Archive for January, 2011

Sunday morning, 3M Half Marathon – it was the race before “the race”.

Race number 4 in the Austin Distance Challenge.  When it was over, all that would remain would be the Austin Marathon on February 20th, now just three short weeks away.

All week leading up to 3M I found myself constantly taking stock of how my body felt coming back from last weekend’s bout with the stomach flu.  It seemed that with each passing day I was feeling better and better.  More and more like myself.

I had been eating, strength training and hydrating like crazy, trying to get back to my race weight of 138 lbs.

Sunday morning, 136.5.

Still not where I needed to be, but I was feeling strong during my quick 2 mile shake-out on Saturday, so I tried not to let it bother me.  Obviously I still wasn’t “all the way back” from the flu.  But maybe, just maybe I was close enough to really run my race on Sunday.

I knew that I could run strong for 8-10 miles.  I just wasn’t sure how much I would have left in the tank for the final 5 kilometers.  But that is why we race.  If every runner “knew” what their time would be coming through the finisher’s chute, I don’t think very many of us would bother to show up and toe the line.  That is part of the beauty of our sport. 

The unknown.

After a low-key night at home with Dawn and Landry watching SECRETARIAT, (not a bad inspirational movie to watch on the eve of a race), I set the alarm for 4:25 a.m. and tried to get some sleep.

As is usually the case the night before a race, I couldn’t relax.  Couldn’t stop thinking about mile splits, hills, water stops and course management.  I dozed off around Midnight and accepted the 4 ½ hours of sleep as a gift.

After a breakfast of a bagel with peanut butter and a banana, chased by a grape Gatorade, I got dressed in my race gear and left for the start.  The 3M Half-Marathon is the second largest stand alone half-marathon in Texas.  It is a point to point course, so I would be leaving my truck at the start and hooking up with Dawn and Landry at the finish line.  It was just a matter of how long it would take me.

Pre-Race:   The temperature at the gun was announced at 73 degrees.  The rain that was in the forecast never really fell, but the humidity was well over 90% as the runners stood listening to the National Anthem.

Dressed in just shorts and a singlet, I did not do my usual warm-up of ½ mile to shake loose.  I felt very limber and light on my feet.  I just did a quick group of strides, more or less ¼ miles worth and ducked back into my spot in the starting corral.

I chatted with a young man named Brian who was on the cross-country team at the University of Texas when he was in college.  A 2:55 marathoner, Brian was going to be running out ahead of me.  I wondered if we would see each other at the finish.

Miles 1-4:  As I was standing in the starting area I clicked on my iPod and got ready to rock.  I was amazingly calm Sunday morning which surprised me.  After stressing about my fitness and strategy for the race all week long I felt like I was ready.  No sense over-thinking it.  I would lock into a “comfortably hard pace” and hold it as long as I could. 

At the gun I started out quickly looking for open road to start the legs churning.  3M which is a “fast course” with a lot of downhill sections actually starts with climbs over the first two miles.  Due to its reputation as a “fast half-marathon”, I believe a lot of runners get too aggressive early both where they line up and over the opening miles.

It requires a lot of “dodging traffic” over the first mile which can be frustrating.  I just hung to the left and tried to stay even and smooth.

I could tell that my legs showed up and the opening climb up 56 feet felt like I was racing on flat ground.  My Brooks ST4 Racers felt light on my feet and I went with what I knew was a pace much faster than I had planned.  It “felt right” however, so I didn’t discourage myself from the pace.

My first four miles sped by at:  6:16, 6:20, 6:22, and 6:18.

So much for going out with an opening 6 miles in 39:10.  I was feeling it however, shame on me to back down with Dom’s initials on my shoes.  That’s not really what any of this is about.

Miles 5-8:  Mile five was another mile that was more or less fair, slightly downhill, but mile 6 would be the first chance for me to really let my momentum carry me along downhill.  This stretch bottoms out just over Loop 1 or the MOPAC Expressway and leads to the exchange area for the relay portion of the half-marathon.

My friend Nina who I will be racing with at Ragnar Del Sol on team, “Where’s the Damn Van?!” in a month would be waiting for her relay partner at the exchange.  I was hoping to get a chance to see a smiling face and say hello as I was running by.

True to form I saw Nina on the right side of the course and said a quick hello.  The course was flattening out now and we would be doing some climbing shortly.  I told myself to dial back a bit and just lock in to even effort.  Something around 6:30 if I could hold it.  It was far too early to go all-in at this point.

Miles seven and eight felt tough but consistent.  At this point I started to think that I was going to get away with starting out a little bit to fast on the top half of the course.

Splits for miles 5-8 were:  6:10, 6:21, 6:33, and 6:31.

Miles 9-11:  I had finally seemed to find my rhythm and lock in on pace.  I told myself that this was the part of the course, climbing up onto North Loop where the last of the hills would be found.  I just needed to stay in rhythm and keep it together.

It was at this point of the race when runners started to come back to me for the first time.  I wasn’t going any faster than I had been.  But others were starting to feel the hills.  This seemed to energize me. 

I actually thought for a moment during mile 10 how much did I want it today?  A strange thought to have during a race, but I suspect a lot runners think that way at some point.  More than would care to admit it anyway.

I mumbled to myself that I did want to race today.  Hang tough.  Mile 11 will be here before you know it.

Splits for miles 9-11 were:  6:33, 6:35, and 6:31.

Time to go to work.

Miles 12-Finish:  As only a runner can I began to do the math.  I had a legitimate shot at breaking through the 1:24:00 barrier if I could ramp up my pace over the final two miles.  I would need to run something in the :20’s and then something in the teens if I was going to get there I thought.

If we didn’t quite make it we would certainly beat our goal time of 1:25:08 with some panache.

I started to push harder, but not all the way at this point.  There would still be the flattening of the course at the University of Texas football stadium, the climb up the last hill and then the final 1/10 of a mile sprint to the finish.

I had to dial-up the pace, but I needed to leave a little in the tank for my kick.  It was going to be awfully close.  All of a sudden I noticed the back of a runner’s shirt with a Longhorn logo across his shoulders.

Brian.  I gave him a slight nod as I powered past.  His shoulders had fallen and he was struggling to keep it together.  I would be lying if I said that passing him did not buoy my spirits.  I felt my pace quicken.

Mile 12 came in at 6:24 pace and I once again reeled in a handful of runners who had been racing out in front of me for more than 1 hour and 15 minutes.

One mile to go.

I can do anything for one mile.

Honestly this part of the race is a little bit of a blur to me.  I remember hearing a lot of shouts as we approached the final 400 meters.  I started my kick with 2/10 of a mile to go and as I approached the chute I could make out the clock:

1:23:49, 1:23:50, 1:23:51

A final burst and I hit the timing mat at 1:23:55.

The final mile came in at 6:16 pace.  The final 1/10 of a mile in :38 seconds or 5:17 pace.

6:24 pace for the race overall.  Two seconds faster than the 10K pace we were shooting for earlier in the year in October to break through the 40:00 minute 10K mark at the IBM Uptown Classic.

Out of the more than 4,500 half-marathoners on Sunday we came through the chute in 91st place, owner of a new half-marathon PR by 2 minutes and 50 seconds.

I’m not quite sure what to make of this yet.  Does it mean that we are now entering the taper for Austin ready to run a best-ever marathon?  I think it does.

Does it mean that we have a legitimate chance of raising our sights even higher and chasing that mystical sub 3 hour marathon in three weeks?  I’m not so sure.

I can take one thing away from Sunday for certain and that is the fact that our stomach might still not be 100% recovered, but there is nothing wrong with our heart. 

We out-hearted quite a few fine runners on Sunday.

Dom, I miss you more than ever.  Man, you should have seen that last mile today my brother.  You would have loved it.

Joe (on right) Fist Raised

Phew.

I have to tell you that the thought of racing the 3M Half-Marathon this Sunday made me extremely uncomfortable all week long.

Last weekend’s stomach flu really knocked me for a loop.  I spent all of Sunday and Monday in bed this week.  I tried my best to eat a little something here and there, but just the thought of food made my stomach churn. 

My food intake on Sunday consisted of 6 saltine crackers and 4 life savers.  At dinner on Monday I was able to fight down some broth and noodles, but the damage had already been done.

I lost between 5 and 6 lbs. in 36 hours.  Not good leading up to a road race.

Tuesday I was able to get out and run my scheduled 8-miler.

Wednesday I felt a bit better and ran 10 kilometers in 42:22 or 6:50 pace.  A workout that I had really “nailed” the Wednesday before the Decker Half Marathon back in December. 

As of Friday morning, two days before race day I have gained all but one of those pounds back and about 90% of my confidence.   I don’t think I am really going to relax until I fall into my comfortably hard pace on Sunday morning around 6:35/mile and start ticking off a few splits. 

A race that just over a week ago I was really looking to go out and crushing, I am now quite a bit nervous about.

That is probably a good thing however as when I made my traditional “drive of the course” to mentally download the ups, downs, twists and turns of the route, I was reminded that the course while forgiving has it’s tricky patches as well.

3M Bib for Sunday's Race

Time for the traditional pre-race course preview:

Miles 1-2:  The course starts with a climb of 90 feet spread over the opening two miles as runners travel up Stonelake Boulevard, make the left hand turn on to Braker Lane and approach the frontage road of Highway 183.  I thought a lot about this opening stretch since driving the course and I think this will really help me find my rythym and stay “honest”.  Not just charging out there like a maniac and pushing pace far too quick too soon.

I would like to tick off two 6:35’s over the opening two miles and I will be right where I want to be at the two-mile mark sitting at 13:10 on the clock.  If that pace seems too rich for me at that point, I will know that my illness last weekend has taken more out of me than I had hoped.

Miles 3-5:  Miles 3,4 and 5 feature a few rolling ups and downs.  There is a climb along the frontage of highway 183, and another making the turn up onto Mesa to Spicewood springs.  There are five turns on the course to this point on a 1/2 marathon course that only features 13 turns total.  This is the point in the race where I will be looking to lock into my pace and click off consistent mile splits right around 6:30 pace.

3M Half Marathon Course Elevation

If I am able to hit mile five with 32:10-32:20 on the clock we will have the course right where we want it.

Miles 6-9:  At the start of mile 6 the course starts to tilt in the runner’s favor in a big way.  Elevation will drop from 880 feet above sea level to 700 feet at the mile 6 mark.  A slight incline heading up into miles 7 and 8 will make runners feel like they are running “uphill”, when in fact the course only rises about 25 feet.

It is the flattening of the course after the serious downhill section that is more or less an “illusion” at this point.  It is welcomed however as it gives runners a chance to rest those calves and quadricept muscles which were working so hard on the downhill.

Split goals for this part of the course?  Something around 6:20 for mile 6 and 7, 6:35 for miles 8 and 9 would leave us at the 58:10 mark entering mile number 10.  Aggressive goals for sure to this point, but if the legs show up on Sunday, I think we have a shot.

Miles 10-12:  A hill rises in front of the runners at the 9.5 mile mark on the course.  It is somewhat steep and lasts approximately 3/10 of a mile.  Similar to one of my Thursday hill repeats, it will be important to focus on form and not let the hill sap too much energy. 

Mile 10 is going to be an important mile to try to stay tall and smooth.  The race won’t be “won” here, but it certainly can be “lost” if I don’t stay smart and hold back a bit for the closing push.  I’ll let myself slow a bit here and turn in a 6:40 to gather some strength for the end of the race.

With only 5 Kilometers to go it will be tempting to “push”, but not yet.  Not quite yet.

I need to remember to be patient.

There is one final crest at the 10.30 to 10.40 mile mark depending on how economically I’ve taken the corners and managed the course.  It also lasts about 3/10 of a mile, but is a bit smaller than the previous climb.  As we approach mile 11 any climbing with the exception of a small hill over the closing 1/2 mile is done. 

Now it’s time.  Time to go to work.

Goals for this point in the race would be an 11th mile at 6:25 and a 12th mile at 6:30.  Will I be able to hold on to my pace at this point?  I guess that’s what we will find out on Sunday. 

The Finish:  Mile 13 starts with another significant downhill stretch it bottoms out at the mid way point and throws the final climb at the runners with just 6/10 of a mile to go.  If we reach this point with anything left in the tank the final 400 meters should be pretty quick, pace dropping close to 6:10 I am hoping.  Let’s call the final mile at 6:18 and the last 1/10 at :45 seconds.

Goal time for the race:  1:25:08.

That time scares me a bit as it would be a  1 minute and 40 second PR at the half-marathon distance.  But after driving the course it is a time that I think is on the edge of what we are capable of.  A stretch goal?  Yep.  But with Austin just 3 weeks away, it’s time to cowboy up” and find out what kind of race we are capable of running for Dom.

Weather right now is calling for 49 degree temperatures and a 6 mph wind that would be blowing at the runners for most of the race on Sunday morning out of the South/Southwest.

Not perfect for a fast race, I would prefer the temperature to be closer to 45 degrees and the wind to be blowing behind the runners from the North, but it shouldn’t be anything like the conditions we dealt with at the Decker Half Marathon back in December.

If we have a shot at going sub 1:25:00 on Sunday we’re going to go for it.

No shame in failing, just in failing to try.

Photo Compliments of ManoftheHouse.com

Below is the fourth weekly contribution to the

Whole New Dad Couch to 5K Series featured at www.manofthehouse.com

The next installment of the series will be posted each Wednesday throughout the program:

Welcome to week four of our Whole New Dad program. At the start of this week you have achieved quite a few milestones in a very short period of time. Before you take your first strides this week you will have:

  1. Gotten off the couch and onto your feet.
  2. Established three workout days per week.
  3. Completed six walking workouts lasting two hours and 15 minutes.
  4. Completed three jog/walk sessions with 18 minutes of jogging and 42 minutes of walking.

That wasn’t so bad was it? Are you ready for more? Good, because this week is a key week when it comes to getting you to the starting line of that 5K in two months. We are going to be continuing with our “interval” training this week, alternating jogging and walking for six repetitions just as we did last week.

To take advantage of the improvement that you made last week and to capitalize on that forward momentum, we are going to increase the length of your jog and walk intervals for week number four.

Read more by clicking here:

60 years ago today a baby boy was welcomed into the world. 

Steve Roland Prefontaine.

Born into a blue-collar family in the blue-collar town of Coos Bay Oregon, in just 24 years Pre would develop into perhaps the finest American born distance runner of his generation.  Because of a tragic and rather foolish accident in 1975 we were all robbed of the chance to see just the kind of impact on the running world Pre would have made during the running boom of the 1980’s.

At one time Pre held every American distance record from the mile up through 6 miles.

In fact for five years no American runner ever beat him in a race over a mile in length.

For Five Years.

Never.

For not having won an Olympic medal or holding a world record why do so many still remember Pre?  In fact, some of his greatest accomplishments were achieved at yard distances that are no long run. 

His story however is more than just a talented athlete who died too young.

Unfortunately there are far too many of those stories.

In the case of Pre there is a rather mystical element surrounding his accomplishments on and off the track.  Many University of Oregon graduates recall that the sun always seemed to break through the clouds whenever he first stepped onto the Hayward Field Track.

They talk about how Pre wore a black singlet in a race for the very first time in his career on the night he died.

How at the 1976 Olympics, which would have been Pre’s second Olympiad, just then entering his peak years, two torch bearers by complete coincidence had the name Stephen Prefontaine.

Or how a young female runner named Mary Slaney who Pre took an interest in coaching when she was just 15 years old would go on to become one of the most successful American Distance Runners of all time.  On May 30, 1986 ten years to the day of Pre’s death, Mary Slaney and her husband became parents of a baby girl.

For all of us out there with a pair of Nikes lying around the house, Pre was a driving force behind that Corporate Colossus ever taking flight. 

Pre ran with courage and determination that very few runners have demonstrated either before or after his death.

His goal was not just to win, but to truly run his best. 

Always.  Every time.

Losing to a runner who went out and simply beat him was acceptable, as long as the race unfolded as it should.  Pre detested the races where runners hung back, took it easy and kicked to the end.  He went hard from the start and carried other runners along with him.  If you were going to beat him, you were going to have to earn it. 

Automatically you have to admire someone like that.

As I prepare to race this weekend and again at the Austin Marathon in a little less than 4 weeks I find myself thinking a lot about another scrappy “little kid” from a blue-collar family in a blue-collar town.  Dom was the same kind of guy Pre was.  he was small in stature, but huge in heart.

Never the most talented athlete, he was willing to work hard to achieve all that he could.

Anyone who ever met Dom remembers him.  He simply had a way about him that made an impression.  He was 100% real and genuine.  No false pretenses.  What you saw was what you got.  Those of us who knew Dom were also cheated by a life cut far too short.  There is no telling how much more an impact Dom would have made had he survived his cancer.

Sadly, we’ll never know.

So as I got back to it on Tuesday morning, still licking my wounds from Sunday’s failed attempt at my final 20-mile training run for Austin – it seemed a fitting day for a run.

8 miles on the schedule, 8 in the books.  Nothing fancy, just a recovery run as we get ready for Sunday’s 3M half-marathon.

These are the runs I think about when it comes to “putting in the work” to prepare for race day.  No hoopla, no attaboys or congratulations.  Just the runner, alone, feet crushing stone along a running trail two hours before sunrise.  The only person in the world who would know whether those 8 miles were covered this morning or not is the runner himself.

A blue-collar run on a blue-collar day.

It felt great to be back out there.

Go Pre.

Everytime I think that I have this marathon thing figured out, it seems like a new challenge rears its head.

After a great run on Saturday, 11 miles at 6:53 pace all that was left on the schedule was my final 20-mile training run.

After that workout we would be taking it easy this week leading up to next Sunday’s 3M Half-Marathon and then a three-week taper to race day at Austin on February 20th.

I hydrated well after my run on Saturday, took it easy hanging around the house with Dawn, Kayla and Landry, made a nice dinner and got to bed early.  I couldn’t wait for that alarm to sound at 4:30 a.m.  The start of the last real test of this training cycle.

To be honest 20-milers do not put the fear in me like they did when I first started running marathons.  A few years ago each 20-mile run was more or less like its own race day.

In hindsight, I really was making too much out of them.  17,18,19,20 – after a certain point they are all pretty much the same.  But we love round numbers as runners and there is something special about the 20-miler from a mental standpoint when training for a marathon.  Ironically if I were a marathoner in Canada or Internationally, 20-miles would not mean a thing.

I would be running kilometers instead of miles.  Topping out at perhaps an entirely different “round number”.  30 Kilometers perhaps?  18.6 miles.  Or perhaps a long run of 35 Kilometers or 21.7 miles.

At around 2:30 a.m. I woke up to some tummy troubles.  Just a lot of gas or discomfort I thought.  I would be fine as soon as I got out there for my final tough training run.

Wrong.

I went through my morning ritual of stretching, dressing for the elements, loaded up my hydra-belt with water and Gatorade and packed my nutrition for the run.  Two packages of Clif Shot Bloks.  I strapped my Garmin to my wrist, fired up my headlamp and hit the road.  In 2 1/2 hours or so we would be pulling up to the house a “fully trained” marathoner.

I struggled to find my grove almost immediately and even though I ran my opening mile at exactly the pace I was hoping for, down to the very last second in fact, I knew my body was not in good shape.  Something was going on with my gastrointestinal tract and I had no idea how I was going to make it through 19 more miles.

I have been in tough spots before and have always found a way to press on.  In fact I take great pride in the fact that I have never walked off of a race course or a training run.

Never.

At mile 2 last night’s dinner made a return appearance.  The remainder of it would show up at mile 8.  I kept holding out hope that the worst was behind me and that I would be able to tough it out and complete my 20 mile run.  But one of the things that I am most proud of over the past year plus is being in tune with my body.

I know when I can push, when I have to back off and how to stay healthy and injury free.

As the miles continued to tick slowly by I could not bring myself to take any of my gels.  Just the thought of doing so made me feel incredibly nauseous.

I rallied a bit at mile 16 feeling as if I can do anything for 4 miles, but as mile 18 approached I was done.

My form was starting to fall off and I simply was not well.  Time to punt.

I slowed to a walk and wrapped up the run at 18 miles.  2 hours, 19 minutes, 11 seconds.

I can’t tell you what hurt worse.  The pain in my abdomen or the fact that I had given up.

Afterall, I would be the first one to tell you that I am a firm believer in the axiom Pain is temporary, quitting is forever.

To make matters even a bit worse I am reading a book right now about Steve Roland Prefontaine – titled simply “Pre”.

I have long admired Pre’s tenacity and competitiveness as a distance runner.  One of my favorite running shirts is adorned with a long ago recited quote from Pre that reads:

“I am going to work so that it’s a pure guts race. In the end, if it is, I’m the only one that can win it”.

Ironically Tuesday morning would be Pre’s 60th birthday.  It is hard to escape the irony of the situation as I train to run the best marathon I have ever run before in memory of Dom and his fight against cancer, that I had to give up just two miles short on my final training run.

Feeling especially sorry for myself I crawled back into bed when another wave of whatever is wrong with me washed over me.  A final (I hope) trip to the bathroom made me feel just a bit better ironically.  I’m not sure that I should be too hard on myself after everything that I dealt with this morning.

Perhaps this was just the reminder that I needed that none of this is supposed to be easy.  It’s the “hard” that makes it great.

Dom, I’m sorry buddy.  I told myself and you that I would run each and every mile of this training program like I would never run again.  That I would leave nothing to chance.  That come February 20, 2011 we would be as sharp as ever.  Ready to run a tremendous race in your honor.

Fact is I owe you those two miles.  I’ll be sure to make that deposit before race day.

Friday, January 21, 2011.

Back on October 4th when this training cycle began I had my eye on this day.  How I felt on January 21st was going to tell me a whole lot about how we were going to race at Austin.

I tried to put together a training plan that would ask me to do more than I had ever done in the past to prepare for a race, but not so much that it would break me.

I wanted to run more tempo runs.  More hill repeats, more mileage.  Longer midweek long runs, longer Sunday “really long” runs. 

I wanted to run four runs of more than 20 miles, when in the past I had never run more than three.

My first 21 mile training run.

My first 22 mile training run.

I wanted to race more, and next Sunday I will run my sixth race since training began.  Six races before we show up to “race” on February 20th.

To this point we’ve run and raced 76 times covering 694.05 miles.

20 runs remain, adding another 160 miles before race day. 

Amazing considering I have never run more than 681 miles preparing for a marathon.  I will be adding 23% to that total during this cycle, all just to have a chance to kick Lady Marathon firmly in the ass in four weeks time.

That is the funny thing about this race and this distance.  With all the hard work and preparation, my odds for really crushing on February 20th?

Not much better than 60% I would estimate.

Weather, injury, an off-day, illness or just a simple miscalculation when it comes to nutrition or hydration and that 26.2 mile distance will rise up and be the one doing the kicking in four weeks.  I’ve seen it happen to other runners and I have felt it happen to me on more than one occasion.

But today things are good.

I have a 10-mile pace run scheduled for Saturday and my final 20 mile run on Sunday.  Just 30 miles stand between me and the mystical “taper”.

The time when training is reduced and all of the bumps and bruises from training are able to heal themselves prior to race day.  I knew that if I could get to this point in one piece, that I had a great chance to be sharp as hell on February 20th.

So how are we doing?

Well, the first chink in the armor was felt a week or so ago.  A little bit of soreness in my left Achilles tendon.  Nothing more than a nag really, but something to “watch” so to speak.

I traveled to New Orleans, LA this week for a work retreat.  Tuesday morning my group and I volunteered our day working with Habitat for Humanity.  We were assigned to a home build providing affordable housing to a family far less fortunate than each of us.

Before heading off to the construction site, I  took to the streets of New Orleans for a 4:15 a.m. 8 mile pace run up St. Charles Avenue along the trolley car tracks up toward Tulane University from the French Quarter.

St. Charles Avenue Trolly Line - 11 Mile Run

The route is more or less a “local favorite” as runners are able to run the tracks, essentially a grassy, hard packed gravel trail stretching for several miles out of downtown.  I strapped my headlamp to my head, fired it up and took off at sub 7:00 min./mile pace through the early morning streets of the Crescent City.  Aside from having to dodge an oncoming street car every 20 minutes or so, the route is every enjoyable.

I realized that early morning is also technically “late at night” in New Orleans and I did come upon quite a few late night townspeople and visitors to the city along my run.  Clipping by at 8.3 mph, I think we were both sharing a look of incredulity with one another.

Me thinking, “what in the hell are they doing out here at this hour?”

Them thinking, “what in the hell is he doing out here at this hour?”

Good stuff.

I took the same route at the same time on Wednesday, stretching my mid-week mileage out to 11 miles at 7:19 pace. 

Just an “Easy” run in the Big Easy.

Then on Thursday morning a final 10-miler before heading back to Austin at 6:53 pace.  My last hard workout on the training plan before this weekend’s final longest of long runs.

One thing that was pretty remarkable was the elevation change, or lack thereof, on my runs this week.  Flat as a pancake does not do justice to just how flat the gound I covered truly was.

Got Hills?

It was good “active recovery” for my Achilles tendon as I did virtually no climbing whatsoever this week.

So here we are.

30 miles to go.

A final half-marathon at 3M a week from Sunday.

A three week taper, then?

Boom goes the dynamite on February 20th.

I can hardly wait.

Image compliments of manofthehouse.com

Below is the second weekly contribution to the

Whole New Dad Couch to 5K Series featured at www.manofthehouse.com

The next installment of the series will be posted each Wednesday throughout the program:

Welcome to week three of our Whole New Dad program.  If you are still on track after the first two weeks of the program, you have gotten out of the house or hopped on the treadmill for six brisk walking workouts.

Three workouts in week one lasting 20 minutes each, followed by another three workouts in week two of 25 minutes a piece. You have that training plan tacked prominently onto your refrigerator at home and have been able to cross off 6 training sessions.  Congratulations!  Building that time into your schedule and hitting those workouts is a huge accomplishment.

Now it’s time for us to get down to business and get you out there doing some running.  Whenever I am training for a race, whether it is a local race here in Austin or a large Marathon there is a day circled on my training calendar marked “Day 1,” the first day of training.

Those strides are the first ones on my way to the starting line.  No matter what the event or how hard I am going to have to work to reach my goals, there is something very magical about them.  Those are the strides where it all starts.  Without them, everything to follow would be impossible.

Read more by clicking here

I arrived in New Orleans on Monday afternoon for a couple of days of meetings with my operations team from work.  Typically we get together as a group each January, recap the year that was and look ahead to our initiatives for the coming year.

What we did well, areas of improvement and opportunities for new challenges and initiatives.  Sometimes the most useful part of the meeting(s) are simply getting the entire group together in one place and clearly defining our goals for the year.

What we are going to set out to do and how we are going to get there.

It is one thing to have aspirations, but without a concrete plan of attack and a “hard work” approach to chasing down those goals, I feel like you are simply setting yourself up for disappointment and failure.

Kind of reminds me of a certain sport I know of … I just can’t place it.

Ironically my final “hard week” of marathon training coincides with this retreat in a town many refer to as “The Big Easy”.  There are quite a few theories as to how New Orleans came to be referred to in this way.

Some believe it has to do with the rich musical heritage of the city and how there were many ways for local musicians to make a living playing in New Orleans while also studying music.  Another theory has to do with the relaxed attitude toward alcohol consumption, even during the days or prohibition, found in and around the city.

Still another possibility has to do with the relatively low cost of living compared to other American cities. 

Whatever the reason the film The Big Easy released in 1987 etched the nickname in stone and it will remain as part of our national vocabulary for some time.

As I looked at this week of training, the irony of my location was not lost on me.  There is nothing “easy” about this week.  In fact the 58 or so miles on the schedule will be some of the most difficult this marathoner has had on his plate in more than two years.

These training plans are designed to slowly build in intensity and volume.  You don’t really notice it at first as a few miles are added here, another few there.  A long run moves from 18 to 19 to 20 all the way to 22 miles on a given Sunday.

I can feel myself tiring even though my times and my runs seem to be improving.  If not improving, I am at least holding my own.  But there are aches in my muscles now.  My left Achilles tendon is a bit sore, my right calf muscle just a bit tight.

It is my body starting to fight back, to let me know that it has been pushed hard and is in a state or rebellion.

The good news is, it is working.  I am growing stronger even when I feel a bit weaker.  I am having to push just a little bit harder through these workouts to hold pace, to stay on target.  Again, that is a good thing.

Just 5 more runs this week.  8 miles, 10 miles, 10 miles, 10 miles and a final 20 miler.  Then it is time to taper down for the 3M half marathon and enter our 3 week marathon taper.

Let the body recover, heal and grow strong for race day.

34 days until go time.

34 days until we put it all out there one more time for Dom.

Less than 5 weeks to go and we’ll be standing among thousands of runners all with dreams of marathon glory.  There will be a lot of runners on Congress Avenue more talented than I am.  Some will be younger, some older, some stronger, some definitely faster.

In the end none of that is going to matter.  It is going to be me, my Brooks ST4 Racers and the clock.

I’m still on the fence as to whether we are truly ready to make the leap to a 3 hour marathon.  It may very well be up to the conditions of my body and the weather that day.  But just to have the 3 hour mark in the conversation as we zero in on our race goal is a huge accomplishment.  That would mean taking more than 22 minutes off of our Boston time less than one year ago.

I’m not sure exactly how this one is going to turn out Dom, I’ve got to be honest. 

But if you’re not too busy up there on February 20th, celebrating another Steeler Superbowl victory, I sure would appreciate you stopping by to look in on me.

You’re not going to want to miss this one.

Just 5 weeks remain in the training cycle leading up to the Austin Marathon on February 20th. Five weeks still sounds like a long time, and in a lot of instances it is. But during marathon training the final five weeks goes by in the blink of an eye.

The final three weeks of the training plan lurk on the horizon, where I will cut my weekly mileage down from its peak by 75% in the first week of the taper, then 50% in the second week and 25% leading up to race day.

The idea behind the taper is to allow the runner, in this case a marathoner, to decrease their training load to peak for race day. Those three weeks can be mentally challenging as the runner believes they are losing fitness. But the repair work that is going on inside the runner’s body is worth any mental challenges they need to fight through.

For the first time ever, I am actually looking forward to the marathon taper as I know that I have pushed myself very close to my limits during this training cycle. The three week “rest” period will be well deserved and much needed. It will manifest itself on race day hopefully allowing my body and mind to hold a race pace between :10 and :15 seconds faster per mile than my training paces while expending what will feel like the same effort.

That is the hope anyway.

But before we get to that point, there was a little bit of unfinished business this weekend. Saturday featured a 10 kilometer pace run, followed by Sunday’s 12-mile long run.

This week will take us to New Orleans for work, where I will put in a 58 mile run week featuring my final 20 mile long run next Sunday.

Then on January 30th we will be racing at the 3M Half-Marathon. The last really tough run of our training cycle, kicking off our taper.

As is always the case those “little runs” on the training schedule can sometimes test you much more than some of the “big runs”. Both runs this weekend took place in what one could only describe as “Craptastic” weather.

Rain, cold, wind, wet feet – at the end of each run I was soaked to the bone, feeling as if I had jumped into a swimming pool post run.

Newspaper Stuffed Trainers

During my 12-miler on Sunday my mind jumped from topic to topic, idea to idea. I spent some time thinking about last year’s ramp up to Boston. How hard I tried to convince myself that I had enough time after my injury to get ready. How even though I hadn’t put in the miles that I normally would, I was a better runner than the 2009 version of myself. I would rise to the challenge. I would be ready on April 19th.

What I realized that day is that determination can take you only so far. Without putting in the work, you simply can’t be your best.

As I was pushing up to the top of the hill at mile 4 my mind jumped to my favorite Christmas present this year. It wasn’t the biggest or most expensive, but it was the one that my wife picked out for me and tucked into my stocking.

A Tavern Puzzle.

You have probably seen these heavy metal puzzles that require you to move things around, slide rings and clasps back and forth to free a certain puzzle piece. In the case of my puzzle, you need to remove a large round ring from the body of the puzzle.

A seemingly impossible task upon first glance, but one that if you put in the time, continue to try new approaches and never give up, in the end. Success.

As the miles ticked by I thought a lot about that puzzle and how it provided a great metaphor to what the last nine months have been about for me. In many ways I continued to train for a race and do my best to honor Dom and his fight with cancer.

That much is the same. But to live up to a promise I made to Dom on May 2nd, it was going to require a new approach, a different way of looking at my marathon training and taking a few risks. Getting out of my comfort zone just a bit to chase rewards that would not be available to me otherwise.

Sunday’s run through a cold rainy Austin was a fast finish 12-miler in 1:23:32. 6:57 min./mile pace.

After warming up over the opening two miles, the final 10 were the miles that I was going to make count, splits were:

7:27, 7:16, 7:06, 6:53, 6:59, 7:05, 6:55, 6:55, 6:45, 6:44, 6:47, 6:35

Getting out of my wet running clothes in the garage I was feeling pretty darn good about where we are right now. Just one more tough week, just one more race, just one more truly “long” long-run and we’re home.

At my desk I glanced down at the package surrounding my tavern puzzle.

In big bold letters it read:

DIFFICULT – NEEDS PERSEVERENCE

Exactly right.

I have been reading Runner’s World for quite some time now.  I think I subscribed to the magazine sometime back in 2009, but had been picking up copies at airports when I have been traveling for work for about 4 years.

Some months there are great articles about training and racing.  Other months there are personal interest stories that grab my attention.  And every once in awhile I flip through the 125 pages or so and nothing really jumps out at me.

It was entertaining perhaps, but I’m not sure that I really “took anything away” from the “read” so to speak.  That’s o.k.; we all need entertainment too right?

But this month there was an article that really hit home as I am sharpening the sword getting ready for Austin in 5 weeks.  Not all the hay is in the barn at this point, but that day is rapidly approaching.

Next week will be my final high-mileage, 50+ mile run week with a Sunday run of 20 miles.  Then it will be a reduced week leading up to the 3M Half Marathon on January 30th and the three week taper on the way to the starting line at Austin.

When I look at the 24 workouts that remain, only two are really “looming”.  Race day on January 30th, which to be completely honest will be pretty darn fun.  It’s always a great day when you are racing.  The other will be that final 20-miler which although it will be a challenging run is always a marathon training run that feels great to complete.  It is after that final 20-miler that I feel, “trained” and ready to rock.

So what will the other 22 runs spread over the next 5 weeks be about?

They are about continuing to build upon the base training to this point, all of the hill work, speed work, racing, endurance and stamina training and getting mentally right for race day.

The marathon is of course a physical test.  Racing for 26.2 miles for more than 3 hours certainly contains a physical element to it.  But there comes a time in the marathon where the physical test transitions to a mental one.

Mental toughness is what allows the runner to continue to hold pace mile after mile, hour after hour without faltering.  The time it takes to cover that next mile may remain the same, but the effort to maintain that pace becomes more and more difficult.  It becomes a mental test to stay in the moment or “stay in the mile” and not allow yourself the opportunity to look too far ahead and become discouraged.

If you have a poor mile at number 17 that is one thing.

If you allow that poor mile to “beat you” and turn one poor mile into 9 poor miles you are defeated.  You don’t stand a chance.  Just like the 18 or in my case 20 weeks of training leading up to race day, the marathon has its ups and downs.

There are good miles, bad miles, easy miles and difficult ones.  The key to success is staying even-keeled, focused and determined.  Not ceding an inch to the race.  When times get really tough, leaning on something to keep you motivated to push harder.

The article in RW this month talked about developing your own “Mantra” for just those occasions.

Their point was to achieve your running goals, powerful legs and big lungs aren’t enough.  You also need a strong head.  To borrow from the article – “Repeating choice words whenever you need to focus helps direct your mind away from negative thoughts and toward a positive experience”.

Now, you have probably been reading Run for Dom long enough to know that I am not some new-age Jedi-mind-trick evolutionist.  I believe that hard work and dedication yield rewards.  If you want it and you dream it, if you work hard for it, you can achieve it.

But I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I am a huge believer in the race day mantra.

There is a lot of “noise” on race day.  A whole host of things to distract you from the mission at hand.  I let a lot of things “get in my head” last year at Boston and it cost me.  I also did not work as hard as I had in the past to prepare for the race from a mental standpoint than I had for say Pittsburgh in 2009.

I got caught up not only in the two marathons in 13 day challenge and the thoughts of success or failure for Dom, but I didn’t really hone in on April 19th.  26.2 Miles.  Hopkinton to Boston.  One step at a time, one mile at a time.  I wasn’t 100% ready physically, coming back from my injury.  But I was even further away mentally and it cost me.The RW article provides some examples that have been used in the past by RW staff members:

When starting out easy:

“Pass No one.”

Overcoming inclines:

“Hills are my friend.”

Summoning a kick:

“The strong get stronger”

Conquering 26.2:

“Fast or slow, it hurts just the same”

Back in 2009 at Pittsburgh I believed that for me to be successful and qualify for Boston I would have to lean on all of the core training that I had done prior to the race to keep my posture and not slouch when I got fatigued over the latter stages of the race.

Slouching is a common problem for marathoners, as when you tire and lose your posture, you become “shorter”.  Your stride shortens, and each step that you take covers less and less ground.

Your “effort” of running at 7:30 min./mile pace may stay the same, it is just as “hard”, but you are not able to cover the same amount of real estate in 7 minutes and 30 seconds.  You begin “running shorter” and slowing down vs. the clock.

My Mantra at Pittsburgh that I shared recently with a friend running at the Walt Disney World Marathon last weekend was:

“Stay tall, stay smooth, stay fast”

That must have been a good one, as my friend Mark ran a 16 minute PR using that Mantra last Sunday.

So over the next 5 weeks I will be not only putting the finishing touches on the physical part of my training, but locking in my pace goal, setting my mile by mile strategy for the Austin course.  I will also be developing my race day Mantra.

To race well on February 20th, everything is going to have to fall into place just right.

Steel sharpens Steel after all.

Huh.

Steel sharpens Steel.  Not bad.  Not bad at all.