It’s All About My Race, Not The Race: Do Runners Care Who Wins?

Distance running is wonderful sport in part because the races are so egalitarian: the back-of-the-packers are literally competing in the same event as the world champions. You pay your fee, enter the race and run – albeit usually far, far behind – the elite runners. But it’s worth chewing over the idea that with the exception of huge marquee races like the Boston Marathon, nobody cares who wins, what records were set, what the best course times are, etc.

We care instead whether we ran a PR (personal record) or PB (personal best) for my friends from the UK.

In one sense, it’s a pleasant notion – I enter these races to compete against myself, in a community of people doing the same thing. It’s all about being a self-motivated individual in community; and who can dislike that? Except this is a race, man. Look left, look right – those people are your competitors. Let’s have a bit of both, community and competition.

By adding some of the depth of context involved in being not just a participant in a race, but a fan of running, the sport – and our own race experiences – can be enhanced. Win win.

Which brings me to the main thing that struck me at the last race I ran - the Market Square 10K in Portsmouth last month.  My friend John Stanzel won the second place age group award (50-59) for his 39:21 run through Portsmouth. Great run. My wife Kristen and I stuck around for the awards.

Take a minute and watch the video.

Why the laughs? It’s just funny that despite what I’d heard was a record turnout for this race, the awards ceremony is … umm… intimate.

One thousand eight hundred and ninety eight people finished the race and the only a dozen or so people cared enough to see the awards ceremony. I’m not pointing fingers here – I wouldn’t have stuck around if John hadn’t been collecting an award. And I have to be honest, I didn’t recall the name of the guy who won.

But I think I would have appreciated the whole event more if I knew some of the details of the top-end competition. And in an era where mega races sell out as soon as they are announced, where it seems like almost everyone is a “runner” – why aren’t the champions among us – those folks who win the races we all enter and run together so communally, local celebrities?

We bring our kids to get autographs of minor league baseball players after a game; what would the winners make of it if we had the family hang around at the end of the next race we run, and we asked them to sign our race numbers?

(By the way –  Andrew Huebner won the race. He’s 26 years old, from Portsmouth. His time was 30:31. Holy smokes. You guys know what that means? He was averaging 4:55 per mile for 6.2 miles on a course with its share of climbs – not a fast flat one, that’s for sure. Now maybe this doesn’t quite put him in striking distance of  the 26:17.53 Olympic record set by Kenenisa Bekele in 2005, but it’s damn fast nevertheless. To put it in perspective, next time you’re at a workout with the local track club, try and hit 4:55 pace – just for a quarter mile. That means get yourself around the track in 1:13. You may be able to – it’s not outrageous. But then think about doing it 25 times or so. Yeah, Andrew’s pretty fast. And didn’t that little dip into the stats add some cool context to your own 10K experience?)

Meb’s Boston Training Schedule – 9-Day Cycles Make Sense for Older Runners

I was thrilled to arrive at the finish line at Boston this year to hear that Meb Keflezighi had won. It was a great cap to an emotional day. This piece for Runner’s World highlights aspects of his training plan, well worth reading, in particular the training cycle, which I think would be useful for older marathoners.

At 43, four years older than Meb, I count myself in that “older marathoner” camp. And while I’m no elite runner, I do like to train hard and race hard. I have to balance that training and racing with my advancing years and the accompanying slower recovery powers. It’s easy to overdo it, and easier to get injured.

In this interview, Meb describes his training cycle in terms of nine-day training periods, rather than the traditional week. This makes a tremendous sense to me. A good marathon plan includes a at least one quality tempo or speed workout a week, one medium long run, and one long run, along with plenty of aerobic base. If you arrange those over nine days, versus seven, you can give yourself the recovery time you need (as an “older” runner) between the hard workouts.

Worth a try next time around.

Boston Marathon Recap, Diet and Injury Notes, Next Steps

It’s been a few weeks since Boston, and after whacking the race video footage I shot with my friend Bob’s Google Glass into a 15-minute course video, I’ve been working, traveling, taking the kids to track practice, and otherwise not thinking much about running – other than when taking some nice easy paced runs. So these notes are bit after-the-fact, which is just fine since there’s not much dramatic to report beyond the beauty of the day itself, the runners, the crowd and the wonderful reboot after last year’s sorrows.

Pace and Training

I confess, I did not push to 100% capacity during this race. I’d say I was at 85-90 percent. I knew I hand’t done enough training to run a PR or compete with my own better race times. But I had a good run for the training miles I got in.

To recap, I was injured from Nov. 2013 through Jan. 3, 2014. I ran a total of two runs, 15 miles, during that entire two-month stretch.

The following week, on Jan. 4, I ran 5 miles, then 25 miles, then 26 the week after that. That brought me to 12 weeks until Boston. I wrote this training plan: Here’s the plan as planned. And here’s the plan as executed.

You can see looking at the two spreadsheets, these are miles apart. I wasn’t even close to fit enough when I started to run the first weeks of this plan. Simply fell apart trying.

I was overly optimistic about how quickly I could ramp up. I managed 10 weeks over 40 miles, one week over 50, but I never got the 60 mile weeks I’d hoped for. By March 2, I felt so beaten up from trying to make this comeback so fast, and likely from not having my nutrition dialed in, that I was ready to bag the whole thing. I moaned about that “Forrest Gump moment” here and contemplated quitting running entirely, or at least quitting running marathons. I was serious. My wife, Kristen, likely predicted at the time it was just the fatigue talking.

Instead of quitting, I reset my expectations, stayed patient during a second set of minor injuries (calf strain and Achilles tendinitis flareup), and ran the race for the joy of the event and experience, with no hard and fast time goal in mind.  I thought I might be able to run a 3:08, but really wasn’t sure.

I finished in 3:12:17, avg. pace 7:21, 4,616th finisher, and 788th in my division, and was I happy. I was pretty consistent through mile 16, then slowed down a bit as I hit the hills and afterward, but I wasn’t walking – or bonking. I just didn’t have the training mileage in my legs to maintain the quicker pace in the last miles. Fastest mile was 6:59, slowest mile was Heartbreak Hill at 7:56. I managed to pick it back up a good bit after that, but I was definitely slowing again by the final miles. It was great to be shooting video; an excuse for all that lollygagging!

Diet

As I’d noted at the beginning of the training cycle, my goal was to try and do this whole thing on an extremely low-carbohydrate diet, become ever more fat adapted, and see if I could run the race without a carb-loading phase and sugary sports drinks and gels. As you know if you follow the blog, I did not manage that. I discovered that in order to run the second half of training weeks strongly, I needed to carb up after hard workouts. I experimented with full carb reload days, and starting with the Thursday before the race (with the exception of fasting on Good Friday), ate high carb meals up through race day, including pancakes and a bagel morning of, Hammer Gels and Gatorade during, and French Fries afterward.

The training had shown me that either: a.) Running at intense efforts day after day week after week requires extra carbs, even for someone well adapted to life in ketosis, which would be the common wisdom, or b.) I was not long enough adapted to ketosis.

I’m back in ketosis now – I resumed very low-carb eating the day after the race – and I’m going to continue this experiment, as I remain convinced of the health benefits of low-carb eating, and the endurance athletics benefits of fat adaptation.

Injuries

The left knee injury that sidelined me all winter held off; it aches sometimes and I think it always will, but I did a lot of hip and glute exercises to keep it at bay – thanks Physical Therapist Brian!

I strained my left calf about halfway through, and that migrated to my Achilles. The same leg I’d had the knee problem with. Wondered right up until week of if I was going to be able to run on it. Then, day of the race? No issues. You can see on the training plan how much I’d rested it. My taper was pretty much a full rest. And it worked.

The other injury, which had plagued me since before Boston last year, was the Morton’s Neuroma. That, I am happy to report, is very nearly gone! After seven injections of alcohol directly into the nerve, the neuroma has shrunk to the point where my podiatrist has said no need to return unless it does!

Summary

And that’s that. I’m not going to strain for a piece of writing here that sums up the emotion of the day, tries to get at the history of what this particular running of the Boston Marathon made. Perhaps I ran it out, or talked it out with the folks there after, or in the days and weeks after. Or maybe I’m not ready, or just don’t understand any of it well enough to put it into prose. So instead I’ll leave you with the video I shot that day.

How grass-fed beef can be affordable for a big family

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Last night after work, I went out to my friend Ken’s farm in Candia, New Hampshire. It is a beautiful and bucolic place. Kris and I had invested in half a cow – which will supply the family with grass-fed, chemical-and-drug-free, locally raised beef for the next 9-12 months. After research, I had realized that, with the right planning, strategizing, and budgeting, (six month’s worth) this was a way our large family could do grass-fed affordably. Now it was time to pick up hundreds of pounds of steaks, roasts, ground beef, stew beef, oxtail, liver, etc.

Ken and I visited about life and running and sore muscles (we ran Boston together a few days ago), and we went down to look at the cows. They came up to the fence, licked our hands looking for a treat. They are beautiful animals, and you feel affection and compassion for them as you look into their eyes, scratch their ears. I understand why vegetarians would wish to be vegetarians. And while I continue to be a strong advocate of meat in a healthy diet, I also wrestle with the ethical and environmental complexities of meat eating and meat production. I think it’s important to do so. And important every once in a while to look into the eyes of an animal that will someday be dinner, and make that a part of the thinking. That’s by no means a bourgeoise critique of folks who can’t work the logistics to buy a cow from a friend – we’re very, very lucky. And we will still eat some supermarket meat too. But it’s more to note I am grateful for the opportunity to have known the good life these cows have had, the good man who raised them, and the good, wild New Hampshire grass and sunshine that grew them.

For anyone interested in the logistics, I’m going to write a longer blog post on these in the next month or so as time permits.

Notes Tomorrow’s Boston Marathon, My Bib #, Tracking Info

Well friends and family, it’s Easter, and tomorrow is the big day in Boston. I have to say, I may be the least sure of my preparation for this run as I have been for any marathon to date, and I’m okay with that. Being in the city for the expo on Friday night reinforced for me how grateful I am to be a part of this year’s event, no matter how my individual race goes. My goal is to be positive and supportive and do anything I can to help make the day healing and rejuvenating. It will be a privilege to be among these people, in this city, on this day.

That said, if you’re interested in how my individual race goes, I’m Bib # 3924. I’m starting in Wave 1, 10 a.m., and am in Corral 4, so just a couple of minutes back from the front. Here’s where you can go to sign up to get updates on my progress throughout the race: http://www.baa.org/races/boston-marathon/participant-information/att-athlete-alert.aspx.

As for when I’ll cross the line, last year I ran 2:58-something, and this year there is almost zero possibility of me coming anywhere near to that. In fact, that’s about the only thing I can predict with certainty. For past races, I’ve been able to call my time within five minutes or closer. This time all I can say is somewhere between 3:07 and 5:00 hours.

I may be in shape, based benchmark workouts over the past month, to run 7:10 pace, which would be a 3:08 finish time.

But even with the benchmark workouts clicking, I’m concerned that I just don’t have enough miles in my legs. I’ve had an unusual, and very short training cycle, which has left me guessing, and doubting. Part of me is still considering chucking any time consideration at all and just running easy, which would be super pleasant. But the other part of me must look forward to the suffering, because the run-easy argument doesn’t seem to be getting any traction.

Another X factor is my left Achilles, which has been a problem for about a month and something now. It was singing a pretty sad song during my last race pace long run, and was getting louder with every mile.  I rested it – a lot – and it’s healed some, but it’s still not right. If it gets too bad I could end up walking the end of this thing. Hope not. But I say this by way of heading off concerns – if you’re following along with the AT&T Athlete Alert system, and my pace goes off a cliff in the second half, don’t worry. I’m fine. I’ll be making my way to the finish one way or the other!

Finally, for anyone interested in the diet experiment, I trained most of this cycle low carb, and stayed in ketosis about six days a week even toward the end. But I switched it up as I came into the home stretch these past few days (except Good Friday, of course), reversed the macronutrient mix to high carb low fat to slam as much glycogen into my muscles as I could get and had shepherd’s pie and a few IPAs for dinner tonight. Back to, low-carb  no-sugar-no-grain on Tuesday morning.  I’ll write in some more detail on the reasoning behind all of these wild fluctuations later.

None of these anxieties, however, training, injury or diet, amount to much compared to the heaps of gratitude I feel for being healthy enough to even toe the start line, and for the amazing weather forecast, and the tolerant, supportive wife I have who puts up with all this again and again. Looking forward to reversing the roles this fall!

Now it’s time to pack my gear for tomorrow and hit the hay.

Wishing you all a  joyful, Happy Easter! For everyone who’s running, and everyone who isn’t, good luck and God bless. Make tomorrow a great day!

Marathon simulator run, 17 miles, 2:02:44

Marathon simulator run, 17 miles, 2:02:44. Usually I’d do this five weeks out, but since I had to compress my training plan to 12 weeks this time around here it is, two weeks and a day from Boston.

Now to taper hard from here until race day and try and heal up this aching Achilles.

The workout was two miles warmup and 15 miles at about 7:10 pace, which may be doable, perhaps, give or take five seconds, as race pace two weeks from Monday. I averaged 7:14 for the whole 17, including the slower warmup miles. So in this range, I don’t expect – nor am I trying for – a repeat of last year’s sub-3-hour marathon (heck I didn’t even crack 54 miles in a single week during this training cycle), but maybe I can run a better time than I expected given the short training cycle. This pace felt very manageable aerobically. I had a few weird little moments where my legs felt drained, but they passed and I was able to run many more miles at pace with no problem.

Beautiful, sunshiny 50F evening. First 8 miles uphill grade, into a stiff wind. Grade and wind assisted coming back! Ultimate assist? Broke my usual low-carb lifestyle for my little Isobel’s birthday cake and ice cream this afternoon!

12 workouts until Boston, a brief assessment of the season’s training

Here we are, fewer than three weeks until Boston 2014. I haven’t had much time to write, but I have been logging runs assiduously and will be able to share any useful details after the fact. In the meantime, here’s a quick update on the two primary experiments/tests of this training cycle.

Challenge One: Get back to strong marathon fitness after a two-month injury rehab and with only 12 weeks for a training plan.

Result: Strong, maybe. Same sub-three hour fitness as last year? Nope. I can feel things coming together now well, and if I had another nine weeks instead of three weeks, in other words, a standard 18-week training window, the story would be very different. But on 12 weeks I think I’m just getting to the point where aiming at a 7:10 race pace isn’t crazy. Hitting that isn’t a foregone conclusion, but it doesn’t feel outlandish either.

Challenge Two: Go through a training cycle on a ketogenic diet.

Result: Yes and no. I feel great on a very low carb, high fat diet, but was not able to hit performance goals in the second half of the week without adjustments. I’ve found that I must consume strategic sugar/carbohydrate just before and/or after intense workouts, and once a week dedicate a 24-hour period to carbohydrate-reloading (oh, potatoes!) to hit the workouts as hard as I want to. However I’m still remaining fully in ketosis 6 days a week. I have started using Hammer gels during long runs again, and plan to fully carbo load before Boston.

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Heading Back to Boston

Here, on March 21, 2014, just exactly one month from the Boston Marathon, I can’t help but think about a few things. One is what any runner thinks before a marathon – what, this soon? I wish I’d trained more. The other is, it’s been a year since… that?  I don’t have anything new to say about that that won’t sound…off. So I thought I’d post a link to the piece I wrote directly following the 2013 Boston Marathon and all the things that happened there. And maybe just take note of the picture, which our son David took. He and my wife Kris watched the race from Boylston Street. See the sign in the background, Family Meeting Area B? That’s where David and Kris came to meet me after I finished the race. Why didn’t I find my way to meet them, at the finish line on Boylston Street, so I could my friends finish? Anyway. We were so happy at that moment, as he snapped that picture. Race run, goal met, sun shining. One month to go and I’ll run the race again. I’m not in anywhere near the shape I was in this time last year. That doesn’t matter so much to me. I’ll admit, despite the brave words in the post I’ve linked to, and despite the fact I’m going back to run, I have mixed feelings about having David and Kristen there watching the race.

WHAT I TOLD MY SON THE NIGHT AFTER THE 2013 BOSTON MARATHON

Dropping the kids off at school, a bitter sweet recurring thought

There is a little moment when I drop the kids off at school each morning that simultaneously makes me smile and breaks my heart a little. The two older kids pile out of the, anxious to be gone, tolerating only the briefest goodbye peck on their foreheads, not even turning to look back as they head down the sidewalk and toward the schoolyard. God love them and their independence. They will need it. But our six-year-old lingers, take an extra minute getting out of the car, accepts her goodbye kiss on the forehead and admonition to make the day a great one with the sense of portentous ceremony they are intended. Then she gets out and takes a few steps and turns and smiles, that great, charming and sweet missing-tooth smile of a six-year-old, in a puffy winter coat, a hat down over her forehead, backpack-bigger-than-her, and I smile back and then she turns, skinny legs driving her forward determinedly down the sidewalk. Toward school. Toward a future when those determined little legs are tall strong legs, carrying a grown woman into a full, rich life that I will hear about from the periphery, by Skype, by FaceTime, a Google Hangout, text message… Ah, there I’ve gone again, gotten something in my eye.

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