Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Ten Things that Worked in My Last Marathon

1) Best training session I’ve had. For experienced runners or guys like me that are still learning, the race is won in the 16-18 weeks of training…not so much on race day. I stepped it up with the training on this one pushing myself further than I have before with more hills, tempo runs, track work and more long runs.
2) Pushing myself on the pace. This will go against everything I’ve read. As my training progressed, I moved from a comfortable eight minute mile to a 7:40ish range on long runs. The day before my marathon I decided to move up to the 3:20 pace group—my previous marathon I ran with the 3:30 group.
3) Related to the above, I am also a big believer in the pace group. Akin to the camaraderie of your training group, you really become a “band of brothers” with people you literally meet race day who all have a goal of meeting the time carried by the pace group leader.
4) Picking the right race. My goal was to qualify for the Boston Marathon, and no coincidence I picked Sacramento’s California International Marathon (CIM.) CIM has an overall elevation decrease, cool temperatures, and normally good weather (it was cold, but the weather didn’t exactly cooperate.) Despite an undertone of downtrodden economy, I really enjoyed Sacramento as a city the days up to the race. Great people, great restaurants, good time. I would recommend it to anyone looking for a destination city qualifier.
5) Skins compression tights. I will have a hard time not wearing my kryptonite tights in my next ½ or full marathon. Skins tout that you can legally break records—almost like Michael Phelps and the LZR tights that are so controversial. They really seem to help with all the aches and pains you encounter with a fast pace on a full 26.2 miles. I’ve set two PR’s in the last two races, so I guess I’m a believer.
6) Runner’s fanny pack. I admit it, I owned a walking fanny pack for years and still have a couple tucked in my sock drawer. My wife informed me that it’s the equivalent of white tube socks pulled up and shorts. I no longer don the fanny pack on vacations, but sported a runner’s belt on race day. I have fumbled with grabbing gel packs out of tiny pockets in various shorts—I even lost my beer money in my first marathon in San Diego on a hill climb as I was pulling out a goo pack. This functioned just like a fanny pack should. Everything you need within easy access up front.
7) In and out of the porto-potty like a Nascar pitstop. This should be one of those things that didn’t work as my previous three marathons didn’t require an in-race potty stop. My timing was a bit off as I’d clearly hydrated enough before the race and in the first 8 miles, but I realized that I wasn’t going to “sweat it out” and needed to peel off the herd to hit a mint green phone booth along the way. Record time to speed off, do my thing and catch back up to the group. I’ve read that you need to take advantage of the empty stalls when you can.
8) Diet. This is the hardest one for me as I am a freak about following the training schedule, but sometimes don’t eat as I should. I made a conscious effort the last 6-8 weeks to pay attention to what was going into my body. Even the novice runner knows about “carb loading” particularly the night before a race. I found myself loading on oatmeal and yogurt in my training as I approached the marathon and even curtailed (almost cut out) alcohol. The result was a lean and mean running machine with the lightest race day weight I’ve run with.
9) KT Tape worn by Kerri Walsh in the last Summer Olympics (Volleyball.) Kind of like duct tape for athletes—it fixes a lot of things. I used it to tape my lower left leg to tend to some muscle strain related to the stress fracture. I also had a tight/sore shoulder that I didn’t want to hinder my upper body. They have great videos on their website on how to apply. Kerri looks better than I do with the tape.
10) Mind games. After mile 20, it almost becomes mind over matter. Your body is starting to rebel and telling your head, “why are you doing this?” As I’ve mentioned before, dolling out “Scooby snacks” certainly help. My formula for this starting with an Extreme six hour energy shot (who would have thought that a common item in a gas station would help a marathon runner?) Every four miles, I popped a Shot Blok and held off until after the 20 mile mark to indulge in a Banana Strawberry Power Gel. At mile 22, I merely had to think about running four miles…mile 24…just a two miler. Better to look out the windshield vs. the rear view mirror.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

I'm going to get that Boston Jacket




I’m finally gonna get that (Boston Marathon) jacket! My final chip time in the 27th California International Marathon (CIM) was 3:21:38—eight plus minutes to spare to qualify for my first Boston Marathon. Crossing the finish line, I quickly let out a primal scream that I was headed for Boston. I was surprised that no one cheered me on when I let out the guttural blast, but they looked at me like, “what is going on with that guy!” I didn’t care…I went from my alpha male scream, grabbed my space foil blanket, and sat down to have my timing chip removed in a folding chair. At that point, the tears started to flow. I’m okay admitting that it’s okay to cry as a grown man—I teared up at “The Blind Side” with Sandra Bullock along with a number of other macho sports movies like “Spartacus,” and “Rudy”—that one gets me every time.

I looked at my Garmin again and again…double-checking to make sure the cold and stress wasn’t playing mind games with me and each time, I realized, I didn’t hit my goal—I crushed it! My previous PR was 3:32 in Chicago in 2008—missing qualification by two minutes. I ripped 11 minutes off my previous PR and quite frankly would have been thrilled with a 3:29:55.

I started to “feel” the sub 3:30 mark over the two days in Sacramento leading up to the race. The good news was that the lower left leg pain from my stress fracture in Chicago in ’08 was not there. There seemed to be the right blend of being anxious for the race, but not nervous about it. My litmus test was the Denver Marathon the month before where I’d set my ½ marathon PR of 1:38. Based on the guidance from my guru, Mark Plaatjes, “double your ½ and add five minutes and that’s your marathon pace” or something to that effect which meant that 3:30 was well within my range. At the pre-race expo, I approached the pace group booth and wondered to myself, “do I run with the 3:30 group or the 3:20 group?” I didn’t want to fall just short again as I did in Chicago, so I opted for the 3:20 group to ensure “breaking” 3:30.

The days leading up to the CIM played mind games with me with respect to the weather. The course is known as a fast course and good BQ, but once every seven years or so, you get bad weather including the runner’s worst foe—headwinds. The forecast leading up to CIM called for rain, but was modified to show up the day after race day. The revised forecast still called for cold temperatures with the race start expected to be 32 degrees and the finish time to be around 40. This created havoc in the mind as I tried to plan what to wear come 7AM on Sunday…singlet or long sleeve, which pair of gloves, which hat? I packed (prior to leaving Denver) every possible weather scenario I could imagine.

One bit of good news was that my rigorous training schedule threw all kinds of bad weather crap at me which supposedly prepared me for a variety of race day conditions—indeed it did. Race day weather included, “bone chilling temperatures of 27 degrees….and headwinds up to 15 mph” according to the Sacramento Bee.

Great…just my luck that I pick the one year out of seven that Sacramento has crappy marathon weather. Based on the “Saturday before 2 mile jog” in Sacramento’s downtown cold, I decided on a singlet for the race. With the expo two blocks away, I added a Nike (wicking) headband under my hat, and arm warmers. The above seemed to be the right call, but the only one of two mistakes was going with the lighter gloves. Prior to the halfway mark, my right glove was soaked with water and electrolyte drink. My hands seemed warm enough and the soaked right hand wasn’t working for me so I tossed them to my wife at the halfway point of the race. As the second half wore on, the sun never really came out for good, but seemed to poke out a couple of times. The sunglasses remained perched on top of the hat for all but one sunbreak for less than a mile. The result of ditching the gloves was stinging cold hands by the end of the race. The rest of the ensemble seemed to do the trick including the “Skins” compression tights—even though my niece laughed at the later accusing me of wearing panty hose—whatever works!

The morning ritual went as planned with the alarm clock going off (along with the cell phone and hotel wake-up call providing back-up to the back-up to make sure I didn’t sleep through the bus pick-up.) The second mistake of the race was sensing a “gurgling” stomach after the pasta the night before and taking a Pepto Bismol tablet to calm me down. Sunday morning and my normally “clockwork” pre-race bathroom routine didn’t go as planned—only lesson there is Pepto doesn’t make you go, it makes you stop (probably no need for elaboration there.)

My wife and I stayed downtown Sacramento for the race and enjoyed many of the fellow runners I met over the weekend and drew energy off the encouragement and stories I picked up along the way. The race day bus picked us up in front of the hotel and was a seamless transportation method to the start. The school bus ride gave us an idea of how cold it was going to be as the bus driver had to keep kicking on the heat to warm the runners on the drive up to Folsom. Heavy frost on the windshields of the local car dealership was a sign of what we were heading into as we drove up to the dam. The bus got us to the starting point with plenty of time to spare so I used the time to hit to porto-potty to finally take care of that department, catch some water from one of the race angels, and huddle behind some trees to try and stay warm.

With every race, you seem to learn something and the one thing I learned from Chicago is don’t wait too long to find your spot at the start or pace group. I dropped off the gear bag (with the heavier gloves) and headed to the starting area. I did one last look at the 3:30 sign and settled in with the 3:20 group. I was pleased to find Caroline and Steve from Runner’s Edge of the Rockies from Denver in the same group.

Our pace group leader, Peter, did a great job of holding a steady pace and providing insight as to what was “around the next corner.” For the better portion of the race, I held with the 3:20 group which seemed a brisk, but comfortable pace. The cold didn’t seem to play a part with me until the last six miles of the race and the “rolling hills” advertised seemed like nothing compared to the hills training I did in Colorado on my own and with coach Dave from Runner’s Edge. I was definitely thinking to myself that tempo runs, Maureen Roben’s track training, and hills paid a dividend. The CIM course is an overall decrease in elevation starting at Folson Dam and heading West into downtown Sacramento ending on the State Capitol’s foreground. The cold I dealt with, but the wind was a different matter. The left turn from Fair Oaks Boulevard onto Manzanita Avenue in Carmichael, just past the halfway mark, sent runners almost directly into the wind. They spoke to this at the expo, and one of the benefits of the pace group was the drafting benefits of running in a small herd. I definitely took advantage of this trying to gravitate behind taller runners.
As I seem to do with every marathon, there’s a time in the race where you question, “why did I do this,” and can my body hold up for the last number of remaining miles. I’m not sure where this hit, but it was somewhere after the 20 mile marker as I started to lag behind my pace group. I played my usual mind games to keep myself going along with fortifying my body with Shot Bloks every four miles. I saved my Powerbar Strawberry Banana Gel Pack for the last six miles and it literally seemed to give me a physical boost. One of my pace group compatriots tried to encourage me to keep pace with the team, but I’d clearly lost a ½ step.

At this point, I still had a clear enough head to “do the math” and figure that even if I slowed to a 9 minute pace, I’d still break 3:30. I haven’t done the mile by mile analysis, but I don’t believe I dropped much below an 8:30 pace the last 4-5 miles. To hit 3:20, I needed to average a 7:39 pace—to hit 3:30 and qualify for Boston, I needed an 8:01 pace. Along with the math I was doing in my head, I also started to rationalize, that I only have a four mile run, or a three mile run left and I qualify for Boston! I started to visualize my jubilation at the finish line and that also seemed to keep me going. As we pulled into downtown, I also seemed to draw energy from the crowds lining the streets.

Literally the last “stumbling block” came around mile 23 when I caught an edge on something and took a tumble onto the asphalt. I was fortunate to catch my fall with the butts of my hands. Hat and glasses and I went tumbling onto the streets of Sacramento. I had visions of Mary Decker’s infamous collision with Zola Budd, but in this case, there was no other runner collision—it was just tired legs and a phantom rock in the road.
As I pulled into the last couple of miles, the crowds grew larger and my gait and pace was deliberate. I could have pushed even faster, but at this point (after one tumble,) I knew I would qualify and just didn’t want to push harder and pull a hammy in the last mile.
Even though I’d spent two days around the city, I didn’t see the Capitol dome, but knew exactly where I was as I counted down the number of blocks to go before two left turns lead into the finish stretch.

Be careful what you ask for. There are a handful of once in a lifetime event that you have to be careful with. Once you achieve them, you can have an empty sense wondering, “what do I do now?” This was not the case as I was filled with a range of emotions; jubilation, tears, a sense of accomplishment, and anticipation of the runner’s holy grail—the Boston Athletic Association’s Boston Marathon.

I cried once again when I was finally reunited with my wife at our agreed upon meeting spot in front of the Christmas tree in front of the Capital. A fine Christmas gift indeed.

About Me

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Average guy w/ an above average appetite for marathon racing and triathlons. Ran my 5th Boston in '15. 3:21, 1:29, 19:21 PR;full/half/5K Opinions & wit are mine