Archive for December, 2010

Are you kidding me? 

It’s New Year’s eve already?

What in the world happened to 2010?

I felt like I was finally getting into my 2010 groove, and now a new year is about to start.  Time really does fly that is for sure.

I’m sure for those of you who have been following along here at Run for Dom over the past year you have probably been wondering where my “Goals for 2011” post has been.  When it comes to goal setting, especially the goals that have to do with running and racing, I have discovered that 12 months is a long, long time. 

A lot can change over a year and what seems like a worthy or reasonable goal in January just doesn’t “fit” with your plans by the end of the summer.  It may be due to a lack of vision or short-sightedness or it could be due to an event that provides a glimpse into the future of the road you are traveling and you realize that you don’t want to go there anymore.

April 19th was that day for me as I struggled from Hopkinton to Boston on a 26.2 mile journey that would redefine my running for 2010. 

The first of back to back marathons for Dom took place that day and the famed Boston Marathon handed me my ass quite frankly on a silver platter.

I realized I had some serious changes to make if I was going to be the runner that I wanted to be.  The one I thought that I could be.  The one that I saw when I would think back to May 2, 2009 running the final mile of the Pittsburgh Marathon with confidence and purpose.

I wanted to get that feeling back and I was willing to start working hard to do it.

So plans for me to start swimming lessons and working towards my first Triathlon were scrapped from 2010.  I was going to focus on my running.  I was going to do speed work and hill work and I was going to race.  A lot.

Those changes happened “mid-stream” in 2010, and by December I had new PR’s in every running distance I raced with the exception of the marathon.  1 Mile, 5K, 10K, 10-Miler, Half-Marathon —- all in the books with fastest ever times.  Just one distance remains and we’ll be taking care of business with respect to the Marathon on February 20th. 

As of Sunday just 7 weeks will remain until I get my chance to exact a little revenge on Lady Marathon.  It has been more than 8 months since that day in Boston, and not a day goes by that I don’t think about that race.  I can do better.

So as I look ahead to 2011, I know that the goals that I set today are going to be ones that with the benefit of 20:20 hindsight 12 months from now may seem like they were “incorrect” or dare we say “wrong”.

That is the thing about goal-setting, the more aggressive you are in your approach and the “bigger you  dream” the more likely you are to swing and miss on a few.  But the rewards for pushing hard and dreaming big are what make it all worth it.  You can’t “Go Big” if you don’t “Dream Big” – so dreaming big is what we’re all about here at Run for Dom – and our 2011 goals reflect that.

Goals for 2011

1.     Run more than 2,011 miles in the coming year.

2.     Be running healthy and injury free the entire year.

3.     Re-qualify for the Boston Marathon.

4.     Set New PR’s for the Mile, 5K, 10K, Half-Marathon and Marathon.

5.     Run the ING NYC Marathon in November and PR.

6.     Complete a 5K with Landry (in her jogging stroller).

7.     Incorporate track workouts in my training this year.

8.     Take my first swim lessons.

9.     Complete a sprint triathlon.

10.  Continue to honor Dom and raise money for his children’s education.

So there we are, my running, training and racing goals for 2011.  Race distance times are something that will continue to evolve I’m sure as the year progresses.  I have had to raise the bar throughout 2010 as my speed improved and my race times dropped.  But to start out the year our goals for the various distances above are:

1-Mile:     5:15

5K:            17:59

10K:         37:59

1/2 Marathon:     1:25:30

Full Marathon:     3:05:00

There is not a lay-up on the list above.  If I am able to look back on those goals at the end of the year having crossed each of them off of my list I will feel pretty darn good about this aspect of my life in 2011.

There are other lists of course that I have had to make with respect to Dawn, Landry, Family, Friends, Co-Workers and some goals for my writing.  Chasing down the goals on those lists are just as important and in many ways, interrelated with my running.

The thing about distance running that I have come to love is that it has helped me in so many other areas in my life. 

In a way it is in fact a metaphor for life.

Distance running is challenging.  There are times when it gets tough.  Times when it doesn’t seem fair.  There are times when you simply feel like giving up.  Asking yourself what it is all for.  What does it all really mean in the end.

It is at those times that picking yourself up, dusting yourself off and pushing forward is the only answer.  You don’t always need to know why. 

You do it, because there really is no other choice.

You do it, because that is what the task at hand requires.

Nothing is given to you.  You have to earn every single scrap.

But the rewards …. oh man, the rewards.

I’m fortunate, because when times get tough in or out of my running shoes I don’t have far to search for inspiration.  I can just think of the last time I saw Dom in May or the numerous conversations we had over the last year and I know exactly what this is all about.

It’s about living every day the best you can, trying your hardest no matter how tough things get.  Never giving in, despite what anybody tells you. 

Courage is in the trying not in the achieving.

I may not be able to achieve everything on my list of goals in 2011.  Hell, I may not be able to achieve any of them.  But when I look at that list I know one thing with absolute certainty.

I am going to try my best.

Happy New Year everyone!  I wish you and your family a happy, healthy and wonderful 2011.

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The most recent update to the Austin Distance Challenge was posted this week.

The distance challenge is the 5-race series that I have been competing in that will culminate with the Austin Marathon on February 20, 2011.

The further I progress in the race series, the more I am starting to appreciate how helpful it has been in preparing me for Austin. For first time Marathoners, this series is tremendous. I would strongly recommend it to any local runner of any ability level wanting to run Austin.

The race distances are challenging with a 10K in October, a hilly 10-Miler in November, a hilly half-marathon in December, another half marathon at the end of January featuring a fast downhill course and of course the Austin Marathon on February 20th.

Each race and distance poses a different challenge for the participants. The IBM Uptown Classic is a first-class 10 Kilometer race on a speedy course. There are some hills thrown in over the last half of the race to test the runners, where learning about pacing and racing is important to run a good time.

The Run for the Water 10-mile race was one of the more difficult race courses I have ever run. Climb after climb the runners test their strength and climbing skills while still “racing” over the 10-mile distance. Longer than a 10K to really let it all hang out, but shorter than the half-marathon, where runners could really put the hammer down to test their fitness level. I loved this race.

Race number three was the Decker Challenge Half-Marathon on December 12th. In its 32nd running, this race was absolutely as advertised – as one of the most difficult half-marathon courses in Texas. Hilly, windy, cold – Decker had a little bit of everything and really prepared runners for what the middle miles of the Austin Marathon will be like.

All throughout the series for runners who are new to racing, the Distance Challenge provides valuable lessons are to be learned.

What a large “race day” experience is like. How to handle water stops. How to dress appropriately for the weather on race day. What it feels like to run at 10K pace, half-marathon pace. Even what it feels like to struggle over the final miles of a hilly course. All great practice for the Austin Marathon in February.

All participants in the Austin Distance Challenge are required to register for, race in and complete all five events. If you miss one event, you are out of the challenge. Again, a great lesson in stick-to-it-ive-ness and perseverance. Every runner who completes all five events receives an Austin Distance Challenge Jacket and are eligible for overall as well as age-group awards, similar to what you would find at a single running event or race day.

After three races I feel pretty good about where we are right now. Seventh Place overall in the Male Standings, 2nd in the Male 40-44 Age Group.

Overall Standings after Race 3 of 5

As much as I would like to place in the top 10 at the end of the challenge or even take home an age group award, I am much more excited about “how I have raced” than the results from those races.

At IBM we were able to chase down a goal set during the hot Austin summer of running a sub 40:00 minute 10K time earning my spot in the elite amateur corral at this Spring’s Cooper River Bridge Run in Charleston, SC.

At Run for the water, I was able to really test myself in the hills of West Austin and start believing that I was in fact ready for Decker.

At the Decker Half-Marathon I again surpassed my expectations by running a sub 1:27:00 half-marathon on a tough, tough course. That effort earned me a guaranteed spot in the 2011 New York City Marathon which I will be able to run with my good friends Winston and Bob in November. That will also by Landry’s first ever trip to NYC, and an opportunity for my then 15 month old daughter to see a real-live Broadway show.

Next up on January 30th will be the 3M Half-Marathon my final run before entering the 3-week taper period leading up to race day. 3M is a course where a smokin’ fast time is very possible if I am able to stay healthy over the next month. Something sub 1:25:00 is certainly “possible” given the right conditions and a little bit of race day magic.

Male 40-44 Age Group Standings

We’re going to keep pushing to see if we can hold on to that number two spot in the rankings above, but I’m sure Michael Andre’ Ford is looking at the same standings I am looking to chase me down. As for Brendon Cohoon, a 2:59:00 runner at last year’s Austin Marathon, congratulations Sir!

You are simply crushing out there right now, I look forward to raising a glass to you at the post race Austin Distance Challenge party. Just some tremendous running you are doing out there – you give this aging Marathoner something to shoot for down the road.

Monday night I was sitting around after dinner, still resting the legs after Sunday’s 21 mile long run and my mind was starting to look forward to my run on Tuesday morning.  This part of the marathon cycle is the one that I enjoy the most.  Alternating weeks of hard work and relatively “easy” work.

Hal Higdon refers to those easy weeks as “Step-Back Weeks”, where instead of constantly increasing the mileage and intensity of your workouts up until the marathon taper begins 3 weeks before race day, you begin to “step back” your weekly mileage to allow your body time to recover.

The principle is the same with most types of adaptive exercise, whether that is distance running, weight lifting or swimming.  You must give your muscles time to “repair themselves” and adapt to the increase in activity.  This is how your muscles respond positively to the increase in your training and grow stronger.

Without these “step-back weeks” as Hal calls them, all you are doing is breaking down your muscles and not allowing them the time to grow stronger.  This results in burn-out or even more commonly, injury.

Joe & Hal Higdon - Pittsburgh Marathon 2010

My workouts including the last two weeks from strictly a mileage perspective look like this:

55.4
53.4
42.8
53.4
42.8
52.4

Those 42.8 mile weeks still look like a lot of running, and they are.  But my long runs on Sundays each of those weeks will only reach 12 miles or an hour and a half or so medium effort.  That takes about 60 minutes from my long-run workouts on the other weeks, and allows my legs, feet, hips, ankles and even core to enjoy the decreased effort and rebuild strength to push harder the following week.

Hal Higdon, now in his 70’s has run well over 100 marathons and has “virtually coached” hundreds of thousands of marathoners across finish lines around the world.  Over the last couple of years I have developed my own training plans for the marathon.  Plans that incorporate more tempo work, more racing and especially more hill work than Hal typically recommends.

But the one area that I have stayed true to Hal’s plan is with respect to rest days and step-back weeks.  I know that his philosophy on those very important aspects of marathon training are spot-on when it comes to getting this marathoner to the starting line not only trained to race my best, but also 100% healthy.

There will be no race day magic on February 20, 2011 if I show up to the starting line nicked up or injured.  Unable to give my very, very best.

The thing I really look forward to the most during “step-back week” is the fact that I can go out there and have a little FUN on my runs.

If my legs feel great, I can go fast.  If they are tired, I can just cruise.  If I want to take the hilly route, go for it.  If it seems like it would be fun to run a new route or try out a new section of the trail system, no problem.  When training for a race for 18 or 20 weeks, with 97 runs scheduled, I’m sure you can imagine there are days when it becomes tedious.

I have many “tricks” to make the runs fun, but many times I have a very specific pace goal or a specific format to the runs as they are building blocks for my marathon race day.  But every so often the schedule will just say:

6.2

It doesn’t say Tempo, Recovery, Race Pace, Progressive, Easy, Medium or Hard.

Just 6.2 – anyway I want.

Tuesday of step-back week is one of those days.

So as I left the house to just “go for a run”, I looked at the flag above my head while I was stretching against the garage.  Very, very light wind, perhaps 4 mph.  There was a mist hanging in the air.  The temperature was 49 degrees.  Pretty much perfect weather for a little fun.

A lot of runners do not like running in the rain, I actually enjoy it.  Now storms with huge wind and debris?  Not so much.  But gently falling rain to keep you cool on a trail that was frozen on Sunday is just about perfect.   Soft underfoot, but no puddles or ruts to navigate.

I decided that I was going to break my run up into several “different” runs.  A mile at recovery pace, a couple of miles where I was just cruising, a couple of miles around 7:00 min./mile and a “hard” mile to close out the run. 

Runners are familiar with a Swedish term Fartlek – which translates to speed play.  The thought behind this workout is that the runner varies their pace and intensity to test both their aerobic and anaerobic systems.  It is a great workout, and as the name suggests, for me it is very, very “Fun”

I took off on my typical 6.2 mile route, one that I run 2 or 3 times a week 50 weeks or so a year.  I have run this route hundreds and hundreds of times, but on Tuesday it was entirely new.

I ticked off the first “recovery” mile at 7:35 pace.

Mile number two was a “cruising” mile at 7:12.

Mile three was another “cruising” mile, but we were climbing up over the dam – 7:17.

Mile four was the first of two “7:00’s” I wanted to run.  A pace that is what I would need to lock in if I was to try to chase a sub-3:00 Marathon at Austin.  Frankly, this is a pace I think is still a bit too ambitious at this point in my maturation as a marathoner, but nonetheless, a great goal to have out there to chase.

Mile four:  6:58

Mile five:  7:01

Time to head for home and I ramped up the pace, wanting to run in a “fast” mile.

Mile six:  6:36

I hit the street lamp on Along Creek Cove with just a steep hill and 2/10 of a mile to go.

I hit the hill like I would one of our hill repeats on Thursday and kicked home to the house with a final .20 miles at 6:10 pace.

On my watch, the run looked pretty unspectacular:

6.2 miles, 43 min. 56  sec., 7:05 min./mile pace.

But that is what made Tuesday’s run so much fun.  Looks can be deceiving sometimes as our 7:05 min./mile run had a little bit of everything. 

So another block gets crossed off of my marathon training schedule and we are one run closer to the starting line at Austin.  But more than anything this morning made me very grateful.  Not too many people have the opportunity that I do.  Because I have my health, a loving and supportive wife, the drive and desire to achieve and tremendous motivation to continue to Run for Dom.

I’m smart enough to realize all of that, yet still naive and idealistic enough to think that perhaps something magical can happen on February 20th if I want it bad enough and work hard for it.

If I happen to fall short on race day?  Well, we’ll deal with that when and if it comes to pass.  But runs like today’s will help soften the blow of any disappointment because bottom line.

I love to run.

Man what a weekend.

Lots of good stuff this Christmas being able to be home with Dawn, Landry and Kayla for Land’s first Christmas.  At only 4 months old Landry really doesn’t quite “get it” yet with respect to what Christmas is all about – but it was a weekend of firsts for Landry – and they were some pretty good ones.

Landry's Bath before going to see Santa!

First Christmas eve service, first Christmas Tree, first time on Santa’s lap, first time opening presents – even though she pretty much slept through all of that.  Super-Mom Dawn put a great gift under the tree this year for Landry and I to share over the years as we got a Pennsylvania Flyer Train Set! 

I can only imagine how much fun Landry and I are going to have building our tracks, towns, hills and tunnels over the years every Christmas.  As much as Dawn and I love this time of year, decorating the house, Christmas Tree(s) X2, and putting up lights – having Landry has made this year extra special.

Landry's First Train Set

Amid all of the happy times this year, I would be lying if I didn’t say that there was some sadness as well.

I found myself thinking about Landry’s Godfather Keith celebrating Christmas with his boys Garris and Fuller in Charleston, the first since their Mom died in August.  An accident that when I think about it months later, I still struggle to make any sense of it.

Of course in Pittsburgh, Sierra, Nico and Val were celebrating their first of many Christmas’ without Dom.  Just one year ago Dawn and I were at Dom’s Mother and Father’s house enjoying Christmas Eve dinner with the D’Eramo family.  Dom’s passing after his battle with cancer is still very raw for me.  Losing their Father as a 4 year-old little girl and a 1 ½ year old boy, is in a word – unfair.

I thought a lot about Dom this weekend as I was pressing on through some challenging training runs.

The Marathon waits for no one.  Racing well on February 20th required a big effort this weekend Christmas or no Christmas.

With a 10-mile run on the schedule Christmas morning and a 20-miler on Sunday, I wanted to be sure to get my workouts in, but not miss out on any of the “good stuff”.

I set the alarm for 4:45 a.m. on Saturday to get out the door and onto the Brushy Creek Trail to knock out my Marathon Pace run and return to the house long before Landry would wake up for her first Christmas.

With fresh legs and a spring in my step I was able to knock out Saturday’s 10-miler in 1:09:05 – 6:54 pace.

I pushed hard over the hilly course posting all but one mile under 7:00 min./mile pace.

Splits were:  6:55, 7:05, 6:58, 6:55, 6:58, 6:43, 6:52, 6:56, 6:48, 6:51

After a quick shower and a great breakfast of French Toast and Bacon it was time for presents with Dawn.  You know that you’re a runner when your favorite gifts are things like Runderwear, Under Armour Cold Gear Tights and Mock Turtle Neck and a pair of Brooks Green Silence Running shoes.

Of course the train set was my favorite surprise gift under the tree.

After a relaxing Christmas Day, although Landry tested Pappa Bear and Momma Bear as she decided that she would like to party like a rock star all day and not take a single nap throughout the day, it was time for a dinner of pasta, salad and bread to load up for Sunday’s long run.

Me? Nap? No thanks, it's Christmas!

The “back to back” 10/20 mile runs are the bread and butter of the marathon training plan in my opinion.  It is not only logging a 20-mile run that prepares the runner for the test of the marathon, but the cumulative effect of all of the training.

Being able to run a tough 10-miler on Saturday, followed by another 20 miles 24 hours later is what builds the stamina and endurance necessary to push hard over the final 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) on race day.

Better still, being able to run a second 20-miler just 7 days after last Sunday’s 20 mile run, further prepares this marathoner for race day.

As I left the house it was 27 degrees.  I was in my new Under Armour Cold Gear, My Asics Running Jacket, one pair of running gloves inside a pair of running mittens.  Cold weather hat, two water bottles and we were ready to rock.

The last piece of “gear” I put on before leaving the house was a new Nathan Lighted LED vest.  I picked up the vest for the overnight legs of the Ragnar Del Sol relay through the Arizona desert, but thought it’s high visibility yellow and Red Light would help any cars see me at 5:00 a.m. as we made our way up the hill out of the neighborhood.

After warming up a bit over the first two miles I locked in to my pace right around 7:18 min./mile.  The miles ticked by pretty quickly as my body adjusted to the outside temperatures.  As I passed the house at mile 12 I decided that it would be a good morning to “tack one on” as I thought about Dom and his family. 

When you’re running 20 miles before sunup, why not 21?

After making the turn back towards home through the bottom loop of Brush Creek Trail I had one more mile to go.  My legs were starting to feel the run a bit, but I was still able to hold a solid pace climbing up the final hill.

Total run time was 2:33:32 – 7:18 pace overall.

Mile splits on Sunday:

7:31, 7:26, 7:13, 7:16, 7:10, 7:19, 7:17, 7:16, 7:10, 7:07, 7:13, 7:16, 7:30, 7:22, 7:25, 7:15, 7:08, 7:17, 7:21, 7:22, 7:26

Projected over 26.2 miles we would be on track for a 3:11:24 marathon.

Pretty solid effort after Saturday’s 10-miler and back to back 50+ mile running weeks.

With two more 20 mile runs on the training schedule to further build our base, as well as a 3-week marathon taper to rest our legs, we very well might be on target to drop another :10/mile off of the pace we posted on Sunday.

That would bring us to the Austin finish line with a marathon time of 3:07 and change, more than a 10 minute PR over our previous best time posted at the 2009 Pittsburgh Marathon.

A lot of things will have to happen to make that time a reality as there is nothing that you can consider a “given” when it comes to the Marathon.  But as of December 26, 2010 – things are looking pretty good.

Dom, it was your kind of weather out there this morning.  Steeler playoff weather.  Thanks for providing the push to tack on that extra mile.  That was the way you lived, always going out of your way for your family and friends, always doing just a little bit more to make a difference.

That sums up pretty well what this whole Run for Dom is all about.  We’ve just started taking mile sponsors for the Austin Marathon – if you would like to help please visit:

http://www.runfordom.com/donatenow.html

I wanted to take a quick moment to thank every Run for Dom reader and supporter for the past year and wish each of you a safe, happy and wonderful Holiday.

Today started with a very early morning and COLD, 10-mile training run so I could make it back in time to still find little Landry fast asleep for her very first Christmas.

2010 has been filled of a lot of wonderful memories for me and my family.  It has also been filled with some very tough days, sadness and heartbreak losing people who were very close to me.

If you can find the time and have it in your heart, please send some positive energy to the D’Eramo family this weekend I would greatly appreciate it.  We are all missing Dom this Christmas.

I want to thank all of you for all of your kindness, generosity and support and wish all of you well with the New Year approaching just one week away.

God bless you all.

I received a request last week from a runner friend of mine Nicholas to write a post about “racing hills”, as he made a comment about how he couldn’t remember anyone racing hills as strong as I had been lately.

It made me stop to think about the last 8 months, ever since the scene of my biggest running disappointment to date, the 2010 Boston Marathon.  Like many runners, “running Boston” became my primary focus as I began training seriously for the Pittsburgh Marathon in 2009.

In hindsight what I was really training for was not so much “running Boston” as I was “qualifying for Boston”.  Over the course of 2009 my workouts were built around endurance and stamina.  I knew that I needed to run more miles and be able to run them at a pace somewhere around 7:35 min./mile pace to make my qualifying time of 3:20:59 at Pittsburgh.

My training for Pittsburgh in 2009 did not include any speed work and very little in the way of true hill work.  It was all about running more and more mileage so that my pace would hold up over the 26.2 mile Pittsburgh course.

Mission accomplished as I ran a great race in May of 2009, finishing with my Marathon PR of 3:17:43 and my first of what I hope will be many Boston times.  As I began training for Boston in 2010 I thought that my previous training plan would suffice.  I would mix in a few more hills along the way, but again, no real focus on speed or hill repeats – just more of the same.

A friend of mine once told me:

“If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll only get what you’ve already got.”

Never had those words been truer than my inaugural journey at the Boston Marathon.

I could make excuses all day long about my shin splint issues that delayed my Boston training last year. 

I could cite the fact that I could not truly “train” as I had in the past as I was forced to reduce my running to just 4 days a week preparing for Boston, rather than my usual 5 days as I was trying to be very careful to avoid reinjury.

I could talk about the fact that with another marathon for Dom just 13 days later, I wanted to be a bit more conservative at Boston.  Or even the fact that I only ran two 20-mile training runs instead of the four that I will run this year preparing for Austin.

Some of those excuses might even have some shred of legitimacy.

But if nothing else here at Run for Dom, we tell it the way it is.  The good, the bad and the ugly.

I was woefully unprepared for Boston in 2010.

I was not a tough enough runner to survive the hills from Hopkinton to Boston let alone “thrive” on them.

I needed to reinvent myself as a marathoner if I was to get back to Boston and run a different race the next time.

After Pittsburgh I sat down and sketched out what I believed would make me a better runner over the summer months.  How I would get faster, stronger and especially tougher.

Speed work and Hill Repeats were going to be the two workouts that I was going to not only embrace, but make as the two cornerstones of my training plan.  I was going to become a “hill runner”.  I was going to become the type of runner that when others slowed at the base of a hill and prepared to get beaten up, I would look at the hill as an opportunity to gain on my competitors.

While others looked forward to the “downs”, I would be looking for the “ups”.  I wanted to run them and especially race them with purpose, determination and focus.

Opening miles at the Decker Challenge

 I might not be able to get too much faster at 43 years old, but I knew that I could become a more strategic runner, a more focused runner, a runner with better form and especially a runner who could “out-heart” other runners of similar abilities.

The training aspect has been covered in previous posts about Tempo Runs and Hill Repeats (click the links to reference previous posts).  But as far as the question I received from Nicholas, what tips do I have about “racing the hills” – here goes.

For me, and I have to stress that as an honest disclaimer, as all of us are very, very different in our running technique, strengths and weaknesses, there are four areas that I feel have helped me begin to thrive on hilly race courses over the past year.

  1. Confidence.
  2. Technique.
  3. Strength.
  4. Determination.

Confidence:

Having the confidence to attack an individual hill or a hilly race was at first born from my hill repeat training and then further underscored by success on race day.  Running hill repeats every Thursday morning this summer and tracking my results workout by workout provided me with a great deal of confidence.

I prepared a spreadsheet each week and tracked each individual hill repeat week after week after week.

After 10 weeks, I could look back on any individual repeat from my workouts to see just how much faster on the hills I was getting.

Repeats that were taking me 1:48 seconds a month earlier were now taking me just 1:41.  My repeats were becoming more consistent, with smaller variances between repeat number 1 and repeat number 10.  I was improving, and the numbers backed it up.

Hill Repeat Progress Prior to Marathon Training

But interestingly it was during the third Summer Sunstroke 5K race that I participated in July when I realized just how much stronger I had gotten on the hills.

During the first two 5K’s over the same course as part of the series I finished behind a runner friend of mine Bill S.  I had no answer for Bill over the closing mile of the race as the course ran straight up to the top of the dam at Brushy Creek Trail.  Each time Bill would pull away from me and finish :15-:20 seconds ahead of me taking 1st place in the Male Masters Division.

The third time was the charm for me however as after close to two months of hill repeats, I felt like I could make my move on Bill over the final mile.

Just like the first two races, I was about :15 seconds behind Bill as we made the turn at the half-way point.  I took a sip of water at the turn and pushed a bit harder closing to within :10 seconds as we reached the bottom of the hill.

It was time to go.  I was either going to pass Bill on the hill and pull away for a win, or I was going to blow up trying.  Either way I was going to find something out about myself and my training.  I pulled even with Bill at the ½ way point of the hill and gave him a quick nod.

As I pulled alongside I pushed even harder and harder.  I focused on my form, landing on the ball of my foot and pushing hard off of my toes.  Much like I would do if I were racing on flat ground at the end of a 5K race.

At the top of the dam I glanced quickly over my shoulder and Bill was close to :15 seconds behind me.  Now on flat ground I was able to put the hammer down over the final .50 miles of the race, while Bill was still working to get to the top.

I built such a large lead that Bill never bothered to try to chase me down.

That race was the first time that I realized that even though Bill was a “faster runner” than I was, the advantage that I had on the hills was a great equalizer.  It was in fact a weapon.

Not only is the confidence that comes from running hills as part of your training a key element to racing hills fast under race conditions – but it provides a great sense of confidence over other portions of the course. 

You know as a runner that while other runners will be slowing, you will be gaining.  They will be getting “weaker” while you are able to hold steady or perhaps grow stronger.  It relaxes you, which in turn slows your heart rate and allows you to run efficiently.  It is all connected.

Confidence on race day is a powerful, powerful thing.

Technique:

Developing form or improving your running technique while you are racing hills is something again where practice makes perfect.

During my hill repeats each Thursday I make a conscious effort to really focus on my running form during each and every 1:45 journey to the top of the hill.

I work on landing on the mid-foot/ball of my foot on each stride and feeling my toes as the last part of my foot to leave the road on every stride.

I focus on driving my arm swing straight forward and up, not wasting any energy swinging my arms away from my body or side to side.

I make sure that I keep my shoulders relaxed and “away from my ears”.

I practice keeping my hands loose and not clinched tight.

Loose = Smooth.

Smooth = Fast.

On race day, these behaviors are all “automatic”.  I don’t have to really think about it, relying on muscle memory from repeat after repeat, climb after climb.

One of the things I noticed as I was racing at Decker on December 12th was that as I was pacing with another half-marathoner up the large hills at mile 8 and 10, the runner to my left would bump into me every dozen strides or so.

I had picked a solid straight line to run that bordered the shoulder of the road to run the hill as tangentially as possible, hoping to cut the shortest route to the top.  My running partner however was losing form on the hill as his legs started to waver to hold pace forcing him to bob left and right with each stride.

Looking back at the still photos from the race below – you can see the difference in body control and effort while climbing.  Conditioning plays a role in racing hills, there is no doubt about that.   But technique and running form plays a large role as well.

Pacing with Running Partner at Mile 8

A final tip when racing hills is to fight the urge to back off of your effort when you reach the top.  It is important to push through the end of the hill and keep your leg turnover or running cadence at the same effort.  This allows you to fall back onto your race pace in as few strides as possible.

Allowing yourself to become distracted and “celebrate” reaching the top of a hill will cost you valuable seconds at the apex of the climb.  If slowing at the top of the hill only costs you :05 seconds, at a race like Decker with 12 climbs, you are sacrificing one full minute off of your race time just by easing off of the gas for a dozen strides at the top of each hill.

In a sport where PR’s and Qualifying times are narrowly missed as often as they are achieved, these are valuable seconds to “give away” by allowing your mind and your pace to wander.  I have been practicing “kicking hard” for 20 strides at the top of each hill while racing, 10 strides per leg.  This allows me to fall back into my race pace and not give any time back to the clock.

Strength:

One of the byproducts from hill repeat training is increased strength in your quadriceps and your calves.  In a sense running hill repeats is akin to resistance training.  You are able to train at the same speed you would on flat terrain, but increase the “difficulty level” by adding the elevation changes.

This allows the workout to become much “harder” without increasing the intensity or the pounding that your legs are taking.  You can push hard without increasing your injury risk, and managing your weekly mileage.

The byproduct of this added strength shows up on each hill that you attack on the race course.

It helps you realize that it is o.k. to push hard up the hill, as you will have more than enough strength to reach the top, recover and push forward back at your target or goal pace.

This strength really comes to the fore when you find yourself passing runners late in a race.  You are under stress just like everyone else, and your body is struggling to hold your pace just like your competitors, but I have found during the later stages of the hillier races I have run like The Run for the Water or The Decker Challenge, that I was the runner “passing” over the final miles, not being passed.

Determination:

The final piece to the puzzle for me has been a new-found level of determination.  As I approach the base of a hill on a race course that I have put in all of the hard work necessary to rise to the occasion.

I have prepared myself physically from my training.  I have developed strong form that will hold up while I am fatigued.  I am strong enough to race the hill and recover after reaching the top so I can climb again.

Final push at Decker Challenge Half-Marathon

The only thing left is to simply “Do It”.  You have to want it, as hills are hard work.  You have to trust in your training and let it all hang out.  You have to be brave enough to take a chance that the hill might very well bite back.

But if you’ve put in the training time and have worked hard to be ready, why not go for it?  Why hold back?  It is a matter of believing in yourself and pushing yourself close to the edge, not thinking that you can make it, but knowing that you will.

When it comes to racing hills, that can make all the difference in the world.

On Sunday’s 20-mile training run I had a lot of time all to myself to think.  Two Hours, Twenty Six Minutes and Sixteen Seconds to be exact.

I really relish these long runs during Marathon training as when was the last time you had almost two and a half hours all to yourself to ponder life’s great questions?  The fact of the matter is that as busy as life can get sometimes, it’s hard to carve out that kind of time all to yourself. 

Sometimes I think about serious things, like Dom and the hole that was left in the D’Eramo family with his passing in August.  What will Christmas be like this year for Val, Sierra and Nico?  How about Shirley and Dom, Sr. – his parents.  Just last year I was at their house enjoying Shirley’s “Seven Fishes” Christmas Eve dinner surrounded by dozens of D’Eramo’s spanning three generations.

Sometimes I think about my own growing family, how Landry has just learned to roll over.  She’s not too sure yet what to do once she gets there, but she is still pretty impressed with herself.

I think about the training miles I’ve run and the miles that still lie ahead to the start of the Austin Marathon.

During a specific run I will think about where the approaching hills will be, how my legs feel when I get there, and how much longer before I’m pushing for home, getting ready for a big breakfast.  A reward.

This past Sunday I started to spend some time, for the first moment really, looking past the Austin Marathon on February 20, 2011. 

On to the race after “THE RACE”.

If I ever had an “A” race on the calendar, Austin is it.  I am training harder for this marathon than any race I have ever run.  I’m more focused, more determined, more driven than ever. 

That of course is a bit of a bold statement as this time last year I was about to begin training for the Boston and Pittsburgh Marathons just 13 days apart Running for Dom.

But on Sunday my mind started to drift to the second race of this year’s Run for Dom double.  Ragnar Del Sol on February 25th

This time just 5 days after a marathon, I will be racing again in another endurance event.  Hoping to raise money for Sierra and Nico’s 529 Education Plans.  Helping ensure that Dom’s children will be afforded the opportunity to pursue a college education, just as Dom and Val had planned for them long before Dom’s cancer.

The Ragnar Relay Series takes place in 15 different locations around the United States each year.

Each race is approximately 200 miles long, with teams of distance runners competing against others to complete the course in the shortest amount of time.

Our team consists of 12 runners from Austin, Houston, Dallas, St. Louis, Virginia Beach, Cincinnati, Baltimore and Scottsdale, all converging on Wickenbug, Arizona  to race all the way to Tempe – covering 202 miles of Arizona Desert.

The race is going to be  far different from anything I have ever done, as I along with each runner on our team is assigned “legs” of varying distances and difficulties. 

With 12 runners on the team, each of us will be running 3 of the 36 individual legs as we travel along the 202 mile journey in approximately 24 hours.

Our team will be given a starting time in the next few weeks.  We will begin taking our first strides onto the course sometime during the late afternoon on Friday, February 25th.  On Saturday afternoon roughly 24 hours later, our final runner and two vans full of 11 teammates and drivers will reach the finish line in Tempe, AZ.

Our team will be divided into two vans, one carrying runners 1 through 6, the other with runners 7 through 12.  Runners from van number one will be responsible for running the first 6 legs of the race, while runners in Van two drive out to the 7th Exchange Point to get some rest waiting for us to arrive.

At the 7th exchange point, the runners from van number two will take their turn running legs 7,8,9,10, 11 and 12, while our van heads to exchange point 13 and awaits their arrival.

Our team will continue to leapfrog their way through the course through all 36 legs, finally reaching the finish line in Tempe the following afternoon.

This means running through the Arizona Desert throughout the night all in the search of Ultra-Marathon Glory.

I have been assigned the “leadoff spot”, meaning I will be the first runner to take to the course out of Wickenburg.  I will be running legs 1, 13 and 25.  When I reach each exchange area I will be handing off to my teammate Kim as she runs legs 2, 14 and 26.  She in turn will hand off to my good friend Steve “British Bulldog” Speirs, who will run legs 3, 15 and 27 and so on down the line.

Running the anchor leg for our van out of the number 6 spot is my good friend Sean Brown.  Many of you may remember Sean from “Sean Runs for Dom” at the Chicago Marathon in October.  Sean will be the final runner in our van covering legs 6, 18 and 30. 

Our team captain Jenny and Kim’s husband Michael will be running out of the number 4 and 5 spots respectively.

Teammates Dan, Carol, Eddie, Andrew, Nina and Thomas will run the remaining legs representing our team out of van number 2.

Now, running through tough terrain, over all hours of the evening into the wee hours of the morning will make pacing difficult to predict.  But by my estimate, after I wrap up the opening 8.3 “Very Hard” miles as described by the folks at Ragnar – I will be running again approximately 11 hours later.

First Leg of the Race

Should we start at 4:00 p.m. and my 8 mile run takes me about an hour, my next leg may start at 3:00 a.m., followed by my final leg sometime after lunchtime on Saturday.

My Second Leg

How are my legs going to hold up having raced the Austin Marathon just 5 days before?  Great question.  Very similar to the question I had to answer running a second marathon just 13 days after Boston last spring.

The good news is that this time I only have to run 18.8 miles, not another 26.2.

The bad news is I only have 5 days to prepare after Austin, I will have to run them through all types of temperatures and conditions, at all hours of the day and night dodging Cacti and Coyotes.

My final Leg

I don’t know about you, but it sounds like a helluva lot of fun to me.

We even have a great team name – so when you are logging on to the Ragnar Del Sol website to see how we’re doing, just look for the team called:

“Where’s the damn van?!”

Sounds about right to me.

Nobody said this was supposed to be easy, and I’m sure it won’t be, but it will all be well worth it to help pay tribute to Dom and raise money for his children’s education.

If you have it in your heart to help, feel free to visit:

http://www.runfordom.com/donatenow.html

We still have room on our team for you to join us, I won’t even make you run!

Happy Holidays everyone!