Boston Training... a long hill to climb
Last fall I was training for the JFK 50 in late November when I had some hip pain creep up in late September. I had put in some serious training with nearly 800 miles of running between August/September with plenty of races thrown in. My biggest training effort before JFK was going to be the Twin Cities Marathon and conveniently the US Marathon Championships! I have nothing but great things to say about that race put on by Twin Cities In Motion. They do an outstanding job. I ran smooth in a negative split 2:28:31 but had some pain throughout which steadily got worse in the coming weeks/days. I couldn't run or even walk without pain. This isn't a hip flexor strain. According to an MRI, it turned out to be a stress reaction at the top of the femur, just shy of a fracture. I tried pretty hard to break it by running a road marathon on it... whoops! I'm very fortunate to come out without it breaking and then likely having surgery on a 2 foot long bone. That'd be disastrous and an end to competitive running for months, seasons, maybe years. Some poor early diagnosis prolonged the injury and I didn't run until Christmas day where I trotted 3 miles with pain... still! I sucked it up and got a gym membership and became familiar with the pool and elliptical machines. Yuck.
I've been really lucky to have been running much more often than not for over a decade now without having any injuries that have set me back as hard as this one. I have done some leg strength and stability work in recent seasons but it's more likely my choppy steps (my stride length is very short for my height and speed) and luck that keep me healthy. I've been teamed up with Saucony for two years now. It's great to have the best running shoes so I don't have excuses to train in crummy/cheap shoes! I raced Boston in the super speedy Type A6's and do most training runs in the Rides.
By late February, I was back in the saddle and running the 75 miles/week with a bit of cross training thrown in to baby my hip. Training went great after that and I did some killer workouts with my Falls Road Running teammates. Big thank you's are owed to Ryan McGrath, Conrad Laskowski, Steve Febish, Nick Klastava, and Chuck Larsen for individually doing workouts with me that I selfishly prescribed to benefit my personal training and not necessarily their's! You guys rock. I was smooth at 5:15/mile when getting after it on the track and closed a couple of 20+ milers at under 6:00/mile. Five races in six weeks from March 1 to April 4th without suffering... much. Most importantly, the tapering left me feeling fresh and I'm not beat up due to a shorter cycle of training. Ritz publicly said he purposely took it easier this training cycle and then went on to beat every American at Boston as a self coached athlete. Take notes! 8-10 weeks of workouts is more than enough for a marathon build up. Or show me runner who does hard interval training 8+ months out of the year and consistently improves. I'm always looking to learn. Okay, enough lecturing.
This year's Boston would be my 4th major marathon. I've finished 42nd male, 41st male, and 48th male at Chicago, NYC, and Boston, respectively. With a forecast of a 25-35 MPH headwind and temperatures not hitting 50, it was going to be a raw day. On the drive to the race it was already raining and the car read 42 degrees. Oh baby! Worse than expected. I've grown to relish this kind of racing weather, though. Top 40 male has to be the goal. I've had plenty of people tell me that I run like my dad, Henry. Our strides look pretty similar, sure. But I think a bigger gift he's passed on to me is the no excuse attitude. Trying hard for a few minutes, a few hours, maybe a day? Pshhhhhh! That's the easy part, man!
The path to improving at any sport is being able to handle and be smart with the training, of course! Do some intervals when the windchill is zero on a salt littered road where the only people watching are truckers driving by; run 24 miles the morning after partying; or put in 14 miles before the sun comes up from outside the Beltway to downtown when it's snowing. None of those things are individually difficult but strung together for awhile, you owe it to yourself to give it the old college try the day of a big race. Right? What's the point otherwise? Pacing yourself to an even effort, keeping your body from cramping - fine, that's a bit of work/luck/God. "Effort is between you and you." - Ray Lewis. Training is just one small priority, of course. I have a great job, beers to drink, Orioles/Ravens/Hokies to support, a world to see, and a wonderful girlfriend!
I started off in the 2nd to last row of corral one, which is 1000 people. It took 21 seconds to get to the start line which is pretty funny. The cut off to be in corral 1 is 2:46 so nobody is a slouch but at the same time, it'd be a plus if B.A.A. helped out the "sub elite" folks a bit and maybe put the sub 6:00/mile people a bit closer up. But hey, I don't really care. I like to hang out near the portapots until 9:55. Sue me! If you've run Boston before, you know how narrow the road is early on. I wasn't running in the gutter pan of the road, I was running far enough into people's yards that I was behind the spectators! If you're squeezing out seconds in a race, you don't want to lose 30-60 easy seconds in the first mile or two. So after doing some cross country running, I settled in with 11:00 for the first two and hit 6 in 32:53 - same splits as last year. My cadence was 179 or so which is where I like it to be at this pace. I was feeling smooth, taking the tangents, and tucking in behind a group of runners. Coming through Framingham, I could see 40 or so runners up ahead strung out in a single file line. It felt like I was in the Tour de France on a windy day! This is fun.
The next 10 miles was mostly uneventful. I stayed with a pack of 6-8 or so as we clicked off miles in the 5:30's like clockwork. We were gobbling runners up and I noticed several on the side of the road who had dropped out. Moving up in the ranks! Two of the guys in the group mentioned goals of 2:25 and broke away before the halfway mark. Those were the only two runners who passed me all morning. I later passed one going up Heartbreak Hill (mile 21) and it took until Chestnut Hill going into Brookline (mile 23) to catch the second. It still may have been wise to go with them but that's okay. I'm savvy and stubborn. There was no shortage of racing left.
The wind seemed to pick up going through the town of Wellesley with flags on buildings blowing straight towards you. I knew I felt good but was still very cautious about making a move. I told myself that I'll wait until the 3rd hill to leave the comfort of the pack and then get after it. Apparently I was doing much better than the rest because I pulled away without much effort on the first hill coming into Newton. I encouraged the guys to roll with me but it was mostly a time trial from here on out. My cousins, Annie and Molly, and aunt, Jill, were at the turn at the Newton Firehouse and I cracked a smile knowing I was in great position. 2:29 was happening unless something weird came up. Arjun Majumdar and a band of Saucony reps were on the course shortly after that confirming to me that I looked good. And I felt good!
Between miles 8-19 I had 8 PowerBar Energy Blasts (gummies, ~20 calories each), a caffeinated power gel, and probably 6 small cups of water. That totals to around 300 calories and 15 ounces of water. I had a bit of a side stitch after getting to the top of Heartbreak and my stomach said, "no mas!" Fine. It's only 30 minutes to go anyway. The hills were behind me and I handled them pretty well. Tom Stott gave a great running form clinic a few weeks back. I focused on his advice a lot through this section. I was all about pumping those arms on the ups while trying to fire my glutes to save my calves. And then pushing the elbows back on the downs. I was ~40 seconds behind my 2014-self at mile 16 and I had a pretty clean finish last year. Tackling the wind alone for the last 10 would mean 2:27, more likely 2:28 I thought.
I know that the Wellesley girls have the tradition as best fans on the course but the Boston College kids hold the fort down, too. Maybe because it's more like noon at this point and they have more than few drinks in them but their enthusiasm is great at that point in the race. At mile 22, I caught my last two mile split of 11:18 which included Heartbreak Hill so it was no surprise when I was 10:57 for the next two. 2:13:40 with 2.2 to go means 2:14:50 with two to go. 10:50 is all I need for a PR? I must have redone that math in my head 5 times thinking I had to be off. I'm low on glycogen; maybe I'm losing my mind.
Somewhere around 24.5, Mike Spinnler (the JFK 50 course director and former course record holder!) stands behind the fence on the north side of the road just before the crowds get thick coming into Boston from Brookline. Ah Mike... the most valuable spectator out there two years in a row! He informed me I was in 59th last year at this point and 53rd this year. When you're a huge dork like me, this information is invaluable. One, two, three... top 50! Thank you, Mike. Approaching the mile to go Citgo sign, I see that I'm gaining on world class ultra runner, Michael Wardian. Okay, I know Mike raced a 50 miler the weekend before but hey, I'll take it. And that's my only chance of beating Mike in a race that long! We mumbled some encouraging words to each other and went our plodded on. We were the top two DMV finishers.
The most vivid memory from the race is looking ahead at the S bend going into the Mass Ave underpass where I could see 8 people strung out in a line with 20-30 seconds of me. I'm foaming at the mouth here... the chance to catch a whopping ~20% of the runners ahead of me with just a few minutes of working? How lucky am I!? Down the hill, ow ow ow, under the bridge, and back up we go. Right turn, close the gap, left turn, 600 yards to go! 4 runners down, 4 to go at the top of Boylston. No cramping so it was smooth sailing on the home stretch. Just two more to go but they had 8 or so seconds on me at the 26.0 mark. I caught one with 25 yards to go and needed another 50 yards to catch that 8th guy but had him on chip time. Starting 50 rows back is sort of cheating. By Coach Spinnler's count, I was 40th male. And that was my exact finishing spot. 2:26:09 - a touch quicker than last year's 2:26:36. Job well done.
The Berlin Marathon on 9/27 is the date circled on the calendar for the fall. Yeah, like the one in Germany where 2:04:14 is the average winning time the last 8 years. World class competition on the fastest course in the world sounds fun, right? Between running 2:28 last fall at Twin Cities with a very awkward build up and this weekend's 2:26 into the wind, there is 5:2x/mile in me with great training for a flat, fast marathon. Ask me at mile 20 and I'll give you a goal time. Don't ask me until then. My good friend Conrad Laskowski is racing Berlin as well and he's been known to run under 5:30/mile here and there so hopefully we both get to the line healthy enough to swing for the fences. I have a hunch Meb will be there chasing a Masters world record. How about Keflezighi, (insert 15+ minutes), Laskowski, and Peck in the top five Americans at the Berlin Marathon? I need a longer last name.