Archive for October, 2012

Many marathon training plans, long-course triathlon training plans as well feature what are commonly referred to as “step-back” weeks.  Weeks that occur every three or four weeks where you reduce your workload, allow your body to absorb the increased training during the preceding weeks and adapt.  During that “step-back” week your body goes through changes, absorbs this increased intensity and grows stronger.  This process is critical to good health as the athlete can allow any small “nicks” that they have experienced to bounce back to full-strength for another push forward over the next 2-3 week period.  Allowing for even more miles and more intense training to continue to move the needle forward once again throughout the training cycle.

I agree with this philosophy 100% and have seen it work like a charm during my previous marathon cycles – allowing me to stay healthy while training hard and create the perfect situation where I reach the taper pretty much on fumes.  I then use those final 2-weeks before race day to recharge the batteries and on race morning I am ready to rumble.  The only problem I have always had with the “step-back” week was the name.  You really aren’t taking a step back, you are reloading to take a step forward.

Instead I refer to these weeks as “cut-back” weeks.  Where I cut back my mileage by 10-12 miles or so over the course of 7-days, in this case from 67 miles last week down to about 55 or so and then rebound back up to 70 miles the following week, then 75 the next.

The alternative would be to simply post weeks of 62, 67, 70, 72, 75 – but a schedule like that for a 45-year old marathoner is one that invites the possibility of not only injury but of overtraining.  The fact of the matter is that for adaptations to your muscles to take place, you have to let them rest and recover.  Last week featured 4 very challenging “Quality” workouts spread over my 6 runs.  My two easy workouts for the week were 10 recovery miles on Wednesday after a pair of runs on Tuesday less than 7 hours apart and my 20-mile long run on Sunday.  Keep in mind, those were the “easy” days.

So this week we will be running 55 miles +/-, if we need to cut back a little more than that by reducing our Saturday run from 10 miles down to 8, that will be fine too.

The key is to make sure that while you cut back on the mileage you keep some “intensity”.  You want to make sure you continue to work some tempo miles into your week, some hill work, some marathon goal-pace miles to keep the legs moving and the pace ticking over.  But make sure that you give yourself plenty of “easy” work also and allow those training miles from the previous two weeks to do their thing and build a stronger base moving forward.

This morning’s run of 10 miles was a good example of keeping the intensity level up, but not overdoing things.

After a warm-up mile that was steady effort (7:26), I locked in at Marathon Goal Pace Effort (6:52) but not necessarily Marathon Goal Pace on the watch.  I did this by wearing heavier trainers this morning – Brooks Ghost 5’s, which are about 3 ounces heavier than my marathon race shoes.  This difference in weight is the equivalent of :03 seconds per mile.  I took this run to the softer crushed granite trail system behind our home to reduce the pounding on my legs a bit, but also slowing down my speed by another :01-:03 seconds per mile.

This turns a 6:52 goal pace effort mile into one that shows up on the watch in the 6:55-6:58 range.

Miles 2-10 this morning came in at:

6:59, 6:58, 6:52, 6:58, 6:54, 6:59, 6:53, 6:50, 6:41.

Only over the last mile did I press the issue a bit to feel like I was working hard.  The other miles I just focused on even effort and let the hills on the trail dictate my pace on the watch.  Running smooth, even opening splits in Houston is what I worked on today, stopping my legs when they got a little carried away and wanted to start pushing pace towards the end of the run.  Only in the final mile did I let them take over.

Running a smooth opening 13 miles in Houston is going to go a long way toward our goal of breaking 3 hours in the marathon.  We will not “make” our time over the first 13 miles, but we certainly can “miss” it there if we are too fast and burn up too much energy and glycogen during the first half of the race.

So, just because you are cutting back your mileage – it doesn’t mean that you are not getting quality work in.  Marathon training is like trying to create the perfect stew.  You have to put all of the ingredients together, take great care in finding the perfect mixture and temperature, and then giving it the time to all come together.

No single workout or “ingredient” is going to make or break you.  It is the way that you put all the ingredients together that makes the difference.

75 days left to race day.  Things are just starting to heat up on the stove.  Happy Halloween everyone!

Landry’s Elmo Pumpkin – (Carving by Dad)

 

 

 

80 Training days remain before we drop off our dry bag pre-dawn in Houston, run a short, brisk warm-up, re-tie our race flats and tuck in to the starting area among the other marathoners who hope to run a time under 3:00 hours on January 13, 2013.

Last year on a cool, fast day for racing the leader of the 3 hour pace group finished in 2:59:40 which was good enough for 245th place overall.  The 22oth Male Finisher.  He is an Austin runner who I have met at a few races.  Marathon PR of 2:40.  He has paced 5 different marathon groups over the past few years and has come in just under goal time in each of them.

I’m not going to let him out of my site on race day.

Wednesday’s are my mid-week recovery workouts during a marathon training cycle.  They fall just 12 hours or so after my second of two runs on Tuesday and 24 hours before my hill-repeat workout on Thursday.  It is a run of 10-12 miles depending on the week where I just lock into whatever pace feels “comfortable” and cruise evenly up and down the rolling terrain of the hill route.  I run the hills so I can engage all of the different muscle groups, giving a rest to my hamstrings on the downhill sections, working my Quads and calves while I am climbing – essentially flushing out all of the soreness and fatigue from the previous two workouts and giving me the opportunity to reload a bit before going hard again on Thursday morning battling hill repeat after hill repeat.

The runs on Wednesday are not necessarily “difficult”, this week after running 16.5 miles over two workouts on Tuesday with half of those miles between 6:10 pace and 6:45, running a relaxed 7:48 pace over ten miles can feel kind of nice actually.  The challenge is actually in staying patient and not gradually running faster and faster as the miles tick by in an effort to “just wrap this up” or “get back to get some breakfast”.  Early on I would stay nice and smooth for 6 or 7 miles, but the last 3 I would find myself running close to race pace.  Not good.

On a day when I am supposed to be recovering from a tough workout and preparing for another one to follow – I was turning my recovery run into a pace run.

But lately, I have been much more restrained and patient on these recovery days and it has allowed me to run even harder on my hard days.  That is where the good stuff is.  Being able to really hammer away on the days that demand “hammering”.  Recovery days are just that, meant to build your aerobic base and endurance.  In some ways the slower the better as you are going to extend the run and spend more time on your feet.  All important when preparing for a marathon.

What is interesting to me is where my mind wanders on these runs.  When I am running intervals or speed work I really don’t have time to be distracted.  I’m firmly in the now.  But on a relaxed run I can allow myself to think about things other than running.  This morning I spent the first few miles of my run thinking about Dom’s children Sierra and Nico.  With Halloween right around the corner I wondered what they would be wearing to go Trick or Treating next week.  Or what they would be “Going As” which is how we referred to it growing up outside of Philadelphia.

I made a mental note that I needed to call Val this weekend to check-in on everybody and see what their plans were.  Dom in a lot of ways was just an overgrown kid.  Full of fun, laughter and an infectious mischievous side – even at age 39.  His kids are at the age now where Halloween and really all the holidays are a lot of fun.  I know they miss him as much as he misses them.

As I was climbing over the top of the dam around mile 6 I started to think about my strategy down in Houston.  How in my “best” races – and by that I mean when I ran as close to or better than what I thought my capabilities at that distance were at the time, how I had run even splits throughout.  Never more than :02-:05 faster or slower than my race average at the finish line.

IBM Uptown Classic, Austin Half-Marathon, NOCC Balance, Shamrock Half-Marathon, 3M, the Pittsburgh Marathon all races where I was “locked in” for the majority of the race and only over the final 10-15% of the race when things got difficult did I need to tap into the mental strength to keep the pedal down.  Keep pushing.  Not let the brain that was sending me signals that this was getting hard and wouldn’t it feel great to back off a bit right now actually take over.  I just set that thought to the side and realized that every stride I took was one stride closer to the end.  That is the only time relief totally comes anyway.  The finish line.  At some point it really doesn’t matter.  Fast or slow, it hurts just the same.

On top of the dam overlooking Brushy Creek Trail and the lake below, I shined my headlamp out in front of me and I could see the exact spot where I decided to run those two marathons in 13 days for Dom in 2010 as he battled stomach cancer.  Less than 4/10 of a mile from that bend in the trail my plan for the Houston Marathon came together.  80 days prior to race day.

I am going to line up slightly behind the 3 hour pace group and cross the start line a handful of seconds after they do.  Over the first mile I am going to keep them exactly in sight and gradually reel them in over the first three miles of the race.  At the 5K split I will pull alongside Brian the pace-leader and tuck in to the group.  :20 or so of “wiggle” room in my back pocket.

I will stay with them through 10K and through the half-way point.  Around mile 15 or 16 when the group starts to break up a bit, I am going to tuck in on Brian’s heels.

At mile 20 when there are even fewer of us remaining, I am going to fasten a string in my mind from Brian’s waist to mine.  I might let the string stretch a bit, but never break.  I will not no matter what let him get away from me.

The hardest miles in the marathon to hold pace are from 20-24.  It is at that point that your Glycogen stores have run out and you are now starting to burn fat as fuel.  It is much less efficient, and you have to work harder to hold the same pace.  Your legs are feeling heavy.  For me, the outside of my hips start to get sore and it is more difficult to raise my legs as high on my stride as I did just 15 minutes earlier.  It is the time when your brain starts telling you to back off, this is getting hard.

It is the point in the race where I ask myself the same question that I have posed at every “A” race I have ever competed in.

“How bad do you want this today?”

I know that if I can hold on to the pace group to mile 24 we are going to make it.

Mile 25 is going to hurt regardless, whether that mile is at 6:52 pace or 7:15 or 7:30.  I am going to disassociate from everything going on except the back of Brian’s singlet.  Don’t let that string snap.

Mile 26 is going to run itself.  I can do anything for one mile.

And when we make the final turn and only 400 meters remains we are going to kick like we have never kicked before.  I have always had a hard time visualizing what the end of a sub 3 hour marathon would be like.  Perhaps it is because I knew that I wasn’t quite ready before.  Or maybe it was because I wasn’t willing to pay the price of admission.

But on a dark trail 81 days prior to race day I could see every bit of it happening right in front of me.  With a glance I am going to thank Brian for the escort through the first 26~ miles of the race and then I am going to drop him like a bad habit.  It is going to be the most painful but at the time the most exhilarating 400 meters we have ever raced.  We’ll have plenty of time to recover when it’s over.

12 Weeks until Houston.  I am finally in the place that I want to be during marathon training.  Firmly in the now.  Not looking too far ahead and perhaps more importantly, not looking behind me.

Frank Shorter once famously said, “You should never run a marathon until you have forgotten your last one.”

There are a couple of ways to interpret Frank’s remark.  The first time I read it I thought that he must be talking about the fact that the marathon being such a unique race takes a tremendous amount of effort to prepare for, get mentally checked-in, race and then recover from.  It is such a draining experience for the athlete whose goal is not merely to finish, but to run the race as close as possible to their maximum potential, that you need to not only physically recover from the race, but you really have to get your mind right before you tee it up again.

I still believe that is the main point that Frank was trying to make.

Lately however I have found new meaning in Frank’s comment.  With the NYC Marathon now less than 2 weeks away I have continued to replay that race over in my mind on training runs over the last month or so.  Despite the fact that I finished Boston in April, I consider NYC to be my “last” marathon.  Yes, I earned a finisher’s medal in Boston for the second time in three years and covered every step of the storied course from Hopkinton to Boston.  But with race day temperatures reaching 87 degrees, I did not “race” Boston, I merely “ran” it.  Still an accomplishment, but never for one moment on April 16th did I feel the intensity of race day.  I simply left Hopkinton at a comfortable training run pace, dealt with the course, the heat, the need to hydrate and fuel to the best of my abilities, high-fived kids along the route, flirted briefly with the coeds at Wellesley and hung on through Brookline past Boston College to the finish.

NYC was my last Marathon and it was my best ever.

What I am realizing is that when you look back fondly on a great performance that can be a dangerous place to be preparing for a marathon.

The marathon is cruel.  The distance is significant.  The training is tough.  The race is tougher.

You have to not only put in the work prior to the event to put yourself in a position to be successful, but you have to prepare mentally for some of the toughest miles you will ever run.  If your “memory” of marathon glory is too fresh, if the only thing you can draw from is how exhilarating it felt to cross the finish line with a new PR in hand then you are not going to be in the right mindset to battle through the pain and fatigue it takes to get there.

I’m not sure if it has been the increased intensity of my run workouts over the past couple of weeks that have flipped the switch from Triathlete to Marathoner or not, but with each passing workout I feel like my mind is getting closer and closer to where I want it to be on race morning.  Tempo miles, hill repeats, long runs – it is all building toward a crescendo that on race morning down in Houston we are going to attack the marathon like none of the other 9 that have come before it.

All it really took to get me there was the look on Landry’s face as she was preparing for her first “Fire Truck” Race at her friend Levi’s Birthday party on Sunday.

Go Big or Go Home

If I have ever entertained the thought, “chip off the old block”, seeing that photograph brings it home.

In 5 Weeks we will be racing on Thanksgiving morning at the Thundercloud Subs 5-Miler.  16 days later the Ronald McDonald House Lights of Love 5K, 16 days after that the Shiner Half-Marathon and then 4 weeks after Shiner we will be in Houston.

4 races, 4 opportunities to leave it all out on the course and go after a PR in the 5-mile, 5K, half-marathon and marathon.  Approximately 5 hours and 14 minutes of racing where we need to be focused throughout, race with passion and determination and in a word, fearlessly.

Running that close to the ragged edge can be a bit scary.  It also has the potential to create a race where you go out too hard too early and fade badly at the finish.  Very true.

But I also know that failing to go all in and playing it safe is a recipe for the average to slightly above average performance more times than not.

Frankly, I’m not interested in that.

If we blow up down in Houston, miss our goal and struggle to finish the race, I’m prepared to pick-up the pieces after the race and figure out where we go from there.

The one thing I don’t think I can live with is driving back to Austin and looking Dawn and Landry in the eye knowing that I was too scared to go for it.  We’ve got 12-weeks to make sure that on race day we’re prepared for the toughest final 10 kilometers we have ever run.  We’ll be ready.

On Friday morning at 4:48 a.m. on a darkened street in Avery Ranch I pushed away from the driveway where I was stretching my hamstrings and calves to start my workout.  The temperature had dropped to an even 50 degrees overnight.  The flag on our house lay limp from the post.  Not a single breath of air to move it.  In a word the running weather was …. perfect.

I had a late night on Wednesday night this week due to some travel and I decided that instead of running my Thursday Hill Repeat Workout and resting on Friday, I would simply flip-flop my workout days, rest on Thursday and then run on Friday.  Usually a decision like that – putting something off into the future for personal/selfish reasons – comes back to bite you in the form of a thunderstorm, high temperatures, ungodly humidity, a flood, locusts …. you get the picture.  That decision for a runner never seems to pay dividends.

This time however, it paid of handsomely.  Shorts, Singlet, light gloves and my Boston Marathon Race shoes carried me up the long hill to the top of the neighborhood for my 3-mile warm-up.  The loop would deposit me at the bottom of the hill where we run our repeats on Thursdays.  3/10 of a mile long, 65 feet of climbing from the base to the top where we turn around under the street light and make a slow recovery jog back to the bottom to do it all over again.

Hill Repeats have become a staple in our training since the Austin Marathon in February of 2011.  It was famously described by Frank Shorter as “speedwork in disguise” as if the workout is run properly, you are essentially running at 5K effort up a steep incline for anywhere between 400 and 600 meters.  To run at that intensity uphill is akin to running at far below your 5K race pace approaching your lactate threshold.

The runner gets the same gains as doing repeats on a track – but at a far reduced injury risk as the stride is shortened by the incline and you are not navigating any turns at a high-speed.

It also taxes your climbing muscles which creates not only a faster athlete on hills, but a strong fast runner on the flats as well.

That is why although there is hardly a hill that is not manmade on the Houston Marathon Course (think overpasses only), we are preparing for the race as if it were as hilly as Boston, NYC or Pittsburgh.

When I started doing this workout a couple of years ago I would be able to crest the hill in 1 minute and 47 seconds.  Approximately 6:25 pace per mile.

As I stuck with the workout my times per repeat improved and I was suddenly running them between 1:42 and 1:44 all the way up to 10 repeats.  Approximately 6:10-6:15 pace per mile.

A funny thing happened to me this summer however as Triathlon Season started and I was spending more time swimming and biking.  I got faster.

Instead of the 1:44’s or 1:45’s that would occasionally pop up – I was now “living” in the 1:41-1:42 range.

On August 30th, the day after Landry’s birthday and the day before Dawn’s, I ran an opening repeat at 1:40.  6:02 pace for the first repeat and the thought entered my head.  “Could I actually run a repeat under 1:40?”.

I jogged slowly to the bottom, gathered myself, made the turn and blasted up to the top of the hill.  I pushed the last 100 meters as hard as I could, hit the watch to mark the top of the hill and looked at the dial.  1:39.  I would run the third and 9th repeats also in 1:39 that day and a new threshold had been reached.  All during the ramp-up to half-ironman.

This morning was the first hill repeat workout since Kerrville as I stayed away from the hill sessions in the two-week taper prior to race day and the two-week recovery period.  But today they were back.

Repeat 1: 1:40
Repeat 2: 1:38
Repeat 3: 1:36 **
Repeat 4: 1:38
Repeat 5: 1:36 **
Repeat 6: 1:37
Repeat 7: 1:37
Repeat 8: 1:37

1:40 which was only two months ago a huge barrier both physically and mentally for me to push through was this morning my “warm-up”.  Hitting 1:36 (5:53 pace) not once but twice – amazing.  But what made me the most happy as I exercised patience by only running 8 repeats this morning, 9 next week and then finally 10 the following as I want to build back to that intensity and duration gradually to err on the side of “recovering caution” post race – is that my final three repeats were rock solid at 1:37 each.  No drop off, no slowing down.  In a word.  Perfect.

Training is all about stressing your body to force adaptation, then giving it the room and recovery time it needs to adapt and grow stronger.

It would appear that the Triathlon training this summer that put us in a position to excel in Kerrville at the Half-Ironman distance has paid some other dividends.  We are stronger, faster and have more endurance than we have ever had at any time to this point.

13 weeks to Houston.  For the first time I am not thinking about whether or not we will break 3 hours in the marathon.  I’m starting to think about by how much.

 

The marathon is a serious race.  It demands a serious approach to training if you want to run well on race day.  It takes a serious effort to run to your potential.

For the 0.5% of the population who can claim to be a marathoner, describing the final 6.2 miles of the race as “serious” is a tremendous understatement.

For most of us however, we are running marathons for our own personal reasons.  Very few of the athletes who toe the line down in Houston this January are there because it is their “job”.  Sure some are there to chase prize money and awards, but for the vast majority of the field they are racing one of two people.

The marathoner they used to be – hoping to better their PR (personal record) at the distance or

The marathoner they think they have the potential to become.

For us that means racing the clock and breaking through the three hour barrier.

If I had my choice of winning an age group award in Houston and running a 3:02 marathon or finishing 25th in my age group with a time of 2:59:59 the choice is an easy one.  I am fortunate enough to have plenty of nick nacks, medals, trophys and ribbons from races in the past.  What I do not have however is a 2:59 finish to my credit.  Not for another 3 months anyway.

There are a few things that I have been trying to remind myself during this training cycle as I know it may be the last “serious” one for quite awhile.  I have been telling myself to focus my effort and my mind only on the workout in front of me.  Do not look ahead to bigger weeks, races, long runs or my highest mileage weeks.  Just look at the workout immediately in front of me and give 100% effort.

That does not mean that I am going to perfectly nail each one of the remaining 73 runs and 759.30 miles left to go.  In fact, I know for certain that I am not.  Training has a way of breaking you down to build you back up.  There are going to be quite a few times when my confidence is shaken by a “poor” workout.  But there will also be many times when I feel invincible after a workout that I really hammered away at.  The key is to take them one at a time and not get too high or too low.  The truth like most things in life is almost always in the middle.

I’ve also reminded myself to be humble and grateful for our good health.  We have been training hard now since April 2, 2011 with no injuries.  3,635 running miles without taking any serious time off due to a training injury.  The longest streak by far in our time as a runner.  Add another 2,962 in the saddle and more laps in the pool than I know how to count and I am enjoying quite a run of good luck and smart training.  I am going to treasure these next 759 miles on the way to Houston and enjoy all of them.  Hot, cold, wet, dark, windy, fast and slow.  They are all part of the story surrounding race day.  I am going to love them all equally.

But the one thing that I needed to be reminded of on Sunday night by my daughter Landry are two key lessons that every marathoner should remember.

1.     No matter how many times you get knocked down.  Keep getting back up.

2.     Remember to have fun.

If you want a visual of what I am talking about – click below to see Landry practicing her tumbling.

http://youtu.be/tmrcisak2w0

It is so easy to get caught up in your emotions on race day, especially when things don’t seem to be going your way.  Whether you catch a bad break with race-day weather, which has happened to us quite a bit actually when it comes to this distance, or things out on the course just don’t seem to be coming together for you.  You have to keep fighting.  The pain of missing a goal narrowly is going to stay with you much longer than any physical pain you are experiencing trying to hold on to race pace.  Don’t let the fact that you’ve gotten knocked down keep you there.  Gather yourself and keep trying, keep pushing, even when things seem impossible.

That describes just about every great success story.

More importantly however is that this is all “supposed” to be fun.  If it stops being fun, why on earth would we be teeing this race up for the 9th time in 6 years?  What else do we have to prove to anyone that we haven’t already?

I told myself after the Kerrville half-ironman that I would not get back on my bike until I felt like “I missed riding”.  I wanted my first post-race ride to be for the joy of it, not out of some kind of training obligation or duty.

On Monday afternoon on a beautiful Austin Fall day I saddled up and went out for a quick 20-mile ride over the hill route on Parmer Lane.  No real time goal or pace in mind – just a hard ride because I missed it.

Distance: 20.26 mi
Time: 55:59
Avg Pace: 2:45 min/mi
Avg Speed: 21.7 mph
Elevation Gain: 623 ft

Best training ride I’ve had in a long, long time – and the first thing I thought of when I hit the driveway at home and kicked out of my clips was, “Man, that was fun.”

I’m determined to remember that as I glance down at Dom’s initials on my Houston race flats and point to the sky as we cross the starting line at 7:00 a.m. on January 13th.  At 10:00 a.m. I am going to point skyward as well as a final thank you to Dom for helping put me in position for this moment, to go out and run the race of my life.

The only question that remains is whether or not we are pointing from the finishing chute or the race course.  The marathon is an unpredictable race.  I’m not entirely sure where we are going to be when we cast our eyes skyward, but I do know this.  It is going to be fun finding out.

Thank you Landry for the reminder on Sunday.  You are the best little girl any Daddy has ever had.

Daddy’s Girl carbing up

When I first started running marathons I spent most of my training time worrying about the physical aspects of the race.  How would I run 26.2 miles when I never ran further than 20 in training?  How could I run 50 miles in a week?  Would I be able to keep it together for up to 4 hours of racing?

Fast forward 6 years and I am still figuring things out when it comes to the marathon.  Oh what I would give to have my 39-year-old legs back knowing what I know now about training and racing.

That is the hard part about getting older.  With age comes wisdom, but we are often too old at that point to do much with it.  When I toe the starting line in Houston this January we will be 45 years, 5 months and 13 days old.  A far cry from Philadelphia in November, 2006 when as a 39-year-old we went head to head with the marathon for the first time.  The reality is for us to meet our goal in the marathon we are running against two clocks.  The one on the course and the one manned by Father Time.  I really don’t have too many more opportunities ahead of me to chase this one down.

After all this time and more than 12,000 miles run on roads and trails I have come to realize that I have acquired all of the physical ability and talent necessary to run a sub 3 hour marathon.  I have put in the work establishing my aerobic base, now instead of starting at a 50-mile training week wondering how we will ever run that much over 7 days I plot out 75 mile weeks.  Those 20 mile training runs are now nothing more than “running long” on Sundays.  I now top out at 22-23 miles at the peak of my marathon preparation.

Racing for up to 4 hours?  No problem, try a half-ironman on for size and racing for 5 hours, 6 minutes and 57 seconds.

There is of course work to do between now and January 13th.  That is the whole point when training for and especially “peaking” for an “A” race.  But when I look at our training plan below there is not a single workout or a single week that “scares” me.  We have been there before and know exactly what it is going to take to make it through to the taper.  This is perhaps the first time I have looked ahead to a marathon training schedule with nothing but respect for the amount of work we are going to have to put in, but not a bit of fear or reservation.

Houston Training Plan

There is something different this time.  I knew it as soon as I made it through the finisher’s chute in Kerrville.

The race is where I am going to be tested, not in my preparation.

The physical aspect of the race is going to be a challenge, this is something that after even one marathon you know quite well, let alone nine.  You are aware just how much it is going to hurt.  When it is going to start, how it will continue to get worse and worse as you push yourself on tired legs and depleted energy stores to hang on for just one more mile, one more hill, one more turn, one more straightaway until the pain gets to the point where even slowing down isn’t going to help.

Fast or slow, it hurts just the same at that point.  Time to dig in and push to the finish.

Oddly, for the first time ever, I am looking forward to that moment in Houston.

In previous marathons I have wanted to push that moment off as far into the future and as long into the race as possible.  This time, I am going to welcome it and as God is my witness, we are going to defeat it.

Someone told me recently that there are two kinds of people in the world – Cockroaches and Ants.  “When the lights come on, the cockroaches run.  The ants?  They just keep on working.”

I was rolling that thought around in my mind running along the Town Lake Trail last Wednesday when I passed a woman running with her Terrier.  Tiny, tiny dog who was running with a stick that was easily 4X the length of his body.  He was running, running, running with his tiny legs churning as fast as they could go with his stick hanging at least 10 inches out of each side of his mouth.  Not a care in the world, not wondering if he could make it all they way home, he just ran on fearlessly.

Ignorance is bliss I thought as I smiled and ran past him.

That’s when it occurred to me that we are finally in the perfect place when it comes to the marathon.  From this point forward it is going to be about sharpening our mental game and our approach to “racing the race” more than any of the physical tests we need to put our body through to prepare.

When the lights come on down in Houston there will indeed be a lot of runners who make like a cockroach and hide from the moment, but we are not going to be one of them.

When the lights come on we are going to stride across the mat, hopefully shoot a knowing look at our marathoner friend Dave who has generously agreed to pace us and we are going to channel our inner-ant and simply go to work.

Who has the right to tell us that the stick we want to carry to the finish is too big for us?  Screw ’em I say.  Let’s race.

 

It’s Friday which represents a much-needed and well-deserved rest day from our first week of marathon preparation for Houston.  We have been hitting it hard this week with quite a bit of mileage covered at much faster paces than we had been laying down preparing for the Kerrville Half Ironman.

Monday – 8 miles at 6:43 pace.

Tuesday – 13.2 miles at 7:12 pace.

Wednesday – 10.25 miles moderate pace – 7:24 pace.

Thursday – 10 Recovery miles – 7:31 pace.

The last two runs in summer-like 75 degree temperatures and turtorous 98% humidity.

That is 41.45 miles for those of you scoring at home before the sun went down on Thursday night.  With a weekend plan for 8 miles on Saturday morning and 16 more on Sunday we will top out at just over 65 miles this week.  A nice start on the road to Houston.  In fact our highest mileage weeks during the training cycle will reach just 10~ miles or so more than what we posted out of the chute.

But Friday also marks the return of Landry’s Mommy from California this week.  Superwife was out in Anaheim for work which made things a little bit more “complicated” for this Dadathoner.

Early morning runs which are our M.O. were replaced by getting Landry up, diaper changed, teeth brushed, dressed for school and even her hair up in bows.  Our evenings were also filled with dog walks, dinner, a community shower, PJ’s, Legos, bed time stories and about 30 minutes of “movie night” in bed with Dad before heading upstairs to sleep tucked in with Minnie Mouse, Monchichi and her other friends.

Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday nights were Toy Story 2, followed by The Lorax on Thursday.

Which means that training would have to take place downtown after we made our way in to work.  A later morning run or a lunchtime run was necessary to make everything fit.  This allowed for a nice change of pace in our running routes as we got a chance to run on the town lake trail in Austin, something that I only do a handful of times each year.  That coupled with cooler temperatures at the start of the week provided us with some great training opportunities.

But the highlight of the week was spending Sunday through Friday one-on-one with Landry.  We did some shopping, watched some football and then played in the mornings and evenings before and after school.

She even hopped up on the TRI bike to check out how being in the Aero position felt.  I think we may have a future Triathlete on our hands.

Landry on Daddy’s TRI Bike

Landry shopping for Legos at Toys R Us

Landry and her new friend Minnie Mouse

Of course the box is always fun too ….

Landry shooting Dad “The Look” – perfected at age 25 months, 8 days.

Pretty great week for Dad and Landry.  Hopefully the next 13 will be just as fun and productive on the road to Houston.

This will be the first marathon where when we come through the chute I won’t have Dawn there to greet me and the first one since Austin in 2011 where Landry is not there as well.  My hugs will be waiting for me back in Austin after driving home after the race.  Hopefully we’ll be coming home a sub 3-hour guy.  But if not, those hugs are going to feel pretty great all the same.

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.  For the Houston marathon this January I took an honest look back at our race in New York City to come up with our battle plan for our next marathon.

I analyzed my New York race, looked at my splits, where I was at the half-marathon mark 1:29:45 and what I needed to do to close things out sub 3:00:00.  I really like where I was through mile 18 of the race, at that point the climb up the Queensborough Bridge and the rolling hills on 5th avenue and into Central Park just proved to be too challenging for us to hold pace.  As sub 3 hours slipped away at mile 22 we simply “relaxed” a bit and ran smooth to the finish.

The variables that I wanted to tilt in our favor for our next attempt at breaking 3 hours were:

1.     Weather.  I wanted a winter marathon at sea level.  Lots of “air in the air” and the chance for low temps. and low humidity.

2.     Early Start.  As much as I love the fanfare and “big event” feel of Boston or the NYC Marathons it makes it tough on the athletes.  Your schedule is disrupted, you race later in the morning, you need to eat more prior to the race, expend energy getting to the starting line etc., etc., etc.  I wanted a 7:00 a.m. or 7:30 a.m. start, a short walk to the starting line from my hotel and no plane rides prior to the race.

3.     Flat/Neutral Course.  I was looking for a course that kept climbing, and especially late climbing, to a minimum.  To this point I have trained for and ran hilly marathon after hilly marathon.  I am considered a strong hill runner in Austin and it has proven to be benificial for me fighting it out for Age Group awards locally.  However, in the Marathon we are not racing for Age Group Awards, at least not at large races.  We are racing against the clock and running hilly, challenging courses like Pittsburgh, Austin, Boston, New York has not played to our advantage.  For our next shot at 3 hours, I wanted to run a flat, fast course.

4.     Pace Support.  The last piece of the puzzle for me was relying on a runner I trusted to set the pace for me.  I wanted to literally leave my watch on the desk at the hotel and run this next marathon completely by feel.  No obsessing over splits, each mile, what does it mean if I’m :10 fast or :10 slow?  It puts a lot of stress and pressure on each mile, instead of allowing me to just relax and run free and easy for the first 16-18 miles of the race, then dig in and run the final 8-10 miles truly as a “race”.  Dig in, fight tooth and nail every mile to the finish.  Look at the clock and whatever it says when we cross the line we know it was all we had to offer.  2:59:XX, better or worse, I am willing to own it.

My plan for this last piece was to run Houston alongside my friend Brendon Cahoon from Austin.  Side by side, shoulder to shoulder, mile after mile 1 through 25.  I was going to shut down all of the sensors around me and just tuck in next to Brendon and run my race.  I would only glance at the course clocks at each mile marker in Houston and have a rough idea as to where we were with respect to our overall pace.  When we started mile 26 it would be every man for himself to the finish.

Virtually assured of being out-kicked by Brendon to the finish, I would still be in line to run the mile of my life until the final 385 yards approached.  Those last 2/10 of a mile run themselves in the marathon, no matter how much suffering you have done to that point.  I was going to count on the rush of the crowd, the approaching finish line and finishing chute to spur me on to close things out sub 6:52 pace if not faster.

With all of these variables tilted in our favor – Houston seems to be the perfect spot for us to have our breakthrough marathon in our 9th attempt at the distance and run a new personal best.

Sadly, Brendon is not going to be able to race with me on 1-13-13.  He is still struggling with Plantar Fasciitis and will not be able to resume training in time for race day.

We will be alone once again in Houston.

It is amazing that in a race with more than 14,000 competitors you can be lonely – but that is exactly how it will be for us in January.

Only 254 runners finished the 2012 Houston Marathon with a time of 2:59:59 or better.

140 of those runners finished sub 2:55:00 meaning that they would be almost 3/4 of a mile ahead of the runners finishing just under 3 hours.

That turns the marathon into a race of 100-125 people for us after mile 20 of the race.  Smaller than a local 5K race.  It is at that time when the distance starts to take its’ toll on your body and you are starting to have trouble staying mentally strong that having someone by your side can make all the difference in the world.  It becomes a mental game as much as a physical one at that point, which is what makes the marathon such a special distance to race.

Perhaps we will find a runner on the course to run alongside and help push us through those closing miles.  Perhaps not.  But right now it looks as like we are going to be on our own down in Houston.

It’s not the way we drew up the plan early this summer, but it is what it is.  As I ticked off our “first” run of the Houston training cycle on Monday I ran alone on the Town Lake Trail.  passing runners, walkers, joggers and quite a few dogs out for their morning walk.  We pushed pace on Monday and ran hard to the finish of our 8-miler.

6:59, 6:44, 6:47, 6:45, 6:39, 6:35, 6:38, 6:36.

Pretty solid start to the cycle.  80 runs remain and just over 834 miles to the finish line.  We are going to run the vast majority of them by ourselves.  At this point, I wouldn’t want it any other way.

On to Houston.

Houston Marathon Start

After last week’s “recovery week” from the Kerrville Half-Ironman the calendar flipped to October 8th and the Chevron Houston Marathon is now front and center.

We didn’t do a ton of work last week, just runs of 6.2, 8.6, 10 and 12 miles with a 20-mile easy bike ride thrown in on Friday afternoon to work out the last bit of soreness in our quadricept muscles.  Amazingly as early in the week as Thursday I felt like I had not even raced the weekend before.  Some of that is due to the fact that we might have “over-prepared” slightly for the race.  By that meaning that most HIM training plans have a little bit less volume, especially from a run perspective.

The other piece is that swimming and cycling, no matter the speed and intensity are just simply easier to recover from than high-mileage racing in run only events.  The pounding on the muscles and the residual soreness just isn’t the same when you are in the water or in the saddle compared to hammering away over asphalt and concrete in 7-9 oz. racing flats.

But that is what we are preparing for now as the Houston Marathon becomes front and center.  Our next “A” race, and more than likely our only “A” race in all of 2013, falling in just the second weekend of the new year.

2013 is going to be a year of re-evaluation for me as it pertains to training and racing.

My thought right now is to spend the year focusing on shorter distance events, 5K/10K and potentially a late fall half-marathon to try to take down our PR’s in each of those distances.

18:12, 37:30, 1:23:46.

All very solid Personal Records for a 45+ year old runner.  But in each of those races, the NOCC Balance 5K the day before I became a Dad, the 2011 IBM Uptown Classic and last spring’s Shamrock Half-Marathon in Virginia Beach I know there was the potential to run faster if I had executed a slightly different race plan.

The other factor I know will make a difference in my shorter distance race times is true speed work.  To this point I have focused my “speed” work with an eye toward longer distance events like the marathon.  I run up-tempo hill work and repeats, but my repeats are 1-mile in length.  I do not do track work out of fear of injury, and do not do shorter intervals such as 400’s and 800’s that will provide a huge training boost in my ability to race short distances at a faster leg turnover and pace.

The other factor is Landry is fun.

Every day she is getting into something new, whether that is swimming lessons, tumbling class at school or just her wanting to play outside, feed the ducks, go to the zoo or hang with Mom and Dad.

Reducing my training volume will of course free up more time – but being an early morning runner, that will not make a huge impact on the amount of time I have to spend with Dawn and Landry.  The fact is, most of my miles are logged while they are still asleep.

But the recovery from those longer training runs is a different story.  After a 20 or 22 mile training run, I’m just not up for a whole lot the rest of the day on Sunday.  I spend time relaxing and recovering instead of chasing my 2-year-old around the house.

Shortening those “long workouts” will allow me to be much more “active” on the weekends and in turn, have a lot more energy to chase Landry from activity to activity.  The speed work will also help me catch her sometimes …

But we’re not hanging up the marathon flats just yet.  Houston in 14 weeks demands a focused and well executed training cycle and that is exactly what it is going to receive.

The formula will be very similar to what we did to prepare for New York last year and Boston this past spring.

Doubles on Tuesdays – 8.3 miles in the morning another 8.3 with 6 miles at tempo pace in the afternoon.

Mid-Week Long run on Wednesdays.

Thursday Hill Repeats.

Cross Training on Fridays.

Marathon Pace Run on Saturdays.

Long run on Sundays.

One change in this year’s marathon training is I won’t have the luxury of running a tune-up half-marathon 4 weeks before the event.  This has helped me get that “racing mindset” locked in just before the taper, which is helpful as running long on Sundays has a way of lulling you into a slower training pace typically :40 or so slower than marathon goal pace for me.

I really liked the tune-up half-marathon that would allow me to run 13.1 miles at :30-:35 per mile faster than marathon pace.  It served as a great confidence booster as well as a tough workout to more or less “finish off” the training cycle.

With 14 weeks to go to race day instead of the typical 18 I am used to, I just can’t make that work this time.  Instead we are going to run more marathon pace miles on our Saturday workouts to mimic the demands of race day over far more miles than we have done in the past.  It is a subtle change in preparation, but one that I believe may very well make all the difference come race morning on January 13, 2013.

The fact of the matter is we are within a whisker of hitting our goal for the marathon.  We do not need major fitness gains or endurance improvements.  Our VO2 max is where it needs to be.  Our lactate threshold is in the correct range.  Our previous race performances indicate a marathon potential of 2:55-2:58.  Our endurance right now is better than it has ever been coming off of last weekend’s Half-Ironman.  We are beyond healthy at this point knock on wood.  Right now we have absolutely not the faintest niggles, sore muscle or nick.  We are perfect heading into Houston Training.

It’s just a matter of sharpening the sword and getting our mental game ready to run the smartest 20-miles we have ever run on race day, followed by the 10K of our life.

If we are able to execute that plan and the fickle Texas weather gods cooperate I believe we are going to be ready for our breakthrough performance in the marathon.

Houston, on January 13 you most definitely have a problem.

Not too long into my transition from “runner” to “racer” I learned a valuable lesson. Don’t spend any time looking behind you as something back there might very well catch you. When I am racing I am all eyes forward all the time. I’m looking ahead to the athletes in front of me, the next curve to the road or the next hill to be climbed. I don’t get caught from behind often, in fact I don’t remember being passed once on the 4-loop run during the half-marathon portion of the Kerrville Half-Ironman.

Finishing with the 6th fastest run time in the event, my memory is probably pretty spot-on, as the runners who were faster than me were also in front of me from earlier waves and/or stronger in the swim or on the bike than I was.

But after a race I do like to take a few days to let it all marinate a bit, remember the things that went as well as or better than expected and file those away for the next race. More importantly of course I try to honestly evaluate the rest of the race, the parts where I perhaps could have done things a bit differently and how I can improve the next time I am faced with the same challenge.

Wins from Kerrville clearly were:

1. Our training plan – I did not do what many athletes do when preparing for their “first” new endurance event such as a half-marathon, marathon, triathlon, half-ironman etc. and that is to look for a published training plan put together by another athlete, coach or “expert” to tell them what workouts to do on what days to prepare. I may not have ever toed the line at a half-ironman before, but I have trained for numerous races including a couple of Boston Marathons, a New York City Marathon, many half-marathons and a handful of short course TRI’s. I knew my fitness level and skill set going into training for Kerrville and I decided that I would know better than anyone else what I needed to do to be ready.

I created my grid, placed my workouts on the calendar and went to work. 3 swims, 3 bikes and either 4 or 5 run workouts every week depending on the schedule. That amounted to 10 or 11 individual workouts every 7-day period, with enough work across all three disciplines to either maintain or improve our fitness level, endurance and racing economy. I built up our mileage sensibly and made sure I had numerous swims, bikes and runs that exceeded the distance required to cover for that discipline on race day. Peaking with three different 3,000 meter swims vs. 1,931 on race day, a 20-mile run and several 16-18 milers vs. 13.1 on race day and several rides between 56 and 60 miles vs. 56 on race day.

Planning the work and then working the plan is part of every successful race I have ever put together. Kerrville was no different.

2. Race Day Nutrition Practice – I made sure to practice the type of fueling that would work best for me on race day during my long rides following my long swims on Saturday mornings. I monitored closely the amount of calories I took in at home after my swim, and the fluids and nutrition I took on the bike to reach the house feeling like I could hop out of the saddle and still be ready to knock out a long run without bonking. I ate the specific sports beans, including the flavor, stinger waffles and mixture of EFS, Gatorade and Water that I would carry on the bike in Kerrville.

I did not want to take any chances with race day nutrition and risk an upset stomach or an empty tank with miles to go on the run. We came pretty close to threading the needle on this one in our first attempt at the distance.

3. Transition planning and set-up – I took a lot of time prior to the race going over in my mind all of the potential problems I could run into on race day regarding my transition areas. Specifically I asked what I’m sure were “irritatingly stupid first-timer” questions of my friend Erin who had completed Kerrville last year, and numerous triathlons over the years including a full Ironman. By the time race day arrived I knew exactly how I wanted to set things up, what gear I would race in and where the potential “gotchas” might be as I perceived them prior to the event.

Of course we still had a timing chip issue, but I’ll save that one for the Misses section below.

4. Swim preparation – I am not a strong swimmer. This is a fact. Despite being able to swim somewhat far, I am not a fast swimmer, nor do I have a ton of open water/racing experience. You can swim all the laps that you want in the pool with a roped off lane and a thick black stripe to navigate by on the bottom, but swimming in open water in a crowd is different. Very different. Knowing that this was going to be my longest ever swim in competition and the fact that it would be our first wetsuit swim I needed to log some long swims in my suit to get ready for Kerrville. In 100 degree Texas weather, this was not going to be easy.

I swam several times at Deep Eddy Pool in Austin, which is a spring-fed outdoor pool with water temperature at 68 degrees year round. For those workouts I swam long and steady, no intervals or speed work, just non-stop steady swimming up to 3,300 meters. Just 500 meters short of twice the distance we would need to cover at Kerrville. I also shared a lane whenever possible with another swimmer to get some practice “swimming close” to another athlete. In hindsight these workouts were as beneficial as any of my other swims leading up to the race as I entered the water perhaps as calm as I ever have for a triathlon. I still had the usual nerves, but I was able to push through that initial uneasiness and post my fastest swim per 100M than I have at any triathlon in the past regardless of distance.

We are still not a strong swimmer, but for the first time the hole we were in after getting on the bike was not so large that we could not dig our way out of it. We were able to make the podium with a strong bike and run, but most importantly our swim kept us in the game. They say that you cannot win a triathlon in the water, but you can certainly lose it there. I would agree with that sentiment. We did just enough to give ourselves a fighting chance, and on race day, that is all any of us can ask for.

5. Race plan – Again, without a playbook to go by or any experience at this distance, determining our pace goals for the swim, bike and run was going to be challenging. I poured over the results from last year, compared my performance in previous triathlons to the same athletes at Kerrville in 2011 and tried to determine a rough estimate of what we might be capable of. I spent some time really thinking about pace vs. effort and just how hard I could push on race day. I knew that given the adrenaline rush of race day and the hopefully cooler temperatures that my “times” may be faster than my summer training paces given the same “effort”. The key is to not get scared and back off of your effort just because the numbers on your bike computer or your run watch are sending you signals that you are moving quickly. Monitor effort and ensure you are metering out your reserves according to how much “race” remains is the key.

You can race harder than you train. That is what training is for, especially training through fatigue. That is also the purpose of a proper pre-race taper.

6. Race Execution – Having a good plan is one thing, executing it well is something else all together. Back to my race report, as Mike Tyson famously said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.” Having my race plan committed to memory and being committed to it – meaning that if things started to go wrong in one event I was going to stay calm, focused and stick to my plan in the other disciplines was a key on Sunday. At the end of the day the goal was to race all 70.3 miles no matter what happened out there. But a huge contributor to our final race result was my choice to go with the bike when it was coming “easy” to us early and not let it get into our head that we had finished the bike leg more than 8 minutes faster than we anticipated.

The plan on the run was to settle into a pace I could maintain for the opening 10-miles and that is what we did. Yes it got difficult in the end, but having the confidence to stay steady and not tuck tail and fold the tent was a critical piece in finishing the race strong. There were some dark moments fighting into the wind on the looping run course, but knowing we were on track to finish out the race on our terms was a big win in our first half-ironman.

The Misses in Kerrville:

1. The first 200 meters – If we are going to ever really make some serious noise in the Triathlon we are going to have to become a much more aggressive swimmer. :30 seconds before the horn as I was treading water behind the starting line. I looked around in the water and fond myself in the front 20% of the pack. I decided to move to the back, dropped 10 meters to the rear and started swimming about mid-pack. The distance I gave up and the “track position” was one thing. But the mind-set was something entirely different. I got passive. I decided to just go with the group instead of hammering out and making the swim my own race.

It took that other athlete’s kick to my face quite literally to wake me up and get me going. Thankfully he knocked a little sense into me and reminded me that I was in a race. Next time we are going to tap into that mindset at the start of the swim and compete from the horn to the shore. At the end of the day the difference over that 200 meters amounted to not even :40 seconds, but it is not in my nature to race that way. I need to be aggressive, set the tone, push myself and outwork the other athletes. I’m never going to be the most talented swimmer in the water. But I can work the hardest.

2. The chip – I need to make sure that I am aware of everything going on around me in and out of transitions. Whether someone else is pulling off my wetsuit or not, I need to be much more dialed in mentally and should have made damn sure I did not run into bike transition without my timing chip. I own that one 100% and if not for my amazing wife, we would have been an official “DNF” according to the event timers. As it was we finished in 5:06:57 and a 3rd place podium Age Group Finish.

3. Bike Transition – I did not practice pulling my bike off of the rack with the two water bottles tucked into my behind the seat bottle cage. The bottles were too tall, I needed to then push the bike out backwards which jostled off my front aero bottle. The strap came undone, I had to re-secure it and the entire fiasco cost me :30. At the end of the day the :30 seconds did not cost me placement in my age group, but I did finish just :01 seconds out of 17th place overall, finishing 18th. Without that slip up, I am one place higher in the final standings.

It is amazing that you can race 70.3 miles over 5 hours and it all comes down to :01 second – but that is the way the triathlon goes. Next time I will know better.

Other than those three misses, we had a pretty clean first half-ironman. Our clothing choices, shoe choices, nutrition, hydration, race plan, execution all really came together for us. My final glance over the shoulder at Kerrville is a very positive one. As we leave Triathlon season until 2013 and now shift our focus to the Houston Marathon in 14 1/2 weeks our eyes are firmly on the prize.

Sub 3 hours in Houston. Nothing else, and I mean nothing else is even remotely on my radar. We are going to race on Thanksgiving and again on December 7th at the Lights of Love 5K to benefit Ronald McDonald House here in Austin and on those days, in those moments we are going to push it as hard as we can and try to lay down a special effort. Thanksgiving will be our first 5-miler, so a PR will be established one way or another. At Lights of Love last year I missed my 5K PR by just :05 seconds. I would like to set a new one this year at that distance on a fast course for a great cause.

But both of those races will really be just a part of the journey on the way to Houston. Wednesday morning we went for our first run after the Half-Ironman, just 6.2 miles to knock the rust off and take some inventory. The legs felt strong and I closed with a final mile in 6:59, just a few ticks of the watch above marathon goal pace.

84 runs and 869.90 miles to go until we cross the finish line in Houston. Some of those miles will be fast, some will be slow. Some will be easy and some will be tough. There will be hot miles, cold miles and miles in between. I am going to get rained on for certain more than once and maybe even a snowflake or two. At the end of the day they are all going to lead to the same place. The starting line outside of Minute Maid Park in Houston on January 13th. 14,000 runners will be there all hoping for a personal best. Some of them will make it, some of them will not.

With good luck, good health and good weather I hope we get the chance to one more time see what we are made of. Days like last Sunday in Kerrville tell me we have what it takes to dig deep and grind it out when times are tough.

But right now we are a long way from the glamour of race day. We’re just a spot-light on a dark trail in the morning running along Brushy Creek 3 1/2 months away from race day. These are the runs that make all the difference.

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