Posts Tagged ‘Decker Challenge Half Marathon’

I received a request last week from a runner friend of mine Nicholas to write a post about “racing hills”, as he made a comment about how he couldn’t remember anyone racing hills as strong as I had been lately.

It made me stop to think about the last 8 months, ever since the scene of my biggest running disappointment to date, the 2010 Boston Marathon.  Like many runners, “running Boston” became my primary focus as I began training seriously for the Pittsburgh Marathon in 2009.

In hindsight what I was really training for was not so much “running Boston” as I was “qualifying for Boston”.  Over the course of 2009 my workouts were built around endurance and stamina.  I knew that I needed to run more miles and be able to run them at a pace somewhere around 7:35 min./mile pace to make my qualifying time of 3:20:59 at Pittsburgh.

My training for Pittsburgh in 2009 did not include any speed work and very little in the way of true hill work.  It was all about running more and more mileage so that my pace would hold up over the 26.2 mile Pittsburgh course.

Mission accomplished as I ran a great race in May of 2009, finishing with my Marathon PR of 3:17:43 and my first of what I hope will be many Boston times.  As I began training for Boston in 2010 I thought that my previous training plan would suffice.  I would mix in a few more hills along the way, but again, no real focus on speed or hill repeats – just more of the same.

A friend of mine once told me:

“If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll only get what you’ve already got.”

Never had those words been truer than my inaugural journey at the Boston Marathon.

I could make excuses all day long about my shin splint issues that delayed my Boston training last year. 

I could cite the fact that I could not truly “train” as I had in the past as I was forced to reduce my running to just 4 days a week preparing for Boston, rather than my usual 5 days as I was trying to be very careful to avoid reinjury.

I could talk about the fact that with another marathon for Dom just 13 days later, I wanted to be a bit more conservative at Boston.  Or even the fact that I only ran two 20-mile training runs instead of the four that I will run this year preparing for Austin.

Some of those excuses might even have some shred of legitimacy.

But if nothing else here at Run for Dom, we tell it the way it is.  The good, the bad and the ugly.

I was woefully unprepared for Boston in 2010.

I was not a tough enough runner to survive the hills from Hopkinton to Boston let alone “thrive” on them.

I needed to reinvent myself as a marathoner if I was to get back to Boston and run a different race the next time.

After Pittsburgh I sat down and sketched out what I believed would make me a better runner over the summer months.  How I would get faster, stronger and especially tougher.

Speed work and Hill Repeats were going to be the two workouts that I was going to not only embrace, but make as the two cornerstones of my training plan.  I was going to become a “hill runner”.  I was going to become the type of runner that when others slowed at the base of a hill and prepared to get beaten up, I would look at the hill as an opportunity to gain on my competitors.

While others looked forward to the “downs”, I would be looking for the “ups”.  I wanted to run them and especially race them with purpose, determination and focus.

Opening miles at the Decker Challenge

 I might not be able to get too much faster at 43 years old, but I knew that I could become a more strategic runner, a more focused runner, a runner with better form and especially a runner who could “out-heart” other runners of similar abilities.

The training aspect has been covered in previous posts about Tempo Runs and Hill Repeats (click the links to reference previous posts).  But as far as the question I received from Nicholas, what tips do I have about “racing the hills” – here goes.

For me, and I have to stress that as an honest disclaimer, as all of us are very, very different in our running technique, strengths and weaknesses, there are four areas that I feel have helped me begin to thrive on hilly race courses over the past year.

  1. Confidence.
  2. Technique.
  3. Strength.
  4. Determination.

Confidence:

Having the confidence to attack an individual hill or a hilly race was at first born from my hill repeat training and then further underscored by success on race day.  Running hill repeats every Thursday morning this summer and tracking my results workout by workout provided me with a great deal of confidence.

I prepared a spreadsheet each week and tracked each individual hill repeat week after week after week.

After 10 weeks, I could look back on any individual repeat from my workouts to see just how much faster on the hills I was getting.

Repeats that were taking me 1:48 seconds a month earlier were now taking me just 1:41.  My repeats were becoming more consistent, with smaller variances between repeat number 1 and repeat number 10.  I was improving, and the numbers backed it up.

Hill Repeat Progress Prior to Marathon Training

But interestingly it was during the third Summer Sunstroke 5K race that I participated in July when I realized just how much stronger I had gotten on the hills.

During the first two 5K’s over the same course as part of the series I finished behind a runner friend of mine Bill S.  I had no answer for Bill over the closing mile of the race as the course ran straight up to the top of the dam at Brushy Creek Trail.  Each time Bill would pull away from me and finish :15-:20 seconds ahead of me taking 1st place in the Male Masters Division.

The third time was the charm for me however as after close to two months of hill repeats, I felt like I could make my move on Bill over the final mile.

Just like the first two races, I was about :15 seconds behind Bill as we made the turn at the half-way point.  I took a sip of water at the turn and pushed a bit harder closing to within :10 seconds as we reached the bottom of the hill.

It was time to go.  I was either going to pass Bill on the hill and pull away for a win, or I was going to blow up trying.  Either way I was going to find something out about myself and my training.  I pulled even with Bill at the ½ way point of the hill and gave him a quick nod.

As I pulled alongside I pushed even harder and harder.  I focused on my form, landing on the ball of my foot and pushing hard off of my toes.  Much like I would do if I were racing on flat ground at the end of a 5K race.

At the top of the dam I glanced quickly over my shoulder and Bill was close to :15 seconds behind me.  Now on flat ground I was able to put the hammer down over the final .50 miles of the race, while Bill was still working to get to the top.

I built such a large lead that Bill never bothered to try to chase me down.

That race was the first time that I realized that even though Bill was a “faster runner” than I was, the advantage that I had on the hills was a great equalizer.  It was in fact a weapon.

Not only is the confidence that comes from running hills as part of your training a key element to racing hills fast under race conditions – but it provides a great sense of confidence over other portions of the course. 

You know as a runner that while other runners will be slowing, you will be gaining.  They will be getting “weaker” while you are able to hold steady or perhaps grow stronger.  It relaxes you, which in turn slows your heart rate and allows you to run efficiently.  It is all connected.

Confidence on race day is a powerful, powerful thing.

Technique:

Developing form or improving your running technique while you are racing hills is something again where practice makes perfect.

During my hill repeats each Thursday I make a conscious effort to really focus on my running form during each and every 1:45 journey to the top of the hill.

I work on landing on the mid-foot/ball of my foot on each stride and feeling my toes as the last part of my foot to leave the road on every stride.

I focus on driving my arm swing straight forward and up, not wasting any energy swinging my arms away from my body or side to side.

I make sure that I keep my shoulders relaxed and “away from my ears”.

I practice keeping my hands loose and not clinched tight.

Loose = Smooth.

Smooth = Fast.

On race day, these behaviors are all “automatic”.  I don’t have to really think about it, relying on muscle memory from repeat after repeat, climb after climb.

One of the things I noticed as I was racing at Decker on December 12th was that as I was pacing with another half-marathoner up the large hills at mile 8 and 10, the runner to my left would bump into me every dozen strides or so.

I had picked a solid straight line to run that bordered the shoulder of the road to run the hill as tangentially as possible, hoping to cut the shortest route to the top.  My running partner however was losing form on the hill as his legs started to waver to hold pace forcing him to bob left and right with each stride.

Looking back at the still photos from the race below – you can see the difference in body control and effort while climbing.  Conditioning plays a role in racing hills, there is no doubt about that.   But technique and running form plays a large role as well.

Pacing with Running Partner at Mile 8

A final tip when racing hills is to fight the urge to back off of your effort when you reach the top.  It is important to push through the end of the hill and keep your leg turnover or running cadence at the same effort.  This allows you to fall back onto your race pace in as few strides as possible.

Allowing yourself to become distracted and “celebrate” reaching the top of a hill will cost you valuable seconds at the apex of the climb.  If slowing at the top of the hill only costs you :05 seconds, at a race like Decker with 12 climbs, you are sacrificing one full minute off of your race time just by easing off of the gas for a dozen strides at the top of each hill.

In a sport where PR’s and Qualifying times are narrowly missed as often as they are achieved, these are valuable seconds to “give away” by allowing your mind and your pace to wander.  I have been practicing “kicking hard” for 20 strides at the top of each hill while racing, 10 strides per leg.  This allows me to fall back into my race pace and not give any time back to the clock.

Strength:

One of the byproducts from hill repeat training is increased strength in your quadriceps and your calves.  In a sense running hill repeats is akin to resistance training.  You are able to train at the same speed you would on flat terrain, but increase the “difficulty level” by adding the elevation changes.

This allows the workout to become much “harder” without increasing the intensity or the pounding that your legs are taking.  You can push hard without increasing your injury risk, and managing your weekly mileage.

The byproduct of this added strength shows up on each hill that you attack on the race course.

It helps you realize that it is o.k. to push hard up the hill, as you will have more than enough strength to reach the top, recover and push forward back at your target or goal pace.

This strength really comes to the fore when you find yourself passing runners late in a race.  You are under stress just like everyone else, and your body is struggling to hold your pace just like your competitors, but I have found during the later stages of the hillier races I have run like The Run for the Water or The Decker Challenge, that I was the runner “passing” over the final miles, not being passed.

Determination:

The final piece to the puzzle for me has been a new-found level of determination.  As I approach the base of a hill on a race course that I have put in all of the hard work necessary to rise to the occasion.

I have prepared myself physically from my training.  I have developed strong form that will hold up while I am fatigued.  I am strong enough to race the hill and recover after reaching the top so I can climb again.

Final push at Decker Challenge Half-Marathon

The only thing left is to simply “Do It”.  You have to want it, as hills are hard work.  You have to trust in your training and let it all hang out.  You have to be brave enough to take a chance that the hill might very well bite back.

But if you’ve put in the training time and have worked hard to be ready, why not go for it?  Why hold back?  It is a matter of believing in yourself and pushing yourself close to the edge, not thinking that you can make it, but knowing that you will.

When it comes to racing hills, that can make all the difference in the world.

Sunday morning. Decker Challenge.

I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t get a whole lot of sleep on Saturday night.

This particular race had been circled on my calendar ever since I signed up for this year’s Austin Distance Challenge. The course features a lot of monster hills, 845 feet of climbing over the 13.1 mile distance.  Coupled with a very “open” route over rural terrain around Decker Lake, the winds blow hard with very little to get in their way.

It’s a tough race.  One that would require a lot of strength, power and stamina to hold pace over the rolling course, but also a lot of mental toughness as well.

To race well at Decker, I knew I would have to trust that my training was sufficient enough to allow me to expend energy on the climbs, knowing I would be able to recover and climb again the next time the course required it.

Locking in to a race goal was very challenging at Decker as holding a consistent pace mile after mile is simply not very realistic.  North winds blowing 12-15 mph in the face of runners over miles 2-5, 10-13.1 sap energy and slow leg turnover.

Large hills at miles 4,6,8,10,11 and 13 also contribute to an uneven cadence.  I decided that I would try to settle into a “comfortably hard” pace over the first half of the course, push harder up through “Quadzilla” at mile 10 and then try to push even harder over the final 5K.

Far from an exact “pace goal” which I try to arrive at for each mile of a race.  I was going to run by feel and try not to leave anything on the course.

Pre-Race:

I woke up 3 hours before the 8:00 a.m. gun time to eat a bagel and banana, drink a Gatorade and decide once and for all what gear I would be racing in.  The weather forecast was calling for 41 degrees at the start, heading up to 45 by 9:00 a.m. when I would hopefully be 9+miles into the race.

Normally shorts weather, I was concerned about the wind chill effect around Decker Lake and opted for my running tights, an Under Armour long-sleeved shirt, Moeben arm sleeves, my medium weight gloves and a headband to keep my ears warm.

The “new addition” to my arsenal were my new Brooks ST4 Racers.  An early Christmas present from my Mother and Father-In Law, I was anxious to try them out over the half-marathon distance.  About 4 ounces lighter than my Asics Traners, that could mean as much as :04 seconds/mile in added speed.

Brooks ST4 Racers

That may not sound like a lot, but :04 seconds/mile over 13 miles, and we’re closing in on a full minute of race time.  When it comes to Decker, I was looking for every advantage I could find.

I left the house at 6:00 a.m. and drove out to the Travis County Expo Center.  Open to the runners, it was great to head inside, grab a spot on the floor to stretch and take advantage of the indoor restrooms and bag drop.  I ran into my friend Tom and his Daughter who would be volunteering at the mile 8 Water Stop.

It was great to visit with Tom who is running the Austin Marathon in February.  We would see him again on the course.

After a half hour of stretching and relaxing it was time to head outside and get used to the weather.  I ran a quick warm-up of 1/2 a mile, went back inside to warm up one more time and then headed over to the race start at 7:53 a.m.

After a tremendous live rendition of the Star Spangled Banner, I tucked in my ear buds, kicked off my iPod and got ready to rock.  I glanced down at the initials on my shoes, gave a quick glance skyward to let Dom know I was going to be needing him a little later on and tucked in behind a couple of taller runners.

Time to go to work.

Miles 1-4:

The opening stretch of the race took runners out of the Exposition Center grounds and out onto Decker Lake Road.  I was trying to find my rhythm, but began struggling immediately.  I felt like I could run either 6:15 pace or 6:45 pace, but couldn’t lock on to anything in between.

It took me the better part of a mile to settle in and at the first mile marker I had posted an opening mile at 6:24 pace.

A bit too fast as I was hoping to open with a stretch of miles around 6:35, but I was glad to have finally found my groove.

Miles 2-4 head straight up Decker Lane until the turnoff at Lindell Lane.  The wind was absolutely howling over this stretch.  I found a runner that was running a similar pace to mine and asked if he’d like to “work together”.  We took turns drafting off of each other over the next three miles.

Each 1/2 mile one of us would leapfrog the other and break the wind allowing the other runner to “rest” just a bit.  I could really feel the difference when it was my turn to lead. the wind was blowing hard.

It would blow harder.

Mile splits came in at: 6:24, 6:46, 6:38, 6:39.

Miles 5-8:

As we turned right onto Lindell Lane it was time to start to pick things up a bit.  I dropped my “drafting partner” and pushed forward just a hair.  I knew there was some pretty tough climbing coming up soon and didn’t want to go too hard too early.

I was feeling smoother and my legs seemed to have a lot of snap to them after resting on Thursday and Friday.  At the half-way point volunteers had placed a clock at the timing mat.

I ran the first half in 43:05 (6:35 pace), right about where my stretch goal of breaking 1:27:00 needed me to be.  There was a LONG way to go at this point with the largest climbs remaining, but it looked like a new PR and a sub 1:30:00 Half-marathon was well within my grasp.

As we made the turn off of Lindell Lane we faced the climb up to the top of the 130 frontage road hill.  It was long and seemed to stretch on forever.  I pulled alongside a runner who was falling back and tapped him on the hip as I was pulling even.  I nodded to him and said, “let’s go” and he fell in right alongside of me.

It was great having a fellow runner to match strides with and we paced each other right up to the top.  As we made the turn onto FM 973 – I pulled into the mile 8 water stop for a quick hit of Gatorade.  I saw Tom there and tossed my gloves to him asking if he would take care of them for me.

The air temperature was rising as was my internal body temperature.  Another 5 miles with my gloves felt like it would be just a bit too warm.  After I dropped my gloves I immediately felt my body temperature cool as my hands were out in the brisk winter air. 

Good call I thought, I was starting to feel the course take a little bite out of me.  But we were still running strong.

Splits for miles 5-8 were: 6:39, 6:33, 6:22, 6:21

Miles 9-12:

I stayed right alongside my new running friend over mile 9 and 10.  We got our first look at “Quadzilla” from the ridge at mile 9.  The climb that lay ahead over mile 10 was by far the steepest on the course. We had also turned gently into a cross wind.  It wasn’t directly in our face, as that would occur when we made the final right turn onto Decker Lake Road at the top of the hill.

But the wind certainly wasn’t helping either.  Things were getting tough for sure, but I noticed that the runners around me were starting to struggle just a bit.  Form was falling off, legs were grinding slower.

I was gaining.

At the top of mile 10 I made the turn and gave a little wave to my partner.  He made it to the top and it was time for each of us to decide how we wanted to run the final 5K. With a quick nod we parted ways and I started pushing.

Miles 11 and 12 were right into the teeth of the wind.  I was working harder and harder, but the combination of the uphill stretch and the stiff wind had me slowing.  I could feel my pace slipping, but I was not losing any spots to any other runners.  In fact there was a runner up ahead that I had been following for close to 11 miles, hanging about :30 seconds behind.

A little voice inside my head whispered, “go get him”.

I closed the gap over the next 2/10 of a mile and when we hit the mile 12 sign we were running stride for stride.

Mile splits came in at: 6:36, 6:42, 6:48, 6:58

The Finish:

The last mile featured what else but a final climb up Decker lane and then back uphill through the Exposition Center parking lot.

I kept searching for another gear, but the conditions were not showing me any “dividends” from my extra effort.  I decided that I would wait until the final 1/4 mile to go into whatever kick I would have left.  It should allow me to hold onto my track position and have a shot at a sub 1:27:00.

I looked down at my GPS and saw that I was still in the 1:25’s at this point.  I had a real shot at this I thought.

1/4 mile to go.  You can do anything for 1/4 mile.

I hit the final turn and headed for the finishers chute.  I did not know it, but Dawn and Landry had made it to the race in time to see me finish.  Dawn was able to snap the picture below as I made the final push to the finish.

Final Push - Decker Half Marathon

As I hit the finish line I looked at the race clock overhead.

1:26:45

In my second ever half-marathon I had set a new PR by more than 5 minutes at the Decker Challenge.

My time was good for 26th place overall, 4th place in my age group, finishing just :01 second away from an Age Group Award.

Did I have another second in me?  Sure.  Any corner that I took a little tighter, a quicker start, if I started my kick two strides earlier all would have made the difference.

At the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter.  I ran a great, great race.

1st half – 43:05

2nd half – 43:39

Not a negative split, but I improved from the 32nd best time over the first half of the race to the 24th fastest time over the second half.  We were getting it done out there and it felt great to run a “best ever” time for Dom.

Three races, three PR’s since the Austin Distance Challenge began.  With two races to go I feel like I am living up to the promise I made in that finisher’s area at the Pittsburgh Marathon.Next time Dom, if you could, having the wind at my back at the end of the race would be my preference. 

You know, if you’re not too busy up there.  I miss you my brother, you would have loved it out there today.

So as I disclosed last week, little Landry and I are spending all of the weekdays between now and the end of the year together as Dawn has returned to work. 

Monday through Friday, 7:00 a.m. or so through 6:00 p.m. is Dad and Daughter time.

About the only time I’m without her during the week is when I am on my training runs, sometime around 5:15 or 5:30 a.m.  The rest of the day is full of diaper changes, feedings, trying to predict feedings, trying to make sure that the bottle is ready to go and getting little Landry down for a nap or two.

Now, I’m the first to admit that I knew heading into this 5-week period with Land that I was going to learn a whole lot about being a Dad. 

To me being a Dad is a whole lot different from being a Father. 

Fatherhood arrived on August 29th at 9:51 a.m.  That was the easy part.  For me anyway.  I think Dawn would probably disagree.

The Dad part is still a work in progress, but I’m learning all the time.  I have a wonderful little teacher and she is got me right where she wants me.

Dad and I are having a blast!

The lesson I learned this week is that when she is fussing and struggling to take her bottle, wishing I’m sure that Mom was here to nurse her, that patience and a calm, soothing voice go a long way to helping her settle down.

But when times are toughest, it helps to borrow from the Boss.

We tried Nursery Rhymes, Lullabies, just about everything.  But when I sing one of my all-time favorite Springsteen songs to Landry quietly, all is right in the world.

The screen door slams
Marys dress sways
Like a vision she dances across the porch
As the radio plays
Roy Orbison singing for the lonely
Hey that’s me and I want you only
Don’t turn me home again
I just can’t face myself alone again
Don’t run back inside
Darling you know just what I’m here for
So you’re scared and you’re thinking
That maybe we aint that young anymore
Show a little faith, there’s magic in the night
You aint a beauty, but hey you’re alright
Oh and that’s alright with me

You can hide `neath your covers
And study your pain
Make crosses from your lovers
Throw roses in the rain
Waste your summer praying in vain
For a savior to rise from these streets
Well now I’m no hero
That’s understood
All the redemption I can offer, girl
Is beneath this dirty hood
With a chance to make it good somehow
Hey what else can we do now?
Except roll down the window
And let the wind blow
Back your hair
Well the nights busting open
These two lanes will take us anywhere
We got one last chance to make it real
To trade in these wings on some wheels
Climb in back
Heavens waiting on down the tracks
Oh-oh come take my hand
Riding out tonight to case the promised land
Oh-oh thunder road, oh thunder road oh thunder road
Lying out there like a killer in the sun
Hey I know it’s late we can make it if we run
Oh thunder road, sit tight take hold
Thunder road

Well I got this guitar
And I learned how to make it talk
And my cars out back
If you’re ready to take that long walk
From your front porch to my front seat
The doors open but the ride it aint free
And I know you’re lonely
For words that I aint spoken
But tonight well be free
All the promises’ll be broken
There were ghosts in the eyes
Of all the boys you sent away
They haunt this dusty beach road
In the skeleton frames of burned out Chevrolets

They scream your name at night in the street
Your graduation gown lies in rags at their feet
And in the lonely cool before dawn
You hear their engines roaring on
But when you get to the porch they’re gone
On the wind, so mary climb in
It’s a town full of losers
And I’m pulling out of here to win.

I’m sure that the years ahead are going to be full of surprises.  But it is great to know that a little part of me made it through to Land.  She might be a Native Texan, but down deep – she’s a Jersey Girl.

Maybe I’ll try that song out on her next week.

Three days to race day and we’re getting locked in.  Make sure to check back this weekend. 

Sunday is going to be a Go Big or Go Home kind of race.

So Decker is a hilly half-marathon course? 

Looks like Thunder Road to me.

Normally I don’t pay much attention to the name of the race I’m entered in.

Uptown Classic, Turkey Trot, Marathon, Half Marathon, Bridge Run they’re all pretty much the same right?

But when a race has a name like The Decker Challenge, it might be wise to pay attention.  The next stop on the Austin Distance Challenge for me is the half-marathon at Decker.  A week from Sunday, 8:00 a.m. at the Travis County Expo Center around Decker Lake.

13.1 miles is no short distance to race.  With the exception of the marathon, the half-marathon is pretty much “it” when it comes to middle-distance/long distance racing.  You may find an occasional 30K or 20-mile road race, but they are few and far between.  For many runners, running “the half” is as far as they can imagine going as let’s face it, the marathon is not for everyone.

With a 17-mile run in the books last Sunday and an 18-miler on the schedule for this Sunday, I must be able to go out there and crush that half-marathon right?

Wrong.

You see there is a big difference between running and racing

A training run like last weekend’s 17-miler was run at 7:08 min./mile pace.  That may seem fast, but “fast” for me these days is running somewhere down  in the 6:30-6:40 min./mile for runs of 12-15 miles.

It takes a lot of effort to hold a pace like that for close to an hour and a half. 

Challenging?  You bet.

But that is not what has me most uneasy about our race next weekend.  It is the course at Decker that changes the event from the Decker Half-Marathon to the Decker Challenge.

The Decker Challenge is one of the longest running and most well-respected races in Austin.  A windy course with historically poor December weather on the lake, can make Decker a tough race.  But it is the hills that put the “challenge” in the Decker Challenge.

Decker Challenge Elevation Chart

The way I like to put an elevation chart into perspective is to equate each 10 feet of climbing with a story in an office building.  The 849 foot climb at Decker is roughly the same as running up the height of an 85 story skyscraper, while covering 13.1 miles. 

Now that’s a challenge.

Another rule of thumb I go by is that if a hill has a “name”, it must be a pretty tough hill.

Hurricane Point – Big Sur Marathon

Gallows Lane – Litchfield Hills Road Race

Cardiac Hill – Peachtree Road Race

Doomsday Hill – Spokane, Washington

Heartbreak Hill – Boston Marathon

I could tell you a story about that last one.

“The” Hill at Decker appears to be the hill at mile 10, nicknamed, “Quadzilla”.

Coming so late in the race, with 5 more kilometers to go, it will be important to manage my pacing just right to run a great time on such a challenging course.

One of the reasons I decided to continue with my Hill Repeat Training throughout training for the Austin Marathon was due to this race as well as the Austin course itself. 

Most marathon training programs that include any kind of hill work recommend a reduction in the frequency.  Perhaps once every three weeks or so.

For me, it seemed that as long as I could still hit the repeats hard each Thursday and see improvement, it made sense to continue with that workout each Thursday morning.  When I get to my 20-mile and 21-mile long runs, I will back off the repeats that week to get ready for those key workouts.

After the initial 10 weeks of hill repeats this summer, I thought that I was really crushing the hills.  Getting stronger and stronger as the number of repeats reached 10X per week, and my speed up the hill increased.

What I’ve seen over the past four weeks however has me even more encouraged.  I continue to drop my average repeat times and am now knocking on the door of a sub 1:40 .30 mile repeat up a climb of 65 feet.

Hill Repeat Progress

I plan on passing on my hill repeats this Thursday as the Decker Challenge approaches, giving me fresh climbing legs for Sunday.

To further prepare I plan on driving out to the course this weekend to log a few miles.  I want to be able to visualize the hills and really “know” just how steep the climbs will be.  No surprises on race day.

Once Decker is in the books, just two races will remain.  The 3M Half-Marathon on January 30th and the Austin Marathon on February 20th. 

3M could not be more different from Decker, as it features a fast, downhill course.  That is a race where we will be looking to really make some noise.  Perhaps we can even make a run at a time of 1:25:00.

The goal for Decker?  Anything under 1:30:00 on that course would be a time to be proud of.  I’m not sure that the stars will align for us to run quite that fast.  The winds and weather that day will surely play a role.

As for the hills?  There is not much more we could be doing right now to get ready.

Afterall, It’s just a hill.  Get over it.

Sunday’s 14-mile long run at 7:08 pace wrapped up a great third week of training for Austin and took us one step closer to race day on February 20, 2011.  Monday’s training called for 16 miles on the tri-bike in the morning, followed by strength training in the afternoon.

This is the part of marathon training that seems to drag for me just a bit.  Still four weeks away from the first “real” long run of 17 miles on December 5th, I find myself looking ahead at this point toward what is coming next instead of looking behind me at all of the great training that is already in the books.

As much as my training schedule looks familiar stuck to the refrigerator door when compared to past training cycles, there are quite a few differences this go round.  There are more tempo runs sprinkled throughout the calendar when my legs are fresh and I am not in need of a recovery run.  Hill Repeats are featured on Thursdays in seven of the next fifteen weeks, replaced by pace runs on weeks where we are running 20 or 21 miles on Sunday as well as the final three weeks of the taper period.

But the real difference is the three race days that are on the schedule:

Thursday – November 25:  Hopewell, PA Turkey Trot 5K

Sunday – December 12:  Decker Challenge Half-Marathon

Sunday – January 30:  3M Half Marathon

The Thanksgiving Day 5K race in Hopewell, PA is the inaugural running of the event.  The race will start and end on the very football field where one Dominic V. D’Eramo, jr. did battle for the Hopewell Vikings.

Dom #13 Bottom Left

This was a race that will be pretty special for a lot of reasons on Thanksgiving morning.  Even though I will have to run home from the race back to my Mother and Father-in-Laws house, and probably throw in an extra couple of miles along the way to reach my 10-miles for the day, it will be well worth it.

For those of you in the Pittsburgh Area, I will be writing a feature about the race in a week or so with all of the registration details.  The race will benefit the Humane Society, so if you are looking to race, walk or simply meet-up with the Run for Dom crowd, we’ll be back together at the event for the first time since the Pittsburgh Marathon in May.

The remaining two races on the schedule are the next two events in the Austin Distance Challenge.

The Distance Challenge is something that I decided to participate basically “last minute”, but I am getting happier and happier about my decision as the weeks move on.  Racing is something that is going to help me really zero in on my pace for the Austin Marathon. 

The two half-marathons that remain are very, very different.  The Decker Challenge, one of the oldest races in Austin, features a traditionally very windy and extremely hilly up and down course around Decker Lake.  The 3M half-marathon is known as one of the fastest half-marathons in Texas due to its downhill course starting in North Austin and finishing a point to point route just past the University of Texas.

By the time those two races are in the books, I will have completed my three 20+ mile training runs and started my marathon taper.  I should be able to look back on the Distance Challenge and our performance at the 10K, 10-Mile, Half-Marathon (2) races and zero in on exactly the pace and race we are capable of for the Austin Marathon, barring any adjustments for health and weather.

As of the second update to the Austin Distance Challenge Standings we are currently in 10th place overall among all male runners:

As for the competitive 40-44 Male Age Group we are firmly in third place.  Still chasing a couple of runners ahead of us and fending off a challenge from the fourth place runner:

Male 40-44 Top 5

As much as I would like to run within the top 3 in the 40-44 age group and win a series award, the prize is truly Austin on February 20th.  We have set two consecutive PR’s running in the Distance Challenge, and the way things are shaping up, we might very well set two more at Decker and 3M.

As great as achieving those times would be, it really is all about Austin and earning another shot at the Boston Marathon in 2012. 

Stay tuned, it is going to be one heckuva run over the next 15 weeks.

Peer pressure is a funny thing.  I remember back in High School it revolved mostly around girls, beer, girls, cars, girls, smoking, girls and well, girls.

Now 43 years old, a beautiful wife and baby daughter at home, you would think that I would be more or less “immune” to the trappings of peer pressure.  But alas, I guess I am not as strong as one would think.

On Thursday I registered for the Austin Distance Challenge.

The Austin Distance Challenge is a one of a kind series of races here in the Austin area that are put on by local businesses, non-profits and supporting charities.  To participate runners are required to compete in and complete all five races in the series, wrapping things up with the Livestrong Austin Marathon on February 20, 2011.

The five races that make up the series are the:

IBM Uptown Classic 10K 10/17/10

Run for the Water 10-Miler 10/31/10

Decker Challenge Half Marathon – 12/12/10

3M Half Marathon – 1/30/11

Livestrong Austin Marathon – 2/20/11

Truth be told I had the first and last events of the series on my race calendar already.  It was a matter of whether or not I could work the 10-Mile Run for the Water race as well as two winter half-marathons into my training schedule for the Austin Marathon.

IBM Uptown Classic

I was vacillating back and forth, thinking about all of the pros and cons until I saw my friend Mick in the starting area prior to IBM.  During our conversation Mick got me excited about the prospect of running my first distance challenge. 

As my future marathon plans become more and more murky as I contemplate a return to Boston and several other races I would “love to run” in the coming years – this may in fact be my one and only Austin Marathon.

It seemed like a now or never proposition, but I still wasn’t sure.

After IBM I traded a few messages with my friend Andy, the same Andy who I came upon in the late stages at IBM, and he asked if I would be “Running for the Water” this coming Sunday.  He offered to meet me for a run over the extremely challenging course this Sunday as a “training run”, but I had to beg off as we will be christening our baby daughter Landry this weekend with Uncle Keith and Aunt Kim coming in to serve as Godparents.

Andy shared the course with me and how it will serve as a great training run for Austin in February.  Huge elevation changes over the middle portion of the 10-miler, as well as a killer ascent up over 150 feet in less than a half-mile at mile 6. 

The back side of the course is downhill returning along Town Lake to the 1st street bridge.  What a great test for a great cause I thought …. You know what …. I’m in.

So with very little fanfare and a few clicks of the mouse I was registered for the ADC.

I found out that at each of the races in the series I will gain a little “VIP” treatment in the form of tents and refreshments and even a special post-race party after the Austin Marathon at one of our local restaurants.

The race series results are tabulated after the Austin Marathon; there are overall winners of the series as well as age-group award recipients.  I’m not sure if we have what it takes to compete at the Age Group level, but we will receive one of the Austin Distance Challenge Jackets for our trouble – which is definitely a nice touch.

So thanks to Mick, Andy, Shelly and a few other runners here in the Austin Community – I’m in.

Next up, The Run for the Water 10-Miler on Halloween Morning.  It will be my first ever 10-mile race, and yes, I’ll have to run an additional 4 mile workout afterwards to hit my Austin Marathon Training Mileage for the day, but I can’t wait. 

This won’t be a “goal race” for me obviously as I won’t be able to truly taper and recover properly given my marathon training to “Go Big or Go Home”, but I do expect to run well and enjoy the event. 

I am going to try to gain a little something from each of these races, and for this coming Sunday it will be to stay with my race strategy and pace even though I know I am “capable” of running faster.  That will be a very valuable lesson for the early stages of the Austin Marathon when I want to attack the course and chase down a new PR.

That is foolish in the early stages of a marathon.  No matter how foolish that may be, it is also a trap that many an experienced marathoner falls victim to on race day. 

The next 17 weeks will have a lot of smaller “steps” that lead to the starting line.  The first 20 miler, my 21 mile longest of long runs, recovery weeks, hill repeats and tempo runs.  All geared toward showing up on February 20, 2011 ready to run the race of our life.

The journey has begun, we’ll just be taking a slightly different path to get there.  Thanks guys for the motivation (peer pressure), to take on the Austin Distance Challenge.

By all accounts Dom personified the adage it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog …. I think he would be proud of me to be participating in this series of races. 

I’ll do my best not to let him down.