Posts Tagged ‘Pacing and racing’

Have you ever had one of those moments where someone describes something so succinctly, so perfectly, with so few words that you want to smack yourself on the forehead and say, “That’s it!” 

I had that moment on Sunday as I was thumbing through the latest issue of Runners World.  I was reading an article about how to Not race your best, where they pointed out some pretty obvious no-no’s.  

What not to eat, not to wear new clothing, don’t start too fast, don’t start too slowly.  The typical advice you would expect to see in a magazine that is read by everyone from novice runners to elite champions. 

There was a follow-up comment that really hit home.  

It said the key to racing your best was learning to run while you feel “uncomfortable”

Smack – palm to forehead. 

As I watched my 5K time drop this summer over a series of races from 19:43 to 19:30 to 19:15 to last weekend’s new PR of 18:12, I was struggling to put into words what was happening to me as a runner. 

Sure Tempo Tuesdays – where I cover 6+ miles :30-:45 seconds/mile faster than marathon pace along with Hill Training on Thursdays has paid dividends this summer.  My legs are better defined, my calves are stronger and I’m able to squat and press more weight in the gym. 

I definitely feel like I am a “faster” runner on day three of 43 years old than I was one year ago. 

But as I was talking about racing and pacing with a fellow runner the other day, I was having a hard time articulating exactly why my 5K time had improved so much so quickly. 

The answer is that I have learned that it is O.K. to feel “uncomfortable” when you are racing. 

This is a very different approach than preparing to race a marathon, where a smooth, even pace rules the day. 

For a 5K or 10K race – to really reach your potential – you need to be prepared physically and mentally to run some miles that “hurt”.  You need to find the confidence that just because your legs are starting to ache, your lungs are burning and your breaths are coming much more quickly than during any training run, you are still O.K. 

You are actually better than O.K. – you are on your way to a new PR. 

It just depends on how much you are willing to sacrifice to get there.

Just this week photos arrived from the Cougar Country Classic 5K race.  As I was reviewing the images the above really started to click for me. 

The first photo shows all of the runners in the chute just moments before the gun.  The top four finishers are across the shot wearing bibs:  110, 128, 5 and 13. 

Starting Chute - Cougar Country Classic 5K


Moments later at the start of the race – it is “go time” and the seriousness on the faces of myself and the other runners really hit home.  We went from laughing and joking around to RACING and racing is serious business. 

It's On.


As the race was underway over the first mile although the pace was fast (5:40/mile pace) I was feeling strong and in control. 

Mile 1 - Feeling Strong


On the second mile after a little over 11 minutes at that pace – the race was getting more difficult.  This is where learning to run while you feel “uncomfortable” becomes a critical.  Don’t panic, just keep pushing. 

"Uncomfortable" is setting in.


Sure, dropping back to a 7:00/mile would have felt a lot more comfortable at this point, but to hit that max-performance, you need to welcome the pain a bit – as soon enough you will find yourself coming through the tape with a new PR. 

Battle of 18:12


That is the thing about racing short distances, there simply is not enough time over a 3.1 mile or 6.2 mile course to make up for a split that has you “pacing” yourself or “saving something” if you are hoping to post your best time. 

I’ve found that for me my best 5K strategy is: 

Mile 1:  :10-:15 faster than your goal race pace. 

Mile 2:  Right on your goal race pace. 

Mile 3:  :10 seconds off of your goal race pace. 

Finish:  Leave just enough left in the tank to sprint the finish. 

I am very grateful for all of the great race experience I have been able to acquire this summer.  A good friend told me that if I wanted to improve as a runner I needed to race and race a lot.  It was the best piece of running advice I have received in a long, long time. 

So don’t be afraid to get out there and push it a little bit in your next race – Steve Prefontaine said this about racing 35 years ago: 

“A lot of people run a race to see who is fastest. I run to see who has the most guts, who can punish himself into exhausting pace, and then at the end, punish himself even more. Nobody is going to win a 5,000 meter race after running an easy 2 miles. Not with me. If I lose forcing the pace all the way, well, at least I can live with myself.” 

Sounds about right to me.

Friday morning I was stretching against the garage waiting for my Garmin GPS to capture a satellite signal and set for my run.   I have quite a few rituals on “run days” and one of them is to glance up at the American Flag flying above my head as I stretch and gauge the wind.  Is it blowing North to South?  East to West?  Will it be in my face on the way out?  On the way back?  Is it blowing 10-12 mph today or only 7-8 mph?

This morning the flag was utterly still.  No wind whatsoever.  Not even a tickle, and that meant one thing.  It was time to go fast.

With a rest/travel day yesterday we had fresh legs – although the grass cutting yesterday would account for a little bit of fatigue.  We were healthy, no aches and pains – so it was perfect for a “Ricky Bobby” kind of run.  I had a 5-mile run on the magic fridge – but lately I’ve had another distance on my mind quite a bit.  6.2 Miles – the 10K.

If you look down my list of races and PR’s you’ll see the full marathon – 3:17:43 at Pittsburgh in 2009.  The half-marathon – 1:32:02 at the 3M here in Austin in 2010.  The 5K?  Sure thing, 19:43 in Holland, TX last May.  After last weekend’s effort at the Congress Avenue Mile, I can even boast of a 1-mile PR in 5:24.

The one common distance that is lacking from my running history – the 10K.

It is truly ironic as that is the distance I run more than any other.  I run a 6.2 mile training run at least three times every week, sometimes as many as four.  I know the rhythm, pace and effort it takes to run it slow, medium and “fast” – at least fast for me.  I have been thinking a lot about that distance this week as I take a break from marathoning and I begin to zero in on my plans for the rest of 2010.

So this morning – 10K it would be and as my GPS clicked over to 00:00:00 – letting me know he was ready – off we went.  Without any warmup or strides it would be foolish to just jump out to race pace immediately – so I used the first uphill mile to shake loose.  My routes from home always start with an uphill first mile which lets me stretch out a bit and fall into a comfortable pace.  Some say that is cruel to do to your body at 6:15 a.m. – but for me it works.  When it comes to running, like most things in life, if you find something that works for you – stick with it.

I ticked the first mile off at 7:25 gradually building my leg turnover and cadence.   Mile two – 6:45, Mile three – 6:52, all systems go.  As I started to roll into mile four it was time to climb again.  This is a tricky mile along my 10K route to keep a quick pace over as I need to crest the hill that leads up and over Brushy Creek Dam. 

The hill is relatively steep and climbs over 3/10 of a mile.  I enjoy pushing pace up this part of the course and was able to finish with a 7:04 mile number four.  If I could recover at the top of the dam and push forward I should be able to bring this run in under 7:00 pace – even with a 7:25 first mile.

Mile 5 – no problem – 6:56 and as the sun and heat started to take a little bit out of me I pressed the gas a bit and posted a 6:47 mile six.

Friday Training Run

Last time to climb as there is a somewhat cruel 1/10th of a mile as I work my way out of the trail system behind our house and back onto Palmbrook Drive. 

The hill is very steep, only the kind man would make and pave for cars – but a good test for a tired distance runner.  I covered the final .20 miles at 6:22 pace finishing with a time of 43:07 – 6:58 pace.  Shake N’ Bake.

Solid time for a training run, but not nearly fast enough to win me any age group hardware at a major 10K race.  If we want to make any noise at a major race or two, we are going to have to get stronger and faster.

If you have been following along for a while you know how we do things at Run for Dom.  We do “major” and we do “doubles”.  That’s pretty much how we roll.

So on the calendar today I have circled two races, back to back of course, in April of 2011.  This time we won’t have the luxury of 12 rest days in between races as we did for the Boston and Pittsburgh Marathons.  For the 10K distance we’ll cut that in half.

Cooper River Bridge Run 2010

April 2, 2011 we will toe the line at a race that has been on my radar for more than six years.  The Cooper River Bridge Run in Charleston, SC.  Home of my parents, my good friend Keith – who I will be trying to talk into racing with me – and many others as I lived in the city for close to 10 years in the 90’s.

A beautiful course in a beautiful city that draws more than 35,000 runners annually.  You want a “Major 10K” – the Cooper River Bridge Run is for you.  It has hills, bridges, vistas, my good friend Richard who will certainly be in the crowd of 35,000 runners – and most importantly – shrimp and grits.

Cooper River Bridge Run Start

One week later on April 9th we will take to the streets of our hometown Austin TX to race in the Capitol 10K.  Another major 10K race with more than 20,000 runners in 2010 – it was the largest 10K in the state of Texas and the fifth largest in the Nation.

The Cap 10K as it is referred to here locally is “Big Doins'” here in Austin.  It’s about time we tested ourselves against the best 10K runners in the Republic of Texas.

The 10K, something that has been nagging at me for quite some time now – but next spring with a Texas winter of speed work, hill repeats, tempo runs and intervals in cool temperatures tailor-made for “going fast” we will be ready.

Look out Charleston, the Run for Dom double is back on the tracks and it’s coming for you. 

Shake N’ Bake.

Well that was certainly different. 

After running back to back marathons Run for Dom took on the Congress Avenue Mile as our next race.  Having never run anything shorter than a 5K – which in fact I have run exactly twice since 2005 – the mile was something of a mystery to me.  The biggest challenge that I would be facing for this event would not be my fitness level, health or mental strength.  It would simply be my inexperience. 

Having no experience with training, preparation, race strategy we were certainly at a disadvantage on Saturday.  I didn’t even know what to order for dinner on Friday night.  Do I need Carbohydrates for a 1-mile race?  Protein?  Should I just load up on Twizzler?  Who’s to say?  As I was laying out my race gear on Friday night I affixed my D-Tag (timing chip) to my brand new – never worn – Brooks T6 racers, I simply chuckled to myself.  What the heck am I even doing ….

But with great confidence, false bravado really, I woke up, geared up and drove down to the TX State Capitol.  Scene of my first mile race at age 42.

I found a great place to park right next to the Capitol Building, found some soft grass and stretched leisurely as I ate my protein bar and sipped on a grape Gatorade.  I put on my “heavy” 12.4 ounce Asics Gel Nimbus 11 trainers and ran some very light strides to shake loose.  My legs felt really refreshed from a light mileage week and appeared to have a lot of “juice” in them.  Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad I thought to myself as I went back to the truck to change into my new racing flats.

Immediately after I pulled on my new shoes I felt different.  It was like wearing a pair of slippers instead of running shoes.  At only 5.1 ounces both shoes put together weigh almost 1/3 less than a single training shoe.  I pulled on my Marathon Maniacs singlet – just to intimidate any of the sprinters in the crowd – and walked up to the starting area.

The mood at the Capitol was markedly different from any marathon I had ever  been to.  Smiles all around, lots of runners laughing and joking, just a few “serious” guys here and there getting ready to race – but the vibe was very “Austin” if you know what I mean.  Everyone was just happy to be there and do their own thing – whatever that is.  One of my favorite things about our city.

I chatted with a few veteran runners, spoke about how the very narrow exit leaving the Capitol driveway less than 1/10 of a mile onto the course would be a bit “dicey” if you couldn’t find some open road and I took full advantage of my “smallness” to sneak within 15 runners of the starting line.

Being a “newbie” to the mile I was looking for someone to pace me over the first 1/4 mile.  Running with the “Masters” men, which is a kind way of saying “over-40” without saying it, I felt like I belonged, but I needed some help pace me over that first 400 meters.  I wanted to make sure I neither went out way too fast which would cause me to blow up before we reached the Congress Avenue Bridge or that I went out too slowly and ran out of real estate before I could recover and hit my goal time.

I was thinking something around 5:40 would be respectable,  1/4 mile splits of 1:20, 1:30, 1:30, 1:20 would get me there.  I heard a runner talking about running an :80 second first quarter with another who wanted to cover their first quarter in :75.  Those were my guys.

The horn sounded and like a flash off we went – I stuck close to my guys and navigated the tricky exit out of the Capitol onto Congress Avenue where we had more than four full lanes of traffic to race in.  I fell into a quick pace, churned the legs and let my new Brooks T6 racers do their thing.  I could hardly feel my feet touch the pavement over the first 1/4 mile.  As I hit the first mark I glanced down at my watch and had run the first quarter in 1:19.  Perfect.

This was going to be the tricky part where I would fall back into a “comfortable cruising pace” – fast, but not too fast, as I would want to leave something left to kick over the final 200 meters.  It was at this point where my inexperience got me. 

I dialed back the pace slightly and ran a 1:24 second quarter-mile.  :06 faster than what my pre-race plan was calling for but I didn’t know how fast I was going until I glanced at my watch.  I did not have my usual “internal calibration” to lean on as I simply did not have enough experience running that pace to know how it “felt”.  

The other problem was I had no idea if that was even the pace I “should” be running.  Too fast?  Too slow?  I guess we would find out. 

I realized I was going a bit faster than I had planned, so I let up ever so slightly on the gas and let my “pacer” move ahead of me by another few runner lengths.  I was still keeping contact with him and felt like I could catch him on the bridge if I could kick at the end.  The next thing I knew it happened.

I caught myself daydreaming.  It only lasted about :10 seconds, but as a long-distance runner who frequently allows their mind to drift from topic to topic on a training run, my body started relaxing and I caught myself slowing.  Irritated at myself for losing my focus I picked up my pace a bit and would end up running my third quarter-mile in 1:26.

I looked up ahead and could see the marker for 300 meters to go.  I had planned on starting my push at that point of the race and noticed that even at the steady pace I was holding, I was gaining quickly on the runner that I had been using to pace me.  We hit the 300 meter marker in stride and I felt like I had quite a bit left in the tank.  At 200 Meters I went into my kick and gobbled up 100 Meters in what seemed like the blink of an eye.

Final Kick

I was breathing in and out on stride at this point but was still not experiencing a real “burn” from my legs.  I went full throttle over the final 100 meters and closed strong passing 3 more runners at the finish.  My final quarter-mile split was 1:15 – Overall time 5:24.

As I caught my breath in the finishing area it was a strange feeling.  Was I really done racing in less than 6 minutes?  What do I do now?  I chatted up a couple of runners, grabbed some grapes, a cookie and my finishers medal and then saw my wife Dawn and our friends Sarah and Tedd. 

I felt proud of my time, but almost immediately started thinking that I had sold myself a little bit short in preparing my pre-race plan.  With no way to really “know” what kind of pace I was capable of holding I know it was wise to err on the side of caution.  That said, I immediately knew that each of those two middle quarters could have been run at least :05 seconds or so faster.  Similar to the way that I felt after my first marathon I thought to myself, “I can do better”.

New PR for the Mile!

As for my new shoes – absolutely loved them.  They were certainly lightweight but also very comfortable.  No soreness in my feet, ankles, knees, hips – in fact I felt great after the race.  I still think I will keep them on the shelf only for races 10K and less, but after their baptism by fire I give them two big thumbs up.

The Congress Avenue Mile was a great event and a whole lot of fun.  I don’t think that I’m going to be going out and looking for any track shoes anytime soon, but I am going to take my speed work a little more seriously between now and the Holland, TX 5K in June.  I’ve got an age group title to defend up in Holland and maybe even a new PR to set at the 5K distance.

Brooks T6 Racers

As for Saturday – it’s always a great day when you run a PR and since this was my first ever timed mile, I pretty much had that goal locked up by the time I got out of the truck and made my way to the starting line.  5:24 – I’ll take it.

That time was good for 14oth overall, 15th in our Division.  For our first ever attempt at the distance, not too shabby.

But look out next year all you Masters runners … I figure chasing my daughter around for 9 months or so by then, I should be able to shave at least :10 off that time.

With our final training run in the books prior to Saturday’s Congress Avenue Mile – it’s time to talk about something that all runners – and even a lot of non-runners love – new shoes!  As most of you know this mile race will be my first ever at that distance – everything from training, race strategy and even the appropriate footwear is new to me. 

Usually this would make me feel a bit nervous and uneasy heading into race day.  But given the length of the race and the pace that I need to set over the first 1/4 mile to run a mile somewhere in the 5:00’s on Saturday, I am trying to embrace and channel as much “nervous energy” as I can.

Starting out fast, falling into a quick pace and then finishing strong is the game plan for Saturday.  Just like I approach a marathon by breaking the race down into smaller bite-sized segments, I am doing the same for the mile.

I am looking at the race in three parts.  The initial 1/4 mile where I would like to run :03 to :05 seconds faster than my goal pace, the middle 1/2 mile where I would like to run :03 to :06 seconds slower than my goal pace, and the final 1/4 mile where I hope to close strong and come in right on goal.  Sounds like a reasonable plan – the problem will be in the execution of that plan as I simply do not have the number of 400 meter intervals under my belt to automatically “know” how fast I am running.

When I am out on a typical training run I simply “know” what a 7:00 mile feels like vs. a 7:20 mile.  Without checking my Garmin I “know” how hard to push to run a 6:58 or how much to back off to run a 7:25.  Without glancing down at my watch I can just run those splits “by feel”.

That is a byproduct of running more than 1,500 miles a year since 2005 at that pace, under those types of conditions.  I simply do not have that internal calibration when it comes to running at a pace below 6:00/mile.  This “sprinter” stuff is all new to me – so to level the playing field a bit on Wednesday, I went out looking for an edge.

It is widely accepted that reducing the weight of your running shoes by one ounce reduces your time between :01 and :02 seconds per mile.  That may not sound like a lot, but over the course of a 5K (3.1 miles) or 10K (6.2 miles) – those seconds are a very valuable commodity if you are going for an age-group victory or a PR.

I had never owned a pair of “racing flats” before and was very interested to see how the shoes would feel on my feet and just how much lighter the shoes would be than my faithful Asics Gel Nimbus 11 trainers.  Here in Austin we are fortunate to have a lot of great running stores.  After doing my research I was looking for a pair of Brooks T6 Racers.  The folks at Hill Country Running on S. Lamar had a pair in my size – so it was time to shop.

Since the Brooks T6 Racers are “unisex” they appeared to run a little on the small side.  The size 9’s that I tried on were too snug in the toe box, but as soon as I put on the 9 1/2’s I knew I had found what I was looking for.  For good measure I tried on the Asics Racers as well as a pair of Pumas – but the Brooks were by far the most comfortable.

Much, much lighter with a lot less cushioning these shoes are obviously not built for long training runs and marathons.  But for short races up to the 10K distance – they have enough cushioning to get the job done and are LIGHT!

The tale of the tape showed that my new Brooks T6’s weigh in at a scant 6.1 ounces.  My Asics Gel Nimbus 11’s a robust 12.4 ounces.

Time reduction:  6.3 ounces X :01:5 seconds – 9.45 seconds/mile

Even at only a 1 second reduction per ounce per mile we are looking at a decrease of more than 6 seconds.  Saturday is shaping up to be a very interesting day on Congress Avenue.  Weather is calling for 73 degrees, partly cloudy skies and only a 10% chance of precipitation – which here in TX is the equivilant to “no chance in hell of rain”. 

I wasn’t the only one at the Marruchella House to score some new running gear this week as a mysterious Nike Box arrived from Aunt Sue and Uncle Baird in Chicago.  Our daughter to be’s first pair of running shoes arrived – which I have to say are pretty awesome.

Landry's First Pair of Running Shoes

At less than 1 ounce, those bad-boys look like some fast racing flats! 

So we’re going to take a day off from running on Friday, take it easy Friday night and show up on Saturday morning ready for a “Ricky Bobby” kind of race.  If you are going to be at the Congress Avenue Mile on Saturday and are hoping to see me in action – make sure you get there on-time. 

Our heat goes off at 8:10 a.m. – I don’t plan on being on that course very long.

Shake N’ Bake.

Click here for live video coverage of the race on Saturday morning:

The Congress Avenue Mile looms in just three days (Saturday morning) – and I have to admit that I am pretty far out of my element in preparing for this race.  Never having run track in High School and only taking up running in the last 5 years when I was already 37 years old, to say that I am not a “miler” is a gross understatement.

So what in the world is this marathoner doing getting ready to toe the line on Saturday morning with a bunch of sprinters?  I’ve been searching for the answer to that question this week as I have adjusted my training runs.  I kicked around quite a few theories, but to be honest, I think it boils down to my fascination with Pre.


Steve Roland Prefontaine who I wrote about on his birthday back in January, helped get me excited about the sport of running.  Click here to read about Pre:

When I learned about Pre’s accomplishments as a school-boy runner in Coos Bay, Oregon and then as an elite runner at the University of Oregon, Pre captured the spirit of the kind of runner I wanted to be.  I wanted to be the guy that was an “all-go, no-quit” kind of runner.  But when you take up a sport that you are already more than a decade “too old for” whatever that means, it is important to be realistic about the physical limitations you face.

That being said, for us “older runners” experience thankfully enters into the equation and matters on race day.  I really enjoy the mental side or running and racing – the strategy side of the sport if you will – as much as the physical test.

A lot of people say that the Marathon is a thinking man’s (or woman’s) race.  That tactics and your ability to stick to your plan when you are fatigued are a big part of your success in covering the 26 mile 385 yard distance.  I don’t disagree.  But I also feel that there is something magical about “the mile”.  From Roger Banister breaking the 4:00 mark to Pre’s 3:54:6 in 1973 at Oregon – the mile is “sexy”. 

Less than 1% of the population will ever run a marathon.  Out of that 1%, less than 10% will ever run a “Boston Time”.  That is pretty exclusive company – and it is that exclusivity that adds to the allure of the marathon for me.

But the mile is different.  Everyone of us knows they “could” run a mile.  It is just a matter of how fast.  So for me, I am looking forward to Saturday as much as any race I’ve ever run.  To be honest, I’m more nervous 3 days away from the starter’s gun than I was 3 days before the Boston Marathon. 

I find myself thinking about strategy for the first 1/4 mile, the middle 1/2 mile and that final 1/4 mile to the finish.  Will I go out too fast?  Will I be able to hold pace over the middle portion of the race?  Will I start my finishing kick too early?  Will I wait too late and not push hard enough?  All are questions that I will not be able to answer until 8:10 a.m. Saturday morning.

By 8:16 it will all be over (hopefully).  I’d love to run something in the 5:00’s for my first attempt at the distance.  Is that possible for this soon to be 43-year old marathoner?  No telling.  The one thing I do know is that I am going to look to channel my “inner-Pre” on Saturday.  One of my favorite running shirts has a quote from Pre on the back that you see at a lot of races:

“To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift”

But there is another quote from Pre that I’ve been thinking about a lot this week when I have been pushing myself into a full-out sprint at the end of my 5, 6 and 8 mile training runs – focusing on my leg turnover and my form – trying to stay tall and fast:

“A lot of people run a race to see who is fastest. I run to see who has the most guts, who can punish himself into exhausting pace, and then at the end, punish himself even more.”

I have no illusions for any type of glory on Saturday, no age-group or division victories – I’m just hoping I can run the best race that I can and leave nothing out there on the course.  In the end I think Pre had it exactly right.  I’m going to turn Saturday morning into a “guts race” as Pre used to say, and if I do, I’m the only one who can win it.

So Dom, check back with me after breakfast – I’ll be running for you on Saturday.  I know you would give anything to be out there with me if you could.  Legs pumping, arms swinging, chest heaving  – it’s going to be quite a race.  Because at the end of the day, everybody likes to go fast.

Shake N’ Bake.

19-Mile Long Run

Sunday’s 19-mile long run wrapped up training week 10 leaving only 6 more weeks to Boston.  I had this particular run circled on my calendar as the week where I would take stock of my training to date and set my goal time for Boston. 

Coming off of last Sunday’s “step-back” 12-miler I knew that my legs while somewhat tired from this week’s 40 cycling miles and 22 running miles would not be overly fatigued.  Today’s workout was one where I could really try to simulate race conditions and determine what pace I feel is possible to sustain at Boston.

Next Sunday will feature a 20-mile long run after two 10-mile runs during the week and a trip out to Los Angeles, San Francisco and back to Austin.  There is a good chance I will be “dragging” just a bit next Sunday – so that workout will focus on building endurance and strength – both physical and mental.  It will not be a workout to try to push pace.  That is what yesterday’s run was for.

I woke up to overcast skies, 53 degree temperatures and a 6 mph wind out of the SW.  Not a perfect day for running – but pretty darn close.  I geared up wearing the clothes I expect to race in (weather permitting) and simulated my hydration and nutrition plans throughout the run.  For lack of a better term – Sunday’s run was a dress-rehersal for Boston.

The early portions of a marathon for me are mentally taxing.  I know that to be strong during the latter portions of the race I will have to conserve energy in the beginning.  My rested legs want to go out fast and start gobbling up the miles.  That strategy is pure folly and I know it.  Instead, I spend the better part of the first 4 miles trying to hold myself back.  Sunday’s workout was very similar – I did not let my body dictate pace until well after the half-way point of the run.  The first 13 miles were run with my head – I would give the last 6 over to my heart.

One year ago during this identical workout I posted a total time of 2:26:16 at 7:42 pace.  I would go on to post a personal best 3:17:43 at the Pittsburgh Marathon at 7:31 pace – :06/mile faster than I needed to qualify for Boston.  On Sunday I posted a 2:20:01 at 7:22 pace – finishing the run with identical 7:11 splits for miles 18 and 19.  Frankly, I am a little bit surprised at how much my mile splits have improved over the past 12 months.  During this training cycle I made some changes that I had hoped would improve my strength and running economy.  I dropped one run per week off of my previous schedule while adding three cycling workouts per week to my training regimen.  I continue to workout with my personal trainer three times per week in addition to my four run days.  I feel stronger than I did one year ago, but am I really looking at a sub 3:15:00 Marathon time at 42 years old?

A lot of factors need to go into arriving at your goal pace for a race, some of which are very much outside of your control.  Weather, health, the race course, crowds, changing course conditions all pay a major factor when just a few seconds per mile turn Boston Qualifiers into also-rans.  That said, based on everything I am seeing from my training to this point and especially how I am feeling since recovering from my shin splint issues in December –  I think a PR at Boston is very much within reach.

When it comes to setting race goals I have always erred on the side of caution a bit.  I think that there is something to be said about making sure that you feel that you have accomplished something truly remarkable by completing a 26.2 mile course.   Not forgetting that in addition to race day, you have also covered hundreds and hundreds of training miles just to get to the starting line.  By the time I toe the line in Hopkinton with a number pinned to my chest I will have run 474 miles, cycled 600 miles and spent 48 hours strength training in just 16 weeks.

To set a goal for a race and fall short leaves many runners feeling down about their performance – that somehow they had failed.  The fact remains that less than 1% of the population will ever attempt to run a marathon.  Out of those marathoners less than 10% will ever achieve a Boston Qualifying time.  That is pretty elite company that I will find myself in the thick of at Boston. 

Which brings us to the real reason that we are taking on this challenge of two marathons in 13 days which is our hero Dom.  Run for Dom is not about PR’s or mile splits or re-qualifying for Boston.  It is about appropriately honoring a close friend who is battling enormous odds of his own to defeat a terrible, terrible disease.

Over the next two weeks Dom will go in for his final round of Chemotherapy and be firmly moving forward to the recovery stage of his battle.  Dom has spent the last 7 months battling cancer on a daily basis.  There are no rest days for Dom.  No recovery runs.  No easy days or days off.

So setting a goal for Boston with so many things to consider is difficult for sure.  When I spent time today really reflecting on it I came up with the only real answer.  I am going to race at Boston the only way I know how.  I’m not going to hold back and “save something” for Pittsburgh.  That race will be about something very different on May 2nd – full of its own challenges and hopefully victories.

Home Stretch - final .20 Miles

For Boston I am simply going to run my best marathon.  The best race I am capable of running that day.  Weather and health permitting that means bettering our PR at Pittsburgh a year ago.  Coming through the chute at the most revered marathon in the world faster than I ever have before.  If that means only shaving a second off of my PR of 3:17:43 then that is just fine with me.  So for Boston – 3:17:42 is the goal. 

Just 6 weeks to go.