Posts Tagged ‘Austin Marathon 2011’

We’re inside 24 hours from the start of the 20th running of the Austin Marathon.

The weather forecast for Sunday is not a favorable one for the runners.

63 degrees at the start of the race, increasing up to 75 by Noon.

Humidity at 96% at 7:00 a.m. when the starter’s gun fires and winds around 8-10 mph.

It should be a great day to spectate and the Austin crowds should be out in full force encouraging the runners along the 26.2 mile loop course.

For the runners however, it’s going to be a tough day out there and hydration is going to be a key variable when mile 20 is reached and the 10 toughest kilometers remain before the finish line is crossed and the timer finally stops.

I stuck to my traditional taper this week and only ran 3 miles on Tuesday, 4 on Wednesday and a short 2-mile shakeout run this morning. The shake-out is just a way to burn off some energy, get the legs moving a bit and help those muscles remember on Sunday what they need to do when they take their first strides out onto the course.

I ran miles of 6:35 and 6:29 this morning and felt pretty damn good out there honestly. I’ll need to hang in at 6:52 pace for 26.2 miles tomorrow. It won’t be easy. But I feel like we’ve given ourselves an opportunity to get there.

For a runner like me who habitually runs 5 times a week covering somewhere between 45 and 60 miles, a week where I only run 9 miles feels very strange. Your legs feel heavy. You start to feel lethargic. You wonder if those legs will “show-up” for you on race morning.

Today however I don’t have those usual sensations. My legs feel great. My body feels great. My mind? Pretty great actually.

I’m not sure if racing here locally in Austin has taken away a lot of the stress that I have experienced prior to my previous marathons. Having to fly across the country, check into a hotel, search for the right foods, meet-up with family and friends, dinner reservations, worrying about packing the right race gear, getting to the start on time etc., etc., etc.

For this race I’ve been able to stick to my usual routine and it seems to have kept me on a very even keel. I think I like this “local race” thing quite honestly.

Now make no mistake, I fully expect to lay awake half the night tonight, possibly more, my race plan and the course playing over and over in my head. By 6:00 a.m. tomorrow I will be ready to jump out of my skin. After my final stop at the porta-potty and lining up at 6:30 it will get worse.

By 6:55 when the wheel chair athletes take off I will be bouncing from foot to foot, foolishly burning energy that I should conserve for the battle. But I won’t be able to contain myself. It is like pressure that needs to be released from a valve.

Then BOOM – race time.

The plan that I put together last week had to be revised slightly as the weather is a real factor for Sunday. Instead of shooting to pass the half-way point at 1:29:30 +/- I am going to have to be a little more flexible with my race plan.

I ran into a friend of mine Scott at the Austin Expo on Friday afternoon. Scott and I raced at the Harvest Fest 5K Back in October in Georgetown, TX. Scott finished first overall. I finished second.

He asked me what time I was shooting for on Sunday and I shared with him that originally I was thinking 3 hours was a possibility for me, but the recent weather reports had me thinking something a bit more conservative.

It turns out that Scott is leading the 3 hour pace group and urged me to run with him. He feels that I have a legitimate shot at breaking through that mystical barrier and he is definitely a runner I trust. After talking about his strategy of running even mile splits up through the hills at mile 14, I decided once and for all I’m in.

I’m going to give it my best shot and see if that pace agrees with me on race day.

If my breathing is labored trying to lock in to that 6:52 pace in the heavy humid morning air, I may need to back off a bit to find my comfortably hard pace. It may be 7:02 it very well could be 7:12. I will have to stay calm and let that heavy air burn off and just wait a bit before trying to push pace again. Hopefully when those 6:52’s start clipping off I’ll feel strong and powerful.

I know that if I can hang in with Scott and the group the odds every mile will begin to tilt more and more in my favor.

The fact is that if I do not at least give myself a chance at the 3 hour mark over the opening 6-8 miles, the improbable will become the impossible.

I have to just give myself a chance. That’s all anyone could ask for chasing after a big goal on race day.

It is a funny race the marathon. You “run” for 20 miles all for the chance to “race” the final 10 Kilometers. It requires a lot of patience and a lot of mental strength to block out everything around you – the other runners, cheers of encouragement, the clock, pain, discomfort, hills even surges of adrenaline – and simply run your race. In the end that is what I know I have to do.

Run my race, nobody elses.

During my 2-mile shakeout this morning I thought about Dom quite a bit and the conversation we had in the finishing chute at Pittsburgh. The one where he told me to

“….Run this next one for you and kill it.”

I realized that Dom did not place a time goal on that statement. He didn’t tell me to run 3 hours or 3:05 or 3:10. He just wanted me to run this next race for me and do my very best.

So that is what I am going to do tomorrow.

I’m going to be a little selfish for 3 hours. I am going to zero in on my race, my battle with the marathon and see just what I’m made of.

I have some ideas of the numbers on the clock that will make me happy on Sunday, and some numbers that would disappoint me. But they will be my numbers no matter what, and they will be the very best that I could do on that day.

I’m sure there will be other marathons in my future. The next one will be NYC in November. Maybe I will be running that one for a different reason with a different goal in mind.

But tomorrow it is pretty simple. There is nothing left to do but go out there and “kill it”.

Thanks Dom. I miss you my brother.

Idle time.

That is what it feels like with the Austin Marathon now just about 5 days away.  Normally my other titles, Husband, Dad, VP and all the rest make the other one, “marathoner” a bit more challenging.

It means early morning alarm clocks waking up long before dawn to get in training miles and hill workouts.

Sometimes it means knocking out an 8-10 mile run, getting cleaned up, dressed and to the airport to catch a flight all before 8:00 a.m.

But during marathon week those other “titles” are a blessing.  Those roles allow me to focus on all of the other important things in my life that I have going on and try to keep my mind off of the 26.2 mile 3 hour battle that will ensue on Sunday morning.

So what does the training schedule look like this week?

Monday – Strength Train

Tuesday – 3 miles easy

Wednesday – 4 miles easy/Strength Train

Thursday – Rest

Friday – Rest

Saturday – 2-Mile Shakeout

Sunday Race

Seems pretty innocent.  Nothing too strenuous.  Just a handful of miles to keep the muscles loose and the chance to burn off some of the energy that will be building as race day approaches.  I might have gone out a little bit too hard this morning on that 3-miler, but I wanted to try to lock in “Race Effort” to see how that will feel for Sunday.

Over a hilly three-miles I clicked off splits of 6:55, 6:55, 6:57 … just about perfect.  Now if we can just run about 20 of those on Sunday …. but that is for another day.

This week is a key, key week from a training perspective.  The drastic reduction in mileage which will now be just 25% of our training peak, will allow for our legs to be as rested as possible when the starter’s gun fires at 7:00 a.m. on Sunday.

Any lingering aches, pains or soreness that a marathoner has after a tough training cycle is very likely to disappear during this final week.  Fortunately for us, all of our aches and pains have been gone for almost a full week at this point.

There is not a part of our body that we are “worried about” heading into the marathon, which has only happened to me once before, Pittsburgh in 2009 where we were at our very best.  3:17:43.

That is not to say that our body is bullet-proof or that a blister, sprain or pull could not happen at any point on Sunday.  That is always a possibility when you are pushing hard on race day for more than 180 minutes.  Each footfall, more than 40,000 of them is a chance for injury.

A slip or slide down a wet incline, a pothole or crack in a city street all are concerns.  A collision entering or exiting a water stop, a trip over another runner’s feet or even a fall on an object cast aside by a competitor from up ahead are all hazards for the marathoner.

But those concerns are saved for Sunday.

This week I will continue to formulate my mile by mile strategy for the race and by the time I sit and have lunch with a good friend and fellow marathoner Erin R. on Thursday, I should have my plan for race day finalized.

Last Friday I drove the marathon route with my GPS watch running in the truck.  I wanted to track the elevation along the course and get a visual on every twist and turn of the route.

This has become a pre-race ritual for me this year as I like to know far ahead of time where the next turn will occur, whether it is a right or left, if there will be a hill around the bend, and if so how high a climb will it be.

This has relaxed me greatly on race day and has allowed me to know which side of the course to run on, where the bottlenecks and trouble spots may be and how to tangent the course to make sure I am not running an extra 2/10 of a mile unnecessarily.

This exercise was very interesting as the course map published by the Austin Marathon and my own elevation chart are very similar.  But a few tough climbs appear much more “smooth” or “Gradual” on the Austin Marathon graphic vs. what my eyes and GPS watch showed me on Friday.

Course Profile from Austin Marathon

Elevation Chart from my GPS

This course “recon” helps me understand much more accurately the parts of the race where the course will be looking to trip me up, and the places which favor the runners this Sunday.

I will be doing all of the things that I normally do preparing for a marathon this week:

Getting my pre-race haircut.

Laying out my race clothes Saturday night.

Packing my “race bag” with everything I will need before and after the event.

Affixing my bib.

Finalizing my playlist on my iPod.

These are all habits designed to comfort me and make me feel like everything is going according to plan.

For the first time ever I will be running a marathon in my hometown.  This will afford me the opportunity to eat my pre-race Marathon Dinner at home with Dawn and Landry.  My own pasta, my own sauce, on my own plates with the people I love the most.  If that is not good for race day karma, I’m not sure what is.

On Sunday morning I will get up at 4:00 a.m. and have my breakfast of a bagel with peanut butter, a banana and grape Gatorade.  I will get dressed, drink a bottle of water and be ready to leave the house by 5:00 a.m.

By taking my last drink two hours before the race I should be able to hit the porta-potties twice before the starter’s gun and not have to take any bathroom breaks along the course.

I will be sweating out all of the fluids that I take in on the course until post race.  A formula that has worked perfectly for me in all of my marathons to this point. 

Should we need a bathroom break on Sunday our chances of hitting our goal time are all but gone.  It will be that close.

Forecast as of today is calling for a start time temperature right around 60 degrees moving up to 65-67 by the time 10:00 a.m. rolls around.  There is a 30% chance of rain in the area, Winds out of the south at 8-10 mph.

The temperature is a bit concerning, the rain somewhat as well.  But if I could have anything removed from the forecast it would be that wind.  Anything under 6 or 7 mph is a perfect cooling breeze.  Greater than that and the gusts can be felt as runners will be headed up the steepest climbs over miles 3-5 to the top of South Congress and again over the final 10 Kilometers when the course finally tilts in the runners favor and we head downhill to the finish.

If that wind is blowing hard enough to take precious seconds off of each mile over the closing stretch of the race, it might very well be the difference between reaching our goal time or falling short.  Let’s hope that we are that close exiting mile 20.

No sense worrying about any of that until race day.   And in fact, there is no sense worrying about that then either.  Some things can be controlled by the runners, others cannot, the weather being one of them.

I will not allow a single ounce of energy to be spent worrying about something like the weather this week.  I will continue to formulate my race plan, play it over and over in my head a few hundred times and then shut off everything on Sunday morning.

There will be a timing mat lying at South Congress and 16th Street.

Another timing mat will be placed at South Congress and 11th Street.

What happens between those two mats is entirely up to me.

Time to go to work.

As I pulled up at the driveway on Sunday morning and my GPS watch flashed to 8.00 Miles it was over.

My Austin Marathon Training Cycle was complete. 

93 Runs covering 823.45 miles, all building toward one day that will be over in the blink of an eye.

26.2 miles, 3~ hours will pass and sometime around 10:00 a.m. next Sunday I will be hurling myself along the closing mile of the Austin Marathon. 

Much, much worse for wear than I was at 7:00 a.m. earlier that day as the marathon exacts its physical toll on every runner – but there will be a small part of me, hidden under all of the soreness and pain that feels invincible.

Incredibly strong, able to do just about anything if I were to put my mind to it and want it bad enough.

That is the magic of the marathon. 

Like most marathoners I get asked with great frequency the simplest of all questions, “Why?”

“Why do you do it?”

“Why do you push yourself so hard?”

“Why put yourself through that?”

The answer while complex on some levels, does have a very straightforward answer if I really search for it.

The marathon is a test.

It is the one thing in my life where I can put in hour upon hour of preparation, push myself to do absolutely everything in my power to perform well and still have no idea just what will transpire over those 26.2 miles.

To race well next weekend it will take more than just “throwing my shoes out there” and running the marathon.

I will need to be able to control all of the energy and expectation that has been building for 20 weeks and force myself to not come charging across the timing mat at 16th and Congress and go barreling onto the course like a maniac.

I will need to manage those opening two downhill miles, holding back fresh legs that want to push hard early.  Saving that power and strength for the latter stages of the race when my reserves are spent and the physical challenge of the marathon becomes mental.

I will need to stare up at the 147 foot climb at the start of mile 3 and simply relax.  I will need to stay calm, tall and smooth letting my 12 weeks of grueling hill repeats take me to the top of the course at mile 5.

As we make the turn back down towards the city at Ben White and S. 1st Street three lightening fast downhill miles will lay ahead of the runners.

I will need to be smart here and not try to gain back the minutes I lost climbing to the top of South Congress.  There are 21 miles left of racing at this point.  Just taking back :10 seconds/mile will place 3 ½ minutes back into my bank account.  There will be plenty of time to push later.  Be patient.

As we make the turn onto Cesar Chavez, I will be able to cruise a bit and enjoy the last flat section of the course.  As soon as we cross underneath the MOPAC expressway we will start to climb again.  

For 10 miles.

This will be where a 3-hour marathon becomes a reality on Sunday or a dream for another day.  Can I cover these 10 miles in 71 minutes?  If I can without blowing up, we have a great shot at coming through the chute with 2:5X:XX still on the clock.

I will try to focus only on the mile that I am running.  Not looking ahead or behind.  That is the trick during the marathon.  The thought of running 16 more miles or the fact that you have already run 10 is pure folly.

The fact is you are only running the mile you are on.  Run that one.  Then the next one.  Then the one after that and so on.  There is no how far I’ve traveled or how far I have to go.  Those thoughts can be the undoing of the marathoner.

Just stay in the mile.

At mile 20 it will be time for my 4th dose of Clif Bloks.  Followed by water and Gatorade from the aid station I will have only 10 Kilometers left to go.

Decision time.  For the first time in over an hour I will look at my watch and determine where we are.

2:17:30 is the magic number.

If we are still running strong at mile 20 and have 42:39 left to make our goal time of 2:59:59 it will be time to go to work.  If the clock is showing more than 2:18:00 we really don’t have much of a chance. 

2:19:00 and it’s over.

This is the point where it will be important to stay mentally strong.  The final 6.2 miles of a marathon are where the real race begins.

If you are already “defeated” at this point, those can be some of the most painful and loneliest miles you could ever run.  This is where we were at mile 20 last year at Boston.  Dreams of a sub 3:20:00 requalifying time had slipped away.  All that was left was to push to the end and do the best that we could.

The clock said 3:22:42 on Boylston Street last April.  Those final 10 Kilometers were brutal.  I knew that Boston had beaten me and still had 6.2 miles to run.

The year before my legs felt like they were floating as we gobbled up the final 10 Kilometers in the rain at Pittsburgh.  3:17:43 said the clock as we crossed the timing mat.  The best we have ever been.

What will the clock say next Sunday?  It is virtually impossible to predict.

I know that by going after such a huge goal this time I am taking a chance.

The smart move would be to lock onto a goal around 3:15:00 and not take any big risks.  Take a couple of minutes off of our PR and head back to Boston in 2012.

By chasing 3:00:00 we may very well blow-up on the course and run a time much slower than had we taken a more conservative approach.

I know this.

But there is a part of me that has to find out what I have inside of me.

I did not train so hard over so many weeks and months to play it safe.

I just have to know.  I have to know how good I am.  When I look in the mirror is there a sub 3:00 hour marathoner looking back at me? 

I may never see that runner stare back at me in my lifetime.  I know this.  But I also know that without trying, I’ll never find out.

This weekend’s training runs, the last “real” runs of this cycle told me a few things, but they are far from “predictors” for next weekend.

Saturday’s run was a “Goal Pace” run, where I set out to run 4 miles at Marathon Goal Pace – 6:52 min./mile.

Fail.

I came out too fast on legs that are starting to feel incredibly strong and fresh due to the decreased mileage over the taper period.  I could not “find it” and the more I tried to lock in to 6:52 pace, the faster I seemed to go.

Splits were:  6:46, 6:48, 6:42, 6:41.

Total time 26:59 – 6:45 pace.

A great lesson for me as now I know that the opening miles will be a challenge next weekend.  As much as I want to lock in around 6:55 and cruise I will be fighting a lot of obstacles not to go out too quickly.  My mind and body will be conspiring against me as well as the downhill start to the race.

I ran a 6:48 mile on Saturday going straight uphill to the top of the dam at Brushy Creek.  What will that mile be like running downhill with thousands of runners around me, screams of encouragement and cowbells clanging on race day?

Sunday was my final legitimate run of this training cycle.  8-miles at a relaxed pace, something around 7:15 would be just about right.

I started controlled and was able to build to a nice even cadence until the middle portion of the run.  When once again, my legs started to churn much too quickly.  I was able this time to get it back under control and close out coming in much closer to my goal.

7:27, 7:24, 7:12, 6:59, 7:09, 7:12, 7:07, 7:08.

Total time 57:42 – 7:13 pace.

Better, but still not perfect.

Training miles this week will be cut back even more dramatically, just an easy 3 miles on Tuesday, 4 miles on Wednesday and a 2-mile shake-out on Saturday morning.

That’s all she wrote.

Predictions for Sunday?

There are few guarantees at this race distance.  The forecast right now is calling for highs around 70 and a 60% chance of rain.   Whether rain is falling or not, there will certainly be a lot of humidity in the air.

Not great conditions for a fast time at an endurance race.

The one thing I do know with absolute certainty is that there is not a thing I can do about any of that, and not a thing I could have done during this training cycle to be any more prepared for this race than I am.

We are healthy.  We did the work.   Now it’s time to race. 

All that is left is to listen to Dom, go out there and “absolutely kill it”.

Dear Dom –

It’s been awhile since I wrote to you, no good excuse really, so I won’t try to make up one on the spot. I’m sure you remember how the first five or six months were after Sierra was born, time just seems to evaporate right before your eyes.

It is the best though Dom, you were right about that.

I can hardly remember what my life was like before Landry was born. She is absolutely the greatest. I can’t wait until she is a little older and I can start showing her pictures and telling her stories about her Uncle Dom.

Daddy's Little Girl

Today would have been your 40th Birthday.

I know that 39 was the last birthday that you will have ever celebrated, but that’s not going to stop us down here. February 11th will always be your birthday as far as I’m concerned.

A bunch of family and friends are getting together Friday night in Pittsburgh to celebrate the occasion in your honor. I know that every one of them would do just about anything to be able to have you there along with them.

Your birthday falls just four days shy of six months since we lost you Dom. I can’t believe that it has been that long already. I still think of you every morning when I put on my running shoes or hop on the tri-bike for a training ride. In fact, I’ve carried your initials on my shoes across five finish lines over the past few months training for the Austin Marathon.

Each and every time those races have resulted in a new PR for me at that distance. I have one more race to go in 9 days, and I have every intention of making it six straight.

I’m sure you remember what you told me in the chute at Pittsburgh last May. I’ve kept that chat between just you and I for the most part since then. Just a few close friends know how much this next race means to me. You said:

“I know you ran these last two marathons for me and you weren’t able to run them as fast as you could have so close together. Run the next one for yourself and absolutely kill it.”

Your words inspired me Dom in more ways than you ever could have imagined.

You pushed me to train harder than I knew that I was capable of.

I’m running faster, stronger, longer and harder than I ever have before. I owed you that much after all that you went through last year fighting your cancer with everything ounce of strength that you had.

I have never been so inspired by another person before in my life Dom. Before last year courage was just a word to me that people threw around casually. But after seeing you fight for more time with Val, Sierra, Nico, your Mom, Dad, Brothers, Cousins, Nieces, Nephews and friends – I finally knew what courage was all about.

So here we are on your 40th birthday and I’m getting ready for what will be my last official “Run for Dom” race. We’ve had a lot of people reach out and support the races Dom and right now are up over $33,000 in gifts for Sierra and Nico’s education. I’m hoping we are able to raise even more before race day on the 20th.

I might not be racing again for donations, taking mile sponsors and gifts for the kids like this in the future, but don’t for a second think that I’ve forgotten you or that you don’t still fuel the competitive fire that I have inside of me.

Your initials will adorn every pair of running shoes I ever own.

Every finish line I cross I will have you with me.

After Austin you and I will be heading out to Arizona 5 days later to compete in a 202 mile ultra-marathon with some really great friends. You would love these guys Dom. They are amazing athletes and even better people.

From there we’ll be starting up-front, seeded in a road race for the first time in my life at this year’s Capitol 10K here in Austin. There will be close to 30,000 runners lining Congress Avenue that morning Dom. You and I will beat most of them.

A week later we’ll be seeded again at the Cooper River Bridge Run in Charleston, SC, another huge 10K race with close to 40,000 runners. The race crosses that long bridge we crossed when you and Val came down to be at our wedding in 1999.

We’ll be running in the Denver Half-Marathon in October, then on to The New York Marathon on November 6th.

Talk about a finish line I can’t wait to cross with you Dom. NYC? Are you kidding me?

And then hopefully, if we run well at Austin next week, a return trip to the Boston Marathon in 2012. You and I both have a little score to settle with Boston.

I just wanted to thank you once again for all the great lessons you taught me and the gift of calling you my friend.

I miss you every day Dom and wish more than anything that you would be at the finish line next Sunday when we kick that marathon squarely in the ass once and for all. I know now that courage is about effort, not about results. You taught me that one, and I promise that I am going to let it all hang out on the 20th.

For the people who will be there – Dawn, Landry, friends and fellow runners I promise it is going to be a finish line they remember for a long, long time.

I plan on leaving no doubt.

Happy Birthday Dom, we all love and miss you.

Joe

Joe & Dom - Post Pittsburgh Marathon

If you would like to contribute to Run for Dom please visit: www.runfordom.com or click here:

It seems like every marathon training cycle there is a run that stands out above all others.

A run where after the first few strides I know that this is going to be a tough one.  But for whatever reason instead of shrinking from it or changing my expectations for that workout I secretly enjoy it.

Whether it is a tough hill run, a 20-mile plus long run, a cold day or an unusually hot one – the run becomes more than just a square to cross off on my training schedule.  The entire training period becomes about that “one run”.

Today was that day.

When I put together this training plan for Austin more than 5 months ago, February 9th was an unsuspecting entry.

6.2 Mile Run – 7:15 pace

A run that I have executed literally close to a thousand times before.

But 11 days from the starting line of the Austin Marathon, somebody upstairs had a little surprise for me and decided to change the degree of difficulty just a bit to keep things interesting. 

I knew that rain was falling as the alarm clock sprung to life at 5:00 a.m. as I could hear it hitting the windows in the bedroom.  I had already laid out my running cap last night as the forecast was calling for rain.  No big deal I thought.

The temperature display on my weather station read 44 degrees.  So I hopped into my running shorts, a long sleeve running shirt, light gloves and was ready to roll.  I fired up the headlamp and blazed out the front door falling quickly into 7:15 min./mile effort.

I had just read the final chapter of Again to Carthage before leaving the house and was full of marathoner pride.  After this one, just 6 runs remain out of the 95 training runs on the road to Austin. 

Only 26 training miles would be left ironically, before I raced the 26.2 miles at Austin on February 20th.

As I turned right onto Lisa Anne Drive less than 3/10 of a mile from my home it hit me like a ton of bricks.

Wind.

Not a gentle breeze or a rustling movement of air.  But a sustained wind that had to be blowing more than 20 miles an hour.

I caught myself smiling briefly as I made the 7/10 of a mile climb to the top of the hill marking the first mile of my run and thought:

“So, it’s going to be like this today ….”

I picked my way to the top of the hill and made a left turn into the Water’s Edge neighborhood and was hit by an even stronger wind gust.

My shirt was whipping behind me and even though I was now headed downhill to the lowest part of my course I felt like I was standing still.

The wind was getting stronger and the temperature was definitely falling.  All I could think about was how I wished I had worn my tights.

Mile three led me onto the trail system and I splashed out onto the crushed granite of the Brushy Creek Trail.  Cold standing water hit my toes and I knew that this was going to be a cold one.

I had opted for my lightweight running gloves as they did not soak up a lot of water like my heavier pairs, but I was soon regretting this decision also.  I pulled my fingers in from the ends of my gloves and balled my fists up to help them share my body heat.  My fingers started to warm up slightly, but they were by no means “toasty”.

As I reached the top of the hill that leads up and over the dam I knew that I was going to be coming back out from the shelter of the trees.  I would be more than 50 feet above the lake below and back in the wind.

Boom, it hit me right in the chest and blew cold rain into my eyes as I made the turn.  8/10 of a mile straight into the wind and then I would be able to make the wide turn to head back towards home.

I scattered 7 deer as I came off of the dam, two large bucks and 5 doe.  Normally they are still in the middle of the park at this time of morning and I can only see their eyes lit up from my headlamp, but with the changing weather, they too were not quite sure what to make of the conditions.

Once I made the last turn it was just a little over 2 miles back to the house.  I could feel the wind helping me along, wanting to lengthen my stride and start churning my legs faster and faster.

On any other morning I would have let them go.  Dropped the hammer a bit and turned some miles in the 6:40’s.

But with 11 days to go before race day and firmly in the middle of my taper, that was not only unnecessary, it would be reckless and foolish.

I tapped the breaks a bit and just locked into my cruising pace.

The last two miles were wet, cold, windy and tough.

I cherished both of them.  None of this is supposed to be easy I thought.  This is exactly the type of run I needed.  I needed to be reminded that there are going to be difficult stretches on February 20th.  I will need to stay in the moment, run the mile that I am on and not start to feel sorry for myself or fixate on anything negative.  Not worry about how far I have traveled to that point or how much farther I have to go. 

When the time comes I will simply have to “Cowboy Up”.

By the time I had returned the temperature had dropped more than 12 degrees in just 45 minutes.  The front of my shirt and the fingers of my gloves were frozen stiff with ice.

I hit the driveway at the end of 10 Kilometers in 44:52 – 7:14 min./mile pace.

Just :01 seconds per mile off of goal.

We’re ready.

Some of the trail we brought home with us on Wednesday

Friday, January 21, 2011.

Back on October 4th when this training cycle began I had my eye on this day.  How I felt on January 21st was going to tell me a whole lot about how we were going to race at Austin.

I tried to put together a training plan that would ask me to do more than I had ever done in the past to prepare for a race, but not so much that it would break me.

I wanted to run more tempo runs.  More hill repeats, more mileage.  Longer midweek long runs, longer Sunday “really long” runs. 

I wanted to run four runs of more than 20 miles, when in the past I had never run more than three.

My first 21 mile training run.

My first 22 mile training run.

I wanted to race more, and next Sunday I will run my sixth race since training began.  Six races before we show up to “race” on February 20th.

To this point we’ve run and raced 76 times covering 694.05 miles.

20 runs remain, adding another 160 miles before race day. 

Amazing considering I have never run more than 681 miles preparing for a marathon.  I will be adding 23% to that total during this cycle, all just to have a chance to kick Lady Marathon firmly in the ass in four weeks time.

That is the funny thing about this race and this distance.  With all the hard work and preparation, my odds for really crushing on February 20th?

Not much better than 60% I would estimate.

Weather, injury, an off-day, illness or just a simple miscalculation when it comes to nutrition or hydration and that 26.2 mile distance will rise up and be the one doing the kicking in four weeks.  I’ve seen it happen to other runners and I have felt it happen to me on more than one occasion.

But today things are good.

I have a 10-mile pace run scheduled for Saturday and my final 20 mile run on Sunday.  Just 30 miles stand between me and the mystical “taper”.

The time when training is reduced and all of the bumps and bruises from training are able to heal themselves prior to race day.  I knew that if I could get to this point in one piece, that I had a great chance to be sharp as hell on February 20th.

So how are we doing?

Well, the first chink in the armor was felt a week or so ago.  A little bit of soreness in my left Achilles tendon.  Nothing more than a nag really, but something to “watch” so to speak.

I traveled to New Orleans, LA this week for a work retreat.  Tuesday morning my group and I volunteered our day working with Habitat for Humanity.  We were assigned to a home build providing affordable housing to a family far less fortunate than each of us.

Before heading off to the construction site, I  took to the streets of New Orleans for a 4:15 a.m. 8 mile pace run up St. Charles Avenue along the trolley car tracks up toward Tulane University from the French Quarter.

St. Charles Avenue Trolly Line - 11 Mile Run

The route is more or less a “local favorite” as runners are able to run the tracks, essentially a grassy, hard packed gravel trail stretching for several miles out of downtown.  I strapped my headlamp to my head, fired it up and took off at sub 7:00 min./mile pace through the early morning streets of the Crescent City.  Aside from having to dodge an oncoming street car every 20 minutes or so, the route is every enjoyable.

I realized that early morning is also technically “late at night” in New Orleans and I did come upon quite a few late night townspeople and visitors to the city along my run.  Clipping by at 8.3 mph, I think we were both sharing a look of incredulity with one another.

Me thinking, “what in the hell are they doing out here at this hour?”

Them thinking, “what in the hell is he doing out here at this hour?”

Good stuff.

I took the same route at the same time on Wednesday, stretching my mid-week mileage out to 11 miles at 7:19 pace. 

Just an “Easy” run in the Big Easy.

Then on Thursday morning a final 10-miler before heading back to Austin at 6:53 pace.  My last hard workout on the training plan before this weekend’s final longest of long runs.

One thing that was pretty remarkable was the elevation change, or lack thereof, on my runs this week.  Flat as a pancake does not do justice to just how flat the gound I covered truly was.

Got Hills?

It was good “active recovery” for my Achilles tendon as I did virtually no climbing whatsoever this week.

So here we are.

30 miles to go.

A final half-marathon at 3M a week from Sunday.

A three week taper, then?

Boom goes the dynamite on February 20th.

I can hardly wait.

I arrived in New Orleans on Monday afternoon for a couple of days of meetings with my operations team from work.  Typically we get together as a group each January, recap the year that was and look ahead to our initiatives for the coming year.

What we did well, areas of improvement and opportunities for new challenges and initiatives.  Sometimes the most useful part of the meeting(s) are simply getting the entire group together in one place and clearly defining our goals for the year.

What we are going to set out to do and how we are going to get there.

It is one thing to have aspirations, but without a concrete plan of attack and a “hard work” approach to chasing down those goals, I feel like you are simply setting yourself up for disappointment and failure.

Kind of reminds me of a certain sport I know of … I just can’t place it.

Ironically my final “hard week” of marathon training coincides with this retreat in a town many refer to as “The Big Easy”.  There are quite a few theories as to how New Orleans came to be referred to in this way.

Some believe it has to do with the rich musical heritage of the city and how there were many ways for local musicians to make a living playing in New Orleans while also studying music.  Another theory has to do with the relaxed attitude toward alcohol consumption, even during the days or prohibition, found in and around the city.

Still another possibility has to do with the relatively low cost of living compared to other American cities. 

Whatever the reason the film The Big Easy released in 1987 etched the nickname in stone and it will remain as part of our national vocabulary for some time.

As I looked at this week of training, the irony of my location was not lost on me.  There is nothing “easy” about this week.  In fact the 58 or so miles on the schedule will be some of the most difficult this marathoner has had on his plate in more than two years.

These training plans are designed to slowly build in intensity and volume.  You don’t really notice it at first as a few miles are added here, another few there.  A long run moves from 18 to 19 to 20 all the way to 22 miles on a given Sunday.

I can feel myself tiring even though my times and my runs seem to be improving.  If not improving, I am at least holding my own.  But there are aches in my muscles now.  My left Achilles tendon is a bit sore, my right calf muscle just a bit tight.

It is my body starting to fight back, to let me know that it has been pushed hard and is in a state or rebellion.

The good news is, it is working.  I am growing stronger even when I feel a bit weaker.  I am having to push just a little bit harder through these workouts to hold pace, to stay on target.  Again, that is a good thing.

Just 5 more runs this week.  8 miles, 10 miles, 10 miles, 10 miles and a final 20 miler.  Then it is time to taper down for the 3M half marathon and enter our 3 week marathon taper.

Let the body recover, heal and grow strong for race day.

34 days until go time.

34 days until we put it all out there one more time for Dom.

Less than 5 weeks to go and we’ll be standing among thousands of runners all with dreams of marathon glory.  There will be a lot of runners on Congress Avenue more talented than I am.  Some will be younger, some older, some stronger, some definitely faster.

In the end none of that is going to matter.  It is going to be me, my Brooks ST4 Racers and the clock.

I’m still on the fence as to whether we are truly ready to make the leap to a 3 hour marathon.  It may very well be up to the conditions of my body and the weather that day.  But just to have the 3 hour mark in the conversation as we zero in on our race goal is a huge accomplishment.  That would mean taking more than 22 minutes off of our Boston time less than one year ago.

I’m not sure exactly how this one is going to turn out Dom, I’ve got to be honest. 

But if you’re not too busy up there on February 20th, celebrating another Steeler Superbowl victory, I sure would appreciate you stopping by to look in on me.

You’re not going to want to miss this one.