Race week: US Half Marathon Championship @ Houston, TX

In the sport of distance running, one learns to mark their calendars by training cycles.  Awaiting at the culmination of each cycle is a goal race.  I’ll be marking the end of my latest training period this coming Saturday morning at the US Half Marathon Championships in Houston, Texas.  I’m excited about what I’ve been able to do training wise over the last 2-3 months and hopefully I’ll see the benefits of all that work this weekend.  Regardless of the results, I’m more fit than I was 2-3 months ago and, hopefully, I’ll be in a better place 2-3 months from now….it’s an ever evolving process!

One of the advantages to running in Houston this week is the chance to familiarize myself with the course, and city, for next year’s Olympic Trials.  The race organizers decided to run this year’s half marathon on the same course that will be used for the Olympic Trials next year, which is an 8-mile loop through downtown Houston.  Being familiar with the course, and the surrounding area, adds an element of comfortableness that will undoubtedly help me a year from now.

As for this year, the race is shaping up to be a fast one.  Everyone who goes to Houston, goes there for one reason: to run fast!  There are 70 elite-runners registered, 27 of which have already run an Olympic Trials qualifying time.  Those who don’t have a qualifying time will be looking to get theirs this weekend and can do so by running 65-minutes or faster.  Having a qualifying time already under my belt, gives me the freedom to take some risks and run the race a little differently than if I was trying to hit a specific time.

So what does this week look like for me?  The training load becomes considerably lighter and with it comes a little more ‘pop’ in my legs.  I completed my last “real” workout today and I am feeling good.  More days than not during January in Athens, the track covered with snow, but someone at OU was looking out for us runners and graciously cleared off the first 3 lanes of the track – a big THANK YOU goes out to that person.  A few easy runs, along with some shakeout striders are all that stand between me and this race now.

Lastly, comes an explanation of the picture.  In my lead-up to the marathon in the fall, I decided to let me hair grow out (the other picture) and then cut it in the days before the race.  More or less, to me it serves symbolically as a visual reminder of what I am working towards.  For this race, I have put forth my best effort at growing whatever it is you want to call that on my face.  A haircut and shave are in order for Wednesday when I officially put on my “game face!”

I’m looking forward to some much needed relief from the harsh winter cold that has a stranglehold on the Midwest!  60s are on tap for Houston this week.  Check back in later this week for one last pre-race post, where I’ll be sure to include all of the different ways you can follow the race and get results come Saturday.

Until then, Godspeed!

2011 – A Year of PR’s

Although I have always been a big fan of the New Year’s holiday, I have never really been one to make resolutions.  I’m unsure if my goal for this year technically qualifies as a resolution or if it is merely just a goal, but I am dedicating 2011 to setting PR’s.  Whether the race is as long as a half marathon or as short as an 800, my hope is that, at the end of the year, the date next to each of my racing PR’s says 2011.  To this point, I have decided to redirect much of my 2011 training and racing to the track.

So I thought the best way to kick off 2011 would be with a 5k race.

My training over the last 3 months has been entirely geared towards my upcoming half marathon race (US Half Marathon Championships in Houston, Texas), but I felt like this past weekend was a perfect opportunity to “sharpen up” before the race on the 29th.  Despite no specific 5k training, I was fairly certain, based on some of the workouts I had completed throughout this training cycle, that I had the strength to make an attempt at a new 5k PR.  So this past Saturday I was able to talk a fellow Ohio runner and Kent State alum, Andrew Carnes, into running the 5,000 with me at the Kent State Doug Raymond Open.

Andrew did what he always does and set a perfect pace early in the race.  We came through the mile in 4:33 and repeated that split for the second mile, putting us at 9:06 at 3200 meters and on pace for me to set a new PR.  Over the last mile Andrew was able to sustain that pace and win the race, setting a new PR for himself, and I was able to hang on close enough for a PR of my own, finishing with a time of 14:23.56, three seconds faster than my previous PR set in 2008.  A big thank you and congrats go out to Andrew for not just helping me out, but for also running a fantastic race in the process.

Obviously, I am excited and confident about my current level of fitness.  The task of bettering one’s time is a difficult one.  Generally speaking, there a lot of factors (training, weather, competition, etc.) that play into whether or not running a new PR is even possible.  But as much as I love the feeling you get immediately following a PR, one of my favorite things about running is the process that ultimately leads to the end result.  Simply put, it’s the task of constant ascending.  John L. Parker poetically brought life to this process in Again to Carthage:

“When you’re a competitive runner in training you are constantly in a process of ascending…It’s not something most human beings would give a moment of consideration to, that it is actually possible to be living for years in a state of constant betterment.  To consider that you are better today than you were yesterday or a year ago, and that you will be better still tomorrow or next week…That if you’re doing it right you are an organism constantly evolving toward some agreed-upon approximation of excellence.  Wouldn’t that be at least one definition of a spiritual state?”

I’m excited and hopeful about the possibilities that 2011 might bring.  My next race comes in 12 days, when I’ll shoot for a new PR in the half-marathon.  Here’s to hoping we all can PR in 2011, whether your PR is running-related or not…

Godspeed!

Marking my calendar…

1 year.  12 months.  365 days.

For many, January 14th, 2012 has little significance.  After all, there isn’t much about a middle-of-January, random Saturday, that appeals to most people – you northerners know what I’m talking about.  However, in the world of running, today officially marks the one-year countdown to the US Olympic Marathon Trials.  Which means, that a year from now I will be in Houston, Texas, competing against the best distance runners in the United States.  It’s a race that every competitive runner has thought about at some point during his/her running career.  After all, who wouldn’t want a chance to run in the Olympic Trials?  It’s an incredible opportunity.

One of the questions that I often get asked is: “what do you think about when you run?”  I guess you could say that qualifying for the Olympic Trials has been something I’ve thought about a time or two during long runs or hard workouts, although I am pretty sure I’ve never given that response to anyone who has asked.  Growing up, I had a wild imagination, especially when it came to sports.  It would be impossible to count how many times I’ve made (and missed) the game winning shot in the NBA Finals in my basement on South Avenue or how many times I drained a putt to win the Master’s or hit a walk off homer to finally give the Cubs that coveted World Series championship.  Next year will be my first chance to compete at an Olympic Trials event, but in my mind, I’ve run that race countless times.  To some extent, my childhood imagination has never quite left me and it’s certainly one of the reasons why I know what I’ll be doing a year from now.

In a conversation with a close friend (and former teammate of mine) last night, he suggested that I start a blog to document my year-long build up to the race.  So, for better or for worse, I will be making regular (well, hopefully regular) musings about what is happening in my training and in my life as I gear up for the marathon OT next January.  I’m still not sure I’ve been able to completely wrap my mind around the fact that I get to be one of those few people realizing a dream that seemed at one point so impossible, but I am excited for the journey that will unfold over the next twelve months.

In closing, my upcoming weekend will, fittingly, revolve around running.  Tonight I am going to make the drive up to Kent State in preparation for my 5k race tomorrow morning, but prior to that I plan on making a pit stop at Marietta to watch some of the OU guys compete in their first indoor meet of the year.  Tomorrow’s 5k will be the last race of my preparation for the US Half Marathon Championships in 2 weeks (more on that to come).

Hopefully you have enjoyed the first edition and you’ll check back in on me.  I’m still developing and building the website, so I promise more features in the near future. Godspeed!