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.

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.

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.

  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


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.