The Race That Went South…Twice

The Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon (Marathon #9 for me) is a point to point race.   It starts at Grafton High School and proceeds south to Veteran’s lakefront park.   It’s a fast race which usually negates the prevailing west wind.  Unfortunately, my actual running went south as well and led to a disappointing day.

I can’t put my finger on any one thing the destroyed the race.  My parents decided to join us for the trip. The day before the race was very relaxing.   I got plenty of sleep the night before and we grabbed lunch about 2pm at AJ Bombers which is known for it’s peanut delivery system.   A quick stop at the very small expo to get my bib and back to the hotel for some rest before dinner.   We found a fantastic restaurant before last year’s race. If you are into homemade Italian everything while in Milwaukee, go to Mimma’s Café.

I slept probably better than most nights before a race.   Usually, I’m waking every hour but not this night.  I got up about 4:45 and had brought my own breakfast.  Oatmeal and a half bagel w/peanut butter.  Standard issue marathon runner race breakfast.   I sipped on some Hammer Perpetuem.   The only thing missing was coffee.  But the Hyatt had promised to open their shop up at 5:30 for some Starbucks.   I refuse to drink in-room coffee.  Not because I’m a snob and I actually prefer non-corporate coffee. but who only knows what bacteria grows inside of the in-room makers and the coffee just plain tastes bad.   I got to the lobby to catch the bus to the start at the high school at 5:45 only to find there was ZERO coffee to be had anywhere in the lobby.  Even Holiday Inn’s have some sort of coffee free in all of their lobbies.  Hyatt fail! (you could have sold overpriced coffee and breakfast and runners would have gladly paid it).   Luckily there was a coffee shop open across the street from the hotel and I grabbed some to go before boarding the bus.   I sipped on some PowerAde while at the school to top off any hydration deficit.  I really don’t think I drank all that much but the race proved otherwise.

It was cold (36F) but the sun was out so I wore some layers and my Brooks gloves.    My goal was to go out at my PR pace of 3:27:00 and negative split the race.  My “A” goal would have been 3:25:00.  At 7:30 we were off.   I had no problem hitting pace early as the first two miles were downhill.  I felt good but my stomach felt bloated and slightly upset.  It took two port-a-potty stops to get rid of the excess liquid at Miles 4 and 12.    I brought four Hammer Gels but while rearranging them in my back pockets I dropped one and did not want to stop to get it for fear of being trampled to death. 

I knew early that it wasn’t going to be my day with some stomach issues and legs felt beat up way too early.   I took my first gel at Mile 6 1/2.   The second gel I only took about half of it at Mile 12 1/2 because my stomach was feeling weird.   I tried to keep on pace thinking it would all pass eventually and I would be back to normal.  After Mile 12 when I took the second gel I actually gagged because I almost hurled.  Sometimes niggles, pain or discomfort do magically go away for no apparent reason during a run.  But they never did.  About Mile 11 I felt my adductor muscles sore.  During training they would get this way after a hard week or a really long run.  It never affected my running really.  Taper did not heal it I guess.  I saw my family at Mile 15 and even they said I looked like I wasn’t having much fun.   I kept plugging away telling myself I might right the ship.   I was on pace early but it just kept slipping away.  I just refused to walk and let this become a complete disaster.

The cold hard numbers:
1 – 7:45
2 – 7:44.8
3 – 7:57:2
4 – 8:13:8 First stop
5 – 7:41.3
6 – 8:01.6
7 – 7:59.4  Expected finish 3:27:19
8 – 7:50.8
9 – 7:57.2
10 – 7:56.8 Not a good sign.   Fatigue in my inner thighs.
11 – 7:58.3
12 – 8:20.1 Second bathroom stop
13 – 8:04.6  Uh oh, it’s slipping.
13.1  – Expected Fish time 3:29:11
14 – 7:59.1
15 – 7:58.6
16 – 8:10.2   The wheels starting to come off.
17 – 8:15.3
18 – 8:28.9   C’mon fight this thing.
19 – 8:26
20 – 8:36.5 Can only break 3:30 if I finish at 8:00 pace the rest of the way
21 – 8:14.7  Well so much for 8 minute pace the rest of the way.
22 – 9:00.7  Yep, the wheels are off.
23 – 9:21.7   What the…
24 – 8:59.4   Probably just quicker because I was angry at the last mile
25 – 9:21.5   No longer angry I guess
26 – 8:59.1   Final time 3:37:07  

In last year’s race, my slowest mile was the last and even then I only slowed to 8:20.   So what was my major malfunction?  Too much food pre-race?  Too much liquid?  It feels like I didn’t sweat much in this cool weather. Overtraining or sore adductors not resolved by taper?  Bad nutrition during training?   I’ve run three faster races on less training!  Sometimes it’s as simple as it’s just not your day.   Time to move on and schedule a shorter race within the next 30 days.  At least I have Boston for redemption.

“At mile 20, I thought I was dead. At mile 22, I wished I was dead. At mile 24, I knew I was dead. At mile 26.2, I realized I had become too tough to kill” – Unknown quote


Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon Countdown

So my fall marathon in now less than 24 hours away.  I stopped by my running store on Thursday to replace the sunglasses that got stepped on accidentally. As usual, the owners ask what I was training for and they go out of their way to make customers happy.  I snagged a new pair of Tifosi Saxons.  When I checked out they gave me some Shot Blocks on the house and Pom told me I look a little bit like Dick Beardsley?!  I don’t see it but I hope I run like him in three days. After all his PR is 2:08 something.  Thanks for the ego boost.

Where does the time go?  Work, work travel, coaching flag football, etc have all conspired against me writing my blog.   Anyways….I am in full taper for Milwaukee.   I have averaged 64 miles over the last 8 weeks.   I was using Pfitz 18/70, the same plan from my PR.   My training has been pretty solid except missing a day here or there for non-injury reasons.  I am hoping the second year of Pfitz 18/70 will give me some benefits and make me stronger.

Here is the thing though, I have ZERO races to gauge my fitness.  My last race was a trail half on tired legs at the end of July (1:41:0) so I can’t use that. Or a 4m race on 7/4 at 27:56?  Or a 5k race on 6/14 at 21:04? Or a 10m race on 4/10 at 1:12:39?   I’m flying blind so I only have to point to last year’s training and race.  My longest MP run on 9/6 was 18m w/ 15 at MP. A really good run, buoyed by the cooler temps.   Average was 7:53 pace but most of it was at 7:51.   The weather will be cold (high 40’s F and dry) so there should be no excuses there.   The course runs north to south and the predicted wind will be out of the west.

I did my final 5m run yesterday before Sunday’s race.  I make it a point never to run the day before a full because my legs feel much fresher.   My training paces have been equivalent to last year.  My hope is to PR.   My goal is to run between 7:49 (3:25:00) and 7:53 pace (my PR).   The weather will be cool the entire way with a an 11:00 AM finish at 49F.

I would love to hear your wild guesses on my time tomorrow.

In other confidence boosting news, I am officially accepted into the 2015 Boston Marathon!   I got my confirmation a couple of weeks ago.  It will be my first after qualifying last year in Milwaukee.   I have have been chasing the Super Bowl of marathon racing since 2009 and it’s been a long term goal of mine.  I don’t think I’ll run Boston in 2016 but I would love to qualify again. 

Lastly, a little bit of motivation.   Yes, I’m a sap and running geek but this trailer has always been my pre-game pep talk.   

Milwaukee to Boston in 3 1/2 hours

I have to admit in the days leading up to the race I wasn’t excited as usual.   I was experiencing a quiet confidence.   I took a business like approach to marathon number eight.  I upped the mileage to an average of 65 miles per week.  I had never trained this hard before so there were no regrets.  

We got to Milwaukee after some pancake carbo loading at Cracker Barrel on the way north.   I was tired from only about 6 hours of sleep after playing poker with some friends the night before.   The expo at the Milwaukee School of Engineering was really small.  Pretty much what I expected for a race of only 3000 people.   No frills, no food samples, no blaring DJ booth like the Nike display at the Chicago marathon.   I think it fit with the way I trained.  No nonsense and just get the job done.  We had time to kill so we checked into the hotel and I managed to get about an hour nap in before dinner.  My wife found a fantastic Italian restaurant that night called Mimma’s.  Forty six different kinds of homemade pasta among other entrees.  I was in bed before 9PM and unlike other marathon eves, I slept like a rock.   No nervousness, no pre-race jitters.  I woke only once about 4AM but was immediately back to sleep until 5AM when the alarm went off.

The marathon had school buses pick us up at the hotel for the 26 mile journey to the race start in Grafton.  The entire high school was open to the runners and spectators.  We had multiple bathrooms and locker rooms to use and runners took advantage of the gym and cafeteria to stretch out.

The race organizers had a sense of humor.  The start line had the usual signs with paces of 8, 9 and 10 minute pace.  But the there was a a special sign for anyone running under 2:02:00.  My BQ time was 3:30 so I had printed out a 3:27 pace band for my wrist.  I decided to give myself the freedom to keep my pace between 7:49 (3:25) and 7:54 (3:27).   I lined up behind the 3:25 pacer and planned to negative split this race and pass the pace group near the end.  It was PR weather.  Mostly cloudy, 54F and 86% humidity.  

We were off.   No traffic problems and it was easy to settle into pace early.   The first part was along rural country roads. 

Mile 1 – 7:41  A bit quick but plenty of time for correction.
Mile 2 – 7:34  I made the mistake of just following the pacer and he was going too fast.  Time to slow up.
Mile 3 – 7:59  The pacer must have noticed his mistake because even though I slowed down the gap between me and him remained the same.
Mile 4 – 7:56  Kept it slow.  It was about here we ran past a field of cows and spooked them  They were mooing and running in circles.  Call it a half-hearted stampede.
Mile 5 – 7:42 Still too fast but it feels so easy.  Saw my second favorite sign of the day.  “Can any of you return punts for the Packers?”   Their punt returns have been pitiful this year
Mile 6 – 7:47 I know were in Wisconsin now.  We pass on old guy sitting in his driveway playing polka music on his accordion.
Mile 7 – 7:49 (54:28 Projected finish 3:23:55) First Hammer gel as we enter the Concordia University campus.   Surprisingly the 3:25 group is nowhere in sight.
Mile 8 – 7:45
Mile 9 – 7:49
Mile 10 – 7:49 My pace has settled but it’s still feeling easy.  We’re running through residential neighborhoods now.  The course up this point has been overall downhill but there are rolling hills which I’m convinced is easier on your legs than a pancake flat course.


Mile 11 – 7:49
Mile 12 – 7:51
Mile 13 – 7:53    13.1 1:42:31  Project finish 3:25:14
Mile 14 – 7:48 Second Hammer gel.
Mile 15 – 7:49  Still on pace.  Here I saw my favorite signs.  First Sign:  Faster, Harder, Don’t Stop  Second sign:  That’s what she said
Mile 16  – 7:50
Mile 17 – 7:51 About here I started to feel a bad patch.  Nothing really wrong other than my energy seemed to get low.   My pace was OK but the crowds were sparse here and they weren’t making any noise.
Mile 18 – 7:50  Still feeling low on energy but pace has not reflected it.  If this continues I gave myself permission to walk through the water stop at Mile 20.
Mile 19 – 7:45 The crowds are little more energetic here and my energy returns.  I actually stepped on the gas here a little.   Maybe I can still 3:25.  Third gel
Mile 20 – 2:36:35  On pace for  3:25:16.  Feeling good, no walking yet.
Mile 20 & 21 7:46 pace.  I forgot to hit the mile split on my Garmin at Mile 20. Projected 3:24:59
Mile 22 – 7:52  The view is fantastic of Lake Michigan now and the sun is out.
Mile 23 – 7:54  My energy is now gone as fast as it came back at Mile 19.   Maybe I should pop one more gel but my stomach really doesn’t want a thing now except water.   I talk a quick walk break as I pass the aid station.  It’s Mile 23.5 and the volunteer tells us to enjoy this section.   It’s a big downhill and I take off running again.
Mile 24 – 8:05  Started to fade but I just kept repeating: Pain is temporary
Mile 25 – 8:11 Pain is temporary.   BQ is only a mile away.   Pain is temporary.  Guess what?  I caught the 3:25 pacer.   He’s alone.  Walking.   I pass him.
Mile 26.2 8:26.  My son sees me about .3 from the finish and screams. There are no fences here and he’s right next to the running path. We’re going to Boston daddy!  He’s taking pictures with my wife’s iPhone.

Photo courtesy of my eight year old

 Ummm, where the hell is my wife anyways.  About 50 yards further, she’s taking pictures and tells me congratulations.  I head to the chute pumping my fist most of the way.   Finish time 3:26:52.   BQ minus 3:08!!!  

I cross the finish line as the announcer calls my name.  I get my medal.   This one’s gonna mean something.  It was here a medical worker starts talking to me.  I wasn’t really ready for a conversation.   I’m wondering if I look like I’m out of it.  It turns out they are assisting everyone out of the chute.   Nice touch Milwaukee!   Make sure every runner who might need help gets it. 

I’m going to let this one soak in for a while.   No need to go out and plan another race right away. 
I do have to wait almost a year to enter Boston though.   I don’t think I’ll mind the wait.

Time To Put the Rubber to the Road

It’s really October kids.  My big race of the year is Sunday.  Almost hard to believe that I committed to this date back in April.  The weather forecast shows mostly cloudy 53F at the race start and 58F when we finish.   Wind from the southwest at 12MPH.   Can you tell I have been obsessing during taper?

I have had close to a perfect cycle.   Back in June, I was worried about getting injured as I upped the mileage into the mid sixties per week.  I  did it slowly.  Half as fast as the 18/70 plan would ask me to and by Week 6 or 7, I finally matched the mileage of the plan. Before taper I averaged 64-65 mpw for 9 weeks. I took some of my LR’s to softer surfaces. Before, I would bang them all out on asphalt. My longest run of 22m was around Lake Geneva with mostly dirt, grass and even some stairs!  I made sure my club runs on Saturdays were at marathon pace or better.  13 to 15m mid week runs became routine. I just needed to get up earlier. If you want something bad enough you just need to make time right? I also felt I needed more protein in my diet. I take Lipitor as a genetic disposition to higher cholesterol. It’s a small dose but adding more meat protein was a concern that might affect it. I allowed myself to eat just a little more red meat this cycle. Previously, I would avoid it like the plague unless it was bison. I think it helped me gain muscle mass. I have not gained any weight (163#) and feel my body fat has decreased. I walked into my running store two weeks ago and was shocked to hear them tell me how in shape I looked. I must have looked like crap before huh.

Running expert friends have been consulted and I’ve plugged my recent 10k race time in the most reliable calculator as provided by Greg Maclin.  Everything points to a 3:25 on good day.   It looks like that day might happen. It will be possible to Boston qualify on marathon number eight by five minutes.   

It will be weird not running Chicago this year but switching to a smaller race on a fast unknown course may be just what I need.    I knew every inch of the Chicago course that might hurt.  I keep telling myself to enjoy the pain that might come late. The most reassuring thing is that I have never trained harder. If I was able to run a shade over 3:30:25 two years ago, the extra mileage gives me the confidence that five minutes better is doable.

Stay tuned for the result.