Saturday, March 28, 2015

Hip Hoop Hooray!

This is the stupid wire hoop that caused so much pain
Every week before my long run, I drive bottled water to a few different hiding places along my route that I'll be passing by in a few hours.  Is it inconvenient ... a little.  But enjoy the time before my run just mindlessly driving and relaxing, typically before dark, focusing on my run.

But this morning when I dropped off a bottle near Red Lobster, I thought, "I wonder if that #%@*!'ing wire hoop is still over there in the grass."  You'll remember from my last post, that during my long run last Saturday, my foot tripped on a wire hoop and I fell on the concrete, landing on my inflamed left hip. Well, it didn't take too much looking before I found the #%@*!'er in the same grassy hiding place ... like a python stalking it's next rabbit or hamster that ventured too close to it's hungry jaws.  And even though I still have no idea what this is, other than a makeshift bear-trap for runners, I immediately picked it up and put it in the car, just to make sure I didn't trip on it again this week.  Score.

Why all the concern over a stupid little piece of cylindrical metal?  Well, this little guy caused me A LOT of pain this week.  Just when I was starting to get over the minor Bursitis pain I was experiencing, the fall last Saturday left me with a huge bruise, and a lot of pain directly on the top my Femur.  So much pain that I actually skipped two runs, which I never do.  And it put a pretty big dent in my half-marathon training since I only ran a total of five miles this past week before getting in 13 today.  But I think I'm finally turning the corner with the hip issues!

My run on Saturday went fairly well.  I iced afterwards, and as I sit here writing this about two hours later, there's no additional pain in the area.  I really tried to push my tempo and ran most of it fairly fast.  Here are the splits ...

2.5 miles warm up, then 9 miles ... 7:16, 7:00, 6:43, 6:48, 6:42, 6:35, 6:34, 6:35, 6:31, then a 1.5 mile cool down

My Spring race at the Prairie Fire Half Marathon is still five weeks away, with basically all of April to train.  And the good news is, that even with a sore hip, if I could averaged a 6:35 for four more miles, I would have been right at my current half-marathon PR.  So hopefully missing a couple of workouts and resting my hip didn't adversely impact me too much.  The biggest thing I notice right now when I run is tightness in the area.  It doesn't really hurt, but my leg's not swinging free and easy at all, it's really really forced.  So we'll see how training goes.  I really wanted to PR in Wichita, but I don't know if it's going to e possible. I'll probably make a call on the race in a couple of weeks depending on how training is going.  Anyway, that's about it.  Have a great week!
... Be Great Today!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

I Think I Shattered My Hip

Okay, that's a tad bit of an exaggeration ... but here's what happened.  Per my last few posts, I've been dealing with some Bursitis in my left hip.  It was gradually getting better thanks to repeated icing and some NSAID's, and I had actually broken the ice/med cycle for a couple of days.

I had a 17 mile easy run scheduled for Saturday, which I ran.  Up until about mile 10, my hip was really tight ... not painful, but it just wouldn't hinge freely.  But at about mile 10.5 I stopped and stretched my IT Band and Glute, and it felt great for about two miles.  However, that's when the shattered hip took place.

For some reason, there was a small, 16" diameter, wire hoop hidden in the grass next to the sidewalk ... but to me, it might as well have been one of those foot-nooses you see in Jungle movie scenes.  Ya know ... the one where you step in it, it closes around your foot, then triggers a giant tree branch, that  lasso's you up like a steer in a rodeo and leaves you suspended by one leg, upside down in the jungle until the headhunters can come and boil you in a giant black pot with bongo drums playing in the distance.

When my foot hit the runner-trap, I tripped and landed ... LEFT HIP FIRST ... on the concrete sidewalk.  It was in front of Red Lobster, near a busy intersection at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday, with about 631 cars sitting at the traffic light.  So, even though it hurt like a banshee, I got up immediately, thoroughly embarrassed, started laughing at myself, and kept running.  But after I'd escaped the view of the undoubtedly entertained and amused drivers, I noticed my left arm and knee were bleeding a little, my glove on my right hand was torn from where I'd tried to break my fall, and my left hip was aching.

With adrenaline pumping from the run, I finished in great shape and felt good about the pace.  But later that day, when my heart rate began to normal out, the pain in my hip really set in.  There were a couple of scrapes where the skin was broken, directly at the top of my Femur on my left hip ... in the exact spot where I'd been experiencing the Bursitis.  And now a day later, I've got a 5" bruise over the area.

I tried to run this morning, but it freaking killed!  So I started the ice and Ibuprofen again.  Hopefully I didn't do any damage, but I can't tell right now if it's the Bursitis or bruise that hurts worse.  Monday is an off day for me, so the rest will probably do it good.  I'll test it Tuesday, but if it hurts to run, I'll probably take another day off.

So that's the hip saga.  I don't really have a lot of injuries generally, but I'm having a hard time putting this hip thing behind me.  I'll keep you updated as  you're obviously hanging on every word about my hip health, ha.  Have a great week!
... Be Great Today!

Monday, March 16, 2015

400 Meter Repeats & Bursitis

After the Phoenix Marathon, I took a week off from running.  Not by choice.  I usually like to get out and run a few "active recovery" miles in the days after the race, but I just really couldn't work it into my schedule.  So my first run after the marathon was the following Saturday, when I did seven miles ... and in full disclosure ... I probably ran them a little too fast.  That's when I first started noticing a dull tightness, bordering on pain, on the outside of my left hip, directly at the top of the femur.

The pain persisted for the week, but I managed to get my light recovery workouts in.  This past Saturday, I had a 13 miler scheduled, with three miles at a 6:40 pace, which I completed.  But after the run, my hip ached all day.  I was starting to get worried and began over-analyzing it.  On Sunday, I got up and went through my typical core workout, and then was going to go for a light four mile recovery run.  But I only got about a mile into the run when I had to return home because of pain.

I started performing the typical self-diagnosis internet research, and after speaking to a couple of experienced and trusted runners, I determined that is was 99% most likely hip bursitis - inflammation of the trochanteric bursea.  Basically, a common overuse injury that many runners experience.

The problem is ... ain't nobody got time for this!  I have a race that I'm trying to PR in, in about six weeks,  So I've been icing and taking anti-inflammatory med's like a madman ... and it's feeling A LOT better.

So, what did I do on this perfect 82 degree Spring afternoon in KC?  Went out and ran way too fast of course! Actually, I had a track workout scheduled for Wednesday morning, but there's supposed to be a cold front moving through and I couldn't resist running in the warm sunshine.  Here are the splits from the workout ...

2.5 mile warm up
10 - 400 Meter repeats with 400 Meter rest after each
400M - 1:24 
400M - 1:25 
400M - 1:22 
400M - 1:22
400M - 1:19
400M - 1:20
400M - 1:20
400M - 1:20
400M - 1:19
400M - 1:23
1.5 mile cool down
9 miles total - avg about 5:20/mile pace during repeats

It was a pretty good workout that I didn't have to push too hard to complete.  I had 12 repeats scheduled, but I cut out the last two because my hip was really tight, but not overly sore.  After I got home, I immediately iced, and I'll ice again before I go to bed.

I'll try to play this by ear.  I think as long as I stretch, ice, load up on protein, and get plenty of rest, I can run through this - but I'll be smart about it.  I want to have a really good running year, and if I don't take care of this issue, it will linger through the summer.  I'll keep you updated!
... Be Great Today!

Friday, March 13, 2015

Post Marathon Recovery

A reader, blogger, and frequent commenter - The Padre - inquired about how my legs were doing post-marathon, and also our Phoenix trip.  The questions came at a great time, because I was actually getting ready to jot down a quick update, and post some vaca pics ... hope you like baseball and the desert!

Royals first baseman, Eric Hosmer, hitting a home run in his first Spring Training at bat, we had great seats for maybe the best sports photo I've ever taken

Surprise Stadium in Surprise, Arizona - Spring Training home of the Royals and Rangers

Evening view of downtown Phoenix from the top of our resort, Pointe Hilton Tapatio Cliffs Resort

Speedster outfielder Jarrod Dyson slapping a ball to the left-side of the infield

Morning trail walk about a mile from our resort

Royals infielders practicing double plays 

My awesome wife and best friend, Michael

Royals short stop, Alcides Escobar getting lose in the On Deck Circle, about two rows from our seats

Rainbow over our hotel after a full day of rain ... in Phoenix???

Selfie of Michael and me before the race (that's a throw-away warm up shirt ... before you ask)

Royals catchers working out at Spring Training

Rangers quirky third baseman Adrian Beltre smelling his bat after batting practice

Entrance at Surprise Stadium

Rangers star pitcher Yu Darvish, who two days later suffered a torn ligament in his elbow and will be out for the season with Tommy John surgery

Desert wildlife on a rainy Tuesday in Usery Mountain Regional Park

Home run high fives

Giant Tommy Lasorda bobble-head at Camelback Ranch, the Spring Training home of the Los Angeles Dodgers

Dodgers star outfielder, and Cuban defector, Yasiel Puig taking talking with a coach at the batting  cage

Sunrise over the Cubs Stadium in Mesa, Arizona

Rangers players signing autographs after practice at Spring Training with the desert mountains in the background

Sandy Koufax at the Los Angeles Dodgers Spring Training - 79 years old, and probably the greatest living pitcher

Royals pitching staff before their first Spring Training game
Giant suspended sculpture in downtown Phoenix called "Her Secret is Patience", a $2.5 million collaborative public piece

Sun setting on the Phoenix Mountain Preserve at the end of a great Spring trip

As far as post-marathon health, my legs feel great except for my left upper IT Band being a little sore, which has caused a little hip tightness ... but nothing major.  I've only ran every other day this week, and no more than nine miles at a time.  But I'll get back to training next week for a half-marathon I have scheduled at the end of April.  The plan is to ease myself into some short Speed work and gradually start stretching out my Tempo runs. I'm hoping to set a half-marathon PR at the race, but I'll let you know in a couple of weeks if I'm up for the task so close to a fairly fast marathon for me.  It will just depend on how healthy my legs are.  It's been my experience that my legs can feel pretty good after a marathon, but when I start adding back in faster runs, they don't feel quite as good as I thought they did. Anyway, things are going about as expected, just taking the race-recovery slow.  Have a great weekend!
... Be Great Today!

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Not Crazy After All

Most of you who read on a regular basis know that I'm not a crowd follower.  I like experimenting on my own.  And challenging norms.  I'm anti "we've always done it this way".  And most importantly, I LOVE it when someone tells me that my plan won't work ... it's just fuels the fire my friend.  That said, it IS nice occasionally when one of my hair-brained ideas is validated ... like my marathon training plan.

I'm by no means a great or elite runner, but since January 1, 2010, I've ran exactly 16,794 miles.  I've also trained for, and completed 30 marathons, one ultra, and countless other races.  I've been fortunate to BQ several times, set numerous PR's, and ran more than half of the marathons that I was "racing" under 3:30.  And while I NEVER classify myself as a "running expert" ... I AM, without a doubt, the undisputed authority and outright expert of all-time on my body.  After all those miles and training, I'm intimate with what works for me, and understand exactly what I respond to.  And as a result, over the years my training plan has evolved to produce faster and faster race times, even as I inch closer and closer to 50 years of age.

I've always believed, simply from trial and error in my own training ... to run faster marathons, I needed to run faster during training.  To me it was a matter of common sense.  Moreover, after trying several marathon training methods, the ones in which I ran faster during training, always produced faster results on race day.  So I developed a personalized plan in which I ran Tempo Workouts on Tuesday, Speed Workouts on Thursday, and race-paced Long Runs on the weekend.  Of course I've received several "NOOOO Jim!!!  You're doing it wrong!!!" over the years ... but it's a system that's worked for me, and I'm always thankful for the feedback from readers.

But recently I bought the book, "Hanson's Marathon Method" by Luke Humphrey and Keith and Kevin Hanson.  And I was amazed at how similar my training method is to the one they've developed.  Before I read the book, the only thing I knew about the Hanson Method was it recommended faster paces.  But after delving into it, I learned it's a lot more involved than that.  Their plan includes what they call Something Of Substance (SOS) workouts ... which are Tempo, Speed, and fast-paced Long Runs every week - sounds familiar. The biggest difference is that they run Speed Workouts on Tuesday, and Tempo Workouts on Thursday.  Another key difference between my plan and theirs is the Long Run, and overall weekly mileage.  They typically don't want runners going much over 60 miles per week, with a maximum Long Run of 16 miles.  When I'm in a "maxed out" block, I'll reach mileage of 75-80 miles, with long runs of 20-24 miles.   But they DO recommend faster paced Long Runs, which I completely advocate.

While I understand the physiology behind the Hanson Method, I won't be changing to it completely.  But while they recommend NOT "tinkering" with the plan ... I will definitely take principles from it and "tinker" with mine, ha.  The biggest thing I won't change in my plan are the Long Runs.  I have friends who train with Long Runs of 16-18 miles and do just fine in marathons.  But I've tried the reduced mileage in the past and it's just doesn't work for me.  I really have to stretch myself out during Long Runs to race effectively.  But one thing I will probably try is incorporating the Tempo and Speed Workout paces they recommend.  Based on their charts, I've been running mine a little too fast.

More than anything, the book just made me feel like I'm not crazy with the way I train.  Honestly, it doesn't bother me when people criticize my regimen ... I just wish they understood how much thought, research, and experience I've put into it over the years.  I'm not a coach, and NEVER recommend my training practices for anyone else - I just know what works for me.  But every once in a while it's nice to find "like minds" - and the Hanson's Marathon Method is just that for me.
... Be Great Today!

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: 246 ft
Elevation Loss: 1,109 ft
Total Distance Ran: 26.21
Start Temperature: 50 degrees
Ending Temperature: 58 degrees
Sky Conditions: Cloudy & overcast
Wind: 7 mph SE
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, or even thinking, 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, just not a PR.  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.  Plus, I only ran two marathons last year, and even though both had significant external conditions that greatly affected the race, they were huge disappointments.  So to say  the least, my "marathon confidence" was lacking a little.  But all in all, I'm exceptionally happy with this result especially 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.  Also, we've decided to make this our annual Winter race, and vacation spot.  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.

Beautiful sunset, and the perfect ending to a great day in Phoenix, Arizona
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.

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!