Monday, September 1, 2014

2014 Pocatello Marathon Review

2014 15th Annual Portneuf Medical Pocatello Marathon
Saturday, August 30, 2014
Pocatello, Idaho
29th Marathon Completed
Runners: 346 (195 Male, 151 Female)
Start Time: 6:15 am
Course: Starting line 6,070 ft in mountains, which drops 1,500 ft over the first 13 miles, then flat and rolling on the second half ... first half scenic, second half not a lot to look at, finishes at 4,600 ft
Weather: 55 degrees at start, 65 degrees at finish, 72% humidity,
6 mph WSW wind
SWAG: Black Adidas gear bag, long-sleeve moisture wicking shirt, and sack of potatoes
Race Organization: Very good
Crowd Support: None until the finish line
Volunteer Support: Great, very encouraging
Water Stops: Not enough and could have been organized a little better
Food: BBQ, homemade deserts, and general post race fare
Age: 45
Finishing Time: 3:26:51
Average Pace: 7:54
Place: 42nd/346 Overall, 9th/32 45-49 AG

Total Experience ... 1  2  3  4  5

Writing a completely comprehensive & objective review of the 15th Annual Pocatello Marathon might be a little difficult for me right now.  Quite frankly, I wish I’d never ran it, at least not under the circumstances.  As I sit here a few days after the race, I can tell you it was probably the third or fourth least favorite race I've ever ran.  But several variables undoubtedly skew that assessment.  I ran poorly.  The altitude killed me. But obviously more than anything, the passing of my wife’s mother only two days before the race left me thinking about nothing but being by Michael’s side.  The last place I wanted to be was a million miles away from her, waiting to run some dumb race, while she was grieving.  I’ll spare you the details, but getting to her in a timely manner would have been logistically impossible.  And since I was in Idaho already, we made the decision for me to go ahead and run.
Getting to Pocatello, Idaho is not easy.  The most direct route, if flying, is to land in Salt Lake City, Utah, and then drive North for about 2-1/2 hours.  The drive isn’t bad though.  Interstate 15 takes you along the East side of The Great Salt Lake, the West ridge of Cache National Forest, and through Indian Rocks State Park as you near Pocatello.  The mountains along the way are nothing like the beautiful Rocky Mountains, but rather brown and somewhat treeless.  However, the changes in elevation make for interesting viewing.  Plus, if you’re up for a little jaunt off the highway, the trek also takes you only 45-minutes from Preston, Idaho, of course better known world-wide as the filming location of one of, if not maybe the greatest, films of all-time … “Napoleon Dynamite”.  And in case you’re wondering, the single best line of the movie is when Uncle Rico says to Kip, “How much you wanna make bet I can throw a football over them mountains?”

There are several flowers along the roadside on the drive to Pocatello on Interstate 15

Original sign from the old Chief Theater
Once you arrive in Pocatello, you find a wonderfully quaint and historic small town located near the Portneuf River, along the Oregon Trail.  Known as “The Gateway To The Northwest”, the town was named after Chief Pocatello, who granted the passage of the first railroads across Fort Hall Indian Reservation during the Western Gold Rush.  It was also a key location for early fur trading and commerce, and currently home to Idaho State University.  Just Southeast of town, adjacent to Rapid Creek in the Bannock Mountain Range, lies the Portneuf Gap.  This green valley in the midst of the mountains is a path into Pocatello, and is also where the first half of the marathon is ran, thus the marathon’s nickname “Running The Gap”.  Downtown Pocatello is filled with shops and restaurants in the “Old Town” area, as well as Holt Arena at Idaho State University, the nation’s only indoor college football stadium.

One of my big disappointments with the race is that the course took runners nowhere near downtown Pocatello.  After the first 13 miles of the run, as you make your way out of the Portneuf Gap, there's nothing left but a long, boring stretch of asphalt featuring dirt hills, trailer parks, and auto body shops on Old Highway 91.  Frankly it's one of least scenic stretches of a marathon I've ever ran.  And just as you enter Pocatello, the race simply ends at the zoo.  In my opinion the race organizers do themselves a disservice by not showcasing their wonderful city.  It would have been nice to run down some of the tree-lined streets.  And frankly, it would have made the second half of the race much more enjoyable.  But obviously the primary focus of the run is the Portneuf Gap, which is beautiful indeed.

Beautiful downtown and historic  Pocatello, Idaho

top left: State of Chief Pocatello, top right: Brief introduction you get to Pocatello's Finest when you turn the wrong way down a one-way street, 
bottom left: Idaho State University sign, bottom right: Artwork outside the City Council Building (I think)

Holt Arena at Idaho State University - the nation's only indoor college football arena

Race shirt and gear bag from 2014 Pocatello Marathon
A couple of weeks before the race, I found out my friend Bobby from North Carolina was also running Pocatello.   We met through the blog, at the Myrtle Beach Marathon, a few years ago.  We’re both huge baseball fans, and he’s an amazing runner that actually ran 13 marathons in 12 months in 2012.  He’s also trying to complete 50 marathons in 50 States – I think he has about 40 States under his belt.  Hanging out with Bobby for a few days really helped pass the time and keep my mind off of everything going on.  We had a great time catching up, tracking down local restaurants, and even made the short 45 minute drive North of Pocatello, to Idaho Falls, to watch the Kansas City Royals Rookie League team, the Idaho Falls Chukars, the night before the race.

All things considered, the trip was enjoyable.  But I always miss Michael when I'm somewhere new like this without her.  And considering what she was going through, I couldn't stop thinking about her.  I just wanted to get home.

Packet Pick-Up
The packet pick-up and Expo were both very small, as expected for a 350 person marathon.  They were held at the Clarion Inn, which was also the host hotel, and the site of shuttle bus pick-up and drop-off, before and after the race.  Runners checked in at a Ball Room adjacent to the lobby, and then could visit the chlorine-scented Expo, basically held on the deck of the hotel's indoor pool.  All participants received a small black Adidas gym bag, pre-labeled with our bib numbers, to be used as gear check bags the next morning at the starting line.  I thought pre-labeling the bags on a laminated tag with our name, address, and bib numbers was a very nice thought out detail.  Runners also had the opportunity, as advertised, to grab a bag of real Idaho potatoes - appropriate!  I grabbed one, but left it behind so I didn't have to take it with me on the plane.  The extra 5 lbs would have probably been another $75 from Delta or something.

All runners also received a long-sleeved red with blue screen-print moisture wicking shirt.  Due to my art and design background, I’m always way too critical on race shirts.  But it seems that most are designed by folks with absolutely no eye for design, and this one was no different.  I loved the logo, but blue print on a dark red shirt is really tough to see.  Plus, I think I got a defective shirt with an incomplete screening of the lettering, because it looks a little blurry, and fuzzy around the edges. But it wasn't a big deal ... I mean all I need is another race shirt, right?

Pocatello Marathon Expo held in the pool area of the Clarion Inn, with complimentary potatoes ... of course!
The folks at packet pick-up and the Expo were very friendly and offered information about the race.  We even received information about the Shuttle Bus from a sweet little 4-year old girl, helping her parents hand out race bibs.  I also visited for a moment with the 3:10 pacer.  Most notably, the folks I talked to warned about the 6,000 ft elevation at the start, and the extreme downhill during the first half of the race. I think they also had a pre-race dinner available for purchase, but I didn't attend that.

The Gateway To The Northwest ... Pocatello, Idaho
The Race
I woke up at 3:15 am Mountain Time to shower, gather my gear, and be at the bus stop by 5:00 am.  I texted Michael and told her “the LAST thing I wanna do today is run a race – I just wanna get this over with and get home – I can’t focus on anything but you” … and that couldn't be more true.  My mind was completely focused on my wife and her pain, and not at all on the looming 26.2 miles ... probably not the best approach to an endurance event that demands my full attention.  But I knew I was in pretty good shape, and I’d practiced this drill several times before, so I felt like I should at least be able to “phone in” a 3:20 … but I was quickly reminded that a marathon demands your complete attention.

The Shuttle Buses to the starting line were well organized and lined up right outside the Clarion, and left promptly at 5:10 am, just as they said they would.  I sat with Bobby and we chatted about the race, and other downhill events we’d ran.  Earlier in the week, the weather forecast had indicated it would be about 50 degrees with a light wind.  And from everything I read, it would be about 45 degrees at the starting line.  But on race morning, it was actually about 55 degrees at the starting line.  It wasn’t a huge change, just a little warmer than I’d planned on, but had no effect on the run.

UPS Truck parked in front of the barn waiting to take runner gear to the finish line at the start of the race
As the Chartered Bus pulled up to the starting area in complete darkness, a short trail leading up to a spot-lighted small barn, livestock corrals, and about 15 port-a-potties came into view.  There were also a couple of runners taking pictures with a horse, a few others sitting on an old tractor tire, the typical pre-marathon music playing over a PA system, and small farm dog running around greeting everyone.  When Bobby and I first arrived, there were only a handful of runners milling around, but the other buses soon followed and the small farm-foyer became more crowed.  The only place to sit was on the ground, which we did, to get off of our feet for a bit before the run.

"Runner's Corral" at the start of the 2014 Pocatello Marathon. Pun.
With only a few minutes remaining before the 6:15 am start time, I dropped my gear bag in the UPS truck parked directly in front of the barn doors, and then began some light warm-up jogging.  The Race Director made a few announcements again warning about the downhill nature of the course, and also said that after the singing of the National Anthem, he would wait one minute and then start the race.  I was about 200 meters from the back of the lined up runners when the National Anthem concluded, and thought to myself, “Okay, I’ve got about a minute to get to the front of the line!”  But at that moment, the Race Director announced, “Okay, here we go ... 3 … 2 … 1, GO!”  What the heck?  It was no big deal because it was a small race, but usually I like starting up front so I don’t have to dodge runners at the outset.  Oh well, we were off and running!

With the morning sky just barely beginning to illuminate the silhouette of the mountain tops that overlooked the Portneuf Gap, we began down the steep decline.  And I mean the steepest I've ever ran in a race.  Even though I was well aware that the course dropped about 1,500 ft during the first half, I simply wasn’t prepared for the intense pitch of the descent.  The path was completely paved, but there were a few stretches, that if covered with gravel or chat, I swear you could have slid down without moving your legs.  At points it felt like I was running down a stairwell, trying to brake my speed to avoid going out too fast.  Bobby and I didn’t start the race together, but I caught up to him at about mile 4.  We chatted for a few minutes, both surprised and somewhat lamenting the fact, that there had literally been no point over the first 4 miles where course leveled off, even a little.  And that would pretty much be the case for the next nine miles.  Actually at about mile 7 there was a short inclined out and back, but it couldn’t have been much more than a half mile, and then it was back to the seemingly never ending descent.

Starting area at the Pocatello Marathon in the dark, at a barn, at 6,070 ft of elevation
I’ve ran a few races that came out of the mountains with a net downhill for the first half, but in all of those marathons, there were some rolling hills and several flat stretches to break up the quad-crushing descent.  But not Pocatello.  It was 13 miles of pure pounding, and my quads were beginning to notice.  I felt like I managed my pace really well in the Portneuf Gap, and went out much slower than I’d planned.  Even though my finish time had become completely secondary, the last thing I wanted to do was burn up my legs and crash during those last few miles.

2014 Pocatello Marathon Elevation Chart ... 1,500 ft descent in the first 13 miles, with a rolling hills the rest of the way
But even though I was running fairly free and easy, the few times I tried to speed up to my training paces, I really seemed to struggle.  Looking back I know it was the elevation.  It's just tough for a flat-lander to show up in the mountains and run without noticing the effects of the altitude.  I wasn’t really breathing that hard in the thin air, but my chest felt incredibly tight, and my legs were getting heavy really early in the race.  I’ve ran enough other races at elevation to be well aware that altitude was beginning to have an adverse effect on me on Saturday.  At any other marathon, were I was focused and locked in, I might have been able to fight through it.  But at Pocatello, the 6,000 ft start, and 4,500 ft finish had it’s way with me.

As we finally made our way out of “The Gap” at about mile 13, we leveled off for a while and I began hitting my training paces.  We passed a handful of runners who were lined up for the start of the Half-Marathon and they cheered as we passed, which was really up-lifting.  I kept an eye out for the timing mat at the half-way point, which in an email from the Race Director a week prior, had indicated would be there, but it wasn’t.  Neither were the other two promised split timing mats.  Because of their non-existence at the race, anyone trying to track runners on-line had no idea where they were.  Again, it wasn’t a big deal, but it would have been nice to have.

One of last really pretty views before we started the long, straight, and boring stretch on Old Highway 91
But what was a big deal, and a huge “fail” for the race in my opinion, was the lack of traffic management, and the infrequency of the water-stops.  The race is ran basically ran on a point-to-point paved county road, which until the last few miles had no law enforcement, no cones, and no traffic management what-so-ever.  Runners were all over the place on the road coming down the mountain, migrating from side to side, lane to lane, as they tried to run the tangents.  As a result, cars and trucks traveling the same road had to navigate in and out of the runners.  Pretty much every vehicle passed respectfully and at a manageable speed, but more than once my focus was broken from trying to get through a marathon, to a passing automobile.  In my opinion this was dangerous, poorly planned, and completely unacceptable for a race that has been running for 15 years.  I don't think it would unreasonable to expect cones, I mean we were literally running in lanes of highway that had no shoulder.

As far as the water-stops, they were all well manned by friendly and eager volunteers who did a great job.  Their kindness and motivational words did not go unnoticed.  But I don’t think we saw the first stop until mile 3, and the second at mile 6.  Considering the thin, dry air, I felt like 1.5 to 2 mile increments would have been better, but toward the end of the race they came a little more frequently.  Plus, even though the volunteers were great, the organization was a little loose.  I skipped on of the stops toward the end because all the 10K'ers and Half-Marathoner's seemed to be confusing the volunteers, and I didn't want to wait for water.

It's not all happy, happy, happy and level, flat ground after you come out of the Portneuf Gap.  Because at mile 15, you're greeted by a two mile stretch of  gradual 100 ft incline that just seems to go on forever.  As marathoners, most of us have a point in a race when we know whether it's going to be "our day" or not.  Mile 18 is always that point for me. And after burning most of my remaining energy on the two-mile hill, I definitely knew it wasn't going to be mine.  And I thought to myself, "How much you wanna make a bet I can run a bad marathon in them mountains?"  Actually, the only thing I was thinking is how hard it was to breath, how heavy my legs felt, and how much I wanted to be with my wife.  The situation only got worse at mile 21, where you encounter another 100 ft climb over the next mile.  Normally, these hills wouldn't have taken such a toll, but my quads were toast at that point and I didn't have much left.

I went into the race mistakenly thinking I needed a 3:20 to qualify for Boston again.  I have no idea how I did that.  But I forgot that since I turned 45 last year, the required time for me now was actually 3:25.  As I pushed through to mile 21, I started doing the infamous runner math in my head, trying to calculate exactly how slow I could run and still make my mistaken 3:20 cutoff.  But when I hit mile 22, it seemed it was going to be out of reach and I began walking ... a lot.  And if you read my blog on a regular basis, you know that if I'm not going to hit my time goal in a race ... I have "A LOT OF QUIT IN ME!"  I mean, what does the finishing time really matter at that point.  So I walked.  And walked.  And walked.  And finally finished with a 3:26:51.  Later in the day I looked up the Boston Qualifying time for my age, and was pretty frustrated.  I COULD have pushed it for a 3:25, oh well.  The failure to qualify for Boston aside, it was a complete disaster of a race considering that I thought I should be around 3:05 ... but the worst was yet to come.

Actually snapped this picture from on of the laptops they had set up
in the finisher area to retrieve finish times ... just before disaster set in
I crossed the finish line, thanked the volunteer for my medal, grabbed a bottle of water, and then went over to the festival area to lie down for minute.  My heart was beating really fast.  After about 15 minutes, I got up and went to find my race results on a bank of laptops that were set up in the results tent.  People were trading high-fives and hugs, and the scent of BBQ and music playing filled the celebratory post-race air.  I needed to eat something, but I was feeling worse and worse and the thought of putting food in my body wasn't a good one.  At about that point, my chest really started tightening up, my head started spinning ... and for only the second time ever in my life from running ... I walked over near a chain-link fence and threw up.  Of course at the end of the race there's not much left on your stomach, so it was a mostly Roctane Island Nector GU, and dry heaving.  I slowly gathered myself, walked over to a Hertz rental truck and sat down on its tailgate for minute, sweating profusely ... and then suddenly threw up again.  My dehydrated and race-weary abdominal muscles cramped with each convulsion.  Something definitely wasn't right.

I looked around and saw the Charter Bus that was to take us back to the host hotel, about a quarter mile away down the street.  It might as well have been five miles to me, because I had serious doubts if I could make it there.  When I finally did, I drug myself aboard and waited for the other runners to fill out the shuttle.  Just as the bus started moving, I got really dizzy, started a cold sweat again, and thought I was going to throw in the cushioned seat.  This was about an hour after I finished running at this point.  I desperately looked toward the back of the bus for an on-board restroom, but was able to keep everything inside my body until we got to the hotel ... where I went inside and threw up again.  I eventually made it to my rental car, parked outside the host hotel, and back to my room at Hampton Inn, about a mile away.  When I got to Hampton, the housekeeping lady was finishing up in my room.  I quickly tipped her and asked her to leave because I was going to be sick again, which she did, and I was.

The only picture I was able to get of the finish area, while fighting off post-race nausea from the altitude, presumably
I fell asleep for about a half hour at that point, but was unceremoniously awakened by my right foot cramping, which it often does after a long run.  Bobby had texted me to check on me and we made plans to grab something to eat.  I still felt horrible.  I grabbed a shower, and met him at a breakfast place, but I could only eat a few bites.  After that, he headed to Salt Lake City, and I went back to my room to crash again.  At this point my assumption is that the stomach issues were from the altitude, but it could have been poor fueling as well.  Either way, I don't want to go through that at the end of a marathon again.

Sun setting over the Bannock Mountain Range near Pocatello, Idaho
I wish my time in Pocatello would have been under different circumstances.  Not because I didn't finish with the time I intended, but because I needed to be near my wife.  I can't help but think if things were different, my point of view on the race would most likely be much different.  Pocatello is a good small race, and helped me check one more State off the map.  And if I'm honest with myself, it's kind of encouraging that my fitness has increased to where a "disaster race" still almost qualified me for me Boston.  But unfortunately, when I think back to it years from now, I won't remember much about the people, the course, the altitude, or the town ... all I'll remember is how much I wanted to be by my wife's side instead of running a marathon.
... be great today!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Actually, Our Fortunes Have Turned

Margaret Conley, RIP

A few hours ago, while sitting in Kansas City International Airport waiting to fly to my marathon this weekend, I wrote a tongue & cheek blog post about my recent good fortune and the hope that it would continue.  But in the cruelest twists of fate, when I landed a short time later at the Salt Lake City Airport, Michael called and told me that her mother had passed away.

Michael's mother, Margaret, had been ill for some time and fought an ongoing battle of multiple issues.  She had been admitted to the hospital last night, but we obviously didn't realize how serious the situation was.  Michael was, of course, very upset and I felt helpless being so far away, especially for something as meaningless as a race.  However, one of her sisters lives in our town so she was able to get with her.

With out a doubt the furthest thing from my mind right now is a silly race.  Michael and her family are my only concern.  The timing for something like this is never ideal, but it couldn't have been much worse for Michael and me right now.  Not because my marathon is obviously up in the air, there will of course be other races - but because logistically this thing is a nightmare.  Michael's parents are in New Mexico, most of the rest of her family is in Kentucky, we live in Missouri, her other sister lives in California, and I'm currently in Idaho.  So there are obviously a world of details to sort through.  But for now, I would really appreciate your thoughts and prayers for Michael and her family.  Margaret was a kind and loving mother, and she'll undoubtedly be missed.

Hope My Fortune Doesn't Run Out

Michael & me with the Royals mascott, Sluggerrr!  Yep, two grown adults with a fake lion
If things don't change, I'm gonna burn up all my good fortune.  Ya know how they say, "Bad things happen in bunches!" ... well my friends, I regret to inform you that I'm actually on a bit of a winning streak.  Not that that's a bad thing, I'm just afraid I might be burning up all my lucky charms before race day, Saturday in Pocatello.

It actually started a few months ago with my marathon training.  In a word, it went ... GREAT!!!  Frankly, I can't remember such a fast and healthy cycle.  So much so, that at 45 years old, I set PR's in my last two tune-up races.

Then more recently, on Tuesday night - which was the first night of  my vacation - Michael and I were at the Kansas City Royals' game, watching them lose 1-0 in the bottom of the ninth inning.  It didn't look good for the Boys In Blue, but after a base hit by Alcides Escobar, Alex Gordon stepped to the plate and a hit a game winning home run.  I've literally been to hundreds of Royals games over the years never seen that happen until now.  Truly AMAZING!!!  And I can't help but believe it's because I was there ... ostensibly a walking rabbit's foot!

And finally, today at lunch I order a sandwich at Panera for lunch.  The girl behind the counter ran my telephone number to get my rewards points, and wouldn't ya know it ... I get a FREE SANDWICH!!!  No charge!!!  I mean what are the odds?

I'm tellin' ya, these are all signs of either a really good race on Saturday ... or a big fat end to my recent positive Karma.  I hope it's the former.  Truth be told, I feel pretty good about the race.  Other than  a slightly tight right groin (which is 100% related to a tight hamstring)  I feel pretty good.  I'm about 5 pounds heavier than I wanted be, but that's not a huge issue.  And my mental approach to this race is fairly  healthy as well.  I'm just trying not to build it up in my mind.  Sure I want to run well, but my primary focus this fall is on the Wichita Half and Indy Full in October and November.  So if I don't PR at this race, it's not the end of the world.

 So we'll see how it goes.  The main goal is to come of this race healthy.  I really don't think I can run a sub 3-hour race right now.  But who knows ... if I cross the finish line and my time begins with a "2", that just might be my walk-off shot in the bottom of the ninth.  And maybe I'll just hang it up after that and go out a winner.  Have a great weekend!
... be great today!  

Saturday, August 23, 2014

The Tapering Conundrum

Yep, just sitting around tapering ... not running ...
tossing an orange in the air
A quick Google search on "Marathon Tapering" will reveal about a million different articles on the subject ... and probably just as many different opinions.  I've read (and probably tried) everything from "don't run at all two weeks before the race", to "treat it like every other week in training and run your tail off".  The best approach is probably found somewhere in the middle, right?

The conventional wisdom has been to drastically cut your mileage about 10-14 days before the big race, to heal up, conserve energy, and  build glycogen stores - which all sounds very logical.  But I would bet that every set of eyes reading this post has one or more horror stories about how this process adversely affected their race.  And count me among that contingent.  There have been several marathons where I felt like I was killing it in training, then the taper period rolled around and my body went into a weird lull, and I didn't run my best race.

The flip side of this coin is not tapering at all, which I've also tried for a couple of races.  I've actually ran marathons after running a 20 miler the weekend before, and training full tilt until two days before the race.  I wouldn't recommend this approach. My strategy was to treat the race like any other training run, with a few miles tacked onto the end.  But on most of these occasions, I stood at the starting line exhausted before the the clock ever started.   For me, there is just something about race day that takes a lot more energy, even if I'm not running all out.

So what do we do with this tricky two weeks before the race?  For recent races, I've definitely leaned more toward the "maximum rest/minimal running" approach.  In fact it's what I'm doing for my upcoming marathon ... but I'm just not sure this produces the best results.  I know drastically cutting the weekly mileage while trying to maintain the intensity is the most commonly held pre-marathon practice.  But I've never been a full believer in the reasoning.  There are just so many traditional approaches changing in the world of marathon training, and I wonder if this one doesn't need revamped as well.  For example, not long ago runners would fast the week before a race, now that seems crazy.  So where is written in stone that we must break so drastically from our training during taper, that it feels like we've actually lost fitness by the time the race rolls around.

Fairly traditional taper period with reduction in mileage two weeks before the marathon
The chart I've created above plots the long runs for what would be a fairly typical 20 week period before a marathon for me.  As shown, I usually try to gradually build my mileage until about four weeks before the race, and then start gradually backing it down.  The main thing I've always noticed ... and really struggled with ... about marathon training, is feeling and running my best about six weeks before the marathon.  Whether it's perceived or real, I essentially always peak too soon.  Everything after that seems to be desperately trying to maintain the fitness until race day.  Combine that with two weeks immediately before the race where I really throttle down, and I've rarely ever feel like I'm at my fittest on the morning of the race.  I'm like a piece of fruit that while still edible, was at my ripest a few days prior.

I understand the philosophy behind the taper period.  Believe me, I've studied it like it was my job.  But I just don't fully buy into the notion that as we're motoring along in our training, and hitting on all cylinders ... we basically just shut it down.  And then, after being somewhat dormant for 10-14 days ... almost completely from a "cold start" ... we open the throttle full bore and run longer and harder than we have in a long time.  That just doesn't really make sense.  It would be similar to studying for a huge test for a months, taking two weeks of vacation while barely cracking a book, and then showing up on test day expecting total recall and 100% clarity.  I really don't think most of us would produce our highest possible score, and similarly, I just don't believe that we haven't lost a little bit of fitness during the taper period.  Not to mention the endless mind games this little running vacation plays on our confidence.

Tapering approach I'm thinking about trying that moves the two week taper period to earlier in the training
So, something I've been toying around with, although I haven't had the guts to try yet, is completely changing where the two week rest period occurs before the marathon.  The distances aren't exact, but as you can see in the second chart, the reduction in mileage would happen about 4-5 weeks prior to race day, as opposed to directly adjacent to it.  Then, I would slowly ramp back up for a couple weeks, hopefully peaking on the morning of the marathon morning.  My thought process behind it is still giving my legs a couple of weeks to recover from the mileage during training, as with a typical taper, but then sort of "priming" the engine for a couple of weeks instead of just starting "cold".  The plan would be to log back-to-back 10-12 mile runs in weeks 16 & 17.  Then on refreshed legs, I would theoretically begin building again in weeks 18 & 19 with runs of 16-18 miles.  Finally, I would finish with a strong 26.2 in week 20.  Sound crazy?  Eh, might be.  Plus, I still need to vet it a little more to determine if there's any actual science behind the approach, instead of just my personal experience. Obviously, the most apparent risk with this plan would be fatigue on race day.  But my theory is that weeks 18 & 19 would essentially become the "warm up" laps for the marathon.

The main thing I think I've learned about marathon training tapering is to simply listen to my body.  Right now I feel like I'm in a really good place for the race next weekend.  I'm strong, healthy, a little overweight, but pretty confident about running in Idaho.  But I've had success in two recent marathons by taking a lot of time off before the race, so I'm going to stick with that approach for now.  But  I would love to hear everyone's thoughts on why they do or do not taper.  It seems like it's different for almost every runner.  Have a great weekend!
... be great today

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Marathon Experiment ... Less Miles

One of my most favorite marathon photos from the
2011 Kansas City Marathon
After 28 marathons, you'd think I would've cracked the 26.2 code by now.  But like most folks, I might be just as confused and confounded as the day I started training for my first race.  Well, okay - that's a reach.  But the truth is, I love to tinker and continually mess around with the process.  It's part of the journey of building toward a race, and I simply love studying and redefining all of the components.  And for this year's first Fall marathon, I decided to try a drastically different approach ... reduce my weekly mileage like never before.

I've been very guilty in the past of over-training a little.  During a marathon training cycle my legs would ache constantly throughout the week, and I would struggle with energy level on a daily basis.  And for a lot of marathons, I felt like I left some of my best times at the training workouts.  And as I took a look back, a lot of it was due to double workouts, running six days per week, constant strength training, and not enough calories.  But probably the main culprit that left me exhausted at the starting line was too  much weekly mileage leading up to the event.

In 2011 & 2012, I ran over 3,000 miles in both years.  I really cut back the mileage in the latter part of 2013, but the first part of the year had me on track for a third consecutive 3,000 miler.  After reducing the mileage, I finished with about 2,300.  In 2014 I took a similar approach as last year and am on track for about 2,300 again.  And I can tell you that since I started reducing the mileage, my legs feel much fresher and I feel better on a daily basis.

But therein lies the lingering question for this marathon ... did I get enough miles in?  If I look specifically at my long runs, and especially the quality of my long runs, I would respond with an emphatic, "YES!", without a doubt.  In this 16 week training cycle for the Pocatello Marathon, I ran nine long runs of 18 miles or more, with five of them over 20 miles.  Plus, most of the long runs were slogged during suffocating hot and humid days, and for the most part I hit all my target time goals.  So the long runs really weren't the issue.

But the main thing I cut out for this training cycle was the double-run day.  For most of last year, and a big part of this year, I would run my main workout in the morning, and then another 4-5 miles in the evening, simply to flush a little lactic acid from my legs and add some mileage.  But for the most part they were just "junk miles", and I really didn't feel I was benefiting from them.  For the most part, they only served to make me exhausted for my workout the following morning.  But as a result, I only had one week over 70 miles for this training cycle, and most of them ranged from 63-68.  Whereas, in the previous years I would average 70-80 for most of the cycle.

Honestly, sitting here about ten days from the race, my legs feel very fresh, fast, and healthy.  I don't feel worn out in the least, and I'm ready to tackle the marathon.  And if a marathon were only 22 miles, I'd pretty much guarantee a PR!  But it's the remaining 4.2 miles that worry me.  Even though the longer mileage weeks sometimes seemed to wear me down, they filled me with a great deal of confidence that 26.2 was not a big deal.  Conversely, the reduction in training mileage really has me fearing those last few miles of the course.  But then again, we're probably supposed to be a little afraid ... right?

As I age, my body has really appreciated a little less wear and tear from the road.  Plus, most of my recent race results would indicate that scaling it back was the right thing to do.  But it's the unknown from changing a comfortable routine that has the same old butterflies fluttering around in my stomach before I even touch my toe to the starting line.  But it's only ten days until we find if this was the right approach.  But one thing's probably certain, even if I race really well this Fall ... I'll most likely go right back to the drawing board next year.  Hope your training's going well!
... be great today!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Almost Forgot To Register!

As I was waiting for a meeting to begin on Friday, I took a quick peek at my personal email to find out how  many ambitious Asian entrepreneurs, with fantastic English and grammar, had once in a lifetime business opportunities for me - when there in the middle of all the Spam, was an email from my friend Bobby ...

        "Jim - Are you signed up for Idaho?  I got an email last night with the
        list of individuals registered and I did not see you on the list.  Maybe
        you signed up under a fake name."

All of sudden my heart dropped ... did I forget to sign up for the Pocatello Marathon???  Oh no!  What if I booked my flight, reserved my room, trained all summer ... and I couldn't get a spot in the race???  What if I made the trip all the way to Idaho and the race officials wouldn't allow me run???  I mean, Idaho is like seven six States from my house ... I'm sure the folks there are terrific, but I have no other compelling reason to go there ... and I don't even really like potatoes that much!

I immediately picked up the phone and called my trustworthy wife, Michael, and asked her to register me for the race ... which she did, no problem!  Whew, that was a close one!

After I got my confirmation email from Pocatello, I sent Bobby a quick message and thanked him for the "great catch".  I actually met Bobby a few years ago at the Myrtle Beach Marathon.  Around Mile 10 of the race, a guy ran up beside me and said "Are you Jim from 50after40?"  We ran most of the remaining race together chatting about pretty much everything, and became friends after that.  Since then, we've met for a couple of other races, and even play in an ESPN Fantasy Baseball league together every year.  (Yes, we're both baseball nerds)  At the time it was one of the first blogger sightings I'd ever had, and it was great to meet someone who actually read my blog on a regular basis.  Pocatello will be the 4th or 5th race we ran together, and I look forward to hanging out with him again.

Anyway - just curious is anyone else has ever forgotten to sign up for a race and been locked out?  There are so many marathons that I could have undoubtedly found another one fairly quickly.  But not getting to run in the event I had trained specifically for all summer would have been a bummer.  Have a great week!
... be great today!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Why Can't I Race The Way I Practice?

This picture has nothing to do with running, it was just a cool shot
I got of the Catholic Church a few blocks from our house during
the Super Moon on Sunday evening
I've had a great week of training so far ... a 12 mile Tempo Run with 10 miles at a 6:29/pace, and a solid mid-week 15 mile Long Run this morning with 14 miles at a 6:54/pace.  And honestly, with the help of a nice break in the August temperature, both were very manageable and didn't seem to tax my legs.  In fact, for most of my training cycle for this marathon I've been very pleased with how my runs have gone and am looking forward to fast Fall races.

But here's where the doubt begins to creep in.  Like many of us I've had races where I've trained really well, always hit my splits, felt great about the event ... and then laid an egg when the gun sounded.  In fact Michael, my wife, commented after my last race about my disappointment with my finish time, "Yeah I don't know, something weird happens to you on race day!"  So true.

I've always heard runners loosely pass around the phrase, "You just never know what's going to happen on race day!" And while that's certainly true about the weather, I don't buy into this simplistic and seemingly excuse-driven logic for the other variables involved.  I just believe with a methodical and pragmatic approach, it's possible to control what happens with our bodies in a race environment. That said, I haven't quite figured it out yet ... not even close.

If I take a realistic look at training vs. racing, I'm not sure I'm being 100% honest with myself.  A productive week like this one can be like a dressing room mirror that makes images appear slightly skinnier than they actually are.  I'll reason with myself after a good workout, "Man, if I can run 10 miles at a 6:30 pace, surely I can run 26 miles at a 6:50 pace!"  Say what???  What kind of runner math makes that add up?

Close-up of the Super Moon with my Canon EOS Rebel 300mm lense
First of all, if I ever run a 3-hour marathon ... it doesn't really make me a 3-hour marathoner.  It will have been just a great result on the perfect day.  Similarly, just because on a perfect weather morning, on a training course of my choosing, with hills exactly when and where I place them, with no pressure and no expectation ... I put together a nice workout ... does not guarantee a perfect race in the Fall.  And it certainly doesn't seem to be an exact predictor of results.

But probably the biggest problem with my races is somewhat unrealistic expectations.  I really "feel like" I should be a 16'ish 5K'er ... I'm nowhere near that.  I'm pretty sure I have the speed to put together a 1:23'ish Half-Marathon ... but that's 4 minutes faster than my current time.  And I'm somewhat confident that I have a 3-hour Marathon inside me ... but after training my butt off all summer, I'm not exactly sure anymore.  But what's the point of having goals if they're all attainable?  That would be boring.

So in about 3 weeks I'll give the ol' 3-hour marathon my first honest try.  I say that headed to Idaho knowing that it's a complete long-shot.  The real "go for broke" race will be in November at Indy.  All of my training times indicate that I should be close ... but I've been conned into thinking I'm better than I am before.  However, good race or no, I'll keep plugging away and trying to nail down this inexact science that we all love chasing.  I mean if it were easy, everyone would do it ... right?  And maybe if the stars line up, or we get the perfect Super Moon, my Fall races will finally mirror the way train.  We'll see.  Hope your training's going well - have a great week!
... be great today!

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Fast Finish

One of the tools I've tried to incorporate over the past couple of years, is the "Fast Finish" Long Run.  Basically I'll try to run the first 80% of my run at a nice even pace, and then speed up a little on the last few miles.  I've found that more than anything else it helps mentally in the final stages of a race.  My thought process is that if I can actually speed up on the final leg of a long run, hopefully that will translate to an even pace in the last few miles of a marathon.

So this morning in 70 degree temps, with 92-97% humidity, and a gusting 2 mph East wind, I ran 21 miles with this approach.  And actually, considering I was completely saturated by mile 5, the run went fairly well.  From my splits on the left, you can see I tried to keep the pace slow and "warm up" for five miles, plus I made a couple of bathroom stops without stopping the clock.  I then stayed around a really fairly smooth 7:05 for the next 11 miles.  Finally I dropped below 7:00 for the final 4 or 5.  And considering those last 5 miles were on the hilliest portion of the course (by design), I was fairly happy with my pacing.

I was kind of worried when I started the run because I was STARVING!!!  I used to use the phrase "Starving like a P.O.W." all the time, but I just finished reading Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand (about American Hero, Olympian, and WWII P.O.W., Louie Zamperini), and frankly now, it just seems insensitive.  Anyway, I didn't really do a great job of fueling up yesterday, so I was really happy that I got through it in the shape I did.

Plus, when I started, my legs were still a little fatigued from the race last week, and a tough week of training, but I'll recover for a couple of days, and really load up on protein today, and I should be fine.  Anyway, it was a pretty good outing, all things considered!
... be great today!