"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

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.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Taper Trap

Take a look at your training program. When you look at your final two or three weeks prior to your big race, what thoughts go through your mind? If it's still months away it may seem like it will never arrive. If you're at the peak of your training it may seem like much-welcomed relief just around the corner. If you're currently in the final few weeks you're probably feeling like you've earned a reduction in miles after the months of grueling non-stop preparation. The Taper is a near-universally accepted principle and practice of marathon training. Yet, if done incorrectly, it can lead to disastrous results on race day. This is The Taper Trap.

Tapering advice is in no short supply, and for good reason. The final few weeks are important and should not be overlooked. While you may not be able to produce significant improvements in endurance and speed in the final few weeks, there is the potential to lose some of the built up strength you have worked so hard to obtain. Generally, advice on tapering falls into one of three categories:

1. What to do
2. What not to do
3. Warnings about what to expect

Warnings about how you're going to feel as you taper? Shouldn't you feel great? Have more energy? Heal from all of your pains? Get more sleep? Wouldn't this be nice. Unfortunately the list of warnings reads like the back of a bottle of prescription drugs:

"Be aware that tapering may cause the following conditions: weight gain, phantom pains, heavy legs, anxiety, depressed mood, an urge to run extra miles or to run harder, the urge to eat more than you need to and many other conditions you haven't felt during your regular training."

Assuming you've been training for months for your marathon, are these the sorts of things you want to be dealing with in the most important phase of your race preparation?

For months you will disciplined yourself. You'll stuck to your schedule. You'll listened to your body. You'll probably keep to a somewhat regular diet. You'll probably even have some aches and pains from time to time, but your body will adapt and became stronger. As your long run and weekly miles peak you'll feel great about how far you've come and where you are going.

Why would you suddenly discontinue this routine in the final few weeks of preparation?

Someone once said, "We are all creatures of habit. We can do most things without even thinking about them; our bodies take charge and do them for us." Doesn't that describe a long 20-miler to a degree? Certainly mental preparation is necessary. But what about when you "lose" a few miles here and there and your body takes over and does what you've trained it to do?

After weeks and months of adding a few miles at a time (never more than 10% per week, all the programs will make sure to tell you), why would you suddenly cut your mileage by a third or a half in one week? And then cut it by another third or half the following week. And then expect your body to be able to flip the switch the week after and run a distance it may not have ever run before. Crazy, huh? We are creatures of habit. We are what we do and we perform how we train.

Perhaps you should be "peaking" instead of tapering.

Austin-based online running coach Greg McMillan describes peaking by stating, "I never use the word 'tapering.' When people hear that word, they hear relax. To them, tapering means to reduce their training and that everything is done. The hay is in the barn. Which isn't true at all. I much prefer to have my runners peak for the marathon. I want my runners to go into race on the upswing. I want them to think, 'I'm on the rise. I'm going to run my best race.' "

Peaking should not be confused with setting new speed, distance or weekly total PRs up until the day of your race. Rather, it's keeping your body in the rhythm you have worked so hard to establish so that as McMillan says, you can feel like you're on the rise on race day instead of asking your body to do something it hasn't been doing for a few weeks.

Take another look at the final few weeks of your training program. Will you be peaking on race day? Or will you be asking your body to do something it hasn't been for a few weeks? It's not too late to reevaluate. When you're at the starting line, though, it will be.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Newport Marathon Recap

There will be a time to explore the Why and How questions of my first marathon at a later date. For now, let's stick with What and When issues. I'll try to keep it interesting (personally I don't find things like "the packet pickup area was really cool" very interesting or useful). For a good description of the actual course, I recommend Jeff McKay's guest post on the Run Oregon blog. Two notes on the pictures below: they're chronological according to the recap and I am an expert at shutting my eyes at the exact moment the shudder opens. Call it a gift. Anyway, onward...


I've read the experiences of many who say they struggle to get a good night sleep before a marathon. This was true for me. I wasn't overly anxious and nauseous, but I was staying less than a mile from the Pacific Ocean, so trying to make a room dark was impossible. I planned to be up around 4:30am in time for a 5:15 departure, so I was in bed, eyes closed at 8pm. 8:30 rolled around, and then 9 and then 9:30, and I still wasn't tired. Can anyone else talk themselves into falling asleep? If so, this is a skill I would like to acquire.

Waking up at 4:30am wasn't a problem, I got myself ready to go, my dad drove with me to the starting line and I used the porta potty prior to the lines forming (as I heard one guy tell his buddy later, as he was darting into some nearby bushes, "don't bother bro, that's a 20 minute line for a 15 start time"). My dad and I took a few obligatory starting line pictures and noted the significant diversity of the participants. We said hello to my parents' neighbors, who were both running, as well as a family friend, who, after running her first marathon at age 26, was now back to do it again 14 years and four kids later. For purposes later in this recap, we'll call her "Nancy." The weather was absolutely perfect after a horrendous week of storms. Upper 40's, just a slight breeze from time to time and nothing but blue sky.


As stated in a previous post, one of my biggest concerns was starting too quickly. My dad waited at the start line, which also served as the 3-mile mark after running through the beach-front village shops of Newport. I came through at 26 minutes, which was just about perfect. It had been a nice easy warm-up, I was into the flow of things and I felt pretty good.

We ran under the Yaquina Bay Bridge and into the Downtown/Boardwalk area of Newport which eventually led to the finish line area. Here we encountered the first hill of the course at mile 4 1/2. I use the term "hill" loosely. Maybe a 1/4 mile. Nothing worse than the inclines I run whenever I leave my house, regardless of which direction I go. From this point on, the course was an out and back, with a turnaround at 15.3. You can take a look at the map, but there isn't a lot of access to the road we were on, so for the rest of the race spectators were minimal. There were small shuttle vans dropping off and picking up spectators at the aid stations on the out and back, but I'm not sure how successful or popular this was. A nice idea, but spectator support was pretty sparse.

At the top of the hill I found myself in a group of five other runners who were keeping a solid 8-minute pace. I lost four of them at the next aid station, but the one who remained looked like she knew what she was doing, so I kept close to her for the next few miles. At the 8-mile mark she sped up slightly, to about a 7:45 pace and though I tried, I couldn't keep up with her. This wouldn't have been such a problem if I wasn't exerting so much effort just to keep my 8-minute pace.

I knew then, at the 8-mile aid station, that something was wrong. A quick inventory of all my functioning parts revealed no injuries, pain, cramping or soreness. Something like this may have been easy to explain. Instead, it was something much more perplexing: I had no energy. My legs weren't turning over like I wanted them to. I quickly resorted to various mental strategies I had used in training runs. I focused on my breathing, my form, various internal and external associative thoughts and anything else I could think of, but not of these things seemed to be the problem. I just didn't have any energy. For the first time I can remember, I felt inexperienced. I've had bad days before but never during a race and never ever with 18 miles left to go. I knew it was going to be a struggle from then on.

I struggled to the 13.1 aid station in about 1:48. Not too terrible (8:15/mile). But I knew how hard I had had to work to get there and I knew the next 13.1 miles weren't going to get any easier. I walked through this aid station, tried to regroup and refocus and clear my mind, but by the time I got to the next aid station somewhere before the 15-mile mark, I was walking again. My body wasn't responding. I was in trouble and I knew it. The next 7 miles were a living hell.

Miles 16-22 consisted of walking a while, then shuffling to the next aid station or mile marker (whichever came first) and then walking again. I met up with two ladies who were also employing a run/walk strategy and joined them from miles 17-19 before one dropped back. The other lady and I ran together a little while longer before she continued on while I walked again. I was back by myself again.

I knew when I began to walk that there was no way I was making 3:30. The goal then became 4 hours. And when that was out of reach, 4:30. By this point in the race, all my pre-race strategies had gone out the window. . My music was more annoying than enjoyable so I jammed my headphones into my pocket. I should note that I was taking two and three cups of water at every aid station and doing a good job of getting some dates in my stomach every so often, so I never felt hungry or dehydrated the entire day, which may have been the lone bright spot to that point. Generally, though, I was disgusted with myself. My thoughts were everything except positive. And maybe worst of all, I knew my family (wife, son-age 4, daughter-age 20 months, mom, dad, sister, sister, dog) had positioned themselves at the finish line at around 10:15, hoping to see me run down the hill at around 10:30. I knew they would probably be worried about me. My wife in particular, who has had a front-row seat to all of my training, knew something must have been wrong. I learned later that when word started filtering through the finish area that an ambulance had taken someone off the course, she was so sure it was me that she frantically asked anyone official-looking the name of the person and what had happened.

Just past mile 22, during a period of walking, I glanced back and saw Nancy coming up behind me. She asked how I was and patiently listened to me gripe about it not being my day, no energy, blah, blah, blah, and then said something to the effect of, "you've done so awesome. C'mon now, let's go, we've got to finish." I was firmly in "yeah, right, you don't understand" mode, but we started to run together. She asked me all sorts of random questions, things she probably couldn't have cared less about, but kept offering encouragement as we went. She told me of her dad and how he had come back to run the final three miles with her in her first marathon, talking and encouraging her to the finish line. She continued to reiterate how awesome it was to finish a marathon and how great I had done to train and prepare myself for this.

A funny thing happened in those last four miles. I actually started to buy all of the positive stuff that Nancy was selling. I was going to finish. I was going to finish a freaking marathon. 12 months ago running even a mile was punishment. Now I was paying for the privilege run to 26.2 miles. And I was almost there. I knew Nancy wasn't going to let me stop again, and I knew she wasn't going to leave me to try to finish as fast as she may have been able to, so I really didn't have a choice: I had to keep going.

As we ran up the final hill and towards the 26-mile sign, a race official called out on his radio "we've got runners #438 (my number) and #147 coming towards you." I told him that he could tell the finish line that Nancy would be finishing before me. Nancy quickly offered her rebuttal that we would be finishing together.

As we ran down the hill, our families were waiting for us at the front of the finishing chute, cameras clicking. I'm not sure which family was more surprised that we were finishing together. As we ran the final few steps I tried to let up so that Nancy would finish first. After all she had done for me getting me through the final four miles, I wanted her to finish first. But she wouldn't have any of it. She stopped also, and made us cross the finish line together (though when they went to rip the tags off of our bibs, I made sure mine was taken second).

I had completed my first marathon. Not exactly how I had planned, but I finished. And after the 35 minute pep-talk from Nancy, I was alright with it. I did it. Officially in 4:34:23.

I think my wife was more upset about how I finished than I was. She was also still emotional from not knowing what had happened to me and if I was alright, but I tried to reassure her that everything was good, I wasn't injured and that the finish time didn't matter. Knowing how competitive I am, she must have thought I was nuts and I don't think she understood what I was saying at the moment, but after relaying to her my experience I think she got it.


The finisher's recovery area was nice and open and allowed runners to move freely without feeling like sardines. The medals were unique, made of glass by a local business. I also appreciated having to pick up my finisher's shirt after first securing the medal. I felt like I had earned it.

After taking some pictures and inhaling a fruit smoothie, multiple oranges, a few bananas and a handful of watermelon slices (the volunteer at the fruit table gave me an awkward look when I kept asking for more instead of going to the clam chowder, super-carb recovery drink, chips and salsa or beer and soda tables), I took my son to the beach for a little while and then we headed home. I was sore the rest of the day and Sunday morning, but nothing too bad.

I've thought about the race a lot since I crossed the finish line and as I said earlier, there will be a time to examine the Why and How questions. More than anything though, I'm grateful I finished.

I appreciate the support that I have received from everyone. First and foremost to my wife, who has put up with all of this and has sacrificed much by way of my taking time away from home while out training. She has never wavered in her support of my goals and seeing the way she reacted to how I finished, she may have wanted me to run well more than I wanted me to run well. A big thank you to her. She is currently training for her first half-marathon on June 26th at the Seattle Rock 'n' Roll event and is awesome just for attempting this.

My other family members have been just as supportive. I don't know how we ever became a running family, but in the last year my dad has run a few half-marathons, and my mom and multiple siblings have run various 5k, 10k and 15k races. Maybe we're just too competitive for our own good (I see your 5k and raise you a 10k), but we'll have a total of five entrants in Seattle in three weeks.

A special thank you goes to Nancy. At mile 22 she could have offered encouragement, ran with me a little ways, and then continued on. This was her race that she had trained for also. I wouldn't have had any negative feelings towards her if this is what she had done. Helping me get though those last four miles, though, is something I won't ever forget. I work closely with her husband in my church responsibilities and I let him know yesterday morning how much respect I had for her and what she had done for me.

Finally, a thank you to all of you who continue to read and occasionally comment, either directly on this blog or via email, Facebook or in person. I do appreciate it. Though I have now completed my goal of running a marathon, I plan to continue to use this space to talk about training and race strategies that hopefully will be of value to you. Up first will be a discussion of whether tapering is always necessary. Quickly, go try to find information suggesting that tapering is not necessary and possibly even detrimental to marathon preparation. Excluding online forums and message boards, I've found only one source so far. Fortunately, it's a good source, but it's the only one I've found. I'll share it with you soon.

19 days until Seattle. Time to regroup and refocus. Time to tinker with some changes and maybe readjust my race strategy. Definitely not the time to rest though. I'm anxious to get back on the road this afternoon.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Newport Marathon Pre-recap

I'm headed to my bed to take a nap. Except for the perfect weather, everything that could have wrong did go wrong. I knew it just wasn't my day by the time I got to mile 8. But I finished, and I guess ultimately that was the goal. 4:34 unofficially (in "politican-speak," I "misspoke" when I said my goal was 3:30--really -- wink, wink). Race recap coming whenever I wake up and get around to it.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Marathon #1: Final Thoughts

"I don't believe in fear. I believe in putting in the work" ~Deena Kastor

51 weeks ago I started on this journey but I wasn't sure where I was headed at first. In the short-term, I was determined to run a 2.6 mile 4th of July fun run without embarrassing myself. Soon thereafter, much bigger goals began to form. Tomorrow I will run my first marathon and my goal is to finish in less than 3 ½ hours.

My training has been in two stages. Until December I would run when I felt like it (a lot) and as much as I felt like (also a lot, given I had no base). I was sloppy, unfocused and undisciplined in my training. I was rewarded with knee pain that kept me off the road for most of the month.

As the New Year began, I knew if I was going to run the Newport Marathon I was going to need to change everything. I would have to be more disciplined in my physical training. I would need to be more conscious of my diet. And I would have to be stronger mentally, not just to make it 26 miles, but to make it through the cold, rainy, windy months of winter. To this end, I developed my own 3-point approach that I trusted would carry me through the finish line and beyond.

First, I built myself a 21 week training schedule. Nothing fancy. Run on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday and rest on Tuesday, Friday and Sunday. Increase the mileage slowly, no matter how well I felt. I didn't need to be able to run 20 miles in February. Or March. Given the constraints on my time, I wasn't concerned with cross-training, fartleks, interval training or weigh-lifting. Just get the miles in, stick to the program, get proper amounts of regular rest and train and push my body in such a way that it would become accustomed to what I was asking it to do and then let my competitiveness take care of the rest.

Second, I had to change my diet. I've written extensively about my fruit intake, but changing my diet was a necessity. I started eating 10 servings of fruit each morning. Today, I eat only fruit during the day until dinner, which consists of pasta, taco salad, millet, or some other low-fat meal. I cut out dairy, meats, refined sugars, processed foods, and in the last couple of weeks, oils and fats (in the form of various kinds of nuts). Occasionally I will enjoy something outside of this (I’m still a sucker for pizza), but only when I have an additional rest day before my next run (Saturday afternoon/evening, Monday night). Some may disagree with this approach. Fine. Let them do what works for them. This has made a huge difference for me. (You can see my wife’s website for more information – www.fruitpredominantdiet.com)

Finally, I knew I had to strengthen myself mentally. Five months ago my thoughts were negative and self-defeating. Some were more passive than others, but they were all sending the same message: "You can't do this. It's too hard." This is no longer the case. I've learned to focus my thoughts only on things that will help me. And when my body starts to hurt and tell my mind that it's had enough, my mind is now the one in charge. Visualization exercises have also become a staple of my training. Like visualizing shooting a free throw, the mind doesn’t know if the body is following along in the activity or not and frankly, the mind doesn’t care; it’s going through the same processes regardless.

"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.” This quote from George S. Patton has been a constant at the top of this blog for a reason. By strengthening myself mentally, my mind is no longer tired. It tells my body what to do.

21 weeks of this program and I haven’t strayed from it one day. I've run through rain, snow, ice, wind, hail, thunder and lightning, and occasional sunshine. I’ve pushed through shin splints, muscle cramps and bloody toes. I’ve gone up hills, through neighborhoods, along highways and through the countryside. I've run at 5am on Saturday morning, and late in the evening after a long day at work and home. I took days off when my program said so. No other time. I didn’t shortchange my miles ever. I ran what my program said to run and then some, just for good measure. And I've done all of these runs by myself. No running groups, running buddies, or dogs (just the ones coming after me).

21 weeks ago I began a 3-point plan that I believed would help me achieve my goal of running a marathon. I put my trust in this plan and haven't deviated from it since.

"I don't believe in fear. I believe in putting in the work," Denna Kastor said.

The Newport Marathon begins in a few hours and I will be at the starting line.

The work is done. The time for fear, anxiety, second-guessing and even preparation is past.

The time to run is now.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Marathon #1: Race Day Strategery

40 hours and counting. Time to start gathering my gear together and preparing to head to Newport.

The weather is shaping up nicely for Saturday morning. Multiple storms came through this week, dumping multiple inches of rain and 20-30mph winds. The systems should move through by tomorrow morning and give way to partly sunny skies and temperatures around 50 degrees on Saturday morning with winds out of the south at 5mph. You can’t ask for anything more than that on the Oregon Coast. At any time of year.

My finish time goal is 3:30. I would also accept something in the 3:30-3:40 range, but I’m really focused on staying under 8 minutes/mile. There’s no reason I shouldn’t be able to do this, but as I have read the experiences of many veteran marathoners, there is always a question as to how the body (and mind) will respond on race day.

I’ve continued to do some basic visualization exercises, though not as many as I should have. I’ve been visualizing various points in the race and seeing myself running in good form, breathing easy and moving efficiently. I’ve seen the long lonely highway that is miles 6-24, the hill at mile 25 and the run down the hill and the left turn into the finish line.

I’ve decided to go with music for this race. This will serve at least two purposes. First, for weeks I’ve been reminding myself not to go out too fast. Dozens of times each day I tell myself this. I can’t let myself get caught up in the excitement of the race or the flow of the other runners around me. The solution? Start with 30 minutes of boring slow piano music. I’ve been doing this on my Saturday long runs and it’s been effective.

Second, if I start to really struggle or when I’m at the bottom of the hill at mile 25 (whichever comes first), I’ve added a new song to my playlist to turn to. It’s one I mentioned in my Dude Room introduction a few weeks ago. It’s one I’ve been saving for many months in order to maximize its effect when it starts blasting through my Yurbuds. For your listening (and viewing) pleasure, I give you, “You’re The Best” from The Karate Kid soundtrack:

Lyrics | Joe Esposito - You’re the Best lyrics

Lastly, I found an essay a few months ago that I wish I had the ability to write. I don’t, but Mr. Malcolm Gibson does. Into The Fire: Reflections On First Time Marathoners is an excellent read, despite my serious reservations about comparing anything recreational to military units going into combat.

A few final thoughts tomorrow morning and then I’m headed to the race (you can also read that as no Internet access until I return home).

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Tapered Thoughts

Tapering sucks. I feel like it's making me weak. Was three weeks of tapering too long? Why am I sore in new places? A goal of 3:30, really? Should my longest run have been longer than 21 miles? Shouldn't a 3-mile run be a breeze? Why do my legs feel heavy. And why do I have a stomach cramp after a mile? Food -- ehh. What the heck is wrong with me?!?!?!

That's the last two and a half weeks in a nutshell. Maybe not quite that dramatic. But all of those thoughts have crossed my mind at one time or another.

If you're looking for tapering suggestions, just google any combination of the words "marathon," "taper," "tips" and "traps" and you'll find all that you're looking for. I won't rehash them all here. Instead, here are a few tapering experiences of the last few weeks:

1. Weight Gain. Not a huge deal, but I've added a little bit. Two or three pounds. Not a lot, I know, but for someone who could barter for measures of flour or sugar based on my normal weight, any fluctuation catches my attention. I'm not concerned about this though. We know that high-carb foods (bananas, pasta) stock and restock our glycogen stores. Water is stored with glycogen. Less running = less glycogen being used = less water being lost. Pretty simple idea. No worries about it come race day.

2. Goal Time. An 8 minute pace puts me at the finish line in 3 1/2 hours or less. That's my goal. Two things have caused some anxiety in regards to this goal this week. First, it's been almost three weeks since my last long run (21 miles). I felt great that day. But it's been a long time since then. A long time to forget how awesome I felt. Second, I recalibrated my Nike+ sensor at the high school track the other day. Every mile was off by 5% (1 "true" mile (4 laps) registered as 1.05 miles). So...... have my training runs all been off by 5%? Maybe. Maybe not. The Nike+ sensor isn't perfect (nor is their site). But it was enough to cause some generate some doubt for a day or two.

3. "Phantom" Pains. Dumb things. My toe hurt one day. My right knee hurt another day. A shin splint last week. Nothing too serious, but enough to make me plead with my body not to break down now. I realize that this a combination of my body repairing itself after 18 increasingly intense weeks in a row and me having too much time to think about running (and less time spent actually doing it).

I take comfort in the fact that all of these things are mental, and not physical. Physically, I'm ready to go. Mentally, I'm getting there. I don't want to get into race mode too early, as this will cause my mind to be tired by the time the gun goes off, but by Friday afternoon I'll be locked in and ready to go.

I'll have a post up tomorrow afternoon about my goals, race strategy and other preparations and then a final post Friday morning with some final thoughts, and then I'm off to Newport with my family.

It's almost here. I'll be ready.

National Running Day

Happy National Running Day. You didn't know it was today? No problem. It's not too late to join the fun. Just go for a run today and you will have participated.

Happy running.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

100 Hours And Counting...

The 100 hour countdown to the Newport Marathon is on. Weather is looking like 45 degrees with a good chance of rain. So...pretty much what I've been running in the majority of the last few months. Tapering is boring. I post what I've been up to in the next day or so. For now though, I'm just trying to keep busy, pass the time, get some rest, pay extra special attention to my food and fluid intake and tell myself over and over again, "It's a marathon, not a sprint. Don't go out too fast."