Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Dawn Treader

It's 70 degrees outside this evening.  WHAT.  Seriously, it's 70 degrees.

It has been a long winter but spring is finally peeking around the corner.  We survived.  We made it.  All in all, it wasn't a terrible winter.  In fact, it was a great winter.  I really have no complaints about winter other than the normal things that make us whine and pout about the coldest season of the year being.... well, COLD.

I've been doing my best to be consistent and diligent this winter, even though things haven't been easy.  For the last few months I've been running almost exclusively on the treadmill, which on the one hand has built a mental strength I won't soon rival, while on the other hand has made me salivate for spring time more than ever before.

After Memphis in December I took a small break, then started working my way back into the routine.  My plan for early winter and spring was to build a base and start building as much speed over shorter distances as possible without punishing the legs.  I don't have Boston in April to work towards so I typically like to fill my March and April with something that keeps my mind off Boston specifically, but my body still very much on the charge for running that elusive BQ time later on this year.  I know I'm taking the slower route and counting on the slow and steady build over this entire year to get me that BQ time, and I have to be OK with that.

So, I could go on and on here, but I'd like to give a winter training synopsis in photos, since that seems like the easiest way to get caught up here.

1.)  Winter started this way... 5:30am, 5-6 days/wk, when it's freezing cold, miles still have to be run: 

2.)  Ya gotta live life and have fun and be young again... and what better way to do that then to go roller skating for a friend's 36th birthday party dressed like an 80's explosion??!??  The Daisy Dukes were NECESSARY:

3.)  When you DO that... sometimes you get a little too fancy at the skate rink and THIS happens (fractured radial head  by the elbow) reminding you that being "young at heart" doesn't mesh well with, "The bigger you are the harder you fall": 
4.)  But you still have to run. (I still have to...because i'm sick in the head and its my life)  So I got fixed up and took my new sling for a spin a few days later during an UNUSUALLY warm winter day.....

5.)   This weather wouldn't last, soon it was ice/snow for GOOD.  I couldn't risk slipping and falling outside, so it was back to the treadmill.... for over a month.  Every run.. every day... treadmill: 
6.)  My Saturday long runs looked a lot like every other run... on the treadmill, but with more fuel more prep: 

7.)  Such a fun treat to get a little winter pick-me-up in the form of encouragement and a fun feature courtesy of Hammer Nutrition in the most recent episode of Endurance News Mag.  It was just the fuel I needed to remember that day last October that opened wide the gates of what I thought was possible.  Huge thanks to the good folks at Hammer Nutrition for taking care of me all year long! 
8.)  Most recently my JOB has changed as well. (Same company, new position)  I'm very excited about new opportunities as I venture into the world of training and development.  It's what I feel like I'm meant to do and I'm following the call as best I can.  It means my schedule is flipped on it's head for a while, but still.... no worries, no excuses.  One day at a time, puttin' in WERK, and being a positive influence as best I can:

So it's finally warming up.  It's here.  It's time to start racing (Missed one 10K when I busted my arm, and have a 5mi race this weekend), it's time to GO.  I'm not 100% healed yet but it's not affecting my running as long as I'm not falling. (fingers crossed)  If there's one thing I've had to fall back on every single day this year in order to get through, it's understanding that my excuses are invalid if I want to succeed in the way I WANT to succeed.

Winter sucks.  But there's something gratifying about getting up every day and beating the odds, beating the weather, getting the miles in, getting it DONE.  This is what we do.. and why we do it.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Setting Goals and Eating Cookies

And just like that, we are back to basics. 

I spent a lot of time over the last 7 days not doing a whole lot.  I mean, there's normal life, wife and kids, and the busy holiday season but in regards to fitness and running and overall health.  NADA.  Ok OK, I did sneak in a couple tiny runs on the trail over the weekend but SHUT UP I pretty much rested all week and besides, the weather was REDONK ;)

 What I learned from the last 7 days after Memphis was this:

1.) The Schlafly Christmas Ale is SO. GOOD. 
2.) The Blue Moon Mountain Abbey Ale is SO. GOOD.
3.) My couch in the living room is SO COMFY.
4.) My wife makes Christmas cookies (and everything else) that are SO. GOOD.
5.) My sweat pants are SO. COMFY.

....and that's it. 

Just kidding, about it being "it".  There was more.  But seriously though, it's good to take a week to reset after a long hard year of training and racing.  It is SO necessary to be able to unwind and know what you need to do in order to recharge.  In all of this physical manifestation of finding my "recharge", I made sure to stay mentally present.  I wasn't checked out.  It was a good week of mulling over details, dealing with a tiny bit of self-pity, allowing myself to FEEL disappointed (about Memphis, not the entire year), and then heading down the path of finding resolve and a renewed direction for the next steps.  It's a process, and I think I treated it fairly and properly as one. 

Every year around this time I get heavily introspective.  (Not pensive, or depressed... let's be clear)  It is a natural progression of review, regroup, and resolve.  It produces a framework for setting goals.  Plain and simple.  It's how my mind works.  Setting 'resolutions' isn't a new concept so I'm not trying to overly dramatize it, seriously. 

But I think there is something to be said for appropriately taking stock, REAL stock, of exactly where you sit in relation to last year and in relation to the year ahead. It's not just a new list, scribbled in pencil, that you can stick on the fridge on January 1st and hope for dear life to hang on long enough to feel validated in your effort to 'keep' your resolutions.  It's an honest process that hopefully produces raw, unedited MOTIVATION that will serve to fuel your next 12 months.  It's an admission before the MISSION. 

Here are the questions I ask every year, and it doesn't JUST relate to running. (Obviously... I'm not a robot, you guys ;)

1.)  What did I accomplish this year?
2.)  How do I FEEL about what I accomplished this year?
3.)  Do I have any regrets? If so, why? 
4.)  Who do I want to BE next year?
5.)  What do I want to accomplish, in being the person I want to be? (Specifically)
6.)   How am I going to accomplish what I WANT? (Lay out the details)
7.)   Who knows about this, and who will help me keep an extra eye on the prize?

'Resolution' has a formal definition that represents the concept of " intention made".  Do we INTEND to keep our resolutions?  DUH.  Yes, we do.  We always set out with the best of intentions.  But, intentions are empty without a real commitment.  Semantics?  I don't think so.  You know in your head and in your heart when you are merely intending, or considering, or 'tossing it around a bit'.  YOU know.  Maybe nobody else does, but you do. 

What I am suggesting is that we spend less time moaning over the resolutions abandoned and we instead begin to learn about ourselves enough to BUILD a framework and a foundation for the coming year that allows us to COMMIT, over and over again.  Be good to yourself, be true to yourself, but resolve to be a fighter this next year for the things you are truly committed to.

I love this time of year.  The possibilities are endless.  You can be unbreakable if you really WANT to be. 

What do you want to be?

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Memphis Marathon: Bittersweet on Beale Street

It was a weekend to remember. 

I'm not sure I adequately know how to put this last weekend into words.  But, I'm going to try. It was incredible, scenic, adventurous, exciting, atmospheric, culminating, gritty, disappointing, pensive, introspective, celebratory.... not all at the same time, but, there was certainly a war of emotions going on and it was a battle that didn't need to be FOUGHT as much as it just needed to be FELT.

I went to Memphis on Friday and connected with my BFF and awesome training teamie, Laura.  We have been training hard with a lot of the same goals and supporting each other in the daily grind of trying to train and compete at the highest level we can.  It has been an incredible year and we've weathered a lot both on our own and together.  You need team mates to survive.  Period.  I have an incredible support system in my wonderful wife, kiddos, STL Slayers team mates here where I live, and a mix of long distance team mates who share in this love/battle with me. 

I picked up Laura and her dad up from the airport since I drove into Memphis and like true runners we NERDED out for the entire day.  Race expo, gear, fuel, course talk, weather, paces, plans... BBQ.  Memphis has some of the best BBQ in the world and it certainly did not disappoint.  Let's just say, carbs were certainly being LOADED and after a big dinner that night at the famous Marlowe's I was fueled as best I could be fueled.  It was time to relax for the night and get my mind straight for the task that was ahead of me.  There was a lot to think about. 

It has been an incredible year.  I already mentioned this, but it is so true.  I knew it would be tough to try and line up 2 hard-effort marathons with only 9wks between them, but I wanted to try.  I wanted the push...I wanted the results.  After an amazing day back in October, I was fired up and ready to put it all out there for another training block, another peak, and another chance at a Boston Qualifying time. (I need to run under 3:05... my PR in October was 3:06:26) 

The training block was OK.  Honestly, it really didn't go perfectly.  In fact, it was quite a bit less than ideal.  I am the first to admit this and I DID admit this to many people around me as I ramped up towards race day.  It is hard to be realistic AND resiliently optimistic at the exact same time.  Somewhere in there a dose of real honesty has to be clear.  I tried to be clear. 

Over the 9 weeks, I missed runs, skipped long runs because I was feeling weird tweeks and potential injuries, didn't build up my mileage to where it needed to be, and ended up getting semi-sick for the 8 days leading up to the race.  HOWEVER, those are not excuses and I refuse to let them be.  I DID train hard, I ran some good longer runs, I did some killer speed workouts with great results.... I thought that 3:05 fitness might just be there still.  I never actually PEAKED again...but I thought maybe my legs were still ready.  It wouldn't be until mid-race the next morning that I would know for sure.  Guys and gals, you NEVER know "for sure".  This is life.  But life demands that we try, and push, and pull either way, regardless of the clarity and confidence we so desperately want to possess before we commit.   I promised after my last race that I wouldn't let doubt and fear control me or my outcome on the next go-round.  So that's what I was determined to do.  One last massive effort to wrap up the year.  One last "all in" shot at going to Boston.

So after all that (and a decent night's sleep)... there I was... walking to the starting line.  I was decked in my Hammer Nutrition duds as always, and ready to go.  National anthem.... nervously jogging around... a fist bump and a smirk up to Laura.  She was starting in the Elite Coral right in front of me and theirs was the first wave to go.  GUN.  Elites were gone... 2 minutes til my go-time.  I watched them disappear down the road.  I said a prayer, took several deep breaths, and then BANG.... off we went. 

I settled in just a bit, but not really.  It was about 53 degrees, WINDY, cloudy, dreary, and felt cold.  The ground was wet from the pouring rain from the day and night before.  We began winding through city streets and packing together in small clusters, even though the masses started to spread out a bit.  The first mile went in 7:00, which was right on target.  Miles 2, 3, and 4 went fairly quickly as I took my first Hammer Gel and was getting good fluids.  We were somewhere in the 28:15 range through 4 miles but it felt like it was much faster.  I was running fairly smoothly but my breathing was more heavy and elevated than it should be and I felt like I was laboring a bit too much for such an early point in the race.  Yes, we ran a couple sub 7's up front (.. a 6:53 and a 6:57 in there) but it was relative to the course and felt like the right effort level.  Although, NOTHING felt "right" to me... not even at that point.  I knew I wasn't quite myself, but I figured maybe I'd settle in and find a rhythm.

BEALE STREET.  The 5 mile mark goes right down the famous Beale Street and the crowds were actually very large at that point.  They were LOUD too, which is nice!  I saw Laura's dad and he was shooting Go-Pro footage as I pointed at him and kept motoring along.  We were flying a bit down the tightly wound cobblestone at that point but I had found another guy as tall as me to sit behind to help break some of the wind up front and I was just focused on sticking to his heels as best I could.  I hit the 10K mark right where I needed to be for splits, and rolled down a big hill with the river on my left.

Guys were starting to chat a bit, "Hey I'm Joe, I'm hoping for about 3:05... you?"  "Sweet, I'm Tim, yeah somewhere in there... we'll see!", "Ok cool...let's go.. good luck"  It's good to find people you can work with on the course.  It's good to relax and find a rhythm next to someone you KNOW has the same goal as you.  I said nothing.  I listened, labored, shook out my arms... but said nothing.  Then I turned on my music and put both ear buds in.  I needed something... I needed something to focus on and to help me stay relaxed.  Maybe I would find my groove. 

I didn't find my groove.  I went through the 8mi mark down the path by the zoo, and took my time through an aid station running very slowly getting fluids in and taking an Endurolyte capsule to get some sodium and electrolyes.  I tried to find a good flow after that and latched onto some guys running quickly down the hill out of that path area.  A mile clicked over at 7:19.... In October I didn't run a 7:19 mile until mile 25.  This was mile 9 and I knew I was in trouble.  I was in pretty heavy denial though and feeling like I could still possibly fight through it and find something special.  You don't make any decisions at mile 9.  You RUN and try to relax.

Then we ran through St. Jude's.  My goodness.  I tried hard to be PRESENT for this.  This was why we were here, after all.  They were loud, happy, many wrapped like little eskimos with beanies covering their cute little heads with little to no hair.  They loved it... I loved them back as best I could and tried to forget my seemingly unimportant "struggle" that was taking place. (compared to the the daily struggle these little angels endure)  And as quickly as I went through, I was OUT the other side and to the 10mi mark.  I hit 10mi in about 1:10:30, and again that was still "on pace".  That was right where I needed to be but I was FEELING IT.  I was hurting already.  Already?  What in the world..... I still had 10 miles before the "halfway point" at 20 miles where I should have ACTUALLY started hurting pretty good.   

I took another gel, swallowed hard, and fought my way up and down several rollers on a main through street.  Bands... cheering.... funny signs.... I've seen it all a hundred times but I could NOT connect with any of it.  I couldn't even connect with my own body.  I couldn't make my brain and my legs connect and at this point I was having a hard time even connecting my heart to the race.  I knew I wasn't focused anymore.  I didn't have that calm, smooth, effortless rhythm that I had back in October when I smirked my way past 18 miles and then crushed the rest with everything I had. 

I went through mile 12 with a 7:46 mile, and then the half-marathon point in about 1:34, high.  But, that 7:46 was a turning point.  7:46???  "What is going on.. what am I doing", I muttered to myself past sporadic and heavy breathing.   I saw a familiar face on the sidelines in Mark S., from St. Louis... he cheered and we made eye contact.  I had seen him on Beale street too and it was great to be in good company.  That gave me a tiny jolt at mile 12, again.  It was what I needed mentally, but my body simply couldn't respond.  I was walking now... WALKING, at mile 13.  Halfway.  Losing time.  Then the 3:10 pace group BLEW by me... I got a quick pep-talk from another STL face who passed me and said, "It's NOT OVER!!  It is NOT over Luke... let's GO!".  I tried to go with her... I picked up the pace and surged ahead, and immediately stopped to walk again.  I just... couldn't go.  I was mentally done, and physically losing steam very very fast.

At mile 14 I approached the aid station (right next to where I was parked).  I stopped in the middle of the road, both hands on my hips, looked at the ground, looked ahead, looked behind me, then back up the road.  It felt like I stood there for an eternity.  Then, as if my body was making the decision for me, I turned to my right and walked off the course.  I stood there on the sidewalk for a second, stunned.  I couldn't hear anything.  It was so quiet, or maybe I "went somewhere else" for a second and just shut the world out.  I stood bent over with my hands on my knees, staring at my shoes for about a full minute.  I stood up, walked across the road and starting walking up the sidewalk back towards the cut-through street to the start/finish area.  I was emotionally numb, physically spent, and freezing cold.  I had never abandoned a race before.  I had never "quit" ANYTHING... ever.  It was official now.  I was off the course and there was NO going back.  

I know I could have finished.... I could have slowed down, jogged, walked, SLOGGED to the finish line with my body temperature dropping and muscles tightening up.  But, I've done that before, and the result was a brutal near-4hr finish in the cold and an IT band injury that lasted for nearly 4 months.  I couldn't afford that...I didn't WANT that.  For the first time in a long time, "finishing" wasn't what the day was about.  I know I can finish anything I want to finish, and I had nothing to prove to myself.  I went all in.  I went for it.  I had a goal and I WENT. AFTER. IT.  That's all there is somedays.  I stopped trying to rationalize with myself internally and I just let myself FEEL.  I didn't know what to think...but I know what I FELT.  

I finally got into the stadium where the finish area was, wrapped myself in a space blanket and sat down on the infield grass.  My watch said 1:55, and was still ticking.  I let it go.  I just couldn't push "stop".  I knew Laura was out there on the course but had no idea how she was doing.  I waited, talked to a couple other people... and then fixed my eyes on the corner where marathoners were coming around and down the final straight away to the finish.  I watched the clock tick for an entire hour straight... my watch still running.  I won't publicly steal her thunder about the details of her race but I saw her fly around the corner, looked at the clock and saw her CRUUUSH  that finish line.  YES!!!  We hugged, and laughed, and I lamented for a second, but then we were on a mission to find her dad, keys, gear, phones and get WARM. 

It was an odd feeling to walk away from the race with NO result.  No time.  No finish.  No medal.  No nothing.  I could tell I had immediately started to repress it like it never happened at all.  I almost didn't believe that it HAD.  I didn't WANT to believe it.  But it was true.  It was a dose of honesty in the purest and most physically raw way.  It just, wasn't my day.   

I wouldn't have survived this experience without great company, encouragement, and relaxing perspective for the hours following the race as I said my goodbyes and drove the 4.5 hours back to St. Louis.  The weekend itself was a BLAST and it was a time I'll never ever forget.  I can't even describe how much it meant to me.     

It has been an incredible YEAR.  I cannot be more thankful to my wife Beth for being the ultimate wife, and RUNNER'S wife at that.  From making pasta on Friday nights because she knows I need Carbs, to understanding me being gone every Saturday morning until breakfast for long runs, to dealing with sick kids while I travel and race, to being an encouraging fire of love and understanding when I come home from a very disappointing experience..... I LOVE that woman more than words can describe and I wouldn't be where I am today without her support.  She is my rock. 

And to my team mates...  My other "rocks".   This year of running and banding together as STL Slayers, long distance pals, daily encouragers, listening ears, venting partners.... you make it POSSIBLE.  You make the passion that I have become a PURPOSE and you help me keep my dreams alive and on fire. 

And to my friends... you know I'm crazy.  Thanks for embracing it and keeping me grounded and connected. 

And to Hammer Nutrition.....  what a year.... just wait for next year :)

My 2015 Goals post is coming soon.... they've been written and waiting in the wings for over a month. 


LET'S....  GO. 



Thursday, November 20, 2014

Stay Calm, Hammer on

It's COLD now.

Well November is headed for a close shortly here and winter temps have finally set in. It's been a decent last month or two of training, but certainly not ideal. I really have no complaints though. I'm doing what I love and I've been trying to ramp back up for another big 26.2 attempt in Memphis. 16 days. 16..... DAYS. I'm definitely dealing with some mechanical issues, even though fitness and speed are there. It's not something I can FIX before Memphis so I'm gonna be a taped up warrior come race day, and we'll see what I can throw down.

I know I still have work to do, so I don't want to talk TOO much about "next year" or allow myself to wind down just yet. But I will say that I am very excited for the things to come. VERY. I latched onto another level this year and I even caught a glimpse of what the level beyond that might look like. It's possible. Big things are possible. There's a lot I want to get out of next year and a lot of building and strengthening that needs to be done over the winter in order to have the kind of structure my body needs to support what's about to go down next year. I'll save my "goals" post for another time.

In the meantime, as the temps drop I've been heading indoors to get workouts in on the treadmill. There is a nice fitness center at the Four Seasons Hotel where I work and it is a great perk to be able to use the facilities as needed. I don't have MUCH time in the early AM's since I get to my desk at 7am, but I have ENOUGH time to get in a solid run, some work on the legs, core, etc... before I have to shut it down. I survived last winter almost exclusively indoors like this, and I'm prepared to do it again this year as well. There will be no excuse to arrive at February/March lacking strength when I have a full circuit of equipment at my finger tips.

Heading into Memphis in just a few short weeks I'm excited. I can't LIE and say I'm not a little anxious about the problems I'm having with my mechanics. There's always the "What if I get to mile 10 and my IT band lights up?", "What if my achilles is shot by the halfway mark?", "what if these last 3 weeks of wonkiness messed up my taper and I'm gonna feel like a slug on race day??". There's alwayyyyyyyyys these doubts. But, I had the same doubts before Cowbell and after having a stellar day out there I vowed to never again let those thoughts CONTROL me. I'm addressing them, but I'm staying as calm as I possibly can. STAY CALM. That's my mantra right now. There's nothing I can do about the little things that aren't perfect besides work on them, and then suck it up for race day.

I am EXCITED though, as I said. I'm ready to give it another shot and end my 2014 season by leaving it all out there. You just never know. I'll be proud of my year and focused on the next, either way.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Thank you, may I have another (?)

Marathons are hard you guys.  That's why I'm doing another one right away (?)

It has been 3 weeks since I had the race of my life at Mo Cowbell.  There's really no way around it... marathons are HARD.  I'd love to be one of those guys that is out jogging and doing drills the day after a marathon and feeling great, but, I'm just not.  As quickly as I THINK I should be able to bounce back from a hard effort like that, I'm always a bit humbled for a few solid weeks after. 

My body has been bouncing back though.  Slowly but surely my legs feel more and more sure underneath me.  It feels like the rust has been washed off my joints a bit and I "remember" how to run again.  That's a tad dramatic but mentally speaking that's where I've been.  I took 8 days off after the race and then slowly started easing back in.  Low miles, low intensity, days off, lots of "rehab".

I knew going into the fall that I wanted more than 1 chance to run either a PR "A race", and/or a Boston Qualifier time at 3:05, so I put the St. Jude's Memphis Marathon on the calendar back in August.  You never know what your body is going to give you on race day and I wanted a plan B for for just in case Cowbell didn't go well. I wanted this race last year too but I signed up too late.  Its tough going into the winter "break" after a lousy race.  It feels like a "fail" and it's mentally hard to "thighburnate" (take time off) when you have to much junk to wade through up top.  So I put Memphis in my back pocket just in case.  But, Cowbell DID go was as much of an A-race as I could have hoped for on that given day.  No, I didn't qualify for Boston, but I made a HUGE leap in the right direction and went into that 8 days of recover with a mental FIRE burning. (Even thinking into next year.... OH the things I have planned for NEXT year.. BWAHAHA)

Fast forward a few weeks.  I've been feeling out a few aches and pains but getting back into the training routine as best I can.  Working core almost every night is giving me a routine mindset and a focus on being strong and fit for a 2nd attempt at 26.2 here in 39 days.  HOLY COW MEMPHIS IS IN 39 DAYS.  Sorry... I'm good.  For real.

So what is the goal for Memphis?  Well, that's a great question considering the fact that I don't exactly know the answer quite yet.  I mean, on the one hand a BQ time is THE goal, right?  But on the other hand, running solid races, celebrating a big PR from October, and running it with great friends is what it's all about.  It really is and really should be.  I am realistic about what it means to have only 9wks between two hard efforts like that and I know that MY body may not have two A-race days in it in that time frame. 

BUT, didn't I also doubt what "my body had" before Cowbell too? Yep.  I did.  Mega doubt.  Annoying doubt.  Irrational and unprofessional doubt.  And that day was incredible.  You get where I'm going with this.  Why shouldn't my goal for Memphis be to have another incredible day, riding on the wings of lingering fitness and another mini-peak training block?  There's no reason why I can't.  So, without defining some sort of concrete, minutes and seconds goal for Memphis, I'd like to say that my goal is to manage my mind and body well until race day and do everything I can (the things I can control) to have another GOOD race. 

I can't define "Good race" as only being a PR.  For me this race has other factors and other nuances that I want to enjoy.  There's a team aspect to it and a newness in that I have never been to Memphis or run on this course before.  There will be lots to take in, lots to enjoy.  I want to ENJOY this sport, even during the long phases of intensity and desire to always be better and faster.  So, yes, you might find me with some game-face these next few weeks as I prepare again, but I hope more often than not you find me rocking the smirk of enjoyment in doing what I love to do.  More soon you guys...      

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

PR Day - 3:06:26

Wow.  Pretty much just, wow. 

This year culminated into one massive effort this last Sunday as I toed the line at the MO' Cowbell Marathon here in St. Charles, MO.  You know the story, you know the struggles, you know the anxiety-ridden ansty-pants I was leading up to this race.  I didn't have anything to PROVE really...but I had a lot that I wanted to accomplish, BADLY. I've talked about Boston Qualifier times (mine needs to be 3:05, I've talked about wanting to break 3:10, I've talked about just learning to be satisfied with the result if my effort level is 'everything I have'.  You KNOW the story.  I know the story.  Race day was upon me either way.....

I got to the starting line feeling fairly fresh, but uncertain of what my legs would really have. I think that's how we all feel, but, somehow taper time had made me feel out of touch with the effort level I would need to put out in order to really break through some barriers.  I spotted my friends and team mates towards the front of the pack and we 'hugged it out' hard.  I lined up with the 7-7:30/mi crews, closed my eyes and bowed my head for the National Anthem and then took a few big deep breaths as the horn sounded. 

The first 2-4 miles I was finding a rhythm and choosing what felt best.  I wanted a 1:35 half marathon to start (7:15 pace) and sitting behind a few tall runners and 'drafting' off their rhythm landed me right in that range.  First 5 splits in 7:12, 7:07, 7:11, 7:07, 7:08....  I started to feel a bit of a relaxed stride and I started to let go of the "I wonder if my legs have anything" and I started to latch onto "I wonder how MUCH my legs have of THIS, and I wonder how long I'll feel this decent".  It's a gamble and it's a game of mental trickery.  When the body feels good you want to GO... but with 21 miles left that's an insane plan.  So I settled in, shook out the arms, and relaxed everything.

Miles 6, 7, 8 went through New Town neighborhoods and was probably the most crowd-centric spot on the whole course.  The course also doubles back on itself and a small riverwalk type canal that cuts through the little city of Newtown seperates you from your friends who are coming out as you're headed 'back'.  I looked for buddies, pointed, yelled across the water... the crowd, photographers, etc.. forced my pace a little and those 3 miles went in 6:59, 6:58, 6:59.  Sub 7's and I wasn't working for it... I felt relaxed.  I felt fairly quick on my feet, and I felt like I was started to regain control of my body and what I was able to put out.  That's a great feeling. 

Miles 9, 10, 11 were interesting!  I saw Jeanne S. and Libby on the side cheering as I started a little climb at 9 before the only real "HILL" on the course, which is most of mile 10 as it climbs up a long outer-road grade.  I had spotted a professional looking girl up ahead who was running VERY smooth and even paced behind two guys who were setting her pace, so I moved up and latched onto their group, knowing the hill at 10 was right around the corner.  As we turned for the hill the two big guys dropped off and the girl I was following looked around, freaked out a bit, and yelled back to me "Did I miss it?! Did I miss the cutoff for the half??! I think I need to go back!"  I bounded up ahead of her and reassured her it was still ahead.  I patted my hip as if to say, "C'mon, let's go, stick with me up this hill and I'll get you to the finish line. (she was running the half marathon)  She settled in behind and next thing I knew we were all the way up the hill and rolling FAST down the other side.  I looked at my Garmin and current pace showed 6:40 so I motioned to her that I needed to back off and save it... but gave the high-five of "go go go!  Finish strong!".

I swooped down the huge hill around the corner and split off left onto the packed gravel Katy Trail as the other runners split right to finish the half marathon.  My race was just beginning.  I saw my Dad at mile 13 and he was shooting some pics but also waiting as planned to give me a handheld bottle filled with water and Perpetuem (by Hammer Nutrition).  That bottle was JUST what I needed.  My Dad yelled, "1:34, you're right on pace!  Let's go!".  I was still feeling pretty but I downed that bottle over the next 3 miles as I headed for 16 in.  Miles 12, 13, 14, 15, 16 went in 7:00, 6:54, 7:06, 7:05, 7:03. 

I was feeling strong but started to work.  I could see that I was 2.5 minutes ahead of my 3:10 pace bracelet and I KNEW I had a great shot.  I also knew I still had 10 miles left.  10 MILES.  I couldn't think about it.. I said outloud to myself in the middle of nowhere, all by myself, "Just get to 20.. you know you can run 4 miles, RELAX.. SAVE something for 20... this is YOUR DAY.  GO."  I played the surge game over the next 4 miles and kept finding myself running in the 6:50 range before I'd yell at myself to slow down.  I'd say, "NOT yet... save it" what seemed like 60 times in those 4 miles.

Miles 17, 18,19, 20 went in 7:00, 7:01, 7:07, 6:49.  What?  6:49?  Something was happening out there.  I was starting to feel the fatigue and I knew I was WORKING, but no matter how gassed I felt at any one point, I was still hitting splits and still rolling along fairly quickly.  20 miles in 2:20...I can do math.  I DID the math.  I was nearing 4 minutes ahead of 3:10 pace at this point.  Do the math right now yourself...... 3:10 minus 4 mintes meant ONE THING....  Boston was within reach.  It was at this point that I decided I needed to really go for it.  I could have relaxed and settled a bit this last 10k but I was in, I was committed, and I was ready to go waaaaay into the pain cave to try to snag a BQ that all of a sudden was right in my face and possibly within reach. 

I could feel the steady energy from that Perpetuem still in my legs but my mechanics were starting to really hurt at this point.  Joints, muscles, little things.. it all hurt.  I could feel a few spots that were potential cramps welling up every so slightly, but a quick brisk walk past a water table to chug 3 cups helped calm that down a bit.  I picked the pace back up and surprisingly STILL wasn't losing any time.  Miles 21, 22, 23 went in 7:10, 7:12, 7:09.... this is where I cramped bad last year and lost time.  That's ALL I could think about.  But something else was happening.  I was passing people left and right.  I was latching on, pulling away, looking back and they were gone.  At mile 23 I said outloud, "You can do this... you can run a 5k ANYDAY.. 5k left...

I hit 24 miles in 2:50.  Again, I did the math.  Holy COW it was still within reach.  2.2 miles in 15 minutes would be TOUGH to close out a marathon but I knew it was still possible.  I was laboring, grunting, wincing, grimacing... race face was in full affect.  All at once the day was catching up with my body and my 'engine' really went into the red zone at this point.  Everything in me wanted to stop, but MORE than everything in me knew that every second on the clock from this point in mattered.  Every stride... I took a couple deep breaths and tried to relax my form.  I felt myself speed up a bit...but it HURT.  Miles 24, 25 in 7:17, 7:20... the slowest miles of the day so far, but I hit the 1 mi to go mark in 2:58.  1 measley mile stood between me and 3:05... plus the .2 at the end, and let's be real for a second.. that .2 takes TIME.  I was starting to tunnel vision a bit.. tingly fingers, mini cramps in the calf...

I kept glancing at my watch and seeing it tick by.. 3:03... 3:04... it slipped past 3:05 as I saw the last turn towards the last 400 meters in sight.  I rounded the corner, saw the finishing banner and starting to sprint. Every last shred of what I had was now in play.. my left quad and calf immediately cramped hard, so I compensated and grit my teeth.  Then my right hamstring went.. locked up.. I somehow ran through it, saw my Dad.. saw the clock..through a blurred haze I saw 3:06 and knew I had really smashed this one.  I hit the finish line and sort of collapsed into some volunteers arms as they helped me walk over to the side.  Big hugs from John B. and my Dad as I immediately started to mentally celebrate what had just happened. 

The morning was a bit of a blur...but, there was also a new-found clarity to it.  I realized that I had more control over my outcome than I was giving my mind and body credit for.  I realized that you can't deny the months and months of work that goes into this even when doubt creeps in those last few weeks before race day.  I realized that every cycle is going to have small pains, tweeks, freakouts, etc... but it is only when you're able to get to the starting line with a plan, a focus, and a willingness to push to a place you've never been before that great things can happen. 

It was a breakthrough day.... but I'm still not done yet. 

Monday, September 22, 2014

Calm your SPLITS

It's Monday morning, 13 days out from race day.  *Insert silent, internal freakout*

Just kidding.  I'm not freaking out.  It is officially "taper time" but I'm hoping to not fall off the train like what tends to happen during this time.  Let's be honest, I'd LOVE to consider myself a "veteran" at this point.  I'd love to say that I'm past the internal freakouts, that I'm past the mental war of thinking my body isn't ready, etc..  I AM a veteran, I've been doing this a long time, but there are mental aspects that are nearly unavoidable when you prepare to put your body through what it is about to go through.  But for the most part, business as usual today as I start the next 2 weeks of taper.

I was MEGA inspired this weekend.  Between watching our American distance runners crush it around the country and being present in spirit for my good friends and team mates while they crushed it, I had no option but to be filled with joy and pride!  When you train with people (even long distance) all year long, it is such a rush to see them do well and set the bar high.  It gives me courage and hope that I will be able to produce the kind of result I'm hoping for on race day.  Soooo, what AM I hoping for on race day?  GREAT QUESTION.

I'm not necessarily prepared to publicly proclaim every aspect of what I'm hoping for on race day, BUT, there are some specifics that I think are going to be very important when I get rolling on that Sunday morning.  Let's talk it out:

1.) My first 13.1 mile split need to allow room for a negative split. PERIOD.  I get caught up in the race moments just like everyone else, and with a flat marathon it's easy to go out thinking, "Hey, I'll just bank some time up front and even if I suffer on the back half I'll still come out ahead.  WRONG. It doesn't work that way.  Last year at this race I ran 1:36 for the opening half and lost a bunch of time between 23-26 with cramps. I think 1:36 is a great first half for me, so that's my goal again this year.

2.) My thought process on true MP (Marathon pace) needs to back UP a bit.  All year I've had 6:50 on the brain for MP.  I believe it's real, I know it's in my body, I know that would give me a sub 3 hour marathon, or close.  BUT, according to how I trained this year and what I truly believe my body is capable of right NOW, an MP of 7:10-7:15 is more reasonable and attainable. Afterall, if my above statement of 1:36 first half is true, 7:15 pace gets me a 1:35 first half.  I need to realize that and honor that, and NOT go out the first half in 1:32 (which my body is VERY capable of doing)  It's hard, but dying out there at mile 20 is MUCH harder, and I'd obviously like to keep suffering to a minimum :) 

3.) My mindset at the start needs to be joyful, calm, and PATIENT.  I get too serious.  I get too tense.  I clinch my jaw and stare off into the distance like I'm about to murder somebody.  I think this is a raw aspect of mental preparation, but, it doesn't lend itself to a relaxed settling of the mind and body from the start.  For a 5k where it's 18 minutes of pure madness, sure... get  your warrior paint on.  But I know personally, for ME, I need to stop and smell the roses a bit.  Like, literally I might find some roses and actually stop before the gun goes off to smell them.  You get the picture.

4.)  My nutrition needs to be realistic and SPOT ON.   I know what works.  I've been using Hammer Nutrition products for almost a decade now on and off, and certainly 100% this last year, and I KNOW what works for me.  I have a fueling plan, and I need to be real about it and not think I can 'go without' for any extended period of time during race day.  It needs to be consistent and it needs to be a huge focus if I'm going to avoid losing time to cramps late in the race.

That's about it... I need a top 4 to focus on instead of drowning in constant introspection during race day.  I know all the little marathon do's and don'ts, but I think having a core block of top focuses will help.  And from the one and only Josh Cox (50k American Record Holder, US Marathoner), his advice rings true and simple in my head: "When you feel good early in the race DON'T pick up the pace". 

Alrighty then, my 'splits' have been calmed and my plan has been set.  Now it's time to be sane and under control these next two weeks.