Friday, December 31, 2010

2010 In Review

What's a good way to make a return to the blog I've been neglecting for weeks now? How about an obligatory look back at the year gone by?

I set out this year with the goal of writing with some regularity. I think I did pretty well the first half of the year, but not so much the second. Excuses range from personal issues to not making time, but in the end that's just what they are - excuses. In 2011 I'll be giving it another try, this time trying to lighten things up a bit and finding more subjects that will appeal to those that read this. Looking at my Google Analytics it's easy to see an entry I posted back in May about my Adidas AdiZero Mana running shoes was far and away the most popular of the year. I'll never compete with Pete Larsen over at Runblogger, but perhaps product reviews are something I can focus on a little more.

My 2010 BHAG (Big Hair Audacious Goal) was to qualify for the Boston Marathon, and unfortunately I didn't achieve it. I did take some valuable lessons away from my first marathon experience, however, and will continue my pursuit. I haven't committed to a specific race yet, but another is definitely in my future.

Shortcomings aside, I did accomplish quite a bit in 2010 that I'm pleased with. I set PRs at every distance, as you can see from the sidebar on the left of this page. Of all those races I'm most proud of the half marathon I ran in October. Even though the course was short by approximately a quarter mile I exceeded my expectations by a long shot, averaging a 7:01 pace throughout the race. It was one of those days where everything came together.

I'm also happy with how my training went this year. My annual mileage jumped significantly from 1,117 miles in 2009 to 1,778 in 2010. I've come a long way since I started tracking my miles back in 2008, when I ran only 632! What surprised me the most, though, was completing Hal Higdon's Advanced II Training Plan. Not only did it prepare me for my marathon, but finishing it was its own milestone.

Separate from performance-related events, I'll most remember 2010 for the people I've come to know through social networks Twitter and dailymile. There are too many influential, inspiring people to list, but Greg and Joe are a couple that quickly come to mind. As for real life, I enjoyed meeting Mark at the Mercedes Half Marathon way back in February, John at the Montgomery Half and Mike over in Columbus, GA. I also met Logan and Gordon at the Chickamauga Battlefield Marathon. But the standout was definitely Andy, who found me at the Midnight Express in August and joined me for a long run the following morning on just a couple of hours sleep.

So, so long 2010. It's been a year of challenges, ups and downs. Now onward to 2011!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Chickamauga Battlefield Marathon - Final Thoughts

I've probably written more than enough about this marathon experience, but I've had two days now to process it and here are some final thoughts.

My legs started feeling better today, but I'm wondering why they haven't bounced back quicker. It's probably not a good idea to compare myself with others, but I was amazed that Gordon said his "Legs feel great!!!" the very next day. The thought of going for a 20-mile bike ride on Sunday was inconceivable. Did he do something different? Is it genetics? Training? Diet?

Yesterday I finished reading Again to Carthage, John L. Parker, Jr.'s follow up to Once a Runner. There's a part in the story where the protagonist, Quentin Cassidy, recognizes a competitor's pain and cramping during the later miles of a marathon. This paragraph caused me question my theory of hydration being responsible for cramping at mile 19.

They ran in silence, Cassidy empathizing, unable to help. He remembered Denton's lecture: "In the marathon you can get cramps almost anytime. They're not like the ones we used to get toward the end of hot-weather workouts, not based on electrolyte depletion. I got them halfway through my 2:15 when I picked up the pace suddenly. They're usually in the hamstrings, sometimes the calves or quads. You're over your anaerobic threshold, but just barely. You start generating ketones from burning fat without enough oxygen, the ketones start circulating, confusing your synapses, causing them to misfire. You cramp. Joe Vigil laid it out for me. The thing is not to panic. They feel pretty bad for a while, and you may think you're done for, but they'll go away if you back off a bit and run them out."

I didn't pick up the pace suddenly and I know I didn't take in enough fluids, so I'm still pretty certain my problem was dehydration. However, I'm going to see if I can learn more about the ketones and if there's anything that can be proactively done to manage their generation.

Lastly, I recalled some of the mental aspects of the race. I remember how confident I felt miles 13-18. I'd completed over half the course at that point and was feeling really good about my chances of meeting my goal. I felt strong and in control. And then I remember the spirit draining out of me at mile 19 when I had to stop. Looking at my Garmin and knowing it wasn't a training run. Knowing I couldn't just stop it for a couple of minutes while I dealt with my injury. It sounds melodramatic when I type it, but running into the unknown and having all you've worked for for 18 weeks taken away is a humbling experience. No, it's not the end of the world. It no longer consumed me after I crossed the finish line, but in that instant it was crushing.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Chickamauga Battlefield Marathon - Race Report

I suppose I deserve to be humbled. Was it foolish to think I could qualify for Boston on my first marathon attempt? I don't think so, but it's hard to argue with the results.

After a long, cold wait in line for the port-o-lets I just barely managed to get back to my car, put on my Garmin and jog over to the starting line. With only a few minutes to spare I spoke to the 3:20 pacer and told him of my intent to stay with him for at least the first few miles. He said his plan was execute even splits the entire race. I also was fortunate to spy Logan and Gordon. We didn't get to chat long, but Logan and I did spend some quality time grimacing at one another out on the course.

The cannon went off and around Barnhardt Circle we went. I tried staying with the pacer, but he was jogging at about a 8:30/mile pace. After only a quarter mile I'd abandoned my plan and decided to stretch it out a bit. Despite that sounding like a bad idea, I thought I managed to keep myself under control, taking my time ramping it up to my marathon pace of 7:30/mile.

As you can see from my splits I was a little too quick miles 3-5. I kept a close eye on my Garmin as my average pace dropped down into the range I was looking for, but I should have spread that out over a few more miles. I'm not sure it hurt me in the long run, but this marks lesson # 1.

I'm most happy, of course, with miles 6-17. As much as I've struggled with my pace runs during this training program it's nice to see how consistent I was. The only real mistake I made during this time was at mile 11 when I missed a turn where the half and full split off. I got distracted at the water stand and had to double back when course workers started shouting at me. I think I lost maybe 10-15 seconds.

At around the 18-mile mark you can see where I started to slow a little. All of a sudden I started to notice twinges in my legs if I didn't land just so. It was a gradual uphill section of the course, so I didn't give it much thought figuring I'd make up time on the other side.

I had just crossed the 19-mile mark and was coming up on an intersection full of spectators. Out of nowhere my left hamstring cramped and I had to immediately stop to ward off a charlie horse. I stretched it for about a minute and then tried to run on it again, but was forced to the side one more time. Muttering and cursing I stretched it some more and then somehow got going again.

It surprises me to look at miles 21-23 and see that my pace was in the high 8s, low 9s. I was in a world of hurt and moving just to make it to the next water station. When I got to the first one I took a cup of water, and that's when I realized how little was actually in it. That's right, damn it. The cup was half empty. I'm intentionally being a pessimist here purely for your amusement.

The last three miles were excruciating. At the last water station I came to a stop and took two cups of Powerade and a cup of water. I was praying it would get me through the last few miles, but it wasn't enough. My calves were seizing up, my toes were curling in my shoes and I was actually trying to kick in front of me on each stride in an attempt to keep the hams from clenching again.

Me at 26.15 miles
At the 24-mile mark I stopped to walk again and was assisted by an on-course aid. She offered a bottle of Gatorade and some salt tabs, and told me twice that a bus was just around the corner if I wanted a ride back. I told her I'd rather crawl, but fortunately it didn't come to that. She never could find the salt tab in her bag, so I limped on as best I could.

Miles 25 and 26 I alternated between walking and running. Being acquainted with the course I knew I was almost home and made sure to jog the last quarter mile. True to her word, I couldn't miss Hilary. I rounded the corner to the last straightaway and there she was holding a huge sign with my name on it. I somehow managed a smile, though it probably looked like a smirk. Out of the corner of my eye I could see her sprinting across the field to set up for a photo. To the left you'll see one she took that's easily better than 99% of the professional race photos I've seen. You almost can't tell that I'm about to collapse.

I crossed the finish line and was greeted by Dave with a hug. For a myriad of reasons I had to pull away from him and just collapse on the nearby curb. After a couple of minutes I composed myself and looked up to see Hilary, Kym, Dave, Barb and Justin around me. They offered comfort and a few bottles of water, which was all I needed at that point. I was still in a stupor, but it was nice to be surrounded by such good friends. You know, the kind that will stand there patiently waiting for you to say something. Anything. We took a few photos and then slowly split up as I went looking for food.

In the end I finished with a chip time of 3:45:36 and gun time of 3:45:41. I placed 84th out of 502 finishers, and 18th out of 72 in my age group. I didn't achieve my goal, but will take lessons away from the race and make another attempt. When, I'm not yet sure.

Speaking of lessons. You've heard of oxygen debt? Well, if the term hydration debt hasn't been coined yet, I'm taking credit for it. Even though I took water at every station, I should have taken more. At some stations the cups were barely half full, and I believe not getting enough water was ultimately responsible for my breakdown. By the time I realized it I couldn't get water in me fast enough to compensate for all I'd lost, and never was able to recover. Lesson # 2. Walk through each station and make sure to get at least one full cup of water. If it's not full, get another. Sure, I might lose 5-10 seconds every couple of miles, but that's a lot better than losing 5-10 minutes.

Finally, lesson # 3 is to strengthen my calves and quads more. I think I took my strength routine a little too lightly in these departments, and could do a better job conditioning them.

In closing, I think I was capable of meeting my goal today had it not been for the dehydration. I never felt like I'd hit "the wall," and believe that even though my pace might have slowed I still would have come in under 3:20. I suppose there's only one way to find out.


Friday, November 12, 2010

Chickamauga Battlefield Marathon - The Taper

It is Saturday, November 6th, and I am knee deep in the tapering period of my training for the Chickamauga Battlefield Marathon being held one week from today. No more hill sprints or speed to work to speak of, and tomorrow's "long run" of 8 miles sounds like a joke.

I've experienced pre-race anxiety before, but not quite like this. This is my first marathon, and there are more unknowns than usual. What if this, what if that? And one thing that's been surprisingly difficult to cope with has been the reminders I hear from those I'm fortunate enough to have supporting me. BQ! I blame myself, of course. After all, I'm the one that foolishly proclaimed my intent to qualify for the Boston Marathon back in April.

Today I sit here wanting to tune out the encouragement I've so appreciated the past few months. I've put enough pressure on myself already. To accomplish this I've decided to stop visiting one of my favorite sites, dailymile. It's not that I don't want to share my thought process or training updates. If I didn't I wouldn't be writing this blog post. It's just that right now I feel I need to focus. Inward. Be selfish, if you will. What does suck is that I already miss interacting with so many good people. Reading about your workouts and being apart of such a great online community.

 creative commons credit: psd
I do want to thank everyone that's supported me the past 18 weeks. From those who have no idea how long a marathon is, to fellow runners that know what it takes to get from there to here. I especially want to thank Hilary, James, Andy and Greg. Each of them in their own way have played a vital part in getting me through this training.

Finally, I'm dedicating this marathon to a very special person, Kym. This marathon represents the final step in a journey she helped me begin and follow to completion. If it weren't for her it's doubtful any of this would ever have happened. Thank you for motivating me and, more importantly, inspiring me, Kym. I am eternally grateful.

I intend to publish this post before I go to sleep on Friday night. I'll have enough things to worry about before I leave for the race on Saturday morning. I'll update it daily throughout the week and try to treat it like a series of dailymile posts. To kick things off, here's a quick status update.

Physically I'm feeling pretty good. With the decrease in mileage this week it's felt like a wave slowly washing over me. I'd reached that state of perpetual tiredness and soreness the weeks leading up to this one, and now those aches and fatigue are dissipating. My legs feel fresher than they have in months, and it no longer hurts to get up out of a chair. My only concern is an injury that's been with me for 3-4 weeks. It started out as what I thought was a lower abdominal strain. From there it made its way down to my hip flexor, and now it's moved even farther south to my groin. It's not painful, but during a run feels tight. Post run there's a mild burning sensation that extends down the inside of my thigh to my knee. Will it be healed in a week, and if not will it affect my race? Time will tell.

Mentally, well, you know know by now I'm a bit of a mess. I still think I'm capable of achieving my goal, but worry about the things I can't control. I worry about the wall, injury, illness, cramping, etc. So, I'll carbo load in the coming days, routinely wash my hands like a crack fiend with OCD, and do my best not to let the unknown consume me.

T-7, Saturday, November 6
4.03 miles, 30:06, 7:28/mi avg

I ran four miles in about 30 minutes flat. Hal said he didn't care how fast I did the workout, so I just started out slow and ramped it up from there. What I liked about this run was the the overall average pace: 7:28/mile. I've been a little concerned about the start of the marathon, going out too fast and/or not going out fast enough. If I can replicate this run over the first four miles of the marathon and then settle into my race pace of 7:30/mile I'll be ecstatic. The temp was 33°, which was, hopefully, a little cooler than what we'll get on race day. Still, I was pretty comfortable in shorts, a long-sleeve tech shirt and pullover. I'd just prefer to keep it to one layer.

T-6, Sunday, November 7
8.11 miles, 1:09:29, 8:34/mi avg.

Today marked the last "long run" on the training schedule. At only 8 miles it was the shortest since week # 3 of my training. Hal once again counseled to keep the pace a minute or two slower than marathon pace, so I did. I ran through the Brookstone, Silver Hills and Overlook neighborhoods, much as I have the past couple of months. There was a pretty steady wind coming out of the northwest, but it wasn't awful. This was one run I wished I had brought along an iPod. I could have used the distraction. Anyway, still feeling pretty good. All showered and shaved, and now enjoying some steel cut oats with strawberries for breakfast. It's the first time I've ever made them, and they're not too bad.

Note 1: I just shelled out $4.99 to Universal Sports in order to watch the New York City Marathon. It said that fee would give me access to multiple feeds. Instead, after I paid I got an Asics commercial and then a black screen saying "Competition will resume shortly." Um, what happened? Did everyone pull over at the side of the road for a breather? Ugh!

Note 2: Crap. Just as I got the feed Haile pulled out with a knee injury.

Note 3: Disappointing to see Shalane fade at mile 24, but impressive to see her battle to the finish and take second. And even though an American male didn't place, it was still fun to watch Gebre Gebremariam pull away the last couple of miles and enjoy his victory. A contrast in comparison to the women's winner, Edna Kiplagat, who barely showed any emotion.

T-5, Monday, November 8

One of the first things I've been doing the past few days the moment I wake up is check the 10-day forecast for Chickamauga. I didn't put much stock in it 10 days out, but days 7, 6 and today the prediction hasn't changed. Low of around 43° on race morning with a 30% chance of showers. Unless it's a downpour, which seems unlikely, it should be ok.

My choices this morning were to take an additional rest day or run 3 miles in the 32° temperature. I chose the former for a couple of reasons. First, it hardly seemed worth getting out there for just 3 miles when it's this cold out, and second because I figured my groin injury could use the morning off. Besides, it's not like I won't be doing anything today. I'll hit the gym later for a strength and core workout.

I'm trying to heed Hal's eating advice and not consume too much this last week. I don't weigh all that much, but at this weight I can tell the difference a pound or two makes. Since I'm not running as much I've cut down on my portions and effective today will not be allowing myself cookies, candy, etc. That last part won't be easy, but my mental makeup will ensure I follow through. When I set my mind to something like this I know I'll comply.

Weights Workout

I think this is the last weights workout I do before the marathon. The next regularly scheduled one would be on Thursday, and since I should be resting from Wednesday on it's probably best to skip it. If I do anything it will be restricted to upper body. I hope I've pushed myself enough in this department to make a difference come race day. I'm no infomercial model, but it's kind of cool to see the definition on my abs.

2x12: Chest Press (120), Lat Pulldowns (90), Leg Curls (90), Leg Extensions (75), Calf Raises (120), Arm Curls (55), Diverging Seated Row (75)
6x30: Abdominal Crunches (90)

T-4, Tuesday, November 9
3.14 miles, 28:56, 9:12/mi avg

Who knew getting in a 4x400 workout could be a challenge at this point? The plan called for these intervals to be run at a 5k pace. I actually had to look that up to see what it meant. Apparently, my pace should have been around 6:46/mile, though in reality it was all over the place. It's been so long since I've raced a 5k and I've grown so accustomed to 800m intervals that I didn't know how to do it.

My first interval was - as my daughter would say - an epic fail. I'm sure I'm supposed to spell that in some quirky, ironic fashion, but that'll have to do. Since I've run intervals in this neighborhood before I thought I had a good idea how far 400m would be. But the light on my Garmin never turned on. Finally, I just stopped and found that instead of hitting my lap button to start the intervals I had pressed the start/stop button. Argh. I took a short breather, started the watch again and then pressed lap.

My first official split pace was 5:47/mile. Yikes! Way too fast. Hal said I should be taking it easy and come away from this workout feeling like I could do a lot more. So, I slowed things down and my next split was 6:23! Still too fast! On my third one I did better - only 6:54 this time, but the last one I still went too fast at 6:21.

Oh well. It's in the books and I don't (yet) feel any worse for the wear. One thing I was thinking about in the midst of all this was how this effort might translate in a 5k. There's plenty on the schedule in the coming months, so I think I'll look for one with a certified course and see what I've got. I'd love to legitimately break 20 minutes. The 19:55 I used to have on my PR list was held on an uncertified course widely thought to be short.

T-3, Wednesday, November 10

An easy 3 miles on the schedule today - if my marathon were on Sunday, that is. Since it's on Saturday I've moved up things up and will take today and tomorrow off instead, with a 2-mile shakeout on Friday. I think I'll get that in after arriving in Chattanooga, checking in and picking up my packet.

T-2, Thursday, November 11

I can't remember the last time I didn't run for two days in a row. Fortunately, I have a lot to do today in preparation for traveling to the race tomorrow, so I haven't thought about it much. Still, it's weird.

I've been carb loading since yesterday, and though I've been eating a lot it hasn't felt like enough. So far my carbs of choice have been whole wheat bagels and bread, oatmeal, quinoa and potatoes. Today I'll be introducing pasta when I take my daughter out for lunch, and will likely follow up with more of the same for dinner. The challenge has been keeping my protein ratio where it needs to be. For example, I really wanted a latte this morning, but passed since I'd already had peanut butter on my bagel. Fortunately, I'm not having to stray too far from my usual diet. I'm no health nut, but for the most part my everyday eating habits are shaped by running.

I've been thinking a lot about my race strategy. Initially I wanted to aim for steady splits the entire race since it's a relatively flat course. I noticed the other day, however, that there will be a couple of pace groups. My latest plan is to start with the 3:20 group for the first 3-4 miles and then pick it up from there until I hit my desired average of 7:30/mile. I figure this will keep me from going out too fast, which is something I have a habit of. I'll try to maintain that pace thru miles 21 or 22, and if I feel good try to pick it up the last few.

T-1, Friday, November 12

Today I travel to Chattanooga for the race. I'd thought about sleeping in and then hitting the road, but was up on and off all night. At some point I reasoned it would be better to get up early so as not to screw up my sleep schedule. I'll already be losing an hour to the Eastern time zone, so when I saw 4:30 on the clock I rolled out of bed.

For the road trip I figured I could use some new music. I went to the Amazon MP3 store and browsed through some of the albums on sale for $5. I'm not normally a "greatest hits" kind of guy, but made an exception for The Cars and Jimmy Cliff. Also, I picked up the Underworld's latest release, which I've been intending to buy at full price anyway. I noticed they had A Twisted Christmas by Twisted Sister, but those days are long gone. I'm not linking that one, so if you want a copy you'll have to degrade yourself to find it.

Yesterday I took my daughter to lunch at the Olive Garden. We parked in the Arby's parking lot next door. On the way out walking back to our cars we had to cross over the grassy median separating the two. I was paying attention to something she was telling me when all of a sudden my left leg stepped into a hole about 12"-15" deep. I didn't fall, but felt it tweak my groin. It didn't hurt, though I wondered how it might react after sleeping on it. So far it doesn't seem like a setback.

T-18 Hours, Friday, November 12
2.08 Miles, 18:52, 9:03/mi avg

I got into town around 12:30 and drove down to the Battlefield. I needed to give my lunch a little time to settle, so I drove around the course for a few and visited the Wilder Monument. The best way I can think to describe it, is that it looks like a tall rook. I climbed the stairwell to the top and took in the view, which was very nice.

I drove down the road and parked in a a recreation area parking lot. From there I ran around a section of the course in the shape of a triangle. I kept the pace slow and mixed in a few strides, per Hal's recommendation. A few times I slowed down to a walk and just took in the scenery. Not a bad way to officially wrap up the training.

When I got back to the parking lot I noticed a car next to mine with plates from my home state, New Hampshire. A few minutes later the owner, Kevin, showed up and we chatted for a few. He, too, is running the marathon tomorrow, and it's his first. Pretty ambitious considering he just started running in January.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Marathon Training Update, Weeks 9 - 15

Apparently, posting a training update once every four weeks was too much to ask. I said I would write something for weeks 9 - 12, but time got away from me and I never got around to it. Fortunately, it doesn't appear anyone has noticed. :p

Mental

The highlight of the past seven weeks was my performance at the Montgomery Half Marathon. I blogged about it here, and it served as a huge confidence booster when I did better than expected. I now feel that unless events beyond my control conspire against me I should be able to achieve my goal of qualifying for the Boston Marathon.

Speaking of Boston, one development that has me a little concerned is how quickly the marathon sold out this past Monday. With the popularity of the race soaring it stands to reason the Boston Athletic Association has some tough decisions to make. The pundits say they could institute a lottery, increase the size of the field, or make qualifying times tougher. Or, they may choose to implement a variation of the three. Whatever the case may be, I feel now that I need to do more than post a 2011 qualifying time of 3:20. Fortunately, I've been training for a 3:15 all along, so no last-minute adjustments are needed. I just need to mentally commit to this being the actual goal, instead of a stretch goal.

So, what to do about a new stretch goal? Based on my recent half marathon time and the McMillan calculator I should be capable of finishing under 3:12. As my friend James would say, that's one Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG). Well, the thought of even qualifying for Boston a few months ago sounded preposterous, so I won't dismiss this as a possibility. Time will tell.

Physical

As is probably the case with most people at this stage of training, I'm dealing with some aches and pains I believe to be minor. My left hip flexor has felt strained for almost two weeks now, though it hasn't hindered my workouts. It's sore when I start and stop, but once moving I don't really notice it. Otherwise, it's the usual fatigue and soreness - especially after an intense running weekend. I'm hoping and expecting that as the taper begins, so will the healing.

Equipment

Not a lot to discuss here, as I don't have any big decisions to make regarding shoes or clothing. On race day I'll be wearing my Saucony Kinvara Vizis that have about 50 miles on them. I wore them for the Montgomery Half Marathon and never once thought about my feet, so choosing them for the full was easy.

If I did have a dilemma it would be whether to carry my PowerBar Energy Gels in the Hydrapak Softflask I recently purchased. I learned about it from Pete Larsen at Runblogger, and have used it on my last two long runs. I got the 5 oz. version, which I like, but I probably should get the 8 oz. one instead. I can fit 3 gel packs in the one I have, but think I want the larger one so I can take along at least one more.

That's all for now. I suspect I won't have any more updates at least until the taper is in full swing. Until then, happy running!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Montgomery Half Marathon - After

So, it turns out all the pressure I put on myself before the race was either an unintentionally effective race tactic, or not warranted at all. I exceeded my expectations and couldn't be happier.

After a sound night's sleep I woke up ready to go. I took a really hot shower to loosen me up and shake off the cobwebs, quickly got dressed and headed down to Montgomery. I was greeted by Duane at my car, and then just a minute later found James and John, who I'd been wanting to meet for a while. Even Eric stopped by for a minute. We talked for a few and then I broke away to begin the process of warming up.

I wasn't as bad off as I'd expected, but I was still pretty nervous about the race. Just before the start Hilary found me and was bubbling over with excitement. She was the distraction I needed, and almost managed to hug all the nervousness out of me. When the corral filled up I tried to keep my mind busy by chatting with those around me. Dave snapped a picture of me and Duane, I spoke briefly to Frank Garcia, and I even got a chance to talk with Lynn, the woman who bested me at the Woodland Wallahatchie 10k a few weeks ago.

After spotting the hand cyclists a couple of minutes head start the siren went off for the rest of us. The first two miles up Jefferson and into Capitol Heights amounted to about 140' of climb. As expected, it felt like it kept me from going out too fast, but looking back on my splits I averaged around 7:10/mi. I'd expected to start out the first couple of miles at my marathon pace of 7:30/mi.

The next five miles were mostly flat and I was able to pick up the pace quite a bit. I stayed right around a 6:50/mi pace, with little fluctuations. At the 7-mile turn, however, I started to slow a little. Despite eating a Gu my splits started to drop to around the 7:10-7:20/mi range. Still, I felt pretty good and was pleased to be staying with some of the other runners around me since the beginning.

The start of mile 10 meant it was time to climb South Perry. It slowed me to a 7:25/mi pace for that mile, though I recovered just before reaching High St and was rewarded with the stretch down Dexter. The last mile felt short, but I didn't care when I rounded the corner to the finish and saw the clock.

Me and General Funk. Check out his
awesome jacket with all the patches!
My chip time was 1:30:06. I finished 9th out of 113 men in my age group (40-44), which wasn't a surprise, and 39th overall out of 1063 finishers.  Absolutely nothing to complain about, and I'm feeling a lot better now about my chances of qualifying for Boston next month at Chickamauga.

Shortly after finishing I was greeted by Hilary and her dad, General Dave Funk. I was thrilled to learn that she smashed her 5k goal by two minutes! And she placed 3rd in her age group, too! So proud!

All in all it was an ideal race day. Good weather, good course and great friends. Congratulations to the City of Montgomery for improving on what was already a good race and kudos for involving Joy to Life. Also, a special thanks to all the volunteers that helped make it all happen.

Montgomery Half Marathon - Before

This post was written on Friday, October 1st and its publication intentionally delayed.

For weeks I've been eyeing the Montgomery Half Marathon on October 2nd. One of the reasons I bumped up my schedule a day was so it would coincide on the same date as a scheduled 12-mile long run. Back when I did that, however, it was hot and humid and I had no plans of actually racing it. I figured at best I might just use it as a marathon pace run, which would require 7:30/minute miles.

A few days ago all that changed. We were blessed with a cold snap this week and I started thinking outside the box. Maybe I could use it as a measuring stick for my marathon in November? I started reading through my training plan notes and found that Uncle Hal, as some of us like to call him, was a step ahead of me.

"If you want a test race, this might be a good weekend for it. A half marathon would fit perfectly into the training plan, since today's workout is 12 miles."

Well, I figured, if he's going to give me carte blanche, I'm going to take it. But exactly what was I going to do? I then decided I would set a goal commensurate with my marathon pace. To determine exactly what that meant I turned to Greg McMillan's Running Calculator, plugged in my desired 3:15 marathon finish time and looked under the 13.1M column to see what my equivalent pace would need to be.

What? How the heck am I supposed to run 7:04/miles for an entire half marathon? That equates to a finishing time of 1:32:28, which is 8 minutes faster than my PR! Needless to say I'm now a nervous wreck, which is a new thing for me. I usually don't lack for confidence like this. But what would it mean if I can't pull this off? Are my chances at qualifying for Boston over?

I'm trying to keep some perspective about this. First off, this is a challenging course. I've run it a few times. And while I'm not intimidated, its elevation is slightly more challenging than Chickamauga. Plenty to climb over the first couple of miles and some nice hills to keep you humble towards the end. And second, I still have four more weeks of intense training before the taper begins, so there's still time to make adjustments.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Marathon Training - What I've Learned So Far

I've just completed the first 10 of 18 weeks of marathon training. It will be my first marathon, so I'm learning as I go and know there's still a lot more to come. Here are some random thoughts about my journey so far.

- If you live in the South start your training at least in late September, and not early July like I did. The oppressive heat and humidity take not only a physical toll, but affect your psyche as well when your body can't deliver.

- Hammer Endurolytes in capsule form do not do well in the pocket of your shorts. They are good at preventing muscle cramping, however.

- Training for a marathon is a lot more difficult than it sounds. Before embarking on this I thought of marathons only in passing. A lot of people do them so it can't be too hard, right? Wrong. Maybe my perception is skewed because I'm trying to qualify for Boston and jumped right into an advanced training plan, but this is anything but easy.

- My training plan is pretty balanced. It pushes me hard when it's time, and backs off every few weeks to give my body time to adjust. Despite this, I actually look forward to rest days now. I've even adjusted my schedule to make sure I'm doing nothing on a rest day. No recovery runs, fun runs or strength training. Just rest.

- I use Body Glide in more places than ever before. Let's leave it at that.

- Long runs can get to be really long. I generally don't mind the solitude. In fact, I relish in it much of the time. But when you're out there alone for 2-3 hours you eventually start to consider distractions like podcasts or music. I haven't got there yet, but it's on the table.

- If you want to simulate a ride on the SS Minnow run 9 miles on a treadmill and then step off. I had to steady myself on a conveniently located wall for a minute.

- You become more finely tuned into your equipment. Shoes you once loved are no longer good enough. You'll need another type for long runs and maybe even some specifically suited for track work. And you are now more sensitive to things that never occurred to you in the past. These socks are too thin for these shoes. I need to wear this shirt with my hydration pack to prevent chafing. These shorts are the wrong material for a long run. The list goes on.

- You don't just need extra shoes for different types of runs. You need them to be used on a rotational basis. They need time to dry out and rebound before the next thrashing. And they don't last as long either. Force (Hal Higdon) = mass (you) x acceleration (tempos, intervals and hill sprints).

- Joints recover from a workout much more slowly than muscles. My quads and calves are a little tight from yesterday's 20-miler, but my hips and knees are where I still feel it the most.

- Showering all the time gets really old. After a daily running workout, of course. But then there are days where I'll get in strength and core training and have to do it all over again. And that doesn't include cleaning up after yard work, etc.

What nuggets of wisdom you can pass along about your marathon training experiences?


Monday, September 6, 2010

Marathon Training Update, Weeks 5 - 8

This is the second of four training updates as I prepare for my first marathon, the Chickamauga Battlefield Marathon. To catch you up, I'm following Hal Higdon's Advance II training plan and the race is on Saturday, November 13th.

The past four weeks have been significantly harder as the demands ratchet up. This week in particular was extremely difficult. I doubled up on workouts twice: once to move up my long run so it would coincide with a training run on the race course, and a second time to accommodate a busy labor day schedule. I finished out the week with 57 miles, a personal distance record that has left me very fatigued.

I've made a few adjustments to my training regimen. I had been swimming regularly on Wednesdays, but after repeatedly feeling the affects during my Thursday runs I decided to give it up. It wasn't an easy decision because I enjoyed it and understood the benefits of cross training; however, the fatigue was preventing me from living up to my training expectations. I felt that I needed to focus more on running.

As I mentioned earlier, I also moved up my schedule by a day. In addition to the training run on the marathon course I did this past Saturday, there are two other upcoming events that have caused me to make it permanent. For now. The Montgomery Half Marathon on Saturday, October 2nd, will now fall on a scheduled 12-mile day and another trip to Chickamauga may occur on October 23rd. The final decision may rest on how the bump works out on Fridays, which are scheduled to get longer and harder.

As far as health goes, I'm feeling pretty good. A month or so ago I was experiencing a sharp pain in my left hip (femur head). I went to see Anthony, a massage therapist at Hands on Healing, and got "aligned." He contorted me in all different directions and prescribed some stretches to help keep things where they're supposed to be. It didn't get better immediately, but I stuck with the stretches and after a couple of weeks the pain was gone. Even better, I haven't experienced any new injuries. The usual tightness and fatigue after long runs is present, but so far it passes.

The only other thing worth mentioning is that I've started running in a new pair of shoes. After reading up on the hot, new Saucony Kinvara I decided to give them a try for myself. I eased into them with a couple of short, 3-4 mile runs and have already graduated them into my long runs. I put them to the test on this weekend's 18-miler and they passed with flying colors. They provide more cushioning than my Adidas AdiZero Manas, and offer an even smaller 4mm heel-to-toe drop that I'm liking. So far, so good.

Generally speaking, I'm happy with how my performance is going. I've finished every workout strong with the exception of hill repeats, which reduce me to mush. I've hit the mark on my tempo and pace runs, and am doing a lot better than expected when it comes to 800m intervals. I still wonder about the unknown, but try not to get consumed by it. Que sera sera.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Chickamauga Battlefield Training Run

10-lb Parrott Cannon
I started this blog in January of this year, and therefore never published a recap of the half marathon I ran in at the Chickamauga Battlefield National Military Park last November. I looked back in my training log, however, and I did record little bit there. Before I write about my training run there today I thought I'd give you a taste of what I experienced last fall. Here are some excerpts from the first couple of paragraphs:

"It was a gorgeous day for a race.  Sunny and crisp.  We started out near the museum and made our way on a trail to the paved majority of the course.  About 1.5 miles in I heard a sudden movement in the woods on the left side.  As quickly as I could point at it, a deer ran across the road about 25 yards in front of us.  The doe moved so gracefully and so fast it was breathtaking.  You could just feel it.  We all let out big yells and cheers, and everyone chattered on about it for a few minutes.

At about the 4.25-mile mark we left the woods and came into a short, quarter mile clearing called Winfrey field.  The fog still hadn't lifted, and that combined with the cannon monuments made it a surreal sight."

I'm currently preparing for my first marathon - the Chickamauga Battlefield Marathon. A couple of months ago I was browsing the training section of the site and noticed the Chattanooga Track Club would be holding weekly training runs beginning in July. I looked at the schedule and saw that three of them would be on the race course. Knowing the confidence that comes with familiarity, I decided I would make the 3-hour trip at least one once.

I pulled into the parking lot about 20 minutes before the 7:00 am start and had a hard time finding a parking spot. Almost all of the 75 places were already taken. I approached a group of about 20-25 runners and tried to find out what was going on. A man by the name of Doug was giving directions to the crowd, but I knew I wouldn't remember all the street names. I asked who else in the crowd was running 18 miles, and hands shot up. I saw two guys across the group from me that "looked" like they might run the same pace as me and approached them. Steve said they were going to be running around 8-minute miles, but there was a risk that the other guy, Ryan, had a tendency to increase the pace. Even though it was a little faster than I was planning (8:15 - 9:00/miles) I decided to stick with them as long as I could. It was a crisp 61° with low humidity, and I was eager to get moving.

Shady running through the forest
We started out at a reasonable 8:40 pace the first mile, but after that settled in just under 8:00. Ryan and Steve appeared to be good friends and kept the conversation going. The miles went by quickly, and I drank in the scenery. There were plenty of deer lining the edges of the roads and the occasional rabbit. Everything about the course was as I remembered it. Even the fog hung just off the ground in the fields as we broke out of the forest.

The track club had things organized pretty well for the 9-mile double loop. At miles 3 and 6 there were water stops in the beds of pickup trucks, and at the start/finish there was more of the same plus snacks. It was a real treat getting to run without a humidity blanket and my hydration pack.

Ryan knew the park like the back of his hand and took us off the course on a short trail to keep things interesting. I was really surprised at how good I was feeling as we finished the first 10 miles at about an 8-minute average.

During our midpoint stop we were questioned by a park ranger about some food that had been left out near a club member's car. For some reason he singled me out, called me over to his truck and interrogated me. He wanted to know if it was my truck we transferred the food to, and when I told him it wasn't he asked if I knew whose it was. He was serious as a heart attack and very tightly wound. Later some of the other runners told me that the park service had it out for us. They didn't like how we took up all the spaces in the parking lot.

Huge open fields with monuments
We headed out for the second half and found the same pace again after the first mile. More cannons, more breathtaking fields, more monuments, more perfect running weather. Despite the warnings about Ryan, it was Steve that started to pick up the pace. Ryan was coming back from an injury and the two of us hung back just a little. After finally getting back together at an intersection, the three of us hit the homestretch and finished out with a couple of strong 7:30/miles. It was the longest run I've ever done at one time, and I was really pleased with an overall 7:54 pace for the day.

We stood around and chatted in the parking lot for a few and I gladly tossed a few dollars in the donations bag before I left. Unfortunately, I had to get going back my hotel to shower, change and check out within 45 minutes.

I returned to the park later and spent a couple of hours taking it all in and snapping photos. I stopped by the visitor's center and watched a film about the battles of Chickamauga (the Rebs won) and Chattanooga (the Yanks held it). I was then able to visualize where some of the battle lines were and followed the maps to see for myself where the soldiers faced off. One aspect I found impressive was that all the cannons in the park are properly positioned for battle. You can see right where the lines would have been formed.

A big thanks to CTC for the support, water stops and snacks, and to Steve and Ryan for making me feel like one of the group. I hope to make it back up again on October 23rd for one more run on the course before race day.


Monday, August 30, 2010

Social Road Trip Follow-Up

I was so focused on keeping yesterday's post a reasonable length that I neglected to mention a few important things about this weekend.

A huge thank you to Andy Sparks for his hospitality. I expected to briefly meet him at the Midnight Express and then go our separate ways. Instead, we ran the race together and he met me a few hours later for a long run. I was further humbled when I learned he relies on weekends to catch up on sleep this time of year. The man should have been home in bed instead of running with me. I'm in your debt, Andy. If you make it down for the Montgomery Half I hope I can be half the host.

If you're ever in the Columbus, GA area be sure to run on the Riverwalk. I've found few places in the South to be recreation friendly, but this is one of them. The trail runs some 22 miles long, and is very well maintained. It's dimly lit most of the way, which is fine if you're running in the dark with someone else, but I'd recommend against solo efforts. Runners that enjoy flat to slightly-rolling terrain will really appreciate this route.

The Midnight Express was worth the drive. I was impressed at how well organized it was and the number of people that came out for it (2,300+ runners). The only glitch I saw was that they ran out of most t-shirt sizes. Above all, however, I was appreciative of the 3rd Brigade simulcast from Iraq. Leading up to our race the event organizers broadcast their event on a huge screen hanging over our start line. We got to watch their 5k awards ceremony and I ended up making a new Daily Mile friend, James C., because of it. A big thanks to all our men and women in uniform serving our country overseas.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Social Road Trip

Last weekend at a local race I heard about an upcoming run being held in Columbus, GA. I'd just recently been talking about wanting to run there on the Riverwalk, and when I heard the race was being held at midnight it sounded all the more attractive. In its thirtieth year, the Midnight Express was the only race I'd heard of in the area to truly begin at midnight. I wasn't sure if I'd actually go because of all the other traveling on my schedule, but my interest was piqued.

In case I decided to go I put out some feelers with people I knew to live in Columbus. There were two, and  each of them I'd only met in the virtual worlds of Twitter and Daily Mile. Mike Edwards I met on Twitter, and immediately grew to like him for his support and advice. He helped me quite a bit when I had questions about running with a hydration pack. The other person, Andy Sparks, I'd also met on Twitter and had developed a sort of camaraderie with. We'd chat back and forth about training and I grew to like his blog, Racing For The Cross.

After finally deciding to make the 2-hour trip I loaded up the car and hit the road. I checked into my hotel and let Andy know my plans for race night. I didn't expect to see Mike until the following day. I took about a 3-hour nap and then headed over to Country's BBQ, where the race was being held. When I got there I figured the odds of Andy finding me were slim to none, because there were literally thousands of people there. I texted Andy that I would be right underneath the start line, and hoped for the best. Lo and behold, about 15 minutes later I heard someone call my name. Technology had won!

Andy and I chatted for about 10-15 minutes until the race began. He was shooting for about 24 minutes. That sounded like the perfect pace to me, so I said I would stick with him. We ran the candlelit course in around 23:30 and had a really good time. I was really impressed with the crowd support, the likes of which I've never seen at a 5k before. There was a live band, a marching band and tons of people lining the street cheering runners on. Even the obnoxious frat boys were amusing in their own unique way.

After the race we walked back up the course and I got to meet Andy's wife, Kelly. Despite our soggy condition she graciously snapped a photo of us. It was getting late, so we said our goodbyes and I jokingly mentioned to Andy that I'd be starting my run at 6:00 am the next morning if he wanted to join me. I never expected him to take me up on it.

When I showed up at the Riverwalk this morning there was Andy walking up the street to greet me. How many people do you know that will meet someone for a long run after getting only a few hours of sleep? I now know one! Andy was looking to do around 12 miles and he set the perfect pace. I have a tendency to go out too fast, and his discipline was exactly what I needed for the 16 miles on my schedule. We chatted away and the miles were behind us quickly. Andy must have been feeling good, because he seemed to be adding on  some extra distance. It was at the 6.5-mile mark that we said our goodbyes, he turned back and I continued on my way.

I finished up my run and was slowly making my way back to my car. As I rounded the corner I was surprised to see Andy. Not only that, but he'd set out a cold bottle of water and a banana for me. Talk about southern hospitality! We talked for a few more minutes and then went our separate ways. Just as I had expected, Andy turned out to be one of the good guys. :)

So, the lesson here is to not underestimate the power of social networking. I never would have met Andy if not for Twitter or Daily Mile, nor would I be stopping by Mike's shop, Below The Knee, on my way out of town. What a great world we live in. Have you meet any of your online friends "in real life?" If so, share below.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Woodland Wallahatchie 10K Review

Today's race was part training pace run and part redemption. Last year I ran the Wallahatchie 10K in a disappointing 53:09, and there was no way that was happening again. On the schedule today was a 7-mile run at a marathon pace of 7:30/mi., so I knew it wouldn't be a repeat.

Photo courtesy of West Marcus
My goal was to stick to my marathon pace as much as possible. The first mile was too easy and I kept trying to slow myself down, knowing the heat and humidity would sap my energy sooner than later if I wasn't careful. I glanced at my watch every 30 seconds or so trying to figure out where I needed to be, and finally worked myself down from around 7:00/mi. to a manageable 7:18/mi.

At around the 2-mile mark a few of us had settled into a pace and stuck together pretty closely. I was still running a little fast, but didn't feel like I was overexerting myself and decided to ride it out. I noticed on my right that a woman - Lynn, I later learned - was matching my cadence almost exactly, so I asked if she was pacing me. She replied that she was aiming for a 7:25/mi pace, so I figured I would stick with her as long as I could.

It turned out that Lynn wasn't any better at sticking to a plan than I was. We recorded  a 7:21/mi. average pace the first half, but at the turnaround we increased the pace. Miles 4 and 5 were both a steady 7:11/mi each. It was around the 5-mile mark that I goaded her into catching a runner ahead of us. I could feel that I was falling off and didn't want to hold her up. I still managed a 7:17/mi pace, and finished somewhere around 44:40.

I was very happy with this race. I took 3rd in my age group, 40-49, and won a coveted squirrel trophy complete with a nut! Most importantly, I erased the memory of last year's disappointment. Also, I was only about 15-20 seconds off my 10K PR, which was set last March when conditions were much nicer. Today it was 80° and 88% humidity. I'm excited to see what I can do once the cooler weather returns.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Shoe Phobia

Like most runners I'm like a little kid on Christmas morning when I get new shoes. I see that box leaning up against my front door when I get home and do a little dance in my head. I've treated myself twice in the past couple of weeks. I ordered a pair of this year's Adidas AdiZero Manas to replace my current ones, and I took a flyer on some Saucony ProGrid Kinvaras I've read a lot about lately.

Perhaps I'll review each of these shoes at a later date, but for now I wanted to pose this question to other runners. Are you reluctant to use your new shoes? Because I am. My new Manas have been sitting in their box for over a week, and I'm in no hurry to pull out the Kinvaras. Why?

Adidas AdiZero Manas
First, the Manas. I've gone through two pairs now and I absolutely love them. The new pair I purchased are blue though, whereas my old ones are orange. No, I don't care about the color, but I wonder what else has changed. Have they tweaked the design, or am I getting the same shoe as before? I'm paranoid about this because once upon a time I loved the Brooks Adrenaline GTS 7s. Then they came out with the 8s. I wore those too, but they weren't quite the same. Then I tried the 9s, and they felt like even more of a departure from what I started out with. When they came out with the 10s I finally decided to look for something different. They didn't cause me injury that I'm aware of, but I grew tired of the small differences from generation to generation.

Saucony ProGrid Kinvaras
Speaking of injury, that's the second reason I'm reluctant to step into new shoes. Right now I'm healthy. Why should I take a chance on something completely new, like the Kinvaras? I did wear them around the house on carpet for a couple of hours and found them to be significantly different than the Manas. Even though they're both minimalist shoes, the arch support on the Kinvaras is much more pronounced. Is this something I just need to get used to, or is it a feature that could induce injury?

Finally, the dumbest reason for not wanting to run in my new shoes. They're pretty. It's not that I care if my shoes get dirty, because eventually they all do. But right now the brutally hot and humid Alabama summer makes me sweat an obscene amount. I can literally wring out my clothes at the end of a run and my shoes, well, they could be used to sink a mobster. They would end up looking like old dish rags after just a few miles. This reason is low on the list, but I'd be lying if I didn't admit it's a consideration.

So, do you intentionally hold out on running in new shoes? If so, what quirky reasons do you come up with?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Run With Me

It's week 6 of my marathon training plan and it calls for a 3-mile run. I wake up to my alarm for a change, roll out of bed and immediately start drinking water. I don't like to carry anything on these shorter runs, so I must hydrate well. It's 74° out there, and the humidity is a fog-like 97%. I pull on some shorts and a predominantly white tech shirt, and grab my shoes and socks.

I sit at my desk and glance at email, Facebook and dailymile. I comment on a couple of things, but my attention quickly turns to my schedule. My coach, Hal Higdon, says I "might want to do this 3-miler at a pace slightly faster usual." It's like he's reading my mind. I started reading Once A Runner last night, and the urge to run the first few chapters gave me are still gnawing away. I slide my Road ID onto my right wrist and strap the Garmin on the left. I shut off my monitor, grab my house key and a towel and open the garage door. It's 5:15 and still dark.

I walk to the bottom of the hill that is my driveway and stopped to stretch. Just short, light tugs to wake up my legs. Longer, more thorough stretching will wait until bedtime. I start my watch and start jogging around the corner. I first encounter the cats. There are a few of them that congregate outside the house on the left, and they pay me no mind. Most cats would scatter, but these hold their ground. Some even appear to strut.

I leave my subdivision and head north on McQueen-Smith. It's a busy thoroughfare, but at this time of day the traffic is light.  It was recently resurfaced, so it's as smooth as glass. There are no sidewalks, so I run right up the middle in the turn lane. I listen carefully for cars coming up behind me. When they do I veer to the left side of the lane, ahttp://www.dailymile.com/routes/300640-running-routend when there's oncoming traffic I move to the right side. Even though I'm wearing white I'm not taking any chances.

The first mile is sluggish. Yesterday's intervals are still with me, but I can feel my legs loosening up. As usual, I'm breathing too hard. It takes a while for my lungs to expand and get used to the demands I'm making. I can hear my breathing pattern, and it's the same as it was back in high school. It settles after a bit.

I turn into the Brookstone subdivision and cross paths with my first runner. She's just a silhouette, but I recognize her from the way she runs. We say good morning and I run down East Poplar, picking up the pace on the decline. By now things are falling into place. I don't know how fast I'm running, because I can't read my Garmin. I can't make out anything on the screen unless it's daylight. I smell laundry detergent.

As I start to settle into a groove I concentrate on my form. I make sure I'm centered, my feet are landing under me and my shoulders are relaxed. The road is flat and the pace becomes almost effortless. I pass a few more people out walking their dogs. Some wave back, some don't. I can actually hear the sound of wind as I open it up a little.

It's the 2-mile mark and I'm at the Graystone Gully - a short, but steep hill. As I get to the bottom I've already decided I'm going to attack the other side. As I begin I see a man jogging slowly up at the top of the hill. He doesn't know it, but he's my rabbit. I push hard up the hill and blow by him about 50m after I've crested the top. He's wearing white basketball shorts and a long-sleeve white shirt. At least he's visible, I thought.

I recover from the hill about the time I turn left onto East Main Street. There is no oncoming traffic this time of day. Everyone's heading out of town to work in the other direction at this hour. I pick up the pace again as I round back onto McQueen-Smith. It's a short stretch and then I'm back in my neighborhood, where I encounter the couple I see every morning out for their walk. They look to be about my age, and we exchange greetings. I glance at my watch and can see I've covered just over 3.5 miles. No need to round up today.

As I climb my driveway I peel off my shirt and then hang it on the drying rack in my garage. I pick up my water bottle and collapse on my front stoop. I sit there for 5-10 minutes trying to cool down, but it's no use. I'll be sweating for at least another 20-30 minutes. I listen to the crickets rubbing their legs together and can see it starting to get light out. It's time to head in and get ready for work. I close the garage door behind me.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Marathon Training Update, Weeks 1 - 4

Rather than bore you with too many Chickamauga Battlefield Marathon training updates I've decided to post one every four weeks. Since I'm using Hal Higdon's 18-Week Advanced II Training Plan, this will provide nail-biting coverage through week 16. I figure this is enough, since the last two weeks are basically for tapering. And I shouldn't have any trouble writing about running withdrawals and extreme paranoia during that time, right?

For the first four weeks I've completed everything asked of me. And then some. When I first looked at the schedule I thought Hal was taking it a little easy on me the first few weeks. The mileage was pretty light and so was the speed work. Little did I know he conspired with Mother Nature and the two of them piped in extreme heat and humidity to make it more challenging. On days I thought I might add on an extra mile or interval I quickly changed my mind and did the bare minimum. Pangs of guilt? None whatsoever. I trust that Hal has tweaked his formulas and tested his plan on other suckers runners. Besides, he hasn't let me down the last two times I followed his instructions.

In addition to the running I've been hitting the gym. Borrowing from Greg Strosaker, I began strength training on Mondays and Fridays in week 2. Now, I'm no stranger to the weight room but it has been a few years. I've had to learn the nuances of new equipment and figure out how much I should be lifting. Three weeks on and I'm still making small adjustments each time I go. And it's fun. Just today I was getting ready to use the chest press when an elderly woman (70s) dressed in street clothes walked in and knocked out a couple of sets. I was glad to wait.

I've also been swimming once per week on Wednesdays. Before my training officially began I swam some in preparation for my first triathlon. I'd never done pool work before and was surprised at just how much I liked it. It's a good workout and once I'm done I feel like I've accomplished something. Unfortunately, I'm questioning whether I should keep it up. After last week I felt the after effects for a couple of days. I think I'll give it one more chance this week and see how it goes. If I'm excessively fatigued again I may have to step away from the water for a while.

So, how do I feel four weeks in? Both physically and mentally I've experienced highs and lows. Some days I feel like I've had my ass kicked, and others I feel like I'm the one handing them out. Some days I'm confident I can meet my BQ goal, and others I wonder if I've set my sights too high. Either way, I'm in it to win it. I'll continue to give it all I've got while maintaining the necessary discipline.

Stay tuned for the next update. Same bat time, same bat channel. And happy running!

If you'd like to see all my workouts they can be viewed here on the dailymile website.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Comfort Run

Like comfort food, this morning's run settled me a little. I lived in the Avalon Estates neighborhood for six years and ran in it just about every day the past three. Going back this morning brought back lots of memories and was a nice change of pace from where I've been running since. The way I write you'd think I'd been gone for years. It's  been all of three weeks.

I parked my car at the roller skating rink at the end of the street, pulled on my hydration pack and eased into my run. Almost immediately I was greeted with familiarity. Erin was out walking her dog. It wasn't yet twilight at 5:15am, so as I passed and said good morning I made sure to use her name so she'd know it was me. She returned the greeting just like any other morning. As I loosened up I turned right and ran past my old street, Auburn Rd. I didn't turn in. Left on Greencrest and then all the way down to MLK. I ran up past the Sunrise road and could see a hint of burnt orange glowing on the horizon. I hoped by the time I came back I'd be able to see the sun rise.

Left on Moses and then right on Upper Kingston. This portion of the run was relatively new to me before moving. Even though it was always right there I never explored it until just this spring on my bike. Once I got comfortable with it I started running on it more often though. It rolls a little and there's very little traffic. Speaking of which, I was treated today. I ran a stretch of about seven miles without seeing a single moving vehicle.

I ran all the way to the end of Upper Kingston where it intersects County Rd 85. I paused just long enough to eat a PowerBar Gel and began the return leg. On the way back I briefly stopped at a clearing that holds meaning, said a short prayer and then picked it back up again. I dreaded the thought of this run after yesterday's grueling pace run, but was pleased that at six miles into it I was feeling pretty good. It was mostly downhill and the miles faded away almost too quickly.

As I turned back onto MLK I was rewarded with the brilliant sunrise I'd hoped for. I made my way back down into my neighborhood and caught a glimpse of Vicky running ahead of me. She turned off before our paths crossed, but shortly after I saw the elderly woman on her single-speed bike. She used to have tassels dangling off the ends of her handlebars, but I didn't see them today. Finally, I saw the elderly gentleman that walks the neighborhood every morning. As usual, he was carrying his stick to fend off stray dogs.

Do you long for roads you once ran on? Do you go out of your way to visit them again? Do you do so to seek comfort? I've run on and off quite a bit the past 20+ years, but never stayed in one place or stuck with it long enough to develop an attachment. Until now.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Carrollton Triathlon Championship Race Report

One of the things I like about Hal Higdon is that he isn't a stickler for following his training plans down to the letter. Today's triathlon - my first - served as a replacement for a 10-mile long run. Considering how long I was active, I think I satisfied the requirements.

I didn't sleep well, so I was more than ready to get out the door by 5:30 AM (Eastern). The transition area was open for business at 5:45, and I wasn't surprised to see a couple of dozen vehicles in the parking lot already. I'd scouted things out the evening before when I got into town, so I knew exactly where I wanted to be. I took my bike off the rack, pushed it down the small hill and claimed my spot. I picked up my race packet and began the process of setting up my area, getting my body marking taken care of (#195) and chatting with some of the other competitors. Only two hours to go until the start of the race.

Since I had so much time on my hands I went over everything once, twice, maybe three times. No matter how organized you are for this type of event I imagine there's always something you have to return to the car for. I actually had to go back for my running shoes and sunglasses. Once I was satisfied I had everything ready I mingled with other racers and learned about the course. I met a bunch of first-time triathletes, like myself, and listened to some of their concerns. One guy was worried about the swim, because it would be deep. Another was confident on her bike but fretted about the run, thinking the heat would be a factor. It turns out it wouldn't be.

About 45-minutes before the pre-race meeting I decided to take a short run to loosen up. I was curious if I running without socks was doable, so I pulled on my Adidas and hit the road. They fit just as snugly as they do with socks, so I decided to risk it in the race. It's only 3.4 miles, I thought. After the jog I had around 20 minutes left, so collected my cap and goggles and set off for the beach. Others were in the water warming up, so I followed suit and swam out to the first buoy and back. I returned right as the meeting began.

The start was organized into three waves. Males 15-34 first, males 35+ second, and all others third. Waves two and three would start in four-minute increments after the first. I'd wondered why I had been issued a blue cap, and now had my answer.

The race director had impeccable timing. The first wave went out right on time. All blue caps filed into the shallow water and waited our turn.

5...4... I lifted my head...3...2...1. The siren went off and I followed the rest of wave number two into the race.

I waded as far out as I could and then dove in. I expected there to be jostling and bumping, but experiencing it was something else. You know how in a road race you usually start out too fast? Well, this was way worse. See, in a road race you can slow down if you want. But in the water, if you're not smart enough to position yourself at the back or on the side, you can't. You're screwed. You have to do your best to keep up with flow of traffic so you're not impeding the people behind you. Miserable. After 100m I was gasping for every breath. To make things worse, the water was so brown and dark you couldn't see your own hands in front of you. I had to do the "prairie dog" constantly to make sure I wasn't going to run into the person in front of me or swim 90 degrees off course. I couldn't believe how out of control I felt.

I reached the first buoy and cut out wide to try and find some room to work with. I still managed to touch the foot of a swimmer in front of me, and when I popped my head up saw a man doing the back stroke. I briefly considered following his example, dismissed the idea and hunkered down into the crawl again. I forced myself to slow down a little and tried to control my breathing. By the time I hit the second buoy I'd finally found my stroke. As I exited the water a volunteer called out my time - 10:17. Not bad I thought, considering I'd probably inadvertently added an extra 100m zig zagging.

I ran to the transition while ripping off my cap and goggles, surprised at how many were walking or just taking their time. When I got to my bike I turned on my Garmin, which was already mounted on the handle bars, threw on my shirt, sunglasses and helmet and pulled on my shoes. I was out pretty quickly, but I'm not sure exactly sure how long. No chip timing at this race.

I ran with my bike to the transition exit, hopped on and clipped in. I'd read a few days ago that a higher cadence was better for smaller athletes like me, so I focused on keeping up the RPMs. I was cranking along pretty well, but still got passed left and right. At the 2-mile mark I was passed by the first overall female. Yeah, she started the swim 4 minutes after me. I settled into a good pace and took every opportunity to drink my water, since I could feel a twinge in my right calf. At around the 6- or 7-mile mark I was passed by a guy who looked at me, smiled and said "rock and roll, dude!" Even though it was in good fun I made a mental note. Despite the hydrating I started to feel my calves cramping, followed shortly after by my quads. I was beginning to wonder how the hell I was going to run after I got off the bike. At the 9-mile mark I scarfed down a Gu pack I had taped to my bike, washed it down with the last of my water and beared down as hard as I could for the remaining few miles. I somehow managed to not get passed again on that last stretch. My time for this leg, according to the Garmin, was 41:55. Average speed 17.5 mph and cadence 85.

At the second transition I successfully dismounted without collapsing or wrecking and ran to my station. I propped my bike up on the rack, discarded my helmet and shoes, and donned my cap and running shoes. Like an idiot, I lost a few seconds trying to remove my Garmin from the bike. I also managed to cut a gash into my finger while doing so. Nevertheless, I hit the road and my happy place. I felt slow at the start, but was actually right where I wanted to be. I clocked a 7:26 first mile and then picked it up a little after the blood returned to my legs. I started picking off many of those that blew past me on the bike. That lifted my spirits a bit and helped take my mind of my quads, which were beginning to scream. I passed "rock and roll" and just smiled. Words weren't necessary.

At the 2-mile mark I passed a couple of guys, one of which looked over to the other and said "there goes a runner!" Damn, straight. "It's all I've got," I replied. I kept my focus forward on more targets to overtake and fought off the pain in my legs. I thought of more painful things to keep perspective and pushed through the last mile. While others slowed, I sped up and overtook them. I finally left two others behind the last 100m and crossed the finish line. 3.3 miles in 24:29. Not great by 5k standards, but this wasn't a 5k. I was most pleased that on the run not a single person passed me.

I hobbled to the post-race refreshments table, picked up some water and a banana, and tried to find a position that would keep my muscles from locking up. I ended up crouching halfway to the ground for a couple of minutes until it finally passed. A man I'd talked to before the race spotted me and asked how I did. I told him I had no idea. I really wasn't sure.

I stuck around for the awards ceremony to see how I might compare with others in my age division. First thru third in the 40-44 age group finished in 1:09, 1:10 and 1:11, respectively. I was also impressed to hear the overall winner blew away the 15-year-old course record by 3 minutes, with a time of 54 minutes and change.

Overall the race was tougher than I'd anticipated. Not surprising, since I really hadn't trained enough for it. I would have to spend a lot more time in the pool and on the bike to bring down my times. Still, it was fun and I'll probably do more triathlons in the future. In the meantime, I have a marathon to train for.

Final Stats:
- Finishing time: 1:19:09.1
- 71st overall out of 239 finishers
- 12th out of 20 in my age group, 40-44
- Overall average pace: 5:03/mile


Friday, July 16, 2010

Carrollton Triathlon Championship Pre-Race Report

It's Friday evening, and I should be excited. In two days I will compete in my first triathlon, the Carrollton Triathlon Championship in Carrollton, GA. It will consist of a 400m swim, 12-mile bike and 3.4-mile run.

I signed up for this almost a month ago and have been training for it on and off ever since. The running part will come easy and I'm a decent cyclist, so I have focused mostly on the swim. I've been pleased with my progress, surprised that once I found my pace I could swim upwards of 1600m at a stretch without much difficulty. I'm in really good shape and am not intimidated.

Aside from the training aspect I have also studied. I've brushed up on the rules and regulations, and have watched countless videos demonstrating the transitions and how best to get through them quickly and unscathed. No, I will not be trying to put on my cycling shoes on while riding. Nor will I be running sans socks. Other than that, though, I think I have a good plan in place.

It is Friday evening, but I'm not excited. I haven't even told anyone I doing this until now. Why? Maybe the stress of selling a house and moving these past couple of weeks is taking its toll on me. Maybe it's because I miss my daughter, who is visiting her grandparents. Maybe. Whatever. It doesn't really matter, does it?

If there's one thing I am it's dedicated. This funk I'm in will not keep me from competing. I will wake up on Sunday morning and claim my spot in the transition area. I will step to the edge of the water and put on my goggles. I will bow my head for a moment and then give it everything I've got.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Random Observations

Things I've encountered in the past few days that have gotten my attention:
  • I saw a runner in my new neighborhood wearing VFFs. If I spy him again I'm going to have to strike up a conversation with him. Just a cursory head nod so far.
  • Monday morning, 7:30 am. I'm sitting on my front door step cooling down from my run. The guy across the street exits his house, walks over to his truck and fires it up. Then goes back inside. For a full five minutes. Up north you warm up the car. Here in the south you cool it down. I've lived here six years and learned something new.
  • You know you've swam a long time when an hour after getting out of the pool you tilt your head forward and water drains out your nose.
  • People are nowhere near concerned enough about hydration. I swam at the base pool today at noon when the "feels like" temperature was 101*. I was the only person of 6-7 that had a water bottle at the end of my lane.
  • The base pool is 33 meters long. Who the heck engineered that? Military Intelligence?
  • It's getting light out later. It was still a little dark when I stepped out the door at 5:15 this morning.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Training Begins

It was all the way back on April 24th that I declared I was going to run the Boston Marathon. Bold - perhaps foolish - words for someone who has never run a marathon. Admittedly, I got caught up in the emotion of the race, and even after giving myself a few days to think about it felt it was something I could do.

Not long after that date I signed up for the Chickamauga Battlefield Marathon being held on November 13th. Clicking that button got me excited all over again. I was confident I could shave off the 10 theoretical minutes I’d need to qualify.

I researched some training plans and quickly decided to go with Hal Higdon’s Advanced Marathon II. I’ve used his plans twice before for half marathons and was very happy with the results, so selecting this one was easy. Despite this, I felt there was something missing. Hal recommends some strength training, but doesn’t get very specific. Enter Greg S. and his recommendations, and I think I have a more complete approach.

The last 6-8 weeks have consisted of nothing but maintenance while I await the official start date of my plan. All this time “off,” combined with unrelenting heat and humidity, has done a number on my motivation and confidence level. As if that weren’t enough, I’ve also been battling some discomfort in my left hip, stressing about the pending sale of my home, and moving into a new house the past four days. I’m exhausted, both physically and mentally, and doubts have surfaced.

Am I capable of pulling this off?

Tomorrow marks my first day of training, and just in time. I will follow the plan and give it everything I’ve got, hoping the structure will snap me out of this funk. Tomorrow is a new day.