Saturday, May 21, 2011

If At First You Don't Succeed...

Back in my Philly marathon, I identified several key factors that may have contributed to not hitting the sub-3:00 goal in the form of my running out of gas around mile 15 and subsequent hamstring convulsions around mile 24.

-Following the high school’s cross country training schedule during the week and just doing a long run on the weekend
-Going out WAAAAAY too hard (like a 1:23 half and some sub-6:10 miles in the first ten)
-Could have been better on my nutrition plan (no gel before the race, not enough fluids, too long between gels)
-Rushing to the start line after long port-o-potty lines and not enough pre-race stretching

So, to address these issues, I:

-Mapped out a training plan from the “Advanced Marathon Training” book and followed the daily mileage to a T
-Resolved to maintain a 6:50 pace and go through the half right around 1:30
-Work doing the same nutrition for my weekend long runs through the race. Oatmeal, powerbar, and a gel right before the run. Gels every 5 miles on the run.
-Scouting out the port-o-potty’s before the race and know where to go to take care of business quickly before the race, so I get a complete warmup and stretch.

It’s a little misty on race morning, but not too bad. If anything the mist cooled things off. Before I knew it, the race took off. I saw Cheryl Gatons and knew she would be running under 3:00. So, I told myself I was NOT allowed to pass her in the first few miles or else I’d be going out too fast. Even with this, mile 1 was 6:33.

Whoa, throw on the brakes! Mile 2 was 6:40, but then I settled in to my rhythm. 6:48, 6:53, 6:53 was miles 3-5. Mile 6 and 7 were a little downhill and were 6:41, 6:39. On to the south side and miles 8-11 were 6:45, 6:44, 6:45, 6:49. Mile 12 was the uphill into Oakland and I resolved to not push it too hard up that hill and drain the legs – 6:59. Into Oakland I was 6:37 for mile 13 and through the half in 1:28:30. Slightly fast but on pace for a 2:57.

Miles 14-17 were 6:41, 6:52, 6:50, and 6:44. Up to this point, things were comfortable. I had been using the word “effortless” when talking to people this week. That may be exaggerating it, but it felt like I was executing my plan. Mile 18 over in Homewood is when it started getting harder, but I figured it was merely because the entire marathon wasn’t going to be easy. I knew it would get hard. Mile 18 split at 7:02. I took in my mile 20 gel between 18-19 to try to jumpstart me. But, it got harder. Mile 19 was 7:15.

I memorized two splits going into the race: Be at mile 10 around 68 minutes. Be at mile 20 by 2:17. I go through mile 20 at 2:16:43 (still on pace), but my split for that mile was 7:32. Not quite 6:50. I would need to split 6:52’s the rest of the way and could feel it slipping away.

After an 8:16 for mile 21 I knew it wasn’t going to be in the cards to crack 3:00. I figured, “back off a little and still earn a PR and get it in the 3:0X’s.” I could feel the legs getting fatigued. I took a long stroll through the next water station to fuel up on fluids and to finish the deal. Mile 22 is 9:15 as I walked through that water station.

Fueled and with the downhill mile 23 past Bloomfield back towards the strip district, I “improved” to an 8:33 mile. However, the fatigue, the upset stomach (did I mention I had a little throw-up around mile 22-ish?), the pounding of the downhill all came to rear its ugly head in the strip district. First, the quads cramped and I was reduced to a walk because there was a knife being driven into my right quad, just above the knee. Must press forward.

Then the hammies and groin start getting tight. I’m starting to yell at those muscles, “YOU STAY IN THERE!” urging them to not ball up like the knotty mess they became in Philly. I alternate squeezing and massaging my hamstrings, quads, and groin and could only imagine what the spectators were thinking of my hand placement as I’m shuffling along. Mile 23 to 24 was 11:19 because I had to walk a few points due to the beginning of the cramping and massaging.

2.2 miles to go. I make the left off of Penn at 16th Street and then the quick right onto Liberty. Almost to downtown. Then, it happened. Again. It’s as if someone shot BOTH my hamstrings at the same time. Pretzels for hamstrings. I tried to somehow get into a position to make the painful contractions in the hammies go away. However, unlike Philly, there was no 2-foot wall along the side of the road to lean up against. My legs couldn’t move. It was all in slow-motion, but I went DOWN. Literally fell over. There was nowhere else to go.

I crawled to the sidewalk to get out of the way of the runners but was in a lot of pain as the legs were throbbing from the pain and there was no way to make it go away. Somehow, just like in Philly, there were medics only about a block away. I am so blessed to have them that close that quickly. Three medics started working on my legs and making the cramp go away. They asked was it my left or my right leg. I said, “YES!” They asked was it my hamstring or quad. I said, “YES!” At least I had a sense of humor while gritting my teeth.

After they got to the point of having me straighten my legs without contractions, they then helped me get the legs moving in a SLOOOOOW bicycle-like motion as I laid on my back on the sidewalk. After a good minute or so of the slow cycles, we determined it was time to get up and try walking. Success!

So, I started moving forward with the EMT’s escorting me along my walk. I have to really hand it to them. When the legs cramped up and I went down. I was done. I was ready for someone to radio in a cart to pick me up and take me to the finish. I thought about how that would be letting down all the people who supported me through the Alzheimer’s Association but I was so down about cramping up severely again and it just didn’t matter.

However, the first thing the lead EMT said to me was, “You’re so close. Less than two miles to go. We’ll get you loosened up and get you to that finish line.” What a great motivator. Once the legs started loosening up doing the “bicycles” I then thought about how I MUST finish because of all of the support and backing I had from all of those great people that supported the Alzheimer’s Association. So, a-shuffling I went. This entire ordeal from mile 24 to 25 somehow “only” took 15:22 even though it felt like a half hour.

Shuffle downtown on Liberty. Shuffle to make a right onto 6th street. Shuffle over the Clemente Bridge. Shuffle as I make the left onto General Robinson Street (Mile 25 to 26 a speedy 11:04). The last 0.2 in 2:07. I cross the line in 3:22:28 and just reached for my hammies. The medal handing-out lady could tell that I was not in good shape, so she requested a medic. I did not resist the gurney escort to the medical tent. Anything to get off my weary legs. After some fluids and more stretching of the hammies, I was released and went to find Beth.

It took a little while, but found her and relayed to her my yet again disappointing second half of a marathon. Like the awesome wife that she is, she was able to help me accentuate the positives and set up a plan for improving next time. Probably the best part of the day was that I didn’t have time to sit around and pout. There was the Etown alumni post-race get-together. Seeing the gathering of 15-20 people and hearing their positive stories from the day helped lift my spirits.

So, back to the drawing board. No rash decisions yet. Let the race marinate for a little bit and then set up a plan moving forward. Thank you again to all the supporters of the Alzheimer’s Association and I look forward to meeting my goal in the future.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Marathon Scouting Report

So I allegedly have a blog. I guess I should post something from time to time.

This whole routine of wakeup, walk dog, drive to school, run, teach, coach, drive home, dinner, odds & ends, sleep is just about over. The marathon is Sunday. Track season is in its final weeks. Whew!

Our boys and girls teams both made it to the district team finals. That's a fun event because it recognizes a true "team" where it's dual meet scoring between the teams. Not like invitational scoring where a few outstanding individuals get 10 pts each for first and win the 'team' championship. We're going up against my alma mater, so it should be fun to compete against the old coaches.

Okay on to the marathon scouting report for Sunday.

***Spoiler alert*** If you're interested in winning some FREE granola from
Nuts About Granola, go to Beth's blog and predict my time BEFORE reading on. Otherwise, that's kind of cheating.

And, prior to going into any of the details, I want to say this marathon preparation has already been a HUGE success. I went into it wanting to make a difference beyond just running faster than last time and I feel like I have accomplished that.

First of all, Beth was asked to be the team dietitian for the Alzheimer's Association Alz-Stars. I went with her to a meeting and ended up signing up to be a fundraiser. Through the awesome generosity of nearly 50 individuals, somehow they decided to give a total of $1,830 to the Alzheimer's Association on my behalf. I am truly grateful and speechless for all that giving. What a difference you have made. I'll be thinking of you and your family members when things get tough out on the race course. If you're one of those amazing people, THANK YOU!! If not, you can still help and donate

Secondly, I wanted to help others get involved with the marathon weekend and I had two main groups I was involved with. First of all, from my high school I teach at, there are two others doing the full, 5 more doing the half, and a couple on relays. I've been an 'advisor' to them throughout the process (don't know if you can really call it a coach).

The other group is through one of the colleges I went to, Elizabethtown College. It's located out by the Harrisburg/Lancaster area, so there aren't a lot of alums here in the Pittsburgh area. However, our alumni group thought it would be neat to organize for the marathon either running or volunteering. Through this, we have 2 people running the full, 2 running the half, 2 relay teams (10 people), and 5 or so people volunteering on race morning. It's so exciting to see so many people get involved. Some are even from outside the area and just coming in to Pittsburgh for the weekend.

So, before the gun goes off on Sunday to start the race, it is certainly a success (and part of the reason I haven't gotten around to blogging much trying to keep all of this organized). However, it is still the ultimate priority of mine this weekend to redeem myself from the
ill-advised greedy start and paying for it the last 5 miles Philadelphia Marathon.

My training has gone well. I have followed my plan throughout--especially the mid-week long runs. With that said, I'm feeling confident that I have put myself in a position to crack the 3:00 barrier. How will it turn out? We'll find out Sunday. One thing I do know is that I will NOT be going through the half in 1:23:11 like I did in Philly. The goal is to click off that 6:45-6:50-ish pace and come through at 1:29:29 or so. Then, as I get to around mile 20 I will assess things. The best advice I've heard is that the marathon doesn't start until mile 20. Keep it under wraps until then!

I have checked out the course on several long runs and have seen the entire course (except for this little 1-mile part out by the West-End Bridge) twice. I know what to expect and just have to execute the plan. I didn't take my camera on my long runs on the course but, through the use of Google's StreetView, I'll highlight some of the key parts of the course for me.

Miles 1-5 are about getting into the rhythm. After mile 6, you go on to the West End Bridge. I don't really drive over it too often, but loved taking in the view of Heinz Field and downtown during my training runs. I figured I'd do it then because it's all business on race day. Not time for sight-seeing!

After that uncharted 1-mile rectangle past the West-End Bridge, you proceed along Carson Street on the South Side. I again liked looking back towards downtown and admiring the skyline.

Mile 10 is at the end of the South Side, you cross the Birmingham Bridge and then work your way to the only true "uphill" of the course into Oakland. I tried to capture it with this shot. You can see the Cathedral of Learning on Pitt's campus in the background. Just run towards that up the hill.

Then, it's through Oakland, Shadyside, East Liberty (a little scary) and then back into Shadyside. Around mile 22, you're at the Bloomfield Bridge and this is where it could get exciting on Sunday. I could feel the anticipation brewing on my long runs when I got to this point. It's pretty much downhill and flat from here on in to the finish.

You continue down Liberty Avenue towards the Strip District. As you go past mile 23, you can see downtown in the distance and know you're getting close!

After going back through the Strip District (and I can imagine a lot of people lining the streets), you cut through downtown back to 6th street. Make a right onto 6th street and head towards the Clemente Bridge and PNC Park. Less than a mile when you can see PNC Park!

Once over the bridge, hang a left around Left Field of PNC Park onto General Robinson St and it's a straightaway to the finish as you're running towards Heinz Field!

That's how I'm hoping it plays out on race day. We shall see. Thank you for all of the well-wishes I've gotten already. If you're interested in tracking people in the marathon, they have set that up here. You have to set up a username and password, but then you can have the splits every time we cross over mats (every 5 or 10 miles?) emailed, tweeted, texted, facebook-ed to you.

Time to get some rest for the big weekend coming up! Good luck to all racing in this weekend!