Saturday, April 26, 2014

118th Boston Marathon: Race Report.

It took a long time to get to Boston. This is true both of the training and the actual trip. I have been preparing for this race for 2 and a half years and on Friday the 18th we left home and began the journey to Boston. Because there are no direct flights from Indianapolis to Boston we drove to my parents who live about 45 minutes from the Detroit airport and stayed the night. At 3:00 AM we we "outta bed, clothes on and out the door" and headed the airport to catch a 6:30 AM flight.

We arrived in Boston around 8:00 AM and got a cab to our hotel. Checked into the hotel but of course that early there were no rooms available. My wife and I changed into running clothes in the bathroom, stowed our luggage and headed out for an easy run. We ran up and around Boston Commons where I would need to load up on the bus on race morning to head to the start line. First hour in Boston and I already had an easy 4 in the books.

The remaining time between our Saturday arrival and the Monday morning race was spent at the expo, sight seeing, Easter Mass, and of course eating. We did a lot of walking and by Sunday afternoon my wife was insisting that I take a cab to give my legs a break. I slept pretty good for the night before a marathon and got up around 5:00 AM Monday to get ready for the race.

If you didn't know, the BAA buses runners from the Boston Commons to the start in Hopkinton. We stayed at the W Boston because it was close to the pickup spot. So I got up, dressed and set out for the short walk to the pickup spot. After about 20 minutes waiting and a 40 minute ride we arrived at Athletes Village where we would wait for a couple of hours before the start of the race. I spent the time laying on a blowup raft just trying to relax and conserve energy.

I have been dealing with a strained groin muscle on my right leg. I knew that my original goals were out the window. I just hadn't been able to train at the level I needed to. Over the last 8 weeks I have been flailing just trying to hold onto as much fitness as possible. My main goal for this race was to start and finish. Based on a half marathon I ran a couple of weeks ago I thought a sub 3 hour race might be in the cards and set up my goal splits based on that.

The course is hard. But I thought I was immune. It was hot and sunny, but I thought I was tougher than the heat. Even with the tough course, the heat, my injury and a lack of quality running over the last 2 months I thought that I could will myself to that sub 3 hour finish time.The course starts with a big downhill and I have read 1,000,000 warnings against letting the downhill fool you into running fast and subsequently trashing your quads. But it didn't help. I went out way to fast, feeling good just like all of the warnings said I would. I barely noticed the injury as it is on the way to being healed and I was loaded up on Advil.

Their are not crowds lining 100% of the course. In fact the first couple of miles their is only a smattering of spectators.However, where there are crowds and they are big and they are loud. Kids stand at the ready for high-fives and how can you resist being their hero. The problem with crowds and kids high-fiving you is that it makes you run faster. Not good when you are already out too fast and don't have the fitness to sustain the pace or any where close to it for the marathon distance. You can see from my splits below that we hit a patch of spectators between miles 2 and 4. I didn't control myself and would pay dearly for it.

By mile 8 I knew I was in for a long day and the mental games began. Even then I had no idea how bad the suffering would be. About this time we hit another crowd and kids waiting for high fives. I started to fade to the left to oblige and some Australian woman yelled at me that I was "running her off the road." and that she was trying to "get into a rhythm." I am not a particularly nice person when I run. I tend to get very aggressive and this situation was no different. I said things to her that I now regret and wish I could take back. I understand her frustration to some degree but I think it is a good lesson to learn that we are all sharing the road in this or any race and none of us owns the direct line between us and the finish. Anyway, in my anger I tried to pick up the pace but saw how futile that was.

From mile 8 on my pace just began to drop. The negativity was daunting and no doubt played into how bad I felt. I knew this. I knew letting my mind wonder to the place of "You've got a long way to go", "No way you can finish this today", "You are so out of shape", "Told ya not to go out to fast but you wouldn't listen would you, superman" was not going to do any good but I just couldn't force the positive thinking that I knew I needed. To make matters worse, I am very unaccustomed to being passed in a race. But in this one I was being passed by droves of runners.

Not much else to say here except that I would get a shot of energy from the crowds but it never lasted and my pace just kept steadily dropping. I was making deals with myself. "Hold the best pace you can until half way", and at the half way point, "If you need to walk you can but not until mile 15", After mile 15 "You are not walking until you get through the hills, you at least want to  be able to say that you ran the hills".

Finally saw some family, I would later learn that I missed my wife at the bottom of heartbreak hill and I really could have used seeing her there. But my daughter Kasey was at the top and when I saw her she reassured me that the hills were over and told me "pick up the pace" and "racing hurts." I was suffering bad here. My legs were shot and my cardiovascular system was under duress. None-the-less, these women in my family have a way of giving me a huge boost in a race. I did pick up the pace but it didn't last for long.
Lies, all lies.

I knew I was getting close here and told myself that I needed to finish this thing out. Just finish. My mantra for this race was "Head down, get to work" and I just started repeating that to myself over and over. I shut everything out and embraced the pain. "Head down, get to work. Head down, get to work. Head down, get to work" No crowds, no landmarks no mile markers just "Head down, get to work."

By mile 23 no mantra, no crowds, nothing would allow me to escape. My legs were shutting down. I saw a guy walking and patted him on the back, "Let's go." He thanked me and picked it up and left me in his dust. Saw another guy hobbling. Patted him on the back, "Come on we are almost there." Again, he thanked me picked it up and pulled away. I would come across both guys and repeat the scene a couple of more times.

Mile 24, I walked. For about 2 or 3 minutes I just couldn't run anymore. I have never walked in a marathon, ever. I'm not happy about it but it is what it is. Thankfully, when I saw my parents in this mile I had already started running again and no one had to know that I had walked.

I saw the famous Citgo sign but in the "head down, get to work" mentality of shutting everything out I missed Fenway. At this point I just kept thinking about a shirt I had seen. Right on Hereford. Left on Boylston. And this became my mantra trying to shut out the pain and reassure my mind that this was almost over. That the finish line was in fact merely minutes away.

Right on Hereford and there she is. Hannah screaming and cheering for me in a hoard of spectators. I made a beeline to the left side of the road for a high five. I can't believe it. Just what I needed to carry me through. Left on Boylston. The finish line is in sight. I am going to finish this thing and I'm going to finish it strong. I pick up the pace. Fist pump, sign of the cross, hit the finish mat, pause the watch and finally, relief. All I could say to anyone I saw was, "it's done, it's done."

This was my 5th marathon. Because of my injury I have never toed the line so under-trained and it was obvious. Never has a marathon treated me so badly. Abused me so heartlessly. I have never seen "finishing" as a victory. But I'll take it here. I know how bad it hurt and what it took for me to get through. Because of this, as odd as it may sound, I am more proud of this marathon than any other.

Finish time: 3:14:11
5080/32456 Overall
4538/17828 Men
889/2660 Age Group

Splits 6:54,6:37,6:38,6:32,6:42,6:32,13:33(miles 7 and 8),6:51,6:54,7:06,7:04,7:11,7:16,14:44(miles 15 and 16),7:47,7:43,7:43,7:58,8:20,7:37,8:02,8:01,9:15,8:48,1:45

18 weeks (with a 10 day break due to injury)
972 miles
105 runs
128 hours and 22 minutes
20+ mile runs -- 6
longest run -- 22 miles

Thursday, April 24, 2014

118th Boston Marathon: My Experience

For the last 2 and a half years I have had a singular focus; to run the Boston Marathon. Why? Because it is the super bowl of running. Because it is a legendary and challenging course and because it is the most iconic marathon finish line in the history of the sport. Merely qualifying for the marathon is a badge of honor among runners and is something that they aspire to and once they have completed it, it is a cherished moment for the rest of their lives. It was a lofty goal by most accounts and one a lot of people didn't think I could achieve given my background and fitness level.

In order to accomplish my goal, I ran. A lot. I ran 2700 miles in 2012 and 3000 miles in 2013 and about 900 in the first 3 and a half months of 2014. I trained in the early morning hours well before the sun was up and in whatever Mother Nature threw at me. I wore out countless pairs of running shoes and although they never complained I’m sure I wore out my wife and daughters’ patience. But on Monday April 21st, 2014 my goal became a reality.

The whole experience was something that I will always remember and it began, much like my training, well before the sun came up. For various reasons we flew out of Detroit at 6:00 AM Saturday morning. Our flight to Boston was full of Marathoners and their families. It was a sight to see as we were all beginning our carb-loading rituals. Most runners were eating the customary Bagel for breakfast but I also saw one guy eating plain pasta with a plastic fork from a quart sized zip lock bag. Carb-loading is serious business, fueling to run 26.2 miles is not easy and I guess this guy wanted to make sure he got it right.

As soon as we landed it was obvious that the city of Boston had its arms open to the runners. The airport was lined with signs promoting the marathon and welcoming the runners making the pilgrimage. The taxi ride from the airport just reinforced the feeling of being welcomed because I was coming to run their beloved marathon. Street signs, store front signs and billboards all continued the welcoming. The taxi driver treated me like a star. Telling me how I was a champion because I was there to run.

As the taxi approached the downtown area it was apparent that there were over 35,000 runners in town. Runners were everywhere doing what runners do. Running. Checking into our hotel, we stood behind other marathoners. Later we would find even more runners doing that other thing runners do a lot. Eating. Restaurants from Dunkin’ Donuts to high end steak houses were full of, you guessed it, marathoners. Even Mass on Easter morning was full of Marathoners. We were joined by Boston champ Joan Benoit Samuelson.

I had 2 days before the marathon and in my usual training regimen these 2 days call for nice easy short runs just to keep everything loose. I cannot explain the feeling of running in Boston at this time of year. Running in a new city is always a great way to become familiar with the area. But when you are surrounded by thousands of other runners with a singular focus, even these easy runs become something special. I ran to find where I would load up on the official bus to the start line, I ran to find the Church where we would attend Easter morning Mass and I ran past restaurants and bakeries we were planning to visit. On these easy runs I ran down the legendary Boylston Street, the famous Newbury Street and a lot of side streets. Just taking it all in and enjoying the company of my compatriots.

The expo, where we go to pick up our official race number, shirt and visit various exhibitors’ booths was packed. I somehow ran into the only other 2 people running the marathon form Kokomo. There were a lot of big names from the world of running and I was lucky enough to meet a few of them. I met Olympic marathoner and American marathon record holder Ryan Hall. I met a well-respected running coach and author Jack Daniels and Runner’s World writer Mark Remy.

Monday morning I was bused, along with all of the other runners, to Athletes Village at about 6:30 AM to wait for the start of the race. I ate Bagels, drank Gatorade and hung out with 32,000 of my best friends waiting for the race to start. The people of Boston and the other small communities along the route really get into the marathon. The way to the start line was filled with well-wishers giving out encouragement and high-fives some even tried to make sure we had everything we needed offering free dounuts, beer and cigarettes.

We got lined up, did the national anthem with a military flyover from a national guard troop that assisted after the bombing last year and were off on our trip back to Boston. The course is tough but lined with people screaming, cheering, high-fiving, and handing out oranges, bananas and water. The day was sunny and hot which made a tough course all the more so. The first 15 miles of the course is mostly downhill which really puts a strain on your legs. The next 5 miles are uphill and that finishes your legs off. Dead legs or not there are still over five more miles to go and at this point finishing becomes a thing of sheer will but crossing the finish line of this marathon is a feeling I will never forget.

The experience didn't end there. As I said, Boston loves its Marathon and the people who run it. We were treated like royalty afterward by everyone we saw. Congratulatory sentiments flowed from everyone including our hotel staff who crowned us with laurel wreaths and restaurants who welcomed us in to refuel and replenish our spent, dehydrated bodies. Even the Red Sox opened their home to us. The evening after the race the marathoners had run of the storied Fenway Park.

I made a decision 2 and a half years ago to qualify for and run the Boston Marathon. I have really and truly experienced the joy of making a long term commitment and seeing it through to completion. The thing that I would like everyone to understand is that I was not a particularly good runner. I wasn't fast, I didn't have a high endurance threshold. Heck 2 years prior to committing to this goal I couldn't even run a mile without stopping. When I first expressed this desire, more experienced runners told me that I was getting in over my head. That this was something that would take years to accomplish. But understand this, limits are for other people they are not for me and they are not for you.

Monday, April 14, 2014

2014 Carmel Half Marathon: Race Report

I originally signed up for the full marathon way back last May for half price. I knew at the time that there was a very good chance that I would switch to the half because if I got into the Boston marathon I would be running that 10 days later. That is exactly how it played out. Little did I know back in May that I would be battling a pulled groin muscle. But I was/am and this was the hardest I have run in over 6 weeks.

Picked up my packet Friday over a long lunch and headed back to work. On the way home my wife was looking though and saw that my bib had the name "Brittney" printed on it. I contacted the RD and arranged to pick up a blank bib in the morning before the race. Got up Saturday morning and headed to the race. By the time we got there, picked up my new bib and stoped at the port-a-pots it was about 5 minutes to race time. As such I couldn't get up past corral C. I met an older guy, probably late 50's, who was running his 25th full here and his 26th next weekend. Inspiring to say the least.

Normally I don't get to worked up for half marathons but given my current situation and my goal race only 10 days away I was pretty nervous leading up to this race. With the lack of quality running I knew anything resembling a decent time was going to be uncomfortable. Normally, I am OK with that. That's part of racing, whether it's a 5k, half, or full marathon being uncomfortable is part of the process. I can accept that when a PR or age group win  is on the line. It's a little harder to take when you know you won't even get 5th in your age group and a PR isn't even in the discussion. But this is where I am at so, fine, it is what it is.

The race started right on time, I love that! I hit the start mat and was off.  I wanted to run under 1:30 but went into it knowing I would let my injury and legs determine the final outcome. Again, this was not a goal race and more so my goal race was only 10 days out. This was not the time to try and prove anything.

You've got to love a race that starts on time.

I used the first mile to kind of work my way up the pack which was a challenge given that I had started back in corral C. In the first few miles I was judging my pace by how I was doing in regards to various pace groups, making my way past the 2:00 half, the 3:45 full, the 1:40 half. By about mile 3 I had caught the 3:10 full pace group so I know I was settling into a good pace and there was no real trouble from the groin yet.

It was a lonely race for the most part as I was working my way up through various packs of runners. Catching 1 and targeting another was a good way to keep my mind occupied. I wasn't really noticing the groin injury which was a very good thing. I just kept working the pace down. I could tell I was running hard but no where near max effort and it didn't feel as bad as I was worried it would.

Around mile 8 I took some water from a water stop. I never drink during a half but I am taking lots of ibuprofen right now due to the injury and the doctor told me to be sure not to dehydrate as this would concentrate the medicine and be hard on my kidneys. This was a terrible mistake. I swallowed wrong and fought the next 1/4 of a mile to maintain a run without the luxury of actually breathing. Once I could breath again I was able to get my pace back on track.

At mile 9 my wife and youngest daughter were waiting to cheer me on. They can pick me out a long way off because they know my gait so well. I swear I could hear Hannah cheering nearly a 1/4 mile away. This always breathes new life into my run. I really hope she doesn't get drowned out in Boston but if I'm going to hear her there she's really gonna have to bring her A game.

Mile 9 ready to high-five my loudest supporter, Hannah!

Mile 10 I saw a guy in front of me start to walk. I got my best drill Sargent voice out in an effort to spur him on. I do this to help others along but it is also a big help to me. How can I slow down when I have just ordered someone else not to? He picked it back up but no doubt he was suffering and I passed him pretty quickly. At this point there were no packs of runners left just loners and I began passing several of them. I was continuing to work my pace down as the finish drew nearer and I felt more and more confident that I was not doing any harm to my pulled muscle and that I could keep up the effort to the end.

Between mile 11 and mile 12 I passed a guy waring the shirt from this years Sam Costa Half. The Sam Costa shirts list last years AG winners and top 3 over all and masters division. I took 3rd in masters and this was the first time I saw the shirt in person. Pretty cool and gave me a little extra pep.

With about a mile to go you hit a nice long 2.5 or 3% incline. I dug in knowing that 1:30 was closing in on me. It felt good to work hard and I was running the hardest pace of the day at around 6:30. I saw the "1/2 mile to go sign" and made the final turn and turned it on. Finishing the final 1/4 of a mile at near puke threshold and under my mile PR pace at around 5:44. I crossed the finish line in 1:30:17 42nd/1431 overall 6th/105 in my age group. For an injured guy, I'll take it.
Best sign I saw all morning

Digging in trying to secure a sub 1:30 half. I missed by 17 seconds but I was giving it all I had here

It's been a disappointing season to say the least. I worked hard over a very harsh winter and was on track to smash PR's in the half here or in an earlier race that I had to skip because of the injury and full at Boston. For the last 6 weeks I have been flailing trying to maintain enough fitness just to finish Boston. I was happy to get this race under my belt. It was a little bit of a confidence boost and while I won't be able to hit my initial goal of 2:49:59 at Boston, I think I can mange a sub 3:00 hour effort and based on this race that will be my goal.

Onward to Boston!