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!

Running Tips: Check Your Laces!

Taking a break from my spring marathon training posts, I wanted to share a quick insight I recently had about the importance of paying attention to how the lacing of your running shoes can hinder your ability to run well.

The background, part 1: Over a year ago I watched a video posted to social media that indicated the “correct” way to lace running shoes. The video indicated that a runner should lace his shoes by using the “heel lock” method: essentially, you use the top hole on the shoe (i.e., the hole that no one ever uses) to create an additional loop through which you then thread and tie the laces. Check out the video below or click here to see how this works:

According to the video, lacing one’s shoes in this manner would keep the shoelaces tighter, for longer, thus allowing the runner the freedom to run without worrying about his shoelaces coming untied.

Sounds great, right? I adopted the heel lock method immediately, without thinking much about it. My shoes often came untied when I simply double-knotted them, but no longer came untied when heel-locked.

The background, part 2: In April of 2015, I developed a stress fracture in my right sacral ala. After physical therapy and a slow return to running, I found that my right leg and hip would feel more sore both during and after a run, but never felt like an injury was developing or re-developing. My doctor and physical therapist both suggested that the tightness in my piriformis, quads, IT band, and hip flexors—which developed during the time off my feet—were to blame, and advised me to focus on mobility exercises and stretching. This generally alleviated the soreness throughout the fall, and I raced successfully.

sacral ala

I didn’t know I had a sacral ala until I got injured. Did you?

The issue: Upon returning to running in December after a two-week break following the NYRR NYC 60k, I found that the soreness in my right hip both during and after a run had increased two or three times what it was before the break. While that soreness subsided after a few weeks of running, it remained, in some form, until about two weeks ago. It affected my ability to recover after long runs, and generally made me uncomfortable about running hard.

The discovery: Every time I laced up my shoes using the heel lock method, the laces pinched on the top of the inside of my right ankle. I would loosen the laces, move the tongue of my shoe to cover the pinched area, and pull up my sock, but the pinching continued. A few miles into any run, I would feel the burn of the lace on that area of my ankle, and at the end of the run my right hip would feel as if I’d just run a marathon, while my left side would feel completely fine.

To treat this soreness, I would stretch almost every day. I would foam roll and roll out my piriformis with a lacrosse ball. Despite all of these mobility exercises, the soreness continued.

Then, about two weeks ago, I had a thought: Why not try a run without lacing my shoes using the heel lock method? Yeah, why not? So, I tied my left shoe with the heel lock method, but tied my right shoe with a simple double knot. I went out for a run and BOOM! While I experienced some additional soreness in my right hip, the feeling was much less pronounced than it had been. A few more runs with my shoes laced up in this new pattern, and the soreness in my left and right legs has essentially equalized. That is, the soreness had declined so as to feel like I usually feel after a run.

As I cannot remember whether I started tying my shoes with a heel lock before I got injured, I do not know whether wearing my shoes this way contributed to the injury. Ultimately, though, I’m glad I figured out what the problem is, and am happy to be running smoothly.

An additional note: While out running this morning, I caught up with my buddy, Mary Arnold, National Marketing Manager for Running Specialty Group, ultramarathoner, and all-around badass, and explained my issues and solution. She asked exactly where my soreness had been and, when I indicated my right hip, she nodded and explained that sometimes when a runner ties his shoes too tight, he inhibits the movement of the navicular bone—the bone located on the top inside of the ankle and, coincidentally, the area on which my laces were pinching—throwing off the leg’s running motion and resulting in extra pressure on the hip.

navicular bone

Figure of the foot showing the location of the navicular bone

She also provided this gem of running wisdom: “If you’re having soreness or pain that’s a 3-5 on the 10 scale, and it’s nagging and not going away, first check your equipment.” Thank you, Mary!

Thus, my tip for anyone else experiencing low-grade, nagging pain or uneven muscle soreness after a run: check your laces!

Happy running, everyone!

 

Two Weeks Away from Running: An Abundance of Thanks

When I made my fall racing season training plan back in July, I always envisioned taking two weeks off from running after the NYRR NYC 60k. I stuck with this plan . . . for the most part (I jogged through two NP_NYC workouts). Tomorrow marks my first training run for winter races, and I am excited to get back into it.

For my ability to return to running, I’m thankful for good health and humor.

TCS NYC Marathon

I’m sure everybody wants to see more of this in 2016! (picture from mile 18 of the NYC Marathon)

A two-week break from running, however, did not keep me totally inactive. I rode my bike (once), went to the gym for core exercises, and joined Chris Mosier’s “Early New Year’s Resolution Deck-a-Day” workouts. Essentially, Chris posts five exercises every day, each one associated with a suit or the jokers in a deck of cards. You take the deck and flip over the top card, do the associated exercise for the number of reps on the card (Ace-10, Jacks = 11, Queens = 12, Kings = 13, Jokers are a pre-determined number), and continue until you’ve finished the deck.

Simple enough, right? Well, today is day five of the 35-day deck-a-day series, and while I’ve completed every day, some days have definitely hurt. Each day focuses on a specific muscle group. So far we’ve done quads, core, upper body, and glutes. Upper body was the hardest day for me. Even though I do pushups regularly, my upper body has always been my weakest muscle group. Glad that I have another 30 decks to work on it.

For deck-a-day, I’m thankful for NP_NYC for introducing me to so many cool people, including Chris and all the other folks checking in on the Facebook page every day.

Deck-a-Day Workout

Sometimes you get a hard run in the deck.

I also did Thanksgiving at my Aunt’s and Uncle’s house in Ridgefield, Connecticut, with my mom, dad, sister, girlfriend (Melissa), aunt, uncle, five cousins, one cousin’s wife, another cousin’s husband and two kids, and my grandma. While demonstrating some workout move, my cousin Kristen’s younger child, Brenner (a/k/a Baby Bren Bren), ran up to me with a giant smile and hugged me, refusing to let go. We stayed like this (see below) for well over a minute, turning what appears to be a pushup into a somewhat epic plank. So cute!

Jim Baby Bren Bren

I’m very happy!

Baby Bren Bren

Baby Bren Bren is even happier!

Earlier that morning I went hiking with my mom, dad, sister, and Melissa through Mountain Lakes Camp in Lewisboro, New York. Not only is it home to Westchester County’s highest point (a whopping 976 feet), it has some great hiking trails. The trail we hiked, a 3.4 mile loop, contained up-and-down single-track dirt paths recently cleared by the local Boy Scout troop, a 1.5 mile incline on a gravel road, and some downhill on pavement. We also hiked two side trails, one which took us to Westchester’s apex, and one which took us to a gorgeous vista. With 50 degree weather and no wind, we hiked about five miles and earned our turkey dinner.

Mountain Lakes Camp Vista

The vista

Family Mountain Lakes Camp

The family (minus the mom who is obscured by the dad)

Jim Melissa Mountain Lakes Camp

Melissa and some guy wearing a 60k shirt

For this hike, I’m thankful for my mom, dad, sister, and Melissa, all of whom made the day perfect.

After thanksgiving, Melissa and I drove up to Vermont to visit her parents at their summer/winter home in Wardsboro. We hit the trails for two different hikes, both of which were amazing.

We first hiked around Grout Pond in Green Mountain National Forest. The loop around the Pond was just over three miles, but getting to and from the loop added another three. The trail was uneven, covered in leaves, wet, and sometimes difficult to traverse. In other words, I loved every second of it. We hit the three-quarter point of the hike as the sun began to set, which inspired these magical shots. We also discovered a number of camping spots to which we could canoe. It’s not too early to make summer plans, right?

Grout Pond Trail

Grout Pond trail

Grout Pond Shot

Grout Pond late in the day

Jim Melissa Grout Pond

Melissa and some guy walking softly and carrying an excellent hiking stick

Finally, we hit the trail in Jamaica State Park, the same trail I ran shortly before the NYC Marathon. We hiked through a slightly cold 37 degrees, but the weather didn’t hinder the beauty. The trail follows a winding river that roars as it curves. It provided a natural soundtrack as we hiked along. At one point we went off trail, and Melissa and her dad absorbed the energy of the river while I attempted to cross. I’m not sure if any of us were successful, but we looked good trying.

For these hikes, I am grateful for Melissa and her family, who have welcomed me in with open arms.

Today I’m back to work, and tomorrow will be my first official winter racing season training run. Cold or not, I’m going for it!

Happy running, everyone!

Race Recap: NYRR NYC 60k, November 14, 2015, 4:55:55 (7:57/Mile Pace)

Prologue: I’m finishing this recap approximately 72 hours after running 37.2 miles – farther than I’ve ever run. My legs feel great, with limited soreness in my right quad and left calf. My left knee, which felt like someone took a baseball to it yesterday, feels much better after two days of IT foam rolling (to alleviate any potential IT band syndrome), ice, and ibuprofen. My left ankle, which hurt for a week and a half after the NYC Marathon, feels 100%, in large part due to my constant ankle stretching these past three days. I’m ready to run again!

NYRR NYC 60k finish

Looking good! Feeling the burn in my legs!

But I won’t . . . at least, for a week, and possibly two. My body has taken a serious beating this past month and a half, running hard at the Bronx 10-Mile, NP_NYC PR Day, Staten Island Half, NYC Marathon, and NYRR NYC 60k, and it craves a break from the pounding impact. Time to hit the bike, the pool, and prepare for the next training cycle by maintaining my aerobic fitness.

Finally, I have felt slightly sick since the 60k ended. I’m not feverish or nauseous, but have had a low-grade headache and feel constantly dehydrated. I’m not sure if the nine GU gels I consumed during the race have anything to do with this, or just that I put my body through more stress than it’s ever handled before. Either way, I’m going to continue drinking water and taking it easy.

Now, the recap before the recap: I ran the NYRR NYC 60k (37.2 miles), my first ultra marathon, this past Saturday in a time of 4:55:55 (7:57/Mile), good enough to snag 16th place out of 353 finishers. I am very pumped about finishing my first ultra in one piece, maintaining a solid pace throughout, and learned a lot about self-inflicted pain and how to keep moving forward.

The recap: The morning before the 60k, I prepped my race clothes and food bag. My race outfit included shorts, my November Project NYC t-shirt, my NYC Marathon long-sleeved shirt, a wool hat, running gloves, and socks. For food, I prepped 10 GU gels, two bananas, two water bottles, and three bags of pretzels (each bag assembled by taking about a serving of pretzels from a larger bag and transferring them to a plastic sandwich bag). I also purchased and decarbonated a 20-ounce Coca Cola by opening the bottle and pouring the soda into a large plastic container, and then pouring it back and forth between plastic containers for about five minutes. I lost about 4 ounces of soda because I am uncoordinated. The morning of the race, I also made a peanut butter sandwich with sourdough bread, but never got around to eating it after the race.

For dinner the night before, Melissa and I got sushi with her college friend. I had chirashi, which is just sashimi with rice on the side. I also had some tiramisu after dinner, which tasted great and (Jim will now rationalize) added to my pre-race carb-loading. I was able to get to sleep around 11 p.m.

The morning of the race, I woke up at 6:15 a.m., ate my standard pre-race breakfast of non-fat Greek yogurt with agave, two bananas, and two pieces of sourdough toast, one covered in peanut butter. I drank some water, piled on my race outfit, threw on a coat, and headed out the door. The morning air was chilly but not frigid, and my body warmed up as I walked the mile from my apartment to the NYRR house at 9 East 89th Street to pick up my bib.

Unlike the NYC Marathon (with its 50,000+ runners and days of expos), between 300 and 400 runners attempt the 60k. Therefore, NYRR allows bib pickup only the morning of the race. I met up with Steve from NP_NYC at the NYRR house, and we loaded our food into the clear bags provided by NYRR, and our other extras into a separate clear bag. Steve has done numerous ultras, including winning a 100k on Long Island last month, so I like to think of him as my ultra spirit guide. His food bag contained Halloween candy and Gatorade. He chuckled at my bananas and pretzels, and we talked race strategy a bit. Like me, Steve wanted to run sub-5, so we both talked about maintaining around a 8:00/Mile pace.

Further distancing itself (pun intended) from the NYC Marathon, the 60k is about as stripped-down a race that NYRR offers. NYRR partitions off a starting line with electronic scoring mats, but that’s all it partitions: Central Park remains open, and runners and walkers can hop into the running lanes at will. The food bag drop was just the benches near the start line: While an NYRR volunteer watched over the bags, our bags didn’t even have our numbers on them. The only clock on the course was at the start line, and the course had no mile markers. Scoring was performed manually with no live tracking element. Whenever a runner crossed the start line, a volunteer would yell out the runner’s bib number, and the scorer’s tent (about 10 people) would input the data into their system. An electronic board would then update, indicating how many laps the runner had completed, and how many he had left. Unlike other NYRR events, there was no singing of the National Anthem, no public address announcer, no music, no real PA system to speak of, and a severely reduced crowd. This, my friends, is as close as I’ve been to running purism in NYC since I started running again in 2014. It was kinda great.

NYRR NYC 60k

NYRR flying the French flag at the starting line in solidarity with the recent terrorist attacks in Paris (repost from NYRR.org).

Before the race began, I hung out with my buddy Sam, Steve, and some other folks. All of us had done the NYC Marathon two weeks earlier. I ditched my gloves in my food bag, ate my first gel, put two additional gels in my shorts pocket, and lined up at the front of the non-existent corral. We had a moment of silence for Paris, abbreviated instructions, and then the air horn signaled the start of the race.

60K_Run02.jpg

The start of the 60k (repost from NYRR.org)

And we were . . . off . . . jogging . . . at a comfortable 8:00/Mile pace . . . and inexplicably close to the front of the pack. Ultras are a different beast!

I ran the first two miles with Steve and Sam, taking in the cool air and blue skies. Sam and I talked while Steve listened to music, and we watched the leaders form a pack and build some distance on us. Once mile 3 began, I started to pull away from Sam and Steve, and by the time I got to Mile 4 I was running with completely new people, all running at steady paces and seemingly enjoying the fact that we were out on a Saturday for an extended run. I made it up Cat Hill without any trouble, cruised through the straightaway to the starting line at Engineer’s Gate, grabbed a cup of water, took my second gel, and told myself, “This is lap 2 of 9. You got this.”

I began to formulate a race plan as I began lap 2. I figured that I would run at a 7:45/Mile pace until the beginning of lap 6, and then figure out whether to run harder, maintain my pace, or slow down. I enjoyed the solitude of the race, but also loved the unofficial cheer stations at the east side of the 102nd Street transverse, west and east sides of the 72nd Street transverse, the group from The Most Informal Running Club Ever on the grass near the Met, and Alison from Harlem Run hanging out near the west side water station, tossing out high fives every loop.

I stopped briefly after the second loop to grab a banana from my food bag, downed another gel and some water, and ran while eating my banana. Loops 3 and 4 passed without much thought: I maintained my 7:45/Mile pace, began to loop some of the slower runners, took off my long-sleeved shirt, and smiled as I high-fived the same folks at different points on the course. I grabbed two water cups at each aid station and chatted with fellow runners. I took a gel each time I crossed the starting line. I ate a second banana when crossing the starting line after loop 4. I threw my hands up and smiled when I saw Katherine from NP_NYC. I felt strong.

A quick note: At this point, the race becomes a blur. The constant looping and friends moving around the course and my own crazy fuel-depleted brain . . . I don’t remember where or when I saw people. What follows is an approximation of how the final five loops went down.

The leaders and eventual winner looped me about halfway through my fifth loop. These runners were the first to pass me since the beginning of the race. The group of two must have been running around 6:30/Mile pace, which was frustrating to watch because I knew that I could run that fast, but definitely not for 37.2 miles. I sighed and kept my pace steady, beginning to feel my hips, quads, and hamstrings getting slightly heavier. No worries, I thought. After 19 miles, whose leg muscles wouldn’t be tiring? At some point in this section of the race, I saw Ali from NP_NYC near the food bags. She asked if I needed anything. I felt slightly off balance and almost fell over, but said no, slapped a high five and pounded the pavement.

I picked up the pace slightly on loop 6 after grabbing a bag of pretzels and taking a gel. My legs slowly felt heavier, but I smiled and slapped high fives with Raul from NP_NYC, and then Myles, and then Chris Mosier. I started to focus more closely on the immediate tasks at hand: one foot in front of the other, breathe, keep the pace steady, easy on the uphills, harder on the downhills. My average pace accelerated to 7:43/Mile. My legs got heavier. I pounded onward.

When loop 7 began, I knew that I could not accelerate my pace and still finish under five hours. My legs, while still functioning, felt like the calm before the hurricane. I smiled less at the people cheering. I grimly acknowledged about halfway through the loop that I was now running farther than I’d ever run before. Every step now brought with it a question: Why was I doing this? I could stop and the pain would end. But I fought on, pushing on the uphills and finding the downhills much less satisfying and slower.

At random points I began talking to myself, saying, “You got this. You got this thing, Jim. Just keep going.” I used the high fives from Alison and her newly assembled NP_NYC cheering crew to push me a little farther. I focused on the backs of the slower runners and reeled them in, passing them one by one. I let out a few primal screams to remind myself that I could do this. I surged every couple of minutes, reinvigorating my legs.

By the end of the loop 7, I was in the zone. Melissa had come out to see me finish, and she spotted me as she and I were ascending Cat Hill at the same time. She said hi! All I could muster was, “I have one more loop. Woot!” No “Hello!” No “Thanks for coming!” In the zone. I was going to finish this thing, and I was sticking with my pace. George from NP_NYC offered me some juice and ran with me for a few seconds near the end of the loop. All I could muster with him was, “I feel terrible.” In the zone. I just kept going.

Before loop 8 I took a gel and grabbed my decarbonated Coke. I slammed some water and headed back onto the course, taking large sips of the Coke as I pushed through even more pain. Once I finished the Coke on the 102nd Street transverse, I felt my legs click into gear again. Woot! I pushed the pace slightly, only to feel the legs get heavy again. I kept moving forward. I grabbed high fives when I could, smiled as well as I could, grabbed my two waters on the west side, told myself that I only had to run Cat Hill two more times, and kept moving forward.

Boom! Last loop coming. I high-fived everyone I knew and said, “Last loop, baby! This is it!” I got a lot of surprised looks, either because people couldn’t believe I’d already run 33 miles, or because I looked like a madman possessed. I ate my final gel, pounded water, and pushed the pace as hard as I could. I slowed on the west side between miles 34 and 35, and a runner that I’d passed on loop 3 sped past me with a smile and an encouraging word. Another runner passed me looking strong and belting hip hop lyrics. I doubled down, pushed hard up Cat Hill, picked up some high fives on the straightaway near the Met, and did my version of a sprint (imagine me running with another person strapped to my back) and crossed the finish line, arms up and smile wide.

Steve from NP_NYC rolled through the finish line looking strong in a sub-5 time. He was ready to keep running. Based on his Strava, I think he ran 11 miles the next day. What a nut. I love this guy!

I literally could not walk home, so Melissa hailed a cab outside Engineer’s Gate. Once home we ordered a pizza, of which I ate six of the eight slices. We watched movies and I barely moved for the rest of the day. Thank you, Melissa, for being understanding!

I might do a separate “lesons learned” post about my ultra experience, but for now I will say this: Everyone who says that the biggest enemy in an ultra is you is absolutely correct. My brain wanted me to stop so many times, yet my body was capable of moving forward. Relentless forward motion. In the zone.

I will also say this: Muscle endurance (basically, the amount of time your muscles can function without getting tired) is huge for ultras. My aerobic fitness was solid for this distance; my muscle fitness was not quite up to par. And that’s fine! I didn’t do any specific ultra training. In the future, though, more time in the gym to work the glutes, hips, and hamstrings, plus time on my feet running longer distances will be key to improving finishing times.

All that aside, I was so happy to finish, to finish in the top 5% of runners in the race, and for all the support from Melissa, my NP_NYC buddies, and my family, who either think I’m awesome for my endurance running, or insane. There is no middle ground.

Here’s my Strava for the race. I accidentally paused it around mile 29, so I’m missing three miles. Either way, you can see that my pace slowed toward the end, but not by much! And that last .2? I forgot to stop the timer until a couple minutes after I finished.

Happy running, everyone!

10/30/2015: Morning Workout, November Project, 6:25 a.m., Bethesda Fountain; NYC Marathon Thoughts

I’m going to break this entry into two parts: This morning’s November Project NYC workout, and my random marathon thoughts.

But first! Bib and newly-tagged NYC Marathon shirt! Soon to have my name and (possibly) blog URL tagged on it:

November Project NYC Marathon

Woot! Neon is the way to go!

NP_NYC Workout at Bethesda Fountain

So . . . Paula RadcliffeBart Yasso, Desi Linden, and Dean Karnazes worked out with us this morning. What?! No big deal. Also, Brogan Graham, one of November Project’s co-founders, pounded out burpees, push-ups, dips, lunges, and bear crawls with us because #justshowup and #whatisthis. We also had lots of people in town from other Tribes for the marathon. Just awesome to see so much NP love this morning!

Bethesda Fountain

Bethesda Fountain, much brighter than it was this morning.

The workout consisted of two phases: During phase 1, we broke into two large groups. Both groups began by doing 20 burpees. Then Group 1 lunged through the terrace near Bethesda Fountain in Central Park while Group 2 bear-crawled. At the end of the terrace, everyone ran up a flight of stairs and then bunny-hopped up a second flight. Then everyone did 10 push-ups, 10 dips, and then back to the beginning for more burpees. Repeat for 20 minutes.

Bethesda Fountain Terrace

The gorgeous terrace.

Most of us NYC marathoners took it easy, and I got to do push-ups with Brogan and meet some members of the NYC Tribe that go to the 6:28 a.m. Wednesday workouts (I’m generally a 5:28 a.m. guy). There is something wrong with me when I think that 60 burpees is an easy, pleasant way to start the day.

Phase 2 of the workout was a “burnout.” Essentially, everyone not running the NYC Marathon started at the Fountain end of the terrace, did four or five burpees, and then ran through the terrace, up the stairs, down the stairs, and back to the start. The rest of us lined the terrace and cheered them on. It was wild! Each interval was timed, so if you didn’t make it back to the start in a set time, you joined the cheering squad. We went through seven or eight rounds before the final round, which was just crazy. NP_NYC’s Jason “won” the burnout, with Rob a few steps behind. NP co-founder Brogan also put forth a strong showing, demonstrating the meaning of “leading from the front.”

Marathon Thoughts

I’ve written race previews about my other recent races, but the NYC Marathon needs no introduction. I outlined the course in my pace strategy post, and all of my posts about training have essentially been about training for this race. I believe that, considering my injury which kept me from running between April and June 25, I trained as well as I could, and I am ready to run a solid race.

Of course, doubts have crept into my mind. During my 22-mile long run, I felt the burn in my legs at mile 21. I also did not log tons of miles, peaking at about 50 miles in my peak training week. These two facts could lead me to be concerned that I am not ready to run this marathon as fast as I want.

But poo poo to them! I have to remember these things as well:

  1. During those early weeks of marathon training in July and August, I was still returning to running after injury.
  2. During that return period, with the support of my doctor and physical therapist, I was biking upwards of 100+ miles per week as I prepared for the NYC Century Bike Tour.
  3. Also during the pre-return and return period, all the hours I spent in the pool, which, combined with my time on the bike, helped me build a solid aerobic base on which to begin marathon training.
  4. My solid performances in the Bronx 10-Mile (6:02/mile pace) and Staten Island Half (6:10/mile pace, with a strong sense that I could have run slightly faster if not fearing for my life on the boardwalk).
  5. Maybe most importantly, all of the love and support I have received from my family, friends, girlfriend, NP_NYC, coworkers, and what I might call the Spirit of the Universe, or, in a less spiritual sense, the feeling that I’m not in control of the world, and that my lack of total control is OK with me.

More thoughts to come tomorrow. For now, happy Friday and, if you can (I’m having a hard time), think about something other than the NYC Marathon.

Happy running, everyone!

10/14/2015: Morning Workout, November Project NYC, 5:28 a.m.: Climb all the Mountains, Burp all the Ees

Yesterday’s Training

After a well-earned day off following the Staten Island Half, I ran 6.2 miles in Central Park and hit the gym for leg day, doing leg press, abduction, adduction, glute press, hamstring curls, and kettlebell squats. I also stretched for 25 minutes, and even after that I still felt some tightness in my hips. Running takes a toll on those hip flexors!

Today’s NP_NYC Insanity

I wanted an easy workout this morning. Really. A few laps around Carl Schurz Park with some pushups sounded lovely. But, as I continually write about NP_NYC workouts, alas.

The workout: The group ran a warm-up lap and, based on where each member finished, picked a partner of equal speed. The workout then unfolded in three parts:

  1. Partner 1 ran a short stairs loop while Partner 2 did as many mountain climbers as he could. When Partner 1 finished the loop, the partners switched.
  2. Once both partners had completed Part 1, they jogged together down the Wagner Walk toward the Mayor’s house and then back to the starting area. This was considered “rest.”
  3. Partner 1 then ran down the Wagner Walk in the opposite direction, touched the gate, and sprinted back to the start. Partner 2 did burpees until Partner 1 returned. Switch.

Repeat the cycle for 35 minutes.

I partnered with Raul, who threw down like nobody’s business. He comes ready to push every morning, and by the end of the workout he was throwing in extra sets of pushups. Hardcore, bro.

November Project NYC

In the midst of a burpee.

I won’t say this workout hurt, but I won’t say that I breezed through it, either. Even though each partner would take 2-3 minutes to run each loop (which seems like a short time), the other partner could fit so many mountain climbers and burpees in that period that you started to wonder whether you would ever not be doing mountain climbers or burpees again in your life. Thank the NP_NYC playlist for Warren G and Nate Dogg’s “Regulators” and Notorious B.I.G.’s “Juicy” for keeping my spirits high.

By the end, everyone looked beat up, but the high fives stayed strong and primal screams echoed across the Harlem River. I’d wager every Tribe member climbed hundreds of mountains and burped hundreds of Ees. Good stuff, fellas!

Marathon season is taking its toll! Despite the workload, though, this past weekend saw a lot of NP_NYC success, with Paul and Chris PRing by eons at the Chicago Marathon, and many others either crushing the Staten Island Half or logging a final long run in preparation for the NYC Marathon. Just a few more weeks, guys! We got this.

Might head out for a run tonight as I log my final heavy mileage week before the NYC Marathon. The weather is just too nice to stay inside all day.

Happy running, everyone!