With a day job in financial services that often has me working on retirement tools and services, I consider myself a quasi-expert in the area and while the best advice is save early and often, the second most common piece of advice is often overlooked: Have something concrete to do in retirement. Not just vague notions of travel or relaxing more or reading. With fuzzy plans like that, you’ll often yearn to be commuting again within a year. Have a goal. A definitive goal. A big, sit up and take notice goal. Like running your first 5k in 30 years or getting in shape enough to run a race with three generations of your family. In other words pick a goal like my Dad.
With my ‘A’ race for the year now more than a month past, I feel firmly entrenched in the off-season. I’ve taken some time off, recovered from the marathon and now returned to working out most days. I’ve set up the trainer in the basement, dusted off the treadmill and I’m making early morning trips to the pool. The long, slow process of building up an aerobic triathlon base for 2014 has begun, but before we jump ahead, I wanted to give a quick review of the plan I used to prep and run my first marathon.
Other than the first race of the season being snowed out, my horrible weather streak in 2012 has mostly flipped and produced some really great days in this year. I’m sure this dooms next month’s marathon, but for this half marathon, the weather was cool, dry, bright and sunny.
Woke up on time (always a source of stress and wildly imaginative scenarios where I miss the race) and had my coffee (gotta get things moving) with my Chrissie Wellington breakfast: a bowl of rice cereal with a little salt, a dollop of honey and a spoonful of almond butter.
I mixed up some Vega pre-workout energizer to sip in the car then double-checked my (now clear for security) race bag: nutrition (2 dates, a gel and some lemon-lime Clif blocks), watch and some extra clothes and I was ready to go.
After a wrong turn (very unlike me, I was carpooling with a friend that was racing and just to chatting, also sort of unlike me), we made it to race site and were greeted by a long line of taillights. I have to say it was sort of unexpected. The race was being held outside a horce racing track, so there was ample, ample parking, but due to restrictions or poor traffic logistics things backed up pretty severely.
By the time we parked, there was less than a half hour until the race start time (and still many, many cars in line). One thing we did not have to stress about was rest rooms. Usually a good chunk of pre-race planning is timing your last port-a-potty trip. Thankfully, between the race track facilities and ample portable stalls, there were very short lines all around. Yay!
If the race directors stepped up with the toilets, they fell down with the bag check. With less than ten minutes until the race the line was still probably a hundred deep waiting for the two or three volunteers (I couldn’t even see that far) to rack everyone’s bag. This should be the last thing a runner needs to stress about. Boo! I ended up jogging back to my car and hurriedly running back to the start.
Despite all the lines and parking woes, the race started on time. I do appreciate a prompt race director. There is nothing worse than being all warmed up and stuck in the corrals.
The first three to four miles wind through the working class East Boston neighborhood that surrounds the race track and for the early hour there were quite a few people hanging out by their front doors cheering us on. My only complaint was the pavement in parts wasn’t great and you really had to watch your step.
I managed to avoid rabbiting out too fast, in my mile splits you can see where I start to throttle back to keep things in check. I settled in and let the pack mostly flow around me until I found a group going my speed.
The middle of the course is run right along the ocean by Revere Beach. New pavement, closed roads, the ocean on one side, interesting beach shops and restaurants on the other made this a really nice part of the run. There were a few live bands along the route, as well as some DJs in case the scenery wasn’t enough.
Once we reached the first turnaround and the halfway mark, I was still feeling good and I started to let my speed naturally creep up. There were aid stations about every two miles and I was taking liquids at each one, even just a mouthful, alternating between Gatorade and water.
At the second turnaround as we started to leave the beach and loop back through the neighborhoods toward the track, I let go of the watch and just ran as hard as I could. Unlike past races were I faded quite badly or had my IBTs tighten up to the point were I was almost limping home, I finished strong, really strong, passing a lot of people, beating my prediction and grabbing a new PR.
In retrospect, maybe I was a little too conservative in the first part of the race. Next time, I think I might try to lower my overall average mile time a bit and smooth out the overall splits. Still, it’s hard to complain about setting a PR. I ran the race I planned: rehearse for the marathon, stay on pace early, finish strong. The second half of my run was 2:33 faster than the first half and each 5k reflected the plan to pace than build to a finish (23:33, 23:49 (checking my pace on purpose), 23:06, 21:38). Hard to really complain too much.
They had the medals being handed out, finisher photos and water in the chute. The rest of the snacks and drinks were inside the track. The spread was a little thin for such a large event. Bananas, oranges, strawberries(?), more water, and Oreos.
There was also a large beer garden and live band (maybe this is where the money went), however the beer garden didn’t open until 10:30 while most of the 13.1 racers (the 5k was done) were finishing between 9 and 9:30. A long time to hang around. I saw a lot of people trying to give away beer tickets.
– nicely designed tech shirt (so many race shirts are ugly)
– an abundance of bathrooms
– well run race itself, plenty of aid stations
– nice middle section by the water
– a little expensive (though this seems to be the growing norm)
– pre/post race logistics could be improved
The Half Marathon needs a better name. It sounds like a cop-out, doesn’t it? Oh, you couldn’t do a full marathon, huh? Opted for the halfsie? By the end of 13.1 miles this past Sunday, I was quite ready to take any abuse, any insult, just to be done. I staggered across the line, legs like dead wood, chest heaving, eyes zeroed in on that finish line with a zombie-like stare. Sounds like fun, right? Why would I possibly subject myself to this? Good question.
In the days leading up to the Providence Rock N Roll Half Marathon, I asked myself this question a lot and came up with two reasons. I blame my co-worker and Christopher McDougall’s Born to Run. The co-worker because he innocently handed me the book and McDougall for writing a very convincing and very entertaining book that certainly made distance running seem fun and romantic. Before I go further, let me say I’m not a barefoot acolyte. I do own a pair of minimalist trail shoes and I did make a conscious decision to change my stride this year to more of a mid-foot strike to ease the burden on my knees, but please don’t attack me with do’s or don’ts of barefoot running. My advice? If you’re running without pain (or little pain) there is probably little reason to change. If you find yourself bogged down with injuries or returning to running from a long layoff, you might give the arguments in the book some thought.
The second reason was more esoteric and tangential. I play basketball once a week with a group of like minded, competitive guys. We recently switched leagues from the open league to the over-35 one. Seems rather banal, and definitely a good decision given how the 20 year-olds were buzzing by us like we were playing in cement shoes, but I think it triggered some sort of urge to still prove I could compete. Even if I was only proving it to myself. Like I said, esoteric, but better than buying a Corvette or something, right?
I wasn’t starting from scratch. I was pretty fit and had a solid base of 15-20 miles a week of recreational running. Still, I knew I needed a plan for a half marathon. Sure, I could probably wing it and complete it, but being a type A personality, I had goals and ambitions of running it well. There are numerous plans out there on the Internet for free. Pretty much a plan for every type of runner, I think. I choose Hal Higdon’s Intermediate plan for a couple reasons. First, it wasn’t overly complex. A lot of plans had days (or multiple days) dedicated to speed workouts or splits or intervals or tempo runs. Undoubtedly that would probably help, but I the more I searched the more I realized I wanted less of a plan and more of a road map on how to ramp up to sufficient miles without risking injury. Second, I have a full-time job, a toddler and lot of other demands on my time. Higdon’s plan was flexible. It allowed for me to slot in my weekly basketball game as cross-training and for flip-flopping training days when necessary.
With the training now in the rear view mirror, I can say Higdon’s plan was successful and the right one for me.
Let me also pass along a few tips on the physiology of long training runs. I did come to welcome these runs (proves how short term my memory is) each weekend, at least until mile 9 or so, and definitely came to recognize a certain pattern:
Mile 0 – 3: This is a good pace. Nice and easy. I can do this all day.
Mile 4 – 7: Damn! I am flying. Half marathon? Screw that, I’m going for the full monty.
Mile 8 – 11: Where did these elves and their little knives come from? Why are they jabbing me in the knees, ankles and hips? Aw, gawd, it hurts!
Mile 12 – 13: Mental boot camp. Your numb lower body is on autopilot. A death-march to the finish.
Two final things, having a time goal did help me. It gave me a tangible measuring stick to track my training progress. Second, I always thought the idea of a mantra was kind of silly, but in those last three or four miles when your mind is a blank slate of pain, they do help bring a kind of focused determination to finishing.
When & Where?
On further reflection, picking New England in August for my first attempt, was pure folly. If I had to do it again, I’d aim for September or October. Hot and humid were not just a possibility (despite the 7 am start), but a probability. Not a lot I could do about it. I had trained through August, sometimes timing longer runs at midday to acclimatize a bit. The one thing I didn’t count on? The rain.
Well, I did finish, but Sunday August 7th in Providence was a monsoon. And that is barely exaggerating. Fifteen to twenty mile an hour winds with driving rains for a good three quarters of the race. It did build a sense of solidarity among the five thousands that turned out, but man it was less than ideal, especially for a maiden voyage. Despite a fifteen minute delay at the start, leaving us packed and shuffling in the corral, the race was otherwise well organized on all fronts. They could have used more post-race shelter for runners, but I can’t fault them for not anticipating the storm. I would have liked to see them put the gear bags under tarps or something as finishing and picking up your soaked gear was a downer. The on-course stations, timing, and post-race recovery spread was good.
I made it around the course a few minutes under my goal time and despite some pacing issues (like an eager beaver I went out waaay too fast) will definitely be running another half again in the future. My last piece of advice? Reward yourself. Running 13 miles is nothing to sneeze at. Take a few days off recover and reward yourself. Me? I spent the next day lounging, stuffing my gut with BBQ and cupcakes.
As I’ve crept closer to my mid-thirties I’ve become better at curbing my instincts for buying up the latest gadget. Having to pay a mortgage and daycare bills will have that sort of mitigating effect. After seeing the new Garmin Forerunner however, I’m seriously fighting the itch. While mulling over my argument to Michelle about why I really need to upgrade my “virtual coach and training partner” I thought about how the Garmin (I have a now antiquated 305 model which feels like carrying a grandfather clock on your wrist) has changed the way I run the past three years.
Even if you’re just running for health maintenance and not training for a race or other goal, not tracking and recording your runs can be a mistake. I’m not talking about religiously recording every step like a deranged fitness accountant (more on that in a minute) but not keeping any record of progress makes it hard to measure improvement and easy to slip into a rut and simply plateau.
There is a dark side to being able to capture all those stats. In those first heady months after you strap a GPS to your wrist you’ll be setting all sorts of personal records and pushing to reach new goals. It’s fun. It’s invigorating. It’s enticing. Up to a point. Eventually you’ll reach a barrier and those PR’s and goals become harder and harder to accomplish. In and of itself this is not a bad thing and can help keep you pushing, helping you avoid that plateau. But it can also lead to disappointment and drain the fun out of running. Beware.
One benefit of pushing for those PRs and having constant access to pace and heart rate is the more closely you tune into your body. You’ll soon learn to judge your turnover in relation to pace and when you’re having a good day and a shot and when it’s not there. The latter is the harder lesson to learn. Not every time out is going to be a PR. Some days it will enough to just log the miles.
Something happened in the third year of running with the Forerunner. I started leaving it home more. I started running to just to run. I knew instinctively when I was loafing and when I was pushing. Some days I just plain didn’t care. I just wanted to go for a run and not be tethered to time and distance.
Did I just talk myself out of it? Maybe I just need to go for a run.