Monday, October 13, 2014

Thoughts from a Marathon

As I sit here on Monday morning, looking back on yesterday, I can't help but smile. I have many feelings - happiness, relief, a little bit of melancholy - I had such a wonderful time yesterday and really, the marathon itself and achieving a goal was only a part of what made it so great. Here's my marathon recap, in nauseating detail, both for the benefit of remembering this day later on and for those of you out there, like me, who like reading about this sort of stuff.

I barely slept on Saturday night. Leslie and I have been binge-watching "Walking Dead" and we were at the end of season 4 so we didn't actually go to bed until 11pm.. I tossed and turned for a couple of hours and finally managed to fall asleep around 1am. The alarm went off at 4:15 and oddly enough I popped right up, no grogginess. I went downstairs, started the coffee, changed into my race gear and then ate a breakfast of a bagel, a banana and a cliff bar. I double-checked to make sure I had everything I needed and then headed out the door at about 5:00am.

I decided to take the train into the city - Metra was running an extra train early in the morning just for marathoners and it seemed like the easiest way to get down there. It arrived just a few minutes late, but we were downtown by about 6:15am. In 2012, when I last ran the Chicago Marathon, I remembered how long the porta-potty lines were and so as I was walking from the train station to Grant Park I was keeping an eye out for a bathroom. About 2 blocks from the Park, I passed a Panera that was open - there was ZERO line for the bathroom so I took care of business and continued on my way. It took about 10 minutes to get through the security lines, then I proceeded to the gear check area, shed my extra layers, dropped off my bag and headed to the corral. I realized at that point that I had about 20 minutes so I decided to brave the porta-potty lines. I got through the line with about 5 minutes to spare and made it into the jam-packed Corral B.

Somewhere along the line of signing up for this marathon, I must have missed the part where you can send a qualifying time in for a particular Corral assignment. I'm not tooting my own horn here, but I should have been in Corral A based on my half-marathon time. As it was, I was assigned to Corral B and because I had taken my time in getting there, I was at the back of Corral B. If you've never been to a marathon, there are pace group for various goal times (3:00, 3:15, 3:30 and so on). Where I was in Corral B, I was near the 3:30 pace group. This wasn't a huge deal, but to put it into perspective, the people gunning for a 3:30 were looking to average about 8:00/mile and to achieve my goal, I needed to run 6:50/mile...which is to say that I knew I was going to have to dodge and weave for awhile.

The race started promptly at 7:30 and it took me about 3 minutes or so to get to the start line. I had turned the auto-lap off on my GPS watch because I knew the watch was going to get off-track through the first part of the race (lots of underpasses, buildings and the like). Just as I had foreseen, I had to do a lot of dodging and weaving. I went through the first mile in 7:20 and was honestly quite frustrated at that point. Through the first 5-6 miles, there was a solid pack of runners and there are sections of the course where the road narrows (or turns at a 90 degree angle) and things get even more packed. I knew the pace I needed to be at and was getting frustrated that I wasn't even able to get an opening to try and settle into a groove. I was constantly speeding up and slowing down which uses a lot of energy. I was concerned that the yo-yo pacing was going to cost me later in the race.

Enough bitching though. #marathonerproblems I went through the 5K mark at 21:52 which was 7:03/mile pace. It was behind where I wanted to be at that point, but not ridiculously so. I knew that I was going to see my cheering squad at Mile 4 so I was looking forward to that and keeping my mindset positive. I saw Leslie and Justin and gave them high-fives which was a great early-race boost. I knew I wasn't going to see them again till Mile 11 so my mindset turned to settling into a groove, enjoying the scenery and people-watching.

By the time I reached the 10K mark I had made up of most of the lost time, getting my average per mile down to 6:56. I was feeling good and enjoying the energy from the crowds. In particular I loved running through the Lakeview, Park West and Lincoln Park neighborhoods. There were oodles of spectators, bands playing and people cheering. I had put my name on my singlet just above my bib so I was constantly hearing people say "Go Adam!" or something to that effect. It was great encouragement. I saw my cheering section again at Mile 11. Before the race Leslie had told me where she was going to be..."left side at 4, right side at 11" but for some reason I thought they were going to be on the left side at 11. So I see them but they are all the way across the street, so I quick dodged through a crowd of runners to give them high-fives. It was another great emotional boost and I was still feeling strong.

Coming back into the downtown area from the north end of the course is, in my opinion, one of the best parts of the marathon. It's right before the 1/2-marathon mark and the crowds there are loud and all of the runners really get into it, pumping our fists and feeding off that energy. It's a great boost right before the last half of the race. I went through the halfway mark at 1:29:52 and I was happy with that. I knew it meant that I couldn't take my foot off the gas (didn't have much of a cushion to achieve my goal) but it also meant that I hadn't run too aggressively. I was essentially right on track with where I wanted to be, provided I could hold the pace steady the rest of the way.

Miles 14-20 were pretty much a blur. Pain started to creep in and slowly ramp up after 15 miles. It wasn't anything serious, my legs were feeling tired and my hip flexors and feet were sore. The mental games hadn't started yet and I was still feeling positive. It was more just a concentration game to keep the pace steady and not think too much about how many miles there were left. I remember playing the "countdown" game to the next point I knew I was going to see Leslie and the gang (~Mile 21). I was also looking forward to going through the Pilsen and Chinatown neighborhoods which are another highlight of the course. Those neighborhoods combine enthusiastic crowds with ethnic flavors (and smells) which make it a truly unique area. By the time I got to Mile 20, I was in a good deal of pain. My legs, feet, and hip flexors were all yelling at me and the mental games were starting. When I saw Leslie and the gang just after Mile 21, I was so happy to see them. Leslie ran next to me for about 30-40 feet and was yelling "Go Adam, you've got this!" but I couldn't speak. In my mind I was thinking, "thank you!" and I wanted to tell her how good it was to see her, but I literally couldn't talk. I got really emotional after seeing them and I had to work to gather myself. Seeing them at that point of the race was by far the most important time that I saw them during the whole race. I needed that encouragement and I needed to see familiar faces. It solidified, at least temporarily, my resolve to keep pushing through.

You might be wondering about the "mental games". I'm sure everyone experiences it differently, but it's that point in the race (any race really) where your body is yelling at you to stop or slow down and your mind starts to listen. Mile 20 started a 6-mile countdown in my mind. I was thinking of every possible external reason to keep pushing. "Do it for Addison", "do it for Leslie", "do it for all of the people tracking you via text message", "do it for all of those people who encouraged you during training", "do it because this might be your only shot to break 3-hours"...whatever I had to tell myself as an excuse to keep pushing, I was using it. At mile 23 I got a sharp, stabbing pain at the front of my 2nd toe on my left foot. I thought to myself, "how did a rock get in there?" The pain went away after a few minutes though and I quickly forgot about it until the end of the race. Miles 22, 23 and 24 are only of the only areas of the course where the spectators are sparse and so I continued to play the mental games and take things one mile at a time.

When I got to mile 24 I think I might have said out loud, "OK, only 2 more miles". I was still on-track for my goal. I knew if I made it to 25, I would have it. Nothing was going to stop me in that last mile. It was as if my mind had attached itself to the idea of the finish line and from that point on, I was hell-bent on going as fast I could until I reached that glorious line. Unbeknownst to me, Leslie and the gang had proceeded to mile 25.5 to try and catch me one last time. I'm in the zone, I can almost see the finish and I hear people chanting "Adam, Adam Adam" and I look over and there they are. Leslie had gotten a group of about 20 people to chant my name. I gave a few fist pumps and then I wound up and threw an air punch (?) and almost fell over. My legs were toast at that point and the sudden motion threw me off balance. Fortunately I caught myself. I had to laugh - I narrowly avoided tragedy...

When I crossed the finish line I remember stopping, but it's like my body was on autopilot. I almost ran into the person in front of me and well, it took a few paces to actually stop. As soon as I stopped running, my legs nearly locked up. It was like a scene out of a zombie movie...everyone who had finished around me was doing this very slow shuffle-walk...the Marathon Shuffle. My brother and I were talking last night about how finishing a marathon is so odd - you're running along one minute and 30 seconds after you stop, even the idea of jogging is unimaginable. Anyway, I got really emotional while I was walking through the finisher chute. It was a lot of things...relief, pain, thankfulness, that "i did it" feeling. I very slowly made my way through, got a bunch of water and other stuff, posed for the Marathon Foto people and got to gear check. Having been assigned to Corral B suddenly became a huge blessing. Because I had made my way past a majority of the people in my Corral, there was no gear check line for me. All of the people that had been in Corral A finished about the same time and were waiting in lines that were 30-50 people deep to pick up their stuff (probably about 1/2 an hour wait). I walked right up and had my bag within a minute. I was so thankful for that. In 2012, my bag had gotten lost and I ended up being stuck in the finishing area for 2+ hours till they found it. Needless to say, this time around the experience was 1000% better. I ambled my way and met up with Leslie and John and Justin and that was that - it was over.

In terms of my own experience of things, this marathon was so much different than my first one. The biggest difference was the expectations. In 2012 I was content to let the race come to me. I was completely unsure of how it would go and what it would be like. This time I knew all of that, more or less, and had a very specific goal time in mind. The frustration I had at the beginning of the race was not something that I would have felt in 2012. I would say that this marathon was a lot more painful than the last one too. In 2012 I felt pretty strong the whole way, I got bored towards the end of the race and remembering just "wanting to be done". There was pain, but this time around was much more difficult at the end. In many ways, however, this marathon was very similar to 2012. The crowds were just as awesome, the on-course support (aid stations) were superior and I had a great cheering squad.

As with any endeavor - I have so many people to thank. First and foremost, my wife Leslie. She is my biggest fan and that is such a great feeling. She was there on the course where she said she was going to be, she ran with me for a brief stretch and cheered me on when I needed it the most, and she recruited a group of random spectators to chant my name so that they would be able to get my attention in that last 1/2-mile. Not only that, she picked up the slack over the last few months in taking care of Addison during any number of weekend long runs (while training for her own 1/2 marathon no less), she supported me throughout the training and she is just an overall awesome wife and partner in life that makes me want to be the best person I can be. If it's possible, I think she's more excited about me breaking 3-hours in the marathon than I am.

I also have to thank the others who came out to cheer me on, Justin, John, Julie and Steve. I'm thankful to my parents who not only took care of Addison while I was running the marathon, but our house is on the market and we had a showing yesterday at 12:30 and we weren't able to make it back in time to tidy up, so they cleaned everything up to make it ready for the showing. Our friend Kristen came over to help as well (at a moment's notice) and the three of them took a huge burden off our backs. I would also like to thank Woody, one of my running partners-in-crime who has encouraged me and run with me consistently since we met earlier this year. He himself is a sub-3 marathoner and his training insights and encouragement he offered over the last several months have been invaluable. Also, I'd like to thank my brother Tony for his counseling and support through this training cycle. He's a college track and cross-country coach and without his wisdom, support and depth of knowledge, there is no way I would have gotten to this point in my running. And lastly, I would like to thank everyone who supported me via DailyMile - the daily encouragement I find there makes it easier to getting through the rough patches in training.

As for 'what's next' - I'm not really sure. I'm going to take at least a few days off of running, until the soreness is completely gone and I can walk normally again. I would like to shift my focus back to racing shorter distances - 5K and 10K and improve my times there. I did, in fact, Boston Qualify (BQ) for this first time with this marathon result...but honestly, I don't think I'm going to actually go and run the Boston Marathon. As cool as that would be, marathon training is extremely time-consuming and with a small and growing family, training for marathons isn't the best use of my time. For now, I'm satisfied to have BQ'ed in the toughest age/gender division and I think that will be enough for me. That thinking could change - but I doubt it will.

If you've made it this far into my novel about my 2014 Chicago Marathon, thanks for reading, hopefully it wasn't too boring! Oh, that rock that I thought was in my shoe at Mile 23, turned out it wasn't a rock, it was a blood blister than popped. Had a nice bloody sock afterwards. Cheers!

Official Finish Time: 2:59:02
Gender Place: 838
Age Group Place: 189
Overall Place: 959 out of 40,801

Friday, October 3, 2014

Going All In

It's 9 days away now. When I think about it, my heart starts to beat a little faster...I can feel the heavy thumps in my chest. Months of preparation, 14+ weeks of focused training. Countless times asking myself if I think it's possible to achieve the goal I have set before me. Race day is almost here - the 2014 Chicago Marathon is almost here. My goal is to run the marathon in less than 3 hours and I believe it's possible.

The title of my post is "Going All In" because I feel like this has been my motto for this marathon training cycle. I usually give everything I do my best effort, but in this case, it has been on another level. I have been determined to leave no stone un-turned. In the middle of my training cycle for this marathon, I hit a rough patch where I just wasn't feeling enthusiastic or energized and I was talking to my brother on the phone one night, relaying this lethargy to him, and he suggested that I take a few days off. I told him that I couldn't - that I had to push through because I wanted to make sure that I didn't get to the end thinking that maybe there was something else I could have done. Part of the reason for the urgency with this marathon is that I think it will be my last one for at least a few years. With one kid here and the desire to continue to expand our family, it is becoming increasingly difficult to justify the time it takes to commit to serious marathon training. I will keep running, of course, but the focus will be on shorter races.

This training cycle was much different than my first marathon. The biggest difference is obvious - it's not my first marathon. When I trained for the 2012 Chicago Marathon, the training was new, my mileage peak was a new personal best for me, everything was novel including the shape I managed to get myself into for that Marathon. This time around, I knew going into it what the training would be like and what to expect. Not having that new-ness took a little bit of the shine off of it. Another thing that was different, in a very positive way, was the weather this summer. In 2012, we had a brutal summer here in Chicago - many, many days where the high temperatures reached 90 or more. This summer was cooler and very temperate which made for much more enjoyable training. Another positive difference is that my body was more ready for marathon training this time around and thus I had much fewer aches and pains this time around. I remember in 2012, I came down with little things here and there that would cost me 1-3 days of training...this time around, I missed only 2 days of training in 14 weeks. Even now, my body feels great and I'm running nearly 100% pain-free. Another major difference this time around was that Leslie and I have a child now, a year-and-a-half old, who understandably demands a lot of time. I couldn't just run whenever I wanted which presented a little bit of a challenge at times.

Like I mentioned, I went 'all-in' for this one which meant trying to fit as much mileage in as possible. Running after work was out of the question - Leslie needed my help with our daughter and I'm gone all day at work. So my running had to be relegated to either the mornings before work or on my lunch breaks. In order to fit in the longer mid-week runs, I resorted to two-a-days on Wednesdays - running both before work and on my lunch break. Needless to say, I didn't really look forward to Wednesdays, two runs in a matter of hours got to be a bit much, especially towards the end. At the beginning of my training cycle I was right around 40 miles/week and worked it up gradually up to 60 miles/week at towards the end. I was pleasantly surprised by how my body responded to the increased in mileage. In the course of training I set new personal records for miles in a month (233) and miles in a week (65). I ran two races during training as well, including a 5K in late July and a Half-Marathon in early-September. Overall, I'm very pleased with how things went, in fact, all things considered I'm not sure they could have gone much better than they did.

So now it comes down to it. 9 more days until I can find out if my body can do it. I've envisioned it a hundred times now - crossing that finish line with something on the clock that still as a 2 as the first digit. How would I react? How will I feel if I don't break 3...will I really be disappointed something just over 3 hours? I'm really curious to see what happens. All signs so far point in a good direction. The half marathon last month, which was a tune-up to see where I was at, went swimmingly and really gave me some confidence. The weather is looking like it's going to cooperate too which is probably the biggest wildcard. I'm hopeful, I'm starting to get nervous, and I'm excited, all at the same time. On top of that, I'm ready for this short journey to come to an end - it's been fun to train and train hard, but I'm ready for a break and for the pressure to be off. I know that I've given it all I've got and I'm ready to see if that will be enough.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Reflections on Racing

"...Because the question rarely resolves itself in material terms, running was pointless to many people. Others, far more fortunate, recognized intuitively that the very pointlessness of running was its greatest strength. That pointlessness meant that no spectator could ever entirely know what was going on as he watched a distance being run. The casual spectator might have a single clue: he had what he saw. The better informed spectator might have additional clues, by knowing what performances had been rendered in the past by the particular athlete…In sum, when running was pointless, running was fascinating because running had very little to do with running. It had to do with people and why they act the way they do.”

-Excerpt from "A Cold Clear Day" by Frank Murphy

A few months back, my brother turned me on to the book I just quoted - it's about American Buddy Edelen who is a little-known name in American distance running lore, but was nevertheless one of the greatest American runners of all-time. He once held the Marathon World Record in 1963 (2:14:28) and at a time when Europeans dominated the world of distance running, Buddy Edelen was one of the only Americans who could keep up. Anyway - it's a quick, easy read and it definitely gives the reader an appreciation for a time in the sport of Running where the athletes ran because they loved it and not because there was a lot of money (or fame) involved.

What a week (and a half) it has been! I ran races on back-to-back Saturdays; the Prairie State Half Marathon on October 12th and the Flint Hills Forte 5K on October 19th. For both races we had nearly perfect running conditions and in both races, my body cooperated and allowed me to run at maximum effort. Let's start with the Prairie State Half.

I wrote about this on DailyMile, but for whatever reason I had serious doubts heading into this race. I wondered if my goals were too lofty - I wondered if the training I had been able to do had adequately prepared me to PR in a half marathon - I wondered how I would feel at the end of the race and if I would have what it took to gut it out. I don't really know why I doubted myself because I'm not usually one to do that - usually I feel like I know what I'm capable of. I think part of it was that I had built this race up in my mind over the past few months. This was the "A-Race" for me and the one I had been training for all summer. I had run other races in the past few months, but they didn't mean nearly as much to me as this one did. I knew that if I didn't achieve my goals, the disappointment would have been substantial.

Fortunately, I slept well the night before. This was huge. I felt good when I woke up on race morning and there were no detectable aches or pains. Being 100% healthy at the start-line is an achievement in and of itself...all you runners know what I'm talking about. After packing up the kiddo and everything else, we made the 45-minute drive from our house to the Independence Grove Forest Preserve in Libertyville, IL. After picking up the race packet and a quick 1-mile warm-up, it was time to go.

I would go through the whole race, mile by mile, but I did that on DailyMile and you can read about it here if you're into that sort of thing. The end result was that I ran the Half in 1:25:56 which was my personal best by almost two-and-a-half minutes and was good enough for 11th place out of 892 runners and 2nd in the 25-29 age group. I was so happy with the result - I was ecstatic after the race and was so happy to see my wife and daughter. I don't think I could have run the race even 5 seconds faster than I did - I pushed it to the absolute limit and surprised even myself because going into the race, my "I'll be surprised if I do it" goal was 1:26:30.

The days following the race were predictable - I'm usually sore in my calves after longer races and though the soreness wasn't terrible, my legs were definitely telling me that they were tired and needed rest...I had some pretty gnarly blisters too. I took a couple of days of complete rest and then on Tuesday I opted for some pool running which is a nice change-of-pace and is a very low-impact workout. On Wednesday I tried actual running again and it was painful. I had what felt like achilles tendinitis in my lower left leg and my quads still felt wrecked. I knew I had another race coming up in a few days so I opted for rest. On Thursday I did another session of pool running and then on Friday I took another day of complete rest. In the evenings I did a lot of icing and compression and by Friday evening my left leg was feeling a lot better. In retrospect, I think it was my soleus muscle that was just really sore and made it feel like tendinitis.

On Saturday morning I felt ready to go. A quick 1.5-mile warm-up confirmed that my legs were feeling good. This 5K was in Channahon so it had been a bit of a early morning because of the drive to get there, but the race director is one of my business clients and it's a very enjoyable family-friendly race. It's called the "Flint Hills Resources Forte 5K" and it benefits the local Channahon Music Boosters Club which is a cause I don't mind supporting. The guy who organizes the race, Jim Mason, is a really good guy and is a runner himself. This was the 2nd annual race (I ran in the inaugural race last year) and the course is very scenic and flat which makes for good racing.

Right out of the gate, some guy in a red shirt took off and got out to a healthy lead - but after about a quarter of a mile, I could tell he was drifting back to the pack. About 1/2 a mile into the race, I passed him and for perhaps the first time in my life, I was leading a race. I thought to myself..."huh, this is kinda fun, I could get used to this!" It was just me and the guide-biker in front of me and for the next 2.5 miles or so it was like this. At the 1 and 2 mile markers I peeked behind me to see how far ahead I was and at mile 2 I figured I had about a 5 second lead. I really started laboring in the 3rd mile...I kept thinking about what it would be like to win a race...but also what it would be like to lead a race for this long and not win. I was too tired to peek behind me and it was taking all of my effort simply to keep the pace up. With the finish line in sight (about 1/10th of a mile to go) I got passed up...and I mean, it wasn't like this guy was struggling to pass me, he blew by me. I said something like, "nice running" as he passed me and tired to turn on the jets to re-take 1st, but I didn't have enough to overtake him. I finished in 2nd place by 1.3 seconds.

Do I wish I could have won? Surely. It would have been sweet to win a 5K. Isn't that every serious runner's dream? I mean, how many of us can say they've won a race? Even though it was a small race (200 finishers) it still would have been cool to win. Am I bummed that I did not win? No, not really. Considering I ran a PR half marathon 7 days earlier and considering I was unsure of how much of an effort I was going to be able to give only 48 hours prior to the race...I'm happy. And I got a 5K only 3 seconds, but hey, a PR is a PR right? This race is so awesome - they give out really nice fleece blankets to 1st, 2nd and 3rd place so I'm the proud owner of a new fleece blanket that has the logo of the 5K and "2nd Place" embroidered into it. Totes awesome.

All things considered it was a pretty damn good week in terms of running. Two PRs, a 2nd place AG finish and a 2nd place Overall finish? Not bad, I'll take that all day long. So, what's next? Hmm - after reading a bunch of awesome Chicago Marathon race recaps I have marathon fever like never before. I'm thinking maybe the 2014 Chicago Marathon or perhaps a different one (Milwaukee? Naperville?). I know I want to run one next fall and give sub-3:00:00 a serious go. I feel like I've learned a ton since running Chicago in 2012 and I feel like there is a ton of room for improvement.

For now I will probably take it easy. I may run another race around Thanksgiving but more than anything, my body needs some rest. I'm thinking maybe 20-30 mpw through the rest of the year. I'm going to work on incorporating some weight training into my regimen - I've gotten away from that and I think could probably use some strengthening.

I cannot reiterate enough how thankful I am for the support of the running community through DailyMile. If you're not on there - join us (!) - it's a great community for support and encouragement, no matter your speed. I'm also thankful to my wife - she's left holding the kid when I go off and do all my running and she's the one who's there at the finish line cheering me on. I'm so thankful for all of that. Thank you Leslie!!

Monday, October 7, 2013

Fall Goals Check-In and Race Preview

I feel like I say this all the time, but time is freaking flying by these days. It seems like just yesterday that our daughter Addison was she's almost 6 months old. Anyway, I digress, talking about time flying makes me feel old. I thought I would do a Fall goals check-in and a race preview of the upcoming Prairie State Half Marathon coming up for me on Saturday. Let's start with goals.

At the beginning of the summer, I stated four goals:
1) Run at least 3 more races this summer
2) Train well for the Prairie State Half-Marathon
3) Continue with regular weekly mileage -- minimum of 25/week but ideally working up to ~40-45 miles/week.
4) Get involved with some sort of team

Hmm - well, I guess I can say that I achieved 2 of those goals. I only ended up running two races this summer - a 10K on August 3rd and a 5K on September 2nd. Both of the races were PRs but I just couldn't find time for that third race. Oh well, all-in-all it's not that big of a deal.

On the other hand, I feel as though I have trained very well for the Half Marathon coming up this weekend. In June, July, August and September I logged 125, 140, 140, and 130 miles respectively and I mixed in a good amount of speed-work with 8 runs of 10 miles or longer. The races I did do showed that the speedwork has definitely paid dividends and my training paces have gotten gradually faster as well. On top of that, my body feels good and mentally I feel prepared for this race.

Weekly-mileage wise, I have stepped it up from the 25/week I was at in June. Through the summer months my weekly mileage was steadily in the mid-30s/week - I haven't hit the mid-40s like I'd hoped, but honestly, I've run just about as much as I can in the time that I had this summer so I'll take it.

Utter fail on Goal #4. I talked to Kevin Granato earlier in the summer about joining Granato Racing and I briefly considered joining the Glen Ellyn Running Club, but the bottomline reason I didn't pull the trigger on either is that I simply don't have weekend mornings or weekday nights open, at this point, to make joining a team worth it. If and when I join a team, I want to be a full participant, not just someone who shows up occasionally and doesn't really know anyone. It's still a strong desire of mine, but at least for this summer anyway, it wasn't in the cards.

So let's talk about this race on Saturday....

I'm really excited. After watching my brother smash his marathon PR yesterday at the Twin Cities Marathon, I'm inspired. Not only that, I feel like running-wise, I'm in as good of shape as I've ever been in my entire life. Unlike in last year's marathon training, I've incorporated some very specific speed-work and it seems to be paying off. My last 5K was evidence of that and I think that I've even gotten quicker since that race. In the 3 months leading up to my last half marathon, I ran a total of ~320 miles and in the past 3 months leading up to this half marathon I've run ~440 miles so from even just a sheer mileage standpoint, I'm even more prepared for this race than I was for the last half marathon I ran.

Goals-wise, I'm going to take Erin's approach and have a couple of different goals. My "I definitely think I can do it" goal is to get a new half marathon PR in this race. My fastest Half so far is 1:28:20 and I think I'm in better shape now. My "If all of the stars align" goal is 1:26:30. I imagine my ultimate time with be somewhere in between those two numbers...would love to surprise myself (in a good way) though. The weather looks like it's going to cooperate...temps should be in the low-to-mid-50s and for now there is no rain forecast for Saturday morning. The race starts at 8:00am so it won't be a terribly early morning. I looked at the results from last year, over 800 people ran in the half marathon and there were about 300 in the marathon so it's not a tiny race, but it's not very large either. which has both pluses and minuses. On the plus side, there won't be any dodging or weaving. The downside is that in the latter part of the race, it's likely to be pretty spread out so I can't count on having anyone to run with or near to help pull me along when the fatigue starts to set in. I don't know if they'll have pace groups, I imagine this is probably too small of a race for that...but we'll see.

Strategy-wise, I'm going to start out by trying to run 6:40-6:45s for the first three miles. During the last half marathon, I really got into that groove early on and it helped a lot in the latter stages of the race. After 3, I will gradually increase the pace (ideally) through the end of mile 9. Starting at mile 10, I'll spend whatever I have left. I would like to be at ~40:30 (6:41 average) through the 10M mark and at about 1:06:30  (6:39 average) through 10 miles.

So now it's just a matter of tapering and waiting. Today is a rest day, I'll probably do easy runs on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. I'm really excited to see how all of my DailyMile friends do in their respective marathons coming up, particularly the Chicago Marathon this weekend. I know a few others who are running either the Naperville Marathon or the NYC Marathon in November. I've gotten hit hard lately with the marathon itch again so hopefully next year I'll be running in the Chicago Marathon again. Good luck to all you racers out there - do your best and leave it all out there!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Desire

Having your first child makes you think. Besides all of the learning that needs to be done and all of the new experiences, it makes you examine yourself - your beliefs, your motives, your ability to provide, your drive to succeed, least it has for me anyway. Our daughter Addison was born about 6 weeks ago and I would say I've done a lot of soul-searching since then. Do I have what it any area of life?

A big part of my life - or at least an important part of my life - is running. I would say I've been a "serious" runner now for about 2 1/2 years. I've run a few half marathons and broke my marathon cherry last fall. In terms of experience, I've run all of the various race distances and decided what I like and dislike. In terms of training I've figured out what works for me and what leads to injury. As part of this general soul-searching that has been going on I have inevitably considered the running part of my life and asked myself "what do I want out of this?"

I think I've come to the conclusion that I want more out of this. I'm 29 years old and I want to stay in shape. Beyond that, I think I have a little bit of God-given running talent and I'd like to see how good I can get. In talking with my brother (who is himself an avid runner and sub-3:00 marathoner) and from reading books, I believe the key to improving my times is simple: dedication and time. As with any pursuit in life, if you want to get better at it, you've got to spend more time doing it and you've got to clear away (or make more room for) other things in order to spend more time doing the thing you want to get better at.

So - it all starts with desire. How much do I want it? What am I willing to sacrifice to become a better/faster runner? I think for me, the desire is there. I want to improve and I'm willing to put in the work. I think another thing that helps to keep the flame of desire burning is having goals. So I need to make some goals:

Goal #1: Run at least 3 more races this summer - could be anything from a 5K to a Half Marathon
Sub-goals: Depending on the length of races -- current goals are
-- 5K: sub-19:00
-- 10K: sub-40:00

Goal #2: Train well for the Prairie State Half-Marathon on October 12th (already signed up) with the goal of running under 1:27:00 (6:38/mile).

Goal #3: Continue with regular weekly mileage -- minimum of 25/week but ideally working up to ~40-45 miles/week. Currently at 30 miles/week.

Goal #4: Get involved with some sort of team. Whether it's a local running club or getting a running coach - I think one of the keys to maintaining interest in this sport is doing it with others.

Desire + Goals = Achievement...most of the time anyway.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Dood. (Chitown Half Marathon Race Recap)

What: Chitown Half Marathon
Where: Downtown Chicago, IL (northside)
When: March 24th, 2013
Weather: Upper-20s, cloudy, wind from the East
Finish Time: 1:28:20 (23rd out of 1,063)

I have to start off this post by thanking my wife Leslie. After the race finished yesterday the first person I saw was her and giving her a hug and sharing in that moment of triumph with her was super awesome. Our soon-to-be daughter was also there for that hug as well, still just a 'bun in the oven' but she was there too. It was a special family moment. Thank you Leslie for listening to me drivel on endlessly about running - for encouraging me and for celebrating with me. I am such a lucky man.

Can you tell the race went great? Oh man - it went EXACTLY how I hoped it would. I managed to sleep pretty well the night before and it wasn't that early of a morning (6:20am) which was nice. I had my typical race morning breakfast of a banana, a cup of coffee and a couple of granola bars (and 1/2 a CLIF bar in the car on the way). I was definitely nervous. Leslie talked me down in the car on the way there. When we got there Leslie dropped me off and I meandered my way over to the start area. After scoping things out I went on a short warm-up run and that little run actually made me question myself a little bit because it was a slow pace and yet I felt like I was struggling a bit. After dropping my stuff off at the gear check I made my way to the starting line. In retrospect I probably should have waited a few more minutes before dropping my stuff off because I ended up waiting, in the cold and wind, at the starting line for a good 15 minutes. Oops.

This race, like many other half marathons, had a few pace groups and luckily for me, they had a pace group for my goal pace (1:30:00, 6:52/mile). After the gun went off I settled in with that pace group. I figured I would see how it went at that pace for a little while knowing that if I couldn't keep up, I would have to re-think my goal. I settled into a nice rhythm and in retrospect, the decision to stick in that group probably saved me some energy because I was able to draft behind some of the runners in that group instead of facing the winds along the lake on my own. The first few miles clicked off and I was feeling really good.

Eventually I decided to go out ahead of the group -- not too long after that I came up on fellow DailyMiler Britt K and we chatted for a bit. It's always so cool to meet someone from DM, especially during a race (great job Britt!). After that meeting - the crowd really started to thin out and I just kinda dropped into a zone. I don't really even remember much of a scenery - I was just focused on holding a consistent pace and not getting ahead of myself. That's pretty much how the entire middle section of the race went for me. There were a few windier sections on the course that were difficult, but I knew they wouldn't last long and they didn't.

By the time I got to mile 10 I was over a minute ahead of "schedule". I had been holding back the pace for a little bit and knowing I only had a 5K left, I decided to go for it. The last few miles, while difficult, really went by fast. I saw another fellow DMer Erin with her daughter cheering us on and that gave me a boost of energy. A few times during the last 5K I thought to myself, "eh, you've got this, why not coast a little bit?" but then I would think about how much training I put into this race or the fact that this was going to be my last race for awhile and then push the pace faster.

After I crossed the finish line (and before I saw Leslie) I let out what was pretty much a scream. There might have been some colorful language involved :) I was so pumped - I thought going into the race that I could run sub-1:30 but to run 1:28:20 - that was beyond what I thought I was capable of right now. The rest of the day was great - we spent some time at Leslie's brother's house eating and hanging out and I received a lot of encouragement through DailyMile which is always awesome.

I'm really excited for what lies ahead - both in running and in life. On the running side, I feel like I've turned a corner of sorts which is really exciting. On the life side, we have the birth of our first child coming up very soon and Leslie and I can't wait to meet her. Running might have to take a back-seat for awhile, but I've got a nice PR to bask in for awhile and I'll be back soon!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

What a Difference a Year Makes

On Twitter yesterday, I happened to see Dathan Ritzenhein tweet about being excited to head to New York City for this weekend's NYC Half Marathon. I instantly jumped on the memories train thinking back to last year when my wife and two of our best friends all ran the NYC Half and what an experience the whole thing was. It made me realize how much things can change in one year.

Last year at this time I was doubting whether I would even be able to toe the starting line of the half marathon. I was in the midst of a nearly two-month battle with ITBS and had told my mom a week before the NYC Half that it "would be a miracle" if I was able to complete the race. I hadn't been able to run more than 2-3 miles in almost two months and the longest run I'd ever done in my life up till that point was 12 miles. So, not only was I out of shape, but I was fixing to go farther than I'd ever gone before. Miraculously, my knee did start feeling better that week (thanks to a serendipitous change of shoes) and I ran in and completed the half marathon. Things have gotten better and better since then.

I started getting back into post-injury regular running again at the beginning of April 2012. I started out really small...a few miles here and there, nothing fast. I didn't run on back-to-back days until mid-April and didn't pass 15 miles/week until the end of April. I started training for the Chicago Marathon in May and my mileage increased slowly from there. I didn't cross the 30 miles/week threshold until mid-June. Things got better quickly from there - in August I ran 207 miles, book-ended by 170+ mile months in July and September. Only 7 months after not being able to complete a 2-mile run, I completed the Chicago Marathon, in a respectable time even.

I've continued to run regularly since the Marathon and I'm gearing up for another half marathon here on March 24th. By the time that race gets here, I'll have run 1,400 miles since the NYC Half last year. This isn't an "oh look at me" post, I say all of this to make the point about how much can change in one year. There were times last February and March where I thought my knee would never get better. It was so frustrating. But they did get better - and I've gone on to achieve things I could only imagine a year ago. Over the past few days, I've felt stronger and faster than I've ever felt before. It's a 180-degree difference from last year.

There have been other life things that are completely different now than they were a year ago too. We're a month away from bringing our first child into this world whereas a year ago we were still wondering if we were ready to take the plunge into parenthood. Now, ready or not, it's coming - and we're so excited. I think this upcoming race will be special for me in the sense that I may not be able to dedicate as much of my time to running after our daughter is born. I have no idea what this world will look like post-baby, but I'm willing to give up running so many miles if life requires that. So this may be the last race, for awhile, in which I was able to put all the necessary training in. I hope that's not the case, but I'm treating like it will be - and I plan on leaving everything I've got out on that course. I'm determined to achieve my goal of a sub-1:30 half marathon.

I'm sure the next year will bring a lot of changes too - I have no doubts about that. I'm excited to see what they are!