Archive for January, 2012

You can always find something to like about the beginning of something new.  Sure there can be some nervousness, some trepidation, maybe even a little bit of fear mixed in there somewhere.  But for the most part, that can all be channelled back into the endeavor in the form of energy and excitement.

Reaching the end of a journey can be tremendous as well.  Satisfaction, pride, accomplishment – that life affirming feeling that there was a challenge in front of you and you stared it down.  You overcame obstacles, changed course, dug deep and persevered.  You continued on when perhaps some would have quit.  Some certainly would have faltered.  But you never ceded to the temptation, you soldiered on and made it to the finish line.

It’s the middle that is a real bitch.

The middle is where doubt lurks.  Where distractions mount.  The beginning when you are cock-sure and full of energy is too far away to draw energy from and alas, the finish is still too far in the distance to see.

We are 9 weeks into our training for boston, 9 weeks remain until the two-week taper will begin – when thoughts of race day will place one more log on the fire every morning to keep us warm.

But right now?  I am firmly, 100% in the middle.

This week takes me to Buffalo, NY – where I will rise at 4:00 a.m. on a cold Tuesday morning for a 16 mile run.  Meetings all day Tuesday, followed by a 6:00 a.m. flight home on Wednesday where another 11 miles will be waiting on me when I land in the afternoon.

Hill repeats on Thursday on short rest, then an 11/21 mile weekend, that will push us to our highest mileage week yet – 69.2 miles

In a way last week’s extra day off and lower mileage weekend with The Texas Half on Saturday served as a bit of a step-back week for me.

No hill repeats, no double on Tuesday and a lower mileage weekend all conspired to drop my mileage down to just a tick over 40.  Racing the half-marathon on Saturday in windy conditions of course provided plenty of intensity with 13.1 miles at 6:31 pace, but my legs on Monday feel exceptionally fresh.

Fresher than they have felt in quite a few weeks.  So it is time to push things forward this week and next, log some long miles, continue to build our endurance base and get ready for half-marathon number two at the Livestrong Austin Marathon & Half Marathon on February 19th.

I’ve given myself one more day to think about the Texas Half this weekend and I’ve decided to flush it and move on.  After finishing first in my age group you would think I would be pleased with my race – it was my first ever age group win at the Half-Marathon distance – but as I’ve said in the past, I really only race myself at these events, and I can’t shake the feeling that I came up a little bit short on Saturday.

Yes the windy conditions made for a tough race.  On a calm day I certainly would have run a faster time.  But how much?  That is the question that is impossible to know.

The fact is I would have rather ran a 1:24:35 and finished 5th in my age group than run the 1:25:35 time I did and finish first.

Perhaps that realization has redefined racing for me once and for all.  Age group awards are great and all that, but it really is about the runner and the clock on race day.

Weather, the other runners, travel to the race – that is all just “stuff”.  Everybody has their “stuff” they need to contend with.

But the clock tells the ultimate story, perhaps that is one of the things I like most about this sport, it’s honesty.

13.1 miles.  1:25:35.  That’s all there is in the end.

Everything else is  just “stuff”.

Would I have felt better about things had I stayed in Austin and run an even faster revised 3M half-marathon course on Sunday in perfect temperatures and low winds?

I’m not so sure.  After seeing the course profile, and some of the times that a few runners I am familiar with posted this weekend, I don’t think so.  Running a 1:22:XX on Sunday would have come with plenty of disclaimers as well.

2012 3M Half Marathon Course Elevation

Downhill point to point courses that drop several hundred feet in elevation are more about “going fast” and having fun racing than trying to really gauge your fitness level or training progress. 

So in a way, I’m glad I opted for the more neutral course in Dallas on the same weekend with 181 feet of climbing and 175 feet of descent in high winds.  It was a tougher race for sure, and in the end will pay greater dividends when the going gets tough at Boston.

I just wish I would have run the course a minute faster.

My race shoes for Boston arrived this week.  I carefully removed the light blue flat laces and inserted a pair of no-tie black Yanx.

Boston Marathon Race Shoes

I wrote Dom’s initials on the instep and placed them in my closet where they will wait until March to be broken in at the Shamrock Half-Marathon, 4 weeks before Boston.

Perhaps that lost minute is resting quietly in my Boston Race Shoes – waiting until April 19th as I speed up Hereford Street and make the final left turn onto Boyleston.

Maybe that is the day when I will need that minute the most, when it will mean a whole lot more than on a windy January day in Dallas.

Dawn, Landry and I made the drive up to our friends house in Frisco, TX on Friday evening. For those of you out there who have had the pleasure of traveling Interstate Highway 35 (that is what the IH stands for if you were ever curious), I’m sure you can imagine the relaxing trip up from Austin to the Dallas area.

We stopped for dinner in Waxahatchie, TX at a Chili’s where amazingly, I was able to get a dish of plain pasta with shrimp and bread – not a perfect pre-race dinner, but definitely passable. I broke one of my pre-race rules and indulged in one short Bud-Light Draft as a 2 1/2 hours on I-35 will do that to a guy.

We wrapped up dinner around 6:15 and made the drive in to Frisco arriving at David, Julie, Austin and Casey’s house right around 7:45 p.m.

I would have a 40 minute drive back down South to White Rock Lake in the morning, so after a couple of hours of catching up on things and getting Landry settled in, it was time to try to get a few hours of sack time.

Race Morning: I woke at 4:50 a.m. to give myself enough time to wake up, have a light breakfast of a bagel and a banana and get my hydrating done prior to leaving for the race at 5:45 a.m.

I like to stop drinking two hours before the starting gun of a half-marathon or marathon so I can make my final porta-pottie stop just before the race and avoid any pit-stops along the way. Any water or gatorade I take in along the course can just be processed and passed as sweat. Missing a time goal is one thing, but missing it due to a quick stop at a porta-pottie is something I am hoping to avoid at least until I’m racing in the M70-74 Age Group.

I pulled into the parking area at Winfrey Point and chatted with a few runners before heading up to the house to pick-up my packet. Being an “out of towner” this was my first race morning packet pick-up, but the volunteers were very well organized and I was in line less than 5 minutes.

As much as I hoped the weather forecast was going to be wrong, of course on this day the Meterologists had it spot on. Temperature of 38, North Winds at 20 mph, wind chill 29.

The temperature was perfect for racing, but with the wind it was anything but.

I knew that I would be cold heading north into the wind over miles 3-9, but hot on the return trip headed south at the end of the race if I ran in tights and a long sleeve shirt.

As much as I wanted to rock the shorts as a few brave souls were doing, I opted for the full ninja attire. If anything maybe the tight clothing would help me cut the wind a bit.

Thoughts of a PR (1:23:55) were gone for Saturday. I decided that I would run by feel, give “uncomfortable effort” and whatever the clock said would have to be good enough. It seemed like a 2+ minute wind or so, :20 seconds a mile, so a time in the 1:25:30 range would be a pretty solid effort.

Sub 1:26:00 became my race goal for the day. If I’ve learned anything over the past few years it’s that the weather on race day is as big a factor as your fitness is. You can’t cheat it, you can only hope to manage it.

Pre-Race: I got back to the car, pinned my bib to my Brooks shorts and threw them on over my tights. An Underarmour Head band, two pairs of my lighter gloves that I could peel off and tuck into my waistband.

I left the rest of my gear in the car and took a light jog up to the starting area.

As per my usual routine I hit the porta-pottie for the final time and went for a light 1-mile warm up. The start/finish area of the Texas Half sits atop Winfrey Point. The start is straight down a 2/10 of a mile hill, which of course means the end of the race will require runners to power up the same incline.

I wanted to run that stretch of the course one time so that I would know what I had to leave in the tank for the end of the race.

After my quick warm-up I ducked into the chute and crept up to the front of the crowd. I expected to run in the top 10-15 runners based on previous results at this event. The path was relatively narrow around the lake area, and the course would not be “closed”, meaning weekend exercisers (walkers, joggers, cyclists, dog walkers etc.) would be sharing the route with us. I wanted to be sure to “get out clean” even if it meant a slightly faster first mile.

The Start: No star-spangled banner which was a little surprising, just a countdown from the local race announcer from 10 and at the sound of the horn we were off.

Almost immediately as I stretched out over the opening 1/4 mile I felt strong. All that time in the car over the previous half-day did not seem to have me tight or sore. My pace was quick and my cadence felt free and easy. It was going to be a good day – if only we didn’t have to fight that wind I thought.

The opening two miles with a slight tail wind came quickly with splits of 6:06 and 6:09. Too fast based on my race plan, but with the wind gusting I knew that the time on my wrist was not going to be an accurate reflection of effort and energy. I felt like it would be smart to post a couple of quick miles out of the chute with the wind in our favor – hopefully offsetting some of the slower miles that were sure to come when we turned to the North.

I decided to only glance at my watch on the beeps at the end of each mile, and try not to fixate too much on any one split. Just stay even effort up through the 10th mile, then try to push to the finish.

The Wind: As we made our first turn to the West at the bottom of the course I felt the wind for the first time blowing into me from the side. I was running in 12th position as best I could tell and there were no runners within 400 meters of me to the front or to the rear.

No drafting.

I was alone. I was also knew I was pretty screwed when we would turn due North.

As we approached the curve of the course to the right we needed to navigate a “S” Turn switch back and then we popped out after coming up a slight hill to the pumping station. It was that left turn, back onto the spillway right at mile 4 where I felt the full brunt of the wind in my face.

It would be blowing directly at the runners until we reached the Dam near Mockingbird at the 8.5 mile mark. I tried to tangent the curves around the lake path as best I could and just lock in on effort. I started ticking off miles in the 6:33 range one after another, realizing that my estimate of :15-:20 seconds per mile that the wind was costing us was pretty spot on.

6:20 effort was producing 6:35 miles.

It was hard not to become discouraged over those middle miles. I knew that all I could do was keep steady, keep fighting and eventually we would turn south and get out of this darn wind.

Miles 3-9 came in at: 6:31, 6:30, 6:33, 6:33, 6:31, 6:33 and 6:27.

Track position hardly changed a bit over this stretch of miles that took approximately 57 1/2 minutes to cover. Almost an hour battling a head wind and I had neither gained on the runners ahead of me nor did I hear any footsteps from behind. I had picked out a runner approximately :20 seconds ahead of me in a white shirt with long blond hair flowing behind him.

I tried to imagine a string running from his waist to my hips. I would allow the string to stretch a bit, but never break. I wanted to keep him right where he was which told me that if he was holding steady, I too was not falling off. I also wanted one last runner to chase over the final mile to bring the race home.

Heading South: Finally we made a turn to the south and immediately I could feel the temperature rise without the gusting wind in my face.

I had removed my gloves and headband at mile 8 to cool myself off a bit. they were now tucked into the rear of my pants and I had no other clothing to shed. I was going to be warm now until mile 12 when we hit the cone turnaround and headed directly back into the wind again for the final mile.

Mile 11 came in at 6:21, followed by a 6:27 12th mile. As much as I wanted to push the pace back down to the 6:15 range, I just didn’t have the juice to do so after expending so much energy running into the headwind. My legs still felt strong, but they lacked the “snap” that I needed to tick them over a bit faster.

As we approached the cone turnaround I had bitten into the lead that the runner ahead of me had. I pulled even with him as the wind began to gust again from the North and I told him he was still looking strong. At that point of the race I honestly was just looking for some kind of distraction to carry me to the 12.5 mile mark when it would be time to make the final push.

We chatted for a few moments and then I edged ahead of him. There was a runner ahead of us that we pulled alongside of and we dropped him behind us. I had lost count of the runners ahead of us, but I believed I was running somewhere around 11th or 12th. I wanted to hold off the two runners I had just passed over the closing stretch and finish out the race as strong as I could.

We made a right turn followed by a long sweep to the left with 2/10 of a mile to go facing a climb of those last 40 feet. I kicked into the last gear that I had and could hear the footsteps behind me dropping away. As I hit the mat the announcer said, “From Austin, TX Joe Marruchella with a time of 1:25:35 ….”

I slowed to a trot and The Texas Half was now in my rear view mirror.

The Texas Half

Post Race: To be honest I had a hard time judging my performance as I made my way through the finishing chute. The time on the clock was a bit disappointing. I thought for sure that I was in sub 1:25:00 shape on Saturday and gave myself an even money shot of running sub 1:24:00 approaching my PR set at last year’s 3M Half-Marathon in Austin.

Certainly I felt like I had given the race my best shot and I never backed down despite less than ideal conditions. That was a definite win.

But there was a part of me that was disappointed that for yet another time when I felt poised to really run a tremendous race, the weather threw me a curveball that would limit my potential at a “strong time”.

I did however run my 2nd fastest half-marathon, taking a full minute off of my time from last October’s Denver Rock N’ Roll Half. Perhaps that PR is still out there at this year’s Austin Half Marathon in February or at the Shamrock Half in Virginia Beach in March.

Awards Ceremony: I made my way down to the car, changed my hat and gloves and slid into my sweats to warm up a bit. I decided to head back up to the house for the awards ceremony as perhaps our time was good enough for an age group award.

The spread at the house was tremendous. Breakfast Tacos, Bagels, Bananas, Gatorade and Cold Beer. On any other day I think I would have taken advantage of the Beer table, but all I really wanted was a hot cup of coffee and a chance to warm up.

As they announced the winners my time of 1:25:35 was good for 10th place overall, 1st place in the Men’s 40-44 Age Group.

First Place Age Group - The Texas Half

The 10th anniversary of The Texas Half put on by Mellew Productions is definitely an “A” event. The planning, organization, course mangement, volunteers, porta-potties, infrastructure and even the race course itself was tremendous. The weather is a variable that any race director would love to control, but simply cannot.

So we move on from the race and back into our preparations for Boston. Two weeks of training lie ahead with 21 mile long runs on each Sunday before we reload and take on The Austin Half Marathon on February 19th. The good news is that I exited the first of three half-marathons 100% healthy and in good spirits.

Time to go back to work.

You gotta love race day.

You train, you rest, you eat right, hydrate and get mentally ready to lay it all out there.  Then with a simple click of the mouse on the weather report, your race day hopes for a fast time can vanish as quickly as a north Texas wind gusting at more than 20 mph.

Final Push - Decker Half Marathon 2010

That is what lays in store for us at White Rock Lake tomorrow morning at 8:00 a.m. for the 10th running of The Texas Half.

The temperature at race time looks to be right around 38 degrees, which truth be told is just about perfect race weather.  The “Real Feel” temperature however with the wind chill is looking more like 27 degrees – which is firmly “tights territory”for this Austin runner.

Race Day Weather

I was able to run fairly well at the Decker Half-Marathon in 2010 wearing tights, a long-sleeve Under Armour mock, thick hat and heavy gloves – but all things considered, I was hoping for shorts a long sleeve shirt and light gloves for Saturday.  Unless something changes dramatically in the next 20 hours or so – it looks like the race day weather Gods will not be shining down on us once again.

Course Map - The Texas Half

The course sets up with a long stretch heading more or less directly into that predicted North wind over miles 3-8.  The five-mile stretch where you are hoping to lock in pace and effort and cruise before things get a little bit dicey at mile 10.  Managing the wind and my energy expenditure is going to be important on Saturday, so when the wind starts to tilt in our favor from mile 9-12, we are not so beaten up that we cannot hold pace.

To add a cruel twist to the race, at mile 12 there is a 180 degree cone turn around that sends the runners back due North to the finish line.

Directly back into the wind over the closing mile.

From the standpoint of the other racers, it is all relative.  Everyone is going to be racing the same course in the same conditions.  I expect to run a competitive time and place well both overall and in my age group.

But more importantly, my “time” which I was hoping to serve as a strong predictor of our fitness level at this point in our training and our ability to chase 2:59:59 at Boston in April is pretty much going to be tossed out the window.  There will be no real way to account for how much the conditions impacted my pace.  Was it :10 a mile?  :12 seconds?

Much like my race out in Denver last year at altitude, it was difficult to interpret what that 1:26:33 half-marathon time “really” meant.

Some estimated it was more along the lines of a 1:24:30 at sea-level.  Some said even lower.  Some a little higher.

The good news is that after the Texas Half we still have two more half-marathons to gauge our abilities and training prior to Boston.  The very challenging and hilly Austin Half-Marathon on February 19th and the flat and hopefully fair Shamrock Half-Marathon in Virginia Beach in March.

So tomorrow – things don’t really change very much from a strategy standpoint.  I’m going to lock into that “uncomfortable” half-marathon pace and hold it as tightly as I can through the first ten miles.  For miles 11 and 12 I’ll try to push just a bit harder to stay on pace as my legs grow tired and my muscles start to fight me a bit.

The final mile will basically be an all-guts mile.

I won’t feel particularly good.  The wind will be pushing me backwards.  Very likely I will have been running all alone for quite some time with nobody to draft off of and nobody to chase.  It will be me running against the clock and then a final kick up the last hill to the finish 1/10 of a mile away.

The key tomorrow will be to race hard despite the fact I know that my time may not reflect the effort.  It will be a good “mental toughness” day if nothing else.  There are things you can control when it comes to racing, and there are things that you cannot – that’s just part of the deal.  In the end, I’ll know how well I raced regardless of what the clock has to say about it.

You gotta love race day.

You can find a lot of articles out there that give you advice on how to “conquer” your race day jitters, but I am starting to think that if you are really “racing” an event – race day jitters are just part of the deal.

Since January of 2010 I’ve toed the line at 2 ultra marathon relays, 4 marathons, 5 half-marathons, 1 ten-mile race, 4 10K’s, 19 5K’s, 2 mile races, 1 sprint triathlon and 1 triathlon relay.  I have been nervous before the start of every single event.

A 1950’s British Olympian Gordon Pirie once said, “Any runner who denies having fears, nerves or some other kind of disposition is a bad athlete, or a liar.”

I think that Pirie hit the nail squarely on the head.  If there is an athlete out there that can stand in the starting corral without any type of uneasiness, fear of the unknown or mild irrational panic – I have yet to meet them.  What a gift it would be to calmly wait for the starter’s gun without the feeling of butterflies in your stomach, having made at least 5 stops at the portapotties and doubts about your training, your ability, the weather, your race plan, a nagging injury or a flat performance dancing around in your head.

But once that gun does finally go off, rather amazingly all of that goes away and you fall quickly into “racing”.

In the blink of an eye I go from a nervous, unsure athlete to a confident racer within 10 strides of crossing the starting line.

Ever since last February’s Austin Marathon I have been trying to pinpoint how I am able to set all of those fears and reservations aside once I am on the race course, but unable to tame them completely prior to the event.  They typically start the night before the race, just after I have laid out all my race gear for the morning.

It begins with trouble falling asleep, thoughts of splits and times dancing in my head.  I sleep restlessly, catching an hour here, thirty minutes there, but never a sound slumber that I can fall into virtually every other night of the year.  I wake up with a nervous stomach, force myself to eat something and start hydrating as I know that will play a key role in the longer races.

I use the restroom, dress, use the restroom again, get ready to leave for the race, use the restroom again ….. you know the drill.

During the drive to the race or the walk to the start in a large marathon I start to relax just a bit – my mind distracted, but when I see the lights, the crowd and all the volunteers all of those feelings return, and with a vengeance.

What I have started to lean on for race morning that helps me stay calm and focused may or may not work for everyone.  But for me, I stick to the “routine” that has allowed me to perform well in the past.  I draw on previous experience knowing that at my last event or events at that distance I executed my pre-race routine, went out on the course and performed well.  In some cases, outperformed my training indicators and expectations for the race.

It may not remove those “jitters”entirely, but it has certainly diminished them.

Starting Corral - Cooper River Bridge Run 2011

Essentially, I am searching for that same confidence that I race with.  Only an hour or so earlier, allowing me to stay relaxed, get in a solid warm-up and not burning useless, foolish energy.

Here are the 10 things I do prior to the race to tame those jitters.

1.     I make sure that I arrive to the race 60 minutes before the starting gun without exception.  Big race, small race, doesn’t matter.  One hour allows me to get settled in, get the lay of the land, use the restroom and know that I have plenty of time and will not need to rush my warm-up.

2.     I walk to the starting line to take it all in.  This early before the race there will be very few people milling about.  I stand in the corral and I visualize the start.  What it will be like when the crowd arrives, what side of the corral I will line up in so I can navigate the first turn of the course without congestion.  If the first turn is to the right, I line up on the right.  If it is a left turn, I line up on the left.  Always.  Every time.

3.     I find the portapotties if I did not spot them on the walk to the starting line.  I look at the lines forming and determine if I can wait a bit or need to get in line for the first of probably two or three pit stops prior to the gun.

4.     I find a quiet spot away from other runners to do some light stretching and review the course map either on paper if it is a long race or in my mind if it is a course I have memorized or have run before.

5.     I think about the opening mile.  What pace I want to run it in, what it should feel like from an effort perspective.  In a 5K that pace may be an opening 5:45 mile.  For a 10K  6:05, half-marathon 6:15-6:20, marathon 6:55.  I try to imagine how my legs will feel at that pace, getting in tune with my internal clock to make sure I do not go out too fast, but at the same time, not too slow.  In the shorter races a slow first mile can cost you as much as a fast one can in a long race.

6.     I get in line for the portapotties and take care of that last pre-race pit-stop.

7.     With 25-30 minutes before the start of the race I go for my warm-up.  At a short race like a 5K, my warm-up may be as long as 2 easy miles in 16 minutes.  At a longer race, it may be only an easy mile, 1/2 mile out, 1/2 mile back.  Just enough to get the legs moving and blood flowing.  It helps burn off a little nervous energy and calms me down. 

Whenever possible I run the start of the race course in front of the corral.  It lets me see the start to the race and plan my route to the first turn or series of turns.  Where I can tangent, how I can shorten the course.

8.      I take off my trainers and put on my race shoes.  This is when I flip the switch mentally.  I’m not here for fun and games.  I’m not here to just get a finisher’s medal or take some pictures with friends.  This is a race day.  Time to go to work.

9.     After I stow my gear wherever it is that I am going to do that – at a large marathon, I may have had to run my warm-up in my race shoes and stow my bag early, but now it’s time to get into chute.  If I am wearing throw away sweats I will keep them on until 5 minutes before the gun.  On a warm day, no worries, I tuck myself in with the other runners. 

I never talk with them about training, how much they have been running, how many miles a week – all of that will just get in your head.  Everyone is different.  I trust my own training and preparation, there is no time for doubting all of that work and wondering if someone is more ready than you are.

10.  After the star-spangled banner I crouch down and think about Dom.  His initials are on my flats.  I run my fingers over them and thank him for all of the gifts he has provided for me.  The desire to train and race to the best of my ability and to never give up today no matter how hard it gets out there.  I think about Dawn and Landry and seeing them after the race.  I straighten up, fix my gaze straight ahead and make sure my watch is set to 00:00:00.

Boom goes the dynamite.

Firing out at start of CCC 5K 2010

I’ve found that keeping this routine the same race after race, time after time has given me a much calmer approach to race morning.  If you can find rituals that will help “take the edge off” of things prior to the starter’s gun, being your best becomes a function of training, strategy and desire

Three things that you control completely.

Let fixating on the weather, the wrong shoes, a nagging injury, second guessing race strategy,  wondering where the water stops are and all of the other distractions fall on your competitors.  Let them talk about their PR’s and goals for the race, talking themselves into things that perhaps they are not ready for.

Trust your training.

Trust your preparation.

Trust your race plan.

Go out and execute. 

On Saturday morning I get to race again.  Can’t wait.

Steve Prefontaine would be 61 years old today.

On my run this morning I thought a lot about Pre.  Over the past few years I’ve met Bill Rogers, Bart Yasso, Joan Benoit Samuelson … would I have ever met Pre?  If I did what would he think of the sport today?  What would he think of an aging Marathoner and his quest at running a sub 3 hour marathon?

My final thought as I came down off of the dam and let gravity pull me downhill over the final mile of my workout was if he had lived, rather than died in that fateful night in May 1975 – would I even be a runner today?

Pre's 1973 MGB at the crash scene May 1975

I’m not really sure.  I like a lot of people were fascinated by the story of Pre when I was exposed to it through the 1998 film Without Limits.  Up until that point I remember references to Pre when I was a young child growing up in suburban Philadelphia.  I was only 8 years old at the time of his death, and my first real memories of an Olympiad was the Montreal games in 1976.

The games that Pre was really gunning for after his heartbreaking fourth place finish in Munich 1972.

I remember seeing Bruce Jenner on Wheaties boxes while I shopped with my Mom at the A & P.  Had Pre competed in ’76, Would I have been bitten by the track bug back in Middle School and become a runner 25 years earlier?  Who can say.  But in 1998 I became a fan of Pre’s and by 2005 when it was time to do something about the onset of age and “out-of-shapedness” I turned to running.

At some point a runner becomes a “racer” and that arrived for me in 2009 as I trained for the Pittsburgh Marathon in May of that year.  I was going to pour my heart and soul into training for my second marathon in the hopes of running a Boston Time.  As that training cycle evolved I began to race a bit more often, and I started to understand what it meant to really give maximum effort on race day.

It’s a level that is difficult to summon, difficult to describe to those who have never been there.

But as I approached that race I came across perhaps the most well-known of “Steve Prefontaineisms” –

“To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.”

It is a quote that adorns the back of one of my favorite long-sleeve running shirts, and one that at least a few times a year I will see at races.  Each time I think about the small kid from Coos Bay Oregon who at the time of his death held every single American Record from 2,000 to 10,000 meters.

Every.  Single.  One.

The fact of the matter is that I am not a particularly talented runner.  There are very few races out there where I would be considered a threat to finish any better than the top 5-10%.  There is nothing wrong with that of course, I am very proud of my accomplishments and my individual PR’s that I have set all after the age of 43 or 44.  But I am no Steve Prefontaine or anything close to it.

The one thing I do think about however is whether or not I have what it takes to “race” like Pre.  He also was never the biggest, strongest or fastest.  He did not have elite speed or a tremendous finishing kick.

What he did have was more heart than his competitors and he was willing to go places during a race that others were afraid to go.

In his words:

“A lot of people run a race to see who is fastest. I run to see who has the most guts, who can punish himself into exhausting pace, and then at the end, punish himself even more.”

That was the way that Pre ran, if you have never seen the actual footage of the 1972 Olympic 5,000 Meter Final – you should really take a look at it:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gFty7To8oQk

Watching him thunder away over the final two laps of the race, running not to medal, not to finish in the top 3, but to run to the absolute edge of his abilities is something to witness.  He left it all out there – win, lose or draw – that is all any of us can really hope to do.

So as Saturday’s race approaches, with off days scheduled for Thursday and Friday, I wrapped up my final pre-race workout on Pre’s birthday.

You can never predict who will show up on race-day.  Looking at previous results from past Texas Half Marathons I should have a decent chance of running in the top 10-20 overall, possibly win an age group award.

But frankly, I’m not worried about any of that to be completely honest. 

I’m not running for any other reason than to take myself to a place I have never been before in the half-marathon.  I want to push things as far as I can and test my limits.  Saturday is just another opportunity to prove my metal prior to Boston. 

I am going to give my absolute best effort.  Afterall, anything less would be to sacrifice the gift.

Go Pre.

Here we are – the first of three half-marathon races on the road to the Boston Marathon in April.

Much like I did last year participating in the Austin Distance Challenge leading up to the Austin Marathon or in my ramp up to the New York City Marathon in November, I will be racing half-marathons to help me peak for a strong marathon performance.

So far I am 2 for 2 with consecutive PR’s in the marathon using this strategy, so if it’s not broken  …. well, you know the rest.

So this coming weekend perhaps the fastest half-marathon course in the state of TX will be on display at the 3M Half Marathon in Austin.  Due to some construction around the finish area at Waterloo park, the talk is that this year’s 3M course may be even FASTER than previous years.  Hard to believe, but if that is the case, there are going to be some monster PR’s set at 3M this coming Sunday.

Oh, I almost forgot.  I’m not running that one.

I’ll be running The Texas Half up in Dallas a day earlier on Saturday, January 28th.

Now you may be wondering why, if all I’m looking for is a tough workout on the road to Boston, why don’t I aim to go low at 3M and maybe lower my half-marathon PR of 1:23:55 in the process.

To be completely honest, I’m not really interested in running a PR on Saturday.  Well, that isn’t completely accurate – I hope to do exactly that up in Dallas, but that is not the goal.  The goal is to prepare for Boston and to do that, I want to post three “legitimate” half-marathon times on neutral to slightly difficult courses to help me gauge my fitness for race day in Hopkinton, MA.

Just as last year I made the trip out to Denver to race at altitude in the Rock N’ Roll Half Marathon as my final tune-up before the New York City Marathon, I’m not looking for an “easy” course or a “fast” course.  I’m looking for an “honest” course – and by all accounts, it looks like I will get exactly that at White Rock Lake in Dallas.

The course is relatively flat, there are some turns and of course there will be winds kicking up off of the lake.  I do not think it will be as challenging a race as Denver was for me last year, but I do think that whatever my time is at the end of the day, it will serve as a strong predictor for Boston.

Take your half-marathon time, double it and add 10 minutes.  That is a good gauge of wkat your marathon potential is if all factors such as wind, injuries, fitness and race course are equal.  Boston is a tough marathon course, no doubt about it – so instead of 10 minutes, I will probably look to add 12 minutes to my “double half-marathon” time.

That means I am going to need to run something along the lines of 1:23-1:24 at The Texas Half, The Austin Half Marathon in February or the Shamrock Half-Marathon in Virginia Beach in March to have a legitimate shot at 3 hours at Boston.

I did not want to have only one half-marathon time to work with as anything can happen on an individual race day.  Both good and bad.

But by having three half-marathons in the books to compare as well as the tremendous workout that racing 13.1 miles at true race pace will supply to our training cycle – I think we will have a very strong grasp on our potential come April 16th at Boston.

If 3:05 is what our predictors are saying for Boston, then so be it – that is what we are going to zero in on and run to the best of our abilities on race day.  But if we are able to lay down a 1:23:30 let’s say at one of these half-marathons, then we will take dead aim at 3 hours and give it our absolute best shot on race day.

Had I run that time at 3M on Sunday, sure it might look impressive in my training log or on the wall in my office where my race bibs from my PR’s hang in frames, but I would know.

I would know that the course was fast and I simply took advantage on a favorable day.

I’m not one for self-delusion.  If I am going to stand on Main Street in Hopkinton, MA with the thought of a 2:59:59 marathon in my head, I damn well better be sure that I also have it in my heart.  Knowing that I am ready.

That is the thing about the marathon, you can kid yourself for a while, but late in the race, the marathon will expose you.  Those final 10 kilometers have a way of separating the contenders from the pretenders.

If we don’t run well on Saturday in Dallas or if the weather plays a role in a slower than hoped race time, all is not lost.  I know that I have been training hard up to this point and I am not rested.  There will be no taper for this race, in fact, I’m coming off of another 20-mile long run on Sunday and a third 66-mile training week.

But the race will be a strong indicator as to where we are right now, what work needs to be done before our next two races, especially that final tune-up out in Virginia Beach just 4 short weeks before Boston.  I’m going to eat right this week, get my sleep, take my runs a little easier than usual and let it all hang out on Saturday.

Whatever the clock says when we come across the line, we’ll know we earned every second.

I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I run with music.

A lot.

Last year not counting races, where I typically leave my iPod Nano on the shelf, I ran for 256 hours, 59 minutes and 52 seconds.  Essentially 10 and ¾ days I spent doing nothing but running.

Along for the ride was my 6th generation iPod Nano which I truly love.  It is tiny, lightweight and holds a ton of music.  More music than I own or could possibly ever listen to.

There is only one problem – where to put the darn thing.

The folks at Apple designed the product with a built in clip, that is tremendous if you are walking through an airport, lounging at home, working at your desk – but if you are about to head out into the elements to run, cycle, cut the grass or any other activity where sweat meets the possibility of rain, you’ve got problems.

My solution, like many other runners out there is to hit play on my device, tuck it into a small Ziploc snack bag, close that up, fold the package as small as possible, then tuck it into my the rear pocket on my shorts or running tights – or on long run days, into my hydra-belt.

I’m then on my way, cords trailing behind me and as long as the wind is not up blowing them back into my arms, I’m in pretty good shape.  There have been many a morning however where I asked myself, “Man, there has to be a better way doesn’t there?”

Enter Steve Petit and the folks at Vibewired™.

Vibewired™ is a music transport system that is unlike any product on the market.

The patented 1-inch clip design for the iPod Nano carrying case secures the device in a water-resistant pouch and then clips universally around the back of any adjustable hat.

Photo Compliments of Vibewired

To take the product to an entirely different level, the package includes 10-inch long Vibewired earphones that keep the wires out of harm’s way, eliminating the additional 2-3 feet of unneeded cord.

They also make a product for the iPod Shuffle.

Vibewired for the iPod Shuffle

Tremendous.

Like any product the proof is in the testing and short of a pouring rainstorm, which I have been fortunate enough to avoid so far during this training cycle – the Vibewired™ set-up has worked flawlessly.

20-mile long run on Sunday, tempo run of 8-miles at 6:22 pace on Wednesday, clipped to the rear of my cycling helmet on the Tri-Bike Trainer in sweaty conditions – my Vibewired™ set-up delivered quality audio ever step and every pedal stroke of the way.

It’s a simple concept, which is a large part of the genius behind it – as most great ideas fit into that category.

To Steve and the rest of the gang at Vibewired™ thank you very much for solving one of the last remaining mysteries for me when it comes to what gear I need to take with me when I leave the house in the morning.

Now if you could do something for me about how to carry my gels during a marathon I think I would be all out of excuses!

If you are an outdoor enthusiast who shares a passion for taking your music with you on the go – this is simply a product you need to have.  You can visit Vibewired™ on the web at:  http://www.vibewired.net/

You can also follow them on Facebook and Twitter:

http://www.facebook.com/Vibewired

https://twitter.com/#!/vibewired

If you order from their site, you van receive a 15% discount for entering code:

runfordom

Run and Rock on people!

Photo Compliments of Vibewired

Back in December one week before our official start to the 18-week Boston Marathon Training Cycle, I ran my first day of “doubles”.  A six-mile run in the morning at moderate pace, followed by an up-tempo 8.3 mile run roughly 11 hours later.

This was one month post-NYC Marathon, after I was able to recover fully from that race and with the benefit of some time between crossing the mat and a return to marathon training, I had some new perspective on my race at New York.  Some of the things I did good to very good that day, and frankly a couple of areas where I still needed to do some work if I was going to make an honest run at 3 hours at Boston.

I needed improved endurance and strength to help me push through those late miles when my legs were fatigued and my mind was ready to be done racing.  I also needed to continue to improve my stamina to hold pace late when my body started to seek out the path of least resistance on the way to the finish line.

Knowing my training and injury history, my solution was not as easy as simply adding a 6th day of running.  I knew that I needed to keep Mondays and Fridays as my rest days – as showing up to the starting line in Hopkinton, MA nursing an injury would cost me far more on race day than any gains in those additional 18 workouts would help me.

I knew the answer laid in more mileage and more “tough” mileage at that.  But without adding another run day, the only solution I really saw was to add a second run on Tuesdays.

I was careful not to schedule them during race weeks, which would make the workout show up 3 out of every 4 weeks on average, and I was careful at first to go “easy” on the early workout, leaving myself some wiggle room in my afternoon session to run more up-tempo.  Lastly, I made sure to schedule a nice and easy run on Wednesday mornings so that I could recover well before Thursday’s hill repeat session(s).  I share that to illustrate that this was not a “willy-nilly” decision I made to just “train harder” – it was calculated after thinking about all the pros and cons.

Over the last 6 weeks, I’ve run 4 sets of doubles and the results have been pretty darn impressive.

12/6     Run 1     6 Miles     Run 2     8.3 Miles 56:49 (6:51 pace)

12/20  Run1     7 Miles     Run 2     8.3 Miles 55:07 (6:38 pace)

12/27  Run1     7 Miles     Run 2     8.3 Miles 53:21 (6:26 pace)

1/17     Run1     7 Miles     Run 2     8.3 Miles 52:57 (6:22 pace)

The last two attempts at this workout were “breakthrough” moments as I was able to run more or less at half-marathon race pace over a training route by myself, full of hills and 4+ miles of crushed stone after a previous 7-mile run just half a day earlier.

My legs have shown up for all of the workouts and I have frankly felt very strong throughout.  Not only have my times come down each time I have taken on this workout, but the pace at which I have run the early morning workout has quickened as well:

12/6     Run1     7:45 min./mile

12/20  Run1     7:39 min./mile

12/27  Run1     7:11 min./mile

1/17    Run1     7:09 min./mile

With The Texas Half Marathon on deck for next Saturday, I will be running long (16 miles) next Tuesday morning to compensate for a reduction in mileage over the race weekend.  I will do the same thing in the week leading up to The Austin Half Marathon on February 19th and the Shamrock Half Marathon on March 18th.

During the other 5 weeks of training between now and the Shamrock I will be doubling up with 7 miles at a moderate pace in the morning, followed by a tempo workout of 8.3 miles in the afternoon.  The benefits have started to show as I am running training paces at this point that I have never run before.

Some of it is the fact that I am taking these runs more seriously than most workouts, the other of course is confidence.  I feel like I can go out and really “nail a good one” late in the day on Tuesdays and as long as the weather cooperates, I think I have a few more seconds here and there that I can drop from my paces.

The real test of course will be proven out over our next three half-marathons and the Boston Marathon on April 19th.  Fast training runs look great on your workout sheets, but don’t mean a whole helluva lot if they do not manifest themselves on race day.

The fact is however that if we are able to run a new Half-Marathon PR in Dallas next weekend – bettering my time of 1:23:55 set last year at the notoriously fast 3M course here in Austin, then I think it is safe to say that this training cycle is going far better than any we have had before.

Doubles on Tuesdays, Religious Hill Repeats on Thursdays and a 20-mile long run Sunday after Sunday is a lot of work for sure.  My mileage totals are higher than they have ever been before – but I also feel stronger and more confident than I have in the past.  There is a delicate balance that needs to be struck between the two, even I am smart enough to know that.

But for now I can’t help but feel like we are threading the needle and putting ourselves in an enviable position for Boston.  We’re down to just 5 more sets of doubles, 8 more sets of hill repeats, 6 more runs of 20+miles on Sundays and 3 half-marathon races.

In total just 22 more days where we are really putting ourselves out there and “pushing it” – with 15 scheduled off-days over the same period of time.

We’re by no means all the way there yet.  But the view from where I sit right now is a pretty good one.

For the first time I am starting to think the Boston Marathon should start worrying about me a little bit more than I should be worried about it.

At the end of this week we will be 1/3 of the way to the starting line of the 116th Boston Marathon.

Sometimes I forget just what an amazingly exciting prospect that is.  How hard I worked to get their the first time back in 2010 and how much harder I worked to get there for 2012, dropping my qualifying time from 3:17:43 to 3:08:09.  It is easy to get so wrapped up in the training for the race, that you forget to celebrate the event for what it is.  Life after all is a series of experiences.

Some good, some bad, some memorable, some forgettable – but they are all woven together into the fabric of our lives.  We need to remember as many of those fibers as we can, because in the end, that’s all we have.  Those life experiences.

Last night I decided that it was time to spin Landry’s car seat around and give her a different view of the world on the way to school this morning. 

I’m not sure if you’ve ever had the pleasure, but jacking around with car seats has to be right up there with some of the most enjoyable activities a new parent can experience.  Unwieldy straps.  Buckles that don’t want to open, close, stay open or stay closed – depending on the situation, and of course the best part, locating those safety hooks in between the seats of your car or truck.  Good times all.

"Landry" Basket

But this morning, little Miss Landry was able to sit in her car seat, look straight ahead from the rear of Dad’s truck and see the world as it is meant to be seen.  Looking forward.

I told her when we got to the corner of our block that we wave every morning to the crossing guard who helps kids cross the street to the Elementary School she will attend in a few more years. 

I glanced back in the rear-view mirror and Landry was waving to the crossing guard with her friends Jo-Jo, Hot-Dog, Zebra and Kissy Bear all in her lap.

Pretty great stuff.

As I dropped Landry off at school and made the quiet ride in to the office I thought a lot about how things after 16 months are still ever-changing for Landry.  Every day is a new opportunity to learn something, try something, experience success, experience failure – but all the while continue to get bigger, stronger, faster, gain knowledge, grow and learn.

Sure there are going to be some rocky roads ahead for Landry – that is all part of the deal growing up as a kid.  It’s not all Unicorns and Rainbows.

But if you pay attention, there should be enough of them out there – you just have to know where to look.

This week is our third 65+ mile week out of six to this point.  Our “low-mileage” weeks thus far have been 58.17, 58.95 and 58.63.  On the road to New York we only topped those levels  three times over the 18-week training cycle. 

Our mileage will be much higher during this training cycle, dropping down to the 50-mile per week range only during our three half-marathon race weekends, the first of which will be one week from Saturday at The Texas Half on January 28th.  The hope is that the increased mileage and 10 20-22 mile long runs will give us the stamina and endurance we need to hold pace over the final 5 miles from Chestnut Hill to Boyleston Street.

As we crest Heartbreak Hill at Boston College, it looks like we will only have 36:30 to cover the final 5.2 miles to the finish line if our race plan is executed the way we are setting it up.  The speed to get there is not going to be the problem, it is the endurance piece we will need to draw on to keep fighting all the way to the finish line.

This week’s workouts:

Tuesday a.m.       7 Miles – 7:10 pace

Tuesday p.m.       8.3 Miles – Tempo

Wednesday a.m. 10 Miles – Elephant Pace

Thursday a.m.      10X Hill Repeats (Down) 10.2 Miles

Saturday a.m.       10 Miles Moderate Pace

Sunday a.m.          20 Miles – Marathon Goal Pace +:60

After our run on Sunday there will be just 12 weeks to Boston.  3 Months until we board one of the busses to the most watched single day sporting event in the world outside of the Superbowl.  We’ll be there, surrounded by tremendous runners literally from all over the world.

Eyes forward – and in the end, there actually will be a Unicorn waiting for me at the finish.

Today’s post marks #400 here on the blog.

That’s a lot of writing I suppose, but it seems like there is always something else to say.  So as long as you keep reading, I’ll keep writing.

On Saturday Landry and I watched the Olympic Marathon Trials on television.  As I watched Meb Keflezighi, Ryan Hall and Abdi Abdirahman earn spots on the Men’s team that will be heading to London the runner that I identified with more than any was Dathan Ritzenhein.  Running the race of his life, he fell off the lead pack with a little more than 8 miles to go.

Meb Keflezighi, Ryan Hall, Abdi Abdirahman

The commentators did not spend a lot of time talking about this, but Dathan had a misstep coming around a right turn and almost tripped to the ground.  It seemed that after that near-fall he never could regain that smooth cadence he had been ticking over mile after mile running with the lead pack – and he fell more than a minute behind the third place runner.

Dathan continued to run his race, hoping that the pack would come back to him, and over the final 3 miles he bit into the lead that Abdi had on him for that third and final spot on the team.  He ran his heart out and as he crossed the line just :08 seconds behind Abdi, you could see all of the emotions that he had held in that morning clearly on his face.  He finished fourth.  His dream narrowly missed.

Dathan Ritzenhein

On the women’s side the race also evolved into a three-way race to the finish with Shalane Flanagan, Desiree Davilla and Kara Goucher earning the three spots on the Olympic team.  Amy Hastings finished 1:11 behind Kara Goucher in fourth place.  The third consecutive time she has finished fourth in the trials.  Talk about disappointment.

As I watched Hastings fight to the finish, her race was perhaps even more impressive than Ritzenhein’s as she finished 2 minutes and 28 seconds ahead of the fifth place finisher Janet Cherobon-Bawcom.  Hastings ran virtually the entire final 10 Kilometers alone.  Nobody to help pull her along, nobody to push her, but she kept fighting to the finish line, never giving a single inch to the marathon despite the fact that she knew she had no chance of making the team over the final 6.2 miles.

Desiree Davilla, Shalane Flanagan, Kara Goucher

11:59 back from Shalane Flanagan was a friend of mine.  Ariana Hilborn.  She ran her heart out finishing in 2:37:37 in 29th place, :09 off of her marathon PR.  (I hope my math is correct Ariana!)  You can read Ariana’s content at:  http://arianahilborn.com/

I followed Ariana’s journey to Houston as she chased her Olympic Trials Qualifying time.  There was a disappointing result in her “hometown” marathon in Arizona that even included a fall on the course.  Followed by a time of refocus, rededication and a tougher training cycle than any before.  At Grandma’s Marathon it all came together for her, and she earned her way to Houston.  Now a sub 2:30 marathon is clearly in Ariana’s sights.  From there?  Who knows?

On Sunday “the rest of us mortals” had an opportunity to run the flat and fast Houston Marathon course in near perfect temperatures and conditions.  The Chevron Marathon is not a 3X Loop Course like the Olympic Trials Course – as that was laid out to mimic the course that the Olympians will run in London this year.  But it sets up as a great marathon course that can produce fast times if the weather cooperates.

A friend of mine here in Austin ran a 3:06 and change – Sean Lilly.  A runner that although a bit younger than I am, has a very similar history as I do and in fact, truth told, I get the better of Sean most times when we race each other.

My Triathlon Coach Claudia Spooner laid down a 3:01:00 on Sunday in Houston – A huge PR and a tremendous effort from an amazing athlete.

So as I sit here 13 weeks before Boston I find myself processing new information.  There is very little evidence remaining – aside from the fact that I have yet to do it – that I am not capable of running a sub 3 hour marathon.  In fact, most indicators place me in the 2:56-2:58 range.

What is holding me back from hitting that time goal of mine has been luck (poor weather in Austin, 2010) and a bit of fear (New York 2011).

I ran New York “conservatively aggressive” if there is such a thing.  My strategy was to go out over the first 20 miles to “give myself a chance” at 3 hours if everything went my way.  I came through the half-way point of the race in 1:29:45 and was right on the edge.

When the course got difficult and the final bridges and hills tilted in favor of the course and not the marathoners I dialed back, ran through to the finish and a new PR of 3:08.

Being completely honest with myself, I knew that I would have a huge PR at the 21 mile point.  I ran the remaining 5 miles comfortable in that achievement.  I did not run them like Ariana Hilborn did at Grandma’s or like Dathan Ritzenhein did on Saturday in Houston.

I ran timidly in a “just happy to be in there” kind of way.  Which is fine.  I do not run for a living, this is a hobby afterall.

But as I reflect on my training to this point for Boston – I am giving 100% effort in pursuit of my running as close to my potential as possible on April 16th.  The weather on race day will have a say in what that potential is – and Boston is obviously not an “easy” marathon course by any stretch.

That being said, I’m done being afraid of the numbers.

2:59:59.

6:52 pace.

It is there for me, I just have to have the confidence to go out there and lay my thing down in Boston.

Run the mile that is in front of me fearlessly.  Do not worry about mile 24 or 25 or 26 until it is time to run that mile.  Then give my best effort.

Yes there is strategy involved in the marathon, that is what makes it such a tremendous race.  You cannot go out with a reckless abandon like you can in a 5K or even 10K race – as the penalties in doing so over 26.2 miles are quite severe.

But what I can do is “believe” that I belong with those 2:56-2:58 marathoners and run my race.  Ticking off sub 7:00 minute mile after sub 7:00 minute mile until heartbreak hill and then power through those last 5 miles like my life depended on it.  There will be no waving to the crowds like there was in New York.  No victory laps over the final 800 meters.

This April’s race is a business trip, and it is going to be treated as such.

After this weekend, I learned an important lesson.  Maybe the final lesson when it comes to the marathon.

There is no time left to be afraid.