Thursday, October 6, 2016

Throwback Thursday -- Top 10 Marathon Tips

Happy Thursday!

With the Chicago Marathon on tap for this weekend, I thought I would go into Throwback Thursday mode and re-publish a blog post from two years ago. In it I dispensed all of my sage marathon tips based on my own personal experiences.

I was signed up for the marathon but had to drop out of training due to my knee surgery in July. But I'll still be involved with the race as a media correspondent for the website LetsRun.com. To me, covering the race is the next best thing to running it, but I hope to be on the starting line in 2015.

In the meantime, enjoy this blast from the past!

----------------------------

(Originally posted September 24, 2014)

While my own personal quest is all about running the Indy Mini Marathon next May, my mind right now is definitely on the Chicago Marathon.

I love the race, and have since the first time I saw it on TV in 1999...which was the day I was inspired to start running. I have run the race six times, spectated another three or four times and in 2011-12 covered the race for the running website Letsrun.com. And, during the summers of 2004-05 I wrote a weekly column about the marathon for the Aurora Beacon News, not to mention having contributed marathon-related content to Chicago Athlete magazine.

OK, the last part of that wasn't to brag or name drop, it was just to say that I have no doubt seen this event from every angle, for which I feel very, very blessed. Actually, seeing the race from that side is quite interesting and worth talking about sometime. Probably in the next week or so.

But back on point, I figured since the marathon is on everyone else's mind, I should join in too. I was supposed to run the race myself, but ended up deferring my entry because between getting married, vacations, graduations (and parties), one son's surgery (he's OK, matter of fact he's better than OK now) and another going off to college, the summer quickly got away from me.

So be prepared to be inundated with a few marathon-related blurbs over the next couple of weeks. It will be kind of weird, but for the first time since 1999 I won't be around for the marathon. I'll be in Atlanta attending the Bears-Falcons game with my brother and his wife.

I will be there in spirit, and as my gift to you, I present ten very important pieces of advice about race day.

1) If it's your first, just finish. No matter how long you have been running, or where your abilities lie, a marathon will be an experience unlike you have ever had before. A mega-marathon like Chicago can quickly overwhelm you and can lead to a lot of bad tactical decisions. Tactic No. 1 should be just finishing the race. There will always be more chances to post a time of you want to. In my first marathon, I put myself into "run all day" mode, meaning I found a pace that I felt I could run for a long, long time. It was even slower than my training pace, but it was comfortable and I avoided a major crash in the final miles.

2) Trust your training. If you followed your training to the exact letter, you will have done somewhere between 70-100 runs over the course of the 18 weeks. If you trained with a Chicago Area Runners Association group or a charity group, I can tell you with total confidence that you are ready. Last year I ran with a CARA group and hit the line feeling completely prepared. Whether or not "you can do it" should be out the window by this point. Just tell yourself that you can!

3) Don't obsess about the weather! Control what you can control. You trained through a Midwest summer, there is nothing the weather can throw at you that you haven't seen before. It doesn't hurt to be mindful of the weather as far as your prep and tactics are concerned, but beyond that it is what it is. Don't let the weather get into your head.

4) Start slow. See point one about just finishing. Adrenaline is a crazy thing, so is tapering. You might be going along thinking "yeah, I feel great!". Well if you feel awesome, then the taper worked! Which is good news, because that means physically you are ready to run. But it doesn't mean you are suddenly able to do something you weren't capable of before. In the course of several hours, honestly, what does a minute or two here or there matter? Run well below your means at the start, which will pay off dividends at the end.

Which brings me to...

5) There are no race-day miracles. We all know of someone who has "popped" a race, meaning they came in with one expectation and ended up running something completely different. I've done a couple of those myself, including setting my half marathon PR in 2007 and running what I consider to be my "best" (but not fastest) marathon in the heat at Chicago later that year. The thing is, popping a race isn't a miracle, it is the rare harmonic convergence of several factors, with training, confidence level, experience and conditions being among them. What you have put into the race training-wise is what you will get out of it. Keep that in mind when you set your race-day goals.

6) Tactics. Up at the front of the field, it's ALL about tactics, and back in the pack with us mere mortals, it matters as well. Pace groups definitely help, but over these next couple of weeks think about what you want to do, and be as specific as possible. What works for me is that I break the race into smaller pieces, run the first 5K, get to under 20 to go, get to 10 miles, and so on. Then all I focus on is that smaller goal, and check it off when I achieve it.

7) Be a good competitor. One thing that bugs me about big races like Chicago is that they include rude people. Well, all races do, but when 35,000 people get together for something, the number of rude people that show up becomes that much exponential and much closer to my last nerve. Try not to cut people off, or push people or just do something you normally wouldn't in your daily walk of life. Last year I was moving through a water stop and was reaching for a cup from one of the volunteers, and a woman barged in front of me, knocked my arm away and took the cup! Really? Is that couple of seconds you save going to make that much of a difference? It's like heavy traffic on the tollway...be cool, be patient and take care of each other, and you will get to where you are going to go.

8) The course is accurate/follow the line. Just a reminder that Garmins and GPS are awesome, but no matter what yours says at the end of the race, the course IS 26.2 miles long. As a World Marathon Major, the course has been checked, re-checked and checked again. Race director Carey Pinkowski loves world records and would love it if it was broken again here someday. And I know any race director would hate having to give up a record because of an inaccurate course. Actually, the way it is done is kind of fascinating and worth reading about. It's all about tangents (a line that draws the shortest point-to-point of the course), and you can cut some distance out of your day by learning some of the course and running corner to corner. Pull up some marathon video of the elite runners on YouTube and you will see what I'm talking about. The follow pretty much the same imaginary measurement line that the organizers use to measure it.

9) Be nice to the volunteers. These are people who are taking time out of their lives to ensure you have a good day. They aren't trained professionals, but most of them work hard and love being a part of the event. Try to say "thank you" as much as you can...I usually do when I grab water or Gatorade. Think about your unsupported long runs, how you have to carry things, leave fluids in bushes and wait to cross busy streets. Then think of trying to do that on one of the biggest days of your athletic life. They take away a lot of stress and make our jobs much, much easier.

And last, and most importantly...

10) Enjoy it! Yes, it's hard and yes, it's extremely painful, but it's also one of the most awesomely rewarding things you will ever do for yourself in your entire life. Ferris Bueller was right, if you don't stop and look around once in a while, you'll miss it. A marathon is one of the fastest four, five or six hours of your life, and by the time you know it, you are making that final turn onto Columbus and crossing the finish linie. We live in (or near, in my case) a world class city with wonderful people who support this race, and you are missing out by not taking some time here and there to realize that you are doing something extraordinary.

When my son Matt was running in the National Catholic Championships at Notre Dame last week I asked him if there was ever a time that he looked around and thought "man, this is really cool!". He said he did a couple of times. What you are about to do is cool and will be something that you will remember the rest of your life, and you don't want to get so focused that you forget that it's supposed to be fun and the final exclamation point to an incredible journey. When the day is over you'll be happy you did!

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Hi!

So, how was your summer? I have to ask that question given it has been 114 days since I have last posted here. Hard to believe, right?

Let's just say it's been an interesting summer! I did a little more traveling, which was awesome. Darcy and I went to Paris and Monaco in June, and I got four runs in while I was in Monaco. Since I have a lot of other things to write about, maybe that's a good post for later, because the runs there were amazing as you can imagine.

But let's get reacquainted, shall we? I guess I'll start with some of my big news items:

Biggest running news: I missed almost three months with an injury!

So after breaking my arm last year, I started having some issues with my knee back in March, but it wasn't horrible so I tried to run through it and see if it would go away. I kind of had the feeling in the back of my mind that it wasn't and was a real issue, but I was being kind of stubborn because I had entered the Chicago Marathon and was running for a local children's cancer charity, Cal's Angels.

I tried rest, I tried ice, I tried stretching, and nothing helped. After running the Warrenville Firecracker 5K with Matt and Kevin on July 4, I woke up the next morning in a massive amount of pain. So I had an MRI and found out I had torn meniscus in my left knee.

Crap. 

Two weeks later (July 18) I had surgery and had everything fixed by Dr. Chhadia, the same magician who had put my arm back together last year. Though I had hoped for some sort of miraculous comeback, I quickly realized that -- just like my arm -- this was going to take a bit of time.

What I didn't know is that during an arthroscopic procedure they torque the knee quite violently, which caused some additional recovery because my MCL needed to bounce back a little too. Actually, I thought my injury was my MCL because that's where the pain was, I never felt much in my knee until near the end.

So back to physical therapy I went, and after about a month of that everything was feeling much better. I haven't started running much, actually the bike and I made up a few weeks ago and I have been on the bike as well, but I don't have any pain when I run, and everything feels stable, which is good.

I'm just going to take things slowly from here, because there really isn't a rush. I want to run the Indy Mini again, and of course the Chicago Marathon, so I have plenty of time.

Biggest non-running news: I quit my job!

Or do we call it "retired" now? I won't get into the reasons as to why I decided to make this move because it would probably lead to a long rant (ha!), but on August 26 I worked my last day at a job where I had been for almost 18 years.

It was time for a change, IT had never really been for me, for all these years it was a good paycheck and a solid job, which I had needed, and I was encouraged by a lot of people I knew to start chasing my passion.

So I did! I am now the lone employee of Turn 2 Strategies, a PR and social media firm, a company I started to pursue my dreams. Writing and social media are things I love doing, so I decided to focus on that. Right now I have a corporate client, but the other client I have is the one I'm really excited about.

One of the things I've always wanted to do is work for in the auto racing industry, so I e-mailed a few developmental level teams and asked if they could use my services. I received one reply, from John Cummiskey Racing, which is based outside of Indianapolis and competes in the USF2000 series, an open wheel series that feeds drivers into IndyCar.

I joined the team for the race weekend at Road America in Wisconsin, then followed them to Toronto, Mid-Ohio and Laguna Seca in California the rest of the season. I handle all of their releases, I live Tweet the races and put stuff up on social media during the race weekend.

Here is a photo from Toronto. It's a lot of fun to watch the races from the pits, and it has been a blast going to places that I had watched on TV but never thought I'd get the chance to go to.

Needless to say, it's been an amazing experience! JCR has asked me to come back next year, which makes me really happy. I'm also trying to find another team to work with since the USF2000 series only races on 10 weekends next year, but I got my foot in the door, which is what is important. I have a great relationship with John, the owner, who is about my age and is a super guy. I really owe him a lot for taking a chance on me.

Ultimately my goal is to get to IndyCar and be on a team that wins the Indianapolis 500. If that happens I'll be able to call it a pretty good career!

Other news: I'm coaching again this year.

Well, let's just say, I'm coaching this year. While I was considered a "coach" for the Aurora Central Catholic cross country and track programs, my involvement was pretty minimal due to work and my arm injury. I didn't have a lot to do on the practice days I did attend, and on race days I was kind of more of a support person than an actual coach.

One of the things about my job situation is that now I have the flexibility to be at practice almost every day, which has led to the opportunity to do some real coaching. Troy Kerber, the head coach, has been leading the program for 30 years, so he's comfortable delegating things to me. While Troy still schedules the workouts, I get to supervise parts of them, and I speak to one of the teams (boys frosh/soph, boys varsity, girls varsity) each Friday as part of our pre-race meetings.

It's been a great season so far, all of the teams are works in progress right now, but we still have some races left until the State Series kicks off three weeks from today. While everyone still needs to improve if they want to run in Peoria on November 5, there is still time to bring it all together. We had a great meet today at the Wheaton Warrior Classic, despite the sloppy conditions brought on by a bunch of rain during the race, and have a couple of confidence-building meets coming up in the next couple of weeks.

Of course, the best part is that I'm coaching Kevin, who is a sophomore this year (he's on the right in this photo in the orange shoes). Since his mom and I are divorced and I live about 30 minutes away, it's great to have the opportunity to see him almost every day, and I think we are closer because if it. He's coming into his own this year and has shown a lot of improvement, and he is wanting to really work hard over the winter to keep getting better. Next year he has a chance to run in the Top 7 on the varsity, which is definitely a goal of his.


So that's what I've got going on! I hope to not be so much of a stranger going forward!