Posts Tagged ‘Marathon Training’

There is a level of “certainty” in an uncertain world that draws a particular type of person to our sport.

I spent quite a bit of time thinking about this on my “easy 8” this morning on the trail, counting off the things that I love about running instead of miles.

When you draw a pair of lines in the ground or on the road, set a clock to all zeros and fire the starter’s pistol the sport becomes extraordinarily simple.  Attempt to move your body across both sets of lines in the least amount of time possible.  Everything else is just noise.

My mind wandered from city to city, race to race.  Boston to Denver, Austin to Virginia Beach, New York to Dallas, Charleston to Pittsburgh, Philly to Houston.  5K’s to half-marathons, 10 K’s and 10-milers to Marathons and I was able to visualize the final stretch to the finish line of literally dozens and dozens of events.  Some performances were epic.  Some quite ordinary.  But all of them weave the very fabric of the runner that I have become.

The thing that struck me along the darkened trail, absent even a sliver of moon this morning is that my mind was completely free.  Never once did I think about how far I had run to that point, how far I had to go, whether I was on pace, slightly ahead or slightly behind.  My mind was 100% free from those thoughts and it was one of the more enjoyable summer runs in the Texas heat I can remember.

The reason my mind was so clear is that I was enjoying another “naked” run.  Now before your mind leaps to a bad place, we’ve covered this before on the blog, by “naked” I simply mean watchless.  I still had my runderwear, shorts, socks and Kinvara’s on.  Just no timing device and of course no shirt, which will remain that way pretty much up until late October or early November.

When I started my Pre-Austin Marathon training schedule, a simple 10-week ramp up to October 14 when we log our first training miles for Austin, I decided that I would run without my Garmin 610 GPS watch ever single mile until the end of September.  So far so good as I’ve logged just shy of 100 miles without really “counting” any of them.

A few weeks before marathon training truly begins I will head to the track and start to sprinkle in some speed work, which of course will require measured distances and pace.  To prepare for battle on race day in Austin on February 15th I will absolutely need to “know” that I can tick off 12 400’s in 1:21 on 100 meters rest just as I will need to “know” that I can hold a 12-mile tempo run sub 6:40 if I hope to reach my potential on race day.

There is plenty of time for all of that.

But for now, I’m simply lacing up the shoes on my run days with an assigned distance to make sure I am building my base properly and I’m hitting my known routes to tick off the miles.

One of the things I am enjoying most these days is deciding on the run whether I want to add a particular turn, section of the trail or neighborhood loop to my runs.  Do I want to run a few extra hills this morning?  Would I rather run the flats and push effort a bit to work on turnover?  Should I tack on the climb over the dam or just loop back through the lower trail back home?

All of these decisions are made on the fly.  So what if my 7 miler becomes 7.34?  Or if I decide that I’m going to run 8 today and 6 tomorrow instead of the 7 and 7 on my schedule?  I am making choices now that I would rarely if ever decide to make during a training cycle?  I mean what kind of type-A, borderline obsessive/compulsive marathoner would finish a run with an extra .34 miles on his or her watch?  We would absolutely stretch it out to .50 miles at a bare minimum.  Anyone worth their salt of course would run the full .66 additional miles to end with a nice neat round number in their training log.

See where I’m going with this?

If you need to recharge your batteries a bit and fall back in love with running.  Leave the watch on the counter for a week and see how it feels.

Better yet, try it for 2. I have to tell you it took some getting used to, but I am rediscovering my love for running just for the sake of it.  For climbing hills because they are there and for running fast because I feel like it.

When it is time to flip the switch in October, make no mistake, that switch will be flipped.  The only difference is I am going to be mentally recharged and ready to count each and every last one of those 946.60 miles that will take us through the finish line on February 15th.

And I plan on crushing every last one of them.

Run on people.

A few of my athlete friends told me in the weeks leading up to Ironman Texas that after that race, you would never be the same again.

That after Ironman, I was going to feel different, look at challenges differently, have a shift in focus, refined clarity.

After 2 months of enjoying some downtime in June and July, running when I felt like it, riding the bike a bit, a couple of easy swims I have reached that point.

What I have realized is that at the end of the day, I’m a marathoner.

I might not necessarily be a great one.  And in fact, there is strong evidence that I am a much better middle distance runner (10K, 10M, half-marathon), but at the end of the day, that is who I am.

With the four-year anniversary of us losing Dom staring me in the face – (8/15/10 – RIP) – I decided that I wanted to get back to basics, set aside the distractions of being a part-time triathlete/Ironman and get ready to train in a serious way for this year’s hometown Austin Marathon.austin-marathon-600x399

Specificity and consistency are the two things that build a strong runner in my view.  It has always been that way for me.  When I have been able to stay injury free and stick to my schedule of Monday off, Tuesday Easy, Wednesday Hard, Thursday Easy, Friday off, Saturday Quality, Sunday Long I have been a very dangerous runner on race day.

So we’re going to go back into the shop for the rest of August and September.  Get back to our 5 run day, 2 off day schedule and build our base back to the point where we are bullet-proof heading into the 18 week training cycle for Austin.

I haven’t worn my watch all week on my runs and I am not going to put it on until after Labor Day.  I’m running entirely by feel, covering my known routes where I do not need to track each individual mile.  I’ve worn ruts in the streets and trails around our home in Austin.  I know exactly which routes are 5 miles, 6.2 miles, 8.3 miles, 10, 12 and 16.  The combination of those routes provides me with every single distance necessary to complete marathon training from 10 kilometer threshold runs, 8 mile easy days, mid-week medium-long runs and Sunday long days all the way up to 22 miles.

I spent the last few days putting together my training plan and have the 90 workouts aligned in our calendar that will take us from October 14th up to race day on the 15th of February.  There are some rather big days sprinkled throughout that cycle and realizing that we are now in our 47th year on the planet, recovery and rest is going to be more critical than ever to staying healthy and toeing the line at the Freescale Marathon 100% ready to rumble.  It is going to require the occasional vacation day from work to recover after a hard mid-week threshold workout of 12-14 miles at 6:39 pace, but that is just fine.  We’ll make the time.

The question looming out there is can we throw down a best-ever marathon time 8 1/2 years after our first one?  It will be 4 years since we ran Austin back in 2011 and a little more than 3 years since we ran our current PR in NYC.

The answer as of today is, I’m not really sure.  In the coming months that picture is going to come into focus.  I do know this, if we are able to put together a solid cycle, stay healthy and remain determined to put ourselves in the best possible position on race day – the results will be there.

If we get a nice cool morning and no wind, maybe even that elusive sub 3 hour marathon is out there in front of us.  If not, can we PR?  I’d be pretty darn happy with that.  An Austin Marathon course PR which would require a 3:15 flat?  That would be fine.  A Boston time of sub 3:25:00?  Barring a disastrous race, we should be able to throw that down fairly comfortably .

But that’s the thing about going for it in the marathon vs. other race distances.  A small miscalculation in a 10K may cost you :30 seconds.  In a half-marathon, you may fade late and lose a minute to a minute and a half.  The difference between running to your potential in the marathon and finishing :20 minutes behind your goal time is actually razor-thin.  Those last 10 kilometers after mile 20 is when the marathon actually begins.

How you get to mile 20 will define your race more than every other variable.

Fitness, health, nutrition, hydration, your mental toughness, course conditions, the weather – it all comes together in a perfect storm on marathon day.

That’s what makes it such a remarkable event.  That’s what makes it worth going back to.

That’s what makes me a marathoner.

I know that we have one more great race in us.  Time to prove it.

 

When I start a marathon training cycle the first few weeks as the mileage starts to increase and quality workouts start to come with a little bit greater frequency and intensity level, I find myself thinking mostly about the actual training.

How many weeks until my long run reaches 18 miles?  The distance where I start to consider my weekly “long run” as actually “long”.  Until that point, I can usually muster up 14-15-16 miles without too much trouble.  But when I get to 18 it starts to feel real, as I know 20, 21 and 22 are not too far down the road.
After a few runs crack 20 miles my mind starts to wander a bit further forward and the first thoughts of race day start to form.  With 8 weeks to go, which is where we find ourselves right now, I look back on the first few weeks of training and remember how much optimism I had for the upcoming 20 weeks.

I start to think more about “racing” and less about “training”.  It is a subtle switch, but one that seems to happen naturally.  Knowing that the final 2 weeks of marathon training is dedicated to tapering for the race, and even the last long run three weeks out will be dialed back to cover only 16 miles – serving as a dress rehearsal for race day, more than a training run.  There really isn’t a lot of time left to put the finishing touches on the training cycle.

21 miles this past weekend, a step back week, Then we reach our peak training volume capping things at 75 miles per week with a couple more 21-22 milers.  Maybe 23 if I feel frisky, after which we’ll start to rein it all back in.

By this time I have my race shoes in the closet, just waiting to break them in on that final 16 miler, wearing the clothes I hope to race in that day if the weather goes as planned.  I will have reviewed the race course over, over and over.  I can visualize the hills, the water stops, the turns even down to the smallest detail being what side of the start area I want to line up on depending on if the first turn on the course is a left or a right.

The one thing I try not to think about however is how much it is going to hurt.  Because in every marathon I have ever run, fast or slow, PR or not, Boston time or no Boston time – they have all hurt.  It is not a matter of if.  It is simply a matter of when.

In other races whether they are a 5K, 8K, 10K, Half Marathon or even last summer’s half-ironman when the real pain comes you are close enough to the finish that the thought of how much longer you have to go doesn’t break your spirit.  It simply becomes a test of wills.  Can your desire to keep pushing defeat your body’s desire to back off?  It could be a mile or two, or in the case of the half-marathon those first thoughts creep into my mind right around the 10 mile mark.  I tell myself there is just 5K to go, and I ask myself the same question as always, “how badly do you want this today?”

But the marathon is a different animal.  The first hints of pain start to arrive around mile 17 or 18.  Up until that point if things are going well for me, I have been able to run free and strong.  Form feels good, my splits are solid and if I haven’t done anything stupid to this point – I am right where I need to be.
But then it begins.  A tightness on the outside of my hips is usually the first sign.  Then I will start to feel it in my quadriceps, hamstrings and knees.

The pounding continues.

My feet are usually the next source of pain until it simply hurts all over.  The feeling of strength, power and invincibility that was emanating from legs that feel like springs a little more than 2 hours earlier is now replaced by a mixture of pain, exhaustion and questions about how much you have left and how much you can afford to meter out so that at the end of the race, you simply are out of gas.
Unlike the other race distances, you may have more than 7 miles to go before you finish.  Longer than many recreational runnners will cover in a single run …. ever.  But to the marathoner, this is when the race finally begins.  Everything else is just prelude.

I read a quote earlier this weekend that struck a chord with me:

“The Race always hurts.  Expect it to hurt.  You don’t train so that it doesn’t hurt.  You train so you can tolerate it”.

To me, that sums up what is beautiful about the marathon.

In the coming weeks I look forward to the remaining tests.  The tough intervals, the long tempo runs with the training group and my final three 20+ mile long runs.

No matter how much work I put in, it will never been enough to push the pain completely to the side on race day.  All it will do is perhaps delay it long enough so that I will have just enough tolerance for that pain to get me all the way to the finish line.

In a lot of ways, the marathon is a 25 mile race, Because once you are into that final full mile – fast or slow, it hurts just the same.  It becomes a question of how smart a race you ran over the opening half of the course, as one minute too fast in the first half will cost you two minutes on the back half.
1:28:30 – 1:31:00.  Those are the two half-marathons we are hoping to run on September 14th.

My last three half-marthons have been consecutive PR’s in 1:24:06, 1:23:55, 1:23:31.

The question is can I put two perfect half’s together on the same day?  Can I be disciplined to run the first 20 miles of the race with my head, the final 6.2 miles with my heart?

In two months we’ll find out.  And if I had any doubt whether or not it was going to be different this time, Sunday’s 21 mile run with 4:00 minute long pickups over the last 7 miles at paces of 6:36, 6:41, 6:41, 6:36, 6:46 reminded me just how hard things are going to get late in the race on September 14th.

No matter what happens from here on out with our training – there is one certainty.  If I am serious about wanting to break 3 hours on race day, I’m going to have to be willing to hurt to do it.

 

75 days is all that separates us from the starting line – and hopefully the finisher’s chute – at Big Cottonwood on September 14th.

Sunday’s 20-mile long run marked our second consecutive 68.30 mile week which included a tough track workout on Wednesday and some up-tempo work on Saturday.  We are in an enviable position at this stage of the game with not a single hint of soreness or a physical ailment that we are monitoring, although they can come up at the most inopportune times during Marathon Training.

This week is a cut-back week or what I like to call a “maintenance week”, where we will be dialing back the training volume to about 70% of our previous load to accomplish two primary tasks:

1.     Give the muscles a chance to absorb the increased training and adapt to the new, higher level of workload.

2.     Decrease the risk of injury.

There are a lot of different strategies that runners employ preparing for a marathon.  But a universal truth for all athletes are the fact that to reap the maximum benefits from tough training, you have to give your body a chance to recover and adapt, that is how muscles grow and develop.  You cannot simply continuously tear them down without giving them an opportunity to build back up.

Nature’s rule, not mine.

But there is another reason that those step-back weeks are so important and that is the mental break that they provide.

Training for a marathon throughout the summer in Texas is no easy task.  There are not a lot of “perfect” days out there right now to be found where running is an absolute joy.  It is hot in the morning before daybreak and humidity is high.  The only cooling effect to be found right now comes in the form of wind, which is not altogether helpful to runners either.  It dehydrates you a bit faster and of course provides added resistance if you are running into a headwind – which is the only type of wind that feels “cooling” when you are out there.

After back to back 6-day run weeks with 20-mile long runs to cap them off, I was ready for a day off from running today – and did not feel one bit guilty about taking it.  It is a day to sleep in a bit later (6:40 a.m.!) and take good care of myself.  Eat right, not have to rush around in the morning and let the training marinade for 24 hours before an easy 8 mile run on Tuesday and a workout with the training team on Wednesday.

For the month of July and August we will be moving from the track to Zilker Park downtown on Wednesdays for our intervals and speed work.  I will only return to the track when Coach requires me to have a specific and measured test during a key workout.  Then we will get back to the track after Labor Day as a group – or in my case after I recover from Big Cottonwood.

After our maintenance week we will jump right back in and have a few 70-73 mile weeks ahead with our long runs creeping up to 21 and 22 miles before the taper.  Our mid-week long run that has been sitting around 10-11 miles will gradually climb up to 13-14 to top off our endurance work.

We are now 9 weeks into our 20-week training plan, which contains 18 weeks of “training” and 2-weeks of a taper.  So in a sense we are now 50% of the way through our preparation, where the final two weeks of our taper – which is critical to marathon success – shifts from a physical test (training) to a mental one (rest/nutrition) where your mind starts to really play tricks on you and being strong mentally becomes the primary focus.

I feel like we could go out this weekend and run a solid marathon.  Something in the 3:10 range.  Sometimes it is hard to get your head around the fact that 9 more weeks of training, 575 miles including 6 more runs of more than 20 miles will move that needle only :20 seconds per mile faster on race day.

But breaking 3:10 on September 14th while a great accomplishment is not what we are working for.  If that was the level of excellence we were in search of, we could just rest on our November 6, 2011 race in NYC and enjoy our 3:08:09.  Those 8 minutes and 10 seconds are what we are working for right now.  Anything less just isn’t going to cut it from an expectations standpoint.

Racing is a funny deal.  We may do everything right between now and then and still miss our target.  It happens.  In the marathon it happens far more often than at shorter distances as weather, nutrition, fitness and pacing errors are all magnified over 26 miles, 385 yards.

That is also why when it all comes together, the final 1.2 miles of that race are some of the greatest in all of road racing.  11 weeks from now we are going to find out a few new things about ourselves like only the marathon can teach us.  But right now, I can honestly say, things to this point really could not be going too much better.  I’m still waiting for that flat workout where the body and the mind do battle.  One wanting to go faster, the other not being with the program.

It happens to everyone at some point, and it serves as a great reminder that none of this is easy.

If it were, everyone would do it.

Run on people.Big Cottonwood Course

It seems like every marathon training cycle there has been a workout or two that just become a challenge to get in. Life just seems to conspire against us amateur athletes at times and a family commitment, a work trip or some kind of conflict rears it’s head that makes things a little more challenging than normal.

But this week, I’m actually happy to be thrown off of my schedule as Dawn, Landry and I are going to be flying out to Charleston, SC for my good friend Keith’s wedding. For those of you who have been visiting the blog for awhile, three years ago Keith lost his wife and the mother of his two young boys in an accident – http://wp.me/pHGel-zv

That week was one of the toughest I have ever gone through, only to be followed by us losing Dom two weeks later. Talk about a month you will never forget.

Then thankfully when I was asking myself a lot of questions that have no answers our little girl Landry arrived on August 29th. Timing as they say is everything. After losing two people that you care about so tragically just a handful of days apart there was something magical about holding my daughter in the hospital that Sunday morning. She was born on a long day of course – just the way any marathoner’s child should be brought into the world.

Landry-Dog

Landry-Dog

So before our Wednesday morning flight we had a workout to get in.

16 X 400 M with 200 M recoveries.

All at 95″ goal (6:20 pace)

A 3:15 a.m. alarm clock put us on the surface of the track at 3:55 a.m. A slow two-mile wake-up, I mean warm-up – same difference – in 16:00 minutes flat deposited us at the start of our workout at 4:11 a.m. 400 after 400 followed:

:95, :93, :94, :95, :94, :95, :93, :94, :95 :93, :94, :94, :94, :93, :93, :93.

With 200 M recoveries the workout ended up being 6 miles on the track with 3 miles warm-up and cool-down. 9 miles total.

Then it was back home for a shower, a quick packing of our run gear and off to the Low Country of South Carolina for a few days of visiting with the parents and watching Landry’s Godfather get married.

All in a days work for the amateur endurance athlete. We all know sleep is an important part of training. We’ll try to take care of ourselves this week, grab a cat-nap or two here and there and be ready to hit the streets of Charleston for our Thursday and Saturday workouts.

11 1/2 weeks to go.

If your goal is to improve, before lacing up your running shoes, ask yourself:  What is the purpose of this workout?

“If you can’t answer that question, why bother doing the run?” – Jack Daniels, PhD

Jack Daniels who is one of the most respected running coaches of our generation uses that overarching philosophy of each workout having a purpose or specificity in training to put it another way, as the backbone of training plan construction for his athletes.  Prior to putting together my plan for Cottonwood I read for the second time his book “Daniel’s Running Formula” and sent off for one of his training plans to compare his recommendations to what my coach and I had outlined.

Many of the lessons I had learned over the years preparing for marathons were supported in Daniel’s research including the need for various types of workouts to improve your running efficiency (think gas mileage), your endurance (think gas tank capacity), your speed and running economy (think quickness and form) and of course your mental approach to the event.

But one rather obvious lesson I took from my second “read” of Jack Daniel’s book was the thought that each and every workout should have a purpose.  That you should know exactly what you are hoping to accomplish before you lace up your shoes that morning and then go out and execute that workout as intended.

It seems like an obvious concept – but in the past I would sometimes change my plan on the fly based on weather conditions, how I felt or if I simply wanted a “tougher” challenge than the workout on the refrigerator door indicated.  If 6 miles is good, 7 is better.  If 7:25 pace is prescribed over 10 miles, 7:15 is better.  8 hill repeats on the schedule?  I’ll do 10 instead.

Very rarely would I ever run less or slower than prescribed, but often I would do more than what was required.  The problem in that is that every individual workout is just a small piece of the overall puzzle.  Many miles of a marathon training program are meant to be run at a very specific pace.  One that will do the most good – and sometimes that means that it is much slower than you are capable of running.

A good example of this is the weekly long run.  The primary purpose is to build a base for more intense workouts by strengthening the heart and increasing the muscles’ ability to use oxygen.  It also allows your body to recover between hard workouts.  By running this workout too quickly you in fact short-change yourself and do not allow for all of the physical adaptations that the marathon requires by expanding your capillary formation and the improvement in your body’s ability to carry oxygen to the muscles.

Another example would be threshold pace workouts – At 88-92% HRmax, this intensity is aimed to raise the lactate threshold.  In this workout a runner should be able to sustain this pace for up to 60 minutes during racing.  Daniels describe this intensity as “comfortably hard”.  In elite runners, the pace matches their half-marathon goal pace, while less trained runners will run at their 10K pace.  Daniels again emphasizes the importance of keeping the given pace to reap the benefits of the training.

I have tried to focus on two primary goals during this training cycle – as you can certainly drive your self a little bit crazy overanalyzing every workout and every mile run leading up to an “A” race marathon.

1.     Understand the reason behind every workout and always leave the driveway with that purpose in mind.

2.     Do no more or no less than that workout requires.  (Pace, Distance, Effort and Concentration)

This week represents a great microcosm of our overall training plan – 6 runs, 68 miles all with a specific purpose.

Monday – Hill Route Recovery Run

Tuesday – “E” Easy Pace 10-miler.  What I refer to as an “Easy 10” workout.

Wednesday – Track Workout – 3 X 3,200 M w/ 400 M recoveries.  (Threshold Workout)

Thursday – Progression Run, 11 miles decending by :10 per mile from 8:30 min./mile to 6:50 min./mile

Friday – Rest Day – No Running

Saturday – 10 Miles, middle 5 miles at Marathon Goal Pace (6:50)

Sunday – 20 Mile Long Run – “E” pace

Even Friday – a day with no running had a purpose.  After 6 straight days of running that included a race in Holland, TX last weekend and a couple of tough workouts on Wednesday and Thursday – the body needs a break to reload and adapt.  Setting the stage for another tough workout on Saturday morning and a long, endurance building 20-mile run on Sunday.

68 miles, 12 of those miles at Marathon Goal Pace or Faster (17.6%), the rest all run at paces ranging from 7:00 min./mile to just over 8 minutes per mile.

That block rests upon the block set before it, which rests on the block placed before that one.  And so on and so on.

We are now 12 weeks away from the corral and finishing chute.  747 miles between now and mile 20 of the marathon where all of this will boil down to 10 kilometers.  Every runner at Cottonwood in September is going to have a race plan.  You don’t just show up to the starting line of a 26.2 mile footrace and “wing it”.

We are going to have our plan on our forearm.  Every mile individually scripted based on the specific period in the race, the elevation of that mile and how far we are along the course.  On Wednesday we practiced this very exercise.  Run every mile at a specific pace.  Do not think about the mile before or the mile to come – just execute.

8:30, 8:20, 8:10, 8:00, 7:50, 7:40, 7:30, 7:20, 7:10, 7:00, 6:50.

No mental break.  No daydreaming.  No Wandering.  100% focus.  The run went:

8:26, 8:19, 8:10, 7:59, 7:48, 7:39, 7:28, 7:20, 7:09, 6:58, 6:47.

Dialed in to say the least.  We have a lot of work left to do, but I’m starting to get the feeling that we have something special waiting for us in Utah.  An unlikely place as any on earth for us to run the race of our life.  But I’m starting to think that this just might be our time.

Based on the past there is not a lot of empirical evidence out there that says we are going to break 3 hours in September.  We’ve teed up the marathon quite a few times before and although we have run some good races, we have not had that breakthrough effort.

But something just feels different this go round.  Perhaps I’m not as tied up to the emotions this time.  I’m a little bit more detached.  More scientific and calculating in my approach.  There is going to be plenty of time for emotion on race day.  For now, we’re going to trust our training plan, trust our coach, trust the experts and simply bring our lunch pail and hard hat to every workout.

In the end, maybe we’re just simply not good enough.  I will be able to live with that.

But what if we are?  That is the million dollar question now isn’t it.  What if we are.

After a bout with the track on Wednesday morning our training log stood at 27 miles with 6 miles between 6:25 and 6:50 pace.  Just about 25%.

Only 41 more miles to go this week.

Kind of puts it all into perspective where we are in the training cycle.

There have been times in the past when I was moving from one marathon to the next where I started the training cycle pretty close to “fit” and spent most of the 18 weeks maintaining my fitness, running my hills and simply stretching out my volume making those Sunday 20-22 mile runs the “A” workouts in preparing for race day.

There was a lot of “staying the same” in that approach instead of trying to “peak” for race day and mentally those training periods could be draining.

Training for Big Cottonwood has been very different for me this go round, with 20 weeks of preparation where we first needed to reestablish our base and consistency coming back from a winter injury.  6 weeks of base-building, then a cut-back week to recharge the batteries (last week), followed by 10 weeks of ramping things up and “next-leveling” our training before the three week taper to race day.

This week beings our “10 Weeks to 2:59” period features 68 miles of running this week including our first 20 miler of the cycle.  Volume is one thing, but mixing in enough quality work to improve our efficiency is another and that is what the focus is of our Wednesday track workouts.

This week the plan called for 3X 2-miles with 400 meter recoveries.  Goal Pace for the 2-mile intervals was:  6:50, 6:40, 6:30.

A workout that might not look too challenging on paper and in November or December, perhaps not.  But with 77 degree temperatures and 87% humidity at 6:00 a.m. degree of difficulty?  Plenty.

After a leisurely 2.4 mile warm-up my friends David and Amy broke off from the larger group to do our workout.

David called out the 400 meter splits to us, Amy kept track of our total time for the 2-mile intervals and I kept track of our laps and paced us on the inside.

6:51, 6:47, 6:40, 6:38, 6:27, 6:23 were our splits as we ticked off mile repeat after mile repeat.

As we started the last full mile of the workout I cheated a bit.  I went to a place that I usually reserve only for race day or an exceptionally challenging period of time.

I went to Dom.

With sweat squishing out of my shoes with every stride, my focus starting to shift toward aches and pains instead of my cue of making sure my kicking foot was crossing knee high with my plant foot on each pass, I was starting to hurt.  It would have been very easy to give in and ease off the pace just a bit.

In a race, that is the battle that is going on constantly.  Your head gives up well before your heart does.  The key is to not let your head win.  You have to distract it.  Confuse it.  Focus it on something other than the pain.  And if we have any chance at all at breaking 3 hours in Utah this September we are going to have to do that for at minimum the final 5 miles of the race.  Close to 35 minutes of fighting that internal battle.

I thought on Wednesday if you cannot do it for 6 and a half minutes, what chance to you have of doing it for 5X that long on race day.

So I cheated.  I imagined the conversation that I would have to have with Dom if I gave up in the last mile of the race and what kind of excuse I would come up with for why it didn’t matter.  Why it wasn’t worth holding on.  The kick in the ass I needed to stay on pace arrived immediately and at the bell lap or final 400 meters I found my stride and energy and ran smooth to the finish.  The fastest 400 of the fastest mile of the morning.

No individual workout during marathon training really amounts to anything.  That is the first lesson every marathoner really needs to learn.  You need to flush the bad ones and not celebrate the goods ones too wildly because in the end, they are all just specs of sand on a beach.

But every once in awhile a mile is more than a mile.  It presents a great opportunity to visualize a part of the upcoming race or experience just a bit the way your body is going to feel when your head starts to take charge of your heart.

That to me is what continues to draw me back to the marathon time and time again.  That test of wills.  Mind vs. heart.

Yes I may be getting older.  I might not have the experience that some runners do.  I’m certainly not the most talented nor am I the fleetest afoot.  But I do have one thing that a lot of others don’t.  And that is my buddy who I can summon to my side just about any time I need him when things are starting to look the bleakest.

Dom, thanks for being there for me.  I can always count on you when things start to go a little sideways.

I’m going to need you during that final 10 kilometers on September 14th.  Get ready to strap yourself in.  It might not be pretty, in fact, I guarantee it is going to be anything but graceful – but on that last mile if we only have 7 minutes to get there I expect you in my ear the whole way.

I miss you Dom.  Keep running things for the rest of us up there.

I remember my final 22 mile long run prior to the New York City Marathon in 2011.  When I got back home I dropped my soaking wet shoes, socks, shorts, runderwear outside to dry out and shuffled into the bathroom.  Dawn was there getting ready to go to breakfast and I said, “I am never training for another Fall Marathon again”.

Now, the first mistake that runners make is when they start a sentence with, “I am never …..”

It is just an absurd opening line.  We absolutely are going to do whatever it is that we say we are never going to do again in the future and the future might be as nearby as just a few months away.  I made the same mistake just seconds after crossing the finish line in New York on a day when I ran my best ever marathon, and I said aloud, “never again”.  Everyone in the finish area, runners and volunteers alike actually just laughed.

Perfect strangers, and even they knew that I was completely full of sh#%.

But I have to admit, I really meant it when I swore off of Fall Marathons.  Training for a marathon is difficult enough, especially if you intend on really “racing” the marathon.  Running as close as possible to your abilities and fitness level.

But to train for that distance through a Texas summer, where the coolest temperatures of the morning take place at 4:00 a.m. and they are sitting at 77 degrees with humidity in the 84-88% range through June, July, August and September.  It’s just a beat down, and there really is no relief in sight.  Quite honestly, without any traveling planned during this training cycle, the next time I feel cool temperatures on my body in the 40’s will be on Race Day in Utah.

I am hoping that is actually going to pay huge dividends on race day, as in those temperatures after a summer of battling the heat, humidity and hills here in Austin – I should be ready to eat thunder and crap lightening.

But getting to that point is going to be the real test.  We started this 20-week marathon training cycle with 118 runs and 1,201 miles to get through the finish line at Big Cottonwood.  We are going to be going to 6 run days this cycle, only taking Friday as our day to rest, recharge the batteries and get ready for our Saturday team workout with the Rogue Elite Training Group.

After that weekly beat down we will pull ourselves together on Sunday mornings and go long.  Our mileage on Sundays this cycle will be:  14, 15, 16, 14, 18, 19, 14, 20, 20, 14, 20, 21, 14, 21, 22, 14, 23, 16, 10 and then finally race day.

1,200 miles +/-, 7 long runs of 20 miles or more, 40 track workouts and plenty of endurance work mixed in at paces ranging from Marathon Goal Pace of 6:52 min./mile to our Recovery Pace of 7:52 or MGP +:60.

I am not a huge believer in running a lot of “total mileage” during a training cycle just for the sake of it.  There are plenty of 55-60 mpw (mile per week) runners who can dismantle 70-80 mpw runners on marathon morning.  But I do know for me that I was a much more fit and well prepared marathoner in New York City, running in the high 60’s and low 70’s per week than I was when I was topping out around 55 miles or so.

This cycle will have us running 53, 56, 58, 59, 62, 63, 55, 67, 67, 55, 68, 70, 55, 72, 73, 55, 76, 61 and 46 during our last week leading up to race day.  Those 55 mile weeks that are highlighted are serving as my “step-back” weeks, where we back off of the mileage just a bit before increasing mileage during the subsequent next two weeks to guard against over-training and injury.

The thought of a 55-mile week being a “step-back” week is a bit surreal as that was my peak mileage training for Pittsburgh back in 2009 where I ran my first Boston Qualifier in 3:17:43.  Now 55 miles is just a business as usual type of week.

So the formula is set, the dye is cast, we are doing things a little bit differently this time around working with Coach Carmen and training 2X per week with the Rogue Team.  But we are keeping just enough of the things that we have done in the past that made us successful to make me remain calm, confident and relaxed heading into what is going to be a tough summer of training here in Austin.

There are going to be runners much faster than us at Big Cottonwood in September, of that I am certain.  There will be others who are younger, stronger, more fit, have run more miles in their training and have big aspirations for race day just as we have.

Last year a sub 3:10 marathon was good enough for 10th place overall in the event.  A sub 3:05 would have placed us in the top 4.  Being the first year of the event last year, the crowd was small and nobody had a real sense of how the race would unfold.

This year there will be more competitors, faster runners, more at stake with Boston Qualifying times more precious than ever.  I can’t really control any of that.  All I can do is put in the work, take care of myself and put the best conditioned physically, most ready mentally marathoner we have ever been on the starting line on Sept. 14th.  When that gun fires and we cross the mat – I want to have zero doubt in my mind that there was anything more that I possibly could have done to be ready.

If we are able to run that first mile with all systems firing, physically, mentally, spiritually – those other runners will be in a world of trouble on race day.

Clear eyes, full heart, can’t lose.  I ran the last one for me Dom in New York, this one is for you brother.  We’re headed back to Boston and once we get there next year, we are going to crush it.

In 1961 the Shirelles recorded “Mamma Said” – I think they had Sunday’s race in mind when they laid down that top ten R&B Song:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YPS_cjjohLc

The weather forecast was calling for 50% chance of showers, temperatures around 70 degrees and high humidity.  Not ideal conditions at any point in the year.  But the first few weeks of hot weather seems to sap runners strength, speed and stamina more than it does after a few weeks of heat acclimation.  Every runner is different, but for me each spring it takes me about 21 days before I start to feel “normalized”.  I doesn’t make the weather any cooler – but I do tend to get used to it and some adjustments end up being made.  I can hold pace better and longer than I can just a few weeks earlier.

For Bun Run, this was going to be the first “nasty” day where I tried to do anything up tempo.  I knew it was going to be a tough race, but I hoped that I could hang in there and gut out something in the sub 39:00 minute range.  Coming of a race the week before, and another one two weeks before that – I knew I wasn’t “perfect”, but sometimes you surprise yourself I thought as I drifted off to sleep.

Pre-Race:  I slept through the night and hopped out of bed for the usual routine.  Teeth brushing, warm shower to loosen up a bit and some light clothes.  Runderwear, lightweight shorts, small socks and my Brooks Pure Flows that I would be warming up in.  I threw on a singlet that I would wear during warm-up, but I had my bib pinned to my shorts as this would be the first shirtless race of the season.

The drive down was uneventful as I ate my Bagel and drank a Gatorade and water.  Hit the portapotties upon arrival and stretched next to the start/finish area.  Everything was going as planned, but I was comfortable sitting in the dark in just my shorts and singlet.  Sounds like nice weather – and it is – for just about everything but racing.

Warm-up:  I left the start area for a 2-mile warm-up of gradually increasing 1/2 mile splits:  4:05, 3:57, 3:55, 3:47 – 15:49.  Last weekend I did the same warm-up prior to the Red Poppy 5K in 15:39.  I was in my wind pants, a pullover and did not break a sweat running the warm-up over 2 miles where the net elevation change was  feet.

On Sunday prior to Bun Run I was running easy, but already had my singlet sticking to my back and sweat trickling down my brow.  132 feet of elevation change over those two miles.  I stared feeling like it was going to be a tough race.  I went back to the car, changed into my race flats, ditched my singlet, drank a little more Gatorade and made it over to the start area.  Ready to go.

I tucked into the chute with about 20-25 runners in front of me.  Saw David Yin who is part of my new training group and Chris Gunderson from Brooks Running.  A couple more of the usual suspects in Austin and felt like I was lined up right where I needed to be.  After the National Anthem I hopped a few times, legs felt warmed up and ready to roll.  Robert “Evil” Evilsizer from Evil’s Good Time Racing did the honors as he has at 80% of the Austin Races we have ever run.

“Runners to your mark, Horn!”

Miles 1&2:  In my mind I wanted to open up with a 6:05 first mile.  Nothing too crazy, but a first mile where I could hold on to pace if it felt right, or dial back slightly to 6:15 or so if the conditions warranted.  I fell into a group of four with the top two female runners and another tall, lanky runner who I did not know.  We stuck in a pack up through the mile one mark and opened with a 6:04:80.  Perfect.

Immediately as we started mile 2 it seemed like the group was slowing.  Effort felt equal, but we were all now falling :10 a mile off of pace.

We hit mile two in 6:17.  My 10K PR of 37:30 at the IBM Uptown Classic equates to 6:01 pace for the entire 10 Kilometer course.  This had all of the early indications of an ugly race.

Miles 3&4:  Mile 3 features a fairly gnarly climb of 71 feet.  Think 7 story office building and you have it about right.  The first female started to open up some room on the rest of us, but I was hanging with my other runner friends, trading positions back and forth but nobody being able to break free.  Mile 3 came in at 6:47 and as we made our way down the hill to start mile 4 I took some time to recover from the climb.  I let the male runner get ahead of me by 10 meters or so, the 2nd overall female was falling behind me just a bit, but still in contact.  Mile 4 came in at 6:29 and I felt like that was as good as it was likely to get the rest of the race, still staring the long grinding hill over the final mile up Cesar Chavez to the South First Street Bridge.

Miles 5&6:  Mile 5 was just a couple of ticks faster at 6:27, we hit the last water stop, dumped the cup of water over head, took another one for a few sips and dropped it in the waste can as we strode by.  I started to reel in the male runner that had been out ahead of us for the last two miles.  I wanted to get back in contact with him, pull even before the bridge and try to outkick him to the finish.  We were running in 14th position overall, I set my sights on 13th and dug in.

I was trying to stay positive, focusing on the fact that nobody had caught me and that I was gaining on the runner in front of me – but to be honest – this part of the race was pretty rough.  I kept my eyes downward, dug into the hill and essentially retraced the 2nd mile of my warm-up.  Just before the bridge I caught the runner in front of me, slid past on the turn and turned as tight as I could.   I hit the bridge and once I made it to the middle of the bridge we hit mile 6 in 6:28.

6:29, 6:27, 6:28 were the final 3 miles.  The good news is we didn’t fall off late.  The bad news is we were :15 seconds/mile slow.

Finish:  As many downtown races finish, Turkey Trot, SI Labs Relay we made the turn off of the bridge, got a shoutout from Coach Carmen and kicked to the finish.

39:59.

13th place overall.

2nd place in age group.

Aftermath:  It had been awhile since I had a race where I was truly disappointed  in my finish.  Perhaps that is something to celebrate in and of itself.  But I have to admit that the last week has been a mixed bag – coming from an overall first place finish at the Red Poppy 5K I had a lot of confidence heading into Bun Run.

But come race day, the result from a time perspective just wasn’t anywhere near what we were hoping for.  I’ve spent the last couple of days trying to put it all in perspective – obviously a top 15 finish in a 909 person event is pretty solid.  The course did measure 1/10 long this year as the Start/Finish Line was pushed back a bit further than usual on Auditorium Shores, and of course the weather was pretty brutal.

This week kicks off Big Cottonwood Marathon Training and frankly I have a bad taste in my mouth coming off of Bun Run.

That might be the best thing for me right now as I am a determined runner who is looking to improve and race better the next time.  Of course, the next time is 18 weeks away when the temperature is back in the 40’s and we stand 26.2 miles away from a return to the Boston Marathon in 2014.

I’m not entirely sure how things are going to go out in Salt Lake City, UT – but I can promise this much – we are going to be as prepared as possible for that morning and are going to run our heart out.  Usually after a flat race I bounce back with a good one.  let’s hope that is the case this time.

First workout with Coach Carmen tomorrow morning after 8 miles on Monday and Tuesday to start the week.

Here we go.

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.