Archive for May, 2010

5:50 a.m. and the alarm clock sounds.  It is a holiday weekend, but for a distance runner in Texas this time of year, there is a price to pay for sleeping in.  Even at 6:00 a.m. the temperature is already a steamy 77 degrees.  We have a 12-mile long run on the schedule hanging on the door of the “magic fridge” and this is not a run to skip.  So I hop out of bed, get Kayla started with her first trip outside of the day and her treat and get ready to knock out one final run.

20 weeks ago the Run for Dom training cycle began with a 3 mile run on December 28th in 32 degree temperatures.  83 Runs, 47 triathlon bike rides, 1,293 training miles, 1 half marathon, 2 full marathons, a mile race and $27,292.74 dollars raised for Dom’s family had been achieved up to that alarm clock going off.  All that was left was my final 12-mile training run. 

Run for Dom 2 Marathon/2 Week Training Plan

“12” is the distance that I like to run 4 Sundays after a marathon letting me know that my body is recovered, my fitness level is sound and I can basically go anywhere I want from here.  Another Marathon?  I could be ready in maybe 8 weeks.  A half-marathon?  No problem, is there a race next weekend?  Time for some speed training?  Hills?  Tempo Runs?  It’s all in play as essentially I am ready to ramp either up or down from that 12-mile distance.

Final 12-Miles

Sunday’s run was uneventful on a hot Austin morning.  I made sure to bring my hydrabelt with me topped off with two 10 oz. water bottles.  Over the course of 90 minutes and 59 seconds I would drink both bottles and still lose 4 lbs. according to my bathroom scale.  It was hot out there – but it felt great to let the miles tick by and think a bit about all of the ground we covered in the last twenty weeks. 

The last 5 months was a pretty remarkable “run” for sure.  Sunday’s run was a fitting workout, both enjoyable but very challenging at the same time due to the elements.  We mixed in some hills to make it tough at the end – just the way I like it.

I was hoping to come in right at 90 minutes (7:30 pace) this morning – but as the hills and heat started to get to me, I decided to slow my pace a bit and enjoy the final 5 miles of the run.  No sense to push pace just to post a 7:30 this morning, 7:34 would do just fine.  Monday (Memorial Day) will be a true rest day for me – no running, no cycling – possibly a strength training session – but no cardio work.

There will be one more task on the to-do list however, and that is to map out the next 90 Days of training.  We’ve got three weeks until the Holland, TX 5K on June 19th – which will be a race we take somewhat seriously.  One year ago I was able to set my PR at the 5K distance and take home my first (and only) first place age group trophy of my running “career”.  It was a hot, hot day last June when I was able to post my 19:43 time and I am hoping that training in these hot conditions the next three weeks will again prove to be helpful come race day.

Tuesdays and Thursdays will be dedicated to tempo work and hill repeats during this next 90 days, with a “Naked Wednesday” run stuck in the middle.  Saturdays will be an “easy” day – maybe just 5-6 miles with my Sunday runs alternating between 8, 10 and 12 miles throughout the summer months.  These next 90-days will also map out the remaining time Dawn and I have left awaiting the arrival of our daughter Landry.

Sure to be an exciting time for both of us – although I’m sure Dawn was wishing this final trimester was not going to be full of 95+ degree days.

Finishing off Sunday’s final Run for Dom workout was bittersweet.  Normally I like to immediately cross off a tough workout as I grab my water bottle out of the “magic fridge” when I get back home from my run.  But I let the final square go “uncolored” throughout the day Sunday as a reminder that we still have some unfinished business when it comes to our Run for Dom goals. 

Yes we reached our fundraising goal through the help of a lot of amazing friends both old and new – but our true goal, our credo if you will, was to “Kick Cancer’s Ass 26.2 Miles at a Time.”

As Dom prepares for another round of chemotherapy this Wednesday, it is clear that we haven’t quite gotten there yet.  So for now we’ll leave that final square on our RFD schedule clear.  We’ll have plenty of time to fill that one in later, when we’ve made it all the way to the end.

One Run To Go

Friday morning I was stretching against the garage waiting for my Garmin GPS to capture a satellite signal and set for my run.   I have quite a few rituals on “run days” and one of them is to glance up at the American Flag flying above my head as I stretch and gauge the wind.  Is it blowing North to South?  East to West?  Will it be in my face on the way out?  On the way back?  Is it blowing 10-12 mph today or only 7-8 mph?

This morning the flag was utterly still.  No wind whatsoever.  Not even a tickle, and that meant one thing.  It was time to go fast.

With a rest/travel day yesterday we had fresh legs – although the grass cutting yesterday would account for a little bit of fatigue.  We were healthy, no aches and pains – so it was perfect for a “Ricky Bobby” kind of run.  I had a 5-mile run on the magic fridge – but lately I’ve had another distance on my mind quite a bit.  6.2 Miles – the 10K.

If you look down my list of races and PR’s you’ll see the full marathon – 3:17:43 at Pittsburgh in 2009.  The half-marathon – 1:32:02 at the 3M here in Austin in 2010.  The 5K?  Sure thing, 19:43 in Holland, TX last May.  After last weekend’s effort at the Congress Avenue Mile, I can even boast of a 1-mile PR in 5:24.

The one common distance that is lacking from my running history – the 10K.

It is truly ironic as that is the distance I run more than any other.  I run a 6.2 mile training run at least three times every week, sometimes as many as four.  I know the rhythm, pace and effort it takes to run it slow, medium and “fast” – at least fast for me.  I have been thinking a lot about that distance this week as I take a break from marathoning and I begin to zero in on my plans for the rest of 2010.

So this morning – 10K it would be and as my GPS clicked over to 00:00:00 – letting me know he was ready – off we went.  Without any warmup or strides it would be foolish to just jump out to race pace immediately – so I used the first uphill mile to shake loose.  My routes from home always start with an uphill first mile which lets me stretch out a bit and fall into a comfortable pace.  Some say that is cruel to do to your body at 6:15 a.m. – but for me it works.  When it comes to running, like most things in life, if you find something that works for you – stick with it.

I ticked the first mile off at 7:25 gradually building my leg turnover and cadence.   Mile two – 6:45, Mile three – 6:52, all systems go.  As I started to roll into mile four it was time to climb again.  This is a tricky mile along my 10K route to keep a quick pace over as I need to crest the hill that leads up and over Brushy Creek Dam. 

The hill is relatively steep and climbs over 3/10 of a mile.  I enjoy pushing pace up this part of the course and was able to finish with a 7:04 mile number four.  If I could recover at the top of the dam and push forward I should be able to bring this run in under 7:00 pace – even with a 7:25 first mile.

Mile 5 – no problem – 6:56 and as the sun and heat started to take a little bit out of me I pressed the gas a bit and posted a 6:47 mile six.

Friday Training Run

Last time to climb as there is a somewhat cruel 1/10th of a mile as I work my way out of the trail system behind our house and back onto Palmbrook Drive. 

The hill is very steep, only the kind man would make and pave for cars – but a good test for a tired distance runner.  I covered the final .20 miles at 6:22 pace finishing with a time of 43:07 – 6:58 pace.  Shake N’ Bake.

Solid time for a training run, but not nearly fast enough to win me any age group hardware at a major 10K race.  If we want to make any noise at a major race or two, we are going to have to get stronger and faster.

If you have been following along for a while you know how we do things at Run for Dom.  We do “major” and we do “doubles”.  That’s pretty much how we roll.

So on the calendar today I have circled two races, back to back of course, in April of 2011.  This time we won’t have the luxury of 12 rest days in between races as we did for the Boston and Pittsburgh Marathons.  For the 10K distance we’ll cut that in half.

Cooper River Bridge Run 2010

April 2, 2011 we will toe the line at a race that has been on my radar for more than six years.  The Cooper River Bridge Run in Charleston, SC.  Home of my parents, my good friend Keith – who I will be trying to talk into racing with me – and many others as I lived in the city for close to 10 years in the 90’s.

A beautiful course in a beautiful city that draws more than 35,000 runners annually.  You want a “Major 10K” – the Cooper River Bridge Run is for you.  It has hills, bridges, vistas, my good friend Richard who will certainly be in the crowd of 35,000 runners – and most importantly – shrimp and grits.

Cooper River Bridge Run Start

One week later on April 9th we will take to the streets of our hometown Austin TX to race in the Capitol 10K.  Another major 10K race with more than 20,000 runners in 2010 – it was the largest 10K in the state of Texas and the fifth largest in the Nation.

The Cap 10K as it is referred to here locally is “Big Doins'” here in Austin.  It’s about time we tested ourselves against the best 10K runners in the Republic of Texas.

The 10K, something that has been nagging at me for quite some time now – but next spring with a Texas winter of speed work, hill repeats, tempo runs and intervals in cool temperatures tailor-made for “going fast” we will be ready.

Look out Charleston, the Run for Dom double is back on the tracks and it’s coming for you. 

Shake N’ Bake.

Back in January when I was able to finally kick my shin splint issues and really start training seriously for Boston a friend of mine asked me a question that I knew I would eventually have to answer.

“When you’re done with the two marathons for Dom, what are you going to do next?”

At the time I brushed the question aside with a quick, “Well, I’ve got so many things to concentrate on between now and then, I’m really not thinking that far ahead right now.  When I get to that point, I’m sure it will be clear.”

As I’ve said many times before in this space, I truly believe that the only way that I know to reach a “big goal” is to break it down into bite-sized chunks.  What was it that Confucius said – a journey of a thousand miles begins with just a single step?  I really believe that.  If you fixate too much on the “end of the line” not only will you miss out on some really cool stuff along the way, but for some, they simply won’t even try.

If my Marathon training schedule that I placed on the “magic fridge” back in December had 20 weeks of blanks squares on it and simply had a 26.2 on April 19th and another 26.2 on May 2nd – I seriously doubt I would have had a finisher’s medal to hand over to Dom in Pittsburgh.  It was important to map out each and every day between December 28th and May 29th – so that when times got difficult – I knew exactly what I needed to do that day to stay on course and not lose site of the big picture.

For me the process of chasing a challenge is as simple as spending some time developing the plan and then working that plan until you reach your goal.  My experience is that without hard work and “sticktoitiveness” things don’t normally just “work out”.

The world out there is a cruel place – no doubt about it.  It hits harder than anyone or anything out there.  It will knock you down and keep you down if you let it.  So for me it is about always finding a way and a reason to get back up and keep getting back up that separates those who achieve in life from those who do not.

Deep down I have always known that to be true, but seeing the struggles that Dom has gone through over the past year has really galvinized my thoughts on the subject.  Every time another blow has come his way he has taken a breath, gathered his thoughts and his strength and gotten back up.  His resolve and courage has been truly amazing to witness.  I am so very proud to call him a friend.

Lately the hits have been coming a lot more frequently for Dom and his family.  Those hits have also been hitting harder and harder with more force behind them.  Just last week Dom was back in the hospital to have a stent placed in each kidney to relieve pressure that was building up and causing him debilitating back pain.  Going into surgery quite frankly we were all very afraid for Dom in his weakened condition from all of his previous treatments and surgeries.  Once again, Dom fought the good fight, got back up and is back home with his family.

Dom is gathering strength once again for the next round to take the fight back to his cancer and hopefully this time kick it to the curb once and for all.

Even though we have reached our fundraising goal and “Run for Dom” has crossed its finished line – by no means are we done.  Racing this past weekend in Dom’s honor in Austin and then dragging my tail through a 10-mile training run the next day continues to make me feel like I am on the right path.

Marathoners often talk about a “let down” or “post race depression” that occurs after a goal that you had been chasing for close to half a year abrubtly ends as you cross a finish line.  It’s a real thing, you have to trust me on this.  You fixate for so long on a goal that takes you hundreds and hundreds of training miles and countless hours to prepare for – and in a blink of an eye it is over. 

Just as in life it is important to have something to look forward to, another challenge on the horizon.  For me I always schedule four weeks of training after a race so that I recover properly and get back to my base line of weekly running.  Typically 5 run days per week averaging somewhere between 28 and 35 miles. 

From there I can ramp up if I need to for another half or full marathon or I can dial back if I am nicked up a bit and still maintain my fitness level.

This week it is time for me to take down the 24 week training plan I put up on the refrigerator six months ago as I fill in the final square on Sunday with a 12-mile run.  Those six months will have taken us 1,200 miles of biking and running in 2 countries, 10 states and across four finish lines.  That is all fine and well. 

But the next finish line is the one that both Dom and I are concerned with right now.  For Dom it is his next and hopefully final course of treatment to beat this thing once and for all. 

For me it is the next training cycle, a nursery to paint, a child class to take, a day-care to find, foot rubs for Dawn when the TX summer starts to get to her and of course a little title to defend at the Holland, TX 5K.

Holland, TX - June 19, 2010

So to answer the question that my friend asked many months ago, and many of you have asked since, “What’s next?” 

I am going to continue to “do what I do” which is continue to try to be the best friend, husband, father, son and brother I can be.  I will continue to run, blog, tweet, encourage and counsel those who are interested in our sport – and support my good friend in the fight of his life.

That sounds like a lot, and maybe it is.  But there is one thing I know with great clarity and certainty.  The only way to get there is one step at a time.

Well that was certainly different. 

After running back to back marathons Run for Dom took on the Congress Avenue Mile as our next race.  Having never run anything shorter than a 5K – which in fact I have run exactly twice since 2005 – the mile was something of a mystery to me.  The biggest challenge that I would be facing for this event would not be my fitness level, health or mental strength.  It would simply be my inexperience. 

Having no experience with training, preparation, race strategy we were certainly at a disadvantage on Saturday.  I didn’t even know what to order for dinner on Friday night.  Do I need Carbohydrates for a 1-mile race?  Protein?  Should I just load up on Twizzler?  Who’s to say?  As I was laying out my race gear on Friday night I affixed my D-Tag (timing chip) to my brand new – never worn – Brooks T6 racers, I simply chuckled to myself.  What the heck am I even doing ….

But with great confidence, false bravado really, I woke up, geared up and drove down to the TX State Capitol.  Scene of my first mile race at age 42.

I found a great place to park right next to the Capitol Building, found some soft grass and stretched leisurely as I ate my protein bar and sipped on a grape Gatorade.  I put on my “heavy” 12.4 ounce Asics Gel Nimbus 11 trainers and ran some very light strides to shake loose.  My legs felt really refreshed from a light mileage week and appeared to have a lot of “juice” in them.  Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad I thought to myself as I went back to the truck to change into my new racing flats.

Immediately after I pulled on my new shoes I felt different.  It was like wearing a pair of slippers instead of running shoes.  At only 5.1 ounces both shoes put together weigh almost 1/3 less than a single training shoe.  I pulled on my Marathon Maniacs singlet – just to intimidate any of the sprinters in the crowd – and walked up to the starting area.

The mood at the Capitol was markedly different from any marathon I had ever  been to.  Smiles all around, lots of runners laughing and joking, just a few “serious” guys here and there getting ready to race – but the vibe was very “Austin” if you know what I mean.  Everyone was just happy to be there and do their own thing – whatever that is.  One of my favorite things about our city.

I chatted with a few veteran runners, spoke about how the very narrow exit leaving the Capitol driveway less than 1/10 of a mile onto the course would be a bit “dicey” if you couldn’t find some open road and I took full advantage of my “smallness” to sneak within 15 runners of the starting line.

Being a “newbie” to the mile I was looking for someone to pace me over the first 1/4 mile.  Running with the “Masters” men, which is a kind way of saying “over-40” without saying it, I felt like I belonged, but I needed some help pace me over that first 400 meters.  I wanted to make sure I neither went out way too fast which would cause me to blow up before we reached the Congress Avenue Bridge or that I went out too slowly and ran out of real estate before I could recover and hit my goal time.

I was thinking something around 5:40 would be respectable,  1/4 mile splits of 1:20, 1:30, 1:30, 1:20 would get me there.  I heard a runner talking about running an :80 second first quarter with another who wanted to cover their first quarter in :75.  Those were my guys.

The horn sounded and like a flash off we went – I stuck close to my guys and navigated the tricky exit out of the Capitol onto Congress Avenue where we had more than four full lanes of traffic to race in.  I fell into a quick pace, churned the legs and let my new Brooks T6 racers do their thing.  I could hardly feel my feet touch the pavement over the first 1/4 mile.  As I hit the first mark I glanced down at my watch and had run the first quarter in 1:19.  Perfect.

This was going to be the tricky part where I would fall back into a “comfortable cruising pace” – fast, but not too fast, as I would want to leave something left to kick over the final 200 meters.  It was at this point where my inexperience got me. 

I dialed back the pace slightly and ran a 1:24 second quarter-mile.  :06 faster than what my pre-race plan was calling for but I didn’t know how fast I was going until I glanced at my watch.  I did not have my usual “internal calibration” to lean on as I simply did not have enough experience running that pace to know how it “felt”.  

The other problem was I had no idea if that was even the pace I “should” be running.  Too fast?  Too slow?  I guess we would find out. 

I realized I was going a bit faster than I had planned, so I let up ever so slightly on the gas and let my “pacer” move ahead of me by another few runner lengths.  I was still keeping contact with him and felt like I could catch him on the bridge if I could kick at the end.  The next thing I knew it happened.

I caught myself daydreaming.  It only lasted about :10 seconds, but as a long-distance runner who frequently allows their mind to drift from topic to topic on a training run, my body started relaxing and I caught myself slowing.  Irritated at myself for losing my focus I picked up my pace a bit and would end up running my third quarter-mile in 1:26.

I looked up ahead and could see the marker for 300 meters to go.  I had planned on starting my push at that point of the race and noticed that even at the steady pace I was holding, I was gaining quickly on the runner that I had been using to pace me.  We hit the 300 meter marker in stride and I felt like I had quite a bit left in the tank.  At 200 Meters I went into my kick and gobbled up 100 Meters in what seemed like the blink of an eye.

Final Kick

I was breathing in and out on stride at this point but was still not experiencing a real “burn” from my legs.  I went full throttle over the final 100 meters and closed strong passing 3 more runners at the finish.  My final quarter-mile split was 1:15 – Overall time 5:24.

As I caught my breath in the finishing area it was a strange feeling.  Was I really done racing in less than 6 minutes?  What do I do now?  I chatted up a couple of runners, grabbed some grapes, a cookie and my finishers medal and then saw my wife Dawn and our friends Sarah and Tedd. 

I felt proud of my time, but almost immediately started thinking that I had sold myself a little bit short in preparing my pre-race plan.  With no way to really “know” what kind of pace I was capable of holding I know it was wise to err on the side of caution.  That said, I immediately knew that each of those two middle quarters could have been run at least :05 seconds or so faster.  Similar to the way that I felt after my first marathon I thought to myself, “I can do better”.

New PR for the Mile!

As for my new shoes – absolutely loved them.  They were certainly lightweight but also very comfortable.  No soreness in my feet, ankles, knees, hips – in fact I felt great after the race.  I still think I will keep them on the shelf only for races 10K and less, but after their baptism by fire I give them two big thumbs up.

The Congress Avenue Mile was a great event and a whole lot of fun.  I don’t think that I’m going to be going out and looking for any track shoes anytime soon, but I am going to take my speed work a little more seriously between now and the Holland, TX 5K in June.  I’ve got an age group title to defend up in Holland and maybe even a new PR to set at the 5K distance.

Brooks T6 Racers

As for Saturday – it’s always a great day when you run a PR and since this was my first ever timed mile, I pretty much had that goal locked up by the time I got out of the truck and made my way to the starting line.  5:24 – I’ll take it.

That time was good for 14oth overall, 15th in our Division.  For our first ever attempt at the distance, not too shabby.

But look out next year all you Masters runners … I figure chasing my daughter around for 9 months or so by then, I should be able to shave at least :10 off that time.

With our final training run in the books prior to Saturday’s Congress Avenue Mile – it’s time to talk about something that all runners – and even a lot of non-runners love – new shoes!  As most of you know this mile race will be my first ever at that distance – everything from training, race strategy and even the appropriate footwear is new to me. 

Usually this would make me feel a bit nervous and uneasy heading into race day.  But given the length of the race and the pace that I need to set over the first 1/4 mile to run a mile somewhere in the 5:00’s on Saturday, I am trying to embrace and channel as much “nervous energy” as I can.

Starting out fast, falling into a quick pace and then finishing strong is the game plan for Saturday.  Just like I approach a marathon by breaking the race down into smaller bite-sized segments, I am doing the same for the mile.

I am looking at the race in three parts.  The initial 1/4 mile where I would like to run :03 to :05 seconds faster than my goal pace, the middle 1/2 mile where I would like to run :03 to :06 seconds slower than my goal pace, and the final 1/4 mile where I hope to close strong and come in right on goal.  Sounds like a reasonable plan – the problem will be in the execution of that plan as I simply do not have the number of 400 meter intervals under my belt to automatically “know” how fast I am running.

When I am out on a typical training run I simply “know” what a 7:00 mile feels like vs. a 7:20 mile.  Without checking my Garmin I “know” how hard to push to run a 6:58 or how much to back off to run a 7:25.  Without glancing down at my watch I can just run those splits “by feel”.

That is a byproduct of running more than 1,500 miles a year since 2005 at that pace, under those types of conditions.  I simply do not have that internal calibration when it comes to running at a pace below 6:00/mile.  This “sprinter” stuff is all new to me – so to level the playing field a bit on Wednesday, I went out looking for an edge.

It is widely accepted that reducing the weight of your running shoes by one ounce reduces your time between :01 and :02 seconds per mile.  That may not sound like a lot, but over the course of a 5K (3.1 miles) or 10K (6.2 miles) – those seconds are a very valuable commodity if you are going for an age-group victory or a PR.

I had never owned a pair of “racing flats” before and was very interested to see how the shoes would feel on my feet and just how much lighter the shoes would be than my faithful Asics Gel Nimbus 11 trainers.  Here in Austin we are fortunate to have a lot of great running stores.  After doing my research I was looking for a pair of Brooks T6 Racers.  The folks at Hill Country Running on S. Lamar had a pair in my size – so it was time to shop.

Since the Brooks T6 Racers are “unisex” they appeared to run a little on the small side.  The size 9’s that I tried on were too snug in the toe box, but as soon as I put on the 9 1/2’s I knew I had found what I was looking for.  For good measure I tried on the Asics Racers as well as a pair of Pumas – but the Brooks were by far the most comfortable.

Much, much lighter with a lot less cushioning these shoes are obviously not built for long training runs and marathons.  But for short races up to the 10K distance – they have enough cushioning to get the job done and are LIGHT!

The tale of the tape showed that my new Brooks T6’s weigh in at a scant 6.1 ounces.  My Asics Gel Nimbus 11’s a robust 12.4 ounces.

Time reduction:  6.3 ounces X :01:5 seconds – 9.45 seconds/mile

Even at only a 1 second reduction per ounce per mile we are looking at a decrease of more than 6 seconds.  Saturday is shaping up to be a very interesting day on Congress Avenue.  Weather is calling for 73 degrees, partly cloudy skies and only a 10% chance of precipitation – which here in TX is the equivilant to “no chance in hell of rain”. 

I wasn’t the only one at the Marruchella House to score some new running gear this week as a mysterious Nike Box arrived from Aunt Sue and Uncle Baird in Chicago.  Our daughter to be’s first pair of running shoes arrived – which I have to say are pretty awesome.

Landry's First Pair of Running Shoes

At less than 1 ounce, those bad-boys look like some fast racing flats! 

So we’re going to take a day off from running on Friday, take it easy Friday night and show up on Saturday morning ready for a “Ricky Bobby” kind of race.  If you are going to be at the Congress Avenue Mile on Saturday and are hoping to see me in action – make sure you get there on-time. 

Our heat goes off at 8:10 a.m. – I don’t plan on being on that course very long.

Shake N’ Bake.

Click here for live video coverage of the race on Saturday morning:

http://video.congressavenuemile.com/

The Congress Avenue Mile looms in just three days (Saturday morning) – and I have to admit that I am pretty far out of my element in preparing for this race.  Never having run track in High School and only taking up running in the last 5 years when I was already 37 years old, to say that I am not a “miler” is a gross understatement.

So what in the world is this marathoner doing getting ready to toe the line on Saturday morning with a bunch of sprinters?  I’ve been searching for the answer to that question this week as I have adjusted my training runs.  I kicked around quite a few theories, but to be honest, I think it boils down to my fascination with Pre.

Pre

Steve Roland Prefontaine who I wrote about on his birthday back in January, helped get me excited about the sport of running.  Click here to read about Pre:   http://wp.me/sHGel-pre

When I learned about Pre’s accomplishments as a school-boy runner in Coos Bay, Oregon and then as an elite runner at the University of Oregon, Pre captured the spirit of the kind of runner I wanted to be.  I wanted to be the guy that was an “all-go, no-quit” kind of runner.  But when you take up a sport that you are already more than a decade “too old for” whatever that means, it is important to be realistic about the physical limitations you face.

That being said, for us “older runners” experience thankfully enters into the equation and matters on race day.  I really enjoy the mental side or running and racing – the strategy side of the sport if you will – as much as the physical test.

A lot of people say that the Marathon is a thinking man’s (or woman’s) race.  That tactics and your ability to stick to your plan when you are fatigued are a big part of your success in covering the 26 mile 385 yard distance.  I don’t disagree.  But I also feel that there is something magical about “the mile”.  From Roger Banister breaking the 4:00 mark to Pre’s 3:54:6 in 1973 at Oregon – the mile is “sexy”. 

Less than 1% of the population will ever run a marathon.  Out of that 1%, less than 10% will ever run a “Boston Time”.  That is pretty exclusive company – and it is that exclusivity that adds to the allure of the marathon for me.

But the mile is different.  Everyone of us knows they “could” run a mile.  It is just a matter of how fast.  So for me, I am looking forward to Saturday as much as any race I’ve ever run.  To be honest, I’m more nervous 3 days away from the starter’s gun than I was 3 days before the Boston Marathon. 

I find myself thinking about strategy for the first 1/4 mile, the middle 1/2 mile and that final 1/4 mile to the finish.  Will I go out too fast?  Will I be able to hold pace over the middle portion of the race?  Will I start my finishing kick too early?  Will I wait too late and not push hard enough?  All are questions that I will not be able to answer until 8:10 a.m. Saturday morning.

By 8:16 it will all be over (hopefully).  I’d love to run something in the 5:00’s for my first attempt at the distance.  Is that possible for this soon to be 43-year old marathoner?  No telling.  The one thing I do know is that I am going to look to channel my “inner-Pre” on Saturday.  One of my favorite running shirts has a quote from Pre on the back that you see at a lot of races:

“To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift”

But there is another quote from Pre that I’ve been thinking about a lot this week when I have been pushing myself into a full-out sprint at the end of my 5, 6 and 8 mile training runs – focusing on my leg turnover and my form – trying to stay tall and fast:

“A lot of people run a race to see who is fastest. I run to see who has the most guts, who can punish himself into exhausting pace, and then at the end, punish himself even more.”

I have no illusions for any type of glory on Saturday, no age-group or division victories – I’m just hoping I can run the best race that I can and leave nothing out there on the course.  In the end I think Pre had it exactly right.  I’m going to turn Saturday morning into a “guts race” as Pre used to say, and if I do, I’m the only one who can win it.

So Dom, check back with me after breakfast – I’ll be running for you on Saturday.  I know you would give anything to be out there with me if you could.  Legs pumping, arms swinging, chest heaving  – it’s going to be quite a race.  Because at the end of the day, everybody likes to go fast.

Shake N’ Bake.

26.2 – It’s been two weeks now since we’ve seen each other.  I’ve had some time to reflect on our relationship and come to a conclusion about us.

Even when you and I are apart, I still think about you.  It happens on early morning runs sometimes when I let my mind wander or when someone asks me if I am a runner.  As much as I want to say “yes” to such a simple question, I find myself replying that “I am a marathoner” instead.  You’ve become a part of who I am and as much as I’d like to say I have you out of my system – I know I am kidding myself.  The fact of the matter is you are not going anywhere, and neither am I.

The way I see it we still have some unfinished business.  A score to settle if you will.  I’m going to be taking the rest of 2010 off from our ongoing battle to tend to some big things on my end, becoming a Dad for the first time.  But I just wanted to let you know that you haven’t seen the last of me yet.

Back in 2006 I thought that I was ready for you and all the challenges that you brought with you to Philadelphia.  I trained for more than six months and showed up confident, although a bit gimpy from a training injury.  You owned me that Sunday.  As the miles continued to build my inexperience showed.  You toyed with me through the first half of the race, but once I hit the river and approached the mid-way point of the course I knew I didn’t stand a chance. 

You made only one mistake that day, and that was you didn’t break me completely when you had the chance.  I limped home on an injured IT band in 3:58:08 – just under the 4:00:00 mark. 

You left me just enough hope that with hard work and more experience I could give you a fair fight.  In November of 2006 our scorecard read:

Marathon 1, Joe 0

I took most of 2007 getting back to full health and trained harder and smarter in 2008.  I decided to fight you on neutral ground at Pittsburgh in May of 2009.  I was a nobody that day.  Bib number 2506, hidden in a pack of thousands of marathoners.  You never saw me coming at you that morning and you paid the price. 

Quite frankly you didn’t have any answers for me that Sunday in May.  Bridges, Hills, Rain, Wind – you tried them all and I kicked your butt to the tune of a 3:17:43 and entry into the greatest marathon of them all, Boston in 2010.

Marathon 1, Joe 1

In April of this year we met again in Hopkinton.  You tried to trip me up with a training injury in December, but frankly I had too much at stake to let it bother me.  We were running for a cause this time around – and even though we had a return match just 13 days later, I didn’t hold anything back.  It was a fair fight and I wanted to see once and for all who was better.

Frankly it was you who surprised me at Boston.  I had heard your hills were tough and that you deceived a lot of runners with your downhill start to the race – but experiencing it for the first time was really something.  We fought it out over 3:22:43 and as much as I hate to admit it – you got me again.  I could make excuses about the late starting time, the 1,600 miles I traveled to our fight or the fact that I “didn’t have it” that morning.  But it’s my fault for bringing a knife to a gun-fight and you frankly kept me from achieving my goal of 3:20:00 fair and square.  Good for you.

Marathon 2, Joe 1

Which brings us to our return match in Pittsburgh two weeks ago.  I know you showed up with a lot of confidence that with only 13 days to prepare you were going to take me down once and for all. 

You played the weather card again, dumping a rain storm, heat and humidity on me for more than three hours.  But regardless of what you think about my finishing time – I beat you.  My goal was simple – to finish that race with a smile on my face and honor my good friend’s battle with cancer.  I was the hands down winner on Sunday – just ask anyone who was there to witness it.

Marathon 2, Joe 2

So here we are my “frienemy” – after four battles we’re all even 2-2.

I’m going to give you some time to regroup and think about how much you really want this next shot at me.  It may be that we finally meet here in Austin, TX – on my homecourt.  Or maybe you’d like to try to take me down once and for all at the scene of your greatest defeat – Pittsburgh.

The next time you see me I’ll have another person rooting for me as my daughter witnesses her very first marathon.  I hope you don’t think for a second you stand a chance.  So enjoy yourself for the rest of 2010, but don’t get too comfortable.  You’re going to look up one day soon and I’m going to be there gunning for you.  You better pack a lunch, because it’s going to be a battle.