Posts Tagged ‘Lights of Love 5K’

For the fifth consecutive year we will be making the one hour ride up to Holland, TX for the 39th Annual Holland Corn Festival and the 14th running of the Holland Corn Fest 5K.  There are a couple of races that we do every single year – the Ronald McDonald House Lights of Love 5K and the Holland Cornfest 5K.  I basically build my training plans around these two small local races as I want to be sure that I support the two events and their charities, but I also find that it is very valuable to compare my performance twice a year on the identical courses.

Once on the 3rd Saturday in June and once on the first Friday Night in December.

It gives me a good barometer as to our fitness, any improvements that we have made and if my training is lacking in a certain area.

Comparing race times across different courses, different times of year, different weather makes it difficult to get any concrete sense as to how fit you are or how well you raced.  But on Saturday morning I know quite a few things about what we are going to face.

The course is going to measure 3.15 miles in length.  Just slightly longer than 5,000 meters.

We are going to climb 225 feet during the race, making it one of the more challenging 5K courses that I have run.

The temperature is going to be approximately 82 degrees at the start of the race.  Adding to the challenge of running a fast time.

I also know that there are going to be somewhere between 6 and 10 runners out in front of me over the first mile, if we run well, we will have a chance to claw our way back into the top 10 overall.  And if we execute our splits to the best of our ability we should run a time between 18:50 and 18:59.

In looking at the last two years in Holland we ran nearly identical races.

Last 4 Years at Holland Cornfest 5K

Last 4 Years at Holland Cornfest 5K

In 2011 we ran our course record 18:53.  In 2012 an 18:57.

The difference being our final 1/2 mile and kick as I felt myself ease up off of the gas just a hair last year knowing that we were racing the very next day at the Lake Pflugerville Triathlon.  This year we will not be racing the following day, so we will be going full-out and run through to the finish.

The one thing I am interested in seeing is if being in an ascending period of our training will make a difference or not in Holland as opposed to coming off of a Spring Marathon as we have been in the past few years.  In 2010 and 2012 we were coming off of Boston in April and were running only 35-40 miles per week.  In 2011 we had not quite yet kicked off NYC Marathon Training and were again averaging 35 miles per week or so.

This year of course we have a September date with Big Cottonwood – so we have been running mileage in the mid 50’s for several weeks now.

We have also been doing track work for the first time over the past 7 weeks which may have improved our speed just a bit going into Holland.  The downside to all of the increased work is that our legs are going to be far from fresh on Saturday morning.

Coming off of yesterday’s 19-mile long run in 75 degree temperatures we are anything but rested.  With workouts on Monday, Tuesday and 800’s on the track on Wednesday I am going to run our Thursday miles at a very slow, easy pace and then stay off of my feet as much as possible on Friday to hopefully trick our legs into feeling fresh on Saturday.

Fatigue will not likely show up early in the race, but the final mile, which features some late climbing before the final 2/10 of a mile that rewards runners with a downhill finish is going to test us.  To be honest, I am not going to put too much stock in our performance in Holland.  Sure I hope to run well and I would love to shave a few seconds off of our course PR.  But given the course, the heat and being in the midst of an aggressive Marathon Training plan – I’m not quite sure what to expect.

There have been times that I have raced during marathon training and been completely flat.  Others where I ran a tremendous race.  But flat or fresh, fast or slow the race on Saturday is going to be a great workout, running a little bit longer than 3 miles at just a tick under or tick over 6 minutes per mile on a steamy hot, hilly course.  With a 2-mile warm-up and a 2-mile cool down, we are going to have a great 7 miles to put in the bank to follow-up with a shorter long run of just 14 miles the next day to wrap up another week of 55-56 miles.

Then things will jump up a bit for the next month our weekly mileage hitting 67.3, 67.3, 54.6 (cut-back week), 68.3.

After another cut-back week of 54.6 miles we will then creep into the 70-73 mile per week range until we taper.

Comparing things to our preparation for NYC – we will be running 7 runs of 20 or more miles instead of just 5 and topping out in the low to mid 70’s this time around instead of the 65 we averaged before running our PR in Gotham.

I’m not sure that we are going to have any big indicators that will let us know for certain exactly where we are prior to race day such as a half-marathon tune-up race 4 weeks prior and even if we did, given the heat here in Texas, our time wouldn’t really mean a whole heckuva lot from a projection standpoint.

Instead we are going to have to trust our training, rely on past performance coming out of our training cycle and hope that the combination of weather that promises to be possibly 35 degrees cooler than we have felt on our skin in more than 3 months and a downhill course will combat the nasty reality that we will be racing at more than 9,000 feet elevation.  Should those two factors create a “neutral” day for us in Utah, which is my hope – I’m starting to really like our chances of breaking through that 3 hour barrier for the first time.

But for this week, we’ll continue to do what we do, just keep taking things one day, one workout and one mile at a time.

It will be our first time running Holland in the 45-49 year old age group after placing first the last 4 years among the 40-44 year old runners.  One age group is wide open this year with us moving up – another one hopefully is about to realize that there is a new guy in town to be dealt with, and he doesn’t plan on going anywhere anytime soon.

Saturday morning.  Boom goes the dynamite.



I spent most of the day Friday relaxing and enjoying my last day off before starting my new job with Back on My Feet on Monday. They say that this generation of workers will have three “careers” before retirement. Monday will mark number 2 for me as I get a chance to serve as an Executive Director with an incredible organization that is launching a chapter in Austin this January.

Back on My Feet (BoMF) is a national nonprofit that is dedicated to creating independence and self-sufficiency within the homeless and other underserved populations by first engaging them in running as a means to build confidence, strength and self-esteem. The organization does not provide food nor shelter, but instead provides a community that embraces equality, respect, discipline, teamwork and leadership. Back on My Feet’s approach focuses on the very profound and innate desire for all of us – regardless of age, race, socio-economic status – to feel recognized, appreciated, valued and important. Through dedication and hard work, Members earn the opportunity to create a new road for themselves by advancing to the “Next Steps” phase of the program where they gain access to educational, job training and employment opportunities, as well as financial aid. In short, BoMF focuses on changing the direction of people’s lives by changing the way they see themselves.

As I was getting ready for Friday Night’s Race I took a moment to reflect on all the gifts that running has given me over the last 7 years and how fortunate I was to be able to go out and do something I love to do for a great cause. We were going to be racing Friday Night and trying to run a fast time, but we were going to show up already winners as Landry was able to raise $1,315 for the Ronald McDonald House before we even got in the car to head over to the Mueller Hanger. Our team, Caleb’s Army was well over $6,000 in donations making it two years in a row where the Team raised the most money among all groups for the charity.

The race was going to be basically a victory lap – but I had a feeling something good might be in store as even though the temperatures were a bit higher than I would have liked for a race, 70 degrees, the wind was still and my legs were feeling very “runnerish”.

I thought about my splits from last year as I was slipping on my race shorts – 5:43, 6:10, 6:04. I had run a solid opening mile last year, then I let off the gas too much. That 6:10 would need to be more like a 6:02 this year and that final 6:04 closer to 6:00. If I was able to pull that off, that would turn my time from 18:19 to 18:09 and a new PR at the 5K distance by :03. I didn’t share this with Dawn, Landry or anyone else – but in my mind I had my goal for the night.

Just PR, by the narrowest of margins – I would be fine with that. My 5K PR was one day older than Landry having been set at the NOCC Balance 5K on August 28, 2010. 25 hours later I would be a Dad. With Landry running, talking and doing all the things that a lucky, healthy and happy 27 month old can do – it was time. That PR was old news.

Sure it was hot, sure I ran 80 miles last week and had another 31 in the books already on this one, but for some reason – I really liked my chances.

To The Race: Dawn, Landry and I left the house around 4:20 p.m. to make our way over to the race site and beat some of the traffic. We had an easy drive, chit-chatted on the way and got a great parking spot to get in and out after the race ended. We loaded up Landry’s jogging stroller with our bags and made it to the Caleb’s Army Tent that the Ronald McDonald House was so generous in providing to the teams who raised I believe $3,000 or more for the race this year.

We saw Bea and Jay, Caleb’s Mom and Dad upon arriving and helped them get the tent and their Triple Jogging Stroller set up with a big Caleb’s Army lighted sign. That’s right – TRIPLE jogging stroller for Caleb and his two sisters. Great stuff.

Dad and Landry got a chance for a quick photo-op with Ronald McDonald himself.Lights of Love 2012 Dad-Landry-RMc

Landry chowed down on some pizza, potato chips and a water – pre-race meal of champions. I decided to just have a bagel on the drive over and a Gatorade. No need to get the stomach feeling full before a short race like the 5K. I was very relaxed up until it was time for Landry and Dawn to get in line for the family fun run that preceded the 5K race. Once they were ready to go I would head out alone to run my warm-up.

Pre-Race: I ducked around the side of the starting area and ran down the course all alone. The only people out there were some early spectators setting up their food, drink and music and the volunteers that were lining the course. I quietly strode along the race course running the final mile in the opposite direction that I would be traveling in about 45 minutes. Downloading the turns to memory from last year and remembering the slight hills and where the water stations would be.

It was all coming back to me and I was starting to feel the pre-race anxiety that no matter how many events you run, always seems to hit me about 30 minutes before the gun.

I wrapped up my warm-up of 2 miles in 15:48 – and quietly went down to the tent. I hit the porta-potty for one last visit and then dropped my singlet in a bag for after the race. Time to line up.

The Start: I waited to see Landry and Dawn return from their Fun Run and sure enough my little daughter stayed out of the stroller and walked the entire route. She crossed the finish line and with about 5 minutes to go until the gun, she and her Mommy disappeared from sight.

I hopped across the starting mat and ran a quick 200 meters to get the blood going in the legs, tucked back in to the front and waited for the Star Spangled Banner. After the anthem, Robert “Evil” Evilsizer did the honors as announcer, got us staged as he does race after race in Austin.

“Runners to your Mark! – Horn!”

Mile 1: With a lot of small kids up front at the starting line which happens at these events all the time, it was a little bit dicey. I just jumped out quickly – far above pace for the first 15 meters to get away from any trouble and hit the course running out front. I knew that I would be swallowed up by some of the younger college aged runners in the first quarter-mile, but I wanted to get out clean and not have to do any dodging.

In a short race like the 5K, you just can’t make up precious seconds later on like you can in a longer event. I was happy with my start – the legs felt great and all I could think about was that opening 5:45 I wanted to post. Stay smooth I thought, don’t get caught up racing anyone yet – just run your mile.

As a few runners slid past me I fell back into 7th place. I didn’t hear or feel anyone else going with us, I was just off the lead pack and did not think that I would have anyone coming up behind me from the rear. A race of 400 runners was now down to a group of 7. Just stay steady I thought, they’ll come back to you when you are getting stronger, they are going to be getting weaker.

The first mile ticked over in a blur – I heard the watch beep at me – 5:42 split. We had given ourselves a chance.

Mile 2: I wanted to run the second mile as close to 6:00 flat as I could. I knew that this mile in particular was going to define the race. No matter how tired you are, the last mile tends to run itself, basically 3/4 of a mile and then a kick. But mile 2 is where you are starting to hurt a bit and still have a long way to go before you get to finally empty the tank.

I decided I would try to just run two identical 1/2 miles. 3:00 minutes and 3:00 minutes. I was still running in 7th place, but the distance between me and the 6th place runner was shrinking. I clocked the first 1/2 mile of this section in 3:00 flat. Perfect. Oddly, I didn’t feel like I had to pour any more energy out to hold pace. It was hot for sure, sweat was running down my face, shoulders, chest, legs – but with no wind, the course still felt fast.

We hit the C shaped section of the course and I worked the tangents, around a right turn I pulled past the runner ahead of me and dropped him quickly behind. I was not speeding up so much as he was slowing down – at the beep the second 1/2 mile in this section came in at 2:58.

A 5:58 2nd Mile – if we could just stay even we had it.

Mile 3: Quickly into the mile we closed on two runners up ahead. With a glance over the shoulder the first runner acknowledged me as I slid past, then the next runner let out a “nice job” as I pulled past him into 4th position. The rest of the runners were far out of reach – no chance to catch them – so I would be alone for the rest of the race, but the crowd support in the neighborhood was great and we were getting a lot of encouragement every block.

I didn’t check my watch at the first 1/2 mile split in this section of the course as I didn’t want to know how hard we were pushing. I was just gradually opening the faucet until we hit the 3 mile sign, then I would make the last turn to the left and let it all hang out.

Mile 3 came in at 5:57, then it was time to kick.

Finish: As I made the left turn at the large Oak Tree in the circle filled with Christmas Lights, I saw the race clock still ticking in the high 17’s … for the first time I thought we might have a shot of finishing sub 18:00. I kicked to the finish and left every ounce of energy I had out there on the course.


Post Race: Our effort was good enough for 4th place overall, 1st Place Male Masters and a new PR by :10.

I couldn’t find Landry and Dawn in the finishing chute or at the Caleb’s Army Tent, so I went back out on the 5K course and found Bea pushing Caleb and the girls in the triple stroller. I spent some time with them and then jogged back to the finish area and found Dawn and Landry. We chatted a bit with everyone and then went over to the hanger for the awards ceremony.

Landry made the trip up to the stage with me and we got a chance to be interviewed for a promotional video about the Lights of Love event that Ronald McDonald House will be putting together for next year. It was again a tremendous event that is absolutely as well run and organized as any of the races in Austin.

Landry and Dad getting 1st Male Masters Award

Landry and Dad getting 1st Male Masters Award

They do a tremendous job having a little something there for everyone and even the smallest details are accounted for. Pretty indicative of how the entire Ronald McDonald House Operates on a daily basis. Just a top-notch organization that makes a tremendous impact on the lives of so many.

So what’s next for us? First day of work on Monday which is pretty darn exciting and then another race – this time a half-marathon down in Shiner, TX next Sunday. At that point we will be exactly one month away from the starting line down in Houston. Makes you want to tap the brakes just a bit and slow things down – as things are moving way too fast right now.

Kind of like raising a little girl.

Landry & Santa - Lights of Love 2012

Landry & Santa – Lights of Love 2012

Race day is upon us once again and little Landry is pretty psyched.

At breakfast this morning as I was eating my traditional peanut butter bagel and a Cliff Bar, Landry with a mouth full of blueberry muffin looked me in the eye and said, “I’m going to run slow tonight Daddy.  You are going to run fast.”

I smiled at her and asked, “Why are you going to run slow tonight Landry?  Don’t you want to race fast like Daddy?”

She seemed to think about that for a second or two and replied, “You are going to run fast tonight Daddy …. and Landry is going to run fast too!”

So there you have it, I guess my 18:19 time from last year is in some serious trouble tonight as Landry has made it clear that I’ll be laying it down tonight at the Ronald McDonald House Lights of Love 5K.  Truth be told, I think it is going to be awfully hard to match last year’s performance.

The race was 4 weeks after the New York City marathon, where I had just run my marathon PR by 6 minutes and 52 seconds.  I took two weeks of recovery time and was just ramping my mileage back up.  I was sound, rested and coming off of a week where I had only run about 30 miles.

I have already run 31 miles this week, and I haven’t run since Wednesday morning.  Last week?  80 miles.  Highest mileage ever.  On top of all that mileage the weather tonight is not going to be very cooperative with temperatures around 70 degrees at 7:00 p.m. and some sticky humidity hanging around.

Last year was a cool, damp evening that was near perfect for racing.  Tonight?  Not so much, but it will be a great night out at the event for all of the families who are there to take in all of the sights, sounds, events and activities that go along with this race.  Tents, face painting, food trailers, lots of kids, doggies to pet and play with and of course Santa and Ronald McDonald will be there.

Pretty awesome.

So, from a racing perspective.  We’re just going to go out somewhere around 5:45 pace for the first mile and take it from there.  Last year our splits went – 5:43, 6:10, 6:04.  Only that middle mile was a mild disappointment as I would have rather been around 6:05 or so – but all in all, it was a great performance just :07 off of our 5K PR.

Tonight, I’d like to put myself in a position to match last year’s time, but the closing two miles, especially that dreaded 2nd mile of the 5K is going to be a tough one.  It always seems like that is where I am fighting my legs as they want to relax off the gas a bit and float until the closing mile.  It is something that every runner has to deal with in the 5K.  I am waiting for that race where I just hammer through that float mile and push through to the finish.  It is going to take a performance like that one of these days to break through that 18:12 mark, which truth be told is a pretty fast time for a 45 year-old distance runner to try to take down.

We’ll see, as you never really know what is going to happen on race day.  Sometimes those breakthrough moments come at unexpected times like the IBM Uptown Classic in the fall of 2011 when I was just a month out from the NYC Marathon, worn down by training and showed up hoping to run a fast time.  Without any indicators that a big performance was coming that weekend, we ran our 10K PR of 37:30 (6:01 pace) on our way to NYC.

Interesting that we are now 5 weeks out from Houston and in a similar position.

The big news tonight however isn’t so much the racing, splits and times that will be posted.  It is the race beneficiary that is the story – the Ronald McDonald House here in Austin.  RMH is a place where families can stay together, at a suggested daily donation of just $10, and receive a welcoming home environment, meals, access to laundry, toys for the kids, and an exceptionally warm and caring environment for their family as they are dealing with all of the stress and fear of having a sick child cared for at one of our area hospitals.

For our friends Bea and Jay Smith, Caleb’s Mommy and Daddy – the Ronald McDonald House stepped up for a big way for them when they were in Cincinnati during Caleb’s surgeries and procedures for his condition.  When the Smith’s needed to extend their stay after Caleb’s surgery, they truly did not know where they were going to stay or how they were going to afford it.  But the Ronald McDonald House made all of that possible and more for their family as Caleb battled like the little warrior that he is.

2011 was a tough year for the little man.  Caleb was born with a condition called VACTERL association – he had problems with his spinal cord, was born with no anus, had minor cardiac issues and very complex kidney/bladder problems.

In the last 12 months Caleb has had:

1 NICU stay.

4 surgeries.

6 hospitalizations.

4 ER visits.

12 months of difficult times.

So tonight Landry, Dawn and I are there for Caleb and his family – part of “CALEB’s ARMY” – which as of this morning is the top fundraising team with $5,875 raised.

Landry is sitting in third place in the entire fundraising effort which has right now raised more than $225,000.

Last year Caleb’s Army was number 1 overall as was Landry.  Third place is nothing to be ashamed of out of thousands of fundraisers.  But I think my little girl has her eyes on something a little bit higher.

There is still time to help!  If you can, please click HERE:

Or visit:

We all thank you for all that you are doing to help families like Caleb’s this holiday season.

As for the race – 7:00 p.m. tonight.  Boom goes the dynamite.Dad-Landry-Ronald Mc

Race week is here! No, not the Houston Marathon, but it is a big, big race nonetheless in the Marruchella household.

Landry and I are both registered and “bibbed” for this Friday nights’ Lights of Love 5K benefitting the Ronald McDonald House here in Austin.

Landry and her Mommy will be running in the kids K, followed by the timed 5K where Dad is going to be trying to lay down something special in the final event of the evening.

The race is a great one in and of itself, but Ronald McDonald House does a tremendous job making this a wonderful family event.

There is race day packet-pick-up and registration available at 5:30 p.m. followed by the family fun run/kids K at 6:30 a.m. and then finally the timed 5K race at 7:00 p.m.

The course is flat, fast and fun – so if running a quick time is your thing, under the lights in December, this is a great course for that. But there are also some really cool events that make this one a great way to kick off the holiday season.

You can:

  • *Run, jog or walk in the Lights of Love 5K and Family Fun Run
  • *Register your furry four-legged friend and they get a special Lights of Love bandana
  • *Take your picture with Santa Claus and Ronald McDonald
  • *Let your kids enjoy the holiday crafts area
  • *Listen to great music on the course and at the Hangar
  • *All our Child 5K and Family Fun Run finishers enjoy a finisher’s prize
  • *Enjoy the festive lights and hot chocolate stop on the 5K course

There is even an un-sanctioned, un-official beer stop around mile 2 of the 5K course that is put on my one of the local residents. Tent, Kegs, Cups, Table, the whole nine yards. Last year I ran my cool-down back to the table for a beverage after the race and then ran in with the Caleb’s Army Team.

Which brings me to the important part about why we will be out on Friday night racing. The cause.

Landry has a friend in Austin, now just 18 months old named Caleb. Out of all the little guys that I know in the world, Caleb’s first 18 months has been among the most difficult. Caleb was born with a congenital condition – imperforate anus (IA) which means that he was born without a “pooper” as Landry would say. He had several accompanying complications and has spent a great deal of time at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital where the best Doctors in the world for his condition(s) are located.

Caleb’s family made the Ronald McDonald House in Cincinnati their home away from home. There they have received the care, support and love that they needed while going through an incredibly difficult time. At times the Ronald McDonald House was all that made the situation manageable. For a recommended daily donation of $25 (they will not turn you away if you cannot pay) the Ronald McDonald House came through for them when very little in their lives seemed to be going their way.

Since then, Caleb continues to battle. He is going to need therapy to help him accomplish developmental milestones like climbing stairs, balancing, jumping, even standing on one foot. Things that I watch my daughter Landry do every day and do with ease.

He has a long road ahead of him – but he also has a lot of people in his corner supporting him and his wonderful family.

Landry will be racing in the Kids K/Family Fun Run this year with her Mommy and without a jogging stroller. This one is all her.

Go Big or Go Home

Go Big or Go Home

If you would like to support Landry as she tries to reach her fundraising goal of $750 (Landry has already raised over $600!) – you can visit her fundraising page at the Lights of Love website by clicking HERE:

Or by visiting:

For more information about the race, or if you would like to register to run, raise funds or both – you can visit:

I hope to see you out there this Friday Night! Please say hello if you do, but you better catch me before the race starts at 7:00 p.m.

I don’t plan on letting too many people catch me after the gun fires.

Thank you in advance for supporting Caleb’s Army and my daughter Landry. Afterall, all kidding aside about racing on Friday – that is what this is all about. Happy Holidays everyone!

A couple of years ago I was “talking running” with a friend of mine when the subject turned to the marathon.  Specifically what pace you should train at vs. the pace you plan to race at.  I had not yet had my breakthrough marathon at that point which would come on a day with terribly difficult conditions at the Austin Marathon in February of 2011.  A day where finish times were effected by 8:00 minutes or more due to the heat, humidity and winds busting between 18 and 20 miles an hour.

I PR’d by almost 3 minutes.

I would take another 7 minutes off of that time in New York the following November, but in a lot of respects, February 13, 2011 was the day I stopped “running” marathons and started “racing” them.

Racing a marathon and by that I mean covering the distance as close as possible to the fastest your body will allow you to do so – leaving no extra time on the clock by being conservative, essentially running the marathon like any other distance.  Pushing it out there on the course to the point that when you reach the final mile your tank is on “E”.  Then it is a matter of willing yourself to cover another 5,280 feet on nothing but determination and will.

The more my friend Steve and I talked the more clear the message was becoming in my mind.  If you want to race fast, you have to train fast.

To bring your best on race day you cannot simply log mile after mile a minute or 90 seconds slower than your marathon goal pace and then hope that on race day something magical happens.  That somehow the two-week taper period or three-weeks for some runners, will all of a sudden turn your cadence and rhythm from running 7:45’s in training to 6:52’s on race day.  It just doesn’t work that way.

It was during my ramp up to Austin that I came to embrace the fact that racing shorter distance events, up to the half-marathon is a key element of a successful marathon training cycle.

For the Austin Marathon my planning was done for me as I participated in the Austin Distance Challenge.  A 5 race series that included a 10K, 10-Miler, 2 half-marathons and the Austin Marathon.

In preparing for New York City last year I ran three 10K races and the Denver Half-Marathon prior to the marathon.

For Boston it was the Ragnar ultra-marathon relay and three half-marathons.

During each of these marathon training cycles I would set PR’s in the 10K and half-marathon distances – mid-cycle – preparing and training for a marathon.

The method to the madness is that during weeks that would otherwise be “cut-back” weeks, where I would be reducing mileage from say 65-70 miles down to 50, I will throw in a race that weekend and lay down an effort with an intensity that cannot be matched alone on the Brushy Creek Trail at 5:00 a.m. by myself.

It takes the pageantry of race day, the presence of other athletes to push you in order to dig deep and run close to the ragged edge.

Racing a half-marathon at 6:22-6:25 pace is a workout that pays huge dividends during the marathon where your goal is to stretch that performance out from 13.1 miles to 26.2 at a pace only :30 slower.

Your body remembers the half-marathon pace, or the 10K race at 6:02 pace that you ran two months earlier and knows what it means to work hard when your legs are going away from you and are screaming for you to stop.

That is exactly what you will need to draw on late in the marathon – where over the final 10 kilometers everything hurts and all you want to do is be done.  Backing off the slightest bit of effort at that point is the difference between a PR and perhaps reaching your “A” goal or fading badly and losing a minute a mile over the last 5-miles of the race.

Part of the gains coming from racing during your marathon training are fitness related to the workout(s), but just as much – and just as important – are the mental benefits from those shorter races at your threshold pace.

As my friend put it rather simply.  “If you want to race fast, you have to train fast.”
Upcoming Race Schedule on the road to the Houston Marathon:

Nov. 22:  Thundercloud Subs Turkey Trot 5-Miler

Dec. 2:  MADD Jingle Bell Run 5K

Dec. 7:  Lights of Love 5K Benefitting Ronald McDonald House

Dec. 16: Shiner Beer Run Half Marathon – Shiner, TX

January 13:  Chevron Houston Marathon – Houston TX – Boom goes the dynamite.

Ever since I started running marathons in 2006 I have been a follower of and believer in the 18-week marathon training plan.

My first training plans were taken from Hal Higdon’s philosophies and outlines on how to prepare for a marathon. Then as I learned more about what worked for me as I gained more experience, became a more well-rounded runner and could handle much more intensity and volume, I developed my own training programs.

Each one seems to have evolved from lessons learned preparing for previous races. Now staring marathon number 9 in the face, I often wonder if I have it all figured out yet. The truth is that until I cross that finish line in Houston with the clock reading under 3 hours – I am going to have doubts.

But this much I do know, when I have shown up to a race 100% healthy and prepared and received good or neutral weather we have run a PR.

Every time.

When we have been nicked up like we were in 2010 running back to back marathons for Dom just 13 days apart coming off of an injury or when the weather turned against us like this year in Boston with an 87 degree day, we have not.

No disgrace in that. No regrets. No feelings of remorse or of missed opportunities. In fact it took me less than a week to “get over” Boston. That was the race that I realized that it didn’t matter that I had run 9 different long runs over 20 miles. Had run doubles on Tuesdays, hill repeats on Thursdays religiously, set consecutive PR’s in the Half-Marathon 3 weeks apart leading up to Boston. If the weather doesn’t cooperate, there is not a damn thing you can do about it.

This week we are officially 17 weeks from the start of the Houston Marathon.

We are “in cycle” as I would typically say. Now there is the little matter of our half-ironman in just 11 days to complicate things, but from a fitness level standpoint we are at a place that we have never been before. We already have a 20-miler in the books, and a darn fine one at that 10 days ago, we have been averaging between 50 and 60 miles a week running, while cycling more than 100 and swimming more than 5 week in and week out for two solid months.

When we flip the switch from “Triathlon” to “Marathon”, we are going to be starting hopefully from a level that we had seldom reached before week 10 or 12 of marathon training. In my view, it is not that I have only 14 weeks to prepare for Houston after our recovery week from the half-ironman in Kerrville. But that we actually have 10 weeks +/- more than we usually do to sharpen the sword and get ready to run the race of our life in Houston.

We will get in 6 different runs between 20 and 23 miles on the way to Houston, a few more in the 18-19 mile range. We will get a chance to race a little bit on Thanksgiving at the annual 5-mile race and in December at the Lights of Love 5K benefiting the Austin Ronald McDonald House just to remind us what it feels like to run fast.

The only thing we will be missing during this cycle is our “tune-up” half-marathon that I have become a big fan of one month before Marathon Sunday. I just can’t make that work this year. But confidence from our 1:23:46 half in Virginia Beach last spring is still very much on my mind. I will know as I am hitting my splits on our tempo days if I still have the same raw speed that we did going into Virginia Beach.

My guess is that we will be as fast or possibly faster at that point, but have a much broader base of aerobic capacity and endurance coming off of our triathlon training. Perhaps this is the race where it all comes together for me. Where my aspirations are met by my preparations and I am able to accomplish the only running goal I have ever set that I have not been able to meet.

Or perhaps we will not be healthy. We will be ill. We won’t get that “good/neutral weather” that is just as big of a variable as anything I can do to prepare during training – if not more so.

Houston is a business trip. Dawn and Landry will not be making the drive down to the race. It will be me, my flats with Dom’s initials on them, a few close runner friends who are also going to be toeing the line with big dreams and aspirations for the day. Some of us will hit our goals, some of us sadly will most likely not.

But in 17 weeks we are going to find out one way or another. I’m not one to make bold predictions, but if we come through the chute healthy in Kerrville next weekend.

I wouldn’t bet against me.

Friday night marked our final race of 2011 – the Lights of Love 5K benefitting the Ronald McDonald House here in Austin. 

It’s a funny thing when you lay out all of your plans for races and events at the start of the year, you tend to focus on the “big” events and not so much the smaller ones.  In 2011 I had the Livestrong Austin Marathon in February, my first Triathlon in July and the New York City Marathon in November as the marquee events for the year. 

Those events were in fact tremendous experiences – but they were only a small part of our 22-race calendar for 2011.

Many races, like Lights of Love,, Denver Half-Marathon, the SI Labs Marathon Relay, The Austin Triathlon all were events that just kind of “happened” during the course of the year.  When I look back on that list, they include some of my favorite memories from 2011.  They were all truly gifts and I was fortunate to be able to participate in them.

That said, the Lights of Love race takes all of that to another level.  When Dawn told me that our friends Bea and Jay were going to be organizing a team to race and raise money as part of “Caleb’s Army”– it was something that we both knew that we just had to do.  Caleb since he was born has gone through more struggles than many of us will go through in our lives – and he’s not even one yet.

Bea and Landry's (Boy)Friend Caleb

Bea, Jay and their three children made their way to Cincinnati for Caleb’s latest surgeries and stayed in the Ronald McDonald house there during his treatment and recovery.  The Ronald McDonald house made a tremendous difference in their lives and made a very difficult time for them a little less difficult.  That to me is what philanthropy and “help” really is about.

It is basically how this entire Run for Dom got started and why today we have almost 100,000 visitors to the blog.  It’s how more than $37,000 was raised to benefit Dom’s wife Val and their children Sierra and Nico and now it was why we would be racing for Caleb.  To help raise awareness, support close friends who needed us and to hopefully make a difference in the lives of others.

There was a race to be run of course, but I couldn’t help but think we had won just by showing up.  After seeing the group of more than 40 people in their Caleb’s Army Shirts it became very clear to me what my goals for the race were.  Go out, run hard and enjoy yourself.  Tonight really doesn’t have anything to do with you.  It’s all about little Caleb.

Pre-Race:  Landry and I picked up Dawn at her office and made the way over to the race location at the Mueller Hanger by the Ronald McDonald House and Dell Children’s Hospital.  It was wet, rainy and windy – but it really didn’t seem to dampen anyone’s spirits.  I had raced in far, far worse.

We got Landry situated in her jogging stroller as she and Dawn would be participating in the Kids 1K.  Landry’s first race.  We had hoped that Landry would walk some or most of it, but the wet streets, large crowd, cold weather and wind were exactly what her “Bob”stroller was for.  So Landry would ride along as Dawn pushed her with the group from Team Caleb.

Landry ready to rock and roll

We met up with Bea, Jay and their kids under the hangar as the group assembled.  We chatted a bit about the race and took a lot of photos with the group.  Landry even got a chance to sit on Santa’s lap and tell him about her Christmas list … that didn’t go exactly as we had planned.

Get me off! Get me off!

As the triple stroller that Bea uses to push the kids was readied with a large sign and lights, I snuck out for a quick 1.5 mile warm-up.  I had no idea where the course went, if it was flat or hilly, what my race strategy would be, I was just going to run.  So much for pre-race planning.

Caleb's Army Sign

Kids K:  Dawn and Landry got situated with the rest of Caleb’s Army and took off on their 1K race.  About a half-mile in length they were off with the large group went out on the course, made their turn back toward home and came back through the chute in just a little over 7 minutes.  Pretty impressive for a 15 month old.

Landry’s full race report will be up later this week.  You definitely won’t want to miss that.

There were about 15 minutes to go before the 5K when they returned, I gave them both a congratulatory hug and kiss and went out to finish up my warm-up.  I was the only runner out on the course and realized just how dark it had gotten.  The light on my GPS watch has been “out” for well over a year now.  There was no way I was going to be able to see my watch or my timing splits on the course.

Just like the NYC Marathon, we’d be running this one blind again.  No worries, we’ll just lock it in and run our 5K slightly “uncomfortable” pace for the first two miles, start to push over mile three and kick to the end.  That’s the thing about the 5K it’s not rocket science.  Go as hard as you can as long as you can, then hang on to the finish.

The Start:  I was chatting with Felix who I have seen at a few local events over the past couple of years about the course and his running of late.  Seemed like he and I would be running a similar pace.  There were a few younger, fast runners in the starting corral and a few other older runners who had “the look”– as in, I’m here to race tonight.  The rest of the crowd which was very large were there more for the experience than anything else.

6 Minutes to go time

As is always the case there were a dozen or so 6-10 year olds who wanted to be at the front of the line for the starting gun – very dangerous of course, especially at night, where the faster runners would have to be very careful not to trample right over them.  I asked a few of the young kids to slide slightly to the left and the guys who were up front to race decided we would run out on the right side of the start basically 2X2 to make sure nobody tripped and fell.

Mile 1:  Our local race announcer Robert “Evil” Evilsizer gave his “runners to your marks” …. Horn start and we were off.  I love seeing Evil at the local events, I must have heard that start over a dozen times this year.

I shot out quickly and made the right turn onto the course around the traffic circle to let the rest of the runners who were trying to get out clean have some room on the course.  It was the first mile of a 5K I had raced since August 13th, my legs felt great, but I had no idea where we were on pace.  Without any light to look at my watch I decided just to settle in and run a quick-paced opening mile.  I would use Mile 2 to start to meter out my energy over the remaining distance and lock in to what our race pace should be.

I was hoping to run something in the 18:30 range, but really wasn’t sure how our legs would respond to this speed work after the New York City Marathon 5 weeks earlier.

A few of the younger runners flew by on my left at the 1/2 mile mark and we settled into 6th place over the first mile.  When we made it to the first mile marker we had turned in an opening mile of 5:43, just about perfect, although I had no way of knowing that on the course.

Mile 2:  At the start of mile 2 I settled in and backed off pace a bit, hoping to be running somewhere around 6:05-6:10 pace.  It felt right, but again, I really had no idea.  A runner came by my right side and slid past pushing us back to 7th place.  he did not “drop” us, just stayed 10-15 yards ahead over the next 1/2 mile.  I felt like he would be the runner to chase down and pass over the closing mile.

I tucked in and stayed right where I was.

Just as we were nearing the end of mile two I started to smell something familiar, but at first I couldn’t really place it, then as I got closer to the left turn and the tent where the aroma was coming from it became clear.  Draft Beer.

As we flew past the house with the unsanctioned, unofficial “beer tent” I yelled over, “I’ll be back!” and they all laughed and told me to be sure to come back after the race.  Mile two would come in right at 6:10 pace.  Just one mile to go.

Mile 3 – The Finish:  This part of the course featured some switchbacks as we made our way through the neighborhood and back toward the finish area.  I lost track of which direction we were heading a few times and really couldn’t tell how much further we had to go.  I pulled alongside the runner in 6th position and passed him on my left.

I could not hear any feet behind us, so it appeared we were solid in 6th place.  There was a younger runner up ahead who was on the cross-country team of his high-school.  I had an outside shot of chasing him down over the final 1/2 mile so I let the legs click over a little bit faster.

As we approached the 3-mile sign I had closed within a few strides of 5th place, but as soon as he heard me on his heels he dropped into a faster “young man’s” gear and I couldn’t quite catch up.  As we made the final turn I finished right on his heels just :01 out of 5th place.  Our last mile turned out at 6:04 pace.

Finish Time:  18:19.

6th place overall.

1st place Age Group.

Amazingly we had finished just :07 seconds off of our 5K PR without ever having looked at our watch.

New York City Marathon recovery = complete.

Back to the course:  I came through the chute and met up with Dawn and Landry.  Got a bottle of water, put on my Caleb’s Army T-shirt and after chatting with my girls for a bit, jogged back out onto the course for my cool-down.  I wanted to catch up with Bea, Jay, Caleb and the rest of Caleb’s Army and run in with the rest of the group.

My cool-down jog took me back out into the sea of runners, knowing that I would be able to see the large illumniated Caleb’s Army triple stroller on my way.  I made it to the “beer tent”, grabbed a quick beverage and caught up with Bea and the rest of the group.

I chatted with everyone on the way in, including a nice long chat with Caleb’s pediatrician/runner who will be running the 3M half-marathon in a few weeks.

The group was having a lot of fun and with about 1/4 mile to go we ran into Dawn and Landry – all of us making it back to the finish line for the second time of the night.

We made it back in time for the awards ceremony where Landry got a chance to meet Ronald McDonald himself – the Master of Ceremonies, and she got Dad’s AG medal.

Landry and Ronald McDonald

It was a lot of fun for sure, the best part is the fact that Caleb’s Army was the number one fundraising team finishing with $5,378 dollars raised to make a difference in the lives of those less fortunate.

The number one fundraiser on Team Caleb?  Landry Marruchella who raised $600.  She pretty much thumped her Dad ($378).  That’s o.k. Landry, I can live with that, you are of course far, far cuter than your Daddy.

Landry post-race crashed with Dad's Medal

Pretty soon, he won’t even be faster than you are anymore …. then what the heck is he going to do?