Saturday, April 26, 2008

Second try at the 112th Boston Marathon

"Boston is the best, most strategic, most exciting course in the world, because of the way it builds momentum. I don't think you get that on a flat course. It's so emotional." ~Bill Rodgers

I wouldn't understand what Bill meant until racing the Boston Marathon myself. In my second Boston try I came to race and discovered the emotions involved. I got going -- perhaps a little too fast -- and endured a slight blowup. The cheers from the immense Boston crowds helped move me along and hang on for a good time.

To sum up the story in one fell swoop seems an impossible task. The entire weekend was a celebration of runners and running. Combining 25,000 enthusiastic competitors, their supporting friends and families, the U.S. Women's Olympic Trials, great weather and the famed marathon course was a recipe for a wonderful weekend. I shared my time in Boston with friends from my local running club as well as my companion Andrea, a first-time Boston Marathon participant.

Part of the challenge of training for Boston is facing NE Ohio's winter and the early April date. Though I enjoy running outside in the elements, training was a little light during this cycle. The frigid Cleveland winter hampered a few key workouts in the months of February and March. Starting on New Year's Day, I followed a self-styled 15 week plan loosely based on Jack Daniels Running Formula with progressive phases and one weekly quality workout and long run, averaging 48 miles per week for the 12 weeks preceding a 10 day taper. Different from last fall's training season, was the absence of cycling or swimming. I did neither this winter, diminishing my aerobic base. With running in snow and frigid weather I managed to hit the quality workouts as scheduled, culminating with a solid phase of threshold pace workouts in the 6:20-6:25 pace range. I missed the one longer tune-up race (15k) on my schedule, so I had only two 5k races as indicators of my fitness. A 5k PR of 18:30, nine days prior to Boston, provided a bit of needed confidence since I was clueless of what this race could bring.

Though I have a bit of marathon racing experience under my belt (21 total: 11 raced, 6 as pace leader, and 4 as training runs), I've discovered that each race has it's own set of challenges in execution. In Boston, my challenge was getting to the start, the huge field, and the dramatically hilly course. I'm not used to either as my best marathons have come from within a small field race and with less elevation change.

My work schedule didn't allow much time for me to think about the race in the weeks leading up to the race, but as soon as I arrived in Boston I was able to recall my 2006 Boston experience. I had then read the book "26 Miles to Boston" and many of the details of the course immediately came back to me. In my first Boston, I heeded the advice of others to take it easy and avoid the pitfall of going out to fast. I ran conservatively, scoring a 3:16, but left Boston knowing that I wanted another shot at a faster time. Since then, I've further improved my marathon PR twice in 2007 with a 3:08 (Flying Pig) and 3:04 (Grand Rapids), so I had an idea that I could finish Boston somewhere in the 3:05-3:10 range. Scoring a PR was my stretch goal.

I arrived in Hopkinton a little later than I wanted to because our hotel shuttle could not get all the way to the Athlete's Village. After fighting race-day traffic, our shuttle dropped us off at 8:45am and we hoofed it nearly a mile to the village. I didn't bother going in. Rather, I found a bench in front of the school to change my shoes, apply anti-chafe lubricant, and use the massage stick one last time before starting the procession to the corrals with about 25 minutes to gun.

Pre-race in Hopkinton is a sight to behold. Thousands of runners of all shapes, sizes, and outfits fill the narrow street where the race starts. I walked by a fella wearing a full Yankee pinstripes uniform and imagined that he would have no dull moments during his race. I crammed my way into corral #3 with five minutes to spare and immediately found Rob. We chatted for the remaining minutes and parted ways soon after gun.

Nutrition-wise, I followed the basic plan that has worked for me in past marathons: Water at every chance, a Succeed capsule (electrolytes) at 0:30, 1:30, and 2:30 into race, a gel at 75 minutes and every 35-40 minutes thereafter, and allowing myself gatorade in the final 30 minutes of the race. Also, I carry a 16 ounce water bottle at the start in order to avoid traffic in the first few water stations. Out of the norm, I found myself a little hungry as I headed to the start. I learned recently, but had never tried, that it's okay to take a gel in the window 0-15 minutes before the race. I decided to eat a gel with 10 minutes to go. It seemed to do the trick to curb my hunger with no adverse effect.

The weather forecast called for partly cloudy and high 50s throughout, but minutes before gun the skies parted and the sun shined brightly. Compared to recent years, complaining about the weather is nitpicking, but the temperature was a bit warm for my liking and we experienced a slight headwind throughout that grated on my nerves. All-in-all the weather was not bad, but not completely ideal either.

The race started and it took about 70 seconds to cross the starting line. My goal for the day was around 7:00/mile pace. The corral seeding system seemed to work as I only dodged traffic through M1 (7:15) before finding adequate space to run.

Knowing the first few miles go downhill, I didn't panic when M2 (6:48 ) and M3 (6:47) came a little faster than expected. The effort felt easy like marathon-pace should in the early miles. When M4 (6:44) arrived, I finally forced myself to back off. I sipped water from my bottle and finally emptied and dropped it as I approached a better paced M5 (7:03).

The prevailing wind throughout the race was from the the SE and just as much crosswind as headwind. I did my best to draft throughout, finding myself wanting to sit off the left shoulder of any runner ahead running my pace.

My pace leveled out through Ashland and Framingham as M6 (6:50), M7 (6:51), M8 (6:54), M9 (6:52), M10 (6:58 ) all came smoothly. I knew I was banking time, arriving ten miles in 69-flat. I began to believe that today was my day to do something great, but in the back of my mind I wonder if I was falling into the trap of the famed course. I remember the tips from PacerChris to run the first half by effort rather than by pace and used that thought to comfort my evolving situation. Eventually I would have to confront the hills.

Gel #1 consumed and a slight uphill slowed down M11 (7:01) but I was surprised to see M12 (6:40) before reaching the scream tunnel of Wellesley. Although tempting, I was chicken to get too close to the right side, running straight down the middle of the road and away from runners stopping to collect a kiss. I admit it looked fun over there.

As advertised, the rush of Wellesley resulted in a pace surge, arriving into a town full of screaming spectators in M13 (6:46) and the Half (1:30:10) a full 80 seconds ahead of plan. Never did I think about sub-3 hours on this day, but I began to believe that a PR could fall. How cool would that be to PR at Boston. Newton lurked and I pressed on.

M14 (6:50) and M15 (6:59) were the calm before the storm. I was certain that my legs began to feel heavier, but what is one to do at this point? I took gel #2 on the decent into Newton Lower Falls M16 (6:50), maintaining the mental thought of "even effort" in the climb to the I-95 overpass and towards crowds of Woodland and M17 (7:19).

Making the right-hand turn near the fire station onto Comm Ave, the carnival atmosphere was merely in my periphery as the next hill loomed ahead. All of a sudden I found myself working harder than desired and begging for the next mile marker. Thoughts of survival continued with me each and every mile to the finish.

The crowds in Newton did not disappoint. I passed the two hour mark M18 (7:19) and the team of Dick and Rick Hoyt a little earlier than I did in '06. I got close enough to offer a personal "way to go, Team Hoyt," as I passed by.

With evenly paced 5k splits through 25k in the 21:20-21:30 range, Newton came to collect it's toll on my slowing pace M19 (7:07). In my mind, I'm just trying to survive each mile arriving M20 (7:29) in 2:19:19 and still with hope of a 3:03-3:04 result. The boisterous crowds at BC pull me up Heartbreak Hill M21 (7:55). Somewhere in Newton remember finally catching and passing the Japanese man dressed as Minnie Mouse.

This year I remember not to charge down the backside of Heartbreak, although I couldn't if I tried. I was tiring, accepted that there was to be no final kick and settled for survival mode. Coming through the haunted mile (the quiet stretch between the cemetery and the T tracks) M22 (7:22) I did the calculation of finishing in 8 minute miles and rationalized the slower pace. With a toasted mind and big goals slipping away, I held on to the hope of beating 3:08.

The course continues on a downhill pitch into Cleveland Circle M23 (7:32) and like in '06, I feel a cramping twinge in one hamstring. Not again, I thought, but I ran gingerly and grabbed the next Gatorade I could to provide the last bit of electrolytes and carbs to carry me to the finish.

I couldn't find friends spectating and/or volunteering at the 23.5 mile water station in Coolidge Corners because by this point it was so loud and thick with crazy cheering fans. Their presence kept me on track when all I wished for was the next mile. Our hotel was on Beacon St. near M24 (7:49) and running the final 2 miles Saturday afternoon helped ease my mind I knew the finish was near. Passing Kenmore and seeing the game still in progress at Fenway Park, I survive Citgo hill near M25 (7:53) and all that was left was to post the final time. Reaching the "one mile to go" marker with 7:35 to break 3:07 gave me the motivation to finish strong.

While watching the Olympic Trials, I met for the first time two of my virtual training buddies from One is an up-and-coming runner from Nebraska named Tonya. The other is the high mileage phenom, Mike from Wisconsin. Approaching the Mass Ave underpass, I hear screams of "Go Nebraska" and was wondered if Tonya had caught me. I kept looking over my shoulder expecting see her but it was another Nebraskan. In the final two turns onto Hereford and Boyleston streets, I'm amazed at how many runners surrounded me. I charge down Boyleston aiming for the 3:06-something and arrive M26 (7:34) & Last 0.2 (1:30) and under the arches of the finish line of the Boston Marathon.

Finish: 3:06:54
Place: 1945/21,963

It wasn't a pretty, but I survive to post my second best marathon result of all time. I stood under the arches for the next 15 minutes looking for friends to finish nearby - a difficult task with the hundreds of finishers in each minute. I had no clue that Mike, Tonya, and I finished within one minute of each other. How cool would that have been to share the finish line moment of the Boston Marathon with training buddies?

To me, part of the thrill of racing comes from how to deal with the variances of race execution. In the marathon endeavor, I continue to discover that each race provides different opportunities. In Boston this year, I did not plan to press on the gas like I did in the first half. Could I have run faster had I run a slower first half? Maybe, maybe not. I won't ever know, but I walk away from this race satisfied with the effort.

We capped off this wonderful Boston weekend with a visit to Bill Rodgers Running Company on Tuesday afternoon. I asked Mr. Rodgers about the strategy for racing Boston. He mentioned a pressed pace and enduring the hills. He also recommended a lot of downhill running in training. Airing on the TV in the store was the replay of the elite race, with the women nearing Cleveland Circle and Cheriuyot cresting Heartbreak Hill. We grabbed a seat on the bench and like true running geeks we hung out and watched the incredible finishes of the women running stride-for-stride and Cheriuyot dominating in his record fourth win.

What a place for running.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Back home

I'm home and it's late, but I can sum up the Boston weekend in one word: Wonderful.

Spending the special weekend with wonderful friends was the main thing. Having the opportunity to watch the Women's Olympic Marathon Trials then run in the most famous marathon in the world was an incredible experience.

Racing-wise, I confirmed any doubt I had about the difficulty of the Boston Marathon. It's a tactical course that will magnify any small pace miscalculation. Start the first half too slow and lose precious time to the clock. Go too fast in the first half and the Newton hills, albeit not very big as far as hills go, will magnify any early mistakes. In my first Boston in '06 I took the conservative approach, starting slow and finishing evenly. This time, I pressed on the gas early and suffered a slight blowup in the late miles.

I'll hold the details for a race report, but below are some splits to show how I went out a little too fast with an overall goal of 7:00 per mile pace. After the descent and climb out of Lower Newton Falls from mile 15.5 to 16.5, my legs became heavy. I did not have a flying finish similar to last year in Grand Rapids or at the Flying Pig. As a result of my early exuberance, I begged for the appearance of each and every mile marker to the finish. The last 10k wasn't pretty, but I held on for a course best and a time ranked #2 out of 21 lifetime marathons (11 raced, 6 as pace leader, and 4 as training run.)

Checkpoint: 5k split, (per mile pace), cumulative time

5k: 21:31 (6:56)
10k: 21:23 (6:54) 42:54
15k: 21:21 (6:53) 1:04:15
20k: 21:22 (6:54) 1:25:37
25k: 21:20 (6:53) 1:46:57
30k: 22:23 (7:13) 2:09:20
35k: 23:23 (7:33) 2:32:43
40k: 23:54 (7:43) 2:56:37

1st half: 1:30:10 (6:53)
2nd half: 1:36:44 (7:23)
20 miles: 2:19:19 (6:58)
Last 10k: 47:35 (7:40)

Finish: 3:06:54 (7:08)

Friday, April 18, 2008

Patriot's Day is Monday

No, not the 18-1 Patriots.

I mention Patriot's Day because it's a state holiday in Massachusetts and Maine to commemorate the Revolutionary War. Patriot's Day is also the day of the Boston Marathon. This year marks the 112th year of the oldest and arguably the most famous marathon in the world.

This is my second attempt at Boston and I hardly feel ready. The winter storms of February and March left me less than satisfied with this training season. A blizzard struck on the weekend of my main tune-up race, leaving me merely with two 5k races as my fitness indicator. Not exactly reliable for a marathon race. Without a clear indicator, I am not quite sure of my capability but plan to give it a good race.

This year's Boston Marathon is special in that America's best women marathoners will compete for a spot on the U.S. Olympic Team on Sunday the day prior to Patriot's Day. I imagine watching the trials will provide an inspirational boost come Monday morning for us in the citizen's race.

I'll be there, bib number 3375. Click the B.A.A. website for race day tracking. Enter in my bib number to check out how I'm doing. Race starts at 10AM on Monday, April 21.

The last time I was in Boston, I spent the weekend with my brother who lives in Tokyo. I enjoyed it so much that I left knowing that I wanted to experience the Boston Marathon all over again. The opportunity is now and I will cherish this trip.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Distance running coach

Over the past few years, I've had fun helping my local friends train for marathons and ultramarathons. We've learned the ins and outs of a good marathon season from local coaches as well as the from the schedules of popular author-coaches such as Daniels, Durden, Higdon, and Pfitzinger. I've enjoyed the discoveries of training alongside my friends, putting myself through the same training schedules that I created for the group, and executing a smart race strategy. Somewhere along the way it was suggested to me to get a coaching certification. So I did.

I recently completed the requirements to be listed as a certified distance running coach by the Road Runners Club of America.

To find a RRCA-certified running coach in your area, click this link. Coaches are listed by state.

RRCA running coaches are tasked to follow a Coaching Code of Ethics.

Are any readers of this blog working as a running coach? If so, I'm interested as to what capacity and audience.

Is anyone interested in a running coach? This is your chance to hire me for cheap. ;)

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Week of April 6-12

Sun: 16 miles easy on trails at the April Fool's FA. (results)
Mon: 5 easy (7:54) Cooled down with 4x strides.
Tue: 11 miles, with 3mi @ I-pace. (4x 1200m intervals (5:45); with 400m recovery jog.)
Wed: 3 easy
Thur: 7.5 miles easy (8:09)
Fri: rest
Sat: 9.5 total, with 5k race (18:30, 17 second PR)

1200m splits: 4:20/4:21/4:19/4:16

52 miles on 6 runs.

One week to go to Boston. Mileage might seem high for a taper week, but I'm not fretting. The trail miles at the FA run were all easy, enjoying the trail and taking a few photos along the way.

The highlights of the week were the two sharpening workouts at interval pace. I've had success with racing a 5k on the weekend prior to a marathon. To prepare, Tuesday's workout was a planned 6x 800m that turned out better than I could have expected. A local speedster who was doing 1600s, so I joined in and turned my session to 4x 1200m. Running the first 3 laps with Tara, I surprised myself when I turned in average 5:45 pace for the workout.

Since my best 5k to date is 6:06/mile pace, my confidence was high heading into today's Run for your life 5k in Berea at the fairgrounds. Sub-6:00 was the first goal, but I thought 5:55 pace was possible. The other fast woman in our track group, Dee, was in the race. I arrived later than I wanted, but I got an adequate warm-up and a few strides in before the gun.

A short 5k race report:

38F, overcast and breezy at 9am start. Actually rained and hailed a bit in the minute before gun, but overall not entirely bad race conditions. Wore shorts and singlet.

I went out too fast!

I had confidence coming into this race, but bit off a lot more than I can chew. Mile 1 (5:36), which was 20 seconds faster than my goal pace for the day.

I was within the top 15 and tucked in a pack. Dee was nearby through miles 1 and 2. Though I never looked back, I knew she was there. Only 4 minutes into the second mile I was already in oxygen debt and feeling the hurt. Now in the top 10, I snuck briefly into 6th place for a bit. Dee finally passes me at the mile 2 marker (5:58/11:33). We both figured the first mile was short, but the second mile evened it out.

By now I was begging for the end and did the quick math that I could still break sub-6:00 pace with a 6:25 mile. I pushed on. I was nearly cooked, but did all I could to relax and still push. This course was nice because it was a loop with no out-and-back or 180 degree turns. I survived Mile 3 (6:16), turned the final corner and on to the last straight. The clock ahead turned 18:00 and I watched Dee finish, winning her race in 18:12 and a slight PR for her. She separated from me by 18 seconds in the final 1.1 miles.

I cross the line barely breaking the sub 6:00/pace. I imagine if I were 10 seconds slower in mile one that I could possibly been faster, but I'll take it.

Splits: 5:36 (short), 5:58 (long), 6:16, 0:40
Final time: 18:30 (PR, previously 18:47)
Place: 9/230

This marathon season was weird in that my only two tune-up races were 5k road races. The VDOT improved, as expected, as I ran 19:19 on February 16th. Last October, I ran 18:50-something one week before a good Grand Rapids marathon. This year, I'm 20 seconds faster in the 5k. Who knows what could happen in Boston.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Green Jewel preview

Entry forms now available for the Green Jewel 100k & 50k fun run. It's a new event brought to us by Joe Jurczyk (RD, Burning River 100) and Vince Rucci (Owner, Vertical Runner.)

The idea is to run the entire distance of the "Emerald Necklace" of the Cleveland Metroparks system. Mostly on paved paths and roads, there is great potential for a speedy 50km or 100km time.

With the start but three miles from my house, I couldn't resist. I registered, but will reserve my goals until after Boston. I also imagine having the option to stop after 50km will be difficult to pass by.

If you're interested, sign up soon. The field is limited to 50 runners.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Fun run photos

Click here for link to my fun run photo album.

Cross Country trail towards Little Meadow

Ledges trail

Cross Country trail

Salt Run trail

Salt Run

More Salt Run

Boston Run trail

Fun run results

Finish times from the April Fool's FA fun run
April 6, 2008
40 runners at the 7:05am start

Congratulations to all!

50km +
Jerry Williamson
Frank Dwyer

4:55 Jim Harris
4:55 Vince Rucci
5:11 Paul Romanic
6:13 Jerry Williamson
6:22 Jason Bour
6:36 Dan Fox
6:56 Kurt Osadchuk
6:57 Courtney Baker
7:00 Brian Musick
8:03 Mike Halkovich

6:09 Nick Longworth

25km +
3:15 Kyle Bowman (20 miles)
3:20 Kevin Martin (19 miles)
3:20 David Peterman (18 miles)
3:30 Brandon Russell

2:18 Ed Goubeaux
2:19 Matt Pazderak
2:33 Mel Bolgrin
2:39 Zack Johnson
2:55 Michael Kazar
3:05 Lloyd Thomas
3:10 Greg Dykes
3:10 Ron Ross
3:34 Dave Janosko
3:34 Bruce McMurray

20km (12.5 miles)
1:50 Jim Chaney
2:19 Marta Pacur
2:26 Chef Bill Bailey
-:-- Patti Sweeney
2:45 Mike George

10km +
1:24 Denise Flores (7.2 miles)

If you do not see your name, or to report an error, send email to

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Week of March 30 - April 5

Sun: 26.2 miles in 3:24 (7:47)
Mon: no run. 3 miles walking.
Tue: 7 miles easy. (8:42) Cooled down with 6x strides.
Wed: 11 miles total, with 30 minutes at T-pace. 4.75 miles (6:25)
Thur: 6.5 miles easy on trails (9:32)
Fri: rest
Sat: 7 miles easy (7:58)

57.7 miles on 5 runs.

An encouraging week with two good workouts and the necessary recovery occurring.

The Sunday marathon was ideal for a training run. Overcast skies, temperatures in the low-40s, and 25 water stations allowed for a solid run. Goal was to run 8:00 pace for 3:30 and ended up with a 6 minute negative split. I enjoyed this tour of Atlanta and Decatur, GA and feel better the prospect of racing better at the Boston Marathon in 16 days.

Though slightly sore on Monday morning, a flight delay allowed for a few walking miles while stuck in Dulles terminal; a silver lining to being 3 hours late.

Wednesday's quality workout was scheduled 4x 10 min (2 min rests) @ T-pace. We've yet to see decent weather at the track this year until this week: Slightly chilly but an otherwise perfect 40F and calm. The T-pace was a little brisker than in past weeks, averaging 6:25 for the session. Shortened the quality segment to 30 minutes, but walked away from this workout satisfied that I turned it around from the weekend long run. The Tuesday set of strides seems to aid with recovery.

Considering the marathon was but 2.5 days prior to the weekly quality, I'm pleasantly suprised by the progress of the past week. This 57 mile week is the largest since a 60 mile week in January. The Boston goal continues to be on a sliding scale.

I'm really excited about tomorrow's Fat Ass run. I'm estimating over 50 participants.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008


Back from the weekend boondoggle and short of time for a full report.

I ran the hilly and challenging ING Georgia marathon on Sunday in nice cool temperatures. This course is just what I needed as I've missed my last two long runs due to our snowy winter. I can't complain with the day and accomplished the training goal of a final long run before Boston. While the cool mid-40s temps was kind to the runners, I imagine that this day was very chilly for the locals. It took a while for me to get comfortable in the first half, but my legs naturally stretched out to a swifter marathon-type pace in the second half between miles 15-22. Finished with nearly a 7 minute negative split:

3:24:16 (136/2131 marathon finishers)

Click the photo below for a few more pics from the course. Fun sights: The "Born to Run" guitar player at mile 6, the screaming girls of the all-women's college at mile 11 did a great job re-creating the vibe of Wellesley, a Dave's Cosmic Sub's at mile 16, and the Djembe drum troupe near mile 19 were some of the many fun entertainment groups along the route.