Archive for April, 2011

Last week presented me with an opportunity to explore something that I had been reading about and hearing runner buddies of mine talk about for quite some time. 

A true Trail Run.

Now for the past 3 or 4 years I have run close to 5 days a week on the Brushy Creek Trail here in Austin.  Some days I’ve decided to run the majority of my miles on surface streets, especially when preparing for a marathon as I believe in training as close to the race environment as possible.

But when I’m not in a heavy marathon training period I take to the local trail as it is much easier on my knees, ankles and hips to be running on crushed limestone or granite than on asphalt.

Calling the Brushy Creek Trail a “trail run” however is not entirely accurate.

Our local trail is a well maintained, manicured, man-made path.  Sure there is the occasional rut, dip or gully, even some uneven footfalls especially after a rain storm.

But for the most part I run at close to the same pace I would on asphalt even in the wee hours of the morning with very little light.  I may step on a rock or misstep slightly on occasion.  But nothing too dangerous.

Trail running is an entirely different animal. 

Trail running is a variant on running that differs markedly from road running and track running.  Trail running generally takes place on hiking trails, most commonly single track trails, although fire roads are not uncommon.  

A distinguishing characteristic of the trails is that they are often inaccessible by road except at the trail heads.  The trails tend to traverse varying terrain; hills, mountains, deserts, forests, and narrow passages are common.

Likewise, steep inclines or rough terrain sometimes may require hiking or scrambling.  Runners participating in trail runs must often descend these same steep grades.  It is not unusual for trail runs to ascend and descend thousands of feet.

Such was the site of my first trail run with my good friend Lara Robinson near Boulder, CO.

Lara who writes an inspiring and wonderful blog – Saturday Morning Zen – was kind enough to meet me at the Eldorado Canyon Trail Head for a 7 mile run that I will not soon forget.

Still fighting off a cold that Landry brought home from Day Care I knew that I was going to be in for a tough run as it was.  We were starting the run at 6:30 a.m., 30 degrees at an elevation of 5,637 feet.

The previous morning my run took place on my home turf in Austin, temperature 67 degrees at a cozy elevation of 873 feet.  I wore shorts, socks and running shoes.  Nothing else.  Clipping off an “easy” run at 7:29 pace over 6.2 miles.

When I hopped out of my rental car to greet Lara I was back in my winter running gear.  Tights, Under Armor Top, Running Vest, Two pairs of gloves and my winter running hat.  What a difference a day makes.

Lara and I chatted for a second and then headed up onto the trail at a pace that I would normally consider slow and plodding.  I should have been able to talk very easily with Lara as we got underway, but only a couple of minutes into our run this Texan was already wondering where all of the air was.

I was taking deep breaths, but the thin Colorado air was not helping.  Add in a clogged nose and a bit of a lingering cough – this was going to be a tough run.

The opening mile climbed 203 feet.  Mile 2 another 243 feet.  Mile 3 “only” 140.  We were going up, up, up toward the top of the canyon reaching a maximum elevation of 6,246 feet before we were able to come thundering down the trail over the last couple miles of our run.

As we continued on the run it was like discovering an entirely different way of running.

Every single footfall needed to be carefully measured.  There was not a time where you could really look up ahead and just “zone out”.  I watched as Lara ran ahead of me deftly adjusting her stride length, where her foot would land, whether she would drop her foot down onto a flat rock, or jump left and right to find the best footing.

It was remarkable, almost like watching a cat or another sure footed animal naturally adapt to the terrain they were traveling over.

After a couple of miles these changes to my stride and gait started to come naturally.  I was even able to start taking a peek here and there at the beauty around me.

At certain points we would stop to take a breather and Lara would tell me about the area we were in.

Finally! Some flat ground.

We ran through one part of the trail that had been blasted away to make way for the path and to the right you could look hundreds of feet down to the river racing by below.  It was truly remarkable.

Finally with about a mile or so left to go we were back down on flat terrain and then ran the final ½ mile or so on the asphalt rode I had driven in on to reach the parking lot at the trail head.

My natural running cadence and rhythm came back to me at this point and we were able to turn a mile right around 7:15-7:20 pace.

After only one trail run I could see how great this would be to train for road racing.  How much the elevation changes, terrain and variable footing would strengthen every bit of your “lower half” – making you a much stronger runner.

To have this trail system at your disposal anytime you wanted it as Lara does makes me green with envy.

I couldn’t help but think how great it would be to spend a week or two out in the Eldorado Canyon leading up to the Denver Half-Marathon in October, my tune-up race prior to the NYC Marathon on November 6th.

Now when I read about those trail races being held all around North America like the HAT Run that my friends participated in out in Maryland this past spring I “get it”.  What an invigorating challenge to race over that kind of terrain.

I’m not sure I am quite ready to put that on my to-do list, as I have enough trouble right now figuring out this swim thing for my first triathlon.  Although I did swim 600 Meters yesterday ….

Thanks Lara for an amazing experience and for not taking advantage of me out there.  I’m pretty sure you could have dropped me anytime you wanted to up on the trail.

Lookout next time though, I’ll have a much better idea what I’m getting myself into.

At lunchtime today on the East Coast the lottery for entry into this year’s ING NYC Marathon will be held.

The New York Road Runners are touting this as Marathon Opening Day.

Back in 2006 when I started training for my first ever Marathon in Philadelphia, I had originally hoped to make my debut at NYC.

Not knowing much about the sport at that time, and what my chances were of gaining entry through the lottery – I settled on Philly which would be run just a few weeks after NYC.  This gave me guaranteed entry and a chance to start training knowing exactly when my Marathon Sunday would arrive.

Ever since, NYC has been in the back of my mind as a missed opportunity.  But as my training times got faster and faster, my goals changed.  Instead of NYC, the Boston Marathon became my holy grail.  I trained hard, raced even harder and made my Boston time in my second ever marathon, Pittsburgh 2009.

Training continued, Dom got sick and well …. You know the rest.

With our Boston Marathon 2012 time in our pocket from this February’s Austin Marathon, it seemed like it was time once again to focus on the Big Apple.  After NYC we will have run 2 of the “Big Five” marathons around the world.

Boston, NYC, Chicago, Berlin and London – making up the World Marathon Majors.

There will be no nervousness today or white knuckles as the lottery is held.  We hold a guaranteed entry to the race based on our half-marathon time of 1:23:55 at this year’s 3M Half.

One bit of news caught my eye today however as word about the various celebrities who will be running NYC is starting to trickle out.

Normally I don’t pay much attention to that stuff as I am more concerned with running my race and racing against the only participant that truly matters – me.  But when I caught wind that Anton Apollo Ohno would be racing in NYC this November I started to think.

Can I beat him?

Surely if we were in a short-track speed skating event he would be looking to destroy me.

Why should the marathon for me be any different?

Now I’m not a Gold Medalist, never will be, but I do intend on protecting my turf on November 6, 2011.

Apollo – best of luck to you with your training.  I hope that you get to the starting line 100% prepared and 100% healthy – ready to take on Lady Marathon with a full arsenal of preparation.

I also intend on kicking your ass.

Happy trails Apollo.

Jumping in with both feet

Posted: April 25, 2011 in Training

I mentioned this in the past that whenever I have been forced to the sidelines due to an injury, when I have returned I have done so an even more determined runner. I’m not sure if it is the time away fromm my running shoes, or the sense of what my life would be like without being able to train and exercise, but for whatever reason any fatigue I am feeling or “rut” that I might otherwise find myself fighting disappears.

I come back and can’t wait to get back to it and push a new envelope. Get faster. Get stronger. Set new PR’s. Just keep pushing.

The fact that my 44th birthday is now just over 3 months away also may be playing some role in all of this. The fact is I’m not getting any younger, and at some point no matter how hard I work to keep lowering my times I am going to lose out to the clock being managed by Father Time.

But I still think we’ve got a few more years of quality training and racing to go as we are now just in our 6th year of running. There are still gains to be made.

All that said, there is another reason that I train and that is simply because it is a blast. A week like this past one does nothing but make me wonder where all of this hard work will take me next. My foray into training for my first triathlon has given me different workouts to focus on for sure, but it has also kept things very fresh, even as many days I am now working out not just once but twice.

Last week looked like this:

Mon:     15 miles bike. Evening Swim.

Tues:    6.25 Mile Tempo Run. Evening Swim.

Wed:      7 Mile trail run through the Eldorado Canyon. Evening Swim.

Thurs: 8.3 Mile Hill repeats.

Fri:        20 Mile Bike. Late morning Swim Lesson with Coach Clauida.

Sat:        8.25 Mile Run.

Sun:     12 Mile Long Run.

I was able to Swim, Bike and Run 73miles last week over 9 hours, 18 minutes and 43 seconds.

I spent more time training than a typical “work day”, but not a bit of it felt like work. I will write about my trail run experience out in Boulder later this week, but with views like this one, how could that be described as “work”?

Being Landry’s first Easter we have our good friends Ralph and Michele in town visiting from Pennsylvania and we were even able to make it down to the Salt Lick in Driftwood, TX for some TX BBQ – Landry had quite the time as well.

So, all in all a tremendous week of fun and training. We’ve made some pretty big strides with our swim over the last week, in fact, time to head to the pool for our Monday swim.

Race season kicks off on May 11th, lookout Austin. The train is back on the tracks and we’re looking forward to a big, big summer.

It’s been a long day today no doubt about it.  Still fighting a rather bad cold that my little daughter Landry dragged home from day-care I was up at 4:45 a.m. to get in my Tuesday run before heading to the airport.

70 degrees, 86% humidity and 15 mph winds greeted me at 5:00 a.m. as I stretched against the garage for a quick 10 Kilometer training run.  It’s moments like those when you question what it is all about.  Why not grab that extra hour of sleep?  Nobody is watching.

But for more than 5 years now when the schedule says “run” we run.  When it says “rest” we rest.  When it says “race” we do our very best.  That is the only way I know how to do this.  It is almost as if I feel like if I skip just one day it will somehow make it o.k. to skip another.  Then another and before you know it all of that hard work is for naught.

So I pushed away from the garage door, adjusted my headlamp and hit the trail at Brushy Creek Park.  The wind was howling, blowing me all over the trail.  Just over 46 minutes later I was back at the house, narrowly missing my goal of 7:30 min./mile pace for the run, coming in at 7:33.

Given the high winds and the fact I did not look at my watch at all on the run, I was pretty happy with the workout.  My legs are starting to come back to me and my pace is starting to even out and return as well.  Still not a single peep from my left knee, so I think it is finally safe to declare our injury for 2011 is over.

I showered quickly, said goodbye to Dawn with Landry still fast asleep and traveled to the airport.

I had a day of meetings and then drove down to check-in at the hotel.  After getting settled in and returning messages I pulled my goggles, cap and kickboard out of my carry on bag and went down to the pool.

Time to give this another shot.

Coach Claudia had given me some drills and laps as homework and I slid into the warm water once again to try to take just the smallest step forward towards becoming proficient in the last discipline I need to become a triathlete.

At first the drills on the side of the pool felt just like yesterday.  But I slowly felt like I was catching my breathing rhythm.

As I stared to swim laps, I looked over at a man swimming two lanes to my left, watching him rotate to his side and take a full breath.  I noticed that he spent much more time than I did on his side and got a much longer draw of breath.


My next lap I tried to glide a little longer before taking my next stroke and I rotated my body just a bit further.  Instead of looking directly to the side, I looked slightly higher in the air and a little bit behind me.

My lungs filled with air.

I swam a full lap.

Then I swam another.

And another.

For the very first time I felt like I was starting to get it.  That I might actually be able to learn how to do this.

Such a small adjustment made a huge difference.  Perhaps this is what everyone meant when they told me that the swim was very “technical”.

I spent about 45 minutes in the pool and left with more confidence than I have had to this point.  I find myself looking forward to tomorrow’s swim and even more towards my second lesson on Friday with Coach Claudia.

I can’t remember the exact day when instead of having to slow to a walk during my lunchtime run, I was able to run the entire way back to the house.  But I do remember that I felt like now all I had to do was keep trying.  Keep learning.  Stick with it and I could become a runner.

That same guy was in the pool tonight.  The same guy who for the first time got the first glimmer of believing in himself.

I know one thing for sure.  That guy.  The one who believes in himself is now a very dangerous runner on race day.

If we can get that same feeling in the water – look out.  2011 might turn out to be pretty interesting.

I don’t consider myself a “look back” kind of guy really.

Things that are behind you are there usually for a reason.  Opportunities in life present themselves to you, you process the information as best you can, make a decision and live with the consequences.

Good or bad.

You can “what if” things to death, but it doesn’t change the facts.  Things are the way they are.  It is up to us to decide what to do about it.  You can keep pushing or you can turtle under.  Those are the only real choices we have.  We decide.  We choose.

You can let things happen to you, or make things happen for you.

That’s pretty much the way I was raised when I was a kid, and it has stuck with me now as a 43 year old.  That is at least for another 3 months and 2 weeks anyway.

But this morning it is Patriot’s day in New England which means a few things.  The city of Boston is essentially closed for the day.  The Red Sox will be playing at Fenway and in about 30 minutes in the small town of Hopkinton, MA a gun will fire and the 115th running of the Boston Marathon will be underway.

I have a lot of friends running Boston this morning.  A race that a year ago I was fortunate enough to experience myself running in Bib 7929 out of the 7th starting corral.  I had approximately 1/3 of the field in front of me and 2/3 behind me.  I will never forget the sight of close to 7,000 marathoner’s heads bobbing in front of me down the hill out of the starting area.  No sounds that I can remember specifically other than the sound of feet on pavement.  But I remember the vivid colors stretching out before me for almost an entire mile.

The day was full of emotions as it was the first marathon of two in less than two weeks we would be running for Dom.  Dom was in Pittsburgh, undergoing cancer treatment at UPMC while I was out on the course.  He was following along electronically as the miles ticked by from Hopkinton to Boston.

It was by far the most difficult marathon I had run to that point in my life.

Only to be surpassed 13 days later in Pittsburgh, when my legs could not keep up with my heart and all that mattered was finishing the race and getting that medal to put around Dom’s neck.

More than $27,000 was raised to help Dom, Val, Sierra and Nico from friends, family and in many cases complete strangers from all over the world. 

A year later I now consider many of those individuals my good friends and some like the Brown family in Ohio, Brian Adkins in Chicago or Steve and Ally Speirs in Va. Beach – part of my family.  My runner family.

Amazing the difference that one-year can make.

Dom was still with us last April.

My good friend Keith’s wife Monica was still with us as well, raising Garris and Fuller down in Charleston, SC.

Little miss Landry was still growing inside her Momma’s belly.  I would not hold that bundle in my arms for another 4 months.

So today as I was pedaling along on the triathlon bike up on the trainer in the garage I looked back on last April and the Boston Marathon.

I came away feeling a sense of defeat last year as I was not able to run the race that I wanted.  I read the race report from that day – CLICK HERE – several times a month to remember just what falling short at a big race feels like.

The fact is that setback made me a much more determined runner.  I trained harder and became much, much faster since last April.

That is the way it is sometimes in life.  You learn more from the disappointments than you do from your successes.  It is always tough to remind yourself of that fact when you are in the heat of the moment.  But with some reflection, it is those tough days that define us.

They do not build character as much as they reveal it.

So as my friends race on from Hopkinton to Boston this morning without me, I’m happy to be here in Austin with my family.  I earned my way back to Boston for next Spring’s race – and an even more determined marathoner will stand among the 25,000+ runners next April.

I’ll still have the same initials on my shoes as I did a year ago and I’ll be running for many of the same reasons.  But when I hit Hereford Street a year from now and make that left turn onto Boylston I’ll be running toward another finish line – not away from the starting line.

Sometimes that makes all the difference.

Friday afternoon I met up with Coach Claudia for my first swim lesson.

Last Sunday Claudia qualified for the Ironman 70.3 World Championships by placing 2nd in her age group at the Galveston Half-Ironman.

1.2 mile swim – 33:45

56 mile bike – 2:36:50

13.1 mile run – 1:40:10

4:54:49 overall including her swim to bike, bike to run transitions.  Pretty darn impressive.

Less than a week later she stood along the edge of the pool instructing me on the proper way to breath out my air into the water, rotate my body to grab a breath and repeat. 

It must have been painful at times for an amazing athlete like Coach Claudia watch me struggle to swim the length of a 25 meter pool.  Each time I tried after a few smooth repetitions I would lapse into a rookie mistake.  I would forget to breath out and hold my breath.  I would not blow out all of my air, which would make me try to breathe both out and in quickly when I surfaced.  I would swallow water.  I would tense up and forget to glide.  I would go too fast …. all because I could not quite get the hang of my breathing.

Scene of Lesson #1

Now here is the good news.   There actually is some.

I have been fortunate to have some natural athletic ability when it came to trying new sports.  Running, cycling all came very natural.  My form was not something I really needed to work on or change – it was just a matter of building endurance and of course learning the various “tricks of the trade” so to speak.

Apparently with the swim, I have a few things going for me that I do not have to “learn”.  Better yet, I do not have a lot of bad habits that I need to unlearn before I can move forward.

My lower half does not drop in the water and drag – I am able to simply plane up and go.  Apparently this is something that aspiring triathletes struggle with fairly commonly.

My stroke is long and my elbow position is as it should be.  Again, nothing to fix there, just some minor changes to the position of my fingers as they enter the water and the path I make with my pull arm underwater to maximize the amount of water I can move.

I swim straight, without a dominant side dragging me one way or the other.  Thanks to the core work and strength training I have been doing for years now very dilligently.

All of that was and is very encouraging.

Now if I can just get a handle on that breathing, we might be on to something.

Of course if you ask me, the fact that I need to somehow increase the number of laps I can swim without stopping from 1 to 77.2 or the number of meters I need to increase from 25 to 1,931.2 is still pretty daunting.

I was walking with Dawn, Landry and Kayla around the neighborhood just two nights ago and Dawn and I were talking about the swim.  What I was fearful of and how it seemed so difficult to learn.  Would this be the one thing that keeps me from being able to transition from the marathon to the triathlon as I get older.

She asked me,“when you first started running, how far could you go?”

I thought back to 2005 when I truly had just started to walk over my lunch hours.  41 lbs. heavier than I am today, I could hardly run at all.  I looked up the street to a distant light pole, less than 1/10 of a mile away and I pointed.  “To that light pole up there.”

She glanced up the street than over at me and said, “See, there you go.”

On Saturday morning fresh off of my swimming lesson on Friday I laced up my Brooks Ghost 3 running shoes and snuck out of the house for my Saturday 6.25 mile run.

The wind was still, the temperature was only 48 degrees.  Although my wind and stamina is not all the way back from the time I needed to take off due to my knee injury – it just seemed like too perfect a morning to just “mail in my run.”  If I was 100% normal, it would have been a Ricky Bobby day if there ever was one.  I wanted to go fast and decided that I would try to run some 6:50’s.

I left the house at a comfortably hard pace and locked in as I climbed uphill over the first mile.  Without looking at my watch I tried to keep my effort constant, pushing just a little harder on the uphills so I could stay under 7:00 min./mile pace.

I raced up over the dam at Brushy Creek, around the lake, back up hill and down to the house.  Gradually increasing my effort over the final two miles.  My mile splits were:

6:53, 6:52, 6:53, 6:54, 6:56, 6:47 with a 6:42 closing 400 meters.

An extremely positive development and very consistent run on my way back from my injury.  The best news was that for the first time since the Austin Marathon I did not think about my left knee a single time during my run.

I knew that when that finally happened I would be back.

Not too shabby after a 5 week absence.  Now it’s just a matter of balancing my 5 runs per week, my two cycling workouts, 3 swims and 2 strength training sessions.  If we are able to put in a solid May and June by the time NYC Marathon training starts on July 5th, I should be every bit as ready to train for the marathon of my life.

Hopefully stronger and faster than I was heading into Austin in March.

I have a feeling that the work in the pool on what used to be my “Rest” days from running is going to help with our endurance, flexibility and strengthen our core.  Lookout NY, if I can get the hang of this breathing we might have a surprise or two for you in November.

In the meantime I am going to continue to do what I do.  Gather as much information as I can about the swim.  Listen to my coach and to my body and work as hard as I can to get better.

What was once 1/10 of a mile is now 26.2 miles when it comes to me running.

What is today 25 meters will simply need to become 1,931.2.

I once needed to learn to run 262 times as far.  Now I only have to learn how to swim 77 times as far.  I may never end up being a strong swimmer, that is definitely a possibility.  But the one thing I know I can do is work as hard at it as anyone ever has.  I’m pretty sure if given the chance, Dom would be in that pool right there with me, telling me to relax, breath easy and stay focused.

It really is otherworldly down there in the pool.  I need to find a way to make myself just as comfortable swimming lap after lap as I am running sub 7:00 minute miles.  By the time the Austin 70.3 rolls around in October of 2012, I will have 18 months of swimming under my belt.  We just may burst on to the triathalon scene here in Austin and surprise some people.

There is a whole other group however that I don’ think will be surprised at all.  They were the ones in the ponchos in the rain last May in Pittsburgh when we ran that second marathon for Dom just 13 days after Boston.  Or the ones who helped push me to that sub 40:00 minute 10K time last October at IBM. 

We’ve got this.  It’s just going to take a little bit of time.

Boston Week

Posted: April 13, 2011 in Training

Monday morning the small New England town of Hopkinton, MA will be teeming with marathoners from all over the world.

More than 25,000 of them will be packed on to school busses and driven out to the start of the race, 26.2 miles from Copley Square in Boston.

They will enter into the Athletes Village, relax on the grass fields at the local high school, eat bagels and bananas, drink water and Gatorade and prepare for one of the largest spectacles in road racing.  The 115th running of the Boston Marathon.

One year ago I was there among the masses, getting ready for my maiden voyage along the storied course.  Scene of so many tremendous races and so much history.  Simply put, there is nothing like Boston.

This will be the final Boston Marathon under the “old” qualifying standards as people are describing them.  Of course the Boston marathon once was simply a local race open to anyone who was brave enough and crazy enough to race the 26.2 miles from Hopkinton to Boston.

Anyone of course as long as you were not a woman.

The Boston Athletic Association did not allow women to register for the race until 1972.  I was 5 years old at the time.

Roberta “Bobbi” Gibb is recognized as the first woman to run the entire Boston Marathon (in 1966).  In 1967, Kathrine Switzer, who had registered as “K. V. Switzer”, was the first woman to run with a race number.  She finished, despite a celebrated incident in which race official Jock Semple tried to rip off her numbers and eject her from the race.  I would be born in July of that year.

I knew as soon as I crossed the line at the Pittsburgh Marathon in May of last spring and placed my finisher’s medal around Dom’s neck that I would not be returning to Boston in 2012.

I had missed my qualifying time by a little more than 90 seconds during the 2010 Boston Marathon and then ran my second marathon just 13 days later in Pittsburgh.  That would be my last marathon of the year as I needed to recover from the Run for Dom “double” – I would spend the rest of the year building toward the Austin Marathon in February of 2011.

I thought that I would be disappointed this week as many of my friends from around the country are making their way to Boston this weekend for the race.  Oddly I am very much at peace sitting this year’s Boston Marathon out.

Perhaps it is that 2012 Boston time that I have sitting in my pocket, just waiting for the Registration to open in September for next year’s race.  My daughter will be 18 months old at that point, toddling along, maybe even learning to cheer a bit for her Daddy.

The last time I was on that course, Landry was in her mom’s belly, still 4 months away from being born.

It may be the fact that my return to running from my knee injury is still very fresh in my mind.  I hate having to be patient when I am nursing an injury, taking time away from running.  But each and every time it seems to come when I need it the most.  When I feel like I am close to achieving my goals and I am singularly focused on one thing and one thing only.

Getting faster.

When I return to running however I rediscover what it really is all about for me.

I love to run.

This morning, on a near-perfect Austin morning at 5:30 a.m. I logged 9 miles at 7:27 pace.  It was my longest run since shutting things down for 5 weeks and my knee felt absolutely perfect.

The run which was :01 per mile slower than I ran the entire Austin Marathon back on February 20th was certainly nothing to write home about from a speed standpoint.  But it was the run itself that was the reward, not the time on my wrist.

I got so see a half-dozen deer gaze out from the trail at me, their eyes illuminated by my headlamp.

I ran with airplane arms at my sides down the hill from the top of the dam, shaking out my muscles after 7 miles.

I decided to “tack on” an extra mile at the end of my run, just because I could. 

Shame on me for ever taking any of this for granted.

So to the 25,000+ who will be running Boston on Monday – I wish all of you great weather, full health and a great race.  I hope each and every one of you reaches your goals and earns your Finisher’s Medal.

Mostly I hope that all of you enjoy yourself as much as I did this morning.  Afterall, it doesn’t matter where you run or how fast you run, only that you get out there and get it done. 

Austin or Boston it doesn’t much matter.  I’ll be out there on Monday doing my thing.

See you next year Boston.  I’m coming back out there to kick you squarely in the ass.

Looking back on my journey from non-runner to Boston Marathon Finisher it is really hard to pinpoint “the moment” where things changed for me.

I remember the conversation I had with the owner of our company when he was the first one to plant the “you should run a marathon” idea in my ear.  But no matter how hard I look back over the past 6 years, I can’t seem to put my finger on that single moment when things went from a curiosity about a new sport to a passion for it.

That’s too bad as defining moments by definition are infrequent.  Sometimes they are the culmination of hard work and singular focus, all building toward a date on a calendar and a date with fate or destiny.

But other times they just sneak up on you when you least expect it.  Something rather innocent like starting to take a walk on your lunch hour can when mixed with the right ingredients and happenstance lead to you standing on the starting line of the Boston Marthon less than 5 years later.

But this week I know is going to be a special week.

This week I hit the pool and learn to swim.

Now, perhaps “learn to swim” is a bit too dramatic.  Thanks to lessons at the Y when I was a kid and summers on the Jersey Shore when I was just a little guy, I know how to swim.  Surely surfing on the East Coast when I was living in Charleston South Carolina helped me not be afraid of the ocean.  Wakeboarding and floating with friends here in Austin on Lake Travis has helped me lose any fear I might have of open water.

But this week I will be taking my first strokes in an effort to learn how to swim like a triathlete.

I will hit the pool on Monday and Wednesday to get acclimated and then on Friday afternoon have my first 1-hour swim instruction with my triathlon coach. 

I have what I think is the proper mixture of apprehension and excitement going on.  I can’t wait to get started just to find out how much I don’t know.  Then it will be a matter of learning the proper technique, practice, practice, practice and more practice until that muscle memory becomes a part of me.

Perhaps I will take to it naturally as I did to distance running.  I did not have to worry about changing my stride.  Where my feet landed.  Whether I was a neutral runner, a mid-foot striker or anything else.  Luckily for me I was very neutral and natural.  No orthotics or changes to my running economy.

I just ran.

With the bike it took me awhile to get used to getting down over the aero-bars and popping my cycling shoes in and out of the cleats.  But again, I was very fortunate to be able to take to the bike very quickly and easily.

The swim is something different entirely though.

The engine that fuels my runs and bike rides will be the same, but I will need to learn a very technical approach to the swim.  I will not be able to simply rely on any natural athleticism.  I will need to watch, listen and learn.

In 19 months I hope to be competing in the Texas Half-Ironman here in Austin.

1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, 13.1 mile run.

Not only would I like to compete in that event, but I would like to leave my mark.  I would like my debut at the half ironman to be remembered as an auspicious one.  Where a competitor in their first attempt at that distance competed with athletes with much more experience than he, but still held his own.

That is the goal.  19 months seems like a long way off.  But it is the exact length of time between my first ever marathon and my second, when I took more than 41 minutes off of my time, more than 1 minute and 30 seconds every mile, to qualify for the Boston Marathon.

My daughter will be a two-year old toddler, able to cheer for her Daddy that day.  Whatever happens, whether my goals are realized or I am humbled at the event, we will be able to trace it all back to this week.

The week I started to swim.

I got out of the shower after my 10 Kilometer training run Friday morning and my legs were really letting me know just what they thought about our return to running this week.

My calves, Quads and hips were all clamoring for more time in the hot shower and a little bit of massage to help them recover.

That soreness enveloped me like a warm jacket on a cold day.

It felt ….. awesome.

In my ramp up to the Austin Marathon I had been hitting the training hard for a solid year with no injuries and no unplanned days off.  I was able to go from run to run, workout to workout with no soreness whatsoever.

But this week, not even running on back to back days, after three runs of 4 miles, 5 miles and 6.2 miles my legs sound like Roberto Duran after his fight with Sugar-Ray Leonard.

No Mas.

Well, tough cookies guys, as there is no backing down at this point.

Bike tomorrow another run on Sunday and we are going to keep on moving forward as our knee is now back to 100%.

Amazing how just 5 weeks away from my regular training led to all of that muscle soreness in my legs.

It feels fantastic.  I feel like my old self again.  I feel like a runner.  So bring on the soreness I say.

Afterall, pain is just weakness leaving the body.

5:10 a.m. and the alarm clock sounded on Wednesday morning.  I had been up for about 15 minutes watching the numbers tick forward from 4:55.  I had traveled back to Austin on Tuesday night, met by Dawn and Landry at the Austin airport and gotten home around 8:00 p.m. or so.

Landry is cutting a couple of bottom teeth right now and had a little bit of trouble falling asleep last night – pretty rare for our little one actually – but it wasn’t the greatest night of sleep.

Wednesday morning would only be my second run back since the Cooper River Bridge Run on Saturday.  It would be my first training run back on my home course on the Brushy Creek Trail since my 2-mile shakeout run on February 19th, the day before the Austin Marathon.

Anxiety level Wednesday morning?  High.

It’s funny when you are a runner coming off of an injury as there are all kinds of phantom pains and “tingling” that you feel in the affected area.  I’m not sure exactly how many of them are true feelings and how many of them are imagined.  But I would venture to guess that it is at least a 50-50 proposition.

I lay there trying to determine how my knee would feel when my feet hit the floor, flexing my knee, massaging it with my fingers, hoping that today was the day where I would be completely symptom free.

After a couple of flights back from the East Coast yesterday I was happy that there was no swelling or tightness.  Sometimes the altitude changes when I fly will make my feet swell or muscles sore if I’m in heavy training for a marathon.  But as I made my way to the bathroom to brush my teeth and get ready for my run, my knee felt great.

50 degree weather with a stiff breeze from the south called for shorts and a long sleeve running shirt.

I laced up my Brooks Ghost 3’s for the first time in over a month, strapped on my GPS and hit the street.

I am still at the point in my recovery where I am constantly analyzing my gait.  Each footfall sends a message back to my brain and I am interpreting every little shake and shimmy.

The miles ticked along quickly, all right around 7:00 min./mile pace.  I tweaked my route just a bit so that miles 2 and 4 would take me close to the house so that if I did feel the need to shut things down it would be easy to do so.

Nothing worse than being 2 or 3 miles from home and having to walk back.

My knee held steady throughout and I can say that this is the strongest it has felt since pre-injury.

5 miles in 34:50 (6:57 pace).  Pretty solid workout after so much time off.

So officially I feel like I am on my way back.

The next race that I have on my calendar is the Congress Avenue Mile on May 21st.  Six full weeks away, plenty of time to build back my mileage base and then mix in some hill work and tempo runs prior to race day.

I was hoping to really let it all hang out this year at the CAM – shooting for something just over 5:00 minutes after last year’s 5:24 in my first attempt at the distance.  Perhaps things will come together and I can really push hard over the final 2 weeks leading up to race day.

But right now the prescription is for patience.

I need to build my run days and my mileage slowly.  Make sure I hit the gym for strength training and use the Tri-bike for cross training.

Staying smart right now is what I need to do, reminding myself that the real goal is to hit NYC Marathon Training full speed later this summer.

So for now I will not run on back-to-back days for at least two weeks and gradually build my weekend long runs back to double digits.

It is a hard thing not jumping back in to 40-50 mile run weeks as I know that is what was helping me improve as a runner over the past year.  But for now all that a schedule like that would ensure is more knee pain and more time off.

It’s a tough lesson to learn.  Quite honestly, one that even two years ago I would not have been able to stick with.  I would be rushing back, looking for a shortcut or two to get back out there faster.

Running like most things in life has revealed one great certainty to me over the last year or so.

There are no shortcuts.