up from the injections. And I feel like crap. I'm terribly sluggish. I just ran an 18:08 5k that felt like I was being beaten with a baseball bat for the entire last mile. The bright side is that my vision is crystal clear now!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Hard Lessons

Good intentions. I had plenty of them. I intended to maintain a high mileage base and start running faster. Well, that didn't really happen. Like last time, I patted myself on the back a bit. I ate too many peanut m&ms. I took a week off during spring break with my kids. As a result, I've slowed down. Ugh. When will I learn my lesson? It's better to stay fit than it is to lose fitness and then try to gain it back.

I ran a couple of races within a week. I didn't write reports on them because they were really lackluster. I came in 3rd and 4th overall, but I ran like I had bricks on my feet in both of them. Maybe I'm delusional and I'm not as fast as I think I am, but I really expected better times in both of those races.

First, there was the Scholarship Fund Run 8k in downtown Huntsville on April 7. This is a tough course, for sure. But we had perfect weather. I should have been well able to break 30 minutes on this course. I really should be able to break 29 minutes in an 8k. But 30 minutes on this course should have been very attainable. Not to mention that the weather was absolutely perfect. I blew a great opportunity to compete for a race win. The winner, Donald Bowman, ran a 28:53. I should be well capable of that. I know that Donald is a better runner than me and that he would have beaten me if we had been close. But I'm so disappointed that I didn't even come close. I ran the first mile at what felt like a 5:45 pace, and I actually split the mile at 6:02. I knew then, even though Donald was within reach, that I had no chance. From there, I just hung on and ran basically 6:05 miles the rest of the way to finish 3rd overall behind Donald and Dink in 30:14. Stinky.

Then, the following Tuesday, April 10, I ran the Double Helix Dash at Hudson Alpha in Research Park. Yet again, I stunk up the road. This was an interesting race. It started at 5:30 PM which is an unusual time to run for me. I'm a morning or lunch time runner. It's neat to do once in a while, but I don't want to make a habit of running at this time of day. In this race, I started out in 2nd place and held that position for two miles. I knew that I'd never catch Erik Debolt, the overall winner. But I did expect to break 18 minutes and I thought I had a chance at 2nd place. I ran 5:41, 5:48, 6:15, and :46. Both George DeWitt and Robert Whitaker passed me in the last mile. My legs were just heavy and would not turn over. 18:30? Why am I running a 5k that slow? It is a hard course, but that was the classic example of crash and burn. I started too fast and died. but I should be able to hold a 5:45 pace for 5k.

Oh well. Back to the roads and trails. Keep working hard and survive the summer.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Reflections on Sub-3

I've had more than a week now to reflect on running a sub 3 hour marathon. I've given thought to what went well during this training cycle. Why was I able to relatively comfortably accomplish something that had always seemed so far out of my reach? Can I repeat this? Can I share something to help someone else break this barrier?

Yes, You Can
I shared this picture on my Facebook timeline, and it got a lot of attention. I may have some blog readers who aren't also Facebook friends, so I'll share this here, too. I've told my weight loss story on this blog through multiple posts, but this collage shows it in one place.
From 240 lbs to 2:XX Marathon
There is over 6 years from the left to the right. Those middle three pictures are the same pair of jeans. I can't believe I was bulging out of those jeans!

It takes support. It takes patience. It takes discipline. It takes, well, just plain old bull-headedness. But, yes, you can. You can accomplish your goals, even if they seem out of reach right now.

Celebrate, Then Move On
I have to warn others and remind myself not to get the post race injury. Yeah, I got this weird injury right after my last marathon PR. See, last time I set a marathon PR, I tore my rotator-cuff while patting myself on the back. (That's a feeble attempt at humor. I did not really tear my rotator-cuff. I just got lazy and injured.) It took me over a year to get back into form after my last marathon PR. I'm not making that mistake again.

This time, I celebrated for a week. I ran less than 30 miles last week. I ate at least 3 cheeseburgers. I ate tons of peanut m&ms. I ate Krispy Kreme donuts. I ate so much ice cream. Dessert. Cheese Fries. Steak. I even drank coke a few times. All. Week. Long. Whatever I wanted. I enjoyed it, but I'm finished celebrating. I'm running hard and watching what I eat, and I started that on Sunday.

Avoiding Injury
I really think that the key to this success was that I stayed injury free. When you don't miss a workout due to injury or illness, you can really get a lot out of your body. That's the key to having breakthrough performances. You have to stay injury free during your training.

How did I stay injury free? I really don't know the answer to that one, but I have some ideas. I have a page about my shoes. Over the past year, I have been alternating shoes. I have 3-5 different pairs of shoes that I use during a week. Each pair has different characteristics. So, my feet and legs are not subjected to the same repetitive stresses day in and day out. Read about my road shoes on My Shoe Closet above.

Other than shoe variety and abiding by the basic hard-easy principle, I don't know any other secrets.

Speed Up
For about 3 months prior to starting this marathon training cycle, I focused on running a fast 5k. It was really fun. I love running 78 or 79 second 400s. I love running 36 second 200s. I love combo workouts. I kept my mileage high for me, between 70 and 80 miles per week. But I never ran more than 15 miles at a time, I did doubles often, and I did intervals sometimes twice per week. I felt faster than ever when I began this marathon training cycle. Sure, I lacked the confidence that I could maintain the pace for 26.2 miles, but I felt fast.

During the marathon cycle, I built up my mileage. I peaked at 90 miles for a couple of weeks. I didn't run any 400s or 200s. I worked hard on long runs and tempo runs. One thing I did this time that I have neglected in previous training cycles; I did my strides. I did strides once or twice per week. I had always omitted those in previous training cycles. But doing strides reminded me that even though I'm running high mileage and slogging out long runs and long tempo runs, I can still turn my legs over quickly. Strides will be a staple in my running from now on.

Because of that speed, my tempo runs felt really easy. I mean, really easy. I found myself dropping the pace to about 6:15 or 6:20 per mile during tempo runs just because 6:30 felt too easy. I only had one bad tempo workout. I nailed all the others and they all felt a little too easy.

Now that I'm done with the marathon, I'm going back to working on my speed. Running fast is fun. I ran some 76-79 second 400s today and it was a joy.

Diet
My diet wasn't perfect. It was far from it. I cheated a lot. And, I have an abnormally large appetite, even for a runner. However, my diet was cleaner for this training cycle than it ever has been. I've switched to a flexitarian diet that just makes me feel better. It also forces me to find foods that I wouldn't eat otherwise. It forces me to eat more vegetables and to find non-soy sources of protein. I really believe that reducing the amount of meat in my diet has made me faster, but I can't prove it.

Basically, my flexitarian diet works like this. Never eat meat more than once per day. Have at least 3 completely meatless days per week. When you eat meat, eat only lean meat. This means no sausages, bacon, and very little (only 96/4 when I eat it) ground beef. And the last rule is... Fish, if it isn't fried or covered in fatty sauce, is a vegetable. I have been surprised by how easy and palatable this change has been.

That's it. Hopefully something in this will help you or me.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Albany Marathon Recap

I'll start with just a quick look at the results. The overall results are at Active.com. My official time was 2:59:17 (just a couple seconds faster than my watch time of 2:59:19). I positive split this race by about 1:40, which isn't too bad, I don't think. I was 15th of 623 overall and 3rd of 59 in the 35-39 male age group and the last competitor to break 3 hours. I know I can run a marathon faster than that because the conditions were not good and everyone I talked to was somewhere between 4 and 7 minutes slower than their expected time. I am thrilled with this performance and I will go back to work and improve and go sub 2:55 and then sub 2:50. Hopefully, I can get both of those done before age catches up to me and slows me down. With ideal conditions, I think I'm in just about 2:55 shape right now.

The photo doesn't show the mud. My LunaRacers are yuck!

The Expo
The Expo was small and simple. I looked around and didn't see even one pair of Nike or Swiftwick for sale, so I wore mine proudly! There was a Honey Stinger table, so I purchased a couple of waffles to show a team sponsor some love (and to have a yummy pre-race breakfast).

Mars Chocolate and especially Snickers Marathon Energy Bars had a huge presence. I'm not sure how they're not still a title sponsor. They are the primary sponsor and they did an outstanding job of supporting this race from the expo through the awards.

I checked with the pace groups just to see if by chance there was a 3:00 pace team. There was not, but there was a list of names of people who wanted to break 3. I looked at the list, and I didn't see any of those people sub-3 in the results. I should have offered to lead it! :) I really felt that confident that I was going to break 3 hours.

Pre-Race
I'm spoiled now. I stayed at the host hotel, the Hilton Garden Inn in Albany, which was less than a quarter mile from the starting line and less than an eighth of a mile from the finish line. That's the way to do a marathon. There was no waiting in porta-potty lines. There was no fighting with traffic to find a parking spot. I just woke up, ate breakfast, drank some coffee, took care of my pre-race business, and did a very light warm-up jog to the start line and got there at about 10 minutes till. That was just enough time to find out who else was aiming for 3 hours so that I'd know my company in the early miles. I was completely ready to start with absolutely NO pre-race stress. That's the way to do it.

I checked the weather just before I left, and it was a balmy 72 degrees with near 100% humidity. It was alternating between not raining but damp, misting, and sprinkling. Nasty. There was about a 10-15 mph wind out of the South Southwest. Nasty. That would be a crosswind for most of the race, but it would be a headwind in most of the last 10k.

The First Half
The start was right on time at 7:00 AM sharp. I had chatted enough at the start line to find the folks who would be trying for 3 hours. I found a few who were going for 2:55. I believed I was in 2:55 shape, but the conditions were not favorable. I wanted to try for 2:55, but the risk of blowing up and not hitting sub 3 seemed just too high given the warm temps, the rain, and the wind. I have been running in cool weather and I just didn't know how my body would respond to temps 20 degrees warmer than I've been training in. I believe that was a wise decision, if a little bit of a chicken decision. None of the folks who were aiming sub 3 finished sub 3 except me. A couple DNF'd and another went 3:23 and another went 3:08 and another went 3:05. A 2:50 guy went 2:56. A couple of 2:55 guys went 2:58 and another one DNF'd. So, I do think starting at 3:00 pace, even knowing I was in better shape than that, was the right decision.

About 300 meters into the race, I looked at my watch and my lap pace was 5:38. Oops! Adrenaline had gotten the best of me! About a minute later, the bottom fell out of the sky. I spent the rest of the first mile trying to reign myself in and getting soaking wet. I ran the first mile at 6:36. So much for staying under control! I knew I had to back off and I fought hard to pull back. And the rain just kept coming.

The second mile was too slow, but that's ok. I had to give something back and recover from that first mile. I hit it in 7:01 and the third in 6:57 and from there I settled into my groove of 6:42 to 6:52 until the last 10k. I'll list all the splits at the end.

At about mile 6, the second place female just zoomed by us. She was running so strong. I considered staying with her, but I had no idea what her goal was and I knew the pace she was running right then was a little hot for my comfort. I do wish I had stayed with her, though. She held on strong for a 2:57:19. I met her at the finish and congratulated her and she was very nice.

I was a little chatty in the first 10k. Apparently, that got on one guy's nerves. See, during the first half of a marathon, I'm just trying to keep my mind off of what I'm doing. I'm trying to get to the halfway mark on time without realizing that I've run a half marathon. Talking helps me to do that. There were two or three who seemed to be enjoying the conversation and joining in, but one guy said, "No offense bro, but I don't like to talk." Well, okay, then. I don't think I said ten more words the rest of the race. The others in the group stopped talking, too. Then, less than a mile later the group spread out and nobody went sub three in that group except for me. It was just an awkward moment. Sorry that I bothered you, man. Unfortunately, he DNF'd. I hate that for him. Oh well. The weird thing is that when the group spread out, he stayed right on my shoulder. Dude, if you don't like to talk, go run with the quiet guys or run alone. The group is busted up now, and you busted it up. Don't sit on my shoulder and take advantage of my wind blocking. AND DON'T ASK ME WHAT THE LAST SPLIT WAS RIGHT AFTER YOU SAID YOU DON'T LIKE TO TALK. Instead of telling him what I really thought of the question, I just said, "Six Forty-three." He said, "GPS or marker to marker?" Instead of saying, "I don't like to call splits while I'm running," I said, "Flag to flag." I probably should have run ahead with the other  guys. I did drop him at about the 10 mile mark even though I was running fairly steady, maybe even a little slow.

Because of that episode, miles 7 through 13 were just lonely and boring. Except for the tornado sirens. Yes, you read that correctly. Tornado sirens. Given what had just happened in my hometown the day before, I was a little uneasy and stressed. I was afraid that the race was going to be called off and they were going to evacuate the course. The sirens in Albany don't just make a loud siren-like noise. Yes, they do that, but they do more! After the siren, a loud voice said, "This is a tornado warning! There is a tornado in the area! Seek shelter immediately!" Yeah, that was a bit unnerving. Somewhere between mile 7 and 8, one of the volunteers said, "That warning is not for us. The tornado is in the same county, but well south of us. Keep running!". Whew! I asked her to tell my wife so she wouldn't worry! :) But I figured my wife probably knew exactly where the tornado was.

Rain. Wind. 70 degrees. Tornado warnings. An awkward moment. So much for my goal of an easy and uneventful first half. I haven't seen the official split, but I think I hit the halfway timer at about 1:28:50 or so.

On to 20 Miles
One of the guys in the original group was a guy named Trent. We had some pleasant conversation before the group split up. I learned that this was his first marathon. I was trying my best to give him advice about nutrition and hydration and such. He was a nice guy and would have kept talking if not for the other guy. He was smart enough to drop him. I wish I had stayed with him.

Anyway, I saw him up ahead after the halfway split. There were two others from our original group between us. I decided to give a little chase. Maybe one or two of the others would join me and we could work together again now that Mr. "I don't like to talk" is gone. Neither of the first two were able to go with me. I caught Trent just past Mile 14 at the top of the biggest hill on the course. We said hello and began to work together, trading cutting the wind. Neither of us said much because the time for talking had passed, but we did talk a little. We worked together until just past mile 17. I tried to encourage him along, but it wasn't to be for him. Sub 3 hours on a warm, windy, rainy day was just a bit too aggressive for his first marathon attempt. I learned after the finish that he ended up dropping out with cramps.

So, from mile 17 until the finish, I was alone. I saw nothing but course sentries, police officers, and aid station workers. Given the weather, there weren't many citizens eager to stand on the side of the road and cheer us on.

I hit the 20 mile marker at about 2:16:07 and I said to myself, "I can run a 44 minute 10k any day, any time."  It was at this time that the reality of breaking 3 hours set in. Oh, I was hurting and tired, but I knew I could do it.

The Last 10k
I really believe that a marathon doesn't begin until mile 20. Sure it's important what you do up to that point, but the last 10k is what the race is all about. I really would have liked some company to work with during this part of the race. I was trying to motivate myself, but it just wasn't working very well. I had already done the mental math in my head that told me that I could run 7 minute miles from here to the end and still break 3 hours. And I barely did better than that. So, honestly, I'm a little disappointed in my effort during the last 10k. I wish I had dug a little deeper.

I kept repeating encouraging words in my head. You know, the things I mentioned last week. "Don't let self doubt be the reason you don't break 3 hours." "I believe I can break 3 hours, and I will break 3 hours." And, at mile 21, just for good measure and to give some respect to new UFC Lightweight Champ Benson Henderson, I said, "I got 15 coach!"

I had a pretty painful side stitch that came and went throughout these last miles. I prayed, but not about running. I just prayed for those who lost their homes during the tornadoes and for sick people that I know and other things that have been on my mind. I thanked God for so many different blessings. I was totally not focused on my pace, but I was not focused on the pain, either.

My feet hurt. My legs hurt. My side hurt. My right calf was on the verge of cramping. During this stretch, I was passing half marathoners left and right. There were so many walk-runners. The frustrating thing was that many of them had headphones in and were not paying attention and I had to use energy dodging them. That was totally not cool. And only a very few of them offered me encouragement, even though I offered all of them encouragement. I don't know why, but I thought that was a little rude. Oh wait, they probably didn't hear me because of the headphones. Anyway, the nice thing about sharing the course with them is that I knew exactly when I hit the 5k to go mark.

My pace was slowing, but I was powerless to do anything about it. I would try to kick it in, and it would last for a few steps, but then I was back to 7:05 pace. I really would have liked to have had someone to work with here, but I was all alone. And it was raining. And windy. And there was nobody in sight except for half marathoners.

When I turned the corner, I could only make out the 2:59. I couldn't see the seconds on the clock, so I just gave it all I had. When I was able to make out the clock and I knew that I was going to break 3 hours, I was so overcome with emotion! Immediately after crossing the line, I saw my wife and all I wanted to do was to hug her! She is so nice because it was raining, I was incredibly gross and muddy, and she just gave me a big ole smile and hug! Awesomeness.

Yes, that is joy on my face.

Splits
  1. 6:36
  2. 7:01
  3. 6:57
  4. 6:45
  5. 6:42
  6. 6:48
  7. 6:40
  8. 6:43
  9. 6:46
  10. 6:52
  11. 6:51
  12. 6:39
  13. 6:47
  14. 6:52
  15. 6:46
  16. 6:53
  17. 6:47
  18. 6:52
  19. 6:51
  20. 6:51
  21. 6:48
  22. 7:00 (I should have never done that mental math to know that 7:00 miles would suffice.)
  23. 7:04
  24. 6:58
  25. 6:58
  26. 7:05
  27. 1:17

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Quick Thoughts on Albany Marathon

I can't start without giving a huge thanks to all who have supported me in this quest to run a marathon in less than 3 hours. I'll post a more detailed recap later with boring race details, etc. 2:59:19 was good enough for 15th overall and 3rd in the 35-39 age group. The Age Group award was really cool, too.

First, I'm thankful to God. Without Him, nothing would be possible. With Him, all things are possible. He has blessed me with the health to train to be ready for this, the means to take a trip like this, and the awesome supporting cast that has helped me achieve this goal.

I am so very grateful for my wife. I can't imagine how boring this trip must have been for her, but she didn't complain at all, and even acted like she was glad to be here with me! Her support of this crazy hobby of mine is amazing. It's almost like she likes it that I run. She is so awesome, loving, and supportive.

Huge thanks to Dink and Suzanne Taylor at Fleet Feet Sports in Huntsville for their support. I'm beginning my third season of running on the Fleet Feet Racing Team in Huntsville. That is an incredible support group. The main sponsor, Nike, is really good to us. Those Nike Lunaracers are PR shoes. Somebody yelled out to me "Hey! Cool shoes!" She was right. Those are cool shoes. We added Swiftwick as a sponsor this year, and I'll just say that I ran 26.2 miles in pouring rain with Switfwick Vibe One socks and I have NO blisters. The socks were about the driest thing on my body.

And I can't count how many comments, likes, and private messages on Facebook. So many people checked on me and congratulated me while a lot of really bad stuff was happening in the Athens area. Thanks!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Craziness...

I'm starting to believe I can do this sub 3 hour thing.

Yesterday's run in the sunshine was one big smile. I haven't had a run like that in a long time. I know it was an easy short run, but just everything about it was perfect.

And I have a healthy dose of nervousness, too. Last night's dreams included forgetting to pick up my packet, showing up late to the starting line, forgetting my racing clothes (which were already packed), and forgetting my watch (which was already packed). Then, while running the race, I was behind everyone because of my late start and there were no sentries left on the course and I got lost about 5 times.

I used to have dreams like that in college. The night or two before a big engineering test, I would sleep late and miss the test. Sometimes, I would get stuck in traffic on the way to class. Other times I would get there, and get lost in the building and not be able to find the classroom. Usually, those dreams preceded the tests for which I was most prepared. I think it signified that something outside of my control or some really silly and careless thing on my part was the only way I would fail. Yeah, I'm going with that explanation.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Random Last Week Thoughts

Time is winding down. Taper madness hasn't been quite as bad this time around as it has in the past. I've still lost some confidence, but I don't think you can taper without that. I just have to tell myself that tapering is part of training and it is preparing me better. But the facts are that running long and hard increases my confidence and I miss that during a taper.

I've run across some words of wisdom and some random thoughts that have entered my mind that I'll just share with my readers.

One that I know I'll keep with me was something that Trent Dean said to me as we were running cool down miles together after the Heart and Sole 5k. Trent said, "Don't let self doubt be the reason you don't break 3 hours." Very wise. I needed to hear that. Thanks, Trent.

A second came as I was eating lunch in my car and listening to Jim Rome yesterday. He interviewed Hunter Mahan who just won the Match Play Championship. Hunter just went head to head with the best golfers in the world and won. He has overcome some very public failures to find himself in that position. His mindset is very positive, but it hasn't always been. He said that he had to let go of letting his score and his results define him. His score and his golf ability do not define who he is. My performance Saturday does not define who I am. The thing he said that stood out to me was something like this... "The most difficult thing about excellence is that you have to have the belief before you can get the results. It's really hard to believe you can do something without seeing the results. But you'll never see the results if you don't first believe." I have to believe I can run a sub 3:00 BEFORE I can do it.

Another random thought came from watching the recent UFC Lightweight Championship fight between Benson Henderson and Frankie Edgar. Benson Henderson, the new UFC champ is my favorite fighter. He's respectful, humble, and constantly improving. And after his last loss, he made NO excuses and just worked harder and harder and harder. He exemplifies a commitment to excellence. Nobody will outwork Benson Henderson. Between the 4th and 5th rounds of the 5 round championship fight, Benson's corner asked him, "Do you have 5 good minutes?" Benson just grimaced, almost insulted that he asked the question. Again, the question comes louder, "Do you have 5 good minutes?" Benson, still grimacing, said, "I got 15 coach!" A final time, even louder, "Do you have 5 good minutes?" Benson, this time with a serious look on his face, replies, "YES SIR!" That was very inspiring to me. Bendo was prepared and was celebrating his preparation.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

One Week!

How does the date of the marathon always sneak up on me? It has. Here I am one week away, and feeling unsure and not quite ready and needing to work a little harder for this race. At the same time, I'm feeling relieved and ready to take a little break from training. Taper madness they call it.

All things considered, I've had a good training cycle for this marathon. I've missed only very few workouts. My mileage has been a little higher than ever. I do believe that I peaked just a little early, though. I was probably in my best shape ever in early January. I definitely haven't improved since then. Hopefully, I haven't gone too far backwards.

Last week was pretty normal. I got in all the key runs, even though I was traveling. I did a 3x1 mile workout that I always do a week and a half out, 5:44, 5:45, and 5:41. It was probably a little harder than it should have been.

Today, I did a 13 miler. I wanted to run some miles at marathon pace just so I'd remember what the pace felt like when I was relatively fresh. It was very weird. I was going to run 5 easy, 5 at MP, and 3 easy. I ran 5 easy. Then, when I started the marathon pace miles, the effort was more difficult than it should have been. Then, after 5 MP miles, I had to take a quick bathroom break and I started running easy. But, every time I looked at my watch, I was running at marathon pace. I ended up running the last 3 at marathon pace, and it felt like easy miles. Really weird. I hope I'm able to relax like that on Saturday.

So, yet again, I'm feeling fat, out of shape, and I have no confidence that I'll come anywhere near sub 3:00. Taper madness. Why does my mind do this to me?

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Heart and Sole 5k

This is a very good race. The weather was awesome and the course is very flat and fast. This is a no excuses PR course. I may pick it as my next one to aim for a 5k breakthrough. Thanks to Jon Elmore for scoring the race today and for keeping the running scene going in Decatur. He gives back a lot!

I ran 18:17 for 3rd overall and first in the 35-39 age group.

Up front, I'll just say that it wasn't a good day for me. I had a long stressful week at work and just a garbage diet. I barely scraped in 80% of my planned miles. Add to that some lingering personal battles (Ugh, will these ever go away?), and I knew that I had no real chance for a good race on Saturday. I pretty much had 10 or so nights of tossing and turning instead of sleeping. And I feel a twinge of a chest cold coming on.

But I signed up anyway. It's a 5k. Every runner should just run them once in a while. Pin on a number, go, and have fun. I haven't run a road race since Thanksgiving, so I needed to turn the legs over. I also wanted to see how much 5k speed, if any, I had lost from focusing on marathon training.

I warmed up a bit with Brandon York, and when we got to the starting line, I knew that he would win the race by a LONG shot. Could I notch a second place finish today? I saw a few kids, but none of them looked like cross country studs. I figured I'd be able to tell if any of them were a threat within a half mile. And I saw one other guy wearing a sleeveless shirt and Nike Lunaracers. Yeah, I need to watch out for him. He's dressed just right for the weather, and those are racing flats. This isn't his first 5k, and he is no doubt a sub-20 guy. Otherwise, I think I have this.

When we started, Brandon was way out front as expected. A kid hung in second for about 200 yards but quickly fell back. The guy in the Lunaracers (I met him later and learned that he is Trent Dean.) was just ahead of me. So, there's the top three. About a half mile in, Brandon had a good 25 second lead on us, so I asked Trent if he was going to go after him. He laughed and said I could try if I wanted to. We ran stride for stride until about 0.75 miles in, and I made a move toward the lead because I wanted to be running a little faster than the pace he was setting. I wish I had done that earlier because this first mile was too slow at 5:47.

He hung with me for most of the first half of the race. Just before the 2 mile marker, I noticed that I had a good 10-15 second lead on him. I knew that to give up second place, I would have to come back to him or make some mistake. As we passed the aid station just past the 2 mile marker, I was judging by the sounds of the cheers and figured that my lead was about the same, maybe a little more. Mile 2 was 5:44. It really felt faster than that, so I was a little worried that I was losing steam and would give up some of my lead. But I would have to run a 5:50 and he would have to run a 5:40 for this to even be close on the last 0.1. I'd have to give him some time.

I cruised in the 3rd mile, wishing for the end. I could feel him gaining on me, and the effort to maintain my pace was getting more and more difficult. But I didn't give him much because I ran that 3rd mile in 5:46.

How on earth did I come in 3rd, then? Oh, he gained on me in the last mile, but I had what should have been an insurmountable lead. Until I missed the final turn. Ugh. He didn't miss it, but he did yell at me and I turned around, but it was too late to catch him. The next runner was nowhere in sight, and I had no chance to catch him or to break 18 minutes. So, I just coasted in.  He ran 18:10 or so and I ran 18:17. It's nobody's fault but mine that I missed that turn, but it is frustrating as can be.

After the race, I congratulated Trent and ran a few miles with him. He is a super nice guy and he's working hard to break 18. Today was almost his day. I wish he had stayed with me the whole race, and he said the same. We would have broken 18 working together, I'm sure.

I've gotta stop missing turns in races.




Saturday, February 11, 2012

Can I Bum a Smoke?

So, how's it been since Mountain Mist? Last week I was on the 7:00 AM to 10:00 PM shift at work. I ran every opportunity I had, but it wasn't much. That's why it took me so long to get the report done. I simply haven't had time. Then, a quick trip to Denver that got me caught in a blizzard trying to get me home left me too exhausted to do my long run last Saturday. So, I skipped it. It's the first time I've skipped a scheduled long run in a long time. Oh well, I'm chalking that up to recovery from Mountain Mist.

This week has been much better except for some personal struggles. But I've gotten the miles done, mostly. I did 5x1200m on Tuesday. That felt pretty good. 4:11, 4:13, 4:13, 4:14, 4:14. Done. Mid-week 15 miler, done.

Then the long run today... The schedule called for a 22 miler. I had 4 pre-teen girls in my house last night, and I didn't get in bed until 1:30 AM. Then, it was about 30 degrees with winds from the NNW at about 20 mph. I just couldn't find the motivation to get out the door. My wife really encouraged me. She doesn't just tolerate this hobby of mine, she fully supports it! She told me that if I didn't go now, I wouldn't get it done today. At least three times, she said, "Go run." Thanks. 22.5 miles done.

So... What about the title of this post? So, I'm cruising along, feeling pretty good considering the miserable weather and the wind. I'm about 11 miles in running along at a sub 7 minute pace. I'm running my usual route and I see someone walking up ahead. I don't think anything of it really because I'm in a neighborhood and he doesn't look terribly out of place. He flagged me down and asked me for a cigarette! Seriously?!?!? I'm dressed in running gear, wearing a GPS watch and carrying a water bottle. Do I look like someone who would be carrying a pack of smokes? I really couldn't believe that just happened!

So... that's my past two weeks in running.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Alabama's Toughest Trail Run

I've gotten a little push from some folks for a Mountain Mist report. At least I have a reader or two left! :)
I Finally broke 5 hours!!!!
Photo Courtesy of James Hurley

First, as usual, I have to give credit to Dink and Suzanne Taylor for directing this most excellent event! Also, I'd like to give credit to Huntsville Track Club for their excellent timing services for this race. This is really one first class ultra. It's a privilege to have an event of this quality so close to home!

Pre-Race
Yes, I remembered my shoes this year! I don't think Matt or Lanier will let me forget that mistake from last year. I was a little confused about what to wear. I felt cold, but I knew that the temperature would rise and that I would get hot. I opted for the less is better philosophy and went with shorts, short sleeves, and gloves. That ended up being wise as it did get warmer than I expected.
Photo Courtesy of James Hurley

One of my favorite parts of this race is hanging out with friends pre-race. Chatting strategy, giving encouraging words, laughing, seeing folks I don't always see, etc. etc.

To Aid 1

I actually started on time this year! Yay!
I was a little concerned about the race to the trail head. I hadn't warmed up at all, and I'm just not used to blasting out at that pace. I do better to start slowly and then finish strong. I ran about a 6:50 mile to the trail head and scooted down Walnut hill pretty quickly. I immediately slowed down on Mountain Mist trail to relax a bit from the fast start. Several folks passed me here. I just let them go and ran my own race. I hung for a while here with FFRT teammate Tim Pitt. I late on Mountain Mist, just before the climb to South Plateau.

From there I ran mostly alone until I caught the current female leader on the Family Bike Trail. I ran with her to the aid station, but I could tell that she wasn't going to be able to maintain that pace.  I don't know what happened to her after I passed her. I hit the aid station at 53:21. That seemed to put me well on course for a sub 5 hour.

To 3 Benches
I flew down the Warpath descent passing several people, which was tricky on the downhill. Then I settled behind a group after it flattened out at the bottom. When we exited the woods headed toward the power lines, there were only two left in the group, Matthew Vest and me. I learned that he also had a sub 5 hour goal, and we ended up running most of the rest of the race together, taking turns leading.

I set the pace on the K2 climb, and it seemed to be just about right because Matthew didn't feel the need to pass even though I offered. Also, I had plenty of energy for the goat trail after we topped out. Like all the aid stations, I was in and out as quickly as possible at 3 benches. I was only there for as long as it took to fill my bottle. 1:39:51 and still on track for 5 hours.

The "Halfway" Point
The aid station at Fearn is considered the halfway point, even though it is at about 17 miles. It typically is the halfway point for time. The run from 3 benches was fairly uneventful with Matt leading most of the way here. He really enjoyed the trip through Stone Cuts.

There were some nice photos at the Cold Springs crossing just before the aid station.
Photo Courtesy of Marc Davis

My goal was to get to the halfway point without being tired. Mission accomplished. I felt really good. Also, my motto all day was, "Take what the course gives and give what the course takes." Again, in and out of the aid station as quickly as possible. 2:29:24, right on track for 5 hours.

To Land Trust
This was another uneventful section of the race. I was a little slower coming down Bluffline than I should have been. I'm not sure why. It felt fast, but it wasn't very fast at all. I was starting to feel a little tired in my legs, but I still felt good, as good as I ever remember feeling at this point in the race. 3:03:53.

On To Waterline
This was without a doubt the best I have ever run on Railroad Bed Trail and Alms House Trail. Here, I put some distance on Matthew. But it came at a price. When I got to the end of Alms House Trail and turned left onto Waterline, I felt completely beat up! I ended up walking almost all of Waterline. I saw Matt behind me, so I sped up a bit and realized that I was about to puke. I actually wanted to puke. I knew I'd feel better, but it just wouldn't happen. I was having an awesome race to this point and probably had a legitimate chance at sub 4:50. But I fell completely apart from this point onward. Matt passed me at the top of Waterline and encouraged me. I stayed with him to the aid station. 3:48:54. I knew that I could run the last 10k in less than 71 minutes, but I wasn't sure I could keep it together from here to the end of the race.

To Rest Shelter
I hung on to Matt as long as I could. He pulled away and out of my sight at suicide drop. I was sick, miserable, and wanting to puke still. So, I ran gingerly and cautiously down the steep, technical descent to McKay Hollow. I really ran this section as poorly as I could have. I struggled badly, but I never fell.

Slush mile wasn't as bad as I expected, but I was struggling to just put one foot in front of the other. I was longing for Rest Shelter climb because I knew I'd be near the end. It couldn't come soon enough! When it came, I couldn't run a step. I could see David O'Keefe up ahead, but I knew I had no chance of catching anyone. I had passed William Ansick back on Bluffline, and he passed me fairly strongly on this climb. I just had nothing left. I wanted to puke. Badly. I just couldn't. Ugh. It was so bad that when I got to the top of Rest Shelter climb, I asked if I could drop out! With 1.8 easy miles to go, I asked to quit. I'm thankful that the aid station volunteer wouldn't let me do that!

The End
On that 1.8 miles that I was talked into running, I was barely able to slog it out. It was my stomach, not my legs. I just felt awful. I fell twice during this stretch, the only times I fell all day! I was just enduring, running slower than a 10:00 pace. I just couldn't go. I just fell apart. If not for the stomach issues, I really believe I could have finished much stronger. I finished in 4:56:53 which was better than my goal.

Oh well. I'm very pleased with the race. I broke 5 hours and I know I can do better. With better course conditions, a little better luck with nutrition, and more trail specific training, I can run this course faster. But I ran the best I could on that day!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Daily Battle

Some days, just getting out the door is a battle. I love to run. I love to run fast. I love to run easy miles. I love to run alone. I love to run with friends. I love tempo runs. I love long runs. I love races. So, why is getting out the door a battle? Someone please tell me.

As a side note, the streak is over. It doesn't really bother me, either. I don't think I'm a candidate for a long running streak. I just have too much other stuff going on and I do like an occasional day off. I say that I like a day off, but I always find myself wishing I had run on days that I take off. Anyway...

Back to the out the door thing... This morning, I had to drag myself out of bed. Then, I got dressed and laced up my racing flats for some work on the track. There were at least three different times that I had to talk myself into leaving after I was dressed and ready. I just didn't want to walk out the door and take the first few steps. Finally, after wasting 15 minutes doing nothing but deciding whether or not I would run this morning, I hit the road and ran to the Athens High track.

This is how quickly things change. The schedule called for 6x1000m repeats at 5k pace. After the 3rd one, I was thinking, "Wow, this feels good. I like this. It's hard, but fun." After the 5th one I was thinking, "Really, do I only have one more to do? Maybe I should do 8 instead of 6." After the 6th and final one, I thought, "I'd love to do 2 or 3 more, but I'm out of time. I wish I hadn't wasted so much time talking myself into leaving this morning." How does one's mindset change so quickly? Oh yeah, 3:36, 3:32, 3:32, 3:33, 3:33, 3:26.

It's probably a good thing that I didn't do any extra. There's a small race this weekend, you know.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Seven Weeks

It's a little hard for me to believe that I only have 7 weeks left to prepare for the Albany Marathon. I'm excited. I'm nervous already. I really want to break 3 hours. I believe I'm in that kind of shape, but I have doubts. I've had about as close to a perfect training schedule as I could have had. I've hit almost all of my workouts. I've avoided injury. I've avoided illness. I've been able to do doubles. I've adhered to the recovery weeks in my schedule.

But... 6:50 per mile still seems fast to me. How do I get over that? Saturday, I did a 20 miler with 10 miles at marathon pace. I kept most of the miles in the 6:46 to 6:49 range. But a couple crept up to 6:56 and 6:57. It was such a struggle during the 19th mile. Granted, that run put me just over 80 miles for  the week, so I was running on tired legs. But shouldn't 6:50 feel easier than that? I just don't know.

Today I did the "easy" track workout. It's a 5x600m workout. It's easy enough to not wipe me out for the next day, but hard enough that I can't mail it in. I have to focus and finish. I did 2:09, 2:08, 2:05, 2:05, and 2:03. It felt great, and if I had time, I would have done 3 or 4 more even though the schedule called for only 5. Tomorrow calls for 15 miles. I'll try to do 10 or so of those at marathon pace. I have to get to where 6:50 feels something close to comfortable.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Confidence Ebbs and Flows

I had a bad workout about 3 weeks ago. That combined with not much fast running had caused my confidence to ebb just a bit. After the RFH 50k and a good track workout and today's tempo run, my confidence is flowing again.  I hope to ride this flow for the next 8 weeks through Mountain Mist to the Albany Marathon.

Last week's workouts were 6x800m at 5k pace (2:47, 2:49, 2:47; 2:46; 2:47, 2:44) on Tuesday.  I followed that with repeats of Waterline on Thursday, then did some quarter mile hill repeats on Friday. I probably should not have done those hills on Friday, but the group was doing hills, and I let peer pressure get the better of me.

Today, I got revenge on the last poor tempo workout. The schedule called for 7 miles at tempo pace. I ran 7 miles at a 6:15 average pace and felt like I could have rattled off a couple more without exhausting myself. It felt GREAT! The splits were 6:13, 6:14, 6:15, 6:14, 6:14, 6:15, and 6:14. Sweetly consistent, and it really didn't feel hard.

For the past couple of marathon training cycles, I've really depended on this tempo workout to be a measuring stick. It comes about 8 weeks from the goal and I think it gives a pretty good indicator of the progress of marathon training. I've read and heard that in order to run a 3 hour marathon, your tempo runs need to be 6:30 pace or faster and not very uncomfortable. Today was 6:15 for 7 miles and not uncomfortable. In the past, I haven't been able to hold 6:30 for 7 miles and this workout has been a chore and not comfortable at all.

Man, I sure hope the injury bug stays away. I feel pretty good and a 3 hour marathon seems possible if I continue to have the good fortune I've enjoyed to this point.