Posts Tagged ‘Boston Marathon Training’

723 days ago I crossed the finish line of the 114th Boston Marathon a beaten man.  A day that I had looked forward to since May of the previous year after earning my way onto Marathoning’s biggest stage.  The day I had anticipated being one of my “greatest” to that point as an endurance athlete ended in bitter disappointment.

At the time I told myself all of the things my delicate psyche needed to hear.

I tried my best.

I never gave up.

I ran every step of the course.

I fought for every inch.

Finished the race and earned my Boston Finisher’s Medal.

I really didn’t have much of a choice but to move on and move on quickly as 13 days later I was running another marathon in Pittsburgh for Dom.  I would be standing in downtown Pittsburgh with another bib on my chest ready to take on lady marathon for a second time in less than two weeks.

I immediately tried to put thoughts of Boston out of my mind and focus on the next step of the journey.  We ran our heart out in Pittsburgh and in the end surpassed our goal of raising $26,200 for Dom and his family.

As the soreness in my muscles faded and I got back to running just 5 days after Pittsburgh, “Boston” started to haunt me.

I never really “mourned” my performance and preparation.  Never took the time to analyze properly what I should have done differently not only in the months leading up to the race, but during the race itself, and then flush it.  Move on.  That’s what winners do.  They learn from their mistakes and keep moving forward.

Coming back from injury and having a shortened 14 week training period hurt me without a doubt.  Only being able to run 4 times per week with very few back to back days – my endurance and stamina simply wasn’t there.

I did not do any hill work, very little speed work and was hoping my experience as a marathoner would get me through.

It didn’t.

My friends told me that running a 3:22:46 was a solid effort given the circumstances.  That I should be proud of the accomplishment.  Know that I did my best.

But that was the problem, I knew it wasn’t my best – and that is the measuring stick I have always used to judge race day performance.  Age group awards, overall placement, 1st place male masters – all that stuff at the end of the day is just noise.  It has more to do with other athletes on a given day than it does about my own abilities and performance.

How I run against “me” is all I really care about.  That is the only competitor on the course I am battling with.

In the marathon, the best I have ever been was November of 2011 in New York City.  On a tough course, with more than 46,000 marathoners taking on the streets of New York I ran a personal best time of 3:08:09.

6 minutes and 52 seconds faster than I had ever run a marathon before.

A week from today we will stand once again on Main Street in Hopkinton, MA 26.2 miles away from Boylston Street in downtown Boston.

With ESPN cameras pointed at the starting line, the worlds greatest distance runners in attendance, surrounded by tremendous athletes, we will crouch down below the buzz of the crowd, run our fingers over the names on our shoes, think about the early morning alarm clocks, the runs through the wind and rain, hill repeat after hill repeat, double workouts on Tuesdays and all the craziness that has led us to that moment.

We’ll stand up tall, take a deep breath and at the sound of the horn we will shuffle slowly with the rest of the runners toward the starting line.  Our pace will increase to a walk, then a trot, then a light jog and as we hit the starting line we will be at a run.

Every day for the last two years we have thought about that moment – in just 7 days it will be here and there will be no turning back.

The hills I have trained for will stand in front of me one after the other.  The race will be challenging, the final 10 kilometers will be grueling.  There will be times that I won’t think I can make it.  That I can’t take another step.

Then I will.

I will take another and another and yet another.

It’s Boston week, the chance I’ve been waiting for more than 700 days.

As in most things in life.  Careful for what you wish for.

Sub 3:08:09 …. a week from today we just might be the best we have ever been.

There are a lot of marathoners out there who lament the taper.

The period of time before a race where the athlete cuts back their mileage and begins the process of allowing the body which has been taxed near its limits during training to repair itself.

As 8 mile runs become 4 miles, and 18 or 20 mile long runs are now only 10 miles, athletes start to have idle time and idle minds to fixate on things.

Instead of embracing the taper and realizing that it is a crucial part of marathon training, one that will help the athlete run to the best of their abilities and fitness levels on race day, they instead stress out.

They let their minds wander and worry.  Question their training and their fitness.  Wonder if they are losing the level of fitness they worked so hard to achieve over the previous 16-18 weeks.

Perhaps they should just go out for one more really hard workout.  One that will make them KNOW that they are ready.

Guess what?  It doesn’t work.

There is not a single workout that can be done within 14 days of the race that will improve your level of fitness for race day.

Not a single one.

You are in a mode where you can either maintain your fitness level or you can harm it.  But you cannot improve it.  Fact.

The taper period is designed to allow you to run just enough to stay sharp, with just enough up-tempo work – a mile here, two miles there – to remind your body that you are preparing to RACE, not simply run a race.

But the workload is lightened, recovery is more balanced and your body checks itself into the shop for a tune-up and an overhaul.  It’s like getting new spark plugs, a lube job and a fresh set of tires.

The engine is the same – but the car is going to simply run better.  Run faster.

I have come to enjoy the taper over the years.  My first few times around the block I was like a lot of runners.  I hated the taper.  I just wanted to race already.

Three weeks was too long for me, so I changed things up for NYC and went with a two-week taper, running my final 20-miler two weeks before race day.

In the case of Boston being run on a Monday, it was in fact 15 days before.

These next two weeks are critical as I start to peak for race day.  I will still run on my usual run days, but I will run shorter.  I will keep the rhythm that I have built up over these last 20 weeks, but will instead run easy during the early parts of my runs, gradually increasing effort and finish with a couple of miles at Marathon goal pace.

This will keep my legs “alive”, but allow for the freshening process to occur.

Sure the nerves will build starting next week.  Each day will become one day closer to “Boston”.  I will start packing next Wednesday, check the weather forecasts several times a day.  Fly on Friday, hit the expo on Saturday and spend Sunday nervously counting the hours until it is time for my pre-race dinner.

I won’t sleep much on Sunday night, thinking about the course, the weather, my pace strategy and the Newton Hills.  Those damn Newton Hills.

But Monday will arrive soon enough with its own set of challenges.

A bus ride out to Hopkinton, Breakfast in the athletes village behind the Local High School, timing my porta-potty break(s) and amaze myself at how I can possibly have to go to the bathroom 5 or 6 times in two hours while I can fly from Houston to New York and not have to go more than once.

Amazing.

But when the air force fighter planes fly overhead and the horn sounds I will be in my element.  Everything will go to black.

I will be a marathoner running in the greatest marathon in the world.

My feet will feel like they are hardly touching the ground when I run across the painted starting line on Main Street.  26.2 miles later will be another line painted on Boylston, the only difference will be the word FINISH.

It’s what happens in the middle of those two lines that matters.

The taper?  Nothing at all to fear.

10 days to go.  We’re just about perfect.

On Sunday night Dawn, Landry and I did a little celebrating after I wrapped up my final “long” run of Boston Training.

Long is a relative term of course as I can remember my first marathon training plan that called for 5 mile runs on Tuesdays, 6-8 miles on Wednesdays, 5 miles on Thursdays and on the weekend I would run back to back on Saturdays and Sundays. 

On Saturday I would run 1/2 the distance of my Sunday run, with my long efforts on Sunday mornings starting at 8 miles and gradually building to 16, 17, 18, 19 and finally 20 miles.

I would run three different 20-milers toward the end of my training cycle, but the week afterwards I would always “step back” to a 12-miler.

This is a standard approach to marathon training, one designed to deposit a trained but more importantly a healthy would be marathoner to the starting line.

As I continued to train for marathons and my goals got more and more aggressive, my mileage increased quite a bit.  It happened slowly at first, it was almost unnoticeable. 

Instead of 5 miles on Tuesday’s I ran 6.2.

Wednesday’s became 10 miles during my higher mileage weeks.

I added a 4th 20-miler to my training cycle and in fact would run two of those long runs up to 21 miles.

The result – 3:15:01

For the New York City Mararathon last year my Tuesday runs were now 8.3 miles.

Wednesdays 10-12 miles

Five 20 milers, including two at 22 miles.

The result – 3:08:09

When it was time to train for Boston this year, things got taken to another level entirely.

I would still run 8.3 miles on Tuesday morning, but would run another 8.3 miles the same afternoon.

12 on Wednesdays.

Hill Repeats on Thursdays

10-12 every Saturday regardless of my Sunday long run.

9 different 20-milers, including runs of 21, 21, 22, 22 and 23 miles.

The result – well, that’s the question now isn’t it?

In the case of the 10K and half-marathon, the results were pretty clear as I set new PR’s at both distances.  But the marathon is a different animal.  It is a race that is every bit mental as it is physical.

It also becomes a nutrition and fueling event as much as a running one.

In addition to hard training, you have to run a smart race, conserve your energy early, catch a break with race day weather and lastly – have it be “your day” out there – as even the most well conditioned athletes have days where they simply show up flat to a race.

You can fake it for 6.2 miles, maybe even 13.1.

But the marathon will find whatever weakness exists on race day and expose it for all the world to see. 

There is a good chance we run well at Boston.  There is also a decent chance that we don’t.  As much as I would like to think that I will be o.k. with whatever outcome we reach on April 16th – I know that I have put a lot into this pursuit and if I do not perform well, I will be disappointed.

Very rarely do we celebrate preparedness.  We usually reserve the right of celebration for results.

Well on Sunday night, it felt like celebrating was the right thing to do.  This has been a tough training cycle.  Tougher than any I have ever completed before.  I ran more miles, more individual runs, more races and did them faster than I ever have in the past.

So with Landry enjoying a perfect spring evening in Austin, chasing bubbles around the backyard with her high-pitched little girl voice ringing out:

“Bubbles …. bubbles …. bubbles …. bubbles” as she played, Dawn and I sat down to our first outdoor dinner of the year with Steak, Lobster Tails and mushrooms all hot off the grill and a couple of cold beers.

It was a great way to take a moment to enjoy where we are and look forward to where we hope we will be at the end of the 116th running of the Boston Marathon.

A wise man once said, “Life moves pretty fast.  If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you might miss it”.

Exactly right Ferris.

On to Boston.

So, here we are.

Less than three weeks away from our return to the site of our biggest disappointment as an endurance athlete.  Just 19 days away from a shot at redemption.  Taking a Texas Sized eraser and wiping away the beat down that the Boston Marathon put on us back in 2010, and replacing that with what we hope will be a best-ever performance (PR) in the marathon.

Most coaches believe that it takes 13 days for any “training” that you do to manifest itself in the form of fitness or improved performance.  Anything you do in the last two weeks before race day is not going to help your fitness level, but can certainly harm it if you are not well-rested or worse, injured.

After tinkering around with my own marathon training plans over the years, I’ve found that a full 3-week taper was a bit too long a period to reduce mileage and intensity and “peak” for race day.  I trained up until two weeks before the New York City Marathon, tapered for 14 days last November, felt great, ran great – and set a new PR by 7 minutes.

So while we changed a few things for the course specific demands that “Boston”places on the athletes, raced a little bit more than last Fall at the half-marathon distance, we did in fact stick with the two-week taper.

Closing out the Shamrock Half

Tuesday of this week presented us with our last opportunity to “push it a bit” out there before we need to dial things back, ensure that we are 100% healthy on race day and cap things off with a slow, steady, relaxed 20-miler this weekend.

I like to change the time of my runs to mimic the start of a late race a few weeks before the marathon.  For New York or Boston with 10:00 a.m. start times, it causes problems for a runner who is accustomed to running at 5:00 a.m.  Your nutrition, sleep cycle, bio-rhythms are all “out of whack” – which is not a good thing when taking on a tough marathon course for an “A” race.

I will be running at 9:00 a.m. CDT (10:00 a.m. EDT) this week and next to get my body ready for the demands of a late race.

In 64 degree temperatures and 84% humidity, I left the house in just shorts, socks and my Asics (heavyweight) trainers to take on 18 miles “up-tempo”.  Much faster than my 20-23 milers have been run this cycle in the 7:40-7:55 range to build stamina and endurance.  I wanted to run this workout much closer to Marathon Goal Pace +:20 seconds to tax my systems only 9 days after the Shamrock Half Marathon.

Rare smile at the end of a race

After a warm-up mile in 7:19 climbing out of the neighborhood, I locked in and clicked off 17 more miles rolling up and down the hill route:

7:16, 7:03, 7:07, 7:12, 7:15, 7:04, 7:02, 7:13, 7:13, 7:16, 7:07, 6:54, 7:06, 7:12, 7:08, 7:16, 7:15.

As I pulled up at the driveway and clicked the timer on the watch we had posted 18 miles at 7:10 pace.  Roughly a 3:07:30 marathon plus or minus.

We’re ready.

Nothing much left to do but to finish out this 70 mile run week, watch my nutrition, monitor any aches and pains and make sure we are getting plenty of sleep.  Landry of course will have a bit of a say about that of course with her Mom away this week – but that’s all part of the gig when you are a Dadathoner.

I can hardly wait to feel those little arms around my neck when I exit the finishing chute onto Boston Common on the 16th and hand over my finisher’s medal to my little girl.  Hopefully she won’t have to wait very long after 1:00 p.m. EDT to get it.

On to Boston.

It seems that every time we toe the line on race day there is at least one lesson out there to learn.

Just because things during race week don’t necessarily go your way – it doesn’t mean that when the gun fires you can’t just set all of that aside and lay down something special.

Sure getting a cold a few days before race day, taking a cross-country trip after losing your wallet the day before and spending time at the Department of Transportation, calling around to credit card companies and tearing apart your home and truck is not an ideal, calm way to prepare for a tough race.

But as I woke up on Sunday morning at 5:00 a.m. and shuffled to the bathroom I was determined to try to set all that “stuff” aside and do what we came here to do. Run our race, put in our last “tough” effort of this training cycle and post one final indicator as to our fitness and training for Boston in four weeks.

I could tell that my cold had broken up a bit more overnight, my nose wasn’t as stuffed up as it had been, and my voice was coming back to me. After a great Italian Dinner with my friends Steve and Ally Speirs the night before, I felt fueled up and ready to race.

I took a hot shower to loosen up the muscles, ate my pre-race bagel, chased it down with grape Gatorade and decided on my race gear. The temperature was just a bit above 50 degrees, with a East/Northeast wind gusting between 12-14 mph.

Not picture perfect race conditions, but coupled with an extremely flat course, I felt like the day would be “neutral”. Not helping runners to quick times, but definitely not restricting them either. It was a fair day on a fair course.

Effort would equal results on a day like today I thought.

Time to go to work.

I threw on a fleece top I bought locally the day before that I would drop at the starting line just before the gun fired and made my way to check my dry bag with warm clothes at the race start.

Being my first experience in VA Beach running a Shamrock event I was very impressed with the job J&A Racing did organizing the event. Great bag-check service. Plenty of porta-potties for the 10,000+ half-marathoners and a very organized coral system for the athletes.

King Neptune overlooking the boardwalk in Virginia Beach

There was the usual mess of runners forecasting faster times that they are capable of running during the registration process to get a spot “up-front” – but that happens at virtually all events where previous race times are not a requirement for seeding.

I decided to start about 25-30runners from the front, thinking that I would more than likely run in the top 60 runners at the end of the day +/-. There was a “dual starting chute” on both sides of the divided road on Atlantic Avenue. 30 deep on my side seemed about right.

Just before it was time to get ready to roll my friend Steve shouted to me and gave me the thumbs up. I returned the gesture and thought to myself, man – this really is what it is all about. I had been listening to some Springsteen in the hotel the night before the race, specifically Jungleland from the Born to Run album.

There is a passage that says – “The poets down here don’t write nothin’ at all, they just stand back and let it all be.”

A calmness came over me in the start area and I told myself to just relax, run an even, easy opening mile, sit back and let it all be ….. let the race come to you. Don’t force anything.

The Start: On a countdown from 10, the starters horn blasted and out we went. I had to navigate around a few runners over the opening 400 meters, but quickly I found an even cadence and locked in. My legs felt strong, the air was a bit humid, but racing at sea-level provides some oxygen advantages. I just let the race come to me and ran three very smooth, very even miles:

6:22, 6:24, 6:24.

PR Pace for me in the half-marathon is 6:23 (1:23:55). I was right where I needed to be.

Shore Drive: Just after the start of mile 4 the course turns to the West/Northwest and takes runners up along shore drive. Oddly, moving away from the beach. This was a very lonely stretch of the course where we had caught and passed a dozen runners or so and were now running in a very small group of 2-3 runners.

There is a very slight false-flat through this section – but for the most part a very beautiful and serene part of the race course. The road had a definite camber to it however and I found myself trying to find the “flattest” part of the road to run. After experimenting with the middle of the road and the center of each lane, I settled on the right shoulder. It seemed to be the flattest area.

It would not let me tangent the curves, but it would take pressure off of the lower of my two knees as well as my hips fighting to stay upright. I was willing to sacrifice some added distance for a better footstrike.

I hit the water stop in the middle of this stretch for a quick sip of water. So far my sore throat was not a factor at all, nor was my stuffy nose. All systems were full go.

Splits here were: 6:28, 6:17, 6:22.

Fort Story: We made a right turn to head through the West gate of Fort Story and gradually make the wide arc back towards the finish. The wind from the East was blowing slightly into the face of the runners until the exit of the base at mile 9. I decided to stay as even as possible as we ran through the base – nothing faster, nothing slower – just lock in.

Splits over the next three miles were: 6:21, 6:22, 6:20.

Back on Atlantic: We exited the base back onto Atlantic Avenue and for the first time could see half-marathoners heading towards us coming from the opposite direction, 6 miles behind.

I was able to stay steady through mile 9, but as mile 10 began I was having a hard time keeping my cadence steady. The lack of hills on the course which is a positive in some ways can be a detriment in others. With no changes to your stride length or cadence your legs start to “fall asleep”. I tried to mix up my stride, add a surge every two minutes or so for :15 seconds, but I could feel my pace starting to fall off a bit.

I was still right on PR pace, if I could stay around 6:25 on the way in, I would have a great shot at pulling it out along the boardwalk.

Splits for the next three miles were: 6:21, 6:26, 6:30.

Closing Stretch: As my watch sounded at the mile 12 marker I glanced down and saw a mile above 6:20’s for the first time of the day – I knew it was time to snap out of it and gradually start putting the pedal back down. As we approached the turn off of Atlantic through the loudspeakers that were placed along the curve I heard the familiar drum kick from Max Weinberg and the Fender Stratocaster of the Boss belting out Born to Run.

I smiled.

We made an arching turn at 45th street and entered the boardwalk at 37th. With 1/2 mile to go I started to force the issue just a bit.

On the right I caught a glimpse of Ally, Steve, Shannon and Caroline and saw a big smile come across Steve’s face. “Finish this thing off strong”he said, and I knew I must be looking at a PR with a strong kick.

Closing Kick captured by Ally Speirs

Mile 13 was my fastest mile of the day at 6:16.

I kicked over the mat with a final 1/10 at 5:39 pace.

1:23:46 official time. A new PR by :09.

PR’s don’t come around very often, especially in the middle of a tough marathon cycle. I am proud of this one more than most as it finally knocked down my 3M Half-Marathon time from 2010 set on a notoriously fast, downhill course to second best.

My 10K, Half-Marathon and Marathon PR’s have all been set within the last 6 months, all with that 45th birthday creeping closer and closer.

By the looks of things, that marathon PR stands a good chance of being erased and replaced with a shiny new number in Boston. One lesson I am taking with me next month is that in a long race, forcing the issue and pushing the limits early is NOT the way to go.

April 16th we’re going to do just what we did during the Austin Half in February and the Shamrock Half on Sunday.

Stand back and let it all be.

You know, sometimes it’s just the simple things in life.

I woke up on Sunday morning with our last “real” long-run on the schedule for Boston.

Sure we have a relaxed pace 20-mile run 15 days before Boston.  But that run is more a victory lap of our training program than anything else.  When we reach the driveway at the end of those 20 miles, we will be deposited at the beginning of our 14-day taper prior to the starter’s gun in Hopkinton, MA on April 16th.

Just some light speed work, a few mid-mileage runs, but no heavy lifting prior to race day.

That last 20-miler almost runs itself, as all signs point to race day at perhaps the greatest road race in the world.

But this past Sunday our last “tough” long-run remained.  Still 5 weeks from race day, too far out to see the end of the journey, but far enough along the path to know that you are tired, beat-up, worn down and your legs just aren’t as “fresh” as they were 12 or 13 weeks earlier.

Rain was falling as I started the run, as it had for the better part of the last 36 hours.  I ran 12 miles on Saturday in falling rain and wet shoes.  Looked like we would have a repeat of that on Sunday.  Time to go to work.

As I ticked off the miles one after another I thought about the final miles in New York.  How tired I became late in the race, how when the course started to fight me over the Willis Avenue Bridge and the uphill stretches in Central Park, I just couldn’t hold on to marathon goal pace – slowing :20 seconds or so per mile.

This training plan, with more mileage, more 20+ mile long runs, doubles on Tuesdays and even more hillwork than usual was all designed to fight off late race fatigue.  To make me stronger “late” in the marathon, so I could race to the finish over the final 5 miles after cresting heartbreak hill.

Around mile 8 on Sunday I decided that I would stretch the run out from our scheduled 21 miles to 23.  I had never run that far before without someone handing me a medal after I stopped.  It would be a good test in lousy conditions to see just how I handled miles 21, 22 and 23.

As I passed the house at mile 17, only 6 miles remained.  I dropped my water belt and headlamp in the yard and thundered down our street for 6 more miles of an out and back.

Mile 19 – 7:58

Mile 20 – 7:48

Mile 21 – 7:38

Mile 22 – 7:32

Mile 23 – 7:25

What started as a 21-mile run at marathon goal pace (6:52 min.mile) + :60 seconds ended in:

23 miles – 2:59:26 (7:48 pace).  2 miles longer, :04 seconds/mile faster.

The best part was how easy the final miles felt.  I knew that I could have just kept ticking them off one after another had I wanted to, all this at the end of a 74 mile run week.

I treated myself to a nice cold beer at dinner on Sunday night – one of the last I will have before the post-race celebration after Boston where I’ll either be toasting a new Marathon PR or once again lamenting a race course that continues to haunt me.  But for Sunday – it was the little things, like tacking on an extra couple of miles and a frosty cold beverage that reminded me that the best things in life are not necessarily the big ones.

On Monday, Landry woke up with a fever and could not go to school.

She was going to have to stay home for the day, which meant either Mommy or Daddy was going to have to do the same.  It turned out that I was the lucky one and got to hang out all day with my little girl.

It gave us a chance to spend some quality time together and even made a trip down to the running trail to feed a few ducks and play on the playground.

As I watched Landry pass out bread to the ducks and toddle along the same trail that Dad routinely cruises along at 8.5 mph, it served as a great reminder that this is indeed the important stuff.

Marathon times, mile splits, running 23 miles in the rain – that’s all small stuff.

The big stuff is right in front of me on a daily basis.  Helping raise Landry in a loving household, teaching her things along the way and hopefully giving her a chance to chase down here own dreams and aspirations – whether they exist as a painted line on a street in Boston Massachusetts, a classroom, a laboratory, orchestra pit or operating room.

Whatever it is that she wants to be, I only wish that she achieves all of her goals.

If you could guarantee me that right now – I would take it in a heartbeat and forget all about 2:59 at Boston.

At the end of the day, it’s the little things that make all the difference.  I don’t think Landry will care one bit if Dad hits his goal in April or finishes a few minutes afterwards.  The hugs are going to feel just the same.

Pretty awesome.

I believe it was Dwight L. Moody who said, “Character is what you are in the dark.”

I’m not sure that he was thinking about a marathoner running hill repeats alone on a dark street in Austin TX at 5:00 a.m. when he uttered those words, but they definitely spoke to me quite loudly early on Thursday morning.

Over the last three months we have taken to “the hill” each Thursday for our workout.  Skipping only twice over the past 14 weeks during the weeks leading up to The Texas Half Marathon and the Livestrong Austin Half Marathon, we have put ourselves through some grueling workouts.

This is the same workout that we incorporated into our New York City Marathon training plan as well as our ramp up to the Austin Marathon in 2011.

We leave the house for a 3-mile warm-up depositing us at the top of the hill at the entrance to the neighborhood adjacent to ours aptly called, “Waters Edge.

For Boston instead of only running “ups”, we have alternated each week running “downhill repeats” one week, followed by our uphill repeats the next.  This was designed to help our speed, strength and climbing ability to tackle the famous Newton Hills from miles 16-21 in Boston, but also to prepare for the grinding downhill start over miles 1-14 of the course from Hopkinton to Newton.

The part of the course where quads go to die.

Things are about to get interesting.

We run each repeat at 5K effort – very close to our Lactate Threshold along the 3/10 of a mile hill which has 65 feet of elevation change.  We hit our watch at the end of that repeat, glance at the split under the street lamp, and then make a slow recovery jog back to the start.

10 times.

At the end of the tenth and final repeat, we gather ourselves and run a final mile at/near marathon race pace back to the house.

This workout which comes after two runs on Tuesday, followed by a mid-week long run of 11-12 miles on Wednesday is on tired legs.

Each repeat gets harder and harder to maintain our form and our speed.  It is grueling.  It gets painful.  At the end it becomes a mental test as much as a physical one.

Remind you of anything?  That’s right – the marathon.

The funny thing about this workout is the only one who knows that I am out there is me, my wife Dawn and the small dog in the yard that barks at me every Thursday morning each time I pass his fence.

20 times every single week.  His owners must love Hill repeat Thursday as much as I do.

But on this particular Thursday things were a little bit tougher out there than usual.

The temperature was up to 68 degrees and the humidity was 91%.

There was a SSE wind blowing 16 miles per hour with gusts 20-25.

SSE means that the wind is blowing directly down the face of the hill.  That would have been welcomed had we been running “downs” this week, but alas, we were running “ups”.  Right into the teeth of the wind.

I typically break the workout into “subsets” of repeats as thinking about running 7 more or 8 more can be very discouraging as you wrap up your first couple of efforts.

I instead run three sets of repeats, then tack on a final repeat at the end.

I run:

First, Middle, Last.

First, Middle, Last.

First, Middle, Last.

Last.

That brings us to our goal of 10X or 3 miles of hills at 5K effort.

On Thursday, after slugging it out with the hill for the better part of 30 minutes I made the turn at the bottom of the hill for repeat number 8.  It had been getting noticeably warmer on my recovery jogs to the bottom of the hill – my USA Singlet that I wore at the NYC Marathon was sticking to my chest soaked with sweat.

I glanced up the hill and felt the first drops of rain hit my face.

100% humidity hung in the air.

Instead of feeling sorry for myself or debating what in the world I was doing out there – I smiled quickly to myself and hit the watch.  Go time.

My last three repeats were as fast as my first three.  All I could think of as I slugged it out on Thursday was how much I would be able to draw on this workout, this particular nondescript Thursday in early March when things get tough on April 16th.

When the hills in Newton seem steeper than I remember from 2010 and I cling tightly to my time goal as I lose valuable seconds to the race clock.  At the bottom of Heartbreak Hill only 6 miles will remain to Boylston Street and our second Boston Finisher’s Medal.

First, Middle, Last …. First, Middle, Last.

Boston.

From the outside looking in I’m sure that sometimes this marathon training stuff must look pretty easy.

Joe goes out, knocks out 8, 10, 12, 20, 22 milers at will.  Runs his hill repeats, two runs on Tuesdays, races half-marathons …. no problem.

Well, it really isn’t that easy.

There are plenty of days where the muscles ache, I am monitoring a sore area trying to discern the slight difference between “soreness” and “injury”.

Soreness we work our way through.  Soldier on, do the best we can and stay the course.  It is on those days the marathoner is chiseled from stone.

But when pain and soreness is the precursor to injury – that is when it is far more important to be smart than tough.

Over the final 5 miles of my 22-mile training run last Sunday I noticed some soreness on the top of my right foot.  A runner’s feet swell a bit over the course of a long run, and it appeared that I simply ran long in shoes, or more specifically, a right shoe that was tied too tight.

I pressed on, finished the 22-miler, my best long run of the training cycle in fact, and went about my usual post-run recovery.

I ran my double workout on Tuesday, an easy paced 12-miler on Wednesday and finally my hill repeat session on Thursday.  After four days the discomfort on the top of my foot should have been gone.  But it was still there.  Nagging at me, letting me know that it was a warning sign.  Time to back off.

So this weekend I decided to skip my Saturday and Sunday runs.  12 miles on Saturday, followed by another 22-miler on Sunday.  Squashed.

I took it easy, tried to stay off of my feet the best I could, although Landry was pretty determined to make sure Dad was still chasing her around the house quite a bit.

I woke up on Monday morning, put the Tri Bike up on the trainer in the garage and rode hard for 60 minutes.  The kind of low-gear, hard-cranking workout that simulates a hard training ride up and down hills on the road.  Not just an easy spin in high-gear.

After a sweat-soaked hour, I got down off the bike and my foot felt very good.  I no longer had that nagging pain on the top/inner side of my right foot, and tomorrow morning we will fall back into our marathon training schedule for Boston.

Missed training days are just that.  Missed.

There is no reason to attempt to “make them up” or “squeeze them in” to your remaining schedule.  That approach is the one that causes runners and endurance athletes to miss even more training time due to injury, turning a precursor or warning signal into a full-fledged problem.

I may not be getting any younger, but hopefully with age comes a bit of wisdom.

Yeah, it pretty much sucked this weekend missing my runs, but they are gone.

34 miles missed out of more than 1,250 preparing for Boston will be the equivalent of removing a handful of sand from an entire beach.  They will hardly be noticed.

Being 100% healthy at the starting line in Hopkinton, MA on April 16th is all I need to be concerned with, so I backed off and played it safe this weekend.

There will be plenty of opportunities to “go for it” at Boston.  This past weekend, just wasn’t one of them.

A runner friend of mine the other day made a comment that it seems that although I have trained seriously for marathons in the past – there was something pushing me even harder for this one.  My workouts were tougher, more specific to the challenges the Boston Marathon course presents and I seemed to be tacking on a lot of higher mileage during this cycle.

He said that it almost seemed like I was “out for revenge” or something.

Close, but not quite.

Revenge is a dangerous game.  It was Confucius who said, “Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.”   The implication being that the desire for revenge may ultimately hurt the seeker as much as the victim.

Redemption however, that is another story.

It has been exactly 97 weeks since we crossed the finish line of the 114th running of the Boston Marathon on April 16, 2010.  It remains an open wound on an otherwise very satisfying 5-year run as a marathoner.

There are a handful of races where I would have done things a bit differently here or there either in my preparation for the event or during the race itself.  But in those instances we are talking about a few seconds here, a few seconds there.

In the case of the 2010 Boston Marathon I left several minutes on the course that day and in the process failed to reach the only tangible goal I set for the first marathon of two in two weeks for Dom.  I wanted to re-qualify for Boston at Boston.  3:20:59 would have gotten it done.

I finished 3:22:07.

There are plenty of ways to go about running a 3:22 marathon and being proud of the result, finishing strong.  Giving your best from the first stride across the starting line to the final kick across the finish.

I didn’t do any of them.

I had an abbreviated training cycle due to a shin issue – then proceeded to run a rather foolish race – completely unprepared for the opening downhill 14 miles from Hopkinton to Newton.  When it was finally time to climb I had very little left in the tank.

I suffered along Commonwealth Avenue to Hereford, made the turn onto Boyleston Street and crossed the finish line a beaten man.

I have thought about that race every single day for the last 97 weeks.

The experience changed me as a runner and as a man.  I no longer ran workouts that were not for some type of purpose – even if that purpose was recovery.  Each race built upon the one before it, where I would learn more about the sport, about preparation, about myself.

How much did I have inside of me to draw upon when I needed it most?

How much was I willing to sacrifice to achieve the goals I had set?

How much was I willing to hurt?

I also knew that above all else, I need to make it to Hopkinton this year in one piece and 100% healthy.

I would have to be smart about the types of workouts I chose to add to my arsenal, and especially smart as I nudged my weekly mileage from 55 miles per week to 65 preparing for the New York Marathon in November, now to 75 miles per week for Boston.

Mileage Totals - Last 12 Months

Jumping from 55 to 75 would be foolish.  A 35% increase in mileage is a recipe for injury.  But by building my base slowly and steadily over the past several months – we now sit on the precipice of something special.

This week took us to a new mileage record – 76.75 miles per week – with quality workouts on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, wrapping things up with 22 miles on Sunday at 7:38 pace.  Our fastest “long run” of the training cycle – just ticking off the miles at a comfortable pace, well below our race day goal of 6:52.

As the mileage mounts I feel like we are getting stronger.

Our resolve continues to harden.  Today was the day where 2:59:00 became our hard and fast “A” goal for race day, save for a catastrophic weather day, where we will make sure that we run smart and adjust our goals accordingly.

There can still be victory in Boston even if our goal of a sub 3 hour marathon does not fall.

I want to retrace my steps from 104 weeks earlier and instead of being the recipient of a beat-down like the last time we battled Boston, I want to be the one doling out the punishment.

There will be 26,000 other marathoners on the course with me in 7 weeks.  With the exception of the 20 or 30 friends and acquaintances I know who will be competing that day, who I wish great success to, all the other runners to me are irrelevant.

The last time I ran Boston I was running the race for Dom.  Even though I hardly ever run a single mile without him in my head and my heart – this race I am running for me.

It has been a long time coming.  2 years in the making come race day.

7 more weeks of training remain – we’re just sharpening the sword from here on out getting ready to battle lady marathon for perhaps the final time. 

April 16, 2012.  Redemption.

Over the course of an 18 or 20 week marathon training cycle, the training and preparation for race day can be very much like the miles of the marathon itself.

A series of runs and workouts that when added together, represent more than simply the sum of their parts.  Running 1 mile is not a terribly remarkable thing.  Racing one, only slightly more so.   But stringing 26.2 of them together and they of course represent something much, much more significant.

A Marathon training cycle is in many ways very similar.  It is a period of time where no single run is all that remarkable.  There are runs where you feel invincible, others where your weaknesses are exposed and some where you feel like you are hanging on by the slightest of threads.

You simply move on to the next one, always looking forward, never looking back and keep our eye on the prize.  Meet the challenge immediately in front of you and eventually you will reach the end-game.  Whether that be the starting line in the case of your training cycle or the finish line in the case of the race itself.

But every once in a while during the course of your training you stumble upon a run where despite the odds being stacked against you – you are able to push through the pain and fatigue to take things to another level. 

It is on those days that the runner becomes a marathoner. 

Not by crossing a finish line painted somewhere along a city street, but by taking the lonely strides, covering the difficult miles when nobody is watching.  Tapping into a resolve that will be much-needed on race day, but grossly overlooked on an early Thursday morning 1,500 miles from home, more than 50 days before Marathon Monday.

This week I ran those miles in Palo Alto, CA at a place the locals refer to simply as The Dish”.

After a tough half-marathon on Sunday I was going to have to adjust my training schedule to accommodate a trip out to the West Coast.

Ideally I would have taken a rest day on Monday, ran a double on Tuesday (8.3 miles in the morning, 8.3 miles in the afternoon), run easy on Wednesday and then taken on our hill repeat workout on Thursday.

This was not going to be possible with obligations and cross-country flights.

Instead to get it all in, we ran 8.3 miles on Monday just 20 hours after crossing the finish line of the race, followed by our Thursday hill repeat session moved up two days to Tuesday morning and a 12-mile run prior to making our flight to California.

By the time I woke up on Thursday my weekly mileage had reached 30.5 and we were back out running down El Camino Real in Palo Alto onto Stanford Avenue then turning toward the foothills and heading a little over a mile to “The Dish”.

The Dish is an area just off campus where two incredibly large, almost cartoon large satellite dishes sit on the top of an outcropping of foothills pointed at whatever brilliant scientists point such things at.

The 3.5 mile meandering trail system takes walkers, hikers and brave runners along a course with more than 750 feet of climbing and descent along the route.

Keeping in mind that the entire “climbing” elevation of the Boston Marathon is a little over 600 feet spread over 26.2 miles, 750 feet is A LOT of climbing in just 3.5 miles.

I of course decided to run it twice.

1,500 feet of climbs and descents in just 7 miles.  With a 3 mile run to The Dish and another 3 miles back to the hotel, we had a nice little 13 mile workout on our hands.

My experience is that when you hear about how hard an area to run is, it is usually not nearly as bad as its reputation.  For some reason as runners we like to wear our battle scars proudly, making sure everyone knows just how challenging a race course or a trail system is.

When you see it for yourself however, it rarely lives up to the hype.

I was wrong about this one.

After I reached the trail head and started climbing, I knew I was in for a fight.  Up, up, up went the first rise, then a nice rolling downhill to the right led to another long climb.  A falling section, followed by another climb, and another, and another.  For the better part of 1.5 miles I went up higher and higher until I reached the first Dish.

Off to the right it was an amazing sight, the absolutely monstrous satellite was pointed almost perfectly vertical on my trip with the sun coming up out to the East.  The route took me further up and after a steep downhill chase section, I made the final climb up to the highest point on the trail just past the second Dish.

The Dish

Off to my left I could look down onto Stanford University.  On a clear morning with no marine layer I could see the city of San Francisco off in the distance and the San Francisco Bay on the horizon ahead.The View to Stanford

It was pretty breathtaking to be honest.  So much so as I thundered back down the decline toward the trail head, I decided to go around for a second tour of the Dish.

When will I get this opportunity again I thought.

The hills were of course just as steep on the second trip around, but knowing what was coming was comforting.  I now knew when the “downs” would arrive and how long the “ups” would last.

I completed my second loop, thundered downhill to Stanford Avenue and ran at marathon race effort back to the hotel.

Miles splits on Thursday were:  7:21, 7:19, 7:36, 7:29, 8:05, 7:26, 7:11, 8:09, 7:33, 6:54, 6:51, 6:58, 6:53.

Elevation from Dish Run

As I slowed to a walk on High Street in downtown Palo Alto I pulled my gloves from the waistband of my shorts, clicked off my iPod and stretched against a traffic light.

I was now 43.5 miles into a 76.5 mile week.  Another record mileage total will fall on Sunday when we wrap up our first 22-miler of this training cycle.

We continue to march along the trail that will deposit us on the starting line of arguably the most storied marathon in the world.

I doubt anyone we passed out in California took notice of the slightly built runner powering up and down the Dish on Thursday.  No matter.  I was there, taking another step toward Hopkinton, MA on April 16th where we are going to go out and run the race of our life.

When we reach the Newton Hills we are going to gather ourselves and crush each of them one at a time.  When we reach Heartbreak Hill just before the Boston College Campus we are going to run fearlessly, knowing that on a cool morning back in February we crushed hills that were twice as long and twice as steep.

After we ran them the first time, we went back around and ran them again just for good measure.  Just because they were there.

Heartbreak Hill?  Bring it on.  The marathoner you tripped up back in 2010 may have the same name, but he is nowhere near the same man.  I know that you have taken down many a confident marathoner over the last 115 years, of that there is no debate.

But I’m not sure you know just yet how badly I want this one.  What I am willing to sacrifice to get there.  How much pain I am ready to endure.  You are unaware of the limits I am willing to go to in order to once and for all cross your finish line and know that I have beaten you.

I however do know the answers to those very questions.

If I were you I would be worried about the slightly built little runner from Austin, TX.

Very, very worried.