Saturday, April 23, 2011

A John Deere tractor on the 5 Freeway

Highlights and observations from my run at the Boston Marathon on Monday.

Many of you know I had a very disappointing race in Boston back in 07. This was my first attempt at Boston since.

Then (2007) / Now (2011) Comparisons:

Then 3:14:56; now 3:15:14

Then half splits in 1:34:32/1:40:24 (5:52 pos split); now 1:37:23/1:37:51 (0:28 pos split)

Then nor’easter, rainy, headwinds, 40s; now perfect day, strong tailwind (17mph WSW), 45* at start, 54* at finish (as I observed on at a bank on Beacon St)

Then slowest winning times (M & F) in the previous 22 years (since 1985); now fastest world and American times ever in history

Then over-trained... built my mileage too much too fast and did the wrong kinds of speedwork (few LT’s, few MP’s; too many mile repeats); now waaaay under-trained (due to back injury in Dec)

Then I averaged 85 mpw from Jan 1 to Patriot’s Day; now I averaged only 35 mpw from Jan 1 to Patriot’s Due (due to injury)

Then I ran PR tune-up races in 35:53 (6 miles), 57:45 (15K), and 1:23:32 (half); now I hadn’t run a race in 4 months

Then I wore only a watch; now I wear a Garmin 305 to help me with pace and effort (Heart Rate)

Then I didn’t know how to run in the rain but I had to; now I know how to run and race in the rain but didn’t have to

Then overdressed in rain pants; now in shorts and singlet (even though I was shivering and cold in Hopkinton while wearing 3 layers pre-race)

Then was obsessing about a specific time goal (my first sub-3); now was going to do my best but enjoy the run.

Then other than the Newton Hills (miles 17-21), my last 4 miles (miles 23, 24, 25, 26) were my slowest 4 miles of the entire race; now my last 2 miles (miles 25 & 26) were my fastest 2 miles.

Then I finished 2,562nd out of 20,348 finishers; now I finished 3,975 out of 23,879 finishers.

Then I left Boston embarrassed, frustrated, and disappointed; now I left Boston having had the time of my life… even though I ran 18 seconds slower than 4 years ago in Boston, and 18 minutes slower than my PR only 4 months ago at CIM.

Then I got choked up running under a TV camera at the start line in Hopkinton knowing that Mary Ann and the kids were back in California looking for me on TV and cheering me on; now… well, I still got choked up for the same reason.

Someone could see my limited training going into Boston and come to some wrong conclusions. Someone might think, wow, he’s got the genes and talent to run fast (if you consider 3:15 fast, which I really don’t) and that genetics are more important than training. Definitely not true... otherwise I would’ve run this time (and faster) when I was in my 20s, not my 40s... and I never once came close.

Or someone might erroneously think, marathons don’t require much training if he can pull off that time on such limited training. Wrong again... the only reason I could run this well (which really wasn’t outstanding) was because I’ve run so much for months and years prior to my injury hiatus. Yes, my Boston training cycle was cut extremely short by injury, but the only reason I could do what I did on Patriot’s Day is because of the miles I’ve run before the injury.

So how bad was my Boston training? Well, I ran a PR at CIM on Dec 5 in 2:57:58. Plan was to use that as a stepping stone towards an even faster run at Boston. But at the end of CIM, I severely hurt my back/hip (x-rays, MRI, chiro, etc.) and went 7.5 weeks without running (except limited attempts without any pain-free success). Just walking from my car to the office was an accomplishment. Wasn’t sure if I’d ever walk pain-free again, yet alone run. And unfortunately, I couldn’t cycle or do the stair-climber or any cross-training so my aerobic fitness (not just my running legs) was departing for the netherworld in the proverbial hand-basket.

As the injury gradually healed by mid-Jan, every mile I tried to run was a grind. It’s the closest I’ve ever come to saying, That’s it. I quit. My running career is over. I also had gained 15 lbs (which makes sense... no longer running 70mpw = ~7,000 calories a week = ~2 lbs body fat a week).

But fortunately, I didn’t quit. I pressed on. Weekly mileage after CIM was: 0, 0, 0, 0, 5, 1, 25, 27, 17 (hurt my back again getting a dish out of the dishwasher!), 40, 40, 50, 57, 65, 66, 66, 55, and 31. My weekly long runs were: 0, 0, 0, 0, 2, 1, 8, 11, 7, 11, 11, 13, 16, 20, 21, 21, 13. In comparison, for the 15 months leading up to CIM, I had averaged 70+ mpw, including 85 mpw in the final 10 weeks.

After waiting for weeks in Dec-Jan for my back to heal, Boston was an absolute no-go. I could barely survive the shortest runs (at slow paces and high HR’s). Even when I ran as far as 16 miles on March 12 (a mere 5 weeks out), it was a tough, tough run that I barely survived. Going 10 miles farther without hurting myself wasn’t even an option.

But then I heard from an old friend of mine. Eric had always been active... ran XC and track in HS... often biked centuries as an adult. I had seen that he had walked some races recently, and I must admit, I wondered why he walked instead of at least jogging or running since he had always been so fit, but I never asked. I was just glad he was staying active.

So I heard from Eric and he mentioned he would be walking the Music City Marathon on April 30, and he told the whole story of all that had been going on. While training for a triathlon 5 years ago, he encountered health problems. Blood tests came back irregular. Long story short, but he’s battling a serious auto-immune syndrome in which his body is fighting against itself and it leaves him lethargic, achey, and sore. But Eric’s not a quitter and that’s why he started walking races (under doctor’s supervision) and now he’s training to do an entire marathon.

When I understood Eric’s whole story, I knew I had to go for it at Boston in honor of him. That Saturday, I went out and ran a make-it or break-it 20-miler that went reasonably well (certainly not great). I figured I could throw together 3 weeks of solid training and then go to Boston with no high expectations and just hope for the best. So I started running 2 LT runs a week (I had to try to ratchet up my lactate threshold) and I got in 3 long runs. Never even topped 70 miles in a single week of training.

So yeah, I missed 7.5 weeks of running... but unlike Kara Goucher (who finished 5th female on Monday), I didn’t have a baby.

• Take the first downhill mile easy and bank effort instead of banking time. Make it a 25.2 mile race.

• Cruise ~7:20/mile pace for the first 16 miles. (Note: 2 weeks prior, my 11-mile marathon-paced run averaged 7:10 pace, but my HR got waaaaay too high... so I knew faster than 7:20 pace was suicidal.)

• Start using some energy on the Newton Hills (from MM 16 to 21) but don’t come close to red-line and expect to slow from 7:26 pace.

• Start putting the pedal down after topping Heartbreak Hill... and throw every log on the fire in the closing two miles.

• And seriously hope the wheels don’t fall off in the last 5 miles due to lack of training.

Garmin Info:

Mile . Split ...Up ... Down .. AvgHR ..MaxHR
01 ... 7:18 ... 26’ .. 133’ ... 149 ... 161
02 ... 7:11 ... 22’ ... 79’ ... 155 ... 158
03 ... 7:20 .... 0’ ... 50’ ... 154 ... 158
04 ... 7:13 .... 0’ ... 62’ ... 154 ... 159
05 ... 7:38 ... 36’ ... 28’ ... 157 ... 163
06 ... 7:22 .... 0’ .... 8’ ... 157 ... 162
07 ... 7:17 .... 0’ ... 16’ ... 158 ... 162
08 ... 7:38 ... 25’ ... 12’ ... 157 ... 163
09 ... 7:27 .... 0’ ... 41’ ... 156 ... 160
10 ... 7:31 ... 30’ .... 4’ ... 154 ... 158
11 ... 7:29 ... 15’ .... 0’ ... 156 ... 162
12 ... 7:17 .... 9’ ... 65’ ... 156 ... 161
13 ... 7:26 ... 26’ ... 17’ ... 157 ... 163
14 ... 7:29 ... 12’ ... 12’ ... 157 ... 162
15 ... 7:39 ... 23’ .... 0’ ... 158 ... 163
16 ... 7:13 ... 12’ .. 131’ ... 158 ... 162
17 ... 7:49 ... 76’ .... 0’ ... 163 ... 166
18 ... 7:46 ... 79’ ... 33’ ... 163 ... 167
19 ... 7:23 ... 15’ ... 51’ ... 162 ... 168
20 ... 7:41 ... 68’ ... 50’ ... 164 ... 170
21 ... 8:03 ... 91’ .... 0’ ... 167 ... 172
22 ... 7:20 .... 0’ ... 86’ ... 171 ... 184 (!!!)
23 ... 7:23 .... 0’ ... 51’ ... 169 ... 173
24 ... 7:10 ... 25’ ... 54’ ... 172 ... 188
25 ... 7:02 .... 0’ ... 52’ ... 176 ... 185
26 ... 6:53 .... 0’ .... 0’ ... 185 ... 191
0.35 . 2:06 .... 0’ .... 0’ ... 191 ... 194 (!!!) (6:07 pace)
Tot 3:15:17 .. 589’ . 1036’ ... 161 ... 194 (7:24 avg pace)

Notes: Garmin isn’t always precise on elevation gain and loss. Officially, Boston has a net elevation drop of 442’, not 448’ as my Garmin indicates. And I have no idea why it shows zero elevation gain or loss in the final 1.35 miles since it’s gently downhill on Commonwealth Ave and Boylston St and slightly uphill on Hereford.

Normally, I like to have my HR ~158-159 in the opening 16 miles of a marathon. I ran a little easier than that in the opening miles on Monday. But I knew being undertrained I would experience more HR drift upward than normal. And I certainly did. But since I didn’t overdo it early, it didn’t ruin my race.

Official Results from the B.A.A.:
Bib #1643
05K ... 22:42 ... 7:19 pace ... 0:22:42 ... 7:19 pace
10K ... 23:08 ... 7:28 pace ... 0:45:50 ... 7:24 pace
15K ... 23:15 ... 7:30 pace ... 1:09:05 ... 7:26 pace
20K ... 23:18 ... 7:31 pace ... 1:32:23 ... 7:27 pace
25K ... 23:20 ... 7:32 pace ... 1:55:43 ... 7:28 pace
30K ... 23:47 ... 7:40 pace ... 2:19:30 ... 7:30 pace
35K ... 23:59 ... 7:44 pace ... 2:43:29 ... 7:32 pace
40K ... 22:36 ... 7:17 pace ... 3:06:05 ... 7:30 pace

Chip Time: 3:15:14 (7:27 pace)
Gun Time: 3:16:06 (52sec diff between chip & gun)

3,975th overall out of 23,879 total finishers (top 16.65%)
3,585th male out of 13,806 men (top 25.97%)
692nd out of 2,303 in M40-44 age-group (top 30.05%)

Fastest Miles:
Mile 26 in 6:53 (34 seconds faster than my avg pace)
Mile 25 in 7:02 (25 seconds faster than my avg pace)
Ran the last 0.35 mile (on my Garmin) at 6:07 pace (!!!)

Slowest Miles:
Mile 21 in 8:03 (36 seconds slower than my avg pace; Heartbreak Hill)
Mile 17 in 7:49 (22 seconds slower than my avg pace; start Newton Hills)
Mile 18 in 7:46 (19 seconds slower than my avg pace; 2nd mile of Newton Hills)

Half Splits: 1:37:23/1:37:51 (28 second positive split)

Last 10K (mile 20 to finish) in 45:57 (7:24/mile pace or 2 sec/mile faster than my avg pace, which included Heartbreak Hill mile in 8:03).

Age-graded calculator = 67.48%.

Highlights and Observations:

Pro Races. On Sunday, I watched the B.A.A. mile races on Boylston St. Both of the elite races (M & F) were decided at the wire. Anna Pierce for the US got pipped at the line, and so did Lukas Verzibicas.

The mile races reminded me that on Monday, no matter how my race went... you gotta lean at the tape... even if I'm finishing behind 3,974 other people (not that I was counting or anything) and over an hour behind the winners... and I did... I leaned at the tape. :-)

Fenway. Sunday afternoon, I finally saw a game at the grand ol’ historic ballpark. Pesky’s Pole. The great Green Monster. The manual scoreboard. Great stuff for baseball fans. Game was good (Red Sox 8, Blue Jays 1)... but even more fun was sharing it with friends... including Lee and Angela Toowey from Texas (friends of my college friend Kevin Anderson). Lee ran a great race and a new PR the next day. Congrats Lee! Loved it in the 8th when the crowd all sang, “Sweet Caroline... bah... bah... bah” (Neil Diamond song)... a Fenway tradition. Classic. Pure classic.

Hopkinton. Pre-race weather was cold (40s) and very, very windy. Everyone was hunkered down in any nook or cranny of a wall or building they could find. I had on 3 layers (upper body) but was still shivering due to my bare legs. I had thought about wearing rain pants, but only an idiot would do that. I peeled down to a singlet at the start of the race and never regretted it.

Pictures galore. I find it amusing how marathoners, especially at Boston, documented everything, and I mean *everything*, on race day. I observed runners photographing things such as their breakfast, or their seat on the ride to Hopkinton, or where they went to the bathroom (seriously). Of course, these pics of bagels, buses, and porta-potties are important so we can all blog about the entire experience when we get home. Of course, no one actually reads these blogs... not even doting mothers who saved all our third-place ribbons from Field Day. And even though these blogs aren’t sustainable by Google ads, the bloggers do provide the world a great service with amazing pics of post-race toenails for late-night insomniacs in cyberspace. Btw, here's my blog:

Life in the slow lane. Based on my PR from CIM (2:57), I was seeded in Corral 2 (out 23), but I lined up waaay in the back near Corral 3 due to my current lack of fitness. Since I was running far slower (7:20s) than my Boston-Qualifier time (6:40s) and thus those around me, it felt like all of New England ran past me on Monday morning. Seriously. I felt like a John Deere tractor on the 5 freeway. It made the tailwind all the more severe as everyone went blowing by me.

I’m not exaggerating when I say I don’t think I passed a single person in the first 16 miles of the race... well, except those on the side of the road who had over-hydrated. My OC friend Sam who was in Corral 3 even passed me in the corrals before I got to the starting line. Literally several thousand runners (at least) passed me. It was very humbling to say the least. Seriously, I started among bib #1000s and was finishing among the 6000s and 7000s (as seen in race photos).

But I knew I had to be patient or else I would crash and burn in a painful demise. It’s far more fun to pass people at the end of the race than the beginning. On the Newton Hills (beginning at mile 16), I finally started passing some people who had gone out too hard. I passed more on the backside of Heartbreak Hill, and in the final 2 miles not only was I passing everyone in sight but no one was hanging with me either. Hey, if I couldn’t run a fast overall time, at least I could pace it well and finish strong. And I did and it felt great.

Crowds. Loved, loved, loved the crowds. I’ve never high-5’ed with so many kids in my life. Loved how the school kids would count how many high-5’s they got like it was a competition against their brother or sister. At times, I just ran along the road with my hand out just slapping hand after hand after hand after hand. The crowds were so thick it was like running a parade route. You could hear the Wellesley scream tunnel (the girls from Wellesley College around mile 13) a half mile before you got to it.

At Boston College (around mile 21) starting on the downside of Heartbreak Hill, I nearly ruined my race due to the crowds. I knew all the tough hills were now behind me. And the college students were yelling so loud. I started high-5’ing them and soaring like an airplane. The crowds loved it. Even the squirrels were clapping. Next thing I know I look down and my pace is at 6:06 and my HR at 184 (!!!)... yikes! Had to back off or blow up.

New PR. Even though Monday wasn't a banner day for me, I did set a new PR at Boston. Seriously. A heart-rate PR. Not sure if that’s a good thing or not. Prior to Boston, the highest HR I had ever hit while either racing or training (even long, tough hill repeats) was 191. But on Boylston Street on Monday, I hit 194... and I averaged 191 for the last 0.35 on my Garmin. So much for sports clich├ęs... I can honestly say I gave it 110%... well, at least, 101.57%. Of course at the time, I more worried about becoming a different kind of statistic...

Important thoughts. Non-runners sometimes ask me, So when you’re out there for so long running, What do you think about? Well I thought about that. And I thought about Mary Ann and the kids back home seeing some of the telecast. Of course, I also wondered if they forgot or were watching Sponge Bob instead, but they didn't... or at least they said they didn't... or maybe they'll just read this blog post?... nah...

Every time I crossed a chip timing mat at the 5K points, I also thought about family and friends tracking me online. That was rather intimidating. Everyone in the world knew exactly where I was at that point and how I was doing. Really didn't want to crash and burn in an ugly, humiliating way.

I also thought about my friend Eric. He gave me lots of good inspiration to keep going strong even when there were 10 or 12 miles left to go. Around mile 10, I passed Dick and Rick Hoyt. Absolutely amazing to see them in person in the race. True celebrities and a great inspiration.

But I also thought about other important matters during the race... such as, Why do all New England houses have shutters? We don’t have these here in California. And do these shutters actually work? And if so, do people use them? And when? Or are they merely ornamental? Do home-owners associations require shutters? Are they part of the civil housing codes? I really need to return to Boston to investigate this. I'm sure there are late-night insomniacs in cyberspace awaiting my thoughts on this phenomenon...

Bad eyesight or habitual liars? All along the way, people kept saying, “Looking good!” or even yelling "Looking great." Well, I’ve seen myself in the mirror and know they weren’t talking about me. And I looked around at everyone else and they looked even worse. So I’m not sure if New Englanders suffer from some kind of genetic eye problem or if they’re all practicing to become politicians.

Trying to be friendly. Generally, I discovered that once the gun fired, everyone became rather anti-social. I tried to break the ice sometimes and be friendly, but rarely did the conversation go farther than one or two sentences... even in the opening miles when the pace still seemed relatively easy... but maybe that was because everyone was flying past me and had no time to talk...

Fire truck. Somewhere in the middle of the first half... I dunno... maybe around Natick or Framingham, we crested a small hill and could see probably a half-mile ahead in the distance and wow... there’s a big firetruck with lights on coming up Hwy 135 at us in opposition to the flow of runners. It was like the parting of the Red Sea as hundreds of runners went around and it slowly came up the road. I mentioned to a runner next to me, Wow... heckuva time for a house fire.... But he didn't say anything and ran past me too...

Tailwind. Despite what famous coach Renato Canova says on letsrun, yes there was a strong tailwind. Both the American (Ryan Hall in 2:04:57) and world (Geoffrey Mutai in 2:03:02) best marathon times were smashed at Boston on Monday.

But you don’t feel a tailwind when you’re running with it... unless you turn and run into it... but people were already tripping over my slow carcass as I moved in the correct direction so I didn't attempt this. But evidence of the tailwind was all around if you looked for it. I noticed at one aid station that the cups on the ground were blowing down the street faster than I was running... granted, that doesn't say much about my speed... but still... tailwind.

At another point, I commented to a runner near me, "Gotta love this tailwind." He looked at me like, What? Then I pointed to a runner near us who was carrying a big American flag... and the flag was blowing in *front* of him while he ran (not behind him). I commented, I’ve never seen something like that ever before in my life. He didn't say anything either and ran on past me too...

You absolutely could not custom order better weather than what we had. Tailwind of 17 mph from WSW matched the course precisely. When I was walking through the finishing chute and heard the winning time (2:03:02), I was thinking, Holy freakin’ cow... but I knew why. It was the once-in-a-century perfect storm... literally.

The Finish. The best part of the race for me was the final 5 miles. I think Boston is kind of like a 10-mile race with a 16-mile warm-up. You need to run patiently and conservatively on the opening 16 miles. The true race is the 5 miles through the Newton Hills and then the 5 miles to the finish. And I played my cards well. I was flying in the final miles and logged my fastest miles of the day. And it was a blast to be strong in front of the biggest crowds on Commonwealth Ave, Hereford St, and Boylston St. I really didn’t expect to have that much left in the tank at that point, but I’m glad I did.

Jacob Wirth’s. Our post-race dinner was at Jacob Wirth’s. The place was packed with runners. We had a great time eating and laughing and without noticing spent 3 hours there. I ate with my OC friend Sam (and many others)... and Sam was absolutely ecstatic about his first sub-3 marathon (2:57:53). Of course, I razzed him about the tailwind because his PR is now 5 seconds faster than mine. I’m sure the tailwind was worth at least 6 seconds...

My OC running friend John Loftus (2:47; 11th AG on Monday... awesome as ever!) even arranged for another runner in the restaurant, a young guy who was a musician, to go to the piano and play. In no time, he had the entire place singing "Sweet Caroline... bah... bah... bah... Good times never felt so good... so good... so good... so good!" What a perfect song to cap off a great day. Great times, great memories. Sam caught it on video and posted it on youtube. And for the record, I'm in the yellow shirt at ~0:52... that's *not* me dancing (if you can call it that) at ~1:22. Youtube scares me. :-)

Sorry for such a long blog post. No wonder my mom doesn't read these. I'm just very thankful to be healthy and back out there running pain-free again. It was hard to keep from smiling on Monday. Glad I got to create some new Boston memories. First time I was overtrained, now I was undertrained. Maybe third time is a charm?...

Thanks for reading. Git 'er dun.