Tonight was the last night of track training before the Marathon. It was for me an almost perfect end to what has been an interesting, challenging and exciting training season for the race. Although not everyone I would have liked to see was there (OCD and HLG you were missed among other Goons) it was still a great group of runners many of whom I got to run with all through this super snowy New England winter. We did a total of three miles with just a bit of speed to get our muscles firing and it gave us a chance to talk and laugh. Perfect weather, T-shirts and shorts after a season of parkas, hats and mittens. I came away encouraged by my running buddies to believe in my training and in myself. Just what I needed in the final week before Marathon Monday. Thank you!
Last year I arrived at the Firehouse, made the right hand turn and my race changed, dramatically. Five agonizing miles of hills and then a long walk from Cleveland Circle to the finish. My slowest Marathon and the toughest one to finish – but I did finish.
This year as part of my training I have been on the course three times running the hills on each occasion and in different ways. Back when there was still lots of snow on the ground I parked at mile 21 and ran The Course backwards to Wellesley before turning around and returning to the car. Seeing the hills from two perspectives was interesting.
You can see me just starting up the hill by the Fire Station over there to the right – I look pretty good but believe me when I tell you that I knew then that I was in deep trouble.
My second trip to The Course was three weeks ago. Parked in Boston’s Back Bay and rode the train out to Framingham – mile 6 1/2. The train was filled with other runners, some like me alone, others in big groups, laughing and joking and having a great time. Some got off in West Natick, many like me continue to Framingham. It really hits you when you sit on the train for an hour how far you have to run to get back to Boston.
My most recent trip to The Course was this past Saturday. I met up with last year’s training partner, HLG, and we left one car at Cleveland Circle and taking the other out to Hopkinton. As we drove west, backwards on the course, we gradually saw more and more runners. By the time we pulled in to Hopkinton there were hundreds, really I am not kidding, hundreds of runners getting ready to take their training runs. A couple of the charities had buses bring their runners out and as we pulled in to park they were actually doing warm ups on the town common. The BAA even had port-o-pots set up which was super.
After using the “special” BAA bathrooms we headed off down the hill passing old friend Dave McGillivray (Boston Marathon race director) as he was walking up the hill to check out all the action at the start line. Our plan was to run to Cleveland Circle (23 miles) at Marathon Pace + 30 to 40 seconds.
For days after the 2010 Marathon my performance in the race had me really depressed. I was so ready for the race but on that day it just did not work out. It was not the way that I wanted my Boston experience to go and so I became determined to have a different out come next time. Part of the plan to make that happen was training on The Course and building confidence. I was going to know very well where the tough parts are and how I would handle them. I would be ready.
In planning our day on The Course we wanted to work on our Race Day strategies. I divide The Course into four parts miles 1 to 6, 6 to 16, 16 to 21 and 21 to the finish. Each section has its own characteristics and I want to tailor my strategies to each section.
Section One: Six miles steeply down hill at first with an overall a net loss of some 250 vertical feet. Here the object is to go easy, not let the emotion of the day get to you, conserve energy and not pound your legs down the hills. The road is fairly narrow and very rural and on this day we had lots of company. It seemed that we were always passing other runners or being passed and given the traffic, care was required. We followed the plan and just ran easy taking in all the sights and atmosphere that a busy Saturday morning on course had to offer. Although not strictly at the 6 mile mark the Framingham train station is a good signal that you are down the hill and transitioning to the next section.
Section Two: The next 10 miles are essential flat and now is the time to really settle into your rhythm. By now I would expect to be right on my Marathon Pace and clicking off the miles within a very narrow range. I as a mental crutch I count upwards until mile 16 (after which it is the count down) so at mile 10 we pass through Natick Center, then by the Wellesley College Campus, into Wellesley Center and so on. As we are testing the course HLG and I still have lots of company. We have passed any number of tables set up with water, sports drinks and snacks put out by one of the charities with runners in The Race or by one of the running Clubs from the area. Many of the table workers offer encouragement as we go by and many invite us to help ourselves. There are so many runners on course that the BAA has hired police officers to help us cross busy intersections. There are several where it is critical and much appreciated. HLG is setting the pace through this section and I actually have a period where I am struggling. Not a big struggle but enough to introduce a bit of doubt. I get worried that we are going to fast although our times are about where they should be. In retrospect I am not sure what was going on but I use it, struggle on hoping that it will turn around for me. Doubt is a huge killer, on race day it is all about the mental battles and I have convinced myself that I am physically prepared so now it just getting over the mental hump. This section ends with a HUGE down hill, the largest drop on The Course. From Wellesley Hills down to the Charles River in Newton Lower Falls. Caution all, this hill can wreck you for the next section. Use that elevation drop wisely. We have taken food and water around mile 10 and now again at the bottom of the hill we take more setting ourselves up for the hills.
Section Three: Starting when you cross over the Charles River we started climbing, 1st over the Interstate 95 (a.k.a. Route 128) a devious hill as it is strictly speaking not part of the Newton Hills and does not have the reputation of the hills to come. It is exposed to the elements and can be wind and cold plus not many spectators want to hang out on a highway bridge. Never the less up we go. My strategy both for race day and on our long training run is bearing fruit. I am feeling good and am able to run strong. My race day mantra is, “arrive at the hills with my legs under me” and then “run the hills strong.”
At my favorite place on The Course, the right turn at the Fire House, the number of runners, which had dwindled slightly, grows by leaps and bounds. There are runners and supporters everywhere. Now comes the 3 1/2 of miles hills, with 4 climbs. On the first I mentally put my head down and push. I leave HLG behind or rather, I stop paying attention to anyone or anything other than my running. Focused on form and pace I push up the first hill, a hill which a year ago did me in. Hills one and four are the tough ones but when you make it up hill number one you get some relief. Hill two, just a little bump and I am still going strong. Hill three a little more effort but I keep up my pace. Now it is time for the most famous hill in Marathoning. It is a real hill but if you followed the plan and arrived at the Fire House in good shape then it is up and over and all (almost literally) down hill from there.
As I climb Heartbreak there are not too many runners around, I pass a few and I am passed as well. As I crest the hill I see a pack of Brownies (Brownies? What the heck are Brownies doing out here?) (Correction CJ Runs Like a Girl tells me they were Girl Scouts – but really who cares) passing out beads as the runners go over the top. It is good, it is all good, what I set out to do, I accomplished, with 16 miles on my legs I successfully ran the hills just like I will on April 18th.
Section 4: The final five miles are more or less a cruise all the way down Beacon Street. The crowds will build with every block. There are a couple of landmarks to mark the miles and a gradual down hill to help along the legs. If I (or if you) survive the Hills then you can do this last part. I know you can. My plan or perhaps my dream is at this point I can really run. I see myself having enough left in my legs that as I turn on to Beacon I can race to the finish.
Training on the Course is a great privilege. I am lucky to live in Boston and have the opportunity. It is both great training and inspiring. Seeing so many people out working the Hills is so very cool. I can not imagine that there is another course that gets the kind of (running) traffic that Boston gets from February to April. Dave McGillivray said to me the other night when I saw him at BAA Headquarters that they were at first hesitant to hire the Police and to put out the port-o-potties for fear that they would have a marathon every weekend. In the end they did what was best for their runners and neighbors; provide a little comfort, kept us from peeing in the bushes and making The Course a little safer for runners and drivers. One of our Going the Distance coaches, Poopsie says she avoids The Course in the weeks leading up to the race. She wants it to be fresh and new. That works for her. What HLG and I wanted was to remind ourselves what The Course is like and convince ourselves that we are ready for it.
There you have it. Really, it is a simple plan. Four sections, each with a plan. Execute the plan, enjoy everything that is going on around you and run a fun race. You can do this!
Now on this day on The Course we were done at Cleveland Circle (mile 23) and did not do the final three to Boylston Street. The day I rode the train I did run to the finish. Well I ran right up to the line – but did not cross it – that will have to wait for April 18th.
Two years ago my running life changed when I decided that instead of coaching myself it was time for professional help. Ten months later – a Boston Qualifying marathon time. Now being coached and running and training with a group of runners seems like the only way to train.
Two January’s ago I was in an indoor program on a little tiny track, 13 laps to a mile, with lots of runners, doing lots of fast running. As winter turned to spring and then summer we moved outdoors to a traditional track. It all worked for me. Last January when training started for The Marathon the program stayed outdoors. Without a track and without day light the program is forced into an alternative solution. Plowed roads, street lights, and little traffic all are found in an industrial park. Busy by day, empty at night.
So that is where the Going the Distance program trains. Coach Fernando Braz trained me for my BQ, trained me for my 1st Boston and now I am back with him again, running in the cold and the dark, preparing for the greatest Marathon on earth.
Last night was the first night in the park and there was a good turn out. It was great to be back with some of my running buddies. HLG, who I had not seen in months, was in my group along with Coach Anne and some new faces to boot, all strong runners all good training buddies. The team, hill repeats. Up and down we went for nearly 90 minutes. It was the first time I had run hard since my Thanksgiving Day PR (I owe you a Race Report on that one) and although it was real work, I had fun, felt great and recovered easily.
Coaching made the difference in Chicago – will I be able to “just trust in Fernando” and let him guide me to and over the hills of Newton?
Track night with Fernando turned out to be a reunion of sorts. On a perfect weather night for training there was a good turnout and the prospects were high for a quality session. For many of us there is just a month to go to our target race and so the next two weeks are pretty intense. Braz has built us up to this point of fitness, now it time to polish us off.
When he gathered us for the pre-workout chat he warned us that the night’s program would be tough. When I looked at the details it seemed, on paper, to be not so bad. More or less 4 1/2 miles of 600 meter repeats @ 6:16 pace. Run 600, jog 200, over and over. My group, Group C that is, was made up of Linda F. (Goon Squad runner, The Enforcer) and Linda Jennings (Sonic Boom). Linda J. at the 2010 USA Masters 15K Championships was 2nd in the 55-59 age group in 1:04:59. That time would have been good for 1st place in the 50-54 division. Clearly Linda is one of the top runners in the country in her age group, a small select group of very fast ladies. She is super competitive. Linda F. is one competitive lady too, 8 marathons, 4 Bostons. Combine perfect conditions and two competitive runners and I was put to the test all night long. But we had fun, fed off each other, and ran a nice even pace (at one point we did Five 600 in a row at exactly 2:20). And although it was harder than it looked on paper, we did it and we did it well.
It was like old times. All last winter I trained for The Marathon with a bunch of really great people. Training for Boston means running in the dark, the cold, the snow and the ice and we did and we had fun doing it. I hardly know any of these runners away from the track (winter training is running roads in an industrial park by the way….so scenic) but I enjoy them all, like running with them and think the world of them. So it seemed the whole gang was back, Goon Squad runners all, HLG (a.k.a. the Punisher), OCG, Showtime, Goatie, and the previously mentioned Enforcer and Sonic Boom. Plus a special visit from Spanky who is out of action at the moment but promised he would be back for The Marathon training in January.
So old times, new times, fast times; October 10th is creeping closer and I am getting very ready.
It has been a few weeks so time to catch up. Ok longer than a few.
Overall, I am back a fairly normal training schedule. Mileage is back up to a proper range and I am giving my training the priority I want it to have. Physically feeling good with only minor tightness in both Achilles tendons. I am sure that is related to the amount of speed work I have been doing but more about that later.
My standard schedule has become Track on Tuesdays, easy early morning runs Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, a long run Saturday and a longish recovery run on Sunday. Of interest is my Saturday runs. Two loops of 6 miles, the first at MP + 30 seconds and the 2nd time around at MP – 30 seconds. It is a good distance, given the fall focus on the Half Marathon and doing two loops allows for water placements that are easy to execute. The runs having gone surprisingly well and although the second loops are hard I am running farther at speed. Given my goal of a sub 1:35 Half I am going to have to start running faster and further. The Greg McMillan Equivalent Performance chart says that based on my 20:48 – 5K I should be able to run a 1:36 Half. However, the same chart based on my 3:30 Marathon says that I should be able to run a 1:40 Half. My PR was this year at 1:37 so, for now, I am sticking with my sub 1:35 goal.
Also of interests is the weekly track sessions with Fernando (a.k.a. The Professor, I have learned from the Good Squad Runners, much more about that later). Sessions have been tough, lots of heat, fast pace and difficult splits. Mostly laps in the low 1:30 range with distances from 1,000 meters to 400 meters. Total mileage has been in the 4 -5 mile range with a couple of mile warm up and cool down. FB always keeps it interesting, sometimes progressive ladders with speeds or distance marching up and down, sometimes in and out sets with a fast lap followed by an “easy” lap followed by more fast ones, or once where he announced that this is as close to racing as we will ever get. I have had a blast with the group, although attendance has been a little spotty. There was a week or two early on when I though I was ready to move up, but then the last two weeks, I knew, as was running as fast as I could. This week in the final set I faded like old jeans and ended up just holding on for dear life.
I have raced twice since my last post, both 5Ks and both 20:48 on the nose. Andover was first, evening race (which I hate) up hill for nearly two miles then a fast downhill finish. Next Plaistow Old Home Days 5K with a bit of a rise in mile two and a bit of a down hill in mile three, however the end result, just the same. I have had it in my mind for a while that I should be able to break 20 minutes but it is seeming more and more less likely.
Ok, Saturday a 10K race (another evening race, yuck) and then 15 weeks until the BAA Half. My training starts in earnest next week.
The low point was October 26, 2008 at the Marine Corps Marathon. A totally demoralizing effort. After that race I said to myself, one more try. That is all you get, one more try at a BQ. Make it, you can run Boston. Fail and it is just not meant to be and marathoning is over for you.
So the journey began anew in January of 2009. I have told the story before, I set a goal, got a coach (Fernando Braz) who gave me the direction to train smarter, harder, to run faster and farther. 16 months and 2,400 miles of training later I am ready to take that final run, from Hopkinton to Boston.
Taper week has given me a number of opportunities to reflect on the wonderful experiences the journey has given me. I was reminded Wednesday morning of one of the little benefits to early morning runs. I ran up to the PA athletic fields, open space, top of a hill, dawn just coming to a perfectly cloudless sky. That sky was that wonderful deep blue it gets in the minutes before the sun shows. I stop for just a minute to take it all in, thought about the dozens of morning I’ve experience this sight, these sounds, this feeling. Standing there in a place that without my journey, I might never have seen, and loving it.
Each marathon’s training season has a workout or two that stand out as defining that season. For me they have been both negative (a long run melt down in the heat one year as an example) or positive like last fall’s one mile repeat track session. For this marathon it was a long session in March which I ran with HLG from my training group. (by the way I loved training with the GTD 4A gang!) HLG and I ran around a lake which fit the plan perfectly as it was 3 miles around. After a 4 mile warm-up the session called for 3 miles at sub-marathon pace followed by one mile easy - repeated 3 times. And we did pound out those miles, ran hard, push each other to run harder faster. I rarely train with anyone but on this day HLG was the perfect training partner. When it was over, I knew, then and there, 6 weeks before The Marathon, I was going to be ready.
So the hay is in the barn. My training is done. I am rested, fit, and mentally prepared. All that is left is to enjoy the run. Execute the plan. Take it all in. Live in the moment. It is Boston after all.
As I sit just a couple of days away from running in The Boston Marathon I am reminded what wonderful journey it has been. Qualifying for, running in and completing the Marathon is a goal I have been working towards for years. The journey, the day by day process, which has me on the edge of achieving that goal, has been a wonderful trip that has changed me in so many ways.
I had a nice chat with HLG who I have not seen in a few weeks because of injuries. Someone had said to HLG at the gym the other day, wow you look fit. Of course we all love to hear that we look fit but it made me think about what it means to be in Marathon shape.
Now it is understood, I am no Ryan Hall, hell, I am not even one of the faster guys my age group in my running club. But I am in the best shape of my adult life. It is relative. I have been training for Marathons for 16 months and I can really feel it. Saturday went out for a long run and the miles just cruised by. I never had to put out any serious effort. Even when I turned up the pace to marathon pace less 30 seconds I was just cruising. It sounds funny, but at this stage I know that anything under 2 hours is really…..really…easy for me. I get a real kick out of knowing that I have gotten myself to this place.
How will that translate to Marathon Monday? Well now, that is the question.
Driving home tonight I had that first flash of Marathon nervousness. It dawned on me that the race is just a week away. All these months of training will shortly be put to the test on real marathon course. Not a pancake flat walk around town, no a course that has life, demands patience, strategy and control.
I have walked through my Monday morning mentally a bunch of times. What time will I get up, what will I eat and when, when to stop drinking, when to leave for the bus, let alone that actual race plan.
On one of my best and toughest long runs leading to Boston HLG talked about the power of positive thoughts. Imagine success and what that will look like and feel like. As we ran, 3 miles fast followed by a mile easy, over and over again, we talked about what success would me to us. Before Chicago success was a BQ. Right after Chicago success was just running in The Marathon. After 4 months of great training, success has a little different image. HLG is right think about the successes and they can be yours.
Right on Hereford, left on Boylston and then, you see the finish line of The Marathon.
It is only a week away.
For the week ending 4/5/2010
- Week’s Total: 51 miles
- Year to Date: 644 miles
- Days Until Boston: 14
- Weeks Until The Marathon: 2
- Mileage left in training plan: 67
- Ran 18 miles for the week’s long run with 8 of the last 10 at a 7:30 pace.
- Feeling good, feeling strong.
- Fernando says, “We want to expand our efficiency, economy and rhythm threshold without getting lactic acid in the system. This type of workout can be an invitation to run too fast – be patient and execute discipline. Same characteristics necessary for marathon.” I hear you boss!
- Little sad, training is over, now it is wait time.
- Still missing HLG although word is HLG will be running Boston!
As many of you know I have trained with Fernando (Going the Distance Coaching Service) for almost a year now and for most of that time as part of the World Famous Group 4A. Gina, HLG, and Dan among others are in the group and one of our members, Hank (aka Spanky) is running in The Boston Marathon to raise money for the Hopkinton Athletic Association. I encourage you to visit his funding raising page and help support a good guy and a good cause. If we all give just a little we can help a lot.
For the week ending 3/28/2010
- Week’s Total: 48 miles
- Year to Date: 592 miles
- Days Until Boston: 21
- Weeks Until The Marathon: 3
- Mileage left in training plan: 117
- Ran on The Course on Saturday, 23 ½ miles and it went perfectly.
- Tons of people running the Course, oddly, 75% were women, where are all the guys?
- Saw water stations as advertising ventures, for example, Zip Cars had water, Sports drinks, bananas Gue and a chance to sign up for membership. I guess Marathoners are a great target market.
- Over confident I know, but the three ½ miles of hills from the Fire Station to BC are not that bad.
- Boston College to the finish; a pounding down hill trip. Will my legs be ready for that abuse after 21 miles?
- And the highlight of my week; while running in Dublin Ohio the mid-west, the land of polite people, the heartland of America an old lady in a ford yelled Fuck you at me because she had to slow down for me as I crossed the street, @ 6:00 am no less.
- My favorite training partner, HLG, is hurt. I so feel for HLG and missing running with HLG. Seems like the attitude is OK, but Gosh, here’s pulling for HLG to be back in the game….soon.