Wednesday, March 4, 2015

2015 Phoenix Marathon Personal Stats & Analysis

(Thank you for all the kind words of congratulations and encouragement from my last post - I really appreciate them all!   As always, this post is just for my notes and future reference.  Feel free to read if you want ... but it's just a bunch of stats & data for nerds like me ... probably not that exciting.  Thanks again!)

2015 Phoenix Marathon Review
Typical Winter form, bending a little too much at the waist
Personal Stats & Analysis
Saturday, February 28, 2015
Phoenix, Arizona

Official Time: 3:11:18 (BQ, and 39 seconds off PR)
Pace: 7:19
Place: 108th/1,854 Overall, 12th/145 45-49 AG
Weight: 175
Calories Burned: 3,621
Pre-Race Health: Good, no issues
Post-Race Health: Hips soreness, but no issues
Course: Slight downhill, flat & fast
Elevation Gain:
Elevation Loss:
Total Distance Ran: 26.21
Start Temperature: 50 degrees
Ending Temperature: 58 degrees
Sky Conditions: Cloudy & overcast
Wind: 8 mph SSE
Humidity: 50%

From a training standpoint, I had a really good cycle.  Even though the East Coast had one of their worst Winters in history, the Midwestern Winter was a little milder than usual until the last few weeks before the race, which forced me inside to the treadmill much more than I would have liked.  But other than that I went into this race in really good shape, although I probably should have stretched myself out at the faster paces on the long runs a little more because I kind of fought the pace from 22-26.  But walking through every water stop in the race really seemed to help me regroup, especially in the last few miles.  I missed a PR by 39 seconds, but overall I was really pleased with the performance.

2015 Phoenix Marathon course elevation
Despite being sicker than I've ever been in my life around Christmas time, and losing a week of training, I was really pretty happy with the mileage I put in, and the shape I got myself into.  I lost quite a bit of conditioning, and gained quite a bit of weight last Fall after the Pocatello Marathon, so this cycle was really more about getting back into shape, slowly and with no health issues.

As far as overall body strength, I'm focusing this year on being in better "full body" shape, instead of strong legs and nothing else.  The problem is this requires more time and energy.  But with this in mind, I can honestly say that my core has ever been stronger.  I did a ton of work in our new home gym and my core is pretty solid right now.  My upper body still needs some work though, so I'll hit shoulders, chest, and arms a little more throughout the year.

Also, my legs were fairly strong, but not nearly as strong as I need them.  I didn't write much about it leading up to the race, but my left knee bothered more than usual while training for this race.  And it was 100% related to weakness in the gracilis and semitendinosus areas (the back inside of the groin area, basically a "rear adductor"). So this summer, I'll focus more on leg strengthening.

Another thing I'll work on more this summer is consistently doing to upper two tempo workouts mid-week, as opposed to one, which I did this training cycle.  I really slowed down a lot of my runs this cycle as I got myself back into shape.  It was only toward the end of the cycle that I started to pick up the pace more and more.  I'll probably add back my track or hill workout on Thursdays, and keep my typical Tempo workouts on Tuesdays, but begin stretching them to 13-14 miles at Tempo pace.  Also, I'll probably do considerably more work at my Fall marathon pace during long runs and the p.m. workouts.  One of the problems late in the race is I wasn't completely prepped for that specific pace for almost 20 miles.  I handled it okay for 13-15'ish, but need to get myself in the kind of shape that doesn't tail off at the end of a race.  But for this race, my main priority was building a strong base for the year with a lot of miles at slightly slower paces.  Here are the weekly mileages and long runs leading up to the race.

Week of ...
  Dec 1 - 39 miles total, long run of 11
  Dec 7 - 62 miles total, long run of 20
Dec 14 - 55 miles total, long run of 18 (got sick on Saturday night)
Dec 21 - 23 miles total, long run of 13 (sick in bed most of the week)
Dec 28 - 60 miles total, long run of 20
   Jan 4 - 63 miles total, long run of 22
 Jan 11 - 71 miles total, long run of 19
 Jan 18 - 71 miles total, long run of 20
 Jan 25 - 76 miles total, long run of 22
  Feb 1 - 80 miles total, long run of 18
  Feb 8 - 58 miles total, long run of 15 (hurt my Trapezius muscle and really backed off mileage)
Feb 15 - 37 miles total, long run of 9
Feb 22  -  8 miles total, marathon on Saturday

The toughest thing about getting in so many weekly miles is only running 5 days per week.  This basically requires several double runs (morning and night), which is fine, because I'm a firm believer that training on tired legs helps with endurance.  Plus, I've really found that taking two days off from running during the week over the past few years has really helped me stay a little healthier.  Winter weather forced me inside on the treadmill almost all of the last 15 days before the marathon, and sporadically throughout the training.  And while I'm not going have the same old tired treadmill vs. pavement argument here, I'll just leave it with I wish I could have been on pavement for those two weeks - although it didn't seem to affect me too much.

My form really suffers during Winter training.  I seem to bend over a little at the waist, primarily as the body's natural reaction from running into cold headwinds.  The shoulders seem to roll forward a little more, and also, the head seems to bend a little more forward.  This happens every Winter.  So I have no doubt that my form will be much better for Summer and Fall racing, but it wasn't great for this marathon.

The only real "setback" came toward the end of the training, although it was minor.  I strained my left Trapezius muscle during an ancillary workout about 15 days before the marathon.  After an A.R.T. session, ice, and plenty of stretching, it was completely healed by race day - however, it was a huge distraction over the last two weeks, impacted about 10 workouts.  The injury came during taper so I was on cutback anyway, but I think it definitely had an impact on my core workouts, and also freaked me out mentally a little.

Pre-Race Fueling
I really seemed to control my diet for most of the cycle and was down to about 171 for a couple of weeks before gaining back a few pounds before the race.  I feel like I run much faster when I'm closer to 170, but that's a tough weight for me to get to and maintain, especially considering the lack of calorie burning during taper.

I didn't really do anything different as far as meals the week of the race.  I typically cut way back on Sun-Tues, then eat average proportions on Wednesday, stuff myself with carbs on Thursday, and try to eat plenty of chicken and rice on Friday. We found a Whole Foods Market in Phoenix, so I was able to eat basically the same as I at at home with plenty of quinoa, brown rice, and steel cut oats for my pre-race carbs.  I also drank a ton of water and coconut water the day before the race as well.

Race morning, I had 1-1/2 bananas, about a cup of steel cut oats, a Stinger Honey Waffer, about two-three tablespoons of Jiff Natural Honey Peanut Butter, two Beet-It Beet Shots, and a Roctane Gel immediately before the race.

The Race
Even though I kept my warm up pants, jacket, and throw-away shirt on for warmth until about 10 minutes before the race, I found myself shivering for about 15-20 minutes at the starting line.  I always hate shivering before a race because it's the body's involuntary way of trying to warm itself, and it burns a lot of energy.  It was only about 50 degrees, with a light breeze, but it seemed really cold waiting in the dark at the starting line.  The race had space heaters and camp fires available, which I briefly stood next to, but for the most part I wanted to stay off my feet, so I sat on a log away  from the fires.

Miles 1-4
As we began running, I specifically remember thinking how smooth and effortless the pace was.  This was probably because the first few miles are a very gentle downhill that really allows you to warm up at a fairly decent pace, without taxing your quads too much while trying to brake the incline.  It was almost completely dark, and there was a slight headwind so it was a little chilly, but I kept having to back my legs off a little from how fast they wanted to run.  I'd planned on running the first two miles slightly above 8:00, but ended up at 7:48 & 7:44.  The next two miles weren't any better, as continued to increase a little too quickly with 7:35 & 7:19.  I've found over the years that I finish much stronger if I ease into my pace over the first 10 miles.  These miles weren't disastrous, but a little faster than I planned on going.

Feeling pretty good around Mile 17
Miles 5-6
This stretch is the only real incline on the course, and it's gradual and mild.  I really had done very few hill workouts during my training, so I intentionally backed off my pace to 7:32 & 7:48.  But even with the lack of hill training, the incline was really very manageable.

Miles 7-10
Over the next four miles, which were downhill, I began easing into my "race pace" near 7:00.  I knew that I hadn't ran quite enough miles at this pace during training, but thought if I managed it well, I could probably be close until the end of the race.  The big thing I really began noticing was that my legs were struggling a little to keep this pace.  My cardio felt absolutely fine, and my heart rate was probably low (even though I didn't wear a monitor), but my legs just didn't feel as stable and strong as they had in past races.  These miles went 7:14, 7:18, 7:03, 7:08.   I took a gel after passing Mile 6.  I'd planned on taking it at Mile 5, but the water stops didn't match up.  Also, around Mile 8 I felt a little light headed and "fuzz", which typically I can remedy in a race with a salt capsule, which I took.  It was only about 53 degrees at this point, but I'd been running in 20-30 degree temps at home, so I think I was sweating a little more than I typically would at this point. Also, I passed the 3:25 pace group during this stretch and remember thinking to myself, "Man, that pacer's going way too fast, he's going to kill those people".

Miles 11-15
During this stretch, I finally began to "feel" the pace.  My legs still weren't really firing like I wanted them to, but I was able to manage the speed without too much trouble.  These miles went 6:56, 7:01, 7:00, 6:58.  Looking back, I probably should have backed off these paces about 5 seconds.  We ran into a fairly significant headwind around mile 14, but my pace was still fairly quick.  I walked though every water stops at this race, but it didn't really seem to adversely affect the overall pace much. And plus, stopping briefly every couple of miles seemed to really help me regroup.  My half-marathon split was 1:36:08, which was pretty much where I wanted to be.

Miles 16-21
This is where I typically make my biggest strategical error on race day, and this marathon was no exception.  Usually at Mile 18, I'll take a mental inventory of how I feel, which is usually an indicator of how the rest of the race will go.  And when I felt really really really good at Mile 18, I started pushing it a little too early.  Even walking through three waters stops, my paces were 7:17, 7:09, 7:06, 6:57, 7:04.  When I glanced at my Garmin during this stretch, I was consistently running about 6:50, which was a little too fast.  I kept thinking to myself, "Slow down dummy, or you're gonna regret it!", but I just kept the pace.  I was flying by people at this stage.  Often when I passed someone, their head would snap around like, "What the...", which was kinda funny - but that happens a lot in a race if you start slow enough, ha.  In fact, somewhere in this stretch I passed the 3:15 pace group and was pretty confident I was going to come in close to a PR.  But at Mile 21 I remember thinking, okay, these last five miles are going to be a grind, and I began counting them down in my mind.  I took a gel, at half a banana, and also added another salt capsule during this stretch for fuel.

Pretty pumped with a strong finish
(yes, I copied all of these photos taken of ME)
Miles 22-26.2
I was really really proud of the way I responded to the last five miles of this race.  I was definitely at my limit, but I pushed through it and fought to a fairly respectable finish.  I've hit the wall before, and if not near a PR, I've mailed it in in some of those races.  But on Saturday, my legs were really grinding at Mile 22.  I felt my pace slowing, and I was beginning to feel some tightening in the back of my left groin, the origin of my knee tightness during training.  I knew that I'd ran a net downhill for the race to this point, however, my quads still felt pretty good.  But I was really focused on just putting one foot in front of the other.  Miles 22-24 were 7:34, 7:30, 7:25.

At Mile 25 my stomach started cramping a little, and I actually looked for a restroom, but managed to hold it off.  I walked when I hit the Mile 25 marker, and then again at the water stop, which were a few hundred feet from each other.  My Mile 25 pace dropped to 7:48, the slowest of the race, which was because of all the walking.  But on the last mile, I looked at my Garmin and saw that I was still on  pace for a near PR and gutted it out for the final mile, which was 7:21.  Also, I ran a fairly quick  last .2, averaging a 6:48 pace.

I never  used to have any post-race stomach issues after a marathon, but for some reason over the past few races, it's taken me about six hours to get past post-race nausea and stomach cramping.  I'm sure it's something in my fueling that I need to take a look at.  But it could just be that natural result of pushing your body to it's limit.  When  evening rolled around I felt okay, and we had dinner with friends at a pizza restaurant.

I don't remember writing during this training cycle that I thought I'd PR, but maybe I did - who knows.  Some folks seem to read and analyze my words a lot more closely than I do when I'm writing them.  Regardless, I figured it would be a pretty good race.  But the last few weeks of marathon training always mess with my head and confidence, so going in, I wasn't really sure what to expect.  All in all, I'm exceptionally happy with the result at a Winter Marathon.  I feel like this race is a huge springboard for 2015 since I'm not nearly in the shape I'll be in this Summer.  I loved the race, and the course was perfect for a fast run, and we've decided to make this our annual Winter race.  So hopefully I'll have more good results in the future.  But for now, I'm very satisfied with my conditioning and the results from the Phoenix Marathon.
... Be Great Today!  

Monday, March 2, 2015

2015 Phoenix Marathon Review

2015 BMO Harris Bank Phoenix Marathon
Saturday, February 28, 2015
Phoenix, Arizona
30th Marathon Completed (repeat State)
Runners: 1,854 (1,003 men, 851 women)
Start Time: 6:30 a.m.
Course: Literally the fastest I've ever ran, gradual downhill with only a couple of slight inclines, about 800 ft of net drop from start to finish
Weather: 50 degrees at start, 60 degrees at finish, 8 mph SSE wind, cloudy & overcast
SWAG: Short sleeve dry-fit shirt, arm sleeves
Race Organization: Detailed & flawless
Crowd Support: Good, but minimal due to closed course
Volunteer Support: Numerous & friendly
Water Stops: Absolutely PERFECT, the textbook for race water stops, perfectly organized, staffed, and very enthusiastic and encouraging volunteers
Food: Bananas, oranges, and gels along the course, and numerous tents after the race with typical post-race fare, as well as BBQ and other grilled favorites
Age: 46
Finishing Time: 3:11:18  BOSTON QUALIFIER 
Average Pace: 7:19
Place: 108th/1,854 Overall, 12th/143 45-49 AG

Total Experience ... 1  2  3  4  5

I think I might have ran the perfect marathon at the 2015 BMO Harris Bank Phoenix Marathon on Saturday.  No, not because my 30th marathon was my second fastest, and earned me my seventh Boston Qualification ... but because everything about the event, from organization to execution was absolutely flawless!  And if you're looking for a the ideal course to set a personal best, I've ran none better.  I loved this marathon, and Michael and I will definitely be back again, and again and again.

Short sleeve dry-fit race shirt and arm warmers from the 2015 Phoenix Marathon
(women received a tank-top that my wife absolutely loved)
Admittedly, and in fairness to some of the other marathons I've ran, when I perform well at a particular venue, I seem to look back on the event a little more fondly.  However, good run or not, there are very few things I can be critical about from this race weekend.  It was a fairly large race with almost 2,000 marathoners, and about 3,500 half-marathoners, but the race organizers do a great job of maintaining a small race atmosphere, with constant attention to detail.

Michael and I flew into Phoenix late Thursday night for a week-long vacation.  After packet pick-up and rest on Friday, our plan was to run the race on Saturday, and then one of us would spend the rest of trip sitting by the pool, while the other would enjoy lots and lots of Spring Training baseball.  And if you've read my blog for a while, you know I was probably more excited about going to the Spring Training camps than running the race ... Arizona's like baseball heaven!!!

The race Expo was held at Sport Authority in the Mesa Riverview outdoor shopping center in Mesa, Arizona, which is also where the race finished.  The organizers had set up a big carnival-type tent adjacent to the store where runners picked up their race bag and bibs.  And as you exited the big tent, there were several other smaller vendor tents set up outside in the beautiful Arizona sunshine.  The packet distribution was very well organized with friendly volunteers who were helpful and answered race day questions, and then directed runners inside Sports Authority where they would pick-up their race shirts. I'm sure intentionally routing the runners through the store really boosted sales for the day.  And frankly, I'm not sure why more retailers don't do this at large races.  I'm sure it was probably an inconvenience to the store staff, but it seems like the payoff  would be well worth it.

Buying yet another t-shirt at a marathon
One of the Phoenix Marathon booths inside the tent was handing out cheer signs that runners could personalize, as well as cowbells.  There was also a giant marathon banner with all of the runner's names printed on it, which of course we took a photo of after finding our names.  Even though it was just a banner, I thought it was a nice personalized touch that made this race stand out a little. Also, one of the things I look for at out-of-State races are t-shirts with the State, or something unique to the area for souvenirs.  Surprisingly, many races don't have them - but this race had several.  And since I don't have quite enough t-shirts yet (sarcasm), I bought one (or two).

After we finished at the Expo, I dropped Michael off at our hotel in North Phoenix, the Pointe Hilton Tapatio Cliffs Resort, and then headed out to Royals Spring Training for a while.  For dinner I found a local Whole Foods Market where I could find baked chicken, brown rice, and coconut water.  Yes ... we ate our pre-race meal at a grocery store ... but I love Whole Foods Market, and I was able to find exactly what I wanted for dinner before wrapping up the day and hitting the sack for an early ... and I mean EARLY start just a few hours later.

Race Day
About the only minor criticism I have of the race is the start time, or more specifically, the shuttle bus boarding times. The race starts at 6:30 a.m., but shuttle buses from Mesa Riverview to the starting line run from 3:45-5:00 a.m.  Michael and I stayed at a hotel that was about 30 minutes away from the activities, so that meant we had to be up at about 2:00 a.m. to make this schedule work.  It wasn't the first time we'd be up in the middle of the night for a race - Disney is very similar.  But waking up that early for anything is definitely out of the norm.  And since I have trouble sleeping before a marathon anyway, I was actually awake at 12:49 a.m., more than six hours before the race.

Changing buses in the middle of the night, in the middle of the highway
Overall, the shuttle bus boarding process was fairly smooth, but I felt it could have been communicated in advance a little more clearly. The maps provided online and at the Expo were a little hard to read, and the instructions provided seemed a little vague - but it was probably just because we weren't familiar with the area.  Understandably, organizers have limited parking available since the festivities are held on a Saturday at a very popular shopping area that happens to be adjacent to the Chicago Cubs Spring Training facility.  But after dropping Michael off at one end of the shopping complex near Bass Pro for her half-marathon bus pick-up, I was directed to the opposite end where a different set of buses were lined up to take marathoners to their starting point.

Also, the assigned parking area for marathoners was a little over a half mile on foot from the finish line.  And depending on how a particular marathon goes, a half mile is a long way to walk after running 26 miles.  Parking a little closer would have been preferred, but it really didn't end being a big deal after the race. And like everything else to that point in the weekend, the actual organization was outstanding.  There were several volunteers directing traffic, helping with parking, and making sure runners got on the correct buses that were waiting to commute to the starting line.

On my shuttle, we were about five miles from the starting line arrival when our yellow school bus slowed a little, then crept along, and finally stopped ... right there on the side of the AZ-202 highway.  After a very brief pause, the voice of the elderly bus driver came over the speakers and very simply said, "Folks, the engine light came on, and then the engine stopped. I've called the race organizers and another bus will pick you up in a few minutes."  In my opinion the gentleman did an outstanding job of immediately diffusing the situation and calming the nerves of already anxious runners.  And after about 20 minutes of sitting on the highway, another bus picked us up and completed the trip to the starting line as promised.

Runners trying to stay warm around camp fires and patio heaters
before the race near the starting line at the Rio Salado Sportsman's Club
The marathon begins just East of Phoenix in the Usery Mountain Regional Park at the Rio Salado Sportman's Club near the white "< PHOENIX" sign on the mountainside.  I'm not sure if the white rock formation sign is supposed to mean "Phoenix ... thata-way!", or if that's a "greater than" sign indicating that Phoenix is greater than everything.  I guess we'll never know.  Regardless, it was huge and really stood out against the mountainside.

It was about 50 degrees with a light breeze, which made things a little chilly for standing around waiting to run, but there were tons of camp fires and dozens outdoor propane patio heaters lined up to help take the chill off.  There was also a row of decorative large tree logs around the perimeter that made for great make-shift seating, as opposed to sitting on the ground, although several runners opted for the desert floor.

Additionally, the race organizers hired a local improve comedy group to keep runners entertained over the P.A. system before the race with funny banter back and forth, mixed with typical "pump-you-up" music. And since I arrived at the starting area about 90 minutes prior to running, I thought they really helped make the time pass quickly.  They were funny and provided a nice distraction.

It was a cloudy morning, so it was still basically "pitch-black" outside.  So after a light stretch and warm up, I made my way in the dark to the actual starting line, located about 200 yards from the camp fires.  On my way to the start, I ran into Emily ... A.K.A EMZ, where we wished each other good luck.  (I've communicated with Emily, and met her a few times over the years but don't know her well.  However, she just genuinely seems like a very nice person.  She's always really cool.) Once the starting line, the improve group counted us down to the start where fireworks exploded in the sky behind us.

The Race
Going into the race, I was a little concerned with the downhill nature of the course.  I'd had a bad experience with altitude and a steep downhill run at Pocatello, Idaho only about seven month prior, and wasn't exactly sure how my legs would respond to another net decline from start to finish.  And even though the first 13 miles of the Phoenix Marathon out of the Usery Mountain Range drops about 800', it's a very gradual and gentle decline.  When the course basically leveled off in the second half, I didn't notice the quad fatigue that typically accompanies downhill courses.

The first couple of miles were ran in the dark.  If it wouldn't have been such an overcast day, it would've been much lighter outside, but it was literally like running at night.  However, as the sky soon began to turn from dark blue to light grey, several cacti, desert plants, and beautiful homes came into view across the desert landscape.  And at about 2.5 miles into the race, we encountered our first water stop of the day.

Crossing the finish line with minor adductor cramping,
but otherwise happy with a good race
The water stops at the Phoenix Marathon should be a blueprint for every marathon.  It might not seem like a big deal, but in my opinion, water stops are one of the most important components of marathons that many races don't adequately address.  Not the case at Phoenix ... these were an absolute well-oiled machine that made staying hydrated thoughtless and seamless.

Every stop had a TON of enthusiastic and encouraging volunteers ... not five or six folks trying frantically to get fluids to every passing runner like at some races.  Plus, and most important to me, every stop had Gatorade first in green cups, and water second in blue cups.  Without fail ... Gatorade first, water second!  This is such a minor detail that is overlooked by most races.  But late in a race when my legs are aching, I'm out of breath, and I'm using every ounce of energy to focus on the finish line ... I don't want to have to think about what's in the cup I'm getting.  And finally, all the volunteers handing out fluids were wearing rubber gloves.  EXCELLENT!!!  In most races there a few folks here and there who opt for gloves, and I don't blame them.  I mean who wants the sweat of 2,000 runners all over their hands?  Not me.  But equally important, I don't want the germs of volunteer fingers floating around in the water from the cup they've just handed me.  So I really appreciated the gloves. There were also several gels, banana, and oranges available at the water stops later in the race.  But the outstanding organization of the water stops really stood out to me.  This doesn't just magically happen.  It takes a lot of planning and direction to run effortlessly, and should be recognized.  Very well done!

At about the fourth mile, there's the only "significant" rise of elevation for the whole race.  And by "significant", I mean it's only about 150' over two miles ... very gradual.  I'd trained specifically for the hill and it didn't bother me in the least.  However, if you went into the race thinking it was completely downhill, it might have taken you a little by surprise.

The bulk of the course is not particularly scenic, and some might even call it a bit on the "boring" side.  But I loved it.  I was there to get from Point A to Point B as fast as possible, and not particularly concerned with the adjacent landscape. And other than a few desert mountains in the background, and the occasional warehouse or suburban neighborhood, there wasn't a whole lot to look at.  I think at one point we passed a couple of churches or fire stations that had bands playing live music ... but honestly, I was pretty locked into my pace, so I don't remember that very clearly.

Michael and me at the post-race celebration at Mesa Riverview,
after a great time at the Phoenix Marathon
But something else that really stood out as exceptional organization was the traffic control along the course.  Not only were several Phoenix area law enforcement officers assisting with traffic, but also orange cones were lined up on much of the course to segment off, and protect runners throughout the day.  Again, this might seem like a minor detail, but I've ran several races lately where this simply wasn't the case.  I didn't have to think about traffic for one second at the Phoenix Marathon. And that allowed me to focus all my energy on running.

The temperatures were unusually cool for Phoenix on the morning of the race.  I don't think it ever got above the mid 50's, and there was a 10 mph headwind for much of the course.  The headwind was a mild distraction, but I really didn't notice it breaking my pace much.  Plus, the alternative in a race like this would've been significantly warmer with sunshine.  So actually, the conditions were perfect for a marathon.

As we neared the finish line, the participants were divided into marathoners, and everyone else, into two separate finishing chutes.  This was very much appreciated and really considerate, and yet another very thought out race-day detail.  It's not that I don't want to finish half-marathon walkers, but sometimes it can get a little congested when everyone finishes together at different paces.  And the custom finishing chute lined with a ton of cheering supporters was the perfect ending to my race that also went very well. (I have a full recap of pacing, fueling, etc here)  I hit the wall a little at mile 22, but fought through it for my second fastest marathon to date with a 3:11:18, just 39 seconds off a personal best.  Plus, I qualified for the Boston Marathon for the seventh time, which is always a big deal to me.  In fact, about 14% of the total field BQ'd on this fast course on Saturday.  So obviously many runners were there to get their BQ for the year as well.

After the race I tracked down Michael and we spent some time recovering, but also checking out the official results.  In 2014, a 3:11 finishing time would've placed me near the top three in my age group, so I thought I might be in the running for an award.  But this year, my age group was really fast and I finished in 12th place.  So we headed back to the hotel to rest for the afternoon, and met some friends for dinner.

Beautiful sunset, and the perfect ending to a great day in Phoenix, Arizona
If you're looking for a scenic or challenging marathon, this race might not rank up there for you.  But as far as flat, fast courses, with great organization and attention to detail ... I've never ran any better.  And we'll be back again next year ... maybe with another shot at a personal best!
... Be Great Today!

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Marathon Week Timeline

I started this blog as a way of keeping a record of my running, but also to trade ideas about training and racing with other runners.  I love reading other training logs to get new ideas and find out exactly what other folks do in preparation for a big event.  So accordingly, I try to be as detailed about my training as possible in the event anyone is interested.  So here is a fairly detailed outline of what I'm doing this last week before the Phoenix Marathon.

Really struggled with Trapezius pain and tightness.  No workout or running - complete rest day, although tried to stay somewhat active around the house.  Took 2 hour nap in the afternoon (ha, yeah 2 hours).  Tried to eat light with a small breakfast, moderate lunch, and a spinach salad for dinner.

Light core workout and 3 mile jog@8:30/pace on treadmill just to loosen the legs. Saw my A.R.T. doctor in the morning about the Trap muscle.  He confirmed that I had a couple of things out of place in my shoulder, and also my hip, and adjusted.  Felt a little better throughout the day, but the pain in my upper shoulder is still preventing me from looking down and to the left.  At very light all day with a spinach and arugula salad for lunch and dinner, as well as two lean beef patties for dinner.  Stretched the legs a little in the evening.

Light core workout and light treadmill run with about a mile of pickups.  Ran the 4 mile workout at 8:00/pace, 7:30/pace, a mile of pickups with a tenth of a mile at 7:30, then a tenth at 6:00/pace, then a rest mile of 8:00. Legs feel really good with good energy and health.  Absolutely no injury issues with the legs.  The shoulders are still tight, but I can look down a little easier and though the pain is still significant, it seems to be subsiding.  I'll eat very light today with two salads, and stretch throughout the day.

No core workout, with very light 2-3 mile run outside, since the temperature is supposed to be a little warmer.  I'll start eating normal portions again on Wednesday, and only have one salad and focus a lot on extra lean protein -, I'll most likely have grilled salmon.  I'll stretch a lot with an emphasis on not over-stretching.

We'll pack and fly to Phoenix on Thursday.  I'll run through my typical core workout. Traveling will also keep me active, but with chances to nap and rest on the plane.  I'll make sure I stretch when we get to the hotel.  Also, I typically eat as much as possible two days before the run as well, but sometimes that's a challenge when traveling. I'll also try to drink as much water as I can hold.

I'll intentionally wake up very early and go through a very very very light workout ... like literally just going through the motions.  We'll pickup packets and meet a few people, and rest a lot on Friday.  I'll really try not to nap so I can sleep that night, though it's always tough before a race.  I'll  eat a huge breakfast and lunch, and then try to eat somewhat moderately for dinner ... preferably chicken and rice.  I also lay out all my clothes and race stuff the night before so I don't have to think about it the day of the race.

So that's the plan this week.  Probably not unlike a lot of other plans out there.  The main focus is staying mentally sharp while resting.  I feel really good about the race, and expect a solid outing, although I don't think I'm quite ready for another PR.  Because of Winter, I wasn't able to put together as many strong tempo runs in training as I would've preferred, and my legs aren't quite as strong as I would like.  But at this point, I think I should be close to a Boston Qualifying time, which is 3:25 for  my age group.  If I had to predict a time, I would say somewhere between 3:15 and 3:25.  Hopefully I'll be a little faster than that, but the downhill really seems to take it's toll on me, so we'll see.  Though I think I'm in pretty good shape right now, I won't be incredibly disappointed if I run a bad race.  I really don't feel any pressure about this one.  I just want to have a good time at the marathon, and then enjoy the Baseball Spring Training for a few days.  So it should be a fun trip.
... Be Great Today!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Staying Sharp Despite

I felt like I had a really good first week of marathon taper and managed to stay fairly sharp in spite of tweaking my Trapezius Muscle a couple of times, and being limited to the treadmill for most of the runs. Like most of the country this week, we dealt with frigid temperatures and strong winds for most of the week which forces me inside to the treadmill. Of course I really reduced the mileage and rested a little more than usual, but on Tuesday I got in a good abbreviated, and slower than normal speed workout with 800 meter repeats and a mile at marathon pace.  For most of the runs, I kept the mileage slower and at a reduced volume, but tried to throw in some Farleks and light speed here and there.

I typically never mention much about nagging injuries or little nicks here and there.  We all have them as runners, and if I mentioned every time I was dealing with a little tweak or soreness, it's basically all I would write about.  But the big issue I'm dealing with as I write this post is a strained Trapezius Muscle - basically the shoulder blade muscle on the left side of the upper spine.  It affected my run yesterday and it's killing me.  It feels like that pain when you sleep on your pillow the wrong way and then your neck is sore to the point where you can't turn your head either way - you know what I mean?  It's like that, except for right in the middle of my upper shoulder blades, in the left Trap.  I can't look down or to the left side comfortably.  And it hurts every second of the day.  I did it doing overhead shoulder presses, which seems to be a recurring injury with me, so I should probably have it checked out.  But right the pain is non-stop.  I'm sure it will subside by the weekend, but it just irritates me that I made it through my training basically 100% healthy, and now a non-running related workout is providing a huge distraction.  The good news is, it will force me to rest this week.  But other than that, I felt good about how the week went.
... Be Great Today!

Monday, February 16, 2015

336 Hours

I'm officially in taper mode for the Phoenix Marathon on February 28th.  So Saturday began the 2 weeks ... or said another way, 14 days ... or 336 hours ... or even 20,160 minutes of constant over-analyzing, incessant worrying, and endless strategizing of the race.  Here's just a few of the things that will be bouncing around my brain ...

Did I run too many miles in training?
Did I get in enough speed work?
Did I finish enough long runs?
CRAP ... I didn't focus enough on pre-race nutrition.
But I AM pretty fast right now ... I'm gonna kill this thing!
Eh ... I dunno ... I really bombed on the last downhill marathon course.
Surely I can finish under 3:10.
Idiot ... you're not in THAT kind of shape right now ... just go out slow and run a solid race!!!
Which pair of Saucony's should I wear?
Maybe I won't turn my music on until mile 10.
Haha ... everyone thinks I REALLY like Taylor Swift songs 'cause I reference her all the time.
Hmmm ... actually I really do like Taylor Swift ... what does that say about me?
Haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate.
Man, I really over-think things.
I can probably lose three more pounds before the race.
Man, I don't think my abs have ever been this strong ... I've got a legit six pack ... just feel 'em!
I'm in pretty good shape for a 46 year old ... Michael's a lucky woman.
I'm really arrogant sometimes.
Are my legs strong enough for this race ... the downhill really tears up your quads?
The last four miles are gonna hurt ... I don't wanna hurt ... why do I put my body through this?
I think I'll wear a black singlet 'cause it makes my arms look defined even though they're not.
Why do I focus so much on what to wear ... no one cares.
I'm too old for a singlet ... don't be a tool and just wear a t-shirt like a normal guy.
But I'm not normal ... I'm GREAT!!!
Eh, I'm not great ... just a little above average.
I hope they have some fruit along this course.
Could I actually carry fruit with me?
It's gonna be hot compared to what I've been training in all winter.
Hot and dry ... my lips are gonna hurt real bad.
If I can do 10 miles at a 6:35 pace, surely I can do 26 at a 7:15 pace.
What kind of logic is that dummy... that doesn't make sense at all ... you're gonna crash going that fast.
Surely I'll BQ ... I only need a 3:25.
Listen Hot-Shot ... that's still pretty fast for you.
I need to add the grand kids to my Good-Luck-Puck.
Is four gels too many?  That last one always seems to bother my stomach.
Why am I just now trying to figure this out?
What if my legs are too sore and tired to enjoy Spring Training at the Royals the next few days?
Maybe I should dial it back so I can enjoy Spring Training.
Don't be a wuss ... put the hammer down and go for it ... no one trains as hard as you do.
Why can I almost always place in my Age Group in shorter races, but never get close in marathons?
Sewing those extra pockets in my running shorts was a brilliant idea.
I've literally got like 5 pockets in there for gels.
Am I a genius?
What if I can't find chicken & rice before this race?
Wait ... oh no ... do they have chicken & rice places in Arizona?
I hope my left knee doesn't tighten up.
Stupid treadmill.
Michael will be finished with her half and waiting for me at the finish line.
I love it when she's there at the finish line.
Man, I'm so in love with that woman!!!
I think I can walk through the water-stops without losing too much time.
Everyone laughs at the water-stop when I ask if the water is free ... and if any girls have passed me yet.
Gotta use those jokes this race ... it really takes the edge off.
I'm pretty funny.
Why don't I run downhill very well?
I think I'll do Speed Work tomorrow ... and a short session next Monday.
Stop thinking about the race.
Don't psych yourself out.
There'll be other races ... don't burn energy thinking too much about this one.
It's been a long time since I've ran a good marathon.
This is the one.
I'll tell you when it's over if the high was worth the pain.

And so it goes on and on and on.  Hour after hour of self-banter.  Believe me, I'm a lot better than I used to be.  I would actually say that I've graduated to "a steady thought process", other than worrying for two weeks like I used to do.  Anyway, there's a peek into the ping-ponging in my mind the two weeks leading up to a race. It's probably not the healthiest practice, but I'll be I'm not alone.  What do you think about the two weeks before a race?
... Be Great  Today!

Saturday, February 14, 2015

First Half Split Training

Pretty good week of training as I get ready to go into taper mode for the Phoenix Marathon on February 28th.  The best news out of this winter training cycle ... besides some extremely minor nagging left knee tightness when I don't keep my quad stretched out ... I'm 100% healthy!  I never really feel completely ready for a marathon, but I'm probably as ready as I can be.

Today's run was a fairly positive indicator of what I hope to do in Arizona. I basically simulated the marathon start I'll use in two weeks.  My first half split was 1:35:30, which is probably a tad fast for what I'll try to run, but other than that, the pace was pretty close.  Here are the mile splits ...

7:53     8:17(pee stop)    7:22     7:30     7:36     7:19     6:55     7:22     7:02     6:55     7:26     6:44     6:57

There were a few pros and cons to this run. On the plus side, in spite of having somewhat dead legs, lacking energy, and the inability to focus for some reason, I ran the run fairly easily.  I had no issues getting up to speed and holding it.  Plus, I walked through all the water stops to give myself a break, and it didn't adversely affect the time that much.

A couple of red flags were that my pace was all over the place.  I typically blame that on not running enough at the marathon pace during training.  At times I was flat out going too fast, and my body didn't "feel" the difference between coasting at marathon pace, and going faster.  Also, I'm just not sure I'm marathon ready right now.  I've got a very solid 20-22 in me, but the last 4-6 miles of the race scare me to death ... but that's pretty natural.
I'll probably do a very short Speed Run on Tuesday, and maybe another Marathon Pace Run on Thursday, but the mileage will drop off significantly this week.  I'll probably increase the Core and upper body work a little, but back off of legs a touch.  And hopefully I won't do anything to screw up my training over the next two weeks.  Hope your training is going well!
... Be Great Today!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Finding The Apex

Not unlike most marathoners, maybe the single biggest challenge I face during training is figuring out a way to be in peak condition standing at the starting line on marathon day.  It shouldn't be that hard, right?  I mean, isn't marathon training simply a systematic cycle where you build your mileage pragmatically and methodically, bottling it up for 16 weeks, and then pop the cork for the perfect race day experience?  Well maybe that's the way it works for some runners, but after 28 marathons and one ultra, I can honestly say it rarely happens for me.

Sure, I've been close a few times.  I've been in great shape for a few races when the gun went off, and subsequently ran close to my best.  But much more the norm is the scenario of me standing in the starting corral, naturally a bit anxious, but moreover lamenting how just two or three weeks prior I felt much more primed for the 26.2 now staring me in my carb-loaded face.  And more than anything wondering why, after several weeks of diligent and committed training, I now felt jelly legged, soft-gutted, and unsure if I could run even three miles at my scheduled marathon pace.

Part of the issue is the taper.  We absolutely lose fitness during the taper.  Yes, I'm well aware that I'll receive several public and privately emailed dissenting comments informing me of my ignorance on the topic.  But it's a fact.  Don't believe me ... well, my favorite running website,, put it this way ...

     "Initial declines in fitness occur rapidly: There are measurable declines in fitness, and enzyme levels associated with performance drop by half in under two weeks."

This excerpt is actually from an article (here) that experimented with athletes who took complete layoffs for extended periods from their sports.  Of course I understand that we are not completely sedentary during the tapering process. But I just don't think there's any way can we drop from comfortably running 75-80 miles per week (in my case), to around 35-40 for the two weeks before the race and not "taper" our fitness level to some degree as well.  I just don't think it's physiologically possible.

But even though I firmly believe that we erode our fitness level, no matter how slightly, during the taper process ... I'm a huge believer in it.  There's just too much scientific support NOT to believe in it.  Among others, we rebuild damaged muscle fibers and top of glycogen stores during the cutback in training.  In my own little, "don't believe anything and try everything for yourself" experiments, I've actually completed marathons after running a long run of 20 miles the weekend before the race.  The result was that I felt really sharp the first half of the marathon, but then fatigued severely during the second half.   We absolutely need the rest and recovery prior to the marathon distance.

But also, I think part of my problem has been the length of training.  More than once I've felt at my "fittest" about five weeks before the race.  Not good.  And accordingly 14-16 week training periods seem to be a little too long.  This is partly because I keep a base of about 50 weekly miles all year round, and don't need as much "base-building" mode as some runners.  I've found that a good ten week cycle will typically prime me for a strong race.  And when I ran nine marathons in 2011, I was using an eight week process.  So it really just depends on  my conditioning benchmark at the time.

So with about fifteen days until the Phoenix Marathon, I sit here, once again thinking about how great I feel, and desperately hoping I feel somewhere close to this way on race morning.  I'll take the proper measures, and workout the prescribed "taper way" over the next two weeks.  And maybe, just maybe ... this time around I'll be fitter and faster than ever as we run down the hill in the desert mountains.  I guess we'll find out before long!
... Be Great Today!