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!

 

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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.