Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Boston Marathon 2011

How can a 3.5 minute PR feel so bad ?  That's something I've struggled with since April 18th.  I'd figured the disappointment would fade and that the realization I placed in the top 10% of the oldest marathon in the world would give me a lift.  A marathon that very few runners are even able to qualify for.

But no.  It still burns.

That's at least how I started this race report last week.  But then I put it down and left it a while.

Now a further week removed, having read a lot of other race reports, I've had a chance to put things into perspective.  There are some good reasons why my race unfolded the way it did.  I'm going to learn from those, and hopefully apply to my next marathon.  We train for months for a single shot at this - there's a lot to learn.  A lot that can be improved.  Especially for me.

In a nutshell.   I appear to have made the classic Boston mistake.  Out too fast, slowed on the hills, death marched it in.  But I think there's more to it.

Build up
I followed the Pfitz 18/70 plan, and nailed every workout.  I didn't miss a single run through injury.  I hit all MP, HMP, LT, VO2 max runs.  Things were looking good.

March 6th - Teamcam, 4chi and I met on a Sunday morning in a local park and blasted 14MP @ 6.40 pace.  Average HR for me was 158.  I felt great - this on the back of a typical 70 mile week. The week before I ran 7 miles @ 6.18 pace in a LT run.  I thought a sub 3 was a real possibility.

Then things started changing.  I think it may have started the week before Moab, but I'm not sure.  Either way - I went into Moab expecting a big PR to back up my training.  It didn't happen.  The wind whipped up the Canyon and blew us backwards.  It was hard to gauge too much from that race, but I did notice that I was 3 minutes behind TeamCam, and a minute behind BlueEarth. That was my first warning sign.  Cam is a machine.  If he hadn't got the sub-3 monkey off his back in Chicago, I'd fully expected him to run smarter in Boston and to have nailed a 2.55. BlueEarth missed sub 3 by a fraction in a tough course in New York and I expect him to get there next weekend in Fort Collins.  So this in no way detracts from them - I just expected I'd have run better.  Been a little closer.

This slide - either real or imagined - continued during the taper.  Runs were harder, and slower.  I was sluggish.  I ran a 5 mile 'time trial' two weeks out - and averaged 6.34 pace.  That was slower than every LT run I'd done in the cycle - and a full 16 seconds per minute slower than the 7 mile LT run just a month before.  I did manage some decent mile splits a week out, but they felt like racing.  I tried to put it down to the taper.  But I didn't fully believe it.  Something was up.

Boston week
There was a lot of talk about Honey Badgers.  I remembered Cam's Chicago mantra 'sub 3 or over 4'.  I convinced myself that my funk was mental.  Honey Badger don't care.  I looked back at my training runs to draw inspiration.  I then dug up a quote from Michelangelo:

"The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark."

That did it.  I decided I was going for it.  I wanted a sub 3.  I didn't want a 3.04 or a 3.05.  If I blew up and came in with 4 hours.  Then that was okay.  At least I'd have gone for it.

I'd always been a 'lone wolf' before - in my training - in my races.  But thinking about the run in Denver with the guys, I realized a lone wolf wasn't as strong as a pack.  Rudyard Kipling's poem came to mind.

``Now is the Law of the Jungle---as old and true as the sky;
And the wolf that shall keep it may prosper, but the wolf that shall break it must die.
As the creeper that girdles the tree-trunk, the Law runneth forward and back---
For the strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack.''

To slay this beast - we needed a pack to help nurse each other through the inevitable ups and downs. I twisted CGruett's arm.  He fell for Michelangelo too.  I started a sub 3 thread which got a little crazy, but from that - 5 of us decided we'd run together.  Using the same Greg Maclin splits.  Aiming for 2.59 to give us some wiggle room.  Lilsnoop, Arete Quest, Paddy Runner, Cgruett and me.

Race morning
A group of us met in Hotel 140, and then met another gang of forumites on the way to the buses.

By the time we got on the bus - we had 5 or 6 rows at the back of the bus as a mini FE.  The journey was fun.  I watched Dawg's face contort as all the liquid from the ultra fuel drinks started to take it's toll on his bladder.  I'm not sure if it was the talk of water falls, streams, or whatever - but at some point he went under his trash sack with a gatorade bottle, then came back smiling a few minutes later.  Ahhh.  What goes around comes around - my turn to suffer... I didn't last the journey either.

In the village we met up at the red spot and hung out.  Then it was time.  We couldn't find Paddyrunner - so Lilsnoop, Cgruett and myself walked to the start together.  I got up to the front of my corral.  they were at the back of theirs.  Once the rope between corrals dropped I edged forward and was with them.  AQ was in the corral ahead.  He said he'd start slow so we figured we'd catch him soon.

No flyover ?  What's up with that.  I looked at my heart rate monitor.  80s and 90s.  Nice.  Last year I was in the 120s before the off.  I felt very relaxed.  Very calm  Honey badger don't care.  We edged over the start line and we were off.

The Race
We'd talked about how we wanted to avoid going out too fast.  It turned out we didn't have a choice.  We were well hemmed in. 

I used the '1.01 mile split' technique on the gamin.  All splits quoted here are using that.  I noticed for the first half of the race - these were too long - so the splits quoted are actually slower than they really were.  But by the end of the race it was relatively close.

First mile - 7.11.  A little slower than we wanted, but better than going out too fast.

We were a team - a pack.  Chad and Carl had their watches set for current lap pace, I had mine for average overall and a stop watch to cross check each mile with total goal time.  At the start of each mile I'd read out what we needed, and then the 3 of us would go about hitting it.  We'd continue to monitor the pace that mile - speeding up, or slowing down as needed.  We never did catch Arete Quest.

Throughout the first half of the race - several people came and went with us.  They'd hear us talking about splits, find out we were after 2.59 - and then they'd stick with us.  Forumites and other runners would run for a mile or two, then drop off. 

The miles ticked off.  6,54, 6.40

I decided to lose the gloves I'd bought the day before at the expo.  I scrunched them up and dropped them at the feet of a kid on the side saying 'here - have some gloves'.  Not impressed.  His expression screamed 'bakugans - maybe.  gloves ?  I don't think so'.

I was relaxed.  At one point we went up a woody incline and some runners darted into the trees to relieve themselves.  Someone yelled out - 'is this heartbreak hill', to which I yelled back - 'no - this is Pee Break hill'.  Our spirits were good.

It was still very crowded, and we were running a little faster than the folks around us.  I guess that's what happens when you try to run a 2.59 from a 3.08 qualifying time.  We got pretty good at following each other through gaps.  Little spurts to break through a tight pack in front.  At one point Chad and another runner had words.  Chill pill time.  I had my heels clipped a couple of times too.  I tried not to think of the consequences of a heavy fall.  Later I learned that GoAnnie hadn't been so lucky.

6.43, 6.53,

I'm terrible at water stops, so I started with a small bottle of water.  I was lucky in the first half of the race to be able to get 2 more bottles from the crowd, so didn't have to hit any stops early on.

We hit 10K in 42.27.  Nice.  Not that I'd count it, or put it in my signature line - but that's actually a PR.  I've only ever run one 10K race - almost 2 years ago as I was 6 months into my return to running.  This was 15 seconds faster.  If all goes well - I'll run the Bolder Boulder next month and shatter that soft PR officially.

Mile 7.   6.48

Around this point I noticed CGruett's breathing was suddenly a lot heavier. I asked him how he was doing - not good was the reply.  It wasn't his day - he decided to back off a bit.  Wow.  It can happen just like that.  Carl and I plugged on, although were quickly joined by another guy on a similar pace.  The 3 of us stuck together for the next 8 or 9 miles, continuing to follow the splits and darting in and out of slower runners - each mile I'd check my stop watch against the total goal time at that point.  We were within a few seconds either side of our 2.59 goal the whole time.

6.46, 6.50, 6.52, 6.53, 6.44

We heard the scream tunnel.  The other runner with us looked younger.  It was his first Boston.  I told him what was about to come - and that this was the chance to kiss as many 21 year old girls in bikini tops as he could handle.  As we hit Wellesley I was amused by the tens of photographers on the left side of the road with huge telephoto lenses.  It was a honey trap for married men !  The 3 of us hung to the left and ran through, although I did blow kisses to the ladies.


Half in 1.29.07

Right on track.  My quads were definitely feeling heavier, but nothing that concerned me.  On we plugged.

6.48, 6:52, 6.42

Here come the hills.  Last year when I 'ran' Boston I didn't pay much attention to the course.  I was in a world of hurt with the achilles, so I'd tried to memorize the map the night before this time.  I knew we had 4 hills between 16 and 21.

We hit the first.  Even effort, not even pace.  We crested it - 6:56 - that's okay.  It was back to Carl and me - the other guy dropped.

Not feeling good though.  A downhill, ok - recuperate.  That feels better.  I can do this.  Here comes the next.

Mile 18.   7:01.  Carl is now 10 yards ahead of me.  We crest the hill and he looks around for me but I'm not there.  What should I do ?  I yell to him - go on.  Still not a disaster - I'm just trying to hold things together. I stop looking at the pace band, but know that there were several miles around 7 min / mile pace in the hills, and this is why we built in a 1 minute cushion.

Mile 19.  6.59.  I can still see Carl just up ahead.  I figure if I can keep him in sight then I might catch him on the descent after heart break.

Mile 20.  Uggh.  7.29.  That's that then.  The pace band definitely didn't have a mile that said 7.29.  I'm now officially in trouble.

This is the part of the race where I'm most upset with myself.  It's easy to second guess.  My legs were in a world of pain, but my HR was relatively low and I wasn't bonking.  Talking to Cam later - and reading his report about the point when Jay caught him - I realized I'd got into that 'rut' where you get used to running slower.  I'll remember that for next time.  Where was BD to yell 'there is no B goal' ?   But this time, now a lone wolf - I think I mentally quit on sub 3 rather than HTFU.  I can't help but think that if I pushed myself to run a little faster - I may have got back into the grove.  But that's easy for me to say sitting her behind a keyboard.

I started thinking PR instead.  After 19 miles I was still on track for a sub 3.  I knew that.  So realized I could lose a minute / mile - and still PR.  Not the right attitude, but it made good sense at the time.

Mile 21.  07:48.  Finally - out of the hills.  Downhill from here.  Time to speed up.

But I can't - either mentally or physically, my legs are toast and my mind's not in it.  We overtook people for the first 16 miles.  Now those same people are overtaking me.  I'm plodding.

I started counting down the miles.  My family is going to be at mile 23.  That's just 2 miles away.  Break these 5 miles into chunks.  Let's get to them.

07:29, 07:48

I didn't see them, but heard a section yelling 'Richard Richard'.  I didn't have my name on my shirt so figured it was for someone else.  It wasn't - it was for me...  23 miles in, 3 to go.  Break that down,  Ok - now it's just 2 miles until cannoli time.

I'd spoken to Sully about where he was going to be.  I was determined to get one.  Sub 3 is gone, but at least I can cross the line with a cannoli.


Mile 25 - crap - a hill before the Citgo sign ?  I don't remember that.  08:00.  8 ???!!!  And Bird is worried about a mile starting with a 6...  The wheels have officially fallen off.  Where's Sully.  There he is - 'Sully....'.  He turned away just at the wrong time.  He had a cannoli in his hand.  He turned back, saw me, arm outstretched.  We reached.  Miss.  Nothing's going right at the moment.  Do I stop and go back.  Err - no !  My legs barely have one forward gear.  Reverse is not an option.  Clearly I'm not a honey badger

Honey badger can run backwards.

Ok - come on.  You're getting close to the end now.  Suck it up a little bit will you ?  07:37 for the 26th mile.

Right on Hereford, left on Boylston.  Finally - this hell is going to be over.  I manage to pick up and run the last two tenths at 6.39 pace.  Another pointer to me after the race that I had more - just mentally perhaps let it go.

And I'm done.  3.05.17.

A PR by more than 3.5 minutes. 

So what happened ?   7 minute positive split.  The typical Boston story right ?  Going out to fast, paying in the hills ?

After much internalizing of the race, my training, my strategy and everything else - I think that is indeed what happened on the day.  But it's not the whole story.  The pace I ran - wasn't beyond me.  At least it wasn't 6 weeks before.   I think I peaked too soon.  Not saying I would have got the sub 3 - but I think I'd have probably run better.

  • So for my fall race - I'm going to use a 12 week plan.  I'll just keep the mileage going until then, but 12 weeks of Pfitz seems about right to me.
  •  I completely neglected any core or upper body workouts the whole cycle.  I just ran.  That's going to be rectified too.  I'm going to add regular core and upper body sessions.  That probably contributed to those last 6 miles.
  • I need to prepare myself better mentally for that last hour.  We train for 18 weeks, but it essentially comes down to a single hour.  Do you have the fortitude to push through the pain when the voice in your head is telling you to stop ?
  • Hydration and nutrition - I still need to get better.  I couldn't take a gel after mile 10, and I drank little the second half.  My stomach felt pretty crappy from 10 on.  Not sure why as I finished the ultra fuel 3 hours before and didn't eat any solid food that morning.  I'll keep experimenting.

But hey - a week removed - I've put things in perspective.  A 3.5 minute PR.  I've dropped 15 minutes off my marathon time since I started doing this 18 months ago.  When I get the next 5 minutes - and I truly believe it's a 'when' - then that experience is going to be that much sweeter.

I'm happy that I attacked sub 3.  This was the first time I'd tried. 

I could have taken it relatively easy - run even splits - and ran a 3.05, but then wondered 'what if'. 

Well no need to wonder - I know what happened.

1 comment:

  1. Seems like a bit of overtraining.

    When you wake up every morning, try putting your self in a meditative state and take your resting HR in bed. Try to establish a baseline, then if you notice it's elevated above 25% - just jog until it comes down.