Ship me off to Boston

Official News: I regret to inform everything that I, too, am pulling out of the Boston marathon.

Ok.  So I’m just kidding. But seriously, it has been a rough final few weeks leading up to the Boston marathon for the American contingent.  For those of you who don’t follow this stuff regularly, all 3 of the men who represented the US at this summer’s Olympic marathon – Meb Keflezighi, Ryan Hall, and Abdi Abdirahman – have withdrawn from the upcoming Boston Marathon for reasons related to injury or illness.  The pre-race drops serve as a reminder of just how brutal this sport can be.  Training for a marathon is, in my mind, way harder than the actual race.  The unending grind of run, after run, after run puts an extreme amount of stress on the body.  One of the biggest challenges as a marathoner is getting to the starting line healthy and in one piece.  That’s why I am happy to report that, with 4 days to go, I am niggle-free and ready to rumble!

Downing some breakfast along the course before the runners come by.

Celebrating Patriot’s Day by downing some breakfast along the course before the runners come by.

Before delving into this year’s race, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on how I ended up at this point.  At this time, four years ago, I was completing my final quarter of grad school at Ohio University, where I was also helping out as an assistant coach for the OU distance runners.  I was running, but admittedly not training.  I booked a trip to Boston for marathon weekend to visit my good friend, and amazingly talented musician, Kevin Daniel, and watch some former OU teammates compete in the 2009 Boston marathon.  I point to that weekend as the spark that ignited the fire that burns today.  It’s the reason why, in April of 2013, I am heading back to Boston to compete as an invited runner of the B.A.A.

At the time, I had never run a marathon and could barely even call myself a serious distance runner.  I was out of shape – by elite standards – and was light-years away from my current fitness level.  But for some reason, I returned home to Ohio wanting to be a marathoner.  I didn’t just want to be a marathoner though, I wanted to be one of the guys who I saw out in front that day.  Kind of delusional, I know.  But just being engulfed in the frenetic weekend that is Boston Marathon and seeing the crowds go crazy for the thousands of runners making their way from Hopkinton to Boylston street was intoxicating.  I left Boston with a crush.

Those creative Boston marathon fans...

Oh, those creative Boston marathon fans…

So here I am, 4 years later.  Returning to Boston to do exactly what I dreamed of doing.  It’s a bit of a ‘full-circle’ moment for me and I’m sure there will come a point in the race, probably near Boston College, where I found myself watching from the side of the road four years earlier, when it’ll cross my mind.  Hey, it’s a 26.2 mile race, I got to think of something, right?

This isn’t some sappy trip down memory lane, though.  I’m heading to Boston to on a mission.  I want to be competitive.  I want a new PR.  I want to take advantage of the opportunity to be one of the top Americans.  I want this to be a springboard for the rest of my 2013 season.  I’m ready for another breakthrough.  The Boston marathon is such a huge stage.  Everyone who’s everyone, will be in Boston this weekend; it’s our sport’s “Super Bowl”.  The city transforms into the center of the running universe.  It’s a big moment in my running career – maybe, the biggest.  To use a basketball analogy, I have always been the athlete who wants the ball when the buzzer is about to sound.  I absolutely love these moments!

My training block for this marathon has been exactly what I hoped it would be.  I kick-started the cycle with a win at the Mississippi Blues Marathon, in a record time of 2:16:48, on a course that I thought would simulate some of the undulating profile found in Boston.  The following three months of training has been a nice steady progression leading up to this weekend.  Fortunately, we had an unseasonably dry winter here in Oregon, which lessened the burden of the quality long workouts and long runs that are critical to training for a marathon.  I am heading to Boston with a healthy amount of respect for the course, but I feel very well prepared for what is to come.

I suspect that this will be my last pre-race post, so I’ll leave all the pertinent information that you might want to have below.  Thanks for all of the encouragement.  I hope there’s a special performance in the cards for Monday, so stay tuned…

  • Want to win some free Mizuno prizes? Head to the Eugene Running Company’s facebook page, find the thread with my ugly mugshot, and place your prediction on what my finishing time will be.  Guess correctly, and win some Mizuno gear.  I think I’ll even throw in something extra to the overall winner!
  • I will be rockin’ bib #23 on Monday.  The BAA website will have information about how to track runners on Monday morning, when their page will convert to a race-day central, of sorts.
  • If you want to catch some of the action before you head to work (for my West coast friends) or decide that watching the race is more important than performing your actual work duties (for my East coast friends), you have a couple of viewing options.  Universal Sports (link to online coverage) will kick-off their broadcast starting at 9:00 a.m. (ET) with a pre-race show, and then the race; if you have DirectTV (channel 625) or Dish (channel 402), you can watch it on TV.  In the past, I have tuned into the Universal Sports coverage to watch the race; they do a pretty good job.  Starting at 9:30 a.m. (ET) the BAA will provide a live stream of the race on its website, here. The local CBS affiliate will also have coverage on race morning, and will probably be live prior to 9 a.m., although I’m not 100% positive you will be able to catch the online feed if you  live outside of the New England area.  If someone wants to try that out, let me know how it goes…
  • On Monday, I’ll be handing over the reigns to my twitter account to someone in the Boston trenches, similar to what I did in Chicago this past fall.  I think you’ll enjoy the commentary from my guest contributor!
  • I know the Team Run Eugene crew back in Oregon will be following along closely.  You can connect with them through Facebook, Twitter or the main website for more race updates.
  • Just a few Boston Marathon fun facts, if you’re into that kind of thing.

Building to Boston, uneventfully.

With the calendar flipping over to April, the Boston marathon just got a little more R–E–A–L, REAL!  The high-mileage weeks and long, grueling workouts are now in the rear-view mirror, as the iconic Patriot’s Day race is less than 2 weeks away.  This guy is officially in taper-mode!  I’ll apologize in advance, especially for those of you in Eugene, who have to put up with my new-found energy.  You didn’t think that was possible, did you?  But that’s what tapering does: it makes the seemingly impossible, possible!

I’ve gotten a lot of questions lately about the race, so I decided to dedicate this post to a few of the most recurring questions.  For starters: describe what your training has been like during this particular marathon buildup?  My response, summed up in one word: uneventful.  I know, a rather uninspiring portrayal of 3-months’ work, right?  However, in this instance, uneventful is actually a good thing.  As I sit here on April 2nd, and peruse over my training log, I can’t pinpoint one workout, or race, that would make me say, “this is why I am going to run great in Boston”.  Conversely, there hasn’t been a single hiccup in what I’ve done from January 20th to April 2nd.  It’s been a very solid, and consistent, 10.5 weeks of training.  In my opinion, it’s exactly what marathon training, and elite training for that matter, should be: consistent – day after day, week after week, month after month.  In the words of John L. Parker, author of Once A Runner and Again to Carthage, “like a clock”.

So, what about the course?  Have I done anything differently in my training to prepare for the hilly course?  Given the hills, the Boston course is as technical a marathon course as any out there.  In an age of flat and fast courses designed for PR’s, I’m both excited and nervous for what awaits.  I’ve come to find out, especially living here in TrackTown U.S.A., that everyone who has run Boston has an opinion on how they think it should be tackled.  Reluctant to listen at first, I have found myself absorbed in Boston story after Boston story, even seeking the advice of other elite marathoners who have made the trip from Hopkinton to Boylston Street.  My hope is that a thing or two will stick with me when I’m out on the course in a few weeks.

When it came time to planning and writing a training program for Boston, I worked with Ian to make a few minor tweaks in how we prepared for this marathon versus some of my previous ones.  Some of these changes have included more weekly mileage and  incorporating some hillier courses for longer workouts and long runs.  In my training block leading up to Chicago, the most miles per week that I ran was 130 miles, which I did twice.  In this block, I’ve twice run 140 miles per week.  My long runs have included a 25-miler, 24-miler, 22.5-miler, 22-miler, and several other 20-milers.  From a purely mileage standpoint, this has been most volume I’ve ever run.

When it came down to finding hilly courses, Ian was all over it – there may have even been a couple times that I found myself cursing the guy mid-workout!  In all honesty though, I think the decision to seek out these hilly courses will pay dividends.  I can remember some of the first workouts we did during this block, and how I found myself pressing on the hills to hit certain “goal times”.  What I quickly realized was that you could not run against the watch, you had to run against the course.  As my mindset began to shift, so to did the quality of my workouts.  It’s amazing the difference in how you feel when you are “pressing” versus just “relaxing” – and I use the quotations purposefully, because relaxing is a relative term, given the fact that you are trying to run near 5-minute pace for prolonged periods of time.  Hopefully, I’ll be able to apply what I’ve learned in training when I hit the hills at mile 16.

Below are a few of the course profiles from some of our Boston-simulator stomping grounds out here in Eugene.

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McKenzie View Road: Elevation chart of a 16-mile progressive run (starting at 5:37 and finishing at 4:58) done on 3/22/2013

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Weyerhaeuser Road: elevation chart of a 24-mile run (5:50 pace) done on 3/24/2013

As I look at my calendar today, I only see three more “hard” workouts remaining.  Compared to what has become the norm these past several months, they are hardly even workouts.  It’s time to rest up!

Addressing one final, and most oft-asked, question: what’s the goal?  For now, I’ll withhold any race predictions until the day draws nearer.  I think once I get to Boston, have a chance see what the weather is going to be like, and engulf myself in the circus that is marathon weekend, I’ll have a better idea of what to expect come race day.  Besides, I need to have a reason for you to revisit the website, right?  But that doesn’t mean I don’t have a goal for these final 13 days, which will be to try and keep everything exactly like it has been: uneventful.

Welcome to April, everyone!

Training, and Racing, For Boston

Aside from my short post on Friday, it’s been 8 weeks since my last real update.  I can barely recall that time in mid-January: I was enjoying some R & R after my marathon, the days were dark, and winter had its firm grasp on the Pacific Northwest.  Thankfully, those days are long gone!  Admittedly though, I wouldn’t mind an easy day here and there.  But there’s no time for that, as the Boston Marathon is just 5 weeks from today!

I think anyone that has spent time with me would acknowledge that I prefer to do things my way.  I guess I have always felt that as long as I believed in what I was doing, there was a better-than-average chance it would work.  Last November, I approached my coach (Ian Dobson) with this “grandiose idea” – I use quotations because in reality, it isn’t all that grandiose.  I wanted to run a marathon in January to jump-start my training for Boston, which would take place just 14 weeks later.  Conventional wisdom would suggest that running 2 marathons in a 4-month span is anything but, well, conventional.

At the time, Ian and I had only been working together for a few months.  He was new to this coaching thing, and really only had conventional wisdom to go by.  I can’t speak directly for Ian, but I suspect he had his reservations about my little plan.  If that were the case though, he never tried to discourage me from giving it a go.  And that’s why, up to this point, the plan has worked.  It also happens to be why I believe future plans will work.  I will always believe in what I’m doing (or I wouldn’t do it!) and I trust Ian as a coach and what he is building with Team Run Eugene.

5 weeks are all that remain between now and the start line in Hopkinton — shoot, just writing that has me up on the edge of my seat.  There is still work to be done, though.  Ian and I met last week to go over the last block of training.  This is when things start to get serious.  And by serious, I mean seriously fun!  Bring on Boston!

So what have I been up to these two months?  Well here’s the quick cliff’s notes version, picture-book style.

–  I enjoyed a welcomed break from the training after my marathon in January.  When 5 additional hours in the day suddenly come free, you find other fun, non-running things to occupy the time, like take in a college basketball game.  And let’s not forget about the freedom to divulge in desserts on a regular basis – sometimes even twice a day!

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–  After a few weeks of easy running, it was back to the grind.  With the Boston Marathon looming just a few short months away, I was back to my normal routine by the final week of January.  Of course, the foundation of any marathon program is the long run.  Rarely do I ever have any issues with my long runs.  In fact, they are probably what I enjoy most about being a marathoner.  But, just like the English language, there are always exceptions.  Sunday, February 3rd, will always be one of those exceptions.  I went out for a 22-mile run with Brad Chvatal and ended up with the worst blister of my life.  Amazingly, I didn’t miss one run or one workout because of it.  There were certainly some painful runs, and it re-opened on more than one occasion, but aside from some still lingering scabbing, I think I dodged a serious bullet.

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–  3 weeks ago, I traveled to Hawaii for the Great Aloha Run.  The trip was more vacation than anything, but when the chance to get paid for a trip to Hawaii in February presented itself, the vacation became a race-cation.  The President’s day race is a huge event, with well over 10,000 runners and what seemed like just as many volunteers.  I finished 2nd and covered the 8.15 mile course in 40:18, 4:56 pace.  Afterwards, I spent the next day and half motoring around the island on a rental scooter.  Adding Hawaii to the Union in 1959 (I know, later than you thought!) was an incredibly smart move by the U.S.

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–  I just returned to Oregon from the US 15k Championships in Jacksonville, Florida.  It was my 2nd year running this event and it’s become one of my favorite stops of the circuit.  The race organizers put together such a fun weekend for all of the runners that you can’t help but want to come back each year.  Technically speaking, since I ran faster this year than I did last year, I PR’d on Saturday.  I would have liked to run under 46-mins, but the reality is that marathon training doesn’t prepare you – well, me, at least – for running sub-5 minute pace for a 15k.  However, there is no such thing as a bad PR, and I got everything I wanted, and needed, out of the weekend.

US 15k Championships

Yesterday was a travel day for myself and TRE teammate, Shadrack (Shaddy) Biwott.  Making the flight from B4 to O72 (if you are keeping track with your Bingo cards at home) can be rather grueling, but having a travel buddy was a welcomed change.  Whether it’s his stories, his jokes, or just Shaddy being Shaddy, he always has me laughing.  For instance, yesterday he tried to board our flight from San Francisco to Charlotte with his plane ticket to Bermuda from a race he did back in January!  I don’t know what’s more funny: that he had that ticket on him still or that the first gate agent didn’t catch his little switch-a-roo.

Although the winter in Eugene has been mild, and remarkably dry, it still feels good to wake up to the warm sunshine of Jacksonville, Florida.  A large contingent of the best distance runners in the US are leaving behind their cold-weather training bases, and converging upon Jacksonville for tomorrow morning’s US 15k Championships.  The event is a favorite for many of the runners because it’s a good benchmark race for those gearing up for the track season or a Spring marathon, the weather is always nice, and the race organizers put on a good show Saturday night.

Tomorrow will be my second-to-last race before Boston (I’m scheduled to run in Seattle’s St. Patrick’s Day dash next Sunday, as well).  The date of this race falls right in the middle of heavy marathon training for me, so I’ll be coming into this thing having run 140 miles two weeks ago and 115 miles last week.  Of course, my goal is to still be competitive and run well.  However, the main objective for this weekend is to put in a hard effort on Saturday, a quality Sunday long run, and then be ready to get back to work in Eugene come Monday.  Couldn’t I have just stayed in Eugene for that?  Given the choice, I will always choose racing over the often-monotonous workouts, regardless if that means hopping into something where I might be in over my head.  Every race, just like every workout, has a purpose.

If you want to follow tomorrow’s race, poke around RunnerSpace.com for some live text updates – video highlights will be posted later in the afternoon.  The race starts at 8:30 a.m. (EST) and should feature some great racing up front.  As someone who has spent the past few months chasing Shaddy around, I’m excited to see what he does.  I am predicting big things!

Check back on Monday for a race recap, along with a “what the heck have I been up to these last two months?” post.  Have a great weekend, everyone!

Starting 2013 with a win

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My 2013 season began last weekend at the Mississippi Blues Marathon, in Jackson, MS, where I was able to win my 2nd career marathon with a come-from-behind victory.  Along with winning the race, I was able to set a new course record by running 2:16:48, beating the previous mark by over 2-minutes.  I could not have imagined a better way to start off the new year.

But, the end result is far from the whole story.  If you were standing along the streets in Jackson on Saturday around mile 20, and then made it over to the finish line, you were probably shocked to see me as the first runner to round the corner.  That’s because shortly after 15 miles, Kenyan Robert Wambua – owner of a 61:00 half marathon best and 28:08 10k PR – had thrown in a strong surge, which opened up a gap of nearly 30-45 seconds on the field.  At this point in the race, I was resigned to the fact that I was probably racing for 2nd place.  And I was beginning to worry about even being able to pull off that task.

For most of the first 10 miles, I ran through the rolling streets of Jackson tucked in amongst a pack of a dozen other African runners.  The early pacing was conservative, running over 16-minutes for the first 3 miles (on pace for a ~2:21). But for me, this race was never about, so I was content to hang back in the pack, conserve energy, and listen to some of the friendly calls from the spectators who lined the streets of the Mississippi capital.  The following are just a few of the cheers that stick in my mind now, and yes all of them include y’all: “Y’all are doing awesome,” “Y’all are so fast, keep it up,” and “Enjoy Jackson, y’all; thanks for coming.”

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Around mile 11, I decided to see infuse a short charge to see if we could lose a few of the guys hanging with the pack.  In retrospect, I probably would have been better off waiting until later in the race to do something like this because instead of splitting up the pack, I seemed to just wake up some of the other top runners.  Not at all what I was trying to accomplish.  From that point on, gone were the mile splits in the mid-5-teens, as we covered most of the next several miles in 5-oh-something.  In particular, I seemed to spark the competitiveness of Wambua, who would push the pace for the next several miles, before ultimately making an even harder surge around mile 15.

When Wambua made his surge, an Ethiopian runner (Mola Hailemariya Negasi) and myself tried to respond, but he continued to grow smaller in the distance.  After a series of hills around mile 18, I had fallen off the pace from Negasi and was several seconds back running in 3rd place.  It took me a mile or two to re-gather myself, but eventually I was able to reel him back in, and to my surprise, open up some space between us.

Around mile 22, I was pushing hard – not to try and catch Wambua (at this point, I was 25 seconds behind him), but rather to try and build a larger cushion between Negasi and myself.  It wasn’t until mid-way through the 23rd mile, and a concerned over-the-shoulder look, that I finally saw Wambua show some signs that his early surge might be taking its toll.  He was getting closer and closer, but thought I had run out of time for any sort of late push; the lead looked too big.  But shortly before mile 25, as we rounded a corner to make our way back downtown towards the finish, I found myself passing Wambua.  And he had no response.

I couldn’t believe it.  A mere 10k earlier, I was in trouble and thought I would be battling for, at best, a 3rd place finish.  Improbably, I now had the lead, and found myself floating down the streets of Jackson with a chance to win my 2nd marathon.  And let me tell you something, there aren’t too many better feelings in this sport than closing out a marathon with a chance for a win.  It probably has something to do with the distance itself: nothing is guaranteed and nothing is easy.

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A few blocks later, I had the thrill of breaking the tape at the finish line and hoisting one of the most unique winning prizes: a brand new, hand-crafted guitar!  As great as winning the race was, I was equally as happy with how well I ran the 2nd 13.1 miles, and in particular, the last 10k, which was my nemesis during my 2012 marathons.  After opening up with a first half of 1:09:20, I covered the second half in 1:07:28 and ran my last 10k in 32:35.  The race also served as a reminder to me of why you never give up in a marathon; a lot can happen during those last 6.2 miles!

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I would be re-missed to not mention, and thank, the race organizers, volunteers (roughly 700 volunteers were on-site to help out with the race), and community of Jackson for hosting a first-class event.  The group that puts on the event works tirelessly – literally, I’m pretty sure they were walking zombies by Saturday evening – to ensure everyone has a great experience at their race.  And the Southern hospitality was every bit as advertised!  It was also fun to have my boss at the Law School, Josh Gordon, alongside me for the weekend.  Josh has been such a positive influence on me, both running and non-running, during my time in Eugene and it was great to travel, and race, with a familiar face.  He nearly completed the Eugene sweep, by placing 3rd in the half marathon!

This past week was filled by logging some easy miles around some of my favorite places in Eugene.  Luckily, this is the best I have ever felt coming off a marathon.  And good thing because a Spring marathon looms closely in the horizon!

2013 Mississippi Blues Marathon – race splits, powered by Garmin

Mile 1

5:33

Mile 2

5:23

Mile 3

5:16

Mile 4

5:20

Mile 5

5:14

Mile 6

5:11

Mile 7

5:27

Mile 8

5:11

Mile 9

5:20

Mile 10

5:14

Mile 11

5:09

Mile 12

5:01

Mile 13

5:12

Mile 14

5:02

Mile 15

5:04

Mile 16

5:09

Mile 17

5:12

Mile 18

4:57

Mile 19

5:04

Mile 20

5:12

Mile 21

5:01

Mile 22

5:01

Mile 23

5:18

Mile 24

5:09

Mile 25

5:13

Mile 26

5:32

.2

1:21

Final

2:16:48