Posts Tagged ‘Boston Marathon’

One of the, if not the, most celebrated foot races on the planet is happening right now while I sit here in Austin, TX half a country away from where all the “action” is this morning.  It’s funny how things change as in 2010 and 2012 I was mixing it up out there, fighting the good fight from Hopkinton to Boston.  The first year I ran Boston I had a second marathon looming just 13 days later running for Dom and his battle against cancer.

Last year the marathon Gods had a little bit of fun with us dropping 87 degree temperatures on race day and we simply trotted it in along the storied course.  Never really “racing”, just hanging tough in survival mode and gutting out a very pedestrian performance, but one that given the conditions on the course were just fine with me.

After finishing the race last year I think that I finally got “Boston” out of my system.

It’s an amazing event, attracting fabulous runners from all over the world and I am very proud to have been a part of the race not only once but twice.  But right now my focus is on more personal, measurable goals.  It is not important to me where I run my next marathon or next 2,3 or 5 – but how I run them.

I want to be fit, focused and fearless.  I want to prepare in such a way that I am in position to maximize every bit of my ability and channel it into a one-day performance where I peak for 180 minutes (or hopefully less) of racing.

Steamtown, Austin, CIM, Charleston, SC – the destination doesn’t really matter it is all about the journey.  A healthy outlook for a lot of things – racing aside.

This morning two runners who I have a ton of respect for are having a very different Boston Marathon Monday.

One is having surgery to address a nerve issue he has struggled with in his foot for well over a year and a half.  He is one of my best runner-buddies here in Austin and I have missed seeing him at runs and races over the last year+.  Although before his injury the only thing I saw of him at races quite often was the back of his shirt.  Brendon has a long history of thumping me pretty soundly in most local races in our age group.  But seeing him struggle with injury and knowing the lengths he is willing to go to get out there running healthy has been inspiring.

Physical Therapy, Active Release Therapy, Rest, Rehab, Acupuncture (seriously) – I’m pretty sure Brendon prayed to various tribal lords and even tried voodoo and witchcraft to get healthy.

If his surgery goes as expected, Brendon will be back to training in about 8 weeks and hopefully he and I can wage a few epic battles this fall and winter as Brendon 2.0 takes on Joe 3.0 as a pair of aging 46-year-old top age groupers.

I also thought about my friend Richard Blalock from Charleston, SC who is actually battling it out on the course today in Boston.  Richard a life-long runner who suffered an unfortunate accident when he was a young boy had a deteriorating condition that was making it impossible for him to run.

After exhausting ever method and treatment possible, Richard missed the sport so much that he had elective amputation so that he would be able to run again with a prosthetic leg.  Yep.  Elective surgery to remove the lower half of his leg so that he could run again.

Richard today is running Boston as a 60 year-old amputee runner – you can read about his journey at – http://iiagdtr.blogspot.com/

IIAGDTR stands for – It is a good day to run.

Yes it is Richard – congratulations on making it all the way back and to the grandest stage in the sport for an amateur runner.

So on Boston Monday – this everyman runner from Austin Texas is spending some time not thinking about my own journeys from Commonwealth Ave. to Hereford Street to Boylston Street.  But of a couple of friends who I wish the best for and hope that they are able to stay out there doing the best that they can as long as they want to.

In the end, that’s what it’s all about.  Fast or slow, it hurts just the same.  It’s just important to be out there giving your all and trying your best.

I’m going to remember that on October 13th up in Scranton, PA.  I have a feeling that is going to be a special morning.

 

After 35 years, the Bill Rogers Running Center in Boston closed its’ doors the day after Halloween.

In 1977, when Bill Rogers was the top marathoner on the planet he, his brother Charlie and Jason Kehoe (a childhood friend of the Rogers’ brothers) opened the first of three stores at Cleveland Circle – around mile 22 of the Boston Marathon Route.  There is a great story covering the store closing on Boston.com that you can read by clicking HERE.

In the early days a store like the Bill Rogers Running Center was more than just a place to buy running shoes or gear.  It was a place where running nerds like myself could go to “nerd out”.  You could talk with other runners about training, upcoming races, workouts, run groups, race strategy and immerse yourself in the culture of running.  In a sport where so much time is spent alone with your own thoughts while you are training, it is great to have that support group.

But as things have changed with technology, many runners now purchase gear and equipment from one of the big box athletic suppliers or online to get the best price and selection.  They might go to a local running store once in a while to get fitted or to check out the new model of a shoe, but once they know what type of shoe, size and fit that they need, they do most of their purchases on-line.  I am no different, although I do make a point to support the local running stores several times a year to purchase shoes and equipment.  But the reality is that in 2012 I will cover 2,500 running miles, rotating a new pair of shoes on average every 300 miles.  That is 8 new pairs of shoes and another two pairs purchased specifically to race in (Boston Marathon and Houston Marathon).  Out of those 10 pairs of shoes, or roughly $1,000 of gear, only two or three pair will be purchased locally ($200-$300).  The balance will be purchased on-line, delivered to my front door in less than 48 hours.

That is what makes running a small, local running store like the Bill Rogers Running Center such a challenge.  If you are only able to attract 20% of the business from somebody like me, how are you going to do with a more casual runner?  Too much competition in a niche market – and it gets very, very challenging.

By the time Landry is in race flats, there really won’t be too many places like Bill’s shop any more and that is too bad.

On April 20, 2010 I visited the Bill Roger’s Running Center in Boston for the first time.  Less than 24 hours after finishing the Boston Marathon the day before, and only 12 days from running my second marathon in 13 days for Dom, I walked backwards down the steps inside of Bill’s shop to the basement level, (as only a marathoner can fully understand the pain in trying to take a downward flight of stairs forward facing).  As I was looking around at Bill’s Race flats, running gloves, photographs and memorabilia from a career of road racing over in the corner, talking running was the marathoner himself, Bill Rogers.

I got in line with a book I had planned to purchase about the Boston Marathon and waited patiently to meet Bill.

As I approached he asked if I had run the day before.  I told him yes and he asked, “so, how was it?” – with a look in his eye that told you that he knew exactly how difficult the course and the race can be in Boston.

I told him that I started a bit too fast, the downhills really were much steeper than I had trained for and I missed my goal time by just under 5 minutes.

Bill smiled at me and said, “You know, I DNF’d on that course twice.  It is a very difficult marathon to run.  You had a tremendous day out there yesterday, you should be very proud of your race.  Wait ’till next time, you are going to run it so much better ….”

He scribbled away in my book, closed the flap and handed it back to me.  I didn’t read the inscription until after I left the store.  We chatted about racing.  About Austin, TX – he asked if I knew Paul Carrozza and Gilbert Tuhaboyne and told me stories about running races with both men.  Men who I have met multiple times on our local race circuit and members of the running community here in Austin that I respect as much as anyone.  We said our goodbyes and I slowly walked back upstairs to meet up with Dawn who was 5-months pregnant with Landry and our friends Ralph and Michele who came into Boston to watch me race.

When I walked outside into a beautiful bright Boston morning I looked at the inscription.

Gracious to the end, that is something I will remember long after I put on my race shoes for the last time – whenever that day comes, if it comes.

I thought a lot about that day when I was training for Boston this year.  How much better I was prepared, how I had tailored my training to the specificity required to handle the downhill start of the race and the climbing of the Newton Hills.  I was indeed ready to really crush Boston in my second attempt.  Then of course the weather intervened with 87 degree temperatures and I never got a chance to find out.  I simply ran the course like a training run to make sure I stayed out of the medical tents and finished my second Boston Marathon 20 minutes slower than my first.

I stopped back in to see Bill again this year after the race and our conversation went very similarly to the one two years earlier.  I told him what he had said to me after 2010 and how it fueled me in my preparations for the 2012 Boston Marathon.  He smiled that crooked smile with his big eyes wide open and said, “Well, you ran the first one bravely and the second one with a great deal of restraint and sensibility – two of the things that make up a great marathoner …”

Bill Rogers touched many lives through his racing and his running centers.  35-years contributing to the sport that so many of us have grown to love.

I think I am going to stop by our local running store on the way home this week as I am in need of a new pair of trainers for my final five 20+ milers on the way to the starting line in Houston.  Sure I could order them online, but I think I need to make a point to give back to our local community stores here a little more frequently.

Thank you Bill, happy trails!  I know we have not seen the last of you yet.

In the world of marathoning this week was a pretty big week.  Boston Marathon Registration began on Monday.

The increase in runners seeking one of the most competitive and dare I say, prestigious race bibs in road racing caused the Boston Athletic Association to make changes to not only the qualifying requirements to gain entry to the race – but also to the way that the registration process itself takes place.

Back in 2009 when I came through the chute of the Pittsburgh Marathon on May 2nd with a time of 3:17:43 – I KNEW – that I was on my way to the starting line of the 2010 Boston Marathon.  All I had to do was wait for registration to open, log on to the website, fill out my information, submit my qualifying time and boom.  I was in.  After a few weeks a confirmation message was sent to me from the B.A.A. that my time was verified and I was in.

When registration for the 2011 Boston Marathon opened two years ago all hell broke loose.  People logged on at a furious rate when registration began, computers crashed, the site went down for a time, there were locusts, floods …. o.k., maybe not locusts and floods, but it was close.

Many runners who had worked so hard to run a “Boston Time” ended up being shut out during the registration process.  It had taken over a week to fill the 2010 field back in the fall of 2009.  The next year it took less than 1 day and all of the bibs were accounted for.  With the exception of the charity runners – which is an entirely different topic for an entirely different post.

The B.A.A. responded to the debacle by tightening up the qualifying standards by 5:00 minutes meaning a 40-44 year old Male Marathoner would now have to run a 3 hour and 15 minute marathon or better to qualify instead of the 3:20:00 that was required just one year before.

The other change was that the fastest runners would be allowed to log on first.  If you ran a time 15 minutes or faster than your qualifying standard you could register the first week, 10 minutes or better the second week, 5 minutes or better the next week, and then if there were still openings in the field, everyone else could register.

These changes made the process run much smoother and allowed the fastest qualifiers to make their way to Hopkinton, MA for the race last year, while those runners who ran a “BQ” or Boston Qualifying time – but only narrowly – were left on the outside looking in.  The cut off was approximately 1 minute and 30 seconds.  If you made your time by more than that amount you were good to go.  If you only beat your qualifying time by 90 seconds, you were shut out.  I expect it to be even more difficult this year with some of the runners who deferred to run last year due to the high temperatures being “grandfathered” into this year’s field, and the ever-increasing attempt by runners to improve and run faster qualifying times.

There was a time when Boston was one of the biggest goals out there for me.  I thought about it on my training runs, I trained harder for that race than any other and really wanted to turn Boston into my statement race as a marathoner.  Last year’s 87 degree race day removed a lot of the mystique about the race for me – proving that really, it is your performance and preparation that makes a race special …. not so much only the course on which it is run and the history of the event.

Having run Boston twice now, perhaps that is easier for me to say than someone who has never made their way to the starting line in Hopkinton or across the finish line on Boylston Street.  That’s fair I suppose.  But in truth, I’ve moved on past Boston and have other goals in sight.

Proof is in the pudding they say, and as registration opened on Monday for the 117th running of the Boston Marathon next April I was sitting on a qualifying time 17 minutes under my requirement.  I was golden.  A few clicks of the mouse, a credit card number and we were in.

Pass.

Boston is going to be great once again this spring.  It’s a tremendous event, a huge stage for the best marathoners in the world to compete on.  It is also an amazing event for the amateurs to literally run in their footsteps for 26.2 miles.  The same race won by legends like Alberto Salazar and Bill Rogers.  But that Monday I’ve decided I’m going to take the day off of work, let Landry play hooky from school and we’re going to go on a picnic to the park or the pool if it is warm enough here in Austin.

I’m going to think about running of course that morning.  Might even go out and post a few miles on a usual off-day for me, but we are not going to be part of the race this year in Boston, we’ll let somebody else toe the line in our place.  Hopefully a first-timer who worked as hard as we did to earn our spot.

Instead when I think of the word “Marathon” the first thing that comes to mind is Houston.

Houston this year on 1/13/13 IS my Boston Marathon.  It is my “A” race for the year that I am going to train for harder and smarter than any race that has come before it.

There most likely will  not be an Air Force flyover at the start, ESPN Cameras shooting me cross the starting line, screaming coeds lining the course at mile 16 and no famous turn from Hereford Street onto Boylston and perhaps the loudest, most intense 1/4 mile in road racing carrying me to the finish line.  Houston won’t have any of that.

But what it will have hopefully is the sight of a 45-year old amateur marathoner thundering down the course and into the final mile.

The clock will still be ticking under 2:52:00 at that point and hopefully with a glance to my wrist I will know exactly the amount of time I have remaining to cover the final 1 mile, 385 yards.

Legs pumping, soreness creeping in from all sorts of places, feet trying to defy gravity for just a few more minutes – hang on just a little bit longer to reach that finish line with a time of 2:59:XX.

At the end of the day if the race goes the way I am preparing for it to go, it won’t make a bit of difference if it happens in Houston, TX, Boston, MA or anywhere in between.

We will be a “Sub-3 hour guy” at that point, and nobody will ever be able to say anything different.

I realized something on Monday while I was pedaling away on the TRI Bike up on the trainer in the garage.

I had not thought about the Boston Marathon in over a week.

Not a thought about training, about the hills or the course.

Not  a single thought about running a qualifying time or how badly I wanted to return to the race.

After two years of obsessing about that particular event – it appears that I have finally moved on.

Boston = Over.

I’m not really sure what it is about looking back in the rear view mirror on my two Boston Marathons that has given me peace when it comes to our country’s longest running marathon.  Certainly it is not related to my performance as those two races represent my 4th and 6th best marathons.  Definitely nothing to write home about.

But my eyes are now cast firmly in front of me at the next two major challenges on the horizon for the rest of the year.

Longhorn 70.3 in October – our first ever Half Iron Man.

Houston Marathon in January – our next attempt at breaking 3 hours.

Even though I have a “Boston Time” in my back pocket for 2013 already, I am planning to let that registration come and go this September without thinking twice.  We’ve been there, we’ve done that – it’s time to let someone else experience Boston and take our spot.

Perhaps one day we’ll decide that want to return to the race.  Maybe when we turn 50 or even later if Landry takes up the sport of distance running.  But for now we’re at peace.  Maybe all it took was Landry’s little arms around my neck in the finishing area taking away the sting of the race from 2010.

Landry and Dad – Post Race in Boston

So as we return from a much-needed vacation and get back on the horse this week with 111 training miles split between the bike, the pool and the running trail it is nice to have our eyes fixed firmly ahead.

It’s about time.

O.K., I’ll admit it. Since arriving in Boston I have been a little down.

I like many runners from all over the world descended on the most storied Marathon in the free world with great expectations. I had trained better and harder than I had for any race of any distance at any time in my life.

I came here with one goal – and that was to be able to stare at myself in the mirror after my post-race shower and know that I was the best I have ever been. That I had slayed the dragon at Boston. A claim very few can make.

Well I found out that Mother Nature does indeed have a sense of humor and instead of a neutral day, we will be running in what looks like the second hottest Boston marathon in the 116 years the race has been held.

To make matters worse, temperatures will be rising throughout the race, even as we approach Boston and the sometimes cooling effect the harbor can have on the city.

Not on Monday.

Yesterday I went to the expo and I got my bib for the race. Did some shopping and bought Landry a stuffed Unicorn in a Boston Marathon T-shirt named Spike. On the cab ride back to the hotel it happened.

The cab driver asked me about what it’s like to run Boston. I could see in his eyes that he thought I was someone special.

Not in the way that our Mother’s make us feel that way, as that is pretty much part of the job description. But only the way a complete stranger can. He looked and spoke to me, this “Everyman” from Austin, TX with great reverence.

I felt “honored”.

As I laced up my race shoes for a quick 2-mile shakeout to get the blood flowing back into my legs on Sunday morning I saw the names on my shoes. The people in my life I am dedicating this race to.

Scott Birk, David Roitman, my Mom and of course Dom.

I don’t think Dom would be the type to lay down tomorrow just because of a bad weather forecast. In fact, I know he wouldn’t. He would run the race tomorrow to the best of his abilities and would not let some clock on a street tell him the worth of his effort.

I ran out from the finish line on Sunday, turned around in the street and then ran back over the final mile of the course. Mirroring the final 5,280 feet we will run tomorrow.

Our Bib number – 5280.

Commonwealth Ave., Hereford, Boylston.

Marathon’s royalty.

Tomorrow we are going to run the race with honor.

Try to do our best.

We can still do what we came here to do, and that is look ourselves in the mirror after the race and KNOW we are the best we have ever been.

I just had to change the way that is defined.

Sorry it took me a couple of days to come around Dom. As always, you have a way of teaching me things even now. For those of you following along tomorrow, tracking runner 5280 – don’t worry if we are running slower than we normally do or if my pace starts to falter late.

There is great honor in simply trying your best. That is what I would be telling my daughter under the same circumstances. And I would be right.

I’m not sure who the first runner was to put names or initials on their race flats. I can’t say for sure why they did it or what it meant to them.

But for me I can say that the first time I did it was to honor Dom.

I did it because I wanted him with me on race day, in body, mind and spirit. Partly because I wanted him to be out on that race course, feeling my flats rush down the road, runners around us, battling the course, the weather and our own body as it began to break down and try to ease off the gas.

I wanted him to experience the sensation of “racing” as I knew that he would never get the chance to do so again after he lost his battle with cancer on August 15, 2010.

That fall I lost a good runner-friend of mine in Austin named Scott Birk. He was killed while out for a training run, struck by a motorist. Scott was a tremendous runner and an even better person.

One of the first to congratulate me in the finishing chute after a race, or keep the crowd loose by joking around at the start – Scott was one of a kind.

After the gun fired however, Scott was a fierce competitor and a tremendous athlete. When he was lost to his family and friends, the Austin running community also lost one of its great contributors.

I find comfort looking down and seeing his initials on my shoes in the starting area before the horn sounds. Scott had been there before.

He understands.

Well at Boston this year I will have two more names on my shoes. A middle and high school friend of mine David Roitman will have his name on my right instep. David who is one of the nicest and truly funniest people you would ever meet, with an infectious energy and zest for life fell ill earlier this winter.

A very strange and sudden illness which robbed David of his strength, ability to walk, talk, or communicate in any way. He has since battled back after relearning all of those skills and continues to make tremendous strides. By late spring or early summer we hope to have David back 100%.

If anyone deserves to hear the roar of the crowd as we make the left turn off of Hereford Street onto Boylston and past the grandstands on the way to the finish line in Boston it is David.

Roitman – you are coming with me.

And of course, my Mom. I haven’t shared a lot about her in this space but her battle with brain cancer at the age of 81 was truly something to marvel at.

Surgery, treatment, medication, rehabilitation and she never, EVER, complained or asked “why me?” which is something I know for a fact I would be wondering.

She moved from step to step in the process, never doubting for a moment that she would beat it – made it to her appointments, listened to her Doctor’s and quite frankly, kicked cancer squarely in the ass.

I’m not sure how often children talk about being “proud” of their parents, but I am here to tell you that I am so very proud of my Mom. Aside from some mild complaining about what the radiation therapy did to her hair, she took it all as it came and never wavered.

So Dom, Scott, David and Mom – ready or not, here we go.

Your names will be the last images I look at just prior to the gun sounding in Hopkinton before I cast my eyes on the race course. When I pull off my flats 26.2 miles and 3 hours later, you will be the first images I see.

Boston Marathon Race Shoes

Thank you for providing me and many others with the inspiration to keep fighting when things are most difficult. I am most definitely going to need each of you on race day – I hope you all enjoy the tour of Massachusetts and the beat-down we are going to put on the Boston Marathon.

Clear eyes, full heart, can’t lose.

With the Boston Marathon now just three weeks away there is not a whole lot of heavy lifting left to do for the athletes who are finishing off their training plans and preparing for one of the greatest single day sporting events in the world.

“Boston” is watched by more people around the United States than any other single-day event aside from the Superbowl.

For distance runners, Boston is our Superbowl.  Our Daytona 500.  Our Wimbledon Final.  Our US Open.

It just doesn’t get any bigger and it certainly doesn’t get much better.

I’m among the fortunate.  I’ve been there before, racing Boston as a qualifier back in 2010.  Many amateur runners try to qualify for the Boston Marathon for years.  They make numerous attempts at the marathon distance to run a qualifying time on a sanctioned course.

Now the stakes are even higher as not only do runners have to run a qualifying time based on their age and gender, but they have to do so by a wide enough margin to gain entrance into the race.  Only the fastest of the qualifiers will actually receive bib numbers to race on Patriot’s Day in Boston.

This year that meant not only achieving your “Boston Time”but beating that standard by more than one minute and 15 seconds or so.  As the years pass I would not be surprised at all if it takes runners a time close to 5 minutes faster than their qualifying standard to actually make it through the registration process before the race fills up.

Boston Qualifying Standards

Athletes will train harder, run faster and the competitive field will get faster and faster at one of the Marathon World Majors.

For me, this is the end of the line at Boston.  I know that it is not wise to say “never” when it comes to the marathon, as I think that for a lot of us, the race chooses us as much as we ever choose it.

Perhaps when I turn 50 or on a special anniversary of Dom’s passing I may be tempted to give this thing a go once again, dust off the old training plan, the race flats and go another round with the marathon.

But to run Boston is to run two marathons – one as a qualifying race, and then of course Boston itself – roughly within a year or a year and a half depending on when the qualifying race was run.

For now, that’s just not on my priority list.  We are going to focus on competing as a triathlete, becoming a stronger swimmer a better cyclist and of course – a faster runner.  That goes without saying.

But to do so, I am going to be focusing on shorter races.  More speed work.  Less long, steady 20+ mile Sunday runs and a much different approach to training and racing.

The marathon is going to be there for me when and if I ever need it.  At some point, I probably will.

But for now, I’m focusing on these last three weeks to race day.  Getting my body 100% right.  My mind sharp, my race plan committed to memory and enjoying the journey to what very well may be my last trip to the starting line in tiny Hopkinton, MA.

I’ve thought about the Boston Marathon at least one time every day for the past two years. 

It’s now time to make my return, run my race, come through the chute and no matter what the clock on Boylston Street says, know that I gave absolutely everything I had in pursuit of a near perfect effort.

I am going to collect my medal, my heat sheet, my banana, water, bagel, Gatorade and dry bag.  I will take off my race flats, put on my compression gear from 110%, a warm top, a ball cap and my Boston Marathon Finisher’s jacket.

I will collect my wife and daughter, hug them tight, cry a few tears of joy or disappointment and start the process of saying goodbye to the marathon for a while.

There will be days that I’m sure I will miss it.  There will also be rainy Sunday’s when I roll back over in bed with the sound of rain hitting the windows outside the bedroom and I’ll smile.  Knowing that I only have a dozen or so miles to run that morning instead of 20 or 22. 

They can wait until after breakfast that week while somebody else is out there training for their chance to run Boston.

I hope that they get as much out of the experience as I have since running my first qualifying time in Pittsburgh on May 2, 2009.  The journey to the starting line of the 116th Boston Marathon has not been easy.  There have been ups, downs, injuries, great races and crushing disappointments, but truth be told, I wouldn’t change a single thing.

On to Boston.

On Friday as I was arriving in Virginia Beach for our final tune-up race before Boston I got a text message from a friend telling me that Boston Marathon Bib Numbers and Corral assignments were up on the Boston Athletic Association website.

With the exception of elite athletes who are “seeded” by their bib numbers at major races, where the “favored athletes” or those most likely to win the race are given the lowest numbers – a bib number to the rest of us is usually just a function of how early we registered for a race.

The lowest numbers go to the “early-birds”, while the higher numbers go to those runners who register later in the process.

Boston is a bit different however as for the runners who have “qualified” for the race – everyone is seeded.  The fastest runners down to the very second in their qualifying races are given a lower number than the runner just behind them.

Runners are then separated further into groups of 1,000 into one of the nine starting corrals for each of the three starting waves.

Wave 1 will accommodate runners with bib numbers 1 – 8,999 or the first 8,999 athletes.

Wave 2 will accommodate runners with bib numbers 9,000 – 17,999.

Wave 3 will hold the balance of the athletes from 18,000 and above – including the charity entries with the lowest bib numbers.

The first wave will go off at 10:00 a.m. EDT, the second wave at 10:20 a.m. EDT and the final wave at 10:40 a.m. EDT.

All of this is done with great care to enhance the race experience for all of the athletes in the event.  The thought being that each runner will be paired with runners around them of similar abilities and pace strategies.  This will make the trip from Hopkinton, MA to Boston along a relatively tight course easy to maneuver for more than 26,000 runners.

This year our qualifying time at the New York City Marathon of 3:08:09 earned us bib# 5280.  Wave 1, Corral 6.

A perfect spot.  With a goal time under our qualifying time, we will be in the corral with runners who have finished a marathon between approximately 7:08 and 7:14 pace.  This will play to our advantage if the majority of the group around me does not go out too fast as I am hoping to run the first two miles of the race right about 7:00 min./mile.  Gradually increasing our effort to fall into goal pace of 6:52 by mile 4.

As I have said before, Boston can be a cruel race.  The opening 15-16 miles of the race is decidedly downhill.  You couple the topography with the added adrenaline at the start of one of the largest and most prestigious road races in the world, and it is very, very easy to get sucked in to a pace that is too fast, too soon.

Disaster in the marathon.

One of the things that I found most interesting looking back on our three half-marathons over the course of this training cycle is that the slower I started, the bettter I finished.

Opening Miles vs. Half Marathon Results 2012

The longer the race, the greater the penalty for starting too fast.  In a 5K or 10K a runner can tough out the final mile or mile and a half and “hang on” to the finish.

In the half-marathon this gets far more difficult after mile 8 or 9 leaving more than 4 miles to go to the finish.  A :15 or :20 slow down can mean as much as 1:30 added to your race time.

In the marathon, this can start as early as mile 15 or 16, with 10 grueling miles to go, including the final 10 kilometers where the athletes body is already depleted of those precious glycogen stores and is now resorting to burning fat as fuel which is much less efficient.

Now a slow-down that might be :20 or :30 a mile could be as much as 1:00 to 1:30 each mile.  Adding 10-15 minutes onto your race time.

When I talk about my goal of negative splitting Boston, or running the second 13.1 miles faster than the first I get quizzical looks from many of my friends – runners and non-runners alike.

How can you plan to do that with all of those tough hills in the second half of the race?

The reality is the “tough hills” in Boston are the down hills over the opening 15-16 miles of the race, not the 4 climbs from miles 17-21.

Running 15 downhill miles will take far more out of a runner than 3 miles or so of uphills.

Running in control and clicking off marathon pace miles at or just above 6:52 pace will mean that I am actually running 7:00 to 7:05 “EFFORT” over the opening half of the race.  Problems will arise if I am running 6:52 “EFFORT” at the start of the race, translating to something closer to 6:40 pace over the first half.

You would think that you are “banking time”, allowing for a larger fade over the course of the final miles of the race, but what you are really doing is robbing yourself of any chance to dig deep and hold pace late.

We are going to try to thread the needle in Boston this April with a 1:30:30 first half and a 1:29:29 second half.

If the hills in Newton rob us of our strength to close out the race strong – we should still have enough left in the tank to ward off a huge late fade and finish with a strong race and a new PR in the marathon at Boston.

But if we get it right, and all of the hill work, racing and high mileage has done its job, maybe, just maybe we can pull this off and come through that chute with our “A” goal of 2:59:59 or better.

A 1:23:46 half-marathon translates roughly to a 2:58:00 marathon.  Add a couple of minutes for the course in Boston and we are right in that 3:00:00-3:01:00 range from a capability standpoint.

Right now it’s up to health and the weather.  I’ve got to work a little soreness out of the top of this foot and hope that the race day weather Gods are kind to us in April.

What started out 18 weeks ago as a journey with many, many variables is now down to only two.  One of which I can control by being smart and patient with this sore foot, the other I really can’t do much about at all.

In 2010 we ran out of corral 8 with bib number 7929 affixed to our shorts.

Two years later we are 2,649 athletes closer to the starting line in corrral 6.

Two years older, two years wiser and with any luck, we’re about to finally get this race exactly right.

Hard to believe that we have made it to this point.  The race before “THE RACE” as it were.  The Anthem Shamrock Half-Marathon this Sunday in Virginia Beach.

It’s not often that I would travel more than 1,500 miles just to run a half-marathon, but this training cycle for Boston was put together with a lot of thought and planning.

Four weeks before Boston I wanted to run a half-marathon that would simulate my Boston “race weekend” as close as possible to complete the process of dialing in for perhaps the greatest road race in the world.

I wanted to travel, go to a large expo, manage a case of the pre-race jitters, line up in a huge event, stand shoulder to shoulder with talented runners and go blow for blow with them mile after mile.

Even our race shoes for Boston will be taking their maiden voyage on the streets of Virginia Beach.  Getting broken in for race day in Boston.

The Texas Half in January was a great event and a solid test of my training to that point on a windy, winding course in Dallas, TX.

The Livestrong Austin Half-Marathon was an even better test, tackling a hilly monster of a course and coming within :01 seconds/mile of setting a new PR at the distance executing a near-perfect race.

But to say that there was very little “race day pressure” at either event would be an accurate statement.

The race in Dallas was a smaller event, coming off of a high-mileage training week where I did not have huge expectations for a fast race.  Then on race day we received freezing temperatures and winds gusting between 20 and 25 mph off of White Rock Lake – it turned into a tough event, but one where the experience of it was far more important than any personal achievement would dictate.

Start of The Texas Half

 

Any Age Group award is a great achievement, no matter the situation – but I felt at the time that I ran a very “average” race – which was good to get out of the system as we continued to march toward Boston.

The Livestrong event here in Austin was a much larger race, with a much tougher field of athletes, but I enjoyed a lot of the comforts of a hometown race that I will not be able to lean on at Boston.

I cooked my own pre-race dinner.

I slept in my own bed.

I patted our dog on her head as I drove to the race start in my own vehicle, parking less than 1 block from the finish line.

I ran through familiar streets on a race course I had navigated 11 miles of just one year prior at last year’s Austin Marathon.  I was never out of my comfort zone and I raced well, finishing in 1:24:07 and taking 3rd place in my Age Group.

My final mile was the fastest of the day in 6:06.  I ran a near-perfect event.

But the Shamrock Half-Marathon is going to be the closest “simulation” to what I will experience at Boston from the time I arrive until the time I cross the finish line on the Virginia Beach Boardwalk.

I will arrive on Friday, make my way over to the expo and pick up Bib # 5157.

I will seek out a quality dinner on Saturday night that will fuel me well for the next morning’s race, and with thoughts of mile splits and race course twists and turns playing over and over in my head I will try to get a good night’s sleep in a strange bed.

On race morning I will wake early, obsess over the right race gear, make my way to the start area and find my place among 10,000 runners. 

At Boston that number will be more like 25,000.

Although I have looked over the course map, with the exception of the finish to the race which I will cover on my 2-mile shakeout on Saturday morning, I will race down streets and terrain that I have never seen before.

I will navigate water stops and aid stations jostling with other runners for position and in the end, try to negative split the course and run a faster second half than first.

I will thunder to the finish line, hoping for a fast time, one that will be our final indicator as to our capabilities at Boston.

If the weather is “neutral”, neither helping nor hurting our finish time, we will double it, add 12 to 13 minutes and that will be our goal time for Boston.

A time of 1:23:30 places us right at our goal of 2:59:59 for April 16th.

A time of 1:24:30 and we are more than likely on the outside looking in at a 3 hour marathon by a minute or two.

A time of 1:25:30 and well, we will be disappointed to say the least.

The Shamrock Half is a flat course – there is no question about that.  The elevation chart shows a very gradual ascent to the half-way point, less than 20 feet net total and a return South down to the finish line.

Shamrock Half Marathon Course

We will do less climbing in Virginia Beach over the entire half-marathon than we did just going up the hill on S. Congress Avenue on mile 3 in Austin.

Oddly, the flat course does not play to our strength as a runner.  We have spent the last 6 months running hills, hills and more hills.  We have been preparing for the downhill start of the Boston Marathon from Hopkinton to Newton and then the climb up and over the 4 Newton Hills to the top of Heartbreak Hill – all so that we can come off of mile 21 at Boston and race the final 5 miles to Boyleston Street.

That is what this training period has been about.  Not building static speed for the flats.  But for becoming a strong hill runner – both up and down – so that the climbs and descents become our allies on race day.

It will be interesting to see just how well we handle the flat course in Virginia, and whether our strength and endurance training is enough to hang with some of the speedsters that we will be battling with out East.

Virginia Beach is home to some tremendous runners.  It is a city much like Austin with a strong running community.  This is one of the signature events of the year.  Competition will be fierce.

Just like Boston.

Time to Sham ROCK this thing.

Lookout Va. Beach – we’re not traveling all the way out there to mail this one in.

Sunday morning.  Boom goes the dynamite.

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.