Houston Marathon recap

The most difficult hurdle for any athlete to conquer is fear. A full calendar year without a running PR manifests a little self-doubt. After my experience in Chicago, I thought being able to walk away from a marathon with a positive taste in my mouth would be the antidote.

Why not just fix things in practice instead of hopping right back into another marathon cycle? Well, I’ve never feared anything in training, and consequently, it’s hard to overcome any apprehensions without actually racing. The physical components of training come naturally for me; running is what I do, everyday. My training sessions have become such a part of my daily life that I don’t really put much thought into any of them – even the hard ones – I just do them and move on to the next one.

I had to race. Because I don’t care how many races you’ve run, there’s nothing routine about them. Races serve as your final exam and how you will be judged. No one ever gets nervous about the daily homework, but we can all remember the stressed feeling before taking a big test. And there are certain races/tests that cause more anxiety than others, like ones where you have to do well because a previous one went poorly. Or maybe you experience more pressure because you feel under-prepared.

That is exactly how I felt heading into last weekend’s Houston Marathon. Since my last race wasn’t what I hoped for, it was important to not follow that up with another dud. But my preparation for Houston was less than anything I have done for a marathon in the past two years. All of a sudden, it’s Thursday, I’m heading to Texas, and I’m scared to race. Why heck am I running a marathon? That was the question playing over and over again in my mind on the flights to Houston.

Even someone who has never competed in sport knows that my mind wasn’t in a good place three days prior to a race.

But a funny thing happened when I arrived to Houston. I saw familiar places and talked with familiar faces. I ran along the same path I’ve run on now 4 of the last 5 Januarys. I sat soaking up the sun in the park adjacent to the hotel and had dinner with my cousin and her family. The familiarity of everything reminded me that this was a test that I could pass, and all of the sudden, my nerves were replaced with excitement.

I spent Saturday afternoon pouring through my training logs from the last 6 months. Sure, my buildup over the past 10 weeks wasn’t as strong as it could have been, but I had a few good workouts during that stretch and a plethora of great sessions from my pre-Chicago phase. Maybe I wasn’t in a position to aggressively attack the race like I had been in Chicago or Boston, but I could find enough quality in my training sessions to realize I could probably still run 5:10 pace and if I was feeling good, break 2:15. By bedtime on Saturday night, I felt pretty good about the possibilities Sunday morning would bring.

tnLeon_Craig-Houston15Unlike some of the major marathons, the field for a race like Houston is a little thinner up front, so there’s always more of a concern that you will run alone for much of the race. Fortunately, fellow American – and 61-minute half marathoner – Aaron Braun was hoping to run similar times through the first half of the race. We wound up working together for the first 25k (15.5 miles) of the race. The early pace was comfortable enough for me that I began gaining confidence with each passing mile. At one point, I even thought that maybe there was a good performance buried in me after all.

We crossed the halfway point around 67-minutes and immediately my head began crunching the numbers: if I could run an even split race, I would finish up with something close to my PR. Aaron began to put a little distance between us shortly after 25k, but I was able to keep within striking distance over the next 5 miles. I knew if I could keep him close, he could pull me along to a fast time.

By mile 22, the gap was bigger and I started to feel some fatigue. However, the shooting cramps that I got in my calves and hamstrings in Chicago and Boston the previous year never arrived, so I was able to run unencumbered, albeit tired. Miles 22-25 weren’t great – 5:16, 5:16, 5:26 – but probably to be expected given how my training had gone. Rather than continuing to slow over the last mile, I rallied to close in 5:12, which is the quickest I have ever closed in a marathon, and crossed the finish line for a time of 2:14:43 and 9th place.

The end result will show another 2:14 marathon – the 3rd of my career. But not all 2:14 marathons are created equally. The 2015 Houston Marathon was absolutely a good 2:14 for me because I felt like I ran to my potential on that day. If I had a faster time in me, it was probably only seconds and not minutes. I also found myself grinding and fighting again late in the race. I was too gassed in the later stages of both Chicago and Boston last year to even feel like I was competing; I was just trying to survive to the finish line.

The 2015 Houston Marathon was about replacing some bad marathon memories. By that standard, it was a success. I know that when it comes time to train for another one of these I’ll be able to recall some positive moments and feelings. As sport psychology goes, that is a good thing.

Probably more importantly though is that I’m already itching to get back out there; therein lies the difference between a positive and negative marathon experience. When a marathon goes poorly, the recovery time is probably double what it might normally be. I took a day off on Monday, but ran every other day this past week while I was in New York City and plan to hop back into some workouts this week once I get settled back into Eugene.

I would like to run at least one more marathon before next February’s USA Olympic Marathon Trials race, but that won’t happen in these next 6 months. My attention during this time will be directed to some shorter distances. It’s been a while since I’ve dedicated a significant block of training to something other than the marathon and it’s a challenge I’m looking forward to.

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2015 Houston Marathon Splits – Powered by Garmin

Splits Time Cumulative Time Moving Time Distance Elev Gain Elev Loss
1 5:09.2 5:09.2 5:09 1.01 27 19
2 4:58.8 10:08 4:59 1.00 4
3 5:01.9 15:10 5:02 1.01 22
4 5:06.5 20:16 5:07 1.02 25
5 5:05.1 25:21 5:04 1.00
6 5:05.9 30:27 5:06 1.01
7 5:07.5 35:35 5:08 1.00
8 5:04.6 40:39 5:05 1.02 7
9 5:06.1 45:45 5:05 1.00
10 5:04.8 50:50 5:05 1.00 3
11 5:07.9 55:58 5:08 1.02
12 5:14.4 1:01:12 5:14 1.02 7
13 5:06.7 1:06:19 5:08 1.01
14 5:16.2 1:11:35 5:16 1.04 8
15 5:07.3 1:16:43 5:07 1.00 5
16 5:59.4 1:22:42 5:59 1.18 7 3
17 4:11.5 1:26:54 4:12 0.83
18 5:49.7 1:32:43 5:49 1.17 8 14
19 9:21.1 1:42:04 9:21 1.85 9 3
20 5:07.3 1:47:12 5:07 1.01 7
21 5:08.8 1:52:20 5:09 1.01
22 5:15.5 1:57:36 5:16 1.01 30
23 5:16.1 2:02:52 5:16 1.01 26 30
24 5:25.3 2:08:17 5:26 1.01 15
25 5:12.0 2:13:29 5:12 0.98 10
26 1:13.9 2:14:43 1:13 0.23

2015 Houston Marathon

Before I get any further, I feel like I should re-introduce myself: I’m Craig Leon, the owner and operator of this here website. I run for Mizuno and am a member of Team Run Eugene, which is coached by Ian Dobson.

It’s been a few moons since I’ve last updated this tiny space of the interweb. I can blame the lack of updates from mid-October until early December on the fact that I managed to somehow forget my login information to the new website. The last 6 weeks, though? Those are completely on me.

Mallorca, Spain.

Mallorca, Spain.

Actually…it’s all on me.  Onward.

My 2014 season ended a lot like 2012 – with a so-so performance at the Chicago Marathon. Ending your season in mid-October on that kind of note is a little disheartening because your next potential racing opportunity seems so far away. The only way to truly put a bad race behind you is to replace that memory with a good one. I did a lot of thinking about “what’s next” in the weeks after Chicago. During that time I took post-marathon trip to Spain and France and turned 30.  Both life events cause you to do some thinking – lots of thinking.  Ultimately, I decided the best way forward was to try and duplicate how I started my 2013 season, and best year: by building some confidence with a solid marathon performance that I can be excited about. So Sunday I’ll hop back into racing at the Houston Marathon.

Because of the tight turnaround window between Chicago and Houston, my marathon buildup has been a little different than what I’ve done for the past few years. Unlike a normal 10-12 week cycle, I really only did marathon specific volume or workouts for 7 weeks. I’m hoping to rely on the volume of work that I put in this past summer and fall getting ready for Chicago. The 140-150 mile weeks were replaced with weeks of 120 miles starting about 6 weeks after Chicago. I managed to get myself back into shape pretty quickly after some down time at the end of October by spending a lot of time doing longer, unstructured progressive runs – something I haven’t done in a while. Learning to run on feel and effort again versus always striving for a certain pace was something that I really enjoyed about this training cycle.

Where does that leave me for Sunday? That’s a good question. Without having done a tune-up race or any real benchmark workouts, I don’t have as clear an idea of what I’m capable of running as I normally would. But that is kind of what I had in mind when I decided to run Houston. It was how I approached the Mississippi Blues Marathon in January of 2013. I went into that race undertrained, just looking for a bounce-back performance and wound up unexpectedly winning with a 2:16. I don’t have aspirations of winning on Sunday – Houston is a much more competitive race than the one in Mississippi – but I do expect to run a faster time. And that would be a great way to kick off my 2015 campaign.

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Information on how to watch or follow the race is below.

Live Searchable Results & Map Tracking

    Follow your runner(s) during the race by tracking their progress in real time as they move along the course with live, up-to-the-minute race results and an interactive map at chevronhoustonmarathon.com.

Livestream

2014 Chicago Marathon Recap

My 2014 marathon scorecard will read something like this:

  • Marathon – 2
  • Craig – 0

After recording PBs in 6 of my first 7 marathons – the only non-PB was a win at the Mississippi Blues Marathon – I’m in an unfamiliar position. It’s the first time since I started doing marathons that I’ve gone over a year without seeing my times drop.

But if you think I woke up Monday morning worried that the sky was falling…think again.

Of course Sunday didn’t pan out exactly how I envisioned it would. And I’m definitely disappointed that I wasn’t able to see improvements in my marathon times this year – I invest too much time, sweat, and energy to not be. But I left the finish line on Sunday in surprisingly high spirits. Those last 8 miles were not at all easy. They were some of the hardest miles I’ve ever run, in fact. But I learned a little about myself during those 40 minutes. And in a strange way, just finishing that race was a huge accomplishment. Whatever it was when I crossed the finish line – relief or excitement – it felt good!

I knew I was toast at 18 miles. It’s pretty bad when you start hitting that marathon wall before you even reach the 20-mile mark, but there I was getting these shooting-type cramps in my calves and hamstrings before we even had Chinatown in our sights. There were several painful moments between miles 18-23 when I thought about just stepping off the course, but luckily I got some of the cramping under control by slowing down and running some 5:20s.

It’s devastating in that race moment when you know the goals that you have been working so hard for are no longer a reality. You look at your watch and see times that you aren’t used to seeing and there are these incredibly emotional moments when you question to yourself: “why bother?”. But since I had the cramping issue held at bay, I didn’t really have an excuse to stop running; if I would have quit, it would have been because I simply was not running well. So I had a little “suck it up” talk with myself around 23 and managed to salvage a respectable time and place on a day when I just didn’t have it.

So what went wrong? At this point, I’m chalking it up to a tactical error on my part. All indications were that the weather conditions on Sunday morning were going to be ideal for running fast – cool temps, no rain, and light winds. However, one of the first things I noticed when I peered out the window of our bus on the way to the start line were the freely blowing flags hanging from the buildings on Michigan Ave. Part of me wanted to believe that it was just a gust blowing through the tunnel of buildings. There was no way it could be windy; none of the forecasts had wind in them. But when we were warming up in Grant Park, it became evident that the wind was real, blowing in off of Lake Michigan.

I should have been smart enough to consider a slight adjustment to the game plan, but when the race started and I found myself running with Christo Landry and Stephen Pifer, I decided to still give it a go. We had all talked the night before about coming through the half somewhere between 65:45-66:00, so when we got out there and were working together, I think we all wanted to stay true to our word. We hit the opening mile in 5-flat and were right on pace. However, when we turned south on State street, we were met with that strong headwind. We passed mile 2 in 5:06. That should have been the red flag warning to throw time out the window and hang back a bit.

Pifer, Landry and I worked together to fight the wind as long as we could

Pifer, Landry and I worked together to fight the wind as long as we could

The lead pack of Kenyans and Ethiopians had originally planned to run their first half in 61:40; they ended up running 62:11 – 30 seconds slower than planned. Rather than just easing off slightly, we continued to fight the wind and the stretch from 7.5-13 ultimately zapped me (probably safe to say, us) of having the energy to run well over the last half of the race. So my conclusion, for now, is that the end result had nothing to do with the training leading into the race – everything was normal leading up to the race. Ultimately, I was working too hard, too early in that race.

It’s a tough lesson to learn. Especially when you know better and given that I only get to do this a few times a year. But if you saw me on Sunday you probably wouldn’t have noticed a difference between how I was acting this year (after running 2:16) and last year (after running my PR of 2:13:52). And that’s because I still have a lot to be happy about and thankful for.

I’m really pleased with the block of training I put together these past 12 weeks. The 1500 miles I ran in preparation for the Chicago Marathon has moved me forward as an runner. There’s no doubt in my mind that if I continue to string together training segments like this, I’ll see it payoff on race day in the future.

More importantly, I’m thankful for the incredible support team that I have. The confluence of Van Wert, Athens, and Eugene coming together in Chicago was nothing short of amazing. I’m sure the guys running around me got tired of hearing my name shouted from the sidewalks. When I got back to the hotel from the finish line, the entire fan club was basically creating a fire hazard outside the Hilton on Michigan Ave. When you come back to that, it’s hard to feel too bad about having an average race. It puts things in perspective.

The Compound Comes to Chicago

The Compound Comes to Chicago

The Ohio U. crew celebrating after the race

The Ohio U. crew celebrating after the race

Team Run Eugene does the Chicago Marathon: (L-R) Coach Ian Dobson, Alexi Pappas, myself, and Dan Kremske

Team Run Eugene does the Chicago Marathon: (L-R) Coach Ian Dobson, Alexi Pappas, myself, and Dan Kremske

So even though the 2014 Chicago Marathon was the slowest of the three Chicago Marathons I’ve run, I’m leaving the Windy City feeling all right. At the end of the day, life is good, running is still fun, and even the worst day of racing is better than not having the opportunity to be living out this dream.

**If you’d like a little insight on what happens on the day-before-running-26.2, check out Kevin Sully’s article “24 hours ’til 26 Miles: Craig Leon and the Chicago Marathon“.

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Chicago Marathon Mile Splits powered by Garmin

Split Time Cumulative Time Distance Elevation Gain Elevation Loss
1 5:00.2 5:00 0.82 13
2 5:06.2 10:06 1.08 11
3 4:57.2 15:04 0.92 20
4 5:00.1 20:04 1.04 15 3
5 4:57.9 25:02 1.02 7
6 5:00.2 30:02 1.01 3 10
7 5:01.3 35:03 1.01 6
8 5:06.2 40:09 1.03 9 11
9 5:05.1 45:14 1 10
10 5:07.3 50:22 1.01
11 5:01.2 55:23 1.03 5
12 5:05.0 1:00:28 1.01 7
13 5:03.7 1:05:31 1.03 11 5
14-15 10:00.9 1:15:32 2.03 7 7
16 4:58.9 1:20:31 .98 7 10
17 5:07.4 1:25:39 1.04 13 10
18 5:05.3 1:30:44 1.01
18 5:05.3 1:30:44 1.01
19 5:16.6 1:36:01 1.01 3
20 5:25.8 1:41:26 1.02
21 5:25.5 1:46:52 1.03 9 7
22 5:29.7 1:52:22 1.03 19
23-24 11:03.9 2:03:25 2.03 29 15
25 5:32.4 2:08:58 1
26 5:44.8 2:14:43 1.04 6 6
26.2 1:16.6 2:16:00 .22

A New Look and the 2014 Chicago Marathon

When I decided to leave Athens back in 2011 these things were all true:

  • • I would be quitting a job that I liked, forfeiting the salary and benefits that came with it.
  • • I was moving to Eugene, but I didn’t have a job or a place to live.
  • • I wanted to be a “professional” runner but had no contract or any real viable way to make a living at this new career choice.

    For all of the reasons above, plus countless others, you can probably understand why when I called my parents to tell them my grand plan I was greeted with a silence that would make a noiseless church congregation seem like a Metallica concert. I mean, crickets…

    Through the silence coming from the other end of the phone, I could hear the deafening sound of my Mom’s questions and concerns screaming aloud in her head. I took a huge risk, which is why bringing life to this project I’ve been working on for the past few months gives me such happiness and pride. Maybe more than any actual race. You see, this new website represents so much more than just a new look; it symbolizes the evolution of a dream into a career. It’s one of those entrepreneurial “I made it moments!” and it feels awesome!

    I truly believe that I have the two best jobs in the world: professional runner and industry outreach coordinator for the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon. For the better part of the past year, I’ve been immersed around people who have a passion for sport business, sport marketing, and the power of branding. In addition to working with and learning from two of the best professional mentors anyone could ask for – Paul Swangard and Whitney Wagoner – another perk of my job is having the opportunity to listen to top industry execs speak to our MBA students.

    Much of this redesigned website is a byproduct of my day job. I’ve spent countless hours thinking about how professional runners – the collective we – need to do a better job running our businesses (no pun intended). Connecting with fans. Adding value to sponsors and races. Being ambassadors for running and a healthy lifestyle. Building a brand. All of these elements are all vitally important to professionalizing our sport in today’s business world. Running fast simply doesn’t move the needle.

    Pulling this together in time of Sunday's race kind of feels like Christmas morning - thanks, Boise!

    Pulling this all together in time of Sunday’s race kind of feels like Christmas morning – thanks, Boise!

    None of this would be possible without the person behind everything you see here today. To my friend, Jenny Ryan: thank you for making this thing a reality, and for teaching me how to write a little code – nerd alert! As I learned, building a website and then transitioning all of the old material to a new site is a task of marathon proportions. She did yeoman’s work making the launch of this thing prior to the Chicago possible! There’s no doubt she’s tired of getting emails and texts from me. We hope you like it!

    Speaking of Chicago, there’s a little race happening this Sunday. I guess you probably want some info on this weekend’s long run/workout: 26.2 miles @ marathon effort…

    Sunday's forecast

    Sunday’s forecast

    If you’ve followed some of my previous posts, then you know that everything has gone according to plan with my training these past few months. The goal of any training block is to make it to the start line healthy and fit. Well…mission accomplished. But all of that work can be for not if the weather doesn’t cooperate on race day. What’s the forecast for Sunday? Cloudy, temps in the upper 40s, and light winds. You couldn’t draw it up any better.

    I’m fortunate to be healthy and fit, the weather is shaping up to be ideal, and there will be a slew of guys to run with. Not to take anything away from any of the other fall marathons, but the Chicago Marathon race staff has put together the best, and deepest, field of American marathoners competing this fall. The race will also probably end up as the last time a field of US runners this good square off prior to the 2016 Olympic Trials in February. With everything coming together as such, I feel like I’m walking into a casino to play some blackjack with house money! There will be no excuses.

    How to follow along on Sunday:

    Start time is set for 7:30 a.m. (CST)

    Everyone’s favorite race day quipster, Aadam Soorma, will once again be providing live updates from the streets of Chicago through my Twitter account (@cleonrun) on Sunday morning. This is all entirely contingent on him surviving Homecoming in Athens on Friday and Saturday night – Go Bobcats!

    You can sign up for free athlete tracking here. I’ll be bib #19.

    If you’d like to watch the race, NBC 5 Chicago will provide complete live online coverage of the Bank of America Chicago Marathon on race day from 7 – 11 a.m. More coverage here: nbcchicago.com

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  • Playing To Your Strengths

    Chicago marathoners: race week is finally upon us!

    I’m happy to report that all is well from the camp here in 1547937_947401245276614_7143933233464445583_oEugene and I’m eagerly looking forward to getting my feet on the ground in Chi-town. Over the last month, my training has been much of the same – in this instance, no news is good news. I was in Medford, Oregon 2 weeks ago for the Rogue Run Half Marathon, which served as a chance for one last marathon-effort tempo run. I did this same race last year and probably ran harder than I needed to, so in an effort to save up for my goal race, I made a conscious effort to run a much more controlled effort at a pace that I’ll be shooting for in Chicago next week.

    When I began training for the Chicago Marathon back in July, one of the goals for this block was to create a training schedule that played to my strengths. So often you hear athletes and coaches talk about working to address weaknesses, in the hopes that improvements in those areas will lead to faster times. While I see nothing wrong with this approach – I’ve done it myself in the past – I think there is some value in making the things you already do well, better.

    For me, this meant a renewed focus on long runs, longer threshold workouts, and high volume. I know that these are all areas of strengths for me, so Ian and I created a training schedule built around improving on these areas. Hopefully this translates into becoming a more efficient runner on race day, especially over the final 10k. The longer runs were longer and harder, and there were more of them. Over the past 18 weeks, I’ve run at somewhere between 20-30 miles during all but one of those weeks. The workouts were designed to build strength and I can point to several workouts during this block that were some of the best in my career. And finally, I’ll end up having run more miles during this marathon training block than any of my previous segments. If I were to grade how well the plan was executed, I’d give myself an A-. But I still have to take the final exam next Sunday before I can put anything definite on the report card!

    Stay tuned for some exciting news that I hope to be able share with y’all later this week!

    9/8-14 AM PM Total
    Monday 10 miles + S&C 6 miles 16
    Tuesday 3 mile warmup. 8 mile continuous alternating miles 5:20/5:00. 8 x 200m after. 3 mile cooldown. 15 miles total. 6 miles 21
    Wednesday 11 miles 6 miles 17
    Thursday 9 miles + S&C 5 miles + 7 x 150m striders 15
    Friday 3 mile warmup. 2 x 6 miles @ marathon pace, 3:00 rest. 3 mile cooldown. 18 miles 5 miles 23
    Saturday 11 miles 6 miles 17
    Sunday 22 miles OFF 22
    131
    9/15-21 AM PM Total
    Monday 11 miles + S&C 6 miles 17
    Tuesday 3 mile warmup. 24 x 400m, :30-:35s 100m jog rest. 3 mile cooldown. 12 miles total. 6 miles 18
    Wednesday 10 miles 7 miles 17
    Thursday 3 mile warmup. 5 mile tempo. 8 x 200m after. 3 mile cooldown. 12 miles total 6 miles 18
    Friday 9 miles OFF 9
    Saturday 6 miles + 8 x 100m striders OFF 6
    Sunday Rogue Run Half Marathon – 1:05:51 OFF 21
    106
    9/22-28 AM PM Total
    Monday 10 miles + S&C 6 miles 16
    Tuesday 11 miles 6 miles 17
    Wednesday 4 mile warmup. 12 x Hendricks Hill Loop. 4 mile cooldown. 12 miles total. 6 miles 18
    Thursday 10 miles + S&C OFF 10
    Friday 7 miles OFF 7
    Saturday 3 mile warmup. 3 x 3 mile, 2:00 rest. 3 mile cooldown. 15 miles total. 7 miles 22
    Sunday 20 miles OFF 20
    110
    9/29-10/5 AM PM Total
    Monday 9 miles + S&C OFF 9
    Tuesday 3 mile warmup. 4 x 400m / 2 mile tempo / 4 x 400m / 2 mile tempo / 4 x 400m. 3 mile cooldown. 5 miles 18
    Wednesday 10 miles 5 miles 15
    Thursday 9 miles + S&C OFF 9
    Friday 3 mile warmup. 8 mile cutdown run. 7 x 200m after. 3 mile cooldown. 5 miles 20
    Saturday 8 miles OFF 8
    Sunday 14 miles with 10 x :30 pickups OFF 14
    93