Archive for October, 2013

St. George Marathon 10/5/2013

October 27, 2013

The first recollection I have of any desire to qualify for the Boston Marathon was early in 2010.  I had just completed the Texas Marathon Challenge (any five marathons in Texas within the same year) and the Marathons of Texas (Dallas, Houston, Austin in that order).  Coach Al had sent out a list compiled by marathonguide.com of the races with the highest percentage of Boston qualifiers.  I figured that was a good list to work from in an attempt to establish a new PR at the distance and maybe even improve upon it enough to find myself toeing the line in Hopkinton.

The standard at the time for a male 40 – 44 years old (I was 42 way back then) was 3:20:59.  My PR was a 3:39:42.  I figured it would take a year or more to build up a large aerobic base, burn off 50 or so lbs of fat, and find the right combination of course and weather to make it happen.  I was running a lot of sub 4 hour marathons and occasionally dropping closer to 3:50 but there is a whole lot of road between 3:50 and 3:20:59.  I really figured that my best bet would be to make incremental improvements and ultimately use the fact that my time standard would relax a little when I turned 44 (Boston lets you use your age on their race day for the purposes of qualifying even if you’re technically a year younger when you ran your qualifying race).  The time standard for a 45 – 49 year old in 2010 was 3:30:59.

By late 2011, a year and a half and 11 marathons later, I had neither PR’d or BQ’d.  It seemed like when I found a good course the weather was uncooperative.  When the course and weather were good my training was poor.  I never could get it all to come together.

Then something else bad happened.  Boston changed the time standards making it tougher to get in.  The net effect on me was that turning 45 would not give me an additional 10 minutes, it only gave me another 4 minutes and 1 second (instead of increasing to 3:30:59 it only increased to 3:25:00…costing me 5:59).

2012 came and went without me running a single marathon.  I realized about a third of the way through 2012 what was happening and began to do some serious personal evaluation.  There is not a tremendous amount of quit in me but I definitely saw myself on an unfamiliar path towards just that.  I needed to switch gears, again.

After years of “running by the seat of my pants” I hired a coach.  My running group dubbed her “top secret” but her real name is Leah Skinner.

A few weeks after I bought my bike (May 2012) I was reading through the Austin Tri-Cyclist blog when I came across this article.  Something clicked and I reached out to her.  We met for coffee, I told her what I was wanting to accomplish, I told her what I’d tried so far in pursuit of said goal, she very frankly told me “we” wouldn’t be doing it that way moving forward, and I hired her on the spot.

I control, or at least attempt to control, pretty much everything around me.  In general, I find that life is better when I’m in charge.  Better for me and better for you too.  The thought of giving up control of my running was terrifying daunting.  It took a while to embrace my new routine (integrating my new workout regimen into my existing commitments like toting the water for the Ship) but I was able to do it seamlessly, for the most part, after a month or so.

By the end of 2012 I was ready to run my first marathon in over a year.  I ran Louisiana in 3:50:17.  Not a 3:25:00 but 37 minutes faster than the last one I had done in October of 2011.  Through February and March my paces on just about every run I did were coming down, way down.  At the same time, my heart rate was coming down as well.  The better I ran the more I bought in.  Even a control freak has a hard time arguing with the kind of results I was seeing.

At the very beginning of April, as I finished a short/fast run, my back was a little tight.  The next morning I could barely get out of bed.  When I was finally able to get up I had the oddest pain radiating through my hip, over to my groin, and then cascading down my right quad.  I could only tolerate the pain for a few seconds.  The only way to relieve it was to lay flat again or to lean against something that allowed me to get my weight off my legs and onto my arms.  I couldn’t put on my own socks or shoes.  I struggled with it for a few days (popping eight Advil a day just to keep the edge off) and attempted to wait it out while it healed itself.  Not a good plan.  Oddly, I could run…but everything else was problematic. When I finally extracted myself from denial long enough to schedule an appointment with a doctor I learned that I had herniated the disc between L2/L3.  I took an oral steroid which helped but it quickly wore off as soon as I ran out of pills.  I went to see Dr. Higginbotham and he suggested an epidural steroid injection (along with about a week to ten days of rest).  The shot worked wonders and I took the following week off.

My first run back sucked.  I ran three miles at a fairly slow/easy pace but my heart rate was elevated.  I had been telling myself that being in as good of shape as I was in the time off would have little to no impact.  Wrong.  I had undone months of training…months and months.  Tunnel was around two months away and I was far, far from ready.  I pressed.  I tried to go back to what I was running and who I was running with and it didn’t go well.  I tried to run 20 with Jerie one Saturday morning and ended up quitting on her around Far West, walking to a convenience store, and calling Kel to come pick me up.

I decided to go dark.  I would dial back and run what I could at the speed I could and see what happened.  I started running either alone or by myself.  What’s the difference?  Alone = showing up somewhere where no one else was likely to be and running.  By myself = meeting other people for a run but doing my own thing (ie not pushing or being pushed).  It took several weeks for it to stop sucking.  It took a couple of months for it to get fun again.  By then it was Tunnel time.  I knew I wouldn’t qualify there so I decided to run exactly what it took to PR and I did.

I immediately turned my attention to St. George.  I had exactly 13 weeks, was feeling much better, and was running pretty well.  There were originally 12 of us who got into St. George via lottery but 7 dropped out for various reasons.  There was another decent sized group that either didn’t get in to St. George or wanted to run Twin Cities that same weekend so there was a whole lot of marathon training going on within the group.  Jerie, Amber, Michelle and I ended up doing a lot of our runs together.  Many very early mornings both during the week and on weekends.  We covered a ton of miles in some tough conditions (routinely 80 degrees and 90% humidity).  I don’t recall a lot of rah rah motivating of each other but there was an immense amount of quiet commiseration.

Those 13 weeks of long runs was like nothing I had ever done (or would have done, or even thought was possible).  By that point Leah had coached me through two prior efforts.  I thought I knew what to expect but was sadly, sadly mistaken.  As the plan took shape I reacted with a well divided sense of fear and dread.  Starting with Tunnel on 7/14, here is what the long runs looked like:

7/14 – 26.2
7/20 – 10
7/27 – 20
8/3 – 20
8/10 – 22
8/17 – 19
8/24 – 20
8/31 – 22
9/7 – 19
9/14 – 22
9/21 – 19
9/27 – 10
10/5 – 26.2

The buildup for the prior two marathons Leah had coached me through looked nothing like this.  I’m still not sure where it came from.  I think it developed from how I had responded (or not responded) to the prior routines.  I never asked, I just ran.  That was the whole point of hiring her in the first place so I thought that questioning it or varying from it would be counterproductive.  A couple of those runs were ugly.  The 22 miler on 8/10 was probably the worst.  The one on 8/31 was when I felt things starting to come together.  By September, the girls and I were running some pretty hilly routes on some pretty brutal days at some pretty decent paces.  On 9/14 we did a 22 miler that included both Mt. Bonnell and a 7:19 final mile.

At this point I’m feeling well above average and decide it’s time to take a peek at the weather forecast for race day.  For the love of all that’s holy, I could not believe my eyes.  Cool, dry, and a little breeze from the north (aka a tailwind).  Must.  Look.  Away.  I don’t dare look again until the week of and, low and behold, it’s stayed the same or gotten a little better.

At this point, I have no excuses.  The only thing that hasn’t really gone to plan is my fatness.  I managed to get down to 205 lbs but got very nutritionally lazy at that point.  I had calculated that I needed to toe the line at about 190 lbs but that wasn’t going to happen at this point.

Once the race started, it wasn’t long before I achieved a deep and absolute sense that I would hit my goal of running a sub 3:25:00.  By mile 4 I was doing a little mental math to determine what shaving 5 seconds per mile off my goal pace would do to my overall time.  By mile 9 I was tamping down the kind of emotion that is typically reserved for the finish line (or mile 25.42 of the Tunnel).  I made the very difficult decision to turn everything off and focus on nothing more than running effortlessly to mile 20 and then deciding how I wanted the finish to go.  I’ve dreamed about the final 10k of St. George since I ran it in 2010.  I even put in my race report back then how nice it would be to run that final section on the perfect day.  This was that day.

My Garmin beeped at mile 20 and it was like waking up from the best dream ever.  I had just covered 20 miles in 2:35:45 (7:47 pace) and was determined to run it in as fast as I could.  So, yeah, like waking up from a kick ass dream and then being able to close your eyes and go right back to the point in the dream you just woke up from without missing a beat.  I didn’t run hard because I needed to in order to qualify.  I ran hard because, as bad as it hurt, it felt so good.  Pleasure spiked with pain and all that.

As the miles peeled away, I started thinking about my friends that were out on the course, or maybe already finished, and their goals.  They all trained harder than me and I felt a sense of pride in their accomplishments knowing that Colin would crush 2:40, that Sean would make 3 hours rue the day(s) it turned him away, and that Amber would be able to put a PR in one of her pockets and a BQ in the other.

Hitting the “one mile to go” marker in St. George I decided to wring out whatever I had left and was delighted to see 7:24 looking back at me as I passed by the mile 26 marker.  I covered the remaining ground somewhat reluctantly…like the final pages of a really good book that you’re enjoying so much you don’t want it to end.

3:23:39.  A PR by 15:10.  A BQ by a margin of 1:21.

My 30th marathon and still 17th state…and another negative split.

Milling about the finishing area, I was struck by how good I felt.  During my years of unsuccessfully trying to qualify for Boston I had repeatedly visualized what it would be like.  I always imagined it as some heroic race day effort where I dug deep and ran outside of myself.  Where I not only made the unlikely likely, but the impossible possible.  Where I overcame nasty weather, lackluster training, and excess body fat to prevail in some epic way that would be worthy of an urban legend AND a trip to the medical tent.  But, no.  The truth is that I really qualified on Steck at Shoal Creek, on S. Congress at Ben White, on Scenic, and on 10 Mile Mondays in the months and weeks leading up to this race.

The first half of St. George was about 50 seconds slower than my half marathon PR.  The second half of St. George was about a minute and a half faster than my half marathon PR.  The final 10k of St. George is faster than my 10k PR.  I will run 3M in January and try to find a 10k in order to officially update those distances.

I’ll be in Boston to run the 118th Boston Marathon on April 21, 2014!

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Tunnel Marathon 7/14/2013

October 8, 2013

I don’t cry much.  In fact, I’d say rarely if ever.  My son, Bailey, commented several years ago that he’d never seen me cry and doubted he ever would.  In light of that, I found it rather odd to be standing in the middle of a gravel trail 25.42 miles into a 26.2 mile race sobbing uncontrollably.  When I say standing I mean standing as in standing still (aka not running towards the finish line less than a mile away).

To better understand how I got to that point, you have to journey back in time to February 2004.  The day of the 2004 Austin Marathon.  A day when the stars lined up (course, weather, and training) and I clicked off a series of miles that I didn’t think was possible for the 226 lb, 36 year old version of myself.  I ran outside of my perceived ability in true fly OR die fashion and clocked my fastest mile of the race (7:46) on mile 26 in route to a 3:39:42 finish.  14 minutes faster than the prior year and a full hour faster than my first marathon in 2000.  That was nine years and five months ago.

I managed to run my 2nd best marathon time three times in 2010 (a 3:49 in February in Austin, a 3:46 in May in the Poconos, and a 3:42 in October in St. George) but clipping that old mark was proving stubbornly difficult.  The St. George effort failed with less than a mile to go when both of my quads locked up…right about the spot that I was standing on this course on that course.  Of course.

A group of us ran the Tunnel Marathon in 2011 as well.  I was poorly trained but I wanted to preview the course so I went.  It was love at first sight and I vowed to return better prepared.  I also decided that I would try and stay near the starting line.  I don’t usually have a problem getting up early for races, I rarely even need an alarm, but this race requires quite a bit of up-front logistics due to its location.  I found a ski cabin near the start that worked beautifully and was reasonably priced considering the complete lack of snow in July.  Six of us ended up crashing there.

One final bit of learning from my prior experience was with my Garmin’s lack of satellite reception in the tunnel.  This time around I added a foot pod that is supposed to kick in when the satellite reception is lost.  I tested it out on Saturday and it worked splendidly (the pod creates other issues if you happen to use Strava but I won’t go into that unless you ask).

IMG_3497

The weather was very nice on Sunday morning.  We already had a pretty good idea that it wouldn’t last long.  The race starts at 8 am and you lose altitude quickly so it warms up a bunch if you’re out there too long.  We weren’t sure how all of our various Garmins would behave in the tunnel so I told Jerie I would run with her through the tunnel and let her know the mileage so she would know how to pace the final 23 or so miles.  I knew that her goal pace was pushing it a little for me but decided I could slow it down after she was well on her way.

Miles 1 to 5 –  Sorry data geeks, I’ve sworn off the heart rate monitor since mid-June.  It was getting a little depressing watching my pace slow and my heart rate skyrocket once the weather turned.  Jerie, Matt, and I ran through the tunnel together.  When we split up just after exiting short of mile three we were averaging 8:02 per mile.  By mile 5 I had “slowed” that average down to 7:59.  3, 4, and 5 are all nicely downhill so it seemed no matter how hard I tried to throttle it back I was running right under 8 per.

Miles 6 to 10 –  Mile 6 had an understaffed water stop so I had to come to a complete stop to drink up.  That is not a complaint, I knew that most of the stops were understaffed and had prepared for it.  I was actually pleasantly surprised that most of them went very smoothly.  I also made a pee stop at around mile 8.  Paul and Stefan passed me while I was watering the moss so catching back up to them kept that mile split decent even with the stop.  I can still see Jerie ahead of me which shouldn’t be the case.  That means she’s doing a good job of keeping her pace but I’m most likely going too fast.  Overall pace is now 8:03 per.

Miles 11 to 15 – I averaged 8:17 through here, cruising through the half in 1:45.  Kel had made her way to 13.3 so I gave her some love and one very nasty shirt that I had peeled off right at the half mark.  Running shirtless is something I’ve embraced lately when the conditions demand it…much to the chagrin of those around me (friend and stranger alike).  Even after shedding enough tonnage to get myself close to 200 lbs the old bod is still not completely suitable for public display.  My apologies to everyone who has had to suffer through this visually unappealing phase of mine.  Still feeling good and enjoying the 8:08 overall pace through 15.

Miles 16 to 20 – I manage to average a respectable 8:35 pace through these miles and, thanks to some fast early miles, am still at an 8:14 overall.  I have been fighting with myself for several miles at this point trying to determine whether I should bump the effort or continue cruising.  Decisions, decisions.  I’ve lost sight of Jerie but Paul passed me a few miles ago and I seem to be maintaining a consistent spread with him.  It’s getting pretty warm in the less shady sections of the course but the sun is at our backs (as it is for the vast majority of the course when it’s visible) as we head due west to Tanner/North Bend.  I decide to remain conservative and not push it just yet.

Miles 21 to 25 – It appears as though I’ve made the right decision.  I feel very much in control at this late stage in the race clicking the miles off at an average of 8:44.  I’ve run a bunch of 5 – 7 milers at home over the past several weeks/months where I couldn’t maintain that pace so doing it in the latter miles of a marathon was good for the psyche.  I have my Garmin set up in a four-way split screen with the following data bites: time, distance, lap pace, overall pace.  With each passing mile the lap pace is bumping the overall pace by a few seconds.  By the time I finish mile 25 my overall has climbed to 8:20.  I need to keep it under 8:23 to PR.  That should be doable but (a) this is a marathon and (b) I’ve been in this very position at St. George just over two years ago.

Miles 26 to 26.2 – Paul is now about 25 meters ahead of me so I start to very slowly bring my speed up.  I cut the gap down a little more and am in a pretty good position to try and sneak by him at the finish.  I start to feel a little twitch in my left quad.  It grows.  I know a cramp is coming on so I start to throw counter measures at it.  I slow down, I speed up, I cock my hips, I try to run harder with my right leg, I try lifting my knees a little higher, I try to exaggerate the push off with my left foot with each step…anything to hold off the inevitable.  At 25.42 miles it locks up and I’m forced to stop.  I dig my thumbs into it as hard as I can and then rub the full length of my thigh to get it to release.  I’m bent over at the waist and notice that water is pouring off my head though I’m really not all that sweaty and I’m wearing a hat.  It’s not sweat, it’s tears.  I’m not only crying tears…I’m actually making moaning sounds to go along with them.  A full on cry fest!  I don’t know how long the pity party lasts but it couldn’t have been too long.  It suddenly dawns on me that the very same set of circumstances (being so close to the finish) that has overwhelmed my normally stoic state could also be what ends up salvaging the day.  I make the decision to run it in as hard as I possibly can regardless.  A picture forms in my head of me peg-legging my way across the finish line, face contorted in a mess of wrinkles, whiskers, dried salt and wet tears.

All the while, Kel has made it to the finish line and is waiting for me to arrive.  She knows based on my half split that I should be in PR range (3:39:42 being the mark).  She cannot see me yet down the course but is nervously watching the seconds tick up on the official race clock.  As it climbs through 3:36 and then 3:37 she sees me finally materialize on the horizon.  Knowing I’m going to be very close she starts screaming.

I-90 goes over our heads at the 26 mile mark with .2 to go.  I look at my watch and realize for the first time in the entire race that the “time” section only displays hours and minutes.  It says 3:37 but I have no way of knowing if it’s 3:37:01 or 3:37:59.  If it’s :01 I’m golden, if it’s :59 I’m hosed.  I have no choice but to wring out everything I have left and hope for the best.

IMG_2897

I cross the line and hit the stop button.  3:38:48, a PR by 54 seconds.  Nine years and five months later.

It feels pretty good but I don’t have much time to celebrate.  St. George is in 12 weeks and I need to shave off another 13:48 to hit the 3:25:00 necessary to qualify for Boston.

Click here for Garmin details.

Tunnel 2.0 was my 29th (and fastest) marathon and still 17th state.