RIP Running Streak

 

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My running streak is over.  Three years, three months, and 16 days.  At least a mile run every day since January 1, 2015.  6116 total miles of running over 1202 days.  It was a challenge, I was glad to have kept at it.  It made me a better runner, at least for a while.  It overstayed its welcome.  Now it’s time to move on.

The running streak kind of started by accident.  New Year’s Day is usually a day of laying around, watching the Rose Parade (a parade I marched in in 1982!), and spending time with the family.  But I ran on January 1, and then again on the second, and then by the fifth day I realized what I had started.  Then it became a challenge to see if I could run every day for at least year, and it seemed like a fun thing to try.  Most runners who attempt a running streak (AKA – “streakers”) follow the basic self-administered rule that you have to run at least a mile every day to have an active streak.  Since I felt that I could easily do a mile, I made my goal to run at least two miles a day.  That lasted until fall of that first year when I got some sort of stomach bug that knocked me out.  After spending most of the day trying to retain fluids and bring my fever down, I felt good enough to head downstairs to the treadmill and attempt to keep my streak alive.  I ended up jogging a mile, and it about did me in.  So even though I couldn’t keep the two mile goal going, I still maintained a running streak.  That was the only time in which not feeling well almost ended the streak.  There were a couple of times when a pulled muscle during a run almost ended the streak, but I was able to hobble through it.

The other challenges to keeping the streak alive were after a handful of big events.  When I ran the Chicago Marathon in 2015, I was more worried about doing the day after mile than I was running the marathon.  Same thing for the 2016 Chicago Marathon.  The day after completing Ironman Lake Placid in 2016 was a challenge.  My wife and I drove to Cooperstown, NY the day after, and upon getting there after a two hour car ride, we chose to walk around the Baseball Hall of Fame.  After the walk back to our bed & breakfast, I attempted my mile.  It was rough, but I got it done.  Interestingly enough, after completing Ironman Louisville in 2017, the long car ride home from Louisville and the race before didn’t have much of a negative effect.  I think I could have run 3 miles that day.

But after completing the Boston Marathon in 2018, I was sore.  I had shown up with symptoms that were clearly signs of being overtrained.  My feet were always sore.  I had developed a knee issue that forced me to dial back the training.  And my overall mile pace had diminished significantly.  The sub-8 min/mile pace that I comfortably ran at the 2016 Chicago Marathon was not even a possibility without really pushing myself into a higher heart rate zone.  I knew that upon getting to the Boston Marathon, I was going to be lucky to manage an 8:45 min/mile pace.  Boston is a net downhill course, and it tore me up.  I was really sore in my legs, so the decision to drop the running streak was pretty much made for me.  I could keep the streak going, but continue to have soreness, not see any gains in running efficiency, and jeopardize the other racing I wanted to do in 2018 just didn’t make much sense.  In the words of my buddy John, who taunted me occasionally, it was time to “let it go.”

The Annual Totals

2015 – 365 days – 2112 total miles run

2016 – 366 days (leap year) – 1824 total miles run

2017 – 365 days – 1682 total miles run

2018 – 106 days (ending with the Boston Marathon) – 498 total miles run

What were the negatives?

Training for an Ironman requires a smart plan, and I was following up non-run workouts with a one mile run.  It added an extra workload to an already tough training regimen.  It also added leg work on rest days that followed tough workouts.  Mentally it drained me, having to swim or bike and then do a run afterward.  Somedays, like Thursday would normally be a swim/bike workout day, and then I would also have to do a run, making it a mini homemade triathlon.

After completing the third year, I was getting pretty sore and tired.  My foot started to hurt most of the time, exhibiting a kind of plantar fasciitis-type symptoms.  Then my right knee started to hurt, really right below it on the top of the tibia.  As I got into my 16 week Boston Marathon plan, I had to take a couple of recovery weeks, which forced me to reduce my overall weekend long runs by about 4 miles each week.  The week of my plan that called for a 22 mile run before tapering for 3 weeks I only ran 18 miles, and I couldn’t hold my marathon race pace very well.  I was laboring.  I made it to Boston, but I was sore and knew I was just there to finish.  Boston 2018 was tough for many reasons, but my Boston Marathon time of 4:10 was 5 minutes slower than my Ironman Louisville marathon split of 4:05.  The proof is in the numbers.

Lastly, I had to plan a way to run on days when skipping it would have been nice.  We were up at our home in upper Wisconsin over Christmas and I had to get in several runs in sub-zero and single digit degree weather.  It was not fun.  Any trip anywhere meant also bringing the running gear and doing at least a mile.  I got through it, but some days it just wasn’t easy.

Was it worth doing?

When I started the running streak I really had no goal with it other than to last a year.  I mentioned the streak to my son Ben, a D-III college runner who mentioned that it might be beneficial to me.  He then added that it may not be apparent until year two, though.  Interesting.  There was a little bit of adjusting to the streak at first, both mentally and physically.  I didn’t really feel any different or notice any huge leaps in performance in the first year, with one exception – I got my first Boston Marathon qualifier at the Chicago Marathon in October 2015.  I basically got a personal best by about 10 minutes.  That was significant.

By year two in 2016, I had two big races on the calendar:  Ironman Lake Placid in July and the Chicago Marathon in October.  By this time I was really reaping the benefits of the running streak.  Running every day meant also doing the run after a swim or bike.  And since I liked to knock out my workouts in succession, running on days after a bike meant doing a lot of brick workouts.  And brick workouts build a strong ability to run after a hard bike effort.  Triathletes will often complain about having dead legs or legs of stone when trying to run after getting off the bike.  It didn’t take long for me to not notice that at all.  I actually felt pretty good when I started a run after a bike workout.

Doing well at IM Lake Placid also meant that the cross training involved with triathlon was also going to benefit me in the marathon in October.  When I finally ran Chicago in October, I was feeling strong and ready.  I lowered that marathon personal best by another couple of minutes, not only re-qualifying for Boston, but also making the cutoff easily.  The second year of the running streak got me to Boston.  Ben was right.

During the third year, I kept the running streak going and felt great as I got closer to Ironman Louisville in October 2017.  Louisville has had a reputation as being one of the tougher North American courses, but that was mainly due to the fact it was in held in the August heat, and the rolling hills that never end on the bike course.  Since it had been moved to mid-October, the heat wasn’t really an issue.  The weather did play a role the day of the 2017 race, but it really didn’t effect me negatively.  I set a personal best at Louisville in all three disciplines and overall.  I had a great swim, a pretty decent bike, and a run in which I almost went sub-4 hours.  Damn toilet breaks!

Conclusion

I decided a day or two before running Boston that I thought I would drop the streak after the race.  The race did take a toll on me.  Running a down hill marathon really tears up your quads, and around Mile 22 or so I remembered thinking that I really couldn’t feel my legs anymore.  Most of it was due to the 40 degree temps and all day driving rain and wind.  But after limping it home from the finish line, I kind of knew that I had had enough.  There was nothing left to prove.  The streak helped me get to the Boston Marathon, and I am forever grateful for that.

It’s been 9 days since I finished the marathon, and I have run a total of four times.  I have done a little biking just to do something different, but I have tried not to overexert myself.

I thought I would miss not running every day, but I am surprisingly enjoying the time off.  I’m looking forward to getting some rest and rebuilding my running without the pressure of keeping a streak alive.  At 54, it’s not like I was going to set a Guinness World Record for most consecutive days running.  One of the longest streaks lasted 52 years.  I’d have to live a very long time to be able to do that.  Had I started the streak in 1989 when I started keeping track of my running, I might have had a shot.  But I wasn’t as crazy then as I am now, I guess.

RIP Running Streak, it was a good run.

Further info on running streaks:  http://www.runeveryday.com/streaks.html

 

My First Boston Marathon

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I am a Boston Marathon finisher.  I never thought that I would be able to say that, but after running through some of the harshest conditions for a race I have ever run in, and possibly the harshest weather in the race’s history, I finished the 122nd running of the Boston Marathon.  It wasn’t easy getting there, and I should have known it wasn’t going to be easy being there.  But it made for a lifetime memory.

Here’s a marathon worthy recap of what got me there, the few days beforehand, and the race itself.

 

The Pursuit of Boston

When I began running in 1989, marathons weren’t even really on my mind.  I started to run mainly to keep my weight down, and because I was bored.  I bought a pair of MacGregor brand running shoes from Kmart and put on a t-shirt and gym shorts and started an evening ritual of running around the apartment complex.  A mile or two turned into five.  The crappy MacGregor’s were replaced with Nike’s.  It wasn’t long until  I entered a couple of road races and caught the competitive running bug.  I was hooked.  Within a year and a half, I ran my first marathon in 1991.  That lead to a few more, and I eventually came to know about the grand daddy of all marathons, Boston.  I wanted to someday run it.

But they don’t just let anyone who wants to run it do so.  You have to earn your way in, you have to qualify.  Oh sure, nowadays the fourth and final corral holds about 7,000 charity runners who don’t have to meet the qualifying standards that the others meet.  They have to raise a significant amount of money for a charity, which is a noble thing.  I will gladly run along side them and congratulate them as a finisher. But for those who want to count themselves as one of the select few, meeting the standard that the Boston Athletic Association (BAA) sets for it’s marathon is the only way to go.  It was the only way I wanted in, but there was a catch – I was no where near fast enough.

Getting in isn’t easy.  In order to keep the race competitive, the BAA has time standards which you have to meet.  In the early days, the standards were simple and very fast – only a very select few could do it.  As interest in the race grew, and the race itself grew larger, the BAA set the standards we have today, standards they could change any time they want to.  For me, a male runner in the 50 to 54 age group, I had to be under 3.5 hours.  Over the years I had perfected finishing marathons typically around three hours and 45 – 50 minutes, which meant a younger me probably had to run 30 minutes  or more faster than I was able to do.  It seemed impossible to me.  But as you age, the standards get a little bit slower.  As I neared 50 years old, the standard started getting closer to my ability.  I was now about 8 minutes away from qualifying, and I was also getting faster.

The possibility of actually qualifying for the Boston Marathon started to become realistic for me when I made some changes and additions to my running.  First off, I stopped winging it and started following a marathon running plan.  Concepts like periodized training, and building mileage gradually with the addition of speed work were methods I had not known of or I had ignored in the past.  I usually just ran and ran as comfortably hard as I could.  That only got me so far.  Training with purpose improved my times significantly.  Secondly, I became a triathlete and an Ironman.  Ironman training was very detailed and methodical as well, and the addition of the cross training activities of swimming and cycling made me more of a complete all-around athlete and runner.  Third, I started a running streak in 2015, running at least a mile every day.  It added more miles to my weekly totals, taught my body how to deal with a large workload, and how to adapt to tired legs and endure.  Lastly, after completing my first of three Ironman races, I started to believe in myself.  I believed I could do it.  I was very close.

In 2015 I finally qualified, running a 3:28:19 at a course known for being fast, the Chicago Marathon.  It was bittersweet however, because not only do you have to meet the qualifying time, there are too many runners who do so than the Boston Marathon can host, so they take the fastest of the qualifiers first until the field fills up.  I missed the cut by 28 seconds.  Disappointing, but I knew that after getting that rejection to my application in September of 2016 that I would be running Chicago again the following month.  Now I was determined.  I had finished Ironman Lake Placid in July 2016, which would also prove to be a wild card in my build up to Chicago.  I was a lean, mean running machine and ready to do it.  At the 2016 Chicago Marathon, we were given a beautiful day for a race and I improved my time to 3:25:08 – 4:51 minutes under the qualifying time.  I was in.

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Race Week – April 12 – 16, 2018  

Here are the pre-race week activities.

 

Thursday, April 12

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Trying to make the emotional rollercoaster fun.

Kari and I flew in on Thursday and I was already a bundle of nerves because of the forecasted weather, and the fact Ashley and Rebecca were flying on their own for the first time.  But thankfully I have the best life partner in the world, Kari, and I let her handle all of the side circuses that were occurring.  We tried to settle in and wait for the whole crew to show up.

The flight in will always be memorable because of this dope I was sitting next to.  He was definitely trying to prove he was the alpha dog, hogging the armrest in the manner he was doing.  He also wanted to be upgraded to first class and wasn’t getting the satisfaction he was seeking.  He finally got up and pretty much tossed his seatbelt into my lap.  I flipped him off as he went into first class, and took his seatbelt and fastened it back together.  I thought he was gone, but he got rejected in first class and made his way back to his seat.  I had already placed my elbow on the arm rest and decided I wasn’t budging.  He started pushing very hard.  I had to apply pressure consistently back until I decided that I’m a better person.  I moved and focused on my wife instead.

When we finally deplaned, I headed to the bathroom and the only urinal available was next to this jerk.  I waited for another spot to open.

We got our bags and took a cab to our hotel.  The slightly annoying rush hour traffic was only trumped by the fact that the trip from the airport to the hotel was mostly through tunnels.  Pretty boring, but we made it.

After check-in, we headed over to the finish line, which was about 2-3 blocks away.  I wanted to see Boylston Street where the race finishes, and visit the running stores there. Upon entering the store I was impressed with the history lining the walls.  Lots of old pictures, old running shoes and the like.  And then Boston Billy walked in.

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Maybe the most famous Boston Marathoner ever, Bill Rodgers.  I was too embarrassed to bother him, let alone let him see me take a fanboy picture!  

I couldn’t believe that multiple Boston Marathon winner Bill Rodgers was in the store at the same time.  He came in to drop of a framed photo to the staff, made some quick small talk with them and was gone like he was making a break from the lead pack for the win. Next time, I will assert myself and ask for a photo!

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At the finish line.

After some more finish line area sightseeing, Kari and I opted for dinner.  What do you want to eat in Boston?  Lobster, of course.  We inquired at the hotel and a local place was suggested, but when I saw the prices, this guy who grew up knowing money didn’t grow on trees opted for the lobster roll sandwich instead.  It was still lobster, and it was pretty good.

I had my first freakout of the weekend walking back to the hotel.  The restaurant was cold inside, and I was also cold from having walked around.  By the time we made it back to the hotel I was shivering.  If I was shivering now, how was I going to handle race day, with it’s cold and rainy forecast?  I got back and warmed up and watched some Bruin playoff hockey to get my mind off of it.

 

Friday, April 13

Upon getting up, I opted for a one mile treadmill run in the hotel gym to keep my running streak alive.  After showering up, we tried another suggested restaurant for breakfast that really wasn’t built for breakfast.  We should have opted for a Dunkin’ Donuts, as they are practically on every street corner in Boston.

My life long buddy Dave and his wife Carla were the first of the Cheer Crew to arrive.  Dave wanted to join in on the fun at the race expo and check out the excitement.  John Hancock, the major sponsor of the race provided a bus from downtown to the race expo and we took it over there.  As race expos go, this was pretty typical.  Stand in line, prove who you are, get your bib number, get your event shirt, walk through the expo and buy junk.  We did just that.  Kari was a trooper and stood in line to pay for the $300 worth of Adidas junk I wanted.  The must have at this race is the Celebration Jacket, which oddly enough people wear as soon as the receipt is printed.  I wanted no part of that until the race was over, but I did make sure I got mine.

After the expo, Kari and I met up with Dave and Carla at a burger joint halfway between our hotels for a late lunch.  My burger hit the spot and everyone was excited about the evening plans.  Kari had the great idea of taking in a Red Sox game, and fortunately for us we were able to get great tickets for the Sox vs. the Orioles on the nicest day of the weekend.  After a trip back to the hotel for a while, we all walked over to the oldest baseball park in the league, Fenway Park.  Not sure why I expected it to be more run down than it was, but it was a really great looking ball park.  The seats though were designed for the small people.  My 6’4″ buddy was a little scrunched, but we endured.  Red Sox won 7-3.  After the game we made the easy walk back to our hotels.

 

Saturday, April 14

I needed to burn off some energy, so the first thing Kari and I did was get dressed and run three miles around the area, including down by the banks of the River Charles.  Very nice riverfront they have there, with a nicely paved path.  Saw some serious runners doing the same thing we were doing, only doing it much faster.  The weekend also included a 5K race, and there were several runners heading there as we made our way through Boston.

Upon getting back, we opted for an overpriced breakfast at the hotel, which at least was better than what we had the day before.  Then we hopped into a taxi and headed to the airport to pick up our two daughters.  While waiting there I saw a girl carrying around an Ironman Louisville 2017 backpack and told her that I had done the race as well.  We shared stories of that race and talked about our nervous energy about the marathon.

With the girls collected and lunch finally consumed after a lengthy delay waiting for our food, we did some more sightseeing.  We walked the finish line area and went inside the Boston Public Library, which had some really cool old murals and stuff.

It had been 5 years since the 2013 finish line bombings in Boston.  Lots of events and memorials occurring over the weekend.

A highlight of the trip included a Boston Duck Boat tour, which I really enjoyed.  Our guide was funny and made sure we saw most of the important sights of old Boston.

Dinner was at California Pizza Kitchen, which was accessible by hamster trails from our hotel, meaning we didn’t have to walk outside.  I wasn’t expecting much, but the loaded baked potato soup was outstanding, as well as the pizza I had.

Back to the room to relax and turn in for the night.  I woke up around 2:30am with some acid indigestion, which I always feel like it is a heart attack happening.  Kari woke up as well and brought me some Pepcid or something which did the trick.

 

Sunday, April 15

Back to the hotel gym for a mile on the treadmill first thing in the morning.  We ate breakfast again at the hotel, and waited to meet up with the rest of my Cheer Crew, my in-laws Gary and Darla, and my buddy John.

We all ate at an Italian place near Paul Revere’s home and did a little walking around the area.  We also took the Trolley Tour, which also highlighted several great spots in Boston.  It’s a nice tour because you can ride and get off at various spots and hop back on at any time.  The only thing I wanted to do was to walk the Freedom Trail, a self-guided tour of Boston’s historical area, but I wanted to limit walking at this point, and the weather was getting cold, wet and crummy.  A sign of what was to come.

Back at the hotel I planned out my strategy for what to wear the following morning and for the race.  It took a while, but I finally decided on using various layers with the option to shed whatever I wouldn’t need during the race.  This is what I chose:  a sleeveless tri top, a very tight long sleeve cycling jersey with pockets, a long sleeve tech shirt, a polyester windbreaker for the top half;  a pair of track tights/shorts, long running pants, calf compression sleeves for warmth, and a pair of socks;  a pair of cheap liner type gloves and a pair of nicer Brooks gloves.  For my head I opted for a visor and a beanie.

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Not the most efficient marathon outfit, but I needed layers for warmth.

Before bed I had a good chat with Ben about pre-race nerves and then it was lights out.  One of the nice things about the Boston Marathon is that it starts mid-morning, so I didn’t have to get up super early.  That was a good thing, because I didn’t really sleep very well.

 

Marathon Monday, April 16

Even though it’s Patriots Day in New England, the locals and in particular anyone associated with the race refers to it as Marathon Monday.  The alarm went off at 5:20am, and I was already awake.  I got up and took a peek outside the window.  Yep, just like they had predicted for the past two weeks, it was raining and it looked cold and miserable.  If it had been any other race, I might have passed.  But knowing how much it meant to me to get there, the amount of cash I dropped on being there (!), and the fact that my Cheer Crew had also came to provide support, there was no chickening out.

After the bathroom, I started in on fueling myself for the race.  A banana, a bagel and a coffee was a good start.  I was concerned for my feet, as my fingers and toes will prune up in the shower.  I decided to coat my feet first with Skin Glide, a lotion form of Body Glide.  Then I hit the entire bottom of the feet with Body Glide.  Finally, I added copious amounts of Vaseline all around my toes.  That combo has worked pretty well in the past for most marathons and Ironman races.  I got all the aforementioned running junk on and then donned the rain gear.  The marathon is a point to point race and you are bused out to Hopkinton, Massachusetts and wait until the start.  That means an hour long bus ride to the high school there, and then an hour or two of sitting around waiting for your wave to start.  All of which meant, I was going to be doing that in the rain and cold.

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As we walked in the rain, the absurdity of it all started to make me laugh.
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Standing in line to enter the area to catch the bus.

To keep me warm and dry for the morning commute to the start line I was glad I layered up with a sweatshirt and pullover, along with a zippered/hooded rain coat.  For pants, I found a pair of “sauna pants” in Walmart for $8 which were perfect.  I covered my shoes with crime scene booties that I stole from work.  I hope my boss doesn’t read this far.

The bus ride sucked.  Having all that gear on made me warm, but I wasn’t going to complain.  School busses are designed for little kids, and leg room was at a minimum and was uncomfortable to say the least.  I tried to make small talk with my seat mate, but he advised he knew little English and told me he was German.  I told him that I had been to Munich, and he said he had qualified for Boston at Berlin.  He was eating “brot und wasser”, which are literally the only German words I know.  I should have said that, he might have been impressed.

We finally arrived at the high school and we were immediately met by the most friendliest of volunteers, cheerfully directing us where to go.  I’m still scratching my head as to why any of the volunteers or spectators showed up on such a miserable day.  I guess New Englanders are a hardy bunch, and they are definitely proud of their marathon.

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By 10am, that mass of weather would be at Hopkinton and stay for the duration.

It was raining pretty hard.  I made my way to one of the lines for the scores of portable toilets lining the field.  The wait was easily 20 minutes, but once inside I made sure I took my time and got the job done.  I hated to leave the shelter of the port-a-potty, but I figured one of the three large tents would offer some good shelter.  Wrong.

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Inside the tent on the baseball field. I felt like I was at Woodstock.
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The guy behind me in the blue was from New Jersey. He told me that. Twice.

It was pretty crowded, and the drier grassy spots were filled with runners from Wave 1.  Once they were called to the start, it cleared out pretty well, and I found a mat/blanket thing to sit on until it was my turn to head over.  I ate another bagel and most of a Clif Bar and drank a little Gatorade while I waited.

At 9:45am or so, the announcer made the dreaded announcement:  “Wave 2 Runners!  It’s your turn to start heading to the start line!”  I waited about 10 minutes and then made my way to a set of port-a-potties that were behind the tents that no one seemed to be using.  There was no wait.  I’m glad I made that last stop, and then I trekked through the mud to the street for the 3/4 mile walk to the starting line.

As we walked there were ample opportunities to shed the pre-race clothing that people had donned to keep warm.  I figured I would hold on to mine as long as I could.  I finally got near the corral entry point and decided to shed the shoe covers (NO!!!) and the vinyl rain pants I was wearing (NO!!!).   I kept the rain coat hoping to stay warm and a little dryer.  There was no turning back now.

Small talk was made, announcements were announced, and I felt the group moving forward.  We were starting.  And the wind, rain and now a wave of emotions hit me.  I was crossing the start line of the Boston Marathon.

 

Miles 1 through 5:  Hopkinton – Ashland – Framingham

“I’m finally here.  I’m running Boston”

We runners tend to have a lot of deep thoughts when running.  I’m certainly no exception.  Most of my ideas for my blog posts come from runs.  And I can tell you, I had plenty of deep thoughts on this run.  Mostly negative.  I’ll share what I can remember.

The first mile was exactly like I had been warned.  Yes, warned.  It’s a tight, two lane road that is all down hill.  Most of the advice from others was to not to start fast on those first down hills.  As I started, I gave some quick reflection as to my race plan for the day.  I had options.  I could try to run hard to justify my being there.  Nah.  The hard work was getting into the race, there was no requirement to justify anything.  I could run hard and try to re-qualify for next year.  Yeah, right.  Even though I would gain an extra ten minutes of cushion for qualifying just by turning 55 in the fall, I think I will take a pass on this kind of torture next year.  I could take my time and take a bunch of selfies, or even go live on Facebook.  In this downpour?  Not going to happen.  What I wanted to do was run faster than the Kenyans, and get this misery over with quick.  That is very definitely not happening, even if I wanted it to.  I decided to take it easy and run comfortable, keep track of the little nagging pain in the sole of my foot that has been an issue for a few weeks now, and just try to stay dry and warm.

“Puddles are everywhere.”

I spent the first mile also trying not to keep pace with those evenly matched runners around me and not get swept along at the groups’ pace.  Every once in a while someone would yell “PUDDLE”, but there were so many that after the first 5 minutes, my feet were soaked and I stopped worrying about stepping in any puddles.  I did try to stay in the middle of the road where the crown of the road meant less water, but it didn’t matter.

“My legs are getting soaked”

It was nice having the blue rain coat on at the beginning because it was doing its job of keeping me dry, but since the rain was running down it that meant my running tights were getting soaked.  By Mile 3, I stopped for probably a minute and struggled to get the rain soaked tights off of me while still wearing my running shoes.

“There’s running junk everywhere.”

People were tossing off all kinds of good running gear.  I had already lost my tights and I was contemplating tossing the rain coat.  By the fourth mile I needed an energy gel, and couldn’t get to it under the rain coat.  Bye-bye rain coat.

“This sucks.”

It wasn’t long after losing the rain gear that I decided to take off a pair of cheap liner type gloves I had on under my main gloves.  My hands were getting warm and I didn’t think I needed them any more.  I got my good gloves off, tossed the other gloves and went to put the main gloves back on and realized I only had one.  I had dropped one by accident.  I turned around and saw it laying about 10 feet back.  I would have to act like a salmon and swim up stream and get it.  How apropos.

I retrieved my glove and immediately the wind blew my visor off.  Time to back track up the river again.

 

Miles 6 through 10:  Framingham – Natick

“This quite possibly might be the worst thing I have ever experienced.”

It was getting real.  Six miles in and 20 miles to go.  In the worst weather I have ever run in.  I had really hoped to enjoy the crowds, the landmarks, and whatever other experiences the course would offer, but I spent most of it with my head down, shading my face from the 20 mph head winds and rain.

“Looking good!?  Thanks for shouting that to me from your sheltered front porch, lady.”

Somewhere in this section my watch alerted me to a text that Kari sent informing me that they would be near the 14 mile mark, on the left hand side.

Yay!  Something to look forward to.”

 

Miles 6 through 10:  Natick – Wellesley

“Welcome to NAY-TICK” said the guy on the side of the road as we strolled into the town of Natick.

“Now I know how to pronounce Natick.”

 

Miles 11 through 15:  Wellesley

After getting through some of the town of Natick, we ran through a pretty heavily tree lined area.  Lots of rolling hills but pretty boring.  Then I heard it – a distant roar, still probably at least another mile away, but I could hear it.  I was getting closer to the ladies of Wellesley College and the famous “Scream Tunnel.”

Right around the half way point you pass through the campus of Wellesley College, an all women’s school with notable grads such as Hillary Clinton, Diane Sawyer, and Madeline Albright, that comes out to the course and screams their lungs out.  Can you image Madeline Albright as a college girl screaming at marathoners?!  I didn’t know this as I ran through, but it’s kind of a right of passage for graduation for the girls to get kissed by a runner.  Had I known that, I might have spent a little more time there.  I’m just kidding.  I did high-5 many of them with a big smile on my face.  It was a huge pick me up.

“I’m half way there!”

Immediately after leaving the Scream Tunnel I remembered that Kari and the Cheer Crew would be somewhere around the 14 mile mark, so I started scanning the sides of the road.  Usually I avoid this because it drains me mentally, but I only had to look for them on the left hand side, so I slid over to the left more and kept looking.

“Damn, the town of Wellesley goes on forever.”

It wasn’t long until I saw the gang.  Another emotional moment for me.  Having Kari, Ashley, Rebecca, Gary, Darla, and my two best buddies Dave and John there standing in the rain waiting for me was such a great feeling.  I stopped and gave them all a big group hug.  I may have mentioned to John that this was the worst thing I have ever experienced.  I didn’t spend a long time there because I knew if I did I might get chilled or possibly cramp up.  So, I said goodbye and headed down the road.

 

 

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I was never so happy to see my family and friends.

 

Miles 16 through 20:  Newton

“Mile 16 – only 10 to go.  Only 10.”

The next town was Newton, known for a couple of things on the course.  First there is a right turn right by the big Newton Fire Station.  Lots of activity going on there.  The crowds had picked up again and you could feel the excitement.  The second thing about Newton are the hills.  They aren’t hard, but they just keep rolling at you.  And you keep thinking that the biggie is coming.

 

Miles 21 through 25:  Newton – Brookline – Boston

“This must be Heartbreak Hill.  Whatever.”

Between mile 20 and 21 I finally came to the most famous part of the the Boston Marathon course, Heartbreak Hill.  They say many a runner has lost the race here, but for a middle of the pack guy like me, I just shortened my stride and made it up in no time. It’s only about a half mile long, but I wasn’t attacking it like an elite runner set on winning would do.  There was this one old guy who passed me going up it chanting “YES, YES, YES!”  He was determined to kick Heartbreak Hill’s ass.  He did.

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Heading up Heartbreak Hill.

“This sucks.”

“I don’t think I can feel my quads any more.”

Somewhere around the 22 mile area I realized that I really couldn’t feel my legs any longer.  They were cold, sore and numb.  I had been seeing a lot of runners stopped along the course at this point walking or stopped and stretching their quads.  I tried to take a status check of my legs, but all I could determine was that they were still moving and I didn’t think they were going to cramp up.

“I think I’ll skip this last gel.  It’s only 5K to go.”

I thought about the fact that there was only 3 miles to go and that I was feeling pretty good, so I decided to skip fishing a gel out of my back pocket, which had been a hassle all race long.  Kind of a mistake.

“I wish I had eaten that gel.”

After getting by Heartbreak Hill, we had been going downhill pretty steadily with some pretty good drops.  My quads were killing me.

Around the 25 mile mark I was starting to wonder where I was, I knew I was now in Boston but wasn’t sure.  I had been watching my step quite a bit, as there were plenty of trolley rail type tracks in the pavement and lots of small lakes of water on the road.  I took a second to look up and there it was – the giant CITGO sign.  I almost missed it!  I had made it to Boston.  I looked over and saw Fenway standing there empty, not because the game on Patriot’s Day would have been over by now, but because the game had been rained out.  I knew it was just a mile or so more to go.

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Heading down Commonwealth Blvd.  The final stretch.

 

Mile 25 to the Finish:  Commonwealth Boulevard to Boylston Street 

Running down Commonwealth Boulevard reality was starting to hit.  We were almost there.  Along this stretch there were a few little jogs to the right and then back straight.  Not sure why, as they were slightly annoying, but the scenery was getting better.  It won’t be long.

“Right on Hereford, Left on Boylston.”

As I said that to myself in my head, I repeated it out loud.  “Right on Hereford, Left on Boylston.  The last and most notable of directions that this fairly straight shot course had, and I said them over again.  Once on Boylston, the crowds came alive.  The uninitiated may not have known, but it’s about a third of a mile down Boylston.  On one hand I wanted this race to be over, but on the other I wanted it to last a long, long time.

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“I am a Boston Marathon Finisher!”

 

The Finish Area and the Marathon Back to the Hotel

Emotionally, I was ecstatic.  I was smiling and very happy to have finished my first Boston Marathon.  But I was also ready to be done with being outside.  I felt really good for some reason.  Normally I would kind of pass the Medical Tent slowly until I was sure I was good, but I just blew past it.  I found the medals and had a lady put one around my neck.  My next stop was to get a mylar wrap to keep warm.  I was surprised however to be given a really nice and thick rain poncho with the marathon logo all over it.  A firefighter standing by the fence helped me get it on, and I then I saw the mylar wraps and wrapped one around my waist under the poncho.

My plan was to retrieve the sweatpants and sweatshirt that I had dropped off in the morning at the Gear Tent, but I said forget it.  I felt pretty good and I wasn’t shivering, so I decided to head to the family meet-up area.

“WHERE THE HELL IS MY FAMILY?!?!”

I made it to the family meet-up area, but apparently my family didn’t.  They weren’t there.  I figured that maybe they were having trouble getting through the crowds, and my path to the area was pretty short.  Fortunately, there was some shelter there and one of the volunteers helped me get my phone out.  Kari called and informed me that they weren’t back into Boston yet.  Uh-oh.  There was no one there to help me get back.  I was on my own.

I asked the volunteer to show me how to get back to the Marriott Copley Hotel, and she told me which way to go.  So I went.  I got about 2-3 blocks and then the phone rang again.  It was Kari.

“You’re going the wrong way.”

“What the FUCK!!!”

Kari was following me via the Find My iPhone feature.  I was lost, no one was there to help me, and I was starting to shiver.  Fortunately, I pulled my shit together and let Kari turn me around and get me going the correct way.  It wasn’t long until I saw a landmark I was familiar with, and I headed indoors to begin the walk through the mall that lead back to the hotel.  I got back to the hotel lobby at the same time everyone else did.  Hooray!  All was good again.

Back at the hotel room, it was a frantic scramble.  I was trying to get undressed to take a hot shower, but was too sore to be very efficient at it.  And Kari and the girls were gathering their bags to hop in a cab to get to the airport to catch their plane home.  We all figured our issues out, said goodbye and parted ways.

“The last thing I want to do is to warm myself up with more water.”

After being wet for the last four plus hours, I didn’t want anything to do with water.  But my best bet for a quick warm up was to take a hot shower.  It did the trick.  I toweled off, got dressed, including putting on my new Boston Marathon Celebration jacket, and cranked the room heat to 85 degrees.

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Managing a smile in my nice warm jacket and hotel room.

Kari got back from the airport and we headed back over to the California Pizza Kitchen.  I had some really good tortilla soup and split a pepperoni pizza with Kari.  Plenty of finishers in the restaurant reliving the race.  It was a good finish to the day.

 

THANKS

Many, many thanks to pass out to everyone who cheered me on.  My co-workers Carl (always my Number 1 fan!), Julie, Mary, Tracy, Micah, Lou, and all of the gang that took even a polite interest in my path to this day.

I can’t forget all of those friends on Facebook that offered such great words of encouragement and congratulations.  I have read each post and they are greatly appreciated.

Thanks to my daughters Ashley and Rebecca, for being brave enough to get on a plane by themselves for the first time, and miss some school just to stand in the rain to watch me run by for 10 seconds.  I’m glad we got to see some real American history in Boston.

A huge, huge, HUGE thank you to Ben for getting Ashley from school and making sure the girls got to and from the airport.  I felt bad that my number one favorite runner couldn’t be there, but I certainly carried his running spirit with me.  Let’s qualify at Chicago in October and run Boston together in 2020!

Gary and Darla – thank you for coming up from sunny and warm and dry Florida to watch me in that crazy weather.  I think you probably would have preferred a tropical storm to that mess.  Thanks for flying instead of driving as well.  Smart move.

Oh my God!  My life long friends – Dave and John – and Dave’s wife Carla, thank you so much for sharing this with me.  I can’t tell you how much it meant to me.  Your presence made for a fun weekend, as well as got my mind off of the impending doom that was coming.  I got through the race bolstered by your presence.

And finally, thanks to my awesome partner in life Kari.  She is by far the most important part of my journey in the marathon that is my life.  Thanks for carrying me through not only for 26.2 miles, but also for almost 26.2 years.  I love you.

“Thank You!”

 

 

 

8 Weeks to Boston

As I look back on my training for my first Boston Marathon, I was pretty surprised to see that half of it is over.  I haven’t done any writing about my journey to Boston, because it’s been very typical for the most part, taking it day by day and running the workout that the plan calls for.  I’m eight weeks into my sixteen week plan already, and I’m not sure how it went by so fast.  It had been going pretty well for the first six weeks, but a bothersome knee issue has made me very aware of how much time I have left, because not only now do I have to get in the remaining weeks of big miles, but I also have to do it without aggravating the injury and having it prevent me from running those important training miles. Or worse yet, not being able to run the race itself.

I have been able to run okay, even with the knee pain.  It hurts more afterwards, especially noticeable going up and down stairs.  Also, if I sit in a chair with my leg bent at a 90 degree angle, it will start to hurt.  The pain is right at the top of the tibia, and I don’t believe the knee cap is affecting it.  My son has suggested stretching my leg muscles more, which has given some relief, but I have also dialed back the miles the past two weeks as well, so at this point I’m not sure if the fewer miles or the stretching has been most advantageous.  I’ll keep doing the stretching, but I’m afraid to lose too many long, slow weekend runs.  I also retired my running shoes that were probably not really that worn out yet, and upgraded to a more cushioned shoe.  Today’s 8 mile run in them went okay, but I found them to be very stiff.  Not sure if I made a good choice there.

The first eight weeks saw a build to 12 miles in Week 6, but that’s when I started experiencing the knee issue.  I dialed it back to a mile or two throughout the last couple of weeks, mostly run on the treadmill.  Today was supposed to be a test of speed, with a half-marathon race built into the plan.  There was no way I’m ready to race anything right now, and trying to find a 13.1 mile race in the latter part of February in the midwest is nearly impossible.  I will now have to adjust my plan and reduce some of the big mile weekend runs that the plan has built into it.  I will drop each long run by two miles and skip the speed work in the plan until I feel confident that I can do it without pain or further injuring myself.

The one thing I haven’t resorted to yet is stopping the 3+ year running streak that I have going.  I may need to say goodbye to it if it means that I am doing myself more harm than good. I’m not going to jeopardize getting to the start line of my first Boston Marathon.  I worked too hard to get there.

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8 weeks to go!  

The Dumb Running Injury

Search for running injuries on the internet and you’ll see a variety of running induced issues – Plantar Fasciitis, Achilles Tendonitis, Iliotibial Band Syndrome, Runner’s Knee, Ankle Sprains, Shin Splints, Blisters, Chafing, etc.  I’ve suffered many of these maladies over the years, as well as several I didn’t even list.  But today I suffered a dumb one, one that I had only suffered once before – I fell down, go boom.

You would think that I would have mastered not falling down while running, but sometimes dumb stuff like this happens.  The first time this happened to me was on April 22, 1991.  How do I know this?  Well, it’s written down in the running log!

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22APR91 – Fell + hurt hand. Wrote it down.

It was a memorable fall.  It was my girlfriend and future wife’s birthday and I was doing one last 10 mile run three days out from my first marathon, because that was what newbies who didn’t know any better did back in those days.  And the trail I ran on had a portion that was next to a railroad lot where they parked trucks and equipment.  In the gravel was a wire hanger that was partially buried.  I caught my foot on in it and down I went, scraping up my hands and knees pretty good.  The scariest part, I was three days away from my first marathon.  I ran on egg shells the rest of the way home.

Okay, back to today’s fall.  I was about 10.75 miles into a 12 mile run and my concentration was diverted to this minivan than had pulled up along side of an entrance next to the nature preserve running trail.  This guy gets out and starts running to the gate and I’m wondering what the heck is going on.  So I was kind of watching them over my shoulder when my foot got caught on a bumped up, broken crack portion of the trail.  Now usually I can stumble my way out of those types of trips and catch myself.  Not this time.  Fortunately for me, I was pretty heavily padded with running gear, since it was 26 degrees out and I was freezing.

The fall was pretty typical, I couldn’t get the tripped leg back under me fast enough and I put my hands out to catch myself.  It happened super quick, and I didn’t really have time to think at all.  But I was pretty impressed with my catch and roll.  It was like text book.  If I had to do it over again, I probably would eliminate the verbal “UGGGHHH” sound I made as I hit the ground, but it was pretty unavoidable.

As I got up, the palm of my hand was vibrating and I thought that I had sprained my wrist pretty good.  I got to my feet and assessed myself.  I could walk, that was good.  My hand hurt, but I could move it okay.  All that was left was to pick up my pride and finish the run.

I got home and surveyed the damage.  The palm of the hand had been what had really concerned me, but the glove I was wearing limited any bruising or abrasions.  But I could sense something wrong with my outer knee.  I pulled up my pant leg and saw a pretty good abrasion.  My son and his girlfriend where listening to my story and were surprised to see the damage.  I figured I might need to show this to my wife, you know, for spousal support reasons.  I needed a “mommy.”

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The damage.

She was shocked, but she didn’t kiss it.  I also had another abrasion on my left elbow, but it was smaller and didn’t hurt much.  Didn’t hurt until I got into the shower, that is.  Then it hurt like heck.  I put some antibacterial ointment on it, and now I’m healing.  I should be good to go again soon.

At this rate I should fall again in another 26-27 years, sometime around 2043.  I’ll keep you posted.

 

 

 

Confessions of an Un-peaceful Peaceful Sleeper

Last night I was enjoying a really deep sleep.  Honestly, most nights I enjoy a really deep sleep.  Now, you might ask how does one actually “enjoy” a deep sleep?  Well, I’m not sure really, but when the bedquake hit, it jolted me from the deep sleep I was enjoying and I was now no longer enjoying it!  A bedquake?  What’s a bedquake?

A bedquake is something my wife Kari has invented in order to prevent me from having a really deep sleep.  It’s a tactic she resorts to when the foot rub on my calf doesn’t work.  The foot rub on the calf is only good to disrupt my sleep if I’m not that deep into it.  One night I was just dozing off and could feel this strange calf massage thing going on.  I thought, “huh, that’s strange,” and just rolled over and went back to sleep. But if I’m in full REM, she goes nuclear and employs the bedquake.

Now since I am asleep I’m a little fuzzy on the details of how she carries out the bedquake, but what I can surmise from the brief few disoriented nanoseconds of awakening, is that maybe she is doing some jumping up and down on the bed, or possibly standing next to the bed and shaking it hard and then jumping back in just before it awakens me, like nothing was going on.  She’s somewhat subversive about it, just wanting to disrupt my sleep enough to get the results she’s looking for.  She thinks I don’t know about these two tactics, but I’m starting to see the big picture.

Now, you might ask why the hell is she doing this?!  It’s simple really.  I’m enjoying a really deep sleep and she is not.  And the reason she’s not – apparently I am a snorer.

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The Bedquake – Kari’s version of “Wake up and go to sleep.”

The best of wake up and go to sleep – A link to ten great seconds of the Three Stooges

I say “apparently” I am a snorer, because it’s very difficult to realize you are a snorer while being asleep.  But I am told I snore by Kari.  And the kids.  Sometimes during a nap I will wake up suddenly, like I was actually awoken by a loud noise.  I’m starting to think that I might actually be a snorer.  But being a denier is easier.  Okay, I snore.  Big deal.  I admit it, even with circumstantial evidence, I admit it.  But I don’t want to admit it because the implication is that there is something wrong with me for being a snorer.

I sleep pretty soundly, but I find that I sleep most soundly on my back.  Years ago I saw a report on back pain and how sleeping on your stomach would lead to back aches.  Since I had back pain, I switched.  And I have been a back sleeper ever since.  And I don’t move.  I’m like that scene in the movie Psycho where they show the bed where mother “sleeps.”  My side of the bed is starting to get a channel in it as well.

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Mother was apparently a side sleeper.

But I usually start on my side, and that will generally last until I’m about to be out.  Kari prefers the “on the side” sleeping me, because that is the non-snoring me.  Apparently there is a link to my sleeping on my back and snoring.  Side sleeping me = no snoring.  Back sleeping me = OMG!  TIME TO EMPLOY THE BEDQUAKE!

Snoring can be caused by several things, all of which I categorically deny having.  I’m not obese, I don’t smoke, drink or take drugs, nor am I pregnant (I looked up reasons for snoring and it was there).  Sleep apnea?  I looked at the symptoms of that too and none of them apply to me, at least the awake me.  Even if I did have sleep apnea, there’s no way I’m wearing that dumb mask thing.  No way.  I do go to bed with some nasal congestion.  Maybe I should look into a decongestant prior to bed, or a nasal spray or something.

I really think the issue lies with the jaw.  Try making a snoring sound, then move your lower jaw forward and try to make a snoring sound.  Can’t do it, can you?  When I’m sleeping on my back, my jaw naturally relaxes and gets into a position that promotes snoring.  That’s my thinking, and I’m sticking with it.

So last night I was having this dream, I don’t even remember what it was about, but it was building in intensity and then the bedquake hit.  For a moment I thought that maybe the dream was what jolted me awake, because I hate being unsettled by dreams.  But as I lay there in the brief moment of being suddenly awakened, I started to piece it together.  The bedquake was employed.  And maybe it was because I was snoring.  I was probably snoring.  OKAY, I WAS SNORING!  I’m an un-peaceful, peaceful sleeper.  I guess I better get used to bedquakes.

zzzzz – foot/calf rub

ZZZZZ – BEDQUAKE!!!

 

 

2017 Running & Triathlon Year in Review

29th RUNNING YEAR 

I think most people will say “good riddance” to 2017, but as far as running and triathlon went for me, it was a pretty good year.  As is the custom, I like to wrap it up with a year end summary.

2017 – RUNNING REVIEW

I wrapped up my third straight year of a running streak, managing at least a mile every day.  There weren’t too many issues in maintaining my streak.  Even the post-Ironman mile was no big deal the day after the race and a 4 hour car ride home from Louisville, Kentucky.  I really felt like I could do 2 or even 3 miles that day, but I didn’t push it.  Maintaining a streak takes some discipline to know when not to overdo it, and so I played it safe with just a mile.

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I will have to say good bye to this little running data app that I have used for the past several years.  The developer refused to update it for the new iPhone operating system.  It served me well.  I received a new Garmin 935XT watch that is pretty impressive.  I will be using Garmin Connect from now on to log my running miles.  Fingers are crossed.

 

I finished the year with 1682 total miles, 142 miles less than last year.  Even so, it’s still pretty impressive to me.  After 29 years of running, this brings my yearly average to 812 miles per year.  So I have done approximately double the miles this year than my annual average, which is increasing every year.

One item of note is my average pace this year was 8:35 min/mile, which exceeds last year’s 8:47 min/mile average.  Not sure why that is, because it wasn’t intentional, but I will take it.  I have learned somewhat through training for Ironman and marathons that long, slow distance with occasional speed work thrown in is probably a better training method for performance than the constant tempo runs at faster paces that used to be my bread and butter.

Speaking of the running streak, last year I mentioned in my wrap-up that I might give up the running streak in 2017, but it didn’t happen.  The main reason for stopping the streak at the end of 2016 was injury, mainly to my foot.   But I managed to train through it fine.  The reason this year for the consideration is basically the same.  I’m pretty sore after another long season, and I just don’t think I have anything left to prove with keeping the streak going.  At 54 years old, it’s not like I’m going to set a longevity record for streaking.  I would have had to have started that in my teens probably.  And with two big marathons on the calendar for next year, I think that I might benefit from having some rest days after tough or long workouts.  If I do end the streak, I’ll write up a blog about how I felt it affected me.  The original goal was to last a year – mission accomplished.  I think year two of the streak I saw the benefits, and this past year I’m starting to see some diminishing returns with it.

BIGGEST ACCOMPLISHMENT

My biggest accomplishment for 2017 was making the cut for the 2018 Boston Marathon!   Of course I actually qualified for the race in 2016, but I had to wait until April to apply and then wait to see where the ax would fall for the cutoff to get in.  I had a -4:51 BQ cushion, so I wasn’t really too worried about it even after missing the cut for the 2017 race by 28 seconds.  When I got the email I was relieved.  So, basically being patient and waiting was my biggest running accomplishment.  Funny.

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I guess the information I provided was accurate!  I was very excited to get the official invite booklet.  

 

2017 RUNNING STATS

  • 1682 TOTAL MILES – 32 MILES PER WEEK / 140 MILES PER MONTH
  • 365 TOTAL RUNS – 7 RUNS PER WEEK / 30.4 RUNS PER MONTH
  • 240 TOTAL HOURS – 4.6 HOURS PER WEEK / 20 HOURS PER MONTH

LIFETIME RUNNING STATS

  • 23,549 TOTAL MILES – 812 MILES PER YEAR
  • 4340 TOTAL RUNS – 149 RUNS PER YEAR
  • 3124 TOTAL HOURS – 107 HOURS PER YEAR (Nearly 130 days spent running over 29 years!)

2017 TRIATHLON REVIEW

I had a pretty great year with triathlons in 2017.  In all, I took on three races, finishing on the podium at Manteno, Illinois and once again qualifying for the USAT Nationals.  I think that is my second time qualifying for nationals, and is always a big feather in my cap.  The race will be held in Cleveland in 2018, and I will not attend seeing that I am already committed to the Boston Marathon in April, and the Chicago Marathon in October.  Some day I hope to attend, especially if it is a little closer to home.

The ET Batavia Triathlon is becoming a favorite for me, and I did well this year, but did not place in my age group.  I’ve already signed up for it again.

My big “A” race this year was 2017 Ironman Louisville.  I had big expectations for this race and I put in a lot of hard work to achieve my goals.  I PR’d every discipline this time around, lowering my Ironman personal record to 11 hours, 46 minutes, 55 seconds.  The finish was awesome, but once again pales in comparison to the fun and experiences I had with my buddies training for and racing Ironman Lou.  Lots of great memories.

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2017 TRIATHLON RELATED STATS

  • 119,174 TOTAL YARDS SWIMMING (67.7 MILES)
  • 3308 TOTAL MILES BIKING
  • 1682 TOTAL MILES RUNNING

2017 RACES

I did six total races in 2017 and had fun in them all.  Here’s a brief recap with a link to the race reports for each.

GOALS FOR 2018

I’m looking forward to running my first Boston Marathon.  I plan on following a 16 week beginner training plan for it, as I don’t really have any real desire to do this race as fast as possible.  I kind of want to take my time and enjoy every step.  The plan, although labeled as a beginner plan, has plenty of mileage and work in it for me to do well.

I’m already signed up for the Chicago Marathon in October and the ET Batavia Tri in June.  In talking with my Gunner teammates, there’s a strong possibility they will be back at the Chicago Triathlon in August, and I am planning to join them this time.  I’ve skipped it the past few years.

I ran two miles on January 1, 2018, so the streak is alive as I wrap this report up.  But we will see.  If I do decide to let the streak die, I will do so when the marathon training plan has rest days, and I’ll probably throw in some cycling or weight workout on those days.

That’s it for 2017!  Thanks for reading.

 

From a 3-Timer to the New-Timer: My Advice About Using “Be Iron Fit”

Be Iron Fit by Don Fink is an amazing guide to self-coaching your way to an Iron distance triathlon finish.  The book is filled with inspirational stories, great triathlon training advice, and valuable information about how to conquer 140.6 miles of swim/bike/run.  The focal point of the book is the 30-week training plans, broken down into three levels to suit the needs of most triathletes.  You can follow the “Just Finish, Intermediate” or the “Competitive” training plans.  I have used the Competitive plan for my three Ironman finishes and I was very confident that I was well prepared.

I belong to a handful of Facebook pages for the races I have done and to one awesome page in particular that is devoted to users of the book.  We often support our fellow triathletes in their goal of finishing an Ironman using Be Iron Fit, and never hesitate to offer opinions on training and racing, and help when questions arise.  Each new season brings in a new crop of first-timers that often have the same experiences and questions about the plan.  Here is my advice that I can offer you about using the book in your pursuit of becoming an Ironman.  (FULL DISCLOSURE:  I am not a coach, a top age grouper, a pro, or anything that makes me evenly remotely qualified to offer advice.  I’m just a three-time finisher sharing my thoughts on the training.)

READ THE BOOK – Most of us that hear about the book or are referred to it are looking for a training plan to follow.  Be Iron Fit has three plans to fit most peoples needs.  But that is just a part of the book.  Of course the plans are the main focus, but the book also goes into depth about training and triathlon in general.  In the book, the author Don Fink explains most of the reasoning for the method he uses. But newbies will inevitably ask a question that will be a clear indication that they didn’t read the book.  The swim training is probably the most confounding to people, myself included.  The explanations are in the book, but someone will inevitably ask what “@20sec” means.

ONE SIZE FITS ALL – Be Iron Fit is a one size fits all program.  Don Fink doesn’t have the luxury of knowing you were a great high school or collegiate swimmer, or you are a competitive cyclist, or you have qualified for the Boston Marathon.  He wrote the book to help the average Joe and Jane balance life and training in attempting long course triathlon.  Imagine a line drawn down the middle of all types of abilities.  Some of us may be right on that line, some of us may be above it, and some below.  Those on the line can do the training without many issues, and those above it may have to drop off some.  The below people may need to work harder, but should find success as well.  If you are way off the line, you may need to rethink your goals and decide if this book suits your needs.

There was a guy who joined the Facebook page devoted to BIF and had a dilemma:  He was a so-so swimmer, a so-so biker, but he humbly claimed he was an above average runner.  I looked him up on Athlinks.  He was a sub-2:50 marathoner!  Yeah, that’s above average for sure.  He struggled with the run training because he didn’t want to lose his run conditioning, dropping down from the 50+ miles of high intensity running per week to 15 minute jogs.  We suggested a personal coach, someone who could take that into account and create a training plan around that, because BIF can’t change.  So yes, Mr. or Mrs. Fastrunner, you have to adjust yourself to the plan or find alternatives.  The beauty of the program is that he has given us three levels in hopes to satisfy all athletic abilities and goals.

COACH YOURSELF/HOLD YOURSELF ACCOUNTABLE – Fink gives you three levels of plans to choose from and train for Ironman.  Words of wisdom are in the book, and plenty of your questions can be answered by others seeking the same goal.  But the book can’t coach you like a real coach.  You can’t email it with a question about missing a few days of training and get a response.  You can’t have it realign your training if you get injured.  You have to do that on your own.  You have to follow the plan in order to expect the results that the plan was created for.  If you follow the plan you can expect the results you are hoping for.  But if you need to rearrange the plan to fit your life, by all means do it.  You just need to get the work in, especially the weekend workouts.

TRUST THE PLAN – How did the first couple of weeks go?  I’m guessing you have done a few 15 minute runs and have wondered how that is going to get you through a marathon after a 2.4 mile swim and a 112 mile bike ride.  Look, this is 30 weeks of training.  It is a long time.  You will slowly and methodically build to the point that you will be ready.  You have to adopt the motto – TRUST THE PLAN!

QUESTIONING FINK – At some point you’ll be asking what is the purpose of doing a specific workout, or you will have an issue with the heart rate training.  Or someone will say that they chose to do it differently.  It’s okay to have a different approach, but it always amuses me that these first timers think they know more than the guy that wrote the book.  He is an accomplished triathlete and well regarded, certified triathlon coach.  Stop questioning him, and TRUST THE PLAN!

DON’T COMPARE YOURSELF TO OTHERS – Someone on the Facebook page will eventually comment that they are seeing others being able to swim at a much quicker pace than they can, or that others are averaging 18 mph on their bike rides and wonder why they are not doing the same.  The truth is there is a wide range of abilities on these forums, from multiple finishers, athletes with finish times in the sub-11 hour category, and those that are at the other end of the spectrum.  Don’t compare yourself to the others in the group.  You may be in the 40-44 age group and be comparing yourself to comments made by someone in their 20’s.  What you should be aware of is the time cutoffs for the race and where you stand against them.  For most first timers, you are racing the clock, not the others on the Facebook page.

STAYING IN Z2 – You can’t stay in Z2 on your run, can you?  Neither could I when I started and I thought I was a decent runner.  Guess what?  Maybe you and I aren’t as fit as we thought we were.  Maybe the reason is most of us come from competing in shorter distance stuff where the focus is running faster and being quick.  Finishing an Ironman marathon means you have to budget your effort to go the distance.  Fink uses heart rate monitoring to help you build endurance and keep you from burning out.  If you are doing your early training stuff above the recommended HR zone, you risk overtraining and injury.  The goal is to be able to finish a marathon not just after swimming and biking in the race, but also after 30 weeks of training.  You need to learn to pace yourself.

SPINNING AT 100 RPM/100 BPM – I’m guessing you can’t do this either.  This is something that you will be able to accomplish over time, but it will take a while.  The point of this workout is to get you to learn to spin your legs on the bike in an efficient manner without taxing your muscles heavily.  These spins build cardio, promote good cycling technique, provide butt-in-saddle time to condition your butt, and keep you from overtraining.  I relied heavily on the spin during the hillier portion of my three races and watched with some amusement at the others mashing up the hills out of the saddle, only to be completely out of breath at the top of the hill.  I would usually pass them easily going up the hill, and would be much less tired at the top while they needed time to recover.  Spinning an easy gear is smart training and will also be smart racing when attacking hilly courses.  Plus you will be saving your legs for the run.

WHERE IS ZONE 3? – Go grab your book and find a workout that Fink says to do in Z3.  I’ll wait.  Did you find one?  There aren’t any.  Why?  I wondered that myself, especially when I couldn’t stay in Z2 on my local hilly running route.  Here’s my idea on it:  I think Fink knows that we will struggle with Z2, and as long as Z3 doesn’t morph into Z4, he’s okay with you being in Z3 occasionally.  But he just doesn’t want you training in it all the time.  Most of the Iron distance racing pace advice you will find is to stay within Z2 for the race, so training in Z2 is the best way for you to learn the feel of the pace.  Plus it keeps you from overtraining and injury.  I found for myself that the local hills I run on my usual running route will push me out of Z2, but it is brief and I learned that I will quickly get back to Z2.  Conclusion:  Z3 is okay, but don’t live there.

THE THINGS I DID DIFFERENTLY – I followed the Competitive plan for my three Ironman races.  I felt that I wanted to do the best I possibly could, and I had the time to put into the training that the Competitive plan called for.  Plus my training buddies were also following the Competitive plan, and we thought it was best to all be following the same plan.  But I have to confess to making some changes.

For my first race at Ironman Wisconsin in 2013, I followed the plan as close as possible in training – until I could no longer stand using the heart rate monitor and staying in Z2 all the time.  Early on I was resorting to walking some of my run workouts, and being a long time runner there was just no way I was walking a run workout.  Plus, after 25 years of running, I had a pretty good sense of pace and was confident I knew what each zone felt like.  So I switched to “perceived effort,” which Fink warns against because he knows most of us can easily be enticed out of the zone he wants us to stay in.  But I understood the importance of Z2 and knew as long as I didn’t live in Z3, I would be okay, and I was.  I did Ironman Wisconsin very conservatively, finishing in 14:37.

Three years later (2016) I did Ironman Lake Placid and again followed the Competitive plan.  For this race I had gotten better at my swim technique and would sometimes skip the Friday swim workout, or just do straight swims in training when it called for a specific workout.  I always thought that the swim workouts were much more intensive than the bike or run workouts were, especially during the Base Phase of training.  As a matter of fact, I did do swim workouts in the last 10 weeks of training that took me to the 2.4 mile distance, whereas I reached 100 miles on the bike and 20 miles running only once each during training.  The other thing I did at Lake Placid was move out of Z2 more.  The cycling course there almost forces you to, and I wanted to PR badly.  I kicked hard for the last 4 miles of the run and finished strong.  I improved my times in all three disciplines, finishing in 12:52.

The most recent finish was 2017 Ironman Louisville, again following the Competitive plan.  This time though I said screw the swim workouts and did just two 45 minute swims per week for most of the plan.  Occasionally I would do some drills and throw in some tempo/speed workouts, but mostly they were just straight swims.  I did add some additional open water swims of longer lengths just to give me confidence.  My swim finish at Louisville may have been partly due to the current aided Ohio River course, but I PR’d by about 10 minutes over Lake Placid and 20 minutes faster than Wisconsin.  I finished with a PR at Ironman Louisville with a time of 11:46.

Here are some other changes I made:

  • Fink prescribes two races during training, an olympic and a half-Iron distance race. I couldn’t find a local race close enough or cheap enough to warrant racing, so I did them at home.  Luckily for me, I have a pool at home to train in, and I could relax and do them without all the anxiety and cost that comes with racing.  Plus, I didn’t want to risk an accident or injury racing.  Devoting 30 weeks to a goal is a lot of time to invest, and I didn’t want to jeopardize not getting to my A race in one piece.
  • I would sometimes skip the Sunday bike spin prior to the long run, or would do it after the run later in the day.
  • I didn’t do a single weight training workout.  Not a single one.  I hate lifting weights.  No core stuff either.  No thanks.
  • I skipped a week of training to chaperone band camp.  I missed all of the swim and bike workouts for the week, plus 4 hour weekend ride and 1.5 hour long run.  I worried about missing them, but in the end it didn’t matter.
  • Although not anything related to the training plan itself, I did buy a tri bike late in the training plan.  This was something new I had to adapt to, but it did not take long to adjust to riding an aero bike vs. a roadie.
  • As if just being an Ironman finisher wasn’t enough, I started a running streak on January 1, 2015.  This meant that I ran at least a mile on the Monday rest day, and also on the days where there wasn’t a run planned.  It was sometimes very taxing.  I was able to handle it, but it probably didn’t add much to my ability to finish an Ironman.  The only positive I can feel came from it is that I did a lot of bike/run bricks, and they became no big deal to do.

CONCLUSION – I went from being a doggy paddler afraid of open water to being a fairly confident swimmer.  I went from thinking 30 miles was a long way to bike to crossing the century mark for the first time during my first Ironman race.  I went from thinking I knew everything about running to learning new techniques.  I went from watching the Ironman World Championship on television, wondering how finishing such a race was even possible, to being able to do the distance myself.  I went from being only a runner to being a triathlete.  I went from questioning myself to having confidence in myself.  I went from fear of the unknown to having confidence in myself.

I’m a three time Ironman Finisher thanks to Be Iron Fit.  TRUST THE PLAN!