Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Marathon Day!

Wow, it's finally over. It's hard to believe that it's been 7 1/2 months since I registered, and now the spring and summer have come and gone and the 2013 Bank of America Chicago Marathon is done.

So first the particulars...I went into the race hoping to run 5 hours, 20 minutes and I ran 5:23:39. So I didn't miss by much. And I have a medal to add to my collection, which is always good!

It's been such a great ride -- as I've said before, this has been the most fun I've ever had in training for a marathon. Which actually makes it hard to decide what to write about and where to start.

I guess I'll just start at the beginning of the weekend. I had Matt and Kevin with me this weekend, so I picked Kev up and we headed over to my place as Matt had decided to go with some friends to a football game. Carb loading and hydrating began as I made a big bowl of rotini -- actually two bowls -- and started drinking down some Powerade.

Most marathon experts say that the night to get sleep that counts is on Friday, and thankfully I was able to do just that. I got right around nine hours, which was very, very nice. We had all stayed up a bit late so we didn't head downtown to the expo until close to noon, but thankfully had a pretty easy trip in.

I grabbed my number, shirt and bag and the boys and I looked around the expo for a while. The expo is pretty cool as it's the first chance to really see the magnitude of the event. The hall was packed with people from all around the world who had converged on Chicago for what to them might be a once in a lifetime experience. The energy in the building is just so electric as people are getting ramped up for the big day.

I was also waiting for my friend Noah to show up so we could say hello. Noah and I go a long way back -- he also ran the marathon in 2000 and when he moved to Los Angeles to attend the University of Southern California in 2002, I went out there the next spring and we ran the 2003 LA Marathon together.

He had just recently moved back to Chicago and I had caught up with him a few weeks ago. He had been struggling with IT band issues but had bought some new shoes and nursed himself back to health, only to hurt his back while moving a week before the marathon.

When I saw him at the expo he said he was feeling better but thought he was just going to run to try and finish the race. I suggested meeting up Sunday morning to see as if that were the case I'd drop back into his corral and we could run together.

Here is a fun picture from the expo. Outside of the huge Nike display they had a screen that put up your name and a sort of motivational word. I got "Mike owns 26.2". Loved it! I was in a great state of mind leaving the expo.

Later on it was time to carb up some more. I made the boys and I some chicken Alfredo on top of rotini, and it was really good, I must say! It was actually the first time I had made it myself, and it is now in the dinner rotation from now on. I'm not much of a cook, but I can hold my own with a few dishes.

I made it to bed around 11:30 and to my surprise slept really well. I woke up a couple of times to go to the bathroom (I had been hydrating, after all) but in between slept pretty hard. I was actually pretty startled when the alarm on my phone went off, so I kind of laid there until the clock radio started playing five minutes later.

One thing that is important on marathon day is to keep in the routine. I always make sure to eat the same thing (bananas, bagels and a Power Bar) that's worked before, and the great thing about the marathon is you can eat pretty much up until the race starts, which is what I do. I even carry some stuff to eat in the car on the way down.

The boys and I headed downtown at about 5:15 to get time to get parked and go through any of the extra security measures. For many years I had ridden the train but two years ago I found a parking garage just off the expressway that always seems to have extra spaces. It's actually kind of nice to drive because then you aren't at the mercy of the train schedule, or have to rush to the train station or anything like that. What also can be bad is that cabs are hard to find and it's close to a mile walk to Union Station. After running 26.2 miles, that's not much fun.

We met up with Darcy in front of the Hilton about an hour later. We waited a while for Noah, but saw no sign of him, which in the end turned out to be a good thing because he felt great and ran 4:21. A rock star as always. Once 7 rolled around, it was time to get going, and we walked the four blocks to the entry to the corral. That was when I said goodbye to Darcy and the boys and headed to my corral for the 7:30 start.

Darcy had secured us tickets into the Bank of America hospitality area, and with that came a spot in the last corral (Corral E) in the first wave. Though I was a bit worried that I would be the slowest person in the first wave, I was happy for the early start -- the second wave starts at eight -- because it meant finishing early, which was huge if it started to warm up in the early afternoon.

What happened next was kind of weird, but in a good way. All week long, I'd been feeling so much stress about the race. But when I got in the corral, all of that went away. I looked around and just felt like "I've been here before".

And I had! Between running the marathon, spectating and covering it for the website, I had been a part of 10 Chicago Marathons. I've also run the springtime Shamrock Shuffle four times, the Chicago Half in 2005 and the Hot Chocolate run last year. Which means I have either run or looked up that start up Columbus Drive some 15 times. I've also come up to the finish as many times too. When I talk to my Mom about running races, she always talks about my "experience". Until now I didn't feel that way about myself, you know? I'm not fast, I haven't always trained the way I should, I've never won anything...but at the same time, I've done this enough that nothing is new.

I decided that would be what I would use to get through the race. Once you get to the starting line, what matters is the race in front of you. There are no such thing as race day "miracles". What you take to the line is what you brought with you. So for me, it was the nearly 75 races I have run. I decided to make that my asset.

There was a real energy in the corral, that's for sure! You get a lot of people who have worked so hard for a goal, and add in the fact many of them had traveled thousands of miles to be there, and it's a pretty amped up situation. I love it!

After the pre-race festivities, the horn went off right at 7:30 and it was on! Being at the back of the first wave, it was going to take a while, but soon we started to slink towards the starting line. With so many people in the first wave, our corral actually swung around the corner of Columbus onto Balbo, so when we reached the corner and took the right to head to the starting line. I took a long look back at the second wave peeps.

There must have been 15,000 to 20,000 people squished together, so many people you couldn't even see the end! We all started waving back and forth to each other, further proof how awesome the running community really is.

It took 11 minutes to reach the start, and while other people began to run before the starting line, I resisted. After all, the race was long enough! But by the time we reached the line, I was nice and relaxed. Maybe a bit too much! My goal heading into the race was five hours, 20 minutes, which is a pace of 12:12 per mile, and I ran the first mile in a quick 11:13.

Whoa! Need to slow down a little. I had a pace band on my wrist and was only worried about elapsed time, so I didn't worry about each individual mile split. I tried to slow down and I felt like I began to settle in. Much to my relief, I wasn't the slowest person in the corral, so there were a smattering of people behind me.

Still, by about 2 1/2 miles it wasn't all that crowded, which was nice. I hit the 5K mark at 35:33 (an 11:27) pace, and that's when the second wave began to hit! Wow, talk about getting freight trained! The first corral of the second wave included peeps who could run under four hours, so they were flying by me. I tried my best to hold my line (using the paint on the pavement as my guide) and tried to think thin. Still, I was probably a moving chicane (a racing term explained here if you are so inclined) but people were polite, some even had some encouraging words as they came by.

No doubt the adrenaline was pumping, and the people coming by me -- not to mention the crowd support -- probably carried me a little faster than I wanted to go. By the time we reached the most northern part of the course on Addison at about 7 1/2 miles, I was ahead of my expected pace by close to five minutes. And that included three bathroom stops. Did I mention I was a little pumped up?

When you make that turn onto Broadway, wow. The crowds are 2-3 deep on the sidewalk and everyone is really loud. Mile 8 is smack in the middle of Boystown, with its male cheerleaders and massive team spirit. They go all out at their water stop, and their energy is much appreciated.

A little further south is Old Town. The crowds get even bigger and start crowding into the street, which makes the going a little narrow. It's all fun so long as everyone is patient, and at the 10 mile water stop I ran into someone who wasn't. As I slowed to grab a cup of water, I felt a forearm in the small of my back and an older woman elbowed by me. I was kind of pissed, and did something a little out of character when I threw a cup of water at her.

Really? We were on a narrow, two-lane street in a race of 40,000 people. Sometimes you just have to bide your time. When you are out there for four-plus hours, a few seconds here and there are not going to make or break your day.

I pushed it out of my mind, and continued on. At that point I was looking towards the halfway point, where Darcy, Matt and Kevin would be waiting for me. As we run towards downtown, the crowd gets massive. From about 11 1/2 to 14 miles it is just crazy! People five or six deep and they cheer for EVERYONE. Man it's a lot of fun.

Just before the halfway point we made a right onto Adams St. in front of the Sears (I'll never call it the Willis) Tower, and a block later we were at the 13.1, which I hit 2:33:29. Darcy and the boys were waiting, and I gave them all a hug and whispered into Matt's ear: "jump in, I need you for a while".

I haven't mention Matt very often, but he is a senior at Aurora Central Catholic High School and is a state qualifier in both cross country and track. Needless to say, he is hella fast. Originally I had hoped to have him with me for the final three miles, but with heightened security that wasn't going to happen. But at the midway point of the race I hadn't seen anyone checking bibs, so I told called him in from the bullpen.

It's nice to have company on that part of the course, it goes out west for two miles, and two quick lefts at the United Center heads back through downtown. It's concrete, little crowd support and lots of sun. It's one of many places on the back side of the course that is a little bit of a grind.

It was great to have Matt with me, and it's something I will always remember. We made some conversation and he mentioned that Kenyan Dennis Kimetto had won the race in 2:03:45, a new course record by almost a minute! As a fan of the sport, it was awesome, but I also realized at that moment that Dennis had run the race and was probably hanging out and getting a bite to eat while I still had 13 miles to go! Those elite runners are crazy amazing.

Darcy and Kev were waiting as we got back to Halstead, so Matt jumped off the course and I was back on my own. By now we were closing in on Mile 17, and I was going through a bit of a bad patch. It happens, so I didn't stress it too much, but just put my head down and tried to get through the next couple of miles.

No matter your time, ability or experience, every runner has to make a deal with themselves at some point during the race. Mine came at Mile 18 and it was pretty simple...I could walk all I wanted in the water stops, but I was going to run in between each one. That made it doable, the race was down to one-mile segments.

By now it was getting about four hours into the race, and it was getting a bit warm. The bad thing about the course at that point is that there isn't a bunch of shade, so it's important to keep drinking. I was taking a lot of fluids at each stop, and they were also serving bananas, which was a big help too.

At Mile 20 I had a nice surprise as my good friend Scott jumped out in front of me! He was there with his very-pregnant wife Lori and his daughter Sophie. It was so good to see him, I stopped and gave him a huge hug. If you ever watch a marathon, you'd see that when runners find peeps in the crowd their first instinct is to hug them. I don't know why, I think it's just that seeing a familiar face in the midst of a million people is just comforting or something.

Scott has been a huge part of my life for the last five years, and has helped me get through a lot of tough times. He means more to me than he will ever know (unless he reads this of course!) and it was big to see him there, especially since I wouldn't see Darcy and the boys until the finish.

So I continued from there. The one thing about the last few miles of a marathon is that each one seems so long! I've run as fast as 4:07 and as slow as 5:45 and make no mistake, they just drag by. I kept with my plan of walking through the water stops, and that was helping me keep a good pace when I was running.

We turned north on the final stretch up Michigan Ave. and I ran through the Mile 24 stop. By then I was feeling pretty good but a small part of me was wondering if I would regret it! But the great thing was that it was about that point that I realized I was going to finish the marathon!

When I hit the last water stop at Mile 25, I took a loooonnnnng walk through it and gathered myself for that last mile home. Because once I started running I wasn't going to stop!

I could feel the adrenaline pumping again, and the crowds and music began to get louder. I had been listening to techno music all day long (thank you Judge Jules and Paul Oakenfold!) but like I do at the end of many runs I switched over to the song "Dreams I'll Never See" by Molly Hatchet. I don't know what it is about that song, but I heard it driving back from Matt's state cross country meet and it just resonated with me. So it's my closing song.

I made the right on Roosevelt Road and went straight up the hill. It's weird, when I run or walk up that hill or drive it any of the other 364 days it's small and no big deal. But after 26 miles it seems like a mountain! But I put my head down and kept rolling.

But there is plenty of incentive -- Mile 26 is right at the top of the hill! Then it's just a quick left onto Columbus and the finish line is less than 250 yards away. I picked up the pace and headed towards the finish line.

It was so great! Darcy's brother Adam was the first familiar face I saw, followed by Matt, Kev, Darcy and Darcy's dad. No one had ever done that before for me, and it was wonderful. I was all smiles when I crossed the finish line in 5:23:39! I did it! After five years of so many ups and downs, of so many days loving running and hating running, loving and hating everything in life, actually, I was home.

I was so proud when they slipped that medal around my neck. Now that I've had a couple of days to think about it, the medal represents more than running 26.2 miles, it represents hitting the finish line to a chapter in my life that there were times I would wonder if I would get through it. I'm happier now than at almost any other time in my life, and the 18 weeks I spent training for this race was special, and I think will eventually change my life.

After all, isn't that what it's all about?

Three days later, I'm still sore but also still on the high of what I did. Well, what me and 40,000 others did. I have already decided I want to run again next year. Yeah, I loved it that much!

I'm so thankful for everyone who helped me get through this. Here's what I posted on my Facebook page:

"Thanks to everyone for the kind words and encouragement this past weekend and over the last few months as I've trained for the marathon. I've really been touched by all of the likes and comments I've had to my posts. Sorry to have constantly filled up your timelines with marathon stuff (I promise I'll only have one more after this) but it's a long process and you need all the help you can get! :--)

I'm so thankful to my friends, family and everyone else who in some way or another helped get me to the starting line, and eventually the finish line. I enjoyed this process a thousand times more than I ever had before, and it was also special to have raised close to $1200 for the American Cancer Society in my Dad and my sister Joni's honor.

Thanks to Darcy for her love and never ending encouragement, not to mention the great idea, Matt and Kev for their inspiration and to Mom and other members of my family for their love and support. Thanks also to my shoe sponsor, Asics, my apparel sponsor, C9 (pink socks rule!), Gatorade, Powerade and GU for the energy, and Judge Jules and Paul Oakenfold for the awesome mixes that provided the soundtrack for my run. Also thanks to my CARA training group friends who made the long runs easier. And all thanks to God for giving me the ability to do this. I told someone today that they key to having success at anything is to have a love for it...I've really re-discovered my love for running, and have already decided I'm doing it again next year! Can't wait!"

So no, this isn't the end of my marathon quests, or of this blog! I hope to keep on going with both, so please keep reading, and thanks so much for being part of this journey. Mike's Project Marathon 2013 was a huge success!

Friday, October 11, 2013

It's Marathon Weekend!

Wow, can it really, finally be here? I just put the finishing touches on my training with a 2-miler this morning -- all that is left it to line up and run the race.

It's a bit of a weird day as I'm usually downtown covering the elite athlete's press conference. I have done that several times when I was working for the Beacon News and the last two years I had been a correspondent for the website It was actually covering the race the last two years that got me motivated to run one again.

It's fun being a part of that. Elite runners are great people who are (mostly) accommodating with their time. I've had some great conversations with lots of runners who have won marathons or run in the Olympics. More than any other athletes in other sports, they respect and appreciate everyone who runs. In years where I was running the race, they seemed genuinely happy and supportive if I brought it up. One runner, Deena Kastor, even said she hoped she saw me at the finish line

She might just be the nicest pro athlete I have ever spoken to. When I interviewed her in 2005 (she won the Chicago Marathon that year) she was so nice and even sent me a follow-up e-mail to thank me for taking the time to talk to her. We went well over the designated 15 minutes I was supposed to have -- and I wasn't the only interview she was doing that day -- but she couldn't have been nicer.

That's what is so funny...people love to talk about running! I once did an interview with a guy named Roger Craig, who was a running back for the San Francisco 49ers in the 80's and 90's. No lie we were on the phone for 45 minutes and I couldn't get him off the phone.

And at the end of the interview, we somehow got onto the subject of Body Glide -- which everyone who runs knows it is a necessity to live, and running -- and he delivered the greatest quote I have ever gathered in my years as a sportswriter.

"Gotta have the Glide, baby."

Yes indeed, you do, Roger.

But I digress. If you read this often you know I do that a lot.

Anyway, after the press conference I would usually head over to the expo if I were running to pick up my stuff. There is something exciting about finally having your number in your hands. Then it becomes super real. You also get an idea of the scope and enormity of what you are about to get yourself into. There are a lot of people speaking a lot of different languages, but they neat thing is that you are all in this together.

I won't be going to the expo until tomorrow, but the carb loading begins in earnest tonight. My kids are going to hate me by the time the weekend is over. More than anything, I just want to focus on eating fairly well and keep my hydration level up. If I do it right, I won't have to swig a boatload of Gatorade on Sunday or anything, which is my hope because last year for the Hot Chocolate run I overdid it and had to jump out of the corral four times to use the bathroom!

You can do that for a race like that because there aren't many spectators, but with the marathon, not so much.

Lots to think about and lots to plan...can't believe it's almost here!

Monday, October 7, 2013

Getting Closer!

As I expected, Saturday's run was a lot of fun. There was a real sense of celebration among all of the pace groups. Everyone was in a great mood mingling around before we started, and when groups passed each other on the trail there were a lot of high-fives and words of encouragement.

It was a nice change, as the last few weeks I had been running we had all been grinding so hard on the 16, 18 or 20 milers that everyone kind of kept to themselves. Which is OK, it's hard work. But now that we are at this point, the hard part (except the marathon of course) is behind us.

It's been a good summer, and summer isn't all the way ready to let go. Man, it was so humid on the trails, I'm glad we were only running 8 miles! Hopefully the race is a little better, OK, a lot better!

Still, it was fun to talk with everyone and reflect on how the last few months have gone. As I have said before, as a veteran of several marathons, each time you train for one is different. Some are enjoyable, others are not as much.

To a person, all of us said we really enjoyed training together. It was a lot of fun, and I definitely plan on doing it again. It's good to have that support.

Speaking of, one of the runners, Alli, is running her first marathon and was starting to get a little stressed. Over the course of the last mile I ran alongside her and just gave her a lot of words of encouragement. The main thing is to just believe at the starting line that you are going to do it. At the same time, it's important to look around, take it in, and have fun.

Most people only run a marathon once, the number of people who run two, three or beyond grows exponentially smaller. Outside of my friends Wally and Jay, I can't think of anyone else I know who has run more marathons than me. I'm not saying that to be boastful, I'm saying that to stress the point that most people stop at one -- so if you are stopping at one, make the one count, you know?

It's easy to get stressed or overwhelmed, no matter how many marathons you have run. When those thoughts start to come to the surface, you have to confidently push them into a corner. At this point it's just time to line up and run, and if you have done the work, it's in the bag.

So according to the schedule, I have a couple of runs left before the big day this week. Let's get them in the bag and bring on the weekend!

Friday, October 4, 2013

One More Long Run Tomorrow!

So tomorrow (Saturday) is our last long run before the marathon. Today in the car I was thinking about how fast all of this has gone, and how much different (and better) the journey has been this time.

Of course, it will never compare to my first marathon, when I was new to running and was always learning and growing, and getting lots faster! I remember my first run around the neighborhood on January 2, and it took me almost 15 minutes to run a mile. Just three months later I broke 30 minutes for four miles, and by the summer I could run an 8K in about 40 minutes and ran most of my long runs at about a 9 minute pace.

I remember one of my neighbors saying near the end of the summer that at the beginning of the year when he would see me run by his front window it looked like I was going so slow, but then all of the sudden I was just flying by!

And of course, the marathon was awesome, a day I will never forget.

But if you had to compare the process I've gone through for each of my eight runs, it seems like this is pretty close to the first one. Back in February, I signed up as soon as registration opened, and I could probably run about three miles at the most. Not square one, but not far off.

As the year has gone by I've gotten stronger and more confident. Not necessarily all that much faster, but that was never my focus anyway. Marathon training isn't easy, and there were so many days that I struggled, but in the end I just trusted the processed and pressed on.

So here we are, one day from the long run and nine from the marathon. Tomorrow's run should actually be a lot of fun...just a nice, casual run with friends that should go by quickly. I'll probably do a lot of thinking about everything that has gone on this year, and how amazing it is to be at this point again. Because there were times I never thought I would be.

The last time I ran a marathon it was at such a low time in my life, and it was such a horrible experience that I felt like I was done with the race, and even done for the most part with running. I hated everything about it.

But fast forward to now, and the blessing of this whole thing is that I love running, I love the person it makes me and I certainly love how I feel. I'm also thankful to have been reminded of the number of people in my corner, and how supportive and caring those people really are.

Training for and running a marathon can be one of two things: training for an end result (not a bad thing, mind you) or taking a journey that helps you discover -- or rediscover -- things about you. I am so happy to say that this time, the latter is true.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

"Only" a 12-miler

It's nice being able to say that! Over the last five years, one of the things I missed about running long was to just be able to go out and run 10 miles if I felt like it. If I'm in shape, a 10-miler can take about 90 minutes (or less) so it's a bit of work but you aren't out there for all that long.

So I'm glad to be back to that point again. Today was the first step back week in our taper, so our 20-miler from a week ago shrunk down to 12 (I ran 12.4) and next week will be eight. Crazy to think that after three 1/2 months of training we only have 30 miles left to run before race day -- and half of those come in our 6-miler Wednesday and our "long" run next Saturday.

Because Matt had a big meet today (his school hosted their own Charger Classic; He was 12th in his race and his team finished second in their division) I couldn't get together with the CARA group and had to push the run to Sunday.

No big deal because the weather was perfect! It got pretty hot yesterday (80-plus degrees) but it rained almost all night and was about 52 degrees when I got started. I wanted to get up around six and get out by about seven, but had trouble sleeping last night and didn't make it out of bed until 6:30. I set out my drinks, came back and was on my way.

I felt good from the start, but I wasn't sure where I was at since I wasn't wearing my watch, but when I reached the 4-mile mark I looked across the way at a bank and it said I'd been out about 44 minutes (oh, and it was 54 degrees). Really? I didn't seem to be working that hard and I was running 11-minute miles. Nice!

Up to that point I didn't feel like I had been pushing that hard, so the competitive part of me decided to take over. So I picked up the pace. I took a Gu at four miles, Powerade at five and a Gu at around eight. When I got back to my drink spot at around nine miles, I was still feeling good, so I finished the rest of my Powerade and kept going.

In the end, I guess I ran my half-marathon pace. Yeah, LOL. I had no clue. I guess I'm deducting that given that I probably only could've gone another mile or two at that pace. By the last couple of miles the clouds have given way to a perfectly sunny day, so I was glad I got the early start.

Judging by when I looked at the clock when I left and when I scurried in the house to check when I was done, I finished in about two hours, 15 minutes. Yep, even with stops to drink and cross streets I ran 10:53 pace!

Kind of blown away by that, it kind of came out of nowhere, sort of like my 11-miler back in July. But hey, confidence builders are great, aren't they? Not only that, as I mentioned in my post the other day, I was pretty focused as well.

The extended forecast so far predicts this kind of day on race day, so I have this in my back pocket. I'm feeling so confident that if we get this kind of weather I can run comfortably at a 12-minute pace. Just gotta keep crossing my fingers!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Even Though It's Not My First Rodeo...

...there are always things that I need to be reminded about.

Remember when I said I don't dwell on runs/races the way I used to? Just because I don't the way I used to, doesn't mean I don't.

This week I've given some thought to my 20-miler, and while I'm happy with how I did, I'm still thinking of ways to do better on October 13th. Then as if by magic, I got an e-mail in my inbox from the Chicago Area Runners Association. Typically they send a couple of e-mails out each week to let us know what we have going in the days to come.

Near the bottom of one of the e-mails was this little nugget:

"Get your mental game plan ready to go. Racing an endurance event is more mental than physical. You've done the training and tapered well, so the physical part is all taken care of. Make sure you're mentally ready for race day"

Message received. Then it was hammered into my head during my 8-miler Thursday night. One of the great things about running is that it is very therapeutic, it's a great way to relieve stress, to clear your head of thoughts or to get said thoughts organized. The only problem is that the priority should always be the run, when the time comes to get locked in and run, you have to press the pause button put those thoughts in a compartment for a while.

So Sunday I was kicking a couple of things around my head and just never set them aside when I needed to, and I didn't help myself by thinking backwards a little bit, because when you do that more self-doubt begins to creep in.

Like when I hit five miles to go I looked at my watch and said "one more hour of running". Probably not the best thing to say when you have been on the road for three hours so far! Then the thoughts started creeping into my head "an hour...that's a long time", "this (or that) is feeling sore...are you sure you can make it?".

It's such a tough process sometimes. I remember when I was attempting to break four hours at the 2005 Chicago Marathon, and how one quick thought "a tweak outside me knee" just broke down the wall of concentration and confidence I had spent the first three hours building.  

That's the toughest part of this sport, staying mentally tough. The hard part is that it comes and goes. For as flighty as I felt on Sunday, I was the exact opposite on Thursday night. I went out to Waubonsie Lake -- a nice lake area with a path around it -- and felt like I could run all day.

I ended up running 8-ish miles, and it was awesome. I say 8-ish because at one time there was a sign that said the loop i like to take is either 2.6, 2.7 or 2.8 miles around. So I went between 7.8 and 8.4 miles, give or take. 

It's a beautiful area, it was nice and cool and there were a lot of people out on the path. I even got a chance to see a really nice sunset, which doesn't happen often. But the best part was that I was locked in from pretty much the first step of the run until the last.

It was pretty sweet. Sure I had some things that I was thinking about, but they came and went through my mind, and often I found myself just rolling on cruise control. No thoughts, just me and my music. That doesn't happen often in my day-to-day life -- several years ago I was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), although I knew I'd had it long before that -- which means stuff swims through my head at all hours of the day or night, so much so that I only sleep about six hours a night.

When I get the chance to completely clear my head of everything, like I had during that run, I am happy...and thankful. It's fun to have a run like that. I'd also like to get that feeling in a couple of weeks, too.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Let The Tapering Begin

It's sort of amazing how after 15 weeks of slowly building up the mileage to run the marathon, you then have to start scaling it back to actually run the marathon.

Tapering is just part of the process, and there are a lot of people who have trouble with it. It's even spawned it's own affliction..."Taper Madness". That's where you spend the three weeks from the 20-miler to race day worrying about every little thing. Did I train enough? How are my shoes? What should I wear?

Which leads into: "What about the weather?"

It's common to feel that way, especially the first time someone runs a marathon, and I went through it too. The biggest worry is how you can get a 26.2 mile run out of a 20-mile long run. Race day magic? Some say, but I don't believe that. We only do about a dozen long runs of any significance (not counting step-backs and the taper weeks), the distance from 20 until the end comes from the runs done during the week. If you have done the mileage during the week -- especially the midweek intermediate run -- you will be fine. Everything matters, and that's why it has been able to work.

To paraphrase something the great Hal Higdon says...millions of people have used these training programs to get to the finish line, why do you think it won't work for you?

Since I read that line in one of his columns years ago, my feeling has been this: I've done all I can, now the only thing left in my control is lining up and running.

It is nice to have all of my pre-race rituals down pat -- and yes I'll remember my shorts on race day -- because that's one less thing to worry about. I will say, about the only thing I worry about is the weather, but only to a point, because, again, it's something I can't control.

I mean, I've run the Chicago Marathon when it was 40 degrees (a couple of times) and when it was in the 80s (2007-08). Maybe you wear some different clothes (like a sleveless vs. a regular shirt) adjust your tactics a little, like if it's going to be hot you run slower and drink more, but in the end, the race is the race. So I'll start keeping track of the weather a few days out, so I can decide what I'm going to wear and start visualizing the race I want to run, but that's about the extent of my madness.

Because no matter the weather, the race is 26.2 miles long and you have to complete it. While conditions may change, that doesn't. So you don't worry about it. You respect it like crazy, but don't worry about it.

It's just a matter of trust. You have to trust you've done the training to get ready (you have) and that if it is your first time you have learned enough and asked enough questions.If you have done that, the race is less overwhelming. I ran close to a dozen races in the 10 months prior to my first marathon, and gained experience with big crowds, hydrating, stretching, rituals and other things I knew I was going to need.

I remember standing at the starting line for the 2000 Chicago Marathon and looking at the skyline and thinking "I've got this". Once I got into the start corral, instead of my anxiety going sky-high, like it does for many, I experienced a real feeling of calmness come over me. Because I realized at that moment, on October 22, 2000, it was about to happen, whether I was ready or not. I felt confident because I thought I had done enough. Thankfully, I had a great day and achieved all of my goals, but the key was getting into a good mental place.

Leading up to that race I'd had some serious IT band issues that caused me to miss two weeks of running in August, and I had missed quite a few runs as my son Kevin had been born about five weeks before the race. Not only that, my 20 miler was a disaster. I ran it along the Lakefront and it was hot and windy. I think I took over four hours to complete the run (and I finished the race in 4:28).

Not only that, I was working three jobs at the time and over the course of the previous two nights I'd gotten a total of about six hours of sleep. But at that point, it mattered not, it was just time to run.So I did.

That's the beauty of the just run! I grew up playing so many other sports (baseball, football, basketball, soccer, golf) that had so many moving parts that I've found running is beautiful because it's simple. You aren't having something hurled at you at 80 miles an hour, I'm not trying to get off a jump shot with a hand in my face, or trying to hit a ball over a pond to a target four inches wide sitting 150 yards away. It's just putting one foot in front of the other, and not stopping until they tell you to.

Man, if you look at it that way, it's kind of empowering. It's not very often that we get total control like that over our destiny. My race is completely up to me. That's just awesome, isn't it? It's also why I've tried to get my two boys involved in the sport, because it's just so pure. None of this "the coach's kid gets to be running back" or "the popular kids get to start:". You are who you are. Fastest runners run. That's it.

I so wish I had thought of that when I was younger, but oh well, I'm glad to have discovered it now. I'll take to the line with confidence on October 13th because I know so far I've completed 56 of the 61 scheduled runs, and that I've done this seven times before, in both the best and worst conditions. I believe in myself because I know that in order to be successful at this, that's the way it has to be.

So while the taper is about coming down in mileage and resting, it's also about working on a focus that by race day should be laser-like. This is when we get to find our inner athlete, our inner Kenyan. This is when we get to find out if we have what it takes to run a marathon. It's not easy, because if it were, everyone could do it.

You know what? This is when the fun starts!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

20-Miler In the Books!

Here's the bib of the day...the Magellan Ready to Run 20-Miler!

Looks good, doesn't it! I'm looking forward to cashing it in for a better one in three weeks time though.

Once again, CARA outdid itself with a very well-organized event. And another thing I learned on this run...Chicago is really effing big! Imagine, we did a 20-mile (about 17 of it point-to-point) along the lakefront, and we didn't even come close to touching the dimensions of the city. If you look at the marathon course map, it never gets more than five or six miles away from the center of downtown. This run covered a lot more than that.

The run was set to go off at 6:30 a.m. Sunday near Wilson Ave. and Lakeshore Drive. Darcy and I ended up staying downtown at the Renaissance Marriott (Thanks, Adam!), which was a very cool place. We also met up with Noah, a friend of mine from way back in the day. We had been co-workers when he was not long out of college in 2000 and started running together when he found out I was training for the marathon.

He ended up running the Chicago Marathon in 2000 with me and later -- when he decided to get his PhD from USC in Los Angeles -- we ran the 2003 Los Angeles Marathon together. We also ran a lot of local road races together and had a lot of fun, even though eventually he became way faster than me.

He was hobbling at dinner a bit because he has been having trouble with his IT band as of late. In fact, he had tried running his 20-miler on Saturday and ended up pulling up lame about 11 miles in. The IT band is a weird injury...I had trouble with it leading up to the marathon in 2000, took two weeks off and bought a new pair of shoes, and haven't had any trouble with it since.

Noah acknowledged that his shoes were probably a bit worn, so hopefully a new pair of kicks will be all he needs. Hoping to see him on the finish line on Oct. 13! If not, he said the course runs right by his place, so he'd better be out there supporting the runners!

I ran into a bit of a snag when I got back to the hotel and realized that I had forgotten a pair of shorts! You might can someone of my experience in racing marathons and other races in and out of down do something like that? It's a mystery to me.

Fortunately the Target in the South Loop was open until 11 and we rode a cab over there and picked up a couple of pairs. Disaster averted.

I have to admit I slept pretty well but 5 a.m. came early. I got up and showered and started with my usual pre-race meal of bagels and bananas. The great thing about a marathon (or long run) is that you can pretty much graze all the way until the start of the race because you will burn it all off anyway.

Once I was ready we headed out around 5:50 to find a cab to get us up there. I have to admit, I love Chicago on Sundays. In the morning it's so quiet and peaceful, and even during the day it's busy but people go at a much slower pace, like it's the one day a week that they actually stop and enjoy the city that they live in.

We got to the start and wow, there was a lot of people there! According to an announcement I had heard, close to 3,800 people had signed up for the run. Given that somewhere between 38,000 and 40,000 show up to run the marathon, it meant that close to 10 percent of the field was there.

I had signed up to run in the 12-minute mile group, so I was in wave No. 9, going off at 6:34. Once again, organization...each wave went off in 30-second intervals, and we were right on time when we got started. Once thing I would like to ask them is how they set it up, because it was a mix of slower groups, then faster groups, then more slower groups. I'm guessing it was to try and get everyone finished in a small of a window as possible, but it was weird getting freight trained by so many groups during the course of the run.

The course started as a 4-mile loop in the park, and then headed south. At about the 1 1/2-mile mark we were out next to the lake. It was so beautiful, the sun was just coming up and it was so nice and cool. I had worn a throwaway shirt (my 2006 Indy Mini Marathon shirt -- hope it found a good home) and took that off and made a quick bathroom stop at about 2 miles. That was around the first water stop, and I believe there were about 10 of those, which was a good thing.

Once we completed the loop we went to the east side of Lakeshore Drive and ran through Lincoln Park. That's a pretty good stretch, and the soft surface was nice on my feet. Ahhhhh!

I was in a small pace group, and it turns out Mark, our leader, was pacing for the very first time. I thought all in all he did a pretty good job -- we were a tad behind but he kept everyone going. I would fall behind at each water stop as I took my time to make sure I was getting enough to drink, but a Kenyan-esque surge would quickly put me back with the group.

We crossed back over Lakeshore and that's about the time the skyline really comes into focus. I think the stretch between North Avenue Beach and Navy Pier is one of the coolest urban views you could ever imagine. If I had brought a camera along I would've taken a picture. Someday.

Navy Pier was about where we hit the halfway point, and Darcy was waiting for me about a 1/2-mile later. I can't even describe how much of a boost this process has been thanks to her support. She's kind of a big deal to me.

A little further down the road we came across something you don't see every day -- a light airplane parked in the grass! They had announced something about it prior to us starting our run, but apparently a pilot had been having difficulty and he put the plane down on Lakeshore right next to Grant Park. He must have been doing some stunt flying or something.

 To the plane's left is the path we ran by on, so we got a pretty good look.

We then took a lap around Grant Park, and I was so locked in I didn't realize that we ran down Columbus Drive, which is where the marathon starts and finishes. Tourist tip: the finish line is marked in paint at the curbs.

Through the museum campus (Shedd Aquarium, Field Museum, Soldier Field) and the mile were starting to add up. And I was beginning to really feel it. As much as I love running along the lakefront, the one down side is that there is very little shade and there wasn't a cloud in the sky. So we were pretty exposed and by the finishing stretch it was pretty warm.

By about Mile 17 I was walking a bit beyond the water stops, and mile 19 was a bit rough as I had to walk for about a minute or so. I wasn't the only one, as I would pass runners walking and when I took a break they would move right past me again.

I took a brief walk break with about a mile to go, and just put my head down. Amazingly enough, even with a walk break I still ran the last mile in 11:55. Not too bad!

Back under Lakeshore we went, and a short hill to the finish. But just like the Roosevelt Rd. hill at the end of the marathon, it looked a little bigger than it might if you haven't just run 20 miles. I made it across the finish line in 4:06:25. Overall that's a 12:19 pace, which is pretty close to what I have been doing in all my runs with the CARA crew. So I'll take it. After all, it's just about getting to the finish line, right?

Darcy was waiting for me at the end, which I was really glad for. Again, the support I have received while training for this race has been overwhelming, and she has been amazing in keeping me going and staying positive.

So that's it's time to taper! That and start looking at the 10-day forecasts soon!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Easier Runs Are Starting To Get Easier


One thing I had noticed over the last week or two is that my runs during the week seem to be a little "easier" than they had been. It might be the weather cooling a bit, but I think it's also a result of just getting more fit.

Today I ran my usual 3.6-mile loop at work (more on that later) and felt really good. My legs were a bit tight during the day, in fact they felt like lead a couple of times when I got up from my desk! But I made sure to start out slowly and they shook themselves out after a bit.

It had rained for a while in the afternoon, so it was a bit humid, but the nice thing about the sun going down earlier is that even if it's still a little warm (probably in the mid 70s) it's not like the sun is beating down and making it feel even hotter.

I had to cut the run short because I realized today I had to run to a local running shoe store and pick up my number for the 20-miler this weekend. After today, the only place you could pick it up is in a couple of stores in downtown Chicago, so no doubt I had to make the trip.

I got number 535, which given the stack of numbers it looked like they had it seems a little low for someone running 12-minute miles, but the sticker on my number said I was in wave nine, so I guess it's right. Even if it isn't, I will be more than sure to line up with my group!

Hard to believe the 20-miler is coming up this Sunday!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Monday Night Long Slow Distance Running

OK, I am confessing something: I woke up Sunday morning and bagged my run because it was raining. I know, not good, right! Still, I felt like I could give myself a pass given all of the inclement days I've run before -- and trust me, there have been lots of them -- and it was Kevin's 13th birthday. And, really, I just felt like staying in bed.

So that meant the run got pushed to Monday night, which wasn't so bad because the skies were clear and it was about 52 degrees when I started. And 45 when I finished, which actually was kind of cold!

In the end, the run was a sort of mixed bag. The first 6-plus miles were actually pretty awesome. I started out pretty slowly and just let myself build into the run, so even though I ran about 12 minutes for the first mile, by the time I reached my first stopping point at about 4.9 miles, I was at about an 11:45 pace and felt like I could run that the entire time.

I basically ran the same route I did for my 12 miler on Labor Day, but added an extra loop through a neighborhood to tack on about another 1 1/2 miles. I definitely had flashbacks because it was a neighborhood I ran through a lot back in the day, and most of the time, like last night, it was dark. It's a neat mix of homes and I remember a time where I could get through it in less than 12 minutes.

This time it took a little closer to 15, but not too bad. It looped around to my stopping point again, so I took a gu and continued on. It was about two miles later that my calves started to take turns cramping up. My right one took the brunt of it, and by the time I was approaching 10 miles my stride had really changed.

My pace didn't slow that much, but it was just hard to get my legs lifted. It seemed like every time there was a slight change in the slope to the road or the sidewalk, I would shuffle the bottom of my foot on the ground or even lose my balance a little.

Not only that, with my calves getting tight, my hamstrings got tight and my back started to get sore. When it starts to domino like that, it's not fun. Back in 2003 I went through a stretch where my back made it so painful to run that after death marching through the LA Marathon in March and the Indy Mini Marathon in May I made the commitment to getting it fixed and went through about three months of stretching and physical therapy. It actually worked well and I haven't had many problems since.

I got back to my stopping point again at about 10.5 miles and finished off the last of a 32 oz. Powerade that I had stashed there. I felt my pace was pretty good to that point, but the last 3.2 miles were a lot slower. So that kind of sucked. But in the end I rolled up to the front of my apartment building with a sense of satisfaction.

I'm a big fan of the TV show Biggest Loser and I thought about the infamous "Last Chance" workouts. The contestants go through this agonizing workout and struggle to get in some final reps, and then the trainer announces "that's your last chance workout" and they are done! I was really happy to be done and to have weathered a bit of a storm.

Surprisingly, I didn't beat myself up about the run, but it didn't take a lot of deductive reasoning to figure out what the issue was...hydration. A few years ago I did a lot of research about hydration strategies and came up with some really good information. In the end I figured out that depending on conditions I lost 16 oz. of sweat every 20-30 minutes.

So if you take a 2 1/2-hour-plus run (last night was about 2:40, I forgot to start the watch for one segment), on the conservative side I sweated off about somewhere between 64 and 80 ounces, which I replaced with just the one bottle of Powerade.

I went into the run hoping that the hydrating I had been doing during the day would get me through, but alas it didn't. It's kind of funny, when I look back over all of the long runs since back in June, the three "worst" have been runs that were unsupported: my 9-miler in Florida, the 12 on Labor Day and last night.

Needless to say, the support from being part of the CARA group is a really important part of why this process has been easier than in the past. Oh sure, I try and use my fuel belt and have always stashed drinks, but in the end you can only do so much. Having jugs of water and Gatorade every couple of miles has been awesome.

During the marathon, my usual water stop M.O. is to go with 2-3 cups of Gatorade and a cup or two of water. I have tried to do that on the CARA runs, and for sure that will happen during the final 20-miler this weekend. It works, that's for sure.

Even though last night's run was a little harder than I had hoped, I learned a couple of things, which is always important. One, I need to drink more and two, I can't do these runs without my compression sleeves to help my calf cramping. Which I ordered another one of last night. Hopefully I nail all of this down on Sunday!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Bib of the Day -- First to the Finish Invitational, Peoria, IL

OK, this isn't MY number, as today is a day off for me, but my son Matt and his Aurora Central teammates traveled two hours southwest to Peoria for the First to the Finish Invitational. It's a meet that is run on the state cross country course and is a good prep for the state meet on Nov. 9.

This is actually the second time the Chargers have run there this year, after running a night race there at the end of July. This race was a little bigger, though, as there were 735 boys that toed the long, long line. In all, between the six races (boys and girls, three classes), organizers say close to 5,000 kids participated.

Cross country is a bit of an acquired taste, but once you get the hang of the sport it is a lot of fun. The knock on XC is that runners disappear into the woods at the start and you don't see them again until the finish. There are a couple of courses where that is true, most of the courses where Central races you get the chance to see the runners several times, which gives you ample opportunities to see the runners.

Plus, it's a great sport because it is a participation sport. While not every member of the team got to run today, on most race weekends everyone gets a chance to compete. One of the things that turned me away from team sports when I was in high school was the fact that I would practice for a couple of hours a day and rarely get off the bench during games. Unless you really love the sport a lot or are more into the team for the camaraderie, it's hard to put in the work and not play. Especially now, when the expectation of most sports is for athletes to do so much off-season work in terms of conditioning, weightlifting and other commitments.

That and the camaraderie is really cool. Let's be honest, XC usually doesn't include the "cool kids", so everyone seems to enjoy and respect each other. Everyone roots for everyone else, and one of the biggest focuses is on having fun and setting PRs. I can buy into that sort of stuff.

This was the fourth race of the season for the boys, and the results have been a bit mixed. Heading into today's race, they really needed a bit of a confidence boost. The day got off to a good start as the weather was perfect, the sun was out and it was about 65 degrees at the start of the race.

Matt and the team went down last night and stayed at a hotel, so Kevin (son No. 2, if I hadn't mentioned it) and I were on the road at about 7:15. We arrived about an hour before the race and everyone was in good spirits.

When the gun went off Matt and Javi, his teammate and one of his best friends, got off to a great start. Matt loves running on this course, and I was happy to see that he was super aggressive, which is when he runs his best. On this course, they ran by us three times, and each time it looked like he was always looking to move forward, which he hadn't done much of this year.

When the race was over, Javi had set a PR of 16:00 to finish 46th, while Matt dropped a 16:43 to place 99th. That's 46 seconds faster than what he ran in the summer race, and just three seconds slower than what he ran in last year's state meet. For the first time in a while he came off the course with a smile on his face, which was good to see.

In all it was a great confidence boost for the entire team. The season is going by quickly, and the state meet is just eight weeks away. There is a lot of work to do between now and then, but today was a big step forward.

For me, I'm stepping back tomorrow, going 14 as we get a break before the 20-miler next weekend. The weather is going to be great, should be a good day!

Falling For Fall

This week was a rough one, weather-wise, and threw off the running schedule a little bit. With the temperatures early in the week hitting the mid 90s, and not getting much better after dark, I decided to put the schedule off for a couple of days until it cooled down a bit.

Of course, everything doesn't always go as planned. The week was supposed to go four miles one day, eight the next and four the day after that. Well, I got the first four in, but the eight just didn't happen. Oh well.

The four was wonderful...the weather started to cool down by Wednesday and I headed out around 8 p.m. I actually enjoy running at night, in fact when I worked two jobs five nights a week I often ran around midnight or so. For some reason, the older I get the harder it is to fall asleep after I do that, so running that late is pretty much out.

It was probably about 65 degrees when I headed out, and it felt really, really good. In all the years I've run, I felt like spring and fall was where I got the most done training-wise. It's just easier to pick up the pace and that makes it easy to improve. The summer always feels like a time where I'm just putting the miles in, and those begin to pay off when it gets cooler.

Tonight when I went out, it was even better. Not sure what the temperature was when I started, but it was 50 (!) when I was finished. I was able to get up to a good pace pretty quickly, and by the time I was in the final mile or so felt like I was really flying.

Of course, flying is relative, as I was probably running 10-minute miles or something, but it felt a lot faster. It's supposed to be about 55 or so on Sunday when I head out for my 14-miler, and I'm really looking forward to that.

It's a small wonder that fall is quickly becoming my favorite season. With four weeks to go until the marathon, I hope we get a lot more days like this!

Monday, September 9, 2013

I Love Just Crushing A Run

I almost wrote up a post on Friday about the trepidation I was feeling heading into Saturday's 18-miler, and then realized I had done that two weeks ago before our 16, so I didn't want to repeat myself.

But needless to say, I was feeling nervous. Not only were we getting in some uncharted territory -- or in my case, charted territory that I didn't remember -- I was going to be running solo. Matt had a cross country meet in West Chicago at 10:30 so if I started with the CARA group at 6:15, there would be no way to get the run in before then.

That meant getting started earlier, and while I posted something on their Facebook page to see if anyone wanted to join me, there were no takers.

With that in mind I decided to make it a marathon day simulation, so I set my alarm for 4 a.m. Of course, that meant it was going to be a short night as I covered a football game on Friday night and the last time I looked at the clock it was about 1:15 a.m. Oh well.

So yeah, I got up and did all of the things I'll do on race day: showered, stretched, got all of my stuff together and worked on my mental checklist of things I'll need to bring along. Normally I just get out of bed and pretty much go, but now's the time to start getting into that mode.

Usually these shoes are black; brought a bit of the path home with me!
I made the drive to Wheaton and after stretching some more I got moving at about 5:30. Needless to say, it was really, really dark, especially once we got out of town and into the woodsy area of the path. I decided not to listen to my iPod, and just got going on an easy pace to start.

It wasn't hot, probably in the mid 60s, but it was pretty humid. We were supposed to head east this week, which meant I was going in a direction I'd never done before. My group went that way the week I wasn't there for the 15-miler, and it wasn't all that popular. Actually, I liked it...while it is a little more "urban" and is exposed to the sun a bit, it also has a lot of traffic, and that was nice. So I was running alone, but it didn't necessarily feel that way.

A couple of people in the group had mentioned that there may not be water and Gatorade set out that early, so I brought my fuel belt and some extra cash in case I needed to stop somewhere. Thankfully, the first one at mile 3 was there, as were the rest of them!

I ran in the dark for close to an hour, and surprisingly the miles went by pretty quickly. I started feeling a bit sore at about 6 miles or so, and had to stop myself from letting my mind wander to the thought -- "if my legs feel like this now, how in the world can I run another 20 miles on race day?".

Running is so mental, I'm telling ya. I mean, it hurts, and hurts for a long time. My legs probably will start hurting at 6, 8 or 10 miles on race day, but you just have to keep going.

I had brought my (broken) watch with me, and kept it in my pocket, checking it occasionally to make sure I was sticking to about a 12-minute pace. I hit the 8-mile mark, meaning I had 1 1/4 miles to go before I turned around, and about 10 minutes later started looking for the 9-mile pole.

It was nowhere to be found, and a bit later I found out why. Anyway, I kept going and thought that, at a 12-minute pace, I would hit 9.25 miles at about 1 hour, 51 minutes. So I stopped there, a little perplexed that I hadn't seen the post. The trail is so well-marked, it was just really odd.

After a couple of minutes to walk and stretch, I headed back and saw the 9-mile post! Instead of being right next to the path on the right-hand side (heading east), it was on the LEFT and about 10 feet off of the path. At the time I had run by there was a big group getting ready to run and perhaps they blocked my view a bit.

So I looked at my watch and saw I had been back to running for about 7 minutes. So, 14 minutes total, or a little more than a mile. Guess my run was going to be a little longer than planned!

A couple of miles later, I started coming across the CARA groups, including mine. By then the sun was starting to come up and it was beginning to get warm, so I was glad I was on my way back!

Despite everything beginning to hurt like crazy -- hello pain, it's been five years since I've seen you! -- I was able to hold my pace and clicked off the rest of the miles in the 11:40 range. My confidence began growing as I hit each milepost on the way back. In fact, as I hit each one I silently counted it out..."14!"...."15!"..."16!".

I grabbed a drink with three miles to go, and it was clouding over a little bit and the wind came up. Just what I needed! There were actually a few drops of rain too, which was welcomed by then. By the time I got back to Wheaton I was just cruising and, I think I will somehow be able to do the last seven miles.

This was really the first time I've felt that I will be able to complete the race. No doubt, I'll finish, but at the same time it's just no fun when it is an absolute death march from mile 16 or something. Feeling the way I did as I approached 19 miles just gave me a lot more confidence.

In the end, I finished 19 (ish) miles in just under 3 hours, 40 minutes. That was running time, as I stopped my watch at the water stops, but even figuring that in, I still held about a 12-minute pace, which translates into a 5:15 marathon. I'll take it!

I'm posting a picture of my shoes and what they looked like after the run. They worked hard for me!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Where the Heck Have I Been?

Wow, I just realized I haven't dropped a post on here in three weeks. For some reason, August has always been a very busy month for me, and this year is no exception. Between work, my second job, my third job and school starting, I usually have a lot going on.

Add my brother Tim's wedding this year to all of that and you have a month that has just flown by. Running wise, that was the week that hurt me the most as I didn't run for nine days in the days leading up to and counting his wedding weekend. Still, it was a great time, so I'm not going to be hard on myself about it.

Bama y'all!
My brother got married in Florence, Alabama, which as I discovered is a true jewel of a place. I wouldn't have thought so since it is tucked up in the corner of the northwest part of the state, but there is a lot of history to the town. The church Tim and his new bride Jennifer got married in was built in the 1820s and the place where they had the reception was built in the 1830s.

And then there is the music! I didn't realize that in the 1950s, 60s and 70s Florence (and the next town over, Muscle Shoals) was a hotbed of great music. Many hits from that era were recorded in Muscle Shoals, and all of the bars I went into over the weekend had live music at one point or another. It was some very interesting stuff. I love learning about the history of new places I visit, and would love to go back there someday.

The people who live there are very proud of the heritage of their town, and that was neat to see so much of that, because you don't see it all that often.

So not running for a week meant I broke my streak of having completed all 40 runs through the first 10 weeks of the training program. Darn it. The biggest loss was having not been able to do the 15-miler scheduled on Saturday.

I mean, I've missed long runs before -- lots of them, in fact -- so the mileage itself wasn't that big of a deal. It was more the mental aspect of having only gone 13 so far in the program that the jump to 16 (our run last Saturday) was a little daunting.

That's the thing about this sport, it is humbling. I've trained for seven marathons before but when the mileage starts getting this high I always get a bit nervous. No matter how many times you run this far, every run is different.

So I controlled what I controlled and made sure that I went through all of my usual routines the day before. I had a big bowl of pasta and tried to really hydrate because I'd moved my mid-week 8-miler to Thursday night, giving me just 36 hours to recover for the 16 on Saturday.

Now that the mileage is ramping up, the CARA group I run with is starting at 6:15 a.m. instead of 6:45. That means I'm out of bed and on the road by 5:30. Ugh. Really, it isn't that bad, and as I've discovered the nice thing is that once you are done, you're done! It's still only Saturday morning and you have the rest of the weekend ahead of you.

And from a training standpoint what is nice is that with the next run not being scheduled until Tuesday, you have close to 72 hours to recover. So while it's hard getting up I keep the positives in mind.

We caught another break in the weather Saturday. It was actually a bit cool when we started and while it did warm up and there was some humidity I don't think the temperature got above 75 while we were running. The other nice thing is that I think the air was pretty clean too. I'd been having trouble with allergies on my run during the week and was a bit concerned, but it wasn't that bad.

So off we went. I had brought my iPod with me in case the group broke up and I was running alone (like what happened with the 12 miler a few weeks ago) so I alternated between that and talking with the group. I'm on a techno kick right now, and a DJ named Paul Oakenfold has a weekly show called Planet Perfecto that I am downloading each week. The mix is about 55 minutes long, so it's great to run with because you just get lost in the music for close to an hour.

I had a couple of bad patches in the first half of the run but at about 9 miles I started feeling really, really good. I had been working off the strength of the group, running behind a couple of people and mentally checking out, so I decided while I felt good I was going to return the favor.

When I eased past the three other people in my group, the made a comment that if they were going to slow that I should just go ahead. Dan smiled and said "You are just cruising!" I moved in front of them and said, hey, if I'm feeling good I'm going to let you guys work off of me for a while. So I ended up leading the pace of the group for about 3-4 miles.

The run was going really well until about 14 miles, and then my hips and quads started to get really sore. By 15 miles, there was pain. That's the one thing about running this far is that there is a lot of pain involved. You just have to run through it.

I took the same mentality Saturday that I plan to use in the marathon: break the run down into small pieces so it's not so overwhelming. I decided to just focus on getting from one water station to the other, but by the time we got to the last stop with about 2.8 miles left, it was time to dig a little deeper.

In the end, I actually finished pretty strong. We had gone north on the path, so when you get to the final turn it is a hard left and then about a quarter-mile to where we finish. That's almost the same distance you have to go when you make the turn from Roosevelt to Columbus during the Chicago Marathon, so I started picturing in my mind what that will look and feel like. I have to admit that I really picked up the pace over that stretch and it felt great. I can't wait to run down Columbus on October 13th!

I haven't made it on the road yet this week, but plan on it tonight. It will be a challenge this week with the heat, but hopefully we don't have to deal with that much longer!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Running is About Taking the Good With the Bad

I guess it was bound to happen, that I was going to have a total dog of a run sooner or later.

Which I did today, but before I get to that I'll flash back to Saturday, because it was much better. Turns out, our ACS group was dissolved for some reason, and I had the option of jumping in with the CARA group for the duration of the training.

I was definitely excited about that, because when I first heard that our group was not going to be together anymore, I was concerned that I wouldn't be able to hook on with anyone and would be going it alone the rest of the way. As I had mentioned in my previous posts, I had encountered the CARA runners a couple of times on the path, and it looked like they had great numbers in their pace groups, and as a bonus had coolers of Gatorade and water every couple of miles.

The only downer is that it is about 10-15 minutes further, which almost got me in trouble Saturday as I missed a turn and ended up parking about four blocks from the meeting point. After wandering around for a while I saw a few runners heading to the same place, so I just followed them. Fortunately, I got there just in time.

The group starts in downtown Wheaton near mile marker "zero", which is where the mileposts in every direction begin for the path that is in DuPage County. We turned north and headed up a nice, shady path that is a nice gravel-dirt mix.

There were about 8-10 people starting out in our pace group, and although I had run in the 10:50 range in my 11-miler last week, I dropped back and went with the 11:30 folks because I thought it would be best to be conservative as the mileage increases.

No one really talked to me at the beginning of the run, which was fine. I was listening to the leaders as we went along and we were going out a bit slow, I think 11:40 for the first mile, which works. After all, it was only 6:45 in the morning and I am always down with easing into things that early in the day.

After about a mile or so, one of the leaders worked his way back and introduced himself to me. Turns out Dan was a super cool guy and we ended up running together and talking for the rest of the run.

Remember when I talked about everyone getting to the starting line having a story? Dan is no exception. He started running six years ago to raise money for Autism awareness, as his youngest son -- now a junior in high school -- is autistic. He's running his sixth marathon and doesn't really care how long it takes him. He just cruises along and when he gets there, he gets there.

Given it is the first week in August, the weather was decent, although a bit on the humid side. It was nice to run in the shade, and even nicer to hit each water stop! They certainly made a difference as I felt a lot more hydrated and just felt better given I was taking in more fluids.

It started to become a grind around mile 10, as expected. By then our group had whittled down to four and none of us had much to say. Dan and I started talking again over the last couple of miles, and it was really nice to get back to downtown Wheaton and beat the heat.

So that was the good. We ended up running pretty close to exactly 11:30 pace, or if you factor in our stops we were around 12 or so. I'll take it...a five-hour marathon is 11:26 per mile, so 10 more weeks of training and hopefully some favorable weather on race day will make that happen.

I put in a 4-miler on Monday night back on my usual route, and felt pretty good. So given the way I'd been running the last few weeks I have no explanation as to what happened today.

I headed out at about 2:30 and while it was warm (83 degrees) it didn't feel oppressive or anything. But the last couple of days the lower parts of my legs have been really stiff and I felt like I had cement blocks on my feet. It was a real grind from the start, and I bet I didn't run faster than about a 13 minute pace.

When I'm training for a marathon, I try and use every run as some sort of race simulation. In this instance, it was all about how the last four miles might feel. Man, I just couldn't get it going, so I just focused on moving forward.

Things did begin to feel a bit better the last 1/2 mile or so, thankfully. I'm still not sure why my legs are hurting, whether it is just muscle fatigue or hydration or whatever. So I guess I'll work on the things I can control (like stretching and drinking) and hope it is just a bad patch.

Going seven tomorrow, hopefully I get back on the right track by then!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Bib Of The Day -- Summer Sunset 5K, July 31, 2013

Allow me to present the newest bib to my collection.

I picked this up last night at the Summer Sunset 5K in Geneva. It was a race that I had covered several times for the paper and is great event. It has a great history too, as lots of great local runners have run -- and won -- the event. The first year I covered it, the race was won by Dan Huling, who will represent the United States in the 3000m steeplechase at the World Championships of Track and Field in Moscow next week. It's also been won by Lukas Verzbicas, who was an incredible cross country runner in Illinois when he was in high school and is now one of the top young triathletes in the world.

For all the years I've covered it I thought "man, I should do this race sometime!". So, last night I finally did, and I came away very impressed. The race is incredibly well-organized and the course is pretty fast.

The weather was pretty decent too. Usually it's boiling for the race, sometimes despite the start time of 7:15 p.m. the heat index has often been in the mid to high 90s. In fact last year it was so hot that they cancelled the race altogether. So I'll take the 75 degrees or so at race time, can't get much better than that this time of the year.

Since I had run 33:53 at my previous 5K in late May, I came into this one feeling confident that I could chop a couple of minutes off of that. Actually, I was hoping I could come home in about a 10-minute pace, which would be right around 31 minutes. When the race started I was feeling good and got a burst of adrenaline, and as a result went out waaayyyy too fast.

How fast, you ask? Try 9:06 fast. Ouch. As I approached the first mile clock I couldn't quite see it as I didn't have my contacts in, so I looked at my watch and saw that 30 yards from the clock I was at about 8:56. My awesome girlfriend, Darcy (more on her in future blogs), was there and told me later she was caught off guard in seeing me since she didn't expect me to come by for another minute or so.

She was surprised? How do you think I felt? At this point as crazy as it sounds I didn't think I could run a 9:06 on a track actually trying to run a fast mile!

I spent the next mile or so trying to settle into a pace I could take to the finish. Trust me, by the midway point of the race I was hurting! I eventually dropped to 10:33 for the second mile, but by then was getting my breathing under control and felt like I was good to go to the finish.

It was a bit of a grind to get to the finish, but I ran a 10:12 third mile and cruised it in to finish in 30:46. It was one of those races that felt so hard while I was doing it, but so good and so satisfying when it was over.

For a second, I was mad at myself for going out so fast, but then I had to laugh. Seriously, I've spent most of the last 24 hours laughing every time I think of it. I mean, 9:06 was so ridiculous and so out of the realm of what I thought I could do, it was crazy! My positive spin was I ran the race like a cross country race -- I went balls out at the start and tried to hang on.

I can't be mad...I picked up over three minutes from my last 5K and my goal of breaking 30 minutes before the end of the year is still a reality.

So I had a couple slices of Papa John's pizza after the race and went home happy. It's just been a really satisfying summer for my running. I'm far from setting the world on fire but at the same time I'm running about as consistently as I ever have and I see improvement coming little by little.

I hope to run another 5K over Labor Day weekend, maybe 30 minutes will be possible by then!

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

This Run Goes to 11

OK, I'm not embracing the craziness that is my life right now. It's just doing too darn fast! Here I am again, it's Tuesday night (and the night before a race I might add) and I'm just NOW getting around to blogging about the weekend.

But it's still fresh in my mind so we'll go for it. After getting home at almost 1 a.m. from the cross country meet, and not done what I needed to in order to prepare, I slept in and eventually didn't get out until about 4 p.m. That was a luxury thanks to the weather, as the cold spell we are going through (and helped even more by clouds and wind) made it possible to run at almost any time of the day because it was so comfortable.

Since I was running by myself I ended up going to the Gilman Trail, which is a path that stretches northwest out of Aurora. The portion I was jumping on is just at the end of town, so you run through some beautiful woods before arriving at the Waubonsee Community College parking lot.

It's a very beautiful trail up that way, and I since I don't run there as often as I should I tend to forget that. Especially a little further up the trail to the Bliss Woods Forest Preserve. I can't describe it, maybe I'll go take some pictures this weekend.

All-in-all the path is about 12 miles long, but a marker on the side of the path showed me that I was a perfect 5 1/2 miles from Waubonsee, so I was just needing an easy out and back.

So off I went! I hit the first half-mile in 5:40, then dropped another 5:40 to reach the first mile at 11:20. Given I was hoping to complete the run in about 2:10 (or 12 minutes per mile), I was worried I was a little quick. Then again, I wasn't breathing heavy and everything felt good, so I just ran by how I felt.

I had brought two GU with me (Lime and Berry) and those GU orange chews I didn't tear into the week before. I took one of those when I hit roughly four miles in 43:26. That comes out to just about an 11-ish pace and that didn't sound right at all. But after a GU and a quick drink I continued forward and noticed that since the mile markers had disappeared up there, someone had spray-painted the distance into the pavement, and according to that all of my splits were in that consistent frame.

I hit the halfway point in 1:00:49. Still a bit confusing! So after GU and more Gatorade I turned and headed back. Same thing, each mile I hit had a fairly consistent split (between 10:25 and 10:40) so it all had to be legit, right!

With the finish in sight I picked it up and finished the 11 miles in 1:59:26. Good for a 10:51 per mile average and with a back half in 58:37 a negative split by over two minutes!

No doubt it felt good to run that well, although the weather surely had a lot to do with that. But at the same time, it was a confidence boost. Hopefully as I train up that could be my race pace on marathon day, which would get me in under five hours.

But most of all it marked a sense of accomplishment for me. After seven weeks in the program, I've done all 28 scheduled training runs! It has to be a record for me, but I can tell the difference. I'm faster, I'm not grinding out the last couple of miles of long runs like I thought I might, and I'm feeling better and recovering better.

Tomorrow I'm running my second 5K of the year, the Summer Sunset run in Geneva. I've covered the race for the paper several times but never have run it! So that is what I'm doing this year. I ran a 5K 10 weeks ago in 34:02, and I'd love to take some time off of that. That time is a 10:57 pace, so if I could shave 30 seconds a mile off that would be great.

Weather is supposed to cooperate. Should be fun!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

It's Thursday Already!

I don't know about you, but this week has flown by! Got a big day coming up on Saturday when we make the jump into double digits with our 11-miler. A little nervous about it, but once we get that one knocked out we'll just keep going up from there!

Tomorrow is a big day, although not when it comes to a run, since I'm just going 3 miles. My two boys, Matt (17) and Kevin (12) will both be running at Detweiller After Dark, a cross country event in Peoria held on the state meet course.

Hopefully it's the first of three trips we will take down there for the cross country season. Matt and his Aurora Central Catholic team will run there again in September and hopefully be back for the IHSA state meet on Nov. 9.

Cross country is a very exciting sport, actually, and I love watching it. This race will be really cool since it's a night race and they will have the course lit up, a video board, the works! Hoping the have a good time, and the weather should be really good for them.

So what did I do this past week? So far I only have two of the three runs in, but it's been a busy week so I'm not going to be too hard on myself.

Tuesday I ran a nice 3.6 miles in a loop around where I work. The weather was just perfect! Strange that it was 76 degrees but the humidity was seriously low and there was a nice breeze, almost like a day in September.

It ended up becoming more of a tempo-type run as I upped the pace as I went along and was running a nice hard pace the last few minutes. I was maybe running 10-minute pace for the last half-mile but fast is a state of mind, you know?

Wednesday I met up with Tiffany, my coach, and we ran the Herrick Lake trails near Wheaton. We were running six miles and she asked if we wanted to go the easy route or the hard route. I selected the easy one, but of course in the first mile there were a couple of big hills! Still, I was off to a good start and midway through the run we were going at about a 10:30 pace.

At about 2 1/2 miles I asked Tiffany how we were doing and she looked at her watch and said "wow, you're really kicking ass!" Looking back, it probably would've been better if I'd just stayed blissfully unaware and kept running not knowing how I was doing because I went into this "oh, the pace is too fast!" sort of panic.

Although I will say it was good to know I could do that kind of pace because I'm running a 5K next Wednesday night and it would be great to run that pace.

Anyway, we slowed up a little (and walked a bit at halfway) and we finished in 1:07:30 (or so). I'll take it. The run was good and my pace was good, so we'll just keep working on it.

I skipped running today because my legs were a bit tight, but they are feeling better so I'm going to try an easy 3-miler tomorrow. Then it's double-digit time! It's getting serious!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

All In All, It Was A Good Day

Last night's storms brought the temperatures into the low 70s, which was manageable, although it was still pretty humid when we got together at the Warrenville library to start our 9-miler.

The nice thing is that the path where we run is pretty well covered, so it wasn't the worst of days. Actually, we are pretty fortunate to have made it over one-third of the way through training without a brutally hot day, my Florida run excluded.

When we set off on our run I ended up running most of the time alone, which made me wish I had brought my iPod along! Usually as the slowest runner in the group I have one of the mentors and coaches running with me, but our group is training for the Chicago Marathon, the Naperville Marathon and the Naperville Half-Marathon, so Tiffany, our coach, went with one of the half-marathon runners who was running four miles and didn't know the path.

The nice thing about running on the path is that it is pretty crowded at that time of the morning, so while I got passed a lot I still didn't feel as alone as I did when I trained by myself. The Chicago Area Runners Association marathon training groups also run along the same path, so I saw a lot of my fellow marathon trainers.

The CARA folks are very well-organized, and there are a lot of them! They all run in pace groups so sometimes there are 25-30 people running in a group, and most of them are very friendly. That's another thing I've liked about training with people for the first time is the said (and unsaid) camaraderie. Even when people don't call out encouragement it's nice to get a smile or a wave.

So anyway, the plan was to run to Roosevelt Road at the edge of Wheaton and come back. Without anyone to talk to an slow my pace down, I went out at a quicker clip than usual and hit the 4 1/2 mile point in 51:57, or an 11:32 pace.

I took a mini-break and had a GU (the Lemon Sublime flavor is a winner!) and headed back. At around 6 miles or so my legs started feeling a little heavy and I was thinking I was going to have to grind it a little the rest of the way in.

But with two miles to go I saw Tiffany on the path so we headed back together. Having someone to run with really picked me up, and without thinking about it too much we ramped up the pace. We ran the last two miles in about 21 minutes, or a 10:30 pace, and made it to the line in 1:42:46.

Which means I averaged 11:25 for the entire run and ran a nice negative split by a little under two minutes. I love negative splitting!

So the run was a really big confidence booster. Not only am I feeling confidence that I can up the pace on the runs, I feel like I can run a faster pace for shorter races, like the 5K I entered on July 31. I would love to break 30 minutes in the 5K by the end of the year, and this gave me the feeling I'm on the right track.

It starts ramping up from here...our Wednesday run jumps to six miles and next weekend we get into double-digits-land with an 11 miler. But with 12 weeks to go, I'm feeling pretty excited!

Friday, July 19, 2013

Back To The Lab Again

One thing you might notice about my posts is that many of them have at least one subtle reference to something: a movie line, a song, whatever. If you figure out the one in the post, good for you!

Anyway, with my weekly long run with the American Cancer Society group coming up tomorrow morning, I started giving some thought to fueling during the run. As dorky as I felt at times, my shiny new fuel belt worked perfectly last week, and while I was worried I would feel stuff sloshing around the whole time, I never did, which was nice.

Tomorrow's run is nine miles, and we will go 11 and then 13 in the subsequent two weeks. At my pace, we are beginning to push two hours on the road, meaning hydration isn't the only thing I have to worry about. As the miles increase, getting nourishment will be important too.

So today it was back to RoadRunner sports again today to get a few different things to try over the next couple of weeks. I'm part of their VIP club, but with the amount of gear I've been getting there lately I should be getting my platinum card in the mail soon.

Five years ago, the last time I trained for a marathon, I had some pretty good luck with the PowerGel and GU gels, which I really liked, but the guy at the store threw in the Chomps and said I'd like them because judging by my selections I seem to like fruity flavors.

Let's see:

PowerGel: Orange Dream
Clif Shot Gel: Razz (as in berry, I'm guessing...or hoping)
Extreme Sports Beans: Watermelon
GU: Lemon Sublime

Yeah, it looks like he had me pegged.

When I was last running long distances, my stomach seemed to handle pretty much anything, mixed with my usual water stop combo/ratio of two Gatorades and one water. So I'll probably go with that mixture in my fuel belt too, in order to better simulate race day.

I'm just a little concerned because it's been five years and I can tell my stomach handles food differently, so it might handle this stuff in a different way too. But that is what doing this during training runs is for, to get it nailed down before race day.

I found out how important that was when I ran Grandma's Marathon in 2005. They served something different from Gatorade (can't remember what it was, but it sucked) and I didn't use it in training. At one point in the race my blood sugar dropped and I became dizzy. Fortunately I was able to get some Gatorade and cookies from a person who had them set out on a table outside their home along the course, and the disaster was averted.

But it was a lesson learned. Don't go into these things blind, as it can come back and bite you.

I have to admit that I'm a bit nervous about tomorrow's run, although fortunately I'm still in familiar territory as I ran 9.6 miles (15K) at the Hot Chocolate Run in November. And I ran it at about the same pace as I will this time. But after that, when the double-digit miles start to pile up, that have me a bit worried.

Hopefully it will be like riding a bike and I will get comfortable with it soon. Because nine miles may be a long way, but we still have a long way to go.