Revelations of Running an Ultramarathon

date March 06, 2022 location Sonoita, AZ

This past weekend I ran my first ultramarathon, completing the 50 mile Old Pueblo Trail Ultra in Sonoita, AZ. The race was a challenging one to say the least, not only is 50 miles the longest I've ever run, nearly double my previous distance record of a full marathon, but the course featured over 6,800' of elevation gain on rocky terrain. There were many memorable moments from this race, including: arriving to the very remote start of the race and witnessing some the brightest stars I have ever seen, nearly wrecking my car trying to park on the rocky backcountry roads leading to the race start, and watching a runner trip and nearly roll off of a steep cliff during the race. But rather than reflecting on the memories of this race, I thought it would be more interesting to put together a list of the top 10 revelations of running an ultramarathon that I learned during the experience.

10. Fig Newtons are the best ultramarathon food. During the race I ate cookies, candy, fruit, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and more running gels than should be legally allowed. Hands down the best food was the Fig Newtons.

9. Aid station volunteers are the real MVPs. These remarkable humans that sacrifice their day to provide food, water and comfort to suffering runners are the light of the earth. Speaking of aid stations...

8. Stumbling into the last aid stations is a feeling I will never forget. My favorite moment of the race was the final aid station at the 41 mile mark. Dehydrated, overheated, undernourished, and a shell of my normal self, I stumbled into the final aid station and was greeted by several kind volunteers. They fed me cookies, gave me ice cold coke, dumped multiple sponges of freezing water over my head and resupplied me for the final stretch of the race. I left that aid station slightly less dehydrated, overheated and undernourished than I entered.

7. Ultramarathons help fill the void of accomplishment after plateauing in speed at Road Races. "When you can't run faster, run longer" is a phrase i've often heard when describing ultramarathoners and while I don't agree with the belittling notion that ultramarathoners aren't fast so they opt for longer distances, as someone that has barely made 1 minute of progress on my marathon PR in the last couple of years, it was refreshing to feel the sense of accomplishment from running such a bold distance.

6. Whether you're in contention for first place, a podium spot, or just in the middle of the pack, passing another runner will always bring a boost of triumph, while getting passed will come with a feeling of defeat. No matter how many times we tell ourselves to "run our own race", the competitive spirit is something that exists strongly in almost anyone capable of running such a long distance and I am no different. While I told myself my goal was simply just to finish I'm not gonna lie that I was checking over my shoulder every so often during the final miles to make sure I wasn't getting passed.

5. Runners are the kindest people. Every interaction I had with a runner was positive and encouraging and I even got several words of encouragement from runners as I was passing them. One moment in particular, I had just crossed the halfway point and a runner was coming from the opposite direction headed towards the finish line for the 25 mile event. The trail was narrow at this point, and the runner kindly moved off trail to let me through and in the process she stepped into a thorn bush. She was clearly in pain and partially stuck by a thorn branch. I stopped to help her get untangled and she would not let me help her and insisted that I keep running.

4. Trail running is a different sport than road running. Obviously they have more in common than, say, football and basketball, but I was humbled during this race as I came to find that I am a novice trail runner. This became most apparent during rocky downhills as I was "applying the brakes" with caution and I got passed by many runners flying downhill with confidence. Road runners will always talk about the metaphorical duo of a runner's engine and chassis representing the endurance and physical strength as the key elements that define a runner's ability. The sport of trail running brings additional dimensions to the table, like the ability to traverse rocky terrain, the ability to power uphill and let gravity do the work on descents. Not to mention the importance of maintaining focus and mindset after hours and hours of running. Speaking of mindset...

3. Mindset is everything. Ultramarathons aren't for everyone and maybe the most critical component of running an ultramarathon is the ability to maintain a positive mindset. Near the 18 mile mark I started to experience some of the worst knee pain I have had since Patellofemeral Pain Syndrome (Runner's Knee) sidelined me for several months in 2018. I came into the race knowing that it would be difficult, and I set my sights on getting to the halfway point, then mile 30, mile 40 and finally the home stretch. About pain...

2. You only feel the pain of the ailment that is hurting you the most. At the 39 mile mark I inadvertently brushed my hand against a spiky cactus and could feel a thorn enter my hand and watched the blood trickle along my palm. The sensation didn't even register on the pain scale because of all the other afflictions I was experiencing in the moment.

1. It may get pretty painful during the final miles, but it doesn't feel much better when you stop so you might as well keep going.

Finally, some notes for myself should I ever try to run an ultramarathon again:

- Practice more trail running on difficult terrain and put more of an emphasis on the downhill sections
- Look into buying trail shoes with a bit more cushioning
- Wear gaiters or at least longer socks
- Figure out the optimal hydration carrying strategy before the race (It's probably soft flasks on the chest and hyrdration pack with more pockets)
- Just pack gels in the aid station drop bags, there's plenty of food at the aid station

Rock N Roll Arizona

date January 17, 2022 location Tempe, AZ

I consider 2021 a successful running year, setting an annual volume PR of 3,525 miles, along with PRs in the 5K, 10K, and half marathon. The marathon, my favorite event, was a different story. My first attempt at the 26.2 mile distance during a humid, hot day in May was a disaster, and the Chicago Marathon in October was a similar story. With the belief that those disappointing races were due to a combination of weather and an ambitious goal of breaking the 2:45 barrier, I was eager to sign up for a redemption race in early 2022.

After just a 12 week training block, the shortest I've ever done for a marathon, I felt pretty good going into race day at the Rock n Roll Arizona Marathon. Almost equally as important as my training regiment, the weather forecast was promising, with a 50 degree start, a mild breeze, and temperatures remaining below 60 for the duration of the run. After back to back blow-ups in the marathon, I set a conservative goal of breaking my PR from November 2019 of 2:48:40. An important lesson learned from 2021 is that going out too fast in a marathon will result in some of the toughest physical and mental pain during the final miles of the race.

The race was a great success. There really isn't much to say other than I felt comfortable most of the race despite some cramping which came and went. While I didn't negative split, I never got passed in the second half of the race, maintained a fairly consistent pace, and didn't really hurt until the final few miles when I was dealing with a headwind and warmer temperatures. I finished the race in 2:47:54, extremely pleased with a PR, and 11th place overall.

What went poorly:

• Side stitches during the race, starting at mile 6, maybe too many carbs before and during the race?

What went well:

• Hill training: the race was mostly flat but when others suffered during the rolling hills late in the race, I stepped it up
• 12 week training programs, it felt like enough time to get in shape and not a complete grind
• No injuries during training

What to try for next time:

• Hiring a coach? I'm kind of at a loss for where I should focus my training? Volume, speed, MP runs?

Chicago Marathon Race Report

date October 11, 2021 location Chicago, IL

Last fall, with news of vaccines and the possible return of racing, I signed up for the Chicago Marathon with that hope that it would serve a dual purpose: provide a stage to achieve my goal time of 2:45, and host a farewell tour of the city where I’ve lived my entire adult life up until earlier this year. With respect to the latter, the race came through in a big way, and with many friends, family, and co-workers cheering me on along the course, it was a proper send off to say the least. Unfortunately, the combination of heat, humidity, and a couple of legs that just didn’t have their best day, I fell short of my goal time substantially, clocking in at 2:51:47, though good enough for #356 overall. This marks a third miss at breaking the 2:45 barrier, with prior misses at the Veterans Marathon in November 2020 (2:48:40), and at the Chicago Spring Marathon in May 2021 (2:52:11).

Despite a disappointing performance at the race, I can say with confidence that this was the best training block of my running career as I completed Jack Daniels’ 2Q training program, peaking at 85 miles per week, without missing a single workout, and setting PRs at the 5K, 10K, and half marathon at tune-up races leading up to the Chicago Marathon.

As I like to do with all of my race reports, here are some notes for next time:

What went poorly:
• Once again, I felt undertrained for the grueling grind that is 26.2 miles. This could be due in part to a few poor training sessions at marathon pace due to tired legs from earlier speed workouts
•18 weeks is such a grind. With such a short break between my most recent two marathons, it took a toll on me mentally and physically

What went well:
•I did nearly all my speed workouts at the track enabling fast paces with reduced risk of injury, particularly to my ankle joints
•I hit massive PRs in my 5K, 10K, and Half Marathon times
•I didn’t miss a single training session due to injury
•I was extremely loyal to a rigorous strength training routine

What to try for next time:
•I would be interested in trying a 12 week training plan, either switching back to a Pfitzinger plan, or trying a final 12 week Daniels plan
•More emphasis on showing up for the Marathon Pace runs. I may have prioritized the sexier speed and tempo workouts with faster times while the MP runs suffered
•Move my Q2 workout to Wednesday instead of Thursday, giving me 3 days of rest before my Q1 workout instead of my Q2 workout
•Reducing my loyalty to my strength routine - while this helped me stay injury free, I feel I could have had similar results with less time spent in this routine, or replacing strength workouts with doubles
•Fueling for workouts - I had a few low quality workouts during my training block, particularly a couple of Marathon Pace days where I couldn’t seem to get my heart rate up into the required zone, I would like to try to prepare myself better for these runs including more emphasis on fueling

Chicagoland Spring Marathon Race Report

date May 23, 2021 location Schaumburg, IL

After a lot of success with Pete Pfitzinger's marathon training plans, most recently nabbing a PR at the Veterans Marathon with his 18/85 plan, I decided to try something new for the training plan leading up to the Chicagoland Spring Marathon and opted for the Jack Daniels (the famous running coach, not whiskey distiller) 2Q 18 week training plan, peaking at 85 miles per week. The major differences between the plans are that the Daniels' plan simply schedules two very tough workouts every week, with the rest of the miles run at an "easy" pace, while the Pfitzinger plans have fewer, and less difficult workouts, but also prescribe a specific pace and mileage for every run during the week.

On top of the more challenging training plan, I had to schedule my runs around a few road trips and selling my house downtown and moving to Barrington. While there is no shortage of running routes in the suburbs, I ran most of my long runs through Barrington Hills, and on top of the tougher workouts, those hills lead to a couple of lower body injuries which kept me sidelined for a cumulative total of about two or three weeks. With these setbacks I wasn't sure what to expect on race day. Before training started I had my sights on a 2:45 target, but given the injuries I set a more reasonable goal of beating November's PR of 2:48:40.

The headline is that I missed that goal by a pretty big margin, running a 2:52:11 for 5th place overall. The weather was overcast but warm, between 68 and 73 degrees, though there was a welcomed light mist of rain during the first 10 or so miles of the race. My pacing was solid, running about 6:23 splits fairly consistently until the wheels started to come off at mile 17. I was dealing with some bad stomach cramps most of the race and despite the heat I think it may have been due to over hydrating and/or over carb-loading the night before the race. Finishing the last 10 or so miles was some of the hardest physical pain I’ve ever experienced but I'm proud to have braved it through to the finish line.

I’ve been fortunate to PR every marathon I’ve run over the last few years and that streak ended today. This game I've been playing of moving the goal posts after each major race(qualify for Boston, break 3 hours, break 2:50, 2:45?) is what keeps me motivated and adds meaning to the weekly miles. Though I failed to hit my goal today, at least for the next 24 hours I’m gonna step back and take pride in the fact that these 37 year old legs just ran 26.2 miles at a 6:34 mi/min pace!

Tomorrow, I will start planning my training for the Chicago Marathon in October.

As I like to do with all of my race reports, here are some notes for next time:

What went wrong:
• My stomach felt very full during the race which I think was a combination of a heavy carb load the day before the race, and preemptively drinking too much water before the race start.
• I brought 6 gels with me and only ended up eating 3. The race had several gatorade stops and on top of the stomach cramps they were just extra weight.
• Ultimately, I just didn't have the endurance for 26 miles this race. Though my speed felt good, having set a 5K PR record two weeks before the race. This makes sense given the new training plan's emphasis on speed and me missing several of the scheduled long workouts due to injury.
• Many of my tempo runs were run on very hilly terrain. While I think hills are a nice training tool, my body was just not used to the elevation change due to the pancake-flat nature of the city where I've been running for several years. This lead to an Achilles injury, and some Peroneal Tendonitis which each kept me sidelined for several days and key workouts leading up to the race.

What went well:
• New shoes felt fast
• Good early pacing, though a little fast

What to try for next time:
• Run more workouts on the track when possible
• Add doubles to the schedule to give my legs a better chance to recover, even at the expense of prehab/strengthening workouts if necessary
• Add more plyometrics to strengthen joints, even at the expense of prehab/strengthening workouts if necessary
• Add some cycling workouts at least during the recovery and base building phases of training to keep up my fitness while my legs recover from this race

Veterans Marathon Race Report

date November 16, 2020 location Columbia City, IN

In 2009 I ran the Green Bay Marathon with an unrealistic goal of achieving a Boston qualifying time under 3:10 (7:17/mi). I ran the first 5 miles at a 7:21/mi pace, slowing down to a pace of 7:26/mi after the first 10. By halfway, the wheels were beginning to fall off, and my 13.1 split was 1:38:28 (7:31/mi). After a hellish 1:56:49 (8:54/mi) second half of the race, I crossed the finish line in 3:35:17 with a net pace of 8:17/mi, nowhere near the 3:10 I as hoping for, and a full minute per mile slower than I needed to hit my ridiculous goal. I wouldn't run a competitive race for the next 9 years.

Having learned my lesson from the dreadful 2009 Green Bay Marathon, when I finally re-gained my running passion many years later, I approached the sport with an emphasis on setting realistic goals. In the spring of 2018, I finally tried my hand at another marathon, setting a new PR of 3:14:24, and just 6 months later I reached my unicorn goal, running the Richmond Marathon in a Boston qualifying time of 3:01:10. By 2019 I mastered the art of incremental progress and goal-setting, running the Grand Rapids BQ.2 marathon in 2:51:12.

Due to the cancellation of the 2020 Boston Marathon, I had several extra months to train for what would be my next race, the Veterans Marathon in Columbia City, Indiana. I knew it would be tricky to set a goal for this race, having to balance the benefit of some added training time with the now distant painful memory of the overly ambitious goal setting fiasco that was the 2009 Green Bay Marathon. Having bested my marathon PR time by nearly ten minutes in Grand Rapids, and running a sub 1:20 tune-up half marathon this March, I settled on a goal of 2:45 (6:18/mi) - a nice round number that also happens to represent the qualifying standard for two of the World's Majors: Tokyo and Berlin. The race did not go as planned. I managed to stay on pace for the first half, with a split of 1:22:38 (6:18) and while not at the same level as 2009, I experienced the pain, both physical and mental, of grinding out the final miles of the marathon with absolutely nothing left in the tank. At about mile 20, the devastation of missing my goal set in, and knowing that I would still have to fight through the toughest 10 km of my life, I felt pain, frustration, and disappointment.

Having adopted several running best-practices during the cerebral rebirth of my running career, I find it helpful to retrospect on my races, documenting the factors that led to my successes and failures.

What Went Wrong:
- It's most important to reflect on the things in my control, but both the race conditions and weather proved challenging. The frigid temps and blowing winds, at 23 degrees and 10mph respectively at the start of the race, on top of unprotected rolling farmland hills, made for some difficult miles.
- My legs weren't prepared for hills. Training on Chicago's pancake-flat terrain did not prepare me for this race. While I've had success on hilly half-marathon courses, the relentless ups and downs during 26.2 took their toll on me.
- I showed some signs of overtraining. I started training for the 2020 Boston Marathon in November 2019. After a race-postponement to Spring, rehabbing through an achilles injury, a hip injury, the eventual race cancellation, and finally setting my sights on the Veterans Marathon, nearly a year had elapsed since the beginning of my training and while there was some time off in that period, I was both physically and mentally exhausted in the final weeks of my training. While I didn't take a single day off during the 18 weeks leading up to the race, and my workout paces were consistently hitting record efforts, there were several days, particularly in the latter stages of my training, where I just didn't have it in me to hit the desired paces of some of my long and aerobic runs. This has me wondering if...
- I focused too much on volume and not enough on quality. While usually the opposite is true of amateur runners, I wonder if an emphasis on more quality runs (tempos, repeats, etc) with just a tad less volume would better prepare me for a marathon.

What Went Well:
- Pre-race preparation went without a hitch. I was able to get get a good meal both morning of and the night before, got a good night's sleep and felt ready to go at the start line.
- Strength training FTW. I've welcomed my new work from home life, which has enabled me to sneak in a few Bulgarian Split Squats, box jumps, and some resistance band exercises between zoom calls.
- Track Intervals. Unlike previous training cycles, I did all of my interval workouts on the track which provided the dual benefit of 1)enabling me to push faster and 2)reducing the soreness that usually comes with running at high speeds on even terrain.

Unlike 2009, I will not let this race kill my passion for running. I believe that I'm capable of a 2:45 on a flat course in good conditions. This knowledge, combined with some things to try for next time, already has me pondering my next race, though I am looking forward to a mental and physical break from training for at least a few weeks.

The Prairie State Half Marathon

date October 05, 2020 location

This Saturday I completed my first post pandemic in-person race, finishing the Prairie State Half Marathon in 1:20:42 (6:09/mi), 50 seconds slower than my PR, a 1:19:52 (6:05) that I ran back in March. With a goal of besting my PR time in March, my race performance was disappointing but did not overshadow a safe and well run event, proving that in-person racing in the post-covid/pre-vaccine era is possible. While most races this summer and fall have opted for virtual versions of their races, my hat goes off to the Prairie State Half Marathon race organizers who implemented several safety measures, notably: Staggering all runners into 5 minute start intervals, releasing each runner every 10 seconds, requiring masks in the start area, replacing traditional hydration stations with tables of bottled water and gatorade, and providing a virtual option for participants that still didn't feel safe.

The race served as a tune-up race for the Veterans Marathon, a race that I hope to run in Indiana in mid-November. Furthermore, the race has significance beyond just this training cycle for me, as it was this same point in my last training cycle, when 13 weeks into my training for the 2020 Boston Marathon, it's cancellation and a series of overuse injuries had me questioning why I run in the first place. Having overcome the aforementioned injuries, and matching last cycle's mileage with the added emphasis of injury prevention exercises, I went into this race hoping to come back with an exclamation point that I fell a bit short of achieving. At 40 degrees, no wind or precipitation, the weather was perfect and pre-race preparation went perfectly. Finding my ideal pace is always most challenging during the first mile, when I looked at my watch and saw a 6:19 first split after what felt like a moderate effort I was a little worried. The early miles that followed were similar stories, despite what felt like solid effort just didn't reflect as such on the watch. Tempted to throw my hands up and say I just didn't have it today, I know an objective reflection on the race and training leading up to it would serve me better. The leading factors that I consider are:

- Weight: I'm about 5 lbs heavier than I was in March, still not quite down to ideal racing weight following putting on a healthy "Covid 15"
- My PR race was a win: Leading the entire field during most of the Columbia Half Marathon gave me a huge mental boost, not to mention the police escort car which served as a pacer throughout most of the race
- Junk Miles: While most of workouts this cycle show improved performance at VO2 max, Lactate Threshold, and Marathon pace, I have slowed down in many of my other paces due to tired legs from prior runs or weight training

The next few weeks of training will be critical in pursuit of a PR in my 'A' race, the upcoming marathon in November. My training schedule includes some of the toughest weeks I've ever run, and if I am able to stay healthy and perform well during these workouts I think my marathon goal is still possible.

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.