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 sport...you 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 ask...how 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...now 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

Finally!

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 thought...man, 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!