Monday, November 28, 2016

Marathon Number Six - Week Two.

Week two of training looks like this:

Sunday, Rest or cross training
Monday, General aerobic + speed 8M w/ 10x100m strides
Tuesday, Rest or cross training
Wednesday, General aerobic 10M
Thursday, Rest or cross training
Friday, Recovery 5M
Saturday, Medium-long run 13M w/8M @ MP


Weight: Still 179. At least I made it through Thanksgiving week without getting any fatter.

Health: Both Piriformis muscles are sore.  Stretching helps.


Sunday - Scheduled rest day from running.  I did one set of stretches for the Piriformis, some push-ups (2 sets of 30) and went for a slow 3 mile jog with Cindi and Copper. We drove down to Little Bennett Park and hit the trail.

Of the three of us, Copper easily had the most fun.  He trots along beside us with his doggy grin on display as if there is nothing in the world he enjoys more.  As problematic as he can be at home, when we are out he is very obedient.  When other people are on the trail, he falls in beside me without needing to be told.  I always place myself between him and other people or dogs that are on the trail and he knows that he isn't allowed to go say hi.  For the most part, he shows no interest in other people but he will sometimes show interest in other dogs.  Occasionally I will have to remind him to heal but that isn't necessary very often.

When we get home he is typically more affectionate than normal for about an hour or so.  I guess dogs get an endorphin buzz from running just like people do.  Unfortunately the buzz doesn't last and he eventually reverts to his anxious self.

Monday - This workout is challenging.  I ran seven miles at relaxed pace and then did the strides.  By the time I was half way through I was pretty well spent.  It's difficult to focus on proper form after you reach the point of exhaustion. I tried.

Tuesday - This was a scheduled rest day (SRD) from running.  I was grateful for that because it was raining steadily most of the day.  On my lunch break I jogged over to the covered picnic area on campus to do my PT exercises.  I'll try to describe those:

The first exercise is to stand on one foot about a 18 inches away from a picnic table.  Bending at the knee, you extend the raised foot behind you in a straight line while you reach out and touch the bench of the picnic table with your hand. I do two sets of 20.

The next exercise is simply to stand on one leg and slowly sit on the bench.  The idea is to do it slowly and in a controlled way.  I do two sets of 10.

In between those sets I do push-ups and crunches.  I did 80 push-ups and 50 crunches.

After work I went to the gym with Cindi.  I did some stretches but got bored while waiting for her to finish her workout so I ran 2 miles on the Treadmill.

Wednesday - This is the dreaded mid-week "medium long" run.  I don't know if everyone dreads these, but I do.  Trying to carve out 90 minutes to run on a weekday is tough.  This time of year, with such little day light, it gets harder to make it work.  For me, the choice is either get it done before work or on my lunch break.  I don't run after work very often.  The weather forecast for today made the choice easier; rain early but clearing skies by lunch time.  So I took a long lunch to run and will make up the extra 40 minutes at the end of the day.

The run itself was OK.  I've run around campus so many times that I know the distance between most areas by heart.  Since I don't really care for running in circles, the challenge is to find a route that doesn't repeat too many times.  I struggled with some mental fatigue and kept second guessing my route.

Should I do the walking trail twice?  I hate the walking trail, it's hilly and the pavement is in terrible shape.  Maybe I'll just go do the one mile loop out on New Hampshire Avenue a bunch of times? Then I won't have to think about it.  I hate doing loops, screw that.  etc, etc...

Those inner conversations can be maddening after a while.  That's one of the reasons I enjoy running on the towpath so much.  For a 10 mile run I run 5 miles out and then turn around.  Zero thinking about the route which leaves me more time to obsess over my pace and other shit that doesn't matter.




Saturday, November 26, 2016


I ran in my first ever organized race today. The White Oak Classic is sponsored by the FDA (where I work) and takes place on the FDA campus off of New Hampshire Avenue. I guess I got a little excited by running with other people and feeling a little competitive because I finished with a personal best time of 29:15. I was thrilled to make it in less than 30 minutes! I'm sorry I didn't take any pictures but I didn't feel like carrying my phone through the race.

Note: I found this in my "Drafts" folder today (11/26/2016).  I thought it was funny, so I published it.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Marathon Number Six - Week One

I was out for a walk today and decided that I want to write more.  I'm going to run another marathon and writing about my training will give me a good excuse to do just that.  My goal is to post once a week (at least) over the next eighteen weeks to record my progress.  So, here goes...

Race: The Two Rivers Marathon.
Goal: I need sub 3:30:00 to qualify for Boston again. I'm shooting for 3:25:00 (7:50 avg).

Weight - 179.  This is about 9 pounds heavier than where I need to be.  I have added a little bit of muscle in my upper body by lifting weights and other exercises but that can only account for a pound or two at the most.  For some reason, my resolve to avoid junk food has been very intermittent for the past couple months.  I can do well for a few days but then I find myself screwing up and I can't seem to stop myself from overeating.  I need to drop the weight very soon because once marathon training kicks into high gear it will be very difficult if not impossible.  Training requires a lot of calories. Trying to lose weight and run a lot of miles leaves you feeling exhausted all the time and increases your chances for injury.  It is time to get this shit under control!

Injuries - Nothing acute, but I'm recovering from Piriformis syndrome.  I struggled with this all summer but finally broke down and went to see my PT.  I've been rehabbing for a couple months and making good progress.

Training Plan - I am using a plan from Advanced Marathoning by Pete Pfitzinger.  It'a an 18 week plan that caps at a 55 mile week.  I've used this plan in the past with mixed results.  The most success I've had with this plan is when I added a some easy paced runs to bump each week up by 7-10 miles.  I don't plan to do that this time around, but I will get some cross training on an indoor bike.

Training Buddies - I plan to run the marathon and as many weekend long runs as possible with two friends, Linda and Jesse.  We have run a lot together in the past year.  All three of us run at about the same pace and enjoy each other's company.  It's nice to have people to chat with when you're slogging out a 2 hour long run!

Week One
Sunday, Rest or cross training
Monday, Lactate threshold 8M w/4M @ HM pace
Tuesday, Rest or cross training
Wednesday, General aerobic 9M
Thursday, Rest or cross training (Thanksgiving)
Friday, Recovery 4M
Saturday, Medium long run 12M

I'm writing this on Tuesday, so I've only had one actual workout so far.  Well sort of anyway. Week one of marathon training has been a bit of a shock to the system for me in the past. Even though I have a decent base built up, hitting those workouts in week one has been a struggle.  This time around I decided to follow the first week for two weeks prior to starting but with the mileage reduced a little bit.  I'll update this post at the end of the week and let you know how that works out.

The weather on Monday was cold and very windy so I opted to do the lactate threshold workout on a treadmill at the gym.  Like a lot of runners I know, I don't enjoy running on the treadmill.  However, with the high winds I felt like the best chance for me to actually hit and hold HM pace was to dial up the pace on a TM.  I ran the first 4 miles at easy pace (~8:30) and the last 4 miles at 7:40.  I probably could have gone faster but I didn't want to push my luck.

Tuesday is a cross training day.  I did all my PT exercises and stretching.  In addition to that I did a few curls and 60 push-ups.  I also took the dog for a 2 mile walk.

Wednesday called for a 9 mile general aerobic run.  I did that run in my neighborhood and it went fine.

Thursday was Thanksgiving.  I did a pretty good job of not over-indulging while still having a good time.

Friday's recovery run was fun.  Cindi and I took Copper down to the C&O Canal towpath.  Cindi ran four mile and I ran five.  I ended up doing 2.5 at her pace and 2.5 at mine.

For my "medium long" run on Saturday I decided to go back to the towpath.  I had an "oops" moment where I didn't hit the start button on my watch. I don't know what happened; either I forgot to start it or I made a mistake.  Whatever the reason, I ended up running about a half mile or so without my GPS so I had to guess where to turn around.  I got pretty close.

The run itself was OK although I wasn't feeling my most energetic.  I slogged it out and wound up with 8:21 average pace.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The 2016 Army Ten Miler

This should be brief, but it isn't....

tl;dr version
I ran the Army Ten Miler on October 9th.  I finished with a time of 1:15:25 (7:33 avg pace).

This was my second ten mile race, but the first one I entered (the 2015 Cherry Blossom) was cut to 9.5 mile because of an accident on the course. So technically, this was my first.  Either way I got a PR because my time for Cherry Blossom was 1:16:34.  The Army Ten Miler is large race with a field size of about 35,000

I entered this race months ago but didn't train for it specifically.  I was training for a November marathon up until mid-September but changed my mind about that.  I got in some long runs up to 20 miles before abandoning marathon training.  After the 20, I focused on shorter distances and tried to see how well my legs responded to getting in some speed work.

Race Day
The race begins and ends at the Pentagon in Washington, DC.  Because the DC Metro is trying to recover from years of neglected maintenance, they aren't opening early for anything right now.  With an 8:00 start time, that meant I needed to find another way to get downtown.  Parking was very limited and I don't know the area very well so I was nervous about arriving late.  I planned to run the race with my friend Linda, but she was in the same boat as me.  Cindi saved the day by volunteering to get up before dawn and drive us to the race.  The plan was to meet Linda at the Shady Grove Metro station where would leave her car, drive to the race and then take Metro back so Cindi wouldn't have to come get us.  This ended up working out great.  A few days before the race I was contacted by Evan, another local runner looking to carpool.  So he met me at my house at 5:15 on the morning of the race and we set off to meet Linda.  We got about half way down the road when I realized that I had forgotten to put on my Garmin and it was too late to turn around and get it.  I only freaked out for a couple seconds and then I laughed.  I quickly decided to just roll with it and run the race by feel.  I sometimes think focusing on what the Garmin is telling me can dictate how I run the race too much.

Cindi dropped us off near the start and we checked bags, used the port-o-John and found our way to through the corrals. The Army Ten Miler has a wave start.  When I signed up for the race I chose a projected finish time that was a lot slower than I planned to run.  Linda and Evan were both in Wave 1 but I was in Wave 2.  With a little encouragement from my friends, I walked up to Wave 1 with the faster runners. Because it was cold and windy, everyone had extra clothing on to keep warm so my green bib was covered up.  Once we got up to the wave 1 corral we ran a little to warm-up and settled into a spot about 2/3 of the way back.

The Race
Once the gun sounded it took about 2 minutes to get to the start line.  I felt myself reach for my wrist as I crossed the timing mat even though I knew my Garmin was still sitting safely at home on the charger.  The field was crowded but not so much that I felt held back or needed to do a lot of zig-zagging to pass people.  We got to the first mile marker and I was pleasantly surprised to see there was a clock there with the gun time.  I made a mental note of the time and hoped that there would be one at the next mile.  When I got to mile marker two I was happy to see another clock running. My mile time between 1 and 2 was at about 7:35.  To reach my goal of sub 1:16:00, that was about where I needed to be. So while I didn't have the constant input from my watch, I was at least able to see how well I was staying on pace as each mile passed.

The course takes you through downtown DC and past a lot of monuments and memorials.  However, we could have been anywhere as far as I noticed.  When I'm racing my focus is almost entirely on trying to maintain good running form and keeping my pace under control.  At one point I glanced over to my left and saw the Washington Monument rising up into the sky but otherwise I couldn't really tell you what we passed and when.  I'm always impressed by how well other people remember race details.

After the first few miles it seemed like I was holding pace right around 7:30.  I was a little surprised by that but the effort felt like something I could sustain for the entire 10 miles so I just went with it.  By the time I passed the 8 mile mark I was ready for the finish line.  Using my crude math skills, I determined that I still had two more miles to run.  Mile 9 was right at 7:30 pace and I tried to give a little kick for mile 10 but I don't think I manged to go much faster.  After what seemed like an eternity, I spotted the finish line but I didn't have anything left for a sprint.  I was just fine with that because I wasn't in the mood to throw up.

I forgot to check the gun clock as I crossed so I didn't know my time until later that evening when I was able to look it up on the race website.

Net Time: 1:15:25
Gun Time: 1:17:01
Overall Place: 1917 out of 24,077
Gender Place: 1637 out of 12,777
Division Place: 94 out of 1335

I met up with Evan first and we traded war stories until Linda found us.  We chatted and shared our thoughts on the race as we made our way back to pick up our bags and jump on the Metro.  I got home around noon and had a great breakfast and spent some time in the hot tub.  Later I watched the Redskins beat the Ravens and had a beer and some pizza.  You can't ask for a better day than that.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Frederick Half Marathon 2016

I ran the Frederick Running Festival Half Marathon on Sunday May 8th.  I finished in 1:42:17 which is a PR by 1:07.

This race is practically right in my back yard and was the first race longer than a 5K that I ever ran. That was in 2010 and I have run it four times since then.  I missed 2011 and 2015 due to injury.

I didn't register early because I ran The Boston Marathon in April and I have a history of getting injured while running marathons.  After recovering from Boston I felt pretty good so I decided to sign up.  I got in touch with a couple of friends, Linda and Jesse that I did a lot of training runs with over the winter to see if they wanted to run it together.  Both of them had other goal races either the week before or the week after but Linda said she was signed up.  We agreed to run it together at "fun run" pace.

The night before the race Linda and I made plans to meet up near the 1:45:00 pacers. I have to mention that Linda ran a HM the weekend before in 1:36:xx AND had a bike race the day before this race. I love running with Linda because she is faster than I am and easy to talk to. It's good to run with people that push you, even when they aren't trying to.

On race day my legs felt like spaghetti in my warm up run and I thought 1:45:00 might be too fast for me.  Linda and I found each other near the pace group as planned and agreed to stay with them for a while and then drop back if necessary.

The race started and we were off.  Linda and I chatted about races, kids, Mother's Day plans and anything else that came to mind for the first few miles. As we reached the 3 mile marker I noticed we we had passed the 1:45 pacers.  The pacers sounded like they were a lot of fun and I could hear them behind us cheering on their group but I never saw them again.

As we progressed through the course I mentioned once or twice that we were moving a bit faster than planned.  I tried to slow down a few times but eventually I gave up and just went with it.

I'm not very good at remembering details about races.  The course winds through Frederick and is mostly flat.  There is nice crowd support in some places but it isn't like a big city race.  We went through the main drag (Market Street), around Baker Park and through Hood College. The only notable hill comes shortly after passing the 11 mile mark.  It's long but not overly steep.  Once you climb that you've got it made.

I finished feeling good and was surprised later to see that I beat my PR.  I haven't trained for a goal half marathon in a couple years because I have focused on running the marathon distance. I know that this PR is "soft" for me because I ran a 1:41 first half split in a marathon.  I think I could probably get down to a 1:37 or 1:36 if I train for it.

Since this wasn't a goal race, I decided to experiment with recording my splits manually instead of using auto-lap.  I did pretty well, only forgetting to press the button twice.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The 2016 Boston Marathon

Scroll down to the bottom for the Readers Digest condensed version

On April 18, 2016 I ran The Boston Marathon.  I qualified for this race on November 17, 2014. Because of the way the Boston Athletic Association does things, it is possible to qualify to run in the marathon with a lot of time to wait.  As it turns out, that was for the best because after my qualifying race I battled an Achilles injury for the entire year before my training started.  When I registered for the race in September, I had serious doubts about if I would actually be healthy enough to run it. Still, I was (and still am) convinced that this was probably going to be my only shot to run in this most famous of marathons so I registered and hoped that my body would heal and my qualifying time would be good enough to get in.

This was my 5th marathon.
The Shamrock Marathon, March 2012 - 4:29:52
Rock n Roll DC, March 2013 - 3:54:51
Marine Corps Marathon, October 2013 - 3:53:18
Potomac River Run Marathon, November 2014 - 3:21:39

Qualifying Standards:
For those that don't know (runner friends can skip this part).  Boston is one of the few races that you can't just register and run.  You have to qualify by running another marathon within a certain amount of time. If you're interested, you can read all about the qualifying standards here. The standards are adjusted by age so old people like me don't have to run as fast as a college kid.  The time I needed to meet was 3:25:00.  In recent years, just beating your BQ (Boston Qualifier) time hasn't been enough.  The increased popularity in marathons has meant more and more people trying to run Boston. Since the race organizers take the fastest runners first, you now need to come under your BQ time by a significant margin to get in.  I ran a 3:21:39 in the Potomac River Run marathon giving me a 3:21 margin. The cutoff this year was BQ - 2:28 so I had made it in by almost a minute.  Of course I didn't know that until about two weeks after I registered and had to wait on pins and needles along with the rest of the "just barely" qualifiers.

My training plan for this race was to loosely follow the Pete Pfitzinger 18 week plan that tops out at a 55 mile week.  Because of lingering pain in my right Achilles, I decided to substitute one or two of the "junk mile" runs with equivalent time on an indoor bike.  That plan worked out well for the most part. It cut down on some of the leg fatigue and my Achilles issue gradually improved over the course of the 18 weeks.  I was even able to hit some tempo runs close to my faster paces that I was running in 2014 when I qualified. As the weeks passed I was gradually riding the bike less and running more and my confidence grew.

Everything really seemed to be coming together well until about 6 weeks before race day I took a hard fall and broke my clavicle.  A week after I injured it, I had surgery to insert a plate and some screws to hold it together.  I was able to resume running a few days after the surgery but I had to take it very easy and be careful not to fall again.

I traveled to Boston with my wife Cindi.  Neither of us had visited Boston before. We didn't have firm plans to see anything particular during our trip.  We thought it would be nice to visit the Samuel Adams brewery and go on the tour and we also wanted to visit the bar that the TV show "Cheers" was loosely based on.  We both knew it would be pretty low key because I wouldn't want to be on my feet too much the day before the race.  We flew in Saturday morning and took a cab to our hotel which is just a few blocks from the finish line.  We checked in and then headed to the expo right away.  Of course the expo was packed but we shuffled through the crowds as best we could. I bought the jacket and a few other things while we were there and then we beat a hasty retreat.

After leaving the expo, we took it easy the rest of the day Saturday. On Sunday we did a few touristy things but not much.  We took a nice walk along the Esplanade and enjoyed the sunshine and some ducks that paid us a visit.
Duck butts
We went to Cheers for lunch and had a beer or two.  While we were there we talked with some other people in town for the race and enjoyed the atmosphere. Although we didn't venture out very far from our hotel and the areas surrounding the race, we liked the city and found the people there to be very welcoming and gracious hosts.  I was given congratulations by several random strangers as we walked around town which was nice. The people of Boston love their race.

You can be jealous now.
Shakeout Run:
Sunday morning I met up with a couple of online running friends for a four mile shake out run along the Esplanade.  During the run we saw some celebrities in the running world. We passed Desi Linden, Bill Rodgers, Bart Yasso (and about 50 of his friends), and finally Joan Benoit Samuelson who is a personal hero of mine.  One of my friends had run Boston three times before so us newbies asked her some questions along the way and gladly accepted her advice about the race itself.  Because we were starting near each other, we agreed to meet up at 7:00 and ride the bus to Hopkinton together.

The Course:
The course is a point-to-point starting in the small town of Hopkinton and ending in Boston.  The first four miles are a steady downhill and then it is mostly flat until mile 16 in the town of Newton.  I had heard a lot about "The Newton Hills" during my training. They are the four moderate hills that start at mile 16 and end at mile 21. From there the course is mostly downhill all the way into downtown Boston.

It was a huge relief and comfort to me to be able to tag along with a race veteran who was such good company.  I met my friend at the planned time and we hopped on one of the many big yellow school buses to ride out to Hopkinton. There was a little traffic along the way but we passed the time chatting and before I knew it we were at the Athlete's Village. We posed for a couple pics, got in line for the port-a-john and then relaxed on the grass to wait until they called our wave.  My friend brought one of those thin sheets that act as a thermal blanket that they hand out at the end of races to sit on so we wouldn't get wet. It's good to have smart friends!  We ran into one of her friends who was also in our wave and we hung out together to pass the time. The three of us chatted for a while until Wave 2 was called and we headed out.

Why is the brim on my hat always crooked?
From the Athlete's Village to the start is about a mile walk. There is another port-a-john stop along the way which we took advantage of then wished each other well as moved into our respective corrals.  I was in Wave 2, Corral 5.  I lined up at the very back of my corral because I planned to run much slower than my qualifying time.  We only waited a few minutes and then we were off!

Race Plan:
My plan was to run as conservatively as possible all the way until Newton. The weather was warmer than what I was used to and there wasn't a cloud in the sky. Either one of those can cause me trouble when running.  I had 5 Gu energy gels with me and planned to use one every 5 miles. I have used this fueling strategy in the past with good results.  Because of the higher temps, I also planned to take in water at every aid station on the course. Boston offers water and Gatorade stops every mile starting at mile 2.

Early Miles:
Right after the start I realized that I forgot to turn off the auto-lap feature of my watch.  I wanted to record the splits myself by pressing the lap button at each mile marker because in a big race the mile markers and the GPS are usually a little bit off.  It isn't a big problem for shorter distances but as the race goes on your watch gets more and more out of sync with the actual course.  My watch measured the course at 26.4 miles.

The whole "run as conservatively as possible" thing didn't happen nearly as well as it should have!  I knew I would start faster than my planned 8:25 pace because of the early downhill miles but I couldn't seem to back off enough.  I let a lot of people pass me in the first few miles but I still ended up running too fast.  I didn't get my pace under control until mile 7 but I still felt good.  The heat wasn't bothering me as much as I thought it would and there was a nice breeze.  I stuck with the water plan and took at least a few sips at every mile.  I took in my energy gel with a full cup of water at miles 5, 10 and 15.

One of the highlights of the course it the famous Wellesley Scream Tunnel. No, I didn't kiss any of the women lining the side of the course but running past that much screaming and enthusiasm was a real boost. At one point I looked at my watch and saw that it showed my pace at 7:45. Oops!

Mile 1: 7:58, Mile 2: 8:05, Mile 3: 8:17, Mile 4: 8:09, Mile 5: 8:20, Mile 6: 8:11, Mile 7: 8:24, Mile 8: 8:27, Mile 9: 8:17, Mile 10: 8:33, Mile 11: 8:43, Mile 12: 8:26, Mile 13: 8:27, Mile 14: 8:29, Mile 15: 8:41, Mile 16: 8:35

This looks like one of the Newton hills. Lots of people
I arrived at Newton knowing that I had failed to run conservatively enough and I was going to leave hurting.  The first hill wasn't much but I could feel it drain me. I slowed down a lot and just focused on taking shorter steps and keeping good form. The second hill wasn't much of a hill either but it wore me down more. The third hill was harder and I let myself take a 1 minute walk break.  The fourth hill (Heartbreak Hill) was tough too and again I allowed myself to take a 1 minute break to walk through the aid station while I used my 2nd to last Gu and drank some water.

Mile 17: 8:54, Mile 18: 8:59, Mile 19: 8:48, Mile 20: 9:24, Mile 21: 10:05

Final Miles:
Clearing Heartbreak gave me a nice mental boost because I knew the worst was behind me and I could just cruise from here on out.  I got through mile 22 OK but I didn't have much left in the tank.  I decided I would use my last Gu somewhere after mile 23 and hoped it would give me a bump.  When I got to mile 23, I used the energy gel but my body was telling me to stop. In the past when I have reached this point I have been able to sort of mentally go inside myself and block out everything.  I felt myself going there but decided that it really wasn't worth it.  I might be able to shave off a minute or two but I would miss all the fun of being in The Boston Marathon.  I decided to just have fun and really enjoy the crowds.  I gave high-fives to a bunch of kids, tried my best to get the crowds to yell, took a couple walk breaks and soaked in the atmosphere.  I'm so happy that I decided to do that because I got to enjoy it so much more than I would have otherwise.

Mile 22: 8:36, Mile 23: 8:53, Mile 24: 9:42, Mile 25: 8:59, Mile 26: 9:53

For those that don't know, the finish line for Boston is the most well known finish line in marathon racing.  There aren't a lot of 45 degree turns on the course but there are two at the tail end of the course.  Right turn on Hereford, Left on Boylston.  The left turn on Boylston Street was probably the best feeling in the world.  I was glad that I had rested the last few miles because I was able to pick it up and run hard.  I knew that there were cameras all over the place and planned to pay the (outrageous) fees for my official race pics so I made sure to smile.  That really wasn't a problem though because I was truly elated. As the finish approached I tried my best to give a little kick and then I was done.

Post Race:
I checked my watch and saw that I finished with a 3:49:30.  That was good enough for my 2nd fastest marathon and I didn't feel like death afteward.  Mission accomplished!  I met up with Cindi a few blocks away and she bravely gave me a hug and a kiss.  We talked about the race as I shuffled the few blocks to our hotel.  After a long shower and a short nap we headed out for a victory dinner and drinks.

tl:dr Version:
I ran the 2016 Boston Marathon. It was my first and most likely my last Boston. My goal going into it was to take it easy and have as much fun as possible while running 26.2 miles. I accomplished that goal by allowing myself not to focus on my time and soaking it all in as much as possible.  I finished feeling happy with a big smile on my face in 3:49:30.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Potomac River Run Marathon.

Short version: 
I ran a marathon on November 16th. My finish time was 3:21:39, a 32:21 PR. 

tl;dr version:

Prior Races
This was my fourth marathon.  Prior results were
4:29:54, 3:54:51 and 3:53:18. My most recent marathon was Marine Corps Marathon (MCM) in October of 2013.

The Race
The Potomac River Run Marathon is a very small race (capped at 300 runners) held twice each year. The race is held on the C&O Canal National Park towpath. The course begins and ends at the Carderock Recreation Area and consists of a 6.55 mile out and back. Those running the HM run it once, those running the full run it twice.  The trail is mostly flat and smooth except for the occasional rocky patch.  I chose this race primarily because of the location.  I run on the towpath regularly and it is without a doubt my favorite place to run.  There are two access points a short drive from my house. It’s flat, quiet and I really enjoy running under the trees and catching a glimpse of the river every now and then. Although I had never run the section of the trail where the race is, I know the trail very well.

Injury and The Fat
After a disappointing finish at MCM 2013 I learned that I had a couple of what the doctor called “stress reactions” in my left leg.  I had to take some time off to heal and wasn’t able to run regularly until the end of January.  During my layoff I thought a lot about trying to qualify for Boston eventually.  I thought for me to have a decent shot at a BQ I would need two strong training cycles and (most importantly) I needed to lose weight.  I spent the early spring easing back into running but I didn’t do anything about my weight.  I ran a HM in May weighing 187 lbs and did OK but something clicked and I decided to get serious about trimming down.  I didn’t go on a “diet” but I just stopped eating like crap and increased my running a little bit.  Over the next couple months I dropped 20 lbs.

I chose Pfitz 18/55 for the third time.  Unlike in the past I actually followed the plan pretty closely.  I also joined a local running club and started doing group runs with them.  We did long runs on Saturday morning and tempo runs on Tuesday night. The marathon training group was small and consisted mostly of newbies that were running slower than I wanted and a few faster people that I couldn’t keep up with.  There was one lady that wanted to do her long runs a little bit faster than I did so I decided to run with her.  I discovered that I was able to keep up with her just fine and we ended up running a lot together.  On one of our first runs together she told me flat out that she thought I was underperforming and I should target my fall race to try and BQ.

I also picked up a copy of Anatomy for Runners by Jay Dicharry after seeing how much it helped others.  I used the evaluations in that book to identify some areas of weakness and started targeted exercises to work on those.  Between the weight loss and the exercises I had the best training cycle so far. I needed to average 7:50 to get a 3:25 marathon so I ran the MP miles that Pfitz calls for early in the training cycle at 7:35-7:45.  To my surprise, I was able to maintain that pace consistently.  That pace wasn’t easy but felt what I think of as “comfortably hard”.

I have a history of getting injured during marathon training but I thought I had escaped that this time around until right at the tail end of it.  On my last week before taper started, my right Achilles started giving me trouble.  I blame this injury entirely on the fact that I stopped doing the exercise routine from the book. No excuses. I was just tired of fitting it into my schedule as the weekly mileage increased. I believe 100% that if I had stuck with the routine I would not have gotten injured.  The injury wasn’t bad, but painful.  I could run without pain until I got past 12-14 miles and then it would start to ache.  It was also really painful in the morning.  I went back to doing the prolonged stretches (3 minutes on each side) and heel drops but the damage was done.  

Big Mak
A few weeks out I posted on the Facebook page for the race that I was shooting for sub 3:25 and wanted to form an informal pace group.  I didn’t get any response until about a week before the race. A lady asked me what I thought my HM time would be because her daughter was running the race. The race director wanted her to find someone to keep an eye on her because of her age.  Intrigued, I asked a few questions and learned that her daughter is 7 years old and was attempting to break the single digit age world record in the half marathon!  The record time she was trying to beat was 1:41:12 which was right around my targeted HM time.  After exchanging a few messages with her Mom I said I would be happy to run with Makenzie and her older sister (13) for the first half of my race.  Another runner (RS) commented on the thread that she was also running the full marathon with a similar goal as me so we agreed that we would try to meet up before the race.

Race Day
I didn’t sleep well for a couple of nights because of nerves but managed to get a solid 5 hours the night before the race which is pretty good for me.  The race offered two options for start time at either 8:00 or 9:00.  I opted for 9:00 but still got up around 5:00. I ate a bagel and had a cup of coffee to get things moving.  I took care of business a couple times and then took two Immodium tablets at 7:00.  This has worked great for me in the past and it worked again today with no PM attacks during the race.  I packed 6 GU Lemon/Sublime energy gels in my bag.  I planned to take one about 15 minutes before the race and consume 4 more on the course. I kept the 6th one in case I needed it. 

Parking at the start was very limited so the plan was for Cindi to drop me off at about 8:30 and if all went well she would be there with the kids to pick me up at 12:30.  I checked my bag, took a couple of short warm up runs, downed my first energy gel and headed to the start.  I met up with Mak, her sister and her Mom at the start line but couldn’t find RS.  It didn't help that I couldn't remember her bib number!

Timing for the race was old school with no chips.  Just a big clock running and people checking off bib numbers at the turn arounds.  When I got to the start the clock was running and read about 0:50:00. Since they offered an early start for those that wanted it, the 9:00 folks would start when the clock said exactly 1:00:00.  The race director said anyone trying to qualify for Boston or a set a world record (with a wink at Mak) should move to the front of the line so we did.  Some announcements were read, a guy played the Start Spangled Banner on the clarinet and we were off.

First Trip Out
As we started I realized that I forgot to turn on my Garmin! I can’t believe I did something that stupid.  I turned it on but it took a while to sync with the satellite.  Once I got it started I asked another runner how much time had elapsed. I was almost exactly one minute behind.  Once I got over the panic I realized that Mak and her sister were going too fast.  I caught up with them and said something but they weren’t slowing down.  I ran the first couple miles with them but I needed to slow down a little so I let them go.  They pulled ahead but eventually they slowed too and were maybe 150 yards in front of me through most of the first trip out.

I have read that the first few miles of a marathon should feel easy.  I was thinking about that as I was running those first few miles and it didn’t feel easy at all! I thought this meant trouble for my later miles. I also thought about something Shalane Flanagan posted to her FB page the night before “If it isn’t hard, you aren’t dreaming big enough”. Keeping that thought i mind I said screw it, if I blew up then I still had plenty of time to BQ for 2016.  I kept on my target pace but found that I was gradually catching up with Mak and her sister.  

Splits: 7:37, 7:40, 7:48, 7:42, 7:50, 7:47.

First Trip Back
When I got to the turn around I was suddenly right behind Mak and her sister.  Her pace had dropped quite a bit so I said “Hey Mak, it’s time to pick the pace back up just a little. Not all at once but we need to go a little bit faster”.  She said OK and we moved up a little.  Her older sister was really struggling and fell off the pace right away.  I really wanted to tell big sis that she did her job and we would guide her the rest of the way but there wasn't time. I wondered if she was upset that she wasn't able to keep up with Mak and I felt bad for her.  Having two daughters of my own I know that kind of thing can be difficult sometimes.

After hearing me talk, a runner right in front of us asked me if I was Scott and introduced herself as RS.  We exchanged pleasantries and then the three of us started running together.  We stayed on pace for the next couple miles but Mak was starting to have trouble.  We slowed our pace a little but she was still struggling to keep up.  RS and I encouraged her as best we could but there is only so much anyone can do for you out there.  In the end either you can do it or you can't.

After two miles at 7:50+ I needed to make a decision to either stay with her or head out on my own.  I felt very conflicted. On the one hand I had I had my own goal for this race that I had worked toward for the past 18 weeks and on the other hand there was this adorable 7 year old kid working her tail off to try and achieve something incredible. Fortunately, RS made the decision for me.  She told me to go ahead and she would hang back and run her in and try to catch me later.  I picked the pace back up and hoped that Mak and RS would use me as a rabbit to chase.  I turns out that is exactly what they did.  As I neared the HM finish (and turn around point for those of us running the full ) I heard Mak’s mom yelling for her.  I hit the turn around and cheered Mak on as she crossed the finish line.  I learned later that she set the world record by 12 seconds!  Huge props to RS for guiding Mak those last few miles.  I spoke with RS after the race and she told me they both sprinted a few times to reach the finish in time.  I can't imagine doing sprints in the middle of a marathon and still finishing with the time RS had.  She is a very strong runner and was just the person Mak needed to be running with on that particular day.  Some people might say that's a fortunate coincidence, others just say serendipity.

Splits: 7:49, 7:46, 7:51, 7:54, 7:49, 7:49, 7:46
If you look down the trail, you can see Mak coming in for her finish.

Mak and RS. Mak is flying!

Turning off the trail to cross the finish line! 1:40:00 even and a new world record!

I borrowed this pic from Mamma Mak's Facebook page. Is that smile worth a million bucks or what?

Second Trip Out
I missed seeing RS and wasn't sure what happened to her. I guess we must have passed each other while I was watching Mak finish.  I thought about slowing a little to wait for her but decided to just run the second half alone unless she caught up to me.  I passed Mak's sister about a half mile back down the trail and cheered her on.  From there I just got to work and headed back down the trail. I took my third GU at mile 15 and got a nice bump from that.  I decided I would use both of my remaining gels on the way back.  Somewhere in mile 17 or 18 I started to feel confident. 
Splits: 7:40, 7:41, 7:43, 7:43, 7:48, 7:47

Second Trip Back
I hit the turn around and made sure my bib number was called out.  Thanked the volunteers and told myself that all I needed to do was run 7:50's all the way back and I had it in the bag.  The only real problem I had was my vision.  My eyes were filled with gunk and I was having a hard time seeing the trail so I was landing on a lot of pointy rocks that I would ordinarily adjust for.  I was also having a hard time seeing my Garmin.

There is a gradual climb of about 40 feet that starts at mile 25.  You pass 5 canal locks in a little less than a mile. The trail at each of the locks has a little bump and is typically somewhat eroded. The climb itself is nothing but hitting the loose gravel passing the locks is a little extra work.  I ran up that "hill" four times in training so I knew what to expect. Once you get clear of that and pass under the I-495 bridge you have one mile to go.  I was surprised to see that I still had enough energy to run the last mile hard. I passed a lot of people in this stretch, I think most of them were slower runners that started at 8:00.  There were a few that were running at about my pace that I managed to pick off in the last mile.  That felt really good.  One of them was a guy in a Superman t-shirt that I saw several times at the turn arounds during the race.  He had to be at least 6' 5" tall.  So yeah, I beat Superman.

Adidas hat and Mizuno shirt. Is that a fashion no-no?

Crossing the finish and staring in disbelief at the clock.

My Garmin only has the distance as 25.8.  Most of that is from the fact that I forgot to start my watch at the start but not all.  I suspect that running under the trees has something to do with it, but I'm not sure.

Splits: 7:51, 7:49, 7:50, 7:50, 7:49, 7:48, 7:28

I met up with RS at the finish line.  She finished in 3:24:xx.  She said she had me in sight for much of the race but couldn't quite catch up.  It was great running with both her and Big Mak and I hope to get the chance to run with them again.

Post Race:
After the race I called Cindi and she, Logan and Samie picked me up. We drove up to Germantown to meet up with Lauren and Bryan at Cafe Rio where I inhaled a chicken quesadilla and some chips.

My Achilles is pretty messed up right now, a bit more than 24 hours later.  It's very sore and painful to walk on.  On the good side the rest of my legs don't feel too bad.  I'll take at least a week off from running and then try to ease back into it slowly.