Monday, April 30, 2018

An Exercise in Pacing

On the homestretch to a new PR finish

After my experience at the Boston Marathon, I came away not only frustrated by the fact that I fell sick just prior to the race, but that the weather really hampered any attempt at a true fast run for me. I had decided this week that I wasn't going to let all that hard training go to waste. Knowing I have Spartathlon looming later this Fall, I felt that it was time to have a real go at trying to actively pace myself accurately. 

Spartathlon is an interesting beast. Putting aside that the overall time cut off is 36 hours to begin with (quite a fast overall time), many of the early mile cut-offs are also quite aggressive. Without getting into the minutia of pacing, the very short version is that runners are expected to maintain what equates to about 9 min/mile pace for the first 50k in order to make the cutoffs. And these cutoffs are strict. Most runners get to 50k less than an hour ahead of the cutoff. It can definitely cause a bit of anxiety. Then up to 100k, you're still expected to maintain sub 11 min/mile pace, before finally easing up on the pace for the back 80 miles or so. Even in the late miles though, a runner still must average 14 min/mile or less (which is still a slow jog). I'm a fairly quick walker, so my big concern was how I'd fair over those first 100k.

To put in perspective what is expected of a Spartathlon runner, the qualifying standards pretty much spell it out. You have to run a 20hr 100-miler, or a sub 10hr 100k (as well as a few other standards). While I have broken 20 hrs in a hundred (barely), I wanted to see if I could both break 10 hours for a 100k, AND pace myself as though I was running AT the Spartathlon. So...I signed up for a 100k road race a few hours away in Connecticut called the Lake Waramaug Ultra. Turns out it's one of the oldest ultras in the country at over 40 years now.

I spent an evening marking up a spreadsheet of my expected pace and times so as to finish right at 10 hours. I calculated that a ~9:39 pace over 62.2 miles would give me a 10 hr finish. So, as long as I was running faster than 9:39, I'd be banking time. BUT, I didn't want to think of this exercise as "banking time". Instead, I wanted to set realistic pace goals, knowing that I'd slow down, but still reasonable so that I'd hit 10 hours. I knew going in that the first 10-20 miles would "feel" very slow, but that they'd pay dividends in the later miles by allowing me to still run (as opposed to walk). 

I told myself that aid station breaks would be quick as well. I had to practice QUICK turnarounds. There's nothing more frustrating than running a mile right on pace, only to lose 30 seconds at the very end because you stopped to chat with the aid station volunteers without thinking. So, I wanted to go in being efficient.

The course features a 4.4 mile out-n-back, followed by seven 7.6-mile loops around Lake Waramaug. Then at the very end, there's another out-n-back of 4.6 miles to bring it to 62.2 total. I set up my spreadsheet and paces based on these segments.

Roughly, my pace goals were:
Out-n-Back: 8:44
Loop 1: 8:45
Loop 2: 8:50
Loop 3: 9:05
Loop 4: 9:36
Loop 5: 9:50
Loop 6: 10:30
Loop 7: 10:37
Out-n-Back: 11:00

These goals by definition meant that all the way through the end of Loop 4, I would essentially be building up a time cushion ahead of the required 9:39 pace....but then losing time to it over remainder of the race. This was ok, as long as I stuck to this plan. I would still cross the line sub 10hr, and ideally still running and feeling better than if I went out too fast. This entire exercise would be one of proper pacing, not trying to set a PR. Turns out, I would actually end up setting two PRs employing this strategy, but I'll get to that later....

I knew I was at least capable of a 10 hr 100k as I had unofficially run one once before...although it was somewhat of a technicality. Back in 2014, I ran the Mind-the-Ducks 12hr event and hit 62.2 miles in 9 hrs 57 minutes, although I didn't know it at the time. I simply knew that I ended up with ~72.5 total miles for 12 hours.

For Lake Waramaug, I decided to also employ my virtual running partner feature on my watch. I set it to 9:39 pace and then it would allow me to see how far "ahead" I was of the required 9:39 overall pace. It would also allow me to see how fast I was adding or chewing up minutes from my "bank". Really though, I knew that as long as I was sub 9:40, I was at least breaking even, and as long as I stuck to my plan, regardless of what was happening to my bank, that I was doing what I was supposed to be doing. I had to trust my math and that my body would respond based on historical behavior and performance.

As expected, the first Out-n-back and first full loop "felt" very slow. I tried to average 8:45's, but somehow kept coming up a few seconds fast each mile. It wasn't enough to worry me though. I basically felt as long as I was plus/minus 10 seconds on my pace, I would be ok and could adjust as the race progressed by slowing down or speeding up where necessary (if possible). As I began the second loop, things continued to progress perfectly. I was very firm in my make it to the 50k mark before taking any significant break or really stopping at any of the aid stations. I tried to keep any visits to under 10 seconds.

At the end of Loop 2, I had my first test in making a live adjustment. Nature was calling badly, and I absolutely had to make a pit stop. I knew this would take 2-3 minutes, but I could tell I was slowing down...and it couldn't wait. By this point, I had actually accrued about 2 minutes OVER my pace chart, so knew the stop ultimately wouldn't really set me back. Needless to say, I felt infinitely better after the stop. If you look at my splits, you can actually see that mile 20 was over 11 I managed to keep the pit stop to under 3 minutes.

Before I continue, let me post the full track and stats of my run for reference:

Screen grab of my Strava Data

Starting Loop 3 was actually quite nice as it was the first loop that I was "Scheduled" to go slower than 9 min/miles. It felt nice to "slow down" a little. I was still ahead of my fatigue curve, and by slowing early, I was able to extend my comfort level much further.  In my mind, I knew loop 4 was going to be tough as I still wanted to go sub 9:39, but would be nearing the 50k mark. I noticed I was also starting to spend more time at the aid stations hemming/hawing over food and doing what I call "excused rest breaks". In other words, I was allowing myself running breaks by justifying it with aid station refueling. It's a not-so-clever way my body has for squeezing in little breaks without me trying to notice. I consciously noticed...but let it slide a bit too often as it did feel nice to eat my orange slices and potato chips without wolfing it all down on the run. On a side note related to aid stations, I ended up refueling a lot on just coke/ginger ale and simple foods. I was trying to mimic the simple aid station food at Spartathlon. As far as my own fuel. I did carry some gummies on the early miles as well as my usual Hammer Perpetuem that I refilled twice in my water bottle.

Loop 4 did go as planned, but loop 5 was when the fatigue starting inching its way in and when I became conscious of my effort. It was also the first loop where I fell a little behind my planned pace (not counting loop 3 and my bathroom pit stop). Even though loop 5 was not my overall slowest lap, it was definitely what I would consider the low point of the race for me. It's right at that awkward distance of 35-43 miles...the hardest part of a 50-miler/100k for me. Mentally it was tough as well as I knew I still had two full laps remaining. Again...this is an awkward place to be in a looped course. I fought of the negativity though and focused on my pacing. I knew that once out on loop 6, my pace chart had me slowing to 10:30 min per mile. Half-way through loop 5 I thought this drop down seemed delightful, but by the time I made it around and actually started loop 6, I had naturally slowed down to about 10:15 anyway, so it was a bit disappointing that I didn't get to really "slow down" much further. What this did make me realize though, was that I had properly gauged what my natural slow down would be...and pretty damned accurately too.

Loop 6 went ok, but it was noticeably becoming more of an effort. The good news was that the end of the loop marks exactly 50 miles. With this known, I was hoping to go for a new 50-mile PR. My current 50-mile PR was a 7:49 I ran at the Tussey Mountainback in 2011. At the 2014 Mind-the-Ducks 12-hr, I did hit 50 miles on my Garmin at 7:43 however...but I do not count that as official. At Lake Waramaug, the ending of Loop 6 is an officially recognized distance though, as there is a sanctioned 50-mile event that happens concurrently with the 100K. Of course this also means that there's an enormous temptation to drop at 50 miles and call it day. What's worse is that the race directors allow you to do this and still get a registered finish. I'd be lying if I said I didn't at least consider it once or twice. 

As I made the turn onto North Shore Rd, about 2 miles from the end of the loop, I began doing the math. It would be close if I wanted to get a PR for 50 miles. This final 2 miles also features the most rollers on the course (albeit small ones). I realized I was going to have to pick it up a bit if I wanted to ensure a sub 7:49. I pushed hard and over those two miles averaged sub 8:40 miles (over a minute and a half faster than what I was averaging). Turns out, I had it dialed in exactly as I crossed the finish line with a new PR of 7:46...exactly 3 minutes faster than my old PR. Had I not sped up, and kept my pace for those final 2 miles, it would have come down to seconds.

I was thrilled with the PR, but not super excited about doing another full loop. Before I could have the debate I started running. Before long, I was a mile into the loop and committed. At 2.3 miles into the loop, I ran past the turnaround point for the final out-n-back and knew that I'd be there in just over an hour turning around for a final 2.3 miles back to the finish line. That lifted my spirits a bit. For loop 7, I had planned a 10:37 pace (or exactly about minute slower than required pace). I felt like I was running ok, but every time I checked my pace it was floating around 10:30. Every mile that passed though I knew I was ok. I had checked my virtual runner at the start of my final lap, and it said I was still over 16 minutes ahead of my required pace. So even if I ran 90 seconds slower on every mile, I'd still theoretically finish sub-10. I didn't want to risk it though and kept pushing for 10:30's. When I hit the aid station half way around the loop, I needed another bathroom stop. On top of that, I spent almost a full minute at the aid station and walking out from the bathroom. It was the only real walk break of the day (about 2 minutes of walking). It was also my slowest mile of the entire race at 11:48. When I saw my Garmin clock 11:48, it was a very sobering reality check. As good as it felt to walk a little, I knew I couldn't afford it. So I grudgingly started running again. The stretch North along East Shore Rd (Rt. 45) was my least favorite of the course. It's farther away from the Lake, and the traffic is heavier. It feels more like a highway...and just had a tendency to drag on a bit.

At the final turn onto North Shore Rd. though I stopped in at the last aid station on the course to bid them adieu. I put down a final full cup of Coke and headed for the end of my final full loop. I was eagerly looking forward to my very final out-n-back to finish this thing off. I decided I'd wait until finishing loop 7 before doing the final math, but the quick math was promising. I just needed to keep it together for a few more miles and pending no major breakdowns, I'd likely get in just under 10. It was still looking to be uncomfortably close though.

As I came into the timing mat, I refueled very quickly, and immediately began on my final 4.6 mile out-n-back. I was excited to be almost done and that I wouldn't have to do a full loop. I looked at my virtual runner and it showed I was still over 10 minutes ahead of a 10hr finish pace. This mean I could run each mile almost 11:30 pace and still finish under 10. I hit the first mile in about 10:25...excellent. Then, the next mile in 10:20...even better.  

When I hit the turn around I stopped for about 15 seconds to take it all in. I walked for a short bit and then began my final 2.2 mile run back to the finish line. I was filled with some new vigor and picked it up a bit. I hit the 1-mile to go mark and over 16 minutes in which to do it. I knew, pending a last-minute blow up, that I could essentially walk it in. Still, I was not about to finish with a whimper. 

I run sub-10 pace for the final mile and huffed it over the line with a final time of 9:54:12!

My pacing strategy had worked splendidly, and not only did I finish right where I had hoped to, and right on schedule, BUT I had also managed to re-qualify for Spartathlon (which is good for 2 years!). I executed my race plan just about as perfectly as I could with no real unforeseen issues. Something else to note was we had about 3 hours of cold rain during the first 3 loops. This most certainly slowed all of us down slightly. Thankfully, it wasn't super cold like at Boston though, so I didn't have any issues with generating heat.

Coming into the finish!

Almost there!


I definitely learned a lot about my pacing and this entire experience really helped me to hone in on my expectations and plans for Sparathlon come September.  For now, I leave you with my detailed spreadsheet that shows all of the numbers from the race. For reference, any text in red denotes places where I "LOST" time or went slower than a planned pace. Some of the exact times a slightly off due to Excel rounding....but it's pretty close. These data clearly show that there were only 2 segments when I ran slower than my planned pace, Loop 3, and Loop 5. Both cases were at least partially due to long bathroom breaks. In addition. Loop 5 was my "low point" of the race, and this is reflected in the pacing.

Full time details

I guess that's it for now. I sit here today quite surprised at how good my legs feel. I wonder....could I have run harder? Probably. But this wasn't about trying to set a PR. It was about learning to pace properly over 100k so as to be better prepared for Spartathlon. The two PRs were just a really nice added bonus! One funny side note. On my final out-n-back, I noticed a runner about 4 minutes ahead of me as I was running towards the turnaround. As I got close to the finish, I could see his yellow wind shell off in front of me, about a minute ahead of me on the course. I didn't think much of it at the time, but turns out he was the 3rd place finisher for the 100k. I came 80 seconds from making the podium. Had I know he was a 100k runner, I might have tried to pick it up a little more! Oh well

Hike on my friends.


Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Boston Misery

Mile 22 - Cold, Sick, and Barely Moving

It was a perfect storm of bad circumstances in the final week leading up to the Boston Marathon for me. About two weeks ago I was ready. Training was going incredibly well, I had a good taper going, and I was eager to see what I could do on the course. Three of my final long runs were all on the course itself including my 22-mile peak run. On that run, I was not only able to run even splits over the entire 22 miles, but I was able to push smoothly up all of the Newton Hills, and finish with an effortless 7:45 min/mile pace. I was definitely trained to run a 3:10 which was my pocket goal for the run. Yes I wanted to enjoy the race and not stare at my watch, but deep down I knew I was capable of re-qualifying. The fact that I ran an effortless 22-mile training run at 7:45 pace, with zero muscle soreness speaks to that. My goal pace for the race was ~7:15 min/mile.

But in the final week leading up to the race, the bad news starting coming in. First, there was the weather. Early forecasts were predicting a very cold, windy, rainy day. What's more, is that the wind would be a strong headwind from the East with gusts up to 40 mph possible. I would be starting in WAVE 1 in Corral 7, but decided to slink back to Corral 8. I had read all the race tips and reports about running Boston conservatively at the start, and with the headwind, figured it just best to hang in the back of the wave. 

At the start of my last taper week, I flew out to Colorado for an Arctic Conference in Boulder. The conference went well, but on Thursday night in the Hotel I noticed I had a cough that wouldn't go away. I get sick very rarely, and I could tell by the faint wheezing, that this wasn't going to be good. My only hope was that my body would knock it out quickly.

It didn't.

I got home Friday and noticed my throat was also now getting sore. The cough was worse to the point of causing significant pain in my chest. There was also the lovely phlegm, but I'll leave those details out. Still, I headed over to the Expo Friday night to get my bib number, hoping to "will away" any sickness. I smiled, laughed, and pretended not to notice the coughing or sore throat.

Getting my Number

Trying to get excited

After the Expo

I decided that I would do as little as possible on Saturday and Sunday in hopes that it would improve with the help of whatever over-the-counter meds I could pump myself full of. While the DayQuil and Mucinex helped, by Sunday evening I had actually gotten worse. On top of all of this, I had also developed a canker sore in my mouth too (which are incredibly rare for me), so had a hard time eating and drinking. Like I said, a perfect storm. 

I slept terribly Sunday night, coughing most of the night, hoping to clear whatever fluid/phlegm I could, but by morning I was not well. I did a quick temperature/fever check and and it was elevated. In addition, my resting heart rate (normally in the 40's), was almost 80. My body was not happy...and I was about to push it through 26 miles of absolute shit/cold conditions.

I kept thinking about William Henry Harrison, the 9th president. He gave a very long inauguration speech in cold/rainy conditions, and then died 31 days later from pneumonia. Was this going to be me if I ran in this crap? Surely running in near freezing and hypothermic conditions can't be good, even for a 100% healthy person. Shoot...the winning time for the women this year was almost 20 minutes slower than usual. In the end, I decided to still give it a go and see. Being a "local" I knew I had options to bail if it came to it.

C had agreed to meet me on the course at miles 6.5, 17, 22, and the finish....and I was so glad she did. Had I not seen her at 22, I would almost assuredly have dropped (more on that in a bit). Seeing her on the course was honestly one of the only positive things to come of this race...which is genuinely quite sad. I had so many people tell me "enjoy the course, you earned it! It's an incredible experience just being out there!". But for me, that couldn't be farther from the truth. 

In all was just a really miserable day. I was wheezing for most of the race, and it was incredibly hard to breathe or swallow. Add to that the canker sore, and I had a very hard time eating any of my race food/gummies. In addition, I had filled a hand-held with Tailwind, something I had only tried once before, and it turns out it does NOT agree with my stomach AT ALL. I have never gotten so gassy from a sports drink before. Every time I sipped on that bottle, within 60 seconds I was overcome with a horrific gas belly. Needless to say, I dumped it out rather quickly once I made the correlation. I took some drugs but they didn't really help either. The spectators were notably sparse this year as well; I don’t blame them it was absolutely miserable. 40 mph gusts right from the east with continual cold rain all race.  Overall it was just really tough to enjoy any of it, but I did come away with a few good memories for sure. Coming down Hereford and Boylston was surreal.

Getting to the start was actually one of the easier parts of the race. C drove me to the designated drop-off near Hopkington, and I made it over to the Athletes Village rather early by way of a short shuttle bus. Then I sat there for over 2 hours clothed in multiple layers, a poncho, and a mylar blanket, still shivering my brains out. It was also incredibly over-crowded as no one wanted to stand outside in the rain. When they finally called wave 1 to start the walk, it was long slow slog up to the starting corrals. I was corral 7, but started at at the very back with the corral 8 runners. I felt terrible, but still thought I'd try to run race-pace for as long as I could. Shoot, I trained hard to be there, and earned my qualify spot, the least I could do is run for what I trained for, even if only for a mile or two.

Loading the shuttle bus near Hopkington

Waiting for a porta-potty at athletes village in the gusting wind

I crossed the line 5 minutes after the gun.

For the first 6 miles I felt ok and was actually able to run below my 7:15 min/mile pace but I could feel my lungs tightening up, and I could feel the illness winning. I saw C at mile 6.5 and that was truthfully the last time I felt anything remotely close to decent. For the next 20 miles, I was slowly squeezed by the vice of sickness. Each mile became progressively slower regardless of hills or weather. It was actually quite remarkable in that regard. My body was just slowly shutting down and this can easily be seen in my splits. I was telling a friend, this wasn't like a typical bonk...where you run great for 18 miles and then hit a wall and have a failure over the last 6-8. This was a slow illness-induced shut-down. My Strava Track reflects this:

Here is what a typical "Bonk" looks life for me. This was at the 2016 Revel Rockies Marathon. I started too fast, and undertrained...and at mile 19 crashed hard...relegated to a lot of walking...

At Boston, I never walked, not even in the late miles, but all of my miles got progressively slower after mile 6. I just slowly shut down as my illness and the cold temps won. FYI, the dips in the track were either bathroom breaks, or times when I stopped to change/adjust clothing.

I could feel this happening too. The cold rain was driving my core temp way too low. Combined with my inability to properly breathe or eat....and with the temporary gut issues with the Tailwind, it was a true struggle from mile 6 on. Upon reviewing my heart-rate data, my average heart-rate was almost 10 bpm higher than at a normal marathon effort. I definitely was not running at a higher effort, so this was most certainly due to the cold temps and illness. 

I slogged my way through the outer towns of Framingham and Natick all while my paced slowed. All of the places that I was excited to see from my training runs on the course, now just felt like desperate check marks along the way. When I made the turn in Natick towards Wellesley, I started having the major issues with my hand-held/Tailwind. I had to slow many times to let my stomach settle, but did still manage to run through the train of high-fives at Wellesley College through the Scream Tunnel. It was one of the few times I smiled. Wellesley took longer than I was hoping, but eventually I made it to the Newton sign and I knew I was back on home turf. C would be waiting for me at the Firehouse turn off (mile 17ish), and I was desperate to see her. I knew that from where she'd be standing, it was only about 1 mile to our apartment. I was cold, miserable, and feeling absolutely awful, and I told myself as I began the climb up from I95 that I was going drop when I got to her. I figured we could just walk home from there. I had had enough.

On the way up the climb, I made a very long stop in a port-a-potty. My fingers were so cold, I couldn't get my gloves on, so lost about another 3 minutes. I didn't care. When I came out the rains had quieted a bit and I felt a little better. When I did come up on C just a 1/2 mile later, I stopped right on the course and gave her a big hug. I tried to talk but could get enough air out to speak loudly. I told her I was running really slowly and was "not well". For whatever reason, I didn't tell her I was quitting. She walked with me along the sidewalk for a short bit and then I continued on. She said she'd meet me at mile 22 just past Boston College. That thought made me smile. In addition, I knew some friends would be cheering on Heartbreak Hill, so I decided to keep going...even if miserably slow.

Along the course at Mile 17

The section through the Newton Hills was actually not terrible. I felt like I was home and on familiar ground. I had run this stretch from the Firehouse to BC so many times in training that I knew where every turn and roller was. It was a bit strange to be running it on the main road rather than the carriage road though. The hills went by just fine, and I never stopped to walk. Overall, my legs actually felt very underused...and more than capable of running faster...but my lungs and heart weren't allowing it. I saw my friends half-way up Heartbreak and it made me smile. As I crested, I noticed Meb Keflezighi run past me. I figured he had either started late, or was also having a really bad day. Once on the decent past Boston College, I was officially on new ground, I had never been on the course past BC. It was also right at this point that I noticed I was shivering uncontrollably. I was running with both of my hands tucked up into my chest trying to stay warm. I was starting to show classic symptoms of hypothermia. The cold/rain was getting to me and I started looking for a medical tent. C had said she'd be waiting at mile 22 outside the CVS, but if the Green Line was late, or she couldn't get there in time, I knew I was going to have to, at the very least, warm up in medical. This was all assuming she actually had my warm Gore-Tex rain coat. I just hoped she did.

When I made the turn at mile 22, I was at the lowest point of the entire race. I was barely able to talk and was violently shivering. Thankfully, C did make it to the CVS, and she did have my coat. I grabbed it from her, told her that I would be extremely slow over the last 4 miles and that I just wanted to be warm. I was so cold.

Running down Beacon Street was a blur. I was barely shuffling, and by this point in the race, the lead pack of Wave 2 had caught up to me. For most of the race it was actually quite sparse for me as I was at the very back of Wave 1....but as the Wave 2 folks caught up to me, it meant my last 3 miles would be very crowded. I looked up at one point and saw the Citgo sign a ways off, but don't remember much else. I kept trying to stay to the left but kept bumping people and having to constantly say "sorry" as much faster folks kept trying to run past me. I felt terrible that I had become an "obstacle".

At the lowest point for me...just before getting rain coat.

When I finally did make it to the Citgo sign, I looked over at Boston University and smiled. I was almost there. It was surreal going under the little overpass just before Hereford...all shielded from spectators. Once on the other side though, I finally got a taste for true Boston Marathon crowds. The  crowds of people lining Hereford and Boylston were ridiculous. For that short 3/4 of mile my shortness of breath seemed to ease up, and a small smile crept its way back to my face. I hadn't realized just how far the finish line was down Boylston, so it was nice to run along for a 1/2 mile of packed spectators...even if I was just one of hundreds of runners on the final homestretch.

When I crossed the finish, I did my best to raise my hands in a "celebratory" way...but none of it truly felt celebratory. All I wanted to do was cough up my lungs and curl into a ball in a warm bathtub. Unfortunately, at the finish, you have to keep walking. I moved on, got my medal, forced a smile for a picture, and then hobbled my way down the road to the designated spot that C and I were meeting. We got there at the same time, and I sneaked into a hotel lobby to warm up for a while.  Eventually, we walked to the Green Line T and after a 45 minute train ride, made it back home. My fever had gotten worse, and my chest was screaming, but it was over. I had survived. It was incredibly stupid for me to run in those conditions while sick. I'm a dumb ass and will likely be paying for it for days. As I write this I'm already using a sick day from work. Hopefully I don't end up like President Harrison. My final time was 3:44:40...over 30 minutes slower than I was hoping, and over 30 minutes slower than what I was trained for.

This was definitely a rough one.

Soaking wet, cold, but done.

Time to think ahead...

Today (Tuesday) I have zero pain or soreness in my legs. I could absolutely go run a 15 miler today if I were otherwise healthy. This does make me feel better about my training as I definitely know I could have run faster. It was really as if I just ran a slow long run yesterday. In the end, the entire experience is still one I'm glad I was able to have, even if rather miserable. 

In some ways, qualifying for Boston was more exhilarating than running it...with Boston almost seeming more like a "victory lap". I'm not sure if I'll ever qualify again to run, so I am content that I came away with a medal and a finish, even if much slower than I hoped. 

My finish time was still 10 minutes faster than my first Marathon ten years ago back in may of 2008! It is somehow a refreshing and somewhat satisfying thought to think that it was 10 years ago that I began my renewed life as a runner by training for my first Marathon (The Pocono Marathon). Ten years later, and many many miles later, I've capped that decade of running off with a finish at what is probably the most premier road marathon in the World. I've been incredibly fortunate to have had the 10 years that I have had, so I will happily take this finish and celebrate it regardless.

Thank you to all the volunteers and spectators who braved the awful conditions to be out there so all of us idiotic runners could make our way from Hopkington to Boston. Thanks to all of my friends and family who supported me, trained with me, and tracked me along the way. And most of all, thank you C for....well you already know.

10 years ago, it all started with my first marathon

Monday, April 2, 2018

Boston Looms

Official Boston Runner Passport

It is just 2 weeks now until the 122nd running of the Boston Marathon. Thanks to some very specialized training, a favorable course, and a little bit of luck, I managed to qualify last year for the first time in over 10 years of consistent running. Generally, I don't really gravitate towards standard road marathons much anymore, but having lived in the greater Boston area now for the past 3 years, I've learned just how incredible this marathon is. I watched in 2016 and 2017 as 30,000+ runners made their way through the Newton area (mile ~17) and couldn't help but get emotional about it. I wanted to be a part of that experience too. 

My previous Marathon PR was 3:21. For my age group, I knew I would have to run a 3:15 to qualify, and roughly a 3:12 to actually make the cut. This would mean dropping over 20 seconds per mile on my pace. In 2016 I ran a downhill marathon in Denver and managed to cross the half-way mat in 1:30 flat. Despite a monumental crash on the 2nd half of this race, it gave me confidence that with the right training, I could potentially run a 3:12 or lower.

This past June, I again found myself at that same start line ready to try again, and this time with a LOT of miles and specific training under my belt. I hit the half-way mat in 1:31, but in infinitely better shape that in 2016. I managed to sustain that pace for most of the remaining half solidifying a spot on the Boston start line with a qualify time of 3:06:43. I never thought I would ever be able to run a marathon at 7:07 average race pace...but alas, I had a really damn good day. 

I wrote extensively about that experience here: Boston Bound

My smooth/consistent pace for the Revel Rockies Marathon

It's a bit weird for me to be sitting here writing that my "goal race" for the Spring is a road marathon. This is something that I honestly didn't think I'd ever say again despite having multiple fantastic experiences at the Pocono Marathon while in graduate school. It's no secret that as I've progressed through the past decade, my running and adventuring focus has most certainly veered in a direction of trails and ultras. With all this said though, I find myself notably excited and smiling with anticipation for the Boston Marathon...a race that traces a route just 1 mile from my apartment in Auburndale, MA.

I haven't talked about it yet on my journal here, but my 2018 is starting to really take shape, and what I have lined up for adventures will undoubtedly make it another year to remember. Assuming I remain healthy, this year is definitely one I'm excited, and beaming with anticipation for. Most of my friends and family already know that in addition to Boston, I am also scheduled to run the Hardrock 100, as well as the Spartathlon. I haven't talked much about my thoughts on both of these events just yet (other than my lottery posting back in December), but definitely will put some thoughts together on here once I can properly crystalize them.  Needless to say, I'm humbled, honored, and excited to be invited to both of these premier events.

As of right now, my adventure calendar is starting to come together:

April: Boston Marathon
TARC Spring Classic Course Sweeping

May: 3 Days at the Fair - 72hr

June:  Focused HR Training
A few other possible events...

July: 18 days in Colorado climbing/acclimating
HardRock 100!

August: A project I'm just calling "trail adventure"
More on that later....

September: Spartathlon!

October: Still in flux
More on that later....

November: MMTR with friends

December: Winter Recovery

I'm particularly excited for July. We have decided to make it our vacation as well as a race and we've rented a medium camper van for the adventure. We'll be touring the San Juans, bagging 14ers, and even taking the train down to the Chicago Basin! I'll be tagging 7 new 14ers if all goes well (8 if I count Handies during the Hardrock race itself)

Our camper van for HR 100!

Spartathlon is an entirely different story, and one that deserves a post of its own here. I will simply say that I'm still processing the news that I was invited to participate as a member of the US Team, and have been completely humbled by the news. The cut-offs are very tight for Spartathlon, but I already have a well-prepared training program that I plan to utilize in the months leading up to it (thanks to a very kind running friend of mine and past finisher of the Spartathlon). There'll be much more on this news as it gets closer.

So...back to Boston. I've been asked by many what my goal is for the Marathon, and honestly I'm still undecided. As of a few weeks ago, my only goal was to run at a moderate pace, and simply take in the experience, the crowds, and the feeling. I may never get another chance to run it, and the last thing I want to do is be either staring at my watch the whole time, or have a monumental bonk/crash because I tried to run too hard. In the past few weeks however, I actually had the opportunity to run on the course, and have come to realize just how "fast" it is...and now my thoughts have evolved a bit on my race-day strategy.

In addition to some solid training efforts and mileage totals, I've also run a few tune-up races the past few months and I feel like I'm running quite well. I ran a 16 miler back in February and a comfortable 7:06 min/mile pace, and then a 19-miler a few weeks later at a similarly comfortable 7:17 min/mile pace. Both courses were very hilly, and in both cases I didn't feel like I was running a full-on race pace. What this all meant for me was that I started toying with the idea that perhaps a sub 3:10 is again possible. Now I realize my qualify time is 3:15, but I say sub 3:10 because I anticipate the actual start-line qualify time will be closer to BQ - 5.  A 3:10 marathon equates to a sub 7:15 per mile pace. A few years ago this would have seemed ridiculous to me, but now, I feel like I'm actually capable of this. Sure it will hurt, and it will be difficult, but I think it's possible. I have never been one to go into a race feeling super confident about my abilities, but in this case, I feel like its necessary if I actually want to make it happen. Perhaps that's jinxing myself, or giving myself bad karma, or even worse, setting myself up for a catastrophic failure....but I think it's somewhat necessary if I want to actually go sub 3:10. As I sit here today, I'm still on the fence, as part of me doesn't want to be stressing about pace or effort during the event. I want to keep my head up, smiling, looking for friends and family among the massive throngs of people. The other part of me though, thinks it should be reasonably possible to do both. Check my watch occasionally for pace, but still take time to enjoy the event for what it is. If things get truly ugly, then, I resign myself to slowing down and having a Boston Marathon to remember, not cringe over. The last thing I want is another experience like my 2016 Revel Rockies where I crossed the 13.1 mile mark smiling and running fast, only to be hunched over with intense gut cramps 6 miles later.

So...what does this all mean. In my mind it means two things. First and foremost, I think it will come down to a race-day strategy, likely also contingent on weather/conditions. I know my training will have me physically ready, but I will need to mentally want it as well.  If on race morning I feel like I want that 3:10, then I will go for it with 100% commitment. Otherwise, I will go at a reasonable pace, and suck the marrow out of the event and day. Long story short: "To be determined".

As far as training, things have been going well and have been on a fairly specialized "marathon/road" plan, with an obvious exception of a ridiculous trail 100-miler thrown in the mix.

January started with another streak. I figured it was a great way to re-motivate myself to get things into gear following my usual December slumber. In addition, I was hoping to tackle my usual CJ's Resolution Challenge. As I noted in my previous post (Winter in Colorado), I spent a lot of January out in Colorado, putting in some big miles, getting out on some trails, and even summiting a Winter 14er. January was as a solid month of training for me. Upon returning from Colorado, I tackled my first real road race just as February was beginning. This race, appropriately named "The Boston Prep 16-Miler" was a perfect early season way to gauge my Boston Fitness level. The course was particularly hilly, but I was still able to comfortably push out a 7:07 per mile effort, hitting several miles under 6:45 per mile pace. This race is when I first starting toying with the idea of running Boston to re-qualify. I was keenly aware however, that at 16 miles, the Boston Prep run was not long enough to truly bring on "The Wall" effect....something that generally rears its ugly head for me around mile 19-20.

Jan Training

Boston Prep 16-Miler

Boston Prep 16-Miler

February Folly:

But then as February rolled in, I did something that some may consider rather idiotic, or at the very least ill-conceived. I decided to run a notorious and difficult 100-miler down in the mountains of Virginia. Mileage-wise, I was certainly fit enough in my mind to bust out a moderate-effort 100. BUT...this particular event is well known as being grueling with its over 30,000 feet of elevation gain.  Probably not my best idea.

This event, The Wild Oak Trail 100, or more affectionately known as the TWOT 100 (yeah, yeah, I know), definitely lives up to the reputation. It was ridiculous and brutal....and I was most certainly not trained for that type of terrain. The course features a 28-mile loop that is run 4 times (totaling 112 miles...NOT 100). I did manage to push out a solid effort for about 40 miles, but then started having a whole slew of issues both physically and mentally. So, knowing my calendar for the year, I dialed it WAY back and essentially fast-packed the remaining 70 miles of the race. It meant for a VERY LONG 38 hours on the course, but I was glad I stuck it out to the finish. The course is incredibly difficult, and if properly trained for it, I think one that suits my strengths. With almost all of my training mileage being on roads though (with the exception of a single 24-mile day in the Middlesex Fells), I just wasn't ready for it physically or mentally. The weather was also incredibly difficult for the last loop (icy sleet and bone-chilling wind). On the positive side, I got to spend a weekend with friend and fellow Barker John Kelly, and witness as he finished all four loops in under 24 hours! Absolutely ridiculous time considering the course. He finished the entire race, before I was even done with my loop 3. Crazy.

The other big downside to running TWOT, was that it meant I needed some serious rest/recovery. This equated to very little running over the following two weeks.

February Training

The TWOT loop and profile (30,000 feet of gain)

After Loop 1 at TWOT 100

After finishing TWOT 100. John Kelly congratulating me.
I was visibly wrecked

The biggest mistake I made in my training, other than running the TWOT 100 itself, was attempting to do a fast road race just two weeks later as another Boston Prep run. This race, the STU's 30k, is just outside Boston and normally would be a perfect run to assess how the Boston Training is going. at nearly 19 miles, it also means it's just long enough to start feeling the effects of "The Wall". I definitely tried to run this event too hard after still recovering from the TWOT 100. It hurt much more than Boston Prep 16 a month earlier, but I still managed to run about a 7:17 overall pace. I was feeling the effects at the finish though. After this event, I started seriously re-evaluating my idea of trying to re-qualify at Boston. I definitely slowed down over the last 5 miles.

Finishing STU's 30k

STU's course and numbers

March Madness:
But then, things started to turn around in March. I finally got back into a regular training regimen again, and found that I was able to ramp up quite successfully. As I approached peak week, I was presented with the opportunity to run my Saturday long runs on the actual Boston Course itself, for three weekends in a row. First, I was able to run the course from the start to mile 18 (and my apartment). That weekend gave me a great introduction to the course, as there were very few people on it and I was able to absorb a large amount of intel. A few local friends of mine had coordinated a shuttle to take 6 of us out there. It was a cold day, and I ran at a very easy pace, but the experience was spectacular. In addition, I already had plans to run the course the following weekend, and with an 18-mile preview already, I could focus on my pacing as opposed to the course.

The following weekend is known as Boston peak weak for most runners that use any sort of traditional training plan. Because of this, all of the charity runners bus out to Hopkinton and there is a massive long run preview event. It's so big, that police actually have to direct traffic in many areas. I managed to snag a spot on a bus and get out for this planned long run. I parked my car at Boston College (~mile 22), and bussed to the start line in Hopkinton. I ran the 22 miles back to my car at a moderate effort, aiming for about 7:45 per mile pace. I ended that run with an average pace of 7:48, feeling fantastic, so was incredibly pleased. I could have absolutely run faster and never felt pushed at all.

This past weekend, I was only scheduled to run about 12-14 miles as my taper has now begun. I had no plans to run the course again, but one of my running partners offered me a ride as she was headed out to Framingham to meet with friends. I took her up on the offer and got dropped off right around mile 6. This left me a comfortable 13 miles back to my house which I ran at a very easy 8:20 per mile pace. It took an actual effort to force myself to run that slow....which I think is a good sign. What I noted in all of my three runs along the course back to Newton, was that it is FAST with a lot of downhill. This has only further added to my mental temptation to try to re-qualify. But I also know this is the critical mistake that so many Boston runners make during the race. They start out WAY TOO FAST. The first mile is a steep downhill and it's so easy to hammer it. One thing is certain, I have to absolutely maintain composure and be intelligent about how I tackle the first 8-10 miles of this course or I will most certainly bonk at "The Wall"...which coincidentally comes right at the heart of the notorious Newton Hills and Heartbreak.

March running returns to a more "normal" schedule

At the start line of the Boston Marathon heading out on a 18-miler home

22 Mile long run at a very comfortable/consistent 7:48 pace.

On top of all of this, I've been focusing all of my weekday runs in Boston around the Newton Hills section of the course...doing several out-n-backs to Heartbreak Hill and back. With all of these runs over the past month, I truly believe I have full and detailed picture of the course, and know where all of the noteworthy hills are (both up and down hill). As of this writing, the only section of the Boston course I have not seen is from mile 23 to the finish line....which I do not want to see until race day.

During Peak week, I managed to hit 70 miles, which was my exact goal following a near 60-mile prior week. I have been thrilled with how things have progressed since TWOT, and I hope with a solid two-week taper, that I'll be in as best shape I can be considering my little TWOT detour in February. Physically, I do think I'm capable of re-qualifying and I would love to confidently state that my official goal is to run a sub 3:10. For now, I think I'll hold off on saying that though and see how I feel race weekend. of today, I will continue my love/hate relationship with my remaining two weeks of tapering, and eagerly await that magical morning just 14 short days from today. I will cross my fingers for favorable weather/conditions, but will obviously take whatever I get.

That's it for now....

Hike on everyone, and keep on exploring...