2017 Boston Marathon Race Report: Part 2: The Race!

Hey again! In Part 1 I wrote about training for the 2017 Boston Marathon. Here’s Part 2, all about the actual race.

During my training I read as much about the Boston course as possible. For anyone who has never run the Boston Marathon, here’s my basic breakdown of the course, as learned through studying the course map, talking to friends, and reading race reports:

Boston Race Route

Just look at that elevation profile!

The first mile is almost entirely downhill, dropping rapidly for .6 miles, then rising slightly for .15 miles, and then dropping some more. The course continues distinctly downhill for miles 2-5, with some easy rolling hills that I can barely remember, flattening out from miles 6-15, with some more rolling hills that I also cannot remember. Just after mile 15, the course drops significantly for almost half a mile. It then flattens out briefly before the first of four bigger hills from miles 16-21. The first hill, starting right around mile 16, climbs steadily for over half a mile and traverses an overpass, so it’s long and quiet. The course then flattens out and rolls along for about a mile until the next distinct uphill at mile 17.5. Another small set of rollers emerges before a steep bump just after mile 19, and then another flat to rolling section before the infamous Heartbreak Hill, .6 miles of 4 percent grade at mile 20. Heartbreak has two climbing sections separated by a flat area. Once you’re at the top, the course drops slightly before a tiny bonus bump. Once over the bonus bump, the course drops significantly past Boston College, and remains downhill or slightly rolling through the finish line.

As you can guess, the key to running well on this course is preserving enough strength to get up the hills between miles 16-21 so that you feel strong enough to run hard on the final five-mile downhill stretch. If you hit the top of Heartbreak Hill feeling strong, then you can make up any time you lost on the climbs. If you pushed too hard earlier and you summit Heartbreak with thrashed quads, then the final miles will hurt.

Boston Marathon Shakeout Sun

Shakeout Sunday with Ilya and Bari, my fellow Brooklyn runners!

Knowing that the Newtown hills from miles 16-21 often claim a number of victims, I had made sure to run multiple long runs in Central Park, and added hill repeat days on Battle Pass Hill in Prospect Park. However, once I started to read other runners’ recaps of the 2016 Boston Marathon, I got a little scared. The warm weather during the 2016 race has become the stuff of legend in the running community. Ask anyone who ran that race how they felt out there, and they’ll just shake their heads. I lost count of the number of recaps that read something like this: “By mile 5, I knew it wasn’t going to be my day. So, I slowed down, drank as much water as I could, and enjoyed the fact that I was running the Boston Marathon.”

I also noticed another trend: athletes who readjusted their goal times prior to the race ended up having a decent day. In one particular recap, the runner had hoped to run 2:55 (around 6:41/mile), but decided to fight just for sub-3. He succeeded in his sub-3 goal, but not by much. He drank water and dumped water on his head at every aid station. I noticed this strategy in a number of other write-ups as well, along with the advice that in the warm weather, one should consume in-race nutrition earlier in the race. Noted.

Boston Marathon Shakeout Boylston

Shakin’ it out the wrong way up Boylston.

However, when I started to check the weather forecast about a week out from Marathon Monday, I felt good about my 2:53 plan. The weather was promising low 40s for the morning, with a high of low 60s. Perfect! That’s about what the NYC Marathon has been the last two years. Can’t argue with that.

Boston Marathon Finish Line Ilya

Just some cool guys hanging out at the finish line the day before the race! Thanks to Ilya and Bari for a great shakeout run and thank you, Bari, for the excellent photos.

Unfortunately, upon arriving in Boston on the Saturday before the race, temperatures had drifted into the high 70s, and promised Marathon Monday temperatures creeping into the 70s. I told myself not to worry about it, but to run my own race. It did not matter if 2:53 happened. Execution of a strong race plan and enjoying the experience became the most important aspects of my Marathon Monday.

On Marathon Monday I spent my pre-race time sitting near home plate in the baseball field at Hopkinton High School. The sun flew overhead, but I was not perspiring while sitting in the open. I chatted with my friend Ryan pre-race, and meditated on our collective attempt to run 2:50 at the 2016 NYC Marathon. We just could not pick up the pace after running a 1:26 first half., and I ran a four-minute positive split, never hitting the wall but slowing down in the final six-eight miles. After this past training cycle, with consistent 50-mile weeks and no time off for injury, I knew that I would be able to hold a more consistent pace through this course.

NYC Marathon Jim Ryan Mile 18

Ryan (second from right) and i cruising by Mile 18 of the 2016 NYC Marathon, simultaneously enjoying the atmosphere but not quite feelin’ the pace.

After a short wait of about an hour, the race organizers called the Wave 1 runners to the corrals, and we walked through Hopkinton down a small hill and to a second porta-pottie-filled parking lot. I strolled up to my starting corral, letting others walk and jog past me, reminding myself that I had over 26 miles to run. After about a half hour, which included the singing of the national anthem and a flyover by two F-16s, the starting pistol fired and Wave 1 Corral 3 lurched forward, halted, lurched again, and spilled across the starting line. Some runners sprinted. I focused only on starting my Garmin as I jogged across the timing mats.

Miles 1-5 (6:58, 6:49, 6:49, 6:40, 6:42)

Despite all my preparation, I was still surprised just how much the course dropped throughout those first five miles. Feeling the down slopes under my body, I focused on staying perpendicular to the hills, shortening my stride, and not worrying too much about my foot strike. Combined with the tightly-packed running crowds in the early miles, I did not push my pace much, and really let my body dictate how fast I warmed up. I sped up once at the end of mile 1 to get a sub-7 mile split on my watch. Otherwise, I followed my friend Mary’s advice: I “parked myself” on the double yellow line and ran down the middle of the road, and moved to the water stations on the left to hydrate (left-hand stations came after the right-hand stations, and were less crowded). I soaked in the crowds and enjoyed what felt like super easy running. Even though I was not thirsty or hot yet, I started drinking water and dumping water on my head at mile 2, grabbing at least three cups at each station. By mile 5 my shorts looked like I was swimming. My forehead, however, remained bone dry.

At some point during these miles, another runner yelled out, “Enjoy the miles while they’re easy.” I chuckled, and thought to myself, “I’m going to enjoy them even when they get tough.” And that’s the whole point of running these races, right? I did not take time off work to surround myself with thousands of strangers for hours on end just to enjoy the first five miles of the race. I came to enjoy the motion of moving my body at a fast pace for an extended period of time. Bring on the muscle soreness! Let’s have some fun.

Miles 6-15 (6:35, 6:34, 6:38, 6:37, 6:38, 6:39, 6:33, 6:38, 6:38, 6:40)

As the course flattened out, I started to find my rhythm. On a cooler day I would have pushed for 6:30-6:33 through this section, but I did not want to risk pushing too hard, too early. As the splits show, I was a model of consistent running. Honestly, not much to report. I felt strong, kept drinking and dumping water on my head at every water station, and grabbed extra water being handed out by kind spectators. At two different parts of the course, I grabbed entire water bottles, most of which went on my head. I also took a GU gel at the miles 7 and 13 water stations.

Boston Marathon 4

In the zone . . . somewhere on the course! Who is Fuller, and do we support him?!

Around mile 10 or 11 I ran into Steve, a fellow New York City runner who I’d e-mailed a few weeks earlier after reading some of his race recaps. Like me, he was running strong but cautious. Unlike me, he had the experience of running the 2016 Boston Marathon, so he knew firsthand just how quickly the heat could dash one’s chance at a strong race.

Miles 16-21 (6:29, 6:47, 6:49, 6:41, 6:53, 7:01)

After the steep downhill in mile 15, I approached the first of the four Newton hills. It loomed long, but not as steep as I had imagined. Although I felt my pace slow a bit as I ascended, my legs felt strong and steady. I saw my first group of walkers, and at least one runner at a medical tent looking disoriented. I reminded myself to stick to the hydration plan, made it to the top of the hill, and kept rolling along. The second Newton hill was steeper but shorter, and I felt good as I maintained an even effort to the top. I started to feel the first bit of fatigue in my legs, but not enough to slow me down.

November Project brought the ruckus to Mile 18. I heard the cheer station from about 30 seconds away, and moved to the left side of the street to grab as many high-fives as possible. However, right as I hit the main cheer station, I nearly collided with a guy running in a Robin costume, because why not? Robin looked like he was loving the NP crowd, so I felt a little bad knocking him out of the way to high-five my buddies.

Boston Marathon 2

Old school Batman!

After the NP cheer station, I honestly don’t remember the third Newton hill or the following section of the course. However, my mind came sharply into focus at the baseball of Heartbreak Hill. I looked up and thought, “This is it. Get up this guy and then you can let loose.” And up I traveled. My legs started to rebel a tiny bit, so I shortened my stride and repeated, “Get up this guy and you can let loose.” I crested the first bit, then started up the second. The crowds cheered loudly, but I focused only on each step, one at a time. The rebellion in my legs calmed. My body felt relaxed. My mind, clear. “Get up this guy and you can let loose.” One step after another.

Boston Marathon 1

Robin, unperturbed by me basically running him over at Mile 18.

Miles 22-26 (6:38, 6:35, 6:34, 6:33, 6:27)

When I summited Heartbreak Hill and the small bonus bump immediately following it, I pumped my fists and charged down the Boston College hill. My pace, which had dropped to 7:00/mile while climbing Heartbreak, briefly dipped into the low 6:20s as I high-fived every Boston College student I could see and shouted, “How ‘bout it, Eagles?!” I felt like the race was only just beginning, and smiled ear to ear down the hill. I really had to push myself to hold back. Although I knew that the remainder of the course was heavily downhill, I was not going to risk a late-stage, unanticipated bonk.

Miles 23 and 24 felt like the most intense and intimate miles of the race. Although no spectators jumped into the road like during some earlier points (which made me wonder if that was how the Tour de France riders might feel, surrounded by fans slapping their backs as they ascended 10 percent grades in the Alps), everyone seemed like they were continuously screaming and cheering. I really fed off their energy, even though I was conserving energy and no longer pumping my fists at every  “Yeah, NP!”

Jim Boston Mile 25.5

Nice job almost missing me, Melissa 🙂

Once I saw the Citgo sign looming ahead, I knew it was time to ice this thing. I ascended the short bump between miles 24 and 25, passed the mile 25 marker, passed the Citgo sign signaling one mile to go, and pushed my pace just a little bit more. The time on my watch suggested a PR was happening, but my brain was not able to compute exactly how fast I needed to finish to make it happen. Oh well, I thought: just run faster.

Boston Marathon Hereford

Right on Hereford!

And I did. As I dipped under Massachusetts Avenue while following the tangent line painted on Commonwealth, I got a huge cheer from my fiancé, Melissa, and our good friends Leah and Dana, who live right at that intersection overlooking the Marathon route. I raised my hands over my head and then focused on passing the two or three runners directly in front of me. I shouted, “Let’s go boys! Half a mile to go!” However, no one joined my cheers. Either I had too much energy left, or they were dying.

Boston Marathon Boylston

Left on Boylston! (Thanks, Winnie!)

Either way, I started to push a little harder when I took that final right on Hereford, left on Boylston. As noted in so many recaps, once you turn onto Boylston, that finish line seems so far away, despite being only 600 meters down the street. I planted myself on the tangent line and kept pushing, focusing only on passing the runners immediately in front of me. My hip flexors felt sore, but every other leg muscle felt up to the task. I pushed forward, the crowds screaming with every step, the sun bright between the buildings, reminding myself how many times I’d run a hard 400 meters in training. Then, as if the last two minutes had not happened, I crossed the finish line, stopped my watch, and saw 2:55:XX as my final time. Boom!

Boston Marathon Medal 3

If you had to base your opinion only on the shorts in this picture, which runner would you say likes to party?

As almost always happens after a marathon, every muscle in my legs seized up within a minute of crossing the finish line. I honestly believe that the hardest part of a marathon is the walk to pick up the medal and your gear bag! Fortunately, I ran into Ryan and my other friend Chris, who had just finished in times of 2:50:XX. Incredible! We congratulated each other, and then Chris and I walked to get our medals, goodie bags, and met up with Sarah, Chris’s incredible wife and Ironman destroyer. She was nice enough to take some great finisher photos of us once we exited Boylston and walked over to Commonwealth Ave.

Boston Marathon Medal

I’m smiling, but mostly dreading the half-mile walk back to where I’m staying.

Post-race reflections and next steps, in Part 3! (Coming Soon)

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2017 Boston Marathon Race Report: Part 1

Hey! It’s been a long time since I updated my blog, but here we go.

On Monday, April 17, 2017, I ran the Boston Marathon in a time of 2:55:56, 6:43/mile pace, 976 overall out of 26,411 finishers. My time gave me a 58-second marathon PR from my time at the 2016 New York City Marathon. It was a hot day, but I could not have executed my race plan any better. My 15-second negative split tells me that I ran about as well as I could have.

Because I haven’t written for so long, I wrote a lot! Therefore, I’ve decided to break it down into three separate blog entries: 1) a summary of my training throughout 2016 and my Boston-specific training; 2) a race recap; and 3) an analysis of my race, and what’s in store as I train for the Marine Corps Marathon on October 22, 2017.

Without further ado, Part 1: A Yearlong Training Review (2016-April 2017)

Honestly, 2016 was a difficult year in terms of training. An injury to my right hip flexor muscles and adductor kept me sidelined from approximately February through mid-April. In May, I ran the 2016 Brooklyn Half only 7 seconds off my half marathon PR. That race reassured me that I had not lost too much fitness, but showed just how much work I would have to put in if I wanted to improve. I also hated every step of it, and entered the “pain cave” for the first time in my running career. I then participated in the New York City Triathlon in July, which was an awesome experience but definitely took time away from running.

Brooklyn Half Pain

Brooklyn Half: not a good look, especially for a non-PR time!

NYC Tri 1

NYC Triathlon: Swim Time 2000ish/3300; Bike Time 700ish/3300; Run Time 58/3300. Guess we learned my strongest discipline.

Then, in August, just as I was building my mileage, I got a once-in-a-lifetime last-minute opportunity to attend Burning Man and play guitar in a Phish tribute band. Although this story deserves a post of its own, I ended up running the Burning Man 50k on approximately 25-30 miles per week of training, with one long run of 18 miles. Not my best race, and definitely not the best way to build up the miles leading into fall marathon training.

Burning Man 3

When you run an ultramarathon in the desert, you get water refills from this guy.

Burning Man Music

Bringing the music of Phish to the desert!

Upon return to New York, I ended up with bursitis in my right hip, which sidelined me for another two weeks. More importantly, I missed at least one 20-miler because of it before I went to the doctor. When I was finally able to run again, I squeezed in two 20-milers before the Marathon and ran a small half marathon PR in a tiny race in Brattleboro, VT, all the while nursing an ever-tightening left ankle. Despite mentioning said ankle to my doctor throughout the year, he told me to keep stretching it, but not to worry.

Catamount Half 1

Catamount Half Marathon: 1:19:56, 2nd overall to this guy, Jason, whose parents lived along the race route. Super nice guy!

That said, on November 6, 2016, I toed the line at the New York City Marathon having averaged 35 miles per week from June through November, with a peak week of 50 miles. Not terrible, but definitely not the volume necessary to build the aerobic capacity to make a big leap in my marathon abilities. Also, as you can probably guess, the lack of consistency across the year made it difficult to predict what would happen after the gun at 9:50 AM that morning. Suffice to say, I could not have asked for anything more when I crossed the finish line in Central Park with a 62-second marathon PR.

NYC Marathon 1

Chris, Jamil, Me, Myles, and Ryan: all sub-3, all within 2 minutes of each other!

When I analyzed my race, however, I was able to identify a pretty obvious issue. I ran the first half of the race in 1:26, approximately 6:33/mile. The second half clocked in at 1:30, or 6:52 mile. While New York is generally a positive split course, most strategies would favor a one- to two-minute positive split to account for the Queensborough Bridge and the Fifth Avenue hill. Such a strategy would require one to run an even effort throughout the marathon.

So, why did I finish with a four-minute positive split? In my opinion, there were two main reasons. First, I set way too ambitious a goal of running 2:50, so I went out faster than I should have. That led to me slowing down in the final eight miles of the race. Second, my training, which lacked both volume and consistency, failed to let me develop the muscle endurance required to keep turning over the legs in the late stages of the marathon. Based upon that, I decided that for Boston, I would increase my weekly training volume, and try to run at least six days per week, even if some of those runs were short. For the first time I ordered a custom training plan from NYRR’s Virtual Trainer program. The plan was set to start on December 27, which meant that I would use the time between mid-November and late December to build up a good mileage base.

However, after taking a week off after the NYC Marathon and running for two weeks, the tightness in my left ankle sidelined me for two more weeks. Then, once I regained my range of motion in my ankle, I got a bad cold, which sidelined me for another week. Then, on Christmas Eve I got the flu, which sidelined me for yet another two weeks. Boom boom boom! Once I finally recovered, December 27 had passed, and I had barely run since the end of November. Although I had tried to maintain fitness by cycling, I had not hit the pavement in over a month.

So, I officially kicked off my Boston 2017 training on January 3, running an easy 4 miles on the treadmill, with four strides at a 5:00/mile pace. Not particularly inspiring, but a start. From there I ran 11 miles my first, week, followed by 28, then 32, 39, 37, 42, and, finally, 52 miles in a single week, with a long run of 17. I followed that up with five more weeks at 50 plus miles, with a peak of 56 in my last week. I got in three 20-milers, with the last two containing some marathon pace miles. I ran 6-7 days per week, and noticed that I was recovering from runs much faster than in previous cycles. I used my “The Stick” to roll out my muscles every night, which really helped any lingering muscle soreness. Instead of incorporating numerous hard race efforts into my training, I treated races as my tempo runs. I really tried to stick to the 80/20 method of training, wherein you run approximately 80 percent of your miles at an easy to moderate pace, and 20 percent of your miles at a hard effort. I experienced no new injuries or discomfort, and felt myself getting stronger each day. I made sure to do my own core exercises at least two days per week, and noticed a difference in my overall strength.

So, when I toed the line on April 1 at the Boomer’s 4 miler in Central Park, the one true tune-up race I scheduled, I felt confident that I would be able to throw down a strong effort. My finish time of 22:54, which was good enough that day for 10th overall and first in my age group, had me executing a solid race plan and running a final mile of 5:19, faster than I’d run in a good while. A few days later, I equaled my PR on the 3.3-mile November Project NYC PR Day course.

Boomer 4M

Boomer 4-Miler: I swear I’m not angry at Mikey Branigan, the winner of the race! I’m just bad at pictures (and race bibs).

Those two races gave me one critical piece of information: My fitness was strong, but had not improved so much that I was going to run a massive PR in Boston. If anything, I might be able to run 2:53 or slightly under with the right weather conditions. Any attempt to push for faster than that, however, and I’d be back in positive split city.

Part 2, the actual race recap, to follow soon!

Spring Marathon Training Phase 2: Hills and Leg Speed

NOTE: This post is part 3 in a series about my spring marathon training. Click here to see Post 1, and here for Post 2.

Lydiard Hill Springing

These guys look really cool “springing” up that hill, right?

This post will introduce Phase 2 of my Arthur-Lydiard-inspired spring marathon training plan, hill work and leg speed, and describe the first of three critical workouts to be performed during this phase: hill “springing.”

In my previous post, I discussed the first phase of my training plan: aerobic base training. That post condensed tons of information into approximately 2,200 words of dense and somewhat difficult reading. If I could rewrite that post, I would split the information into three separate posts. So, before proceeding, I am going to summarize Phase 1, and why it’s necessary before embarking on the other phases of the training plan.

A Quick Review of Phase 1: Aerobic Base Training

Aerobic base training is the most important part of any training plan because aerobic fitness (the body’s ability to use oxygen efficiently to convert fat and glycogen into energy) is the number one factor in determining how well a runner will race on any given day. A runner develops aerobic fitness by training at an “aerobic pace,” loosely defined as running at a pace that leaves the runner “pleasantly tired,” or, in more mathematical terms, at a pace at or below approximately 75% of the runner’s maximum heart rate. During this phase, the runner should also perform strides (hard 100 meter efforts at the end of runs followed by extended recovery jogs), tempo runs below lactate threshold, and some easy fartleks. The runner should do at least three long runs per week (two runs about 1.5 hours, one run of 2+ hours) at an aerobic pace. A plan that incorporates only these types of runs—and leaves the anaerobic training for later—will allow a runner to develop a large aerobic base, which will facilitate anaerobic training later in the training cycle.

Importantly, the aerobic base training phase should last as long as possible. Why? Anaerobic development is limited: that is, a runner can only develop his anaerobic capacity so much. On the other hand, a runner’s capacity for aerobic development is virtually unlimited, and the more developed the aerobic system, the larger the capacity for anaerobic development. So, the longer the aerobic base training phase can last, the better.

Great! So, you’ve completed Phase 1 and built an aerobic base. What next?

Phase 2: Hills and Leg Speed—Preparing the Body for Anaerobic Development

Lydiard suggests a four-week training period focused on developing leg strength and speed. We’ll call this Phase 2: Hills and Leg Speed. The purpose of Phase 2 is twofold: 1) to develop muscle fibers in the legs and to improve leg speed; and 2) to prepare the body for the hard anaerobic workouts that will follow in Phases 3 and 4. Here’s how it shakes out.

This phase contains three critical workouts: 1) the 1-hour hill “springing” workout; 2) the leg speed workout; and 3) the 2+ hour long run performed at an aerobic pace. I’ll start by discussing the hill “springing” workout.

The Hill “Springing” Workout

You should perform the hill “springing” workout on a hill that is between 200-300 meters long and approximately 3-4% grade, with a flat area at the top and approximately 200-400 meters of flat area at the bottom. For you New Yorkers, Cat Hill in Central Park is perfect for this workout.

Here’s the workout in eight easy steps, and the reasoning behind each step:

  • Warm up for about 15 minutes with some easy running (I jog about a mile and a half from my apartment to Cat Hill)
    • Why? You warm up to prevent injury. The warmup loosens the muscles and prepares them for a hard effort.
  • Begin the workout by “springing” up the hill. If you don’t know what “springing” is (I didn’t before developing this training plan), check out the first minute and then 1:30 to the end of this video:

When “springing,” keep the hips forward. Because looking down tends to thrust the hips backward, keep your eyes focused straight ahead. Your upper body should remain relaxed. The slower your forward momentum, the more resistance you create for your legs.

Why “springing?” Because it helps to develop speed. “Springing” builds and stretches the leg’s muscles and tendons similar to how they stretch during racing, which adds flexibility and speed. It also develops strong and flexible ankles, allowing a runner to increase his stride length and leading to greater speed. In addition, by training oneself to run with the hips comfortably forward, a runner can bring his knees higher while running, allowing the feet to follow through higher and, therefore, creating a faster leg action.

It’s possible that you won’t be able to “spring” all the way up the hill. That’s fine. If you can’t get to the top, just jog the rest of the way.

  • Once at the top of the hill, jog easily for 3 minutes.
    • Why? Two main reasons. First, “springing” is an intense exercise, so a short rest between each repetition keeps the body from getting overloaded. Second, too much at once could potentially convert the workout into a hard anaerobic effort, which we distinctly do not want to do. And, as a bonus third reason, easy jogging within the repetitions aids in aerobic development, which, as we’ve discussed, is always a good idea.
  • After jogging at the top of the hill for three minutes, run down the hill with a fast, relaxed striding motion.
    • Why? Two main reasons. First, strides allow us to develop speed and strength. Second, downhill running allows us to practice running with a naturally elongated stride. As mentioned above, a longer stride leads to greater speed.
  • Repeat the hill reps described in steps 2-4 (springing up the hill, jogging at the top, and striding down) for about 15 minutes. For me, this equals about 3 circuits.
    • Why? Think of it like weightlifting with a cardio element: you’re pushing your body to get stronger while simultaneously strengthening your muscles and increasing your leg speed. In other words, you are accomplishing three critical tasks with one workout. Pretty neat!
  • After  about 15 minutes, perform a few wind sprints (running hard followed by jogging) at the base of hill. You choose how many, and for how long (for example, I have been doing 2 x 100m with short recovery jogs)
    • Why? The other point of this exercise is to prepare the body for the anaerobic workouts in phases 3 and 4. By performing wind sprints every 15 minutes, and by only performing a limited number of them, we train our bodies to respond to faster movements, but keep the volume low enough so as not to create a hard anaerobic workout.
  • After completing the wind sprints, repeat the whole circuit described in steps 2-6 (hill reps plus wind sprints) until you have been working out for approximately an hour.
    • NOTE: If you cannot complete an hour-long workout, do however much of the hour that you can.
  • Cool down for 15 minutes.

Ideally, you would perform this workout three days a week, every other day, during Phase 2. On the days in between you would perform a leg speed workout. On the seventh day you would run a 2+ hour run at an aerobic pace.

In my next post, I will discuss the other two workouts critical to Phase 2: the leg speed workout, and the 2+ hour long run at an aerobic pace.

Happy running, everyone!

 

Returning to Blogging!

Hard to believe I last posted on December 8! I don’t have a good reason for the delay between posts. Essentially, after the NYRR NYC 60k, I began to reflect on what I want to accomplish with this blog. When I started it in August, I knew that I wanted to write about my running, but had not developed the idea much beyond that. I started by posting about particular training runs I was doing, workouts I attended, and then branched out into race previews and recaps. After a few months, though, I hit a writing wall: What to do next?

Jim NP Cold Running

Getting in some stair running with November Project NYC in December!

That wall, unsurprisingly, coincided with the end of the fall racing season, a season during which I pushed myself and ran my first 10-miler (1:00:20), set PRs in the half marathon (1:20:51) and marathon (2:57:56), and ran my first ultra, the 60k, in under 5 hours (4:55:55), all within less than two months. I knew that my body needed a break; I did not realize my brain did, too. Hence, only a handful of posts since the 60k and now.

All this to say, I’m back! Expect updates concerning my training, but with a more global twist. Expect some posts about nutrition and other fun things I’m up to, such as the Road Runners Club of America coaching certification course that I’m taking in May. And get excited for race previews and recaps for the races I’m planning to run this winter and spring. I might also write more about some of the running books I’ve read lately (more on those below). My goal is to make this blog a spot for people to pick up tips and tricks to achieve their own running goals.

Jim NYRR Virtual Trainer Run

Crushing 10+ miles with NYRR’s virtual training crew!

Thankfully, the time away from hard running and the blog has reenergized me. Regarding training, I began the base building phase of spring marathon training in earnest at the beginning of December, and will likely run the Inaugural Queens Marathon on April 30, 2016. I spent approximately two months running long runs at an aerobic pace, throwing in some strides at the end of the runs, as well as tempo runs (for example, a 5k at 6:00/mile) and progression runs below lactate threshold. I pushed my weekly mileage up from 30 miles to 50-55, and am hoping to increase to 60-65. I’ve also been riding my bike indoors on my bike rollers at least once a week, and hitting the pool (though not as frequently as I would like). In the middle of all that, I ran an unofficial 5k in 17:45 (5:43/mile), and PR’d on the tricky November Project NYC 3.4 mile PR course with a time of 20:36 (6:03/mile). As of yesterday, I ended the aerobic base training phase of my marathon training and began the hill/leg speed phase as per Arthur Lydiard’s basic training scheme. Not bad for two months.

As for the blog and writing about running, I’ve read a bunch of running-related books these past two months. My friend Katherine loaned me “A Race Like No Other” by Liz Robbins (about the 2007 NYC Marathon) and The Oatmeal’s “The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances.” I also read “2 Hours” by Ed Caesar, a book chronicling professional marathoners’ journey to break the elusive 120-minute marathon barrier (current world record is 2:02:57 run by Dennis Kimetto at the 2014 Berlin Marathon). I also read “Running Ransom Road” by Caleb Daniloff, a powerful story about a recovering alcoholic who sought closure on his past by running marathons and other road races in locations where he was active in his alcoholism.

Jim Liysa Laura Ann Raul

Getting in a solid 11.5 miles with Liysa, Laura Ann, and Raul during the blizzard this past weekend!

And finally, I’m almost done with “First You Run, Then You Walk” by Tom Hart, my friend Patrick’s father. “First You Run” is a collection of essays written by Hart, a former high school English teacher, who picked up running at age 31 after he quit smoking. He ran into his 60s, at which time he was diagnosed with lung cancer and had one of his lungs removed, rendering him unable to run continuously for more than a few minutes. His essays discuss a range of topics: running a sub-5 mile, running 37 miles on his 37th birthday, chasing age-group awards as a 60-year-old veteran, and eventually breaking 12 minutes for one mile while running with one lung. What makes the book so amazing, though, is Hart’s meditative writing style and honesty. Every other page I find myself thinking, “Yep, that’s exactly how I think about running.” He gets it.

And in other news, I had a nice Christmas with my family and my girlfriend’s family, was able to travel to Vermont for a few days over the holidays, and have been working and preparing for the spring racing season. Life is good.

Happy running, everyone!

12/8/15: Morning Run: 5:50 a.m., 7 Miles: Myles and Londoners

Good morning! I’m in week 2 of aerobic base-building for winter and spring races. I logged just over 33 miles during week 1, most done at a moderate, aerobic pace. My aerobic fitness, as determined by the MAF test I performed yesterday, seems strong, but I’m hoping to improve it a bit before I really pick up the pace this spring.

Of course, despite knowing the importance of keeping the pace easy during a base-building period, I sometimes get carried away. I’ve read warnings from some coaches that any anaerobic running during a base phase can jeopardize a runner’s aerobic fitness. I’ve also read plenty of guides that encourage fast running at all stages of training. Ultimately, however, the occasional hard run, performed whenever in my training, has not had a negative effect on my overall fitness and speed. So, while I will perform most of my runs at an aerobic pace for the next two months, I’m fine with occasionally picking up the pace, and can justify it by working on leg speed and negative splits.

This morning, I happened to find myself in some faster-paced circumstances. I hit the Central Park loop about 20 minutes behind schedule. While I was warming up, Myles, leader of the NP_NYC running team, flew past me. I actually recognized his footfalls before seeing him: He runs with an ideal high cadence and lands softly. I called out his name, and we ran about one and a half miles together, talking about our uber-competitive natures and the upcoming Ted Corbitt 15k. If you don’t know who Ted Corbitt is, you need to read this article. In addition to representing the United States at the 1952 Olympics in the marathon, he essentially introduced the ultramarathon to America. He ran well into his 80s, and at his peak he ran approximately 200 miles a week. He was also the first president of New York Road Runners. Fred Lebow, the founder of the New York City Marathon, called Corbitt “the father of American Distance running.”

Anyway, after Myles peeled off at Engineer’s Gate, I kept on rolling at the same pace, slightly faster than my normal moderate run. Everything felt good as I cruised up Harlem Hill, easing up so as not to spike my heart rate. About halfway up the hill, a guy with grayish hair, blue shirt and black running pants blew past me. I checked my heart rate: 138. Way too slow! I picked up the pace, shortened my stride on the downhill, and kept a steady state over the next two mini hills. The other guy kept a solid pace, but I slowly crept closer to him. As we descended the second mini hill, I came even with him.

“This is quite an effort for six in the morning, ain’t it?” He joked in his British accent.

I agreed, and we ran together for a bit. He was in town for business, and had gotten up to run because, for him, it was basically 11:30 a.m. and he couldn’t sleep anymore. He was getting in a training run for a Boxing Day race, which, in my opinion, isn’t a real holiday (note: I know I know, it totally is . . . no offense, Rest of the World). We picked up the pace down the final mini hill, and cruised along past the Lake near 75th Street.

“How much farther is it to Columbus Circle?” He asked me.

“About three-quarters of a mile,” I replied.

“OK. I’m gonna give it a bit of a sprint the rest of the way, then,” he said, and he picked up his pace enough that I noticed my breathing change. I understood his implicit challenge, and kept stride with him.

I said I’d run with him until we got to my exit at 72nd Street, but quickly decided to push it all the way to Columbus Circle. He smiled and said, “Good!” We pounded the pavement and continuously ran faster. I breathed harder and turned my legs over faster than him (he had a slow cadence). We passed the finish line area of the NYC Marathon, and I pointed it out. He grunted in agreement. We were in the zone.

Just a quarter mile left to the Columbus Circle exit. I pushed the pace. He followed. I pushed a little harder. He pulled slightly in front of me. I got on my toes and dug in, pushing hard but not quite all out. He maintained. I dug in harder. He relented, and I finished up about four seconds before he did.

I never got his name, but we shook hands, and I wished him a good trip and good luck on Boxing Day. He smiled. We each took a moment to catch our breath, and then I jogged home.

Most runs aren’t that exciting, or that random, but I’m glad when they happen. And that impromptu race at the end? I truly believe it’s not about who finishes first, but rather about the spirit of competition, and accepting challenges as they come. I might be shaking my head if he beat me, but I know I would have had just as much fun.

Anyone else have stories of making random friends/competitors during a routine training run?

Happy running, everyone!

Ultramarathons: Lessons Learned from the NYRR NYC 60k

I ran the NYRR NYC 60k, my first ultramarathon, last weekend. At 37.2 miles, the 60k is a shorter ultra (many ultras total 50-100 miles). Regardless, as most people define “ultramarathon” as any distance longer than a marathon, I can now call myself an “ultramarathoner.”

60k Buckle Photo

The 60k belt buckle bling (repost from nyrr.org)

While I was happy with my preparation and how I ran, I learned a lot about how to survive an ultra. Below are my ultramarathon “lessons learned:”

1) Respect the distance. The most important lesson. After the NYC Marathon, I thought that running a race only 11 miles longer would be simple. I ran strong throughout the 60k, but slowed toward the end and got passed by two runners I had outrun for 34 miles. If I reran this race, I would reduce my early race pace by about 5-10 seconds/mile, and run hard the last two loops.

2) Fuel early and often. Many ultrarunners eat about 240-340 calories/hour. I followed this plan, eating two GU gels (100 calories each) and either a banana (~100 calories) or a bag of pretzels (~120 calories) every hour. Further, I began my GU gel intake after the fifth mile, about 2-3 miles earlier than I had my first gel during the NYC Marathon. This likely helped me maintain an early steady state. I did not hit the wall.

3) Muscle endurance. I felt very confident about my aerobic fitness before the NYC Marathon and the 60k. I have consistently espoused my love of the Maffetone Method and its emphasis on developing the aerobic system. That said, prior to the 60k my long runs included a 20-miler, 22-miler, and the marathon. These runs provided a solid, but not ideal, base for running an ultra. To see how experienced ultrarunners recommend a rookie ultrarunner to train, check out the Ultra Ladies 50k (31 miles) training plan. The main differences between 50k/60k and marathon training are the long runs followed by a second long-ish run. This training allows the body to develop the muscle endurance necessary to run harder, longer. Without that type of training, aerobic fitness only takes you so far.

4) Pain is inevitable. I felt physical pain during every race this fall (the Bronx 10-Mile, the Staten Island Half, and the NYC Marathon), but nothing compared to the pain I felt during the 60k. During both the Bronx 10-Mile and Staten Island Half, I was able to tolerate the pain and negative-split. The pain during the NYC Marathon, while more intense, slowed me down, but not significantly. The 60k pain, mostly after mile 30, forced me to bear down harder than ever before, and slowed my pace.

5) Mental toughness trumps pain. I almost despaired around miles 34-35. After cruising along for 30+ miles, two runners passed me, and I thought I would never return to Engineer’s Gate. I had to dig really deep to put one foot in front of the other, telling myself that I was stronger than I felt, that the pain would be over soon, and that I could trust myself. I talked out loud. I screamed a lot of “woos!” I told myself that each step felt good. I told every spectator I recognized how close I was to the finish because saying it out loud made it feel more real. I envisioned myself sprinting down the straightaway near Engineer’s Gate, and anticipated the cheers at the finish line. These positive thoughts propelled me forward.

6) On-course support is awesome. Seeing friends on the course kept my spirits high. Seeing the same volunteers at different points helped me “shorten the horizon” of the race. I thought, “In one more mile you’ll see Alison, and you can say hi get a high five.” It helped break the race into more digestible chunks. I can’t run 37.2 miles, or 50 miles, or even 10 miles, but I can run a mile and reassess. Mile by mile. Step by step. You can’t run 37.2 miles all at once. You have to do it a step at a time.

7) Camaraderie with fellow runners. Talking to other runners helped tremendously. With around 400 runners attempting the 60k, it was easy to say encouraging things to people as we ran around Central Park nine times. It’s nice to know that we’re all attempting something difficult together, and not at each other’s throats in competition.

8) Stopping for fuel/food breaks might not be necessary. If I had a “crew” helping me out during the race, I might have been able to run continuously the whole time. This might have cut 2-3 minutes off my time, enough to move up about two finishing places. That said, I appreciated the mini breaks from the running, but felt like I could have run straight had I easier access to my in-race nutrition.

9) Hard work pays off. I’ve written about this before, but I worked really hard at my running this past year, asking for help, taking advice, and staying consistent with my training. The 60k further demonstrates that commitment to improvement.

10) You must have fun. Despite the physical and mental pain, you need to enjoy the run. Multiple friends told me I looked like the happiest runner on the course. I don’t doubt it. I always try to smile at friends and spectators because I genuinely appreciate their willingness to cheers us on. On a deeper level, though, I feel so much gratitude even to be able to participate in these events. I have family and friends who support me in my efforts, and allow me to push hard every day. When I think about that, it puts my running in context and makes every step special. Plus, endorphins.

Anyone else run the 60k and have some lessons learned? Lessons from other ultramarathons?

Happy running, everyone!

Race Preview: The NYRR NYC 60k, November 14, 2015

I ran the NYC Marathon just under two weeks ago. I took six days off from running to allow a sore ankle to heal. I took it easy for the past six days, running about 16 miles since Sunday. I stretched, worked my core, and nailed my nutrition plan by eating all the leftover Halloween candy and pie of which a boy could ever dream. Essentially, I followed the runner’s plan in some ways, and completely disregarded it in others.

Despite all that, I will run the NYRR NYC 60k, my first ultra marathon, tomorrow! I first found the 60k around the time I was accepted in the lottery for the NYC Marathon. At that time I was reading Born to Run and all amped up about ultra marathons. I kept it in the back of my head throughout the year, and decided to add it to my schedule over the summer.

While I was injured and on crutches in April, May, and part of June, I doubted whether I could train for this race on only four months of training (July-October), with July being a slow return to running. After reading numerous recaps of the race, however, and realizing that many people ran and finished it after the NYC Marathon on marathon training only, and reading further that people training for a 50k often train based on a marathon training plan, I realized that I could enter the race on my limited training and treat it as an opportunity to learn about ultra running.

And here we are.

The race follows a very straightforward course in Central Park:

  • Beginning at Engineer’s Gate (90th Street and Fifth Avenue), run a 5.2-mile lower loop of the Park (no Harlem Hill)
  • Upon returning to Engineer’s Gate, run eight inner loops (four miles each)
  • Collapse, arise victorious, eat all the food known to man, collapse from insulin shock, arise beaten but not broken

The race also carries limited fanfare: no professional photographers, no live tracking (the race is manually scored by an NYRR worker checking off how many loops you’ve run whenever you cross the starting line), and a much more lax participation policy: anyone can hop in and run a loop or four with you. Friends, who wants to keep me company/sane?

Further, NYRR allows us runners to bring a clear plastic bag filled with liquids and foods of our choice, to be placed on a “nutrition table” at the starting line and filled with whatever food we want.

Sounds easy, right? You get your own food and all the friends you could ever want supporting you. Here’s what’s going to make this run a beast (besides the 37.2 mile aspect of it):

  • Nine cat hills. Yes, we get to run Cat Hill (3.3% gradient, .25 miles) nine times. As my friend Sam joked, “By the end, it’ll feel like Cat Mountain.” For real.
  • While Cat Hill complicates the east side of the Park, the cluster of three rolling hills that I call the lesser Harlem hills dominates the northwestern corner of the loops. None of these hills are particularly long or steep. However, the constant up and down could affect pacing. Because I’ve trained in Central Park on these hills many times, and in training I tend to run the hills slowly so as to keep my heart rate down, I think I have an advantage here, and will run as if training.
  • Nutrition nutrition nutrition. Having never run an ultra before, I have limited knowledge about how to fuel properly for the race. A friend told me to employ my marathon fueling strategy over the 37.2 miles, make sure to drink a lot of water, and to recognize that most people experience some kind of wall around miles 29-30. He recommended bringing a decarbonated Coke to slam back at this point in the race.
  • So, based on my marathon nutrition and my friend’s advice, here’s what I’m going to bring to the race:
    1. 10 GU gels with sodium and caffeine
    2. Smaller bags of pretzels for extra sodium and carbs (I’ve eaten them in training run before, and they don’t hurt my stomach)
    3. Extra water bottles
    4. Bananas
    5. One 20-ounce decarbonated Coke
    6. Faith, hope, and love

Even though I’m going into this race at less-than-top shape (you know, having run a marathon less than two weeks ago), I have two basic goals: 1) to finish; and 2) if possible, to break five hours (an 8:00/Mile pace gets you 4:57ish). I will try to settle into a rhythm and see how I feel around the marathon point. If I’m dying, I’m happy to adjust and focus on finishing. If I’m still going strong, giddyup.

Ultimately, though, the goal is to finish so that I can earn the right to wear this year’s race bling:

NYRR 60k

Awww yeahhh

And seriously, who wouldn’t want such a handsome belt buckle?

I might not sound like it, but I am PUMPED about this race. I’m currently trying to figure out if I want to run a 50-miler next year, so this race will help me sort out 2016’s running goals. It also seems like it’ll be fun to run with friends as I attempt to go farther than I’ve ever gone before. And also, why not? If 300 other folks (about how many who finished last year) are attempting something awesome less than a mile from my apartment, why would I stay in bed?

Happy running, everyone!