Posts Tagged ‘Houston Marathon 2013’

So with now just over two weeks to go to Houston I can’t run.

After coming through the chute at the Shiner Half-Marathon I felt a little soreness in my left Achilles tendon.  Nothing major, just a little niggle, perhaps from the loose stone mile during the middle of the race or maybe it was just the hazards of racing.  Regardless, it was a nagging little soreness.  Nothing too terribly rare for a runner training for a marathon.

I managed the situation the following week, iced, took anti-inflamatories and skipped one of my scheduled runs for a little extra rest, then on Sunday I ran my final 22-mile training run closing out the last two miles in 6:34, 639.

We were ready.

Now, 5 days later and I haven’t run a step.  The Achilles tendon is still not feeling “perfect” and I’m not willing to risk anything until it does.

Every day it is improving.  This morning it felt like it had rebounded to close to 90%.

Instead of running I’ve been on the TRI bike trainer keeping the legs spinning and hoping to retain the fitness that took 16 weeks to build.

The one thing that I knew I absolutely needed to have happen for a shot at a 2:59:00 marathon was 100% health.

The marathon is simply too cruel of a distance to race it when you have an injury – no matter how slight.

You can “fake it” in a 10K or half-marathon.  Suck it up and manage the pain without your form faltering or your speed suffering.  But in the marathon, late in the race it is a struggle to hold your stride and form even under perfect circumstances.  Once that starts to go away due to fatigue after 20 or 21 miles, the last portion of the race is just downright cruel.

It seeks out your weakness, exposes you.  Then it breaks you.  That is the marathon.

So with 16 days to go, things right now are a little unsettled.  By next Sunday I have to be running 100% pain-free and dialed in.  9 days, that is all we have for this inflammation to go away and allow us to have full function, flexibility and extension on our left side.

If we are not there by then, we’re going to have to pull out of Houston.  Plain and simple.

I’ve run marathons before.  Plenty of them actually.  I’m not in it to finish and I’m not racing for a medal.  There is only one goal this time around and that is 2:59.  If I don’t have a shot at it before I take my first stride, it just doesn’t make sense to push a bad situation, aggravate the injury further and spend even more time on the shelf.

But perhaps this is a blessing in disguise.  Marathoning is about the journey to the starting line as much as it is the 26.2 mile journey to the finish on race day.

Maybe after my back to back PR’s in December somebody was trying to send me a message.  Stay humble and remember exactly how badly you really want this.

If that was the message, believe me I’ve got it.  Dom, if there are any strings left to pull up there, I could really use your help right about now.

Just get me to the starting line my brother.  I’ll take care of everything from there.

So, here we are 10 weeks away from our date with the Chevron Houston Marathon on January 13, 2013.  After running two marathons in 2012, we will be crossing our only marathon this year off of our race list only two-weeks into the new year.  For the first time in I can’t even remember how long I have no race plans after Houston.

Usually at this point, 10-weeks away from an “A” race, I already have an inkling as to where we will be headed next.  Heading into Pittsburgh in 2009 it was Boston in 2010.  After running Boston and Pittsburgh back to back for Dom in 2010, it was Austin in 2011.  Austin became New York, New York became Boston again and Boston of course became Houston.

But now, after a few tune-up races over the next two months – The Thundercloud Subs Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving Day, the Lights of Love 5K December 7 and the Shiner Half Marathon on December 16th – there really is only one race remaining and one goal.

Houston.

Sub 3.

Nothing else is remotely on my mind.  No distractions, no fallback plans, no place to go after we pick up the pieces if we don’t make it.

For the first-time when it comes to the marathon I have pushed all my chips to the center, stood up and stepped back from the table.

All in.

As of today there are only 56 runs remaining and a little more than 560 miles of roads, trails and race courses between us and the starting line in Houston.  A lot of the heavy lifting was done this summer as we were training for our first half-ironman.  When I look ahead at the workouts, mileage and balance of the training plan that remains I feel confused at times.

I am running more mileage than I ever have before preparing for a marathon.  I am running more individual miles at race pace (6:52) or faster, a little more than 22% of my miles so far, and I continue to hit my pace marks time after time after time.  I have five 20-23 mile training runs spread out over the next 8 weeks of Sundays and none of them have me the least bit nervous or concerned.

I am running my hard days hard, my easy days easy and maintaining my body the best way that I know how.

Beginning next week I will have a nice 3-week break from work to finish out November as I will be transitioning to a new job – another rather fortuitous circumstance as I will be pushing hard these next three weeks breaking things down to build them back up in December, then taper into race day down in Houston looking to run the race of our life.  Those next three weeks are a blessing.

My race shoes, a gift from my Mother and Father-in Law hit the front step of the house Tuesday morning.  Aside from determining what clothes are going to match the weather on race day the best, our plans for race weekend are finalized.  Hotel, transportation, pre-race dinner – all boxes that have been checked off.

My race strategy is locked in to memory and I am fully committed.

First mile no faster than 6:58.

Half-way point in 1:28:30.

Run with your head through 20 miles.

Run with your heart to the finish.

I can’t remember a race where I was more calm and confident this far out from the starting line.  Usually I spend a lot of time analyzing every run, how I felt, how my pace was, am I getting faster, getting slower, is my goal the right one, am I good enough, do I want it badly enough.

This time around, all of those questions have answers and those answers tell me that I am ready.

56 more times between now and January 13th I need to concentrate, keep my focus and do the work.  That is all that is left to do which is a pretty great spot to be in right now during the meat of our training progam.

New York City served a great reminder to me this past weekend when the race was cancelled for the very first time since it began in 1970.  Things happen when it comes to the marathon.  Most of them out of your control, and most of them not in your favor.  Obsessing about them, including the weather, the course, other runners – it is all just wasted energy.  I’ve done it in the past and I am steadfastly refusing to do so this time.

I am going to focus on the things that I can control and do my very best to prepare for every challenge I am going to face on the race course.

The things I cannot control, I am going to leave up to the other 13,000 marathoners on race day to worry about.  They can do the worrying for me.

10,800 seconds are all I have to work with down in Houston.  Each one of them as precious as any other.  Sounds like a lot of time when you think about it that way.  I hope it is enough because at the end of the day, I’m pretty sure we’re going to need just about every one of them.

On to Houston.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How bad do you want this today?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Houston Training Plan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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