Saturday, October 30, 2010
"Are you a Marine?" the U.S. Customs officer asked me the other day when I was telling him I was running the Marine Corps Marathon.
No, I said, and gave him my reasoning of why I would run a race run by the Marines. "It's my fourth and one of my favourites."
It has never been my fastest marathons, and although it has gotten perfect weather it has become that second marathon of the fall season. No pressure, big crowds and a memorable finish. I always find myself inspired, from the Marines who man the volunteer stations to the wheelchair and amputee runners who amaze us all. The field attracts a wide field of runners, many of then first timers.
My fourth will be much like my third, done at a comfortable pace not really racing, but one can only get inspired to run just a little faster at the end if you have enough left. It is on that day, you will hear the words Sir and Ma'am, uttered by a polite serviceman. And no matter your views of war, warfare or military, it is an honor when one Marine respectably cracks a smile, puts a medal around your neck, and salute your efforts, you can hear yourself softly say 'Hoorah'.
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
What did I win, I asked?
"A bag of carrots, of course!"
Ha, anyways, some pictures that were snapped near the end. In a few of the images, you can tell I'm getting the crowd geared up.
And YES, I carried the sign the whole race. Marine Corps Marathon in four days!
Sunday, October 24, 2010
Before I start, I want to say to any seasoned runner who hasn't: volunteer to pace a race. It's an amazing way to give back, get inspired and contribute a little extra to this sport. Especially if you've got this pace thing down. Which apparently I do.
I arrived in Niagara Falls Friday night, mostly so I could attend the Friendship Run where I got to meet some runners, have breakfast with John Stanton and hear really inspirational stories from relatively new runners. Had fun at the expo which was way better than Goodlife and it was fun to walk around the Falls. Settled in for a low key night at the hotel and had a sub instead of pasta for dinner. Had plenty of carbs in my anyways.
With 50 min to go, I put on my bunny hat, and lined up for the portapotties. Funny thing, the 2:15 pacer was also lining up when the announcer said 'if you are a pace bunny can you come up to the front.'. Both of us laughed because we were not going to budge from our spots, so we sheepishly waved our signs. The runners lining up laughed as well.
After ditching my bag, I moved to the front corral to where I thought I should be and was quickly surrounded by runners asking me about the two-hour bunny (there was supposed to be one, no idea where) about the course (flat and downhill at the end but I've never run it). I had a great good of runners who lined up behind me, some asked and were happy when they heard i was doing continuous, not run/walk. A lot of Americans in the crowd as they were asking for the mile splits. Luckily, 1:45 is simple to remember. Five minute kilometres, eight-minute miles.
Among us were older women who said they hadn't trained recently but had run 1:45 before, several women my age or younger looking for PBs, a guy running his first half and quite a few people who wish there was a 1:50 pacer so would keep behind me. I told the group that we'd go continuous, not go out too fast, slow at the aid stations and run consistent splits. What I didn't say was "and this is my first time pacing." I wouldn't have gone into this without confidence and experience in running long distance races with stable splits. I know I can nail them when I am on. Figured they wouldn't be the wiser if they didn't know. ;).
First question that I got a quick answer to. When it's not windy, those pace signs are pretty easy to hold. I held on to mine for the whole race with no problems.
We took off and I tried to keep it easy. I remember all the bad pacing experiences I've had and the times when I went out too fast. Runners racing train up to the edge, and 10 seconds too fast at the beginning can raise their heart rate a little too fast. It had to feel easy, and I kept checking my Garmin to make sure I was on pace. (I decided wisely to add mile splits to my pace band the night before).
We hit the 1 k split just a tad fast but I had adjusted and was running easy.
1. 4:56 -> 4:59 was the target
About pace groups. We can get a little chatty, and it's a lot of fun. I was keeping it light, asking questions, getting to know them. One runner was a pack a day smoker earlier this year and college runner who was getting into long distance. Another was running Philly in November and aiming for a sub 4. And there was also a guy who was running his first half, his family was waiting for him at the end. All were from nearby New York state There were plenty of others behind and around me. I was feeling confident leading and the kilometers went by fast.
I remember checking the 5k split and we were only a few seconds off overall pace. Perfect. About the course. Wow, it's really nice, by the water, flat and fast if you wanted to all-out race. We didn't get the dreaded headwind. The aid stations were about a mile apart and local schools came out to pass out water and that energy drink. They were loud and a nice distraction. The weather was just about perfect. Cloudy, no real wind and on the warm side. I knew people would overheat so I kept on advising runners to take from every station. Meanwhile, the pacing was great. I remember hitting the 10k mark announcing to the group that we were within a few seconds of target. I was so pleased, cause this effort was for all the inconsistent pacing groups I have run with. The runners within earshot were in good spirits and they were already calling me the 'best bunny ever'. I told them to wait a lot more miles to determine that.
The Niagara course is beautiful but a lot of it was similar scenery. I found the miles went fast. We'd chat a lot, talk about past races, about training for marathons, about winter running and i gave a few pointers here and there about changing stride. Our friend the time counter downer would announce how much time we had left. Our ex college runner would complain of a nagging leg issue which would then clear up. Because we had mile and kilometer signs, I was able to keep pretty on top of the pace. The sign wasn't feeling heavy and I'd all but forgotten I had run a marathon a week before.
The next bit was a clinic in pace running. I give full credit to our group of runners. They were running strong so I never felt I was leaving people behind though our group had thinned. We hit the 10 mile mark in 1:20:03, just a few seconds off target pace.
I told the group, it's a 10 mile long run with a 5k race. They liked that idea so when we hit the 10 mile mark it was time to work. We were a lot quieter. Just hard work. I kept up constant encouragement, providing split info and telling them how much we had left. Unfortunately we were now down to the two younger women and some runners I would later find out that were trailing us but keeping me in sight. But I committed to keeping the pace. It was up to them to follow on. At every aid station, I took a cup, drank, then took an extra and offered it to the group. One runner got one of my GUs (Roctaine) and I ended up not using the other one.
17. 4:58.98 (wow)
The ex-college runner kept on asking if she should go faster with about two miles to go. I told her to pick it up and she did, watched her start to run on, she was looking great. My last runner, who would run Philly, was hurting but she was keeping on pace, a real natural stride. I told her to keep up and that the downhills were coming. I also told her she should have a great marathon with her pacing today. We passed runners and we were able to pick up another woman who finished with us.
I missed the time for the 20k marker so I wasn't sure exactly how many seconds I was off or on pace. I ran by feel, I sent Philly girl on to a great finish and gestured to the runners behind me to overtake me. A few took the bait. At the end, I was enjoying it as people were cheering 'the bunny'. Hammed it up for the crowd, pumping the sign up and down while gesturing with my arms to get them to cheer louder. As the finish neared, the announcer said I was the first bunny, and commented that I was only 11 seconds off pace (actually,
Last 200 m. 1:07 or 4:51 pace.
Final chip time:
What a great time. I traded high fives with the gals who ran most of the race with me, then a whole band of runners started coming up to me and thanked me. Some knew my name. It was gratifying and I was gald I didn't let them down. Seriously, if you have the ability, think about pacing a race. Run slower than you can race. It was an awesome runner's high I won't soon forget. This really was my goal race for the fall, I didn't want to mess it up and I also fulfilled a dream of pacing. (Thanks Fran for hooking me up!) I will be back for more!
The view of Niagara Falls, Ontario. The finish line is near the falls.
My little iPhone app take neat pictures with TiltShiftGenerator
Next stop, Marine Corps Marathon in 7 days and NYC Marathon in two weeks!
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
How many miles you need to run to burn one off? At 100 calories a mile, you've got a 8K run or 5 mile run ahead of you, not counting your pop and fries. Worth it? I don't think I'll be headed to KFC after one of my next long distance races.
Take it away, Pete.
Monday, October 18, 2010
Funny then that after work, I arrive home, check my mail, and got this in my mail box.
The mega marathon is the party everyone wants to get into. They're widely popular, everyone wants to run them, and the organizers are now beating back runners. Marine Corps Marathon, Chicago, London and all the other big ones have differing standards on how they try to create some sort of level playing field. All of them these days fill up quickly.
NYC, for example, has really tough qualifying standards, a lottery (that I entered twice before getting in) and a few guaranteed entry options. On one hand, it feels so exclusive but the nature of the lottery system - three strikes and you're in -- that I don't feel bad that I'll probably only run it a few times.
Back to Boston. What to do about the most prestigious of marathons, where the supposed allure is the fact that you have to qualify for it.
Make it harder: BAA should consider looking at all times through all age groups and genders and level set. I may hate this (ie my 3:15:59 may become once again a 3:10:59 or faster) but if the bar has fallen low, then so be it.
Let qualifiers use one marathon once: I, and I'm sure quite a few others, am using my 2009 time for 2011. It's a pretty awesome rule that you can use a fall qualifier for the next two Bostons because of that 18-month window. A lot of us, then, don't feel the pressure to qualify once a year. It's a privilege to run and race Boston. I think we could support that even though I hate the idea of training every year to BQ.
Consider a qualifier lottery system: Lets say you qualified in 2010. You didn't get to register for Boston. You miss out again the next fall. Why not let a qualifier get a ticket in a lottery. Maybe a few unused tickets equals a guaranteed entry. Not really a deferment but a, hey, I qualified a few years but didn't get to even register.
A limit on straight Bostons: I know there are those who pride themselves on runnnig X consecutive Bostons. Maybe it's a small minority but why not allow people to take a breather. Would that open the field? Food for thought.
One thing I remember hearing at last year's race that the majority of the runners were newbies. So maybe it's a fact of life that since marathoning is becoming more mainstream, and more of us are running and getting faster, that we're in an era where Boston will inevitably fill up quickly. Maybe one day, getting in the front of the line at Boston won't be that different than an Ironman signup.
It's funny, that no matter how more popular a mega marathon is to run, to experience a great marathon, all you need is a great course, awesome weather, a corps of dedicated volunteers working on the back of a solid race organization. I've loved marathons, like yesterday's, where the cozy field of a few thousand meant you could pick out friends on the course. Easy for us to share that sentiment, but when that big party's going on, we all want in.
Update: BAA's Executive Director Guy Morse gives a little Q&A about the quick sellout. And yes, he mentions looking at solutions like tightening standards and reexamining the size of the field.
Sunday, October 17, 2010
Before the race, I was musing about the possible paces I could go out at. At the top of the list was 3:30, a reasonable challenging time. Heart of hearts, I was thinking about my next two marathons, MCM and NYC, and how they’d be taken easy over the next three weeks: Today would be my only real opportunity this season to throw down a decent-paced marathon. If anything, and if it sounds like torture, it probably was, I ran my last ‘long run’ before NYC in three weeks. Yikes.
I treated today like any goal race, fuelled properly and rested up. By the time I was cabbing it up to the start line, with an hour to go, I was very relaxed. I remember a year ago I was focussed and hungry. Today, I was thinking as a strong run, with options to adjust my goals as I hit the half. I bumped into a few friends, including Fran, who was pacing the full. My main marching order to myself is to run to the edge of pain, but not to put next week’s pace bunny assignment in jeopardy.
Of course, my slow prep saw me seeded a little back at the start, but since there were fewer than 2000 marathoners, I quickly found some room and started running. An immediate problem was that my goal pace (8 minute miles or 5 minute kilometres) was not coming natural. So I stopped looking at my watch for the splits and ran by feel. The 3:30 pacer for some reason was far away in the distance. Oh well.
The first four kilometres were on the fast side, but one was aided by a downhill.
We made our way up Hoggs Hollow and I took the hill easy. Also used the porta potty at the top of the hill for my only washroom break. Also helped my heart rate go down (nice trick for this race).
Garmin lap reset: 00:23
Gorgeous day. I had debated the night before whether to go with a long sleeve or T shirt but in the end decided on a sleeveless. I was not disappointed. In fact, it started warming up with the sun. Around this time, a runner turned and looked at me then did a double take. Turns out, he reads this blog. (hello!). That’s another time I meet someone who recognized me.
At this point, I was just enjoying the terrain and the pace. Again, a little fast for the original goal, and I did have a few moments of wondering if i’d regret it 25K down the road.
Around this time, I caught up to the 3:30 pace group. It was decent sized, maybe 16 runners and given the streets of Forest Hill were kinda narrow, it was hard to jockey for position. I had caught up to them and even so, they were running a little faster than pace. At the 10K mark, they were ahead by 1:20.
After running in the group for awhile, I wasn’t feeling comfortable running in the big group. It was still early in the race, but this is where I decided to run my own pace. I started running faster. Luckily, there were a few runners with the same idea, and I found myself running silently side by side with a woman for a good six kilometres. Worked our way back to the downtown core when I started hitting 4:50s (my auto pace came on for the rest of the race).
Hit the half marathon pace in 1:42:29. I looked down, and kinda shrugged my shoulders. I counted that I was 2:30 faster than the plan. Okay, gotta make a new plan. I thought about the 3:25 mark. Sounded like a reasonable plan.
The next nine kilometres were running west, in my neighbourhood, against the wind. Not much to say about this other than that it took a bit of effort to keep up the 4:50s but I was doing it. Also I note that from the 13K mark, I was pretty much in passing mode and it got more pronounced as we got into the race. My legs were fine. I was getting enough water and Gatorade. And I had plotted out how I’d use my gels about every five miles. If there’s one thing I know now, it’s that you have to fuel properly, you’ll thank yourself in the end as you can bonk in mere minutes.
22 02:06 + 3:32 - weird lap..
Turning the corner after 30K, we now had a tailwind, and though it was heating up, I was feeling great. Because it was an out and back, I ran by feel and just watched the runners who were on the ‘out’ portion. Hitting the 34K mark was a major boost, as I had not felt like the wall was anywhere near. I felt the creeping onset of a minicramp, but I had brought a few Shot Bloxs and drank from my fuel bottles. That did the trick.
Great splits, I thought, as I was running past my condo at 38K. Four more kilometres really didn’t seem that far. When you think that in a marathon, that’s a good thing. A great mental boost is had by passing runners, doing so only by maintaining pace.
The march up University is pretty cruel. It’s the widest street of the entire race, and has no shade. It’s pretty lonely by this point and you really feel like you’re running. I tried not to get distracted by the slowing and walking runners. I just looked at the spectators, giving them thumbs up to their cheers. I was counting down the streets. At some points, I thought about slowing down but I knew that’d be pointless.
Of course, the last two kilometres took forever to get there. It was a long slow incline. Powered through, enjoyed the crowd support and saw that I was gaining on more runners. Believe me, saying ‘looking strong’ to a runner at the end really helps. Thanks spectators!
.2 01:30 at 7:10 mile page
And as I was powering down the last few hundred metres, Lee and Julie called out my name, and I was going faster, pumped up my fists as I heard my name being called.
Final time in 3:24:51.
I wonder if this had been a time goal race, how I would have done today. Could I have gone out at 3:15 pace? Probably, but this summer didn’t become a fast marathon training season. It was about going the distance three times. I’m happy that this marathon didn’t get tough until the final two miles and even they were manageable. I’ve learned a lot about what my body can do over the long distance. Ten marathons (now 11) can get you to a place where you know what you can comfortably do.
And as for that question about how to run that race, I had a surprising result. For a race where I barely looked at my pace band, for one that had a fast first half, I did what I thought was impossible. I ran an evenly paced marathon, from start to finish.
Add to that, I ran a 7-second negative split.
First half: 1:42:29
Second half: 1:42:22
Hell ya, I’ll take that. My legs are fine. I took an ice bath and I think I’ll be running again by Tuesday.
Next stop: Niagara Falls Half Marathon 1:45 pace bunny
Marathon 2: Marine Corps Marathon on Oct 31.
Marathon 3: NYC Marathon on Nov. 7.
Saturday, October 16, 2010
I have this nightmare of forcing down pasta by the time I'm running my third marathon in four weeks. I have to avoid this somehow. So along with my recovery plan between races the next month, which will consist of light runs and one pace effort mid week, I have to come up with a fuelling plan.
Pasta has been my go-to fuel for most of my races. Before Boston, R. and I hit Wagamama where I had ramen noodles (another form of carb) but not before I devoured a plate of linguine for lunch. Can't look at a box of pasta the few weeks after a marathon. I love the stuff, but too much!
A theme I'm trying to come up with over the next month.
Sunday: I gorge. I just ran a marathon (or paced a half). Plenty of carbs and protein and water to speed the recovery.
Monday: Proteins and veggies with enough carbs to get it into the system. Maybe Monday should be burger night..
Tuesday: Because I'll crave it, salads and protein.
Wednesday: Pizza Wednesday.
Thursday: Bring on the carbs in all of its glorious forms. Plenty of hydration.
Friday: Big pasta meal for dinner.
Saturday: Repeat Friday but do meals a little earlier with a late night carb topper.
Given that formula, I can avoid eating pasta between Sunday and Wednesday.
Or go with rice instead of pasta on one of those nights. Thoughts? How do you carbo load?
Monday, October 11, 2010
But running goals are difficult to set. Almost two months ago, Marie and Sam very graciously (thanks!) invited me to speak at a Running Room pre-run seminar to talk about goal setting. And if I was giving that talk a few years ago, I think there would be a different tone.
I think that every runner needs short, medium and long-term goals. The short and medium ones are the ones that get you out the door every day or signing up for your next big race. The long ones, they can be as concrete as a time goal ("I want a 3:30 marathon") or an achievement ("I want to BQ"). As I enter a more 'mature' part of my running life, I'm thinking long term also equals longevity ("I want to run into my 60s and beyond") and experience ("I want to run the London Marathon").
But the time goal, it's oh so tangible. Without setting the bar in hours, minutes and seconds, we have a little harder of a go at structuring the rest of our running life.
When it comes to the marathon, I am a dreamer. That dream, that belief in what you can achieve, is what took me from my very first half marathon to aim at one day qualifying for Boston. Just think about it -- before I had even crossed the finish line of a marathon, I believed and had set my time goal.
Belief has a big part in goal setting, I've come to learn. Belief had me setting my very first time goal for my first marathon. What was it? A 3:20. Looking back, it made for a memorable debut. A nice little "lets find out what the Wall feels like" back on a cold day in Chicago in 2006 (and I even wrote a post about it). So belief gives you that fat target. I didn't hit the 3:20 but I'm still shocked by my debut in the distance with a 3:35, even if I walked a lot in the last three miles.
My pace bands from 2006. I picked 3:20, finished with a 3:35.
Goal setting is based on reality with a slight leap of faith in physiological science. I picked that first target time based on my best times in other distances. Right away, it made me train at more intense paces. While I was forced to lock down the 3:20 pace (4:45 kilometres, I still remember it to this day), all my other running improved. My 5K times, 10K and half marathon got faster. I was getting fitter with the 4:25 kilometer tempo runs. 4:45 at some point felt easy, almost every day.
"Go for it" is my motto on race day, no matter what is thrown at you. Chicago was cold and my first marathon. "Go for it." My 2nd marathon saw me go out too fast and unprepared yet for the hills. "Go for it." My third marathon was perfect, except for the hills and the fact that we ran an extra 400 metres. I went for it, and I hit my 3:20 goal and set my sights for the next target: 3:10 and a BQ. I went for it time and time again. Sometimes "it" was fast, sometimes "it" was simply a well paced run. It was good to go for it.
I still think that my epic training summer of 2008, when I was logging 70 mile weeks and did 300 miles in August, 2008, was a prelude for my botched attempt on a warm day in September and four weeks later when I tried and failed again. That year of training set me up last year to take it a little easier and run smarter. That got me to my marathon PB a year ago.
I'm now at a different space this year when it comes to marathon times in that I don't care much for it right this moment. I read a post I wrote last October that had me wanting to go 3:10 but I'm about to hit my marathon next week with no real expectation of anything faster than 3:30. I've thought about the 'hunger for speed' but I also have enough miles and marathons in me to know that I'm not in my top marathon time shape. I've got plenty of miles under me and the experience of 10 marathons. That will take me far this fall, just not at my fastest.
For those of you going for time, I wish you the best. There is no greater feeling than cashing in all the chips, laying it all on the line, going for broke, trusting in the training and running a smart and fast marathon based on the goal race and time of your dreams. You've done the work -- the MP runs, the track work, the striders. You've locked down your comfortably hard marathon pace, you've practiced fuelling on the run, and you've done plenty of 'warm-up' shorter races. Honestly, there's no other way to see what you're made of, to crash through that wall, to learn another lesson or maybe just get that goal time. Go for it, you won't regret it.
(And if you really have no idea what time to set, I love this McMillan race calculator. It is invaluable, just plug in your best time from a recent race -- the longer the better -- and it'll also give you your training paces. There are many others out there.)
Sunday, October 10, 2010
Not much to report on the road conditions, only a little construction here and there on the southbound lanes. As I remember, it is a fast first half, I was trying to run it slower but the uphills and downhills got my changing up my pace.
Toronto Goodlife is a FAST course, no doubt about it. What it actually means is it is a really fast first half, with only a few hard uphills (one big one at 4K) but with quite a few downhill bits. Because most of the downhill nature of the course is in the first half, it takes a little bit of patience to not go out too fast, because the second half is flat, potentially windy and the last few miles is up a gentle uphill grade. I tend to take the downhills at pace or a little faster, using them to save up on your effort level (ie. cardio) so you have a little more left in the tank for the second half.
I enjoy the course a lot, especially when you get to wind your way through some of Toronto's neighbourhoods, and the fall colours are just turning, should be awesome by next week.
My temptation to go out fast will be tempered by the next month. 3:30 will be the fastest first half pace I'll go out at. It may feel slow, but I think i'll thank myself in the late miles and also a week later when I'll be forced to be a little pace bunny.
Wednesday, October 06, 2010
It's 11 days until the Toronto Goodlife Marathon and I'm not obsessing over the race. It helped that work was its own type of marathon this past while, making whatever running I could fit in (and I fit pretty much all of them in) a nice little escape.
In fact, as I was trying to keep track of the tasks at hand to do at work last week, I remember R. telling a few months ago a story about her co-worker and what he said to her during a marathon night at Capitol Hill at they sat covering a financial bill.
As they watched partisan politics at their best stalling best, and well into what would become a 24-hour work day, he turned to her and said: "I run marathons.
"This," he said, "is nothing."
Not quite, but the sentiment is shared.
This past weekend was supposed to be my 16 miler as I ramp down the mileage. R. recently moved to Dupont Circle and I was trying to find a new running route. I love the trails, hitting Rock Creek and its surrounding trails, but my return was not without issues. Yep, I turned left when I should have turned right and found myself adding a few more miles than planned. Opps.
Back to the taper sanity, the race season this year is all about new things. Three marathons are on the horizon and my first stint as a pacer a week after marathon 1. Maybe after Toronto Marathon, my taper madness will begin. It will be three weeks to NYC. In fact, I was just checking the long-term forecast for NYC the other...