Monday, April 23, 2012

The "I Survived the 2012 Boston 26.2" Report

All joking aside, you may notice that the first thing not appearing in the title of this report is the word "race." There's a reason for that: it would be more accurate to have called this a survival report for most runners.

I'd like to first address the amount of criticism coming from the reaches of the triathlon world, including a tweet from the voice of Ironman, Mike Reilly:
Well, Mike, people also acclimate to the temperatures in Kona by spending a week, two weeks, or in the case of some of the professionals, months on the island to get used to the temperature range experienced in Boston this year.

Instead, the weather pattern for Boston up until the Friday before the race all suggested temperatures in the low 60s for race day. We'd seen the occasional forecast that was suggesting the 70 degree range, which is still mighty warm for Boston on April 16th. But then the cold front stalled, the heat wave from the south was coming, and we went from 50 degrees on Friday to 65 on Saturday to 75 on Sunday to the peak of 92 degrees in Newton on Monday. Good luck acclimating in the space of that time period.

The B.A.A., to their credit, offered a deferment policy to 2013. I seriously contemplated accepting the invitation to try again next year. But I just could not justify to myself not going this year. It was too late by the time deferment was offered, at least for me. I couldn't back out; the mind was already made up. We were running.

Here's my recap of the entire weekend:

I had made my travel arrangements to arrive in the city on Saturday night, leaving me Sunday to pick up my packet, travel the expo, and get ready to rock for Monday. In retrospect, I won't do this again. I've used this travel plans for my half-Rev efforts to great success, but this just wasn't enough time for a race the size of Boston. To wit, I missed meeting up with my Rev3 teammates, and just felt rushed all day Sunday.

Led off getting some coffee into the system, and then headed to the BAA 5K. My buddy Seth was running, and wanted to see him shatter his PR. He succeeded, busting through the 17:00 barrier with plenty of time to spare. It was then time to head over to the expo, tour through, say hi to everybody I knew (basically, just about every single footwear vendor that was there...and then some...), converse with friends I ran into, and just keep on trucking. I had thought about leaving the expo by 1, and well, whaddya know, it wasn't until nearly 3 before I headed back to where I was staying to get ready.

Loaded up on the obligatory pasta and garlic bread made at home, and then hit the bed pretty early. I felt well-rested, and prepared for the day to come.

Let's get the number out of the way: 4:52:07.

That being said, let's break down the day: had my normal pre-race breakfast of coffee, bagel with cream cheese, and a banana. Nothing too crazy. I have little appetite right out of the gate in the mornings before a race, and I knew I'd be snacking a little bit before my start time of 10:40 (allegedly. More on that in a minute.)

Headed down to grab the bus to Hopkinton. Future note for reference: aim for the early side of what the B.A.A. recommends for getting out there. Traffic is a nightmare heading out there, and it's a long, long ride out there. I got on board a bus at 7:20, and I didn't get to Hopkinton till almost 9:15.

The Athlete's Village is absolutely massive. Huge tents to keep you out of the sun. Food and drink tables galore. Just an absolute buzz throughout, hundreds of people just ready to say, "hey!" Ran into a few locals from Maine who were in the first wave of runners.

Time just flies here. All of a sudden it's time to head out and get ready to run.

This is the one part that was a bit of a cluster. As you filter down to the start line, it bottlenecked. It just didn't filter very well. Couple that as the gun went off, and it just was a lot of people wondering why they couldn't get to where they were supposed to have lined up.

Took about 10 minutes to cross the start line. And if you thought I was running before that line...uh, I think not. 26.2 miles was going to be plenty, thank you very much.

Running Time
Well, this very quickly became a lesson in managing expectations.

Had the weather pattern held much, much cooler, I was targeting just under 3:30. Once the weather went to "Satan's oven warm," we figured to add sixty seconds per mile, so went out trying to hold right around 8:50 mile splits. This is pretty base mileage pace for me right now; super easy to hold onto and execute. Usually heart-rate is in the upper 140s at this pace, nice and easy to go and run.

Well, got through the first 5K right at pace, and I thought to myself, "Well, we feel OK. But why does it feel like I can't get my breathing pattern right? I just don't feel quite right." That's when I looked at my Garmin, and just said, "Uh oh."

Heart-rate: 185.

This was going to be a loooooooong day.

I tried to settle back in for the next 5K, just to see if the HR would come down any, see if the groove would help. No dice. Just would not come down, no matter what. This included walking to grab some water to dump over the head and into the mouth. Just couldn't get things down.

Knowing that this wasn't a priority race for me, I figured it was time to back off the throttle and shoot for around a 4-hour race. The run legs were there, and it felt good to roll through the next few miles. Never pushing too hard, just going with the flow and enjoying myself out there.

Cruised through the half right around 2:01, which was just north of the pace I was looking to keep. It was starting to get really, really warm. Measured temperatures in the 90s, with it being an estimated 10 to 15 degrees warmer on the pavement. Shade ends on the course right around mile 14. Kept at the expected pace until the Route 128 overpass.

On the overpass, there was an ambulance on the left with a woman on a stretcher. Another guy on the right, wobbling as he went down. Another person on the right, aid station volunteers with smelling salts trying to wake him up. And a second ambulance roaring down, siren ablaze.

I took inventory right there: what matters here? You're not going to run the time you wanted regardless. This isn't your priority race for the year. You can bury yourself trying to run the time you think you should run here, or you can just enjoy the experience today. Don't ruin your year in April. You're racing through September.

I took the "throw the time out the window" piece. It was just smarter of me. It was oppressively hot, from the moment you turned at the Newton fire station on downward. I ran when I felt like it. I walked when I felt too hot and light-headed. I poured every water cup and ice cube into my jersey and over my head I could. I took in nutrition as I felt I could handle. It worked, up until mile 24, when my calf just seized on up. (Probably because I hadn't taken quite enough on the electrolyte front due to feeling sick, but whatever).

Naturally, the medical tent stay was the best thing for me, as I got running again for the last couple of miles right about the same pace I started out as. It let me bring the body temperature down so I could mash the throttle a bit again.

There is nothing, and I mean nothing, like the feeling of crossing the finish line of an endurance event. Words can't do it justice. There is no feeling like it in the world.

Having reflected on it for a week now, I'm both incredibly proud and disappointed in my marathon. I fought through some of the most adverse conditions EVER. (No joke: the average run time was 30 minutes slower compared to 2010.) Even with a medical tent visit when people would've just ended it, I trudged onward to Copley. But at the same time, that time isn't me. That's not what I'm capable of.

So the bug's been caught. I'll be back, next time with a qualifying time. It won't be this year, as I've got my focus on the series of Rev3 races on the calendar. But Sugarloaf Marathon 2013 is where I'll put my bid in for a Boston qualifier.

You may have had the best of me on that day, Mother Nature. But I'll get mine.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Conquered Fear to Climb, a Moment Frozen in Time...

The air is growing thick, the fear he cannot hide...
                                       --Dave Matthews Band, "The Dreaming Tree"

Yeah, it must be race weekend.

All of the nerves that have been held at bay are coming to the fore. Panic takes the place of reason. Worry and doubt enters the mind, rather than the humble confidence and trust in the work that you have done.

Why is it? For the simple reason of fearing that you have mislead yourself into believing that you've done all that it takes. The fear that you will underperform, the fear that you will not deliver on what it is you've promised yourself.

There are ways through this mental hurdle, though. It simply takes creativity on your own part.

My mantras for the weekend:

Trust the Work. This is the simplest of the bunch. Cumulative training load is going to help me through a lot. I've raced for longer periods of time than Boston should take me this weekend, so I know what it is like to have to push the body for 5+ hours. Three and some change shouldn't be that hard. I've raced through high temperatures. I've gone riding for 4 hours when it's 100 degrees with no acclimation. I've trained myself through hell and high water for months on end.

In simple terms, I've put in the work. It's now time to reap the rewards of it.

Discovering That Hidden Grain of Steel...Called Will. This is one that I've taken from Ryan Shay, who passed away during the '08 Olympic Marathon Trials in New York City. His philosophy was that you had to dig within oneself to challenge the body to inspired performance.

This is the hard part, at least for me: mentally continuing the desire to push for performance in the face of agony. One of the things that I've found that helps is from Chris McCormack: Embrace the suck.

There's no doubt in my mind that some point during the day is going to suck. But it's the execution through that old friend named pain that is what brings about performance. I've found a few different tricks that are working for me: smiling when my mind starts to go negative; focusing on breathing pattern for a few minutes; relaxing the mind and spirit; digging in and just ignoring it towards the end.

There Goes My Hero, He's Ordinary. Stolen from a Foo Fighters song, I've spoken a lot in this space about honoring my family and friends by putting forth every ounce of my being into a race. It's the only way I know how to respect everything that people have done for me. I couldn't even begin to list off the people that I try to do this for because I wouldn't be able to name them all.

Planning. Planning. And More Planning. I'm a task-oriented person. I like to just get crap done. So with packing for this, I have my full list of everything I will need.

Speaking of plans, my weekend plans:

Arrive Saturday evening.
Meet up with fellow Team Rev3ers in the area.
Sunday AM: Watch buddy Seth Hasty kill the 5K.
Head to the expo and hang out with a bunch of amazing folks. And be a geek.
Monday: should know what I'm doing by now.

Will be back next week with a review of Swiftwick's Aspire socks and a race report...

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Sometimes, I Have Good Ideas

...and this is probably filed under, "Not One of Those Times."

You see, an opportunity arose for me to go racing in a couple of weeks. And me, being the Iceman of Team Rev3, decided, "Eh, what the hell. This'll be fine." (Side note: This crew is AWESOME. Between the hilarious banter and overwhelming support of one another...I still can't believe I'm a part of such a wonderful group of people.)

So, what idiocy have I managed to sign myself up for?

This kind:

Yes, that is what you think it is.

Yep, I'll be running the Boston Marathon in less than two weeks.

As always, whenever there's an announcement round these parts, we do the question-and-answer session.

How on Earth did you manage to get into Boston?!!?!?!?!?
One of the footwear vendors at the store was giving a clinic; at the end of it he made mention that he had a Boston entry. Nobody else was going to take it, so I said I would.

So, you would say this is a continuing perk of working in the running industry?
That would be a resounding yes. I'm incredibly lucky to have some of the contacts that I do, to do the work that I can with the vendors that I do. If there's any question that I'm not doing the right thing with my career, this helps answer it.

When did you find out that you'd gotten the entry?
On March 20th.

So, you decided that, "Oh, I'll run a marathon in 3.5 weeks? And not just any marathon, but the Boston Marathon?" I can see why you said that this wouldn't be filed under Good Ideas.
Yeah, nobody's ever accused me of being the sharpest tool in the shed. (Or, like when I talked with Ben the first time about it, "the brightest bulb in the shed." Sometimes I wonder...)

Please tell me you've been doing some other kind of training.
Well, of course I have, silly! Rev3 Quassy is just around the corner! Less than 8 weeks till I get to tackle that monster of a course again. So most training weeks have been around the 9-11 hour mark. It's just that we've (and by we, of course I mean Coach Doug) ticked up the run volume a little bit and reduced down to one strength training session per week. Otherwise, a lot of the sessions have been the same: averaging two swims, three bikes, three to four runs.

What was your long run in this build?
I put in a 16-miler that Saturday that I found out. Felt pretty darn solid, to be quite honest. Did it on tired legs from a pace swim and tempo bike that included a 30-minute FTP session from the day before. It actually was at a point where it felt better to just keep on running, so I feel pretty good heading into things. We've also done a fair number of 10-14 mile efforts just to keep the quality and volume there.

Do you have any goals with this?
I do! But they don't involve time.

Well...that's a lie. I do have a number in the back of my head that I feel like I should have no problem attaining. But I also know that this is really more of a challenge, to run a marathon on a 3.5 week build.

So, my goals are as follows:

  1. Run every single step from the start line in Hopkinton to the finish line in Copley Square. No aid station walks. No power walking hills. No, we are running this damned race.
  2. Meet up with all of my friends from the brands at the store, or those who work at the store, or those who I know via the store. 
  3. Meet up with my fellow Team Rev3ers! I know the Boston area athletes will be there, as well as a couple who are racing.
  4. Cheer on my buddy Seth, who is racing the 5K the day before. SUB 17 OR DIE, BUDDY.
  5. Then we come to my time goals. And unlike the Twitter back and forth that I had with another awesome coach (that'd be Kurt Perham, for those wondering) about my 5 x 1 mile workout at HIM pace...these will not appear on the Internet to provide pressure.
What's your plan for the weekend?
I'm heading down Saturday night after work. Will then wake up and spectate Seth's run. Then heading to the Expo for the 9 AM open. Why so early? Because I know that it'll take me FOREVER to say hi to everybody and make my way through the crowds. I'd like to be back to where we are staying in Brookline with the feet up by 1 PM. Then pasta dinner, early to bed, get up and go to Hopkinton.

How can we track you?
Bib number: 26723, in Wave 3, Corral 9. I start all the way at the end as a non-qualified runner. You can go to the BAA homepage and enter it in on race day. I expect to cross the start around 10:50 AM.

Good luck!
Thanks. I'll need it.

Re-Post: Racing Beyond Self

CtB Editor's Note: This is an updated post about racing and training for something greater than yourself, and the motivation that it can lead to.

In Chris McCormack's excellent book, I'm Here to Win, Macca has a chapter titled "Racing for My Mother." In it, he talks about losing his mom to cancer in a scant six weeks; the misery of trying to move forward, being lost, and then realizing the rest of the world is passing him by. Instead of wallowing in sadness, Macca instead battles forward, racing in her honor (putting the number of days she lived, 19455, on his singlet), and establishing the MaccaNOW Foundation.

The chapter reflects a fair bit of my own racing, and why I got into the sport. There is something to be said for racing for something greater than yourself. But at the same time, I don't necessarily race for something greater than myself; those people are part of who I am.

With that in mind, every race I go forward with, I'll have my Garmin on, my RoadID, a race ID bracelet if required, and then one with the following initials, in honor of the people who have helped make me who I am today.

PTB--Peter Booty: my father-in-law, whose story lines up with the chapter in I'm Here to Win that I had to put the book down for a good hour while I finished bawling. His work ethic, dedication to family, and love of the outdoors inspires me every day. It is also for him that I work with Doug of The Sustainable Athlete (who's wit, work ethics, and smarts remind me of Peter), why my bike is named Kermit. His loss got me to say, "Well, this is a dream of mine. Let's get down to it." Without him, I wouldn't have gotten to experience what I have in triathlon, and I certainly would not have meet all the wonderful people on Team Rev3.

DCT--Dale Thompson: my uncle, who I lost quite recently. His battle with addiction, and personal demons, and the fact that he held on as long as he did, motivate me. I can't think of how hard things were for him, and it puts every little thing I deal with in perspective for me.

THx2--Terry and Tom Heisler: my parents. Both bust their asses, every day, for everything. They've always put my best interests to heart. Although I'd never tell them that, face to face. They are my parents, after all, so it's my job to be a pain in their respective behinds. But without them, I wouldn't know what hard work is. I wouldn't know pushing through things, no matter how hard they may be. They've taught me the benefit of working to your end goal. It makes it so much more worth it.

HBH--Hannah Booty Heisler: my loving wife, who I have the pleasure of waking up to every day. She is an absolute treasure, and I am incredibly lucky to have her presence in my life.

Of course, there's hundreds of others that I could include, like my siblings; in-laws; extended family; friends; co-workers; etc. But there's not enough room! (After all, we have to be aero while wearing this, too.) But when the going gets tough, I can simply remind myself of who helped me get to where I am now, and where I plan to go.

There's also hundreds of different causes that you could potentially point yourself in the direction of. As an example, on the sidebar of this page you'll see the Rev3 Run Across America donation banner. Yes, my teammates on Team Rev3 are running from California to Washington, DC for the Ulman Cancer Fund. Please, even if all you can donate is a dollar, that'd be fantastic. The LiveStrong foundation has it's fundraising arm, of which I was a part of last year. And many, many more.

What can this do for you, performance-wise? Well, as I stated above: when the going gets tough, I think of the sacrifices that these people have made for me and my family. I think of all of the hard work and dedication that it took to try and honor them in a sport that I only know how. I can work myself to the bone to try and perform with their support. Above all else, it just motivates me to try and do my best, every single time I'm out there. "I can push a little harder. It's just a little more work. What would XX have done?"

It's not your sole motivation; you need to be a little greedy to want to perform your best. But it's the motivation beyond the one that you give yourself every day that I find to be incredibly beneficial, that allows you to go to the well one more time.