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.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Bib of The Day -- Ragnar Relay Great River, August 24-25, 2007

This bib comes from the first of the three Ragnar Great River relays that I have run. Let me tell you, if you haven't ever done a relay, get it on your bucket list and get it done. It is a fabulous experience and one you will never forget. Plus, they have great medals!

The Great River relay is a 198-mile jaunt from LaCrosse, Wisconsin to Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota that roughly follows the path of the Mississippi River. Here is how a relay works -- there are 12 runners on a team that is split between two vans. The first team runs the first six legs, the second team runs the next six and each group leapfrogs each other until the finish.

Each runner has three legs of varying distances. I've run as many as 18 miles (which I did in 2007) or as little as 10-11, which makes it something that runners of all abilities can do.

Anyway, putting the team together was my friend Wally Hines, who I have been friends with since the sixth grade. I was actually the one that got Wally running when we decided at my dad's funeral in September, 2004 that we were going to run a marathon together in 2005.

We settled on Grandma's Marathon in Duluth, Minnesota (that bib will come up later) and in the years since Wally has used running to have some incredible adventures, and this past April completed his goal of running a marathon on every continent when he completed the Antarctica Marathon. Oh yeah.

So anyway, the team was put together amongst Wally's running club friends, plus myself and a couple of people who signed up as individuals and were added to our squad. Our team name was "Pour Us", and we made really cool shirts with a stick figure stumbling along while carrying a bottle on the front. In subsequent years the team was "Pour Us Again" and "Pour Us Yet Again". Runners are a bit of a twisted lot. That and pretty much everyone on the team liked to drink beer. Go figure.

The race started outside of our hotel right on the banks of the river in LaCrosse, and our first runner headed out at about 9 a.m. on Friday. What people don't realize is that in most cases you have to seriously hustle between legs. Once you see your teammate off and get organized and back into the van, you get to the next checkpoint pretty much just in time to get the next runner loosened up and ready. Of course, stopping a couple of times and cheering them on is part of the plan as well.

I ran my first leg at about 2 in the afternoon. It was a little over six miles and it was seriously hot. I had some stomach issues which slowed me up and was happy to get over the top of the hill and see the next group waiting for me at the checkpoint.

As the sixth runner in our van, I passed our wristband off to the next van and we drove up the road to a little town called Norway, where we spent the next couple of hours hanging out and waiting our turn. Norway is kind of a cool town because it only has about 200 residents but has an incredible view of the river (and it looks to be about a mile wide there!) and a neat little hole-in-the-wall grill/bar, which serves really cold beer!

Of course they's Wisconsin! Truth be told, I seriously love Wisconsin. Except for the Packers.

One thing I like about relays is that there is a lot of camaraderie and an opportunity to meet the people from other teams. Since the start is staggered depending on a team's anticipated pace, with slow teams going first and faster ones going off last, you are around the same people pretty much the entire time.

Our opposite numbers arrived and we were off again. I crammed into the van (actually it was a big Toyota Sequoia SUV, but "van" sounds a bit more hard-core) and waiting my turn. By the time Leg 18 (mine) came around, we were about 7 1/2 miles outside of Prescott, Wisconsin and it was about 12:30 a.m. and about 57 degrees.

What followed was one of the most epic runs of my life. With a two-fer of Heart ("Barracuda" and "Crazy On You") blaring on my headphones, I took off on a run that could best be described as surreal. It was after midnight, it was seriously dark and I had no concept of anything except for what was about 30 feet in front of me that I could see with my flashlight.

I had looked at the elevation and knew there were a lot of hills, but I didn't know where they were, so I just ran. It was an incredibly free feeling, just running and not caring about what was ahead. No mile markers, no clocks. It was completely running in the often does that happen?

It was also so beautiful. I live in a metropolitan area of almost 10 million people, which means there is so much light I rarely see many stars. I saw lots of them that night, and the view of the river from some of the bluffs was unreal.

In short, I tore that leg up. When I pulled into the parking lot of Prescott High School, I had run 7 1/2 miles in 52 minutes. To this day, I still have no idea how that happened. I wish I could recreate that every time I run, but I guess if you did that how could you remember it as being special?

Leg three came about eight hours later when I took the wristband somewhere in Minnesota for a 5-mile leg. As good as the previous leg was, that one was just bad. By the time morning rolls around, unless you are good at sleeping on the move, you are just out of gas. The final leg is a grind for almost everyone, and I had to take a walk break about midway through. Still, I ran the leg in about 42 minutes and our van (OK, SUV) was FINALLY done.

We celebrated by grabbing breakfast at a Perkins restaurant before we drove into St. Paul to wait for our team. The cool thing about this relay is that when the final runner is about a quarter-mile from the finish, the make an announcement and the rest of the team heads down the running path next to the river and waits for their teammate, then all 12 people run the rest of the way through to the finish together.

In the end we covered the 198 miles in 28 hours, 55 minutes and 45 seconds for an average pace of 8:45 per mile. We finished 22nd overall out of 99 teams and won our division, Mixed Masters. For that we got a sweet baton that I still have somewhere. And as I mentioned before, a cool medal that doubles as a bottle opener.

I ran the race again in 2009-10 and had another great time. Since then Wally and some of my other teammates have run relays in places such as Key West and Cape Cod, and will be running one in northern California soon. Someday I hope to join them again.

It's Hot

And the sky is blue.

I'm sure your first reaction to the title of this post is "of course it's's July 18, like duh!". Actually there is a story behind it, and I was reminded about it this morning during my 3-miler.

Back in the late 80s my dad tried to start up a driving range. It didn't go so well but I got to hit a lot of golf balls for free and drove a big tractor to cut the grass. So it was kind of a cool summer.

Anyway, there was a retired guy named Gene who lived across the street and would amble over during the day when things were a little slow. Gene seemed like a good guy but wasn't a very good conversationalist. All of them started with the same thing:

"It's hot."

OK, it's funny to me. Maybe you had to be there.

I was thinking about that as I was out on my run today because by 9 a.m. the temperature was 85 degrees and the dewpoint was 70. Not conducive to running fast! Which I didn't. Plus I was a little stiff because I had made the mistake of running within about 15 minutes of getting out of bed.

When you are a high school kid, like my 17-year-old son Matt who runs on his school's cross country and track teams, you can do that. When you are 44 it isn't so easy. It takes me a while to get going. When I get up to run with the ACS group on Saturday mornings I'm usually up for at least an hour and loosen up on the drive over. And on race day, no matter how early I have to get up, I always shower.

After all...look good, feel good, right?

I didn't have as much time as usual so I had to suffice with some lunges and butt-kicks. Active stretching as I'm told. So the first mile was a bit of a grind and at the halfway point I stopped and walked around the intersection a little to cool down before heading back.

As usual, the second half of the run was much better. Not like I was airing it out the last mile or anything, but I was starting to run at a good clip. Still, I was glad when the run was over because although by that time I could have run farther I sure as heck didn't want to!

But hey, I got it in. Given I'm a night person and run a lot after dark (other runs are done during lunch at work) I'm still not sold on running in the morning, but at the same time it always feels good to finish and know it's all done before I even start my day. I can't say I will ever become a full-time morning runner, but I'm starting to see what people like about it.

Plus, it's 92 right now with a heat index of 100. I'll take getting up early over running in this kind of stuff every day.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Bib of the Day -- LaSalle Bank Chicago Marathon, October 9, 2005

Not sure if I am going to get a run in but I wanted to introduce something I plan on doing in the future. I'll call it "Bib of the Day" will be a photo of one of my race bibs and a little bit of the story behind it.

One thing that we all need to remember is that every bib has a story, not only just the race it represents but the time, effort and commitment it took to earn the ability to wear it. We all have a reason for running and racing, and that "reason" -- whatever it may be -- is part of the story too.

So in honor of the movie "Spirit of the Marathon" (which I watched the other day for the third time in as many months) I present my bib from the 2005 Chicago Marathon, which is the race depicted in the movie.

One of my goals from the time I started running marathons was to break four hours (I'd like to qualify for the Boston Marathon someday, but that's a different dream). For a lot of reasons, things came together in 2005 that made me think it was doable.

Since the start of that year I had been working with a coach named Lisa Menninger. She had been a longtime runner on the local scene and we met when I had written a story about her for Chicago Athlete magazine and crossed paths at races. Like me, she had discovered running in her early 30s and she had become very good, with several sub-3 hour marathons and local race wins to her credit.

Earlier that year, in May, I had run 1:57 at the Indy Mini Marathon and was getting some good miles in. So I suggested to Lisa that I wanted to break four hours and she adjusted my schedule accordingly. One of the big things she did was had me run a good portion of my long runs at or below marathon pace, and instead of doing just one 20-miler I did three, which was absolutely huge.

Three weeks before the race I ran my final 20-miler in under three hours, so I felt like I was in a perfect place to get it done. I also got a big break with the weather as the temps during the race were in the mid-50s, which is right where I like them.

From the start, I felt really strong. To run a marathon in four hours you have to average right around 9:11 per mile. I went out pretty conservatively, averaging 9:21 for my first 5K, but gradually brought that pace down until I hit the halfway point in 1:59:35, which is about as close to perfect as I could have gotten.

Looking back at my splits, which you can see here, I probably tried too hard a little past the halfway point, and then as I closed in on 20 miles I got a reminder of just how much of the marathon relies on mental toughness.

Out of nowhere, I felt a slight twinge on the outside of my left knee. It didn't last long, but it was long enough to break my focus, and the next 10K was just a disaster. The weird thing was that my knee only hurt for maybe a minute or so, but it just took me completely out of my thought processes and I wasn't able to recover.

In the end, I did set a PR in 4:07:46, which still stands to this day. While I was a bit disappointed in the result, it did make me realize that breaking four hours is something that I'll ultimately be able to achieve. It won't happen this year (that I can promise you) and maybe not next, but I believe I'll get there...and maybe even well beyond!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Today Was a Bit of a Test...

...of my newfound attitude towards my running.

Well, maybe not just newfound, but also necessary. I've always been a very competitive person, and at times I haven't channeled that well in the sense that if things don't go perfectly the way I want them to, I get upset about it.

I realized a couple of years ago that I was letting that attitude ruin my joy of running. It seems like almost every race I would run I would focus on the things I didn't do, or the things I could've done better, instead of being happy for the accomplishment. I was the one on the train coming back from the marathon who sat glumly in my seat -- wondering what I could've done differently -- while the others around me were celebrating what they just did.

And it's stupid, really. So I run 4:30 (or thereabouts) and wonder what I could've done to run 4:20. Really? To a point I think everyone does that but when it takes the fun away from what you are doing you definitely need to refigure your priorities.

So I did. I decided last year that it was pointless to be so hard on myself. Maybe if I had the time and energy to run 50 miles a week, sure. But I don't. This is something that is supposed to be fun and uplifting. Plus, it's getting a bit harder as I get older, and if I had kept my same mindsets as in the past it would just choke the life out of my running and make me hate it.

I've been doing pretty well so far. I'm content to run at my 11 or 12 minute pace, put in the miles and enjoy the view. Other than long runs, I try to stay off the clock as it gets me in trouble sometimes.

After running four miles last night, the scheduled called for a 35-minute tempo run. I don't know if I have ever run those the right way, but my interpretation of them is that you are supposed to press yourself a little bit as the run goes along. I am a believer that to run fast you have to train fast, so the final minutes of a tempo are a bit on the uncomfortable side.

I hit the treadmill for these because it's just a lot easier to monitor my pace for this kind of stuff. I'm normally not a fan of the treadmill for lots of reasons, but sometimes they do serve a good purpose. Actually, let me take a step back: I hit the indoor track for about a half-mile of slow, easy running to get loose.

So I jumped on the 'mill, and started up at 12 minutes per mile with the intention of going up about 30 seconds per mile every 5-10 minutes so that I was under 10 during the last few minutes. Once I started upping the pace it just became a grind with each and every increase. At about 20 minutes I finally had to hit the pause button to get a drink of water and catch my breath, then at about 30 minutes I was at about a 10:15 pace and just couldn't get it going.


So I cut it short at just over 33 minutes (and 3.03 miles) then headed to the track and ran another mile at a pretty comfortable pace (about 11:30) and ended the run with about 4.5 miles total.

In the past, a run like that could ruin my day. I'd spend a lot of time thinking about why it happened and get down on myself because I was obviously doing something wrong. Don't get me wrong, I started to do that sort of thing but quickly stopped myself, because I can analyze something to the nth degree, but in the end the run was what the run was and I need to move on.

Besides, I did get some faster running in, which was good, and the mile I ran on the track felt pretty good, so in the end, what was the problem?

I've reached the point in my life that outside of my "serious" responsibilities, like my kids, my job and my relationships, most everything else should be just a matter of whether or not I like doing them. If I don't, why waste the time, you know?

That's not to say that I don't have goals and things related to my running. Quite the contrary. I'm already thinking past the marathon and into next year, and there are things that I'd love to accomplish. But I'm not going to live or die for those things...I'm going to do the miles and put in the work, and accept the result.

At least for now!

Monday, July 15, 2013

90 Days To Go!

So I've been thinking about setting up a blog to document my run to the 2013 Bank of America Chicago Marathon (and beyond) and finally am putting one together as I've realized there are only 90 days left before the big event!

I'll bring you up to speed on my training and such later, but wanted to mention from the outset that I while this is my eighth marathon overall (I've run Chicago five times and Grandma's and Los Angeles once each) it will be the first time that I am running for charity. I will be running with (and raising money for) the American Cancer Society.

My last marathon -- Chicago in 2008 -- hadn't gone so well and I had vowed that I wouldn't run another one until I felt like I had the enthusiasm and the love for running that I needed to really give it a good effort in training. I've since recovered both, and have the extra motivation thanks to my fundraising efforts.

Like most people, I've lost many people in my lives to cancer. Two have hit very, very close to home as my dad, Dan, passed away on August 31, 2004 and my sister Joni lost her battle on December 22, 2011. It was Joni's passing that hit me hard and she is the main reason I am doing this. Cancer just isn't fair.

Anyway, that's a little about me. As I'm getting back into the swing of things and am still trying to lose some weight before race day, it's slow going as I'm following a mostly novice program. But I'm kind of competitive so we'll see how well I stick to my "slow and steady" theory.

Happy reading!