"Now if you are going to win any battle you have to do one thing. You have to make the mind run the body. Never let the body tell the mind what to do. The body will always give up. It is always tired in the morning, noon, and night. But the body is never tired if the mind is not tired.”

- George S. Patton, U.S. Army General, 1912 Olympian

Friday, November 26, 2010

2011 is here (even if it's not even December yet)

2011 came more quickly than I anticipated last night when my sister-in-law announced a  March 12th wedding date in Las Vegas (where my in-laws live). Travel time and expenses accounted for, I had to drop plans for one marathon (Salt Lake City on April 16th) but was able to add another (Red Rock Canyon). Fortunately or unfortunately, Red Rock is only 14 weeks away...so much for taking a few weeks off. So here how 2011 shapes up:

March 5th, 2011:     Red Rock Canyon Marathon (Las Vegas, NV)
June 4th, 2011:        Newport Marathon (Newport, OR)
June 25th, 2011:      Seattle Rock 'n' Roll Marathon (Seattle, WA)
July 4th, 2011:         Foot Traffic Flat Marathon (Portland, OR)

I missed on becoming a Marathon Maniac this year by two days. The bronze level criteria is three marathons in 90 days...the Pocatello Marathon (my third) came on day 92. Not in 2011. It's an ambitious schedule but one I don't feel any hesitation about. I know how my body recovers and feel confident in my abilities to run all four of these events. I'm hoping to add a fifth marathon in the fall, but I haven't found one that is economically feasible right now.

As an added bonus, I'd really like to run the local "mini-marathon" in my hometown on July 4th. This is the race that got it all started for me in 2008 and my goal is to run the Foot Traffic Flat Marathon and the Monmouth-Independence Mini-Marathon. Logistically is just might work. The marathon begins at 6:45am and it's about an 80 mile drive down I-5 back to Monmouth, where the 2.6mile race begins at 11:45ish. Maybe it's wishful thinking, but if I can finish the marathon in the 3:45 range (my goal for next year and the Foot Traffic Flat is just that) and all goes well, I just might be able to pull it off. And if not, I'll settle in and watch the parade with aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents and friends and then go enjoy the rest of the day (my 29th birthday also) at my grandparents' house in their pool.

I've spent a considerable amount of time thinking about how I need to change my training for the coming year. Coming into 2010, I had very little, if any, running base to speak of. Now I've got a year of consistent running under my belt and could go run 15 miles on any given day and not sweat it. Mileage isn't a problem. Cross-training, however, is a problem. I don't do any. And if there's one thing I think would make a difference between mile 20 and the finish line, it's adding a consistent core strengthening program.

I'm also realistic about my time, or lack of it. I'm not any less busy than I was at this time last year and a four running days per week schedule bordered on too much. For the next 14 weeks I'll be using Hal Higdon's 3-day per week program. I like the principles behind it and feel good about Mr. Higdon's purpose for each run. I'll spend two days a week doing the RevAbs program as my core strengthening component and then I take two days a week, Sunday and Friday, to completely rest. I'll have a few months between Red Rock and Newport so I can adjust things if necessary, but for now this is what I'm going with.

While cleaning some things in my garage this morning, I glanced up at the wall where I put all of my race bibs, finishing medals, pictures, etc and thought about the last 14 months: three marathons, five half marathons, two 15ks, a 10k and a 5k. Who'd have thought? 2011 is here, even if it's only December. It's cold outside. It's wet. It's dark. It's miserable. I dislike all of these things, but for marathon training it's perfect. It separates those who will put in the work regardless of the conditions and those who will make excuses why they can't. For those who endure it, the reward will be there on race days next spring.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Giveaway Post! Contest Ends 11/22/10!

Update: Congratulations to Andrew G., who's sharing of the giveaway post on Facebook won him a brand new RevAbs kit! Enjoy!
As 2010 comes to a close and 2011 race announcements start arriving in my inbox, I look back at my year in running with satisfaction and look forward to the coming year with optimism. My satisfaction comes from completing three marathons, two half marathons (including my first trail race), two 15k races, and a 5k and 10k, where I set new PRs. My optimism comes from knowing I've yet to run my best marathon. I know that I can break 4 hours and challenge 3:45 if all goes right. I'm not there yet. But I will be. My problems always come in the final 6 miles but I don't believe it's a conditioning issue or a mental issue as much as it is a strength issue. I'll explain:

As I've learned to run the last 18 months, I've improved in many areas. At first, I focused solely on distance. After some injuries due to overtraining, I added a nutritional component to my training. Then I developed a schedule that included regular rest days and targeted mileage increases. Shortly thereafter I began practicing various mental-strengthening strategies. One thing I have never done, however, is cross-train. I don't own a bike (both were stolen), I don't swim particularly well and I have neither the time nor the money to join a gym simply to lift weights.

I've also learned that focusing on leg strength isn't enough to get me to where I want to be. The body uses an incredible amount of energy to create the motion needed to move the legs--motion that begins in the core. In each step we take, we must first ask our bodies to rotate from left to right or right to left. Over and over again, hundreds, thousands and tens of thousands of times during a run we ask this of our bodies. When the core muscles are the weak point in the body, they become a burden to the whole structure, throw other muscles and energies out of balance and can eventually lead to poor form and ultimately injury. And no one likes being injured.

This winter, with four marathons in view for 2011 (see the side panel for upcoming races), I'm committing myself to strengthening my core muscles. I know that by doing so I will become a more efficient and effective runner.

Now there's an opportunity for your to do the same -- for FREE! 

RevAbs: Your 90-Day Ab Solution
I have in my possession for one lucky reader a complete RevAbs kit from BeachBody. BeachBody, the creators of the wildly popular P90X fitness program, along with Brett Hoebel, a sought-after fitness, strength and nutrition expert in New York and Los Angeles for 15 years have developed the RevAbs program using Brett's biomedical science background and expertise in the Afro-Brazilian martial art capoeira.
Created and designed to burn fat and earn you (not give--you'll certainly work for it) six-pack abs in 90 days, simplicity is the name of the game with RevAbs. For me, as a person who thrives on structure, RevAbs does not disappoint. Out of the box, the RevAbs kit is a complete step-by-step workout and nutritional program designed to maximize fat burning and six-pack creation.
Separated into two 45-day programs, RevAbs contains 9 different workouts on 7 CDs. The accompanying RevGuide guides you through each daily workout, so you never have to worry about or wonder what's coming next. Each workout lasts 15-45 minutes, about the time it takes to watch a lame episode of Survivor (shaking head), Fringe (great show) or The Office (ehh). The workouts are fast, efficient and don't mess around and you'll start to feel the burn almost instantly 

In addition, the RevAbs kit contains a 45 minute Rev It Up Cardio workout. Why spend time being bored on a treadmill when you can spice up your workout and burn fat off your whole body? Do a lot of traveling? Take the Anytime, Anywhere Abs workout with you. It's a 5 minute workout you can do anytime, anywhere. 

The RevAbs Kit: 7 CDs, RevGuide, Nutrition Guide,
Rev It Up Workout, Anywhere Abs,
Wall Calendar & Fat Calipers, 
Also included is a fantastic Nutrition Guide, featuring Brett's 14-day Jump Start Plan, simple, easy to prepare and delicious meal by meal recipes and all the nutritional information you'll need to stay on course. Regular readers of this site know how I feel about nutrition, but I will say this about the RevAbs system: the principles, if followed, will be an improvement in diet for probably 90% of Americans. Each meal is customizable and contains real food. Not fake food, or worthless supplements or platters full of cauliflower (forgive me if cauliflower is your thing). 

A wall calendar, professional fat caliper and free 24-hour online access to the RevAbs web site where you can chat with Brett and other fitness experts, and meet other RevAbs customers round out the kit, which retails for around $80. But...

...for being one of my readers, I have one complete RevAbs kit to give away for FREE! Entering to win in simple:

One Entry: Simply check out the RevAbs website and leave a comment below telling me what one of Brett Hoebel's nicknames is.

Two Entries: In additional to leaving a comment below, put a link on your blog (if you have one) to this contest page OR become a twitter follower of @mobmarathon and retweet the contest announcement (if you're already a follower, just retweet the announcement). Don't use Twitter? That's fine, just spread the word by sharing this page on Facebook instead using the button at the bottom of this post.

Three Entries: Just do all three! Twitter (or Facebook), Blog/Site link and Comment. It's easy!

Please let me know in your comment how many entries you've qualified for if more than one (honor system). It will save me the time and effort of matching up your Twitter account name with your Facebook page with your name on your comment (read: I'm not going to spend the time matching up names. Just tell me how many entries in your comment).

Hurry and enter! Contest closes at 8pm EST on Monday November 22nd and will post the winner will be posted on Tuesday November 23rd by 11am EST. I want to make sure I get you the RevAbs kit in time to start working off that Thanksgiving Dinner!
(fine print disclosure: BeachBody, the makers of RevAbs, has provided me with a complete RevAbs kit to review and an additional kit to give away. I have not been compensated in any other way by Beach Body nor am I affiliated with them in any way. For more information about RevAbs and BeachBody, check out their Facebook and Twitter pages).

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Case for the 6th Day

At the outset, I want to warn you that this post will have little to nothing to do with running strategy, technique, nutrition, or mental discipline. I'm here today to vent, plain and simple. Not at anyone in particular or against society or culture. Just at "it." Because "it" has driven me nuts for the duration of my short, but increasing running career. "It" has been working its way past annoying and towards irritating for sometime now, but today for whatever reason, it kicked and in doing so sprinted right by irritating and frustrating and into depressing.

A few pieces of disclosure first of all:

1. I understand fully that race directors and organizations don't know me from anyone (nor do they care, nor do they have a reason to) and as such, don't have me in mind when they organize a race.
2. Not only do they not know or care who I am, they know if I don't sign up for their race and pay their fee, someone else will--so why should they care?
3. I have made personal decisions in my life that contribute to "it."
4. My personal decisions, and my reasons behind them, are far more important to me than eliminating "it" by simply changing my decisions.

Sufficiently lost or confused yet? I apologize. Hear me out (or not -- either way, I'm writing it).

Here's what "it" is: Why are the vast majority of marathons held on Sunday?

Many of the arguments I see in online running forums and other places fall into three main arguments:

First, that Sunday races allow for Saturday expos. What many marathons call "expos" are simply packet pick-up/registration venues that also happen to have various products for sale. They're not events you would ever go to if you didn't have to pick up your race packet. Hold these festivities on Friday evening, Saturday morning before the race and for a few hours after the race. My guess is you'd have a more relaxed customer base. Let's face it, despite our best efforts, we're all strung a little tighter then we'd like to be in the hours prior to a marathon.

Second, traffic may be slightly less on Sunday morning. Let's just agree on the fact that unless it's strictly a trail race, there will be traffic logistics to work out on any day and at any time the race is to be held. A little route planning would probably go a long way towards making the issue of traffic a moot point, in terms of Saturday versus Sunday.

Finally, Sunday races allow for travel on Friday and Saturday. Having recently run a marathon and traveled home the same day let me tell you, it's hell. That said, having Sunday to recoup and recover before going back to work on Monday was an absolute necessity.

Scenario A: Travel on Friday, race on Saturday morning, enjoy the festivities and either travel home Saturday and recover on Sunday or get a good night's sleep on Saturday and travel home Sunday.

Scenario B: Travel on Friday or Saturday, be all stressed out over how many steps you're taking, try to fill your day with enough activities to keep you occupied but not so much that you sap your energy, worry about how you're going to stick to your pre-race diet away from home, get a poor night of sleep because of these three issues, race Sunday morning, be stressed some more as you rush to get home so you can get to bed late and wake up Monday morning to go to work.

That's obviously dramatized a bit, but you get the idea.

So-called "destination marathons" receive a pass on the travel point. However, many races think of themselves as destination marathons when they actually are not. Disney World? Destination marathon. Las Vegas? The same. New York, Chicago? Fine. Vernonia, OR?!? Eugene, OR? Vancouver, WA?

Ask yourself this: if there was no marathon being held, would you ever travel to Location X just to site-see or tell people you had been there? If the answer is no, if EVERYONE'S answer is no, then it's not a destination marathon (I exclude a 50 Stater's answer to this question because they'll go anywhere and call it a destination race simply because its probably their one and only visit to a particular state).

When I first started to run I made the decision I would not run on Sunday. Given my personal convictions and religious beliefs, it's not something I feel right about doing. I spend my Sundays going to church, pondering things spiritual, spending an entire day with my wife and kids and treating it in multiple ways as a day of rest. Others can make their own decisions. I don't judge them for it. Their convictions and beliefs are just as personal and unique to them as mine are to me. There are even those within my own congregation who feel differently about this issue than I do. I don't think any less of them for it.

Long ago I knew that this decision to not run on Sunday would mean I would never run in some of the most popular races in the country (Chicago, Las Vegas, New York, Disney World) as well as a few smaller races that I would love to do (Phoenix, most of the Rock n Roll Series races, Vancouver B.C.). At some level this is disappointing, but as I said in the beginning, my reasons for not running on Sunday are for more important than any of these races would be. And so, I I have never trained or run a race on Sunday since this journey began.

My frustration today came as rumors became a reality when a (somewhat) local half marathon announced they would be adding a full marathon in 2011. The half has been held the last few years on Saturday early in April and has had good reviews locally. The full option now added, the directors moved both races moved to Sunday. What a shame. With the exception of a few years for college, I have lived in Oregon my entire life. I had to look up on a map where Vernonia, OR is. It fails all three arguments above: In no way is it a destination marathon, there are minimal if any traffic issues and there isn't an expo. The vast majority of runners will be from the Greater Portland area, who will simply get in their cars and drive home following the race. And yet, a popular local race was moved to Sunday. For what purpose? Does a race somehow gain prestige by being held on Sunday? Is it like a movie producer who adds just enough language, violence or sex to get his movie an R rating, somehow making it a "real" or "better" movie than one with with a lesser vulgarity rating? (It should be noted that half marathons seem to be no different, at least locally).

I am jealous of my friends who live back east. From their door step, they can drive three hours and be in any number of major U.S. cities and dozens of other mid-sized cities. Their universe of travel-friendly marathons is huge. Out here in the west, not so much. From where I sit, It's four hours to Seattle, seven to Boise and 12 to San Francisco. Despite the distance between major cities, there are a still a good number of marathons held each year within a reasonable driving distance. They are as follows:

Vernonia, OR (new in 2011)--Sunday April 10th
Eugene, OR--Sunday May 1st
Newport, OR--Saturday June 4th
Vancouver, WA (new in 2011)--Sunday June 19th
Foot Traffic Flat--July 4th every year
Portland, OR--Sunday October 9th

Portland is the only one that might be considered a destination race. And that might be stretching it (and given their EARLY-BIRD price of $135 for the 2011 race, save your money, buy a picture calendar instead).

I'm excited to run marathons, but I look at that schedule and it's frustrating. To toss salt in the wound, July 4th fell on a Sunday last year so the Foot Traffic Flat was out (though it will be a welcomed addition to my schedule next summer). Flying anywhere is expensive. Race fees are increasing (a vent for another day), and yet, there's a half dozen marathons spread throughout the year within 90 minutes of my house. Two of them aren't on Sunday. Portland and Eugene will never change. Why should they? They sell out every year (even at ridiculous prices). When word began to get out that Vancouver, and then Vernonia, were going to hold marathons, I really hoped they would run them on a Saturday.

Apparently not.

And so I will continue to find other challenges. Like running Newport, Seattle (Rock n Roll--Saturday June 25th) and the Foot Traffic Flat within a 30-day window. If my budget allows, maybe I'll add the Utah Valley marathon on June 11th to complete the month. Marathonguide.com has a map that can be filtered to show Saturday marathons only, but I've found so many inaccuracies that I've been slowly making my own list over the last few months. I'll post it soon. If you've run a Saturday marathon or know of one that should be added to the list, please let me know and I'll gladly do so.

I don't expect things to change. Marathons, the big ones at least, appear to be recession proof as organizers continue to increase costs but also continue to sell out. From a business standpoint, why mess with something if its wildly successful.

Anyway, I think that's all for that. Here's the first 5 miles of my run tomorrow (around 13.5 miles total) as I get ready for my first trail race (Silver Creek Falls half marathon) on November 6th and a flat and fast half marathon on November 20th. Fun, huh?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Most Important Meal of YOUR Day

We've been taught since we were little kids that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. It's the meal that gets you going and fuels your day, right? What about as a runner, your most important meal of the day is your post-run meal.

Studies have shown that the body has an increased ability to convert blood sugar to glycogen in the 15-30 minutes immediately following a workout. This ability gradually decreases until approximately two hours after your workout, when the conversion process rate returns to normal. Not only is the replenishment of glycogen essential to your training, but also to your recovery.

What foods are best for maximum replenishment and recovery?

Think about the cubicle-worker swamped with projects. They all have deadlines. The poor employee works feverishly to try to make progress on all of them but despite his/her best efforts each project is mediocre at best. It's not that the employee isn't skilled enough to handle each project. Quite the contrary. There was just too much going on all at once to give the proper attention to the most important projects.

Despite what you may see on the food tables at the end of your race, shoving a bagel covered in peanut butter in your mouth and then following it up with a handful of tortilla chips and salsa, a chocolate chip granola bar and finally some oranges and bananas is going to force your body in the same position as the employee with too many projects on which to focus.

If replenishment and recovery is your focus, then give your body every chance to do this job well. Don't expect the body to digest a hodgepodge of complex foods while also trying to maximize the glycogen conversion process. It's won't happen.

For glycogen stores to be replenished after an intense workout, the body's blood sugar levels must first return to normal. Only then can the blood sugar-to-glycogen conversion take place. Fruit is perhaps the most perfect catalyst for helping replenish the body's blood sugar levels. It is simple and easy to digest and breakdown and gets the nutrients to the body quicker than a bagel or bar.

Bananas are are a rich source of carbohydrates, calories and water. They also contain potassium and magnesium, two electrolytes lost through sweating, and even calcium and protein, which are vital to muscle repair. Oranges also contain calcium and potassium and provide sufficient amounts of vitamin C. Strawberries (which provide even more Vitamin C per serving than oranges) contain a variety of vitamins and antioxidants in addition to fiber, which can affect blood sugar levels. Combine all three of these fruits into a smoothie (with or without any other fruits you desire) and you have a perfect post-run meal. No dairy, refined sugars or any other additives are needed and will, in fact, diminish the effects of your fruit.

If replenishing your body and maximizing the recovery process is your goal, treat yourself to a cold fruit smoothie. it will be the most important meal of your day.

(Note: For additional reading, FoodnSport.com has an excellent two-part discussion on nutrition and athletic recovery. Part I. Part II)

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Fear of Failure and Success

What is your true potential? What's keeping you from achieving it? What could you accomplish if you removed the barriers and pushed back the limits you have set for yourself?

Think about your current average running pace. Is it 8 minutes/mile? 10 minutes? 6 minutes? Do you think that you could take 7% off that pace? If the answer is no, how about 6%? 5%? Think this through for a moment until you reach a point where you think, "yeah, I could probably do that." Make this your new goal and begin today to work towards it today. How will this be possible? By taking away, not adding, a key component of many people's running.

Chances are you've read and maybe even implemented various strategies into your workouts already in an effort to run faster, longer. Popular training routines include fartleks, Yasso 800s, Hills, cross-training etc. Do what you wish with these, but we're going a different direction to reach these goals. Today is the day to change your mental approach to running by beginning now to replace negative thoughts with positive ones.

Some months ago, after I had set a 6% improvement goal, I had a great run and finished with a PR training pace, just off of the 6% improvement I was shooting for. I walked back into my house feeling super confident...so I thought. As I was giving my post-run analysis to my wife, though, negative thoughts began to enter my mind. They weren't complete sentences or even complete coherent thoughts, just negative feelings more than anything else. The basic message of these feelings? I had given everything I had to run that fast and there was no way I could do it again.

I had just finished my best run ever (to that point) and here I was questioning myself. This really bothered me and I spent considerable amounts of time in the following days exploring my feelings. Why didn't I think I could do it again?

I generalized my negative feelings into two types of fear.

First: The Fear of Failure.

Was I fearful of not making it to the end of a run if I pushed too hard? What if I ran out of energy and couldn't keep the pace? Then what? The answer is quite simple--I would slow down a little, or a lot. But it wouldn't be the end of the world. As the saying goes, there would be 1 billion Chinese people (and another 5.2 billion other people) who wouldn't care what I did. Let's eliminate the fear of not being able to finish from the list of possible restraints.

Would I consider myself a failure if I wasn't running as fast at the end of a run as I was at the beginning? Obviously not. I think. It's as irrational a fear as worrying about not being able to finish though. I'm running for myself. There are no points to be scored, no team to contribute to. It's not a matter of life or death and no one is relying on me to achieve any particular time, pace or distance.

So why the fear of failure? The only person I could possibly fail or let down is myself. And the only reason I would have to ever feel this way would be if I quit or gave less than I could have.

Second: The Fear of Success.

Why would anyone fear success? Maybe the expectations that come with it? Do I feel like you deserve it? Am I not willing to take on the responsibilities that come with it?

The point is this: most people perform far below their true potential because they set up false barriers to their true abilities. They put these limits in place and convince themselves there's no overcoming them.

What would happen, would could happen, what WILL happen when you strip away all of the negative thoughts, irrational fears and self-imposed limits and began to perform closer to your actual abilities? Any lingering fears of failure or success would be replaced with the satisfaction of knowing you DID accomplish something great and you would look forward to doing it again and again.

It is only when we recognize, think, and most importantly believe that barriers and limits can be moved that true progress and achievement will be made.

Monday, September 13, 2010

On Race-Day Discipline

I ventured out for a long run on Saturday morning, one week after the Pocatello Marathon. I had run three miles earlier in the week just to loosen up and make sure all my muscles and systems were still intact, but Saturday was my first real training since returning home. It was a forgettable 15-miler. I finished in just under 2:04, cleaned up, consumed my morning fruit smoothie and went on with my day. As I sat watching college football during the afternoon, something about my run kept nagging at me. I couldn't put my finger on it until I started crunching numbers.

15 miles in 2:04. An 8:16/mile pace.

To have finished 26.2 miles in 4 hours (my current goal after three unsuccessful attempts), I would have had to run the final 11.2 miles in 1:56. A 10:21/mile pace.

This bothered me.

It bothered me for two reasons. First, short of an injury I can't think of any circumstance when I should not be able to run a 10:21 mile. Second, my 15-miler was a so-so run at best. I didn't feel great. I didn't even feel good. I still felt the effects of running downhill for 2 solid hours the week before. But I ran it at an 8:16/mile pace. And what was my strategy? Exactly what I DIDN'T do in Pocatello -- walk early and walk often. From the very first mile I was running 8 minutes and walking 1. Over and over again.

It bothered me because I already knew the benefits of walking early, often and regularly. I had done it in my long training runs. Heck, I had don't it on my 5-milers just to solidify the habit. But once the gun went off in Pocatello, this strategy went right out the window and I paid for it in the final 10 miles.

I'm so disciplined in every other aspect of my running. I'm a schedule-oriented person who has the number of miles I'm going to run on a particular day scheduled and written on my calendar weeks and months in advance, depending on how far out race day is. While in training I keep to my planned diet right down to the number of regular and frozen bananas in each smoothie or which days I'll allow myself to put a little bit of olive oil on my whole wheat pasta. My pre-run/race rituals are the same every day.

What bothered me so much on Saturday, as I was watching my alma mater get rolled by what should have been an inferior team (no, not Virginia Tech), was the realization that I am so undisciplined once a race starts despite working so hard to be exactly the opposite during my training phase.

I recalled what I thought and wrote just a day or so prior to my first marathon, "I began a...plan that I believed would help me achieve my goal or running a marathon. I put my trust in this plan and haven't deviated from it since." That plan has been refined a bit as I have gone from one marathon to the next this summer, but the principles have remained constant.

I'm healed, I'm rested and I'm ready to tackle another one. The next one will be different though. If I stick to my plan and it blows up, fine. I'll go back to the drawing board and start over. But I don't feel like I've given myself a chance to achieve the kind of success I desire or have worked for.

And that bothers me.

(Side Note: The Portland Marathon in now less than a month away. Good luck to all my running friends participating, especially to the three whom I know will be making their first marathon attempt. Keep up the good work!)

Monday, September 6, 2010

Pocatello Marathon Recap: Experiencing Gratitude

First things first: The race organizers, staff and volunteers were absolutely top notch. All the trains ran on time, the aid stations were where they were supposed to be, carrying what they said they would be stocked with, volunteers at each station were enthusiastic and supportive and the finish line area was well organized and easy to navigate. And although I heard a few people gripe about non-runners, including family, friends and kids, not being allowed in the recovery area (where all of the food/drinks were), I contend this made a huge difference in being able to move (gingerly) through the area smoothly. Top to bottom, this is the most well-organized race I've participated in of any distance.

This is also the farthest I've traveled for a race and I must say I'm not really a fan. 800 miles/11 hours in the car Thursday (to take my little brother back to school) left me hanging out (and locked out of his apartment) with not much to do most of the day Friday. After the race, I returned to a cousin's house to shower and get a short nap in before driving 4 hours back to Boise where I saw some friends, watched some football and got a few hours of sleep before leaving at 4am Sunday for the final 7 hours back home. The race festivities were great, but the down time and the drive time made for a long four days.

The starting line...in the daytime
(courtesy of Vitit Kantabutra)
The 350 marathon participants boarded charter buses at the finish line at 5am and were taken up to the starting line. It was dark and we were in the middle of nowhere when the driver pulled over to the side of the road, opened the door and declared, "We're here, don't leave anything on the bus." The people immediately around me hadn't run this race before and so our general consensus was, "We're where?"

It was partly cloudy and the moon was covered. We were in the middle of the Idaho wilderness at 5:15am. It was dark. The driver told us there was road about 50 yards from us. Turn right, he said, and then take the first right until you see the UPS truck (which took our drop bags to the finish line) at the starting line.

The "starting line" was a farmer's driveway. The line of portable toilets lined a sheep-pen and many (including me) sat down against the barn until it was time to go. Not exactly what I had imagined, but interesting, nonetheless.

It was still dark when the race started at 6:15am. As a pack we made our way down the driveway and onto the road. The first 13 miles were downhill. All downhill. I wasn't prepared for that. After a while I started to look forward to something flat, or even uphill. Just something different. That would come, but not for a while.

The sun eventually came up and darkness gave way to a perfect morning. Not a whisper of wind could be felt and the temperature was perfect. Around mile 7 I turned my music off and talked to a lady from Philadelphia that I had been running with for a few miles. During a pause in the conversation, I noticed a strange sound: silence. Miles from anything, on a closed road in a canyon. Except for the sound of shoes hitting the ground, it was pure silence. I kept my music off for a while and just enjoyed the sound of nothing.

Being on the road, my diet wasn't as ideal as it could have been. I attended the pre-race pasta party and had some salad dressing and a little bit of alfredo sauce--more fat and oil than I usually consume prior to a long run or race (big mistake #1). I also inexplicably ate a banana as I drove to the bus pickup site on Saturday morning (big mistake #2). I don't know why. I know I get stomach cramps when I eat the morning of a run. And sure enough, in the first few miles, an annoying stomach cramp greeted me. Nothing debilitating, but definitely uncomfortable. It wouldn't ever go away and I ran the rest of the race feeling it.

As for my race strategy, I had every intention of running 8 minutes and walking 1. I had done this in my training runs, knew the benefits of walking early and was committed to doing so...right up until I got to the Mile 1 marker and knew I had been going for close to 8 minutes (it was too dark to see my watch). At this point I fought an internal battle: on one hand, I knew I needed to walk. I had committed to doing so and again, knew I would reap benefits later. On the other hand, nobody else was walking. We had only gone a mile. What would people think if I pulled off to the side so early? I even thought of faking an injury so I could justify walking, but I didn't want anyone else stopping to ask me if I was alright.

This was all so stupid. I wasn't there to win the race and I didn't know a single other soul running with me. Who cares what they thought? But I couldn't do it. I couldn't walk. So on I went (big mistake #3). I did walk through the aid stations in the third, sixth, ninth and tenth miles but that was it for the first half, which I finished in roughly 1:55.

At the Mile 13 marker I noticed a lady who was walking at every mile marker for 20-30 seconds. For a few miles I would pass her while she was walking and then she would catch up and pass me when she started running again. Two different strategies and yet we were essentially in the same position (until mile 16 when she pulled far enough ahead that I couldn't catch up during her walk breaks). I knew I had made a big mistake in not walking regularly like I had planned.

The second half of the race consisted of some light rolling hills. Nothing too extreme except for a pretty good hill from mile 20 to 21, but the rolling hills seemed to roll "up" as we came back into Pocatello. I did walk for a minute or so every mile from miles 13-20 (the aid stations were almost a mile apart during this stage, so that make it a little easier to track), but the effect of running downhill for two hours without regular breaks caught up at mile 20. The hill to mile 21 finished me off, and the final 5 miles became a combination of walking and running, just trying to get to the finish line.

It's amazing to me how much my time suffers in the last 5 miles. It happened in both Seattle and Newport (well, in Newport it was more like that last 9 miles). I need to work on this.

As I passed the aid station at mile 24 I began to have a frank and open discussion with my internal coach. It was one-sided and went something like this (think drill sargent mode, without the profanity): "Why are you walking? You've walked plenty the last few miles. You're not here to walk, you're here to run. You've got two miles left and you WILL run them. So get it together right now, find something left in the tank, dig deep and finish this thing." And with that, I took off running as hard as I could.

I only lasted a minute or two at this pace, but that was fine. I was running again. When I couldn't do it any longer, I walked. My internal coach continued: "Good. See, you did have something left. Now do it again. Now!" And I took off running again.

With the finish line in view,
walking was unacceptable
Over and over again I would run as hard as I could and then walk for a few moments, each time resetting my mind and body with some positive, motivating self talk. Mile 25 passed and mile 26 approached. The final turn towards the finish was made around the 25.5 mark and I told myself there would be no more walking on the final stretch. As I fired up the engines one last time I made the turn and saw two runners in front of me who had passed me a few miles earlier. I was going to catch them.

With spectators on both sides of the road cheering us on, I passed mile 26 and briefly slowed to a walk for just a step before my internal coach screamed "NO! GO!" And so I went, on through the finish line.

I finished in 4:34:05. Slower than Seattle, but slightly faster than Newport. I felt good about it though. I know I've only run three, dozens less than some of the runners I spoke with during the weekend, but crossing the finish line never gets old. The emotions are always raw and the sense of accomplishment strong. Hours earlier, just before the gun went off, 350 of us had moved quietly as one pack towards the starting line in darkness. Looking around, there were runners of all shapes, sizes and attire. Each of us was about to embark on our own separate journey. We had all traveled separate paths to arrive at that moment, but we all had the same destination in mind. In our final few seconds together there was an unmistakable feeling of camaraderie. As a group, we were about to do something great.

To come together and see those same people in the runners-only recovery area afterwards, we knew we had done it. Our times weren't plastered on our foreheads and nobody knew if you had come in first or last. But you had a Pocatello Marathon finisher's medal around your neck, and that meant something. You had played a role and contributed to the greatness that had been achieved that day.

It doesn't matter where the race is, at what elevation it's run, what the grade of the slope is, or how long it took for everyone to finish, 26.2 miles is 26.2 miles. We all willingly paid money and spent time traveling to this one place so that we could have this experience. It's one to be remembered and cherished. For on this day, we were able to do something most people will never attempt or even desire to do. Maybe they don't think they physically can. Maybe they think it's too hard. Maybe the just don't want to.

Tired and a little beat up,
but still smiling
As I cross the finish line, as much pain and fatigue as I may be feeling, I think about how grateful I am to be able to do such a thing. How grateful I am to experience such a feeling. How grateful I am to be around people who are experiencing the same feelings and are equally grateful for them. I'm grateful that I didn't quit after my first week of running in June 2009, when running 2 miles on a track put me on the ground gasping for air. Or during the winter months, when day after day of rain, wind and darkness did it's best to beat me down. Or after Newport, when I wasn't sure I wanted to run ever again.

I ran my first marathon the first weekend of the summer. Now, 92 days later on the last weekend of the summer, I ran my third. It's been quite a summer. One in which I've come to realize I'm grateful for something that 14 months ago would have been unthinkable: I'm grateful I can run.

Time to find another race...

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Running The Gap--Challenges Await

2010 Pocatello Marathon -
Running The Gap
The last time (and only time) I've run a race at a significantly higher elevation than where I live and train was October 2009, when I ran the Run Like Hell half marathon in Bend, OR. At the time I had been running for all of about 4 months, but had knocked out my first half marathon a few weeks before without much difficulty. I was unconcerned with the rate I was adding miles each week, collectively and on individual runs and I didn't worry about silly things like pace. The very thought of walking was, well, an unacceptable sign of weakness--basically I knew what I was doing. 

12 miles of hills, headwinds and a lack of oxygen later, I was hunched over, hands on my knees, sucking air wondering if I was going to be walking last 1.1 miles to the finish line (I didn't, but I wouldn't call it running either).

Fast forward 10 months to today. As I prepare to leave for Idaho tomorrow morning for Saturday's Running The Gap marathon in Pocatello I look back at my 4-month old running self and cringe. So undisciplined. So stupid.

Pocatello will present a couple of challenges:

1. Elevation. The race starts at around 6000ft and heads downhill for the first 14 miles before settling around 4500ft for the remainder of the race. I've solicited advice from some of my Twitter followers and DailyMile friends (thanks jokach and Heather) and done some reading on if I should get a run in prior to Saturday or not. It seems to be split down the middle, but for different reasons. Those in favor of running on Thursday night or Friday morning seem to emphasize the psychological benefits--knowing what to expect on race day. Those against it are more concerned with the physiological effect.

Coach Roy Benson of Running Times offered this advice to a question received by another runner:

"To minimize the potential bad side effects of your late arrival, in order to spare your precious stores of glycogen during this taper period, don’t do anything hard, fast or anaerobic. Just relax and chill out. Then on race day, go out a bit slower than you’ve been planning."

I like that. It makes sense to me. I was already planning to go out slower than normal anyway. I'm still undecided though. I'm staying with my little brother on Thursday night. He lives a block away from a track. It might be too much. I'll probably sneak over and run a few laps on Thursday afternoon (after 11 hours of driving, I'm going to be itching to do something to get loose).

2. Pace. On a perfect day in a perfect world, I'd PR. I'd run the pace I've been training at, break 3:45 and shove it in the eye of all the pace calculators and coaches advising to add at least 1% in time per 1000 feet of elevation. My 4-month old running self would have hit the starting line with this attitude--and probably would have been sitting on the side of the road by mile 6. Truth be told, I don't really have a goal in mind because I don't know what it's going to be like (see challenge #1 above). My goal is simply to find a comfortable pace and settle into it.

Another brother was out visiting from Utah a few weeks ago. I asked him about the difference in running in the two locations. What he said was interesting to me (though some of you are probably going to be saying, "uhh...yeah, R, no kidding). He had just run a handful of miles (in Oregon) before stopping to wait for other family members to finish their runs. When a certain sister got lost in the park, he went back out to find her. He said his legs recovered much quicker in Oregon than after a run in Utah.

Flip that around for me this weekend. I know I need to religiously take walk breaks or I won't make it. 8 minutes on, 1 minute off. Even 2 minutes in the early going if that's what it takes. I can't let my legs get to the "tired" stage too early because they won't recover in the thin air. I've been practicing this pattern during my runs the last few weeks, but I can't just throw it to the wind on Saturday if I find myself behind my 3:45 pace. Why? Because of challenge #3:

3. It's still 26.2 miles. The distance hasn't changed. It must be respected.

With that, I'm off to pack my bags. 4am is coming early tomorrow. I appreciate the advice and encouragement that many of your have offered through various outlets. If you haven't already, you can find me on Twitter, DailyMile or on Facebook. I update each site with various information, but I use Twitter for random thoughts and things I come across, DailyMile is my main training-tracking site and Facebook is where I put the pictures. Be sure to check them out!

I'll post my results on Saturday when I can and look for a recap and a new post early next week!

Monday, August 30, 2010

On Sickness & Injury

For a runner in training, the two worst things that can happen are injury and sickness.

For purposes here, let's make sure we differentiate between injury and discomfort. A little bit of knee pain after a few miles is discomfort. Purple toenails are also filed under discomfort. What Ted Spiker (The Marathon Virgin) did to his ankle a few weeks back is an injury. So is a stress fracture (but not a shin splint). Discomfort you can work through even if it means slowing down or not going as many miles. Injuries keep you in the house with your shoes and gear packed in the closet. For the injured runner, there isn't much internal argument between the mind and body: they're typically on the same page and agree that continuing to train is a bad idea.

Sickness is a different ballgame (and if we need to define sickness also, let's say anything short of being rushed to the emergency room or requiring constant bed rest). In this case the mind and body can find themselves at odds with one another. The mind says go because it's just a cold, it's not that bad and you can't afford to miss a long run. The body thinks otherwise and is pleading for time to rest and repair itself. And on it goes.

Which power wins this battle? The mind or the body? Which should be given priority when deciding if that 18 mile Saturday morning run is worth it?

Let's use the game of Risk as an illustration. For those unfamiliar, the basic premise of Risk is to accumulate armies and wage battle against an opponent's armies in an effort to achieve "global domination." Various strategies are required, including knowing when and where to attack, when to cut losses, when and where to reposition armies and when to take defensive measures against an ensuing attack.

Any guess what's coming next?
Imagine the following scenario being played out: Player 1 (P1) sees Player 2 (P2) stockpiling armies in a territory neighboring one of his own. As the size of P2's army grows, P1 knows an attack is inevitable and begins to take immediate measures to protect and defend his territory. And then it happens: P2 initiates a battle and P1 is left to defend his territory.

P2 may take several turns to fight this battle, but ultimately there are two possible outcomes: either P2 will be victorious over P1 and claim the territory or P2's army will be reduced or even eliminated by the defense and possible counter-attack of P1.

To make the analogy, P1 is the body and P2 is sickness.

Most people know and can sense when symptoms of sickness are coming on. This is P2 accumulating armies in preparation for an attack. At this point most people (runners in training especially) scramble to defend themselves with any variety of measures: increasing Vitamin C intake, drinking more fluids, getting extra rest, taking over-the-counter products like Zicam or Airborne. They hope and pray they've done enough to prevent an all out battle against sickness, but then, like in Risk, it happens: the body comes under attack and goes into full battle mode against that sickness.

Back to the game for a moment. If P2 wages battle over the course of a few turns, P1 has a few options to consider on their turn. Two of these options include sending additional armies to the territory being attacked or sending these same armies elsewhere to fight other battles. The first option is surely the most prudent move, especially if P2 has a significant numbers advantage. True, no one has ever won a game of Risk without ever being on the offensive, but most all games are lost by failing to play effective defense.

The body has the same two options: it can focus its resources on fighting the sickness or it can spread those resources thin across various physical tasks. To extend the analogy further, the body's armies in this case are units of energy. What can the body do with available energy? Here are three possibilities, among several others.

1. Repair and regenerate itself
2. Digestion
3. Physical activity

Resources should go where they are needed most
If the body is under attack and needs all available resources sent to the front lines to fight off the sickness, the prudent move is to send them there. Asking your body to use this energy for digestion or physical activity will only prolong and/or deepen the illness. Surely some energy is required for both of these things, but this requirement can be minimized by consuming easily digested foods (like fruit) and by (brace yourself) shutting down your training program until your body gives the "all clear" signal. As difficult as this may be for the mind to accept, it's what the body needs.

By forcing yourself into your shoes and out the door for a strenuous workout, vast amount of additional armies are being directed away from the body's most pressing and important battles.

Furthermore, each of the training runs in a program have a purpose (speed workouts, tempo runs, hills, etc). As this specific purpose will not be achieved while the body is not well, slogging through a run while the body is sick provides little benefit to your actual training. Chances are good that it won't be a productive run anyway, and, while there may a temporary relief from the symptoms of the sickness, you can be sure the armies of the sickness will return with a vengeance once the body returns to its normal resting state. However, because energy has been directed to the exertion of a workout, the body will not be able to fight it as effectively as it may have.

The next time you are sick and struggling to decide if you should get stick to your training plan or take a day off to let your body recover, do you body a favor and rest. Failure to do so could allow the sickness to drag out for days and even weeks -- truly destroying your training program. In the short-term this will be difficult for the mind to accept. But once the body's armies have conquered the armies of the sickness, you'll be confident knowing the battle was quick, that the body fought it as efficiently as possible and that there are no lingering effects standing in your way to training the very best that you can.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Where Do I Go From Here?

I have not died. I just haven't posted in a while. I thought I would have more time during the summer months: no early morning scripture class to teach, more hours of daylight, I can run in the morning before work etc. Not so much. I don't know where the time has gone, maybe I've been on my hands and knees pleading with my grass to grow (and daring their weedy counterparts to continue growing) more than I realized. Whatever the reason, I apologize for the lack of posting.

If you have continued to visit regularly during the past few weeks, you've noticed some changes to the site. I'm hoping to have a sort of re-launch in a week or two (waiting on my little sister to finish up some work on some graphics). The changes grew out of the fact that after completing the Newport Marathon on June 5th and then the Seattle Rock 'n' Roll Marathon on June 26th my journey changed. I had run the marathon. It was done. And I was left with the question of "now what?"

I stepped away for a few weeks (from the website, not from running) and examined what it was I was hoping to accomplish by spending precious time writing about running. I thought about why someone might want to come to this site, read what was available and look forward to coming back. I knew it couldn't be just another running blog and or training site with training schedules, Top 10 lists and travelogues (though some of these things will still be mixed in from time to time). Rather, it needed to be something previously unavailable. Something that would fill a void. But it also needed to reflect who I am and why and how I run.

Here's who I am:

  • I started running June12th, 2009.
  • I am an average runner--nothing special.
  • After running my first 5k, I decided I was going to run a marathon--and I did it 11 months later.
  • Before running my first marathon, I knew I wanted to run lots of marathons--and I did my 2nd just 22 days after my first.
  • I follow the Fruit Predominant Diet--only fruit until dinner; and very little/if any fats, oils, meat, dairy or refined sugars. 
  • I don't cross-train.
  • I believe mental training is equal in importance to physical training
  • I believe the spirit, the sheer enjoyment of just getting out and running, is essential--thus, my mind-body-spirit approach
  • I run to compete against only myself (and occasionally my dad) and for personal accomplishment and fulfillment
So that's what's coming. 

A few quick running updates:

I've backed it off a little bit in July. After the two marathons in June I felt like my body was worn down and needed some extra recovery. The difference has been shorter Saturday runs (12-16 miles). Monday, Wednesday, Thursday schedule has remained the same.

I've started employing Jeff Galloway's run/walk method. Who'd have thought, huh? 8 minutes running, 1 minute walking. Also using more of a glide form. The first two weeks I shattered my PRs in the 5k, 5 mile, 8 mile and 10k distances including...

a 6th place overall finish in a local 10k last Saturday (out of 74). I've never been anywhere close to a top 10 finish in any race, so I was pleased...and a little unsure about what to do when I'm near the front. It shouldn't matter, but it was weird.

I've decided to run the Pocatello Marathon on September 4th. I'm driving my little brother back to school the day prior, so it made sense to stop and do it. It will be my first trip back up into the elevation since Run Like Hell last October. I'm a completely different runner now though, so I'm not too worried about it.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Seattle Rock 'n' Roll Marathon Recap: The Race

(This recap will be separated into two parts: The actual race and everything else. You can click through to Part II HERE)

Traveling is usually a stressful experience. Traveling with kids, even more so. Traveling with kids to run a marathon probably isn't the brightest idea ever. However, with the help of my mother-in-law who came to visit/help from Las Vegas, my wife and I were both able to participate in the Seattle Rock 'n' Roll Marathon and 1/2 marathon. My kids were troopers, Grandma was entertaining and our weekend activity plan was executed smoothly (although we almost had an bathroom emergency on the light rail on Friday - when a 4-year old needs to go to the bathroom, being on or near the Seattle light rail is not a good thing - there are no bathrooms ANYWHERE, including the stations. Thank goodness for Macey's).

I met the 3:45 pace leader (Steve) in corral #6 and tried to get an idea of how this was going to work. Was he going to run a negative split, an even pace or run different paces throughout the race? There was a handful of people hanging around near Steve and determined this would be my running group for the next few hours. After a good effort by a young lady on the national anthem, the elite runners set off and the rest of us walked towards the start line, each corral being sent out approximately 90 seconds apart. (Note: Pictures were literally taken on the run, so some of them are a little blurry)

Miles 1-4

The first few miles were all about getting comfortable and not tripping over anyone else. Our pace was the same as the 1:52 half marathon pace group, which had 15-20 people running together, so it was pretty congested for a while. We came upon the first band and aid station, made a turn onto Martin Luther King Jr Way and gradually made our way towards the waterfront of Lake Washington. The pace felt comfortable, though I was dismayed when we passed the 1 mile marker and my Nike+ sportband read 1.10 miles. Great, I thought, I'm already off by 10%. I logged a 5k time of 26:20, but the crowd of runners all around was starting to get to me. I had been running right with Steve, but we were about 45 seconds behind where he wanted us to be.

Miles 4-9

In the 5th mile we encountered our first hill. As some people slowed down, Steve started navigating his way through the crowd and I followed him. At mile 6 I got through the aid station faster than Steve, the rest of our group and the entire 1:52 group and suddenly felt the freedom of running with a little bit of space around me. Pleased with this feeling, I ran free and loose, increasing my distance from Steve little by little and clocked in at the 10k mark at 53:18. These miles were some of the most scenic of the entire course. Lake Washington was to our right and lining the roads were large green trees, lots of green grass and large waterfront homes on our left. Out in the distance the bridge to Mercer Island could be seen. Soon enough we would be on the bridge. I occasionally looked back to see where Steve was but must have let my mind wander for a mile or so because around mile 8 I looked again and he was directly behind me. I was running a consistent pace, but he must have sped up to get back on pace. Whatever the case, psychologically it was a little jarring and I felt the pressure of trying to keep up instead of the free and loose feeling I had enjoyed for the previous few miles.

Miles 9-13

Just past mile 9 (where my time registered as 1:17:14), the marathoners split from the half runners and ran a 2 1/2 mile out and back across Lake Washington. It was a bit windy and each side of the bridge was slightly uphill. Keeping up with Steve was getting more difficult and all but myself and one other runner had fallen back off the pace. After rejoining the half runners in the I-90 expressway tunnel we emerged to a view of Downtown Seattle, including our first view of Quest Field. Miles 12 and 13 continued on I-90 towards the downtown area. It was nice to be separated from the half runners for all of these miles. I could tell they were much more bunched up than we were. I did all I could to keep up with Steve, but as we crossed the 13.1 marker (1:53:02), I had to slow my pace. I was still feeling good but needed to back it off for a little while.

Miles 13-17

There wasn't much by way of spectators on the highway itself, but as we excited and ran into downtown the cheering of the crowd was inspiring. People were yelling, bells were ringing, I even saw a few cowbells. It felt like we were running down a parade route. At mile 14.5 I came upon a guy running by himself that looked about the same age as I am. I asked how he was doing, he answered he felt terrible. He said it was his first marathon and asked if I had done this before. We talked for a bit as we ran through town towards the Alaska Way Viaduct. His goal was 4 hours and I offered him the encouragement that if he kept his current pace through the next 5 or 6 miles, he'd make it (I also told him the next 5 or 6 miles were going to suck, but running the last 5 or 6 would feel pretty cool). We entered the Battery Street Tunnels around mile 16 and emerged shortly thereafter onto Aurora Avenue. The next 5 miles were the most difficult of the entire course.

Miles 17-22

I had mentally and physically prepared myself for hills. I ran many miles worth of hills in the weeks leading up to Saturday. To run up Aurora Avenue and see the hill that awaited me was not something I was prepared for, however. It was long and it was brutal. I kept telling myself to pick up my knees and let my body just fall forward from step to step and it seemed to work. I maintained a fairly even, if slow, pace up the hill. About halfway up was an aid station where a volunteer was holding a big bucket of gummy bears. Any other time, I wouldn't think twice about turning them down. I think they are nasty. But on this day, at this time, I remembered how badly I had wanted something, anything, with flavor in the latter miles of the Newport Marathon, and so I opted for a handful of chewable bears. They tasted so good and I tried to savor them as long as possible while trying not to inhale them into my lungs. I passed the 30k marker at 2:45:48 and knew I still had a great shot at finishing under 4 hours. The climb continued until I saw two things that, at this point, made my day. First, a condo complex named "The Summit." I figured this must be indicating we had made it to the top. Second, a lady holding a sign which read: "Dear Complete Stranger - I don't know you, but I'm proud of you." Never were kinder words written or conveyed on a marathon banner.

At the turnaround mark at 18.5 miles we got to see the descent we had just enjoyed after our tough climb. Truth be told, I don't remember any descent after our tough climb. But it certainly must have been there, because we were going to climb back up to the top of it. I continued my slow even pace to the top and began my descent back towards the Battery Street Tunnels. At mile 20 I was struck by the scene on the other side of the road, of those climbing the first hill. Grown men were off to the side of the road in tears. Athletic looking 20-somethings tried to stretch, massage and rub all sorts of muscles, as they looked up the hill in seeming despair. Others were walking slowly, their heads down, some muttering words of encouragement to themselves, others expressing disappointment in what was transpiring. I started to think about the marathon and what it does to the body and mind. Quite literally it beats you up and breaks you down to nothing. Mentally, physically, perhaps psychologically, the toll of the miles, the hills, the energy exerted, the thought of all of the preparation put in and all of the other experiences that occur in those few hours push the body to its limits (and sometimes passed) as to what it can endure. I know what those people were feeling. I felt it three weeks ago at almost the exact same point in the race. It's not a good feeling. It is the feeling of fear--fear that perceived failure is becoming a reality and there's seemingly nothing you can do about it. If I learned anything from Newport, it's that these are the kind of thoughts you can't even begin to allow yourself to think or they will destroy whatever shred of confidence you may have left.

I looked at my watch and knew if I could just maintain pace for another 6.2 miles, I would finish in under 4 hours. 6.2 miles - just a 10k I told myself.

Miles 22-26.2

The camber of the road inside the Battery Street Tunnel was terrible and there was no relief from it, even on the tiny sidewalks lining the road. It put my left foot far above my right, and after 22 miles this caused some pretty significant pain in my left hip (and even more pain the following day). We came out of the tunnel and back on the Alaska Way Viaduct, this time on top (on the way out we were on the lower portion) and got another look at Quest Field. At mile 23 we passed the turnoff to the finish line and could see lines of people in both races running the final 1/2 mile to the finish line. They looked like a line of ants all following each other down the ramp around the 180 degree corner and towards the finish line. I heard many people complain how terrible it was for us to have to run past the off ramp and still have three more miles still to go, but I didn't care. I had slowed my pace significantly at this point but I had not walked yet, with the exception of a few water stations. I wasn't going to walk through them, but I decided during the 2nd half of the race that it was more important to get nice relaxed sips of water (and Cytomax) than it was to slosh them up towards my face and hope I got what I needed as I continued to run.

At the 24 mile mark (3:42:00) my run slowed to a walk. Not a slow walk like in Newport, it was definitely a walk with a purpose, but it was a walk nonetheless. This lasted just a short time and then I got going again and ran to the next aid station at 24.5 miles. I employed the run/walk strategy for the next two miles, which included a 4-story climb back to the top of the Viaduct at mile 25. At 25.5, at long last, we made a sharp right turn and ran town the ramp to street level for the final 1/2 mile. At the bottom of the ramp spectators were in abundance and were cheering loudly as they waited for us weary runners to pass by. We made a left turn through a parking lot and then another left onto Occidental Avenue, where for the first time we could see the actual finish line, just a few hundred yards in front of us. The spectators lining both sides of the street 4 and 5 people deep behind the police barricades willed us on and everyone around me, myself included, started running just a little bit hard as we ran for home.

I crossed the line in 4:07:22 and knew that I had done all I could do. I had no regrets and no disappointments. My time is still a bit slower than I would like but it improved by 27 minutes from Newport. I was better prepared, however, mentally and physically. I was beat up but I was smiling. I would live to run another day and I would enjoy it. My wife, dad, mom and sister were in the finishing area waiting for me (they had all run the half marathon) and it was a nice moment for all of us.

Final Thoughts

I'm not sure where I go from here. In order to run another marathon (Saturday races only) and to do so somewhat economically, I probably have to venture to Idaho (Pocatello (9/4/10)) Utah (Park City (8/21/10), Top of Utah (9/18/10), Layton (10/9/10)) or Nevada (Mesquite (11/21/10)), but none of these races are for a few months and all of them are at significantly higher elevations. Unfortunately there aren't very many half marathons in my area either so I don't know what to do. I'm taking it easy this week but I need to find another race to run. Yes, I'm addicted to running. I need a purpose though. Something to put on my calendar and train for.

There's a 24-rule in my house: Anything I say about running within 24 hours of finishing a marathon is not to be taken seriously. Today is Tuesday and I feel fine. Tomorrow I'll venture out for a few miles and see how I feel. Saturday I'll probably run between 14 and 16 miles, maybe more. On Sunday I turn 28 years old. If I had told my then-turning 27-year old self a year ago that I would run two marathons before I was 28, well, you can guess how that would have been received. But I'm here and I love it.

I thank all of you for all of your support and for following this blog, however long you've been doing so. This site will probably be undergoing some changes in the next few weeks so don't be shocked if information or pages disappear and reappear at random times. My goal is to post something informative at least once a week (less of me; more training and preparation strategies), so keep checking back.

Until then, happy running.

Seattle Rock 'n' Roll Marathon Recap: Race Organization

If you haven't yet read my Seattle Rock 'n' Roll marathon recap, you can do so HERE. There's so much that goes into a race weekend, though, that I felt like everything other than the actual running needed it's own post. There's the organization of the race itself, the expo, transportation and lodging issues and a few other items to mention here. Let's get right to it:

I had never been to a race with an expo before so I didn’t have any expectations. Upon entering the Quest Events Center on Friday afternoon the party-like atmosphere was in full swing. Bib pickup was quick and efficient as was the t-shirt and swag bag pickup. The sponsor booth area was fairly crowded and I realized later that I had missed the 2011 sign up booth, where I could have registered for next year's race for a mere $55. There were various freebies (mostly food/drink samples) being handed out but nothing I absolutely had to have. Most everything for sale was at retail price or above. Grade: B

Swag Bag: Ehh. A few useful items, like some Zicam allergy gel and cold sore gel, mini bottles of olive oil and balsamic vinegar, a package of Cytomax powder and a $10 off $50 purchase at Sports Authority, but nothing that I really said "Wow!" or "Sweet!" to. I don't have a dog, but I'll give the healthy dog treats to my parents' dog so he can turn his nose up at them. Most everything else found its way into the hotel garbage can. The shirts are quality tech shirts from Brooks. If you hope to run in this shirt, however, be warned that they size big. I'm 5'11" and what I would call and a slim to average build and my medium-sized shirt fits if I'm wearing it around casually, but it's too big to run in. My wife got a size small, which fits her much the same way, but is just about the right size for me to run in. Grade: B-

At the starting line village the next morning, the UPS drop off/pickup was simple, fast and efficient. Can't ask for anything more than that. There was plenty of water available and I believe there was food also, but I didn't look very hard. There were more portable toilets than I have ever seen in my life, but there were still long lines at every one of them. My understanding is that participant drop off site was a nightmare (as should be expected with 27,000 runners), and the shuttle busses from the finish line had more issues as the morning went on (also to be expected). I stayed at the Days Inn around the corner and walked to the starting line, so I didn’t have to deal with any of these issues. Grade: B

Speaking of the Days Inn, yes, it was literally around the corner from the starting line. And yes, it was a dive of a motel. But it was worth every penny not to have to a) pay more for a hotel near the finish line and then wait in line at 4am to catch shuttle to the starting line or b) stress and fight the traffic to the participant drop-off point and then still have to walk a considerable distance to the starting area (and potentially miss your corral start). My wife and I stayed in our room until shortly after 6am and then enjoyed a leisurely walk to the starting area where we took in the sights and sounds, dropped off our bags, relaxed for a few minutes and then made our way to our respective corrals just prior to the Star-Spangled Banner being sung and the elite runners being sent off. You get what you pay for in terms of hotel rooms, but the Days Inn, despite its drawbacks, was worth every penny. Accommodations Grade: C-. Location/Convenience Grade: A+

The 20 aid stations were spaced evenly from one another and the volunteers were all cheerful and supportive, not bored and miserable. It made a huge difference. I also appreciated that the Cytomax tables always came before water (so there was never confusion as to what you were getting) and that tables were set up on both sides of the street, so there weren't any kamikaze runners darting across the street for the last cup of liquid. There were two or three stations with Gu gel, one with gummy bears (which, at mile 16, I couldn't resist) and one with pretzels (which I should have resisted). My wife tells me that supplies were running low on the half marathon course, but there was plenty of everything on the full course. Grade: A

The spectators were great. There were a few miles at the end when there weren't very many people (we were on the freeway), but there were crowds hovering on ever bridge and overpass that we ran by. The finish line area was 4 or 5 people deep for the final 1/4 mile. Better yet, spectators cheered throughout the race, not just for the one or two people they were there to see and support. This makes a huge difference, especially for those of us who didn't have anyone on the course supporting us (my family members were all running). A very special thank you goes to the lady standing around mile 18 holding a sign which read: "Dear Complete Stranger - I don't know you, but I'm proud of you." I acknowledged her sign as I passed, she offered a few words of encouragement to me and I went on my way, a little tear in my eye. Grade: A

img_4022Post race festivities were what you would expect. I got my picture taken, was given a heavy, high quality finisher's medal (which was different than the 1/2 finisher medal--THANK YOU) and made my way through the normal food tables of water, Cytomax, granola bars, bananas, oranges, chips, crackers, bagels etc. I don't drink, but I understand there was beer also. There was plenty of room to move around, take pictures, sit and relax. The medical area was clearly marked as was the family meet-up area. The gear bag pickup provided by UPS was just as smooth and easy as the drop off was. Grade: B+

I didn't stick around for the post-race Tonic concert. You'll have to read about that somewhere else. Grade: Incomplete

The Seattle light rail system worked well for us. After leaving the post-race recovery area, we walked a short distance to the Stadium Station, paid $2.25 each for a ticket and then enjoyed a quiet stress-free 20-minute ride back to the Tukwila Station (about 2 miles from the hotel), where my mother-in-law and kids met us with the car (there were also numerous city busses and hotel shuttles at the Tukwila station if you were parked at your nearby hotel). We used this same route to get to and from the expo on Friday and avoided the downtown traffic/parking mess and costs. Grade: A-

If I have one complaint, it's this: The bands. I realize is a "Rock 'n' Roll" marathon and in no way am I asking to get rid of the bands. It's all part of the experience and I get that. I'm just not a real big music guy and I didn't care for a single one of them. In fact, I found many of them more annoying than inspirational. There were a few I might listen to if I needed some good background music while driving, writing a paper or making dinner. Not so much for gutting out 26.2 miles though. Others will surely see this the other way. Fine. The quality of the bands reached a low point at mile 24 when we were greeted by some group with a cross-dressing lead singer screaming death into his mic. On the way back in after the final turnaround, said cross-dresser had stripped down to his skimpy underwear and was breaking things as he continued his screaming. Not my thing. Grade: C

I would run this race again. I should have remembered to sign up at the expo for $55 but I wish the race organizers would have been a little more merciful and/or gracious for our participation. Instead, arriving home late Saturday night and getting a post-race reminder to sign up for next years race only to find out that the price has been increased to $105 before November 30th (and a staggering $135 after) felt a little like a slap in the face. Congratulations, you sold out 28,000 spots at the current price months in advance. So why not increase the price and make a few more bucks? I guess that's supply and demand in action. At $135 though, I'm priced out of this market.

Overall, I would give this race a solid A- grade. There are a few things that could be tweaked here and there, but the Competitor group obviously knows what they are doing and they do it as best as can be expected when you're accommodating 28,000 participants. From getting to and from and in and out of the expo, to aid station and spectator support, to post-race festivities, everything went smoothly for me. If any of you ran this race I would be interested to hear about your experiences and would be willing to post them here or link to your recap on your blog or website if you'd like.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Marathon #2: Seattle Rock 'n' Roll Preparations

Newport seems like such a long time ago. Three weeks actually, but it seems longer. I spent a few days reflecting my first marathon and knowing I had a quick turnaround before my 2nd, I got right back to work. As I've documented in detail, I was disappointed with my pre-race taper strategy and race-day energy. Prior to Newport, my Seattle prep plan had been to replicate the final three weeks of my 21 Week Training Schedule and treat Newport as just another 20+ mile long Saturday run.

That plan got tossed out the window within 24 hours of finishing in Newport.

Instead, the last three weeks have looked something like this:

1. Lots of miles. Monday afternoon following Newport I was back on the road, beginning a week of 5, 8, 5 and 20 miles (Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday, respectively). The following week was 5, 8, 5, 16. This week I ran 12 on on Monday (7 in the morning, 5 more in the evening), 5 on Wednesday and 5 more this morning. Some may question returning to the road so soon, but trust me when I say I woke up Sunday morning after Newport feeling a little bit stiff, but by that afternoon I felt fine and on Monday morning I couldn't wait to get out the door. Zero recovery time. Credit to the fruit diet.

2. Hills. Lots of them. The biggest ones I could find in the general vicinity of my house. Every run, with the exception of Wednesday and Thursday this week have been hills. 2-6% grade, extended hills. Hills I don't like to drive up in my car. And it's been awesome. I loathe running down these same hills and avoid doing so whenever possible, but I've done some good work these last three weeks running mile after mile uphill. Here's a look at part of my long run route the last few weeks (weekday runs have also included significant portions of this route):

3. Re-evaluation of goals. I'm going to sign up with the 3:45 pace team in Seattle. I don't know how many the races I run will have pace leaders, but after feeling so inexperienced in Newport, I want to take advantage of running with someone who knows what they're doing and is running a specific pace. I know I can't let them get too far ahead of me because they are my goal; like in Mario-Kart when you can see the shadow of the best time running along your own race -- you know what you have to do.

4. Mantra of the month: I will not walk. More than anything else, this is what put me so far off of my goal in Newport. There was a moment around mile 21 when I began to walk and the lady I was running with continued on. It didn't take very long, maybe 30 seconds or so, but I remember thinking how far ahead of me she was after just a short time of walking. I will not walk. If I can't hold an 8:30 pace (3:45 finish goal), then I'll run at 9:30, or 10, or 12 if need be. But I will not walk. My Nike+ sensor isn't calibrated to walking, but I estimate I was doing so in Newport at an 18 or 19 minute pace. Time killer. I will not walk.

My family and I will leave for Seattle tomorrow where we'll ride the light rail/monorail systems, check out Pike Place Market, the Seattle Center area and then hit the race expo, including Safeco and Quest Fields, before returning to our hotel a few steps from the starting line. My wife has never been to Seattle (she's from Las Vegas) and my two young kids (almost 5 and almost 2) would ride the light rail all day if we let them, so we're treating it as a mini-vacation (all this means is that I won't cringe quite as much when spending a little bit of money to do/see a few things).

My wife will be running the half-marathon (her first) as will my dad, mom and sister. Based on the corrals we're all starting in, my goal is to beat my sister to the finish line (sorry, Courtney).

The race organizers released a course preview yesterday, which I've posted below. You can go HERE if you want to see the half-marathon course.

So that's it. I'm off to Seattle. Hopefully things will go a little better than a few weeks ago. Whatever happens, though, I will not walk.