Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Part 2: Back to the Drawing Board

It’s amazing what a day or two of perspective and reflection can do for your analysis of a race. I knew I wanted to write up the race details ASAP so I could remember it for the future and do better next time. However, I’m glad I held off another day for the analysis. I had all these theories and deep analyses of what happened and was ready to write another novel.

If you really boil it down, I just went out too hard and bit off more than I could chew. No way I should have been running sub-6:20 miles (let alone 6:00 and 6:06)for any reason. Part of my demise I think was also contributed to my 2.5 minute PR in my half marathon back in October. After running that sub-1:17, I was on cloud-nine and probably thought I was a little better than I actually was. Those early miles took their toll. I didn’t respect the distance of the marathon, the quality of the Philly marathon field (after finishing 3rd at my half), or my own limits. It’s a hard lesson learned, but one I will just have to apply next time.

Just to share a few excerpts from two blogs of spectacular endurance athletes that I follow that I’ve really identified since the race.

The first is Jen Harrison’s blog, which helped me put things in perspective:

“I always say that if you have a bad race you get 24 hours to sulk and then you move ON. It is only a race. … I was sad because of all the work and the result was NOT what I wanted – in my worst case scenario, this was NOT even a thought… it is so frustrating when the work is in the body but you cannot do it. I hate not being in control of my body!”

It’s just a race. I’m not defined by a number or a time. My family, friends, or students don’t think less of me. God still loves me. I’ve had my 24 hours of sulking and I’m ready to tackle my next goals…..once my quads, hammies, and calves decide it’s time.

The second is from an athlete by the name of Beth Shutt from her pre-triathlon days. Here’s some eerily similar quotes after her Columbus Marathon DNF from 2004.

The next split was not the 13 mile marker but rather the half marathon mark which we reached in 1:32:26. Okay, a little ahead of pace, but I swear, we felt good and were running smoothly (I know...famous last words). … then we went: 6:51, 7:28, 7:31. Trouble is brewing. We started climbing a relatively benign hill, but nonetheless, we were falling off pace fast. I can honestly say I've never starting feeling so badly so quickly. Within 2-3 miles I went from feeling great and running 7 minute pace effortlessly, to really struggling to maintain 8 minute pace

At first I refused to believe that we went out too fast, but I'm starting to come around to the idea. Of course we felt comfortable for the first half, but that's the whole point, the marathon is 26.2 miles! I think our fatal flaw was setting too fast a goal time to begin with.

Some other thoughts from the weekend:
*The marathon was a good experience. More miles and more race experience are invaluable. Philly’s a nice city (even if Eagles fans did boo Santa Claus).

*If you’re ever in the Conshohocken area, you have to stop at Tony and Joe’s Pizza and Restaurant. It was right by our hotel and we walked there for the pre-race pasta meal and the “drown the disappointment in pop and pizza” post-race meal. Awesome food!

*You always learn from races and just have to apply it to the next one even though it’s not next week. At my high school the girls’ basketball team went to the state title game two years ago and lost. They had to have that in the back of their head every day for the entire next year to get the chance to redeem themselves. They had to put the time in the gym every day, execute each game, focus on each step along the way to get back to the state title game and have the chance for redemption. One game at a time they conquered their “unfinished business” and ended up as undefeated state champs in the highest classification and are now ranked #9 in the COUNTRY preseason in the USA Today this year. My next marathon isn’t next weekend, but my training for it starts then. I need to execute my game plan one day at a time and follow it through the whole was to my plan on race day.

Rule #2 I took away from Jen Harrison is NO major decisions for 2 weeks. I will follow that, but I think if I do a marathon next fall, it will be in October (maybe Columbus?). This way I can catch the flow of the XC season a little better and not feel flat the last two weeks.

So, with that, I close the door on the Philly marathon and have this RR saved in a Word Document for me to pull out before my next marathon to FORCE ME TO NOT GO OUT TOO HARD!!!

Many thanks of course to pass out:
*Thanks for the people out there on the course cheering for me: Rad and Mr. G, Heather, and Lindsay
*Thanks for all the encouraging messages on FB and the blog. Much appreciated
*Thanks to my parents for watching the dog for practically every weekend this fall with the race and event schedule Beth and I had since September
*Thanks to the HS XC team for kicking my butt every day in practice and allowing me to go faster than I ever was in high school
*And, of course, thanks to Beth for being the best support through this whole training cycle. Even with her crazy training and work schedule, she was always there to bounce ideas off and, most importantly, had a shoulder for me to lean on after the race.

Good luck to everybody with their future racing and have a super Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Philly Marathon Race Report Part 1 - The Race Itself

….and other lessons learned from the weekend in Philly

Much like the Pittsburgh Pirates must first become a .500 team before becoming a playoff contender, I learned that I should probably shoot for a sub-3:00 marathon before aiming for a sub-2:50 race….the hard way.

FYI—this is going to be a long one since I don’t run big races too often. Lots of thoughts going through the head. I’m going to break it into two parts: the race and the reflection. Let me first start off my saying that, while I was pretty bummed out about the end result, there were many positives to pull out of this experience and I hope to convey those along the way as well.

Okay- the facts first:
*Finishing time: 3:15:21 – 639th out of 7464 finishers (including me…barely)
*Big time hamstring cramp right before mile 24 preceded by increasing levels of tightness in both hammies AND calves from about mile 19 until the end.

Part 1 – Race Report (Part 2 Reflections to come either later tonight or Tuesday)

Here were my goals going into the race (sorted by increasing difficulty):
1. Finish the race
2. Not walk during the race - walked for parts in previous two
3. Set a PR (previous best 3:22)
4. Better my AG's Boston Marathon Qualifying Time (3:10) even though I have no thought of doing that race since it’s in the spring—meaning training through the winter (yuck!) and in the middle of track season
5. Crack 3:00
6. Crack 2:50 (6:29 pace) and finish in the top 100

My last marathon was in 2006, just when I started at my new school and hadn’t done any of my training with the XC and track teams like I’ve done the last three years. I trained on my own and ended up running a 3:22 out in Ohio. I had a couple of rough miles near the end and had to walk a little, but beat the previous PR of 3:37 at my first marathon.

So, on to marathon #3. Beth and I left on Friday night after meeting up with my dad for dinner and went half of way. Then, on Saturday morning, we went the rest of the way, picked up the packet and settled back in to our hotel to watch the PSU football game in the afternoon. After a pasta dinner at Tony and Joe’s, it was off to bed and ready for race day.

It was such a beautiful weekend in Philly. On race morning, the temperature was in the low 40’s with a forecast of it going up in to the 50’s. No rain, no wind, no clouds….just about perfect. Beth performed excellently as the spectathlete, holding my gear and waiting around as I did my pre-race stretching, striders, and preparations (aka visits to the…nevermind). My ‘preparations’ were complete with about 10 minutes until the race start, we said our goodbyes and I worked my way up to my color-designated bin. Planning on running a fast time, I was in the bin right after the ‘elite’ wave. Not realizing where we were since it was dark out, I had to work up through about 8,000 people (no joke) to get up to my wave. Fortunately, I made it up there with about 2 minutes to spare. I did a couple of final stretches and it was time to go.

I had made up my mind to get out a little fast just to get away from the crowds. I also didn’t want to get stuck back at a pace I didn’t want to go and have to waste a lot of time weaving through slower traffic. So, I’m off in the race and split 6:17 and 6:00 downhill to the Delaware River. After a 6:12 third mile, I finally threw on the brakes and tried to settle in to my race pace rhythm.

Miles 4-8 were 6:29, 6:22, 6:22, 6:20, and 6:26 and we worked through Center City, over the Schuylkill River and past Penn, Drexel, and the zoo. A downhill mile towards Franklin Park yielded an OOPS mile 9 at 6:06, but then settled back in to a 6:27 mile 10 as I was on the bike course loop of the Philly Tri up to the Triathlon ‘Expo Area’ and back down the hill to the river. So, 1:03:00, or 6:18 pace, through 10 miles….a little fast, but I felt VERY comfortable and wasn’t breathing hard or feeling any fatigue.

Miles 11 and 12 were 6:22 and 6:19. I was a little mad at the 6:19 because I had a feeling some of the people around me were picking it up as they were finishing the half marathon (same course). I should have let them go a little more and backed off.

Mile 13, I came back by the Art Museum and Rocky and spotted Beth. I gave her the thumbs up as I split a comfortable 6:31 and then split a 13.1 time of 1:23:11 (6:21 pace). I went in assuming I wasn’t going to run even splits and was shooting for a 1:24, so my split caused me no concern and gave me some wiggle room to run a 1:26+ (6:35 pace) on the way back.

Mile 14 sent you up a hill on the eastern side of Fairmont Park and I split a 6:42. It was during this uphill that the #2 and #3 females passed me. I didn’t for a second think of going with them because I wasn’t going for 2nd place in the women’s race!!!! I was just backing off a little and settling in to a rhythm for the second half of the race.

Mile 15 was back down the hill and on to Kelly Drive along the Schuylkill and I split a 6:30 and was right where I wanted to be. Mile 16 was a head scratcher. I saw the women gaining ground on me and going back and forth and perhaps backed off of their duel a little too much. I split a 6:51 and wrote it off to losing a little focus and getting caught up in watching a good battle for 2nd place instead of focusing on my race. However, Mile 17 was also 6:54 and things didn’t quite feel right. I could definitely feel some tightness….not necessarily fatigue….cropping up in BOTH hammies and calves.

Trying to fight that off and not complicate things, I backed off for the next mile and split 18 at 7:10, hoping the tightness would work itself out. Unfortunately, it still just lingered. Again, not necessarily fatigue, but more of just like when go do a hard track workout on a cold day and your legs feel a little tight. I had this same feeling a few Februarys ago when I did a 10-mile race with Beth and it was 10 degrees out.

Mile 19 was slightly uphill into Manayunk and I split a 7:45 and could feel that I was losing ground both on the competition, my goals, and my muscles located on the back side of my body. There was a water station a little before Mile 20 and I got some water and gave in to the tightness signals and stopped to stretch both calves on the street curb and bend over to stretch the hammies. With the water stop and stretching, I split an 8:38.

I pass the turnaround and know that I’ve got a 10k to go and it’s mostly downhill and flat. I begged the legs, which were now starting to fight the fatigue on top of the tightness, to hold on a little more. A stop back past the same water stop (now at 20.5) and another stretch of the calves and hammies.

I split 21 at 8:20 and 2:21:02 overall and started to do a little bit of recalculating of my goals knowing that 2:50 was out the window. If I could just get the tightness to cooperate and hold off for only 5 more miles and split 8:00 pace, I could still be around 3:00. Heck, maybe the tightness would work itself out and I could even still crack 3 hours.

But, it was not to be. The tightness only increased as did the number of runners blowing by me as I slowed down to an ugly 8:36 (Mile 22) and 9:16 (Mile 23) pace with some more curb stretching along the way. Somewhere around here the 3:00 pace group roared past me and that was a depressing blow.

However, I still had my goals 1(finish), 3 (PR), and 4 (Boston Time), so onward I went. My overall time at 23 was under 2:39. I figured I had a 5k left and if I could even shuffle 9:00 miles (keeping the math easy - 9 x 3 = 27 + 2:40 = 3:07), I’m still under 3:10.

Then, as I’m getting within 50 meters of Mile 24 and the clock turning to 2:48, I’m doing some more calculating. I’m thinking to myself, “Okay, keep this 9:00 pace and you’ll….” WHAMO!!!! All of the sudden, my right hamstring became a pretzel, knot, or whatever analogy you want to describe the fact that it totally contracted on me and I was in severe pain. As it hit, I screamed and immediately started hopping on my left leg, did a 180-degree turn, and actually was hopping backwards over to the barriers by the sidewalk.

Fortunately, some (including me) may even say that it was God’s perfect timing, a pair of medics were driving up the road in their medical golf cart. As I’m still screaming, the medic asks me what I want him to do. I said to just get my leg up in the air and to stretch it on the cart to get the knot out. After stretching it for about 30 seconds, the knot went away, I said thank you and lowered it back down to the ground, when…..

WHAMO! The moment I set it back down, it seized back up again. The pain! We stretched it some more and set it down and nothing cramped. They asked me if I wanted a ride back, but I figured I was only two miles out and I wanted to finish even if it meant I had to walk. They documented my number for their paperwork and went on their way. I shuffled/walked the next 50 meters and angrily slapped at my watch to split a blazing 12:28 for mile 24. No timeouts in running! I was so frustrated at that point knowing that my race was over and I was just in survival mode to get to the line.

Each stride forward was carefully placed with nearly-straight legs in hopes of preventing another tangled mess of muscles from occurring in either of my hamstrings (or calves for that matter). As long as the knee didn’t bend, the hamstring couldn’t contract and possibly cramp. I would shuffle for a couple of lamp posts and walk a couple when I could feel the tightness increasing. The crowd was great, but I sure didn’t want to hear any “Let’s Go Oscar” or “Pick it up” chants at that point. I just wanted to finish and was very angry at my legs.

Mile 25 was a mercurial 12:21 and then my last 1.2 was 11:37, so I must have picked up the pace to a speedy 9:40 pace cheered on by the crowd. I saw Beth as I rounded the final bend and know that I gave her this huge look of disappointment and frustration.

So, across the line at 3:15:21, grabbed the finisher medal out of the hand of the volunteer, snatched my food goodie bag and water off the table, walked hastily away and did everything I could to not be a bad sport and conceal my near anger at how things finished. With it being such a big race, it took about another 10 minutes or so for Beth and I to catch up. She knew things obviously didn’t go as planned and offered a lot of support.

So ended my day. A PR, a finish, but not much else in my mind at that point. Part 2 to come is the analysis of what to do differently next time and to put a positive lining on the weekend and moving forward.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Hay's in the Barn

We're heading off towards Philly Friday evening. The big day is Sunday. I'm excited and am looking forward to seeing what all this training since July will produce.

That's about it from here. Time for bed to rest up.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Home from FL; Philly in a week!

Great weekend down in Florida for Beth's participation of the Foster Grant Ironman 70.3 World Championships. She finished 4th in her age group and all that hard work this year sure paid off with the look on her face after the race. We got home this afternoon and I can't believe Philly's a week away. I guess it's my turn to PR and turn in a good performance (I hope!).

As far as achieving my goals....this past week I had a 3x1600 workout at 5k pace with 2 min rest. It was a good confidence boost heading into the marathon. I was worried because I felt like I hadn't really done anything hard since the half marathon and, with the HS XC season ending, whether or not I was still on top of my crispness of training. Well, after 5:33, 5:27, and 5:28 1600's in the workout, I was feeling confident again about hitting 6:30's for the marathon. We shall see what happens. Long range forecast is calling for low in the 40's and high in the 50's with a chance of rain. We'll see how that develops throughout the week.

Where to start with the weekend? It was just such a nice atmosphere and I got to see some of Beth's triathlon friends (and I guess my friends, too!) like Jen H, Chad & Jen, Kim, Cathy & Kerry, Eric, Elizabeth, and I'm sure a few others I'm forgetting off the top of my head.

Here's a few photos from the weekend.

First, the view of the sunrise on race morning in the harbor. They changed the race start from the gulf to this harbor because of big waves and strong current. I guess they didn't want a repeat of the crazy swim routes people were taking back in Alabama (see picture about halfway down the blog entry).

I put pictures on FB also, so skipping ahead to the Awards Ceremony, it was like they were setting up for a concert.
When Beth's AG went up, she got her name in lights!

But, perhaps the most exciting part of the trip for me (OTHER than the fact that Beth got 4th PLACE in her AG in the WORLD!!) was the flight home. I've been reading this book called 'A Short History of World War II' by James Stokesbury. I've had it for my past four or five flights and I'm still only halfway done. I'd hate to see how much the LONG history book would weigh. I enjoy it because it gets into a lot of the strategy of the different sides during the war (like Hitler's choice to try to invade Russia, France's feeble attempts to hold off Germany, the dialogue between the US & Britian on strategy, ...) and has lots of maps to go along with the flow of the war.

If it hasn't been stated before in this blog, I LOVE maps. I'm not really sure when it started. Perhaps just as a result of my enjoyment of following sports growing up and trying to figure out where the different teams were located? I'm definitely the map person when we're planning our trips. In fact, Beth's mom commented to me on this past trip that I would make a good taxi driver because I'm so good with directions (I think it was a compliment and not a suggestion to change careers?).

Anyway, I digress....So, on the way home today, I'm reading the book and I pause for a second to look out the window and see some major highways below (it was a perfectly clear day for most of the flight). Since I had printed out a flight path projection from past flights from flightaware.com (I know, BIG TIME map nerd), I consulted the map and was pretty sure we were at the split of I-77 and I-74 in North Carolina. I know this route well because of our many trips down to HHI and Durham for holidays. So, this catches my attention and I begin following the road. Looks like it goes up a mountain just like I know from the drive as I-77 heads towards Fancy Gap.

Next thing you know, we're at where I'm pretty sure is the I-77 and I-81 connection in Southeastern Virginia, close to Virginia Tech (where Beth and I spent some graduate school time). Next thing you know, I see Lane Stadium out the window. I yell, "Beth! Beth! Check it out--it's Virginia Tech!" Since I think she was sleeping on my shoulder at the time, I don't know how impressed she was, but I had to take a photo with my camera.

The first picture below is a rotated shot from google maps with our old apartment, Lane Stadium, and the Drillfield highlighted that I made when I got home (I know, map nerd).

The second photo is the one from the plane with those three locales circled again.

The view was even better just looking out the window. The picture from the cameraphone doesn't do it justice. Pretty cool and exciting for a person who loves maps.....not so much for everybody else, I suppose. Thanks for humoring me and my fascination with maps.

Finally, Beth and I had an extra piece of luggage on the trip home.....a second bike case.

Why did we have a second bike case you ask? It sure isn't because I competed this weekend (unless you qualify for a World Championship for having the SLOWEST swim and bike time). This is actually Kim's bike that we brought home. Did Kim forget it? Of course not. Unfortunately, what happened was she had a duel with a cone on the bike course during the race. The cone won and Kim ended up with a broken collarbone. Bummer!

So, we brought it home so a gal with an arm in a sling had one less thing to try to haul around the airports. As I know Beth can attest to, it's tough enough to lug around a suitcase, bike case, and computer bag through the airport with TWO good arms. Plus, this was a good experiment for Beth and I to see if our car could handle two bike cases if the day ever came where I would be flying (thus bringing a bike) to compete in a triathlon. Mission accomplished on that end and maybe slowing down our urge to look further into the Saturn Outlook--the rental we were loved driving all around Clearwater.

Heal up quick, Kim!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Hillsong, Hershey, Hooks, Happy Valley, and Hot Stove

Wednesday night, Beth and I went outside our normal routine and actually went to the movie theater. It was a special event as Hillsong United (a musical group that started as a youth praise band at a church in Sydney Australia) had a live feed and video that they produced. We didn't know exactly what to expect. We were thinking it was a concert much like we've seen on some of their concert DVD's. However, it wasn't exactly that.

The first half hour was actually LIVE--7:30pm our time and 11:30 am the next day in Sydney. I'm not sure how they did a live thing like that in the theater, but I guess if you have a projector, computer, and internet connection you could do it. Anyway, they did a couple of live acoustic songs and played two of their newer video songs. Then, they introduced the movie about their tours over the last four years. Again, I'm expecting a documentary of their concerts and more great music. What it ended up being was a two hour presentation of all the injustice and hurt that they observed on every continent. They people living in shacks in Brazil, refugee camps in Africa, and many other sad situations. It was a call to action. We sponsor a child in Peru, but it makes you think what more can you do? It wasn't exactly what we went for, but it was pretty moving. They did sneak in some concert footage, so we got some of that also.

Saturday, I'm off to Hershey for the State track meet. We've only got one guy competing, but he's got a shot of finishing pretty high, so that should be exciting to see where he stacks up with the rest of the state.

From there, I'm swinging by Elizabethtown--about 10 miles down route 743 from Hershey. That's where I started my 8+ year college journey (don't worry--that's not just for undergraduate). I haven't been back there in four or five years and I figure I should stop by so I actually know what I'm talking about when I'm at College Fairs telling kids about the campus. Also, my best man from my wedding (J) and family live in Etown, so we're going to hang out for the afternoon. It should be a great day!

Also, PSU's got a BIG game against THE Ohio State University. Terrelle Prior's first trip to Penn State since his recruiting visit. He hasn't been having that great of a season....and I hope PSU's defense keeps it that way. I've got my list of Penn State Radio Network stations ready for the drive home from Etown. It'll be something like Carlisle, Bedford, Somerset, and Pittsburgh.....I hope. I didn't have as much success for the Northwestern game on our drive up to PSU last weekend. But, as long as they score 3 TD's in a 4-minute span, I don't have to listen ever!!!!

Finally, the Hot Stove League (baseball's off-season). The Pirates made a trade that actually is geared to help the team for 2010....rather than 2015! They gave up Jesse Chavez--a decent reliever this past year, but one of three or four that fit that same mold. They picked up a starting second baseman that's going to probably hit #2. He's a lefty hitter, patient at the plate, can steal bases, and a good defender. I think it's at least comparable, if not better than having Freddy Sanchez hitting 2nd behind Andrew McCutchen. I don't expect many more off-season acquisitions of starting pieces, but we'll see. I'm excited to see what people like Millege, Jones, Clement, and others do before Alvarez and Tabata come up in June or July. We shall see........at least give me something close to .500 this year!!!!

....and, keeping with the 'H' theme, Halloween. Poor Roxy! This may border on animal cruelty, but it's so funny and cute at the same time for us. Plus it distracts Roxy from barking at all of the kids coming to the door for candy.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Since last week...

Since the half marathon, there's been a lot of cross country goings-on.
For the high school team, we had Tri-States (a tune-up meet) and WPIAL's (Districts). The results were a little below where we usually are as a team, but you have days like that. At WPIAL's, the guys finished 5th as a team (only four go to states). Our top runner finished 2nd and our #2 runner was the first individual not to qualify for states. But you learn from it and move on. The state meet is this upcoming weekend in Hershey. I'm excited because I think I'm going to swing by Elizabethtown after the races to check out the campus and catch up with my best bud (and best man) J and family who I haven't seen in forever.

This weekend, we were up at PSU for the Big Ten Cross Country Championships. Beth and I hadn't been up there in a few years (except for me going up a few weeks ago for the football game). It was great, Beth had a chance to catch up with the coaches the night before at the alumni gathering and I ended up having my name drawn during a raffle for a sweet PSU Track & Field Long Sleeve Half-Zip something or other.....see the picture.
As far as the actual race day, it was a beautiful day. Sunny with just a few small clouds, high 40's, and no wind. It was so nice I decided to wear shorts to watch the races. Before the races, Beth and I got our long runs in on the golf course. We ran the courses....sort of. We had trouble following the lines. Fortunately the racers didn't have the same issue. The end result of the meet was that the PSU men had a tough day, but the PSU women were Big Ten Champs and PSU's #1 runner won the individual championship.
After the races, we walked around on College Avenue to get lunch and then, of course, had to make our first stop to the NEW Creamery. My Apple Cobbler ice cream did not disappoint!

Three more weeks until the marathon. It's getting close! If I could request weather, today at PSU would work nicely. Of course, as we're loading up the car to leave for Penn State yesterday, I get too close to the edge of our front sidewalk, slip off, and tweak my ankle. Fortunately, I caught it before it bent too far, so I was fine to run today. But, of course, I'll start entering my hypochondria state in the upcoming weeks as the marathon draws near....