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...

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