Archive for December, 2011

New Year’s Eve?  Seriously?

Man, where is the time going?  This is such a tough time of year for me to stay on top of everything going on.  Travel, family commitments, days at work, days off of work and of course the usual grind of training and before you know it – poof.  Another holiday season is over and New Year’s Day is upon us once again.

I remember last year going through this process and I felt like I had Soooo much time to chase down my top ten goals from 2011.  I did a pretty good job in hindsight, but I certainly could have used another month or two to get those last couple of goals locked up.

This year I am ahead of the game from the planning standpoint, but when I look at the list I compiled below over the past few weeks I have noticed a few trends when compared to previous years.

1.     My goals are getting more and more specific.

2.     My goals are getting more and more difficult.

Last year’s list for example had goals to “Take my first swimming lessons” and “Complete my first sprint distance triathlon”.

Huge accomplishments for sure as learning to swim remains one of the most challenging things I have ever accomplished athletically, but now that the groundwork has been laid, the triathlon dominates some of my bigger goals for 2012.

Without further ado, here is the list:

The first goal remains the one that can make all of the other goals possible.  I know that if I am able to string together 12 months of solid, injury free training and racing, I can make huge gains in the areas where I need to improve – The bike and the swim – and keep my “secret weapon” when it comes to the triathlon – the run – right where I need it to be.

Run volume will be a huge key to my success in 2012.  Being able to log more than 2,012 miles over the course of the year will be a great accomplishment with the increase in my cross-training activities.

PR at Boston.  This is a must-have goal for me.  I want this one badly.

The Holland, TX 5K is a small race, but one of my favorites.  If I am able to win my Age Group this year it would make four years in a row.  Normally I race the clock and myself as you can never predict or control who else shows up on race day.  This race however is one I want to win.

Badly.

I am going to really focus on speed work after Boston and try to make a run at a 4:59 mile at the Congress Avenue mile this spring.  This very well be my last, best chance to runt that kind of time.

When I return to Jack’s Sprint Triathlon in New Braunfels, it will be my return to my first ever Tri.  I want to race well and break the 1:13:00 mark at that race which would be a :20 improvement over my debut there last summer.

Breaking 2:30 in one of the two Olympic Distance Triathlons on my race calendar for the summer will be a very tall order, but one I am willing to go all in to train for and chase.  It’s not going to be easy, but I think with hard work in the pool I’ve got a real shot.

100 Miles on the bike seems ridiculous to me at this point.  I know however that if I am serious about the last goal on my list.  I am going to need a ride or two at this distance so that racing 56 miles does not seem so daunting.

Number 9 is a “carry-over” goal from 2011.  Landry and I never got a chance to race together this year as she was still a bit too young at the earlier 5K races in the past year.  When she was old enough, we were racing 10 K’s, half-marathons and marathons, so the stars never aligned for the two of us.  We’ll be getting this goal out of the way early in 2012.

The biggest goal is of course saved for last.  Half-Ironman.  Barring injury, we’ll be taking on the 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, 13.1 mile run or Ironman 70.3 as it is known at Longhorn this October.

70.3 miles or racing, 5+ hours of swimming, biking, running.  That is one medal that I am looking forward to earning.

Happy New Year everyone!  Get those lists ready, only 365 training days left!

 

I’m not sure what it is about being a runner, perhaps it is the fundamental nature of the sport to keep looking ahead and not pay too much attention to the things that are behind you. Afterall, if you start looking back there long enough, something or someone might catch you.

But as we reach the final week of 2011, I decided to take one final glance back at 2011 through the macro-lens of my camera and tally up just how much running we did over the course of the year.

After Saturday morning’s final run of 2011 (9 miles) we will have run 254.6 miles in the month of December, our highest monthly total ever, bringing our yearly total to 2,068 miles. Our first year over the 2,000 mile mark as injuries in the past have always required time off from running with our mileage topping out at just over 1,900 miles in 2009 and 2010.

What I found interesting when I looked back at the previous year is that I set a new total mileage record despite the fact that in the month of March I ran exactly 5 miles.

As in, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.

Once again the injury bug hit me and I was forced to rest an inflamed left knee coming out of the Austin Marathon and Ragnar Del Sol Relay. I spent that time on the bike and starting my swim lessons t0 prepare for July’s debut in the Triathlon, but that month cost me a solid 180-200 miles of running for sure.

I never really thought of myself as a “high-mileage” guy. I know a lot of runners, and I mean A LOT who run far more miles than I do. But to stay healthy at 44 years old, I know that I need to take a rest day on both Monday and Friday – limiting my running to just 5 days per week. Many runners run 6 or 7 days each week. I just cannot do that and stay injury free.

We all have our limitations as runners and non-runners – the key in life is to maximize the opportunities that you do have and make the most of them. If God has allowed me to only run 5 days a week and stay healthy, then I need to make the most of those 5 days – focus on the quality of my runs and not so much the quantity of them.

Simply put, I don’t have time to screw around out there. With only 5 opportunities to run each week, I need to maximize those workouts. I need a speed workout, a stamina workout, an endurance workout, a hill workout or pace workout and a recovery run. That does not leave a lot of room in my diet for “junk” miles.

Perhaps it is the lack of the luxury to just “mail in” a few runs every week that keeps me moving the needle forward. I’m not quite sure about that. But I do know that consistency in training and keeping those miles coming is what has helped me improve as a runner in all distances from the mile to the marathon over the past year.

Down-time is a runner’s enemy.

Staying consistent and continuing to improve day after day, week after week is the key.

One of my favorite excerpts from the book by John Parker – “Again to Carthage” reads:

“When you’re a competitive runner in training, you are constantly in a process of ascending. It’s not something most human beings would give a moment of consideration to, that it is actually possible to be living for years in a state of constant betterment. To consider that you are better today than you were yesterday or a year ago, and that you will be better still tomorrow or next week. . . . That if you’re doing it right, you are an organism constantly evolving toward some agreed-upon approximation of excellence.”

If you have not read the sequel to “Once A Runner” it is definitely worth a read – in fact, if you have not read “Once A Runner” by John Parker, that is really the place to start. Truly a cult-novel for runners that the author self-published and sold literally from the trunk of his car in the 1970’s – Parker through the character Quenton Cassidy captures the spirit of a true runner. The two stories are tremendous.

But it is “Again to Carthage” that really struck a chord with me as the character Quenton reflects on something his coach and friend Bruce shared with him early on as he was making the transition from Miler to Marathoner.

“He wanted to impart some of the truths Bruce Denton had taught him, that you don’t’ become a runner by winning a morning workout. The only true way is to marshal the ferocity of your ambition over the course of many days, weeks, months, and (if you could finally come to accept it) years. The Trial of Miles; Miles of Trials. How could he make them understand?”

The fact of the matter is that there is no way to make anyone understand who hasn’t been there before. Running more than 2,000 miles to race just 26.2 is not a concept that is easily grasped. But it is one that once you arrive at that place you realize that perhaps there never is an end point. If you goal is to continue to improve and push yourself to the edge of your capabilities – whether that is as a runner, a father, a boss, husband, son, brother or friend – looking ahead is really the only answer.

2,068 miles are behind us in 2011 – with another 1,000+ on the bike and 49 miles more swam in the pool and the lake.

All of which brought us to this point. Our starting line for 2012. A year where we will add the title of Half-Ironman in October to 7-Time Marathoner in April.

The Trials of Miles, Miles of Trials.

16 weeks to go until race day. 4 months seems like a long time, but when you have been looking forward to a race for 20 months at this point, 4 more months seems like a small price to pay on the road to Boston.

After last week’s 65.80 miles we are firmly in the “meat and potatoes” portion of our training plan.

I don’t really eat meat and potatoes too often; usually Friday nights is the night when we’ll grill out in the spring and summer. So maybe we’re in the Chicken and Rice portion of our training plan or the Seafood and Vegetables portion of things, but needless to say, things are starting to get serious.

This week we will run another “Double” on Tuesday with 7 miles at a relaxed effort in the morning followed by 8.3 miles over the hill route at a more intense pace about 12 hours later.

Wednesday’s workout is a steady 10 miler – again, 12 hours after our Tuesday night run. Thursday morning we will head to the hill for our second (Down)hill Repeat session of the training cycle.

The weekend will feature a 9 mile up-tempo run on Saturday followed by a steady-state, relaxed 18 miles on Sunday. A 61.5 mile run week which will be our “standard” weekly mileage throughout the remainder of the training cycle.

Mileage will be a bit lower during our four race weekends at Ragnar Florida Keys, The Texas Half Marathon, The Austin Half Marathon and The Shamrock Half-Marathon in Virginia Beach.

Mileage will be a bit higher reaching the 65+ mile range in the weeks that feature our 20+ mile long runs on Sunday.

I get asked a lot about how I train, if I ever get bored, does it seem tedious – but the truth of the matter is, very rarely are any of my workouts “the same”. I may be covering a similar route or the same number of miles, but each workout is run at a particular pace for a particular reason either recovering from a previously difficult workout or preparing for one to come the following day.

It takes a great deal of focus and as I am learning – patience – to treat each workout as an individual occurrence, knowing that in the end it will all lead to arriving in Hopkinton, MA on April 16th the most well-prepared marathoner we have ever been on race day.

So in a word, “no” – it doesn’t get boring or tedious, in fact the next 16 weeks are going to go by faster than I fathom. One morning I am going to wake up and there will be only one long run remaining and it will be time to start watching the notorious unpredictable Boston weather and start fixating on what kind of clothing will be required for race day.

That is a 10-day exercise in restraint in and of itself as when the remaining 919 training miles have been run there will be very little to “worry” about on race day other than the weather.

16 weeks to go. On to Boston.

A Run to Dom

Posted: December 25, 2011 in Motivation
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4:45 a.m. Christmas morning as I slipped out of bed with Landry and Dawn still sleeping. I had a 10 mile run on the schedule, following my 20-miler the previous day. Not being home this year for Christmas I did not have the luxury of just heading out on our 10-mile loop, switching on the auto-pilot and knocking out the run before it was time to get back and open presents.

I needed to come up with a route from Dawn’s parents house that would give me an early morning safe out and back route. I was kicking around the idea of running from the house out to the cemetery where Dom was laid to rest two summers ago after he passed away on August 15, 2010.

The route wasn’t the greatest as it ran along two busy roads with very little shoulder, but that early on Christmas morning I thought it just might work. The other issue was the incredibly steep climbs that I would have to make out of Dawn’s childhood street, followed by a solid two more miles of climbing to reach the High School Dawn and Dom attended.

More than 1,000 feet of climbing in just over four miles to reach the cemetery. Pretty tough after a 20-mile run the previous day.

I was playing over the options in my head on Christmas Eve when Dawn, Landry and I went over to the D’Eramo’s house to visit with Dom’s Mom and Dad, Brothers, Aunt, nieces, nephews, his wife Val, his daughter Sierra who is now 5 years old and his son Nico who is almost two.

As I sat there with my plate of stuffed shells, smelts, stuffed mushrooms and a few other delicious side dishes listening about the trip to Italy the family is taking this summer, all I could think about was how much Dom would have loved this dinner.

Kids running around everywhere, stories being told, lots of joy and happiness – it was the kind of night I always think about when I think of Dom. He was always the center of attention at gatherings like this one, holding court, entertaining everyone with is story-telling.

Nobody mentioned it, but you knew we are all thinking the same thing.

It’s just not the same without Dom.

As I laid out my running gear on Saturday night, I knew exactly where I was going on Sunday morning.

I put on my tights, Under Armour cold weather gear, two pairs of gloves and fired up my headlamp in the 29 degree temperature. Without so much as a single flat stride I started to climb for one mile straight out of Dawn’s neighborhood.

My legs felt strong despite a high mileage week, but I was barely keeping my pace under 9:00 minutes per mile on the steep ascent. I wasn’t even on the “hill” yet.

I decided to forget about the watch and just think about the trip to see Dom.

I reached Broadhead Road, made a right turn and started ticking off the miles. There was a rolling section through town, past Dom’s street where he grew up and then a long climb past the hunting club and the Middle School Dom and Dawn attended where my Mother-in-Law still teaches.

Then it was past the turn for the High School and finally another 3/4 of a mile of climbing and I turned left into the cemetery. As my headlamp shone into the grounds I scattered three large Pennsylvania white tail deer. I ran past the groundskeepers house and down the hill to Dom’s row.

Just off of the path on the right I slowed to a walk and my headlamp shone onto Dom’s grave site. It had been awhile since I had Dom’s undivided attention, so I decided to catch him up on a few things.

I told him how wonderful his family is, how beautiful his daughter has become, and how big and strong is son Nico is. How I could hardly keep up with him as I chased him around his house the night before.

I thanked him for all that he has afforded me, especially over the past few years and that without him pushing me to keep training, keep racing and continue on in his memory, races like New York City never would have happened.

“Boston” would just be this race I ran once, not something I am training for with all my heart, body and soul this year.

As I started to feel the cool morning air stiffening my legs as I kneeled in the grass, I knew I had to get moving again. I shared one last thing with Dom that I’m keeping just between the two of us until after Boston, which I know he will hold sacred.

He is a MUCH better secret-keeper now than he ever was before …. and I started to make my way back home.

The hills which were my enemy on the way to visit Dom were now carrying me along at paces under 6:00 minutes per mile.

I reached the house in 1:16:12 over 10 miles. 7:37 pace.

My Boston Qualifying requirement for my age is 3:20:00.

7:37 pace. Pretty fitting.

Thanks for the time this morning Dom. I miss you more than ever.

Ho, Ho, Holy SH#% …..

Posted: December 24, 2011 in Uncategorized
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Wishing you and your family a happy, healthy and safe Holiday Season.

Landry of course is not so sure about this whole Santa Claus situation.

Merry Christmas everyone!

A couple of years ago I started tracking all of the various states, cities and then countries that I had trained in preparing for a marathon.  I’m not entirely sure I knew back then just how many places would end up on my list, but it seemed like an interesting exercise nonetheless.

After last week’s trip added San Antonio, TX to the ledger we have now trained or raced in three countries, 16 states and 40 Cities in the US, Canada and Mexico.  The full list of locations is on the right side of the blog at the bottom of the page.

In a few weeks we will add Miami, FL and the Florida Keys to that list of locations as my band of merry runners and I compete in the Ragnar Florida Keys 6-person team ultra marathon covering 200 miles in about 24 hours.  That race report should be pretty epic.

I get asked a lot about whether or not I enjoy running while I am traveling and although it does tend to complicate things from a packing perspective – some of my all-time favorite runs have come away from my tried and true measured routes around Austin, TX.

I’ve had my share of mishaps like not packing warm enough, not packing “cool” enough, forgetting to charge my Garmin, only bringing one pair of running shoes, then getting them soaked through in a thunderstorm and having to pack them with newspaper overnight to run in the rain again the following morning.

I’ve seen amazing sunrises, beautiful sunsets, outlasted the ROTC candidates running loops around the reservoir in Delaware, crossed the Golden Gate Bridge and even crossed state lines a few times.  All in all, any “pain-in-the-assedness” that training while traveling has presented has far been outweighed by the benefits.

Well this week as Dawn, Landry and I make our final Christmas trip away from home, at least until Landry is much, much older the marathon training calendar and the Christmas Calendar were really not getting along very well.

Christmas Eve – 10 Miles

Christmas Day – 20 Miles.

Add in a cross-country flight on Friday to get the three of us from Austin,TX to Pittsburgh, PA and all the joys that go along with holiday travel toting a now walking and running away from you giggling 15-month-old and it is sure to be a tough weekend of training right?

Not so fast.

I have two things waiting on me when we arrive in Pittsburgh this trip, three if you count Dom with whom I will be sure to visit over the weekend and have a little chat with to catch him up on things.

1.  The Montour Trail.

2.  Mark Williams.

The Montour Trail, just 20 minutes or so by car from Dawn’s parents home is a multi-use non-motorized recreational rail-trail near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, extending 46 miles from Moon Township near Coraopolis to Clairton.  The trail is part of the Great Allegheny Passage(GAP), a trail system that stretches over 330 miles from Pittsburgh to Washington, DC.

Montour Trail

I had a chance to run on the Montour Trail last year when I was back visiting for the holidays and it is a tremendous crushed granite trail along the old railway.  It features some great rolling terrain, lots of great overpasses and underpasses as the trail winds along the riverbeds for long stretches at a time.

It goes over bridges, through old train tunnels and is extremely well maintained and safe.  For a runner or off-road cyclist – this trail is the real deal.

To make sure my training plans do not get in the way of Santa’s arrival, I will be flip-flopping my workouts, running my 20-miler on Saturday followed by my 10-miler on Christmas Day after all the presents are opened and everyone is settling in for a nice easy Sunday.

The second reason I am looking forward to 30 miles of running this weekend is I will be able to run 15 miles or so of my 20 on Saturday morning with my friend Mark.  Mark and I “met” through Run for Dom when I was training for the Boston Marathon and Pittsburgh Marathon just 13 days apart back in 2010 in support of Dom’s battle with cancer.

Mark and I became friends over the course of that time and helped support each other through quite a few training cycles, marathons, unfortunately injuries and PR’s along the way.  Mark is a tremendous runner, with a shiny new marathon PR of 3:12 and change from this year’s Erie Marathon.

Mark Williams - Beast

He and his wife Tammy will both be making the trip out to Hopkinton, MA to race in this year’s Boston Marathon.  A first-time for both of them, but certainly not their last.

Mark is coming back from some knee inflammation, so he is not quite ready for a full-on 20-miler.  But we are going to meet-up early on Saturday morning for an enjoyable 15 miles at a relaxed-conversational pace to talk about life, family, kids, marathoning, beer drinking, and more running topics, not necessarily in that order.

At the end of the 15 miles I will drop Mark off at our starting point and then head out for a final 5 miles at a bit quicker pace to wrap up my Christmas Eve 20.  Then it will be off for a big breakfast and a great day with Landry and the family.

So if you are out there thinking about how you are going to get your exercise in over the holidays, plan it like anything else and enjoy it.  It’s not a chore, it’s a gift.  Just ask a runner who is nursing an injury or someone who would love to run, bike, swim, walk or take a yoga class but is physically unable to.

They would give just about anything to be out there on a beautiful trail with a good friend ticking off the miles.  They might not want to run 20 of them, but that’s what makes me the lovable lunatic that I am.

Afterall, there is a somewhat decent chance I might just run 21.

Happy Holidays everyone!

Week number one of Boston Marathon Training is in the books after yesterday’s 18-mile long run.

I spent a great deal of time yesterday, perhaps an hour of my 2 hour, 15 minute and 55 second run thinking about my ramp up to Boston in 2010.  Training through an injury and how different things are for me preparing for the race in April.

In December of 2009 I was not running 17 weeks before race day.  I was still recovering from my shin splint injury and was riding my Tri Bike in the garage with the back wheel up on the trainer.  I ran my first 3 miles on the way to Hopkinton on December 28th on the way to a 19 mile week to start my training cycle just 16 weeks before race day.

Yesterday’s run was just one mile shorter than my entire mileage for that opening week of training.  My first week of Boston training for this year’s race was a 58 mile run week featuring a 14 mile mid-week run on Tuesday, (down)hill repeats on Thursday a 9-mile up-tempo workout on Saturday followed and our long run yesterday.

My legs today feel great and despite having a sick little Landry on our hands last night – it appears she got a stomach bug – mentally I feel fired up and ready to go these next 17 weeks to Hopkinton.

As the race draws near however I know that the demons that I am going to have to put to rest in Boston are going to grow larger and larger.

The psyche of any marathoner is delicate.  I am no exception.  As the final weeks of training arrive, mileage decreases as the athlete tapers for the race.  20-mile long runs are now 10.  65 mile run weeks are now 32 miles.  It allows doubts to creep in.   Questions along the lines of:

“Am I ready?”

“Could I have done more?”

“Will I be able to run strong to the finish?”

Those thoughts are tough to squash even when you are approaching a race and a course that you have run before, and performed well on.  They are equally tough when you approach a race for the first time.

But when you return to a race that for lack of a better term, “handed you a new one” the last time you attempted it.  The Demons are cruel and quite vicious.

I spent a lot of time yesterday thinking about this very thing and how I am going to train like there is no tomorrow for Boston.  Because for me, there really isn’t.  Boston will be it for me for the marathon for quite some time.  Time to spend more time with Landry and Dawn, time to tackle some new challenges with respect to the Triathlon.  More time in the pool.  More time on the bike.  Less time “marathoning”.

It is also going to be special because of the fact that it is Boston and it is my chance to redeem myself after 2010.  I showed up confident in 2010, but woefully unprepared, being able to run just 4X a week, topping out at 45 miles total as our highest mileage week with two long runs of 20 miles.

This time if we are able to execute our training plan we will be running 5 or 6X a week, topping out over 65 miles as our highest mileage week with 7 long runs between 20-22 miles and racing three half-marathons.

This year we will be more than prepared for the race, but it is the area of confidence I hope is not lacking.  I am going to be trying over these next 17 weeks to dispel the memories of 2010.  This year will not be the first time I run Boston.  That is why “first times” are so precious.  You never get a chance to do that again.

But this year I am going to run Boston as the new and improved marathoner that I am.  A 3:08 guy who went toe to toe with one of the most challenging marathons in the world in New York back in November and ran a 7 minute PR.  That is the marathoner who will be boarding the bus to Hopkinton on April 16th, exactly two years to the day after that “other” marathoner got on the same bus in 2010.

Same course, same race, different runner.

I thought a lot about making the right turn onto Hereford Street, running up to Boyleston, making the final left turn and laying on the gas to close out the race.  Passing marathoners left and right on the way to the finish.  Owning those final 5 miles and once and for all exorcising the Demons of Marathons past.

Seems to be the right time of year for that kind of thing.

Happy Holidays everyone.

Just two weeks remain in 2011.  Hard to believe just how fast the last year has flown by.

Every one of my friends who have children warned me that in the blink of an eye Landry would transform from a tiny little infant who I stayed home from work last December to care for as Dawn went back to work to a walking, talking little person.  The time was precious, I needed to pay close attention and make the most of it.

For the most part I have tried my best to do just that.  Spend special time with Dawn and Landry, drink in all of the milestones and try not to “miss anything” major.  Rolling over, standing up, first steps, first words, swim lessons, pretending to be an elephant, now watching her run for the first time through the house – I’ve been there for all of it and it has been everything I could have ever asked for.  Better in fact, as I truly had no idea just how special this first 15 months would be with Landry.

Dawn and I can hardly wait for what is next.

This morning I had an 18 miler on the schedule, wrapping up our first week of Boston Training with a 58 mile run week.  Needless to say we are off to a strong start, most of my previous training plans did not have me reaching a long run of 18 miles until week 10.  I did not reach 58 total miles until week number 13 on the way to the starting line in New York.

Exiting New York healthy after a huge performance there has really allowed us to springboard ahead and ratchet things up to another level for Boston.  Barring injury, illness or a physical set-back – we should be prepared like we have never been before for the Marathon in April.  Already I am envisioning the ride to Hopkinton on the bus early that morning, surrounded by exceptional marathoners knowing that with very few exceptions, nobody is better prepared to race to the limits of their capabilities than I am. 

We will be there to go all in and leave a permanent mark on the storied Boston Marathon Course.  A day very similar to New York where years later we will be able to look back on that day and know that we were the best we have ever been.

Sunday’s long run gave me a great deal of time to reflect on the past year, the running/training goals I had set prior to New Year’s Eve 2011 and it made me wonder just how I was doing in achieving my goals put to paper close to 12 months earlier.

My goals for the previous year:

Goals for 2011

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

        (CHECK – I have run 2,035 miles in 2011)

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

        (MISS – I had minor knee inflammation that cost me 4 weeks of running this year)

3.     Re-qualify for the Boston Marathon.

        (CHECK – 3:15:01 Austin in February, 3:08:09 New York in November)

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

        (5:07, 18:12, 37:30, 1:23:55, 3:08:09 – CHECK, CHECK, CHECK, CHECK, CHECK)

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

        (CHECK – Marathon PR by 6:52)

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

        (MISS – Hopefully we’ll rectify this on New Year’s Day)

7.     Incorporate track workouts in my training this year.

        (MISS – Hill repeats remained in lieu of track work)

8.     Take my first swim lessons.

        (CHECK – Started swim lessons in April)

9.     Complete a sprint triathlon.

        (CHECK – Debut triathlon in July 1:13:20)

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

        (CHECK – we raised additional funds throughout the year for Sierra and Nic0)

Looking back 2011 has been a pretty successful year when it comes to goal achievement.  Priorities always change over time – that is something that all of us need to deal with.  But I believe that the exercise of setting goals is a good one to go through each year, all the while knowing that you may have some “misses” on the list, such as adding track work was for me this year.

I realized that my speed was still improving without it, and I could continue my hill work without risking injury on the track.  It was a win-win to more or less cross that goal off of my list without having completed it.

The others were all goals that we worked hard to achieve, only falling short by spending a few weeks on the injured list last March and the stars not aligning for Landry and I to do our first race together.  That last goal is one that hopefully we can cross off of our to-do lists during the Resolution Run on New Year’s Day.

Goals for 2012?  My list has been forming in my head over the past few months.  A PR in Boston is sure to be on the list as will the completion of our first Half-Ironman this October.  As for the rest, I guess you’ll have to stop back on New Year’s Eve to find out.

There will be 10 of them, a couple will “scare me” just a bit – as after all.  If your goals don’t scare you a little, you aren’t dreaming big enough.

Thursday kicked off the final “tweak”that we will be making to our marathon training for Boston in April, trying to strengthen an area that reared its head as a weakness in 2010.  Preparing for the opening downhill 14 miles from Hopkinton to Newton.

Boston Marathon - Course Elevation

It is this opening stretch of miles, slightly past the half-way point of the marathon that does more damage to the marathoner’s legs than the well-known “Newton Hills” a series of 4 climbs culminating at Heartbreak Hill at mile 21.

The facts are after having run Boston that the Newton Hills in and of themselves are not particularly long, not particularly steep and not particularly difficult.

It is more about “when” they are than it is about “what” they are.

They come after an hour and a half of the marathoner “holding back” over the downhill first half of the race.  Putting on the brakes, making sure they do not “go out too fast”, but what these careful marathoners are doing is destroying those quadricept muscles mile after mile.  Breaking them down so that when it is finally time to start “racing” this marathon and climbing to the top of the course in Chestnut Hill the legs don’t have anything left.

I have never felt so helpless on a race course as I did in Boston back in 2010.

That race was good for me however as it forced me to make some changes in my training.  In fact, I’ve changed virtually everything about how I prepare for the marathon and I have taken almost 10 minutes off of my marathon PR in the process.

But this year for Boston I know better.  I know that how I prepared for Austin last February or New York this past November is not the recipe for success in Boston on April 16th.  I need to continue to work hard building my strength, stamina and endurance – I need to continue to strengthen my climbing muscles to remain strong on the uphills – but I need more than anything to prepare for that first 14 miles.

I need to harden those quadricept muscles running a ton of downhill miles, sometimes at great intensity to make myself virtually bullet-proof.

Today marked the start of that journey as we ran our first workout of Downhill Repeats.

Typically on Thursday morning I run a 3-mile warm-up and then jog to the bottom of my hill repeat hill.  I make a turn at the bottom, hit my watch and take off to the top of the hill at 5K race effort.  The hill is 3/10 of a mile long and rises 65 feet.

At the top of the hill I hit my watch to mark that split and start a slow recovery jog back down to the bottom.  I start with 8 repeats during the first week, add one repeat a week up to 10 and then run 10 repeats every Thursday until the taper for the marathon.

For Boston every third Thursday or once every three weeks we will be flipping the workout around so that I jog slowly to the top of the hill and run DOWNHILL at 5K effort, hit my watch at the bottom and then make a slow (8:30-8:40 pace) jog back to the top of the hill to start again.

Thursday’s workout was the first week of “Downs” so we started at 8 repeats or repetitions.

Repeat 1:  1:29

Repeat 2:  1:31

Repeat 3:  1:32

Repeat 4:  1:32

Repeat 5:  1:32

Repeat 6:  1:30

Repeat 7:  1:31

Repeat 8:  1:30

1:30 = 5:15/mile pace.

I closed the workout with a mile home in 6:26.  FAST.

In the coming weeks it will be interesting to see how “fast” our downhill splits become.  Today I was running downhill directly into a 15-18 mph wind, which was certainly slowing us down quite a bit.

The goal is not to really “get faster” however, even though running those repeats at a high intensity will build those muscles exactly as we intend.  But running with perfect downhill form is really what I am after.  I want to be able to lock-in and run identical splits as I go through the workout, hitting the same times as my legs grow more and more tired.

I am focusing on form in this workout, tucking my pelvis underneath me, leaning forward slightly – not backward, and letting gravity pull me down the hill.

I want to land on my midfoot, not my heel – and make sure I am not “braking” as I go down the slope.  All to ensure that I am running with an easy, repeatable stride that will not overly tax those quadricept muscles.

Workout number one went about as good as I could have hoped, that 6:26 final mile showed that after all that downhill running my legs were still strong and able to fire.  Exactly what I will need them to do when we pass Wellesley College, reach the first of the Newton Hills and start pulling in runners ahead of us.

When we kick over the final hill at mile 21 on the Boston College campus and 5 downhill miles remain, that is where we are going to make our move. 

Those final 5 miles will be ours.  Simply put, I will own them.

That course owned me back in 2010.  Well you know what they say about payback.

It’s a bitch.  Bring it on Boston, you are going DOWN.

18 weeks until the Boston Marathon.

For the last two years all I have been able to think about when it comes to the marathon was this opportunity to return to Boston and take care of some unfinished business from 2010.  I have had more time to think about this race than any other event since I took up this crazy sport of ours, and now it has finally arrived.

I was out with some non-runner friends recently who have an intellectual curiosity about the marathon as they have followed me from out of shape, overweight, couch potato to 6-time marathoner, 2-time Boston Qualifier and budding triathlete.  All after age 40.

Some of it is just that, curiosity.  I think there is some level of wondering whether or not they could “be that guy too” – but that is a post for another day.  For them it is just a matter of really wanting it and then taking those first tentative strides towards something new and a little bit scary.  Everyone has that in them somewhere, finding it is the hard part.

The topic turned to how I felt about other marathoners who weren’t as fast as I am – those marathoners who finish in 5 hours, 6 hours, 7 hours – do I view them really as “runners”.

The answer that I gave them I think surprised them a bit – but it is something that I have felt strongly about since my very first attempt at 26.2 miles in Philly back in 2006.

It is not the actual racing of a marathon that impresses me – all kinds of things can happen on race day to impact results.  Weather, injury, having an off-day … each one of those instances can turn a Personal Best performance into something far, far less than that.

It is the training for the marathon that impresses me.  The hard work, preparation, dedication, sacrifice and flat-out stubbornness that it takes to make it to the starting line that to me defines what a marathoner really is.

5 hours, 4 hours, 3 hours – there is always going to be a runner out there that can go faster than you can.  The question really is can you go faster than yourself?  Can you run the very best race that YOU are capable of.  Really put it out there, prepare for greatness and then give it all you have on race day?  Can you do that?  Do you have that will and belief inside of you?

Do you have what it takes to really pour everything that you have into your training and then go out on race day and leave it all out there?

There is no one-size fits all time requirement for greatness.  Only you can set those parameters.  Only you know what you sacrificed to be in the position to go all in and take a big risk.  That is the way you get big rewards.

So with Boston 18-weeks off our “official” marathon training begins once again – possibly for the final time.  I hate to say “never”, because that just isn’t a word that resides in the vocabulary of an endurance athlete or marathoner.  Never = Can’t and that just doesn’t work.

But Boston is going to mark the end of this 5-year period of training and racing for me.  It will be my final big race as a member of the 40-44 year old Age group and after recovering from the race we will be jumping in literally with both feet to a full Triathlon racing slate through spring, summer and fall culminating (I hope) with our first half-ironman at the Longhorn 70.3 in October.

From there?  I’m not entirely sure.  I will sit back after Longhorn with a half-dozen triathlons under my belt and try to discern where our future and our passion is.  Do I want to continue to pursue the Triathlon in a serious way, focus on run-only events or continue trying to straddle the fence and compete in both?  Tough to tell right now, but this sport has proven to me time and time again that it will be clear to me when the time to make the decision arrives exactly what I need to do next.

Landry and Dawn will have a lot to say about it as well as life is certainly going to get a bit more complicated in the next year or so as Landry has her own adventures and discoveries.

So what will the training look like this time?  Well, here’s the plan:

2012 Boston Marathon Training Plan

Like the last two training cycles leading up to Austin last February and New York City this November, there is a healthy balance of run days, rest days and cross training days.

We will be racing a bit (Green dates) with one team-ultra 200 mile race from Miami to the Florida Keys in January, followed by three half-marathons and the Capital of TX 10K.  The only other race that may pop up would be a “resolution run” on New Year’s Day if we decide to run a small local 5K for some speed work.

We will be running some “Doubles” on Tuesdays for the next month to help prepare for our three legs in less than 24 hours from Miami to the Keys.

So far I really like the added run and mileage, so we may keep the Tuesday doubles up until the final taper for Boston – but for now, this is the plan.

The other major change is the addition of running “downhill” hill repeats every third Thursday to prepare for the treacherous downhill start of the Boston Marathon from Hopkinton to Newton.  A closer look at our mileage shows a jump in total miles and the number of 20-22 mile runs which will reach 7 during this training cycle.

Closer look at mileage

As the cycle moves along I’m sure that more mileage will be added here and there over the course of the journey.  On the way to New York we added close to 9% more mileage over 18 weeks.  Better to schedule conservatively in my view and add if and when you feel strong than to over-commit and feel like you are “cutting corners” when you need to dial things back a bit to stay healthy.

Tuesday morning this week kicks it all off – it is going to be one helluva ride.  On to Boston.