Monday, March 25, 2013

Race Report - VA Beach Shamrock Marathon

Well, my big Spring race is finally in the books with a new marathon PR!  So let's take a stroll down memory lane and recap the race.

The short version:

I had a great weekend in VA Beach - enjoyed getting away, staying at a nice hotel, and spending some quality family time away from home.  As for the race - on a tough day, I ran as strong as I could, and managed to run a 3:14 while battling some serious headwinds for seemingly 20+ miles despite a course that loops back onto itself.  I'm happy with the 6 minute PR, but never satisfied.

The long version:

Pre-Race
I'm going to start this on Friday night, only because of a fateful event that happened...while sleeping no less.  In the middle of the night, I sprung up out of bed to the feeling of a cramp.  In my calf.  Never a good thing, let alone less than 2 days before a marathon!  So I popped out of bed to try and work it out and relax to the point where I could regain mobility enough to walk, nevermind run.  After about a minute, I had massaged the knot enough so I could limp to the bathroom and take a closer look.  My life flashed before my eyes as I quickly considered the possibility that my race could be over before it began.  But after I massaged it for a few minutes, I tried to fall back asleep and hope that when I woke up the next day, it would be gone as if it was just a nightmare to forget.  When I woke up Saturday morning, I was given a quick reminder that the calf cramp WAS real and did in fact happen.  It was tight and I had to walk with a slight limp.  So I did what any other person would do - went into rehab panic mode!  I went on to do some active mobility exercises in the hopes of loosening it up, before getting a little deeper with my fingers to try and break up the knot.  By the end of the session, I had a little more mobility, but it wasn't equal to my right side.  I began to wonder whether this would impact my running gait and cause compensatory issues.  Well since I was warmed up, I had my shake out run to accomplish, which would allow me to see how things would feel.  The run itself went fine.  Legs felt fresh and nothing bothered me.  However, after I stopped, I did notice that the calf tightened back up a bit.  Oh well, I figured, nothing I can do about it now.  Guess I'll have to see how things play out!

Posing with my little runner
After a pretty quick drive down to VA Beach, we stopped at the Convention Center to pick up my packet, pose for a few photos, and then head over to the hotel.  I didn't need anything at the expo, so why waste time on my feet?  In total, we probably spent 30 minutes there.  It looked like a solid expo with some good deals on stuff, but not worth the extra effort to find them.  We checked into the Ocean Beach Club, only a few short blocks from the start, and right on the boardwalk.  After checking in, we spent a few minutes on the beach, as it was in the 60s, which was a nice change from the recent cold spell we'd had.  Plus, knowing that cold air was on its way for race day, we figured we'd enjoy the beach while we could!  As is typical for most marathoners, we settled for an early dinner/late lunch as the main meal, which was around 4 pm.  After that, it was a lighter dinner, and then into some more mobility work on my calf, before trying to get some sleep and not worrying about it.
Future Runner

Race Day
Having a baby with you ensures you don't need to worry about sleeping in.  On his usual schedule, the Z man got us up at about 5:30, which was right when I was hoping to get up.  By 6, I had eaten my breakfast of applesauce, protein powder, and a banana.  Until just before the race, I'd sip on some sports drink, but otherwise it was just time to hang out.  I did a bit more mobility work, which helped loosen my calf up some more, but I could still feel the bulk of the knot.  I just hoped that the compression socks would support the muscle enough that it wouldn't be a problem.  With about an hr to go until race time, we gathered up our gear and headed down toward the race for a bit of a warm up.

A few pre-race nerves and about to warm up
With Rebecca and Z in tow in the stroller, they helped keep my nerves at bay, by running with me.  The 1st part of my warm up was about 8 minutes of easy jogging down the start of the course, as 4 minutes out and 4 back, followed by some leg swings and my standard lunge matrix warm up routine.  After that, it was back out for a few more minutes with a couple of race paced pick ups to get a feel for the wind.  Knowing this course all too well, the winds were particularly strong, so I wanted to dial in the feel.  On my 1st pick up headed out, I noticed that my pace was about 6:45/mi, despite feeling really comfortable.  I knew my legs were well rested, but the massive tailwind was certainly noticeable.  On the next one, I had turned around only to see my pace around 7:25/mi at the SAME effort!  So I started to game plan in my head and think about to my race strategy and how the winds might impact things.  I quickly came to one conclusion, I'd have to run the first tailwind miles faster than planned so I can slow as needed into the wind.  Totally against all I believe in and preach to others as far as how to properly pace a marathon, but in my heart, I knew it was how it would have to be done.  If there was one thing I took away from running this race in 2011, it was that I ran way too hard into the wind from miles 10-16, which forced me to blow up later.  Trying to prevent that, I knew I'd have to go relatively easy once I got to 10-16 and the only way to not fall off pace would be to use the tailwind while I had it.

About 10 minutes before the gun, I lined up in Corral 1 and seeded myself about 10 rows back from the front.  I could see the 3:05 pacer a few rows up, so I wanted to make sure I'd stay behind him, as I was targeting between 3:05-3:10 as my goal.  And then shortly before the race started, I heard the 3:05 pacer describe to those that were planning to follow him, that because of the winds, they would be using the tailwind at the start to go out faster than goal pace so they could factor in running into the headwind later.  This was exactly in line with my thinking, so I was glad to see someone else thinking along the same lines.

Miles 1-6 7:03/7:06/7:05/7:08/7:06/7:03
Before I knew it, we were off and the race was underway!  I took off pretty slowly to build my effort and to minimize the potential for getting caught up with anyone.  It didn't take long for the packs to start separating themselves.  I noticed the 3:05 pack quickly pulling away at a pace I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have been prepared to start a marathon at, so I was glad to be running my own race.  I just progressively picked up the pace over the 1st mile until I locked in that feeling I had spent so much time practicing.  As I started to pull away and find space, I could feel the tailwind.  I came through Mile 1 in 7:03, but it didn't scare me.  I knew the effort was wind aided, so I just kept on moving.  After taking it easy up and over the one bridge we cross twice, I opened up on the downhill and just let my stride find itself.  Still with a tailwind, I kept moving around the same pace.

It was shortly after the bridge that another guy ran up to me and started chatting.  He noticed my =PR= shirt and he happened to be wearing one as well.  Noticing that I was running pretty steady, he asked if I was shooting for around 3:10.  Since we were pretty close in goals, I said I'd welcome the company.  Turns out, his name was Erin and he's on the =PR= Triathlon Team so we knew some of the same folks.  We chatted a bit on and off for the next mile or so, before a group of runners came upon us wondering if we were running around 3:10.  I explained to them that we should all try to stay together, because once the headwinds hit, working as a group would be the ideal way to ensure everyone gets through the race with minimal impact.  At the same time amidst the group of guys was a girl who had asked what pace we were running, since her watch was full.  Since we were running around her goal pace, she also joined.  (I later learned her name was Lindsay and after the race, came to find out that she also has a blog)  Having effectively formed the group and the one who had previously run this race, I became the "pace leader".  I enjoyed the role, as it kept me from being too serious this early, but also with a sense of responsibility to those that were trusting enough to run with me.  While there was no official 3:10 pace group, we certainly looked like one - with 10-15 people strong to start, but I believe it grew up to 20 at some point!  I was proud to have formed this group, and hopeful it would work to everyone's benefit.  So our group pressed ahead, nailing pretty steady splits along the way.  When we'd come to water stops, everyone would fall in single file line before re-forming a few moments later.  It was pretty cool.  We'd call out turns coming up, point out objects, puddles, etc in the road.  It was great.

It was around Mile 5 that I noticed that first hiccup of the race.  The course markers were off.  I don't mean this to be one of those idiots claiming that their GPS measured 1.000002, so therefore the course was long.  I mean that I was spot on with my autolap through Mile 4, but suddenly my watch beeped about a minute before we crossed the Mile 5 marker while still showing a steady pace.  The added benefit of running in a group is that you can ask around!  We had some folks manually tracking, while others on autolap, and everyone agreed.  The guy who was manually lapping had Mile 5 at 7:58 and Mile 6 at something like 6:08, so I can confidently say they were off!  Shortly before Mile 6, we turned around and just like that, we felt the now headwinds starting.

Miles 7-13 7:07/7:07/7:077:12/7:11/7:16/7:18
Once we started getting some early signs of the headwinds, we started falling in line a little more than previously.  However, after only a mile or so of running into the wind, we turned into Camp Pendleton.  This section was mostly a blur, with a lot of twists and turns, but largely absent of the crowds of military folks I remembered being there two years ago.  We were cruising now, pretty much on auto-pilot (see those three 7:07 splits in a row!).  Once we exited, it was time to go back up over the bridge and prepare to face the winds.

Leading the pack off the boardwalk around Mile 12
As we began approaching the boardwalk, I quickly reminded the group that now is the time to share the responsibilities we all agreed to.  Immediately, 2 of the guys who had been sitting back the past few miles, came to the front.  It was pretty cool to see my plan come to life.  I was running just behind them, but with a trail of about 20 runners at this point.  Everyone we passed was cheering for us and how we were working together.  We really started to swallow up a bunch of runners as well, because those ahead of us were working alone and either blowing up from starting off too fast, or slowing down to temper their effort into the strong winds.  You could see the noticeable pull back in our pace, but it was a solid bit faster than I felt I would have been running if I were doing this solo.  After a few short miles of work on the boardwalk, we turned back onto Atlantic Ave and began to run through the loudest section of the course.  Coming through as a pack was energizing and really kept my spirits up.  Though the winds were still strong, and in some cases worse along this section, seeing the crowds and running as a pack was awesome!  We crossed the half way mark feeling pretty good still, but I knew darker times were to come.
Almost half way, =PR= representing our pack

Miles 14-20 7:15/7:15/7:12/7:17/7:13/7:25/7:37
The stretch of Miles 14-16 might feel like the most difficult section mentally.  Having just passed the halfway mark and leaving the crowds, you begin to run along a concrete highway with an ever so slight incline for the next three miles.  There are half marathoners finishing, few spectators, and not much else to look at.  This is where I did a full body scan to think about how I was feeling thus far.  With the exception of a little tightness starting to develop in my hamstring, all things were good.  To combat this early before it became a problem, I started taking in some of the Gatorade at the aid stations that were opposite the ones where I'd take water to go with my gels.  Knowing the Gatorade had higher amounts of sodium, I've already learned that it would help.  And sure enough, each time I'd have some, those feelings would go away for a while.  Once we got to Mile 16, we split off into First Landing State Park, which is a scenic stretch of tree covered road that begins the final loop, before heading back toward the finish on the boardwalk.  Our pack was still running strong, but there was far less chatter.  The race started to get real and I think everyone began internalizing and going through some self reflection about how to proceed.  It was around this time that Lindsay's husband caught a short clip of our pack as we ran by, which was pretty cool that we stuck together for so long.



(brief note - amazing how slow running a ~ 7:15/mi pace looks on video!)

As we edged toward Mile 18, I could tell that my hamstring was becoming more of a pain and I had my first flashback to 2011 when I was sidelined with 6+ miles to go, but unable to run due to my cramping.  To keep things at bay, I started running with a slightly faster cadence so as to minimize the stretch on the hamstring.  Then I came upon a aid station where I downed some more Gatorade.  Between Miles 18-19 is where our pack splintered.  My body told me I needed to back off ever so slightly or else I'd be onto some full blown cramping.  I sadly obliged as I backed away and quickly watched my dreams of maintaining a steady pace fade.  A few of the pack members pulled away as well, but I also noticed that not that many people had passed me either, so they must have suffered issues earlier and backed off as well.  But with some positive self talk, I just kept on going.  Relentless forward progress is the motto I turned to.  If I was going forward, no matter the pace, I was getting close to the finish.  So while my pace had slowed to a speed that wasn't ideal, if I could hold onto it, it would be significantly faster than trying to keep up, only to have to sit on the side of the road unable to do anything.  So I pressed on.  It was also right around this time that we made that final turn back toward the direction of the finish.  When planning this pacing plan, I was expecting a tailwind, since we were fighting a headwind going the other direction.  Well what happened was that we were the lucky recipients of changing winds, which ended up being more of a head/side wind, where we were hoping for a tailwind.  Oh fun!  So while I was still putting in an effort that felt like 7:20/mi pace, I was actually running in the 7:40/mi range due to the winds.  I simply could not run faster or else my hamstring would go.  I was right on that edge and I just made it my goal to stay there.  It was kind of frustrating too, because even at this effort, had there been a tailwind, I probably would have been pretty close to on pace.  Oh well, can only go as fast as the race conditions allow.

Miles 21-26 7:40/7:52/7:48/7:51/8:11/7:46/7:41 (last .2)
Mile 25 - happy to see Rebecca and Z
Living life on the edge, I was resigned to just let my body tell me how hard I could go.  I just simply ran.  But the thing about it was that for the first time in a marathon, I didn't feel like I had an eternity to go or that I was looking forward to be done.  With only 6 miles left, I "only" had 48 minutes or less, which became under 40 minutes, etc.  Time was still moving pretty quickly, even though my race wasn't happening as well as I was hoping.  I think it had more to do with the fact that had there been a tailwind or no wind, my paces would have been pretty close to where I needed to be.  But I kept telling myself that you can only do what you can do and I was at peace with that.  My body on the other hand, wasn't as much a fan.  I had a few more violent protests in the mix during this stretch, but never did I have to walk...more of a awkward hop with a sharp twinge in a hammie, slow down a bit, start picking up the pace a little more, and get back on track.  I had a few conversations with my body where I simply said that "you will not define me" and I pressed on.  When I finally hit Mile 25, I had a sweet surprise and got to see Rebecca and the Z man.  After chatting with her after the race, she was surprised to see me still looking so good, since she's seem me through some dark moments this late in races.  I was in great spirits and knew I was almost done and on my way to a new PR.  I simply kept chugging along, while picking off a lot of people who were pretty much toast.  And that was the interesting thing - nearly everyone slows down some at the end of a marathon.  Its about who slows down less.  And fortunately for me, I wasn't really slowing down so much as running steady at my new pace.  It was what it was.  Step by step, I edged closer to the finish and before I knew it, I made the last turn onto the boardwalk for the final homestretch.  Of course, at this exact moment, I noticed something I hadn't experienced in quite some time.  A tailwind!  For that last 1/2 mile, we were graced with a nice push in the back to bring it on home.  So I just stayed relaxed and to come through the finish, happy to PR.  I knew I did what I could on a day that wasn't ideal and still managed to put down a solid time.

Finished!

Final time: 3:14:35
1st half: 1:34:40
2nd half: 1:39:55
129/2995 Overall
20/252 in Age Group

Post Race

After crossing the line, I saw some of my fellow pack members.  Some had already crossed the line ahead of me, while others began coming through the finish as I slowly made my way through the finishers area.  It was kind of funny to "recognize" so many people I didn't know.  I chatted with those I saw from our pack and congratulated everyone.  We all were shocked with the winds in those last miles, but we did what we could.  Shortly after exiting the finishing area, I found Rebecca and a passed out Z, as we began the walk back toward the hotel.  Having stopped running and headed back into the wind toward the hotel, I began to realize how cold I was getting.  Despite the sweet fleece blanket finisher item they handed us after crossing the finish, I was COLD and starting to shake.  But eventually we made it back, where I could finally start to warm up.

Additional Thoughts
- After it all went down, I kept replaying the race over in my head, trying to figure out if I made the right decision to go harder from the start due to the winds.  I am still convinced I made the right call.  I've tried to chart out several scenarios on paper factoring in an easier start, but a bit more steady pacing through the end and I still come pretty close to where I finished.  I don't regret the decision at all.  I just wish the circumstances were different and I was able to run the race I wanted to.

- Comparing how I ran this race to how I ran it in 2011, there are a few things I can point to for improved performance.  First, I covered 26.42 mi rather than 26.48, so I ran the tangents a bit better.  Second, I ran the 2011 one with a race plan similar to what I planned on doing before I learned about the winds (start slow, finish fast).  Conditions were similar in both races.  In 2011, I took the first 6 miles easy, pushed the gas peddle too hard into the wind, and blew up.  The fact that I purposely slowed running into the wind this time, and used the initial tailwind to my advantage, allowed me to stay in the race without blowing up.  As I previously said, I think I made the right call on this one.

- I don't like seeing the 5 minute positive split in my race result.  However, knowing the full story puts it into perspective.  Because most of that added time was due to the headwind, I didn't actually fade all that much.  I probably gave up 1-2 minutes in the later miles due to fatigue, but the rest was due to factoring the winds.  This post makes me feel better about the conditions and its impact, since even the top guys felt those winds and believe it cost them at least 3-5 minutes off a "regular" time. I think that's a fair assessment.

- A 6 minute PR is nothing to sneeze at, but I am very aware that it is not where I should be.  I am already thinking about when I might get another shot at a marathon, because I still have some work to do.  However, I won't be running any redemption races (if there is such a thing after already PRing).  With a focus on the Brooklyn Half as my next race, I have a 13.1 PR to crush next.  Maybe I'll have another go at my marathon PR in the Fall.

- Nutrition-wise, I took in at least 700 calories in the race, which is a record for me, and also a factor in why I didn't bonk.  I practiced this in training and never had any issues upping the caloric intake, but I felt like I wasn't take in enough in previous races, so I wanted to try taking in more.  I took gels at 4, 8, 12, 16, 20, 22 and also Gatorade on course starting around Mile 14 and took a cup or two at each aid station I didn't take a gel.  I figure the Gatorade was worth at least 100 calories, maybe a bit more between all of the aid stations.  Never had any stomach issues or urge to use the facilities once the race started.  Drank water by feel as I passed aid stations, but always following a gel.  Didn't use all of the aid stations though, so I drank when I felt it necessary.

- After a series of social media friends and links in the days after the race, I came to find out that the girl running in our pack was Lindsay and she has a great race recap of her race on her blog, where she rocked a 3:13.  I was happy to help her during the windy section by blocking the wind, as it was the right thing to do.  While not everyone did their part, I know I did and I'm glad it helped her save some energy to finish strong.  I run with strong women runners often and while some men might feel threatened or competitive, I encourage it and want to do what I can.  I often find myself running with the upper end of the women's field of most races, so I try to pull them along when I can, since many of them are running for place.  I was able to chat with her after crossing the finish line for a bit and congratulate her on running such a strong race.  I learned she is also a new mom and still managed to crush her previous PR by 11 minutes - Very impressive!

- Post race, I felt pretty good physically.  I was fine walking around and didn't have any particularly soreness issues.  What amazed me most was that I had ZERO blisters!  During this training cycle, I've come to trust the couple of pairs of Pro Compression socks (paid for with my own money, so I have no affiliation) as my "go to" for long runs.  Since using them, I have NEVER gotten a single blister.  This is the first time I've ever gone through a race, let alone training cycle, without a blister.  I did not think it was possible.  For all the talk of black toenails (trust me, I've lost 2 nails to them) and nasty blisters, I didn't have a single issue with it this time.  The only change I've made is to my socks.

- As of this writing, my body feels completely back to normal.  And while some people will assume training can resume, it is important to respect the fatigue caused by a marathon.  Week 1 is all about recovery with active, but limited bouts of movement (ie walking, cycling, LIGHT running, etc).  Week 2 is when you can start getting back to some regular easy runs.  So while I do plan to go for some runs in Weeks 1 and 2, it will all be easy peasy until Week 3.


Monday, March 11, 2013

Race Execution Done Right

someecards.com - Prior proper planning prevents piss poor performance...When you read back over the countless race reports written by any athlete, you usually can summarize them under one of two buckets: 1) I PR'd the race and it was all rainbows and unicorns; or 2) I didn't have the ideal race because...

For anyone new to racing, PRs are relatively easy to obtain, since you only have a limited number of attempts and background at the event.  But for those who have been racing for some time, PRs just don't happen every race.  In fact, some people may go seasons without a single PR.  Once you have put it all out there, you move into a phase where a new PR is typically just a small chip off the old one, not a major breakthrough, although breakthroughs can still happen even for the veteran racer.

So what does it take typically for one to PR?  Well great, consistent training leading up to a race for one.  But also equally important (if not more), is the ability to execute your race with ninja like precision based on your fitness.  The bottom line is that you can be super fit and race ready, but if you fail to execute your race to your fitness, odds are you won't have a great race.  And for the most part, that is why people fall into the second bucket.  Whether you got super excited early into the race and went out too fast only to fade later, or simply threw your plan out the window once the gun went off, a bad race is a bad race.  At the end of the day, all that hard training gave you a sub-optimal result.  And while the eternal optimist will find small victories along the way through accomplishments in training, the sad fact is that the majority of people are wired to see success in the result, not the process.  There is extreme value in honoring both, but the result is what people see, which is why it typically matters most.

So what I try to instill in anyone training for a race (no matter the distance), is to go into the race knowing what your plan is.  You know your plan by writing it out in advance, and practicing it in your training.  I've provided a number of examples of how I've been doing this to ensure my plan matches my fitness.  If your workouts in training aren't giving you confidence leading up to your race, you need to scale back your pacing plans.  These workouts should be relatively easy (compared to the race), since they are only a fraction of your actual race.

So once you've found your pace and practiced it in training to confirm it is appropriate, its time to create your plan.  The reasons for writing a plan are not simply to document everything.  It is also a mental checklist to make sure you figure things out in advance, so you don't have to worry and stress about it later when you may not have the same flexibility.  With all the nervous energy we bring to a race, the goal is to channel that toward the actual race, not some outside stressor you could have resolved with a little bit of planning.  Let's look at some key elements of what a race plan should include:
  1. Logistics - Whether the race is local or you have to travel, every race requires some logistical planning for both packet pickup and for the race itself.  When are you going to do each of these activities?  How does that align with your family's/friend's plans?  Do you know exactly where you are going and planning to park?  What about where you are going to meet after the race?
  2. Running Plans Before Race - Obviously your race plan should include your running plans, but I like to write out the day before, and warm up plans as well.  As part of my visualization before races, I go through this routine in my head, so if it is in my race plan, it is part of what I visualize. 
  3. Nutrition - Again, think about not just race nutrition, but anything you'll need before, during, and after your race.  Depending on the logistics of your race, you may not have easy access to everything, so if you need to plan accordingly, write it down.  Are you planning to take on course nutrition or bring your own?  How frequently?  Where are the water stops on the course and how do they line up to your nutrition plan.
  4. Race Specifics - This is your actual race plan, where you outline what you will do in your race.  As with any distance, you want to ease into your pacing, so make sure that your pace plan reflects both a gradual transition to your goal race pace, as well as the particular uniqueness of the race course.  For example, is there a big hill early on or later in the race that you know will force slower splits to keep an even effort?  How will your pacing address this?  Is the weather (heat, humidity, wind, rain, etc) going to impact your pacing?
  5. Emergency Kit - I like to call this section the "What Ifs".  What if...you drop your nutrition, have to go to the bathroom, forget your trusty Garmin, the weather is completely different than forecast, etc.  You want to try and cover it all here so you can plan for the unexpected, so that if it happens to you, you have a plan to address the issue.
So with a little bit of planning and putting it out there in advance, you can save yourself the potential for things to go awry on race day.  Success doesn't just happen.  It happens when you create situations that present opportunities for greatness.  And in order to maximize those opportunities and minimize the likelihood of a negative experience, developing a race plan is strongly recommended.

As the saying goes - "Prior proper planning prevents piss poor performance"!

Monday, March 4, 2013

Race Ready

Consistency has been my mantra this cycle
Now that I am finally within the 2 week window of race day, I like to take a look down memory lane of my training to remind myself that 1) I am as best prepared as possible; and 2) That no additional workout will determine my outcome.  In order to be race ready, I think you need to be able to grasp both of these concepts.  Failing to recognize one or both of them can lead you down the rabbit hole of taper madness.  I've written before about Creating the Confident Athlete, which touches on this topic as well.  The gist of it is that we don't want to do anything between now and race day to compromise all the hard work we've put in.  And in order to prevent those crazy ideas from coming to fruition, you need to be able to say to yourself that you've done everything you can, and nothing you do will make you more (or less) prepared from here on out.

So how does one go about doing that?  Well like I said, take a look back through your log of workouts and soak in the accomplishments you've made in training.  Remember when 14 miles felt long?  Well you probably just ran 20+ miles a week or 2 ago.  Or what about the 2-3 miles of tempo running when you first started?  If you trained properly, you've probably extended the distance of your tempo runs quite a bit from there.  Or how about your marathon pace - remember how difficult it was at first to finish the last mile or two of your long run at that pace?  Well, you've probably done a handful of workouts to incorporate miles of marathon paced running and now that just feels natural.  If you've done all those things, I can assure you that you are as best prepared as possible and whatever happens on race day comes down to race execution (we'll touch on that in a future post), and the elements of the day (ie things beyond our control like weather).

For me personally, this has been a training cycle unlike previous ones.  Simply put, I gave it everything by safely upping my mileage, making training a priority (even with 4 am, way too cold to be running this early, runs) to ensure consistency, and really honed in on my race pace.  When I look back, I am both astounded and motivated by what I've been able to accomplish.  In a schedule that has only become increasingly busier due to a baby, additional work responsibilities, and life, I've managed to put together a strong case for having a great race.  No matter what race day brings, I know I am in the best shape of my life and will come out of this only stronger.  Here are just a few highlights I am most proud of:

- 18 weeks of official training, with the lowest weekly mileage being 43, the highest being 75, and an average of 60.
- Consistency has been the name of the game for me.  I've never run fewer than 5x/week, with most weeks logging 7-9 runs over 6-7 days/week.
- 5 runs of 20+ miles, up to a max 22 miles, which included 10 miles at goal marathon pace.
- I am at a racing weight I consider healthy, having lost nearly 10 lbs post baby (I can't say men don't gain weight with pregnancy too), and eat a well balanced diet in line with my training levels WITHOUT restricting any foods.  I eat what I want, but within reason.

So for those reasons, I mentally feel ready and confident that I've done what I can to create the success I envision.  Physically, I have done some serious quality workouts that give me the confidence to know that I can hit my goal paces.  Below are just a few of the ones that stand out to me:

- Marathon paced tempo - 2 mile warm up, 10 miles at marathon pace, 2 mile cool down
- Marathon paced long run - 10 miles easy, 10 miles at marathon pace, 2 mile cooldown
- Marathon race simulation - 3 x (1 mile easy, 5 miles at marathon pace), 2 mile cool down

To me, these were just three of the big workouts I performed over my last month of quality building toward the race.  Each one proving to me that the paces I am setting for myself are appropriate with my fitness.  I finished each of these workouts knowing I could easily continue the effort much further, and despite the temptation to do so, ended the workouts at their intended distance.  The last thing you want to do is leave your race performance out on a training run.  Too many people get caught up in the emotions of completing such a workout and let that happen.

Having that feeling of wanting to do more at the end of a tough workout is a good thing - its what keeps us hungry for race.  You want to be hungry for more, not burnt out.  Never have I felt burnt out during this training cycle.  Each week has brought a renewed confidence and appreciation for building my fitness toward race day.

I've made a lot of deposits in the marathon bank this training cycle and I'm ready to cash out.  I'm hungry for race day to get here.  I'm confident, proud, and ready to do this.  I hope you are too.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Ready to Taper Properly?

For anyone training for the myriad of March marathons, you are probably just starting to (or close to) taper time.  That glorious realization that all the hard work is done and it is time to rest.  "The hay is in the barn", as we've often heard.  But that's not really the case if you do it right.  Wait, what?  I can't put my legs up on the couch and mail it in until race day?  Unfortunately, that's reality if you are looking to do well in your next race.  And I'd argue that this time more than ever, is the time to really focus.  Not so much on getting the workouts done, but about making smart decisions to get you to the starting line with a clear mind and a fit body.

Let's look at it this way - you've spent months teaching yourself and your body that all this running is good.  It only actually took about 4-6 weeks to convince it and now you've been rolling with it for these last few months.  16, 18, 20, 22 milers - all teaching your body how to go long.  Tempo runs where you convince yourself that you can keep it going for just one more mile.  So when the taper rolls around, you can't just rest, because your body and mind will start adapting to that new model.  So what do we do?  We taper properly.  Not by resting, but by still running similar to how we have been doing it all these months.  Just less miles of it.

Now some guidelines will have you dropping off pretty significantly in those first couple weeks - 25% in week 1, another 25% in week 2, and then only a few runs the week of the race.  I think that may be a bit aggressive and could lead someone to be flat on race day.  Within 2 weeks, you've dropped your volume by 50%, and while your body will surely feel rested, I think you also start loosing that edge from all the training and your body may be moving in the opposite direction fitness wise from where you want it.  And as we all know, that first week of taper isn't really a taper at all (ie The Transition Week), since you still have to run fairly long and put in some quality work.

What I am proposing is simply tapering down a little less, but still keeping volume relatively consistent.  Maybe 10-15% in week 1, and another 10-15% in week 2.  That way, your body is still in the same flow (ie working the same), but the volume drop is surely enough to make you feel like a million bucks come race day.  Now I'm not the only one that recommends this approach, so I'm not trying to claim responsibility for it.  You just see so much crap out there by major publications that really pull you back from the nuts and bolts of the purpose of the taper and the adaptations we strive for - rested, but not so much so that you feel out of shape and flat (or fat from so many less calories being burned).

So what can you do with the miles you run at that slightly reduced volume?  Well you certainly want to keep up the intensity and hone in on race pace.  By now, you should know what that is, and be incorporating race paced workouts into some of your quality work.  Otherwise, how do you expect to run that pace on race day?  Race day magic?  I don't believe in that.  In order to get the results you want, you have to do the work to get there. 

So keep the routine for now.  If you regularly run 5 days a week, keep running 5 days a week, but just shorten the distances by a few miles here and there.  The week after (1 week before race week), then cut a little more.  For me, I typically run 6-7 days a week (8-9 runs with a few doubles), so I'm planning to stay with 6 days and starting to cut out the doubles.  Just some subtle cutbacks that will gradually take my volume down, but not by a ton.  Next week, I may take an extra day off and only run 5 days.  And race week will still include some running - a slightly longer effort (7-8 mi) earlier in the week, a few easy runs, and one last race paced run of 2-4 miles a couple days out.

Don't pull back too far, otherwise your body might forget what you want it to do come race day.  So be smart, stay healthy, and keep it simple.  Those are the keys to tapering properly.
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