Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Race Report: Marine Corps Marathon

Where does one begin when it has taken nearly 2 months to write a race report?  Well...to be honest, I've had the post written in my head since pretty much the race ended.  However, as you tell by the frequency of posts recently around here, it hasn't happened.  Until now, that is, because I need to move on from the race and nothing brings closure like getting the thoughts out of your head and onto paper  a screen.

My build up to Marine Corps started just like every other marathon: full of hope and dreams of a PR.  I mean, I was just fresh off a 5k PR and training was going great, so why wouldn't that seem natural?  Fast forward my steady training through the summer until about September, when things suddenly changed.  No, it wasn't an injury or anything running related.  After months of discussing it, we finally put an offer down on a house that was quickly accepted.  More importantly, it meant we needed to pack up our stuff ASAP, so we could prep our current house for listing.  In a matter of 4 days, we essentially moved 75% of our stuff out of the house, thoroughly cleaned, repainted, prepped, etc everything.  It was a lot of work and took even more out of my physically.  I had no time, motivation or energy to run.  From the moment I woke to the moment I went to bed (sometimes way later than I would prefer), I was doing house work.  For those that know me, if I told you I had no motivation to run, you would wonder if someone stole my body and replaced it with a zombie.  That is NOT me and never has been.  But here I was, 4-6 weeks out from my goal race and I had no motivation or energy to train.  7 days went by without a run - not by choice, but dictated by how I could spend my time.  On top of it all was the need to take care of the Z man.  One of the things you learn as a parent especially, is that you lose your ability to be selfish in times of need.  Its easy when its just the two of you to say, "I'm leaving for 3 hrs to go do my long run".  Its much harder to do that when you have more to take care of and be responsible for.  When I had free time (if any existed during this period), it was spent with my family, not out on my own running.  I still got some training in, but less so than would be considered ideal given the timing in the training cycle. We all have priorities and for the first time in a while, running wasn't one of them.

Now to be honest, I was doing plenty of cross training during this time, including tons of stairs with heavy boxes, lots of core work painting and assorted house tasks, etc.  And life was pretty much like this up until 2 days before the race, when I drew a line in the sand and said I had to rest if I wanted any chance at the marathon.  In fact, I was more sore during this time than any other time I can recall from running.  Oh and closing on the new house was the Friday before the race, so life stress was totally at an all time low (that might be a slight understatement).  So this was my long way of saying, I didn't make it to the start line knowing that I did everything I could to run to my potential.  However, it doesn't mean I wouldn't try.  You see, I was in the fortunate position of having nothing to lose.  Since I ran my BQ in March and was already accepted into Boston, I honestly had nothing to lose by just going out to PR and seeing what happened.  I had good training leading up to it and a few years of consistent uninterrupted training to base everything off of.  Why not?  So I decided to go for 3:05 as a soft goal.

Pre-Race
Race morning came like every other one, an early wake up, cramming some food in my still asleep body, and heading over to the race.  I parked in Rosslyn as I've always done when going to spectate, since I'm convinced it is no more walking than the other alternatives and you have a much easier pathway home with an easy walk to the car after you finish.  I was parked by about 6:15, ate a bit more, and then made my way toward the start with the masses in the dark.  Getting through security at Fort Myer was a breeze and I began walking toward the start line as the sun started to come up.  It was a bit warmer than forecast, even in the morning, and I knew the day might get a little toasty with the sun out, so I made sure to hydrate with some extra electrolytes in the sports drink I was sipping all morning.

About 45 minutes before the start, I went for a short jog with 2 x 1:00 pickups to race pace.  My legs felt great and I remained positive that I could still have a great day.  Either way, I'd rather run a marathon than move to a new house, so I saw the day as an opportunity to have fun, be out of the house, and see some friends.

I made my way toward to front of the start area, since Marine Corps doesn't regulate corrals, and found the 3:05 pacer so I'd know where his group was.  As the clock got closer to race start, the area filled in very quickly with what seemed like a lot of pretty fast people where I was standing.  A few moments before the gun was to go off, I overheard the pacer telling those around him that Mile 1 was going to be a mess and he'd be doing a lot of weaving, but not to worry about pace, since they'd catch up once things opened up a bit.  My approach was much in the same - I didn't want to fight the early crowds with too much weaving, so I'd run what I could and start slowly, then let the race come to me.

In my head, I had the race broken out into a number of distinct segments with individual goals to help me get through the race: Miles 1-4 (Start to Key Bridge), Miles 5-11 (Georgetown through Rock Creek Park), Miles 12-15 (Haines Point), Miles 16-20 (Along the Mall), Miles 21-22 (14th St Bridge), Miles 23-25 (Crystal City to Pentagon), Mile 26 (Rt 110 to Finish)

Miles 1-4
With the sound of the howitzer, we were off and running...except we weren't.  I think its about time "The People's Marathon" gets real about proper race seeding and either institutes a pre-race seeding system that they enforce, or require runners to qualify into some of the earlier corrals, because it is simply unacceptable to line up at the front of a marathon and walk or even run at a significantly slower pace than the rest of the field around you.  For the 1st half mile, I was boxed in, forced to weave, and running in the low to mid 8:xx range, which is not ideal when your goal pace is around 7:00/mi.  Unfortunately, this mean a lot of energy wasted with the stop and go tactics of weaving.  I ran goal pace when I had space, but more often found myself trying to avoid clipping feet with those around me running much slower.  It was frustrating, but there was nothing I could do about it, so I just patiently waited till I had openings and ran, with as little weaving as possible.  With some early downhill in the 1st mile, I still managed to come in at 7:05, but I know I wasted a whole lot of energy doing that, so it had me a bit worried.  The 3:05 pacer was long gone, having weaved his way in and out and all over the course in that 1st mile and I had no desire to do that, so I let them go.  The next 2 miles were pretty much uphill with the start of an extended downhill, so I gave myself the flexibility to slow down as needed, after the harder than planned first mile.  I saw folks flying up the hill, while I just climbed as easily as I could with as little effort as possible to make it to the top.  I made it up in 7:21, which was still faster than I had initially planned, but the legs felt good and breathing was very controlled, so I went with it.  After we crested the hill, I let my legs go and tried to keep from braking too hard on the downhills, causing more tension.  As saw a lot of my pace fall well into the 6:xx, which was expected, given the sharp downhills in this part of the course.  This is where I expected to get back onto pace from the earlier slow miles.  Mile 4 was 6:54 and I came through this segment averaging 7:07/mi, which was close to where I wanted to be by now.

Miles 5-11
As we made our way up hill to the Key Bridge and into Georgetown, I tried to get myself into a rhythm, but I simply couldn't.  My legs felt fine, breathing was still good, and I was on pace, but my thirst level was uncharacteristically high for this early in the race.  I'm not typically a thirsty person when running, so to be only 4-5 miles into the race and already looking for the next aid station was sign #1 that something was off.  Nevertheless, I cruised through the crowds in Georgetown, enjoyed the support, and made my way to Rock Creek Park, hitting Miles 5-6 in 7:09 and 7:10 respectively.

In my race prep, I saw this section of the course as the largest unknown.  I never had a chance to run it and when I always drove it, it seemed far more up hill than the race profile showed, which was more rolling, but more up on the way out and down on the way back.  I'd agree that there wasn't as much up as I initially felt and I was thankful we didn't have to do the climb up to Calvert St that they do for the RnR DC race - no thanks.  As I made my way gradually up the hill, I 1st spotted a fellow =PR= buddy who was working the aid station.  As I worked my way up the last part of the hill, I saw the 3:05 pacer coming back to the other way, probably 1:00 ahead, so not terribly far ahead and still within striking distance.  I moved up the out section a bit slower than goal, accounting for the hills in 7:17 for Miles 7 and 8, which included the start of the turnaround back.  As I made my way back downhill, I heard Jamie call me out and gave her a wave.

Passing the Kennedy Center just before Mile 10
I was enjoying heading back downhill now, as the early hills were over.  However, I still had that off feeling and it didn't seem to be going away.  By the time I hit Mile 8, I told myself to run to the halfway mark and see how everything feels before making any further decisions.  Miles 9-11, which brought the rest of the downhills and then on Rock Creek Parkway back into the crowds cruised through in 7:06, 7:01, 7:01.  For this section, I averaged 7:08/mi and was right on track.

Heading Toward Haines Point at Mile 11
Miles 12-15
As we entered Ohio Drive to start the Haines Point segment, I noticed my breathing starting to labor a bit.  While my legs were still feeling solid, the breathing concerned me.  We were now running into the full sun, with no shade to hide from it and I think my body was started to work a little harder than it should be.  I was with a small pack and was using them to shield some of the headwind coming off the Potomac, so I didn't want to fall off the group.

Small bridge crossing around Mile 12
 I stayed on and we made our way up toward my "reevaluation" spot.  I hit Miles 12 and 13 in 7:09 and 7:11 as we rounded the tip of Haines Point and crossed the 13.1 mat in 1:34:15 (7:11 avg), which was about 30s faster than I ran at Shamrock, though I remember feeling a heck of a lot better at this point during that race than I did now.  I was still on pace to PR, but far off 3:05 pace, and I knew I wasn't going to PR the way things were headed.  So I reevaluated and decided to run it in rather than race the rest.  I could tell my body wasn't going to fight at this pace for 13+ more miles and with everything else going on at home, I didn't need to end up in a medical tent.  So I kept clocking the miles while slowly easing off the gas, though I was hoping that headwind we were fighting heading out on Haines Point would be a tailwind on the way back.  Not so much - or at least I was hurting and didn't feel any benefit from it.  I knew I had more friends at Mile 15, and I didn't want to disappoint, so I at least held it together through there.  Miles 14-15 were 7:15, 7:13.  For this section, I averaged 7:12/mi, still on target for a solid day, but knowing that I was slowing.

Slowing a bit, but at least I got a good photo out of it!
Miles 16-20
If I had provide some advice to those running Marine Corps for the 1st time, it would be that this section is deceivingly hard.  I've run the Mall so many times over the years and never thought twice about the terrain, but 16 miles into a marathon, and every change seems to increase tenfold.  Heading out on Independence toward the Potomac is slightly downhill, but once you hit the turnaround, it was carnage city.
Heading out on Independence Ave and enjoying the downhill
Folks were cramping and the road slants up a bit as you near the Washington Monument.  I distinctly remember this being that point where my brain and body stopped working as one.  I had every intent on easing my running for the rest of the race toward my usual easy pace (7:45/mi), but that hill forced my brain to shutdown the rest of my body.

Who knew a small hill could cause so much pain?
 I clocked Miles 16-18 in 7:22, 7:35, 7:43 but I could start to feel my body shutting down now that my mind was clearly out of it.

Barely holding it together

Right between Miles 18 and 19 as we rounded the Capitol reflecting pool, my body showed its 1st protest in the form of a hamstring cramp.  I walked for a few short seconds before going to back to running, quickly found the next aid station and doubled up on some Gatorade to hopefully help the situation.

Running, but not for long

Unfortunately, during Miles 19-20 the cramp came back and hit me pretty good.  I happened to stop to stretch right by one of my other =PR= coaches who was standing shortly before Mile 20 and asked him for his phone to call Rebecca.  I knew she was tracking me and I didn't want her to worry, so I spoke for a bit to let her know that I was ok, but going to finish slower than planned.  In total after looking at my watch, I stopped for about 5 minutes, both to stretch and call Rebecca.  All goals were out the window anyways, so I just wanted to enjoy my time as a marathon participant.  I decided that I'd be there to support those around me and encourage everyone in the last 10k of the race.  As I headed onto the bridge, I spotted Jamie one more time.  For a second, I strongly considered coming over to chat, but remembered I was sort of in a race with a timer counting how long it will take to cross the finishline, so on I went.  Miles 19-20 were 8:07 and 12:16 (including my 4-5 min rest stop).

Miles 21-22
In not shocking news to anyone who has run the Army 10 Miler or Marine Corps, I hate the 14th St Bridge.  I really do.  There is nothing good about.  Even during the week, as it causes way too much traffic.  But for running, it harnesses the sun, is hilly, and offers no reprieve.  To make matters worse, there is no aid station from Mile 19 until you get into Crystal City at Mile 22.  Why can't they put one on that bridge?  Most races have aid stations every 1-1.5 miles that late in the race in larger marathons.  Seems odd to have 3 miles between them when most runners need the aid the most, but maybe that's just me, because all I wanted was more Gatorade, since I was forever thirsty and cramping.  Given my state this late in the race, I just kind of took my time and cheered folks on without much urgency.  If nothing else, I was getting my money's worth!  Even though I was having fun and cheering folks on, I'll also admit that the bridge took forever.  I was never so happy to see Crystal City and the next aid station in my life.  Miles 21-22 were 9:34, 9:48.

Miles 23-25
It was around this time that I started playing the mental math game and wondering if one of my running friends was near.  It was his goal to run sub-3:30, so I figured I'd spot him coming the other way on Crystal City as I made the turn back up.  I had been cheering on random strangers, but was hoping to find him, so I could help support him in his goal.  I saw the 3:25 pacer pass and then a little while longer saw the 3:35 pacer go by and still no sign.  Sadly, I continued on, hoping I had just missed him and that he was still on pace (I later found out he dropped at 15, so I'm glad I didn't stop everything to wait for him).  Meanwhile, the miles clicked along, the walking of those around me increased, and the carnage on the road was clear.  It was a warm, sunny day and taking its toll on everyone, including myself.  I was running along fine and then suddenly during Mile 25, the cramps came back, so I had to take a few more moments to stretch.  Miles 23-25 were 9:07, 8:23, 9:48.

Mile 26 - Finish
Leading up to the race, I had grand visions of using the slight downhill in the last mile to run one of my faster miles, before hitting the painfully steep last .2.  I still had plans to run that last mile, but my body had other plans.  It was done.  A long time ago.  But with all the Marines around, I ran up that darn hill through to the finish, because I had no excuse.  I was healthy.  It just wasn't my day.  So I ran - for myself, for others, for those who can't.

Nearing the finish

I crossed the finish line in 3:31, happy, proud, and appreciative of the sacrifices service men and women make to allow for us to enjoy life the way we do.

Happy to cross the finish line

I thanked each and every single person I could find.  While I didn't have the race I wanted, I made sure to show appreciation where it belongs - to those who don't complain about the mission they're assigned to.  They do what is asked of them every day.  On this day, it happened to be supporting a marathon, but on most other days, it isn't so easy.

Post-Race Thoughts
A number of friends have asked me if I know why I didn't have a great race and there is no single answer, but I've done my best to summarize it below if it wasn't clear above:

Stress is a variable that can manifest itself in many ways, most of which you may not ever know until it is too late.  With everything going on, my body may have been perfectly well suited to run a PR, but I can assure you, my stress levels were so high leading up to to the race, that I can't think of anything I could have done differently to change the outcome to a PR.  Could I started slower?  Sure, I could have run a conservative race and finished with a faster final time, but as I said from the start, I had nothing to lose, so why compromise?  Conditions on race day did not lend themselves to fast times, but I had no reason to back down.  It was sunny, 60F (warmer accounting for real feel), and windy.  While those are great conditions for watching a marathon, they are far from great for running in one.  It just wasn't my day, but I finished happy, healthy, and ready to run another day.

So that's the wrap on Marine Corps.  I apologize for the long wait, but these are the same thoughts I had in my head since the moment I crossed the finish line.  I can happily say that we have moved into our new house and are enjoying life, so there's a happy ending to the story.  Just sucks that it took this long to write down :) 

Monday, July 7, 2014

Race Report: Firecracker 5k

When I set out on my plan to get faster during the time between marathon training cycles, I didn't have a specific goal in mind, other than to change the focus of my training so I didn't get stale.  After the success in the last 5k, I sort of felt like I had already accomplished my goal.  I had logged about 6 weeks of decent training with a number of faster workouts.  Then I let things go a bit, between vacations and other stuff going on.  I still kept running mostly, but I just didn't have the urge to blast out faster workouts.  Then about 3 weeks ago, everything changed and my mind and body synched back up.  I reset, and was ready for more.  So with about 2 weeks of actual training, entered the Firecracker 5k on the 4th of July with the expectation of racing well, but still training through it, as I was not specifically training for it.  Given that the summer heat is in full force, racing well takes on a new definition.  In my eyes, racing well meant running as close to PR pace as possible if the conditions allowed.

Pre-Race
I awoke race morning to pouring rain, which is not exactly the most favorite thing a runner wants to see.  It was in the upper 60s though, which would mean a decent temperature, so while the humidity was a bit high due to the rain (which went away about 45 minutes before the race started, it wasn't as hot as it could have been. 

I got to Reston Town Center about an hour before the race and set out for a 2.5 mi easy warm up.  People were just starting to flow in, so I just did my thing, finishing up with a few strides.  I ran into a few friends, chatted it up, and then hopped into the start area about 5 minutes before the gun was to go off.  Erin decided to join me for the 5k, so I found him and we lined up together about 8 rows back.  With 2200+ people, I knew it was a competitive field.  I also looked at the course a bit beforehand and knew it would be a bad idea to get swept out too fast during the first mile.

My race plan was pretty simple: Don't go out too fast in the first mile (rolling with more uphill), lock in goal effort in Mile 2 (rolling but mostly downhill), pick it up for Mile 3 (mostly uphill).  I knew this was the winning strategy for this course and if my fitness was there, I could run PR pace.

Race
Before I could give myself a pep talk about how much I was about to hurt, the gun went off and we made our way onto the course!  I went out with the flow, which was a touch fast (5:30/mi), but once we hit the hill about 1/2 mi in, I slowed enough to save my legs and let my pace fall back a bit.  Once at the top of the hill, we started a nice downhill as we cruised toward Mile 1.  While I could see the marker in the distance, everyone's watch beeped a long ways before we got there, including mine with a 5:47.  When we actually crossed the marker, I was showing 6:08 on my watch, which I knew was not accurate and the marker had to be off. Nevertheless, I carried on through the downhill as we made our way up a short hill before turning right to an extended downhill for most of Mile 2.

I sort of put my legs in cruise control at this point and was running with a pack that was all staying together.  This was good as a pace setter, but I also think I let myself hold back too much.  I could have taken the downhills a bit faster, but I wanted to stay with the group, because we were about to hit a pretty windy section of the course where it would be beneficial to have a pack.  Once at the bottom of the hill, we turned right and into a pretty stiff headwind.  Though we never really got much rain from Hurricane Arthur, the whole area felt the increase in winds.  On sections of the course, there was a 15-20 mph wind, which happened to be right where we were.  I tucked in behind 4 others in front, which did a pretty good job of saving some energy.  We hit Mile 2 in 5:42, thanks in large part to the extended downhill.  Like I said, I might have been able to take an extra 5s off that split if I pushed harder, but I played it safe due to knowing the wind would be there.  My clock time at this point was 11:46, so I knew I was right on pace and the Mile 1 marker was off.  However, I could tell that I was still going to end up with a fair bit longer total distance run, given I was already about 16s off the race clock.

After hitting Mile 2, I slowly began the pick up the effort.  I told myself I had a choice - I could either be safe and hold my effort or be bold and go for it.  I already had a PR in my last 5k, so my mind started telling me that was good enough.  However, I chose to be bold and go for it, because I knew I had more in me.  The race would be over soon and I was already on PR pace.  Don't ever settle.  Go for it!

The start of the mile had a bit of a uphill grade and the pack I was with was starting to break apart.  Erin was still with me, but when I started to push, I pretty much dropped everyone I had been running with.  Shortly after, we hit a short but steep uphill curve, where I hit the gas hard and started passing more people.  Less than a quarter mile later, I made the final turn back into the town center for a long straightaway uphill to the finish.  I glanced down at my watch to see Mile 3 at 5:52 and total time was in the low 17:xx, so I hit it harder, passing more people and averaging 5:28/mi over the last bit.  I knew my final time wouldn't end with a 17:xx due to the extra distance, but I still had a PR in the bag.  Slowly, the finish line came into my closer sight and I crossed the line with a new  9s PR!

I don't look like I'm hurting as much as it felt like it did

Stats
Final Time: 18:26 (5:57/mi)
Garmin: 3.19 mi (5:47/mi)
Overall Place: 46/2138
Male Place: 41/926
Age Group: 5/122

Post Race
Shortly after crossing the finish line, Erin came through.  We chatted about the race and wanted to head out for our cool down.  But before we could even make it to the cool down, the finish line was streaming in with friends and other runners I coach.  After a few moments of chatting with people, we took off to get our cool down in.  Two miles later, we raced back over tot he finish area, because it was time for the kids race!  One of the great things =PR= does at big events is make sure to keep it family friendly.  Well there's no better way than to have a kids 100 yard fun run!  They split the kids into different age groupings, with Z being in the last group for the kids 3 and under.  It was so much fun to watch him and all the other kids get a chance to be just like mom and dad!  They even got their own bibs and medals!  Such a nice tough to an already great race.

Having had some time to reflect on the race, I'm thrilled to be able to PR a race in July.  I executed to my race plan as best I could.  While I think I could have eeked a couple more seconds out, I can't complain.  I really just need to make sure I race closer to 3.1 mi.  The best way to get free speed is to run the shortest distance on the course.  If I did that at this race, I might have been looking at something pretty close to sub18, which is right around where I feel my fitness is.

This last 5k concludes my faster training cycle and I will now be shifting more of my workouts toward the Fall racing season.  While I haven't signed up for a race yet, I know I'll be ready to race whichever one I end up running.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Get Fast Now - How to Prioritize Your Training for a Fall Marathon

Are you at the point now where your goal Spring race is behind you and you’re looking at a long distance race for the Fall?  If so, then you’re probably at the point in your training where you aren’t quite sure what to do.  Maybe your Spring race went well, or maybe you’re looking to avenge for a less than desirable race experience, but chances are you’re trying to run faster for your Fall race.  Common instinct is to prescribe yourself lots of early long runs to “establish your base” and “get used to long distances”.  I get it – you likely cramped (for whatever reason – nutritionally or muscularly) toward the end of your race and you feel that running more long runs will better prepare your body.  At first glance, that would seem to make sense.  If your body isn’t used to “going there”, then you need to practice it so you don’t experience the same issues on race day.  But the reality is that you will achieve nothing by this approach other than getting used to running long and slow and more importantly, you may risk burnout/injury by the time you actually get closer to your Fall race.  It makes no sense to pound away that long this far out from a goal race, yet this is the first approach so many people turn to.  In fact, some of the runners I’ve coached through our =PR= DistanceTraining Program come into the program expecting to run 18-20 miles at the start of the training cycle (with 16-18 weeks until their goal race), because they’ve already spent the month(s) before the program “getting ready”.  I find its best in these situations to take a step back from the day to day, week to week looking glass and look at your training from a greater holistic perspective.  This usually helps people see the light and get them moving in the right direction.  So what should you do? 

Get faster now, so you can go long (and be faster) in the Fall. 
Let’s take a look at why this approach makes more sense than just mindlessly logging long run after long run for the next 5+ months.   Ever wonder why elite marathoners don’t typically race multiple marathons throughout the year?  Well for one, they realize that optimal performance can really only be dedicated to 1 marathon per season or year.  But the other reason is because they aren’t in marathon shape year round – they’re focused on training at shorter distances to get faster.  It’s easy to understand why.  Let’s stick with elites as the example for the moment.  If you want to be an elite male marathoner, you need to be capable of running sub-2:10 (sub-2:05 for world class) these days.  Many of these same runners run 59:XX or faster for the half marathon too.  So to run a faster marathon, you have to be able to run a faster half marathon, because the faster times at those shorter distances translate into faster times when those same athletes go back to marathon training.  If you’re slower than that, no amount of training more at marathon pace is going to get you faster.  The training doesn't work like that.   

Simply put in terms regular runners can understand, if your goal marathon pace is an 8:00/mi pace, but your half marathon pace is 7:45/mi pace, the best thing you could do would be to knock that 7:45/mi half marathon pace down to 7:30 or 7:15.  Why?  Because if you can run a half marathon (just a bit slower than lactate threshold) at 7:15-7:30/mi, that 8:00/mi goal pace will equal a much lower percentage of effort to hit.  As a result, it will cost you less (in terms of the energy you’ll use) to run at that goal pace, therefore allowing you to run farther at that pace without hitting the dreaded wall.  And if you are properly trained, taking in nutrition, and executing with proper pacing, there hopefully won’t be a wall at all come race day.
 
Let me just interupt this message to remind you that you can't just start training at whatever pace you want.  You still have to train at your current fitness levels, no matter the distance.  So to get your half marathon times faster, you can't just train at those faster paces.  You have to train at your current fitness first.

But don’t let the example of the half marathon fool you into thinking that’s the only option.  Every distance all the way down can play a supporting role, which is why you often see many of these same elites racing shorter distances.  In some cases, it’s just a workout as part of a larger training cycle, but in others, it is because they are training to get faster at shorter distances so they can ultimately get faster at the longer stuff.

And aside from the explanation above, there are many other benefits for the everyday runner.  Here are just a few:

·         Running faster encourages better running form:  Spending more time running fast versus just slogging out the miles means you’re less likely to get overuse/repetitive stress injuries that are common with endless long runs

·         Changing the stress stimulates new progress: If your body has been training one way for a while (ie lots of long, easy, moderate runs), jumpstarting it with some faster running can recruit additional muscle fibers to support your running.  These fibers can then be trained to act like slow twitch fibers when you turn back toward the distance stuff, which will help prevent fatigue late in the race.

·         Faster running adds a strength element: While hills tend to be a natural component of most runner’s training, faster running forces your muscles to work harder in different ways, meaning you’ll get stronger.  A stronger runner is able to maintain proper running form longer, which means you’ll likely slow down less late in races.

·         Find a new definition of hurt: There is a huge difference between the type of pain experienced in long distance races versus the type of pain experienced in a 5k.  Long distance races are like someone flicking you a million times, eventually leading you to get annoyed and feel some pain.  5k pain is a lung busting, muscle burning feeling that takes some getting used to.  Teaching your mind to be able to handle a variety of pain will help you when things get tough, no matter the distance.

In summary – you can always train your body to run longer, but it is much more difficult to train it to run faster AND longer at the same time.  So the benefit of spending the time you have now to get faster, is that you don’t have to add another foreign stress to your body when it comes time to stack the miles up in preparation for your goal marathon in the Fall.  Add the fast now, so you can focus on the far (with some moderate fast) later.  So do the smart thing, and find some speed over the next month or so, get faster, and use it to prep for your goal Fall race.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Race Report: Rockstar 5k

With Shamrock now in the past and the distant memories of the marathon starting to fade, I wanted to get down to business of seeing where my fitness is.  I mentioned in my last post that I was looking to race some shorter distances, so what better than to race a 5k only a mile from my house?  Well, aside from knowing the hilly course all too well, there wasn't much to argue against, so I signed up a few days before the race to see what my legs had in them.

Pre-Race
After a quick packet pickup, I went for a 2 mi warm up about an hour before the race.  I ran into a running buddy who was also headed out for his warm up, so we ran together and caught up on things.  Just nice easy paced running and good conversation.  We split off after the 2 miles and I went to do a couple of strides to finish out the warm up.  I took the next 15 or so minutes to relax, chat with some friends, and stay loose.  With about 15 minutes to go, I threw on my racing shoes to do a few more race paced strides and then jogged back over to the start line where folks were lining up.  Since this was a =PR= Trophy Series race, I knew there would be some competition, so I placed myself about 3 rows back from the front.  In hindsight, I probably could have put myself on the line or at least 1 row back, given how I placed.  Oh well, live and learn.

That's me, 3 rows back.  And yes, Rory's got a kitten tank/tights combo going on!

Race
With the magic "Go" word spoken, we were off...except I got an elbow in the side of my chest trying to move around the 4 people in front of me within the first 50 feet.  So much for placing myself well!  After about 100 yards, we make a right for another 100 yards, and then its out of the town center and onto the main roads for the rest of the race.  That turn onto the road is followed by a 1/2 mile downhill, into a 3/4 mile uphill (I mentioned this was a hilly race!).  So I knew I could let my legs go on the down and just try to lock in the effort once we hit the up.  Flying downhill, I glanced down to see myself running around 5:15/mi, which is around where I figured I'd be.  Then we started the uphill grind and that pace slowly creeped back to reality.  By the time we hit the hill, I was essentially in no man's land.  All the super fast guys were way out front and I was running solo with a couple of people I could hear behind me.  While I was racing for time against myself, its always easier if there others to pace off and keep you in check.  I hit Mile 1 in 5:43 and came to the realization that I was likely out there to run the rest of the race solo.

Still grinding up that hill, I finally approached the turn, but being familiar with the course, knew I still had another tenth of a mile to continue up.  The rest of Mile 2 was essentially a rollercoaster, with a few smaller bumps, but a big downhill, followed by another big uphill.  I was hurting, but calmed myself by repeating, "If you feel like death halfway into a 5k, then you're racing it right".  While that sounds terrible, its the truth.  5ks are so short, but they seem like an eternity.  As I crested the last uphill of the mile and tried to open up my stride on the down and get a breather before the next hill, I got hit with a decent headwind on the down.  I noticed it while I was out on the warm up, but was hoping it would be gone during the race.  It wasn't terrible like Shamrock, but it was about 10 mph per the weather, which is enough to make you hurt that much more.  Shortly before starting the next roller, I crossed the Mile 2 marker in 5:47.  It was at this point where I noticed I probably wasn't running the tangents very well, since my watch went a few seconds before I got to the mile marker.

The last mile is by far the hardest on the course.  As a whole, Mile 3 is always the most difficult in a 5k, but on this course it is virtually all uphill.  The legs are already burning and you just want to be done.  I struggled on the hill here, but I gave it what I could.  In the middle of the hill, 2 guys came moving past me, which motivated me to keep pushing a bit harder, but I couldn't go with them.  I kept them in my view, but they came and went pretty quickly.  I didn't think they'd be in my age group either, so my thinking at the time was to let them go and try to not blow up in the middle of the hill.  It was at this point with about 1/4 mile to go in the uphill, that I had all those crazy thoughts, like pulling off the course and calling it a day.  I had to slap my head for thinking that one up.  2.5 miles into a 5k and I want to quit?  How stupid is that!?!?  Again, I used those crazy thoughts as validating that I was racing hard.  Gasping for air, I finally crested the hill and tried to burn out the legs toward the finish.  I had another .1 mile to go before turning back into the town center for the last bit of the race.  My Mile 3 split was 6:05 and I worked every second of it.

Last 100 yards or so - not the greatest pic, but they never are :)
When my watch beeped, I realized that I really didn't do a good job on the tangents in that last mile, because those few seconds were now more than a few!  Not that I had much time to think about it at that point, since I was so focused on just finishing, so I just put my head down and ran hard through to the finish line.  As I crept closer to the line I could see the clock inching closer to my current PR and I decided at that moment to give it just a little more to make sure I set a new PR on the day.  As I ran through the finish, I saw 18:35 on the clock and figured I had at least a 1-2s delay from crossing the mat, so I knew I had set a PR.  I just wasn't sure by how much.  I covered the last bit of the race at 5:38/mi pace, which I was glad to get my pace back down to.  Turns out, that was my official time, so I PR'd by 3s on a much tougher course than the previous PR.

Final Stats:
Time: 18:35
Pace: 5:59/mi
Overall: 10/386
Gender: 10/156
Age Group: 3/23

Speedy 30-34 Age Group
My only regret on the race is that I ran 3.17 miles on the race, which means I really did a poor job of nailing the tangents.  The course has a lot of turns and I wasn't always sure where the measurements would have been done to get the shortest distance.  There were a few sections of the course that had shoulders in the road on a curve, so maybe the measurement was done in the shoulder?  The guys I could see in front of me all stayed on the road, so I stuck to that course, as I didn't want to cut it short.  To give some perspective, I ran .15 extra at Shamrock, which means I ran half the extra distance I did in a marathon, at this 5k.  Not good, but its something to improve on and its free speed next time, so that's the good news.

I know I have a better 5k time in me and it'll come when I race on faster course soon.  I just wanted to set a baseline, since it had been 2 years.  So now that its set, I've got some more work to do.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Lessons Learned and Post Shamrock Thoughts

Its now been nearly 3 weeks since I raced the Shamrock Marathon and achieved my long term goal of running a sub-3:10 marathon.  This was a goal time I've chased for a number of years even before the BQ times shifted another 5 minutes faster.  It just so happened that this time now qualified me for Boston since I'll be aging up for next year's race.  And while I believe I was trained to run close to a 3:05 on a perfect day (the BQ time for men under 35), my original goal was to run sub-3:10, which is exactly what I set out to do.  So with that goal checked off, its time to look back at the training behind the result, consider what worked well, what didn't, and lastly what is next on my schedule.

My Training
Looking back over the past 4 months of training leading up to the race, I was able to incorporate a wide variety of workouts, each with their own purpose.  And while I had a rough idea of what I wanted to do over the course of the training cycle, I only kept that framework static.  The actual workouts and specific progressions were determined within a week or so of the workout, depending on how my body felt.  I've found this approach works best for me on multiple fronts.  First, it forces me to stay focused on the week or day versus looking too far down the training cycle; and second, it forces me to listen to my body before I decide the workout.  Its very easy to get caught up in a plan and feel you have to do "x" workout on a particular day when you have everything laid out.  But I think this approach allows for you to stay in the moment, something we all should spend more time focusing on.

Mileage During the Training Cycle
As you can see by the graph on the side, I was able to train pretty consistently throughout the training cycle.  January was my highest monthly volume total ever, with December being only 5 miles shy of that previous total as well.  My peak volume for a given week was 83 miles, but I also hit 81 miles another time.  Both of these weeks came toward the end of my build phase, prior to the race specific phase.  That laid down two months of high volume work, with lots of quality workouts throughout the time, to build upon for the final race specific focus in the last 4-6 weeks of training.  For those wondering, I follow a funneled periodization model where the earlier training focus is on high volume and training at paces a fair bit faster (intervals, threshold runs, etc) and slower (long runs) than goal pace.  As the race gets closer, the pace ranges creep closer toward goal pace, with less work spent at paces far away from what my race will require.

What Worked
As a coach and an inquisitive runner, I am always looking for ways to better improve my training methods.  On the whole, I am blind to one specific approach being "the best way to train".  As a result, I like to tinker with my own training to see how it works, especially before recommending it to others.  Just to be clear though, I never drastically change anything.  I make small tweaks.  Changing too much throws off everything and you lose control of the ability to measure the effectiveness of any one approach.  So what was the change I implemented this training cycle?

Adding more quality to my long runs during the race specific phase by including marathon paced runs the day before my long runs.

Let me give an example: On Friday, I'd run 8 total miles, with 6 of them at aerobic threshold (slightly faster than marathon pace).  On Saturday, I'd do my long run, which might include a workout like 2 mi easy, 3 x 5 mi at marathon pace with 1 mi easy between each set, 1 mi cool down.

The theory behind this training approach is to establish a moderate level of fatigue (and glycogen depletion) leading into the long run, which will simulate the fatigue experienced during the marathon.  The long run workout is already challenging, but when you add in the work from the day before, it is tough but effective.  I found myself hurting pretty good during the end of the long runs when I incorporated this type of workout, often forcing me make the call of giving in and going easy, or toughing out the rest of the workout.  After one run early on where I gave in to the fatigue, I made sure to never let it happen again.  I had to remind myself that the point of these workouts is to get to THAT point, where you have to decide to quit or keep going.  And if you can keep going, it will make the race much easier.  So after that one run, I made sure to remind myself whenever things got tough, to keep pushing.  As a result of the difficulty of these workouts, I wouldn't recommend most runners jump right into this type of approach, as it is definitely more advanced and therefore, an injury risk.  However, for those that have been training consistently and run high mileage, this training concept may provide a breakthrough in your performance.

What Didn't Work
Because of the increased stress from the combined Friday/Saturday workouts, this meant I had to pull back one of the days I previously used for a quality workout, giving me only 2 quality workouts per week: a tempo run and the Friday/Saturday combo long run.  I found the weekly cycle of 2 weekday workouts in addition to the Friday/Saturday workout a bit too much for me to handle, so I backed off what would have been a Wednesday or Thursday quality day, and turned it into a moderate day.  This could be something like progression run, where the progression only goes down to aerobic threshold versus something more stressful like lactate threshold.  That way, I still got a moderate training stimulus, but not so much that it would impact my ability to execute the long run workout.

What's Next?
It's funny - almost everyone I talk to asks me what my next race is.  At first, I laughed because I just want to enjoy myself for a bit before moving on to the next goal.  Once the next goal is out there, the previous race experience goes out the window.  I'm not ready for that....yet.  Though now that the three weeks have passed since the race, I am starting to let those thoughts creep in.  In short, I'm going to focus on some faster races.  Since I've been on this marathon quest, I've had to hold off from all the shorter, faster stuff to focus on the training required to do well at the marathon.  And while I jumped into a few races along the way to keep my racing chops up, I rarely raced a 5k or a 10k, as they were too different from the marathon to be beneficial.  So now I want to spend some time focusing on them.

To be honest, I feel like my PRs from the 5k, 10k and half marathon are soft and ready to be taken down.  So my plan is to start back up and systematically reset those PRs.  It's been nearly 2 years since I've raced the 5k and 10k distances.  I KNOW I've got better times in me.  Now I just have to go out there and prove it.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Race Report: 2014 Shamrock Marathon

For some races, you have the perfect training leading up to it, but the results don't speak for the quality of the training you did during that cycle.  For me, the last two marathons I had run, this was the case.  My training cycles were filled with breakthroughs and I entered the races with the confidence of knowing I was going to PR.  And while I did PR, I didn't have the race I wanted.  It's easy to blame weather on specific results, and to a certain extent, it played a factor, but you have to hold yourself accountable for the results you earn.  Going into this year's Shamrock marathon, I KNEW I had a better race in me, no matter what the weather threw us.  And I just wanted to get to race day to have an opportunity to prove it.

Pre-Race
Unlike previous years, we decided to head down to VA Beach on Friday, both to make it more of a vacation, as well as a less stressful drive.  Without the rush to get checked into the hotel, eat, get to expo, etc, it just made things more relaxing.  And relaxing is exactly what I wanted in the days before the race.  No reason to add excess stress on top of pre-race nerves!  The drive down was easy - just 3 hours.  Weather was chilly and windy, much as I expected race day to be, but that didn't stop a certain someone from getting his dig on.  I mean, if you're used to digging in a tiny sandbox and find a whole beach filled with the stuff, wouldn't you be excited too?
This is the largest sandbox ever!

By the time Saturday rolled around, much nicer weather found it's way in, and we were awakened to the sounds of race day, as the 8kers were making their way toward the start line.  We quickly got our stuff together and headed over to our favorite breakfast joint in VA Beach, Pocahontas, which also happened to be right on the course for the race.  We sat at a table that looked out at Atlantic Ave. so we could watch the runners come by.  It helped me get into my race mindset, while I continued to stuff myself with some wonderful gluten free french toast (ie lots of carbs).  Not too long after, I met up with a fellow =PR= runner I coach through our distance training program, and we went off for a short shakeout run.  Nothing fancy, but a quick easy mile, followed by 2 x 2:00 at marathon pace, then some more easy jogging.  Nothing more than a chance to spin the legs out a bit faster to create some muscle tension and get rid of some nerves.

After the run, we drove over to the expo to pick up my packet.  As is usual for Shamrock, there were very few lines if any.  Pickup is always a breeze, even when you go on the busiest day.  I didn't need anything at the expo, so we were in and out, even with a little exploring, in less than 30 minutes.
See, no lines!
The rest of Saturday was spent lounging at the beach.  With temps in the 70s, it was like a regular beach day.  People were out sunbathing, running along the boardwalk, and a certain someone was back digging in the sand.  It was nice to be outside and still stay off my feet.  Just spent my focus on the race, relaxing, and eating more carbs.
Family Beach Shot!
 Race Day
The sleep before race day is always interesting.  Sometimes I sleep incredibly well, other times I barely get any.  This was one of those cases where I WAS sleeping incredibly well...until a certain little one was so excited from his big day playing in the sand that he decided he wanted to go back out there at 1 AM.  Rebecca amused him for a bit, he ate a snack, then went back to bed.  Then got back up at 4:30 AM for good.  So that was that.  Not much sleep.  But if there was ever a testament to the saying that the sleep the night before a race doesn't matter, I'm pretty sure I've just verified it.

1 am snack time!

After killing about 3 or so hours by continuing to stuff my face with a bagel at 4:30 am (carbs) and sipping sports drink (more carbs), I followed it up with my actual go to race day breakfast of applesauce, protein powder, and a banana (more carbs).  I felt full, but with a solid 2 hours before race time, I knew I'd be in good shape by then.

At about 7:45, I made my way down toward the start for a short warm up.  Only a mile total of running, with 2 x 1:00 at marathon pace as pickups and then a few more strides closer to the actual race start.  I met up with some other =PR= runners, including Erin, who was my training partner this cycle for our long runs.  We met last year on the course at around Mile 2 and we formed the unofficial 3:10 pace group. We started training together this cycle when we both decided to sign up for Shamrock again.  Our plan was to stick together and at the very least, work through the winds ourselves if we couldn't recruit others to join us.  Our plan was broken into race segments:

  • Miles 1-5: Try to start out at 7:20/mi and then slowly progress, with 7:15/mi avg by Mile 5.
  • Miles 6-12: Pick up the pace a bit, hanging around 7:10/mi.
  • Miles 13-18: Goal pace time, sitting around 7:05/mi
  • Miles 19-23: Hold onto goal pace or anything under 7:10/mi
  • Miles 24-Finish: Anything under 7:15/mi
With that pacing plan, our simple goal was to break 3:10  We were right on pace to do it last year, but the nasty winds in the back half of the race shifted, leaving us with continued headwinds to fight with, which dropped us off goal pace.  We were determined to have a different result this year.  We knew the course, knew the conditions, and had a plan.  All we had to do was execute it.

Miles 1-5
Erin and I were lined up about 8 rows back from the front.  At exactly 8:30, the horn sounded and we were off.  As per usual, some people were flying down Atlantic Ave.  With a slight tailwind and race day nerves, we just let all those runners go and stuck to our plan.  We were running easy and just chatting it up like any other long run.  Shortly after the start, another =PR= runner Liz, who Erin runs with during the week, joined our group.  Her stated goal was 3:25 and I knew we were running a fair bit faster than that, but she seemed to look and sound comfortable running our pace, so I welcomed the company.  By the time we hit Mile 1, the three of us in our =PR= gear were racing down the road, chatting it up.  No stress, just smooth running, clocking 7:16 for our first mile.  A little fast, but I figured with the tailwind, it was close enough and we'd kept our effort super easy and would continue to for the early miles, so if that's what easy effort dealt, so be it.  I tried to not focus too much on the actual pace and just made sure I felt like I was out for an easy run and was seriously holding myself back.  If that feeling was confirmed, I was running the right way.  Pace was only a reflection of what that yielded me.  There would be plenty of time to work, but early in the marathon should not be one of them.
=PR= Representing!

The next few miles were pretty calm as we continued chatting.  Around Mile 3, a group of 5-6 runners were chatting away, so I struck up a conversation with a few of them about their plans on the day.  Turns out, they were all shooting for 3:05-3:10, so I figured we'd be running together for a while.  Just like last year, I explained our plan to see if they'd be interested in joining when we got to the boardwalk later in the race.  Without hesitation, they all agreed.  I assured them that they'd all get equal time to recover and rotate, unlike our experience last year. 

Shortly before Mile 5, we hit the same spot that causes issues for everyone every year - the Mile markers were off.  This being my 3rd time running the race, I knew they'd be off.  So when everyone's watch beeped around us and they all groaned when they saw how far Mile 5 was still away from us, I quickly assured them that this happens every year and not to panic.  Those who were hand timing their splits would have a really slow Mile 5 and a really fast Mile 6.  Not sure why they haven't fixed this yet after all these years, but it helps to know it, so you don't suddenly speed up or panic when your splits aren't where you want them to be.  So with the proper Mile 5, we came through in 7:13, averaging 7:13/mi over Miles 1-5, which was very close to our 7:15/mi goal - right where we wanted to be.

Miles 6-12
Shortly after, we hit the turnaround and made our way back up the road with a chance to see all the other runners pouring down the street.  It wasn't too long before I'd be hearing my name or shouting out to others.  Literally, every 15s or so, there'd be another person.  The runners we were with were joking if I was some celebrity.  With a lot of runners in our =PR= distance training program and others that I've coached in year's past, it was quite the contingent.  Once we made our way up the road a bit further, we turned off to head into Camp Pendleton.  And unlike last year, this year was packed with service people cheering us on.  I was thankful to have the support, as we did 3 years ago, but was careful not to make the same mistake I did then and speed up too much.  I joked to one of the runners with us that Erin would speed up through this section, and sure enough, as we ran threw it, he put a 10 yard lead on us.  We caught back up soon after, but the excitement of the streets being lined always gets the adrenaline pumping a little more.  Looking back on our splits through that section of the course, we ran 7:07/mi, which was about 3-4s faster than we ran the other portions.  Just goes to show that it does have an impact.
Coming off the Rudee Inlet Bridge

Before we knew it, we were heading out of the camp and back into the road to head over the Rudee Inlet bridge.  Some in our group charged the hill, but I took it as easy as I could and caught back up on the downhill.  Just trying to save every ounce of energy, as it was still early in the race.  We crossed Mile 10, which meant it was now time to head over to the boardwalk.  Our group assembled in four sets of two, lined behind each other line a pace line.  Each set of two would take 1-2 minutes out front, then fall back to the end to recover.  This seemed to work really well and we were picking runners up who were fighting solo along the way.  Group run tactics are the only way to battle these kinds of sections.  The boardwalk wasn't actually as bad as it has been, so the time flew by pretty quickly.  We actually threw down one of our faster splits on the day, running 7:04/mi at Mile 12 as we turned off the boardwalk and onto Atlantic.  By the time we hit Mile 12, we averaged 7:08/mi over Miles 6-12, which was right where our goal was.

Miles 13-18
Every year, this stretch of the course seems to be the most difficult, which it probably is in any marathon.  You've been working for a while, but you're only halfway there, with most of the actual work yet to be done and it only gets harder.  Running up Atlantic, I'd spot a few more =PR= runners that ran the half marathon and were out cheering.  Our pack was still full in tact, though I could tell a few were starting to fade as I could hear their breathing, which is never a good thing to hear only 13 miles into a marathon.  The bulk of our group continued to paceline it up Atlantic and onto Pacific.  It was right at the turn into Pacific that we crossed the 13.1 mark in 1:34:42 (same EXACT split as last year) and I saw Rebecca and Z waiting to cheer me on.  It gave me a sudden burst of energy and I mentally reset myself to keep my head down and run strong through this tough section.
The pack - and then there were four

The 4 miles up Pacific are some of the longer miles in the race.  No turns, an ever so slight uphill grade, and only your mind to bug you about how you're feeling.  Fortunately, I had the pack to amuse me and half marathon runners going the other direction to distract.  We cheered for the half marathoners and continued joking around, which was good, because it meant everyone still in our pack was feeling alright.  We were down to four now, as the others dropped off along the stretch up Atlantic/Pacific, and we made our turn onto the tree lined streets away from the winds.  It felt good to be running strong and even easier without the wind.  We were clocking miles between 7:05-7:10, so I wasn't too stressed about sitting at exactly 7:05 per our goal.  As long as the effort felt right and my legs were behaving, that's all I needed as confirmation that I was running the right pace.  We just keep plugging away, hitting Mile 18 in 7:07, averaging 7:08/mi through this section.

Miles 19-23
Now it was time to get down to work with the serious part of the race in front of us.  We were right on pace, but we just needed to hold it.  Mile 19 was my fastest mile on the day, 6:59/mi.  It wasn't my intent to run that fast, but that's what happened.  I quickly passed the mark where I cramped up and had to back away from our pack last year.  I gave it the finger and hoped it wouldn't happen this time, so maybe that's where the 6:59 came from?  Of course, it wasn't too long after that moment where I felt the ever present (for me) hamstring twinge.  I immediately backed off and thought my day might be done, but quickly shut that part of brain off and focused back on positive thoughts.  I told Erin to go ahead and he pulled a few steps ahead.  After a few moments, the tightness went away and I was back on his shoulder.  He looked back to see if I was there and gave him the thumbs up. 

We had now made the turn back toward the finish, but were slammed with some serious winds.  I think if you asked anyone where the worst wind was on the course, everyone would say Fort Story.  Maybe it was because it was later in the race, but it hurt.  Our pack had fallen off and it was just Erin and I.  We picked up a few others who were ahead of us fighting the winds solo, and got them to join in.  It became 5 of us, but I'm pretty sure Erin was the only one doing much of the work.  I was barely hanging on, as I was worried about pushing too hard with 5 miles still to go, so I just stayed at the back of the group and ran my own race.  Erin on the other hand seemed to be feeling strong.  At Mile 22, he dropped us with a sub-7 mile surge, that put a 50 yard gap between our group and him.  I could still see him up ahead, but I just wanted to keep my consistent running without risking further cramping.  I was still running around 7:10, so I knew if I could just hold pace, I'd come in easily under 3:10.  So despite the urge to bridge back up and run the rest together, I played it safe.

Stupid wind, go away
I was still with the new group through Fort Story, working our way through the wind, while Erin would occasionally glance back to check on me.  I was hoping he could just focus on his race and finishing strong and that I'd come in as best I could.  We finally exited Fort Story, and were treated with a slight tailwind to head down Pacific.  I was just clocking steady Miles.  Mile 23 was 7:08.  For that section, I averaged 7:08/mi, slightly slower than the 7:05 goal, but all things considered, I was right on average pace for where I wanted to be this late in the race.

Cruising down Pacific - almost there!
Miles 24-Finish
Once I entered Fort Story around Mile 20, I covered my watch with my arm sleeve.  I knew this part would get tough, but I didn't want a slow pace reading to influence my mindset.  I peaked down once during that section and saw 7:07, so I knew I was doing fine.  Once I exited Fort Story and had only a 5k to go, I took another peek at Mile 24 and saw a 7:07 mile and started playing the math game.  I basically figured out that I could run an 8:00/mi and still get in under 3:10.  Of course, I had no interest in doing that, but it was comforting to know.  I slowed a tad in Mile 25, possibly due to that knowledge, posting a 7:17, but still well within my goal range at that time.  I slowly began picking up the pace over the final bit after I could see the hotels located along the boardwalk in the distance getting closer. 

Mile 26 (on my watch) came through in 7:10 and I made the final turn toward the boardwalk, which meant a little over .3 mi of real running left to go.  The wind slapped me nearly backwards at that point, but once I faced the finish line in the distance, the wind was the least of my thoughts.  I just focused on picking up the pace and savoring the moment.  I saw a fellow =PR= runner sitting on a bench cheering me in, listened to others as they yelled my name off my bib, and tried to keep it together.  A few moments later, I heard the announcer say Erin's name as he crossed the finish line.  Only 24s later, I heard mine.  I did it!  I qualified for Boston!
Hells yea!
Erin and I both met each other after the finish and were in disbelief that we finally did it.  All the hard work.  For this moment.  We did it!  And we felt no more tired than after a hard long run!

Amazingly still able to celebrate!
 Standing around for a bit still in the finishers area, Rebecca came running over with Z and I couldn't wait to tell her that I qualified. 
I'm sure he'll appreciate this moment when he's older :)
 A few moments later, one of the girls in our original pack, Jen (in green in above photo), crossed the line in 3:09:54, right on goal for sub-3:10.  And a little bit later, Liz (the other =PR= runner with an original 3:25 goal) came in at 3:15.  It was a great day for everyone in our pack.  We worked together and everyone PR'd.  No better feeling than achieving your goal and seeing others do it at the same time!

I have a lot more to say about the race, my thoughts, etc. but I'll save that for another day.

Here are some of the final stats on the race, including my splits:

Time: 3:08:53
Pace: 7:12/mi (Garmin had me at 7:09/mi with extra weaving/running)
Overall Place: 84/2788
Age Group: 22/208


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