A First Win and the Postponement of Boston

date March 14, 2020 location Columbia, SC

To say that this week has been a crazy one would be the understatement of the century. It has been a dream of mine to run the Boston Marathon since I crossed the finish line of my first marathon 17 years ago in 2003. I finished the marathon in 4:33 for an average race pace of 10:33/mi and I was damn proud. An on-off relationship with running would follow the years after, until about three years ago when a fitness tracker sucked me back into the sport, adding with it a newfound appreciation, respect, and most importantly patience for this pastime. I slowly added on miles, reading books and blogs about proper nutrition, preventative exercise routines, and the history of the sport. I quickly went from amateur to weekend warrior, finally qualifying for the 2020 Boston Marathon with a qualifying time of 2:51:12 for an average race pace of 6:32/mi. This past weekend, week 12 of my 18 week Boston training plan, I ran the Run Hard Columbia Half Marathon as a tune-up race for Boston, crossing the finish line in first place and capturing the first ever win of my running career. Just six days after this race, it was announced that for the first time in the 124 year history of the race, the Boston Marathon would be postponed due to the coronavirus.

As it has been for everyone, this past week has been a rollercoaster. The indirect consequences of this pandemic, including: the cancellation of anticipated events, an inundation of corona e-mails from companies you haven’t transacted with in years, or the forced conversion from toilet paper to a bidet, pale in comparison to those facing major financial setbacks or health-related consequences due to COVID-19. These unprecedented times of isolation force to the top of mind our favorite hobbies that are no longer possible. In one way, I am lucky that my hobby doesn’t require a large gathering or some now unobtainable supplies in order to perform. For me, the last few days have had me consider why I actually run. Is all the hype of the Boston Marathon really because the event itself is so wonderful, or purely the artificial desirability generated by a strict qualifying standard? Is the Boston Marathon that much better than my local marathon, or any of the 1000s of marathons taking place every year? Are any of these races even better than a 26.2 mile run by myself, with no bib, official race t-shirt, or medal at the end? And is that 26.2 mile run (an arbitrary number if you ask me), any better than any other Sunday long run? The answers to these questions aren’t simple. While on one hand, I would love to romanticize my sport, pretending like the zen of just going out and moving is all that matters. But the truth is that if it wasn't for racing - the anxiety building up just before the starting gun goes off, followed by the satisfaction of crossing the finish line with a new PR - I wouldn’t be as passionate about the sport and I wouldn’t be running as much. So the ultimate question for me and I suppose everyone else is: What now? I managed to run every single day outside from November through February in Chicago’s frigid winter but I think I may take tomorrow off from running. I’m still sore from last Saturday’s race and the worst running mistake I could make now is getting injured. Maybe in April I’ll start a new training plan targeting a goal race on the newly planned mid-September date of the Boston marathon, or some other race, perhaps an ultra? Guess i’ll just take it day by day.

Crossing the finish line in first place at the Run Hard Columbia Half MarathonView Exif Information

Crossing the finish line in first place at the Run Hard Columbia Half Marathon

Last Chance BQ.2 Grand Rapids Marathon Recap

date September 08, 2019 location Grand Rapids, MI

Following last November's Richmond Marathon, I planned on running the Green Bay marathon in the Spring. My knees had different plans. I spent December and January trying to get some mileage in, but I couldn't get past a few miles on any given day before my left knee would flare up. Before accepting that perhaps my marathoning days were over, I went through an 8 week physical therapy cycle, and eventually started building my mileage back up slowly and without pain. By April, I was running more miles than I ever had before and I was ready to start a marathon training plan, I just needed to find a new race. After some research, I settled on the Last Chance BQ.2 Marathon in Grand Rapids, MI. The race day was the week before Boston Marathon registration, giving runners a "Last Chance" to improve their chances of getting in. With my 3:01:10 in Richmond, I was a full 3:50 faster than the 3:05:00 required to qualify for Boston in my age group, however, the Boston Athletic Association applies an additional cutoff after all applicants have applied depending on the demand for that particular year, making it possible (though very unlikely) that I could be left without an actual spot in the race. Knowing this, the timing of the Last Chance BQ.2 would give me an opportunity to lock my spot in Boston, and still enough time to recover after the race and start training for the Boston Marathon itself in April 2020.

I followed Pete Pfitzinger's 18/70 training plan, and outside of a 3 day backpacking trip to Yosemite, I stayed true to the plan.

The Race
The race itself had a small field of about 300 runners. Furthermore, since everyone was trying to get into Boston, there was a sense of teamwork that you don't typically get at most races with people forming packs based on the time they need to qualify for Boston. The course consists of 6 loops around Grand Rapids' Millenium Park which meant I would see my cheering section 5 times (they headed for the finished line on the last lap). I had a goal in mind of 2 hours and 55 minutes, but my tune up races indicated I had a shot at 2:53. I planned on trying to stay between a 6:30 and 6:40 per mile pace and ended up on the faster side of that almost the whole day for a final time of 2:51:12 (6:32/mile)!

Race Notes
-The race let all runners keep water bottles at the aid stations. I filled one with water and the other with sports drink. On the first pass by, I dropped the water bottle. The second pass I struggled to get much from the bottle. I settled on the standard water cups for the remainder of the race. Never Again.
-Stomach cramps slowed me down late in the race. This could be from a number of different causes, but I’m wondering if I overdid the pre-race and actual race nutrition.
-This was the first full marathon I'vee run in a long time without a pace group and my pacing was excellent.
-More vaseline on the nipples!
-Running several tune up races throughout the training cycle really helped get me ready for race day.

Post race shot with me and my biggest fan.

Rock n Roll Half Marathon Recap

date July 21, 2019 location Chicago, IL

The weather was a big concern going into the 2019 Chicago Rock n Roll Half Marathon. The previous couple of days the temperature nearly hit 100 degrees F, and the race organizers pulled out several stops to make sure the race would go off smoothly, including cancelling the 5K, adding additional water stops, and sending out a running-in-the-heat email, imploring runners not to push it too much. The weather gods decided to spare us, however, and we were blessed with a 70 degree temperature at the race start with minimal wind and no rain.

My goal going into the race was 1:23:00 and I hit it dead on (6:20/mi)!

Some notes from the race:
* I have a really solid understanding of my fitness, and I went out at a pace that I maintained well throughout the race
* Pre-race planning went without a hitch, nutrition went well, race time arrival, and race-week runs had me well-prepared
* I had one hiccup: a shoelace came untied which has never happened to me in either a race or training
* Notice to other runners: Don’t stop in the middle of a water station (there may be people behind you trying to run through it)
* The race was one of the most organized I have ever run: There were several well-marked corrals, a plethora of water stations, and the course was clearly marked
* I made a last second decision to bring along my heart rate monitor and I'm glad I did (there isn't a consensus on whether one should or should not during a race). The GPS was iffy (see below) and I used the HRM to inform my pace throughout the race. I was also surprised to see my heart rate go down a few bpm after dousing myself with water at one of the stations.

Attention Chicago Race Organizers: Why does every race have to start by sending us through Lower Wacker, a GPS wasteland, making it impossible to set the right pace during the first mile of the race

Teddy sporting the finish medal.

2018 Richmond Marathon Race Report

date November 13, 2018 location Richmond, VA

Race information
What? Anthem Richmond Marathon
When? November 10, 2018
How far? 26.2 mi
Race Website
View my Run on Strava

I finally gave into the hype and tried Pfitz' 18/55 plan for the first time during this training cycle. This would be my 7th marathon ever, and for each of my prior races I did some form of a Hal Higdon plan. I labeled all of my training runs on Strava which may be helpful for someone with a similar goal following the same plan. Pfitz suggests both heart rate and pace benchmarks for each of the training runs. I generally tried to match his suggestions by pace (I based the plan on my original goal of 3:10), though for nearly all of my runs I wore an HRM and was mindful of my zones. Based on his suggestions, my training guidelines were as follows:

Pace (min/mi) [Heart Rate]
Lactate threshold (~7:00) [162.275]
Recovery (9:00) [136.55]
General aerobic (8:19 - 9:02) [141.695]
MP runs (07:14) [156.395]
Long/Medium run (7:58 - 08:41) [146.105]
VO2 max (06:30) [176.975]

In addition to the running, I did lower body and core weight training twice a week in addition to some injury prevention exercises (PT band/proprioception). I did no cross training.

It was an emotional week leading up to the race. On Wednesday morning I got a call from my Mom that my grandmother wasn't doing well and was in the hospital. I went to visit her that morning in what would be my last time with her as she passed away on Thursday morning at the age of 92. It's been a sad few days for my family, but I'm grateful that my grandma lived such a long and happy life. She has been on my mind for much of the weekend, and memories of her got me through some of the tough miles during the race.

In addition to a new training plan, I paid a lot more attention to my nutrition during this training cycle. Having read Matt Fitzgerald's The New Rules of Marathon and Half-Marathon Nutrition and Racing Weight, I followed much of his advice. First, I lost a few pounds and got myself down to about 150lbs(68kg) - I'm 5'10"(178cm) - by eating lots of fruits and vegetables, healthy meats, nuts and seeds, whole grains and reducing my intake of sugar and other processed foods. I also eliminated caffeine starting 10 days before the race to maximize the benefits of the drug during the race. Finally, I did a 10 day fat-load (66% of calories from fats) followed by a three day carb-load (75% of calories from carbs) before race day. While carb-loading before a marathon is a well-known practice, fat-loading is not. While carb-loading maximizes the body's glycogen stores, fat-loading optimizes the body's ability to burn fat. According to Fitzgerald, studies have shown that combining a fat-loading phase with a carb-loading one gives endurance athletes both maximum glycogen and fat-burning power. While I felt confident in the science behind the practice, I violated one of the most important rules of racing, never try something for the first time before a race. I woke up the morning before race day with some bad GI distress. This sucked, both for the obvious reason that I had a race the next day, but also because I had a flight followed by a two hour drive to get from Chicago to Richmond. When we finally arrived in Richmond and settled in, seeing me suffering, my wife urged me to get some Imodium for my stomach issues. I made a pre-race evening jog of it, and ran to the drugstore securing some Imodium which would end up being my savior for the trip.

I'm still not sure what caused my sickness but my suspicion is that either my body did not react well to carb-overload after carb starvation, or I just overdid the carb-loading portion of the diet. I always like to have just a few extra bites of pasta two days before the race to make sure i've gotten all the energy build-up I can and that might have just been too much food for me this time.

Having taken a 5:30am flight into Richmond on Friday, I was so tired that I managed to fall asleep around 9pm the night before the race. I woke up at 4:45am (3 hours before the race) and immediately had my pre-race breakfast of homemade oats/nuts/raisins cereal with almond milk. I drank a total of about 750ml of water starting from when I woke up until an hour before the race. I added two more Imodium to my drug cocktail which would also include 200mg of caffeine an hour before the race and 500mg of Acetaminophen 30 minutes before the starting gun, the latter two at the suggestion of Fitzgerald. Lastly, I had my first gel 2 minutes before the start of the race.

My plan was pretty simple, stay with the 3:05 pace group, and if I felt like I still had some gas in the tank towards the end of the race, try to get a bit of a buffer to ensure qualification for Boston. Prior to the race, the 3:05 pace coaches sent an e-mail to the pace group stating their plan which was to go even splits the whole way.

Miles 1-3: The pace group consisted of 20 or so people, and knowing that it was a very windy day, I selfishly tried to run behind someone at all times though I would end up doing my share of wind-blocking for a a good portion of the race as well. In 2010, when I bonked in a marathon, I knew right away that my pace was just too fast but ignored the early signs. While I didn't feel like I was going to bonk at this pace, it wasn't super comfortable either. As long as my stomach held it together, I figured I had about a 50/50 chance of hitting my 3:05 goal.

Miles 3-11.5: The rolling hills of the Richmond course were...rolling. I kept my thoughts positive though, really making sure I wasn't taking the brunt of the heavy winds which were in our face for most of these miles. Despite this adversity, I was starting to feel pretty good.

I Qualified for Boston

Mile 12: By this point in the race, I had come to find myself drifting ahead of the pace group several times, having to remind myself to get back with the group. Having mindlessly drifted to the front one last time, it was at mile 12 that I decided I had the fitness to hit my goal and it was time to step on the gas and leave the pace group behind.

Miles 13-18: I was finally on my own and now and just running by feel. I stepped it up to about a 6:50/mi (4:14/km) pace. It was during these miles that I learned that I had definitely had the fitness to hit my 3:05 goal. There were several brutal stretches running into the wind including one particularly bad one over one of Richmond's bridges. I kept the thoughts positive. My legs felt great, my breathing wasn’t too heavy, but I had some brutal intermittent bouts of cramping in my sides and upper stomach. Cramps are rare for me so i'm guessing the pains were related to my stomach issues or some combination of the drugs I was taking. Focusing on my breathing seemed to get the cramps to subside enough that I was able to put them out of my mind.

Miles 19-26.2: At this point in the race, I was flying and feeling great. In hindsight, I probably could have been more aggressive with my pace, and could have even broken 3 hours if I had set out to do that from the beginning. With a 3:05 BQ as my goal, I knew that I just had to cruise into the finish to seal the deal and that’s exactly what I did.

I Qualified for Boston

I wasn't nearly as tired following this marathon as I have been for the others. I'll chalk that up to the adrenaline from running my first BQ, the fact that I underestimated my fitness, and my maturation as a runner. My wife and I celebrated the race in Richmond with a few adult beverages. The next day we drove through Shenandoah National park and I even managed to get in a short hike before flying back to Chicago.

I Qualified for Boston

Reflecting on the success of this race, I don’t think any single change I made was the catalyst for hitting my goal. Rather, as I have gotten older, I have come to respect the sport of running more than I used to. This means reading books on training, nutrition, and anatomy, not expecting unreasonable improvements in fitness, and spending time at the gym to improve muscle strength, balance, and injury prevention. As I did for my previous race report, here are some thoughts on practices that I should start, stop, or continue for my next training cycle.

*Practice running at specific paces to improve my ability to pace myself
*Bring the whole medicine cabinet to the hotel

*Over doing the carbo load

*Tune up races during training
*Weight training and injury prevention exercises
*Pfitz training plans - 18/70 next?
*Destination races

2018 Cellcom Green Bay Marathon Recap

date May 21, 2018 location Green Bay, WI

Race information
What? Cellcom Green Bay Marathon
When? May 20, 2018
How far? 26.2 mi
Race Website
View my Run on Strava

While I have 5 marathons under my belt, this would be the first that I’ve run in more than nine years. Throughout the past nine years I’ve been running off and on, and not until the past one or two years have I finally start to take running more seriously. Prior to starting the 18 week training plan, I battled with runner’s knee (Patellofemoral pain syndrome). Through physical therapy exercises, I strengthened my hips, quads and core, but what I believe contributed most to alleviating my knee pain was a change to my stride shifting from a heel strike to a midfoot strike.

I followed Hal Higdon’s 18 week Intermediate training plan. Within a given a week, I swapped some days around occasionally, but only skipped one or two runs throughout the entire cycle. For cross-training, I mostly did weight training including the PT exercises I learned while I was struggling with knee issues. Towards the end of the training plan, after the 20 milers, I opted for yoga on cross-training days and skipped or reduced the weight training sets.

I ended up switching hotels a week before the after race after learning that the hotel I originally booked was not included in the race’s hotel shuttle program. I was able to find a room at a hotel less than a half mile from the race which ended up working out really well. I woke up at 5am for a 7am start. I was able to take my time having breakfast and getting ready, and headed over to the start line at 6:30am. When I arrived at the start, I was surprised to find that no one had lined up yet, and it wasn’t until about 6:50am that they called the runners to line up. In previous years they would start both the marathoners and half-marathoners at the same time, while this year they started the half-marathoners an hour later. Also, this year’s race had about half as many participants as when I had last run in 2009, so I was surprised at how few runners there were, and how close to the starting line I was able to get. When I originally signed up, I entered a target per-mile pace of between 7:45 and 8:00 on my registration form. This put me in corrall A, and I would be one of the first runners to cross the start line.

The Race
Being one of the first runners out of the gate, I knew I would be tempted to keep pace with the faster runner’s also up front. Having come out of the gate too fast in a previous race, I knew I couldn’t make the same mistake during this race. At the same time, getting passed by other runners isn’t a good feeling, especially in just the first moments of my first competitive race in several years.

Miles 1-5 - I spent the first miles trying to decide on the right pace. My goal pace was 7:45/mi and before the race I told myself that I needed to start at that pace, and if it felt fast, settle at 8:00/mi. I ended up around a 7:25/mi and it just felt like a pace that I could keep up forever.
Miles 6-8 - Finding myself at even stride with the 3:15 pacers, I worried that I was going too fast. I slowed my pace down a few times to let them go, only to find myself catching back up to them when I stopped concentrating on how fast I was running. At some point during mile 8, as I was running alongside one of the two 3:15 pace coaches, I looked behind me and realized that the rest of the 3:15ers were behind me. I looked at my watch and realized I was now running at about a 7:15 clip and the pace coach I was running with had run ahead perhaps to take a bathroom break.
Miles 9-20 - These miles went by uneventfully. I felt comfortable, though still concerned I might burn out. As I approached mile 20 I knew I was gonna crush my goal, it wasn’t going be fun, but I didn’t come all this way to fade out at mile 20.
Miles 20-24 - These miles were hellish, but I did my best to think positively. I felt sharp pain in the outside of my right foot (5th metatarsal) and as a result regressed back to my heel striking gait.
Miles 25-Finish - The highlight of the Green Bay Marathon is that the last mile includes a lap inside Lambeau Field. As I approached Lambeau, there wasn’t a single runner within a quarter mile of me so I envisioned running through Lambeau with a dedicated ovation from the marathon supporters in the stadium. What I didn’t realize is that before this iconic stretch, the Marathon and Half Marathon courses converge and I found myself in a giant pack of 10:00/mi paced half marathoners. More than anything, I was nervous that I had maybe gone off course and wanted to make sure I was still going the right way. To my relief, I spotted another yellow bib in the sea of orange ones, and closed the race in a rather anticlimactic way, crossing the finish line mostly with racers that had only run half as far as I had.
Finishing Time: 3:14:22!

In software development, following each two week cycle of work, the team meets for what’s called an “agile retrospective”, brainstorming ideas into three categories: “Start” -> things which should be tried next time. “Stop” -> behaviors or practices done during this cycle that should not be done during the next. “Continue” -> behaviors or practices that worked well and should be continued next time. In that spirit, here are some retrospective notes for this training cycle and race.

*Increase mileage and intensity without getting injured. This is easier said than done, but this is the name of the game for improvement.
*Try a new training plan (more speed/hill work, more miles). In my opinion the various marathon training plans are more similar than they are different and follow a basic set of principles (easy day/hard day, V02 max/lactate threshold runs, rest days, long runs, etc). With that said, I have been pretty loyal to Hal Higdon and branching out could help me find a plan that can shave some minutes off of my time.
*Losing a few lbs. At a 23 BMI (5'10" 160lbs), losing a few pounds would reduce risk of injury and improve my pace.

*Following the plan to a T. There were a handful of days where I was achy and should have opted for taking the day off instead of feeling the need to follow the plan religiously.
*Training without understanding the purpose of each run. I just started reading "Advanced Marathoning" by Pfitzinger/Douglas and even though I didnt follow a "Pfitz" plan during this training cycle, understanding the purpose of each run has been profound, and hopefully something I can use to my advantage next time.

*Alternating different models of running shoes.
*Print my name on my race shirt. I got a ton of support from unknown supporters giving me a much needed boost of adrenaline
*Bring lots of gels. I ended up eating about 7 gels during the race, 4 or 5 of which were caffeinated.
*Follow a training plan. While it is good to understand the purpose of each type of run during training to allow customization, it is equally important to follow a plan, taking the need to think about how many miles to run each day out of the equation.
*Cross-train with strength training
*Diligently taking care of injuries (stretching, ice, strength training, yoga, etc)
*Enjoying the easy days. I have really enjoyed training for and running this race but at the end of the day it is important to remind myself that this is for fun. Balancing the tough timed training days with easy days is key to maintaining the dedication i've put towards running.