Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Breakthrough

Things finally came together Sunday in Columbus!

Prior to this my quest for a sub-3 hour marathon went something like this:

Philadelphia Marathon 2009 - went out way too fast (6:18 pace for first 10 miles!!!) because I got overconfident from running a downhill 1:16:32 half marathon the previous month and crashed & burned in the 2nd half with some cramping around mile 23. 3:15:21

Pittsburgh Marathon 2011 - Much more consistent pacing (1:29 at the half) but things got hard around mile 19, I had to back off a lot then my hamstrings seized up around mile 24. 3:22:38

Harrisburg Marathon 2011 - Went in with the goal of 3:10, was at 1:33 at the half, but the stomach (and then legs) didn't cooperate over the final four miles and more crashing & burning to a 3:22:02

Pittsburgh Marathon 2012 - Thought I had worked out all of the kinks, went through the half at 1:31:25 with the goal of negative splitting, but I got greedy around mile 17-18, it got hot & humid, and I crashed & burned again down the stretch with some hamstring cramping at 25.5. 3:14:07

Columbus Marathon 2012 -
...Well, to back up a few days I had a good week leading up to the race. I stayed off my feet as much as possible, aimed to increase my hydration, did an ART appointment on Monday, and didn't run around like a mad man at our Thursday cross country invitational.

Saturday morning, we headed west to C-bus after dropping off the dog at my parents' house. Beth kicked off her sterling spectathlete weekend by driving most of the way out (and not even getting sleepy!!). We got to Columbus and picked up the packet at the expo. After mapping out Beth's race day cheering/workout strategy downtown, we went over to our home for the weekend with Michelle & Robert and family. We stayed with them back in July when Beth did the Columbus Triathlon.They were yet again great hosts. They treated us to a super pasta dinner and watched The Lorax on their fancy 3D TV.

Race morning arrived and it was a perfect cool low 40's. We parked at the convention center and I warmed up and stretched inside. We went down to the start around 7am (they said you had to be at the corral 30 minutes before the start - kind of crazy). Once I saw that they weren't going to close off the corrals and prevent you from racing at 7:01, I took one more pit stop, gave my warmup clothes to Beth and waited with 20,000 of my closest friends as the sun rose.

The gun finally went off and I tried to work my way through the crowds and find the balloons of the 3:00 pace guy. Found them - nope that was 3:15, so keep going. 3:10, 3:05, ... and in the process I hit the first mile in 6:34. Oops! A little ahead of 6:53 pace. I found fellow Pittsburgher Billy Hughes, who I ran part of the Great Race with, and we ran together up to mile 2. However, when we came through at 13:04 (a 6:30 for me), I told him I need to execute my plan and back off and just settle in near the 3:00 pace guy. We said our good lucks and he was on his way.

When I settled in behind the pace guy (along with 50 or so other people), I turned off my brain and let the pace guy do the work. And boy was he good - 6:52.5, 6:52.8, 6:52.4, 6:53.0, 6:54 over miles 3 through 7. I don't really remember much of this other than our "pack" was pretty quiet and rather business-like. I guess we were all on that mission to hit that sub-3:00 marathon. The other thing I remember is Pittsburgh legend Tammy Slusser came up beside me around mile 3 and was around me through about mile 6, but she got really upset at a runner while near a water station because she felt he slowed down too much and messed up her stride. I saw it coming and was in the middle of the road, but she got a little trapped. After that I didn't see her the rest of the way (she ended up running a very impressive 3:10).

At mile 8, we travelled southward with splits of 6:47, 6:48, 6:54, and 6:50 up through mile 11 as we then headed north up High Street. Error on the pace guy as we did an "uphill" mile with a split of 6:42 for mile 12 but he was so good through the first part of the race, I had no the way he didn't take a water or gel the ENTIRE RACE! How does anybody do 26.2 without any aids?

For the second marathon in a row, I miss the mile 13 split, so at 13.1 I hit my watch and was at 1:29:03. The half people split off at this point and then there was Beth right on cue to see me. I told her things were going well and I had about a minute in the bank.

We proceed the rest of the way up High Street around the edge of Ohio State's campus and made a left until we got to Ohio Stadium. The splits were 6:50, 6:47, and 6:46 up through mile 16. I was right with the pace guy and, maybe he was making a correction, maybe the mile markers were off, but mile 17 was 6:58 and mile 18 was 7:23? Head scratcher.

During mile 18 was perhaps one of the coolest/nastiest parts of the race was that we entered Ohio Stadium (home of the Buckeyes) through a gate, ran right behind the end zone, and then back out.

Very cool atmosphere - fans cheering the endzone stands, the band playing, being within feet of the grass of a major division 1 stadium, but..... getting there involved a 90-degree turn, a quick, sharp downhill slope to get down to the field and a quick sharp uphill to get back out (there were even warning signs about the steep hill). Oh boy was I fearing for my hamstrings cramping. But, they held up.

And, from there the next few miles went well and I started doing math to pass the miles. Mile 19 was 6:46. The math went like this: 7.2 to go (7x7 = 49 + 1 = 50, so I should be there under 2:10) and I was there in 2:09:50. There was a "little" uphill around 20 and 21 so I just focused on staying on the pace guy - 6:47 and 6:44 for mile 20 and 21. 5.2 to go (5x7 + 1 = 36, so be there in 2:24), and I was there in 2:23:20.

The 3:00 "pack" had disintegrated over the 2nd half and it was a scattered group either ahead or behind the pace guy. I was keeping my distance behind him and passing people along the way who were hitting the wall. At this point, it was either flat or a little down hill. Miles 22 and 23 were 6:50 and 6:55 (3x7 +1.5 = 22.5, so be there in 2:37:30) for a total of 2:37:05.

I remember from my trial run of the 2nd half of the course, mile 24 had some up to it. It wasn't as bad as I remembered but the hamstrings were starting to let me know they were there, much like at the Great Race. I didn't feel like they were going to go, but I wasn't about to take any chances so I backed off just a little bit. 7:18 for mile 24, 2:44:23 overall and, holy crap, I only have 2.2 miles to go and still a legitimate shot of cracking 3 hours. While the legs were tugging a little more, I urged the body on and just kept saying in my head "just give yourself a shot with the last 0.2" and "you're still in this game!" Mile 25 was a 7:19 and 2:51:43 overall. Just over 8 minutes to do 1.2.

Maybe, just maybe.

There were a couple of 90-degree turns and I swung as wide as possible through those to avoid any leg cramping from sharp turns as in years past. I was getting close to a course banner/marker when I heard a girl cheering from the side saying "only a half mile to go!" I was thinking, "Silly girl, this is the 26 mile banner and 0.2 is less than a QUARTER mile, not a HALF mile." But, sure enough, it was a "1/2 mile to go" marker. Bummer. I didn't look at my watch. Just kept pressing on.

I get to mile 26 and peek at my watch, just looking at the overall time - 2:59:16. Bummer. Well, I knew I wasn't going to drop a 44-second nearly 400m so my new outlook was, "Let's get a 3:00:xx!" and "Get there before 3:01." So, with the help of a downhill, the leave-it-all-out-there-and-so-what-if-the-hammies-go attitude, I did a 1:30 for the last 0.2 and crossed the line at 3:00:46. Whew! I'll take it!

No walking the entire race. No cramping (at least until I went to the post-race massage area...sorry to my PT massage guy!). I mostly kept my pace up until those last three miles. A good effort to be very satisfied because it was 3 years in the making, but at the same time keeping me hungry to know I can hit that 2:5X:XX in the future.

A huge thanks to Beth for being such as great supporter and inspiration. It's tough for one to whine and complain with training about getting up early for workouts or having a "long" day when your significant other consistently gets up at 4am during the week and puts in 8-hour training days on the weekend. What an amazing role model that has pushed me from "used to be happy to crack 20 minutes in a 5k" to low-17's 5ks and a 3-hour marathon.

It was also great seeing Billy Hughes crack 3 hours (2:57:44) after coming so close last year at Columbus.

Big thanks to Michelle, Robert, and family for being great hosts and congrats to Robert for walking his first ever half marathon in 3:27:01.

Another big thanks is to our pastor at Cornerstone (and God's timing) for the perfect message the previous weekend about three P's when dealing with life's storms - Patience, Positive Attitude, and Praise. There was definitely patience involved with not only Sunday getting through the first 20 miles and to the end but more the patience of failures in Philly, Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, and Pittsburgh (again) leading up to this race. I was really trying to work on the positive attitude when things got rough and just work through the tugging hamstrings and that seemed to work. Most of all, I had my "mental music playbook" going in my head including "Forever Reign" by Hillsong (they did it was part of the worship music set last weekend) when things were getting tough as well.

One final thanks to all those out on the internet with all of the encouragement for not only this race but for the highs and (a lot of) lows over the past few years of racing, especially the marathons. I know that I have been inspired by many other people's journeys and I hope that I can reciprocate, even a little, some positive encouragement to others in their lives.

....After Beth got some laps in at the local YMCA, we grabbed what is now becoming our traditional post-race meal at Five Guys Burgers & Fries. Then, we got some Timbits from Tim Horton's for the ride home.

Now it's rest and recovery time for me as Beth has two more races to go - this weekend in Austin and November in Phoenix (which I'm going to be at!). Also, our XC team has their district championships Thursday so more fun there.

Good luck to everybody out there and may you have your breakthrough experience while being patient, positive, and praising!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Columbus Week

(Not to be confused with Columbus Day last Monday)

Six days out until the Columbus Marathon. Taper time! Things went well with the training cycle (other than an ankle delaying the start of training in July and a second ankle that showed up at the end of September). So, we'll see what happens after about mile 15 or 18 or so and see if I can hold on to that 6:53 pace the entire way this year. There is a 3:00 pace group and you better believe I'm going to let the pack do all the thinking and all the work and hope it puts me in a happy place for the last 10k.

Cross country is winding down. We have an invitational this Thursday, WPIALs (the district meet) next Thursday, and then the state meet the following Saturday (11/3). Both the boys and girls are continuing their strong season and maintaining a top-10 ranking in the state. My goal this Thursday is to not run around like a mad man and save the legs for Sunday.

To go back and update a previous post, I thought it would be interesting to track which local team would accrue the most wins from September 6th until the end of the year. Here's the updated standings on number of wins:

1. Pirates - 7 wins and the season over without finishing over least it's been a fun post-season to watch with all the close games
2. Penn State - 4 wins (with 6 games to go)...a tough string of Big Ten games ahead

3. Pitt - 2 wins (with 6 games to go)...still looking for their first conference win
t3. Steelers - 2 wins (with 11 games to go)...not having the season they want so far
5. Penguins - 0 wins (still in a lockout with no end in sight)

The Pirates just may hold on!

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Great Weekend

If you're looking for an awesome race report from an amazing athlete, check out Beth's entry from her 3rd place pro finish at the Poconos 70.3.

If you want to hear about a ho-hum mediocre Great Race, continue reading...

Well, let me back up a bit. Beth left for the Poconos on Friday. We said our good-byes before I left for work on Friday morning. We chatted on my way home from practice and it seemed like she was having a good trip without her primary navigation officer. She got her packet at the expo and did a few other things, however when entering the host family's address to the GPS, it directed her to a location about 30 minutes in the opposite direction. I don't blame her because, when she called me in a panic, it gave me that same location when I typed it in to google maps. But, we figured out the issue and I talked her to getting to the house in the dark and the fog.

The rest of my Friday night was spent catching up on some on-demand evening shows from the week (Big Bang Theory, Hawaii 5-0) and then I saw that the ESPN 30-for-30 series were all available on demand. They're all great, but the one I've seen parts of but never the whole thing is called "Once Brothers." It is the story of Vlade Divac, Drazen Petrovic, and others from the Yugoslavian national basketball team of the late 80's and early 90's. They were an amazing group, but then civil war between the Serbs and Croats fractured not only the team but also the friendships. I had to imagine it would be like some sort of US National team from the 1860's that was then divided by our civil war. That would be so hard.

One of the key moments was when, after winning the World Championships, Divac took one of the Croatian flags from a person storming the court. He did it, not because he was a Serb, but because he wanted to celebrate as a unified Yugoslavian team and not from fractured divisions. Well, like many things do with the media and zealous people, it got twisted and blown out of proportion and Divac became an enemy to the Croatians and a hero to the Serbs. More importantly, Petrovic (a Croatian) couldn't view Divac (a Serb) the same even though they had grown to become such close friends to that point. The line I won't forget from Divac's narration was that "how one single moment can destroy years of friendship."

Perhaps the even more unfortunate part is that Petrovic died in a car accident before ever having a chance to reconcile with Divac. The script of the entire episode is Divac reliving the experience of the basketball and then meeting with Petrovic's mother and brother to get some closure. Very moving film. One other thing that I didn't realize was how good that Yugoslav team was. Not just what they accomplished, but seeing video of how they dominated many teams. Petrovic was a great ball handler and so good from beyond the arc. It pales in comparison to the story, but it was a shame that Petrovic passed away just as he was becoming a key part of the New Jersey Nets team.

Okay, that took a little longer than I had intended. Sorry for the tangent.

On to Saturday, I went to XC practice and picked up my packet for the Great Race. Oh yeah, did I mention I still had some questions about my ankle? Well I ran 4 miles on the South Side after picking up my packet and was able to do it in a little under 7:30 pace, so I figured (as long as it didn't swell up on me overnight) that I would give it a go for race morning.

Saturday afternoon consisted of watching the rest of the PSU game (way to go dominating the team that tried to send coaches onto Penn State's campus to "poach" players away), giving the dog a bath, and about a 2-week overdue cutting of my hair. Even though Beth wasn't around, I still went down to Noodles in Oakland (yeah I was that guy sitting there eating by myself) and then off to Cornerstone for Church.

There was a special treat at church as Phil Stacey (he of season 6 American Idol fame) was there to help lead the music. I did a quick check up on his background via wikipedia during the announcements and found out he's a pretty cool dude with a neat background in the church. I'm going to have to check out some of his music via Itunes.

So that brings us to Saturday night and, oh yeah, finally getting around to the actual race report. Maybe this is my subconscious way of avoiding the race report by rambling on about many insignificant things during the weekend.

Sunday morning comes around and the ankle feels decent albeit a little stiff. I take Roxy out for a walk, eat my bagel & peanut butter, and get on my way down to near Frick Park and the start of the race. Last year, I was the first car there, so I aimed to get there about an hour before race time. Next year I'll have to split the difference because I ended having to park a little further away than I wanted but still only 2 blocks or so from the start.

I go to warm up and the ankle is a little stiff in the 40-degree temps. But, after about a 20 minute warmup it was feeling loose and ready to go. I do my final preparations and see a lot of people while I'm waiting in line for the toilets. That line took forever and I probably should have stretch more.

Okay, on to the race, but first the annual elevation chart disclaimer:

So the gun goes off and I settle in for a first mile in 5:44. Surprisingly around where I wanted even though I thought it felt faster. Mile 2 is really down hill and I was by the top 3 females in the race. We split a 5:30 for mile 2 and 11:14 overall. Mile 3 I started to lose focus going down 5th avenue in Oakland, a gap formed between me and the top 3 female runners and I came through mile 3at 5:56 pace for 17:11 overall, leading to a 17:30's 5k. My one hamstring tugged a little at me after mile 3, but I got it to calm down. At the same time, I realized that I hadn't thought about my ankle since the race started. Also, somewhere in the mile 3 range, I met up with triathlete extraordinaire Billy Hughes and ran with him for the next few miles. Mile 4 was a 5:45, putting me at 22:55.

We were at the base of the Boulevard of the Allies and I said to Billy, "let's go get some people on this hill." He obliged and I think he was right behind me. Also at this time, I was around my "arch nemesis" (see tongue-in-cheek blog post from a few years back.) Going up towards Duquesne, I was able to pass a few people and put a little ground on the arch nemesis. However, the feeling of moving fast didn't translate to the clock as I split a 6:07 and was at 29:02. I think this may have been the tipping point of my "competitive racing" for the day. I'm not sure why but seeing a split above 6:00 and doing the math that I wasn't going to go sub-35 (or even low 35) took the wind out of my sails.

Thanks to it being a downhill last mile, I still split a final 5:38 but my heart wasn't in it. I was passed by a good 10 people in the last mile. I put a little surge on at the 6 mile mark when I saw the 6 mile clock say 34:41 and thought I still had a shot at salvaging a sub-36 race. Yet again, my hamstring tugged at me a little and I yelled at it to "stay in there!" I entered Point State Park and I coasted towards the line. Turns out, my arch-nemesis ended up catching me right at the line and (despite having the same time), his chip (and body for that matter) edged me out in the results.1:14 in the last 0.2 miles, 35:54 overall, 53rd place, 48th male,  and 2nd in the 35-39 age group (I'm getting old)

So, I get passed a lot near the end, and then the skies open up after I cross the line as it starts pouring. (Insert phrase of "when it rains, it pours"). I chatted with a couple of guys from school, the Ballou Skies triathlon starts of Billy and Joe V, and a couple of other runners. It was still pouring and I was getting cold. I was planning on doing about 7 or so miles as an extended cool down to get 16-17 miles for the day so I got that going. The ankle cooperated (albeit a little stiff to start out on the cool down) and I rehashed my "soft" finish to the race as I ran back to the start area.

After a day to reflect, all in all, it was a decent day. I wasn't near my 35:07 PR, but need to remember that my ankle did mess up my week of training, still wasn't 100% for the race, and also need to keep in mind the big picture of preparing for the Columbus Marathon in 3 weeks. So, after some quad soreness today, time to get back on track and get ready for the final weeks of training.

In other news, the Pirates sure had a bang-up weekend on their way to loss #82 and a 20th consecutive losing season. Loss #81 was at the hands of a Homer Bailey no-hitter on Friday. Loss #82 was the Pirates' first loss when leading after 8 innings. A blown save. In a season of peaks and valleys, there were many peaks throughout June and July, but this past weekend sure were two extremely deep valleys. Well, there's always next year...