Stop digging…

Dig deep. ~ The laces on my Brooks Launch shoes

The ramp-up to the San Francisco Marathon has been less than stellar and the past couple of weeks have produced efforts that put me in serious question-mark-mode for the race. I’m still going out and will still run some portion of the event, just not sure how much actual racing is going to get done.

Though I haven’t felt particularly snappy since Boston, the first big warning sign came a few weeks ago when I “raced” the Slacker Half Marathon. This race wasn’t on my radar but my teammate, Susan Nuzum, was racing it so I thought I’d join her in the fun and/or games. She went on to win the women’s event (at least her second OA win this year), and I hung with her for about 3 miles before starting to really wonder what the hell I was doing at the event. I raced hard for another two, stopped briefly to see if that would help me feel better, then raced for another mile or so before packing it in and just jogging down to the finish. Not a good day, to say the least. Susan was quite nice to throw out a lot of excuses for me (altitude, downhill course, wasn’t my day, etc.) but clearly something wasn’t right. I felt great on shorter, intense efforts (repeats, tempo runs, and the like) but anything with a sustained, maximal effort was not working well for me.

So I got some blood work done and scheduled one final “test” run before setting any goals for SFO. This was to be a paced, half-marathon-distance run in Boulder with Susan and Mark Plaatjes teed up to pace me to what would hopefully be a 1:26ish half. Susan and I started on the Boulder Creek path and ran into difficulties early on due to path closures caused by flood conditions along the route. No sweat, slightly slower pacing and route adjustments could accommodate these set-backs but fairly quickly it became evident that I was just not able to sustain the kind of pacing needed to log a fast time. By about 6 miles in I was struggling to maintain marathon pacing and soon thereafter called it a day. The way I was feeling was corroborated by my blood work which indicated low ferritin levels. So we assessed the likelihood of my being able to have a satisfactory go at a good time in San Fran and decided a goal adjustment/race switch was in order.

Of course, a week later (and a ton of supportive food from Rach ingested) and I am starting to feel a LOT better so things are still a little up in the air. I may switch races and run the first half as a race, stay in the marathon and just run it, or do a full experiment and run by feel with zero expectations. I do know that I can wait until the last minute to make any decisions and so, at this point, am going with that option so as to not rule anything out. I do know that whatever decision I make will be done with the goal of not putting myself further in a hole from which I won’t be able to dig out.

As always, I’ll keep you posted.

~stubert.

Quick update…

I ran. I ran until my muscles burned and my veins pumped battery acid. Then I ran some more. ~ The Narrator

Been a bit swamped of late but that hasn’t stopped the shenanigans. Raced in a 2K event last Thursday (Uni-Hill 2K in Boulder). Placed 8th with a time of 7:19 which is a little slow for 2K but not too bad on this hilly course. Training is going well and I have been logging solid 50+ mile weeks with some cross training thrown in the mix (yoga mostly, but I actually swam at the gym on Sunday for a bit). Did a really hard workout with the Gijima crew yesterday. Give this a whirl if you are in the mood for a killer run:

  1. Warm up for a couple of miles
  2. Find a long, steady hill
  3. Run up at a sustainable, but soul-crushing pace for 3 minutes
  4. Jog down for 3 minutes
  5. Run up for 4 minutes. Try not to cry.
  6. Jog down for 3 minutes
  7. Up 5 minutes. Don’t worry about what others think of you openly sobbing.
  8. Down 3.
  9. Up 5 again. Start to question your own sanity.
  10. Down 3.
  11. Up 4. Same pain, less duration.
  12. Down 3.
  13. Up 3 but then really stretch it to about 4:30 to finish on top of some heinously steep hill. Puke on your teammate’s new Hokas.
  14. Cool down for a couple miles.

Yeah. Marathon training is fun.

~stubert.

[edit]: No Hokas were harmed in the production of this post.

2011 Boston Marathon recap…

Here’s a little story I’ve got to tell… ~ The Beastie Boys

2011 Boston Marathon: 3:06:16 PR

Boston has long been considered a marquee marathon event and I feel incredibly privileged to be a part of this year’s event. Though I did qualify at the 2010 Denver marathon, I missed out on the very quick registration window and had to call in a favor from my coach, Mark Plaatjes, to secure a special invite to the race. So glad he was able to pull some strings to get me into the event as it was certainly an experience I will never forget.

Getting there
From the moment I stepped off the plane, Boston proved to be a welcoming and friendly town. I jumped on a water taxi with several locals who were gearing up for the night’s play-off hockey game between the Bruins and Canadiens and had a duffel bag full of beer with their names on it to properly lubricate the evening. They introduced themselves and their friend who was the taxi boat pilot then inquired about my visit. Once I informed them I was running the marathon on Patriots’ Day, they promptly handed me a beer and congratulated me on my upcoming run. They then joined in cheering me once we reached my destination and I departed the taxi with a big grin on my face. Great way to kick off the weekend and big event.

After checking into my hotel, I headed out to find some food and was able to navigate the mass transit system, the T, with ease. I found a Whole Foods, grabbed some provisions and a salad for dinner, then jammed back to my room to eat and relax after the long flight.

Prep and expo
Sunday morning, brought better weather than  when I landed and I met up with the Gijima team to get in a quick, warm-up run and visit the expo to pick up our numbers and race gear. To put it mildly, the expo was a total cluster with thousands of people milling around and generally going apeshit for race paraphernalia and swag. Not really my scene but I made a donation to the retail juju and bought a couple of hats to commemorate my participation in the event and then headed back to the hotel to rest a bit prior to dinner.

Mike, one of my teammates and a former Bostonian, wanted to head to dinner a bit early to do some shopping and I took this as a perfect opportunity to get a guided tour of part of the city. We headed to the North End via the T and about a mile walk and made our way to Quincy Market which I dubbed “Ye Olde Historic Food Court”. This was a market in the 1700s which has been tuned into a mall complete with a gigantic Food Court and is a big enough draw from both an historic and retail perspective that it is among the top-four most-visited tourist sites in the nation. At least that is their claim…

From Quincy, we headed a few blocks away for a quick detour to see Paul Revere’s house then jammed around the corner for dinner at Artu. Decent food but our party was way too big to provide any opportunity for efficient service. We grabbed a van back to the hotel and I hit the sack.

Ready to rock
I was up before my alarm and quickly put on my gear and got everything ready to roll. Loraine hired a van to take us to the start in Hopkinton and everyone seemed excited for the race though some of us slept better than others. The start is southwest of Boston and requires about an hour drive but traffic is unpredictable so we left the hotel at 7:00 to ensure that we would have plenty of time for our commute. We arrived shourtly before 8:00, checked out the Athlete’s Village, and found a spot to lie down in what proved to be chilly, windy weather conditions prior to the start. I was very glad I brought a couple of trash bags to keep the wind at bay and donned all my layers to hunker down and wait for the call to head to the start.

I hit the john one last time before walking/jogging the half mile or so to the start. I found a good spot to do a few surges then found my corral in Wave One and got ready to start the event. For those interested in running the race in years to come, I would recommend keeping your layers on as long as you feel necessary as they collect discarded clothing right at the start. There are also decent opportunities to warm up near the start line so my insider’s recommendation for Wave One runners would be to head down that way early if possible (and allowed). Other suggestions include bringing trash bags and cardboard to lie upon before the event so that you can stay warm. The lines for the Porta Potties also tend to be shorter in the Athletes’ Village early on vs. jumping in line at those located immediately adjacent to where the busses drop you off. There are also a number of johns at the start for last-minute needs.

The race
It was finally time to get my run on and after cramming into the proper corral, we were off! Since I queued up in corral 6 it took a while to reach the actual start line and traffic was a lot heavier and spastic than expected. One of the drawbacks to running a big race, I suppose. I had anticipated really needing to hold myself bak at the start but found it all I could do to spin a 7:20 first mile. This put me about 30 seconds off pace from the onset and was a little frustrating to say the least. I took things in stride, however and worked over the next few miles to try to gradually make up time.

The first mile of the course is very downhill and then the course trends downhill for the majority of the first half of the race. I was coached by pretty much everyone to not go out too fast and did my best to just stay mellow and even. I rolled a couple of semi-quick splits during this time as I was trying to make back the time lost in the first few miles (and during a quick pit stop) but really tried to just be very chill. We spun by some  wooded areas in the outskirts of Hopkinton and other Boston suburbs, ran by a biker bar with a bunch of leather-clad Harley riders who cheered enthusiastically and generally were treated with a steady stream of cheering race fans all along the course. As with any race, there were places more populated than others but this was definitely the best race I have done where crowd numbers and volume are concerned and it was greatly appreciated.

Miles basically ticked off and though I didn’t feel spectacular, I was doing well and was cruising along at my target pace. By the half, I had made up most of my deficit and was now within a few seconds of my target time. I knew I would need to run a solid second half but everything was going to plan. By mile 17, however, I was starting to feel the effort and knew I would be well-challenged to meet my target goals for the day. I met Mike at mile 18, ditched my glasses and picked up some more gels, then headed up the Newton Hills.

The Hills
The hills at Boston are a bit deceptive. The first of the four Newton Hills is the most daunting and each has a bit of a flat/downhill section immediately following which allows one to coast and reset for the next effort. These three miles were difficult and I struggled to maintain my pace. I think that my electrolytes were all out of whack by this point (more on that later) so that certainly didn’t help. My plan was to feel pretty strong at the top of Heartbreak Hill then punch the last 10K. Unfortunately, this was not my day and by the top of HBH, I was feeling anything but “punchy”. I crested HBH amid drunken shouts of encouragement from spectators (they do get more and more raucous as the day progresses) and then tried to put in a good effort in that final 6.2 miles.

Last 10K
Honestly, the final 10K is a bit of a blur. I wasn’t feeling sharp at all and struggled as I lost time in almost every mile. I did calculations throughout to see if there was any opportunity to meet my sub-3-hour goal for the race and could have pulled it off as late as mile 21 or 22 but just had no more go. I lost time in all but 1 of the final 6 miles and put in as big of an effort as possible to ensure that I scored a PR at the finish. Definitely an area on which I need to work and I predict a lot of long runs with the last hour at race pace in my immediate future. The crowds were supportive through the finish and I came through the tape at 3:06:16. A new personal best.

Aftermath
Immediately after crossing the line, I knew I was in for a rough ride. I had a similar experience (though less pronounced) at last year’s Denver Marathon and shortly after stopping, I felt really woozy and my vision began to degrade. I stopped to rest my head on the barriers after grabbing some water and shortly thereafter decided that standing was not a good idea. I wanted my head a bit closer to the ground in the event that I was unable to maintain a standing position and sat down on the curb. Volunteers came over to see how I was doing, and though I felt pretty terrible, I knew I needed to get back up else my legs would seize. The volunteers helped me up, I walked a bit farther down the finish corral then my vision continued to degrade and I decided sitting was again in order. I plopped down in a wheelchair and the volunteer asked if I thought a trip to the medical tent would be prudent. “Let’s do that,” I responded and he whisked me off to the tent to ensure that nothing terrible was going on.

Once in the shade of the tent and lying on a cot, I started to feel better. My blood pressure was taken (a very low 80/50), my feet were raised, Gatorade and chips were administered and I continued to improve. Within minutes my vision returned to normal and after some light PT-aided stretching, my leg cramps subsided as well and I was ready to get back up. I thanked the staff for their assistance and made my way back out into the throng to collect my gear bag, some additional food and make my way to the T for the return trip to the hotel.

The T was jammed but very easy to navigate and the public transport gods were on my side. I didn’t have to wait at a single stop to make my connections and i was quickly back to the hotel where I had a massage scheduled. The massage felt great. Not sure how therapeutic it actually was but it was nice to get some attention to my aching legs and shoulders. I then headed back to my room, soaked, ate and watched a movie before heading down to the bar to meet up with the team. I triple fisted drinks (beer, coke, water) and generally felt good. The legs were a bit sore and I was fatigued for sure but my recovery seemed to be happening quickly, which was nice. We grabbed dinner close to the hotel and I was in bed by 11.

Tourist time
Tuesday morning featured heavy skies (and legs) but I was determined to get out and see some of Boston’s famous sites. I considered doing a Duck Tour (amphibious bus tour of the major landmarks) but really felt that a walking tour would be good for me and would allow me to take in the city at my own pace. I traveled to the start of the Freedom Trail, purchased a $3 umbrella to stave off the dripping skies, and got my tourist on. Walked the vast majority of the trail (skipped one short leg to Monument Hill as lunch beckoned) and even toured Old Ironsides, which was entertaining. I then jammed up to Harvard on the T to check out Harvard Square and then made my way back to the hotel in time to pick up my bags and make my flight back to Denver.

Just a fantastic experience overall. Not sure if I will be back next year or not (it is a bit of a logistical nightmare even when incredibly well-prepared and supported) but I would highly encourage anyone who qualifies to get to Boston to run this thing at least once. The conditions were pretty perfect for this year’s event and World and U.S. records were set by the elites. All in all, a fantastic race and great town.

Next up… San Francisco in July.

~stubert.

Boston Race Plan…

I am of the opinion that when a Marathon World Champion tells you to do something related to running a marathon, you do it. So if Mark recommended we eat at midnight or wear flip-flops during the event, I’d be one midnight eatin’, flip-flop wearin’ mofo. ~ Me

If there is one thing I have learned in this life, it’s that there are times to rely on experts. Plumbing comes immediately to mind, as does brain surgery and airplane construction/design. And though I am establishing a fairly deep knowledge base about certain activities, I am smart enough to realize that when it comes to running, one of the reasons I know so much is that I have relied on experts to provide guidance throughout my adventures. And when running the Boston Marathon is concerned, I feel I have placed my race preparation and strategy in the very skilled hands of one of the best. I am not about to fuck that up by doing something stupid like relying on my own, somewhat limited, experience at this juncture.

Mark Plaatjes has run Boston a number of times and was the first US finisher in 1993 (6th place overall) on his way to winning that year’s World Championship. I have been fortunate to be able to train under his tutelage for the past 5 months and can’t say enough good things about his approach to the sport. He is a competitor and clearly knows the joy of going 110% on one’s way to a personal best but he is also incredibly smart about how to actually achieve those “bests”. His experience at Boston has been invaluable in outlining a race strategy that I am confident will produce results.

Mark and I discussed my goals early on (a conservative, sub-3 finish) and he outlined a plan of training and racing to achieve that goal. Then we looked specifically at Boston and he created a plan for the Gijima team to achieve solid results on April 18th. His advice has consistently been, “Don’t run more than 5-seconds per mile faster than your target pace on any of the downhills in the first 20 miles of the race.” This is advice I plan to heed and am really looking to start my race at the top of Heartbreak Hill (mile 20). From there, I’ll have 10K to run. Most of it trends downhill and I plan to have my legs under me to really punch those final 6.2 miles to finish strongly and with a big smile on my face.

So for those of you watching at home on Monday (baa.org bib #5135), here are my target splits:

  • 10K: 42:21
  • Half: 1:29:21
  • 30K: 2:07:04
  • Finish: 2:59:07

That actually outlines even splits so I could be a smidge slower at 30K and a little faster at the finish but that is the general plan of action. As of right now, I plan to turn off my brain, enjoy the remainder of my taper and then kick some ass next Monday.

~stubert.

Time flies…

I’ve got ants in my pants! I’m discombobulated! Fetch me a calmative! ~ Grandpa Simpson

Amazing how time flies when you are attempting to prepare for a big event. I hardly know where March went and now it is already closing in on the middle of April and in less than one week, the Boston Marathon!

Needless to say, I am getting quite excited about the event and have been doing a lot of research to better prepare myself for everything on Patriot’s Day in Boston. I still have some final preparations to accomplish but feel like I am in great shape and have teed myself up well to go for a sub-3 finish. We’ll see how things go on race day and I am still a bit anxious about that goal but to me, that means I picked a good one. If you aren’t a little scared about whether or not you can accomplish something, then you have set the bar too low.

The past week’s running has featured some ups and downs but at this point, I am aware that is part of the game and am generally feeling pretty sharp. Tapering is always a little wonky and I do it so infrequently that all the little changes and adaptations one goes through just feel weird at this point. I am trusting Mark Plaatjes’ plan at this point, however and feel that if anyone knows how to run a fast marathon, it’s him. One more “hard” run tomorrow then we coast in to Sunday where I’ll do a standard pre-race run then get my race on Monday the 18th.

A lot of people have asked about how to follow me during the race. There are a number of options available including following online, via text messaging, and you may even be able to stream the event live online or watch on TV if you are interested in seeing how the elites do. I am bib #5135 and will be starting in Wave 1. I am in the 6th corral for the start so probably won’t cross the start line until around 10:03 but if you are following online, you should see my chip time at the 10K, half, 30K and Finish. I’ll have final details about my target times for each of  these later in the week.

So the countdown continues… more to come!

~stubert.